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Evolutionary Theorizing Depends on Magic Words

Here is a quick tale about the evolution of the automobile.

  1. Billions of years ago, a chassis appeared.
  2. The chassis acquired an engine.
  3. The crankshaft found a side gig as a steering wheel.
  4. The steering wheel linked up with the brake pedal to form a universal joint.
  5. Seats developed. They probably arose when the first hood evolved.

Now consider leading journals publishing this account after it has whisked through peer review. Is this not exactly what goes on in evolutionary theorizing? Darwinians have mastered the use of magic words that replace rigor with imagination. And they get away with it; nobody ever blows the whistle on what should be tagged a major scientific foul. 

New Findings About Aminoacyl-tRNA Synthetases

Here is an example in The Scientist, a news magazine for working scientists who should know better. In the article, “Protein Synthesis Enzymes Have Evolved Additional Jobs,” writer Amber Dance explains new findings about aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, abbreviated AARS, the enzymes that attach amino acids to transfer RNAs. This important family of 20 enzymes stands between the DNA code, written in triplet nucleotide codons, and the protein code, written in amino acids. Ms. Dance recounts new findings that show several of these enzymes “moonlight” as workers with other functions. 

Finding additional functions for these enzymes is a worthwhile discovery. Some of the additional functions involve angiogenesis, meaning they can be considered as targets for cancer treatments. But the article seeks to explain how these additional functions originated, especially in the sidebar, “When these functions arose in evolution” [emphasis added]. Magic words will be shown in bold type.

  • “For as long as living things have been building proteins based on the code carried by messenger RNA molecules, aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases have been there.” (Where did they come from?)
  • “AARSs picked up additional domains that allow them to do much more.”
  • “While other proteins have adopted secondary functions…”
  • “These particular synthetases have been present and available for evolution to modify since protein-based life began.”
  • “But in the hundreds of millions of years that they’ve existed, these synthetases (AARSs) have picked up several side jobs.”
  • “The first blood vascular system, which lacked the endothelium present in modern vertebrates, probably arose in a common ancestor of vertebrates and arthropods around 700 million to 600 million years ago.”
  • “Around this same time, TyrRS acquired a glutamic acid–lysine–arginine motif that today is thought to promote angiogenesis.”
  • “Then, around 540 million to 510 million years ago, an ancestral vertebrate evolved a closed vascular system….”
  • At some point around that same time period half a billion years ago, the TrpRS picked up a WHEP domain….”
  • “In addition, SerRS acquired a domain unique to this enzyme, which now prevents over-vascularization in developing zebrafish, and likely other vertebrates.”

In this magic show, rabbits appear out of hats. Sleeves acquire pigeons. Scarfs arise out of tubes, and cards evolve and develop into the specific cards the magician needs.

In fairness to Ms. Dance, her article focuses primarily on the science of discovery: how these functions were discovered, and what they might mean for medical treatments to help people. But it’s pretty clear that she is using magic words as placeholders for scientists’ ignorance. They add nothing to our understanding. They serve, rather, as statements of faith in the assumed power of natural selection.

On the Origin of AARS by Magic-Word Selection

Another example comes from the Tokyo Institute of Science. They offer “A Glimpse into Archaic Protein Synthesis Systems,” specifically, the origin of the AARS enzymes. “The study highlights the possible mechanisms of evolution” that led to these essential translators of the genetic code. This team favors the magic word “appear”:

  • “The evolution of this complex tRNA-aaRS system is a fascinating enigma, as the existing evolutionary evidence suggests that the upper half of the tRNA containing this operational code appeared earlier in evolutionary history than the lower half part that binds to the triplet code of mRNA.”
  • “Our data indicate the existence of a simplified process of alanine addition to tRNA by AlaRS early in the evolutionary process, before the appearance of the G3:U70 base pair.”
  • “Furthermore, using ‘RNA minihelix’ molecules, which are considered to be the primitive form of tRNA, we could also illuminate the ‘morphology’ of tRNA before the evolutionary appearance of the G3:U70 base pair.”

The Power of Suggestion

The word “appear” also appears frequently, along with accessory magical terms, in the Tokyo Institute’s paper in the Journal of Molecular Evolution by Arutaki et al., promising “An Insight into the Evolution of Aminoacyl‑tRNA Synthetases.” Like all good magicians, these Darwinians use the power of suggestion to make the origin of the genetic code sound possible.

This suggests that the G3:U70 pair appeared early during genetic code evolution and used as a “second genetic code” (Chong et al. 2018). However, before the appearance of the specific G3:U70, minimalist RNA–protein interactions may have resulted in requisite aminoacylation activities. The activity of AlaRS-α shown in the present study may reflect a vestige of such a primordial aminoacylation of an RNA comprising a small number of nucleotides, including the NCCA-3ʹ (Fig. 6c). In related to this hypothesis, it is suggested that the G3:U70 base pair recognition is actually a later addition to the original operational code (Carter and Wills 2018), as it is likely implemented by segments of the enzyme that were not accessible to the earliest ancestral aaRS forms (Carter 2014). Furthermore, the genomic tag model proposes that ancient linear RNA genomes possessed tRNA-like structures with a 3ʹ-terminal CCA (Weiner and Maizels 1987). A hairpin RNA with NCCA-3ʹ has also been proposed as the origin of homochiral aminoacylation in the RNA world….

The paragraph makes no sense unless you already believe that Evolution the Magician is doing real magic. If, instead, you are watching carefully to see how the trick is done, it becomes clear that the wizard is importing his own beliefs by sleight of mind, distracting the viewer with empty words. He is showing us a crystal ball with an artificial picture of a line of descent from simple to complex. He knows that the current observable genetic code is highly complex and specified, but he wants us to see a possible path by which blind molecules leaped over all the hurdles to get AARS enzymes where they are today. Some parts of the aaRS molecule, therefore, need to be named “primitive” so that they line up in their proper place in the story.

Tell Him to Sit Quietly

To understand the extent of illusion in evolutionary writing, one needs to take the magician out of it entirely, tell him to sit quietly, and watch the props move on their own. That’s what the “scenario” is all about, right? No magician was there to coax them along, telling them where to be and what to do. Robert Shapiro had a good way to describe this. Back in 2007, in Scientific American, he said this about the “appearance” of RNA in the RNA-World scenario:

The analogy that comes to mind is that of a golfer, who having played a golf ball through an 18-hole course, then assumed that the ball could also play itself around the course in his absence. He had demonstrated the possibility of the event; it was only necessary to presume that some combination of natural forces (earthquakes, winds, tornadoes and floods, for example) could produce the same result, given enough time. No physical law need be broken for spontaneous RNA formation to happen, but the chances against it are so immense, that the suggestion implies that the non-living world had an innate desire to generate RNA. The majority of origin-of-life scientists who still support the RNA-first theory either accept this concept (implicitly, if not explicitly) or feel that the immensely unfavorable odds were simply overcome by good luck.

To combine the two analogies, we could picture a golf course instead of a magic stage. An audience at the course is seated, but no golfer is out there playing. A ball is shown inside the 18th cup. The magician whispers, “See that ball? It played the course all by itself!”

Keep an eye out for the magic words in Darwin literature. Richard Dawkins said, “The living results of natural selection … impress us with the illusion of design and planning.” That’s backwards. Those who know how to interpret illusions say, “The magic words of Darwinians about how actually designed organisms came to be impress us with the illusion of scientific explanation.” Good show. Bad science.

Photo credit: Pierrick VAN-TROOST via Unsplash.