UPDATE: Over at Sandwalk, Larry Moran, who has dispatched Jon Wells’s ID-based arguments against “junk DNA” several times (see links below), goes after this latest video.
Know thine enemies. Uncommon Descent has a collection of videos from an Intelligent Design (ID) conference at Biola University (originally named “The Bible Institute of Los Angeles”), including talks by Jon Wells, John West, David Klinghoffer, and (God help us) Denyse O’Leary. There’s also a panel discussion. At another site, you can see videos by Casey Luskin and Jay Richards. I believe the conference actually took place in 2010 but the videos have just appeared. I’ll put up just three:
Denyse O’Leary. Words fail me about this talk, though if you’ve read her you’ll see that she’s exactly what you’d expect: a rambling, incoherent Catholic who is a straight-out creationist. Watch for amusement only, since there’s little substance here. Note that at 9:15 she says that we know nothing about “stone age man” because all that remains are “a few stones and bones.” She then quotes Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and others to show the fallacies of Darwinism. Curiously, though, she acts beleaguered, as if American and Canadian culture were pervaded with strict evolutionary views (as she claims, “Darwinism is the bedrock of popular culture”), Well, maybe more so in Canada than the U.S., but it’s well known that in the U.S., at least, overt naturalistic evolutionism is accepted by only a minority.
If you manage to make it through the whole talk, you get a Merit Badge for Intestinal Fortitude. With enemies like her, who needs friends?
Jonathan Wells. Wells pairs Dawkins and Collins as misguided proponents of evolution and common ancestry (what a combination!), Wells’s main claim being that nonfunctional parts of DNA (so-called “junk DNA”), do not give evidence for evolution and common ancestry. As he says, “Much of what they call junk turns out to be functional.” And that’s true, but not all of junk DNA. Larry Moran has taken on this claim of Wells, and thoroughly debunked it. I needn’t repeat all Moran’s critiques in this post, just go here, here, and here for a comprehensive demolition job.
I do want to say a few things, though. First, vestigial genes (or “dead genes” or “junk DNA”) do not have to be without function to give evidence for evolution. It’s the same, as I emphasized in WEIT, with vestigial traits. Penguins use their flippers (modifications of the wings of their flying ancestors) to “fly” through the water. They’re functional, but that doesn’t mean that penguin flippers provide no evidence for evolution. Ostriches, also flightless, use their wings in threat displays, and supposedly to shield their young from the hot African sun. In the same way, the fact that we have nonfunctional genes, even if they might do something (like regulate other genes), doesn’t mean that those genes don’t given evidence for common ancestry. They do. Humans, like other primates (and guinea pigs and vampire bats) have an inactivated GLO gene—the last gene in the pathway for synthesizing vitamin C—and it produces no product. Ergo we, and the other species, can’t make vitamin C. That’s why sailors got scurvy before they realized that rations of lime juice would prevent it.
Now a creationist like Wells can say, “Well, the dead gene might do something–we just don’t know,” but (though he denies it) that’s a god-of-the-gaps argument, and one that can always be made for junk DNA. But how can he explain this: the very mutation that inactivates the gene in humans is the same mutation that inactivates it in other primates? That argues not for design, but for common descent. And this: the more diverged a pair of species is, the more diverged the DNA sequence of junk pseudogenes is. The sequences of GLO in humans and chimps, for example, are far more similar than those between humans and guinea pigs. Again, only common ancestry—evolution—can explain that.
Finally, as Abbie Smith constantly emphasizes, our genome is full of endogenous retroviruses, the vast majority of which don’t do anything and aren’t thought to do anything. In fact, if they did anything they’d cause disease and cancer. They are the remnants of ancient infections. And, curiously enough, the chromosomal location of some of these these now-harmless viruses is exactly the same in humans and chimps! How can you explain that except through common descent? ID has no explanation, though I’m sure they could confect an unconvincing one. In that sense IDers operate much like theologians, desperately buttressing a dying paradigm by making stuff up.
Okay, on with Jon:
And, finally, Casey Luskin on “Why the new atheists won’t be appeased.” He presents a rogue’s gallery of accommodationists, including Eugenie Scott, Michael Ruse, and Chris Mooney, and of atheists who criticize accommodationists, including Richard Dawkins, Jason Rosenhouse, P. Z. Myers, Sean Carroll, and me.
His account of the tension between atheists who are accommodationists and those who aren’t is actually pretty accurate, as is his argument that the New Atheists won’t be appeased by any solution that comports science with religion (i.e., NOMA or theistic evolution). His conclusion? That religious people shouldn’t capitulate to evolution in any way, because it won’t stop the New Atheist war on religion.
Luskin is probably right here. That war won’t stop until people keep religion to themselves and stop trying to force it down the throats of their children and of the rest of society by trying to make their religion into law, social policy, or universal custom. Religion is far more dangerous than creationism for the same reason that influenza is far more dangerous than a sneeze: the former includes the latter, but much other bad stuff as well.