Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Useful Mutants Bred Via Random Mutations,
Creationism Hosed

In case anybody's still paying attention to the anti-Darwinists, I'd like to point out that the last wobbly leg of their argument has been kicked out from under them.

Apparently useful mutations have been produced via random mutations produced by radiation. We've long known, of course, that traits are heritable, and, hence, that useful traits can be produced and perpetuated by selective breeding. There was no doubt that nature could pull the same trick under the right conditions, but creationists have long held onto the (sophistical) argument that beneficial mutations couldn't occur randomly, because most mutations are harmful.

Note the argument: X is impossible because not-X is what usually occurs. Who but a True Believer would buy that?)

Furthermore, selective breeding and artificial selection rely on random genetic mutations, too.

So anyway, that's the end of that.

(And I say this as someone who is sometimes accused of being a crypto-creationist because I think there might be teleology in the world. But once the creationists are out of the way and not muddying the water anymore, maybe a serious discussion about teleology in nature can begin.)


Blogger Tracie said...

This reminds me of I took Genetics as a sophomore. We had a particular lab in which we introduced a mutation into a particular gene in yeast cells. This gene coded for uracil, which is used in RNA synthesis. The radiation knocked out the enzyme for the last step in the production of uracil, meaning the mutated cell had to take it up from the environment instead.

The lab was intended to show how radiation affected cell function, but the step to separate the normal cells from the mutant cells is the one relevant to this article. All the cells were plated on media with uracil and another chemical. The enzyme the "knocked out" gene coded for couldn't differentiate from the substrate in the uracil pathway and this chemical, which is extremely toxic and kills the cell. Only the mutants survived on this plate, as they couldn't synthesize the harmful chemical. A case of natural selection in which a deleterious mutation actually confers fitness.

Hell, the one base pair difference found in people with sickle cell genes is clearly a mutation. However, this confers resistance to malaria, which is why it persisted in the human population in Africa, even despite the harmful effects of having two copies of the mutated gene (it's good to have one copy of the mutated gene, two copies cause the disease).

Conclusion: Sophomore level biology students knew this already, and creationists are dumb.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Tracie said...

To finish adding my two cents, I'd just like to point out that the only way (that we know of right now) to produce new traits/variation is through mutation and recombination. Morgan's experimentation with fruit flies showed that mutations occur in every generation and every trait. Any type of selection, be it natural or artificial, can only act upon the existing traits. It would be far too limiting to say that the only variation in nature comes solely from recombinant genes.

From my understanding, creationists didn't think mutations could occur because the word "mutation" has negative connotations. I think this takes them from "wobbly leg" to "no leg" status.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Dang. I end up with the creationists in my party. Friggin' embarrassing.

Oh, well, you get the Truthers.

I figger the Elvis/UFO vote is about evenly split.

6:36 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

I don't mean to make it seem like creationists are anything but stupid. But when I went to the museum of creation in scenic Kentucky, one of their exhibits did concede that microevolution / smaller mutations did occur. (Their explanation, of course, was 'GOD DID IT! ALSO THIS ISN'T EVOLUTION, IT'S GOD ZAPPING THEM. EVOLUTIONISTS HATE GOD.')

I think the example they used was horses being tweaked from the wild beasts on the covers of romance novels to pack animals usable by man. So (small) mutations happen, and even Ken Ham concedes it, but it's in no way a natural process; remember, 'God did it' is pretty much the whole point of creationism.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

'God did it' is pretty much the whole point of creationism.

I wish it were. As a putative Catholic and one who has no problem with evolution (God still did it), the creationist agenda is to push the inerrancy of the Bible down to the literal level, to the level of fact. This makes me unhappy.

Politically, I happen to think a proper understanding of pluralism is to let them have their time of day (how long would it take---10 minutes? It's not as if there's a whole ton to it); in the olden days, science was seen as worthless without philosophical context. "Let them teach it in philosophy class," goes the meme. Unfortunately, there is no philosophy class in primary education, let alone theology.

As for your flirtation with a teleological universe, WS, my amateur efforts on Peirce indicate to me that his late-in-life study of Plato indicated that Peirce detected "good" in the forms, and that his view of an evolving natural law was the Good expressing Itself.

Because Peirce also apparently believed in love, which is a missing item from most of empirical views of this mortal coil, and accrues to his credit as a thinker.

If God is love and God is good (or Good), then, well, you're the one who's fond of syllogisms.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, that's close to the mark, though no Catholic would be happy with the god that Peirce contemplated.

First, he didn't believe there was a god,though he hypothesized that there might be. There's not enough evidence for the theory, but it remains a tantalizing possibility, not yet ruled out.

Second, he sometimes seems to say that the universe, ever evolving, can be regarded as something like the mind of god, so god would be something also evolving. Again, interesting, but not acceptable by christians.

Finally, it sometimes seems like God is the unactualized possibility towards with the universe is, possibly, moving.

Anyway, these are all ideas I find interesting and worth considering, though I can't pretend to really understand them yet. Liberal christians might find them acceptable, but the Catholic church sure won't.

Too bad about how christians have ruined christianity. if you see it has a semi-choate hypothesis, an almost-but-not-quite blind grasping at something interesting and important, then I think that it's interesting and worth thinking about. As the alleged final truth of the matter, it's dead in the water and just gets in the way of serious inqury.

As for love being a real force in the world: indeed he thought it was, like truth and justice.

It probably won't come as a surprise that Emerson was a friend of the family.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Your arguments are certainly valid against fundamentalism; I mentioned Catholicism only to illustrate that fundamentalism is not traditional Christianity. The best Christianity can argue for itself philosophically is that it is possible.

As for dogma, those who don't accept the Magisterium should think of its tenets as propositions while remembering that theology isn't philosophy, and that traditional Christianity was and is well aware of the difference.

(As this lush appreciation of Peirce in my favorite [Catholic, by chance] magazine illustrates.)

As for claiming final answers, theology admits it's not a finished product, nor expects to be, which is why it uses the term "mystery" so often. Could Peirce's stunning intellectual rigor contribute to the evolution of theology? Of course, mon ami.

(Emerson, not so much.)

12:12 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Interesting--thanks for the link.

This is a fairly partisan attempt to spin Peirce into a theist, though, and not really consistent with what one finds in his writings (though his ideas change all the time).

He writes a bit (though not a lot) about God, and some even about Jesus, but it's fairly clear that it's a "god of the philosophers" that he's got in mind...and there's little chance that he thought the Jesus story to be literally true.

At those points when he discusses such things he writes largely metaphorically, admittedly grasping at vague ideas, and clearly thinking that theology is doing the same.

The laws of the universe, he says, can be thought of as the thoughts of God. Not thoughts like you and I have thoughts, but lying on a continuum with them. They are thoughts in the sense that they are like habits, general rules governing particular events (or actions in our case).

The reasons for thinking this are complicated (and often baffling), but end up being interesting enough to prevent me from chucking them right away and moving on.

So, anyway, any Christian happy with this kind of naturalistic quasi-pantheism might very well find a friend in Peirce. He seems to have found a position guaranteed to both intrigue and piss off both orthodox theists and orthodox physicalists.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, the Jesuits seem to be able to handle him, without any piss. It's not all as rigid as you seem to believe: Aquinas and Duns Scotus live under the same roof, although they are often opposed.

Theology is not philosophy, or metaphysics. For one thing, the former works on the completion backwards principle and is an art as much as a science.

"...showing that the humble argument is the natural fruit of free meditation since every heart will be ravished by the beauty and adorability of the Idea [of God], when it is so pursued. Were the theologians able to perceive the force of this argument, they would make it such a presentation of universal human nature as to show that a latent tendency toward belief in God is a fundamental ingredient of the soul, and that, far from being a vicious or superstitious ingredient, it is simply the natural precipitate of meditation upon the origin of the Three Universes." CP 6.487, 1910).

This is not a product of his metaphysics, it's theology. From what I gather, Peirce made (and kept) the distinction.

Of course he cannot be fashioned into an orthodox Christian, and the Jesuit Oakes in the link makes no attempt to do so.

"I would with all my heart join the ancient church of Rome if I could..."
C. S. Peirce, Letter to George Searle, August 9, 1895 (L 397)

We can guess why, somewhere in between the absence of faith and the maltreatment of Galileo, or perhaps you have access to the entire letter and it's clearer there. But he appears to have liked the way the Romish go about things, and avoided the blanket hostility and close-mindedness of the modern academy.

As for Peirce's metaphysics, which were purely scientific and theoretical in method, his conclusions must be viewed as provisional, per his philosophy of science. To take them as dogma misses the point.

(Please read all the above declarative sentences as questions, WS, as I'm surely no expert on Peirce. But the theists who study him complain that much of Peirce's work pertaining to religion [and it represents a significant chunk of his canon]is purposely ignored by the children of the Enlightenment. In fact, Peirce complained himself:

"I cannot protest against any condemnation that may be visited upon me. . . . I am accustomed to hear and read upon countenances that when I speak of religion, people say I am a sham."

One can sympathize sometimes.)

3:36 PM  

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