How Useful Is Evolutionary Theory?
What has Darwin done for you lately? Some evolutionists promote Darwinism because of its alleged usefulness to humanity.
Yesterday’s post analyzed whether evolutionary theory explains things (10/18/14). Even if the theory has doubtful explanatory value, perhaps its worth can be salvaged if it provides benefits to man.
Global challenge: Here’s a promising headline in Science Magazine: “Applying evolutionary biology to address global challenges.” Nine evolutionists state their thesis in the opening paragraph:
Differences among species in their ability to adapt to environmental change threaten biodiversity, human health, food security, and natural resource availability. Pathogens, pests, and cancers often quickly evolve resistance to control measures, whereas crops, livestock, wild species, and human beings often do not adapt fast enough to cope with climate change, habitat loss, toxicants, and lifestyle change. To address these challenges, practices based on evolutionary biology can promote sustainable outcomes via strategic manipulation of genetic, developmental, and environmental factors. Successful strategies effectively slow unwanted evolution and reduce fitness in costly species or improve performance of valued organisms by reducing phenotype-environment mismatch or increasing group productivity. Tactics of applied evolutionary biology range broadly, from common policies that promote public health or preserve habitat for threatened species—but are easily overlooked as having an evolutionary rationale, to the engineering of new genomes.
Engineering? Strategy? That sounds like intelligent design. Surely scientists and farmers before Darwin understood how to protect “valued organisms” without resorting to ideas about mutation and natural selection. It’s a little late to apply an “evolutionary rationale” to what humans were already doing. What exactly do these 9 evolutionists want mankind to do? What strategy is new, and based solely on Darwinian theory?
Their opening infographic shows six societal sectors with the challenges they face, and proposes tactics for addressing those challenges. Three of the sectors are categorized under “rapid evolution” and involve mostly bacteria and pathogens. The other three, labeled “mismatch,” concern things like habitat loss, biodiversity loss, and chronic disease. “Each of these strategies uses a combination of manipulations of the organismal genotype, phenotypic plasticity (development), or environmental conditions.” Again, though, “manipulations” have been worked on for centuries or millennia, under what Darwin (and these evolutionists) call “artificial selection“—a form of intelligent design. Artificial selection is not evolution. Humans design a goal, then they manipulate the factors that help them reach the goal. Today, the factors might include genetic engineering, but that’s “engineering” nonetheless. Conservation predates Darwin, too, as does medical research. It’s not clear, therefore, what any of these strategies have to do with Darwin’s notion that innovations arise by chance. The whole discussion is about design: engineering, strategies, policies. It would seem, therefore, that a design-based approach would be more useful than Darwinism in addressing the biological challenges each sector of society faces.
A summary of this paper in Science Daily, though, says that facing these challenges “requires evolutionary thinking” as well as “evolutionary approaches” to identify “evolutionary solutions.” This is the only way, the article argues:
“Applying evolutionary biology has tremendous potential, because it takes into account how unwanted pests or pathogens may adapt rapidly to our interventions and how highly valued species including humans on the other hand are often very slow to adapt to changing environments through evolution,” said study co-author Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, a biologist at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. “Not considering such aspects may result in outcomes opposite of those desired, making the pests more resistant to our actions, humans more exposed to diseases and vulnerable species less able to cope with new conditions.”
This seems to be a very non-Darwinian rationale. Why should humans and other “highly valued species” try to fix the adaptation rate that millions of years of evolution have built into them? Isn’t competition and conflict with the environment the engine that drives survival of the fittest? Countering these forces would seem to be the very strategy that could “result in outcomes opposite of those desired” and accelerate the mismatch of species to environments. What they’re advocating is humans doing battle with Darwinian mechanisms, using their brains—their intelligent design.
Indeed, another summary posted by PhysOrg talks about efforts “to try to outwit evolution” when it is too fast or too slow for human desires. The “management of evolution” is neither natural nor unguided, the very bases of evolutionary theory. Incidentally, this article is shamelessly adorned with a drawing, “The Tree of Man,” by the fraudster and Darwin worshiper Ernst Haeckel.
All the articles mention “climate change” as a reality that is catching species unprepared, presumably because of man’s actions. But if man is a product of evolution, then so are his actions. On what moral grounds, then, should he be required to manage evolution or outwit evolution? Other species affect the climate, too; an article on Science Daily showed that trillions of microbes affect global ocean chemistry with their urine. Certain evolutionary advocates of the “Gaia hypothesis” believe that organisms engineer the global environment for their benefit. Nobody expects those organisms to convene and design strategies to mitigate their effects.
Another challenge of rapid evolution cited by the articles is antibiotic resistance. This is often heralded by evolutionists as evidence of evolution at work. An article in PhysOrg, “How bacteria evolve defenses to antibiotics,” suggests that in at least some cases, “resistance genes” lie in wait in some microbes, and are called upon only when needed. These “resistance genes” can be shared between bacteria by genetic exchange. When activated by the presence of the antibiotic, the resistance genes take part in complex signaling pathways that switch on other genes. None of this new understanding of resistance comes from Darwinism; it sounds designed.
Imbalance of Nature: If anyone thinks that man alone is upsetting the “balance of nature,” he or she should consider an article on PLoS Biology by Daniel Simberloff that examines the historical use of the concept, finding no consensus or rationale for it. In fact, it was Darwin who “radically changed its underlying basis, from God to natural selection,” Simberloff writes, and Alfred Russel Wallace who challenged “the very notion of a balance of nature as an undefined entity whose accuracy could not be tested.” Then, “His skepticism was taken up again in the 20th century, culminating in a widespread rejection of the idea of a balance of nature by academic ecologists, who focus rather on a dynamic, often chaotic nature buffeted by constant disturbances.” Well, then, what could be more chaotic, buffeting and disturbing than climate change? Why are evolutionists taking up the campaign to fight climate change with moral zeal?
Simberloff calls the “balance of nature metaphor” a “panchreston“—an interesting but rarely-used word that means “a proposed explanation intended to address a complex problem by trying to account for all possible contingencies but typically proving to be too broadly conceived and therefore oversimplified to be of any practical use” (see Glittering Generalities in the Baloney Detector). The terms “phenotype-environment mismatch” and “sustainable” used by the 9 evolutionists play into this metaphor of a world in balance, forgetting that it was evolutionists who turned their focus to “a dynamic, often chaotic nature buffeted by constant disturbances.” Climate change is merely the latest disturbance, brought about by products of evolution (humans), so it would seem humans are justified for any short-sighted, self-interested actions. That’s the nature of Darwinism.
Can evolution cure cancer? Let’s get really practical and see if evolution is useful in the fight against cancer. “Physicists’ model proposes evolutionary role for cancer,” Nature announced, reprinting an article by Zeeya Merali from Scientific American. It begins,
Could cancer be our cells’ way of running in ‘safe mode’, like a damaged computer operating system trying to preserve itself, when faced with an external threat? That’s the conclusion reached by cosmologist Paul Davies at Arizona State University in Tempe and his colleagues, who have devised a controversial new theory for cancer’s origins, based on its evolutionary roots. If correct, their model suggests that a number of alternative therapies, including treatment with oxygen and infection with viral or bacterial agents, could be particularly effective.
There are several problems with the evolutionary approach. First of all, it’s qualified by “if correct,” and described as “controversial,” indicating it is not on solid scientific ground. Second, “safe mode” in an “operating system” is merely a metaphor, which cannot apply anyway, because computer systems are intelligently designed. Third, effective treatments are proved by clinical trials run by intelligent doctors, not by evolution. Finally, Davies’ portrayal of “an ‘atavistic’ model positing cancer is the re-expression of an ancient “preprogrammed” trait that has been lying dormant” is a mere story, impossible to prove and of dubious practical value. Things do not lie dormant in evolutionary theory; they are eliminated by negative selection, being too costly to maintain if non-functional.
Davies thinks that cancer is a throwback to the days when microbes operated without oxygen, so that adding oxygen might be effective. A physiologist referenced in the article tried that idea independently. It showed promise, which is great, but, he says, the test was “not carried out to test Davies’s hypothesis and cannot be taken as proof that the atavistic model is correct.” A surgical oncologist quipped about this and other proposed treatments by Davies: “The ‘predictions’ of atavism are nothing that scientists haven’t come to by other paths.” Evolutionists cannot, therefore, take credit after the fact; Darwinian theory was superfluous.
Evolution’s most useful trait: storytelling. Nothing in the above articles points to evolution being useful. It’s never the factor that is necessary or sufficient to bring about solutions to human problems. An article in Astrobiology Magazine suggests one area where evolution is very useful: for storytelling:
“These properties are expected to ‘tell’ a story that makes sense in biological terms by providing a convincing evolutionary narrative,” said Gaucher.
An example of this proteinaceous storytelling: the fact that ancient proteins, as mentioned before, seem optimized for the high-heat, high-acidity environmental conditions which geology suggests characterized the young Earth.
Perhaps, then, if the goal is to tell a story—to provide a convincing evolutionary narrative—evolutionary biology should be moved from the Science Building to the Humanities Theater.
What a useless, senseless, warped enterprise evolutionary biology is. Its disciples keep trying to shove it into the faces of policy makers, like mobsters demanding payment for “protection.” They keep trying to convince doctors, engineers and government officials that they “need” or require “evolutionary thinking” to solve problems. Balderdash. Evolution is superfluous. Who needs to know what chance and selection did over millions of years in order to solve a problem? What’s the doctor to do, play dice? Should he wait a few more million years for a natural solution to “emerge”?
Evolutionary thinking is the opposite of “reverse engineering.” If you know something was designed, you can make progress by knowing that a function exists for something you observe but do not understand. We know how intelligent agents think; we can approach a problem with a designer’s eye, and are often rewarded in biology with understanding. You can see the contrast in approaches with the way biologists thought about “junk DNA” (see Evolution News & Views). Some evolutionists gave up and called something they didn’t understand “junk.” Believing there was functional treasure there, other scientists found things working for a purpose. Biomimetics is another great example. Reverse engineering nature’s designs has been extremely fruitful. Evolutionists try to insert themselves into this burgeoning field, but cannot justify their participation (Evolution News & Views).
“Evolutionary thinking”—how’s that for a sophoxymoronic, self-refuting concept? If they really tried evolutionary thinking, they wouldn’t think at all, because free will is an illusion in evillusion. Thinking presupposes intelligent design. So send Darwin’s tired old notion down the trash chute of history, and think intelligently, like you were designed to do.