A good bit more now than a decade ago I was a member of Steve Sailer’s HBD (Human Biodiversity) mailing list. This dealt with (who would have thought it’) human biodiversity, meaning such things as evolution, racial differences, evolutionary psychology, and genetics. It was a bright and usually congenial group, if doctrinaire, from which I was dropped for, I think, apostasy. My sin, as best I could tell, was expressing doubts about Darwinism. This is something that One Doesn’t Do.
Among the members were Greg Cochran, a physicist; John Derbyshire, a mathematician by training and political philosopher by preference; and Razib Khan, currently a brilliant geneticist. All seemed decent sorts. Of all it could be said that if self-assurance were oil, they could use Saudi Arabia as a doorstop.
The list tolerated my heterodoxy, barely, for a bit. Several said that I wanted to destroy science. I would have thought this beyond my powers, but perhaps I underestimate myself. Finally Razib exploded in fury at questions I asked, deleted everything by or about me on his website, Gnxp.com, did not answer my questions, and threatened to banish from Gnxp all of what he called “Fred Reed clones.”
This seemed excessive in response to a negligible blogger expressing curiosity about evolution. However I was made to understand that I had done the Darwinian equivalent of questioning the tripartite nature of Christ. I was, Razib said, arrogant.
This in particular surprised me. I had asked questions. A question is an admission of ignorance. How is that arrogant? I had made, and make, no claims to authority in genetics or related fields. I have none and pretend to none. That is why I asked simple questions. They were the only kind I could ask.
Well, all right, I thought. The web is a dark and savage place, rather like a biker bar though with higher syllabic density. And Razib wasn’t unique. There are in fact others on the web who dislike me.I find incomprehensible as I am sure that I am a splendid fellow.
Well and good. Then, a few months back, I found on the Unz Review a piece by John Derbyshire, in which he denounced Intelligent Design. This–ID–is the view that life looks more designed than accidental. Seething Darwinians equate doubts about evolutionary mechanisms with ID, and then with Biblical Creationism, and then with snake-handling primitive Baptists with three teeth in North Carolina. This chain has more of polemical convenience than of logical connection, but never mind.
Derbyshire’s article was more a credo than an argument, amounting to a long exhalation of haughty disdain (John is British) approximating: “ah, well, you know, these poor fools, what can you expect from such benighted, oh, ‘tis sad,” and the like.
Since he is quite bright, it is possible that he knows a great deal of the biological bases of doubts about Le Grand Chuck, but if so, he keeps it to himself.
Razib, however, is another matter. He certainly has the intelligence and training to dispel simple doubts about aspects of evolution. If he can’t, it is likely that nobody can. He is said not to suffer fools gladly, but perhaps he would suffer this one shortly.
But first, an apology to readers. Some of this requires more familiarity with matters evolutionary than constitutes a reasonable allocation of time for those with good sense. Providing background would require tens of thousands of words. I beg indulgence. Anyway, questions, some of which got me consigned to HBD perdition.
First, from what simpler coding system did the three-nucleotides-per-codon system arise by gradual and beneficial steps? Two nucleotides and a maximum of sixteen aminos? This seems to me a straightforward question about a simple and well-understood coding mechanism which, lacking a clear answer, would seem irreducibly complex.
Second, male homosexuality seems evolutionarily mysterious. It is not clear how one passes along one’s genes by not passing them along, or at least not to women, which would seem an evolutionarily necessary part of the transference. Greg Cochran solved this apparently intractable puzzle by postulating that a virus caused homosexuality. Has this virus been found? If not, might one suspect its nonexistence?
Third, can the evolution of Behe’s flagellum by gradual beneficial steps from earlier structures be explained? An answer, to be an answer, will require a chain of specific events and an explanation of the benefits that would keep them in existence while awaiting the next step.
The only answers I have seen to the foregoing questions have been that although we do not know the answer now, we do not doubt that answers will eventually be found. Yet while the assertion that answers will one day be found cannot be refuted, it is equally consistent with the possibility that there are no answers.
Fourth, if I may, a question more philosophical than technical regarding the chance beginning of life:
Molecular biology has existed for a considerable time and is now a mature science. How many more years, decades, or centuries must pass without the mechanism of abiogenesis being found before it becomes permissible to ask whether it actually happened? The simpler we posit the first life to have been, the harder to explain why millions of scientists have not found it, and the more complex we posit it to have been, the less likely that it happened at all.
The question has no specific answer, but brings to mind the Philosopher’s Stone, perpetual motion, phlogiston, and the luminiferous ether.
Fifth, evolution is said to retain the beneficial and discard the neutral or deleterious. An almost unlimited list of traits that seem to violate this principle can be adduced.
For example,nerve tissue in the kidneys makes kidney stones agonizing to the point of paralysis. Yet there was nothing at all the victim could do about kidney stones until recent times. What is the survival benefit of such nerves? Similarly, what is the benefit to survival of migraines? The victim can do nothing, and curling up on the ground and screaming seems of limited value.
Sixth, more a comment than a question: Just as Cochran’s Virus, for which there is no evidence, seems a desperate attempt to explain the evolutionarily embarrassing matter of male homosexuality; and the Multiverse, for which there is no evidence, to explain the appearance of Anthropic Principle; and Punctuated Equilibrium to explain the absence of desired fossils, so RNA World, for which as far as I know there is no convincing, much less persuasive, evidence, seems an unsupported attempt to avoid the apparently inexplicable disinclination of abiogenesis to have happened.
En fin, since the aforementioned men seem to want to vanquish doubters, and a large public interests itself in these matters, there would seem a chance to put paid to the doubts above. I cannot imagine that a geneticist would need more than half an hour.
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