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At Why Evolution Is True, the Chewbacca Defense

At Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne's attempt to intimidate Paul Nelson with seeming recantations from scientists who doubted the power of natural selection has drawn many responses from readers -- 250 comments at last count. Clearly, there's no controversy over evolution.

Paul has held up very well, as you'd expect. We have received some complaints, though, from would-be commenters whose comments didn't seem to make it past Coyne's scrutiny and were not published.

One reader sent us his comment, which references the Chewbacca defense. On that merit alone it deserves publication. The reader is responding to the irrepressible Nick Matzke, formerly of the National Center for Science Education. Nick tries to argue with Paul about comments by Michael Lynch, one of those who appeared to recant, on natural selection:


Nothing you said refutes anything Paul Nelson has said. Nelson never claimed Lynch agrees with "everything" Nelson thinks isn't the result of adaptation. Nelson quoted Lynch for the limited -- and correct -- purpose of showing that some people are skeptical that natural selection can produce many features. Lynch himself says this kind of thing many times:

[T]here is no compelling empirical or theoretical evidence that complexity, modularity, redundancy or other features of genetic pathways are promoted by natural selection....Mmany aspects of complexity at the genomic, molecular and cellular levels in multicellular species are likely to owe their origins to these non-adaptive forces, representing little more than passive outcomes.

(Lynch, "The evolution of genetic networks by non-adaptive processes," Nature Rev. Gen., 8:803-13, (October, 2007))

So if the "complexity, modularity, redundancy or other features of genetic pathways" and "many aspects of complexity at the genomic, molecular and cellular levels in multicellular species" aren't easily explained by natural selection, that's a lot. I'm sure Lynch thinks many other things can be explained by selection. But there's a lot of non-trivial stuff that Lynch thinks isn't explained by selection.

I think Nelson has made a fair case. Your trivial observations that the "spliceosome shows homology to the structure of self-splicing introns" or that "self-splicing introns are basically RNA viruses" really doesn't respond to Nelson's argument, nor does it show he isn't informed. Nor does it justify your shrill "shame on you" style of personal attacks against Nelson.

I suggest you try an approach other than the Chewbacca defense.

Warning: It's South Park.