Evolution and its Adversaries (Part-17)


In the context of deeper studies, the perspective of biological scientists has begun to change and gravitate towards skepticism regarding Darwinism and its second version called the Modern Synthesis, writes SYED IQBAL ZAHEER.


Michael Behe’s work which raised the question of sudden appearance of organelles whose various parts were functionless until the whole assembly arrived, wasn’t too popular with the evolutionists. Prominent activist evolutionists remained silent – they did not have anything substantial to refute him, but doubts were raised by some on the lower rungs. William Dembski, a well-known biologist answered those at the lower rung. When Ken Miller cited flagellar homology with the T3SS to explain how the flagellum evolved, William Dembski explained:

“[F]inding a subsystem of a functional system that performs some other function is hardly an argument for the original system evolving from that other system. One might just as well say that because the motor of a motorcycle can be used as a blender, therefore the [blender] motor evolved into the motorcycle. Perhaps, but not without intelligent design. Indeed, multipart, tightly integrated functional systems almost invariably contain multipart subsystems that serve some different function. At best the TTSS [T3SS] represents one possible step in the indirect Darwinian evolution of the bacterial flagellum. But that still wouldn’t constitute a solution to the evolution of the bacterial flagellum. What’s needed is a complete evolutionary path and not merely a possible oasis along the way. To claim otherwise is like saying we can travel by foot from Los Angeles to Tokyo because we’ve discovered the Hawaiian Islands. Evolutionary biology needs to do better than that.” (William A. Dembski, Rebuttal to Reports by Opposing Expert Witnesses; http://www.evolutionnews.org/ 2011/03/ michael_behe_hasnt_been_refute044801.html)

Lynn Margulis doubts that the evolutionary process as projected by Neo Darwinists, is responsible for appearance of new characteristics and new species. She and her colleague Dorion Sagan write:

“An image of piecemeal evolution emerges from these findings. The eukaryotic cell did not emerge from a single precursor cell – a bacterium of some kind – that gradually evolved more sophisticated features. Rather, it arose from several organisms that interacted closely. Each precursor contributed an entire module of genes, which specified a distinctive set of biochemical abilities.” (Slanted Truths, Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Copernicus, p. 39, epub)

While most biologists explain this phenomenon by invoking evolution, or, as in the case of fig and wasp, co-evolution, others point out without denying evolution that random mutation does not fit into the scheme. Mutations in Symbiogenesis are far from random. They seem to point to a well-directed goal which is anathema to Darwinism. Another scientist writes:

“There is a general recognition that reticulate evolutionary mechanisms are stirring up and overthrowing many tenets of the standard neo-Darwinian framework, but how the new findings can become integrated with the standard paradigm, and how a new evolutionary biology might look like, is nonetheless still very much in the open. Natural selection, for example, is traditionally defined as a slow and gradual process, while symbiogenesis and lateral gene transfer are argued to occur rapidly in time.” (Reticulate Evolution, Nathalie Gontier, Olga Pombo, epub, 2015)

Now what is the essential difference between the symbiogenetic view of evolution and the standard neo-Darwinian view of evolution? Darwin’s ideas were quite different from those of the neo-Darwinists, indeed he was Lamarckian in many ways. Douglas Zook of Boston University USA writes:

“You and I were taught that the source of all variation, the differences from parents, are the accumulation of random mutations. I remember being told that there was direct evidence that all offspring are not exactly like their parents, and there are lots of reasons for that. And, as Darwin said, we are only interested in the variation that is important to us, and by that he meant the inherited variation. So we are looking at inherited variation – color of your eyes, your blood type, skin, hair qualities and so on with respect to people. There’s this variation in traits that are of real interest to evolutionary processes because they have 100% heritability potential for example. These high heritability traits can be measured. From generation to generation the probability of laying 12 eggs during a week in a season or something like that. This can be inherited. Now here are variations from parent to offspring whether they are non-sexually produced from one parent or whether there are two parents, the source of the inherited variation as told to me and in every book is random mutations. And, when there is enough random mutations accumulated, you have new species. So the main unit of variability is said to be mutational changes in base pairs of DNA, and there’s of course recombination and immigration and emigration in natural populations. These are listed as the sources of inherited variation. This is where I part company, not with Darwinism, but with neo-Darwinism.” (Reticulate Evolution, vol.3, ed. Nathalie Gontier, Springer Pub., 2015, epub.)

Another scientist notes:

“Although originally a systematic term associated with speciation by hybridization, this book exemplifies ‘reticulate evolution’ as it occurs by mechanisms and processes of symbiosis, symbiogenesis, lateral gene transfer, hybridization or divergence with gene flow, and infectious heredity. These phenomena are currently taking up a prominent role in the evolutionary sciences. Almost on a daily basis, new and fascinating data are presented that prove that evolution can result not merely from natural selection which brings forth a vertical pattern of linear descent with modification, but also from various types of reticulate evolution whereby evolutionary lineages connect, merge, and dissolve into one another.” (Reticulate Evolution, Nathalie Gontier, Olga Pombo, epub, 2015)

Lynn Margulis – a Symbiogeneticist and a leading Gaian scientist – and co-writer come down hard on Neo-Darwinism:

“Neo-Darwinism, in the Gaian perspective, must be intellectually dismissed as a minor, twentieth-century sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon biology. As yet another example of a thought style in the great family of biological-scientific weltanschauungen, past and present, neo-Darwinism (like phrenology and nineteenth-century German nature philosophy) must take its place (like British social Darwinism) as a quaint, but potentially dangerous, aberration.” [Slanted Truths, Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Copernicus publications, p. 281, epub]

Meyer writes:

“Leading figures in several sub-disciplines of biology—cell biology, developmental biology, molecular biology, paleontology, and even evolutionary biology—now openly criticize key tenets of the modern version of Darwinian Theory in the peer-reviewed technical literature. Since 1980, when Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould declared that neo-Darwinism “is effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy,” the weight of critical opinion in biology has grown steadily with each passing year…

“A steady stream of technical articles and books have cast new doubt on the creative power of the mutation and selection mechanism. So well established are these doubts that prominent evolutionary theorists must now periodically assure the public, as biologist Douglas Futuyma has done, that ‘just because we don’t know how evolution occurred, does not justify doubt about whether it occurred.’” (Stephen C. Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt, p.7, Harper, epub).

The imaginative Darwinian theory of evolution, then, cannot stand up to the biological changes and species development phenomenon noted over decades. The so-called Neo-Darwinism, which tried to improve the defenses, completely failed because the data-onslaught building up as a result of laboratory experiments, and discovery of newest elements was too much for it to handle. Then come discoveries that find other contenders against the genetically-based arguments. Newest discoveries say that genes do not play the central role. Very many other, non-genetic, factors appear to be playing important roles. So, the question arises: what comes next? Francisco Carrapiço answers:

“To integrate these ideas in the scientific literature, we need to develop a new approach to the analysis of evolution based on six themes: (1) Darwinian principles, (2) symbiosis concept, (3) symbiogenesis as an evolutive mechanism, (4) serial endosymbiotic theory, (5) horizontal gene transfer and other genetic recombinations, and (6) epigenetic changes. These tenets should be considered as a contribution to a new epistemological perception of the natural world and also to the understanding of the true complexity, organismal interactions, and relationships present in the different ecosystems on Earth.” (Reticulate Evolution, Can We Understand Evolution Without Symbiogenesis? pp. 81, Francisco Carrapiço, epub)

The question that may legitimately be asked is, with serious technical problems from the day of Darwin’s publication of the Origin, right until now, with more and more biologists expressing their skepticism and disbelief with the passage of time, how has it managed to survive, and is still popular with the common people? Margulis & Co. explain:

“More and more, like the monasteries of the Middle Ages, today’s universities and professional societies guard their knowledge. Collusively, the university biology curriculum, the textbook publishers, the National Science Foundation review committees, the Graduate Record Examiners, and the various microbiological, evolutionary, and zoological societies map out domains of the known and knowable; they distinguish required from forbidden knowledge, subtly punishing the trespassers with rejection and oblivion; they award the faithful liturgists by granting degrees and dispersing funds and fellowships. Universities and academies, well within the boundaries of given disciplines (biology in my case), determine who is permitted to know and just what it is that he or she may know. [Whether in] biology, botany, zoology, biochemistry, and microbiology departments within U.S., universities determine access to knowledge about life, dispensing it at high prices in peculiar parcels called credit hours.

“As Ludwik Fleck (1979) documented, professional knowledge conforms to political realities. Any attempt to breach the acceptable is summarily dealt with, occasionally by devastating criticism, but far more frequently by neglect and ignorance. Hence biologists receive Guggenheim Fellowships for calculations of the evolutionary basis of altruism or quantification of parental investment in male children, while the tropical forests are destroyed at the rate of hundreds of acres per day and very little funding exists for the study of live plants in their natural environments.

“A single example of the current dilemma suffices here: Since the retirement of Professor R.E. Schultes at Harvard University (1986), professional education in the production of food, drug, and fiber compounds by plants from New World tropical forests (‘Economic Botany’) is virtually unobtainable in the United States, whereas lessons in Neo-Darwinist religious dogma are exceedingly easy to find. Computer jocks (former physicists, mathematicians, electrical engineers, and so forth), with no experience in field biology, have a large influence on the funds for research and training in ‘evolutionary biology,’ so that fashionable computable neo-Darwinist nonsense perpetuates itself.” [Slanted Truths, Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Copernicus, p. 265, e-pub.]

The New Perspective

Gradually though, in view of deeper studies, the perspective of biological scientists has begun to change.

“Darwin himself had explicitly acknowledged that natural selection is not the only mechanism in evolution, but it’s worth stressing that these days, as Gibson prudently (with ‘maybe’) says, It’s ‘not even the most fundamental one.’” – (What Darwin Got Wrong, Jerry Fodor & Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, Profile Books, 2011, p. 43)


“This embarrassing realization proved pivotal, eventually leading Eldridge and Gould to reject both the gradualistic picture of evolutionary change articulated by Darwin and the neo-Darwinian understanding of the mechanism by which such change allegedly takes place. It also led them to formulate, in a series of scientific papers from 1972 to 1980, a new theory of evolution known as ‘punctuated equilibrium.’” (Darwin’s Doubt, p.125)

The perspective of Eugene Koonin, a biologist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health, provides just one good example of the skepticism regarding Darwinism and its second version called the Modern Synthesis. He argues:

“The edifice of the modern synthesis has crumbled, apparently, beyond repair . . . The summary of the state of affairs on the 150th anniversary of the Origin is somewhat shocking. In the post-genomic era, all major tenets of the modern synthesis have been, if not outright overturned, replaced by a new and incomparably more complex vision of the key aspects of evolution. So, not to mince words, the modern synthesis is gone. What comes next? The answer suggested by the Darwinian discourse of 2009 is a postmodern state, not so far a postmodern synthesis. Above all, such a state is characterized by the pluralism of processes and patterns in evolution that defies any straightforward generalization.” (Koonin, “The Origin at 150,” 473–75)

David J. Depew and Bruce H. Weber, writing in the journal Biological Theory, are more downright frank:

“Darwinism, in its current scientific incarnation, has pretty much reached the end of its rope.” (89–102). (Darwin’s Doubt, p. 394-5)

Michael Ruse recommends burial:

“I have not been surprised to read, therefore, in Lewontin’s recent book, The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change (1974), that in some of the latest evolutionary theories ‘natural selection plays no role at all.’ Darwin, I suggest, is in the process of being discarded, but perhaps in deference to the venerable old gentleman, resting comfortably in Westminster Abbey next to Sir Isaac Newton, it is being done as discretely and gently as possible, with minimum of publicity.” (Tom Betell, Darwin’s Mistake, article in Philosophy of Biology, ed. Michael Ruse p. 132, Prometheus Books, New York, 2007)

(To be continued)