Punching bags

Once again Neil has proved a great resource for punching bags. Following the link to one of his commenter’s blogs, I found this link to Cornelius Hunter. The guy has written an anti-science book or two and works for – you guessed it – the anti-science Discovery Institute. He has a post about convergent evolution, something he doesn’t appear to understand.

Imagine a future space explorer who travels to a distant galaxy and discovers an inhabited planet with an advanced civilization. In his visit he tours a great art museum. The halls are adorned with many beautiful paintings, but as the traveler walks through the museum an eerie feeling of deja vu overtakes him. The various exhibits he observes show different styles and movements that are uncannily similar to what he is familiar with from his home planet. Even particular paintings are incredibly similar to what he remembers.

Ergo, God.

But despite making his entire argument, and roughly half of the arguments from the Discovery Institute, Hunter continues.

This would be eerie because this high similarity has occurred for no apparent reason.

Well, gosh, he surely can’t be implying that convergent evolution happens for no apparent reason, can he? Because we do know that similar environments are a major cause. When two distantly related species which do not share a (recent) common ancestor are each in a similar environment with a similar niche to fill, they may both well fill it. Hunter may as well be saying that evolution itself happens for no apparent reason. We either know or can infer the reasons behind why many traits evolve. That they sometimes evolve independently and then converge does not throw the world of evolution on its head.

A million different paintings are possible, the traveler would never expect to see such similarity in independent masterpieces.

Except Earth doesn’t have a million different environments, broadly-speaking. And life has been around for 4 billion years. And not every option is equally viable. The odds, it turns out, really aren’t so bad. At least, ya know, when we feel like using facts and junk.

The level of convergence in biology has been found to be amazing in recent decades. Strikingly similar designs run all through the biological world. Such similarities do not bode well for evolution because (i) they are supposed to be independently created by chance events,

Chance? Nope. Wrong. They are created via nonrandom natural selection acting on populations that usually exist in similar environments and therefore have similar needs and/or possible outcomes.

(ii) often they must have arisen in different initial conditions,

The foundation of biology isn’t turned on its head because organisms use a different starting point. In fact, we ought to expect many different starting conditions; we see different biochemical pathways, different genes, and even different (sometimes subtle) morphology which all indicate differing evolutionary histories. That these pathways converge is indicative of patterns in the way life operates, not of the Jesus answer Hunter wants. Indeed, instead of Hunter’s anti-science response of “Nuh-uh, couldn’ta happen’d!”, we have some very interesting questions raised through ever-increasing discovery.

(iii) often they are found in different environments

So? Similar environment is the big cause, but that doesn’t make it the only cause.

(iv) the design space is large

This is just a repeat of his analogy. It’s still wrong.

How can we understand these strikingly similar masterpieces?

Well it really isn’t so difficult after all. You see, if our eye evolved once, then why not twice? Evolution is a story of serendipity, so why not add a bit more? Accepting the evolution of life requires a credulous mind. Once evolution is accepted as fact, all kind of events can be accommodated.

In other words, convergent evolution proves Jesus because it’s really hard to understand. If that’s the case, then I think Jesus is proven to Hunter all the time. Also, convergent evolution is false because, um, uh, ’cause things can’t convergently evolve.

Consider how evolutionist Simon Conway Morris explains convergence at the Map of Life website that documents convergences. Incredibly, for Morris, not only is convergence not a problem for evolution, it actually is yet another proof text. The message from biology’s massive convergence is “First, that evolution is true.”

First, Hunter doesn’t link to any explanation of convergence. He links to the page that describes the aims of Morris’ website. Second, it is the message of the website that evolution is true, not of convergent evolution. Call me crazy, but if a theory can be said to have a message, I would say convergent evolution’s message is that, in evolution, convergence happens. But maybe I’m just being wacky.

And how do these convergences help support such an amazing conclusion? Morris explains that biology’s very complex structures, such as the bacterial flagellar motor, “evolved independently at least twice.”

In other words, if you think complexity argues against evolution, just look—convergence reveals independent versions, which of course must have evolved. Such independent evolution proves such structures can’t be too complex.

…what? Convergent evolution doesn’t mean that something is therefore simple (though a strong case has been made for Hunter’s simplicity). Very complex structures or characteristics or traits can come about through evolution while landing on a similar spot or the same spot. Hunter’s conclusion has no relation to anything any real biologist has ever said.

Next please.

One Response

  1. I am stunned at how wrong Hunter is. It is probably deliberate and malicious.

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