Criticisms of Recurrent Larygeal Nerve as Bad Design

Looking for debunkings of DI articles on Recurrent Larygeal Nerve

Incl. intelligent design, belief in divine creation

Moderators: Calilasseia, DarthHelmet86, Onyx8

Criticisms of Recurrent Larygeal Nerve as Bad Design

#1  Postby AlanF » Jan 15, 2018 7:55 pm

I've recently been trying to educate some Jehovah's Witnesses on a JW oriented forum about evolution, and have been running into the usual situation with creationists that they're solidly ignorant of evolution, but usually cut and paste material from the Discovery Institute, Answers in Genesis, Creation Mininstries International, etc. to defend their claims.

Normally I've found it fairly easy to dig up solid online debunkings, but for two DI-related articles I've found almost nothing:

"The Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Does Not Refute Intelligent Design" by Casey Luskin.
http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/sh ... hp/id/1507

"The Laryngeal Nerve of the Giraffe: Does it Prove Evolution?" by Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig (he is a JW).
http://www.weloennig.de/LaryngealNerve.pdf

As a non-biology guy, I'm limited in my ability to debunk these articles (although I have some ideas) and would really appreciate some advice from the experts on this forum. Ideally, an article with a line-by-line debunking in the style of Calilasseia would be ideal.

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Re: Criticisms of Recurrent Larygeal Nerve as Bad Design

#2  Postby Alan B » Jan 15, 2018 8:06 pm

What these ID cherry-pickers haven't grasped is that if ID is true then there must obvious discernible evidence for it for everything in the Universe. They cannot find some obscure animal part and state that it proves (their word) everything else is ID.
I have NO BELIEF in the existence of a God or gods. I do not have to offer evidence nor do I have to determine absence of evidence because I do not ASSERT that a God does or does not or gods do or do not exist.
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Re: Criticisms of Recurrent Larygeal Nerve as Bad Design

#3  Postby Animavore » Jan 15, 2018 8:18 pm

Interesting that he thinks ID isn't a form of creationism, yet says "alleged fish ancestory" as if he thinks there's doubt in this account. If we didn't evolve slowly over time, whether as a result of nature, or with a helping hand from God, then where else could humans spring from if not through brute creation?
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Re: Criticisms of Recurrent Larygeal Nerve as Bad Design

#4  Postby zoon » Jan 15, 2018 9:41 pm

If the argument in the OP's links is correct, then the most that has been shown is that the recurrent laryngeal nerve is not a good argument against intelligent design. The articles in the links do not provide any positive evidence in favour of ID. As far as I can tell, both articles go out of their way to comment that if, as they say, the laryngeal nerve is much more functional than used to be thought, then this is what would be expected if evolution is true. Quoting from both articles:
From the first article (linking again here):
Casey Luskin wrote:It seems quite likely that there are mutational pathways to a more efficient route for the RLN. Under neo-Darwinian thinking, this implies this pathway should have evolved. At the very least, it shows that there are no in-principle constraints based upon our alleged fish-ancestry which prevent this route from evolving. The fact that the pathway remains--under evolutionary logic--that there's some benefit to the current design, which implies that the current design isn't so imperfect after all.

From the second article (linking again here):
Loennig quoting Rammersdorfer wrote:As to the evolutionary scientists just mentioned: A totally nonsensical and relictual misdesign would be a severe contradiction in their own neo-Darwinian (or synthetic evolutionary) world view. Biologist and Nobel laureate Francois Jacob described this view on the genetic level as follows: "The genetic message, the programme of the present-day organism ... resembles a text without an author, that a proof-reader has been correcting for more than two billion years, continually improving, refining and completing it, gradually eliminating all imperfections."

So both of those articles, both written by ID proponents, make clear that even if the recurrent laryngeal nerve doesn't provide the evidence that has been claimed that ID is false, it doesn't provide any evidence that evolution is false either; they are not even attempting to use it to make a positive case for intelligent design.

What the ID proponents need for positive evidence is "irreducible complexity"; that is, design which could not have evolved through natural selection. The website of the first link, on another page here, quotes Charles Darwin making that point in the Origin of Species:
Darwin wrote:If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.

That page of the ID website then goes on to cite the bacterial flagellum as, presumably, their best example of "irreducible complexity", in spite of the fact that it's an example which was debunked long ago - for example, there is a brief piece in the New Scientist from 2008 here.
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Re: Criticisms of Recurrent Larygeal Nerve as Bad Design

#5  Postby Rumraket » Jan 18, 2018 1:41 am

Lönnig wrote:As to the evolutionary scientists just mentioned: A totally nonsensical and relictual misdesign would be a severe contradiction in their own neo-Darwinian (or synthetic evolutionary) world view. Biologist and Nobel laureate Francois Jacob described this view on the genetic level as follows: "The genetic message, the programme of the present-day organism ... resembles a text without an author, that a proof-reader has been correcting for more than two billion years, continually improving, refining and completing it, gradually eliminating all imperfections."

This is a stupid and over-literal reading of Francois Jacob. Natural selection does not literally eliminate all imperfections. All Mr Lonnig has succeeded in doing here is catching Francois Jacob in a rather poor choise of words.

It's a misconception that evolution makes anything perfect, or perfectly optimized. It can't do that and never did (in fact it can be proven with population genetics that with a finite population size and small fitness effects, it is impossible for selection to completely eliminate noisy effects).

Lönnig wrote:The result in the Giraffe? Jerry Coyne: "One of nature’s worst designs is shown by the recurrent laryngeal nerve of mammals. Running from the brain to the larynx, this nerve helps us to speak and swallow. The curious thing is that it is much longer than it needs to be" (quoted according to Paul Nelson 2009). And: "…it extends down the neck to the chest…and then runs back up the neck to the larynx. In a giraffe, that means a 20-foot length of nerve where 1 foot would have done" (Jim Holt in the New York Times, 20 February 2005: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/20/magazine/20WWLN.html). “Obviously a ridiculous detour! No engineer would ever make a mistake like that!” – Dawkins 2010 (see below) (All italics above mine.)

And they're right. It is a ridiculous detour to have a nerve extend back up from around the aorta to the larynx, considering the the whole nerve's point of origin. It doesn't matter whether it has jobs innervating structures and tissues on the way back up again to the larynx. It might as well just branch off on the way down instead of going back up.

Lönnig wrote:Apart from the facts that the nerve neither runs from the brain to the larynx nor extends down from the neck to the chest

Uhh, yes it does. Liar liar pants on fire.

recurrent.png
recurrent.png (251.42 KiB) Viewed 1610 times


fig19.png
fig19.png (221.18 KiB) Viewed 1610 times


Look at that black arrow going down around the aorta, AND THEN BACK UP. Yes, it goes further down from there and branches out into other things. But why that detour back up? Why not have branches all the way up at the beginning and more along the way down, instead of going back up?

Done. Case closed. The entirety of the rest of Lonnig's pseudo-paper is now irrelevant. The rest of what he talks about is collapses on the two above mentioned falsehoods:
1) That natural selection is supposed to be able to eliminate all "imperfections".
2) That the nerve doesn't do what it actually demonstrably does.

Then Lonnig spends a lot of time blathering about some poeple born with a developmental mutation that causes the nerve to not make the entire detour around the aorta(caused by an aortal deformity), which has the effect of at least partially correcting the wasted extra length, and asks why natural selection has not been able to "fix" this mutation since our common ancestor shared with fish (~420 million years). In effect, he answers that question himself.
Because the mutation is deleterious. The non-recurrent mutation that does not make the complete detour around the aorta, is malformed and is associated with all sorts of speaking, swallowing, disease and movement-related issues. So it's significantly selected against. The recurrent laryngeal nerve (the one making the detour) evolved first, so it has been against the background of a well-functioning but detouring nerve, that a badly functioning mutant nerve that nevertheless partially corrects the detour, has been competing. Against this established, well-functioning nerve, the mutant has failed to fix.

How is that a problem for evolution? It isn't.

But that does not explain why a designer could not simply have designed a well-functioning nerve that doesn't make the detour it does. So despite Lonnig's attempt to make it appear as if it is a problem for evolution, the fact that the nerve makes the detour it does is still evidence for blind evolution by natural selection, for common descent, and evidence against intelligent design. All the issues that arises from the nerve could be fixed by an intelligent designer.

Instead of having to rely on natural selection correcting this "mistake" by fixing a badly functioning, shorter mutant nerve against the background of a population with a well-functioning recurrent laryngeal nerve, and then adapting it to become well-functioning, a designer could circumvent that whole thing and just straight up design it to be shorter, not make a detour, and still function well.

Lonnig spends time arguing that the nerve that begins at the brain and runs down through the neck and into the chest has other jobs deeper down in the body. So what? That still doesn't explain why it would make that detour back up from the aorta.

Then Lonnig blathers about it innervating the trachea. And shows a picture of the piece of the nerve that extends back up from the aorta, also branching off to other tissues on the way. So what? It still doesn't explain why it would make that detour back up from the aorta. It would STILL make much more sense if simply made more branches off on the way down. Like this:
stilldoesntmakesenseLonnig.png
stilldoesntmakesenseLonnig.png (8.95 KiB) Viewed 1610 times


Conclusion: Lonnig is just another deluded creationist full of bad excuses.
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Re: Criticisms of Recurrent Larygeal Nerve as Bad Design

#6  Postby scott1328 » Jan 18, 2018 2:58 pm

I am confused... Because the recurrent laryngeal nerve is so obviously badly designed, it can't have evolved that way, therefore intelligent creation?
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Re: Criticisms of Recurrent Larygeal Nerve as Bad Design

#7  Postby AlanF » Jan 18, 2018 10:51 pm

Thanks very much for the excellent comments so far!

I'd like your permission to use this material, and any further comments, in my response to the creationists. I'll link to this post.

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Re: Criticisms of Recurrent Larygeal Nerve as Bad Design

#8  Postby Rumraket » Jan 18, 2018 11:38 pm

Fine with me.
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