Evolution in the News - November 2010
by Do-While Jones

Chaotic Evolution

Evolution is in chaos, so evolutionists are trying to put chaos in evolution.

Darwin’s great contribution to science was that he proposed a simple, straightforward explanation for how living things evolve. Now scientists have discovered his simple explanation isn’t correct; so they are trying to replace it with a complex, chaotic explanation. In particular, Keith Bennett (a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award winning professor of late-Quaternary environmental change at Queen's University Belfast and author of Evolution and Ecology: The Pace of Life, published by Cambridge University Press) is trying to explain why evolution could still be true, despite the problems the fossil record poses for the theory.

IN 1856, geologist Charles Lyell wrote to Charles Darwin with a question about fossils. Puzzled by types of mollusc that abruptly disappeared from the British fossil record, apparently in response to a glaciation, only to reappear 2 million years later completely unchanged, he asked of Darwin: "Be so good as to explain all this in your next letter." Darwin never did.

To this day Lyell's question has never received an adequate answer. I believe that is because there isn't one. Because of the way evolution works, it is impossible to predict how a given species will respond to environmental change. 1

The other obvious explanation, of course, is that the interpretation of the ages of the fossil record is completely wrong. Rock layers don’t actually represent long ages of time, so there really wasn’t a two-million year gap. Despite the fact that this apparent gap is evidence that their interpretation of geologic time is wrong, evolutionists never question it. This forces Bennett, and other evolutionists, to come up with a fantastic explanation to make the evidence fit their theory.

However, there is still huge debate about the role of natural selection and adaptation in "macroevolution" - big evolutionary events such as changes in biodiversity over time, evolutionary radiations and, of course, the origin of species. Are these the cumulative outcome of the same processes that drive microevolution, or does macroevolution have its own distinct processes and patterns?

Palaeoecologists like me are now bringing a new perspective to the problem. If macroevolution really is an extrapolation of natural selection and adaptation, we would expect to see environmental change driving evolutionary change. Major climatic events such as ice ages ought to leave their imprint on life as species adapt to the new conditions. Is that what actually happens? 2

It should come as no surprise to you, the answer is, “No.” The pull-quote printed in huge letters on the top of page 30 is,

“The link between environmental change and evolutionary change is weak - not what Darwinists might have predicted” 3

Bennett’s argument centers around fossilized tree pollen, and the supposed environmental oscillations that have taken place in the past 2 million years, with particular emphasis on the last 20,000. Then he tries to reconcile DNA analysis (the “molecular clock”) with the fossil record, and he runs into more problems.

That is not to say that major evolutionary change such as speciation doesn't happen. But recent "molecular clock" research suggests the link between speciation and environmental change is weak at best. 4

He is up to his eyeballs in evidence against evolution but he just can’t see it. Maybe he does see it, but can’t admit it because his job depends on it. Anyway, here’s how he tries to rationalize away the contradictions between the theory of evolution and the facts of science.

I suggest that the true source of macroevolutionary change lies in the non-linear, or chaotic, dynamics of the relationship between genotype and phenotype - the actual organism and all its traits. The relationship is non-linear because phenotype, or set of observable characteristics, is determined by a complex interplay between an organism's genes - tens of thousands of them, all influencing one another's behaviour - and its environment.

Not only is the relationship non-linear, it also changes all the time. Mutations occur continually, without external influence, and can be passed on to the next generation. A change of a single base of an organism's DNA might have no consequence, because that section of DNA still codes for the same amino acid. Alternatively, it might cause a significant change in the offspring's physiology or morphology, or it might even be fatal. In other words, a single small change can have far-reaching and unpredictable effects - the hallmark of a non-linear system. 5

Non-linear systems aren’t as daunting as Bennett would have you believe. We can’t predict which particular crystal in an ice cube will melt first, but we can predict how long it will take an ice cube in a warm place will melt. One can’t predict which particular individual will mutate in any particular way; but given the tremendous number of individual living things, some trends should be predictable. Bennett’s problem is that the trends aren’t consistent with Darwin’s explanation.

Here is Bennett’s conclusion:

This view of life leads to certain consequences. Macroevolution is not the simple accumulation of microevolutionary changes but has its own processes and patterns. There can be no "laws" of evolution. We may be able to reconstruct the sequence of events leading to the evolution of any given species or group after the fact, but we will not be able to generalise from these to other sequences of events. From a practical point of view, this means we will be unable to predict how species will respond to projected climate changes over next century.

The question Lyell put to Darwin over 150 years ago is unanswerable because Lyell put it in terms of a particular group of organisms. Not even Darwin would be able to explain why that specific group behaved as it did.

In the last analysis, evolution can be likened to the description of human history as "just one damn thing after another", exactly as Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini 6 have argued.

We still have much to learn about how life evolved but we will not develop a full appreciation until we accept the complexity of the system. 7

We could not agree more with the subtitle New Scientist chose for Bennett’s article,

Forget finding the laws of evolution. The history of life is just one damn thing after another 8

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Footnotes:

1 Bennett, New Scientist, 16 October 2010, pages 29-31
2 ibid.
3 ibid.
4 ibid.
5 ibid.
6 For reports on what Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini argued, please see Disclosure, March 2010, “Natural Selection Shocker”, http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org/v14i6n2.htm, and Disclosure, April 2010, “What Darwin Got Wrong”, http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org/v14i7b.htm.
7 Bennett, New Scientist, 16 October 2010, pages 29-31
8 ibid.