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Debunking young earth creationist Paul Nelson's attempt to "test" common descent

2021.12.06 23:46 CulturalEagle925 Debunking young earth creationist Paul Nelson's attempt to "test" common descent

So Paul Nelson is a young earth creationist. Recently, he partnered up with his fellow creationist Subboor Ahmad to make a four-part video series to "test" universal common descent. His mode of publication was Subboor Ahmad's apologetics channel rather than a scientific journal. Nelson is a member of the Discovery Institute, and so a believer in intelligent design. On a personal level, Nelson's work is to refute common descent and so convince himself that his creationism is reasonable. For this reason, it's fair grounds for refutation here.
The four-part video series is really new, and filled with sooo many fallacies, misrepresentations of common descent, and occasional pseudoscience. I plan on refuting all four of these videos, but each one of them is an hour long. So I'll go one at a time. This post will be devoted to part 1 of this series.
Testing Universal Common Descent Part 1
The video begins by laying out definitions for a fair amount of time, but I'll skip to the actual arguments. Nelson argues that universal common descent is untestable because it posits only one origins of life. Because it posits that there is only one origins of life, we can't compare it with any other origins event and therefore it is untestable. That's wrong lol. The only reason why universal common descent is posited to begin with is because all our falsifying tests for universal common ancestry, i.e. that there exist lifeforms which are so fundamentally different from each other that must have had different origins, don't work. If some life was not cellular but based on an entirely different unit, that would falsify universal common ancestry. If there was life which used something entirely different than DNA and RNA and proteins, that would falsify universal common descent. But we don't observe anything of the sort. Literally all life is so similar in its fundamentals (i.e. it is cellular, uses the exact same and very specific chemical structures of DNA and RNA, the same basic twenty amino acids to synthesize proteins with very specific molecular complexes like ribosomes, along with sharing dozens if not hundreds of gene families) that all our tests for detecting multiple origins fail. So we're left with universal common ancestry.
But it gets worse for Nelson: there IS something we can DIRECTLY compare abiogenesis to. Namely, the origins of viruses! I'm surprised Nelson didn't think of that. In the last few years, virologists have established a megataxonomy of all known viruses. Virologists have showed, so far, that viruses have had at least six separate origins. These different classes of viruses are called "realms" by virologists, you can see the taxonomy of it here. Very soon, there might be more than six realms. (I believe that two were added to the taxonomy just this year.) This is important because viruses are replicating machines that use both genetic material and proteins and so their origins are directly comparable to abiogenesis. We have an undeniable example of what our data would look like when dealing with multiple origins. For example, different realms of viruses may rely on fundamentally different modes of genetic material. The genome of a virus from one realm might be single stranded RNA, whereas the genome of a virus in another realm might be double stranded DNA. So Nelson's claim that we can't compare abiogenesis with anything is 100% false, and we have clear examples of how we can tell when there are multiple origins That makes common descent completely testable by Nelson's own definition. By the standards of virologists, all indications of multiple origins are absent in life.
Nelson then says a big prediction of universal common ancestry fails. Release factors (RFs) which terminate protein synthesis in bacteria and eukarya are not evolutionarily related per homology (although he doesn't mention the RFs in archaea and eukarya are homologous and so qualify for common ancestry by his own example), yet Nelson says that universal common descent would predict the release factors in translation termination are evolutionarily related. Therefore the prediction of universal common descent "crashes and burns". This just shows how little Nelson understands evolution. Nelson believes that for bacteria and eukarya to share a universal common ancestry, literally all descendants of that ancestor will never evolve a new version single protein involved in literally any critical process. I hope it's obvious how ridiculous this is — Nelson's argument against universal common ancestry is that evolution might occur in the descendants of the common ancestor. While ignoring the fact that the translation machinery between all domains is actually almost completely homologous with scattered examples of natural variation.
Some scientists think that neither of the non-homologous release factors in either bacteria or archaea/eukarya derives from LUCA, rather they independently evolved to replace a less efficient system present in LUCA. Even in the specific example Nelson brought up, i.e. translation termination, there's a huge amount of specific structural continuity across all domains of life. Termination happens with a triplet stop codon, there are always three stop codon, all three stop codons have the exact same sequence (UAA, UAG, UGA), these codons unlike all other codons don't recruit amino acids but the hydrolysis step, etc etc. For a real study on this exact topic plus a bit of discussion on LUCAs release factor system, see https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20081981.
Nelson has the gall to conclude that because someone might suggest that evolution acted in any capacity in any part of the protein translation pathway in different lineages of the universal common ancestor resulting in e.g. new release factors, that proves that anyone can make up any theory to explain literally any observation and therefore common ancestry predicts nothing. It was honestly painful listening to this part of the video. LOL, Nelson, maybe common ancestry just predicts that the fundamental machinery in transcription and translation just largely involves homologues (which it does as a matter of fact) rather than absolutely in every example without any diversity or later evolution? This argument is also laughable given that Nelson (and his friend Subboor) is a creationist, and therefore by definition makes up literally anything to explain away any possible disconfirming evolutionary data. What to do about the demonstrable fact that there are a mountain of discovered hominid species which progressively look more and more like modern humans in every way as time passes by? That's just how God wanted to do it! Why are fossils in earlier parts of the fossil record always simpler and simpler, as if they've been evolving over time? GOD'S choice, don't question it.
Nelson has one more argument to present us in this video where he "tests" universal common ancestry. Namely, it was initially thought by some scientists that the genetic code is completely universal, which basically means that 100% of organisms would read the same codon and always assign the exact same amino acid to it. Nelson's counter argument is: ah ha! Today, we know that the genetic code is not fixed in 100% of species but more like 99.99% of species! Oh my ... This is obviously the same misrepresentation of universal common ancestry we just saw. Instead of actually responding to the fact that the genetic code is still nearly universal, Nelson just goes on for a few minutes about how the term "nearly universal" is a nonsense phrase and proves that anyone using it is basically braindead because you can't have a specific amount of a universal. This shows just how desperate Nelson is — why can't he actually address the fact that the way the genetic code is interpreted is the same in 99.99% of all organisms (and the remaining fraction only differs in a further smaller fraction of the actual genetic code) which is specifically concordant with universal common ancestry? If there was multiple origins of life, we'd expect entirely unique systems of codon-to-amino acid pairings. But we don't see that. It's also worth specifying that the universal code is universal. All organisms use the same sixty four codons for their amino acids. The only difference is that in some organisms, between two and six of the sixty four codons are interpreted differently. The other sixty or so ... exactly the same.
The rest of the video is just a bit of pseudoscientific small talk between Nelson and his friend Subboor. I'll give you an example. Subboor, clearly conscious of how rare the natural variation in interpreting the genetic code is, actually says that the idea that the descendants of the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) have experienced any sort of evolution/variation since diverging from LUCA is the equivalent of a physicist saying that "there's just one part of the universe that gravity doesn't work". This is a false analogy fallacy. The laws of physics are fixed by definition, because the laws of physics are defined by fixed mathematical formulas. But the whole basis of evolution (which is in turn the basis of the idea of universal ancestry) is that things do change over time. That there is modification with descent. This shows just how little Subboor understands the topic at hand, and Nelson just eats it up.
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2021.12.06 23:46 HockeyMod Post Game Thread: Ottawa Senators at New Jersey Devils - 06 Dec 2021

Recap/Boxscore
Boxscore
Teams 1st 2nd 3rd OT SO Total
0 2 0 0 1 3
1 1 0 0 0 2
Team Stats
Team Shots Hits Blocked FO Wins Giveaways Takeaways Power Plays
23 23 19 47.2% 5 6 0/1
24 29 10 52.8% 9 12 0/0
Goal Summary
Period Time Team Strength Description
1st 00:35 Even Damon Severson (3) Snap Shot, assists: Jonas Siegenthaler (5), Jesper Bratt (14)
2nd 07:15 Even Drake Batherson (8) Wrist Shot, assists: Thomas Chabot (11), Brady Tkachuk (10)
2nd 08:20 Even Nathan Bastian (3) Tip-In, assists: P.K. Subban (9), Ty Smith (4)
2nd 12:42 Even Brady Tkachuk (8) Snap Shot, assists: Drake Batherson (12), Nick Holden (2)
SO 00:00 --- Tim Stützle - Wrist Shot
SO 00:00 --- Tomas Tatar - Snap Shot
SO 00:00 --- Josh Norris - Snap Shot
Penalty Summary
Period Time Team Type Min Description
1st 00:56 Minor 2 Ryan Graves Slashing against Dylan Gambrell
1st 17:06 Minor 2 Zach Sanford Slashing against Damon Severson
1st 17:06 Minor 2 Damon Severson Roughing against Zach Sanford
3rd 08:29 Minor 2 Tyler Ennis Charging against Ryan Graves
3rd 08:29 Minor 2 Ryan Graves Roughing against Tyler Ennis
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