Sunday, September 05, 2010

Mutation and Intelligent Design Creationism

 
One of the long-standing criticisms of Intelligent Design Creationists is their continuing effort to confuse the general public about modern evolutionary theory. Here's the latest effort by "johnnyb," just posted on Uncommon Descent [Responding to Merlin Part I – How Merlin’s Paper Validates Several Claims of the ID Movement].

The article discusses a recent paper by Francesca Merlin1 from the Department of Philosophy, University of Montréal, Québec, Canada [Evolutionary Chance Mutation: A Defense Of the Modern Synthesis’ Consensus View]. Note the title. She is defending the "Modern Synthesis' Consensus View." (The paper was published in an online, open access, journal called Philosophy & Theory in Biology. The link to the paper isn't working.)

Here's what johnnyb says,
Many people claim that ID’ers have made up the word “Darwinism” as a straw man which we can easily knock down. Nothing could be further from the truth. ID’ers use the word Darwinism, because it identifies, with technical specificity, what we are objecting to. Darwinism specifically means that the mutations which are selected are happenstance – they are not determined by the needs of the organism. This is specifically labelled as the “Darwinian” view by Merlin (see pg 3 of her paper).

This is important because many ID’ers support many parts of evolutionary theory – myself included. However, most ID’ers think that one particular part of evolutionary theory is fundamentally flawed – the Darwinian view of mutations. Many ID’ers are basically neo-Lamarckians, believing that mutations (at least the biologically beneficial ones) tend to be goal-oriented rather than haphazard.

So it is important to note that the controversies spoken of by IDers which are happening in biology are real controversies. Merlin didn’t write this paper as a critique of a scientist to a non-scientist, but rather a controversy among scientists as to whether or not the Darwinian conception of mutations are valid. Therefore, from this we can conclude that (a) there is nothing wrong with Darwinism as a term for a specific type of evolution, (b) ID’ers use the term Darwinism in its correct, technical sense (in contrast to Lamarckianism), and (c) there is a genuine conflict happening among biologists. I have no doubt that Wright, Jablonka, and Lamb are in the minority. That neither invalidates their work nor the significance of the controversy.
First, let's address the "Darwinism" strawman. We know exactly why the IDiots use the term "Darwinism" instead of "modern evolutionary theory." It's because "Darwinism" harkens back to the ideas of Charles Darwin in 1859. The IDiots want everyone to think that modern scientists are slaves to the ideas of a Victorian from the 1800's. They've tarred Charles Darwin with repeated attacks on his "racist" and "immoral" views and they want to stick most modern evolutionary biologists to that tar baby. Furthermore, they know full well that "social Darwinism" is evil—by using "Darwinism" to describe modern science they conjure up an association with that non-scientific viewpoint.

Most IDiots don't understand modern evolutionary theory so they don't know the difference between it and "Darwinism." Some IDiots do know the difference, but they lie about it and continue to use "Darwinism" for its rhetorical value.

Enough of that. I'm more interested in the new version of Intelligent Design Creationism that johnnyb is describing. It seems to be very similar to what Ken Miller describes in his book Finding Darwin's God and it may not be very far from what Francis Collins writes in The Language of God. Does johnnyb have any scientific evidence that mutations are "goal-oriented" or is his version just the same-old, same-old, criticism of modern evolutionary theory? Does johnnyb have an explanation for how such "goal oriented" mutations arise? After all, that's the essence of a proper scientific theory. It's not sufficient to just criticize the consensus scientific view, you also have to provide a better explanation that accounts for the facts. How about it? Are there any IDiots out there who want to take a shot at explaining how "goal-oriented" mutations arise?

Incidentally, if you want to read what a real scientist has to say about mutations then go look at the series of postings by Arlin Stoltzfus on Mutationism. You can see the last posting at: The Mutationism Myth, VI: Back to the Future. It has links to all the others. Arlin explains what Darwin really meant when he talked about variation—Darwin didn't know about mutations or modern genetics.


1. Currently at L'Institut d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques at the Université de Paris.

15 comments :

  1. I was of the impression that Darwin had no idea about mutations, because they were not discovered until the 20th century.

    TomS

    ReplyDelete
  2. I hope someone can explain to me how a 'goal-oriented' mutation knows what it's supposed to be before it exists...

    Oh, how silly of me...it's God, isn't it? God did it again. When will I ever learn?

    ReplyDelete
  3. First we had God and or gods, then along came Darwinism and the Darwinistas) sorry Modern Evolutionary Theory with the assumption of progressive evolution of design by nature.Any takers for progressive evolution of design by advanced science I wonder?

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Many ID’ers are basically neo-Lamarckians, believing that mutations (at least the biologically beneficial ones) tend to be goal-oriented rather than haphazard."

    Funny... sounds oddly like a testable hypothesis that should be straightforward to disprove (and probably already has been?).

    Perhaps the real unifying thread among cdesign proponentsists is their inability to reject ideas inconsistent with their beliefs?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Modern Evolutionary Theory with the assumption of progressive evolution of design by nature

    Evolutionary theory has no assumption of progress. And "progressive evolution of design by nature" is gibberish. Why can't creationists actually learn about science?

    ReplyDelete
  6. If mutations are random, then we are not special - we are just another species. Apparently, this bruises their egos.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Have you read the mutation paper, Larry? Her conception of how the Modern Synthesis viewed mutation seems to differ from Arlin's view? I could be wrong though.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The link to Merlin (not Merlion) doesn't work, sir.

    ReplyDelete
  9. As far as having bruised egos, though, if there is a random aspect to genetics, then each one of us, with our own "random" aspect, is the result of a non-designed process. Those whose egos are sensitive to this should be upset with Mendel, not Darwin.

    TomS

    ReplyDelete
  10. Kele asks,

    Have you read the mutation paper, Larry? Her conception of how the Modern Synthesis viewed mutation seems to differ from Arlin's view? I could be wrong though.

    She's a philosopher, not a biologist. Like many philosophers, her understanding of evolutionary theory leaves a lot to be desired.

    I don't understand how the field of evolutionary theory has got to the point where philosophers think they can make a significant contribution to the science. The writings of people like Michael Ruse and Dan Dennett should convince most other philosophers to back off before they discredit the entire discipline of philosophy.

    (I'm not thinking of you, John Wilkins. You are the exception that proves the rule.)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Johnnyb also thinks that the carvings on an old temple in Indonesia are of a triceratops and thus the earth is 10,000 years old, so I wouldn't care too much about what another YEC computer geek thinks about anything.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "writings of people like Michael Ruse and Dan Dennett should convince most other philosophers to back off before they discredit the entire discipline of philosophy."

    I assume you are critiquing Dennett's work such as "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" or "Kinds of Minds", rather than his call for treating religion like a natural phenomenon, "Breaking the Spell".

    And assuming that is the case, what is (are) your specific objection(s)? Do you find him too neo-Darwinian? Too adaptationist? Overly critical of the Gould/Lewontin critique? Or do you think he simply gets too many details and metaphors wrong in making larger points with which you generally agree?

    ReplyDelete
  13. anonymous asks,

    And assuming that is the case, what is (are) your specific objection(s)? Do you find him too neo-Darwinian? Too adaptationist? Overly critical of the Gould/Lewontin critique? Or do you think he simply gets too many details and metaphors wrong in making larger points with which you generally agree?

    Yes, yes definitely, most certainly—to a fault, yep.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Larry, you might find this shiny new paper by Michael Lynch in PNAS interesting.

    Lynch, M. et al. (2010) Scaling expectations for the time to establishment of complex adaptations. PNAS, advance online.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/08/30/1010836107.abstract

    A bit that struck me from the intro (possible echoes of Behe)?:

    The development of theory in this area is rendered difficult by the multidimensional nature of the problem. One strategy has been to ignore all deleterious mutations and to assume that selection is strong enough and mutation weak enough relative to the power of random genetic drift and recombination that evolution always proceeds by the sequential fixation of single mutations (e.g., refs. 6–11). Such an approach provides a useful entree into the evolutionary dynamics of rare adaptive mutations with large effects. Under these conditions, the expectations are clear—with larger numbers of mutational targets and a reduced power of random genetic drift, the rate of adaptation will increase with population size, although more slowly than expected under the assumption of sequential fixation (12, 13). The motivation for these models, which are specifically focused on total organismal fitness, derives from case studies of adaptations with apparently simple genetic bases, e.g., some aspects of insecticide resistance (14), skin pigmentation (15), and skeletal morphology in vertebrates (16).

    Nevertheless, a broad subset of adaptations cannot be accommodated by the sequential model, most notably those in which multiple mutations must be acquired to confer a benefit. Such traits, here referred to as complex adaptations, include the origin of new protein functions involving multiresidue interactions, the emergence of multimeric enzymes, the assembly of molecular machines, the colonization and refinement of introns, and the establishment of interactions between transcription factors and their binding sites, etc. The routes by which such evolutionary novelties can be procured include sojourns through one or more deleterious intermediate states. Because such intermediate haplotypes are expected to be kept at low frequencies by selection, evolutionary progress would be impeded in large populations were sequential fixation the only path to adaptation. However, in all but very small populations, complex adaptations appear to be achieved by the fortuitous appearance of combinations of mutations within single individuals before fixation of any intermediate steps at the population level (e.g., refs. 17–26).


    one of the refs in 17-26 is a paper in Genetics by Rick attacking Edge of Evolution (Behe got a reply in Genetics):

    http://www.genetics.org/cgi/content/abstract/genetics.107.082610v1

    ReplyDelete
  15. The writings of people like Michael Ruse and Dan Dennett should convince most other philosophers to back off before they discredit the entire discipline of philosophy.

    And what about Elliott Sober?

    ReplyDelete