by Brian Thomas, M.S.
Who wouldn’t be curious to learn why organisms “build tissues they seemingly never use,” as a Michigan State University News headline put it?1 If organisms originated from a string of trial-and-error natural “experiments” as evolutionary philosophy proposes, then they could be expected to grow useless leftover tissues—remnants of an inefficient evolutionary past—during embryonic development. While investigating this, one researcher answered his own question, showing how his research is “begging the question.”
And begging the question is not good. It is the term used for a logical fallacy whereby a person assumes their own conclusion before they “reach” it.2
For a time, computer scientist Jeff Clune worked at Michigan State’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. He is the lead author of a study in the September issue of The American Naturalist that uses “digital organisms” to model how embryonic development, called ontogeny, supposedly rehearses an evolutionary past, called phylogeny.3
Clune and his coauthors first “used a computational system that exhibits evolutionary dynamics.”3 They programmed simple digital organisms to “mutate, compete for resources and evolve.”1 Then, they “observed that ontogeny does indeed recapitulate phylogeny.”3 Well, wouldn’t it?
Programming imaginary creatures with “evolutionary dynamics” certainly helps to ensure that their resulting digital embryo facsimiles would reflect their imaginary evolution. This is begging the question, not practicing good science….
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