Does evolutionary theory provide any useful scientific benefit?

The NCSE website has a great article on various bogus but interesting creationist arguments concerning vestigial structures:

Readers interested in the OP behind this thread will find the following Khan Academy tutorial a useful response to the question “Does evolutionary theory provide any useful scientific benefit?”

The article is entitled: “How evolution saves lives and promotes prosperity.” but the scientific benefits are also explored in other ways, not just in terms of economic payoffs.

Indeed. I was looking at the vestigial cigarette lighter socket in my car, now that it has been re-purposed to charge my cell phone. Not a very good design for its current use, but there it is as a power outlet.


And most vestigial cigarette lighters in cars also found a very useful unplanned function where that little pullout ash tray became a coin holder for parking meter payments.

Vestigial refers to the loss of the original primary function of a structure but does not insist that new functions never result.


I will admit I have not read the 454 responses in this thread. I’m just answering the original question here. The theory of evolution gave us the idea of conserved sequence = likely to have an important function. I’m not well-versed on the literature , but surely this bit of info has helped with scientific advancement in some way, and conceivably the progress of medical research, which would directly benefit humans? :slight_smile:

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I think you would find lots of information in the sources mentioned here:

"Over the past two decades, a more formal discipline of evolutionary medicine has slowly been emerging.

[First Significant Work]
The publication of The Dawn of Darwinian Medicine, by George C. Williams and Randolph Nesse, was the first significant attempt to place human disease within a framework of evolutionary thought (Williams and Nesse 1991).

Since then, concepts have been refined as evident in the first systematic textbook of evolutionary medicine

[Three recent contributions to the field]
and in a variety of overview publications (Nesse and Stearns 2008;

Gluckman et al. 2009;
Gluckman PD, Beedle AS, Hanson MA. Principles of Evolutionary Medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2009

Nesse et al. 2010).

Recently, the American Association of Medical Colleges has opined that evolutionary science must now be one of the core components of the premedical course (AAMC-HHMI Scientific Foundation for Future Physicians Committee 2009)."

"Traditional evolutionary questions concerning the origin of a trait, the limits of adaptive capacity, host–parasite–symbiont relationships, and pathogen evolution interactions are increasingly being addressed within human biology and medicine, using new experimental and theoretical tools. This new field, which arises from the intersections of evolutionary biology, clinical medicine, and experimental biomedical disciplines, is now known as evolutionary medicine. It asks evolutionary questions to explain vulnerability to disease. The explosion of knowledge of the human genome allows a level of evolutionary analysis not previously possible. Such research has helped tackle fundamental evolutionary questions such as our origin as a species and our species’ migrations around the world and provides compelling evidence for continuing selective pressures acting on our species, some of which have relevance to disease risk (Akey 2009; [and]…

…Barreiro and Quintana-Murci 2010). < [End of sentence of quoted text.]
Barreiro LB, Quintana-Murci L. From evolutionary genetics to human immunology: how selection shapes host defence genes. Nature Reviews Genetics. 2010;11:17–30. [PubMed]

[Link to the Quoted Text Above]


4 posts were split to a new topic: Study in Nature shoots down three basic claims of evolutionary theory

Thanks! Exactly what I was looking for!

It seems to me that the “evolutionary” scientific principles involved in the linked articles would be acceptable to any creationist, as none of it depends on accepting the theory that all life shares a common ancestor. That is to say, the science involved depends only on what exists in the here and now, and not on how it got here over millions of years of supposed evolution.
So in this sense, it’s somewhat misleading to call the scientific principles involved “evolutionary” as they are simply principles of biology.

That’s not correct. The selection scans described in one of the links depend on common ancestry of humans and chimpanzees in at least two ways: they rely on common ancestry to determine the ancestral allele at every site in the genome, and they rely on it to correct for local mutation rate variation.



Ah… you say: “they are simply principles of biology”. Excellent.

You should note in your book that one of the principles of molecular biology is that there is no “line in the sand” - - visible or invisible - - which prevents 2 or more separated populations (from an older common population) eventually becoming distinct and separate populations.

When enough genetic changes have been aggregated that prevents the production of fertile offspring … the game is up. And from that point on, each population can become increasingly different in appearance and behavior … so that a fish starts walking around on the land… so that a hippo starts looking like a whale… and so forth.

So when you say “simple principles of biology” … this would imply that you accept simple principles of biology. But you do not.

“Using phylogenetic shadowing, Rubin and his colleagues were able to identify the DNA sequences that regulate the activation or “expression” of a gene that is an important indicator of the risk for heart disease and is found only in primates.”

“The rationale for comparing the genomes of different animals to identify those sequences that are important is based on the understanding that today’s different animals arose from common ancestors tens of millions of years ago,” Rubin explains. “If segments of the genomes of two different organisms have been conserved (meaning the sequences are the same in both) over the millions of years since those organisms diverged, then the DNA sequences within those segments probably encode important biological functions.”

Applied phylogenetics is the next big step in studying human disease and validating animal data. You can’t do that without the theory of evolution.


That’s kind of like saying that arms are vestigial legs. Vestigial is not a characterization, but an assumption. The fact that cigarette lighters have become power outlets for twelve volt systems, and installed in cars or RVs even when it is unlikely that they will be used as cigarette lighters is similar, but does not make them vestigial. Vestigial was originally applied to organs, appendages, tissue that seemed to have no direct purpose. As soon as purpose is applied to it, it loses meaning to call it vestigial, since it has as much or more benefit in its present condition than it did previously. Thus it is not vestigial, but merely another useful appendage or organ.

Ah, so simply to infer that your opponent is a liar… And by denying your claim of course, one would have to conclude that you also are a mere liar, rather than simply mistaken. Or extrapolating illegitimately from the generalization to a single aspect, as if a single aspect invalidates the entire generalization. Which is an incredibly good, but invalid, debate tactic. Its a good tactic, because it often confuses others, but its a bad tactic, because it is logically and reasonably invalid.

Separate populations do not logically, nor necessarily, lead to a change in function or appearance of a population that is not already embedded in the previous combined population. In other words, two populations can derive from one, but that is much different from each of those two populations developing features that the parent population never had before. Differentiating white tigers from yellow tigers does not turn one of them into a cheetah, or into a bear.


Yes, I suppose that is unavoidably true.
But you seem to think mutations that lead to dramatic changes in phenotype are presented in Evolutionary Science as something inevitable.

Bacteria, per se, has been living on Earth than most everything else on the planet. It doesn’t mean bacteria failed to evolve. Evolution, which means any change in genetic representation at the level of the population (remember, individuals do not evolve, only populations)… has been occurring amongst bacteria for eons. And yes, they are still bacteria, not birds.

However, to get a 4 legged fish/tetrapod, it is almost certain that conditions in the oceans, or in the inter-coastal regions, must deteriorate to the extent that fish who are able to escape to new tidal pools survive better than those that cannot.

To get a mammal that becomes a whale, conditions land must become so stressful or dangerous, that the mammal that best adapts to hunting for fish, or eating seaweed, survives better than it would otherwise.

50,000 generations of a fruit fly is not likely to create something other than a fruit fly - - if the laboratory conditions of the fruit fly populations are kept constant.

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Nor does it mean they have evolved. Length of time on earth neither fails evolution, nor causes evolution. and yes, I understand your thought that because a species remains unchanged, does not mean that other species have not developed from them. But, definitions of species aside, and extent of small changes a given, nevertheless, changes among bacteria do not prove or demonstrate the larger common descent type of evolution that is postulated. [quote=“gbrooks9, post:485, topic:548”]
And yes, they are still bacteria, not birds.

And this is the misguided thinking… because such conditions would affect not just one species but all. Thus all would need to change, and it would lead to a reduction in species, not an increase in species.

That depends on how one defines “the theory of evolution”, but it seems to me that there is no definitive definition - it can vary widely and from person to person. For example, Douglas Futuyma considers ToE to be the mechanisms that cause “evolution”, and by “evolution” he means microevolution - in which case, one could argue that there are scientifically useful benefits for “the theory of evolution” (a simple example - breeding a sheep dog from a wolf).

Conversely, the Berkeley Uni site says “The central idea of biological evolution is that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor”. This seems to imply that this “idea” is the theory of evolution in a nutshell - in which case, there is no useful scientific benefit for “the theory of evolution”.

Anyways, I agree with Dr. Marc Kirschner (quoted in the OP) - the evolutionary interpretation of the history of life on earth has no practical use in applied science.

What you are referring to is theory - which is nothing more than someone telling a story, really. Does story-telling provide a “useful scientific benefit”? Not in my book. The evolutionary story is no more useful or beneficial than the creationist story or any other story that explains the history of life on earth.

A untestable theory that claims to explain the history of life on earth is “knowledge”? How does that work? I equate knowledge with facts, and only facts.

Even if those “facts” are wrong?