Evolution Issue of the Month 10: Rare Living Creature, The Beneficial Mutation, Still Not Observed, May Be Mythical

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Beneficial Mutations have still not been found in the wild, though their existence was confidently predicted in the 1940s. Article published at http://www.takeondarwin.com asks, could they, like Unicorns, actually be mythical?

"Alternative to Darwinism and Creationism" cover

Alternative to Darwinism and Creationism

The unicorn, at first assumed to be real, was finally declared to be mythical. Black swans, assumed to be mythical, were later found to be real. By that standard--only if you find one is it real--Beneficial Mutations qualify as mythical.

Existence of the Beneficial Mutation was confidently predicted in the 1940s as part of the Modern Synthesis. In fact, if the Beneficial Mutation could be shown not to exist, the Modern Synthesis itself might be brought into question. Much therefore may depend on this rare creature being sighted, according to Shaun Johnston, "Contrarian Evolutionist" at the website http://www.takeondarwin.com.

Mutations arise from the continual random damage that the genes of a living creature are known to be subject to. "It's generally agreed that when there's damage to something as complicated as that--the blueprint for the development of a living creature--many more of these mutations will be harmful than beneficial," Johnston points out. "Harmful and beneficial mutations in the proportions as they arise would quickly lead to extinction. Of course harmful mutations make living creatures less likely to survive to reproduce so they're less likely to be inherited. But, according to the Modern Synthesis, even getting rid of all the harmful mutations would not by itself drive evolution. For that, you must have Beneficial Mutations. But do they exist?"

Identifying Beneficial Mutations is not easy. "Suppose you observe a gene being mutated at random, how can you tell whether or not that mutation is beneficial?" asks Johnston. "Really, you can't. Only millions of years later can you tell whether or not it has contributed to the evolution of a new species. Take a mutation making an elephant more salt tolerant, is that a Beneficial Mutation? That depends on whether elephants evolve into marine creatures millions of years from now. By that time, it'll be hard to know if the genes responsible for salt tolerance originated through random mutation or some other cause."

Mutations can be induced in the laboratory that confer a benefit on a species of living creatures, but that is not the same as accounting for how species evolve into one another in the wild. For that it is a sighting of a Beneficial Mutation in the wild that is needed, but that has so far proved elusive.

Fortunately, the issue is of very little significance. Since everyone is satisfied that evolution has been accounted for through the Modern Synthesis, whether or not the Beneficial Mutation actually exists doesn't matter. Having someone declare it had become mythical would be very disturbing, to no good purpose. Anyway, even if Beneficial Mutations did exist and were selected for generation by generation, each for some specific small benefit, there's no assurance they could over time come to code for something else, something as elaborate as the machinery needed to develop some complex new feature such as feet turning into flippers. So whether Beneficial Mutations exist or not may not matter at all.

Shaun Johnston is a science writer based in the mid Hudson Valley. At his website http://www.takeondarwin.com he maintains resources helpful in coming up with alternatives to both darwinism and creationism. He has also written and performs a play "What it means we evolved: a Dialogue between Darwin and Galileo."

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