While travelling, I stumbled across the following Tweets:
James Plaskett @JamesPlaskett 19 Jun
@Dragonblaze @LogicalNarwhal Oh dear, O Lor…´genetic evidence´´ That´s not too specific, is it? What about cytochrome c
James Plaskett @JamesPlaskett 19 Jun
@Dragonblaze @LogicalNarwhal Shame re Youtube Here´s just one exposition against cytochrome c similarities existing –
Just out of curiosity, I took a look at this video, which I invite you to do.
I’m taking a guess that the presenter (Jay Wile) has been looking at the data from a paper rather like Dayhoff et.al.(1973). That paper is online here:
http://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/alan.ward/Phylogenetics/Resources/Dayhoff_cytc_1973.pdf …and the key figure is attached to this post.
The chart is the simplest consistent family tree, and the figures on the chart are a sort of ‘evolutionary distance’, representing the proportion of amino acids that are different from a hypothetical shared ancestor.
The various amino acid sequences used are not all given in their entirety by the Dayhoff paper, but a reasonable selection is given online as a class exercise by the University of Indiana: http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/lessons/molb.aa.pdf
1. I don’t think you have to be very selective at all to get the percentages quoted, and neither do you have to lie. (‘Liar’ is a pretty
serious accusation where I come from, and if you’re going to throw it around, you’d better have some bloody good evidence that a lie has been
told.) The evidence says ‘I’m a tree!’ about as clearly as it can, and that’s all I would expect it to do.
2. The prediction of evolutionary theory is not that the horse sequence will be the most different from the bacteria of the six, as Wile suggests. The prediction of evolutionary theory is that the longer a group has split off from a common ancestor, the more sequence differences will accumulate. The data bear this out exactly. I also imagine that is roughly the tree you would draw after looking at photographs/micrographs of these species, knowing nothing of cytochrome c.
3. I think what Wile has done to get his pink line is added up the total distances on the chart of various species from the bacterium and queued up the results. What he has discovered is, the bacterium is the most distant relative of all the others, and the yeast most distant of the others from the bacterium. The slope is shallow, because he is measuring from a distant point among a set of twigs, all of which are on a different branch. (Now, that *is* being very selective.) Also, Wile is suggesting that there is some significance to the fungus (yeast) being further away from the bacterium on that tree than are the mammals, but there is not.
4. I was really struck by this video because I excpected something better. Plaskett is not an unintelligent man: he is former British Chess
Champion and sometime winner of Who wants to be a Millionnaire? He seems to have some bee in his bonnet about Darwin, enough to want to label himself with “Anti-Darwinian” in his Twitter profile, and is presumably at ease with attracting attention by this label, and well-rehearsed in dealing with that attention… yet this dismal video is what he wanted to steer the conversation toward, as the Tweets show.
[My first rant just kept on growing]
In these exchanges, I decided to get involved:
Dave Regis @DrDaveExeter 21 Jun
@JamesPlaskett @Dragonblaze @LogicalNarwhal any better explanation than evolution of cytochrome c data http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/lessons/molb.aa.pdf ?
James Plaskett @JamesPlaskett 22 Jun
@DrDaveExeter @Dragonblaze @LogicalNarwhal There are loads on Youtube. ALL genetic evidence Chromosme 2, Inserted viruses, etc counterable.
Dave Regis @DrDaveExeter 22 Jun
@JamesPlaskett @Dragonblaze @LogicalNarwhal Agree there are loads of videos on YouTube. To be more specific: can you see how Jay Wile …
Dave Regis @DrDaveExeter 22 Jun
@JamesPlaskett @Dragonblaze @LogicalNarwhal …does not challenge explanatory power of evolution for the sequences of cytochrome c I linked?
Answer came there none.
Just to take a hammer to this particular nut, then:
The video linked is called “What Does the Cytochrome C Prove? Not Much”
and is an extract from a longer talk by one Jay Wile.
Let’s look at the evolutionary argument:
1. Evolution by natural selection (Darwin’s idea) will result in a
branching tree of life, with descent of perhaps many varied groups from
a common ancestor. There is a famous sketch by Darwin of this idea in a
2. Cytochrome c is a protein, made up of a chain of over 100 amino
acids. It’s found in all cells, and does the same job in all cells,
being part of the apparatus that releases usable chemical energy from
food. It’s found in the cell plasma of bacterial cells and in the
mitochondria of ‘eukaryote’ cells (everything but bacteria).
3. The chain of amino acids can be ‘sequenced’ and we find different
amino acids in the cytochrome c from different organisms. It’s not
random. Some positions in the sequence are strongly conserved, and are
the same in all organisms for which I have found data. But some amino
acid positions are occupied by different amino acids in different
organisms, and more physically similar organisms have more similar amino
4. The simplest explanation of this pattern is to say that the sequences
represent a family tree from a common ancestor, where the sequence of
amino acids can wander away from the original common sequence, and the
longer ago that two branches of the tree diverged, the more their
sequences will have diverged too. It’s thought that these changes are
mostly irrelevant to the functioning of the molecule and are mostly
random in their origin and spread. They accumulate over time, and so the
longer ago the tree branched, then the more changes accumulate.
5. The tree suggested by molecular evidence is exactly the same tree as
you might have suggested by looking at the anatomy or physiology of the
species (monkey closest to human).
OK, let’s look at the video:
The argument here seems to be:
(1) The evidence about cytochrome c is widely quoted in biology textbooks
in the following form, showing percentages of similarity to human
cytochrome c of the sequences of different organisms, and that this
shows the relatedness we might expect among eight organisms:
1% Rhesus Monkey
(2) However, “evolutionists lie about it” and “you have to cherry-pick
to get this trend” (i.e. be unfairly selective).
(3) This is because you would expect from evolutionary theory that the
simplest organism (bacterium) would be the most different from the horse
of the list of organisms (maybe just Wile’s list of 5).
(4) However, the actual sequence of difference is shallow in its slope
and slopes in the wrong direction:
“If I were to take a bacterium and look at its cytochrome c and compare
how different it is with these creatures’ cytochrome c I would expect
the line to look like this… until the horse is the most different.
What do the data say? In fact… the yeast is actually a little less
similar to the bacterium than the horse is to the bacterium… but the
pink line shows very little trend.”
OK, how does this stack up against the evidence? At Indiana, they’ve set
the examination of the cytochrome c evidence as a class exercise, so you
can see it for yourself:
As far as I can see:
1. Those widely quoted percentages look about right.
I make them:
2% Rhesus Monkey
I have even shown my working (cytcaa):
There isn’t a bacterium in the Indiana data set, but I’m satisfied that
the percentages quoted by Wile are correct. But note: I’m not selecting
among the amino acids of cytochrome c, I’m using the whole sequence
given. Also note: the data from other available species show exactly
what you’d expect, in that birds are closer than fish but further away
than non-human mammals, and reptiles are closer than fish. [I think the
Indiana data set has been simplified a bit, compared with the
original data I can find, but not by much (112 positions given out of a
possible 125).] No cherry-picking here!
2. Hmm, I’m not fond of the accusation of lying. Evolutionists and
anti-evolutionists may be mistaken, but to be accused of deliberately
making false statements is quite a thing. The nature of the lie is not
explicitly stated by Wile, but as far as I can tell the percentages are
correct and the data has neither been unfairly selected among the
amino-acid positions nor among the available species to show a
3. The prediction given by Wile as derived from evolutionary theory is
not as Wile gives it. A prediction is best put something like I did
above: organisms sharing a recent common ancestor will have protein
sequences more similar to each other’s than to those of organisms whose
most recent common ancestor was longer ago, so we might be able to
reconstruct a ‘family tree’ of organisms using such sequences. (For a
very clear list of the actual predictions of evolutionary theory and how
they stack up against the available evidence, see
The ordering of differences from the bacterium first can’t be done
using the information in the Indiana set, which doesn’t include a
bacterium. A bacterial sequence is included in this 1973 paper, though,
which uses more organisms and uses more positions in the sequence:
The simplest consistent tree has been constructed and is shown on p.105
of the paper.
It’s much as you might expect from examining the physiology, anatomy,
and other characteristics of the organisms. I think that in order to
construct Wile’s reversed, shallow slope – and I’m making a guess here –
Wile has done something like measure the distance from the bacterium
along the various branches of the Dayhoff tree. Wile is suggesting that
there is some significance to the fungi being further away from the
bacterium on that tree than are the mammals, but there is not. The evidence
says ‘I’m a tree!’ about as clearly as it can, and that’s all I would expect it to do.
Measuring distances from the bacterium (instead of the human or horse)
is itself being very selective. The slope among the mammals may indeed
be shallow, but that’s because you’re measuring from a distant point
among a set of twigs, all of which are on the same branch. The distance
from the bacterium is not revealing of anything very much, except that
the common ancestor of the bacterium and the eukaryotes was a very long
while ago. Wile is claiming that a prediction that evolution does not
make is not borne out by these results. All that is actually happening
is that yeast has been diverging from its common ancestor with bacteria
for quite a while (with its short life cycle), and the fact that it now
has the most different sequence to the bacterial one comes as no
challenge to evolutionary theory.
This is all pretty ancient stuff now. The molecular evidence accumulated
since the 1970s is absolutely overwhelming, and has resulted in a single
highly consistent tree, where you do end up with the order of
relatedness to humans as given in all the books, using a variety of
different molecules. For example, a giant sequencing project using
ribosomal RNA resulted in this magnificent series of results and images:
And if you have some patience, you can still pick out a sequence of
declining closeness to humans:
(Our view of what a bacterium is has itself evolved since 1973. There
seem to be two major groups, not very closely related to us or each
I simply cannot find the other “99%” of contradictory evidence that Wile
talks about and cannot imagine what it is, if it is anything at all. At
one point he says that you have to be very selective in which species
you choose to get the percentages to line up as they do, but the Dayhoff
paper was clearly doing its best in 1973 to use much (or all) of what
was available then, the list given by Indiana now seems to be a fair
cross-section across groups, and the 2006 rRNA sample is about as
comprehensive as you could hope for.
So, I don’t think Wile can justly conclude what he does, and therefore
that video clip doesn’t really do the job Plaskett thinks it does. Maybe
there are better arguments against Darwinian evolution, but remember
this was Plaskett’s chosen topic, so presumably one of his
stronger objections, and I would hope that he chose a bit of video which
he had seen before and had confidence in.
And not just Plaskett thinks the cytochrome c evidence is bogus; here’s
a quote from Kent Hovind, a prominent creationist, which I found while looking for the other “99%”:
“Well, now, hold it. If you want to just pick one item and that’s supposed to prove relationship, did you know that human Cytochrom [sic] C is closest to a sunflower?”
I think a glance at the data shows that to be utterly false. The human
sequence might be closest to a plant sequence if the choice is among
(1) plant, (2) protozoan, (3) bacterium, but if the choice is the original
list of eight organisms, it really isn’t.
1. I was really struck by this exchange because Plaskett is not an
unintelligent man: he is former British Chess Champion and sometime
winner of Who wants to be a Millionnaire? He seems to have some bee in
his bonnet about Darwin, though, enough to want to label himself with
“Anti-Darwinian” in his Twitter profile, and presumably at ease with
attracting attention by it… Yet cytochrome c is what he wanted to talk about, presumably
because he thought it was one of the weaker points in the neo-Darwinian edifice.
2. What on earth made Plaskett think that video would do?
I guess we all have to take some things on trust; did Plaskett trust
Wile to be treating the evidence fairly, because he has a PhD? Oh, if
only the world worked like that. If someone is flying in the face of
99+% of hard-won scientific opinion, they might be a misunderstood
genius, but more like they might just be misinterpreting and even
misrepresenting the evidence (deliberately or otherwise), being unable
to accept evolution for religious or other a priori reasons.
3. One commenter dismissed Plaskett’s suggestions on YouTube with request for
‘peer-reviewed papers only’, which would surely be welcome if available,
but I’m happy to take the argument on Plaskett’s terms, and use the
video he wanted to use. We find that the cytochrome c evidence shows
what evolutionary science would expect it to show. And neither alternative
explanations for the data, nor disconfirming evidence, are to be found.
4. Plaskett does not to offer an alternative explanation for the data
himself, and perhaps feels under no obligation to do so. As regards
alternative explanations and their evidence, Stephen Law is very good on
His point is that modern evolutionary theory makes some big commitments
to predicting how the world ought to look if Darwinian evolution is
true, and is and should be given much credit for getting it right. So,
if the human sequence were closer to the rabbit’s than the monkey’s, or closer to the
bacterium’s than the fish’s, then evolution would be busted as an
explanation for those results. I don’t know what predictions a
creationist like Hovind or Ham would make about the fossil record, about
amino acid sequences, or anything else in biology, but until they put
their predictions where there mouths are, they’re not really in the