Darwin of the Gaps:

Atheists Coping with Their Own Illogic


In the Middle Ages (and earlier), the skies were the domain of the gods, and they all revolved around the earth, which was our domain. Then Galileo invented the telescope and proved that it was the other way around. God ceded some of His domain to science. Thunder and lightning were the wrath of God(s) taking vengeance on infidels for their insubordination. Then Ben Franklin famously discovered that lightning was just electricity. God ceded more of His domain to science. Everybody knew that bugs and rot spontaneously came into existence (an "Act of God") by time, chance, and natural causes. Then Louis Pasteur invented microbiology and pasteurization. God ceded still more of His domain to science. In 4004BC God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them out of nothing. Then Charles Darwin invented evolution, where all living things evolved out of a single ancestral parent over millions of years (now again by time, chance, and natural causes), and Edwin Hubble invented the Big Bang to explain how it started. God ceded the rest of His domain to science. At least that's more or less how the atheists tell the story (pedants may vary the details).

Now the tables are turned. There are still a few things the scientists have not yet figured out, but there are a lot of things that they understand very well -- and even some they think they understand, but got it wrong. When Darwin wrote his Origin of the Species, very little was known about cell biology, so he could safely assume that it was a simple blob of goo that could easily evolve incrementally. That gap in our knowledge of things has now been pretty much closed by science, and Darwin was wrong. Many of the processes living things go through to stay alive and to reproduce are Irreducibly Complex (IC), that is, multiple parts or steps are involved, and if any single part is missing, the process cannot work at all. It's not that we do not yet know how it might work, but we do know how it works, and without one of those parts it simply cannot, the way we know that you cannot add 2+2 and get 5. Michael Behe explained the principle in Darwin's Black Box, but his insight is so devastating to Darwinists that they often intentionally misrepresent it so they can knock over their straw-man counterfeit (see examples in my blog post).

There are other problems with Darwinian incremental evolution, most notably the problem of ethics. Some Darwinists understand the problem and honestly deny that there is such a thing as ethical behavior, which is of course nonsense. I mean, maybe some Darwinists have no ethics, but the rest of us understand that we make conscious choices that impact other people, and some of those choices are Wrong. Other Darwinists recognize that ethical behavior is a requirement for civilization, and suppose that it evolved by Natural Selection (NS) because it makes the society more "fit" -- without showing how NS can cause the first occurrence of an ethical gene to survive and reproduce. This has become a sort of reverse "god of the gaps" problem, where they assume that science will find a solution to and bridge this gap in their dogma, when in fact the gap is provably unsolvable in the Darwinistic model. They say, "just because scientists cannot explain today how biological systems evolved does not mean that they cannot, and will not, be able to explain them tomorrow." That's like saying, "just because mathematicians cannot explain today how 2+2=5 does not mean that they cannot, and will not, be able to explain it tomorrow."

The best proposal the Darwinists have come up with so far, they call "exaptation," the supposition that organs or body parts initially evolved and were selected for one purpose, then somehow magically (they don't use that word to express what is clearly their intended meaning) got co-opted to serve another purpose. The Wikipedia article on exaptation is filled with unfounded, unscientific speculation and supposition. There is no scientific -- that is, testable and repeatable -- evidence that exaptation ever happened or even could happen, so this article is rather short. It says, for example,

...a critic of Darwin pointed out, 5 percent of a bird wing would not be functional. The incipient form of complex traits would not have survived long enough to evolve to a useful form. As Darwin elaborated in the last edition of On the Origin of Species, many complex traits evolved from earlier traits that had served different functions. By trapping air, primitive wings would have enabled birds to efficiently regulate their temperature, in part, by lifting up their feathers when too warm. Individual animals with more of this functionality would more successfully survive and reproduce, resulting in the proliferation and intensification of the trait. Eventually, feathers became sufficiently large to enable some individuals to glide... Hence, the evolution of bird wings can be explained by a shifting in function from the regulation of temperature to flight.
They do not explain how "lifting up their feathers when too warm" could improve the bird's survival by growing larger feathers. Obviously, if the bird is too warm, smaller feathers and wings would do a better job. Larger feathers would simply trap more air and be a better insulator (even when lifted), the way the thick fur on a polar bear does a better job than the thin fur on a mouse, and the way goose bumps raise the hair on human arms when they are cold, not hot. Furthermore, a non-flying bird does not need the high metabolic rate necessary for flight, so NS would instead tend to reduce its metabolism to mitigate its need to find so much food, thereby substantially increasing its survival rate, and also coincidentally reducing the need for feathers of any size to regulate its temperature.

Another example of exaptation supposedly being the source of an apparently IC organ, the flagellum of bacteria (one of Behe's examples), is explained very clearly and only slightly deceptively by Pedro Rosario here. He points out that another bacterium (the bubonic plague organism) has no flagellum, but has a similar organ for injecting poison into its prey; it has exactly ten of the 50 proteins needed for the flagellum to work. The other 40 proteins needed for a flagellum, he implies but does not exactly say, are all present in the non flagellar bubonic bacterium, but serving other functions. We are not told if or whether those other functions are IC in their own right. Here's the magical part: somehow, in one or more incremental evolutionary steps, all those forty other proteins got connected up to the ten in the venom injector part, so that it could now perform as a flagellum. I think Behe was wrong about the number 50, there must have been at least one, perhaps a dozen or more other non-protein components necessary to make the flagellum work, and they compose the mechanism required to bring the separate parts together into a single flagellum. Otherwise, that bubonic bacterium would have a flagellum also! Did the forty other proteins get added to the ten all at once? If so, that is not much more probable than all fifty coming together by chance in a single mutation. Did they get added one by one, by incremental evolutionary steps? How did NS select for the incremental improvement, since the flagellum is not functional until all forty proteins have been added? Recent discoveries in DNA analysis now point to that alleged "90% junk DNA" as the regulators that control how and when protein-coding DNA gets expressed. Some of that is no doubt controlling the construction of the flagellum, and if it is not exactly and correctly functional, no flagellum. I think the non-protein regulator DNA must be physically near the coding DNA it regulates. Rosario does not say (and probably does not know) where the protein-coding DNA is for those other 40 proteins. As I point out elsewhere, the scientists who understand how these things work never cite them in support of their own belief in Darwinism.

If you read the rest of Rosario's 5-part essay, you will quickly learn how he can be so ignorant. He believes -- apparently along with other modern "scientists" (so he says) -- that science starts with a theory, not with observation. The biologists obviously now start with the "theory" of common descent, so they are unable to see the evidence which would lead an observant classical scientist to see that the theory doesn't work. In Galileo's day the scientific establishment clung to their geocentric theory. The method failed then, and it still fails today. The establishment has Clue Deficit Disorder, and I think it helps to explain why the USA is failing to teach our children math and science. Imagine teaching a first-grade math class:

"OK children, today we will learn the scientific method for adding 2+2. Does anybody have a theory? Five? Who would like 2+2=5? Anybody for three? OK, now let's do some problems. Very good, you are so creative!"
No wonder grocery stores have the computers figure your change. No, I think it should go more like this:
"OK children, today we will learn the classical method for adding 2+2. It doesn't matter what theory you have, or what you think the answer should be, what matters is Reality. Here we have two blocks, and over there we have two more blocks. When we add them together, how many blocks do you see? Right, four. Not three, not five, but always and exactly four. Very good, you are so observant!"
Science is about Reality, and drawing inferences from what we can observe. We can make all the theories we like, but if they don't match what we observe, the theory is what is wrong. Darwinism is at best a theory that has failed to match Reality. Richard Lenski's long-term experiments on E.coli bacteria has run more than 40,000 generations, more than enough to show substantial "evolution." But Lenski's own Darwinist faith has blinded his observational skills, so he failed to see the obvious fact that the "evolution" (change) stopped after 20,000 generations. Or maybe he did see it, but knew he would lose his grant funds if he said anything. There is no unbounded evolution, only limited change within the species. Note that 40,000 generations of humans would take us almost all the way back to Lucy, and there was far less "evolution" in that many generations of E.coli than they claim has happened since we supposedly "evolved" from pre-human hominids.

I happened upon Rosario's 5-part essay because I was looking for Darwinist explanations of ethics, and his title suggests that he gives an answer, but I didn't find it. Perhaps that part is planned for a future segment.

Exaptation now seems to be the preferred Darwinistic argument for the origin of ethics, and the preferred explanation (the top of the Google hit list, which usually means the most people refer to it) is a fairy tale by Francisco Ayala titled "What the Biological Sciences Can and Cannot Contribute to Ethics." However, there is no science whatsoever in his paper, no testable hypotheses, only vague speculations and suppositions about what might have happened in the distant (unobservable) past and what seems to be the result -- at least he is honest enough to liberally sprinkle weasel words like "might" and "seems" among his fictional ideas. But it's the best they have!

Ayala explains ethics the way a Christian might go about explaining the supposed "contradictions" in the Bible, by imagining some kind of scenario where all the discordant facts "might" come together and be true. He builds it on the supposition that moral behavior depends on three distinctly human abilities:

(i) the ability to anticipate the consequences of oneís own actions;
(ii) the ability to make value judgments; and
(iii) the ability to choose between alternative courses of action.
These are essentially (i) understanding cause and effect, (ii) understanding good and evil, and (iii) free will. He falls microscopically short of saying that when these three conditions are present, the organism (only humans, he insists) will act morally. I suspect he recognizes that moral behavior is more than knowing right and wrong and being able to choose, it also encompasses the willingness to choose Good. Sociopaths have all these abilities, but they do not choose Good. Ayala wants to believe that there is no objective Right and Wrong, only socially expressed values. This is an important part of atheist dogma, because moral absolutes imply an absolute source for them, which starts too much to look like God. If the atheist Darwinists practiced classical science, they would observe -- indeed Ayala admits -- that no society tolerates rape, murder, or theft. If the other values in individual social codes differ among different cultures, it might be nothing more than attempts to elevate personal preferences to the level of moral absolute held by the Original Ten from the Beginning, or perhaps an attempt to dislodge one or more of the Original Ten from their position of Absolute. So far, however, he has offered nothing either scientific nor even controversial.

Ayala follows his initial statement with some speculation on how abstract reasoning might have evolved by NS in conjunction with bipedalism. He imagines that, with his hands freed up from locomotion, the emerging hominid could use them to make tools, and for that he needs to understand the nature of tools, that is, as a means to an end (cause and effect), which would be Ayala's first requirement for ethics.

Ayala is more vague about his second requirement, supposing that it

...depends on the capacity for abstraction; that is, on the capacity to perceive actions or objects as members of general classes. This makes it possible to compare objects or actions with one another and to perceive some as more desirable than others.
That's nonsense. I can make determinations of desirability completely independently of assigning objects or actions to classes. I happen to like cherry pie; the fact that it falls into the class of pies is irrelevant, because I do not care for blackberry pie. The Golden Rule, which is a moral absolute which even the atheists can acknowledge (but not as an absolute) involves no abstraction at all, just the potential for reciprocity. However, this is the best Ayala can do, short of accepting the existence moral absolutes. He recognizes this starts to resemble utilitarianism, but can offer no clear distinction from that abhorrent ethical calculus, other than (apparently) his own personal preference or (ahem) values.

Ayala's third requirement is pretty obvious, but he felt the need to address it, because there is no morality without free will, and some atheists use that dependency to free themselves of moral imperatives by denying that there is such a thing as free will. Ayala argues rather unconvincingly against them from introspection. That is, he perceives that he has free will, therefore there is such a thing as free will. His opponents insist, equally unconvincingly, that it is an illusion.

Notice that all this argument is entirely speculative and utterly devoid of testable and falsifiable hypotheses or experimental data. It is "biological" only in the sense that he is discussing how he might wish or suppose that evolution had happened (nevermind that there is no scientific evidence that large-scale evolution ever happened or has anything to do with biological science), and not in any actual scientific sense. In other words, the title is a lie.

Ayala then proceeds to admit how unlikely it is that "moral behavior was directly promoted by natural selection... It seems
unlikely that making moral judgments would promote the reproductive fitness of those judging an action as good or evil." Actually, stated in those terms, I would disagree. If I judge your hostile behavior as "evil" and therefore successfully convince you to desist, then I will more likely survive to reproduction. The really hard part is applying NS to whatever traits lead a person to forego personal benefit for the sake of somebody else's gain. Ayala admits openly that such a trait would tend to disappear from the population.

But he is not ready to give up. This is where exaptation comes in. He mentions the problem hive behavior gave to Darwinists, before they realized that worker bees mostly share DNA with their hive mates, so their "altruism" still works under NS. The supposition is that "mutual altruism" among siblings has the same positive selection value as strictly selfish traits; it's less clear how that can be generalized to altruism toward unrelated beings. "Blood is thicker than water" has a Darwinistic ring of truth. Exaptation is the idea that once altruistic behavior becomes expressed toward siblings where it is favored by NS, it is easily co-opted into general altruistic behavior, nevermind that such co-opting will be negatively selected by the Darwinistic principle of NS. Ayala doesn't say so, but I suppose they might argue that general altruism is not its own trait, but merely the (rare) edges of mutual altruism. It's still hard to see how that can turn into positive cultural values, but when you have as much faith and credulity as the atheists do, anything (other than deity) can be accepted as gospel truth. You know, frogs turning into princes (over millions of years), creation out of nothing (ditto), stuff like that.

Ayala acknowledges the difficulty, but fudges. You cannot do that kind of waffle in the hard sciences where the real-world facts will destroy bogus ideas, but Darwinism is not a science at all, just story-telling. Fiction writers have no limits to what they can fabricate, so long as there are readers willing to pay for it. Ayala says,

There is, however, an important difference between animals and humans that is relevant in this respect. Namely, the fitness advantage of selfish over altruistic behavior does not apply to humans, because humans can understand the benefits of altruistic behavior (to the group and indirectly to them) and thus adopt altruism and protect it, by laws or otherwise, against selfish behavior that harms the social group.
Sounds good on paper, doesn't it? Even more so, humans can understand the benefits of only appearing to be altruistic while actually acting very selfishly. Laws do not enforce morality, as the atheists keep telling us in other contexts. Dostoyevsky pointed out in Karamazov that there is no morality with immortality. The USA (and before us, England and Germany) came a long way on Christian ethics (and immortality). The last half-century demolition of Christian teaching in the USA (sooner in England and Germany, resulting in their earlier dissipation) is now resulting in massive public immorality and social dissolution. The atheists have no immortality to sell, so the public -- including the atheists -- is not buying their morality. Ayala quotes Darwin, "an advancement in the standard of morality and an increase in the number of well-endowed men will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another," but nevertheless admits
...there are many more individual organisms than there are populations; and individuals are born, procreate, and die at rates much higher than populations. Thus, the rate of multiplication of selfish individuals over altruists is likely to be much higher than the rate at which altruistic populations multiply relative to predominantly selfish populations.
Unlike Darwinism, mathematics is not subject to personal preferences. The demographics we see happening in the USA today exactly matches what Ayala's own math tells us -- and not the unscientific fairy tale Ayala wants us to believe.

Tom Pittman
2013 January 26