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Monday, 23 November 2009

Avoiding the topic of Evolution in Christian Academia: Reflections from a Theology Student

This is a guest post by Bethany Sollereder and is the sixth in our series on “Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective”. Bethany is working on her Masters in Christian Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, where her studies focus on evolutionary theodicy from an evangelical perspective.

“I just don’t think that’s a very interesting question...” the professor said slowly from the front of the full lecture hall, “there are so many more important issues.” The first year class of graduate students collectively sighed in disappointment. The questions about evolution had poured in when they were told they could ask any question of a panel of professors at the end of the year long course in Christian thought and culture. The answer they received seemed like yet another evasion.

The Science – Faith Dialogue: Great Potential in Christian Academia
I have now spent six years in the Christian academy and I find it remarkably hard to understand why the discussion on the interaction between faith and science is so often avoided. If anything, it is a wonderful doorway into many “more important” topics such as hermeneutics, models of biblical inspiration, ancient worldview, cultural engagement, and interdisciplinary studies. The science-faith topic stems from and reaches into all these areas and many more. The beauty of this subject area is precisely that its implications are so wide-reaching. The same tools that you use to exegete Genesis 1-11 extend out into the rest of the biblical literature. For example, an understanding of ancient near eastern cosmology gained in Genesis 1 brings an excellent understanding of passages as diverse as 1 Chronicles 16, Job 26, Psalm 104, Isaiah 40, Philippians 2, and Revelation 21! A discussion that takes modern science into account can challenge traditional readings of everything from theodicy to literary criticism, leading to a wide array of interesting topics. Perhaps it is because it can lead in so many directions that professors avoid it: it is a conversation that might never end.

The Challenge of Teaching about Origins
On the other hand, the issue of origins in particular seems to be uniquely challenging from both an emotional and a spiritual perspective. Step the wrong way in this issue, and it is not simply belief in the historicity of the opening chapters of Genesis that threatens to topple, but potentially a person’s entire faith! However, given the spiritual volatility of the topic, isn’t the Christian academy the perfect environment to critically examine issues of faith, and therefore issues of origins? Would it be better for the student to struggle through these issues in the context of leading a church or working in the secular environment? Yet, even though questions about origins are embarrassingly common, it seems that the topic is often sidestepped in order to avoid giving offense. Even when asked directly about it, answers from Christian faculty are often short and evasive; there seems to be a fear of committing too strongly to one side of the debate. Perhaps this betrays a lack of clear thought on the side of the faculty; perhaps it is simply an unwillingness to engage in such a volatile issue so directly. Yet it is precisely because it is such an explosive topic that we need more thorough training in the area.

“I feel so frustrated” a student once confessed to me, “I feel like everyone deals with the evolution debate as if it’s a conversation we’ve already had, yet I’ve never heard it talked about once in two years!” From the faculty’s point of view, I can imagine that dealing with the same issues over and over again, year after year, would be exhausting. It is true that addressing the hesitancies of students in relation to the science-faith interface must be tiring, especially when it can be a remarkably pedantic area, and can branch almost out of control. But that is not a good reason for avoiding it! I’m sure that New Testament Greek professors do not consider it an exhilarating task to teach the declensions year after year. However, delivering this technical information is foundational, and they realize that the relative drudgery of grammatical basics will one day lead to more interesting debates on interpretation.

Reclaiming the Study of God’s Works in our Culture
I wish that the science-religion dialogue would receive a similar grounding: some aspects of the topic may be tedious, but this grounding is necessary in light of the current cultural battles. And the cultural battle is real. A Gallup poll on Darwin’s 200th birthday found that only 39% of Americans accept evolution, while another 36% do not have an opinion either way. For one hundred and fifty years, evolution has provided biology with its unifying theory and the evidence for it has only strengthened over time. However, 61% of Americans still do not accept evolution as valid. Perhaps the ambivalence in the Christian academy is simply a reflection of the wider culture’s lack of conviction. In this case, it would be a great opportunity for the Church to rise up and become, once again, those who drive discovery of the natural world forward while providing a theological framework in which to understand those revelations.

New Resources for Evangelicals
At the Bible College I attended, a small faculty was responsible for covering a wide spectrum of academic disciplines. As a result, the idea of tackling the massive issues involved in the science-faith dialogue may have seemed quite daunting. Ten or fifteen years ago this task was even more difficult since there were so few books that affirmed both evolution and an evangelical faith. Today, however, there is a torrent of books which provide both the scientific and hermeneutical material necessary to “get past” the most common roadblocks to accepting evolution: how to read Genesis and how to reconcile the theory of human evolution with our affirmation of divine creation. Francis Collins, Darrel Falk, Denis Lamoureux, and Loren and Deb Haarsma have all provided valuable resources to the evangelical community.

With so much good information “out there”, why is there still a reluctance to discuss the science-faith interaction in our academies? I think that we shy away from the challenges science presents to our interpretation of the Bible because there is always a “fear factor” involved in evangelical hermeneutics. This was clearly seen at my Bible College where biblical criticism was largely portrayed as that “slippery slope” where “liberals” began by questioning the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and ended up denying the resurrection of Christ. There was very little effort put into incorporating the beneficial aspects of criticism because there was so much fear that one might go “too far”. We evangelicals are happy to admit, as a sort of joke, how susceptible we are to guilt; it is much less frequently admitted how susceptible we are to fear. Yet the reality is that as God’s children we have nothing to fear when searching for truth in God’s Works and his Word. The discoveries of science and the tools of higher criticism help us to understand better the amazing world in which God has placed us and the ways in which God has revealed himself to us. With the excellent voices speaking from within both science and theology, the time is ripe for moving past this debate. But we should do this carefully by working through the issues rather than ignoring them.

Conclusion
Fortunately those first year students in that full lecture hall I mentioned in the opening did not have to wait long for a more helpful response. Another professor on the panel took the microphone and spoke about fossils, genetics, his preference for the term “evolutionary creation” over “theistic evolution”, and the importance of a robust theology of creation without extreme dogmatism over the method of creation. It was a brief answer, and it did indeed stir up controversy in some of the tutorial sessions after the class, but it was one of the first times I had observed a positive, informative answer that clearly dealt with some of the issues raised. I hope this type of response is a harbinger of what we can come to expect of Christian academia, and that Evangelical students will receive the guidance they need in the science-faith dialogue.

96 comments:

Steve Martin said...

Thanks Bethany. I can see how professors have the ability to avoid the science-faith conversation if they are uncomfortable with it (just leave it off the course outline). However, given your own focus of studies, there might be times when the conversation naturally leads in that direction when you are participating. Have you found this to be the case? For the most part, do professors make hasty changes in direction, or do they let the conversation take its natural course & contribute? My impression of Regent (based only on second hand experience) is that it would be more the latter than the former.

Second question: How have other students generally responded when they find out your focus?

Lame and Blind said...

Great post, Bethany!

I totally agree that the most frustrating thing about this conversation is not that its not happening, but that so few seem to think it is a conversation worth having! I expressed similar frustrations on my guest post over at NotReligious.org a while ago:

http://tinyurl.com/yfazvfz

Myself, I'm convinced it is crucial. As John Haught has put it, after Darwin we cannot think of God the same way again.

I'd love to know more about your actual thesis. If you'd like to share or need another set of academic eyes to provide feedback for you, feel free contact me.

Paul Bruggink said...

Thanks, Bethany. That was an excellent summary of the current landscape in evolution meets evangelical Christian theology. The discussion can also lead to deeper study of the nature of biblical inerrancy, the Fall, the doctrine of original sin, the nature of the soul, the nature of divine action, etc. It is interesting to watch the landscape slowly changing for the better. Keep up the good work.

Nancy said...

Well said Bethany. How sad that some in the church are afraid of this topic- as you pointed out- where better to think and talk about these things. Christians do need a better understanding of what science is and how it works and thanks to Collins,the Haarsmas and others that is begining to happen. But most importantly Biblical interpretation is at the heart of this. We need to be teaching appropriate ways for people to engage the Bible.
I agree with Paul that there are good discussions we need to have. And how great to be able to think more deeply about our faith.

Bethany said...

@Steve: I've found that at Regent the majority of professors will engage (at least briefly) with the question, and of course, there are several courses that deal with the question more thoroughly if people want to use an elective to take it. At my Bible College however, the "Scientific Foundations" course didn't touch the evolution/creation debate once!
Second Question: Well, sometimes they will do what they've been trained to do and respond "I don't really care about this..." but usually once I start talking about hermeneutical implications they get hooked. Mostly they say (as one guy said to me at a party on Saturday night) "Man, this is HUGE! Why don't we talk about it more?"

@Brent: I'll get in touch re: thesis. Where in the world did you find that picture of Jesus riding the Brontosaurus? That's AMAZING!

@Paul: Yes, and I find that it is questions of inerrancy/inspiration that typically lie at the heart of the debate, along with a traditional view of the Fall.

Lame and Blind said...

Actually, the blog editor found that pic. I love it! Only slightly less than this actual scan from an old Christian coloring book of Jesus riding a T-Rex:

http://tinyurl.com/dlkk93

Bethany said...

Brent,
That is possibly the most awesome thing I have ever seen...

Steve Martin said...

Hi Brent:

That was an excellent post on notreligious. How did your lecture go?

I found it ironic that the ICR conference you referenced was called "Demand the Evidence"; that is exactly what many of us have done and what do you know, the "creation science" evidence was entirely lacking.

re: the Jesus on a Dino picture .. made my day :-)

Bethany: I'm sure you will have no shortage of volunteers that want to read your thesis (probably can't say that about too many graduate theses!), but I'll put up my hand too.

Lame and Blind said...

Steve:

Since you ask, I did a follow-up post after the talk:

http://tinyurl.com/ydlk79l

The audio is supposed to be online, but the CSC is redesigning their website and all the audio content is down.

Jimpithecus said...

Bethany, I also wonder if some of the faculty of the more conservative schools don't shy away from the idea of discussing the controversy because they might be concerned that such a discussion will lead people away from Christ. I get the sense that most people that turn up in Christian colleges come from a more fundamentalist background and that kind of discussion right off the bat can rattle more than a few cages.

That Jesus/Brontosaurus picture is a classic, and represents, to me, the contempt that the fundamentalist community has for modern biological/palaeontological science.

Bethany said...

Jim,
How can being honest about the world around us lead people away from Christ? I know what you are saying, but if people's Christology and soteriology are founded upon a 6-day creation, then they are wrongly founded anyways and it behooves the college to teach their students better theology. What is the point of an education that only reinforces what the students already believe?
These conversations can stretch faith, it is true, but properly lead, the students come out the other side going "Wow, God is so much bigger!". I've seen at again and again around Bible College, around Regent, and around my conservative Baptist church where I've taught a couple of courses. I think the reality is that more people are lead away from Christ by the Church's refusal to accept modern science, which creates a false dichotomy between Jesus and science.

Jimpithecus said...

Bethany, I am not necessarily condoning their actions, merely trying to explain them. I am reminded by what is going on at La Sierra University in California as well as the account of the ups and downs of teaching evolution even at a place like Calvin. It is sad and unfortunate that there is a lack of unwillingness to engage students in this topic but, given the climate, it is, at least partly, understandable.

Jimpithecus said...

You'd be surprised how many people out there don't want their faith stretched. One of my friends told me a bit back that his father's belief in the YEC model pretty much defines his faith. Take that away and his faith would come apart like a cheap suit.

Bethany said...

Jim, gotcha on the not condoning thing, but, you know... any opportunity for a rant...
I met a guy at a conference who said that if evolution was proved true, he'd see no reason to be a Christian. Where did we start missing that CHRISTianity is about the risen Jesus?

Lame and Blind said...

Bethany:

I'd be interested to know what format/materials you used for the 'courses' you ran at your church. I've been talking with our assistant pastor about doing something like that next year possibly in our (non-Baptist, but fairly conservative) church.
-Brent

Rob Mitchell said...

Bethany:
It is gratifying to see a story here from a theology student. Thus far the student perspectives have been from science students.
I think that perhaps the institution you are a part of, which has a high level of academic rigor in addition to a high commitment to evangelical doctrine, is one of the reasons that you experienced at least some openness to a fearless and searching exploration of the theological implications of interaction with science.
Now it would be interesting to go a bit further than just the academy and find out how not only the seminary, but ecclesiastical leadership, responds to the theological implications of scientific truth.
There is of course a spectrum of reactions, from openness, to cool silence, to open hostility.
But I am encouraged to see at least some seminary professors expressing readiness to discuss the issues out in the open from a mainstream scientific perspective as opposed to the literalist polemic scientific thought so often encounters.
Thank you for taking the time and effort to share your story.

Bethany said...

Brent,

The six week course followed this outline:
1. Genesis 1
2. ANE creation myths
3. Genesis 2-3
4. Beyond the Evolution-Creation Debate (essentially Lamoureux's lecture)
5. Human Origins, Adam & Eve, & Theodicy
6. Reading the Bible: Towards an incarnational hermeneutic

As you can see, the course was heavily based on the Bible side of things, with only one real week on the "science" stuff. The course was once a week for one hour. Lecture/presentation covered about 45 minutes and discussion/Q&A was for about 15 minutes. All the materials were my own (apart from lecture 4 which I adapted). As I'm not sure how to get a hold of you, why don't you email me at bsollereder at gmail. I can send you any materials you are interested in, and send a couple thesis chapters too!

Bethany

Steve Martin said...

Thanks Brent (L&B). I appreciated both articles.

Jim and Bethany: I agree wholeheartedly that a faith based on YEC theology is built on the wrong foundation – our faith is in Christ. But, in certain circumstances, there are probably times to be silent regarding issues of science & faith. I’m thinking of Paul’s discussion of food being sacrificed to idols & the “weak brother” in 1 Cor 8. Figuring out when & where to be silent is the tough part (although academia is probably not the place to be silent). What do you think?

Rob:
Now it would be interesting to go a bit further than just the academy and find out how not only the seminary, but ecclesiastical leadership, responds to the theological implications of scientific truth.

Excellent point. Evangelical scientists are more or less on board, our theologians seem to be grappling with this now, but the really interesting point will be when this starts being openly discussed by denominational & church leadership. I suspect we aren’t that far away from that point now.

Daniel O said...

Can I just say how helpful Im finding this series and the following discussion. Thanks Steve for setting this up....

Bethany said...

Steve,

There are times and places where bringing up the issues would cause more damage than it would solve. I would not preach this stuff on a Sunday morning. That time has a different purpose. And there are some people who have tied up YEC and salvation so tightly that they will live and die a YEC, and to deny YEC for them would be to deny Christ. I don't want to reverse the false dichotomy in the Church and make it "Jesus & science" instead of "Jesus or science". Christ should stand on his own in all these matters. Ultimately I decide whether or not to speak based on three things:
1) Environment: is it an appropriate setting?
2) Relationship: do I have "relational currency" with this person? Have I earned the right to challenge them? Will I be around to "pick up the pieces" if I deconstruct their YEC beliefs?
3) Pastoral Concern: Will speaking or not speaking bring them closer to Christ?
Hope this helps...

Allan Harvey said...

Brent,
In looking for ideas for church Adult Ed courses, you are welcome to look at the material I put together a couple years ago:
http://steamdoc.s5.com/sci-nature/

Bilbo said...

Lame and Blind wrote: "As John Haught has put it, after Darwin we cannot think of God the same way again."

How should we think of God now, after Darwin? Why?


Bethany wrote: "Yes, and I find that it is questions of inerrancy/inspiration that typically lie at the heart of the debate, along with a traditional view of the Fall."

Should our traditional view of the Fall change? If so, how? And Why?

Bethany wrote: "For one hundred and fifty years, evolution has provided biology with its unifying theory and the evidence for it has only strengthened over time."

By "evolution" do you mean common descent? Or do you also mean random mutation? If only the former, then I agree. If also the latter, then perhaps you are unaware that the evidence weakens daily.

Steve Martin said...

Daniel O: Thanks. I appreciate the appreciation.

Bethany: That was helpful – very good factors to consider when making the decision to discuss the topic.

All: I highly recommend Allan’s material at http://steamdoc.s5.com/sci-nature/ .

Bilbo: Hey, what gives you the right to ask 7 questions in one short comment? That’s my job. :-)

I’ll only answer one question here:“Why” should a traditional view of the Fall change (where traditional means “commonly accepted”). A traditional view of the fall claims that creation was perfect until the first two humans (Adam and Eve) sinned and all bad things in creation (eg. Physical death) resulted from this. This is no longer tenable since the scientific evidence points to physical death preceding the birth of humans by millions and millions of years.

Dennis Venema said...

Bethany: (re time/place for this discussion): I agree, and I disagree, to an extent. Yes, your points are well-taken. Still, I find myself speaking up more often these days. Maybe it's just that our church is viewing the Truth (sic) Project, or maybe it's that I notice more and more that the proponents of antievolutionism take whatever opportunity they can to spread their views. Silence means that an antievolutionary view is the only one most Christians will ever hear.

Bilbo: you say "the evidence for random mutation weakens daily" - care to back that assertion up with evidence? Nothing I've seen in the literature suggests that at all. What am I missing?

Bethany said...

Bilbo: A traditional view of the Fall sees death as a result of sin. This means that there was no death before sin. This has to change because there are billions of years of death recorded in the fossil record, long before humans were around to sin. Even if you take a more "moderate" view and say that only human death began at the Fall, you have lots of other questions like: how do we decide what the first "real humans" were, or when they lived, or how an immortal body was possible in this world. From the lack of a genetic bottleneck to the archeological evidence of expansion, it would be very hard (nigh on impossible) to harmonize scientific evidence with the Genesis account. Futhermore, as we discover more and more ancient Near Eastern creation texts, we are realizing that early Genesis really is not meant to give us a hard, scientific history of the world, anymore than the parable of the Good Samaritan is meant to convey a real historical encounter. I hope this partially answers why. As to the "how", I don't think I can answer it here, however check out Lamoureux's "Evolutionary Creation" and Christopher Southgate's "Groaning of Creation". Both address these issues.

As for random mutation, I'll let you discuss that with Dennis. He is a geneticist who is far better equipped to have that discussion.

Dennis: I'm happy to discuss these issues in the church, and even Sunday morning during the after service coffee. I just don't think it is a "pulpit" issue. I would, however, preach from Genesis in a way that would assume gram-hist. criticism.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Australia.

To start wit, in a now totally interconnected multi-cultural world we all have access to quite literally hundreds of "creation" stories or myths---all of which can be found on the internet.

So why reduce the choice to only two possibilities--Biblical "creation" or "evolution"?

That having been said please find a completely different Understanding of the purpose of "creation" myths or stories via this reference.

www.dabase.org/creamyth.htm

Plus related references on the relation between religion, science & culture.

www.dabase.org/noface.htm

www.dabase.org/christmc2.htm Einstein meets Jesus

www.dabase.org/rgcbpobk.htm

www.dabase.org/s-atruth.htm Reality & The Middle (scroll down)

Dennis Venema said...

Hi Bethany,

Again, for the most part I agree, but why should any topic where Christians are routinely uninformed, and perhaps in danger of losing their faith (or creating an unnecessary barrier to faith for non-believers) as a result of that lack of understanding, be taboo at the pulpit level?

Bilbo said...

Both Steve and Bethany have pointed out that the existence of death (and may I add animal suffering) before the Fall suggest that we need to re-interpret it. I agree. Dembski offers one alternative: God, foreseeing the Fall, retroactively subjected creation to futility, so that when Adam and Eve left the Garden, they were thrust into a fallen world.

I think this is acceptable, but I prefer C.S. Lewis's view, that the Earth was originally under Lucifer's authority and care, and that when he fell, Earth suffered the consequences. Lewis suggests that perhaps the original purpose of humanity, had they obeyed God instead of Satan, would have been to take over authority of the Earth and restore it to what God had originally intended.

Bethany wrote: " Even if you take a more "moderate" view and say that only human death began at the Fall, you have lots of other questions like: how do we decide what the first "real humans" were, or when they lived, or how an immortal body was possible in this world. From the lack of a genetic bottleneck to the archeological evidence of expansion, it would be very hard (nigh on impossible) to harmonize scientific evidence with the Genesis account. Futhermore, as we discover more and more ancient Near Eastern creation texts, we are realizing that early Genesis really is not meant to give us a hard, scientific history of the world...."

You mean mitochondrial Eve doesn't constitute a genetic bottleneck? And yes, without the Tree of Life, immortality would be impossible. Was there really a Garden of Eden with a Tree of Life in it? I'm not sure. But I believe that had we obeyed God, then God would have made immortality a real possibility. But then I believe that God intervenes in His creation. Apparently Bethany doesn't. I'll read Lamoureaux and Southgate, when I get the chance.

Dennis wrote: "Bilbo: you say "the evidence for random mutation weakens daily" - care to back that assertion up with evidence? Nothing I've seen in the literature suggests that at all. What am I missing?"

You've read Behe's books? You realize that Lynn Margulis and now Carl Woese object to the Modern Synthesis for the same reasons, though they don't buy ID? You've read Behe's commentary on Thornton's work?

Dennis Venema said...

Hi Bilbo,

Yes, I've read Behe's books (both of them). All Edge of Evolution demonstrates is that Behe doesn't understand genetics or evolution. EoE takes the following form:

1. Propose an inaccurate model of evolution that bears no resemblance to what is observed;

2. Demonstrate that this model cannot work;

3. Claim this demonstrates evolution is impossible.

Behe's work just doesn't hold up, sorry. Reading it (as a geneticist) made me want to bang my head on my desk at frequent intervals.

Margulis and Woese do not agree with Behe's ideas, not in the slightest.

Also, "mitochondrial Eve" is not a population bottleneck (nor is Y-chromosome Adam, either).

I also suspect that Bethany would take issue with your charge that she doesn't think God intervenes in His creation. Evolutionary creationism is NOT deistic evolution. God ordaining and sustaining a process is hardly deistic.

Bethany said...

Bilbo,
Dennis is right, I do think God is at work in his creation. I don't think he intervenes in some natural processes, but I do know that he intervenes with my life! And I think that God ordaining and sustaining the universe is God at work...
As for Dembski's view on the retroactive effects of the fall, I think that it totally ignores the entire point of Genesis: that God made a good world. It hardly makes sense for God to say "I know they are going to screw up, so I'll create a bad world from the start". That would be an offense to his character.
As for Lewis and his satanically driven evolution: you encounter the same problem, that humans are placed in a bad world that is already against them. This not only contradicts the Genesis account, and the rest of the Scriptures that talk of the good creation, it seriously undermines the goodness of God. It makes him like one of the capricious ANE gods who inflict punishment on people before they have done anything wrong. For any problem these "solve", they create a hundred more serious problems.

You said that you thought God would have made immortality a real possibility if we had obeyed. Yet Jesus has taken away our sin, and we still die. This is because the immortality God offers us, as redeemed, is the same as that which was always offered: immortality through death and resurrection.

Larry said...

Bilbo, have you read Thornton's post in reply to Behe - http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/10/15/the-blind-locksmith-continued-an-update-from-joe-thornton/ ? Behe is little more than a laughing stock now amongst scientists. He, as with the rest of the ID advocates, appears to have completely abandoned all attempts at research and persuading the scientific community of the validity of their ideas. They don't go to conferences, don't present research (is the Biologic Institute still going?), and have instead resorted to commenting on the work of other scientists and attempting to paratisize their work as evidence for ID.
There is a youtube user named
C0nc0rdance, he is a research biologist. He has a lot of good videos on the Discovery Institute and their 'science' but one quote from the end of this one (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9dK_7_aGCs) always stuck with me;
"If research biology were a sport, the Intelligent Design movement would be a bitter reject from the team, booing and yelling insults from the sidelines, then claiming credit when the team scored."

Rob Mitchell said...

Bilbo: "How should we think of God now, after Darwin? Why?"

This, I think is the question the entire dialogue is aimed at posing, at least it is from this layman's perspective.

The publications produced by this blog have made some efforts at dealing with some of the theological issues.

First there is the issue of hermeneutic approach: if biological evolution and common descent are demonstrated by the evidence of science to be true, then what alternatives do we have to a literal-chronological hermeneutic of Genesis 1-11 while still maintaining a vital evangelical confession?

One of the issues raised is almost directly brought up by your question: If biological evolution and common descent are shown to be true, then how does this affect our view of theology proper, the doctrine of God?

Let me suggest a hypothetical or two. We see God's election of Israel as his covenant people, the recipients and channels of his revelation and redemption, not on the basis of anything inherent in them among the peoples. If we apply the same pattern to the biological principle, would God's election of a hominin couple or community to be the special recipients of his revelation and covenant be consistent or inconsistent?

Looking particularly at data coming from the emerging science of genomics and "evo-devo", some scientists (Sean B. Carroll) suggest that evolution looks like a "tinkerer" that tries different things with existing material, allowing expansion of genomic changes into adaptive spaces brought about by environmental change or other factors. Would such a view contradict the notion of God as the master designer who created life perfectly?

Some might find the idea of evolutionary dead ends, weird adaptations into adaptive niches, the idea of "tinkering" offensive, and claim that this does violence to the doctrine of God as the architect of Creation.

But does it really? Even in my own tradition (Reformed) we affirm compatibilism of divine sovereignty and human freedom, acknowledging God's providence and human responsibility - without having to provide an explanation or schematic of how this works out. In our individual redemptive histories, doesn't the journey look very much like "tinkering"? Often aren't the most greivous blunders and rebellions we commit the most salutary instruments God uses in shaping our characters to what He would have us to become?

Certainly all this is hypothetical, but it seems that it may be possible that we impose our own perspective (I certainly wouldn't do it that way!) upon God, as though our ideas of what he ought and ought not to do are binding upon him.

Although we may never know how the theologians of the past, such as the Westminster divines, might respond to Darwin, but frankly I am at a loss to see where evolution, if true, would contradict WCF III.I which states that God ordained ordained whatsoever comes to pass, "yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

I am grateful to the authors of the blog for raising the issues - they need to be discussed, and as Bethany so eloquently expressed, often Christian academia simply avoids the topic.

Steve Martin said...

Hey Dennis. Good to hear from you again! Re: discussing evolution from the pulpit. Yes, there are definitely times when pastors should be presenting positive science-faith messages (including discussions on evolution) – but I suspect that in our evangelical churches very few pastors are equipped for this. I’ve only heard evolution discussed once in the 7 years we’ve been at our church. Basically the pastor said something like “it doesn’t matter whether God used evolution to create us or not” … and then went on to discuss what it meant for God to be the Creator. Actually, I can live with that. And for our specific congregation, that’s probably all that is required. But then again, the odds of anti-evolution groups / programs being presented in our church is pretty small, so it is probably not fair to compare your situation and mine. I have had a few discussions with ID and/or YEC proponents during coffee time after the service but nothing very heated. I doubt there are any hard-and-fast rules here but I did think Bethany’s parameters seemed pretty good.

I asked a similar question over a year ago in Dialogue, Debate, Silence, or Confrontation? which I concluded with “I’m still struggling with these questions”. And today I still am.

All: BTW, I should probably have mentioned it before, but Dennis’s article Teaching Evolution in Christian Higher Education: Faith Shaking or Faith Affirming? is probably a good complement to Bethany’s post.

Rob: Thanks for your thought experiments – I think those are the right questions. Interesting your reference to the WCF. Did you follow the debate re: Enns and the WCF at WTS?

Dennis Venema said...

Hi Steve,

It's nice to see this blog up and running again - thanks for getting this series off the ground.

My latest impetus to address these issues is that our church is currently doing the "Truth Project" series of DVDs from Focus on the Family. The anti-evolution content there is (a) thoroughgoing and (b) presents faith and evolution as an absolute dichotomy. So, I spoke up a bit - and that resulted in me giving a talk for some interested folks in the church. I did request that I be allowed to give an "official" response, but that was turned down. So, the talk was not an official church event, but merely a group of interested folks meeting in a private home.

You can listen to the talk and view my slides starting here (it's in 12 parts, each linked below the one preceding in sequence). It's similar to my talk given at the ASA this summer, but pitched more at a non-specialist audience and with more theology content at the end:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of0PjoZY4L0

Blessings,

Dennis

Rob Mitchell said...

Steve:
Yes, I followed the discussion regarding WTS and Peter Enns, though at the time I was busy with other things, most notably finishing a Masters thesis at RTS. Interestingly at the same time one of the influential books in my thesis was Christopher H.J. Wright's The Mission of God, which elucidates a missional hermeneutic of Scripture. His approach complements in some ways Enns' incarnational analogy (which is, if I can use a clumsy term, a useful meta-reminder as we approach the Bible) encompassing much of the language of cultural accommodation one so often encounters here in this blog. Wright's work is a helpful reminder of the reason behind Scripture itself, indeed behind the Incarnation of Christ - namely the redemptive mission of God and the revelatory aspects of the mission.
These are the primary whys behind the accommodative language in which Scripture is expressed. And if we keep our eye on God's redemptive purposes even as we discuss the issues raised by this blog, I think that will go a long way toward defusing some of the passion around the discussion that forms the basis of this blog.

Bilbo said...

Dennis: "Behe's work just doesn't hold up, sorry. Reading it (as a geneticist) made me want to bang my head on my desk at frequent intervals."

Then perhaps you can explain what is wrong with his argument is chapter 7 of EoE, "The Two Binding-sites Rule." Also, Thornton's work seemed to show that getting from one homologous proteins to another can be very improbable indeed. How less likely for multiple protein products?

"Margulis and Woese do not agree with Behe's ideas, not in the slightest."

They don't agree with ID as the solution. But they agree that the accumulation of random genetic mutations does not account for most of evolution, and for the same reasons as Behe.

"Also, "mitochondrial Eve" is not a population bottleneck (nor is Y-chromosome Adam, either)."

Why not?

Bethany: "As for Dembski's view on the retroactive effects of the fall, I think that it totally ignores the entire point of Genesis: that God made a good world."

From the fact that not only human beings, but also animals are commanded to eat only plants and fruit, it seems clear that the author of Genesis thought that carnivorousness was evil. This seems to be re-enforced later when we are told that God is distraught over the violence among all flesh (not just human beings). And it is further re-enforced by Isaiah, who twice tells us that we should look forward to a world where predator and prey can live in peace.

If carnivorousness is evil, which people like Lewis, Dembski and I think it is; and if carnivorousness existed before human beings were around, then we need an explanation as to why that is. Dembski's view works in the following way: God's original intentions for creation is that carnivorousness wouldn't exist. Because human beings would rebel, the effects of their sin work not only forward into the future but also backward into the past. This would mirror the effect of Christ's death on the cross working not only forward into the future, but also backward into the past.

You can suggest that carnivorousness is good. Then it comes down to a disagreement of ethical or moral values.


"As for Lewis and his satanically driven evolution: you encounter the same problem, that humans are placed in a bad world that is already against them. This not only contradicts the Genesis account, and the rest of the Scriptures that talk of the good creation, it seriously undermines the goodness of God."

No. Given Lewis's explanation, God creates a good world, and puts Lucifer in charge. Lucifer rebels, becomes evil, and the Earth suffers. This would be similar to God putting us in charge of our children. Because we are sinful, our children suffer. Our fault, not God's.

"You said that you thought God would have made immortality a real possibility if we had obeyed. Yet Jesus has taken away our sin, and we still die. This is because the immortality God offers us, as redeemed, is the same as that which was always offered: immortality through death and resurrection."

The immortality may be the same, but the conditions are different. If the original human beings were offered a choice to trust and obey God and have life, or to doubt and disobey and have death, then we their heirs are confined to death, as Paul teaches in Romans. The only way out will be through the death and resurrection of our Lord.

Larry: "Bilbo, have you read Thornton's post in reply to Behe - http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/10/15/the-blind-locksmith-continued-an-update-from-joe-thornton/ "

Yes, and I also read Behe's reply, which apparently you haven't done.

Sorry, Rob Mitchell, but I didn't understand your answer at all.

Bilbo said...

Behe's reply to Thornton

http://behe.uncommondescent.com/2009/10/response-to-carl-zimmer-and-joseph-thornton-part-4/

Dennis Venema said...

Hi Bilbo,

What's wrong with EoE is that there is no evidence to back up Behe's claims, and, moreover, there is experimental evidence against Behe's claims that Behe ignores. Even some of the mutations that Behe claims are necessary to happen all in one "fell swoop" for his "CCC" are known to exist in single mutation form in the wild.

Behe also ignores genetic drift, neutral variation, and doesn't understand probability calculations.

Why do you suppose mitochondrial Eve was a population bottleneck? Mito Eve is the ancestor ONLY of modern human MITOCHONDRIAL DNA, not chromosomal DNA. Likewise, "Y-Adam" is ancestor only of modern Y chromosome DNA. The rest of our chromosomes have clear evidence of a large population size all the way back to speciation.

Mitochondrial lines and Y chromosome lines can end: Y's don't get passed on if a man only has daughters; mitochondrial DNA doesn't get passed on if mothers only have sons - BUT, in both cases, chromosomal DNA passes on just fine.

Oh, and Behe's replies to Thornton are feeble. They are enough to confuse the laity, but those in the know know Behe is flailing. The whole point of the ID movement is merely to convince those who want to be convinced.

You say you agree that common descent has good support. When you compare the human and chimpanzee genomes, what do you see that is beyond the range of random mutation to produce?

Bethany said...

Bilbo: you said From the fact that not only human beings, but also animals are commanded to eat only plants and fruit, it seems clear that the author of Genesis thought that carnivorousness was evil. This seems to be re-enforced later when we are told that God is distraught over the violence among all flesh.

Unfortunately this ignores all the places where a carnivorous creation is explicitly said to be God's creation. Like Psalm 104:21 "The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God" which he provides to them (v.27-28) or the God speeches in Job where God asks Job "Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket?"(38:39-40) with the implied answer that God does do this. Or later in chapter 39:29-30 God asks "Does the eagle soar at your command and build his nest on high? He dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is his stronghold. From there he seeks out his food; his eyes detect it from afar. His young ones feast on blood, and where the slain are, there is he."
God is describing his good feats of creation in these passages, and it is explicitly carnivorous.
Finally, you should also take into mind that there are many theologians throughout history who disagree that the original creation was entirely vegetarian. Augustine, in his "Literal Interpretation of Genesis" explicitly defends a carnivorous creation from the Genesis text (so your assertion about the Genesis author assuming carnivorousness to be evil is contested by Augustine. Contemporary theologians like Gordon Wenham and N.T. Wright also contest a vegetarian creation (which, by the way, still involves death). My point is this: Dembski's position is built upon the assumption that God would not make a world with carnivorousness. When God speaks of his own creation, he points to instances of carnivorousness with pride, and there are many theologians who can reconcile a carnivorous creation with God's good creation. Therefore, the basis of your argument is flawed.

Second, where in the world does it say that God put Lucifer in charge of the world? Even Milton does not assert that! The typical passages about "Lucifer" (such as Isaiah 14, or Ezekiel 28) explicitly state to whom they refer (the Kings of Babylon and Tyre respectively). Furthermore, if anything is clear from the entire Old Testament witness, it is that God alone is sovereign over the creation--that God made it, continues to rule over it, and there is none to contest God in this absolute rule.

Brent said...

Lots of good issues here, all with some nuance.

Just wanted to point out that the idea of angels having dominions and domains of power and authority is the Biblical view, recognized by Hebrew scholars. And the idea of Satan being in charge of the world is a somewhat minority, but valid academic viewpoint. In fact, Greg Boyd in his 'Satan and the Problem of Evil' takes it much farther, arguing that Satan was the angel in charge of reality itself (the 'prince of the power of the air'). He argues that the fall of Satan thus led to the fallen reality that we still exist in today. I highly recommend the (somewhat academic) book for a good grasp on the concepts of powers and dominions. I believe Boyd also takes the position of a vegetarian intention for creation (lions laying down with lambs and all that).

A second point that might come out of the back and forth here is that the issues of common descent and the mechanisms of evolutionary change are related, but distinct. No serious biologist, I think, denies or is even skeptical about common descent. And the strong role of random mutation and natural selection can't be denied. But there do seem to be legitimate questions about whether the latter two are enough to account for all evolutionary processes. I'd be interested to know what others think of Simon Conway Morris' views on directed evolution, for instance. Morris thinks that some evidence suggests that evolutionary directions are not random and that creatures something like humans were an inevitable outcome of evolution.

Note that if Morris or other doubters like him (not Behe - he is a denier, not a doubter) are correct, this still doesn't necessarily require supernatural reference in our explanations. However, like anthropic arguments from physics, it might at least point toward the divine more strongly.

I think overall evolutionary biology suffers somewhat from the fact that, as Dawkins like to say, its the only game in town. And I'd agree with him that it pretty much should be - there is strong evidence for it and no obvious alternatives. But a side-effect of that position, I think, is that the field has become a bit stale on the theoretical side. There seems to be a sense in which the theory of biology has been all figured out and its just the detailed engineering work that needs doing now. I think I recall Gould lamenting this as well.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the discussion!

Bethany said...

Brent,

I have not read Boyd's book, and so cannot comment on that, although I think you'll find that any view like that would be indefensible in the Old Testament.

As for Conway Morris, he does not support directed evolution. Convergenary evolution only says that the same things seem to evolve separately (camera eyes and such) and this is explained by way of ecological niches encouraging certain developments and the laws of physics making only some adaptations a survivable reality. By saying that "evolution is not random" he means only that the way the universe works rules out many possibilities and encourages others. He does not mean that natural selection and random genetic mutation are not raw materials for evolutionary change, which he does believe. He simply says there is more at work than that, which there is. He does not mean that God stepped in, intervened in the process, and "directed it" certain ways. Conway Morris' model is like being stuck in a valley between two unclimbable mountains. You have freedom to move wherever you'd like, but you are inevitably going to move along the valley floor in one of two directions. However, your way of walking ("genetic mutation") does not change because of the mountains which contain possible movement.

Brent said...

Bethany: I'd challenge you to read Boyd's book, which is indeed well-defended and takes the OT very seriously. It also engages the evolution question to some degree. If I recall correctly, for Boyd the fall of Satan and its implications for a fallen reality allow for an explanation of natural evil since what we often call forces of nature are (potentially) the dominions of fallen spiritual powers. This includes the violent history of evolution. He argues this is the dominant view in Hebrew/Jewish thought in the OT and especially the NT. Boyd is no slouch of a theologian. I wouldn't dismiss him out of hand.

Re: directed evolution - sorry, I shouldn't have used the term 'directed' as this implies agency. I didn't mean to imply any more than you have described regarding Morris' work. But as you point out, it does require more than just random mutation and natural selection - namely, it requires additional constraints on what sorts of selections are possible/probable. That seems like a huge opportunity for new work in the field that has barely been touched, and my sense (and I could be wrong) is that Morris' conclusions are more than many biologists are willing to admit since they fly in the face of what have become standard 'beliefs' in the field (such as Gould's tape-replay metaphor). It seems like the very idea of larger organizing principles that might govern evolutionary progression are viewed as anathema to the field. But again my own field is only peripherally connected to this research, so perhaps I don't know the field well-enough (though my biologist friends seem to feel this way as well).

Steve Martin said...

Bilbo: re: how we should think about God after Darwin, I think the implied answer (by some at least) is that we shouldn't think of God any differently because he hasn't changed. But the point is that our theology (which is fallible and limited) often must change because of what we learn about God's creation. (Unless we side with those that say Natural Theology should NEVER be done - and natural theology has a long and rich tradition in Christianity (as to opposed say within Islam - see McGrath's "the open secret" we discussed in Jordan's post earlier).

And I'd argue that how we think of God after Einstein might be just as good (or better) question than theology after Darwin.

re: Rob's points, I suspect he was commenting on two ideas:

a) two biological ancestors to the entire human race (adam and eve) is no longer tenable, but the "federal head" idea has some precedent given Israel's role among the nations

b) the randomness we see in evolution (including its dead ends) can be reconciled with traditional orthodox theologies (eg. WCF in the reformed tradition). God provides freedom to his creation.

At least, that is how I understood his points.

Steve Martin said...

Dennis, Bethany, Rob: re: Your various comments on the whens, wheres, and whys of speaking out - I'm thinking of putting some of my thoughts on this in a separate blog post.

Brent: Thanks for the references to Boyd. Personally, I think these ideas are dangerously close to Manichaeism - I should hasten to say I'm not accusing Boyd of heretical ideas & frankly I appreciate some of his writing. But on this, I'm not sold at all (although, willing to be convinced otherwise).

re: the book (early 2000's?), he has written more recently on this topic on his blog. So Bethany, you may want to refer to these posts rather than scrambling to get yet another book.

Historical Fall and Historical Redemption

Satan and Carnage of Nature

The argument from animal suffering

The argument from demonically influenced infirmities

The argument from God’s Creational Battles


The argument from God’s non-violent creational ideal

The argument from cursed nature

The argument from cosmic redemption

An argument from the early church fathers

Evolution as Cosmic Warfare

More on Evolution and Cosmic Warfare

Bilbo said...

Dennis: "What's wrong with EoE is that there is no evidence to back up Behe's claims,"

Let's concentrate on his argument in Chap.7. His claim is that at least 5 or 6 amino acid residues have to change in order to form a new binding-site that has at least 50% binding capability, which he claims (with supporting endnotes) is the minimum necessary to be selectable. Do you disagree with that?

Next, he claims (again with endnotes) that neutral mutations can only be expected to provide 1/3 of those amino acid changes. Do you disagree with that?

That leaves 3 or 4 amino acid changes needed before selectability. If point mutations were the only way, he says this would be extremely improbable. Do you disagree with that?

If more than two-binding sites were needed for selectability, this would be beyond the reach of random mutation. Do you disagree with that?

And he says that most cellular protein functions require at least six proteins, which means random mutation couldn't account for them. Do you disagree with that?



"...and, moreover, there is experimental evidence against Behe's claims that Behe ignores."

Such as?

"Even some of the mutations that Behe claims are necessary to happen all in one "fell swoop" for his "CCC" are known to exist in single mutation form in the wild."

I think Behe has dealt with these objections in his blog.

"Behe also ignores genetic drift, neutral variation, and doesn't understand probability calculations."

He certainly claims to have dealt with genetic drift and neutral variations. And though I have heard the claim that he doesn't understand probability calculations, I haven't seen it demonstrated, yet.

"Mitochondrial lines and Y chromosome lines can end: Y's don't get passed on if a man only has daughters; mitochondrial DNA doesn't get passed on if mothers only have sons - BUT, in both cases, chromosomal DNA passes on just fine."

Ah. Thanks for the clarification. So when did speciation happen?

"Oh, and Behe's replies to Thornton are feeble. They are enough to confuse the laity, but those in the know know Behe is flailing. The whole point of the ID movement is merely to convince those who want to be convinced."

Which includes me. So unconvince me.

"You say you agree that common descent has good support. When you compare the human and chimpanzee genomes, what do you see that is beyond the range of random mutation to produce?"

Do we know enough about their differences to answer that question, yet?

Sorry, Bethany, but I'm out of time. I'll get back to this tomorrow.

Dennis Venema said...

Let's concentrate on his argument in Chap.7. His claim is that at least 5 or 6 amino acid residues have to change in order to form a new binding-site that has at least 50% binding capability, which he claims (with supporting endnotes) is the minimum necessary to be selectable. Do you disagree with that? 



Yes. Behe has not demonstrated this to be the case. A claim like this needs empirical support. Even if it could be demonstrated in an individual case, it does not follow that this is a “rule” that applies to all cases – however, Behe’s argument assumes this. There’s a reason why Behe doesn’t publish in the peer-reviewed literature, you know. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if Behe had really demonstrated that RM + NS couldn’t account for evolution that there would be a discussion of this in the professional literature. Or do you think there is a worldwide Darwinian conspiracy or something?

Next, he claims (again with endnotes) that neutral mutations can only be expected to provide 1/3 of those amino acid changes.

Again, this position lacks support in the literature. Merely citing papers doesn't cut it. You need to show that your ideas have experimental support.

Do you disagree with that?

That leaves 3 or 4 amino acid changes needed before selectability. If point mutations were the only way, he says this would be extremely improbable. If more than two-binding sites were needed for selectability, this would be beyond the reach of random mutation. Do you disagree with that?



Here are the main problems with Behe: (1) point mutations are not the only way to evolve proteins or exapt them to new functionality, and (2) point mutations can persist for a long time as unselected variation in a population and recombine with other point mutations through genetic exchange. Behe either doesn’t understand these points or he deliberately ignores them in his argument. You say that Behe accounts for drift, but his probability calculations are based on multiple point mutations occurring simultaneously in the same organism. Basically this is a variant of the “everything needed in one fell swoop” argument. Again, good enough to fool a non-specialist, but not good enough to compete with genuine science.

As for RM+NS producing new proteins, how about through a frameshift mutation to give the precursor of Nylonase? See

http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/apr04.html

Or how about the origins of Turf-13 in maize through shuffling of non-coding and coding sequences? see

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/05/on-the-evolutio-1.html

If new protein functionality can arise through other processes than point mutations of existing proteins then Behe’s argument is dead in the water. His entire argument is predicated that point mutations are the only means to new protein function. Yet we have good evidence that this is not the case.

Dennis Venema said...

sorry, for the nylonase link add an "ml" to the end to make it "html"

Bilbo said...

Bethany: "Unfortunately this ignores all the places where a carnivorous creation is explicitly said to be God's creation."

None of the passages you cited say that God intended to create carnivorous creatures; just that he provides for them. I have no doubt that God wanted to create lions, tigers, bears and eagles. The scriptural evidence suggests that He didn't mean for them to be eating other animals. And yes, eating plants means there would be some kind of death. But Genesis makes it clear that it was the kind that was meant to be.

"Second, where in the world does it say that God put Lucifer in charge of the world?"

Nowhere, though 1 John tell us that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. Did that just happen after human beings fell, or before? If creation has been subjected to futility before humans fell, then it's possible that Satan has had power in the Earth before humans existed.

By the way, I went back to make sure I wasn't misstating Lewis's view. I mixed up his fictional with his theological work. In The Problem of Pain ("Animal Pain"), he says, "It seems to me, therefore, a reasonable supposition, that some mighty created power had already been at work for ill on the material universe, or the solar system, or, at least, the planet Earth, before ever man came on the scene...." It's in his fictional Out of the Silent Planet, that he suggests that there is an Oyarsa (angel) that oversees each planet, and that the one overseeing Earth is in a state of rebellion against God.

But look, Paul makes it clear in Romans 8 that creation has been subjected to futility. It is not what God originally intended it to be. And this seems to be one of the things that the author of Genesis was trying to explain: If what God has created is good why do human beings die, and why do animals eat each other. Since we now believe that creation after human beings is very much like it was before human beings, that means it has been subjected to futility for a very long time. We need to explain that somehow. Dembski and Lewis offer two theories that are compatible with Scripture.

Bilbo said...

Steve: "re: Rob's points, I suspect he was commenting on two ideas:

a) two biological ancestors to the entire human race (adam and eve) is no longer tenable, but the "federal head" idea has some precedent given Israel's role among the nations

b) the randomness we see in evolution (including its dead ends) can be reconciled with traditional orthodox theologies (eg. WCF in the reformed tradition). God provides freedom to his creation.
"

Thanks for the clarification. I think both points are legitimate possibilities. My objections to random mutations accounting for evolution are scientific, not theological.

Dennis: "Yes. Behe has not demonstrated this [50% binding for selectability] to be the case. "

He gave supporting endnotes. Were his sources insufficient?

"There’s a reason why Behe doesn’t publish in the peer-reviewed literature, you know."

But he has.

"It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if Behe had really demonstrated that RM + NS couldn’t account for evolution that there would be a discussion of this in the professional literature. Or do you think there is a worldwide Darwinian conspiracy or something?"

Margulis and Woese deny RM + NS, regardless of Behe. I think there is a lact of discussion because scientists resist giving up one paradigm unless there is an "acceptable" paradigm to replace it.

"Again, this position [that only 1/3 of the mutations will be neutral] lacks support in the literature. Merely citing papers doesn't cut it. You need to show that your ideas have experimental support."

Are you saying the paper he cites doesn't have experimental support?

"Here are the main problems with Behe: (1) point mutations are not the only way to evolve proteins or exapt them to new functionality, and (2) point mutations can persist for a long time as unselected variation in a population and recombine with other point mutations through genetic exchange. Behe either doesn’t understand these points or he deliberately ignores them in his argument."

Behe makes it clear that there are many kinds of mutations besides point mutations, but that point mutations are by far the most common. And he also makes it clear that neutral variations can exist for a long time in a population. But for them to spread and become fixed in a population, and then to become a source of for new proteins is rare.

"You say that Behe accounts for drift, but his probability calculations are based on multiple point mutations occurring simultaneously in the same organism. Basically this is a variant of the “everything needed in one fell swoop” argument. Again, good enough to fool a non-specialist, but not good enough to compete with genuine science."

Yes, his calculations are based on multiple point mutations occurring simultaneously, since he thinks he's supported the contention that only 1/3 of them will be neutral. I'm still waiting for your counter-evidence.

"As for RM+NS producing new proteins, how about through a frameshift mutation to give the precursor of Nylonase? See

http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/apr04.html

Or how about the origins of Turf-13 in maize through shuffling of non-coding and coding sequences? see

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/05/on-the-evolutio-1.html
"

I'll look them up, when I get the chance. I don't think Behe denies that new proteins can occasionally evolve this way. I think he denies that this can account for the most of evolution.

Out of time.

Paul said...

Bilbo, the thing is that no scientist on the planet thinks that random mutation and natural selection account for absolutely everything we see. Of course there are all sorts of other processes going on, but no serious scientist doubts they play an important role.
Margulis and Woese have absolutely no time for ID, and they do not doubt that natural evolutionary processes account for biodiversity. To suggest otherwise is just dishonest;
http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/09/lynn-margulis-d.html
http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2008/03/woese-the-darwi.html
http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2004/09/icons-of-id-car.html

Lowell said...

Hi Bethany

I was intrigued by your reply to Brent regarding the course material you prepared on the evolution and the Bible. I am interested in obtaining your material if at all possible for use in the church I'm presently attending. Our church is planning to us the Focus on the Family "Truth Project" material, and from what I've been able to gather it appears that their material on science is very anti-evolution, presenting the viewer with a stark choice between creationism or atheistic evolution. I would like some material that presents the evolutionary creationism position, to provide a more balanced choice.

My own journey started with YEC being taught as the only option at the Bible institute I first attended. When finishing my degree at college I was exposed to views that questioned the YEC position, but I never fully moved beyond the YEC position.
In the early 90's I attended Regent College where due to the kinds of courses I took I never encountered any teacher led discussion on the issue. My own reading in the theology of creation led me to encounter different viewpoints with the progressive creationism/ID view seeming the best fit to me because I could still hold to a historical Adam and Eve. Recently I've been revisiting the issue and have been leaning closer to the evolutionary creationism position of Lamoureux. The difficult issues I'm struggling with have to do with the interpretation of Genesis 1-11 and how the NT uses both Adam and the Flood in its theology.

I would also like to read your thesis as the problem of theodicy is another area I've recently been reading up on.

lkdueck@telus.net

Dennis Venema said...

Hi Lowell,

Our church is doing the Truth Project right now as well - though we are through with the science sections.

I ended up giving a talk / leading an evening of discussion as a response, focusing mostly on the genomics evidence for human:chimp common ancestry. I don't know if you've already seen this or not, but if not here's the link to the first video (there are 12, each is linked under the one preceding in turn):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of0PjoZY4L0

Bilbo said...

Paul: "Bilbo, the thing is that no scientist on the planet thinks that random mutation and natural selection account for absolutely everything we see. Of course there are all sorts of other processes going on, but no serious scientist doubts they play an important role.
Margulis and Woese have absolutely no time for ID, and they do not doubt that natural evolutionary processes account for biodiversity. To suggest otherwise is just dishonest;
"

I'm offended by the implication of dishonesty. I said that Margulis and Woese would reject ID. But like Behe, they reject random mutation as being able to account for most of evolution. Margulis is betting on symbiogenesis, and Woese on horizontal gene transfer. Even Behe admits that random mutation plays a role in evolution and can account for speciation. He doesn't think that it is able to account for major changes in evolution. And given what appears to be the validity of his argument, we can understand why.

Paul said...

Horizontal gene transfer is not an alternative to natural selection. Nobody thinks that tetrapods descended from sarcopterygii via horizontal gene transfer, nor cetaceans from a terrestrial mammal.
If Behe's argument is so powerful why is it that every geneticist that I've have seen comment on his idea thinks it is total nonsense?

Bilbo said...

Paul: "Horizontal gene transfer is not an alternative to natural selection. Nobody thinks that tetrapods descended from sarcopterygii via horizontal gene transfer, nor cetaceans from a terrestrial mammal."

You'll have to argue with Woese about the efficacy of HGT. But you're confusing the cause of novelty and variation with natural selection, which only preserves them.

"If Behe's argument is so powerful why is it that every geneticist that I've have seen comment on his idea thinks it is total nonsense?"

I'm not sure. So far, Dennis, who claims to be a geneticist, hasn't really explained why. I suggest that the Modern Synthesis is an extrapolation from the observation that RM + NS can cause speciation (which as I previously mentioned, even Behe admits) to the greater claim that RM + NS can cause major changes in life forms. And at least some scientists, besides ID proponents, are beginning to question this.

By the way, Paul, are you still accusing me of dishonesty?

Paul said...

Bilbo, yes I do think your approach is rather dishonest. You make the same argument various ID proponents do, namely that serious scientists are beginning to doubt that natural evolutionary mechanisms account for biodiversity. The works of Dembski and Meyer are full of such claims, but as soon as we ask for who these scientists actually are we are provided either with DI hacks or people engaged in other forms of anti-evolution apologetics. Here is the important question: are serious scientists increasingly doubting that natural mechanisms (including but not limited to RM + NS)? The answer is no.
It is the same with the infamous 'Dissent from Darwinism' list, make a statement so vague that almost anybody can sign it (no reference to common ancestry or the role played by other mechanisms) and then herald it as evidence scientists are abandoning evolution. The statement from Project Steve is much clearer and obviously much more in line with the views of scientists;
"Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence."

I will repeat my assertions about Woese, his findings about HGT are well-founded and scientifically accepted but he is not proposing it as a mechanism in any other forms of life other than microbes. HGT plays no role in the evolution of mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians and so on.

With regard to Behe, when it comes to assessing his claims as a non-specialist, if you are asking me to side with him or Dobzhansky, Wright, Haldane, and Fisher, as well as modern scientists who have assessed his work such as Sean Carroll and Allen Orr, I'm afraid Behe loses that encounter every time. Call that an appeal to authority if you want, but to me it is a self-evident fact that not all PhD holders have equal scientific credibility and gravitas in various fields.

Paul said...

* The question at the end of the first paragraph in my last post should read;

Here is the important question: are serious scientists increasingly doubting that natural mechanisms (including but not limited to RM + NS) account for biodiversity?

Dennis Venema said...

Bilbo,

In order for Behe to claim that he has found the "edge" of evolution (i.e. the limit of what RM + NS can achieve) he needs to show that new protein functionality arises ONLY from multiple, simultaneous point mutations of existing proteins.

This is the crux of his whole argument. If this fails, his argument has no merit.

Instead, what we see in the literature is the following:

- single point mutations can persist as non-selected variation in a population for a significant length of time before a second mutation increases the fitness of that genotype (Lenski's work on long-term E. Coli evolution has been an especially well-documented example of this)

- new proteins can arise from RM that shuffles sequences into new combinations (e.g. Turf-13, nylonase) which then have been selected. Turf-13 is even "irreducibly complex" by Behe's own criteria. Hence, "irreducibly complex" molecular systems can arise via RM + NS.

In other words, Behe's argument is dead, even when using his definitions.

Also, I don't merely "claim" to be a geneticist. I am one. If you doubt, feel free to look up my Ph.D. thesis at the library of the University of British Columbia, or look up my publication record online through PubMed or Medline.

Adam said...

Regarding the Lenski experiments, what do we make of RTB's take on them - http://www.reasons.org/evolution/macro-vs-micro-evolution/LongTermEvolutionExperimentEvidencefortheEvolutionaryParadigmPart2of%202

Also, almost every other day they have on their main page under the "Did you know?" section that genetic evidence shows that we are all descended from one man and one woman. Dennis you say this is not so, but are they not aware of the same research you are?

Adam said...

I don't know why it didn't come out properly - http://www.reasons.org/evolution/macro-vs-micro-evolution/LongTermEvolutionExperimentEvidence
fortheEvolutionaryParadigmPart2of 2

Bilbo said...

Paul: "Bilbo, yes I do think your approach is rather dishonest. You make the same argument various ID proponents do, namely that serious scientists are beginning to doubt that natural evolutionary mechanisms account for biodiversity."

Now you are misquoting me. I said: "By "evolution" do you mean common descent? Or do you also mean random mutation? If only the former, then I agree. If also the latter, then perhaps you are unaware that the evidence weakens daily."

and: "You've read Behe's books? You realize that Lynn Margulis and now Carl Woese object to the Modern Synthesis for the same reasons, though they don't buy ID? You've read Behe's commentary on Thornton's work?"

I never claimed that "serious scientists are beginning to doubt that natural evolutionary mechanisms account for biodiversity." Only that they are beginning to doubt the Modern Synthesis.

If you go here:

http://telicthoughts.com/modern-evolutionary-synthesis-science-stopper/

and follow the link, and read the last page of Woese's paper, you will see that he thinks the Modern Synthesis is in trouble with eukaryotic evolution, not just with "microbes."

I wish Steve would at least moderate your comments. I have not been dishonest. But you have been slanderous.

Dennis: "In order for Behe to claim that he has found the "edge" of evolution (i.e. the limit of what RM + NS can achieve) he needs to show that new protein functionality arises ONLY from multiple, simultaneous point mutations of existing proteins."

No he doesn't. He needs to show that most mutations are single point -- which they are. He needs to show that other forms of mutation are not going to seriously increase the chances of creating new binding-sites, which he does.

"- single point mutations can persist as non-selected variation in a population for a significant length of time before a second mutation increases the fitness of that genotype (Lenski's work on long-term E. Coli evolution has been an especially well-documented example of this)"

But Behe admits this.

"- new proteins can arise from RM that shuffles sequences into new combinations (e.g. Turf-13, nylonase) which then have been selected."

And I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have a problem with this, either.

"Turf-13 is even "irreducibly complex" by Behe's own criteria. Hence, "irreducibly complex" molecular systems can arise via RM + NS."

I bet Turf-13 isn't "irreducibly complex." Now I'll have to look at your reference.

"In other words, Behe's argument is dead, even when using his definitions."

No. He puts the limit of random mutation at creating two-binding sites -- in other words, three interactive proteins. Nothing you've referred to touches this.

Meanwhile, we can always turn to Thornton's work. Behe would have been willing to admit that a protein could evolve back and forth in time with its precursor form. Thornton showed that even though it was easy for a protein to evolve one way, it would be nearly impossible to evolve the other way. That should leave us wondering how the first form ever arose. What's interesting is that the second form has lost one of the functions that the first form had. So devolving proteins may be easy. Evolving proteins that have more function may be nearly impossible. Not a good outlook for the Modern Synthesis.

Dennis Venema said...

Bilbo said:

No. He puts the limit of random mutation at creating two-binding sites -- in other words, three interactive proteins. Nothing you've referred to touches this.

Turf-13 alone has multiple binding sites - read the references. Likewise nylonase - it's a functional enzyme that uses several amino acids to form its enzymatic site.

I don't think you understand the argument:

Behe claims x is the ONLY WAY to get new protein functionality,

alternate methods are demonstrated to be possible,

therefore Behe's claim is false.


Adam,

RTB: don't trust 'em further than you can throw 'em. In my opinion AIG is a bastion of honesty by comparison.

The evidence they cite is for mitchondrial / Y chromosome DNA only. These are inherited in a special way, and so show a different pattern. Chromosomal DNA evidence shows our species has not been below 1000 since speciation.

I'm actually writing an article on this for the ASA journal PSCF right now - should be out sometime in the spring.

Glenn said...

The thing about RTB is that they have been told all of this. They had an interview with Francis Collins in I think 2005 or so and he laid it all out for them, about mitochondrial Eve and the genomics data for common descent, why common design is not a viable alternative etc, and yet over 4 years on they are same making the same arguments.

Steve Matheson has some articles on them;
http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/2008/03/hugh-ross-shocking-fairy-tale.html
http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/2008/02/talking-trash-about-junk-dna-lies-about_21.html
http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/2008/01/talking-trash-about-junk-dna-lies-about.html
http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/2007/12/talking-trash-about-junk-dna.html

Hugh Ross frequently takes YECs to task for what he regards as their misinformation and bogus science regarding the age of the earth, but it seems his biological arguments are just as flawed.

The thing that interests me most about them is that Hugh Ross genuinely believes that he is going to get his "testable Creation Model" established within the scientific community, with serious research and all, and have it taught in schools. He appears to think that the only reason that Intelligent Design failed was that it wasn't explicit enough in identifying the designer and that by making it known that he is referring to the God of the Bible, and how the Genesis account matches organisms' appearance in the fossil record (apparently) it makes it scientific.
Ross was just talking recently about some years ago he drew up a competing list of predictions that various competing models would make about future scientific discoveries; naturalistic evolution, theistic evolution (would be interesting to know what he thought differences would be between those two in terms of science), old earth creationism, and young earth creationism. He reckons that when he has now come to evaluate these predictions, his old earth creation model has met the vast majority of its predictions and out competed every other model.

I'm pretty sure that they have little impact on the market, compared to say Answers In Genesis, but they are interesting nonetheless to keep an eye on.

Steve Martin said...

Wow. Maybe I should pay more attention to my blog.

Re: the various claims on honesty.

I’d like to make the assumption, until otherwise shown differently, that everyone participating here is honest (even if they can, like me, be honestly mistaken at times). So, Paul, although I think I agree for the most part with your points, I don’t think it is appropriate to say Bilbo’s “approach is dishonest” – at least I haven’t seen anything to warrant this claim; you (and others of us here) may believe he is mistaken, or is ignoring certain evidence – but I don’t think we should be questioning his integrity – that is probably crossing the line.

OTOH, on Dennis’s reference to RTB & suggestion of dishonestly, I think this is probably a valid point given their record on biology over the last while. I was just looking up those chestnuts of Stephen Matheson’s on “Folk Science” when I noticed a Glenn’s comment. (Thanks! You saved me some internet digging time.)

Its too long to repeat here, but I commented on different levels of dishonestly and RTB on a followup post Matheson’s did to the one's Glenn identified above - this one was called Folk Science and Lies.

But this discussion is probably more appropriate for the Speaking the Truth about Science in Love article posted yesterday. I’ll try to comment over there later tonight; right now, its off to play hockey (I’ve got to be a true Canadian eh?)

Bilbo said...

Dennis: "Turf-13 alone has multiple binding sites - read the references. Likewise nylonase - it's a functional enzyme that uses several amino acids to form its enzymatic site."

If I understand it, Urf13 proteins bind to themselves. Behe rules this out as a separate binding site. Then Urf13 proteins have an exterior binding site that cellular proteins can bind to in order to make the Urf13 proteins re-configure, opening a channel to the mitochondria. If I understand Behe's example in DBB, the ion channel is a separate protein. So in the case of the Urf13 proteins, this wouldn't be IC.


"I don't think you understand the argument:
Behe claims x is the ONLY WAY to get new protein functionality,
alternate methods are demonstrated to be possible,
therefore Behe's claim is false.
"

I understand Behe's argument. I'll just quote his endnote 12 for chapter 7:
"As discussed in Chapter 7 [I think he meant 6] there are different kinds of mutations -- deletions, duplications, and so on. But point mutation represents the conceptually simplest, most straightforward route. This calculation uses consensus values for important variables. One could certainly imagine other scenarios for making a new protein-binding site, for example by first invoking gene duplication and then point mutation. But those are either unlikely to help much [he cites the Behe/Snoke paper] or likely to involve special circumstances that amount to a Just-So story. All alternative scenarios would have to confront the fact that no new binding sites have turned up in the best-studied evolutionary cases of malaria and HIV, as described later in the text."

But the fact that T-urf13 appears to be a de novo gene does seem to be a challenge to Behe's case. It makes me wonder if it really is new, or if it was a de-activated gene, that got re-activated by artificial selection. A commenter at the site pointed out that there are reasons that male-sterility would exist in the wild.

I realize that the evidence suggests that most of it came from non-coding regions, or regions that coded for RNA. It makes me wonder if genomes, or at least mitochondrial genomes, can be re-configured, depending upon need. I'll try reading more about it, as time allows.

Bilbo said...

Hi Dennis,

I'm especially intrigued by this article, and I'm curious what you think about it:

http://www.plantcell.org/cgi/content/full/11/4/571

Bilbo said...

I'm especially intrigued by the following from the article: "Moreover, within given plant families, it has been persuasively demonstrated that individual plant species likely represent evolutionary intermediates in an ongoing process of gene transfer from the mitochondrion to the nucleus (Brennicke et al. 1993 Down; Gray 1995 Down). Such gene transfer apparently occurs via RNA intermediates, presumably a vestige of earlier endosymbiotic processes. If this is the case, how would a newly introduced nuclear form of a gene then derive a means of transferring its product back to the mitochondrion? Analysis of "recently" transferred mitochondrial genes within the nucleus of rice has established the integration of introduced genes at duplicated sites already encoding mitochondrial proteins to allow, essentially, the requisitioning of the previous transit sequence (Kadowaki et al. 1996 Down)."

It seems to confirm my hunch.

Dennis Venema said...

Bilbo said:

It seems to confirm my hunch.

Actually, you haven't understood the article. It's talking about targeting a peptide to a mitochondrion. When a gene is moved from a mitochondrial genome to the nuclear genome the protein is still required in the mitochondria for function. This section talking about how insertion at near a preexisting nuclear (mitochodrial) gene can provide targeting signals to the new nuclear gene.

Also, a while back you were talking about Behe and HIV - and that he claims no new binding sites have evolved in HIV. Well, that's wrong too - see here:

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/08/erv-hiv-versus.html

another excellent summary of the problems with this line of argument in general:

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2008/04/behe-versus-rib.html

Also, you haven't dealt with the nylonase example or the Lenski lab's long-term E. Coli data either.

Bilbo said...

Dennis: "Actually, you haven't understood the article. It's talking about targeting a peptide to a mitochondrion. When a gene is moved from a mitochondrial genome to the nuclear genome the protein is still required in the mitochondria for function. This section talking about how insertion at near a preexisting nuclear (mitochodrial) gene can provide targeting signals to the new nuclear gene."

I understood the article to be saying that mitochondrial genes are often stored in the nuclear genome, and that if and when they are needed, there is a way to move them back to the mitochondria. Is that what you are saying that I'm misunderstanding?

"Also, a while back you were talking about Behe and HIV - and that he claims no new binding sites have evolved in HIV. Well, that's wrong too - see here:

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/08/erv-hiv-versus.html
"

I think Behe admitted that HIV has evolved another protein.

"another excellent summary of the problems with this line of argument in general:

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2008/04/behe-versus-rib.html
"

Is this HIV, or something else?

"Also, you haven't dealt with the nylonase example or the Lenski lab's long-term E. Coli data either."

Hey, one problem at a time! I'm still working on the T-urf13! :)

Dennis Venema said...

Hi Bilbo,

I understood the article to be saying that mitochondrial genes are often stored in the nuclear genome, and that if and when they are needed, there is a way to move them back to the mitochondria. Is that what you are saying that I'm misunderstanding?

Yes. You have misunderstood. This is not what the article is saying. Now, I'm not trying to be unkind here, but what level of biological training do you have (i.e. at what level do I need to start with to help you understand this?) Do you have any university-level biology course experience?

Turf 13 is new. It's not it the nuclear genome of any strain of maize. It's a brand new protein, assembled within a mitochondrial genome by random mutation, and selected for (by humans).

So, if Behe has admitted that HIV has evolved a new protein, and thus has evolved new protein:protein interactions (since this protein doesn't just function in a vacuum, but interacts with other HIV proteins, then what do you see is "left" of Behe's argument?

That second link (above) is an overview of the basic problems with Behe's approach in general. Again, Behe's entire argument rests on the assertion that ONLY simultaneous double point mutations can provide new protein functionality. It should be obvious by now that that is demonstrably not the case; ergo, Behe has not found an "edge" of evolution.

Anonymous said...

Oops. I'm Bilbo. I forgot to log in at google, first.

Dennis: "Now, I'm not trying to be unkind here, but what level of biological training do you have"


I have very little biological training.

"Turf 13 is new. It's not it the nuclear genome of any strain of maize."

The maize nuclear genome has been entirely sequenced, then?

"So, if Behe has admitted that HIV has evolved a new protein, and thus has evolved new protein:protein interactions (since this protein doesn't just function in a vacuum, but interacts with other HIV proteins, then what do you see is "left" of Behe's argument?"

Behe puts the edge at three interacting proteins. Coming up with one protein that is then able to interact with other proteins wouldn't cross the edge. Especially given the extreme mutational rate and population size of HIV.

The T-urf13 gene seems, to me at least, to be more of a challenge, since it would seem to have a much slower mutational rate and smaller population size, and even if not IC, it still has a very intricate function.

"That second link (above) is an overview of the basic problems with Behe's approach in general."

I'll look at it when I get the chance.

"Again, Behe's entire argument rests on the assertion that ONLY simultaneous double point mutations can provide new protein functionality."

No. It rests on that and on the lack of new proteins in P. falciparum and E-coli, which had access to all the other types of mutations.

" It should be obvious by now that that is demonstrably not the case; ergo, Behe has not found an "edge" of evolution."

So it isn't obvious to me, yet.

Dennis Venema said...

Hi Bilbo,

Here's another link on Turf13. If you want to argue that Turf-13 is not IC, you'll have to explain to me why Hunt is wrong. I've read the whole thing, and I agree with him. Turf13 is a multimeric gated ion channel for goodness sake. How is that not IC, even by Behe's definition?

http://aghunt.wordpress.com/2009/01/24/behe-and-the-limits-of-evolution/

Also, the "absence of new proteins" in E. Coli is readily shot down simply by looking at the ongoing, and very well documented, research by the Lenski group:

http://myxo.css.msu.edu/ecoli/

Behe's got nothing, sorry. Look at his testimony for the Kitzmiller trial (where he says there are NO peer-reviewed publications that test ID hypotheses or provide support for ID claims - not one). Nothing has changed since then.

Bilbo said...

First, to repeat my question, do you know if the entire maize nuclear genome has been sequenced, yet?

I'm not sure, but I think Behe would claim that the T-urf13 complex is not IC, since the gate is not a separate protein, but formed by a combination of (5?) copies of the same Urf13 protein. Nevertheless, it is still a very sophisticated system, and if it evolved recently, it poses a stiff challenge to Behe's claims. So I'll keep researching it.

Behe's latest comments on Lenski's work:
http://behe.uncommondescent.com/2009/10/new-work-by-richard-lenski/

Dennis Venema said...

Here’s Behe’s own definition of IC, from Darwin’s Black Box:

“By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”

No mention that multimeric complexes of the same subunit don’t count. T-urf13 is a single system (check) composed of several well-matched parts (check) where removal of any one of the parts removes function (check). Therefore T-urf13 is IC, unless Behe is going to backpedal.

Also, as Hunt notes in the article linked above, T-urf13 has the equivalent of three “CCC”s within it, as per Behe’s own criteria. Two distinct subunit : subunit interaction domains, and the site for ligand binding. According to the Edge of Evolution, this is impossible, several times over.

Also consider the statement from Behe (from his Kitzmiller testimony) that designed can be inferred from the “purposeful arrangement of parts.” Well, is not T-urf13 such an arrangement? It has parts arranged for a purpose. By Behe’s criteria it must be designed.

Behe’s rejoinder to Lenski’s work just further displays the fact that scientists shouldn’t write non-peer-reviewed books claiming to overthrow fields they have no expertise in.

As for the maize genome – it has not yet been completely sequenced, since it has a high amount of heterochromatin. We do have a library of maize genes, however, (based on several methods) that strongly indicates we have sequenced all the genes if not every last scrap of DNA. You can see this online here:

http://www.maizegenome.org/

Are you proposing that it is more likely that T-urf13 is a relocated as-of-yet undiscovered nuclear gene than a co-opted mitochondrial rRNA gene? Why then the overwhelming homology to mitochondrial rRNA gene in the first place? I don’t follow the logic here.

Still waiting for you to tackle nylonase, by the way (as well as have a serious look at the Lenski literature).

Bilbo said...

Hi Dennis,

I think we can agree that whether or not the T-urf13 is IC, if it evolved recently, then it is certainly problematic for Behe's position.

Is the only reason we think that it evolved recently is that we think it is the result of artificial selection? Because there is evidence that male sterility in plants is naturally selective.

Besides the possibility of the T-urf13 gene residing in the nuclear genome, it seems that it resides in heteroplasmic mitochondrial genomes.

Before I research Lenski's work, could you explain your comment:

"Behe’s rejoinder to Lenski’s work just further displays the fact that scientists shouldn’t write non-peer-reviewed books claiming to overthrow fields they have no expertise in."

Still working on T-urf13.

Dennis Venema said...

Hi Bilbo,

What does heteroplasmy have to do with anything here? Please explain. Seems like you're reaching for whatever ad hoc explanation you can think of...

You're also equivocating: is T-urf13 IC or not? I say it is, by Behe's definition. I also say it's a nice example of how IC systems can arise through RM + selection. Show me why I'm wrong.

Re: Behe on Lenski's work: he's ignoring evidence counter to his line of argument (such as the evolution of citrate metabolism in Lenski's experimental E. Coli populations).

If you're going to claim that someone's lifelong work is of no evolutionary importance you'd better deal with their whole body of research - not just the bits that fit your presuppositions.

Bilbo said...

Dennis: "Seems like you're reaching for whatever ad hoc explanation you can think of..."

Yes, I am. I'm not a trained biologist, so I'm flying by the seat of my pants, and pulling out whatever I can from the backside. :) How about the following?

http://ukpmc.ac.uk/articlerender.cgi?artid=291451

"Mitochondrial genomes are models for recombination dynamics. There are hundreds of copies per cell, and, as such, they can undergo a wide range of recombination events through direct and indirect repeats. Hence, mitochondrial DNA is essentially a polyploid genome, sustaining deletions and duplications, with little consequence to the general viability of the organism."

It sounds like evolution in mitochondrial genomes may not be representative of "normal" evolution in genomes.

Brent said...

If I may interrupt the back and forth for just a sec with a different kind of question...

Bilbo:

The discussion has been interesting and clearly it comes down, eventually, to the details of scientific inquiry and explanation. Yet, as you admit, you are not a trained biologist (and I assume you don't make your living doing biology). So, the question is, why are you interested in this discussion? Why does it matter to you? I can only think that it matters because you feel it is somehow important to resist or be skeptical about the neo-Darwinian explanations. But why? Many Christians, including many who frequent this site, do not believe that anything is lost for the Christian when she accepts the consensus scientific explanations for life (and indeed much might be gained). So why not take the same position? Is there some philosophical or theological reason not to? If there is, then shouldn't that position bear just as much scrutiny and sketpical inquiry as the scientific ones that have been discussed here?

This is not a personal question per se. As a cognitive scientist, I'm often more interested in why people do things than in what they do :)

Bilbo said...

Hi Dennis,

Did you read Behe's take on Lenski's citrate metabolism:

http://behe.uncommondescent.com/2008/06/multiple-mutations-needed-for-e-coli/
"
Brent:

The discussion has been interesting...."

You ask about motives, yet you begin by pointing out that this discussion has been interesting. Isn't that motive enough?

"I can only think that it matters because you feel it is somehow important to resist or be skeptical about the neo-Darwinian explanations."

I am skeptical about the ability of random mutation and natural selection to accomplish what it's supposed to have accomplished, not for philosophical or theological reasons, but just because it seems implausible. Not only Behe, but also Margulis and Woese are likewise skeptical.

" Many Christians, including many who frequent this site, do not believe that anything is lost for the Christian when she accepts the consensus scientific explanations for life (and indeed much might be gained)."

I agree that nothing is lost. I'm not sure how much might be gained.

"So why not take the same position?"

Because I think there is reason to be skeptical of it.

"Is there some philosophical or theological reason not to?"

I don't think there is.

"If there is, then shouldn't that position bear just as much scrutiny and sketpical inquiry as the scientific ones that have been discussed here?"

Yes.

Paul said...

This discussion is really just going round in circles. Bilbo, it has been explained why Behe is wrong, and yet you just keep referring back to his writings, despite the fact that he clearly has no credentials in evolutionary genetics.

I'm wondering if Dennis would consider contacting Woese and Margulis for a brief statement from them on their views about evolution. Bilbo continues to cite them as if they agree with him, and yet I'm almost certain they wouldn't. They would probably be more likely to respond to a biology professor than some unknown people sending them random e-mails. I would be very interested to see how they would state their actual views.

Bilbo said...

Paul: "This discussion is really just going round in circles."

I disagree. I've found out that evolution of genes in the mitochondrial genome may not have much relevance to evolution in the nuclear genome. Dennis has brought up Lenski's work showing evolution of citrate metabolism in E.coli, and I've referred him to Behe's response, where Behe points out that this is probably based on two point mutations after about 20,000 generations. That fits in with Behe's conclusions in EoE.

I don't think this is going in circles at all, Paul. I just think you're afraid to follow the evidence. And why would that be? Do you have some philosophical or theological objections to ID?

I'm working on nylonase, next.

Dennis Venema said...

Bilbo says:

I've found out that evolution of genes in the mitochondrial genome may not have much relevance to evolution in the nuclear genome.

Eh? I'm still waiting for your explanation why heteroplasmy helps your case here. I don't think it does. Diploid organisms have essentially the same features in that they have two copies of every autosomal nuclear gene, and the opportunity for sexual recombination. Methinks you do not really understand the biology of what we're discussing.

Dennis has brought up Lenski's work showing evolution of citrate metabolism in E.coli, and I've referred him to Behe's response, where Behe points out that this is probably based on two point mutations after about 20,000 generations. That fits in with Behe's conclusions in EoE.

It most certainly does not! Behe says that if E. Coli want new features, they have to wait for SIMULTANEOUS double mutations. What Lenski's work shows very nicely is that one mutation can persist in a population for many, many generations before a second mutation arises to give new functionality in conjunction with it.

This is direct evidence that Behe's so-called "edge" is completely wrong. Part of me wonders if Behe doesn't understand the difference or if he's just betting that his audience won't.

Bilbo, you've said you think there are good scientific reasons to doubt the efficacy of RM + NS. What are they? Where are the papers that demonstrate such? Do you disagree with Behe that as of the Kitzmiller trial, there were ZERO peer-reviewed publications that provide a test of, or evidence for, ID?

Dennis Venema said...

Bilbo says:

I don't think this is going in circles at all, Paul. I just think you're afraid to follow the evidence.

Did I miss a post where this evidence was provided? Bilbo, what evidence are you speaking about?

I also agree that this is going around in circles. Is anyone (else) still following this thread? If so, and you're finding it interesting / helpful, please chime in to say so...

Bethany said...

I have been following the post (feeling rather honour-bound to do so) and it has left me rather disappointed. It is precisely because of discussions like this that the topic is avoided. People with no scientific or theological training are more than happy to spend massive amounts of time arguing against things that they don't understand. Now, if this was done in order to learn what scientists (or theologians) think, and increase their understanding of scientific method and current scholarly consensus, I would be fine with it. Unfortunately I rarely see that kind of openness or receptiveness to correction.

Too often, the science/religion debate descends into two people arguing over things that few people understand (or care about). This is why I have continually tried to bring it back to Scripture - it is usually the source of the recalcitrance.

For my own part, Dennis, I am thankful that you have been able to step in a provide scientific expertise where I cannot. I do think that the conversation is going in circles. Bilbo, I appreciate that you are asking questions, and looking into the answers Dennis is giving. I do feel that your skepticism seems unfounded. To simply say it seems "implausible" does not mean much in a world where we have flown to the moon and discovered the world of quantum mechanics. Empirically, I find it deeply implausible that the computer I'm typing on is actually a mass of vibrating atoms that are composed more of empty space than of material. The problem clearly lies in my lack of education and lack of first hand experience in physics, not in the general scientific consensus. It seems to me that we believe a good deal more implausible things than evolution, and I think that most dissenters are in fact driven by philosophical and theological reasons, even if you are not.

Steve Martin said...

Brent: Excellent questions and a very nice segue into Marlowe’s posts starting tomorrow (and his series last year).

Bilbo: I think that your implication that Paul (or anyone else) is “afraid to follow the evidence” is as equally unwarranted as the earlier comment directed at yourself of “a dishonest approach” – unless of course you have some evidence outside of this thread that I don’t see.

And related to Bethany’s point, my recommendation to you (and other ID advocates that want fruitful dialogue with ECs) that the Haarsma paper I pointed to earlier should probably be a first step (rather than discussing specific details – those can come later); the paper helps clear away myths (on both sides) and set parameters for a fruitful discussion. I know it (and some of the related papers he’s written on the subject over the last 5 years) has been helpful for me.

Dennis: Thanks a lot for your input on this. I must say that I certainly followed your comments with interest (although frankly, some of the details were a little over my head).

Bethany: Thanks again for a great post & insightful comments. Much appreciated

Paul said...

Bilbo, do you trail the internet debating arcane aspects of other subjects you aren't trained in, arguing for viewpoints virtually no reputable scientist gives credence to (and no Margulis and Woese don't agree with irreducible complexity)?
Many of us were quite interested in ID when it first came out, but it simply hasn't gone anywhere. Nowadays, it is little more than a series of trivial and irrelevant criticisms of modern evolutionary theory. The scholarship behind the movement, which promised so much originally, has fallen off alarmingly. We only have to look at Expelled, or read some of the appalling screeds put together by the likes of Jonathan Wells and Casey Luskin at 'Evolution News and Views' to see this.
Irreducible complexity, as essentially the only semi-coherent idea to come from the movement, did not impress scientists when Behe first proposed it and it hasn't fared well since -
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/08/25/0908264106.abstract

It seems now to me that in the face of overwhelming and obvious (even to non-specialists) evidence for common ancestry, anti-evolution organisations are now battling to deny the 'naturalistic' mechanism that brought it about.

Bilbo said...

Sorry for my absence. I've been debating the T-urf13 gene with Prof. Arthur (Art) Hunt at his blog. He's been a loyal critic of ID from the start, but also a good guy:
http://aghunt.wordpress.com/2009/01/24/behe-and-the-limits-of-evolution/#comment-453

I've also been looking at Cornelius Hunter's blog on it:

darwins-god.blogspot.com

Dennis, I'm not sure if heteroplasmy would help provide an answer or not, but T-urf13 is certainly heteroplasmic. But what is clear is that evolution in the mitochondria genome doesn't necessarily help us understand evolution in the nuclear genome.

Yaaay! A neutral mutation that became selective upon a second mutation! This challenges Behe's edge how? Are you forgetting that he allows for 1/3 neutral mutations in his argument?

The evidence against RM + NS: The complete lack of evolutionary accounts for IC systems. Just wishful handwaving.

Bethany, if someone told me that the computer you are using evolved via RM + NS, I would find that implausible, as I hope you would, too.

Steve, Brent and Bethany are both allowed to question my motives, Paul is allowed to question my honesty, but you object when I question Paul about his?

Oh yeah, nylonase. Everyone agrees that it only took at most two mutations for E.coli to be able to metabolize nylon. Not much of a challenge to Behe's edge.

Bilbo said...

The fact that Woese and Margulis, scientists who wouldn't hesistate to repudiate ID, both doubt RM + NS should make all of you TEs and ECs stand up and take notice. Are should we question your motives?

Brent said...

Since nothing in TE/CE depends crucially upon RM+NS being the full account of evolutionary change, no.

Steve Martin said...

Bilbo,

I’ve found being a moderator can sometimes be difficult; I do try to be consistent. So, earlier I did point out that Paul’s comment to you re: dishonesty crossed the line (see my comment on December 4, 2009 7:40 PM). Now Brent’s query re: your motives seemed to me to be genuine puzzlement & trying to understand where you were coming from; your statement to Paul re: “afraid to follow the evidence” seemed to me to be accusatory (and without any evidence to back it).

Bilbo said...

Brent: Since nothing in TE/CE depends crucially upon RM+NS being the full account of evolutionary change, no.

You might want to explain this for the benefit of Bethany and Paul.

Yes, Steve, I guess I have used an accusatory tone against someone who has twice accused me directly of dishonesty, and a third time indirectly of the same thing, with no apology.

I tried linking to the Haarsma's paper, but wasn't able to get it.

Dennis, you never have responded to my comments about Thornton's work. If he has shown that a homologous protein has almost no chance of mutating back to its precursor, because too many mutations would be needed, then isn't that demonstrating that there is an edge to evolution? And given that we are only talking about the distance from one homologous protein to another, that edge seems to come rather quickly. Much too quickly to think that RM + NS could ever account for things like the bacterial flagellum.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Bilbo,

ref for Haarsma article: ID and TE four myths

Anonymous said...

Dennis Venema,

Theistic evolutionists can be competent geneticists, but they are not always strong in the area of logic. They take arguments of homology, redundancy, etc. to conclude that there HAD TO BE common ancestry. This is a false conclusion.

These arguments based on similarity only show that common ancestry is compatible with the evidence. They make the same error in logic that Behe and other ID proponents make - namely, that since the evidence is compatible with their theory, their theory has to be the only one. However, the compatibility of a theory with the evidence does not prove that it is the only possibile theory. It is deceptive to make the evidence say more than they actually do. The ID theory that similarity points to the same designer using the same templates is compatible with the evidence. The common ancestry theory is also compatible with the evidence.

You will not get past the endless clash of these two theories if both sides make the evidence say more than they actually do. Genetics cannot go beyond proving that organisms bear similarities and whether mutations can occur. But the question of whether evolution actually occurred or not is a historical question. It cannot be answered by what is "possible" in genetics, but by evidence which point to whether or not it DID HAPPEN. This is outside the scope of genetics. It is better addressed by paleontologists, etc. Scientists in each field ought to know the limitations of their field in regards to the issue.

Jordan said...

I'm a palaeontologist, Anonymous. Evolution happens.

Moses said...

Anonymous: "Scientists in each field ought to know the limitations of their field in regards to the issue"

I'm curious what your area of scientific expertise might be?

James said...

Anonymous, here's a 10 minute introduction to phylogenetics.

I've have never even seen a reasonable response to this sort of thing. Deniers of evolution appear to recognise they are losing the battle comprehensively as a result of the volumes of data pointing towards common descent. Knowing that to continue their scientific pretensions they need to have an alternative explanation, they have come up with this idea of "common design" - an infinitely flexible ad hoc explanation capable of explaining anything and everything. The problem is - it doesn't make any sense.