Common Descent and the leap of faith

There’s an interesting story yesterday at Evolution News & Views that shows that scientists are not necessarily in agreement with the so-called “tree of life,” not to be confused with this one. (In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that “Evolution News & Views” appears to be an ID-oriented site, perhaps associated with the Discovery Institute, which is routinely dismissed by evolutionists similar to the way President Obama dismisses Fox News. I have no particular allegiance to them or to any particular view of ID.)

By the accounts of some evolutionists, you would be led to believe that “common descent,” the theory that all of earth’s life forms evolved from the same source, and are thus all related. Even Francis Collins, the Christian scientist who headed the Human Genome Project and the author of “The Language of God,” believes in Common Descent.

In support of Common Descent, Richard Dawkins has stated (as quoted in the article) that “the genetic code is universal … (with one or two exceptions too minor to undermine the generalization).”

Trouble in paradise?

However, there appear to be no less than seventeen variations of the genetic code, some of which are completely incompatible with the others. J. Craig Venter, himself a recognized expert on the human genome, recently stated, “The tree of life is an artifact of some early scientific studies that aren’t really holding up…So there is not a tree of life.”

The article is, of course, not conclusive, it just reports on the recent dialog at Arizona State Univ. that involved Dawkins and Venter (there’s a link to a video of the discussion, if you’re interested). What it shows is that the scientific data must be interpreted; that is, it is not necessarily conclusive. One must line up the evidence, and then make at least a small  jump to a conclusion.

Highly intelligent and educated minds can reach different conclusions, as they must decide which data to give more weight, and which data to disregard. Dawkins has perhaps downplayed or ignored the incompatibilities between the 17 variations of the genetic code, and Venter has perhaps given them too much weight—who knows? Once again, scientific conclusions show themselves to have some subjective components, bearing a remarkable similarity to a “leap of faith.”

How do we decide where to leap?

Before I go any further, I would like to point out that I do not believe that one can use Intelligent Design arguments to prove the existence of God. However, if one presumes the existence of God, then elements of design will become evident. Furthermore, while evidence of design may not be conclusive, it can certainly point to the possibility of a common designer, in the same way that a newly-discovered painting can have indications that it is a Rembrandt.

Assuming the existence of God as the creator of all life, is a universal genetic code surprising, whether or not there are some variations? The 17 versions of the genetic code may be an impediment to common descent, but not to a common source, or a common designer. Whether we look to Mars or to Heaven, it requires we make a leap of faith.




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2 Responses to Common Descent and the leap of faith

  1. me says:

    Sorry, it’s making the leaps that keeps things progressing. Science would never have made it out of the enlightenment without them.

    I was not implying anything here about Dawkins (although I have elsewhere, I admit-he’s been too easy of a target). My point is that reputable, knowledgeable people can come to different conclusions based on the same information. From information to conclusion = leap (or big step, if you prefer).

  2. The point is not to “leap,” when you have questions like this. The point is to investigate further. I have the feeling that what Dawkins and Venter disagree on are quite different than what is being presented here. Further, “intrigued” is not a synonym for “flabbergasted.”

    I think that what Venter is discussing is different than what Dawkins means. Venter is much more the geneticist, and genetics is not Dawkins primary area of research (although he does have a much greater grasp of the workings of DNA than either you or I do.) The confusion for Dawkins is likely a matter of terminology that Venter uses in a way that Dawkins is unfamiliar.

    The implication that Dawkins is a dumbass is a frequent charge of EN&V, and yes, the DI are as trustworthy and “fair and balanced” as Faux News.

    They are, after all, prone to giving Michael Egnor space to prove his Egnorance.

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