by Cornelius Hunter
Have you heard the one about the evolutionist who defined life as things that evolve? Evolutionists have never been too humble about their theory. Farmers must be evolutionists to grow their crops. Doctors must be evolutionists to heal their patients. Scientists must be evolutionists to do their research. In fact without evolution, life itself would be impossible. A sarcastic caricature? Not at all, for evolutionists say all these things. Listening to evolutionists one would think that the life sciences would be crippled without evolutionary theory to guide the way and explain all things. A delusion or simply the hard truth? Let’s have a look at a case study in the life sciences.
At Jacob Sivak’s lab at the University of Waterloo researchers have studied snakes and their vision. Snakes do not have eyelids. Instead they have a clear scale called a spectacle that protects the eyes. Now how a snake just happened to randomly develop a clear scale, so it could see and be selected by natural selection, is unknown.
Did each of the snake’s many scales occasionally develop to be clear due to some strange mutation? And at one point, in the evolution of the snake, did that mutation make the scales over the snake’s eyes clear? How did the snakes survive before that lucky mutation? They would have been blind.
But back to our story. When researcher Kevin van Doorn was examining a snake his instrument detected something strange. van Doorn wasn’t looking for it, but he discovered that blood vessels in the snake’s spectacles might obscure the snake’s vision.
How common it has been in the history of science that researchers have made such accidental discoveries. van Doorn’s discovery is a reminder not of how crucial theories are in guiding researchers to their discoveries, but how capricious the process can be. Breakthroughs often are not so much because of our theories, but in spite of our theories, and this should engender some humility, rather than certainty, about our theories.
But getting back to our story, van Doorn’s next move was to study the blood flow through those blood vessels under different conditions. That was the obvious and natural next move. Sivak and van Doorn didn’t need a theory to tell them what to do. van Doorn found that under normal conditions blood flow through the spectacle was cyclical, with periods of reduced and periods of increased flow, thus allowing improved vision at regular intervals.
But when the snake was exposed to a threatening environment the cycle ceased and the flow was minimal, “thus guaranteeing,” Sivak and van Doorn concluded, “the best possible visual capabilities in times of need.”
It was all reminiscent of Leibniz’ theodicy which recognized that while, yes, evil exists in the world (at least some evil is required, Malebranche had pointed out, otherwise the creation would be no different than the perfect Creator), and in fact a great deal of evil exists, what is optimized is the good-to-evil ratio. There could be less evil, the co-inventor of calculus pointed out, but in that case there would be a great deal less good…
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