Saturday, July 18, 2015

Micro-Macro re-dux

Oh boy, I am so excited!  A new post over on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views site, and one by a new poster instead of one of the usual suspects!  Maybe this one will . . . oh who am I kidding.  Anyway a new voice . . . at least one I haven't noticed before.

OK, so what does the new guy have to say.  Here's his post: "Microevolution versus Macroevolution: Two Mistakes", oh and his name is Kirk Durston.

Before getting into it, let me explain my stand on the whole subject.  It's bullshit!  When I learned biology in HS and college, Micro-evolution was the study of evolution on micro-organisms.  There was no such term as Macro-evolution.  Seriously!  I'm not kidding.  Since then, which there have been many changes in evolutionary theory and not one of them describes different evolutionary processes for distinguishing between variation within a currently defined species and changes above the species level -- not one!

So where did the term originate.  Of course Kirk doesn't get into that.  I'll use the words of Dr. Steve Kay, who at the time was the Dean of UCSD's Division of Biological Sciences.  Currently he is the Dean of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.  From their website:

"Dr. Kay, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), is one of the world’s top experts on genes and circadian rhythms. Having published more than 200 papers, he was named by Thomson Reuters as one of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” in 2014 and has been cited in Science magazine’s “Breakthroughs of the Year” three times since 1997."
He was asked this question during a discussion on evolution and its importance in modern biology:
"Do you feel that the terms micro and macro evolution are simply a dodge, in the sense that creationists and ID'ers are simply looking for a way out when confronted by the evidence of evolution presented in species with much shorter life cycles (and hence generations), such as bacteria?"
His reply:
"dr_steve_kay(A) Yes, i think that micro and macro evolution is used as a dodge. Evolutionary biologists use micro evolution - the study for example of how microbes can change in successive generations, to learn about detailed specific mechanisms that may contribute to the larger picture of how organisms evolve under natural conditions." 
So when Creationists and various Creationist Group, of which anyone with a working brain numbers the Discovery Institute among that list, came up with the whole micro-macro argument.  Now why would they do something like that?

I see things pretty simply.  Scientists didn't start using the term to differentiate between two different types of evolution, Creationists developed the term to save face.  Because when denying all of evolution, something they had been doing since Darwin published, they found themselves being marginalized because they could not seriously deny much of the evidence without sounding like Luddites, or worse.  So in a Public Relations move, they drew a line in the sand and put all the evidence they could not repudiate on one side of the line and evidence they thought that still could have some success against on the other and invented the term.

So after time, more and more people have been using the term, but the reality is no one has yet to define a difference in evolutionary processes that would characterize any real difference between them.  Kirk here doesn't even try.

He claims that there is a common problem by both evolutionary supporters and evolution deniers (he calls them skeptics, but they are well passed skepticism by now, aren't they?).  OK, this common problem is a failure to properly differentiate micro and macro evolution.  He does admit that
"The definition of macroevolution is surprisingly non-precise for a scientific discipline."
 Let me be clear, there is no scientific discipline called 'Maro-evolution'.  No college is teaching a class on it.  They teach evolution.  Macro-evolution is a label, nothing more.  So I would not expect there to be a precise scientific definition for it.  But apparently Kirk seems to think one is necessary.  Of course if a scientist created one, I'm sure Kirk or one of his buddies will find a way to draw a new line in the sand over it.  As a label, it's become convenient, but without an evolutionary process differentiator, there is still no actual difference between micro and macro.

So in a long-winded way, he proposes two definitions:

  • Microevolution: genetic variation that requires no statistically significant increase in functional information.

  • Macroevolution: genetic change that requires a statistically significant increase in functional information.
Even his only difference is 'degree of change', not how the changes come into being.  I do have an issue with his definitions.  Genetic variation within a current species is quantifiable statistically -- so he's the one who uses the vague 'significant'.  Seriously, what is significant?  I feel pretty sure that the differences between Culex pipiens and Culex pipiens molestus is not insignificant.

His use of the term 'functional information' is suspect because of the frequent attempts to use 'information' as some artificial delineation when looking at genetic changes (Dembski for example).

So what we have here is yet another attempt at defining an artificial difference.  Evolution is Evolution and until you identify a different process, or set of processes, for there being an actual difference between larger and smaller changes, the whole macro-micro argument is nothing more than a smokescreen.

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