Professor Moran has been kind enough to grace us with his presence on my post, Bad math: Why Larry Moran’s “I’m not a Darwinian” isn’t a valid reply to Meyer’s argument. But he hasn’t answered a simple question I posed to him, regarding Dr. Stephen Meyer’s comments on the neutral theory of evolution in his book, Darwin’s Doubt (Harper One, 2013).
In his discussion of the neutral theory of evolution, Dr. Meyer focuses on the ground-breaking work of Dr. Michael Lynch. Meyer argues that the neutral theory is incapable of accounting for the origin of new animal body plans, because it is built on faulty mathematical assumptions (bolding mine – VJT):
Michael Lynch, a geneticist at Indiana University, … proposes a neutral or “non-adaptive” theory of evolution in which natural selection plays a largely insignificant role…
Lynch argues that in small populations, animal genomes will inevitably grow over time as nonprotein-coding sections of DNA (as well as gene duplicates) accumulate due to the weakness of natural selection. He thinks that these neutral mutations drive the evolution of animals…
Lynch does argue in one paper that neutral evolutionary processes can generate new complex adaptations – adaptations requiring multiple coordinated mutations – within realistic waiting times. In particular, writing in a recent paper with colleague Adam Abegg of St. Louis University, he argues that “conventional population genetic mechanisms” such as random mutation and genetic drift can cause the “relatively rapid emergence of specific complex adaptations.”…
But some things are just too good to be true, and it turns out that Lynch and Abegg made a subtle but fundamental mathematical error in coming to their conclusion. Appropriately, perhaps, the first person to demonstrate that Lynch’s incredible claim was problematic was Douglas Axe… In the end, he traced Lynch and Abegg’s claims to two erroneous equations, both of which were based on erroneous assumptions. In essence, Lynch and Abegg assumed that organisms will acquire a given complex adaptation by traversing a direct path to the new anatomical structure. Each mutation would build on the previous one in the most efficient manner possible – with no setbacks, false starts, aimless wandering, or genetic degradation – until the desired structure or system (or gene) is constructed. Thus, they formulated an undirected model of evolutionary change, and one that assumes, moreover, that there is no mechanism available (such as natural selection) that can lock in potentially favorable mutational changes on the way to some complex advantageous structure….
Yet nothing in Lynch’s neutral model ensures that potentially advantageous mutations will remain in place while other mutations accrue. As Axe explains, “Productive changes cannot be ‘banked,’ whereas Equation 2 [one of Lynch’s equations] presupposes that they can.” Instead, Axe shows, mathematically, that degradation (the fixation of mutational changes that make the complex adaptation less likely to arise) will occur much more rapidly than constructive mutations, causing the expected waiting time to increase exponentially.
(2013, pp. 321, 322, 327-328)
Lynch and Abegg’s paper, “The rate of establishment of complex adaptations” (Molecular Biology and Evolution 27: 1404-1414, doi:10.1093/molbev/msq020) can be found here. Dr. Douglas Axe’s critique of their paper, which is titled, “The limits of complex adaptation: An analysis based on a simple model of structured bacterial populations” (BIO-Complexity 2010(4):1-10, doi:10.5048/BIO-C.2010.4) can be found here.
The question I put to Professor Moran, in a comment on my thread, was very straightforward:
Are you claiming that Dr. Axe and Dr. Meyer have misconstrued the nature of random genetic drift?
Sadly, I’m still waiting for an answer. In case Professor Moran missed it or accidentally overlooked it, I’m posting it here again. I’d appreciate it if Professor Moran would be kind enough to answer with a straight “Yes” or “No.”
The reason why I’m asking this question is a very simple one. Professor Lynch is an eminent scientist: he is Distinguished Professor of Evolution, Population Genetics and Genomics at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. He has also written a two volume textbook with Bruce Walsh, which is widely regarded as the “Bible” of quantitative genetics. In 2009, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
For his part, Dr. Douglas Axe is the director of the Biologic Institute. His research uses both experiments and computer simulations to examine the functional and structural constraints on the evolution of proteins and protein systems. After obtaining a Caltech Ph.D., he held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge Medical Research Council Centre, and the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. He has also written two articles for the Journal of Molecular Biology (see here and here for abstracts). He has also co-authored an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an article in Biochemistry and an article published in PLoS ONE.
There’s no getting around it. One of these scientists has made a bad mathematical mistake. Either Professor Lynch made a bad mistake in the article he co-authored with Adam Abegg (Department of Mathematics, St. Louis University), arguing that “conventional population genetic mechanisms” such as random mutation and genetic drift can cause the “relatively rapid emergence of specific complex adaptations” within realistic waiting times, or Dr. Axe made a terrible blunder in the paper he wrote, critiquing Lynch and Abegg’s flawed assumptions. As far as I can determine, neither Lynch nor Abegg have responded to Dr. Axe’s critique, which was written in 2010. Nor has any other evolutionist of note that I’m aware of. For that reason alone, I’m inclined to believe that Dr. Axe got it right and that Lynch and Abegg are wrong.
But if that’s the case, then Professor Moran owes Dr. Meyer an apology. He has accused Meyer of ignoring the neutral theory of evolution and focusing his attack on Darwinism. However, if Meyer’s rebuttal of the neutral theory, which is based on Dr. Axe’s work, is scientifically sound, then Meyer has dealt a knock-out blow to the neutral theory. That isn’t what I’d call “ignoring” a theory.
If, on the other hand, Professor Moran believes that Dr. Axe’s mathematical argument regarding the speed of neutral evolution is fundamentally flawed, then why has he never said so on his blog, and why has he never explained the fallacy to his readers?