Each year the Access Research Network (ARN) provides an excellent service to the intelligent design (ID) debate by publishing its Top ID Stories of the year. They recently released their “Key Darwin and Design Science News Stories of the Year” for 2009, but before I review some of them I want to make a preliminary note about ARN.
ARN is one of the most important ID organizations in large part because their online “media resources” bookstore has a huge collection of ID resources, ranging from books to videos to audio products, and even YouTube clips. There are conspiracy theorists at Wikipedia who claim that ARN “acts as a de facto auxiliary website to the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.” This statement reflects a common theme on Wikipedia articles about ID that Discovery Institute is the wizard pulling the strings of some nefarious (though non-existent) ID conspiracy. Of course such “point of view” assertions are supposedly disallowed on Wikipedia, but double-standards abound when it comes to ID and Wikipedia editors insert anti-ID “points of view” all the time. I’m also not even sure exactly what the “de facto auxiliary website” statement even means–if it means anything–but in any case, it’s a falsehood: ARN is a fully autonomous organization that has its own bloggers that generate their own unique content on a daily basis. But I have no problem reporting that it’s great content, and that readers of ENV might also enjoy following ARN’s blogs, such as the ID Update, ID Report, ID News, and the stellar ID Literature blog. In fact, ARN’s involvement with the ID movement predates Discovery Institute’s. So while Wikipedia is dead wrong to claim that ARN is some puppet of Discovery Institute, ARN has great people, and if you’re looking for something produced by the ID movement, there’s a good bet you can find it at ARN’s online store. Now on to review some of ARN’s top Intelligent Design stories for 2009:
“The Modern Synthesis is Gone”
Citing to a post by David Tyler at ARN’s ID Literature blog, they reviewed a groundbreaking 2009 paper by Eugene Koonin of the National Institutes of Health explaining why “[t]he edifice of the modern synthesis has crumbled, apparently, beyond repair”:
In February 2009 Eugene Koonin published a masterly analysis of the impact of genomics on evolutionary thinking (“Darwinian evolution in the light of genomics”, Nucleic Acids Research, 2009, 37(4), 1011-1034). Koonin notes that the 1959 Origins centennial was “marked by the consolidation of the modern synthesis” but subsequent years have witnessed great changes which have undermined its credibility. The modern synthesis was formulated in the 1930’s and 1940’s to draw together seemingly conflicting evidence from natural selection, population genetics, cytology, systematics, botany, morphology, ecology and paleontology into one modern theory of neo-Darwinian evolution. Three distinct revolutions have occurred over the past half-century to bring down the modern synthesis theory: the molecular, the microbiological, and the genomic revolutions. Koonin tentatively identifies two candidates to fill the vacuum left by the discarded modern synthesis. The first appears to emphasize the role of chance; the second appears to emphasize the role of law. While many in the scientific community will continue to cling to the modern synthesis for years to come, it is significant that articles are now appearing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature declaring the theory needs to be abandoned because it no longer fits the molecular, microbiological and genomic data.
The Demise of Icons and Missing Links
ARN also wrote about the demise of various missing links, including “The Ida Hype and Bust,” noting that even an August 2009 issue of Science published an article on Ida titled “Much Hype and Many Errors.” But Ida wasn’t the only overhyped fossil in 2009. ARN also noted the “The Ardi Hype and Bust” noting that:
The first fossils of the species, Ardipithecus ramidus (“Ardi”), were unearthed in 1994 and were first described in a series of papers in the journal Science in October 2009. The very poor condition of the ancient bones is one reason it took researchers 15 years to excavate and analyze them. The Science editors declared Ardi to be the “central character in the story of human evolution” and named the fossil the science breakthrough of 2009. Evidently the Science editors have not been reading any of the other published opinions on Ardi. These articles reveal that Ardi is an “Irish stew” fossil that has undergone extensive reconstruction in order to become part of a PR campaign to make bold claims of ancestral status to the human line, even though at base its qualities are very similar to previously known fossils.
ARN reported that fossils weren’t the only Darwinian icons to lose force in 2009. ARN discussed how the “Peppered Moths Oscillates Back to Gray,” meaning that this alleged example of natural selection “is now becoming at best a case of oscillating selection, much like what has been observed in the oscillating sizes of beaks of the Galapagos finches, which grow slightly larger during a drought but revert back to their original size when the drought is over.” Darwin’s tree of life also faced challenges in 2009, as ARN reported that the “Cambrian Explosion Continues to Challenge Materialistic Theories,” stating “A paper in the July 2009 issue of BioEssays admits the lack of a ‘materialistic basis’–that is, a plausible materialistic explanation–of the Cambrian explosion.”
Debating the Origin of Biochemical Evolution
ARN highlighted debates between Michael Behe and University of Oregon biologist Joseph Thornton regarding Thorton’s 2009 paper, “An epistatic ratchet constrains the direction of glucocorticoid receptor evolution.” ARN commented, “Although the work is interpreted by its authors within a standard Darwinian framework, it also confirms the primary thesis of Michael Behe’s recent book, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, demonstrating the looming brick wall which confronts unguided evolution in at least one system. It points strongly to the conclusion that such walls are common throughout all of biology.”
In a section titled, “Failed Assault on Irreducible Complexity,” ARN discussed the stir caused by a 2009 paper in Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences titled “The reducible complexity of a mitochondrial molecular machine.” ARN reported that “The Darwinian guardians appear anxious to debunk irreducible complexity, one of the key scientific concepts for intelligent design. This was evidenced by the editor’s refusal to print a letter to the editor by Michael Behe exposing the basic problems with the article.” It also cited to my “detailed response documenting how the claims made in the paper far surpassed the data, and how distinctions between such basic ideas as ‘reducible’ versus ‘irreducible’ and ‘Darwinian’ versus ‘non-Darwinian’ were essentially ignored.”
Other potential biochemical challenges to Darwinism may come from an interesting story ARN found in ScienceDaily, which stated, “Even within cells, the left hand knows what the right hand is doing” since “molecular motors operate in an amazingly coordinated manner.” ARN reports that the story says “The new U.Va. study provides strong evidence that the motors are indeed working in coordination, all pulling in one direction, as if under command, or in the opposite direction — again, as if under strict instruction.” Similar coordinated complexity is found in ARN’s story on “Walking White Blood Cells,” where white blood cells find sites of infection or injury by “crawl[ing] swiftly along the lining of the blood vessel–gripping it tightly to avoid being swept away in the blood flow–all the while searching for temporary ‘road signs’ made of special adhesion molecules that let them know where to cross the blood vessel barrier so they can get to the damaged tissue.” ARN also reported that cells use “Cloud Computing,” as an article in Science Daily stated: “Gene regulatory networks in cell nuclei are similar to cloud computing networks, such as Google or Yahoo!, researchers report today in the online journal Molecular Systems Biology” because “each system keeps working despite the failure of individual components, whether they are master genes or computer processors.” Finally, ARN highlighted some great articles by its blogger David Tyler on the topic of biomimetics
ARN’s conclusion to its top 2009 news stories is striking:
An ID skeptic might be able to dismiss any of the individual news stories above as simply aberrations to the forward marching drum of scientific materialism. However, reflecting back over these scientific developments in 2009 as a whole, a rather grim picture emerges for Darwin’s theory. In a year in which Darwin’s disciples were celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth that the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, mainstream scientific journals published articles declaring: 1) the modern synthesis was dead, 2) Darwin’s tree of life should be abandoned, 3) new “missing links” were a bust, 4) limits to Darwinism were demonstrated in the lab, 5) evolutionary icons like the peppered moths reverted back to their old colors, 6) the Cambrian Explosion lacks any plausible materialist explanation, and 7) an interdisciplinary revolution is occurring in biology that rejects the reductionist paradigm of Darwinian evolution. Meanwhile the evidence for design continues to mount with 1) peer-reviewed articles and books by ID theorists, 2) the information content in DNA demanding a non-materialistic source, 3) scientists continuing to “reverse engineer” amazing designs from biological systems, and 4) the irreducible complexity in living systems continuing to be discovered and documented. Wow, what a year!
Check ARN’s Top Stories Page or stay tuned for more updates as ARN will release its top public policy stories and top resources for 2009 in the near future.