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How molecular biology has ‘annihilated the tree of life’10 min read

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The Center for Science and Culture, the primary Intelligent Design think tank, has published a fantastic article cataloging the latest chaos of the phyolgenetic trees, the basic collapse of the tree of life as DNA data flows in.  Below are some excerpted quotes from An Analysis of the Expert Testimony of Prof. David Hillis before the Texas State Board of Education.

I’ve mentioned before that those who pin their hopes of biological origins on Darwinian gradualism or common descent are dreamers who pretend the data exists to verify their origins myth.  For them, it’s ‘as sure as gravity,’ no matter what the evidence, or lack of, as we shall see.

When the frailty of their phylogenetic trees are displayed, they retort with ‘that’s how science works – we have a good model, and we are improving it.’  But as I asked in Evolutionary Trees – In Flux or Broken and Bogus?, when is a model so poor at accommodating existing data and predicting future results that we need to abandon it?

The problem for evolutionists is that most lack the courage to follow the data wherever it leads – most are definitely NOT open to discarding common descent, because the alternative, intelligent design, is outside of their narrow materialist view – they only see that as a ‘God in the gaps’ argument, and nothing more.

ANYWAY, as more genetic information has come out, the case for any intelligible tree of life is being ‘annihilated.’ As I predicted in Fossil evidence sends human evolution theory into tailspin:

We can expect that the more data we get, the more “surprises” evolutionists will find, because their lousy model is piss-poor at predicting much of anything, and the more “complex” (read “convoluted”) their theory will have to become in order to make it accommodate reality.

It’s a bad day to be a religious evolutionist (that’s most of them ;).  I’m just quoting the scientific excerpts – read the article for a discussion of each, and how they show a pattern, um, no pattern in the mythical ‘tree of life.’

‘For a long time the holy grail was to build a tree of life,’ says Eric Bapteste, an evolutionary biologist at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France. A few years ago it looked as though the grail was within reach. But today the project lies in tatters, torn to pieces by an onslaught of negative evidence. Many biologists now argue that the tree concept is obsolete and needs to be discarded. ‘We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality,’ says Bapteste. That bombshell has even persuaded some that our fundamental view of biology needs to change. ~ Graham Lawton, “Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life,” New Scientist (January 21, 2009) (emphasis added).

The problems began in the early 1990s when it became possible to sequence actual bacterial and archaeal genes rather than just RNA. Everybody expected these DNA sequences to confirm the RNA tree, and sometimes they did but, crucially, sometimes they did not. RNA, for example, might suggest that species A was more closely related to species B than species C, but a tree made from DNA would suggest the reverse…‘The problem was that different genes told contradictory evolutionary stories,’ therefore leading Syvanen to say regarding the relationships of these higher groups, ‘We’ve just annihilated the tree of life.’ ~ Graham Lawton, “Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life,” New Scientist (January 21, 2009).

Molecular phylogenists will have failed to find the ‘true tree,’ not because their methods are inadequate or because they have chosen the wrong genes, but because the history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree. ~ W. Ford Doolittle, “Phylogenetic Classification and the Universal Tree,” Science, Vol. 284:2124-2128 (June 25, 1999).

Syvanen recently compared 2000 genes that are common to humans, frogs, sea squirts, sea urchins, fruit flies and nematodes. In theory, he should have been able to use the gene sequences to construct an evolutionary tree showing the relationships between the six animals. He failed. The problem was that different genes told contradictory evolutionary stories. This was especially true of sea-squirt genes. Conventionally, sea squirts – also known as tunicates – are lumped together with frogs, humans and other vertebrates in the phylum Chordata, but the genes were sending mixed signals. Some genes did indeed cluster within the chordates, but others indicated that tunicates should be placed with sea urchins, which aren’t chordates. ‘Roughly 50 per cent of its genes have one evolutionary history and 50 per cent another,’ Syvanen says. ~ Graham Lawton, “Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life,” New Scientist (January 21, 2009).

Despite the amount of data and breadth of taxa analyzed, relationships among most [animal] phyla remained unresolved. ~ Antonis Rokas, Dirk Krueger, Sean B. Carroll, “Animal Evolution and the Molecular Signature of Radiations Compressed in Time,” Science, Vol. 310:1933-1938 (Dec. 23, 2005).

Carl Woese, the father of evolutionary molecular systematics, observed that these problems extend well beyond the base of the tree of life: ‘Phylogenetic incongruities [conflicts] can be seen everywhere in the universal tree, from its root to the major branchings within and among the various taxa to the makeup of the primary groupings themselves.’ ~ Carl Woese “The Universal Ancestor,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Vol. 95:6854-9859 (June, 1998) (emphasis added).

“A large fraction of single genes produce phylogenies of poor quality,’ observing that one study ‘omitted 35% of single genes from their data matrix, because those genes produced phylogenies at odds with conventional wisdom….certain critical parts of the [tree of life] may be difficult to resolve, regardless of the quantity of conventional data available….[t]he recurring discovery of persistently unresolved clades (bushes) should force a re-evaluation of several widely held assumptions of molecular systematics.’ ~ Antonis Rokas & Sean B. Carroll, “Bushes in the Tree of Life,” PLOS Biology, Vol 4(11): 1899-1904 (Nov., 2006) (internal citations and figures omitted).

Many biologists claim they know for sure that random mutation (purposeless chance) is the source of inherited variation that generates new species of life and that life evolved in a single-common-trunk, dichotomously branching-phylogenetic-tree pattern! But she dissents from that view and attacks the dogmatism of evolutionary systematists, noting that ‘[e]specially dogmatic are those molecular modelers of the ‘tree of life’ who, ignorant of alternative topologies (such as webs), don’t study ancestors.’ ~ Lynn Margulis, ‘The Phylogenetic Tree Topples,’ American Scientist, Vol 94 (3) (May-June, 2006).

As morphologists with high hopes of molecular systematics, we end this survey with our hopes dampened. Congruence between molecular phylogenies is as elusive as it is in morphology and as it is between molecules and morphology. ~ Patterson et al., “Congruence between Molecular and Morphological Phylogenies,” Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Vol 24, pg. 179 (1993)

That molecular evidence typically squares with morphological patterns is a view held by many biologists, but interestingly, by relatively few systematists. Most of the latter know that the two lines of evidence may often be incongruent. ~ Masami Hasegawa, Jun Adachi, Michel C. Milinkovitch, “Novel Phylogeny of Whales Supported by Total Molecular Evidence,” Journal of Molecular Evolution, Vol. 44, pgs. S117-S120 (Supplement 1, 1997)

Evolutionary trees constructed by studying biological molecules often don’t resemble those drawn up from morphology. When biologists talk of the ‘evolution wars’, they usually mean the ongoing battle for supremacy in American schoolrooms between Darwinists and their creationist opponents. But the phrase could also be applied to a debate that is raging within systematics. On one side stand traditionalists who have built evolutionary trees from decades of work on species’ morphological characteristics. On the other lie molecular systematists, who are convinced that comparisons of DNA and other biological molecules are the best way to unravel the secrets of evolutionary history….

So can the disparities between molecular and morphological trees ever be resolved? Some proponents of the molecular approach claim there is no need. The solution, they say, is to throw out morphology, and accept their version of the truth. ‘Our method provides the final conclusion about phylogeny,’ claims Okada. Shared ancestry means a genetic relationship, the molecular camp argues, so it must be better to analyse DNA and the proteins it encodes, rather than morphological characters that can end up looking similar as a result of convergent evolution in unrelated groups, rather than through common descent. But morphologists respond that convergence can also happen at the molecular level, and note there is a long history of systematists making large claims based on one new form of evidence, only to be proved wrong at a later date. ~ Trisha Gura, ‘Bones, Molecules or Both?,’ Nature, Vol. 406:230-233 (July 20, 2000) (emphasis added).

A review article in the journal Bioessays reported that despite a vast increase in the amount of data since Darwin’s time, ‘our ability to reconstruct accurately the tree of life may not have improved significantly over the last 100 years,’ and that, ‘[d]espite increasing methodological sophistication, phylogenies derived from morphology, and those inferred from molecules, are not always converging on a consensus.’ ~ W. W. De Jong, ‘Molecules remodel the mammalian tree,’ Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Vol 13(7):270-274 (July 7, 1998).

Again, there is much more in this article, including scientific refutation of the idea that selection, even artificial selection, can produce any meaningful DNA information, evidential and logical defenses of irreducible complexity, and evidence of the great weaknesses of evolution.  It’s scope is impressive.

Articles like this renew my belief that evolution is a house of cards, buttressed, not by facts, but by people’s great need to have an origins myth that contradicts the creation story of the Bible.