Monday, 10 June 2013

Examples of poor Christadelphian anti-evolution arguments - 2

In 2009, the scientific world celebrated the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth as well as the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of his landmark book The Origin of Species. Christian opponents of science education likewise took the opportunity to commemorate the event by holding public lectures criticising evolutionary biology, or writing numerous anti-evolution articles aimed at reassuring the faithful that despite what evolutionary biologists stated, evolution was really a ‘theory in crisis.’

John Morris, writing in the Nov 2009 edition of The Christadelphian [1] sought to reassure opponents of evolution in our community that there were “many challenges to put before an evolutionist.” His article however was riddled with straw man versions of evolutionary biology, and far from helping the young Christadelphian creationist combat evolution, would potentially erode the faith of the young believer when a knowledgeable opponent duly tore apart the list of “challenges”. People have left our community after being taught that evolution is incompatible with faith and then discovering for themselves that evolution is indeed well supported by the evidence. This is a completely avoidable tragedy, one that can be averted by pointing out where Morris and other Christadelphian anti-evolutionists go wrong in their criticisms of evolutionary biology.
Science versus Religion

Morris ended his opening paragraph by writing, “There is, moreover, a film with the provocative title Creation – The True Story of Charles Darwin. In 2009, Darwin can do no wrong!” This reflects a common misunderstanding of evolution by many opponents, one which views evolution almost as a religion with Darwin as its prophet and “The Origin of Species” as its holy text. Needless to say, this betrays a complete misunderstanding of the epistemological basis of science. Just as physicists do not revere Newton and regard the Principia as the final word on gravitation theory – centuries have elapsed since Newton and physics has changed out of sight – biologists likewise do not venerate Darwin as the source of all knowledge on evolution. After all, 150 years have passed since then, and evolutionary biology has changed considerably. Christie Wilcox, a molecular biology PhD graduate student at the time of writing her post makes this point forcefully: 
Darwin began a movement and an understanding of life that we have only begun to appreciate. But to call evolution "Darwinian" is to dismiss all the work that has been done since his time and all that we have learned from it. Darwin was a scientific pioneer who laid the groundwork for modern evolutionary theory, but he was no singular hero. Thus I find it at best inaccurate, and at worst perhaps insulting, that having even a slight grasp of evolution and support for its mechanisms is often singularly called "Darwinism". Not only does it belittle the countless others who have aided to and complimented the theory, it makes it sounds like evolution is just another ideology, like "Marxism" or "Communism". Evolution is not a belief - it's a scientifically tested theory. No one claims that the "belief" in Gravitational Theory is some form of "-ism" like "Newtonism", with those that say objects do obey given laws of gravity labeled "Newtonists". So while I have an astounding amount of admiration and respect for the Darwin and the incredible discoveries and insights he provided, I am not, nor will ever be, a "Darwinist". [2] 
 Creationists, by fixating on Darwin, are demonstrating both a flawed understanding of how science operates (by evidence, rather than authority) as well a lack of knowledge of how evolutionary biology has progressed in the 150 years since Darwin. The evidence for evolution has multiplied considerably since Darwin's era.

Morris showed a less than robust understanding of how evolutionary biology was received in the 19th century:
Scientists in the 1860s gave Darwin’s theory a cautious welcome. Churchmen on the other hand were divided: some were content to accept evolution as a mechanism by which God might have created the world; others were outraged at the obvious attack on the Genesis record and worried about the threat to belief in God, the authority of the Church, and moral behaviour based on Christian teaching. Not surprisingly, when science and religion confronted one another, as they did in the Oxford debate between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley, sparks flew. 
 It is more accurate to say that while scientists accepted the evidence that evolution had occurred, they were far more sceptical about his theory of natural selection which Darwin proposed to explain how evolution occurred. While there was opposition to evolution within the Christian church, it was not purely a conservative-liberal split, with many conservative theologians (including some who wrote the landmark collection of books The Fundamentals from which the Fundamentalist movement drew its name) accepting evolution as compatible with faith. The historian of science David Livingstone for example points out that: 
“Darwin’s cause in America was championed by the thoroughgoing Congregationalist evangelical Asa Gray, who set himself the task of making sure that Darwin would have “fair play” in the New World. Let us be clear right away that this cannot be dismissed as capitulation to the social pressure of academic peers. To the contrary, Gray had to take on one of the most influential naturalists in America at the time to maintain his viewpoint – none other than Louis Agassiz, a Harvard colleague who vitriolically scorned Darwin’s theory. But Gray was not alone. Many of his countrymen, associates in science and brothers in religion took the same stand. And indeed even those who ultimately remained unimpressed with if not hostile to Darwin were quite prepared to admit that evolution had occurred. It is surely not without significance that Christian botanists, geologists, and biologists – that is to say, those best placed to see with clarity the substance of what Darwin had proposed – believed the evidence supported an evolutionary natural history.” [3]
B.B. Warfield, a theologically conservative Protestant scholar whose works on the inspiration and authority of the Bible are still widely cited today had little problem with accepting some form of evolution. In fact, he found evolution useful to combat the polygenic theories of human origins which were used by Christian racialists to argue for separate origins of the various “human races”, and in some cases to support racism and slavery. Warfield observed: 
Even some early evolutionists, it is true, played for a time with theories of multiplex times and places where similar lines of development culminated alike in man (Haeckel, Schaffhausen, Caspari, Vogt, Büchner), and perhaps there is now some sign of the revival of this view; but it is now agreed with practical unanimity that the unity of the human race, in the sense of a common origin, is a necessary corollary of the evolutionary hypothesis, and no voice raised in contradiction of it stands much chance to be heard. It is, however, only for its universal allowance at the hands of speculative science that the fact of the unity of the human race has to thank the evolutionary hypothesis. [4]
Earlier, I referred to the fact that Warfield was not the only author of The Fundamentals to accept evolution, ironic given that the Fundamentalist movement has been strongly linked with science denialism. Michael Keas has noted that the geologist James Dana and the theologian James Orr [5] were also strongly supportive of some form of evolutionary origin of the species. Support for evolution as a mechanism of creation was hardly restricted to the liberal clergy, and it is little more than historical revisionism to suggest otherwise.

Although religiously-motivated opposition still exists in the Christian world, the vast majority of working professionals in the life and earth sciences who profess a Christian faith accept evolution, with notable examples such as palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris and medical geneticist Francis Collins active in showing how evolutionary biology and Christian faith need not be in opposition. Sadly, this appears to have eluded the attention of Morris, who continues to frame our opposition to evolution in terms of a war between science and faith: 
Increasingly, as a community who believe in a God who made all things by specific acts of creation, we find ourselves isolated. In the USA and possibly other countries creation may be taught in schools as an alternative theory, but in academic life evolution is accepted dogma and a professed belief in divine creation may be an obstacle in certain careers; it is likely in any case to attract ridicule. Public opinion is informed by ‘experts’ such as Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, whose creed is: ‘Evolution is fact. End of story!’ We have to contend not just with the challenge of evolution itself but with the arrogance of its proponents. 
There are many problems with this collection of assertions and misrepresentations, least of which is the arrogance of the layperson who dismisses an entire branch of science despite knowing nothing about it because it contradicts his personal interpretation of the Bible. Science classrooms should teach science, and not religion. As special creation is not a scientific theory, it has no place in the education of school students. It is somewhat misleading to say that “creation may be taught in schools as an alternative theory.” A number of court decisions in the United States of America [6-7] have proscribed the teaching of creation science or its modern day incarnation intelligent design for the simple reason that they are not scientific theories, but religious dogma.

Evolutionary biology is central to biology and the life sciences. As Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the leading scientists in the creation of the modern synthetic theory of evolution noted, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. [8] One would certainly hope and expect that a special creationist who denied the theoretical underpinning of biology would find significant obstacles in his pathway towards a career in evolutionary biology, just as a young earth creationist would expect to find careers in astronomy or geology barred because of her denial of the antiquity of the earth. Similarly, a germ theory denialist would find it impossible to become an infectious diseases physician because of their refusal to accept that infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms.

The disparaging reference to Richard Dawkins as an ‘expert’, not to mention his alleged arrogance is ironic, given that Dawkins is an ethologist while the overwhelming majority of religiously-motivated critics of evolutionary biology are either laypeople, scientists whose field of expertise is in an unrelated field such as materials science or physics or biologists whose rejection of evolution places them in a tiny minority. To be honest, it is far more arrogant for a layperson with no scientific expertise in the area he dismisses to infer that qualified defenders of mainstream science are wrong. Morris no doubt would be reluctant to credit opponents of heliocentrism [9] as carrying more authority than mainstream astronomers, yet he fails to recognise that opponents of evolution have as little scientific credibility as geocentrists, given the weight of evidence supporting common descent is easily as strong as that supporting heliocentrism.

"Scientific arguments against evolution" refuted

It is when Morris asserts that there are “scientific arguments against evolution” that his article reaches its nadir of credibility. These arguments are characterised by at least one of the following problems: 
  1. Reliance on the argument from incredulity:
  2. Failing to differentiate between the fact of evolution (common descent, large scale evolutionary change) and the theory proposed to explain these facts
  3. Branding evolution as an all-encompassing ‘atheist theory of everything’ and condemning it for failing to explain phenomena that have nothing to do with it. 
Fallacy 1: evolution does not explain where the universe came from and evolution cannot demonstrate how life originated.

Morris claims: 
Evolution does not explain where the universe came from.
Evolution cannot demonstrate how life originated. 
Evolution is not the same thing as the origin of life or the origin of the universe, which are separate areas of scientific explanation; cosmology and abiogenesis respectively. His opening argument demonstrates that he does not understand the subject he is criticising! This undermines the credibility of the argument he is making. One would hardly be criticised for dismissing a critic of general relativity because it did not explain embryogenesis. Evolution explains the origin of species, not the origin of life or the universe.

Fallacy 2: The variation evolutionists see is just variation within species.

Morris claims: 
Evolutionists observe small variations in families of plants or animals (as Darwin did with his orchids and finches), and then confidently assert that they see evolution at work. Invariably the variations are no more than modifications within species. Missing links are still missing! 
 There are two problems with his assertion. There has been no doubt in the scientific community for at least 100 years that evolution has occurred. Common descent and large-scale evolutionary change are well attested by the fossil record, biogeography, comparative anatomy, embryology and molecular genetics. The mechanism proposed to explain large-scale evolutionary change and common descent, namely the modern synthetic theory is generally accepted by biologists as the best explanation for these facts. The evolutionary biologist Douglas Futuyma pointed out that: 
“Darwin provided abundant evidence for the historical reality of evolution—for descent, with modification, from common ancestors. Even in 1859, this idea had considerable support. Within about 15 years, all biological scientists except for a few diehards had accepted this hypothesis. Since then, hundreds of thousands of observations, from paleontology, biogeography, comparative anatomy, embryology, genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology, have confirmed it. Like the heliocentric hypothesis of Copernicus, the hypothesis of descent with modification from common ancestors has long held the status of a scientific fact. No biologist today would think of publishing a paper on "new evidence for evolution," any more than a chemist would try to publish a demonstration that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. It simply hasn't been an issue in scientific circles for more than a century. Darwin hypothesized that the cause of evolution is natural selection acting on hereditary variation. His argument was based on logic and on interpretation of many kinds of circumstantial evidence, but he had no direct evidence. More than 70 years would pass before an understanding of heredity and the evidence for natural selection would fully vindicate his hypothesis. Moreover, we now know that there are more causes of evolution than Darwin realized, and that natural selection and hereditary variation themselves are more complex than he imagined.  
“This complex of interrelated ideas about the causes of evolution is the theory of evolution, or "evolutionary theory." It is not a "mere speculation," for all the ideas are supported by evidence. It is not a hypothesis, but a body of hypotheses, most of which are well supported. It is a theory in the sense defined in the preceding section. Like all theories in science, it is incomplete, for we do not yet know the causes of all of evolution, and some details may turn out to be wrong. But the main tenets of evolutionary theory are so well supported that most biologists accept them with confidence.” [10] 
This is why evolutionary biologists are confident that an evolutionary process has occurred – multiple independent lines of evidence from disparate fields converge on the same answer, namely all life has arisen via descent with modification.

His assertion that “invariably, the variations are no more than modifications within species” is flat out wrong. Speciation has been observed repeatedly in the natural world:

1. Homoploid hybrid speciation in plants has been documented [11]  in eight cases: 
  • Helianthus anomalus
  • Helianthus deserticola
  • Helianthus paradoxus
  • Iris nelsonii
  • Peaonia emodi
  • Peaonia species group
  • Pinus densata
  • Stephanomeria diagensis
2. Incipient speciation has been documented in yeast via divergent adaptation and antagonistic epistasis. This was shown in an experimental population of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae: 
Unlike natural species, our experimental populations have an evolutionary history that is known with certainty. We can therefore conclude that divergent adaptation caused the reproductive isolation observed in this investigation. Experimental evolution of reproductive isolation has been studied in a few eukaryotes (mainly Drosophila) with mixed results. Previous research has focused mostly on prezygotic isolation, and we are aware of only a single study that reported successful evolution of postzygotic isolation by means of divergent selection. We present the most striking example of experimental evolution of postzygotic isolation observed in any organism, and the first for the fungal kingdom. 
Although the isolation that evolved de novo in our short-term experiment is partial, it represents incipient speciation. Given more time, complete reproductive isolation is likely to evolve. [12]
3. Incipient speciation in populations of Drosophila melanogaster via sexual isolation has been documented. [13] The authors note that “The results shed light on the population genetic processes underlying the formation of nascent species, as well as modes of speciation.”

4. Seehausen et al  demonstrated [14] speciation within island populations of cichlid fish in Lake Victoria. The mechanism for this speciation is female preference for different male colouring, with differences in the light gradients in the lake being important in effecting speciation. As the authors note, this also explains why cichlid fish species collapsed during human-induced eutrophication.

5. The Rhagoletis apple fly provides an example of sympatric speciation occurring in the context of a shift from its native host to an introduced apple species. [15]

Examples could be readily multiplied, but the point has been made. Speciation has been repeatedly observed.

Fallacy 3: Missing links are still missing!

The final assertion – “missing links are still missing!” is likewise utterly wrong. Firstly, palaeontologists do not refer to ‘missing links’ but rather transitional fossils. The term ‘missing link’ reflects a mistaken belief in the scala naturae, or “great chain of being” in which organisms are ranked from lowly bacteria through to worms, fish, reptiles, mammals with man at the pinnacle. The search for ‘missing links’ is considered to be a quest to find missing rungs on this ladder. This is wrong: 
The concept of a “missing link” is an “archaic expression”...tracing back to the Great Chain of Being, a view of the physical and metaphysical world as an unbroken chain. It was later temporalized by the evolutionary thought of the eighteenth and nineteenth century to the idea of evolution as a progressive climb up a ladder...These views of evolution create the false expectation that there should be fossil evidence showing “a complete chain of life from simple to complex”...Creationists rely on such views to support their arguments against macroevolution, in particular by pointing out the “conspicuous” absence of “large numbers of intermediate fossil organisms”...using what is still unknown to question whether evolution has occurred. I will deal with the misconception of evolution as a ladder-like progression shortly, but should the fossil record be expected to reveal all species that have ever lived? Clearly not. Knowledge of the fossil record will never be comprehensive...First, there is too much of the Earth to explore, and paleontologists have to be content with samples. Second, given our knowledge of geology, we understand that not all organisms will be fossilized and that there will be systematic biases in what organisms are fossilized...Therefore, any statements rest on a fallible, if informed, assessment of the necessarily incomplete evidence. [16]
Morris has failed to grasp that the concept of “missing links” is not one maintained by palaeontologists, and his use of it betrays a fundamental ignorance of the science he criticises. The vertebrate palaeontologists Jennifer Clack and Per Ahlberg, experts in the evolution of tetrapods, make this point quite emphatically: 
The concept of ‘missing links’ has a powerful grasp on the imagination: the rare transitional fossils that apparently capture the origins of major groups of organisms are uniquely evocative. But the concept has become freighted with unfounded notions of evolutionary ‘progress’ and with a mistaken emphasis on the single intermediate fossil as the key to understanding evolutionary transitions. Much of the importance of transitional fossils actually lies in how they resemble and differ from their nearest neighbours in the phylogenetic tree, and in the picture of change that emerges from this pattern.” [17] 
Missing links are missing because there are no such things as “missing links”. We have a tree of life where life is interrelated via descent with modification, and where shared morphological features allow us to reconstruct this tree of life. What this tree shows is the overwhelming evidence of large-scale evolutionary change, and fossils detailing these evolutionary transitions abound in the fossil record. Some of the more notable evolutionary transitions include the evolution of whales from artiodactyls [18], the evolution of the mammalian jaw and middle ear in which two reptile jaw bones became detached and incorporated into the mammalian middle ear as the incus and malleus [19-22], as well as the evolutionary trends in terrestrial hoofed mammals. [23]

Fallacy 4: Evolution does not have satisfactory explanations for what has been called the ‘irreducible complexity’ of living organisms.

Morris continues by asserting: 
Evolution does not have satisfactory explanations for what has been called the ‘irreducible complexity’ of living organisms. The operation of random chance cannot explain how thousands of biochemical processes can come together, all fully functional and all at once, in the amazingly complex living cell. Again, in complex organs like the eye, evolutionists have to explain how, in the very first animal to ‘acquire’ sight, the necessary chemical reactions, muscular activities, and nervous impulses all came together in perfect working order.
Again, his assertion suffers from conflating common descent and large scale evolutionary change with the theory proposed to explain these facts, criticising flaws in the modern synthetic theory – real or imagined – then concluding that evolution did not happen. This argument is analogous to asserting that as physicists cannot explain gravity at the quantum level with general relativity, the currently accepted theory of gravitation, then planets do not orbit their suns and objects do not fall when dropped.

More importantly, Morris’ assertion contains a logical fallacy, namely the argument from personal incredulity. In short, he is saying “I cannot imagine how this complex organism evolved. Therefore, it did not evolve.” What Morris has tendered is not a disproof of the gradual evolution of complex organs, but a statement of his inability as a layperson in the area of evolutionary biology (as evidenced by the errors studding his article) to show that such evolutionary explanations are not possible. More importantly, such an assertion, which implies that if he could not understand how complex organs could have evolved, then no one else could is verging on arrogance. History is replete with examples of Christians making claims that science subsequently overturn, so caution and humility would be the better option here.

The term ‘irreducible complexity’ is not a scientific one, but rather was introduced by the intelligent design creationist Michael Behe [24]. His assertion, that there exist organs and biochemical pathways that are too complex to have evolved via Darwinian mechanisms has been universally rejected by mainstream biologists. One of the more devastating criticisms came from the respected evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr who wrote: 
“Behe's colossal mistake is that, in rejecting these possibilities, he concludes that no Darwinian solution remains. But one does. It is this: An irreducibly complex system can be built gradually by adding parts that, while initially just advantageous, become—because of later changes—essential. The logic is very simple. Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added because it helps A. This new part isn't essential, it merely improves things. But later on, A (or something else) may change in such a way that B now becomes indispensable. This process continues as further parts get folded into the system. And at the end of the day, many parts may all be required. 
“The point is there's no guarantee that improvements will remain mere improvements. Indeed because later changes build on previous ones, there's every reason to think that earlier refinements might become necessary. The transformation of air bladders into lungs that allowed animals to breathe atmospheric oxygen was initially just advantageous: such beasts could explore open niches—like dry land—that were unavailable to their lung-less peers. But as evolution built on this adaptation (modifying limbs for walking, for instance), we grew thoroughly terrestrial and lungs, consequently, are no longer luxuries—they are essential. The punch line is, I think, obvious: although this process is thoroughly Darwinian, we are often left with a system that is irreducibly complex. I'm afraid there's no room for compromise here: Behe's key claim that all the components of an irreducibly complex system "have to be there from the beginning" is dead wrong. [25]
As Orr notes, this evolutionary explanation is hardly new, and has an impeccable pedigree, being advanced by the Nobel laureate and geneticist Hermann Muller as early as 1918
“Most present-day animals are the result of a long process of evolution, in which at least thousands of mutations must have taken place. Each new mutant in turn must have derived its survival value from the effect which it produced upon the “reaction system” that had been brought into being by the many previously formed factors in cooperation; thus a complicated machine was gradually built up whose effective working was dependent upon the interlocking action of very numerous different elementary parts or factors, and many of the characters and factors which, when new, were originally merely an asset finally became necessary because other necessary characters and factors had subsequently become changed so as to be dependent on the former. It must result, in consequence, that a dropping out of, or even a slight change in any one of these parts is very likely to disturb fatally the whole machinery; for this reason we should expect very many, if not most, mutations to result in lethal factors, and of the rest, the majority should be “semi-lethal” or at least disadvantageous in the struggle for life, and likely to set wrong any delicately balanced system, such as the reproductive system.” [26] 
Muller’s argument answered Behe’s question about how complex organs could have evolved nearly 80 years before it was first advanced, a telling example of the poverty of research in most creationist material.

The classic example of irreducible complexity given by Behe - that of the evolution of the vertebrate blood clotting system - is not regarded by biologists as posing any problem for evolution. Russell Doolittle, a biologist who is recognised world-wide as an expert in blood coagulation and whose work was cited by Behe has forcefully rebutted Behe’s argument: 
Here are a few of his comments that I found most irritating. 
On page IV-29 the author bold-facedly claims that "the (Doolittle) article does not explain.. how clotting might have originated and subsequently evolved." and then in italics " one on earth has the vaguest idea how the coagulation cascade came to be."
I disagree. I have a good idea, shared by most workers in the field, and it is a matter of the (important) details that we are trying to establish. 
On page IV-24, Behe underscores that no "causative factors are cited." "What exactly is causing all this springing and unleashing?" Gene duplications, of course, the frequency of which is difficult to measure (I often note that "duplication begets more duplication," for reasons of the misalignment of similar sequences), but which is turning out to be enormously more common than expected. 
Causation is tricky. Sometimes environmental or internal benefits are obvious. Often however, the rule for survival is "no harm, no foul," with adaptations occurring subsequently. For the moment, they don't even have to be slightly improved. 
As for the "enormous luck needed", we are now into the crux of all evolutionary problems, which is to say, what is the probability of survival? Population geneticists are attempting to answer such questions in general terms (see, e.g., J. B. Walsh, Genetics, 139, 421-428, 1995). In fact, the product of most gene duplications, which are the heart of the evolutionary process, are doomed to random oblivion (see enclosed, Doolittle, Science, 1981). 
Also, on page IV-26, he states, "the crucial issues of how much? how fast? when? where?" are not addressed. These are relevant and not unknowable matters. There is a wonderful article about to appear in Molecular Phylogenetics by D. Gumucio et al on how fetal hemoglobin has evolved in primates and that also outlines exactly the regulatory circumstances that allow its differential expression. Finally, my "model" does give some important numbers. The power of sequence-based analysis is that it reveals the order of appearance of new proteins, even when the sequences are limited to one or a few species. As noted above, it also has the power to make predictions about the occurrence of proteins in different creatures. [27] 
Doolittle's scathing condemnation of Behe's "irreducible complexity" is hardly isolated - even his colleagues in the Department of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania have distanced themselves from his ideas. Placing confidence in a broken reed such as "irreducible complexity" is ill-advised.

Further work by Doolittle has merely confirmed that the blood clotting pathway is in fact readily explained in evolutionary terms, and is not (contrary to Behe’s assertions) irreducibly complex. Ken Miller, a cell biologist and expert witness at the Kitzmiller v. Dover Trial that ruled comprehensively against intelligent design has pointed out:

His 2008 paper [Doolittle et al, 2008] reports on a careful search through the lamprey genome. The lamprey, as luck would have it, has a perfectly functional clotting system, and it lacks not only the three factors missing in jawed fish, but also Factors IX and V. 
Now, Luskin [an intelligent design advocate] could object that Factor IX wasn’t part of his “core,” but Factor V certainly was. And, as Behe pointed out at length, the absence of factor IX causes potentially-fatal hemophilia in humans, which was part of his argument for the irreducible complexity of the whole system. The lamprey genome does contain a single gene, somewhat related to Factor X and Factor V, but not identical to either. As the paper’s authors put it: “In summary, the genomic picture presented here suggests that lampreys have a simpler clotting scheme than later diverging vertebrates. In particular, they appear to lack the equivalents of factors VIII (or V) and IX, suggesting that the gene duplication leading to these factors, synchronous or not, occurred after their divergence from other vertebrates.” [p. 195]. To make things even worse for Luskin’s “core,” a previous study from Doolittle’s lab [Jiang & Doolittle, 2003] had already shown that the bits and pieces (protein domains) of most of the clotting factor proteins are present in a primitive, invertebrate chordate. This is exactly what one would expect from an evolutionary trajectory leading to the current system in vertebrates — the assembly of a complex pathway from pre-existing parts. [28] 
Space precludes further examples, but the point has been ably made. Irreducible complexity is merely an argument from ignorance clothed in modern language, one which had been answered 80 years before it was formally proposed by Michael Behe. Had Morris engaged in even a modicum of research, he would not have advanced "irreducible complexity" as a problem for evolution. It is not, and anyone seriously raising it in a discussion with an informed opponent will be quickly refuted and humiliated.

Fallacy 5:  Evolution has no explanation for man’s unique mental attributes, in particular his spiritual capacity.

Morris also wrote: 
Evolution has no explanation for man’s unique mental attributes, in particular his spiritual capacity. According to the theory, characteristics develop because they have an evolutionary advantage – yet many of man’s superior characteristics confer no obvious advantage. 
Morris has once again invoked an argument from incredulity – his inability to imagine how humans could have evolved does not mean it did not happen. Furthermore, he has ignored the considerable genetic and fossil evidence that show humans and the great apes share a common ancestor. While there are some genuine unsolved problems in human evolution, there is no serious doubt that it has occurred. James Kidder, a physical anthropologist and evangelical Christian writes that: 
The human fossil record, in fact, is replete with transitional forms…The recent controversy surrounding the new hominin discovery South Africa has revealed not just that different researchers have different ideas about how to best view the succession of forms in south and east Africa but also that there is a very wide diversity of forms present. No one working in the field doubts that there was an evolutionary progression from Australopithecus to Homo, even if they cannot quite figure out how it happened. 
The point is that, despite the fact that we have gaps in the fossil record, what we do have is good enough to make some solid assessments of what happened in the past. The human fossil record is a wealth of information about our history as a species. To dismiss it entirely because there are gaps is simplistic at best and ignorant at worst. [29] 
Many of man’s “unique mental abilities” are in fact not unique to humans. For example the great apes and elephants have self-awareness, use tools and are able to solve complex problems. Elephants in fact have recognised death rituals which suggest an awareness of their own mortality.

Fallacy 6: Evolutionary theory is constantly having to be reassessed.

That Morris believes this is a criticism of evolutionary biology demonstrates that he does not understand the scientific process at all. He asserts: 
Evolutionary theory is constantly having to be reassessed. In 2009 Darwin may be in fashion, but actually science has moved on. In January, the magazine New Scientist published an article contradicting Darwinian expectations and was brave enough to print a cover picture emblazoned with the headline, “Darwin was wrong”. It had to do with Darwin’s ‘tree of life’, where closely related species are grouped together on the same branch or twig, while unrelated species are on more distant branches. Studies on DNA now show that so-called close relatives very often do not have similar DNA; while supposedly unrelated species can have remarkably similar DNA. 
All scientific theories are provisionally held, subject to revision in the light of new evidence. This is what gives science its great power, and prevents it from ossifying into dogma. Witness what happened in the past, when the ideas of Galen and Aristotle in the fields of medicine and science respectively were maintained dogmatically, retarding both fields until these views were eventually challenged on the basis of experimental data. TR Gregory, an evolutionary biologist with an interest in genomics summarises the epistemological basis of science: 
However, as the NAS points out, “truth in science is never final, and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow”. Small-scale details are regularly revised as more precise observations are made, whereas well established facts of fundamental significance are very rarely overthrown, but in principle, no scientific fact of any magnitude is beyond revision or refutation. As a result, scientists must maintain a balance between the confidence that comes from reinforcing conclusions about the world with repeatable data and the understanding that absolute certainty is not something that the methods of science are able or intended to deliver. [30] 
Too many Christians appear to think of knowledge in terms of revealed truth, and therefore regard the inherent tentative nature scientific process, where truth is never final, but subject to revision as some kind of fatal flaw. However, the incredible advances made by science have come from such a system where everything is subject to constant revision.That Morris fails to understand why the scientific method works this way calls into doubt the validity of his entire attack on evolutionary biology.

Fallacy 7: In 2009 Darwin may be in fashion, but actually science has moved on.

Needless to say, Morris has completely misunderstood the point being made in the New Scientist article he cites, which was that horizontal gene transfer, where genetic material from one species can be incorporated into another species means that at the base of the tree of life, it is more appropriate to talk about a web model, rather than a tree. However, once one reaches more complex multicellular forms of life, a bushy tree is still the best way to model how this life is inter-related.

The cover for this edition of New Scientist has been widely criticised by evolutionary biologists as being sensationalist, and providing creationists with material to mine for apologetic purposes, something Morris has unfortunately done. In fact, New Scientist were at pains to disabuse creationists of this idea: 
Biology has been here before. Although Darwin himself, with the help of Alfred Russel Wallace, triggered a revolution in the mid-1800s, there was a second revolution in the 1930s and 1940s when Ronald Fisher, J. B. S. Haldane, Sewall Wright and others incorporated Mendelian genetics and placed evolution on a firm mathematical foundation. 
As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, we await a third revolution that will see biology changed and strengthened. None of this should give succour to creationists, whose blinkered universe is doubtless already buzzing with the news that "New Scientist has announced Darwin was wrong". Expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and presented as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not. 
Nor will the new work do anything to diminish the standing of Darwin himself. When it came to gravitation and the laws of motion, Isaac Newton didn't see the whole picture either, but he remains one of science's giants. In the same way, Darwin's ideas will prove influential for decades to come. 
So here's to the impending revolution in biology. Come Darwin's 300th anniversary there will be even more to celebrate. [31] 
The fact that Morris misused the New Scientist article without even taking notice of this comment by the magazine reflects poorly on his ability to critically read and analyse articles. It is impossible to put it any less harshly. 

Morris’ next paragraph was unfortunately a textbook example of missing the point: 
The trouble is, in trying to answer an ‘expert’, we can so readily be wrong-footed. Few of us have advanced qualifications in the relevant sciences, and if we fail to hold our own in discussions about fossils, for example, or if we reveal our ignorance of current molecular biology, we shall be deemed to have lost the contest! 
If a layperson loses an argument with a palaeontologist on whether the fossil record supports evolution or is soundly beaten in a discussion with a molecular biologist on whether comparative genomics supports human-ape common ancestry, then that person has lost the contest! It is both arrogant and ignorant to think that a layperson armed only with the presupposition that evolution must be wrong is ever going to show evolutionary biologists are wrong purely on the evidence. If we are soundly beaten by an expert, it is because he’s right! Humility in the face of such a defeat, coupled with the desire to learn from what these experts know about the natural world is the only honest response for such a believer.

Morris continues:
Though there are sound scientific arguments against evolution, we would often be better concentrating on the perfectly legitimate arguments of scripture and the challenge of the Gospel.
Morris is wrong. There are no sound scientific arguments against evolution. To say so is to promote a falsehood. However, our faith does not hinge on a rejection of evolution. Rather, it is based on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We can have complete confidence in that. Whether Adam was the first human being who lived, or the first human being with whom God entered into a covenant relationship does not change the fact that he was the first to sin, and the first to set an example which if followed to the bitter end leads to death. Morris ironically concludes with a reference to Francis Bacon: 
“To conclude, therefore, let no man...think or maintain that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both.”
Exactly. God has written two books – the book of His words, and the book of His works. If we want to understand what He wants of his creation, we are honour-bound to study the Bible. However, we are not going to understand how His creation was formed and the laws by which it proceeds by failing to study the book of His works, the natural world. Morris ended his article: 
But science does not answer eternal questions: if man wants to know the meaning of life, it is the Gospel, and only the Gospel, that has the answer.
 It would have been appropriate if he had continued, “Likewise, if a man wants to know how God’s creation works, it is Science, and only Science that has these answers.” As Bacon said, let a man endeavour an endless progress or proficiency in both.

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1. Morris J “Darwin or the Gospel?The Christadelphian November 2009

2. Wilcox C “Why I am not a Darwinist, but we should celebrate Darwin DayObservations of a Nerd. ScienceBlogs Feb 12 2009 

3. Livingstone D.N. “Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders” (Eerdmans 1984) p xi-xii

4. Warfield B.B. “On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human RaceThe Princeton Theological Review (1911) 9:1;1-25

5. Keas M.N. “Darwinism, Fundamentalism and R.A. TorreyPerspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2010) 62:1;25-51

6. Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987). 

8. Dobzhansky T “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of EvolutionAmerican Biology Teacher (1973) 35:125-129

9. See for example  which rejects heliocentrism on Biblical grounds. Geocentrists are more consistent in their literalism than even young earth creationists, given the number of references to a moving sun and a fixed earth in the Bible. Given that there is no recorded evidence that anyone rejected geocentrism prior to the 5th century BC, they cannot be dismissed as phenomenal language.

10. Futuyma “Evolutionary Biology” (1998, Sinauer. 3rd Ed) p 12

11. Rieseberg L.H. “Hybrid Origins of Plant SpeciesAnnu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 1997. 28:359–89

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29. Kidder J “Facing RealityScience and the Sacred April 20 2010 

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31. Editorial: "Uprooting Darwin's tree" New Scientist 21st January 2009