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 Replies to “Five Questions Everyone Should Ask about Common Descent”

  1. Corneel Corneel
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    says:

    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?

    This indeed echoes Sal’s claim. For the same reasons as Salvador was wrong, so is Nelson. The origin of derived characters is irrelevant to the predictions of common descent. All novel characters could be lovingly crafted by the designer in her supersecret laboratory outside time and space. As long as there is divergence among lineages and branching evolution, we would still obtain the nested hierarchy.

  2. Corneel Corneel
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    says:

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

    Does he accept the objective nested hierarchy though?

  3. Neil Rickert
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    says:

    Moved a post to guano.

  4. John Harshman John Harshman
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    says:

    Common descent is a theory about certain features of the history of life, not a theory of everything in the history of life. The origin of variation is not something common descent explains, is intended to explain, or needs to explain. And that’s the case even if Sal and Nelson want to claim otherwise. Explain the nested hierarchy or go away.

  5. OMagain
    Ignored
    says:

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

    So he’s clever enough to know how weak his position is. Slow hand claps all around.

  6. Adapa
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    says:

    OMagain: So he’s clever enough to know how weak his position is. Slow hand claps all around.

    Most of the clowns at the DI have spent their whole adult lives lying about science to push their Creationist position. They know how to cover the stench of their dishonesty very well by now.

  7. Rumraket Rumraket
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    says:

    2. Neo-Darwinism and the Origin of Biological Form and Information
    Stephen C. Meyer

    … Nevertheless, until recently it was impossible to precisely quantify the magnitude of this problem and, thus, to assess the plausibility of a random search for novel proteins among all the possible amino acid sequences. Recent experiments on proteins performed by Douglas Axe and others, however, have shown in a precise quantitative way that functional genetic sequences (and their corresponding proteins) are indeed too rare to be accounted for by the neo-Darwinian mechanism of natural selection sifting through random genetic mutations. The “space” or number of possible arrangements are simply too vast, and the available time to search by undirected mutation too short for there to have been a realistic chance of producing even one new gene or protein by undirected mutation and selection in the time allowed for most evolutionary transitions.

    Hahahaha, what a total crock of shit. *cough cough*.
    Douglas “wrong-by-over-60-orders-of-magnitude” Axe.

    Oh, and Stephen Meyer, the guy who likes to cite literature as support, but which actually says the diametrically opposite of what he claims.

    I’m pretty sure this book isn’t worth anyone’s money.

  8. Rumraket Rumraket
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    says:

    Adapa: Most of the clowns at the DI have spent their whole adult lives lying about science to push their Creationist position.They know how to cover the stench of their dishonesty very well by now.

    Not really, they actively rely on the braindead sycophancy that results from the colossal cognitive bias machine that religion manifests in otherwise normal people. Once you are no longer under the spell, the whole thing stinks rather obviously and noticeably.

  9. Robert Byers
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    says:

    Common design is the first and obvious conclusion for explaining biology. its the biblical conclusion. its the obvious conclusion from historic mankind.
    God(s) would make everybody with the same eyeballs. why not? what would a creator otherwise do?
    why should a creator be forced intyo making biology so unrelated in its bodyplans JUST to prove its the result of a creator??
    Why must humans not have a liver, ears, butts, to prove we are not in a common descent with rhinos from something previous???

    Common descent must demonstrate why likeness in bodyplans is evidence for CD. Not just explain the differences.

    common descent rests on the rejection of other options.
    Especially a creator. The original, historic, authored, popular, christian prestige, OPTION.
    Common descent is flawed science. not just wrong conclusions.
    I predict evolutionism cAN NOT demonstrate/prove common descent hAS EVIDENCE other then a reasoning based on likeness in bodyplans.
    Yup. a prediction.
    The future will demand more then what they offer now.

  10. Pedant
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    says:

    I’m pretty sure this book isn’t worth anyone’s money.

    There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.

  11. Mung Mung
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    says:

    John Harshman: Common descent is a theory about certain features of the history of life, not a theory of everything in the history of life. The origin of variation is not something common descent explains, is intended to explain, or needs to explain.

    Whether common descent explains the origin of variation or not is a red herring. That common descent is not a theory of everything in the history of life is also a red herring.

    Which features of the history of life does common descent explain? John does not say.

    Common descent can’t be restricted to explaining only the similarities because given only the similarities you’d not have a branching tree to explain. You’d have a single taxon that all shared the same characters.

    It follows that it must explain the differences or it is impotent to explain anything.

    So Salvador does have a point, even if he does have me on Ignore. 🙂

  12. Mung Mung
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    says:

    Corneel: This indeed echoes Sal’s claim.

    thank you.

    For the same reasons as Salvador was wrong, so is Nelson. The origin of derived characters is irrelevant to the predictions of common descent.

    This cannot be true. If it were true the theory of common descent would be no more than an appeal to ignorance. See my response to John.

    All novel characters could be lovingly crafted by the designer in her supersecret laboratory outside time and space. As long as there is divergence among lineages and branching evolution, we would still obtain the nested hierarchy.

    If the theory of common descent does not explain the divergence then what does it explain? If it does not explain the branching then what does it explain? If all it explains are the similarities, see my response to John.

  13. Mung Mung
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    says:

    Rumraket: I’m pretty sure this book isn’t worth anyone’s money.

    Another win for phoodoo.

  14. dazz dazz
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung: Which features of the history of life does common descent explain? John does not say.

    Oh, yes he does. It’s just that you’re a quote mining piece of shit.

    Here’s your quote:

    John Harshman:: Common descent is a theory about certain features of the history of life, not a theory of everything in the history of life. The origin of variation is not something common descent explains, is intended to explain, or needs to explain.

    And here’s John’s post:

    John Harshman:
    Common descent is a theory about certain features of the history of life, not a theory of everything in the history of life. The origin of variation is not something common descent explains, is intended to explain, or needs to explain. And that’s the case even if Sal and Nelson want to claim otherwise. Explain the nested hierarchy or go away.

  15. dazz dazz
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    says:

    Mung: If it were true the theory of common descent would be no more than an appeal to ignorance

    Can’t you google what an argument from ignorance means before embarrassing yourself like that?

  16. Entropy Entropy
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    says:

    dazz,

    It looks as if these creationists were competing for illiterate of the year.

  17. Mung Mung
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    says:

    dazz: It’s just that you’re a quote mining piece of shit.

    And you’re an ignorant troll. You don’t even know that natural selection is stochastic.

    Explain the nested hierarchy or go away.

    Further evidence that you’re an ignorant troll. The theory of common descent has to explain the nested hierarchy. If all that existed were the similarities there would be no nested hierarchy. Given only the similarities there would appear to be only a single taxon. It is the differences that distinguish the different taxons.

    So common descent has to explain those, or it explains nothing.

    Moron.

  18. Mung Mung
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    says:

    Entropy: It looks as if these creationists were competing for illiterate of the year.

    Let dazz be your guide. 🙂

  19. dazz dazz
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    says:

    Mung,

    It’s the pattern of similarities and differences, dimwit. The nested hierarchy. Rum’s been trying to educate you here but you’re far too stupid to get it

  20. Mung Mung
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    says:

    dazz: It’s the pattern of similarities and differences, dimwit. The nested hierarchy. Rum’s been trying to educate you here but you’re far too stupid to get it

    FFS you’re dull. The pattern of similarities doesn’t result in a nested hierarchy. Common descent isn’t a theory about shared similarities, it’s about the differences. Even you agree with this while at the same time denying it. But you’re far too stupid to get it.

  21. Adapa
    Ignored
    says:

    dazz:
    Mung,

    It’s the pattern of similarities and differences, dimwit. The nested hierarchy. Rum’s been trying to educate you here but you’re far too stupid to get it

    Oh he gets it alright. He’s just a lonely old man who needs to shitpost because it’s the only way he can get people to talk to him.

  22. dazz dazz
    Ignored
    says:

    dazz: but you’re far too stupid to get it

    Mung: But you’re far too stupid to get it.

  23. Rumraket Rumraket
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung: Another win for phoodoo.

    Really? How many evolution books do phoodoo read in general? I’m guessing zero. Or how about books by the many different skeptical authors he dislike so much? How many of Neil Degrasse Tyson’s books has he read? How many of Michael Shermer’s? How many of Lawrence Krauss’s? Bill Nye’s? I’m guessing that, even if he once read a book by one of them, he doesn’t keep buying every new book they write.

    In order for this to be “a win for phoodoo”, he has to stop scoring own goals.

    Regardless, this silly charge can’t stick as you don’t have to keep reading books by cranks that have been proven wrong before. At some point they generally just lose credibility and are not worth your time. I also don’t think Alex Jones is worth your time. But I realize that even writing that I’ve probably insulted both you and phoodoo.

    To make matters worse for this book, some of the cranks in it were apparently convinced to become cranks by other cranks who also wrote chapters. Günter Bechly, for example, was seemingly so impressed with the work of Stephen Meyer and Douglas Axe in Darwin’s Doubt that this in part convinced him to become one himself. So it’s a cesspool of cranks reinforcing each others crankery. An orgy of demonstrably wrong.

  24. Rumraket Rumraket
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    says:

    Mung: Which features of the history of life does common descent explain? John does not say.

    He has said that many times before, so have I.

    The fact that the features of organisms can be objectively sorted into a nesting hierarchy, is what common descent explains. And that multiple independent phylogenetic trees show statistically significant degrees of congruent branching orders.

  25. Rumraket Rumraket
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    says:

    Mung: It follows that it must explain the differences or it is impotent to explain anything.

    This is wrong.

    It is not required to explain how the differences came to exist, only why they can be used (together with the similarities) to sort species into an objective nesting hiearchy.

    The explanation for how the differences came to exist in the first place, are the mechanisms of evolutionary change. Population mechanics (splitting, segregation, selection and drift) combined with the mechanisms of inheritance (copying, mutation, recombination and so on).

  26. OMagain
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    says:

    It’s telling that no ID supporter has yet addressed points 4 or 5 and brought to light some insight relating to Intelligent Design and Common Descent.

    it’s almost as if Intelligent Design has nothing to add to the conversation.

    It’s always amused me how little they talk about ID at UncommonDescent. Take a look at their current front page. There is literally not a single article about ID. But there are plenty about evolution and how wrong it is. Always amusing the amount of time spend on something they consider to be wrong.

    So Mung, J-Mac and phoodoo. What are your responses to points 4 and 5? What does ID add to the explanation of the history of life? Or do you just want to continue to poke holes in something you already consider wrong? What’s the value there?

  27. John Harshman John Harshman
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung: Which features of the history of life does common descent explain? John does not say.

    Common descent can’t be restricted to explaining only the similarities because given only the similarities you’d not have a branching tree to explain. You’d have a single taxon that all shared the same characters.

    It follows that it must explain the differences or it is impotent to explain anything.

    It doesn’t follow at all. Common descent doesn’t explain the similarities or the differences. What it explains is the nested hierarchy in which those similarities and differences are arranged. I think you may be equivocating on what “explain the similarities and differences” means. It doesn’t explain the origins of features, but it explains their distribution.

    This, incidentally, is why common descent can be compatible with ID, as in Behe’s formulation. Nelson is using the mask of ID to hide young-earth creationism, which makes his questions not just wrong but incoherent.

  28. stcordova
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    says:

    Corneel:

    As long as there is divergence among lineages and branching evolution, we would still obtain the nested hierarchy.

    No because it’s a nested hierachy defined by Orphan systems, not a nested hierarchy solely composed of gene trees with slight mutational changes. Not to mention, the gene trees conflict with each other like say Cox1 vs. BMP which I demonstrated the hard way. Amazing what one will find with gene trees when one doesn’t follow the cherry picked examples to give forgone condlusions.

    That said, here is the video that is likely associated with the book. Doug Axe has a powerful opening. Though I’ve been ever so slightly skeptical of some of his protein folding improbabilities, I thought his 1 minute opening summarizes my belief in ID:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEYPNQ-rIcE

  29. John Harshman John Harshman
    Ignored
    says:

    stcordova: No because it’s a nested hierachy defined by Orphan systems, not a nested hierarchy solely composed of gene trees with slight mutational changes. Not to mention, the gene trees conflict with each other like say Cox1 vs. BMP which I demonstrated the hard way. Amazing what one will find with gene trees when one doesn’t follow the cherry picked examples to give forgone condlusions.

    The nested hierarchy isn’t defined by orphan systems (which by the way you have never defined). And even if it were, the question is why the data follow a nested hierarchy.

    Now here you seem to deny that the nested hierarchy actually exists. Is that your new explanation: there’s nothing to explain?

    Nor have you presented any gene trees, just estimates of two gene trees. Unless your trees are properly analyzed, the estimates can be faulty. And that’s the explanation for the discrepancies you have found: not the gene trees themselves, but your bad estimates of the gene trees. If you don’t believe me, ask Joe.

  30. Corneel Corneel
    Ignored
    says:

    stcordova: Though I’ve been ever so slightly skeptical of some of his protein folding improbabilities, I thought his 1 minute opening summarizes my belief in ID:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEYPNQ-rIcE

    I see the watchmaker found a new job engineering smart phones? 🙂

  31. Corneel Corneel
    Ignored
    says:

    stcordova: Orphan systems

    I assumed that “Orphan features” was your shorthand for apomorphies, but apparantly this is mistaken. At some point, you seemed to suggest that this had something to do with ORFans. NOw, from the video I get the impression that you mean integrated molecular systems. Could you clarify please?

    stcordova: Not to mention, the gene trees conflict with each other like say Cox1 vs. BMP which I demonstrated the hard way.

    I believe John disagrees 🙂

    So what is the functional relevance of the variation between different orthologs of mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase and bone morphogenetic protein? Apparantly we require different versions of those genes than “fish”.

  32. Entropy Entropy
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    says:

    stcordova: … Not to mention, the gene trees conflict with each other like say Cox1 vs. BMP which I demonstrated the hard way. Amazing what one will find with gene trees when one doesn’t follow the cherry picked examples to give forgone condlusions.

    I think that Salvador would use meters, or yards, to compare the height of skyscrapers, but that he would use centimetres, or inches, to compare the sizes of bird houses. Yet, he thinks that it’s fine to select proteins that don’t have the same “measurement” precision, combined with poorly selected organisms (and poorly selected methods), to conclude that trees conflict with each other. Not only that, he imagines that selecting proteins whose variation allow comparison within the divergences we intend to measure, we have “cherry-picked.”

  33. Adapa
    Ignored
    says:

    stcordova
    That said, here is the video that is likely associated with the book.Doug Axe has a powerful opening.Though I’ve been ever so slightly skeptical of some of his protein folding improbabilities, I thought his 1 minute opening summarizes my belief in ID:

    You mean “I’m too ignorant to conceive of how natural processes could make something so complex, therefore my particular supernatural entity diddit!”

    There’s a good reason Axe and the rest of the DI are such laughingstocks in the real scientific community.

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