DEBATE: "THE EVOLUTION OF IMPROVED FITNESS"
For Dr. Max's Original Article, click HERE.
For A Paper Distributed at Dr. Max 2/22/01 Debate with Duane Gish, click HERE.
For An Introduction To Answering Dr. Edward Max's Challenge, click HERE.
For Ross Olson's First Critique, click HERE.
For Dr. Max's Rebuttal, click HERE.
For Ross Olson's Second Critique, click HERE.
For Dr. Max's Second Rebuttal to the Second Critique, click HERE.
For Ross Olson's Third Critique, click HERE.
For Dr. Max's Third Rebuttal to the Third Critique, click HERE.
For Olson's Critique Number Four, click HERE.
For Dr. Max's Fourth Rebuttal to the Fourth Critique, click HERE.
For Olson's Critique Number Five, click HERE.
For Dr. Max's Fifth Rebuttal to the Fifth Critique (and the summary linked below), click HERE.
For a summary of these interactions, click HERE.
Response to Max #4
I thank you again for taking the time to correspond. I agree that we may be nearing the end of useful interaction, but you have introduced a few new ingredients into the mix and they need analysis.
Thank you for your concern about my recovery from injury. I hope and pray that your life has not been too complicated by the terrorist attacks, that the anxiety level has settled down and that the security measures have not been too great of a burden. I also pray that you will find the only source of real peace in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Our discussions of origins are related to that concern, for although a person can clearly be a Christian and disagree with the position I am defending, it is also true that many turn away from a meaningful relationship with God because they think science has either disproved Him or shown Him to be irrelevant.
Regarding the Dawkins computer model of evolution by small stages, you admit it presupposes that each intermediate stage must have an advantage for the organism, but claim that this deficiency does not invalidate the model. This means, of course, that you assume it is indeed possible for every intermediate stage to really have such an advantage in real life. Now I know that you never like to say "never," but it does really stretch the imagination to come up with those advantages. When I respond to your flagellum-evolution-by-stages example, I will show that you really did not go into enough detail to make it biochemically believable. When you refer to the box in your original article, I have to remind you that you did not completely deal with the issue there either. You also tried to marginalize your opposition by stating the creationist position as “no random sequence can have any function.” The objection is better stated that “it is extremely improbably that a random sequence either have or improve a function.”
Again, I will repeat that your primary example of antibody modification does not support evolution either – something you acknowledge, although you claim that it still makes your small point about random changes improving function. Still, your original paper seems to ignore all the provisos and assume that you have added to “the weight of the evidence.” Antibody gene shuffling and mutation are part of a very intricate system that is very suitable to its purpose and SURE LOOKS DESIGNED! It has no similarity to random mutations or shuffling of the entire genome.
But even if we grant function at every stage of the computer sequence modification, neither you nor Dr. Dawkins have shown in detail that it actually makes any practical difference. It is interesting how your statements become so very qualitative when dealing with this. Rather than calculating the time it might take to build the new information, you simply state that the multiple step model “can easily achieve a target sequence.”
When the information content of all living organisms is totaled, the number of stages necessary to have them come about by successive approximations, within the limits of available time and matter needs to be quantitatively assessed. After all, using the "single step method" of synthesizing a 100 unit protein molecule from the component parts requires 10130 combinations, and there are only 1080 to 1090 atoms in the universe and 1018 seconds in 30 billion years. How far can you reduce that? Down 130 orders of magnitude? Hardly! But even if you decreased all the processes by 130 orders of magnitude, you are still miles away from jumping across the Grand Canyon.
One estimate of the probability of putting together the information in the simplest living organism randomly is 10 -1,000,000, using the single step method, of course. But how far can you reduce that by accomplishing it in multiple steps? By 90%? By 99.999999%? By 1,000,000 orders of magnitude? I doubt in your wildest dreams you would make such an estimate, yet that would help not one iota! And that is only a simple organism. Try totaling the probabilities for the entire biosphere. Can you see that even if you are granted the point and were allowed to imagine that all those intermediate stages had enough improved function to be selected, it does not help your case.
To answer your thermodynamic arguments, see my response to Dr. Allen Harvey's article which you called to my attention, located at http://members.aol.com/steamdoc/writings/thermo.html . I have written to Dr. Harvey, posted it at http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/olson_to_harvey.html . He has not yet responded at this time but I will also post any response he sends.
The criticism I made about the difference between the decrease in entropy with crystallization and the complex sort of information needed for an encyclopedia or a genome is indeed valid. The problem is switching definitions of entropy, between classical and statistical and information, something I elaborate on in the response to Dr. Harvey. This sort of blurring of borders goes on a lot in evolutionary circles, such as defining evolution as change, giving the example of the Peppered Moths or Darwin's Finches, and then claiming that we just proved evolution from molecules to man (or at least bacteria to biologists.)
On the lack of observed evolution of fruit flies or bacteria into something different during the period of observation, you emphasize the slow and deliberate nature of evolution. But if you were confronted with the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record, you would undoubtedly speak of relatively rapid changes in small isolated populations – punctuated equilibrium. And since you believe in small functionally significant changes leading up to big changes, there should have been at least some of those. Each of those “Dawkins' weasel-like” intermediate proteins ought to be showing us its new advantage. Why have we seen so little punctuation and so much equilibrium in those closely observed creatures? Apparently "A Watched Species Does Not Evolve."
You do not seem to understand the gravity of the problem of absent incipient organs. You say that there have been no new organs "since the mammalian radiation," but that begins to look more like plan than evolution, as if all the organs that can possibly be useful were already there. But at some point in the move from "lower forms," (excuse the "speciesism"), lungs supposedly developed. And by the way, to say they developed from swim bladders requires a huge logical leap – from one cavity to millions of cavities, connected by a branching system of tubes, powered by diaphragm and/or intercostal muscles, with blood and lymph systems and surfactant production, not to mention unidirectional mucus transport to carry away particles.
And also, by the way, the example of dog breeding does not help evolution. They are all dogs and can be hybridized back towards the original stock if not too much information has been lost. If, as you state in explaining why human evolution was so rapid, apes can become graduate students over a relatively short time because they don't need much new DNA, why not intelligent dogs? Or at least dogs with opposable thumbs? (Actually it is probably cats that would most appreciate the ability to operate a can opener.)
In your attempts to deal with Michael Behe's concept of irreducible complexity, you plead for special dispensation because there may have been functions in the past that are not now known and that “proteins don't leave ‘fossil' evidence.” But if duplication and modification is a common mode of DNA evolution, then you should find traces in the similarities to other cell processes in nearly all cases. And if much of the so called “junk DNA” is actually garbage from the past, there ought to be lots of evidence lying around.
Also, you claim that Behe's arguments might have been used decades ago to claim that there is no conceivable mechanism for antibody modification and that the argument would have been invalidated by gene shuffling and hyper-mutation. But there are major differences between antibody synthesis and irreducibly complex molecular machines. For one, even before gene shuffling and hypermutation were discovered, it is difficult to convincingly say that there were no conceivable mechanisms. For another, antibody synthesis is a process that we know exists and can be studied. Evolution by natural processes does not necessarily exist and certainly cannot be studied in the laboratory. You said so yourself – it takes too long! So it is not a given but a hypothesis under investigation.
But in that section you betray the heart of your devotion to the cause when you state. “Most scientists other than Behe have the humility to recognize that our ignorance is profound and that evolution may be ‘smarter' than we are; Behe seems to feel that anything he doesn't know can't really exist.” Did you catch that, even with the quotation marks, you have faith in the creative power of evolution that goes beyond the evidence! This sounds more like religion than science.
Thank you for attempting to come up with a scenario for flagellum evolution. I will not berate you for being imaginative but only point out that it is far too sketchy. While sounding fine in broad sweep – bacteria needing to attach to something solid, then being more efficient if the attachment is by a long strand to allow them to be moved a little bit by currents. Of course, one could wonder what was wrong with being swept away by currents in the first place if currents are also moving the nutrients. Then, too, if enough bacteria are destroyed because they twist on their attachments so that some evolve a rotary mechanism, would it really have been advantageous enough in the first place to grow the projections? It is not as if for a while they are spared the twisting death until they had a chance to develop the ability to rotate.
You have made the really big jump, however, when you propose, “Then some bacteria evolve a mechanism that allows the projections to rotate with respect to the surface of the bacteria….” This is like saying, “Then the wheel, complete with axle and bearings, is invented.” You have to admit that the structure necessary for a rotating cellular projection, even if it is just freely rotating to start with, is a big step. This type of explanation is more on the level of earlier biological scenarios that say things like, “Fish's fins evolved into legs.” You really have to get down to the molecular machines to be believable today. This is true likewise and in spades for the statement, “When these molecular swivels become efficient, bacteria whose growth is prevented by limiting energy supplies evolve a mechanism for converting the mechanical energy of rotational motion at the base of the hair projections into ATP; they do this by borrowing components of the F1 ATPase already evolved to convert rotation into ATP.”
I suppose that it might be easy to propose simply reversing the process to use ATP to move the flagellum, but that means that the process was not reversible to start with, otherwise after the first ATP was made, it would have spun the rotor right back, losing the ATP and even possibly breaking off the projection cum flagellum. (Or perhaps a transport mechanism evolved to move the ATP away – another part of a complex system that you need to show was not irreducible.) But to use the flagellum for motion, attachment (the original purpose of the hypothetical cellular projection) has to be broken. And if that happens before the flagellum is motile, then the bacterium will be swept away – which had to be a bad thing for attachment to have been important in the first place! And, by the way, bacteria, even with motility, still get swept around by currents. Finally, if motion by way of a flagellum is just random, they might move away from nutrients as likely as toward them. So there needs to be some sort of sensory and navigational mechanism. Can you really fill in all those blanks?
So, you see, to state that “there is some evidence for sequence similarity between archaeal bacterial protein components of flagella and pili” does not give you any more help than Stanley Miller's amino acid synthesis gives you a living cell.
As to whether you are “bashing Gish” and whether I am avoiding the issues by refusing to deal with what you claim are his errors and deficiencies, I, like you, am picking certain issues to address. You said you choose not to respond to everything I bring up, and that is perfectly reasonable. I, too, pick and choose. My main area of interest is the argument from design and also the psychological and spiritual reasons why people do not always respond to powerful evidence.
I have refused to research and debate, for example, whether certain creationists actually have the degrees they claim or whether the institutions were accredited. Some opponents have told me that their charges call the whole creationist façade into question. I do not have the time or expertise to investigate these areas and feel that the arguments need to stand or fall on their own merit regardless of who said them. I also know that there are twists and turns in these matters. For example, when applying for Pediatric Board Exams, the University of Minnesota could find no record of my having been in the residency program during the academic year 1975-76. It turned out that this was because they had not needed to pay me – I was on leave from my missionary position and paid by the mission. Their usual mechanism for tracking was the pay records. Of course, they eventually found the evaluations and eyewitnesses, but an investigative reporter might have claimed that I was not there.
Let me say that I do not agree with everything that Dr. Gish has said and done. I do not even agree with everything that I have said and done. I suspect that Dr. Gish does not agree with everything he has said and done. I do not base my case on endorsing all past creationist arguments any more than you base your case on Piltdown and Nebraska Man.
You, however, still refuse to give any credit to Dr. Gish and creationists in general for pointing out that there is no mechanism for abiogenesis. And, by the way, this is not just a matter of ignorance of abiogenesis because it has been studied up and down the wazoo! This is not a virgin area just needing funding and the interest of a few researchers, rather it has been shown to defy all known attempts at a natural explanation. Also, many decades ago, there was great optimism among evolutionists that there would soon be life in a test tube. The disassembly and reassembly of a virus was even hailed as synthesizing life (and, of course is wrong both in that viruses are not really life and also that it was only a copying of an existing form.)
Your way of dealing with this question has shown me the basic flaw in your whole approach. You will not admit the possibility of intelligent design, even as a hypothesis! If in any other question you have two or three hypotheses, you will choose between them. If one of them has plausibility within 95% confidence limits and the others are extremely unlikely or require special pleading, you will throw your weight and further research behind the one that is likely.
Of course, science is tentative and subject to new evidence, but it is not supposed to exclude certain conclusions a priori – that sounds more like Soviet science. Yet that happens all the time in this area. Sometimes it is a confusion of methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. Yes, we study natural phenomena, but no one can logically rule out a supernatural explanation. We do not want graduate students saying, “the devil ate my data.” But it is actually possible to try to study supernatural hypotheses, such as studying the effect of prayer on recovery from illness or surgery – a recent Mayo Clinic study did not replicate previous studies showing a positive effect. But to just say, “We can't even consider the possibility of a supernatural origin of life” is imposing a philosophical limitation on science.
The honest response ought to be, “Right now the evidence gathered favors the intelligent design hypothesis for abiogenesis.” To which one of a given persuasion might add, “But I hope (or expect) that a mechanism for a natural origin will turn up.” As it is, I wonder if you could ever be convinced that you are wrong, either that abiogenesis requires intelligent design or that evolution of living things requires so much special pleading that it is really suspect? As it is, you will continue to plead ignorance until the evidence you want shows up. And what if it never does? It means that you will die waiting, and while you are waiting you throw your support and live your life in favor of the most unlikely possibility! Yes, science does not arrive at certainty, but it makes no sense to endorse the least certain.
You stated near the end of your response that complex adaptations could have been a result of intelligent design or could be the result of evolution. I ask you to really weigh the evidence for each, follow it where it leads and not just follow the herd.
Finally, you wrote that to the extent which creation science depends on the Bible, it is not in your view good science, but that it is theoretically possible for a creationist to do good science. You then dismiss the young earth arguments as resting on flawed data or flawed reasoning. As a parting shot, let me challenge you to back that up. If this is the last interchange, you cannot logically or scientifically make that kind of charge without supporting it.
Let us briefly discuss these matters in the context of the ocean's salt content. See (http://tccsa.tc/articles/ocean_sodium.html. The hypothesis that the earth is young, might have come from the Bible, although there might be other reasons to propose it. There might be a clue to the age of the ocean from its sodium content compared with the Dead Sea and other very salty bodies of water and from knowing that water enters the ocean with a solute content and leaves mostly by evaporation. Austin and Humphries did a very detailed analysis of known and theoretical mechanisms for influx and removal of sodium. Even tipping the balance far in favor of long ages, they come up with a maximum age of the ocean of 62 million years. (And do not counter as the long age creationist critics did by saying that 62 million is far larger than 6000. This is a MAXIMUM age assuming initially fresh water.) Please show where the faulty assumptions and reasoning are, or else admit that you were hasty, or at least admit if you are waiting for future mechanisms to favor your preferred answer.
I have appreciated this interaction and hope that the loose ends can at least be tied together. But most of all, I am concerned with this issue because of the implications – namely that if there is strong evidence for the existence of a God, then the next question is whether that is important to us. The Bible, which gains authority from its own chain of evidence – miracle, prophecy, its accounting for the human condition and the changes it produces in the lives of those who take it seriously – states the dichotomy clearly. This God desires a special relationship with His human creatures (John 3:16), but those who do not respond to Him will be held “without excuse” because they were suppressing the truth of what should have been plain to them (Romans 1:18).