Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Anybody remember survival of the fittest?

This news piece is making the e-mail rounds today, and once again the media and science communities are injecting superfluous and irrelevant “facts” about the theory of evolution.  Here are a few:
An extraordinary family who walk [sic] on all fours are [sic] being hailed as the breakthrough discovery which could shed light on the moment Man first stood upright.
Okay, I’m tracking with it so far.  They’re just expressing their presuppositions, not drawing wild connections.  But it gets worse…
Some researchers argue the genetic fault has caused the brothers and sisters to regress to a form of ‘backward evolution’. [sic] Others believe it has led to brain damage which has allowed them to develop the walk [emphasis mine].

Prof Humphrey said he thought the family had reverted to an instinctive form of behaviour encoded deep in the brain but abandoned during evolution.

He said: “I do not think they were destined to be quadrupeds by their genes, but their unique genetic make-up allowed them to be… [emphasis mine].”
Ah, I see.  It’s not encoded in their genes to walk this way, it’s a malfunction.  How did this happen?
The five are all mentally retarded. Their mother and father, who are closely related[,] are believed to have handed down a unique combination of genes which result in the behaviour.
Of course!  Didn’t see that one coming…mutation!  The golden calf of a natural-selection-driven evolutionary theory.  This amazing family has mutations which “allowed them to develop the walk” that we all envy.  How could they be so lucky?

You know I’m being facetious.  These mutations are not good.  They did not add information to the gene pool or effect any evolutionary progress.  Doesn’t the conclusion, then, that this “unique genetic make-up [has] allowed” them to be this way make no sense when you see that “being this way” is not good?  (Doesn’t it seem like I’ve argued against this type of non-conclusion before?)

Perhaps I can simplify the logic here:
  1. These people walk like quadrupeds.

  2. These people are people, not quadrupeds.

  3. Therefore, some of their genes are broken and mutated to cause this defect.

  4. Therefore, this is evolution in action, giving the advantage of walking on all fours to these fortunate individuals.

D’oh.  Can you say…non sequitur?  She weighs the same as a duck, so she must be a witch.  And look what showed up on Slashdot a few hours ago:
Still Evolving, Human Genes Tell New Story
Providing the strongest evidence yet that humans are still evolving, researchers have detected some 700 regions of the human genome where genes appear to have been reshaped by natural selection, a principal force of evolution, within the last 5,000 to 15,000 years.  The genes that show this evolutionary change include some responsible for the senses of taste and smell, digestion, bone structure, skin color and brain function.  Under natural selection, beneficial genes become more common in a population as their owners have more progeny.  …  The finding adds substantially to the evidence that human evolution did not grind to a halt in the distant past, as is tacitly assumed by many social scientists. Even evolutionary psychologists, who interpret human behavior in terms of what the brain evolved to do, hold that the work of natural selection in shaping the human mind was completed in the pre-agricultural past, more than 10,000 years ago.
Okay, first of all, nobody who really thinks evolution happened really thinks it quit.  We’re just in a “dry spell,” they say, right before they hit you with “punctuated equilibrium” (ask me later if you don’t know what that is).  This is analogous to the pet shop owner insisting that the dead parrot is simply resting.  All this to say, uniformitarians are hard to come by these days—except in the media and the scientific fringe (those who know just enough science to throw out some terms and then fall back on “the latest research”).  Here we’re dealing with a first-class case of dogmatic adherence to uniformitarian evolutionism.

Notice, also, that both articles come very close to saying, but never quite do say, that the processes of mutation and natural selection they are reporting on yield beneficial results or the addition of information to the genetic code.  There’s really a very simple reason for that: neither is the case!  This isn’t evolution—this is natural selection!  Nobody claims that natural selection doesn’t exist.  It’s a sorting process, getting rid of the detrimental genes and preserving the good ones.  But it can only choose from the information already present, and it never (and you can take this one to the bank) gives rise to new information (i.e., it never produces evolution).

Mutation does not create information, it scrambles it.  Natural selection does not produce information, it selects it (who’da thunk it?).  So, guys, stop pushing the old agenda.  Quit falling back on the tired maxims of uniformitarianism.  Stop assuming that genetic change equals biological progress.  Until you do, you’re only going to accomplish two things: satisfy a world who likes having their ears tickled with a way from goo to you without God, and push those of us who think farther and farther away.


Anonymous Hugh said...

Hmmm... this gives me an idea... perhaps it's been done...

1. Posit a structure for the simplest possible RNA sequence that might qualify as the abiogenetic forefather of us all.

2. Write a computer program that varies one nucleotide per millisecond, either by randomly adding, changing, or deleting.

3. Distribute this program across the entire Google server farm. Let it run. And run.

4. Every day, enter the gene sequence for insulin into the Google search box. Click "I'm feeling lucky." Read the following message: "Your search - ATGC... - did not match any documents."

5:41 PM, March 08, 2006  

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