My own experience in reading the biological literature is that evolution has very little to do with nuts and bolts biology (e.g., genetics, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology). Biologists, by and large, try to understand existing systems and structures Ã¢â‚¬â€ what theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re made of, how theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re constructed, and how they function. How they evolved is largely beside the point.
Yet to read evolutionists about the scientific status of evolutionary theory, one often gets the impression of salesmen who are omitting crucial details about the product they are selling. Thus one reads that evolution is a fruitful scientific theory that is put into practice every day by scientists across numerous areas of biology and beyond.
A case in point was a recent trackback by Josh Rosenau to the article by Paul Johnson that I cited on my blog (for the Johnson article, go here; for the trackback, go here). According to Rosenau, evolution is “a theory which has created cures for diseases and alleviated suffering.”
“Created cures”? The author of this extravagant claim provides no references. I try to stay on top of the field of biocomputing, which uses models inspired by Darwinian evolution to solve problems at the intersection of biology and computation, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m unfamiliar with drug companies using these techniques to design or create new drugs.
Moreover, even if these techniques are used to develop new drugs, this reference to “creating cures” actually vindicates intelligent design because these techniques, even if inspired by Darwinian evolution, require careful engineering and thus are design intensive (see chapter 4 of my book No Free Lunch in which I show that evolutionary computing owes more to intelligent design than to Darwinian evolution — and if you want all the mathematical details of this chapter filled in, go to my article “Searching Large Spaces”).
My suspicion, therefore, is that Josh Rosenau meant something much more plebeian when he referred to evolutionary theory as “creating cures.” What I suspect he is referring to is that bacteria, through a process of natural selection, tend to acquire immunity to antibiotics. Thus, for infections to be treated effectively, drug companies need to design new drugs to overcome the increased immunity of these bacteria.
But, in that case, it is not the theory of evolution that provides insight into how to design new antibiotics that knock out bacteria that have developed an immunity to old antibiotics. Rather, it is the drug designerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s background knowledge and ability as a researcher that enables him or her to design appropriate new drugs that knock out these bacteria. All evolution is doing here is describing the process by which these bacteria acquire antibiotic resistance Ã¢â‚¬â€ not how to design drugs capable of overcoming that resistance.
To say that evolution is “a theory which has created cures for diseases and alleviated suffering” is therefore misleading. It is like saying that tooth decay has assisted in designing new methods of filling cavities. In both these instances, evolution and tooth decay are problems that need to be overcome by design.