Are there problems with the evolutionary scenario?

Thank you for your feedback and kind words.

Keeping an open mind and admitting lack of knowledge when appropriate is important to me. While it is clear our positions are similar, I am still trying to understand where we differ, and where Biologos differs from Discovery Institute or J. Coyne for that matter.

Let’s explore Evolution a bit: it seems that all the discussions and arguments appear because we simply do not have a good definition of the concept. “Changes in gene frequencies in populations” just doesn’t cut it as it is too broad. “Non-random survival of random variants” doesn’t work either nor does any other definition out there. And the problem is that without a good definition, everything becomes Evolution and that’s just not the scientific method.

Let’s see then if “I know it when I see it” makes any difference. Is … “Evolution”:

  • any newborn?
  • breeding/domestication?
  • Richard Lenski’s E. Coli?
  • The Japanese people after WW2?
  • antibiotic resistance?
  • HGT?
  • immunity response?
  • what else?

Even J. Coyne admits: “true, breeders haven’t turned a cat into a dog and … bacterium into amoeba”. BUT WHY NOT? Without a biological baseline, and a clear definition of what EXACTLY constitutes Evolution as opposed to mere Adaptation, the claimed evidence is invalid. Conversely, we can also ask: “what EXACTLY is Not Evolution?”

The fossil record can be interpreted as one wishes. You can see my very recent reply to the author for more, but basically, it seems we lack a good definition of ‘Evolution’. So what are we even talking about?

[quote=“NonlinOrg, post:16, topic:26482”]@swamidass
Without a biological baseline, and a clear definition of what EXACTLY constitutes Evolution as opposed to mere Adaptation, the claimed evidence is invalid

I believe you raise an interesting point, and it goes to the question of the definition of biological, or Darwinian evolution, which I happen to believe is a unique and very particular phenomenon that is not found anywhere outside of biology. For example, while your automobile example is a good illustration of evolution in the sense of change stimulated by selection, it is profoundly NOT Darwinian evolution because the mechanisms for these changes are different.

The definition of evolution as the change in allele frequencies in populations with time, which is the basis of the mathematical theory is very useful, but doesnt get at the uniquely biological mechanism.

I think the answer lies in the required and universal, very strong linkage between inheritable genotype with selectable phenotype. I discuss this in some length in a paper now in press, which I am happy to send you a link to (or anyone else). The bottom line is that inherent in all of terrestrial biology, is this very special biochemical machinery to turn inherited information (from DNA) into protein based cellular characteristics, which allows for selection, which then acts on the survival of the gene. This interaction between information and its meaning, is probably unique in the universe. And it allows for, and exists for, and in fact makes inevitable, Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

I’m fine with it, except that it’s changes in ALLELE frequencies in populations over time. If you don’t grasp the distinction, you’re almost certainly not grasping the definition.

It covers everything. I don’t any impression of a desire for exploration in your breezy dismissal.[quote=“NonlinOrg, post:16, topic:26482”]
Even J. Coyne admits: “true, breeders haven’t turned a cat into a dog and … bacterium into amoeba”. BUT WHY NOT?
Because for each pair, one is not the ancestor of the other. Evolution is a metaphorical bush, not a metaphorical ladder. It also falsely portrays evolution as happening to distinct individuals, when in reality and by definition it only happens to populations. You’ve already gone outside the definition you just complained was too broad!

You seem to be ignoring the basic concepts of nested hierarchies and common descent. Is that a fair assessment?

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I wouldn’t agree with that.

But can we at least agree that ignoring most of the fossil record (and pretending that there’s no synergy with the sequence evidence) can’t accurately be described as a mere difference in interpretation?


Hello @NonlinOrg, nice to hear from you.

That is a great goal and attitude. If we come to this trying to understand each other and correctly represent each others positions, a lot of good can happen.

I do need to emphasize that I do not speak for BioLogos as a whole. I am on their speakers bureau, but it is important to recognize that BioLogos is a “Big Tent” that includes a wide range of people. If you want to understand BioLogos, the best starting point is their belief statement: The Work of BioLogos - BioLogos. Before going too much father, I would encourage you to read it. That will clarify immediately how we are different than Dawkins and Coyne. The Discovery Institute is a bit more of a complicated case though.

All the same, I will explain my personal positions too, but I am just one person within the tent.

Good plan. Let’s start there.

I entirely agree that the definitions are important. And the definitions you point to are problematic in this context.

The definition I use for “evolution” is “common descent,” or the theory that life on earth descends with modification from common ancestors. This is the only historically consistent definition of evolution there inon-random s. It the definition of evolution that has remained constant from Darwin till now. It has stuck with us through all the major revolutions of evolutionary though. While this specific mechanisms of evolution have been constantly refined in small ways, and revolutionized several times too, this basic theory of “common descent” from ancestors with modification has remained consistent.

So I agree that “change in gene frequencies” is a not a helpful definition. No one denies that this happens, and this fact alone does very little to demonstrate common descent. Moreover, this definition is not historically consistent; Darwin did not even know what “genes” were and this had nothing to do with the theory for a long time.

There are similar problems with your other definition “non random survival of random variants.” Once again, almost no one denies this, but the concern with with how much this can explain the complexity and variation we see in life. Now in mainstream science, it was determined a while ago (in the 1960s) that this mechanism of evolution is quantitatively much less important than several other mechanisms to explaining the information in DNA. Neutral processes end up being much more important, and neutral theory is what give us some of the strongest evidence for common descent.

So once again, the only historically consistent definition of evolution is “descent with modification from common ancestors.”

To be clear, this definition does not deny God’s involvement (or direct intervention), even though it does not directly affirm it. There is nothing here that denies God’s providence, purpose, or role in origins. Though it does appear that the differences we see between species can be explained as naturally occurring modifications and process, this does not specifically rule out God’s action, providence, or purposes. This is why most scientists (including my atheist colleagues) consider evolutionary creationism (the BioLogos position) solidly within mainstream science.

This definition does not also insist on UNIVERSAL common descent (UCD) to a single common ancestor and it does not include abiogenesis. This is important distinction to recognize. For example, if SETI was to find life in another solar system, it would almost certainly not share ancestry with us. Likewise, many early biologists and Darwin himself thought that abiogenesis was easy so that there probably multiple independent lineages of life. This is still an active question in mainstream science too, though the evidence does suggest UCD it is not a dogmatic part of evolution. And to reiterate, abiogenesis (the first life that arose) is not part of evolution itself (and there is a wide range of beliefs about this within the BioLogos tent).

More over, this definition does not deny design; in fact it is actually a principle of design and a mechanism of creation. I say that God created us; he designed us all by a process of descent from common ancestors. Although I am not an ID advocate and my difficulties with the ID movement and the arguments they advance, there are theistic evolutionists in the ID camp (e.g. Behe and Denton). So “evolution” defined this way is not intrinsically opposite of design.

Well with this definition I’ve given these are easy questions to answer. Things like cancer, the immunity response and antibiotic resistance are not usually evolution per se (but do mind the exceptions). Still they do provide important examples that help scientists understand the mechanisms by which biological systems can change over time. It is through direct experimentation on systems like this that we can build plausible models for the evolution of species (which is where common descent can be established).

The example I want to emphasize is the common ancestry of humans with the great apes. I think everyone agrees that this is an example of “evolution,” and this specific evolutionary claim has been the center of the conflict from the 1860’s, through the Scopes Trial, to this day. On the scientific side, the evidence for evolution here is overwhelming. Remember, I am not arguing that God was not involved (He was), but I am arguing the evidence points to common descent as the mechanism for how He “formed us from the dust.”

Any how, with this definition, maybe we can make some progress. What do you think @NonlinOrg?

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benkirk said, “change in Allele frequencies in populations over time.”

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@NonlinOrg… .I really can’t fathom how you learned this idea or viewpoint. Millions of dollars of medical funding go to investigations into biochemistry are paid to obtain REAL discoveries in the genomes of life forms all around the earth (animal AND vegetable).

Every year, discoveries made possible Only because of Evolutionary theory, are being made. None of this would be possible if “Evolution” couldn’t be defined… or if “Evolution” couldn’t be tested.

It seems you are making an intentional decision not to listen to what others write or say about Evolution as a science. Compare the physics and chemistry of Evolution … and compare it to the loosey-goosey nature of a science like Psychology … and the sub-fields of Psychology like Developmental Psychology, Psychotherapy, and several schools of Freudian psychology (those that compartmentalize the Personality into the Id, the Ego, and the Superego).

These fields are even more challenging to define and to test … and yet experts do accomplish such assessments…

And here you are telling the whole world that Evolution, despite it being grounded in something so completely scientific as Physics and Chemistry - - is somehow IMMUNE to theoretical definition and scientific testing.

Frankly, my distant spiritual brother, what you say is not credible … and not consistent with anything being done and discovered every year for generations.

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It is very easy to say what is Not Evolution: if there is no change in any population’s gene pool… there is no evolution. The gene pool literally has to Change in order to have Evolution. And by change, it is meant:

  1. the loss of a gene, the garbling of a working gene, the appearance of a brand new gene (either good or bad), OR EVEN …

  2. the change in percentages in a gene pool regarding Existing genes:
    a) if a present population has hair genes in these proportions: 12% fuzzy, 80% straight, 8% curly.

b) If we find a fossil of the same kind of creature (say we think it is 100,000 years old) … and microscopic analysis of the fossilized hair and hair follicles reveal an ORIGINAL proportion of: 30% fuzzy, 30% straight and 40% curly …
that is Also considered a change in the gene pool. So that is Also evolution.

**But perhaps you are asking (or also asking) what would Disprove evolution … in the broad sweep of things… if we find Any pattern (not a one-off exception of mysterious context) where a large number of large mammal fossils or human fossils are mixed in with dinosaur fossils… **

… this would be devastating! Because one of the most secure “testable hypotheses” in Evolution is that until the Dinosaurs greater than 50 pounds were wiped out … it was virtually impossible for mammals to diverge into important ecological niches… for in those niches they were quickly eaten and depleted.

After generations of research, we STILL haven’t found any systematic pattern of large mammals mixed in with dinosaurs.!

That is true as far as freedom of speech is concerned. But if you are a student or a researcher you’d better be able to defend your position with science.


We just disagree and that’s fine. Beyond that, you don’t have a point.

Not my definition. Alleles or not, and speaking of bush, you’re beating around it. The definition is lacking as every single new birth changes the population. Is every new birth evolution?

Before we discuss nested hierarchies and common descent we have to clarify the basic definition of evolution. And I am quoting J. Coyne if you haven’t noticed. I think he understands this is about populations, not individuals.

Only Science includes Religion and cannot be separated from it: Philosophy, Religion, and Science – NonLin

You will disagree, but Darwin, Coyne, Dawkins, etc. are first atheists and then [debatable] scientists.

@NonlinOrg (copy to @benkirk)

Any change in the gene pool is Evolution. So technically speaking, even one birth can be a change. But some changes are material, and some are not. When you put a thermometer into a gallon jug of water, technically, the temperature of the thermometer influences the temperature of the gallon jug - - but generally only by a tiny or insignificant amount.

The mathematical change in the gene pool created by a single birth represents the question of “Materiality”.

Generally speaking, unless that birth includes a novel mutation, a single birth in a robust population represents an unimportant evolutionary change. If the gene pool only has 5 individuals, then a single birth would be relatively important!

So, now that we’ve settled this … where do you want to go next? Remember… most of us here are not promoting Darwinism … but are promoting God-guided Natural Selection and Mutation.


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Your clarifications are helpful, thanks.

Please note, the quoted definitions are public, not mine. I will have to add ‘common descent’ to the list, but am not sure it makes any difference as it seems as non-scientific (i.e. not testable) as all others. Sure, evolution could be a mechanism of creation, why not? And this makes me agnostic about the concept, but from the scientific method perspective, I expect to see much more than second and third order evidence like DNA structure and the fossil record. Am I the only one bothered by the lack of primary evidence such as “bacterium into amoeba”? In particular, the R. Lenski experiment, which is almost 30 years old, should have created all kind of other organisms.

You confuse Genetics with Evolution when the two were completely unrelated until Dobzhansky’s “synthesis” in 1937. Darwin and Mendel never had anything in common whatsoever and, while you can verify Mendel’s experiments any time, you cannot verify anything Darwin said. Think!

No,@NonlinOrg, you are not the only one, but you and the others are equally misled by this concern.

How do you prove a bacteria into an amoeba if it takes a million years to do so?.. or even a laboratory equivalent of 500 years instead of a million years.

Since even animals that most YEC’s would consider two different Kinds - - like Lions and Tigers - - cannot be PROVED to be two different kinds … because they are able to mate and create fertile offspring.

Can you give us the Biblical definition of a Kind Do you think the Bible thinks Lions and Tigers are two kinds or one kind?


Sir, you are just trying to be funny, no? You say I am confusing Genetics with Evolution?

I have no idea how you mean that kind of sentence.

BioLogos supporters like me don’t care a hoot about proving anything Darwin said. I am not defending Darwinism.

I am defending God-Guided Evolution.

The gene pool changes continuously with every birth/death and that’s no evidence for or against anything.

We are told evolution is not directional, so “mammal fossils or human fossils are mixed in with dinosaur fossils” would mean nothing. In fact, if evolution were indeed “not directional” we could have seen just as well layers of mammals followed by dinosaurs, followed by trilobites, followed by other mammals and so on …and all all kind of mixtures, why not?

Invoking the Bible is admission that this is a religious debate. Do you really want to go there?

“If it takes a million years to do so” (bacterium into amoeba) is a huge problem:

We are told apes to humans took 6 millions of year. Assume 20 yrs / human generation and a historical population of, say 100,000 humans, you can estimate the equivalent number of years the Lenski experiment should have taken to succeed …and in the lab we can always increase the bacteria population to speed-up things …and bacteria are way simpler than humans.