New Evolution Idea Stuck in Old Darwin Fogma
They call it cryptic persistence, but
it’s nothing new under the sun
Stung by their inability to come up with an origin for novelty, evolutionists at the University of Chicago are trying out a new-coke idea. How can they make Darwinism more palatable to the masses? Instead of serving the usual fish balls to Hagar the Horrible’s shipmates, who are sick and tired of them, the cooks in the galley proudly announce their latest delicacy: fish cubes! But using the same ingredients, will they get a better reaction this time?
What’s New Under the Sun? Offering An Alternate View on Evolutionary Novelty (University of Chicago Marine Biology Laboratory, 29 July 2022).
At some time in their presumed evolutionary past, tiny marine crustaceans like Daphnia (the water flea) invented a shield called a carapace. This novel design seemingly popped into existence one day according to the fossil record. But for lobsters, crabs, barnacles and water fleas, it was nice to have; it offered protection from predators, gave the moms a place to store their eggs, and kept the gills moist.
Before now, Darwinians had a hard time explaining innovation. The old combination of random mutation and natural selection (RM+NS), known here as the Stuff Happens Law, had long been criticized as a poor explanation for functional novelty. It’s like saying eyes popped into existence because they are useful—the Popeye Theory of Evolution (17 Aug 2019).
Light bulbs went off in the thought bubbles of Darwinians at University of Chicago. ‘That’s it!’, they realized. ‘Carapaces are not new. They are old parts put to new uses!’
Borrowing Solomon’s slogan, they quickly created new packaging for this idea, calling it “cryptic persistence.” Darwin Party cooks had something new to serve that was not new at all; it was still made of RM+NS, but with a snazzy new label. Maybe the masses would swallow it!
This shell (carapace), it’s been proposed, didn’t evolve from any similar structure in the crustacean ancestor, but appeared de novo (or out of the blue) through somewhat random co-option of the genes that also specify insect wings.
However, in a new study [prepare to be hoodwinked] from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Research Associate Heather Bruce and Director Nipam Patel provide evidence for an alternate view: The carapace, along with other plate-like structures in arthropods (crustaceans, insects, arachnids, and myriapods) all evolved from a lateral leg lobe in a common ancestor.
Darwinism doesn’t have to explain the carapace, you see. It’s just a repurposed leg lobe. (Don’t ask where that novelty came from, or why it worked out as a carapace.) There’s nothing new under the sun. Stuff Happens in strange ways!
This evidence buttresses their proposal for a new concept of how novel structures evolve – one which suggests that they aren’t so novel, after all. The study, on the carapace of the crustacean Daphnia, appears online in Current Biology.
“How novel structures arise is a central question in evolution,” Bruce says. “The prevailing idea, called gene co-option, is that genes that are functioning in one context, say to make insect wings, end up in an unrelated context, where they make, say, a carapace,” says Bruce. “But here we show that the Daphnia carapace didn’t just pop out of nowhere.”
It didn’t have to pop out of nowhere. It had already popped out of nowhere in the common ancestor! Think of the marketing possibilities of this new (but old) slogan. Darwinians will be able to explain everything in biology now—from water fleas to water striders to water buffaloes—there is Nothing Gnu Under the Sun.
By applying Marshall’s First Law (see 22 July 2022, “Never be surprised when something turns out to be older than you thought”), Heather Bruce can front load all the technology for engineering novel structures as far back as she needs to.
“We are starting to realize that structures that don’t look anything alike – wings, carapaces, tergal plates – are actually homologous,” Bruce says. “That suggests they have a single origin that is way more ancient than anyone would have thought, way back in the Cambrian period, [500 million] years ago.”
Bruce calls her model for how novel structures emerge “cryptic persistence of serial homologs.”
Heather used genetic divination to visualize insect wings, centipede legs and all kinds of novel structures popping into existence from “dormant rudiments” in the Cambrian ancestor. Those rudiments, cryptically persisting for millions of years, found new opportunities to emerge. She’s not sure why they persisted; maybe some required tissue or organ would have suffered without the rudiments. Or maybe the Stuff Happens Law kept them around for sentimental reasons.
“If an ancestral structure is no longer needed, nature probably just truncates or reduces that tissue rather than deleting it completely. But the tissue is still there and can be elaborated again in later lineages, and appear to us to be novel,” Bruce says.
The Chicago gang mentions nothing about fossils—the hardware showing transitions from legs to wings. But what about the software? If cells had been programmed to form a leg, who or what re-programmed them to form a carapace or a wing? Is this new coke or Darwin Classic? Why, in the fine print, it’s the same-ol’, same-ol’ Darwinian ingredient: the Stuff Happens Law!
“The ancient, common origin of all these plate-like structures [in arthropods] suggests the gene networks that pattern these structures are very evolvable and plastic. They are capable of generating an awesome amount of diversity,” Bruce says.
Enjoy your fish cubes. That’s the only thing on the menu. Trust the cooks. You will like them.
If not, off the gangplank with you!
Heather dressed up her ideas in sufficient Jargonwocky to sound scientific and pass peer review. She could save herself a lot of work by just putting the whole toolkit for everything in the common ancestor: the antlers of the gnu, the beak of the finch, and the brain of the scientist. From there, evolution by subtraction could explain everything.
If the Darwin Party ever allowed skeptics into their conferences, there would be so much laughter the officials would have to shut them down. And if the Darwin Party were forced to rely on the Baconian scientific method (observe, test, revise, repeat), or if just-so storytelling were outlawed, they would give up in exasperation. Hunger would make them try to find real work.
We hope you enjoyed today’s entertainment from Fantasyland in Darwin’s Magic Kingdom, where anything is possible when you wish upon a star.
When you wish upon a star, nature makes you what you are,
Anything your heart concocts is science true.
If your heart is in your dream, no proposal’s too extreme
When you hyper-speculate as scientists do.
Now, back to the real world.