It would be helpful if, when discussing natural selection, evolutionists knew what they are talking about.
Many times articles promise insight into evolution but fail to deliver. That’s the case in a piece by Amro Zayed in Nature titled, “Evolution: Insect invasions and natural selection.” Zayed tantalizes his readers with visions of new species originating with wonderful new traits and functions that didn’t exist before. Isn’t that what Darwinism was about: the Origin of Species by means of natural selection, by which bacteria became humans? If natural selection is truly capable of such transformations, it should be evident in smaller cases like insect invasions. Here, though, is all that Zayed provides: a tale of bee genes.
In 2008, the authors identified only four different alleles at the csd gene, and they estimated that one out of four fertilized eggs would give rise to an inviable diploid male. However, a year later, the authors documented three additional csd alleles. Gloag et al. propose that these three alleles were so rare that they had escaped detection in 2008. The authors showed that the rare alleles were not the result of new mutations because the alleles’ DNA sequence was substantially different from those of the alleles found in 2008. It is also unlikely that these new A. cerana csd alleles were introduced by a secondary invasion, because the authors did not observe new alleles at the other DNA regions they examined. Rather, the presence of these three rare alleles in 2009 is best explained by balancing selection, in which bees that carried the rare csd alleles in 2008 contributed more offspring to the next generation.
What is balancing selection? Zayed relies on Gloag et al.‘s study in Nature Ecology & Evolution to explain what was observed when one species of bee invaded another species’ habitat:
The authors speculated that a special form of natural selection, called balancing selection, would have a role in reducing imbalances in the frequency of csd alleles. This would, in turn, reduce the production of inviable diploid males in the invasive population. With balancing selection, individuals that have rare csd alleles would be expected to have high fitness because they would be unlikely to mate with an individual that had the same allele — a mating that would result in the production of diploid male offspring (Fig. 1). Carriers of rare alleles should contribute more offspring to future generations and increase the frequency of their initially rare csd alleles over time. A prediction about balancing selection on csd is that an equilibrium would be reached when all csd alleles have the same frequency.
Let’s take stock of the situation. Is this a demonstration of neo-Darwinian evolution in action?
- Did any new traits arise? No; both populations already had genes with “substantially different” alleles for this gene. All that changed were the relative numbers of the two types in the population. Notably, the authors state that the “rare” allele did not happen by new mutations.
- Did “fitness” increase? Well, how did they measure “fitness”? They fell into the tautology trap by equating it with reproduction (see “Fitness for Dummies,” 10/03/15). In other words, the successful bees did not have any new organs or improvements that made them stronger; they just left more eggs. More precisely, they left enough eggs not to go extinct in the new habitat.
- Did “natural selection” get demonstrated? No; “balancing selection” only refers to a blind process that “enhances the success of social-insect invasions by correcting imbalances in the frequency of csd alleles that occur during founding events.” It’s a bit like measuring how many children Muslims are having in France, to see whether the refugee invasion will succeed. Both Muslims and French already existed before and after the invasion.
But it gets worse. Zayed is not even sure balancing selection has anything to do with the story:
Although balancing selection clearly increased the fitness [i.e., the number of offspring left] of invasive Asian honeybees in Australia, it is not clear whether this evolutionary force was essential for the successful establishment of the invasion. The invasive population of A. cerana still increased in size despite the skewed allele frequencies at the csd gene during the early stages of the invasion. Social-insect invaders might have other attributes that predispose them to be successful biological invaders. The intrinsic growth rates of some social insects might be so high that even a 25% increase in female mortality — the amount estimated by Gloag and colleagues to occur in the initial stages of A. cerana’s invasion — did not prevent population expansion.
This admission completely undermines the only appeal to “natural selection” in the article — flimsy as it was to begin with, being only “balancing selection,” not the emergence of anything new. If other causes can suffice to explain the phenomenon, you don’t win the argument that natural selection was the cause; for all he knows, the “other attributes that predispose them to be successful invaders” might have been intelligently designed. And as we saw in the first quote above, the genetic differences were not likely due to mutation. In neo-Darwinism, mutations are supposed to be the raw material for innovation that natural selection selects. Here is the only reference to natural selection in the original paper: “Natural selection prevented the loss of rare csd alleles due to genetic drift and corrected the skew in allele frequencies caused by founder effects to restore high average heterozygosity.” If you don’t understand the jargon, here’s the drift: nothing new happened. There was only a shift in frequency of certain varieties of pre-existing genes.
Where, then, is the evidence for neo-Darwinism? It vanished in a fogma of rhetoric, during which Zayed snuck in Darwin’s favorite words fitness, evolution and natural selection and left them hanging on nothing. He gloats, “Gloag and colleagues’ study provides a clear example of how rapid evolutionary changes can affect the fitness of invasive populations.”
Here’s another example of rhetoric masquerading as evidence for evolution. Science Daily titillates with its title, “Drivers of evolution hidden in plain sight.” If this sounds like a mystery story, you’re right. It’s a mystery anybody could be fooled by the promises of European Darwinist Pedro Beltrao, who speaks with all the scientific credibility of a snake oil salesman. “This study is about understanding how evolution works,” he says. We’re promised the ability to “see in detail how life evolves.” We’re going to see how evolutionists “reconstructed evolutionary history” right at the ground level of the genes! But surprisingly, the only mention of “selection” in the article is hypothetical:
“If a species needs to adapt to a new setting, it needs to generate a lot of diversity over many generations so that evolution has a pool of options to select from. One way for that to happen is through changes in gene expression, but changes in phosphorylation are equally effective,” explains Beltrao.
The reader will look in vain for any increase in fitness, any origin of species, any innovation or progressive improvement in traits. Most importantly, there are no references to mutations in the genetic code. The only “mutations” Beltrao conjures up are post-translational modifications (PTMs) that affect the protein products of genes by means of markers, like phosphorylation tags, that regulate their expression. (These PTMs are what Beltrao calls the drivers of evolution that were “hidden in plain sight.”)
A little reflection, though, shows that PTMs can only affect what genes already exist. Where did they come from? Who wrote the code? Unless Beltrao is offering an entirely new theory of evolution contrary to neo-Darwinism, he leaves the big question unanswered: how does evolution make an eye or a wing where none existed before? You can’t design new machinery simply by regulating the number of screws made. The only example he gives of new function is – get this – cancer.
It’s doubtful any evolutionist wants to argue that cancer increases fitness. But nothing was lost to Beltrao in propaganda value; he was able to use the word “evolution” 11 times, planting its subtle message in the reader’s mind through repetition.
Exposing charlatans; that’s what we do here at CEH, where we call them Charlietans after their founder, the Bearded Buddha.