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Monday, September 1, 2014

Defending the Indefensible

Posted by jlwile on September 13, 2012

Not long ago, I wrote a response to Bill Nye’s anti-science video. A commenter replied by posting a link to a blog that attempted to defend Nye’s indefensible statements. I quickly pointed out the many errors in the article, and the commenter obviously sent my response to the author, Emil Karlsson. He has now written another post in an attempt to defend his position. Unfortunately, it is more error-filled than his original post.

Here is my attempt to correct his errors, in the order he presents them:

1. Mr. Karlsson still tries to make excuses for Nye’s false statement about evolution denial being unique in the U.S.

In his reply to me, he gives Nye’s full quote from the beginning of the video. He then tries to claim that Nye was not saying exactly what he said – that denial of evolution is unique to the U.S. Mr. Karlsson claims:

So Bill Nye is not making the naive claim that denial of evolution is unique to the United States in the sense that it does not exist anywhere else, but rather the claim that United States is unique in being a highly technologically advanced society, yet have [sic] a large proportion of the population being creationist.

Of course, Nye is saying nothing of the sort. Nowhere in Nye’s statement can you find the words “large proportion.” In addition, while Nye certainly mentions technological advancement, he is using it as a descriptor for the United States, not a qualifier for his statement. Regardless of the mental gymnastics of Mr. Karlsson, Nye’s statement is unambiguously false.

However, let’s assume Mr. Nye really did mean what Mr. Karlsson claims, even though Mr. Nye said something completely different. Even if that’s the case, his statement is still a complete fabrication. Would Mr. Karlsson agree that Germany is technologically advanced? The study to which he refers indicates that more than 20% of its population denies evolution. The same is true of Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. In the U.S., a larger percentage (roughly 40%) deny evolution, but that’s not drastically different from the percentage found in many other technologically-advanced nations. Even in the U.K., the percentage of people who deny evolution is greater than 15%.

In the end, then, even in technologically-advanced nations, denial of evolution is common. It is a bit more popular in the U.S., but it is certainly not unique to the U.S. Of course, the U.S. has always been on the cutting edge of science, so it’s not surprising that it holds a slightly higher percentage of people who see the serious scientific problems with evolution!

2. What Mr. Karlsson calls “false balance”

Mr. Karlsson originally claimed that in order to teach creationism, you have to teach scientific falsehoods. I pointed out that this is completely false. He couldn’t defend his false statement. Instead, after admitting that he has not analyzed my books, he claims that they “must” be teaching scientific falsehoods if they teach creationism. Obviously, such evidence-free statements have no merit.

He then takes issue with my statement that my books produce excellent university-level science students. He says that I produce “just three anecdotes” to support the position. While it’s true that I chose to list only three examples in that article, there are many more.

He then makes some statements that imply I claimed my books produce such excellent university students because they contain creationism. I said no such thing. I simply pointed out that students who use my books do very well at university, which is rather hard to imagine if they were filled with the scientific falsehoods that Mr. Karlsson claims “must” be in them.

Obviously, teaching science from a creationist viewpoint does not involve teaching scientific falsehoods. In fact, since creationism is more in line with the scientific data than is evolutionism, it involves teaching scientific truths.

3. Since I made the obvious point that direct observation tells us that gene duplication plus mutation cannot be a mechanism for evolutionary innovation, Mr. Karlsson lists references that he claims support the concept.

Of course, the references do nothing of the sort. For example, the first reference is to a textbook by Stearns and Hoekstra. While the authors do make a statement that Hox genes in invertebrates duplicated and then mutated to produce more Hox genes, they don’t give any evidence that it happened. Instead, they show how the genes can be postulated to originate by duplication and mutation. I agree that such a mechanism can be postulated, but that’s not at issue. The issue is what direct observation tells us, and it tells us that the mechanism doesn’t work, as explained below.

The other references he provides are similar. For example, his second reference is an article in Nature, which simply explains how the adaptive immune system in mammals is “believed” to have started by two rounds of whole genome duplication. Once again, such postulations can be made, but they are not in line with direct observation. As one goes through the list of references, one sees a lot of “just so stories,” but one sees no direct observation.

What is the direct observation? An example is given in the BIO-COMPLEXITY article that I linked in my original discussion of his errors. Unfortunately, Mr. Karlsson didn’t understand the article. He claims that it shows:

because a broken tryptophan gene did not evolve to a be able to produce tryptophan during a single experiment spanning around 1/3 of a year, the mechanism of gene duplication producing new novel functions through the 3.5 billion year history of life, [sic] must be seriously flawed.

Of course, that’s not at all what it shows. The paper demonstrates that as a duplicated gene mutates from its originally-functional form, it gets down-regulated. That means it rarely gets “sampled” by the organism. Thus, even if mutations eventually produced the wildly improbable result of an innovative protein, the organism would not be able to benefit from it, since it is no longer used. As the article puts it:

When all of these possibilities are left open by the experimental design, the populations consistently take paths that reduce expression of trpAE49V,D60N, making the path to new (restored) function virtually inaccessible.

This is direct observation, and it shows that gene duplication followed by mutation cannot lead to evolutionary innovation.

Mr. Karlsson also mischaracterizes the CMI article I linked on this subject. For example, he claims that the article says gene duplication can benefit plants. It certainly says that, but it then goes on to say, “although few researchers argue that it plays a significant role in large scale evolution.” Also, when discussing benefits to the plant, it is talking only about gene duplication, not gene duplication followed by mutation, which is what Mr. Karlsson falsely claim can lead to evolutionary innovation.

He further claims that the article produces “straw man” arguments, which it most certainly does not. The article correctly points out that if gene duplication followed by mutation drives evolutionary innovation, then a highly-evolved organism must have a large genome size, since many duplication events would have been necessary for the innovation to occur. We know that genome size does not correlate with an organism’s complexity, which tells us that there is something wrong with the idea that gene duplication followed by mutation can produce evolutionary innovation. Thus, far from being a straw man argument, it is a correct description of a major problem with the proposed mechanism.

Another supposed “straw man” argument that the article makes is that evolution is supposed to occur only by gene duplication followed by mutation. The article, of course, doesn’t say that. Instead, it says that Darwinists consider it “an important means of evolution.” The article does not even imply that Darwinists think of it as the only means of evolution.

Why does Mr. Karlsson make false charges against the article? I can only speculate, but perhaps he cannot address the actual data brought up by the article. The article details several studies that show gene duplication followed by mutation cannot be a driving force in evolution. If Mr. Karlsson wants to refute the article, he should deal with the data it presents instead of making false claims about what the article says.

4. More supposed “straw man” arguments

In his original post, Mr. Karlsson claims that it was a “straw man” for certain creationist videos to say that evolution is nothing more than random mutation plus natural selection. In my reply, I simply pointed out that evolutionists make that claim as well. Mr. Karlsson didn’t like the fact that I demonstrated this, so he tries to make excuses for the evolutionists, much like he tried to make excuses for Mr. Nye. He claims that the evolutionists were making “introductory descriptions of the field of evolutionary biology, not complete descriptions of a multifaceted scientific literature.”

That is certainly the case. However, what do you think the creationist videos responding to Mr. Nye are? They are introductory descriptions of the problems with evolutionary biology, not complete descriptions of a multifaceted scientific literature. It seems that Mr. Karlsson excuses evolutionists for saying that evolution is random mutation plus natural selection in introductory materials, but he doesn’t tolerate it when creationists do exactly the same thing.

5. DNA sequences and their strong evidence against evolution

In his original post, Mr. Karlsson made the demonstrably false statement that comparing DNA sequences between organisms has produced a lot of evidence for evolution. I simply showed that, in fact, it produces some of the most definitive evidence against evolution. I provided links that show that evolutionary trees constructed based on fossils are contradicted by evolutionary trees based on genes, evolutionary trees based on one suite of genes contradict evolutionary trees based on another suites of genes, and that there are nearly identical genes in many animals that no evolutionist thinks could have resulted from common ancestry. All of these issues are serious problems for evolution.

What does Mr. Karlsson do in response? He claims that there might be some minor problems, but that “Even slightly incongruent trees strongly match each other.” Of course, that is 100% false. For example, as discussed in one of the links I provided:

The problem was that different genes told contradictory evolutionary stories. This was especially true of sea-squirt genes. Conventionally, sea squirts – also known as tunicates – are lumped together with frogs, humans and other vertebrates in the phylum Chordata, but the genes were sending mixed signals. Some genes did indeed cluster within the chordates, but others indicated that tunicates should be placed with sea urchins, which aren’t chordates. “Roughly 50 per cent of its genes have one evolutionary history and 50 per cent another” (emphasis mine)

In fact, the trees do not “strongly match.” They strongly contradict one another.

He then claims that much of the problem is the result of horizontal gene transfer in bacteria. Once again, however, that same article addresses this issue. Indeed, the reason the article gives the example I quote above is because it deals with animals, which are assumed to rarely engage in horizontal gene transfer.

He then says that I am ignoring incomplete lineage sorting. Of course I am, because it is an ad hoc hypothesis that is meant to explain away inconvenient data. Remember, his original claim is that comparing DNA sequences provides evidence for evolution. However, the data say otherwise. To explain around this inconvenient fact, incomplete lineage sorting was invented. A good scientific theory should not have to explain around the data. The data should support it directly.

6. Ignorance of creationism

Mr. Karlsson obviously knows little about creationism. In his original post he claimed, “it is not possible to provide a unified explanation in biology without reference to evolution.” Of course, that is completely false, and I pointed it out. Creationists have a very strong unified explanation in biology. His response?

What unified explanation do young-earth creationists have? Presumably, the idea that a creator made all different forms of life pretty much in its [sic] present form.

This shows a complete lack of knowledge of the view against which he is arguing. When you don’t even know what your opponents think, how in the world can anyone take your arguments seriously? Creationists certainly do not believe that God created all the creatures we see today in their present form. Instead, creationists give strong evidence that God created archetypal creatures that then adapted into the huge variety we see today. For example, God created only one kind of doglike creature. After the Flood, however, the two doglike creatures that were preserved on the ark produced progeny that migrated and adapted to their new environments, producing wolves, coyotes, and domesticated dogs. Perhaps Mr. Karlsson should actually learn the view against which he argues.

7. A lack of understanding of the supernatural

In his original post, Mr Karlsson claims that because God can (and does) perform miracles, “the uniformity of nature is not guaranteed by the existence of a God.” In my reply, I demonstrate just the opposite. I gave quotes that show that the proper concept of God was critical to the belief that nature is uniform. Here is how Mr. Karlsson responded:

How does Dr. Wile respond? With arguments? No, he just cites two people who believe that science makes sense if you believe in a deity. Utterly vacuous.

Of course, this is totally false. Neither of the quotes I produced said that science makes sense of you believe in a deity. They showed that without the proper concept of a deity, science would never have developed. This, of course, is a well-established view among historians of science. The fact that Mr. Karlsson doesn’t know this demonstrates that he has not really investigated the issue of how science developed.

As you can see, then, Mr. Karlsson’s reply to me has more errors than his initial post. Of course, that’s to be expected. Anyone who is anti-science enough to defend Mr. Nye’s video is not going to present science or its origins in any serious way.

Comments

24 Responses to “Defending the Indefensible”
  1. WSH says:

    I can say that Dr. Wile’s textbooks were a factor in my interest and ability to do well in college as a physics major, including doing radio-astronomy research at a state school during the summer, though AP books I worked through and a calculus “mentor” or two in high school certainly helped as well (and college profs since). While I would have liked to see more of the “Advanced Exploring” material in the first books on each subject, they were still a solid base in their subjects. As to their creationism hindering me scientifically, I have found the opposite to be the case, as long as one is open to the scientific and biblical evidence itself. It helps me to look at scientific questions with an open mind to alternative explanations to majority ones explaining a given phenomena, and not just in creationist issues. It also helped teach me to explore and think “what if?” For instance, my project involved analysis of enormous hydrogen interstellar clouds in the Galaxy using tracers of this H2 gas such as 12CO and 13CO spectra. The reason no one uses 14CO spectra is because they cannot exist if the Galaxy is billions of years old. Thus expensive sky surveys looking for it are seen as pointless. If it’s out there, then we might never know. I’d love to do a radio sky survey of the plane of our galaxy and just see. While the standard position of the Galaxy’s age and lack of 14CO might very well be correct, science loses a little of its truth-value when it is made dogma. I am very grateful for both the Exploring series and the Proslogion blog.

  2. jonathan B. says:

    I thought it was kind of funny how Dr. Karlsson claims that Bill Nye is “under siege”, when in reality it was Nye who “fired the first shot” with his video. The Creationist responses were made in defense.

  3. J.S. says:

    Excellent job, Dr. Wile–your calm and logical responses have been an example for me to follow when pursuing similar arguments with anti-creationists.

  4. Keith says:

    I’m always impressed with your ability to so thoroughly analyze (and find holes in) arguments like Mr. Karlsson’s, Dr. Wile. I personally find it very difficult to argue with people who are obviously antagonistic towards my position.

  5. jlwile says:

    Thanks very much, WSH. I am thrilled that I was a small part of your success at university!

  6. jlwile says:

    Good point, Jonathan.

  7. jlwile says:

    Thank you, J.S.

  8. jlwile says:

    Thanks, Keith. As a scientist, I understand how to interact with people who are antagonistic towards my position. When you do original research, you will always find other scientists who disagree with your conclusions. In the spirit of wanting to find the real truth, it is important to listen to those dissenting views and analyze them rationally. This is the main reason Nye’s rant is so anti-science. He wants to silence a serious scientific view, simply because it disagrees with his.

  9. W. Brown says:

    I think that the college-age generation has a word for what you did to Mr. Karlsson’s argument, and I’m pretty sure that that recently-coined bit of colloquial language is “pwned.” You really have patience of a saint to write thorough and correct responses and refutations of opponents. The fact that you even take the time from your busy schedule to do so really points to and highlights your erudite conclusions concerning science.

  10. Jason says:

    Agree with W.Brown

    Great response as always Dr Wile.

    Unless Mr Karlsson is a sucker for punishment, I doubt we’ll be hearing from him again any time soon.

  11. D. Perrine says:

    I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Not because it refuted a view but rather because it showed where the errors lie and then explained why they were errors. You backed up the claims that you were making.

    Do you have more articles on point 5, DNA Sequences, that I could read through?

  12. Michal says:

    “This shows a complete lack of knowledge of the view against which he is arguing. When you don’t even know what your opponents think, how in the world can anyone take your arguments seriously?”

    I find this is true whenever I discuss/debate evolution & creation. The evolutionists have got zero understanding of the creationist position and yet, feel justified in writing it off anyway.

    Good post.

  13. jlwile says:

    Thanks so much W. Brown and Jason.

    D. Perrine, I have a few articles that address the issue:

    Is DNA Providing a Coherent View of Evolution?

    99%? 95%? 87%? 70%? How Similar is the Human Genome to the Chimpanzee Genome?

    More on Comparing the Human and Chimpanzee Genome

    How Meaningful are Genome Comparsons?

    There is also an excellent series on ENV that addresses the subject thoroughly:

    A Primer on the Tree of Life

  14. jlwile says:

    Thanks, Michal. I always find it amazing that people can argue so stridently against a position they don’t even know.

  15. gracekalman says:

    They’re arguing against a God they don’t even know. It’s the same as arguments between religious viewpoints, because it is an argument between religious viewpoints.

  16. D. Perrine says:

    Thank you for the articles. They were very helpful. I find that I often commit the atrocity of not understanding what evolutionists believe simply because there are so many ‘ad hoc rationalizations,’ as the last article put it. The articles helped me to understand them and also how to respond.

  17. J.S. says:

    Today there is a perfect example of Dr. Wile’s point about people arguing against a position they don’t even know: Doonesbury’s 9/16 comic strip (http://doonesbury.slate.com/)

    I really like Trudeau’s sympathetic depiction of the military, and while I could not disagree more with his politics, as a whole I can usually see his points. However, in this case, what’s really laughable about this strip is his obvious ignorance of what creationists really believe.

  18. jlwile says:

    Unfortunately, Mia, the response was once again filled with errors. I have tried to educate Mr. Karlsson once again.

  19. jlwile says:

    J.S., unfortunately, that is very typical.

  20. Jacob says:

    Just looking at the url… Mr. Karlsson calls this a tirade? Then that means AiG and Dr. Wile have been at it for some time now. I’m also in this tirade on my blog.

    @J.S.- What’s even more sad is that this is a repeat comic from the last few years. Sadly, Trudeau has not taken the time during those years to learn anything.

  21. jlwile says:

    I also found that odd, Jacob. All I am doing is trying to correct his errors. I am not sure how that makes it a “tirade.”

  22. gracekalman says:

    I commented on that comic strip…I was less than popular.

  23. Jason says:

    @gracekalman

    hahahahahahaha…

    I’m sorry for laughing, but as someone who is also seen as “less than popular” on many pro-Darwin sites, anti-ID, anti-theism etc, I can relate :)

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