Letter: Science contributes to understanding

In Boggess’s rebuttal on Feb. 22nd to evolution he makes various claims, one of which is that evolution and natural selection are not the same.

Natural selection is one of the main driving forces of evolution, and is also therefore a fact. In its simplest form, parents (or a parent) give birth to multiple offspring, and by random genetic variations and mutations some of those offspring are better able to adapt and survive in their environment, thus having more offspring of their own with the adaptive traits. Simple, isn’t it?

Even Creationists are willing to see that DNA can be traced back to family, whereby one can go and get a genetic test to see who their relatives are. Besides paleontology, biogeography, comparative anatomy and others, genetics is an excellent way in which we have consistently and successfully predicted the veracity of evolution.

The same logic must apply to higher taxonomies. DNA testing has allowed us to go up past our species to family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, and overall “empire” of eukaryotes and prokaryotes to discover that all life shares a common ancestor, from plants, bacteria, archaea, invertebrates and other chordates. It’s amazing that not only could we predict this before the discovery of DNA, but that those predictions have consistently come true. (thelogicofscience.com)

For instance, it was predicted from the fossil record and morphology that birds descend from dinosaurs and should be related to crocodiles. And indeed, the genetic evidence shows this to be the case, both birds and crocodiles being direct descendants of archosaurs (Green et al. 2014).

Bacteria is also a good example, since that was in Boggess’s refutation. In the Lenski and team’s study of 12 populations of e. coli bacteria spanning from 1988 to 66,000 generations by 2016 we see evolution by natural selection in real time. 12 flasks of e. coli were fed a glucose diet and asexually through simple cell division grew until their resources reached a critical limit, at which point each were separated into new identified and individual flasks every day. Out of that transfer some were frozen as “fossils” to compare to future lineages.

The results were what would be predicted, with some surprises. The cells grew in size to better exploit resources, but in novel ways, through random mutations that were selected for by non-random environmental factors. In competition for resources, not all of the populations were able to reproduce, and the different mutations better adapted to the limited resources were evidenced by comparing the new generations to the “fossils.” As the new generations’ adaptive traits became ever more effective they were passed on. For example, in at least one population the gene expression for a penicillin-binding protein enabled it to outcompete the ancestral bacteria. In another, the population evolved the ability to grow aerobically on citrate. And perhaps most telling, in two other populations the same 59 genes changed their levels of expression. Such parallelism in independent populations can only be described by natural selection (Dawkins).

Creationists find such parallelism to be improbable because it couldn’t have happened by chance. In other ways, too, DNA verifies natural selection, as with “jumping” ancient repetitive elements of DNA that copy and insert themselves into different locations of the genome. According to born-again Evangelical Christian and former head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins, in his book The Language of God, “Unless one is willing to take the position that God has placed these decapitated ARE’s [Ancient Repetitive Elements] in these precise positions to confuse and mislead us the conclusion of a common ancestor...is virtually inescapable.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re born-again Baptist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, evolution by natural selection is as much a fact as the fact that I’m not falling upward into the ceiling. Nor does it take away from anything. In fact, it only makes the world more cogent and in my estimation more awe-inspiring. To look at the birds in my backyard every morning knowing they are the descendants of dinosaurs is spectacular.

There are such things as truths. It’s true the earth is 4.5 billion years old. It’s true 12 men have walked on the moon. It’s true the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. And it’s true that evolution by natural selection is a fact, and that science deniers often use ad hoc fallacies.

Science is perhaps the best contributor to our normative objective understanding of reality, especially with respect to evidence, logic and reason. The anti-science culture must be countered at every opportunity, both for the betterment of our and other species and the planet, as well as for the wonder and hope and progress science engenders.