Monday, December 19, 2005

Something fishy about ID

In Eurkealert, I found pointers to a nice bit of work where Richard Borowsky and colleagues report in Nature Genetics that, for a particular gene, the same evolution replicated for blind cave fish in ISOLATED, INDEPENDENT populations.

Borowsky's work with others has catalogued 86 known species of troglomorphic fishes from 18 different families. As the Harvard researcher Tabin says: "The convergence in phenotype across species and the comparative simplicity of the cave environment make cave animals an interesting evolutionary system to study."

Interesting, even to this physicist/software engineer/executioner, interesting indeed. A weird and wonderful phenomenon it would be to encounter a fish that lost the organs and the facility of sight but 86 different species that all wound up the same way...because of their permanently dark environment? There is simply nothing subtle about it: this is exactly what Darwin would have predicted. I don't know of stronger evidence. I am well enough read to be unamazed by this pattern. I need no miracles but the logic of genes to see how sensible this is.

Let the IDiots turn logic and fact on its head, let them contort their thoughts until they are satisfied their magical biology has a simpler accounting for why 86 different species THAT HAD SIGHT AND PIGMENTATION AT SOME ANCESTRAL POINT have independently become congenitally blind and unpigmented. The particular advancement represented in this paper is evidence, clear as can be, that genetic change is wrought by environmentally forced selection on a particular gene. In this case it is a pigmentation gene and the same change, more or less was independently produced in isolated populations by the same special environment of subterranean waters. That it was a particular gene is important in that it eliminates a generalization about the mechanisms of evolution: it is another smoking gun, so to speak, precise and particular evidence of mechanism for a truly general and more than generally true theory published November 24th, 1859. Its a prettier than usual example of evolution working so transparently that it defies finding a better explanation.

If fundamentalists would quit bothering the people of the 21st century, I would not write a word of this post and just sit and enjoy Dr. Borowsky's paper. But I admit, I am riled by the willful ignorance of those who find no value in a stunningly simple theory that explains the complex weirdness we find on earth and who seek to shout down that simplicity. Perhaps they never heard the advice that

It is better keep quiet and have people suspect you are a fool than to speak and make them certain.

Foolishness is all this is. No need for an aphorism about the limits of what men can know or what god can do. You don't get a new saying for this...this is old crap that doesn't deserve another word or minute. We have always had people afraid of knowledge, afraid of change, desperately hopeful for power in this world while picking what color robes they will wear in the next world.
The ultra-religious could quietly part company with science, with all modernity in fact and still be held in high esteem by the rest of society for the positive values they exemplify. By beating up religious studies professors and shoving IDiocy down the throats of Kansas public school students, they make no friends for fundamentalism. I am in no position to predict a backlash against the fundamentalists [beyond my own revulsion and that of the real blogwarriors of this battle] but neither do I see much cause for alarm that American ayatollahs will force us all to publicly swear be believe in them, I mean in their goofy interpretation of, no I mean ... well, it ain't gonna come to that because a few years of fundy quacking held up beside evolution won't, IMO, make idiots out of the rest of us. It will waste our time. It will be pointlessly divisive. But I can't imagine a 12 year old offered a choice between "yeah the fish all went blind 'cause god made it that way" and "a feature that no longer confers a fitness advantage will not be maintained in a population" going with the supernatural. When I was that age, the Greek mythology they taught me in western civ class soon had me questioning all religions. Skepticism is natural...and not as fragile in a free people as one might fear.

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