FROM THE PRESIDENT
The Phylogenetic Tree Topples
What is "evolution?" If evolutionary theory (like the law
of gravity or the periodic table of chemical elements) stems from
accepted scientific knowledge, why is its teaching controversial? We
seek here the source of the controversy: where evidence ends and
dogma begins. No honest, rigorous and logical scientist appreciative
of hard-earned data from nature disagrees about evolution's
incontrovertible core. Then why are so many who celebrate science as
a most, if not the most, effective way of knowing about the
world confused by lack of scientific unanimity? None doubts that
gravity is the force that accelerates falling bodies, nor are
statistics required to predict gas behavior when oxygen and hydrogen
are sparked in a closed volume!
Why isn't everyone convinced that "evolution is a
fact, not just a theory" when biologists feel evolution of life
from past life is as well established as gravity or the explosive
chemical reaction of H2 and O2 to form water?
Professionals in geology, biology and especially biochemistry
concur: Evolutionary phenomena proffer crucial organizing
principles. So what's the problem? Evolutionary biologists act
certain that they know how new life forms originate and
complexify. But they don't.
Evolution, no single fact, depends on four observable processes.
First, life requires the incessant flow of energy and matter to
survive. Second, a species-specific biotic potential, a measurable
quantity, is assignable: the number of offspring that, in principle,
can be produced per generation. A human couple has 20 children
maximum. A single E. coli bacterial cell that doubles in 20
minutes potentially reaches a population size the weight of the
Earth in less than a week! Third, all populations grow at
rates more rapid than their immediate environment sustains. What
Darwin called natural selection is simply this fact of
elimination: Never do 100 percent of the offspring survive to
reproduce 100 percent. Finally, offspring are not identical to their
parent(s); observable inherited (genetic) change is easily measured.
From these facts Darwin correctly inferred that life "descended
with modification" from common ancestors. Overwhelming evidence
for this fact (and none against) comes from, e.g.,
animal behavior, biochemistry, comparative anatomy, ecology,
genetics, geochronology, microbiology, physiology, paleobotany,
sedimentary geology, virology and zoology, amplifying Darwin's
insight. More than 30 million kinds of life, placed unambiguously
into five huge groups—bacteria, protoctists (including 50
phyla of ciliates, diatoms, red and brown seaweeds, slime molds,
water molds), fungi, animals and plants—evolved during the
past 3,500 million years from our small common ancestors: bacteria.
Study of long-chain molecules such as chitin, DNA, lignin, protein,
yields spectacular evidence for the shared ancestry of all living
matter. Watery cell metabolism (chemical transformation by salt
balance, synthesis of proteins and other metabolites always
bounded by cell membranes) is incessant whether in aardvark or zoogloea.
But many biologists claim they know for sure that random mutation
(purposeless chance) is the source of inherited variation that
generates new species of life and that life evolved in a
single-common-trunk, dichotomously branching-phylogenetic-tree pattern!
"No!" I say. Then how did
one species evolve into another? This profound research question is
assiduously undermined by the hegemony who flaunt their
"correct" solution. Especially dogmatic are those molecular
modelers of the "tree of life" who, ignorant of alternative
topologies (such as webs), don't study ancestors. Victims of a
Whiteheadian "fallacy of misplaced concreteness," they
correlate computer code with names given by "authorities" to
organisms they never see! Our zealous research, ever faithful to the god
who dwells in the details, openly challenges such dogmatic certainty.
This is science.