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Thursday, 13 December 2007

Gene Duplication and the GENE project’s … Duplicity?

As funny as this cartoon is, it is also somewhat depressing, at least depressing for those of us that wish to defend the integrity of scripture (including Genesis) and the integrity of creation (one that is evidently evolving). It highlights once again that those who claim to defend the cause of Christ often show precious little evidence of the integrity Christ displayed. No point in surveying all the evidence; just find some evidence, any evidence, that will back up foregone conclusions. (Or better yet, just ignore the evidence and shout louder!).

Two Anti-Evolutionist Claims

Two claims often made by anti-evolutionists are as follows:
1. Biological evolution should not be referred to as science since it cannot be experimentally demonstrated.
2. Evolutionary mechanisms can only degrade the functionality of organisms and “result in a permanent loss of information”. (eg. See this article at AIG)

Stephen Matheson in his post on Gene Duplication shows that both of these claims are false. Reviewing a recent article in Nature, he recounts how gene duplication can result in new functionality. Commenting on the fact that this is demonstrated by real experimentation he states:

First, take note that this article is another example of a sophisticated, hypothesis-driven experimental analysis of a central evolutionary concept. Research like this is reported almost daily.
Not a very Christian Response

What is more pertinent however, is the way some Christian organizations respond to these issues. Matheson continues:
[You would] never learn this by reading the work of Reasons To Believe or the fellows of the Discovery Institute. The mis-characterization of evolutionary biology by the creationists of those organizations is a scandal, and as you might already know, my blog's main purpose is to give evangelical Christians an opportunity to explore the science that is being so carefully avoided by those critics.
As Christians we claim “Our God is Lord of all truth”. Why then are we avoiding data that doesn’t match our expectations? Are we afraid of the data or its implications? Why must Christian apologetic ministries be operated like corporate marketing departments, emphasizing data that coheres with the product they are selling, avoiding the data that demonstrates flaws in their product, and spreading FUD about competitors?

In regards to claim #2 above, Matheson remarks:

You don't need to understand sign epistasis or the structure of transcription factors to get this take-home message: evolutionary biologists are hard at work solving the problems that some prominent Christian apologists can't or won't even acknowledge. How does gene duplication lead to the formation of genes with new functions? The folks at the Discovery Institute can't even admit that it happens. Over at Reasons To Believe, they don't mention gene duplication at all, despite their fascination with "junk DNA." That's from a ministry that claims to have developed a "testable model" to explain scores of questions regarding origins.
And then the punchline (was Matheson reading the cartoon?):

This makes me mad. No matter what you think of the age of the earth or the need for creation miracles, you should be upset by Christians who mangle science to serve apologetic ends. (emphasis mine).
With friends like these, why should we even worry about what Dawkins et al are saying? How are we going to get to the point of “preaching Christ crucified” when the truth itself has been bludgeoned, bloodied, and crucified? Do we actually think the Good News of the resurrection will be considered credible when the credibility of the messenger is demonstratively unreliable?

New Creationist Research

If evolutionary biologists continue to make fruitful progress with their research, how does the research of anti-evolutionist organizations compare? The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) will soon be launching its GENE project on genomics. (This is the same organization that completed the RATE project on radiometric dating which I reviewed here). As an introduction to their new venture ICR states:

[Recently some] scientists gathered at ICR; those strategizing for the upcoming research initiative in genomics. Worldwide discoveries have produced a wealth of raw genomic data just crying for a creationist interpretation. The human genome was decoded a couple of years ago, and now the chimp genome is available along with others. Already dozens of creationist genomists have joined up.
Even though the research will take many years to complete, there is no mystery as to ICR's conclusion. Here is how ICR describes their plan:

The plan is to focus on analyzing the human genome, demonstrating the certainty that man and the animals have no common ancestor.
Even though the research has not started, ICR has already stated the conclusion of their research. I guess they can now begin the process of finding the right facts.


I completed the draft for this post last night, but didn’t have time to publish it. Today I noticed Matheson had posted another blog entry entitled On Folk Science and Lies. I recommend reading this post in conjunction with my own.

A pertinent question is this: If someone passionately preaches falsehoods, but they just as passionately believe they are preaching the truth, are they lying? Personally, I would answer no to this question. Since I suspect almost all anti-evolutionary creationists honestly believe they are right, I don’t think they should be accused of lying. (Thus I also strongly object to anti-evolutionary Creationists being called “Liars for Jesus”, something I have seen with some frequency). However, the anti-evolutionary Creationist “ends justifies the means” methodology is definitely a problem. Should it be called deception, duplicity, or something else? Whatever the name, it is this lack of integrity, combined with erroneous conclusions, and a dogmatic insistence that these conclusions are necessary for the gospel, that are proving lethal to the advancement of the gospel.


Gordon J. Glover said...

Steve, If you haven't already, you've gotta add, "Relics of Eden" to your must-read list. A very good explanation of the genomic data putting humans in the primate tree. Best I've seen so far.


Stooge said...

I think you are too charitable to the liars. Lies should be called out. A commenter on the other article pointed out the perjury by Bonsall in the Dover case, about which he is not contrite in the least. Perjury is a serious offense. I was sickened by the Terry Shciavo fiasco when the pious people fighting for the "sanctity of human life" filed an affidavit in court saying that Ms. Schiavo had told them "I want to live." That claim was proven false by the autopsy, which showed she could not have formed any thought, much less a sentence, since her stroke.

Martin LaBar said...

That's a tall order, proving that humans and animals have no common ancestor, from the existing gene data. I can't imagine that it's possible.

You indicate that the ICR has a forgone conclusion that it's working toward, and they have, indeed, stated it. However, in fairness, I suppose that the ICR would say that most persons working in genomics have gone into it with the opposite conclusion already in mind, and have looked for data to support that conclusion, namely that diverse organisms are related by descent.


Gordon J. Glover said...

Martin, many scientist probably are driven by their atheistic worldview. But one thing you will always notice about scientific literature is this: anytime a scientist writes a paper that explains their interpretation of the data, they will always include a section at end that discusses any weakness in their interpretation. Also, any unknowns that have the potential to falsify the conclusions are also discussed. This kind of self-criticism is the hallmark of the scientific process.

Do you think anything published by ICR will have this same disclaimer? Probably not - becasue real science is tentative and always subjet to further discovery, but creation science is conflated with "God's Truth" and therefore can't possibly be wrong.

But I'm with you, I can't wait to see how they explain molecular genetics - not becasue I expect any groundbreak revelations, but just for the entertainment value.


Steve Martin said...

Hi Gordon,
Looked up Relics for Eden – its doesn’t seem to be available yet. Did you get a preview copy?

Welcome. I agree, that we should point out dishonesty - particularly when it is a Christian who is being dishonest (remembering of course that all of us fall short of God’s standards - lets be aware of our own logs!). And the Dover case is a good example of this. However, we should be careful not to extrapolate these specific acts of dishonesty to everyone in the anti-evolution Creationist camps. It is important to point out when those on the “creation team” are demonstrating a lack of integrity and NOT fall into the trap of name-calling. For me (and Gordon as well as indicated in his book), a big part of the impetus to change our world view came when we discovered that “our team” really did lack integrity in many cases. Pointing this out, and demonstrating integrity ourselves (ie. admitting when we don’t know the answer or make mistakes), is as important, or maybe more important, than the science & theology when discussing these issues with "Evangelicals on the street".

Martin & Gordon: Yes, good points. It is going to be interesting to see what ICR comes up with. I suspect this will be many years away. If you haven’t already, check out Matheson’s “Gene Duplication” post. At the end he recounts two opposing camps of scientists related to the findings in the article. Its interesting how they will tackle there disagreement:

“The disagreement is pretty clear-cut, and both sides seem to agree on how to figure out who's right. They'll go to the lab; they'll perform hypothesis-driven experiments; they'll analyze their data; they'll write up their findings; their work will be subjected to peer review. In other words, they'll do real science.”

Now, wouldn't it be nice if all creationists did the same thing?

Anonymous said...

Jesus said, “Don’t be concerned with things of this earth. Be concerned with only two things, Your Father in Heaven and your place in His kingdom”. God is not found in a microscope, nor by looking though a telescope. God is only found in one place, within one’s own heart. To look elsewhere, is foolish. Just simply read the Gospels, in order to find where to look for God.

We have thrown away the story of the Prodigal Son, and now look into a microscope at wiggly things. We have entire movements of people trying to defend God’s reputation by lying about the nature of the Earth. I’m pretty sure God can take care His reputation, if need be. If God needed us to lie about what we see with our own eyes, then He would not be much of a God. So to that point, then aren’t we asking the question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin”? Who cares?

Anonymous said...

…and while I’m on a rant, perhaps we are seeing all life with common ancestry, because we are seeing the fingerprint of God.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Elbogz,
Well Jesus said much more than 2 things, but in the spirit of Jesus use of hyperbole, I’ll accept your statement :-) ). He certainly made it clear that loving God & our neighbors should be our priority.

No, God doesn’t need us to defend his nature (and absolutely not with the use of dishonesty!). However, for some inexplicable reason, he HAS given the job of sharing the good news of redemption to us, his church. We are his arms, feet, and hands. So apologetics & evangelism are very important - and they do need to be done with integrity.

Cliff Martin said...


I just ordered Relics of Eden, and Amazon.com has promised delivery next week. Its the Canada thing! I went to Amazon.ca and saw what you no doubt saw, that the item will be ready for shipment on April 1, 2008. Is that how Amazon.ca does April Fools? or is Canada really 3 months behind?

Good post, though I probably would lean a bit toward Stooge on this one. Having been a confirmed YEC and avid ICR reader for years, I have experienced some anger over what I consider to be intentional shading of evidence, mishandling of truth, unwillingness to tell the whole story, and general dishonestly in that camp. I felt that I was knowingly duped! The YEC organizations know that it is an easy thing to preach to their own choir, and they needn't penetrate issues beyond very superficial levels to keep their audience persuaded. The trained scientists in those organizations must surely know better.

An example of this is the way the YEC community handled the starlight problem. For years, ICR and other YEC defenders offered the same simplistic pat-answer: God created light-trails at the time of the creation of the stars. There was never (to my memory) any acknowledgment of the logical, scientific, and theological problems with this “solution”. We, the faithful, were just expected to believe it. But then Russel Humphreys wrote his Starlight and Time explanation for distant starlight. His "solution" is a stretch. But at least he was honest about the problem. What amazed me was how his groundbreaking solution to the problem was heralded by those who, heretofore, had taught us that no such problem exists! (The same response initially greeted Barry Setterfield’s earlier and now discredited speed of light degradation theory.)

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,

Wow. You are right. Looks like amazon takes at least 3 months to ship to Canada. Their dog sleds must be really inefficient.