Evolution Falsely So Called
Evolutionary theory gets credited for changes that really do not help Darwin’s view of a universal tree of life. Three examples show how.
Toxin resistance by insects: Science Daily reported on a study out of Cornell University that showed the same mutation occurring in four orders of insects, conferring resistance to plant toxins called cardenolides. “This is truly a remarkable level of evolutionary repeatability and suggests that evolving resistance to the plant toxin had very few effective options,” lead research Anurag Agrawal said, hinting that evolution might in some way be predestined. But as Dr. Michael Behe argued, single point mutations, even double mutations, lie within the “Edge of Evolution” and can thus be explained by chance. Insects gaining the mutation will survive and proliferate because the cardenolides will no longer bind to enzymes required by the insects’ sodium pump. The insects are still the same species, however. They have not generated any novel genetic information, let alone a new irreducibly complex structure. Point mutations cannot explain the origin of the sodium pump and the enzyme in the first place. At best, this mutation represents a loss of genetic information that happened to help the insects escape death, so it falls in the category of “cutting off a hand makes you immune to handcuffs” – hardly a mechanism that can generate the diverse and c0mplex wonders of the living world. See also the explanation at Uncommon Descent.
Speciation by gene duplication: A case of a new “species” of monkeyflower emerging from a whole-genome duplication was reported by Live Science. The new hybrid apparently cannot crossbreed with other similar monkeyflowers, but whether this represents “newly evolved species” seems a stretch; it is still a monkeyflower, very similar in appearance to the sibling monkeyflowers without the duplication. “While many new species of plants are thought to arise this way, it has only been witnessed amongst wild plants a handful of times in history,” one scientist was cited as saying. He also placed most species evolution in the unobservable past, claiming, “most species originated thousands of years ago” by processes he could only describe as a “series of unlikely events“. Again, no new genetic information was added. Nothing was stated about the flowers fitness other than that is seen growing in the wild (most hybrids are sterile). Since duplicating this paragraph would not explain the origin of the paragraph or make it more meaningful, it’s a stretch to call this evolution as Darwin envisioned it; if anything genetic duplication adds to genetic load—a burden on the DNA copying mechanisms that now require double the work with every cell division.
Darwin’s robots: The most egregious examples of evolutionary excess come when Darwin’s name gets attached to intelligent design. Michael White did this in Science in his review of John Long’s new book, Darwin’s Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us About the History of Life and the Future of Technology. (White, “Evolution and Robots,” Science 20 July 2012: Vol. 337 no. 6092 pp. 294-295, DOI: 10.1126/science.1224874). White, who boasts of studying “the evolution of robots” himself, enjoyed Long’s “compelling and wide-ranging conversation.” he said. “This includes discussions of the mechanics of fish backbones, how we practice science, the nature of evolution, what it means to be intelligent, our dystopian robot future, and, most important, the crucial role of good models in science.” It appears both White and Long could use a refresher course on the “nature of evolution” —
Darwin’s Devices recounts the efforts of Long and his colleagues to study the biomechanics and evolution of vertebrae in fish using autonomous, aquatic robots as models. Long is interested in whether natural selection for more efficient food-seeking behavior could have led to the appearance of stiff backbones in the earliest vertebrates. By allowing robots with different backbone properties to compete with each other and by having the winners pass their traits down to the next generation of robots, Long and his collaborators follow backbone evolution in their population of robotic fish.
Clearly, Long was doing artificial selection—a form of intelligent design—not natural selection. He had a goal and he acted as the intelligent selector. He also designed the robotic fish to begin with. How he could leap from ID selection into “natural selection,” which has no goal and no intelligent selector, shows that misconceptions about Darwinism persist even among Darwinians.
Are you getting good at spotting the magic words? Darwinians love magic words. Here they were: “whether natural selection… could have led to the appearance of”. That’s the sleight of hand: (1) could, invoking the Stuff Happens Law by the power of suggestion, (2) led to, a fallacy of goal-directed behavior inconsistent with Darwin’s undirected processes, and (3) the appearance of, an “abracadabra” phrase conveying no information about how a stiff backbone could have “appeared” by any kind of scientifically describable process.
Notice also the investigator interference at every stage. Long was “allowing” the robots “to compete” with each other. He allowed “winners [to] pass their traits down”. Who were the winners? The ones Long predetermined would have stiff backbones, of course. If this is what it means to “follow backbone evolution,” then a puppeteer is following puppet psychology. If Long really wanted to test natural selection (even granting the existence of his designed robotic fish), he would have had to turn them loose, then walk out, lock the doors, and come back in a million years to observe what happened – without interfering in any way.
It appears that before Darwin skeptics can win debates with Darwinians, they will have to teach Darwinians what Darwinism is.