Did Darwin make faulty predictions on evolution?

David Klinghoffer has been interviewing Intelligent Design (ID) proponent and Discovery Institute fellow, Cornelius Hunter. They discuss Hunter’s new website, Darwin’s Predictions. The idea of the website is to illustrate how some of Darwin’s predictions have turned up false.

Before we get into the interview, let’s review a few of Darwin’s predictions and see how they fared:

As can be clearly seen by these overarching predictions, Darwin got a lot right.  In fact, he got enough right that any subsequent theory needs to take into account his basic premises.  Unfortunately, many ID proponents choose to ignore these proven ideas in favor of the smaller, more complex details that have yet to be proven.  Details which have not been worked out yet or might not ever be due to the constantly changing earth.  That is exactly what Hunter is doing with his website.  He is actually exploiting the process of science, which involves bad predictions and failed ideas, to illustrate his point.  Therefore, not much stock should be put into these so-called failed predictions.

So, Hunter’s premise is flawed, but let’s go ahead and get into a few examples of what Hunter is calling Darwin’s failed predictions.  One example is where Hunter describes the similarity of the squid eye and the mammalian eye as being a failed Darwin prediction:

dramatic similarities are sometimes found in otherwise distant species. The eye of the squid and the human, for example, are incredibly similar. Such design convergence is rampant in biology, in spite of the evolutionary expectation.

In such a situation, evolutionary theory predicts that they have common ancestor with genes necessary for basic eye development and the final shape will be a result of subsequent modifications.  This doesn’t seem like a failed prediction to me.

Anyway, are the eyes of squid and mammals really that similar?  So similar that they preclude an evolutionary origin?  On the surface, they do seem very similar, but when you delve deeper, the differences become clear and obvious. The most obvious is that the mammalian eyes have the light sensing layers of the retinal inverted compared to the squid eye.  Furthermore, the two eyes develop completely differently with the squid eye arising from a series of invaginations, while the mammalian eye forms from cell signaling.  Besides, how else are you going to make an effective eye?

Another example that Hunter gives of Darwin’s failed prediction comes from the relatedness of very conserved genes:

the finding of long stretches of identical DNA in distant species is a good one. Evolutionists have worked hard to figure out how this could be

Did I miss something? When did conserved stretches of DNA falsify evolution? Of course Hunter is really talking about how they are too conserved to be explained by evolutionary theory.  Since this is the exception rather than the rule, I don’t see how this is a failed prediction.

His next example:

Then there is the evolution of contradictory behavior patterns, such as altruism. Evolution has undergone a big makeover in the past fifty years in trying to explain such behaviors.

Altruism is pretty straight forward.  A social group of organisms helping each other out will survive longer than those that don’t.  Plus, there is also the punishment of those that don’t play by the societies rules.  You can even see altruism in one of the simplest of organisms, Dictyostelium. Some of these amoeba actually kill themselves so that others will be able to live.

These examples that Hunter provided are not very convincing.  None of them really falsify evolutionary theory.  They do show how some ideas of evolution were wrong, but they don’t come anywhere near falsifying the theory.

Since I have been on a roll of calling out the Discovery Institute for its hypocrisy, I might as well end up with another example. At one point, Klinghoffer says:

Darwinists are compelled to mold their interpretations of data to match the preconceived theory.

This comes from the same group that says that once wrote:

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

Besides, not all evolutionists are atheists. Far from it.  Ever heard of Ken Miller?

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Picking sides: Evolution or Intelligent Design

In a scientific debate such as Intelligent Design vs. Evolution, it is important to know each side’s qualifications. Since the discussion is largely based on scientific principles, it seems prudent to determine the level of science education and accomplishment on each side. It is also important to look into each side’s possible motivation. Finally, it may be important to see what each side gains if their side wins or how much they lose if their side loses.

Lets start with the most important aspect: qualifications. Not every evolution proponent is a practicing scientist, but there is a substantial number of them that are. Without a doubt, the discoveries that are made to further evolutionary theory come from well-trained scientists. These scientists all have PhDs in the respective fields (paleontology, botany, biology, molecular biology) and publish articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. They spend their whole lives devoted to finding out the reality that underlies the world around us.

Intelligent design proponents, like those from the Discovery Institute, are rarely scientists. Have a look for yourself here. Most either specialize in philosophy/religion or in government/public policy. Even in their most scientific blog, Evolution News and Views, there are only three PhDs in fields related to evolution out of the 15 contributors.

These qualification alone should be enough to give someone interested in the intelligent design debate reason to swing towards the evolution side. However, we shouldn’t stop there. What about each side’s motivation? Both groups claim to want to find the truth of life’s origins and complexity. However, if we look again at the backgrounds of the contributors to the Discovery Institute’s evolution blog, other motivations become clear. Ignoring the fact that nearly a third of the contributors are outright theologians, we see that even the scientists mentioned above have religious motivations. For example, Jonathon Wells has a PhD in religious studies. Cornelius G. Hunter, another of the scientists mentioned above, wrote the book Darwin’s Proof: The Triumph of Religion Over Science. I think it is pretty clear that many intelligent design proponents have religious motivations and are not simply looking for reality.

Finally, let us look at what each side gains or loses if their side wins. If intelligent design is clearly and forever proved wrong, the Discovery Institute and similar intelligent design proponents will have to find new jobs. This is clearly a strong motivator to persuade people to their side. If evolution is proven wrong, intelligent design proponents will enjoy wider recognition and the vindication they lust after. Evolution proponents will have to shift focus to studying ID principles, but likely will keep their research positions. These two scenarios show how ID proponents have a bigger stake in this debate.

From the above comparisons, I think it is pretty clear that the evolution side should be the side to trust.

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Intelligently designed blind spot

Cornelius Hunter writes on the June 30, 2008 post that Science’s blind spot is still there. Although this post is largely self-promotion diatribe to get people to buy his book, Science’s Blind Spot, The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism, it still deserves attention.  The funny thing about the book’s title is that the human eye having a blind spot is an example of unintelligent design. Why would the designer decide to put a blind spot that covers part of the eye? More on this later, but first lets focus on Hunter’s post.  I probably should say that I have not read it, but the overall theme that I gleam from this post is the old argument that science is ignoring the supernatural. Since science is ignoring the supernatural, then science can never really know anything. For example, Hunter writes:

The problem with science today is not that the naturalistic approach might occasionally be inadequate. The problem is that science would never know any better. This is science’s blind spot. When scientific problems arise, it is always assumed that the correct naturalistic explanation has not yet been found. Scientists may not be able to explain love very well, but they are sure there must be a way.

Is there really a need or reason not to believe in naturalism? In everyday life, doesn’t everyone take everything naturalistically? Do you depend on a mechanic to fix your car, or do you pray for your car to be fixed?  When someone is mean to you, do you think they are just a jerk or do you go and check the astrological signs to see why they acted that way?  In my view, scientists will try to apply the naturalistic position in places where it is applicable. If or when this position fails, then science will not be able to test it. Until then, scientists should stick to natural explanations. When naturalism fails, it will be out of scientists hands.

Back to Hunter and his view of evolution:

Evolution is supposed to be a blind, unguided process that has no particular end in view. It is an open-loop process that meanders through an astronomical design space influenced only by the unguided events of the moment. Given the enormous size of that design space, it is unlikely that evolution would arrive at a similar design in independent lineages, in different environments and starting from different initial conditions. But in the origin of the human and squid eye, and myriad other examples in biology, this is precisely what we must believe occurred.

Hunter shows his ignorance of evolutionary theory here. Evolution is not blind, it is guided by what works better at a given time and place (aka natural selection). Of course there is also genetic drift, but the main driving force for evolution is natural selection.  I am not sure where he gets the idea that the squid eye and the human eye evolved independently, he does not give any refrences.

He concludes that since scientists only deal with naturalism, they will be stuck with evolutionary explanations that don’t make since. “No matter how poorly evolution explains biology, the theory will always be promoted.” But the fact is that evolution is very good at explaining life on this planet.  Furthermore, there is a mountain of evidence supporting it that is rapidly growing.

In fact, it is the ID proponents who have the blind spot. They first start with the idea that there are supernatural events and try to find examples in nature. If there is a likely naturalistic explanation, they turn a blind eye to it. Which brings me back to that so-called intelligently designed eye. As I have stated before, 75% of americans need corrective lenses. Not the greatest success rate for a design, but the real problem with the eye is in its architecture. The retina is essentially designed backwards. When light enters the eye, it actually has to pass through layers of cells to reach the photosensitive cells. These cells then connect to the optic nerve which then blocks light from reaching some parts of they eye. This Is where our blind spot comes from. Now that is a brilliant design!