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Biologos, Valiant Defender of Common Descent

Kathryn ApplegateKathryn Applegate writes a long post at Biologos purporting to refute a short observation of mine here at UD, namely, my post about Craig Venter challenging Richard Dawkins over common descent.

Most of her post does not merit response, but I will note the following:

(1) Yes, I did carefully view the video in question.

(2) To talk about a “bush of life” is to deny, or at least question, common descent: the geometry of a bush is fundamentally different from the geometry of a tree, which has one main trunk; a bush, by contrast suggests multiple “origins.”

(3) In line with the last point, Venter agrees that life on earth is all of the same genetically based type (we’re not doing “astrobiology” when we investigate microbial species from different domains); and yet that commonality, he is suggesting, is not the result of common ancestry but of some sort of convergence.

(4) Applegate suggests that such an admission, if I am accurately representing it, would be big news; but since it hasn’t been reported, therefore I must be mistaken. Let me suggest that the reason it isn’t big news is because the Darwin industry has a vast number of worker bees, like Applegate, who will trot out the party line whenever common descent is called into question.

(5) Where is Venter getting his doubts about common descent? Probably from origin-of-life researchers like Carl Woese. Over five years ago, I posted at UD a Chicago Tribune interview with Woese by Ronald Kotulak (8 Jan 2006):

“Woese next went after a big stumbling block in classical evolution,” writes Kotulak. “Darwin’s doctrine postulated that all living things eventually could be traced back to a single founding cell.” Woese says No — life could have started “millions of times,” and no single cell was ancestral to all organisms on Earth.

Would Applegate concede that Woese is here denying, or at least calling into question, common descent?

(6)  Applegate cites Osawa and Jukes to the effect that “it is even understood mechanistically how the variations [in the genetic code] came about.” This claim is absurd. Researchers like Osawa have some speculative hypotheses, bereft of detail, that cloak vast ignorance. There are no detailed testable models of how the variations in the genetic code may have arisen under common descent.

(7) Finally, I have no dog in this fight. If common descent were true and well supported scientifically, I could make my peace with it. My beef, and that of the ID community, is with non-teleological mechanisms like natural selection being invoked by Darwinists as designer substitutes. But common descent is, for Darwinists, the Great Wall of China that protects natural selection, and that wall must itself be kept secure. Applegate’s post at Biologos is therefore entirely predictable.

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20 Responses to Biologos, Valiant Defender of Common Descent

  1. I wrote the following in the comments to the earlier Venter post, but some readers may have missed it:

    ************************

    Craig Venter has doubted universal common descent [meaning the common ancestry of all organisms on Earth from a single organism, the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA)] since at least 2007. At a remarkable science roundtable in Connecticut, organized in August 2007 by the literary uberagent John Brockman, Venter said:

    One question is, can we extrapolate back from this data set to describe the most recent common ancestor. I don’t necessarily buy that there is a single ancestor. It’s counterintuitive to me. I think we may have thousands of recent common ancestors and they are not necessarily so common. (2008, p. 42)

    You can read this comment in context by downloading the e-book Brockman published on the roundtable, available here:

    http://www.edge.org/documents/life/Life.pdf

    The whole discussion is fascinating; see, for instance, the remarks of Harvard biologist George Church, dealing with ID and irreducible complexity, or the comments of NYU chemist Robert Shapiro on the origin of life.

    ****************************

    I should add that seeing multiple independent origins of life as a live possibility follows directly from moving the probability of abiogenesis away from almost-zero (where the number resides for many evolutionary biologists) to almost-one, where it resides for others, such as Christian de Duve or Stuart Kauffman. On this view, whatever happened once, naturally, could happen more than once (indeed, thousands or millions of times). A naturalistic forest of life ought to be no more remarkable to evolutionary biologists than a single Tree, unless one makes certain (dubitable) assumptions about probabilities.

    All of this is orthogonal, as I see it, to the question of design.

  2. 2

    According to astrobiolog- ist Chris McKay:

    “If we find there was life on Mars and that it represents an independent origin of life – what I call a second genesis of life – that’s wonderfully important scientifically as well as philosophically. Scientifically it gives us the opportunity for the first time to compare two types of life. All life on Earth is one type. If we find a second genesis on Mars, we will then have the opportunity to compare biochemistries for the first time.

    What McKay means here by “second genesis” is life that originates independently, not as a result of natural or directed panspermia. In my mind it also implies that the origin of life, given the right initial conditions, might be a lot easier than scientist presently imagine, therefore, life might be a lot more plentiful in the universe.

    Furthermore, I think the possibility that life is common in the universe has a number of other provocative implications:

    First, it strongly suggests that there is some kind of higher teleological process is at work in the universe. It’s kind of hard to keep making “it’s just a lucky accident” argument over and over again if life is common.

    Second, if life is common in the universe, we’ll have to reconsider the idea of common descent. What I mean is, if life is common the origin life must also relatively easy. In other words, if you have the right conditions, on the right kind of planet, life will almost inevitably emerge. The origin of life appears to be difficult to us because we don’t yet have the understanding of what is required for life to emerge.

    How would this change our thinking about common descent? It should be obvious. If life can be easily formed if the right conditions are present, and if those conditions were present on the early earth then it is logically possible that there was not one genesis of life on earth but perhaps a second, third or fourth etc. For example, different types of protozoa may have completely separate origins and therefore are not related by what is commonly called common descent.

    It looks like another dogma of Neo-Darwinism could bite the dust.

  3. 3

    I remember when I was an undergrad talking to an atheist and telling him that many evolutionists don’t even believe the tree anymore, that it is a bush or a web.

    Evolution: A Theory in Crisis in the 80s even recognized that.

    Part of the reason evolutionists defend common descent is because it’s part of Darwin’s theory.

    RM + NS = CD

    Remove common descent and RM + NS doesn’t have the same power to unify all of biology. It no longer has universal applicability and meaning.

  4. 4

    Also I watched that video and I think, Bill, you might be going a bit far in saying Venter was suggesting convergence for the genetic code.

  5. 5

    He did seem to suggest convergence for DNA-based life, but I’m not sure he was arguing for convergence of the code.

  6. Saying that Venter ‘denies common descent’ simply because he allows for the possibility that life may have arisen more than once is like saying ‘doctor denies germ theory’ if said doctor thinks there is more than one kind of germ. Nothing Venter has ever said, on the video or otherwise, implies that he doesn’t accept that humans are related by ancestry to primates, primates to other mammals, mammals to other vertebrates, and so on. There seems to be a common misconception that evolution requires that life only arose on earth once, and that every single organism is related by ancestry. This is not the case at all. Darwin even ends ‘Origin’ by saying:

    There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one…

  7. 7

    Actually I think astrobiolo-gist Chris Mckay, who was also on the panel, has said some things in interviews that are just as provocative as Venter.

    Here is an interview he did with Susan Mazur entitled “NASA Humanist Chris McKay: Where Darwinism Fails”.
    http://www.suzanmazur.com/?p=12

  8. Well said Bill,

    I cannot believe Dr Applegate thinks that this would be big news if someone like Venter happened to doubt common descent. Like evolutionists would for one second pause to think multiple ancestors would poses a serious challenge to evolution theory as a whole!

  9. For what it’s worth-

    If Darwinism or the modern synthesis or any theory of evolution is silent on the origin of life then it cannot say it predicts a tree of life.

    You cannot have it both ways by saying “our theory is silent on the origins of life but we know whatever it was would form, via universal common descent, a (singular) tree of life.”

  10. Joseph, welcome to Darwin’s funhouse of forever plastic scientific predictions! :)

    Interactive – Darwin’s fun house mirror – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeLwLNvOUCs

  11. “Clowns* to the left of me, jokers** to the right…”

    *PZ, Dawkins, addled tards behaving cowardly, et al

    ** biologos

  12. OT: David Berlinski has a new interview up at IDthefuture

    An Interview with Devil’s Delusion Author David Berlinski – podcast
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....1_14-07_00

  13. Hey Dr. Nelson, this is a very interesting turn of events as I am sympathetic your views.

    If I may ask a quick question, if there are multiple and disconnected sources to the various Kinds of animals in the world how do you explain certain anomalies?

    For instance, the island of Madagascar is home to many different types of Lemurs (besides the ring-tailed type that many of us are aware of). Do you think all these creatures that Darwinian scientists call Lemurs are actually Lemurs? Could some kind of evolution have taken place? I find it impossible to believe that a big Ring-Tailed Lemur to the smaller Aye-Aye or Mouse Lemur.

    I have actually looked at both the Creation Institute website and Answers in Genesis and nobody can answer this.

    Best wishes to all you ID folk.

  14. Sorry to get off track. Would it be better to send you an email?

  15. **What I mean is that all these organisms being called Lemurs in Madagascar might have similar skeleton traits but that doesn’t mean they are all related.

  16. Why doesn’t someone just email Craig Venter and ask him?

  17. 17

    lol

  18. Dr. Paul Nelson has a very strong objection to common descent (Darwin’s tree of life) here:

    ORFan Genes Challenge Common Descent – Paul Nelson – video short version
    http://www.vimeo.com/17135166

  19. Thanks Bornagain. My gut feeling is that Universal Common Ancestry is going to be discarded or relegated to only a hardcore group of Darwinian Fundamentalists.

    As for Lemurs: This subject is more complicated than I thought. There are apparently flying Lemurs (like flying squirrels or bats) in Southeast Asia that are based on the same design plan as all the so-called Lemurs in Madagascar.

    As a believer in the historicity of Noah’s Global Flood, I am assuming that there must have been many Lemur like creatures living in places from (a conservative estimate) Eastern Africa to Southeast Asia before the continents divided during the Age of Peleg. Basically, I am guessing that all these Lemurs in Madagascar are not descended from a common ancestor but are rather separate creatures (that cannot breed with one another) that built along the same design plan.

  20. Maybe the terms “Lemur” or “Rodent” or whatever should only be used as descriptive terms for a type of design plan which would indicate some kind of archetype present in the mind of the designer and common design.

    For instance, as far as I know mice and rats cannot produce hybrids. Large Ring-Tailed Lemurs and Mouse Lemurs (or flying Lemurs) can’t hybridize either.

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