Re: [asa] historical versus experimental sciences

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Aug 06 2009 - 18:59:39 EDT


I've explained my point more fully in two follow-ups to David Campbell. My
main point in *this* thread is not about the evolution of complex biological
changes, but about the gratuitous nature of evolutionary theory in relation
to much work that is actually done in the life sciences.

Sure, Behe would grant that if you know (a) that two creatures are
evolutionarily related, then you could predict (b) that they will have many
of the same base sequences, and therefore (c) that they will generate many
of the same proteins. But the first step is gratuitous. If you know they
have the same base sequences, the information that they are evolutionary
relatives is irrelevant to predicting the proteins. You can get to (c) from
(b). You don't need (a). If a physician knows that a patient has cancer of
the liver, and if (let's say) it happens that cancer of the liver, once
begun, always proceeds in certain ways, and can only be arrested by certain
means, does the physician need to know whether the person got the liver
cancer from an inherited genetic defect, from working in a certain chemical
factory, or from fallout from Chernobyl? How will that help with prediction
or treatment? The answer is that (if the facts are as given) it won't help
at all. And if a bone is broken, when a doctor decides how to re-set it, is
the X-ray not a sufficient guide for his work? Does it help him to know
that it was broken by falling off a skateboard rather than falling off a
ladder? Are there separate textbook chapters in medical reference books for
"how to mend breaks caused by falling off skateboards" and "how to mend
breaks caused by falling off ladders"? How is the history relevant, if the
doctor can clearly see the break, and there is in fact only one correct way
to re-set a bone that is fractured in exactly that way?

My main point is that evolution is not central to the understanding of life
*in the same way* that atomic theory is central to chemistry or
gravitational theory is central to celestial mechanics. Biologists talk
much about evolution as a sort of background lingo, but in fact (A) much of
their actual work involves no evolutionary theorizing at all, and (B) the
evolutionary theorizing is gratuitous as far as the methods of investigation
and verification are concerned. Regarding (A) one can do a vast number of
things that biologists do without employing evolutionary theory. The
techniques for determining genome sequence, for example, are biochemical,
and a young earth creationist can perform them and interpret them as well as
Richard Dawkins can; the theory behind the accumulation of mercury compounds
in the tissue of Great Lakes fish is based on food chains and other things
and a good ecologist or ichthyologist can account for a given level of
poison in the tissues without ever referencing Darwin or Mayr or Dobzhansky
or any other evolutionary theorist. Regarding (B), even where evolutionary
theory is brought into biological discussions, it is frequently (outside of
areas where evolutionary theory is obviously itself the subject matter)
brought in as an intepretive gloss after the hard science has been done.
For example, biochemists may work for decades to understand the chemistry of
some metabolic process (e.g., the Krebs cycle), and may finally come up with
a full and satisfactory explanation of the process in terms of natural laws;
then some evolutionary biologist may come along and speculate that this
metabolic process arose via Darwinian means X hundred million years ago.
Whether the historical speculation is correct, or a wild fantasy of the
imagination that is wrong on almost every count, the biochemical work on the
metabolic process stands solid as a rock, as a genuine result of empirical
and theoretical science. The biochemists don't *need* the historical
speculations, whereas the evolutionary biologists' historical speculations
are completely dependent on the accuracy of the work done by the
biochemists. If the Darwinian historical reconstruction of the evolution of
the given metabolic cycle were disproved tomorrow, the textbooks on
metabolism wouldn't have to be changed by even one word (except in the
places where the authors of the textbooks have unnecessarily engaged in
gratuitous speculation about the evolutionary origin of the metabolic
cycle); whereas if the biochemists discovered that they had made a mistake
and that the cycle has a different biochemical pathway than they thought,
every word about its origin written by the evolutionary biologists would
have to be thrown into the shredder.

You don't need to know the history of war machines to know that a catapult
with tension X can hurl a load Y a distance of Z thousand feet, and to know
*why* the catapult can do that. Even if we are never able to determine
whether the first cell with its DNA code was created specially by God, or
evolved via chance and necessitarian processes in a Godless universe, the
discovery of the working of the DNA-protein machinery is a permanent triumph
of empirical and theoretical science, ranking up there with the work of
Galileo and Newton. And there are thousands of biological discoveries still
to be made of this nature, which do not depend on knowing the purported
evolutionary past.

In short, evolutionary biologists vastly overrate their importance in the
scheme of things, even within biology, let alone within "science" generally,
most of which (basic chemistry, physics, astronomy, the non-historical parts
of geology, etc.) would be completely unaffected if a Cambrian rabbit were
found tomorrow. No doubt this hard truth wounds the amour-propre of certain
arrogant and famous evolutionary biologists who write publically and
prolifically, but in my view, a little humiliation of the high and mighty is
a good thing.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Dave Wallace" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Cc: "asa" <>
Sent: Thursday, August 06, 2009 3:01 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] historical versus experimental sciences

> Cameron Wybrow wrote:
>> If I'm wrong, you should be able to show me how a Darwinian biologist,
>> say Coyne, would predict a different protein structure than Michael Behe
>> would, based on the same fruit fly DNA sequence. If they would predict
>> different protein structures, then I would concede the relevance of
>> evolutionary theory to the application you are suggesting. But if they
>> would predict the same protein structure, then obviously they believe
>> that the protein structure is governed by the DNA sequence itself, not by
>> the evolutionary pathway which allegedly generated the DNA sequence.
> Cameron
> As I read Behe he accepts common descent and small scale evolutionary
> changes. Maybe I am missing something but it seems to me that Behe
> accepts enough of the evolutionary paradigm to predict the same protein
> structure.
> I am also having trouble understanding the point of this thread as your
> main point is related to evolution of complex biological changes?
> Dave W
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Received on Thu Aug 6 19:01:10 2009

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