This is a question posed by biochemist Michael Behe, well known critic of Darwinian evolutionary theory, in his recent book Darwin Devolves¹. He invites readers to consider a sentence from an article in Scientific American, “Humans have evolved a sense of self that is unparalleled in its complexity”, then contrast it with “Humans have a sense of self that is unparalleled in its complexity”. He then asks: “what information has been lost by deleting the word ‘evolved’? There have been no studies demonstrating how evolutionary processes could produce a mind with a sense of self… In fact, the word ‘evolved’ in the sentence carries no information. It’s just a science-y, content-free salute to the notion that everything about living beings… simply must have come about by the ordinary evolutionary processes that biologists study” (p23).
He offers further examples:
- “Birds like the silky flycatcher… that are mistletoe specialists have evolved a ‘waggle dance’ ”. He again asks what information would be lost if the word ‘evolved’ were omitted: “The word does no real work. It’s pretend knowledge”.
- “Every cell has evolved mechanisms that identify and eliminate misfolded and unassembled proteins” (from an article in a very technical journal). Behe comments: “But in fact we have no actual knowledge of how such sophisticated mechanisms could have come about by evolutionary means. We barely know what changes in modern cellular systems would help or hinder their work. Now, reread the quote, this time leaving out the word ‘evolved’. What knowledge has been lost? None at all”.
Behe describes this use of the word ‘evolved’ as a “territorial imperative to plant Darwin’s flag everywhere”, and a “habit of reflexively affirming current evolutionary theory”.
I was reminded of the above passage as I was reading an article in the current edition of New Scientist, where the author said: “It may seem improbable that life could survive among ice crystals, given its dependence on liquid water, but microbes have evolved ingenious ways of eking out a living in snow”². I’m sure that Behe would say that the word ‘evolved’ in this sentence adds no extra knowledge, and is therefore superfluous. Again, we do not know how such sophisticated mechanisms could have come about by evolutionary means.
The issue is far more important than being merely a careless use of words. As Behe says, the continual use of the word ‘evolved’ subconsciously reinforces the supposed truth of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, which says that natural selection acts unintelligently and without purpose upon random genetic mutations. If microbes do indeed have ingenious ways of eking out a living in snow, is it not more reasonable to assume that some intelligence lies behind the process? That is, after all, what ‘ingenious’ means.
The article went on to say that, to the researchers’ surprise, “In the snow they discovered a rich hidden ecosystem of algae, fungi and “bacteria”. One of them, Shawn Brown, is quoted: “I was just blown away by the biodiversity”.
The article further said that “snow microbes play a role in cycling nutrients and carbon. They may be tiny but, given that snow covers a third of land on Earth, they could have an overlooked impact on the planet’s health and climate”. This lends credence to the idea that the Earth is a self-regulating, living superorganism, in accordance with James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, an idea that neo-Darwinian theory considers heretical.
1. HarperOne, 2019
2. “Deep and crisp and living: How snow sustains amazing hidden life” by Claire Ainsworth, issue 3261, December 21st 2019. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24432611-100-deep-and-crisp-and-living-how-snow-sustains-amazing-hidden-life/