October 18, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

How Explanatory Is Evolutionary Theory?

Darwinians make big boasts about their theory as the central organizing principle in biology, but what does it actually explain?

Here are recent news stories purporting to show evolution explaining things.

Microbe plagiarism:  Unexpectedly, most archaea got their genetic information by stealing it from bacteria, PhysOrg reported.  “These results shift the balance in our ideas about microbial evolution,” a scientist at U of Otago said, indicating that evolution did not predict such a thing.  HGT (horizontal gene transfer) “played a surprisingly large role” in their evolution, the article says; but HGT is a far cry from mutation and natural selection.  It also doesn’t explain where the bacteria got the information in the first place.

Evolution is unfair:  Sarah Brosnan and Franz de Waal are still trying to figure out the evolution of fairness after all these years (see 9/17/03, especially the color commentary).  In their review in Science Magazine, they admit that the sense of fairness (including not just complaining about the other who gets more, but the other who gets less) “presents an evolutionary puzzle” as it has since the time of Darwin.  As usual, “future research” will be required, even after these two working for more than 11 years on this question “that seems illogical” in evolutionary terms.

Saps and violins:  One evolutionist prefers his Darwin played on designed instruments.  Science Daily reported, with all seriousness, about how plant biologist Donald Chitwood figures that the “evolution of violins” can help him understand the evolution of plants.  (Last time we checked, violins were made by intelligent design.)  New Scientist tried to have it both ways with its headline, “Violins evolved by Stradivarian design.”  The peer reviewers at PLoS One apparently didn’t catch the hodgepodge of Darwin and ID, even though the article says of them, “As with all scientific papers, Chitwood’s article was rigorously peer-reviewed, in this case, by some of the world’s leading morphometrics experts.”  (Morphometrics is the evolution of shape.)  “Shape is information that can tell us a story,” he said, which matches the main occupation of evolutionists (confabulation).  Chitwood plays the viola.  Hear the story about the difference between a violin and a viola?  The viola burns longer.

Fish crap:  “Fish colon offers insight into evolution” blares a headline on Science Daily about a Union College evolutionist, shown holding up a skate (a ray-finned fish) that the article admits up front is a “living fossil” that “hasn’t changed in 450 million years.”  But because it has a “primitive colon” in her view, Nicole Theodosiou concludes that “animals were potentially ‘primed,’ in a way, to survive on land,” even though (1) that would have been millions of years down the road in her scheme, (2) the skate is still doing just fine in the water, and (3) Darwinism cannot pre-plan or “prime” for eventualities in the far future.  Those little difficulties didn’t slow down the spin doctors at Union:

Skates have primitive colons. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. The discovery could change scientific understanding of evolution, of how animals emerged from water to live on land.

To arms:  What makes you human?  Evolutionists at UC Santa Cruz say that the “Human genome was shaped by an evolutionary arms race with itself” (PhysOrg). This long article about the war between viral retrotransposons and the genome’s effort to get rid of them makes for good War Stories, but is it not a case of personification?  Read the comments that degenerated into another war: a war of words, with commenters throwing the label “pseudoscience!” at each other.  This may show that Darwinism is useful for starting conflicts, whether or not it provides understanding.

The symbiosis regress:  Rewrite the textbooks again: “New study upends current theories of how mitochondria began” (Medical Xpress, Science Daily)  The old story was that mitochondria and bacteria got together on friendly terms.  The new story from University of Virginia is that mitochondria snuck in and took advantage of the bacteria.  “The origin of mitochondria began about 2 billion years ago and is one of the seminal events in the evolutionary history of life,” the article says. “However, little is known about the circumstances surrounding its origin, and that question is considered an enigma in modern biology.”  Whatever evolutionists had taught for the last few decades was apparently not helpful: “We are saying that the current theoriesare likely wrong.”  Something got lost in the scuffle: explaining the origin of the complex ATP-generation machinery in the mitochondrion (see animation of ATP synthase).

Brittle stars, brittle theory:  Quote from an article on The Conversation about brittle stars: “But the subsequent evolution of brittle stars was completely unpredicted,” writes Tim O’Hara of Museum Victoria. “It turns out that many of those convenient external characters that we used to classify brittle stars have evolved independently a number of times and were a pretty poor guide to overall relationships. This means we need to tear up much of our existing classification and begin again.”  The solution to this case of convergent evolution?  It’s somewhere out in the nebulous nirvana of “future research.”

Fool’s errand:  Darwin can fool you.  That’s what evolutionists say about an “evolutionary surprise” when they tried to figure out how the human backbone evolved from a sea of starfish:

Humans are part of a group of animals called chordates, whose defining feature is a rod of cartilage that runs lengthwise along the middle of their body, under their spinal chord. This structure, called the notochord, was the first vertebrate skeleton…. Since starfish, sea urchins and related animals have no such structure, scientists assumed the notochord had emerged in a relatively recent ancestor, after our branch of the evolutionary tree split away from the ‘starfish branch’.

“People simply haven’t been looking beyond our direct relatives, but that means you could be fooled, if the structure appeared earlier and that single group lost it,” says Detlev Arendt from EMBL, who led the study. “And in fact, when we looked at a broader range of animals, this is what we found.

What?  You didn’t realize that the notochord evolved from a muscle?  Surprise!

On the origin of microsporidia by (not) natural selection:  Peer-reviewed journals; that’s where you find the scholarly understanding of evolution without the media fluff, right?  Check this revised theory in PNAS about internal parasites called microsporidia.  The new theory is that these parasites were already fully equipped for independent life before invading their hosts.  That’s devolution: “the morphological features unique to M. daphniae and other microsporidia were already present before the lineage evolved the extreme host metabolic dependence and loss of mitochondrial respiration for which microsporidia are well known.”  How did they evolve those morphological features?  Didn’t say; just assumed.  A write-up on Science Daily calls the particular species a “missing link,” but only on its downward path from fully-equipped fungus to stripped-down parasite.

Biodiversity puzzle:  Why do the tropics have more species diversity than temperate climates?  Beats us, say ecologists from the University of Arizona, using “big data” to try to answer the question that should be a natural for Darwinian theory.  “A new approach to biodiversity resurrects old questions,” says Daniel Stolte on PhysOrg.  The team unexpectedly found that “diversity of functions” is actually greater in temperate zones.  “We looked at the diversity of functions—in other words, what plants do—and how these traits differ as we go from species-rich to species-poor environments,” the scientists said. “What we found blew us away. The results didn’t clearly match any ecological theory.” If Darwinism had been useful, they might have mentioned “evolution” more than zero times.  Instead, the focus was on “function”—a design-theoretic term.

Leapin’ lizards:  If you want a simple explanation for lizard diversity on Caribbean islands, Darwinism isn’t it, suggests an article on Science Daily about researchers from University of Nottingham who claim they are “shedding light on a 150-year-old evolutionary puzzle.” The team could not rely on Darwin alone: “their model revealed that different ecological and evolutionary processes are responsible on each island.”  Call Ockham.  Then call Dobzhansky (Mr. “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”).

Sorry, Charlie:  Darwin considered Haeckel’s “Biogenetic Law” or “Recapitulation Theory” one of the strongest evidences for his theory.  Too bad; an article about lampreys on Science Daily begins, “If you never understood what ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’ meant in high school, don’t worry: biologists no longer think that an animal’s ‘ontogeny,’ that is, its embryonic development, replays its entire evolutionary history.”  Well, then, surely a more modern neo-Darwinian model was helpful to the scientists studying lamprey evolution, then?  Not really; something complex just “appeared,” and it did so earlier than thought: “That means that the gene regulatory network that governs segmental patterning of the hindbrain likely evolved prior to divergence of jawed vertebrates.”  When did that happen? “the fossil record shows that its ancestors emerged from Cambrian silt approximately 500 million years ago.”  Animals complete with complex regulatory networks “emerged” from silt?  Really?  Darwin doubts it.

How many more examples do you want?  We had to stop simply for lack of time and space.  These stories are not unusual; they are standard fare in the media and journals, revealing that evolutionary theory is absolutely useless for promoting real understanding of the natural world.  All they do is illustrate Darwin’s Scientific Method: (1) Believe in evolution with all your heart. (2) Observe a fact. (3) Make up a story to fit the fact into your belief.

To this we might add a 4th step: Scratch your head about the implausibility of your story and repeat the phrase, “evolutionary puzzle.”  And a 5th: Promise that the answers lie in “future research” that might “shed light on evolution.”  What a con game this is!  Darwin’s only genius was in providing job security for storytellers (6/25/14 commentary).

For fun, go back and read our response to Brosnan and de Waal’s monkeyshines from 2003 where they tried to document evidence that monkeys believe in fairness, only to be pummeled with pebbles thrown by their misbehaved subjects.  They’re still at it 11 years later!  That’s what we mean by job security.  Our commentary also reveals that the way to combat this nonsense is with howls of laughter.


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