February 26, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Graduate Level Baloney Detecting About Natural Selection

We examine some leading journal papers that lean on natural selection to see if they can wobble without falling over.

In yesterday’s post, Dr Ross Anderson took on an impressive paper from the National Academy of Sciences that claimed to have proven natural selection. Behold: a new gene from non-coding DNA! And it provides a function! “This paper is a concrete dissection of the process of a de novo gene birth that has conferred a vital adaptive function directly linked to natural selection,” they boasted. Of course, they had to insert several chance miracles along the way, as Anderson pointed out.

This week, World Magazine printed an interview with Günter Bechly, the world-renowned paleontologist who joined the honorable ranks of the ‘Expelled’ by ditching Darwinism a few years ago and considering intelligent design seriously. Now living in Austria, Bechly mentioned a project he is working on with other Darwin skeptics. He says, “we find the time needed to get a single coordinated mutation is much longer than the existence of the entire universe.” That’s important to know about the ‘antifreeze’ gene arising spontaneously from several coordinated mutations. It’s just not going to happen; that’s the “time problem” of evolution.

Graduate Level Baloney Detecting

Regular readers know that we have been critiquing natural selection in recent months (list). Some Darwin worshipers might object that our examples mostly come from the popular science press. Perhaps science writers are more prone to storytelling than professional scientists are. Can we take on the big guns? Many papers in big-league journals refer to natural selection with charts, graphs and equations. If natural selection (NS) equates to the Stuff Happens Law (SHL) as we allege (3 Oct 2015), why does it appear to take on a useful role in many recondite science papers? Surely these scientists cannot be deceived into using a vacuous idea, can they? Yesterday’s case didn’t fare too well. Let’s take a brief grad-level course in baloney detecting and see if other high-profile selectionist papers are able to pass.

Extreme diversification of floral volatiles within and among species of Lithophragma (Saxifragaceae) (PNAS). Ah, the scent of a meadow or forest! Plants give off volatile chemicals into the air not just for pleasure, but for signalling other plants and resisting pests. The chemicals in these living laboratories, however, are very complex. They require molecular machines to make them. “A major challenge in biology is to understand how complex traits important for ecological interactions between species coevolve and diversify across contrasting ecosystems,” the authors say. Here is the claim for NS:

The complexity of species interactions, gene flow, and genomic variation among populations and the ever-changing composition of local networks of interacting species generate geographic mosaics of adaptation, maladaptation, evolution, and coevolution, which, in turn, can remix and generate new trait variation to be molded by natural selection.

OK, so which is the cause of the chemical bouquet in saxifrages? Is it adaptation, maladaptation, evolution, coevolution, or natural selection? These are all synonyms for the SHL. They all come from the circular argument that ‘evolution is true, therefore things evolve,” which conveys no explanatory information. It’s like saying, ‘NS, and NS, plus NS, can generate new trait variation molded by NS.’ Read this paper and you will find a remarkable thing. Every instance of ‘selection’ in a sentence contains the word ‘could’ or some other escape hatch, like ‘suggests’ or ‘may’ or ‘appears to be.’ Example:

Several nonmutually exclusive processes could contribute to the high diversity of floral scent variation found in Lithophragma: relaxed selection; spatially varying selection imposed by the abiotic environment; or spatially varying selection imposed by interacting species, such as Greya moths, and, in some populations, copollinators.

Baloney hunters will look in vain for any evidence that NS was able to create, generate or improve on any plant chemical. The explanation is all smoke and mirrors, appearing to validate NS with hot air. Verdict: junk science, just-so storytelling, circular reasoning.

Bird Evolution: Convergence Fits the Bill (Current Biology). Here’s another charade based on the assumption that NS is life’s innovator. Watch for the rising perhapsimaybecouldness index:

Long-term ecological studies of Darwin’s famous finches demonstrate that selection for enhanced seed-cracking ability can rapidly drive the evolution of beak size and shape, yielding general insights into the adaptability of the passerine beak.

Cartoon by Brett Miller. Used by permission.

They claim that selection “can” do these things, but they don’t show how. NS is not a driver. It’s not like a taxi taking things somewhere. Since NS is not a cause, this is equivalent to saying, ‘Because stuff happens, bird beak changes happen.’ NS is Daniel Field’s pot hookah, bringing him the illusion of enlightenment. He basically says that the SHL provides “a new dawn in our understanding of early passerine evolution.” He needs to sober up and do some real work in the lab.

Functional architecture of low-frequency variants highlights strength of negative selection across coding and non-coding annotations (Nature Genetics). Uh-oh; this will be a tough one. This paper is loaded with “coefficients of selection” and equations, enough to send undergrad baloney detectors running back to the Temple of Darwin for comfort. Well, surprise! This paper is all about negative selection. There’s nothing about novelty, innovation, or improvement that Darwin had hoped could generate humans from bacteria. The authors describe variations that break things, like Michael Behe describes in his new book Darwin Devolves (just out today). The paper is all about deleterious mutations and the origin of genetic diseases. And you were so scared!

Negative selection is to natural selection as lawn mowing is to lawn growing. They’re very different things. Darwin is not going to explain grass by mowing it down. Negative selection doesn’t even deserve to be called selection. Will Darwin ever hit a home run with all strikes?

Quantifying the risk of hemiplasy in phylogenetic inference (PNAS). This paper strikes out in the first sentence. “Convergent evolution provides key evidence for the action of natural selection.” No it doesn’t. This is another circular argument. It only makes sense to those who already believe natural selection produces convergence. Common design is a superior explanation for similarities, because it doesn’t lean on the Stuff Happens Law. But that’s not the funniest part of this paper. The authors undermine that first sentence by showing that many cases of convergence are not due to natural selection, but to a different process called hemiplasy. Read and LOL:

Convergent evolution—the appearance of the same character state in apparently unrelated organisms—is often inferred when a trait is incongruent with the species tree. However, trait incongruence can also arise from changes that occur on discordant gene trees, a process referred to as hemiplasy. Hemiplasy is rarely taken into account in studies of convergent evolution, despite the fact that phylogenomic studies have revealed rampant discordance. Here, we study the relative probabilities of homoplasy (including convergence and reversal) and hemiplasy for an incongruent trait. We derive expressions for the probabilities of the two events, showing that they depend on many of the same parameters. We find that hemiplasy is as likely—or more likely—than homoplasy for a wide range of conditions, even when levels of discordance are low.

They just falsified a whole stack of Darwinian papers claiming convergence by natural selection! This is rich.

Polygenic adaptation and convergent evolution on growth and cardiac genetic pathways in African and Asian rainforest hunter-gatherers (PNAS). Our side of the debate is in trouble now. These authors claim evidence for positive selection – strong positive selection. My, how shall we do? Not to worry. First of all, their alleged evidence for positive selection amounts to ‘what exists’ – i.e., if it exists, it must have been positively selected. They were too lazy to do the hard work of finding a true beneficial mutation that conferred a new beneficial trait:

Given that our motivating phenotype is a complex trait and signatures of polygenic adaptation are expected to be relatively subtle and especially difficult to detect at the individual mutation and gene levels, in this study we principally consider patterns of convergence versus population specificity at the functional pathway/annotation level.

Basically, they’re finding strong hearts and lungs among hunter-gatherers who hunt for a living. But that’s not the worst part of this paper. The data is all about one species, Homo sapiens —us! If they claim natural selection is evolving some humans into beings with superior fitness, that makes this a racist paper. The ghost of Darwin’s scientific racism is rising like a zombie in this paper. Run away fast!

Are we having fun yet? We have many more examples of natural selection masquerading as a scientific theory in leading scientific journal papers, if you can handle it. Upon scrutiny, we always only find storytelling, circular reasoning and emptiness. Folks, this is the theory that is causing many in the church to leave the God of Genesis for the Baal of Darwin. Theistic evolutionists have been led to believe, and are teaching churches, that natural selection is such a powerful theory, all reasonable people must bow down to Darwin-Baal. One must insert and twist NS into the creation account, and when something has to give, the Bible must always flex to service the ‘science’ of Darwin. It is therefore necessary for us to open the curtains, turn on the lights, and stop the deceit.

We could show more papers like this, but what will help you more is to learn how to detect baloney on your own. It’s not that hard. You don’t have to get into the weeds, learn jargon, and double-check equations. The baloney is right on the surface and in the foundation. Bad assumptions will not give good science. Here are some simple techniques for unmasking claims that natural selection explains biology.


  • Don’t be intimidated by jargon.
  • Ignore statements about ‘driving force’ and ‘selection pressure.’ Blind nature doesn’t care what happens.
  • Keep your baloney detector aimed. Ignore distractions. Assertions that critics want to push Genesis in schools or ‘you just don’t understand evolution’ and other red herrings and non-sequiturs are attempts to derail the debate.
  • Look for examples of new functional information arising by chance mutations.
  • Look for examples of speciation, not just variation within one species or genus, which is not the controversial point.
  • Look for new genetic information arising by chance, that confers a new function.
  • Search for key words: positive, innovation, novel, function, information, de novo, mutation.
  • Watch out for a high perhapsimaybecouldness index. Remember, if a trait ‘could’ be explained by natural selection, it also ‘might not’ be explainable by natural selection. Where’s the beef?
  • Remember that some accidents can produce temporary benefits, but not progress. (Behe’s favorite example is that you can give your car better gas mileage by removing the doors and hood.) Blind cave fish are not improved fish, even if genetic damage lets them live in caves. Sickle-cell patients are not better humans, even if the gene defect gives them resistance to malaria.
  • Look for the assumption of evolution.
  • Beware those who never even consider other possibilities, such as design for robustness against unforeseen challenges. A programmed search for beneficial variants, as with the human immune system’s ability to produce antibodies, is not natural selection.
  • Watch for scrambled causation: ‘This trait might have been caused by homoplasy, hemiplasy, luck, convergence, alcohol or natural selection.’ This is like the student explaining, ‘My homework might be missing because the dog ate it, aliens took it, I forgot, I ran out of paper, the internet was down, or Mom said I had to clean my room instead.’ What was the vera causa?
  • Be alert for self-refuting statements. If natural selection explains away free will, it also explains away the scientist’s truth claims that natural selection eliminates free will.
  • Be on guard for antisocial statements. Indications that natural selection explains differences in human fitness capacities fertilizes the toxic seedplot of eugenics.

Go forth and help bring down the Darwin dictatorship.

Humpty Darwin sits on a wall of foam bricks held together by decayed mortar. Cartoon by Brett Miller commissioned for CEH. All rights reserved.


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