Evolution and Economics

This post coud have also been titled: Why Evolutionary Theory is Important, or even: Why Intelligent Design is Bad. This isn’t a post about evolutionary game theory (which I think is actually quite spiffy), but it is about how evolutionary theory is having an impact on a real economy: the Texas economy (as well as the U.S. economy). In Texas there is still quite a bit cotton farming going on. If you are a cotton farmer one of your worst enemies is Anthonomus grandis Boheman more commonly known as the boll weevil.

So how is evolutionary theory playing a roll? Well, I learned about it via this comment over at the Panda’s Thumb by Ed Darrel.

In Texas, our economy depends on evolution, and intelligent design offers only ways to muck up the economy. What do I mean? One, I mean that the eradication of the cotton boll weevil is essential to our dwindling, but still significant, cotton industry. That eradication process, led the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is based on poisoning boll weevils to eradicate them from specific regions, in doses and ways carefully calculated to avoid forcing the bugs to mutate resistance — it takes a solid understanding of evolution to make the program work.–my emphasis vs. Ed’s

In other words, a solid grasp of evolutionary theory is important for over 10,000 cotton farms in Texas. Why? Because if insecticides are used unwisely the boll weevil could very well mutate and develop a resistance to the insecticides as happened in 1955 when the boll weevil became resistant to chlorinated hydrocarbons. As a result of this reistance and other concerns1 there was a switch to organophospates. Currently the boll weevil in the U.S. does not have a resistance to organophospates, but in Central American they do.

I know, I know the standard response from the anti-evolution side of the debate will be, “Ahhh, that is an example of micro-evolution which most people accept, but it sure isn’t macro-evolution which has never been observed.” The first part is true. The second part is false. Further, the mechanism that produces micro-evolution is the same process that produces macro-evolution. Hence, if the boll weevil’s that develop resistance to various insecticides end up being unable to reproduce with boll weevils without such resistance…you have a new species. Macro-evolution.

Another response could be, “Oh…well Intelligent Design doesn’t preclude this.” While true to some extent, it fails to note that Intellignet Design (ID) is anti-science. It is anti-science in that it does not offer testable hypotheses, predictions and no experiments are derived from ID. Think of it this way. You are looking at some biological phenomenon. The IDists conclude that the phenomenon is an example of complex specified information (CSI)2. Now according to ID CSI cannot come about via any evolutionary process. Hence you might as well stop looking at the phenomenon from an evolutionary perspective. What perspective should you take? I don’t know as ID suggests nothing beyond this point. You’re done, give up that line of research and move onto somethin else.

Let me be clear on the last point. The current argument in favor of ID is that evolutionary theory has “gaps” and “holes” that the theory cannot currently explain. The IDists argue that many of these “gaps” and “holes” will never ever be explained. These “gaps” and “holes” could contain things like a cure for HIV or cancer, or a solution to the boll weevil problem in Texas or other insect/pests that plague agri-business. Inside one of these forever mysterious “gaps” or “holes” could be treatments for people with conditions like spinal injuries. Now it is possible that we may never explain some of these “gaps” or “holes”3. , but current scientific views is that no area of research is proscribed. With ID why bother researching something that has already been deemed the product of the creator?

So evolutionary theory does indeed have real world applications and consequences. And this is not the only application of evolutionary theory. Researchers are looking at genetic algorithms on computers and their possible application to pharmaceutical development. Studying evolutionary theory is important. Weakening a scientific endeavor simply for the religious beliefs and goals could very well have some serious and far reaching negative impacts.
_____
1These other concerns dealt with things like the increasing amounts of chlorinated hydrocarbons in the environment and the danger such insecticides posed to other beneficial insects.
2Complex Specified Information is a generalization, according to Dembski, of the concept of irreducible complexity. Complex implies a low probability. Specified is a subjective concept meaning a recognizable patter, and information should be obvious.
3No I’m not saying that ID is right here, what I’m saying is that our knowledge is probably never going to be complete/perfect. No matter how much more we learn about evolution and refined/expanded evolutionary theory becomes there will always be “flaws”, “gaps”, and “holes” in the theory. This is true of any and all theories at all times.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Science & Technology
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Individ says:

    I agree with you 100%. There is no principle of science that says “a theory is only a good theory when it is complete, and does not contain gaps”, or something to that effect. This whole “gap” thing is a straw man. The hallmark of a scientific hypothesis is not “completeness”, but as you say, whether it is testable. I would expand on that, and say that a true hypothesis is, in principle, falsifiable. ID, being essentially a “miracle” hypothesis, cannot be falsified, and IS NOT SCIENCE.

  2. whatever says:

    You’re really grasping at straws to make an argument.

    Insects or bacteria becoming immune isn’t evolving, it’s adapting. The new strain isn’t a new species – especially since they can mate with the old strain (you do know what the definition of a species is?). So what this has to do with evolution vs. anything else really doesn’t make sense.

    You harp on this issue in the schools more than any other when at the same time tens of thousands of high schoolers graduate each year without basic reading skills. Which one is more important? Where should we be spending our time and effort arguing about? What about the false theory of global warming? That will end up doing more harm to our economy than arguing about whether our grandparents were monkeys.

    Your priorities are in the wrong place.

  3. legion says:

    Well, whatever,

    Insects or bacteria becoming immune isn’t evolving, it’s adapting. The new strain isn’t a new species – especially since they can mate with the old strain (you do know what the definition of a species is?).

    Do you know what the definition of evolution is? If an insect develops an immunity to a chemical – yeah, that’s an adaptation. But if it can then pass that immunity to its offspring, that’s evolution.

    And your attempted dodge to addressing other educational shortfalls doesn’t fly either. Lemme give you an analogy: which is more important in your car, the engine or the gas tank? The obvious answer is the engine, but both are basic requirements if you want to go anywhere. Likewise, basic reading skills can be considered “more important” than comprehending basic science, but without both, you’re still not going to go anywhere.

  4. RA says:

    This is the kind of nonsense I have come to expect from evolutionists. Boll weevles muttaing and becoming less susceptible to insecticde is not evolution. The new weevel is still a weevel.

    Show me how it turns into a bird or a frog. This is the kind of grasping at straws evolutionists have been religated to.

  5. Eddie Thomas says:

    “It is anti-science in that it does not offer testable hypotheses, predictions and no experiments are derived from ID.”

    I’m not an ID enthusiast, but this just won’t do. Science routinely comes up with hyptheses that it cannot test, at least at the present time. Your argument only follows if it is inconceivable that there could ever be testable hypotheses, predictions, or experiments from the ID school. I’m not sure how that can be shown.

    I would note too that Darwin did not consider creationism (which I know is not necessarily equivalent to ID) an untestable theory. In fact, he thought that there was much evidence that spoke against it, such as the fact that many organisms seem to have rudimentary features that serve no function but that resemble the features of other organims for which there is a function. If God had created all of the species perfect, it isn’t clear why there would be such uselessness.

    I would prefer to say that ID has little supporting evidence so far and that it does not show enough promise for me to think that we should throw money at it. If there are scientists who want to pursue it, however, and can find the funding, more power to them.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Show me how it turns into a bird or a frog. This is the kind of grasping at straws evolutionists have been religated to.

    Oh you want to see creationism, then. Sorry I can’t help you there, I only tend to defend evolutionary theory. Go talk to somebody like Dembski or Ken Ham.

    Your using the fact that Genetics exist as proof for the need for evolution. No matter how it got here, it is, and knowing evolution is not going to affect the applications of genetics, nor Does ID prevent it.

    Uhhh, no. They are using genetic evolutionary algorithms.

    I’m not an ID enthusiast, but this just won’t do. Science routinely comes up with hyptheses that it cannot test, at least at the present time. Your argument only follows if it is inconceivable that there could ever be testable hypotheses, predictions, or experiments from the ID school. I’m not sure how that can be shown.

    Uhhh, again no. The problem with ID is that they rely on a creator that literally has not constraints put on him. There is no way to falsify/test that.

    I would prefer to say that ID has little supporting evidence so far….

    Try none, and nobody on the ID side seems interested in doing this kind of heavy lifting. Then again, when you have to put forward a testable hypothesis that could possibly falsify the existence of your God that is asking a bit much. Further, as already noted, how exactly do you come up with a testable hypothesis for being with no constraints?

  7. Eddie Thomas says:

    Perhaps the ID enthusiasts do believe in a Creator without restraints, but I don’t see why ID theory inherently requires it. Henri Bergson, in _Creative Evolution_, believed in a vital force that was self-realizing throughout history. The process theologians held out for a divinity with limitations too.

    More importantly, I just don’t see how you can know that it isn’t possible to design experiments to test the thesis that some systems have such complexity that they cannot be derived from intermediate forms. Even if you were agnostic, the possibility of irreducible complexity might give you pause, as it did Darwin, which is why he spent so much time responding to it. I happen to think his response works, but I wouldn’t think it anti-science to pursue an alternative theory that doesn’t demand it.

    “…nobody on the ID side seems interested in doing this kind of heavy lifting.”

    Is this something you’ve really researched or are you just guessing?

  8. ATM says:

    As someone who has no bones to pick with evolution, I think this is a really weak reasoning. I think few people are denying the existance of selective pressure due to environmental factors for certain traits. That is a well understood phenomena that applies to any system where reproduction occurs and can be easily observed during in a variety of systems, from cancer to microbes. Even speciation isn’t a big deal, and this is no example of that, as relatively few mutations are required to critical reproductive receptor proteins to prevent reproductive mating between members of a species.

  9. Steve Verdon says:

    Perhaps the ID enthusiasts do believe in a Creator without restraints, but I don’t see why ID theory inherently requires it.

    Look, I’m not trying to be a jerk…well not much of one anyways, but you really need to read these guys writings. Here is the short version via Dembski:

    1. Evolution cannot create CSI (Complex Specified Information).
    2. Hence CSI => a designer.
    3. That designer cannot arise via evolution (see # 1 on this).
    4. Hence the designer is supernatural.
    5. What constraints can we detect/place on a supernatural designer (oh heck, lets just call him God, k?)?

    So you see, ID has a serious methodological problem right there. From there getting into specific ideas like Dembski’s Explanatory Filter, Behe’s Irreducible Complexity, and so forth we run into real problems methodologically there as well.

    Even if you were agnostic, the possibility of irreducible complexity might give you pause, as it did Darwin, which is why he spent so much time responding to it.

    And so far every single IC (Irreducibly Complex) system has been found to be the product of evolution (well the work on the flagellum is on-going, but the evidence so far is pretty good that the flagellum evolved). So, were these systems IC or not. If the answer is no, then perhaps the concept is vacuous. If the answer is yes, the ID is dead as far as IC is concerned as it becomes patently obvious that IC systems are not a problem for evolution.

    Is this something you’ve really researched or are you just guessing?

    No, it is something I’ve watched. Every time an IDist gets an article published in the peer reviewed literature they crow and crow about it. Then in looking at it, it is obvious that despite the IDists claims, the article has virtually nothing to do with ID or actual research. Also at the design inference weblog you can see Paul Nelson’s (an IDists) statements backing this claim up.

    And for a further note you all are using a test of falsability for backing…everyone knows that is not possible. We all learned that in Freshman Highschool science

    Yes, the Popperian view has its issues, that is why I prefer the Bayesian approach.

    As someone who has no bones to pick with evolution, I think this is a really weak reasoning. I think few people are denying the existance of selective pressure due to environmental factors for certain traits.

    About the only IDist to come out in favor of this veiw is Michael Behe. All the others eschew admitting that the above is indeed the case. Dembski for example has argued that evolution cannot produce new information–i.e. evolution is pretty much dead in the water in terms of speciation. You look at Dembski’s other article on questions evolutionists would rather dodge and it becomes pretty clear that Dembski is most likely a Young Earth Creationist.

    My guess is that if ID does manage to “win this debate” the next step will be each faction tearing each other apart. The Moonies, the YECs, the OECs, and all the other sub-groups will instant turn on each other pronouncing the other heretics or non-believers.

    Oh and DJ with regards to the 3-D god in t he 2-D world, pretty cool, but I don’t see how that helps. I don’t see any constraints that are placed on God in terms of how he presents himself to us. He can choose to be a dot, a line or a square. He can’t show he is 3-D, but he could announce that he is 3-D hence our limited understanding of his true appearance and mis-understanding his “True Nature”. Perhaps I am missing something.

  10. DJ says:

    Steve Verdon,

    “He can’t show he is 3-D,…”

    Although there is no proof for this, and i am not saying that is it fact, but, as many people believe (and many dont) Jesus Christ was the son of God, and God in the flesh. Therefore He was God presenting himself in a 3-D form.