Monday, May 11, 2009

Scientific American and the Banality of Evil (ution)

Will the shakeup at Scientific American shift the venerable periodical back toward science and away from the dogma in which it has been mired in recent decades? Only time will tell, but Katherine Pollard's current piece, about what makes humans different from chimpanzees, takes the magazine to new levels of evolutionary nonsense for which it has become famous (or infamous). Here are a few passages of note:

Six years ago I jumped at an opportunity to join the international team that was identifying the sequence of DNA bases, or “letters,” in the genome of the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). As a biostatistician with a long-standing interest in human origins, I was eager to line up the human DNA sequence next to that of our closest living relative and take stock. A humbling truth emerged: our DNA blueprints are nearly 99 percent identical to theirs. That is, of the three billion letters that make up the human genome, only 15 million of them—less than 1 percent—have changed in the six million years or so since the human and chimp lineages diverged.

Humbling? Why is Pollard humbled? Did the brain evolve the feeling of humility to be activated upon learning of similarities with other species? If you think this is sarcasm check out what evolutionists have had to do to explain human behavior. It isn't your Daddy's evolution anymore. It seemed that evolution was as silly as could be. It was story telling on steroids. But then came the updated version of the theory, and evolutionists became their own best parody.

Evolutionary theory holds that the vast majority of these changes had little or no effect on our biology. But somewhere among those roughly 15 million bases lay the differences that made us human. I was determined to find them. Since then, I and others have made tantalizing progress in identifying a number of DNA sequences that set us apart from chimps.

Tantalizing progress? You've got to be kidding me. This "progress" is based on yet another evolutionary fumble; namely, an extreme over emphasis on DNA. In evolution-dom, DNA is king. Long ago evolutionists latched onto DNA as a Hail Mary explanation of how the information for macro evolution could be stored and passed on. Ever since then DNA has been viewed as the blueprint for biological design. Like a computer program, DNA was forced into the role of the biological "program" that determines the nature of an organism. The other parts of the organism, as with the computer, are viewed as merely mechanically performing tasks and following instructions.

Evolutionists need DNA to fulfill this role because they need unguided change to be heritable. Such change was viewed as created by DNA mutations, which could then be passed on to offspring. Scientific problems with this dogma are mounting, but evolutionists will be slow to adjust and reconcile such a fundamental failure.

Until recently the DNA dogma was even more narrow, as evolutionists viewed only the genes within the DNA as important. The remainder of the DNA (the vast majority) was often thought of as useless junk. Now that science, no thanks to evolution, is discovering that most of the "junk" is actually important, evolutionists changed their view to include more of the DNA.

Now science is taking the next step, again no thanks to evolution, in finding that the nature of an organism may be influenced by players outside the exalted DNA. One obvious suggestion for this comes from precisely the data Pollard analyzes: the human and chimp DNA which are so similar. But Pollard's story is firmly rooted in the DNA dogma. Evolutionists make the absurd claim that a handful of genes, which stand out in humans, are the source of so much of the human-chimp difference.

Because most random genetic mutations neither benefit nor harm an organism, they accumulate at a steady rate that reflects the amount of time that has passed since two living species had a common forebear (this rate of change is often spoken of as the “ticking of the molecular clock”).

Except that the "molecular clock" doesn't actually work. It is yet another false prediction that goes unmentioned.

Acceleration in that rate of change in some part of the genome, in contrast, is a hallmark of positive selection, in which mutations that help an organism survive and reproduce are more likely to be passed on to future generations. In other words, those parts of the code that have undergone the most modification since the chimp-human split are the sequences that most likely shaped humankind.

Do we really need evolution to tell us that the DNA segments with the most differences between the human and chimp are more important in understanding the sources of the human-chimp difference? Here we see the banality of evolution.

The fact that HAR1 was essentially frozen in time through hundreds of millions of years indicates that it does something very important; that it then underwent abrupt revision in humans suggests that this function was significantly modified in our lineage.

More banality. The gene is significantly different in humans as compared to a wide range of other species. So yes, this suggests its function is significantly different in humans. This conclusion is obvious and we don't need evolution to figure it out. The evolutionary wrapping is superfluous. The talk of how the gene is "frozen in time" and that it "underwent abrupt revision in humans" is gratuitous story telling. Science gives the important findings and evolution gives the meaningless extras.

In fact, what evolutionists do not mention is that HAR1 is yet another example of genome differences between species that are larger than evolution predicted. The human-chimp differences are more than an order of magnitude greater than what evolution predicts. Fortunately, this freak barrage of typos just happened to hit the mark, providing quantum leaps in design improvement leading to the human brain.

Furthermore, these typos simultaneously must have altered two other genes which overlap with HAR1. That's right, HAR1 lies in a region of overlapping genes. Imagine typing a paragraph which contains one message when read normally and a different message when read backward. Not only must evolution have created all of biology's genetic information, but it composed the information in overlapping prose. Someday evolutionists will figure out how.

It might seem surprising that no one paid attention to these amazing 118 bases of the human genome earlier. But in the absence of technology for readily comparing whole genomes, researchers had no way of knowing that HAR1 was more than just another piece of junk DNA.

It was technology, not evolution, that was needed.

The way to evolve a human from a chimp-human ancestor is not to speed the ticking of the molecular clock as a whole. Rather the secret is to have rapid change occur in sites where those changes make an important difference in an organism’s functioning. HAR1 is certainly such a place. So, too, is the FOXP2 gene, which contains another of the fast-changing sequences I identified and is known to be involved in speech.

I wish Charles Darwin could see the new levels of banality he has given us. The "fact" of his theory now underwrites the ascribing anything and everything to evolution, no matter how ludicrous. Evolution has become a tautology. Whatever we find in biology is simply chalked up to evolution's amazing powers. A core tenet of evolution is that the biological variation, upon which natural selection operates, is independent of need. This view has been falsified so many times that evolutionists such as Pollard no longer skip a beat when reporting on evolution's "secret" miracles. In this case, evolution's secret is to focus the mutations right where they are needed to construct jaw-dropping designs.