Monday, October 3, 2016

Misunderstanding Evolution, Or Evolutionary Theorists May Be Wrong, But Fred Reed Is Wronger

Fred Reed has a gift for a witty turn of phrase that has earned him a respected place among Internet essayists. Verbal facility and comprehension whereof one speaks are not, however, necessarily related as Fred has amply demonstrates in a recent contribution to the Unz Review entitled Darwin Unhinged:The Bugs in Evolution*.

Let me count some of the ways in which Fred misunderstands the theory of organic evolution.

(1) Fred begins his attack on the theory of evolution by citing a dead Polish expert on typhus who held that scientists in any field inevitably develop a “thought collective.” In other words, Fred suggests, evolutionists are dopes incapable of thinking for themselves.

Speaking of scientists as a whole, there is some truth in this view since science, for the majority of participants, has ceased to be a vocation, having become, rather, simply a career choice. Thus science has attracted many drones, climbers, and useless appendages. These people are not, however, necessarily stupid or unproductive. Many are competent technicians and gather useful data. But the majority are not scientists in the creative mold of the great path-breakers and geniuses of science.

 But it is not to the drones that one should look for instruction in the foundations of any discipline, but rather to the giants who laid down the basic principles. So, no, evolutionary theory is not, as Fred suggests, the product of "deference to the charismatic, herding towards majority opinion, punishment of deviance, and intense discomfort with admitting error."

(2) Fred lumps together Darwinism, the science of organic evolution, and cosmology into what he calls “a grand unified theory,” which he says, runs from the big bang, via subatomic particles flying in all directions, atoms, stars, planets, life, to dinosaurs and us.

Quite why Fred excludes from his grand unified theory economics, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and the second law of thermodynamics, all of which also concern the history of time-irreversible complex systems, is not clear. If the theory of organic evolution can be attacked because of some weakness in the concept of the Big Bang, why not attack it on the absurdity of trickle-down economics or the Laffer curve?

But whether we are to consider evolution to be cosmological or organic, Fred declares the work of such luminaries as Newton and Einstein, Darwin and Stephen Jay Gould to be “not very plausible.”

(3) Having declared the work of evolutionists "not very plausible" Fred charges evolutionists with substituting plausibility for evidence, thereby seeming to refute his own contention that evolutionary theory lacks plausibility.

So far as the cosmological component of Fred's Grand Unified Theory of Evolution is concerned, plausibility derives from consideration of such things as Type 1a supernovae considered as standard candles, their red shifts and apparent brightness, which taken together, strongly suggest an expanding universe. Moreover, the apparent ongoing expansion of the universe can be projected backward, until all matter converges on a point 14 billion years ago. Hence the idea of the big bang — the idea that the universe emerged from either nothing or something quite small, seems based not on an absence of evidence, but on evidence that confers substantial plausibility.

The evidence for organic evolution is equally compelling. It consists in the fossil record, the components of which can be dated by the geology in which particular items, teeth, bones, footprints, etc., are incorporated. What this record seems to show is that, over a period of hundreds of millions of years, Earth's flora and fauna have radically changed and diversified by virtue of a large number of relatively small steps culminating in the emergence from common ancestors of a vast array of present-day life forms.

To reject this thesis seems possible only on the basis of one of three very peculiar assumptions:

A. That geology is bunk and the sequence of fossil forms in successive geological strata has no temporal basis. This was the view of many at the time that Darwin published the The Origin of Species (a). Most prominent among the skeptics were the physicists who believed that the sun could not be more than a few million years old, since otherwise it would already have gone out. Thus, they maintained, there had been only a very short window during which life on earth had been possible, not the hundreds of millions of years during which Darwin and the geologists assumed that organic evolution required.

B. That the Lord is a practical joker who created the fossil record to fool us.

C. The Lord is a tinkerer, who rather than creating life on earth in all its forms during those first six days, returned many times to twiddle the knobs, add a fin here, a swim bladder or a spine there, then some legs and a lung, until finally having the brilliant notion of creating us in his own image.

The discovery of solar nuclear fusion killed Hypothesis A, since it established with near certainty that a warm terrestrial world has existed for billions not millions of years, as the geologists and evolutionists had postulated. As for Hypotheses B and C, no one, so far as I am aware has advanced either of them, so they can reasonably be ignored.

What we must conclude, therefore, is that, contrary to Fred's contention, the fossil record provides a mass of physical evidence that seems explicable only in terms of organic evolution.

(4) Fred then proceeds to attack the theory of organic evolution not on the observable evidence, but on the evolutionists' lack of an explanation of how life arose. But how life arose is a totally different question from that of how life, once established on Planet Earth, evolved, and it is a question to which sensible evolutionary biologists readily admit they have no answer.

Darwin made absolutely clear that the question of the origin of life remained to be resolved. Thus, he wrote in the third edition of The Origin:
It is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence of origin of life (b). 
And in a letter dated March 29, 1863 to Joseph Hooker he wrote:
“it is mere rubbish thinking, at present, of origin of life, one might as well think of origin of matter” (b).
Furthermore, as Darwin indicated in other correspondence, he was open to the idea that life had reached the earth from elsewhere (b), via a meteorite, for example, a number of which are now known to contain what appear to be microfossils (c).

(5) Fred pursues the attack on organic evolution with a diatribe on the arrogance of scientists. His attempts to question them, he tells us, was like "giving a prostate exam to a bobcat;" these "very bright" individuals "some with names you would recognize", called him, Fred, a crank;  "they ducked, and dodged, and evaded." Their behavior was "not of scientists but of advocates, True Believers." Science, Fred concluded, must be about "defending things your don't really know."

Unfortunately, Fred does not name names or specify the questions with which he gave these famous men of science such a grilling. We thus remain in the dark as to the real extent of this scholarly ignorance and bigotry.

(6)  What Fred does tell us, though, is the reason the scholars are so committed to ignorance. It is pride, arrogance, conceit. Humans today, whether scientists or not, are "puffed-up and overconfident" he tells us. We think we know everything, and have "a sense of near-omniscience, equaled only by that of teenagers." We, and especially evolutionists, are people who having been "long accustomed to what does not make sense" and who now find "it [i.e., nonsense] seems to [i.e., make sense]". 

(7) Fred pursues his attack on the theory of evolution by claiming that no comprehensive mechanism has been adduced whereby organisms become differentiated from one another. Grudgingly, Fred acknowledges that evolutionists may know something about this BUT THEY DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING. Um, yes, well that's why research continues.

But the basic mechanism of evolution as postulated by Darwin actually holds up quite well, despite many details that remain to be elucidated. In essence, Darwin's idea was this: 

Like begets like: cats have kittens, hens have chick. However, due to various mechanisms, including mutation, chromosome abnormalities, and the happy intervention of sex, like begets like—but with some variation. Thus, in a litter of Dutch rabbits, nine are of a uniform and official chocolate brown, but the tenth may have a white lightning streak upon his nose.

Here then is a basis for selection. In any particular environment, some individuals will possess a characteristic, sharper teeth, faster reflexes, better hearing, greater disease resistance, greater sex appeal, that result in their raising to adulthood more progeny than the rest of the litter, or the rest of the population. But because of the principle of “like begets like,” the characteristics of the most successful breeders will be at least slightly more common in the successor generation than in the parental generation.

And so it goes, from generation to generation, the prevalent characteristics of a population tends to change. The rate of change depends on many factors: the mating preferences of the species; the availability of resources, food, water, nesting places, etc.; the prevalence of predators or disease. Moreover, when populations become divided into separate breeding groups, for example, by migration to separate islands, then depending on local conditions the course of evolutionary change will vary. On one Galapagos Island, the main food supply may be small seeds, for example, in which case small birds with small beaks will prosper, whereas on another island where the main food supply consists in large nuts, only birds with large and powerful beaks will prevail. (d)

But the process of genetic change in wild populations is complex and the subject of a vast technical literature into which, it seems safe to assume, Fred has not delved deeply. That not all is known about the processes of natural selection is why it remains a an active field of research. 

(8) While Fred on the one hand ridicules evolutionists for claiming to know everything, he on the other hand, excoriates them for not being able to explain everything. He charges them with "vague and murky" assertions and of ignoring obvious questions. "Starlings" he says "are said to have evolved to be the color of dirt so that hawks can't see them to eat them. ... But guacamayos and cockatoos are gaudy enough to be seen from low-earth orbit." Is there not" asks Fred with, one imagines, at least the trace of a sneer "a contradiction here?" 

The answer is, no. We cannot, and evolutionists of any competence do not, assume that what could happen necessarily does. Such casual speculation in lieu of serious investigation is much deprecated in the evolutionary science community, being called the telling of Just-So stories, so named after Rudyard Kipling's work of the same name in which are related fanciful accounts of how the camel got his hump, the leopard his spots, the elephant his trunk, and so on. Speculation is of course permissible, but to the scientist, speculative explanations must always be recognized for what they are, namely, hypotheses.

But there is today an abundance of well documented examples of the role of environmental factors in the process of selection in animal and plant communities, as for example, this report, based on a mountain of evidence, concerning the emergence of a novel form of Darwin's finch. (d)

(9) Fred moans that evolution is "more a metaphysics or ideology than a science," and equates evolutionists with feminists, Christians and Marxists, which is why, I suppose, unfiltered stuff on the Web has such a low reputation in academia. Much of it really is mere fact-free opinionation. 

(10) More specifically, Fred asserts that “evolutionists are obsessed by Christianity and Creationism, with which they consider themselves to be in mortal combat.” No examples of said obsessed evolutionist are offered, probably because none of the significant names in the field give a damn what Christians, Jews or Muslims think about the origin of life, since they themselves have no definite opinion on the subject.

To some it may seem that there is a conflict between the theory of evolution and various religious ideas. But to paraphrase Neil Postman, science and religion are made of different materials and serve different purposes. Or as Galileo, put it, “The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.” And as renowned evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould observed, if science and Holy scripture conflict, then we need to revise our scriptural exegesis. 

(11) Fred returns to the arrogance of evolutionists who "assault those who write of evolution without a Ph.D. at CalTech." He then claims competence in the subject on the basis of modest intelligence, obsessive compulsive disorder and by reading books. Then follows a long paragraph without verb, subject, or object consisting mainly in polysyllabic words and phrases such as eosinophils, Descemet's membrane, and degeneracy of the codon alphabet, none of which seem to really clinch the argument. 

(12) But then, says Fred, there just isn't enough time for organic evolution to have done the job it is claimed to have done. This seems a weak argument since Fred has already argued that we don't know how organic evolution occurs, so how can he say that there has been insufficient time for the occurrence of the organic evolution that the fossil record shows has, in fact, actually occurred? 

Also odd is Fred's way of proving that there is insufficient time, this being based on a calculation to show that there is not enough time in the history of the world for a monkey typing randomly to write all the books in the British Museum. In fact, Fred proves, and this is quite interesting, that the chance of the monkey typing even the title of Darwin's most famous work in the time since the world began would be one in a number so stupendously large that I cannot handle the notation for it in this text editor.

Unfortunately, Fred does not pursue the analogy. For if he had included the principle of selection, not by survival but by consistency with entries in the catalogue of the British Library (i.e., a process that automatically kicked out every letter typed that was not both part of the title of a book in the library and in the correct sequence), the monkey would have got the title of Darwin's book before lunch, and probably sooner. 

(13) Living things, notes Fred, are amazingly complex. Thus he argues, "At some point the sane have to say 'This didn't just happen'. Something is going on I don't understand." But, says Fred, "an evolutionist cannot say that there is anything he can’t understand, only that there are things he doesn’t yet understand."

On that point Fred is exactly right. There is much, most things in fact, that science cannot explain. But the premise of all scientific endeavor is that what is not understood now, may be understood through sufficiently acute observation, analysis and reflection.

That assumption may of course be wrong with regard to some or many things, but unless that assumption is accepted, the scientific endeavor ends. We quit. We give up. We assume we can understand no more. With respect to certain questions, giving up may be the wise course. But it is giving up. 

(14) In relation to the question of the impossibility of obtaining a scientific or mechanistic explanation of reality, Fred goes on a tear about embryology. Embryogenesis, Fred maintains, is like the mechanism of the eye, just too fantastic to be believed. Or at least too complex to believe it can be the result of any scientifically explicable process. 

Again, Fred may have a point. Certainly no one can claim to know how a zygote, a single cell, turns into a human with 80-odd billion neurons, each with up to ten thousand dendrites connected up in such a way as to create an evolutionist, poor, dull creature though he may be.

As an undergraduate student of physiology I became enamored of the idea of solving the problem of morphogenesis, i.e., how complex tissues, organs and organisms emerge from a single cell, the zygote or egg. At the time, among the simplest problems in the field was to discover what determines the plane of the first division in the naked zygote of the common brown seaweed, Fucus. This cell division determines which half of the zygote will form a holdfast, the bit at the end of the stype that glues itself to a rock at the bottom of the ocean, and which half will develop into a five-, ten-, twenty-meter-long thallus, the plant's photosynthetic organ.

At that time, the early 60's, no one seemed able to answer this very basic question about the very first division among billion of cell divisions during the relatively simple process of forming a piece of seaweed. Since then there have been many studies on this ideal model system, yet the conclusion drawn in a recent review on the topic is that the answer remains unknown (e). Thankfully, I abandoned my early enthusiasm for embryogenesis for other interests.

So yes, the problem of morphogenesis is a hard one. Probably much harder than cosmology, harder perhaps even than particle physics, which may explain why no one has got very far with it, although some very small steps have been made. Alan Turing, for example, a fairly bright person who broke the Nazi wartime codes and invented the universal computing engine, turned, after WWII, to questions in biology and, among other ideas, demonstrated mathematically that the zebra's stripes or the leopard's spots could be explained by interacting gradients of diffusing chemicals. Many years after his death, this hypothesis was experimentally confirmed in multiple studies (f).

How much further science takes us in the understanding of morphogenesis remains to be seen. But if you conclude that the problem will never yield, then you are declaring an end to science in this domain. That does not mean that you are wrong, it does means that you are not a scientist.  Fred would call that an end to scientific arrogance.

In time perhaps all remaining problems will be seen as too hard to solve, in which case that will be the end of science. But one should not ridicule scientists for attempting to solve difficult problems such as embryogenesis. Tackling such problems is what scientists do, and amazingly it is something that scientists continue to do productively in many fields.

(15) But Fred is not content to let matters rest there. By no means. He can, he says, "imagine an Airbus 380 assembling itself," something that no evolutionist, surely, would be so foolish as to suppose possible, but he cannot imagine the evolution of the mammalian eye by means of multiple steps driven by environmental selection among variants arising by various known and unknown mechanisms, beneficial changes being preserved because they drive increased fertility, detrimental changes leading to elimination due to decreased fertility.

Actually, Charles Darwin had the same problem:
To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I confess, absurd in the highest degree.
The Origin of Species, 1859.
Personally, I don't find the evolutionary hypothesis that persuasive either, but it's the only argument going, unless you wish to invoke divine intervention. And if you do prefer divine intervention, that's fine with me, but it's not science. O.K.

So there's no war between sensible evolutionists and Christian fundamentalists or anyone else who rejects evolution. Just a difference of opinion on the value of continued research into the process of natural selection, which can be observed going on all around us today.

(16) Cutting and pasting, probably, from drafts of aborted essays past, Fred turns to the question of "when evolutionists try to explain behavior such as altruism." Well, um, actually, they don't. Darwin couldn't figure out how altruism could have evolved. And mathematical modeling based on various more or less plausible assumptions has thus far failed to demonstrate selection for self-sacrificial behavior. However, taking into account social structures and cultural traditions, a plausible hypothesis concerning the mechanism of the evolution of human altruism by inter-group selection is possible (g).

(17) Lastly, Fred turns to the evidence of natural selection at work today on America's human population. Here, he says, "we encounter the interesting conclusion that a woman with a genetic IQ of sixty and twelve retarded children by forty-five drive-by fathers is more fit than a Harvard math professor who runs Triathlons, but has two children."

This, Fred, seems to think, somehow, negates the theory of organic evolution, presumably on the supposition that the course of evolution is always onward and upward. But what Fred's example shows is, that under a welfare regime, evolution can result in extremely rapid degeneration of a population in characteristics such as intelligence and social responsibility. Perhaps such welfare regimes exist because our elites, like Fred, don't understand the process of evolution. Thus we continue as a society down the road to self-destruction, leading inevitably to our replacement by other societies with more intelligent leadership and institutions.

* Currently, access to Unz.com from CanSpeccy.blogspot.com appears to have been blocked, hence the link to Fred Reed's article is via the WayBackMachine.

References:

(a) Darwin, C. 1861. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

(b) Pereto, J., J.L. Bada, and A. Lazcano. 2009. Charles Darwin and the Origin of Life. Orig. Life Evol. Biosph. 39: 395.

(c) Sebastian Anthony. 2013. Astrobiologists discover fossils in meteorite fragments, confirming extraterrestrial life. ExtremeTech.

(d) Singer, Emily 2016. Watching Evolution Happen in Two Lifetimes. Quanta Magazine, September 22.

(e) Kropf, D.L. 1997. Induction of Polarity in Fucoid Zygotes. The Plant Cell, 9: 1011.

(f) Arney, Kat. 2014. How the zebra got its stripes, with Alan Turing. Mosaic Science. https://mosaicscience.com/story/how-zebra-got-its-stripes-alan-turing

(g) Samuel Bowles. 2006. Group Competition, Reproductive Leveling and the Evolution of Human Altruism. Science 314: 1569.

3 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. The agenda you refer to does not explicitly state as its aim the destruction of the European people by repressing the overall fertility of the population (i.e., through state indoctrination in the name of sex "education" that inculcates the belief that the only sexual vice is reproduction, promotion of non-reproductive sexual unions and girls' education leading to reduced fertility of the most intelligent) while promoting dysgenic reproduction (i.e., welfare-funded reproduction of those of low intelligence) and mass Third-World replacement immigration.

      Our elites are either very stupid, or they are engaged in a well-coordinated plan to exterminate the European peoples.

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  2. All the above too true.

    All "anti-evolutionists" have to do is get into the bug extermination biz for 3-4 seasons to see Darwin in action.

    What kills 95 percent of roaches one season will kill less then 50% the next. Did the 5 remaining percent "adapt" to resist the poisons, or did new, "enricher" roaches take their place, roaches that are just different and stronger? By season three, you need stronger/deadlier toxins to do what the weak stuff did only a few dozen months before.

    We were in the navy 50 years ago, at Pensacola in Florida where roaches and other critters get as big as a baby's arm. They adapt to human attempts to kill them real fast, so fast the USN found it easier to pave over (concrete!) a test range that would have been a fine stretch of empty dirt anywhere else. Not there. Bugs can eat technicians alive in the tropics, and the Pensacola Florida qualified as undevoloped tropics back then.

    Think Darwin was dumb? Spend a few years as an old time Orkin man. Some critters adapt too fast. The disease epidemic control people know this too.

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