August 4, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

How Useful Is Evolutionary Theory to Biology?

A favorite quote by evolutionists is the line by Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”  Why, then, do so many biological papers fail to mention evolution at all?  Indeed, many employ design language, sometimes with a sense of awe.  Here are more recent examples in which the E word was missing (or inconsequential) in the glare of amazement over complex design:

  • Charged with pain:  Wounds generate electric fields that guide repair crews to the site.  Science Now got a charge out of this: “Talk about healing energy,” reporter Laura Blackburn challenged the faith healers.  “Every wound, from the tiniest scratch to the nastiest gash, generates an electric field that pulls in cells that help repair the damage.”
  • Rotary switch:  A team publishing in PNAS1 discussed the ID Movement’s favorite biological toy, the bacterial flagellum.  They considered the switching mechanism that allows the propeller to go into reverse.  Their paper sounds like something out of Popular Mechanics: “Structure of FliM provides insight into assembly of the switch complex in the bacterial flagella motor.”
  • Checkpoint, no Charlie:  M. Andrew Hoyt appreciates even more the way the cell uses checkpoints to make sure division occurs without error.  In Science2 he examined a new answer to how the cell switches this control on and off:

    Paradoxically, the mechanism responsible for separation of the chromosomes at anaphase itself creates chromosome attachments that the checkpoint would normally recognize in metaphase as improper.  Yet, the cell cycle proceeds naturally unimpeded; these improper chromosome attachments fail to activate the cycle-blocking activity of the spindle checkpoint after anaphase onset.  From a clever series of experiments reported on page 680 of this issue by Palframan et al., we now know why.  In anaphase cells, the actions of the spindle checkpoint are extinguished by the very same protein complex that previously was the target of its anaphase-inhibitory activity.

    Hoyt did also speak of “conserved” (i.e., unevolved) proteins of the spindle checkpoint, but had no other references to evolution.

  • Stretchy Clots:  Another paper in Science3 examined the properties of fibrin, one of the principle ingredients in blood clots, and found that they have “extraordinary extensibility and elasticity.”

    Blood clots perform an essential mechanical task, yet the mechanical behavior of fibrin fibers, which form the structural framework of a clot, is largely unknown.  By using combined atomic force-fluorescence microscopy, we determined the elastic limit and extensibility of individual fibers.  Fibrin fibers can be strained 180% (2.8-fold extension) without sustaining permanent lengthening, and they can be strained up to 525% (average 330%) before rupturing.  This is the largest extensibility observed for protein fibers.  The data imply that fibrin monomers must be able to undergo sizeable, reversible structural changes and that deformations in clots can be accommodated by individual fiber stretching.

    Readers of the primary intelligent design book Darwin’s Black Box might remember the blood clotting system as one example Michael Behe used of irreducible complexity.

When evolution is mentioned in papers dealing with complex, interacting systems in biology, the references often seem imprecise and incidental to the work that went into the research, as if tacked on as an afterthought.  For instance, R. John Ellis, writing in Nature July 27,4 described the details of the protein-folding chaperone complex, Gro-EL and Gro-ES.  After describing in some detail the specifications of these versatile molecular machines, noting that “both the size and surface charge of the cage are optimized to speed up the folding of several different types of chain,” he referred to evolution on only two places, both speculative, and both personifying natural selection as the wizard of technology:

The size and surface properties of the cage represent an evolutionary compromise that helps the bacterial cell to produce functional proteins fast enough to survive in a competitive microbial world…..
It is a testament to the ingenuity of natural selection that the chaperonin cage not only combats aggregation caused by crowding outside the cage but also uses crowding to accelerate protein folding inside the cage.  Nanoengineers trying to improve the yield of therapeutic proteins could profit from studying the tricks of the chaperonin nanocage.

Go figure.

1Park et al., “Structure of FliM provides insight into assembly of the switch complex in the bacterial flagella motor,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0602811103, published online before print August 1, 2006.
2Palframan et al., “Anaphase Inactivation of the Spindle Checkpoint,” Science, 4 August 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5787, pp. 680 – 684, DOI: 10.1126/science.1127205.
3Liu et al., “Fibrin Fibers Have Extraordinary Extensibility and Elasticity,” Science, August 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5787, p. 634, DOI: 10.1126/science.1127317.
4R. John Ellis, “Protein folding: Inside the cage,” Nature 442, 360-362(27 July 2006) | doi:10.1038/442360a; Published online 26 July 2006.

Evolution is a vacuous, religious faith that is doing nothing to advance our knowledge of the living world.  We’re going to keep showcasing examples like this to put the evidence behind that claim (see more in the 02/28/2006 entry).  The real work of science lies in examining the complexity of living things to find out how they work, why they work, and what we can learn from them.  Scientists and the public have been hoodwinked by the Darwin Party.  Charlie is the uninvited self-made guru standing on a soapbox on the sidelines, giving his useless spiel to gullible spectators, like the elderly vet the family learns to tolerate, who takes every opportunity to retell the story how he won the war single-handed.  The real work of science is being done by researchers who, intentionally or not, proceed as if intelligent design is true.  Does this mean that, despite Darwin Party claims, the scientific literature is replete with ID research?  Go: figure.

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