Home » Darwinism, Evolution, Intelligent Design » Got a Problem? — Invoke “Evolution”

Got a Problem? — Invoke “Evolution”

My own experience in reading the biological literature is that evolution has very little to do with nuts and bolts biology (e.g., genetics, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology). Biologists, by and large, try to understand existing systems and structures — what they’re made of, how they’re constructed, and how they function. How they evolved is largely beside the point.

Yet to read evolutionists about the scientific status of evolutionary theory, one often gets the impression of salesmen who are omitting crucial details about the product they are selling. Thus one reads that evolution is a fruitful scientific theory that is put into practice every day by scientists across numerous areas of biology and beyond.

A case in point was a recent trackback by Josh Rosenau to the article by Paul Johnson that I cited on my blog (for the Johnson article, go here; for the trackback, go here). According to Rosenau, evolution is “a theory which has created cures for diseases and alleviated suffering.”

“Created cures”? The author of this extravagant claim provides no references. I try to stay on top of the field of biocomputing, which uses models inspired by Darwinian evolution to solve problems at the intersection of biology and computation, but I’m unfamiliar with drug companies using these techniques to design or create new drugs.

Moreover, even if these techniques are used to develop new drugs, this reference to “creating cures” actually vindicates intelligent design because these techniques, even if inspired by Darwinian evolution, require careful engineering and thus are design intensive (see chapter 4 of my book No Free Lunch in which I show that evolutionary computing owes more to intelligent design than to Darwinian evolution — and if you want all the mathematical details of this chapter filled in, go to my article “Searching Large Spaces”).

My suspicion, therefore, is that Josh Rosenau meant something much more plebeian when he referred to evolutionary theory as “creating cures.” What I suspect he is referring to is that bacteria, through a process of natural selection, tend to acquire immunity to antibiotics. Thus, for infections to be treated effectively, drug companies need to design new drugs to overcome the increased immunity of these bacteria.

But, in that case, it is not the theory of evolution that provides insight into how to design new antibiotics that knock out bacteria that have developed an immunity to old antibiotics. Rather, it is the drug designer’s background knowledge and ability as a researcher that enables him or her to design appropriate new drugs that knock out these bacteria. All evolution is doing here is describing the process by which these bacteria acquire antibiotic resistance — not how to design drugs capable of overcoming that resistance.

To say that evolution is “a theory which has created cures for diseases and alleviated suffering” is therefore misleading. It is like saying that tooth decay has assisted in designing new methods of filling cavities. In both these instances, evolution and tooth decay are problems that need to be overcome by design.

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9 Responses to Got a Problem? — Invoke “Evolution”

  1. Evolution Saves Lives

    Rather than (say) emailing me, or leaving a comment here asking for more information, he decides to create some straw men.

    Was I thinking of biocomputing? No.

    Then he suggests that I might mean biotech companies which design drugs to get around…

    [I encourage my readers to look at this trackback. Once you wade through the huff and the puff, you'll see that Rosenau's main point is the second option I consider. As for his remark that we do medical experiments with mammals (i.e., "Why test in mammals? Because humans are mammals. Understanding common descent helps us avoid poisons and ineffective medical treatments. "), this is properly a structuralist argument and works more naturally from a common design vantage. By the way, Paul Lewis developed an effective vaccine against polio in 1908 for monkeys but it took another 50 to develop one for humans. How much did evolution help here? --WmAD]

  2. Then provide references when making claims, Josh. Why don’t you clarify what you meant for us? You are being evasive.

  3. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is microevolution at best. They’re all still bacteria with a minor tweak to ancient avoidance mechanisms. To add insult to injury those tweaks might not even be random mutations according to some recent research that Bill highlighted in a previous article here.

    Testing new drugs, surgeries, etc. on other mammals is a red herring. Those other mammals are similar to humans regardless of how they came to be similar. Relationships between extant animals are the same regardless of how those relationships were established. Whether chance or ID is true will not change a single nucleotide sequence in a single thing living or dead.

  4. Got a problem – invoke “evolution”.

    I call it Darwin of the Gaps. Something you can’t explain? Why then just assign it to chance and time. Chance and time fills any gap. No additional data required. Chance and time can create anything. Chance and time are omnipotent. Give me a break.

  5. 5

    “Bacterial resistance to antibiotics”
    In the context of this discussion, the question would be: Did evolutionists predict bacterial resistance to antibiotics, or, was it simply used as an explanation for what was being observed? A theory’s usefulness is dependent on its ability to predict.

    Anyone have a good example evolutionary theory predicting the outcome of an experiment and not simply attributing the outcome to evolution after the fact?

  6. Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

    Bzzt, wrong. The fact that he misunderstands is a separate problem. He presented two options, one in which humans mimic evolution, the other in which we strive to counter evolution as it happens. I offered several more options, which he chose to igno…

  7. What a bunch of straw men, Josh!

    1) Many IDers don’t deny change with descent and a universal common ancestor.
    Read the “Dissent from Darwinism” signed by hundreds of scientists brave enough to risk ostracism to sign their name to it. They’re skeptical of random mutation + natural selection’s ability to explain the diversity of life. The skepticism is about the mechanism not the result. What part of that don’t you understand? You’re guilty of cherry picking. By singling out those who deny common descent (the YEC subset of IDers) you’re just plucking the low hanging fruit.

    2) Most IDers accept microevolutionary changes driven by random mutation + natural selection. Bacteria that develop additional immunities to the wide range of toxins they already deal with is microevolution. Those are just tweaks on ancient defense mechanisms. They’re new strains of an existing bacteria not novel new new forms of life. Show a bacteria creating a novel irreducibly complex structure through RM+NS and then you’ll get my attention. Stories with missing details about how it might happen are just stories. I’ve yet to see a flagella evolution story without the moral equivalent of “then a miracle happens” in it. Stories are cheap.

    3) You say “Got a problem explaining evolution – invoke design”. That’s a double edged sword. The other way it cuts is “Got a problem explaining design – invoke time and chance”. Neither are acceptable. Both are all-powerful explanations of the unknown and by themselves are useless. The unknown remains the unknown. You’re just ticked off because your time and chance story has proven to be an inadequate explanation for growing plethora of observations and you have no rational alternative that isn’t intelligent design of some sort. The cognitive dissonance that Darwin of the Gaps apologists are experiencing sure is fun to watch.

    4) You talk about emergent properties as if that somehow explains what time and chance can’t. Intelligent design appears to be an emergent property of living things. What convinces you it happened only once and only in the last few millenia in the long history of the causally connected universe? It appears to me intelligent design emerged at least 3-4 billion years ago in the mysterious and sudden appearance of life based on ribosomes and DNA. There’s serious evidence it appeared 14 billion years ago when the physical constants settled out in exquisitely precise interelated values that makes life as we know it possible. Maybe intelligence was an emergent property of the big bang. How’s that for invoking mysterious emergent properties for ya? Emergent properties are a double edged sword that works as well for ID as it does for time and chance apologists.

    5) You say “A structure might begin for no clear reason.” That to me is equivalent to saying “Then a miracle happens”. Spare me.

  8. ScotDanielson said “Anyone have a good example evolutionary theory predicting the outcome of an experiment and not simply attributing the outcome to evolution after the fact?”

    I don’t. But I have some nice examples of the Darwinian narrative failing in its predictions. The indisputable testimony of the fossil record is littered with saltation and top down descent from well diversified, novel forms that appeared suddenly. Darwinian theory predicted bottom up descent – very similar forms diverging into diverse forms through incremental changes so small they would form a continuum. Gould and Eldrege had no explaining to do if this wasn’t an inconvenient fact of the fossil record.

    Ostensibly evolution of novel cell types, tissue types, organs, and body plans is still happening today. Has anybody actually observed the emergence of a novel cell type, tissue type, organ, or body plan? Nope. It’s nothing more than fantasy to purport this happened through RM+NS. All-powerful time & chance to the rescue again. The stock reply is that macroevolution of that nature takes place too slowly to observe in real time. Just so. Well, little green men from Mars might be acting too slowly to observe in real time too. Give me a break. They’re both fantasies until there’s empirical evidence gathered through observation or experiment that falsifies or verifies one or the other. Just so stories are cheap and easy to construct. The painful fact of the matter is that contrary empirical evidence is accumulating in quantities too great to ignore for the time & chance story. Now that I think about it the opposite is true for little green men from Mars as some possible but ambiguous signs of ancient life on Mars were discovered by the latest pair of Mars landers. :-)

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