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Dr. Wells' Observation about the King's Clothes

Dr. Jonathan Wells has been engaged in a blog debate with several Darwinists about a recent advance in research on bacterial resistance to antibiotics. In a recent post, Dr. Wells observed:

According to a February 26, 2008 report in ScienceDaily, a team of French scientists has unraveled the structure of a protein that allows bacteria to gain resistance to multiple antibiotics. Frédéric Dardel and his colleagues crystallized two forms of the antibiotic-modifying enzyme acetyltransferase and showed that it has a flexible active site that can evolve to enable bacteria to break down various antibiotics and render them useless. The research may aid in the design of new antibiotics to deal with this form of resistance, which is becoming a serious medical problem.
This is very good news! Unfortunately, Darwinists will probably claim -- as they have done many times in the past -- that their theory was indispensable to the achievement.
Yet Darwinian evolution had nothing to do with it.

Dr. Wells goes on to point out what most unbiased observers would consider obvious. Dr. Dardel's excellent work was the product of molecular biology, crystallography, physical chemistry, and pharmacology. It is an exemplar of the superb and important work done by researchers studying ways to treat bacterial infections and to combat antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Darwin's theory was superfluous to the research.

Dr. Well's mundane observation was met with a fusillade of vicious personal invective from Darwinist scientists. University of Minnesota associate professor of biology P.Z.

There is another sense in which Darwinism is used in the debate about antibiotic resistance. Darwinists claim that 'natural selection'-- the observation in biology that survivors survive-- is indispensible to medical research on antibiotic resistance. Of course, this mundane tautology is of no value to actual research ('I didn't make the breakthrough until I realized that the bacteria that survived exposure to the antibiotic were the survivors...'). Biochemistry, microbiology, molecular biology and pharmacology do the heavy lifting in antibiotic research. Evolutionary biologists' inference to 'natural selection' is highly superfluous to the actual work. The inference to natural selection is a rhetorical device, not a meaningful scientific heuristic.

Yet, remarkably, many Darwinists seem not even to understand natural selection. Dr. Dardel, the study's author, posted this comment on Panda's Thumb:

Actually, we did indeed use darwinian (sic) evolution within this work (something unusual in structural biology). In order to obtain an enzyme with increased stability (a critical point for structural studies), we used selective pressure to obtain mutants of the enzyme. We selected for bateria (sic) with increased aminiglycoside (sic) resistance, by plating them on antibiotic containing medium. It turned out that some bacteria evolved such stabler (sic) enzymes variants which made this whole study possible!
Dr. Dardel is both candid and mistaken. His comment that the use of Darwin's theory is "unusual in structural biology" is obviously true, and refreshingly candid. He is, however, mistaken about the application of Darwin's theory to his recent work. His assertion that "...we selected bacteria...by plating..." is artificial selection, not natural selection. Artificial selection is breeding, in this case microbial breeding. The principles of breeding date back thousands of years, and owe nothing to Darwin. In fact, Darwin claimed that non-teleological processes in nature could produce changes in populations just as teleological processes like breeding could. Even Darwin didn't claim that his theory explained the outcome of intentional breeding. It's astonishing that a modern professional scientist like Dr. Dardel doesn't recognize the difference between artificial selection and natural selection.

Dr. Dardel's observation that the use of Darwin's theory in structural biology is "unusual" is true enough, but understated. Darwin's theory is an historical inference in evolutionary biology, of debatable verity, and is worthless to structural biology. Dr. Dardel's assertion that Darwin's theory was essential to his recent research was remarkably uninformed. He bred the bacteria he wanted, and it had nothing to do with 'natural' selection.

So I ask Dr. Well's Darwinist critics: exactly what aspect of 'natural' selection was indispensible to Dr. Dardel's work? Please be specific. Please phrase your answer this way: 'The theory that 'Natural selection of heritable non-teleological variation accounts for all biological complexity'-- which is Darwin's theory-- was indispensible to this research because...'. Furthermore, please demonstrate how the intelligent design inference-- 'Some aspects of biological complexity are consistent with design'-- would have hindered this research. And an appeal to Darwinist tautologies ('but Darwin proved that survivors survive!') doesn't count.

Appeal to artificial selection doesn't count, either. That's just microbial breeding-- intelligent design, actually.