Ross Olson's Third Critique
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 continuing to participate in this discussion and thank you for linking it to the TalkOrigins site that holds your original article on "Improved Fitness." I do suspect that we may be near the end of the interaction, since we have been around the block several times on the points still in discussion.
OUR DISCUSSION IN THE LIGHT OF CURRENT EVENTS
Because of the horrific events of yesterday, this discussion may seem to pale in significance compared to the incredible human suffering of the victims, the inhuman hatred of the perpetrators and the inevitable anxiety of everyone living in a free society concerning safety and security after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon. Yet, in reality and on the contrary, the underlying principles of our discussion actually have monumental implications regarding the response of individuals and nations to these tragedies.
Because, if we are simply the products of chance occurrences in the molecular world which follow blind scientific laws in an undirected but inexorable movement towards increased complexity and survival potential, then there is no meaning to search for and no responsibility to assign. Because in that case, all that exists is particles and energy fields interacting, with no free moral agents to control them and no absolute standard of right and wrong except to pass our genes on to the next generation.
And if there is a God, but He uses the method of evolution to create, allowing competition and violence to produce differential survival, then this event is simply like an asteroid impact, "just one of those things," which in the long run may lead to a change in the direction of evolution but has no meaning for individuals except that some survived and some did not.
Yet, if the message of the Bible is true, that God lovingly created human beings as free moral agents, giving us His own image in our ability to truly choose, then there is responsibility, and ultimately both mercy and justice. If the Bible is correct in stating that God has provided a remedy for the evil which invaded His perfect world. If it is true that He became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ, then suffered and died - unjustly - so that we who deserve to die might be given the opportunity to live, then our perspective is completely changed. Yes, we wonder why evil falls on the innocent and we grieve for the dead and we rise up in righteous anger against such inhuman hatred, yet we know that in the end, God's justice will prevail.
And in the meantime, if the Bible is correct, suffering becomes a "wake-up call." For in it we are reminded that we have indeed fallen far short of God's requirements to live justly, to love God and love our neighbors. We realize that we do not deserve the wealth and security that we have enjoyed but that these are the grace of God and given with responsibility to be light and love to the rest of the world. And finally, by realizing that there is indeed no safety in any human device or plan, we may begin to understand that those things that occupy our attention day after day, our houses and lands, our bank accounts and investments, our military might and security agencies, are all ultimately insufficient to protect us from the worst that might come.
Thus to realize that biological warfare or rogue nuclear attack or disabling computer sabotage or any of a myriad of other dangers are never completely preventable by any human plan or program should not lead us to suicide, but rather to God. For only those who place their trust in Him, whose treasures and hearts are in heaven, can live in the world looking realistically at its dangers but being optimistic about the ultimate outcome.
And if the Bible is correct, the God Who made heaven and earth does not take millions or billions of years to accomplish His purposes. Although He is patient for mercy's sake and does not strike us down instantly the first time we defy Him, yet when the proper moment comes, God moves decisively to carry out His will with absolute justice.
You mentioned that we seem to be talking past each other and to that I agree. I have a different perspective on why that is so, however, and will go into that shortly. First, though, I would like to point out the areas which you have not repeated in this latest response.
ITEMS NO LONGER BROUGHT UP
Dawkins computer evolution model: You have claimed that you did not originally bring this up as "corroborating evidence for evolution" but only to show the difference in probability between a single step model of arriving at a target sequence and the multi step model of successive approximations. I pointed out that the crucial way in which Dawkins model fails to help your case is that in evolution, each of the tiny steps has to be helpful enough to the organism to be selected. In Dawkins selection of random letters in a march towards "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL," the intermediate sequences would have had to be meaningful sentences that were useful on their own, not just sequences selected because the program knew they were closer to the target than the last. Evolution does not "know" what it is aiming for and the intermediate expressions must each make the cut on their own merit. I hope you have dropped this example because you realize that it does not help the case for evolution. You, of course, may say that you only wanted to show that creationists were wrong to look only at single step rather than multiple step routes to a desired sequence, but I will counter that creationists are saying about single step routes in an evolutionary sequence and in this example - you have already admitted - does not apply.
Ice crystallization on the surface of a metal sphere: Since 1989 you have published a standing challenge to Dr. Gish to write an article on just how The Second Law of Thermodynamics prohibits evolution. You have claimed that since the crystallization of ice lowers entropy, the formation of ice crystals on the surface of a metal sphere in a sealed bath of water illustrates how life could form on the surface of the earth without violating The Second Law. I pointed out that although the blanket terms of "Second Law" and "entropy" are applied to both situations, there is a crucial difference between the structure seen in ice, which is regular and repetitive (like ABCABCABC), and the structure in life which is full of information, like the Encyclopedia Britannica. I hope you have dropped the point because you realize that there is something basically dishonest about lumping crystallization and information together. Perhaps you will counter with something to the effect that you were not using this example to support evolution but simply to show that creationists are wrong about entropy. I would respond that the crucial point is the difference between crystallization and the formation of information rich structures such as those seen in living organisms.
Generation time of fruit flies and bacteria: When I claimed that if evolution were true, we should have seen more dramatic changes in fruit flies and bacteria, you countered that the time was not nearly long enough. I showed the math on the number of generations and the correlation with longer lived creatures. For example, the 20 minute generation time of a bacterium means that 50 years is equivalent to about 25 million years of an organism with a 20 year generation time. Since a lot is supposed to happen in 25 million years, your recent silence on this topic represents, I hope, a recognition that this is a problem for your side.
Michael Behe's concept of irreducible complexity is another notable omission from your present response. I suspect that you have ignored this because it really cuts the heart out of your supposed mechanism for evolution. More on that later.
THINGS THAT ANGER ME
Getting back to the ideas that you do bring up, let me say frankly that there are several things that make me truly angry. I realize that you have strict expectations for scientific discourse that discourage "colorful" language and I am sure that they also frown on the expression of emotion. I have seen emotion expressed, however, in scientific interchange, similar to what Will Rogers spoke of in political discourse. For example, a Senator is addressed as "The Esteemed Senior Senator from�" when the tone of voice and context might as well have substituted "The Polecat from �." Yet I will be frank because I think it is better to be open than to be obscure in this case.
One thing that angers me is your continuous redefining of your goals in presenting certain pieces of evidence to such narrow and uncontestable conditions that it actually does not even help your case. This is true with the example of antibody mutation which I will address yet again in more detail later. I have pointed out that this is controlled hypermutation under the direction of extremely sophisticated cellular machinery, for a very specific task and is nothing like raw mutations anywhere else in the cell producing new features or capabilities. You have responded that all you wanted to show is that mutation can lead to increased fitness of the antibodies in this special situation and that by doing so you have refuted a key creationist claim. The key creationist claim in this area, however, regards raw mutations throughout the genetic material of the cell, the very thing you admit has no correlation with your example. And creationist arguments are better stated as claiming that mutations cannot add information to the cell.
The practice that most angers me, however, is your continued insistence that for me to enter into further meaningful dialogue with you I must bash Gish. You claim that the vast catalogue of offenses of commission and omission which you have painstakingly collected must be criticized and denounced to prove that I have high standards of scholarship. In addition to being maddening, it is truly puzzling to me that a man of science would not be able to simply deal with the concepts and their interpretation without having to constantly snap back to character assassination and well poisoning.
That is, it is puzzling until I realize that this is key to your whole approach to the issue of origins. If one side is not worth listening to, if their arguments only sound plausible because they are slick con artists and if every one of their spokesmen is some sort of subhuman creature who need not be taken seriously, then you are not required to deal with the ideas on their own merit. Now, of course, there is no logical basis for that conclusion. If a madman says that 2 + 2 = 4, it is still true. Your second line of defense against having to truly evaluate outlying ideas is the criteria of publication in the mainstream journals, which I will deal with later. But I truly believe that at the core, your responses and actions flow from the fact that you accept and promote the "Inherit the Wind" stereotype of creationists.
Let me say this, I will not play your game. If you want to use that as an excuse for bowing out of this discussion, so be it, but deep down inside I think there is enough of a conscience in you to feel a bit guilty about using "ad homonym" as your number one strategy in dealing with what is really a set of ideas that scream for attention.
You claim to not have learned anything meaningful from Dr. Gish, and that may be true on a superficial level, but the whole evolution camp has indeed learned something from the creation camp, although you have probably not thought about it. You, and many other evolutionists, admit that there is no scientific evidence - not even a plausible scenario - for a naturalistic mechanism of abiogenesis. You claim that you can ignore this and simply assume the presence of life (and I will again come back to that later) but the fact is that you are agreeing with the MAIN POINT of creationist challenge to a naturalistic origin of all things. You have narrowed your scope and claim that abiogenesis has nothing to do with evolution, yet the most enthusiastic proponents of evolution have always been those who claim that we now have a total package that accounts for everything starting with the Big Bang and ending up with everything from quasars to movie stars.
This is why Stanley Miller's trivial synthesis of organic compounds from methane and ammonia was hailed as the formation of the building blocks of life. Yet is was mostly creationists, along with a few other courageous thinkers, who pointed out the unbridgeable gap between those building blocks and the incredible complexity of the "simplest" living creature. In fact this has been point number one on Dr. Gish's debates all these years. You actually agree with him! Did you once believe otherwise? Or are you an unusual evolutionist who always saw and was never shy to admit that there was no hope of putting together a plausible scenario for that leap?
Why can you not say, "Dr. Gish's main point was true and he deserves thanks along with the many other brave creationists who continued to mention the emperor's lack of adequate apparel despite criticism, ostracism and persecution?" Perhaps the reason is that you cannot allow yourself to admit that any creationist idea has merit for fear of allowing the dam to burst.
YOUR OVERALL POSITION ON "CREATION SCIENCE"
Thank you for summarizing your overall position on "creation science" as it does indeed help to see how your individual arguments fit into place. Let me respond to them individually.
1. "Creationism is only one of many minority views�." You imply that if the evidence for creation were allowed in the public schools, we would also have to admit the flat earthers, the "chariots of the gods" advocates who believe UFO inhabitants designed the pyramids, as well as an unnamed hoard of other minority views. This argument is often thrown out in broad sweep to indicate that there are myriads of these flaky ideas waiting for admission to the forum.
But I ask you, where are all these people and their organizations? Where are the demands to be included in curricula? One "Flat Earth Society" on the internet has this in its description:
"The Society asserts that the Earth is flat and has five sides, that all places in the Universe named Springfield are merely links in higher-dimensional space to one place, and that all assertions are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true false and meaningless in some sense. The Society was founded in 1993 by Lee H.'. O.'. Smith�."
I have no idea how many members they include, but I suspect that it would be hard to hold a discussion with someone of this persuasion and think that most likely it is a tongue in cheek parody. I did not see them clamoring for inclusion in school curricula, and in fact, they accept members only by nomination. One project is to affix labels to objects that state, "WARNING: THIS OBJECT DOES NOT EXIST".
Yet, as it turns out, the flat earth argument is indeed dealt implicitly if not explicitly within any school course that covers astronomy or geography or shows pictures from space. Courses dealing with navigation discuss the concept of the horizon. Some math courses show the method of calculating the diameter of the earth by triangulation using the angle of the sun in two places of known distance at a single moment in time. Thus, whether flat earth is mentioned or not, evidence is used to support the spherical earth. It is not simply stated that because the proponents of the flat earth are flaky, we need not deal with their position.
Actually, some courses on antiquity do deal with the UFO hypothesis and nowadays, it may not be hard to find a few professorial types, even evolutionary minded historians, who may give some credence to this theory, partly because of their prejudice that ancient man was primitive and unsophisticated and unlikely to have the technology and knowledge to design and build some of the Wonders of the World. Where it is discussed negatively, for the most part, evidence is used and especially evidence against the rash conclusions by Erich von Daniken in his "Chariots of the Gods" series.
As to admission of "New Age" ideas and teachings into the public schools, I will attest to the fact that they have a stronghold in many schools, and not just in California where you might expect anything, but even here in (previously thought to be sensible/solid ) Minnesota. The Minneapolis Public Schools, beginning in the late 1980's, promoted a New Age health program where the students "visualize themselves well." See my descriptions of this at http://rossolson.org/new_age/guided_imagery.html and how I found it difficult to get the school officials to even look at the program and its implications. We finally had to contact some of the sources of funding (who were not fully aware of what they were supporting) to hinder its spread. No, the schools do not limit themselves to hard core tested and true science or even to curricula with measurable results.
And the main reason that your analysis is faulty is that you fail to notice some fundamental principles of logic. The Universe as we know, and each component part of it, are either results of natural processes - including chance and natural law - or they are the result of an outside intelligent organizing influence. There are no other possibilities. If you can think of any, let me know. So the point is that if there is evidence against a natural origin, that is de facto evidence for design! You will notice, if you follow the actions of the political correctness thought police, that some public school teachers have been disciplined or even fired for simply including evidence against naturalism without necessarily making the connection with creation explicit. (See "Heresy Trials" by Candi Cushman from World on the Web, August 18, 2001 at http://www.worldmag.com/world/issue/08-18-01/cover_1.asp). You can bet that the teacher's tormentors know what it meant, however.
The point of all this is that the only way that you can exclude evidence for creation from the science curriculum is that you exclude all evidence against naturalism. Now, if you want to claim that there is no such evidence, I would have to ask you to take your head out of the sand. The educational method that promotes critical thinking and allows progress in scholarship is open to all the evidence and does not hide it from the students. To do otherwise is indoctrination and ought to be soundly rejected by all honest educators.
1. 2. and 3. You claim that "publication in the peer-reviewed professional scientific journals should be a requirement for any view to be represented in the science classroom." You further assert that claims by creationists to have been rejected for inappropriate reasons are invalid and thus indicate "failure of 'creation scientists' to meet the minimum standards of scholarship."
This is a neat way to limit your area of responsibility, but has some real problems that you do not address. The first, as I have tried to just point out, is that any evidence against a naturalistic origin of ANYTHING is automatically evidence for its creation, so you are unable to exclude the topic even as you exclude the arguments and evidence.
Secondly, you seem to have a faith in the establishment that is unjustified by a fair reading of the history of science or scholarship. At the time of Francis Bacon, the Universities were dominated by Aristotelian Scholasticism to the point that the experimental method was effectively locked out. It was for this reason that the "Natural Philosophy Societies" arose as an alternative forum for the discussion and publication of these results. As near as I can tell, if you were transported back in time, you would have fortified yourself within one of those Universities and railed against the "rash innovators" who failed to follow established rules of argument. (As a footnote, those Natural Philosophy Societies became the "Royal Societies" which now, ironically, have become as closed as the Universities that opposed them in the beginning - for they have locked out any consideration of design.)
You have stated that creationists only speak to lay audiences and learn only by hearsay. I suppose this misunderstanding is reasonable since your only creationist contact is with Dr. Gish in debate before a lay audience and because you do not want to get within 10 feet of any creationist literature. But, therefore, since you are unaware of Creationist research and scholarship, I have taken the liberty of sending you a one year subscription to both Creation Research Society Quarterly and Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal. I hope that even if you only glance at them, you will notice that these are peer reviewed journals with conflicting viewpoints, academic interchanges, progress of understanding by accumulated research and healthy consideration of contrary evidence.
In your response to the articles by Robert Gentry, you note that only in his last published paper did he hint that his findings challenged the standard chronology. This is true, even though his work carried that implication all along. Yet, when he dared to make the statement explicitly, he was cut off and no further work was published. His position at the Oak ridge National Laboratory was also terminated. Your comments regarding revolutionary research notwithstanding, of course, if something challenges a deeply entrenched set of concepts, it deserves to be looked at critically. But the way to do that is not to remove the offending author and his work from the mainstream! I will come back to the dating question later.
You also comment, offhandedly, that Gentry's work may include religious motivations and thus be suspect. Have you not noticed that some of the most prominent evolutionary spokesmen have a very poorly concealed religious motivation - to prove that there is NO God. I think that you have rightly spoken out against that position, but you still quote from the works of some of them. And, think for a minute, what if someone really did come upon evidence for the existence of God and subsequently that God is also interested in a personal relationship with human beings and this person entered into that real and important relationship? If he then tried to point to the same evidence to convince another person of the reality of what he had already found to be true, is it suddenly false and/or improper because it includes "religious motivation"?
And, just to tweak you a bit - and you deserve it, you know - do not forget that "Origin of Species" and Darwin's other major works were not published in a peer previewed format.
In explaining your purpose in publishing the "Fitness" essay, you state that you were not trying to "prove" evolution or even "outline evidence that supports it." Boy, that sure answers my argument that it has no application to the creation evolution controversy! You say all you are trying to do is show that "creation science" arguments are erroneous and reflect poor scholarship. You are getting so slippery that you have faked yourself out. You also said that you had disproved what you consider a major creationists tenet, that mutations cannot improve fitness. Now, is that not an attempt at supporting evolution? If so, my arguments about the lack of congruity apply. You cannot have it both ways.
And your little "by the way" statement about not needing to prove evolution because that has been done elsewhere needs a closer look. You realize that many consider your work to be conclusive proof of evolution. What if all the "other proofs" that you cite are similarly flawed? What if you are all standing around in a big circle pointing to each other and none has the conclusive argument? You used this tack when I mentioned the many areas of evidence that challenge an old earth. Yes, those others do need to be looked at. But the logical advantage is on my side. One conclusive proof of design trumps all the plausible scenarios of natural origin and one conclusive case for a young earth overturns all the old age arguments.
To briefly touch on the age issue, I know this is not your area of expertise, but I think you realize that to use radioactive dating, assumptions must be made about the initial conditions and the intervening time. For example, if element X decays into Y with a half life of 1 billion years and you find a 50/50 mixture of X and Y in a rock, you can assume that 1 billion years have passed since the solidification of that rock only if you know that the rock started with all X and no Y, that neither X nor Y have leaked in or out during the presumed 1 billion years and that the decay rate has not appreciably changed. None of these assumptions is a logical given.
Even the isotope isochrons, a supposedly mathematical method to factor out these concerns, has been shown to confuse mixing of magmas of differing makeup with ancient age. (See "Still No Proof of Ancient Age" by William Overn and Russell Arndts at /articles/isochrons.html, also see "Isochron Rock Dating Is Fatally Flawed" by William Overn at /articles/isochrons2.html) And the certifiably erroneous dates given to volcanic rocks of known ages, such as from Mt. St. Helens, shows that the methods cannot be trusted for rocks of unknown ages. Radiometric dating is the gold standard only because it can be made to give the "right" ages, although experts know that many dates are rejected because "they do not fit with established theory."
And any one of the low tech methods of estimating the earth's age, if conclusive, could easily displace the radiometric dates with all their excess baggage. (See "The Young Earth" by Henry M. Morris, Ph.D. http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-017.htm).
For example, the solute concentration of the ocean indicates a young age. (See "The Sea's Missing Salt: A Dilemma For Evolutionists" by Steven Austin Ph.D and Russell Humphreys Ph. D. /articles/ocean_sodium.html) Even if it is assumed that the primordial ocean were fresh and the rates of solute influx were no greater than at present and the rates of removal were no less than at present, and even generously assuming every condition to be favorable to an old ocean, an absolute maximum age of no more than 62 million years can be calculated. Why is the ocean not like the Dead Sea or worse? Where did the excess salt go if it has been pouring in for billions of years? There are very few ways for soluble minerals to escape the ocean and the calculations can be done with reasonable accuracy. Here is one question that challenges standard chronology and is rarely if ever dealt with.
Another age argument is the pressure in oil wells, that ought to have dissipated over thousands if not millions of years. Also, the viscosity of rock should have allowed the mountains on the geologically inactive moon to slump like glass in old buildings.
The origin of comets and their placement - so many with orbits only extending as far as Jupiter - is not explained by the Oort or Kuyper hypotheses. (See "Comets and the Age of the Solar System" by Danny Faulkner, Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal, 11(3):264-273, 1997 http://answersingenesis.org/docs/4108.asp) And by the way, since you distain giving inaccurate information to lay audiences unequipped to evaluate it, you ought to be absolutely livid about the certainty with which science reporters convey speculative material to the public. The Oort Cloud is written of as a fact when it is only a conjecture and does not even explain the data of comet periods and orbits.
Although I do not expect you to necessarily review and critique all these articles which are obviously outside of your main areas of interest and expertise, I hope that you do notice that these are scholarly writings, most of which are published in peer reviewed journals within the creationist community. I ask you to step outside of your prejudices and consider that if it is indeed true that creationist material is censored from the mainstream literature, then this is essentially a shadow system which functions, based on its own presuppositions, just as appropriately as the system within the naturalistic community.
As to whether evolutionists or creationists do a better job correcting errors, I think there is blame on both sides. The example of the rotting carcass of a supposed plesiosaur, pulled up by a Japanese fishing boat in 1977 is now in doubt in the creationist literature and could have been a rotting basking shark, although there are conflicting analyses on this. (See "Letting Rotting Sharks Lie: Further Evidence That The Zuiyo-maru Carcass Was A Basking Shark, Not A Plesiosaur" by Pierre Jerlstr�m and Bev Elliot http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/4216cen_m1999.asp and "New Zuiyo Maru Cryptid Observations: Strong Indications It Was a Marine Tetrapod" by John Goertzen http://www.creationresearch.org/crsq/articles/38/38_1/Cryptid.htm).
There still are books around which show the pictures and cannot easily be recalled, however, I would hope that if the evidence comes down clearly on the side of a shark, new editions will delete and correct the assumption that it was a plesiosaur. Yet Haeckel's doctored embryo drawings have continued to be printed in new high school and college textbooks for a hundred years after their public denunciation as "doctored" and, yes, they ARE cited as evidence for evolution - "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny."
Is it begging the question to claim that "evidence for design ought to point to a designer"? Your support for this accusation is such a beautiful example of obfuscation that I will reprint it in its entirety.
"What we have in living organisms is evidence for astoundingly complex mechanisms that perform complex adaptive functions, which resemble in some respects mechanisms designed by intelligent humans. But evolutionists believe that this resemblance is misleading; they hypothesize that astoundingly complex mechanisms that perform complex adaptive functions can arise by evolutionary mechanisms from simpler organisms without intelligent design. Therefore, unless you exclude the evolutionary hypothesis a priori by begging the question, there is no "evidence for design" in the sense of evidence that compels belief in origin through intelligent agency as opposed to origin by evolutionary mechanisms."
Let me get this straight, evidence for design does not have point to a designer because you have a hypothesis! All you need is a plausible scenario and the argument is over! Did you notice the word "believe" in the pivotal position? As a belief system, insulated from the rules of evidence, I think that evolution has no place in the public schools!
All you need is a hypothesis?!? Stop for a minute and look at that. How can you sign your name to such drivel? I am stopped for speeding and tell the officer that I have a hypothesis that the tooth fairy altered the readings on his radar and therefore I am not guilty. You can have your hypothesis but then we have to apply the rules of evidence. Where do we see "evolutionary mechanisms" producing those "astoundingly complex mechanisms"? Until you clarified for me, I had thought you claimed your hypermutation of antibodies and Dawkins' computer evolution were intended to be evidence. Then, after I went to all the trouble to refute them, I was told that you did not mean them to be evidence of that at all, only evidence that creationists are all wrong. (I am still confused about how that is not intended to support evolution, but I will accept your explanation because it leaves you with no evidence except what has been elsewhere "well achieved." I guess you better break down and tell me about those proofs.)
It is also important to note again at this time the prominent omission of any discussion related to Michael Behe's work, published in his book, "Darwin's Black Box," on the concept of irreducible complexity. Now, of course, I have just given you an easy exit by saying "book" because, as we are well aware by now, you only read refereed literature. But to reject these powerful ideas on that basis is like the judge saying, "We have to free the mass murderer because his conviction included a confession without the presence of a defense lawyer - even though he had the bloody ax in his hand and a dozen victims at his feet at the time!"
You have stated that you believe small mutations, or duplication and differentiation, can slowly produce new information and new structures, even though you deny that you meant to support that by your citation of hemoglobin and myoglobin or any of your other examples. Behe has shown how this is impossible because an irreducibly complex structure must be complete to be functional and cannot be produced by small steps and gradual approximations. Since you have not shown any examples of how this is happening in nature, the very least you can do is show how your hypothesis can come up with a truly reasonable scenario.
In other words, you need to show how a bacterial flagellum can be built by small changes in successive generations, each of which would survive because it is of selective advantage to that individual. You cannot be satisfied with any step that is merely neutral because that would most likely be eliminated by chance and certainly cannot accept any deleterious steps since they would certainly be eliminated. That is all I ask for starters. If you can do so, then you will have shown that Behe's hypothesis cannot be accepted on the basis of logical necessity as creationists claim, but needs to be tested by experiment.
Then I propose that you test it and prove that new structures can arise in short lived creatures. I have an idea!! Maybe you could irradiate successive generations of fruit flies or bacteria! Maybe something wonderful would arise!
As to my many "misunderstandings" of your statements, let us look at one. It gets into the sort of "I said; you said" nonsense that I find futile, but this one is so glaringly misleading that it begs for rebuttal. You quote these statements.
"You see hyper-mutation in a small, precisely controlled and limited portion of the DNA and jump to the conclusion that everything is mutation."
"If random mutation of everything were our only means of defense [as you imply], we would indeed die. "
"Therefore, it is deceptive to say that mutations are the only source of immunity or even the main mechanism."
You then countered with this statement:
"I have never concluded that 'everything is mutation.' I have never said that somatic mutation was our 'only means of defense' 'the only source of immunity or even the main mechanism.' In fact, I have pointed out that there are many other mechanisms that contribute to defense against infection. You have somehow ignored or misunderstood what I said at the debate and what I wrote in our exchanges, and you attribute to me ideas that are incorrect. "
This is all in the context of your interchanges with Dr. Gish and what he said and did not say and what he knew and did not know and what you intend to prove by your example of hypermutation and what you do not intend to prove. Let me put together a reasonable scenario and see if we can leave these little word games forever. After all, how can you argue with a reasonable scenario?
When you presented your hypermutation example of antibody affinity, Dr. Gish concluded that you meant that this was our only means of defense and said essentially that it would not be sufficient to save us from infection. Remember, you have pointed out that there are "generic antibodies" of moderate affinity, produced by gene shuffling, which do start the cycle towards increased affinity and final victory over the foreign invader. Even if Dr. Gish did not mention "Complement" or the other components of the immune system, can you accept that he meant that our immune system has to have more than mutation going for it in order to protect us? If you insist on trying to continue to make points out of claiming that he did not know about the other parts of the immune system, then you really are terribly hard up for points and really to be pitied.
But, let us back up for a minute and see how, because you seem to have the "What Did Gish Know" issue stuck in your craw, you misinterpret my statement, "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 respond as if I said that mutation was our only means of immune defense. If you had looked at the rest of my paragraph, you would have seen what I was driving at.
"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. "
What I was talking about is your belief that mutations (or duplication and differentiation, or whatever other variation on the theme that you want to come up with) are the way essentially everything in a living cell has come about. Now, to be sure, this was written in my pre enlightenment days, before I knew that you were not trying to prove evolution with your carefully chosen and described examples, but the fact remains, that is where you believe all these "astoundingly complex mechanisms that perform complex adaptive functions" actually came from. Thus you really DO believe that the immune system, with all those non-antibody portions, as well as the whole framework within which hypermutation takes place, all originated by mutations! Thus you really DO believe that mutation is everything. Now, perhaps, you do not believe that because of the work you have done in hypermutation, but rather on the basis of all those other pieces of evidence that you feel have already proven evolution so you would not need to even if you had intended to.
You also challenged my statements "mutations often end the whole experiment by destroying the system" and "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." You responded by saying:
"Of course dead organisms do not evolve. What makes you think I don't "see that"? But the entire population doesn't die if one organism suffers a lethal mutation. Rather the population evolves as selection operates to enhance the survival of individuals with mutations producing traits that are advantageous in the environment."
I am afraid I have to remind you of the view of evolution you have told us you believe in. You have said that small changes are accumulated into major adaptive features for the organism. This means that those small changes have to be preserved. As I said in connection with Behe's work, and as I have challenged you to show in a stepwise manner, there must be an unbroken chain of small but selectably superior changes along any evolutionary path.
If the organism that has the mutations leading to a new feature - flagella or flight or prehensile thumbs - gets eliminated, it does not matter if the whole rest of the population survives! You may counter that you assume that the favorable mutation has spread to the whole (or a large proportion of the) population, so it does not matter if one is lost. But remember, it starts out with one, and if that one has no selective advantage and is eliminated by chance because it is neutral, or if it is eliminated because it is deleterious and has selective disadvantage, then your progress is lost. You must have unbroken selective advantage at every stage for the myriads of features seen in living organisms, including the whole makeup of the immune system. Since you cannot show it happening, you have to AT LEAST show a plausible scenario. It is the least that you can do, and don't skip any steps.
MEANINGFUL AREAS OF DISCUSSION
To move on from here we come to what I consider your most commendable positions and what you consider my most interesting questions. As opposed to most evolutionists with whom I have interacted, you are NOT a doctrinaire materialist. Some go so far as to say that admission of the supernatural into consideration is not only a sign of intellectual weakness but also a precursor to the end of scientific civilization as we know it. To your credit, you admit the logical possibility that the supernatural might exist and even give a gently nodding assent to the distant possibility that it might be important.
You do not oppose creation, although you seem to think of it as a religious belief that does not intersect with science.
"I said repeatedly at the debate that I respect the belief in creation and do not at all oppose it at all as a religious belief. I even held up a Bible and recommended it as a valuable resource for the faithful. Do you disagree with my position that the Bible is the best source for studying creation? What I continue to oppose is not the religious idea of creation, but bad science; and bad science is what I hear from creation "scientists," as in the examples that you avoid discussing."
What I honestly need to know is whether you think it theoretically possible that "good science" could be done from a creationist perspective or whether the two are mutually exclusive. There is a popular position on the partition of reality into the scientific and the religious. In that perspective, science deals with demonstrable facts and religion deals with "meaning." On closer dissection, it also delegates to science the verifiable and to religion only the subjective. Is that your view?
That particular view also fits quite nicely with our post modernist view that something can be "true for you, but not for me." It seems tolerant and humane. Of course, we do not apply it to measurable things such as bank accounts and road maps. We do not allow our financial consultant to have a different view than we do on the sum of 2 + 2 and we do not appreciate diversity among airline navigators when we want to land in Chicago and not in "whatever."
The creationist view, as a subdivision of a Christian view of reality and history, is that the Universe is a Unity. Reality is real and the same for all of us although we may see it differently. The law of cause and effect operates in the spiritual realm as well as the physical and it all comes back to the nature of God Who created and sustains all things.
Thus, there is no artificial division between the scientific and the religious. Now perhaps you have only been turned off by what you see to be bad examples of research and scholarship by those carrying the creationist banner, and that may be sadly true. But I hope as you look at some of the publications I am sending you that you will see that there is sophisticated work being done that may change your overall impression of the movement.
The Biblical creationist believes that understanding of creation comes both from the Bible and from nature. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Chapter One, indicates that the Apostle believed (and to the Christian who also accepts the Scripture as inspired by the Holy Spirit, that God believes) that nature is so clear in pointing to the necessity of a Creator and so explicit in delineating something of His eternal power and divine nature, that those who refuse to acknowledge are "without excuse." It even goes on to say that because of this, those people will be abandoned by God to become fools, even as they think themselves wise, and to become victims to their most base nature.
I think we have empirical evidence of that in such notable figures as Princeton Ethicist Peter Singer who has concluded that the traditional prohibition of sex with animals is a reflection of "speciesism" - we just think we are better! He then goes on to discuss sex with chickens. He probably does not live by his philosophy because we already know that despite his teaching the obligation to sacrifice the useless for the good of the useful, he still supports his aged mother who is suffering from Alzheimer's.
I want to clarify the options in dealing with religious claims. It is not really possible to automatically assign them to the subjective realm of defense mechanisms or coping techniques - the sort of view that says (as does our remarkable governor of Minnesota) "OK, you are not strong enough to face reality so you have to believe in rewards beyond the grave." Nor is it enough to note that without some sort of fear of divine retribution, it may be hard to control the masses and produce a safe society - the sort of view that tends to say, "It is good that they will all be sheep, but those of us `in the know' might just decide to be wolves."
Thus I applaud you for admitting the logical necessity that there might be a supernatural and want to sharpen the focus on what that really means. At one point you stated, however, that you were repulsed by the idea of the "God of the gaps." In other words, when a phenomenon did not have a known natural explanation, if someone claimed this to be evidence for a supernatural explanation, you were not going to easily accept that logical jump. This position is usually bolstered by the claim that in the past we did not have explanations for things like eclipses or nuclear forces and since now we do, if God would have been postulated as the cause, His realm would be shrinking.
I have tried to deal with that idea, perhaps clumsily, and the next example jumps ahead to part of the answer to a question you put to me, namely how would I be able to detect the supernatural. Since I am recovering from a serious injury (in which I see the providence of God, see thttp://rossolson.org/family/falls_angels.html) I have more time on my hands than usual and read a publication that I usually simply shelf, namely the American Scientific Affiliation's Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. What I found was an article entitled "In Favor of Gods-of-the-Gaps Reasoning" by David Snoke. (See reprinted at http://snoke2.phyast.pitt.edu and click on "Gaps.pdf"), Dr. Snoke articulately conveys what I had vaguely appreciated, namely that this is a completely logical and defensible method of reasoning, and that the cautions are not really as concerning as the critics maintain.
Another response you made, in your section on Robert Gentry, is that you would find it hard to believe that God had created a world with "the appearance of age" which would have been somewhat deceptive (and that only Robert Gentry, after thousands of years, was able to find the key to unlock the mystery.) I have wrestled with this concern during the time that I had accepted the evidence for design but still could not see the evidence for a young age.
Yet, suppose God created an adult couple, Adam and Eve, and introduced them to you who were allowed to return to that time as an observer, and asked you, "How old do you think they are?" From your perspective, you would have probably guessed whatever you consider the perfect adult age to be, whether that be 20 or 30 or a youthful but wise 40 (I would really argue with you if you started to exceed 50.) But God would say, Adam is 12 hours old, and Eve is quite a bit younger, only about 15 minutes. Would you say, "But God, that is deceptive because they look older?" He might say, "It is only deceptive to the one who does not hear the explanation. I could not create helpless infants or impulsive children, but of necessity, because of my purpose, created competent adults. By the way, did you notice the lack of belly buttons?"
Likewise, a full sized tree might look decades or centuries old, whether it had been created in situ or made to grow at a greatly accelerated rate (with or without growth rings). And what is it that makes a landscape appear mature or old except our preconceptions concerning what it takes to cause it to appear that way. The island of Surtsey, off the coast of Iceland, appeared as a new volcanic eruption and within a few decades had the appearance of a "normal" landscape including fauna and flora. Similar things have been seen in the aftermath of Mount St. Helens eruption. So it is not possible to say that a certain landform must of necessity take millions of years to develop.
IDENTIFYING THE SUPERNATURAL
You have done some commendable thinking on the detection of the supernatural which I will reprint here before going on the answer a bit more of your question as to how I propose to detect the supernatural and how this leads into the Biblical understanding of the concept of faith.
"It seems to me that two classes of supernatural manifestations can be imagined. There could be supernatural manifestations that don't violate our understanding of naturalistic science (for example, nudging mutations in a particular direction, causing lightning or an earthquake to strike at a particular place), a kind of hidden influence over apparent chaos. For such examples that do not violate our understanding of naturalistic science, there can be no scientific evidence for or against supernatural intervention. That's why I don't rule out the supernatural in such case, though I don't know how anyone could deduce supernatural intervention in the same examples without reference to a faith-based framework."
"Then as a second class, there could be supernatural intervention that does violate our understanding - a miracle? For me to accept such an example as a product of the supernatural, it would have to be well-documented, and alternative interpretations would have to be fairly considered but ruled out. As examples of alternate interpretations I would consider:"
"1. lies by those who report the event (if I did not witness it myself) 2. embellishment of a true naturalistic event (especially if the story of the apparent miracle was handed down through many intermediaries and if no original contemporary documentation survives) 3. magic tricks, i.e. conjuring intentionally designed to be deceiving. The "miracles" witnessed by the faithful at the Oracle of Delphi apparently fell into that category, as do the "miraculous recoveries" faked by unscrupulous faith healers in our day. (I have witnessed many magic tricks that I cannot explain so I know I can be fooled by well-executed deception.) 4. hallucinations, misinterpretations or various forms of self-delusion regarding naturalistic phenomena that were not engineered to deceive 5. examples of naturalistic phenomena whose explanation is known, but not known to me 6. examples of naturalistic phenomena whose explanation is not known by anyone, implying that our understanding of science needs to be expanded, but not necessarily that the phenomena need to be attributed to the supernatural 7. a true supernatural event"
I agree with your logical analysis and maintain that what the Bible calls faith is not qualitatively different from what you have described. God does not want people to believe just anything but rather to believe the truth. He wants them to acknowledge His existence, not as a blind acceptance of something that does not make sense but as a logical conclusion from experience. Creation does indeed point to a Creator. Philosophers can get all tangled up in hard core skepticism that claims we can never know anything with certainty, but that is not the way we live. We assume that the objects and people in our lives are real and react to situations appropriately without getting into a mental Gordian knot every time we have to do something. We even eat our meals in faith that we are not being poisoned - unless, of course, some evidence interjects itself to the contrary.
God did not give brownie points to the prophets of Baal who were sincerely serving their god, an evil being who demanded human sacrifice and promoted sexual libertinism. And God did not expect those who served and obeyed Him to do so without a basis. Rather, He identified Himself as the God who brought Israel out of Egypt with powerful signs and miracles that added up to a pretty good confirmation of the supernatural. He then gave them His Law, which resonated with their consciences as a clear statement of how people ought to live.
In the New Testament, God identified Himself as the God Who raised Jesus from death, a powerful sign to those who were there and even a compelling historical argument to those who examine the claims in detail and look at the results in the lives of those who took the message and went out to change the world, even being willing to die for their claims. This is opposed to the faulty understanding of faith that is so common today, that it is something that affects you emotionally because you believe it regardless of whether it is really true, or the New Age concept that it is a reality that you create in your mind.
Once a person has become convinced of the reality of God and of the veracity of His revelation, for example through the Bible, there will points at which action needs to be taken that are consistent with that belief. This is where faith gets feet. For example, if I really believe that the spiritual realm is more important than the physical realm, that it is more important to do right and suffer for it than to gain rewards in this life, I may be faced with situations where I have to demonstrate that faith by taking a risk. For example, and to fast forward to a question similar to the ones you ask at the end of your last response, do I believe that there is an evil spiritual realm that affects human beings? The answer to that is that I do, as the Bible describes. (Further discussion of this and your other specific questions is kept for another time.) Are there unknowns and complications in making judgments in specific cases? Yes, I agree there are.
Yet there were two times when I was confronted by the possibility of spiritual evil in a patient and I responded in a way I thought appropriate, although there are ways to second guess the specific response. But, simply by entertaining the possibility, I was charged before the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, which issues my license to practice medicine, with, at first, insanity, then, after further review, mere incompetence. (See http://rossolson.org/new_age/insane.html) Because of my conviction that I was right in principle, as a physician who is also a Christian, to consider this diagnosis, despite being far outside the scope of usual medical practice, I would not agree to "never do it again," and I determined to support the decision. Many people prayed and although it was the intention of those on the other side to make an example of me, the result was in both cases dismissal of the charges. To me, it felt like walking out of the lions' den without a scratch seeing the lions confused and frustrated.
In my own life, although I was raised in a Christian home, I came to a crisis of faith where I had to re examine the basis for my faith. I was depressed and in despair over defects and deficiencies in my own life and considered that I had probably just made up the whole idea of God. Yet when I considered the Universe, looking up from the bottom, it seemed that if there were no God, nothing made any sense. Yes, there was design, and although it was mixed with evil and suffering, there was also beauty. And even the possibility of decision was impossible if I were nothing but a series of bouncing molecules, for which one could truly make another bounce a different way. And what of this longing for meaning? If absurdity were the only reality, why did I want there to be more? Therefore, although I did not understand why I had to go through mental suffering, I cried out to God and offered Him the broken pieces of my life for whatever He could make of them.
The Bible became believable to me for a mixture of reasons, including its powerful message that we are not accidents but creations of a loving God Who treasures each of us. The problem of evil was explained by God's decision to give us free will, free to disobey as well as to obey, and the fact that we have all used our will perversely. This allowed evil to enter and fall not only on those who deserve it but also on the innocent. Although this leaves us with the question of why God would created a world destined to go sour, still we see that He is big enough to use the evil to bring people to the end of themselves and into recognition of their deep need for a relationship with Him. And most of all, the problem of sin and its just penalty allowed Him to show the depth of His love by becoming one of us, living as a man, suffering and dying, taking the punishment we deserved so that by accepting His forgiveness, we are allowed to be restored to fellowship with Him.
Since my acceptance of this as fact and my determination to live with these spiritual realities foremost in my mind, I have seen many circumstances fall into place, such as the ones I have mentioned. When I started with my present HMO job, just after returning from the mission field, I was very open about my faith and felt it to be completely appropriate to talk about the meaning of life to those who were in despair or overwhelmed by life's surprises. There was some opposition from the management and even from some fellow Christian doctors who said that although it might be ideal, in the real world of a secular organization, it was not possible. They are wonderful people and I respect them for many reasons, but in this area, I think they had compromised. I, for my part, could not picture myself standing before God to face a question like this, "I sent you a depressed teen who said life had no meaning. Why did you not tell her of Me?" "Well, God, you see it isn't that simple. I really wanted to but it was sort of against unspoken company policy."
As it turned out, the pressure to steer clear of spiritual matters evaporated and now, spirituality, including everything from Shaman to Yoga is allowed, even, grudgingly, Christianity. And, as the company faced reorganization and downsizing, I have been relatively spared the worst consequences and have seen both my practice and my income preserved to a greater degree than most others. A move I made to a different clinic, which at the time seemed to be the "short straw," turned out to be the only road to security. I am not gloating nor was I even doing it for reward, but I see that obedience was rewarded with enough evidence so that I already know it was God's best will for me.
So, I think a lot of territory has been covered. There is the opportunity to stop at this point, go away mad, just go away, or to pick up the profitable threads of the discussion.
If you can see that pursuit of poor creationist scholarship is a pointless trip, then we can discuss ideas. If that is your entrance requirement for further interaction, then I bid you goodbye.
If you desire to stay safely with the herd, sticking to refereed publications, consensus thinking and approved interactions, then you will probably never grow beyond your present level of understanding.
Yet you have the sparks of something more in you, and I suspect that you are capable of sticking your head up above the shoulders of the rest of the herd and noticing that the whole formation is headed off the edge of a dangerous cliff.
Having glimpsed that, will you fear the ridicule of herd more than the real and eternal consequences? Only you can answer.
With genuine affection and concern for the future,