Monday, January 3, 2011

RTB and the chimp genome Part 1

In my last post before Christmas, I indicated that I would be discussing Reasons to Believe in my next posts. Unfortunately, what started as a single response to some of Fuz Rana's recent assertions about the chimpanzee genome has turned into a long series of posts. Having written almost the entire series of posts already, I've become discouraged by the length and detail of my criticisms. I have even debated whether or not I should bother posting what I've written, since I'm sure it will be either ignored by RTB or misconstrued as personal attack or insult. Despite that, though, I do think I have a duty to the public and to the truth to set the record straight on a topic that I'm familiar with: comparative primate genomics. I wrote a paper on the subject back in 2006, just after the chimp genome was first published (here), and I've mentioned the topic numerous times on this blog:

Chimp and human Y chromosomes radically different?
Chimp genome again

This issue of the similarity of the chimpanzee and human genomes comes up repeatedly in creationist circles, thanks to a stubborn rumor that "evolutionists" aren't really telling the whole truth about it. In a four-part series of posts on the RTB website (one, two, three, four), Rana discussed this topic in the specific context of responding to a critique posted by Dennis Venema on the BioLogos website. I agree with part of what Rana has to say, but in general, Rana completely failed to address substantive criticisms from Venema and misrepresented published research in doing so.

Venema's post was specifically criticizing Reasons to Believe's position on the human/chimp genome similarity as published in three different books, Who Was Adam? (WWA), Creation as Science (CAS), and More Than a Theory (MTT). In the first book, WWA says "The most comprehensive genetic comparisons indicate that humans and chimpanzees share genetic similarity closer to about 85 percent than to 99 percent." That was pretty dubious when it was written, but I'm more interested in what happened after the chimp genome report was published and RTB had a chance to update that claim.

In CAS, which was probably in press when the chimp genome was published, they state, "... comparisons between the complete human genome and the complete chimpanzee genome have only recently begun...." That statement was probably correct when it was written. In their 2009 book MTT, written well after the chimp genome was published, the same passage reads nearly word-for-word except for one change, "... comparisons between the complete human and chimpanzee genomes have yet to be done...." That passage is incorrect. By the time MTT was written, the chimp genome paper (with the comparison to the human genome) was available, and Venema showed that RTB knew about it.

Venema made other points in the same post and in a follow-up, but my interest here is largely the question of how similar are the human and chimpanzee genomes. Since that's exclusively what Rana responds to in his series of posts, I'm going to focus on that. Interested readers should consult Venema's original posts for the details of his full critique.

In his first response to Venema's post, Rana wrote,
...instead of discussing the scientific weaknesses of our approach, Venema chose to launch an ad hominem attack against me and Hugh Ross, impugning our integrity as scientists and scholars.
I think that interpretation is pretty debatable. Venema raised some very important questions both about the similarity of the chimp and human genomes but more importantly about the way RTB has represented published research. He never accused anyone at RTB of any specific wrongdoing or incompetence. By dismissing these issues as just a personal "attack," I would say that Rana is far more guilty of argumentum ad hominem than Venema ever was.

In future posts, I'm going to look more carefully at the technical details of Rana's responses. Tomorrow, I'll examine Rana's perception of Venema's arguments.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.