Wednesday, April 23, 2008
..1... 2.................... 3 .......................4 ..........................5
1 = Atheistic Evolutionists
2 = Deistic Evolutionists
3= Theistic Evolutionists
4= Progressive (Old-earth) Creationists
5 = Young-earth Creationists
Ben Stein's recent big-screen documentary Expelled (released in theaters April 18), is giving the public a glimpse of something opponents of Darwinism have long known first-hand: Darwinists are not interested in free speech or diversity on the question of origins, and are willing to be heavy-handed in enforcing their viewpoint.
I know a number of Christians and other dissenters in America who have lost their jobs, been drummed out of graduate schools, been denied tenure and just generally be harassed beyond any reasonable boundary by the Darwinian thought police. One, a mathematician who lost his job for pointing out the mathematical impossibilities of Darwinism, commented that he would not be going to see Expelled because it was too painful a subject for him. The creation/evolution conflict is not just a battle fought out in armchairs over idle conversation - as my aquaintances' experience reminds me, it is a battle with very real consequences for those who are risking their livelihoods to challenge a Stalinist police state that now exists in the tax-funded halls of academia.
When I began my own study of origins in the early 90's, I quickly became aware that, as I put it at the time, "there's no idea about origins so odd that there isn't someone who believes it, usually someone with a Ph.D. in the appropriate field." In other words, Darwinian fundamentalists would have the public believe that there are only two camps - Darwinists and young-earth, biblical creationists - but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Darwinists try to sustain their simplistic dichotomy because, as the polls I relate in my other posts show, only around 10% of the U.S. believes them. Only 10% believes natural laws plus chance can completely explain life and the universe generally. The rest are in the Intelligent Design camp. And so Darwinists have very cleverly fought to maintain their privileged status as the sole recipients of tax-payer funding by portraying ANY dissent from Darwinism as automatically being from the extreme far opposite end of the spectrum. We have to enforce dogmatic naturalism (that is, only natural, evolutionary explanations) in origins science because the only alternative is some horrid kind of biblical creationism, and that would be even worse, right?
It's a desperate strategy, but a necessary one in a democratic society where only 10% really agrees with you. And it has been successful thus far, in tricking most of the 90% into voting against their own beliefs in places like Kansas. It has been successful because the 10% control not only academia but also the most influential news media - and are vicious about squashing anyone who deviates from the party line, as Expelled relates. They have been successful in portraying, however dishonestly and improbably, theistic evolutionists and old-earth creationists as if they were biblical creationists.
Of course, out here in the real world this is absurd. Some theistic evolutionists (deistic evolutionists would be a better term in their case) operate with the 10% in methodological naturalism, saying God is irrelevant to explanations of nature. But many others believe in God and evolution (despite criticisms from both sides), and trying to lump them in with six-day creationists like myself is patently absurd. They do not accept the plain words of Scripture as a historical framework for understanding natural history, and it is dishonest to imply that letting the public hear them would lead to that end, an end to which they themselves are opposed. And one need hardly be an expert in the creation/evolution conflict to note the frustration and poor relations between young-earth and old-earth (or 'progressive') creationists. The notion that Hugh Ross is secretly fronting for Ken Ham should be enough to send anyone into gales of laughter. Are you listening, Eugenie Scott?
One of the funny things about the impact of Expelled has been watching how half the Darwinists in the country have been running around loudly denying that non-Darwinists are being persecuted (i.e. the Michael Shermer camp), whereas the other half have been loudly proclaiming that yes they are successfully squashing non-Darwinists and that it is noble and right to do so (the Eugenie Scott camp). Guys, this is what happens when you don't agree on your script ahead of time.
At any rate, now that Richard Dawkins (the unlikely star of Expelled) has admitted that we can look for evidence of intelligent design in biology, the only real question is how can we reliably detect the evidence of a designer. This is a question scholars like Dr. William Dembski have already gone far in answering. It will be interesting to see if Dawkins is really willing now to grapple with their work. Or will we continue to be told that manufacturing plants and engineers are figments of creationists' imaginations?
PS: Dr. Provine, I prayed for you in 1998, and I'm praying for you again now, in case you should happen to see this.
Some Random Q and A:
Q. What is Intelligent Design (ID)?
A. Darwinists commonly claim that ID = creationism, which is nonsense the minute you begin to examine the relevant subject matter. Intelligent Design theory revolves around the question "how do we detect design?" Creationism, as it has come to be commonly understood by folks from across the origins spectrum, refers specifically to people who take the Bible as an accurate historical record of our origins, though some 'interpret' that history very loosely in terms of a naturalistic historical framework.
So are creationists IDers? Yes, ID is part of the toolkit for creation, but it is also part of the intellectual toolkit of anyone else investigating what they believe is a potential intelligent design. For example, criminal forensics experts (whether theist or atheist) use ID methodology to determine whether a person died by accident or by design (murder), or to detect fraud (stock market manipulation) versus just 'bad luck.' Archeologists use ID to determine whether a given object is a rock or an arrowhead, a tool or a meaningless scrap.
ID is only controversial when it is applied to biology and the overall structure of the universe, because in doing so it challenges the religious worldview of atheists (and deists). See for example the foundational book on ID, The Design Inference by William Dembski, published by Cambridge University Press. Only a few pages of the entire book even mention anything relating to biology or origins.
Q. Is ID science or religion?
ID has religious implications. That is, if ID detects evidence for an intelligent designer in Earth's biosphere, then that fact must be accomodated by atheists, for example. They could do this by postulating that an unknown alien race, themselves presumably lacking in that same evidence, are responsible for the intelligent design. This would be an ad hoc explanation, but it shows how atheism can in principle accomodate itself to ID (and is basically where Dr. Dawkins was heading at the end of Expelled).
Likewise, if we find that natural law plus chance is sufficient to explain all features of life, then that also has religious implications. So ID is not "religious" but does have religious implications based on what ID investigation methods reveal. The same can be said of Darwinian research.
Is it science? My own definition of science restricts it to the study of observed nature (that is, what the world IS), and the natural, repeatable patterns operating in the world (natural laws). Consider two statements:
1. Water boils at 100 C at 1 atmosphere pressure.
2. Bob boiled water last Tuesday.
Statement #1 is a scientific statement - it can be tested and judged true or false. But #2 is a historical statement, not a scientific statement. We can drag Bob into a lab on Wednesday and make him boil water all day long, and that will not prove whether #2 is true. But if Bob for some reason proves hopelessly incompetent at boiling water on Wednesday, it does cast doubt whether he did so on Tuesday.
This is the relationship of science to history. Science can judge whether a given explanation, made solely in terms of natural laws, is a plausible one historically. It cannot prove that the historical explanation is accurate, only that it is plausible. Note that science also cannot evaluate those aspects of historical explanations that do not involve natural laws.
For example, We can evaluate a claim that a waterfall has eroded a given gorge over X period of time by measuring the current rate of erosion and assuming that erosion rate was the same in the past. But if the erosion rate was different in the past because any of the causes of erosion (such as rainfall, drainage pattern, velocity of water due to the slope of the riverbed, etc.) were different, the answer will be off. And a claim that space aliens blasted out the river gorge is not "false" scientifically, but simply outside the ability of science to fully evaluate.
The idea that something outside of science is 'false' is a fallacy of scientism (the belief that only science provides real knowledge), a popular if shallow belief held by many Darwinists. But beliefs that cannot be directly investigated scientifically can still be investigated using other, rational, tools. This is where ID comes in, as part of the toolkit for investigating claims that are (at least partly) beyond the scope of science. Just as historical documentation (such as a contemporary diary) can support or contradict a theoretical model about a past historical event based on current evidence, ID research can support or contradict a claim about whether a given biological feature is the product of natural law alone or intelligent design.
So to the answer: Is it science? I would respond: ID utilizes scientific principles to understand what nature can and cannot do. If nature cannot do X, and we find evidence for X, then ID has found evidence for an intelligent design of sufficient competence to produce X. It cannot prove anything about the design beyond the level of competence required to produce X, not can it prove anything about the specific historical scenario involved in producing X. It is simply a design-detection tool that uses science to do its job. In that sense ID is very much science, with historical and religious implications.
Myth: ID (or creationism) denies the fact of evolution.
Answers: ID is explicitly and clearly open to explaining nature in terms of natural processes. If such processes are sufficient to explain all natural phenomena, then this should be detectable using ID tools, and will result in the ID explanation being superfluous.
One of the great myths propagated by Darwinists is that any kind of change automatically proves Darwinism, and that all opponents of Darwinism believe in stasis.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Many ID theorists are themselves evolutionists (just not '100%' evolutionists). And even from the young-earth, biblical creationist camp you will find that we definitely believe in biological change over time.
For the biblical creationist, Genesis describes an original world created perfect, which then fell and was cursed and has been degenerating ever since. This fall and curse is explicitly described as involving biological changes (introduction of death, thorns, loss of serpent limbs and so on) in Genesis, so clearly creationists cannot believe in stasis!
The difference is that creationists believe in 'de-evolution' over time, and are skeptical of the idea that natural laws plus chance can competently create anything significant in the way or new biological systems or functions. As a creationist I don't 'deny' evolution, but I am interested in gaining insight into what in biology is the result of God's original creation, what was introduced at the Fall, what has changed due to natural processes since then, what is the result of pre-loaded, latent adaptations, and so on. This is a rich field for investigation, and much more intellectually interesting to me than a blanket dogma of 'it all evolved by chance' would be.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Evolution, that is, the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life
Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years
What are we to make of these results? The positions staked out in these two questions are worded in a way as to make them mutually contradictory. Yet we have 53% of those polled favoring evolution on the one hand - and then 66% polled favoring creation on the other!
A second observation is that the ratio of 66% recent-creation, to 53% evolution, is consistent with the other poll data I've discussed. One mystery would be how old-earth creationists would answer this question. Indeed, old-earth creationists might be inclined to agree with each of these questions, which might explain the discrepancy noted above. But this would only explain it if the proportion of young-earth creationists has grown even more rapidly in recent years, which is an unsupported assumption at this point.
Another finding of the Gallup poll, oddly enough, was that 15% of those polled would be more likely to vote for a candidate who rejects evolution, versus 30% who would be less likely. Apparently the average creationist does not value the foundational importance of creationary belief as much as evolutionists, for whom this issue is more of a litmus test. This is consistent with observations that modern Christians and other creationary communities have become very shallow and superficial in their understanding of their theistic worldview.
Another possibility would be that voters perceive belief in evolution as being more 'sophisticated' or something along those lines, and are concerned that those who reject evolution might lack the skills/knowledge/experience to be a good political candidate. This would be a surprise to the Founding Fathers!
Saturday, February 16, 2008
- 43% said human beings evolved over millions of years, while 45% said humans were created directly by God.
- 54% of men said humans evolved over millions of years compared with 35% of women.
- 52% of college graduates said humans evolved compared with 33% of those with four years of high school or less.
- 31% of white respondents said only evolution should be taught in schools compared with 7% of nonwhites.
1. This is a Florida poll only, not for the nation as a whole.
2. The undecided/no response level on the first point is 13%, higher than other polls.
3. Thus, the 45% of belief in a direct creation is not far out of line with the 51-55% I mentioned yesterday. The 43% figure is more consistent with the 40-45% combined total for evolutionists from the CBS data. Still, the Florida results show a slightly low tally for direct creation of man, compared to the evolutionary beliefs.
4. The article points out that belief in evolution is higher among college grads. I don't have the figures, but it appears the difference is declining over time. That is, college grads are still more likely than non-grads to believe in evolution, but the difference is not nearly so severe as it once was.
5. We can infer from the last point that creation is favored by minorities, more than by whites. This suggests growth in the creationist perspectives as minorities become a greater proportion of the population and the white population declines.
6. Florida has a large retiree community. This might explain why the poll shows results comparable to 10-15 years ago for the nation as a whole. That is, if older people tend to be settled in their beliefs, and since belief in evolution was more prevalent a generation ago, we would expect Florida to be disproportionately evolutionist.
If I get a chance I'll look up the minority/white proportion of the Florida population, as that would also shed light on the overall findings compared to national polls. Overall it appears this polls is a reasonably good fit with what I outlined yesterday, assuming I'm on the right track with #6.
And as for poor Dr. Ruse in the article, the poll data just doesn't support his optimism. Creation is not going away - it appears, rather, that his Darwinian fundamentalism is on the ropes instead.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Back in October 2006, the National Science Teachers Association published a report listing the proportion of people in various countries who believed man has evolved from animals.
The number of recent-creationists had risen to 47% by 1993, and in CBS polls in 2004-2005, the number who said God created man in his present form was 51-55% (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/10/22/opinion/polls/main965223.shtml). CBS specifically commented that the results were similar when a ‘10,000 year’ timeframe question was asked as in the earlier polls. In the CBS polls, theistic evolution managed 27-30% and naturalistic evolution 13-15%.
Allowing for the inherent uncertainties in polling, we can make the following conclusions:
- The proportion of recent-creationists is increasing (44% to as high as 55%) over the past generation.
- The number of naturalistic evolutionists is also rising, at a more modest rate, from 9% to as high as 15%.
- These increases have come at the expense of theistic evolutionism, which has declined over the same time period from 40% to as low as 27%.
- All told, the results indicate a sharpening of the creation-evolution conflict with a decline in the proportion of those advocating a compromise position.
- Believers in a recent creation of man are now in a position of outright dominance in the general population.
One question not addressed in these polls is the proportion of ‘young-earth’ creationists. That is, some people who believe in a recent creation of man, nonetheless adhere to the traditional evolutionary dating scheme of billions of years for the earth. This may explain why biblical creationism continues to be almost completely excluded from the public sphere.
Piecemeal data and interpolation of other results as well as that given above gives me the following estimation for the proportion of Americans in each category as of 2008:
- Atheistic evolutionists 10% (The earth/universe is billions of years old, there is no God, and man has evolved.)
- Deistic evolutionists 5% (The earth/universe is billions of years old, God is impersonal, and man has evolved without divine involvement.)
- Theistic evolutionists 28% (The earth/universe is billions of years old; God directs the evolution of man and other life.)
- Progressive creationists 12% (The earth/universe is billions of years old; God has created man and other life without common ancestors.)
- Young earth creationists 45% (The earth is thousands of years old; God has created man and other life without common ancestors.)
Future trends are dependent on many factors, and it would be rash to simply extrapolate the trend of the past generation. Major factors would include:
- The presumably higher birthrate of American creationist communities (evangelical Christians/homeschool community, Hispanic and Muslim immigrants, African-Americans, etc.) compared to evolutionists (white liberals, Asian immigrants, secularists, Jews, etc.)
- Widespread media attention and creationary outreach efforts such as the Answers in
. Genesis Creation Museum
- Continued public policy, taxpayer funding and enforced academic orthodoxy for only naturalistic evolutionism.
- The rise of homeschooling, pulling students out of evolution-based public and private schools.
- The rise of charter schools, school vouchers, and free-market based education, that introduces students to a wider range of the available viewpoints on origins.
- The rise of the internet, both as a tool to communicate and rally communities to a common standard (on the one hand), and make information from a wide variety of sources easily available (on the other).
- The general collapse of the secular humanist worldview in Western society worldvide (as reflected by societal malaise and low birthrates, and a disinterest in pursuing more than strictly hedonistic personal goals), following the collapse of the Communist worldview in the past generation. Islam is partly exploiting the vacuum, as is Environmentalism (which I do not believe to have staying power as a worldview), but a large gap remains.
- The weakening of teaching and application of a distinctively biblical worldview (that is, how the Bible should apply to everyday life and culture) in mainstream American Christianity, to the point of virtual non-existence.
- A hardened core of American Christian homeschoolers will provide a backbone for the young-earth creationist position for at least another generation.
- General population trends favor the growth of the young-earth and progressive creation positions over the next generation. It remains to be seen if either gains at the expense of the other.
- Academic orthodoxy for naturalistic evolution will deteriorate modestly, with competing schools (theistic/New Age evolution, Intelligent Design) operating increasingly within the academic arena. Still, naturalistic evolutionists will hold the reigns of power for the foreseeable future.
- Atheistic and deistic evolution will hit a high water mark and decline due to the challenges of collapsed supporting worldviews (Marxism and Secular Humanism), competition on the internet, and poor birthrates. It will continue to garner converts from the other positions through academic channels only to lose people once they complete their education in a controlled environment and are again exposed to the marketplace of ideas.
- Theistic evolution will continue to see modest decline, but it will be alleviated by cross-traffic from atheistic evolutionists seeking meaning in life, and creationists who are poorly schooled or grounded in their beliefs by passive parents and church/educational institutions.
In previous posts I’ve explained that humans have a mutation rate many times higher than once thought. Some documentation for this point from the standard scientific literature:
Crow, J.F. 1997. The high spontaneous mutation rate: a health risk? PNAS 94:8380-8386.
Kondrashov, A.S. 1995. Contamination of the genome by very slightly deleterious mutations: why have we not died 100 times over? J. Theor. Biol. 175:583-594.
Loewe, L. 2006. Quantifying the genomic decay paradox due to Muller’s ratchet in human mitochondrial DNA. Genetical Research 87:133-159.
The best discussion of these implications to date is found in John Sanford’s book Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome (Elim Publications, 2005). Another prescient book that recognizes the devolutionary pattern of decay over time is Not by Chance, by Dr. Lee Spetner (Judaica Press, 1997).
The latter book approached the subject by examining known cases of beneficial mutations, discovering that even beneficial mutations tended to be beneficial only because of fluke side effects; the mutations themselves generally causing a breakdown in the overall efficiency and health of the cell. For example, some antibiotics can be blocked by mutations that alter the porin channels that antibiotics use to enter a cell. But such mutations also reduce or destroy the effectiveness of the porin channels as transport paths for useful cellular materials (after all, the porin channels didn’t exist solely so antibiotics could enter and kill the cell!)
Using a model with 100 mutations/child, Dr. Sanford used Mendel’s Accountant (http://mendelsaccountant.info) to generate a genetic fitness curve. Starting with a fitness of 1, the result is a logarithmically declining curve that drops below 0.5 by the 150th generation and 0.2 by 500 generations. In other words, genomic decay is catastrophic within historical timescales.
This explains why humans suffer extensively from genetic maladies and diseases on a widespread, and apparently increasing, scale. Such suffering is difficult to explain in a traditional Darwinian framework. If evolution by natural selection is so powerful as to be able to craft hypertechnological systems such as the human eye, blood clotting mechanisms, photosynthesis, etc., then it is hard to understand why genetic flaws that can be so easily rectified by comparison, persist widely in the population.
John Woodmorappe, in his book Noah’s
Given the pace of decay over even a few hundred generations, there are a few reasonably safe conclusions that can be drawn:
- The human genome originated within the fairly recent past (thousands to tens of thousands of years ago).
- The genetic health of the human genome as originally constituted was much higher than at present.
It has been truly said that science cannot prove the Bible. On the other hand, it can be shown to be consistent with it, and inconsistent with competing worldviews. In this case, the idea of ‘upwards’ evolution from simple to complex is plainly falsified; modern mutation evidence is consistent instead with the Book of Genesis in its description of a perfect beginning followed by a Fall and decay (the Curse). It is also consistent with a timescale reflecting a recent origin for the human race, and inconsistent with a traditional evolutionary timescale of several million years for the history of man.
Yesterday I pointed out that real-world mutation rates were a fatal flaw for Darwinian evolution. Natural selection is incapable of overcoming or even significantly slowing the flood of devolutionary mutations cropping up in the human genome. The question now for geneticists is to understand the devolutionary patterns that must exist in the history of life.
To help with this effort, Cornell biologist Dr. John Sanford led the development of Mendel’s Accountant, which is available free at http://mendelsaccountant.info. This state of the art tool gives users a chance to play with population genetics models themselves, altering various parameters to understand the pace of decline in genetic fitness on various populations.
In a paper describing the software,
“All our findings using numerical simulation strongly support previous theoretical and mathematical analyses [Muller, 1950], [Kondrashov, 1995], [Muller, 1964], [Loewe, 2006], which have consistently suggested fundamental and irreconcilable problems with neo-Darwinian theory. All of these previous analyses, when taken at face value, clearly show that neo-Darwinian theory should not work. Numerical simulation now independently and conclusively affirms this.”
(John Sanford, “Falsifying Neo-Darwinian Theory” manuscript, undated.)
Students of genetics and biology generally are urged to carefully (not dismissively) consider the implications of professor Sanford’s work. There is no point in continuing to interpret biological data within a failed theoretical context (Darwinism). No matter how neatly such data may seem to fit the framework, the fact that the framework has fundamentally failed renders such an exercise pointless.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
The problem is not what natural laws and chance events can explain, but what they, by themselves, cannot explain. A man who insists that any given random rock on a mountainside was placed there by aliens is an idiot, but so is a man who insists that the clothes on his back are the products of natural law and chance alone, without the involvement of intelligent agents.
This is not a trivial point. The academic community is overflowing with Ph.D.'s, even Nobel laureates, who insist with a straight face that an unknown intelligent designer must never be considered as a potential cause for anything. Which means that if you have never visited the Chinese factory or met the factory workers who produced your shirt, they consider you a loon for believing it to be designed (or they should, if they were consistent). Some evolutionists try to claim this is only true for biology, but this is an absolutely arbitrary distinction; why should we be allowed to postulate intelligent designers for a shirt made of cotton, but not the cotton material itself?
Besides, it is still unreasonable. Suppose unknown rogue scientists in the employ of Al Quaida genetically modified a bacteria to become a new disease. To be consistent evolutionists would all have to deny that such genetic engineering can be considered as a possibility, even if the rogue scientists left the message "MOHAMMED WAS HERE YOU STINKING INFIDELS" embedded in Arabic right in the DNA strands in morse code. That is the absurdity that unflinching methodological naturalism comes to when it refuses to intelligently consider non-naturalistic causes. We can be sloppy about considering such causes, but even a sloppy approach will get us nearer the truth than a fanatical refusal to even consider possibilities.
After all, it's not as if evolution in the sense of innovative-change-over-time is still a plausible concept in the relevant branches of science. Evolutionism today is as much a fairy tale as the concept of a flat earth, for all the authoritative pronouncements defending it. Consider for a moment the implications of the rates of mutations measured in the human genome.
THE MUTATION RATE DILEMMA
Imagine a village with 100 adults living in it. Every generation the parents produce 200 children, half of whom die before adulthood. Let us assume that 50% of the children have one hereditable mutation, and that half of these are beneficial and half harmful. Let us further assume that natural selection is perfectly rigorous.
As a result, all the 50 children with harmful mutations die, and half of those with no mutations. The survivors are 50 children with beneficial mutations and 50 with no mutations. As a result the next generation is genetically superior to their parents. This is how evolution is supposed to work.
Of course, this is an oversimplification. In the real world natural selection is not very rigorous - empirical studies and population genetics theory agree that it is a very subtle, weak force in practical terms. In sexually reproducing organisms the best mutation in the world will not be carried in 50% of offspring just by virtue of the random mixing of DNA from each parent.
Just having a beneficial mutation does not guarantee survival, it only enhances it compared to those lacking the mutation. The formula for 'fixing' new beneficial mutations boils down to X = 2A, where A is the percentage increase in offspring, and X is the chance the mutation will spread through a population. Thus, let's say 1% of a population was dying from AIDS without reproducing. A mutation that produced total immunity to AIDS would thus have only a 2% chance of surviving and spreading through a population. So most beneficial mutations will die out on their own just by random chance. And note that most beneficial mutations have a much, much smaller impact than a 1% increase in reproduction.
But all this sidesteps the real problem with the illustration above. In the real world the mutation rate is not .5 mutations/child. The human genome has been the subject of much study in recent decades, and estimates of the mutation rate/child now run much, much higher - 100 is considered an absolute bare minimum, and the real rate is probably several times higher, at least.
Moreover, no serious biologist believes that half of all mutations could be beneficial. Biological systems are extraordinarily complex, and the more complex a system the more likely that a random change will disrupt it rather than enhancing it.
Some optimistically speak of 0.1% of all mutations being beneficial. Some might be neutral, but the vast majority are going to be harmful. There was some dispute about the ratio of neutral to harmful mutations in the past with the concept of 'junk DNA' (after all, randomly changing a gene that is 'junk' can't make it worse, can it?) But with the discoveries of the ENCODE project (cf. Alex Williams, "Astonishing DNA Complexity Demolishes Neo-Darwinism," Journal of Creation 21(3):111-117), it is now clear that virtually all DNA is functional. That means mutations will either enhance their functions or disrupt them, but are very unlikely to have zero effect.
Moreover, truly novel beneficial mutations are even more unlikely because of the way information is layered within DNA in overlapping patterns, something that was known but not fully appreciated before the ENCODE project findings. This means a single point mutation that enhances lung capacity, for example, might also stunt the growth of your eyes and cause your bladder to grow in your kneecap. It is much more difficult to envision beneficial mutations in such a complicated environment. Indeed, known beneficial mutations may have to be re-evaluated as back mutations (mutations that simply reverse or undo a mutation in the past).
This leaves us with a village scenario more like this:
Imagine if the 100 parents gave birth to 200 children. Each of the children has numerous mutations - let's say from 80 to 120 per child in a bell curve pattern. Of the 20,000 mutations in this generation of children, let us say optimistically that 20 of them are beneficial. This means 90% of the children are carrying around a hundred harmful mutations each, while the other 10% have a single beneficial mutation each, along with around a hundred harmful mutations.
Do you see the problem? If you are trying to get a generation that is more fit than the past generation, which children do you allow to live such that they are more fit than their parents? The answer is that none of them are more fit than their parents. The large number of mutations per child guarantees that each individual will be less fit than their parents. True, must of the mutatations have negligible effect. But they are still disruptive to existing metabolic pathways and complex biochemical systems and structures. The trend is inescapable. No matter how rigorous we propose that natural selection can be, there are simply no healthy individuals to select that will maintain or improve the fitness of the population.
This is the situation the human race, and indeed the entire biological world, is facing. It is plainly and powerfully demonstrated in the book Genetic Entropy by Dr. John Sanford, a semi-retired Cornell University biologist with worldwide fame as the inventor of 'gene-gun' technology used for genetic engineering. (He was named 2001 Scientist of the Year by Progressive Farmer, for example.)
Sanford documents the problem so clearly that the only responses to it have been 'crank' responses (such as claiming the mutations in question are all non-hereditable ones). Even a mutation rate of about 1/child would be enough to overpower natural selection and drive inevitable decay of the genome, so a rate in the hundreds makes it astonishingly clear: the human race is on a rapid path of unstoppable genetic decay (short of massive genetic engineering).
In my next posts, I'll outline some of the implications for these discoveries and point readers to Mendel's Accountant, a software simulation tool developed by Dr. Sanford and his co-workers to study the impact of real-world mutation rates on the health of genomes.