As I’ve previously mentioned, there are a lot of state legislatures that are promoting creationism bills right now. Even in Texas though, those bills rarely make it out of committee. Mainly because it is quite obvious what the intention of the bill is (for example, in Missouri here). That is, to allow creationism to be taught and discredit science. Most, if not all, of these bills disguise the discrediting of science as ‘weaknesses of evolution’.
What I thought I would do is take some of these ‘weaknesses of evolution’ and examine them. Hopefully providing a resource to show how these weaknesses aren’t really problems or they have been dealt with by current science.
Our first installment is taken from strengthsandweaknesses.org a website about giving Texans a better science education (by ignoring science, but I will show that). This link has their Essential List of Scientific Weaknesses of Evolution Theories.
In this post we’ll just talk about the first list: “Origins of Life”.
First of all, origins of life is a common area of confusion. Until self reproduction occurs then evolution cannot occur. Therefore, the origin of life is (technically) not a problem with evolution (or even biology), but instead is a issue with chemistry.
Second, this is a very active area of research in biochemistry circles. A few years ago (2009, IIRC), a symposium on recent research on origins of life occurred. Over 200 papers where presented. Just from the previous year or two. So far, in all the research papers on the topic produced since the 1950s (since the Miller-Urey experiment), there has not been a single result that would indicate that basic chemistry cannot develop into what we would consider life.
All it would take is one paper to unequivocally state, this step cannot happen because of x, therefore it is impossible for life to develop without some outside influence. Yet, that has never happened. Indeed, a lot of the steps required for life have not one, not two, but multiple chemically valid steps to achieve the same result.
OK, let’s get to the specific ‘weaknesses of evolution’.
The extreme improbability of obtaining any specific amino acid sequence needed for the proteins of life systems.
Ah yes, the fallacy of the large numbers. It’s a classic. For example, the human hemoglobin B subunit of our blood is 147 amino acids long. Each position could be one of 20 normal amino acids in the human body (there are actually more amino acids than that though). So, the chances of randomly assembling HBB from amino acids is about 1 in 5.605 x10^192.
To give you an example of the improbability of this. It’s like way more improbable than guessing which electron I’m thinking of out of the entire universe. Vastly improbable. Nearly impossible.
It’s a darn good thing that biology and evolution don’t work this way isn’t it?
This is a fundamental mistake in thinking by the creationists (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and not say that it’s simply a trick or a lie).
No biologist would suggest that the HBB protein or gene just popped into existence fully formed, ready to go. HBB is one of the products of several billion years of incremental changes, duplication events, mutation events, and selection.
Every allele and protein that is produced in every organism on the planet has a multi-billion year history of changes, refinements, and mistakes. It is exceedingly difficult to track these changes because genes and proteins don’t fossilize. But we can examine distantly related organisms to see what changes in genes have occurred and see if those organisms have those genes.
Globins, for example, is a large group of proteins. Hemoglobin is just one variant of globins. There are entire groups globins in fish, worms, bacteria, even plants. This is actually excellent evidence of common ancestry and that my claim that modern hemoglobin didn’t appear fully formed.
Almost every single organism on the planet has a globin type protein. That’s an indication that the first globin appeared very early in the evolution of organisms. Now, when I say ‘appeared’ I don’t mean rabbit/hat appeared. Even with genes and proteins, there’s always a first. At some point, some allele produced a protein that wasn’t quite globin, but then a mutation of some kind happened and it resulted in a protein that was so useful, it has been required by living things ever since.
That may sound like a just-so story, but the evidence is quite compelling. Glb3 is a haemoglobin protein in plants that binds oxygen and carbon dioxide. HbN is a haemgolobin protein that bind oxygen allowing certain bacteria to detoxify nitric oxide. Leghaemoglobin is the oxygen carrier for legumes that allows them (well, the symbiotic bacteria) to fix nitrogen.
All of these are remarkably similar (pretty much all oxygen carriers), but in vastly different organisms. This also shows how different organisms have used variations in globins to occupy specific niches. Evolution isn’t ‘what do I need to survive’, it’s ‘here’s what I have, how can I use it to survive’ (allowing for the anthropomorphism of things that don’t think and can’t control their genetics).
In conclusion, no one (except maybe creationists) expect complex, long chain proteins to appear fully formed. That’s not how evolution works. It’s not how reality works. Basically, the creationists are expecting a neolithic tribe that has just discovered fire to produce a space shuttle.
This is an excellent paper those goes into detail about what I’ve just discussed. HEMOGLOBINS FROM BACTERIA TO MAN: EVOLUTION OF DIFFERENT PATTERNS OF GENE EXPRESSION (PDF) It’s not the only one either. And notice the date, 1998. This kind of research that shows the varying ancestral genes and the (sometimes massive) changes to individual lineages’ genes and proteins is not cutting edge. In many cases, it’s 20 or more years old.
Another excellent example of this is the work of Richard Lenski and his long term evolution experiment. He started the project in 1988 and has been growing Esherichia coli for over 25 years now. Not only is he growing them, he’s keeping samples of every 500 generations (about 75 days). By sequencing the current generation genes and any past generation genes, he can actually show where mutations happened and what caused specific effects in the bacteria. He’s currently well over 50,000 generations of bacteria in his lab.
The most exciting thing to come out of this research was a complete accident. The researchers use citrate to stabilize the growth medium. They use citrate because E. coli can’t metabolize it. However, between generation 30,000 and 30,500 a mutation occurred. The bacteria were now able to consume and use citrate in their bodily processes.
That’s pretty cool, but it gets better. Remember he’s freezing a population sample every 500 generations. he’s been able to go back in time with the populations and found out that no bacteria before generation 27,000 has ever been able to generate a descendant that produced a citrate eater. Some mutation happened about generation 27,000 in one bacteria. That mutation caused the potential for future mutations to allow the bacteria to utilize citrate. Only bacterial descendants from a specific population have a small chance of, at some point, developing the ability to use citrate. But the ability is there and when it appears, it is a very powerful mutation.
Citrate is a totally unused niche in the bacterial population in that lab. A bacteria that doesn’t have to compete for food can reproduce rapidly without having to forage or be under stress for low food.
Here’s where Lenski and some students and colleagues analyzed all those genes. You know what they didn’t find? Any evidence of a deity or intelligent designer. They just found simple mutations. Simple mutations, natural selection, and an ability that never before existed in E. coli populations. Indeed, the inability to metabolize citrate is one of the defining characters of E. coli. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Lenski thinks that this is a new species or even a new genus of bacteria. Right there, in the lab, for all the world to see.
The creationists don’t get it, don’t want to get it, and just keep spewing the same misinformation.