Monday, 10 June 2013

Examples of poor Christadelphian anti-evolution arguments - 6

Christadelphian physicist Richard Palmer, in his 2011 talk "Bible and Science: Conflict or Consistency?" argues that  God's ability to predict the future demonstrates that He is truly God, then asserts that:
This is highly relevant to the idea of science because people would say that you establish truth or veracity in science by making predictions on the basis of your theory, and those predictions are proven or disproven by experiment or observation. This is something which is never done, by the way, in connection with the theory of evolution. You never find evolutionists saying, "Here's the theory of evolution, and this is what it predicts."It just never happens, which goes again to show that the theory of evolution doesn't belong in mainstream science; which by the way is a highly radical view, and I wouldn't expect most of my colleagues in the university to think that by any means, but it doesn't mean that it's not true. (Transcription mine)
Leaving aside the fact that Palmer fails (as do all Christadelphian evolution denialists) to differentiate between evolution as fact, and evolution as theory, Palmer's assertion betrays a complete ignorance of evolutionary biology. His assertion that evolutionary biologists never claim that evolutionary theory makes predictions is flat-out wrong, and undermines his credibility as an informed commenter on evolution.
As evolutionary biologist and genomics expert T.R. Gregory noted [1], evolution makes predictions. Lots of them: 
A commenter on my other blog at ScientificBlogging [2] (basically a subset of posts from this one) seems to have objected to the claim that evolutionary science makes predictions... 
Here’s a list that I put together in around 10 minutes.
1) That a transitional fossil linking fishes and tetrapods would be found in rocks of a specific age (from the Devonian) and formed in freshwater environments. CONFIRMED. [3]
2) That human chromosome 2 would show clear signs of fusion of two chromosomes that are separate in other apes when examined at the level of DNA sequence. CONFIRMED. [4]
3) That genes for producing features thought to have existed in ancestors but absent in descendants will still be found when genomes are examined in detail or even through atavism. CONFIRMED.[5] (see also the paper mentioned in the original post).
4) That proteins in the bacterial flagellum will turn out to be similar to proteins with other functions. CONFIRMED. [6]
And a classic…
5) Darwin predicted that the evidence would show that humans evolved in Africa based on similarities to other apes. CONFIRMED. [7] 
Palmer is seriously uninformed about evolutionary biology, a subject that he as a physicist is simply not in a position to comment on authoritatively, let alone arrogantly dismiss. Contrary to what he alleges, the predictive power of the theory of evolution is extraordinary. Take just one example: it predicts that all life will fall into a nested hierarchy - this is the pattern that descent with modification would produce. Every new species discovered is a test for common descent - if we found a fish with feathers, or a bird with mammary glands, we'd have a taxonomic nightmare. So far, common descent has passed the taxonomic test with flying colours.

Gregory's post to which I referred above was commenting on a paper "Molecular Decay of the Tooth Gene Enamelin (ENAM) Mirrors the Loss of Enamel in the Fossil Record of Placental Mammals"  which shows that toothless mammals, or those with enamel-free teeth would have degraded enamel genes. Did that prediction hold up? You bet:  
Enamel is the hardest substance in the vertebrate body. One of the key proteins involved in enamel formation is enamelin. Most placental mammals have teeth that are capped with enamel, but there are also lineages without teeth (anteaters, pangolins, baleen whales) or with enamelless teeth (armadillos, sloths, aardvarks, pygmy and dwarf sperm whales). All toothless and enamelless mammals are descended from ancestral forms that possessed teeth with enamel. Given this ancestry, we predicted that mammalian species without teeth or with teeth that lack enamel would have copies of the gene that codes for the enamelin protein, but that the enamelin gene in these species would contain mutations that render it a nonfunctional pseudogene. To test this hypothesis, we sequenced most of the protein-coding region of the enamelin gene in all groups of placental mammals that lack teeth or have enamelless teeth. In every case, we discovered mutations in the enamelin gene that disrupt the proper reading frame that codes for the enamelin protein. Our results link evolutionary change at the molecular level to morphological change in the fossil record and also provide evidence for the enormous predictive power of Charles Darwin's theory of descent with modification. [8] (Emphasis mine) 
This paper was published in 2009. Palmer's talk was given in 2011. He claimed that "You never find evolutionists saying, "Here's the theory of evolution, and this is what it predicts." It just never happens, which goes again to show that the theory of evolution doesn't belong in mainstream science." That's a bold claim to make, and as we've seen, it's demonstrably false. A blunder of this magnitude is enough to destroy Palmer's credibility as an informed commenter on evolution, but as further posts will show, Palmer's anti-evolution lectures are replete with blunders.

This post first appeared on my Facebook page here


1.  Gregory T.R. "Does evolutionary biology make predictions?" Genomicron Sep 24th 2009

2.  Gregory T.R. "Breaking News: Evidence for Evolution Found!" Genomicron Sep 11th 2009


4. Fan Y et al "Genomic Structure and Evolution of the Ancestral Chromosome Fusion Site in 2q13–2q14.1 and Paralogous Regions on Other Human ChromosomesGenome Res (2002) 12: 1651-1662

5. Harris M.P et al "The Development of Archosauran First-Generation Teeth in a Chicken Mutant" Current Biology (2006) 16:371-277

6. Mark J. Pallen M.J and Matzke N.J. "From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella" Nature Reviews Microbiology (2006) 4: 784-790

7. Ingman M, Kaessmann H, Pääbo S and Gyllensten U "Mitochondrial genome variation and the origin of modern humans" Nature (2000) 408:708-713

8. Meredith RW, Gatesy J, Murphy WJ, Ryder OA, Springer MS (2009) Molecular Decay of the Tooth Gene Enamelin (ENAM) Mirrors the Loss of Enamel in the Fossil Record of Placental Mammals. PLoS Genet 5(9): e1000634. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000634