ERVs and evolutionary predictions

Ok, after some lighthearted posts recently I thought I would post a more intellectually orientated
I am in the middle of a text debate with a mate about ERVs. Something I know has been covered on this board a few times already but I would appreciate some thoughts on
He keeps going back to the notion that a common designer fits the data, so I have tried to list out some of the things that the design hypothesis would need to show and why the common ancestor view fits the data better.
Two questions:

  1. is the list below accurate or have I bodged it?
  2. using the format below of “science has shown x but the design hypothesis needs to explain the data another way and there needs to be evidence for that” what else would you add?
    Clearly I am not a scientist and could be completely misunderstanding it all, so be gentle with my fragile ego :wink:

“Here is what you have to believe for ERVs to be explainable on the design hypothesis
If you accept that these are real viruses that weren’t part of the original genome

  1. despite all known retroviruses inserting basically randomly in the genome, god made the ones we see -that are common across animals insert in the same place in the different animals that share these. Can you provide evidence for this, if not then why should I prefer creationism above the evolutionary model that does explain these patterns
  2. Despite all known mutations in ERVS that we are still being created today being essentially random, God also made these mutational patterns in the animals that share them. Can you provide evidence for this, if not then why should I prefer creationism above the evolutionary model that does explain these patterns
  3. For a young earth timescale God would also need to increase the mutation rate far beyond what we observe today and then stopped these mutation rates so that we only see what is expected today. We even have known divergence dates of populations and reproductive isolation of humans in the last 4 thousan years (post flood) and can see the mutation rate between them and their ancestral population. This doesn’t support the rates in young earth creation. Can you provide evidence for your view, if not then why should I prefer creationism above the evolutionary model that does explain these patterns.
  4. Why do you look at ERVs that have have inserted in that location and have those mutations but have a good function and say that they are designed like that, but the look at ones that have negative function and say that these are corrupted from their original good purposes? On what basis do you make this determination and why can you not make the argument the other way, that an original virus that once harmed humans was endogenised and subsequently gained function. How do you determine between these scenarios?

If you say that these were never real viruses but were coded into the human genome
a) why do they have the distinct signal of the use of reverse transcriptase - something that we only see viruses using, and those to insert their genome into a hosts dna?
b) why do many of them have the full components of a real virus and can be made to become active viruses?
c) how can you distinguish between ERVs that we see being created today and aren’t shared by all humans let alone other animals and those that God originally created? Can you provide a test that could be applied
d) why are some of them so corrupted that they literally have no function? All their genes are mutated beyond repair and can’t express any RNA and their LTRs are so heavily methelated that they can’t act as promoters or regulators. How can you test the hypothesis that this is due to some original good function now going bad due to the fall or some such? How can you test this? If you can’t then why should be go with the designer hypothesis and not evolution which explains this well?

In addition to the above, can you show any mechanism the designer used and explain how we can see that is a designer at work rather than evolution? It is fine to claim design but easy to claim and then never back that up

Happy to pick a point and stick on it. But yes, God could have done all this. Is it testable and is it the best explanation - heck no. I don’t need to disprove creationism though to show that evolution is a valid hypothesis, I just need to ensure that my hypothesis fits the data and is not disproved”

Hi Matt,

As someone who has done a fair amount of work on (mouse) ERVs, they are obviously great evidence, but I don’t see a good basis for choosing them as a way to convince someone–IMO there’s too much extra stuff to learn.

That being said, I recommend staying on specifics. Don’t throw all 4 points at someone at once, start with #1. 4 is better than 3.

For #2, avoid the vague term “mutational patterns.” Refer to specific mutations.

1 Like

Thanks John.

Yep, that is fair. I have read book chapters on them and watched videos about them from professionals in the field. Despite that I definitely don’t have more than a surface level understanding and just have to be open to being corrected

I also agree with this. I suggested to him to pick one and we can stick on that but should have followed my own advice from here - just ensure I only introduce one at a time

I have basically given up now. He has just raised again gone an argument that if atheism and evolution are true then Hitler would be moral for “implementing evolution”
I have likened that to throwing people off cliffs as moral given that it is “implementing gravity”
Given that we are not able to agree even on this point anything with more nuance seems pointless

I have enjoyed the reading enough that I will keep up with it. Not worth it in the context of my dialogue with him though

Also thanks for these. I will revise my views accordingly

That’s the usual outcome.

Hitler sounds like a creationist here:

The consequence of this racial purity, universally valid in Nature, is not only the sharp outward delimitation of the various races, but their uniform character in themselves. The fox is always a fox, the goose a goose, the tiger a tiger, etc., and the difference can lie at most in the varying measure of force, strength, intelligence, dexterity, endurance, etc., of the individual specimens.

Mein Kampf (Ralph Manheim Translation), p. 285.

This fellow is deeply confused and lacking in critical thinking skills. He has never considered what it means for something to be moral, what makes something moral or not. He’s just regurgitating creationist talking points without any thought behind them.

You should consider throwing the Euthyphro dilemma at him.

My other clue to stop the conversation was when he cited Collins as saying

genetic similarity “alone does not, of course, prove a common ancestor” because a designer could have “used successful design principles over and over again.” (The Language of God, pg. 134.)

I decided to buy the book to check the quotation and of course it says something different when taken in context

The study of genomes leads inexorably to the conclusion that we humans share a common ancestor with other living things. Some of that evidence is shown in Table 5.1, where the similarity between the genomes of ourselves and other organisms is displayed. This evidence alone does not, of course, prove a common ancestor; from a creationist perspective, such similarities could simply demonstrate that God used successful design principles over and over again. As we shall see, however, and as was foreshadowed above by the discussion of “silent” mutations in protein-coding regions, the detailed study of genomes has rendered that interpretation virtually untenable—not only about all other living things, but also about ourselves.

Initially he was the guy who knows more than anyone else alive on genetics (dubious statement at best) but after repeatedly pointing out that he says the creationist view is virtually untenable my friend continued to assert that he is relatively in the middle on the topic and that he doesn’t think the evidence is conclusive one way or the other. Finally, the “virtually untenable” statement was responded to with “but that is just his opinion”. Apparently he is only the guy who knows the most for the bits that are liked

It has been an interesting experience, it has spurred me onto reading again and enjoying learning basic stuff. Just forked out for the fifth edition of Futuyma’s book “evolution” after getting some money unexpectedly. So not a loss overall, just no minds changed on either side of the discussion