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Shared Errors: An Open Letter to BioLogos on the Genetic Evidence, Cont.

Cornelius Hunter


In recent articles (here, here and here) I have reviewed BioLogos Fellow Dennis Venema’s articles (here, here and here) which claimed that (1) the genomes of different species are what we would expect if they evolved, and (2) in particular the human genome is compelling evidence for evolution.

Venema makes several confident claims that the scientific evidence strongly supports evolution. But as I pointed out Venema did not reckon with an enormous body of contradictory evidence. It was difficult to see how Venema could make those claims. Fortunately, however, we were able to appeal to the science. Now, as we move on to Venema’s next article, that will all change.

In this article, Venema introduces a new kind of genetic evidence for evolution. Again, Venema’s focus is on, but not limited to, human evolution. Venema’s argument is that harmful mutations shared amongst different species, such as the human and chimpanzee, are powerful and compelling evidence for evolution. These harmful mutations disable a useful gene and, importantly, the mutations are identical.

Are not such harmful, shared mutations analogous to identical typos in the term papers handed in by different students, or in historical manuscripts? Such typos are telltale indicators of a common source, for it is unlikely that the same typo would have occurred independently, by chance, in the same place, in different documents. Instead, the documents share a common source.

Now imagine not one, but several such typos, all identical, in the two manuscripts. Surely the evidence is now overwhelming that the documents are related and share a common source.

And just as a shared, identical, typos are a telltale indicator of a common source, so too must shared harmful mutations be proofs of a common ancestor. It is powerful and compelling evidence for common descent. It is, explains Venema, “one of the strongest pieces of evidence in favor of common ancestry between humans and chimpanzees (and other organisms).”

There is only one problem. As we have explained so many times, the argument is powerful because the argument is religious. This isn’t about science.

The Evidence Does Not Support the Theory

The first hint of a problem should be obvious: harmful mutations are what evolution is supposed to kill off. The whole idea behind evolution is that improved designs make their way into the population via natural selection, and by the same logic natural selection (or purifying selection in this case) filters out the harmful changes. Therefore finding genetic sequence data that must be interpreted as harmful mutations weighs against evolutionary theory.

Also, there is the problem that any talk of how a gene proves evolutionary theory is avoiding the problem that evolution fails to explain how genes arose in the first place. Evolution claiming proof in the details of gene sequences seems to be putting the cart before the horse.

No Independent Changes

You could say that the heart of this “shared error” argument is the idea that “lightning doesn’t strike twice.” The identical, harmful mutations, in different species, could not have arisen independently. Instead they must have arisen only once, and then were inherited from a common ancestor.

The problem, of course, there is no reason to make this assumption. The logic made sense for written documents, but the species are not ancient manuscripts or homework assignments. They are species, and species are different.

In fact repeated designs found in otherwise distant species are ubiquitous in biology. Listening to evolutionists one would think the species fall into an evolutionary pattern with a few minor exceptions here and there. But that is overwhelmingly false. From the morphological to the molecular level, repeated designs are everywhere, and they take on many different forms.

The problem is that these repeated designs appear in species so distant that, according to evolutionary theory, their common ancestor could not have had that design. The human and squid have similar vision systems, but their purported common ancestor, a much simpler and more ancient organism, would have had no such vision system. Evolutionists are forced to say that incredibly complex designs must have arisen, yes, repeatedly and independently.

And this must have occurred over and over in biology. It would be a challenge simply to document all of the instances in which evolutionists agreed to an independent origins. For evolutionists then to insist that similar designs in allied species can only be explained by common descent amounts to having it both ways.

Bad Designs

This “shared error” argument also relies on the premise that the structures in question are bad designs. In this case, the mutations are “harmful,” and so the genes are “broken.” And while that may well be true, it is a premise with a very bad track record. The history of evolutionary thought is full of claims of bad, inefficient, useless designs which, upon further research were found to be, in fact, quite useful. Simply from a history of science perspective, this is a dangerous argument to be making.


The “shared error” argument is bad science and bad history, but it remains a very strong argument. This is because its strength does not come from science or history, but rather from religion. As I have explained many times, evolution is a religious theory, and the “shared error” argument is no different. This is why the scientific and historical problems don’t matter. Venema explains:

The fact that different mammalian species, including humans, have many pseudogenes with multiple identical abnormalities (mutations) shared between them is a problem for any sort of non-evolutionary, special independent creation model.

This is a religious argument, evolution as a referendum on a “special independent creation model.” It is not that the species look like they arose by random chance, it is that they do not look like they were created. Venema and the evolutionists are certain that God wouldn’t have directly created this world. There must be something between the Creator and creation — a Plastik Nature if you will. And if Venema and the evolutionists are correct in their belief then, yes, evolution must be true. Somehow, some way, the species must have arisen naturalistically.

This argument is very old. In antiquity it drove the Epicureans to conclude the world must have arisen on its own by random motion. Today evolutionists say the same thing, using random mutations as their mechanism.

Needed: An Audit

Darwin’s book was loaded with religious arguments. They were the strength of his otherwise weak thesis, and they have always been the strength behind evolutionary thought. No longer can we appeal to the science, for it is religion that is doing the heavy lifting.

Yet evolutionists claim the high ground of objective, empirical reasoning. Venema admits that some other geneticists do not agree with this “shared error” argument but, he warns, they do so “for religious reasons.”

We have also seen this many times. Evolutionists make religious claims and literally in the next moment lay the blame on the other guy. This is the world according to the Warfare Thesis. We need an audit of our thinking.

Photo credit: Rhys Davenport [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted at Darwin’s God.

Cornelius G. Hunter

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Cornelius G. Hunter is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he earned a Ph.D. in Biophysics and Computational Biology. He is Adjunct Professor at Biola University and author of the award-winning Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Hunter’s other books include Darwin’s Proof, and his newest book Science’s Blind Spot (Baker/Brazos Press). Dr. Hunter's interest in the theory of evolution involves the historical and theological, as well as scientific, aspects of the theory. His blog is Darwin's God.