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22 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Demolishing darwin? - not at all, 3 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Darwin on Trial (Paperback)
This is a well structured and coherent text in which the eminent law professor clearly lays out his arguments. The premise is that a non-biologist may offer a convincing riposte to the vast body of evidence built up in favour of evolution. However, the book is far too short to offer any kind of convincing argument, and while the author has done a good job of choosing relevant information to make himself appear knowledgable, the case he presents is at worst disingenuous, as he neglects to paint the whole picture of the supporting evidence from the entire subject of biology, as set out in, for example, Dawkins' book "The Greatest Show on Earth".

My big problem is, what makes a law professor think that he can offer convincing arguments against one of the most established scientific theories of our time? I suspect that he would not be so bold as to present arguments against inflationary theory in cosmology (far less evidence) or the heliocentric model of the solar system (about as equally convincing as evolution). No, the only reason that any non-specialist would feel so confident in writing about such a subject is that it is evolution - and the man clearly lays out early on, lest he be accused of bias, that he is a christian. Although not said explicitly, the idea that God could possibly interfere to guide or accelerate the evolutionary process clearly appeals to him, as he fails to provide a suitable alternative explanation, other than supernatural, for the processes which he feels are not explained adequately by the modern synthesis. The sad thing is, the man will be preaching to the converted to many people whose religious beliefs guide them away from accepting the truth of evolutionary fact and it's excellent explanatory power.

The claim that Johnson is, as a professor of law, highly qualified to pronounce on the truth or otherwise of scientific theories surprises me further when the level or proof that would seem to satisfy the author is far greater than that required in a court of law to convict a murderer or rapist. the book argues that because there are gaps in the fossil record and because we have never seen speciation happen right in front of our eyes (how would this be possible anyway?!), this somehow undermines the entire edifice and network of supporting evidence. Yet such is the level of determined disbelief that the actual requirement of 'proof' is absurdly high. He also states that the theory cannot be falsified - well perhaps in the strict Popperian sense, but most scientists regard that requirement as far too strict for the requirement of working scientists. Anyway, as Haldane said, the theory could easily be falsified by "rabbits in the Precambrian". It hasn't been.

Anyway, this book will only convince people who are already convinced. Do yourself a favour and read a book that sets out the beauty of the theory in relation to all of the subjects - biology, zoology, genetics, geology etc. that provide the level of supporting evidence that has led to the theory being accepted, in full not part, not only by scientists, but the pope, the Archbishop etc.
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Showing 1-10 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Jan 2011, 23:55:11 GMT
Joshua M says:
"and because we have never seen speciation happen right in front of our eyes (how would this be possible anyway?!)"

Actually, we have seen speciation happen right in front of our eyes. In laboratory experiments where high artificial selective pressures can rapidly speed up adaptation we have seen speciation occur in organisms such as the Drosophila fly - there are numerous scientific papers supporting this.

I was thinking of reading this book, as it seemed an honest approach to challenging evolution rather than the intellectual buffoonery presented in most creationist works but the aforementioned fact shows that this book is no different and contains downright lies just like other tripe out there.

Besides, what credibility does a lawyer/theologian have where science is concerned? I bet he's never read a scientific journal in his life and wouldn't know science if it slapped him in the face. As you have correctly pointed out, this book will only convince people who are already convinced because they are the ignoramuses of established scientific fact and their reluctance to accept the unifying theory of biology is laughable when you consider how they accept every other established fact of science; especially medical science (which actually has had a lot of advancements due to evolutionary theory).

Do yourself a favour and have a read of this book only if you want a laugh, if not then stick to real science.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Apr 2011, 13:21:22 BST
Last edited by the author on 13 Apr 2011, 13:22:05 BST
'what makes a law professor think that he can offer convincing arguments against one of the most established scientific theories of our time?'
'what credibility does a lawyer/theologian have where science is concerned?'

You have both committed the genetic fallacy. If you'd read the book, you'd know that Johnson deals with this worthless objection. And don't forget that even a contemporary well-informed non-specialist like Johnson knows vastly more about biology than anyone from Darwin's time, including Darwin himself.

As for the speciation evinced by the Drosophila, no science journal has documented a single instance of a fruit fly evolving into something else. Calling that 'macroevolution' is merely equivocating between two senses of the term: 1) evolutionary changes at the level of species and above, and 2) major structural changes in species.

Deal with Johnson's arguments.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Apr 2011, 13:40:08 BST
Joshua M says:
The fact is, he simply is NOT qualified to argue against this stuff. Who is he to dismiss what people have spent their whole lives researching? The fact that 99.98% of all scientists support evolution shows that creationism really does have no place amongst modern science.

You're right, it doesn't make him wrong de facto, but the arguments I've read from the reviews do show that he has very very little scientific understanding. The people who do have the scientific understanding are massively in favour of evolution because it's the only testable theory that explains all the phenomena we see today. He may know more than Darwin ever knew about biology, but the fact that all biologists today know more that Darwin ever knew and still support evolution, and in fact are even more supportive of evolution, is surely testament to its truth?

"As for the speciation evinced by the Drosophila, no science journal has documented a single instance of a fruit fly evolving into something else."

Excuse me, do you even know what speciation is? It's an event that occurs where one species splits into two distinct species and are reproductively isolated e.g. they cannot produce fertile offspring if they were to mate (the most simple definition). In this book Johnson states matter-of-factly that we have never seen this happen right in front of our eyes. This is a LIE. Speciation has occurred numerous times right in front of our eyes - be it in the laboratory or in the wild. In the laboratory a single species of Drosophila have been observed to diverge into two species when isolated with different selection pressures; so much so that they cannot mate and produce fertile offspring and are thus a different (and new) species.

In the wild we've got several examples of ring species such as salamanders where they live in different habitats around a mountain and the ones living closest to each other can mate but the ones furthest away cannot mate because the hybrids are sterile and cannot survive in either environments. This is an example of speciation - go look up the definition of the word.

We can observe major structural changes in species also through the fossil record and also in laboratories or the wild. In the fossil record birds are a great example of macroevolution from dinosaurs - the numerous TRANSITIONAL FOSSILS (you know, the ones you guys pretend don't exist) show this beautifully where slow gradual changes are occurring as you move down the lineage. We've seen complete colour changes in species (go read Hopi E. Hoekstra's paper on colour adaptation in mice to different environments - the genes have been sequenced for that) the webbed feet evolving in different species due to mutations in genes that control apoptosis (programmed cell death - how digits are formed in fingers) etc. etc.

I could go on and on citing hundreds of examples but the fact is you've already made up your mind - you're never going to accept any evidence I present you. You're just going to pretend things like atavisms don't exist (genes that are remnant from ancestors - e.g. birds have the genes for making teeth, humans have the genes for making tails, whales have the genes for making legs and there are mutations in all 3 examples across the species which prove this) you're going to ignore endogenous retroviruses, you're going to ignore transitional fossils all because some book tells you to.

Science = here's the evidence, what conclusions can we draw to fit the evidence?
Creationism = here's the conclusion, what evidence can we find to fit the conclusion?

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Apr 2011, 09:38:45 BST
Last edited by the author on 14 Apr 2011, 10:07:52 BST
Thank you for your comment.

Not only have you failed to deal with Johnson's arguments, but you have also failed to deal with mine.

'The fact is, he simply is NOT qualified to argue against this stuff.'

Read the book. Deal with the arguments. Stop committing the genetic fallacy.

`Who is he to dismiss what people have spent their whole lives researching?

That's not an argument. It's just whining. Stop whining. Read the book: Johnson isn't dismissing evolution.

'Excuse me, do you even know what speciation is?'

I didn't state that the Drosophila experiments didn't evince speciation, nor did I even imply it. If you'd read the book, you'd know that Johnson doesn't deny speciation either: "The question is not whether natural selection occurs. Of course it does" (page 16, 1997 edition). Indeed, he even acknowledges your example specifically: "Whether selection has ever accomplished speciation (i.e. the production of a new species) is not the point. [...] Success in dividing a fruitfly population into two or more separate populations that cannot interbreed would not constitute evidence that a similar process could in time produce a fruitfly from a bacterium." (page 19, 1997 edition). I'll rewrite my point, adding capitals in case you miss the point again: 'no science journal has documented a single instance of a fruit fly evolving into SOMETHING ELSE'. As the late, great evolutionist Pierre-P. Grassé said: "The fruitfly (Drosophila melanogaster), the favorite pet insect of the geneticists, whose geographical, biotopical, urban, and rural genotypes are now known inside out, seems not to have changed since the remotest times." (Evolution of Living Organisms, New York: Acad. Press, 1977, p. 130.) Calling speciation 'macroevolution' is equivocating.

You state: 'We can observe major structural changes in species also through the fossil record and also in laboratories or the wild.'

No, we can't. Deal with the arguments of the following experts, none of whom is a creationist:

Zoologist Mark Ridley: 'The fossil record of evolutionary change within single evolutionary lineages is very poor. If evolution is true, species originate through changes of ancestral species: one might expect to be able to see this in the fossil record. In fact it can rarely be seen. In 1859 Darwin could not cite a single example.' (The Problems of Evolution, Oxford, OUP, p.11)

Palaeontologist David Raup of the Field Museum of Natural History, which houses one of the largest collection of fossils in the world: 'We are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species, but the situation hasn't changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time'. (Conflicts between Darwinism and Palaeontology, Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin, January 1979, p.25)

Colin Patterson, FRS: `I will lay it on the line - there is not one such fossil [a fossil which is ancestral or transitional] for which one could make a watertight argument'. (Cited by Davis and Kenyon in `Of Pandas and People', Dallas, Haughton Publishing Co., 1989, p.106) Patterson made that remark when the fossilised remains of the Archaeopteryx, often cited as an example of a transitional species between reptiles and birds, were under his care.

Overall, as Gould said, the fossil record reveals two things: 1) stasis, and 2) sudden appearance. That's why the theory of `punctuated equilibrium' was developed as an attempt to explain it. Where's the survey that shows 99.98% of scientists accept Darwinism as an entirely general theory of the complete biological realm? Or did you just make that number up? Even if you didn't, I have just quoted some of the leading experts, and counting heads isn't the same as weighing them.

`You guys...you've already made up your mind - you're never going to accept any evidence I present you.'

You clearly thought you were in a discussion with an idiotic fundamentalist who thinks every single species was created by instant fiat; you aren't. I completely accept evolution in the sense of 1) change, development, variation, 2) microevolution: variation within prescribed limits of complexity (all the examples you cite) and 3) artificial selection, for example, in plant and animal breeding. Anyone who doesn't is either stupid or ignorant - probably both.

What I haven't - yet - seen sufficient evidence for, though, is the claim that Darwinism is not without serious problems as a completely general theory of the biological realm. Neither macroevolution nor molecular evolution is at present beyond reasonable doubt. To affirm either would be to go beyond the evidence, which is unscientific. There are also very grave conceptual and empirical difficulties with the notion that the origins of life (remember: Dawkins recently said aliens explain it) and of sexual reproduction can be explained in Darwinian terms.

`Creationism = here's the conclusion, what evidence can we find to fit the conclusion?'

Don't forget the similarity to fanatical, fideistic materialism here. For a materialist, evolution is the only game in town. It can be deduced directly as a matter of sheer logical necessity from the supposition that materialism is true. That's why, millennia before Darwin, Epicurus produced an evolutionary theory from the atomic theory of Democritus. Go and read Lucretius' poem `De Rerum Natura'. Not even the properties of matter are matter, though.

Lastly, I will point out that Darwinism is entirely logically compatible with theism. Even Dennett acknowledges this. Indeed, of the founders of modern evolutionary theory, Mendel, Fisher and Dobzhansky were all Christians, and today at least three of the world's most important contributors in this area, Simon Conway-Morris, Francis Collins and Martin Nowak, are quite visible Christians. Even if it were true as a completely general theory of the biological realism, it would have no implications for the truth of theism whatsoever.

I highly recommend that you read Johnson's book. I disagree with some of it, but it's a lot better than you think.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Apr 2011, 11:55:03 BST
Joshua M says:
Dear Mr Knowland,

Thanks for your reply. First, let me apologise because I wasn't aware of your position and I wrongly assumed you were some ignorant 6-day creationist (as is often the type you get on here). So please accept my apology before moving on with this discussion.

I'm right when I say that he, as well as many other creationists, simply aren't qualified to talk about evolution the way they do though. But note; I'm not stating that you don't have a right to have an opinion - of course you do! But to dismiss the evolutionary research over the last 150 years when you don't even know the tip of the iceberg is quite laughable to any scientist, never mind frustrating.

About speciation - you didn't say it but the author of the review said it and that's what I was arguing against:
"the book argues that because there are gaps in the fossil record and because we have never seen speciation happen right in front of our eyes"

So I was taking it on this review that this book claims speciation has never happened - so I provided an example of where it has happened right before our eyes.

'If you'd read the book, you'd know that Johnson doesn't deny speciation either: "The question is not whether natural selection occurs. Of course it does"'

The book's acceptance of natural selection is simply not the same as an acceptance of speciation I'm afraid. About the fossil record and major structural changes well.. you're just as guilty as the other creationists out there I'm afraid here. You are doing something called 'quote-mining' - taking some obscure quotation from an established scientist and making it fit your position when in actual fact you KNOW they refute your position because they are evolutionary biologists. What they are referring to there is indeed punctuated equilibrium but this is still explainable by natural selection and gradualism - creationists like to pretend that it undermines evolution when it simply does not. There is an overwhelming abundance of transitional fossils and if you'd be so kind I'd be glad to show you numerous examples. There are indeed LOTS of species which we lack transitional fossils for but that's rather unfortunate and fossilisation is a rare process.

Punctuated equilibrium is a well-established scientific theory within evolutionary theory. Basically, species undergo a period of stasis for a very very long time (and we see this today - the modern shark has remained unchanged for millions of years as well as corals etc.) and you also get new species rapidly appearing. These can all be explained by natural selection - evolution only happens because of selection pressures and if there are no strong selection pressures then the species doesn't need to change because it's perfectly able in its environment already. But if extremely strong selection pressures happen, e.g. a genetic bottleneck happening all of a sudden you will get new species appearing extremely quickly.

By the way, you say that you accept microevolution but not macroevolution. How do you define macroevolution? Because surely macroevolution is the only logical possibility if you accept microevolution?

Microevolution = small changes over short periods of time.
Macroevolution = lots and lots of small changes that have built up over a very long time.
These are the accepted definitions within the scientific community - but how do you define them? From this it's only logical to assume that macroevolution does indeed occur.

You mention your problems with Darwinism and the origin of life. May I recommend you watch this video (which helped me enormously as I had to write a paper on Dr Jack Szostak's work):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg

As for Dawkins claiming aliens explained it this is another dishonest tactic by creationists. Dawkins does NOT believe that aliens were the cause. This is one hypothesis called Panspermia but has very little scientific support. Dawkins deals with this hypothesis in a few of his books (The Selfish Gene, The Blindwatchmaker - both brilliant books I'd recommend) and states that whilst it does explain the origin of life on earth, it doesn't explain the origin of life in the universe. It just adds another variable that you have to explain so Dawkins rules out the possibility by using Occam's razor - take the simplest hypothesis with the fewest variables (that life originated on our planet by natural means).

I completely agree with Darwinism being compatible with theism. One of my favourite books is The Language of God by Francis Collins - if you haven't already I'd highly recommend reading it.

Finally, about the level of support for evolution - Wiki has a good article (as always) on it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_support_for_evolution#Scientific_support

There's the part about scientific support. A particularly interesting and comical section is the part about Project Steve:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_support_for_evolution#Project_Steve

I'm going to write another comment which I hope you don't mind is cut-and-paste but it was in reply to another creationist but is all my own words.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Apr 2011, 11:56:36 BST
Joshua M says:
Dear Kathryn

"Why do we find NO fossils of creatures with half a wing, quarter of a wing, three quarters of a wing, 10% of a wing, 90% of a wing, 99% of a wing, 72.546% of a wing, 0.02141% of a wing, etc,etc? You ONLY ever see a wing or no wing, why?"

We do:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchiornis

The Anchiornsis has feathers (like most dinosaurs, you know that the T-rex probably had primitive feathers too, right?) but it was unable to fly or even glide. These 'wings' you see were most likely an adaptation for thermoregulation and probably had some sexual selection acting upon it to increase the surface area allowing them to gradually grow.

The famous http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeopteryx Archaeopteryx example is still very pertinent. It is fully bird AND fully dinosaur. It actually has more in common with small theropod dinosaurs than modern birds today such as jaws with sharp teeth, three fingered claws, long bony tail, extensible second toes used as killing claws, feathers for homeothermy, and other skeletal features that you do not see in modern birds today. This dinobird was probably unable to fly also - but it's very obvious it had the ability to glide e.g. from treetop to treetop to escape predators or to save energy instead of climbing down a tree and then climbing up the next one.

This transitional fossil here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confuciusornis is the first bird discovered to have a beak and be toothless. It was more advanced than Archaeopteryx but this is to be expected as it came after Archaeopteryx. The wing shape of it though is very unlike modern birds being long and narrow which doesn't give a great deal of surface area for flight. It therefore would have employed gliding flight but wouldn't have been able to control this very well.

Finally you have Ichthyornis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichthyornis which is quite modern dating only to 89 million years ago. This too, unlike modern birds, had teeth so it still had some ancestral traits. But the wings are much more able on this bird and lived primarily out at sea. It was capable of full flight too with mechanisms helping it to control this flight.

"And why aren't there huge numbers of these developing evolving creatures on earth right now, this second, with parts of this or parts of that, which are useless or next to useless until complete but are in the process of evolving?"

There are. Look nowadays at examples such as the flying squirrel, the flying lemur, the flying phalanger

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_squirrel
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petaurus
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colugo

These all have skin flaps that allow the species to glide from treetop to treetop to escape from predators etc. for the reasons seen previously above. Modern bats (which of course are mammals) most likely evolved this way too although these skin flaps don't control any skeletal structure whereas bat wings do so their evolution would be something slightly different. But all of the above creatures evolved these methods independently - something called convergent evolution. Lemurs and squirrels are very distantly related and we can see from other species that this wasn't an ancestral trait but has in fact evolved fairly recently to allow for 'gliding flight'. Is it so hard to imagine that after millions more years of evolution they will be capable of gliding further and further eventually capable of sustaining momentum in the air like with birds and bats? I think not, and if the right selection pressures are there then our descendants may one day see such a thing (if we don't destroy them or ourselves first).

"I know the fossil record is incomplete, but come on in billions of years there must be many. Where are they? Even one?"

I've provided you with more than one, I've provided you with several so I hope this suffices but I have a feeling you'll just ignore them and claim they're not transitional when they clearly are.

"And with so much change why can I recognise creatures unaltered for hundreds of millions years, why haven't they slowly evolved out of existence with these thousands, no hundreds of thousands, or millions of small changes that make up evolution. Why are frogs still frogs, cockroches still cockroches, bacteria still bacteria, crocodiles still crocodiles?"

Species do undergo periods of stasis such as sharks they have remained unchanged for millions of years, and nautiluses and some bacteria, corals but this is because they're simply so good at what they do they don't need to change. An species doesn't change over time simply for the sake of it, it only changes according to selection pressures e.g. a change of the environment (an ice age for example) or the introduction of a new predator so it needs to adapt to find new ways to survive against the new predator.

Hope this answers any questions you have on evolution, and remember, think about it for yourself and don't just accept backwards bronze age thinking from creationists, try putting your trust in the scientists where biology is concerned: you do it in all other areas of life such as medicine and you wouldn't be reading this right now if you didn't trust scientists elsewhere so trust us biologists a little too :)

Josh

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Apr 2011, 15:45:37 BST
Dear Joshua,

Thanks again for replying.

`I'm right when I say that he, as well as many other creationists, simply aren't (sic) qualified to talk about evolution the way they do though.'

You need to refute Johnson's specific arguments. Read the book, list them, and then refute each.

`The book's acceptance of natural selection is simply not the same as an acceptance of speciation'

Speciation occurs via natural selection. Johnson accepts both. As I've already said, he even cites the Drosophilia as a good example of speciation.

`About the fossil record and major structural changes...you are doing something called 'quote-mining' - taking some obscure quotation from an established scientist and making it fit your position when in actual fact you KNOW they refute your position because they are evolutionary biologists.'

A few points are in order here. 1) None of the quotations is obscure in the slightest. 2) I didn't have to make any of them `fit' my `position'. Each just plainly states the situation on the basis of the current evidence. 3) That Darwinism is not adequate as a completely general theory of the entire biological realm is the precise position they are defending as world-leading evolutionary biologists. That position is my position because I agree it's a good one based on the current evidence, and I also trust the experts.

`What they are referring to there is indeed punctuated equilibrium'
None of them even mentioned it. What they were actually referring to was the fact that the fossil record simply doesn't offer good support for macroevolution. Please remember here that Darwin's strongest initial objectors were palaeontologists.

`[Punctuated equilibrium] is still explainable by natural selection and gradualism'
The problems with the theory of punctuated equilibrium are grave, in particular: 1) the morphological changes evinced by the species in the fossil record are usually limited and directionless; and 2) new species just appear fully formed.

`Creationists like to pretend that it undermines evolution when it simply does not'
I'm not sure of the sense in which you're using the term evolution here, but the basic problem is that the evidence for punctuated equilibrium is empirically equivalent to the evidence the creationists expect to see. They are wrong about a lot, but this point is tricky for the ultra-Darwinists.

`There is an overwhelming abundance of transitional fossils'

That's not what the world-leading experts say. Stephen Jay Gould: `The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of palaeontology'.

`Fossilisation is a rare process'

That some of the branches of the Tree of Life are cryptogenic is surely caused by the incompleteness of the fossil record, but it is surely absurd to suppose that is the sole reason for the cryptogenic nature of some families, many invertebrate orders, ALL invertebrate classes, and ALL metazoan phyla. Moreover, if even the Precambrian strata are capable of preserving even soft-bodied embryos of organisms, as shown by the finds near Chengjiang in China, why do they not also contain the precursors to the Cambrian animals? Given the vast number of transitional fossils Darwinism leads us to expect, I find this surprising.

`If extremely strong selection pressures happen, e.g. a genetic bottleneck happening all of a sudden you will get new species appearing extremely quickly.'

The extremely short time-frame and the fact that species just appear in the fossil record fully formed are major problems here. I think Simon Conway Morris' idea that once animals of a sufficiently high degree of genetic complexity are in existence, then relatively small genetic changes may trigger large morphological changes. The problem here, though, is that no one has any idea how form actually emerges from the genetic code.

`Surely macroevolution is the only logical possibility if you accept microevolution?'

First, the distinction between micro- and macroevolution is the subject of considerable dispute. Large-scale innovation seems to cover the basics, though.

Second, one certainly cannot deduce macroevolution from microevolution. That begs the question of whether evolution really is one seamless whole. We know that selection mechanisms can account for variations in finch beak-lengths or the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. The question is whether they can account for the existence of finches and bacteria in the first place. I have the following issues here:

1) Natural selection, by its very nature, does not create novelty. It just eliminates or maintains what exists. The generative and ordering aspects of morphological evolution are thus absent from evolutionary theory. Let me explain. In a situation where resources a limited, natural selection favours the progeny of the strong over the weak by preserving any beneficial mutation, but natural selection does not cause the mutation. That occurs by chance. Let's take one resource: food. Imagine there is food for all, the strong and the weak. As resources increase, most progeny would survive, so there would be less and less for natural selection to do. So evolution would now be less and less likely, for chance would now be doing all the work, but even Dawkins rules out mere chance.

2) Extrapolating from the observed to the unobserved is fraught with danger.

3) There is no empirical evidence that evolutionary lines increase in complexity with time.

`You mention your problems with Darwinism and the origin of life. May I recommend you watch this video (which helped me enormously as I had to write a paper on Dr Jack Szostak's work):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg'
Thanks for the link. I genuinely appreciate it. I'll watch the video. I'll just note here that the severity of the problem of the chance origin of life is shown by the ad hoc appeals to an infinite number of planets in the universe to increase its probability.

`Dawkins does NOT believe that aliens were the cause.'

He was pushed to take that position in a public debate due to the weakness of his position that life arose by natural means.

`Dawkins rules out the possibility by using Occam's (sic) razor - take the simplest hypothesis with the fewest variables (that life originated on our planet by natural means).'

Ockham's razor tells us to opt for the simpler theory and avoid postulating the existence of something unless we need to. Dawkins was pushed to resort to little green men, and other materialists are pushed to resort to asserting an actually infinite number of planets, precisely because the problems with natural means are so severe. (By the way, "Ockham's" razor was more or less stated by medieval predecessors like Petreus Aureolus and St. Thomas Aquinas. Not many people know that.)

Finally, thanks again for all the links and recommendations. I'll respond with one of my own: in addition to Johnson's `Darwin on Trial', make sure you read Jonathan Swift's book `Evolution Under the Microscope: A Scientific Critique of the Theory of Evolution'. As much as I'd like to, unfortunately I don't have the time to continue this discussion, which could easily get very far away from Johnson's book and turn into something far too weighty to discuss in a combox, but I hope I've persuaded you to read Johnson's book. That was my original aim. Please respond anyway, though.

Regards,

Will

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Apr 2011, 16:23:54 BST
Joshua M says:
Dear Will,

Thanks again for your reply. I will try to keep this reply brief.

I think I will see if the library has Johnson's book (I don't plan on buying it) and will take a read thanks to your recommendation. But to be fair if you disagree with some points in the book I'm likely to disagree with the vast majority of it.

I wasn't aware that Johnson accepts speciation - according to the author of this review we're commenting on he said that Johnson dismisses speciation so that's why I brought it up.

As for the quotations, they are obscure when you look at the amounts of literature these people have written. And the majority of these quotations arise when biologists are talking about punctuated equilibrium. Read Francis Collins' The Language of God because he believes that evolution is enough of an explanation completely on its own to explain the diversity of life. He believes God started it all off but that evolution itself is enough to explain the diversity of life.

The majority of world leading experts in the field of Biology support naturalistic evolution with no 'supernatural guiding force' - they may or may not think a supernatural force exists but the fact is as a biologist evolution really is the only valid conclusion.

Yes, we have a huge lack of transitional fossils. But then again, all fossils found are transitional but it's putting the pieces together that's the problem. But you're right - there is a huge lack of transitional fossils and huge gaps. This is a very inconvenient fact BUT the fact that we do have lots of transitional fossils already gives great evidence to evolution. Did you read my second comment concerning transitional fossils? I'd recommend reading for yourself on transitional fossils.

But DNA evidence itself is enough to prove evolution to be true. How do you account for humans still having the genes for tails (and mutants being born with tails), birds still having the genes for teeth (and mutants being born with teeth), whales still having the genes for making legs (and mutants being born with legs) etc. etc. there's lots of different examples like these. And endogenous retroviruses - these are conclusive proof of common ancestry.

I recommend one last video, well it's a short series, of the evidence for evolution and common ancestry by a guy called DonExodus on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1fGkFuHIu0

Natural selection doesn't create new information though you're right and that's only through mutation where new information can arise.

About the chances of the origin of life - watch that video and then tell me what you think. We're getting closer to the answer and there are various hypotheses of how it started. But all you need is a self-replicating molecule and you have the beginning of 'life'. And scientists have found self-replicating molecules - both self-splicing RNA and DNA. Watch that video anyhow. But the fact that there are billions and billions of planets does make it more likely surely? The 'anthropic principles' people speak of such as the earth being the perfect distance from the sun, the moon being the perfect distance from the earth and the perfect size etc. etc. when there are billions and billions and billions of planets in the universe there's got to be several that are just like ours?

Dawkins was NOT pushed to 'resort to little green men' as you put it. I don't know what creationist propaganda you've been reading there but if you watch the whole thing he brings it up as just ONE hypothesis of many but he also addresses the problems with Panspermia.

Thanks, I didn't know that about Petreus Aureolus and St. Thomas Aquinas. That's very interesting I thought William of Ockham was the main guy accredited with this but apparently not. It's also known as the law of parsimony.

I'll have a look at Jonathan Swift's book I have heard of that before though. I'll check them out at the local library.

Good chatting with you Will, it's sad that this discussion has to come to an end. Maybe we could continue this by email instead another time?

Kindest regards,

Josh

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Apr 2011, 20:28:26 BST
Last edited by the author on 14 Apr 2011, 20:34:42 BST
Just one more comment, because I'm enjoying this discussion so much.

`As for the quotations, they are obscure when you look at the amounts of literature these people have written. And the majority of these quotations arise when biologists are talking about punctuated equilibrium.'

They are not obscure: I even gave you page references.

`As a biologist evolution really is the only valid conclusion.'

That many biologists adopt methodological naturalism as a working hypothesis doesn't prove that neo-Darwinian evolution is the only valid conclusion. It is the only valid conclusion based on the assumption of methodological naturalism, not the only valid conclusion. It is the only possible conclusion for a metaphysical naturalist, but metaphysical naturalism has nothing whatsoever to do with science.

`All fossils found are transitional'

That's begging the question.

`This is a very inconvenient fact'

To put it very mildly! Indeed, it's the opposite of what Darwinism leads us to expect.

`The fact that we do have lots of transitional fossils already gives great evidence to evolution.'

The experts say we don't.

`DNA evidence itself is enough to prove evolution to be true.'

It is one thing to point to genetic relatedness. It is quite another to say that genetic relatedness is the product of nothing but mutation and natural selection. That goes well beyond the evidence. Moreover, similarities in the DNA sequence could just as well be read as evidence of common design.

`How do you account for humans still having the genes for tails (and mutants being born with tails), birds still having the genes for teeth (and mutants being born with teeth), whales still having the genes for making legs (and mutants being born with legs) etc. etc. there's lots of different examples like these. And endogenous retroviruses - these are conclusive proof of common ancestry.'

You are now just citing stock objections that have been discussed elsewhere ad nauseam. Look the answers up for yourself.

`We're getting closer to the answer and there are various hypotheses of how it started.'

No, we aren't. In fact, according to Klaus Dose, one of the most prominent workers in research into the origin of life, the opposite is true: `More than thirty years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.' (Interdisciplinary Science Reviews)

`All you need is a self-replicating molecule and you have the beginning of 'life'. And scientists have found self-replicating molecules - both self-splicing RNA and DNA.'

That they've found them is irrelevant to the point at hand. This is too big a topic to explore in detail here, but:
1) How did the first self-replicating molecule arise via purely naturalistic means?
2) One implication of the existence of alternative splicing and error repair mechanisms is that DNA would appear to depend on life for its existence, rather than life on DNA, thus calling into question the common assumption that life originated in an RNA to DNA to life sequence.

`The fact that there are billions and billions of planets does make it more likely surely?'

No. That's why materialists desperately postulate an empirically-unsupported infinite number of planets.

`There are billions and billions and billions of planets in the universe there's got to be several that are just like ours?'

No. Do some research. Dr Howard Smith, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, recently said he supports the `rare earth' hypothesis: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/8276756/Alien-life-deemed-impossible-by-analysis-of-500-planets.html

Astronomer Hugh Ross lists 200 parameters required for a life-bearing planet. Comparing the chances of a planet falling within all of these parameters by chance alone with our best estimate of the total number of planets in the universe (10^22) he estimates that there is `less than 1 chance in 10^215' of even one habitable planet existing in the universe. (Hugh Ross, Fine Tuning of Physical Life Support Body, Pasadena, CA: Reasons To Believe, 2002)

No one has refuted these arguments. The stock response is just the empirically-unwarranted assertion that there are infinitely many planets in the universe.
`Dawkins was NOT pushed to 'resort to little green men' as you put it.'

The weaknesses in his position were exposed, and he said he would opt for aliens over God. He did the same thing here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjGahWsPSlQ

To sum up:
1) You have failed to refute any of my specific points.
2) You acknowledge the `huge lack of transitional fossils', admit this is `a very inconvenient fact', but you then disregard expert opinion by saying that we do have lots of transitional fossils.
3) The `transitional' fossils you give are mere trivialities compared to the Archaeopteryx, because they don't involve the necessary changes across large categories. Where's the evidence that a bat and a sponge are descended via mutation and natural selection from a common ancestor?
4) You don't understand the relatively minor importance of the Thesis of Common Ancestry. Even given the Thesis of Common Ancestry, a theory of progressive creationism fits all the facts and could well be true - although I doubt it is.

In the current literature all we have is mind-boggling extrapolation from limited instances of microevolutionary change to conclusions that far outstrip the evidence. That's why I'm sceptical: going beyond the available evidence is fundamentally unscientific. In the absence of a fanatical commitment to materialism, there are no good reasons to think that the neo-Darwinian synthesis can bear ALL the weight that is placed on it, whereas there are many reasons to doubt that it can. If we ask why the theory is held so tenaciously and dogmatically, we find the answers are philosophical, not scientific. That's where Johnson's book is relevant.

Again, thanks for your reply. I really do have to draw a line under this now, though I don't regret doing so any more: you aren't engaging with my arguments, and it's clear our basic difference is metaphysical. And there's no point arguing with materialists: they're irrational. In fact, as the history of philosophy shows, they even end up denying their own rationality.

Again, thanks for the discussion.

Regards,

Will.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Apr 2011, 21:02:47 BST
Joshua M says:
Wow, that was a pretty arrogant way to finish, don't you think? I was dealing with your points one by one, but instead you pretend that I wasn't and your prejudice of materialists finally shows itself:

'And there's no point arguing with materialists: they're irrational. In fact, as the history of philosophy shows, they even end up denying their own rationality.'

If you say so, but you have failed to counter any of my major points. Not once did you go through my transitional fossils post, instead sweeping them all away saying that they don't show the 'big changes' you were looking for. If that's what you're expecting then I think you sincerely misunderstand evolution. You're never going to find a 'crocoduck' or a 'blend of two species' as Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron are looking for. These transitional fossils show the slow gradual change from reptile to bird and are all consecutive but you just dismissed this all in one go.

But that's typical from creationists really pretending you've dismissed something when you haven't really addressed it at all.

Just like you ignored my points about atavisms and ERVs. You just stated that they've been explained away many times but fail to provide any sources and instead tell me to go do the research myself. Firstly, let me tell you that I have and there's no scientific literature in support of what you're saying. Have you ever read a scientific journal? Have you ever seen rebuttals to neo-Darwinism in any of them? If so then please let me know.

You state that 'similarities in the DNA sequence could just be evidence of common design' - highly improbable unless the designer is an extremely wasteful and poor designer. Why do we see so many similarities in the non-coding parts of the DNA? There are similarities in the junk parts of the DNA of a bird and a reptile - gives evidence to common descent. Same designer? Well why stick in some non-coding region of DNA? Oh, and before you start attacking the 'junk' DNA check out knock-out experiments where they splice out the genes in question and the offspring grow up to be perfectly healthy individuals who are able to reproduce and produce fertile healthy offspring themselves. Looks a lot like junk DNA to me.

It's pretty clear that although you're more well-read than most creationists, you still have no idea of the fundamentals of evolution nor have you explored the evidence for yourself. You don't seem to understand much about the fundamentals of biology either.

But guess you're not gonna reply to me because I am, after all, just some irrational materialist and my education in biology doesn't count for anything in your eyes.

Best regards,

Josh
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