April 30, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Darwin’s Blunder Lives On

A major journal publishes a paper
claiming that natural selection is
like human engineering


Darwin’s blunder was criticized by scientists in his own day. He likened natural selection to artificial selection: i.e., human breeding of plants and animals. The two concepts could not be farther apart. They are opposites. Now, three guys print the same blunder out in the open with shameless bravado.

Weinberg’s Law: an expert is a person who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.

What farmers and ranchers do as they try to produce better tomatoes or stronger horses has nothing to do with Darwin’s theory. Breeders have foresight. They have intentionality. They set a goal, and can gauge the success of their efforts by measurable results. Darwin’s Stuff Happens Law has none of the above.

Charley specifically denounced any role for foresight, intentionality, or purpose in the operation of natural selection (NS). NS was to be a blind, unguided mechanical process all the way down. Darwin’s own “intention” was to rid biology of any role for a Creator God or designer of any kind, as a refutation of Paley’s natural theology. And yet he repeatedly used a fallacious argument from analogy for support, claiming that natural selection is like artificial selection. He was still claiming this in 1876 in the 6th edition of The Origin of Species, 17 years after the first edition.

Slow though the process of selection may be, if feeble man can do much by artificial selection, I can see no limit to the amount of change, to the beauty and complexity of the coadaptations between all organic beings, one with another and with their physical conditions of life, which may have been effected in the long course of time through nature’s power of selection, that is by the survival of the fittest. [Origin, 6th ed., ch. 4, p85]

Ah, the fittest. Yes, that was the purpose of the blind watchmaker: increasing an organism’s “fitness” (whatever that is). Please re-read our entry, “Fitness for Dummies” to recall that fitness is a slippery, undefinable, tautological term that can mean anything the evolutionist wants it to mean. But why would a blind process even know or care about the definition of fitness? Stuff Happens; that’s fitness in a nutshell. Anyone who stuffs that idea into his skull has it in a nut shell.

Darwin never saw his own fallacy. He should have known better, having been a pigeon fancier and a friend of breeders. He should have known that the outlandish varieties produced by breeders, like poodles and dachshunds and pouter pigeons would never have arisen naturally—indeed, they could not survive in the wild. But Charley reasoned that if breeders could accentuate small variations to those extremes, couldn’t Nature accomplish much more, given millions of years? “I can see no limit,” he said. That’s because his eyes were closed, and he was daydreaming in his imagination.

Summing up, Darwin thought (illogically) that if human intelligence can accentuate variations for a purpose, why couldn’t blind nature accentuate variations for no purpose at all? He reasoned that Nature is just like a thinking, rational breeder, that purpose is just like chance, that foresight is like blindness, and that intention is like aimlessness.

He didn’t get it. In his new book Darwin’s Bluff, Robert Shedinger quotes from Darwin’s own correspondence how he persisted in this fallacy to his dying day. Reviewing Darwin’s unpublished “big book” and commenting on chapter 6 about NS, Shedinger writes,

By constantly highlighting the intentionality and directionality of artificial selection as the most useful analogy for his understanding of natural selection, Darwin continually undermines his contention that an unplanned, undirected process could create new species. (Shedinger, p. 172).

Many of Darwin’s disciples today are still sweeping on to the same grand fallacy. Here is a spectacular example printed by Nature yesterday.

Engineering is evolution: a perspective on design processes to engineer biology (Nature Communications, 29 April 2024). Three Darwinians (Simeon D. Castle, Michiel Stock and and Thomas E. Gorochowski) do a one-up on Darwin. Not only is evolution like breeding, they claim; it’s like engineering! Indeed, they say, engineering is evolution! The paper is open access, so go ahead: watch them sweep on to the grand fallacy.

Careful consideration of how we approach design is crucial to all areas of biotechnology. However, choosing or developing an effective design methodology is not always easy as biology, unlike most areas of engineering, is able to adapt and evolve. Here, we put forward that design and evolution follow a similar cyclic process and therefore all design methods, including traditional design, directed evolution, and even random trial and error, exist within an evolutionary design spectrum. This contrasts with conventional views that often place these methods at odds and provides a valuable framework for unifying engineering approaches for challenging biological design problems.

And you thought that intelligent design was the nemesis of Darwinian evolution. Thou thinkest wrongly. Evolution is intelligent design. Intelligent design is evolution. Darkness is light. Light is darkness. All is one in Darwin’s mystical ether. We will teach you the art of imagination. Soon you will imagine “directed evolution” and visualize an “evolutionary design spectrum.” Close your eyes. Take some magic mushrooms. Meditate until Natural Selection appears as the ultimate engineer.

Biological evolution is a powerful design tool because biological evolution and design follow the same process.

All these descriptions of the design process have a common core. They describe design as a cyclic iterative process where multiple concepts or ideas are either modified or recombined, and then produced physically (i.e., a prototype developed) or virtually through simulation or imagination to form candidate solutions that can be tested. The utility (ability to solve the design problem) of these variants is then assessed, and the best candidates are taken forward for further rounds of iteration. This process is directly analogous to biological evolution, where information about variant solutions is encoded in DNA as genotypes, expressed in the physical world via gene expression and development to produce phenotypes, and tested in the environment (Fig. 1d). Sufficiently functional solutions are then taken forward for future rounds of iteration by natural selection. It is therefore not surprising that biological evolution has successfully been applied to solve difficult engineering problems, both in silico with genetic algorithms commonly used to generate design solutions (e.g., novel satellite antenna shapes) and in the lab where directed evolution is widely used to develop and improve enzymes. Biological evolution is a powerful design tool because biological evolution and design follow the same process.

Surely these three guys must know the difference between intention and the blind processes of nature, don’t they? Well, sort of. In a section sophoxymoronically titled “The evolutionary design spectrum,” they say,

These two forms of learning vastly reduce the exploratory power needed for a design approach to find feasible solutions. Exploration is equivalent to the search performed by natural evolution as it roams the fitness landscape.* Natural systems also exploit prior knowledge in the form of the unbroken lineage of their past; every generation of which has proven to be both heritable and adaptive. Exploitation is therefore linked to the evolution of evolvability. Through evolvability, biosystems exploit past evolution in developing body plans, symmetries, functional modules, and other mechanisms that constrain and bias evolution to increase the likelihood of adaptive change. Furthermore, mechanisms, such as learning and epigenetics, which pass information from one individual to the next, are of great importance in evolution. Leveraging either form of knowledge decreases the exploratory power needed by the design process and, thus, the time and throughput required to reach performant solutions. Different design processes leverage exploration and exploitation to different extents and have different practical limits on throughput and time. Though natural evolutionary processes have no intent (i.e., long-term goal), they do have a purpose to increase fitness.Evolution by natural selection, therefore, lacks the intent we would typically ascribe to the concept of design. However, in artificial evolutionary systems (e.g. directed evolution), the bioengineer can steer the underlying processes toward an intended goal because they control how variation and selection occur, as well as the genotype to phenotype map (Fig. 1d). They can indirectly install their intent through design of the evolutionary process itself.

*For more on “fitness landscapes” read my article at Evolution News from 4 Jan 2024.

Without the personification fallacy gluing the statements together, this paragraph would be meaningless. The authors tell us that natural systems think: they have “prior knowledge” and memory. They roam. They exploit. They develop. They constrain. They learn. They pass information. They leverage. And then, adding illogic to nonsense, the authors say that human engineers—who are themselves products of chance in evolutionary theory—can “install their intent through design of the evolutionary process itself.” Where did intent sneak into the biosphere through the Stuff Happens Law?

Engineers do run cyclic iterative processes to find solutions, and may even vary parameters at random to expand the choices available for consideration, but they do this intentionally with purpose and direction toward their goal. “Directed evolution” is not Darwinian evolution. If engineers truly wanted to mimic Darwinian evolution, they would put their hats on over their intentional brains, leave the office or lab, lock the door, and wait millions of years for earthquakes or tornadoes to do the design work.

That a paper this illogical could pass peer review and be published by one of the world’s leading journals illustrates the damage possible to the brain by the Darwin mind virus.

Cartoon for CEH by Brett Miller. All rights reserved.

This is why it is essential that parents and teachers inoculate young minds with logic and critical thinking skills before the Darwin Party begins their indoctrination. Determined to keep science atheistic, the Darwinists have mastered the art of indoctrination through equivocation. “Evolution” becomes design. “Chance” really means engineering. “Fitness” means anything and everything that doesn’t go extinct. “Research” means storytelling. And “scientific explanation” means imagining some non-intelligent way that stuff might happen.

Without clarity of definitions, a sophist can make anything sound plausible. Without logical thought, nonsensical ideas can be dressed up in abstruse Jargonwocky. And without integrity and impartiality, reviewers and publishers obliged to the Darwin Party can disseminate absurdities.

Exercise: Study what these sophists said in this paper (claiming that evolution is a form of design) until you can explain the fallacies in your own words. Write your own critique of the paper, quoting appropriate selections as evidence. It is important you develop this skill and not rely on CEH to do it for you.

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  • JSwan says:

    Exactly! Appalling how so many supposedly intelligent people bow their hearts to such illogical nonsense. Because ultimately it’s ‘believing is seeing’, not the other way around.

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