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Dr. Edward Max's Rebuttal of Ross Olson's Response

For Dr. Max's Original Article, click HERE.

For A Paper Distributed at Dr. Max 2/22/01 Debate with Duane Gish, click HERE.

For An Introduction To Answering Dr. Edward Max's Challenge, click HERE.

For Ross Olson's First Critique, click HERE.

For Dr. Max's Rebuttal, click HERE.

For Ross Olson's Second Critique, click HERE.

For Dr. Max's Second Rebuttal to the Second Critique, click HERE.

For Ross Olson's Third Critique, click HERE.

For Dr. Max's Third Rebuttal to the Third Critique, click HERE.

For Olson's Critique Number Four, click HERE.

For Dr. Max's Fourth Rebuttal to the Fourth Critique, click HERE.

For Olson's Critique Number Five, click HERE.

For Dr. Max's Fifth Rebuttal to the Fifth Critique (and the summary linked below), click HERE.

For a summary of these interactions, click HERE.

Dear Ross,
I have read your critique

of my Web page

In general, I found your critique a rather breezy essay, written for a non-technical audience and filled with a lot of personal opinions and rhetorical devices that I will not bother to respond to. I have found 17 specific statements that I take issue with, and I have quoted them below followed by my comments, which are indented. In many cases you have misread or misinterpreted what I said in my essay (or presented at my recent debate with Dr. Gish), or you ask a question that I have already answered.

1. “[Dr. Max] has chided Dr. Gish for his initial unfamiliarity with the phenomenon [of somatic mutation of antibody genes]”

Not true. I chided Gish not for his initial unfamiliarity but (1) for implicitly claiming expertise about antibody genes that he did not have (bluffing a naïve audience into thinking he knew what he was talking about, claiming that I was wrong when he was totally ignorant of the evidence I described) and (2) for failing to look into the evidence of somatic mutation after the first debate and therefore making exactly the same false claims at a subsequent debate. Do you think these behaviors are appropriate and reflect good standards of scholarship?

2. “Dr. Max finds corroborating evidence for evolution in a computer model. . .”

Not true. I never claimed that the computer model was “corroborating evidence.” What I said was:
The importance of Dawkins's simulation is that it highlights the error of all the creationist arguments against the statistical improbability of evolution, by showing that the creationists' choice of a single-step versus cumulative multi-step model creates a falsely low estimate of the potential for deriving a particular sequence via random mutation and selection. Although both the single-step model and the cumulative multi-step model involve random sequences and selection, the predicted consequences of the two models are very different. The creationists ignore this difference and intentionally discuss only the model that gives the result they like, even though this model corresponds least well to the theory of evolution.
If you think that the computer model does not highlight the difference between the creationist single-step model and the cumulative multi-step model, please explain why.

3. “Dr. Max likens the scholarship and methods of anyone in the Creationist camp to those of flat earth advocates or snake oil salesmen.”

I said that “failure of [creationist] proponents to present their arguments in the peer-reviewed scientific literature reveals the status of their scholarship to be on par with that of dowsers, UFO enthusiasts and believers in a “Flat Earth.”" If you know of a creationist paper in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, please let me know. However, if I am correct and there is no such publication, then with respect to publication in the professional literature, the creationists have exactly the same score as dowsers, etc., i.e. zero. That is all I said.
I also said “at the debates I point out numerous examples of poor scholarship by creationists that completely explain why their efforts don't meet the standards of excellence for scientific publication.” I enumerated several examples of Dr. Gish's poor scholarship. You have not defended a single one of these, and neither did he. Do you feel that any one of the examples I cited represents good scholarship?

4. “Yet, if helpful mutations can conceivably occur and spread through a population, we ought to have seen at least some indication of that in the ongoing experiments with fruit flies whose generation time is about two weeks. And with bacteria, who can sometimes multiply at a rate of once every 20 minutes, we ought to expect more dramatic progress than just antibiotic resistance.”

There is a large literature on the response of fruitflies and bacteria to environmental stress through selection of mutations favorable for the new environment. If you need help finding these papers, let me know. If you think that the theory of evolution, which explains changes occurring over millions of years, predicts that we should expect “more dramatic” changes than have been observed in short term laboratory experiments, please explain why.

5. “[Dr. Max is] "begging the question" with respect to the evolutionary explanation for divergence of hemoglobin genes:”

I was not “begging the question.” I was providing an illustrative example to clarify the concept of duplication and divergence of genes that I was describing. At the end of the paragraph I made my point:
If an information theory analysis claims that random mutation cannot lead to an increase in information but the analysis ignores gene duplication and differentiation through independent mutations, such an analysis is irrelevant as a model for gene evolution, regardless of its mathematical sophistication.
If you disagree with this point, please explain.

6. “Dr. Max feels he does not have to deal with the origin of the first living creature”

Evolution is a theory explaining how modern creatures might have arisen from primitive one-celled organisms. The validity of the theory does not depend on how those primitive organisms arose in the first place. Just because I try to defend evolution against creationist attacks doesn't mean I am obligated to answer creationist arguments on other subjects. I hope you can see that abiogenesis and evolution are distinct questions.

7. “[Dr. Max] thinks it is obvious that DNA varies, causing proteins to vary until they are able to do something significant for the cell. Then they become desirable”

These words reflect a gross misunderstanding of evolutionary theory and don't correspond to anything I ever wrote or said. Cells don't generally make useless proteins; rather, random mutations alter the structure and function of pre-existing functional proteins, allowing for new functions.

8. “[If] you start to make random changes, deletions, alterations and substitutions in the computer code . . . the most likely results are either no change, loss of a function”

The most frequent results of gene mutations are similar what you describe about computer code (i.e. “no change or loss of function”), as I stated in my essay: “Most cells undergoing hypermutation end up producing antibody with unaltered or reduced affinity for the antigen; the latter cells would no longer be activated by antigen. However, rare mutations lead to antibodies of higher affinity for antigen.” Similarly, most mutations in germline DNA are neutral or detrimental, but a small fraction allow useful adaptations. If you have a disagreement with these words, please explain. Creationists tend to repeat obsessively the idea that most random changes are neutral or detrimental as if this somehow relieved them of the need to admit that rare random mutations are beneficial.
Incidentally, there is a large literature on the use of evolutionary algorithms to “evolve” improved computer programs by multiple cycles of random alterations in parameters followed by random selection.

9. “Dr. Gish's knee jerk reaction was correct, we would not survive if our ability to fight infection were only based on random changes”

Unfortunately, Dr. Gish did not say what you state; you have altered his claim to make him look better. In his own words: “He [Gish] stated flatly that a sick person would die long before random chance mutations could ever produce the necessary antibodies to fight off an infection, and that the body has a mechanism for synthesizing antibodies precisely designed to protect it.” Dr. Gish denied that somatic mutation of antibodies occur and seemed unaware that other immune mechanisms protect infected individuals early in an infection before mutation leads to high affinity antibodies. He was completely ignorant about antibody genes (had not even heard about the Nobel prize awarded for work on antibody genes), but nevertheless used his status as an “expert” to mislead his audience on this topic.

10. “The mechanism Dr. Max so prizes as his evolutionary coup de grâce, is actually an incredibly complex system that is much more an evidence for sophisticated design . . .Yes, there are variations that are being selected, for gradually improved function, and these come about by mutations of the DNA responsible for those protein sequences. But the crucial difference is that this is done by a very sophisticated system”

I am not sure what you mean by “crucial difference”; difference between what and what?
I agree with you that the antibody gene system is complex, but this is irrelevant to the point of my essay: that multiple rounds of random mutation and selection can lead to improved fitness. Your argument is just a reiteration of the creationist view that a complex functioning structure can originate only through design by an intelligent agent. That is precisely what evolution disputes, so you are begging the question.

11. “cells making less effective antibody seem to hang around”

This is a minor point, but you are incorrect. As I stated in the essay: “With lower amounts of antigen present, the cells expressing low affinity antibody on their surface become progressively less able to bind and be stimulated by antigen; in the environment of the germinal center, these poorly stimulated B cells are programmed to die by a specific process known as "apoptosis." (Choe et al, J Immunol 157:1006,1996)

12. “For Dr. Max to say that [the antibody somatic mutation argument] proves evolution . . .”

Again you have mis-stated what I wrote. I specifically said that the antibody mutation argument does not prove evolution. I wrote: “Thus the molecular immunogenetics evidence of antibody evolution that I have described makes it clear that, contrary to the creationists' claims, the combination of random mutation and selection CAN be a potent creative biological engine for the generation of progressive functional improvements. This evidence alone does not prove that life evolved as Darwin suggested, but it highlights the emptiness of another invalid, though superficially appealing, creationist objection to evolution: the false idea that random mutation is a uniformly deleterious process that could never be the source of improved biological function.” If you believe that random mutation can never be the source of improved function, then please explain how your view is consistent with the antibody mutation results.

13. “Are [evolutionists] insisting that Creationists, particularly Biblical Creationists, must accept their religion?”

I can't speak for other evolutionists, some of whom hold positions that I disagree with. For myself, I have never suggested that Biblical Creationists musts accept evolution (which, of course, is not a religion). I was quite explicit about this in the debate, but you seem to have had trouble hearing me. What I said at the debate was: “I would respect anyone's faith that the origin of species occurred exactly as described in the Bible; no one is obligated to believe in their heart only what has been verified by science. However, anyone who feels this way should recognize that a belief based on Faith has no place in the science classroom.” Do you disagree with these words? If so, please explain.

14. “This is the challenge: Dr. Max, in the absence of any real mechanism (and lacking even a hypothetical mechanism) for abiogenesis, how can you ignore that area as a possible intellectual point for creationists?”

As I stated above, just because I oppose creationist beliefs about evolution, this does not obligate me to argue against all creationist beliefs, e.g. about the origin of life.

15. “Would not the logical conclusion from the evidence be that intrinsic factors cannot explain the presence of life in the natural universe and therefore consideration must be given to the action of some factor outside the natural universe (therefore "supernatural")?”

When science has been unable to provide a naturalistic explanation for phenomena in the past, many people have assumed that the explanation must be supernatural. Thus lightning, sickness and earthquakes (to mention only a few phenomena) were believed to have supernatural origins until naturalistic explanations were found. You seem to be arguing that we should postulate the supernatural to explain any gaps in our understanding.
Many folks find this "God of the gaps" notion to be blasphemous; it implies a shrinking of God's realm over the last few hundred years as science explained more and more natural phenomena, and further shrinkage would occur as our knowledge increases.
I find “God of the gaps” to be bad science. For me, unexplained phenomena are just that: unexplained. I have no problem with believers giving consideration to the supernatural as an explanation for unexplained phenomena or for species origins, but unless they evaluate their hypothesis using the scientific method, what they are doing is not science. That doesn't make it bad or wrong, as I have repeated many times, just not science.

16. “And if so, does that not mean that Creationists, despite frequent vilification by academia and the media, are actually doing good science when they report data that supports this hypothesis?”

Contrary to what many creationists believe (apparenly yourself included), what determines whether someone is “doing good science” is not what conclusion that they support, but how well they achieve high standards in data collection, interpretation and scholarship. It is on these grounds that creationists fail. At the debate and in my essay, I gave numerous examples of such failures of Dr. Gish, none of which you have defended; so perhaps your standards are higher than Dr. Gish's, which would be only to your credit. But I have not heard any clear scientific argument against evolution from you.

17. “[W]ould you admit the hypothesis that the supernatural factor could be described as intelligent and powerful and could not be ruled out as a factor in more than just the origin of life?”

As I stated many times at the debate and in our private correspondence, I agree that the supernatural cannot be ruled out as a factor in the origin of life, any more than it can be ruled out as a factor in evolution or in lightning, disease and earthquakes. My words at the debate were: “There is no place in the science classroom for the idea that the scientific evidence for evolution disproves God; any science teacher who claims that science disproves God should certainly be rebuked, since atheistic conclusions are not part of the professional science literature any more than creationism is. So yes, Creationists are right in opposing anti-religious teaching in science classrooms.”

18. “Please write a paper explaining how, as an evolutionist you can ignore the origin of life, admit that God might have done it, and still describe Creationists -- whose most powerful argument is that there is design in life that requires a Designer -- as comparable to flat earthers and snake oil salesmen?”

I do not ignore the origin of life, but regard it as an area which, so far, has not been illuminated by scientific evidence. I don't know why you seem to think that because I oppose creationists' views on evolution, I must also argue against their views on other topics, including the origin of life.
The creationist claim that “there is a design in life that requires a Designer” is exactly what evolutionists dispute. If creationists' most powerful argument is one that begs the question like this, then creationists would be pretty similar to a flat earther who claimed that his best argument is that the earth is flat. At the debate I showed several examples of how the scientific method (hypothesis, prediction, data collection, and interpretation) has led to evidence consistent with evolution and contrary to young earth creationism. These examples illustrate the method of science. I also showed several examples of how creationists misled audiences with bad data, bad interpretations or simple bluffing. These examples, in my view, do indeed resemble the methods of flat earthers and snake oil salesmen.
I do not claim that creationism is incompatible with good science, but only that all the examples of creationist arguments that I have seen (and I have seen many) have been badly flawed, and not up to the standards of science that should determine what is taught in our schools. And again I note that you have not defended any of the examples of poor scholarship I cited at the debate, so perhaps you agree with me that these examples represent shoddy scientific scholarship.
In case you are interested in specifically addressing the examples of poor creationist scholarship I presented at the debate, here is a list of some of the ones I covered. Let me suggest that before you bring up any new creationist arguments, you go on record with your opinion about each of these examples.
Human protein sequences supposedly more similar to bullfrog than to chimpanzee (no such data)
Sequence comparisons of cytochrome c show percent amino acid identities for yeast-human comparison is similar to yeast-fish and yeast-horse, allegedly in contradiction to evolutionary predictions (bad interpretation of good data)
Evolution allegedly violates 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (pseudoscientific argument, never elaborated for a scientific audience)
Somatic mutation of antibody genes does not occur (false). We would die of all infections if it did (false). Implicit claim that Gish knows enough about the science of antibody genes to make an intellligent criticism of my argument (false; though maybe after hearing this argument for so many years he has educated himself a bit)
Basilosaurus, proposed as an intermediate in the evolution of terrestrial mammals to whales, could not be intermediate because it not a mammal but a reptile. (false)
Dr. Gish's arguments at our most recent debate were substantially identical to the ones he made at earlier debates, but he had one new one. He stated that the Organ of Corti, which analyzes sound vibration in the inner ears of mammals, has no counterpart in lower vertebrates like reptiles, in contrast to what evolution would predict. I stated at the debate that I believed this was false, that lower vertebrates had a similar, presumably homologous organ for hearing but that it was not coiled as in humans. When I went home and checked the literature, I found that I was correct and that Gish, as usual, was wrong. Although the term “Organ of Corti” does seem to be reserved in the literature for mammals, reptiles have a very similar organ. If Dr. Gish looked at a scanning electron microscope picture of the basilar papilla of the Gekkota (a kind of lizard), with its three rows of outer hair cells and its one row of inner hair cells (Miller, J Anat 138: 301, 1984; Figure #18), I doubt he would be able to distinguish it from a mammalian Organ of Corti. After the debate I wrote a courteous letter to Dr. Gish requesting the references that would support his claim at the debate. I have received no reply. I conclude that Dr. Gish's claim about the mammalian Organ of Corti having no putative homolog in lower vertebrates is another example of shoddy creationist scholarship.
So, Ross, that is my response to several points in your critique. I would be interested in hearing any rejoinders.
If you would like to add this response on your Website, you have my permission as long as you include the entire response.
Best wishes,