As Johnny Cash reputedly once said, “It’s good to know who hates you, and it’s good to be hated by the right people.”
Darwinist bloggers P. Z. Myers and Ian Musgrave hate me. In fact, Myers writes, “My animus for Jonathan Wells knows no bounds.” Well, at least he (unlike Musgrave) spells my name right.
The most recent outbursts by Myers and Musgrave were provoked by my February 29 blog on Evolution News & Views, in which I predicted that Darwinists would try to take credit for a recent French discovery regarding antibiotic resistance. And indeed they did.
In the course of claiming credit for Darwinism, Musgrave claims that I completely misrepresent evolution, molecular biology, genetics and history. Wow. At least I get points for comprehensiveness. As proof of my misrepresentations, Musgrave cites Wikipedia, which everyone involved in this controversy knows is about as balanced and reliable on this issue as P.Z. Myers’s Pharyngula or The National Center for Science Miseducation’s Panda’s Thumb.
The main points in my original blog post were these:
I. Darwinism provides no explanation for the origin of complex enzymes (such as the one described in the French study) except to invoke “imaginary mutations over unimaginable time scales.” Musgrave counters that the enzyme in the French study “isn’t particularly complex, it’s a simple 201 amino acid long protein.” Of course, it doesn’t take much of a skeptic to doubt that a 201 amino acid enzyme could originate by random mutation and natural selection. But instead of tackling that problem Musgrave simply describes how single mutations have been demonstrated to alter the properties of existing enzymes.
Fine. Except that the issue is not how existing enzymes can be altered, but how they originated in the first place. As in the case of whole organisms, mutation and selection can explain minor changes in existing species, but not the origin of species. Yet that’s what Darwin’s theory was supposedly about.
II. Darwinism played no role in the current research. The principal researcher in the French study disagrees, and wrote to Musgrave’s blog that “we did indeed use Darwinian evolution within this work (something unusual in structural biology). In order to obtain an enzyme with increased stability (a critical point for structural studies), we used selective pressure to obtain mutants of the enzyme.”
So the researchers used artificial selection to good advantage. But artificial selection is not Darwinism. People were using artificial selection for centuries before Darwin came along, and they didn’t need Darwin to explain it to them. Darwin argued that an analogous process also operates in natural populations — and so it does. But he and his devoted followers went much further and claimed that it also explains the origin of new species, organs and body plans, which it doesn’t.
The question remains whether our understanding of antibiotic resistance would owe anything to Darwinian theory even in the limited (and true) sense that selection operates in natural populations. I don’t think so. Antibiotic resistance arises in clinical situations that are anything but natural. In 1956 Selman Waksman, the discoverer of streptomycin, pointed out that the isolation, purification and clinical application of antibiotics is highly artificial and has no counterpart in nature. According to Waksman, the application of Darwinian theory to antibiotics in nature was “totally unjustified.” (Waksman, “The Role of Antibiotics in Natural Processes,” Giornale di Microbiologia 2 (1956): 1-14.)
So I repeat the question with which I concluded my original blog post: “How, exactly, is Darwinian evolution essential to understanding and overcoming antibiotic resistance — as the Darwinists claim it is?”