A Creationist Analysis of
"The Evolution of Improved Fitness"
Response to Edward Max's Rebuttal
by Ross Olson MD
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.
Thank you for reading and responding to my critique. I am honored to be able to interact with an elite scientist doing cutting-edge research in an area with intimate bearing on the creation-evolution controversy. At the same time, I am surprised at the degree of blindness that exists among elite scientists -- including yourself -- regarding the nature of the issues that creationists have with evolution.
This was your opening paragraph:
In general, I found your critique a rather breezy essay, written for a non-technical audience and filled with a lot of personal opinions and rhetorical devices that I will not bother to respond to. I have found 17 specific statements that I take issue with, and I have quoted them below followed by my comments, which are indented. In many cases you have misread or misinterpreted what I said in my essay (or presented at my recent debate with Dr. Gish), or you ask a question that I have already answered.
In keeping with that tone, let me say this:
I found your response to be a pseudo-sophisticated, hyper-academic, arrogant epistle that appears in broad sweep to have utterly destroyed all creationist arguments -- past, present and future -- but which on closer examination fails abysmally to account for the details. The casual reader (and I sincerely believe that those professionals, to whom you feel all discussion of evolution should be delegated, are usually casual readers of the evidence for creation) will be able to say "those arguments have been dealt with," and blithely move on. Is that your design or did it happen by chance?
Do you see that by calling my critique is "a rather breezy essay, written for a non-technical audience and filled with a lot of personal opinions and rhetorical devices ..." which you "...will not bother to respond to," you are able to claim that it is worthless, but simultaneously, that you need not support your assertion.
Whether the tone is breezy or stagnant, it is the issues that need to be addressed. Therefore, I am glad that you brought up your 17 (actually 18) points. Addressing those points is exactly what I plan to do, but a comment about your fixation on style is in order. I think it is akin to a dress code. If a lawyer makes a good argument while wearing a polyester plaid sport coat, would see the force of it? Now, granted, you may not choose him to represent your interests before the Supreme Court and yet truth does not hinge on style.
So why be "breezy?" Well, it helps some people stay awake. Also, as a Pediatrician, I find that explaining things to children requires abandoning professional jargon for a living translation using common speech. And amazingly, when I try to do that, it is apparent that there are some concepts -- for which I have jargon -- that I do not really understand. I am forced to think critically in order to make it understandable. When using this technique in the area of creation / evolution, it is not flippancy but an attempt to rephrase certain irrational assertions in a language that does not allow familiarity to let them easily slide by.
On the other hand, your style might be described as "arrogant." I will do my best to ignore that affectation and look at your points on their merit, but I think you need to justify that style and attitude. Do you really think that there is absolutely nothing that you can learn from anyone who carries the label "creationist?" The history of medicine and indeed the whole history of science ought to alert you to the dangers of being locked into a prevailing paradigm. And you certainly are aware of the incredible prejudice that generally seems to answer ideas seen as "outliers." Remember that even a stopped clock is right twice a day. It would be very human of you to write a paragraph on "three things I learned from Duane Gish," or some such exercise.
Although it will necessarily lengthen this paper, I feel it necessary to copy sections out of your response in order to answer them because so many of your complaints are about the wording of paraphrases or what you consider to be misinterpretations of what you have written.
1. "[Dr. Max] has chided Dr. Gish for his initial unfamiliarity with the phenomenon [of somatic mutation of antibody genes]"
Not true. I chided Gish not for his initial unfamiliarity but (1) for implicitly claiming expertise about antibody genes that he did not have (bluffing a na�ve audience into thinking he knew what he was talking about, claiming that I was wrong when he was totally ignorant of the evidence I described) and (2) for failing to look into the evidence of somatic mutation after the first debate and therefore making exactly the same false claims at a subsequent debate. Do you think these behaviors are appropriate and reflect good standards of scholarship?
9. "Dr. Gish's knee jerk reaction was correct, we would not survive if our ability to fight infection were only based on random changes"
Unfortunately, Dr. Gish did not say what you state; you have altered his claim to make him look better. In his own words: "He [Gish] stated flatly that a sick person would die long before random chance mutations could ever produce the necessary antibodies to fight off an infection, and that the body has a mechanism for synthesizing antibodies precisely designed to protect it." Dr. Gish denied that somatic mutation of antibodies occur and seemed unaware that other immune mechanisms protect infected individuals early in an infection before mutation leads to high affinity antibodies. He was completely ignorant about antibody genes (had not even heard about the Nobel prize awarded for work on antibody genes), but nevertheless used his status as an "expert" to mislead his audience on this topic.
I am not necessarily defending all that Dr. Gish has said and done, but here I wonder if you are harping on this to avoid dealing with the real issue. And, to turn things around, suppose a creationist slipped you an example of something that looked really designed (like Behe's irreducible complexity) before you had heard of it. You might have said -- indeed you are saying it now -- that you expect an explanation could be found by breaking the development of the feature into small manageable steps. The steps are not known, and indeed, Behe says that they cannot even be conceived, but your general orientation assures you that they must be there.
Dr. Gish, similarly, is certain that depending only on raw mutations to create antibodies could not save us from infection. And he is right. As I will again state, what you have uncovered is a very specialized, controlled use of hyper-mutation in order to refine an antibody whose basic structure is built using a carefully consistent framework and whose function is assisted by other highly designed aspects of the immune system. If random mutation of everything were our only means of defense, we would indeed die. Dead organisms do not evolve. I cannot imagine why you are unable to see that, except for your knee-jerk reaction of rejecting anything stated by creationists.
Your assertions regarding Behe are completely theoretical. You cannot even imagine, much less describe, a theoretical evolutionary history, supported by any type of scientific fact, of how each of the components of a flagellum could be individually useful to the organism and then get hooked together for the final structure. Yet you use that sort of argument to discredit Behe. It makes me think that you are irrevocably biased against evidence that might logically demand that you change your mind.
Gish points to an immune system that is incredibly complex, and -- even if he did not know about the ingenious use of hyper-mutation -- has adequately characterized the whole of the system as looking designed. You see hyper-mutation in a small, precisely controlled and limited portion of the DNA and jump to the conclusion that everything is mutation. You have neither published nor referenced a single scientific finding to support such a leap of faith. As I said, it is like finding a random number generator in a computer and concluding that the whole computer was built and operates by random processes. If you cannot see that to be foolish, then I would have to say that "the experts" may not be the best sifters of evidence.
Maybe Gish did not try fast enough to learn about hyper-mutation immune modulation, but I think you have not looked honestly at Behe at all. You seem to have taken your information from Behe's critics, who may not have thought it through clearly either. As we know in clinical medicine, if a patient is getting worse, we do not just accept at face value the diagnoses of the past. Rather, we start from the beginning to see what might have been missed. I don't think that you or your fellow travelers recognize the dismal prognosis of protozoa-to-professor evolution, partially because you are emotionally and professionally attached to it.
2. "Dr. Max finds corroborating evidence for evolution in a computer model. . ."
Not true. I never claimed that the computer model was "corroborating evidence." What I said was:
"The importance of Dawkins's simulation is that it highlights the error of all the creationist arguments against the statistical improbability of evolution, by showing that the creationists' choice of a single-step versus cumulative multi-step model creates a falsely low estimate of the potential for deriving a particular sequence via random mutation and selection. Although both the single-step model and the cumulative multi-step model involve random sequences and selection, the predicted consequences of the two models are very different. The creationists ignore this difference and intentionally discuss only the model that gives the result they like, even though this model corresponds least well to the theory of evolution."
If you think that the computer model does not highlight the difference between the creationist single-step model and the cumulative multi-step model, please explain why.
This I have to call "nit picking!" Can you tell me what the difference is between "corroborating evidence for evolution" and "showing that the creationists' choice of a single-step versus cumulative multi-step model creates a falsely low estimate of the potential for deriving a particular sequence via random mutation and selection?" Aside from the sedative effect of the latter phrase, is there any substantial difference between the two? Let me draw a picture. You think that Dawkins' model builds up your side, do you not? It is a "friend of the court brief." How in the world can you be so emphatic that my space-saving paraphrase has it all wrong?
Let me suggest a possibility. You look for easy handles with which to fling ideas off the table and discredit their proposers. It is as if a misspelling disqualifies an author from further consideration. Since you are so certain that creationists are all poor scholars, fuzzy thinkers and misguided zealots, you scan for examples and pull them out like Little Jack Horner with his plum! In so doing you are able to smear your opposition and ignore the idea being presented.
As to your request: "If you think that the computer model does not highlight the difference between the creationist single-step model and the cumulative multi-step model, please explain why," here is the essence of what I put into detail in my first critique. Yes it shows the difference in models, but it does not correlate with the needs of evolution. Evolution needs a useful intermediate structure, not a genetic nonsense phrase, a functional protein or other constructed molecule, not a first approximation of the final shape. You can't arbitrarily say, "I'm going to save this one," and think it is anything like evolution. Can you not see that? Those intermediates are not "useful" and have no reason to be preserved.
3. "Dr. Max likens the scholarship and methods of anyone in the Creationist camp to those of flat earth advocates or snake oil salesmen."
I said that "failure of [creationist] proponents to present their arguments in the peer-reviewed scientific literature reveals the status of their scholarship to be on par with that of dowsers, UFO enthusiasts and believers in a "Flat Earth." If you know of a creationist paper in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, please let me know. However, if I am correct and there is no such publication, then with respect to publication in the professional literature, the creationists have exactly the same score as dowsers, etc., i.e. zero. That is all I said. I also said "at the debates I point out numerous examples of poor scholarship by creationists that completely explain why their efforts don't meet the standards of excellence for scientific publication." I enumerated several examples of Dr. Gish's poor scholarship. You have not defended a single one of these, and neither did he. Do you feel that any one of the examples I cited represents good scholarship?
To say that all you meant by likening flat earthers to creationists is that neither publishes in mainstream journals is a bit disingenuous. As a defense against libel, you might have a problem if you said something like that about a rich and paranoid person with an army of lawyers. But, of course, it is fun to abuse Christians because they turn the other cheek.
I guess you didn't really read my responses to you word for word. Because, in the introduction to the online debate, still posted of the TCCSA website, I mentioned Robert Gentry, whose work on polonium halos was in the mainstream journals until it became apparent that the appearance of short-lived polonium halos, far removed from their parent compounds in granite, implies nearly instantaneous creation of the isotopes as well as rapid solidification of the granite.
You surely looked at these paragraphs because you repeatedly asked me to change the wording of my paraphrases of your challenges to Dr. Gish and to creationists in general. I had called it "elitist," and finally we settled on "leave it to the experts." It was my first exposure to the nit-picking side to your personality. (See /debate.html#gish-max ) Also consider getting his book "Creation's Tiny Mystery."
Gentry's work on identical superimposed round and elliptical halos in three layers of coalified wood in Colorado, normally dated as Triassic, Jurassic and Eocene indicates that they were all formed simultaneously by compression of the biologic material over a period of only a few years, completely consistent with the flood model of the geologic column and totally incompatible with the standard dating of 230 to 180 million years ago, 180 to 135 million years ago and 60 to 35 million years ago for the respective periods.
The treatment of Dr. Gentry by the scientific establishment and press, simply because he ultimately was willing to openly state the logical conclusions of his work, ought to shame any person with a conscience or a heart, and for sure ought to make outsiders, and maybe even insiders, wonder why the evolutionary side cannot just deal with the data instead of practicing character assassination and dirty tricks.
But, of course, you did not even look it up. I guess that makes you a poor scholar! Do you want to turn in your credentials or even fall on your sword right now? No, stop! Don't do it. Just consider the life-as-you-know-it-threatening act of considering that you might actually be wrong and all will be forgiven!
4. "Yet, if helpful mutations can conceivably occur and spread through a population, we ought to have seen at least some indication of that in the ongoing experiments with fruit flies whose generation time is about two weeks. And with bacteria, who can sometimes multiply at a rate of once every 20 minutes, we ought to expect more dramatic progress than just antibiotic resistance."
There is a large literature on the response of fruitflies and bacteria to environmental stress through selection of mutations favorable for the new environment. If you need help finding these papers, let me know. If you think that the theory of evolution, which explains changes occurring over millions of years, predicts that we should expect "more dramatic" changes than have been observed in short term laboratory experiments, please explain why.
Antibiotic resistance is based most frequently on plasmid transfer of existing genes from other species or on alteration of a structure on which the antibiotic acts - usually a loss of information rather than creation of new information. I really think that the burden of proof is on the evolutionist to show that this has any relationship to macro-evolution on a grand scale.
Perhaps in your disdain for creationists and all that they propose, you have avoided looking at the details of the generation time of short-lived creatures and how this fits with the geological timetable. If a fruit fly can go through 25 generations in a year, then 50 years of observation equals 1250 generations which is the equivalent of 25,000 years for an organism with a 20 year generation time.
"Ah," you say, "A drop in the geological bucket." But in addition to doing the math, please recall the currently popular punctuated equilibrium model, felt to be necessary by those who admit to the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. Evolution takes place, they say, in small isolated populations over relatively short times so that the time-lapse photography of fossil preservation simply misses them.
Think of all the small isolated populations of fruit flies and all the close observation! Stephen Gould has said that if evolution were run again, it would probably come up with intelligent insects. Do you want to give the SAT to the latest crop of fruit flies? And whatever "intense evolutionary pressure" means, it is certainly true that by irradiation and other means of inducing mutations, the little flies have been given every opportunity and motivation to develop the means of opposing their tormenters and stopping this flagrant violation of their civil rights!
But, you say, 25,000 years is still orders of magnitude too short. While I dispute that complaint if punctuated equilibrium is to be believed, how about the 20 minute generation time of a bacterium? In that case, 50 years of observation is equivalent to about 25 million years of an organism with a 20 year generation time. And, I think, we have been observing bacteria for more like 100 years.
A lot is supposed to happen in 25 to 50 million years. Humans are supposed to have differentiated from Australopithecus-like creatures over only a couple of million years! In the Cambrian explosion, all sorts of multi-cellular organisms in a plethora of sizes and shapes appeared "suddenly." Why have we not seen these little micro-organisms going macro? Or "postal?" Or unionizing? Or showing specialization of some sort?
Think about it! Even if you want to quibble about the numbers, where are the incipient organs? Where are the first, second and 43rd of those multi-step stages that are leading to something wonderful for their kind? Or do we just happen to always examine only organisms that prefer "stasis?" Isn't that like the invisible and totally undetectable "pink elephant" usually associated with irrational religious beliefs?
5. "[Dr. Max is] "begging the question" with respect to the evolutionary explanation for divergence of hemoglobin genes:
I was not "begging the question." I was providing an illustrative example to clarify the concept of duplication and divergence of genes that I was describing. At the end of the paragraph I made my point: If an information theory analysis claims that random mutation cannot lead to an increase in information but the analysis ignores gene duplication and differentiation through independent mutations, such an analysis is irrelevant as a model for gene evolution, regardless of its mathematical sophistication. If you disagree with this point, please explain.
You are so sure that similarity equals descent that you cannot even see the point. How do you know that myoglobin is a mutation (excuse me - "duplication and differentiation") of hemoglobin? It is equally plausible -- logically -- that they are separate designs, similar because the purpose is similar. Here by apparently assuming that I must be making some sort of elementary error, you fail to even consider the remote possibility that you might learn something.
6. "Dr. Max feels he does not have to deal with the origin of the first living creature"
Evolution is a theory explaining how modern creatures might have arisen from primitive one-celled organisms. The validity of the theory does not depend on how those primitive organisms arose in the first place. Just because I try to defend evolution against creationist attacks doesn't mean I am obligated to answer creationist arguments on other subjects. I hope you can see that abiogenesis and evolution are distinct questions.
This is an interesting strategy recently taken by evolutionists, apparently to avoid admitting that abiogenesis is the weakest link in a Big Bang to Baby Boomer scenario. Even frank atheists are shying away from the origin of life arguments with a glibness that sounds like it has never been an issue. Of course, it has been an issue, and in fact it has been the big issue. If we go on the evidence, the only plausible mechanism for the organization of the first life (when there is no self replicating organism to "select" the necessary improvement) is an outside intelligence acting on the stuff of the universe. (And, of course, I maintain that even starting with living things, the case for evolution is pretty feeble.)
Creationists have been vilified, censored and punished for claiming that there is no naturalistic explanation for the origin of the first living creature. Are you prepared to condemn that practice by some of your evolutionary allies? Since you feel that this is a separate question, not about evolution, and that you have no scientific data for a mechanism, do you think it is proper to rule out -- a priori -- a cause outside the scope of science?
The devout materialist decides ahead of time that only natural explanations need apply and because of that he can say, "we have no acceptable hypothesis." But if we allow the data and logic to guide us, then the nod would have to be tentatively given to some form of the intelligent design proposal.
Will you give provisional assent to that sort of a position? If not, why not? Are you a philosophical naturalist? Are you afraid of the wrath of the peers? You have admitted to the possible existence of God, but it seems you do so mostly in order to tell creationists that they can accept evolution and still keep their religious orientation. That does not seem to bother the establishment because it fits into the "true-for-you-but-not-for-me" model, essentially "if it helps your poor weak little mind to cope, then who am I to kick out your crutches?"
I do not know if it is because of the triumph of post-modernism or just related to sloppy thinking in general that this approach does not seem to raise eyebrows or cause embarrassment. Do you understand that it is neither logical nor scientific to exclude supernatural hypotheses from the arena? Have you ever thought about whether or not you would ever be able to detect a supernaturally caused event given your willingness to patiently wait for a natural explanation even when there are no candidates? If it really were something supernatural, how would you be able to tell?
7. "[Dr. Max] thinks it is obvious that DNA varies, causing proteins to vary until they are able to do something significant for the cell. Then they become desirable"
These words reflect a gross misunderstanding of evolutionary theory and don't correspond to anything I ever wrote or said. Cells don't generally make useless proteins; rather, random mutations alter the structure and function of pre-existing functional proteins, allowing for new functions.
Again, your obsessive attention to splitting hairs (while swallowing large hair-balls) is becoming really annoying. It is as if you have been conditioned to begin every response to a creationist with, "These words reflect a gross misunderstanding of evolutionary theory," sometimes adding for variety, "and don't correspond to anything I ever wrote or said." It reminds me of certain Public School officials who responded to every parental concern with, "Well, that's your opinion." The Health Coordinator for Minneapolis Public Schools said exactly that when I told her, "If every person waited with sex and entered into a permanent and exclusive sexual relationship, the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases would end." As it turns out, that is NOT an opinion.
Similarly, your words do not apply to this situation. Unless you admit that you simply misunderstood the paraphrase, then I think perhaps that you fail to understand evolutionary theory. You have to believe that DNA varies, right? You have to believe that most of the variations are disadvantageous, correct? But they cannot be selected until they are expressed; am I still understanding evolutionary theory? Therefore you must believe that there are many altered proteins related to mutated DNA, and until one happens to do something for the cell, it will not be preferentially selected; can you see the meaning of my above sentence yet? Likewise, if it is dysfunctional enough to be "useless" and robs the cell of an important process, that line will die because it made "useless proteins."
8. "[If] you start to make random changes, deletions, alterations and substitutions in the computer code . . . the most likely results are either no change, loss of a function"
The most frequent results of gene mutations are similar what you describe about computer code (i.e. "no change or loss of function"), as I stated in my essay:
"Most cells undergoing hypermutation end up producing antibody with unaltered or reduced affinity for the antigen; the latter cells would no longer be activated by antigen. However, rare mutations lead to antibodies of higher affinity for antigen."
Similarly, most mutations in germline DNA are neutral or detrimental, but a small fraction allow useful adaptations. If you have a disagreement with these words, please explain. Creationists tend to repeat obsessively the idea that most random changes are neutral or detrimental as if this somehow relieved them of the need to admit that rare random mutations are beneficial. Incidentally, there is a large literature on the use of evolutionary algorithms to "evolve" improved computer programs by multiple cycles of random alterations in parameters followed by random selection.
Please notice that on the end of the sentence, and with no "..." to indicate it, you failed to follow ". the most likely results are either no change, loss of a function" with "or complete lock up." Should I get upset? I won't pick nits about your failure to follow conventional form but rather point our that you might be subconsciously avoiding the troubling fact that mutations often end the whole experiment by destroying the system. This changes the impression that you can just go on hitting random keys until good things emerge. My own experience with computers, trying to delve into programming language or even HTML codes, often produces a real mess.
Here, as with discussions of Dawkins' model, you gloss over the differences between your example and the needs of evolution. Antibody affinity is very different from the development of new features. Antibody affinity only has to do with the shape of the adhering portion of a complex molecule that already has its functional features fixed and intact. Not a great deal is being asked of the hypermutating section of the molecule except to have affinity for something on the surface of whatever it is that has been declared "the enemy."
But to be able to perform some new and useful task for the cell requires a great deal more than that. You envision a smooth series of small changes, each of which is significantly enough advantageous to be selected and ultimately produces something unique and even revolutionary, like photosynthesis, or flight, or abstract thought. It sounds wonderful but where are the details? Show your work!
Many creationists have pointed out the mathematical impossibility of randomly constructing a 100 amino acid protein from a primordial soup to specifications. (See "Blowing the Whistle on Evolution." /articles/blow_whistle.html). I maintain that the same sort of odds apply to altering an existing protein to a new configuration. For instance, if there are 100 differences between a 1000 amino acid protein for function "X"and a 1000 amino acid protein for function "Y," then the same odds apply as coming up with a chain of 100 amino acids in a free standing protein. OK, in the cell, the odds will be better because only L forms are present. But I left the D/L problem out in calculating the astronomical odds for the 100 unit protein.
You will claim that there can be intermediate steps that are selected, but even if there are, the odds are doing so will be out of reach because the number of changes to get from "simple" protozoa to the plethora of life seen on earth today is astronomical -- unimaginably more than those needed to make a 100 amino acid chain. It is so far out that I don't think any number of intermediates are going to help. So if you want to claim they do, then you need to do the math.
And if you want to propose intermediates, please do so for a real life situation. Pick out a candidate for a "mother" protein and a "daughter" protein and show the intermediate steps. Hemoglobin and Myoglobin alone do not count -- even if they are mutations of each other -- unless you can track their family tree forward or backward to some quite different function. The cell should have preserved many of these lineages since it could not have always given up old functions to gain new ones. Otherwise how could simplicity have turned into complexity? You said "duplication and divergence," so the trails should be traceable.
And then, I ask you, please do the math on the probabilities of random variation giving you this chain of events, even with every intermediate step you can conjure up. I think that either you will be astounded at the incredible number on your scientific calculator, or I will insist that you check yourself into a program for compulsive gamblers. (Come to Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Treatment Centers.)
For 9., see above
10. "The mechanism Dr. Max so prizes as his evolutionary coup de gr�ce, is actually an incredibly complex system that is much more an evidence for sophisticated design . . .Yes, there are variations that are being selected, for gradually improved function, and these come about by mutations of the DNA responsible for those protein sequences. But the crucial difference is that this is done by a very sophisticated system"
I am not sure what you mean by "crucial difference"; difference between what and what?
I agree with you that the antibody gene system is complex, but this is irrelevant to the point of my essay: that multiple rounds of random mutation and selection can lead to improved fitness. Your argument is just a reiteration of the creationist view that a complex functioning structure can originate only through design by an intelligent agent. That is precisely what evolution disputes, so you are begging the question.
First of all, I cannot believe that you do not understand the point. You must be doing this deliberately to make it appear that creationists write nonsense. All along, we have been talking about the difference between controlled hypermutation of antibody affinity and the development of all of the functional systems of present living systems. The significance of the complexity of the immune system is two-fold. First, it is not just raw mutations that perform the immune function. Rather, it is an elaborate system.
Therefore, it is deceptive to say that mutations are the only source of immunity or even the main mechanism. If the mutations occurred without all the other systems intact, they would do no good, including the system that exponentially speeds up the mutation rate. Second, complexity has to be accounted for. Please show a pathway for the gradual development of all those other immune reactions and run the numbers, even at hypermutation rates -- which you recall do not occur "naturally" -- and then show me how this could have developed over the time you think is available.
You are a brilliant man but sometimes intellectual power will be used only to obfuscate and rationalize. I am not saying you are a moral equivalent of Bill Clinton, but he is a memorable example of brilliance perverted in service of an ulterior motive. Does the question of whether or not he lied under oath really depend on the meaning of the word "is?" It is human nature -- mine as well as yours -- to protect ourselves and avoid unpleasantness. I admit it and have looked very carefully at these issues with that danger in mind. I ask you to do the same. It appears that something other that objective reason is operating here. I do not just want to win points; I am really worried about you and what it is that you are fighting, even at the cost of abandoning logic.
11. "cells making less effective antibody seem to hang around"
This is a minor point, but you are incorrect. As I stated in the essay: "With lower amounts of antigen present, the cells expressing low affinity antibody on their surface become progressively less able to bind and be stimulated by antigen; in the environment of the germinal center, these poorly stimulated B cells are programmed to die by a specific process known as "apoptosis." (Choe et al, J Immunol 157:1006,1996)
This indeed a minor point, and I could concede that I might be wrong, but remember that the "generic" antibodies, on which hypermutation acts, had to be there to be acted on. They did not all die. Also, I wonder if you really believe that only one antibody species is preserved for each antigen. Maybe you would not have complained if I said, "cells making ineffective antibody tend to die but those making somewhat effective antibody may live."
12. "For Dr. Max to say that [the antibody somatic mutation argument] proves evolution . . ." Again you have mis-stated what I wrote. I specifically said that the antibody mutation argument does not prove evolution. I wrote: "Thus the molecular immunogenetics evidence of antibody evolution that I have described makes it clear that, contrary to the creationists' claims, the combination of random mutation and selection CAN be a potent creative biological engine for the generation of progressive functional improvements. This evidence alone does not prove that life evolved as Darwin suggested, but it highlights the emptiness of another invalid, though superficially appealing, creationist objection to evolution: the false idea that random mutation is a uniformly deleterious process that could never be the source of improved biological function." If you believe that random mutation can never be the source of improved function, then please explain how your view is consistent with the antibody mutation results.
I should have said, "For Dr. Max to say that [the antibody somatic mutation argument] supports evolution...." Perhaps then you would not have been able to drag a red herring across the trail and might have actually answered the questions in the paragraph containing the quote to which you take such indignant exception.
"What we are seeing is an incredibly sophisticated system, that uses highly controlled gene shuffling and then rapid mutation of a very carefully defined area of the DNA to refine the function of the resulting antibody. This is evidence of design for any but the terminally closed-minded. For Dr. Max to say that this proves evolution is as if he came upon a computer, running 100 different programs, one of which is a random number generator (which it uses to successfully crack codes) and responding, 'Now I know how the computer originated!' "
By the way, with all your disclaimers in place, it sounds like you have not really done much at all for the cause of evolution. All you admit to accomplishing is to assume life already exists, show that hypermutations contained in a controlled environment within the lymphoid follicles can improve the fit of antibodies, and insist that a computer program which selects arbitrarily designated steps towards a target sequence can decrease the time it takes to reach it. This is hardly a knockout punch.
I ask you to tell me if you are dealing with the issue or playing with words? OK, maybe you did not say antibody mutation "proves evolution" but there is absolutely no doubt that you are trying to discredit creation and support evolution. Why did you not answer the main challenge in the paragraph? Why does your eye and mind jump to a semantic point and gloss over a devastating critique of your whole mindset?
13. "Are [evolutionists] insisting that Creationists, particularly Biblical Creationists, must accept their religion?"
I can't speak for other evolutionists, some of whom hold positions that I disagree with. For myself, I have never suggested that Biblical Creationists musts accept evolution (which, of course, is not a religion). I was quite explicit about this in the debate, but you seem to have had trouble hearing me. What I said at the debate was: "I would respect anyone's faith that the origin of species occurred exactly as described in the Bible; no one is obligated to believe in their heart only what has been verified by science. However, anyone who feels this way should recognize that a belief based on Faith has no place in the science classroom." Do you disagree with these words? If so, please explain.
14. "This is the challenge: Dr. Max, in the absence of any real mechanism (and lacking even a hypothetical mechanism) for abiogenesis, how can you ignore that area as a possible intellectual point for creationists?"
As I stated above, just because I oppose creationist beliefs about evolution, this does not obligate me to argue against all creationist beliefs, e.g. about the origin of life.
15. "Would not the logical conclusion from the evidence be that intrinsic factors cannot explain the presence of life in the natural universe and therefore consideration must be given to the action of some factor outside the natural universe (therefore "supernatural")?"
When science has been unable to provide a naturalistic explanation for phenomena in the past, many people have assumed that the explanation must be supernatural. Thus lightning, sickness and earthquakes (to mention only a few phenomena) were believed to have supernatural origins until naturalistic explanations were found. You seem to be arguing that we should postulate the supernatural to explain any gaps in our understanding.
[for 16. see below]
Many folks find this "God of the gaps" notion to be blasphemous; it implies a shrinking of God's realm over the last few hundred years as science explained more and more natural phenomena, and further shrinkage would occur as our knowledge increases.
I find "God of the gaps" to be bad science. For me, unexplained phenomena are just that: unexplained. I have no problem with believers giving consideration to the supernatural as an explanation for unexplained phenomena or for species origins, but unless they evaluate their hypothesis using the scientific method, what they are doing is not science. That doesn't make it bad or wrong, as I have repeated many times, just not science
17. "[W]ould you admit the hypothesis that the supernatural factor could be described as intelligent and powerful and could not be ruled out as a factor in more than just the origin of life?"
As I stated many times at the debate and in our private correspondence, I agree that the supernatural cannot be ruled out as a factor in the origin of life, any more than it can be ruled out as a factor in evolution or in lightning, disease and earthquakes. My words at the debate were: "There is no place in the science classroom for the idea that the scientific evidence for evolution disproves God; any science teacher who claims that science disproves God should certainly be rebuked, since atheistic conclusions are not part of the professional science literature any more than creationism is. So yes, Creationists are right in opposing anti-religious teaching in science classrooms."
I applaud your willingness to speak out against those who claim that science proves atheism. I hope you will rebuke those of your fellow travelers who have actually been quite successful in establishing a state-supported atheism in public education. I wonder, however, if you are doing this just so you can say that scientific evidence that points to the need for a supernatural hypothesis should also be prohibited. That is actually a horse of a different color. To prove a negative is impossible logically, but evidence for design ought to point to a designer. Methodological naturalism in the practice of science does not give credence to philosophical naturalism as an explanation for all things.
I do not expect that public schools should hold involuntary Christian worship services and promote the "born again" experience (although I think it would make a significant dent in the epidemic of social problems in our country). Yet it is not "unconstitutional" to offer evidence to school children that there may be a Creator, even though that possibility has spiritual implications, such as implying: 1) a purpose to life, 2) the existence of absolutes and 3) an ultimate accountability. In fact, the misuse of the "Establishment Clause" of the Constitution by Supreme Courts over the past few decades would astound and appall the founders of this nation who simply did not want to have a national church. (see Wallbuilders http://www.wallbuilders.com/)
Evolution is a religion to the extent that it claims to explain everything within a materialist framework. Remember Carl Sagan's, "The Cosmos is all there is?" Your own position seems to be a strange hybrid or partial throwback to Deism in that you allow the existence of God, but entertain no supernatural explanations of events in the observable world. Therefore, even though you do not even have a hypothetical explanation for abiogenesis, you will not admit that this is evidence for an intelligent designer. If you did, you would be conceding a huge victory for creationists who have been trying to point it out for decades.
If the scientific evidence points to a supernatural explanation, then it does belong in the science classroom. "Science" originally meant "knowledge." It has come to mean those areas of knowledge accessible to the scientific method. The scientific method requires observable repeatable experiments and thus is tied to methodological naturalism. In other words, science deals with the natural world. Science cannot exclude the supernatural world. It is neither scientific not logical to say that the supernatural does not exist, and commendably, you do not say that.
What you do seem to say, however, is that no supernatural causes may be postulated. How can you say that? What if the world were designed? How would you be able to detect it if you constantly wait for a natural explanation. Have you made your hypothesis impervious to falsification?
Let us look at the objection that if we allowed supernatural explanations, we would still not know the real causes of earthquakes, lightning and sickness. Is that a reasonable concern? First of all, automatically assigning these to supernatural causes was basically a pre-scientific approach. It was not just a result of incomplete scientific data. And, I need to remind you, it is impossible to say scientifically that once you have discovered the causes of earthquakes, that you can assert with assurance that a particular earthquake was natural and there was absolutely no supernatural element involved in its extent or timing. Similarly, if you had just finished writing or saying that God, if He exists, is undetectable, and were immediately struck by lightning, I think you might change your mind. (I am not calling for this, mind you.)
There is a very significant difference between lack of knowledge about a cause and sufficient knowledge to know that it cannot be explained on the basis of known natural causes. For example, if a person were dead for three days, were confirmed to be dead, even beginning to decompose, and then came alive, would it be reasonable to wait for a natural explanation? That is the position of an atheist friend of mine and he considers it completely reasonable to do so. (Quantum fluctuations and all, you know.) What would you say to that? Suppose you were present at the death, or even suppose you were involved in harvesting organs and were with the body continuously until it came alive again with the personality and knowledge of the deceased?
What I am driving at is that there is at least theoretically a situation where the evidence of something beyond natural causes must be entertained. Can you agree with that? Then, what about such intricate design of an object that you know it cannot be a product of natural forces. If you were trekking through the Sahara and the wind uncovered a hidden city, would you be able to distinguish it from the sand dunes or rocky outcrops? I do not think there would be any problem at all.
You perhaps will say -- as it seems trendy to do -- that we can only know design in things we have seen to be manufactured, but that is a less than honest rationalization. Do you think a "stone-age" tribal native from some location completely protected from modern society who came upon a laptop computer in the jungle would confuse it with a natural animal, vegetable or mineral? I don't think so and neither do you. He would even recognize a pocket knife as designed.
But, you might respond, natural processes can build things on the cellular or molecular level. Here we have to go back to the tendency of evolutionists to see the big picture but fail to notice that that big picture is impressionistic if not abstract and the little dots (pardon my artistic ignorance) do not connect. I challenge you to crunch the numbers on the changes you so glibly propose. And, since you have already admitted that science cannot explain abiogenesis, will you also note that we have enough knowledge to recognize that there is no conceivable mechanism?
Beyond that, have you noticed that scientists in other fields are scrambling to account for the amazing coincidences that make life on earth possible, like the makeup of the earth and the sun and their orbital characteristics, and even such physical constants as the inverse square law, not to mention the unique characteristics of water? Some even propose the existence of an infinite number of universes, of which this is one that happens to support life -- hardly a scientific assertion. Some, even further out on the shaky limb, propose that the universe is a projection of our minds and had to evolve an intelligent mind to project it. If you reject those ideas, as I fully expect you would, then how do you account for the amazing coincidences?
What if God made things in a way to direct our attention to Him? Will your blas� attitude towards the ultimate origin of life and your broad sweep generalizations from a few illustrations of micro-evolution keep you from seeing it? Would you really believe that a pile of auto parts in your garage will assemble themselves into a functional car if given sufficient time (and perhaps a few "rest-stops" along the way?) Your lack of willingness to admit to this problem is incredible.
As to the use of faith and the practice of science, the Biblical concept of faith is not a leap in the dark or accepting something that is false for its subjective benefit. Rather, Biblical faith is believing the truth about God and His revelation, based on evidence and experience, and stepping out into the future trusting God. Faith is used in secular settings in that you have faith that the law of gravity still applies although you cannot prove beyond all doubt that it will. You also eat food in faith that it is not poisoned, a faith that can be altered by further experience. And you have varying degrees of faith in the news media based on your experience of their trustworthiness. Faith is not a totally foreign practice in our every day lives.
God requires faith in Him because, after we are sure of His existence and His revelation to us, in order to follow His plan for our lives, we will have to go through things we do not understand, simply trusting that He knows best. Thus I have experienced threats to my job and even my medical license because of my commitment to Jesus Christ and the principles of living taught in the Bible. I find myself saying, "Why do you let me go through this?" Yet my experience of God's faithfulness in the past allows me to persist in doing what is right, knowing that good will ultimately triumph. Your faith in naturalistic science makes you continue to oppose creation in the expectation that all will be explained by yet undiscovered mechanisms. Whose faith is grounded in fact?
16. "And if so, does that not mean that Creationists, despite frequent vilification by academia and the media, are actually doing good science when they report data that supports this hypothesis?"
Contrary to what many creationists believe (apparenly yourself included), what determines whether someone is "doing good science" is not what conclusion that they support, but how well they achieve high standards in data collection, interpretation and scholarship. It is on these grounds that creationists fail. At the debate and in my essay, I gave numerous examples of such failures of Dr. Gish, none of which you have defended; so perhaps your standards are higher than Dr. Gish's, which would be only to your credit. But I have not heard any clear scientific argument against evolution from you.
Do I need to start listing the examples of poor scholarship on your side? Haeckels' embryos, Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, Archaeoraptor, etc., etc. I assume you have forgiven evolutionists for those and do not conclude that they cannot be trusted. The fact that you have not "heard any clear scientific argument against evolution" from me, or any one else, indicates that you are not doing critical thinking. As to finding areas of ignorance or error in another person's thinking, I recall Will Rogers' statement, "We are all ignorant, just about different things." I bet I could catch you on new things in clinical medicine that you have not noted. And as to following up, I hope you very quickly get Gentry's book, "Creation's Tiny Mystery." and study it thoroughly or I will roast you mercilessly. And further, I demand chapter and verse response to every example cited by Behe in "Darwin's Black Box."
18. "Please write a paper explaining how, as an evolutionist you can ignore the origin of life, admit that God might have done it, and still describe Creationists -- whose most powerful argument is that there is design in life that requires a Designer -- as comparable to flat earthers and snake oil salesmen?"
I do not ignore the origin of life, but regard it as an area which, so far, has not been illuminated by scientific evidence. I don't know why you seem to think that because I oppose creationists' views on evolution, I must also argue against their views on other topics, including the origin of life. The creationist claim that "there is a design in life that requires a Designer" is exactly what evolutionists dispute. If creationists' most powerful argument is one that begs the question like this, then creationists would be pretty similar to a flat earther who claimed that his best argument is that the earth is flat. At the debate I showed several examples of how the scientific method (hypothesis, prediction, data collection, and interpretation) has led to evidence consistent with evolution and contrary to young earth creationism. These examples illustrate the method of science. I also showed several examples of how creationists misled audiences with bad data, bad interpretations or simple bluffing. These examples, in my view, do indeed resemble the methods of flat earthers and snake oil salesmen.
You will undoubtedly note that at this point I cut off your comments. The interested reader can go back to your paper and read the remaining paragraphs again, as you detail examples of what you consider bad creationist scholarship. I am not going to deal with them at this point. Even if creationists were all mistaken on those points and are still mistaken and refuse to admit that they are mistaken, you still need to answer the fundamental issues I have brought up.
I could send you on an expedition to support your unspoken acceptance of long ages, needed for your so-very-slow process of self-improvement, even though there is now a vast literature supporting a young earth and solar system. That includes the solute content of the ocean, the fluid pressure in oil wells, the unreliability of radioactive decay methods in dating rocks of known historical ages (such as Mount St. Helens), the thinness of the dust layer on the moon, the breakup/decay of short period comets (and the ad hoc nature of the "Ort Cloud" proposal), the preservation of DNA in insects imbedded in amber thought to be 250 million years old, and even the presence of preserved pollen in the Pre-Cambrian rocks of the Grand Canyon (which by Uniformitarian thinking did not exist at that time.) (Note: in February 2004, those articles were posted. See the article archive.)
In addition, the Big Bang continues to be supported by evolutionists despite a growing list of inconsistencies such as extreme "lumpiness" which is really unexplained by the feeble irregularity in the background radiation that was so highly touted as the answer. Alternative explanations to the red shift such as the effect of intense magnetic fields shown by Dr. Halton Arp are ignored or belittled. I consider the failure to deal with these difficulties to be examples of poor scholarship by evolutionists. But I want to limit our discussion to the assertions you have made in your article and rebuttal.
Although much your inferior intellectually, I have exposed fuzziness in your thinking. This implies that something non-rational is going on. Either you are afraid of professional peer pressure or are too proud to admit that you might be wrong, or you want to keep God distant and uninvolved in the world, or at least in your own life. Am I getting you mad? I hope to provoke some sort of reaction to unmask your illusion of objectivity. You seem to think that you can put on the white coat of science and speak infallibly ex cathedra.
The argument from design is not like the argument for a flat earth and you know it! Why do you persist in such foolishness? We are not in the situation of just standing in one place and looking around us to see if the earth looks flat. Let me give an example that illustrates how, if the earth really were flat, that you would be unable to be convinced. (Please note, I am not saying that the earth is flat. I am making up an example in order to illustrate the point.)
If experiments were done, travelling thousands of miles in all directions and seeing the earth to be flat, and if a rocket were sent into space and saw the earth to be flat as far as the resolution of the most powerful telescope, then the flat earthers would be like creationists. The experiments showing the complexity of life do not see a horizon. They give no clue that there could even be a natural explanation. You say that there may be one that we cannot yet see. That is like the situation in which the earth really is flat and you claim that somewhere, beyond the reach of the furthest travel or vision, there may be a curve. That might be true but there would be no evidence. In that situation, the most logical conclusion from all the data would be to say, "the earth is flat."
In our private communication you did not seem to appreciate my attempts at humor, which is probably my problem and not yours. A pun is indeed the lowest form of amusement and some are not worth explaining. But I sincerely hope that you do not take yourself so seriously that you cannot step back and examine the road you have taken and whether you need to return and check the signposts you may have missed along the way.
With Genuine Concern,
Ross S. Olson MD
For Dr. Max Rebuttal to this Second Critique --