September 23, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Evolution Fits Any Data

At first blush, it might seem a wonderful thing when many different kinds of evidence can be explained by one simple, elegant theory.  Actually, though, too much confirmation can be a theory’s downfall.  When a theory explains too much – even opposite things – it really explains nothing.  For instance, everything in the universe can be explained by the phrase, “Stuff happens.”  Such a theory is useless, even if true.  That’s why any theory that explains too much should be looked at askance.  Here are some recent observations offered in support of the theory of evolution:

Antibiotic resistance:  Evolutionists debating creationists have pointed to the evolution of antibiotic resistance as an example of evolution occurring right before our eyes.  The idea is that bacteria never encountered modern antibiotics till they were synthesized in the early 20th century, so they must have quickly adapted by natural selection to the new environmental challenge.  A paper in Nature just showed, however, that resistance to antibiotics is ancient.1  Canadian researchers sequenced DNA from permafrost said to be 30,000 years old, and found genes for four kinds of antiobiotic resistance already there; in fact, the gene to resist vancomycin was present, and looked similar to modern variants.

The discovery of antibiotics more than 70 years ago initiated a period of drug innovation and implementation in human and animal health and agriculture. These discoveries were tempered in all cases by the emergence of resistant microbes. This history has been interpreted to mean that antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria is a modern phenomenon; this view is reinforced by the fact that collections of microbes that predate the antibiotic era are highly susceptible to antibiotics….

This work firmly establishes that antibiotic resistance genes predate our use of antibiotics and offers the first direct evidence that antibiotic resistance is an ancient, naturally occurring phenomenon widespread in the environment. This is consistent with the rapid emergence of resistance in the clinic and predicts that new antibiotics will select for pre-existing resistance determinants that have been circulating within the microbial pangenome for millennia.

Rather than falsifying a key argument for evolution, though, this has been taken as further confirmation of it.  “These results show conclusively that antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon,” the authors said, “that predates the modern selective pressure of clinical antibiotic use.”  It just puts the “selective pressure” in the past instead of under our eyes.

Endless variation most beautiful:  The lab plant Arabidopsis thaliana (water cress) has been scrutinized every which way.  Now there are genomes for dozens of varieties.  Michael Bevan wrote for Nature about what geneticists are learning from comparative genomics.2  He began,

Charles Darwin wrote of the “endless forms most beautiful” of species that have arisen from natural selection. But his words also apply to the genetic variation within species such as the highly adaptable plant Arabidopsis thaliana (Fig. 1). The first analyses of the sequences of multiple genomes of A. thaliana, including one on page 419 of this issue by Gan et al., have now been published. These studies provide a foundation for identifying the factors that shape genome change, and for mapping genome-sequence variation among a wide range of A. thaliana varieties that represents the plant's diversity.

But while Bevan and Gan et al.3 welcomed the new information on genetic diversity of this plant, they did not entertain thoughts that the variability could have been designed (i.e., for pre-programmed adaptability), nor did they consider the question of why, after presumably millions of years of variation, these plants are still members of a single species.  How appropriate, therefore, was it for Bevan to apply Darwin’s line to the phenomenon?

Time dilation:  Researchers proudly announced a new robust Tree of Life for mammals.  The report in PhysOrg shows Mark Springer (UC Riverside) smiling happily beside his computer screen.  With teammates from Texas A&M, Springer got the fossils and the genetics to match in what had been a problematic phylogeny.  “This is the first time this kind of dataset has been put together for mammals,” Springer boasted.  In the body of the article, however, was this curious admission:

To date divergence times on their phylogeny of mammalian families, Springer and colleagues used a "relaxed molecular clock." This kind of molecular clock allows for the use of multiple rates of evolution instead of using one rate of evolution that governs all branches of the Tree of Life. They also used age estimates for numerous fossil mammals to calibrate their time tree.

But if the calibration is applied to a relaxed clock, it would seem that this is an exercise in circular reasoning: using evolutionarily-assumed estimates for fossil dates to stretch or compress the dates for evolutionarily-assumed ancestral lines.  Visions of Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory come to mind.

Fluctuating climate:  As the old joke goes, if you don’t like the weather in [name your city], wait five minutes.”  This can be expanded in evolutionary time to, “If you can’t evolve in your local climate, wait a million years.”  Sure enough, PhysOrg announced to readers, “Climatic fluctuations drove key events in human evolution.”  To support this idea, a notion was introduced called variability selection.  “Variability selection suggests that evolution, when faced with rapid climatic fluctuation, should respond to the range of habitats encountered rather than to each individual habitat in turn; the timeline of variability selection established by Dr. [Matt] Grove [U of Liverpool] suggests that Homo erectus could be a product of exactly this process.”  That’s because, he explains, Homo erectus was a “generalist,” something like a jack of all climates.  Other putative ancestors apparently took the latter option of the slogan, “evolve or perish.”  While suggesting things, Grove also suggested that recent global warming may outrun humans’ ability to evolve.  That shouldn’t be a problem, though; maybe “relaxed molecular clocks” (see previous item) could be applied to match evolution up with “variability selection.”

Forward, backward, or lateral pass:  Another article on PhysOrg exclaims, “Fluid equilibrium in prehistoric organisms sheds light on a turning point in evolution.”  Since “Maintaining fluid balance in the body is essential to survival, from the tiniest protozoa to the mightiest of mammals,” evolution was faced with a crossroads.  In the new tale, “Swiss researchers have found genetic evidence that links this intricate process to a turning point in evolution.”  Old cells couldn’t pump sodium out of their membranes effectively.  This put them behind an evolutionary roadblock.  Bernard Rossier (U of Lausanne) figured out how they broke through: a certain subunit of a gene for pumping sodium “appeared” and the rest was history: “the team found that the beta subunit appeared slightly before the emergence of Metazoans (multicellular animals with differentiated tissues) roughly 750 million years ago.”  Rossier couldn’t quite figure out when the emergence appeared:

Dr. Rossier said that although it is possible that the genes for ENaC originated in the common ancestor of eukaryotes and were lost in all branches except the Metazoa and the Excavates, there is another possibility. There could have been a lateral transfer of genes between N. gruberi and a Metazoan ancestor, one that lived between the last common ancestor of all eukaryotes and the first Metazoans.

Either way, evolution explains it, and evolution wins.  With this vital piece of their machinery now in place, the first eukaryotic cells that emerged could pump their sodium, maintain fluid balance, and diversify.  Giraffes and redwoods could not be far behind; after all, what’s a few more million years?  That’s plenty of evolutionary time for things to emerge and appear.

Under the sea:  According to PhysOrg, evolutionary detectives are getting warmer. Their goal is to explain a profound mystery:

About 3.8 billion years ago, Earth was teeming with unicellular life. A little more than 4.5 billion years ago, the Earth was a ball of vaporous rock. And somewhere in between, the first organisms spontaneously arose.  Pinpointing exactly when and how that shift happened has proven a difficult bit of interdisciplinary detective work.

A team of Stanford geologists hasn’t quite solved the problem, but they’ve come closer. By examining the geology and environment of the early Earth, the researchers demonstrate the plausibility of one theory: that life originated above serpentinite rock on the ocean bottom. Because the necessary conditions only existed for a few million years, the findings provide a potential timestamp for the appearance of the Earth’s first organism.

Whether or not this represents scientific progress, though, is an interesting question.  Their scenario relies heavily on imagination: “Serpentinite was likely present when life arose,” the body text states further down.  “Unfortunately, the geological record only reliably goes back approximately 3.8 billion years, making a definitive statement impossible.”  (This calls into question the above claim that the scientists examined the geology and environment of the early Earth.) Their scenario relies on acid gradients providing an energy source for any organisms waiting in the wings to appear on stage.  “This leaves a relatively brief window for the origin of life, at least by this mechanism,” one researcher said.  The article ended, “Smoking-gun evidence in support of the origin-of-life theory remains hard to come by.”  To top it off, a researcher gave his opinion of this scientific theory founded on imagination: “It’s conceivable that a biologist might get lucky, but I’m not holding my breath.”

In spite of this questionable display of confirmation for evolution (which can be considered representative, looking back through years of similar examples in Creation-Evolution Headlines), wrath remains at a fever pitch against alternatives to Darwinian evolution.  An interesting article in PhysOrg claimed that many scientists do not have a problem mixing science and religion – provided the religion completely disallows even an unspecified “designer” any active role in the process of evolution.  “Nearly all of the scientists – religious and nonreligious alike – have a negative impression of the theory of intelligent design,” the article stated about results of a poll among scientists. 

The venom against anyone disbelieving evolution was sizzling in an article on Techie Buzz reviewing a new Canadian book for children about evolution, entitled “Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be,” by Daniel Loxton.  In the review, Debjyoti Bardhan started by ranting against the religious right in America, described as “a powerful Christian creationist lobby sitting in the various corridors of power… well-funded, politically powerful and extremely motivated, ready at a moment’s notice to take steps against anything deemed remotely anti-Christian.”  Standing in stark contrast are the truth-seekers, scientists who study evolution: “evolutionary theory has continued to grow, just as scientific truth does.”  Bardhan and Loxton repeated several boilerplate memes: that evolutionary theory is as well established as Newton’s theory of gravity, that evolution is science and anything else is religion, that “intelligent design” (always with scare quotes) is a rechristened avatar of Creationism, etc.  Ironically, Loxton’s book uses the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria as evidence. “Not one piece of evidence has disproved evolutionary theory,” Bardhan asserted.4  Indeed; how could it?  Evolution explains everything.  Whether a theory that explains everything is a good scientific theory is a completely different question.

1.  D'Costa, King et al., “Antibiotic resistance is ancient,” Nature 477  (22 September 2011), pp. 457–461, doi:10.1038/nature10388.

2.  Michael Bevan, “Genomics: Endless variation most beautiful,” Nature 477 (22 September 2011), pp. 415–416, doi:10.1038/477415a.

3. Gan, Stegle et al., “Multiple reference genomes and transcriptomes for Arabidopsis thaliana,” Nature 477 (22 September 2011), pp. 419–423, doi:10.1038/nature10414.

4. Bardhan suggested a falsification test for evolution: “Not one piece of evidence has disproved evolutionary theory, despite there being extremely easy ways to do so (‘Just find a fossil rabbit in the Precambrian’, as J.B.S Haldane put it).”  It is true that no Precambrian rabbits have turned up yet; however, other fossil discoveries nearly as unexpected have, and yet evolutionists found ways to incorporate the damaging evidence (for examples, search for "Precambrian rabbit" in our search bar).  It is doubtful, therefore, that a real Precambrian rabbit would actually disprove evolutionary theory.

There is only one explanation for these observations: (1) evolutionism cannot be falsified, (2) evolutionary theory assumes what it needs to prove, (3) evolutionists continue to maintain such passion about their theory, and (4) evolutionary theory relies on miracles: things originate, appear, emerge, develop, and arise.  The explanation: evolution is a religion masquerading as science.

On that topic, learn about Darwin’s religious views in this new article by Richard Weikart on American Thinker.  Coupled with Richard Dawkins’ oft-quoted statement that Darwinism allows one to become an intellectually-fulfilled atheist, it’s no wonder that Darwin’s disciples are so militant in their faith and energetic about keeping the real motivations hidden behind a facade of false-front scientific evidence to support their religion.

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