Professor Mohammed Noor of Duke University is currently giving an open-access course, Introduction to Genetics and Evolution, and I’ve been following along. Over at Uncommon Descent, Cornelius Hunter has already shared some of his impressions of the course. I will do the same here.
I’ll say this much for the instructor. For his style of presentation, at least, Dr. Noor is to be commended. He is generally clear, accessible, and well spoken.
However, there is at least one point — his use of the word “evolution” itself — on which he could be clearer. He repeatedly assures us that evolution is a “fact,” beyond objection. Yet what is evolution? He defines it as “change over time.” Who could disagree that changes occur over time?
Getting down to specifics, Professor Noor starts with the familiar example of industrial mellanism in British moths. A change in gene frequency in the population influenced the expression of coloration. This is “Mother Nature” doing the same job as dog breeders, bringing about a noticeable phenotypic change through differential mortality. Noor pooh-poohs any notion that this single example isn’t sufficient proof to undergird the entire intellectual enterprise.
At other times, though, “evolution” seems to represent for him not only “change over time” but an entire naturalistic worldview. Why this comprehensive picture of reality has to be accepted on the basis of such meager evidence he does not even try to explain.
As the course proceeds, perhaps students will learn more about what else Dr. Noor considers factual and what he does not. I have generated a list of candidate “facts” for his consideration:
- The chemical language of DNA and its codon structure is a natural invention. It is not a real code, but only gives the appearance of a code; the word “code” here is metaphorical. Yet DNA is (or is nearly) perfectly fine-tuned. We are unable to replicate its invention, or any other digital code-like structure, via undirected processes.
- Life arose as a purely unguided event, requiring no intelligent intervention. We don’t yet know how it did arise. We have no “best candidate” mechanism and are, once again, unable to replicate the self-assembly of life. However it is a fact that life arose naturally. Our proof is that all true scientists agree that it is a fact.
- From a single ancestral species, life diversified such that all living organisms share a common ancestor. However we do not know what this ancestral species was.
- Various mechanisms account for the diversification of life, including mutation, natural selection, and sexual selection. Species are not fixed. That there is an apparent boundary to species morphology found by dog breeders and plant biologists is a mere illusion. There is no reason, in principle, why a dog breeder could not breed a dog into a whale, given sufficient time.
- Life’s diversification is completely explicable in terms of chemistry. However we do not have the equations of information generation via random processes, or species generation via chance and necessity.
- Random variation within the genome via copying errors is the engine of evolution. Favorable mutations are generally preserved and increase the fitness of a species. However we cannot quantify species fitness numerically so as to be able to say that one organism is “more fit” than another.
- The creation of beneficial genes is completely natural and undirected. However no one has ever observed a gene to be created de nova.
- The relatedness of species indicates how closely in time they share a distinct common ancestral species. For example, humans and chimpanzees share a recent common ancestor, and so do horses and zebras. Two species that share a more distant common ancestor are sunflowers and clams. However, given any two living daughter species, we cannot actually identify the last shared ancestral species with certainty at this time.
- No species progression was ever goal-directed (orthogenesis). Thus, the cetacean (whale) progression of a land mammal morphing over time into a sea creature was a “random walk” phenomenon and each vital phenotypic invention was accidental. No extinct species of the cetacean series is actually claimed to be a direct ancestor of any other member of the series.
- From the fossil record it appears that species, before winking out of existence, remain on the whole in a state of stasis. However this is another illusion. At the point of each speciation event, the fossil record is insufficiently finely graded. We know that nature does not make leaps. It is only because of the limitations of the fossil record that we cannot observe a gradual transition from one ancestral species to its reproductively isolated daughter species. This prevents the assignment of any species to either mother or daughter status in relationship to any other species. Were the fossil record sufficiently rich, we would observe a seamless progression of one species into another.
- Perhaps the best evidence of evolution is the functionless “junk DNA” that is known to be pervasive across our genome…. Um, actually, scratch that one.
- Various phenotypic traits appear to be finely tuned with an intention in mind, such as flight. Biologists will frequently determine the function of a characteristic of an organism and speak of its “purpose.” They may also investigate and classify the “information” contained within DNA. However these biologists are only speaking figuratively. Anyone who suggests that the physical evidence should be accepted at face value, that what appears to be true actually is true, is irrational. Any “scientist” who questions evolution is not a true scientist. There is no scientific debate, no controversy about Darwinian evolution, and anyone who says there is a debate is excluded from discussion, because they are obviously irrational and not scientists.
- Evolution is a fact. A fact is defined as a claim that scientists accept by consensus. This too is a fact. No true scientist disagrees.
This list, offered not entirely in jest, is a melding of current evolutionary dogma with some genuine facts observed on the ground.
Henry Ford once sagely observed, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” Darwinian evolutionists seem almost constitutionally unable to do this. Most refuse even to consider the possibility that there is any other way to interpret the relevant scientific evidence.
This is one reason why the evolutionary narrative as espoused by Dr. Noor and others is so unconvincing to a majority of Americans, who do not share the orthodox naturalistic worldview. Simply calling evolution a fact beyond question doesn’t make the case any more persuasive, as I trust Professor Noor’s students will come to appreciate in time.