Saturday, June 05, 2010

Creationist Fairy Tales

 
Cornelius Hunter has a Ph.D. in Biophysics and Computational Biology.1 He's an adjunct Professor at Biola University where, presumably, he teaches undergraduates.

Dr. Hunter has recently learned about transposons and this promoted him to write something on his blog, Darwin's God [Retrotransposons are not Free].

Transposons, as most of you know, are bits of selfish DNA than insert themselves into genomes. There are several different kinds of transposons but Hunter concentrates on retrotranspsons in his example. Most of the time when transposons insert themselves into a genome they cause problems because they disrupt a gene. The exceptions are those species with large genomes containing lots of junk DNA where the insertions are usually harmless.

Every now and then, a transposon will insert near, or within, a gene causing a mutation that may become beneficial. This is what caught Hunter's attention.
Consider the retrotransposons that, in addition to its promoter sequence that helps initiate the copying of its DNA into an single-stranded RNA molecule, carries its own handy reverse transcriptase gene which encodes the protein machine that copies the RNA back into a DNA molecule, for later insertion into the genome. This can certainly cause biological variation, but it is anything but free.

With evolution we must believe that so many of the sophisticated biological variation mechanisms, such as in retrotransposons, were produced by evolution. Do you see the problem? In this circular tale that even Hans Christian Andersen could never have imagined, evolution produces the intricate mechanisms that produce evolution.

Evolutionists insist that there is no problem because none of this is impossible. Why can’t evolution produce mechanisms that produce evolution? Unless one can prove this is impossible, evolution wins (an argument that goes back to the sage of Kent himself). Though the evidence fails to prove evolution, it nonetheless must be a fact. In this Alice-in-Wonderland world, that which is not false is a fact (if it is evolution, that is).
Does this sound like a fairy tale. Yes, it does. The scary part of Hunter's fairy tale is that so many people will believe it, including his students. That's more like the Grimm brothers than Hans Christian Anderson.

Seriously, there's an interesting problem here. We often make fun of the stupidity of creationists like Hunter and Richard Sternberg because they are clearly out of their depth when they write about biology and evolution. But why are their fellow creationists so silent? If it were an evolutionist writing such nonsense we would be just as critical—in fact the blogs are full of such critical debate about science.

Why aren't there any intelligent creationists who speak out against the fairy tales that permeate their blogs and their publications? Is it because there aren't any intelligent creationists? Or, is it because they are extremely reluctant to criticize their own kind? Don't they realize that their cause is being damaged by propagating nonsense?

Maybe they're not worried because they know their audience.



1. He can't be a very good creationist because, as far as I know, he has only one Ph.D.

13 comments :

  1. Larry, it's a good point. Here are two small examples of creationists who do object to abuses of science by Hunter, Sternberg and Co.

    First, there's me. I'm a Christian, so in the most basic sense I'm a creationist. In fact, I describe my position on evolution as "evolutionary creationist" as opposed to "theistic evolutionist" for reasons of emphasis. I suspect that you don't mean to describe folks like me when you use the term "creationist," but I thought I'd throw that out there.

    But then there's Todd Wood. Todd's a young-earth creationist, due to his adherence to a form of biblical literalism. He's also a smart scientist and, more importantly, possesses what no one at the Discovery Institute seems to have or understand: intellectual integrity. Todd regularly criticizes creationist abuses of science, and he has some serious fans among those committed to advancing evolutionary science.

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  2. I don't think Hunter teaches biology (or biophysics, or computational biology) to undergraduates at Biola.

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  3. Todd Wood and Kurt Wise: they are my %$#@ heroes. I like Kurt Wise's epic heroic story about how he took the scissors to the Bible. That is one epic $#@%& story. My %$#@&% intellectual integrity heroes.

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  4. "He's an adjunct Professor at Biola University where, presumably, he teaches undergraduates."

    Ah yes, that famous and prestigious institution which is a hotbed of leading-edge scientific research. Oh wait...I'm getting confused with somewhere else...

    Interestingly Hunter is not even listed on their web site as a faculty member. I suppose that's probably normal for adjunct professors.

    And given the prolific nature of his blog (which appears to be his own "scientific" output these days), he certainly seems to have a lot of time on his hand to scour the Internet looking for his "fairy tales".

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  5. First it's Hans Christian Anderson, then Alice in Wonderland! It's obvious why Hunter Cornelius isn't teaching English Lit.

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  6. Arthur Hunt said...
    I don't think Hunter teaches biology (or biophysics, or computational biology) to undergraduates at Biola.

    Arthur, do you know what Hunter does teach then? I'm curious. If he did teach biology, I can't imagine him beyond say much beyond what could be taught in an hour or two...

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  7. Hunter seems to goes mostly by his middle name, George, at Biola.

    George (Cornelius) Hunter teaches courses called "Historical Perspectives in Science and Religion" and "Darwin, Evolution, and Design".

    Biola states one of it outcomes for its students of biology as:
    "An ability to discuss theories of origins and evolution within the context of a Scriptural view of creation".

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  8. There are some occasional creationists (such as Derick Childress) on Hunter's blog who criticise his attacks on evolutionary theory.

    Of course, Hunter does not listen to a word that these people say; they are equally deluded believers in the 'religion' of 'Darwinism' as far as he is concerned.

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  9. "George (Cornelius) Hunter teaches courses called "Historical Perspectives in Science and Religion" and "Darwin, Evolution, and Design".

    Biola states one of it outcomes for its students of biology as:
    "An ability to discuss theories of origins and evolution within the context of a Scriptural view of creation".


    Amazingly, when challenged, "George" insists that, despite the fact he teaches at a fundamentalist Bible college, he has no biases. In fact, according to him, you would think he is the world's only Pure And Object Scientist (tm). The guy is so utterly deluded it really isn't funny. I pity the students that have to listen to the ridiculous propaganda he must deliver to them. But given the school they have chosen, they're already probably a lost cause.

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  10. In a comment to the last post, I mentioned that you can look up the number of empirically determined gene transcripts on a site like Ensembl. There are 148,000 listed there, but that's all transcripts, including from RNA genes (something neglected by both parties in this discussion). There are 21,000 protein-coding genes and 12,000 RNA genes listed, for a total of 33,000 transcribed sequences in the human genome.

    So there are 148,000 / 33,000 = 4.48 unique transcripts per "gene".

    Does that mean there are 148,000 introns participating in the formation of those unique transcripts? Not necessarily. Consider a gene with introns A-B-C-D-E. You could excise B, C, D, BC, CD, or BCD, to form 6 transcripts from 3 introns. With 5 introns you can make 15 transcripts, and with 7 introns you can make 28 transcripts, or 4 transcripts per intron.

    We don't know empirically how many transcripts are produced per intron, but if we conservatively estimate 2, then there are ~74,000 introns participating in alternative splicing out of 33,000 transcribed sequences, or ~2.24 per "gene".

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  11. Anonymous (of course) says,

    Larry, what's the problem? do you deny that evolution produced these mechanisms or what? what exactly is your defense other than resorting to childish insults?

    No, I don't deny that transposons are the end result of millions of years of evolution.

    The problem is that this evolution had nothing to do with selection for the ability to generate variation in the host genome. That's just an unfortunate side effect. Transposons would be better off if they were able to pick insertion sites that didn't kill their host or alter their genes. If there's any selective pressure on transposons, it's probably the exact opposite of what Hunter claims.

    That's what a real evolutionist would say. The ones in Hunter's story are fairy tale evolutionists.

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  12. My gosh, Larry.....you just validated Dr. Hunter's claim -- that all these adaptive mechanisms (horizontal gene transfer, plasticity, epigenetics, etc) were somehow created by selected dumb luck.....aka "evolution."

    you: "The problem is that this evolution had nothing to do with selection for the ability to generate variation in the host genome. That's just an unfortunate side effect."

    well I agree with that...evolution didn't select anything because nothing complex arises "just because."......but yea, it's a degenerative effect. and? what does that have to do with anything?

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  13. PaulM, to clarify, I am not a creationist in any sense of the word. My position is that evolution proceeds via entirely naturalistic mechanisms, and that it is not necessary to invoke divine intervention as an explanation at any point in the process. I think what you mean is that I consider myself a theist, which is correct, and yes, Cornelius probably puts me in the same category as the 'deluded' atheists because I have no problem accepting modern evolutionary theory.

    thanks,

    -Derick

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