April 10, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Evolutionist Reveals Magical Beliefs

Introducing the “Poof!” Theory of Evolution.

A rather famous evolutionist who studied under John Maynard Smith and specializes in theoretical evolutionary biology, Eörs Szathmáry (see 2/06/05, 2/18/09 and 1/05/10, also a Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week winner, 7/23/06), has been working on the “great transformations” of evolution for a long time. His latest entry, published in PNAS, announces an upgrade: “Toward Major Evolutionary Transitions Theory 2.0“.

In this paper, he brings his latest solutions to seven major evolutionary transitions from nonlife to life: (1) protocells, (2) the genetic code, (3) eukaryotic cells, (4) plastids, (5) multicellularity, (6) eusocial animal societies, and (7) societies with natural language. His toolkit of “explanatory mechanisms” for overcoming these major evolutionary hurdles includes multilevel selection, decomposition of the transitions into more manageable units, handwaving (e.g., “This process is still an unsolved problem”), jargon, and a strong predilection for instantaneous, inexplicable appearances (i.e., magic). Since whatever he needs appears as if in a burst of smoke, we can summarize his story as the “Poof! Theory of Evolution.” Examples:

  1. During transitions, new units of reproduction emerge [poof!], and establishment [poof!] of such units requires high fidelity of reproduction (as opposed to mere replication).
  2. Enduring diploidy is an optional consequence of sex that arose [poof!] in certain lineages independently [poof!].
  3. The recurrent emergence [poof!] of the division of labor or the combination of functions allows the higher level units to be more efficient under certain conditions, which has to translate into a fitness advantage.
  4. It was noted that new inheritance systems arise [poof!] first in a rudimentary form….
  5. There are hereditary mechanisms below and before, as well as above and after, DNA that emerged [poof!] in evolution: the RNA world, epigenetic inheritance, and language are important examples.
  6. In the lifecycle, the multicellular condition arises [poof!] either by cells (or nuclei) coming together [poof!] or by cell division, followed by sticking together [poof!].
  7. A major outstanding issue is what I call filial transitions: origin and evolution [poof!] of new Darwinian systems within the hierarchy, such as the nervous system (poof!) and the adaptive immune system [poof!] in vertebrates.
  8. As soon as proteinaceous aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases appeared on the scene [poof!], a new kind of autocatalysis (replication) emerged [poof!].
  9. Rather than a separate major transition, meiosis and syngamy seem to be better regarded as a coevolving form of maintenance or transformation of an emerging [poof!] higher-level evolutionary unit. The other component of the genetic revolution is the emergence [poof!] of the nucleus itself, from which the name eukaryote is derived. The evolution of [poof!] introns and eukaryotic gene regulation….
  10. In the case of symbiosis, the increase in complexity [poof!] is accompanied by the emergence [poof!] of synchronized replication.
  11. Just as the evolution of [poof!] powerful epigenetic inheritance systems allowed the evolution of [poof!] complex multicellularity, natural language allowed the emergence of [poof!] complex human societies.
  12. The transition [poof!] to cells now includes the origin of [poof!] chromosomes, and the origin of [poof!] meiosis and syngamy is included in the transition [poof!] to eukaryotic cells.
  13. Aggregation of cells evolved four times independently [poof!4]
  14. Although multicellularity arose [poof!] more than 20 times [poof!20], the “spectacular” forms arose only in plants, animals, and fungi [poof!3].

The magic words are sprinkled liberally throughout Szathmáry’s paper. After decades of tackling the Great Transitions in Evolution 1.0, this is 2.0, his latest and greatest scenario of how life evolved from chemicals to evolutionary storyteller. A perceptive reader might wonder, “Proof or poof?”

Sometimes we just need to let the evolutionists discredit themselves. As in politics, when your opponent is making a fool of himself, don’t interrupt him.

 

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