Grey Thoughts
Anti-Creationist Gets It Wrong
Not surprisingly, John Timmer, Ars Technica's Science Editor and PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology, doesn't like a new science textbook 'Explore Evolution' which was created by Intelligent Design proponents. His review goes for 4 pages, and it essentially accuses the authors of bad science, and bad motivations. Predictably, John's perceptions are largely coloured by his emotional distaste for Intelligent Design and Creation Science.

Let me give you just one example where John either fails to understand current science or is willfully participating in a campaign of misinformation.

From his review (page 2)- Emphasis mine
Darwin's Origin of Species proposed a mechanism by which a selective pressure, acting on inherited variations, could transform a single species or bifurcate it into two distinct species. Reasoning that there was no inherent limitation to this branching process, Darwin's single illustration in the book was a tree, with existent species being derived from a single trunk. Darwin concluded that life had been initially breathed, "into a few forms or into one," and all current species were derived from that event.

Darwin's conclusion has been spectacularly confirmed in the 150 years since. The basic biochemistry of the cell is shared by all known organisms, a fact that supports a common origin, while everything from fossil evidence to modern genomic sequencing has supported the tree-like pattern of common descent within the animal kingdom. There are some scientific debates remaining—some argue that horizontal gene transfer has created a web of life at the microbial level, rather than a tree—but scientists don't debate the general outlines of limited origins and organisms related through descent from a common ancestor.

But EE, in seeking to present a case against evolution, argues that there are viable alternative models of the history of life on earth. It favors what it calls an "orchard model," one in which there are many origins of life. In the orchard, current species are the product of severely restricted variation from an undefined number of origin events. Any time a problem with evolution is discussed, a separate origin is the implicit or explicit alternative, and that undefined number of separate origins appears to be very, very large. If that sounds familiar, it should—it's essentially biblical special creation of kinds.

So has creationism's orchard model achieved a sudden surge in scientific attention? Again, turning to PubMed, the answer is no.

Thankfully, I have been recently focusing on the 'tree of life' and can clearly say that current science is no way, especially not 'spectacularly' confirms the tree of life that Darwin puts forward. Timmer notes that microbes have a 'web' of life, but the problems are not just with microbes, but with all life.

For instance, this paper: Michael J. Sanderson, “Phylogenetic Signal in the Eukaryotic Tree of Life,” Science, 4 July 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5885, pp. 121-123, DOI: 10.1126/science.1154449.

Using the broad number of animal genomes available, Sanderson set very low criteria for inferring a genetic relationship between species and found that he could only infer a relationship 12% of the time. 12%! With low standards. Sanderson (a committed evolutionist who believes there must be such relationships), suggested a solution....he needs more data!

Timmer obviously didn't talk to Sanderson, otherwise he would know his claims of spectacular confirmation are spectacularly wrong. Don't count on many of Timmer's readers to be up to date on the science, so you expect willing evolutionists everywhere to parrot his claim.

Timmer also, in looking for 'orchards' has not read this paper: Antonis Rokas, Sean B. Carroll, “Bushes in the Tree of Life,” Public Library of Science Biology, 4(11): e352. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0040352.

In this paper the authors note that genetic investigation for the 'tree of life' has instead produced multiple bushes of life. It even makes the situation seem hopeless as homoplasy (i.e. convergent evolution) is a pervasive influence, thus making it nearly impossible to get a true relationship. Even in reviewing 100 genes of Human and Chimp DNA, they could only find support for a relationship in 55% of the cases.

The DNA says no! Pity John Timmer hasn't bothered to read the current literature before making bold claims....
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