Wednesday, February 01, 2006

common descent and Dembski is a fool...again

I've been meaning to post something here about how my least favorite person in the whole entire world had moth balled his weblog. Yes. Billy Dembski announced on Dec. 26th, just 6 short days after the Dover ruling I might add, that he was done with his incredibly stupid blog, Uncommon Descent. I was really happy. But then, just a couple days later, he announced that some of his most prolific commentators on the blog were taking over as administrators. Fine I thought. They have to be even worse for ID than Dembski. And I was right. That DaveScot fellow is a real fucking loser. The shit really hit the fan a couple days ago when he decreed that nobody can criticize common descent anymore on the blog (note hilarious irony of blog title).

Well, that was a pretty huge mistake for ol' DaveScot. See this post here for a full story.

Anyway, Dembski has been back in the blog saddle now for some time (his hiatus very short lived, unfortunately). So yesterday he posted his official stance on common descent...and manages to get up to his old tricks again: misrepresenting good scientists. Also, I think it is absolutely fucking hilarious that the advert on that post's page is for the AAAS. HA!

While little Billy Dembski states that ID doesn't require any particular pattern of descent, he also writes that to ignore common descent altogether would also be to ignore the growing criticism of this entrenched Darwinian concept. He wants to do all he can to show that "Darwinism" is in general being challenged these days and that ID is just another challenge. However, as we know, this is not the case. Gould, Margulis and Woese would, I imagine, be quite upset by their appropriation by ID. While they may be challenging "Darwinian orthodoxy", firstly, it's unclear what Darwinian orthodoxy even is, and secondly, it is far from clear how their work is at all similar to Dembski's...aside from the fact that they disagree with some bit of orthodox Darwinism, whatever that may be.

So the latest misappropriation is this: "Likewise, Carl Woese, a leader in molecular phylogenetics, argues that the data support multiple, independent origins of organisms."

Indeed, that is what Woese proposes, in the most ambiguous and vague language ever. Woese proposes that towards the "roots" of the tree of life, things get a little messy. There was lots of horizantal gene transfer and probably multiple origins of different fundamental cellular mechanisms, but each of the three "foundational lineages" (Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya) reached a "Darwinian threshold" where they became, in a sense, canalized, and unable to participate in the promiscuity of HGT. The lineages after these thresholds are the actual root of the universal tree of life and evolution after these thresholds proceeds in a fairly "regular" way. So, while there was a very complicated origin of the three fundamental lineages involving lots of HGT and the incorporation of many "genes" from now extinct other lineages that had evolved independently of the three major lineages, this "anti-Darwinism" is relegated to the very earliest stages of life.

I want to note three things:

(1) I'm not sure how much all of this is actually anti-Darwinian. Darwin claims in the last sentence or two of the Origin that there was one or a few original forms. And while he thought that the correct universal tree of life would someday be elucidated, it's not clear that a tree of life with a single root is necessary for Darwinism.

(2) I certainly don't buy into Woese's whole deal. He has some awfully strange ideas about processes: "Yet the forms in essence are the process." Problematic. But still, I certainly agree that there is a lot to be learned about the very earliest stages of life.

(3) I want to emphasize, if it wasn't already clear from the above, that this new understanding of the root of the tree of life doesn't really have much impact on the evolution of Eukarya in general, at least the Eukarya that ID cares about, namely , humans. Certainly all mammals share a common ancestor, as do all vertebrates and probably all animals. The question of whether or not all Eukarya have a common ancestor is probably less clear. The protists are a really fascinating (polyphyletic) group and need a lot more study before any claims are made. Also, this stuff may have interesting consequences for reconceptualizing what sexual reproduction actually is and what it actually does to lineages, i.e. how it can maintain lineages and how it breaks them apart in some sense.

That is all. I must now read Wright's really long 1930 paper for pop gen tomorrow. AWESOME.

Oh yeah, and here's a good overview of Woese's views. I took that quote above from this paper: PNAS 2002 99(13): 8742–8747

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