Comments on Jeanson Accuses Duff Again

I would like to suggest that several people here, not just Bill, are conflating two sorts of evolutionary mechanisms, or models, or whatever you want to call them: the mechanisms that cause mutations and more complicated innovations of various sorts, and the mechanism that causes the treelike pattern of distribution of those mutations and other innovations. They’re completely independent and should be considered separately. Bill has been confused about this from the beginning, and it doesn’t help to encourage his confusion.

I would also suggest that only the latter should be under discussion in this thread.


Have you looked through the hundreds of papers on the evolution of novelty?

I mean it’s always hard to parse out what these people want because I think in large part they just don’t know enough to form a cogent question.

Sure. I’m suggesting that other people shouldn’t make the same mistake as Bill and should separate these two sorts of mechanism. Jeanson isn’t really concerned (in the paper Bill is obsessed with, at least) with the origin of novelty but with its pattern of distribution.

  1. Descent. Common ancestry is clear. Living things share a common genetic history. Only common ancestry explains the pattens in the biological variation we observe at every level.

  2. Modification. Not every organism is the same so if all organisms share a common ancestry then that diversity must have arisen within the context of that shared ancestry. There are all sorts of open questions and ongoing research for the evolution of particular characters but none of those questions calls the broad conclusion of common ancestry into question and for many traits we have a clear picture on how novel traits have must have evolved.

Now what is your problem with that Bill?

Bill is basically arguing that evolution can not deal with the origin of novel traits so therefore two organisms with different suites of unique traits couldn’t have shared a common ancestry.

That’s not necessarily the argument in these “technical papers” from Jeanson but it’s surely an argument Jeanson would approve of. It’s a classic creationist theme devoid of any actual reference to the science.

  1. It’s logically possible that some of the innovations in the tree of life were caused in some way by God. There is probably no way to distinguish divine intervention from natural processes. Thus ID of this sort is fully compatible with universal common descent. However, Bill and Jeanson don’t like that idea, for unknown reasons. (Well, known reasons actually: inordinate fondness for a historical Genesis.)
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I got it and you have been consistent with this claim. Almost no one is as clear as you are with this claim.

I think this is similar to Nathaniels model except for how many trees there are connecting to origin events. A model that starts with all the innovations (multiple trees) seems reasonable. I admit you may have a point that the phylogenetic data favors the one tree model but this is not clear to me yet.

No, it isn’t, because it contradicts the data. It’s nested hierarchy all the way down. So it may seem reasonable to you, but that’s only because you want it to be true. What’s not clear to you isn’t for lack of trying on my part, and it certainly isn’t for lack of evidence.

I would say it’s conceivable. I would also say it’s conceivable that little fairies pulled on some ancestral elephant’s nose to give it a trunk or painted stripes on a horse to make it a zebra. I wouldn’t say gods or fairies dabbling in biology for often no reason is logical however much less scientific.

This is not clear at all why the data does not support this. Why can’t you explain the pattern with a common design strategy?

Saying common design does not explain the nested hierarchy is not an explanation. You are appealing to a poorly defined concept here.

You Bill should read Neil Shubin’s new book ‘Some Assembly Required’. There Shubin gives nice vignettes on how for example mammals usurped genes in the evolution of the placenta or how changes in a few developmental genes separate key traits distinguishing amphipods from isopods. We know more about the evolution of novelty than your creationist and ID talking points would have you believe.


Because Bill these patterns as you have been told REPEATEDLY exist independent of variation in function so design simply doesn’t work as an explanation for the patterns.


Of course it isn’t. But given that God exists and that he limits himself to undetectable interventions, the model of divine influence on innovations can’t be ruled out. My point, however, is that the causes of innovation are irrelevant to the discussion of Jeanson’s work.

Well I would disagree that God’s existence is a given and I don’t think the existence of any supernatural agent is relevant to any scientific discussion.

But yes it’s not relevant to these particular claims from Jeanson but it’s obviously a hang up for virtually all creationists

We’ve been over this so many times. Common design doesn’t explain nested hierarchy. Common design produces a nested hierarchy only if it’s specifically intended to mimic and create a false impression of common descent.

It’s unclear what poorly defined concept you’re talking about. What mechanism do you propose for common design producing a nested hierarchy? Note that this hierarchy is supported by different sorts of evidence including DNA sequences, morphological features, fossils with intermediate states, biogeographic distributions of taxa, developmental patterns, etc. How does “common design” explain any of this?

So would I, but it’s a given for many people who have no problem with common descent. I’m trying desperately to help Bill accept a bit of science here.


That cause certainty is proving to be a desperate one for sure.


Nested hierarch needs to be carefully defined. You are appealing to a vague concept. Repeating an assertion is not an explanation.

What would it look like common design did create a nested hierarchy? Wouldn’t you expect nested patterns based on function? Why wouldn’t pelagic sharks and dolphins with their shared design be on the same place on a tree? It seems to me there would be no evidence for convergence at all on a tree based on the notion of shared design rather than shared ancestry. That’s not even remotely what we actually observe. Convergence is everywhere in biology and thus designs are not shared but arise independently in the context of very different lineages. Nothing about biological diversity is what one would expect from shared “designs”.

Jeanson likes to invoke Linnaeus saying his original taxonomy was based on function and not evolutionary relationships and he’s right, this indeed what Linnaeus was doing. What he ignores are the colossal errors Linnaeus made with this approach lumping sharks in with frogs and sea robins, sticklebacks and lionfish together in the same genus (now known to represent three different orders of fishes).

Common design simply doesn’t explain the data. It’s a post hoc attempt to make the data fit a narrative friendly to one’s religious beliefs. That’s it.