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C. elegans: That white space in evolutionary thinking is where thinking must stop

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Further to Build your own worm (and bring your own dirt too), from Ann Gauger at Evolution News & Views: offers,

The white space in evolutionary thinking.

When certain biologists discuss the early stages of life there is a tendency to think too vaguely. They see a biological wonder before them and they tell a story about how it might have come to be. They may even draw a picture to explain what they mean. Indeed, the story seems plausible enough, until you zoom in to look at the details. I don’t mean to demean the intelligence of these biologists. It’s just that it appears they haven’t considered things as completely as they should. Like a cartoon drawing, the basic idea is portrayed, but there is nothing but blank space where the profound detail of biological processes should be.

Let me give an example. This week Discovery Institute released a pair of videos (“How to Build a Worm” and “Switched on Worms”) featuring Fellow and philosopher of biology Paul Nelson and a lowly nematode called C. elegans. Its development is precise and intricately patterned, like a Bach fugue that splits and weaves many voices into one. The final cadence is the newly hatched larva. Not coincidentally, the videos use music by Bach throughout.

C. elegans’s development is a wonder to behold, well worth sharing with the world. But there is more: the development of these lowly worms exposes a major problem with the Darwinian account of evolution.

The development of C. elegans is an end-directed process. As the videos reveal, each embryo follows a precisely choreographed developmental road map in order to get to the final goal — the reproductive adult. None of the intermediate steps on the way to the adult will do. Each step is necessary but not sufficient by itself. Turn aside from this developmental pathway and the result is likely to be a damaged worm or a dead one. Skip some steps and the same is true. How did this process come about? We would say this goal-directedness is evidence for a designer who had the final end in mind, and arranged the proper developmental steps appropriately.

Naw. Like Bach’s music, it all just sorta happened. Guy coulda fallen and hit his head and started writing music like Bach, right? Same with C. elegans.

No surprise, a famous Darwin foulmouth spoke up to that very effect, re the worm:

More white space:

However, biologist and blogger PZ Myers took exception to this video, claiming that it demonstrates an insufficient understanding of developmental biology. His objection appears to have been its emphasis on teleology — that the worm’s development is directed toward the final adult form — and the conclusion that only intelligent agents can produce such a goal-directed process.

Curiously, Myers’s response avoids engaging Paul Nelson on teleology except to flatly deny it. Myers says that with regard to development, many of the molecular details for C. elegans have been worked out and they are entirely mechanistic and natural, not the work of an intelligent designer. He gives a few examples of how cell fates get specified, and he acknowledges the complexity of the mechanisms involved. He agrees that the more we learn, the more complex things appear. Nonetheless, he says, certain principles can be deduced from what we have learned from other organisms besides C. elegans. Myers summarizes, saying very succinctly: “Development is both hierarchical and incremental.”

But the main problem with Myers’s argument is that there are enormous gaps between his explanation of development and how it might have evolved. You can imagine a simple evolutionary pathway, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty it’s far from simple. I discussed the hypothetical evolutionary sequence in a recent article here, “The White Space in Evolutionary Thinking.”

Myers is a champ at roto-handwaving. His big solution, if we go by his rants in years past is just to fire people who doubt or disagree with him. So one needn’t look for much insight there.

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7 Replies to “C. elegans: That white space in evolutionary thinking is where thinking must stop

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    When certain biologists discuss the early stages of life there is a tendency to think too vaguely. They see a biological wonder before them and they tell a story about how it might have come to be. They may even draw a picture to explain what they mean. Indeed, the story seems plausible enough, until you zoom in to look at the details. I don’t mean to demean the intelligence of these biologists. It’s just that it appears they haven’t considered things as completely as they should. Like a cartoon drawing, the basic idea is portrayed, but there is nothing but blank space where the profound detail of biological processes should be.

    Perhaps those biologists discuss the early stages of life in relatively vague terms because there is no more specific information available. If they pretended to more detailed knowledge than they actually have then they know full well they would be roundly condemned for spinning “just so stories”, not least by the Intelligent Design community. I’m sure that if the ID community could actually fill in even some of that missing detail they would be both welcomed and appreciated.

    The development of C. elegans is an end-directed process. As the videos reveal, each embryo follows a precisely choreographed developmental road map in order to get to the final goal — the reproductive adult. None of the intermediate steps on the way to the adult will do. Each step is necessary but not sufficient by itself. Turn aside from this developmental pathway and the result is likely to be a damaged worm or a dead one. Skip some steps and the same is true. How did this process come about? We would say this goal-directedness is evidence for a designer who had the final end in mind, and arranged the proper developmental steps appropriately.

    The development of a river is an end-directed process, the goal being to collect water that falls on high ground as rain and channel it back down to the sea. As we can see, each river is fed from a network of smaller streams distributed around the landscape in such a way as to gather rainfall from a wide area. They follow a carefully-arranged sequence of gulleys, small pools and rivulets, each slightly lower down the geological and gravitational incline than the previous one, with each successive channel a little broader and deeper than the previous so as to contain the increasing volume of water. Once this flow enters the main watercourse a similar sequence of features, albeit on a larger scale, directs it down to the sea. Each of these topographical features is necessary to the course of the water flow but not sufficient in itself. Ground of a slightly higher elevation might be sufficient to deflect the flow into a lake where the water would be trapped until it evaporated, never to fulfill its goal of entering the sea. How did this process come about? We could say this goal-directedness is evidence for a designer who had the final end in mind and arranged the proper topographical steps appropriately. But would that be the only or even the best explanation?

  2. 2
    Andre says:

    No thinking required evolutiondidit!

  3. 3
    ppolish says:

    I agree you you Andre and take it a step further….
    Evolutiondidit by oops requires no thinking.
    Evolutiondidit by design requires deep thinking.

  4. 4
    Jim Smith says:

    I think the idea that developmental biology presents a problem for naturalism is interesting but I am having a hard time understanding the problem.

    I left this comment somewhere else on the internet and got no reply. I am wondering if folks here would be interested in commenting….

    At http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....95371.html you wrote:
    “In particular, the origin of the developmental stages between fertilized egg and reproductively capable adult are hard (or impossible) to explain via natural selection.”

    I think it might help people understand the issue if you considered a more advanced species like a mammal. Could a Darwinist explain any of the developmental stages of a mammal via natural selection? If so, giving an example of a case where he could would help to highlight the problem by contrasting it with why he could not do it for nematodes. If a Darwinist could not explain any mammalian developmental stages via natural selection, then you might explain why not and why you chose nematodes as the example.

    What is the process by which a Darwinist might explain a developmental stage via natural selection? What is necessary for an explanation? What is missing that prevents an explanation for nematode development?

    I think one point of confusion is that people will think that embryonic stages represent a series of adult ancestors. But a Darwinist would say that during evolution, developmental stages do not diverge from an adult of an ancestor species they diverge from an embryo of an ancestor species. So he doesn’t need to explain the past function of current embryonic tissue in an adult of an ancestor species. He needs to explain the past function of current embryonic tissue in an embryo of an ancestor species. To explain development by natural selection, you don’t need a series of adults of ancestor species you need a series of embryos of ancestor species. Of course embryos imply adults existed, and only mature adults reproduce, but tissues in embryonic stages diverge from ancestor embryo tissue not ancestor adults. No one ever reported an adult fish swimming in the womb of a pregnant mammal.

  5. 5
    Andre says:

    Ppolish

    Evolutiondidit totally unguided and for no reason at all toe the line dissenter.

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Jim Smith as to:

    a Darwinist would say that during evolution, developmental stages do not diverge from an adult of an ancestor species they diverge from an embryo of an ancestor species. So he doesn’t need to explain the past function of current embryonic tissue in an adult of an ancestor species. He needs to explain the past function of current embryonic tissue in an embryo of an ancestor species.

    Jim Smith, one of the greatest frauds in the history of science has been the use of Haeckel’s embryos by Darwinists

    How fudged embryo illustrations led to drawn-out lies – 20 January 2015
    Excerpt: German biologist Ernst Haeckel included illustrations of the embryological stages of vertebrates in a series of books published between 1868 and 1908. Fudging the data, he placed the drawings into a comparative grid, highlighting similarities between species and blurring differences. The results are highly inaccurate.
    Haeckel wanted to convince his readers that all vertebrates share a common ancestor, and that, as he put it, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” – our embryonic development repeats our evolutionary past. This aphorism was soon disproved, but the use of Haeckel’s drawings persisted, particularly in education. There were waves of criticism, from the 1870s when the drawings were published, up to 1997 as Haeckel’s “fraud” was rediscovered and exploited by creationists.
    http://www.newscientist.com/ar.....-lies.html

    Haeckel’s Bogus Embryo Drawings – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecH5SKxL9wk

    Icons of Evolution 10th Anniversary: Haeckel’s (Bogus) Embryos – January 2011 – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAC807DAXzY

    Failures of Evolution: Phylogeny Recapitulates Ontogeny – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qv1TyS09nLM

    Haeckel’s Embryos – original fraudulent drawing
    http://www.darwinthenandnow.co.....ped-II.jpg

    Actual Embryos – photos (Early compared to Intermediate and Late stages);
    http://www.ichthus.info/Evolut.....mbryos.jpg

    Side by side comparison of Haeckel’s drawings to actual photographs
    http://www.ichthus.info/Evolut.....ckel-2.jpg

    There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: – Richardson MK – 1997
    Excerpt: Contrary to recent claims that all vertebrate embryos pass through a stage when they are the same size, we find a greater than 10-fold variation in greatest length at the tailbud stage. Our survey seriously undermines the credibility of Haeckel’s drawings,
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9278154

    Other embryo photographs by Richardson that make the point that they are VERY DIFFERENT:
    http://www.ichthus.info/Evolution/PICS/embryo3.jpg

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    Current Textbooks Misuse Embryology to Argue for Evolution – June 2010
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....35751.html

    Problem 8: Differences Between Vertebrate Embryos Contradict the Predictions of Common Ancestry – Casey Luskin February 13, 2015
    Excerpt: The researchers conclude that the evidence is “[c]ontrary to the evolutionary hourglass model” and “difficult to reconcile” with the existence of a pharyngula stage.135 Likewise, a paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London found the data was “counter to the predictions of the [phylotypic stage]: phenotypic variation between species was highest in the middle of the developmental sequence.” It concluded that a “surprising degree of developmental character independence argues against the existence of a phylotypic stage in vertebrates.”136
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....91171.html

    The mouse is not enough – February 2011
    Excerpt: Richard Behringer, who studies mammalian embryogenesis at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas said, “There is no ‘correct’ system. Each species is unique and uses its own tailored mechanisms to achieve development. By only studying one species (eg, the mouse), naive scientists believe that it represents all mammals.”
    http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/57986/

    A Listener’s Guide to the Meyer-Marshall Debate: Focus on the Origin of Information Question -Casey Luskin – December 4, 2013
    Excerpt: “There is always an observable consequence if a dGRN (developmental gene regulatory network) subcircuit is interrupted. Since these consequences are always catastrophically bad, flexibility is minimal, and since the subcircuits are all interconnected, the whole network partakes of the quality that there is only one way for things to work. And indeed the embryos of each species develop in only one way.” –
    Eric Davidson
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....79811.html

    Darwin or Design? – Paul Nelson at Saddleback Church – Nov. 2012 – ontogenetic depth (excellent update) – video
    Text from one of the Saddleback slides:
    1. Animal body plans are built in each generation by a stepwise process, from the fertilized egg to the many cells of the adult. The earliest stages in this process determine what follows.
    2. Thus, to change — that is, to evolve — any body plan, mutations expressed early in development must occur, be viable, and be stably transmitted to offspring.
    3. But such early-acting mutations of global effect are those least likely to be tolerated by the embryo.
    Losses of structures are the only exception to this otherwise universal generalization about animal development and evolution. Many species will tolerate phenotypic losses if their local (environmental) circumstances are favorable. Hence island or cave fauna often lose (for instance) wings or eyes.
    http://www.saddleback.com/mc/m/7ece8/

    If that was not bad enough, Metamorphosis greatly compounds the problem of ‘developmental pathways’ for Darwinists:
    I was struck immediately, as Dr. Paul Nelson is at the 12:21 minute mark of this following video clip on butterfly metamorphosis, with the notion that metamorphosis is, by all rights, a miracle with no possible naturalistic explanation as to how it came about:

    The Miracle of Development Part 1 – Origins with Dr. Paul A. Nelson – video – April 2013
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....age#t=736s

    An easy way to demonstrate that ‘form’ is not the result of ‘bottom up’ materialistic processes is to note what happens upon the death of an organism:

    The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings – Stephen L. Talbott
    Excerpt: Virtually the same collection of molecules exists in the canine cells during the moments immediately before and after death. But after the fateful transition no one will any longer think of genes as being regulated, nor will anyone refer to normal or proper chromosome functioning. No molecules will be said to guide other molecules to specific targets, and no molecules will be carrying signals, which is just as well because there will be no structures recognizing signals. Code, information, and communication, in their biological sense, will have disappeared from the scientist’s vocabulary.
    ,,, the question, rather, is why things don’t fall completely apart — as they do, in fact, at the moment of death. What power holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer?
    Despite the countless processes going on in the cell, and despite the fact that each process might be expected to “go its own way” according to the myriad factors impinging on it from all directions, the actual result is quite different. Rather than becoming progressively disordered in their mutual relations (as indeed happens after death, when the whole dissolves into separate fragments), the processes hold together in a larger unity.
    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/.....-of-beings
    picture – What power holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer?
    http://cdn-4.spiritscienceandm.....ardd-2.jpg

    Supplemental note:

    HOW BIOLOGISTS LOST SIGHT OF THE MEANING OF LIFE — AND ARE NOW STARING IT IN THE FACE – Stephen L. Talbott – May 2012
    Excerpt: “If you think air traffic controllers have a tough job guiding planes into major airports or across a crowded continental airspace, consider the challenge facing a human cell trying to position its proteins”. A given cell, he notes, may make more than 10,000 different proteins, and typically contains more than a billion protein molecules at any one time. “Somehow a cell must get all its proteins to their correct destinations — and equally important, keep these molecules out of the wrong places”. And further: “It’s almost as if every mRNA [an intermediate between a gene and a corresponding protein] coming out of the nucleus knows where it’s going” (Travis 2011),,,
    Further, the billion protein molecules in a cell are virtually all capable of interacting with each other to one degree or another; they are subject to getting misfolded or “all balled up with one another”; they are critically modified through the attachment or detachment of molecular subunits, often in rapid order and with immediate implications for changing function; they can wind up inside large-capacity “transport vehicles” headed in any number of directions; they can be sidetracked by diverse processes of degradation and recycling… and so on without end. Yet the coherence of the whole is maintained.
    The question is indeed, then, “How does the organism meaningfully dispose of all its molecules, getting them to the right places and into the right interactions?”
    The same sort of question can be asked of cells, for example in the growing embryo, where literal streams of cells are flowing to their appointed places, differentiating themselves into different types as they go, and adjusting themselves to all sorts of unpredictable perturbations — even to the degree of responding appropriately when a lab technician excises a clump of them from one location in a young embryo and puts them in another, where they may proceed to adapt themselves in an entirely different and proper way to the new environment. It is hard to quibble with the immediate impression that form (which is more idea-like than thing-like) is primary, and the material particulars subsidiary.
    Two systems biologists, one from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Germany and one from Harvard Medical School, frame one part of the problem this way:
    “The human body is formed by trillions of individual cells. These cells work together with remarkable precision, first forming an adult organism out of a single fertilized egg, and then keeping the organism alive and functional for decades. To achieve this precision, one would assume that each individual cell reacts in a reliable, reproducible way to a given input, faithfully executing the required task. However, a growing number of studies investigating cellular processes on the level of single cells revealed large heterogeneity even among genetically identical cells of the same cell type. (Loewer and Lahav 2011)”,,,
    And then we hear that all this meaningful activity is, somehow, meaningless or a product of meaninglessness. This, I believe, is the real issue troubling the majority of the American populace when they are asked about their belief in evolution. They see one thing and then are told, more or less directly, that they are really seeing its denial. Yet no one has ever explained to them how you get meaning from meaninglessness — a difficult enough task once you realize that we cannot articulate any knowledge of the world at all except in the language of meaning.,,,
    http://www.netfuture.org/2012/May1012_184.html#2

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