Home » Darwinism, Evolution » Shilling for Darwin — The wildly irresponsible evolutionist

Shilling for Darwin — The wildly irresponsible evolutionist

Some evolutionists are thoughtful and measured, willing to admit the anomalies that evolutionary theory must still explain. Richard Dawkins is not one of them. Instead, he seems to inhabit a la-la land where all the conceptual difficulties connected with the evolutionary theory are resolved or swept under the rug. As one colleague who wishes to remain out of the limelight wrote to a list I moderate:

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In the MSNBC interview with Richard Dawkins, titled “The Not-So-Angry Evolutionist,” Dawkins says the following:

“You can actually plot a picture of the pattern of resemblances and differences between every animal and plant and every other animal and plant, and you find out that it fits on a beautiful, hierarchical, branching tree, which can only sensibly be interpreted as a family tree. When you do the same thing with a different gene, you get the same tree. Do the same thing with a third gene, and you get the same tree. It’s overwhelmingly powerful evidence.”

It’s also overwhelmingly false. No molecular systematist would make this claim.

Now, either Dawkins knows this, and therefore is lying to his audience, or he doesn’t know, and has been cribbing from erroneous Talk.origins FAQs. Either option is bad news. One should not accuse someone of lying without solid evidence, so let’s just say that Dawkins is wildly irresponsible.

The incongruence of gene and species trees is a standing obstacle, or research problem, in molecular phylogenetics. Look at figure 2, for instance, from this paper (open access — you’ll need to click on the figure to enlarge it):

http://genomebiology.com/2007/8/6/R109

Note that all possible topologies, among the groups considered, are supported by significant numbers of genes.

In the context of Dawkins’s claim, this means that gene A supports grouping X, but gene B supports grouping Y, whereas gene C supports grouping Z, and so on. In short, one doesn’t get the same species tree from any given gene. This problem of gene and species tree incongruence is so widely known in molecular systematics that it now arguably represents an entire field of study.

Huertas-Cepas et al., the authors of this paper, note:

The finding that all three possible topologies, including the one widely considered as wrong in the literature, are supported by a significant number of trees illustrates the inherent difficulty of resolving the species phylogeny from gene phylogenies. We have found similar topological diversity in the three scenarios considered (see below) and also, to smaller degrees, in apparently undisputed evolutionary relationships (results not shown). Similar results showing variability in the relative positions of arthropods, nematodes and chordates have also been found in topological analyses of the phylogenies of 507 eukaryotic orthologous groups and of 100 protein families. These deviances from the species phylogeny might be the result of different processes, including convergent evolution or varying evolutionary rates.” (2007, 8R:109; emphasis added, endnote numbers omitted)

In a commentary on Huerta-Cepas et al. 2007, Castresana observes:

“Just getting the best-supported topology is not enough, and even using all genes in a genome may not help you come to an unambiguous solution. This is because different genes produce different biases, and rigorous criteria for selecting the genes to be used to build a species tree are necessary to get less ambiguous results, as has been done in other work… The important message from this part of the study is that, whatever the true tree may be, trees derived from single genes are more likely than not to point to a wrong topology.” (2007, 8:216; emphasis added)

Caveat lector for Dawkins’s new book.

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12 Responses to Shilling for Darwin — The wildly irresponsible evolutionist

  1. Hey this is good info. Anybody who has read Michael Denton’s “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis” should already know this. The book was published in 1985. Are there any current books addressing this topic in detail? I’m sure there’s a lot of new stuff to cover with all the different methods of comparative genomics that have been tried since 1985.

  2. Well spotted Dr Dembski. However, to be fair to Dr Dawkins, it could be that he was reasoning retroactively, so I say we give him the benefit of the doubt, even if he doesn’t deserve it.

  3. Dawkins was the first holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford [http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/previous-holders-simonyi-professorship/professor-richard-dawkins] but he forgot to update his scientific knowledge there, and peddled atheism instead.

  4. What do you think of this image of Dawkins?

    http://christiannews.co.nz/wp-.....hicken.jpg

  5. Dr. Dembski,

    This is indirectly related to your topic. I’ve developed some original arguments in defense of intelligent design:

    http://www.ryanlarsen.blogspot.com

  6. Nice post RyanL (on your blog.)

    I didn’t read through all of it; the parts I did had some good argumentation.

    One nitpick point: on your who designed the designer (designer must be more complex) section you said that adding glasses to a human is a human “creating” something more complex than themselves. Well, not quite. Yes, but only if we count putting pre-existing complex things together as doing the “work” of designing, which I think is an odd way to look at it. It would be as if someone snapping together a disassembled gun could be said to have “designed” something complex, by the mere assembly of the pre-existing parts without modification. I would argue that your argument on that point isn’t too strong, since the human didn’t necessarily create the other human in question.

    Perhaps a better line of attack would be to show by counter-example that a machine that creates another machine does not have to be more complex than what it creates. For example, self-replicating machines exist: machine A creates a copy of itself, machine B. Is machine A necessarily more complex than machine B? No, of course not, since B is a replica of A. Therefore the phrase “a Designer must be more complex than what it designs” is demonstrably false.

    I think your stronger point is that we don’t know the “raw natural complexity” of the designer.

    Either way, keep developing your arguments, I think you could advance some good, original ID arguments with some work.

    Just my two cents. Bill, sorry for the off topic post (I couldn’t respond on Ryan’s blog without an account)

    Atom

  7. Nice blog Ryan, I liked your nuanced original arguments, A fresh set of eyes always brings out a little something that has been overlooked,,, I agree with atom that with some work they may become much better and stronger.

    If you are interested, here is my blog link

    http://lettherebelight-77.blogspot.com/

  8. Atom,

    Thank you for reading parts of my blog. I hope you’ll get a chance to read more. The arguments are not conglomerated by quality.

    With respect to your criticism, let me point out that everything has complexity. Therefore, design is always a matter of “putting pre-existing complex things together” as you phrased it.

    I meant to imply that the glasses are designed, not that they were lying around. Thank you for pointing that out!

  9. NZer,

    I hate to be a wet blanket, but I think the image of Dawkins is very disrespectful. I would think it immature if someone did that to a picture of an IDer.

    And for all his faults, Dawkins is still a senior citizen, and so deserves a level of respect. Let’s not replace reasoned argument with photoshopped images.

  10. bornagain77,

    I like your blog! I read a lot of it although I didn’t click any of the links.

  11. Why thanks Ryan,,, I will try to read your blog more thoroughly tomorrow and see what I can steal,,,oh,, I mean borrow,,,It seems there is always something greater and better to learn…but that is as it should be since God is infinite and perfect in knowledge!!!

  12. bornagain77, by all means spread my ideas! If you can disseminate or improve my arguments in any way, feel free. I don’t care about credit, I care about spreading winning arguments.

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