A few weeks ago, I was alerted by a Google alert to a post, “Conversation With An Atheist“, on the site Everyday Christian. Since I’m always interested to find Christians who want to converse with atheists, to see what they have to say about us and to us, I checked it out. It turned out to be a fairly run-of-the-mill creationist argument by a Christian apologist named Jack Wellman.
Since my interest was piqued, I posted a comment in reply to Mr. Wellman, and then another when he responded (you can see them by following the link to the thread). Several others chimed in as well. Wellman kept responding, using the typical creationist tactic of changing the topic to a new argument every time the previous one was refuted. He also posted several remarks that showed a spectacular misunderstanding of evolution, such as inexplicably claiming that the universality of the genetic code was evidence against common descent, rather than one of the strongest pieces of evidence for it. I tried to correct these fallacies in as civil a manner as possible.
However, at some point, it seems that either Wellman or the site moderators decided he wasn’t faring well enough in the debate, and simply stopped allowing new comments to be posted. I subscribed to the thread by e-mail and got one final message several days ago, from another contributor complaining that his previous comments had been censored. But when I checked the thread, this comment had been deleted. Since then, no new comments have been allowed to appear.
This was my last comment, which was submitted over a week ago and hasn’t been posted. There’s been no explanation from the site moderators as to why it was rejected:
“And so you, evolutionists, and biologists had expected to see something that would link a primitive ancestor to the middle Cambrian animal Pikaia. Explain the archeological evidence that Pikaia had a less-complex ancestor then.”
Easily done: Haikouella isn’t an ancestor of Pikaia. You’ve jumped to the erroneous conclusion that a species living at time X must necessarily have been the ancestor of a species at time X+Y.
If you really want to understand this, Jack, I’m happy to explain it. Evolution rarely, if ever, works in a single, smooth trajectory of change – species A changes into species B, which changes into species C, and so on. Instead, what we usually see is a path of descent like a branching bush: species A radiates into species B1, B2, B3… and so on. Most of these go extinct, but B2, say, speciates into C1, C2, and C3, and again, some of the daughter species go extinct and others diverge in their own ways. But species don’t have fixed lifespans, and there’s nothing to dictate how long a particular species will survive before it goes extinct. There may still be living species from the A or B generation existing side-by-side with far more advanced descendants. It’s like having an uncle who’s younger than you: for humans, it’s unusual but certainly possible. But in evolution, it’s downright common.
For obvious reasons, it’s difficult to reconstruct an exact line of descent from fossils, just as you probably couldn’t put together an exact family tree just by looking at photographs. It’s possible that either Pikaia or Haikouella is the common ancestor of all vertebrates, or it may be another species we haven’t discovered yet. But what’s certain is that evolution was doing a lot of experimenting with chordates in the Cambrian, and what’s equally certain is that we came from one of those lineages, because true vertebrates – primitive fish called ostracoderms – start appearing in the Late Cambrian and then in greater variety in the next period, the Ordovician. This was why I wrote “Pikaia or one very like it” – all this detail is what lies behind that little phrase.“Irises and humans have 25% of the same DNA, so based upon your faulty logic, we should be at least 1/4th part Iris.”
It would be more accurate to say that irises and humans are very similar when it comes to the most basic functions of life, which is true, and is a prediction of evolution via universal common descent. Really, why are you so surprised by this? Sure, irises and humans don’t look much alike, but at the lowest levels of organization, we have a lot in common.
We’re both made out of eukaryotic cells. We both store genetic information in DNA, copy it into messenger RNA, and transcribe that RNA into proteins. We both use ATP as the cellular currency of energy. We both share basic components of cellular metabolism like glycolysis and the Krebs cycle. We have these and many other traits in common because we (that is to say, animals and plants) are both descended from an ancestral eukaryote that did all these things. We’ve both inherited a common toolbox of genes for performing the basic functions of life – genes that perform functions so basic, it would be essentially impossible for evolution to change them in any major way – and as the human and iris lines diverged, we each added our own specializations on top of that.
“Incidentally, you failed to mention the fact that the genetic code for protein-coding genes is nearly universal in eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Millions of alternative genetic codes exist, so why do all organisms have nearly the same one?”
Again: because we’re all descended from a common ancestor. This is actually one of the most powerful lines of evidence for evolution. Why do you think it should be a problem for us?
Note that an omnipotent creator could easily have created every single species with a completely different genetic code, a completely different way of turning genes into protein. That’s the kind of evidence that would prove evolution impossible. Instead, what we find is near universality, with just a few very minor variations – the only signature we could reasonably expect from a process of descent with modification.
If you see anything so inflammatory in this comment that a site moderator would have cause to reject it, please tell me what it is, because I’m stumped. The only conclusion I can draw is that Jack Wellman realized he wasn’t doing well and didn’t want to deal with any further criticism, and prevailed on the site admins to stop letting it through. (I’ve also saved a copy of the thread in case they go back and delete earlier comments, which wouldn’t surprise me at this point.)
Sadly, in my experience, this isn’t uncommon. I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that it’s pointless to debate creationists and other religious fundamentalists in any forum that they control, because they’ll shut down the discussion as soon as they sense they’re losing, even if the contrary comments are polite and on topic. They simply can’t be trusted to allow a fair and open debate; they have too much to lose. And this isn’t true just on web forums, but in wider society, where religious believers constantly try to shut down criticism with blasphemy laws, “hate speech” claims, threats, and every other method fair or foul available to them.
After some searching, I found Mr. Wellman’s own site. I’ve sent him an e-mail to let him know about this post and to invite him to continue the debate here, or even just to explain why my comments stopped being posted. I don’t expect much to come of it, but we’ll have to see.