:: Wednesday, March 16, 2005 ::
Response To Illogic
::This post is part of the Evolution/ID Correspondence Series::
Welcome back! My previous post was a faithful reproduction of a bulletin board flier posted by some creationist who only left his/her/it's email address, Rockofisrael8@aol.com. It is not my work - the incorrect conclusions, plus the deceptive language used throughout, is beyond my ken. However, since I am simply ashamed that such a poorly set-up diatribe against evolution was posted on my campus, I have decided to email Rockofisrael8 with the following rebuttal.
(Note: I'm really tired, so I'm going to post this and fix the grammar when I get back from class.)
Subject: Intelligent Creator Flier
Hello, my name is [TheSquire], and I am a Senior in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Illinois, and I am also pursuing a minor in Chemistry. While leaving class, I happened upon your flier and was simply ashamed that such an ignorant and poorly-reasoned argument was leveled against evolution. While I have not discounted the possibility that you have intentionally misrepresented modern biological understandings of evolution, the rest of this email is written in the hope that you are merely misinformed by others and acting on that misinformation.
Before you get too worried, I'll have you know that I would like a copy of your supposed proof of an Intelligent Creator, if only so that my friends and I have something to chuckle at.
Since it's hard to start elsewhere, I've decided to start at the top of your flier and refute it, point by point, in succession.
I'll deal with lying after I deal with Intelligent Design "theory" itself, so that next leaves your claim that evolution is statistically impossible. Nothing in your flier even remotely deals with statistics - it's all semantics. Evolution, also, is not an "old theory." It is being constantly revised and updated to reflect our current understanding of the world. For example, Darwin had no idea how heritable traits were transmitted, but Mendel and his peas opened up the field of genetics, which explained what Darwin's initial theory alone could not. Does this make evolution wrong? No, evolution was strengthened by this new data, as it continues to be to the present day.
Your overuse of the word "complicated" shows that you rely on rhetoric rather than logic to make your arguments. Every use of "complicated" in your flier describes things which are, chemically speaking, only minorly complex. The rules of protein folding are complicated, the DNA code is not.
Could a dictionary have written itself? No! So how much less probability is there that DNA wrote itself?
Actually, through gene duplication (and divergence), the genome could write itself. When multiple copies of a gene exist, one can remain the same while the other can mutate or combine with other genes, giving rise to a related protein with a separate function. Repeat the process many times, and one can easily get the full diversity and complexity found in any given genome.
Within each DNA base pair is a most fantastic information file. A-T-CT-G-G-G-T-C-T-A-A-T-A, and on and on...
Actually, a base pair is just one nucleotide and its compliment on the antiparallel strand. What you're thinking of is a full DNA strand, which in nature manifests itself as a chromosome.
Oh, and you forgot to mention the triplet code, making the rest of that paragraph gibberish.
Mutations Kill! They don't give life!
Since this is an absolute statement, only one example to the contrary is necessary to discredit it. All mammalian infants possess the ability to produce lactase, the enzyme which breaks down the disaccharide lactose into its component monosaccharides. Because the only natural source of lactose is breastmilk, the infant has no need to produce lactase once it has been weaned. As would be expected, the vast majority of mammalian infants lose the ability to produce lactase after a certain age - biologically, the gene that encodes for lactase is repressed. In humans, this occurs at about the age of three. However, in many earlier societies, humans learned to harvest the milk of other animals, such as goats, sheep, and cows. As happens occasionally, mutations occurred in individuals in those societies that caused the lactase gene to be expressed constitutively. In layman's terms, those people, who were technically mutants, were able to digest lactose for their entire lives, and were able to pass on this trait to their children. Since those individuals were better able to digest dairy products, they were better nourished, and better able to provide for their own offspring - increasing their reproductive success. Anyone who is not lactose intolerant is a descendant of one of these mutants.
But complexity, and the coding it is based on, does not evolve.
But it does! The first microprocessor contained only three transistors. Modern microprocessors have more transistors than this country has fingers to count them. Through trial and error, tech companies have managed to increase the amount of processing power in a manner following Moore's law.
Living systems don't transfer energy with 100% efficiency - far from it. A plant captures in carbohydrates only part of the energy of the photons striking its leaves. Cellular metabolism only captures part of the energy contained in carbohydrates. The energy not transferred is released as heat, that then increases the entropy of the universe, as required by the REAL Second Law of Thermodynamics, rather than the garbage you claim it to be.
Electrical polarity is NOT a key in DNA. DNA has static charges associated with it, yes, but these are not the means by which information is stored. It is the sequence of base pairs themselves that are the information coded by the DNA. You've confused static charges with the electrochemical gradients used by many/most cells. In humans, the gradient is used neuromuscularly as a means to transport signals, while the rest of the body uses it as a means to store energy for shuttling compounds across the membrane. Your argument belies your misunderstanding of molecular and cellular biology. May I suggest that you take MCB 150 and MCB 250 before trying another one of these fliers? You might be able to put forth arguments that make sense afterwards.
The Nobel prize your wave about for synthesizing organic chemicals was already awarded in 1989. The Nobel prize for Chemistry that year was awarded for the discovery of ribozymes - enzymes whose activity is due entirely to RNA, not amino acids. This finding significantly bolstered the "RNA World" hypothesis, a brief intro to which is here, written by one of the Nobel laureates who was honored for that research, while a more extensive introduction is here. Solutions for the synthesis of other organic molecules come from the 50-yr-old "Prebiotic Soup" hypothesis, which found that methane, water, hydrogen, and ammonia, in combination with a reducing atmosphere and a source of electrical energy (i.e. lightning), could form many amino acids, as well as urea. While such conditions are currently thought to not have been widespread, they likely existed and provided the original source of organic material.
You try to make a point about the faithful replication of DNA. Thing is, as soon as Watson and Crick figured out the chemical structure of DNA, it was immediately apparent how it was transmitted. DNA consists of two antiparallel strands, held together by hydrogen bonding, which perfectly compliment each other. By splitting them apart, one can use the each strand as a template to faithfully recreate the other. This is known as semiconservative replication. Though only seen in viruses today, the RNA World hypothesis proposes that this function was originally carried out by small RNA fragments, which would spontaneously be able to create copies of themselves through complementation.
The retina! Oh, how easy. A key component in both Rod and Cone cells is a membrane protein called rhodopsin, which kicks protons across the membrane. The same protein is used in certain types of bacteria as a means of using light to create a electrochemical gradient with which the cell can do work. The eye itself has been shown, through developmental and comparative genetic studies with molluscs and other creatures, to have evolved from a simple light/dark-sensing group of cells in a distant, common ancestor. Since vertebrates and molluscs evolved their eyes separately, while using nearly identical structures, it seems to be that the eyes evolved the way they did because such was the only way to do so from existing structures. The placement of retinal cells is mediated by cell-cell interactions, using signaling proteins and other methods. Evolution would easily influence the placement of rods and cones in the eye - even distribution in a herbivore that needs to scan as much area as possible to avoid predation, tight clustering in animals such as humans that rely on binocular vision for hunting and other tasks.
Again, none of your examples even come close to demonstrating the improbability of evolution, much less in a mathematical fashion. If these examples are any indication of the quality of the arguments in your PDF/book, I'm willing to summarily dismiss the whole thing as a body of shoddy work a high school senior should be ashamed of. Where anyone came up with 900 pages of this dreg, I have no idea.
Just because I've worked through the flier doesn't mean I'm done yet. My next target, in the interests of fairness, is Intelligent Design itself.
Proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) often try to dismiss Evolution by saying "it's just a theory." However, the scientific definition of a theory is this: "A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed." (OED)
It is instructive now to define a hypothesis, which is "A supposition or conjecture put forth to account for known facts; esp. in the sciences, a provisional supposition from which to draw conclusions that shall be in accordance with known facts, and which serves as a starting-point for further investigation by which it may be proved or disproved and the true theory arrived at."(OED) Any theory must be first proposed as a hypothesis. It is then tested numerous times in a multitude of ways, and if it holds true for long enough, it is considered a theory. In order to test a hypothesis, it must be able to be disproved through some means - i.e., a test. A hypothesis must also be able to be used by a researcher to make a testable prediction.
Intelligent Design, with which you propose to supplant evolution, is the belief that biological diversity is so irreducibly complex that it requires an Intelligent Creator (which, in 99.9999999999999% of cases, is assumed to be the Abrahamic God) to have designed it. This is the reason you keep saying things are "complicated," when after three years of college I merely consider them the basics. You throw the term "complex" around so as to rhetorically shore up your case for ID - but you don't establish this complexity, so your argument is lacking.
Not only are your arguments for ID poorly reasoned, but ID itself is not a valid hypothesis. Because it says that God did everything, it is not falsifiable. Because it makes no predictions, it is completely useless as a tool for scientific inquiry. Statements which fail as hypothesis can't be scientific theories. As a means for explaining biological diversity scientifically, Intelligent Design fails. If you've taken any good biology classes at this university - heck, if you even paid attention to the definitions of "hypothesis" and "theory" in Jr. High and high school - you should know this.
Your entire argument, as stated in the flier, is based on misrepresentations and outright fabrications. Whether or not you did this out of ignorance, you have tried use such lies to mislead your fellow human beings in order to further your own ideological/theological ends. Such deception is sinful, and has been recognized as such since the Lord gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Assuming that you are Christian (and if you are not, my sincerest apologies for using the following argument on you) you should know that Jesus Christ is, as stated in John 1, the Word of God. He is the Truth, and to deny the Truth in any form is to deny Him. By lying, fabricating, misrepresenting, and obfuscating you have, willing or not, denied the truth and so denied Him. Needless to say, denying Christ is a serious sin.
It is also worth noting that Satan works by misrepresenting evil to make it look good, and he uses many tools to do so. Just a thought.
So you know, I've copied your flier onto my blog, and will be posting a copy of this email to it. Its URL is http://thesquire.blogspot.com and I have a working comments section, though any abusive comments will be disemvowelled. I welcome your reply, and await to see if you have any better arguments. Be warned, though, that by responding to this email, you or whomever else who does send me a reply will be considered to have consented to having the full email published on my blog - and only by explicitly asking otherwise will I not post it. Even if you do tell me not to publish your reply, I will reserve the right to post a summary of it.
I wish you well and success in any honest endeavors you may have.
Now let's see if he/she/it responds.
UPDATE: Doug has responded, and I've posted it here.
:: The Squire 2:46 AM :: email this post :: ::