[2009/02/24] Evidence for Evolution Found; Or Claimed
Evidence for Evolution Found – Or Claimed 02/24/2009 Feb 24, 2009 — It seems that in this Darwin Bicentennial year, some reporters are overeager to find confirming evidence for Darwin’s theory. Here are some recent reports where it is not clear the evidence presented would convince a skeptic.
Survival of the weakest: Add a new catch-phrase to Darwin’s arsenal: survival of the weakest. Sure enough, Science Daily reported on experiments at LMU in which “in large populations, the weakest species would – with very high probability – come out as the victor.” Almost without exception, their simulations of a scissors-paper-rock game-theoretical ecology showed the weakest species coming out the survivor. They call this the “law of the weakest.” They did not explore the philosophical question of whether a theory that can simultaneously explain the survival of the fittest and the weakest – opposite outcomes – explains anything at all (see the Stuff Happens Law, 09/15/2008 commentary).
Psychedelifish: A “freaky” fish species was found offshore of Indonesia, reported Robin Lloyd for Live Science. The yellow-and-white-striped swimmer uses jet propulsion thrusters as well as fins to swim, has eyes that face forward, a fleshy chin and cheeks, and stripes that mimic the venomous corals among which it feeds. Despite having “mysterious origins,” Histiophryne psychedelica was immediately Darwinized by its classifier: “It is just an absolutely fantastic example of what natural selection can produce.”
Sharks in living color: “Primitive deep-sea fish may have viewed the world much as we do,” announced New Scientist. “The elephant shark, which evolved about 450 million years ago, is the oldest vertebrate to have ‘the colour vision system we know as humans’, says David Hunt at University College London.” The article goes on to point out that the finding pushes the earliest known color vision back by 76 million years.
Yeast is yeast and guessed is guessed: The genomes of some 70 species or varieties of yeast have been sequenced. Science News reported that this gives scientists a text “on the origin of subspecies” that helps “to bring the small branches of Darwin’s ‘Tree of Life’ into focus.” The new data “enables the scientists to study genetics in much finer detail than was ever possible for Darwin.” Readers may find it surprising that Darwin studied genetics, since the word was not invented till 1905, after Darwin was dead, but the sentence might be understood to mean it would not have been possible for Darwin to study it in such detail. But then, neither would it have been possible for Louis Pasteur, Mendel or any other great biologist of the 19th century to do so. Creationists probably wonder what this has to do with Darwin anyway, since they accept significant variation within created kinds. They might also note the significance of this line in the story: “The basic machinery of yeast is surprisingly similar to that of humans....” How Darwin could be vindicated at all by this research seems questionable. The article went on to say, “They found that rather than all being derived from one common ancestor, humans have domesticated yeast strains at many points in history and from many different sources.” (Readers are expected to ignore the dangling reference.)
Fast-moving plants: Darwin’s theory relied on slow, gradual accumulation of small variations. To him, the abrupt appearance of the flowering plants (angiosperms) in the fossil record was “an abominable mystery.” Science Daily chose to ignore these facts and boasted, “Rapid Burst Of Flowering Plants Set Stage For Other Species.” The article spoke of a “burst” of diversification, “rapid emergence,” and a “series of explosions” of adaptive radiation. Gradualism was getting blown up everywhere: “A new University of Florida study based on DNA analysis from living flowering plants shows that the ancestors of most modern trees diversified extremely rapidly 90 million years ago, ultimately leading to the formation of forests that supported similar evolutionary bursts in animals and other plants.” Any hint of ancestry required divining fine details in molecules. “Because the diversification happened so quickly, at least in evolutionary terms, molecular methods were needed to sort out the branches of the rosid clade’s phylogenetic tree, a sort of family tree based on genetic relationships,” the article explained. “Only after sequencing many thousands of DNA base pairs are genetic researchers able to tease apart the branches and better understand how plant species evolved,” not whether they evolved. Would it be clear to a neutral observer, though, when teasing apart the twigs in a hedge, that there is only one root below?
Evolution completed: Charles Darwin got praise again at the beginning of a press release from the University of Washington: “As the world marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, there is much focus on evolution in animals and plants. But new research shows that for the countless billions of tiniest creatures -- microbes -- large-scale evolution was completed 2.5 billion years ago.” Are they saying that evolution stopped dead for the majority of the world’s biota two billion years before the first multicellular animal emerged? Apparently so. Roger Buick, a paleontologist and astrobiologist at the university, added a remark that casts doubt on how human beings could ever know this: “it appears that almost all of their major evolution took place before we have any record of them, way back in the dark mists of prehistory.” That being the case, it is not clear how any of the subsequent statements in the press release about microbe evolution have any footing in empirical science. Most of the work revolved around the amazing ability of living microbes to fix nitrogen. Molecular nitrogen, with its triple bonds, is a tough nut to crack, but microbes do it with ease by means of complex molecular machines (see 09/06/2002 and 11/18/2006). Think how a Darwin skeptic might interpret this quote: “All microbes are amazing chemists compared to us. We’re really very boring, metabolically” (compared to microbes). Somehow, this press release was intended to convey the idea that evolutionary thinking leads to understanding: “To understand early evolution of life, we have to know how organisms were nourished and how they evolved” (not whether they evolved). But that is just what Dr. Buick had said is lost in the dark mists of prehistory.
The power of suggestion: A news item on Science Daily shows a photo of Mars with geological deposits that resemble, in a superficial sense, the hot spring deposits on Earth. No life has been found, but a lot of suggestion emerged. The photos from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate “sites where life forms may have evolved on Mars.” Most astrobiologists doubt that life evolved at hot springs. They would say that the thermophiles found in Yellowstone’s geyser basins became adapted to that extreme environment long after life was well established. Nevertheless, the article states that the Mars photos “have great astrobiological significance, as the closest relatives of many of the most ancient organisms on Earth can thrive in and around hydrothermal springs.”
Getting together: A press release from University of Arizona discerned evolution in some colonies of green algae. Volvox is a well-known colony of cells that has a division of labor and thrives in community instead of individuality. Now, research by Matthew Herron suggests that “Some algae have been hanging together rather than going it alone much longer than previously thought.” In “a geological eyeblink” of 35 million years, he claimed, single-celled algae “took the leap to multicellularity 200 million years ago.” Why? “Some things can’t eat you if you’re bigger.” That seems odd, because the majority of organisms have remained microscopically small throughout the history of life on earth. Herron showcased Pleodorina starrii, a colonial alga with an incomplete division of labor. “All the macroscopic organisms we see around us trace back to unicellular ancestors,” he proclaimed Darwinistically. “Each of those groups had to go through a transition like this one.” He did not think it necessary to explain why they took that “leap” 200 million years ago, nor why, if being bigger confers a security advantage, the simple colonies (and indeed the plethora of microbes) stepped off the evolutionary conveyor belt to remain essentially the same for the next 200 million years. In some unspecified way, cell colonies invented the “extracellular matrix,” a kind of goo that binds the parties together. Herron ascribed evolutionary game theory to the strategy of group-think: “Overcoming that conflict is essential to becoming a multicellular organism, he said. The benefits of cheating have to be reduced for the cells to cooperate successfully.” Apparently even Darwinism has a doctrine of original sin.
Evolution as un-design: One of the most remarkable new papers giving evolution the glory for complex design is a piece by Forterre and Gadelle1 about DNA-processing molecular machines called topoisomerases (see 08/14/2007, bullet 5). They used the E-word evolution 18 times in an attempt to explain how these machines evolved. Surprisingly, there is very little homology to hang a phylogeny on: similarities crop up between different kingdoms, and differences are seen where there should be homologies. “Topoisomerases are essential enzymes that solve topological problems arising from the double-helical structure of DNA,” they explained. “As a consequence, one should have naively expected to find homologous topoisomerases in all cellular organisms, dating back to their last common ancestor. However, as observed for other enzymes working with DNA, this is not the case.” Has Darwinian universal common ancestry, therefore, been falsified? Not so fast. In the evolutionary “scenario,” evidence is no longer a requirement. The story is the thing:
Topoisomerases could have originated by combining protein modules previously involved in RNA metabolism, such as RNA-binding proteins, RNA endonucleases or RNA ligases. Alternatively, they could have evolved from protein modules that were already working with DNA, if the first steps in the evolution of DNA genomes occurred in the absence of any topoisomerase activity, i.e. before the emergence of long double-stranded DNA genomes. Two arguments favour the latter hypothesis: first, whereas RNA polymerases and RNA-binding proteins are obvious candidates to be direct ancestors of DNA polymerases and single-stranded DNA-binding proteins, ‘RNA topoisomerases’ that could be direct ancestor of DNA topoisomerases are unknown. Secondly, it is likely that double-stranded DNA genomes with complex DNA-replication mechanisms (i.e. concurrent symmetric DNA replication) were preceded by single-stranded or even short double-stranded DNA genomes replicated by simpler mechanisms, such as asymmetric DNA replication, and/or rolling circle (RC) replication (75) (Figure 3). These simple systems probably did not require topoisomerases, as it is still the case for their modern counterparts (the RC replication of some replicons require supercoiled DNA, hence gyrase activity, but only for the recognition step of the initiator protein). If this scenario is correct, topoisomerases probably originated when more complex DNA genomes (long linear or circular DNA molecules) were selected in the course of evolution, together with more elaborate replication machineries.
Their viral-origin hypothesis required the word suggest 26 times, possible 16 times, could 14 times, and might 10 times. Of one thing they were sure, however. These complex molecular machines were not intelligently designed. It’s rare for a scientific paper to even mention intelligent design. Here’s what they said about it: “An intelligent designer would have probably invented only one ubiquitous Topo I and one ubiquitous Topo II to facilitate the task of future biochemists.” Whimsical as that statement is, it represents a remarkable turnaround. Usually, evolutionists claim that similarities disprove intelligent design. These scientists are claiming that differences disprove it. ID can’t win for losing.
Darwin’s defenders continue to take their Bicentennial show on the road. Science Daily and MSNBC reported on a show by Sean B. Carroll about “Adventures in Evolution,” a recounting of “the rip-roaring adventure tales behind the great advances in the theory of evolution.” Interesting as the stories are, adventure is not the same thing as scientific evidence. Undoubtedly the alchemists had their share of adventures (exploding flasks, etc.). Forbes is one of few news organizations giving a platform to both sides of the Darwin-ID debate (see Evolution News report). Jerry Coyne recently let creationists have both barrels. Attacking an earlier piece by neurosurgeon by Michael Egnor, Coyne had no patience with Forbes giving any credibility to “evolution-deniers,” which he likened to Holocaust-deniers. Phillip Skell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote the most recent post about “the dangers of overselling evolution.” Even Ken Ham got a word in for Biblical creationism in this typically economics-focused venue.
1. Forterre and Gadelle, “Phylogenomics of DNA topoisomerases: their origin and putative roles in the emergence of modern organisms,” Nucleic Acids Research, published online on February 9, 2009, doi:10.1093/nar/gkp032.
For those who need a refresher course on the Darwiniac storytelling strategy (see 10/11/2006), it goes like this: (1) Assume evolution. (2) Observe a fact. (3) Make up a story to fit the fact into the assumption. For step 2, we have just shown you many contrary facts that should falsify evolutionary theory, but step 3 (the non-sequitur) remains invariant. This is how the Darwinians get away with murder (11/30/2005). The robust storytelling ability of the Darwinists is their most legendary trait. It provides the foundation for the entire naturalistic political/economic/legal/educational/spiritual programme. We should add a Step (4): Hate creationism. Rant, rave and blather about how evil and wicked creationists and intelligent design proponents are, and how the Discovery Institute is conspiring to return America to the dark ages by substituting religion for scientific evidence. This is supposed to provide subliminal reinforcement that Steps 1, 2 and 3 are “scientific.” Step (5) is to outlaw challenges to Steps 1-3 in the courts. Now that you know the Darwinian storytelling strategy, you understand about 95% of evolutionary biology. The remaining 5% is microevolution, which is not controversial even for Ken Ham. One would think Ken would be overwhelmed by the mounds of solid scientific evidence displayed in the articles reported above. Does he know something Jerry Coyne doesn’t?