Evolution Education: Evolution of the Eye Special Issue

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One of our strategies in the defense of science and the Enlightenment (yes, Ken Miller’s Only a Theory is having an effect on me) has to be to increase the level of scientific knowledge among educators, especially secondary school teachers, and to show how much we actually know about how evolution works to produce complicated organs. One of the canonical complicated organs, the vertebrate eye, is a long-time favorite of creationists and IDists. They happily quote Darwin’s notorious introductory sentence about it:

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.

But then they ignore his answer to the problem in the next sentence:

Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.

Now an outstanding resource to support evolutionary claims about eye evolution is available. A special issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach, which is under the general editorship of Gregory and Niles Eldredge, is available free online. The special issue was edited by T. Ryan Gregory, who also wrote the Introduction to the issue. It includes 11 articles of original research and reviews, three on curriculum possibilities, and a book review. All told it is an excellent resource.

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Taking my cue from The Panda’s Thumb, I have downloaded and merged all 26 of the articles available freely at Springer Online. This is a special issue of the journal “Evolution: Education and Outreach” focusing on the evolution of the... Read More

152 Comments

I’d tire of constantly fighting with folks who are chasing windmills. Philosophers would make a better foil against what the creationists actually practice: sophism.

Enjoy.

It’s a fascinating if somewhat fruitless exercise to wonder for how much longer this creationist quote-mine of Darwin’s “evolution of the eye” will be used in their arguments. I mean, the full context has been pointed out to them (insert ridiculously large number here) times, yet they fail to demonstrate even a pre-school understanding of the english language every time they use it. It becomes very tiring.

Yeah I read Oakley and Gregory’s articles on eye evolution a couple of weeks ago. Unfortuantely neither address the crux of the issue: namely the origin of the biochemical phototransduction cascade.

To be fair, Oakley’s article (the ‘Black Box’ one) at least tries to give some biochemical details. But it only scratches the surface by suggesting a potential origin of the opsin protein. Unfortunately the origin of a new opsin protein is not equivalent to the origin of an entire phototransduction cascade.

So it seems the Darwinian account still falls quite far short of any satisfactory biochemical explanation. Descriptions of morphological change, comparisons of genes, crystallins, etc. all skirt the issue if it cannot be shown how the phototransduction cascade itself arose.

Green said:

(snip)

So it seems the Darwinian account still falls quite far short of any satisfactory biochemical explanation. Descriptions of morphological change, comparisons of genes, crystallins, etc. all skirt the issue if it cannot be shown how the phototransduction cascade itself arose.

…yet

You say that we don’t know how the phototransduction cascade arose “yet”. Then why is the above work described as ‘outstanding’ and paraded as as a victory against ID & creationsim? Biochemical details is what we’ve been asking for all along! Not more gene comparisons or morphological descriptions.

Mike of Oz said: It’s a fascinating if somewhat fruitless exercise to wonder for how much longer this creationist quote-mine of Darwin’s “evolution of the eye” will be used in their arguments. I mean, the full context has been pointed out to them (insert ridiculously large number here) times, yet they fail to demonstrate even a pre-school understanding of the english language every time they use it. It becomes very tiring.

Well, some creotards are dishonest and they knowingly quote mine Darwin despite being aware of the following lines. But there are lot more who faithfully parrot these quote mined gems without ever looking at the rejoinders and the original articles by the other side. Yes, there is a sucker born (again?) every minute.

But still, though it looks like the labour of Sisyphus, it is having some effect, I feel. Most routine trolls no longer dredge up the Darwin’s eye quote because they know the rejoinders come fast and they get a black eye.

Um, the co-opting of a G protein coupled receptor is a pretty nice way to explain the origins of a phototransduction cascade.

From the review by Oakley and Pankey:

“With current knowledge that opsin is the basis of light sensitivity, Darwin’s question of how a nerve becomes light sensitive can be rephrased as, “how did animal opsins originate?” Proteins rarely originate from nowhere, and opsins are no exception. Opsins form a subfamily within a larger family of proteins called G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), also sometimes called serpentine proteins because they snake back and forth across cell membranes. Since serpentine proteins are present in all animals and their close relatives—including sponges, Monsiga, and fungi—we know that this broad class of proteins long predates animals. In yeast (a fungus), these receptors are sensitive to pheromones, and they even direct a signal through proteins homologous to non-opsin phototransduction proteins. As such, a signaling pathway exists outside animals, which is very similar to phototransduction, except that the receptor protein detects pheromones, not light. Receptors outside animals share some characteristics with opsin, like snaking through a cell membrane seven times. It is one of these serpentine proteins that served as the progenitor of the first opsin protein, as evidenced by the similarity of opsins and other serpentine proteins.”

Incidentally, I don’t see how more knowledge could give ‘insight’ into phototransduction evolution. We know all the components involved. The problem is not a lack of knowledge, the problem is a conceptual one.

A minimum no. of components are needed simultaneously for this cascade, otherwise no light signal is transduced and no selection pressure is exerted. For example, Oakley and Pankey say that even the opsin protein itself - just one protein in a whole cascade - can’t become light sensitive until it gets another mutation to make it associate with retinal. So this is at least two co-ordinated mutations that have to happen before opsin is any use to the cell.

Anyway, the above example pales in comparison to the whole phototransduction cascade, as well as the proteins that are needed to restore opsin to original state after the cascade has been activated. It’s quite clear you need *numerous* *simultaneous* mutations before any functional advantage is conferred. Doesn’t sound too Darwinian to me.

Yeah I knew that co-option thing would be coming. Turns out there was a mistake in that Oakley and Pankey paper.

The yeast intracellular signalling cascade turns out not to be homologous in any way to the metazoan signalling cascade. It just got published before the authors realised.

Green said: Biochemical details is what we’ve been asking for all along!

Really? The creotard argument has always been, “there is no way the evolution of the eye could even be imagined!.” Then we come along and explain this is how it could be imagined. Look at all the various kinds of eyes in various stages of development all through the animal kingdom.

Then you move the goal posts. “Nah! Not enough if you could explain how it could but we demand you explain how it did.” Another round more research, showing genes responsible and their wide presence in all kinds of animals, and now suddenly you claim you have been asking for biochemical details all along. No doubt when they were available you will come up with something else to ask for.

You think you are so clever and these science supporters are dumb and you are sure an idiot could ask a question in a minute that takes the wise million years to answer. But you are losing buddy. Over the last 150 years, you have lost Europe, Canada, New Zeland and Australia. USA is your last foothold. When India and/or China shock America with another “sputnik”, you guys will be sent packing.

Green said: So it seems the Darwinian account still falls quite far short of any satisfactory biochemical explanation.

Who made you the keeper of what counts as satisfactory? It seems to me utility is a far better metric than some arbitrary bar of satisfaction - a hypothesis is useful when it explains something about eye formation, and the more it explains, the more useful it is.

But at least your concept eliminates ID entirely. If you’re ruling out evolution because it explains everything but the origin of the biochemical phototransduction cascade, clearly you must rule out other hypotheses that don’t explain anything about eye formation, including the cascade.

Also, Re-your first comment Art - surely you realise that the origin of a new opsin is a far cry from the origin of a whole cascade? did you not read my first comment on that?

Green said:

Also, Re-your first comment Art - surely you realise that the origin of a new opsin is a far cry from the origin of a whole cascade? did you not read my first comment on that?

Ok, so if the “whole cascade” is not “yet” explained, at what point would you be satisfied that science, namely evolutionary biology, is providing testable hypotheses and making progress toward the full explanation??

And what explanation(s) are creationists offering? Have they *demonstrated* the origin of any part of the photoreceptor structure?

Sitting back and nitpicking about not having the full cascade worked out is a bit disingenuous. Evolutionary biology provided us (so far) with the fact that variation in the mechanism of photoreception among organisms exists *at all*, and has gone further to provide a roadmap for how to figure out the rest of the explanation.

Even though I hate football: Imagine two different coaches on the sidelines – one coach has a playbook and a strategy for getting the team into the end zone. The other coach just stands on the sidelines and screams, “You haven’t scored a touchdown yet!” Although it is not guaranteed that the coach with the plan will score everytime the team has the ball, at least he’s working on it. What is the other coach doing? Exactly what creationists do to the science “team.”

Even worse, creationists stand on the sidelines and deny that any touchdowns have been scored all season let alone during that one game.

Metaphor over.

Dear Richard,

Hope Ken’s book isn’t having the same kind effect on you that Dembski’s might with an IDiot creo. BTW, Francisco Ayala has an elegant examination of the evolution of the eye in invertebrates and vertebrates in his latest book.

Cheers,

John

Green said:

It’s quite clear you need *numerous* *simultaneous* mutations before any functional advantage is conferred. Doesn’t sound too Darwinian to me.

P.S., Isn’t the “numerous simultaneous mutations required” argument something Behe has tried to use before and had smacked down repeatedly with HIV evolution, blot clot evolution, immune system evolution, etc. etc.

KP - see my comment 8.

Also, I agree that it’s good that people are trying to provide detailed explanations e.g. Oakley and Pankey, since, like they say, a biochemical explanation is required.

However, what I object to the parading of these examples as triumphs of evolutionary theory, when they clearly they are not. Blog titles such as this one give the false impression that evolutionary theory has explained the evolution of complex organs like the eye. However, if people actually read the papers, they would realise that it hasn’t.

Bottom line is that most people will not read the papers cited, and then they’ll ignorantly join in with the ID bashing. That’s what I object to, and that’s why I’m pointing out the flaws.

Green wrote

However, what I object to the parading of these examples as triumphs of evolutionary theory, when they clearly they are not. Blog titles such as this one give the false impression that evolutionary theory has explained the evolution of complex organs like the eye. However, if people actually read the papers, they would realise that it hasn’t.

As noted above, it comes a whole lot closer to an explanation than “We don’t know anything so God/aliens/the Matrix did it.”

Moreover, as the coaching example above illustrates, ID has no resources beyond “That’s not good enough.” Not “Gee, we’ve learned a fair amount,” not “We’re further along than we were 10 or 20 or 50 years ago,” not “We have fruitful directions for research,” not “As we accumulate more knowledge the gaps get smaller and smaller.” Just a bare appeal to incompleteness, as though a jigsaw puzzle that’s 2/3s completed is equivalent to a random pile of pieces.

When they’re not merely misrepresenting actual knowledge (e.g. Icons of Evolution), ID creationists creep around in the shadows at the margins of genuine knowledge, claiming that this or that isn’t “satisfactorily” explained, but will they themselves ever offer something useful to the sum of human knowledge, something based on their magical thinking that they want to replace naturalistic science? Perish the thought. And when some light is shown on them in their current shadow, they scuttle off to another.

Green said:

Bottom line is that most people will not read the papers cited, and then they’ll ignorantly join in with the ID bashing. That’s what I object to, and that’s why I’m pointing out the flaws.

ID bashing? ID has give us nothing to bash! Mechanisms? Testable hypotheses? Data? Anything other than dishonest and ultimately empty rhetoric?

Matt G said:

ID bashing? ID has give us nothing to bash! Mechanisms? Testable hypotheses? Data? Anything other than dishonest and ultimately empty rhetoric?

Sorry- Has *given* us nothing to bash.

Green said:

Yeah I knew that co-option thing would be coming. Turns out there was a mistake in that Oakley and Pankey paper.

The yeast intracellular signalling cascade turns out not to be homologous in any way to the metazoan signalling cascade. It just got published before the authors realised.

The comment is wrong. There is not a mistake in our paper, and there are elements of homology between yeast and metazoan GPCR cascades. This commenter apparently misinterpreted an email I sent to her, when s/he feigned interest in the biology for an undergraduate paper s/he was supposedly writing. I plan to recount the details of this exchange, and the details of the biology very soon on my blog Evolutionary Novelties.

I had no idea such a journal existed; this is quite exciting. Thanks a bunch for the tip!

For the Google impaired (Green?) Oakley’s blog is here. The post is not yet up. I’ll flag it here when it’s up.

Green said:

Biochemical details is what we’ve been asking for all along! Not more gene comparisons or morphological descriptions.

I am not clear who ‘we’ is, but can you back this claim with any citation from, say, the first 100 years since the publication of ‘Origin of Species’? How about pre-1990? Or pre-2000? Last year?

What steps have you (by which I mean the people included in ‘we’) taken to determine the details? It seems to me that the sole contribution of IDers/creationists has been to stand on the sidelines shouting ‘You ain’t doing it right!’

Green said:

like they say, a biochemical explanation is required.

A biochemical explanation is not required. Here’s why:

We don’t have a chemical explanation of crystallization … we don’t know how to calculate where facets will be, we don’t know why solids melt into liquids at a fixed temperature rather than get softer and softer continuously, we can’t predict the melting temperature of even the simplest solid, we can’t predict the phase diagram of even the simplest binary alloy. There’s a lot we don’t know about crystallization.

Yet this ignorance is not evidence against atomic theory. We have ample evidence that atoms exist, so we hold that atoms exist even though atomicity cannot (at present) explain all aspects of crystallization.

The situation is similar with evolution. Perhaps we don’t have a detailed biochemical explanation for the evolution of some particular biochemical pathway. It would always be good to have such an explanation, because knowledge is better than ignorance. But even the absence of such knowledge does not negate the ample evidence that evolution happens.

Green Wrote:

A minimum no. of components are needed simultaneously for this cascade, otherwise no light signal is transduced and no selection pressure is exerted.

This is simply another example of one of the Fundamental Misconceptions of ID/Creationists; namely that complex systems are assembled by a specified permutation of random independent events. It is an extension of the ID/Creationist claim that science says that order and complexity come from the purposeless elastic collisions among featureless particles.

Complex systems and emergent properties are among the most common phenomena in the universe. It happens at every level of complexity; and it doesn’t follow any recipe dictated by ID/Creationists. ID/Creationists never show any awareness of this fundamental fact. Even further, they cannot elucidate any mechanism in nature that is a barrier to these processes continuing right on up and into living systems.

These kinds of misconceptions by ID/Creationists such as Green are the shibboleths that tell us how their misconceptions were constructed and why. This pseudo-science has been constructed to support sectarian dogma, and it becomes, in effect, part of the major tenets of their sectarian dogma. The dogma cannot stand up without these misconceptions.

Green said:

Yeah I knew that co-option thing would be coming.

Then why did you say, “It’s quite clear you need *numerous* *simultaneous* mutations before any functional advantage is conferred. Doesn’t sound too Darwinian to me.”

Are you some sort of fundamentalist creationist or something? They always have a lot of troubles keeping track of their thoughts or someting.

I know this is off topic, but I want to alert everyone to a terrible new book that is out. “10 Books That Screwed Up The World”, by Benjamin Wiker. One of those books is Darwin’s “Descent Of Man”. It is the old ‘Darwin To Hitler’ charge, AGAIN. There were lots of positive reviews on Amazon.com. I tried to comment there but couldn’t, because I never bought a book. The nerve!!!

Green’s is the usual creationist/ID schtick: “You can’t explain everything to my personal satisfaction, therefore you can’t explain anything.”

Forget that all the evidence that does exist corroborates evolution, and that it’s plentiful. Never mind that no other explanation exists for which any genuine evidence can be found at all. Discard the fact that it is sheer intransigent lunacy to ask for perfect knowledge of anything whatsoever. None of this matters. What matters is how it plays to the gallery.

It’s as dishonest as the gypsy switch and as easy as pie. No wonder the creobots love it so.

Frank B said:

I know this is off topic, but I want to alert everyone to a terrible new book that is out. “10 Books That Screwed Up The World”, by Benjamin Wiker. One of those books is Darwin’s “Descent Of Man”. It is the old ‘Darwin To Hitler’ charge, AGAIN. There were lots of positive reviews on Amazon.com. I tried to comment there but couldn’t, because I never bought a book. The nerve!!!

I am shocked – shocked! – that a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s “Center for Science and Culture” would write a book that included the “Darwin to Hitler” charge.

What next, a movie?

I don’t know if it’s been mentioned, but I wanted to note that it appears that all of the contents of this journal are available for free on line, not just this special issue. Lots of interesting stuff!

Science Avenger said:

SWT said:

Science Avenger said:

Really? Rattle off a few of the reasonless tactics creationists use. Examples would be nice.

I’m totally confused by this comment in the context of your past posting – would you please clarify your point here?

Sure. Creationists play a rhetorical game where they simultaneously claim their side isn’t doing X, yet when they see an opportunity to criticize the other side for doing so, they change their view 180 degrees and suddenly they are indeed doing X, but scientists are too, so the scientists are hypocrites. We see this a lot in politics as well: We aren’t doing that, but if we are, your side is doing it worse.

The way to take away that wiggle room is to force them to commit one way or another as to what their side is doing before entertaining any discussion of what the other side is doing. So, TTOMN has claimed that both scientists and creationists are using reasonless tactics. I want to hear about the reasonless tactics of the creationists first. Then we’ll move on to what the scientists are doing.

More classic creationist double standards and lies. We have some asshat come in here and whine about “evolutionists” supposedly sinking to the creationists’ level. Of course no example is shown and not the slightest speck of evidence is offered to support this claim. But even if it were true, it’s a clear admission that what the creationists are doing is WRONG, and since they have used these tactics for decades, THEY should be the ones criticised for it. Yet the asshat has no interest in doing so. He’s screaming “a plague on both your houses”, but doing it in front of only ONE house, the one that even he admits is less guilty. And of course failing to offer the slightest evidence of any guilt at all on the part of his targets, while the guilt of those he doesn’t even bother to criticise is obvious.

D. P. Robin Wrote:

A new “Scopes” law would simply be taken to court and rejected before it could ever be implemented.

Sure, but note that I’m not recommended that they take the Scopes era approach at all, but rather to eliminate all references, direct or indirect, to religious views, and actually do what they are fooling most people that they are doing. But they know that they can’t, so they’ll continue to cheat.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on December 9, 2008 2:02 PM.

Dr. Michael Egnor: Neurosurgeon, Stony Brook Faculty, and all around Dishonest Twit was the previous entry in this blog.

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