I leave it to our scientists to weigh the merit of Professor Josh Swamidass’s “cancer disproves intelligent design” thesis. But a Facebook friend points out one glaring oversight in our commentary so far.
It’s definitely not to the benefit of the organism in question. Imagine that the oil in your car’s engine turned to sludge. The finely tuned machine will not respond well, even if the sludge is “novel,” an “innovation” in the system.
My friend chides me, noting that there are indeed instances of mutations building up fantastic new functions: “You have obviously never watched a Marvel movie.” Actually, I haven’t in a while. He explains: “X-Men, Incredible Hulk, etc. — all genetic mutations (gamma rays, etc.) that give you superpowers.”
Ah yes, he’s right. Here’s a list of “radiation-induced superheroes,” including the Hulk, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, etc. Evidently the X-Men are born mutants. Creator Jack Kirby observed, “Possibly, radiation, if it is beneficial, may create mutants that’ll save us instead of doing us harm. I felt that if we train the mutants our way, they’ll help us.”
In an appropriate tribute, one of the X-Men is actually called Darwin, who after a catastrophic battle “regained physical form as his mutation quickly rebuilt his body.”
Unfortunately I don’t know much more about this popular comic-book trope, as I’m behind in my movie viewing. But you could ask my teenage son.