Well, well, well, another publicity email for C4ID’s conference falls into my mailbox, bearing with it another link to a brief video by one of their speakers.
This time it’s Dr Geoff Barnard on “survival of the fertile”. This seems to be brief excerpt from a longer presentation, but since this is what C4ID have pushed out for us to look at, this is what I’ll look at. Who is Geoff Barnard? The email from C4ID says:
Dr Geoff Barnard – a geneticist now based in Israel – is one of the conference speakers.
Geoff Barnard is one of the leading advocates of young earth creationism to have been active in the last two decades.
Dr Geoff Barnard was a senior researcher at the Cambridge Veterinary school but is believed to have retired and is now living in Israel. To our knowledge he’s been involved in at least four British creationist organisations as well as the Euro Leadership organisation alongside Andy McIntosh.
He was a leading speaker in Genesis Agendum where he was also a trustee. He was a founding participant and trustee in Biblical Creation Ministries, the evangelising arm of the Biblical Creation Society. He’s been involved in Truth in Science and, as at November 2010, was helping with the launch of the Centre for Intelligent Design
However, surprisingly, he was not a signatory to the 2002 Estelle Morris letter. This was the letter which basically gave the game away that there was an interconnected freemasonary of young earth creationist activists in Britain.
There is a bio on him at http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/bios/g_barnard.asp. [I note that the Creation Wiki entry on Geoff Barnard links to that AIG site, but has a photo that looks distinctly unlike the speaker in the C4ID video. How many Geoff Barnards are there…]
C4ID also summarise the video’s message as: “Everybody knows that Darwinism is about the survival of the fittest – but is that circular claim actually the crux of the matter? ” Interestingly, the origins of the phrase “Survival of the Fittest” do not lie with Darwin, but with Francis Galton. As Wikipedia (Survival of the fittest) has it:
“Survival of the fittest” is a phrase which is commonly used in contexts other than intended by its first two proponents: British polymath philosopher Herbert Spencer (who coined the term) and Charles Darwin.
Herbert Spencer first used the phrase – after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species – in his Principles of Biology (1864), in which he drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones, writing, “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”
Darwin first used Spencer’s new phrase “survival of the fittest” as a synonym for natural selection in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, published in 1869. Darwin meant it as a metaphor for “better adapted for immediate, local environment”, not the common inference of “in the best physical shape”. Hence, it is not a scientific description.
The phrase “survival of the fittest” is not generally used by modern biologists as the term does not accurately convey the meaning of natural selection, the term biologists use and prefer. Natural selection refers to differential reproduction as a function of traits that have a genetic basis. “Survival of the fittest” is inaccurate for two important reasons. First, survival is merely a normal prerequisite to reproduction. Second, fitness has specialized meaning in biology different from how the word is used in popular culture. In population genetics, fitness refers to differential reproduction. “Fitness” does not refer to whether an individual is “physically fit” – bigger, faster or stronger – or “better” in any subjective sense. It refers to a difference in reproductive rate from one generation to the next.
So, from the start, there is the usual deliberate misrepresentation, probably to set a straw man argument. Additionally, the C4ID email goes on to say:
Geoff will carefully explain in his sessions at the conference on Saturday September 10th by reference to detailed biological considerations why he makes this claim. That evidenced claim has, as he says, ‘killer’ consequences for Darwinism.
Ah yes, the classic creationist usage of the word ‘Darwinism’, rather than the more appropriate ‘evolutionary biology’. But I suppose for those of a religious bent, such as Noble et al of C4ID, referring to a bearded patriarchal authority figure comes rather more naturally than any reference to a century and a half of biological research spanning a multitude of disciplines, all providing evidence of evolution as both a fact and theory. In the video Barnard says [my approximate transcript, so errors will be mine]:
It’s vital to maintain integrity of chromosomes. Something to ponder. Follow the argument.
Shows a slide entitled “Something to ponder”
– Meiosis cannot begin without synapsis and recombination
– Synapsis cannot happen without the maintenance of chromosomal integrity
– No meiosis – no sperm or egg
– No meiosis – no survival
– It is the survival of the fertile
– Maintenance of fertility requires maintenance of chromosomal integrity
– Maintenance of fertility and Darwinism are incompatible
He asks – Is it actually the survival of the fittest? Says “more accurately survival of the fertile”
Somewhat bizarrely, he then says “Doesn’t have a mechanism, folks. Of course there’s variation but there’s a limit to common descent that will be measurable in genomics in due course”.
Quite an astonishing farrago. I’ve no idea what came before this clip, but the video material is just so astonishingly bad, I am surprised C4ID circulated it. Unless they didn’t expect those with a biology background to watch it (you can only view it at YouTube if you have the link – here it is.) I can’t actually make much of this nonsense out.
Of course it’s vital to maintain chromosomal integrity (it’s what I research into). To say that meiosis cannot begin without synapsis and recombination is a little odd, as synapsis and recombination are part of meiosis rather than a preceding stage. Maybe he’s making an argument from incredulity here. It’s probably also true to say that meiosis can’t proceed without DNA replication, or adequate nutrition, or correct gonad development. (And by the way, male Drosophila melanogaster manage their meiosis very well in the absence of recombination, so I doubt that recombination is an absolute requirement!) So I imagine that the first slide shown here must relate to a prior statement on the importance of synapsis and recombination for the correct progression through meiosis. The rest of the bullet points in the first slide are fairly obvious.
In the second slide we get a reference to survival of the fertile. How odd. The reality behind survival of the fittest is really that those organisms best suited to their environment (which includes other organisms) are most likely to contribute to the next generation (see the Wikipedia article). This is the basis of natural selection (I’m ignoring chance effects such as genetic drift here). Organisms with reduced fertility may or may not make a lesser contribution to the next generation – it’s a bit more complicated that Barnard would have us believe in this video clip, and there are other factors beyond just fertility that come into play.
Barnard’s closing lines are also a bit peculiar. It’s not clear to me what he’s referring to as lacking a mechanism, nor what the basis is for his assertion there’s a limit to common descent. And if the profusion of genome sequencing projects has achieved anything, it has been direct evidence supporting common descent.
It all makes me wonder if there will be any published output from this exciting conference. On the other hand, the email’s closing sentence suggests they’re having a spot of bother recruiting attendees:
If you come yourself to the full weekend and bring one new person to the Conference for the same period, each will receive a free 2010 Oxford Conference DVD on arrival and signing up for our free e-bulletin
So maybe we’ll see video footage from the 2011 conference, though at a likely price tag of 20 quid a pop, I certainly won’t be rushing out to score one.