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A Creationist Analysis of "The Evolution of Improved Fitness"

by Ross Olson MD


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.

In his article, "The Evolution of Improved Fitness," Dr. Edward Max delineates what he considers to be an observable, measurable, irrefutable example of evolution by mutation and natural selection, taken from his own field of expertise. This has been one of his main points in debates with Creationist Dr. Duane Gish and he has chided Dr. Gish for his initial unfamiliarity with the phenomenon and failure to agree that it supports evolution. In addition, Dr. Max finds corroborating evidence for evolution in a computer model designed by British Biologist Dr. Richard Dawkins. Finally, in making his case for evolution, he starts with the assumption that self-replicating organisms already exist and feels that this is a perfectly reasonable approach.

I suggest that the reader of this response read Dr. Max's article to see the arguments first hand, but for clarity , I will try to summarize each point as I addresss it. (To view Dr. Max's essay, go to http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/fitness).

But let me now try to address the sequence of arguments taken by Dr. Max. And, by the way, since one of Dr. Max's recurring charges against Creationists is that they take their case to the general public rather than to the refereed journals, let me admit that although I am a Pediatrician, I do not consider myself an expert in immunology or molecular biology. Yet, as a relative layman and a member of the general public, I think that I can see fallacies in a sophisticated research scientist's arguments, fallacies that have apparently not been noticed by colleagues who share his evolutionary bias.

Dr. Max likens the scholarship and methods of anyone in the Creationist camp to those of flat earth advocates or snake oil salesmen. He considers Creationist literature to be "pseudoscience" because it uses scientific terminology to bolster invalid arguments. I intend to toss that charge right back at Dr. Max and the evolutionist camp, showing that when you peel away the sophisticated terminology, the arguments he touts for evolution in this paper are gravely deficient, and that he inadvertently points out incredible evidence for design.

Three Creationist arguments are addressed by Dr. Max in this article but the first two only briefly. These are not his main points nor are they the main points of this response, but in the same manner in which he brings them up -- briefly without specific examples -- let me quickly respond.

To the charge that most mutations are harmful, he states that although rare, "helpful" mutations can still spread through a population. This is not a given, however, because survival depends on many other factors besides fitness. Bad things happen to good organisms just as they do to people. Dr. Max cites first of all the famous peppered moth example. I will not chide him or call his scholarship into question, but that one is in trouble. Although it seems reasonable (and even if true only proves variation in a population) it turns out that the data were faked and birds were never seen to eat moths off of tree trunks. See /articles/moths.html

Dr. Max then goes on to write about bacterial resistance to antibiotics as an example for his side. As seed for further discussions, let me suggest areas to consider. Since antibiotic resistance is sometimes due to loss of a structure to which the antibiotic attaches, the absence of which renders the bacteria somewhat weaker in the wild (although it offers survival value in the presence of the antibiotic), this is not really helpful to evolution, which requires new information to be added.

Dr. Max also points out that we have preferentially identified harmful mutations because disease is the main focus of medical research. 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.

Statistical Argument

Creationists commonly use the statistical argument against evolution, that the chance of putting a protein or DNA molecule together in the proper order from a soup of component parts is so vanishingly small as to be impossible. Dr. Max feels he has an answer.

He cites first that genes seemingly duplicate and follow separate paths of evolution. As an example, he states that the oxygen-carrying molecules hemoglobin and myoglobin are related. Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood. Myoglobin holds oxygen in the muscle and the genes are similar. Note what Dr. Max accepts as evidence: "The gene for a primordial oxygen-carrying protein is thought to have duplicated leading to separate genes encoding myoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein of muscle) and hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying molecule or red blood cells.)"

Raise your hand if you see a problem with that statement! Now, I will not accuse Dr. Max of carrying his message to an audience untrained in logic, and I am neither a philosopher nor the son of a philosopher, but I believe we are seeing something called "begging the question." The good doctor assumes that similarity means common descent, when it could also mean variations on a common design. If you were a designer and needed to manufacture something to hold oxygen in different tissues, do you think you might just use common elements in the construction of the oxygen carrier?

I also know that Dr. Max will claim that I have quoted him out of context and that he went on in his paragraph to note, "Then the hemoglobin gene duplicated and the copies differentiated into the forms known as alpha and beta." He also alludes to other related forms that elaborate at different times. Let me try to explain why this still does not help his case. In the adult (and child over 6 - 12 months old), hemoglobin consists of two alpha and two beta molecules with a heme complex carrying the iron atom. In fetal life, hemoglobin is slightly different, using two alpha and two gamma chains and has a higher affinity for oxygen. Because of this, the fetus is able to pull oxygen from the maternal hemoglobin in the placenta, although the higher affinity means that it does not release it as easily to the tissues.

The Creationist interpretation of this phenomenon is that it is a design feature that allows the fetus to live off the mother. (It could also be hypothesized that infants and children are capable of being cute and endearing so you feed them. The turn of events in adolescence also motivates parents to get them through high school and pay their college bills in hopes of eventually being able to turn them loose!) In fact, at the risk of inducing sleep in 98% of the viewing audience, I will point out that the axiom of physiology holds here that, "No matter how complex a system appears to be, invariably, on closer examination it turns out to be even more complex." (I think there is a corollary to that principle that applies to home improvement projects, but that is beyond the scope of this paper.) In the hemoglobin pantheon are also delta and epsilon chains -- last time I looked -- which combine into other hemoglobins that are present in very early fetal life and are later superceded by fetal and ultimately adult hemoglobin.

But other variations of these hemoglobin components turn out to be abnormal and inferior in function. They lead to disease states or death. It is highly presumptuous to claim that all these are random variations of a primordial gene. It is much easier to explain as a highly complex system in which common instructions are used to build similar components, although the system also suffers from some deterioration. This general principle also applies to other classes of biologically active substances such as antibodies, neurotransmitters, and countless other families of molecules in which there are variations that are similar but have slightly different functions.

Computer programmers borrow pieces of older programs when building new programs. This is not a random process but very planned and efficient, as opposed to "re-inventing the wheel" every time a similar task needed to be done. (Some evolutionists claim that if God really created, then every organism would have totally different solutions for the same problems. They are presuming to know that God - Whom they generally do not believe in - should have done things the way THEY wish.) Windows 2000 is based on Windows NT, but did not arise spontaneously from it. And if you got a beta version (not to be confused with a beta chain) you may have found "bugs" that had to be intelligently fixed and would not be helped by random changes. Microsoft's programmers used as much existing technology as possible when upgrading us all to the next stage.

And, again, Dr. Max worships at the church of the unwarranted assumption. He assumes that if he can show small changes between related genes (which he has not), that large changes to completely unrelated genes are bound to follow (which they don't.) It is possible that a small change in a gene may allow it to continue functioning - although it is a real stretch that it will function better. Dr. Max, right now is saying "Gottcha!" because he believes in his mutating antibody example, but stay tuned to find out why that proves something quite different. To say that a quantum change can occur and give us a new function (something that life must do if it really is going to climb the ladder) then there must be a continuous chain of more and more effective proteins being produced by these mutated genes. It must go continuously all the way from function A to function B, each one with more survival value than the last. How is that going to happen, going from an immune protein to a neurotransmitter or a blood-clotting factor to a hormone? He essentially has to believe in a major jump, a molecular "hopeful monster," in order to maintain his theory.

Richard Dawkins' Evolution by Computer

Now that your eyes are completely glazed over, we come to the exciting part (not really, but I need to string you along.) One method of argument is the snow job and I am not saying evolutionists always use it deliberately, but if something sounds complicated and deep, it is easy to think, "Wow, I guess he really solved that problem!" In answer to the problem of improbability, Dr. Max appeals to a computer model designed by Dr. Richard Dawkins that makes an unlikely task much more likely by breaking it down into steps in which successive approximations are selected.

The task Dr. Dawkins used is the generation of the Shakespearean phrase, "Methinks it is like a weasel," by successive random variations. He started with the necessary characters and spaces and randomly programmed the computer to generate a random sequence from a "soup" of the component letters and spaces used in that sentence. The letters and spaces could be used more than once but the length was made to be precisely 28 objects. He got "WSLMNLT DTJBKWIRZRESLMQCO P." This was to be the starting point for computerized simulation of natural selection.

In a sense it was like abiogenesis, except Dr. Max feels he does not have to deal with the origin of the first living creature. If he did, he would have to deal with the problems of "d" ("right handed")and "l" ('left handed") amino acids being the norm in nature but only the "l" forms being used in life. He would also have to explain the fact that they do not come together in long chains outside a living cell or biochemist's test tube. If Dawkins' first series were really like abiogenesis, it would have to be a sentence that made sense because it would have to be a sort of primitive version of Shakespeare. Do Dr. Dawkins and Dr. Max feel that this is Australopithecine iambic pentameter? (Come to think of it, I recall a line like this from an early "I Love Lucy" episode... no, wrong "Lucy.")

Subsequently, the computer was reprogrammed for the next step. Let me use Dr. Max's words, "Then, following Dawkins revised program, the computer made multiple copies (progeny) of this sequence, while introducing random 'errors' (mutations) into the copies. The computer examined all the mutated progeny and selected the one that had the most similarity (however slight) to the line from Hamlet."

After 30 generations of this procedure, Dr. Max reports, the sentence had "evolved" from the original to "MDLDMNLS ITJISWHRQREZ MECS P." and by the forty-third generation it had arrived at "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL." Firstly, since the sample sequences do not have the same numbers of each of the letters and spaces (and assuming that they are actual data from the experiment) I suppose that the program allowed substitutions of any of the characters and was not just a shuffling of the correct ones. That, of course, made it harder to arrive at the desired answer, but the fact remains that several assumptions have to be made to accept this simulation as equivalent to evolution.

Since Dr. Dawkins is a wit and also British, there may have been a reason for his choice of quote. For, indeed, there is a bit of the weasel operating here. First of all, as Dr. Max admits, this presupposes a reproducing system and fits nicely with his desire to just skip the whole question of the origin of life. But secondly, because the selection was narrowed 43 times by selecting the "closest" sequence to the goal, it presumes that there is some equivalent mechanism involved in nature. "Of course," he says, "It is natural selection!" And indeed, he will go on to show the refinement of antibodies by mutation which he feels is the key, but there are some serious differences, some of which I will address in the "mutating antibodies" section.

Does close count in horseshoes, hand grenades AND mutations? Only if the closeness does something helpful. Now, operating in reverse, if you have a working protein and make some substitutions or deletions of amino acids, it turns out that there are quite a few of those variations that do not harm the function of the molecule. That is equivalent to spelling variations that may be permissible or spelling errors that are easily understood. Some spelling mutations, however, cause grave problems, like "You must not go out," changed to "You must now go out." Protein alterations are similar.

At the risk of having Dr. Max claim that I know nothing about proteins or Dr. Dawkins' experiment, I will push the analogy further. Suppose you want to write the Encyclopedia Britannica by putting millions of monkeys on laptops. Will you find that after a while, one of the monkeys begins to make a little sense so that you are able to sell a few copies (perhaps to college undergraduates), then fund the whole zoo to work on that version until it makes even more sense? For the program to reflect reality, there must be some clear advantage at each stop along the way, followed by the near elimination of all the other competing configurations until further mutations produce another with even more advantage.

This may sound exactly like evolution, and one who already believes it will cry "Eureka!" But familiarity of a concept does not make it a fact. This may come as a shock to some of you, but things do not necessarily "go better with Coke." First of all, without a system that reproduces, there is no natural selection at all. It is easy to presume that there was "an early stage of proto-life" as Dr. Max does, and even thinks that it allowed more of the larger and more dramatic mutations because it was less accurate than replication is today. Reproduction is a very complicated process (despite the fact that some people supposedly do it "by accident") and only the discovery of the DNA molecule made it understandable. Yet the double helix DNA, containing two strands, each of which is essentially the chemical "mirror image" of the other, must also be regulated and helped by a complex system in order to open up in the proper way and attract the nucleotides that compliment both the "sense" strand and the "anti-sense" strand and then separate and move into two daughter cells.

If Dr. Max and those who agree with him can even imagine another system, much less a "simple" system for duplication of a complex molecule, let us hear about it. You see, the very impossibility of doing it is precisely evidence that it DID NOT happen by natural means. Dr. Max says he might just leave that up to God. But he still thinks Creationists are sloppy thinkers.

He 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 so that and "everybody" has to have them. After a while another permutation becomes even more effective at something and becomes the new standard. Now, I think this sounds a lot like the evolution of adolescent fashion, and it is highly debatable whether THAT represents improvement. But as to coming upon solutions to metabolic problems of an organism by trial and error, it really stretches the imagination. Yet, in his mind, it is the Creationists who are out to lunch.

Surviving organisms, doing all this variation, have to survive. That means that the variation must not interfere with other things the cell needs to do. And there are a lot of tasks the cell needs to do to survive. Notice that I say, "cell." Some say that there was some simpler "pre-cell" life that did not need all this complexity, but there are certain tasks that must be done for a "thing" to qualify as life. Viruses are not alive because they need to hijack the machinery of a living cell to reproduce themselves. They are more like fragments of cells that turn on cellular activity when they find the proper spot from which to function.

You can have a simple car that would do the minimum required of a car nowadays, like start, run, steer and stop. You could do without some common features such as sound system (unless the user is under 30), windshield, roof, inflatable tires, or even seats, but eventually you get to the point where you cannot strip down any further and still get from here to there. And in strip down cells, the most basic model is still incredibly complex. Darwin and Huxley did not know that "protoplasm" was quite a bit more complicated than Jell-O, but present day molecular biologists do not have any excuse. And wishful thinking is not a valid answer -- "We hypothesize a simpler, more primitive self replicating system." That, I say to all you lay people who are following this line of argument, is indeed a snow job by the experts, maybe even science fiction.

But we already HAVE the living system, Dr. Max reminds us, and it just improves itself. To use the car illustration, the engine starts to mutate from a one cylinder to four or six or eight (and then, of course, back down again as the environmental gas supply is depleted.) Are there going to be intermediate stages that function better? If you have two pistons but only one cylinder, will it run better? No, it won't run at all. It is hard to even imagine a scenario where slow changes, or even fast changes - for those of you who think that a change in a regulatory gene can do some amazing things - can get from here to there by way of changes that all work and work better than their predecessors. Try as an exercise changing a reciprocating engine into a jet engine. Without other accompanying changes in all sorts of systems, even the addition of a working new feature will not help, and might tear the whole thing apart, like putting a jet engine on the Wright Brothers' Plane.

But, I think I can hear Dr. Max protesting. The example is faulty and typical of Creationists, oversimplifying things so that the laity think they understand. The biological example consists of DNA doing the alteration and because of this, producing alterations in parts of the cell. It sounds absurd to think of autos mutating and makes untrained people think that the experts are foolish.

Let me therefore use another example to help us all, including Dr. Max, understand my objection. Then I will slide right into the heart and soul of Dr. Max's paper, his mutating antibody illustration. Think of the cell as a computer system, perhaps even including a monitor, printer, modem, scanner and even connections to your furnace thermostat, clock radio, coffee pot and a variety of other task-oriented mechanisms. For, indeed, the cell does not just compute but does various forms of work and interacts in certain ways with the outside world. But the computer also contains a lot of things that seem extraneous. There may indeed be worthless programs and files, downloaded by accident or by someone without sales resistance, clogging up your hard drive. (Creationists would regard this as a perfect illustration of deterioration and having nothing to do with improvement.)

Suppose you are unhappy with the performance of your computer and want to improve it. So you start to make random changes, deletions, alterations and substitutions in the computer code. Are you likely to help things along? I doubt it. In fact, the most likely results are either no change, loss of a function or complete lock up. As one who used to try (on my old "coal fired" prehistoric DOS Computer) -- with the manual in one hand -- to add or subtract a line in "config.sys" or "autoexec.bat," let me say that being close but wrong was often no help whatsoever in preventing a major disaster.

Shuffling Genes

But, Dr. Max will undoubtedly say long before we get to this point, it happens! Mutations of antibodies do get selected, function better than their predecessors and take over the territory. What is he talking about and how does it work? Dr. Max chides Dr. Gish for not knowing about this phenomenon and especially the response that, if we depended on mutations to fight disease, we would die long before the right antibody were manufactured by totally random mutation of all our genetic material.

As it turns out, Dr. Gish's knee jerk reaction was correct, we would not survive if our ability to fight infection were only based on random changes. And it is not just that we have other mechanisms for fighting bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. No, the truth is that the mechanism Dr. Max so prizes as his evolutionary coup de gr‚ce, is actually an incredibly complex system that is much more an evidence for sophisticated design than for mindless blundering mutation. That system, under exquisite control, turns on a mechanism that causes a defined area of the DNA to accelerate mutation "by more than a thousand fold." By this, an antibody that has already been formed to approximately attach to an offending organism is refined until it is the best possible fit, and activates a whole cascade of immunological events that result in a win for the host and the end of an unwelcome guest.

Dr. Max's paper does an excellent job of explaining the system and I will only summarize. I have put so many of you into stage 3 anesthesia already that I dare not burrow any further, but if you think I am clouding the issue, review his description of it. (Say, I wonder if he wrote his thesis by mutation and selection?)

Basically, we have a huge population of white blood cells, some of which are B-lymphocytes. Each B lymphocyte line makes a certain type of antibody -- a complex protein that has a region capable of binding with a foreign invader and portions that then activate certain host systems. We have a large supply of lymphocytes making "generic" antibodies that will do a reasonable job of attaching to many disease organisms. Some of the antibody is attached to the cell and some is released into bloodstream and body fluids.

Dr. Max describes much of the complexity of the system, including (in his answers to Creationist responses) a bit about the safeguards built in to prevent the manufacture of antibody towards our own tissues. There is an immunlogical memory that catalogues all the substances that are considered "self" and are forbidden targets. Of course, as in war, sometimes friendly fire does damage, which is the case in so-called "auto-immune diseases." These represent deteriorations of the system. If an organism in the process of learning how to kill enemies did not have such a control system already in place, it would damage or kill itself and probably leave no progeny.

And, the protective system that has to be there first is very complex, as Dr. Max himself describes:

"These protective mechanisms go under the general name of "tolerance," and include clonal deletion, receptor editing, anergy, veto cells, and suppressor cells, although we do not yet have a complete understanding of tolerance. Auto-immune diseases can occur when the tolerance mechanisms somehow fail and allow the production of anti-self antibodies, whether generated by somatic mutation or variable gene assembly recombination. But apparently in most individuals, the tolerance mechanisms are efficient enough to prevent mutated genes encoding auto-antibodies from causing pathology; cells harboring such genes are inactivated, forced to change their expressed antibody gene, or killed. Because of the effectiveness of tolerance mechanisms, the benefits of increased antibody affinity achieved by somatic mutation outweigh the risks of auto-immunity."

But after exposure to a new pathogen, such as one of the myriad of viruses that can cause "the common cold," the antibodies with the closest fit will attach to the virus. Those antibodies that are also attached to the lymphocytes will activate their cells to produce more antibodies like it. How is it that there are so many "generic antibodies" around that there is an approximate fit to almost any possible disease organism?

The Antibody molecule consists of two identical heavy chains and two identical light chains. Each of these chains has a large constant region and then a smaller variable region of about 100 amino acids. These variable regions can be altered in their sequence and thus their shape by shuffling of the five genes responsible for their makeup.

There are two genes responsible for the light chain variable region with 57 Varieties of one (hopefully no trademark violation) and 9 varieties of the other. For the heavy chain, there are three genes, with 50, 23 and 6 variations respectively. If you do the math, it turns out that it gives a colossal number of variations. First: 57 X 9 = 513, 50 X 23 X 6 = 6,900. Then: 513 X 6,900 = 3,539,700. This is then multiplied by 2! ("two factorial") which means 2 X 1 = 2, and 3! ("three factorial") which means 3 X 2 X 1 = 6 for a grand total of about 42.5 million. But in real life it turns out to be about 30 million, because there are some irregularities that take away a few of the possibilities... probably taxes?

The most effective of these variations are manufactured in large numbers, because the cells that made them are activated by interaction with the antigen which they attack, while the cells making less effective antibody get little business and are relatively inactive. It sounds like just what the good doctor ordered to show natural selection in action, but in order to avoid stealing my own thunder, I will save the best points until the next section.

Now, Dr. Max does not call these variations "mutations" but rather "variable gene assembly process." (I have to keep restraining myself from calling them "designer genes.") Dr. Max could possibly ask us to accept this as a mechanism for variation that could be acted on by evolutionary natural selection because, indeed, some of what we might call mutation is due to shuffling of the genetic deck, usually a "mistake" because the cell has safeguards that are intended to prevent just that. But the objections to calling this phenomenon an example of evolution are the same as those for the next section, which, as Dr. Max confides, is the "Raison 'dÍtre" of the article. (Speaking as a non-francophone, I think he means something like "I stuck in my thumb and pulled out a plum." As I will try to show, however, it is really a lot more like a lemon.)

Mutating Antibodies

After coming up with a close match to a new antigen, the antibody-forming machinery of the cell further refines its product with a very interesting mechanism. In the germinal centers of the lymphoid tissue, the normally low rate of mutation is turned up at least 1000 fold. (In one place in Dr. Max's correspondence with Lee Spetner the number is said to be one million times normal). This takes place basically in the genes that control the variable region of the antibody genes -- the same area that was already shuffled into a near match to the antigen being combated. The cells producing the most effective antibody are activated and the cells making less effective antibody are relatively inactive, so that there is indeed a form of natural selection taking place. The cells making less effective antibody seem to hang around, however, and may be activated when a close cousin to the disease organism comes around later.

So, is this the end for creationism? Do we need to gather our notes, shake hands and sign the pledge of unilateral disarmament? I don't think so. While to the casual observer, or the specialist who already "knows" that evolution is true, this seems like unanswerable proof, on closer examination, for the evolutionist, it is really the example from hell. It is "pseudoscience" that countersues.

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 that controls the process, and it is done to perform a task where tiny changes in the shape of the protein can definitely make a difference.

Let us look at these factors more closely. This is not mutation in the wild but mutation that is limited to a very specific region of the DNA. Dr. Max mentions indications that there are possibly other regions that are in some cases affected, but that is clearly not the overall effect. There are not new, more effective classes of antibodies produced. There are not new and improved varieties of super-lymphocytes that come out of this. In fact, those "other" mutations may even be the reason for the occasional malignant lymphoma -- the cell line run amuck because it has broken loose from the usual control mechanisms. The cellular mechanisms that normally prevent cells from going wild, of course, must not be allowed to stop the controlled mutation going on in antibody synthesis.

In fact, the cell has very sophisticated "proof-reading and correcting" mechanisms that normally protect against errors in copying.

"But, what is it that causes the altered genes (of cancer cells)? When one realizes that many trillions of new cells are formed each year in the human being, this question should probably be better asked in the following form: Why is it that we do not develop literally millions or billions of mutant cancerous cells? The answer is the incredible precision with which DNA chromosomal strands are replicated in each cell before mitosis takes place and also because the "proofreading" process cuts and repairs any abnormal DNA strand before the mitotic process is allowed to proceed. Yet, despite all these precautions, probably one newly formed cell in every few million still has significant mutant characteristics." (Guyton, A. Textbook of Medical Physiology, 8th ed., Saunders, 1991, p. 34.)

To allow hyper-mutation, these mechanisms need to be turned off, another indication that this is being done under controlled conditions. As a comparison, the explosions that take place in an internal combustion engine do not justify the conclusion that all you need is a series of explosions and you can send your car anywhere you want on the freeway system. (You may get somewhere, of course, but it will not be the location of your choice and it will probably not be the same location for all the parts.) But even MORE powerful evidence against evolution is the need to suppose that this mechanism for correcting mutations would have had selective value if mutations are needed for evolution! It would be like the cell cutting itself off from its evolutionary lifeline. Far more likely is the believable and overwhelmingly confirmable hypothesis that mutations are harmful and a threat to the cell's ongoing existence. Thus the same sorts of things designed by computer programmers, to prevent copying errors, are built into the basic equipment of the successful living organism.

This is also not the ordinary background rate of mutation, either, but has been "turned up" to an astounding rate. Whether this is simply due to turning off the correcting mechanisms or -- more likely -- another very specific task being carried out by the cell, the fact remains that there is some sort of control taking place here. This is shown both in the area to which the mutations are limited and in the deliberate increase in the mutation rate, all of which is taking place in response to the immunologic task being performed.

If just turning up the rate of mutation to all parts of the genome made us better, we ought to lobby for bringing back nuclear testing. And we should have seen some of those multigenerational irradiated fruit flies doing amazing things -- maybe writing papers in the refereed journals, or at least winning debates with Creationists!

What we are seeing is an incredibly sophisticated system, that uses highly controlled gene shuffling and then rapid mutation of a very carefully defined area of the DNA to refine the function of the resulting antibody. This is evidence of design for any but the terminally closed-minded. For Dr. Max to say that this proves evolution is as if he came upon a computer, running 100 different programs, one of which is a random number generator (which it uses to successfully crack codes) and responding, "Now I know how the computer originated!"

If this sort of accelerated mutation worked for improving everything, why have not the organisms that turn on all their DNA to accelerated mutation been selected and risen far above humanity? (Do not change the subject here, Dr. Max, and claim as Stephen Gould does that humanity is not the pinnacle of evolution. The point is that you need to find organisms that allow all their cells to hyper-mutate mutate and show that they adapt faster.)

Undesigned?

But what does the objective-no-nonsense-just-give-me-the-facts-scientist conclude? He says this in section 5 entitled "Conclusion": "And to people who can appreciate the amazing complexity of life as a thing of wonder, the story of antibody diversity reveals in the immune system another example of an undesigned but beautifully functioning system."

"UNDESIGNED?!!!" Where in the world does he get that? Unless you are irrevocably biased for evolution, there is no way it can be concluded that this system is undesigned. But I guess we should have seen it coming because at the start of the section, Dr. Max stated:

"Despite the logical fallacy in the creationists' dismissal of Dawkins's simulation, the seductive appeal of this argument led me to think that it could be most clearly countered if one could cite a biological example in which -- without the intervention of any intelligent designer -- successive rounds of mutation and selection could be unambiguously shown to lead to increased fitness within living organisms. As it happens, my own laboratory research in the area of antibody genes made me familiar with experiments showing just such a biological example."

In this particular instance, I think a layman who takes a fresh look and sees an amazingly complex system that appears designed, may have the advantage over the trained professional who starts to believe his own tortured rationalizations.

Perhaps that line will be removed from the website that carries Dr. Max's article. I would expect it to be an affront even to fair-minded evolutionists. If Dr. Max does withdraw that blatantly inappropriate conclusion, I will be pleased. But the evidence goes even further. It speaks of design, and I am afraid we will wait in vain for Dr. Max to give up his evolutionary orthodoxy, for he has already been confronted with variations of these arguments. And still he persists in his name-calling and mistake mongering. Let us suppose that Dr. Gish did not handle this issue in a peerless fashion, Dr. Max and his ilk still have to face the fact that his supposedly perfect example of evolution is a far better example of design.

Peering into the future,* I predict that Dr. Max will claim that we cannot know something is designed unless we have experience of something like it being designed. Thus: "Poems are made by fools like me, but only ? can make a tree." And since we have never seen the manufacture of a tree, we cannot say that it is designed. A house, yes, but a biological system, no. I presume from this that if scientists created life, then Dr. Max will believe in God!

*Based on private correspondence - didn't want to freak anybody out.

Seriously, I find that condition somewhat disingenuous. If you had never seen the building of a house of cards, you would still guess that is was not a random configuration. (Now, why did I think of that?) There are extremely unlikely arrangements of matter or energy, like computers or information-carrying radio waves, that we know intuitively could not have organized themselves. We can tell the difference between wave lines on the beach and lines spelling out the words, "Lucy Loves Schroeder." Let me ask Dr. Max this: If God really did design all the variations we see in life, how could you ever be convinced? Is there any way you would accept design as coming from outside your experience?

In the book of Job, God spoke to the title character and said, "Where were you when I framed the world?" I suppose if he asked Dr. Max, the reply would have been, "Yes, I missed that one, so I really need some sort of notarized documentation."

Now, I have been somewhat frivolous and lighthearted at times in this response. Partly this is an attempt to motivate the reader to plow through a very dense subject. (And, if the studies we have done on the visits to our debate web sites are any indicate, the use of the singular "reader" may about describe the popularity of this interchange.) But the truth is that it is serious business. The Biblical Creationist believes that scientific data leads to the conclusion that there is a God, but that mere acknowledgment of that fact is not the ultimate goal of their enterprise nor of God's purpose in putting His mark on the things He has made. No, there is a far deeper significance to the whole enterprise than getting to the end of a string of arguments. In fact, having found that reality, those of us who have experienced it realize that it is the key to all understanding and that while once we were blind, now we see.

Now, Dr. Max acknowledges a possible role for God in the making of the first life, although he reserves the right to wait for a good alternative mechanism to be hypothesized that does it spontaneously. In this, he is a cut above many evolutionists who will never admit the possibility of anything supernatural in their worldview. But if the case for God is overwhelming, and the evidence of His nature and power were clear, that makes the need imperative to discover why He made us and what He desires for us to do.

Please also see the attachments. I welcome interaction from friends and foes.

Ross Olson






Whose Religion?

Evolutionists frequently say that religion must be left out of scientific discussions, whether as the source of hypotheses or even as an implication of their findings. "Religion is a private matter," they say. Often they also imply that it is subjective and personal and that nobody can claim the existence of a religious truth that applies to anyone else. But that is the religion of relativists, often correlating with an evolutionary belief. Are they insisting that Creationists, particularly Biblical Creationists, must accept their religion? Biblical Creationists believe that there is truth to be known and that it makes a terrible difference what a person believes. They are expressing love when they try to present evidence for things that are not only true, but very important.





Warring Challenges

Because Dr. Max has posted an ongoing challenge to Dr. Gish, I will post a parallel challenge to Dr. Max. Dr. Max has offered, since 1989, to publish, in an evolutionist journal, an article by Dr. Gish justifying one of Creationists' main -- but highly disputed -- points in debate, namely that evolution is forbidden by the second law of thermodynamics. In a similar manner, I will challenge Dr. Max to produce a justification for an increasingly common evolutionist strategy, to claim that he can prove evolution and discredit Creationists, starting with the assumption that life already exists.

The Max -- Gish Challenge

Dr. Max has chided Dr. Gish since 1989 for not coming up with a technical article explaining how evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. Dr. Max offered, at least in the early years, to have the article published in the journal Creation Evolution (which has now been incorporated into another journal). I am not speaking for Dr. Gish and cannot say why that has been at the bottom of his list of priorities. I do know that within the Creationist camp, there is not complete agreement on whether the Second Law, strictly speaking, applies to information theory.

The dispute is this, Dr. Max says that crystallization of ice lowers entropy at the expense of increased entropy elsewhere. So why cannot the organization of life on the surface of the earth decrease entropy there at the expense of increased entropy elsewhere, like the transfer of energy from the sun. Mathematically, entropy is lowered when water turns into ice, but the structure is very predictable and repetitive. It is very unlike the kind of organization seen in life. It is like comparing the sequence ABCABCABCABCABC.... with the Congressional Record. Now, I admit, there may be times when the Congressional Record makes less sense, but the fact is that the level of organization is qualitatively different.

Some say that this makes no difference if the mathematical model is satisfied. Others say that information loss or gain can be substituted in the equations and that this is all part of the Second Law. But even Second Law Purists have to deal with the experimental facts showing that there really IS a principle of loss of information over time that completely parallels the Second Law. One Proponent of Mathematical Purism said that the Second Law was not violated by the growth of a tree from a seed or the manufacture of a car from its raw materials. It did not matter to him that there were plans and directed work involved, in the first case, contained in the DNA and cellular machinery of the seed, and the second, in the minds, hands and tools of the designers and builders of the car.

So let me leave that summary of the Max to Gish challenge and explain the Olson to Max challenge.

The Olson - Max Challenge

Dr. Max, in his Debate with Dr. Gish on 2/22/2001, and in his writings, states that he begins with the assumption that there is life. He declined to argue about the origin of life (abiogenesis). He assumes the existence of living and reproducing organisms on which mutation and natural selection can act (and which he thinks can easily carry evolution the rest of the way). By this he feels he has dispensed with the Creationist arguments about the impossibility of constructing complex structures by pure chance. He even admitted that there may be a part for God to play in creating the first reproducing organisms, although he felt no urgency to buy into that hypothesis. Despite the total lack of real or hypothetical mechanisms, he leaves open the possibility that there will be new discoveries that solve this mystery, the way he thinks he has solved improvement by mutation with his antibody example.

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? 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")? 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? Having done that, would 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? Would you even go so far as to describe the fantastic abiogenesis scenarios generated by your evolutionary colleagues as "pseudo-science?"

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? If you do I think it can be published in a Creationist publication.

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(For Dr. Max's Rebuttal , click HERE.)

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