Catholic Church Supports Neo-Paleyism?

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Today the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about evolution and the Catholic faith: “Finding Design in Nature”. On a quick read the op-ed appears to place the Catholic Church in league with “intelligent design” creationism. (I’m sure you will hear such victory cheers from the neo-Paleyists.) However, this quick read is deceiving, since the author made some mistakes when choosing his words for a US audience.

Before getting upset at what the Archbishop wrote, consider this:

The Archbishop is not writing to align Catholic theology with the anti-evolution movement. Instead he is writing to reaffirm the Catholic faith’s commitment to theistic evolution and to eliminate any confusion that it is committed to atheistic evolution. (I have no idea why he thought that this needed to be done.)

Compare and contrast the Archbishop’s words to “Creationism talk suggests need to revisit Catholic education” in this week’s Catholic Telegraph from Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

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Here we go. Looks like the Catholic Church has more or less officially come out against mainstream neo-Darwinism. Or, rather, is finally getting around to ‘clarifying’ what the article refers to as a distortion of Catholic doctrine (ie, th... Read More

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Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the term “neo-paleyist” one coined by Richard Dawkins to describe his own position – or has that term been otherwise appropriated?

I have no idea. I picked the term up from Ian Musgrave, who uses it to refer to id creationists.

I prefer to call IDists either creationists (Supernatural IDists) or turtlers (Alien IDists).

I have him using the phrase to describe himself in ‘Universal Darwinism’ (1983), but referring back to a characterization made in Maynard Smith’s ‘The Status of Neo-Darwinism’ (1969).

I chose it to contrast with the Cardinal’s usage of “neo-Darwinism”.

According to Christoph Schonborn,

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense – an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection – is not.

There are some problems with this statement.

First, Schonborn shouldn’t have used the term “neo-Darwinian” in that way. That is not the way many people use the phrase “neo-Darwinian.” Most scientists don’t even use the term “neo-Darwinian.” Most just say “evolution.” Some use the phrase “synthetic theory.” Many scientists who do use the term “neo-Darwinian” don’t factor in things like “unguided,” “unplanned,” or any functional equivalent. They use the word to mean something like the following:

1. All organisms to live on earth are descended from a common ancestor, and that all organisms, including animals, plants, and microorganisms, ultimately go back to a single origin of life on earth.

2. Genetic and phenotypic variation and what Darwin called “Natural Selection” resulted in the existence of the organisms to live on earth subsequent to the first primordial cells. Mendel’s ideas on genetic are important.

3. No organism has been massively different than its parent(s).

4. Evolution took place over millions and millions of years.

Now, Schonborn might be saying that a deity intervened on one or more occasions to cause the existence of some organisms, some parts of some organisms, or to cause some organisms to reproduce. If that is his hypothesis, he should offer it clearly. Specifically, he should indicate exactly what event(s) he thinks the deity proximately caused. That would help us gauge whether his claim is reasonable. We could get a mental image of the alleged event. But since he didn’t do that, I’ll work with what I have.

I’m not sure what Mr. Schonborn means by “an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.” We don’t yet know the series of events that resulted in the space, matter and time that we associate with the known universe. We don’t yet know the exact series of events that resulted in the first self-replicating molecules on earth. But Mr. Schonborn seems to be saying that after the first self-replicating molecules on earth started replicating, a deity and/or extraterrestrial specifically intervened on planet earth on one or more occasions to cause the existence of some organisms, some parts of some organisms, or to cause some organisms to reproduce. I want more elaboration from Schonborn. But if that is what he means, he is probably mistaken. First, clearly a deity or extraterrestrial did not turn dust – poof! – directly into two elephants (one male and one female). Second, the claim as a whole is probably inaccurate. Taken together, the following data enables us to determine that he is probably mistaken:

1. Self-replicating molecules that were on earth about 3.8 billion years ago evolved (through reproduction) into all the organisms to live on planet earth. In other words, elephants and bacteria share common ancestors.

2. There is very good reason to believe that the existence of billions and billions of organisms (and parts of organisms) has been proximately caused by events other than a deity or extraterrestrial specifically intervening and causing the existence of the organism or the part of the organism. For instance, I was born by my mother.

3. Given the kind of intervention that Mr. Schonborn probably has in mind, a deity or extraterrestrial probably has not specifically intervened to proximately cause the existence of any part of any organism that has been on earth in the last 500 years. For instance, a deity or extraterrestrial probably did not intervene to cause me to have the left ear that I have.

4. A deity is not known to have ever specifically intervened to proximately cause the existence of any organism, or any part of any organism.

5. No event is known to have been proximately caused by a deity or extraterrestrial.

6. There is good reason to believe that billions and billions of events have been proximately caused by events other than the specific intervention by a deity or extraterrestrial. For instance, dead leaves fall from trees.

Schonborn, doesn’t really offer any evidence to show that what he thinks happened actually happened. He does say this: “Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.” I’m not sure what he means by “the overwhelming evidence for design in biology.” That something is interesting does not enable us to determine that a deity specifically intervened and – poof! – caused the thing to exist. I’m fairly interesting, and I was born by my mother.

Over at IDTF, Behe writes, “Not to put too fine a point on it, he essentially says in so many words that neo-Darwinism is wrong and ID is right. He writes that the conclusion that life is designed is not a matter of faith, but a matter of physical evidence. He says the denial of that evidence is itself ideology; in other words, the denial of the evidence is the faith, the affirmation of the evidence is rational.

I think this is enormously important. (Me Catholic.) I strongly suspect that this op-ed was instigated by Pope Benedict himself. It seems very unlikely that Austrian Cardinal Schönborn would publish an op-ed in the New York Times expounding Catholic understanding of evolution, taking on the Darwinists, and quoting Benedict himself without at least the Pope’s tacit approval, and more likely his active encouragement. I take this to mean that Benedict thinks this issue is very important, and is very interested in setting matters straight.

Having the weight of the Catholic Church publicly behind ID and against Darwinism will make it much harder for the Scopes Trial caricature to stick to ID. Now it isn’t just the proverbial band of yahoos from Tennessee (and a tiny number of confused academics) who don’t get it. Now it’s the largest Christian denomination in the world, one that makes distinctions between the entirely separate issues of the age of the earth, common descent, and Darwinian randomness.”

Behe doesn’t get it. This problem of “getting evolution” is still largely a Christian, not a scientific, problem. Nothing the Archbishop writes comes close to making a scientific case against evolution. Equivocations and misrepresentations constitute a bulk of the editorial. Not even the Archbishop seems to understand clearly what he would like Christians to understand clearly.

Let’s take for granted that Behe is right. The Catholic Church is now fully behind ID. Is Behe now conceding that scientists can only consider sciences that have the full Blessing of the Church?

And since the article is so unclear, it’s very easy for Behe and co. to spin it as a victory, even if (as Reed has gone a good way toward convincing me) it’s not, as such. And it’s a spin that will play very well in the media, given the size, power, and social presence the church has.

In my opinion, I think that the Cardinal is a victim of the Wedge and not a proponent of it.

What annoys me about this is the rhetorical spin that denying design is an “abdication of human reasoning.” Excuse me, but what fucking arrogance. If anyone wants to cite dogmatism in this modern times, he should not have to look further than Behe’s uncritical, easy acquiescence to an Archbishop’s opinion article. Design is true and neo-darwinism false… because the Church says so!

Pardon me if I chime in with a fairly brutal question. It has long been my opinion that theistic evolution is an oxymoron, and the op-ed by the cardinal Schönborn just strengthens my thoughts. As far as I understand his writing, the “thing” lacking in neo-darwinian evolution (or whatever else he choose to call it) is the teleology of the process. Catholic churc thinks that with various tools (why not mutations and natural selection?) a deity deflects the course of blind evolution toward a superior being; guess who this is. On the other hand, all evolution books and experiments tell us that the process is directionless (nobody knows what the next environment, and therefore selection pressure, will be). I feel these two positions cannot be held at the same time. How wrong am I?

Although science can tell us that natural causes are sufficient to explain something, it cannot tell us that supernatural causes are not involved. People may choose to synthesize their faith with scientific findings by believing that something else occured in addition the known natural causes. It might not be as “parsimonious,” but it is what makes sense to them.

Such people tend to not confuse science and faith.

I’m not at all confident that Reed’s interpretation of Schoenberg’s intent is more accurate than Behe’s. I guess if I had some reason to defer to the Cardinal’s - or any other religious authority - on matters of science, I would be troubled by his little essay. But I don’t.

There are a number of, sorry, just plain stupid things in this essay that I’m not so charitable as to chalk up to “poor choice of words”:

1. Slurring mainstream scientists as “defenders of neo-Darwinian dogma”. Really! This from a Catholic Archbishop! Does this man have an impish sense of humor, or is he blind to the irony?

2. “… evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not [true].” This looks like a scientific pronouncement from someone explicitly telling us what is science and what is not. So, how did he scientifically come to this conclusion?

3. Quoting JohnPaul II now: “To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements and such marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us.” I don’t know - or care - exactly what the late pope was getting at here but, in this context, Schoenborn appears to be endorsing the ID take on nature. Accusing the critics of ID of “giving up the search for an explanation” is, once again, ironic to say the least.

4. “neo-Darwinism … invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science”. I believe the mind-numbing stupidity of this remark speaks for itself.

5. “Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of “chance and necessity” are not scientific at all, but, as John Paul put it, an abdication of human intelligence.” Is that what modern biology is all about?

Really. I’m curious to see whether the Vatican is going to endorse this foolishness, or explain what the Cardinal meant to say.

Reed:

I disagree with your take on the op-ed. Rather, I think the Catholic Church is agnostic on common descent (“…may have…”). And the op-ed suggests that even if common descent is correct, god did it.

The Catholic Church as believers in ‘theistic evolution’? Theists, yes of course. But the op-ed seems to suggest that the Church has no settled opinion on evolution (i.e., common descent).

An obvious point, I’m sure: Whatever the spin put on this op-ed by the ID crowd, it’s best to stick to the (massive)evidence for evolution via natural selection.

As a Peri-Vatican II Catholic, currently a Eucharistic minister in my parish, and a professional biologist, I am very disturbed by this article.

I am forced to read this as a step backwards from the position of John Paul II and Pius XII. It is quite clear that those two Popes were making a distinction between matters of scientific inquiry and matters of faith and morals. It is not clear, but very suggestive, that the Archbishop’s article is conflating the two.

Marco posts:

Pardon me if I chime in with a fairly brutal question. It has long been my opinion that theistic evolution is an oxymoron, and the op-ed by the cardinal Schönborn just strengthens my thoughts. As far as I understand his writing, the “thing” lacking in neo-darwinian evolution (or whatever else he choose to call it) is the teleology of the process. Catholic churc thinks that with various tools (why not mutations and natural selection?) a deity deflects the course of blind evolution toward a superior being; guess who this is. On the other hand, all evolution books and experiments tell us that the process is directionless (nobody knows what the next environment, and therefore selection pressure, will be). I feel these two positions cannot be held at the same time. How wrong am I?

Marco, good question. First, some mutations were caused in part by the organism being exposed to certain levels of radiation. So, how are you using the word “directionless?”

Second, certain claims are logically inconsistent. The claim God turned dust – poof! – directly into two elephants is logically inconsistent with the claim that all organisms on earth descended from one single cell that lived on earth about 3.8 billion years ago.

I can’t tell if the claims are offering are logically inconsistent. You would have to give me more information.

Here would be two claims:

1. A deity or extraterrestrial specifically intervened on planet earth on one or more occasions in the last three billion years; the deity did not turn dust – poof! – directly into any organisms, but it did something; it caused a part of an organisms like an ear, or nose or a throat or a tail; this intervention caused an organism to be born with a trait that helped it produce the number of offspring that it did; for instance, it was born with a dark coat – such as a black panther.

2. A deity or extraterrestrial never specifically intervened on planet earth to cause an organism to live, live longer or produce more offspring.

Those are logically inconsistent – given what I mean by them. Are we justified in believing that either of them is true? Well, first we know that a deity did not turn dust – poof! – directly into two elephants (one male and one female). But did a deity or extraterrestrial specifically intervene in a more subtle way on one or more occasions? I want more information. It would make it easier for me to assess the claim. Sometimes claims are too vague for one to be justified in believing that they are true or false. But, given that language, probably no deity or extraterrestrial specifically intervened on planet earth on one or more occasions over the last 3.8 billion years to cause the existence of any organisms that have lived on earth or any parts of any organisms that have lived on earth or to cause some organisms to reproduce. Now could Cupid have hit one of my parents with an arrow to cause them to reproduce with each other? Probably not.

Behe Wrote:

Having the weight of the Catholic Church publicly behind ID and against Darwinism will make it much harder for the Scopes Trial caricature to stick to ID.

Right… ‘cause the Catholic Church has a long history of open-mindedness, progressivism, and rejection of religious orthodoxy. Unlike those yahoos in Tennessee.

I’m with the dissenters here. I took the article to lunch and read it, thought about it, and then read it again. I’m sorry, but that article offers way too much “aid and comfort” the IDers for me to believe that is was simply the result of “poor word choice”. Further, with poor word choice I expect words that don’t quite fit in a sentence, in this article I didn’t find anything like that.

From the article:

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.

I’m sorry, but this just sounds like one step removed from the arguments of Behe, Dembski, et. al. That the process of evolution is not unguided, unplanned and/or random, but that there are at a minimum times when the Designer intervenes. Exactly how is what the Archbishop writing different? If it is I just don’t see it.

I think Mr. Cartwright needs to be a bit more up front about how this essay doesn’t necessarily reflect a change in the Catholic Church’s views on evolution. After all we have a new Pope and he is pretty much the sole authority and if he says, “Change it” the response is, “How?”

Reed wrote:

Although science can tell us that natural causes are sufficient to explain something, it cannot tell us that supernatural causes are not involved.

Reed, “science” can’t tell us anything. “Science” can’t talk.

People can justifiably believe that an event that one person believed occurred did not occur. I justifiably believe that Cupid did not hit my parents with arrows to cause them to fall in love with each other and reproduce. Am I certain that Cupid didn’t do that? Well, maybe not. But I’m very justified in believing that that didn’t happen.

People may choose to synthesize their faith with scientific findings by believing that something else occurred in addition the known natural causes. It might not be as “parsimonious,” but it is what makes sense to them.

How are you using the words “faith” and “scientific findings?” It might “make sense” to a person to “synthesize their faith with scientific findings by believing that something else occurred in addition the known natural causes.” But they also might believe that an event occurred that did not. For instance, some people believe that planet earth is about 6,000 years old. Some people they have been abducted by aliens. They probably haven’t been.

Some people believe that a deity specifically intervened at a discrete moment in time to cause a bacteria to – Zap! – have a flagellum attached to its butt. That probably didn’t happen.

Such people tend to not confuse science and faith.

How are you using the word “science” and “faith?” People often believe that a given event occurred, and it didn’t. Or at least I’m justified in believing that it didn’t. For instance, some people believe that Methuselah lived to be 969 years old, relative to the velocity that earth is moving right now. But Methuselah didn’t live to be that old. At least he probably didn’t.

Steve,

This op-ed doesn’t change the Catholic Church’s views on evolution because according to the Cardinal they haven’t changed. The op-ed reaffirms several important statements made by the Catholic Church about science and Catholic faith over the last few decades.

My understanding of these statements is that the Catholic Church agrees with the results of science, but declares that God was behind it in some way. Of course the Catholic Church in these statements strongly disagree with anyone who would take the results of science and claim that God was not behind it in some way. Perhaps the best description of this philosophy is dogmatic (militant?) theistic evolution.

Longhorn,

Please don’t expect me to defend theistic evolution since I am not a theistic evolutionist.

I will point out that people who synthesize faith and science usually do so by resticting their faith to non-materialistic claims, thus preventing conflict between faith and science.

Let’s return to this sentence by Cardinal Schonborn:

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.

Schonborn seems to be saying that it is “not true” that an “unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection” caused the existence of the organisms to live on earth. Well, is he right? We don’t know the series of events that caused the matter, space and time that we associate with the known universe. But Schonborn might be talking about specific intervention on earth on the part of a deity after the first self-replicating molecules started replicating. Did a deity intervene in that way? Well, there are some things that a deity clearly did not do. For instance, a deity did not turn dust – poof! – directly into two elephants. But did a deity intervene in other ways? It would helpful to have more information from Schonborn. I don’t know what he means by “unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.” But given what he may mean, he is probably mistaken.

Re “For instance, some people believe that Methuselah lived to be 969 years old”

I wonder if those people also think he drowned?

Reed, thanks for the reply.

You wrote:

I will point out that people who synthesize faith and science usually do so by resticting their faith to non-materialistic claims, thus preventing conflict between faith and science.

Reed, what do you mean by “faith” and “science?” And what do you mean by “restricting their faith to non-materialistic claims?”

I know someone who thinks a deity turned dust directly into two elephants. I think you would say that that is a “non-materialistic claim.” And this person is mistaken. Or, if you balk at the expression of certainty, it is overwhelmingly probable that he is mistaken.

There are some beliefs that are not logically inconsistent with what we understand about the universe, for instance, “a deity caused the Big Bang.”

If you ask me, the good Cardinal seems to be taking the ID side explicitly. But as usual, the chief problem is that he fails to define what he means by “design”, which leaves us all wondering what exactly he’s getting at. Most people (and certainly most Christians) would not say that evolution is in opposition to “design” in a purely metaphysical sense, but rather opposed to it in a direct sense, as in God (or the aliens) physically altering structures and planting organisms de novo onto the Earth. For this there is exactly zero evidence, and plenty of evidence in favor of alternate hypotheses. Whether or not evolution was guided in some sort of grand sense, perhaps beyond our knowledge, is another story.

The ID movement, true to its anti-scientific nature, was careful to adopt a term which could easily bamboozle people by obscuring, not clarifying, what the actual issue is. The good Cardinal may be a victim of the Wedge, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t drink the Kool Aid.

My understanding of these statements is that the Catholic Church agrees with the results of science, but declares that God was behind it in some way. Of course the Catholic Church in these statements strongly disagree with anyone who would take the results of science and claim that God was not behind it in some way. Perhaps the best description of this philosophy is dogmatic (militant?) theistic evolution.

I guess I just don’t see much of difference between this and the IDers position. If God took a direct hand in doing something…couldn’t it be making sure the flagellum [sic] develops as the IDers seem so hung up on? Further, couldn’t one go from this position to the position that such interventions could be observable/detectable? If so, it strikes me as basically supporting the ID view, not repudiating it.

Steve,

Sure one could make those leaps. But not making them is what distinguishes a theistic evolutionist from a creationist and a reputable scientist and a crackpot.

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BlastfromthePast,

Some forms of reasoning are more trustworthy than others. You can be sure that yours do not matter much to me at all.

Run away already, Blast . … . ?

RDLF Wrote:

I’ve already pointed out why this is wrong, but am happy to do so again.

Goldschmidt (who was writing decades before DNA and genes were even crudely understood) assumed that genes were non-particulate, that is, that one could take half of Gene A, combine it to half of Gene B and get an entirely new Gene C.

As we now know, genes are particulate. Which make sGoldschmidt’s entire line of reasoning utterly irrelevant. It is simply impossible to form any new alleles by “recombining” portions of existing ones.

Blast, of course, doesn’t understand enough fourth-grade genetics to understand why Goldschmidt was wrong.

Lenny, I don’t see how your answer has anything to do with what I wrote.

This isn’t a question of whether inheritance is blended or particulate. And the kind of particulate genes that Goldschmidt opposed were genes as “beads on a chain.” Goldschmidt had an understanding of the chromosomes as something akin to a continous band of coded material (he used the analogy of genes being like the amino acid chains that make up a protein molecule)–a very advanced notion at a time when DNA and the genetic code was years away from being discovered.

And I’m sure that you, like Goldschmidt, don’t believe that genes are no more than “beads on a chain.”

RDLF Wrote:

Ahhh, I see — so I’m too big a meanie for YOU to answer MY questions, but NOT too big a meanie for YOU to ask ME questions. Is that how it goes?

Google “Pakicetus”, “Ambulocetus”, “Dalanistes”, “Rodhocetus”, “Takracetus”, “Gaviocetus”, “Dorudon”, and “Basilosaurus”.

I know, I know — you never heard of any of them, right? Just like you never heard of _Caudipteryx_. Or Waddington or Baldwin, until I told you about them .… .

I suppose I should be surprised at how childish you can be at times, and, I must admit, I am. Leaving that to the one side, let me point out that I asked for “intermediate forms”, forms that are 10% apart. None of the species that you mention are intermediates. Isn’t that interesting? Basilosaurus–wrongly named–is considered the progenitor of a number of the ensuing forms you name; but, Basilosaurus was already a whalelike animal. So, sadly, Lenny, you’ve failed. And, as to Caudipteryx, that species only complicates the picture of how dinosaurs gave rise to birds.

So, Lenny, I’m still waiting for your answer.

RDLF Wrote:

Run away already, Blast .… . ?

Obviously I haven’t run away–although I am on vacation.

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So, Lenny, I’m still waiting for your answer.

Speaking of which:

*ahem*

What does the designer do, specifically.

What mechanisms does it use to do whatever the heck you think it does.

Where can we see these mechanisms doing anything today?

Run away, Sir Robin.

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RDLF Wrote:

Hey Blast – where can we see chlorphyll genes in animals?

Chlorophyll is found in chloroplasts; and for an explanation of all that, I recommend Margolis’ book, Acquired Genomes.

RDLF Wrote:

Where can we see genes for cobra venom in rattlesnakes?

You’ll have to wait for genome studies to “see” the genes. If they were already expressed, we’d know about them, wouldn’t we?

FDLF Wrote:

Where can we see “frontloaded genes” in, well, ANYTHING?

How about bird feathers? They show up in the fossil record pretty much as in modern birds.

RDLF Wrote:

Lenny, is that the sound of your mind working? ;)

What is a frontloaded gene, anyway? I’m familiar with preadaptations (Gould calls them exaptations) where genes are “inherited” by a species before they are actually adapted to some new purpose, but these genes historically served some other entirely useful purpose.

Are “frontloaded” genes intended to be genes carried around for the eventual development of some entirely new structure or function? Are they supposed to be invisible to selection, but at the same time preserved indefinitely (by some other mechanism not yet identified) until needed?

What exactly is the hypothesis here?

Cardinal clarifies (and backtracks): “‘the cardinal believes that evolutionism as an ideology is to be rejected’ because it cannot explain the existence of the soul and the spiritual world.”

http://www.the-tidings.com/2005/071[…]volution.htm

Blast Wrote:

You’ll have to wait for genome studies to “see” the genes. If they were already expressed, we’d know about them, wouldn’t we?

We have scores of genomes sequenced, where are these genes? Is there any particular genome you want to stick your neck out as having the future evidence that your argument depends on?

Reed:

I have another question now. Is it possible, from looking at a sequenced genome, to identify not-yet-actualized characteristics? Not what those characteristics might actually BE, even, but just whether or not they exist? My understanding is that actual characteristics are determined by a complex interaction of genes, RNA, development environment, activation timings, etc. which couldn’t possibly be extracted with current knowledge just from examining the genome. What am I missing?

You’ll have to wait for genome studies to “see” the genes.

The complete genomes of a large number of species have already been completely sequenced.

Please feel free to point out the “frontloaded genes” in any of them.

Or, you can run away again, and I’ll ask again later.

Hey Blast – where can we see chlorphyll genes in animals?

Chlorophyll is found in chloroplasts

No shit.

According to your “frontloading” BS, any and all genes found in any of the descendents MUST, of necessity, also be found in the ancestors.

Acdcording to your “frontloading” BS, plants and animals are descended (through “recombination”) from a “frontloaded” common ancestor.

Therefore, according to your “frontloading” BS, both plants and animals should have all the same genes (jsut in different combinations).

So show me the frontloaded gene for chlorophyll in any animal.

Want to claim that plants and animals are both descended from the same “frontloaded” ancestor? Fine. Then (1) show me **any** organism that you think shares a common “frontloaded” ancestor with **any other** organism, and (2) show me where the supposedly unique genes from one are actually found, already “frontloaded”, in the other.

Example —– if snakes are all descended from a “frontloaded” snake-ancestor that already possessed “frontloaded” versions of all possible snake genes, then show me the gene for rattlesnake venom in the genome of a cobra. Or a garter snake. Or a boa constrictor.

My question isn’t too complicated for you, is it . … ?

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Cardinal clarifies (and backtracks): “‘the cardinal believes that evolutionism as an ideology is to be rejected’ because it cannot explain the existence of the soul and the spiritual world.”

No kidding.

I’ve heard that nuclear physics doesn’t explain the rules of baseball very well, either . … . .

Lenny:

Yes, yes, yes, I know all that. I’m (admittedly) assuming that creationists are neither ignorant nor stupid. They have a genuine problem to explain. How do they do so?

I tried to clarify my problems with my question to Reed. CAN we show that frontloading is false? Do we have enough knowledge of the role of genes, RNA, environment, developent and the like to rule it out? I grant that it strikes me as a silly notion, put forth for no other reason than to deflect objections to religious doctrine. But are we capable of showing that religious claims are incorrect at the genetic level? Maybe not?

The frontloaders also have the problem that different life-forms have different numbers of genes (or quantities of genetic material) and this can go up as well as down in lineages. Whereas frontloading only allows for casting off stitches not casting on new ones. So they can only knit a bottom-heavy triangular (or trapezoidal or fragmented and unravelling) cloth of life.

Since I seem to be the author of “frontloading,” let me say a little something about the idea. First, it’s not a “creationist” idea–since I don’t consider myself a creationist as in YEC. And it isn’t something I picked up in reading about ID. It’s simply something that seems to make sense to me along the lines of information theory–and, let me add, the sudden appearance of the modern feather seems to me a good representation of, if you will, “frontloading”. Secondly, the idea of “frontloading” is simply an intuition, and I don’t consider it anymore than that–I’m not competing with Darwin as a theorist. Thirdly, on the basis of frontloading being simply an intuition, there remains a question of just how much frontloading is present in the genome: do genomes contain ALL the information of ALL species? Or does frontloading contain ALL the information for a Class, or Order, or Family, etc.? It would seem to me that if we’re dealing with a true informational system, then that information will, of necessity, be frontloaded; however, it is entirely possible (as, for example, appparently happens with the mitochondria and the chloroplast) for the “information” of one organism to be sort of “folded-into” another organism. I would suspect Nature might be a combination of both. But determining whether any of this is correct, awaits further scientific inquiry.

To speak now allegorically, I think that Nature is perhaps like the painting of Adam and God that adorns the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel–the finger of God touching the finger of Adam; but with this difference: we, as humans investigating Nature, can only see the two fingers touching, and are left to “guess” that one belongs to Adam (the material realm) and one to God (the realm of Mind). In other words, I don’t think that Nature will, beyond all doubt, point unfailingly to the Creator. Yet, his handiwork will always be discernable for those who have “eyes to see.”

I add this last part simply to show that I don’t consider myself on some kind of religious crusade–to PROVE that God exists. Rather, I just think that the presumption that life has its origin in Thought and Intelligence will give us a better paradigm for investigating and understanding Nature.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the discussion from a distance. But as I enjoy golf much more than blogs, I can’t promise a prompt response for the next week or so.

Flint Wrote:

CAN we show that frontloading is false?

I’ve wondered the same thing.

Assume all of the genes for a given lineage were ‘frontloaded’ into the remote ancestor of that lineage. What does that really mean? Does the ancestral globin gene represent frontloading of all modern globin genes? Some might say yes, arguing (incorrectly, of course) that duplication and modification of the ancestral globin gene isn’t really creating “new” information.

But that kind of ‘frontloading’ isn’t incompatible with evolution. It is evolution.

So, let’s assume instead that frontloading means the ancestor of a lineage carries genes that are ‘designed’ to perform some future function in some (but presumably not all) descendants. These frontloaded genes aren’t doing anything useful in the ancestor, they’re just there to be passed down to offspring until it’s time to turn them on. Also, I presume these frontloaded genes were either introduced de novo into this ancestor, or can be traced back to an earlier frontloading event (possibly all the way back to an original, fully-frontloaded organism).

Now, we look at the genomes of various extant organisms and observe there are many, many, many genes that are present in some species and not in others. Evolution explains such genes by saying they only evolved in a given lineage. All lineages that diverged prior to evolving that gene will necessarily lack it. THis predicts that genes should fall into consistent nested heirarchies, which is well supported by existing evidence.

Frontloading presumably argues the opposite. Many (or all) of the lineages had the gene to begin with. The ones that now lack it must have lost it after they diverged from those that retained it.

I think if the latter phenomenon were widespread, you would expect to find many cases of genes that don’t fit the standard nested evolutionary hierarchies. E.g., a gene specific for deer antlers (assuming such a thing exists) might show up in a repressed state in lions and bears, but not tigers. However, I think this also assumes that loss of frontloaded genes from lineages that don’t need them is a random phenomenon.

Blast’s post shows the difficulty of disproving frontloading by this approach. It’s always possible to argue that frontloading only occured in a few special cases that we haven’t yet detected (frontloading of the gaps?), or that loss of frontloaded genes is a “directed” process, so that the end result is made to look indistiguishable from evolutionary prediction.

I conclude that frontloading is similar to ID. It’s straightforward to disprove certain formulations of either, but as long as their proponents can invoke an omnipotent frontloader/designer, they can always formulate unfalsifiable versions.

BTW, Blast, I agree that frontloading is not a YEC idea, but it’s still a creationist idea.

CAN we show that frontloading is false?

It’s not our task to do so. The nutballs are the ones amking the assertions. It’s up to THEM to demonstrate them.

It’s not OUR fault if they cannot.

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But determining whether any of this is correct, awaits further scientific inquiry.

No it doesn’t. It was disproven over 100 years ago. Just ask Goldschmidt.

Do try and keep up, would you?

CAN we show that frontloading is false?

I agree with Lenny, that science taking the time out to solve questions like this just encourages a trend which is bad enough as it is, whereby the ID/creationist gang makes whatever asinine assertion they want and somehow it’s always up to science to prove it’s NOT true. Somehow the burden of proof magically never falls on the ID/C crowd.

Of course, I realize that the reason these guys are never obliged to prove their own ideas is because they don’t do research, but that’s no reason to do their work for them.

Blast wrote

How about bird feathers? They show up in the fossil record pretty much as in modern birds.

Well, no they don’t:

ABSTRACT In this special issue on the Evo-Devo of amniote integuments, Alibardi has discussed the adaptation of the integument to the land. Here we will discuss the adaptation to the sky. We first review a series of fossil discoveries representing intermediate forms of feathers or feather-like appendages from dinosaurs and Mesozoic birds from the Jehol Biota of China. We then discuss the molecular and developmental biological experiments using chicken integuments as the model. Feather forms can be modulated using retrovirus mediated gene mis-expression that mimics those found in nature today and in the evolutionary past.

and

Two major advances in the last decade have shaken this classical view: (1) a series of fossil discoveries representing intermediate forms of feathers or feather-like appendages from the Jehol Biota of China, and (2) molecular and developmental biological experiments using chickens as a model organism. Feather forms can be modulated using retrovirus mediated gene mis-expression that mimics those found in nature today and in the evolutionary past. Together the results favor an evolutionary sequence of feather filaments splitting to form primitive barbs without barbules - radially symmetric downy feathers with plumulaceous barbs- bilaterally symmetric plumulaceous feathers - bilaterally symmetric pennaceous vanes - bilaterally asymmetric vanes (Fig. 5B).

Work in the molecular biology laboratories has allowed us to start to identify molecular pathways involved in each of these ”evolutionary novelty” processes (Fig. 5B; Yu et al., 2002; Harris et al., 2002).

RBH

quetzal Wrote:

So, let’s assume instead that frontloading means the ancestor of a lineage carries genes that are ‘designed’ to perform some future function in some (but presumably not all) descendants. These frontloaded genes aren’t doing anything useful in the ancestor, they’re just there to be passed down to offspring until it’s time to turn them on. Also, I presume these frontloaded genes were either introduced de novo into this ancestor, or can be traced back to an earlier frontloading event (possibly all the way back to an original, fully-frontloaded organism).

That’s as good a description of “frontloading” as can be given. Very fair.

Let me just note that I’m sort of led to ‘frontloading’ because of the implications of ID. They’re sort of hand and glove.

Your analysis of gene ‘nesting’ I think is a helpful way of evaluating the idea, although I suspect it will take the fully explored and documented genomes of a number of species from a number of families to get a sense of its utility–or even existence–one way or another.

About the example of the feather, it seems to me that within the last year there was an article about the feather that suggested that the structure of the more primitive feather already contains details that are needed for the fully formed modern feather. Thus, it appears that the feather, when it first emerges, is almost “anticipating” what will ensue.

Does anyone know of a good resource on “directed mutations”? I know Cairns, et. al, had an article in Nature years back. Is there anything current on that?

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on July 7, 2005 12:23 PM.

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