Four Nails Exposed

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

Richard Dawkins
I know many of you have been anxiously awaiting the report of last night's meeting at Southern Methodist University. You know, the one where the Four Nails in Darwin's Coffin were revealed to the general public for the first time?

Here's the summary from Disco [Standing Room Only Crowd Treated to Serious Discussion of the Scientific Demise of Darwinism].
CSC's Stephen Meyer moderated the discussion after the film which included four serious challenges to Darwinian evolution. The first speaker was evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg who presented the challenge of population genetics to Darwin's Theory. He was followed by Biologic Institute's Doug Axe who spoke on the challenge of finding functional proteins, and CSC Fellow Paul Nelson who explained why evolving animal body plans by random mutation and natural selection is probably impossible. CSC biologist Jonathan Wells concluded the short presentations by explaining the challenge of ontogenetic information. The evening closed with a robust 40 minutes of questions from the audience.
Ohmygod! They snuck in a ringer, Paul Nelson. I didn't know he was going to be there. No fair!

As far as I can gather from this short summary, the four nails are:
1. Population genetics challenges Darwin's Theory. Not much of a surprise here since populations genetics was only developed in the 1920s and 1930s. That's at least sixty years after publication of the Origin of Species. The Modern Synthesis, on the other hand, was specifically developed to take advantage of the new understanding of evolution that arose from population genetics. The Modern Synthesis dates from the 1940s suggesting that Richard Sternberg still has a lot of learnin' ahead of him. Either that, or he is deliberately misleading his audience by referring to "Darwin's Theory." That would be wicked and, like Richard Dawkins', I don't want to consider that.1

2. The Challenge of Finding Functional Proteins. This probably refers to Doug Axe's work on mapping protein folds to an adaptive landscape. He is fascinated by the appearance of peaks corresponding to low free energy wells for each of the main types of fold. While staring at these figures he finds it easy to imagine that God made all of these folds and that it is impossible for any of them to evolve from some intermediate state. Real scientists don't have a problem explaining those peaks from an evolutionary perspective. But then, real scientists understand evolution and that gives them an unfair advantage.

3. Evolving Animal Body Plans by Random Mutation and Natural Selection is Probably Impossible. Paul Nelson defines himself as a Young Earth Creationist [Paul Nelson Is Confused] so it's safe to conclude that there isn't much about evolution that he likes. It's probably also safe to assume that his understanding of evolution leaves a lot to be desired since his "nail" is restriced to natural selection. (His readings in evolution may have stopped at the same place as Sternberg's.) I can't imagine why he thinks that evolving body plans is impossible. Most of the arguments along those lines have been refuted decades ago. What's the "new challenge," Paul?

4. Challenge of Ontogenetic Information. Jonathan Wells is famous for The Icons of Evolution where he had ten (10) serious challenges to evolution.1 At least we're making progress—now we're down to only four and the first two weren't even mentioned in Icons. The word "ontogeny" refers to development. I assume that "ontogenetic information" refers to the program of development involving the differential expression of genes at different times. Maybe he's referring to Evo-Devo (Evolutionary Developmental Biology). He could be referring to one of the "icons" in his ten-year old book because he criticized the current molecular understanding of development in a chapter celled "Four-Winged Fruit Flies." If that's the challenge he talked about last night, then it's hardly new. West's ideas were refuted even before he published his book in 2000.
There you have it, folks. Lot's like more of the same-old, same-old, criticism of science that's come to characterize the Intelligent Design Creationist movement. They never offer any evidence for a designer and they never tell us how they explain the "challenges" based on Intelligent Design Creationism.

They make extensive use of false dichotomy by assuming there are only two possible explanations for a biological phenomenon—their (usually false) version of evolution, or creationism. By "refuting" their strawman version they assume that the only alternative is creationism.

Now do you understand why we call them IDiots?

1. Not.
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