Reporters show remarkably little discernment about the limitations of natural selection, but scientists don’t rebuke them.
Evolution has become the catch-all explanation for everything in the world. This can be illustrated by the ever-flowing articles coming out of the news media about the evolution of, to borrow a youth expression, “whatever.” No rigorous detail characteristic of other sciences is required to credit evolution with “whatever”. Here are a few recent examples.
Salt of the Mars: The smiling face of astrobiologist Mark Schneegurt opens an article on PhysOrg about his theory that life arises in Epsom Salt. While “Searching salt for answers about life on Earth, Mars,” he performed his divination with salt crystals, mumbling, “Our work has relevance to the origins of life on Earth, since life may have arisen from a briny tidal pool.” Then again, it may not have.
Great great …. granddaddy cell: Darwin’s sketch of a “tree of life” accompanies an article on Live Science tempting to reveal the “Ancestor of all life.” As usual, it’s only a suggestion: “A newly drawn-up evolutionary tree suggests a group of bacteria may be the last common ancestor for all life on Earth.” Inherent in these bacteria were phenomenal powers, indeed: the seeds of Olympic athletes and designers of Mars rovers. The gene bank being messy, researchers divined the path of evolution through it by examining some ribosomal proteins. “Structurally aligning the proteins allowed the researchers to pick out subtle differences that indicate which organisms belong on different branches of the evolutionary tree, they explained in a statement.”
Magic crystal: A headline on PhysOrg sounds like the discovery of a magic wand: “Evolutionary molecule identified by researchers.” This wonder molecule allowed cells to differentiate and become specialists. The professor, like a wizard, was on hand to reveal the deep dark secrets: “These findings are also remarkable because cyclic-di-GMP was previously only found in bacteria, where it causes bacteria to lose motility and transform into large sticky colonies, known as biofilms. The fact that an organism like Dictyostelium, which is very far removed from bacteria, uses the same mechanism is very interesting and suggests that the processes which cause cell differentiation in eukaryotes, like ourselves, may have very deep evolutionary origins.”
Multicellularity: Single cells operated for some billion years before the rise of multicellular life, according to the evolutionary scenario. PhysOrg described a new computer run with Avida software that showed imaginary cells learning the trick of “division of labor.” The author was either oblivious to or unconcerned about the controversy over Avida (see Evolution News). The article said: “The most surprising result was that the organisms evolved to become dependent on each other” with guidance from the programmers. The solution being such a cinch, one wonders what took real biological organisms so long. The original paper on PNAS is open-access (August 7, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1202233109).
Building blocks: Life uses copper, zinc and molybdenum. How did it become available when needed? According to PhysOrg, simple: it came from the deep, which is very convenient, because without these elements, there would be no eukaryotes and no sex. According to a study, continents dredged up the building blocks right when eukaryotes began to need them. This obviously establishes a cause-and-effect relationship, the article implied.
Turning damage into creativity: A phenomenon called “Muller’s Ratchet” guarantees that mutations will eventually drive species extinct. PhysOrg described, in bold print, why this is a predicament for evolution:
From protozoans to mammals, evolution has created more and more complex structures and better-adapted organisms. This is all the more astonishing as most genetic mutations are deleterious. Especially in small asexual populations that do not recombine their genes, unfavourable mutations can accumulate. This process is known as Muller’s ratchet in evolutionary biology. The ratchet, proposed by the American geneticist Hermann Joseph Muller, predicts that the genome deteriorates irreversibly, leaving populations on a one-way street to extinction.
Clearly species are surviving anyway, so the task before evolutionist Richard Neher (Max Planck Institute) became finding a way to rescue Darwinism from this falsifying principle. He did so by turning mutations into a benefit within a mathematical model. Agreeing that most mutations are deleterious, his team got the model to work with a little circular reasoning: “For their model the scientists assumed a steady environment and suggest that there can be a mutation-selection balance in every population.” Well, obviously. Evolution did it, so evolution must have done it.
Avida to the rescue again: Problem: organisms seem to build structures they don’t need, according to another article on PhysOrg: “Why, after millions of years of evolution, do organisms build structures that seemingly serve no purpose?” (a tacit acknowledgement that there are structures with purpose, contrary to Darwinian thought). The article quotes Michigan State evolutionists who believe there are purposeless stages in embryological development (no examples provided in the article). The “evolution as a tinkerer” meme was developed into an analogy that life builds a roller coaster then tears it down to build a skyscraper, presumably because it’s disruptive to embryological pathways to start over and do things efficiently (still no examples provided). What they could not prove with real organisms under a microscope, they proved (or made support their theory) by appropriately engineering Avida software with mythical aliens called Avidians:
Rather than observe embryos grow, the team of computer scientists and biologists used BEACON’s Avida software to perform experiments with evolution inside a computer. The Avidians – self-replicating computer programs – mutate, compete for resources and evolve, mimicking natural selection in real-life organisms. Using this software, Clune’s team observed as Avidians evolved to perform logic tasks. They recorded the order that those tasks evolved in a variety of lineages, and then looked at the order those tasks developed in the final, evolved organism.
Red Queens and Ying-Yang: Note: This is not a trip down the rabbit hole. Really. It can’t be, because the protagonists are evolutionists who know physics and math. PhysOrg promised readers that “Physics and math shed new light on biology by mapping the landscape of evolution.” The light is shed by researchers who “captured evolutionary relationships in a system of equations.” What could be more scientific than equations, especially if they support the old Yin-Yang religion by analogy? This model even has something out of Back to the Future, a curl flux capacity:
The key breakthrough beyond the conventional quantitative theory of evolution is the emergent curl flux, which is generated by interactions between individuals within or across species. The underlying emergent landscape gradient and the curl flux act together as a ‘Yin and Yang’ duality pair to determine the dynamics of general evolution, says Wang. An example of similar behavior is the particle and wave duality that determines the dynamics of the quantum world, he notes. The researchers also note that this combined effect is analogous to the way electric and magnetic forces both act on electrons.
With a little more divination, the researchers even saw the Red Queen in their equations: the Lewis Carroll character who had to keep co-evolving just to stay in one place. With apologies to Darwin, they ended, “When a species’ arms race with a co-evolving parasite takes an unexpected twist, a previously unnecessary trait could suddenly turn into the key to surviving. In the co-evolving world, there is no guarantee for ‘survival of the fittest’ and it is often necessary to keep running for survival.” Funny that equations analogous to the highly precise Maxwell Equations cannot make evolutionary biology into a truly predictive, precise science.
Jawboning about evolution: A bearded scientist from Notre Dame appears to be kissing a llama in a photo on PhysOrg opening a story promising to “shed light on how jaws evolve.” Matt Ravosa “is your man” if you want to know about “the evolution and function of jaws,” the caption reads. Ravosa must have spent a lot of time examining 2,900 jaws from 300 species, for sure; but he never quite explained how these animals’ feeding habits led to the origin and diversification of jaws, despite the promise in the article that his “findings having important implications regarding the evolution of the feeding apparatus in humans and other anthropoids.” What are the scientific causes here? Does food create jaws?
Handshake evolution: Seven authors got together and published on PLoS ONE a curious theory: voice and handshake are markers of Darwinian fitness. “These findings demonstrate that both hormonally regulated and phenotypic quality markers can be used as measures of Darwinian fitness among humans living under conditions that resemble the evolutionary environment of Homo sapiens,” they said. Their study even adds evidence for the “Grandmother Hypothesis” if curious readers want to investigate.
There was one recent occasion where scientists complained about the carelessness of reporters who misrepresent findings with titillating headlines. PhysOrg actually reported the complaint that was published in Nature: “Biologists take journalists to task for sensationalizing animal sexual behavior headlines.” In the Nature article, Andrew Barron and Mark Brown rebuked the media for misleading the public with titillating headlines, such as implying that animal behaviors that appear homosexual (even in roundworms) have anything to do with human choices. Urging scientists to choose their words carefully when talking to reporters, Barron and Brown said, “These findings suggest that scientists can shape the coverage of their results.” But that was about sex; no such warnings have been seen lately when it comes to “findings” about evolution, leading to the assertion that evolutionary biologists are complicit in the way evolution is presented in the popular press.
These are just chunks drawn out of the cesspool of evolutionary mythology, the morass of generalities, analogies and fallacies that comprise modern man’s highest and best explanation for the emergence of life. It’s a fantasy world where mystical equations support Malice in Blunderland (5/14/2010), alleged “findings” find three impossible things before breakfast, and mythical organisms in computers boldly go where no animal has gone before. Every scientific malfeasance is tolerated so long as it presents a worthy sacrifice to the Bearded Buddha.
Try challenging the Mad Hatters of the Darwin Party, with their ubiquitous attack dogs, though, and you will be subjected to the most vile hate speech today. Example: “Creationists shouldn’t comment on science, it is hilarious to see. Evolution is a well tested, well known fact which obviously for everyone with two neurons to rub together no more hinges on cell origins than the fact of general relativity hinges on mass origins; their ‘problems therefore gods’ is not even good theology.” That’s actually pretty mild for the genre.
This pitiful situation only continues because we allow it to. If you are a sensible, rational person, and you discern what is going on in the media, do your duty. Laugh harder.