I didn’t post on my website the comment you see below. For one thing, it had nothing to do with the post it was supposed to be under (“Mencken on nonexistent gods“). The name the reader wanted used was “Midhun”. And he has a theory that is his (see my bolded bit below). The commenter’s writing is indented, while mine is flush right. Spacing is as in the original.
(This comment isn’t directly related to the thread. Sorry for that)I’m a college student studying biology. I became interested in the Evolution v/s ID debate during the pandemic lockdown & have been reading the publications from both sides of the debate. Found this blog in that process.
Now comes Midhun’s theory that is his. Here is his theory:
Finally I settled in a ‘hybrid’ model (that incorporates both Evolution & ID) as the most rational position. Sir, I know you are an ID critic. Thats why I’m describing my model here. I welcome healthy criticisms from you so that I can change my model accordingly.
If Midhun thinks I’m going to write a long response, he’s sorely mistaken. I’d normally respond, “Read my book” and add “there are plenty of criticisms of ID and your views already on the Internet and in papers. Do your homework.” But I see that my neurons are driving me to say a bit more.
Midhun goes on, limning the theory which is his and nobody else’s:
This is the brief summary of my model: The origin of life and other major innovations happened in the history of life (such as origin of photosynthesis, origin of eukaryotic cell, eyespot, origin of animal phylas during cambrian etc) had the direct involvement of Intelligent Designer. The reason I infer so is summarized in two points
(1)those events were accompanied with quantum leap in biological information. (2) In agreement with ID theory, I believe that Intelligent Design is the most rational explanation for the origin of large amount of biological information in a geologically short time period.
Unfortunately, Midhun doesn’t define what he means—I’ll assume Midhun is a male—by “a quantum leap in biological information”. If he means ONE HONKING BIG MUTATION THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING, that’s very unlikely, but if he means mutations themselves are “quanta”: one DNA base changes at a time (or, in some cases, we have an insertion or hybridization event which can change many bases in the genome) then that’s okay. But this isn’t what he means. So his first premise is unevidenced and most likely wrong. The concept of “macromutations” disappeared around 1940 for good reason: lack of evidence.
As for #2, we have explanations for all those phenomena in naturalistic terms. If he thinks that Intelligent Design, which involves a creator, is the most “rational” explanation for stuff like phyla and eyespots, then he’s obliged to tell us where the Designer came from. Was the Designer’s origin also through a quantum leap? And the answer, “The Designer was just there” is not sufficient.
Midhun goes on:
That being said, I do not think all traits that originated in life’s history need the direct involvement of designer.The explanation I have for the origin of those traits is: Organisms directly designed by designer have the built-in ability to evolve w.r.t changing environments. In other words, organisms are designed to evolve. The reason I say so is: Increasing number of scientific papers points to the active role of organisms’ pre-existing informational systems in the process of evolution. This is in contrast to the idea of passive role of organism in evolution that was implied by the classical darwinian mechanism of accidentally generated variation plus fixation. The informational systems within organisms have the potential to generate variations in an active way. In short, organisms have the built-in ability to generate variations. Examples are: Mutations generated by regulated biochemical processes during the time of non-lethal stress, stress induced gene amplification, stress induced transposition, recombination, epigenetic modifications, HGT, releasing cryptic variations during stress, alternative splicing during stress and other cell-mediated genomic rearrangements. In addition to that, variations generated by phenotypic plasticity- which is an intrinsic property of the developmental systems. A 2021 Bioessays paper calls the active role of organism in evolution as “biological agency”. This doesn’t mean organisms are intentionally or consciously generating variations. Rather, its a property of developmental and other cellular systems to respond to changing environments or stress.
The idea of “evolvability”, that organisms were designed to evolve by natural selection when the time was appropriate, is appealing to some, but there’s virtually no evidence for it, especially in non-microbial species. It is true that, in some mathematical theories, an organism can evolve to have a higher mutation rate during times of environmental change, but this happens only when environmental change is rapid and recurrent. There are two further problems: most mutations are at best neutral and often maladaptive; very few are advantageous. A gene designed to jack up the mutation rate in bad times will, in general, be LESS fit than its alternatives unless the “mutator” gene somehow acts specifically on the genes “needed” to meet the environmental challenge. We know of no such mutators. Further, the mutator gene, unless it is tightly physically linked on the DNA to the genes “needed” to change during environmental stress, will be separated from it, and then will be a generalized allele making errors all over the genome. That would also be maladaptive, and the mutator would be eliminated by natural selection. Notice that Midhun adduces no evidence for the theory, because there is none, at least not in eukaryotes. (There is disputed evidence that a higher mutation rate has evolved under stress in bacteria, but it’s not widely agreed that this happens. Further, in bacteria a new mutation doesn’t often recombine away from other genes, as there is virtually no recombination.)
I don’t know why people like Midhun have to postulate a complicated and unevidenced mechanism for natural selection that requires an undescribed Designer. Not only is the Darwinian mechanism of variation plus selection more parsimonious, but we can actually see it happen in both the lab and the wild. When we map adaptations that have evolved in real time (either in flies or humans as in lactose tolerance), we find that they are based on simple DNA changes in structural or regulatory genes. They are not quantum leaps, nor are they generalized mutator genes. The last sentences that Midhun proffers, “This doesn’t mean organisms are intentionally or consciously generating variations. Rather, its a property of developmental and other cellular systems to respond to changing environments or stress”, are wrong. We have no evidence of a generalized property of ability to respond to stress by increasing the mutation rate. (They can respond to stress via evolved responses, like rotifers growing spines when they detect the presence of fish in their lake. But that’s due to evolved plasticity, not a sudden increase in mutations.) While some factors, like exposure to mutagens or high temperatures, can increase the mutation rate, they do so only by passively increasing the error rate of DNA replication; there are no signs that these are anything other than the unavoidable effects of chemicals on nucleotides.
Midhun continues to expound the theory that is his:
Although the authors of all papers that describe the aforementioned mechanisms believe that the ability to evolve itself was evolved, they do not offer an explanation. In fact how can they?If evolution we observe today are actively mediated by various biomolecules, one cannot invoke the same process to explain the origin of those biomolecules in the first place. Doing so would be a logical contradiction.
But I thought Midhun was offering a non-Designer (i.e., straight neo-Darwinian) mechanism for some traits. Instead, he drags in the Great Designer to explain evolvability! In fact, it’s God all the way down! And it has to be, for Midhun cannot see adaptation as a process that can occur naturally, even though we’ve seen it happen. Rather, to him it looks teleological and purposeful.
I believe that Intelligence is the most rational explanation for the origin of the informational systems that actively facilitates this mode of evolution.
This raises the question of what he means by “most rational”. I won’t make any disparaging remarks here, but will note that it’s not rational to posit a designer for which there’s no evidence whatever, and plenty of evidence for the classic evolutionary process of natural selection (or other evolutionary forces) acting on mutations that happen to be around, but which originate at “random”: through accidents of DNA replication that have nothing to do with natural selection.
Finally, coming to the classical darwinian mechanism, I believe that a strictly darwinian mechanism is incomplete and it alone cannot generate evolutionary novelties. As far as I know, no complex novelties have emerged through strictly darwinian mechanism.(By the term darwinian evolution, I mean the standard textbook theory)
Of course, he doesn’t define “complex”, which I’m sure he means “adaptations for which nobody can or has offered a Darwinian, gradualistic step-by-step process, which makes his claim tautological. We certainly know of fairly adaptations (e.g., antifreeze proteins in Antarctic fish) that have arisen this way, and we can also model the evolution of complex traits like the camera eye of molluscs and vertebrates by a Darwinian process with conservative assumptions. Such models create complex adaptations remarkably quickly. For one example using the eye, see here (or ask for a pdf) and here. Fortunately, Midhun is coming this his Big Finish:
Quoting the aforementioned 2021 Bioessays paper:https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/bies.202100185)“…key evolutionary innovations such as the vertebrate eye, the insect wing, and the mammalian placenta cannot be explained by selection on random genetic mutations per se.” (
That paper, though in a scientific journal, is simply an ID screed whose tenor is “anything whose evolution we don’t understand constitutes evidence for a designer.” But people used to say that about all manner of phenomena, like lightning, infectious disease, and earthquakes. If we didn’t know how they came about, it must have been God. Then, one by one, science provided the correct explanation. The BioEssays paper is dreck.
As for complex adaptations like eyes and wings, I could explain Darwinian scenarios for their origin, but many others have already done so in print: Dawkins goes over the eye and the wing in previous books (see his latest, Flights of Fancy), and Googling will give you theories about how the placenta evolved via natural selection (i.e., see here and here).
Why do I waste my time refuting creationist nonsense like this, all of which is contradicted by the scientific literature? Don’t ask me—it’s the laws of physics, which have vouchsafed me a neuronal configuration that automatically responds to ID nonsense. Now I’ve wasted an hour.