October 4, 2020 | Jerry Bergman

Theory of Evolution Is Evolving

“Evolution is evolving: 13 ways we must rethink the theory of nature”
New Scientist documents more problems in Darwin’s theory.

by Jerry R. Bergman, PhD

Introduction

The cover story article in the September New Scientist magazine titled “Evolving Evolution” reviews some problems in the current theory that require substantial revisions in order to keep it afloat.[1] After admitting problems with evolution, the New Scientist editor, Emily Wilson, attempts to reassure readers of her adulation of Darwinism, stating “Darwin was Right. The Glorious Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection has seen all comers” and prevailed.[2] She then writes the following to help ensure the articles that follow do not influence her readers to lose faith in the “glorious theory” of Darwinism:[3]

The theory of evolution is one of the greatest accomplishments of the human intellect. …in the biological sciences, it stands unrivaled. It is the no less than the grand unified theory of life. It is also a theory in the truest sense of the word: an interlocking and consistent system of empirical observations and testable hypotheses that has never failed scrutiny. Nothing has ever been discovered that falsifies any part of it, despite strenuous efforts by distractors.”[4]

Then, this special issue attempts to deal with 13 real problems, some of which create some big problems for the theory. Invoking almost worshipful words to laud the naturalistic evolutionary worldview, claiming below the headline “Evolution is evolving: 13 ways we must rethink the theory of nature.” The article submits the following brief historical summary of its Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian foundations:

Our modern conception of evolution started with Charles Darwin and his idea of natural selection – “survival of the fittest” – to explain why certain individuals thrive while others fail to leave a legacy. Then came genetics to explain the underlying mechanism: changes in organisms caused by random mutations of genes. Now this powerful picture is changing once more, as discoveries in genetics, epigenetics, developmental biology and other fields lend a new complexity and richness to our greatest theory of nature. Find out more in this special feature.[5]

In other words, humans and all life were ultimately created by millions of mistakes, damage to genes called mutations, most all of which are near-neutral or deleterious. The near-neutral mutations are not by themselves significantly harmful, but their damage adds up, eventually causing genetic catastrophe and death. Mutations are widely recognized as a major cause of many diseases, including cancer and heart disease. An estimated 99.9% of all mutations are, in the long run, harmful.  This research is difficult because determining if a mutation is harmful is problematic. For example, one mutation accumulation (MA) experiment indicated that “as many as one-half of spontaneous mutations in Arabidopsis [a plant related to cabbage and mustard plants] are advantageous for fitness.” This conclusion was evaluated “in the light of data from other MA experiments, along with molecular evidence, that suggest the vast majority of new mutations are deleterious.”[6]

Sanford’s book examines the impact of mutations that are invisible to selection.

Furthermore, substantial indirect evidence derived from molecular studies also supports the contention that most mutations in natural populations are deleterious.[7]  More recent studies have confirmed these early findings as well. Retired Cornell University Professor John Sanford puts the number of point mutations (those involving the change in a single base pair) at about 200 in each generation. For all new mutation types, the number is probably closer to 1,000 in each generation, most of which are near-neutral or deleterious.[8]

One of the 13 examples of ‘evolving evolution’ will now be reviewed to illustrate the concern that motivated the editor of New Scientist to shore up evolution before readers read the article that actually reinforces the notion that survival of the “luckiest” (not the fittest) is also a very important fact in the natural world.

SURVIVAL OF THE… LUCKIEST: Genetic drift

The authors of the New Scientist article explain that

Natural selection favors certain genes – those that make an organism best adapted to a particular environment. But evolution can also occur through a non-adaptive process called genetic drift, whereby a gene may become dominant in a population purely by chance. Genetic drift …  outcomes can and do occur in nature, which shows how a population can lose genetic variability simply through chance.[9]

As support for this claim, the author noted a 2016 Fordham University study that found that roads and buildings can isolate animal populations causing urban populations to lose as much as half of their genetic diversity compared to rural populations.

A review of about 160 studies of evolution in urban environments in organisms ranging from mammals, birds, insects and even plants, found two-thirds of the studies reported reduced genetic diversity compared to their rural counterparts. This led the researchers to conclude that “Genetic drift can definitely be a significant driver of evolution.”[10] These findings actually show genetic drift impedes progression up the evolutionary latter because the changes result in less genetic diversity for natural selection to work on. From an evolutionary perspective, they document that it is not in this case the inferior animals that decline as natural selection postulates, but the unlucky ones.

Figure 1: The Cover of Raup’s Book

Another study documented the fact that extinction is more apt to be caused by bad luck than bad genes. Both the late Harvard Professor Steven Jay Gould and University of Chicago Professor David Raup have argued that whether an animal becomes extinct or survives is most often not a matter of being more or less fit, but rather due to luck.  As the title of Raup’s book, Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck concludes, bad luck is a major reason causing the extinction of some animals, not bad genes as evolution postulates.[11] It is often not the genetically superior animals that survive but the lucky ones. One of the best of many examples is that of the trilobites. They were probably one of the most successful life-forms that ever graced the surface of the Earth and, judging by their fossils, they outnumbered most all other animal life-forms; nevertheless, they became extinct.  Aside from a few exceptions, such as brachiopods and the crinoid marine invertebrates known as sea lilies, their remains are among the most common of all fossils found today. These crab-like creatures lived on the bottom of the sea, seemingly very well-equipped to survive, yet speculation abounds as to the cause of their apparent demise. Nonetheless, in spite of decades of study, paleontologists have not been able to determine a plausible reason for why they evidently became extinct.[12]

Summary

Darwinism definitely is a worldview that has taken on certain elements of a faith-based religion. The words penned by the secular authors quoted above were designed to help their readers keep their faith in atheistic naturalism. They were provided to ensure that some of the possible problems the article reviews do not injure their readers’ faith in evolutionism. The fact that luck and chance were as important, if not more so in some cases, as reasons for survival than the survival-of-the-fittest explanation that Darwinism postulates, should cause serious doubt in this foundational mechanism on which all Darwinian dogma depends.

Figure 2: A trilobite (Wiki commons)

References

[1] Le Page, Michael;  Colin Barras,  Richard Webb,  Kate Douglas and  Carrie Arnold. 2020. Evolution is evolving: 13 ways we must rethink the theory of nature. New Scientist  247(3301):38-49. September 26.

[2] Wilson, Emily. 2020. “Darwin was right”. New Scientist  247(3301) September 26. p. 5.

[3] Wilson, 2020, p. 5.

[4] Wilson, 2020, p. 5.

[5] Le Page, et al., 2020, p. 38. Emphasis added.

[6]  Keightley, Peter D. and Michael Lynch. 2002. TOWARD A REALISTIC MODEL OF MUTATIONS AFFECTING FITNESS. Evolution 57(3):683-685, March 1.

[7] Tomoko, Ohta.. 1995. Synonymous and nonsynonymous substitutions in mammalian genes and the nearly neutral theory. Journal of Molecular Evolution 40:56-63, January; Lynch, Michael, et al. 1999. Perspective: spontaneous deleterious mutation. Evolution 53(3):645–663; Fay, Justin C.,  et al. 2001. Positive and Negative Selection on the Human Genome. Genetics 158(3):1227–1234, July 1.

[8] Sanford, John C. 2014. Genetic Entropy & The Mystery of the Genome, 4th edition. Lima, NY: Ivan Press.(Feed My Sheep Foundation, Inc.)

[9] Le Page, et al., 2020, p. 46.

[10] Le Page, et al., 2020, p. 46.

[11] Raup, David M. 1991. Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

[12] Chapter 22 in Jerry Bergman’s (2020) Wonderful and Bizarre Life Forms in Creation. Alberta, Canada: Creation Science Association of Alberta.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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