Nylon Bug 3. Spetner on Thomas
October 27, 2004
Thomas makes two points, the first of which seems irrelevant and the second is simply wrong.
His first point is that a single mutation can lead to a new species. Well, of course this can happen. Moreover, it would be consistent with my speculation of the nonrandom evolutionary hypothesis (NREH). The capacity of an organism to change to adapt to a new environment, I have suggested, is built in to the organism. In microorganisms, in which the reproduction rate is high, and therefore whose mutation rate per population is high, random mutations could work because selection could take care of choosing the right one out of the many that occur. In larger organisms, an environmental cue would trigger the single mutation that will turn on the adaptive battery of genes. Thomas’s example of the snail where one mutation can lead to a new species is only one of many such examples. None of these supports his thesis that new information was created by random mutations in the nylon bug.
His second point is just wrong. It seems that he did not read what I wrote about the number of mutations that have to occur. He thinks that I wrote that 47 amino-acid differences separate the nylon bug from its evolutionary predecessor. Far from saying that all 47 have to be precisely specified, I said, “…if only 6 of these 47 mutations were essential for the evolution, the probability of achieving it in 30 years is about 3 x 10^-35.”
He also mistakenly thought that my calculation required all 6 to occur simultaneously. The calculation only assumes that they occurred within 30 years and that there is no selection for any combination other than the correct 6.
I must point out that the debate here is whether random mutations in the nylon bug generated the information that permitted it to metabolize the nylon waste or was there something nonrandom about it. By the latter I mean that either the correct mutations were induced by the environment or else the new adaptation was already built into the organism so that random mutations that would be likely to occur within the population could trigger the change.
I am arguing that the above type of scenario could have occurred to account for the nylon-bug phenomenon, and he wants to argue that it could not have occurred that way and the only explanation is that random mutation can often lead to adaptation without any built-in preparation. Since these are the two sides of the argument, it seems unjust that he should require me to prove that the “right” mutations (i.e. those induced by the environment) occur more often than those that don’t. On the contrary. He should have to prove that they do not occur more often.
Had he acknowledged that my suggestion is possible, but until I prove it he does not accept it, that would be all right. After all, I did not prove the phenomenon had to arise from a NREH mechanism; I merely suggested the possibility to show that the nylon-bug phenomenon does not demonstrate the truth of evolutionary theory. If he holds that it does, then the burden of proof is on him.