Matt’s Misconceptions on Macroevolution

It saddens me to see Mr. Esposito reduced to reciting outdated Creationist rhetoric when in the past his articles have always provided me with a refreshing change from the normal liberal views held on this campus. I would have at least expected Mr. Esposito to do his research on evolutionary theory before he wrote his column on it. While I respect Mr. Esposito’s opinion and encourage him to continue to offer our campus his alternative points of view, I feel that it is necessary to correct the seemingly endless list of mistakes in Mr. Esposito’s column.

First and foremost, I note that Mr. Esposito does not adequately define either evolution or macroevolution. Evolution is a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations, while macroevolution is used to refer to any evolutionary change at or above the species level. With this in mind, I ask Mr. Esposito to explain the dozens reported speciation events present in scientific literature, especially in botany and fruit fly studies. If Mr. Esposito means something else by macroevolution, I welcome him to clarify it so that his concerns may be addressed. He does seem to make the jump from microevolution directly to the origins of life, and clarification on his part would certainly be helpful.

I must also take issue with Mr. Esposito’s poor use of probability to back his claims. Mr. Esposito either fails to realize or simply fails to mention that his description of a protein forming “randomly” is horrifically inaccurate. Mr. Esposito assumes that proteins form by chance. Biochemistry is anything but a science of chance. Biochemistry’s products assemble in complex ways and interact in complex ways, regulating the formation of one another. This is how proteins act as the building block of life. Furthermore, Mr. Esposito incorrectly assumes that the protein in question must take a specific form in order for it to be “right”. Mr. Esposito fails to realize that there are innumerable forms proteins can take which facilitate life, thus making this argument meaningless. Mr. Esposito seems to be assuming that life appeared in its current complexity, but again he does not mention that life in its most primitive forms would be very simple indeed. Finally, Mr. Esposito incorrectly assumes that only one such protein would form at a time. Mr. Esposito would have us believe that on the 197 million square miles of Earth, over the 4.55 billion years that the Earth has been around, this event would only take place once. The probabilities Mr. Esposito calculated do not adequately reflect this. I would recommend that Mr. Esposito be more careful with his calculations and his use of probability in the future. I also recommend that Mr. Esposito look into the many fascinating theories for the origin of life before he claims they are “impossible”.

Mr. Esposito also includes reference to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but he does so without fully grasping the concept of a closed system. The Second Law’s conclusion that entropy always increases only applies within a closed system, and organisms are constantly taking in energy. This energy is used to build and maintain complexity. If Mr. Esposito’s interpretation of the Second Law were correct, an apple seed would not be able to grow into an apple tree, and snowflakes cannot form. A careful consideration of our past winter shows the latter at least to be anything but true. Unless he wishes to ascribe all natural processes to God and tear down the entire modern concept of science (and I do not think he does, considering Mr. Esposito was interested in using Thermodynamics to defend his position), I recommend that Mr. Esposito be more careful in his reading of the Second Law of Thermodynamics in the future. I would recommend that Mr. Esposito read the work of Noble Prize-winning chemist Ilya Prigogine, who in fact demonstrates that biological systems are entirely consistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and that the Second Law itself is critical for life’s origins from non-living materials billions of years ago.

Next, Mr. Esposito seems to suggest that we actually have no idea how old the Earth is. His first blunder is to assume that all information on the age of the Earth comes from radiometric dating, and that it is somehow questionable. Mr. Esposito is wrong on both counts. The accuracy of radiometric dating has been shown consistently since the 1970s to be extremely precise. In fact, Sisterna and Vucetich assembled a collection of data to determine whether or not there is any evidence at all for changes in the rate of radioactive decay (which radiometric dating measures like the ticking of a clock), and after examining dozens of possible data which could demonstrate a variation in radioactive decay, they demonstrated that it has almost uncanny accuracy. If that wasn’t enough, Mr. Esposito has also neglected to mention that radiometric dating has been shown accurate with other dating methods (including independent geological estimations of the age of the Hawaiian Islands, the position of the Earth in space at given times, luminescence dating in astronomy, and the rule of thumb of “deeper equals older”). If Mr. Esposito’s suggestion that radiometric dating was incorrect, it would not enjoy the accuracy recorded in scientific literature. Instead, its accuracy is constantly confirmed.

Invariably, Mr. Esposito makes the jump that evolution is some sort of new age religion designed to replace God. As a Catholic and as a student of science, I take great offense to this. Religion has room enough for evolutionary science. Not only the Pope, but the 188 Wisconsin Clergy, the American Jewish Congress, the Center For Theology And The Natural Sciences, the Central Conference Of American Rabbis, the Episcopal Bishop Of Atlanta, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the General Convention Of The Episcopal Church, the Lexington Alliance Of Religious Leaders, the Lutheran World Federation, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church Board For Homeland Ministries, the United Methodist Church, and the United Presbyterian Church have all openly affirmed that evolutionary science is not a “threat to God”. While Mr. Esposito insists that there is no way to believe in God and to accept evolutionary theory, these religious leaders seem to suggest otherwise. Furthermore, many scientists are religious individuals (including myself), and many openly interpret their data as a means of glorifying God. Mr. Esposito also seems to claim that God is completely useless as anything other than a deity who is responsible for creating life. For this to come in a column by a man who routinely affirms the great role God plays in his personal life is nothing short of hypocritical: God is good for much more in a man’s life than creation. The Bible does move beyond Genesis, and so too must we.

Finally, the column Mr. Esposito wrote seems to suggest that evolution is an entirely random process. This is an gross oversimplification. While I would like to clarify this, I believe Dawkins said it best in Climbing Mount Improbable (1996):
“Darwinism is widely misunderstood as a theory of pure chance. Mustn’t it have done something to provoke this canard? Well, yes, there is something behind the misunderstood rumour, a feeble basis to the distortion. One stage in the Darwinian process is indeed a chance process — mutation. Mutation is the process by which fresh genetic variation is offered up for selection and it is usually described as random. But Darwinians make the fuss they do about the ‘randomness’ of mutation only in order to contrast it to the non-randomness of selection. It is not necessary that mutation should be random for natural selection to work. Selection can still do its work whether mutation is directed or not. Emphasizing that mutation can be random is our way of calling attention to the crucial fact that, by contrast, selection is sublimely and quintessentially non-random. It is ironic that this emphasis on the contrast between mutation and the non-randomness of selection has led people to think that the whole theory is a theory of chance.”

In summation, Mr. Esposito makes use of a substantial amount of poor logic, invalid arguments, and just plain incorrect evidence to make the case that evolution is somehow “wrong”. On the other hand, thousands of scientists around the world make use of evidence and data collected in the light of evolutionary theory to both support the theory and to advance vital fields such as medicine, agriculture, pathology, and many others to make the world a better place every single day. Mr. Esposito is unable to provide any evidence whatsoever for his Creationist theory, while scientists have taken the time to amass millions of pages of data supporting evolutionary theory every year. Finally, Mr. Esposito’s contention that one who accepts evolutionary theory must reject God is an illogical claim, as is demonstrated by the tremendous national and international support from religious groups for evolutionary theory. I am saddened that Mr. Esposito is incapable of seeing the glory of God in the light of His work through the spectacular array of natural laws which guide our universe, and that Mr. Esposito is not able to accept a personal, loving God in his worldview.

Mr. Esposito’s lack of understanding of evolutionary theory is one which I encourage him to rectify. I am shocked that Mr. Esposito displays such unabashed ignorance on a topic he deems himself worthy to speak on as an authority on, and encourage him to learn more about evolutionary theory and its implications for science as a whole before he champions his ill-conceived conclusions. Or at the very least find some “evidence” that wasn’t woefully outdated in the 1970s.

John Pennisi, junior biology major