The evidence for evolution: a short video and a slightly longer take

This video came out only five days ago and already has garnered 127,000+ views, so the production outfit, Stated Clearly, must be doing something right. And indeed, it’s very good. If you can’t get somebody to read WEIT, at least have them watch this video, and ask them, if they’re creationists, how their own theory could explain the evidence shown. First watch the video, which I like, and then I’ll tender a few comments:

By concentrating on cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and their relatives), the film is able to go into depth about one evolutionary transition, and it does it well, especially because several whale experts (Thewissen and Gingerich in particular) generously gave their advice.  I liked the pictures of the vestigial whale “pelvis” with the ball-and-socket still there, and the intermediate form showing a skull with the nostrils moved halfway up toward the crown of the head.

A few quibbles: first, the video characterizes the theory of evolution as having two main tenets:  1. The common ancestry of all life, and 2. The fact that evolution was a product of purely natural processes.  These are correct, but they should have said more. For instance, all science rests on the assumption (amply verified) of naturalism, so that is not unique to evolution, though important for the many (31% of Americans) who think evolution is God-guided.

More important, they should have added that there is EVOLUTION WITHIN LINEAGES: that is, lineages not only ramify, but each lineage can itself evolve. That’s implied but not stated explicitly. They missed evolution itself! In fact, if the group of whales they show do have an ancestor-descendant relationship, then they’re actually showing this within-lineage change.

At any rate, my own characterization of evolution would, as I say in WEIT, involve these tenets: 1. Evolutionary changes occur within lineages and these changes are populational rather than transformational: that is, evolution occurs by gradual generation-by-generation turnover of the genetic constitution of a population, not by changes of the individuals themselves; 2. Lineages splitting, or speciate. This produces the branching “tree of life.”. 3. This splitting of lineages, taken together with the evidence that all modern species stem from a single common ancestor that lived billions of years ago, means that every pair of species has a common ancestor somewhere in the tree of life. (The film says this, but should have added that the splitting itself is what gives rise to common ancestry.) 4. Gradualism: evolution usually takes a long time.  It can be quick, happening in only a few generations, but major changes, such as the transformation of ancestral reptiles into birds, take hundreds of thousands to millions of years. Complex features like eyes and new groups like birds do not evolve overnight. 5. Much of the evolutionary process, and virtually all of the change that adapts animals and plants to their environments, occurs by natural selection, although there are other processes, like genetic drift, that can cause evolution. And yes, all evolutionary change occurs by natural, unguided processes: genes differentially proliferating due to either random chance (drift) or differential, repeatable ability to leave more copies than other forms of genes (natural selection).

In other words, my own characterization of evolution would have more than two features, and naturalism is assumed in all of them.

In terms of the evidence, I wouldn’t concentrate so much on homology of either genes or features as evidence for evolution. It is consistent with evolution, but it’s also consistent with God having given animals a similar Bauplan, with similar species having similar Baupläne. While the fact that bats have fingers in their wings is consistent with evolution, you could, at a stretch, say that’s consistent with God’s economical way of designing mammals.  This is why I don’t use homology in my book as strong evidence for evolution. Creationists have an alternative explanation that sounds credible, at least to an uninformed layperson.

What does constitute strong evidence for evolution is the similarity, among organisms deemed related from functional gene similarity, morphology, and fossils, of nonfunctional DNA. If homology merely reflected God’s design, it would be hard to understand why God also made the nonfunctional bits of DNA more similar among species appearing more similar in both morphology and the functional bits of DNA. Related to that is the observation that presumed insertions of viruses that are now inactive occur at similar positions in “related” species, like chimps and humans. Again, those are the remnants of ancient infections in common ancestors, and it would be odd indeed if God had a hand in putting useless, inactivated viral DNA in exactly the same genomic position in close relatives.  Since we now have good evidence that nonfunctional DNA changes in proportion to the time elapsed (via genetic drift), the similarity of such DNA among species gives an index of their evolutionary relatedness. And that relatedness happens to match the relatedness discerned on other grounds: vestigial organs, fossils, functional DNA, morphological homology, and so on. This coincidence of different indices of relatedness constitutes strong evidence for evolution.

The filmmakers’ use of embryology, vestigial organs, and the fossil record (a good record for cetaceans) was very convincing; these things do constitute strong evidence for evolution in that there is no quasi-credible creationist alternative—as there is for homology. I would have added two things, though these probably aren’t easy to find for whales. First, biogeoraphy—the distribution of plants and animals on Earth—is also strong evidence for evolution.  The proliferation of life on oceanic islands (with some forms absent or nearly so, like mammals, amphibians, and reptiles) is one example. Biogeographic evidence for evolution is probably hard to find for cetaceans. I appreciate that you can’t cover all creatures in a short video, and it was clever to use only cetaceans, which have such a great fossil record, but by so doing the filmmakers missed out on biogeography, some of the most powerful evidence for evolution.

Second, “bad design” that makes sense under evolution but not under creationism is another good line of evidence for evolution. I can’t think offhand of “bad design” characters in whales, although I suppose the vestigial pelvis and legs could qualify as that, though to me they fall under the “vestigial trait” evidence.  The authors might have added, in this category, the presence of vestigial olfactory receptor genes—”dead genes”—in cetaceans: the genes that enabled their ancestors to detect airborne odors. As I recall, dolphins have hundreds of such receptors, but every one has been rendered inactive by mutations, for cetaceans don’t use the same way of smelling as do their landlubber relatives.  Ergo, the “air-sniffing” genes have become inactive. But they still lie fallow in the cetacean genome: useless remnants that testify to the group’s terrestrial origin. The DNA of many species is surely a graveyard of dead genes that testify to the truth of evolution. There is no alternative creationist explanation.



  1. Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    There is no alternative creationist explanation.

    Of course there is — <a href=""Magic man done it!


    • Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Very much. From recent experience with a YEC, any question you raise (given the known rate of genetic mutation, how do we get from a squeeze point of 2 of each ‘kind’ to the genetic diversity we have today in the ~4K years since the global flood?) is rebutted if they can use google to find something on AiG that uses some of the words in your question. It doesn’t matter if the answer actually makes any sense or relates, because Confirmation Bias.

      I tried pointing out that in order to get the wide variety of multiple independent lines of evidence (many pulled from WEIT), it’s evolution, or God has made it look exactly like evolution.

      The answer to that is that God would not lie to us because God has promised not to lie to us.


      • Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        The answer to that is that God would not lie to us because God has promised not to lie to us.

        That’s basically every confidence scam ever, perfectly summarized. Perhaps you should switch gears and offer them some prime Arizona oceanfront property for sale? And you promise you’re not lying to them.


      • Posted October 15, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        “God would not lie to us because God has promised not to lie to us”

        I turn this on its head and use it to show that the god which made that promise certainly does not exist, since everything really is arranged to make it look like evolution happened.

  2. GBJames
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink


  3. eric
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Second, “bad design” that makes sense under evolution but not under creationism is another good line of evidence for evolution. I can’t think offhand of “bad design” characters in whales…

    IMO the big one is that they breathe air. Makes perfect evolutionary sense, but absolutely no sense from a design perspective.

    Also, a copyedit correction: you say “biography” instead of “biogeography” in one place.

    • Pete T
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      My (and I believe Professor Dawkins’) all-time favourite ‘bad design’ is the recurrent laryngeal nerve. Although the giraffe’s might be the most obviously poorly designed by virtue of the long neck, a blue whale’s might just compete with it on length.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 16, 2014 at 5:14 am | Permalink

        a blue whale’s might just compete with it on length.

        Pretty dubious, I’m afraid 😼. Despite being overall quite long – 25-27m being typical for an adult – most of that is tail and a considerable amount is jaws.
        Remember the blue whale that washed up on the coast of Newfoundland earlier this year? Preparing that for the museum is a rather non-trivial project, which is generating some web pages, and can be expected to generate more. This page shows the skeleton of a blue whale. You can see that the distance traversed from the base of the skull to the shoulder girdle, then back to the throat is on the order of a human length. A giraffe would have it beaten by a considerable factor.

        • Pete T
          Posted October 16, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

          Very fair comment, thanks. Still, a 6 – 7 foot diversion is still quite a diversion!

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 16, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

            Sorry, but why am I suddenly thinking “It Sticks Out Half a Mile“? Probably because it’s a long diversion for no apparent reason, and somewhat comical.

    • TJR
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Indeed. What kind of insane designer would come up with air-breathing marine animals?

      Even a Government Design Committee full of useless apparatchiks wouldn’t design anything that daft. Probably.

      Are there any water-breathing land animals?

      • Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        Are there any water-breathing land animals?

        Yes. Creationists.


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        I’m pissed off about the trigeminal nerve in humans. It gives me migraines AND helps me chew. Come on nerve – stick to chewing and ignore whatever ridiculous signals you’re getting from the rest of the brain.

      • Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        Aren’t there some amphibians which are close? (I cannot be sure – I am no expert.)

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 16, 2014 at 5:21 am | Permalink

        Even a Government Design Committee full of useless apparatchiks wouldn’t design anything that daft. Probably.

        Diesel-powered submarines, with batteries that liberate chlorine gas on contact with seawater?

        Are there any water-breathing land animals?

        There are a number that really like to keep moist. Many amphibians, for example, really need to keep their skins moist, and for some they do actually absorb a considerable proportion of their oxygen needs through the skin.
        Then there are those “mud skipper” fish which do seem to be making an evolutionary transition from sea to land.

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Maybe air only, but I thought the ancestral condition for bony fish was lungs and gills, and that it was only in the teleosts that the lungs evolved into swim bladders, while most other bony fish lineages retain the lungs. It seems that being able to breathe atmospheric oxygen is an advantage. Of course, not being able to get dissolved oxygen is a big disadvantage for cetaceans.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 16, 2014 at 5:30 am | Permalink

        Not ancestral. There are no lungs in things like Haikouichthys and Myllokunmingia (I’m going to HAVE to check the spelling on those! Bowdlerise me with a beer bottle! “Haikouichthys” is right. And Myllokunmingia too! I’m surprised!) Nor any sign of lungs in the elasmobranch fishes. The development of lungs seems to have been at the root of the bony fishes, which is quite a way from the root of the vertebrates.

    • Desnes Diev
      Posted October 16, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      “IMO the big one is that they breathe air. Makes perfect evolutionary sense, but absolutely no sense from a design perspective”

      It make even less sense if you consider that parturition occurs underwater and that the newborn must suck milk. Not the optimal design to improve reproductive success, IMHO, even if cetaceans display a peculiar structural adaptation permitting tight isolation of digestive and air pathways. (Perhaps it makes sense for a Flood-loving Designer however.)

      Another structure in cetaceans that I find difficult to explain from a design perspective is the ear. Why whales develop three ossicles (but no tympanic membrane) and non-functional external ears? To my knowledge, in these animals, sound waves are redirected by the mandible to the tympanic bulla, which then vibrates and stimulates the ossicle chain. But for that purpose a single bone connecting the bulla to the oval window would certainly be sufficient. The presence of three ossicles and an external ear makes only sense if whales descend from terrestrial mammals.

      It may not be a good example of really bad design but it is still a low IQ design 😉


  4. Barry Lyons
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    This is great. However, if you try to tell people that evidence points to a single-cell ancestor, this is never good enough for creationists who, crazily, want evidence for that single cell! It’s all fine and good to explain hand-like fossils in whales, but it’s another to explain that all life takes us back to a single cell. So what’s the best and neatest way to explain this? Perhaps Stated Clearly will produce a sequel.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      I’d be tempted to ask them to apply that same logic to their creator. Who made the creator, ad infinitum.

      • demfromsc
        Posted October 23, 2014 at 5:12 am | Permalink

        In my 8th grade (Christian) confirmation class, I asked that exact question to the minister overseeing our class. The only response he could come up with is that we humans are just not smart enough to understand how a god was created. If a god really wanted us to worship him, one would think that he would make his presence abundantly clear. I guess that’s why we’re supposed to have “faith”….. To me, that obviously implies that god doesn’t really care if we actually follow his (contradictory)instructions in the holy book. The creationists’ arguments all fall apart sooner or later, don’t they?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      I’m sure Jerry would tell us there were never a single cell, but a single population with variation. That in turn would arise from some some type of geophysical system, perhaps with competitors but with one type surviving.

      The best evidence we have for a single cell type is the genetic machinery. That common ancestry ties all cells (and viruses) together, and happens to be the best evidenced fact in all of science. [Theobald, Nature 2010]

      In fact, the recent phylogenies of the ribosome takes us, arguably, to before the genetic code and to its enzymatic root of tying tRNA ancestors to amino acids as enzymatic cofactors. But that is way beyond the evidence for a LUCA population.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 16, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        “A formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry”, Douglas L. Theobald, Nature vol 465, pp 219–222, (13 May 2010) doi:10.1038/nature09014
        But see also “Was the universal common ancestry proved?” Yonezawa & Hasegawa, Nature
        vol 468, E9 (16 December 2010) doi:10.1038/nature09482
        Who claim “Although his attempt is the first step towards establishing the UCA theory with a solid statistical basis, we think that the test of Theobald is not sufficient enough to reject the alternative hypothesis of the separate origins of life, despite the Akaike information criterion (AIC) of model selection3 giving a clear distinction between the competing hypotheses.”
        Theoretically there could only have been one initial replicator, from which all others developed. But when I think about the conditions under which that first replicator could have formed I can’t see how there could not have been many, many similar molecules swilling around in a warm little pond, hydrothermal vent, or whatever the real environment was. My suspicion is that there were similar metabolism-like things going on at multiple locations in one area (a hydrothermal vent field, for example), but the individual circumstances from one vent to another (from one side of a vent to the other, even! Currents have directions!), so there would probably have been multiple origins simultaneously. However, until cellular structure developed, those slightly different systems would have swapped components and chemicals all the time, leading to a blending of systems.
        The development of cells, the development of metabolism and the development of a hereditary system may well have been distinct events. Which came first is by no means clear.

  5. still learning
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    “By concentrating on cetaceans….the film is able to go into depth” Nice pun!

  6. Posted October 15, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    “For instance, all science rests on the assumption (amply verified) of naturalism.”

    I’d suggest instead that science is a method of inquiry based on certain epistemic principles, e.g., the need for public evidence to back up truth claims, and that naturalism (the idea that the world isn’t divided between the natural and the supernatural, so nature is all there is) is a very well-evidenced but potentially defeasible conclusion about the totality of existence. So I’d say science doesn’t assume naturalism, but rather leads to it.

    • Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Exactly. I was about to make the same comment. Naturalism is a conclusion supported by our empirical observations, not assumed by it. In the past, Jerry seemed to agree with this perspective, and in my arguments with religious people elsewhere on the web, I’ve always listed Jerry (and Larry Moran) as taking this position.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      I agree — but perhaps we’re making fine distinctions out of caution and experience. If someone were to say that “all of chemistry rests on the assumption (amply verified) of the Periodic Table of the Elements,” the average listener would not assume that the Table was like a religious creed.

      Perhaps the little acknowledgment that naturalism has been “amply verified” takes the bad taste out of the word “assumption.” Or maybe it doesn’t. I’d personally choose the word “theory.”

      For one thing, doing so places the alternative supernatural view into the same category: it’s a theory (or an attempt at one.) It don’t get to float by in some airy evidence-and-reason-free zone called “metaphysics.”

      • Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        Yes. I guess I’m particularly sensitive to that use of “assumption” because of my experience arguing on BioLogos and other similar sites like Hump of the Camel. Religious people frequently charge that evolutionary biologists reject non-naturalistic explanations a priori, because science assumes naturalism. This is not really true; it is possible to imagine scenarios where the evidence would point to a mind at work directing evolution.

        Now if there ever were such evidence, one might argue that we would simply broaden the definition of “natural” to include this mind. But that is just a semantic issue. The real question, which science does not settle by assumption but by close observation, is whether or not there is some kind of universal mind capable of setting or violating impersonal physical laws.

        • eric
          Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

          Yes, I have had experience with creationists that make the same argument. Usually it’s posed as an argument that scienctific reasoning is circular: scientific findings don’t support the claim that nature is all there is because science takes as a premise/assumption that nature is all their is.

          It’s a bad argument, but one which comes from the claim that naturalism is an assumption of science. Jerry says “assumption (amply verified) of naturalim.” Well, it’s clear to me what he’s saying is *not* that we make some a priori commitment to naturalism…but I could easily see how someone else could focus on the ‘assumption’ part and miss the ‘amply verified’ part if they were so inclined. Better to say that naturalism is our tentative conclusion. That scientists search for naturalistic explanations because in the past non-naturalistic explanations have been uncontrovertible failures and naturalistic ones have spectacular successes. We bet on the naturalist horse because it has always won in the past. Millions of experiment-races over hundreds of years, Naturalist has won them all, while Supernatural has lost them all. So when it comes time to decide whether to spend our resources investigating a naturalistic or non-naturalistic hypothesis, we almost always do the former.

          Its also worth pointing out (to creationists or any other objectors) that there is no rule in science preventing individuals from investigating non-naturalistic hypothesis. The community doesn’t police its members in that way. You are free to do “bibically informed” science or investigate supernatural causal hypotheses. You’ll have to find someone willing to fund it. And your research will need to be published and reproduced before your conclusions are accepted. But you are free to pursue such things if you want to. There’s always some crazy rich guy willing to throw a few bucks towards yet another telepathy study or OBE study, for example.

          • Tulse
            Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

            there is no rule in science preventing individuals from investigating non-naturalistic hypothesis

            Scientists have historically investigated non-naturalistic hypotheses, such as the paranormal and parapsychological. Consider the studies of the efficacy of prayer, or dowsing, or telepathy, or therapeutic touch, or acupuncture, or homeopathy, or…

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 16, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

            You are free to do “bibically informed” science or investigate supernatural causal hypotheses. You’ll have to find someone willing to fund it.

            A few years ago I was in a taxi bumbling down the coast of Israel from Haifa to Herzliya for a meeting. The taxi stopped to drop off a package at an oil exploration company whose name I recognised – they’re infamous for “guiding” their exploration efforts by searching the bible for verses suggesting the presences of oil or gas seeps. They do get funding, and they seem to raise it by appealing to the god-fearing people of the American south.
            You’ll note that I was on the way to a meeting about a gas discovery we’d just made – the Tamar field. Zion’s biblical-guided search has still, to the best of my knowledge, turned up diddly-squat.
            Draw your own conclusions.

            There’s always some crazy rich guy willing to throw a few bucks towards yet another telepathy study or OBE study, for example.

            It’s your money. Strange how Zion have a lot of stuff for attracting investors, but not a lot about their discovery record. Odd that. Most unusual. But hey, what would I know?

    • eric
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Yes I agree. Naturalism is a tentative conclusion based on the evidence (i.e., the past empirically observed success and failure of naturalist and non-naturalist hypotheses, respectively), it is not an assumption. We could discard it any time contrary evidence came along.

      Good catch.

  7. Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I did not (yet) watch the video; but your explanations are terrific! Thanks very much. Your clarity in explaining these points is really great and very helpful.

  8. Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I saw this video a couple days ago, and I very much agree it is very good overall.
    One quibble I had was that they were pretty skimpy on the DNA evidence. Comparative genomics shows that whales not only branched from hooved mammals, but from a particular sub-group of hooved mammals which have that double-pulley ankle bone mentioned in the video.
    I got curious about the biogeography of whales. They would be challenging, but there might be a story to tell there for some groups. Killer whales exist in a number of ‘ecotypes’ that differ in markings and behavior. Some are considered subspecies and possibly unique species. They might have a distribution such that the closest relatives are found near each other, but it would take some serious scholarship which would be pretty daunting. Anyway, here is a link to some of that if anyone is interested.
    Another cetacean to look into are the dolphins. Lots of species, including some river dolphins. These might show a nice biogeography story where there are close relationships between river and nearby marine species.

    • lkr
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Biogeography does work, in view of present evidence, for the earlier, nonpelagic, cetaceans. So far we know the transitional forms from Indohyus on were only found in the Tethyan region that’s now south Asia. Once fully marine genera like Basilosaurus evolved, these became very widespread.

  9. Posted October 15, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    While I understand why the video would argue that evolution entails common ancestry, I think that that isn’t a necessary feature of the theory. It is at least possible that life on this planet started more than once, and while I think it is very unlikely that there is a “shadow biosphere” of organisms unrelated to those we know, I don’t think that would undermine evolutionary theory. Heck, I expect that any critters in Europa’s seas or under Mars’ soil to be governed by evolutionary principles, even though they would be completely unrelated to Earth life.

    More simply, I think evolutionary theory governs how organism lineages change, rather than how they start.

    • TJR
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      It would be incredibly cool to find organisms descended from a completely different lineage to ours.

      Although they would probably be some sort of thermophile pseudo-bacteria, so actually the opposite of cool.

    • eric
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Yes, the “single original ancestor” theory is similar to the “earth origin” theory. Both are much better supported than their alternatives, but it wouldn’t really change our understanding of the processes of descent with modification, origin of new species, natural selection, genetic drift, etc.. if they turned out to be wrong. They are sort of supplementary hypotheses to the central theory, not strictly necessary for the central theory to remain true.

    • Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      The universal common ancestry of life is not required for the theory, but of course there is lots of molecular evidence for u.c.a. That evidence demands explanation, and the only one that makes sense is descent with modification.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      “[universal] common ancestry”, “evolutionary theory governs how organism lineages change, rather than how they start”.

      It didn’t have to be that way, but as it happens we observe both. There was a LUCA and arguably there are homologies that go all the way back to geophysical systems.

      The LUCA had an UCA lineage of course, as shown by the varied genetic code, it obeyed darwinian evolution of course. And that implies we must have extinct lineages before that (quite a few actually).

      Trait homologies implies there were evolutionary mechanisms that kicked in already in geophysical systems as they evolved with the planet (atmosphere evolution, erosion, plate tectonics). Some form of selection seems likely. But even if it was roughly so, I don’t think we know the used modes.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        For an example of deep homologies, our cells share element ratios and pH differences between the Hadean/Archean ocean and the distal parts of oceanic crust produced by plate tectonics. (E.g. the crust that have leaked away the excess iron.)

  10. Kevin
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Woohoo. I already saw this video and made my kids watch. They were impressed that the testicles (which they only know other words for) were inside the Hippo/Whale’s bodies.

  11. Wayne
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink


    It’s not homology alone that supports evolution instead of creationism, it’s homology showing a nested pattern. That’s the killer point. Nested hierarchy is absent in designed objects.

    • Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      Not if God designed them. One could always make the argument, lame as it is, that God decided to make similar things on a common plan. Granted, the nesting makes it less probable, and I do talk in my book about designed things (I use matchbooks, which I used to collect) don’t fall into a natural branching pattern, but a religionist could suppose that God did that. It’s a bit harder, I think, to see why God would stick nonfunctional bits of DNA in organisms that show the same pattern of relatedness.

      • Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        A lot of the problem is that the definition of, “god,” is so slippery that you can’t use it to make predictions. Is it more likely that a god would design organisms to be similar or different?

        Bayesian math, I think, actually might help here, if I’m understanding it correctly. Let’s say that you can’t make a prediction either way; the chances are thus 50%. But the chances that organisms would show the hierarchical similarity they do if life evolved is 100%. Thus, the odds that life evolved are significantly higher than the odds that life was designed to look evolved. To rescue the case for a god, you’d have to begin by demonstrating that a god would be certain to design life such that it was a perfect imitation of the result of evolution — and that still only levels the playing field, with the odds now 50:50 between the two propositions.

        If I get a chance later today and if nobody beats me to it, I’ll use this as an excuse to perform my first Bayesian analysis…figure out some sort of prior, then figure out the respective odds for each of those bullet points, and crank the numbers….


      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted October 15, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Homology does, I think, argue against an omniscient, omnipotent creator. If God can instantly see the ideal design for any niche, and effortlessly implement that design, then wide-ranging homologies become much less plausible. To say that God reuses design elements because it’s economical to do so implies some limit to his creative budget.

        Even we puny humans have surpassed God’s alleged designs in many respects. Where are the jet-propelled birds, the chainsaw beavers, the crossbow predators? We achieved such innovations by abandoning homology. That God failed to do likewise is evidence that he’s not the all-wise creator he’s cracked up to be.

        • Wayne
          Posted October 15, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          Problem is creationists will ask “Who are you to decide how God should act?”
          Why should God be the way you picture him to be?

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted October 15, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

            It’s not my picture of God; it’s theirs. I’m just pointing out that they can’t simultaneously claim that he’s infinitely creative and that he recycles design elements for efficiency.

            • Vaal
              Posted October 15, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink


          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 16, 2014 at 6:24 am | Permalink

            Problem is creationists will ask “Who are you to decide how God should act?”

            Why shouldn’t we? We created god after all – why shouldn’t we tell her what to do?

      • Posted October 15, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Oh, it’s easy. What you think of as “nonfunctional DNA” is actually the signature of the angel that was doing quality control on batches of similar kinds.


  12. Posted October 15, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    As a non-scientist in need of help explaining this stuff to two preteens, I’m thrilled to bits by the video. It’s incisive, precise, concise–all kinds of cise–and at the right level of complexity for younger minds. Maybe the video’s not perfect, but it’s a big improvement over my one-man show involving Othello pieces and an Angry Birds puppet.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Hmmmm I think I’d like an Othello piece & angry bird puppet explanation of evolution!

      • Posted October 15, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        We’d have to make room in the fort. Just a few more couch cushions from the living room should do it.

    • Posted October 15, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      I agree Lex, as another non-scientist. Although even I can see bits it’s missing, I’m not up to clearly explaining the theory myself, and this video does a great intro job.

      When you’re writing/presenting about a subject you know a lot about, one of the hardest things is deciding what to leave out. Even anyone who’s had to write a two-page essay at high school knows it’s easy if you know about the subject, and if you don’t? Well your handwriting suddenly takes on gargantuan proportions and you become rather repetitive.

  13. Curt Cameron
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I’ve been listening to creationists for years – let me try my hand at what they’d say. Jerry already addressed some of them; I put my list together before reading his comments.

    * Similarities (homologies) don’t indicate common descent, they indicate a common designer.

    * One of the discoverers of a prominent fossil (rodhocetus), Philip Gingerich, drew it with a whale tail, and has now admitted that this is incorrect. Rodhocetus didn’t have a whale tail – it was a land animal!

    * A whale’s pelvis bones are not vestigial! They’re used in the act of copulation as a muscle attachment point. God knew whales’ needs better than scientists do.

    * Not the embryology thing again! Haeckel got in trouble for faking evidence to support his idea of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” more than 100 years ago!

    * Bird wings? Those couldn’t have evolved! What good is half a wing?

    * And Jerry, really, the non-functional DNA canard? The ENCODE project has showed us that we’ve already found function for 80% of our DNA, whereas before scientists were telling us the vast majority was junk. How many more years until we find the function of the remaining 20%? The evidence indicates an all-knowing God put it ALL there for a reason.

    Seriously, I’m not making any of this up. I’ve heard all of these expressed by creationists.

    By the way, after watching the video, my thought was that they skipped over biogeography, which I consider to be very compelling, but I see Jerry noticed that as well.

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      I was going to post a similar list, but you beat me to it. How about a few additions?

      * If brains are the product of evolution, how can they even be trusted. (To quote something a creationist actually told me) “if the person I’m engaging cannot even account for the constituents of evidence, namely truth, knowledge & logic, what is the point of discussing evidence with them?… I can account for evidence according to my worldview. However, you are the one who cannot account for it…”

      * If God could create Adam fully formed, surely he could create a mature universe.

      * Random reference that mentions whales but has nothing to do with the topic being discussed.

      * Thermodynamics

      * Eugenics

  14. peltonrandy
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I watched this set of videos several days ago. I immediately e-mailed the link to them to my former colleagues in the science department of the high school from which I recently retired. I am hoping they will be used. I’d like to see these videos passed along to every high school biology teacher in the country.

  15. JimV
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I liked the video; much more information could have been put into it, but then it might have been too long for people’s attention spans. The trick is to say enough to engage people’s attention and minds, and then maybe they will follow up for themselves.

    This grated on my ear, however: ” … who is more closely related to who.” (I was raised by an English teacher who relentlessly corrected me until incorrect grammar just sounds wrong to me – the ones I know about, anyway.)

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Wow, that was a lot of take away from a short video! I didn’t think about it that much, but I noted the common mistake of describing geologically old fossils as “bones” instead of imprints in sediments. (Or is that an english usage thing?)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 15, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Or perhaps better, “metamorphosed” sediments.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 16, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      I noted the common mistake of describing geologically old fossils as “bones” instead of imprints in sediments.

      There are a variety of modes of preservation of fossils. Moulds, as you describe, are one. Replacement of one component by another is also a common process – e.g. the low-magnesium calcite of a bivalve shell being dissolved during diagenesis (turning sediment into rock) and replaced by high-magnesium calcite, preserving the physical form, but destroying the microstructure. But you do also get simple preservation of materials, and for that the phosphate minerals of bone are quite good. Even then, you frequently get mineralogical changes – remember the Piltdown forgery and the replacement of hydroxy-apatite in the bone by fluoro-apatite which proved that the bones could not have been buried for more than a few hundred years.
      If you remember the extraction of tyrannosaur collagen reported a couple of years ago – that could noth ave been done if there hadn’t been preservation of the bone itself. (Though this does not preclude the replacement of apatites, re-crystallisation of the apatites, perfusion of the bone with carbonate also having happened.)
      Taphonomy is complex. Or at least, it can be ; it is rare for a rock to have a simple history.

  17. Rhaeyga
    Posted October 15, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    The angry/crazy creationists in the comments of that video are hilarious.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 16, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      I forgot to look for them. This could be entertaining. [exit stage left, carrying bear-prodding stick]

  18. Posted October 15, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    The evolution video is excellent, but Jerry’s clarification about evolution definition and evidence is even better. It’s like reading WEIT a 2nd time (actually, a third time, for me), and finishing it in 5 minutes.
    The similarity of nonfunctional bits of DNA, and the presumed insertions of inactive viral material occurring at similar positions in related species are the best evidence for evolution. If all that is the work of the Lord, then either God is a dum-bass designer, or he is a very wicked
    con man, and creationists wouldn’t like him to be either one. Daniel Fairbanks ‘s book Relics Of Eden explains those DNA evidences in details.

    • Posted October 15, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      I mean dumbass [yes, Yahweh, I’m toooking to ya, 🙂 ]

  19. Posted October 16, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    «[Homology]It is consistent with evolution, but it’s also consistent with God having given animals a similar Bauplan, with similar species having similar Baupläne.» – But that doen’st explain the overall genealogical pattern – that isn’t observed in designed objects (you can’t find this overall pattern in the house furniture and even less in the ornaments and even less considering everything inside the house).
    «While the fact that bats have fingers in their wings is consistent with evolution, you could, at a stretch, say that’s consistent with God’s economical way of designing mammals.» That would be a great coincidence that god would do it like that since he can do it anyway he wants (the same for homology).

  20. Adam Rondeau
    Posted November 17, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Please don’t read my comment with the presumption that everyone that mentions “God” thinks or believes exactly the same things. My comment is simple and very broad: Is it possible that God would create similarities among living things, and that God would allow adaptations to be possible? Also, is it possible that the Bible explains “mutations” and “mistakes” when it talks about the “fall?” (The Bible explains that God created living things to be perfect, and that “the fall” (sin) is what caused the loss of perfection we now see. I’m not asking anyone to believe in God, or debate everything in the Bible. I’m simply pointing out that God wouldn’t necessarily “reinvent the wheel” and make more diversity than is necessary, and God could make perfection that no longer exists due to the Bible’s description of the fall. Before anyone ridicules believers, remember that many of the greatest scientists of all time have been believers, including today. Furthermore, there are examples of extremely intelligent atheists that have become believers as adults.

    • GBJames
      Posted November 17, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Is it possible that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t assassinated and is living in the corner of my basement, disguised as an old cardboard box? Is it possible that at night while I’m sleeping, the bookcase in my living room levitates in the air and dances an Irish jig?

      We have no need to seriously consider such possibilities.

    • Posted November 17, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      You can construct an infinite number of conspiracy theories that will twist observations to fit any proposals you might make. For example, all you write could be true, and it’s true because we’re all subroutines in the Matrix and aliens are using their mind control rays to control our thoughts so we miss the truth.

      The question isn’t, “Is it possible?” Anything is possible — even contradictions.

      The question, rather, is, “How reasonable is it to consider this likely?” And these conspiracy theories — the one you outline included — fall far short on that scale.



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