Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sorry Darwin, it isn't your Evolution anymore? Are you kidding?

"Horizontal Gene Transfer: Sorry, Darwin, It's Not Your Evolution Any More" by Denyse O'Leary, one of the Discovery Institute's mouthpieces.  She said something that supports something I have been saying for a while, that the DI really has been living in some sort of time warp and evolutionary theory hasn't advanced since Darwin's day.  Her article about horizontal gene transfer (HGT) didn't seem all too off the mark, until she, of course, had to wax philosophical in claiming that HGT in some way diminishes Darwin.  Isn't this an argument science deniers, like Denyse, have been saying for decades?

The claim in her title, that 'it's not Darwin's evolution any more' is pretty ridiculous.  I realize that the DI would like to be arguing strictly against what Darwin knew in the middle of the 19th century, but  the Theory of Evolution has undergone many changes and additions over the years.  And while Darwin might not recognize much of the modern theory, he would certainly recognize certain specific features of the theory.  His contributions are not the whole of evolutionary theory, but they will continue to be important parts of the whole and underpin many current parts of the modern theory.

How many times has something new supposedly sounded the death knell of evolutionary theory?  The ones that come immediately to mind include Genetics, Gene Flow, and Punctuated Equilibrium, but there have been many more.  Every new discovery seems to energize folks like Denyse to announce the imminent demolition of the theory of evolution, and yet it still stands.  I think the wrecking ball they keep claiming to have is made of wet tissue paper.
I remember a post by Glenn Morton a few years back called:
"The Imminent Demise of Evolution:  The Longest Running Falsehood in Creationism" 
For some reason he took down his site, but it was preserved at this link.  It makes interesting reading.  On a pretty regular basis one Creationist or another has been announcing the demise of evolution to the amusement of many for a long time.  I think it was in 2004 when Wild Bill Dembski was quoted in a Kentucky newspaper saying:
  • [That] all the debate in this country over evolution won’t matter in a decade.
  • By then . . . the theory of evolution put forth by Charles Darwin 150 years ago will be dead.
  •  . . . the model of evolution accepted by the scientific community won’t be able to supply the answers.
  • I see this all disintegrating very quickly
This certainly wasn't Dembski's first try at predicting things.  He once offered a wager:

"I’ll wager a bottle of single-malt scotch, should it ever go to trial whether ID may legitimately be taught in public school science curricula, that ID will pass all constitutional hurdles."
Obviously he said that BEFORE to Dover Trial.  I wonder if he ever paid off?  Does anyone know if he did?

Denyse's little post might indicate a small shift in gears.  After decades of being laughed at for predicting the demise of a real actual scientific theory, she's now more trying to marginalize Darwin's contributions.  But she fails as humorously as the rest.  HGT doesn't diminish Darwin as much as it makes the overall theory of evolution stronger.  I don't recall anything in Darwin's work that says Natural Selection is the end-all of evolution, in fact I recall passages that offered questions that he couldn't answer, questions that opened the door for much of the future work on evolution.  For example, Darwin had no idea of genetics, which was one of those ideas Creationists tried to beat over Evolution's head, and yet ended up becoming one of the strongest supporting theories of the over-arching Theory of Evolution. 

HGT was actually first postulated in the 1950's, so I think Denyse might be a little off.  But then, since the majority of the DI seems to argue against things from the 1850's, maybe she could be considered one of the most progressive of the DI'ers?  Just a thought.  The metaphor of a tree-like structure may no longer be the best way to look at gene transfer, but then so what?  The phylogenetic tree may someday be replaced with the phylogenetic network, but then a metaphor only goes so far anyway, doesn't it? 

If history teaches us anything, and I mean real history, not the time bubble the DI wishes they lived in, that one day the Theory of Evolution will be very different than it is today.  We will continue to learn more and more and the theory will change.  But it will not invalidate what Darwin did, it might provide many details about things he didn't know about, or things that were technically beyond the capabilities of 19th century science.  But the future version of the TOE will be better and have more explanatory power than the current theory.  That's how science works.  You might notice that Denyse doesn't offer anything to HGT, but it is real scientists working on it that are making the discoveries.

On the other hand, Denyse's masters at the DI will still be trying to diminish Darwin without making any progress to offering a viable replacement, especially a replacement that meets their criteria of being theistically-friendly.

No comments:

Post a Comment