Sunday, March 16, 2014

A chemist who doesn't understand evolution

James Tour is an organic chemist. He is a Professor of Chemistry and Professor, Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, and Professor of Computer Science at Rice University (Houston, United States). James Tour is attracting a lot of attention on the Intelligent Design Creationist websites because he is sympathetic to their main claim; namely, that evolution is wrong [see A world-famous chemist tells the truth: there’s no scientist alive today who understands macroevolution].

Tour is one of the few genuine scientists who signed the Discovery Institute’s "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" (2001) that stated, "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." (There are very,very, few biologists who signed.)

What exactly, does Jame Tour mean? He wrote an article on his website that explains his position: Layman’s Reflections on Evolution and Creation. An Insider’s View of the Academy. I think it's interesting to discuss what he said.

He begins with ...
Assuming that I have something significant to contribute to the evolution vs. creation debate, many ask me to speak and write concerning my thoughts on the topic. However, I do not have anything substantive to say about it. I am a layman on the subject. Although I have read about a half dozen books on the debate, maybe a dozen, and though I can speak authoritatively on complex chemical synthesis, I am not qualified to enter the public discussion on evolution vs. creation. So please don’t ask me to be the speaker or debater at your event, and think carefully about asking me for an interview because I will probably not give you the profound quotations that you seek. You are of course free to quote me from what is written here, but do me the kindness of placing my statements in a fair context.
I suppose that just about all of us could write something similar on subjects that are outside of our field of expertise. For example, I could put up a blog post saying that I have nothing substantive to say about cosmology or organic synthesis. Why would anyone care about that?

So what does James Tour have to say about evolution that attracts so much attention? He begins by saying that he is not a supporter of Intelligent Design Creationism because science cannot prove intelligent design. He believes that "God seems to have set nature as a clue, not a solution, to keep us yearning for him."

Then he goes on to describe his lack of knowledge of evolutionary biology.
Where does Jim Tour stand on the evolution vs. creation debate? I do have scientific problems understanding macroevolution as it is usually presented. I simply can not accept it as unreservedly as many of my scientist colleagues do, although I sincerely respect them as scientists. Some of them seem to have little trouble embracing many of evolution’s proposals based upon (or in spite of) archeological, mathematical, biochemical and astrophysical suggestions and evidence, and yet few are experts in all of those areas, or even just two of them. Although most scientists leave few stones unturned in their quest to discern mechanisms before wholeheartedly accepting them, when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway. When hearing such extrapolations in the academy, when will we cry out, "The emperor has no clothes!"?
Normally you'd have to be an expert on evolution in order to claim that all other experts are wrong. I wonder why an organic chemist thinks that he is qualified to make such a claim? It seems a bit strange, don't you think?
From what I can see, microevolution is a fact; we see it all around us regarding small changes within a species, and biologists demonstrate this procedure in their labs on a daily basis. Hence, there is no argument regarding microevolution. The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution. Here is what some supporters of Darwinism have written regarding this point in respected journals, and it is apparent that they struggle with the same difficulty.
  • Stern, David L. "Perspective: Evolutionary Developmental Biology and the Problem of Variation," Evolution 2000, 54, 1079-1091. A contribution from the University of Cambridge. "One of the oldest problems in evolutionary biology remains largely unsolved; Historically, the neo-Darwinian synthesizers stressed the predominance of micromutations in evolution, whereas others noted the similarities between some dramatic mutations and evolutionary transitions to argue for macromutationism."
  • Simons, Andrew M. "The Continuity of Microevolution and Macroevolution," Journal of Evolutionary Biology 2002, 15, 688-701. A contribution from Carleton University."A persistent debate in evolutionary biology is one over the continuity of microevolution and macroevolution — whether macroevolutionary trends are governed by the principles of microevolution."
So the debate between the validity of extending microevolutionary trends to macroevolutionary projections is indeed persistent in evolutionary biology.
I'm not an expert on macroevolution but I think I understand the issues and the debate over whether macroevolution can be fully explained by population genetics (and/or natural selection). [see Macroevolution].

I don't think it's all that difficult to understand if you make a bit of an effort. It has nothing to do with any doubts about whether evolution explains the history of life. It has to do with whether there are additional mechanisms and events that are required in order to account for macroevolutionary change. Events like asteroid impacts, continental drift, speciation, and perhaps species sorting. I don't understand why an organic chemist couldn't figure this out if he really wanted to.
Some are disconcerted or even angered that I signed a statement back in 2001 along with over 700 other scientists: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." Do not the texts written by the two authors above underscore what I signed, namely, "Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged”"? And these "oldest problems in evolutionary biology" lead me and many others to our being "skeptical."
Here's where it gets a bit complicated. There are many excellent evolutionary biologists who could have signed the statement published by the Discovery Institute. They are not Darwinists and they believe that there is more to evolution than natural selection. Furthermore, all scientists believe that careful examination of evidence is necessary.

That's not how James Tour interprets the statement. He adopts the meaning that the Discovery Institute wants you accept. Tour seems to think that anyone who questions the naive creationist understanding of evolution must be questioning whether evolution occurred. That's what happens when you don't understand the discipline you are criticizing.
It is not a matter of politics. I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical and to sign such a statement without reprisals from those that disagree with me?
The short answer is "no." Just because you don't understand something is no reason to call yourself a "skeptic" and imply that an entire field of study is wrong.
Furthermore, when I, a non-conformist, ask proponents for clarification, they get flustered in public and confessional in private wherein they sheepishly confess that they really don’t understand either. Well, that is all I am saying: I do not understand. But I am saying it publicly as opposed to privately. Does anyone understand the chemical details behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught, so I invite them to meet with me. Lunch will be my treat. Until then, I will maintain that no chemist understands, hence we are collectively bewildered.
Does he really mean to imply that all chemists are "bewildered" about evolution? Does he really think that evolutionary biologists are obliged to supply "chemical details" proving that whales evolved from land animals or that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor? Are all chemists this stupid?

I wonder if he is equally skeptical about whether the Earth goes around the sun given that we can't supply chemical details? I wonder what he thinks about plate tectonics?
And I have not even addressed origin of first life issues. For me, that is even more scientifically mysterious than evolution. Darwin never addressed origin of life, and I can see why he did not; he was far too smart for that. Present day scientists that expose their thoughts on this become ever so timid when they talk with me privately. I simply can not understand the source of their confidence when addressing their positions publicly.
We don't understand how life originated. Any scientist who is confident about their understanding of the origin of life is wrong. I strongly doubt that James Tour has ever met a scientist working on the origin of life who claims that he/she knows the answer. On the other hand, if you only read creationist literature should could easily be fooled.
Furthermore, most of my scientist colleagues do not discuss macroevolution very often because they are too busy with their own fields of interest to be sidetracked by such tangential matters. Though the acceptance of macroevolution is rather implicit within their core understandings, most science professors are simply too harried to take much notice of the details. Pondering and thoughtfulness has been pounded and distilled out of many of us; there’s another meeting to attend, another proposal to write, another manuscript to proof, yet another lecture to deliver, 100 more emails to answer, and the anxieties about our futures must be allayed. "The peace which passeth all understanding," is beyond reach, nay beyond understanding.
Ignorance is curable. If that's the only problem facing James Tour then he could do no better than read Stephen Jay Gould if he really wants to understand macroevolution. He will get a heavy dose of "pondering and thoughtfulness." I don't think he's up to it. I don't think he really wants to learn.

Here's why I don't think he really wants to learn about evolution.
What a comfort it must be to be pleasantly settled in one camp or the other, but I can not be so settled, and hence I have few tent-fellows. Based upon my faith in the Scriptures, I do believe (yes, faith and belief go beyond scientific evidence for this scientist) that God created the heavens and the earth and all that dwell therein, including a man named Adam and a woman named Eve. As for many of the details and the time-spans, I personally become less clear. Some may ask, What’s “less clear” about the text that reads, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth”? That is a fair question, and I wish I had an answer that would satisfy them. But I do not because I remain less clear.

I hope that’s satisfactory; I mean for me, a scientist and a Christian, to be unsure of a few things in both science and Christianity. The question is not fundamental to my salvation as a Christian which is based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ, my confession in him as Savior and my belief in his resurrection from the dead. And I used to think that my outward confession of skepticism regarding Darwinian Theory was also of little consequence to my career as a scientist. Specifically, in the past, I wrote that my standing as a scientist was “based primarily upon my scholarly peer-reviewed publications.” I no longer believe that, however.

In the last few years I have seen a saddening progression at several institutions. I have witnessed unfair treatment upon scientists that do not accept macroevolutionary arguments and for their having signed the above-referenced statement regarding the examination of Darwinism. (I will comment no further regarding the specifics of the actions taken upon the skeptics; I love and honor my colleagues too much for that.) I never thought that science would have evolved like this....

Hence, by my observation, the unfair treatment upon the skeptics of macroevolution has not come from the administration level. But my recent advice to my graduate students has been direct and revealing: If you disagree with Darwinian Theory, keep it to yourselves if you value your careers, unless, of course, you’re one of those champions for proclamation; I know that that fire exists in some, so be ready for lead-ridden limbs. But if the scientific community has taken these shots at senior faculty, it will not be comfortable for the young non-conformist. When the power-holders permit no contrary discussion, can a vibrant academy be maintained? Is there a University (unity in diversity)? For the United States, I pray that the scientific community and the National Academy in particular will investigate the disenfranchisement that is manifest upon some of their own, and thereby address the inequity.
I suppose I'm going to be labeled as one of those evil "Darwinists" who won't tolerate anyone who disagrees with me about evolution.1

I'm actually not. I just don't like stupid people who think they are experts in evolution when they have never bothered to learn about it. Here's my advice to graduate students in organic chemistry: if you want to know about evolution then take a course or read a textbook. And remember, there's nothing wrong with admitting that you don't understand a subject. Just don't assume your own ignorance means that all the experts in the subject are wrong too.

1. I'm not an expert on ancient history and mythology but I'm skeptical about this "Savior" who was "resurrected from the dead." Does that make me a hypocrite? Does anyone know the chemical details of this resurrection?


  1. "It has nothing to do with any doubts about whether evolution explains the history of life. It has to do with whether there are additional mechanisms and events that are required in order to account for macroevolutionary change. Events like asteroid impacts, continental drift, speciation, and perhaps species sorting. I don't understand why an organic chemist couldn't figure this out if he really wanted to."

    Maybe because he requires proof? For a real scientist fanciful stories of random mutation, genetic drift, or neutral theory are not sufficient. They need laboratory proof which evolution has never supplied. There are creatures that rapidly multiply so that thousands of generations can be reproduced in the lab. And yet never has any natural mechanism been shown to create macroevolution. A bacteria is always just another bacteria, no new species. Tour is a rational person sticking to scientific methodology. If evolutionists were able to proof macroevolution then I am sure Tour would be quite able to understand it.

    The problem is what you accept as proof no real scientist would. There is a ranking of scientists: physicist, chemist, biologist that reflect a level of expertise. It is not surprising with the lack of mathematical rigor that evolutionary biology would be at the bottom. I recall Dawkins lamenting the incorporation of mathematics into biology. He does so because mathematics requires proof, something harmful to Dawkin's grandiose, tactless evolutionary claims.

    1. Maybe because he requires proof? For a real scientist fanciful stories of random mutation, genetic drift, or neutral theory are not sufficient. They need laboratory proof which evolution has never supplied.

      Gee, no physicist has ever supplied laboratory proof that black holes exist. Therefore, according to Peter, they don't exist.

    2. Mathematics does not require empirical proof. If one creates a model of population behaviour and it yields a certain equation, that may not reflect actuality for organisms, but it does indicate an underlying trend which a process of sampling and replacement would be expected to follow. You'd need to find out what it is about real populations that make the simplistic model inappropriate.

      The ranking of scientists in order of how well they understand 'hard stuff' makes no sense in terms of understanding evolution. Biology is complex and messy stuff, over time and breadth that you can't get into a lab. Make me a star, Hoyle, or I won't accept chemosynthesis!

      But if you don't even know the first thing about it - the role of genotype and phenotype, the role of probability and sampling, the role of reproductive boundaries in macroevolution, the role of thermodynamics, the parameters that constrain (or not) protein evolution ... take a course. The arrogance of some non-biologists! Too clever to learn.

    3. A bacteria is always just another bacteria, no new species.

      Bacterial diversity if huge, and among bacteria there are many different species. Bacteria can speciate and yet remain bacteria. Of course. When Podarcis sicula spectated on a Croatian island, the new species was still a lizard. Peter, that you don't know this distinction prevents you from understanding the evidence we have for macroevolution.

    4. The difference between science and evolution is that physicists, cosmologist, chemists have mathematical theories that can be tested and falsified.

      Evolution has no mathematical framework.You can't even prove something simple like the human mind evolved from a primate ancestor. Go ahead, show me the bio-chemical switches, get a primate and flip the switches, and volla you have a human. Should be a be a peace of cake if you know all of life evolved. Then you might just convince Tour and all the creationists.

      If you can't demonstrate one step of evolution of all the millions of creatures that are supposed to evolve then how can you possibly say everything evolved? It is a completely untestable, and therefore an unscientific hypotheses.

      You could convince everyone evolution is true if you had any proof, but good science, that shows the super-complexity of life, and the absurdity of evolution prevents you. So don't go crying that the creationists do not believe you. It is the responsibility of the advocates of a theory to prove it.

    5. I think part of the problem is that so-called laymen outside their field of expertise are easily confused when considering the confounding notion of what a “species” really is and what speciation” entails.

      Jim Tour: “From what I can see, microevolution is a fact; we see it all around us regarding small changes within a species…”
      “…So the debate between the validity of extending microevolutionary trends to macroevolutionary projections is indeed persistentin evolutionary biology.”

      Uhmm… there is no debate whatsoever. The logic behind the easily documented changes in allelic frequency in Biston betularia can also extend to easily documented and novel changes that also entail reproductive isolation (eg the Lizards on Croatian islands mentioned above)

      The suggestion that willow warbler & chiffchaffs had a recent common ancestor; or that Drosophila pseudoobscura and Drosophila persimilis also recently diverged from a common ancestor (or how about domestic horses, donkeys and let’s throw in Przewalski horses for good measure) poses no difficulty what so ever to gainsayers of Macroevolution. Or as the sheep in George Orwell's Animal Farm would probably bleat: "Microevolution good - Macroevolution bad!"

      Neither Jim Tour nor Peter above have any difficulty with this notion of “microevolution” even though speciation has been thereby conceded – after all equines remain equines, drosophila remain drosophila and warblers remain warblers.

      Caveat mucrom gracilim cuneati; or beware the thin edge of the wedge! Or to paraphrase Huxley, `The Lord hath delivered the enemy into my hands'!

      In that case, neither Jim Tour nor Peter above should have any difficulty with extending this notion of “microevolution” to Bonobos, Chimpanzees and Humans given these three meet the criteria of “sibling species" even better (by far) than domestic horses, donkeys and Przewalski horses.

      Every Creationist I have encountered has demonstrated the most egregious intellectual dishonesty by conceding the emergence of sibling species when discussing Croatian Lizards or Hawaiian Fruit Flies or equine species… but draws the line at Hominidae! Something along the lines: “Just don’t tell me that I am descended from a Chimpanzee!”

      Uhmm of course not – I would never be so inclined to insult a Chimpanzee!

      quod erat demonstrandum

    6. Ooops my bad.

      Current taxonomy (subject to change) do not place humans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos in the same genus – but rather in the same sub-family Homininae.

      That said – interstingly enough the range of morphological variation for all species in the genus Canis lupus far exceeds that for the all the genera in the Sub-family Homininae!

      So taxonomic convention can be more than a little arbitrary.

    7. Peter, there is direct observation of new species forming. How com that does not count as proof for you?

      Are you aware of any of the mathematics of evolution? You make it sound like there is none, but surely you know that isn't true, right?

    8. A bacteria is always just another bacteria, no new species.

      I wonder if Peter looked at one of his cells under a microscope and saw a mitochondrion, would he know what that once was?

    9. Spectated = speciated above. Turned off auto-correct now.

    10. I wonder if Peter looked at one of his cells under a microscope and saw a mitochondrion, would he know what that once was?

      Baby Jesus' thumbprint?

    11. Bottom line - the divergence of Humans, Bonobos and Chimps would be a paradigm of MICROevolution... bacteria remain bacteria, lizards remain lizards and homininae remain homininae !!!

    12. ... not that I really subscribe to such facile distinctions between MACRO vs MICRO evolution.

    13. grandiose, tactless

      What do these attributes have to do with the truth value of Dawkins claims ?

      Would you find them more acceptable if they were say humble and self effacing ?

      I sometimes think Larry is being a bit harsh when he describes critters like you as IDiots, but I can see that you've worked hard to achieve that distinction and who am I to deny you the fruits of your labour.

    14. Peter,

      I'm willing to bet that I could walk you through the detail of evolutionary theory, taking great pains to explain the evidence and rationale carefully over the course of several weeks, and at the end, because I had failed to show, in real time, one species 'turning into another', I'd have failed. So best not start.

      But tell me, your alternative theory ... do you envisage the organisms starting out as 'popped' eggs and sperm or pollen and ovule and just kind of forming a zygote floating in space, then developing as if in utero or flower but not really? Or do adult organisms burst forth with an audible pop, ready to do the business? Do they start with the feet first or the ears? Top-down, bottom-up? Some detail would be nice.

    15. Peter wrote: "Evolution has no mathematical framework"
      Say what? Care to take a stab at this one:
      Biological Evolution and Statistical Physics

      I dug that up on the internet in less than 20 seconds. Before you start making blind assertions about evolution, maybe you should spend 20 seconds on google too?

    16. Yeah, Mikkel, that grabbed my attention as well.

      The paper you cited is quite modern, but how about the whole field of population genetics? This is stuff that people in the field knew about in the 1920s and '30s, but apparently still hasn't penetrated to folks like Peter.

    17. Pop gen was the obvious answer, but he wants the mathematical theory of a brain!

    18. As a start on this problem, can one of the confident geniuses here write down an equation of shifting allele frequencies within a population that generates two populations of reproductively isolated individuals?

    19. As a start on this problem, can one of the confident geniuses here write down an equation of shifting allele frequencies within a population that generates two populations of reproductively isolated individuals?

      As long as they are isolated in time, no problem. Drift should take care of isolating the nth-generation offspring from their ancestors.

    20. Arlin says,

      As a start on this problem, can one of the confident geniuses here write down an equation of shifting allele frequencies within a population that generates two populations of reproductively isolated individuals?

      No, of course none of the confident geniuses will be able to do that, but it will be fun watching them try.

      For the benefit of those who don't get it, the separation of a single population into two separate populations (followed by speciation) cannot possibly be explained by population genetics alone. Hence, macroevolution requires something more than just microevolution even if it's just the fact that some individuals become geographically isolated.

    21. Well, now, there are models of sympatric speciation that require nothing extra. There are even a few potential real-world examples. (I don't claim that sympatric speciation is common.)

    22. I wouldn't know where to start mathematically, but surely computationally an allele model that represented geometry and the 'viscosity' of gene flow would cover some of the ground of speciation without a 'hard' barrier of isolation? ie, a model with the basic drivers for ring species. It's 'random mating' that makes equations less useful for speciation scenarios. Keep shaking the vinaigrette and it won't separate.

    23. The argument that microevolution exists but macroevolution does not is akin to arguing that bricks exist but a brick wall is impossible.

    24. "You could convince everyone evolution is true if you had any proof, "

      Statements like that only ever come from people for whom even "proof" would not be sufficient. For if it were, it seems that they would be able to present proof for their god/designer.

    25. colnago80Sunday, March 16, 2014 11:21:00 AM
      Gee, no physicist has ever supplied laboratory proof that black holes exist. Therefore, according to Peter, they don't exist.
      A prime example of illogical slight of mind. Mr. Tour is saying that the lack of meeting the criteria of the scientific method like observation, testing, predictability and falsification make the conclusion suspect and since many are proclaiming macro evolution a fact, in that case it would be outright fraud.
      Physicists can create a mathematical model which can be tested. Macro evolution has no model which can be tested.
      Physicists can make a prediction which can be tested. Macro evolution can make no prediction.
      The physicist's theory can be falsified. The evolutionist's theory can't be falsified. Even after 3 million bacterial generations without a confirmed macro event the evolutionist just proclaims there was no environmental pressure. Even after 60,000+ generations of extreme environmental pressure Dr. Lenski has not been able to witness a macro event.
      So in short, real science conforms to the scientific method. Micro evolution can do this but macro evolution can't.

  2. I think we should start a new movement against some arbitrary field of science, signing a document that we are skeptical of the claims made, and that we don't understand the field. Continually ask them to explain it in ways that laymen can accept, and require proof in the lab for it. Astrophysics, say. Or plate tectonics.

    1. We could start with dark matter and dark energy. Nobody has seen either of these entities in a laboratory.

    2. It would be even better if after we get laymen-level explanations we complain that such scientific field has no math and is therefore false and inferior to physics. (Come to think of it, I have rarely seeing any laymen-level physics with math in it other than E=mc^2, so I guess physics is also arbitrary unfounded belief, except for that equation.)

    3. I have never personally witnessed the formation of an entire continent, or a solar system all the way from a molecular cloud to a star with orbiting planets. Astronomers and geologists can only show me "snapshots" of these supposed events, but when I demand to see the whole thing they just respond that "it takes millions of years". Where is the mechanism that bridges the gap between molecular clouds and asteroids and planets? And how can astronomers claim to know how stars and planets form if they can't even tell us how the entire universe began from nothing? Their whole "theory" depends on it.

      /IDiotmode disengaged.

      PS: I could play a braindead creationist moron like Quest really well it seems.

    4. PS: I could play a braindead creationist moron like Quest really well it seems.

      Nah, you use punctuation and grammar.

    5. I think it might actually be beneficial to study tropes in other scientific fields that everyone uses but no one really understands. In chemistry I think "the reaction coordinate" might be an example. Find one of those diagrams of a reaction subject to an energy barrier and ask yourself (or a chemist), what does the reaction coordinate (the x axis) mean? I think there is no answer to this question.

  3. Number 1, I find it completely reprehensible for Tour to spout a long and disingenuous disclaimer professing his scientific credentials and scientific pseudo-agnosticism only to follow it with a typical persecuted Christian morality drama. What a pile of shit that is!

    Number 2, I think Tour crosses the line into academic malfeasance to warn his graduate students with his

    "advice to my graduate students has been direct and revealing: If you disagree with Darwinian Theory, keep it to yourselves if you value your careers,"

    This is shameless creationist propaganda at its finest and Tour should be called out on it.

    Finally, number 3, Tour is infamous for stating that "nobody can explain evolution to him in terms of chemistry." OK, well, he could Google it, but we know that persecuted Christian creationists are first and foremost lazy. But, second, last year one of our colleagues took him up on the challenge to take Tour to lunch, explain the chemistry of evolution to him, then take Tour to the cleaners. Several of us ponied up the funds to fly our colleague out here for a few days and put him up, but guess what?

    Yep, Tour chickened out. He didn't reschedule, he just pulled out - prematurely, one might say. Wouldn't go through with it. Creationists really don't like it when you call their bluff and in spite of Tour's cred in chemistry, with it comes right down to it he's just another chickenshit creationist or, as we say in Texas, all hat and no cattle.

    1. Well, pulling out is the officially sanctioned method of birth control endorsed by celibate catholic priests everywhere.

      Just ask Michael Egnor, he's sure to be lurking about and is ready to answer all the questions you might have about this.

    2. In the discussion thread at UD, Nick Matzke offers to personally explain evolution to Tour, and vjtorley says he has communicated the offer to Tour. I don't think I'm going to read thru the whole thread to see if it went anywhere beyond that, however.

    3. Except Matzke cannot explain macroevolution at a molecular level.

    4. Macroevolution at a molecular level is childishly simple to understand.

      DNA is a molecule that can exist in many different arrangements of nucleotides, and is constantly mutating over the course of generations within a population. When the genomes of two or more subgroups of an original population have diverged to a certain degree, that is macroevolution.

      What's so complex about that?

    5. No,that isn't macroevolution.

      From Jerry Coyne:

      “MACROEVOLUTION: ‘Major’ evolutionary change, usually thought of as large changes in body form or the evolution of one type of plant or animal from another type. The change from our primate ancestor to modern humans, or from early reptiles to birds, would be considered macroevolution

    6. Perhaps Tour wasn't interested in Texas Bieoloogy. It seems he accepted the offer of Nick Matzke. Maybe your guy wasn't qualified?

  4. Is there any scientist who signed "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" for any reason other than it conflicted with their deeply held religious beliefs? So, it means scientists exist who put religious faith before scientific principle. Not sure why the Discovery Inst thought it needed to prove that indoctrination has powerful effects. (Of course everyone knows what the actual purpose of that list was).

    1. Not every signer signed because of religious objections to "Darwinism". A few signers signed because they felt that the processes of evolution were not well-enough understood. They did not understand what purposes the list was to be put to. Afterwards some of them were horrified and asked that their names be removed from the list. The DI did not grant this wish.

    2. Thanks Joe. I'm not surprised.

      I remember when I first saw this list several years ago: some of the signatories were from universities I personally attended. I looked them up and some I could not detect, I suspect they were instructors or grad students....transient in other words and not the prominent scientists implied. The list may have been edited since that time, I have bothered looking recently..

    3. But anyway, as for those that knew what they were signing (the majority I presume) they did so for religious reasons and not scientific reasons despite the implications of this gimic to be deduced by the target audience. The only reason to get scientists to sign is to imply they were doing so based on scientific grounds. Just one aspect, of course, of the manifest dishonesty of the ID movement/liars for jesus crowd.

  5. One big problem with understanding macroevolution seems to be purely one of language. Biology uses a lot of word pairs -- mitosis/meiosis, allopatry/sympatry, monoecious/dioecious, etc. -- that refer to different, comparable things that occur at the same level of organization. The words microevolution and macroevolution invite such a comparability and contrast, and indeed most people seem to use them that way. That is a problem. Microevolution is a matter of population genetics. Therefore macroevolution must be . . . a field of study? (As Larry defined it recently.) Erg. That doesn't flow. People aren't going to get there intuitively. Macroevolution seems to pair with macromutation, with the more extreme versions of hopeful monsters that we reject because there isn't a plausible genetic explanation for them. And down the rabbit hole we go.

    In some senses, the history of life on eary is microevolutiona all the way down, assuming we include under microevolutionary changes not just point mutations and indels, but major chromosome rearrangments, and polypoidy. The word macroevolution suggests that at some point the microevolution ends and something else happens. The word is actually intended to add to microevolution the effects of ecological relationships among species, mass extinctions, geological changes that separate populations or bring them together, etc. We need a term for that. Unfortunately, that's not what macroevolution sounds like. Is there a better term? Evolutionary history? What?

  6. I would like to propose a law. It goes something like this:

    "Whenever a distinguished scientist, physician, or engineer claims that he or she `doesn't understand' evolution, or `encourages skepticism' about evolution or that evolution `skeptics' are poorly treated, some fatuous utterance about Jeebus will soon follow."

    It works for James Tour. It works for Francis Collins. It works for Ben Carson...

    1. I wasn't aware that Francis Collins was skeptical about common descent. Citation needed.

    2. I don't think he is, and I don't think Jeffrey Shallit was implying that, and in fact Collins says:

      It's also now been possible to compare our DNA with that of many other species. The evidence supporting the idea that all living things are descended from a common ancestor is truly overwhelming.

      But so what, he still proves Shallit's Law when he goes on to say:

      ... I believe that God had a plan to create creatures with whom he could have fellowship, in whom he could inspire [the] moral law, in whom he could infuse the soul, and who he would give free will as a gift for us to make decisions about our own behavior ...

      You just don't get any more fatuous than that.

  7. Hi Larry,
    "Here's my advice to graduate students in organic chemistry: if you want to know about evolution then take a course or read a textbook."

    Care to recommend a textbook or two? (Please no Dawkins or Jerry A, Coyne)

    1. I recommend "Your Inner Fish" by Neil Shubin.

    2. For a textbook, Evolutionary Biology by Douglas Futuyma.

    3. Has Richard Dawkins ever published a textbook?

      Nonetheless, his works are eminently educational. The lucidity of his arguments are on a par with the expositions made by Darwin in support of his argument for natural selection. And yes, I know that natural selection has "moved on" since Darwin first published.

    4. I recommend that you read Carl Zimmer. He's a lucid writer and his books/articles are usually quite accurate.

      Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea
      At the Water's Edge : Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life

      For a textbook, I agree with Bjorn. Evolutionary Biology by Futuyma is one of the best. But I would like to also suggest The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution by Zimmer again. The book book was written with the general reader in mind, so it should be a really good starting point.

    5. Futuyama? Do you folks know who you're talking to? She can't understand Dawkins or Coyne, you're going to recommend Futuyama?

      These might be more "Pauline's" speed, but I fear they may still be too taxing for her:

    6. @lutesuite

      Good to know what's on your bookshelf. That makes sense now - I thought I recognised the source of some of your ideas.

    7. @ everyone except lutesuite:
      Thanks, I've got (amongst others) Ayala & Kiger "Modern (sic!) Genetics" and Stryer "Biochemistry" and needed an upgrade from 1985. Good suggestions thanks.

    8. BTW, "Pauline", I left a long rant in respone to your long rant on the "Why are the human and chimpanzee/bonobo genomes so similar?" thread. I don't really care whether you reply to it, but I just thought I'd let you know as a courtesy, since I know with the length of that discussion it's easy to overlook posts.

    9. See, "Pauline", the way books work is you have to actually read them. If you just put them on your bookshelf to show how learned you are, then get all your information from the websites of fanatical religious ignoramuses, the books don't do any good.

    10. Pauline,

      Why nothing by Coyne? He (and H. Allen Orr) wrote the indispensable, classic work on speciation. If you have any interest in the subject, that's really what you have to read. But maybe you aren't interested in speciation.

    11. Hi John,
      I've read "Why Evolution is True" by Coyne and found it frustrating in its inconsistencies and the way he drops in weird stuff like "Archaeopteryx is really more reptile than bird." and "Mutations are changes in traits that already exist; they almost never create brand new features." and "Earlier groups, of course often persisted: photosynthetic bacteria, sponges, and worms appear in the early fossil record, and are still with us" (my italics) and "It is a remarkable fact that while there are many living species, all of us...share some fundamental traits. Among these are the biochemical pathways that we use...our standard four-letter DNA code...This tells us that every species goes back to a single common ancestor..."
      Is "Speciation" a better text?
      Perhaps "Why Evolution is True" was aimed at the "popular" market and as such was dumbed down? Dawkins, however, called it "masterful...outstandingly good"

    12. @lutesuite: I'm glad you are practising hard and have actually managed to write a whole post (the one beginning "BTW") that was useful and not vitriolic. Couldn't keep it up though could you m9?

    13. Lutesuite I can't find your rant there's nothing after March 14th on my list - can you post it here instead?

  8. Dr. David Berlinski Refutes Evolution in Under 5 Minutes :

    I will leave my summary for later.... lol

    1. Ah gee, pompous jackass David Berlinski, the faux mathematician whose PhD is in philosophy and, to my knowledge, has no publications in a peer reviewed mathematics journal has passed himself off as a mathematician or at least has not corrected others who have called him a mathematician. That is until I outed him on a thread on PZ Myers' blog several years ago. Berlinski is no more qualified to pontificate on the theory of evolution then he do discuss the strings hypothesis.

    2. Re colnago80

      Ah gee, my bad. I actually outed Berlinski as a philosophy PhD and not a mathematics PhD on Jason Rosenhouse's blog. The person I outed on PZ's blog was Lynn Margulis as a HIV/AIDS denier.

  9. I was intrigued and finally read Tour's statement at his web site. He says nothing about common descent. He is very firm in rejecting young-earth views and supporting the science of radiometric dating. May we assume that he agrees that there is lots of evidence for common descent? I must have missed where he discusses that.

    1. Being curious about the position of James Tour on common descent, I searched around some more.

      In Tour's statement, he talks of "microevolution" being a fact, defining it as "within species". In a talk available on YouTube here (starting at 48:56) is Tour discussing the same thing, tossing in the word "speciation" as a synonym for the macroevolutionary changes that he says he does not understand.

      So I infer that he has a problem with how species could arise. it is not clear whether he accepts common descent.

      Perhaps someone can make out all the lyrics of the the song "Evolution" tune #4 here which was not written by Tour but was part of a project called SciRave that he supervised. There is a reference to possible common descent but I can't make out the words there.

      PS Watching Cosmos right now. This, the second episode, is entirely about evolution (Larry won't like some of the oversimplifications).

    2. The song I linked too has its lyrics written out here. Tour's views do not seem to have influenced it. It was written by the Australian songwriter Bram Barker, who has numerous science hip-hop songs at his web site.

    3. @ Joe

      My reading of John Tour is that he identifies with the camp labeled “old-earth scientific creationist” (one really needs a dichotomous key to distinguish the various creationist camps)

      Old Earth Scientific Creationists recognize that consensus in defining “species”can be very problematic.

      In other words, they recognize that the overly facile definition of microevolution as allelic variation between populations without reproductive isolation while macroevolution as allelic variation between populations with reproductive isolation represents as staw-man trap that they prefer to avoid.

      So if two populations of Drosophila can be karyotypically distinguished by almost identical banding sequences in the same locations in the two chromosome sets, (even when adding a Robersonian translocation); old-earth scientific creationists have no problem as recognizing these Drosophila as two sibling species with a recent common ancestor.

      Or as scientific creationists are wont to phrase it – we are witnessing "variation within a created kind" which still constitutes MICROevolution.

      Check out this reference:

      “When creationists finally acquiesced to the voluminous evidence that species had not remained absolutely fixed and unchanged since creation, they lost their war against the concept of evolution. Because the direct evidence for species divergence (that is, speciation) is so abundant and straightforward, "scientific" creationists had to accept it or appear as irrational as those who use the Bible to argue that the earth is flat. Creationists now argue that new species may arise within kinds, but that no species may change into a new kind.”

      Of course, as I mentioned above (and as confirmed in this article) – these cretonists are now guilty of a double standard. Minor karyotype and morphological variation between chimps and humans must somehow be arbitrarily elevated to “differences of kind” even though equivalent or even greater differences are perfectly acceptable as “identity of kind” when considering Drosophila or Equus.

      This subterfuge is accomplished by invoking some arbitrary distinction between MICRO vs MACROevolution. Canny debaters slip through the horns of this dilemma by cagily avoiding a public defining their terms... case in point: John Tour, as you yourself just observed.

    4. Trick question - did the human/chimpanzee lineages diverge approximately 5 million years ago? ... or did they diverge approximately 1 million years ago?

      It would appear that both answers are correct!

      I heard once that some Chinese laboratory before the Cultural Revolution actually produced a hybrid Humanzee... is there any credibility to this apocryphal story?

  10. Summary: When one is married to an idea, like most of the boys here are to macroevolution, and doesn't allow any outside input, because he/they just want the idea to be true, they resemble a man who's wife bangs everyone around but him.... People tell the man that his wife is banging everyone around, but he refuses to accept it... "...your wife climbed a lamppost and bought some really long nails to sit on.... And he says... no that's not my wife... she's a virgin....

    Same applies to the bullshiters of macro-evolution... They are married to is for one reason or another.... Darwin

    1. Quest resorts to name calling because he is totally ignorant of evolutionary biology. He is even less qualified to discuss that then is his hero, David Berlinski.

    2. Tool bad coago80 hasn't presented any evidence... Same applies to the shit he believes in...

    3. colago80shit:
      Where did I named call...? /It must have been in your shifty dream hiihihih

    4. Evidence of what. Every time Quest says anything about evolutionary biology, a subject on which I have rarely heard anyone speak so knowledgeably from such a vast fund of ignorance, he demonstrates his stupidity. Citing pompous jackoffs like Berlinski as a go to expert on anything is tantamount to losing the argument.

    5. Do you read the shit you type Quest? May I recommend you start? May I also recommend you shove your sexism farther up your own ass that your head can't quite reach it?

  11. Yes, Nick was the colleague and I offered the funding. Because, you know, put your money where you mouth is, right?

    1. Well, it seems the invitation has been extended a second time. Maybe Tour will accept this time.


  12. Whatever a scientists is still is irrelevant to the merits of a theory or any case.
    Because its so dumb how people think ID had to get a list of "scientists" because the other side invokes ALL scientists agree with evolutionism.
    The only "scientisy' that matters as far as anyone should credit them with knowing more then anyone else SHOULD be a scientist who gets or got paid to study evolutionary biology. NOT BIOLOGISTS either.
    I suspect its very few people.
    then everyone can equally study the issue and take on the error by evolutionary biologist "scientists".
    In fact is evolution theory even a scientific theory?
    when you have to invoke authority of people in science then both sides are not making a good case debunking it or proving it.

    1. Is it me or is Bobby getting even harder to understand recently?

    2. It's not you.

      Quest is also sounding more crazy than usual.

      Coincidence? I think not.

    3. Quest and Byers aren't the same person. Byers is clearly a native English speaker (though extremely stupid) and Quest is clearly not. There is another possibility, that Quest and Byers are both identities of someone who is playacting the role of an extremely stupid Canadian and an irate foreigner, but this seems very unlikely to me.

  13. Don't beat up Tour too much. A disbelief in natural selection is surprisingly common among physical scientists and engineers. It is almost universal among humanity and social science faculties, whose favorite theories are incompatible with human evolution.

    1. If true, that would be depressing. Do you have any hard data to support your contention?

    2. I call bullshit on both Sykes and Tour. " A disbelief in natural selection is surprisingly common among physical scientists and engineers." Nonsense-- how many physicists have the IDiots got on their side? Practically none. They have to pass off posers like Robert Sheldon and Granville Sewell as fake "physicists."

      The statement "It [disbelief in natural selection] is almost universal among humanity and social science faculties, whose favorite theories are incompatible with human evolution." is transparently a lie. The only social scientist on the IDiot side is Steve Fuller. Out of many thousands.

      Where is this vast, hidden ocean of Ph.D.s who doubt evolution? Certainly not in the "Dissent from Darwinism" petition, which has 850 names, many not scientists, and which grows at a rate of ~12 per year. Project Steve has 1,300 names and is limited to real scientists and they must be named Steve (1% of the population.) That list grows at a rate of about ~60 per year. Do the math.

    3. @sykes.1: I can't speak for the humanities in general, but my own interest in biology is certainly far from unique in a linguist (indeed, some 19th century linguists, such as August Schleicher, were influenced by Darwin as soon as On the Origin of Species was published). Why should people in humanity faculties favour "theories incompatible with human evolution"? What particular theories do you have in mind?

    4. Yeah, Piotr's a linguist. I know many, many physicists; a few were evangelical Christians but nobody ever told me, in public or private, that they disbelieved evolution.

    5. Diogenes: Cool down a bit. Don't accuse anyone of lying until you have good reason. Note, for one thing, that sykes.1 has managed to confuse natural selection with evolution, and I can't tell which he's actually talking about. Let him present his evidence, if he ever comes back.

    6. Re Diogenes

      Yeah, Piotr's a linguist. I know many, many physicists; a few were evangelical Christians but nobody ever told me, in public or private, that they disbelieved evolution.

      Well, my PhD thesis adviser in physics, who was a born again Christian, did not accept evolution. However, I think the problem with physicists is not that they don't accept natural selection but seem to think that it is the only mechanism of evolution, Cases in point, Steven Weinberg and Neil Tyson.

    7. A few physicists seem to share Peter's belief that "there is a ranking of scientists", with them physicists crowning the lot. What they don't know isn't knowledge, so they needn't learn from others how evolution works: they can figure it out for themselves. Case in point -- Michio Kaku:

  14. Your points about what engineers and physicists have some validity. If he were just some engineer who didn't think natural selection worked, if he were just some guy who was an evangelist and was testifying how his conversion did good things for his life, no one would be interested.

    But Tour is using his engineering and science credentials to discredit evolutionary biology. People like Denyse O'Leary ("News" at Uncommon Descent) systematically bad-mouth scientific results as all wrong, scientific journal reviewing as corrupt, and scientists as mindless "tenured bores" and "Darwin lobbyists" whose salaries are paid by an unwitting public. Then they get all starry-eyed and impressed about Tour's scientific credentials and put him forward as showing that rejection of evolutionary biology is good science.

    1. ... about what engineers and physicists think have some validity ...

  15. If the subject under observation by you is evolution but what's uppermost in your mind is faith in the Bible, science has lost before it has even started. Isn't the history of evolution over 4 billion years on this planet, as science has documented and supported providing huge amounts of evidence from so many diverse fields of science evidence enough?

    I don't know any alternative that does not rely on magic - supernatural or divine, or space aliens.

    It is of course all right to doubt the theory of evolution, but the only alternative I've seen so far during my 70 years of interest in the subject still is the big tent of religiously founded creationism. How come nobody - in spite of the great honors and rewards waiting for him, has been able to present viable alternatives? The facts of the "Unathorised Biography of Life" as presented by Richard Fortey are there and needs to be accounted for. One or many "Intelligent Designer(s)" active on the planet over 4 billion years? Busy planting immutable species all over the planet? On thousands of isolated islands, from mountains high to oceans deep? Lakes, caves, he's been there, not just designing, but implementing as well. A challenge in logistics beyond even the wildest phantasy. it just can't be done - excpet of course by Magic beyond imagination.

    Before I finish, what about the subject of ring species? Are they the product of design as well, or are they an elegant demonstration of how small changes accumulate over geograhical distances until we find related species at a geographical separation, with genetic distance making interbreeding impossible? What is that not if not an example of genetic separation between species aka macro-evolution with geographical distance in the same was as with chronologic distance in the classical view of evolution?

    If I can do it, why can't Tours? (Rhetoric question, I think I know.)

  16. Tour is lying; we should call bullshit on fake stories of persecution. Christians nowadays are full of fake stories of their own Martyrdom, to deflect blame from themselves for Galileo, Crusades, Conquistadores, Holocaust, etc., to flip the frame to where they're the victim.

    Let's choke on the irony as he creates fake, never-verifiable stories of persecution:

    Tour: "When the power-holders permit no contrary discussion, can a vibrant academy be maintained?"

    he whines at a blog that permits no comments and allows no contrary discussion. He bullshitted also about how he'd like to have lunch with someone who could explain evolution to him-- but then chickened out when Nick Matzke took him up on it. He will absolutely avoid all contrary discussion-- that's the point.

    Tour re-tells the common creationist old wives' tale about how in private scientists admit there's really no evidence for evolution.

    Tour: "Present day scientists that expose their thoughts on this become ever so timid when they talk with me privately. I simply can not understand the source of their confidence when addressing their positions publicly."

    The key word here is privately; since he says it happened in private he relieves himself of the responsibility of presenting EVIDENCE for it-- which is the responsibility of all scientists.

    Why don't you pony up some names of these "present day scientists" whom you accuse of dishonesty-- you say they say one thing in public and another in private-- you accuse them of dishonesty-- so let's hear their side of these alleged "private conversations."

    What were their names-- Professor Santa Claus and his grad student, Easter Bunny?

    "Furthermore, when I, a non-conformist, ask proponents for clarification, they get flustered in public and confessional in private wherein they sheepishly confess that they really don’t understand [macroevolution] either."

    He's bullshitting. "In private" is his version of "the dog ate my homework." If you can't present evidence, &%$# off.

    I've never, ever, observed scientists behave in the way he describes. However, I have read dozens of creationist books, which often contain fantasies like this, of anonymous "atheist scientists" who admit in private, in whispered tones, that there's no evidence for evolution, but are scared to say it in public!

    Example: perhaps you've read the story about how NASA scientists, using computers, discovered by astronomical calculations that in the last 3,000 years there was a "missing day", and then some Bible thumper explained to them that it was the day that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still in the Bible. This story was invented whole cloth by creationist Harry Rimmer in the 1920's. In the 1960's, creationist Harold Hill added NASA and the computers to update the story. It's 100% bullshit.

    These creationist fairy tales, like Harry Rimmer's story of "atheist scientists discover Joshua's missing day" and James Tour's fantasies of professors who secretly admit they know no evidence for evolution, always follow the same pattern: an always-anonymous "atheist professor" admits privately that there's evidence against evolution, but is too timid to say it in public, thus explaining why there's no evidence the whole thing ever happened. As the Church Lady would say, "My, how convenient."

    It's possible that Tour's religious imagination has caused him to start hearing things or actually seeing events he read about in the creationist books where he learned biology. But scientists care about reproducible EVIDENCE, not imagination and a rich fantasy life.

    1. Continuing:

      Tour: "In the last few years...I have witnessed unfair treatment upon scientists that do not accept macroevolutionary arguments and for their having signed the above-referenced statement [Dissent from Darwinism]."

      Witnessed, have you? Witnessed. Uh huh. OK, give us their names and emails; let us find out if they really were "scientists", as you claim; let us check your stories of persecution:

      "(I will comment no further regarding the specifics of the actions taken upon the skeptics...)"

      Oh. So you will never produce EVIDENCE to support your most crucial claim. So here we have Tour saying "I did my homework, really I did, but the dog ate it!" Is your claim of persecution important or is it not? If it is, cough up EVIDENCE. Evidence or GTFO.

      Why are you shirking a scientists' duty to present evidence?

      "I love and honor my colleagues too much for that."

      Oh; so you're not just a liar, but a self-congratulatory liar. You have failed as a scientist to present evidence; do not compound it by blathering egotistically about how you supposedly "love" your (non-existent) anti-evolutionist scientist colleagues. You are attempting to congratulate yourself for failing as a scientist to present evidence. Scientists present evidence. You present old wives' tales you read about in creationist books.

      It's bad enough that you're lying-- please don't flatter and congratulate yourself in the process of lying. "I love my colleagues!" &%$# you.

      Anyway, if any professor was unfairly fired-- and the ID creationists have been looking for a decade for a non-bullshit story about a creationist professor fired for his creationist beliefs-- if he was discriminated against, we can find a paper trail, right? Get some real evidence, right?

      Tour: "...the unfair treatment upon the skeptics of macroevolution has not come from the administration level."

      Oh. So there will never be a paper trail, and you will never be presenting evidence. Again, as the Church Lady would say, "How convenient."

      Tour: "For the United States, I pray that the scientific community and the National Academy in particular will investigate the disenfranchisement that is manifest upon some of their own"

      How the $&#@ can the NAS or anyone else "investigate the disenfranchisement" when you creationist assholes never give accurate facts or details? All we get from James Tour is a long string of insinuations and excuses for not presenting evidence or facts. "The dog ate my homework... I love my creationist colleagues!" he bleats.

      Do you really want the NAS to investigate your stories, Tour? What would you say if they investigated you? Do you think "The dog ate my homework" will cut it forever? This claim cannot be taken seriously; if the NAS really investigated such stories, Tour has already claimed he'll tell them nothing. No names, no dates, no places, no quotes. Why exactly should we not disrespect people who make up such stories and use them as evidence against evolution?

      "I never thought that science would have evolved like this...."

      It didn't. You're lying.

  17. I agree that it is fun to dump on this guy for being so far out of his depth . . but isn't it more important for *us* to be rigorous? Contemporary population geneticists do not believe that "microevolution" accounts for macroevolution in the sense originally intended by Mayr, Dobzhansky, et al. "Microevolution" or "shifting gene frequencies" was a specific theory of evolutionary genetics, the gist of which was that evolution can be understood as a movement of the system (a population) in the interior of an allele-frequency space. Mass-action forces shift the system by shifting allele frequencies smoothly.

    The problem with the shifting-gene-frequencies theory is that, although it includes a "force" of mutation (a mass-action process), it does not include the mutational process that originates new alleles. To change a frequency from 0 to 1/(2N) is to jump from the edge into the interior of the allele-frequency space. Contrast this with an origin-fixation model like K = 4Nus, or Orr's mutational landscape model-- such a model avoids the interior of the allele-frequency-space and depicts a series of jumps from one vertex to another.

    The forces theory allowed Mayr, Dobzhansky, et al to argue that mutation is a "weak force", easily overcome by other forces, because mutation rates are small. This schema is still taught in textbooks. Some of you are teaching it to your students. An origin-fixation model says something completely different about causation.

    This difference is not an accident. The architects of the MS believed that their view was right and the early geneticists (whose broader view allowed new mutations) were wrong. Mayr, Dobzhansky, et al were explicit that selection never waits for a new mutation. Instead, recombination provides abundant new variation by reassorting the material "maintained" in the "gene pool". This meant that evolution was *not* dependent on the occurrence of individual mutations, as the early geneticists had believed. The crucial nature of this argument is evident in Provine's history of theoretical population genetics, which is really about the pre-history in which conceptual and experimental foundations were laid. Based on experimental results of Johannsen and others, the early geneticists already accepted selection, including smooth change based on small variation. When Provine says that it took until 1919 for geneticists to accept "the effectiveness of selection" (laying the foundation for Haldane, Fisher & Wright), what he means is that a few of the right people accepted, as the _sine qua non_ of evolution, the ability of "selection" to move the character-distribution of a population well beyond its current range *without new mutations*, via recombination of existing variation.

    So, microevolution = "shifting gene frequencies" = a short-term process in the interior of the allele-frequency space. If you think that we can extrapolate the long-term behavior of evolution from this process, then you are with Mayr, et al at the cutting edge of evolution ca. 1959. Actual population geneticists no longer accept this extrapolationism. For instance, Yedid & Bell, 2002 write:

    "The process of adaptation occurs on two timescales. In the short term, natural selection merely sorts the variation already present in a population, whereas in the longer term genotypes quite different from any that were initially present evolve through the cumulation of new mutations. The first process is described by the mathematical theory of population genetics. However, this theory begins by defining a fixed set of genotypes and cannot provide a satisfactory analysis of the second process because it does not permit any genuinely new type to arise. The evolutionary outcome of selection acting on novel variation arising over long periods is therefore difficult to predict. "

    For a related statement, see Hartl & Taubes 1998.

    1. This resonates somewhat in view of recent discussions on sex. The boundary of the population geneticist's hermetically-sealed bubble is drawn by sex, and it's even stirred by it. Many models attempting to evaluate sex shove asexuals inside that bubble, artificially - it is impermeable to diploid genomes.

  18. Hi Allan,

    Excellent point!

    Correct me if I am wrong – but aren’t some of us begging an important question here? …i.e the notion that Darwin’s gradualism is always in play here and that macro and microevolution describe fundamentally identical processes on different time scales albeit both subject to inexhorable natural selection.

    Gottes mühlen mahlen langsam aber stetig... as it were

    Cannot evodevo rescue some modern version of Richard Goldschmidt's hypothesis of "Hopeful Monsters” by resurrecting punctuated equilibrium according to random mutational events of developmental/regulatory genes?

    Such considerations would slay more than a few of John Tour’s shibboleths

    Just thinking out loud...

    1. Punk Eek has nothing to do with hopeful monsters, other than that Gould was interested in both. In fact PE was supposed to work by ordinary Darwinian gradualism; it's just that people were confused about the time scales over which change happens and should be seen in the fossil record. A speciation event (or evolutionary transformation, which PE conflated) might take 10,000 years of gradual selection, but in the fossil record that would look instantaneous.

      And there is no particular reason to suppose that evo-devo encourages saltation.

      Then again, I don't think all of macroevolution reduces to microevolution. But that's a whole nother matter.

    2. Yeah, it's important to separate macroevolution from macromutation. The principle of the latter is not horrendous, but almost impossible to distinguish from small generational accumulation without the series. An immediate reason to doubt it in sexual populations is that sexual populations tend to 'prefer' a norm for mating. The preference of a population centres on the general type, and must continue to track it as that type changes. A macromutational individual in Goldschmidt's sense would be less likely to find a partner. Without sex, that drag is absent, but there are other constraints. It is simply safer to probe a neighbourhood and uncover a path than leap in the dark. Probability allows us just a few 1-in-a-billion-year events, so general principles have to come from more likely scenarios.

      But I do think that sex simply doesn't fit inside the Darwinist gradualist framework. It's not an adaptation in the conventional sense, and nor is its abandonment. It's closer to endosymbiosis - a lucky accident with legs. Lot's of 'em.

    3. Allan Miller says,

      A macromutational individual in Goldschmidt's sense would be less likely to find a partner.

      It seems to me that this limitation only applies to a tiny percentage of all eukaryotic species. Do you agree or do you think it applies to maple trees, mushrooms, and paramecium?

    4. Allan is talking about "sexual populations." I think it has to be conceded that the chance of finding a mate and completing a mating is some complex function of the entire phenotype, and that individuals with mutations that change the phenotype more dramatically are less likely to mate than individuals with mutations that change the phenotype less dramatically.

      The question Larry is asking is, given the distribution of sexuality, how much of a barrier is this? My understanding is that most euks are sexual, but perhaps only a minority are obligately sexual out-crossers. For instance, mushroom and most fungi have sexual reproduction, but many or most of them also can reproduce without outcrossing, including vegetatively.

      Perhaps sexual outcrossing is important in the long-term in those phyla where it is prevalent, but even in those phyla, it may be possible for a macromutation to get a foothold without outcrossing.

      Even if outcrossing is essential for establishment, how much of a barrier is this, really? If we imagine some plot of "chance of successfully completing a mating" as a function of "phenotypic difference due to a mutation", then obviously this is a decreasing function, even if you're a fungus or a paramecium. But does it suddenly crash to zero as soon as a mutant reaches the level of difference that qualifies it as a "macromutation"? I don't think so. I think we can concede that an average macromutant might have 2X or 5X or 20X less chance of mating than an average micromutant, but why would this cause us to abandon the idea? Maybe this average effect isn't quantitatively important, either because 2X or 5X or 20X isn't really a big deal, or because this isn't an issue of average behavior (maybe the macromutants that establish themselves in sexual populations are not the average ones, but the oddly sexy ones).

    5. Larry, Arlin,

      Well, fair comment(s). I was thinking primarily of multicellular species, more specifically animals. Since we were talking of Goldschmidt, and Goldschmidt was talking of 'developmental' programs, I took that to be sufficient reason to apply the argument to those species that have them. But of course one could remark that unicells also have a 'developmental program'. At which point I would throw my hands up and say "bloody pedants!" ;)

      The other issue to consider is the extent of the mutation. 'Macromutation' could variously mean a small genetic change of large phenotypic effect or a large genetic change of any size of phenotypic effect. The latter could suffer a drag due to F1 meiosis, and the size of the effect would be diminished by repeat meiosis.

      I'm certainly not insisting that all change be small and incremental. But there are still constraints that tend to render this 'the norm'.

    6. Do you have any particular examples of a macromutation in the Goldschmidt sense, anywhere in the Eukaryotes? I can certainly agree that duplication of the Hox genes (for example) could be highly significant in the developmental differences between various animal clades, but am less sure that a particular offspring possessing such a duplication can just be assumed to have been appreciably different from its parents, without any contribution from subsequent divergence. This would seem to be a key distinction. We could hardly regard an individual as the possessor of a single-generation evolutionary innovation if we couldn't find it!

    7. (maybe the macromutants that establish themselves in sexual populations are not the average ones, but the oddly sexy ones).

      Giving hope to biology professors everywhere. :)

    8. Allan Miller asks,

      Do you have any particular examples of a macromutation in the Goldschmidt sense, anywhere in the Eukaryotes?

      I think there are quite a few possiblities. There's a partial list at: Hopeful Monster and Jeffrey Schwartz has written a whole book about it (Sudden Origins). It's a horrible book but at least it has examples.

      My own best example is the one Richard Dawkins discusses in Climbing Mount Improbable. It's the slippery lobster genus, Scyllarus, whose antennae look like uropods.

    9. It's an interesting area. I guess, as with the macro/microevolution cutoff (for that component of macro which is due to summed micro), there is a dichotomous point which may be somewhat artificial. Given that mutation and evolution are stochastic, we would err in assuming that all change comes from the majority part of the distribution. Changes of any size are potentially grist to evolution's mill. But the greater the leap, the less often it will be successful.

      It's certainly possible to overcome the various mechanistic objections - interaction with sexual and non-sexual selection, compatibility in meiosis, generational dilution - but I'm less clear on the range of applicability of the principle. As I said, if I may take such a simplistic approach to probability and evolution, we may be permitted one once-in-4-billion year event, 4 1-in-a-billion, 100 one-in-40-million ... etc, without troubling probabilistic resources one bit. In fact, not getting such unusual events becomes the improbable thing. That some mutations of large effect get through the barriers is likely. If we add in developmental programs, even more so - you cannot 'gradually' add a vertebra to a snake, for example. But it's the tying of such change to founding substantial taxonomic groups that seems less secure. Microevolution, with ongoing mutation (somewhat broadly defined), still has the capacity to produce a tree structure, and it's not clear why this assumption is now felt to be insufficient to account for the data.

    10. Hi Larry – Hi Allan,

      I think we are underestimating the power of genetic drift and the potential for animals to successfully generate “hopeful monsters” and not be limited by sexual reproduction.

      I attach a link to Professor Craig Nelson’s response to a very naïve question I posed him at a time I was less adept in the darker mysteries of evolutionary biology.

      So provided the macro-mutational event occurred in a mother’s germline and given the increased probability of sibling inbreeding within a small population, these so-called “macro-mutational” events are not at all unreasonable and readily fixed within a very small inbred population. As a matter of fact, such events would be given a boost by Natural Selection presuming the ancestral population found the novel mutation repugnant thereby promoting sibling mating.

      Such events are probably happening much more frequently than we can imagine! Consider endogenous retroviral insertions – i.e. ancient retroviruses inserted what are now inactivated viral genes into genomes.

      For a retrovirus to be inherited in all members of a species, a series of similarly highly improbable events must occur. The virus must insert into the germline and it must mutate such it is inactive. That new version of germline must then make gametes and ultimately embryos that live to reproduce; and this novel genome must then fixate into a population at that random location in the genome.

      What about active (or occasionaly active) versions of retroviral insertions into germlines? These are even more likely to produce indel events that correspond to to our so-called instnaces of "macro-mutational speciation”.

      (Aside to John Tour’s defenders) These rare endogenous retroviral insertions are usually species specific but can be employed to trace common ancestry between species thereby constituting a great argument for
      1 – the cogency of “macroevolution”
      2 – the likely frequency of “macroevolution” given the relative frequency of endogenous retroviral insertion.

      ITMT - I still have great difficulty with any arbitrary delineation or "cut-off" between macro vs microevolution. If Drosophila pseudoobscura and Drosophila persimilis are sibling species, if horses and donkeys are sibling species, then why should not humans, bonobos and chimpanzees be considered sibling species? (… i.e. instances of micro-evolution and identity of "kind" according to the repeated refrain of Old Earth Creationists.

      When explaining this all to my own students I ask them to consider the genetic diversity of Chimpanzees and Bonobos, our nearest relatives. The number of these animals is small compared to ours, but their genetic diversity is much larger than that of our species. In fact, the entire 7 billion strong human species has a level of genetic diversity that is on the order of a large chimpanzee population. Genetically, humans appear to be a very inbred subset of the chimpanzee species.

    11. Tom,

      Yes, you can add circumstantial effects to the parameters you need to tweak get a 'hopeful monster' through the various filters. It's certainly possible, and may happen to some degree when circumstances are right. I'm just not so sure this departs significantly from 'conventional' theory (I'm not talking about 80 years ago) or is demanded to explain particular data. If you can turn broad outcrossing down or off, the drag it causes is concomitantly reduced (but other effects become significant).

      Evolution remains centrally about the persistence of genotype, as seen through the proxy of phenotype. Significant phenotypic and/or genetic departures may confound naive expectations, but it’s the ‘exception that proves the rule’. There remain mechanistic brakes.

    12. Hi again Allan

      I feel like you keep moving the goalpost

      You said earlier: “A macromutational individual in Goldschmidt's sense would be less likely to find a partner. Without sex, that drag is absent, but there are other constraints.”

      I attempt to cut through that Gordian Knot and still you reamain unsatisfied.

      As I explained, these macromutational events are more likely than not ... and in fact an evodevo appreciation can explain how very few mutational events can result in significant phenotypic departures from the ancestral lineage.

      Not just plausible but in fact very predictable.

      Let’s try that again – a minimum of indel events or maybe a few tweaks to some enhancer sequence or other (a “persistence of genotype”) can generate “significant phenotypic divergence”.

      Where are these “mechanistic brakes” you speak of?

      What am I missing?

    13. you keep moving the goalpost

      Sorry Tom!

      When you are a gene in an outcrossing population, you are subject to the constraints provided by that population. These are variously provided by mate choice, fertilisation compatibility, meiotic compatibility in the F1, fitness of alleles etc.

      Part of the issue is what happens to a large mutation. But you have clarified you are not talking about that, but about a small mutation with large phenotypic effect - large enough, let us say, that we would notice a significant difference between the individual and its parents.

      So you make appeal to (for example) the mutant itself being an isolating mechanism. No-one fancies it, but it somehow finds a mate anyway from among the 'normies'. They have offspring which no-one fancies either. But that's a 'brake', right there: sexual selection. So we invoke inbreeding. But now we have another 'brake': inbreeding depression. Many species take great pains to avoid it. So you decide it must happen in a species that isn't too heavily penalised by inbreeding depression ...

      I'd see it as a series of 'probability filters'. A not-fatal but significant departure in phenotype, capable of finding at least one mate, sufficiently fit that it can either spread through the ancestral population or can survive as a numerically small offshoot that does not suffer from inbreeding depression ...

      None of it renders it impossible, and stochastically it will happen at some rate (especially in plants). But the generality of change will (IMO) continue to come from the small-effect range of the spectrum. And that, cumulatively, can still generate a heck of a lot of change. When you look at a flock of starlings, a shoal of fish, a cloud of gnats, or a herd of Wildebeeste, you don't see individuals sticking out like a sore thumb. So I'd disagree with 'more likely than not'. They'll certainly occur regularly in embryos, and get into the population at some rate, but in that kind of population, departures are more heavily penalised.

    14. Allan

      As I mentioned elsewhere... how about finding a mate with a sibling?

      Even presuming some inherited evo-devo kind of "macro-mutaion" prevented interbreeding. Another possibility still exists. Inbreeding could generate successful progeny provided individuals inbred with other family members that shared the same translocation (siblings, for example, YUCK)!

      Consider the genetic diversity of Chimpanzees and Bonobos, our nearest relatives. The number of these animals is small compared to ours, but their genetic diversity is much larger than that of our species. In fact, the entire 7 billion member human species has a level of genetic diversity which is on the order of a large chimpanzee population. Genetically, humans appear to be an inbred subset of the chimpanzee species.

      at least that is what I have been teaching my students:

    15. Yes, if a translocation is deleterious in heterozygotes, inbreeding would avoid that. But then there would be the problem of all the other homozygous loci. It's a balance.

      Our diversity seems to have been squeezed through a tiny bottleneck. And it's certainly possible that the chromosome fusion is a 'founder effect'/drift-type result of that bottleneck - that it had nothing to do with the much earlier speciation event per se.

      But, as I say, I don't think gross genetic rearrangements and large 'saltational' phenotypic effects have much in common, dynamically speaking. One's filtered by meiosis, the other by everything else.

  19. Dear Quest

    you claim speciation out of a "kind" has never been proven. Please explain to me what the heck, then, is a walking catfish. A fish that walks on land and breathes air is not a fish.

    Please explain to me what a penguin is. That is a bird that can not fly in air, but swims in the sea like a fish.

    Explain a short-legged skink. That is a snake with legs. God specifically made snakes without legs. Explain how a short-legged skink is possible without macroevolution.

    Macroevolution is right out there in the open for you to see. All you have to do is open your eyes.

  20. No one understands macroevolution- no one. No one can tell us what mutations to what genes caused what changes. Heck blind watchmaker evolution can't get beyond prokaryotes so macroevolution is a non-starter wrt bwe.

  21. Evolutionists first- From Talk Origins:

    Microevolution, or change beneath the species level, may be thought of as relatively small scale change in the functional and genetic constituencies of populations of organisms. That this occurs and has been observed is generally undisputed by critics of evolution. What is vigorously challenged, however, is macroevolution. Macroevolution is evolution on the "grand scale" resulting in the origin of higher taxa.In evolutionary theory, macroevolution involves common ancestry, descent with modification, speciation, the genealogical relatedness of all life, transformation of species, and large scale functional and structural changes of populations through time, all at or above the species level (Freeman and Herron 2004; Futuyma 1998; Ridley 1993).

    From Jerry Coyne:

    “MACROEVOLUTION: ‘Major’ evolutionary change, usually thought of as large changes in body form or the evolution of one type of plant or animal from another type. The change from our primate ancestor to modern humans, or from early reptiles to birds, would be considered macroevolution.

    “MICROEVOLUTION: ‘Minor’ evolutionary change, such as the change in size or color of a species. One example is the evolution of different skin colors or hair types among human populations; another is the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.”

    - Coyne, Jerry A. Why Evolution Is True. 2009. Oxford University Press, Glossary, pp. 268-269.

    What do creationists say?:

    evolution, biological n.

    1) “microevolution”—the name used by many evolutionists to describe genetic variation, the empirically observed phenomenon in which exisiting potential variations within the gene pool of a population of organisms are manifested or suppressed among members of that population over a series of generations. Often simplistically (and erroneously) invoked as “proof” of “macro evolution” 2) macroevolution—the theory/belief that biological population changes take (and have taken) place (typically via mutations and natural selection) on a large enough scale to produce entirely new structural features and organs, resulting in entirely new species, genera, families, orders, classes, and phyla within the biological world, by generating the requisite (new) genetic information. Many evolutionists have used “macro-evolution” and “Neo-Darwinism” as synonymous for the past 150 years.

    What prevents macroevolution? This says it best

    Loci that are obviously variable within natural populations do not seem to lie at the basis of many major adaptive changes, while those loci that seemingly do constitute the foundation of many if not most major adaptive changes are not variable.- John McDonald, “The Molecular Basis of Adaptation: A Critical Review of Relevant Ideas and Observation”, Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics: 14, 1983, p77-102

    IOW the mutations responsible for microevolution are not the same genes that can possibly produce macroevolutionary change. And the genes responsible for microevolution are variable while the genes that can possibly produce macroevolutionary are are not.

    1. I appreciate the fact that you're quoting sources, but obviously there is a lot of posturing, exaggeration, and ignorance out there.

      Coyne is confused, probably just making this up as he goes along.

      The creationist definitions are likewise confused.

      The bit from is the most accurate. The micro/macro distinction is not just small vs. large or short-term vs. long-term (although it has those connotations), but is really a matter of the short-term process within populations that can be observed, studied, manipulated, vs. everything else. This distinction plays a necessary role in the rhetoric of the MS, or probably of any theory that wants to make a claim of sufficiency. The architects of the MS realized that they had no grounds to claim that they understood all of evolution directly. What they argued instead was that they understand microevolution (meaning shifting gene frequencies), and that it's reasonable (in their view) to extrapolate from that.

      I can't imagine what McDonald is trying to convey. If we could take the eye as an example, there are all sorts of genes involved in this, encoding everything from photoreceptors to lens proteins. Of course these genes are variable.

    2. Or perhaps you are confused, for two reasons- 1- The definitions provided are correct and 2- there isn't anything from known microevolutionary events that we can extrapolate to macroevolution.

      And yes the genes for vision systems are variable but that doesn't explain how blind watchmaker processes produced those genes. Blind watchmaker processes can't get beyond prokaryotes, and those were given as a starting point.

    3. Joe, you're infamous for being one of the most unintelligent IDiots out there who still have the balls to let everyone know just how unfathomably stupid and deluded you are. Go away, let adults talk. There's no hope for you, you are so intensely emotionally invested in this idiotic propaganda of yours you can't be reasoned with. Every online conversation you ever had is evidence of this.

    4. Joe, those definitions can't all be correct, because they say different things. The creationist definition points to variation or "potential variation" that is manifested or suppressed. To say that this is "incorrect" would be generous-- it's gibberish. Coyne makes the distinction purely a matter of small-scale vs. largescale. With these definitions in hand, it would be easy to extrapolate from microevolution to macroevolution, because it is just a matter of scale. But the historical significance of the distinction is precisely that extrapolating is non-obvious and problematic. It isn't a given. To agree with me on this point might serve your purposes, but apparently this is all going over your head.

  22. Anyone with time one their hands may care to peruse Vincent Torley's response to this piece at Uncommon Descent.

    1. It would, incidentally, be a quicker read if we didn't have to wade through long paragraphs persuading us that the career and qualifications of each of his pet experts (Axe, Gauger, Kozulic ....) mean we should care more about what they think.

  23. Why isn't macroevolution understood? Because it is not observable today. Why not? It requires deep time. So how do we know it is a fact if it is not observable? The most we have observed is Lenski's e coli evolving the ability to utilize citrate aerobically, as opposed to anerobically, which they already had the ability to do. This is not macroevolution. Simple speciation such as varieties of Darwin's finches, which can still interbreed, is not considered macroevolution by ID theorists or Creationists either. Here's another paper from the literature:
    "Macroevolution is more than repeated rounds of Microevolution" and an excerpt:
    The Origins of Novelty
    Microevolution provides NO EXPLANATION for the extraordinary burst of novelty during the Neoproterozic-Cambrian radiation.(Valentine et al 1999, Knoll & Carroll 1999) nor the rapid production of novel plant architectures associated with the production of land plants during the Devonian (Kendrick & Crane 1997 followed by the origination of most major insect groups." (Labandiera & Sepkowski 1993)
    Dr. Tour is not alone. Why does evolutionary biologist Andreas Wagner admit that "we know little about how innovations originate?"

  24. Just popping in to say that your footnote was awesome.

  25. I looked up organic chemistry and evolution online and got this:
    Something tells me he didn't look very hard.