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If the Tree of Life falls, will Darwinists hear it?

Casey Luskin

A recent article entitled “Scientists say Darwin’s ‘Tree of Life’ [TOL] not the theory of everything,” published on Physorg.com, explained that increasingly, “a minority of biologists and evolutionists have questioned the accuracy of the TOL hypothesis.” The basic problem is that similar genes appear in organisms in patterns which do not fit a universal “tree.” As one of the scientists quoted, W. F. Doolittle, elsewhere stated: “Molecular phylogenists will have failed to find the ‘true tree,’ not because their methods are inadequate or because they have chosen the wrong genes, but because the history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree.”

Doolittle attributes his observations to gene-swapping among microorganisms at the base of the TOL, and tries to reassure readers that “[s]urely a tree is the right model for most multi-cellular animals and plants … the TOL is great for fossils and museums and dinosaurs and most of visible life.” But another expert, Carl Woese wrote that “[p]hylogenetic [conflicts] can be seen everywhere in the universal tree, from its root to the major branchings within and among the various taxa to the makeup of the primary groupings themselves.” Similarly, in the past few years, Sean B. Carroll studied animal relationships and concluded that “[d]espite the amount of data and breadth of taxa analyzed, relationships among most metazoan phyla remained unresolved.” Carroll also concluded that “[t]he recurring discovery of persistently unresolved clades (bushes) should force a re-evaluation of several widely held assumptions of molecular systematics.”

It seems that problems in the tree of life exist in the base up to higher branches, but since Carroll is a Darwinist, one assumption he does not re-evaluate is that of common ancestry itself. By invoking insufficient data, horizontal gene swapping, rapid evolution, and other ad hoc explanations, Darwinists reveal that neo-Darwinism is trying explain away the data; it is not explaining the data. Perhaps the inability to construct robust phylogenetic trees using molecular data stems from the fact that common descent is simply wrong.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Tree of Life