Grab-bag: Speciation, Fossils, Radiometric Dating, Bogus Young Earth, Cytochrome-c
PREFACE (for blog) to Letter “STAN 2”: At a meeting in April, Stan made a presentation in which he claimed that the scientific evidence actually supports a young (6000 year old) earth and that evolution cannot account for the complexities found in the cell. He handed out a 25 page package which claimed that mutations are essentially all degenerative and thus it is not legitimate to extrapolate from observed microevolution (which is mainly selection among existing gene variants) to macroevolution, which depends on the appearance of new, beneficial genes. The package also claimed that the second law of thermodynamics militates against evolution, and that the fossil record is better explained as a rapid mass burial process (i.e. one-year global flood) than slow deposition over many millions of years. The package made arguments against the mainstream scientific evidences for an old (billions of years) earth, and recycles some 1986 claims from Michael Denton that inter-species patterns in cytochrome-c protein are inconsistent with evolution.
This is a huge range of topics. Some of them were new to me at the time, but I responded to many of them in this letter after doing some more reading. I already believed that the earth is old, based on reading in geology, but I assumed that there was much to be said on the side of a young earth, considering the confidence and energy of the good, godly men (not many women are involved) who promulgate this view. However, in every single case where I managed to dig down to the original data, I found that the young earth arguments were so obviously false that it raises questions about the sincerity of their advocates. At this point in my creation/evolution journey I knew almost nothing about molecular biology and the mechanism of evolution. See STAN 3 and STAN 4 for my later findings on mutations and natural selection, and Grand_Canyon_Creation for an extended statement on science vs. Bible.
This is probably the most random letter on this blog. The order of topics is driven by their order of treatment in Stan’s package. Hopefully each section will make sense of itself
Here are the sections in these sprawling letter:
BENEFICIAL MUTATIONS ARE RARE BUT EFFECTIVE
MACROEVOLUTION AND SPECIATION
INCREASES IN GENOMIC INFORMATION
RATES OF EVOLUTION
THERMODYNAMICS AND EVOLUTION
FOSSILIZATION AND FOSSIL SEQUENCES IN SEDIMENTARY ROCKS
FOSSILS OUT OF ORDER: THRUST FAULTS
RADIOMETRIC DATING OF ROCKS
BOGUS EVIDENCES FOR A YOUNG EARTH
PATTERNS IN CYTOCHROME-C PROTEIN IN VARIOUS ORGANISMS
CREATION STORY AND BASIS OF HUMANITY
Dear Stan, May, 20XX
It was good to see you at the meeting last month. At your invitation, I will offer some comments here on your information packet, which makes arguments against evolution and in favor of a young earth. In keeping the organization of your packet, this letter will deal first with biological evolution, then with geological evidence.
You clearly want to serve the Lord and have a blessed ministry with young people. I will proceed on the assumption that you want your presentation to be truthful. I will therefore be frank in my remarks. However, I am always open to dialog and correction. I am no expert in biology, having last formally studied the subject in high school over 30 years ago. I have simply tried to read on both sides of certain issues and apply the technical judgment I have developed in a career of applied research.
BENEFICIAL MUTATIONS ARE RARE BUT EFFECTIVE
(1) On the page “Clarifying Terms..” you state:
Mutations provide little useful variation for two reasons:
1. They are rare 2. They are typically damaging to the phenotype (the physical expression of the trait in question).
This does not give a realistic picture of the effects of mutation. As I noted in a letter to you in April, there is plenty of evidence, on the microevolution scale, of beneficial mutations, which are selected for and become fixed in the population. For example, I referred you to several examples in Miller’s book. In just a few minutes poking on the internet, I found more examples, e.g. http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB101.html .
However small they are, these are bona fide mutations (e.g. point mutations for specific amino acid), not just exchange of plasmids from another organism. Also, here is an example on the web of a mutation that allowed a bacterium to digest nylon fragments: http://www.nmsr.org/nylon.htm . As this article notes, this is such a juicy example of beneficial mutation that creationists have tried to dismiss it, but without success. ( For the record, this “nylon bug” mutation was originally thought to be a frameshift, but more recent work indicates it was a two amino acid substitution. )
You cannot honestly omit mention of these, when they drive some of the very examples of microevolution that you cite. A more realistic way to state your points, which does not omit essential factors, would be:
Mutations may or may not provide useful variation for several reasons:
1. They are rare 2. They are typically damaging to the phenotype (the physical expression of the trait in question), but individuals with these mutations will tend to be eliminated from the population 3. Only rarely is a mutation beneficial; yet individuals with these mutations will tend to thrive and pass their genes to succeeding generations.
The extent to which mutations are actually eliminated or retained in a population depends on factors such as population size, reproductive rate, environmental stressors, and how strongly the mutation affects the phenotype.
If you see any errors in this wording, please let me know.
On the page headed “Darwinian Evolution – An Exercise..” there is a similar and unacceptable omission of beneficial mutations. You can’t just make a blanket statement that 99.9% of mutations are known to be unhelpful. There are various estimates, for various species, and most of these estimates cannot be regarded as rock-solid. You would have to do a good-faith search of the literature and cite a range of findings. Some studies place the fraction of beneficial mutations over 5%. With your familiarity with the biology literature, you should be able to find some review article that pulls together some of these estimates.
So there is abundant evidence for beneficial mutations which you cannot simply ignore. Also, here would be a good place to define that “beneficial” depends on the organism’s environment. Organisms will tend to get optimized over long periods of time for a particular environment (assuming the conditions of adequate population, reproductive rate, strength of mutations, etc. are satisfied) within the constraints of the laws of physics and chemistry, etc. – – so you would not expect to see many amazingly better organisms pop up, in that same environment. However, if the environment changes, then you would expect a different phenotype and hence a different genotype to be preferred; some mutations which were neutral or even harmful in the original environment are now beneficial.
Hence, I would suggest under your point 1.b. (Deleterious mutations) that after Sickle Cell Disease you add parentheses, “(in non-malarial regions)”. And there needs to be a point 1.c., listing instances of beneficial mutations. These would include at least some of the ones from your microevolution section, plus others I have referenced in my earlier letter to you, plus “Sickle Cell Disease (in malarial regions)”, since you bring that up under deleterious mutations. Again, if the whole inhabited world was subject to malaria, and anti-malarial drugs were not available, the sickle-cell condition would be regarded as strongly beneficial.
MACROEVOLUTION AND SPECIATION
There is no reason to suppose that the modest mutational changes in the DNA of organisms studied in the last say 400 years cannot be extrapolated, to keep on going and going. All the evidence of the fossil record and the recent detailed picture we have of the genomes indicates that that is exactly what happened. The human genome, for instance, has all sorts of features that look like insertions, deletions, etc. The burden of proof lies on those who claim there is some defined limit to mutation, which stops at the current gene pool. No one has demonstrated such a limit. Behe posits such a limit, but mainly through arguments from silence, not from positive arguments. And even he puts this limit beyond the species level.
You cite the peppered moth as a bogus example by evolutionists of speciation – but that is just a straw man. Most evolutions would not claim this as an example of speciation, merely of natural selection of modest existing variations within a species. The implication of your presentation is that speciation is never observed. It seems that naturally occurring speciation events can take something like 10,000-5 million years, so the fact that they are rarely observed is no problem for evolution – -that is what it predicts. But it is not true that new species have never been observed.
Various examples of speciation, in the sense of reproductive isolation, have been observed. Miller’s book Finding Darwin’s God gives two examples from the fossil record, on p. 45 and p. 120. The example on p. 120 shows a steady change in the morphology in the shell of a Bahamian land snail fossils over some 15 thousand years, spanning from one ancient extinct species to a different, modern species. Also, people can take a small population of fruit flies, subject them to some stressor or other selective situation, and after some months or years, you have a new species, which does not interbreed with the parent population.
An essay at : http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section5.html
has a few paragraphs summarizing speciation events, copied below:
The standard phylogenetic tree illustrates countless speciation events; each common ancestor also represents at least one speciation event. Thus we should be able to observe actual speciation, if even only very rarely. Current estimates from the fossil record and measured mutational rates place the time required for full reproductive isolation in the wild at ~3 million years on average (Futuyma 1998, p. 510). Consequently, observation of speciation in nature should be a possible but rare phenomenon. However, evolutionary rates in laboratory organisms can be much more rapid than rates inferred from the fossil record, so it is still possible that speciation may be observed in common lab organisms (Gingerich 1983).
Speciation of numerous plants, both angiosperms and ferns (such as hemp nettle, primrose, radish and cabbage, and various fern species) has been seen via hybridization and polyploidization since the early 20th century. Several speciation events in plants have been observed that did not involve hybridization or polyploidization (such as maize and S. malheurensis).
Some of the most studied organisms in all of genetics are the Drosophila species, which are commonly known as fruitflies. Many Drosophila speciation events have been extensively documented since the seventies. Speciation in Drosophila has occurred by spatial separation, by habitat specialization in the same location, by change in courtship behavior, by disruptive natural selection, and by bottlenecking populations (founder-flush experiments), among other mechanisms.
Several speciation events have also been seen in laboratory populations of houseflies, gall former flies, apple maggot flies, flour beetles, Nereis acuminata (a worm), mosquitoes, and various other insects. Green algae and bacteria have been classified as speciated due to change from unicellularity to multicellularity and due to morphological changes from short rods to long rods, all the result of selection pressures.
Speciation has also been observed in mammals. Six instances of speciation in house mice on Madeira within the past 500 years have been the consequence of only geographic isolation, genetic drift, and chromosomal fusions. A single chromosomal fusion is the sole major genomic difference between humans and chimps, and some of these Madeiran mice have survived nine fusions in the past 500 years (Britton-Davidian et al. 2000).
While the fusing of two chromosomes in most primates into one in humans is the most obvious genomic difference between humans and chimps, there are of course many others. Further listings of speciation events are found in:
Thus, it is valid to extrapolate the micro changes we see now, back into the past. No barrier to speciation has been shown. The frog/prince picture presented in your packet, where a frog instantly turns into a (human) prince, is therefore misleading. In that fairy tale, there is no plausible mechanism for transformation. However, mutations plus natural selection is a plausible mechanism for turning a frog into a prince. You may fairly argue that it isn’t 100% proven, as indeed it may be impossible to prove anything in the past, but it is a reasonable projection of currently observed processes.
INCREASES IN GENOMIC INFORMATION
Your explanation of this frog/prince diagram again does not engage the fact of beneficial mutations or the lack of barriers to ongoing mutational change over millions of years. Mutations ARE “able to meaningfully increase the information content of gene pools”. See, for instance, http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB102.html , which addresses the creationist claim that evolution cannot increase information:
- It is hard to understand how anyone could make this claim, since anything mutations can do, mutations can undo. Some mutations add information to a genome; some subtract it. Creationists get by with this claim only by leaving the term “information” undefined, impossibly vague, or constantly shifting. By any reasonable definition, increases in information have been observed to evolve. We have observed the evolution of
- increased genetic variety in a population (Lenski 1995; Lenski et al. 1991)
- increased genetic material (Alves et al. 2001; Brown et al. 1998; Hughes and Friedman 2003; Lynch and Conery 2000; Ohta 2003)
- novel genetic material (Knox et al. 1996; Park et al. 1996)
- novel genetically-regulated abilities (Prijambada et al. 1995)
If these do not qualify as information, then nothing about information is relevant to evolution in the first place.
- A mechanism that is likely to be particularly common for adding information is gene duplication, in which a long stretch of DNA is copied, followed by point mutations that change one or both of the copies. Genetic sequencing has revealed several instances in which this is likely the origin of some proteins. For example:
- Two enzymes in the histidine biosynthesis pathway that are barrel-shaped, structural and sequence evidence suggests, were formed via gene duplication and fusion of two half-barrel ancestors (Lang et al. 2000).
- RNASE1, a gene for a pancreatic enzyme, was duplicated, and in langur monkeys one of the copies mutated into RNASE1B, which works better in the more acidic small intestine of the langur. (Zhang et al. 2002)
- Yeast was put in a medium with very little sugar. After 450 generations, hexose transport genes had duplicated several times, and some of the duplicated versions had mutated further. (Brown et al. 1998)
The biological literature is full of additional examples. A PubMed search (at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi) on “gene duplication” gives more than 3000 references.
- According to Shannon-Weaver information theory, random noise maximizes information. This is not just playing word games. The random variation that mutations add to populations is the variation on which selection acts. Mutation alone will not cause adaptive evolution, but by eliminating nonadaptive variation, natural selection communicates information about the environment to the organism so that the organism becomes better adapted to it. Natural selection is the process by which information about the environment is transferred to an organism’s genome and thus to the organism (Adami et al. 2000).
- The process of mutation and selection is observed to increase information and complexity in simulations (Adami et al. 2000; Schneider 2000).
RATES OF EVOLUTION
A reasonable question is whether observed rates of mutation today are fast enough to account for the rate of changes over geologic time. As I noted to you verbally, there are various estimates of natural mutation rates. In Finding Darwin’s God, Miller (pp.109-110) described one study where David Reznick moved some guppies from a pool where they were under severe predator pressure, to a different pool upstream above a waterfall, where there was less predation. In the new environment, the guppies became on average larger and slower to reach reproductive maturity. They were able to measure the genetic changes involved, and therefore measure the rate of genetic change. It turned out that the rates they observed were well above the rates estimated for many changes observed in the fossil record, so it is not the case that evolution is too slow to account for the fossil series.
Agreed that no reasonable path to life from chemicals has been demonstrated. Should we be should relieved that at last one major unexplained “gap” remains in the formational economy of the universe for God to (supernaturally) fill ? I honestly don’t know.
THERMODYNAMICS AND EVOLUTION
Anti-evolutionists keep trying to claim that the second law of thermodynamics (an increase in entropy or disorder, in the absence of energy input) militates against evolution. Your packet
(a) Acknowledges that the earth is a thermodynamically “open” system, since it receives energy from the sun in the form of radiation
(b) Notes that direct exposure to solar radiation can degrade DNA, and
(c) Claims that no mechanism exists to covert the energy in sunlight to evolutionary progress
Points (a) and (b) are correct, while (c) is not. As I noted earlier to you, since the earth’s biosphere receives energy in the form of sunlight, and since the mechanism of photosynthesis can harness that sunlight to assemble random CO2 and H2O into more ordered sugars, etc., the second law argument has no force. Incoming sunlight ultimately drives the whole food chain, metabolism, reproduction, etc., including mutation and natural selection. An simple acorn develops into a large oak tree with differentiated tissues, including new generations of acorns, all powered by photosynthesis. Thus there a mechanism to convert solar radiation into useful evolutionary work. Your conclusion that “the entropy problem for macroevolution appears to be insurmountable” is not true.
You are confusing kinetics with thermodynamics. The 2nd law (thermodynamics) as applied to the biosphere as a system cannot at all militate against evolution. However, it is a different and fair question to ask whether the vigor of metabolism, the power of natural selection, the balance of beneficial and deleterious mutations, etc., will be sufficient to maintain a species and even let it evolve into some improved form, vs. degrade and maybe go extinct. That is a complex issue of competing rates of processes (kinetics); merely stating the solar radiation can promote mutation does not accurately address it.
FOSSILIZATION AND FOSSIL SEQUENCES IN SEDIMENTARY ROCKS
Your package claims that a world-wide catastrophic flood is the best explanation for the fact that fossils of soft-bodied organisms in warm-weather climates have been preserved, claiming that an average sediment deposition rate of say 1 inch per 1000 years would be too slow to cover the carcasses before they rotted or were scavenged. This argument fails to recognize that there are enormous local variations in sedimentation rates, so in some places there are many feet per year deposited. Specific points to note:
1. The average rate of sedimentation in the oceans is only marginally relevant. The main expanses of the ocean floor are way out at sea, with relatively slow rates of sedimentation; and most of these sea floors get subducted back under other plates; so the main action is on or around the edges of the continental plates, where deposition rates will be higher.
2. Rapid burial is not necessary for rapid preservation – -fossils can be preserved by falling in a peat bog or on an anoxic lake bottom, areas where decay is slow or nonexistent. For instance, the bodies of European “bog people” have survived hundreds or thousands of years without substantial decay.
3. Geologists understand that much fossilization is associated with local catastrophes, with no need to invoke a global flood – note the location of bison fossils below does not comport with global flood, but it does comport with local flooding events.
From http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC363.html :
Rapid burial is common as a result of processes that are local catastrophes or that can scarcely be considered catastrophes at all, such as
burial in sediments in a river delta
burial in sediments from a local river flood
burial in a small landslide, as along an eroded stream bank
burial in ash from a volcano
burial in a blown sand dune
Patterns of fossilization are consistent with noncatastrophic processes such as those mentioned above. Fossilization occurs as a result of all those different processes, not as a result of a single catastrophe. And it occurs where we would expect on the basis of commonplace processes. Bison fossils, for example, are found in active floodplains, not in upland areas.
4. The alternative explanation offered in your package of sorting fossils by ecological zones or by hydrological sorting does not remotely fit the facts. Many index fossils have been identified, which occur in rigorous order all over the world.( see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_fossil for a brief list). Note that many of these index fossil sequences were identified before Darwin’s theory was published, so geologists here cannot be accused of circular reasoning (i.e. assuming evolution to be true in order to justify the fossil sequences). Here is just one of many possible examples of marine invertebrate marker fossils (bolds in the original):
http://www.geocities.com/earthhistory/pflood.htm [this link no longer works]
The distribution of graptolites in the fossil record has been meticulously studied by biostratigraphers. Clifford Cuffey (2001) writes:
“At a more detailed level, the development of Ordovician graptolite biostratigraphy in North America provides a good case study of biostratigraphic methods based on faunal succession (Berry, 1977), and one that is independently testable (Goldman et al., 1994; Mitchell et al., 1994). Fifteen graptolite biozones have been recognized, defined, and refined by nearly a century of detailed work. Based on superpositional order, the same succession of graptolite species and zones is recognized in New York (Ruedemann, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1925, 1947; Berry, 1962, 1963, 1970; Mitchell et al., 1994; Goldman et al., 1994), Quebec (Riva, 1969, 1974), Newfoundland (Kindle & Whittington, 1958; Whittington & Kindle, 1 963), west Texas (King, 1937; Berry, 1960; Bergstrom, 1978), Yukon (Jackson, 1964; Jackson & Lenz, 1962), and east-central Alaska (Churkin & Brabb, 1965). Moreover, isolated localities with only short stratigraphic sections can be compared with portions of the zonation defined elsewhere (Ross & Berry, 1963). No assumption of evolution was made. The fact that this same succession occurs repeatedly in different regions all over North America, and that the succession can be independently verified by anyone willing to recollect the localities, leads to the conclusion that geochronologic correlation based on biostratigraphy is valid.
“This conclusion can be independently tested. The Middle Ordovician Trenton Group and Utica Formation of New York contain three of the graptolite zones and also contain numerous K-bentonite beds (Goldman et al., 1994; Mitchell et al., 1994). Because the K-bentonite beds are volcanic ash-falls, they represent geologically instantaneous isochrons. Furthermore, trace element geochemistry of their contained volcanic glass distinguishes each K-bentonite bed, assures proper co rrelation, and establishes a geochronologic framework to which the graptolite zones can be compared (Goldman et al., 1994; Mitchell et al., 1994). Indeed, the graptolite zone boundaries are parallel with the K-bentonite beds, therefore indep endently corroborating graptolite zones as time-parallel (Goldman et al., 1994; Mitchell et al., 1994). This independently demonstrates the validity of biostratigraphy on a local scale, and corroborates its use as a method of geochronologic correlation [The Fossil Record: Evolution or “Scientific Creation”? emphasis mine].
[Creationists] should explain how a global flood and.or liquefaction processes could perfectly sort graptolites into a consistent vertical sequences over an area of hundreds of thousands of square miles, despite the fact that they all would have possessed very similar hydrodynamic properties. [end quote]
[Note: the extended and informative Clifford Cuffey quote above is from a GCSSEPM (http://www.gcssepm.org/pubs/pubs_list.htm) presentation, The fossil record: Evolution or “scientific creation” which may no longer be available.]
If the lower rock layers contained only marine life, and the upper layers only terrestrial life, the ecological zone theory would be plausible. But that is not the case. In the same locale, you can find layer after layer of rocks, with alternating marine and terrestrial/lacustrine depositional environments, and always with the index fossils occurring in the same order (unless there is some obvious crustal faulting). Within the same ecological niche, there is the usual sequence of fauna – -you only find (swamp-dwelling) dinosaurs in the middle Mesozoic layers, and you only find (swamp-dwelling) hippos in higher Cenozoic layers. Dinosaurs and hippos are not all jumbled together in the same layers, as a gigantic flood would do.
The following link has a description of the rocks under part of North Dakota, where layers exist from every period of the geologic column (in proper of index fossils, as usual).
It’s several pages long – longer than I want to copy here, but well worth a read. Besides all the animal burrows, note the giant evaporated salt beds somewhere in the middle of the column, which is in the middle of the Flood year , according to flood geology. Also, to have all the dinosaurs spring up in the middle of the geologic column, sometime after the 40 days of rain but before the waters receded, reproducing, pooping, laying eggs on the ground (that ground consisting of a lower “Flood” layer) makes no sense.
In sum, it is not truthful to lead your readers to believe that ecological/hydrodynamic sorting explains the fossil sequences.
FOSSILS OUT OF ORDER: THRUST FAULTS
One quick side note on fossil sequences out of order – – I read The Genesis Flood by Whitcomb and Morris in my teens and became a convert to young earth creationism largely on the basis of this book. It seemed to present a solid factual basis for questioning mainstream geology. Mainstream geology claims that there are certain areas where older layers have been forced up over onto younger layers. These “thrust faults” usually occur in conjunction with mountain ranges, which makes sense since the crust is being pushed together in those zones.
But Whitcomb and Morris taught that the notion of wide scale thrust faulting was a lame evolutionist cover-up for a failure of evolutionary geology. They claimed that the massive “Lewis Overthrust” in Montana was bogus. There, over hundreds of square miles, Pre-Cambrian limestone lies atop (younger) Cretaceous shale, which of course is out of normal sequence. Relying on descriptions by young earth creationist Walter Lammerts (co-founder of Creation Research Society) Whitcomb and Morris claim that there is no evidence of the rock layers sliding past one another, and even showed a photograph by Lammerts of one “old” layer sitting calmly atop a “young” layer, with no deformations. This would appear to falsify normal geology. I was mightily impressed by this and used it as a cornerstone of my rebuttals of mainstream geology.
However, as I am finding with every young earth claim that I actually investigate, the young earth position is not based on the facts. The link http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/lewis/ shows pictures of classic deformation along the fault line. There is reason to believe that the photo by Lammerts was not in fact a picture of the actual fault. The Lewis overthrust is part of a clear system of thrust faults that run along the whole western side of the Rockies; it is not some ad hoc excuse by evolutionists for some embarrassing local out-of-order layers.
“ If the geologic column is flawed, then one might wonder why oil companies and mineral exploration companies feature it so prominently in their exploration research. One test of scientific validity is to examine how utilitarian the science is. Companies who stake their livelihood on the science of geology would certainly abandon the notion of Geologic correlation were it so useless as [creationist] Woodmorappe/Peczkis believes… I also challenge ANY CREATIONIST to demonstrate a global flood stratigraphy that is not only useful in correlating strata, but also of economic importance.” – Joe Meert
Your package notes the existence of “polystrate” fossils, large organisms such at trees, whose body structures are found penetrating through many layers of sedimentary strata. The package goes on to claim in “the evolutionary model” one inch of sediment is roughly equal to 1000 years of time, so the top of a 40 foot upright tree trunk might sit in water 400,000 years before finally getting buried, which is absurd. That is supposed to show that mainstream geology fails, and that these fossils are best explained by a world-wide flood. That is false. The fallacy here is applying the same, average (slow) sedimentary deposition rate everywhere. That is not a truthful portrayal of the geologists’ views. Uniformitarians recognize that deposition is fast in some times and locales, and slow in others. It’s well known that trees and whatnot can be rapidly buried in many feet of sediment in local flooding events. It has been observed to happen in the 20th century. And even your presentation noted a recent case. So these fossils do not need a global flood to explain them. See http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/polystrate/trees.html .
Further, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polystrate_fossil ) points out that often these polystrate fossil trees have intact roots growing in fossilized soil layers below the tree. These fossilized soils rest on sedimentary rock layers under them. These features do not mesh with sudden deposition of the underlying layers, the soil, then the trees, all from the swirling waters of a world-wide flood. Rather, they demonstrate a much longer time-frame: first, the underlying sediments were deposited on the floor of some body of water. Then these layers were raised up out of the waters, at least long enough for soil to develop, and big trees to grow in place in that soil. The trees were then buried quickly by some event like a volcanic eruption or a river changing its course. Then yet more sediment was heaped on, for everything to turn to rock. This all could not happen in the course of a single Flood year.
While you are presenting various aspects of the sedimentary layers, you should, for a balanced point of view, expose students to things like fossilized developed soil layers (“paleosols”) and fossilized animal burrows and termite mounds that occur in paleosols embedded in rock layers somewhere in the middle of the geologic column. See, for instance, http://gondwanaresearch.com/hp/paleosol.htm .
These are terrestrial features, which would take years to develop. Again, these features lie atop some layers of so-called Flood deposits, and are covered by more of the same types of layers. In flood geology, these layers are supposedly deposited by a worldwide catastrophic flood, scouring the land and depositing the bulk of the rock layers, all in a year or so. You can’t have these long-term terrestrial features forming underwater as the Flood sediments rain down around them. I know that young earth creationists fight back gamely in their non-peer-reviewed publications on these issues, but Flood geology just doesn’t fit the facts.
INTERMEDIATE (TRANSITIONAL) FOSSIL FORMS
In your very title here, you touch on a key issue. From population genetics, we would expect major, rapid (on geological timescale) mutational shifts to take place in small isolated populations (leaving few or no fossils), not in the bigger currently dominant populations. Therefore, we would not expect to see many TRANSITIONAL forms; after the new species form and maybe branch/radiate some, and displace some older forms, we should see a reasonable number of (somewhat discontinuous) INTERMEDIATE forms. And that is exactly what we do see in the fossil record, in general. Only rarely (see above on speciation) does the record include all the stages of a speciation event. Gaps abound, but they are getting filled in, however slowly, and mainly with intermediate, rather than transitional forms. It is fair to note the gaps, but you must also note the occurrence of the intermediate forms right in the fossil record where they are called for (e.g. with fish à amphibian; and with reptile à mammal transitions), and not splashed elsewhere in the fossil record.
Also, your treatment claims that there must be many transitional forms, with tiny incremental changes in index structures all along the way. But we know that is not necessarily true. Modest changes in DNA can cause huge and abrupt alterations in morphology, e.g. making a whole extra pair of (nonfunctional) wings appear in fruitflies, or giving a whole sixth finger on a human hand (polydactyly). In fact, this is apparently a key factor in converting Michael Denton from the great critic of evolution in the 1980s to a believer in the fact of evolution (though he may remain skeptical that purely random processes are sufficient) – here are some non-contiguous quotes from his Nature’s Destiny (1998):
“One of the most surprising discoveries which has arisen from DNA sequencing has been the remarkable finding that the genomes of all organisms are clustered very close together in a tiny region of DNA sequence space forming a tree of related sequences that can all be interconvert via a series of tiny incremental natural steps”
“So the sharp discontinuities, referred to above, between different organs and adaptations and different types of organisms, which have been the bedrock of antievolutionary arguments for the past century, have now greatly diminished at the DNA level. Organisms which seem very different at a morphological level can be very close together at the DNA level.”
“Thus, new organs and structures that cannot be reached via a series of functional morphological intermediates can still be reached by change in DNA sequence space.”
“In the case of primate DNA, for example, all the sequences in the hemoglobin gene cluster in man, chimp, gorilla, gibbon, etc., can be interconvert via single base change steps to form a perfect evolutionary tree relating the higher primates together in a system that looks as natural as could be imagined. There is not the slightest indication of any discontinuity.”
These quotes show an about-face from his views in Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1986). Before the 1990’s, there was room for reasonable doubt about the common ancestry of organisms. I can understand if some of your opinions were formed back then. But now that the details of the genetic code have been unraveled, it is obvious to anyone open to the evidence that our genomes bear the marks of common descent.
RADIOMETRIC DATING OF ROCKS
Radioactive dating of the earth’s rocks shows them to be far older than allowed by young earth creationism. Your package states several “Basic Assumptions” here, but doesn’t get them quite right. You should add as point (2b) that: “If there is reason to suspect subsequent heating (metamorphism) of a rock after its initial formation, the radiometric dating in liable to be incorrect.”
As stated, your assumption (3) is not strictly correct. It reads, “When the rock being dated first formed it contained a known amount of decay product.” Only the K-Ar (old-fashioned version) method assumes known (=zero) starting amount of radiogenic Ar. The other methods employ an isochron methodology to correct for having some fixed but initially unknown amount of decay products in the rocks.
You should also add the following points:
(6) Care must be taken during sample collection to ensure that all the minerals in all the rock samples formed at the same time from the same homogeneous magma (cogenetic).
(7) The laboratory instruments used to measure the isotopes must have sufficient precision for the particular task.
There is a young earth creationist “R.A.T.E” project which does some radioactive dating experiments, produces results that do not agree with conventional expectations, and on that basis proclaims that conventional rock dating is a sham. However, if you dig into the RATE literature, you will find that they nearly always violate one of the above requirements for valid dating, so it’s no surprise that (a) they generate discordant dates when they do radioactive dating, and (b) no one outside the creationist community takes them seriously.
The vast majority of radiometric dating results are self-consistent, a fact which young earth creationists cannot account for. All they can do is snipe at a few outliers, which the geologists usually already know to be poor measurements.
http://www.tim-thompson.com/plaisted-review.html (see references therein)
“..interlaboratory studies on radiometric dating and multiple analyses on outcrops with different methods are nothing new. Examples are cited in Harland et al. (1990) for Phanerozoic samples and Dalrymple (1991) for meteorites and Precambrian outcrops. One of the older and well-known interlaboratory studies is Lanphere and Dalrymple (1965). The results of this study are also described in some detail in Jaeger (1979, p. 23-25). In Lanphere and Dalrymple (1965), 55 laboratories were sent a muscovite standard for dating. The average K/Ar date for the muscovite was 83.0 million years and the average Rb/Sr date was reasonably close at 85.7 million years. Interlaboratory standard deviations were only 1.2% for the K/Ar dates and 2.8% for the Rb/Sr dates. These excellent results refute creationist claims that K/Ar and Rb/Sr methods are inconsistent or imprecise. “
and from Chris Stassen http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/feedback/jan99.html [emphases in the original] :
- For example consider the Albian Stage, which sits roughly in the middle of the Cretaceous. It was identified in the 1840s — more than a century before isotopic methods became widely utilized — by distinctive fossil composition. The identification was performed by geologists who believed in fixity of species, decades before Darwin published Origin of Species. It cannot be argued that the age or position of the stage is driven by “evolutionary” concerns.
Harland et al. (A Geologic Time Scale 1989, pp. 89-90) report more than 30 samples from several locations which (by stratigraphic position) were formed during the deposition of the Albian Stage. The number of samples for just that one stage is greater than the number of bad ages that Snelling produces. Unlike Snelling’s list, these samples are ones which have the highest appearance of suitability — for example, least evidence of weathering or later metamorphism, greatest concentration in the relevant isotopes. Several of the reported individual numbers are in reality the “aggregate” result of a suite of several samples and several measurements. The results are (values in millions of years, by K-Ar methodology except red which are Rb-Sr):
|95.00 ± 1.00||98.70 ± 2.50||100.00 ± 0.80||104.40 ± 0.75|
|96.18 ± 3.11||98.90 ± 1.23||100.27 ± 3.00||105.36 ± 0.91|
|96.18 ± 3.14||99.00 ± 1.12||100.60 ± 0.50||106.00 ± 0.50|
|96.50 ± 1.35||99.24 ± 3.38||100.60 ± 2.50||107.45 ± 5.00|
|97.50 ± 1.00||99.25 ± 1.39||100.62 ± 4.02||110.48 ± 3.87|
|97.60 ± 0.48 2||99.40 ± 0.65||100.62 ± 4.00||114.76 ± 4.01|
|97.60 ± 1.00||99.60 ± 2.50||102.57 ± 4.10||116.05 ± 1.24|
|98.22 ± 2.00 1||99.70 ± 1.10||103.10 ± 0.95|
|98.22 ± 3.22||99.72 ± 0.76 3||103.55 ± 4.00|
|98.35 ± 1.16||99.77 ± 0.98||103.58 ± 0.72|
The correlations are even more significant than the above list indicates on its own. Formations sitting on top of Albian formations date to younger than 97Ma; formations sitting below Albian formations date to older than 110Ma. Not only do the list of best-sample Albian dates fall into a consistent range, that range is in agreement with the ranges of formations which were necessarily deposited before and after (by simple geological relationships that even Snelling would agree with).
Why do these samples from all over the world — identified by distinctive fossil composition — consistently date to similar values by multiple isotopic methods?
The mainstream scientists’ answer is simple: the results consistently agree because the methods work, and because the Albian stage represents a span of roughly 15 million years of time, roughly 100 million years ago.
But what is Snelling’s answer to the same question? If the methods are as wildly unreliable as he would have us believe, and all Albian formations were deposited at most 6,000 years ago… why is there a consistent pattern of results agreeing on ages more than four orders of magnitude off? [end quote]
Your package attempts to discredit radioactive dating by citing five cases where hardened lava from relatively recent volcanic eruptions was dated by the potassium-argon (K-Ar) method to be many thousands of years old. The first thing to note is that, except for the Hawaii lava, the error in dates is less than 500,000 years. That seems like a lot, but when dating rocks that are say 50 million years old, that is only a 1% error. So it doesn’t invalidate K-Ar dating as a whole. Potassium decays very slowly, so this method is best suited to rocks that are many million years old. If you apply it to recent lava flows, you are likely guaranteed to get erroneous results. It is simply the wrong method for this case.
Geologists understand that there is occasionally some excess Ar trapped in lavas when they form, which would give a K-Ar age which is too high. This is why, for these cases, they use the newer Ar-Ar method, which in most cases compensates for excess Ar. For instance, the 79 A.D. lava/ash flow from Mt. Vesuvius (cited in your table as a failure of radioactive dating) was dated correctly using the Ar-Ar method. [ by P. R. Renne et. al. , published in Science 277: 1279-1280 (1997) ]. The creationists don’t tell you about this successful radioactive dating of Mt. Vesuvius eruptive ash ! See Radiometric Dating Does Work! for further discussion of Ar in lavas (including Mt. Vesuvius), plus many more examples of consistency in broad swathes of radioactive dating measurements.
And about that 200-year old Hawaiian lava supposedly dated at over a million years ? That, too, used to be one of my favorite anti-old-earth examples. Except now when I dig into it, I find the reality is that as this lava rose up through the earth, it carried with it some little chunks of unmelted and much older rocks with it, known as xenoliths or inclusions. The lava wasn’t hot enough to melt them. What the scientists were dating was not the lava itself, but the inclusions, as you can tell from the title: J. G. Funkhouser and J. J. Naughton, “He and Ar in Ultramafic Inclusions”, Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 73, 1968, pp. 4601-4607. [from http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/creation/hawaii.html ]. These old chunks were dated as old, as they should be. As for the lava itself, its Ar content was undetectable, giving essential a zero (i.e. very recent age), as appropriate. So the full facts are consistent with an old, not a year earth. This is yet another example of creationists not giving the real picture, thereby practicing outright deceit.
Something like 95%, by one estimate, of measured radioactive rock dating are in accordance with the normal geological dates. Of the remaining 5%, many involve cases where the geologists knew ahead of time that some of the necessary conditions for dating may not be present (e.g. rock was reheated), but they gave it a shot anyway. In sum, the picture that your current presentation gives of radioactive dating being a wild hodgepodge of guesses and errors is simply not an honest portrayal of the field.
I browsed through the Y.E. creationist book you lent me, “Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth.” Nothing there stood out as a challenge to the mainstream view. The authors go into some detail on factors that can cause invalid dating of rocks – e.g. that elements can migrate if a rock is reheated. All true – – but all that does is explain why sometimes the radioactive method gives bad dates if all the proper conditions for dating aren’t met. It doesn’t overthrow the whole method, and certainly doesn’t militate for some burst of accelerated radioactive decay 4000-6000 years ago. As noted early, such a burst of radioactivity would have re-melted the earth! The creative Dr. Humphries has outdone himself by proposing accelerated cosmic expansion to compensate for the accelerated heat release, but there is just no evidence for any of these young earth constructs. See here for a list of articles which deal with the YE creationist R.A.T.E. project.
BOGUS EVIDENCES FOR A YOUNG EARTH
In the package there is a long table entitled “TABLE 1 – Uniformitarian Estimates – Age Of The Earth”. This table seems to have been taken from Morris and Parker, “What Is Creation Science?”, 1982, pp. 254-255. It has 68 rows. Each row has two entries, one for “Process” and a corresponding one for the “Indicated Age of Earth” according to that process. For instance, the first entry is “ 1. Decay of earth’s magnetic field”, with an indicated age of 10,000 years. Most of these estimates of the earth’s age fall in the range of 100 thousand to 100 million years.
The package calls attention to the fact that all of these estimates are much lower than 4 billion years. The intent of including this table is to try to discredit the 4+ billion year age of the earth as established by radiometric dating of rocks, and to suggest that earth is actually much younger than that.
I am not an astronomer, and have picked up only a little geology, so I cannot comment on all these items in your Table 1. I was able to assess over half of these items:
#1, # 23 – decay of magnetism. You seemed particularly concerned about that, so I spent some time googling and synthesizing here. I will send you a separate 7-page memo on findings. [Note this memo appears on blog as “PaleoMag”]. The bottom line is that the rotation of the earth and its core seems to account for the magnetic field and its fluctuations. No evidence for young earth here. No validity to extrapolating current decline rate way back in time.
A bunch of these items are obviously not serious “uniformitarian estimates of the age of the earth” – e.g. #6, 7, 9.
#40 “Cooling of the earth by heat efflux – – 24 million years” – this is an 1890’s estimate by Lord Kelvin which did not take into account the generation of heat by radioactivity in the earth.
#5, 11, 41 – probably some old estimates which do not take into account sea floor spreading/subduction
#8 “Efflux of Helium into the Atmosphere”, #36 “Accumulation of Dust on the Moon”– I have looked into these and found them to be bogus –see e.g. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-age-of-earth.html, which also debunks some other young earth claims.
#27 “Formation of river deltas – – 5000 years” – obviously bogus – who is claiming that the Mississippi delta must be less than 5000 years old ? In fact, Gulf of Mexico sediments are cited as evidence for old earth.
The biggest single category (32 out of 68 items) in Table 1 is the rate of accumulation of elements in the ocean – – but it looks that these numbers are just the amount in oceans divided by rate of input, with no accounting for the REMOVAL of these elements from the oceans (by precipitation, sorption in ocean floor, etc.). So these are not meaningful estimates of the earth’s age. The fact that these same calculations give estimates ranging from 260,000,000 years for sodium down to 100 years for aluminum show that this whole approach is nonsense.
In the case of sodium, Humphreys made an estimate of sodium residency time including estimates of sodium removal rates [http://tccsa.tc/articles/ocean_sodium.html ], but Morton noted that he underestimated some key removal rates: see
So…since 100% of the items I looked into are false or inapplicable, and these items are more than half of what’s in the table, I think it’s safe to assume the rest are bogus also. So this table is not a fair representation of the scientific asepcts of the age of the earth.
A realistic presentation of uniformitarian estimates of the age of the earth would be:
4.55 billion – – U-Pb Radioactive dating of Canyon Diablo meteorite for the formation of solar system. This meteorite is considered the best standard available, since it contains many different minerals.
4.53 – 4.58 billion – – Other meteorites
4.54 billion – – Terrestrial lead ores of galena
4.4 – 4.5 billion – – Moon rocks
4.57 billion – – Sun’s age determined by computer models of stellar evolution
See Wikipedia – Age of the Earth for references.
Various lines of evidence indicate origin of the universe was around 14 billion years ago, which sets an upper limit to the earth’s age. And there are of course any number of factors that can set lower limits (e.g. oldest living trees).
PATTERNS IN CYTOCHROME-C PROTEIN IN VARIOUS ORGANISMS
On page 21 of your package you include a quote from Michael Denton’s Evolution: Theory in Crisis (1986), pp. 280-281, on cytochrome-c. This is a protein that is relatively small (hence easily studied), which is widely found in life-forms. Different organisms can have slightly different forms of cytochrome-c. Denton observed correctly that a wide variety of eukaryotic species, from yeast to mammals, have about the same amount of differences between their cytochrome-c, and that of bacteria. In this passage you quoted, Denton claimed that this constitutes a challenge to the theory of evolution. He was mistaken, but his argument here is of historical importance, because it helped launch both Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe on their Intelligent Design careers.
It has long been recognized that Denton made a fundamental blunder in his treatment of cytochrome-c. He did not properly take into account the continued evolution of the cytochrome-c in the bacteria line, since the time of divergence between the bacteria and the animal ancestor. Here is the picture:
O — common ancestor of bacteria and animals
. O — common ancestor of fish and humans
. . .
Bacteria Fish Human — TODAY’S bacteria, fish and humans
This implies that all animals TODAY should have roughly the same amount of cytochrome-c differences from bacteria TODAY, since they have all had the same amount of time to mutate since the divergence of the two ancestral lines. However, there has been less time since the last common ancestor of fish and humans, so there should be more similarities between humans and fish than between humans and bacteria. See table in http://www.antievolution.org/people/wre/evc/argresp/sequence.html , which shows exactly these trends. If you want to provide a realistic presentation of cytochrome-c, you should include this table in your presentation and note how thoroughly it conforms to evolutionary expectations and how it refutes Denton’s claim.
CREATION STORY AND BASIS OF HUMANITY
There is a consistent pattern in your paper of suppressing the evidence in favor of evolution. The paper implies that beneficial mutations do not exist or have been shown to be negligible; were you ignorant of the examples that I found in a few minutes on the internet and in Miller’s well-known book, and sent you earlier? Do you not recognize that the overall pattern of fossils supports evolution, even if few fully transitional forms have been found? Did you believe that all the items in your Table 1 were credible? It appears that you did not exercise due diligence on issues known to be controversial, like the geologic column, radioactive dating, or cytochrome-c . Did you take time to Google web sites with pros and cons, in order to carefully weigh the evidence? Did you go to http://www.talkorigins.org to test the counterarguments to your views?
I don’t believe that you intended to be inaccurate, but it appears that your mind was made up ahead of time in a way that influenced your presentation. In my experience, people oppose evolution for two main reasons. Given those motivations, they then latch onto whatever real or imagined scientific weakness or gaps they can find in macroevolution. One reason is a desire to maintain a literal interpretation of Genesis. I will include some pages of a presentation in which I explore this issue. This presentation also covers some evidence regarding age of the earth. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I would value your thoughts and input here. Suppose the history of the earth and the biosphere is what nearly all PhD scientists believe it to be (big bang, evolution, etc.), how should we interpret Genesis 1-3 ? A stimulating question here is: what sort of creation story might be appropriate for God to inspire Moses to write for a gaggle of runaway slaves in the Sinai desert in 1400 B.C.? A discourse on cosmic background radiation and dinosaurs? Or a narrative that refutes the religious constructs of their pagan neighbors and that links their tribes back to creation by Yahweh, through traditional and comprehensible ancestral genealogies? Jesus was always conveying truths by telling stories which never “really” happened. Is figurative language deceptive, or revelatory?
The final issue I’d like to address is what difference to our humanity, value, etc. it makes, whether the first homo sapiens sapiens was miraculously created 6000 years ago versus non-miraculously formed 100,000 or so years ago. The answer is: it makes absolutely no difference. Here’s why: you, and everyone you know, including your students, did not exist say 100 years ago. How did they come into existence? By a completely natural process of sperm fertilizing an egg, with subsequent cell division, differentiation, etc. In God’s providence, as we grow, our soul is developed through a combination of genetic and environmental factors, interacting with our choices and thoughts. In His grace He can bring spiritual life to this bag of dilute proteins. (How the mind/spirit interact with the brain puzzles me – would appreciate your insights here).
Our parents came into existence through the same natural process, and the same for our grandparents, great-grandparents, and on back for dozens or thousands of generations. To us today, it logically cannot make any difference whether it was dozens or thousands of generations ago, or whether the first human was formed from ape or from dust. It simply makes no difference to the people we are now – to our bodies, souls, or spirits. To claim otherwise is not correct, and can distract people from valuing the care and providence of God that has brought them into existence as the individuals they are, through the processes that He has ordained in this world. That care and providence is what I suggest that you call your students’ attention to, as they seek to know their place in the universe. As evidence for design, you can point to the whole fabric of the universe with its physical constants finely tuned to allow for carbon-based life. This honors the Creator and is consistent with is revealed in His creation.
You probably have a shelf full of pro- and anti- evolution books by now, but the one I’d recommend that seems to deal most fully with both the scientific and theological issues, from an evangelical point of view, is Coming To Peace With Science, by Darrel Falk. Also, I will enclose some commentary on the Sanford book you sent me.
Well, this has gone on longer than I had intended. As promised, I have been frank. I have learned from this exercise. I hope it will be of benefit to you, as well. You have a beautiful heart for God and for people. I have put a lot of my time into writing this letter because I respect your integrity and believe that you will carefully consider the issues raised here. I hope that you can strengthen your ministry by perhaps becoming more fully informed in some of these issues. I look forward to discussing any of this with you. Feel free to contact me.
COPYRIGHT SCOTT BUCHANAN 2010
Permission is granted for reproduction for non-commercial use as long as the contents are not altered and attribution is given.