Forgive the lack of posting, I’ve been having a rough time of late. However, I am once more inspired, so here we go.
A few friends and myself are both discussing things with a creationist and helping another person with their own creationist issues. Once again, it is obvious to anyone who even compares the sides to this discussion that ID is totally vacuous. The creationists are totally unknowledgeable about science; the process, the data, the analysis, and the facts. It is most depressing that someone who can’t even construct valid sentences thinks that they can successfully argue against people with Ph.D.s in the field (and me).
Today, a discussion of ‘front-loading’ came up and I’d like to add some material so, if you are caught out by a creationist, then you have a response that they cannot deal with on the issue of front-loading.
What is front-loading. Well, it’s not formally defined anywhere that I care to look (i.e. biology texts, peer-reviewed literature, etc.) and the creationists I have asked are nearly as bad at answering questions as Rick Perry.
But here’s what I understand. Front-loading is the method by which all the possible future phenotypes have been inserted into the genome and only await ‘activation’. This was done by the designer since (according to creationists), evolution can’t do it.
Most creationists rarely use this argument. It really is a poor argument and most creationists will avoid it like the plague because it is so poor. Except in one case, then it is very common.
That case is in regards to evolutionary or genetic algorithms. The claim is that the programmer inserted the answer into the code. This is plainly ridiculous since the main purpose of industrial use of genetic algorithms is to do things that humans can’t.
Look closely at the examples and notice that, in every case (and every case that I am aware of) genetic algorithms outperform human results. In at least one case, humans still don’t even understand how the evolved system works. If no one can figure out how it works, then it’s not likely to be front-loaded is it?
But why couldn’t alleles be front-loaded into a genome and then be ‘turned on’ in the future. Well, there are a couple of reasons and the first is a real doozy.
Jonathan Wells has written a new book about ‘junk DNA’. The creationist belief is that science was once wrong about what ‘junk DNA‘ is, then science is wrong about everything else. Of course, it was scientists that discovered functions for some non-coding DNA, not creationists. Further, the earliest mention I can find of any creationist argument for a function for some non-coding DNA was 1994 or 1995 and that was Michael Behe. Of course, Stephen J. Gould said the same thing in 1977 (or thereabouts).
Anyway, the problem is that creationists who want to argue for front-loading have to talk about how that squares with all that non-coding DNA. Consider HLA-A. The human population has some 673 alleles for HLA-A. Now, you, as a person, can only have two alleles. One from your mom and one from your dad. Yet, creationists would have us believe that those other 671 alleles are present in your genome… must be present in your genome because of front-loading.
No mutation can create new alleles that are functional, according to creationists (well some of them). So, all 673 alleles must have been front-loaded into the human genome at the time of ‘creation’. It gets even worse when you consider that all the genes with more than 10 alleles (Noah, his wife, and the three daughters in law… assuming that they were all heterozygous… which for technical reasons is unlikely) must also have been front-loaded into the genome.
But what’s worse for the creationist is that, back to the ‘mutations cannot add information or produce functional proteins’, the method for ‘activating’ these front-loaded alleles must have been… gasp… mutation. Whoops.
Think about that a second. According to creationists, you personally have all 673 alleles for HLA-A in your genome. Only two are activated, because that’s all you can have (where the other 671 alleles are is open to whimsical speculation). There are ways to tell genes to deactivate one allele and activate another allele. But this is all (with the exception of epigenetics) done by changing the genome.
How do you get cancer? Because the genetic instructions for a cell changed. Instead of doing whatever its supposed to do, the cell has changed to just making copies of itself. Heck, cancer is a fantastic argument against front-loading in and of itself. According to creationists, you have every form of cancer that ever has been and ever will be, in your genome, right now.
Which leads us to a very interesting possibility. We should look for them. Creationists will say that ‘cancers are mistakes’, but in reality cancers are extremely well evolved for their environment. Unfortunately, they still tend to kill the host. But, we don’t have to do that. We could, instead, look for all 673 HLA-A alleles. If we don’t find them, then that’s a shot against front-loading.
Oh wait, someone did that. Did they find 673 alleles in the genome?
Nail in the coffin of front-loading.
But wait, the creationist says. I’m OK with ‘microevolution’. It’s only macroevolution that is front-loaded.
Which makes absolutely no sense. This is the classic example of the creationist shoveling shit in the hopes to hide his statements without thinking about what he is saying.
The creationist, using this argument, is actually arguing that macroevolution DOES happen. It’s just controlled by genes that are already present in the organism. But go ahead, ask the creationist is macroevolution happens and you will get a vehement “NO!”
In that case, what’s the point in having macroevolutionary changes front-loaded? The creationist must either accept that macroevolution happens or accept that front-loading does not.
There is one final piece and it’s pretty technical and we don’t have the answers yet, but I suspect that we will soon enough.
Consider the dog (Canis familaris). What the creationist is saying with the front-loading argument is that the ancestral dog had every gene and allele to make every single dog from the toy dachshund to the Bull Mastiff.
This should be readily easy to test too. We just need DNA sequencing data from many dog breeds. We also need to know what the ancestral species of all domestic dogs is. And then we need the gene sequence from that species.
Then all we have to do is find all those alleles and genes from the dogs in the wolves. If they are there, in their entirety and without any changes, then front-loading is supported. If they are not there, in their entirety, then front-loading is refuted.
Curiously, no creationist scientists seem to be working on this (or anything else for that matter), while scientists from dozens of disciplines are actively involved in this area of research.
Anyone want to place a bet on which hypothesis will be supported and which refuted?
BTW: A common attack from creationists on this topic is to quote Dr. Elaine A. Ostrander.
One of the most interesting questions still to understand … is why did the wolf keep locked in its genome everything that was necessary to make a Pekingese to a Great Dane.
Of course, anyone with a lick of sense would realize that she is not saying that every single allele needed to make a toy poodle, and a beagle, and a Great Dane, and a mastiff, and a whippet, and a (everything else) is actually present in the wolf.
Instead, the genetic diversity that evolution can act on is present. For example, it would be exceedingly difficult to breed a great variety of breeds of cheetah, even in 15,000 years because the genetic diversity in the cheetah population is very, very low. Dangerously low in fact.
Wolves, on the other hand, much like humans have a great genetic diversity. Evolution has a great deal of raw material to work with. That and selection pressures that are caused by the breeding of dogs by humans results in rapid divergence of the species we call dogs.