Chopping down the Tree of Life

New Scientist declares that St. Darwin is more wrong… again:

For much of the past 150 years, biology has largely concerned itself with filling in the details of the tree. “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 Many biologists now argue that the tree concept is obsolete and needs to be discarded.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.

So what happened? In a nutshell, DNA.

To me, the most interesting thing about this article isn’t the fact that it declares evolutionary biologists have spent most of their efforts over the last 150 years on a futile endeavor. Nor is it the fact that as I have been predicting since I first started reading up on ND-TENS, it should be DNA evidence that is turning Darwin’s theory on its ear again, as genetics is genuine science versus the sort of fill-in-the-blank series of tautological fairy tales that evolution increasingly appears to be.

No, what’s interesting is the way that the Tree of Life-supporters are still fighting to preserve their increasingly outdated model, in precisely the way we are told scientists simply don’t behave. The following passage explains why one is always advised to be skeptical of the theoretical model when persistent gaps remain:

By the mid-1980s there was great optimism that molecular techniques would finally reveal the universal tree of life in all its glory. Ironically, the opposite happened.

I expect a similarly ironic discovery to eventually blow apart the greater part of the oft-revised theory because although biologists don’t like to admit it, every time a x-million year old “fossil” is discovered swimming or crawling around, it demonstrates how wildly inaccurate their theoretical model is. Daniel Dennett illogically tried to argue that we should trust biologists because physicists get amazingly accurate results, but what he should have concluded if he had followed the logic properly is that if a division of doxastic labor is justified in the case of science because it gets amazingly accurate results, then evolutionary biology cannot be science. Popper need not even enter into the discussion as one can very reasonably ask: what are the amazingly accurate results predicted by evolutionary biologists that justify a doxastic division of labor here?

If anyone now thinks that biology is sorted, they are going to be proved wrong too. The more that genomics, bioinformatics and many other newer disciplines reveal about life, the more obvious it becomes that our present understanding is not up to the job.

It is still far too soon to declare victory over the biology experts now, as they’re clearly not ready to junk the entire theoretical model yet. Biologists are still in the “drawing deferents and epicycles” stage in attempting to revise TENS in order to fit the observations. What they fail to grasp is that the more complex their model has to be, the more likely it is that the entire foundation upon which it is based will turn out to be incorrect.