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Science with Pre-Ordained Conclusions

One problem for creationists has been the lack of publications in peer-reviewed journals. In a typical attempt to bypass reality with labels, Answers in Genesis has duly produced a “peer-reviewed journal,” the Answers Research Journal.

A major problem, of course, is that “peer-reviewed” tends to imply more than simply that there is a panel that reviews submissions. One can quite easily gather a panel of one’s family and friends and get them to “review” what one has written. Those who have tangled with the process of publication knows the difference between friendly and agreeable reviewers, and those not selected such as to favor your cause.

In addition, peer-reviewed journals are generally associated with some center of the academic activity in question or some professional society that supports it. Thus publication in peer-reviewed journals also implies a level of acceptance in the community involved in that particular type of research. Other members of that community read the articles in such journals and might even cite them in their work.

Of course, peer review could also result in censorship and elimination of good ideas that are out of the mainstream, but might become mainstream later. In that one point reside the hopes and dreams of intelligent design (ID) advocates everywhere. “Our day will come,” they say, “And you will all realize how right we were.” That view might have had some validity a few decades ago, but today if you have a truly good paper it will be very hard to suppress. Get it on the internet and someone or other will see it. If it’s of such good quality that it “shifts the paradigm,” then you’ll be able to show up all those stuffy peer reviewers.

The creation of a “special” journal for a “special” group of researchers who aren’t acceptable to the broader scientific community doesn’t respond to the underlying problem. What it does is provide creationist debaters who are facing the general public with some ammunition, “smart PR bullets” if you please, targeted at those who don’t really understand the issues. “No peer-reviewed papers? I have five citations here, all from Answers Research Journal. See! It’s peer reviewed. It says so right here.”

Once the PR point is scored, who cares what science is accomplished? I note the interesting line in the requirements for papers, mixed in with a bunch of format requirements:

Papers should be no more than 10,000 words long. Color diagrams, figures, and photographs are encouraged. Papers can be in any relevant field of science, theology, history, or social science, but they must be from a young-earth and young-universe perspective. Rather than merely pointing out flaws in evolutionary theory, papers should aim to assist the development of the Creation and Flood model of origins. Papers should be submitted in a plain text, single-spaced Word or RTF file. Formatting should be kept to an absolute minimum. Do not embed graphics, tables, figures, or photographs in the text, but supply them in separate files, along with captions. [emphasis mine]

Translation: Take that you scientists! You don’t want creationist papers? We don’t take any evolutionist papers, nor papers from folks who believe that the earth is old. We have our conclusions pre-ordained!

One obvious thing that young earth creationists seem to miss is that not assuming that the earth is 6,000 years old is not the same type of bias as assuming it is. The age of the earth is not an assumption, rather it is the result of considerable research which one can review, challenge, and correct if one wants to.

In the meantime, Answers in Genesis is also producing some “semi-technical” research. ERV reviews some of this over at the Panda’s Thumb and it doesn’t come out so well. She does a much better job and goes into greater detail than I possibly could. It is, after all, in her field.

But I could help mentioning a couple of little problems with logic. Consider this paragraph:

Antibiotic resistance is certainly an example of change, but it is hardly a fact of macroevolution (bacteria remain bacteria). Creation microbiologist, Dr. Kevin Anderson, states that such variation in bacteria is beneficial for their survival outcome in a clinical environment, but not a beneficial mutation. Anderson (2005) goes on to demonstrate how some “fitness” cost is often associated with mutations, although reversion mutations may eventually recover most, if not all, of this cost for some bacteria. A biological cost does occur in the loss of pre-existing cellular systems or functions. Such loss of cellular activity cannot legitimately be offered as a genetic means of demonstrating macroevolution. [all emphasis mine]

Look at the first bolded portion: “Bacteria remain bacteria”? When are these people going to bring some sort of focus to the idea of a “kind”? The only definition I can see is that if one thing changed into another while somebody was watching they must be the same kind, otherwise not.

Consider the second bolded portion. Here we are told that a mutation might be beneficial in a clinical environment, but it’s not a “beneficial mutation.” What would make it a beneficial mutation? I would suggest that the fact that more of the bacteria survive in a “clinical environment” than would otherwise is beneficial from the point of view of the bacteria involved. You see, they don’t live in this other theoretical environment, the non-clinical environment with which they are apparently supposed to be concerned.

Is there some sort of ideal environment where bacteria should want to live and where they should desire to be most fit to live. “Unfortunately we have to survive here in this clinical environment,” say the bacterial philosophers, “but the mutation that allows us to do so isn’t really beneficial, because it doesn’t prepare us for our real home in a non-clinical environment.”

So then we come to the conclusion of the paragraph where we’re told that because this other loss of functionality occurs, this can’t possibly be used as a case of macroevolution. I’d like to know what that has to do with the case at hand. In the clinical environment, you know, the one where the bacteria with antibiotic resistance have to live, it is a beneficial mutation.

Go read ERV’s entire post at the Panda’s Thumb.

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  1. Larry B says:

    A couple of points – to further your argument that merely calling for “peer review” isn’t the panacea of identifying legitimate science, one need only look for example at the Journal of Parapsychology where the supposed science of the paranormal is researched and peer reviewed.

    To your last point, I didn’t find as much disdain for the logic used by Dr. Anderson as you did. Take for example animals in captivity who develop changes that adversely affect how they will survive in the wild. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to raise a concern that a lab environment may not accurately reflect the larger environment. The burden lies on both sides of the argument to perform due diligence in deciding on whether the lab conditions can be extrapolated to the environment at large. Drug companies face this struggle all the time.

    1. On your first point, that’s a good example. The definition of “peer” is in doubt. Then I read this post from EvolutionBlog talking about some reviewers for math papers not actually completing checking the proofs, and one has to say that not all reviews are equal.

      On your second, I’d like to hear more. It seems to me that captivity, for example, is an environment to which an animal can adapt. Adapting to one environment doesn’t necessarily mean that one remains well adapted to another.

      I’d compare it to a situation where a population becomes isolated on an island, say some insects that arrive on a floating log, or in the longer term those that get separated by geological processes (Australia, for example). How does this differ? Those on the island or the separate land mass adapt to the environment with which they are presented, and that may make them less survivable in the former environment. Even our human intelligence has its downside under certain circumstances.

      I simply fail to see how this is an argument against evolution, or even a very exciting observation. It all seems rather obvious. What am I missing?

      1. Larry B says:

        Just to be clear, I don’t think Anderson’s argument is something that can be used against evolution. I think the argument is a reasonable objection to laboratory based experiment being extrapolated outward to a larger situation. The evolutionary scientist could rightly counter by pointing to evidence of “unforced” adaptation already in nature and state that the lab experiment helps to elucidate the process by which that occurs. Anderson would have the burden of proving that the lab conditions are in someway deficient, in which case, he has only shown that a particular experiment hasn’t proven what it was intended to prove – it does not invalidate the general theory. That is where Anderson’s logic fails.

        As for the environment question, I can’t particularly put my thumb on it, but maybe it comes from all the recent discussions on global warming. There seems to be a lot of language that implies that there is one system (mother nature) and then there is the results of our intentional tampering (CO2 emissions from human industrial activity) and the two always seemed to be treated as separate. In my own mind it creates a division between a “human induced” world and a natural world. I probably extrapolate that to the situations you described thus leading me to view the lab as separate from the “natural world” in the way that I did. As you point out, it’s probably not a real distinction.

        I guess my other line of thought would be more to the idea that the lab stress conditions, might never be encountered in the natural world and thus while they may show some change, they don’t indicate what might happen under natural stress conditions. Your geological separation example is appropriate here. If I understand correctly, evolution would predict change in this case, but the timeline and the forcing function is vastly different than what we do in the lab. So does the lab merely show an accelerated view of what happens or an incorrect view because our inputs are vastly different. I’m not an expert in the field so I can’t really speculate, but nonlinear systems (as I would suspect evolutionary systems are) can behave very differently with even small input changes so I would want to keep that in mind when looking at lab results.

  2. Andrew Lamb says:

    There are two peer-reviewed creationist journals of many years standing – Journal of Creation and Creation Research Society Quarterly.

    Contrary to your assertion Henry, age is dependent upon assumptions, i.e. age is not something that can be measured. See the article Immeasurable age.

    Also, there is no one at Creation Ministries International (the publisher of Journal of Creation) who would disagree with the last sentence of your blog above. There most certainly are some beneficial mutations, but they invariably involve loss of specified complexity (genetic information) whereas evolution would require massive increases. Consider the case of CCR5-delta32: a very beneficial mutation.

    1. 1. I was aware of the two journals you referenced and would make similar comments about their “peer review.” I regard them as a pathetic attempt to create respectability where there is none.

      2. I will respond to your “age is dependent on assumptions” in a separate post which will track back to this one. I take the time to do this not because you raise anything new, but because you provide an excellent example of self-destructive apologetics.

      3. Finally, as for genetic mutations, the claim that mutations cannot increase information is very simply false. You can start here if you are actually interested in some data. Gene reduplication, for example, followed by mutation, can quite clearly increase information.

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