A colleague of mine posted this on list to which I subscribe. It raises some interesting questions about the limits of adaptability, the limits to preadaptation/exaptation, and the extent to which selection presupposes adaptability. I’m not sure I buy the entire argument here (see the post on this blog about the evolution of nylonase), but I would like to see the insights below vigorously discussed on this blog.
Are organisms simply more adaptable than can ever be explained on a purely evolutionary basis?
For example, we’ve all heard of the experiments where human subjects wear goggles that flip their visual experience upside down. After some period of time the brain/mind/soul flips things upright. Since never in evolutionary history could anything of that sort ever occurred on a sufficiently regular or long-term basis to give rise to that ability, that ability alone shows that Darwinian evolution is a false (incomplete) theory. The same could apply to birds’ abilities (assuming they exist) to “flip” their directional senses within (say) a single generation.
Speaking of which: I think the list has underappreciated (if I may sound a bit peevish a point I’ve made several times, namely, that any ability that an organism has to adapt to a highly, highly artificial constraint is a de facto disproof of the (complete adequacy of) neo-Darwinism. If an organism can adapt readily to an artificially induced change that has no analog in nature, than that adaptability cannot be explained (or explained away, or hand-waved-over) by random variation and natural selection. By hypothesis there is no place in natural history where such a capability could have arisen “naturally” (in the Darwinian sense).
It seems to me that such abilities are relatively commonplace. I.e., that there are many examples of adaptability under experimentation (artifice) that “just happen to work” and are absolutely inexplicable on Darwinian terms. They show the ability of organisms to transcend their own history, to so speak, and thus their irreducible to history/Darwinism.
For example, consider how SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) works. You take a mammalian egg (which “just happens to be” a HUGE cell, very easy to experiment on). You take out the nucleus. (Think about how INCREDIBLY ARTIFICIAL that is.) You take an ENTIRE SOMATIC CELL (not just the nucleus — that’s one of the “tricks of the trade”) and you insert it into the enucleated egg cell. The “headless” (no nucleus, no genome, etc.) egg cell proceeds to break down/destroy the non-nucleic parts of the somatic cell. It then “gets ahold of” the somatic nucleus. It then proceeds to “reprogram” the nucleus to express the appropriate genes for embryonic life.
If all goes well (and often it doesn’t — in this case, nature fails to act “always or for the most part” in the famous phrase of Aristotle), a [fairly] normal embryo starts developing. But how can an enucleated egg possibly “know how to” do that? Such an occurrence has never happened in the entire history of life on earth. And yet it works — yes, only once in awhile, but it’s absolutely impossible that it could work AT ALL on Darwinian principles because the organism has never before encountered a circumstance in its natural history where this capability could have been selected for.