No sale for Darwin
We have dealt with the claim that evolution produces practical benefits numerous times before on this site.1,2,3 However, some evolutionists have recently joined in, berating other evolutionists for producing examples of ‘Darwin-selling’ to the masses that don’t belong to Darwin. In a recent book review in Nature,4 a book was lambasted for promoting what the book’s author saw as the many commercial benefits evolution has provided us with. Jerry Coyne, the author of the review, soberly destroys many of the examples of ‘Darwin for sale’ used by the book The Evolving World: Evolution in Everyday Life by David Mindell.
A Coyne for evolution?
Coyne was not impressed by the lengths Mindell goes to in trying to ‘sell Darwin’: ‘In his desire to show how useful evolution is, Mindell strives desperately to herd every stray area of biology, even those barely related to evolution, into the darwinian fold.’ Coyne’s stance is markedly different from the very famous and influential statement of Theodosius Dobzhansky, 20th century evolutionist: ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.’5
However, A.S. Wilkins, editor of the journal BioEssays, commenting on evolution in light of Dobzhansky’s dictum, wrote: ‘Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one.’6 The leading chemist Philip Skell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, echoed similar thoughts in a column he wrote for The Scientist, Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology [full essay minus expurgated original subtitle available at the-scientist.com/opinion-old/why-do-we-invoke-darwin-48438, Ed.]
So where does Coyne stand in all of this? Perhaps surprisingly, he says that, ‘if truth be told, evolution hasn’t yielded many practical or commercial benefits.’ It would seem, according to at least some evolutionists, that Dobzhansky was wrong after all: practical science can get on just fine without evolution.
Moreover, Creation magazine has documented many examples of research scientists who don’t use evolution in their research.2 For example, molecular biologist Dr Dudley Eirich: ‘In academia, evolution is a big issue. But once you get out into the real world of science and industry, we very seldom talk about evolution—it’s not even an issue. It really doesn’t have anything to do with the work we do.’7 Another example is organic chemist Dr John McEwan, ‘We do not invoke evolution when designing drugs or treatment regimes, and in synthetic organic chemistry, evolution is irrelevant.’8 If evolution were going to provide any practical benefit to science, surely these men, who are intimately involved in biological chemistry, would see it in their work.
Coyne makes this surprising admission:
‘Most improvement in crop plants and animals occurred long before we knew anything about evolution, and came about by people following the genetic principle of “like begets like”.’
For a man who, as a dyed-in-the-wool evolutionist, elsewhere ponders whether ‘reasonable creationist’ is an oxymoron, he appears to be giving us a lot of credit here! ‘Like begets like’ offers no help for goo-to-you evolution, but fits very neatly within the scriptural principle of creatures ‘reproducing after their own kind’.
Does evolution ever sell?
Not to have Darwin completely stripped of lucrative ideas, Coyne cites what he believes are
‘… two genuine applications of evolutionary theory. One is the use of “directed evolution” to produce commercial products (such as enzymes to protect crop plants from herbicides). The other is the clever use of insecticide-free “pest refuges” to stop herbivorous insects evolving resistance to herbicides containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins, a strategy derived from principles of population genetics.’
However, these examples hardly constitute evolution. In Coyne’s first example, the very term ‘directed evolution’ is an oxymoron, since evolution fundamentally relies on chance to work9—i.e. it is supposed to be directionless.
The second example is an application of the principle of natural selection, not evolution (which are not the same thing, see Q and A: Natural Selection). Insects often develop resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt—a bacterium that produces biodegradable toxins generally not harmful to anything other than insects) toxins through mutation. Bt toxins work by binding to specific sites on cell membranes in the insect midgut and disrupting normal function. In resistant insects, the gene coding for the binding site on the insect midgut has undergone a deletion mutation. This severely inhibits the binding capabilities of the protein, cadherin, to which the toxins bind.10 Consequently, the protein has lost specificity and function, causing a loss in genetic information, which also causes a dramatic loss of fitness in insects that have this mutation.11, 12 In an environment saturated with Bt toxins, the insects with the mutation are more likely to survive and reproduce than the wild type, despite the fitness cost of the mutation. Therefore, the wild type dies out and the mutants are left, hence natural selection occurs in favour of the mutated types. This resistance problem can be minimized by leaving vegetation refuges that are free of Bt toxin so that the wild type survives. When Bt toxin is not being used, the wild type will be available from the refuges to out-compete and replace the mutant type. Next time the toxin is used, the population will be nearly all wild-type again, and susceptible. This is a nice example of the application of the biological principles of mutation, natural selection and population genetics, but these principles of operational science give no support for the evolutionary notion that pond scum could change into humans. Such would require massive creation of new genetic information, not the destruction of it through mutations, albeit sometimes useful ones.
Coyne also postulates that ‘evolutionary’, or genetic, algorithms are a commercial byproduct of evolution. However, genetic algorithms are not an analogue for evolution, and provide no help for the evolutionary cause either.13
The language of evolution
Coyne believes that ‘Mindell’s analogy between biological evolution and the evolution of languages can be used to refute the tiresome creationist claim that we haven’t seen one species change into another.’ Despite burning the same strawman that has been burnt before (informed creationists have no problem with speciation), the analogy between naturalistic evolution and linguistic ‘evolution’ does not exist, as Steel shows.14 Languages show a natural tendency towards simplification of the structure of word endings (inflexive morphology). However, languages also tend to show an increase in technical vocabulary; which happens through the purposeful, intelligent input of humans into language. Therefore, the only way languages can increase information is through the input of intelligence. Evolution claims the opposite: great increases in information without the input of intelligence.
What’s the game about anyway?
Just because evolution doesn’t provide any practical benefit does not ultimately decide whether evolution is true or not:
‘In the end, the true value of evolutionary biology is not practical but explanatory. It answers, in the most exquisitely simple and parsimonious way, the age-old question: “How did we get here?” It gives us our family history writ large, connecting us with every other species, living or extinct, on Earth. It shows how everything from frogs to fleas got here via a few easily grasped biological processes. And that, after all, is quite an accomplishment.’
However, special creation of different kinds by the biblical God is equally as simple as things making themselves, and it serves to provide a far better framework for explaining the diversity we see in creatures on both a small and large scale. And despite evolutionists’ claims to the contrary, it does provide insights into research that are not likely to be pursued in an evolutionary framework. For example, the evolutionary ideas of ‘vestigial organs’ and ‘junk DNA’ do not encourage one to seek potential functions of organs or DNA lumped into these categories. However, from a creationary standpoint we understand that there were no useless things designed originally. Though some things may have lost function via mutational degeneration subsequent to the Fall, a creationary focus is more attuned to complex organs and systems being likely to have a function, encouraging scientific pursuit of that function. This leads to a better understanding of biology and may even be able to be applied practically in our own technology.
Nevertheless, Coyne frames the debate correctly; the fundamental dilemma doesn’t involve evolution’s usefulness (or lack thereof), but its ability to explain how we got here. He shows a reasonable understanding of the underlying issues involved in the creation/evolution debate. We can learn from his sober analysis of this book that promotes evolution. However, he stumbles at the crucial point. The fundamental problem of evolution is that it can’t provide a satisfying explanation of how we got here. But when we start from Scripture, the origin of species is easily and satisfactorily explained: God created them to reproduce after their kinds, with much potential for variation within each kind.
- Is evolution really necessary for medical advances? 2002. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Evolution and practical science, Creation 20(4):4, 1998. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Who’s really pushing bad science? 2000. Return to text.
- Coyne. J.A., Selling Darwin: a review of The Evolving World: Evolution in Everyday Life by David P. Mindell, Nature 442(7106):983–984, 2006. Return to text.
- The American Biology Teacher 35:125–129, March 1973. Return to text.
- Wilkins, A.S., Evolutionary processes: a special issue, BioEssays 22:1051–1052, 2000; cited in Skell, P.S., Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology, The Scientist 19(16):10, 2005.
Return to text.
- Wieland, C. and Sarfati, J., Manipulating Life? Genetic engineering researcher backs Genesis, Creation 27(1):46–49, 2004. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Couple for Creation, Creation 26(2):36–38, 2004. Return to text.
- Richard Dawkins tries to argue that evolution does not rely on chance, attributing direction to natural selection. However, the new information to code for new traits (feathers, lungs, bone, etc.) has to arise by chance, so evolution relies on chance at its core. See Beetle bloopers. Return to text.
- Morin, S., Biggs, R.W. et al., Three cadherin alleles associated with resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis in pink bollworm, PNAS 100:5004–5009, 2003. Return to text.
- Carriere, Y., Ellers-Kirk, C. et al., Fitness costs and maternal effects associated with resistance to transgenic cotton in the pink bollworm (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae), J Econ Entomol. 94(6):1,571–1,576, 2001. Return to text.
- Xie, R., Zhuang, M., et al., Single amino acid mutations in the Cadherin receptor from Heliothis virescens affect its toxin binding ability to Cry1A toxins, J. Biol. Chem. 280(9):8,416-8,425, 2005. Return to text.
- Batten, D., Genetic algorithms—do they show that evolution works? Return to text.
- Steel, A., The development of languages is nothing like biological evolution, Journal of Creation 14(2):31–40, 2000. Return to text.