February 6, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Darwin Report Card: How Useful Is Evolutionary Theory?

We examine numerous articles and papers that talk about evolution to see if neo-Darwinism (or even old Darwinism) actually contributes to the understanding of nature.

Because evolution carries multiple meanings, we focus on the neo-Darwinian view that new complex traits arrive through common ancestry by blind, unguided processes of mutation and natural selection. Darwinian evolution is not simply change through time, or variation of existing types. It is a mechanism (Darwin thought) of creating new complex structures that never existed before. Through time, Darwin envisioned, natural selection could generate every living thing from the first primitive cell (the origin of which he could only speculate about). He proposed an all-encompassing worldview of life’s origin and elaboration. If every species or family is related through Darwin’s proposed creative mechanism, then individual branches on Darwin’s ‘tree of life’ should reflect that.

The question before us in this entry is whether this worldview contributes to scientific understanding of nature. We must not be distracted by details about unrelated topics, by humor, by non-sequiturs, red herrings and other detours off topic. We must discount unjustified assertions. We don’t care about empty promises that such-and-such a study ‘might shed light’ on evolution. Busy work, no matter how rigorous or honorable, is irrelevant to the question if it does not concern the issue at hand. We want to see actual understanding of nature that could only come about through scientific research applying Darwin’s worldview. Take a look:

Blue lupines are legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil. Photo by David Coppedge.

Blue lupines are legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil. Photo by David Coppedge.

Those DAM Flowering Plants. Evolutionists have been trying to understand the origin of flowering plants since they were first called “Darwin’s Abominable Mystery” (DAM) in honor of Darwin, who couldn’t understand how they popped into existence and took over the world 140 million Darwin Years ago. Nature News reports on one of the biggest-ever evolutionary attempts to solve the mystery, called eFLOWER. It was a statistical analysis of 20 traits from 800 species of angiosperms, undertaken specifically to figure out what the common ancestor must have looked like. Did Darwinism help? The article says that researchers have “budding doubts” about the conclusions of the project. Some combinations of traits of the mystical first flower seem biologically impossible, some complain. “Things can be statistically possible without being biologically possible,” said another. Another summed up the results, “We don’t know the final answer yet.” After 158 years, how much more time do they deserve to find an answer?

Things can be statistically possible without being biologically possible.

In a related article, Science Daily obeys the DAM Law (q.v.) by pretty much admitting that evolutionists are forced into an uncomfortable position. They either have to trust the molecular clock, which implies “cryptic evolution of flowers that is not documented in the fossil record,” or believe the fossils, which show abrupt appearance. Anyone see evolution in any of these articles? Anyone see Darwinism providing a better understanding of nature? Darwin envisioned slow, gradual change over long ages. His mechanism of natural selection could never taking a big leap, he said. He was troubled by the fossil record that showed otherwise. Evidently, his disciples still are.

Spider with a tail but no evolution (except in promises). Evolutionary biologists were fascinated with a spider stuck in Burmese amber, Nature News indicates. They date it and two other specimens as 100 million Darwin Years old. Grading time: did they learn anything when they looked at it with Darwin-colored glasses? The tail on the creature didn’t provide any evolutionary clues, because “Silk-spinning spiders with and without tails co-existed for millennia, the authors agree.” The spider also had a modern-like web-spinning apparatus. Any lineage evident? Any progression from pre-spiders to spiders? “On the basis of the creature’s tail, they conclude that it belongs to the Uraraneida, a group of spider relatives that was thought to have gone extinct around 275 million years ago,” some said. So why was it found in amber said to be 175 million Darwin Years younger?

It gets worse: Phys.org notes that it looks similar in many ways to modern spiders. “It makes us wonder if these may still be alive today,” said Paul Selden, author of the paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution, which begins, “Details of their origins remain obscure, with little knowledge of their stem group and few insights into the sequence of character acquisition during spider evolution.” The Abstract claims that this fossil “documents a key transition stage in spider evolution,” but then quibbles about this spider’s place in the phylogeny, only to conclude that this spider’s lineage survived for a very, very long time without really changing much. In the BBC News coverage, another evolutionist commits futureware, issuing a promissory note that the fossil “will be important in deciphering the puzzle of the evolution of spiders and allied groups.”

Frame from Illustra Media, Origin.

Uniting the divided: evolving multicellular life. An article on Phys.org begins, “One of the big evolutionary questions in life is how and why single cell organisms organised themselves to live in a group, thereby forming multicellular life forms.” Notice that they say it remains one of the big evolutionary questions today, in 2018. How long have evolutionists had to address this question? They still don’t know the how; they still don’t know the why. An action hero appears for the rescue! It’s “PhD student, Jonathan Featherston, of the Evolution of Complexity Laboratory at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.” Finally, we get someone who “has answered at least part of this question,” the article promises. He looked at the genes of Tetrabaena, a four-celled alga, for clues. But if you bypass all the distracting details that don’t address the question, we are left with speculations about a few genes that “probably are important for the evolution of multicellularity.” Then we are told that “Multicellularity has evolved at least 25 times independently” — how? by genes that “gave rise to multicellularity” by various mechanisms, perhaps gene duplication, or by unspecified “lineage-specific genetic developments.” Such statements would not give an unbiased listener confidence that Darwinians have yet explained anything about the origin of multicellularity.

Evolution by subtraction: blind cave fish. If Darwinian evolution is the Designer Substitute that liberated biology from creationism, it seems strange that evolutionists would advertise blind cave fish as examples of it. Current Biology not only does that, but makes a remarkable claim about convergence that flies in the face of common ancestry anyway.

Like other cave animals, fish species adapted for cave life exhibit a suite of sensory, morphological, physiological and behavioral traits that are shared among species from phylogenetically distant families. Most cave fishes are entirely or partially blind. The most extreme of them, the obligatory cave-dwelling fish that spend their entire life in caves, are the subject of this primer. At present, over 200 such cavefish species have been described, and all of them have evolved independently from surface ancestors. Thus, each cavefish species is a replicate of the same natural experiment, testing the evolutionary response of a sighted surface fish to the absence of light and the limitations on food in a subterranean environment. The evolutionary responses converge on loss of eyes and pigmentation and the augmentation of other senses, such as taste, smell or mechanosensation, as well as a more efficient metabolism, changes in feeding behavior, altered activity levels, loss of circadian rhythmicity and increased wakefulness.

Nothing new has been created by evolution in this case; existing traits have been accentuated, that’s all. But some very helpful traits have been lost. Blind people, too, learn to become more aware through their other senses, but it would be odd to consider them more evolved than sighted people.

Are these crows evolving, or just gifted to begin with? The BBC News caws over the tool-making ability of New Caledonian crows, throwing the word “evolve” around with reckless abandon, but does it understand the cause of their unique gift? Even if the crows know how to make hooks out of twigs and use them to retrieve food, does it justify the breathless Darwinian ecstasy expressed by Prof. Christian Rutz when he observed the clever crows at work? “When I see these crows making hooked tools, I have a glimpse of the very foundations of a technology that is evolving.” Consider:

(a) He didn’t watch crows evolve technology; he observed a trait they already have.

(b) He didn’t witness mutation or natural selection.

(c) He didn’t witness speciation. The crows remain not only crows, but New Caledonian crows.

(d) The fact that hooks are ten times faster than twigs for catching food is irrelevant: “Measuring the hooks’ effectiveness tells scientists something about what drove this tool-use to evolve.But nothing was observed evolving.

(e) If the Darwinian view of this ‘technology’ were a law of nature, all birds should have evolved it by now, but “These crows are the only animals known to make hooks.” Science cannot build a theory on a sample size of one.

(f) Rutz claims that birds evolved tool-making faster than humans, which would seem to make birds into human ancestors. How does this help Darwin’s story? “But we have to be more humble and accept that many ‘small-brained’ animals are intelligent enough to make and use tools and sometimes are even more proficient at this task than our cousins.

(g) The observations have nothing to do with human technology or Darwinian gradualism, yet Rutz draws that comparison: bird technology evolution is like human technology evolution, he says. Our invention of fish hooks “was incredibly recent – only 1,000 generations ago, which is an eye-blink in evolutionary terms,” he exclaims passionately. “When you think that we went in that 1,000 generations from crafting fish hooks to building space shuttles – that’s absolutely mind-boggling.

(h) Finally, Rutz insults all engineers who worked in the space shuttle, implying that their magnificent machines evolved by blind processes of mistakes and natural selection.

There are so many examples like this in the news, we will have to continue in another entry. But do you see a pattern emerging? No matter what is observed, no matter how much it falsifies what Darwin himself expected biology would reveal, evolution takes credit (see 2007 Aug 24). Bird technology? It evolved. Spider web-spinning? It evolved. Multicellular life? It evolved. But Dr. Science, How did it evolve? What are you, some creationist nincompoop? Away with you! Guards, seize him.

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  • Peter Jacobson says:

    The author seems to criticize scientists for saying “we don’t know”. Is that really such a bad thing?

  • DaBump says:

    NO, but the criticism is not about saying “we don’t know,” but saying WE KNOW WE KNOW WE KNOW for an ABSOLUTE FACT that all life evolved from single-celled microbes! When we don’t know (as these items illustrate) when, or how or why, and haven’t seen the processes of evolution even begin to move living things in that direction (but have seen plenty of cases of life going the other way) — after decades of advanced scientific studies.

    • Peter Jacobson says:

      Evolution from single celled organisms is the best model we have, based on observable evidence.
      The difference between science and EVERY religion is that if better evidence presents itself, science will (or at least should) change its stance.

      I’ve never known a religion to do that, even though they all contradict eachother.

      • Buho says:

        Science SHOULD adapt to the evidence, but with evolution, science behaves more like religion. Evolution plain and simple predicts exactly the opposite of what we observe. They’ve had over 150 years to figure out how to flip that around. Time’s up. Evolution is not the “best model”. It shouldn’t even be an option!

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