October 15, 2013
to be posted on nobabies.net

Charles R. Marshall
Department of Integrative Biology
Director of the Museum of Paleontology
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-4780

Dear Charles Marshall:
I enjoyed your article (Charles R. Marshall, When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship SCIENCE vol. 341 no. 6152 September 29, 2013 page 1344 reviewing  Darwin’s Doubt by Charles R. Marshall) particularly for three reasons.  First it served as a nudge to look at the article by M. Paul Smith and David A. Harper in the same issue.  Their exposition of thinking on the Cambrian explosion was information dense enough so that I was able to refine a notion I have actually been nursing for a while.  My letter to them is already posted on my web site specified above.  I include a paper I was involved in on the off chance you might be interested.  My letter to them is incomplete without it.

The second delight was that you mention that the Cambrian changes were largely due to gene regulatory mechanism changes.  It is one or more such mechanism changes that make up the gist of my letter to them.  At least I am not totally out in the cold on that one however chilly I may be on other points. 

The third delight is that you say you like to hear fundamentally different views.  That’s kind of a specialty of mine.  I have no expectation of revealing any weakness in your own thinking as I perceive none.  But you did say “like” so I thought I’d take the occasion to go completely off the deep end.  This is just for fun.  My work shadows out a new law of nature, and intriguing though that might be the implications are so grim I often wish I had never come here.  I need a little fun.

Let me go off on the word “evolution.”  I notice you do not have occasion to use it.  (I told you your thinking was impeccable.)  Others have pointed out that the “Theory of Evolution” is not in principle disprovable.  No mass of conceivable data can prove or disprove “intelligent design” either.  Yet a lot of innocent ink has been spilled in what would be a debate if only there were a subject for the debate.  But let me go after “evolution” and ponder just how undisprovable it really is.

Years ago I had a grasp on the concept.  My third grade teacher left out a pamphlet that described the fossil record beginning with the Cambrian.  She didn’t teach it; I think that was forbidden then in our state.  But a child could see the evidence.  When years later somebody started laboriously describing Darwin’s ideas my reaction was, “Of course.  Doesn’t everybody know that?”  But after years of seeing less than elegant arguments on both sides, I began to think, “But you know.  The word just means “change.”  This is in no way inconsistent with any kind of magic.”  I began to feel a sense of unease. 

Years later it occurred to me, “The word ‘evolution’ is really Latin.  And Latin is a very explicit language.  It is a combination of ‘e’ for out as in ‘exit’ and ‘volve’ for turn as in ‘revolve.’  The word just means, ‘Turn out.’  Evolution means how things turn out.”  And that means they don’t even have to change.  A diamond in a bank vault changes little (excluding a stray cosmic ray).  It turns out to stay just the way it is.  So it evolves.  To disprove evolution it would not be sufficient to disprove change; one would have to disprove time.

All right, there is a cosmology that does it.  I call it, “The Christopher Robin Universe.”  Christopher explains it to Pooh, and the narrator continues, “Somehow in an enchanted place high above the forest a little boy and his bear will always be playing.”   They don’t write them like that much any longer, do they?  I’m sure there are Eastern philosophies and holographic cosmologies that come to the same conclusion.  And suppose you could prove one.  All you would have proved is that time does not exist and yet things evolve.  They just turn out to exist.  That’s enough for evolution.

So how would we disprove existence?  Data is no good.  Bring me some data that suggests non existence and I will say, “Ah, but your data exists.  Hence there is evolution.”  Or you can try a logical approach.  But logic must start with a proposition.  As soon as you start I say, “Your proposition exits,” and off we go again.

So evolution is not much help in describing Mrs. Thompson’s pamphlet.  It just says, “That’s how it turned out.”  So what can explain it?  There are two  principles: selection and speciation.  I did not phrase it that way, but that’s what the record of life, and the helpful commentary, implied.

Selection and speciation are in principle disprovable and in fact supported by enormous amounts of data.  Of course there is more to how things turn out than selection and speciation.  There is random drift.  There is cross breeding.  There is genetic manipulation, and I suppose that could be called “intelligent design.”  And there is the mechanism I outlined in my letter to Paul Smith that could, rather impishly, be called “Extinction of the fittest.”  Oh, you don’t believe in it?  Sure you do.  Humans are as fit as all get out.  Look at our numbers and the diversity of the environments we successfully exploit.  And yet when you look at our birth rate … but we’re getting into the grim stuff there so let us cease.

Thank you for an interesting read.  Let me know what you think.


M. Linton Herbert MD.

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