“It’s a miracle!”

Darwinic pilgrims claim the image fills them with an overwhelming feeling of logic.

A couple of comments on a previous post attempted to discredit evolutionary science by claiming that “evolution is a ‘religion’ that demands huge amounts of faith and “evolution demands far more faith than I possess.”

Well,  a recent satirical article* at The Onion gives an idea of what evolutionary science would be like if this were true (see Evolutionists Flock To Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain). It has a stream of “devoted evolutionists” witnessing “what many believe is an image of Charles Darwin—author of The Origin Of Species and founder of the modern evolutionary movement—made manifest on a concrete wall in downtown Dayton.”

Since witnesses first reported the unexplained marking—which appears to resemble a 19th-century male figure with a high forehead and large beard—this normally quiet town has become a hotbed of biological zealotry. Thousands of pilgrims from as far away as Berkeley’s paleoanthropology department have flocked to the site to lay wreaths of flowers, light devotional candles, read aloud from Darwin’s works, and otherwise pay homage to the mysterious blue-green stain.

Capitalizing on the influx of empirical believers, street vendors have sprung up across Dayton, selling evolutionary relics and artwork to the thousands of pilgrims waiting to catch a glimpse of the image. Available for sale are everything from small wooden shards alleged to be fragments of the “One True Beagle”—the research vessel on which Darwin made his legendary voyage to the Galapagos Islands—to lecture notes purportedly touched by English evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace.

However, this ‘religion’ and the wall stain has its detractors:

“It’s a stain on a wall, and nothing more,” said the Rev. Clement McCoy, a professor at Oral Roberts University and prominent opponent of evolutionary theory. “Anything else is the delusional fantasy of a fanatical evolutionist mindset that sees only what it wishes to see in the hopes of validating a baseless, illogical belief system. I only hope these heretics see the error of their ways before our Most Powerful God smites them all in His vengeance.”

This is hilarious as a satire – but it would be sickening if it were true.

Then again, some people seem to be happy to belong to religions or world views which behave in exactly this way.

* Thanks to The Sensuous Curmudgeon.

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28 responses to ““It’s a miracle!”

  1. Shades of Life of Brian…

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  2. A more serious discrediting of evolution’s claim of being a science is here. http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/5966
    This purports to show that evolution meets nine out of ten characteristic fallacies of pseudoscientific theories.

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  3. I’m glad you used the word ‘purports’, Ross – that site has got to be one of the worst examples of quote mining & misrepresentation of science & the scientific method that I’ve seen for a while 🙂

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  4. @2&3:

    Lovely example of lifting words out of context and twisting meanings, alright. I’d send in a comment, but a rule like “Comments may be edited for clarity and brevity” on a religious site means its likely that they’ll edit the words to suit their meaning… just like the web page itself!

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  5. Great Onion article. It will keep me smiling all day.

    Though I doubt Ross sees the humour.
    Oh well.
    🙂

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  6. I came back to see if there was any refutation, but no… just laughter. Personally I usually find that website excellent.

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  7. OK, you want refutation? Here’s the first point from that ‘excellent’ website:
    Some pseudoscientific theories are based upon an authoritative text rather than observation or empirical investigation.

    In almost every debate about origins, the first argument given by the evolutionists is an appeal to authority. The National Academy of Sciences flatly asserts, ‘While the mechanisms of evolution are still under investigation, scientists universally accept that the cosmos, our planet, and life evolved and continue to evolve.’2 [our emphasis]

    We are supposed to respect these scientists because science has proven so powerful. But the people who preach evolution didn’t discover gravity or pasteurization or semiconductors. They just call themselves by the same name, ‘scientist’.

    This is simply a straw man & an attempt at redirection. Evolutionary biologists didn’t ‘discover’ gravity (neither did Newton – he explained it) but then, that’s irrelevant. Evolutionary biology has given us the deep understanding of life’s diversity and interrelatedness that allows us to make predictions/explanations; for example, to explain the evolution of drug resistance in bacteria & viruses, & predict ways (with AIDS, multiple drug therapies) that may circumvent or at least slow that development.

    Or #5:
    Some theories have been empirically tested and rather than being confirmed they seem either to have been falsified or to require numerous ad hoc hypotheses to sustain them.

    Evolutionists are forced to admit that the fossil evidence for their theory is slim to non-existent. For example, almost all major groups of creatures appear in the fossil record with no evolutionary past. ‘Something quite bizarre happened at the end of the Precambrian Era. Rocks from that time show evidence of an astounding variety of multicelled and hard-shelled life forms that seemingly appeared all at once. Scientists have long pondered the causes of this sudden appearance of new life forms, known as the Cambrian explosion.’6

    So the evolutionists offer ad hoc hypotheses to explain the lack of evidence. One popular theory is ‘punctuated equilibrium’, which says that sometimes evolution happens so fast that there are too few ‘intermediate’ generations for any to have much chance of being fossilized.

    We cannot see evolution happening today because it goes so slowly, and we cannot see evidence of it in the past because it happened too quickly!

    I don’t know that I would take a popular article in Astrobiology magazine as gospel here. It’s actually quite incorrect to say that Cambrian life-forms all appeared at once – the Cambrian covers around 30 million years, so we are hardly talking instantaneous here. And in addition, there is fossil & genetic evidence for several major groups (phyla) that pre-date the Cambrian period.

    As for not being able to see evolution in action today – that is indeed laughable (& I suspect a deliberate misquote of Dawkins): bacterial resisitance to antibiotics, sympatric speciation of Spartina in Anglia in the 1960s as the result of a polyploidy event, the beginnings of reproductive isolation in Drosophila fed on differing diets… Do a search of the scientific literature & you’ll find a whole lot more.

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  8. @ Ross Nixon:

    What is “excellent” about the site, Ross? What, specifically, do you find so attractive? Is it because it massages your religious beliefs? Or do you think it gives factual information? If so, give us examples.

    In other words, engage with the discussion. Don’t just rely on simple personal declarations (“Personally I usually find that website excellent”). Compare the claims with the facts from the real world.

    By themselves, personal declarations mean nothing.

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  9. And while we’re on the subject of evolution: this from the US National Centre for Science Education, via The Panda’s Thumb (http://pandasthumb.org) –

    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. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

    To which I would add, ditto for the NZ curriculum (& thank the FSM for the strong evolutionary focus of said document).

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  10. Hi there Ken, on this subject, this ditty from Michael Schermer entitled ‘Genesis Revisted’ (from Why Darwin Matters)always brings a smile to my dial.

    Excuse length, it’s worth it and just about sums up the arguement nicely:

    In the beginning – specifically on October 23, 4004 BC, at noon -out of quantum foam fluctuation God created the Big Bang, followed by cosmological inflation and an expanding universe. And darkness was upon the face of the deep, so He create Quarks and therefrom He created hydrogen atoms and thence He commanded the hydrogen atoms to fuse and become helium atoms and in the process to release energy in the form of light. And the light maker He called the sun, and the process He called fusion. And He saw the light was good because now He could see what he was doing, so he created Earth. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

    And God said, Let there be lots of fusion light makers in the sky. Some of these fusion makers He grouped into collections He called galaxies, and these appeared to be millions and even billions of light-years from Earth, which would mean that they were created before the first creation in 4004 BC. This was confusing, so God created tired light, and the creation story was preserved. And He created many wondrous splendours such as Red GIants, White Dwarfs, Quasars, Pulsars, Supernovas, Worm Holes, and even Black Holes out of which nothing can escape. But since God cannot be constrained by nothing, He created Hawking radiation through which information can escape from Black Holes. This made God even more tired than tired light, and the evening and the morning were the second day.

    And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the continenets drift apart by plate tectonics. He decreed that sea floor spreading would create zones of emergence, and He caused subduction zones to build mountains and cause earthquakes. In weak points in the crust God created volcanic islands, where the next day He would place organisms that were similar to but different from their relatives on the continents, so that still later created creatures called humans would mistake them for evolved descendants created by adaptive radiation. And the evening and morning were the third day.

    And God saw that the island was barren, so He created animals bearing their own kind. Thou shalt not evolve into new species, and thy equilibrium shall not be punctuated. And God placed into the rocks, fossils that appeared older than 4004 BC that were similar to but different from living creatures. And the sequence resembled descent with modification. And the evening and morning were the fourth day.

    And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly that moving creatures that have life, the fishes. And God created great whales whose skeletal structure and physiology were homologous with the land mammals He would create later that day. God then brought forth abundantly all creatures, great and small, declaring that microevolution was permitted, but not macroevolution. And God said, “Natura non facit saltum” – Nature shall not make leaps. And the evening and morning were the fifth day.

    And God created the pongids and homonids with 98 percent genetic similarity, naming two of them Adam and Eve. In the book in which God explained how He did all this, the Bible, in one chapter He said He created Adam and Eve together out of the dust at the same time, but in another chapter He said he created Adam first, then later created Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. This caused confusion in the valley of the shadow of doubt, so God created theologians to sort it out.

    And in the ground placed He in adundance teeth, jaws, skulls, and pelvises of transitional fossils from pre-Adamite creatures. One chosen as his special creation He named Lucy, who could walk upright like a human but had a small brain like an ape. And God realized this too was confusing, so he created paleoanthropologists to figure it out.

    Just as He was finishing up the loose ends of creation, God realized that Adam’s immediate descendants would not understand inflationary cosmology, global general relativity, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, biochemistry, paleontology, and evolutionary bioloy, so he created creation myths. But there were so many creation stories throughout the world that God realized this too was confusing, so created He anthropologists and mythologists to explain all that.

    By now the valley of the shadow of doubt was overrun with skepticism, so God became angry – so angry that God lost his temper and cursed the first humans, telling them to go forth and multiply themselves (but not in those words). But the humans took God literally and now there are over six billion of them. And the evening and the mornin were the sixth day.

    By now God was tired, so He proclaimed, “Thank Me it’s Friday,” and He made the weekend. It was a good idea.

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  11. Ross Nixon said…”I came back to see if there was any refutation, but no… just laughter. Personally I usually find that website excellent.”

    Oops, somebodys developing a martyr complex.
    😮

    “But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

    Carl Sagan.

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  12. Thank you to Alison for the best (only) attempt at a refutation. Unfortunately the specific examples of evolution that she gave are ones that I agree with. Natural selection happens. Speciation happens. It’s ‘Common Descent’ that is an emperor who wears no clothes.

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  13. Um, Ross – if speciation happens, then common descent is a given, since the new species will have descended from a common ancestor…

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  14. @ Ross Nixon:

    “It’s ‘Common Descent’ that is an emperor who wears no clothes.” – Then Ross, how do you explain the evidence from molecular biology, the degrees of similarity in must advance an alternative explanation if one wishes to refute this idea. Especially as you accept theories of natural selection and speciation.

    You actually seem to reject a lot of what is claimed on the “creation on the web” site you recommend!!

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  15. @12:

    As Alison was saying speciation implies common descent: common descent is an outcome of speciation being applied.

    Take a species and call it species “A”. The population of species A splits via speciation into two species, “B” and “C”. Species B and C are related by common descent from species A.

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  16. Perhaps I could clarify. I accept “limited speciation”, but not the common descent of all life on earth.

    An example would be the large cats. Tigers and Lions have speciated from a common ancestor, as it is rare to get fertile offspring from mating them.

    You may well ask where I set my limit? Well, it would have to be something like “no speciation will produce a new species of increased complexity or functionality”. Adding useful information to a design requires intelligence.

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  17. Ross, I have to say that the demand for evidence of increased complexity/functionality tends to be a staple of creationist arguments, & one that has been addressed on other threads here. And yet there’s a lot of evidence as to how mutations can lead to an increase in genetic ‘information’ (google ‘transposons’), which may in turn lead to ‘increased complexity’ (eg the family of haemoglobin genes). Similarly a duplication of hox genes (the gene family involved in body organisation) appears to be the basis of tetrapod evolution. With no evidence of the involvement of an ‘intelligence’ of any sort.

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  18. So… you (claim to) accept common descent, but want to exclude it when it doesn’t suit you. Why should common descent stop at a point that suits you? No reason at all.

    The “increased complexity” line is a red herring, probably given to you as a line by others who’d rather distract you from the real issues or who don’t know better themselves.

    As you pointed out the key thing is that they are reproductively isolated (i.e. can’t breed between the new populations). The level of complexity isn’t relevant to speciation. Some species are more complex than those they are derived from, others less so.

    As for “Adding useful information to a design requires intelligence”, its already deen demonstrated to occur without “help”.

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  19. My post crossed with Alison’s, by the way: I wrote independently of her. Nice to have a few examples of my latter point without having to do the work, though!

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  20. @ Ross Nixon:

    “Adding useful information to a design requires intelligence.” – That’s a bald statement – can you justify it? I know that Dembski tries to but his arguments/mathematics are not accepted by most scientists in that area. In fact, they seem to me to be a bit like the “entropy” argument against evolution which is easily proved wrong.

    I think there is both theoretical evidence (eg. computer models for evolution) and observable factual evidence (eg development of nylon hydrolases in organisms) showing that new information can and does occur.

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  21. “I think there is both theoretical evidence (eg. computer models for evolution) and observable factual evidence (eg development of nylon hydrolases in organisms) showing that new information can and does occur.”

    The examples I like best are those where theorhetical and experimental science show complementary results from independent angles.

    An example of evolutionary change is the change of the regulation of genes (as opposed to the genes themselves). A common case is of protein-coding portion of the gene (the CDS) remaining more-or-less the same, but with the adjacent regions that control the use of the gene changing as the organisms do. As you might expect, this is particulary true of genes that control development: the changes reflect exactly the changes in development seen in the different species.

    (This change in regulation, as opposed the protein-coding portion of genes, is one of the key things emerging from evo-devo [evolutionary developmental biology].)

    There is work along these lines published in a very recent issue of Science that I think Alison has already blogged. Ah, here it is: http://sci.waikato.ac.nz/bioblog/2008/09/genetic-underpinnings-of-thumb.shtml

    Duplication and divergence of genes is another way to increase “information”, for which there are many examples. Alison mentioned the Hox genes used in patterning body plans, there are also examples from enzymes. The nylon hydrolases might be an example of this: I don’t know that story particularly well. Starting with an enzyme with one activity (say, phosphorylation) on a particular substrate, the duplicated gene can evolve to favour another substrate, usually keeping the same activity. The end result is two genes, one that acts on a new substrate.

    The hox gene example Alison mentions are particularly striking for the one-on-one relationship between the order of the hox genes and the body pattern (esp. in insects). I hate the twits who try say Science takes all the wonder out of things: the hox gene clusters and how they work are enough to make you sit up and think “this is great stuff”.

    There are examples of natural mutations that show loss or gain of body segments through altering regulation of developmental pathways, including the hox genes, that complement this well, too.

    You can observe “almost there” attempts of gene evolution in genomes, for example in so-called pseudogenes that have duplicated from neighbouring genes, but which are not (yet) in a new functional form.

    I could just go on and on 🙂 And bore everyone… so, I guess I should shut up. 🙂

    (*Cringes* Sorry Ken…)

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  22. Just a comment on pseudogenes – I think the term tends to be reserved for duplicated copies of existing genes that have lost function as a result of disabling mutations, but can still be recognised for what they are when you look at the genome. So they’re often regarded as molecular vestigial features.

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  23. Alison: You’re right, my words read as more general than I meant them to: pseudogenes are generally regarded as non-functional, but I also think too often pseudogenes are assumed to be non-functional and that the loss of function is irreversable, or that a novel function has to be “of the same type” (or, alternatively, that the generalisation is applied too widely). My own suspicion is that making arbitrary distinctions between gene duplication and duplicated pseudogenes, for example, aren’t helping. Some studies show about 5% of pseudogenes are transcribed. Its further complicated by gene regulation not being simple: there are some suggestions that some pseudogenes may be transcribed off promoters from adjacent genes, for example. Another complication is that transcribed (but not translated) RNAs can have function, too. And there are other more complicated scenarios too.

    I haven’t time to explore this (and its probably not the place for it, either). You’re right about the general definition though. If you look around, though, you’ll find there are some individual papers pointing to them as (potential) sources of new function, too (I think some of the RNases is one example, but my memory is dodgy and I have to get back to work). I know Mark Gerstein’s group have some recent papers on this. It may just be getting to theorhetical for most experimental biologists, though! 🙂

    If I have time I’ll try track some of these down if you’re interested.

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  24. Thank you 🙂 I’m not a geneticist by training & I’m not really up with the play on some of these details.

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  25. Hi Alison,

    This paper might be interesting to read:

    The ambiguous boundary between genes and pseudogenes: the dead rise up, or do they?

    Deyou Zheng1 and Mark B. Gerstein

    Trends Genetics 23(5)219 (2007).

    Hope this post works, as I’m not getting these pages well tonight! (Server might be overloaded, or my ‘net connection playing games…)

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  26. ooooh, thank you! 🙂

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  27. I fully expect you to blog it 😉

    Just kidding around. No pressure… 🙂

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