Duke University’s Mohammed Noor Shares the “Fact” of Darwinian Evolution
by Stephen A. Batzer
Professor Mohammed Noor of Duke University is currently giving an open-access course, Introduction to Genetics and Evolution, and I’ve been following along. Over at Uncommon Descent, Cornelius Hunter has already shared some of his impressions of the course. I will do the same here.
I’ll say this much for the instructor. For his style of presentation, at least, Dr. Noor is to be commended. He is generally clear, accessible, and well spoken.
However, there is at least one point — his use of the word “evolution” itself — on which he could be clearer. He repeatedly assures us that evolution is a “fact,” beyond objection. Yet what is evolution? He defines it as “change over time.” Who could disagree that changes occur over time?
Getting down to specifics, Professor Noor starts with the familiar example of industrial mellanism in British moths. A change in gene frequency in the population influenced the expression of coloration. This is “Mother Nature” doing the same job as dog breeders, bringing about a noticeable phenotypic change through differential mortality. Noor pooh-poohs any notion that this single example isn’t sufficient proof to undergird the entire intellectual enterprise.
At other times, though, “evolution” seems to represent for him not only “change over time” but an entire naturalistic worldview. Why this comprehensive picture of reality has to be accepted on the basis of such meager evidence he does not even try to explain.
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As the course proceeds, perhaps students will learn more about what else Dr. Noor considers factual and what he does not. I have generated a list of candidate “facts” for his consideration:
- The chemical language of DNA and its codon structure is a natural invention. It is not a real code, but only gives the appearance of a code; the word “code” here is metaphorical. Yet DNA is (or is nearly) perfectly fine-tuned. We are unable to replicate its invention, or any other digital code-like structure, via undirected processes.
- Life arose as a purely unguided event, requiring no intelligent intervention. We don’t yet know how it did arise. We have no “best candidate” mechanism and are, once again, unable to replicate the self-assembly of life. However it is a fact that life arose naturally. Our proof is that all true scientists agree that it is a fact.
- From a single ancestral species, life diversified such that all living organisms share a common ancestor. However we do not know what this ancestral species was.
- Various mechanisms account for the diversification of life, including mutation, natural selection, and sexual selection. Species are not fixed. That there is an apparent boundary to species morphology found by dog breeders and plant biologists is a mere illusion. There is no reason, in principle, why a dog breeder could not breed a dog into a whale, given sufficient time…
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