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Wanted: a *balanced* treatment of the issues
on August 30, 2010
I find this book disappointing, not because I disagree with its thesis (although I do), but because it does not provide a fair assessment of the alternatives. The author has not even made a serious attempt to understand the alternatives.
The End Notes include just *one* creationist book (Morris, 1984). The main text mentions another book by Morris (1976), which is a commentary on Genesis. There is no mention of *any* of the major creationist journals, such as Creation Research Society Quarterly, Journal of Creation, Proceedings of the International Conference on Creationism, etc. These are the major repositories of serious creationist thinking. Alexander does not interact with any of this technical literature, yet he claims to be "a great believer in reading carefully the writings of any movement to understand what claims are being made by its chief proponents". Fine words - a pity the reality fails to live up to the rhetoric. Alexander is by no means alone in this. Charges of creationist ignorance are typically based on ignorance about creationism!
About ten ID publications are mentioned (including two volumes of debates between IDers & evolutionists). Four ID authors are mentioned in the index. John Lennox, author of "God's Undertaker" (2007), gets short shrift. Alexander does not engage with the many cogent arguments in Lennox's excellent book, choosing rather to insinuate ignorance on Lennox's part (pp295, 334).
The function of a gene is influenced by the presence of other genes, so a gene in a segment that undergoes recombination will find itself in a new environment which may modify its function. According to the author, this generates new biological information. Actually, it merely reshuffles information that is already in the pack. Moreover, this reshuffling is constrained, since recombination in meiosis is not random, but occur at "hotspots" (whose locations incidentally are totally different between humans & chimps). It therefore makes better sense to view the system as having been designed to operate with flexibility but also within prescribed boundaries.
DNA is recognised as a language. Language is specified information, as distinct from Shannon information. Although it is contextual (the meaning of a word or sentence is context dependent) this flexibility is highly constrained. Arbitrarily lifting a section of text from one book & inserting it into another will not add meaningful information.
"Genetic mutations that cause changes in the sequence of the amino acids in a protein can clearly be said to be the cause of new information." If the author is referring to *random* mutations, this would be like saying that accumulation of typos in a scientific paper that has undergone repeated copying can produce a revised edition. Many mutations are not random, but occur at hotspots. This suggests the process is controlled, again evidence of design that allows flexibility within constraints.
On the whole question of whether mutations & natural selection are capable of producing evolution, geneticist John Sanford argues convincingly that they cannot ("Genetic Entropy", 2008).
Chromosome fusion & pseudogenes are used to argue (conclusively, in Alexander's opinion) for the common ancestry of apes and humans. These arguments are critically evaluated by Geoff Barnard in "Should Christians Embrace Evolution?" (2009). Anyone who compares Alexander's handling of the data with that of Barnard, will readily see that it is not the creationist who cherry-picks the data.
Alexander dismisses the bacterial flagellum argument used by IDers, arbitrarily giving the last word to critics like Kenneth Miller. This gives the impression that IDers have no answer to these critics. This is far from the truth (see e.g. Scott Minnich & Stephen Meyer "Genetic analysis of coordinate flagellar and type III regulatory circuits in pathogenic bacteria", Dembski "Irreducible Complexity Revisited", Eric Anderson "Irreducible Complexity Reduced" - just Google the titles). Those who seek an accurate introduction to ID should consult Dembski & Wells "the Design of Life"(2008), as a starting point.
Alexander invites readers to view an animation of the "self-assembly" of the flagellum. The fact that a highly intelligent scientist has figured out a way to assemble this molecular machine does not mean the system could have assembled itself spontaneously by a blind stepwise process, & in the *correct* *sequence*.
Similarly, the description of vertebrate eye evolution & the diagram on p145 convey the *illusion* of simplicity. There is nothing simple about the very first stage, the light-sensitive spot, or any of the other stages. As Behe noted, such "explanations" start with an already complex system, and continue by adding "complex systems to complex systems", explaining nothing along the way. The evolutionary accounts of the flagellum & the eye are "simply" just-so stories.
Imaginative origin of life scenarios may sound plausible on the surface, but again the devil is in the detail. The author claims that new discoveries are progressively elucidating the details. On the contrary, these new discoveries have a habit of uncovering hitherto unknown deeper levels of complexity that actually exacerbate the problems. Read Stephen Meyer's "Signature in the Cell" (2009) for a comprehensive, lucid, & non-patronising account of these problems.
Along with atheistic evolutionists like Jerry Coyne ("Why Evolution Is True?" 2009) & Richard Dawkins ("Greatest Show on Earth" 2009), theistic evolutionist Alexander's promotion of fish-tetrapod transition, & the role of Tiktaalik, now sounds pretty hollow in the light of recent discoveries of tetrapod footprints that predate Tiktaalik & the other putative ancestors.
Creationists, IDers, & critics of evolution generally, are used to being misrepresented, and accept it as a fact of life. A far more serious concern, however, is the author's cavalier dismissal of the issue of intolerance of the evolutionary establishment towards those who express doubts about evolution. His claim that "exactly the opposite is the case" is astonishingly naive. Let him *read* the *carefully* *documented* accounts in Caroline Crocker's "Free To Think" (2010) and Jerry Bergman's "Slaughter of the Dissidents" (2008) to find out what is going on in the *real* *world*!