New discoveries are emerging thick and fast in the wake of the recent debunking of the ‘junk DNA’ myth.
Now that scientists are looking carefully at what they had previously dismissed as ‘junk’ left over by the process of evolution, they are finding important information to which they had previously been blind.
One such discovery, relating to cancer-causing mutations, was reported in the 24 January issue of Science express. The researchers describe how, for the first time, two mutations linked to melanoma have been found in what is now being referred to as ‘genetic dark matter’. They regard this as the ‘initial foray’ into the ‘vast regions’ of non-protein-coding DNA.
This helpful finding raises an important wider issue. To what extent has progress in biology, medicine or other areas of science been hindered by the stranglehold that Darwinian evolutionary theory has held, and still largely holds, over the scientific community?
There are at least two other instances, in addition to the mistaken view that most of the DNA is ‘junk’, where this clearly seems to have been the case.
The first relates to the birth of the science of genetics itself in the mid nineteenth century. At the same time as Darwin was publishing Origin of species, the devout monk Gregor Mendel was establishing the basic principles of genetics for the first time.
Mendel accomplished this through careful experimentation and mathematical analysis of his results. Despite the fact that his work was published and quite widely disseminated, it was ignored by the scientific community for the next 40 years.
Long after his death, Mendel was acknowledged as the ‘father’ of modern genetics and the discipline itself was able to take off. It is recognised that the most likely reason for the neglect of Mendel’s groundbreaking work was that it conflicted with Darwinian theory.
Indeed, it is probable that Mendel was motivated to begin his investigations out of concern about the evolutionary ideas that were circulating widely at the time and which culminated in Darwin’s publication.
Mendel himself was a creationist in the tradition of the great eighteenth century biologist, Linnaeus. The proposal that Mendelism conflicted with Darwinism is borne out by the fact that, after Mendelism was fully accepted by the scientific community in the early 1900s, Darwinism went out of fashion in biology.
There seemed to be no way in which Darwinism could be reconciled with genetics. It was not until the 1930s that Darwinism was resurrected in its current version, known as ‘the modern synthesis’, or sometimes as neo-Darwinism.
What was the problem with Mendelism from the Darwinian point of view?
In preparing his theory, Darwin knew nothing about genetics and was, therefore, able to assume that, when creatures differed from their parents in small ways, these small changes were new acquisitions at the genetic level. This was important; small genetic changes were needed to provide material for natural selection to work on.
Mendel established that the changes came about through the redistribution of genetic information that had been present in the parent generation all along.
The modern synthesis subsequently introduced the idea that mutations provide the raw material for the Darwinian process. But it is now increasingly recognised that changes come about through the actions of genetic ‘switches’, located in the ‘junk’ DNA and in epigenetic processes.
The story of genetics provides us with two separate instances of how Darwinian theory has been detrimental to biology. First, it caused a delay of 40 years in the emergence of genetics as a discipline in its own right.
Second, it caused a further delay through the notion that mutation was driving evolution (and hence leaving a trail of ‘junk’), whereas actually the opposite is the case: mutations are damaging changes to an already existing highly complex system.
However, the story does not end there. Biology is not the only discipline to have been damaged by the gradualist thinking that lies at the heart of Darwinism. Darwin openly acknowledged his debt to his friend Charles Lyell, who established and popularised such thinking in the discipline of geology.
When I first began to lecture on creation and evolution in about 1971, the principle of uniformitarianism which Lyell had propounded held complete sway in geology. Any suggestion that the rocks might reveal evidence of past catastrophe, as the early geologists had believed, rather than gradual change, was met with howls of derision.
This all changed in 1973. In that year, geologist Derek Ager published his book The nature of the stratigraphical record, in which he argued that catastrophe was indeed evident in the rocks.
This is now so universally accepted that it is easy to forget that, for more than 100 years, the very hint of such a thing was vehemently denied, a position that surely can’t have done the discipline of geology any good
It is my belief that the verdict of history will be that, far from being an asset to biology and related disciplines, Darwinian thinking will in fact have been greatly to their detriment.
Sylvia Baker PhD, BSc, MSc