Question Evolution! - CMI's Rebuttals to Responses to Questions 1 through 3

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Please keep the snark to a minimum and focus on strong and well-sourced responses.

Creation Ministries International's Rebuttals to Responses to Questions 1 through 3 of its 15 Questions for Evolutionists[edit]

Introduction[edit]

On September 7, 2011, CMI posted rebuttals to various general objections to the "15 Questions for Evolutionists" that form the core of its Question Evolution! Campaign.

As with the questions themselves, CMI's rebuttals illustrate the great epistemological gulf between the discussants. The Question Evolution! Campaign is not concerned with justifying the truth claims that underlie CMI's religious objections to the theory of evolution. Rather, CMI engages in a negative apologetics calculated to cast as much doubt as possible on the Theory of Evolution. At times, by doggedly relying on cherry-picked and sometimes dated sources, CMI's rebuttals run contrary to its own interests by illustrating one of the most powerful central features of doing science: it's an iterative process that necessarily depends on continual critical evaluation of theories and data as the state of the art and knowledge advance. Creationists generally take the position that unanswered questions pose serious problems for the Theory of Evolution, rather than providing opportunities for the advancement of knowledge. While young earth creationists occasionally make truth claims that are susceptible to scientific investigation, their overall program is rooted in an unwavering belief in the truth of scripture. It is primarily concerned with finding evidence consistent with its interpretations of an ancient religious text and, therefore, will always lack the superior explanatory power of modern secular science.

This round of CMI's rebuttals was drafted by Jonathan Sarfati, a PhD physical chemist and prolific creationist author with a number of papers published in secular peer-reviewed journals; Robert Carter, a PhD marine biologist; Don Batten, a PhD agronomist and horticultural scientist with many secular peer-reviewed papers on non-creationist subjects relevant to his field; and Lita Cosner, MA theology.

Have a look at the original article: Question Evolution! - "15 critically important questions that evolutionists cannot adequately answer" and our responses to CMI's latest attempts to rebut answers to its questions:

Question 1: How did life originate?[edit]

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Answer 1: Abiogenesis is not relevant to the discussion of evolution—it is a separate topic (this has been a very common claim).

Rebuttal: No one claimed that abiogenesis was irrelevant to the evolution debate until evolutionists realized they were losing the debate on it. Indeed, abiogenesis is also often called ‘chemical evolution’ (see Natural selection cannot explain the origin of life and here just one example of a paper by evolutionists proving the point, titled, “On the applicability of Darwinian principles to chemical evolution that led to life”, International Journal of Astrobiology 3:45-53, 2004). It doesn’t matter how well one can or can’t explain how the first life could evolve, if you can’t explain how it got there in the first place, the theory is literally dead in the water (or the (non-existent) primordial soup, as the case may be). Notice also that, as we stated clearly above, creationists believe in changing allele frequencies over time. Therefore, since both sides claim this as part of their model, the debate must lie outside this area. Hence, the origin of life is fair game for discussions on whether or not evolution is true.

See our Origin of Life Q&A for more information.

This is completely incorrect. For all evolution is concerned, God may have created the first cell. After that, however, evolution took over. Evolution explains the diversity and complexity of life, not the origins of life itself. Furthermore, creationists believe in changing allele frequencies over time, however they do not believe in "Macroevolution". This is where the debate lies, not abiogenesis. Furthermore, if the theory of evolution was "dead in the water" without abiogenesis, the same could be said about any other idea humans have come up with to explain observed phenomena, from science, to history, to Christianity itself. One can talk about what happens in steps 5-8 without knowing about steps 1-4, other than their end result.

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Answer 2: Life/non-life isn’t a dichotomy. Rather, there are many examples of ‘proto-life’ such as viruses, prions, etc.

Rebuttal: These intriguing sub-life entities have nothing to help evolutionists explain the origin of genuine life, because they can’t reproduce without the presence of genuinely living creatures. But see Did God make pathogenic viruses? And Even a tiny virus has a powerful mini-motor.

Again, evolution doesn't try to explain the origin of life; it explains how life changes over time once it exists.

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Answer 3: Some experiments show that the early earth’s atmosphere was optimal for life.

Rebuttal: And which studies would those be? The Miller-Urey experiment which used the wrong sort of atmosphere and produced more sludge than amino acids? Or the studies which show that the early atmosphere was oxygen-rich—not friendly for the origin of life. Or the ones that show that water would impede the formation of the hypothetical earliest cell, because it would favour hydrolysis over polymerization. Or the ones that show that information is a crucial component for life—the ‘software’ is just as important as the ‘hardware’, in other words—which gives the evolutionists the burden of showing how something so mind-bogglingly complex (such that we only are beginning to unravel some of the code) came about by random chance?

Producing "more sludge than amino acids" is irrelevant to the significance of the Miller-Urey experiment. The use of the "wrong" atmosphere (which was correct to the extent of scientific knowledge on the subject at the time) is barely relevant; the significance of the Miller-Urey experiment is proof that the building blocks of life could form at all without supernatural intervention. Likewise further repeaters of the experiment have produced the necessary acids: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=primordial-soup-urey-miller-evolution-experiment-repeated

Question 2: How did the DNA code originate?[edit]

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Answer 1: This is not an evolution question, because evolution starts with an already-reproducing organism.

Rebuttal: But this is something evolution must assume. Leading philosopher Antony Flew lost his atheistic faith by considering (among other things):

“It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account.

“Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”[1]

If there’s no way for the DNA code to come about via natural processes, evolution is impossible. A huge problem is this: the DNA information requires complex decoding machines, including the ribosome, so it can be decoded into the specifications to build the proteins required for life, including enzymes. But the information required to build ribosomes is itself encoded on the DNA. So DNA information can’t be decoded without products of its translation, forming a ‘vicious circle’. And decoding machinery requires energy from ATP, built by ATP-synthase motors, built from instructions in the DNA decoded by ribosomes … ‘vicious circles’ for any materialistic origin theory.

This is getting really tiring to refute. The first claim, made after the quote of Flew, on which this entire argument is predicated, is simply absolutely wrong. Whether the first cell was poofed into existence by God, or arrived on a meteor, or formed by natural processes is entirely, absolutely, totally irrelevant to whether evolution happens. Evolution describes what happens to life that exists, which means that it began no earlier than the origin of life by whatever means (and, according to modern molecular genetics, it appears to have begun quite a while after). If DNA could not possibly form by natural processes, that would constitute a refutation of abiogenesis. It would not refute the theory of evolution and it certainly would not prove CMI's claims about the origin of life any more than it would prove the Zoroastrian, Hindu, Shinto, Polynesian, Hopi or Aztec creation myths.

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Answer 2: Originally, life used RNA instead of DNA to encode information.

Rebuttal: First, where is the evidence for this, such as fossilized ancestral RNA life? Second, the RNA world hypothesis is fraught with difficulties. RNA is even less stable than DNA, and that is saying something—about a million DNA ‘letters’ are damaged in a typical cell on a good day, which then requires repair mechanisms to be in place (another problem for origin-of-life scenarios). And it is extremely unlikely that the building blocks for RNA would come about by undirected chemical interactions, and even if this happened, it would be even more improbable that the building blocks would self-assemble into any RNA molecule, let alone an informational one. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. See this article for more details, which discusses the objections of a major origin-of-life researcher to the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis.

The likelihood increases exponentially when you add in more time. It is popular to say that life emerged soon after the Earth formed/cooled, but these scientists mean something on the order of hundreds of millions to billions of years. It also increases with more space; obviously origin of life studies take place within test tubes, but reality includes the volume of the ocean. Of course, many areas did not have the vital minerals, but during this time there were immense tides due to the Moon's proximity to Earth. [1]These caused many nutrients to be mixed up countless times, and one of these times, somewhere, RNA could have, and did, form. All RNA is inherently informational. After that, this need not happen again because the RNA will make copies of itself.

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Answer 3: It is disingenuous to argue from the current DNA code, because the original code would have been much simpler.

Rebuttal: This is most disingenuous. So many evolutionists have appealed to the common DNA code to “prove” common ancestry. But now they are claiming that the first life had a different code not possessed by any living creature! But how could we go from the hypothetical simpler coding system to the current one? It would be like switching keys on a computer keyboard—the messages would become scrambled (as anyone who is accustomed to a QWERTY keyboard who has tried to use a non-QWERTY Latin keyboard would know only too well).

Actually, it has long been known that there are exceptions to the code, as we have pointed out (see The Unity of Life) and that is a problem for evolutionists. Richard Dawkins was recently stumped when “life-creator” Craig Venter pointed out that there were different codes—Dawkins has long taught that evolution was supported by a single code and used this to argue for the single (evolutionary, of course) origin of all life.

There is a certain minimum amount of information which would have to be encoded for any living thing to survive. Currently, the self-replicating organism with the least amount of genetic information is the Mycoplasma genitalium with 580,000 ‘letters’ coding for 482 proteins. But this can only survive as a parasite, so non-parasitical life would have to encode even more information. See How simple can life be?

Consider yourself, a human being. Your genome contains approximately three billion base pairs. Now consider amoeba proteusWikipedia's W.svg, a microscopic single-celled organism. Surely you're more complex than this amoeba, right? Surely it takes more information to build you, right? Wrong. Amoeba proteus has a genome of 290 billion base pairs - 100 times more than you! Either the claim that complexity requires more "information" is wrong and/or the claim that there's no "junk DNA" in existence is wrong. CMI makes both claims, and the stark difference between the genomes of these two organisms is an insurmountable counterexample to both and indeed to literally every claim made by creationist "information theory".

CMI's second point is a red herring. Evolutionary biologists have long since known about the exceptions to the code; Richard Dawkin's mistake is irrelevant. Not only that, but the minor differences to a near universal code were predicted, based on the assumption of Common Descent, before it was cracked. What's more, they knew where, if there was going to be any differences, the variations would occur; mostly restricted to the higher taxonomic groups, such as Kingdoms and Phylums. The code, variations and all, follows the prediction of Common Descent. If the results pointed to most organisms having completely different codes, Common Descent would be falsified. Creation made no such prediction, because any result would fit. "Universal Code?" "Common Design" "We expect to see similar design from a designer". "Varied Code?" "Varied Design" "We expect variation from an omnipotent creator; why should he restrict himself to only one design"?

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section1.html

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Answer 4: The question of how the modern code emerged from these early predecessors is evolution itself. Random deviations in the nucleic acid structure would change the by-product produced, if the by-product was more efficient at replicating, it would overwhelm less efficient codes. This gradual change in the complexity of the underlying code is useful in explaining many aspects of biological theory. Such as why RNA is used as an intermediate between DNA and protein synthesis.

Rebuttal: Random deviations would randomly change the “by-product produced”, so they would disrupt all the proteins encoded. RNA is used as an intermediate because it is more labile; it’s optimal for the short time frames needed for cell communications. It is a hopeless candidate for hypothetical eons in a primordial soup.


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Answer 5: The words ‘code’ and ‘language’ are only metaphors when applied to the DNA code, and they have no reality outside our own mental constructs. In reality, the whole thing is dependent on chemical properties.

Rebuttal: Secular scientists refer to the nucleobases of DNA as ‘letters’, so it’s hardly original to us. And we would agree that the workings of the code are due to chemical properties—we are not vitalists (see also Naturalism, Origins and Operational Science). But this doesn’t explain the origin of the code. Similarly, we believe that the workings of computer decoders can be explained totally by the laws of semi-conductor electron levels and other electrical properties, but these laws didn’t make the computer. Should we say then that there is no difference between a 500 GB hard drive and an old 2 MB one, because it has no reality outside our mind? Also, this is a rather petty thing to dispute, since it does not address any of the arguments from the pamphlet. One wonders why we received several objections of this nature.

Scientists also use "letters" as a metaphor. Metaphors are used to make things easier to understand, not because they're literally correct.

For the millionth time, the origin of life (and its necessary bases) is beyond the scope of the theory of evolution. It falls under abiogenesis. Evolution doesn't explain how life arose but how it diversified and continues to diversify.

Secondly the statement: " And we would agree that the workings of the code are due to chemical properties—we are not vitalists" Runs completely contrary to the previous assertion: "The code is a sophisticated language system with letters and words where the meaning of the words is unrelated to the chemical properties of the letters—just as the information on this page is not a product of the chemical properties of the ink (or pixels on a screen)." CMI is either unsure of their own stance on DNA or are just simply moving the goalposts and this writer suspects a combination of both. But if the latter is the case, then all that leaves for the argument is the notion that DNA is too complex to have evolved and as has been proven time and time again, complexity is not a barrier to evolution, it's expected.

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Answer 6: It is easy to create amino acids and the building blocks for RNA by running an electrical charge through mineral-rich water.

Rebuttal: If you could actually get all the amino acids needed for life, and the sugars for RNA, from those conditions (which you can’t, since the conditions are incompatible, so this is a baseless assertion), that would be only the very first step. You then have to polymerize the amino acids in the right sequences into proteins (don’t forget about folding the proteins into precisely the right shape with chaperonins, because even one wrongly-folded protein can wreak havoc), and assemble all those proteins into micro-compartments to prevent the wrong things from reacting, then combine these compartments together to make the first cell. That is why such experiments never go beyond these simple “building blocks”; they are too dilute, contaminated, cross-reactive, and racemic (instead of being ‘one-handed’), to build anything. See Origin of life: instability of building blocks and Origin of life: the chirality problem. We have already covered the problems for the RNA world.

References

  1. Flew went on to say that such DNA research “has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved.” My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: an exclusive interview with former British atheist Professor Antony Flew by Gary Habermas, Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005.
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</td>The chirality problem has been solved: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-twist-in-life-s-start-could-aid-efforts-to-make-it-from-scratch/

More information has come in as well: http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2015/03/researchers-may-have-solved-origin-life-conundrum http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/science/under-the-sea-a-missing-link-in-the-evolution-of-complex-cells.html?referrer=</td></tr></table>

Question 3: How could mutations - accidental copying - mistakes, create the huge volume of information in the DNA of living things?[edit]

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Answer 1: If only eight mutations per year were passed on for three billion years, that gives 3 gigabytes of information.

Rebuttal: This assumes that those information-gaining mutations occur—which hasn’t been shown. Second, as a population grows larger, it is harder to fix new mutations in the population, because the cost of substitution is greater (this is Haldane’s Dilemma).[1] Third, it assumes that the mutations that will be fixed are the sort that create new structures, such as lungs, feathers and wings. But it is becoming the consensus even among evolutionist geneticists that mutations are like spelling mistakes in an instruction manual, which overwhelmingly degrade information. These changes can be adaptive (helpful to survival or ‘beneficial’) in certain circumstances, but they are still heading in the wrong direction to make evolution tenable. This includes antibiotic resistance, wingless beetles on windswept islands, blind fish in caves, and chloroquine resistance in malarial parasites. A recent paper shows that even the “beneficial” mutations work against each other—it’s called antagonistic epistasis.

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</td>Richard Lenski's experiments proved that "information-gaining" mutations can and do occur. Quite apart from CMI's claim, the appearance of resistance to many and varied drugs in mycobacterium tuberculosis over time (multi- and extensively drug-resistant strains) or of methicillin resistance in staphylococcus aureus similarly provide proof.

One of the four observed modes of penicillin resistance is hydrolysis of the drug catalyzed by beta-lactamase enzymes produced by the bacteria themselves. This and other enzymatic drug resistance modalities did not exist prior to the proliferation of antibiotics. Even accepting this spurious information-theoretic view of DNA, the introduction of a new protein clearly qualifies as a gain in information.</td></tr></table>

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Answer 2: Computer models have shown how mutations can lead to large-scale change.

Rebuttal: Every computer simulation of information-gaining mutations known to us stacks the deck in favour of evolution and in no way simulates what actually happens in real life. You might as well argue from the computer game Spore (although some do). See the articles on genetic algorithms and Dawkins’s Weasel program at our Natural Selection Q&A, as well as the more sophisticated Mendel’s Accountant, which does simulate (model) the real world genetics of living organisms. We know that mutations break things—and it’s far easier to break something than to make it.

Note also, that the issue is not the size of the change: dogs and cabbages both exhibit enormous variety, but they are still dogs (wolves, coyotes, German shepherds, etc.) and cabbages (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.). These changes can occur within an animal or plant type (kind/baramin). Evolutionists need to find a mechanism for ‘nature’ to invent new genetic instructions for complex new features such as feathers for reptiles, if evolution did really change a reptile into a bird, for example.

Of course better programs have come out: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/06/evolution-of-co-2.html

And creationists' logic against genetic algorithms is silly: http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/9820/are-genetic-algorithms-evidence-to-support-evolution http://www.neosprockets.com/index.php/2009/09/gas-and-creationsists/ https://sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/behe-rejects-evolution-by-the-numbers/

And primates (humans are primates) exhibit enormous variety, yet they're still primates. The key factor is that they are different varieties. That's descent with modification, no magical ad hoc scenario required. CMI claims they can detect design yet they ironically seem better able to detect evolution—almost as if the mechanisms are known and testable, despite claims to the contrary. "Baramin" is a plastic, untestable and unfalsifiable ad hoc to explain away problems with fitting animals in the Ark. There isn't even a Biblical basis for it; Genesis mentions broad categories such as "Beasts" and "Fowl". Taken literally all land animals should be considered the same "Kind". The Creationist Orchard is completely fictional.

Evolutionists have found a mechanism for creating new genetic variation: it's called Gene Duplications. And interestingly enough the evolution of feathers has been studied extensively. Molecular evidence shows that Gene Duplication and subsequent modification and co-option of preexisting Keratin genes led to the evolution of feathers. Some genes once thought to be specific only to Aves have been found in crocodilians.

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Answer 3: Using words such as ‘accidental’ and ‘mistakes’ is misleading and misses the point entirely.

Rebuttal: Again, this sort of language is used by secular scientists, so take it up with them. But an assertion is not an argument—our opponents didn’t even defend this assertion. Carl Sagan, an ardent evolutionist, admitted: “ … mutations occur at random and are almost uniformly harmful—it is rare that a precision machine is improved by a random change in the instructions for making it.”[2] How can random changes be anything but ‘accidental’ and ‘mistakes’?

Well so far our evolution defenders have not delivered the goods. Keep tuned for the next installment of attempts to answer the 15 questions.
Mutations are random, but as you might guess by the name, natural selection is not random. Insisting that evolution is "random" even though it's guided by natural selection is disingenuous, especially when it's been pointed out to you umpteen times.

References[edit]

  1. According to the theoretical mathematics of population genetics, if a beneficial mutation has a selective advantage, its probability of survival is about 2s/(1–e–2sN), where s = selection coefficient and N is the population size. See Spetner, L.M., Not By Chance, The Judaica Press, Brooklyn, NY, 1996, 1997; see online review.
  2. Sagan, C., The Dragons of Eden, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1977, p. 28.

See also[edit]

External Links[edit]