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10 + 1 Questions For Professor Myers

When Michael Behe visited the UK, back in November, the Humanist Society of Scotland and the British Center for Science Education wrote up a list of “10 + 1 Questions For Professor Behe” which they subsequently distributed to their ranks of faithful followers. I responded, at the time, fairly thoroughly to the arguments made therein here (to which the BCSE retaliated fairly viciously here).

Since PZ Myers has been invited to visit Glasgow next week (one week from today to be specific), to lecture on the embryological evidence for Darwinism, I took it upon myself to draw up this list of “10 + 1 Questions For Professor Myers”. If you happen to be in the area, and are anticipating attending this event next Monday (which will take place in the Crystal Palace, 36 Jamaica Street, from 7pm), feel free to use the following questions as inspiration for the Q&A session which will follow the talk.

10 + 1 Questions For Professor Myers

1) In light of the Darwinian evolutionary paradigm, can you account for the observation that the fertilised egg embryos of the five classes of vertebrate (i.e. fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) begin markedly different from each other? While the cleavage patterns in four of the five classes show some general similarities, the pattern in mammals is very different. Furthermore, in the gastrulation stage, a fish is very different from an amphibian,while both are starkly different from reptiles, birds and mammals, which are somewhat similar to each other. Doesn’t Darwinism predict a pattern wherein the earliest stages are the most similar and the later stages are the most different?

2) Kalinka et al. (2010) have documented that the developmental hourglass model (which describes the observation that embryogenesis within a phylum diverges most extensively during early and late development, while converging in the middle) holds true even with respect to patterns of gene expression, which has a central role in elaboration of different animal forms. Given that mutations affecting the earliest stages of development are the least likely to be evolutionarily tolerated, would you please explain how you would account for this observation in terms of evolutionary rationale?

3) Could you please explain the sheer lack of congruence between anatomical homology and developmental pathways / precursors? Since such congruence is a prediction of neo-Darwinism,why isn’t it observed? Moreover, not only are there different embryological (i.e. non-homologous) processes and different genetic mechanisms to apparently homologous organs. But there is also the conundrum of homologous genetic mechanisms for analogous (i.e. non-homologous) organs. And then there is also the problem of homologous structures arising from different embryological sources, utterly undermining the evolutionary explanation. Isn’t the most straightforward reading of these facts that the adult organs have not been derived from a common ancestor? Why is it that you are happy to use those instances where embryological development and adult similarities are consistent as evidence of common descent, but set aside those instances where they are not consistent?

4) Could you please explain the near-total absence of evidence for evolutionarily relevant (i.e. stably heritable) large-scale variations in animal form, as required by common descent? “Near-total”, that is, because losses of structure are often possible. But common descent requires the generation of anatomical novelty. Why is it the case that all observed developmental mutations that might lead to macroevolution (besides the loss of an unused structure) are harmful or fatal?

5) Would you please explain why the purported embryological evidence for evolution is not subject to careful cherry picking of data, given that instances can be identified in which, for example, tissues arise during development in the opposite order from which they are presumed to have evolved (e.g. the formation of teeth after the tongue whereas it is thought that the teeth evolved first; and various vertebrate organs such as liver and lung develop embryologically in quite different ways from how it is thought they evolved)?

6) Would you please explain instances of species which possess similar adult forms but different immature forms, which could conform with recapitulation only if the species evolved convergently? Related to this is the observation that similar phylotypic stages and/or adult morphologies may be attained by very different developmental routes. Don’t such observations demonstrate that the view of development being an exclusively divergent process of increased specialisation is false?

7) Would you please elaborate on how a reproductively-capable embryo can evolve by virtue of successive but slight modification while retaining selectable utility at every stage? Paul Nelson discussed the concept of ontogenetic depth in some detail here and here. He also responded to your criticisms of his article, and the somewhat ironic charge of quote-mining, here.

8 ) On your blog, you have defended the central dogmatist (gene-centric) view that an organism’s DNA sequence contains both the necessary and sufficient information needed to actualise an embryo’s final morphology. If your position is so well supported and the position espoused by Jonathan Wells (and others) is so easily refuted, then why do you perpetually misrepresent his views? For example, you state “These experiments emphatically do not demonstrate that DNA does not matter … [Wells'] claim is complete bunk.” Where has Jonathan Wells stated that DNA “does not matter”? Moreover, contrary to your assertions, the phenomenon of genomic equivalence is a substantial challenge to the simplistic “DNA-is-the-whole-show” view espoused by the majority of neo-Darwinists. Cells in the prospective head region of an organism contain the same DNA as cells in the prospective tail region. Yet head cells must turn on different genes from tail cells, and they “know” which genes to turn on because they receive information about their spatial location from outside themselves — and thus, obviously, from outside their DNA. So an essential part of the ontogenetic program cannot be in the organism’s DNA, a fact that conflicts with the DNA-centrism of neo-Darwinism. Some attempts to salvage DNA programs (e.g. Rinn et al.) rely on “target sequences” — molecular zipcodes, if you will — of amino acids that direct proteins to particular locations in the cell. But such “molecular zipcodes” do not create a spatial co-ordinate system, they presuppose it.

9) It is often claimed by Darwinists, the pharyngeal pouches and ridges are indeed accurately thought of as vestigial gill slits (thus demonstrating our shared ancestry with fish), thus constituting evidence for our common ancestry with fish. But the pharyngeal pouches and ridges (the “gill slit” region) in humans does not develop even partly into gills. In fish, these structures are slits that allow water to enter in and out of the gills that remove oxygen from the water. In human embryos, however, the pharyngeal pouches develop into structures such as the thymus, thyroid and parathyroid glands. If this is the case, then whence the mandate for supposing that these systems are vestigial gill slits?

10) Why do Darwinists continue to use the supposed circuitous route taken by the vas deferens from the testes as an argument for common descent when, in fact, the route is not circuitous at all? The testes develop from a structure called the genital ridge (the same structure from which the ovaries develop in females, which is in close proximity to where the kidneys develop). The gubernaculum testis serves as a cord which connects the testes to the scrotum. As the fetus grows, the gubernaculum testis does not, and so the testis is pulled downward, eventually through the body wall and into the scrotum. The lengthening vas deferens simply follows. And, moreover, before the vas deferens joins the urethra, there needs to be a place where the seminal vesicle can add its contents.

And finally, the extra credit:

11) How many peer-reviewed papers have you published since setting up your blog, Pharyngula? We think the number’s zero, but it would be nice to get confirmation of this.

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31 Responses to 10 + 1 Questions For Professor Myers

  1. Jonathan good questions;

    also of interest, I ran across this about a week back;

    The mouse is not enough – February 2011
    Excerpt: Richard Behringer, who studies mammalian embryogenesis at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas said, “There is no ‘correct’ system. Each species is unique and uses its own tailored mechanisms to achieve development. By only studying one species (eg, the mouse), naive scientists believe that it represents all mammals.”
    http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/57986/

  2. I have to ask about your question number 8 – on the slide that PZ Myers is referencing in your quote, Jonathan Wells wrote at the bottom:

    The work by Klotz et al. showed that it was the sperm centrosome, rather than sperm DNA, that mattered.

    That would, I imagine, be where Jonathan Wells stated that “DNA does not matter”, in the context of the paragraph. Perhaps you should pick a better example of Dr. Myers misrepresenting his opponent?

  3. I won’t provide a link to Pharyngula (as I think it may be frowned upon here), but PZ has now responded.

  4. PaulT, no one minds your linking to Pharyngula.

  5. PZ doesnt sound too worried.

  6. See, the thing is, perfectly legitimate and satisfactory answers to these questions (which are very reminiscent of that old creationist tactic “10 questions to ask your biology teacher”) can easily and quickly be found online. These questions just make you look silly.

  7. @JesseJoe -

    The thing is that we don’t find these attempted responses convincing.

    If you would like to reference specific articles in response to some of the points I make here, then I would be happy to comment on them.

    J

  8. I dunno. It doesn’t look like PZ is sweating under the load of these questions. In fact, he appears to be positively giddy at the prospect of answering them. Maybe they’re not as iron-clad as you assume.

    And Jon, just because you don’t “find these responses convincing” doesn’t make them any less credible. It might, however, be a clue as to how much (or how little) you understand about the subject at hand.

  9. @Jonathan M. Of course you don’t find them convincing, your standards of evidence are corrupted and warped by you need for Christianity to be a priori true. Not sure how you can’t see that, or maybe you do and the cognitive dissonance is too powerful to overcome at your age?

  10. @jjromano and Ben323,

    Of course you both find them convincing, your standards of evidence are corrupted and warped by you need for Darwinism, your stealth religion, to be a priori true. I’m not sure how either of you can’t see that, or maybe you do, yet your designophobia and desire to keep science stuck in Victorian era ignorance is too powerful to overcome?

  11. Let me explain why I am so keen on getting some websites addressing Q1. Here is how Q1 goes in part:
    > > Furthermore, in the gastrulation stage, a
    > > fish is very different from an amphibian,while both are starkly
    > > different from reptiles, birds and mammals, which are somewhat similar
    > > to each other.

    I hit Myers with this back in the 1990′s in the Usenet newsgroup talk.origins.

    I even questioned the aptness of the term “gastrulation” since it is
    only a small part of the whole organism that undergoes it in mammals.
    The rest is taken up by the extraembryonic “membranes” [mis-
    translation of Latin "membranum"]: umbilical vesicle (“yolk sac,” but
    without yolk), allantois, umbilical cord, amniotic sac, trophoblast.
    Also, as the article says, the whole process is very different.

    Myers kept stonewalling on this.

    Myers also stubbornly adhered to a simplistic account of “3 layers” –
    ectoderm, endoderm, mesoderm – in vertebrates, ignoring a fourth
    component, the neural crest, in mammals (also other vertebrates, IIRC, but I’m not sure which). I forget how he classed the extraembryonic membranes –or if he even tried. Calling them all “ectoderm” doesn’t
    seem to be the right thing to do.

  12. And here is a comment on Q3, which goes in part like this:
    > > 3) Could you please explain the sheer lack of congruence between
    > > anatomical homology and developmental pathways / precursors? Since such
    > > congruence is a prediction of neo-Darwinism,why isn t it observed?

    Here is an example of that. Myers and a staunch ally, Howard Hershey insisted in talk.origins that an amnion formed by lamination from the cytotrophoblast is homologous to an amnion formed by spreading from the embryonic disk.

    The early embryo divides into the embryonic disk and the trophoblast,
    of which the inner part is the cytotrophoblast. There is NO overlap between the two. So I naturally denied homology. And they just insisted they were homologous.

  13. 13

    Kudos Jonathan!!! :-)

    I expect Myers’ answers (if he actually provides any)
    will involve a lot of smoke and mirrors, and a great deal of FAITH in what evolution can do…provided one truly believes! Praise Darwin!

  14. Tacroy writes,

    That would, I imagine, be where Jonathan Wells stated that “DNA does not matter”, in the context of the paragraph. Perhaps you should pick a better example of Dr. Myers misrepresenting his opponent?

    Context is key. Wells’ only claim was that the *sperm* DNA didn’t matter when it came to enabling larval development; the maternal DNA WAS essential, and Myers tries to make it look as though Wells dismisses that.

    J

  15. Is anyone actually going to give me an argument or inform me where I have allegedly erred?

    If, indeed, my questions are “screamingly stupid”, this shouldn’t be too difficult.

    J

  16. pnyikos,

    Are you a mathematician? Do I know you from way back?

  17. 17
    Elizabeth Liddle

    I would make just one point in regard to your questions, Jonathan, which is that I don’t quite see why you think that the order of the embryological appearance of certain features in certain organisms should correspond to the order in which those features appeared in the evolutionary history of that organism (assuming an evolutionary history for them).

    Can you explain why you think this is a problem for the evolutionary argument?

  18. Elizabeth -

    That was more of a critique of the principle of recapitulation which is often used as an argument for Darwinism (even by many modern writers, e.g. see Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True”).

    The evidence is largely cherry picked. Another fact which might be pointed out is that some structures arise early in teh development of higher animals which are completely absent from embryos of lower animals, such as the membranes of amniotes and placenta of mammals.

    J

  19. Can you explain why you think this is a problem for the evolutionary argument?

    There is no evolutionary argument, just as there is no evolutionary theory.

    There are evolutionary arguments and there are evolutionary theories.

    The issue with these arguments and theories is their lack of coherence.

    So your question is meaningless.

    Which evolutionary argument are you speaking of?

  20. Are you a mathematician? Do I know you from way back?

    I used to hang out on talk.origins way back. I think I even sent a book or two to you.

    If you are who I think you are I still have you in my Amazon.com address book, lol.

    Does SC sound familiar?

  21. Yes, Mung, I am Peter Nyikos, and I returned to talk.origins in December after ten years’ absence. Today I did a huge number of posts on a thread devoted to this very 10+1 issue; in fact, that thread is what clued me in on this isssue. As usual, I’m fighting a lonely battle there.

    Someone did send me a couple of books for which I am grateful, but the name “Mung” does not ring a bell. Did you post under a different name back then?

    By the way, I also did a post today in another hostile environment: “Intelligent Design Exposed”
    http://idexposed.wordpress.com...../#comments
    It’s on one of my favorite topics: the bacterial flagellum and directed panspermia.

  22. Jonathan M,

    Some have made an effort to counter your questions on the talk.origins thread devoted to this very article of yours. The lead post, which quotes it, attributes the 10+1 questions to Dembski.

    The strongest effort was by Howard Hershey, a staunch ally of PZ Myers when he was posting to talk.origins.
    Here is an url for his comments:
    http://groups.google.com/group.....8fcb4dbffc

    As I told Mung, I have been very active on that thread. My second and third comments here yesterday contain the gist of what I wrote there about Q1 and Q3.

  23. 23
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Mung – the reason I phrased my question as I did was because I didn’t know which “evolutionary argument” Jonathan considered the issue a problem for.

    Jonathan has replied that it is a problem for the “recapitulation” argument. It may well, be, I don’t know, but if the argument is Haeckel’s, then it’s a bad argument anyway.

    It is true, I would contend, that the appearance of characters during embryology that are reabsorbed later are important in establishing (or supporting otherwise established) phylogenies) but there is nothing standard evolutionary model that predicts the order in which they appear.

    The really interesting thing about including the developmental dimension in our understanding of inheritance is that it has shown us that relatively small changes to regulatory genes be reflected in large changes to the developmental timetable on which other genes are expressed, and thus on the phenotype at all developmental stages.

    So I still don’t see the force of the challenge in Jonathan’s questions, although of course the answers are potentially interesting anyway.

  24. Someone did send me a couple of books for which I am grateful, but the name “Mung” does not ring a bell. Did you post under a different name back then?

    I don’t recall what name I was posting under back then. So long ago, lol.

  25. Jonathan M @ 15:

    If, indeed, my questions are “screamingly stupid”, this shouldn’t be too difficult.

    Well, #4 (“Could you please explain the near-total absence of evidence for evolutionarily relevant (i.e. stably heritable) large-scale variations in animal form, as required by common descent?”) seems pretty cowardly* to me insofar as it ignores the vast overwhelming majority of life on earth. It’s also a question that betrays a stunning ignorance of biology.

    #7 is a non-starter. At least as far as I am concerned, it is until Paul gives us his next installment on ENV, that hopefully will address the comments that stopped the debate in its tracks.

    * – OK, OK. What sort of tone would you expect from a plant scientist, who sees everything in this list being couched in terms of a tiny sliver of life as we know it, and a pretty homogeneous one at that?

  26. Arthur,

    …insofar as it ignores the vast overwhelming majority of life on earth

    Would you please elaborate on this statement?

    Please cite some of the data which I have allegedly ignored.

    J

  27. Hi Jonathan,

    Just a reminder, there is much, much more to biology than mammals and such.

    An example that, I believe, is a treause trove of “evidence for evolutionarily relevant (i.e. stably heritable) large-scale variations” that undeniably arose from a common ancestor:

    http://www.antievolution.org/c.....#entry1446

    As always, enjoy.

  28. Art, it’s ok if plants have a common origin. It’s humans we’re worried about. I can’t bear the thought that Hitler, Stalin, Mao and I all share a common ancestor.

  29. 29

    Mung: “I can’t bear the thought that Hitler, Stalin, Mao and I all share a common ancestor.”

    This is a perfect example of the difference in the way a creationist as opposed to an evidence-based thinker operates: to a rational, evidence-based thinker, it does not matter if something is inconvenient or unfortunate. It only, only matters if it is true.

    To a creationist, intelligent design is true because it gives him/her a sense of security and belonging. Anything that gets in the way of this security is a target, and we see this reactionary response in the creationist treatment of science.

    Science is absolutely the enemy of faith.

  30. “Science is absolutely the enemy of faith.” All Darwinists please raise your hands if you are naturalistic materialists, for your faith in naturalism makes you an enemy of science.

    If you are a naturalist, that is a faith position. If you are an atheist, that is a faith position. If you are a creationist, same thing. All evidence that science finds must be analyzed. Any evidence that is not pertinent to the here and now but touches on subjects like origins must be analyzed with a worldview attached. So if the commenter is right then science is in trouble. Fortunately for us all faith is inexorably linked to science and cannot be removed. Everyone has a worldview. No exceptions.

    Those of you who are so foolish that you do not recognize that your view is filtered through your faith, I wish for you an awakening. Science is about evidence and about what we then discern as thinking individuals about the evidence.

    Faith has caused Darwinists to reject the Law of Biogenesis because testing has never challenged this law. Faith causes Darwinists to claim that a system violates the Laws of Thermodynamics and also to make long and muddled attempts to deny that they do so. Faith leads Darwinists to ignore the fact that DNA requires a cell to exist, a cell requires DNA to exist and both require ATP to exist, which is coded by DNA and exists only within the cell. The problems of Darwinist macroevolution are massive and therefore, rather than address them, they resort to censorship and propaganda and a caste system in science where non-Darwinists are hounded or fired from academic and professional organizations. In this the Darwinists begin to resemble the old KGB.

  31. Did PZ Myers ever reply to any of these questions? I’m sure he is welcome here, to engage in civil discussion, but I do not see any posts from him. I for one would be very interested to read his direct, civil answers to these questions.

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