January 23, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Evolution Is Not a Goddess

A reporter wonders what evolution was thinking when it gave us allergies.

The upshot of an article in Current Biology is that nobody knows how or why allergies evolved.

Researchers increasingly ask themselves what kinds of challenges in nature may have produced this remarkable and at times dangerous response….

It is plausible to assume that children growing up in virtually sterile settings may end up with an immune system that is less educated and mature than it should be. But what specific processes could go wrong in this scenario and how that might cause allergy remains to be elucidated.

As could be predicted, the perhapsimaybecouldness index of the article is high.  In getting to his ending confession of ignorance, reporter Michael Gross plays fast and loose with Darwinism, attributing foresight and cognition to the impersonal processes of Darwinism. He starts right with his headline: “Why did evolution give us allergies?” Evolution’s gender is not clear, so he calls it an “it”—

Investigations into how we — and our tireless representatives, the lab mice — interact with our environment at interfaces like skin, lungs and guts, and how we sometimes become allergic to compounds from that environment, have overwhelmingly led to one conclusion: it’s complicated.

The phenomena discussed here include both genetic and environmental factors, both innate and adaptive immunity, and a confusing plethora of immune cells and molecules. In our evolution, these responses of the mammalian immune system have been shaped by interactions with organisms from other phyla, ranging from nematodes and arthropods through to poisonous snakes.

Thus, more interdisciplinary work linking immunology to areas like ecology and toxicology may be required to improve our understanding of allergies, and immunologists will have to try to communicate their ideas to colleagues from other departments without the notoriously dense thicket of acronyms that tends to thrive in their publications. Better communication and joined-up thinking may lead us to understand what evolution was thinking when it gave us allergic responses, and from there we could go on to stop them from happening.

Since Evolution’s “thinking” is inscrutable, maybe it’s time for thinking scientists to stop personifying “It” and think of alternative approaches.

Michael’s imaginary friend is letting him down.  He should be content with Evolution’s impersonal, unguided catch-all hypothesis: the Stuff Happens Law. That’s what provides insight to a secularist. That’s what provides understanding. Yours is not to reason why. Yours is but to do or die, repeating “It evolved” until troubles pass you by. “Why did evolution give us allergies?” Stuff happens, man. Q.E.D.



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