February 7, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Darwin Report Card, continued: How Useful Is Evolutionary Theory?

Darwinism is useful in one demonstrable way: it keeps thousands of biologists employed in the business of evidence-free storytelling.

Continuing the previous entry, we look at actual scientific research to see if Darwin’s idea about life improving through mutations and natural selection leads to scientific understanding of nature. To evaluate the theory honestly, we have to exclude theory rescue devices, such as ‘convergent evolution’ or ‘evo-devo’ or ‘warp-speed evolution’ which merely coin phrases to escape troubling evidence. How often do Darwinians find actual, incontrovertible evidence that mutations and natural selection lead to new complex features? How often does Darwinism exclude all other explanations for observed traits? Is biological science better off since the Darwinians took over and expelled all their critics?

Darwin was wrong: evolution moves at warp speed. Look at what Nature News just said: “How warp-speed evolution is transforming ecology: Darwin thought evolution was too slow to change the environment on observable timescales. Ecologists are discovering that he was wrong.” This shock headline deserves some elaboration, because surely Nature is not about to give up on Darwin and cede biological science to creationism. What do they mean? Rachel Lallensack begins with an example of stick insects. Do green ones and striped ones confirm ‘warp-speed evolution’ by mutation and natural selection? Does the evidence go beyond mere variation in color, which creationists would not dispute? The scientists put striped stick insects on plants where they didn’t blend in, and ditto for green ones. They found that birds, finding these glaring out-of-place insects, flocked to the bushes and picked them off, then stuck around and cleaned the bushes of other unlucky insects caught in the crossfire. It’s a bit like parking a Mercedes in a crime-ridden neighborhood; which car is likely to be stolen or vandalized? Interesting result, to be sure, but what to make of it? Did anything actually evolve?

The article proceeds to argue that evolution can happen quickly (especially when biologists interfere, as in this case). But the evolution illustrated is “in reverse,” they say. It’s really about population dynamics, when creatures wind up outside their normal habitat. Put a dairy cow in the Serengetic and watch what happens. Is that “evolution”? Has Darwinism been confirmed in cases of a “force for local extinction”? Do these observations justify the claim that “ecologists must take evolution into consideration”? All the field evidence cited deals with which existing animals with existing traits survive in altered conditions. Nowhere does the reader find anything about the origin of a new species or complex trait. Given this notion of evolution, we would have to conclude that Yazidis underwent ‘warp-speed evolution’ when ISIS drove them out of their homes into refugee camps and killed many others.

Horse evolution revisited. Just when you thought horse evolution was an established icon of evolution, Science Daily poses a ‘revolutionary theory on horse evolution‘. Time to rewrite the textbooks again? A researcher at New York Institute of Technology claims to have found evidence that modern horses’ hooves still have remnants of their ancestors’ five toes; “they believe that all five digits have merged to form the compacted forelimbs with hooves that we know today.” As evidence, they find a “greater number of arteries and nerves than would be expected in a single digit.” They also cite hoofprints from Laetoli, Africa from the 3-toed Mesohippus, an extinct equine, suggesting evolution was proceeding from five toes to one over time. This seems odd as an example of evolution. One can always invent a just-so story, such as theirs: “As horses evolved to live on open grassland their anatomy required a more compact design to enable movement across the hard plains.” But if that were a law of nature, all the other animals on the hard plains would be one-toed, including early humans. Imagine that. Even if humans had ‘evolved’ to lose their toes, would that confirm Darwinism? Actually, a horse’s legs show incredible design, with pogo-stick-like tendons and muscles with dampers to reduce shock. How did those traits evolve? By focusing on changes in toe numbers, are evolutionists distracting attention from far more interesting questions?

The evolution of the scenario: Darwin speaks with forked tongue. The University of Helsinki puts its headline in big, bold type: “The ori­gin of snakes – new evol­u­tion­ary scen­ario presen­ted.” Whenever a salesman announces something as new and improved, it implies the old product was not so hot. OK, so what do these researchers have in mind? Do the Finnish finish the job? “The early evolution of snakes happened from surface-terrestrial to burrowing in the lizard-snake transition suggests a research group at the University of Helsinki,” the press release begins. “The group’s new findings redirect the debate on evolution towards a new underexplored evolutionary scenario. Thus, the study adds another dimension to the investigation of snake origins.” At first glance, the ‘scenario’ (fancy word for just-so story) looks Lamarckian: once upon a time, a snake burrowed into the ground, and all its children lost their limbs. At second glance, we wonder why rodents and other burrowing animals didn’t read the script of this scenario. The only evidence presented is about skull shape, which seems to have little to do with burrowing. We read in the article that “snake evolution and diversification was not a straightforward process but rather an interplay between natural selection and developmental processes.” This seems to force Darwin to share the award stage, but leads to a follow-up question of how creative ‘developmental processes’ can be outside of natural selection. Adding one blind process to another doesn’t seem particularly helpful. And for anyone who thinks Darwinism has led to understanding about snake evolution since 1859, we also read that “Three major competing hypotheses for the habitat of early snakes – burrowing i.e. worm-like, aquatic, or terrestrial – have been debated for more than a century by biologists and palaeontologists” (italics theirs).

Too much fitness. Dinosaurs were too successful for their own good, say evolutionists from the University of Reading on Phys.org. The authors of this scenario must believe in ‘extinction of the fittest.’ According to them, “The inability of the dinosaurs to adapt rapidly enough as the Earth became full may explain why they were in decline prior to the asteroid strike, and why they were so susceptible to almost total extinction when it hit.” Does this make any sense? The storytellers had just told us that dinosaurs had diversified extensively, so as to fill every niche. Now they’re saying they couldn’t diversify because they filled the earth. But the earth is a very big place. Surely some of them could have survived, but not a single species remains. Butterflies and butterworts did just fine.

On the origin of termites by negative natural selection. Evolutionists from the University of North Carolina pretend to tell how termites evolved from cockroaches (Phys.org). First, they establish their turf by asserting evolution with gusto: They [termites] evolved. Ants and wasps evolved. Termites evolved a broad range of immune mechanisms. Cockroaches have evolved many mechanisms to resist the broad array of offensive chemicals they encounter in their environment, including insecticides. Sufficiently indoctrinated via repetition, the unwary reader is unprepared for the only empirical evidence offered: specialization of diverse chemosensory genes in cockroaches for the social habitats of termites. It’s another story of evolution by subtraction masquerading as scientific explanation: “The far more specialized but evolutionarily related termite experienced considerable losses of smell and taste genes, commensurate with the more specialized chemistry of its ecological habitat.” Just as a blind cave fish can survive in its specialized environment, a termite with fewer tools can do quite well in its colony, compared to its better equipped relative, la cucuracha.  “The German cockroach now holds the world record for the diversity of its chemosensory gene repertoire.” If a decathlete decides to compete in the pentathlon, has he evolved?

Evo-Devo or evil devil? Another case of adding ‘developmental processes’ to the scenario of evolution is found in Current Biology, which writes about “Evo–Devo: The Double Identity of Insect Wings.” The subtitle could be confused with Grimm’s Fairy Tales: “Sometime [i.e., once upon a time] in the Devonian, perhaps about 400 million years ago, insects became the first clade to conquer the sky. Recent evo-devo studies have begun to unravel the mysterious origin of the flight structure that made insects into extraordinary six-legged fliers.” Inquiring minds want to know: did they “conquer the sky” by intelligent design? If not, does adding one blind process (evo-devo) to another (classical natural selection) open the eyes of science to understanding? Have the storytellers listed all the requirements for a heavier-than-air animal to conquer the sky, overcoming gravity with powered flight? Current Biology readily admits that insects are “extraordinary six-legged fliers,” but the origin of any flight is “mysterious” only when it is attributed to blind, unguided processes. It’s not so mysterious when intelligent minds bring it about, like the designers at Boeing or Lockheed.

Compounding the problems. If the evolutionary origin of flight once is miraculous enough, how about twice? PNAS shamelessly writes about “Dual evolutionary origin of insect wings” as if this is not a problem for Darwinism. The authors admit that the origin of flight is a profound challenge: “The origin of insect wings is still a highly debated mystery in biology, despite the importance of this evolutionary innovation.” Using evolution-assuming words like ‘acquisition’ and ’emergence’ does not seem particularly convincing for those of us hunting for evidence of understanding on the question. For someone not already assuming Darwinism, how much understanding is evident in the Abstract?

Acquisition of morphologically novel structures can facilitate successful radiation during evolution. The emergence of wings in hexapods represents a profound moment in eukaryotic evolution, making insects one of the most successful groups. However, the tissue that gave rise to this novel and evolutionarily crucial structure, and the mechanism that facilitated its evolution, are still under intense debate. By studying various wing-related tissues in beetles, we demonstrated that two distinct lineages of wing-related tissues are present even outside the appendage-bearing segments. This outcome supports a dual evolutionary origin of insect wings, and shows that novelty can emerge through two previously unassociated tissues collaborating to form a new structure.

As stated, “wing-related tissues” represent only a piece of the puzzle. Wings are useless unless attached to muscles that are controlled by nerves responding to a program in the brain. Not only that, the entire body plan of the animal needs adjusting to life on the wing. But even giving these Darwinians the time of day, they should realize that similar wing-related tissues in two lineages does not provide sufficient evidence to attribute wings to Darwinian evolution. We see similar materials used in unrelated man-made inventions. Why must the reader accept the presumption that Darwin did it?

Convergence is a word, not an explanation. We’ve seen Darwinians many times misleading the public with the word ‘convergence’ when similar traits appear in unrelated organisms. According to Darwin’s tree, similarities should only appear on the same branches, but often, similarities appear on different branches. How does that happen? Convergence is a word, not an explanation. It assumes the similar traits both evolved by Darwinian processes, when actually, neither one has been demonstrated. Here’s a recent example from Science Daily: “Convergent evolution of gene regulation in humans and mice.” The opening paragraph is simply an assertion, not a demonstration:

Organisms that aren’t closely related may evolve similar traits as they adapt to similar challenges. It’s called convergent evolution, and familiar examples include the wings of birds, bats, and insects, and echolocation in bats and dolphins. Now, molecular biologists have found evidence of convergent evolution in an important mechanism of gene regulation in humans and mice.

What is the evidence in this case? Evolutionists “described a complex system that regulates the same genes in the same way in both species, yet evolved independently in the two lineages.” None of the details presented have anything to do with mutation and selection. Those words don’t even appear in the article. Instead, the authors simply assume that the similarities evolved, even though “In the case of human and mouse, their lineages diverged about 90 million years ago.”

Outing the endosymbiont theory. For decades, evolutionists have told us that a prokaryote merged with a free-living mitochondrion and became a eukaryote. Yet PNAS still admits that “The origin of mitochondria is a challenging and intensely debated issue.” So how did it happen? They don’t know that, either: “It is unknown whether mitochondria were acquired early or late, and whether it was captured via phagocytosis or syntrophic integration.” So many things would have had to change for this to work, it baffles the ability of Darwin’s theory to account for it. It should also be noted that the story is inherently Lamarckian (inheritance of acquired characteristics). The latest spin in this paper uses the analogy of farming: the host farmed out some of its metabolic work to the new tenants, “like humans farm pigs.” Well, then, did the hosts do this by intelligent design? Analogies can be useful for teaching, but can be misleading in scientific explanation. We expect better from scientists.

Mixing unlike processes. Another PNAS paper tries to apply Darwinian theory to very different things: biological inheritance and learning. In “Evolution of vertical and oblique transmission under fluctuating selection,” they apply Darwinism where it doesn’t belong: “The evolution and maintenance of social learning, in competition with individual learning, under fluctuating selection have been well-studied in the theory of cultural evolution,” they say. But when teachers teach, are students ‘evolving’? When a caveman shows his son how to make a flintstone axe, is the son evolving? It sounds ridiculous, and it is: it completely ignores the role of intelligence as a cause, as opposed to genetic mutations and blind natural selection. This should be obvious, but the authors point to previous literature as a bandwagon argument to validate their foray into “cultural evolution” as if it is another dimension of biological evolution. Even so, they have to introduce a new concept of “fluctuating selection” to explain the differences. CEH has long argued that natural selection reduces to the Stuff Happens Law. Now, we learn that Stuff Happens at different rates. How that improves scientific understanding is left as an exercise.

Evolutionary explanations are deductions, not findings of science. “It evolved, therefore.” Better yet, “Stuff happens, therefore.” We’re sure you understand biology better now. Aren’t you glad you have the accumulated wisdom of 158 years of Charlie D’s Authentic Stuff Happens Snake Oil to shed light on the living world? My, what would we do without the Darwinians to heal all of our intellectual maladies? It’s so relaxing not to have to think any more. Stuff Happens; that’s all you need to know.

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