subscribe to the RSS Feed

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe

Posted by jlwile on February 18, 2010

Simon Conway Morris is a Professor of Evolutionary Paleobiology at the University of Cambridge. Some would call him a “theistic evolutionist,” while others would simply call him an evolutionist who is also a Christian. I would call him an evolutionist who thinks the laws of chemistry and physics were “set up” (by God) to produce evolution, which would end up producing people. While I have never met him, that is the impression I get from reading his book, Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe.

The book presents his rather unique views on evolution in an interesting, entertaining way. Even though he says early on:

…if you happen to be a ‘creation scientist’ (or something of that kind) and have read this far, may I politely suggest that you put this book back on the shelf. It will do you no good. (p. xv)

On the contrary, this book did me a great deal of good. For example, it helped me see how uncertain virtually everything in evolution is. Some of it comes from Morris’s own frank descriptions of just how little is understood in the field of evolution. As just a sample, he says things like:

One such ambiguity is how life itself may have originated. As we shall see (in Chapter 4), there is no reason to doubt that it occurred by natural means, but despite the necessary simplicity of the process, the details remain strangely elusive. (p. 4)

I thought that in Chapter 4, I might see some evidence that life could have formed by natural means. However, that evidence was lacking. Instead, I found a detailed discussion of the origin-of-life research to date, and all of it indicated just how unlikely it is that life originated by natural means. Indeed, throughout Chapter 4, he continues to show how every experiment in origin-of-life research produces pitifully small yields of only some of the simplest chemical building blocks of life, along with a ‘goo’ (his term) of chemicals that would hinder the formation of life. In the end, here is how he summarizes Chapter 4:

Francis Crick can write ‘An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle’…More than two decades on from Crick’s ruminations, however, it still remains the case that the notion of an infinitesimally unlikely series of chemical reactions – that from our perspective can be described only as a ‘near miracle’…remains the unbidden and silent observer at much of the discussion of how life originated. Yet, as Iris Fry (note 85) reminds us, such terminology is effectively that of creationism. Put this way, nearly everyone will ask that the now unwelcome guest should vanish through the adjacent wall…(p. 67)

Once we get into his discussion of how life evolved, it gets even murkier. His main thesis is that there is an enormous amount of convergent evolution in nature. In other words, earth is simply teeming with life forms that look like they are related, but aren’t actually related. When this happens, an evolutionist is forced to reach for some way to “explain around” this fact, since a major tenant in evolutionary theory is that similar appearance implies common ancestry. The explanation typically reached for is that evolution independently produced these similarities along different evolutionary lines. Thus, while similarities are usually indicative of common ancestry, sometimes they are not. When similarities are not the result of common ancestry, they are said to be the result of convergent evolution, which is often called “convergence.”

How does the evolutionist know whether similarities between two organisms indicate common ancestry or just convergence? That’s easy. If evolution can accommodate the idea of common ancestry, the similarities are evidence for common ancestry. If evolution cannot accommodate the idea of common ancestry, the similarities result from convergence. Obviously, this is special pleading. Nevertheless, special pleading doesn’t necessarily mean a hypothesis is wrong. Many good theories contain some amount of special pleading. The problem is, as the amount of special pleading increases, the likelihood of the hypothesis being true diminishes rapidly.

Well, the entire point of this book is neatly summed up by the author himself:

…my thesis is that both the extent and importance of convergence have been consistently underestimated. (p. 285)

Indeed, he makes his case very strongly. He gives example after example of biological structures that are incredibly similar in organisms that cannot be related by a common ancestor with a prototype of that structure. The most widely-cited example is that of the camera eye in people and cephalopods (pp. 151-154). These two camera eyes look remarkably the same, even though no one posits a common ancestor (with a prototype of that eye) between people and cephalopods. Indeed, Morris even pulls in the eye of the alciopid polychaetes (a group of marine worms), showing how incredibly similar their eye is to the human eye and the cephalopod eye. Once again, however, evolution cannot accommodate an appropriate common ancestor for all three.

The striking thing about this book is the vast number of cases of convergence that Morris catalogues. Chapter 6 has roughly 19 pages discussing such examples, many of which caused evolutionists to mistakenly assume evolutionary relationships that Morris claims can’t possibly exist. Chapter 7 spends 50 pages detailing convergence in sensory systems. Chapter 8 spends 32 pages discussing convergence in behavior. He makes it very clear that convergence is ubiquitous in nature.

Of course, the very fact that he argues so persuasively for his thesis undermines evolution in a serious way. After all, we are told confidently that we know evolution occurred, since there are so many similarities between species, and those similarities clearly indicate common ancestry. However, Morris catalogs many, many cases in which similarity doesn’t mean common ancestry – it means convergence. So how do we know when similarity comes from common descent and when it comes from convergence? If there really are so many examples of convergence, we can’t continually rely on special pleading. There must be some way to independently determine when similarities are the result of common ancestry and when they are the result of convergence.

You might think one way to do this is to look at molecular similarities. Indeed, Morris seems to think this is the approach to take. After all, just as organisms can have structural similarities, they can also have molecular similarities. We can look at common proteins, for example, and see how similar these proteins are between two organisms. Since proteins are determined by DNA, this is closer to comparing the DNA of the two organisms, which should be closer to determining evolutionary relationships. Thus, while some structural similarities might be the result of convergence, molecular similarities can’t be the result of convergence, can they?

Oh yes they can. Two recent studies published in Current Biology, 1,2 show that the protein sequences encoded by a specific hearing gene (Prestin) are very similar in bats and bottlenose dolphins. No evolutionist would suggest that there is a common echolocating ancestor between these two organisms, yet the protein sequences show remarkable similarity – similarity that would be used to suggest an evolutionary relationship if it were possible to accommodate one.

Given that Dr. Morris has done a great job of cataloging so many similar biological structures and behaviors that are the result of convergence and not common ancestry, and given the fact that we know it is also possible for molecular similarities to be the result of convergence and not common ancestry, it is hard to cite either as evidence for common descent. Of course, some scientists will continue to do so, because they want evolution to be true. Those of us who make our decisions based on the data, however, will not be so naïve.

Before ending this review, I do want to point out one other thing about this book. As it’s subtitle suggests, Morris thinks that convergence is such a strong trend that in the end, even if we “reran the tape” of evolution, essentially the same results would occur over and over again – if life were to actually form. At the same time, however, he thinks that the chance of life forming is pitifully low. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, he catalogs all the problems associated with forming life from nonliving chemicals. In addition, he also catalogs how ridiculously improbable it is that a life-sustaining planet could form. Putting these two arguments together, he says it is likely that we are the only life in the entire universe – which is why the subtitle of the book ends with “in a lonely universe.”

This conclusion shows that Morris is at least a self-consistent thinker. I have always marveled at evolutionists who think that there is life elsewhere in the universe. After all, as this book surely demonstrates, life is so ridiculously improbable in a materialistic evolutionary framework that we should be shocked that we even exist. To think that such a ridiculously improbable event occurred twice (no matter how large the universe) seems to be sheer nonsense. At least Morris doesn’t buy into that level of evolutionary nonsense.

At the same time, I must point out that I have always marveled at creationists who think that there cannot be life anywhere else in the universe. I find that just as absurd. After all, if God created once, He could create again, again, and again. Now whether or not He chose to do that is still unknown. However, it seems to me that multiple instances of life in the universe would be easier to understand in the creationist framework than in the materialistic evolutionary framework.

REFERENCES

1. Yiang Liu, et al., “Convergent sequence evolution between echolocating bats and dolphins,” Current Biology 20:R53 – 4, 2010
Return to Text

2. Ying Li, et al., “The hearing gene Prestin unites echolocating bats and whales,” Current Biology 20:R55 – 6, 2010
Return to Text

Comments

23 Responses to “Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe”
  1. I got to admit, I’m tired out from the previous exchange. So I’ll try to keep my comments short and link to some contrary viewpoints.

    Abiogenesis (pre-biotic chemistry), the field that studies the origin of life, is not a part of evolutionary theory, which only deals with life – starting with one-celled organisms. (Please don’t distract with the case of viruses)

    There are a host of unknown details in this field, by coincidence, I just watched a NatGeo Naked Science episode about it, Birth of Life. (Very unimpressed with NatGeoChannel’s website, but note the next episode in the series, Birth of the Earth, click Next at the bottom of the picture.)

    I would change your statement above to “I found a detailed discussion of the origin-of-life research to date, and all of it indicated just how unknown it is how life originated by natural means.” Turning unknown into unlikely is one of your favorite rhetorical devices, btw.

    “A major tenant in evolutionary theory is that similar appearance implies common ancestry” Completely untrue, for instance, Wikipedia’s basic primer about evolution doesn’t mention it. Where can you find “similar appearance implies common ancestry” stated as a major tenant in evolutionary theory? “Appearance” is particularly misleading. What are you talking about exactly? It appears you are lumping together the analogous structures of convergent evolution with homologous structures that arise from common ancestry.

    Other readers should be interested in contrasting your review of Life’s Solution to your favorite atheist’s. He also commented on Conway Morris’ recent article in the Guardian.

  2. PZ’s latest post didn’t link correctly. Here it is.

  3. jlwile says:

    I am sure you are tired. It must be very tiring to be proven wrong so often. I expect it is especially frustrating when your own links support my case! Well…be ready to be frustrated again!

    Your Wikipedia link on abiogenesis TRIES to separate origin-of-life research from evolution, but in the discussion, that is simply shown to be impossible. For example:

    Under “Early Conditions,” it links to Timeline of evolution. Thus, the two are linked. Further on, it says:

    “Bernal suggested that evolution may have commenced early, some time between Stage 1 and 2.” Note that cells don’t appear until stage 3. Thus, evolution and origin of life are connected. The same article also says, “organic molecules may have accumulated and provided an environment for chemical evolution.

    I know evolutionists WANT to separate the origin of life from evolution, because there is so much evidence against the origin of life by natural means. However, it is clear they are linked, and thanks for providing yet another reference that demonstrates this fact!

    There is no need to change my statement about origin of life, as it is correct. Remember what Dembski and Wells so aptly point out:

    “…An embarrassment of riches [so many origin-of-life scenarios] points not to the solution of a problem but to vain gestures at a solution. Indeed, the very claim that ‘there are many plausible solutions’ suggests that none is plausible. If any one of them were really plausible, we could expect to see a consensus among scientists that it really is plausible.”

    As Morris’s book shows better than any I have read so far, the origin of life by natural means is not plausible.

    Once again, your link to Wikipedia’s article about evolution proves my point about similarity:

    “Consequently, structures with similar internal organization may have different functions in related organisms. This is the result of a single ancestral structure being adapted to function in different ways. The bones within bat wings, for example, are very similar to those in mice feet and primate hands, due to the descent of all these structures from a common mammalian ancestor.”

    Thanks for once again supporting my argument.

    Morris makes a strong case that homology and analogy cannot be distinguished. As a result, there is no independent way to know when similarity is the result of common descent or convergent evolution. This, of course, undermines all of evolution.

    Wow – Myers says that a book that shows all the uncertainties in evolution is “dreck.” Imagine that. Let’s see what more responsible people, like Richard E. Lenski, a reviewer for the journal Nature says:

    “Life’s Solution builds a forceful case for the predictability of evolutionary outcomes, their broad phenotypic manifestations. The case rests on a remarkable compilation of examples of convergent evolution, in which two or more lineages have independently evolved similar structures and functions. The examples range from the aerodynamics of hovering moths and hummingbirds to the use of silk by spiders and some insects to capture prey … I recommend the book to anyone grappling with the meaning of evolution and our place in the Universe, and to biologists interested in adaptation and constraints.” (Richard E. Lenski, Nature 425:767-8, 2003.)

    That’s actually the review that got me to purchase the book and put it on my shelf for future reading.

  4. Calling something “dreck” doesn’t make one irresponsible. How about rebutting his actual arguments? And you are the master of the ellipsis. The article goes on from “prey”:

    Convergence is widespread, despite the infinitude of genetic possibilities, because “the evolutionary routes are many, but the destinations are limited”, as Conway Morris puts it. Certain destinations are precluded by “the howling wildernesses of the maladaptive”, where the vast majority
    of genotypes are non-viable and prevent further exploration by natural selection. Conway Morris is spectacularly successful at tracking down and organizing examples of convergent evolution, but he admits that work to place convergences “into any sort of quantitative framework is still in its infancy”. In effect, he emphasizes the numerator (convergence) while skirting the
    denominator (all examples of evolution, both convergent and divergent).”

    So convergence is widespread because evolution by natural selection eliminates the maladaptive. And by your reasoning, because a quantitative framework of convergent evolution is still in its infancy, one is very unlikely to ever happen. And then many paragraphs later, immediately before the “I recommend”:

    The tension between inevitability and loneliness leads Conway Morris towards a higher objective, which is to re-establish “notions of awe and wonder” in evolution and thus “allow a conversation with religious sensibilities”. He dismisses Fred Hoyle’s “strange ideas about the origins of biological complexity” but admits a grudging respect for Hoyle’s remark that the Universe is a “set-up job”. Conway Morris’s metaphysical vision occasionally becomes overwrought, as when he says: “Not only is the Universe strangely fit to purpose, but so, too, as I have argued throughout this book, is life’s ability to navigate its solutions.” Whatever Conway Morris may think about the universe and its predispositions, Life’s Solution invokes the standard Darwinian explanation of adaptation by natural selection for life’s ability to navigate.

    So Conway Morris is a standard Darwinian evolutionary biologist. And while he has faitheist inclinations, he certainly does not support YEC. I’m wondering why you think Lenski is doing anything other than recommending a book to read in a 1,000 word review. Where is the support for “A major tenant in evolutionary theory is that similar appearance implies common ancestry”? I didn’t see any.

  5. jlwile says:

    Certainly, calling something “dreck” doesn’t make one irresponsible. However, Myers’s review certainly is irresponsible, since the book isn’t dreck, as is made clear by Lenski’s review, which you do a very good job of continuing to quote. As is clear from the passages you quote (“Conway Morris is spectacularly successful at tracking down and organizing examples of convergent evolution,” for example), the book is not dreck. Thus, it is irresponsible of Myers to say that it is. I don’t think Lenski is doing anything but recommending a book that offers good insights on an important topic. He would not recommend it or have such glowing things to say about it, however, if it were “dreck.” Once again, you have provided further evidence for my point, which I appreciate immensely.

    I do not think that “because a quantitative framework of convergent evolution is still in its infancy, one is very unlikely to ever happen.” I make the obvious point that there is no way to distinguish between convergence and common ancestry. That’s what makes this all VERY bad for evolution.

    Of course Morris doesn’t support YEC, but nowhere in my review do I even suggest that he did. In fact, the early-on quote I give shows that he doesn’t. However, I don’t restrict my reading list to those who support my view. Unlike you, I am not terrified of data that disagree with my preconceived notions. However, what I do say, and what is quite clear from the book and my review, is that Morris’s “spectacularly successful” catalog of convergence undermines the very heart of evolution.

    So you aren’t satisfied with the fact that your favorite reference agrees that similarity implies common ancestry, as the quote I gave clearly shows? That’s fine. Let’s start with another quote from your favorite source. In the Wikipedia article Evidence of Common Descent, there is a major section called “Evidence from comparative anatomy.” It is all about how similar structures are evidence for common descent. For example, “In deciding how closely related two animals are, a comparative anatomist looks for structures that are fundamentally similar, even though they may serve different functions in the adult. Such structures are described as homologous and suggest a common origin.”

    Let’s go on to a few others. In Earlham College’s “bioweb,” there is a high-school-level discussion of evolution. As it says, “If a bat, a human, an alligator, and a penguin all evolved from a common ancestor, then they should share common anatomical traits. In fact, they do. Compare the forelimbs of the human, the bat, the penguin, and the alligator. Find the humerus, radius, ulna, and carpals in each forelimb. Though the limbs look strikingly different on the outside and though they vary in function, they are very similar in skeletal structure. More significantly, they are derived from the same structures in the embryo. Structures that are embryologically similar, but have different functions, are called homologous structures. Though these animals look different, a comparison of homologous structures indicates that they are quite similar. This suggests that these animals evolved from a common ancestor.”

    The University of Tennessee has a summary of what they call the Evidence for Evolution. They say, “Another line of evidence that species have evolved from other species is the existence of homology: similarity among species that is apparently inherited from a common ancestor. So, for example, vertebrates that dwell on land have very similar limb structure with a single large upper limb bone, two lower limb bones, and five fingers. This similarity suggests that all these species evolved from a common ancestor which had this limb structure; the reason all these species have this structure is that their ancestor did.”

    As is quite obvious to anyone who has studied evolution at all, the idea that similarity is evidence for common ancestry is the backbone of evolution. I realize you need to try to downplay this because Morris’s book shows how that just is not the case anymore. However, it would be more intellectually honest to face the data and follow where they lead.

    At least you have stopped trying to make the absurd case that the origin of life is separate from evolution! That makes for a bit of progress down the path to intellectual honesty.

  6. Whether the book is dreck or not is an opinion, and your opinion is not the final word. You frequently tell me that I’m proving your point or I don’t know what I’m talking about. Fine, but you don’t get to be the final arbiter. Whose case is better is made by the other readers of this blog. Just saying something does not make it so.

    I again note that you have not addressed one thing in Myers’ review besides the word “dreck.” By not dealing with Myers’ arguments, I can only assume that you agree with them, as you tell me the same because I didn’t return to the origin of life vs. evolution discussion, that I have capitulated. Well, I will respond to that point now, I hope you do the same with Myers’ actual arguments.

    Yes, the Wikipedia article on Abiogensis has an actual hyperlink to an article titled Timeline of Evolution. Wow, you got me. No, wait, I just read the first sentence of the article:

    In the natural sciences, abiogenesis or biopoesis is the study of how life on Earth could have arisen from inanimate matter. It should not be confused with evolution, which is the study of how groups of already living things change over time.

    Got to run, but don’t worry, I’ll return.

  7. Did you notice your Bernal quote used the words “suggested” and “may”? Did you also notice that the section of your quotes is called “Current Models” as in, we don’t know. Finally, did you notice that Bernal, was known X-ray crystallography and molecular biology, not evolutionary biology. And it’s not clear where he made these suggestions. There is no citation provided, and it’s confusing as to what he did publish about it. His Wiki bio says he wrote “The Origin of Life” in 1967. While footnotes 15-17 to another part of the Abiogenesis article list differently named and dated book titles from Bernal and A. I. Oparin. Wikipedia is generally good, but the most important thing about it is that it is easily checked. The section you quoted is extremely poorly supported with citations.

    Chemical evolution is called that because it distinguishes it from biological evolution. So your citation supports my claim that origin of life is not a part of biological evolution.

    Bye for now.

  8. “there is so much evidence against the origin of life by natural means”

    What is evidence against the origin of life by natural means? Since the origin of life is still largely unknown (not completely, but there’s a long way to go), you must mean evidence for the origin of life by supernatural means. What is your supernatural evidence?

    This is the core of the entire creation vs. evolution debate. Creationist try to cause doubt about evolution (origin of life, precambrian explosion, irreducible complexity, etc.), but they never offer evidence for supernatural creation.
    There is none. As the famous quote goes, I would admit that special creation occurred if a rabbit fossil was discovered in strata 300 million years old or something similar that directly contradicts evolution by natural selection. However, until something like this is found, I will continue to denigrate creationism. Back to your reply.

    Dembski and Wells, ID impressarios, don’t know what plausible means.

    Conway Morris’ quote in the main post, “if you happen to be a ‘creation scientist’ … [this book] will do you no good,” is a very nice way of saying “don’t take anything I say in this book to support any part of creation science.” Again, we don’t know how the origin of life happened. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or even that it might not have happened. Conway Morris says nothing of the kind. As Lenski says, he is a Darwinian evolutionist. The Guardian article I cite again for your convenience says this:

    “in demonstrating the reality of evolution in the context of entirely unexceptional natural processes there is no dispute” and “we are a product of evolution, as patently we are,” and “Of course our brains are a product of evolution.” Why would a creationist cite an evolutionist except to cherry pick quotes for their own purpose?

  9. Conway Morris does not make a strong case that homology and analogy cannot be distinguished. Find a quote in his book with “analogy” or “analogous” and cite it for me. His book is about convergent evolution, which deals with homology, not analogy. As I’ve shown, he is a evolutionist. He is not making an argument that could possibly undermine all of evolution.

  10. Whoops, I wrote “analogy or analogous” (convergent evolution) instead of “homology or homologous” (common origin). Find the quotes in the book that address homology.

    “Morris’s ‘spectacularly successful’ catalog of convergence undermines the very heart of evolution.” Convergent evolution (did you notice it has the word evolution in its name?) has been know for decades. How could this well known phenomena undermine the very heart of evolution? Conway Morris has produced a ‘spectacularly successful’ catalog of convergence, but that’s all. If Conway Morris’ book even came close to undermining any small part of evolution, wouldn’t it have a much higher profile? Wouldn’t he be on the cover of national magazines as the guy who has a legitimate challenge to evolution?

  11. It is impossible to show that there is no way to tell the difference between homology and analogy by only citing sources that reference homology (common descent). Just as when Conway Morris discusses analogy (convergent evolution), he is not saying that analogy and homology are indistinguishable.

    “Evidence of Common Descent”, Earlham College’s bioweb, and the U of Tenn page don’t contain the words “analogy” or “analogous” or “convergent”. How can they claim that it is impossible to tell the difference between homology and analogy?

  12. jlwile says:

    Wow! Six comments from Shooter, all desperately trying to deny the obvious conclusions of the data. This post must have really bothered you! I expect it is because the post is about a book by an evolutionist, and that book shows how silly the whole idea of evolution is. I am so happy that I made the post!

    I agree that my opinion is not the final word. However, neither is Myers’s opinion. In fact, Myers’s opinion has been shown to be irresponsible by Lenski’s fine review, from which you quoted extensively. Your extensive quotes make that case very clearly.

    However, if you would like some details as to why Myers’s review is nonsense, I am happy to oblige. Myers clearly didn’t even understand Morris’s book. In fact, he admits this. He says, ‘It doesn’t make sense.” Sure, it doesn’t make sense to someone who desperately wants to believe in materialistic evolution. To someone who follows the data, it makes clear sense.

    You can tell that Myers didn’t understand Morris’s book, because he claims that the “penultimate” chapter is the one on a theology of evolution. That is clearly added as an afterthought. Morris’s penultimate chapter is the one that comes before it – the one on how ubiquitous convergence is in nature. Anyone who understood even a fraction of Morris’s book understands that.

    Once again, I know how desperate you are to try to separate the origin of life from evolution. However, as the Wikipedia article you linked tells us, you cannot do that. The Bernal quote uses “may” and “suggested,” as any good hypothesis does. However, as you are loathe to admit, it clearly links the origin of life and evolution. While you might try to claim that “chemical evolution” is different from “biological evolution,” it is not. It is all evolution, and thus they are both intimately connected. If you don’t want abiogenesis and evolution to be connected, you should not use Wikipedia, as the very link you gave clearly connects the two.

    Of course, if you want to reject what your favorite source says, we can go to others. In the aptly named book, Chemical Evolution: Origin Of Life, we read, “This book addresses some important open questions in this interdisciplinary field of research. In spite of its broad scope, ranging from the earliest evidence of life on earth to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, the main focus is on chemical evolution. Once the macromolecules of life were formed, the evolution of the earliest life forms enhanced the importance of chirality.” In other words, the fact that biomolecules are focused on a given stereoisomer was started with origin of life and then enhanced as evolution progressed. Thus, the two are clearly connected.

    As the journal Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres says, “The origin and early evolution of life is an inseparable part of the discipline of Astrobiology. The journal Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres places special importance on this interconnection. While any scientific study which contributes to our understanding of the origins, evolution and distribution of life in the Universe is suitable for inclusion in the journal…” Once again, the origin of life and evolution are connected.

    As the journal Scientific American says, “Other studies have supported the hypothesis that primitive cells containing molecules similar to RNA could assemble spontaneously, reproduce and evolve, giving rise to all life.” Once again, then, we begin with “primitive cells” (unlike anything of which we are aware) that then EVOLVE into cells that have DNA and are like the ones we see today. Thus, chemical evolution (the origin of life) and biological evolution are intimately connected.

    Of course, anyone who thinks about this for more than two minutes understands how intimately connected evolution and the origin of life are. After all, evolution depends on changes in DNA, which is governed by the genetic code. The origin of life tells us how the genetic code developed. In order to develop, however, it had to EVOLVE. Thus, evolution and the origin of life are dependent on one another.

    The evidence against the origin of life by natural means is obvious. Even with the help of brilliant scientists, the BEST that can be done is a pitifully small amount of only the SIMPLEST chemicals of life, along with a “goo” of chemicals that would inhibit the formation of life. If that is the best we can do with the greatest chemical intelligence that exists today, it is clear that the chemistry of life is both beyond the reach of chance as well as the work of something that is FAR MORE intelligent than our most talented chemists today.

    Of course, another piece of evidence is how fervently you fight to unlink evolution from the origin of life. You know how unreasonable the origin of life by natural means is, so you are forced to try to sever the link between it and evolution so that you can preserve your fervent faith in evolution.

    Since you have not read Morris’s book, you are forced to try to dream up scenarios about it rather than actually face the data. That’s why you ask, “If Conway Morris’ book even came close to undermining any small part of evolution, wouldn’t it have a much higher profile?” The obvious answer, of course, is “no.” Myers tries to sweep what Morris has put together under the rug by calling it “dreck.” Lenski tries to downplay the importance of convergence, trying to say that the overall amount of convergence is small, without attempting to say how he distinguishes between convergence and common ancestry. Those who WANT to believe in evolution will do so regardless of what the data say. Indeed, even Morris continues to believe in evolution despite the strong case that he makes against it! Those of us who follow the data, however, see Morris’s book for what it is. If you really wanted to follow the data, you would at least read Morris’s book, rather than trying to deny the data that it presents.

    I think I do need to send you a dictionary. “Cherry picking” is defined as, “to select the best or most desirable.” However, as is clear from my review, I am actually taking all the data from Morris’s book – both the data on origin of life (which really makes you uncomfortable) as well as the data on how ubiquitous convergence is in nature. In fact, it is the huge amount of convergence in nature that so severely undermines evolution.

    Also, I think you need to read my review again. I don’t claim that Morris thinks it is impossible to distinguish between homology and analogy. As I CLEARLY say in my review, Morris seems to think that molecular similarities can be used to distinguish between the two. The case of bats and dolphins, however, show that he is not correct. If you actually read my posts and tried to understand them, you wouldn’t make such silly statements!

    I agree that Earlham College’s bioweb and the U of Tenn don’t claim that it is impossible to distinguish between homology and analogy. However, that’s not why I gave quotes from them. Perhaps your mental gymnastics have caused you to forget that you were making the ABSURD claim that evolution doesn’t use similarity as evidence for a common ancestor. I was giving those quotes to show you how nonsensical your claim was.

    Of course, it is once again very clear WHY you don’t want to think that evolution uses similarities as evidence for common ancestry. Morris’s ‘spectacularly successful’ catalog of convergence clearly shows how unscientific such an idea is. Once again, since you are unwilling to follow the data, you are required to believe something that is absurd!

  13. I divided my response into six parts because I wrote them at different times, not because you got under my skin.

    Do I have to repeat myself like a broken record? Please address the substantive points PZ Myers brings up in his post about Conway Morris’ book. Here’s one where PZ is quite nice:

    The meat of the book is several long chapters where he describes numerous striking examples of convergence in everything from bacteria and mammals to plants and basic metabolism. Bits and pieces of this section are actually quite reasonable, and he does a good job of digging up some interesting examples. Alas, again the flaw is that he thinks convergence is support for his grand thesis of Humanity Predestined. It just isn’t. Because certain features represent optimal solutions to simple problems, such as camera eyes or powerful limbs in burrowing animals, does not mean that all complex issues will similarly converge on single solutions. And humanoids are most definitely a complex solution, riddled with compromises and historical predispositions and accidents.

    I think Conway Morris is simply blind to any evidence that contradicts his view that there is a single possible answer to every condition. He ignores differences to a painful degree. For a contemporary example, compare the Arctic and the Antarctic. Both have large mammalian predators and large birds specialized for fishing; on that level, you could say there is some similarity. But in the Arctic, the predator is the polar bear while the bird is the auk, and in the Antarctic, it’s the leopard seal and flightless penguin. Similar environments, similar opportunities, similar stresses, but starting with different fauna, and divergent solutions emerge.

    As for understanding, this paragraph makes no sense:

    You can tell that Myers didn’t understand Morris’s book, because he claims that the “penultimate” chapter is the one on a theology of evolution. That is clearly added as an afterthought. Morris’s penultimate chapter is the one that comes before it – the one on how ubiquitous convergence is in nature. Anyone who understood even a fraction of Morris’s book understands that.

    This makes no sense not because I’m dying to believe in evolution, but because you don’t know what “penultimate” means. It means second to the last. You’re the one that needs a dictionary.

    The origin of life is connected to cell-based evolution in the fact that the former came before the later. Or as the journal you cited has it, they can be linked by placing the conjunction “and” between them. However, you have tried to argue here that because we don’t understand the origin of life, that fact causes great problems for the standard theory of biological evolution. No, it doesn’t. Biological evolution covers how simple one-celled organisms can increase in complexity to the level of modern humans. Not knowing how the first one-celled life form came to exist does not undermine evolution by natural selection in any way.

    “If that is the best we can do with the greatest chemical intelligence that exists today, it is clear that the chemistry of life is both beyond the reach of chance as well as the work of something that is FAR MORE intelligent than our most talented chemists today.”

    Another common creationist canard, saying something can’t happen due to chance. Random is slightly better, sounds mathematical rather than a spin of the wheel. However, both don’t account for the fact that there chemical and physical laws that the origin of life must follow. If you use chance to describe that one particular molecule will bump into another particular molecule by chance, fine. But you are deliberately trying to obscure that which molecules bump into each other at one particular moment in time is irrelevant. What matters is how those molecules behave when they do bump into each other. The laws of chemistry do not admit chance.

    But I’m far more interested in you describing the something that is FAR MORE intelligent than our most talented chemists today. What is this something? And how did it manage to cause the origin of life?

  14. I found a long article from SoMA Review and a short blog post from EvolutionBlog about Wheaton College and evolution. Also, a post from a First Things blog, “Why I’m not a creationist (anymore)” Hopefully you and your readers find them interesting.

  15. jlwile says:

    Methinks thou dost protest too much. This post has really gotten under your skin, as evidenced not only by your number of comments but also by your desperate desire to change the subject. That’s awesome! The more you investigate this issue, the more likely you will actually follow the data rather than the argument from authority.

    If you would like EVEN MORE reasons the Myers review is nonsense, I am happy to oblige. As for the part about comparing the Arctic and the Antarctic, Myers obviously needs to study his ecology a bit more. While there are SOME similarities between the two ecosystems, they are still very different from one another. For example, while the Antarctic is a continent surrounded by ocean, the arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents. The elevation at the South Pole is about 9300 feet above sea level, and the annual mean temperature is -58°F. The elevation at the North Pole is just the thickness of the sea ice (a few feet), and the annual mean temperature at the North Pole is 0°F. These are very different places, so it is not surprising that the animals there are different as well. Myers was REALLY reaching here, and it clearly backfired.

    You are right about penultimate. I thought it meant “most important.” Score one for you here!

    Once again, I know why you are desperate to unlink chemical evolution from biological evolution, but you cannot. Whatever chemical evolution comes up with is what biological evolution has to work with. Thus, they are intimately related. You are correct that “Biological evolution covers how simple one-celled organisms can increase in complexity to the level of modern humans.” And chemical evolution covers how simple chemicals can increase in complexity to the level of living cells. Notice how they are the same? Since our understanding of the mechanisms of biological evolution are dependent on how chemical evolution produced life, our understanding of biological evolution is dependent upon our understanding of chemical evolution. This is why the quotes I gave (which you cannot refute) clearly link the two. Without a good understanding of one, we cannot understand the other.

    It is not a canard to say that since our best designers today cannot produce anything close to a living system from nonliving chemicals that it is impossible for chance to do so. It is the most reasonable conclusion. Do you think the laws of chemistry and physics don’t apply to the origin-of-life experiments? Of course they do. However, given BOTH those laws AND the most intelligent minds we have, we cannot COME CLOSE to producing life from non-life. Remove the intelligent minds, and somehow you think that the result is inevitable. It is clearly not. In fact, it is much less likely. Of course, that is just the scientific conclusion. If you have some fervent faith in the power of spontaneous generation, you can continue to believe whatever you want to believe, regardless of the evidence.

    I know you want to change the subject, because you realize you have lost on this one as well. However, I will not allow you to change the subject just to cover up the fact that you cannot defend your assertions. As I have already indicated, we can conclude from the scientific research to date that the intelligence that produced life far exceeds the intelligence of our best scientists.

  16. jlwile says:

    Shooter is desperately trying to change the subject by adding some links that are completely unrelated to the discussion. That’s not surprising. It is a common technique used by those who know they cannot defend their position.

    The short link about Wheaton is quite enlightening, as it says, “Wheaton College in Illinois, which is generally considered one of the best, if not the best, evangelical college in the nation.” It also quotes the dean of natural and social sciences as saying, “Our students are recognized as among the best,” she said. “That must say something about our program.” As the author of the blog says, “What Chappell describes here is old-earth creationism, and it is tantamount to rejecting evolution.”

    In the end, then, rejecting evolution makes you one of the best (if not the best) evangelical colleges in the nation, and it produces students who are “among the best.” I couldn’t have put that better myself, Shooter. Thanks! Indeed, it is what I see with the students who use my courses. I regularly get E-MAILs and letters from students who used my courses and are now at the top of their university science courses. When students are taught the data rather than the propaganda, they are better science students.

    As for his link to “Why I am not a creationist (anymore),” it is clear the author is not a scientist. The article essentially said that he first uncritically accepted what his Christian mentors said. Then, he read a few evolutionists, accepted what they said uncritically (just as uncritically as he accepted what his Christian mentors said), and as a result his mind was changed. This is actually a great post to read, because it shows how a lack of critical thinking can cause you to come to ridiculous conclusions on both sides of this issue.

    If you want the experience of some good critical thinkers, you should look at
    Michael Oards’ discussion of why he is not an evolutionist anymore. For example, he says, “After investigating the issue, I was surprised to discover that there was hardly any evidence to back up macroevolution.” Another excellent one comes from Dr. A.J. Monty White. He says, “Strange as it may seem, I became a creationist as a result of reading pro-evolution material!” Note the differences between their stories and the one Shooter linked. They are QUITE enlightening.

  17. Mrs. D says:

    Wow, this is really a mouthful by Norweigen Shooter…

    Of course, anyone who thinks about this for more than two minutes understands how intimately connected evolution and the origin of life are. After all, evolution depends on changes in DNA, which is governed by the genetic code. The origin of life tells us how the genetic code developed. In order to develop, however, it had to EVOLVE. Thus, evolution and the origin of life are dependent on one another.

    Yup, DNA changes over time. No one has the same DNA, so it has been changing since the beginning. Has it been changing to the benefit of the organism? It amazes me how those in the “scientific” community overlook the most basic for the most complicated. Anyone who works with farm animals or gardens knows that the older breeds are more reliable. Farmers breed animals for greater milk production or more meat and end up with a sickly beast who must be fed more expensive and medicated feed to beat some of the common diseases that never bothered our grandparents animals. Would we all could live to be a ripe old age of 900.

    OK, I am not a scientist, but this whole idea frustrates me. It seems they are all nearsighted.

  18. Isn’t is amazing that we both think the other is digging themselves a huge hole to get out of?

    On the Antartic/Artic, I don’t understand what your point is. I would hope that there was more to it than just the fact that the Antartic and the Artic are not exactly similar, but I can’t find anything else. Maybe you’re trying to say that God put different animals into different environments therefore evolution didn’t occur? This is another example of your pedantry. The fact that the two environments are not exactly similar has no bearing on what Myers is saying. You think you’re scoring points by parsing the words “similar environments”? And what the heck does the elevation have to do with polar bears, auks, leopard seals and flightless penguins? Last time I checked, none of them climb mountains.

    Thanks for the admission, congratulations, you’re growing!

    “Since our understanding of the mechanisms of biological evolution are dependent on how chemical evolution produced life.” No it is not dependent. Darwin theorized biological evolution by natural selection without any idea of how inheritance worked, much less knowledge of DNA. The Modern Synthesis simply added Mendelian inheritance and population genetics, Darwin’s core idea of evolution by natural selection remains the same. (Aside, I found a great source for you.)

    “Somehow you think that the result is inevitable” I absolutely don’t think that. In fact, that is Conway Morris’ position, given the relevant facts about the planet and solar system. He is the one who says humans were inevitable on Earth. I haven’t even read his book and I know that. How did you possibly mix us up?

    And pardon me, but you are the one who believes in the power of spontaneous generation (by God) and you’re the one who can continue to believe whatever you want to believe, regardless of the evidence. It’s really amazing how much you project your own difficulties onto me.

    I obviously didn’t want to change the subject, but thought you might like to read the links.

    Speaking of changing the subject, you didn’t address my ultimate question: What is this something that is far more intelligent than our best scientists? And how did it manage to cause the origin of life?

  19. jlwile says:

    Thanks for commenting, Mrs. D. You were actually quoting me, not Shooter. The kind of changes you are talking about are different from the ones Shooter and I are discussing. Variation plus selection (natural or artificial) can, indeed, produce changes to the genome. In the natural world, this often leads to organisms better adapted to their surroundings. If artificial selection is used, it can, indeed, produce a more sickly animal, if general health is not something for which the breeder is selecting.

    The kinds of genetic changes necessary for the evolution we are talking about are changes that add information to the genome. There is more information in a human genome than a bacterial genome. If you want to believe that humans are descended from some form of bacterium-like organism, you have to find a mechanism by which information can be added to a genome.

  20. jlwile says:

    You are digging a huge hole for yourself, by making all sorts of nonsensical claims. The fact that you have to keep trying to change the subject shows that. I have shown you what the data say, and you have meticulously avoided addressing that data. Once again, it is rather obvious who is in the hole here.

    I think your confusion over the Arctic/Antarctic comes from the fact that you didn’t read the book, so you really have no idea what you are talking about. Of course, that has never stopped you before! Morris’s point is that convergence is so common because life has limited solutions to the problem of survival. Myers says that’s not true, because the Arctic and Antarctic are similar but have different animals. Of course, Myers is wrong, because his blinders don’t let him see the huge differences between the areas. Those huge differences mean that the problems for survival are different for each and thus require different animals. So Myers’s argument hold no water, as is typical for him.

    Oh, and by the way, according to the Antarctic Connection, “For safety and security, [Erect-Crested] penguins often climb very steep rock faces to breed on ledges and platforms.” And according to The Philadelphia Zoo, “These [Humbolt] penguins often climb as high as 100 feet to the top of a cliff to build them.”

    I have admitted you were right before. The fact that you can’t accept this indicates that YOU are not growing at all! That is unfortunate, but not very surprising.

    Of course, you are still not correct about trying to unlink the origin of life from evolution. Certainly, Darwin knew nothing about inheritance. He was starting at a very basic level, simply using the similarities of creatures (even though you tried to make the absurd claim evolution doesn’t do that) to argue for his idea. However, even HE realized that his idea required a scenario for the origin of life. In fact, he wrote to botanist Joseph Hooker:

    “It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.”

    Indeed, a very good study of Darwin’s ideas on the origin of life can be found in Pereto, Juli, et al. “Charles Darwin and the Origin of Life,” Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 39:395-406, 2009. So is it just blind coincidence that Darwin also conjectured about spontaneous generation? Of course not! It is intimately linked to his hypothesis.

    As an aside, here is a good resource for you.

    I am not mixing you up with Morris. After all, Morris doesn’t make the kinds of silly statements that you make. However, you think that even though our best scientists cannot produce anything close to life, it nevertheless can happen through natural means, just using the laws of chemistry and physics. Of course, as a scientist, I don’t believe in spontaneous generation, as I follow the data. The data show that it is not possible, even when you add very intelligent designers to the picture. You want to ignore those data, which requires you to place fervent faith in spontaneous generation. I don’t have that kind of faith!

    Your “ultimate question” is just another attempt to change the subject. We are talking about what the data regarding the origin of life tell us, and I have already told you what those data tell us. They tell us that whatever made life is significantly more knowledgeable than our best scientists. You can keep asking the question, and I will keep answering it, just as I answered it even BEFORE you asked it. I know you are desperate to change the subject, but I will simply not let you. This is not a discussion conjecturing about what the intelligent designer of life is. It is a discussion about the data which clearly show that an intelligent designer (one who is more intelligent than our best scientists) is necessary for the formation of life.

  21. I don’t know why you keep calling my position spontaneous generation. I’m quite sure it didn’t happen spontaneously, but involved many small steps (it’s related to biological evolution you know), and generation implies something outside of itself generated it. You’re the one who believes in Creatio Ex Nihilo. I would call my position gradual self-replication.

    When can we discuss what (who) the intelligent designer of life is?

    Back to Life’s Solutions, I found another review of it in the New York Times Book Review, Nov. 30, 2003, p. 18. First, it complements my earlier point that Simon Conway Morris is a Darwinian, and not a YEC: “He is also an emphatic adaptationist; he insists on the ubiquity and power of natural selection as a determinant of evolutionary outcomes.”

    It also criticizes him for a misguided over-emphasis on convergences while ignoring non-convergences: “You can’t show that an event was inevitable or highly probable just by pointing out that it has happened many times. To estimate the probability of the camera eye’s evolving, you need to know how many times it evolved and how many times it did not. Conway Morris never describes how often convergences failed to occur.”

    Finally, this seems written especially for you: “Lest the reader misunderstand, he repeatedly emphasizes that he has no respect for creationism or for its current repackaging under the heading of ‘intelligent design theory.’ He clearly indicates which philosophical and theological ideas he opposes, but he provides few details about the ideas he endorses.”

    The review was by Elliot Sober and was actually agnostic on the worth of the book. The only descriptor he used was “bold.”

  22. jlwile says:

    Spontaneous generation is the idea that life can arise from nonliving matter. You believe that this can happen. I think the data are clear that it cannot. I agree that the origin of life is related to biological evolution and thus you think it happened slowly, like biological evolution. You wanted to deny the obvious connection between the two, but you seem to now understand that such a denial is futile. That’s a sign of progress, anyway.

    We can discuss what or who the intelligent designer of life is when it is relevant to a discussion.

    I am not sure why you think you need to “complement” your point that Morris is a Darwinian and not a YEC. As I say in my review, “Some would call him a ‘theistic evolutionist,’ while others would simply call him an evolutionist who is also a Christian. I would call him an evolutionist who thinks the laws of chemistry and physics were ‘set up’ (by God) to produce evolution, which would end up producing people.” I then quote him as saying the book contains nothing for creationists. Thus, I made the point even before you did. Sober simply confirms that again.

    I am glad that you posted the link to the review, because it is a good one. Unlike Myers’s review, it is a responsible discussion of the book.

home | top