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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Evolution in the light of intelligent design - making evolution make sense

Here are the new additions to the Evolution and Intelligent Design Encyclopedia, from British physicist David Tyler. Why argue a point until you have checked the latest information?

Adaptation - adaptationist fantasies (Tyler)
Adaptationists have tended to develop lazy ways of thinking and rarely seek out ways to test their offered scenarios. "Glib generalizations [according to the author] come from the assumption shared by many biologists that natural selection is the only mechanism of evolutionary change, and hence every observed feature of organisms must have come about because of natural selection." This mechanism is highly prized because they think it can do anything. They claim it is the great creator of complexity. But the concept is qualitative, not quantitative, and there are inadequate checks to avoid the pathways to fantasy. "This conveniently licenses anyone to concoct any adaptive story about anything biological and put it forward as a serious contribution to the science of evolution."

Atheism and science (Tyler) Does science promote atheism?
"The first systematic analysis in decades to examine the religious beliefs and practices of elite academics in the sciences supports the notion that science professors at top universities are less religious than the general population, but attributes this to a number of variables that have little to do with their study of science."

Bacterial flagellum - no simple explanation (Tyler)
In a recent contribution to Current Biology, we read: "there are some caveats we evolutionists should consider before hailing Liu and Ochman as our next champions in the war against unreason." The caveats are to be welcomed. It was surprising to read the uncritical acclaim accompanying the publication of the original paper and a more measured assessment of its bold claims is to be welcomed. However, the reference to "war against unreason" is misguided. The authors are referring to ID, yet ID scientists are strong defenders of reason. Their reason leads them to make design inferences, and design inferences are totally unacceptable to scientists who have adopted the philosophy of naturalism.

Biomimetics (Tyler)
The reason why biomimetics has taken off is not because people are uncovering designs of the tinkering variety, but designs that are exquisite and holistic. This is particularly apparent in the integrative organism-driven biomimetics reviewed by Hesselberg. Biomimetics as an interdisciplinary discipline may well find that Intelligent Design is superior to Darwinism for underpinning its analytical framework.

Brain - anachronistic junk? (Tyler)
"According to David Linden, the brain is a product of the tinkering blind watchmaker espoused by Darwinist biologists. Unfortunately, few readers will realise that this "central thesis" is a deduction from dogma and not empirical evidence. The data that is discussed is perfectly capable of being understood within a design perspective, including the tendency for our minds to distort reality and to act foolishly."

Cell, metaphors,changing metaphors (Tyler)
Today, we are familiar with the metaphor of the cell as a factory, taking in raw materials and converting them, via elaborate processing equipment and complex chemistry, into usable products. But this metaphor is not the only one. The author of a recent review writes: "The history of cell theory offers a rich lesson in the use of metaphor and analogy in scientific thought. The first account of the cell likened it to an empty room, but it has also been conceptualized through the metaphors of a building stone (Baustein), an elementary organism (Elementarorganismus), a chemical laboratory or factory, a motor and a machine."

Chimp-human DNAcomparisons (Tyler)
For over 30 years, the public have been led to believe that human and chimpanzee genetics differ by mere 1%. This 'fact' of science has been used on innumerable occasions to silence anyone who offered the thought that humans are special among the animal kingdom. "Today we take as a given that the two species are genetically 99% the same." However, this "given" is about to be discarded. Apparently, it is now OK to openly acknowledge that those who are involved in this research have never been comfortable that the 1% figure was an accurate summary of the scientific information.

Darwinism - limits of Darwinism (Tyler) "The real issue is: will a debate within science be allowed? If Behe is not allowed the right of reply, this review should be treated as an exercise in polemics, designed to protect the world of science from ever having to face up to evidences of ID. If there is the opportunity to reply, readers will enjoy a genuine scientific debate. This review must backfire, because science has shown that there are limits to Darwinism and it is perfectly legitimate to ask what Darwinism can and cannot do." (Tyler)

Dover Trial (US) (Tyler)
The losers are variously portrayed as a scourge on society that the world is best rid of. The Warfare Thesis was invented towards the end of the 19th Century to replace the hegemony of the established church with the new hegemony of scientism, and ever since that time, the advocates of naturalism have been reinforcing the warfare myth and claiming victory for science against the forces of darkness (which generally means Christianity). The 1925 Scopes Trial in the US was slotted into this format and it now appears that the Dover trial is getting the same treatment.

Junk DNA - Framing the debate (Tyler)
... instead of equipping the public with the concepts and resources to make informed judgments, the objective appears to be to safeguard Darwinism to ensure the public do not revolt!

Human evolution, bipedalism
Taking all these characters into account means that the adaptive landscape looks like to very sharp peaks separated by a wide plain. We could call the peaks Mount Ape Improbable and Mount Human Improbable. The claim that there is an incremental route for an apelike animal to move from one peak to the other has so far eluded Darwinians. The authors comment: "why our unique two-legged gait evolved remains unknown."

Life - Vitalism theory (Tyler)
An Editorial in Nature deflects legitimate concerns about the ethics of a specific research project by interpreting these concerns as a luddite attack on science by vitalists who think the research is "an affront on God". The offence has been caused by the Venter Institute which is applying for worldwide patents on what they refer to as Mycoplasma laboratorium. This novel bacterium is claimed to have been made with synthetic DNA in the laboratory.

Methodological naturalism - Charles Lyell (Tyler)
There is a tendency for scholars in the Lyell tradition to think that empirical evidence can be gathered objectively and that analysis leads to robust knowledge. However, Lyell filtered the data available to him by an unarticulated interpretive principle. Anderson seeks to revise our perceptions of Lyell's contribution by focusing attention on his philosophical roots. "Just as the Aristotelians gathered huge amounts of data and yet because of false interpretive principles drew false conclusions about the world, so any other "science" is only as good as its interpretive principles." Lyell appeared to have been deeply influenced by the philosopher David Hume.

Mutation theory of phenotype evolution (Tyler)
The selectionist/neutralist controversy has continued for nearly 40 years, and a resolution is not in sight. NeoDarwinists like to think that Neutral Evolution is compatible with neoDarwinism, but this is a bit like their attitude to Punctuated Equilibrium: everything worth saying has to be compatible with neoDarwinism! Meanwhile, the controversy goes on. . . In a recent PNAS review paper, Masatoshi Nei argues that our knowledge of genetics is such that, as far as genes controlling phenotypic characters are concerned, conservation is a more applicable description than evolution.

Photosynthesis - extreme efficiency (Tyler) "Photosynthetic complexes are exquisitely tuned to capture solar light efficiently, and then transmit the excitation energy to reaction centres, where long term energy storage is initiated.” The problem has been one of understanding how 95%+ efficiencies are possible in a natural system."

Protein engineering - limits to Darwinian mechanism (Tyler)
In spite of the progress, we still do not have a general theory on how a sequence produces a specific structure and how a structure determines a function. Therefore, a blind Darwinian search within a known protein scaffold is often used to modify proteins. Unfortunately, blind searches have hard resource limits whereas insight has not. Therefore, in the long run, blind searches are of limited value in compensating our present ignorance."

Starlet sea anemone Unexpected genome complexity
Elizabeth Pennisi observes: "This implies that even very ancient genomes were quite complex and contained most of the genes necessary to build today's most sophisticated multicellular creatures." Eugene Koonin of the National Center for Biotechnology Information was interviewed about the research. He said that it is surprising to find such a "high level of genomic complexity in a supposedly primitive animal such as the sea anemone".

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