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When Darwinism Hurts

In this latest post at PhysOrg, it seems that Darwinism hasn’t helped, but instead hindered the fight against cancer.

Dr. Peter Duesberg, a molecular biologist at Berkeley,

proposed in 2000 that the assumption underlying most cancer research today is wrong. That assumption, that cancer results from a handful of genetic mutations that drive a cell into uncontrolled growth, has failed to explain many aspects of cancer, he said, and has led researchers down the wrong path.

And, in words that support Behe’s main thesis in “The Edge of Evolution”, Deusberg also adds:

“In this new study and in one published in 2005, we have proved that only chromosomal rearrangements, rather than mutations, can explain the high rates and wide ranges of drug resistance in cancer cells.”

Think of the number of people who die each year of cancer as compared to the number who die from bacterial infection, and one can easily see that all the chest-slapping by the Darwinists about how RM+NS has given us anti-bacterial drugs can know pound their breasts in remorse at the “wrong path” mutational theory has led cancer researchers. This isn’t just a battle between the God-denying and the God-affirming segments of our global society, it’s about good science versus bad science, about reason versus myth.

In a paper responding to Duesberg’s in the same issue of Drug Resistance Updates, Tito Fojo of the National Cancer Institute argues that there are many ways in which the mutation theory of cancer can explain drug resistance. A gene mutation, deletion, translocation or amplification could disrupt many cell functions, leading to resistance, or could inactivate or damage the doors through which a drug enters a cell.

Duesberg counters that aneuploidy is simpler and can explain the common development of resistance to many unrelated drugs within the same cancer. He has shown in experiments that aneuploidy causes many gene disruptions such as breakage or translocation each time a cancer cell divides, providing an opportunity for it to develop resistance to many drugs. Gene mutation rates in cancer cells, however, are no different from mutation rates in normal cells, making it difficult to understand how several simultaneous mutations can occur in cancer to make them resistant to more than one drug.

“The fundamental problem these conventional theories don’t address is why it (drug resistance) doesn’t happen in normal cells,” he said. “Why aren’t we all getting resistant to any toxic drug we are exposed to? Why does it happen only in cancer cells? Why do cancer cells become resistant and the patients don’t?”

Darwinism is like an addiction. You just can’t seem to be able to give the stuff up!

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32 Responses to When Darwinism Hurts

  1. I haven’t posted in a few days because I’ve gotten frustrated that my comments are getting stuck in moderation. Maybe I’ve been too impolitic in responding to arguments I find unreasonable. I’ll try to be polite but firm.

    First, it’s just wrong to assume Duesberg is correct and that this a battle between “good science” and “myth.” His theory remains a controversial and distinctly minority view of things, not just because convention changes slowly but because such claims require a long time to be tested and accepted in practice. Why not see how things play out a bit first?

    Second, smart as Duesberg is — and he’s done some amazing work, especially in his early career — he is a guy who courts controversy for its own sake, and who wasted years of his life trying to deny the HIV/AIDS connection against all evidence to the contrary. Of course, cancer is his real area of expertise, so he may be right.

    Third, it’s simply wrong to claim that Duesberg’s work supports ID in general or Behe’s book in particular. I bet Duesburg would not be happy to be enlisted as an unwitting supporter of intelligent design. In fact, I bet he’s a full-blown evolutionist, and nothing about his cancer theory suggests it involves anything immaterial or designed.

    H

  2. I am having a very hard time understanding any part of this post. The point of the article being cited, as I read it, is that one chromosomal rearrangement can effect mutations to many individual genes. Thus, drug resistance may be more likely to appear within a certain amount of time in a cell line with chromosomal instability than one without. Aneuploidy as a basis for cancer is not somehow less compatible with Darwinism.

    Far more people worldwide die of infectious disease than cancer. So I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make there, either.

  3. Having read the article in Scientific American, I can confirm that the mechanism is evolutionary and materialist. Here’s a key passage:

    Some of the most common and dreadful characteristics of cancer do not offer any competitive survival advantages to a tumor. Examples of these include intrinsic resistance to drugs the tumor has never encountered before and metastasis, which does not help tumor cells compete with normal cells at their site of origin. Individual gene mutations, which are rare to begin with, would only be selectively conserved in tumor cells if the mutation were advantageous, so the chances of an untreated tumor becoming drug-resistant through random gene mutations in its cells are practically zero. Because chromosomes are much larger and can harbor thousands of genes, however, they could be selectively retained for their contribution of some cancer-specific phenotype, and numerous unselected traits would be carried along as well. Indeed, the evidence of specific chromosomal changes associated with drug resistance or metastasis supports this possibility. And collectively, cancer cells can evolve all kinds of new traits very rapidly.

    The key distinction is the level of evolution — the gene or the chromosome. Evolution is not questioned at all.

  4. You ought to add that this is according to and only according to Peter Duesberg. Who still hasn’t given up his manic battle against the HIV-AIDS connection.

    And what does this have to with bacterial resistance?

  5. 5

    This is, of course, the same Peter Duesberg who claims AIDS is not caused by HIV, but by recreational drug use.

    I guess, like evolution, the “HIV theory of AIDS” must also be on the ropes, then?

  6. “In this new study and in one published in 2005, we have proved that only chromosomal rearrangements, rather than mutations, can explain the high rates and wide ranges of drug resistance in cancer cells.”

    If I remember correctly, Jonathan Wells said pretty much similar thing.

  7. Of course, Wells was speaking about causes of cancer itself, not resistance in cancer cells.

  8. guppy: “And what does this have to with bacterial resistance?”

    You might have to reread what I wrote. I think it becomes fairly obvious.

  9. guppy: “And what does this have to with bacterial resistance?”

    PaV: You might have to reread what I wrote. I think it becomes fairly obvious.

    I did and it isn’t. What does aneuploidy in cancer cells have to do with bacteria or bacterial resistance?

  10. // Off topic
    Ken Miller has just reviewed Behe’s book in Natur.

  11. For my part, what I take away from the OP is the fact that a minority view, even an unpopular view, can lead to some potentially fruitful directions in science and research. Say what you want about Duesberg’s own philosophies and motivation (The attitude seems to be lining up so that if Duesberg is right, he’s a committed and faithful Darwinist. If he’s wrong, he’s a crackpot.) – does anyone here really think that science would be advanced if Duesberg were forbidden (or threatened away) from going against the assumptions of his peers?

  12. nullasalus,

    The point of the original post, as stated in the first sentence: “it seems that Darwinism hasn’t helped, but instead hindered the fight against cancer.” This is simply unsupported by the paper on any number of levels. We don’t know what if anything this theory says about the fight against cancer, since it’s too new and controversial to have shown anything; whatever the merits of the view, it says nothing whatsoever about “Darwinism”; and it certainly says nothing at all in support of ID in any event.

    That Duesberg has been a crank in other areas is an interesting side question (one that the Scientific American editors face in their lead editorial for the issue). It’s not relevant to the success of this theory, however — and neither is Darwinism, which this theory doesn’t challenge in the slightest.

  13. Philip Johnson himself is one of the skeptics of the HIV-AIDS link. I have read some articles he wrote regarding this.

    So, if Duesberg is considered a crackpot for this idea, what does that make Philip Johnson ?

    See here for instance :

    http://www.virusmyth.net/aids/index/pjohnson.htm

    http://www.arn.org/docs/johnso.....ngaids.htm

    http://www.reason.com/contrib/show/359.xml

  14. The fundamental problem these conventional theories don’t address is why it (drug resistance) doesn’t happen in normal cells,” he said. “Why aren’t we all getting resistant to any toxic drug we are exposed to? Why does it happen only in cancer cells? Why do cancer cells become resistant and the patients don’t?”
    –Duesberg

    ???…I’m going to go way out a limb here and propose that it’s because cancer cells are growing and dividing far more rapidly than normal tissue while at the same time mutating faster than “normal” somatic cells, which are generally differentiated and not replicating.

    And, for the record, there are certain genetic mutations, such as p53, which are acquired across many cancers. Overall, the mutation-accumulation model for cancer has a great deal of evidence supporting it. While chromosomal instability no doubt can play a key role as well–no one I know is denying this–I just don’t see why he’s making a fuss other than to draw attention to himself. Also, since when did UD begin looking to Berkeley for inspiration?

  15. Everyone seems to be overlooking something that Behe talks about in his book and something that other IDists bring up frequently. Cancer cells are broken cells. Information has been lost, not gained. Specifically the lost information breaks the apoptosis mechanism. There’s no evolution going on in cancer. Devolution is the apt term. That mutation is responsible for the onset of cancer in many if not most cases is well established. Exposure to sundry forms of ionizing radiation and chemicals definitely causes damage to DNA and raises the risk of cancer. The take home lesson seems to be that nothing good ever happens from DNA damage. No one to my knowledge has ever been exposed to radiation or carcingenic substances and come out better for it – only bad things happen. That isn’t evolution – it’s devolution. I realize that desirable heritable characteritics in plants can be made by soaking seeds in mutagens but it’s not apparent that this is any exception to the rule that only bad things happens as I’m not aware of any mutations caused in that manner that would benefit the plant in the wild – the benefits are only for humans when the plant is under cultivation. There’s probably nothing new added to the plant genome either but rather just rearrangement of preexisting characters – amplifying some and/or repressing others – call it recombination on steroids.

    Evolution described as “survival of the fittest” or even better “differential reproduction” needs to be kept in mind. Mutations that result in decreased fitness can’t be described as evolutionary – they are devolutionary and this is where natural selection operates if not all the time at least most of the time. Natural selection doesn’t work to save good things anywhere near as well as it works to eliminate the bad things – it’s a conservative mechanism not a creative one.

  16. I don’t follow the HIV/AIDS controversy much. For the vast majority it’s easily avoided by known risk aversion. I compare it to things like base jumping. I’m sure the behavior is thrilling and the thrill is a reward but you don’t have any right to complain if you get hurt doing it. That said it’s not wholly unlikely that HIV is a symptom rather than a cause of AIDS. From my POV 23 years of considering it the cause of AIDS has not moved us any closer to a vaccine. There are two possibilities in that. The first is that the virus is just too insidious but second is that it isn’t insidious it’s just not the cause so no amount of effort against the virus will prevent the disease. However it does seem incredibly unlikely that AIDS isn’t a transmissable disease caused by infectious element of some sort so if not HIV then what is it? The evidence is circumstantial and compelling but the lack of progress in curing AIDS is also compelling evidence that we’re on the wrong track.

  17. Orac had a long post about Duesberg’s theories, for those who are interested in the views of a cancer surgeon.

    Bob

  18. davescot:

    That said it’s not wholly unlikely that HIV is a symptom rather than a cause of AIDS. From my POV 23 years of considering it the cause of AIDS has not moved us any closer to a vaccine.

    Nor has a few decades of taking malaria to be caused by the plasmodium parasite. And for similar reasons actually. The pathogens mutate very rapidly and exhibit a great deal of genetic divergence.

    The link between the cancer and HIV theories is that both assume a worldwide conspiracy of silence that is hard to believe. Do drug companies want to spend billions of dollars chasing the ghost of HIV?

  19. Do drug companies want to spend billions of dollars chasing the ghost of HIV?

    Only if it is at taxpayer expense.

  20. 20

    No one to my knowledge has ever been exposed to radiation or carcingenic substances and come out better for it – only bad things happen.

    I believe radiotherapy is called a “therapy” because one comes out the better for it.

  21. Only if it is at taxpayer expense.

    Which it isn’t, not solely. But more to the point, all profits from a successful vaccine don’t go back to the taxpayer :-)

    Thanks Bob O’H for the link to Orac’s post
    Highly recommended.

  22. Hermagoras,

    We don’t know what if anything this theory says about the fight against cancer, since it’s too new and controversial to have shown anything; whatever the merits of the view, it says nothing whatsoever about “Darwinism”; and it certainly says nothing at all in support of ID in any event.

    Sure it does. I asked a pretty straightforward question; regardless of whether or not Duesberg hosts some unpopular theories (And frankly, I don’t endorse said theories), would science and research be served by shunning him? Or, right or wrong though those ideas may be, is there value in their being aired and discussed by people of varying viewpoints?

    If right or wrong, there’s value, then I see that as supporting the discussion of ID. Whether Dembski or Behe or Wells or anyone else’s particular explanations and theories pan out, I happen to think that looking at the data from a variety of perspectives should be tolerated at the very least. So for me, Duesberg’s treatment impacts heavily on ID – and that if someone were to call Duesberg a crackpot or otherwise to discourage him, science would be ill-served.

    Mind you, I don’t think ID proponents should engage in the same, though at this point the debate’s rather animated on both sides.

  23. nullasulas, I said Duesberg’s theoriest said nothing at all in support of ID. This was and remains my main point regarding the original post. You responded by saying that there’s some value in discussing minority theories, and that therefore discussing Duesburg supports discussing ID.

    Leaving aside the merits of your case, let me just point out that you are responding to something I never said. I wasn’t talking about an issue of free speech; I was talking about whether the claims of Duesburg supported ID. They don’t.

    To SeekandFind,

    Yes, PJ’s HIV denialism makes him a crank in that respect (as well).

    To DaveScot,

    I’m not surprised that you are skeptical of the HIV/AIDS connection, since you seem to be enjoy taking the oddball view for its own sake. To repeat your own (extraordinarily chilling) word to AIDS victims, I’m sure this behavior is thrilling and the thrill is a reward but you don’t have any right to complain if you get hurt doing it.

  24. Neo Darwinism is based not on mutations but random variations of the genome from a variety of causes. Mutations are just one of the many sources of random variations. So I do not understand why chromosomal rearrangements is not part of the NDE paradigm.

    If researchers have only been following mutations alone in their research then they have not been following the NDE paradigm and can be criticized for not being true Darwinists.

    What Dave Scot has said above and Behe discusses in detail in his book, is that these random variations seldom if ever produce anything good. All NDE seems to do is guide the species to extinction. So to be a true Darwinist, a researcher must examine all roads to extinction.

    The origin of variety in the alleles of a species is beyond the NDE paradigm to create and one must look elsewhere for the source of the incredible variety in every species. But for the end of a species, NDE is an excellent place to look.

  25. Dave:
    “No one to my knowledge has ever been exposed to radiation or carcingenic substances and come out better for it – only bad things happen.”

    Gasp!
    What about Spiderman?!

    ;-)

  26. “Third, it’s simply wrong to claim that Duesberg’s work supports ID in general or Behe’s book in particular.”—Hermagoras

    The title of the post gives away entirely the point I was making. It wasn’t my aim to make this, let us say, pro-ID. I find myself being more anti-Darwin than anything else.

    We often hear Darwinists telling us that without Darwinism anti-bacterial drugs would never have been discovered; hence, “we owe our very lives to Darwinism”. Well, Behe himself concedes that NS actually does work. He gives Darwin credit for discovering that and making a case for it. But, it has its limits.

    This is a case where Darwinism, extended beyond its appropriate reach, can be downright harmful. Duesberg explicitly states that it has taken cancer researchers down the “wrong path”. And for 35 years! The question then is: how many more wrong paths is Darwinism leading us? While Duesberg apparently wants to couch his understanding of aneuploidy in Darwinian language—which is most likely completely wrong—at least he’s recognizing the importance of chromosomal rearrangements: something that Richard Goldschmidt was writing about in 1940. So, maybe Darwinism has been leading down the “wrong path” for 67 years. That’s my hunch.

  27. AIDS_dissident

    In 1995, 12 articles were published by dissenters in the journal Genetica (Genetica 1995). Three were written by Duesberg, two by the Perth group of researchers, and two by Root-Bernstein. They formed the basis of the book AIDS: Virus or Drug Induced, published the following year (Duesberg 1996c). In addition to the papers cited above, it included articles and papers by mathematician Mark Craddock, NIDA researcher Harry Haverkos, Lauritsen, Nobel prize winner Kary Mullis (the inventor of PCR), Yale math professor Serge Lang, public health professor Gordon Stewart, and journalist Celia Farber.

    Even if the dissent is wrong, it would be hard to argue those involved are crackpots.

    Nobel Prize winner Mullis:

    We have not been able to discover any good reasons why most of the people on earth believe that AIDS is a disease caused by a virus called HIV. There is simply no scientific evidence demonstrating that this is true… We know that to err is human, but the HIV/AIDS hypothesis is one hell of a mistake. ” —

    Kary Mullis, biochemist, 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (Mullis 1996)

    PNAS Editor Forscher:

    “The HIV hypothesis ranks with the ‘bad air’ theory for malaria and the ‘bacterial infection’ theory for beriberi and pellagra [caused by nutritional deficiencies]. It is a hoax that became a scam.” —

    Bernard Forscher, former editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Hodgkinson 1994b)

    “The AIDS thing – the hysteria, the stupidity, the institutional craziness – would all disappear if the fear disappeared. The whole thing is kept together by fear, intimidation, terrorism and brutality.” — David Rasnick, biochemist and protease inhibitor designer (Conlan 1998b)

    Given how I’ve seen Darwinian evolution promoted and how it has created harmful medical and social practices, it’s hard not to be skeptical of all sorts of accepted scientific “truths”.

  28. Hermagoras,

    I chimed in with my own view on what links the OP’s content to ID, and I’ve been consistent in those remarks. PaV has just chimed in more or less saying as much, I believe – the case illustrates the value of welcoming a variety of opinions to the table, unpopular or not.

    You’ve been telling me that whatever the case, ID’s scientific claims are not vindicated by Duesberg’s case, while Darwinism (whatever that means – the definition always shifts) is not harmed by it. That’s fine – but I’ve not been arguing those points at all. Given PaV’s response, I don’t even think that was the OP’s argument at this point. It’s just one more example of how going against the grain may prove fruitful for science and research, and why tolerance for alternative, even unpopular views is an asset, not a liability.

  29. PaV,

    While Duesberg apparently wants to couch his understanding of aneuploidy in Darwinian language—which is most likely completely wrong—at least he’s recognizing the importance of chromosomal rearrangements: something that Richard Goldschmidt was writing about in 1940. So, maybe Darwinism has been leading down the “wrong path” for 67 years.

    Again, I just cannot understand where you’re getting this from. Duesberg is arguing that it is not the case that you need to mess up only a few genes to get cancer. Instead, he argues that you need to mess up a lot of the genome at once, through loss of chromosomal stability. Neither of these hypotheses is incompatible with Darwinism, and fervent belief Darwinism would not really lead you to believe one over the other.

    Nullasalus and DaveScot have tried to zoom out and make a point about the bigger picture, and that’s relatively fine, but the claim you are making here is simply a non-starter.

  30. “Neither of these hypotheses is incompatible with Darwinism, and fervent belief Darwinism would not really lead you to believe one over the other. GeoMor

    You will see that I specified Darwinism—shall we call it the Modern Synthesis—as RM+NS. While this theory includes things other than SNP’s, such as recombination, and gene duplication, it does not, to my knowledge, include anything at the chromosomal level—and I’m speaking here of theoretical explanations backed up with some kind of mathematical structure. Once we move beyond such structured explanations, it seems, we’re dealing with no more than mere conjecture.

    Also, if you read closely, you will see that I, along with Behe, accept a certain measure of Darwinism/Modern Synthesis. My entire point is that dogged attachment to a theory that is correct only to a small degree, resulting in its application to the n-th degree, is counterproductive to true science. Duesberg makes this point when he says that, more or less, Darwinism has led us down the “wrong path” for 35 years.

    In other words, the stakes are high; cancer is a serious disease; and religious obsession, or just plain, old reactionism, can prove harmful.

    Let me add that a few years ago, in a paper by Prum and Brush, the authors almost sorrowfully reported that after years and years of trying to come up with an explanation for the evolution of feathers via the Modern Synthesis, that it appeared that Darwinian explanations had not only been unable to provide a convincing explanation, but that they had actually gotten in the way of coming up with an explanation. (They, of course, remain Darwinists.)

  31. Duesberg’s views on HIV/AIDS may seem strange, but he is a virologist. His main point is that if anyone is infected with a virus they should get sick immediately—that’s what viruses do: they make people sick, and right away. And, if you have a ‘particular’ virus, a doctor ought to be able to tell you what disease you’re going to develop; but that isn’t the case with HIV/AIDS. A doctor would be forced to tell you that might end up with Haposi’s sarcoma, or pneumonia, or any number of six or seven kinds of diseases.

    One has to admit that this is a strange virus. Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV back in 1992, cutting short his career. He seems perfectly fine when I see him commenting on NBA games 15 years later. That’s some kind of virus.

    Here’s something that was written in in support of an article by Duesberg written in 1990. It’s quite interesting:

    “The poor quality of scientific thinking leads to shabby behavior in the conference halls and journals. A theory that is poorly grounded has to defend itself form it critics on the basis of sneer and insult, for it has no honorable weapons of debate.

    Now, having failed to rise to the challenge to their theory by scientists such as Duesberg in the scientific papers, defenders of the HIV theory complain that criticisms of it has been made available to the public. This will, we are told, undermine confidence in public health measures designed to protect the general population.”

    Judge Jones wouldn’t agree more with the last sentence.

  32. Let’s even take the more moderate view that HIV may be a co-factor cause to AIDS, that implies we are failing to recognize the other equally important co-factors and thus unable to treat the disease.

    In such case, I would hope a degree of skepticism would be in order.

    Regarding the Original Point by Pav, let me add, I can’t see a single case where the neo-Darwinian view has added to medical knowledge any more than what an ID view would have done. There are examples of it being hurtful.

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