Reading and understanding original research publications can be difficult when the content is outside your field of expertise. Sometimes reading that original research is just avoided and popular summaries are used to inform us of the importance of new research. The latter appears to be the case when Ken Ham writes about his love of the platypus and then has one of his employees provide insights about a recent study of the genome of this unusual egg-laying mammalian monotreme. I made a video response to Ken Ham’s blog post in which I show how Dr. Purdom seems to have relied on a popular summary of the research and has misunderstood the evidence of lost genes for egg-making in the platypus and humans. You can view that in the link below.
What I didn’t know when I made this video is that Dr. Brian Thomas at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) also wrote about the platypus research paper about the same time.
As an aside I want to note that the paper being discussed was about the Echinda and Platypus genomes and how they compare with each other and all creationist outlets have thus far ignored all of the implications of the genomes have for their view of what a “kind” is.
Not surprisingly Thomas picks up on the same item mentioned in Ken Ham’s post. At least he references the original research article in the journal Nature. However, though he references the original research it appears he also didn’t look at the supplemental figures and more importantly at the legends for those figures since they reveal that the simple story told in the popular press is oversimplified with respect to the “lost genes.” Below is a portion of Thomas’ article at ICR about the platypus:
“The team zoomed in on the uniqueness of egg-laying in mammals. Today, chicks get all their nutrients from within the egg before they hatch. Newly-hatched puggles get some nutrients from within their platypus eggs, but they still need to lap mother’s milk. And of course, human babies initially get all their nutrients from milk. The research group demonstrated that chickens have three egg-producing genes, the platypus has one, and humans have none.
They concluded that since all three evolved from a common ancestor that laid eggs, the platypus lost two egg-specific genes while humans lost all three. This conclusion relies entirely on the premise of a common ancestor. It simply ignores the at least equally logical divine origins option. A smart Creator could have equipped each of these three creatures with the specific DNA sequences needed to carry out its own unique growth and development.”
Both Thomas and Ham fail to reveal–or are unaware–that the authors conclusion that the lost egg-specific genes though consistent with a common ancestor thesis are not simply relying “entirely on the premise of a common ancestor.” Had they carefully read the original research or known of previously published literature they should have known that the lost genes are not simply absent but rather are lost functions of genes that are present in degraded form in the genome.
Thomas suggests that it is at least as logically consistent that God simply equipped “each of these three creatures with the specific DNA sequences needed to carry out its own unique growth and development.” Any reader of theirs (both Ham and Thomas’s post) would conclude from their writing that that the Platypus has only one egg-specific gene while the birds have three and thus God made the Platypus with one which was enough and would have no expectation that other bird egg-specific genes might be found in the genome of the platypus though not used in the present-day platypus. Closer inspection reveals that the platypus does have the remains of the other bird egg-specific genes (just like they have broken versions of teeth genes that they don’t use) but they are broken in the platypus and so don’t perform the intended functions.
So do they believe that God made the platypus (and even humans) with genes for making eggs that don’t work but appears to be remains of old formerly useful genes still in their genomes? Ham’s post makes it sound like the authors of the platypus paper have no evidence of common ancestry but simply believe it, but he does not mention that there are DNA sequence right there in the genome that are most simply interpreted as evidence of shared ancestry. Ham and Thomas may choose to interpret that evidence in a different way but they are not free to say that the evidence doesn’t exist or tell their audience that the authors have to reason for their believe in common ancestry.