Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Question For Larry Moran

Wanna Play Ball Scarecrow?

Recently Larry Moran, Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto, asked for assistance. Professor Moran will be attending the upcoming “New trends in evolutionary biology” Scientific meeting at The Royal Society, and he has asked for help in deciding what question to pose to the speakers. For Douglas Futuyma, who will be defending the status quo against the scientific evidence, Moran already has a couple of ideas, such as:

As you explain in your textbook, describing the pathways to modern species contributes to the FACT of evolution and the FACT of descent with modification but how those genetic changes actually occur and become fixed is part of evolutionary theory. Do you distinguish between evolutionary theory and the actual history of life?

Moran, like Futuyma, defends the belief that the species arose by chance. As the all-caps help to illustrate, he is a modern-day Epicurean. And I’m sure Professor Moran would not disagree that this is a softball question—a setup for Futuyma to rail on those who think the scientific evidence is actually a problem for evolution. But Moran is mistaken here, as this is not a debate against creationists.

This line of defense—that scientific failures are relevant to the theory of evolution, but not to the fact of evolution—is standard theory protectionism, routinely used by evolutionists when they are presented with any of the many empirical problems with their Epicurean theory.

Not only is this argument a revealing own-goal (it provides a live demonstration that evolution is not exposed to the empirical evidence and is not falsifiable), but it is not relevant in The Royal Society meeting since the bad guys, in this case, are fellow evolutionists who simply are beginning to reckon with the science.

They completely agree that evolution is a fact. So Moran can set aside the silly canards about “the FACT of evolution and the FACT of descent with modification.”

On the other hand, Darwin’s God suggests a slightly different approach. If Moran wants to ask a meaningful question of Futuyma, why not query his fellow Epicurean where and how he discovered that “the Creator” would not likely have bestowed “two horns on the African rhinoceroses and only one on the Indian species.” That was, after all, one of Futuyma’s points in his book, Science on Trial.

And if there is time for a follow-up Moran might, as diplomatically as possible, ask the ardent evolutionist why anyone should take him seriously?

Religion drives science, and it matters.

New trends in evolutionary biology

The Royal Society, November 7-9

Don’t miss the upcoming “New trends in evolutionary biology” Scientific meeting at The Royal Society, November 7-9. The organizers propose that evolutionary theory needs a bit of modification, collectively referred to as the EES (extended evolutionary synthesis). The “evolutionary synthesis” refers to the Modern Synthesis (or neoDarwinism)—the early twentieth century fusion of Darwin’s theory of evolution with classic genetics. A key question to be addressed at the meeting, either explicitly or implicitly, is: What is the extent of the extension?

Old school neoDarwinists hold that the Modern Synthesis has been practically undergoing constant modification ever since William Bateson coined the term “genetics” in 1905. The EES, they say, is merely another modification. We’ve seen all this before, they say, and there is no need for a major shakeup.

But for at least some of the meeting’s organizers the EES is more than just another tweak. The problem, they point out, is that the Modern Synthesis was flat out wrong about inheritance, and that flawed concept of inheritance was not an auxiliary sub hypothesis in the outer protective belt, to use Lakatos’ terms, but rather was part of the core theoretic. As Denis Noble put it:

I would say that it needs replacing. Yes. … The reasons I think we’re talking about replacement rather than extension are several. The first is that the exclusion of any form of acquired characteristics being inherited was a central feature of the modern synthesis. In other words, to exclude any form of inheritance that was non-Mendelian, that was Lamarckian-like, was an essential part of the modern synthesis. What we are now discovering is that there are mechanisms by which some acquired characteristics can be inherited, and inherited robustly. So it’s a bit odd to describe adding something like that to the synthesis ( i.e., extending the synthesis). A more honest statement is that the synthesis needs to be replaced. … By “replacement” I don’t mean to say that the mechanism of random change followed by selection does not exist as a possible mechanism. But it becomes one mechanism amongst many others, and those mechanisms must interact. So my argument for saying this is a matter of replacement rather than extension is simply that it was a direct intention of those who formulated the modern synthesis to exclude the inheritance of acquired characteristics. That would be my first and perhaps the main reason for saying we’re talking about replacement rather than extension.

This question of whether evolutionary theory needs to be replaced, or extended, or emended, or merely modified is significant for evolutionists. For the old school, tradition and legacy are potentially at risk. For the new school, they can be the founders of a major new shift in evolutionary thought.

Nonetheless, do not expect too much clarity to emerge from the meeting. Few people if any will change their mind. What will be important are the minor nuances and ever so subtle signs of momentum in one direction or another.

And if that level of progress seems slow, consider that this is only one particular problem with evolutionary theory among dozens. The November meeting in London is closer to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic than any serious reckoning with the science.

Religion drives science, so change is slow.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

How Do You Describe This Weird Bacterium?

Not With Evolution

The reason why evolutionists use teleological language is simple and, no, it isn’t because they are lazy. Evolutionists use teleological language because otherwise biology doesn’t make sense. That was evident again this week when the unusual cell division of a bacterium that lives on the marine nematode, Robbea hypermnestra, was reported.

The easiest way to cut a hotdog in half is by slicing it in the middle. And that is how bacteria usually replicate. A protein ring is formed in the middle to start things off, though there are many variations on just how that is done. From there, an immensely complicated molecular choreography proceeds to divide the unicellular organism into two daughter cells.

But the R. hypermnestra symbiont breaks the rule by dividing long-ways (see photo), and without the customary protein ring. This longitudinal division makes sense because these bacteria live, like the hair on your head, with one end attached to the nematode. Attachment to the nematode is important, and longitudinal division leaves the two daughter cells both attached. Transverse division would leave the far daughter cell floating free.

But from an evolutionary perspective this makes no sense. Aside from the fact that the cell division process is statistically impossible for random mutations to construct, evolution calls for designs to be inherited via common ancestry.

But what biology reveals—and the R. hypermnestra symbiont is yet another example of this—are one-off designs. Biologists even have a name for this general trend: “species-specific” biology.

This makes no sense on evolutionary theory and the inevitable result is Aristotelianism. As usual, it is the infinitive form that reveals all:

The division of the R. hypermnestra symbiont leaves the dazzled scientists at a loss to know which kind of evolutionary advantage this quirky division might bring. One possible explanation is that this would allow the symbiont to remain faithful to its worm host. “Longitudinal division might have evolved to transmit host attachment to both daughter cells. In other words, to avoid that one daughter cell is lost to the sand or the sea,” speculates Bulgheresi.

Teleological thinking is not a sign of laziness, it is a sign of a failed theory that lacks explanatory power. Biology does not lend itself to evolutionary explanation and language.

Religion drives science, and it matters.