Common Design vs. Common Descent

I promised John Harshman for several months that I would start a discussion about common design vs. common descent, and I’d like to keep my word to him as best as possible.

Strictly the speaking common design and common descent aren’t mutually exclusive, but if one invokes the possibility of recent special creation of all life, the two being mutually exclusive would be inevitable.

If one believes in a young fossil record (YFR) and thus likely believes life is young and therefore recently created, then one is a Young Life Creationist (YLC). YEC (young earth creationists) are automatically YLCs but there are a few YLCs who believe the Earth is old. So evidence in favor of YFR is evidence in favor of common design over common descent.

One can assume for the sake of argument the mainstream geological timelines of billions of years on planet Earth. If that is the case, special creation would have to happen likely in a progressive manner. I believe Stephen Meyer and many of the original ID proponents like Walter Bradley were progressive creationists.

Since I think there is promising evidence for YFR, I don’t think too much about common design vs. common descent. If the Earth is old, but the fossil record is young, as far as I’m concerned the nested hierarchical patterns of similarity are due to common design.

That said, for the sake of this discussion I will assume the fossil record is old. But even under that assumption, I don’t see how phylogenetics solves the problem of orphan features found distributed in the nested hierarchical patterns of similarity. I should point out, there is an important distinction between taxonomic nested hierarchies and phylogenetic nested hierarchies. The nested hierarchies I refer to are taxonomic, not phylogenetic. Phylogeneticsits insist the phylogenetic trees are good explanations for the taxonomic “trees”, but it doesn’t look that way to me at all. I find it revolting to think giraffes, apes, birds and turtles are under the Sarcopterygii clade (which looks more like a coelacanth).

Phylogeny is a nice superficial explanation for the pattern of taxonomic nested hierarchy in sets of proteins, DNA, whatever so long as a feature is actually shared among the creatures. That all breaks down however when we have orphan features that are not shared by sets of creatures.

The orphan features most evident to me are those associated with Eukaryotes. Phylogeny doesn’t do a good job of accounting for those. In fact, to assume common ancestry in that case, “poof” or some unknown mechanism is indicated. If the mechanism is unknown, then why claim universal common ancestry is a fact? Wouldn’t “we don’t know for sure, but we believe” be a more accurate statement of the state of affairs rather than saying “universal common ancestry is fact.”

So whenever orphan features sort of poof into existence, that suggests to me the patterns of nested hierarchy are explained better by common design. In fact there are lots of orphan features that define major groups of creatures. Off the top of my head, eukaryotes are divided into unicellular and multicellular creatures. There are vetebrates and a variety of invertebrates. Mammals have the orphan feature of mammary glands. The list could go on and on for orphan features and the groups they define. Now I use the phrase “orphan features” because I’m not comfortable using formal terms like autapomorphy or whatever. I actually don’t know what would be a good phrase.

So whenever I see an orphan feature that isn’t readily evolvable (like say a nervous system), I presume God did it, and therefore the similarities among creatures that have different orphan features is a the result of miraculous common design not ordinary common descent.

3,738 thoughts on “Common Design vs. Common Descent

  1. Erik,

    There is no reason at all why anyone should accept evolutionary theory. Truth and caring would be unaffected if the theory vanished off the face of the earth this instant.

    And, with a flourish, the branch on which you sit is deftly sawn off.

  2. Allan Miller,

    So, do you think that dragonflies and mammals both being possessed of dicks is a problem for evolutionary theory? What makes us think that they are, respectively, dragonflies and mammals?

    I think the origin of any dick is a problem for evolutionary theory. Now add customization….my word 🙂

  3. colewd,

    I think the claim that any of the sequences can form in nature is completely without support.

    That has nothing to do with convergence. You are claiming that it couldn’t happen once.

    Ok how about the light sensitive spot story. Where did the sequences from a light sensitive spot come from? Where did the additional sequences from that improves this to real vision. We don’t have any explanation that is short of wild speculation except for design.

    I don’t know how ‘design’ escapes the charge of wild speculation.

    Anyway, did you know bacteria have opsins?

  4. colewd,

    Even worse these DNA chemical blueprints live inside a sequence with almost an infinite number ways to arrange that sequence.

    Bill,

    Just a reminder that you sound mathematically illiterate when you talk that way.

    You also betray your abysmal knowledge of evolution, because as we’ve told you a thousand times, evolution does not search through entire sequence spaces.

  5. colewd,

    I think the origin of any dick is a problem for evolutionary theory. Now add customization….my word

    Smart replies are notable for their failure to actually address the point being made. You keep talking about convergence, then say “I don’t believe in one“. Why mention convergence, and then avoid all discussion of convergence?

    Why do dragonfly and mammalian penises undermine the theory that their possessors are commonly descended within their respective taxonomic groups? You can’t answer that by saying “I don’t believe either one of them evolved”, if your point was about convergence.

  6. keiths: You also betray your abysmal knowledge of evolution, because as we’ve told you a thousand times, evolution does not search through entire sequence spaces.

    I think it depends on who you ask.

    Didn’t I see an article once that claimed that given the age of the earth and the number of single-celled organisms that have ever existed there has been plenty of time and resources to search the entire space?

  7. Allan Miller,

    Why do dragonfly and mammalian penises undermine the theory that their possessors are commonly descended within their respective taxonomic groups? You can’t answer that by saying “I don’t believe either one of them evolved”, if your point was about convergence.

    These are your claims not mine.

  8. colewd,

    These are your claims not mine.

    I never even mentioned convergence till you brought it up. You have said on several occasions that convergence undermines common descent. I even opened a nice little OP for you to discuss/defend that claim.

  9. keiths,

    You also betray your abysmal knowledge of evolution

    I am at home with my abysmal knowledge of this atheist ideology. I am hoping you can get me to journeyman status.

    Just a reminder that you sound mathematically illiterate when you talk that way.

    I am going to start to collect the great wisdoms of Keiiths 🙂 so I can avoid the image of mathematical illiteracy in the future. The liberal thought process never ceases to amaze me.

  10. colewd,

    I am at home with my abysmal knowledge of this atheist ideology [evolution].

    That evolutionary theory is “atheist ideology” will be news to the BioLogos “atheists”.

    I am hoping you can get me to journeyman status.

    That will require you to loosen your white-knuckle grip on the “but sequence space is almost infinite!” PRATT.

  11. Erik: There is no reason at all why anyone should accept evolutionary theory.

    Sure there is: because evolutionary theory is our current best explanation of many of the patterns and processes we observe in the history of life on this planet. Without it we’d be confronted with quite a few puzzles about why we observe the patterns we do observe in embryology, paleontology, molecular genetics, biodiversity, biogeography, and ecology. Evolutionary theory is one of the theories that explains the consilience across multiple lines of evidence.

    Truth and caring would be unaffected if the theory vanished off the face of the earth this instant.

    True — except that people would have one less true theory to accept, and biology would make much less sense to them.

  12. colewd: I am at home with my abysmal knowledge of this atheist ideology. I am hoping you can get me to journeyman status.

    Ah, the Great Lie of creationism: that evolution is an atheist ideology.

    It never ceases to amaze me that so many people can unquestionably believe something that is so obviously false.

  13. Kantian Naturalist: Sure there is: because evolutionary theory is our current best explanation…

    Current best explanation? I thought we were talking about truth, not current best explanations.

    So you were not talking about truth to begin with. I get it now.

  14. Allan Miller,

    I never even mentioned convergence till you brought it up. You have said on several occasions that convergence undermines common descent. I even opened a nice little OP for you to discuss/defend that claim.

    I read through the op and it does not look salvageable.

    The current defense of common descent is that the data fits into a predicted nested hierarchy. Was convergent evolution part of that prediction? The evolution of one eye was a problem that Darwin addressed. If you have to over come certain odds to evolve one eye two is certainly more difficult and creates additional doubt that reproduction alone created an eye.

    If the eye wasn’t generated by reproduction alone then common descent is not a proper conclusion of what we are observing and the existence of a nested hierarchy is only patricianly relevant.

  15. Mung,

    Didn’t I see an article once that claimed that given the age of the earth and the number of single-celled organisms that have ever existed there has been plenty of time and resources to search the entire space?

    You’re probably thinking of this:

    How much of protein sequence space has been explored by life on Earth?

    …but that’s about protein space, not sequence space as a whole. The latter is vastly larger.

    Bill needs to learn that evolution doesn’t sample the entirety of sequence space, and that it doesn’t need to. We keep explaining this to him. We also give him reading recommendations (including for Arrival of the Fittest, your personal favorite). If he does read any of that stuff, it’s like water through a sieve.

    And like a dog returning to his vomit, he keeps bringing up the bogus “but sequence space is huuuuuge!” objection. No matter how many times he barfs it out, he laps it back up again. Ewww.

  16. keiths,

    Bill needs to learn that evolution doesn’t sample the entirety of sequence space, and that it doesn’t need to

    What percentage of the sequence space does it need to sample?

  17. colewd, to Allan:

    I read through the op [on convergence] and it does not look salvageable.

    Says the guy who just stated:

    I am at home with my abysmal knowledge of this atheist ideology [evolution].

    Thus you are simply, utterly unqualified to judge Allan’s OP, Bill.

  18. keiths,

    Thus you are simply, utterly unqualified to judge Allan’s OP, Bill.

    Certainly. I am, however, free to choose whether to make a comment on it.

  19. colewd,

    At each step, evolution only samples those portions of the sequence space that are reached from the current location, via variation.

    How many frikkin’ times must we explain that to you?

  20. keiths: (including for Arrival of the Fittest, your personal favorite)

    I’ve moved on to The Origins of Evolutionary Innovations. Perhaps when I have completed reading it I will start an OP on it. 🙂

  21. colewd: What percentage of the sequence space does it need to sample?

    It would appear that the sequence space is just chock full of functional sequences and can be reach from any other place in the space by itty bitty changes. The bridges to anywhere. And this is supposed to be a problem for ID. LoL.

    To me it looks like a well-designed space.

  22. colewd,

    Certainly. I am, however, free to choose whether to make a comment on it [Allan’s OP].

    Of course. I’m just pointing out that you should give little or no weight to your judgment that the OP isn’t “salvageable”. By your own admission, your knowledge of evolution is abysmal. You are therefore unqualified to render such a judgment.

    A big problem in communicating with you and Erik is that you both fail to recognize the depths of your incompetence.

    Creationism is false. Common descent is firmly and overwhelmingly established by the scientific evidence. This discussion is not a debate over an open scientific issue. It’s merely remedial education for creationists including you, Erik, and Salvador.

  23. keiths: A big problem in communicating with you and Erik is that you both fail to recognize the depths of your incompetence.

    Unlike me. I recognize the full depth of my incompetence.

  24. Mung: It would appear that the sequence space is just chock full of functional sequences and can be reach from any other place in the space by itty bitty changes. The bridges to anywhere. And this is supposed to be a problem for ID. LoL.

    To me it looks like a well-designed space.

    The opposite would be a huge problem for evolution, but not for ID. ID is a joke, deal with it

  25. I wonder if Mung is able to comprehend that a well-connected space blows ID’s “islands of function” arguments out of the water.

  26. Mung,

    It would appear that the sequence space is just chock full of functional sequences and can be reach from any other place in the space by itty bitty changes. The bridges to anywhere. And this is supposed to be a problem for ID. LoL.

    To me it looks like a well-designed space.

    Now that keiths has reminded us that evolution is settled science the ability of trial and error finding function through this space is stunning. A few changes here and we are on the road to an eye, a few changes there and we are on the road to a nervous system all in the right order building an animal.

    So do you think the theory tells us that evolution has to only explore 10^-100000000% of sequence space and deliver us 10 billion unique animals?

  27. keiths:

    Creationism is false. Common descent is firmly and overwhelmingly established by the scientific evidence. This discussion is not a debate over an open scientific issue. It’s merely remedial education for creationists including you, Erik, and Salvador.

    colewd:

    I know we keep having to be reminded it is settled science 🙂

    Yes. The Jebus Effect prevents you from absorbing that obvious fact.

  28. Erik: Current best explanation? I thought we were talking about truth, not current best explanations.

    So you were not talking about truth to begin with. I get it now.

    Yet more evidence that Erik has no idea of how science works. He apparently has it confused with revelation. Is it really possible for a linguist to function with this little understanding of the process of science? Perhaps he just works through a recipe and doesn’t think about why the recipe is the way it is. But I wouldn’t have thought any working scientist could be quite that naive.

  29. colewd: Now that keiths has reminded us that evolution is settled science the ability of trial and error finding function through this space is stunning. A few changes here and we are on the road to an eye, a few changes there and we are on the road to a nervous system all in the right order building an animal.

    So do you think the theory tells us that evolution has to only explore 10^-100000000% of sequence space and deliver us 10 billion unique animals?

    Once again I will attempt to remind you that this discussion is supposedly about common descent, and you are talking about the causes of mutations, a completely different subject. Is there any way you can be brought to understand this simple fact?

  30. colewd: KN: Ah, the Great Lie of creationism: that evolution is an atheist ideology.

    Bill: Then explain the NCSE to me 🙂

    Are you under the impression that the NCSE is an atheist organization? What evidence do you have for that? Or does the emoji just fix everything by making it into a joke?

  31. colewd: The current defense of common descent is that the data fits into a predicted nested hierarchy. Was convergent evolution part of that prediction?

    A certain degree of convergence is indeed part of the prediction. At the molecular level, convergence at a given site is predicted because there are only four possibilities. At the morphological level, one can predict that convergence is likely under certain conditions. Remember the book that Mung brought up and dropped immediately? OK, there are many books like that. I’m talking about Jonathan Losos’s book Improbable Destinies. It’s mostly about when to expect and not to expect convergence, and what sort of convergence it ought to be. One can predict that convergence among distantly related species will be superficial, with similar appearance achieved in different ways and differing in detail. And so it is.

    The evolution of one eye was a problem that Darwin addressed. If you have to over come certain odds to evolve one eye two is certainly more difficult and creates additional doubt that reproduction alone created an eye.

    If you’re talking about two eyes in one organism, bilateral symmetry takes care of that automatically. You seem confused about what Darwin actually said. He wasn’t talking about evolution one eye but of the eye, specifically the sort of eye found in vertebrates.

    If the eye wasn’t generated by reproduction alone then common descent is not a proper conclusion of what we are observing and the existence of a nested hierarchy is only patricianly relevant.

    I’ve asked several times what you mean by “by reproduction alone”. Still don’t know, and I don’t think you have ever answered. I have no clue whatsoever what you mean by “patricianly relevant”. Did autocorrect change the word you meant, or do you just misunderstand what “patrician” means? I’m having trouble figuring out, too, how any possible meaning of your premise could lead to any possible meaning of your conclusion.

  32. John Harshman: A certain degree of convergence is indeed part of the prediction.

    Looks like Harshman is preparing us for his breakthrough OP on ostrich bladder evolution…Can’t argue with that prediction… 😉

  33. keiths: I wonder if Mung is able to comprehend that a well-connected space blows ID’s “islands of function” arguments out of the water.

    What makes you think I am wedded to “islands of function”?

    A search space in which it just happens to be possible for a process like evolution to successfully navigate it containing inter-connected elements that all just happen to be useful to living organisms. Sounds utterly miraculous. And you can’t explain the nature of that space by appealing to random mutation and selection.

    Wagner’s ideas are highly friendly to ID. He’s given us something that cannot be explained by evolution. Are you able to comprehend that?

  34. colewd: Now that keiths has reminded us that evolution is settled science the ability of trial and error finding function through this space is stunning.

    No matter which way you turn you find something that if not beneficial in itself at least does no harm. There’s always a way to something good. It does sound too good to be true. But it’s not a danger to ID. One day it will dawn on keiths. 🙂

  35. Joe Felsenstein: Thing is, it’s hard to do with elephants (for example) because they are very heavy and hard to move.

    I think I read somewhere that if you move elephants to an island they will grow smaller over time. And of course if you move them to increasingly smaller islands, you’ll soon have pocket-sized elephants.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwarf_elephant

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/apr/06/from-giant-rats-to-dwarf-elephants-island-living-changes-mammals

  36. John Harshman,

    I’ve asked several times what you mean by “by reproduction alone”. Still don’t know, and I don’t think you have ever answered. I have no clue whatsoever what you mean by “patricianly relevant”. Did autocorrect change the word you meant, or do you just misunderstand what “patrician” means? I’m having trouble figuring out, too, how any possible meaning of your premise could lead to any possible meaning of your conclusion.

    It means there is not external assistance to the process. Reproduction and the things that result from that process is responsible for diversity.

    Should say partially relevant.

    For common descent to be true reproduction must be able to create new genes. As large sequential space is a potential obstacle to this is process it should be relevant.

  37. keiths,

    And so the dog returns to his vomit once more.

    Thats not real vomit, heres real vomit.

    The existence of almost unlimited sequence space of the genome makes the theory of common descent completely incoherent. 🙂

  38. colewd:
    John Harshman,

    It means there is not external assistance to the process.Reproduction and the things that result from that process is responsible for diversity.

    What would you propose as “external assistance”?

    For common descent to be true reproduction must be able to create new genes.As large sequential space is a potential obstacle to this is process it should be relevant.

    I’m afraid that you don’t understand what “common descent” means. Once again you have confused common descent with the causes of mutations. Even if every mutation, every new gene, is lovingly crafted by Jesus, that’s still common descent as long as species are ancestral to other species. You are arguing about the wrong thing.

  39. John Harshman: I’m afraid that you don’t understand what “common descent” means. Once again you have confused common descent with the causes of mutations.

    That right, common descent doesn’t cause anything. Neither does statistics. We’re making progress.

    Even if every mutation, every new gene, is lovingly crafted by Jesus…

    When he isn’t busy saving souls.

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