Five Questions Everyone Should Ask about Common Descent

I received my copy of Theistic Evolution today. The book contains three chapters dedicated to skepticism of universal common ancestry. As common descent seems to be a hot topic here lately I thought I’d read those chapters first and offer comments and invite responses.

I’ll start with Chapter 12, authored by Paul Nelson, which carries the title: Five Questions Everyone Should Ask about Common Descent. The five questions are as follows:

1. If species were not connected by common descent, how would we know it?
2. What were the actual transformation pathways, satisfying the continuity rule, which connect all organisms to LUCA?
3. Have we genuinely tested UCD, or merely assumed its truth?
4. When explaining the history of life, have we assumed methodological naturalism only, or have we allowed for the possibility of intelligent design?
5. In the light of intelligent design as a causal possibility, what histories for life on earth might be the case?

As usual, I don’t expect anyone else here to actually read this book because, you know, it just isn’t skeptical enough.

Rather than post the content of the abstract for the chapter I post a link here to where it can be found:

Beautiful Monster — Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique Is Here!

Nelson begins by claiming that biologists are abandoning universal common descent. He then goes on to echo a claim made here by Salvador in the Common Design vs. Common Descent thread that the theory of common descent must explain not the similarities, but the differences.

Nelson:

…common descent is not mainly a theory of similarity. … Rather, common descent is mainly a theory of transformation. … Common descent must explain the origin of differences – novel characters – and not simply similarities, along natural pathways or branching lineages starting with an ancestral form which did not possess those characters.

Salvador’s claims didn’t get far here but Nelson’s reasoning is a bit more clear. Is it possible that Salvador had a valid point that was dismissed on grounds that had nothing to do with evidence, facts and reason?

Note: Nelson never appeals to “common design” as a better explanation.

83 thoughts on “Five Questions Everyone Should Ask about Common Descent

  1. 1. If species were not connected by common descent, how would we know it?

    You don’t seem to understand how science works. Lack of common descent would be the null hypothesis. What needs evidence is common descent, not the opposite.

    Darwin only offered universal common descent as a hypothesis, not as something he could establish. Later on, evidence started accumulating showing that there might be a lot of common descent, if not universal.

    I’ll write later about your other “questions.” I’m not too impressed by them though.

  2. 1. If species were not connected by common descent, how would we know it?

    They’d not have the genes indicating relatedness to other species.

    How hard is that, and how stupid is that question? Of course we know that Paul is trying to smuggle in an illegitimate assumption, that life might have all of the evidence of common descent yet not be related via common descent. IOW, he doesn’t care about the evidence, and wishes to pretend that it doesn’t matter.

    3. Have we genuinely tested UCD, or merely assumed its truth?

    Yes, there is a great amount written about how it’s been tested, and the egregious Nelson just asks that idiotic question to raise doubts that have no basis in fact.

    Indeed, why would I read such an intellectually dishonest book? It’s not at all skeptical of the bullshit spread by IDists.

    Glen Davidson

  3. 2. What were the actual transformation pathways, satisfying the continuity rule, which connect all organisms to LUCA?

    This looks like the typical creationist misinformed question. It doesn’t make sense, and I hope that others will not make the mistake of translating it into something sensical and then answer something you did not ask.

  4. Mung:
    No, keiths, I haven’t read the entire book yet. I just got it and it’s almost 1000 pages.

    Admire you honesty. Will you be summerizing for us?

  5. 3. Have we genuinely tested UCD, or merely assumed its truth?

    Again, you don’t know how this works. Without evidence for UCD, the null hypothesis, no UCD, would continue. There’s lots of different lines of evidence that show that if there’s no universal common descent, there’s quite a bit fo common descent.

  6. These are not five questions everyone should ask.These are questions only a misinformed creationist would ask.

  7. Richardthughes: Admire you honesty. Will you be summerizing for us?

    What Richards is asking is, will you draw a colorful picture?

    keiths must be so happy you have come back, you have really taken the heat off of him.

  8. 4. When explaining the history of life, have we assumed methodological naturalism only, or have we allowed for the possibility of intelligent design?

    it would be nonsensical to “allow” for the possibility of “intelligent design.” Nothing to do with assuming methodological naturalism. Much more to do with the deep problems associated with the “god-did-it” non-answer, and with its hypocritical version called “intelligent design.”

    Again, these are not questions that everyone should ask about UCD, these are questions only a misinformed creationist would care to ask.

  9. 5. In the light of intelligent design as a causal possibility, what histories for life on earth might be the case?

    “in the light”? “causal possibility”? Really!? How clueless and misinformed you’d have to be to ask these “questions”?

    You should have use this title instead: “Five questions that demonstrate how clueless of a creationist you are.”

  10. Entropy: You don’t seem to understand how science works.

    Did you mean to say that Paul Nelson just doesn’t seem to understand how science works?

    The five question are posed by Paul A. Nelson. They have nothing to do with how I think science works. Paul Nelson however, given his doctorate, just might know how science works.

    Great start for the “skeptics”! Score one for phoodoo.

  11. Mung: Did you mean to say that Paul Nelson just doesn’t seem to understand how science works?

    The five question are posed by Paul A. Nelson. They have nothing to do with how I think science works. Paul Nelson however, given his doctorate, just might know how science works.

    If he made these questions, then no, he doesn’t know how science works. He’s a clueless creationist, and a poor philosopher. I don’t know how he got his doctorate. What was his research area?

  12. GlenDavidson: They’d not have the genes indicating relatedness to other species.

    How hard is that, and how stupid is that question?

    I missed the part where you covered how you know which genes indicate relatedness to other species and which do not.

    phoodoo 2, skeptics 0

  13. Entropy: This looks like the typical creationist misinformed question. It doesn’t make sense, and I hope that others will not make the mistake of translating it into something sensical and then answer something you did not ask.

    Entropy: Again, these are not questions that everyone should ask about UCD, these are questions only a misinformed creationist would care to ask.

    Entropy: How clueless and misinformed you’d have to be to ask these “questions”?

    Entropy: Again, these are not questions that everyone should ask about UCD, these are questions only a misinformed creationist would care to ask.

    Entropy: Again, you don’t know how this works.

    And again, and again, and again….

    “Cracker! Again! Cracker! Again!…”

    I read that parrots eat their own shit. Is it boredom, or you enjoy the taste?

  14. Entropy: These are not five questions everyone should ask.These are questions only a misinformed creationist would ask.

    keiths, I want my money back!

  15. Mung: phoodoo 2, skeptics 0

    The irony of you taking that as “points for phoodoo.” You read something by some “authority” and you accept it blindly. Oh, but he has a doctorate!

  16. Richardthughes: Admire you honesty. Will you be summerizing for us?

    It’s winter here, so probably ni.

    I doubt that folks here want to go through the entire book. I may try to summarize certain chapters.

  17. I have found the common descent vs. common design interesting. I think the question of “universal” is not nearly as important to the theists as the question of common ancestry between man and chimp. For this reason, I have focused on the latter question.
    I come down on the side of common descent quite strongly for three reasons:

    1 – It is my understanding that humans share about 80 known disease producing point mutations with chimps. In the same gene, there is an allele with the same point mutation that produces a known disease. How to explain this with common design baffles me.

    2 – Similarly, the apes (along with a few other critters such as the guinea pig) have a gene which, except for minor mutations, would produce vitamin C. The mutations that differentiate our C pseudogene from the C gene in a dog are different from that of the chimp in many of the same spots. Common descent explains this quite handily. Common design struggles.

    3 – Recently I learned that there is an active orphan gene in humans that mostly exists as a pseudogene in chimp. It would appear that this “lucky accident” was being set up at the time of the separation of these two lineages, and that the “accident” completed in the human lineage. If my information is correct, while some solution to this conundrum may be contrivable via common design, the pattern is expected under common descent.

    And that, folks, is how to lay out a logical argument. It is way the heck more intelligent than, “These are not five questions everyone should ask.These are questions only a misinformed creationist would ask.”

  18. Entropy: The irony of you taking that as “points for phoodoo.” You read something by some “authority” and you accept it blindly. Oh, but he has a doctorate!

    I accept universal common ancestry. It’s hard to see how you get from that to accepting blindly what Nelson writes. Unless facts just don’t matter here.

    phoodoo 3, skeptics 0

  19. phoodoo: And again, and again, and again….

    It’s not my fault that all five questions revealed cluelessness and misinformation. Blame your pal Mung for posting them here as if they were not the misinformed crap that they are.

    I thought of taking them one by one thinking there might be some explanations to write. Then I would read them, think, no, this is too dumb, maybe I misread, so read again, and, lo and behold, they really were that dumb. No option but to repeat what each question revealed.

  20. phoodoo,

    No I’m not really asking that at all Phoodoo. Just because you put other people’s things in your mouth doesn’t mean you can put things in other people’s mouths. Now jog on you motive mungering tool.

  21. Mung,

    I think he is saying, first you have to blindly ask the question, is it valid to blindly ask the question. But then how do you know if its valid to blindly ask the question-Is it valid to blindly ask the question?

    Ok, I admit, I have no idea what he is blindly trying to say. But the good news is, neither does he!

  22. Entropy: If he made these questions, then no, he doesn’t know how science works. He’s a clueless creationist, and a poor philosopher. I don’t know how he got his doctorate. What was his research area?

    Nelson is a well known Creationist author and Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute. Like all the DI douchebags that means lying about evolutionary biology comes as naturally to him as breathing.

  23. Entropy:
    So what’s that doctorate about Mung? (Yes you accepted the questions as valid questions blindly.)

    Nelson has a PhD in the “Philosophy of Biology”, whatever that is. Apparently it has nothing to do with actual biology. Supposedly he also helped author the Discovery Institute’s “Wedge Document”. A real dyed in the wool Liar For Jesus for sure.

  24. 1. If species were not connected by common descent, how would we know it?

    Presumably they would not fit a nested hierarchy. Further evidence would require assumptions about the nature of the designer, which of course is forbidden.

    2. What were the actual transformation pathways, satisfying the continuity rule, which connect all organisms to LUCA?

    I am unable to make sense of this question. What is “the continuity rule”?

    3. Have we genuinely tested UCD, or merely assumed its truth?

    Theobald 2010.

    4. When explaining the history of life, have we assumed methodological naturalism only, or have we allowed for the possibility of intelligent design?

    What does that have to do with common descent? Is it a claim that common descent and intelligent design are incompatible? If so, talk to M. Behe. If not, the question makes no sense.

    5. In the light of intelligent design as a causal possibility, what histories for life on earth might be the case?

    Again, what does intelligent design necessarily have to do with the history of life on earth? Nelson is apparently hiding behind “intelligent design” when a more forthright term would be “separate creation”. Nelson is of course a young-earth creationist.

  25. phoodoo: Ok, I admit, I have no idea what he is blindly trying to say. But the good news is, neither does he!

    I think what he means is that if I quote a source known to be friendly to ID then I must agree with what they say unconditionally and without question. It must be the truth.

    I wonder where else Entropy hangs out. Maybe I can go there to learn the real truth. I want to know who killed JFK.

  26. John Harshman: I am unable to make sense of this question. What is “the continuity rule”?

    Good question. Do you still have me on Ignore?

    Did you read the abstract I linked to in the OP?

    Within the past twenty years, however, a growing number of evolutionary biologists have expressed doubts that LUCA ever existed. Their skepticism of LUCA and hence of UCD rests on an important rule of biological inference known as the principle of continuity. The principle of continuity holds that every step in any evolutionary pathway must be biologically possible.

    Surely this is noncontroversial.

  27. Damn what a rogues gallery of Disco Tute creationst liars, charlatans, and con-men (and women) authored this latest steaming pile of an anti-science book. Besides YEC Nelson we’ve got

    Stephen Meyer
    Douglas Axe
    Ann Gauger
    Jonathan Wells
    James Tour
    Winston Ewert
    Günter Bechly
    John West

    and a special guest appearance by Casey “attack gerbil” Luskin!

    No wonder mung was getting a tiny little chubby over it.

  28. “3. Have we genuinely tested UCD, or merely assumed its truth?”

    I always enjoy this way to formulate a question. Creationists START with unquestionable assumptions, which the facts either ratify or the facts must be wrong. And, perhaps from simple human nature, creationists assume everyone else works the same way, this being the only way they know.

    Historically, separate creation was the assumption. It wasn’t even questioned for millennia, since it was so self-evident to any educated Christian. Even Linnaeus was a creationist, whose carefully nested taxonomy grew out of the evidence but common descent wasn’t visible to someone not predisposed to reflect on the implications.

    Probably the notion of common descent was delayed, perhaps by many centuries, because STARTING with a false assumption disguised what would otherwise have been pretty clear. Amusingly, all of Nelson’s questions rest on the presumption that since he presents no factual evidence for UCD, there isn’t any.

    (And as a footnote, the relevant evidence has been provided to Nelson, on this and many other sites, ad nauseum. In exhaustive detail. Along with requests that he address all this evidence. We’re still waiting, decades later…)

  29. John Harshman.

    I am unable to make sense of this question. What is “the continuity rule”?

    It seems to be some bullshit “rule” Nelson made up to sound more sciency. Not unlike Dembski’s “conservation of information” brain fart in that respect.

  30. Flint: Historically, separate creation was the assumption.

    So independent origins vs. universal common ancestry. How do you decide?

    I guess we’ll just take your word for it. 🙂

    phoodoo 7 – skeptics 0

  31. Mung: So independent origins vs. universal common ancestry. How do you decide?

    Honest people look at the huge amount of consilient evidence from the fossil and genetic records.

    ID-Creationists ignore evidence and make up shit as they go.

    Science – 10,000,000 – IDiots- 0

  32. I can’t wait for mung to defend Gauger’s chapter on why Adam and Eve were a real couple who gave rise to all humans, and Attack Gerbil Luskin’s chapter on why everything science knows about common descent is wrong. 😀

  33. Indeed, the theory of common descent is a theory about what happened in the history of life.

    – Theistic Evolution p. 332

    Is this now in doubt?

    If the theory of common descent is not a theory about what happened in the history of life then what is the theory of common descent about?

    If the theory of common descent is a theory about what happened in the history of life then doesn’t Salvador have a point? The theory needs to explain the differences not just the similarities.

  34. Nelson:

    …common descent is not mainly a theory of similarity. … Rather, common descent is mainly a theory of transformation. … Common descent must explain the origin of differences – novel characters – and not simply similarities, along natural pathways or branching lineages starting with an ancestral form which did not possess those characters.

    Salvador’s claims didn’t get far here but Nelson’s reasoning is a bit more clear. Is it possible that Salvador had a valid point that was dismissed on grounds that had nothing to do with evidence, facts and reason?

    Common descent is an explanation for the nesting hierarchy in the pattern of both the similarities and the differences.

    But when it comes to the question of how the differences arose, the explanation is evolution. Evolution explains how there came to be entity X (some novel character) in some lineage, which is not in some other lineage. Evolution here is the ensemble of mechanisms, like (but not limited to) mutation and genetic recombination, filtered over generations by natural selection and genetic drift.

    1. If species were not connected by common descent, how would we know it?

    Then we would not have any good reason to think that species could be objectively sorted into nesting hierarchies by their characters, and that different and independent characters yielded significantly congruent branching orders.

    2. What were the actual transformation pathways, satisfying the continuity rule, which connect all organisms to LUCA?

    What is the continuity rule? I’ve never heard of that one before. The clarification offered in this thread smells like some silly made up rule that is designed to stack the deck in favor of rejecting non-design explanations.

    “Within the past twenty years, however, a growing number of evolutionary biologists have expressed doubts that LUCA ever existed.”
    Is that a growing percentage of living working biologists, or just a growing number by the fact that old and now dead people are still kept on the list, and new people are born every day? Or that Paul Nelsen started counting twenty years ago and every time he asked someone he added them to his list, and so his list is growing simply because he still hasn’t gotten through all the worlds working biologists?

    I suspect this “growing number of biologists…” crap is actually false, or at the very least that Paul Nelson doesn’t substantiate the claim with polling data. It’s typical IDcreationist narrative about the “growing number of biologists are rejecting evolution”. Also knowns as the longest running falsehood in creationism.

    Their skepticism of LUCA and hence of UCD rests on an important rule of biological inference known as the principle of continuity. The principle of continuity holds that every step in any evolutionary pathway must be biologically possible.

    This is where Paul Nelson reveals that he is making stuff up and probably haven’t talked to any real biologists who weren’t also totally coincidentally IDcreationists of some stripe.
    Among the very few biologists of whom I have read that doubt common descent, this made-up “continuity rule” is not among the reasons.

    Anyway, this rule is, I submit, designed to reject common descent. Let’s imagine for a moment we tried to apply this “continuity rule”. We are then supposed to demonstrate some transition “is possible”. How do we demonstrate that transformations of any sort are possible? What does that mean? Physically possible? Logically possible? For either of those it is trivial, as you could basically just make up some in-principle account using some combination of mutations and natural selection to explain how something changed from A to B.

    But creationists of all stripes universally reject such accounts as mere “just so stories”.

    So what they’re asking for here is something more concrete than mere in-principle accounts. What they’re asking for is a real-life demonstration. Preferrably an experiment, but maybe a “realistic simulation” could do the trick.

    When these are provided, creationists will claim that the experiments are actually examples of intelligent design (the experiments were set up “in a clever way”), or in some way stack the deck in favor of evolution and then declare victory, and the same for simulations (like they claim with Avida and the evolution of complexity), because somebody had to program the simulation, and design an environment in which to simulate evolution, this must also be an example of intelligent design, so they declare victory again.

    So nothing short of “being there” in the ancient past, to record in real time from afar without interference, how and when transitions took place, could satisfy this “continuity rule”.
    Yet there is no other area in science, or history, where they demand such a rule to be applied. We could apply the continuity rule to the Mt Everest and demand that geologists show that it is possible that flat collding continents could create the Mt Everest. And then when geologists create some simulation that yields mountain ranges from colliding tectonoic plantes, claim that the simulation is designed and then declare victory.

    And therein is revealed the double standard by which evolution is evaluated by creationists. They’re perfectly fine believing on no evidence at all, that ID took place, but for evolution they require real-time demonstrations of anything and everything. And no amount of experiments, calculations, models or simulations could ever succeed, because experiments require experimenters, calculations require calculators, models require modelers, and simulations require simulators. So it’s all design-win by definition.

    It is an epistemological travesty, that IDcreationists have still not realized that the METHOD is more important than the conclusion. They have dug themselves into an episemological trench they can’t get out of. They have set up a system and some rules such that they will never be able to discover if they are wrong.

    5. In the light of intelligent design as a causal possibility, what histories for life on earth might be the case?

    Anything and everything is possible with an unconstrained supernatural and omnipotent designer who’s methods and motives we are not allowed to speculate on. It is literally unfalsifiable.

  35. Rumraket: Common descent is an explanation for the nesting hierarchy in the pattern of both the similarities and the differences.

    This!

    Why is it so hard to grasp the concept of variation?

  36. Mung: So they are not even valid questions.

    Nope. I told you already. They’re creationist misinformed bullshit. That’s all they are.

    As I said, irony be thy name.

  37. https://www.amazon.com/Case-Young-Earth-Creationism-Zondervan-Digital-ebook/dp/B007MEUQCE

    Derived from Three Views on Creation and Evolution, this digital short provides a vivid defense for the view that God created the world relatively recently and in six days.

    I also ignore what the local wino screams at the top of his voice. Sure, he may well have some insightful commentary sometimes but his stinking and screaming debars him from further consideration.

    Likewise people who argue for a 6000 year old earth are simply not worth listening to on any subject. Life is too short to waste on such people.

  38. Mung: No increase allowed. 2LOT and all that nonsense.

    That you’re unable to understand my points doesn’t mean that they’re nonsense. Your illiteracy must be quite bad since you could not go beyond “you don’t understand how science works.” You thought you “got me,” with an “argument from diploma!”: “he has a doctorate, he must know how science works.” So you didn’t bother to keep reading.

    No wonder the irony escapes you.

  39. dazz:
    Another book from the same clowns, with the same old crap, that the same idiots keep buying

    Naaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!! Oh. Yes. You’re right.

  40. Entropy: You thought you “got me,” with an “argument from diploma!”

    Paul Nelson argues for an earth under 6000 years old. He’s an IDiot. He could have 10 diplomas and he’d still be an IDiot. Dr Dr Dembski is a double Dr Dr. And yet look what lasting impact he’s had on book sales. Actual science, not so much.

    They’ve already failed to convince their “peers” (i.e. others with diplomas) so they turn to the audience who prioritises belief over knowledge.

    Who other them Mung would buy a book written by a YEC and then claim because the author has a diploma they must understand how science works. If they understood science then they would not be YEC. It’s quite simple.

Leave a Reply