Saturday, 26 November 2011

Textual criticism of DNA - proof of evolution!

Textual criticism and computational stylistics are often offered as a way of determining the consistency of biblical documents.  By comparing the nuances and the statistics of the text, it is possible to form a view about the reliability of the documents.  In the case of the bible it is - of course - reliable and authentic.  Or so we are assured.

Can the same techniques be used to confirm the consistency of the Theory of Evolution by studying the 'test' of the genes?

In fact the answer is an emphatic yes!  Furthermore the vocabulary of the genes is simpler than the text in the bible.  Unlike ancient Hebrew that was written without vowels (thus obscuring the meaning in some cases) the language of genes is written in only four 'letters'.  This should mean that textual criticism should be much more reliable in genetics than it is in conventional text.

Geneticists use a different term, 'sequencing' for their literary equivalent of studying DNA. Using this technique they can determine which species had common ancestors.  This comparison is not an analogy - as all analogies are wrong at some level - it is simply an identical use of the logic of the human mind to analyse a problem.

The similarities include:
1/  Using techniques of recognising strings (genes in DNA or phrases in text)
2/  Comparing the strings and making assumptions that those that have common features are related in some form of family tree
3/  Attempting to work back to some sort of original.
4/  Accepting the possibility of horizontal transfer (of genes in 'lower' living things or 'corrections' to newer texts based on one or more older texts)
5/  Acknowledgement that the very earliest copies might never be accessible using these techniques (the earliest texts of the New Testament being 2nd century, but the reach of DNA going back millions of years)

There are some differences, all of which point to this being a much more reliable technique for DNA than for the bible:
1/  In evolution of all the higher eukaryotes (after the propensity for horizontal gene transfer has diminished) there are clear and unambiguous branches, whereas in biblical texts the horizontal transfer continues to muddy the waters in even the 'highest' forms of the bible.
2/  The DNA comparisons are not as open to the 'interpretation' of 'scholars' (who happen to disagree with each other frequently), but display a highly demonstrable bifurcating nature in the higher animals.
3/  In spite of millions of years of replication, DNA provides this accuracy.  Over only the first 200 years the bible had evolved into many forms, guaranteeing imprecision.  Somehow these early forms are referred to as 'witnesses'.
4/  The existence of previous versions of the stories (e.g. Krishna, Mithra, Horus, Asherah and El, Gilgamesh, Hamurabi to name a few) has no equivalent in DNA.  DNA has generally branched in very precise ways.

For some reason, many Christians believe in the imprecise speculation of textual criticism but reject the precisely observable fact of evolution.  This is interesting as both are based on identical techniques.

This is part of the reason that I consider the bible to be little more than a collection of stories.   I accept it as part of the record of verbal traditions from the very earliest times that humans were able to tell each other stories, and many of those stories are much more ancient than the Old Testament.


Hilary said...

The problem you face with this comparison is that it isn't anc can never be a comparison at all. There were people who can be traced back who knew the early disciples and who knew Jesus Christ. There is no person who can be traced back to what is 'believed' to be the origin of life...

much of the supposed discoveries in Darwin's idea of evolution are extremely questionable.

dating procedures are totally questionable and the time span for the various dating mechanisms is much much greater in range than is ever admitted.

Science discoveries are all without exception interpretations of observations... you only need to look back in time so see how much of science has been taught as 'fact' until another more favoured theory comes along...wheras God's Word stays the same, all the time...throughout the ages...

interesting article

Plasma Engineer said...

Well of course we disagree about the comparison because I have no intention of finding a person who can be traced back to the origin, or even a gene that originates that far back.

In fact, as I think you know, I am not even talking about people at all in either case, but the statistical analysis of the 'texts' to get back to something close to the last common ancestor, be it biblical-text or organism-DNA-text.

The 'letters' GATC that make up the alphabet of the genes are virtually immutable, the genes are variable but only very slowly variable and the variations that have survived fit neatly in the tree of life. The interpretation of DNA sequences is so precisely logical that biblical scholar could only wish for anything even approaching it.

The interesting article that you refer to is absolutely typical of the deliberate pseudo-scientific obfuscation that proponents of Intelligent Design trot out ad nauseum. It deliberately misrepresents so many things - the main one being that evolution has a purpose - which it doesn't. It is not comparable to domestic breeding - which does! The idea that 'inferior species' do not survive is also manifest nonsense. Is a bacterium inferior? 'Yes' in that it is not intelligent, but 'No' in that it has clearly been highly successful to survive. Have these 'lower' forms of life like bacteria survived? Clearly 'Yes'. The millions of species that still exist fir the pattern that they would fit if they shared common ancestry in a tree like way. All have found their niche in which they are the superior organism - the most advanced.

The whole thing about that web page is that it assumes that everything has to have a purpose.

@TasteLikeYou said...

Hilary said ... "dating procedures are totally questionable and the time span for the various dating mechanisms is much much greater in range than is ever admitted"

Oh, this argument is so freakin' tiresome! Why do ID proponents feel that dating procedures are tested less rigorously than in any other scientific research?

Scientists test and counter test, using different techniques, to ensure that they get results as accurately as possible. For some reason, Christians (and Muslims) accept scientific testing on medicine, technology, chemistry, etc - yet when it comes to evolution etc, these tests are deemed not 'accurate' enough. They pick and choose what science is convenient to them and their beliefs, and then shut their eyes, ears and mind on any other uncomfortable scientific truth.