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Character and Theology Aside, What About Denis Lamoureux's Science?

Bechley Lamoureux.jpg

As Denyse O'Leary points out, it's a good thing Stephen Meyer was there on stage in Toronto, migraine attack or not. Otherwise, between atheist Lawrence Krauss and theistic evolutionist Denis Lamoureux, there would have been little to debate. Perhaps surprisingly, Lamoureux focused his attack on Meyer, even while proclaiming him his "brother in Christ" and flinging buttery approval at Krauss. Simple humanity, it seems, would have dictated turning your fire away from the stricken man and directing it at your shared opponent.

But I leave it to his fellow Christians to reflect on Dr. Lamoureux's character, and how little daylight there is between his "theistic" position and Krauss's atheism. What, though, about his science?

In defending Darwinism, Lamoureux's signal contribution drew on his expertise in teeth. Evolving them was a snap -- "Teeth emerged. Very easy to do." Paleontologist Günter Bechly, a pretty impressive scientist, begs to differ, on that as well as other points raised by Lamoureux. He blogs about the "Lamoureux delusion." First on the question of dental evolution:

Lamoureux elaborated on the origin of teeth from placoid scales on the jaws of Paleozoic acanthodian "sharks". However, his own diagram showed that these placoid scales already included all crucial morphological features of teeth (upper enamel layer, lower dentine layer, pulp cavity, bony base). That dermal denticle scales on jaws gradually grew larger to form teeth is not a convincing example of macroevolution, but rather just quantitative change through microevolution that is not even denied by Young Earth Creationists. At best, his example is evidence for common descent with modification, which is fully compatible with Intelligent Design and thus cannot be used against it. Finally, the example has no bearing at all on the crucial question, if an unguided Neodarwinian process can explain the pattern of morphological change over time, and therefore it is impotent as an argument against Intelligent Design anyway.

On Lamoureux and the "oldest bilaterian":

To refute Stephen Meyer's claims in his book "Darwin's Doubt", Lamoureux presented the discovery of alleged 585 million year old traces of early bilaterian animals from the Ediacaran period. This evidence is based on a Science publication by Pecoits et al. (2012). However, Lamoureux forgot to mention that the dating and identification of these traces is highly disputed (see here and here). Actually, the most recent publication on this issue by Mángano & Buatois (2014) clearly states that "With respect to the Ediacaran, we agree with more conservative estimations that the oldest bilaterian trace fossils are dated to approximately 560 Ma ... The oldest subdivision (Avalon; 575-560 Ma) does not contain undisputed bilaterian trace fossils, and therefore has not been considered ... An earlier appearance of bilaterian trails (585 Ma) has been recently suggested. However, the age of the trace-fossil-bearing strata is highly contended, probably being Late Palaeozoic".

It is especially noteworthy that large unicellular organisms (protists) can produce traces on the sea floor that are remarkably similar to those of bilaterian animals, as Matz et al. (2008) showed in a study titled "Giant deep-sea protist produces bilaterian-like traces".

On nylonase:

Lamoureux mentioned the discovery of Nylon-eating bacteria as empirical proof that evolution can create new complex specified information and new proteins (nylonase enzyme) within only 40 years of time. This is actually an "old hat" in the creation vs evolution debate (see Wikipedia), and it sounds impressive only when one ignores two facts:

  1. Dembski (2001) established in his book "No Free Lunch" a value 500 Bits as complexity threshold for Complex Specified Information (CSI), which could not originate by natural processes given the probabilistic resources of our universe. It has not been established that the new information in nylonase matches this threshold and thus represents CSI at all (see here).

  2. Newer research by Negoro et al. (2007) has shown that the nylonase enzyme did not evolve by gene duplication and frameshift mutation as originally assumed, but arose from a pre-existing carboxyesterase enzyme, which already had some capacity to degrade nylon oligomers. In other words: Nylonase is NOT new information (also see here)!


On the "God of the gaps" objection, Bechly agrees that "explaining lightning and thunder with Thor's activity" would be "a God of the Gaps argument." But ID is different, obviously:

As Intelligent Design theorist Stephen C. Meyer explained in the same debate and in his books "Signature in the Cell" and "Darwin's Doubt", Intelligent Design makes an inference to the best explanation, not based on an argument from ignorance (what we do NOT know), but based on what we DO know about causes now in operation that could bring about the effect in question.

These are fighting words:

Indeed it is Theistic Evolution which is a redundant and dispensable concept (see this Forbes article), because it is either Neodarwinism in a cheap tuxedo (which it usually is), or it is a cowardly euphemism for Intelligent Design. In either case it is not a genuine alternative to Neodarwinism or Intelligent Design.

"Neo-Darwinism in a cheap tuxedo" -- I like that. Or maybe in rented clerical attire.