Abusing Science

Discovery Institute to the rescue again. Whenever I need a story about abuse of science I know I can always find one coming from this creationist organization. Their Evolution News site is a wealth of material. Here I can always count on something fresh. By “fresh” I mean stale. A lot of this stuff I have seen in a previous life spent writing about young Earth creationism.

Truth be told, I subscribe to their newsletter. A recent issue pointed me to a video titled “Is Homology Evidence for Evolution?” It’s short, and it is aimed at children. The idea of religious zealots is to inoculate young minds in order to ensure a ready feed stock for adult propagandizing. It’s a touchy-feely form of child abuse. I watched it through twice and obtained some screen shots for illustration.

This video attacks biological evolution by going after the concept of homology. Briefly, homology, the study of like forms, got people to thinking about evolution thousands of years ago. The idea is it appears humans share structures of like form with other animals.

And here is what is so ironic. The Intelligent Design advocates largely accept common ancestry. Jon Buell heads up the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (see following), and the late Philip Johnson is considered the godfather of the modern Intelligent Design movement. In a conversation in March 1994 both agreed they believed in common ancestry.

Despite what you will be told in the video, homology is evidence of evolution and also common ancestry. Young minds enjoying this piece of propaganda are supposed to get the idea homology is the linchpin holding evolution together and, further, they will be informed that homology is debunked.

Whales, people, and dogs enjoy five-digit appendages.

But, what is the proper interpretation? Is it common descent, or is it evidence of a common designer? This is the point where the video first hints at Intelligent Design.

The video illustrates with the Corvette—a classic American sports car. If you follow the evolution of the car’s design from its origins to today’s model, you will see it morph through several stages.

But this is not due to Corvette models’ common ancestry. It is due to the car’s common manufacturer, the American Motors Corporation.

Here the video is being disingenuous. The story of the Corvette relates descent with modification. Homology relates existing organisms according to their common features. Machines are products of human enterprise and do not undergo the evolutionary process that living things did. Although still not pertinent, a more proper illustration would have been to compare the modern bicycle with the 2020 model of the Corvette. Thousands of years ago people got the idea that wheels would facilitate transportation, and a result is both the bicycle and the Corvette have wheels.

At this point, the video gets to the matter of cytochrome C.

We have seen that before. From the item linked above:

It reflects an argument used by a young Earth creationist in an attempt to debunk homology, and evolution. The argument goes like this:

  • You compare the amino acid sequence of cytochrome C in modern organisms.
  • You note the differences do not reflect a progression from “least developed,” e.g., a carp, to “most developed,” e.g., a horse.

The image is derived from one on page 38 of the creationist text Of Pandas and People, second edition. The book was produced by the Richardson, Texas, Foundation for Thought and Ethics. Creationists attempted unsuccessfully to introduce the book into the science curriculum of the Plano, Texas, public schools in 1995. A similar attempt with the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district culminated with the 2005 case Kitzmiller, v. Dover Board of Education. The creationists lost “bigly” then, and a lot of the Discovery Institute’s propaganda thrust since has been in response to this loss.

Here is another illustration from page 37 the Pandas book.

This illustrates how little the Intelligent Design argument has progressed in its attempt to distance itself from the dismal science of young Earth creationism. The difference in cytochrome C sequences reflects not development from ancient to modern, but the development since the most recent common ancestor. The difference between human and wheat and the difference between human and dogfish are nearly the same, because their most recent common ancestor marked the branching between plant life and animal life.

The video entertains us with more of this. And it moves on to cytochrome D, which I have not studied.

The video characterizes the involvement of homology in the theory of evolution as a circular argument. Evolution implies homology, which implies evolution.

Abuse of science has not much grown up since the Bible-thumping days of the Scopes Trial.