Header 1

Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"Most Species Young" Study Makes Biologists Tear Their Hair Out

After the release of a startling new scientific study, it seems more appropriate to ask a question there was already previous reason for asking. The question is: have prevailing explanations in biology flunked the genome tests?

The new study was published in the scientific journal Human Evolution. According to a news report on it, “The study's most startling result, perhaps, is that nine out of 10 species on Earth today, including humans, came into being 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.” The report quotes one of the authors as saying, “"This conclusion is very surprising, and I fought against it as hard as I could.” Given an age of more than four billion years for our planet, you can describe the paper as a "most species young" study, since 200,000 years is less than a ten thousandth of the Earth's age. 

The press story on the study does not tell us that this study's findings are inconsistent with the claims of orthodox Darwinism, other than to give us a section heading of “Darwin perplexed.” But it is rather clear why such a study clashes with Darwinist orthodoxy.

Darwinism has always maintained that species appear very gradually, because of an accumulation of random mutations that occur over vast periods of times. Almost all random mutations have no effect or a harmful effect. A beneficial random mutation must be extremely rare. Useful biological innovations would actually require combinations of random mutations having a coordinated beneficial effect. Such things should be as rare as monkeys typing out useful software subroutines by randomly striking the keys of a keyboard. But we have been told that such incredibly improbable combinations might occur given vast eons of time.

Given this situation, we can say that the plausibility of Darwinism as an explanation of biological innovations is inversely proportional to the speed at which such innovations occur. A Darwinist trying to explain some large set of biological innovations occurring within a span of a million years must make assertions 100 times less plausible than the same person trying to explain these innovations occurring over a time span of 100 million years. This is why the Cambrian Explosion has always been a thorn in the side of evolutionary biologists. During the Cambrian Explosion, most of the animal phyla appeared within a relatively short period of time, only about 5 or 10 million years. It has seemed to many that such an “organization explosion” could not have occurred so quickly under Darwinian assumptions.

If the new study is correct, we would have to assume that there was some burst of biological innovation causing 90% of the world's species to originate in the past 200,000 years. Such an “organization explosion” would be as hard to explain as the Cambrian Explosion. In terms of body plans, it would involve a smaller amount of innovation, but the time period would be much shorter than that of the Cambrian Explosion.

The news report on the article attempts clumsily to suggest some things that might explain this explosion of innovation. The report states the following:

Which brings us back to our question: why did the overwhelming majority of species in existence today emerge at about the same time? Environmental trauma is one possibility, explained Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University. "Viruses, ice ages, successful new competitors, loss of prey—all these may cause periods when the population of an animal drops sharply," he told AFP, commenting on the study. "In these periods, it is easier for a genetic innovation to sweep the population and contribute to the emergence of a new species."

The last statement is literally true, but it is a statement very prone to give someone who hears it a very wrong idea. The chance of a genetic innovation occurring by random mutations is not at all affected by any of the things mentioned. But if by some miracle of luck some useful genetic innovation had occurred, it might be more likely to survive if, for example, there were fewer competitors. Similarly, the chance of trees falling in a forest and forming by chance into a log cabin will not at all be affected by whether there are earthquakes or forest fires in the forest, but if such a miracle of luck happens to occur, the chance of such a randomly-formed log cabin surviving might be affected by the rate of earthquakes or forest fires. There are, in fact, no environmental conditions that would ever make it more likely that random mutations would be able to produce a burst of biological innovation.

So the finding of the study (that 90% of current species appeared in the past 200,000 years) is in conflict with the claims of Darwinian orthodoxy. As I stated before, the plausibility of Darwinian explanations is inversely proportional to the speed at which biological innovations occur. The more biological innovation occurring in a relatively short time span, the less plausible Darwinism is. A phys.org article discussing a previous study has the headline “Not so fast: researchers find that lasting evolutionary change takes about one million years.” So how could so many species have originated in less than 200,000 years?

The fact that incredibly improbable innovations by random mutations do not become more probable after a mass extinction event is one difficulty. Another difficulty is that we know of no mass extinction event around 200,000 years ago. Geologists do not claim that the earth's environment suddenly changed around that time. The event that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs occurred millions of years earlier. A look at a graph of temperature changes in the past million years will show nothing special between 50,000 BC and 300,000 BC. 

One of the study authors attempts to smooth things over so that readers are not too shocked by the findings of his study. The news story states the following:

The simplest interpretation is that life is always evolving," said Stoeckle. "It is more likely that—at all times in evolution—the animals alive at that point arose relatively recently."

But that idea does not work, for it requires us to believe in biological innovation occurring at a rate gigantically more rapid than Darwinism can account for. Such an idea also is inconsistent with the fossil record, which does not show new species appearing at even a tenth of a rate so rapid (except for the Cambrian Explosion). 

The news story ends by mentioning another anomaly found by the study:

And yet—another unexpected finding from the study—species have very clear genetic boundaries, and there's nothing much in between."If individuals are stars, then species are galaxies," said Thaler. "They are compact clusters in the vastness of empty sequence space."The absence of "in-between" species is something that also perplexed Darwin, he said.

The problem in question is a gigantic one for orthodox Darwinian explanations. I have various Java programs that simulate something like random evolution. In one of these programs I start out with a group of simulated organisms consisting of a “DNA string” with 100 mainly random characters. The program makes random mutations on this “DNA,” and checks for the appearance of useful features. So, for example, if this DNA string contains the letters “two eyes” or “two ears” or “two legs” or “two arms” or “two lungs,” then the organism with such a DNA becomes more likely to reproduce (and the more such useful features, the more likely the simulated organism will be to reproduce). Under program conditions similar to that which might occur in the natural world, the program might run for 2000 simulated generations without any useful innovations appearing. But suppose I modify the program to make it much more easy for biological innovations to occur, making things less realistic. And suppose I start out with simulated organisms that have a few useful features. What I then find is that there occurs a very strong amount of what we may call species fragmentation.

So, for example, imagine I start out with a population of 10,000 simulated organisms that each have no useful features but “eyes” and “legs.” If I then run 2000 simulated generations, and “load the dice” so that biological innovations can occur way more easily, I will not end up with something like a new species with eyes, legs, and one or two other features. Instead I will get a situation in which the final population is rather “all over the map.” Maybe 1000 simulated organisms will have eyes and legs, another 1000 will have only eyes, another 1000 will have only legs, another 1000 will have eyes and ears but no legs, another 1000 will have only legs and arms but no eyes or ears, and so forth. This type of “species fragmentation” is exactly what should occur under random evolution whenever it is easy enough for innovation to occur relatively rapidly. But that is not what we see in nature. Instead, there are very few or no “in-between” species, and, as the study notes, species are like galaxies in space and the organisms of that species like stars of that galaxy, with no stars between the galaxies.

Then there was another way in which the recent study suggested our biology experts are not on the right track. The news report states the following:

It is textbook biology, for example, that species with large, far-flung populations—think ants, rats, humans—will become more genetically diverse over time. But is that true? "The answer is no," said Stoeckle, lead author of the study, published in the journal Human Evolution. For the planet's 7.6 billion people, 500 million house sparrows, or 100,000 sandpipers, genetic diversity "is about the same," he told AFP.

But how can this be if genetic diversity is caused by random mutations, as Darwinism claims? There are only a certain number of random mutations that occur per 100,000 organisms. So if genetic diversity was really caused by random mutations, we should inevitably expect that a species with billions of organisms should have many times more genetic diversity than a species with a small population. As this paper based on Darwinian principles states, “Genetic theory predicts that levels of genetic variation should increase with effective population size.” But according to the new Human Evolution study, that's not true. Instead, we have an anomaly that has been called Lewontin's paradox.

So for these reasons the new Human Evolution study is a kind of trifecta of aggravation for the mainstream biologist, something that may make such a person tear his or her hair out. 

But at the Collective Evolution site, a writer is happy about the study, suggesting it may support the idea of extraterrestrial involvement with evolution. 

The recent study is not the first genetic study to confound Darwinian predictions. An interesting series of studies has attempted to look for evidence of what are called “classic sweeps” in the genomes of human DNA. A classic sweep is what would occur if some useful new feature were to occur because of one or more random mutations in the DNA of one organism of a population, with the feature becoming more and more common in the population, because of some benefit it provided that increased the likelihood of survival and reproduction. When the “classic sweep” has finished, the entire population has the beneficial feature. It has long been an assumption of orthodox Darwinists that most biological innovations appear through such “classic sweeps,” also called “classic selective sweeps.” But a 2011 study in the journal Science had the title “Classic Selective Sweeps Were Rare in Recent Human Evolution.” By “recent human evolution” the study meant the past 250,000 years.

Such a result is very much at odds with the predictions of Darwinism. For an orthodox Darwinist, if there was very few classic selective sweeps in humans during the past 200,000 years, that's news as bad as it would be for a UFO or SETI enthusiast if we were to find that Earth-sized planets are rare in the habitable zone of other stars. 

A more recent scientific study in 2014 found there was virtually no sign of adaptive evolution in the human genome. The paper published in a mainstream science journal looked for traces of natural selection by looking for something called “fixed adaptive substitutions” in human DNA. The paper stated, “Our overall estimate of the fraction of fixed adaptive substitutions (α) in the human lineage is very low, approximately 0.2%, which is consistent with previous studies.”  It's hard to imagine a bigger fail or flop for Darwinian explanations. If such explanations were correct, we would have expected to find such signs of adaptive evolution in a large fraction of the human genome, not a fifth of one percent. 

Talking about biological origins, our braggart biologists have long been telling us “we got this,” but they would be using more truthful slang if they were to lose their hubris and say, “Basically we don't know jack about how complex biology originates.” The knowledge of man is tiny and fragmentary, and the mysteries of nature are many and mountainous.