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 Ã¢€” 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.