For the end of the week from Brian we have Lab Studies Show Evolutionary ‘Evidence’ Is Merely Assumed. It’s about a (freely available) Nature feature on Joe Thornton, called Prehistoric proteins: Raising the dead.
Brian has written articles on Dr Thornton before. Back in 2009, some years before I started here, he wrote Irreversible Complexity–Evolution Loses Another Round. This was on a paper, An epistatic ratchet constrains the direction of glucocorticoid receptor evolution, described by the Nature feature like so:
In a final chapter to the story, Thornton tried to run that evolutionary sequence backwards. But when the researchers reversed the seven mutations in the ancient cortisol-specific form, they could not transform it back into a protein that worked like the common ancestor of the GR and MR. They instead engineered a dud, unable to respond to any hormone. That was because a handful of other mutations had also cropped up on the way to making a cortisol-specific receptor. They played little part in the receptor’s new function, but acted as an evolutionary ratchet, preventing it from regaining its old one.
Thornton showed that it was necessary to undo those mutations too, to reverse the change. To him, the work was a powerful demonstration that the path of evolution can be contingent on random events.
Brian tried to spin this as showing irreducible complexity, even though it in fact showed the opposite.
Later, early this year, was Study Finds Molecules Evolving in Wrong Direction. As this was much more recent I have already been over it, briefly in Molecules; Paddlefish; Whale Brains; and Dog Paws – the week of Jan 23. The paper that was about can be found here, and there was also a news release, though neither are free to read.
As for this one, Brian’s latest covers little new. He accuses Thornton of “only [being] willing to entertain evolutionary origins, even if the data suggested non-evolutionary causes.”
This is analogous to accusing a person attempting to determine the true cause of lightning, and who is fairly sure at this point that it’s not supernatural, of not being prepared to accept that Goddidit. At any rate, it doesn’t look like Thornton’s data actually does ‘suggest’ that it was God here. Nevertheless, Brian goes over his previous articles to try to show that it does:
Thornton’s lab efforts have actually highlighted exactly why living systems like protein receptors had to have been created. For example, his 2009 experiments demonstrated how one particular protein could not evolve into another by incremental changes, inadvertently refuting evolution.
As you can see from the Nature quote I gave above, that’s not a correct conclusion to draw from what he did. Brian also says:
And earlier in 2012, Thornton’s lab reverse-engineered mutations in a degraded protein. The lab replaced the putative original single protein with a less efficient conglomeration of broken-down proteins. The resulting cellular machine could do the job, but not nearly as well—like two men running a sack race against one man running normally. And both the cells and the scientists started with fully formed proteins—the very items whose origin was supposed to be under investigation.
Again, not a valid conclusion. I’m fairly certain that saying that “The resulting cellular machine could do the job, but not nearly as well” is completely incorrect. The creationists are just annoyed that he demonstrated an increase in complexity via devolution.
Thornton’s work shows that some of the best “evidence” for evolution merely assumes it.
Something like that… I’ve emailed Thornton to tell him about this article, as he apparently enjoys annoying creationists. “Thornton says that he didn’t set out to refute intelligent design, but the prospect of a fight hardly put him off. “Been there, enjoyed that,” he says.” But Brian’s arguments here are so without substance that I don’t even really need him to confirm that.
Hopefully the watermark under quotes from Thomas should be a little more visible here. If not I’ll try a background colour next week.