Category Archives: evolution

Should YECs do a Phd?

It has been a while since I have posted something on this blog and I have decided that it was time to write another blog post about a big question that has bothered myself for a long time.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am fairly convinced that the earth is only 6000-12000 years old, which is obviously not in line with the modern scientific world-view. Creation and especially advocating the young-earth creationistic position is not done in mainstream science.

For me and other christian biology students it is often a big question whether we should pursue a academic carreer. And it is not difficult to see why. When almost all people are convinced of the evolutionary framework it is difficult to reconcile one’s faith-based position with that view on science. There is a league of scientists around that would say that evolution-deniers are not suitable to walk on an academic carreer path.

But on the contrary of those often heard statements about pseudo-science, I actually know several christian students which are actively involved in research related to biology and genetics.

…But my brain is still going around and around in circles whether I should pursue an academic carreer and start with a Phd. 

As of know I know all arguments for and against it, but I am curious about your opinion about this. Please enter a reply with your opinion about this case below!

A response to Tyler Francke

Often young earth creationists (YECs) are ignorant and stupid in their reasoning and do not think about what arguments they give in advance of the creation perspective. Let’s be clear, for me being a  YEC, this really is not something of which I am proud to say it.

But it is more than true. As creationists we could learn a thing or two about humility and respect towards the beliefs of others, which often are in great contrast with our own beliefs.

Recently I read an article that was posted on the website www.godofevolution.com, which is a website that tries to argue in advance of harmony between evolution and christianity. This website was founded in 2013 and is led by Tyler Francke and in one of his articles he tries to explain why believing in a young earth has seriously bad theological implications.

He names three theological implications (which I have summarized below). For a more extensive writing you should read the original article by Tyler Francke:

  1. God is a liar: The YEC position must assume a deceptive God because most of the scientific evidence is against the YEC position (radiocarbon, Vredefort crater, continental drift, Y-chromosome ancestry, etc).
  2. Faith  is unnecessary: God puts a premium on faith in the Bible. There is no reason to have faith, because there is no power in objective facts. The argument is that YEC don’t have to believe, because they claim to have reasonable objective facts.
  3. Unbelievers must be avoided: YEC creates a gap between believers and everybody else. So in other word, YECs do not see the great commission as of importance.

I have thought about above stated theological implication, whether I should comment on this or not, because to me it is quite obvious that those implications are not true and based on unreasonable arguments. So in short, I could not pass on my moral obligation to nothing and the comments below are my own reflection and commentary on the ‘three serious theological implications of young earth creationism’.

Last year,  I read an article by Todd Wood about ‘surrender‘ and I really encourage you to read this essay because it conveys an important message about how the conversation should go between evolutionists and young earth creationists. 

I quote:

I think that the God who created this universe is still God enough to help us work out our differences. I know that His Word will accomplish what He sends it to do. He doesn’t need my help to get the point across. He doesn’t need me to defend Him. If we believe that God is sovereign – if we really believe it – then we really ought to relax and let Him do His work. Surely He can sort out all these debates when we seek His guidance, but if we try to control things ourselves, to selfishly get the other side to admit we’re right, we really will bring shame on the gospel.

I confess that these acts of surrender will not be easy. I really do want to recognize God’s sovereignty and to give up my vain desires, but as a young-earth creationist, I have grave concerns about the mixing of evolution and Christian theology. I feel like I need to do something, but maybe that something is surrender. Maybe I should cast myself at Jesus’ feet and ask Him to help my unbelief. I hope you’ll do the same, and perhaps together we’ll see God move in a remarkable way.

I think He’d like that.

That is  the starting position which I submit myself to as a young-earth creationist. But what about the ‘seriously bad theological implications’ that Tyler Francke is talking about? Should we surrender, and admit that those are true? Or should we engage in an conversation about the contents of the implications? The last option is the one that I have chosen.

The first theological implication would be that God is a liar, because the scientific facts are mostly against the YEC position. This argument is based on the assumption that the theories that are made are objective and true. But there’s also faith (I will talk more about faith when I review the second implication). My faith in an inerrant Scripture is not based on facts. It is because I believe that our Creator has created the world in six days and rested from His works on the seventh day. And what is more important? What the Scripture says, or what scientific theories say?

The view that humans are fallible, while God is infallible, is not a new view, but we can already see that in the first pair of humans. We are not perfect, but God said to Moses that the earth is created in six days,  as we read in Exodus 20:11.

Ex 20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Does that make God a liar? If God has said it, we ought to believe it or not?

The second theological implication is that faith is unneccessary. Talking about objective facts is dangerous, especially when in the first implication was stressed that God is a liar, because the scientific facts say otherwise. Abraham is a man who is remembered because of his strong belief in God. According to the Bible he was the MRCA of the Jews and the Arab people.

I definitively agree with the statement that there is more power in faith than in reason. As said before, humans are fallible. But what I do not agree with is the statement that YECs do not need faith. They need it, but seek confirmation in science or theories and observable facts around us. That is quite the opposite of what Tyler Francke is talking about.

The third theological implication is that non-believers must be avoided. Creationists often say that evolution has deleterious effects on belief and worship of God. That’s true, and if people claim that, they should have an explanation with solid arguments for saying that. But to say that YECs do not take the great commission seriously is simply not true. I have heard YEC speakers which talked in a humble way about their beliefs and faith in Christ to a large sceptical audience. I have spoken with other YECs who are very active in reaching out to non-believers.

Creationism does not teach that non-believers should not be reached. There is no doctrine that tells this, and there is no YEC who has ever said that reaching out was not important. This is not a consequence of YEC beliefs, and it really cannot be stated that creationism says that other people should not be reached.

Surrender is something that asks a lot and I admit that I have often little patience for surrender. That is an observable fact in my life. And that’s maybe also why Tyler Franck wrote this article, because we as YECs are  often not good at surrendering ourselves. That is not a good thing and we should be ashamed at ourselves.

In order to advance the conversation about evolution and creation, surrender is needed. I once talked to fellow students about my creationist beliefs, and they asked me what I thought of bold claims that creationists often make, and I replied that I could not see another option than creation,  because of my faith, but that my faith also requires respect for people who tend to disagree with my position on evolution.

 

 

Evolutionary stasis? – Change and abruptness

Recently I read something about species stasis and I thought that I would be nice to look into that in more detail.  First I want to define species stasis. In general  species stasis is defined as little or no morphological change in an evolutionary history, which spans several million years.

Naturally the punctuated equilibrium theory of Stephen Jay Gould comes to the mind of evolutionists. It is nowadays clear that many examples can be found that exhibit species stasis. The most well-documented examples are the Cheilostomes which show species stasis that spans 2-16 million years, without noticeable morphological change (Jackson and cheetham, 2001).

Normally it is assumed that when species display a stasis for a long period, that much of the morphological change is observed in a short time-span  in a brief time in which speciation occurs.  That’s also the core beneath the punctuated equilibrium theory of Gould (Eldredge and Gould 1972). Continue reading Evolutionary stasis? – Change and abruptness

Wonders of Creation – Birds of paradise

With thanks to Jerry Coyne for pointing out to the marvelous and miraculous pics and video that the Guardian published last week. It shows the sexual behavior of birds from the family of the Paradiseidae. 

Although my beliefs differ quite a lot from the views on life that Coyne has, we have to acknowledge that it’s indeed one of the hardest questions in evolutionary biology.

For the time being, just enjoy and wonder about why God may have created a mechanism that caused the different sexual behaviors of those birds and perhaps more important, how such mechanism would operate in nature.

 

 

Fishing and Science – an Analogy

Last week I was travelling by bus and when I had to wait at the bus station, two little boys were also waiting for the bus to arrive. Apparently  those boys had bought fishing gear and with the most proud faces I have seen, they looked at the stuff they bought and demonstrated to each other their possessions.

They were talking and really enjoying their things that they bought. When the bus arrived, they took the same bus as me, and because I was seated behind them, I could overhear their conversation about fishing and how marvelous it would be to get out on Saturday and trying to catch the biggest fish they had ever seen. They just were content with what they had bought and about what they were going to do.

Those boys marveled at the little things that life brings us. As adults, we are often more consumed with ‘bigger’ things in life. At least, that is what we do think. But the real question here is whether the biggest thing in the life of those boys is the same thing that we would aspire.

They were amazed and intrigued by simple things that happen around us. The boys were in a sense, representative of what a real scientific attitude should like.

A real scientist should be curious about what is happening around us, and should put out his fishing gear in open water and wait until a fish is caught. Sometimes big fishes are caught, but remember that most fishes are little. But many little fishes make up a big fish.

The water is open, but you do not see the fish swim. You do not know which fish you will take up. It could be a negative fish, or a positive fish. Or if you would like that, a neutral fish. For a fisherman it would be very nice to see where the fish swim, then they can trow out their fishing rod and fish up a positive result. For a scientist it is important to trow out the fishing rod blind-sighted.

Scientists should not let their feelings and ideology interfere with the results. When developing a scientific creationist theory for biological similarity, creationists should not fish out only positive results. Or more importantly, when researching evolution they should not omit all confirming results or studies. That is not called science.

We should not let that happen.

Adaptive evolution or not?

It is always fascinating to see when theoretical predictions are validated by empirical evidence. As a scientists, this is the ultimate vindication of your hard laborious work to obtain knowledge about a particular subject. And that is what is happening at this moment in evolutionary biology. In the forthcoming issue of Nature Genetics  several authors try to examine the empirical foundations of adaptive evolution.

Adaptive evolution is the process in which traits evolve by means of natural selection. In general those adaptations contribute to the fitness and survival of individual organisms. For several decades it was already known that three broad concepts underlie adaptive evolution.

  1. The probability of fixation of an allele depends on the effective population size (Ne) of the population in question
  2. The fate of the allele depends on the frequency (P0)when positive selection begins to act. So for de novo mutations initial frequencies are low and alleles are more likely to be lost
  3. The size of the beneficial effect determines how efficient selection is on a particular allele. This is called the selection coefficient

In recent decades it became more feasible and possible to analyse the signatures of selection in a genome. For example by the development of molecular techniques, like genomics,  it has become possible to quantify the amount of variation that occurs in a population for a given allele and indeed validate much predictions that were made by theoretical evolutionary biologist in recent decades.

Continue reading Adaptive evolution or not?

Facts and interpretation

the fact factory [website link]

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense except in the Light of Evolution (Theodosius Dobzhansky)

In my previous post I pointed out a striking difference in the interpretation or representation of actual data by two creation scientists. In this post I want to think this important subject in more detail.

In science there are facts, and there is interpretation, and from the first one follows the other. As humans we have to interpret the data around us to make sense of the world. When people are interpreting data, they are assigning meaning to certain abstract objects that are found to be true.

So it is an easy solution to the problem saying that creationists and evolutionists interpret fact differently, and so to say, through their different worldviews. But that’s a rather simplistic explanation for the major differences in interpretation between those two groups.

But let’s first examine the question what a scientific fact is. A scientific fact originates through application of the scientific method. And they should be independent from the one that observes that particular fact. So by now you understand that not every fact is a scientific fact. By proposing a hypothesis or theory people interpret the facts. In that way it is really clear that creationists interpret data differently than evolutionists.

And it is easy to fall into the fallacy, that every interpretation is allowed that is based on the same data. And for creationists it is easy to say that they interpret data through a different worldview and therefore stop the discussion about that interpretation.

Because there can be competing theories, which are both credible. And there can be one validated theory and another less sophisticated theory. And finally there can be one theory in which facts are interpreted by people in the same way again and again.

Is it interpreting the facts in a different way? That’s true. But at the same time it is, and will ever be, a search for the best scientific explanation of something that is happening around us. And when we cannot find another better explanation based on creation, we have to admit that evolution explains it better.

Back to the creation-evolution fact interpretation controversy. When I see how evolution makes sense of the world around us, I  really do think that evolution explains many phenomena in a better (scientific) way. Sometimes, using evolutionary assumptions it is more easy to interpret your data and to make sense of it… That is at least my experience, and I think that all creationists should admit that.

But of course, based on my ideological belief that the earth exists only 6000 years,  and that the Scripture is the key to the ultimate Truth, I have to say that I do not believe that the Darwinian conception of life is true.

But scientifically speaking I can say, unconditionally,  that the light of evolution shines very clearly over a broad range of phenomena. And my conclusion would be that interpretations in science are different from interpretations that are occurring in the daily world.

But is not a too easy answer to marginalize the role of ideology in the creation-evolution debate? That is something that I want to discuss in a future post.

We will be there!

The future of creationism relies for the larger part on the next generation of creation scientists. No one would disagree with that. The Next Generation of Henry Morris, Wood and others has not yet risen. At least that is what the Natural Historian said on his blog in an article with title ‘The Next Generation of Creation Scientists‘.

Simply said the post is about why and how a young earth creation scientist is generated.  Education indoctrination is one, and that does not create scientists. Many creationist call themselves scientists, but they aren’t.

Scientists are people who strive to understand the (natural) world based on observations. To make sense of the world in a scientific way, one needs to be educated in.. yes.. science.

That’s important. Young Earth Creationists need to be challenged. When I am following classes about evolution and genetics, I constantly hear that the earth is created billions of years ago. The organisms have evolved from simple to more complex as man.

And it takes a considerable amount of energy to keep up with that. It’s not easy. It is not easy to attack well-known principles in evolutionary theory. But there are people who are trying to be good creation scientists and they can do that.

And when good scientists are formed, and the keep faith, they will become good creation scientists. But you’ve got to have strength. And you have to come up with the willpower to think critical. But the bottom-line is that this is not enough.

When I graduate I hope to continue my career in science, but at the same time I hope to   have my own family. And to become a good creation scientist you need to invest a lot of time and energy. And than the question is what are your priorities.

But there will be creation scientists in the future. Just watch. And they will built upon the foundations that Henry Morris and colleagues have placed firmly on the rock that is the Bible.

So there will always be creation scientists. I want to be one. And I know several other students in genetics who are willing to contribute to a creationist worldview.

And the key to get more creation scientists, is to heavily invest in science education. And be open as a community to criticism.

There are still several games in town..

Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recent interview with Richard Dawkins shows in a summarized way what Dawkins thinks about evolution. When talking about education, Dawkins said:

There’s only one game in town as far as serious science is concerned. It’s not that there are two different theories. No serious scientist doubts that we are cousins of gorillas, we are cousins of monkeys, we are cousins of snails, we are cousins of earthworms. We have shared ancestors with all animals and all plants. There is no serious scientist who doubts that evolution is a fact.

Look at what is happening: A world-renowned defender of evolution decries flat-out that evolution is a fact. Sure, there is an overwhelming evidence for evolutionary theory, and that explains that he is saying that evolution is a fact. Just like gravity.

Continue reading There are still several games in town..

Junk DNA revisited – Implications for creation science

Junk DNA is dead. At least that is what the recent paper in Nature proposed. The press coverage was huge and responses varied. But the general reaction was that junk DNA does not exist anymore. The whole genome has a function, or at least a biochemical function.

For scientists and especially for geneticists this is a happy hour. Exciting research with exciting consequences. I was thinking about design and what implications this does have for creation science. Todd Wood said in his post about the ENCODE results that it is important that creationists do not use those results for their propaganda purposes.

And I definitively agree!

As you all know when genes are passed on through the generations, changes happen. Mutations occur. The majority of those mutations are deleterious, and could cause for example a knock-out in a gene that codes for a transporter protein that transports substances from the cytoplasm to the vacuole.

When a mutation causes malfunction of a gene, most of the times it still can be transcribed into RNA. You would expect to find biochemical activity. The functionality is gone, at least if you look to the gene product that does not work anymore. And that process happens also when you think that organisms are designed.

So you would expect DNA that does not have a real function (If you define function by having an effect on the phenotype). The number of mutations that is deleterious is huge and therefore you expect rubbish DNA that doesn’t have any impact on the growth and development of an organism. Any function does not count for real function.

And that’s why we have to look at the ENCODE results.

The ENCODE scientists have analysed 147 cell types. Each different cell type transcribes different genes and so different sorts of biochemical activity is found in different cell types. When combined they give an estimate about the amount of the genome has a biochemical activity

The authors of the article state the following:

Operationally, we define a functional element as a discrete genome segment that encodes a defined product (for example, protein or non-coding RNA) or displays a reproducible biochemical signature (for example, protein binding, or a specific chromatin structure).

And more:

From comparative genomic studies, at least 3–8% of bases are under purifying (negative) selection, indicating that these bases may potentially be functional. We previously found that 60% of mammalian evolutionarily constrained bases were annotated in the ENCODE pilot project, but also observed that many functional elements lacked evidence of constraint.

And:

Interestingly, even using the most conservative estimates, the fraction of bases likely to be involved in direct gene regulation, even though incomplete, is significantly higher than that ascribed to protein-coding exons (1.2%), raising the possibility that more information in the human genome may be important for gene regulation than for biochemical function. Many of the regulatory elements are not constrained across mammalian evolution, which so far has been one of the most reliable indications of an important biochemical event for the organism.

So when I read that, I see several things:

  1. There’s a huge amount of regulatory elements discovered in all different cell types
  2. 80% of the genome has a biochemical signature, so perhaps involved with the regulation and things like that.
  3. At least 3-8% of the bases are under purifying selection (which means that those are constrained in evolution).

But does it have big consequences for creation science? No not really. It just shows that regulation is more important and width-spread in the genome than previously thought and that probably the structure of the genome is more intricate and sophisticated than we thought. 

Evolutionary scientists have longtime assumed that when something in the genome is not constrained by selection, that it is not functional. But in the past decade more and more was discovered about the genome and the concept of junk DNA was already shrinking.

For me it was not a big surprise that much of the genome has a biochemical function. It was already known that more and more of the genome had a biochemical function. This was just the confirmation.

And it also depends on the definition of junk. What do you call a function, and what’s useless?  There are probably some implications for creation science after all. But they are little ones.

  • First of all when people ask you why a designer would fill the genome up with useless stuff, you can answer that most of the genome is functional and that this does not count as an argument against design in nature. 
  • Second you could say that it is more probably that a designer would fill up the genome with functional bases, and that the little non-functionality are remnants of our short evolutionary history, but that is a counter argument against objections to design, and not an argument for worldview based on design. 

So trivial

  • Third, The ENCODE results show that regulation is more non-constrained than the biological function that genes code for. And we know that regulation is generally more species-specific. So that could have the implications for shared ancestry, but we do not know that yet.

And that’s just speculation. We need probably an ENCODE project for apes as well (Its costs will be less than $ 1,000,000) Then we can compare it. See what the differences are and what overlap can be seen.

And we have to realize that we know less than we thought we knew. So that’s humiliating. But we cannot say that this is a major victory for ID and creation science. It’s just science progressing.

See also my previous post about the ENCODE results

Please share your thoughts!