Monday, September 1, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Creationist Reaction to "How Do We Know Evolution Really Happens."

Inocherent creationist reactions to the column about viral evolution have put the Higgs particle in a foul mood. Feel free to help him out.

Creationist Reaction to “How Do We Know Evolution Really Happens.”

I wasn’t surprised that creationists would come after me for last Monday’s column, considering the sweeping nature of the headline. My goal was pretty modest: I just wanted to show how important evolution is for the study of viruses. People came after me for not including speciation, though it was not subject of that particular column. It’s nicely covered in several books, including “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne. I’ve read so much Dawkins I get them mixed up, but I’m pretty sure speciation is covered best in “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  

I haven’t decided whether to let Higgs the cat debunk these or farm them out to biologists. The tone of these letters has put Higgs in a foul mood. He hates it when people evade debunking by presenting an incoherent muddle. He will have to cheer up a bit before he can tackle them, but in the meantime, feel free to pitch in:  

Hello-- I am amazed that you're still using such outdated terms like 'survival of the fittest' and 'natural selection.'  They almost sound like the 'liturgical' terms of faith based science.  Epigenetics accounts for so much more of the numerous changes in humans' 

characteristics as they've adapted to their extremely varied environments throughout the ages.  And, like all evolutionary scientists, you're still sloppily conflating two entirely different concepts.  Everyone knows that any species has a lot of back and forth changing of characteristics as they adapt to survive in their environments (autonomic activation and deactivation of genes) or by selective breeding.  However, this is not evidence for 'interspecies evolution.'  Ever since Darwin, you scientists have made the same illogical 'leap.'  Guess what?  One hundred and seventy years after Darwin, despite all the astounding back and forth changes in size and shapes of the beaks of finches, there are still only thirteen species of finches on the Galapagos Islands.  They haven't become anything else!  Aren't the viruses that scientists are fooling around with in the lab still viruses?  I'm afraid that the only truly proven interspecies creature will be the monsters deliberately created in the science lab.  You appear to be as dogmatic as any 12th cent. Catholic bishop.  I'm amazed.

And then this:

Thank you for your article entitled “How we know evolution is real” You revealed two important things. I. that sometimes evolution needs a boost from an intelligent creative force and 2. That while evolution occurs within a species; in this case a virus, the species may become stronger, more adaptable, and more prolific in some areas; it always remains what it was, a VIRUS. It didn’t and does not ever become a fish nor a mouse nor an ape, nor a human. So your article would have been more aptly titled it said “How we know evolution is real within a species but have no hard evidence that that species ever evolved into another species. Remove the element of faith from evolutionists and creationists and you have just another abominable snowman searcher. All three view their alleged evidence through subjective eyes which are clouded by their need to be right resulting in a very non objective analysis.

 I do feel obligated to at least explain something about epigenetics. This term refers to chemical packaging that binds to DNA at various spots and allows different genes to be activated in different kinds of cells. It’s part of the reason you can have the same genetic code in all (or almost all) of your cells, while the cells each have very different jobs depending on whether they make up your skeleton, brain or liver.

The environment can alter the epigenetic markers in your cells, and in some cases of these alterations can take place in sperm or eggs, in which case they can potentially get passed down, though it’s not clear whether it can go beyond a couple of generations. This process has not replaced genetics. Changes in the DNA itself still lead to variability in organisms that gives natural selection something to select from.

It’s not surprising that creationists would latch on to epigenetics in order to fake some degree of scientific literacy. But I’d be willing to bet money that there are no legitimate biologists who’ve been swayed toward intelligent design by anything to come out of epigenetics.

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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