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Origin-of-life rebuttal

April 25, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 17

In a letter in the March 28 issue of C&EN (page 4), Robert Lattimer reacted to an earlier article, on studies probing the origins of life, with the same pseudoscientific and nonscientific dismissals heard again and again against evolution. Lattimer writes, “ ‘Neo-Darwinism’ or the ‘modern synthesis’ has been discredited for many years and is not believed to play an important role in change over time. Biologists are still looking for viable naturalistic mechanisms for macroevolution.”

That might come as a surprise to many biologists. Biologist Sean B. Carroll, in a recent podcast from the Guardian discussing his book “The Serengeti Rules,” said, “There’s only a few overarching ideas in biology. One is evolution, which knits it all together.” Hmm, that sounds like the exact opposite of “discredited.” Jerry Coyne, in his well-referenced 2009 book “Why Evolution Is True,” laid out exactly such a mechanism for macroevolution that Lattimer claims biologists still seek. More important, Coyne also laid out a large chunk of evidence supporting it, the majority of which has been found post-Darwin. This includes recent findings such as interspecies DNA comparisons and Tiktaalik roseae fossils.

What needs to be discredited is Lattimer’s use of “Darwinism” instead of “evolution.” Is any other scientist’s major findings treated this way? (Newtonism? Einsteinism? Watson-Crickism?) It’s a nonscientific way detractors, such as Lattimer, dismiss evolution as a cult and those who actually understand it as cultists. It allows the detractors to pretend the scientific evidence doesn’t exist, especially the vast trove of evidence found since Darwin’s publications.

That, Mr. Lattimer, is simply not science.

Robert Opitz
Hilton, N.Y.



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