Evolution is religion; intelligent design is science


According to back-to-back posts on Evolution News and Views, evolution is religion, while intelligent design is science. In a badly argued post today, Cornelius Hunter says,

As I have explained many times, evolution is a religious theory…

Yesterday on the same platform, Steve Laufmann explained

…intelligent design is science, though not everyone knows it yet.

Well, he’s right about the second part.

Dr. Hunter is responding to Dennis Venema’s post on BioLogos describing shared mutations as evidence for common ancestry, in particular the deletion in the GULO gene that makes humans and other great apes unable to produce our own vitamin C:


As Dr. Hunter summarizes the argument:

Venema’s argument is that harmful mutations shared amongst different species, such as the human and chimpanzee, are powerful and compelling evidence for evolution. These harmful mutations disable a useful gene and, importantly, the mutations are identical.

He then asserts

As we have explained so many times, the argument is powerful because the argument is religious.

First of all, who is “we”? More importantly, what is the evidence that the argument is religious? None is given, at least not in this post (but, as Erik Hanschen has pointed out, cdesign proponentsists often have difficulty distinguishing assertion from evidence). Presumably this argument in fleshed out in the “so many times” that “we” have explained. The heart of Dr. Hunter’s argument that shared mutations don’t support common ancestry is this:

This “shared error” argument also relies on the premise that the structures in question are bad designs. In this case, the mutations are “harmful,” and so the genes are “broken.”

No, it doesn’t. The words “harmful” and “broken” don’t even appear in Dr. Venema’s post, which leads to the question, who exactly is Dr. Hunter quoting? Dr. Venema does refer to the great ape version of GULO as “unable to make a functional enzyme product,” which is a simple fact. He never claims that the loss of this function is harmful; in fact, he says

The loss of GULO function does not seem to have been a selective disadvantage for primates at the time – likely because they had a diet rich in vitamin C. Indeed, even for humans, this loss is not a serious problem unless one finds oneself without a source of vitamin C for a prolonged period of time. [emphasis added]

So I think it’s fair to say that Cornelius Hunter has intentionally misrepresented Dr. Venema’s argument, which has nothing to do with bad design. I’ll go a step further: when describing someone else’s argument, putting things in quotes is a claim, specifically a claim that that person said the the exact words between the quotes. Since Dr. Venema’s post doesn’t include the words “harmful,” “broken,” or “shared error,” I think it’s fair to say that Dr. Hunter is lying. And by arguing with a straw man version of Dr. Venema’s argument, he has failed to engage the actual argument.


  1. says

    The obvious question is “Why would a designer put in a gene in a designed organism that doesn’t work? Why bother with it all?”. The evolutionary argument is obvious. Organisms living in a Vitamin C rich environment no longer had selection pressure for a functioning gene to produce Vitamin C. When mutations appeared that disabled the gene, they were not selected against. The gene remained in the genome but was either not expressed or was expressed in way that did no harm.

    Hunter tries to argue that the genes still have a function, we just don’t know what it is. He argues that failure to accept this notion is a type of religious belief. But he is the one taking it on faith that there is still a function for these genes. It is as weak an argument as I have ever seen from design proponents.

    • Matthew Herron says

      It is as weak an argument as I have ever seen from design proponents.

      And that’s saying something! It’s hard to tell whether his misunderstandings are deliberate or just incompetent.

    • says

      Hunter tries to argue that the genes still have a function, we just don’t know what it is.

      But since the evolutionary argument doesn’t rely on the gene being non-functional, it’s a complete red herring. It simply doesn’t matter what the gene does. What matters is that the genes are identical. Even if a function is found, it in no way changes the fact that this evidence is solidly in favor of a common ancestor for the apes.

  2. Numenaster says

    Hunter’s mischaracterization of the mutation as “harmful” assumes that mutations are always beneficial or always harmful, in every organism in every environment. Obviously this particular one would have been selected against in a population where vitamin C was not readily available in the usual diet. So it’s got no effect in the populations where it appears, but COULD be harmful under other conditions. This is a complex answer, and cdesign proponentists prefer simple ones, so we get Hunter’s blanket mischaracterization instead.

    • Matthew Herron says

      Totally. It’s also a bit of a game with the language, equating failure to produce a functional enzyme, which is an indisputable fact, with detrimental (in the sense of fitness), which is an inference that Dr. Venema didn’t make.

  3. says

    “So it’s got no effect in the populations where it appears, but COULD be harmful under other conditions. ” But evolution is blind and random and can only respond to immediate environmental effects, not environmental effects it MIGHT be exposed to. Hunter’s characterization of the mutation as harmful assumes thoughtfulness like a designer might have, while in this case the mutations suggest randomness and lack of forethought like one would expect for evolving organisms.

  4. rietpluim says

    In case the the deletion in the GULO gene is harmful, chances are there would have been no humans, orangutans, or chimpanzees; so no Dr. Hunter either. Vitamin C is quite an essential nutrient.

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