Creation Bits

This blog has been superceded, and is only here for archive purposes. The latest blog posts, depending on topic, can be found at one of the blogs at the new location!

These are very uneditted and underthought ideas that I get while debating the creation/evolution debate. This is the more-often-updated but less-thought-out version of the crevo blog.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Exercising Proverbs 26:4

Sometimes it's amusing what people come up with for responses to posts. It's sad when people on your own side start making inane comments, but it's amusing to watch others do it. I have a policy of specifically letting such posts stand, because I think they do a much better job of refuting their own stance than I ever could.

Some of my favorite verses are:

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

(Proverbs 26:4-5)

Once you know that these are your two options, deciding whether or not to post a response is simple. If posting just makes you part of the "argumentation game" then just shut up, but if you have a point of contention that the other person truly isn't aware of, then speak up.

This is an amusing response I got today. It's from someone who normally speaks intelligently:

There is a creationist model and not just a grab-bag of talking points!!?? Er, no. You mean, "One of the talkiing points is 'All mutations are bad, bad, bad!'"

Have you read the lead article of this thread? Your talking point is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Apparently he was frustrated that creationists actually think and do not just shout off talking points like he wanted them to. He made up a talking point that he wanted me to be spouting off, and then refuted his made-up talking point.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Catholic Evolution of Evolution

Here's another good post worth quoting from FreeRepublic (from Tantumergo):

"But even if it's true does it necessarily mean God doesn't exist or He isn't the God we've all been sure he was?"

No, it doesn't mean that, even though it is a theory concocted and promoted by atheists in order to provide a materialist explanation for the existence of life.

However, whether it is true or not as a scientific theory is of great importance, because it fundamentally affects the paradigm or worldview within which people operate. Not least, from the moral perspective, if you keep telling people for long enough that they are simply monkeys with big brains, then we should not be surprised if they eventually start acting like monkeys with big brains, and before you know it you will have a world filled with Hillary Clintons!!!

It has also been the bane of Catholic theology for the last 70 years. Once "theologians" such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ got it into their heads that evolutionism was the way that the world worked then modernism received a massive boost. No longer was the deposit of faith something that had been delivered once to the saints in a world of fixed and immutable truth, but now everything was involved in a process of development - a process of becoming rather than being. Everything that had gone before could be discarded or re-interpreted to fit with a process of updating and adaptation to the world in which we lived. All history was caught up in an evolutionary flow of progress of the advancement of man, headed towards that point in the future where mankind would evolve into the cosmic Christ. Teilhard de Chardin was roundly condemned by Pius XII, but the Jesuits are still trying to rehabilitate him to this day.

The theory has also been used very effectively by heretical theologians to undermine the doctrine of Original Sin and consequently the need of mankind for a Redeemer.

Obviously Genesis is not meant to be a science textbook which gives detailed how-to's of the creation. God could have created by a process of evolution if he had wanted to, however, he gives us no indication in Revelation that He did and there is no evidence from science that he did either.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Great discussion on the age of the Earth

I found this wonderful link today:

How to Decide Between Sides on Difficult Issues

It specifically talks about the age of the earth. I thought it did a fair treatment to both sides of the argument (though it is not recent enough to have all of the recent arguments), but I would be interested if a long-ager could give an assessment of it, too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Gould and Dawkins

I'm reading Gould's "The Panda's Thumb" right now. Let me just say -- in comparison w/ Dawkins, Gould is amazing. Honestly I can't figure out why people like Dawkins so much -- his books are boring and his analogies are horrendously flawed.

Gould, on the other hand, is much better all the way around. Thankfully, Gould was also a prolific writer, so, while we no longer have Gould around, he's left us much to remember him by.

To compare, I started Dawkin's "Climbing Mount Improbable" two months ago. I have started and completed three other books in their entirety in the meantime. I still can't bring myself to read more than a few paragraphs of Dawkins at a time. It just feels like wasting my time. Gould, on the other hand, I bought The Panda's Thumb three days ago, and am already on essay #4.

Anyway, pretty much the only argument I have w/ Gould is that he, like many evolutionists, seems to misunderstand creationism. He still wants to equate creationism with Aristotelian creationism. In the first three essays, he talks a lot about two different kinds of design within animals -- near-perfect design and cobbled-together-from-whatevers-handy design. He says that the first isn't good evidence for evolution because, while natural selection can do that, so can a creator. He thinks that the real evidence for evolution is the "cobbled-together" part.

The funny thing is that he's absolutely right. And, for the most part, creationists AGREE with evolutionists that the parts of organisms which are half-functional and seem to be cobbled together from other uses or simply arisen from adaptation probably ARE the result of evolution. See, the evolutionists see only one source of biological innovation -- evolution. Creationists see two -- design and evolution. And I think Gould has inadvertantly pointed out a general way to distinguish them.

Friday, May 13, 2005

More Replies to T.O's Creationism Claims Index

CD103: The entire geologic column is based on the assumption of evolution.

The responses are these:

"The geologic column was outlined by creationist geologists."

This is an exageration at best, and direct misrepresentation at worst. Let's look at their example:

"For example, Adam Sedgwick, who described and named the Cambrian era, referred to the theory of evolution as "no better than a phrensied dream" (Ritland 1982)."

Based on this link, Sedgwick is a theistic evolutionist. His problem with Darwin was the part of leaving a purely naturalistic view of evolution.

Here's some relevant paragraphs from that link:

Sedgwick also did not object to evolution, or "development" as such theories were called then, in the broad sense -- to the fact that the life on Earth had changed over time. Nor was he a young-Earth creationist; he believed that the Earth must be extremely old. As Darwin wrote of Sedgwick's lectures, "What a capital hand is Sedgewick [sic] for drawing large cheques upon the Bank of Time!"

However, Sedgwick believed in the Divine creation of life over long periods of time, by "a power I cannot imitate or comprehend -- but in which I believe, by a legitimate conclusion of sound reason drawn from the laws of harmonies of nature." What Sedgwick objected to was the apparent amoral and materialist nature of Darwin's proposed mechanism, natural selection, which he thought degrading to humanity's spiritual aspirations. His letter of November 24 went on to state:

This view of nature you have stated admirably; tho' admitted by all naturalists & denied by no one of common sense. We all admit development as a fact of history; but how came it about? Here, in language, & still more in logic, we are point blank at issue-- There is a moral or metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. A man who denies this is deep in the mire of folly. Tis the crown & glory of organic science that it does thro' final cause, link material to moral. . . You have ignored this link; &, if I do not mistake your meaning, you have done your best in one or two pregnant cases to break it. Were it possible (which thank God it is not) to break it, humanity in my mind, would suffer a damage that might brutalize it--& sink the human race into a lower grade of degradation than any into which it has fallen since its written records tell us of its history.

It seems that T.O is just as bad at quote mining as they claim creationists are. They also entirely leave out the Scriptural Geologists, who objected to the evolutionary geologists of the period.

One thing to point out is that "evolution" had been around long before Darwin -- Darwin simply provided a naturalistic mechanism. Many naturalists even back to the Greeks (and before) believed in a gradual evolution.

Also to note, is that creationists don't object to the idea of a column of geologic rock per se, but of the specific interpretation given it by evolutionists.

"The geologic column is validated in great detail by radiometric dating, which is based on principles of physics, not evolution. Furthermore, different dating techniques are consistent, and they are consistent with the order established by the early pioneers of stratigraphy."

This is only true if you completely gloss over the aberrant dates. Aberrant dates are often not reported. Here are some aberrant dates to think about:

  • Diamonds found at the bottom of the geologic column are fairly consistently dated to 50,000 to 70,000 years on equipment that can accurately detected up to 90,000 years.

  • Dating by the speed of helium escape from Zircons usually shows around 5,000 years on rocks that otherwise date to millions of years (this is controversial, so you can see the ICR claim, Talk.Origin's response, and Russel Humphrey's reply)

  • Woodmorappe has given a number of accounts of known cases where dates are discarded. T.O has replied (see their "other links" section to see Woodmorappe's and other's reply to T.O's reply). In fact, you should probably take the time to read Woodmorappe's reply.

The fact is that aberrant dates ARE thrown out. If they get data back which conflicts wildly with "known" ages for things, they probably wouldn't even bother publishing it. Why would they? This is not an accusation of lying, but rather human nature. "It was probably a bad sample -- I must have overlooked something."

Anyway, the RATE group this November, 2005, is going to be giving the results of their multi-year study into radiometric dating for determining earth ages. It should be interesting.

Just to note, we've hit some other T.O claims in here, such as CD015 and to a lesser extent CD010 and its sub-claims.

Also, I _think_ in the RATE group data to be presented in November, the RATE group is going to present evidence that certain types of radioactive decay has had other rates in the past. This should be interesting, if true.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Talk.Origins "Index to Creationist Claims" pt1

It's fun to browse Talk.Origins. Sometimes they have good points, and sometimes they only think they have good points. It is an assumption of most evolutionists on the web today that Talk.Origins rebuttals are foolproof, which is quite amusing to watch. Anyway, occasionally as I get the impetus, I'll respond to parts of T.O's website.

CB040: Left-handed amino acids

Claim: life uses only left-handed amino acids, which couldn't have arisen naturally.

T.O's talking points are mainly hand-waving:

"The amino acids that are used in life, like most other aspects of living things, are very likely not the product of chance. Instead, they likely resulted from a selection process."

Oh, the unobserved _chemical_ selection process. I hate to break it to you, but natural selection requires life, and chemical selection is a contradiction in terms. Chemical reactions move TOWARD equilibrium, not away from it.

"A simple peptide replicator can amplify the proportion of a single handedness in an initially random mixture of left- and right-handed fragments"

Amplification isn't good enough. We need 100%.

"Serine forms stable clusters of a single handedness which can select other amino acids of like handedness by subtituting them for serine; these clusters also incorporate other biologically important molecules such as glyceraldehyde, glucose, and phosphoric acid"

From Creation Safaris:

"The serine cluster is not a chain, but a ring. Further, it does not attract other amino acids to form peptide-bonded chains. The Cooks crew only tested eight amino acids for like-handedness joining the serine clusters."

So, not much help there.

"An excess of handedness in one kind of amino acid catalyzes the handedness of other organic products, such as threose, which may have figured prominently in proto-life"

Wild speculation doesn't count as evidence.

"Amino acids found in meteorites from space, which must have formed abiotically, also show significantly more of the left-handed variety, perhaps from circularly polarized UV light in the early solar system"

We're looking for 100% here.

"The first self-replicator may have had eight or fewer types of amino acids"

Speculation unless we can actually build a self-replicator.

"It is not all that unlikely that the same handedness might occur so few times by chance, especially if one of the amino acids was glycine, which has no handedness."

It depends on the length, and we've tried thousands of different combinations and have not been able to even force one in the lab.

"Some bacteria use right-handed amino acids, too"

This sounds like a big claim, but really is a bunch of crap. It's a bluff that you won't do the research yourself. Do you know WHY some bacteria use right-handed amino acids? They use it as a COATING to DEFEND THEMSELVES (i.e. screw up the functioning of would-be predators). It is not just a "plug-n-play" system. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that the cases where right-handers are used, again, it's 100% right-handers.

For all known enzymes, if you have EVEN ONE amino acid of the wrong hand, the entire enzyme will be rendered useless.

Here's a good AiG article on the subject.

Also, other molecules (like DNA) are all right-handed.

CB015 : DNA needs certain proteins in order to replicate. Proteins need DNA to form. Neither could have formed naturally without the other already in existence.

"DNA could have evolved gradually from a simpler replicator;"

Complete bluff. We have no idea if this could have happened.

"RNA is a likely candidate, since it can catalyze its own duplication"

Another bluff. While RNA has enzymatic properties, we have never found an RNA molecule that could self-sufficiently catalyze its own duplication. We've tried thousands of combinations and haven't gotten it to work. We still need those enzymes to do the very tricky copying procedures for us.

"The RNA itself could have had simpler precursors, such as peptide nucleic acids (Böhler et al. 1995). A deoxyribozyme can both catalyze its own replication and function to cleave RNA -- all without any protein enzymes (Levy and Ellington 2003)."

I have not looked into this work, but my guess is that this is more bluffing. I know that other works (Huber et al., A Possible Primordial Peptide Cycle, Science 2003) contain nearly all bluffs and no real data. Just a lot of suppositions, what ifs, and maybes. For a full response, see this.

CB035: lots of stuff about Miller-Urey

There's not a whole lot wrong with their criticisms of creationist criticisms, except that they leave out a REAL BIG CLAIM -- it doesn't matter. Edward Peltzer first noticed this years ago. The Miller-Urey experiment was thought to be useful because it matched the examination of a meteorite believed to be billions of years old. Here's what Peltzer had to say:

I asked myself, "Why is a meteorite that is 4.5 billion years old, with processes that went on for perhaps millions, if not billions, of years, so similar to an experiment that a graduate student can do over the weekend?" Something else is happening here, and we are missing it.


Sure, in Miller's experiment we make that first step. But in the meteorite, there's so much more time there. Shouldn't there be some evidence of going the second step, or the third step? And it suddenly hit me. Why should the two look anything alike at all? The Miller experiment was stopped after a week or ten days. Nobody stopped the meteorite. It had ample opportunity to go much further. Yet the two are virtually the same.

CB010.1: Even the simplest, most primitive forms of life -- bacteria -- are incredibly complex, much too complex to have arisen by chance.

Here is their response:

"There is no reason to think that the life around today is comparable in complexity to the earliest life. All of the simplest life would almost certainly be extinct by now, outcompeted by more complex forms."

Eukaryotes ate my evidence. But you have to take my word for it anyway.

"Self-replicators can be incredibly simple, as simple as a strand of six DNA nucleotides (Sievers and von Kiedrowski 1994). This is simple enough to form via prebiotic chemistry. Self-replication sets the stage for evolution to begin, whether or not you call the molecules "life.""

This one is new to me, but I'm going to call a pre-emptive BS. DNA doesn't self-replicate -- that's the whole reason for proposing RNA world, which still hasn't found a self-replicating RNA strand.

"Nobody claims the first life arose by chance. To jump from the fact that the origin is unknown to the conclusion that it could not have happened naturally is the argument from incredulity."

To say that it did happen naturally is not shown by ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER, but instead by a whole lot of bluffing about might-have's and could-have's, when we still haven't gotten chirality figured out.

We still don't have evidence that the fountain of youth doesn't exist, but most of us have grown up and stopped searching for it. The argument against the fountain of youth is likewise an argument from incredulity.

If you have no weapon, no motive, no body, and no circumstantial evidence, you can't make a case at trial. Likewise with the origin of life. All indications is that life comes from life, and information from intelligent beings. If someone has another mechanism, that's great. But so far it's just a lot of hand-waving.

Initial Conclusions

Notice how much T.O assumes that you aren't going to look into their claims and just assume that they've done proper research, and that claims from evolutionary scientists don't need to be checked and validated against a BS detector. It's a giant confidence game.

Anyway, that was fun, though it took more time than I wanted. Hopefully I'll have time to do it again soon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Fireworks Metaphor

An excellent metaphor used in Understanding the Pattern of Life is relating organism diversification to fireworks. The baraminologists think that the majority of diversification occurred just after the flood, with the harshness of the postflood world inducing a large amount of unprecedented diversification (the mechanism thought to be genomic modularity). Since then, the environment has been relatively stable, and so diversification does not proceed as rapidly, and the mechanism doesn't work as well due to mutational loads.

Baraminologists agree w/ evolutionists that neo-darwinism accounts for some amount of change, and for perhaps much of modern change. However, what they disagree about is if neo-darwinism accounts for the majority of diversity.

They liken it to a firecracker. When a firecracker explodes, sparks are sent out everywhere. However, after the explosions, the paths of the sparks are modified by wind, producing slight variations. However, the main direction of the sparks is set by the firecracker explosion, not the wind. They equate neo-darwinism to be more of a "wind-like" factor in the diversification of animals. Sure, it accounts for some things that we are presently seeing, but in the course of history, it is not the wind that set the major directions, but instead (1) creation and (2) post-flood diversification.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Understanding the Pattern of Life Book Review

I just finished reading Understanding the Pattern of Life by Todd Wood and Megan Murray. This book is a creationist introduction to biosystematics, known as baraminology (baramin coming from Hebrew for created kinds). This review is a review of (1) the book, (2) the methods, and (3) the terminology.

In general, this is a very excellent first effort of modern creationists to put out a constructive book on biology from a creationist perspective. This IS NOT a creation/evolution controversy book. There are some definite shortcomings both as a book and as a methodology, but I think it is exceptional given how few resources are currently put into the topic at this point. If you read the book, be warned that it starts out really slow and kind of boring, but really, really, really picks up towards the middle and end with very fascinating looks at creation biology.

The book is organized into three sections -- foundations, methodology, and applications.

In foundations, the first chapter deals with the importance of naming, specifically from a biblical perspective. It's a good, introspective chapter as to why we bother with all of this, as well as some history on it. It emphasizes the holistic approach of baraminology, as apposed to the reductionist view of, say, cladistics. The second chapter introduces the terminology, and this is my main sticking point.

Baramins originally referred to the original created kinds. This is an unusual word as it is. However, it was complicated by the fact that it is nearly impossible to be certain that what you find in nature is, in fact, an original created kind. Therefore, this method of biosystematics is more inspired by the biblical kinds, and hopefully approximate to them, but not exactly. Therefore, they came up with the concept of holobaramin to be an empirically determined approximation of the original baramin. The goal is to find the holobaramins.

Then, to add more confusion, they added the words monobaramin for any kind of inclusive group -- anything that adds members to a group, such as the ability to cross-breed, and apobaramin for any kind of exclusive or subtractive evidence, such as having a radically different genome. You theoretically arrive at the holobaramin when your exclusions and your inclusions hit the same group of animals.

At its core, what they are trying to do is to find and measure continuities (monobaramins) and discontinuities (apobaramins) in nature. I agree wholeheartedly with the approach and with most of the methods. However, I wish a better terminology could have been thought of. Perhaps, to help gain new audiences, using simpler terms such as simply "continuous" and "discontinuous" would have been more helpful. Reading entire chapters of "baramin"-based words is extremely annoying.

One thing that I think was missing, however, was mentioning that not every useful classification system would relate to monobaramins and apobaramins. Sometimes in classification, there comes times when other naming / classification systems are more appropriate. It would have been nice for the book to touch on those things.

The history of baramins is a concise view of biblical history in specific relationship to ecological events affecting animal populations.

In the methodology section, the "gathering and interpretting biblical data" chapter should have been left out, and simply mentioned in the introduction. This is a far bigger field than to cover in one chapter (the book admits as much), and instead of attempting it, there should have been one or two paragraphs about animals in the bible and translation issues, and then give the reader a reference to other works on the subject. I understand the desire to include such a chapter in a creation-based biosystematics book, but it is really an entirely different subject altogether.

The "successive approximations" chapter really needed to be reworked. I kept on feeling like they were arguing in a circle, and then merely stating "we're not arguing in a circle." I agree in general with the direction they are going, but I think they need to approach it in a different manner so that it doesn't sound like it's being argued in a circle.

The next three chapters, however, were great. It talks in-depth about discontinuity, followed by an in-depth chapter on breeding/hybridization. This is excellent material. The one issue that I have is that it seems on occasion that the ability for two species to hybridize is given as conclusive evidence of monobaraminic relationship. While I agree that it is strong evidence, I don't think that it is conclusive evidence, especially as Leviticus outlaws breeding between kinds. I emailed Wood about this, and he said that (1) baramins were not directly equivalent with the "min" of Genesis, but rather a human concept justified on a scriptural basis, (2) breeding was not used as 100% conclusive proof of monobaraminic relationship, but he was not aware of places where it was ever contradicted by the statistical evidence, and (3) the word translated into "kinds" in Leviticus is not the same "min" found in Genesis anyway.

While hybridization is a fascinating subject, the chapter on statistical baraminology is even more interesting. They give two methods for this: BDIST (for biological distance) and ANOPA (for analysis of patterns). BDIST is the more easily explainable. To compare species with BDIST, each basic trait for each species considered is quantified between 0 and 1. Each pairing of species is then plotted together with all of their traits. If the trait plots give a generally ascending line, then that is evidence of continuity. A descending line is evidence of discontinuity. I have not yet fully grasped ANOPA yet, but here's what I _think_ it is: you take a dimension for every character trait, and plot each species being examined within this n-dimensional matrix, and then calculate a 1D, 2D, or 3D projection of this n-dimensional space for easy viewing.

Even better than the baraminology methods is the applications. Each of these chapters is wonderful, although I wish that they were longer. These topics are covered, and great things are said about each:

  • Design, including design for non-function (like beauty)

  • Biological imperfection, including contemplations of the origins of pathogenic diseases (although True Origin has a better, more extensive review of this topic)

  • Diversification was probably the book's absolutely best chapter. Covered rates of diversification, reasons for diversification, and different means of diversification. The means are: heterozygous fractionality (from Mendel), Genomic modularity (the ability of a genome to modify itself in response to the environment) as well as participate in lateral genetic transfers, and neo-darwinistic theory. Baraminologies uses all of these to one degree or another, but denies the neo-darwinistic mechanism as having the ability to create new biological systems. They had a great analogy to fireworks which I will hopefully touch on in a later post.

  • Biogeography was good, with information I was unaware of. Unfortunately, the chapter was too short to consider biogeography in general, and instead considered only the areas where creationist biogeography differs from traditional biogeography.

Anyway, I would recommend this book to anyone, if only for the diversification chapter. I'm hoping for future releases of this book with expanded chapters.

A few nits:

  • Very few of the experiments mentioned were talked about in detail. I kind of felt like I needed to have a copy of Following Form and Function just to get the details. In fact, that will probably be my next book purchase.

  • It definitely could have been longer. I would want a biosystematics book to go into more detail into what many more of the major baramins are thought to be.

  • Successive approximation should have followed the statistical methods -- it would have given it a bigger punch. On the other hand, statistical methods, in requiring "outgroups", is somewhat reliant on the concept of successive approximation.

  • The terminology. Sadly, I doubt this will be changing.

  • MORE RESEARCH. I kept on feeling like I was getting the same sources over and over. I probably was. This is a new field, but there needs to be more research done on it, or at least with these methodologies that can be co-opted.

There's probably more I could say, but you're probably bored reading by now. If you want a constructive view of creationist biology, buy the book. Also, see the Baraminology Study Group website. I think they're having a conference soon, which, unfortunately I can't attend :(

Another Great Post

Hit upon this post as well, thought I'd share. This post is about the informational content of DNA.

The Shannon-Weaver General Model of Communication (1947) proposed that all communication must include six elements:

* a source
* an encoder
* a message
* a channel
* a decoder
* a receiver

According to in Warren Weaver's introduction to Shannon's paper:

The word information, in this theory, is used in a special sense that must not be confused with its ordinary usage. In particular information must not be confused with meaning.

In fact, two messages, one of which is heavily loaded with meaning and the other of which is pure nonsense, can be exactly equivalent, from the present viewpoint, as regards information.

You tap on a membrane suspended above a steadily flowing jet of water. The air under the membrane causes slight deflections in the jet of water. A laser is aimed at a receiver. The jet of water flows through the laser beam, deflecting it from its target. Every time the water jet is deflected by the movement of the air, the laser beam hits its target. The laser receiver is connected to a computer which takes each 'hit' and turns it into a 1 and each miss and turns it into a 0. The computer sends these etc. etc......

You get the idea: the air waves, the jet of water and so on are all channels. The words channel and medium are often used interchangeably, if slightly inaccurately. The choice (a pretty stupid one above) of the appropriate channel is a vitally important choice in communication. It's obvious that you don't use the visual channel to communicate with the blind or the auditory channel with the deaf, but there are more subtle considerations to be taken into account as well. A colleague of mine was clearly much more responsive to visual communication than I. To elucidate his arguments he would inevitably grab a pencil and a piece of paper and sketch out complex diagrams of his arguments. Though they may have help him to clarify his ideas, they merely served to confuse me, who would have preferred a verbal exposition. But that argument deteriorates into one of semantics and differentiating meaning from signal concerning the definition of information. According to the Shannon-Weaver model of communication, meaning is divorced from that of the existance of a signal for a message to exist.

Genes are sections of DNA that code for a defined biochemical function, usually the production of a protein. The structure of a protein determines its function. The sequence of bases in a given gene determines the structure of a protein. Thus the genetic code determines what proteins an organism can make and what those proteins can do.

mRNA (Messenger RNA) is used to relay information from a gene to the protein synthesis machinery in cells. mRNA is made by copying the sequence of a gene, with one subtle difference: thymine (T) in DNA is substituted by uracil (U) in mRNA. This allows cells to differentiate mRNA from DNA so that mRNA can be selectively degraded without destroying DNA.

Genetic code is a language that is used by living cells to convert information found in DNA into information needed to make proteins. A protein's structure, and therefore function, is determined by the sequence of amino acid subunits. The amino acid sequence of a protein is determined by the sequence of the gene encoding that protein. The "words" of the genetic code are called codons. Each codon consists of three adjacent bases in an mRNA molecule. Using combinations of A, U, C and G, there can be sixty four different three-base codons. There are only twenty amino acids that need to be coded for by these sixty four codons. This excess of codons is known as the redundancy of the genetic code. By allowing more than one codon to specify each amino acid, mutations can occur in the sequence of a gene without affecting the resulting protein.

To refer to a particular piece of DNA, a person in Detroit might write: AATTGCCTTTTAAAAA. This is a perfectly acceptable way of describing a piece of DNA. That code can then be sent via the internet to somebody in Tokyo, where someone with a machine called a DNA synthesizer could actually synthesize DNA from the information specified by AATTGCCTTTTAAAAA alone. Subsequently that specific DNA can be spliced into a gene of some bacteria and a particular protein can be manufactured. Your premise is demonstrably false.

Furthermore, your statement There is no more information in DNA than there is in a snowflake is woefully ignorant. You confuse information with entropy. Clearly the degree of randomness within that of a snowflake is less than that of liquid water. Suggesting that the entropy of DNA is equivalent to that of a snowflake is ridiculous. DNA in inert form can be crystalized and may have similar entropy to that of a snowflake, and if I vaporize that DNA crystal and then re-crystalize it, its entropy essentially remains unchanged (it will be no more or less ordered than its previous crystalized from). But you will never be able to synthesize a protein from that form of crystalized DNA material (as from its orginal deconstructed form), while the deconstructed fundamental components of the snowflake can recreate another, albeit disimiliar snowflake it still will be a snowflake. The former has to do with a fundamental degree of randomness, the latter has to do with the fundemental physical properties of its components. What differentiates functional DNA from its inert form is that of its organization. What evolution has not done is provide a suitable answer to whether or not random chance, time and natural processes are sufficient for the origin of the organization inherent in biological DNA.

Finally, using your syllogism, and one of the examples you cite in support of your positin, I can stipulate that there's no more information on that CD-ROM you say contains War & Peace, than that of a grain of salt. That's perfectly sound logic (Modus Tollens) but invalid.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A Great Post

With permission, I am reposting this post from CharlesWayneCT on He does not believe in creation, but I think the way he frames the debate is very interesting and worthy of consideration:

You are correct in that science cannot abide such a lame explanation as "God just made it that way".

But if he DID just make it that way, it wouldn't really matter that it isn't a satisfying scientific explanation.

Creation is by its very nature an extra-scientific event. But it doesn't claim to be anything else. Evolution on the other hand makes the scientific claim, and therefore must be measured on that basis.

There are those who argue for "scientific creationism", but they don't mean that the act of creation is scientific (which really confuses the issue). They mean that the evidence of history which is discovered through observation is not inconsistant with whatever view of creation they are peddling.

But the detective work of divining history through observation is not the same "science" as the "scientific theory" of evolution. Which in fact is a theory with widespread evidence,observable and repeatable. It's just that the "scientific theory of evolution" describes a natural process, not an historical event. Historical events are not scientific theories.

If we could distinguish between history and science, and teach stuff in the proper context, I imagine most "creationists" would crawl back into their spiritual worlds and leave the rest of you alone. They have a point -- no matter how well you can 'explain' observations by the evolutionary model, and no matter if you can find fossils which fit a historical hypothesis that is consistant with an evolutionary model, you simply cannot prove the manner in which we reached our current state of affairs.

Part of the problem is that those who wanted to be free from religion co-opted the science of evolution to use it as a hammer to smash the pillars of religion. The "God is Dead" crowd made a religion out of the science of Evolution, and it was inevitable that those who held to other doctrine would fight back. Science simply was caught in the crossfire.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Apologetics and Christianity

Often people misunderstand the role of apologetics in Christianity. Sadly, this is often misunderstood by the apologists themselves!

Many people think that the role of an apologist is to win an argument to convince people that Christ is true. I honestly cannot think of a worse result for apologetics. Let's take a look at how this plays out, even if you win the argument:

  • You argue with a non-believer. You win, they admit it, and because of your argument the believe in Christ.

  • They run into another person tomorrow, who is an atheist. The atheist brings up an issue that you had not addressed. New believer asks you about it.

  • You either (a) hadn't heard this argument before, and don't have an answer for it, or (b) your answer isn't as convincing to the person as your other arguments, or (c) they can't find you.

  • Therefore, since the new believer has found someone with a temporarily better argument, they believe the atheist now.

What's wrong with this picture? They believed the argument, not Christ! The fact is that being a Christian means REPLACING our current method of epistemology (epistemology == way of knowing) with that of knowing and believing Christ first and above all else. In the case of the argument, the person still placed their own reasoning above that of knowing Christ. Therefore, when their reasoning said "turn to Christ", they did, and when it said "turn away", it did that, too. Christ was never Lord -- their mind was.

Likewise Paul said that he didn't come with crafty arguments, but came to declare the power of Christ crucified. Indeed, it is only the power of the cross which causes a change in Lordship, not a good argument. This is why prayer is your most important weapon, NOT YOUR ARGUMENT! (Note that I fail in this area all the time)

So what's the use of apologetics? Well, apologetics has several very good uses:

To Encourage Existing Believers

Apologetics can be an encouragement to existing believers. As mentioned, believers believe because we have set Christ to be our source. However, being fallen people, we are easily led astray. Apologetics helps believers back to Christ when the world tries to paint Christ as a fairy-tale.

To Remove Issues from Non-believers

While apologetics in and of itself should not be the basis of a conversion, it can remove stumbling blocks on the path. Jesus is not deceitful, and knowing that reality is consistent with the sayings of Jesus (even if we only know that consistency in part) can help unbelievers turn to Jesus. If the Holy Spirit is working on them, and they are saying "yes, but....", apologetics can help remove the "yes, but..."s. Also, since Christianity is historically rooted, apologetics can help show that the history of the Bible is true, so the Holy Spirit can work on showing that the claims are likewise true. This is the method used by Paul in Acts 17 -- he showed them where God had been working in the history of man to lead to Christ.

To Help Establish Good Doctrine

Apologetics can help the development of doctrine by sorting out the what is the apparent problems in scripture and the apparent problems in the world/scripture relationship, and showing in which ways scripture answers the world, in which ways it is consistent with the world, and which areas the scripture is silent on. This is the job of most theologians as well, but it has heavy overlap with that of apologetics.

A Warning

While I have mentioned removing stumbling blocks, I want to point out that we should not remove all stumbling blocks. There are many necessary stumbling blocks, especially as Christ has referred to himself as a stumbling block. We should be careful to remove only the unnecessary stumbling blocks, and leave the necessary ones in. Jesus Himself would sometimes give reasons for people NOT to follow Him. In the evangelical culture, we often forget that the road to Christianity can involve some necessary stumbling blocks, and those are inherent in Christianity and should not be removed. Specifically is the Lordship issue. As I've mentioned, Lordship means that Jesus is your primary source. You should not be modifying your view of Jesus to accomodate your other views. You should be modifying your other views to accomodate Jesus. If a person is not ready to relinquish Lordship of their lives over to Jesus, they should be counselled, with love, in the same way that Jesus counselled: "Warning! This is only for people who will follow Me to the end!"

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

How to Talk to Your Biology Teacher

Nothing bothers me more than creationists who have not looked at the creation/evolution debate seriously thinking that they can just jump in and be useful. The fact is that honest people have looked at the facts and decided that evolution is right. Therefore, you are going to need more than just a cursory knowledge of it to successfully debate it.

Likewise, debate is not always the answer. What does the Bible say to wives whose husbands are not saved? Does it say to nag them into the kingdom? No, it says to show great respect, so that by your example they may come to know Christ. When in a teacher/student setting, the teacher is in the position of authority, and likewise it is your job to show respect, not disrespect. By being honest, open, and most of all, respectful, you can win a lot more people than being aggressive or passive-aggressive (note that neither of these are Christ-like attitudes).

I recently found this story of a student who successfully converted her teacher, which can act as a model for Christians who want to spread Christ in the biology classroom:

One day, he heard that Louisiana had passed a law requiring equal time for creation with evolution, and he was flabbergasted– how stupid, he thought, and how evil! He used the opportunity to launch into a tirade against creationism in class, and to give them his best eloquence in support of Darwinism. Little did he know he had a formidable opponent in class that day. No, not a silver-tongued orator to engage him in a battle of wits; that would have been too easy. This time it was a gentle, polite, young female student.

This student went up to him after class and cheerfully exclaimed, “Great lecture, Doc! Say, I wonder if I could make an appointment with you; I have some questions about what you said, and just want to get my facts straight.” Dr. Lumsden, flattered with this student’s positive approach, agreed on a time they could meet in his office. On the appointed day, the student thanked him for his time, and started in. She did not argue with anything he had said about evolution in class, but just began asking a series of questions: “How did life arise? . . . Isn’t DNA too complex to form by chance? . . . Why are there gaps in the fossil record between major kinds? . . . .What are the missing links between apes and man?” She didn’t act judgmental or provocative; she just wanted to know. Lumsden, unabashed, gave the standard evolutionary answers to the questions. But something about this interchange began making him very uneasy. He was prepared for a fight, but not for a gentle, honest set of questions. As he listened to himself spouting the typical evolutionary responses, he thought to himself, This does not make any sense. What I know about biology is contrary to what I’m saying. When the time came to go, the student picked up her books and smiled, “Thanks, Doc!” and left. On the outside, Dr. Lumsden appeared confident; but on the inside, he was devastated. He knew that everything he had told this student was wrong.

So, let's see what happened:

  • Allowed the professor to vent in front of the class about Creationists and listened attentively

  • Did not pose embarrassing questions in front of the class

  • Did not even claim that the professor was wrong

  • Asked questions respectfully

  • Listened carefully to answers

  • Did not feel the need to rebut every point (or even any point) the professor made

  • After listening to the answers, said "thank you" and left the issue at that.

The professor knew himself that what he was saying was wrong, and because it was a non-confrontational situation, was able to have some perspective and think clearly on the subject. Backing people into a corner makes them defensive. Behaving like Christ allows God to work in them, and I can guarantee you that He is more effective than you.

This is in great contrast to how the Discovery Institute and Jonathan Wells wants you to ask your teacher embarrassing, confrontational questions to spark a controversy. While there's nothing wrong with being honest about evolution's shortcomings, there is both a way and a time to do it, and many ways and times where it is inappropriate.

There's nothing wrong with debate, but let's be like Christ when we do so, especially when it involves people who are in authority over us. Remember, if you are a Christian, you are always on display for being Christ in the world. The world should know Christians by their humbleness, meekness, love, giving, and respect, not for being annoying in biology class.

Dawkins Doesn't Debate Creationists

Why doesn't Dawkins debate creationists? Dawkins gives his own reasons. I don't know for sure, but I imagine that it might at least also include what happened at the 1986 Oxford Union Debate. Dawkins was debating A.E. Wilder-Smith. Also on Dawkin's side was John Maynard-Smith, and likewise Wilder-Smith had Edgar Andrews on his side.

So what were the results?

Since scientists repeatedly say that creation is as debunked as a flat earth, you'd think that there would be noone voting that Wilder-Smith had won the debate. You'd be quite wrong. The result?

198 to 150 in favor of the evolutionists.

This is not sometime in the 1800's or in the early 1900's, this is 1986. Since then, Dawkins has refused to debate creationists. Also note that it was Dawkins and Maynard Smith who brought up religion, which seems to validate Hunter's conclusion that the ultimate reasoning behind evolutionary theory is not science, but religion.

If you want a copy of the debate, see this site to order.

At the end, Dawkins made an impassioned plea for a "0" vote for the creation side. I would guess that the fact that the creationists made such an impression on their audience has been in part responsible for his unwillingness to do it again. Dawkins claims that he doesn't do it because the creationists get respect by the debate even happening at all. I don't believe that he is so confident in winning, based on the results of the Oxford Union debate.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

What Scientific Advances Have Resulted From Creationism? GENETICS

All the time people say that creationism has never lead to scientific advances. I find that highly amusing. The fact is that most of the greats of the history of science are creationists. The standard response is that those people were not researching creationism, did not have the data, were motivated by religion, or that creationism, while they believed it, did not contribute anything to what they learned. Some have also thought that the reason they were creationists was simply beause of the Church's power.

These are all very valid arguments for many of history's scientists (although some will argue that Christianity, while not necessarily creationism, is what led to science in the first place).

However, there is at least one scientist, and one very influential theory, that is likely the result of using creation as a starting point for scientific inquiry. What is it?

Mendel, and the field of Genetics.

What? Isn't genetics the foundation of evolution? No. In fact, it took 70 years for evolutionists to manage to modify evolution enough to fit genetics in. In fact, Mendel's genetics was a direct rebuttal of the evolutionary ideas of his day.

Although Darwin's specific theory of evolution (i.e. natural selection) had not occurred when Mendel was doing his experiments, the general idea of transformism (a soft form of universal common ancestry) was a popular concept. Lamarck had already come up with his ideas of evolution, though his theory was rejected in favor of Darwin's. Transformism was a popular and powerful concept which was taking root in biology. However, Mendel's experiments were a rebuttal to transformism. The general argument was like this: breeders are able to create new species, therefore, we should expect that all of the species we see today are the result of permanent transforms over time.

Mendel's rebuttal is th at heritable characteristics are available as discrete units. He was able to show that these transformations by breeders were not permanent, because the original species could always be brought back in by rebreeding with animals in the original population. Because these traits are discrete, there can be no permanent transforming of one species into another.

Here is the relevant section from Mendel's paper:

Gärtner, by the results of these transformation experiments, was led to oppose the opinion of those naturalists who dispute the stability of plant species and believe in a continuous evolution of vegetation. He perceives in the complete transformation of one species into another an indubitable proof that species are fixed with limits beyond which they cannot change. Although this opinion cannot be unconditionally accepted we find on the other hand in Gärtner's experiments a noteworthy confirmation of that supposition regarding variability of cultivated plants which has already been expressed.

So, (1) we can change one species into another and back, (2) many traits are discrete characteristics, therefore there are limits to the amount of transformation possible (since all hybrids come from a cross of discrete characteristics already present in animals that are able to hybridize).

While genetics has advanced beyond just mendellian genetics, and mutations show that the genes can be modified, neither of these has been able to get past Mendel's conclusions. Why?

* The original idea of mutations from which the integration of genetics and evolution suggested was that these mutations could happen rather quickly. Now that we know just how many change it takes to modify one gene coding for a protein into another, this becomes much more difficult than originally proposed, and we have few if any examples of this happening (a possible exception is the nylon bug which I will hopefully have time to address soon).
* We have much evidence that for most vertebrates, hybridization is possible within the family level, but not outside. There are clear discontinuities past that point. This indicates that most change in the past has been bounded.
* Mutation loads are usually dangerous, not helpful. Otherwise, we wouldn't see so many birth defects from incestual relationships.

Anyway, so what does this have to do with creationism?

The fact is that Mendel was a Catholic monk. Specifically, he was a Catholic monk arguing against evolution. Would that not put him in the creationist camp? What his specific motivations were are subject to speculation (yes, we are speculating to a degree here, but I don't think that any of this is unreasonable). There are reports that there is a copy of Origin of the Species in his monestary with margin notes in his handwriting. However, I haven't found any reports as to what these notes actually say.

Here is another good essay regarding Mendel and creationism.

AiG's One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism video has some excellent material on this. In fact, I can't hardly keep the video on my shelf I have so many requests to watch it. The book is available online, and chapter 2 discusses speciation with Mendellian Genetics (though it doesn't say much about Mendel himself).

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