The Turtle On the Fencepost

As providence would have it, last night I read the next chapter of Coyne’s book in order to mull over it a bit before writing my next post. And then this morning, as is my practice, I spend some time reading through any magazines that have accumulated during the course of the week. And, as I mentioned, as providence would have it, part of that stack was the very fine magazine Salvo, which I am happy to commend to you.

Coyne’s sixth chapter was “How Sex Drives Evolution.” The cover article for this issue of Salvo was a great article by Richard Stevens on how sex and mating rituals exhibit (and require) intelligent design.

First, Coyne’s chapter was embarrassing in its own right. He points out the staggering complexity involved in the matter of sex, and then gives an evolutionary account of various trifles. He explains things that don’t require much explanation (such as how the non-survial of a male is still consistent with the survival of a bunch of his offspring), and leaves untouched the screamers that demand an accounting for anybody who has thought about the problem for more than five minutes.

He does allude to one of those screamers in passing. “Why sex evolved is in fact one of evolution’s greatest mysteries” (p. 155). True enough, and no kidding. But then he goes on to explain something else entirely — he solemnly explains how species that already reproduce sexually might avoid mutating back to a system of asexual reproduction.

It is as though he said, “How the turtle got on top of the fence post is one of the greatest mysteries we have. Perhaps I can help by explaining how he might get down off of it.”

And this is a good place to bring Stevens’ insights into the discussion. One of the things that materialistic evolutionists cannot get their minds around is the fact that information — programming, software, code — does not weigh anything and is not any particular color. Information is not material. There is a difference between arguing that an artifact displays the marks of intelligence having been there (as a broken watch still might) and arguing that another artifact requires an intelligent programmer to crank out the code that the system needs to runs on. Both kinds of intelligence need to be explained away by the evolutionist — but they somehow think they only need to explain the first kind, and they don’t do that very well.

The fact that the symbol m represents an em sound is not something that is physically resident in that letter. It is part of a code, and codes were coded by somebody. The assumption that evolutionists make, as Stevens points out, is that if a creature has legs, it can just walk. If it has wings, it can just fly. If it has sexual organs, it can just mate.

No. That is like saying that if you have the computer hardware you can do without the software. Believing in the “evolution” of the hardware is a stretch already, but then there is the programming involved. Sexual behaviors are enormously complicated information systems. And, as Stevens shows, the information is needed prior to the behavior itself.

There are a host of things that creatures can do in their behavior, provided they have a pre-programed control system that will enable them to do that particular thing. In order to mate — as the examples Coyne uses plainly show, but which he does not see — there must be a cascading system of if, then choices, made by both the male and the female. In addition, there is the complexity involved in pattern recognition, both sending and receiving — chirping of the cricket, the croaking of frogs, the bling collection of the bowerbirds, and so forth. This is not something that these creatures “just do” because they have the equipment for doing it. Their behavior is driven by something. Their behavior exhibits intelligence, and not theirs. It exhibits the intelligence of the one who wrote the code.

In other words, according to evolution, the hardware has to evolve by chance, and the programming has to evolve simultaneously, also by chance, and the programming can’t be an iOS trying to run on a PC. Not only that, but the reciprocal elements (to whatever it is that just happened by chance) have to simultaneously happen over in the other sex, hardware and software both, and all of it has to happen at the same time, and within walking, swimming, or flying distance. And this has to happen thousands and thousand of times, over and over again.

And I am not even counting non-behavioral mating aspects, like the eyespots on a peacock’s tail. I mean, he doesn’t even know that they are back there.

And then, on top of everything else, Coyne fails to show how abandoning asexual reproduction in the first place could possibly confer any kind of survival advantage. When you can already reproduce all by yourself, how are you doing anything to advance the cause by taking half your genetic material necessary for survival, and sending it off somewhere else? Now he might never call. What kind of sense did that move make?

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15 comments on “The Turtle On the Fencepost

  1. Grasping the information problem for evolution shows that evolution of (fundamentally) new structures (thus creatures) is impossible. It is not merely that there is a code, but that there is a language behind the code. We have the 4 letters of DNA code, but the combination of nucleotides making up codons is arbitrary. There is a language placed on the code, much like English, German or Vietnamese can use the Latin alphabet yet the symbols all mean something different. // Message always comes from message. It degrades but it is never created without intelligent input.

  2. Isn’t pomosexuality all about divorcing sexuality from reproduction? Asexual reproduction, or sexuality with no reproduction, is the order of the day. With no reason for the turtle being on the fencepost, modern western culture is entirely focussed on getting the turtle off. (Ahem)

  3. Hip, hip, huzzah! Three cheers for Salvo! Three more cheers just because sexual reproduction, much like the bat, hangs in the heavens unhurt. Look; it is there! No clever evolutionist I have yet met knows what to do about it. “This mystery is great,” they say, “but I am speaking of unverifiable speculative fantasies and logical circles. Forget the Bats, and for pity’s sake, shut up about sex. I’ve already said ‘genetic recombination’ seven times. That was supposed to make you go away. Stop picking at that hole in my worldview; it hasn’t scabbed over yet.” Let me guess that Coyne forgot to mention XY versus WZ versus Haplo-diploid sex determination. He didn’t, did he?

  4. I think that Doug’s turtle analogy is it is unfair to Mr. Coyne, being somewhat not exactly parallel. Let me obviate Mr. Coyne’s possible objection by suggesting the following change:

    It is as if a turtle managed to get up on top of a fence post….into a parabolic bowl 10 feet deep and 20 feet in diameter. Now that he is up there and in there, lets talk about how this position, being a local minimum, makes it difficult for him to get out.

    Happy to help Mr. Coyne out.

  5. Thank you for terse and impactful rebuttal to such an important topic. It was this very topic of information and its lack of material-ness that convinced me that evolution was bunk after literally years of grueling debate. I finally realized that evolutionists are playing a large catch 22 game here. The genetic information determines the physical appearance and abilities, which then in turn determines the genetic information, which in turn….

  6. Test comment with my phone app.

  7. The difficulty of sex evolving is probably why life was around for nearly 3,000,000,000 years before it finally happened. Since most people can’t actually imagine what happens in 3,000,000,000 years (especially among the first comparatively simple organisms who reproduced sexually), it’s really simple rhetoric to say “Now, you can’t imagine peacock sex just happening by chance, can you? Therefore it must not have happened!”

    This, of course, ignores that it was not in peacocks where sex first evolved, but in single-celled eukaryotes, where the things that need to happen are FAR simpler. The why is still an interesting question, but anyone can spend five minutes on the internet and see a number of reasonable hypotheses. We aren’t likely to prove those hypotheses anytime soon, of course, because looking at why something happened is far more difficult than looking at what happened. We have the evidence for sexual reproduction involving – saying that they don’t completely know why doesn’t disprove anything.

    And all that stuff about the “equipment” required or the “behavior” required is just a red herring. Single-celled eukaryotes don’t need all that equipment for sex. And single-celled eukaryotes don’t exhibit all those behaviors. All they need to do is meiosis, where the chromosomes are halved (which could easily be an accidental byproduct of a poor mitosis), and fertilization, where two different meiosis products combine (the much harder issue, but far easier in single-celled organisms than in, say, dogs).

    All that equipment and behavior stuff evolves AFTER sexual reproduction is already present, and since we know the order in which most of it evolved, the pathways and sexual selection reasons behind most of it actually appear fairly obvious. You act like they happened one at a time before sexual reproduction was even around, which is a laughable joke. Once again, you’re only making these particular arguments because you either don’t understand the science at all, or are counting on your readers not to understand and just to trust you.

  8. @Jonathan: You’ve conveniently ignored the most important. Let’s, for the sake of argument, grant that the physical parts of sexual reproduction could evolve. You still have addressed the information quandary: how that genetic code actually has meaning.

    Now, you might say that that’s a philosophical rather than biological question. But it must be answered nonetheless.

  9. Hmm, Jonathan isn’t mentioning chromosomal sex determination either… go figure. And coming from somebody who does understand the science, meiotically divided cells could not easily happen as the result of botched mitosis. You don’t have to blindly trust me on this one either; all you have to do is go take an entry-level college cell and molecular biology course.

  10. The difficulty of sex evolving is probably why life was around for nearly 3,000,000,000 years before it finally happened. Since most people can’t actually imagine what happens in 3,000,000,000 years (especially among the first comparatively simple organisms who reproduced sexually), it’s really simple rhetoric to say “Now, you can’t imagine peacock sex just happening by chance, can you? Therefore it must not have happened!”

    This, of course, ignores that it was not in peacocks where sex first evolved, but in single-celled eukaryotes, where the things that need to happen are FAR simpler.

    We have the evidence for sexual reproduction involving – saying that they don’t completely know why doesn’t disprove anything. And all that stuff about the “equipment” required or the “behavior” required is just a red herring. Single-celled eukaryotes don’t need all that equipment for sex. And single-celled eukaryotes don’t exhibit all those behaviors. All they need to do is meiosis, where the chromosomes are halved (which could easily be an accidental byproduct of a poor mitosis), and fertilization, where two different meiosis products combine (the much harder issue, but far easier in single-celled organisms than in, say, dogs). All that equipment and behavior stuff evolves AFTER sexual reproduction is already present, and since we know the order in which most of it evolved, the pathways and sexual selection reasons behind most of it actually appear fairly obvious. You act like they happened one at a time before sexual reproduction was even around, which is a laughable joke.

    The “equipment” in question and the “behavior” in question are both nothing like peacocks or bowerbirds or humans. I wonder if Pastor Wilson uses those examples because he actually thinks that’s where sexual reproduction evolved, or because he doesn’t actually understand sexual reproduction in single-celled organisms, or because he’s trying to confuse people by making strawman arguments. The “why” of sexual reproduction’s appearance is still an interesting question, but anyone can spend five minutes on the internet and see a number of reasonable hypotheses. We aren’t likely to prove those hypotheses anytime soon, of course, because looking at why something happened is far more difficult than looking at what happened.

    Once again, you’re only making these particular arguments because you either don’t understand the science at all, or are counting on your readers not to understand and just to trust you.

  11. James – that question had to be answered far earlier, back with the first instance of repeating information (whether that was an early form of RNA or some even earlier code). That question has nothing to do with sexual reproduction, which is why I didn’t address it. But it is certainly a biological question, and something that those who study the origins of life spend a lot of ink on.

    Reuben, not exactly sure why you bring up chromosomal sex determination. Chromosomal sex determination is not a requirement of sexual reproduction and came about fairly late in the evolutionary process compared to when sexual reproduction came about. Because the taxonomic divisions for sex determination systems can still be seen today, the evolutionary path is not difficult to follow. If you want to learn more about it, the following papers are relatively easy to understand:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1838700/

    http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/01/04/rsbl.2010.1126.full.pdf

    As far as meiosis happening “easily” as a result of botched mitosis, I only meant “easily” in the relative sense – as in, across the world over the course of 3,000,000,000 years, it is something that likely would have happened many many times, and would not at all have been the limiting factor in the evolution of sexual reproduction.

  12. @ Jonathan

    “….but in single-celled eukaryotes, where the things that need to happen are FAR simpler.”

    Far simpler is a relative term. Have you had a biochemistry course? Or studied it in detail?

    Running non-stop around the world in 1 day is a complex problem”. You really haven’t specified a FAR simpler problem by, say, only requiring that someone run across the continent in in 1 day.

  13. David – no, I have not had a biochemistry course. I’ve studied organic chemistry and microbiology, both of which of course had elements of biochemistry, as well as done some research work in microbiology. So I am familiar with the subject of biochemistry, but not in any way an expert or anywhere close to one.

    However, imagining sexual reproduction coming about from bowerbirds is far more than just a biochemistry problem, which makes the issue an issue of type, not just an issue of degree. More like the difference between running to the moon and running across a continent. And, in fact, you can run across a continent. It might just take more than a day. Unless, of course, you choose the right place to run across.

  14. @ Jonathan “And all that stuff about the ‘equipment’ required or the ‘behavior’ required is just a red herring.”

    No, actually the equipment and behavior (hardware and operating software) issues are fundamental. Jonathan’s arguments do not address the problem evolution has. Evolution has no explanation for gradual modification of the control software needed to operate modified hardware. Evolution theory says everything became as it is via gradual undirected mutations that produced modifications in animals’ hardware — evolution needs a gradual undirected mutation method to modify the control software to operate the changed hardware. Evolution lacks any such mechanism to assure software makes hardware work to provide the “survival advantage” required by natural selection.

    @ Jonathan “All that equipment and behavior stuff evolves AFTER sexual reproduction is already present, and since we know the order in which most of it evolved, the pathways and sexual selection reasons behind most of it actually appear fairly obvious.”

    Actually, no, none of that is “obvious.” Evolution does not explain how biological software can be modified by accidental mutation, and how the modified software comes to exist just in time to support modified biological hardware, so that the two working in concert supply the “survival advantage.”

    Saying something is “obvious” does not in any way make it obvious — it doesn’t even make it plausible.

  15. Wow, that earlier post was ugly, so I’m trying again to get the line spacing so it will be readable. Sorry about that.

    @ Jonathan “And all that stuff about the ‘equipment’ required or the ‘behavior’ required is just a red herring.”

    No, actually the equipment and behavior (hardware and operating software) issues are fundamental. Jonathan’s arguments do not address the problem evolution has.

    Evolution has no explanation for gradual modification of the control software needed to operate modified hardware. Evolution theory says everything became as it is via gradual undirected mutations that produced modifications in animals’ hardware — evolution needs a gradual undirected mutation method to modify the control software to operate the changed hardware. Evolution lacks any such mechanism to assure software makes hardware work to provide the “survival advantage” required by natural selection.

    @ Jonathan “All that equipment and behavior stuff evolves AFTER sexual reproduction is already present, and since we know the order in which most of it evolved, the pathways and sexual selection reasons behind most of it actually appear fairly obvious.”

    Actually, no, none of that is “obvious.” Evolution does not explain how biological software can be modified by accidental mutation, and how the modified software comes to exist just in time to support modified biological hardware, so that the two working in concert supply the “survival advantage.”

    Saying something is “obvious” does not in any way make it obvious — it doesn’t even make it plausible.

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