There was a panel discussion at Florida State University yesterday on “After Dover”, featuring Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, Rob Pennock of Michigan State University, and Stephen Gey, Michael Ruse, and Joseph Travis of Florida State University.
Patricia Deborah Blum moderated the discussion. (Thanks to “Vyoma” for the correction.)
There was a question and answer session at the end, and one of the questioners in particular captivated my attention. I have transcribed the exchange. The apparent goal of the questioner was to present such obtuse, obfuscated language as to leave the panelists too baffled to answer. However, he slipped up by using a stock phrase with known meaning, but in an inappropriate context.
“Q” stands for the questioner. I don’t know his name, otherwise I would certainly provide it for you. “ECS” stands for Eugenie C. Scott. “DB” stands for Deborah Blum.
Q: My question is for the two scientists on the panel. Um. Basically I’m wondering if you can discuss um the collision probability of basically uh let’s give something with a very high Stokes-Einstein diffusion coefficient, let’s say a hydrogen atom, two hydrogen atoms, um in a primordial soup on the order of ten to the ninth cubic kilometers and then extrapolate that to the complexity of three billion base pairs, two hundred thousand genes, forty thousand proteins, and discuss your calculation within the context of the entropic contribution to the free energy of this process.
ECS: What on earth are you talking about?
Q: Thank you.
ECS: This sounds very much like something from Kent Hovind’s web page. I mean, is this, uh, are you is your point that evo- that the origin of life is incredibly improbable, therefore…
Q: My point is that you know I’m not disputing uh you know I’m not disputing the evolution, but what I am disputing is that it doesn’t explain it still doesn’t explain the origin of the species.
ECS: Oh, what, the origin of species?
Q: Yes. I would like to see I I challenge…
ECS: What’s your understanding of species?
Q: I challenge any one of the scientists to…
ECS: Species are a dime a dozen, species are all over the place, why are you having a problem? Speciation theory is a whole separate component of evolutionary biology, and it explains how isolating mechanisms can arise can arise when genetic contact between populations is cut off.
Q: I’m not arguing that.
ECS: And that is how you get new species, through those kinds of…
DB: I’m not sure what your question is either. Can you either state it more clearly, or we’re going to move over here?
Q: I’ll take that you can’t answer it. (chuckles into the mic, apparently satisfied that he has gotten his desired outcome)
DB: No, I think that you didn’t ask it.
Q: Yes, I did.
DB: Sorry, we need to get you on the mic. This gentleman believes you’re asking what the origin of life is.
Q: I’m asking for someone to put a single-celled organism into a test tube, it doesn’t even have to be ten to the ninth cubic kilometers, the volume of the primordial soup, put it in a test tube and make a human out of it.
ECS: (laughs) I’m sorry, but that would not prove or disprove evolution in the slightest.
Even if we make the assumption that Q had an issue with abiogenesis, the origin of life, rather than the far more pedestrian origin of species, there are so many misconceptions and errors inherent in his statement that unravelling it seems a daunting task. Q did leave some clues, though, so I will have a look at those.
“Collision probability” is a clue that Q was aiming for an improbability argument, that something was too improbable to occur by whatever mechanism scientists are offering.
“Three billion base pairs” appears to be a specific reference to the size of either the human or chimpanzee genome. From this clue, I would surmise that Q’s difficulty is after all not the “origin of species”, but rather the “origin of THE species”, that is, human evolution in particular. That would also work well with the bizarre suggestion Q makes later concerning experimental design. There is a particular subgroup of antievolutionists who have no difficulty with evolution that occurs at rates far higher than evolutionary biologists might propose, so long as there is a clear divide between humans and the rest of creation. In fact, many young-earth creationists propose super-fast evolutionary divergence in order to offload Noah’s ark of too great a burden. If one permits extra-special-superfast evolution within kinds post-flood, then the ark doesn’t have to be very big or have much in the way of special features to support the sort of diversity that organisms extant into historical times would indicate.
But beyond that, I’m not sure that I can speak to anything further in Q’s discourse. There is a certain pathos to this young man, whose manner bespoke a certain arrogant self-assurance that was in complete juxtaposition to his obvious ignorance on these matters.
It looked liked he was reading off his question when he started in on numbers associated with genomes, though a Google search does not reveal a corresponding online source. If anyone knows of where he might have picked up some of that text, please let me know.