Epigenetics Evolution Genomics

What’s Left of Darwinism?

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Here’s a link to a Science Daily article on epigenetics. The authors report that the known and studied method of epigenetic marking, methylation of Histone3=H3, is not only passed down from one cell generation to another during development, but that these epigenetic markings are passed on from one generation of organisms to the next.

These findings suggest that the neo-Darwinian mechanisms normally invoked in evolutionary discussions may or may not be critical for “adaptation.” If further studies confirms the widespread phenomena of epigentic markings being handed down from generation to generation, then there may not be much force left to the evolutionary tales we’ve been told over the years.

What I mean is this. We are told that organisms, in their struggle for existence, must adapt to their environment, and that this adaptation to the environment is what drives evolution. IOW, organism A must out-compete organism B, and this is done through genetic variation, helped by NS. (Genetic drift also has some minor, or major, role to play as well; but it’s still ‘genetic variation’ we’re dealing with.)

But is that what we see here? That’s not what I see. What I see is an organism that does not change genetically; rather, the organism itself affects and changes gene expression by the “methylation” of portions of the DNA. So we don’t see the sequences of protein coding regions, nor even regulatory regions changing, but, instead, see the addition of methyl groups onto the DNA strands, and this ‘methylation’ being the cause of the needed “environmental” adjustment, or adaptation.

So, the picture this gives us is one of an organism that is already equipped to handle changes in its environment in a way that basically bypasses genetic variation, per se. This gives the impression that within the organism itself, needed “adaptations” to its environment can already be found.

I’ll remind readers here of the lizards transplanted to a neighboring island in the Adriatic sea which, when looked at again 30 years later, were found to have undergone significant morphological changes including the appearance of cecal valves in their digestive system. This change can in no way be explained via genetic changes to its DNA (not enough time by a long shot); but, can, quite easily be explained via the type of epigentic changes the authors tracked in this study.

So, is this the scenario for “adaptive” change in many, if not most organisms: (1) the environment changes, (2) epigenetic markers change gene expression, and (3) “adaptation” is effected? Please not that in all of the above, there is no searching for some kind of ‘genetic’ solution taking place. SNPs of all types, gene duplication, recombination, etc, have nothing to do with any of this. The organism intrinsically has the propensity of dealing with a changed environment—much as a Designer would who was designing some form of life which had to deal with changing environmental conditions. It strikes one of what James Shapiro calls “natural engineering.”

Well, if the “environment” is tied to ‘epigenetic markers’ and not to ‘genetic variation’ as the means of “adapting” to the environment in an “heritable” way, then, as I ask in the title of the post: what’s left of Darwinism? Base changes to the DNA is out. A direct connection between the environment and base changes to the DNA is out. You can’t even answer NS is at work since nothing is being “selected,” but, rather, the “adaptive solution” is simply being ‘handed down.’ So, while all the neo-Darwinian mechanisms evolutionists invoke do happen, and do have roles to play in certain kinds of adaptations, much of what passes as “microevolution” must now be significantly re-evaluated.

Another Day; Another Bad Day for Darwinism.

14 Replies to “What’s Left of Darwinism?

  1. 1
    Eric Anderson says:

    PaV, interesting thoughts and thanks for sharing.

    Not to disagree with the thrust of your thesis, but just to lay out where I think this will practically shake out:

    Darwinism, at least from Darwin’s basic theory and up until genetics get introduced in the Neo-Darwininan synthesis, doesn’t speak to particular kinds of changes or for a need to have changes take place at the genetic level. Indeed, Darwin essentially punted on the source of change, which was probably all he could do based on mid-1800’s scientific knowledge.

    To be sure, the current orthodox position, from the Central Dogma onward, has essentially been that all changes have to occur in nucleotide basis, which then get expressed in proteins, which then get expressed in the organism. We’ve seen Matzke assert in these very pages, for example, that all the information for an organism is contained in its DNA. So you are perhaps quite right to ask what might be left of that particular viewpoint. And I agree that the “it’s all DNA” view of life is becoming less tenable by the day. But the idea of “change over time” is much broader than that and could, presumably, encompass epigenetic markers that get handed down.

    The upshot of the huge epigenetic whirlwind now swirling should be enough to cause the intellectually honest evolutionary proponent to acknowledge that they didn’t have much of an idea what they were talking about a decade ago (and let’s face it, we probably still don’t).

    Yet I’m not sure that variation happening outside of DNA is going to cause anyone to question their allegiance to the Darwinian paradigm. At least not in any broad way. Indeed, I predict that apart from a few thoughtful researchers who might stop to question the efficacy of their paradigm, the vast majority of the evolutionary faithful will simply view all of these remarkable epigenetic changes as just another confirmation of the awesome power of Darwinian evolution.

  2. 2
    Querius says:

    What’s left of Darwinism? I’d have to say Debbie Wasserman Schultz. 😉

    Seriously though, yes, I agree with you, Eric.

    Indeed, I predict that apart from a few thoughtful researchers who might stop to question the efficacy of their paradigm, the vast majority of the evolutionary faithful will simply view all of these remarkable epigenetic changes as just another confirmation of the awesome power of Darwinian evolution.

    Darwinism is a powerful social myth that provides the required backdrop for the ideologically committed materialist, and, as such, will have the staying power of Aristotelianism in the face of mounting evidence against it.

    I predict that once something can be found to replace it, Darwinism will be quickly abandoned. Many of its die-hard supporters will only then admit that they were blowing smoke, but that now . . . now, they have The Real Thing, whatever it might turn out to be.

    -Q

  3. 3
    Mapou says:

    Querius:

    I predict that once something can be found to replace it, Darwinism will be quickly abandoned. Many of its die-hard supporters will only then admit that they were blowing smoke, but that now . . . now, they have The Real Thing, whatever it might turn out to be.

    When the Real Thing gets here, Darwinists will all hide in shame. But then again, they may insist that they were misunderstood and that they knew the truth all along. They were just testing the faithful for their own good, you see.

  4. 4

    PaV,

    I am a little confused.

    Your title: “What’s Left of Darwinism?” and your interesting text implies that:

    A. If you take out the methylation as (built-in-life)vehicle of inheritance and organism adaptation, NOTHING is left of Darwinism.

    B. You state farther down: “…So, while all the neo-Darwinian mechanisms evolutionists invoke do happen, and do have roles to play in certain kinds of adaptations…”

    It seems to me that A. and B. are CONTRADICTORY.

    I am a “purist” and of the opinion that there is no genuine “mechanism” in the Darwinian evolution (neo or paleo) that can explain new organisms or even adaptations. Because adaptations are results of the powerful “built-in” mechanisms designed in life and maybe methylation might be a cog in such mechanisms.

    So a purist like me asks: which is which? A. or B. ?

  5. 5
    DavidD says:

    Mapou
    “When the Real Thing gets here, Darwinists will all hide in shame. But then again, they may insist that they were misunderstood and that they knew the truth all along. They were just testing the faithful for their own good, you see.”

    They all take a cue card from their famous leaders, like Dawkins. Dawkins on ENCODES original findings, “And that’s exactly what we evolutionists would expect”

    The man is a habitual liar. He was already on board with the JUNK DNA dogma in his own writings with “Greatest Show on Earth” championing JUNK DNA as Darwinian proof of evolution, then backpedals, lies and claim no such thing. Lying is an evolutionary adaptation for weathering the storm of any debate which defecates on their worldview

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related interest:

    podcast: Dr. Jonathan Wells: Biology’s Quiet Revolution – September 17, 2014
    http://www.discovery.org/multi.....evolution/
    On this episode of ID the Future, Dr. Jonathan Wells discusses a popular claim, which he describes as “DNA makes RNA makes protein makes us”—or, every organism contains a program for itself in its DNA. Though this view fits neatly with the perspective of Darwinian evolution, it has been shown to be incorrect at every step. Listen in as Dr. Wells explains.
    audio link:
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....-07_00.mp3

  7. 7
    vh says:

    What invivo said. Nice post.

  8. 8

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the process used in epigenetics to pass along information and have that incorporated into the organism is itself irreducibly complex. That’s my prediction.

    Let alone blowing up neo-Darwinism.

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    The OP raises the question of whether the mechanisms of adaptation might be different from the mechanism(s) of the origin of species.

    If they are different, is that a real blow to Darwinism?

  10. 10
    PaV says:

    Eric:

    Yet I’m not sure that variation happening outside of DNA is going to cause anyone to question their allegiance to the Darwinian paradigm.

    Well, it’s true that Fisher’s fundamental theorem of evolution came before we knew about DNA, and was a theorem built out of actuarial tables and their related equations.

    But this study pulls the rug out from underneath population genetics, which relies on DNA bases as being central to everything evolutionary, and which was an outgrowth of Fisher/Haldane/ and Wright.

    And, in light of the study’s findings, the “classic” cases of “microevolution” need to be revisited and reassessed.

    Now, should you want to consider “variation” instead of “genetic variation” to be all the same, also consider that what this study does is put a buffer in between the ‘environment’ and changes to DNA. This, to serious-minded clear thinkers, must be seen as a significant weakening of Darwinian orthodoxy.

    Day by day the orthodoxy slowly dies. I wouldn’t mind being around when it finally collapses of its own weight.

  11. 11
    PaV says:

    InVivoVeritas:

    A. If you take out the methylation as (built-in-life)vehicle of inheritance and organism adaptation, NOTHING is left of Darwinism.

    But I didn’t say that “nothing” was left. Instead I asked: “What is left?”

    That’s really the question. Stereotypical answers to how evolution works, and has worked, no longer have the same amount of authoritative appeal as before given these results. So, clearly harm has been done the the standard Darwinian paradigm.

    Yet, we know that various types, or classes, of ‘genetic variation’ can, and do, occur. These are known and documented.

    The question then arises as to what is directing the machinery of the cell and the organism. As I pointed out in my reply to Eric Anderson, clearly the standard link between the ‘environment’ and ‘genetic variation’ as components of evolutionary change is now weakened. It would seem that we’re on the verge of possibly discovering that many, perhaps most, of these types of “genetic variation” are really just part of the inherent machinery of the cell. This position reminds one of Shapiro’s ‘natural engineering,’ and it also suggests that ‘species’ are more stable than is now thought. IOW, stasis should be expected instead of change (“variation”).

    As to your last remarks, I’m inclined to go in the same direction as you, but, as they say, “the jury is still out.”

  12. 12
    PaV says:

    Mung:

    The OP raises the question of whether the mechanisms of adaptation might be different from the mechanism(s) of the origin of species.

    I think it should be phrased this way:

    The notion that the mechanisms of adaptation are now found to be different from standard Darwinian models raises the question of whether or not the mechanism(s) of the origin of species is also different from standard Darwinian thinking.

  13. 13
    vh says:

    Pav, I thought your post was a good one but I have a question…first, at the end of the post you said this:

    “So, while all the neo-Darwinian mechanisms evolutionists invoke do happen,”

    I also see you’ve been reading Shapiro, who has explains that genes and genomes are under regulation, which means that genetic variants aren’t necessarily the product of chance, which is what neo-darwinism demands. So if that is true, what is the logic in the above quote? I’ve never seen any slam dunk case of chance-based variation culled by selection to adapt a population genetically. Not saying that it’s impossible, but knowing that genes are dynamic and under control, I have no reason to believe chance is involved, especially when it’s never been demonstrated or proven via the scientific method.

  14. 14
    PaV says:

    vh:

    Using dying agents, you can see where certain markers along the length of a chromosome can differ from one organism to the next within the same species. This is the result of recombination. SNPs happen, since, again in the same species, you see differences in the same gene, for example.

    So we know these things occur. The important question is whether these kinds of changes can explain the “diversity” of species. All of this is a bit uncertain, and, at higher levels of taxa, is incredibly improbable.

    So, since these “variations” are occurring, do they occur in response to cellular machinery a la Shapiro? I think they do.

    What separates us here at UD from Shapiro, and him from us, is that we wonder where this “machinery” came from, and we question how it could have possibly arisen via blind changes.

    So, we would be wrong to say these things “don’t” happen; they do. But, as always, it’s a question of whether or not blind, random forces can account for the diversity of life that surrounds us.

    Hope this helps.

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