Erich von Daniken (2022)
'Evolution is Wrong'
I was curious what Erich von Daniken's arguments against evolution are, and how good his knowledge and understanding of evolution is. Surprisingly, he gives a reasonably accurate but short account of the discovery of DNA.
He even mentions Phoebus Levene , but writes that Levene used a 'supermicroscope' and that later his discoveries were confirmed with an electron microscope (wrong). He accurately but incompletely describes Chargaff's discoveries and also that Watson & Crick's double helix model was based on Chargaff. Unfortunately, Von Daniken doesn't mention the crucial fact that Chargaff discovered that the amounts of A roughly equal the amounts of T in DNA, and the same holds for C and G. Most importantly, he misses the crucial feature of DNA: AT and CG form pairs. And that's the crux of genetic information. He is often distracted by asides and story telling. On another page he knows that "the order of the four bases" is important and "only certain basic bases fit into the sequence ... Others cannot dock at all" without mentioning AT and CG pairs! So, strictly speaking, he didn't get the most important feature of DNA, but he is close.
As is often done by non-biologists, he mistakes the concept 'genetic
code' for the genome (the total of DNA in a cell or of a species). This is wrong.
The genetic code is the way the information in DNA is translated into
proteins. That is: how 64 base triplets code for 20 amino acids. And that can be done in a million ways. As a consequence of this misunderstanding he never wonders how DNA works and what it does. He is completely unaware of the fact that the genetic code
cannot be derived from biochemical laws. It has an arbitrary character. The genetic code of all life on earth is unique to life on earth.
It is not an universal law. And this
explains why he doesn't see a problem with aliens injecting DNA in
humans. This could only be meaningful if the alien DNA had the same
genetic code (in the scientific sense) as life on earth. The smallest
difference in the genetic code could create an obstacle. Significant deviations from our genetic code, makes 'injecting alien DNA' pointless, even pathogenic.
Not surprising, he quotes the panspermia theory of Fred Hoyle and Chandra
Wickramasinghe, because according to this theory the first DNA came from space. He also fully
accepts and defends Intelligent Designer Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box. In Von
Daniken's view Intelligent Design means aliens. Aliens created DNA
and had sex with humans. Or something like that.
His description of Darwin is short but factual without any Darwin bashing. He includes an illustration of Darwin's finches (!) in the book. So far so good. But, the only occurrence of the concept of 'natural selection', crucial for Darwin's theory of evolution, is in a quote: "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism  ..." (Intelligent Design!). I found one occurrence of "Darwin's selection (choice)". That's all. As often happens he uses 'survival of the fittest' in stead of 'natural selection'.
Apart from uncritical acceptation of Michael Behe and the Intelligent
Design movement, he manages to refer to Hans-Joachim Zillmer
Die Evolutions-Lüge. If you start accusing your opponents of lies, then you stop thinking scientifically. He also uses and quotes from Reinhard Junker, Siegfried Scherer (1998) Evolution, Ein Kritisches Lehrbuch. The book has been criticized thoroughly by evolutionary biologist Gerdien de Jong on this blog . Von Daniken says about the book: "excellent work"!!! However it is not an evolution textbook as Gerdien de Jong explained. There is no evolution textbook mentioned in Evolution is Wrong. So, he knows 'evolution is wrong', but did not read any of the many professional or popular evolution textbooks. There are hundreds of them! . I recommend the excellent and popular book Jerry A. Coyne (2009) "Why Evolution Is True". This is a very complete overview, but it is not a textbook in the sense that for example the structure of DNA, Mendelian and molecular genetics are explained. If only Von Daniken had read this book, he would have known the arguments and facts in favour of evolution. I think he is able to understand everything in the book provided he takes the trouble to study it carefully. Another example of his one-sided reading habits is the fact that he read Dawkins Der Gotteswahn (The God Delusion) in stead of the famous The Selfish Gene. He would have learned a lot about evolution if he had read it. It is available in German: Das egoistische Gen.
I was curious about Von Daniken's knowledge of evolution and DNA in his recent Evolution is wrong. I must conclude that his knowledge is fragmentary; there are some surprising bits of knowledge: Evo-Devo, genetic toolkit, CRISPR, genetic knockout, and some fragments of the history of science, but he misses crucial insights and facts.
"We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural
selection to account for the complexity of life" (Intelligent Design credo)
- Gerdien de Jong: Der geist der stets verneint. Weglaten, verkeerd weergeven, verdraaien, misleiden, 15 December 2010. We have created a website devoted to the Junker & Scherer book with a few English abstracts.
- I have collected all the current evolution textbooks and introductions to evolution on my webpage Introduction to the evolution literature. I could not find a German translation of Coyne's book, so Daniken has to read it in English!
- P. Levene discovered and described all the components of DNA, but Watson and Crick (1953) did not refer to him. This demands an explanation. I have to find out what's going on. [29 Jan 2023]
This is a tweetblog: a short blog to report news quickly without all the details of a full review. I have used the KOBO ebook. I discovered today that for the first time I can read my books in the browser, that is in full color! and on my computer screen! (logged in with my KOBO account). All KOBO e-readers are black and white. So, this is a huge step forwards.
I am working on an extended version which will appear on my WDW website.