I was earlier drawn into a debate over the particulars of Carter and Sanford’s H1N1 paper, and being a non-scientist I did my best to hold my own in the discussion. There were some questions I couldn’t answer, but on the other hand I believe there were quite a few that I did answer.
But one thing doesn’t sit well with me: I think the impression was created that somehow Sanford’s general thesis of Genetic Entropy is ultimately tied to the validity of that paper. I want to say that is categorically false. I believe that was one foray they have done to attempt to show some real-world examples of GE in action, but it by no means is the central thrust of the argument. Viruses are a special case because while they do reproduce and have genetic material, they are not alive; they cannot reproduce without help from a host creature which is living.
None of this is to say that I don’t stand by their research on H1N1, because I certainly do, and nobody in the peer-reviewed literature has ventured to even attempt a rebuttal of their findings, let alone successfully overturning that paper. But even were that to happen, it would not change the simple fact that we are all dying from genetic diseases. And there’s no way to stop it.
Here is my grossly oversimplified, yet perfectly accurate to the best of my knowledge, summary of GE, along with some quotations from the literature to show support for each premise:
Most mutations are known to be bad, not good. They damage, rather than helping.
“Although a few select studies have claimed that a substantial fraction of spontaneous mutations are beneficial under certain conditions (Shaw et al. 2002; Silander et al. 2007;
Dickinson 2008), evidence from diverse sources strongly suggests that the effect of most spontaneous mutations is to reduce fitness (Kibota and Lynch 1996; Keightley and Caballero 1997; Fry et al. 1999; Vassilieva et al. 2000; Wloch et al. 2001; Zeyl and de Visser 2001; Keightley and Lynch 2003; Trindade et al. 2010; Heilbron et al. 2014).”
Natural selection is supposed to come to the rescue here, by weeding out bad mutations and amplifying the good ones. But as Kimura showed, most mutations fall in a zone of no selection; they are, as Kimura called them, ‘effectively neutral’. Why? Because their effect is too small to affect survival/reproduction, and thus they are not selectable.
“In terms of evolutionary dynamics, however, mutations whose effects are very small …
are expected to be dominated by drift rather than selection.”
Shaw, R., Shaw, F., adn Geyer, C., Evolution
Vol. 57, No. 3 (Mar., 2003), pp. 686-689
Kimura himself admittedly dismissed this problem in his own paper, after showing it is a real decline; he said that this decline would be compensated for by the occasional mega-beneficial mutation–
Whether such a small rate of deterioration in fitness constitutes a threat to the survival and welfare of the species (not to the individual) is a moot point, but this will easily be taken care of by adaptive gene substitutions that must occur from time to time (say once every few hundred generations).
–a naive conjecture (no offense) that was not supported by anything in Kimura’s day, and remains today unsupported by good science. Indeed, how could the occasional beneficial mutation possibly hope to undo the myriad of harmful and damaging ones that are constantly accruing all throughout the genome?
Many scientists have attempted to wave away this fundamental genetic problem for evolution by suggesting that most mutations may be neutral–but this is missing the point because no mutation could ever be truly neutral. Every change you make to the genome will have some effect.
… it seems unlikely that any mutation is truly neutral in the sense that it has no effect on fitness. All mutations must have some effect, even if that effect is vanishingly small.
Eyre-Walker, A., and Keightley P.D., The distribution of fitness effects of new mutations, Nat. Rev. Genet . 8 (8):610–8, 2007. doi.org/10.1038/nrg2146.
Now no doubt many of you here will view this post as me throwing down the gauntlet. That’s not my intention, because I’m not a scientist myself and I cannot go toe-to-toe on the finer detailed points of everything here; but my getting pulled into the previous thread on GE has forced my hand on the matter, because I do want the truth to be out there.
So, in conclusion, if you scoff at GE, then you owe it to yourself to at least read what Dr. Sanford has written and give it fair consideration. I believe that genetic entropy is the greatest public health crisis in the world and for all time, and I don’t believe there is any naturalistic, man-made solution to it. We will go extinct without God’s help, and God has promised to provide it.