Roach Bait Story Highlights Abuse of Word "Evolution"
Evolution is one of the most carelessly-used words in science, as several recent articles show. Not all change is evolution the way Darwin meant it.
Roaches check in, and they also check out: Those omnivorous pests have outsmarted engineers again. Even though they like sugar in the wild, they have learned to avoid sugary-tasting poison in roach traps. Sure enough, you can watch the smarter bugs in a video clip on Live Science. Stephanie Pappas headlined the story, “Yikes! Cockroaches Evolved to Avoid Sugary Baits.” The authors of the paper in Science claimed that the German cockroaches “rapidly evolved an adaptive behavioral aversion to glucose.” They spoke of glucose aversion as a “gain of function adaptation” that “emerged” in their study population.
The scientists did not state, though, if the glucose-averse roaches represent a new species. Darwinian evolution is not just about changes of adaptive behavior within a species, but the arrival of new species. If the glucose-averse roaches are interfertile with the wild type, no evolution has occurred. In the Live Science article, furthermore, one of the paper’s authors admitted that glucose avoidance could have been an ancient trait that surfaced under the new environmental condition of encountering man-made bait traps. “Some plants produce toxic bittersweet compounds that roaches would have needed to avoid before humans came around.”
Even worse, the glucose-avoiding roaches may be less healthy. In Science Daily, that same co-author admitted they grow more slowly in the lab without the environmental stress. “Cockroaches have to adapt to a varied and unreliable food supply, and glucose-aversion places an additional restriction on obtaining adequate nutrition.” In any case, this is certainly not a case supporting Darwinian evolution—universal common ancestry via natural selection.
Name it and claim it: Just claiming something evolved does not make it so. Asking why some flowers close at night, Elizabeth Palermo on Live Science credited evolution. Those plants are “highly evolved,” she said. That’s no better than ridiculing another human as being less evolved than you are. Then she admitted, “scientists are not quite sure why some plants, particularly flowers, evolved this way.” You can’t just say that the trait might be a “highly evolved defense mechanism against a plant’s nocturnal predators.” Without an explanation based on mutation and natural selection, this is mere speculation. For all Palermo knows, plants were designed that way.
Negative selection: Some developmental processes involve killing of cells that are not needed in the finished adult form. It happens in the developing thymus, for instance; in PLoS Biology, Caitlin Sedgwick wrote, “To prevent autoimmunity, developing T cells undergo a process called negative selection, wherein strongly ‘self-reactive’ T cells are provoked to undergo apoptosis (cellular suicide) before they leave the thymus.” This is not evolution, either, even though she boasted of “Bringing You Negative Selection, Alive and In Color.” The word “selection” might cause one to think this is about Darwinian evolution. It’s not; the only evolution here is the “evolution [i.e., unfolding] of apoptotic events.”
Not everything Darwin said is evolution: Charles Darwin wrote about a lot of things, not all of which support his idea of universal common ancestry via unguided natural processes. A story on PhysOrg is a case in point; “research proves Darwin prediction,” the headline reads, but the principle at issue is whether “productivity increases with species diversity.” Creationists would accept a substantial amount of variation within created kinds. Although the researcher mentioned “evolutionary distance,” the distance doesn’t have to be evolutionary. Creationists acknowledge a lot of morphological distance between a zebra and a zebrafish. Even critics of Darwin recognized he was right about some things. Nothing in the data of this story necessarily supports Darwin’s most famous notion, that zebras are descendants of microbes.
Guided variation is not evolution: It’s like a pesky urban legend that won’t die: artificial selection is not evolution. It’s intelligent design, even if the engineers use random variation in the process. Another example appeared on Live Science, where Wynn Parry wrote, “Evolution May Help Build Better Robots.” Then he transferred the design from the engineers to the robots themselves, claiming, “In the real world, animals have evolved the ability to get from point A to B by galloping, crawling and jumping. Now, robots in the virtual world have accomplished something similar.”
Turtle embryonic development is not evolution: On Science Daily, the word “evolution” was used in connection with observations of turtle development from the embryo. First, the article said that turtles are “not primitive reptiles as previously thought, but are related to the group comprising birds and crocodilians, which also includes extinct dinosaurs.” Whether that relationship illustrates common ancestry or not, the statement argues against a simple-to-complex process. Then the article confused embryonic development with evolution. Here again, though, was a conundrum: “The study also reveals that despite their unique anatomy, turtles follow the basic embryonic pattern during development.” Even if the shell arrives late in the process, when limb development normally occurs, the highly complex process of development can hardly be used to support the notion that “turtle shell evolved by recruiting part of the genetic program used for the limbs.” Evolution is not a recruiter. That’s the personification fallacy. Yet based on this, one of the researchers stated, “The work not only provides insight into how turtles evolved, but also gives hints as to how the vertebrate developmental programs can be changed to produce major evolutionary novelties“—all that after admitting that these “evolutionary monsters” are unique in the animal kingdom.
Data points within natural variation of a species are not evolution: The Chinese found another “new hominin” in a cave based on its teeth. But then, the article on PhysOrg admits, “the size of these teeth all falls [sic] into the tooth size variation of Chinese modern humans.” How, then, are these teeth assumed to be from a different ancestral species? As usual, when the data are unconvincing, more research is needed: “Our excavation shows the cave has great potential perspectives,” the researcher said. “Further excavation and laboratory study of cave development, filling sequence, hominin teeth morphology, dating, and environmental change from the Fuyan Cave as well as some adjacent caves will help better understand the human evolution and adaptive behavior in Southwest Hunan, east Guangxi, and north Guangdong.”
This is how scientists get away with claims that evolution is essential to biology, and is supported by mountains of evidence. Why, look at all the scientific papers and articles about it! How can Darwin skeptics claim it is unscientific? Well, we can, and we just showed you why. Ask them for evidence supporting universal common ancestry of all life by unguided natural processes, and this is the kind of fluff you get. They accuse their critics of being people of faith, but Darwinians are people of fluff. Point that out to them, and they become people of froth. There’s nothing as pitiable as people of froth supporting their fluff by faith.