Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Evolution of Neural Crest Cells: Teleology Raised to the Power of Serendipity

Early stem cells were set aside to create new features

There is a reason why Aristotle’s ideas persisted for thousands of years—they advance fundamental themes in how we think. And no, those ideas did not become outdated with the rise of modern science, as the textbooks explain. Consider a recent paper on the flight of bats which stated that the bat’s specialized airflow sensors evolved in order “to guide motor behaviors” and that vertebrate nervous systems, in general, “have flexibly adapted to accommodate anatomical specializations for flight.” The infinitive form is the key. Evolutionary theory is supposed to have rejected teleology. Whereas Aristotle explained natural phenomena as a consequence of final causes, modern science, so the textbooks state, is free of such mysteries. After Bacon it was all about empiricism, mathematical descriptions and natural laws. There was no appeal to goals or end-directed action. Right? Wrong.

Evolutionary theory is Aristotelian. Practitioners use teleological language to describe how evolution works, ad nauseam. When evolutionists explain that the bat’s specialized airflow sensors evolved in order “to guide” motor behaviors, they are invoking an end- or goal-directed process. If nervous systems evolved “to accommodate” various capabilities such as flight, then evolution is Aristotelian.

Now the usual explanation for the teleological language, which is rampant amongst evolutionists, is that “we didn’t actually mean it, we’re just being lazy.”

In peer-reviewed papers?

No, evolutionists are not being lazy. Not this lazy. This is how they think about the evolutionary process. It performs actions in order to achieve goals.

Consider this week’s example, a study of embryonic development in vertebrates and how neural crest cells maintain their flexibility or pluripotency. The mystery is that these cells are able to give rise to various types of cells past the embryonic stages where most cells have lost that capability and instead are committed to a particular cell type such as skin, muscle or bone.

The explanation is that these cells evolved that way. Such explanations are given as though they advance the science.

But this adds nothing to the science. Explaining away an unexpected observation as “well evolution did it” is a cheap short-circuiting of the scientific method. It is a meaningless multiplying of entities which Occam warned us never to do and introduces explanations which themselves are in need of explaining.

As Descartes put it: “If you find it strange that … I do not use the [Aristotelian] qualities called ‘heat,’ ‘cold,’ ‘moistness,’ and ‘dryness,’ as do the philosophers, I shall say to you that these qualities appear to me to be themselves in need of explanation.”

This evolutionary reasoning—if it can be called reasoning—shuts off the search for how nature works—the main duty of science. Instead of figuring how embryonic development works it is simply ascribed to the contingencies of history. The underlying reasons for the design, which in its inexorable march of progress science will eventually uncover, are ignored. Evolutionists are, as they say, being lazy.

But that’s not the worst of it.

The constant teleological drumbeat in evolutionary theory not only obviates the scientific method, it replaces it with cacophony of serendipity. The evolutionary literature is chocked full of intricate, complicated, just-so stories that would put any soap opera to shame. All kinds of intricate events take place, leading to complex new creations which are then crucial to the next step in the plot.

This week’s paper on neural crest cells, for example, finds that after these fascinating and incredible cells were produced by evolution, they then became the crucial player in evolution’s construction of major new vertebrate designs. Here is how evolutionist Carole LaBonne, the study leader, explained it:

Neural crest cells never had their potential restricted at all. We believe a small population of early stem cells were set aside, so that when the time came, their immense developmental potential could be unleashed to create new features characteristic of vertebrates.

Early stem cells were set aside so that when the time came their immense developmental potential could be unleashed to create new features? This is Aristotelianism on steroids and the serendipity is deafening.

When you see a theory consisting of a long sequence of special explanatory devices you know it isn’t about science.


  1. Do you think that these sorts of scientists whose writings are permeated with evolutionary teleological language -- and their name is apparently Myriad -- only support Darwinism as a facade to maintain their "scientific" credentials, or are their powers of apprehension so short-circuited by the great science-stopper known as Darwinsim that they actually don't realize that an argument with teleological elements is ipso facto by its very nature NOT a Darwinian argument?

    One expects these sorts of statements from nature shows such as those offered on PBS, as those in the media aren't known for precision, but when one can't tell the difference between a PBS narrator and a scientist, then one wonders if one smells a fish. Is it just laziness, or sloppy thinking, or do some of these folks simply not believe what they claim to believe?

    1. Teleological was Greek. Before the philosophers. Concerned with nature.

  2. Spot on, Cornelius. Atheist science = Mr McGooology.

    Without wishing to push the barnyard metaphor too disparagingly, their sterility in terms of the major paradigms reminds me of the aphorism of an eastern sage, quoted by Aldous Huxley in his essay on comparative religion, The Perennial Philosophy, to the effect that pigs eat acorns and think neither of the earth that nourishes them nor the sun that enlivens them/gives increase.

    When evolution is such a miraculous, catch-all concept, it makes you wonder why they express continual astonishment, as each new discovery puts the kybosh on their cherished, putative, evolutionary insights. Forrest Gump's chocolate-box gift that never stops giving.

  3. What we're talking about here, in describing these "scientific" just-so stories, is "Delusional Thinking".

    The infinitive verb structure used by evolutionists is the application of Delusional Thinking to empirical data; suddenly molecules have minds, set goals, and take actions to achieve outcomes because... well, how else?

    When "scientists" or anybody else rules out intelligence beyond the cellular level as a cause for the complexity we see at the cellular level, then delusional story-telling is all that is left.

    These modern versions of just-so stories are no different than the ancient ones, for example, at the global level, of the sun-god hauling the sun across the sky in a chariot. It's an "explanation", but it doesn't really help. And you could be persecuted, then or now, for not believing it.

    Moreover, "peer-reviewed Delusional Thinking" slops over into the thinking of the general populace in art, music, law, and politics.

    Examples in politics... Criminals will obey gun laws, unborn babies feel no pain, black lives matter except when they are police officers, Iraqi lives don't matter OR the ISIS takeover of Iraq is George Bush's fault (take your pick), Obamacare is working, George Stephanopoulos is a journalist, we can negotiate with Iran and Mrs. Clinton is the epitome of smart, selfless morality.

    There are millions of people in this country that believe these things and these things are TOTAL CRAP.

    Delusional thinking is a rampant form of mental illness, in my opinion; it is a symptom of soul-sickness.

    In this sense, the theory of Intelligent Design is therapeutic because it recognizes that which is implicitly observable; ID attributes the complexity we see to an actual known cause of such complexity: i.e. intelligence--not at the molecular level as evolution has come to do but at the infinite level.

    There are none so blind as those who WILL not see.

    Thanks for letting me rant...