Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm Not Sure What To Say About This (UPDATED With Additions)

I have a confession to make. I have chided ER in the past about his occasional need to travel to fundamentalist Christian websites and get embroiled in arguments. Yet, I, too, commit the same sin. Neil's 4Simpson's blog is a favorite of mine to visit.


If I knew the answer, maybe I would avoid it.

Anyway, I saw this post, and was wondering what, exactly, Neil's point was in posting it. The title is misleading, because it attempts to dismiss an article that points out the fact, well-known among scientists and those scientifically literate, that human beings and chimps share all but %1.5 percent of their genetic code. That "45,000,000" number represents the differences. Now, this has been known for some time, and is unremarkable. This makes chimps far closer, genetically, to human beings than any other living creature, which is important for all sorts of reasons.

Yet, Neil, being a creationist, attempts to make something out of nothing here. The analogy he uses as a closer is about as dumb as it gets.
Nearly all cars have 4 wheels. That doesn’t mean they were genetically related, just that the designers have a model that works well so they replicate it. Perhaps next time the Chronicle will have headlines stating that “chimpanzees and humans are both carbon based life forms” or “Houston is hot in the summer.”

Neil also notes that there are common genetic strains among all life on earth. Nothing surprising there, since the biochemistry that governs evolution would provide for carrying all sorts of material that is just baggage. Birds have genes for teeth, yet those genes are chemically "switched off"; scientists have developed birds with teeth by turning those genes on.

Again, this is no big deal.

Was Neil's point that this article was not scientific in some way? Was his point concerning what he calls "the unproven assumption" about common ancestry for humans and chimps? Since the genetic similarity between humans and chimps is far closer than any other related species, it seems to me pretty clear this proves the whole common ancestry thing. It isn't about using an unproven assumption; it's about using science to test a theory.

Now, I know that Neil says truth is correspondence to reality. He and I have gone down that road before. Since this is a case of reality not corresponding to Neil's understanding of truth, I just wonder how he deals with it?

Oh, that's right. He wrote this post to show that he deals with it by showing off his lack of scientific literacy.

UPDATE: Maybe this isn't fair. Maybe it isn't even nice. The following partial paragraph contains what, I am quite sure, Neil accepts as devastating, unanswered questions that refute the whole concept of evolution.
It would have been nice if they had explained how the DNA could have tens of millions of changes in only a few million years (according to their theory), as well as how it kept changing at the same pace throughout the human population without us veering off into multiple species. Or if it changed at a rapid pace, why did it do so for some and not others? And how did the males and females just happen to evolve similarly and simultaneously?

The scientific ignorance behind these questions is staggering. The idea that "only" could be applied to the phrase "a few million years" by a human being genetically programmed to live no more than 120, and limited to less than that by a variety of environmental factors is surprising. Human beings think of a couple millennia as a long time. Even a couple centuries is almost beyond our comprehension. A hundred millennia? A thousand?

The whole "male and female" thing just defies credulity. Does he honestly believe this is some kind of devastating question? If so, that only shows how truly ignorant of contemporary science he is.

How sad.

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