November 10, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Evolution in Person

For a blind watchmaker, Evolution is quite the seer.  Science articles often personify Evolution into a wizard and worker of miracles.  This is odd, considering that evolution is supposed to be an aimless, purposeless process of chance and necessity with no goals in mind.

  1. Evolution, the Learner:  Evolution learns from past environments, we are told by Science Daily.  Scientists at the Weizmann Institute believe that evolution learns its lessons so well it can parry them into inventions by digging into its bag of mistakes.  The article states nonchalantly, “evolution can learn the rules of the environment and develop organisms that can readily generate novel useful traits with only a few mutations.”
        The scientists admitted, however, that “The ability to generate novelty is one of the main mysteries in evolutionary theory.”  They came up with an idea of “facilitated variation” that supposedly brings useful inventions out of random changes.  At this point, though, their metaphor switched from evolution being the learner to the organism being the learner.  “They proposed that organisms can learn how previous environments changed, and then use this information for their evolutionary advantage in the future,” they said.  “For example, if the available seeds tended to vary in size and hardness along history, then bird species might have learned to develop beaks with an easily tunable size and strength.”  It got a little confusing: who’s doing the learning and inventing by chance?
        Computer software came to the rescue.  The scientists sprinkled “computational organisms” into an environment that changed randomly and one that changed systematically.  “The organisms evolved under varying environments stored information about their history in their genome and developed a special modular design.”  It was still not clear who earned the prize for the inventions: Evolution or the organism.  They felt confident, though, that their work will “bring us another step forward towards understanding how the ability to generate useful novelties evolve [sic].”
  2. Evolution, the aged sage:  Evolution’s got wrinkles.  This can only mean that it has grown wiser with experience through its many years of inventing.  “Evolution’s new wrinkle: Proteins with cruise control provide new perspective,” began an article on PhysOrg.  This article, though, spread the personification around even more.  Evolution, the organism, proteins, species and nature all were described in personal terms.  Princeton biologists elaborated on a suggestion by Alfred Russell Wallace in 1858 that species can put a “governor” on their own engine of evolution that can “steer the process of evolution toward improved fitness.”  Their joy at this insight knew no bounds: “The data just jumps off the page and implies we all have this wonderful piece of machinery inside that’s responding optimally to evolutionary pressure.
        Part of their support for this idea came from a realization that must be disturbing to traditional Darwinists: “Standard evolutionary theory offered no clues” about the “underlying cause for this self-correcting behavior in the observed protein chains.”  Personifying proteins helped overcome this difficulty: “proteins had developed a self-regulating mechanism, analogous to a car’s cruise control or a home’s thermostat, allowing them to fine-tune and control their subsequent evolution,” they said.  Developing a control mechanism might seem the opposite of chance, but the purposeful language is justified, they felt, appealing to Wallace contra Darwin for authority: “Unlike Darwin, Wallace conjectured that species themselves may develop the capacity to respond optimally to evolutionary stresses,” the press release states.  Some might be surprised that after 149 years of detailed evolutionary research, “Until this work, evidence for the conjecture was lacking.”
        Are they overthrowing Darwin, then?  Certainly not: “Such principles are fully consistent with the principles of natural selection,” they said.  “Biological change is always driven by random mutation and selection, but” – and here is where personification enters the picture again – “at certain pivotal junctures in evolutionary history, such random processes can create structures capable of steering subsequent evolution toward greater sophistication and complexity.”

These two articles have a couple of things in common that are illustrated in the following quote from the second article:

“The discovery answers an age-old question that has puzzled biologists since the time of Darwin: How can organisms be so exquisitely complex, if evolution is completely random, operating like a ‘blind watchmaker’?” said [Raj] Chakrabarti, an associate research scholar in the Department of Chemistry at Princeton.  “Our new theory extends Darwin’s model, demonstrating how organisms can subtly direct aspects of their own evolution to create order out of randomness.”

One commonality in the two articles was the attempt to insert direction into evolutionary theory, so that it does not wander about aimlessly, but is able to make progress toward “greater sophistication and complexity.”  The other was to admit that standard evolutionary theory has been inadequate to explain the origin of novelty.

The second article contains this incredible piece of absolute balderdash:

The scientists do not know how the cellular machinery guiding this process may have originated, but they emphatically said it does not buttress the case for intelligent design, a controversial notion that posits the existence of a creator responsible for complexity in nature.

Darwinist arrogance knows no limits.  They not only define ID wrong, setting up a straw man to knock down, they hide their ignorance behind emphatic bluster.
    If you took the personification fallacy out of both these articles, the claims would collapse like a paper tower without scaffolding.  If you rapped the knuckles of these scientists every time they applied personal terms and ideas like steering, goal-directed behavior, learning and control to inanimate objects, they would have nubs instead of hands by now.
    Natural selection has become a “Designer substitute.”  It may not be God anymore, but it retains many of His attributes.  No one can be a consistent materialist.  That is why Evolution is really a re-packaged form of pantheism – an “age-old” religion that should not receive preferred status in science or education.
Exercise:  Re-write the two articles, but purge them of all personal and teleological language.  Can they stand on their own?  If they seem to, inspect the revised articles again.  Make sure you didn’t omit any subtle references to personality, purpose, or planning.

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