Friday, September 27, 2013

antibiotic resistance: is evolution a fact?

Sometimes an ID proponent gets caught up in hyper-adaptationists' conflation of evolution with Darwinism, that he/she starts to borrow the use of "evolution" as a shorthand for neo-Darwinism.  Descent with modification, on one hand, has a compelling case that can be made for it, much more compelling than neo-Darwinism, and I'm not sure how much more compelling the case for DwM has been made since Darwin made it, but it is still compelling.  What it means is another story entirely, and there are many ways to get descent with modification.  For example, Michael Behe believes so many mainstream things about evolution that it seems utterly absurd to call him a creationist -- I'd say, it is absurd for any other reason than a political one, and I'm sure there are some obvious political reasons for Eugenie Scott and Barbara Forrest to call him a creationist.   However, Behe essentially believes in descent with modification and in some version of common ancestry.

So on the one hand, I would prefer ID proponents not get caught up in the game of "Duck Season, Rabbit Season" and use "evolution" as a shorthand for undirected evolution with complexity built via natural selection.  Evolution is so vague to be almost a useless word in biology except for the most general concept of apparent vast changes of ecosystems over the billenia.

Still, the vast awe-inspiring wisdom of Judge Jones the Third notwithstanding, those that are less than impressed with DwM often make good points themselves, and unlike Dawkins and others like him infected with The Smug, I think they often make good points.

On that note, from "Is Evolution A Fact":
Nobel laureate Sir Ernest Chain (credited with purifying penicillin in a way that made it possible to employ it as an antibiotic) wrote in agreement.  
To postulate that the development and survival of the fittest is entirely a consequence of chance mutations seems to me a hypothesis based on no evidence and irreconcilable with the facts. These classical evolutionary theories are a gross oversimplification of an immensely complex and intricate mass of facts, and it amazes me that they are swallowed so uncritically and readily, and for such a long time, by so many scientists without a murmur of protest” (1970, p. 1, emp. added).
Now consider Sir Chain's statement as you read this bit of Doonesbury satire:

I don't understand.  How did Sir Chain do any science with penicillin without true belief in natural selection?  He isn't a true believer like cartoonist Gary Trudeau.  Trudeau has the sense to believe in antibiotics.   Actually, exactly how do we treat resistant strains other than just trying different antibiotics until we find one to which the strain isn't resistant?  Exactly how did neo-Darwinism.  How does Fisher's mathematics guide my primary care physician's choice of antibiotics?  Trudeau seems to know.

Although Trudeau seems to actually believe the false dichotomy between neo-Darwinism and Biblical literalism, and he seems completely unaware of the difference between microevolution and macroevolution. (Once you have an idea of artificial selection--as any ancient animal breeder would--does antibiotic resistance really seem counter-intuitive?)   But he is a cartoonist, and he seems bursting with pride over his anti-religious sensibilities.  So believe like Trudeau.

Dr. Sean D. Pitman in "Stepping Stones" offers a meaningful explanation:
In the case of de novo antibiotic resistance, such rapid evolution is made possible because there are so many beneficial "steppingstones" so close together, right beside what the bacterial colony already has. Success is only one or two mutational steps away in many different directions since a multitude of different single mutations will result in a beneficial increase in resistance. How is this possible? 
In short, this is made possible because of the way in which antibiotics work. All antibiotics attack rather specific target sequences inside certain bacteria. Many times all the colony under attack has to do is alter the target sequence in just one bacterium by one or two genetic "characters" and resistance will be gained since the offspring of this resistant bacterium, being more fit than their peers, will take over the colony in short order. A simple "spelling change" made the target less recognizable to the antibiotic, and so the antibiotic became less effective. In other words, the pre-established antibiotic- target interaction was damaged or destroyed by one or two monkey-wrench mutations. As with Humpty Dumpty and all the king's men, it is far easier to destroy or interfere with a pre-established function or interaction than it is to create a new one, since there are so many more ways to destroy than there are to create.

Here is an interesting statement as well by Prof. James M. Tour:
Let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science – with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. I have sat with them, and when I get them alone, not in public – because it’s a scary thing, if you say what I just said – I say, “Do you understand all of this, where all of this came from, and how this happens?” Every time that I have sat with people who are synthetic chemists, who understand this, they go “Uh-uh. Nope.” These people are just so far off, on how to believe this stuff came together.  I’ve sat with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. Sometimes I will say, “Do you understand this?”And if they’re afraid to say “Yes,” they say nothing. They just stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do it. 
I was once brought in by the Dean of the Department, many years ago, and he was a chemist. He was kind of concerned about some things. I said, “Let me ask you something. You’re a chemist. Do you understand this? How do you get DNA without a cell membrane? And how do you get a cell membrane without a DNA? And how does all this come together from this piece of jelly?” We have no idea, we have no idea. I said, “Isn’t it interesting that you, the Dean of science, and I, the chemistry professor, can talk about this quietly in your office, but we can’t go out there and talk about this?”
I don't understand.  I thought evolution was so simple that even a million monkeys sitting at typewriters could understand it...  !!!   Maybe Prof. Tour has a science-poor background.
Professor James M. Tour is one of the ten most cited chemists in the world. He is famous for his work on nanocars (pictured above, courtesy of Wikipedia), nanoelectronics, graphene nanostructures, carbon nanovectors in medicine, and green carbon research for enhanced oil recovery and environmentally friendly oil and gas extraction. He is currently a Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Computer Science, and Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Rice University. He has authored or co-authored 489 scientific publications and his name is on 36 patents. Although he does not regard himself as an Intelligent Design theorist, Professor Tour, along with over 700 other scientists, took the courageous step back in 2001 of signing the Discovery Institute’s “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism”
What a dunce!  I don't know.  I think Prof. Tour just can't grasp a heady concept like macroevolution through natural selection.  No doubt explainable by the Salem Hypothesis.

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