John Sanford at the NIH

I wonder how the scientists here respond to Sanford’s work.


He’s the sad case of a once good scientist who became a “Born Again” and decided to “scientifically” justify his new found literal Genesis Fundamentalist beliefs. His well known book Genetic Entropy has been almost universally rejected in actual scientific circles and for good reasons. Among many fatal problems with his claims are 1) He started with the premise the human genome was created “perfect” 6000 years ago and has been degrading ever since 2) One of the lines of “scientific” evidence he offered for this genetic degradation was the descending ages of the Biblical Patriarchs.

There’s also the inconvenient fact if his genetic entropy claims were correct every species on Earth would have already gone extinct by now. Kinda hard to get around that one. :slightly_smiling_face:


That is not the story there. For another day though.

Only if the earth was old, right? If it was young, not so much.

That sounds about right. This is not all he did though.

One of my questions is how solid are the mutation rate numbers?

1 Like

Even if it were 6000 years old, wouldn’t all the short-generation species be dead, at least? The bacteria, protists, fruit flies, and so on?

1 Like

Yep. Mice for example have a genome slightly smaller than humans (2.7B base pairs vs. 3.1B) but reproduce 100X faster at 5-10 generations per year. The cute little mousies from the Ark should be long gone by now but oops! they’re still here in huge numbers.


I’m one of Dr. Sanford’s assistants and I was at the NIH presentation. There were about 70 people there and I live broadcasted the presentation to about 20 people associated with his foundation activities.

He has supporters (obviously) at the NIH and several in the audience after the talk gave him a very warm reception, and I suspect some of the NIH staff were creationists and ID proponents.

Since the NIH is concerned deeply about heritable diseases and since Alexei Kondrashov who worked at the NIH shares many of the concerns Sanford has for the deteriorating genome, the topic would have probably received an even warmer reception had Sanford not been a creationist. I heard word the night before the presentation, the NIH Directors were considering cancelling the talk because of protests by some NIH staff, but the talk went forward.

With millions of human genomes expected to be sequenced, and the fact most geneticists studying heritable disease share Sanford’s grim view of the human genome, the topic was about ripe to be discussed, if not by him, by someone.

There is sadly not much need to argue about theory, we all may well know soon enough if Sanford is right. His talk obviously has metaphysical implications, but as far as medical research is concerned his claims of human genome deterioration are empirically testable and will likely find confirmation, imho. The NIH has a vested interest in the question, and as Sanford pointed out, perhaps for different reasons, other leading geneticists studying the question of human genetic deterioration share his views.


It would have gone even better if Sanford’s genetic entropy claim wasn’t just fantasy based already-refuted-by-reality YEC woo.

We already know Sanford is 100% wrong. We have 3.8 billion years’ worth of empirical evidence of life not going extinct due to deteriorating genomes.

1 Like

This is exactly what i was also wondering about…

Most of Sanford’s claims in the presentation can also be found in his book, and there’s a pretty thorough refutation of his book by a reviewer (who’s a physicist) on Amazon:

I’m also concerned that Sanford misrepresented Dan Graur when he brought him up. He made it sound like Graur thinks 25% of the genome is functional and that therefore 25% of mutations must be deleterious, which is blatantly false. In the very paper that Sanford indirectly references, Graur claims that on the order of 0.5% of mutations are deleterious - slightly more than 4% of mutations in the functional fraction of the genome.

The problem seems unique to human beings according to mainline scientists who address the problem. They associate it with reduction in purifying selection of deleterous mutations caused by improvements in medical technology. I am attaching a paper by Dr Micheal Lynch who is a center director and professor for genetics at ASU.
Dr Lynch estimates a deterioration of 1% in physical and intellectual capabilities per generation.If he is right, its a serious problem.

Dr Sanford seems to extrapolate this trend back to human history and assumes that we could not have been around for long.
But scientists do agree that Mutation load does exist and it can cause serious health problems in the future.

@stcordova thanks for joining us here.

I’m honestly surprised that this talk took place.

Can you tell us more? Who invited Sanford? How did this come about?


Yes, had he not been a creationist who has demonstrated in print a large scale misunderstanding of deleterious mutations, his talk on deleterious mutations would have been better received.


If the Earth is 6000 years old, then something is very wrong with our understanding of physics. If the laws of physics were different in a way consistent with the Earth being 6000 years old, then we wouldn’t be here at all.

Those fine tuning arguments cut both ways.


Dr. Swamidass,

God bless you brother. I actually met one of your students at Dr. Sanford’s house April 2017, please extend my regards.

An invitation to speak on the NIH premises is not an endorsement of content anymore than when the NIH hosts vendor tables advertising the medical and bio tech appliances is an endorsement by the NIH for the vendor products.

The NIH has been a modest ID factory. Affiliated with the NIH has been Richard Sternberg (Staff scientist), Michael Behe (post Doc), David Abel (researcher), several others, many un-named. For that reason I suggested to John to have a PRIVATE meeting on the campus so he could meet individually with some of his supporters there. I was hoping this would lead to maybe some future strategy discussion, not so much to push ID at the NIH, but to raise interest in medical research into genetic deterioration which is a valid medical concern. Though his perspective on genetic deterioration is ID/creation/Young Life Creation friendly, it is a topic that has merit on its own in terms of medical science. Dr. Sanford, being a humanitarian, is profoundly concerned about this. As he opened his talk, Genetic Entropy was originally framed as problems for evolutionary theory, but then of late he has been concerned about its medical implications and the human condition.

We just needed a sponsor at the NIH to help us get approval to rent a room. I started to contact people I knew at the NIH who thought well of Dr. Sanford, and voila, it turned out Peter Leeds had about a year earlier formed an NIH-approved group that could invite discussion of topics relating to science and philosophy on the NIH campus and supported by NIH facility staff for Audio Visual, etc.

The Masur Auditorium where Dr. Sanford spoke was the same auditorium where Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and other dignitaries spoke. Such visits by dignitaries, for example should not be construed as an endorsement of Gates MS Windows 10 or Barack Obama’s politics, etc. But if the NIH allows such visits of people with certain viewpoints, it should allow other viewpoints as well. And because the NIH has hospitals and clinics, and patients may be terminally ill there, it also has a chapel where people can pray. So, in as much as the military has government paid chapels and chaplains, the NIH is granted similar leeway given the business they are in. Providentially, Dr. Sanford was given the Mazur Auditorium to deliver his presentation. Apparently he was viewed, rightly so, as a distinguished scientist with distinguished accomplishments and earned the right to be heard in the premier venue.

I first asked Peter Leeds if John’s foundation could rent a very small room, say for a few hundred dollars for a day or for an evening meeting. Instead, Leeds was enthusiastic and said he was thinking already of inviting such a distinguished scientist as Dr. Sanford to speak and he was grateful that I contacted him. There was no money that had to be paid out for the visit, the NIH, after a difficult approval process granted facility support, the Mazur Auditorium, and placed an announcement on the official NIH calendar and e-mail lists to about 34,000 NIH staff and affiliates.

Leeds was surprised that Dr. Sanford (in New York) actually had a research assistant (me) who was an onsite reporter at the NIH in Bethesda (I attend many of the NIHs publicly accessible events, such as ENCODE, WALS and FAES events).

The rest of the NIH mechanics I’m not privy to, but suffice to say, it had to go through a lot of hoops because Sanford is a known creationist. After some discussion and soul searching, Dr. Sanford decided to focus purely on accepted science to make his case, which he did. He did not want to imperil any of the NIH staff or possibly disgrace them by anything he said. So Sanford did not talk ID, did not talk creation.

Given that the NIH Nobel Laureate Hall has an inscription from the Gospel of John about the pool of Bethesda, and that the NIH has a chapel, I thought it was Ok for John to say in passing at the very end, “our hope is in heaven” since in that very building, building 10, people a terminally ill and dying. I mean, if someone says, “God bless you” on the NIH campus, is that grounds for a Federal case? That was the only sentence John provided that might be construed as non-scientific, and he was careful to qualify it as a personal opinion…

In that regard, I found it astonishing that there should be ANY pushback on what he said or for his visit. If there is something in error, it would be in the accepted publications he cited, not in something that didn’t go through proper peer review and scrutiny.


At least you guys didn’t bill this as an NIH endorsed ID presentation like you did with the Cornell ID debacle. That’s where Sanford and the IDers merely rented a publicly available space for an ID meeting then insinuated everywhere it was a Cornell sponsored ID conference.


3 posts were split to a new topic: Sal Cordova’s Path to Young Earth Creationism

Well I am glad we have a more coherent YEC joining up. @stcordova I hope you stick around. As you can imagine, there will be pushback on your science. We are still glad to have you here.


I am curious as to what you mean by a “grim view”.

Even evolutionists accept that deleterious mutations occur. What exactly do you think Sanford has to offer that other geneticists can’t?

Sal is my favourite ID proponent/creationist. He’s mostly responsible for my fascination with the ID “movement” over the last ten to fifteen years. We’ve both mellowed! :slightly_smiling_face: