In which I agree with Uncommon Descent


We’re both fans of Betul Kacar‘s research (see “AbSciCon day 3: the tape of life“). I know why I like it, but I can’t quite figure out why they do. Dr. Kacar’s research combines molecular paleontology with experimental evolution, inserting ancient versions of genes into modern bacteria and observing how they evolve in response. I’ve puzzled over Uncommon Descent’s fondness for Dr. Kacar’s research before (“Evolution is evidence against evolution (?)“), and I’m afraid their new post on the topic (“Roll dice twice, see what turns up“) doesn’t really clear things up.

The paper in question is posted on bioRxiv: (“Rolling the Dice Twice: Evolving Reconstructed Ancient Proteins in Extant Organisms“), so the first surprise is that Uncommon Descent monitors bioRxiv. [I should really do that. Does bioRxiv have an rss feed? They do!]

After quoting the paper’s abstract in whole (I do get the feeling that the cdesign proponentsists rarely read past the abstract or the secondary news reports), the post consists of just a few bizarre comments:

One game changer, however, is this: As more is discovered about the past of life on Earth, evolution becomes less a grand theory (cf Darwinism) and more a history (cf World War II).

Well, it’s both. Evolution is a grand theory (and not equivalent to Darwinism), and studies like this are helping us to understand it in impressive detail. The history of life on Earth is the outcome of evolution, and this kind of molecular paleontology reveals some of this history. The two aren’t in opposition: adding to what we know about the history doesn’t detract from what we know about the theory (in fact, this research adds to what we know about both).

Thus, the value of running sims is qualified by the reality that history is usually too complex to be compressed into a sim that is appreciably smaller than itself.

Huh? Let’s try to parse this. First, there’s the “thus” as if the business about sims follows from evolution being “less a grand theory…and more a history.” Second, what sim are we talking about? The paper describes experiments, not simulations. As for the size of the simulation, okay, but there is such a thing as summarizing. The Voyage of the Beagle is substantially smaller than the Beagle, let alone South America. Finally, what does any of this have to do with  ancestral sequence reconstruction and experimental evolution?

Another outcome is that competing theories are no longer heresies to be suppressed, apart from evidence. Unless, of course, one wants to give up the intellectual life altogether…

Another outcome of what? Of evolution as history? Now we’ve got theories competing with histories. But I agree completely with “…competing theories are no longer heresies to be suppressed, apart from evidence.” Competing theories are competing theories, to be evaluated on the evidence. So far, no competing theory has been supported by evidence.

That’s it; that’s the whole argument. I don’t quite see how any of it supports intelligent design, but then I haven’t come to expect coherent arguments from Uncommon Descent.

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