Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dishonest Comment games by Yaakov Menken

On Menken's now infamous evolution post, a "James Ross" objected to a few things Menken said:
“Evolution occurred by random chance” 
No who knows anything about evolution says it occurred by random chance. The claim is that it occurred by natural selection which is the very opposite of chance. 
It is noteworthy that neither of your two friends are biologists. They should read a little biology before they make claims based on gut hunches. And so should you. You’ll find that the math has been tested and proved correct time after time after time. 
A physicist is not likely to have any specialized knowledge of biology and your two friends obviously dont’t. 
Also, in your original post you either goofed or lied about Crick. He accepts evolution. In fact, he even says that the aliens who may have seeded earth developed by evolution themselves The alien theory relates to abiogenesis which is not the same thing. Crick, by the way, also believes abiogenesis could have occurred on earth. He simply used the alien theory to point out that determining how abeogenesis occurred on earth is supremely difficult, so difficult that there’s no way to rule out the alien theory. You misrepresent his views, however, when you pretend his difficulties with abiogenesis have anything to do with evolution, just as you misrepresent evolution when you suggest it has to do with chance.
Menken dealt with this with his usual dishonesty. First he published three comments from his own supporters that ignorantly criticized Ross's point. Usually, Cross Currents tries to streamline debate by refusing to publish identical points. I guess the rules are different when the identical points have all been made in support of the blog owner.  Also, the three anti-Ross comments are shorter then the typical Cross Currents comment, offer nothing new to the debate, and provide nothing in the way of evidence. They appear to have been published for one reason only, namely that they support Menken.

After stacking the deck this way, Menken made his own comment:
James Ross has already been corrected by numerous others. Without chance mutation, there are no options from which natural selection can choose. He’s also wrong about Crick’s Directed Panspermia. “Crick found it impossible that the complexity of DNA could have evolved naturally.” This affects not merely abiogenesis, life from inorganic matter, but the evolution of DNA. For those who find it impossible to imagine that there could be “Codes” in the Torah, they should do a study of DNA and its incredible complexity.

Taking his middle point out of order, he calls it “noteworthy” that neither of the friends I asked are biologists. To state that only biologists can examine probabilities and combinatorics related to DNA and evolution is similar to saying that only oncologists can analyze probabilities related to cancer, or even that only long-haul truckers can analyze probabilities related to traffic accidents. There is only one serious rationale for limiting the field of experts to evolutionary biologists only: that only those with a significant bias towards accepting the likelihood of evolution by chance choose a career in evolutionary biology, resulting in a self-selecting group who will all tell you with full confidence that of course the math all works — the substantial numbers of mathematicians, engineers, physicists and chemists who feel otherwise, notwithstanding.
There are several mistakes in Menken's answer. All of these mistakes were pointed out in a subsequent comment, but of course Menken refused to publish it. To the reader it appears that there was no rebuttal, which is another example of Menken's mendacity.

See my rebuttal to Menken's nonsense after the jump. (Disclosure: This is not the comment submitted to Cross Currents. The comment was rewritten for publication here]

(1) Ross never denied that chance mutation provides the raw material upon which evolution acts. His original comment addressed the following sentences written by Menken: "Sir Francis Crick himself (with James Watson, the discoverer of the DNA molecule) found the probabilities for evolution to have occurred by chance so overwhelmingly unlikely that he promoted a theory of Directed Panspermia" and "All of us were raised in a secular environment, in which we were educated to believe that the Age of the Universe is roughly 15 billion years, the age of the world is roughly one billion years, and that Evolution occurred by random chance." Indeed the words "Evolution occurred by random chance" are the dibur hamaskil on Ross's first comment. Thus, it should be clear to anyone honest, that Ross isn't speaking about where the raw material came from, but about the mechanism through which evolution "occurred." And on this point, Ross is 100 percent right. Evolution did not "occur" through chance, but through NON RANDOM natural selection. See how sneaky Menken is? He hasn't answered the actual point. And in a subsequent comment he writes the phrase  "accepting the likelihood of evolution by chance" showing that he has either failed to internalize the correction, or is persisting with his error for polemical purposes.

(2) Crick's idea about aliens seeding the universe is misused by creationists of every stripe, and Menken keeps alive that tradition here. Even the quote he uses to defend his error -- "Crick found it impossible that the complexity of DNA could have evolved naturally" -- comes from a creationist website, and is an absolute distortion of Crick's actual position. Directed Panspernia does relate to abiogenesis, not evolution, and it is incorrect to say, as Menken says, that Crick thought evolution impossible. Worse, its an utter distortion to suggest that Crick -- or, for that matter anyone, with even a passing familiarity with evolution --  thought evolution "occurred by chance" Here's the actual Menken sentence: "Sir Francis Crick himself (with James Watson, the discoverer of the DNA molecule) found the probabilities for evolution to have occurred by chance so overwhelmingly unlikely that he promoted a theory of Directed Panspermia" As Crick did not think "evolution occurred by chance" the entire sentence is still born. The truth is Crick proposed Panspernia because he was puzzled by the problem of protein replication. That puzzle has been solved, and in a later essay Crick retreated from Panspernia.

Furthermore, as pointed out in the first Ross comment, Crick believed that the aliens who seeded the universe were the products themselves of evolution. Instead of acknowledging this true point, and confessing that his original claim was false, Menken doubles down with a quote from a creationist website, leaving the reader with an entirely false impression of Crick's idea, and its consequences. An honest man would have said "You're right. Crick didn't doubt evolution, and he didn't think evolution occurred by chance.  Also, you're right to say Panspernia relates to abeogensis. I inadvertently conflated abiogenesis with evolution in my original comment. I appreciate the correction." Only Menken isn't an honest man.

(3) Even if we leave aside the bandwagon fallacy beneath Menkens appeal to unnamed friends who agree the evolution math is spotty, there's still a problem with his argument: We don't know who these friends are, or what their credentials are. A non-biologist is unlikely to know what a biologist knows. Therefore a non-biologist's math is unlikely to take into account all of the necessary information. As Menken tells it, it almost sounds like he and a  few of his smart buddies, sitting around the kitchen table, have convinced themselves that the math underlying a subject in which they have no special expertise is flawed. That's a serious and credible argument? That's something we should take into account when evaluating a scientific theory? They results of a bull session? Yet Menken keeps making this argument, and keeps pretending it means something. Again and again, in senseless post after senseless post, he's told us about all the smart people he knows who think evolution doesn't add up, but he never names them, never shares a single equation, and never confirms that they've actually brought their doubts to biologists. Which is a shame, because the math does add up, and biologists have confirmed it in one peer reviewed study after another. If Menken and his band of bright amateurs were serious about uncovering truth, they'd aquatint themselves with the research. They haven't, and that tells us everything we need to know about his objective in this debate.

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