Mormon Inquiry

Mormon Inquiry


A Christian look at Intelligent Design

posted by Dave Banack

I was clearing out highlighted posts from my too-full Google reader (does anyone else have this problem?) and came across a series of posts on ID at Tough Questions Answered: A Christian Apologetics Blog. The two fellows who run the site (one of whom was formerly LDS) obviously disagree with Mormonism when it comes up, but they do so nicely. How refreshing.

Anyway, in three posts the author outlined what I take to be the conservative Christian view of Young Earth Creationism (YEC), theistic science, and Intelligent Design. Here is the author’s conclusion and summary:

Theistic science is a philosophy of science that integrates Christian theology and primary agent causation with the modern scientific method. A person practicing theistic science is free to draw upon all that they know, including propositions of theology, to conduct their investigations into the natural world. Intelligent design provides mathematical and scientific tools for the theistic scientist to detect signs of intelligent agent causation in the natural world. ID, as such, cannot identify that agent, nor does it try. Young earth creation is a creation hypothesis which fits comfortably under the theistic science umbrella, but does not exhaust all possible creation hypotheses that a theistic scientist may want to explore.

I’m not going to detail my discomfort with “theistic science”; I’m more interested in the status of ID within Evangelical churches. In Mormon circles, ID is not an issue that gets much discussion. When evolution does come up in LDS discussions, it is generally brought up by someone who has a Young Earth mindset. My general impression is that conservative Christians take a more sophisticated approach (ID) than Mormon Christians (YEC) — but that in Mormonism support for YEC is limited to a fairly small percentage of believing Mormons, whereas among conservative Christians support for ID is a mainstream position.

So I guess I’m curious how many Christians share the author’s positive evalutation of ID (which is, of course, separable from a person’s positive evaluation of God) and how central ID is to the beliefs of most conservative Christians. The author himself provides a partial response to this question in another post you might find interesting, “What Do Evangelicals Think About Creation?



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Your Name

posted February 10, 2009 at 8:09 pm


I’m posting way too much on this blog, perhaps, in spite of my non-catholicism, I will give up for lent. The entire point — the entire point, which must be mentioned a mere two days prior to Darwin’s Bincentennial, is that God is not required for creation within Darwin’ admittedly imperfect framework, as at the time the nature of DNA wasn’t known (OK, it was by Mendel, but not enough people had read his paper to understand.) I am now going to make a remark I suspect you will find offensive. Dont’ write about things you know slightly less than nothing about. Ban me. Please?



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Dave

posted February 10, 2009 at 10:39 pm


Thanks for the comment, Your Name (and forgive me if I assumed the Your Name posts were from a variety of different commenters who neglected to type in a name or handle). Sorry, you’ll have to ban yourself. If you’ve actually visited here regularly, you’re aware I’m no proponent of ID and that I view the LDS appropriation of Young Earth Creationism by certain 20th-century LDS leaders as unfortunate. But I’m not really commenting on that dispute in this post, just inquiring into the place of ID within the Evangelical or conservative Christian mainstream.



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Tom

posted February 10, 2009 at 11:40 pm


As a traditional Catholic I can’t answer the ID question. However, I’m not sure I understand how LDSs can subscribe to YEC. In the King Follet discourse, Joseph Smith himself said something to the effect that God formed the earth out of pre-existing matter and that he’d make a fool out of anyone who tried to refute him. Wouldn’t YEC be some sort of LDS heresy?



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Marie

posted February 10, 2009 at 11:40 pm


I don’t believe that YEC is prevelent at all in the LDS community. In fact I have never heard an LDS person use the term Young Earth Creationism. I had to go to you link to even find out what it was. The creation is refered to as six creative periods or “days” but not six literal 24-hour days. LDS people are encouraged to see the hand of God in all creation. That seems to lean more towards Intelegent Design (I read that link too). The LDS community has a tendincy to see advances in science as further evidence of God. They seen to take any new discoveries in stride with the attitude that God is the author and how he did it (quickly, evelutionary, or some combination of the two) doesn’t really matter.



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Geoff J

posted February 11, 2009 at 1:23 am


Yeah, I tend to agree with Marie. Finding a Mormon who supportd YEC is probably a difficult task Dave. Now finding Mormons who think the earth was in some sort of mystical Eden-like state less than 10 years ago probably isn’t too hard (the “no death before the fall” crowd) but that position does not necessarily assume young earth creation.
But your question about what other churches think about ID is a good one. I hope you get some responses.
BTW — Did “Your Name” even read your post? His/her comment was so unrelated to what you wrote in the post I couldn’t tell…



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Geoff J

posted February 11, 2009 at 1:24 am


Make that “10 thousand years ago”



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Todd Wood

posted February 11, 2009 at 5:00 am


A better post, Dave. Thanks.
How many LDS are comfortable with the term “biological evolution”? That is what I am curious about. I think it is a very mixed bag in S.E. Idaho.
Concerning evangelicalism . . . Hugh Ross’ books are big. But as you know we still have a number of colleges and denominations taking a young earth stance and that filters through all the constituency.
And you gotta love the Jackson Hole Bible Institute, Dave. If you want to follow a little deeper into this subject, interview the chairman of the board for AiG right there in JH.
I would be all ears,
et



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Todd Wood

posted February 11, 2009 at 5:05 am


Hey, even I am not terribly opposed to the ID movement.
And many in my church family enjoyed very much Ben Stein’s latest and greatest flick.



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cx

posted February 11, 2009 at 5:16 am


Don’t be too hard on “Your Name”.
I’ve noticed that, at least occasionally with firefox, when one opens at least two comment sections on beliefnet, the same comment will be placed in all comment fields. Then, it’s easy to mis-send the comments, and appear to be someone who didn’t read the post. From “Your Name”‘s comment, that sounds plausible in at least this case.



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Dave

posted February 11, 2009 at 1:12 pm


Thanks for the comments, Todd. Following your hint, I found the website for the Jackson Hole Bible College, which offers “a one-year, in depth study of the scriptures with a creation emphasis.” Included in the curriculum are two geology courses, the first of which “discusses the problems with current dating methods, explains the fossil record, and the formation of land forms and geography from a young earth perspective.” The second course “includes a field trip to the Grand Canyon with stops at Arches, Moab, Natural Bridges, and Joshua Tree, in order to more specifically study the effects of the world wide flood of Noah.” Which leads right back to my general question: is this Young Earth perspective part of the Evangelical mainstream or is it a marginal (if noisy) group that doesn’t really reflect how mainstream Evangelicals think about Creation?



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Todd Wood

posted February 11, 2009 at 4:29 pm


Conservative evangelicals are a mix of YEC variations and ID.
Marginal? Probably not, from Baptists to Pentecostals, etc.



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tfagan

posted February 11, 2009 at 10:29 pm


For you very bright people that say CO2 causes rising temperatures, Intelligent Design is Creationism, and over the last 150 years Evolution has been proven. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
This is an interesting article. Some of you talk as though Evolution has somehow (when no one was watching) been shown to be true when in fact no such proof exists. That is unless, when you are talking about Evolution, you are using the usual Darwinist ploy of mixing breeding (variation within a species) with Evolution.
Just to be clear Micro-evolution (breeding or variation within a species) has been shown to be controlled by the genes which is found in the DNA chain. There are limits to the variation within a species. For example, a cat can never be as large as a blue whale as the result of breeding. Of course, there has never been an example of breeding from one species into another in the history of the world. (I am sure the wise crackers will say otherwise.)
So macro-evolution is just an unproven theory, an idea, without any known proof whatsoever.
I guess we are debating an idea that has no natural scientific credibility when we talk about Darwin’s Evolution or other faith based theologies.
What about Intelligent Design? Are we dealing with faith or are we dealing with scientific methods to determine if Intelligent Design has merit. ID deals with Information theory, Probability theory and Biology. ID is delving into the living cells of animals and plants. ID Considers DNA, RNA, amino acids, proteins, genes, all the molecular machines and instruments contained in the living cell. Based on the evidence therein derived ID is a proposed theory showing that mutations and survival of the fittest can not explain how life began. ID shows us that spontaneous helpful mutations in the thousands is not possible. Thus, Evolution can not account for the generation of new species. ID is as credible as Evolution and in my opinion ID is a better theory than Evolution for how life began and has prospered. ID does in fact account for the generation of new species.
If religious people can conceive that God may have used Evolution to generate new species, I see no reason those same religious people cannot conceive that God may have used Intelligent Design to generate new species.
Based on the above, I think we should teach all popular theories even though Evolution has fallen on hard times. We should especially teach the strength and weakness of Evolution so people can judge for themselves the motives of the Darwinian faithful.
As a Christian, I do struggle to understand why a Christian with no proof whatsoever would accept Darwin’s evolutionary speculations and at the same time, be so negative about Intelligent Design.



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RickLDS

posted February 12, 2009 at 2:03 pm


I was raised Southern Baptist and believed in the YEC type of thinking for most of my childhood and adolescent life. When I converted to the LDS Church I studied the Book of Mormon and prayed and received my answer but didn’t start looking into a lot of the deeper aspects of the creation story and how science intermingles so easily with the LDS explanations when dealing with the things that might conflict with what I was taught as a Baptist. It never crossed my mind to go to the “original” text in Hebrew. I say original but the originals have probably long since decayed if they were on vellum, papyri, and scrolls. I didn’t think about things like the word used for “day” is the same word used for “time”, as in a “period of time”. I didn’t think about what appears to be contradictions in the time line when Eve was brought into this world and the story of her being taken from Adam’s rib. I never thought about all things being created spiritually before being created physically. I didn’t think that the word “create” would be more appropriately translated “organized” since you cannot create something from nothing. People do not think about the fact that God must abide by the laws of the universe just like we do for God is not a God of chaos, he is a God of order.
Now I think about it…
…and it hurts my head.



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germit

posted February 12, 2009 at 4:34 pm


DAve: thank you for the article and questions; I go to a Vineyard church near Kansas City (kansas side) that is growing, maybe 500 to 600 adults. I did a class on ID about 2 yrs ago: well received but few knew much about it; you are right in assessing the young earthers as being “noisy”, and part of the perseption of YEC being seen popularly as “the position of the ev.’s” or “the position of bible believing folkd” is that the media USUALLY reaches for a YEC spokesperson when doing any kind of comparison with the big dog: Darwinism. Rarely would they look to M.Behe or B.Dembski or Paul Neslon to fill in a C-Span segment or be on a panel. the bulk of those conversations quickly devolve into age-of-the-earth (surprise) and other big issues (genetic complexity…..inorganic to organic “leap”….lack of viable transitional forms…) just never come up. Shocker.
My class was well received, but Todd’s take is on the money: protestants are all over the board: mainline denom’s are very much pointed toward some kind of theistic evolution BUT M.Behe is Roman Catholic…. Philip Johnson (deceased, the “father” of ID, was Presbyterian…) the more fundamentalist (though I HATE the term) you go, I’d bet the more YEC you’d get….not too many evo theo’s in any charismatic “bible-believing” camp
I’m predicting continued growth for ID, but the $$ situation and publicity situation will stay bleak….but if there explanation of REALITY is a better one, then expect it to stick around .
See this months internet monk (mike spencer’s blog) and the interview with cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor…great stuff….I’m obviously an ID”r but I respect the RC position, and Spencer does a great job of writing about how the issue might be better framed to the culture at large, I recommend this article highly
enough blather for one afternoon, thanks again for your article
GERmIT



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germit

posted February 12, 2009 at 4:46 pm


here’s a sad , but interesting side bar: Phillip Johnson occaisionally mentioned that the most HEATED opposition to what the folks at Discovery Institutes (ID hq in Seattle) was NOT from the secular “godless left” it was from the YEC camp. I’m not saying that to be contrary, just repeating what he said. On HIS part, I think he treated the YEC as charitably as he could and tried to make age of the earth the non-issue that it really is. I found that sad, but interesting….there were many who thought it likely that Mr.Johnson was not christian, or not a “bible believer” because of his old earth, while ID, stance….I don’t think there IS a YEC at Discovery Inst. as far as I know..



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Todd Wood

posted February 12, 2009 at 8:14 pm

germit

posted February 12, 2009 at 9:44 pm


Todd: thanks for the link; one possible reason for the 52% with “no opinion” in h.s. is that high schools, and middle schools are kind of afraid to teach ANYTHING surrounding the theory…they get beat up by the “fundie’s” if they push Darwinism…..they catch you know what from just about anyone if they mention AnY dissenting opinion… the option many choose is to teach on it AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE , and go on to the next topic….this may not sound like strong science, but I can see why they might go this way
interesting, though, that after DECADES of the one dominant theory (Darwinism) taught exclusively at public school, where the great majority go to school, the vast majority of folks are not “on board”
I would love to see good stats on scientists themselves who have serious doubts about macro-evolutionary theory….I’m betting that number is going up, not down….



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RickLDS

posted February 13, 2009 at 3:20 pm


I’ve found the book, Earth:In the Beginning, by Eric Skousen to be fascinating in this regard.



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bobxxxx

posted February 14, 2009 at 3:49 pm


“I would love to see good stats on scientists themselves who have serious doubts about macro-evolutionary theory….I’m betting that number is going up, not down….”
There is not one competent biologist in the world who doesn’t love evolutionary biology.



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germit

posted February 14, 2009 at 5:19 pm


Bobxxx: the evolution of things is the ultimate non-issue…of course organisms evolve, this is self-evident; in this respect ALL scientists, including the most ardent YEC’er (think Ken Ham, perhaps) KNOWS for a fact that evolution is true…the theory in question is macro-evolution, and diversification from inorganic cells. the great majority of scientists have signed on for this, but there are many thousands who have not….are all these men and women, published, credentialed, and teaching in a variety of educational settings ALL incompetent….?? Mr. Bob, if you answer that YES, then I’m hoping your offspring evolve quickly in the cranial areas…… maybe a “hopeful monster” scenario….



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Jeff

posted February 14, 2009 at 10:21 pm


I am Mormon. I really do not think anybody knows how old the world is or how true evolution is. I think when God spoke to prophets he spoke in terms that they would understand and did not necessarily give them the full knowledge of creation. It follows that perhaps even what was revealed to Joseph Smith is incomplete and fallible. I am open to more revelation.



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Sequenced by Design

posted February 18, 2009 at 11:04 am


Well, Mormon or Christian or any religion for that matter benefits to some degree with Intelligent Design. The more science is understood, the more attempts there are at debunking religion. ID is a really slick way of integrating both in an attempt to placate the scientific thinkers out there, and get religion back in school.



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themadhair

posted February 20, 2009 at 8:42 pm


I’m fascinated by the ID movement, and in particular when discussions compare it to creationism. To be up front with you I should point out that I don’t regard ID as science. It seems to me that there is sufficient evidence to show that ID is wannabe secular creationism that was created to sneak around Edwards v. Aguillard.
Given ID’s history I find it amusing when I read an article such as this. ID is simply creationism-lite.

My general impression is that conservative Christians take a more sophisticated approach (ID) than Mormon Christians (YEC)

I wouldn’t say that it is more sophisticated since every ID argument applies to creationism. More dishonest and covert maybe, but certainly not more sophisticated.
@ germit

the theory in question is macro-evolution

Hello again. You may not read this page again, but on the off-chance that you do I’d like to ask you the following question:
Given that you acknowledge ‘micro-evolution’ (not even sure what that means but I’ll let it slide for this question) but not ‘macro-evolution’, can I ask why you believe there to be a barrier that prevents ‘micro-evolution’ from becoming ‘macro-evolution’?



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GERMIT

posted February 20, 2009 at 11:25 pm


Mr.hair I’d suggest the barrier is the complexity of life itself..the jump from one kind to another. I’m not saying that God has some moral law against it, just that it seems HE’s made things complicated enough to where gathering the genetic material necessary to make the leap just isn’t going to happen. Beha’s work has shown that even at the cellular level , things are MUCH more complicated and organized (designed ??) than we’d imagined. that’s the biggest hurdle to your theory that I can thinkof.
More later, GERmIT



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themadhair

posted February 21, 2009 at 8:40 am


@ Germit
If I understand your argument correctly, feel free to point out any errors and omissions, it seems to boil down to these set points:
1) Life is too complex for ‘macro-evolution’ to occur, and particularly more complex than Darwin and his prodecessors realised.
2) You have not seen any evidence that such ‘macro-evolution’ has occurred.
3) You do not believe that the ‘leap’ between one kind and another can be transgressed by the means of natural selection and random mutations alone.
Let me take these one by one.

1) Life is too complex for ‘macro-evolution’ to occur, and particularly more complex than Darwin and his prodecessors realised.

You referenced Behe, and his work in showing the complexity of cellular mechanisms, but did you know that Behe supports common descent and ‘macro-evolution’ (albeit directed)? Regardless, what do you base this argument on? ‘It’s too complex’ doesn’t hold unless you demonstrate, or produce argumentation for the contention, that this complexity is a barrier to ‘macro-evolution’. How can complexity be a barrier to ‘micro-evolution’ (due to random mutations and natural selection) but not ‘macro evolution’ (due to random mutations and natural selection)?

2) You have not seen any evidence that such ‘macro-evolution’ has occurred.

I assume that you would consider ape-to-humans as an example of ‘macro-evolution’? If so then I’ll this as the basis for attempting to present you with such evidence.
A) Remember those skulls I linked on the Greek philosophy forum?
B) Human beings contain the genetic remnants of our ancestral past. We contain the genetic material for creating tails and, although a rarity, this genetic information can become reactivated. We also contain the genetic material for olfactory function, the same as present in modern rodents, far in excess of what we currently use. We have a deactivated vitamin C gene.

3) You do not believe that the ‘leap’ between one kind and another can be transgressed by the means of natural selection and random mutations alone.

Organisms on this planet differ in terms of their respective genetic codes, and the number of genetic differences between those codes. What barrier and/or mechanism would prevent any accumulation of mutations from traversing two genomes (including any between any theoretical ‘kind’)?



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Your Name

posted February 23, 2009 at 3:49 pm


MR.Hair…thanks for your (by now expected) thought out response. Yes I’d heard that about Behe, and honestly, I don’t understand it, because TO ME, his “irreducible complexity” argument flies in the face of common descent….but there’s probably something here that Behe understands much better than I…this won’t get him the Templeton prize, I’m guessing.
Random thought on mutation (excuse the crude pun): I’m not too sure that mutation helps your side as being an effective carrier of the type and QUANTITY of genetic information we are talking about. It seems to tme that the more info that mutations are asked to carry, the worse the situation for the organism. What am I missing here ? Granted, small mutations , in response to art. sel. are an obvious plus, but we are talking about huge “clumps” of info. , enough for a novel limb, structure , or “scales to feathers’ type thing. Yes, it would happen one small step at a time, but I’m still struggling with this one.



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Your Name

posted February 23, 2009 at 3:57 pm


As for the apes to humans, do you remember my (clumsily crypic) “stand alone ” comment ?? What I meant was, why assume that this ‘chain’ is a result of one becoming more and more like the next..maybe it’s just a group of genetically similar things that aren’t really going anywhere, in the sense of one becoming the other ?? Yes, they change slightly within their own kind, but maybe that’s as far as it goes….why would I say that ?? back to me points about the genetic info barrier, but also I’d add that the fossil evidence, including where stuff is found (how deep) and the aging of all this, is not as uniform as you’ve suggested. So I don’t think the fossil record is as friendly to your theory as you’ve let on. Obviously, you see this differently (along with the main body of prevailing science, I’ll cede)



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GERMIT

posted February 23, 2009 at 4:04 pm


the similarity of organisms might just mean that the “artist” like to use similar colors, similar materials, when making something.. I know that sounds religiously biased, but if macro-ev. made a stronger case, I’d stifle myself.
Appreciate the “push” to understand these things better, which for a non-science major like myself takes more work.
thanks again for your questions
GERMIT



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themadhair

posted February 23, 2009 at 7:17 pm


MR.Hair…thanks for your (by now expected) thought out response. Yes I’d heard that about Behe, and honestly, I don’t understand it, because TO ME, his “irreducible complexity” argument flies in the face of common descent….

Irreducible complexity is the idea that a given structure could not have evolved because its evolutionary pathway (i.e. the theoretical sequence of gradual steps required to evolve the structure) is either too improbable or outright impossible. The usual way this argument is presented involves taking a complex structure, such as the eye, immune system, wings, endocrine system, bacterial flagellum etc. , and refer to it as a series of interworking parts. If any one of those interworking parts are missing, so the argument goes, then the complex structure no longer functions and so, because of the gradualistic nature of evolution, could not have evolved.
Labelling a structure as irreducible complex doesn’t render it unevolveable. The famous examples doing the rounds, namely the eye, flagella and immune system, have all had evolutionary pathways developed showing they could arise via successive graduations. These three examples also have real world examples of their precursors (various stages of eye development in the squid family, fish missing parts of the immune system, flagella precursors such as type III secretory system).
The specific form of the argument that Behe proposes in his latest book is that these irreducibly complex structures require too many successive mutations, arguing in some cases simultaneous mutations are required, and thus could not have arisen via an unguided process. Behe makes the mistake of assuming that the extant structure was a ‘goal’ of the previous evolutionary steps (hence his acceptance of common descent but not that the process was unguided). He fails to account that since every step has a selective advantage, and that these steps were not the only possibility at each step, that complex structures are inevitable but, and this is where Behe errs, it is random as to what form that structure will take.
This attributing of a goal is a serious error by Behe. To illustrate this look at how different flowing plants developed myriads of different ways to pollinate. When faced the same problem different plants developed different solutions. In the case of the eye, immune system and the flagella etc. the outcome that occurred was simply one of many possible outcomes.

I’m not too sure that mutation helps your side as being an effective carrier of the type and QUANTITY of genetic information we are talking about. It seems to tme that the more info that mutations are asked to carry, the worse the situation for the organism. What am I missing here ?

I think you are missing how much flexibility there is in the genome. Quite a substantial portion of DNA is ‘junk* DNA’ and mutations in this region can accumulate quite happily. From generation to generation there are a slew of mutations (on average 175 in each new human). Most of these mutations are neutral (they have no effect), some are deleterious (render the organism unable to survive-to-reproduction) and some provide a benefit.
Contrary to popular belief individual and/or groups of genes do not contain ‘blueprints’ for the organs they code. These genes depend on the rest of the genome and the order of organism development (in the womb for example). In you take the gene for a compound eye from a fly and place that gene in a mouse, the mouse doesn’t develop a compound eye. It develops a normal eye. The key thing here is that genes are not independent sequences of information – they produce organs in collaboration with the rest of the genome.
The reason this is important is that morphological changes can be produced in organs without mutations having to occur in the genes that code for those organs. To use your example of “scales to feathers” I can illustrate this somewhat. Modern birds have scales on their legs. Experiments that injected a viral inhibitor into developing chicks, at 15-18 days into development, prevented certain proteins from being coded which lead to those leg scales develop as feathers. The genes that code for scales and feathers are practically identical, but what causes the difference is the way in which these genes get expressed. The ‘information’ (I don’t like that term since many lines of creationist argumentation obscures what this term really means as a mathematical concept) that codes for scales/feathers doesn’t have to be changed in order for drastic morphological differences to occur.
Hopefully the above makes sense.
• I have to clarify what is meant by junk DNA since it is one of the most minsunderstood terms in this topic. DNA that gets labelled as junk refers to non-coding DNA. This DNA may have function when it comes to replication because of the spacing it provides. There have been experiments where large quantities of DNA in mice has been removed with no side-effects (40% being the most successfully done iirc). The term merely refers to non-coding DNA.

As for the apes to humans, do you remember my (clumsily crypic) “stand alone ” comment ?? What I meant was, why assume that this ‘chain’ is a result of one becoming more and more like the next..maybe it’s just a group of genetically similar things that aren’t really going anywhere, in the sense of one becoming the other ??

If these fossils do not represent creatures of common lineages then you would have to explain why different species consistently arise only to die of in relatively short periods of geological time.

Yes, they change slightly within their own kind, but maybe that’s as far as it goes….why would I say that ?? back to me points about the genetic info barrier, but also I’d add that the fossil evidence, including where stuff is found (how deep) and the aging of all this, is not as uniform as you’ve suggested. So I don’t think the fossil record is as friendly to your theory as you’ve let on.

The fossils show continuous descent with modification. The relevant question is what barriers exist to stifle this descent with modification to keep it restricted to being ‘within kinds’?

the similarity of organisms might just mean that the “artist” like to use similar colors, similar materials, when making something.. I know that sounds religiously biased, but if macro-ev. made a stronger case, I’d stifle myself.

We aren’t talking about similarities here – we are talking about nested hierarchies that consistently conform to the idea of common descent. If you want to make the case for a common designed then wouldn’t there be at least one violation of those nested hierarchies?



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