The NCSE's Citation Bluffs Reveal Little About the Evolutionary Origin of Information - Evolution News & Views

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The NCSE's Citation Bluffs Reveal Little About the Evolutionary Origin of Information

I explained previously the lack of details in the citations given by the NCSE (and Ken Miller, and Judge Jones) to purportedly explain the evolutionary origin of information. Their bluffs were taken from a paper by Long et al. published in Nature Reviews Genetics in 2003. More examples from that paper could be given, but the point is clear enough already: a careful analysis of Long et al. exposes the utterly insufficient explanations offered by neo-Darwinists to account for the origin of new genetic information.

In not a single case did the above papers cited by Long et al. actually explain how new functional information arose. In no case was there an analysis of how natural selection could have favored mutational changes that were shown to be likely along each step of an alleged evolutionary pathway; never was any detailed step-by-step mutational pathway even given. At best, these studies offered vague and ad hoc appeals to duplication, rearrangement, and natural selection -- often in a sudden, extreme, and abrupt manner -- to form the gene in question. In many cases, natural selection was invoked to allegedly account for changes in the gene, even though the investigators didn't even know the function of the gene and thereby could not identify the advantage provided by the gene's function. In no case were calculations performed to assess whether sufficient probabilistic resources existed to produce the asserted mutational events on a reasonable timescale. In some cases, the original genetic material for the genes was unknown, or the studies asserted spontaneous "de novo" origin of genes from previously non-coding DNA. While they readily admitted that "de novo" gene emergence is rare, no attempt was made to assess whether such an unguided mechanism is even remotely plausible on mathematical probabilistic grounds. These papers play the Gene Evolution Game, but never ask the right questions to explain how neo-Darwinian mechanisms create new genetic information.

The NCSE's (and Judge Jones's) citation bluffs have not explained how neo-Darwinian mechanisms produce new functional biological information. Instead, the mechanisms invoked in these papers are vague and hypothetical at best:

  • exons may have been "recruited" or "donated" from other genes (and in some cases from an "unknown sou[r]ce");
  • there were vague appeals to "extensive refashioning of the genome";
  • mutations were said to cause "fortuitous juxtaposition of suitable sequences" in a gene-promoting region that therefore "did not really 'evolve'";
  • researchers assumed "radical change in the structure" due to "rapid, adaptive evolution" and claimed that "positive selection has played an important role in the evolution" of the gene, even though function of the gene was not even known;
  • genes were purportedly "cobbled together from DNA of no related function (or no function at all)";
  • the "creation" of new exons "from a unique noncoding genomic sequence that fortuitously evolved" was assumed, not demonstrated;
  • we were given alternatives that promoter regions arose from a "random genomic sequence that happens to be similar to a promoter sequence," or that the gene arose because it was inserted by pure chance right next to a functional promoter.
  • explanations went little further than invoking "the chimeric fusion of two genes" based solely on sequence similarity;
  • when no source material is recognizable, we're told that "genes emerge and evolve very rapidly, generating copies that bear little similarity to their ancestral precursors" because they are simply "hypermutable";
  • we even saw "a striking case of convergent evolution" of "near-identical" proteins.
  • To reiterate, in no cases were the odds of these unlikely events taking place actually calculated. Incredibly, natural selection was repeatedly invoked in instances where the investigators did not know the function of the gene being studied and thus could not possibly have identified any known functional advantages gained through the mutations being invoked. In the case where multiple mutational steps were involved, no tests were done of the functional viability of the alleged intermediate stages. These papers offer vague stories but not viable, plausibly demonstrated explanations for the origin of new genetic information.

    Within modern evolutionary biology, there are indeed many unanswered questions about how unguided selection acting upon random mutation produces new functional biological information. This will be the legacy of the Kitzmiller ruling: It pretends that fundamental scientific questions have been answered, when no adequate answers exist, at least not from the neo-Darwinian paradigm. As a result, the approach taken by Judge Jones and his consorts at the NCSE not only would miseducate students, but it threatens to hinder scientific progress by pretending that some of the most important questions in biology are answered, when they really aren't. The myth unfortunately has become a pillar of how evolution is explained and defended in law, academia, education and the media.