Meyer and Thaxton ask one question and answer another

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[Photo of Chekhov and Tolstoy discussing literature]
Chekhov(L) and Tolstoy(R). Were they discussing the origin of the book?

An article at the Discovery Institute’s website Evolution News reprints a tribute that Stephen Meyer paid to Charles Thaxton, in a preface Meyer wrote to a memoir by Thaxton.

During a session on the origin of life, the scientists discussed a question I had never considered: Where did the information stored in the DNA molecule come from?

….

On February 10, 1985, I learned I wasn’t the only one. On that day I found myself sitting in front of eight world-class scientists, who were discussing the vexing scientific and philosophical question: How did the first life on earth arise?

Um, different question!

The “information stored in the DNA molecule” is of course the precise sequence of bases. Not the existence of the molecule in the first place. And there are well-known evolutionary processes that are capable of putting adaptive information into the molecule by choosing particular bases at each site. They continue to happen long after the origin of life.

Let me explain:

Myers, Phelps dissect creationist video

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I am right now watching an unnamed video in which PZ Myers and Dan Phelps dissect a creationist video by Answers in Genesis functionary Tim Chaffey. The format is essentially that Prof. Myers plays a bit of the Chaffey video, then pauses and – I was going to say they dissect it, but demolish may be the better word.

The original video is rather odd: it appears to have been speeded up, and all the pauses have been eliminated. It is as if they want to get through their arguments so fast that you cannot understand or refute them. (See also: Gish gallop.)

I have not finished watching the video yet, but one thing that caught my attention was this: Mr. Chaffey is at pains to demonstrate that the Ark was big enough to hold all the “kinds” necessary. Apart from his risible contention that sea creatures needed no saving from a flood that could carve the Grand Canyon, Mr. Chaffey seems to think that the Ark had enough space to house the necessary land creatures. In rebuttal, Prof. Myers cleverly looked up the land areas and numbers of species of several zoos, not to mention the number of employees. Suffice to say that the zoos occupied more area than the Ark and had more employees than Noah and his family. (Yes, I know, the zoos need room for visitors. Fine, cut the area and the number of employees by 5 and compare that to the Ark.)

I will watch the rest of the video later on, but please feel free to comment, and do not worry about spoilers.

Ark Park displays giant palm frond

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I was forwarded a press release from Answers in Genesis the other day. They tout a new addition to their collection, a giant palm frond:

Palm frond
Giant palm frond on display at Ark Park. Credit: AIG press release.

"Meanwhile, the Ark Encounter continues to make major additions. On the third deck of the massive ship [sic], a large exhibit highlighting a giant plant fossil is now on display. This unique 10’7” palm frond fossil was discovered in the well-known Green River Formation of Wyoming.

"Dr. Andrew Snelling, head of the research department at AiG, declared: 'It is a phenomenal, world-class fossil. It is not millions of years old. The palm frond was buried catastrophically as a result of the global flood of Noah’s day about 4,500 years ago.' A family in Wisconsin made the fossil’s donation possible."

The palm frond, we note, is in very good condition for something that was buried catastrophically.

Fortunately, Green River Shale fossils are actually common and well-studied, so this display isn’t hurting scientific research as badly as the Allosaurus specimen they received from the neo-Confederate Michael Peroutka. Magnificent specimens like these are very expensive. This one was probably prepared by the Green River Stone Company, a commercial excavator and preparation company that is concerned exclusively with making sales (one of many problems with the commercial fossil market; sales do not necessarily benefit scientific research). Ham’s Wisconsin donors must have deep pockets. I hope the donors and the costs are revealed on a future AiG or Crosswater Canyon IRS Form 990. I will be looking.


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Lamarck rides again?

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[Image of male giraffes "necking", from Wikimedia Commons]
Male giraffes "necking". From Wikimedia Commons

In the previous post, I argued that modern-day critics of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis who think that they are putting forth a Lamarckian theory most likely aren’t doing that, as they do not actually believe that the direction of change toward adaptation comes from use and disuse of organs. To Lamarck, the directionality was not due to external environmental effects being inherited, it was actually the effort made by the individual to use particular organs more or use them less that somehow altered its genetic makeup and it was those changes that were inherited.

And now comes Dennis Noble. A leader of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis group and one of the main organizers of the notorious 2016 meeting on New Trends in Evolutionary Biology brought about by misguided biologists, philosophers, and historians who talked the Royal Society into endorsing it, he has published another outburst.

Noble, an eminent physiologist, points to exosome vesicles that can cross the barrier between the somatic cells and the germ cells in animals, ones that can contain mRNA. These, he argues, can serve as the basis for the effects of use and disuse to alter the herditary material. He does not actually show that this is what they do. A critical issue is whether the effects on the somatic cells then induce in the germ cells a genetic change that is adaptive.

But don’t listen to me. Jerry Coyne has lost his temper and published a critique at his blog Why Evolution Is True. He tears strips off Noble in a rather disrespectful way. Which seems to me to be appropriate. When Jerry gets into a high Evolutionary Synthesis dudgeon, he is well worth reading. You will find his piece here. Noble’s original cri de couer was published here.

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