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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Doctor Carved Up Their Explanatory Pretensions

When I go to the public library and select a book dealing with human origins, I often feel rather like someone in a Star Trek episode who might be transported inside one of those cubic spaceships of the Borg Collective, and who then might seek out a fresh, individualistic opinion from one of the inhabitants. It sometimes seems that the community of evolutionary biology professors is some kind of Borg Collective or hive mind, enforcing the same rubber-stamp thinking with robotic efficiency, with the same lack of individualism as a division of North Korean soldiers. So if you pick up a book on biological origins, you will expect that with high probability you will get the same old “just so stories,” the same old requirements underestimations, the same old exaggerations of the significance of peripheral or borderline evidence, the same old worshipful kneeling to Darwinian authority, the same old claims that the not-at-all-creative principle of natural selection is a magic wand that explains practically all of the wonders of biological innovation.

I was therefore quite surprised to find on my public library bookshelf the book Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves by physician James Le Fanu, who has written extensively in mainstream media and journals such as the British Medical Journal and the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Although he shows no religious motive, Le Fanu is very much a skeptic about the explanatory value of Darwinism. Le Fanu does not seem to doubt that life on Earth is very old, and he seems to favor the idea that humans have somehow evolved from other species. But he rejects the claim that Darwin's idea of natural selection can explain the origin of mankind or the more impressive cases of biological complexity.

On page 39 Le Fanu states, “The more one reflects on what is involved in standing upright or acquiring a large brain, the less convincing Darwin's proposed mechanism of natural selection appears to be.” He calls the reader's attention to the problem that while knuckle-walking like a gorilla (with four limbs) works well, and walking like a man works well, if there were to be evolution from four-limb walking to bipedal walking, it would require passing though an intermediate stage that wouldn't work well at all, with organisms being prone to topple over when they walked (and be devoured by predators). So the progression over many thousands or millions of years would be:

4-limb walking (works well) → Intermediate stage (works poorly) → Bipedal walking (works well)

The problem is that this progression is unbelievable under a theory of natural selection, which should stop any progression that works against survival value. The issue with the brain pointed out by Le Fanu is that to a creature in the wild, a much larger brain doesn't have much value, and has a negative value of making the birth delivery of a child much harder and more dangerous, due to the difficulty of passing a large brain though the narrow birth canal. Le Fanu states acidly on page 57, “It has taken just a few pages to draw out the contradictions, at every turn, in the prevailing scientific certainty of 'natural selection' as the driving force of the Ascent of Man.” 

human evolution

On pages 92-95 Le Fanu discusses the evolution of the eye, eventually concluding on page 95 that “there is not a single empirical discovery in the past 150 years that has substantiated Darwin's proposal that natural selection, 'taking advantage of slight successive variations,' explains the 'puzzle of perfection' epitomised by so many different types of eye – which remain yet more puzzling than it was in 1859.” He would have made this point more powerfully if he had also pointed out the incredibly elaborate proteins and brain changes involved in vision.

Another doctor (Joseph A. Kuhn) does just such a thing in a scientific paper, noting the inadequacy of Darwinian explanations for the eye. He states:

However, biochemists have shown that even a simple light-sensitive spot requires a complex array of enzyme systems. When light strikes the retina, a photon interacts with a molecule called 11-cis-retinal, which rearranges within picoseconds to trans-retinal. The change in the shape of the retinal molecule forces a change in the shape of the protein rhodopsin. The protein then changes to metarhodopsin II and sticks to another protein, called transducin. This process requires energy in the form of GTP, which binds to transducin. GTP-transducin-metarhodopsin II then binds to a protein called phosphodiesterase, located on the cell wall. This affects the cGMP levels within the cell, leading to a signal that then goes to the brain. The recognition of this signal in the brain and subsequent interpretation involve numerous other proteins and enzymes and biochemical reactions within the brain cells. Thus, each of these enzymes and proteins must exist for the system to work properly...In summary, the eye is incredibly complex. Since it is unreasonable to expect self-formation of the enzymes in perfect proportion simultaneously, eye function represents a system that could not have arisen by gradual mutations.

After mentioning whale evolution, where the fossils seem to show dramatic evolution of structure moving way too fast to be accounted for by random mutations, Le Fanu states on page 120, “By 1980 the logical implications of such biological 'insolubilia' seemed inescapable: the central premise of Darwin's evolutionary theory of gradualist transformation was no longer tenable....Some other dramatic mechanism, as yet unknown to science, must account for the extraordinary diversity of life as revealed by the fossil record.”

On page 229 Le Fanu scolds scientists for their overconfident knowledge pretensions, and accuses them of “persuading us that we know so much more than we really do, or can.” On page 231 he states that the “proposed mechanism of natural selection as the 'cause' of the diversity of living things is contradicted at every turn by the empirical evidence of science itself.” Speaking of Darwinism on page 255, he says “As time has passed its anomalies and inconsistencies have proved ever more pressing, and now, with the crushing verdict of the genome projects, we are left to stare into the abyss of our ignorance of virtually every aspect of the complexities of the living world and its evolutionary history.”

Defenders of Darwinian orthodoxy are constantly trying to make it look as if everyone accepts Darwinism but the religiously motivated. A book like Le Fanu's helps to show otherwise, for he seems to have no religious motivation at all. While many claim that we must choose between Darwinism on one hand and creationism or intelligent design on the other hand, Le Fanu's book reminds us there is another major alternative: the simple alternative of saying, “We don't know the answer to this mystery.” You may refer to this position as origins agnosticism.

Why does someone like Le Fanu differ so strongly from the professors of evolutionary biology? Is it because he knows less about biology than such persons? Not at all; doctors know just as much about biology as biology professors, and probably more. I think the difference is that when you train to be a doctor, you do not undergo the years of social conditioning that our evolutionary biology professors are subjected to, in which they are placed in club-like “high peer pressure” social environments in which adherence to Darwinian dogma is constantly demanded. You can get to be a doctor without becoming a thought-robot of the hive mind or Borg Collective that is the community of evolutionary biology professors. Surveys indicate that skepticism about Darwinian orthodoxy is much higher among physicians than among professors, and the author of this scientific paper is another doctor doubtful about Darwinism.

A superb writer, Le Fanu is a critic of great insight, and his book is very thought-provoking. On page 108 of his book, he makes a comment that the modern scientist should print out and tape to his office wall: “The greatest obstacle to scientific progress, after all, is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.” True indeed – our scientific progress may be accelerated when overconfident scientists stop pretending to understand mysteries that they do not really understand, mysteries that may take mankind a thousand years to solve.

Postscript: There's an interesting new book called Cracking the Aging Code by theoretical biologist Josh Mittledorf PhD and Dorion Sagan.  The book is mainly on theories of aging. But on page 31 Mittledorf writes this:

I found that neo-Darwinism doesn't work very well as a description of real life. Several big things about life in general just don't add up in the context of neo-Darwinism: There's aging and death -- I'll try to show you in the coming chapters why I don't think you can account for the basic facts about aging within the framework of neo-Darwinism. But in addition, neo-Darwinism can't account for sexual reproduction or for the structure of the genome that seems actually "designed" to make evolution possible; neo-Darwinism also does not have a place for the recently established phenomena of epigenetic inheritance or horizontal gene transfer.  

On page 84 the authors state this: "Natural selection cannot be observed in the wild, because it requires huge areas and thousands of years." On the same page the authors state this: "But evolutionary biology today is a uniquely sick science, missing the vibrancy, the audacity, and the commitment to empirical truth that form the core of the scientific method."