Jesus was a defective mutant, born of a cytological error

Why is it that the funny stuff always breaks out when I’m away from the interwebs? The always looney DaveScot takes issue with the claim that the virgin birth of Jesus is biologically unlikely, and cobbles up a bizarre scenario to allow it. Why, I don’t know; is ID dependent on the chromosomal status of Jesus Christ, or something?

Anyway, DaveScot proposes that 1) meiosis was incomplete in one of Mary’s ova, producing an egg that contained 2N chromosomes; 2) this egg also bore a mutation that causes XX individuals to develop as phenotypically male; and 3) something then activated this egg to develop. Then he crows,

What I want to know now is whether ignorance or dishonesty explains why you’d quote someone who claims the virgin birth of Christ defies everything we know about mammalian reproduction.

His scenario has a number of problems. It won’t work. I don’t even need to touch on his mangling of the concept of diploidy, which Allen MacNeil dispenses with in the comments.

  1. The resultant embryo would have a very high incidence of homozygosity. By suppressing the second meiotic division, he has generated an egg where all the pairs of chromosomes are the result of replication of a single DNA strand (less occurrence of recombination, which does ameliorate the problem.) This would unmask lethal recessives in Mary’s genotype. I suppose you could argue that Mary was picked by God for her amazingly complete lack of any deleterious alleles…

  2. A second critical problem, though, is that the genes inherited from your mother and father have different patterns of imprinting. Genes in mammalian gametes are modified in different ways in males and females in order to suppress certain genes; all of Jesus’ genes would have a female imprinting pattern, and none with a male pattern, producing an imbalance in gene expression that is typically lethal. This can be overcome by experimental manipulations that mimic male imprinting by knocking out some of the genes, but it’s still problematic. Experiments that tinker with patterns of imprinting still start with zygotes containing nuclei from two different parents to avoid problem #1.

  3. The end result of all this finagling is that Jesus was the highly improbable multiple mutant outcome of a cytological error, no divinity involved. That’s fine with me (does DaveScot really think that providing a natural explanation for a myth refutes my position?), but I don’t think it fits the expectations of the religious, and I sure don’t see how one absurdly unlikely chance occurrence would support the ID position in any way.

  4. Watching DaveScot flail around with his barely-high-school understanding of meiosis and development is entertaining, but really, all it accomplishes is to diminish his credibility yet further, and it was already prostrate on the floor. I guess he felt the need to start digging to get it lower still.

Not content with exposing his ignorance of reproductive biology, DaveScot just had to end with a demonstration of his mastery of physics, as well.

So you see, Paul, matter and energy that we know about are only a small fraction of what makes the universe go ’round, so to speak. Who’s to say at this point in time that this huge amount of unknown “stuff” is incapable of organization that produces intelligence? Could God be lurking in the dark energy of the universe?

I wonder what Sean Carroll would think of this hypothesis that dark matter and dark energy constitute a giant intelligent entity that does genetic experiments on human females?

This is all just God of the Gaps guesswork, in which gods are tucked away in the empty spaces in our knowledge. In this case, those empty spaces are magnified by the inclusion of DaveScot’s personal ignorance…making his god a truly great god.

The Cambrian as an evolutionary exemplar

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I’ve been reading Valentine’s On the Origin of Phyla(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) lately, and I have to tell you, it’s a hard slog. This is one of those extremely information-dense science texts that rather gracelessly hammers you with the data and difficult concepts on page after page. I am convinced that James W. Valentine is ten times smarter than I am and knows ten thousand times as much, and it’s a struggle to squeeze that volume of knowledge into my miniscule brain pan.

One thing I would like to greatly condense and simplify is his discussion of the Cambrian ‘explosion’. Misinterpretation of the Cambrian is one of the many prongs of the creationist assault on science; both old school Biblical creationists and the new stealth creationists of the ID movement have seized upon it as evidence of an abrupt creation—that a Designer poofed the precursors to all modern forms into existence suddenly, and without precursors, and that this observation contradicts evolutionary theory.

It doesn’t. Valentine has an excellent diagram that shows how wrong the creationists are.

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Schism!

Some dirt is being unearthed in the tale of the biggest creationist group around, Answers in Genesis, led by Ken Ham. There were two branches of AiG, one in Australia and another in the US, and there’d been hints of a split between them—and now Jim Lippard has details. It’s looking ugly.

In short, it looks like this was a struggle over money and control, with the Australian group out-maneuvered by the U.S. group. If the information in these documents is accurate–and I am inclined to believe that it is–it shows that Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis is as sleazy in its business dealings as it is in its misrepresentations of science.

It looks to me like Ken Ham is Kent Hovind’s smarter cousin…but that he’s just as corrupt and conniving.

Australian Lungfish update

I just received word from Per Ahlberg that the status of the Australian lungfish conservation efforts have reached a critical phase: letters are needed NOW. Here’s the situation:

The Traveston Dam proposal has moved into a new and critically important phase: it has been referred to the Federal Environment Minister (Mr Ian Campbell) for consideration under the Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Ian Campbell has the power to stop the dam, but if he doesn’t it is unlikely that any other organisation or individual will be able to do so.

The first hurdle that must be crossed in order to stop the dam is to ensure that the Minister does not allow the Queensland Government to conduct the EPBC assessment of it’s own proposal – something that he is entitled to do. This would be a recipy for disaster as they would be certain to conclude that their own proposal is environmentally sound! The assessment must be carried out by the Federal Environment Ministry to ensure a proper process.

The Save the Mary River Campaign is asking supporters to write to Mr Campbell and a number of relevant senators to demand a proper assessment, and provides some very helpful information and instructions. This is URGENT: letters have to be received before 27 November.

You can get details here—start writing!

I should have kept reading

Casey Luskin’s ignorance is well-known, and this recent essay stopped most of us cold at his Ford Pinto comparison. We should have kept going. Karmen plucks out another particularly stupid statement, one that’s even dumber than the Pinto remark:

The article called evolution a “simple” process. In our experience, does a “simple” process generate the type of vast complexity found throughout biology?

Luskin apparently thinks the answer is “no.” I think Karmen could teach him a few things about fractals to get him started, but it’s trivially true that yes, biology is all about the simple becoming complex through natural processes.

My kind of meeting

The NY Times is reporting on a wonderful meeting, “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival”. I wish I could have been there, but at least there’s the promise that recordings will be available. A meeting that is denounced by a spokesman from the Templeton Foundation is my kind of place.

It sounds like there was a great deal of vigorous argument, which also makes for my favorite kind of meeting. And then there were all the scientists plainly making these kinds of statements:

Carolyn Porco, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., called, half in jest, for the establishment of an alternative church, with Dr. Tyson, whose powerful celebration of scientific discovery had the force and cadence of a good sermon, as its first minister.

She was not entirely kidding. “We should let the success of the religious formula guide us,” Dr. Porco said. “Let’s teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome—and even comforting—than anything offered by any scripture or God concept I know.”

Dang it. That’s the theme of the book I’m working on. I need to get cracking.

These two statements really sum up my feelings.

With atheists and agnostics outnumbering the faithful (a few believing scientists, like Francis S. Collins, author of “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” were invited but could not attend), one speaker after another called on their colleagues to be less timid in challenging teachings about nature based only on scripture and belief. “The core of science is not a mathematical model; it is intellectual honesty,” said Sam Harris, a doctoral student in neuroscience and the author of “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

That was just the kind of accommodating attitude that drove Dr. Dawkins up the wall. “I am utterly fed up with the respect that we—all of us, including the secular among us—are brainwashed into bestowing on religion,” he said. “Children are systematically taught that there is a higher kind of knowledge which comes from faith, which comes from revelation, which comes from scripture, which comes from tradition, and that it is the equal if not the superior of knowledge that comes from real evidence.”

I’m sure there will be another volley of comments here that bandy about the terms “proof” and “disproof”, but that isn’t what this is about: it’s about a consistent pattern of unearned respect offered the failed paradigm of religion, and the need for scientists and citizens to honestly face up to the fact that there are no grounds for accepting the myths of your culture’s favorite myths, other than the constant dunning bombardment of religious propaganda on developing minds.

There’s another meeting in November 2007. I’m glad to hear the discussion isn’t going to stop, and that the godless are getting more and more active.