Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Faith and Evolution at the Discovery Institute

The Discovery Institute has a new website called Faith + Evolution. It's designed to explore the relationship, if any, between the Christian faith and science.

Prominently featured on the home page is an article by Jonathan Wells.
Is Francis Collins Right about Evolution?

Francis Collins feels that intelligent design poses a serious problem to Christian belief because it rejects Darwinian evolution, which he feels is supported by overwhelming evidence. But the only evidence Collins cites for Darwin’s mechanism of variation and selection is microevolution—minor changes within existing species. And the principal evidence he cites for Darwin’s claim of common ancestry is DNA sequences that he says have no function—though genome researchers are discovering that many of them do have functions.

Collins’s defense of Darwinian theory turns out to be largely an argument from ignorance that must retreat as we learn more about the genome—in effect, a Darwin of the gaps.
Wells is referring to the evidence of shared pseudogenes and other genomic signatures of common descent. This won't do, according to Wells. Collins is not one of the good guys.

I wonder if Jonathan Wells has read a book called The Edge of Evolution? It was published in 2007. The author is Michael Behe—a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute.

Behe also describes the evidence from pseudogenes. Here's an excerpt from pages 70-71.
When two lineages share what appears to be an arbitrary genetic accident, the case for common descent becomes compelling, just as the case for plagiarism becomes overpowering when one writer makes the same unusual misspellings of another, within a copy of the same words. That sort of evidence is seen in the genomes of chimps and chimpanzees. For example, both humans and chimps have a broken copy of a gene that in other mammals helps make vitamin C. As a result, neither humans nor chimps can make their own vitamin C. If an ancestor of the two species originally sustained the mutation and then passed it to both descendant species, that would neatly explain the situation.

More compelling evidence for the shared ancestry of humans and other primates comes from their hemoglobin—not just their working hemoglobin, but a broken hemoglobin gene, too. .... In the region between the two gamma genes and a gene that works after birth, human DNA contains a broken gene (called a "psedugoene") that closely resembles a working gene for a beta chain, but has features in its sequence that preclude it from coding successfully for a protein.

Chimp DNA has a very similar pseudogene at the same position. The beginning of the human pseudogene has two particular changes in two nucleotides that seem to deactivate the gene. The chimp pseudogene has the exact same changes. A bit further down in the human pseudogene is a deletion mutation, where one particular letter is missing. For technical reasons, the deletion irrevocably messes up the gene's coding. The very same letter is missing in the chimp gene. Toward the end of the human pseduogene another letter is missing. The chimp pseudogene is missing it, too.

The same mistakes in the same gene in the same positions of both human and chimp DNA. If a common ancestor first sustained the mutational mistakes and subsequently gave rise to those two modern species, that would very readily account for why both species have them now. It's hard to imagine how there could be stronger evidence for common ancestry of chimps and humans.

That strong evidence from the pseudogene points well beyond the ancestry of humans. Despite some remaining puzzles, there's no reason to doubt that Darwin had this point right, that all creatures on earth are biological relatives.
Behe and Collins are on the same page. They both recognize the powerful genetic evidence of common descent (macroevolution).

I wonder if Jonathan Wells and Michael Behe talk to each other? I'd love to be a fly on the wall.


  1. I'd love to be a fly on the wall.

    I'd give that a miss if I were you. If they read your blog they'll be swatting every fly in sight. You don't want to be a splat on the wall do you?

    But seriously, I'm as intrigued about just how Behe and Johnson get on as you are.

  2. Jonathan Wells will say anything. He just doesn't give a hoot.

  3. How about the idea that the earth is 6000 years old.
    Or maybe 4.5 billion years old.
    Apparently this discrepancy is unimportant (despite the fact that if the former was proven true the theory of evolution would be instantly falsified).
    Teach the controversy!

  4. Wells' degree wouldn't be worthy of use as toilet paper.. the man needs some serious work in critical thinking.
    Behe accepting the idea of macroevolution is a new one... although I'm not certain he'll call it that.

    @ MartinC> if it were possible to prove the Earth were 6000 years old (which, it isn't, because we undertand radioactive decay and geologic processes a bit better than that), it would be a blow to geology and cosmology as well, along with basic physics (light speed anyone?) So no, the discrepancy would be key, if there were in fact a controversy about it... sorry, YEC is absolute bunk, and can be readily disproven by one of my students... OEC at least requires a little thought to trash.

  5. It isn't possible to prove much - if at all - in science. The earth isn't 6,000 years old because nothing by way of evidence or experiment supports any such conclusion. In fact if even a small swathe of evidence were to be doctored to support such a conclusion the tools of science we use to make useful things would then create absolute junk.

    The dodgery institute's IDiots don't read each other it seems. Meyer is a 6000 year creotard, Behe is a yes common descent no evolution IDiot, while Luskin is ambiguous on everything. Wells of course is pathetically ignorant of anything.


  6. I'm an amateur, Truti, but how can Behe accept common descent and also reject evolution? It would appear that he does, in fact, accept macroevolution as Larry says. What am I missing?

  7. DiverCity asks,

    I'm an amateur, Truti, but how can Behe accept common descent and also reject evolution? It would appear that he does, in fact, accept macroevolution as Larry says. What am I missing?

    Behe thinks that God guides the formation of mutations, thus directing evolution. Either that, or God set everything up in the beginning so that it would play out just the way it has.

    Behe objects to the idea that humans are simply the result of random mutations and subsequent evolution.

  8. "Meyer is a 6000 year creotard"

    I'm pretty sure this is incorrect. In the Kansas 2007 evolution hearings Meyer was asked how old he thought the earth was, and he said it was both his personal opinion and his professional opinion (as someone who has worked in geophysics) that it was 4.6 billion years old.
    Also at the recent Texas hearings when he spoke he said he objected to having been called "a creationist" when he didn't think the earth was 6,000 years old. Although of course somebody can be a creationist and accept the ancient age of the earth (i.e. Hugh Ross, he would certainly be such a person).
    So unless he has said otherwise elsewhere I'm pretty sure he doesn't believe in a young earth.

  9. You aren't a fly on the wall.

    You are something I scrape off my shoe.