Tuesday, 28 January 2014

More disinformation about evolution and medicine.

In a featured news item on radio 4 this morning we were told with some enthusiasm how Darwinian thinking was helping us beat cancer. Except that this isn’t so. Cancers evolve, we were told, and so does cancer research. Really?

A worker from the Institute of Cancer Research told us that cancers are due to mutations but that cancers were not always a single clone of one mutation but that a variety of mutations typically emerge. Genetic research now enabled us to understand this better, so leading to the possibility of tailored drugs as cancer research ‘evolved’. Cancer cells behave according to Darwinian rules of mutation and natural selection, following the Darwinian 'tree of life'.

The first thing that jumps out of this report is the use of the term ‘evolve’ to describe both a degenerative process involving loss of information and leading to destruction and death, and an information discovering process driven by intelligent people with goals working co-operativelyusing intelligently designed technology. Two extremely different kinds of process you might think, yet they were both called ‘evolution’. by interviewer and interviewee. What are we to make of this, and how to possibly falsify a process which can mean such utterly different things?

On the ICR web site, evolution is praised to the skies.

>>>Untangling the evolution of cancer

At The Institute of Cancer Research, London, Professor Mel Greaves applies evolutionary thinking to illuminate how cancers work.

>>>The twentieth century Russian biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky argued that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution", and twenty-first century cancer biologists are increasingly shining the light of this overarching theory of life on cancer cells. 

The process by which normal cells become rogue cancerous cells is an evolutionary one: mutations in their genes imbue them with new characteristics, and within a tumour a process of natural selection favours those cells whose new characteristics allow them to proliferate and expand as a clonal population within and between tissues.

In this light, cancer researchers can begin to make sense of the features of cancer which make it difficult to conquer: how tumours get started and how they progress into destructive forces which can damage normal tissue and spread around the body; why some treatments stop working when the cancer becomes resistant to them; and why so many cancers come back when we thought they had been beaten.

One of the pioneers of applying evolutionary thinking to cancer research is Professor Mel Greaves, an expert in the biology of leukaemias at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR). Professor Greaves spoke at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool this week, giving the latest on how evolution is changing the way we think about cancer.<<<


If there was a Nobel prize for nonsense, and honest judges, this would win hands down. The truth is that in cancer we have a perfect example, before our very eyes and affecting our loved ones and at least 1 in 3 of us, of the ONLY creative process available to Darwinian evolution, random mutation. And it is a process involving loss of information, loss of control and, untreated, leads to death. If Darwinian evolution were true, random mutations would have to produce new things that worked better. Intelligent design theory states that random mutations in previously healthy cells will mess them up. And this is what we find. Nothing in biology makes sense without intelligent design.

Advances in cancer treatment have mostly been achieved by earlier diagnosis (for example cervical cancer screening), lifestyle changes (better diet, smoking cessation) and  improvements in surgery. The genetically targeted drugs that are emerging by an INTELLIGENT DESIGN process are showing some promise but have serious side effects and are very expensive, for example £80,000 for a course of Yervoy (ipilimumab) and even this is not curative. Let's not exaggerate the benefits of the new cancer genetics, it may even do harm by diverting funds away from cheap and effective low tech interventions which are less glamorous.

And in the end, science at its best will not give us eternal life. The main reason for the increase in dementia is that we are living longer and our brains are wearing out. Given the Fall and Curse, we have to die of something, and then we have to face God to give an account of our lives. See John's Gospel chapter 3-we can have everlasting perfectly contented life, but only on God's terms. That is not to disparage medical science, for which I am thankful, but for a sense of proportion.

Greaves goes on to say  

>>It's now clear that cancers are more complex than this. The ongoing processes of mutation and selection in the developing cancer creates a great diversity of cells, with many distinct genomes and behaviours. The result is a clonal architecture resembling the classical evolution of species in ecosystems as imagined by Charles Darwin in his iconic sketch.<<<

Yes, cancer cells as they mutate do produce some diversity, but it is a degenerative, parasitic and fatal diversity. We begin with a fully functioning normal cell, then the ‘evolutionary’ process gets going and we find ourselves with something sick and fatal. And this models the Darwinian process that made all plants and animals humans from dirty water, gas and sparks? There is something very faulty with the professor's thinking. Cancers are LESS complex in terms of functional meaningful complexity than the cells from which they have degenerated. They have LOST information, not gained it.

It is not evolution that helps us to understand cancer, it is cancer-specifically the process of mutations leading to loss of information, loss of function and ultimately extinction- that helps us understand evolutionary theory. That it fails, utterly.

Apart from the ethics of using an item like this to push for more research funding, it is yet another attempt to bamboozle people into thinking that advances in modern medicine depend on an understanding of and dependence on evolutionary theory. This is just nonsense. The late Dr Terry Hamblin (see link to his blog ‘mutations of mortality’) was a first class cancer scientist who did acclaimed research while being a young earth creationist.
Charles Darwin’s ‘speciation tree’ from his 1837 notebook
Biblical Christianity does not hold back science, quite the reverse. Many scientific disciplines, including genetics (Gregor Mendel), were founded by devout Christians who expected to find order in the universe because they worshiped a Creator who exemplified law and reason. Evolutionary thinking has never helped any advance in medicine (antibiotic resistance can be perfectly well understood without reference to evolutionary theory). But the biology of mutations, particularly the biology of cancer, teaches us very eloquently that the ‘natural selection acting on random mutations’ destroys by corrupting meaningful information. It does not create better cells but corrupts and destroys them. 

The assertion that evolutionary thinking helps us cure cancer is, to use the cliché, 'not even wrong'.


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