[asa] Re: [asa] Rejoinder 6D From Timaeus for Iain Strachan, Jon Tandy and Others

From: Michael Roberts <michael.andrea.r@ukonline.co.uk>
Date: Mon Oct 20 2008 - 15:11:52 EDT

Re: [asa] Rejoinder 6D From Timaeus - for Iain Strachan, Jon Tandy and OthersDennis

You beat me to it. I have questions of Timaeus over evolution and I feel the crux is that he puts the emphasis on experimental science and does not grasp the difference of historical science and that its conclusions are by =necessity more provisional , though of increasing certainty in many respects.

Michael
  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Dennis Venema
  To: Ted Davis ; asa@lists.calvin.edu
  Sent: Monday, October 20, 2008 8:03 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Rejoinder 6D From Timaeus for Iain Strachan, Jon Tandy and Others

  Hello Timaeus,

  Thanks for the continuing conversation. This will need to be brief, but I have a few comments to make. I may respond more thoroughly as time allows.

  The type of experiments you are suggesting are not possible in most cases for the simple reason that we do not have access to the DNA sequences of every transitional form, let alone full knowledge of their environments in the deep past. If you wish to doubt evolutionary biology until you have such full knowledge, you will wait forever.

  The assertion you seem to be driving is to the effect that current evolutionary theory is incomplete and likely wrong on several important points. I agree. ALL theories in science are incomplete and likely wrong in many important respects. I am reading On the Origin of Species right now, and I am amazed at how correct Darwin was in some areas, and how wrong he was in others (according to current understanding). I do not doubt that, though we are 150 years further down the line, we are still misled in some areas. I do, however, think that we are more right now than we were in Darwin's day - and the general outlines of Darwin's theory of speciation continue to be upheld in ever-increasing detail. Will a reader, some centuries hence (assuming Christ tarries) read current evolutionary literature and have the same response? Absolutely. That is part of the joy of scientific inquiry. If everything were known, what would I put in my next grant application?

  You appear to elevate modern physics, chemistry and engineering to a state of near certainty - but you are wrong to do so. For example, in physics: both quantum field theory and general relativity cannot both be correct in the form they are in now, they are, as I understand it, fundamentally incompatible with each other (though I am not a physicist). In chemistry, you would seem to imply that every intermediate step in chemical reactions is known with certainty - this is not the case. There are many reactions that cannot be absolutely predicted from first principles, as your logic would seem to suggest. Further, there is still much to be learned about atoms and sub-atomic particles, and these unknowns lend uncertainty to both chemistry and physics.

  Now, I doubt that you have theological issues with atomic theory or quantum field theory, but if you did, you could use these scientific shortcomings to reserve your acceptance of these theories until such time as they are more strongly supported or the contradictions are resolved.

  But back to evolution: you may be pleased to know that there is research in evolutionary biology that is addressing the evolution of increased complexity in a completely controlled population. The work of Richard Lenski's lab has been following the evolution of a population of E. Coli in a controlled environment since the 1980s. The work is as rigorous and detailed as you require - essentially you can think of it as a population with a perfect fossil record, and moreover a living fossil record (samples of the population are frozen down and preserved alive in stasis at regular intervals). With the advent of cheap DNA sequencing, it is even possible to sequence the entire genome of bacteria that evolve new traits and compare them to their progenitors. So, biologists are coming closer to your standard every day.

  You can see the work of Lenski's group here:

  http://myxo.css.msu.edu/index.html

  The publications list has several papers that are immensely detailed, and very interesting. The take home message of the work so far supports the hypothesis that evolution is a contingent process and that non-selected mutations can persist in a population for a long period of time before they combine with new mutations to increase fitness (contra the assertions of Behe). I know your reading list is long at the moment, but I particularly commend Lenski's recent paper in PNAS, which can be found freely at the link here:

  http://myxo.css.msu.edu/cgi-bin/lenski/prefman.pl?group=aad

  Best,

  Dennis

    *********************************************

    Dennis Venema wrote, on Sept. 30th:

    "Does Tim really think it is possible to determine the step-by-step progression, one base pair change at a time, with all the selection pressures, allele frequencies in the population, etc., for any "gain" in complexity or function? Yet that is what Behe (and Tim) wants."

    Yes it is what I want; or rather, I want, not an exact historical recounting of what happened (which is and always will be entirely inaccessible to us), but at least a detailed theoretical model of what could have happened, with reference to specific organs, e.g., the eye, the avian lung, etc., and with reference to the specific changes in the genome allegedly responsible for the evolution of those organs, with all relevant developmental and ecological and physiological details included. I want to hear something like this: "Section 14B8A of the second chromosome was altered by the dropping of an A-T pair and the substitution of a G-C pair, and meanwhile down in Section 13765C2 of the third chromosome, eight consecutive G-C pairs were dropped, and this produced, via the following developmental changes (specify ...), the first primitive cornea, and the cornea, though imperfect, gave the creature a selective advantage in approximately 250 million B.C. because the creatures !

     against which it was competing were the A, the B, and the C, and these creatures had eyes like this (specify), and would not have been able to see as well with their older ocular systems as the new creature with the imperfect cornea." That's the level of explanatory detail I want to see. If Darwinism cannot provide this, then its claim to "know" that Darwinian mechanisms caused evolution is simply unjustified, and should be labelled as guesswork at best, or, less charitably, as bluff. So I ask Dr. Venema, since he is a biologist and presumably would not believe that Darwinism is true unless he had seen, in the biological literature, detailed accounts of this sort about how the mechanism works: where is the book which provides even a theoretically possible evolution of the vertebrate eye, proceeding gene by gene, matched up to the evolving physiological structures and datable ecological conditions?

    Am I being unreasonable in expecting this level of explanatory detail? Not at all. Physicists and chemists and engineers have no trouble giving detailed, step-by-step accounts of the processes which they allege to occur in nature. A civil engineer would have no trouble writing a 500-page book describing in detail, with diagrams, all the forces, vectors, stresses, tensions, movement of water molecules, etc., involved in the bursting of a dam. A chemist can describe in detail all the processes and intermediate reactions that occur when a series of chemical are mixed, and can lead the reader step-by-step to the final reaction products, in terms of van der Waals forces, ionic bonding, molecular shapes and polarities, electron sharing, molecular motions inside the solution, energy given off, precipitates generated, etc. If anyone doubts that a dam will burst in such-and-such a way, or that such-and-such a chemical product will be produced under set circumstances, the chemist!

      or engineer can remove all doubt through a straightforward exposition of all the causes at play and how they interact mathematically. Why can't Darwinians do the same?

    To ask the question is to know the answer. Obviously, Darwinists cannot do the same because they do not understand all the causes at play, and/or how to quantify them. But precisely because they do not know these things, they should not be asserting that the Darwinian mechanisms can explain evolution. They should write and speak vastly more tentatively than they do.

    Evolutionary biology is, in my view, the most hypothetical, least quantitative, least precise, least theoretically clear body of theory in all of modern science. It makes grand, sweeping claims about what happened in the past on the basis of a very imperfect understanding of how living things operate in the present. And that has been characteristic of evolutionary theory from the beginning. Darwin had no clue how inheritance operated, but he was sure it could build complex, integrated organs and systems by slow, gradual steps. Ken Miller has no clue how the bacterial flagellum came into existence, except that maybe the Type Three secretory system could have been an intermediate step (even though some evolutionary biologists think that the flagellum evolved earlier than the TTSS!); and he has even less of a clue how the Type Three secretory system itself evolved, but one thing he's sure of, by gosh, is that it must have come into existence through Darwinian processes. !

     As long as biologists substitute wishful thinking of this kind for the empirical determination of mechanisms, evolutionary biology will rightfully remain in the basement of the sciences, and will be publically challenged by parents and teachers and school boards in a way that physics and chemistry never are. In human relations, if you want respect, you have to earn it. It's the same in science. If you want your particular branch of science to enjoy a public monopoly regarding scientific truth, as the Darwinists dearly want evolutionary biology to do, you have to earn that monopoly status by being as good as chemistry or physics. Evolutionary biology is not even a tenth of the way there.

    *****************************************************

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Received on Mon Oct 20 15:12:42 2008

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