“Survival of the fittest,” a tautology that explains nothing. “Fittest” means most able to survive. Survival of the fittest means survival of those who survive.

The Trouble with Darwin

Kas Thomas’ “The Trouble with Darwin”

On the Big Think website, Kas Thomas pointed out some rarely-discussed issues with the theory of evolution by natural selection. He as been described as “a longtime cognitive dissident and menace to sacred-cow-kind”. A graduate of the University of California at Irvine and Davis (with degrees in biology and microbiology) and a former University of California Regents Fellow, Thomas has taught biology, bacteriology, and laboratory physics at the college level. He’s a proponent of science who specializes in revealing its weaknesses. A blurb, accompanying his article, states that . . .

“Paradoxically, few areas of human endeavor are as wedded to dogma as science. Time to crash the wedding.”

. . . so, that should give you a good idea of what’s to come.


Darwin and Survival

In his article, Kas points out that we still don’t understand the process of speciation. Research has produced precious few clues.

“Darwin’s landmark work was called The Origin of Species, yet it doesn’t actually explain in detail how speciation happens (and in fact, no one has seen it happen in the laboratory, unless you want to count plant hybridization or certain breeding anomalies in fruit flies). Almost everything in evolutionary theory is based on “survival of the fittest,” a tautology that explains nothing. (“Fittest” means most able to survive. Survival of the fittest means survival of those who survive.) The means by which new survival skills emerge is, at best, murky.”

I’m not a scientist, so I’m not surprised to learn that my understanding of how genetic mutations drive evolution is wrong. I was behind the curve on this one. Actually, I don’t know enough to reliably determine if Kas is being accurate or heretical. If the following is true, does that mean we can’t explain how biological functions evolved?

“When I was in school, we were taught that mutations in DNA are the driving force behind evolution, an idea that is now thoroughly discredited. The overwhelming majority of non-neutral mutations are deleterious (reducing, not increasing, survival). This is easily demonstrated in the lab. Most mutations lead to loss of function, not gain of function. Evolutionary theory, it turns out, is great at explaining things like the loss of eyesight, over time, by cave-dwelling creatures. It’s terrible at explaining gain of function.”

I knew about abiogenesis and how it was not discussed in Darwin’s book but I didn’t know we have an expectation of how fast speciation should occur. Apparently, it occurs faster than scientists think it should – or so one would think after reading the following paragraph.

“It’s also terrible at explaining the speed at which speciation occurs. (Of course, The Origin of Species is entirely silent on the subject of how life arose from abiotic conditions in the first place.) It doesn’t explain the Cambrian Explosion, for example, or the sudden appearance of intelligence in hominids, or the rapid recovery (and net expansion) of the biosphere in the wake of at least five super-massive extinction events in the most recent 15% of Earth’s existence.”

Although he likes to point out flaws in scientific theories, Kas is no science hater; as the conclusion to this Big Think article indicates.

“Of course, the fact that classical evolutionary theory doesn’t explain these sorts of things doesn’t mean we should abandon the entire theory. There’s a difference between a theory being wrong and being incomplete. In science, we cling to incomplete theories all the time. Especially when the alternative is complete ignorance.”

Science epitomizes objective inquiry. I like being reminded that we have only models of reality and that they are provisional and incomplete. We don’t have all the answers. Curiosity will never be obsolete, so I have no doubt it’s a function the human species will never lose: mutations or not.