Jerry Coyne, Biology Professor at the University of Chicago, reviewed my new book Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design. He begins his review by saying:
“Although I haven’t read it….”
Then he gives his critique of the description of the book… rather than the book itself!
I believe in fair debate. Though I disagree with many of Coyne’s conclusions in his book Why Evolution is True, I actually recommend it in my “Recommended Books” appendix. (And yes, I did read it.)
Coyne’s salvo starts with:
“He does have a degree in engineering, though, as we know, even if we consider engineers “scientists,” their profession harbors a disturbing number of anti-evolutionists.”
True dat. The “Salem Hypothesis” observes that engineers, computer programmers, medical doctors and dentists consistently doubt old-school Darwinian evolution. Why?
Because engineers know how hard we work to design products and write code. Doctors know the smarts it takes to diagnose and treat disease. In our actual life experience, “Random Mutation and Natural Selection” is never sufficient to solve any problem. We know how incredibly subtle design decisions are. They involve elaborate trade-offs. We know machines and computer programs, oddly, never get better when something breaks.
One of reasons I wrote this book was to show precisely those kinds of people that evolution is still, in fact, true! Because evolution is reproducible in the lab – it’s not just a historical theory. The experiments are absolutely fascinating.
My #1 audience is precisely practical, get-it-done, engineering type people. People who don’t find “Natural Selection” to be an adequate explanation for dizzyingly sophisticated machines and systems we see in biology.
Natural Selection is not enough. And what I discovered was 70 years of abundant research that shows cells actively re-structure their DNA, adapting to threats in real time.
Whenever I describe these experiments to engineers, programmers, doctors etc., they suddenly become fascinated with evolution – even if they were hostile to it before. Even ordinary folks at dinner parties lean forward when I start telling them the untold evolution story.
So I am very much pro-evolution. But Jerry Coyne does not like my version of “pro evolution.” Why? Let’s go to some of his criticisms.
When I say:
“Nearly every cell in your body can edit its own DNA, negating random destructive copying errors, charting a path for its transformation (page 82)”
“Yes, that can happen, for cells have an exquisitely evolved mechanism to edit flaws in DNA (that mechanism, of course, got here via natural selection, since those individuals that could correct the largely deleterious errors in DNA would have more fit offspring).”
Pay attention here: He just told you that natural selection explains it, since the cells with error correction survived and the others died. [Notice he side-stepped answering the question of where the error correction came from in the first place. Zero explanation.]
Also notice Coyne gets the cause and effect exactly backward. How does selection create anything?
And where did that fabulous DNA error correction come from? That’s a FASCINATING question. An important question. It deserves an answer. But “natural selection” is no answer! It is a non-answer.
When I say:
“Genes – far from being set in stone – actually change and adapt to the environment.”
You’ll notice that once again, Coyne just reverts to “natural selection” as though this somehow explains anything.
Everyone knows natural selection is nothing more than eliminating the losers. It’s death. Selection makes room for the winners. It makes LOTS of room for the winners, by the way. A 1% advantage can become a 100X population difference.
But natural selection by definition doesn’t create anything at all.
And so it goes, all through Coyne’s critique.
Q: Genes change and adapt to the environment. How?
Coyne’s answer seems to be: ‘Never mind those exquisite signaling systems or regulatory systems. Never mind how bacteria alter their own DNA, depending on which role they’re assigned to play in their bacterial colony. Never mind the hundreds of signals they monitor from their environment.
‘It’s all just natural selection.’
Coyne: “But if by this Marshall means that genes can adapt to the environment in real time, changing in a way that’s both inherited and permanent, then he’s wrong.”
Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize for proving that her corn plants did exactly this. Her DNA changes were in real time, they were inherited, and permanent. James Shapiro confirmed bacteria do the same thing. These are indisputable facts.
Why does Coyne not want you to know this???
About Barbara McClintock, he literally says, “Move along, folks; nothing to see here.”
My friend, that is why I wrote this book. Because the real evolution story has been largely untold. Oxford Professor Denis Noble says every pillar of the classical Darwinian synthesis has been overturned. Meanwhile, Coyne’s version of evolution is dead. 70 years obsolete.
There is LOTS to see here. Do not move on. You could even say McClintock made a greater contribution to practical evolutionary science than Charles Darwin himself. Why? Because McClintock showed where evolutionary variation actually comes from!
Before her, nobody knew.
Coyne doesn’t want to talk about Barbara. Her experiments in 1944 disproved the model he’s still clinging to now.
Chapters 11-16 of Evolution 2.0 explore five major topics that Coyne’s famous book, and nearly all popular “evolution books” say little or nothing about: Transposition, Horizontal Gene Transfer, Epigenetics, Symbiogenesis, Hybridization, and the linguistics of DNA. All of these are spectacular, non-random, real-time systems of cellular engineering.
Without these, natural selection would have nothing novel to act upon. No conversation about evolution is complete without these tools of Systems Biology.
Evolution flows from the cell’s ability to cut, splice, edit, re-arrange and re-program its own DNA. Which is pretty trippy when you stop to consider about what is actually going on. The cell is built from instructions in its DNA… yet it has the ability to alter those very instructions.
We barely understand how this works. We only know that it works, and it works very well, thank you very much.
Again, dear reader… why does Coyne say “Move along folks; nothing to see here”?
I repeatedly find this smug, dismissive, anti-science attitude all over atheist literature. “Aw, there’s nothing all that impressive about that. We already knew that a long time ago. Barely worth mentioning. Hey everybody, let’s raise a toast to Natural Selection!”
Do you see how anti-discovery and anti-research this is?
I ask: How do cells generate new information and genes that did not exist before?
Coyne: Yes, that occurs by either natural selection itself, [Recall: Natural selection kills. It doesn’t create. Everyone knows this] gene duplication followed by natural selection, [yes, gene duplication does create new coding sequences, that is my point] or the adoption of genes from other species by “horizontal transmission.” [which once again is a point of the book. Glad we agree on that, Mr. Coyne.]
So notice here that Coyne is actually confirming what I say in the book, while appearing to disagree. He’s reluctant to discuss any of the details of how all this works. It’s all just… natural selection.
Suppose you asked me, “How did Starbucks take over the world with stores in malls, city squares, airports and hotels?”
If my answer was “Pressure from thick competition” and “Most of their rivals simply went out of business” … and then every time you asked me about their strategic store locations, their capital raising strategy, their quality control systems, or their management philosophy… if I just kept changing the subject and chanting, “Survival of the fittest”…
…Wouldn’t you start to feel like I was dodging the question? Or maybe I didn’t really know all that much about business?
Suppose you asked your sports fanatic friend, “How did the New England Patriots manage to beat the Seahawks by 4 points in the Super Bowl?”
What if he just kept saying, “Playoffs, playoffs, playoffs”?
What if you asked him about the stats, the referee calls and the defensive strategy, and their nutrition and training programs… and he just kept insisting: “Playoffs, playoffs, playoffs!” ?
Engineers and programmers – the exact professionals who are inherently more qualified than anyone else to judge the nature and structure of designs – are sick and tired of this. They smell a rat.
Old-school Darwinists put us down for failing to submit to scientific consensus.
But we engineers know that we know that we know certain things.
For quite some time I was tempted to dismiss evolution. It didn’t make sense to me that any sort of random, undirected process could generate the amazing systems we find in living things. But I chose to suspend judgment. I scoured hundreds of books and papers. Including many books I disagreed with, like Jerry Coyne’s book Why Evolution is True.
Layer by layer, I started peeling the onion. I found real-time laboratory evolution experiments that produced new features, new species.
Barbara McClintock asked, “What does the cell know about itself?”
Great question. And what engineering capabilities does it have?
We are barely beginning to find out.
Meanwhile, chanting “natural selection” as though it’s some oracle or magic incantation is sheer laziness.
So is critiquing books you’ve never bothered to read.
Dear reader, I invite you to read my book Evolution 2.0 and discover the real evolution story.
Maybe you’re an old-school Darwinist. Maybe you always felt like the basic evolution story makes sense. If so, you’ll probably find there’s far more sophistication to evolution than you ever imagined.
Maybe you’re a creationist. If so, this book has an excellent chance of convincing you that some form of evolution really does happen. Three of the endorsements in the front matter of this book are from creationists who literally changed their mind about evolution. They “flipped.”
Maybe you’re sympathetic to Intelligent Design. This book will show you things the ID guys probably didn’t tell you about.
Maybe you wonder about this alleged war between science and religion. This book will show you there’s no conflict.
Darwinists underestimate nature. Creationists underestimate God.
Photo by zooterkin – Flickr: P1080729 from Wikipedia used under Creative Commons License.