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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Debunking creationist cranks could be a full time job for someone

Posted by: Jambo / 1:48 PM

See for example this from the letters section of the Star Tribune:

"A creationist weighs in

Two letter writers (Jan. 2) illustrate the desperate need for an end to evolutionary indoctrination in our schools.

One sincerely believes that "the natural order is for simple things to give rise to more complex things." That would be logical if evolution were a fact, but experimental evidence shows exactly the opposite.

Another implies that creationists do not believe in bacterial antibiotic resistance. I am a medical doctor and a creationist and believe in antibiotic resistance. But I also know, as those whose education is censored do not, that resistance is due to loss of structures or functions attacked by the antibiotic and overall makes the bacteria less fit. It is not the addition of new complex information, which is what evolution needs to change bacteria into bacteriologists.

ROSS OLSON, MINNEAPOLIS"

This is why it's nice to have educated friends. As laymen go I think my understanding of evolution is up there with anyone's but I don't have the microbiology chops to refute some of the ridiculous claims creationists make, even when I know they are completely mischaracterizing the evolutionary process. So, rather like Woody Allen producing Marshall McLuhan from off camera, I just happen to have a microbiologist right here:

In reality antibiotic resistance arises in many different ways, from new pumping mechanisms to get the antibiotic out of the cell (usually by modifying an existing system) to changes to the protein that the antibiotic acts on (for instance, if the antibiotic affected protein synthesis (for example say an antibiotic worked by adhering to a component of the ribosome and blocking its function, that component could be mutated to lose the binding site but still might retain function).

There are plenty of modifications that could and do occur constantly in bugs. In rich media they divide every 20 minutes so they can ‘afford’ to try out new things frequently within a population. In general though I don’t think that one would consider most of the multiple drug resistant strains ‘less fit’. They are resourceful little things, in fact some bugs, when put under stress actually increase their rate of mutation to try to get themselves out of a jam population-wise. And yes, some resistance (probably most) comes from the addition of ‘new complex information’ in the form of plasmids or transposons which are little pieces of extra DNA that bugs share either by having sex (that ought to get the creationists outraged. They probably arent married) by being infected by a virus, or simply by taking up random DNA they find in their environment (Imagine how rich the environment is in the gut of an animal, its a veritable pool of food, mating partners and random floating DNA fragments. Which is why resistance has become such a problem in modern times with most animals being fed low dose antibiotics to increase growth).

In conclusion, there are many means by which a bug can become resistant to antibiotics, while some MAY lead to reductions in overall fitness, that loss might well be short term (and certainly if the bug survives the Antibiotic then it lives to prove how fit it truly is). Many forms of resistance DO arise from the addition of new complex information, and bugs undergo change continually. Ask Mr Olson how, if mutation and evolution doesn’t lead to the arrival of new bugs, how is it we now find bacteria able to reduce non-natural (totally man made) chemicals which we in the past dumped at what are now superfund sites... I guess SOMEONE KNEW someday we were going to make that particular PCB and dump it precisely there and so CREATED a bug to lay there waiting for that day to arrive...

Yeah, what he said. [I hope my friend doesn't mind that I printed almost verbatim his email that he dashed off in the middle of the night in response to my question.] What really bothers me is that most Star Tribune readers won't ever learn what a load of crap they were fed in yesterday's letter and might actually think that creationists are presenting valid arguments.

When I was studying for the bar exam I consoled myself by thinking, "Dan Quayle passed the bar, how hard can it be?" No doubt Ross Olson provides the same comfort for medical students facing their boards.

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