New Article: Common Descent vs. Common Design: 4 Examples Explained Better by Descent

We who accept Descent should admit that there are some observations that can be explained equally well by Design. But there are other observations which seem to clearly favor Descent.

What do you think about Jim’s examples? Were they compelling to you? Which one stood out the most?


When Watson and Crick worked out the structure and reproduction of DNA, they handed science many tools to investigate the functioning of biological life. The subsequent developments in gene sequencing have given evidence for the closeness or distance in genetic inheritance and this seem to me a way of showing that evolution has taken place. It is not just anatomy that points to potential evolution but now also actual genetic likeness and descent.

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Yes. Did you read the article? 3/4 examples are genetic examples!


A very helpful article with excellent examples and clear explanations. Thanks!

I would add a fifth example: biologists have developed two tools that predict protein function from genetic sequences: BLAST and SIFTER. BLAST uses similarity heuristics, which could be classified as a design concept (similar design for similar function). SIFTER takes a different approach by inferring a nested hierarchy, then using the hierarchy as a critical factor in predicting function. SIFTER’s approach is thus based on the concept of common descent via a model of nested hierarchy.

To determine whether common descent or common design is a better model, you can see which model does a better job of predicting protein function, with BLAST and SIFTER serving as proxies for common design and common descent, respectively. It turns out that SIFTER (the common descent proxy) provides far more accurate predictions of protein function than BLAST. This comparison between the tools shows that common descent yields far better predictions than common descent by itself.

This comparison is discussed in a lengthy forum thread from 2017 started by our friend @Swamidass .

Chris Falter

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Excellent examples, though my favorite is still ERVs, It has the disadvantage of being pretty technical. For common conversation, the skeleton is powerful, as easy to understand by non science-y people.


You mean when Franklin worked out the structure of DNA she handed Watson and Crick the tools to investigate the function of DNA reproduction

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@jstump Pity Jim did not give the Aevolutionists the argument to overcome their Evolutiophobia on the way. After all, their fear comes from their understanding of “survival fitness” as the survival of the “stronger”. His examples could serve to explain the strategy of survival fitness as it is our limitations that are the key to the understanding of survival fitness in the interdependence of of the elements of creation. Once you boil it down to explain that what makes you fit to survive is the ability to love thy neighbours like those of yourself, (not yourself as in oneself as some interpret it and that makes a heck of a difference)

After all, one can give ones life for thyself, but not for oneself.

Perhaps we might help a lot of creationists to accept the concept of evolution, e.g. the slow unfolding of a plan, if we explain survival fitness as as the divine rule of evolution by explaining interdependencies within creation or by talking about systems theory, e.g. the need of systems to eliminate selfish elements as they destabilise the system.
so perhaps we at biologos should create a resource on that. It’s a pity I missed @Relates thread on that. Was too busy fighting Covid

In general the common design argument falls apart when you start looking into non coding DNA. That coding DNA has thing in common between species is kind of expected under both common descent and common design, that probably the part that confuses people on why DNA is solid proof of evolution, it was for me.
Non coding DNA on the other hand is not expected under common design but is under common descent. now its not impossible to have non coding stuff inherited under common design, its called sloppy coding and calling God a sloppy coder presents theological problems to me.

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@jstump, Jim, Jim, Jim! You can do better than this. With all due respect just because most people accept the false dichotomy between descent and design, does not mean that you must too.

YEC says that just because the Bible does not say that God created lifeforms by evolution, if evolution is true then God must not have created the universe. That is stupid and crazy. Dawkins agrees, if evolution is true then God must not exist. Who says except people who have terrible theology.

I hoped BioLogos had escaped that madness by accepting Evolutionary Creation, which should mean that God created the lifeforms by designing evolution. The problem as I see it is that Common Descent do not equal evolution, only Variation. Variation and Natural Selection equals evolution and Natural Selection is by ecology and this is the way the God guides evolution.

God created, designed, gave form to the dinosaurs by shaping the environment of the earth in such a way as to give them an huge evolutionary advantages during their reign on earth. Then the environment changed and the mammals received the relative advantages.

So we have both common descent by genes and common design by God through environment. Both science and Christianity are right. Both can learn from each other.

I know that you must be familiar with the ancient the One and the Many puzzle. It seems to indicate that either the One or the Many must be prior or primary, but that is not true. They are both primary, both needed. Since they are both primary, the require a third relational term, the “and,” to make Reality which is composed of both the One and the Many work.

God is the Source of both Common Descent and Common Design is the One. Common Descent/Variation is the Many and Common Design/Natural Selection by ecology is the And.

@marvin, thank you for the heads up. You have a good handle.

I hope this clarifies my position on evolution. None of the established positions is really correct, that includes ID, Darwin, or YEC. We need to sit down and agree what is right and what is wrong. [content removed]

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@Relates, I think you’ll see that the way I’ve defined the terms escapes your criticism. I’m not talking about Design, with a capital D, in the sense that God is the Designer. Of course I believe that. I’m responding to the anti-evolution position that has been called “common design” specifically in opposition to common descent.


Yes of course, Sorry I forget her contribution.

we all do. I have to admit I had to look up her name myself, but then I wear my badge so I remember my own name when coming home, as I am onomastically challenged :slight_smile:

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@jstump, Thank you for the quick reply.

I hate to prolong this, but I think that you being quite naive. You might think you are not talking about a Big D Designing God, but the ID folk certainly are, and their strongest argument with their “base” is that evolutionists including BioLogos does not believe in the God Who intelligently designs the universe.

Now I understand that BioLogos does believe in the God Who intelligently designed the universe and uses evolution to implement that design. Did not God design DNA, genetics, cells and all that goes into reproduction?

We know that people like Dawkins believe that God did not design evolution and thus view of evolution supports atheism. ID then uses the fact that BioLogos supports evolution to claim that we do not believe in a Designer God and use statements like yours against “design” as “evidence.”

Therefore, 1) We must be very clear that our argument against ID is not against the Designer God, but the way that God designed the world. Evolution is in no way contrary to the fact that God created the earth and all that is in it. That might not make many friends with atheists, but I hope it is an honest statement of fact.

  1. We need to make clear that the ID and New Atheism view that science and Christianity are enemies is bad theology, bad philosophy, and bad science. If we do not say it, who will?
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So how does a creation process that takes away the ability to produce your own vitaminC add to your survival fitness? You could argue that a perfect creator from the point of view of those who see survival fitness in becoming superman this disproves God to them as he made humans weaker for it. But then you could also argue that it highlights the interdependency of creation.

I think the key problem with accepting evolution lies in the acceptance of death before the fall, so one needs to argue the concept of life and death and sin. Just found your “origin of sin”. So much to read and no time to do it

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One of the mischaracterizations of the “Aevolutionists” as you’ve called them is that every mutation that has survived must have produced an advantage over the same organism without that mutation. But that’s just not correct. Not every evolved organism is optimized for a particular environment; they’re good enough to make it through and keep propagating. The loss of the ability to produce vitamin C probably didn’t help; but if it occurred when the population was eating a lot of fruit anyway, it probably didn’t hurt.

Yep, death is tough. I’ve pondered it a bit on the website in my Does Evolution make the Problem of Evil Harder? and Coronavirus and the Problem of Evil. @Bethany.Sollereder’s Did God Intend Death? is worth reading on this.

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The Ävolutionists would more likely see degenerative mutations as Gods punishment for sin and deny that they occured before the fall as there everything was perfect.

Bethanies article goes along the lines of my thinking. As life is the ability of move energy and matter by will I live by the definition of the location of my will. Thus if I live in God I can not die, but as soon as I define myself in my physical body I will. So in the cross God offers us the tree of life is in becoming one with him again through Jesus we will live forever in him. As I stated elswhere
To live forever
is the art
to learn to live
in Jesus heart.

having had a quick read of your article what is wrong with physical death? To lay down your life for the sake of others is the ultimate sign of love. If you live God’s will you are aware that you are to love thy neighbour like thyselves and as for those you would lay down your life you should do for every one else as well. As long as you were living in the Authority of God you were part if the eternal life as your will was identical with that of God. It is only with claiming authority over oneself that the separation from living as part of God occurs and thus death becomes an issue as it is the end of ones self. If however Christ lives in you and you in him you can’t die any more. In death you actually go home, and if you managed to become old and wise you will follow the call. Enclosed a picture of a condolence card my son just found for my brothers father in law who died just 2 days ago and which summarises this quite beautifully

I found the argument only convincing for “preaching to the choir”, so to speak. as one already sympathetic to ID, it is obvious to me that the author does not adequately understand the concept, argument, or perspective of the “common design” argument, and thus, however unwittingly, the author confuses or misrepresents the argument at hand.

In the first case, for instance, the author observes

It seems that a human designer would have borrowed more directly from the bird body plan in designing bats, and from the fish skeleton in designing whales and dolphins.

No, no, and no. This is borne out if one considers either biology or mechanical engineering. a designer typically starts with a template, and modifies the original template in those ways that are most conducive to achieving the final ends.

If I had started with a basic mammal, and wanted to make a flying mammal… would anyone really want to suggest that it is easier, or more direct, to somehow import a bird’s wing a somehow paste that into a mammal rather than simply modifying a mammal’s forearm into a wing? a bird’s wing is fine tuned to the avionics, weight, etc., of a bird, not a mammal. if we he were to try to import the design of a bird’s wing onto a mammal to make a flying mammal, one would need to redesign practically everything about said mammal… bone structure, leg structure, weight, cardiovascular system, etc. etc.

Same would be true of whales… if a genetic engineer, even today if we had the knowledge and technology, wanted to develop an aquatic mammal, what would even a human engineer today do? Take a fish, keep those same fine and scales, and then do the massive redesign involved in giving it mammalian kings, fat, blubber, reproductive system, etc., etc., etc…

or take a mammal and make some (relatively) smaller and more minor modifications regarding location of blowhole, shape of limbs, etc.

I’m afraid that however well intentioned, this argument ends up being an unwitting straw man fallacy, only likely to convince the choir.

So you are suggesting that a designed phylogeny should be indistinguishable from a nested hierarchy?

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The second case strikes me as a clear case of confirmation bias…

What would we expect the evidence to look like if a human designer were in charge of the process? The obvious way would be to use the same codon for the same amino acid in all species…

So if the codons are different across species, then ID is false because surely if a designer were in charge of the process he would have used the same codon for all species.

Or secondly, here would be a prime opportunity to leave clear and indisputable evidence that Descent is false: when there are multiple codons available for a specific amino acid, use different ones for different species.

But, if the codons are the same, then clearly ID is false because surely a designer would have used different codons across species to demonstrate descent to be false.


Thus in contrast with what we would expect to see with common descent, we clearly see that had a designer been involved, the designer would obviously have used the same codons across species, and would clearly have had reason to use different codons across species.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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