Still no Replacement of Darwin
A reply to Nathanial Jeanson’s Response to my review of ‘Replacing Darwin - The New Origin of Species’
Key words: Biogeography, Creationism, Evolution, Genetic diversity, mtDNA, Multifunctionality, Taxonomy,
I used to think that when creationists
talk about the discussion between creationism and evolution as a clash between two worldviews, they were wrong. Jeanson have helped me change my mind. It is a clash between worldviews: the scientific and the religious. To make it short: In science,
no text is infallible. Everything has to be tested against observation. In (some versions of) religion, there is an infallible text (in Christian creationism, of course it is the Bible). If an observation contradicts the text, the observation is by definition
wrong. This simple fact leaves creationism as unscientific!
A little food for thought: Jeanson’s response is about four times the length of my review! You could say that refusing nonsense with truth is more time-consuming than stating nonsense.
Perhaps refusing truth with nonsense is even more time-consuming. It should be easier to argue in favor of truth than to have to make up flawed arguments in favor of nonsense!
I urge any reader, creationist or otherwise, to contact me if they need clarification
of one or more points in this, rather short, response.
Any clarification of genetic terms or principles can be studied in Jeanson’s book, which has a brilliant account of genetics.
I have to admit that I should have been more systematic in
my review. Too often, I do not explicitly mention what Chapter I am talking about. This courses some confusion.
I have tried to keep my reply short - not that I have succeeded. Instead of taking Jeanson’s objection point by point, I’ll make
some general comments on why I do not think Jeanson has much new to offer. Some points, though, I feel need more thorough comments.
To fully appreciate this reply, first read my review (Frello 2018) and Jeanson’s response (Jeanson 2018).
Here is an introduction to a guiding principle in science, which is useful to know, and which the reader is invited to use whenever it seems appropriate:
Occam’s Razor: A principle stating that when choosing among alternative
theories, we should prefer the one with fewest arbitrary assumptions. Of course, we should accept assumptions that seem well supported. In genetics, one such extremely well supported assumption is the theory of the transcription-translation system from DNA
to protein. Occam’s Razor do not state that there always will be one, and only one, such theory. It might depend on what you accept as well supported assumptions.
On ‘Introduction and Overview’
Jeanson refers to our discussion about the reliability of ancient mtDNA (Frello 2017a and b, Jeanson 2017a and b). I urge our readers
to read the articles, and judge for themselves if I have “revealed the deficiency of [my] best anti-YEC claims” as Jeanson will have it. In Frello 2017a and Jeanson 2017a special attention should be paid to the terms ‘contamination’
and ‘degradation’. In Jeanson 2017b, special attention should be paid to considering whether Jeanson actually argues against my suggestion in Frello 2017b (to confront the experts within the field of ancient human DNA).
On ‘Frello’s General Claims’
In short Jeanson summarizes the three parts of his book as follows:
1. The question of origin of species is fundamentally a genetic question. That’s why genetics
is such an important tool in the study of evolution. I fully agree, which should be clear from my review.
Not knowing genetics, Darwin took a massive scientific risk, when he published ‘On the Origin of Species’. I do not argue against that.
2. Darwin’s 1859 data are mostly irrelevant today. So what!
YEC endorses migration as an explanation for biogeography. I comment on that.
YEC endorses speciation. I comment on that.
YEC’s explanation for the pattern of groupings
of life have matured. I comment on that.
3. YEC outstrips evolution in genetics. I comment on that.
The rest of point 3 is a clarification of this statement.
Why Jeanson calls these comments (the vast majority of the review) a side-step from
direct confrontation of the main claims of his book, is beyond me.
On “Frello’s Claims About Biogeography”
Here Jeanson goes to some length in explaining how the situation was
in 1859. Except that Darwin used biogeography as one of his arguments in favor of evolution, the situation back then is not very important. E.g. Jeanson repeatedly mentions species fixity as one of the ideas creationists have given up. In my review, I do not
mention fixity at all. Who cares about outdated ideas?
Jeanson complains about my negligence in not reading the references found in an Endnote to Chapter 4. Sorry Dr. Jeanson. If you have an important argument, do not put it in an Endnote, and especially
not in references to which you only give a useless four-line review. That kind of trap is telling about Jeanson’s strategy. What Jeanson is actually asking his reader is to read 400 endnotes and look up and read hundreds of papers, webpages and other
references to see if some important clue was hidden somewhere. Hardly the strategy of a person who honestly want to inform his reader.
I think Jeanson’s statement ‘neither the creationist position nor the evolutionary model has a consistent,
comprehensive, discipline-wide explanation for biogeography’ is fair. Nothing in my review talks against this view. From Jeanson’s YEC point of view, it is a ‘historical contingency’ that of 19 families of marsupials, 17 are endemic
to Australia and the nearby Islands! I call it a ‘coincidence’ to Jeanson’s discomfort.
I point to two more striking facts: Four different families of Monkeys (the group Platyrrhini) ended up in South America. Four different families
of Lemurs (the group Lemuriformes) all ended up on Madagascar! In Chapter 10, Jeanson equate family with Biblical ‘kind’, but here Jeanson’s answer is that a family is not necessarily equal to ‘kind’. The identification of ‘kinds’
is still a [guess]work in progress. More on that in the section ‘Speciation’.
I do not conclude, as Jeanson will have it, that evolution at present can explain biogeography in all its details. I conclude that “Jeanson fails to account
for biogeography …”.
In spite of all Jeanson’s words, his position still necessarily is that Biogeography can be explained by migration out of Eurasia (Mt. Ararat), and mine that this is an unfounded position.
On “Frello’s Claims About Taxonomy”
Jeanson think I misrepresent his position, “… that both evolution and creationism predict  hierarchies.”
But how is that any different from my statement: “… common descent is not needed to explain the nested hierarchies”?
Jeanson doubt that I will reject an often-mentioned argument for evolution: The universal genetic code1.
Well Dr. Jeanson, I have news for you: I do reject it! That’s why I didn’t mention it in my review. Now that Jeanson’s has opened this discussion, let’s see where it leads. The common genetic code (the nuclear code)
is an equally good argument for common design as for common ancestry, and therefore an argument for neither. It is in fact the mitochondrial genetic code, which can be used as an argument for common ancestry. Not because they are identical, but because
they are different. Mammals has one code, Insects a slightly different one, Fungi yet another. More than ten slightly different codes are known at present. Why would a designer use different codes in different organisms, and why would the differences follow
groups of organisms, otherwise accepted to be closely related? From an evolutionary point of view, this is easy to understand. The mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) has only very few protein coding genes (13 in most animals). Therefor a code-changing mutation has
a much better chance of not being lethal here than in most other genomes. A code-changing mutation in the nuclear genome (with tens of thousands of genes) would be lethal, because it would change the amino acid sequence of so many vital genes that at least
some are bound to have their function destroyed.
In my view, our fundamental disagreement is the following: What does it take for a taxonomy to be more than an arbitrary personal opinion.
Evolution suggests one, and only one, foundation for taxonomy:
Common descent. YEC (Or more precise: the idea that living organisms are designed, and groups of organisms above the level of ‘created kinds’ therefore are genetically unrelated) cannot suggest any such unique foundation for taxonomy. Jeanson tries
to do so for designed objects, vehicles. He suggests that vehicles should be placed in two large groups: powered vs. non-powered. But he cannot, and does not, offer any explanation to why this should be a better criterion than any other. I mention ‘Military’
vs. ‘Civilian’; ‘For transportation of persons’ vs. ‘For transportation of goods’ as examples of alternative criterion. Another suggestion could be by brand. Why even group vehicles together? Why not all powered, designed
objects vs. non-powered objects? Anything goes. None are natural, all are cultural.
Common descent immediately suggest that we should look for a nested hierarchy of groups-within-groups of organisms. Talking about multicellular organisms, there can be
only one such correct hierarchy: The one that reflects common descent (at least above the genus level, where hybridization becomes very implausible).
Even if we accept Jeanson’s arbitrary suggestion of powered vs. non-powered vehicles; we still
do not have a unique system beneath this level. If ‘powered’ defines a group, it seems reasonable that the type of engine should define the next, lower, level. But Jeanson suggests land vs. air vs. sea instead. This choice again is completely arbitrary.
In biology, as a consequence of common descent, the science of taxonomy therefor becomes the science of identification of the nested hierarchy of groups of organism. From this, it follows that one kind of information beats all others, when it comes to identification
of such groups: DNA. It is easy to see why: Groups are defined by common ancestry. Ancestry is equal to genetic ancestry. Genetic information is stored in DNA.
In YEC, taxonomy becomes the arbitrary choice of groups. Arbitrary at all levels. Based on
an equally arbitrary choice of traits. If this is what Jeanson think qualifies as a scientific argument in favor of a taxonomy for designed objects, it is no wonder that creationism is completely ignored by mainstream scientists as irrelevant.
it out more unambiguous: Whenever possible, DNA should be (and is) used for identification of groups. Not fur-color or -structure, not reproductive organs, not general appearance or any other physiological or anatomical trait. Dealing with groups where DNA
is not available (especially fossils), physical traits have to used. Again, a guiding principle can be found: Traits that are difficult to change without disrupting survival or reproduction, should be preferred. Jeanson go to some length ridiculing the identification
of such traits, all in vain.
Jeanson think I ‘concede’ that not all genes suggest the same phylogeny. I simply state a fact. As Jeanson knows, contradicting phylogenies are mostly found between closely related species, and can be understood
as ‘incomplete lineage sorting’ or as the result of the stochastic nature of mutations. Using large groups of genes solve this problem.
All in all, if all living organisms evolved from a common ancestor, we should expect to be able to group
living organisms according to one natural criterion: common ancestry, based on genetics as the most reliable source of information. If living organisms were designed, no such natural criterion or basic source of information should be expected to be found.
Judge for yourself.
Jeanson think that the reason I do not comment on ‘Transitional forms’, ‘Homologous structures’ or ‘Vestigial structures’ is that I agree on his arguments. Let me immediately free him from his
Regarding ‘Transitional forms’. Why would a designer construct several transitional forms between a land animal and a whale (e.g. in terms of hind legs and the position of nostrils), just to see them go extinct within a few thousand
years from their creation, and for no obvious reason? I guess I need not explain why transitional forms are expected, if we accept evolution.
Regarding ‘Homologous structures’. I do not recall reading about that in the book. The search engine
(I have the Kindle-version of the book) doesn’t find the term. Perhaps Jeanson talks about it under a different term.
Regarding ‘Vestigial structures’. First we have to agree upon what that means. According to NatureEducation2,
‘vestigial’ describes “…something occurring in a simpler, less functional state; sometimes a remnant of a larger more robust form” It clearly does not mean ‘purposeless leftovers of evolution’ as Jeanson
has it in his book. This nullifies Jenson’s arguments.