Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lamarckism: "The Renaissance of Heresy"

"Water fleas pop out helmets immediately if mom lived in a world of predators; by Darwin's lights, a population of helmeted fleas would take many generations to emerge through random variation and natural selection."

Darwin posited a slow, incremental, unintelligent, step-by-step evolution of species.

Clearly, this is not what happened. There's more going on than meets the random-wobbles Darwinian eye.

Newsweek: A Creationist Shill?

So what's the inference to the best explanation if Darwin is wrong?

And that's the way the puncturing-your-equilibrium Ball bounces.


25 comments:

P@J said...

This is an example of someone with a complete lack of understanding of genetics and evolution reading something and have no idea what it means. It’s like somebody let go of a helium balloon and declared that as proof that Newton was wrong.

This is hardly an example of Lamarckism, it is an example of how gene expression may change based on the environment within which the gene is expressed. Completely compatible with modern evolutionary theory. Perhaps dramatic in the example, but hardly a surprise, and trust me, this is not giving “…Darwinians heart palpitations.

RkBall said...

" it is an example of how gene expression may change based on the environment within which the gene is expressed."

Actually, I agree with you. The question is, was the 1-generation change in expression just a lucky mutation, or is there encoded intelligence inside of evolutionary processes? (We already know there is encoded information.)

"Completely compatible with modern evolutionary theory." Sure -- the issue is, is it compatible with Darwin? Seems to me evolutionary theory is moving inexorably away from Darwin towards law (vs. mere chance), information, and intelligence.

P@J said...

You should read up on the First Rule of Holes.

You don’t agree with me, because you have no idea what I am talking about. Gene expression has nothing to do with genetic mutation. There is no mutation here. It says so right in the report, the child genes are the same as the mother’s . If the child lives a predator-free life, its offspring will not have helmets. And it’s grandchild’s helmet state will vary based on the environmental factors of the daughter’s existence. No mutations required, why even mention them?

Surely you recognize that Darwin did not know about genes. He died about 50 years before anyone recognized Mendel’s work, and 75 years before population genetics were developed that provided the mechanism to explain the observed phenomenon recognized by Darwin and Mendel. None of this is in any way incompatible with the fundamental ideas of Darwin.

To use the Newton comparison again, we still have not provided the mechanism to explain the observed phenomenon recognized by Newton 300 years ago, but that doesn’t change the Laws of Motion. We don’t shrug our shoulders at gravity and say “god did it”.

And your strawman fails: Darwin did not say or think that evolution was “mere chance”, nor do modern evolutionary biologists. Darwin (On the Origin of Species): “Mere chance, as we may call it, might cause one variety to differ in some character from its parents, and the offspring of this variety again to differ from its parent in the very same character and in a greater degree; but this alone would never account for so habitual and large a degree of difference as that between the species of the same genus.”

RkBall said...

Actually, I didn't mention genetic mutation.

Mutation: The act or process of being altered or changed. 2. An alteration or change, as in nature, form, or quality.

As for the straw man, natural selection can only act on what it's given -- and it is this latter bit that I was referring to. Are the variations based on mere chance, or are there e.g., built-in "rules" of adaptability, etc. at work. I believe the evidence is taking us in that direction, and that direction is leading us in the direction of intelligence, purpose, information, etc.

RkBall said...

PS. Thanks for taking the time to include the Darwin quote. I appreciate it.

P@J said...

Semantic post-hoc rationalizations aside, you did mention mutations, and by raising the spectre of Lamarckism, and talking about some sort of directed design, indicated that you thought these “mutations” were somehow incompatible with modern evolutionary biology, and it’s central organizing theory: that of Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

Love watching you back pedal, though. I recommend you take a high-school biology course before you opine again on evolution.

But here’s a starter: variations are based on chance, with significant evolutionary towards regression to the mean, resulting in rather stable species. The only “rules” are that any change that makes a species less likely to survive its environment is less likely to become the new mean that species regress towards. And no amount of Lamarckian neck-stretching is going to make the god hypothesis any more useful.

RkBall said...

Of course it's compatible with "the central organizing theory of Darwinian evolution by natural selection" -- because no matter how intricate and intelligent and complex and inter-connected and purposeful and complex the mechanics of evolution become, y'all just say that that's the neo-darwinian theory -- an infinitely flexible theory -- and deny the increasingly hard to ignore implications: the more we understand about these processes, and the world of complexity in the simplest cell, the more they point to a directing intelligence and away from your and Darwin's fondest dream: life, consciousness, morality, and rationality all emerging from a dumb-as-a-rock, amoral, uncreated natural process that has no goal, no direction, no purpose -- just one giant fluke.


Wishing darwinism to be an adequate and sufficient explanation for life as it exists doesn't make it true. And, as much as you might have hoped that the cell would turn out to be nothing more complex than a blob of jello, it didn't work out that way. You are staring intricate, purposeful, coded information in the face; you are looking into a world of complexity.

As far as high school biology goes, have they managed to rid themselves of the Haeckel drawings yet?

RkBall said...

And, you didn't address my refutation of your "mere chance" bit. As I understand the quote, Darwin is saying that his so-called "natural variation" is due to "mere chance", and what is not mere chance is the natural selection bit.

So, if Darwin thought, unlike Lamarck, that variation is due to mere chance, then he is way, way, way, way off. And, while Lamarck may have been wrong, in that he at least posited something more intentional and substantial than mere chance, it would be reasonable to conclude that he was more right than Darwin.

RkBall said...

Plus, regression to the mean is hard to reconcile with the ever-onward thrust of mindless, unintelligent, purposeless, amoral dumb-as-a-rock Darwinism's supposed ability to thrust forward and create new species from old ones, e.g., people from potatoes, or, perhaps I should say, people from earth-worms -- we share a lot of DNA with them. One darwinist was recently waxing eloquent on how amazingly similar we are to earthworms.

So, are earthworms busy turning into humans, or are they too busy regressing to the mean?

RkBall said...

And, as far as back-tracking goes, not one word of my post indicated that I personally believe Lamarckism is correct.

I posted it because I got a kick out of Newsweek publishing something that would drive darwinists crazy.

What I do believe, as I stated in the post, is that there is more going on in evolution than meets the darwinian eye.

And of this I am absolutely convinced.

RkBall said...

Thanks for the mini-tutorial on regression to the mean. You at least take the time to say instructive things when you post.

P@J said...

Wow, must have struck close to a nerve. I’ll have to address each of those in order.

#1: You are misinformed about where the massive amount of data we are currently collecting on evolutionary biology is leading us: it is leading to increased understanding of the physical and chemical processes involved in evolution. The more we understand, the fewer gaps we need to fill with silly “god did it” arguments.

Your reference to “Darwin’s fondest dream” also shows your ignorance about the man. When he recognized the profound meaning of his theory, it shook him to the bone. He was a devout man, and feared when his discovery would mean to those around him. He (like most Christians) feared the truth when it contradicted Christian dogma.

The Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection (which I presume you mean by the nonsensical term “Darwinism”) is not an explanation for life, nor does it claim to be one. It is an explanation for the diversity of life, and has proven to be an effective model for the 150 years since it came out, as any test applied to it has supported it, including the most modern genome sequencing technologies. It is hardly my “wish” that makes it true.

Haeckel drawings? That’s the best you have? Know what else we use in High School science? The Bohr model of the atom. We know it is not true, but it is a useful tool for demonstrating how chemistry works. It makes stoichiometry easier to teach. The fundamental model of the atom we tell High School kids about is WRONG. That doesn’t mean chemistry is wrong, or that when oxygen and hydrogen join together, Jesus makes it water. You know what else happens when hydrogen and oxygen join to form water? A spontaneous increase in complexity…

P@J said...

#2: Yes, you understand the quote right, from what I can tell.
“So, if Darwin thought, unlike Lamarck, that variation is due to mere chance, then he is way, way, way, way off. “

-based on what? Genetic variation is demonstrably random. The propagation of those variations is not random. About 100 years of science has confirmed this. Lamarck suggested that the variations were not random, but directed towards some goal; that is demonstrably false. Darwin was right, Lamarck was wrong, at the “macro” scale of giraffe necks, at the “nano” scale of genetic changes in DNA, and everywhere in between (see Lenski experiments). End of story.

P@J said...

#3: Here is yet another old creationist canard that you would not be trotting out if you had any idea what you are talking about. Amazing how after 150 years, Creationists have yet to come up with any new arguments against evolution, but are continually raising old objections refuted a thousand times. But here we go again:

Earthworms (which are annelids) are not busy turning into humans, any more than humans are busy turning into earthworms. Earthworms did not evolve into humans. Earthworms and humans have a common genetic ancestor, and it is very unlikely that it was much like us, or much like an earthworm, or even much like any of the other 17,000 known modern annelid species. Since all chordates and echinoderms (e.g . sea stars) separated from the protostomia line (which includes annelids, along with arthropods, molluscs, and pretty much everything else without a backbone) more than 500 million years ago, it is safe to assume our common relative was small, marine, and completely unrecognizable as either a worm or a person.

You also seem to assume that changes always result in increased complexity. That is also demonstrably not true. The genetic complexity of birds is orders of magnitude less than that of reptiles (from which they evolved). For every variation that results in increased complexity, there is a variation that results in less complexity (otherwise, it wouldn’t be random now, would it?). Whether complexity is favoured (some species of amoeba have 1000x the genetic information than humans) or selected against (some yeasts have 1/1000th the genetic information of humans) depends on the environment and natural selection.

P@J said...

#4: yeah, you mentioned what you believe in your original post:
“Darwin posited a slow, incremental, unintelligent, step-by-step evolution of species.
Clearly, this is not what happened. There's more going on than meets the random-wobbles Darwinian eye.”

I’m just not sure how you went from an interesting study on how environmental factors may affect gene expression to arguing that the evolution of species is not a slow, incremental and unintelligent process. You say “clearly”, but it isn’t clear to me. What is the connection? You already admitted this is not an example of genetic mutation, so what does this story have to do with evolution of species at all?
Clearly you understand that evolution requires gene mutation (i.e. genes vary predictably between species), or do you not believe that either?

RkBall said...

PJ -- Thanks for the responses. I'm on the road for a few days. Will try to post something by week-end. RkB

RkBall said...

Wow, must have struck close to a nerve. I’ll have to address each of those in order.

#1:The more we understand, the fewer gaps we need to fill with silly “god did it” arguments.

My argument is not gaps-based. It's based on what evolutionary biology now indicates.

"[Darwin] was a devout man" Bwahhaaaaaahaaa! This howler wins the Ball Bounces Howler-of-the-day Award™. Your subscription to the Ball Bounces has been extended, free, for a year!

Darwin was raised in a tangentially Christian home and stumbled, as many do, over the problem of evil.

"the nonsensical term “Darwinism”

I agree Darwinism is nonsensical, but, if the term is good enough for R.D., it's good enough for me -- and it is necessary to distinguish from other versions of evolution which leave room for all the evidence.


" has proven to be an effective model for the 150 years since it came out, as any test applied to it has supported it"

Only because it is infinitely flexible. Monogomy? Darwinism did it. Sexually promiscuous? Ditto. Any theory that can explain everything, no matter how contradictory or absurd, explains nothing.

Haeckel drawings? That’s the best you have?

No. How about "Junk DNA" is proof of evolution. Not Junk? OK, that's also proof of evolution.

"stoichiometry easier to teach." OK, you pick up 5 bonus points for use of the word stoichiometry. Plus, I'm beginning to think that you may be a teacher, in which case I suspect you are a good one.

"You know what else happens when hydrogen and oxygen join to form water? A spontaneous increase in complexity…"

Yes! And inquisitive flexible minds will ponder this fact deeply. Why is nature the way it is? Why are natural laws "laws", and why is nature the way it is and not some other way?

And where does nature itself come from?

"Just is"?

Then you've got "Nothing did it", and I've got "An intelligent, purposeful, Agent did it".

Agency trumps "nothing" when it comes to ultimate explanations for a world which gives every appearance of being purposeful, non-random, and designed.

RkBall said...

"Genetic variation is demonstrably random."

Scientists cannot demonstrate that mutations which lead to macro-evolution are random. They can infer this. Or wish this. But, they cannot demonstrate this.

Let's move into epistemological territory for a minute. What appears to us to be random may or may not in fact be. There are limits to our comprehension. Let's look at the very, very first moment where light begins to be detected by an organism -- whatever that moment was. How can we possibly know for sure that this moment was random, and not engineered by a purposeful Agent?

Or the very, very first moment where the tiniest glimmer of consciousness first appeared. Ditto question.

So, "undirected, random" becomes a brute, clumsy conclusion imposed on the data (which we have no direct access to) based on a presupposed theory. And then, because we conclude that the event was merely random, that it therefore supports, nay, proves the theory of evolution! It is circular reasoning.

At best, scientists can say that mutations appear to be random. But, then, the results of evolution give the overwhelming appearance of design. Arguably, my undeniable appearance of design trumps your underwhelming and unsupported appearance of randomness.

"End of story." OK, you lose 5 points for using this expression. It makes you sound like a 20-something guy who thinks he has all the answers. Nuance, PJ! Subtlety! Reality is more complex than it appears to the narrowly focused Darwinian eye!

Just curious. Has chaos theory been applied to evolution?

RkBall said...

"Earthworms (which are annelids) are not busy turning into humans, any more than humans are busy turning into earthworms. Earthworms did not evolve into humans. Earthworms and humans have a common genetic ancestor."

When someone says that earthworms turned into humans, they are using short-hand and are speaking for rhetorical effect. Not all speech is, or needs to be, scientific.

At any rate, we can agree that, under darwinian assumptions, neither earthworms nor humans were planned, or decreed, and therefore, neither worms nor humans have any objective reason or purpose for their existence. Nor are humans any better or more valuable than worms.

This may be objectively, scientifically true (according to your science), but is it liveable? Can any one actually live as though Darwinism is true?

When it comes to what really counts for humans, and what really counts as human -- worth, purpose, value, raison d'etre, meaning, morality -- things that no human being can live without -- Darwinism as a metaphysic wipes the slate absolutely clean.

From nothing, for nothing, unto nothing.

Ah, the comforts of the Darwinian void!

RkBall said...

"I’m just not sure how you went from an interesting study on how environmental factors may affect gene expression to arguing that the evolution of species is not a slow, incremental and unintelligent process."

Quote: However, given that microRNAs bind to RNAs, we hypothesized that RNAs could possess a regulatory role that relies on their ability to compete for microRNA binding, independently of their protein-coding function. As a model for the protein-coding-independent role of RNAs, we describe the functional relationship between the mRNAs produced by the PTEN tumour suppressor gene and its pseudogene PTENP1 and the critical consequences of this interaction.

We find that PTENP1 is biologically active as it can regulate cellular levels of PTEN and exert a growth-suppressive role. We also show that the PTENP1 locus is selectively lost in human cancer. We extended our analysis to other cancer-related genes that possess pseudogenes, such as oncogenic KRAS. We also demonstrate that the transcripts of protein-coding genes such as PTEN are biologically active. These findings attribute a novel biological role to expressed pseudogenes, as they can regulate coding gene expression, and reveal a non-coding function for mRNAs."

Try to re-express the above stripped of the language of engineering, purpose, and function.

Darwin posited a blob of protoplasm, being activated by a mere spark or chemical burp and had little if any idea what was going on inside the black box. We are staring at a world, a universe, a cosmos of engineering complexity.

If any one peered inside of a living organism and observed what we have the privilege of observing today, and did so without ideological blinders, they would rationally and justifiably and immediately conclude that they were looking at impressive engineering at work.

It doesn't matter a whit whether life as it exists evolved from purely natural processes set in motion, or assisted by divine interventions. In the universe I inhabit, where there is engineering, there is an engineer. Where there is coded and communicated information, there is a non-dumb-as-a-rock information source.

The character or characteristics of the engineer and information source is another matter.

RkBall said...

"underwhelming and unsupported appearance of randomness"

Unsupported s/b undersupported. By a weird fluke, my random text-modifier just substituted unsupported with undersupported, and, since, undersupported has greater survival value as an argument, undersupported wins the day -- and proves Darwinism!!!!!!

When it comes to arguments -- survival of the flittest!

P@J said...

Your arguments are based on some strange understanding of evolutionary biology shared by no evolutionary biologists excepting those at the Discovery Institute.

For example, you raise “junk DNA” as an argument against evolution, but clearly have no idea what is meant by “junk”, or where “junk DNA” currently sits in our knowledge of how RNA encodes. Here is a recent paper that explains very well our current understanding of “Junk DNA”:
http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1000371

The fact you interpret the flexibility of the theory to new data as a weakness probably explains why you think creation stories of bronze-age goat herders are probably more likely to be true than the observable results of 2000 years of science. But rest assured, evolution of species by natural selection has not been disproved through 150 years of the most fantastical changes in our understanding of biology.

“Agency trumps "nothing"”. This is also a logical fallacy. To replace “x can happen without and agent” with “an Agent is required” requires two things: a demonstration of the role of the Agent, and an explanation of how the Agent got to be. You provide neither of these. I could say the entire universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkelseizure, it doesn’t do us much good in the discussion of evolutionary biology.

P@J said...

“Scientists cannot demonstrate that mutations which lead to macro-evolution are random. They can infer this. Or wish this. But, they cannot demonstrate this.”

I don’t know how else to say this: you are wrong. Wrong about the science, and wrong about what ca nand cannot be done by people with much higher levels of scientific training than you. It’s like you cut open a chest, saw blood everywhere and declared “no-one can perform heart surgery”.

“Just curious. Has chaos theory been applied to evolution?"

OK, I’m done. Richard Feynman once opined that if anyone raised Quantum Mechanics as an argument in any discussion, that person did not know what they were talking about. Chaos Theory doubly so. You just so aptly displayed the depth of your Kruger-Dunning Effect, that there is no further point demonstrating your ignorance.

RkBall said...

"clearly have no idea where “junk DNA” currently sits in our knowledge of how RNA encodes."

Encodes? There you go again.
Information/information processing. Thank you for once again making my day. Talk about biological realities without resorting to the language of intelligence, design function, and we can have a discussion.

Until you can do that, you are just like all other atheists -- parasitic. Stop using language that fits a theistic view of creation but is unsuited to the bone-stupid, dumb-as-a-rock universe you postulate.

"I could say the entire universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkelseizure."

And that would be an improvement on the atheist suggestion that everything -- the whole show -- came, uncaused, from nothing.

RkBall said...

“Just curious. Has chaos theory been applied to evolution?"

"OK, I’m done. Richard Feynman once opined that if anyone raised Quantum Mechanics as an argument in any discussion, that person did not know what they were talking about. Chaos Theory doubly so. You just so aptly displayed the depth of your Kruger-Dunning Effect, that there is no further point demonstrating your ignorance."

All of which might be true if I was making an argument -- which I was not.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"