Time magazine has a science blog, Eye on Science, and the writer, Michael Lemonick, doesn’t hesitate to take on the Intelligent Design creationists. A recent entry criticizes the Discovery Institute’s silly list of dissenters from ‘Darwinism’. Not only is the number that they cite pathetically small, but they rely on getting scientists whose expertise isn’t relevant.
The Discovery Institute is at it again. “Ranks of Scientists Doubting Darwin’s Theory On the Rise,” proclaims the latest press release from this organization that pretends to be interested in science. Read on and you’ll find that the number of scientists on Discovery’s list is up to 700. Yes, really! Seven hundred scientists out of tens of thousands in the world. Anyone spot a little intellectual dishonesty here?
But wait, there’s more! Of these scientists, how many would you guess are biologists? If you guessed “a majority,” you’d be wrong. How many come from distinguished institutions? Not too awfully many. But here’s one they trumpet in the release:
“‘Darwinism is a trivial idea that has been elevated to the status of the scientific theory that governs modern biology,’ says dissent list signer Dr. Michael Egnor. Egnor is a professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook and an award winning brain surgeon named one of New York’s best doctors by New York Magazine.”
Now here’s the funny thing: the distinguished brain surgeon Dr Michael Egnor shows up in the comments and spouts the usual boilerplate claptrap we hear from these guys all the time: oh, he was a ‘Darwinist’ once upon a time, but then he was convinced by the complexity of the cell that ‘Darwinism’ had a problem. Sweet Jebus, but one thing that pisses me off is ninnies who equate complexity with design; random processes are excellent tools for making things extravagantly complex.
But OK, he’s made the standard IDist mistake based on ignorance and a shallow understanding of the mechanisms. He goes further and makes a challenge. I love it when they do this.
I am asking a simple question: show me the evidence (journal, date, page) that new information, measured in bits or any appropriate units, can emerge from random variation and natural selection, without intelligent agency.
Show me. If you can’t, then why is my question fradulent?
Lemonick takes an indirect tack, unfortunately, and just points out (rightly so) that his article was about the bait-and-switch the Discovery Institute is pulling with this list, bringing in unqualified signatories and trumpeting their irrelevant credentials, and sorry guy, but neurosurgery ain’t a skill that necessarily equips one to address questions of evolution. What he doesn’t do is address his challenge.
I don’t know why not. It’s easy.
Go to PubMed. In the search box, type “gene duplication evolution”. (OK, there is a trick to it: effective searches require you to know some of the terms people would use in describing the phenomenon.) Click on “Go”.
Here’s one result.
Weill M. (2007) Independent Duplications of the Acetylcholinesterase Gene Conferring Insecticide Resistance in the Mosquito Culex pipiens. Mol Biol Evol. [Epub ahead of print]
Gene duplication is thought to be the main potential source of material for the evolution of new gene functions. Several models have been proposed for the evolution of new functions through duplication, most based on ancient events (My). We provide molecular evidence for the occurrence of several (at least 3) independent duplications of the ace-1 locus in the mosquito Culex pipiens, selected in response to insecticide pressure that probably occurred very recently (< 40 years ago). This locus encodes the main target of several insecticides, the acetylcholinesterase. The duplications described consist of two alleles of ace-1, one susceptible and one resistant to insecticide, located on the same chromosome. These events were detected in different parts of the world and probably resulted from distinct mechanisms. We propose that duplications were selected because they reduce the fitness cost associated with the resistant ace-1 allele through the generation of persistent, advantageous heterozygosis. The rate of duplication of ace-1 in C. pipiens is probably underestimated, but seems to be rather high.
Notice that this is fresh science, from the date [Epub ahead of print]. The entire first page and almost all of the second page of results are from 2007. If you go to page 141 to get the oldest citations, they go back to 1967; you’ll find titles like “Evolution of protamine: a further example of partial gene duplication” and “Evolution from fish to mammals by gene duplication” and “Gene duplication and the evolution of enzymes”.
There are 2807 papers indexed by PubMed on this subject. Michael Egnor has been unable to find any of them, and I suspect he has never even looked. The Discovery Institute may like to trumpet his expertise in neurosurgery as an indicator of the significance of his dissent from evolutionary biology, but I think I’d rather trumpet his ignorance of evolutionary biology as an indicator of the uselessness of the Discovery Institute’s list.