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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 21: What if Darwin’s theory only works 6 percent of the time?

Here’s an interesting article in New Scientist by Bob Holmes on a new approach to how animals become separate species (“Accidental origins: Where species come from”, March 10, 2010):
Everywhere you look in nature, you can see evidence of natural selection at work in the adaptation of species to their environment. Surprisingly though, natural selection may have little role to play in one of the key steps of evolution - the origin of new species. Instead it would appear that speciation is merely an accident of fate.

So, at least, says Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, UK. If his controversial claim proves correct, then the broad canvas of life - the profusion of beetles and rodents, the dearth of primates, and so on - may have less to do with the guiding hand of natural selection and more to do with evolutionary accident-proneness.

[ ... ]

"When it works, it works remarkably well," he says. "But it only works in about 6 per cent of cases. It doesn't seem to be a general way that groups of species fill out their niches."
Then Darwin’s theory just barely makes it to statistical significance, conventionally given as 4 per cent.

The otherwise most informative article is marred by the constant need to claim that Darwin was not wrong - but obviously, if Pagels is right, Darwin was indeed wrong, and so are all the people fronting his cause. Natural selection acting on random mutation was, precisely, Darwin’s proposed mechanism.

No one supposes that natural selection doesn’t occur. But is it the main driver of new species, as Darwin thought, and Pagels doubts?

Pagels dances very nervously indeed around that point (presumably from fear of joining the Expelled, given that his genome research has failed to back Darwin up.

So, for a free copy of Expelled, which details what happened to a variety of people who questioned establishment Darwinism, based on its failures of evidence, read the article and provide the best answer to this question: What do you think of Pagels’ evidence? Is it critical? Is he just blowing smoke? Will he be forced to recant?

Here's where you enter, which you do by posting a comment, 400 words or less. If you are new to Uncommon Descent, you will need to sign up.

Here are the contest rules, not many or difficult. The main thing is 400 words or less. Winners receive a certificate verifying their win as well as the prize. Winners must provide me with a valid postal address, though it need not be theirs. A winner's name is never added to a mailing list. There is no mailing list. Have fun!

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:


Top Ten books to read on the intelligent design controversy, 2009 #4

(Note: These are the key books, not science or media news. The Top Ten Darwin and Design Science News Stories for 2009 are here, and my comments are here, the Top Ten Darwin and Design Media News Stories for 2009 are here, and my comments on the latter are here. Also, to get the links, you must go here.)

My comments follow.

4. Nature's IQ by Balazs Hornyanszky and Istvan Tasi. Hungarian scientists Balazs Hornyanszky and Istvan Tasi offer a novel contribution to the intelligent design literature by extending Michael Behe's theory of irreducible complexity from biological form to biological behavior. Where did the mysterious instincts of animals originate? Nature's IQ. The authors document more than 100 astonishing, unexplained phenomena from the animal kingdom, with 200 amazing color pictures. The authors point out how Darwinian "just so" stories fail to explain these irreducibly complex instincts and behaviors. This book is a valuable addition to any library for its amazing photos of animal life and it's catalog of fascinating animal behavior regardless of whether you believe they were a product of random mutations and natural selection or a product of artful, purposeful design.

[From Denyse: In my opinion, this book could have rated higher, but I would hate to displace any above. I have read it, and cannot rate it too highly - and think it is the right one to give to friends, relatives, and colleagues, if they wonder why design is an issue - with one caveat. Anyone who has lived and worked with animals will know that many animals have instincts that are likely too complex to have been acquired by “natural selection.” See, for example, the work of Rupert Sheldrake, who threw Dawkins out of his lab, in this matter. For fun, by the way, consider Oscar the deathcat. Also here.

One huge loss to human knowledge that Darwinism created is that - in the frantic attempt to prove that animals think like people (they don’t) - we miss the things they can do and we can’t, that Darwinism cannot coherently explain.]

One caveat: The book is based in the Hindu tradition. I don’t consider that a problem, particularly, and welcome Hindus’ involvement. But it could become an issue in some school systems, a situation I regret. (Because I think that judgements in such matters should generally be left to teachers, who are professionals. Or if they are not, let’s train better teachers.)

More on the book here and here.

Pick 5 is here.


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