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Belgian Waffle

Douglas Axe

Under the heading “Reconstruction of prehistoric DNA refutes criticism on theory of evolution,” an article from Ghent University in Belgium claims a recent scientific paper has rescued evolutionary theory by solving the problem of evolutionary innovation. Considering that innovation is the appearance of new things, it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of that problem, or of the rescue (if true).
The article gives the first hint that it might not be true by following the familiar pattern of conceding a problem with Darwinism only to announce that it has now been solved, and then wagging the finger of orthodoxy at those who keep raising it.
Here’s the concession:

An important unanswered question in Darwin’s theory of evolution is how new characteristics seem to appear out of nowhere.

Hmmm. Yes, I can see how this could be a problem for a theory of biological origins.
The good news, according to the article, is that this somewhat weighty problem has now been solved after all these years — just last November, would you believe — with the publication of a study that attempted to retrace the evolutionary history of a group of similar enzymes.
If you read the paper though, you’ll find that it doesn’t actually explain the origin of anything new. You’ll find instead that the authors’ use of the word “Innovation” in their title was itself “innovative.” They clearly want to say that they’ve shown how a bunch of brand new enzyme activities can evolve from an ancestral enzyme that lacks them. I understand their passion. That’s what I’d want to say if I wanted Darwinism to be true.
And, truth be told, science papers do allow authors to cast their results in their own terms. But they also press them to state the facts plainly, and in this case here’s the plain statement:

The preduplication [i.e., ancestral] ancMalS enzyme was multifunctional and already contained the different activities found in the postduplication [i.e., evolved] enzymes, albeit at a lower level.

So, all we have here is a demonstration of what we already knew — that evolution can adjust somewhat the relative preferences enzymes show for the molecules they already work on. Those aren’t new activities, though, and this isn’t a new result either.
What would be really new and welcome would be for evolutionary biologists to begin taking the word new seriously.
Cross-posted at Biologic Perspectives.

Douglas Axe

Maxwell Professor of Molecular Biology at Biola University
Douglas Axe is the Maxwell Professor of Molecular Biology at Biola University, the founding Director of Biologic Institute, the founding Editor of BIO-Complexity, and the author of Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed. After completing his PhD at Caltech, he held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at the University of Cambridge and the Cambridge Medical Research Council Centre. His research, which examines the functional and structural constraints on the evolution of proteins and protein systems, has been featured in many scientific journals, including the Journal of Molecular Biology, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, BIO-Complexity, and Nature, and in such books as Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer and Life’s Solution by Simon Conway Morris.