Friday, September 24, 2021

When claims about morphology and evolution prove that the speaker hasn't understood evolution at all



Diptera's (flies') vein patterns are almost as diverse as human fingerprints but even much more easily recognizable as veins of some species.

There are millions of things to write about. I don't want to promote things like "tyranny in Australia" into a major theme of this blog so this is left to Twitter. The events are "small isolated incidents", anyway, despite the fact that the unifying theme – rise of tyranny (not only) in Australia – is obvious.

Instead, I want to make a short comment about two articles on biology in the Quanta Magazine.


So if there is some acceleration and very short timescales involved in evolution, they are relevant both in the "recent evolution of humans" which seemed fast (the white race is just some 20,000 years old, for example); as well as in the early elementary evolution, e.g. the transition from unicellular life to multicellular life. That basic transition is fast mainly because one deals with very small systems. Some cooperation of the cells is "common sense" right from the beginning, you don't need to wait for billions of years for the cells to realize that "they can cooperate". The cooperation is ultimately some adaptation to the environment, anyway: the environment happens to include "siblings" which make some cooperation a good idea.



But I want to mention another article,
Mathematical Analysis of Fruit Fly Wings Hints at Evolution’s Limits
I just wrote the following comment about it. My comment makes it rather clear what the article (and probably the underlying "technical" article as well) pretends to do.



I agree with most other commenters. Let me say it differently. The title indicates that some general deep wisdom was found; and it's a wisdom about evolution (a very interesting branch of science). The problem is that it is not a generally valid wisdom; and it is not about evolution, either.

In fact, the very way how morphology is used to make these would-be far-reaching conclusions proves that the people don't understand the basic ideas of evolution at all. They cherry-picked some anatomic patterns of some class of species where the currently observed diversity happens to be low. But as other species and their patterns show (see examples in another comment), this diversity clearly isn't always low.

On top of that, I would emphasize that the observations reported above don't even show that the diversity is low in the branch or family of these very species. Their ancestors (and the ancestors' other descendants, some cousins: note that if sufficiently distant cousins are allowed, all species are cousins!) could have had very different properties of wings but those just have turned out to be less competitive in current (or recent) conditions so they went extinct. The conclusion that "they may find something about evolution (a process that requires a nontrivial dependence on time) by looking at current wings" means that these people assume that the wing patterns haven't evolved at all; or they assume that species never get extinct (or both). In both cases, they are denying at least one defining, fundamental idea of evolution! Of course the evolution depends on the... evolution, i.e. time dependence of the organisms' properties; as well as on extinction (or different rates of reproduction) of species, depending on their properties (including anatomy).

So this is just a stupid ritual of looking at some randomly chosen patterns and generalizing the observations in a way that sounds pompous (the word "evolution" sounds deep) but the far-reaching conclusions are completely wrong and the trivially defective methodology shows that their authors aren't competent in working on fundamental biology at all!

Even if the authors (for some incomprehensible reason) understood that the time dependence exists; and that extinction is possible, the way of their generalization shows a remarkable similarity to the glitches plaguing the creationist arguments against evolution that I heard from the world's top ID folks in Nice in 2010. The fact that they denied (before they derived that the "evolution couldn't have had enough time to produce X or Y") was that even quantities such as the "rate of evolution" and the "diversity within a species" are variables that may dynamically change, and evolution in a long-term sense picks the more viable values of the variables, too!

So when difficult conditions on Earth favored a faster adaptation, the mutation rate could have gone up. The mutation rate is largely encoded in the organisms' DNA as well (and may differ among subpopulations) and when the faster mutation rate is favored, those with the DNA dictating a faster mutation rate are more likely to survive, and vice versa. (In boring conditions, a low mutation rate is preferred to avoid cancer etc., but cancer may become a relatively small problem in violent environments.) The same comments apply to the diversity. In morphology, dogs are incredibly diverse, as the very different breeds show. Other species are much less diverse. This has some reasons, the low or high degree of diversity is a part of these species' identity as well as strategy, there is no "universal answer" that all species must respect, and instead, the species' different approaches to these questions and values of variables, including the would-be systemic ones, always compete against each other! No one is safe against extinction and only the fundamental laws of physics are truly universally valid. Needless to say, this is a fundamental fact that almost all leftists misunderstand as well, when they want to squeeze the whole nations (or mankind) into a straitjacket, denying that their plan isn't necessarily the optimal one. (It is almost certainly very far from an optimal one – and there may be very many very different yet comparably good "optima".)

The authors also claim to plan to predict the next species or wing shapes (sometime in the future). Good luck to that. Most of the evolutionary changes are really almost totally random and the evolution only applies a selection pressure statistically. If something isn't "clearly incompatible with life", it may happen. Predicting the next change in a vein inside a wing is as hopeless and misguided as predicting a random variation of the price in a stock market (or try to predict the precise order of mutations of Covid-19 that would be relevant for public health, and I don't mean just the order of Greek letters which are just meaningless names). I think that the denial of this point proves the person's elementary misunderstanding of evolution, too. Why? Because to think that the "order of species is predictable and determined" is really a belief in some preplanned "Intelligent Design" while the very point of evolution is that it is not pre-planned, it is a process depending on lots of genuinely random numbers (from mutations; those come from the quantum mechanics randomness because all randomness in the world is ultimately explained by quantum mechanics).

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