Monday, July 24, 2006

Evolution According to Ruse: Part One

Take a look at this article entitled 'What Darwin's finches say of Creation' if you want a glimpse at issues underlying the struggle between proponents of intelligent design and evolution. As stated at the end of the article "Michael Ruse, the author, "is the Lucyle T. Werkmeister professor of philosophy at Florida State University and an authority on the history and philosophy of science." Frankly, it is astounding that someone with his credentials makes the basic blunders evidenced by this article. The first part of this article appears in italics. My comments are interspersed throughout the piece. A second post will examine the remainder of the article.

By Michael Ruse

This has been a good year for evolutionists. First, at the end of 2005, a judge in Pennsylvania - a conservative appointed by President George W. Bush - decreed that so-called Intelligent Design Theory is not genuine science and hence cannot be taught in publicly funded science classrooms.

Intelligent Design Theory - Creationism Lite - is the latest attempt by religious fundamentalists, biblical literalists, to argue that the origins of organisms were not evolutionary but the result of injections of divine power.

Here is a mischaracterization. Advocates of intelligent design are not limited to those who are "biblical literalists" to quote the author. They include those with differing biblical interpretations as well as prominent non-Christians like David Berlinski who is Jewish and Mustafa Akyol; a Muslim. Included also are many individuals, of a variety of faiths, who are not well known. In that respect it is very much like evolution.

In other words, God was not prepared or able to let things unfurl naturally according to unbroken law, but got directly involved through miracles.

This is a theological argument and a poor one at that. But if it is theological points Michael Ruse wishes to consider then, if the origin of life can be traced to unknown chemical reactions, why did God conceal the evidence for it? Before genetic changes can occur a genetic code and ordered nucleic acid sequences must first exist. How does this come about through extra-cellular organic chemical reactions? Before deciding that something unfurled according to unbroken law why not specify the empirical evidence showing the pathway from prebiotic conditions to a living cell, Professor Ruse? Why invoke a miracle and call it abiogenesis instead?

The judge rightly ruled that this is not science, it is religion, and violates the Constitution's separation of church and state.

Judge Jones will not determine the outcome of this historic struggle. He's a blip on the screen. Ideally we should be focused on scientific evidence not legal edicts or theological arguments. The separation clause is the most abused legal concept in America. Justified based on selected views of particular founding fathers, primarily Thomas Jefferson as gleaned from a private letter he wrote, the concept has been misused to muzzle views not to the liking of a segment of American society. The founding fathers wanted to avoid the Cromwell experience of Great Britain. They envisioned a government that would not impose a particular religion on America. Intelligent design argues that an intelligent cause best explains evidence associated with natural history. It distinctly repudiates the idea that any particular religious group be endorsed by the movement. William Dembski is not validated because of his Christian views at the expense of David Berlinski or Mustafa Akyol. IDers are identified by their belief in intelligent causality not Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism...

Then from the snowy wastes of northern Canada came reports of fantastic new fossils. Paleontologists from the University of Chicago found forms midway between fish and amphibians. These finds are as exciting as the famous Archaeopteryx, the bird with reptile-like features (small brain, separate fingers, and so forth) or, if you prefer, the reptile with feathers. This newly discovered fish-reptile is christened Tiktaalik, the Inuit name for large, shallow-water fish. It lived in water but had adaptations to make frequent trips out to the dry land. It is precisely what one expects if evolution is true.

The focus has arrived where it should be- the physical evidence. Evolution requires transition states and one would expect to find them in the fossil record. Ruse is pointing to a fossil that could be argued as just such a transitional species. Since the fossil record also shows the sudden appearance of organisms without transitional fossils, the finds identified by Ruse are welcomed by evolutionists.

There is of course more to scientific evidence and recent finds. Here is a hot one right off the griddle.

'Scientists Say They’ve Found a Code Beyond Genetics in DNA'

"Researchers believe they have found a second code in DNA in addition to the genetic code.

The discovery, if confirmed, could open new insights into the higher order control of the genes, like the critical but still mysterious process by which each type of human cell is allowed to activate the genes it needs but cannot access the genes used by other types of cell."

Also another perspective on the same discovery: 'Scientists Discover a Genetic Code for Organizing DNA':

"The team’s findings provided insight into another mystery that has long been puzzling molecular biologists: How do cells direct transcription factors to their intended sites on the DNA, as opposed to the many similar but functionally irrelevant sites along the genomic sequence? The short binding sites themselves do not contain enough information for the transcription factors to discern between them. The scientists showed that basic information on the functional relevance of a binding site is at least partially encoded in the nucleosome positioning code: The intended sites are found in nucleosome-free segments, thereby allowing them to be accessed by the various transcription factors. In contrast, spurious binding sites with identical structures that could potentially sidetrack transcription factors are conveniently situated in segments that form nucleosomes, and are thus mostly inaccessible."

What observable evidence do we have indicating that a second genetic code would result from selected mutations? We have yet to find a force of nature identified as the cause of the original genetic code. The Darwinian mutation mechanism is a modifying not a generating effect i.e. the existence of an encoding system is postulated and changes to it theorized. Origins issues are associated with weak supporting empirical evidence. The news of a possible second code appears to fit within an evolutionary time frame so how does the evidence stack up for it?

Evolution is said to have occurred through changes that became fixed in populations as a result of natural selection. Natural selection was used by Darwin to explain how species evolved. It was a logical argument when introduced and empirical data supporting the concept is still wanting. Bacterial adaptation is well known and perhaps the most commonly cited example of environmentally induced genetic changes. What is not generally appreciated is both the nature of such genetic changes and the nature of genetic changes alleged to have been engendered by an evolutionary process about which extrapolations from unicellular adaptations are used as evidence for the theory.

Observable events involving selected genetic changes have been limited in their scope. They are not observations of new multi-protein systems evolving, but rather are limted almost entirely to changes in already existing systems resulting from single mutations events. The discovery previously cited is identified with specific DNA sequences and nucleosomes. But just as there is more to the letters in your newspaper than the ink composing them, it is likewise the case with genetic codes. The selective value of the code lies in its regulatory effects. The genetic mechanism associated with the shortening and lengthening of bird beaks are simple. The alleles connected with these traits already exist in bird genomes. By contrast there is no historic precedent involving observation of the kind of genetic change required to generate eukaryotic genomes characterized by nucleosomes and encoded signals.

There are encoded signaling systems known to scientists but they are the products of intelligence. They also have a common property namely, the insufficiency of forces of nature to explain the sequential order of the constituent encoding symbols which in this case entails both nucleotides and nucleosomes (themselves encoded end products) having shielding functions. Symbolic encoding conventions, if found outside biological systems, (even in a different part of this universe) would be assumed to be of intelligent origin. The contention that biological systems are different because Darwin showed that natural selection demonstrates unintelligent pathways to biological phenomenon is erroneous. At best it explains restricted circumstances. At worse it is an example of misusing language to argue false analogies. The genetic dynamics associated with changing beak sizes are altogether different from that required to realize the evolution of a nucleosome code and eukaryoric genomic features. Calling both examples of natural selection expresses a personal opinion not an empirically documented argument. Insisting that both phenomenon are comparable and leaving it at that reveals either ignorance, deliberate deception or ideological blindness.


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