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Professor James Tour accepts Nick Matzke’s offer to explain macroevolution

In my last post, A world-famous chemist tells the truth: there’s no scientist alive today who understands macroevolution, I wrote about Professor James Tour, who is one of the ten most cited chemists in the world – and a Darwin skeptic. Professor Tour is not an Intelligent Design proponent, but he is openly skeptical of macroevolution, which is generally defined as “evolution happening on a large scale, e.g. at or above the level of species, over geologic time, resulting in the formation of new taxonomic groups.” In 2001, Tour, along with over 700 other scientists, signed the Discovery Institute’s “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism”, which read: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

On Professor Tour’s Website, there’s a very interesting article on evolution and creation, in which Tour declares that he does not understand how macroevolution could have happened, from a chemical standpoint (all bold emphases below are mine – VJT):

I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical and to sign such a statement without reprisals from those that disagree with me? … Does anyone understand the chemical details behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught, so I invite them to meet with me.

In a recent talk, entitled, Nanotech and Jesus Christ, given on 1 November 2012 at Georgia Tech, Professor Tour revealed that he had a long-standing offer to buy lunch for anyone who would sit down and explain evolution to him, but that no-one had taken him up on his challenge:

But about seven or eight years ago I posted on my Web site that I don’t understand. And I said, “I will buy lunch for anyone that will sit with me and explain to me evolution, and I won’t argue with you until I don’t understand something – I will ask you to clarify. But you can’t wave by and say, ‘This enzyme does that.’ You’ve got to get down in the details of where molecules are built, for me.” Nobody has come forward.

The Atheist Society contacted me. They said that they will buy the lunch, and they challenged the Atheist Society, “Go down to Houston and have lunch with this guy, and talk to him.” Nobody has come!

Nick Matzke makes an offer…

Nick Matzke, who is is currently a doctoral student in evolutionary biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and who is also the former Public Information Project Director at the National Center for Science Education, declared on February 18 that he would “love to” take up Professor Tour’s offer of a free lunch, “if someone pays my airfare.”

Two offers to contribute towards the cost of Mr. Matzke’s air travel were made. Mung kindly offered to pay for part of the cost. Another contributor, groovamos, went further and declared: “I will buy a ticket for Nick to Houston and will buy a night at a hotel on a weekend.” Groovamos added that he lives in Houston and would like to attend the meeting. He also promised that he would remain silent throughout the meeting, requesting only that he be permitted to ask questions after the meeting.

… which Professor Tour accepts…

I have just received an email from Professor James Tour, in response to Nick Matzke’s invitation. I trust that he will not mind me quoting a brief excerpt, as it directly pertains to the terms of the invitation:

If you would please inform Mr. Matzke that I would be delighted to have him to lunch at the Rice faculty; my treat. I really want to learn this, and I hope he can help me. And I shall be fine with groovamos paying his airfare and joining us in the meeting, which will not extend beyond the three of us, please. I shall pay for groovamos’s lunch too as only members can pay at the faculty club. So if groovamos agrees to stay quiet and settle in as a quiet observer only, I am fine with that as long as Mr. Matzke agrees.

Professor Tour added that he would do his very best to listen attentively to Mr. Matzke’s description without interjecting, and that he would only question Mr. Matzke when he did not understand what he said. Professor Tour also expressed his deep appreciation to Mr. Matzke, saying that it was very kind of him to propose such an offer.

… on one condition!

There’s just one condition that Professor Tour attached to the meeting, however. In his email to me, he stated: “It shall not be recorded or extend beyond the three of us as this is not for show but for my edification.”

In my original invitation which I issued to Professor Tour, when I informed him that Nick Matzke would like to explain macroevolution to him in person, I naturally mentioned his wish that someone pay his airfare, but I neglected to mention his wish that the meeting be recorded. I gave Professor Tour the address of my Web post, to which the conditions of Nick Matzke’s offer were attached. However, Professor Tour is a busy man, and he informed me in his email that he has not viewed my post, as he rarely reads blogs.

Barry Arrington recently wrote a very entertaining post about the “No true Scotsman” logical fallacy. Well, Nick Matzke may not be a true Scotsman; but he is certainly a true scientist. And what distinguishes a true scientist from ordinary mortals is that he/she is passionately motivated by the pursuit of truth for its own sake. Mr. Matzke is also the the former Public Information Project Director at the National Center for Science Education. In other words, he’s someone who really cares about educating people in the truth. I take it, then, that Mr. Matzke would regard the goal of setting Professor Tour straight about evolution as a worthy objective, in and of itself. Let me add that in my experience, Mr. Matzke has always shown himself to be a true gentleman. I trust, therefore, that he would happily respect another gentleman’s wish for privacy – particularly when that gentleman is an esteemed and distinguished scientist.

Professor Tour is a very kind and courteous man, and he has also informed me that there is a chance that Mr. Matzke can get a flight to Houston from SFC in the morning, have lunch, and fly back on the same day. Professor Tour adds (and I hope he won’t mind me quoting him here): “If he needs a night here in Houston, he is welcome to stay in my home. Maybe we can have more conversations at our family dinner table. I enjoy seeing my children exposed to diverse insights from kind people.”

Finally, Professor Tour writes that Mr. Matzke is welcome to contact him directly to arrange a mutually agreeable time when they can reserve a couple of hours for a private lesson over lunch. He also suggested that Mr. Matzke contact groovamos. To facilitate matters, Professor Tour’s contact details are here and Mr. Matzke’s contact details are here. I sincerely hope that the parties concerned can make suitable arrangements.

I also asked Professor Tour about the Atheist Society’s offer to cover the cost, and he replied that the offer had been made from the national office, and not from Rice University. He added that it was made many years ago, and said that it might still be somewhere on the Web. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate it, so I presume that the relevant page must have been taken down.

In any case, it is now up to Mr. Matzke to respond to Professor Tour’s offer. The ball is in his court. Your move, Nick.

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121 Responses to Professor James Tour accepts Nick Matzke’s offer to explain macroevolution

  1. Fine with me, although, as I said in my initial acceptance, I would need for it to be recorded. In his talk, Tour made numerous references to previous conversations which he found unconvincing, but which, to me, sound like he was either springing these questions on people who weren’t really experts on evolution, or just wasn’t understanding what they were telling him. I want myself and others to be able to refer to this. Otherwise I’m just educating one person, which is a rather low payoff for taking a weekend of personal time plus adding that much CO2 to the atmosphere, especially when someone like Tour could just doing some serious research into the topic before forming opinions.

    If we work this out, I could make time, but only in the summer. Whee! Houston in June!

  2. If my $500.00 offer is needed to make this happen just let me know. I expect to appear in the Credits. ;)

  3. Thanks to all who are making this come together. This may turn out to be a very interesting encounter.

  4. Wouldn’t it be something if Nick convinces Tour that macroevolution is a fact. What would the people at UD think then?

  5. 5
    Kantian Naturalist

    The real question is, can Matzke meet the standard that Tour has set? And is it a problem if he cannot?

    Tour has set the terms as, “can macroevolution be explained at the level of molecules?” I very much doubt that anyone can meet that standard.

    What Matzke could do, obviously, is provide all sorts of reasons for accepting that there are macroevolutionary patterns and processes. That would involve ecology, geography, paleontology, and maybe some developmental biology. But it would not involve chemistry, which is where Tour is insisting that the battle be joined.

    Matzke, I know you don’t know me and my opinion might not mean much to you, but I’ll offer it unsolicited: don’t do it. Tour will insist on setting a bar so high that it can’t be met, and then when you’re not able to meet it, he’ll declare it a victory. I believe there’s a term for what Tour is doing here: “selective hyperskepticism.”

  6. This will be great if it can happen and I applaud Nick for being willing to participate.

    Nick, if you are putting together some notes, as I presume you will, perhaps you could share them after your meeting with Dr. Tour, in the context of “Here is what I shared with Dr. Tour.” That would allow you to present the information in the strongest possible light to a broader audience without (hopefully) requiring a lot of additional research and effort. Maybe that is a way to compromise on the recording issue.

    —–

    KN:

    I believe there’s a term for what Tour is doing here: “selective hyperskepticism.”

    No, you are wrong. The term is: “calling a bluff.”

    The “evidence” for macroevolution is often touted as being overwhelming, based on similar-looking organisms, comparative genetics, the broad idea that things change over time, and so on. But all the wonderful evolutionary changes have to ultimately happen at the molecular level, every eye, wing, heart, new body plan, etc. It is perfectly reasonable to wonder what molecular changes might be required to effect such morphological changes, and what evidence exists for such molecular changes.

    It is not selective hyperskepticism. It is trying to pin down the slippery, ever shifting evolutionary storyline, to see if the emperor actually has any clothes. I think Dr. Tour actually wants to know the evidence. I’d love to know as well.

    Based on your post, I presume if we asked you what molecular changes are required to go from A to B you’d shuffle your feet, shift your gaze downwards, and mumble something about the question being unfair and hyperskeptical. You know, Alan Fox’s old canard about any questioning of evolution being an argument based on incredulity.

  7. JLAfan2001 @4:

    It would be an interesting result indeed. And I, for one, would love to know what evidence convinced him and would love to examine it for myself to see if I might become convinced.

  8. As to:

    Professor Tour is not an Intelligent Design proponent, but he is openly skeptical of macroevolution, which is generally defined as “evolution happening on a large scale, e.g. at or above the level of species, over geologic time, resulting in the formation of new taxonomic groups.”

    As well he should be for,,

    Challenging Fossil of a Little Fish
    “In Chen’s view, his evidence supports a history of life that runs opposite to the standard evolutionary tree diagrams, a progression he calls top-down evolution.” Jun-Yuan Chen is professor at the Nanjing Institute of Paleontology and Geology
    http://www.fredheeren.com/boston.htm

    In Explaining the Cambrian Explosion, Has the TalkOrigins Archive Resolved Darwin’s Dilemma? – JonathanM – May 2012
    Excerpt: it is the pattern of morphological disparity preceding diversity that is fundamentally at odds with the neo-Darwinian scenario of gradualism. All of the major differences (i.e. the higher taxonomic categories such as phyla) appear first in the fossil record and then the lesser taxonomic categories such as classes, orders, families, genera and species appear later. On the Darwinian view, one would expect to see all of the major differences in body plan appear only after numerous small-scale speciation events. But this is not what we observe.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....59171.html

    Jerry Coyne’s Chapter on the Fossil Record Fails to Show “Why Evolution is True” – Jonathan M. – December 4, 2012
    Excerpt: Taxonomists classify organisms into categories: species are the very lowest taxonomic category. Species are classified into different genera. Genera are classified into different families. Families are classified into different orders. Orders are classified into different classes. And classes are classified into different phyla. Phyla are among the very highest taxonomic categories (only kingdom and domain are higher), and correspond to the high level of morphological disparity that exists between different animal body plans. Phyla include such groupings as chordates, arthropods, mollusks, and echinoderms.
    Darwin’s theory would predict a cone of diversity whereby the major body-plan differences (morphological disparity) would only appear in the fossil record following numerous lower-level speciation events. What is interesting about the fossil record is that it shows the appearance of the higher taxonomic categories first (virtually all of the major skeletonized phyla appear in the Cambrian, with no obvious fossil transitional precursors, within a relatively small span of geological time). As Roger Lewin (1988) explains in Science,
    “Several possible patterns exist for the establishment of higher taxa, the two most obvious of which are the bottom-up and the top-down approaches. In the first, evolutionary novelties emerge, bit by bit. The Cambrian explosion appears to conform to the second pattern, the top-down effect.”
    Erwin et al. (1987), in their study of marine invertebrates, similarly conclude that,
    “The fossil record suggests that the major pulse of diversification of phyla occurs before that of classes, classes before that of orders, orders before that of families. The higher taxa do not seem to have diverged through an accumulation of lower taxa.”
    Indeed, the existence of numerous small and soft-bodied animals in the Precambrian strata undermines one of the most popular responses that these missing transitions can be accounted for by them being too small and too-soft bodied to be preserved.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....67021.html

    All skeletalised metazoan phyla appeared in the Cambrian – David Tyler – 2010
    Excerpt: This means that Cambrian strata can be said to record examples of all the skeletalized metazoan phyla.,,, Subsequent periods of Earth history may have had more dramatic radiations at the Order, Class or Family level, but there were no further bauplan innovations affecting skeletalized metazoan organisms.
    http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.....a_appeared

    The evolutionary theory would have us believe that we should have more phyla today due to ongoing evolutionary processes. These following timeline graphs highlight the loss of phyla through time since the Cambrian:

    Origin of Phyla – The Fossil Evidence – Timeline Graph
    http://lutheranscience.org/images/GraphC2.gif
    http://docs.google.com/Doc?doc.....#038;hl=en

    The unscientific hegemony of uniformitarianism – David Tyler – May 2011
    Excerpt: The pervasive pattern of natural history: disparity precedes diversity,,,, The summary of results for phyla is as follows. The pattern reinforces earlier research that concluded the Explosion is not an artefact of sampling. Much the same finding applies to the appearance of classes. These data are presented in Figures 1 and 2 in the paper.
    http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.....niformitar

    Creation and Evolution: The Biological Evidence – Dr. Marc Surtees – Disparity precedes Diversity – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....age#t=402s

  9. I can’t speak for N.Matzke but in my opinion it would be a privilege and wortwhile experience for anyone to meet an eminent scientist of the caliber of Dr. Tour.

    Especially on someone else’s dime.

    Equating that to a low payoff absolutely boggles my mind.

  10. further notes:

    Ediacarans Not Related to Cambrian Animals – December 16, 2012
    http://crev.info/2012/12/ediac.....n-animals/

    Ediacaran embryos in retrospect – David Tyler – January 28, 2013
    Excerpt: “there is currently no convincing evidence for advanced animals with bilateral symmetry in the Doushantuo biota”. This particular quest for animals preceding the Cambrian Explosion has drawn a blank. Needless to say, Darwin’s dilemma remains in full force.
    http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.....retrospect

    Darwin’s Dilemma – The Cambrian Explosion – In Darwin’s Own Words
    Excerpt: Consequently, if the theory be true, it is indisputable that, before the lowest Silurian or Cambrian stratum was deposited long periods elapsed, as long as, or probably far longer than, the whole interval from the Cambrian age to the present day; and that during these vast periods the world swarmed with living creatures…
    To the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods, I can give no satisfactory answer…
    The case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained. [emphasis added]
    —Chapter IX, “On the Imperfection of the Geological Record,” On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin – fifth edition (1869), pp. 378-381.

    Does Lots of Sediment in the Ocean Solve the “Mystery” of the Cambrian Explosion? – Casey Luskin April, 2012
    Excerpt: I think the Cambrian fossil record is surprisingly complete. I think it may be more complete than we realize. The reason for that is, for instance, if you look at the stratigraphy of the world, if I go and collect Cambrian rocks in Wales and find certain fossils, if I then go to China, I don’t find the same species but I find the same sorts of fossils. If I go into Carboniferous rocks, I go to Canada, they are the same as what I find in this country. So there is a clear set of faunas and floras that take us through geological time. The overall framework is falling into position. – Simon Conway Morris
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....59021.html

  11. semi OT: Comprehensive Analysis of Chimpanzee and Human Chromosomes Reveals Average DNA Similarity of 70% – by Jeffrey P. Tomkins – February 20, 2013
    http://www.answersingenesis.or.....chromosome

  12. microevolution – evolution that’s too small to see

    macroevolution – evolution that’s too big to see

    goldilocksevolution – evolution that’s just right

  13. 13

    You know, there is such a thing as “skype”.

  14. What is it with these organic chemists?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Skell

  15. I think Prof. Tour wants a conversation, not a debate. Face-to-face over lunch/dinner is probably better.

  16. 16

    As Dr. Matzke utilizes Dr. Tour’s lack of understanding about macroevolution as a means of undermining any weight to Tour’s dissent from Darwinism, one wonders if Dr. Matzke has a proficient enough understanding of the chemistry in question to fully appreciate the challenges it presents to evolutionary theory?

  17. 17

    I was just saying that if the “payoff” isn’t enough for Dr. Matzke if the meeting cannot be recorded, considering the expense in time and carbon emissions, skype might be a bridge to solve the issue.

  18. I wonder how productive the conversation can be when at least one party is by his own admission the antithesis of the philosophically inclined and the other is from what I have seen immersed in a world interpreted via unexamined metaphysical naturalism, oblivious to the boiling over of his methodological naturalism into other domains. (no offense to either party) I would still love for it to take place though.

  19. Going along with what Eric said @6 and a theme I see in many of the posts, I would suggest that some agreement should be reached in advance regarding what constitutes an explanation for macroevolution.

    If Professor Tour is not convinced by the evidence and/or explanations that are “out there” now, what does he need to know to become convinced?

    If Mr. Matzke is going to repeat the same public arguments in private, will anything be achieved? If he has new evidence and new arguments, then wouldn’t they have been published and make the conversation moot?

  20. 5
    Kantian NaturalistFebruary 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    The real question is, can Matzke meet the standard that Tour has set? And is it a problem if he cannot?

    Tour has set the terms as, “can macroevolution be explained at the level of molecules?” I very much doubt that anyone can meet that standard.

    No, the goal is to rebut the claim that “no one understands macroevolution.” This would have to include a discussion of what “understand” means, and the difference between “reasonable scientific understanding”, which is the goal in many fields, and “absolutely complete understanding of every last detail”, which is unachievable in everything except perhaps very simple subtopics.

    As for chemistry, consider microevolution. Tour and everyone else says they accept it. Could they provide a “chemical” explanation? In what sense is that even meaningful?

    Regardless of the answer to that, did they really need a “chemical” explanation in order to accept microevolution in the first place? Multiply the questions by a billion or so for the macroevolution question.

  21. Why does Nick have to fly over in the first place? Just as WJM mentions Skype is more than sufficient for this purpose.

    And if Nick does indeed fly over it would be a waste of time and money if it wasn’t recorded (audio, at minimal).

  22. KN:

    Pardon, but it is not selectively hyperskeptical to ask for evidence that answers at the level where any body plan level evolution must happen: molecules in cells.

    KF

    PS: Okay, reluctantly, a meeting for dinner on a private basis. It would be interesting to find out the net effect on balance.

  23. 23
    Kantian Naturalist

    In re: Matzke @ 20

    No, the goal is to rebut the claim that “no one understands macroevolution.” This would have to include a discussion of what “understand” means, and the difference between “reasonable scientific understanding”, which is the goal in many fields, and “absolutely complete understanding of every last detail”, which is unachievable in everything except perhaps very simple subtopics.

    Fair enough, but I suspect you’re dealing with someone who thinks that it’s not reasonable to accept macroevolution until every last detail is completely understood.

    As for chemistry, consider microevolution. Tour and everyone else says they accept it. Could they provide a “chemical” explanation? In what sense is that even meaningful?

    This is a good point. Tour probably means that mutations within the existing population are in principle explainable in terms of the interactions of molecules. But yes, it seems like reductionism gone wild to think that an explanation at the molecular level is more meaningful than an explanation at the population-genetic level, or that it would be unreasonable to accept the latter unless the former were also available.

    I worry that the conversation will become one about whether the biological and geological sciences have methodological autonomy over and against chemistry and physics. Tour strikes me as the kind of person who has a very good hammer, and hence everything looks to him like a nail.

  24. KN @23:

    Fair enough, but I suspect you’re dealing with someone who thinks that it’s not reasonable to accept macroevolution until every last detail is completely understood.

    What is it to accept without having a real understanding? The devil is in the details. Or God is in the details. I provisionally “accept” it at the beginning of many conversations and thought experiments. But that is not of much value, beyond conversations and thought experiments.

    It’s a bit like stopping the telling of a joke before the punch line. And then saying it was still pretty good.

  25. Of course, it won’t help if Nick means one thing by “macroevolution” and Prof. Tour means something entirely different by “macroevolution.” I see that as a real possibility here.

    So Nick will go thinking he can explain macroevoltion and he’ll depart with Prof. Tour being no closer to having an answer to his questions.

    So, Nick, what are you going to do when you find out that you’re not talking the same thing? Throw up your hands and say “that’s not what I mean by macroevolution,” or try to answer his questions?

    Are you going to bone up on the molecular bases of macroevoltion or deny there is any connection between the two?

    You can’t even avoid equivocating over microevolution.

    Nick:

    Regardless of the answer to that, did they really need a “chemical” explanation in order to accept microevolution in the first place? Multiply the questions by a billion or so for the macroevolution question.

    So when Alan Fox asked you, why didn’t you just say that macroevolution is just repeated rounds of microevolution taking place in different species over very long timescales?

    That’s apparently what he thinks and you couldn’t even be bothered to disabuse him of the notion.

    “It just happened, that’s all, and you’ll have to accept it on faith” is not likely to convince Prof. Tour.

  26. Professor Tour made it very clear that his concerns are about the chemical details:

    Professor Tour: … I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical and to sign such a statement without reprisals from those that disagree with me? … Does anyone understand the chemical details, behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught so I invite them to meet with me.

    Nick Matzke is planning to sidestep the issue by changing the subject.

    Nick Matzke: No, the goal is to rebut the claim that “no one understands macroevolution.”

    According to Nick chemical details are not part of a ‘reasonable scientific understanding’. Because Nick holds that there is a “difference between ‘reasonable scientific understanding’, which is the goal in many fields, and ‘absolutely complete understanding of every last detail’”.
    So will Professor Tour be informed about the chemical details behind macroevolution?

    Nick Matzke: As for chemistry, consider microevolution. Tour and everyone else says they accept it. Could they provide a “chemical” explanation? In what sense is that even meaningful? Regardless of the answer to that, did they really need a “chemical” explanation in order to accept microevolution in the first place?

    Right. Since Professor Tour accepted microevolution without asking for chemical details, he forfeited the right for asking about the chemical details behind macroevolution. So just a general outline of the theory of macroevolution will do.

    Nick Matzke: Multiply the questions by a billion or so for the macroevolution question.

    Way to go Nicky!
    Any questions Professor Tour?

  27. What Box said. lol

  28. Nick @20:

    Multiply the questions by a billion or so for the macroevolution question.

    I presume you’re just referring to the level of difficulty and not suggesting that macroevolution = microevolution + time.

    As for chemistry, consider microevolution. Tour and everyone else says they accept it. Could they provide a “chemical” explanation? In what sense is that even meaningful?

    Regardless of the answer to that, did they really need a “chemical” explanation in order to accept microevolution in the first place?

    I think I understand what you’re saying, but this isn’t quite accurate. There is a kernel of truth here masking a larger inaccuracy.

    It is true that many details of the biochemistry of microevolution remain to be worked out. (And it is true that even with microevolution the more we learn the less potent the traditional RM+NS mechanism seems to be.) So yes, there is much about microevolution that is not understood.

    Nevertheless, it would be inaccurate to suggest that there is some kind of equivalence. Depending on the definition of microevolution, there is decent observational evidence and, in some cases, at least a rudimentary inkling of the biochemical basis.

    For example, if we go with the broad “change over time” definition, this is well observed and amounts to little more than the observation that nature is not forever static.

    If we talk about limited common descent, it is observationally true that organisms leave offspring and that those offspring are (in may species) slightly different than the parents.

    And if we talk about changes in allele frequency in a population, there is at least a decent understanding of genetic inheritance of different alleles, as well as a decent understanding of how mutations (of various types) can lead to various diseases (in nearly all cases, by breaking a previously-functional sequence).

    So there is good evidence to support things like the changes in a population, like finch beak variations or melanism in moths (setting aside for the moment all the questions about the data and the interpretation and just taking those stock examples at face value for purposes of discussion). And there is a decent understanding of the biochemical basis for many aspects of inheritance and some diseases (if not a full understanding, at least an understanding of what biochemical changes can contribute to the disease).

    But those are all minor changes in existing, functional organisms. There is nothing like that at all with macroevolution. We haven’t the faintest idea what would be involved biochemically in constructing something like a wing or a heart or a brain, or what would be involved in building a new body plan or, shudder, origin of life.

    What we have instead are a spotty fossil record, some rough morphological similarities, and some homologous DNA sequences, many of which are liberally interpreted and are subject to significant debate. We also have speculations, and models, and stories, and guesses. No offense to anyone working in the area, but we just need to be frank about the limitations of trying to reconstruct a historical narrative for things that allegedly occurred in the remote historical past.

    —–

    So there is a meaningful difference between microevolution and macroevolution, both in terms of organism/species observations and our understanding of the underlying biochemical basis (the former probably being still stronger than the latter).

    As a result, it will not do to simply say that if someone accepts microevolution they should also accept macroevolution because they are on the same ground. They are not on the same ground, and the latter cannot be assumed to be simply an extrapolation over time of the former.

  29. 29

    Does anyone deny that macroevolution implies the historical fossil record (HFR)? But that fact alone doesn’t solve any problems in determining if macroevolution is responsible for it.

    “If macroevolution then HFR.” But so what? I suspect Tour wants to know how macroevolution works (or is supposed to work) and not a rehash of macroevo→HFR. It’s doubtful he expects every last detail, but he will expect enough details to render it experimentally verifiable, or at least plausible. That’s hardly hyperskeptical. As a matter of fact, it sounds like genuine scientific curiosity.

    We all know that, if some brute physical force is indeed capable of engineering all of biological diversity from a universal common ancestor, then we may expect to see such evidence in the historical fossil record. What we all don’t know, and I gather Tour suspects that nobody knows, is how this brute physical force actually conducts the transformations. Why should he settle for an epistemic gap where an actual, verifiable mechanism should be? Why should anyone? This isn’t a matter of assessing every last detail, it’s a matter of having a testable hypothesis for the claimed power of physical chemistry to transform a single class of self-replicators into everything bearing the label of life.

    On the other hand, if we take the converse of the implication, that HFR→macroevolution, then any mechanism or occurrence, designed or otherwise, that is capable of producing something like the HFR, would need to be included in the definition of macroevolution.

  30. Professor Tour made it very clear that his concerns are about the chemical details:

    Professor Tour: … I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical and to sign such a statement without reprisals from those that disagree with me? … Does anyone understand the chemical details, behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught so I invite them to meet with me.

    Nick Matzke is planning to sidestep the issue by changing the subject.

    Nick Matzke: No, the goal is to rebut the claim that “no one understands macroevolution.”

    I quote the title of the original post that started all this:

    A world-famous chemist tells the truth: there’s no scientist alive today who understands macroevolution

    Apparently actually a lot of people thought that’s what it was about.

    Right. Since Professor Tour accepted microevolution without asking for chemical details, he forfeited the right for asking about the chemical details behind macroevolution.

    That, actually, would be a valid argument. It would show the arbitrariness and fake-rigorousness of demanding “chemical” explanations of phenomena which are actually mostly about processes that cannot be reduced to chemistry.

    Of course, it won’t help if Nick means one thing by “macroevolution” and Prof. Tour means something entirely different by “macroevolution.” I see that as a real possibility here.

    So Nick will go thinking he can explain macroevoltion and he’ll depart with Prof. Tour being no closer to having an answer to his questions.

    So, Nick, what are you going to do when you find out that you’re not talking the same thing? Throw up your hands and say “

    If Tour learned that the scientific definition of “macroevolution” is something almost entirely different from the creationist definition of “macroevolution”, and learned what “macroevolution” actually means to scientists who work in the field, that would be meaningful learning on his part, and I would deem it a success, and a demonstration that Tour and his fans were not in the least educated enough on the topic to offer meaningful opinions on the validity of macroevolution, any more than someone who confused carbon and oxygen would be qualified to discuss chemistry.

  31. “It’s not what you think it is” is not a definition.

  32. Nick: @30:

    If Tour learned that the scientific definition of “macroevolution” is something almost entirely different from the creationist definition of “macroevolution” . . .

    Nick, I, for one, am interested to know your definition of macroevolution. You’ve told us things it isn’t. You’ve hinted at things that might support the idea. How would you define it — in a sentence or two?

  33. EA @ 28
    +1. Too bad there isn’t a thumbs up button.

  34. . . . phenomena which are actually mostly about processes that cannot be reduced to chemistry.

    Nick, on another occasion you recently indicated that you believed all the information for an organism is contained within its DNA. (I won’t debate that now; we’ll just assume that is the case for the present question.) In addition, it would be fair to say, would it not, that what goes on in an organism — from initial growth, to its life and sustainability — is built on biochemistry.

    Whatever other phenomena you have in mind — perhaps environmental factors, genetic effects, population specifics — don’t they all ultimately have to get incorporated into the biochemistry? Indeed, if everything is contained in the DNA, they have to all get incorporated into the very DNA itself.

    I’m just trying to understand what other phenomena would not ultimately manifest their macroevolutionary influence through the biochemistry?

  35. 35
    Kantian Naturalist

    In re: Eric Anderson @ 28:

    Firstly, speciation has been observed in the wild, so it’s just not true that all observed evolutionary events have been below the species level.

    Secondly — and here I’ll confess my ignorance — I’m not aware of anyone in the pro-ID ‘camp’ who has really shown what is meant by “body-plan” and what one is committed to in using this term. Bauplane are, if memory serves, a term of mid-19th-century German biology. (Haeckel, maybe?)

    And in a sense, this is what the debate is all about — are mutation and selection sufficient to account for body-plans? For a long time, I think, there was room for reasonable doubt, but the scope for reasonable doubt is narrowing the more we learn about evo-devo.

    A further point: post-Darwin, higher taxa (families, orders, etc.) aren’t “really” real — they’re just convenient terms for labeling degrees of similarity and difference between species.

    (Post-Darwin, species are real, but they aren’t kinds or essences — they are real in the same way that armies, football teams, political parties, and nationalities are real. This is why “if we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?” is exactly the same as “if we descended from the English, then why are there still English?”)

    Point is, post-Darwin, body-plans are just convenient idealizations or models — there’s no higher level of biological reality that transcends the species-level. And if you want to continue to use “body-plan” in this pre-Darwinian way, there’s some serious metaphysics that has to be worked out here.

  36. 36
    Kantian Naturalist

    Here’s a thought: evolution is the process whereby environmental information becomes genetic information.

  37. Nick: @30:

    If Tour learned that the scientific definition of “macroevolution” is something almost entirely different from the creationist definition of “macroevolution” . . .

    Nick, I, for one, am interested to know your definition of macroevolution. You’ve told us things it isn’t. You’ve hinted at things that might support the idea. How would you define it — in a sentence or two?

    Sigh. We covered this in the original thread:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-447204

  38. 38

    And in a sense, this is what the debate is all about — are mutation and selection sufficient to account for body-plans?

    Not just mutation and selection, but random mutation and natural selection.

  39. 39
    Kantian Naturalist

    In re: (38), yes, I took that to be implied in how I was using the terms.

  40. “plus adding that much CO2 to the atmosphere”

    lol

  41. This was sold as an all too uncommon gracious attitude of disagreeing scientists meeting with another to discuss their differences and learn. I was looking forward to it happening just for the novelty of it.

    However reading Matzke definition of success being a

    “demonstration that Tour and his fans were not in the least educated enough on the topic to offer meaningful opinions on the validity of macroevolution, any more than someone who confused carbon and oxygen would be qualified to discuss chemistry”

    I see the graciousness and nobleness of it as being WAY oversold even to the point of disingenuity. I half suspect Matzke is trying to torpedo the meeting (especially since he considers the payoff low) or else why declare the goal as discrediting education levels rather than just enlightenment between two human beings? and why try take the molecular concerns off the table when we know this is Tour’s major issue? and why insult the intelligence of a clearly intelligent man by assuming that he has not in fact educated himself on a subject to offer anything meaningful?

    Even if it does happen the odds are extremely high that it will be characterized differently by both sides so its waning in appeal given the revelations. With those attitudes going in the money might do better given to a charity.

  42. KN: Hi there. Long time no talk.

    My professional career, from which I am now retired, was in IT. I designed, built, and modified large computer software systems. To me—and I believe that anyone who has worked with large complex systems of any kind would agree—it is prima facea true that it is impossible to make a major change to a complex system in small incremental steps if one includes the requirement that the system continue to work at least as well after each such modification as it did before.

    In software terms, you simply can’t make a major modification to a system one line of code at a time and expect it to work after each such change.

    To someone who is familiar with systems, the proposition that a cardiovascular system based on a bellows lung could evolve into one based on a circular (avian) lung in small incremental steps is preposterous, to pick one example out of literally millions of similar ones. One the microscopic level, the proposition that a bacteria could evolve the ability to grow a useful flagellum in incremental, Darwinian steps is equally preposterous. I use the word “useful” in the preceding sentence because not only do all the components of the flagellum itself, based on some forty or so proteins, have to be present, but the program for constructing it, stunningly complex in itself, also has to be there, as well as sensing capability so that the organism knows in what direction it would be beneficial to move, and also the ability to control the motor (or motors, in the case of multiple flagella) to propel it in that direction.

    In other words, it is prima facea impossible for major innovations in living organisms to come about in Darwinian fashion, no matter how much time is available.

    Therefore, if one wishes to establish the validity of the Darwinian paradigm, the burden of proof is upon his or her shoulders. And general stories just won’t do. There need to be specific scenarios presented that show how it could be possible for this to occur, and these scenarios need to be specific at the chemical level, because that is where the action is. Random mutations are chemical events. And their consequences are chemical first and morphological secondarily. Absent this level of explanation, Darwinism is no better than idle speculation.

    In my view, it is this intuitive understanding of the system nature of living organisms that underlies the skepticism of biochemists such as Behe and Tour (and many, many others).

  43. Some rules.
    Macroevolution must be explained using biological scientific evidence.
    No fossils, genetics, biogeography, marine mammals, what God would do , or any mere lines of reasoning.

  44. 44
    englishmaninistanbul

    BD @ 41
    +1

    “What I cannot create, I do not understand.”
    -Richard Feynman.

  45. BD @ 41

    Like!

    I second englishmaninistanbul.

    “The devil is in the details”

  46. I designed, built, and modified large computer software systems. To me—and I believe that anyone who has worked with large complex systems of any kind would agree—it is prima facea true that it is impossible to make a major change to a complex system in small incremental steps if one includes the requirement that the system continue to work at least as well after each such modification as it did before.

    Which demonstrates why analogies from computer engineering have limited use in attempting to understand biological systems in general and evolution in particular.

  47. God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you’re taking away from God; you don’t need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven’t figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don’t believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time — life and death — stuff like that. God is always associated with those things that you do not understand. Therefore I don’t think that the laws can be considered to be like God because they have been figured out.

    Richard Feynman quoted in Superstrings: A Theory of Everything, edited by P.C.W. Davies and J. Brown.

  48. AF:

    Actually, the need for God does not vanish with discovery of laws he has set up to order reality! (Notice, the context of that term, Laws of Nature. Ever seen laws without a lawgiver? BTW, a point noted on at least since Plato in The laws Bk X.)

    Feynman is wrong on that — brilliant physicist (bit careless with RA stuff, they all were in the 40s, pity), but made a basic phil error here.

    The root reason people believe in God is in the first instance that a significant number of people have met him in their lives, as he has acted in power and in personal encounter.

    Just y/day, I had a talk with a young father whose daughter, just born, had a GI tract obstruction. In record time they got emergency travel docs and headed to Miami. At the a/port the sup took one look and waved them through — two tired parents with a newborn girl with an IV drip in her foot; in the end, 50 hrs without sleep. They got a car and hotfooted through the night to Central FL, to the hospital. Then, as the father watched on screen (while Surgeons were scrubbing up), the obstruction vanished!

    They are back here, rejoicing in the God who heals.

    Even as Pascal, was transformed through his night of fire encounter with the Living God.

    Next, if you deal with God on an intellectual level, God is the necessary being at the root of being. And, so also, Architect and Maker of the contingent world in which we live, the Eternal Mind in whom eternal truths reside, and who is the author of our own minds, and the giver of core moral law that we find written on our consciences. And he is the gracious one, our Saviour.

    As the old poet put it, in him we live, move and have our being.

    KF

  49. Alan,

    I find your hand-waving dismisal in #45 just above to be trivially interesting and wholly unpersuasive. What I would find utterly facinating is the 6000 word response to KF’s challenge. Tell me, please, why is the application of repeated experience by multiple observers in varied fields (myself included) inapplicable to biological systems in general and evolution in particular.

    Stephen

  50. Mung:

    So when Alan Fox asked you, why didn’t you just say that macroevolution is just repeated rounds of microevolution taking place in different species over very long timescales?

    That’s apparently what he thinks and you couldn’t even be bothered to disabuse him of the notion.

    Nick’s comment clarifies quite satisfactorily for me that we that there is no difference over facts or concepts, just descriptions. I don’t see the need for the two words. Evolution covers it. There are perfectly good descriptives for sub-categories.

    As Nick said:

    In a perfect world, scientists would refer to these specific processes rather than the very general micro/macro distinction, but as long as the terms are being used, it behooves us to understand what they mean within the scientific community.

  51. AF:

    On the contrary, the incrementalism challenge shows just why the issues of functionally specific complexity speak strongly to both computers and to living systems.

    The notion that you can get complexity dependent on the precise fitting, integration, arrangement and co-ordination of multiple parts, incrementally, each change functional all the way, is on its face, highly dubious.

    The OOL case, where the usual distractors about natural selection are out of the way, is simply the most clear case. And it is one where the blind watchmaker thesis is in a lot of trouble. Too often, glossed over.

    KF

  52. …repeated experience by multiple observers in varied fields (myself included)…

    Refers to what, exactly?

  53. AF: The micro-macro distinction pivots on an very important issue, scope and scale of change, thus search cpacity of accessible resources. Small changes, mostly by breakdown of existing structures, are easy to explain. Origin of highly complex and integrated function based on multiple parts, is another. And waving it away does not change that systems reality. KF

  54. AF: He is speaking of people who work with complex technological systems, whether cybernetic, mechanical, electronics, robotics, process control, servo, or telecomms or chemical or computational etc. Systems integration is a difficult, even a daunting task. And, incrementalism does not explain such systems. Biological systems intersect with several of the above categories and the principles and issues of general systems theory speak to the situation. Loud and clear. KF

  55. Small changes, mostly by breakdown of existing structures, are easy to explain. Origin of highly complex and integrated function based on multiple parts, is another.

    It’s not as if we have even started to get a handle on the bacterial flagellum!

  56. KN:

    Body Plans [and yes, we are using the English word] is a significant term in describing the functional integrated organisation of life forms, connected to taxonomy in many ways. These are built up during embryological development, or the equivalent, as we move from the Zygote or equivalent on up. And in the case of organisms undergoing complete metamorphosis, we have more than one body plan to deal with in the life cycle.

    As is usual we can cite Wiki speaking against known ideological interest:

    A body plan is the blueprint for the way the body of an organism is laid out. Each species of multicellular organism—plant, fungus, red algae, slime mold, among others—has a body plan. This article is about animal body plans.

    An animal’s symmetry,[1] its number of body segments and limbs are all aspects of its body plan. One of the key issues of developmental biology is the evolution of body plans as different as those of a starfish, or a mammal, which come from a close common biological heritage-both are deuterostomes. One issue in particular is how radical changes in body plans have occurred over geological time. The body plan is a key feature of an organism’s morphology and, since the discovery of DNA, developmental biologists have been able to learn a lot about how genes control the development of structural features through a cascade of processes in which key genes produce morphogens, chemicals that diffuse through the body to produce a gradient that acts as a position indicator for cells, turning on other genes, some of which in turn produce other morphogens. A key discovery was the existence of groups of homeobox genes, which are responsible for laying down the basic body plan in animals. The homeobox genes are remarkably conserved between species as diverse as the fruit fly and man, the basic segmented pattern of the worm or fruit fly being the origin of the segmented spine in man. The field of animal evolutionary developmental biology, which studies the genetics of morphology in detail, is now a rapidly expanding one [1], with many of the developmental genetic cascades, particularly in the fruit fly drosophila, now catalogued in considerable detail.[2]

    Body plan is the basis for distinguishing animal phyla, and there are 35 different basic animal body plans, each corresponding to distinct animal phyla.

    In the context of the Cambrian revolution, the relevant categories are at the phylum and sub phylum levels.

    Here is a significant 2004 discussion, by Meyer, in the context of that revolution:

    The Cambrian explosion represents a remarkable jump in the specified complexity or “complex specified information” (CSI) of the biological world. For over three billions years, the biological realm included little more than bacteria and algae (Brocks et al. 1999). Then, beginning about 570-565 million years ago (mya), the first complex multicellular organisms appeared in the rock strata, including sponges, cnidarians, and the peculiar Ediacaran biota (Grotzinger et al. 1995). Forty million years later, the Cambrian explosion occurred (Bowring et al. 1993) . . . One way to estimate the amount of new CSI that appeared with the Cambrian animals is to count the number of new cell types that emerged with them (Valentine 1995:91-93) . . . the more complex animals that appeared in the Cambrian (e.g., arthropods) would have required fifty or more cell types . . . New cell types require many new and specialized proteins. New proteins, in turn, require new genetic information. Thus an increase in the number of cell types implies (at a minimum) a considerable increase in the amount of specified genetic information. Molecular biologists have recently estimated that a minimally complex single-celled organism would require between 318 and 562 kilobase pairs of DNA to produce the proteins necessary to maintain life (Koonin 2000). More complex single cells might require upward of a million base pairs. Yet to build the proteins necessary to sustain a complex arthropod such as a trilobite would require orders of magnitude more coding instructions. The genome size of a modern arthropod, the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, is approximately 180 million base pairs (Gerhart & Kirschner 1997:121, Adams et al. 2000). Transitions from a single cell to colonies of cells to complex animals represent significant (and, in principle, measurable) increases in CSI . . . .

    In order to explain the origin of the Cambrian animals, one must account not only for new proteins and cell types, but also for the origin of new body plans . . . Mutations in genes that are expressed late in the development of an organism will not affect the body plan. Mutations expressed early in development, however, could conceivably produce significant morphological change (Arthur 1997:21) . . . [but] processes of development are tightly integrated spatially and temporally such that changes early in development will require a host of other coordinated changes in separate but functionally interrelated developmental processes downstream. For this reason, mutations will be much more likely to be deadly if they disrupt a functionally deeply-embedded structure such as a spinal column than if they affect more isolated anatomical features such as fingers (Kauffman 1995:200) . . . McDonald notes that genes that are observed to vary within natural populations do not lead to major adaptive changes, while genes that could cause major changes–the very stuff of macroevolution–apparently do not vary. In other words, mutations of the kind that macroevolution doesn’t need (namely, viable genetic mutations in DNA expressed late in development) do occur, but those that it does need (namely, beneficial body plan mutations expressed early in development) apparently don’t occur.

    The issues on the merits in this need to be answered, not waved away.

    KF

  57. AF:

    The pivotal issue is Irreducible complexity, as was noted on here some time ago.

    In simplest terms, until there are sound, empirical observation grounded answers to all five of the Menuge criteria C1 – 5, there is no sound incrementalist or exaptationist answer.

    It so happens that these are closely connected to the issues of systems integration that are being discussed in the thread. Their general applicability should be obvious:

    For a working [bacterial] flagellum to be built by exaptation, the five following conditions would all have to be met:

    C1: Availability. Among the parts available for recruitment to form the flagellum, there would need to be ones capable of performing the highly specialized tasks of paddle, rotor, and motor, even though all of these items serve some other function or no function.

    C2: Synchronization. The availability of these parts would have to be synchronized so that at some point, either individually or in combination, they are all available at the same time.

    C3: Localization. The selected parts must all be made available at the same ‘construction site,’ perhaps not simultaneously but certainly at the time they are needed.

    C4: Coordination. The parts must be coordinated in just the right way: even if all of the parts of a flagellum are available at the right time, it is clear that the majority of ways of assembling them will be non-functional or irrelevant.

    C5: Interface compatibility. The parts must be mutually compatible, that is, ‘well-matched’ and capable of properly ‘interacting’: even if a paddle, rotor, and motor are put together in the right order, they also need to interface correctly.

    ( Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science, pgs. 104-105 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). HT: ENV.)

    I trust this helps.

    KF

  58. Alan,

    I am referring to your dismisal of Bruce’s experience as outlined in his comment in #41 in particular and many other obsevers in general. As for myself, I have personal experience in designing, constructing, optimizing and troubleshooting electrical/electronic/pneumatic/hydraulic machinery in manufacturing environments. As well as computer and PLC programming and defining of the protocals for exchange of data between those computers in the machinery I have been involved in designing. Bruce is correct when he points out that all of these systems are utterly intolerant of even minor changes unless they are carefully integrated into the system. Whether those changes be unintentional component failures or intentional changes to the programmed logic of a computer system. I can force a mechanical system to continue to function by taking additional steps to “bypass” the failed component or restore the computer to functionality by adding the code to integrate the minor code change into the whole. I fail to see how “biological systems in general and evolution in particular” are exempt from this otherwise ubiquitous observation of minor change intolerance in complex systems.

    If you would, please explain why Bruce and I are wrong when we apply our emperical observations to “biological systems in general and evolution in particular” in 6000 words or less (or more, if necessary.)

    KF, Thanks for your support in #53.

    Stephen

  59. I fail to see how “biological systems in general and evolution in particular” are exempt from this otherwise ubiquitous observation of minor change intolerance in complex systems.

    What you fail to see is not really my problem and I am not here to champion evolution as a concept. Evolution manages very well as a work-in-progress that continues to match available evidence without my input.

    But regarding your

    If you would, please explain why Bruce and I are wrong when we apply our emperical observations to “biological systems in general and evolution in particular”

    I would simply say that a living cell or living organism bears only superficial resemblance to a car or a computer. Mechanical objects don’t reproduce for example. A car does not carry the instructions to build another copy of itself that it can pass on. There are no embryo cars to grow into sexually active cars; cars don’t heal when injured, are not a seething maelström of chemical reactions at the sub-cellular level. Other than that and lots more, I see what you mean.

  60. esc2 at #9
    My thought exactly, but Nick and Kantian think “differently” don’t you know.
    A simple and gracious offer and for its stated purpose.

  61. 48 KF:
    I HAD an inquinal hernia – it’s gone – no surgery – I am a believer – “Chosen, one who has heard His calling” (I write songs) – coincidence?

  62. <blockquote cite="God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand."

    I know Feynman is considered like A god among naturalists but his logic was pretty poor when it comes to religious matters (he himself admitted to being uneducated about it). The claim that God was invented to explain the unknown is gibberish. No one knows who the first human being to think of God was much less the motivations for doing so.

  63. It does seem that biological systems have an inherent plasticity- in many senses. That does make them different from engineered mechanical systems.

    So just imagine the engineering aptitude required to design self-replicating entities, made out of mere matter (like all of our other machines), with such manifest robustness, redundancy, tolerances, plasticity, etc!

    I once imagined that if a group of scientists and engineers put their heads together and got to work developing a self-replicating, autonomous machine- from scratch- free from all constraints and biases, using any materials they desired, that when they were done, they’d look up from their work for the first time and tell us there was only one workable design they could up with. We’d take a look at their achievement and say, “Congratulations gentlemen. You’ve just re-invented the cell.” My ongoing research increasingly confirms to my mind that such thoughts may not be too far off.

    Which reminds me, Alan Fox- I had intended to ask you previously: What are your thoughts on the (what I for one perceive to be apparent and extreme) bio-centricity of the universe? Just curious.

  64. No one knows who the first human being to think of God was much less the motivations for doing so.

    True – but we do know that the first people to write about it were the Sumerians, and they didn’t use their gods to explain what they couldn’t understand. I doubt Fenman went into ANE literature much, any more than “god hypothesis” Sagan did.

  65. MrMosis @#64

    I’ve seen the obvious differences between living systems and human machines used in different ways, most commonly to discredit the idea of design.

    However it occurs to me that by the same token one ought to say that living cells are so different from chemical systems that it’s specious to draw any comparisons between the two – looking for chemical explanations of life is exactly as unacceptable, or acceptable, as looking at design explanations.

    Likewise seeing life in reductionist functional terms should also be outlawed, seeing that the whole living cells screams out “holism”.

  66. Alan,

    Thanks for the reply. I understand that you have no obligation to me to champion evolution. However, you are the one that told Bruce that he was incorrect to apply his experience to “biological systems in general and evolution in particular.” I was just wondering what your justification was.

    You have attempted a justification by noting the differences in the self-replicating and self-repairing capabilities of living systems. But, I think you are missing my point. I am (as well as Bruce, I think,) puzzling over the transformation of a simple protocell system to the extremely complex system that is me. Not the survival of a solitary individual anywhere along the chain. I am referring, by way of analogy, to the increased capability of a computer program from “hello, world” to a word processor with spellcheck, auto-formatting, grammar check and such. Minor errors, and random insertions of code, even snippets of code that is to be found in the final product, just does not work if each revision/complier iteration (analogous to self-replication) must be at least as functional at something (notepad followed by wordpad, for instance)as its immediate predecessor. The code must be incorpoated in a careful and systematic way. In my experience, minute bits and pieces, added and rearranged willy-nilly does not work. Does it in yours? Why is the world of evolution different from my world? Why is the analogy defective?

    Stephen

  67. Alan Fox

    “I would simply say that a living cell or living organism bears only superficial resemblance to a car or a computer.”

    Yes because car or a computer is inferior to a simplest cell.

    *sterusjon*

    Nice to have another control systems guy. You’ll probably know this:

    “All stable processes we shall predict. All unstable processes we shall control.”
    John von Neumann

    (our motto)

  68. Alan Fox:

    Evolution manages very well as a work-in-progress that continues to match available evidence without my input.

    Whether this is true is exactly the question at issue, and your statement begs it.

    I would simply say that a living cell or living organism bears only superficial resemblance to a car or a computer. Mechanical objects don’t reproduce for example. A car does not carry the instructions to build another copy of itself that it can pass on. There are no embryo cars to grow into sexually active cars; cars don’t heal when injured, are not a seething maelström of chemical reactions at the sub-cellular level. Other than that and lots more, I see what you mean.

    By focusing on the differences between biological and human produced systems, you ignore the point I and others are making here, which is that the fundamental similarities among all large, complex systems (which are not at all superficial, as KF has pointed out above) preclude the possibility that major modifications can be accomplished via a series of small incremental changes if there is a requirement that the system continue to work after each such change at least as well as it did prior to the change.

    If you or anyone believes that biological systems by their nature are exempt from this characteristic of large complex systems, then it is up to you (or someone) to demonstrate that this is so. To my knowledge, no one anywhere has come forth with such a demonstration. There is no step by step explanation, for example, of how a bacterial flagellum could have arisen that includes the requisite chemical (DNA and protein, etc.) changes and a demonstration of how each step in the process would have enhanced the fitness of the organism or was at least neutral in that regard. There is no Darwinian explanation of how a creature with a bellows lung could have evolved into one with an avian lung, nor does anyone have a clue how sexual reproduction could have evolved incrementally, nor insect metamorphosis, nor the complex multi-host life cycles of parasites such as the sheep liver fluke.

    If you know of any such, even one such, I would like very much to hear of it.

  69. Folks:

    The adverting to a “difference” between living and non-living systems based on self replication is of course one reason why I have prioritised — along with other design thinkers and commenters — the OOL situation.

    Second, the objectors should be familiar with the observation since Paley [Ch II Nat Theol, which usually does not come up in discussions], that the ADDITIONALITY of a self replication facility ADDS to the complex integration and co-ordination of the system.

    Going further, with the observation since von Neumann, that the self replication facility integrated with an entity that carries out separate function is likely to fit into his kinematic self replicator model, we see that code, code readers, position-arm devices to effect operations etc all have to be integrated with the main entity.

    Indeed, to create a novel body plan with its development process or the equivalent, will require that the capacity be created for function in the body, AND that it be integrated successfully, step by step with the self replication facility.

    Thus, the concern on system integration is multiplied by the addition of self replication, not removed.

    The reason this is not readily apparent, is that we do not tend to discuss the self replication process in that way, and we don’t realise as a result that the same problems are happening all over again.

    The real answer to all this from the blind watchmaker viewpoint, is that there needs to be empirical observation showing a case of origin of a major novel body plan feature by incremental blind chance variation and differential reproductive success.

    The problem being — as Tour is in part hinting at — that his seems to be conspicuously missing in action, with particular reference to molecular level.

    KF

  70. If you or anyone believes that biological systems by their nature are exempt from this characteristic of large complex systems, then it is up to you (or someone) to demonstrate that this is so.

    Personally, I am convinced that the basic laws of physics and chemistry and physics hold for living organisms as well as they do for cars.

  71. …preclude the possibility that major modifications can be accomplished via a series of small incremental changes if there is a requirement that the system continue to work after each such change at least as well as it did prior to the change.

    Well, if that were true, evolution as an explanation for life’s diversity on Earth would fail utterly. Unfortunately that is just an assertion of incredulity.

  72. Oops missed a tag. 1st paragraph is quoting Bruce David.

  73. …there is a requirement that the system continue to work after each such change at least as well as it did prior to the change.

    And don’t forget there is also the requirement for each organism to be viable for each moment of its existence from zygote to adult.

  74. Alan

    The problem is, I suppose, that the alternative to an argument from incredulity is an argument from faith. Either faith or incredulity can be justified depending on the nature of the evidence.

  75. Which reminds me, Alan Fox- I had intended to ask you previously: What are your thoughts on the (what I for one perceive to be apparent and extreme) bio-centricity of the universe? Just curious.

    If you mean do I think life on Earth is unique, I have no idea and neither does anyone else. There is absolutely no evidence, as yet, to indicate whether life is common in the universe or we are indeed unique. We await results from Mars and SETI. On googling “bio-centricity”, I suspect you may mean something else!

  76. The problem is, I suppose, that the alternative to an argument from incredulity is an argument from faith. Either faith or incredulity can be justified depending on the nature of the evidence.

    Hi, Jon. Keeping well, I hope.

    Well, I guess we all believe what we do for the reasons that make sense to us. That’s why it’s good to exchange views sometimes. It tests one’s own ideas in a broader and, hopefully, more objective context.

  77. Alan,

    Personally, I never doubted that you think the laws of physics and chemistry applied to living systems. Tha is precisely why I am at a loss to understand why the analagy, as you put it, that Bruce articulated is inappropriate.

    As for “Well, if that were true, evolution as an explanation for life’s diversity on Earth would fail utterly. Unfortunately that is just an assertion of incredulity.” in response to Bruce– I have not seen an adequate justification to negate his confidence “that the fundamental similarities among all large, complex systems (which are not at all superficial, as KF has pointed out above) preclude the possibility that major modifications can be accomplished via a series of small incremental changes if there is a requirement that the system continue to work after each such change at least as well as it did prior to the change.” Without an adequate justification to overturn his statement, your retort has a misplaced “if” and in itself becomes an argument from gullibility, in my opinion.

    Stephen

  78. @ sterosjon

    …a series of small incremental changes if there is a requirement that the system continue to work after each such change at least as well as it did prior to the change.

    If evolution is true, then taking two examples of distantly related extant species, (the snowdrop and the blue whale, say) the postulation is that there is an unbroken chain going up from offspring to parent from a living snowdrop where the difference between generations is less than the variation within the gene pool, until arriving at the last common ancestor we can follow an unbroken chain back down to a living blue whale. Of course the complete picture is not there in evidence but the bits that are there form an overall pattern consistent with the scenario. All those intermediate organisms must have lived and bred if evolution is true.

  79. Hi Alan – fine, thanks.

    All those intermediate organisms must have lived and bred if evolution is true.

    Not if there were some saltational form of evolution in operation. So your statement is actually shorthand for “All those intermediate organisms must have lived and bred if Neo-Darwinian or some other type of gradualist evolution, logically including divinely directed evolution, is true.”

    That is a true argument from faith, for the existing evidence would support a whole range of alternative mechanisms should gradualist evolution happen not to be true.

    The argument seems to me to have the same form (and force) as “Those golden plates must have existed and been genuinely Egyptian, if Mormonism is true.” The argument is valid, but is totally dependent on golden plates actually being found (or alternatively proof of Mormonism established apart from golden plates, in which case their genuineness could be inferred – but in that case their value as evidence would have been nil).

  80. Not if there were some saltational form of evolution in operation.

    I think the last supporter of Goldschmidt’s “hopeful monster” hypothesis was John A. Davison.

    “Those golden plates must have existed and been genuinely Egyptian, if Mormonism is true.”

    And what about the tone spectacles?

    As I said, the is not and never can be a complete suite of evidence but there is enough accumulated, especially with the relatively recent input from molecular biology and evo-devo, to support evolutionary theory as the best fit to the available evidence. The floor is open for anyone to propose a better theory. Maybe we could hear an “Intelligent Design” theory one day? Who knows?

  81. Or even stone spectacles. Though tone spectacles might prove useful to some commenters!

  82. Hi Nick,

    You’ve written about your puzzlement that Professor James Tour would want to discuss macroevolution from a chemical perspective. You’ve also wondered aloud whether Tour is sufficiently educated about evolution to make it worth your while attempting to enlighten him.

    Allow me to make a practical suggestion, Nick. Pick up the phone and call him. I’d be happy to help you by writing a script of how the conversation might go.

    The telephone rings at the Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science & Technology. Professor James Tour (henceforth JT), who happens to be right there, picks up the phone.

    JT: Hello, Smalley Institute. James Tour speaking.

    NM: Professor Tour? Hi. My name’s Nick Matzke. Are you free at the moment?

    JT: Nick! I’ve been expecting your call. By the way, please call me Jim. It’s a pleasure to finally hear from you. Now, what can I do for you?

    NM: First, I’d just like to say that I was deeply impressed with your kind offer to let me stay at your home. Actually, groovamos will be paying for my hotel accommodation in Houston, but I’d love to meet your family over dinner.

    JT: We’d love to have you over, Nick. My children love meeting interesting people. By the way, is there anything you wanted to discuss regarding our meeting over lunch?

    NM: Yes. That’s why I called. I need to know a little about your background first. I’d like to ask you about how much reading you’ve done. You say on your Website that you’ve read only half a dozen, or maybe a dozen books on the creation/evolution debate. Would you mind if I ask what they are?

    JT: Not at all, Nick. The books I have read are good books. On the pro-evolution side, I’ve read Mayr’s One Long Argument, John Maynard Smith’s The Theory of Evolution, Futuyma’s Evolutionary Biology, Gould’s The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker and The Greatest Show on Earth, and Li’s Molecular Evolution. On the other side, I’ve read Origins of Life and Who Was Adam? by Hugh Ross and Fuz Rana, Mike Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, Mike Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Dembski and Wells’ The Design of Life and Steve Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. Of course, I’ve read Darwin’s works many times, as well as the other classic authors in the field, such as Fisher and Haldane, but that goes without saying. I’ve also tried to keep up with the evolution-creation debate on the Internet, including the many responses to Intelligent Design proponents. And of course, as a chemist, I’ve read dozens of scientific papers regarding proposals for the origin of life. But they’re papers, not books, so I didn’t count those.

    NM: Have you read Theobald’s 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution?

    JT: Of course. Everyone I know tells me I should start there, if I want to properly inform myself about evolution, so I perused it very carefully. Do you have any other questions, Nick?

    NM: Yes. I was a little perplexed that you wanted someone to explain macroevolution to you at the chemical level. Why do you want to take it down to that level, Jim? It seems too low to be helpful.

    JT: Let me illustrate. You wrote a paper for Nature back in 2006 with Mark Pallen on the origin of bacterial flagella, didn’t you?

    NM: That’s right.

    JT: Excellent paper, by the way. I love reading that kind of stuff.

    NM: Glad you liked it.

    JT: In your paper, you talked a lot about homologies between the different proteins found in the bacterial flagellum. Now I think you’ll agree that the process by which the bacterial flagellum originated would count as an example of macroevolutionary change, right?

    NM: OK.

    JT: That’s the kind of thing I want to ask you about. You talked about “proof of concept” in your paper. One thing I’d like to ask you about, when we meet up, is the feasibility of getting from an ancestral protein to one of its homologs. Now I’m not asking you for a detailed account: I realize that’s unfair, given our current state of knowledge. But as a chemist, I have some questions about that, which I’d like to ask you. I’d also like to ask you about hox and parahox genes: how they originated and how they subsequently mutated so as to give rise to the various animal body plans we find today. There are chemically related questions that need to be addressed there, too. Finally, I just wanted to say, Nick, that I’m not out to score points in our lunchtime discussion. And I’m not trying to trap you into making some damaging admission: I’m a scientist, not a lawyer. I’m here to listen. Now, I’m sure you have a strong scientific background in evolutionary biology, and you can also draw on the accumulated wisdom of the people you’ve worked with in the field. That’s an advantage I don’t have.

    NM: All right. I appreciate that. Judging from certain remarks you’ve made, you seem to be laboring under a few misconceptions –

    JT: Then I’d be delighted to have you set me straight, Nick.

    NM: Just one more thing, Jim. I wanted to record the conversation, so that I could use it to educate other people who might have queries like your own.

    JT: I appreciate your concern, Nick, but here’s where I stand. The purpose of our little get-together is for you to enlighten me. Now, in order for me to dispel any misunderstandings I might have, it is essential that I have the freedom to ask any question I see fit – no matter how ill-informed it may seem to you. That’s how people learn: by asking silly questions, and then they end up asking intelligent ones. You know, one of the things they used to say about President Reagan was that he could sit down with an expert in any field, and chat with them, and after about five minutes, he’d be asking really deep, insightful questions. Well, I’m not President Reagan, Nick, but I’m a deep thinker, and if you’re willing to put up with my asking a few ignorant questions, I might end up changing your perspective on certain issues – not by what I have to say, but by what I have to ask. Remember, I won’t be debating with you. I’m here to listen.

    NM: Fair enough, Jim. Do you mind if I take notes of our conversation?

    JT: No, I think that’s a reasonable request, so long as they’re of a general nature. I believe that private conversations are just that – private. I don’t want to read some blow-by-blow account of what was discussed. I just don’t see that as helpful. But if you want to set up a special Web page of Frequently Asked Questions by scientific critics of evolution, and if you wish to throw in some of the questions I asked without mentioning me by name, then I have no problem with that.

    NM: Thank you. I think that’s an excellent idea.

    JT: Oh, and there’s one more thing I’d like to point out. Perhaps you’re wondering: why should I fly all the way to Houston to educate just one guy, even if he is a qualified scientist?

    NM: That thought had crossed my mind, yes.

    JT: Here’s why. There are people who read and listen to what I have to say. If you can persuade me that macroevolution makes good scientific sense, then I’ll do my utmost to inform other Christians I know that the case for neo-Darwinian evolution rests on solid ground. I promise you that. Because I have no objection in principle to evolution. As a Christian, I have a very simple, straightforward faith: if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. Regarding Genesis, I’d be the first one to admit that it’s not always clear, and I’m not going to dogmatically declare that it rules out Darwinian evolution. Yes, I believe that God created the heavens and the earth and all that dwell therein, including a man named Adam and a woman named Eve. But as to the details of how that happened, I try to keep an open mind.

    NM: You’ve been very helpful in answering my queries, Jim, and I’ll be in touch with you over the next few weeks regarding my travel arrangements. For the time being, though, it seems as if I won’t be able to visit you until June. Is that OK?

    JT: Certainly, Nick. I’m in no hurry, and I realize you’re busy with your research. Come whenever it’s convenient for you. As for me, I love my job, and seldom take vacations, so I’ll be here, even in summer.

    NM: I’m glad to hear that. Well, I’d better let you get back to work, Jim. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

    JT: Likewise. Bye, Nick!

    NM: Bye, Jim. Talk to you soon.

    ====================

    There, now. That wasn’t so hard, was it, Nick?

  83. I think the last supporter of Goldschmidt’s “hopeful monster” hypothesis was John A. Davison.

    Ah, I’ve seen some more recent workers daring to use the s word. But my point was that the evidence of the fossils is neutral with regard to theories of gradual evolution. It’s consistent with it, but since it’s consistent with many other things too it can’t strengthen the case much more than “There was indeed a Roman Empire” strengthens the case for Christianity.

    At least Christians don’t have to make quest for the Holy Spectacles – that would indeed shake my faith.

  84. And as we all enjoy the company and conversation, the facts of bipedalism gets blown up….

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....69411.html

    I love this!!!!

  85. Alan Fox:

    …preclude the possibility that major modifications can be accomplished via a series of small incremental changes if there is a requirement that the system continue to work after each such change at least as well as it did prior to the change.

    Well, if that were true, evolution as an explanation for life’s diversity on Earth would fail utterly. Unfortunately that is just an assertion of incredulity.

    No, it is an assertion based on an understanding of the nature of large, complex systems.

    If evolution is true, then taking two examples of distantly related extant species, (the snowdrop and the blue whale, say) the postulation is that there is an unbroken chain going up from offspring to parent from a living snowdrop where the difference between generations is less than the variation within the gene pool, until arriving at the last common ancestor we can follow an unbroken chain back down to a living blue whale. Of course the complete picture is not there in evidence but the bits that are there form an overall pattern consistent with the scenario. All those intermediate organisms must have lived and bred if evolution is true.

    Your use of the term “evolution” I assume refers to the neo-Darwinian synthesis. The whole question we are debating here is whether the neo-Darwinian synthesis is in fact true, which is to say is a valid explanation for the immense diversity of life observed currently on earth and in the fossil record. My argument from systems analysis is that it is not a valid explanation, or is at best mere speculation.

    Your statement, predicated on “evolution” being “true”, therefore clearly begs the question.

  86. Alan,

    If evolution is true, then taking two examples of distantly related extant species, (the snowdrop and the blue whale, say) the postulation is that there is an unbroken chain going up from offspring to parent from a living snowdrop where the difference between generations is less than the variation within the gene pool, until arriving at the last common ancestor we can follow an unbroken chain back down to a living blue whale. Of course the complete picture is not there in evidence but the bits that are there form an overall pattern consistent with the scenario. All those intermediate organisms must have lived and bred if evolution is true.

    Quite poetic but Alan, Alan, Alan. Tell me something I do not already understand. If evolution is true, I will concede everything between “If evolution is true,” and “if evolution is true.” in the quote above. But, Alan, do you really do not see that you have blatantly begged the question? And twice, just for emphasis, I presume.

    Bruce has challenged:

    If you or anyone believes that biological systems by their nature are exempt from this characteristic of large complex systems, then it is up to you (or someone) to demonstrate that this is so.

    I am full agreement with his assessment of the situation. So, I ask again– How or why is it that analogies, as you say they are, from “computer engineering have limited use in attempting to understand biological systems in general and evolution in particular.”?

    Or, if you prefer, from an understanding of “biological systems in general and evolution in particular” point of view– How or why are biological systems different than all the other complex systems I have encountered in my experience in that they can tolerate minor haphasard changes while marching along “an unbroken chain going up from offspring to parent from a living snowdrop where the difference between generations is less than the variation within the gene pool, until arriving at the last common ancestor we can follow an unbroken chain back down to a living blue whale.”? Why does my experience not apply to such systems.

    Stephen

  87. BD:

    What I find interesting, is the way that systems dynamics and characteristics are being responded to. Not happily interesting, but interesting.

    I find a pattern whereby digital code stored in string data structures in the cell is being dismissed as not information.

    The general — glorified common sense, really — requisites of multipart, complex and specific function are being brushed aside. (I guess these objectors never had a car or computer part they had to look for to get something fixed just right. I forget: “that’s DIFFERENT.” Sorry, I just here cited an actual true believer in the face of demonstration of a logical defect in his system, 25 years ago. I hope that helps some folks here understand why I am just a tad uneasy about the tone and substance of responses here.)

    Earlier, they were very dismissive of a correlate of the above, that specific function depending on co-ordination of well matched multiple parts comes in “islands” in the configuration space of possible arrangements. (I guess they have not had to deal with assembly of a bicycle or a circuit board or something like that? Or is this “that’s different” again? In the teeth of the vNSR linked to metabolic automata, gating etc in the living cell?)

    Then it hits me, what we are dealing with is an absolute underlying affirmation: BLIND WATCHMAKER EVOLUTION DID (AND — for many) MUST HAVE HAPPENED.

    So anything that does not fit with that constant star, MUST be wrong.

    Why?

    On what observational evidence?

    Through what dynamics demonstrated in the present that justify OOL and OO body plans by such processes?

    (As in the 6,000 word evidence essay challenge, coming on five months this weekend. And no, Theobald’s 29 evidences does not hack it for reasons already highlighted. Starting with skipping over OOL, which is the case where the matter is plainest as self replication is off the table.)

    No answer.

    At least, no answer that really shows that such is feasible starting from that warm little pond. FSCO/I is demonstrable from intelligence, but so far not from blind chance and mechanical necessity.

    But in the face of an absolute commitment, it MUST be so.

    And so also, if we have doubts on the known nature of systems, information, thermodynamics and reaction kinetics, etc etc, it is WE who in their eyes MUST be wrong.

    So, I simply say: show us empirically backed dynamics tracing to chance and/or necessity competent to account for spontaneous origin of cell based life, and for body plans. (Surely, after 150 years, that is not too much to ask.)

    Or else, what you have is ideology — true believerism — not science.

    That is this is feeling a LOT like how it felt to deal with ideological Marxists — who were utterly convinced that they were following genius level scientific insights, comparable to the orbiting of the planets around the sun — in my youth.

    No, it is not fallacious “personal incredulity”; it is a demand for empirical warrant, from molecules up.

    In our case, starting with OOL. Then going on to OO body plans. If you are as sure as you are, surely, you have this in hand? If not, why not?

    KF

  88. Nick Matzke:

    No, the goal is to rebut the claim that “no one understands macroevolution.”

    Yes, and that all depends on how “macroevolution” is defined. Change at or abobve the species level is too vague to be of any use.

  89. Alan Fox:

    Mechanical objects don’t reproduce for example.

    Reproduction is the very thing that requires an explanation, Alan. And your position isn’t up to the task.

  90. Alan Fox:

    As I said, the is not and never can be a complete suite of evidence but there is enough accumulated, especially with the relatively recent input from molecular biology and evo-devo, to support evolutionary theory as the best fit to the available evidence.

    That is your opinion. However in the light of Lenski’s 50,000+ generations of bacteria with not much of anything evolving, your opinion means nothing.

  91. Alan Fox:

    Personally, I am convinced that the basic laws of physics and chemistry and physics hold for living organisms as well as they do for cars.

    That would mean that since cars are not reducible to the laws of physics and chemistry, then neither are living organisms. Alan Fox is a vitalist after all.

  92. OK guys I just emailed Dr. Tour and reiterated my intention to follow through on my offer if the two principals come to an agreement. June is far enough in advance to where I should be able to get particularly good deals on travel and lodging. And early June in Houston is not necessarily hard, but someone from the Bay Area may not agree. Now would it be asking too much that after I pay the airfare, and someone cancels, that in some fashion I can be compensated for the loss? Not sure how to propose this. The good part is that there are loads of non-stops for the route.

  93. Hi groovamos,

    Thanks for following through on this one. It looks like this meeting is really moving forward. Wonderful news!

  94. NM: I’m glad to hear that. Well, I’d better let you get back to work, Jim. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

    JT: Likewise. Bye, Nick!

    NM: Bye, Jim. Talk to you soon.

    ====================

    There, now. That wasn’t so hard, was it, Nick?

    That was an interestingly delusional imaginary story you just told. Tour has not shown anything like the background research and thoughtfulness you wish he had, instead, we have him on video grandstanding while simultaneously demonstrating his ignorance on macroevolutionary topics.

  95. I’d like to hear Nick’s comments on macroevolution as it relates to single-celled organisms.

    If it’s not biochemical differences which brought about macroevolution among single-celled organisms, what did?

  96. In other words, it is prima facea impossible for major innovations in living organisms to come about in Darwinian fashion, no matter how much time is available.

    I have to disagree with this based on the use of the analogy involved. Complex software is constantly evolved a little bit at a time, in fact that’s about the only reasonable way to do it unless you just don’t care if you break something.

  97. God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand.

    This is why, when we watch a magician and are amazed at the mystery but don’t know how it was done, we say GOD DID IT!

    This is why every good Sherlock Holmes mystery ends with GOD DID IT!

  98. Alan Fox:

    What you fail to see is not really my problem and I am not here to champion evolution as a concept.

    Yes, this from the person who not too long ago saw the importance of definition of terms. But now, not so much.

    I laugh.

  99. I would like to hear from Nick if he intends to inform Professor Tour on the chemical details behind macroevolution.

    Professor Tour: Does anyone understand the chemical details, behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught so I invite them to meet with me.

  100. Personally, I am convinced that the basic laws of physics and chemistry and physics hold for living organisms as well as they do for cars.

    Says the person who in the prior breath had just denied that cells were like cars.

    I laugh.

    I would simply say that a living cell or living organism bears only superficial resemblance to a car or a computer. Mechanical objects don’t reproduce for example.

    Therefore the cell is not a mechanical object. So much for mechanistic explanations of cells and other living organisms, including natural selection.

    How does one live in a world where what they they say is at such odds with what they believe?

  101. I agree with Box @99. Nick needs to stick with species where the biochemical details must be what is behind macroevolution. Single-celled organisms.

  102. Good point Mung. (95 & 101)

    I imagine Groovamos would like to know about all this.

  103. JT: Now I think you’ll agree that the process by which the bacterial flagellum originated would count as an example of macroevolutionary change, right?

    NM: OK.

    I honestly think Nick would deny this.

    By the way, if Prof. Tour doesn’t have access to a free copy of the book in which Nick appears to endorse the macroevolution is just more microevolution canard I’d be happy to send him a copy.

  104. JT: Now, in order for me to dispel any misunderstandings I might have, it is essential that I have the freedom to ask any question I see fit – no matter how ill-informed it may seem to you. That’s how people learn: by asking silly questions, and then they end up asking intelligent ones.

    Oh. That’s how it’s supposed to work? I never seem able to get beyond asking silly questions. Doh!

    Well, if they want someone to sit in who doesn’t mind asking silly questions and having them published on the web…

  105. So another observation. Nick seems to think that macroevolution is a field of study.

    Prof. Tour seems to think that macroevolution is something that actually happens to real living systems by means of real chemical changes.

    That seems to me to be a pretty wide gap. Any way to narrow it?

    Just for grins I went to Amazon and typed in Macroevolutionary Theory.

  106. The claim that microevolution can’t be extrapolated to macroevolution is ubiquitous among ID advocates and the creationists who preceded them. …it is nothing more than standard creation science terminology for the creationist claim that various groups of organisms were specially created by God, with specified limits on how far they could change over time.

    – Nick Matzke

    Really Nick? Really?

    Is this what you’re going to take into your discussion with Prof. Tour?

  107. Alan Fox:

    If evolution is true,

    Which “evolution” are you referring to, blind watchmaker evoluton or Intelligent Design evolution?

  108. Folks:

    Re, MN as Mung picked up:

    The claim that microevolution can’t be extrapolated to macroevolution is ubiquitous among ID advocates and the creationists who preceded them. …it is nothing more than standard creation science terminology for the creationist claim that various groups of organisms were specially created by God, with specified limits on how far they could change over time.

    I think this captures a lot of the underlying problem we have here.

    We can start with the tone problem and the willful conflation of design- and analysis- issues with Creationist views. It seems the NCSE alumni have a “believing their own propaganda” problem. Dudes, even the Creationists themselves make it plain that design thought does not equal Creationism, as can easily be ascertained from the leading Creationist groups. (And, beyond a certain point this is so blatant a violation of duties of care to truth and fairness that it is a case of speaking with disregard to the truth in order to profit by the hope that what is said is perceived as true. There is a short three letter word for that sort of thing, starting with l. Please, do better than that, no matter how irritated you are. If you refuse to get something so simple straight, you are telling us all that you cannot be trusted with matters of greater moment but which require us to trust you to be careful, fair and truthful.)

    Next, the issue is that there is a tendency to make a presumed “simple” extrapolation that macro- evo is simply accumulated micro- evo.

    That is not and cannot be so, on grounds related to the nature and behaviour of perturbed systems. As has been outlined. (And, those of us who have spent years studying and working with complex highly integrated systems and so also with their general pathologies and often unexpected properties, perverse behaviours due to interactions and debugging or troubleshooting challenges, hear that sort of simple extrapolation approach as telling us that we are dealing with people who do not understand systems.)

    Complex systems in the sense we are interested in, are made up from many integrated, interfaced, interacting parts, often in a hierarchy down to basic devices, structures and components with materials — which are often systems with considerable complexity in themselves. Wood and bone being two notorious cases in point of materials/structures of extreme complexity.

    A first rule of thumb is that because of the cascading interactions, any change anywhere affects everything everywhere, and may often feed back to the initial conditions and trigger one or more of several kinds of instability, oscillation, saturation, limiting, etc etc etc.

    As a direct consequence, a complex system that does a definite job, is as a rule finely tuned and so its nodes-arcs “wiring” diagram is highly information-rich. Indeed, we speak of tuning a control system, to get it to work together at some operating point, with some room for variability, drift and tolerance. (For instance, at was not that long ago, where in manufacturing rifles or guns, one had to adjust pars skillfully to get them to fit and work together, due to the then inescapable variability of components. IIRC, the classic 0.303 British Empire rifle that is still in standard issue in odd corners of the world and in a variant form in India for police, is a good case in point. Getting parts to be “blindfold, pick out of the bin” – compatible with one another is a very difficult industrial engineering job. One-off products or batches with skilled workers filing to fit or picking to fit, etc, are nothing like what has to come from an assembly line or the like.)

    But that is a mere mechanical analogy, and analogies break down; life forms are not like that!

    Really?

    Let’s see, cells are made of of highly organised networks of molecules, forming a complex overall system that is a metabolic, self replicating automaton. One that uses a code based von Neumann kinematic replication mechanism. Which implies the following irreducible cluster of components:

    (i) an underlying storable code to record the required information to create not only (a) the primary functional machine [[here, for a "clanking replicator" as illustrated, a Turing-type “universal computer”; in a cell this would be the metabolic entity that transforms environmental materials into required components etc.] but also (b) the self-replicating facility; and, that (c) can express step by step finite procedures for using the facility;

    (ii) a coded blueprint/tape record of such specifications and (explicit or implicit) instructions, together with

    (iii) a tape reader [[called “the constructor” by von Neumann] that reads and interprets the coded specifications and associated instructions; thus controlling:

    (iv) position-arm implementing machines with “tool tips” controlled by the tape reader and used to carry out the action-steps for the specified replication (including replication of the constructor itself); backed up by

    (v) either:

    (1) a pre-existing reservoir of required parts and energy sources, or

    (2) associated “metabolic” machines carrying out activities that as a part of their function, can provide required specific materials/parts and forms of energy for the replication facility, by using the generic resources in the surrounding environment.

    Also, parts (ii), (iii) and (iv) are each necessary for and together are jointly sufficient to implement a self-replicating machine with an integral von Neumann universal constructor.

    That is, we see here an irreducibly complex set of core components that must all be present in a properly organised fashion for a successful self-replicating machine to exist. [[Take just one core part out, and self-replicating functionality ceases: the self-replicating machine is irreducibly complex (IC).]

    This irreducible complexity is compounded by the requirement (i) for codes, requiring organised symbols and rules to specify both steps to take and formats for storing information, and (v) for appropriate material resources and energy sources.

    That requires a lot of matching of interacting parts, to get the function, and that the core parts have to all be in place or no function. That is why I continued:

    Immediately, we are looking at islands of organised function for both the machinery and the information in the wider sea of possible (but mostly non-functional) configurations.

    In short, outside such functionally specific — thus, isolated — information-rich hot (or, “target”) zones, want of correct components and/or of proper organisation and/or co-ordination will block function from emerging or being sustained across time from generation to generation. So, once the set of possible configurations is large enough and the islands of function are credibly sufficiently specific/isolated, it is unreasonable to expect such function to arise from chance, or from chance circumstances driving blind natural forces under the known laws of nature.

    When it comes to the metabolic side and the general structural side, proteins are the workhorse molecules. These, are assembled — going uphill energetically — by copying a code tape from DNA, setting up the mRNA, carrying it to the Ribosome and feeding it in, using tRNA’s loaded with appropriate amino acids, and then chaining from start to stop. Then, there is folding and in some cases chaperoning to make sure the right fold [i.e. there are prions out there], and perhaps agglomeration etc.

    Where a lot of this requires precise key-lock fitting to work.

    Anyone who has worked seriously with complex systems is going to have some serious questions to anyone who wants to suggest that such a system originated in some warm little pond as chemicals that formed in lightning strikes or the like just pooled and got together happily.

    But, you will tell me, this is OOL it is not macro evo.

    Indeed.

    It is the very root of the tree of life that you have touted since 1859. No root, no shoots and no branches or twigs.

    More directly, this underscores the molecular level systems challenge, in a context that has first got the self replication side track off the table, so we have to focus on the issue of getting to the required functionally specific complex organisation and associated information [FSCO/I] by mechanical forces and chance circumstances.

    It is notorious that OOL is in trouble on the blind watchmaker thesis, once we rise about the level of just-so stories.

    But then, let us move on, to body plan origination.

    There the now sock answer to the sort of FSCO/I challenge just highlighted is that by “natural selection” of chance variations, we can incrementally do almost anything, so hey presto, macro evo is simply accumulated micro evo. And in particular, so-called irreducible complexity — cases where there is a core cluster of matching parts that must all be present in the right config to work — can be answered by co-opting parts that happen to be lying around.

    That brings up the Menuge C1 – 5 challenge (cf. 57 above) that is being so consistently ducked:

    For a working [bacterial] flagellum to be built by exaptation, the five following conditions would all have to be met:

    C1: Availability. Among the parts available for recruitment to form the flagellum, there would need to be ones capable of performing the highly specialized tasks of paddle, rotor, and motor, even though all of these items serve some other function or no function.

    C2: Synchronization. The availability of these parts would have to be synchronized so that at some point, either individually or in combination, they are all available at the same time.

    C3: Localization. The selected parts must all be made available at the same ‘construction site,’ perhaps not simultaneously but certainly at the time they are needed.

    C4: Coordination. The parts must be coordinated in just the right way: even if all of the parts of a flagellum are available at the right time, it is clear that the majority of ways of assembling them will be non-functional or irrelevant.

    C5: Interface compatibility. The parts must be mutually compatible, that is, ‘well-matched’ and capable of properly ‘interacting’: even if a paddle, rotor, and motor are put together in the right order, they also need to interface correctly.

    ( Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science, pgs. 104-105 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). HT: ENV.)

    This challenge is a way of elaborating the systems function interfacing and organisation issue, in the iconic case of the bacterial flagellum. The issues are instantly familiar to anyone who has had to seriously work with complex systems involving hardware. (Computer programmers are a little less familiar with the above, but C1 – 5 are linked to the need for the relevant symbols and structures in the language, the need for correct syntax and semantics, plus a machine to run them on.)

    As has been outlined repeatedly, the living cell works based on organised sets of molecules. These are built up from monomers and atoms, and they are using the relevant chemistry and physics to work. What is different here is the degree of complexity, organisation and co-ordinated integration, not the presence of self-replication. Which as we have seen, is itself another sub-system to be integrated.

    Where also, in many relevant cases, the overall organism unfolds from a zygote or the equivalent, through processes of body plan development under ultimately genetic regulatory control. So, we have a further level of complexity yet: the system must be able to self assemble, with all the co-ordination in time and space that is implied by that.

    All of this, in the end, is happening at molecular levels, where the molecules are using a lot of information, and they are also pretty much all highly endothermic, i.e. assembly is energetically uphill.

    So, the challenge to warrant blind watchmaker incrementalism as being able to step by step move across the tree of life from some common unicellular ancestor is a big issue. One that requires empirical warrant at molecular level, not just appeals to claimed chains of ancestors and descendants. Where did the functional organisation and information come from, how. How did the molecules that carry this come to be. What is the observational basis for this that shows that blind chance variation and differential reproductive success are sufficient to do this without intelligent direction?

    And underneath, how did the first living cell get organised so it could have this supposed capability, from that warm little pond or the equivalent? In light of known physics and chemistry.

    I would suggest by contrast that the only empirically established repeatedly observed source of FSCO/I is design. Where also the needle in haystack config space search challenge suggests that the atomic resources of not only our solar system but also our observed cosmos, are incapable of grounding a sufficient search of the config spaces to develop that first life form, much less to explore onwards the config spaces required to get major body plans. Where, just 500 bits of info swamps the resources of our solar system, and 1,000 bits,the cosmos. Life forms, per simplest observed ones, start at 100,000 – 1 mn bits.

    I think it is a non-sequitur to infer that macro- evo can be simply extrapolated from micro evo, under these circumstances.

    So, we need to be shown how that happens.

    KF

  109. Dr. Tour’s resume does prove one thing about evolution: it’s absolutely unnecessary to excel in science.

  110. http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ment-75548

    MacNeill versus the claim that macroevolution is just microevolution times a billion.

  111. vjtorley @ 93

    Hi groovamos,

    Thanks for following through on this one. It looks like this meeting is really moving forward. Wonderful news!

    Personally I’m not going to hold my breath.

    II Corinthians 10:10
    For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.

    From my disinterested observation of him, unlike the Apostle Paul to whom this did not apply, I’d bet a sawbuck to a donut that it does to Matzke.

    In short, I think the guy is chicken. And I’ll gladly thank you for the Krispy Kreme the day he cops out on an oh-so-convenient technicality.

    *brawk* *brawk* brawk*

  112. 112

    Charlie, thank you for the link.

    **it sure would be a pleasure for you to rejoin the conversations here.

  113. You’re welcome and thanks, UB.
    I still check in quite a bit, but engaging much internet conversation is detrimental to both my time management and blood pressure. :)
    You all are doing a far better job here than I ever could, anyway.

  114. From his third comment after the one linked, Allen MacNeill said:
    ” In other words, microevolution (i.e. natural selection, genetic drift, and other processes that happen anagenetically at the population level) and macroevolution (i.e. extinction/adaptive radiation, genetic innovation, and symbiosis that happen cladogenetically at the species level and above) are in many ways fundamentally different processes with fundamentally different mechanisms. Furthermore, for reasons beyond the scope of this thread, macroevolution is probably not mathematically modelable in the way that microevolution has historically been.”

  115. Indeed. How does one model genetic innovation?

  116. The Septic Zone has joined the fray pertaining to micro-macroevolution. However they don’t have any evidence that supports macroevolution either.

  117. Oh great, Mike Elzinga chimes in:

    As I understand the ID/creationist argument, they seem to think that a new genetic mutation in an individual would leave that individual without any choice of mates because it would be one of a kind (pun not intended); therefore it can’t propagate.

    LoL! Just how did you come to tat understanding Mike? I ask because it is so wrong that you pretty much prove that you have no integrity at all with respect to this debate.

  118. i have a very strong evidence for design in nature

    a) we know that a self replicate robot that made from dna need a designer

    b) the cat is a self replicate robot

    a=b= the cat need a designer

    ?plus: if a self replicate car cant evolve into an airplan, how can a bacteria can evolve into human

    about the similarity argument: a 2 cars of honda can look very similar to each other. but this is because they made by the same designer- honda company

    the human has 7000 spacial alu. 1 fixation for alu is about 10000 years=70 milion years to make this chang. but the evolution time scale has only 6 milion!

  119. KF @69:

    Well said.

    The “because they self replicate” canard as an answer to the issues in question should be an embarrassing statement for anyone to put forth.

  120. EA:

    Thanks for bringing this back up:

    The adverting to a “difference” between living and non-living systems based on self replication is of course one reason why I have prioritised — along with other design thinkers and commenters — the OOL situation.

    Second, the objectors should be familiar with the observation since Paley [Ch II Nat Theol, which usually does not come up in discussions], that the ADDITIONALITY of a self replication facility ADDS to the complex integration and co-ordination of the system.

    Going further, with the observation since von Neumann, that the self replication facility integrated with an entity that carries out separate function is likely to fit into his kinematic self replicator model, we see that code, code readers, position-arm devices to effect operations etc all have to be integrated with the main entity.

    Indeed, to create a novel body plan with its development process or the equivalent, will require that the capacity be created for function in the body, AND that it be integrated successfully, step by step with the self replication facility.

    Thus, the concern on system integration is multiplied by the addition of self replication, not removed.

    The reason this is not readily apparent, is that we do not tend to discuss the self replication process in that way, and we don’t realise as a result that the same problems are happening all over again.

    The real answer to all this from the blind watchmaker viewpoint, is that there needs to be empirical observation showing a case of origin of a major novel body plan feature by incremental blind chance variation and differential reproductive success.

    The problem being — as Tour is in part hinting at — that his seems to be conspicuously missing in action, with particular reference to molecular level.

    I would indeed like to see a good answer.

    KF

  121. Examples of microevolution:

    1- The beak of the finch

    2- Anti-biotic resistance in bacteria

    3- Lenski’s E. coli with aerobic citrate utilization

    4- Nylon-digesting bacteria

    Not one of the above can be extrapolated into macroevolution.

    Keep changing the length of the beak and you won’t get another type of organism. Anti-biotic resistance is pretty much always a loss of function. Can’t keep losing functionality and hope to build irreducible complexity.

    Only imagination can get from the finch’s beak to evolutionism.

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