Posted by: Lister | August 28, 2007

Harun Yahya’s lazy scholarship

Yahya reveals: The Question That Demolishes the Theory of Evolution: How did the DNA Originate?

To our surprise, enzymes, which read DNA and carry out production accordingly, are themselves produced according to the codes in DNA. This means that there is a factory in the cell that both makes many different types of products, and also manufactures the robots and machines that carry out this production. The question of how this system, which would be of no use with a minor defect in any of its mechanisms originated, is by itself enough to demolish the theory of evolution.

And then quotes two scientists.
One of the them is Leslie E. Orgel. Yahya refers to him as “world renowned molecular biologist Leslie Orgel”. And quotes him saying:

It is extremely improbable that proteins and nucleic acids, both of which are structurally complex, arose spontaneously in the same place at the same time. Yet it also seems impossible to have one without the other. And so, at first glance, ONE MIGHT HAVE TO CONCLUDE THAT LIFE COULD NEVER, IN FACT, HAVE ORIGINATED BY CHEMICAL MEANS. [6]

Yahya follows that quote with:

Saying “life could never have originated by chemical means” is the equivalent of saying that “life could never have originated by itself”. Recognition of the truth of this statement results in the realization that life is created in a conscious way. For ideological reasons, evolutionists, however, do not accept this fact, clear evidence of which is before their eyes. To avoid accepting the existence of God, they believe in nonsensical scenarios, the impossibility of which they are also convinced of.

Why not describe those scenarios? Orgel himself details them in the article Yahya is quoting. Read the whole thing, and decide for yourself if Orgel is “convinced of the impossibility of the nonsensensical scenarios he puts forth.”

Here is the immediate context of the quote:

Nowadays nucleic acids are synthesized only with the help of proteins, and proteins are synthesized only if their corresponding nucleotide sequence is present. It is extremely improbable that proteins and nucleic acids, both of which are structurally complex, arose spontaneously in the same place at the same time. Yet it also seems impossible to have one without the other. And so, at first glance, one might have to conclude that life could never, in fact, have originated by chemical means.

In the late 1960s Carl R. Woese of the University of Illinois, Francis Crick, then at the Medical Research Council in England, and I (working at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego) independently suggested a way out of this difficulty. We proposed that RNA might well have come first and established what is now called the RNA world – a world in which RNA catalyzed all the reactions necessary for a precursor of life’s last common ancestor to survive and replicate. We also posited that RNA could subsequently have developed the ability to link amino acids together into proteins. This scenario could have occurred, we noted, if prebiotic RNA had two properties not evident today: a capacity to replicate without the help of proteins and an ability to catalyze every step of protein synthesis.

There were a few reasons why we favored RNA over DNA as the originator of the genetic system, even though DNA is now the main repository of hereditary information. One consideration was that the ribonucleotides in RNA are more readily synthesized than are the deoxyribonucleotides in DNA. Moreover, it was easy to envision ways that DNA could evolve from RNA and then, being more stable, take over RNA’s role as the guardian of heredity. We suspected that RNA came before proteins in part because we had difficulty composing any scenario in which proteins could replicate in the absence of nucleic acids.

During the past 10 years, a fair amount of evidence has lent credence to the idea that the hypothetical RNA world did exist and lead to the advent of life based on DNA, RNA and protein. Notably, in 1983 Thomas R. Cech of the University of Colorado at Boulder and, independently, Sidney Altman of Yale University discovered the first known ribozymes, enzymes made of RNA. Until then, proteins were thought to carry out all catalytic reactions in contemporary organisms. Indeed, the term “enzyme” is usually reserved for proteins. The first ribozymes identified could do little more than cut and join preexisting RNA. Nevertheless, the fact that they behaved like enzymes added weight to the notion that ancient RNA might also have been catalytic.


Orgel continues, and it’s all worth reading. He gives evidence for and against the ideas he mentions, ending with:

Whether RNA arose spontaneously or replaced some earlier genetic system, its development was probably the watershed event in the development of life. It very likely led to the synthesis of proteins, the formation of DNA and the emergence of a cell that became life’s last common ancestor. The precise events giving rise to the RNA world remain unclear. As we have seen, investigators have proposed many hypotheses, but evidence in favor of each of them is fragmentary at best. The full details of how the RNA world, and life, emerged may not be revealed in the near future. Nevertheless, as chemists, biochemists and molecular biologists cooperate on ever more ingenious experiments, they are sure to fill in many missing parts of the puzzle.

What does this all say for the quality of Yahya’s scholarship? That he does not check the context of a quote when he uses it in an argument? That he does check, but thinks his readers won’t?

Which would be worse?

How many corrections has Yahya printed? How many times has he apologised to his readers for his honest mistakes?

Of course, Yahya won’t be reading this. But I use my blog as a reference when I need to repeat my arguments. Yahya is a long way from going out of business.

Talk Origins’ Quote Mine Project lists other examples of quotes taken out of context by various creationists.



  1. And here’s Yayha quoting Gould:

    Yahya says: “There is definitely no such family tree. Stephen Jay Gould, the paleontologist from Harvard University, explains this deadlock faced by evolution, although he is an evolutionist himself:”

    What has become of our ladder if there are three coexisting lineages of hominids (A. africanus, the robust australopithecines, and H. habilis), none clearly derived from another? Moreover, none of the three display any evolutionary trends during their tenure on earth.

    Gould continues with: (Quote3.7)

    At this point, I confess, I cringe, knowing full well what all the creationists who deluge me with letters must be thinking. “So Gould admits that we can trace no evolutionary ladder among early African hominids; species appear and later disappear, looking no different from their great-grandfathers. Sounds like special creation to me.” (Although one might ask why the Lord saw fit to make so many kinds of hominids, and why some of his later productions, H. erectus in particular, look so much more human than the earlier models.) I suggest that the fault is not with evolution itself, but with a false picture of its operation that most of us hold — namely the ladder . . . (pp. 60-61)

    I want to argue that the “sudden” appearance of species in the fossil record and our failure to note subsequent evolutionary change within them is the proper prediction of evolutionary theory as we understand it. Evolution usually proceeds by speciation — the splitting of one lineage from a parental stock — not by the slow and steady transformation of these large parental stocks. Repeated episodes of speciation produce a bush. Evolutionary “sequences” are not rungs on a ladder, but our retrospective reconstruction of a circuitous path running like a labyrinth, branch to branch, from the base of the bush to a lineage now surviving at its top. (p. 61)

    Yahya tells us that Gould “explains the deadlock”, but doesn’t bother to give us the explanation. Because all he wants his readers to know is that Gould refutes the ladder — the “great chain of being” — and that Gould says there were no signs of evolutionary trends; That A. africanus, the robust australopithecines, and H. habilis did not clearly derive from each other.

    The rest of what Gould thinks…. Yahya doesn’t want us to know that. Gould is an evolutionist because…? Well… We just have to guess. (Or look it up. But Yahya doesn’t give his readers that much credit).

  2. quote 4.16 from the talkorigins quotemine project

    Yahya quotes Henry Gee:

    Whatever the outcome, the skull shows, once and for all, that the old idea of a “missing link” is bunk… It should now be quite plain that the very idea of the missing link, always shaky, is now completely untenable. – Henry Gee, The Guardian, 11 July 2002

    From Henry Gee’s article:

    According to Professor Bernard Wood of George Washington University, the mix-and-match aspect of Toumaï’s face means that what we are seeing is the very small tip of a very deep iceberg, just a sample of what might have been a huge diversity of creatures living between four and 10m years ago.

    People and advertising copywriters tend to see human evolution as a line stretching from apes to man, into which one can fit new-found fossils as easily as links in a chain. Even modern anthropologists fall into this trap, accepting a certain bushiness in the human family tree between 3m and 2m years ago – when the genus Homo first emerged – but thinking of human evolution before then as, essentially, linear. Wood thinks it was bushiness all the way down. Recent research to put tabs on how much we really know of the past supports this view, suggesting that we have direct evidence of only 7% of all the primate species that ever lived.

    So again, Yahya doesn’t give the full flavour of the article he quotes.

    Gee isn’t casting doubt on a common ancestor with chimps. He’s certainly not casting doubt on evolution. He’s just saying that he expects our family tree to be more complex than a simple chain from A to B.

  3. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  4. You have the right to disagree, of course. But I would appreciate a reason explaining why you don’t agree.

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