A specific example

There isn’t much on the Biologic Institute’s webpage right now, but something there caught my attention. And also my sense of righteous anger.

In the one and only article I can find on the page, the implication is made that the enzymes present in cells are irreducibly complex, and therefore could not have evolved. Then, eminent biologist John Maynard Smith’s reply to this type of argument is provided:

John Maynard Smith offered an analogy along the lines of alphabet soup, starting with this succession of words:

WORD -> WORE -> GORE -> GONE -> GENE.

The point, of course, is that a protein of any imaginable degree of complexity can evolve as long as every intermediate protein in the evolutionary pathway is useful. Such a sequence of useful intermediates for the creationist’s favorite protein structure, the bacterial flagellum, can be found here.

Of course, this being a creationist website, they only set up Smith’s argument so they could knock it down.

Actually, there appears to be a significant problem with the illustration itself. For a succession of changes to illustrate an adaptive process, each one has to provide not just function but function that is helpful in the sense of advancing a principal objective. For Darwinism, the principal objective is reproductive success. New functions are only adaptive if they advance that objective.

Strictly true, but the use of the word “objective” is misleading. Evolution is a directionless process.

For example, imagine needing to communicate something with a vocabulary restricted to four-letter English words. “NEED HELP CALL COPS”, might be the desired message. As a further restriction, suppose you’re granted your first word but have to construct the rest of your message from single-letter variants of that word or subsequent ones.

Oh dear. Now you’ve done it! We’ve gone from Smith’s example, in which every evolutionary intermediate was useful, but not necessarily for the same purpose, to this. Here, they provide a target “protein,” and defy anyone to think of a series of useful intermediates that would produce exactly that protein, with each intermediate serving the same purpose. Small problem: evolution doesn’t work like that!

For a complex trait to evolve, all that is needed is a series of intermediate traits that serve an adaptive purpose. The purpose does not have to be the same throughout. For example, the grasping hands we know and love served as simple feet in our distant ancestors, and as fins in our even more distant ancestors. Evolution works with what is there, and this means that parts with one purpose often evolve to fulfill entirely different purposes.

So, again, we see that the folks behind the Biologic Institute have a minimal understanding of evolution, if any at all. Perhaps their time would be better spent reading a textbook than taking potshots at one of the most successful scientific theories of all time.

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