As a forester, I study populations of trees and breed more productive ones. I have done much reviewing of forest genetic literature and writing of monographic volumes on various forest tree species for the Institute of Dendrology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, where I work. I often contribute chapters on genetics. I know of no biological data relevant to tree genetics that would require evolutionary explanations. I could easily pursue my career without ever mentioning evolution.
However, being also an academic teacher in population genetics, I found it necessary to play down the evolutionary explanations given in textbooks, for the simple reason that I find no evidence to support them. In fact, it was my teaching of population genetics, coupled with the discovery that my children are being taught evolution in secondary school on the claim that population genetics provides evidence for it, that made me enter the debate publicly.
I had been taught that palaeontology gives the bulk of the evidence for evolution. To my surprise, I found that evidence is lacking not only in genetics but also in palaeontology, as well as in sedimentology, in dating techniques, and in fact in all sciences. However, here I shall restrict myself to a review of the arguments for evolution drawn from my field, genetics.
Perhaps the most evident misinformation in textbooks is the suggestion that microevolution is a small-scale example of macroevolution.
The example used to support this is usually the story about the grey or black moths (Biston betularia) living on the bark of trees, the population adapting in colour to the colour of the bark — darker in industrial, polluted environments, and lighter in cleaner ones.
The misinformation lies in concealing the fact that select, adapted populations are genetically poorer (fewer alleles1) than the unselected natural populations from which they arose. We find the same in forest trees. In polluted environments, the surviving trees have fewer alleles than in non-polluted ones. Microevolution, formation of races, is a fact. Populations adapt to specific environments with the more successful alleles increasing in numbers and others declining in frequencies or disappearing altogether. Change can also occur due to accidental loss of alleles (genetic drift) in small isolated populations. Both amount to decline in genetic information. Macroevolution requires its increase.
The same is true of breeding. Breeders eliminate unwanted genes making domesticated forms genetically poorer. These are usually helpless in nature and perish when left without human help. If not, this is due to quick inter-breeding with wild forms that replenish the gene pool.
Most of the successes in breeding come from guided recombination. The breeder pools certain rare genes into one individual or population to achieve the desired combination of traits. Nothing new is produced.
A useful mutation (e.g. an orange without seeds) is not the equivalent of a positive mutation. I felt uneasy lecturing about positive mutations when I could not give an example. There are very many examples of negative and neutral mutations, but none I know of which I could present as a documented example of a positive one.
Genetic literature on the subject often confuses mutations with alleles, or even mutations with recombinations. The finding of an allele that is useful for some purpose is not the equivalent of demonstrating a positive mutation — similarly when the find concerns a useful recombinant of alleles existing in the gene pool.
Variants of alleles in a gene pool are a fact of life. How they came to be is another matter. Some, usually neutral or excessively deleterious, arise from mutations. Some are introgressants from other species. Still others are within the population since its origin — however that came about.
Professor Maciej Giertych, M.A.(Oxford), Ph.D.(Toronto), D.Sc.(Poznan), is head of the Genetics Department of the Polish Academy of Sciences at the Institute of Dendrology in Kornik, Poland. He is on the editorial board of two international periodicals: Silvae Genetics, published in Germany, and Annales ses sciences forestieres published in France. He is a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences Committee on Forest Sciences, and on the Forestry Council in the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Natural Resources and Forestry. He is the author of about 150 scientific papers in Polish and international periodicals.
Photo: The Photo Library, by W&D McIntyre
Much evolutionary publicity is attached to forms that develop resistance to man-made chemicals. Usually they are variants that normally exist in nature but were selected out by the chemical reagent.
In one instance, it was demonstrated that a single nucleotide substitution in the genome was responsible for resistance to a weed-specific herbicide. The herbicide is 'custom-made' for attachment and deactivation of a vital protein specific for the weed plant. A single change in the genetic code for this protein, in the sector used for defining the herbicide attachment, deprives the herbicide of attachability and therefore of its herbicidal properties. Such a change has no selective value except in the context of the man-made herbicide. Even if originating from mutation (it could be a rare neutral allele always present in the population but springing into prominence because of the use of the herbicide) this would be no more than a neutral mutation; not depriving the protein of its function but neither creating a new function for it. So where is the evolution?
Similarities are often used as arguments for evolution. But lack of similarities is never accepted as an argument against it. The similarity of the shape of my hand and that of a frog is an argument for common ancestry. The difference between mine and that of a horse or a bat is not. And yet the latter are supposed to be closer relatives of mine.
The same logic is used when claiming that the universality of the genetic system (DNA-RNA-protein) proves common ancestry. There are many biochemical systems that are not universal. They are specific for some groups of organisms and absent in others. These are never accepted as arguments against evolution.
Many hoped that molecular genetics would confirm evolution. It did not. It confirms taxonomic2 distances between organisms, but not the postulated phylogenetic3 sequences.* It confirmed Linnaeus,4 not Darwin.
Molecular genetics presented new problems. Genomes [all the genes in an organism] have multiple copies of genes or of noncoding sequences, very homogeneous within a species but heterogeneous between species. Such 'repeats' could not have been formed by random mutations acting on a common genome of a postulated ancestor. Some unexplained 'molecular drive' is postulated to account for these copies. It is simpler to assume there was no common ancestral genome.**
What do we see in the short time interval available to our cognition? An increase in the number of useful alleles or a decrease? An increase in the number of species or a decrease? An increase in information in nature or loss of it? Is nature moving from chaos to ever-increasing organization, or from an organized state towards ever-increasing chaos? Evolution is not a conclusion drawn from observations. It is an ideology to which observations are applied when convenient and ignored when not.
Having entered the battle against evolution I found myself confronted not so much by scientists as by philosophers. In an atmosphere of rejecting all communist propaganda my views received considerable publicity and popular interest in Poland. Strangely enough, Marxist and Catholic philosophers joined forces to combat my activity. In fact, Catholic clergymen, even some bishops, are most prominent in defending evolution. I found it necessary to study the theological and philosophical objections to the writings of such people as Fr Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
The confrontation with the philosophers is the difficult part. My forestry training did not prepare me for this. Now I battle both in scientific circles and within the Church. But my activity is bringing results.
The teachers of evolution are beginning to speak in less convincing words. The offensive in support of evolution is so intensive and so well financed that it appears evolutionists are very worried.
They should be.
An allele is one of two or more alternative forms of a gene, which determine the same characteristic but produce a different effect (e.g. the eye-colour gene can have a 'brown' or 'blue' allele).
Taxon: category in classification, e.g. species, phylum.
Phylogeny: the supposed evolutionary history or family tree of a species or other group.
Linnaeus classified plants and animals in the eighteenth century, establishing the modern study of taxonomy.
*Evolutionary history. — Ed.
**That is, the basic types of organisms did not arise by evolution from a common ancestor. — Ed. ancestor. — Ed.
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