How Useful Is Evolutionary Theory?
In science, it’s not enough to have a paradigm that merely keeps scientists busy, if they are rarely right.
Darwinian evolution is a “web of belief” that is so flexible, it withstands all the empirical challenges thrown at it. Does that mean evolution is more nearly correct than creation? Or could it mean that its proponents are merely more creative in their dance steps? Let’s look at some recent examples.
Since Darwin, biologists have thought and taught that sexual selection leads male birds to sing to females to impress them. Wrong, Science Daily now says: “Birdsong is not all about sexual selection: Female birds sing much more often than previously thought.” Biologists at Leiden University admit this was surprising:
In 71 percent of all songbird species with available data, the female sings, too. This is remarkable because in the wake of Darwin’s theory of evolution, birdsong has generally been seen as a characteristic of male birds, allowing them to compete with other males and attract females. The exciting question now is how females apparently repeatedly lost their song in the course of evolution. Why did they stop singing in some lineages, but not in others?
The article even has a subsection with a shocking taunt in bold text, “Message to Darwin: Birdsong is not all about sexual selection.” It’s just meant as a love tap, though; the biologists found a way to work the anomaly into evolution anyway. Darwin can afford to lose a little sexual selection, they think, as long as selection remains intact.
Leiden biologist Riebel says that ‘the origin of birdsong must therefore lie not only in sexual selection and competition among males, as suggested by Darwin. It seems more probable that sexual and social selection also played a role in females: song allowed both males and females to compete for the resources necessary for survival and reproduction.‘
This puts a bandage on the theory; “preference of females for singing males cannot have been the first and foremost reason for the evolution of song,” the researchers say. “This is a starting point for alternative scenarios, that so far have not been taken into consideration in birdsong research.” Alternative Darwinian scenarios, that is.
Not vestigial, just convergent
Observation: Numerous unrelated lineages of teleost fish have adipose fins that were long thought to be vestigial (useless leftovers of evolution). Explanation: adipose fins evolved by “convergent evolution” numerous times. This is explained in Science Daily, “Convergent evolution: New fins evolve repeatedly in teleost fishes.” But is “convergent evolution” an explanation, or a theory rescuing device? The biologists found a way to absorb the shock into their web of belief:
Though present in more than 6,000 living species of fish, the adipose fin, a small appendage that lies between the dorsal fin and tail, has no clear function and is thought to be vestigial. However, a new study analyzing their origins finds that these fins arose repeatedly and independently in multiple species. In addition, adipose fins appear to have repeatedly and independently evolved a skeleton, offering a glimpse into how new tissue types and structural complexity evolve in vertebrate appendages.
The anomaly is turned around, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope, providing a “glimpse” of another way to see the prevailing paradigm (evolution) at work. This is not a falsification; it’s “a striking example of convergent evolution over a vast range of species.” Hallelujah. Like God, evolution works in mysterious ways. Evolutionists just love those falsifications. It keeps them employed:
“It’s pretty incredible that a structure which is incredibly common could be so misunderstood,” Stewart said. “Our finding, that adipose fins have evolved repeatedly, shows that this structure, long assumed to be more-or-less useless, might be very important to some fishes. It’s exciting because it opens up new questions.”
One problem: “a number of complex skeletal structures, including spines, plates, fin rays and cartilage discs, evolved independently in the adipose fins of different species.” That should keep evolutionists busy for a long time – which is fine, as long as somebody else has to pay for it:
The study was supported by the National Science Foundation and the University of Chicago Division of Biological Sciences.
Dr Seuss vs Darwin
In “Red-Seeing Fish, Blue-Seeing Fish: Deep-Sea Vision Evolves,” Live Science tells its readers about another failed expectation of evolutionary theory in the light of observations:
Fearsome-looking creatures that live in the near-dark to pitch-black waters of the deep sea, dragon fish wouldn’t seem to have much need for eyes, let alone the ability to see color. However, some dragon fish have rapidly evolved from blue-light sensitivity to red-light sensitivity, and then back to blue again.
The deep sea is not the sort of environment that would appear to encourage rapid evolution. “It doesn’t change. It is always dark,” said study researcher Christopher Kenaley, a comparative biologist at Harvard University. “There is something else down there that is driving the evolution of the visual system.”
What this implies is that evolutionary theory was not useful in explaining the observations heretofore. Biologists needed to look for something else. But can light be an evolutionary force? “The force driving these changes is likely the bioluminescence produced by the dragon fish themselves as well as by other deep-sea creatures, he said.” Apparently the force has a red side and a blue side. To make it fit evolution, the biologists had to engage in circular reasoning:
To clarify when in evolutionary history the different groups of fish split, the researchers used the estimated ages of fossil fish. These established a minimum age for the part of the evolutionary tree into which the fossils fit.
There are examples in the history of science of proponents of a theory forcing anomalies into the theory by modifying the theory instead of abandoning it. Is that what is happening here? Maintaining evolution, that proved useless for predicting the observations, requires these marine biologists to play “red light, blue light” back and forth rapidly. “This reversion happened in the “bat of an eye in geological time,” Kenaley told Live Science…. We now understand that visual evolution can be very rapid in a very stabile sensory environment,” he said – which, of course, the article had earlier said was “not the sort of environment that would appear to encourage rapid evolution.”
In light of the anomalies, Harvard’s Christopher Kenaley descended into the well-known Darwinian just-so storytelling defense tactic:
The dragon fish that emit red bioluminescence seem to have tweaked the process used to produce blue light, and the evolution of this ability to produce red likely drove the evolution of the ability to see it. Meanwhile, those fish that regained the ability to see in blue may have done so in order to effectively find mates or lure blue-seeing prey, Kenaley said.
In this case, storytelling appears more useful than Darwinian theory itself. Perhaps they are indistinguishable.
A call to fight evolution
Science Magazine tells of another case where evolutionary theory was wrong and needs to be modified. The article has the surprising title, “Combating Evolution to Fight Disease.” By that, they don’t mean taking up swords against Charles Darwin. No; they mean, rather, that old assumptions need to be modified a little, so that molecular biology and evolutionary biology can work together. The introduction is worth quoting at some length:
Molecular biology and evolutionary biology have been separate disciplines and scientific cultures: The former is mechanistic and focused on molecules; the latter is theoretical and focused on populations. However, these domains are beginning to converge in laboratories addressing molecular mechanisms that explain how evolutionary processes work, and bring these processes to bear on medical problems such as cancer and infectious disease. Each discipline can be viewed as a missing link in the other’s description of biology, and in medicine.
Traditional evolutionary biology began in the 1930s with the “modern synthesis,” which fused Darwin’s theses on phenotypic variation and selection with Mendel‘s concepts of genetic inheritance to explain the source of biological diversity. This synthesis predated knowledge that genes were made of DNA and of the structure of DNA and how it replicates. Thus, molecular mechanisms could not be integrated into concepts about how phenotypic variation is generated. Instead, assumptions had to be made about the origins of the variation that drives evolution. Among the cornerstone assumptions were that mutations are the sole drivers of evolution; mutations occur randomly, constantly, and gradually; and the transmission of genetic information is vertical from parent to offspring, rather than horizontal (infectious) between individuals and species (as is now apparent throughout the tree of life). But discoveries of molecular mechanisms are modifying these assumptions.
This statement points out several serious shortcomings of neo-Darwinism (the modern synthesis), despite its continuance as the sole paradigm acceptable for scientists and teachers: it knew nothing about DNA, it didn’t know the source of variation; it didn’t know how evolutionary processes work; and it falsely assumed mutations “drive” evolution vertically. How useful was a theory that was this wrong?
The article goes on to show that mutations do not appear to be random. They almost look designed to weather stress. Moreover, proteins can move variation horizontally, not just vertically. Neo-Darwinism was also blind to epigenetic processes. The paper points out more things neo-Darwinism got wrong, requiring modifications to the theory:
The long-standing assumption of random, constant, and gradual mutagenesis is refuted by observations that mutations occur more frequently when cells are maladapted to their environments, together with the discoveries of mechanisms by which mutations are targeted to specific genomic structures. These modifications of the modern synthesis assumptions could not have been predicted or found without exploration of molecular mechanisms.
That last sentence shows that the authors intend to give neo-Darwinism a tune-up, not an overhaul, despite having just refuted one of its “long-standing assumptions.” But doesn’t that imply that the previous version was wrong and misleading? As a practical matter, progress in fighting cancer may require the modified view. Perhaps Darwinists have been looking at the problem with the wrong end of the microscope:
The evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky famously noted that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” but perhaps, too, “nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of biology.” Although the latter might be an exaggeration, an important gap is being filled by molecular understanding of the genesis of variation that confers the ability to evolve.
In the biological examples cited in the article, nature is not proceeding from simple to complex by unguided processes of random variation. Rather, cells are showing remarkable ability to adapt to changes in the environment. Jonathan Wells famously stated a different take on the Dobzhansky quote: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of the evidence.”
We will keep holding this Darwin baloney up till the stench sinks into reader’s nostrils, until they so are repulsed by the endless rationalizing going on to save the Charlie idol that they drive the Charlietans out of the science labs, demanding once again empirical accountability for that once-noble ideal of rational science.