Thursday, 14 May 2015

Why Evolution is an Easy Target for Fundamentalists

I read Wolpoff and Caspari’s Race and Evolution recently. It’s an biographical account of the various views about race in evolutionary theory. The overwhelming impression it left was that all those palaeontologists were and still are, making very large generalisations on the bases of very small amounts of highly interpreted evidence. That's a “feature" of the history-of-the-universe-and-mankind theories: just think of the recent BICEP2 hype-to-epic-fail incident.

To invent theories about the development of the human race on the basis of what are, let’s be blunt, a few scattered bits of bone that require years of training to “see” properly, is speculative science of the highest order. Wolpoff and Caspari acknowledge that the origin-of-humans theories that get the publicity are the ones that fit best with the dominant public political and moral views of the time. Hence the popularity of Out-of-Africa theories. Should anyone prove that Black Africans and White Europeans have significant genetic differences (whatever that might mean) they will be told to shut up or find another job. Should a lady biologist prove that the current human race consists of the males of one previous species and the females of another, the massed ranks of lady columnists would be asking why it took science so long to prove what everyone has always known. (It would be impossible for a male biologist to publish such a paper.)

Evolution is a process without a mechanism. I’m quite happy to accept that our present flora and fauna are the result of breeding and some as-yet-to-be-understood feedback mechanism between environment, phenotype and genotype. What is missing is an adequate explanation of the engineering of the DNA molecule.

The usual story of evolution is that it happens very gradually, taking thousands of years to develop even the smallest successful change to the phenotype, like a particularly inept Victorian experimental inventor. But this cannot be right. Complicated things, like knee joints and legs, have to be done entire, at once, or not at all. How does a animal exist with half a knee? Or a ball head for the lower leg but no socket (yet) on the upper leg? Or consider the development of vision. The first species able to see clearly would have such a competitive advantage over the others that it would simply wipe all the others out. It must have developed in all the relevant species at the same time. Or else there must have been a period of many millions years before predator-pray systems developed. And if Nature experiments, where are the six-fingered guitarists? Something seems to be keeping Nature’s experiments on most species within a tight pattern. (In case you think six-fingered guitarists are a silly idea, remember that horses and many other “four-legged” animals are actually “single-fingered” animals.)

When we understand the fine-structure dynamics of the DNA molecule, we will see that, just as there is only one way to design a knee, and a few to design an eyeball, there are only a limited number of ways a DNA molecule can be stably structured. (‘Limited’ meaning ‘a lot smaller than the number of possible chess games’. While the words that can be formed by the DNA alphabet are potentially limitless, all but a couple of million those combinations won’t lead to structurally stable molecules. Or something along those lines.)

An adequate theory of evolution would be based on an understanding of changes in DNA arising from a) sexual combination, b) environmental damage, c) the only-slightly-understood constructive feedback between environment, phenotype and genotype. When we understand how DNA works, the theory of evolution will be replaced by DNA technology and the history of climate, land mass movement, meteor strikes, large-scale volcanic eruptions and other such events. And all those Vulgar Evolutionist Just-So Stories trotted out to explain every little weirdness of animal behaviour or appearance? Consigned to the tactful forgetfulness of history.

So when I said that evolution doesn’t have a mechanism, I bet you said “sexual selection” under your breath.

Darwin suggested two methods: combat (lions, deer, wolves), when the male appoints himself after fighting with other males, and the females go along with it; and display (the peacock) where the one or both sexes attract the other with some bling or show-off tricks. Quite how otters and penguins fit into this is a stretch of anyone’s imagination - doesn’t it have something to do with pebbles?

A species that is able to survive significant changes to its environment, and even the odd forest fire or major earthquake, cannot be fine-tuned to its existing environment, must have a large set of variations in its genotype and a reasonably rapid environment - phenotype - genotype feedback system. (Otherwise, like smallpox, it can be eradicated. Common cold viruses have the variation and adaptation of the Devil.) That means one or both of the genders can’t be overly fussy in what they look for. In combat-selecting species, it would seem to make sense that the females are the major source of variation, and that the male lion lacks discrimination; and in display-selecting species, the variation and lack of discrimination needs to be in both genders. If males display, they have to be prepared to mate with dull-looking females, and vice-versa; if both do, or don’t, display, each has to be prepared to settle for whoever happens to handy at the time.

A robust species doesn’t actually go in for a lot of selection. It can’t, because it needs genetic variety to survive change. Females choose because “he made me laugh” or “I like bald men”, and accommodating pop-evolutionists tell them that both those reasons are excellent markers for evolutionary advantage. Yesterday they told some other women that long hair and a serious demeanour were also excellent markers for evolutionary advantage. The individual selects, but one individual’s turn-on is another’s turn-off. So a species-wide genetic change cannot be propagated by sexual selection, nor can a particular gene be de-selected by it, because there’s always going to be enough males and females who find the change unattractive, or take up the cause of genes that the majority wish would go away. Which is why women don’t all look like Behati Prinsloo and men don’t all look like Jake Gyllenhall.

Nope. Sexual selection is a crock. But that, and random mutations, are all the evolutionists have until they get a proper theory of DNA engineering. No wonder Evolution is such an easy target for fundamentalists.

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