Re: Why Phillip Johnson is a Dangerous Man 1/2

From: Stephen E. Jones (
Date: Thu Jan 13 2000 - 18:08:20 EST

  • Next message: Brian D Harper: "Re: Why did progress fail?, etc"


    On Tue, 11 Jan 2000 22:14:42 -0600, Chris Cogan wrote:


    >SJ> May I also take the opportunity to bring to the List's attention some
    >>other recently webbed articles by Johnson:
    > "Phillip
    >E. Johnson is a dangerous man." ....

    CC>He is a dangerous man, in the same sense that all rabble-rousing demagogues
    >are, in a culture already overrun with superstition for people like him to
    >tap into and seemingly justify.

    Chris is an atheist so he has no option but to believe in naturalistic
    evolution. Given that metaphysical starting point, Chris views anyone who,
    like Johnson, believes that God is real and that naturalistic evolution is
    false, as guilty of "superstition".

    If Chris's metaphysical starting point is wrong, and that of Johnson is right,
    then it is *Chris* who is believing in "superstition"!

    CC>Everyone on this list should read the above
    >interview, to see the demagogue at work. His lies begin in his first answer,

    Chris is like Dawkins, who is so convinced that his own metaphysical
    starting point of atheism is right, that he assumes that anyone who doesn't
    believe in its corollary, evolution, simply *must* be guilty of telling "lies"
    (or worse):

    "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to
    believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked,
    but I'd rather not consider that)." (Dawkins R., "Put Your Money on
    Evolution", Review of Johanson D. & Edey M.A,, "Blueprints: Solving the
    Mystery of Evolution", in New York Times, April 9, 1989, sec. 7, p34).

    From my perspective Chris' (and Dawkins') violent overreaction to anyone
    who seriously challenges his basic atheistic metaphysical assumption, seems
    to be a case of a deep-seated insecurity that he might be betting his life on
    the wrong horse!

    CC>when he claims the physically demonstrable falsehood that mutation and
    >selection cannot create genetic information.

    Chris needs to read *carefully* what Johnson said again. First he said it
    was his "starting point". That is, it is his opening claim, which he is
    prepared to discuss and modify based on the evidence presented.

    Second, Johnson did not say that "mutation and selection cannot create
    genetic information", but that "there is no scientific factual evidentiary basis
    to believe that ... mutation and selection-has ... the power to create genetic

    Johnson is summarising a complex issue for a *newspaper* interview. I
    cannot speak for Johnson but I believe, from discussions in another forum,
    that he would probably concede that mutation and selection might be able
    to create small amounts of information in a specialised, technical,
    Information Theory sense. For example, when a gene is duplicated,
    according to Information Theory, there is no new information *content*.
    But then if one of the pair of genes subsequently mutates, that is technically
    the production, of one new bit of information content, in an Information
    Theory sense.

    But such a process is equivalent to our local Sunday Times newspaper
    printing one million copies of its front page as normal and then misprinting
    one "Sundry" for "Sunday". The one million identical copies contain zero
    new information content. But the one misprinted copy is, in a technical
    Information Theory sense, one new bit of information content. But such a
    process would never accumulate enough meaningful information to write
    sentence, let alone a new newspaper!

    Similarly, Johnson would probably say (as I do say) that there is no
    evidence that such a process can produce new genetic information content
    of: 1) the quantity; 2) the quality; and 3) in the time-frame available; to turn
    "a bacterium into a butterfly", any more than misprints in a newspaper's
    can write a new newspaper.

    CC>That this is false has been
    >demonstrated in laboratory environments, and it can be demonstrated in
    >natural conditions as well (it's easy, really: Take a bunch of organisms and
    >their offspring and you will find that some of the offspring do in fact have
    >*more* genetic information than their parents. QED).

    Chris would need to produce *evidence* that just having offspring can
    "create" *new* "genetic information", rather than just shuffle existing
    genetic around.

    And then even if Chris could show that, he would then need to show that
    such creation of new genetic information would be of the: 1) quantity; 2)
    quality; and 3) within the timeframe, necessary to transform one species
    into something qualitatively different taxonomically (e.g. turning an
    ancestral small rodent-like land animal into a whale in only 10 million
    years). That is, with only *10-15 species* between the ancestral rodent-like
    land mammal and a whale:

    "Let us suppose that we wish, hypothetically, to form a bat or a whale
    without invoking change by rapid branching. In other words, we want to
    see what happens when we restrict evolution to the process of gradual
    transformation of established species. If an average chronospecies lasts
    nearly a million years, or even longer, and we have at our disposal only ten
    million years, then we have only ten or fifteen chronospecies to align, end-
    to-end, to form a continuous lineage connecting our primitive little
    mammal with a bat or a whale. This is clearly preposterous. Chronospecies,
    by definition, grade into each other, and each one encompasses very little
    change. A chain of ten or fifteen of these might move us from one small
    rodentlike form to a slightly different one, perhaps representing a new
    genus, but not to a bat or a whale!" (Stanley S.M., "The New Evolutionary
    Timetable", 1981, pp93-94)

    It is one thing to talk *theoretically* of how Darwinian processes of
    mutation and selection might be able to create new information. But it is
    quite another to go to the *actual* history of life, as revealed in the fossil
    record, and claim that the same process, while it might be able to account
    for changes at lower taxonomic levels like Species and Genera, can account
    for the *massive* amounts of new genetic information required change a
    member of a higher taxonomic category (like a Class and Order, let alone a
    Phylum and Sub-phylum) into a member of another, within the timeframes
    allowed by the fossil record.

    To claim that genes can duplicate, go off-line where selection cannot `see'
    them, accumulate new design information by random mutation, then come
    back on-line with whole new design information ready to be slotted back
    seamlessly into the system, is the equivalent of believing in genetic
    miracles, yet this in fact what is now the orthodox Darwinian theory, even
    though it is radically non-Darwinian:

    "But all of evolution cannot consist of changes in genes that are already
    present. Totally new functions have also been added to the biochemical
    repertoires of organisms during evolution. Bacteria do not make muscle
    fibers, bones, hormones, blood antigens, or the host of other structures and
    compounds that make up higher organisms. New genes, in addition to the
    old ones, must be made. It is thought that this occurs as a two-step
    process. First, a gene (or group of genes) is accidentally duplicated so that
    a chromosome now carries an extra copy of it. Because only one good
    copy is needed to produce the original protein, the extra copy is free to
    accumulate mutations without harming the organism. After a time, enough
    changes may have accumulated in the duplicate to give it a new function."
    (Lewontin R.C., "Human Diversity", 1995, p151).

    But this is just hand-waving. It is compatible with an Intelligent Designer
    modifying genes while they are off-line, and then bringing them back
    online, slotting them seamlessly back into the system (just as intelligently
    designed computer program upgrades do), but not with a `blind

    Hoyle critiques this "Evolution by Gene Duplication" theory first proposed
    by the Japanese biochemist Susumu Ohno. First, duplication of genes does
    not produce any markedly new functions and indeed may cause the genome
    to be unable to change:

    "It is possible that tandem duplication of one or several genes could
    produce a marked increase in the amount of genetic material over only a
    few thousand generations, but it is doubtful that any marked functional
    diversity could arise in this way. Indeed, quite the reverse. In writing about
    the lungfish. S. Ohno remarks: `By establishing such a system [tandem
    duplication] the organism effectively forfeited an opportunity for further
    evolution. In a manner of speaking, the genome became frozen, while
    containing enormous genetic redundancy. It is clear that in doing so such a
    lineage reached an evolutional dead end. It will be shown that what
    happened to the lungfish also happened to salamanders and newts....
    Indeed, this side branch stopped dead at the amphibian stage.' (Ohno S.,
    "Evolution by Gene Duplication", 1970, in Hoyle F. & Wickramasinghe C.,
    "Evolution from Space", 1983, p105).

    In particular, Hoyle points out, gene duplications do not provide the
    "sequence of 'quantum jumps' which are needed to account for the
    observed changes "in the forms of plants and animals":

    "At all events, tandem duplication does not solve the evolutionary dilemma.
    It might give a rapid increase in the quantity of genetic material, but it only
    does so by being highly repetitive, and this will not give a sequence of
    'quantum jumps' in the forms of plants and animals, such as is needed to
    provide for the divergent evolutionary branches shown in Figures 6.6 to
    6.10. Repetitions will give some changes, of course, by altering the
    quantities of certain proteins, but, as Ohno remarks in the above quotation,
    the changes are much more likely to be stultifying than to lead to
    adventurous new possibilities." (Hoyle F. & Wickramasinghe C., 1983,

    Indeed, if Ohno's Evolution by Gene Duplication theory was true, it
    required that the duplications *anticipated* changes which would be later
    needed down the track:

    "To speed the fixing of neutral mutations, Dr Ohno requires the ancestral
    breeding group to have been rather small. The free genes then go in
    biochemical directions that have little to do with natural selection. In this
    way a gene can drift, even within a reptile, to a form that will be of later
    use to man. Indeed, the genes are supposed to have drifted to a
    configuration which determined the later evolution of Figure 6.10, and the
    still later evolution of Figure 7.2, not by the need to adapt to the immediate
    environment, but by chance. The chance anticipation of later need
    continued even up the last stage of Figure 7.2. Thus in his concluding
    pages Dr Ohno remarks: `Did the genome of our cave dwelling
    predecessor contain a set or sets of genes which enable modern man to
    compose music of infinite complexity and write novels with profound
    meaning? One is compelled to give an affirmative answer .... It looks as
    though the early Homo was already provided with the intellectual potential
    which was in great excess of what was needed to cope with the
    environment of his time.'

    Dr Ohno was thus led by his resolute respect for the biological facts to
    what seems to us a non-Darwinian position almost as marked as our own.
    The facts, interpreted within a terrestrial theory of the origin and evolution
    of life, force one to suppose not only that chance faced up to the incredibly
    minute probability of discovering the enzymes and other basic biochemical
    substances, a probability we calculated in chapter 2 to be less than 10^40,
    000, but that chance mutations also produced genes which were to prove
    capable of writing the symphonies of Beethoven and the plays of
    Shakespeare. This is the position to which one is inevitably led by following
    an Earth-bound theory, a position that we believe to constitute a reductio
    ad absurdum disproof of that theory." (Hoyle F. & Wickramasinghe C.,
    1983, pp106-108).

    [to be continued in part 2/2)


    "The book of Pierre P. Grasse is a frontal attack on all kinds of
    "Darwinism" Its purpose is "to destroy the myth of evolution as a
    simple, understood, and explained phenomenon," and to show that
    evolution is a mystery about which little is, and perhaps can be,
    known. Now, one can disagree with Grasse hut not ignore him, he is
    the most distinguished of French zoologists, the editor of the 28
    volumes of "Traite de Zoologie", author of numerous original
    investigations and ex-president of the Academie des Sciences. His
    knowledge of the living world is encyclopedic, and his book is replete
    with interesting facts that any biologist would profit by knowing.
    (Dobzhansky T., "Darwinian or `Oriented' Evolution?," review of
    Grasse P.-P., "L'Evolution du Vivant", Editions Albin Michel: Paris,
    1973, in "Evolution", Vol. 29, June 1975, pp376-378).
    Stephen E. Jones | |

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jan 13 2000 - 18:09:46 EST