Creationism and Molecular Evolution

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things that always mystifies me about creationists (most, anyway) is that they seem to be stuck in a scientific time warp: there’s no recognition that any new progress has been made since 1859.

Of course, if creationists did recognize the progress that’s been made since 1859, then they might not be creationists anymore. The reason I raise this is that John Timmer, at Ars Technica, summarizes what he learned about natural selection at a Rockfeller symposium about evolution:

Natural Selection: Explore Evolution [the Discovery Institute’s ‘biology’ textbook] seems to think a reply can be made to the arguments in favor of natural selection. Based on the symposium, the scientific community clearly doesn’t. Selective pressure made appearances in nearly every session. Selection for self-replicating RNAs and for enclosing biochemical precursors within membranes were central to the origin of life work of Gerald Joyce and Jack Szostack, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, the researchers exploring human evolution (Katherin Pollard, Bruce Lahn, and Svante Pääbo) spoke of the challenges of identifying signs of selection amidst the genetic drift that’s occurred within the genomes of mammals in general and primates in particular.
Here, it was clear that there simply is no controversy. In contrast to the arguments over bacterial trees and the origin of eukaryotes, none of the researchers felt compelled to explain or justify their focus on the role of mutation and selective pressure. Concerns, when they arose, were simply focused on identifying the consequences of selection. As such, Discovery’s focus on presenting a controversy here seems hallucinatory.

I think biologists typically present organismal evidence for evolution to non-science audiences, probably because it’s thought to be easier to understand than the molecular. Since I work on bacteria, and all most people know about bacteria is that they’re very little and that they can make you ill, I’ve always had a more difficult road to travel anyway, so I might as well work in some of the scary DNA stuff too.
What’s nuts about creationists is that the molecular evidence for natural selection is incredibly strong, unless you posit a God that likes to deceive people. Or maybe DNA is a Satanic plot.

This entry was posted in Creationism, Evolution, Genetics. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Creationism and Molecular Evolution

  1. TomS says:

    ISTM that for most people, evolution is all about fossils. I’m including most people who accept the reality of evolution. The fossils are dramatic, and there isn’t anything wrong with pointing to fossil evidence. But there’s a lot more to evolution than paleontology.
    Quite aside from the misimpression that this is of the evidence for evolution, I’d also suggest that it could contribute to the idea that there is no usefulness for evolution (forgetting for the moment for the usefulness of paleontology in mineral exploration geology).
    Even Wikipedia. I have the impression that the articles “evolution of X” tend to overemphasize the fossils, or, perhaps, anatomy.

  2. Michael Schmidt says:

    I don’t teach biology, but I do occasionally teach Earth Science. The broader one’s scope, the harder it is to dismiss the the scientific view of what came before the present. The “perverse God” or “Satanic deception” hypotheses have so damn much to explain, and so much of it is rock solid. Take isotope dating. It’s simple kinetics applied to reactions that can be observed (for the most part) in real time. An article in Science last month tried to reconcile the 1% discrepancy in Ar/Ar and U/Pb dates. First of all, 1% is pretty damn good–most of my students seemed willing to accept isotope dating on that basis alone. Then you see how scientists can use sedimentology and celestial mechanics to calibrate the Ar/Ar dates. Everything fits together so well! You can point to one thing or another and say, aha, that link is a bit weak. But then you look at the whole network of understanding and you see that you can utterly destroy that one link and you’re still trapped in a network of causality and sense that has questions much less disturbing than questions raised by a creationist outlook.

  3. Interrobang says:

    I’ve noticed the same thing with a lot of ideological right-wingers, with whom creationists have a large overlap, although the political right-wingers are not necessarily stuck in a scientific time warp. Have you ever noticed that a lot of neocons don’t seem to know that the Soviet Union collapsed almost 20 years ago? Or that the Cold War ended sometime around the same time? Or that McCarthy not only was discredited in his own lifetime, but that Communism is essentially over and has been for a long time? (Even the Chinese are rapidly swinging towards fascism of a uniquely Chinese sort.) It’s sort of like there’s some kind of talking clock for these folks. Dial a number and it says, “The ideological time at the tone is…*beep*
    Did Robert Altemeyer discuss ideological time-warps in the context of authoritarianism at all?

  4. clear as mud says:

    What’s wild is that since I had my grad training focusing pretty exclusively in the bacterial world, so much of what I saw made a ton of sense in the light of natural selection. And that was before you could pull of the gene/protein sequences of every known bug on Earth and just *see* the lineages. I really think if more people had an idea of what bacteria can demonstrate, it would make understanding evolution of later organisms much easier to comprehend.
    On the issue of only referring to Darwin: they seem to use it like a fundamentalist uses the Bible. Nothing else is “scripture”. Only the first thing.
    Therefore, in that view, only Darwin wrote the “core” documents of The Religion of Darwinism, so that’s all they bother to read. Everything else that came later is less valid somehow. The twist is that they then use other modern sciences to somehow trip up a theory derived in the 19th century.
    It’s like only reading Newton and then noting the holes in his theories when it comes to the speed of light or black holes, etc, and so Newton must be all wrong.
    Only someone from a fundamentalist background would do that, I think.
    I mean, why do I think I know more about evolution than Kirk Cameron? I never even had to *read* Origin of species. But I sure did learn about modern evolutionary concepts which, obviously, had their initial form in Darwin’s works a century and a half ago.

  5. The Ridger says:

    “unless you posit a God that likes to deceive people”
    Which of course they do. They don’t phrase it like that, but it’s what they mean by “testing your faith”.

  6. Mike O'Risal says:

    Pssst… don’t look now, but they’re creeping into our backyard.
    Please help spread the word about this Creationist putsch in Maine. It seems to be flying under everybody’s radar and this school district could wind up kicking evolutionary biology out of its science curriculum as soon as May 19, potentially setting up a fight at the state level. Thanks.

  7. Billy Simons says:

    It doesn’t matter about Evolution or Creation. We have a much bigger problem to deal with. The population of the world is now 6.8 Billion people. Experts predict that by the year 2050 the world’s population will be 9.1 Billion people. That will be an increase of 2.3 Billion people in just 41 years. The population of the United States had an increase of 11,000,000 people from 2003 to 2008. That means if 1,000,000 people committed suicide every year for the next 5 years the population of the U.S. would still increase by 6,000,000 people. If there’s poverty and starvation now what do you think it will be like in 4 or 5 hundred years? Scientists have already said that there is a hole in the ozone layer. If people continue to over populate and the ozone layer disappears your future generations will suffer one “HELL” of a disaster. It will be like a freight train going 200 miles an hour running into a steel wall 100 foot thick. There won’t be any survivors. If you don’t want that to happen then I suggest you stop creating and tell your children when they grow up not to create. I am 100% sure your future generations will appreciate not being created. If you don’t believe me then just go to any prison and ask them if they appreciate being created. If you do not stop your generations now then your generations will stop themselves the hard way. Spread this message to the entire world. BS

Comments are closed.