February 28, 2009

BIOLOGY - DARWINISM = BIOLOGY:

The Dangers Of Overselling Evolution: Focusing on Darwin and his theory doesn't further scientific progress. (Philip S. Skell, 02.23.09, Forbes)

[University of Chicago biologist Jerry] Coyne seems to believe the major importance of biological science is its speculations about matters which cannot be observed, tested and verified, such as origin of life, speciation, the essences of our fossilized ancestors, the ultimate causes of their changes, etc.

Experimental biology has dramatically increased our understanding of the intricate workings within living organisms that account for their survival, showing how they continue to function despite the myriad assaults on them from their environments. These advances in knowledge are attributable to the development of new methodologies and instruments, unimaginable in the preceding centuries, applied to the investigation of living organisms. Crucial to all fruitful experiments in biology is their design, for which Darwin's and Wallace's principles apparently provide no guidance.

Contrary to the beliefs of Professor Coyne and some other defenders of Darwin, these advances are not due to studies of an organism's ancestors that are recovered from fossil deposits. Those rare artifacts--which have been preserved as fossils--are impressions in stones which, even when examined with the heroic efforts of paleontologists, cannot reveal the details that made these amazing living organisms function.

To conflate contemporary scientific studies of existing organisms with those of the paleontologists serves mainly to misguide the public and teachers of the young. An examination of the papers in the National Academy of Sciences' premiere journal, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), as well as many other journals and the Nobel awards for biological discoveries, supports the crucial distinction I am making.

Examining the major advances in biological knowledge, one fails to find any real connection between biological history and the experimental designs that have produced today's cornucopia of knowledge of how the great variety of living organisms perform their functions. It is our knowledge of how these organisms actually operate, not speculations about how they may have arisen millions of years ago, that is essential to doctors, veterinarians, farmers and other practitioners of biological science. [...]

In 1942, Nobel Laureate Ernst Chain wrote that his discovery of penicillin (with Howard Florey and Alexander Fleming) and the development of bacterial resistance to that antibiotic owed nothing to Darwin's and Alfred Russel Wallace's evolutionary theories.

The same can be said about a variety of other 20th-century findings: the discovery of the structure of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; new surgeries; and other developments.

Additionally, I have queried biologists working in areas where one might have thought the Darwinian paradigm could guide research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I learned that evolutionary theory provides no guidance when it comes to choosing the experimental designs. Rather, after the breakthrough discoveries, it is brought in as a narrative gloss.

The essence of the theory of evolution is the hypothesis that historical diversity is the consequence of natural selection acting on variations. Regardless of the verity it holds for explaining biohistory, it offers no help to the experimenter--who is concerned, for example, with the goal of finding or synthesizing a new antibiotic, or how it can disable a disease-producing organism, what dosages are required and which individuals will not tolerate it. Studying biohistory is, at best, an entertaining distraction from the goals of a working biologist.

It is noteworthy that Darwin's and Wallace's theories of evolution have been enormously aggrandized since the 1850s. Through the writings of neo-Darwinian biologists, they have subsumed many of the biological experimental discoveries of the 20th century. This is so despite the fact that those discoveries were neither predicted nor heuristically guided by evolutionary theory.


On the other hand, their pursuit of the distraction provides the rest of us with endless amusement.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 28, 2009 4:38 PM
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