Dembski and Human Origins

William Dembski has just posted an essay on human origins on If there was any doubt that the Intelligent Design movement was about religious belief rather than science, this essay dispels that doubt.

In this rather peculiar essay, he makes it quite clear that “Design theorists” reject the idea that humans evolved from a common ancestor with apes.

I could go on at some length on the numerous mistakes Dembski makes in biology in this essay. I will limit myself to just one area, the genetic similarity between humans and chimps. Dembski has a problem with the 98% similarity between Chimpanzee and human DNA, (actually, it is closer to 99.2%, when data from the human genome and chimp genome projects are compared.) and he goes out of his way to try and minimize the impact of this, revealing his deep misunderstanding of biology in the process.

Dembski wrote:

Consider, further, that chimpanzees (like the other apes) have 48 chromosomes whereas humans have only 46 chromosomes. . .

Yes, consider it. This is presumably meant to throw doubt on the 98% figure, because gee, humans have lost a pair of chromosomes compared to chimps. But we have 46 chromosomes because two chromosomes that are separate in chimpanzees are fused in humans. This doesn’t affect the similarity of our DNA one bit.

Then, after a far too long section of alternate versions of a Hamlet soliloquy, he makes this remarkable statement.

Dembski wrote:

The similarity between human and chimpanzee DNA is nothing like the similarity between these two versions of Hamlet’s soliloquy. With the two versions of Hamlet’s soliloquy, we’ve lined up the entire texts sequentially. By contrast, when molecular biologists line up human and chimpanzee DNA, they are matching arbitrarily chosen segments of DNA. It’s like going through the works of William Shakespeare and John Milton, and finding that 98 percent of the words and short phrases they used can be lined up letter for letter and therefore are the same.

Ahh, no its not. Its more like comparing two different editions of the complete works of Shakespeare and finding that 98% of the proof text is identical. Remember, we now have the first draft of the complete chimpanzee genome to compare to the human genome. We have virtually the same genes, in the same order and locations, with only minor sequence differences between human and chimp genes On chromosome 22, of the 231 genes identified, 179 show a coding sequence of identical length in human and chimpanzee and exhibit similar intron-exon boundaries. For those 179 genes, the average nucleotide and amino acid identity in the coding region is 99.29% and 99.18%, respectively. Of these, 39 genes show an identical amino acid sequence between human and chimpanzee, including seven in which the nucleotide sequence of the coding region is also identical (see the recently published chromosome 22 gene sequence. It is not the arbitrary mish-mash that Dembski portrays.

Note also that Dembski doesn’t mention the shared errors between humans and chimps, like the shared broken ascorbic acid gene, or the bits of shared broken viruses that litter human and chimp genes, that provide compelling evidence of shared ancestry.

Aside from his continued misunderstanding of biology demonstrated in this essay, which would take a long essay to deal with (his misundersatnding of the implications of altered gene expression paterns alone is worth an entire essay), his essay shows that the intelligent design movement is essentially a religious movement.

Dembski wrote:

Design theorists have yet to reach a consensus on these matters [whether humans are redesigned apes or built from scratch]. Nevertheless, they have reached a consensus about the indispensability of intelligence in human origins. In particular, they argue that an evolutionary process unguided by intelligence cannot adequately account for the remarkable intellectual gifts of a William James Sidis or the remarkable moral goodness of a Mother Teresa.