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Darwin Doubts

A growing number of scientists doubt that Darwinian evolution can provide all the answers to explain how complex life forms arose on Earth[1]. David Gelernter wrote: “there’s no reason to doubt that Darwin successfully explained the small adjustments by which an organism adapts to local circumstances (beak shape, wing style, etc.) but there are many reasons to doubt whether he can explain the big picture – not the fine-tuning of species, but the emergence of new ones.”[2]

There are two types of evolution (micro and macro). Micro-evolution has countless pieces of evidence in its favour and is responsible for the famous example of the Galapagos Islands finches that Darwin discovered had different sized beaks according to their preferred food source. Every piece of evidence that we have today is an example of micro-evolution – small, successive changes occurring through random mutations in the genome which are passed onto the offspring if the mutation provides a survival advantage. Most people know of the example of white moths that died out in smog-filled London during the Industrial revolution, which gave rise to the predominance of grey moths as they had a camouflage advantage over the white variant. Scientists have discovered examples of random mutations in bacteria giving rise to new bacteria with different characteristics. We see it in the deliberate breeding of dogs, cats and plants to acquire favourable traits. What we have yet to find is any evidence for macro-evolution via Natural Selection. This is where one species turns into another through a random, unguided process.

Darwin concluded that you can use the same process (Natural Selection) that explains small variations in a species to account for the emergence of all species. Darwin argued that one day Science would find evidence for macro-evolution and when it did, that would be the final nail in God’s coffin. You don’t need an intelligent designer to explain the complexity of life if there is fossil evidence of one species turning into another. This apparently would happen given adequate time and random natural forces acting upon simpler life-forms causing spontaneous mutations to occur, establishing new traits and eventually new species altogether.

The fossil record has actually presented what Darwin least expected for his theory to hold out. The fossil record shows layers in the rocks on Earth that formed over time. Younger layers were added on top of older ones. The fossils lower down the rock layers (the earliest life forms) struggle to account for the wide differences in body parts that come later on and in many cases arrive very abruptly onto the scene. The Cambrian explosion is one such example of an abrupt arrival of many new animal body configurations which bear little resemblance to the fossils that come just before it. Darwinian evolution requires small, successive changes of bodily parts over vast periods of time (as macro-evolution is theorised to be a random, unguided process). “Darwinian evolution is gradual, step-by-step. Yet in the Cambrian explosion of around half a billion years ago, a striking variety of new organisms – including the first ever animals pop up suddenly in the fossil record over a mere 70 odd million years ago”[3]. 13-16 different groups of animals arise in a tiny 3-6 million year window.

Surely 70 million years is a really long time for successive small changes to take place and create a lot of new species, right? Population genetics allows us to calculate how much evolutionary change we ought to expect in a given time if we know the mutation rate, population sizes, etc. 70 million years is like the blink of an eye. To account for what we see in the Cambrian explosion, along Darwinian lines, the calculations blow out the timescale to needing billions of years! This is known as the mathematical challenge for Darwinian macro-evolution.

Origins of Life? Not enough time!

Darwin’s main problem is molecular biology: “what does generating new forms of life entail? Many biologists agree that generating a new shape of protein is the essence of it… and inventing a new protein means inventing a new gene”[4]. If you want to invent new software for a computer you need to give it a new code, the same is true of life – coding in the form of information inscribed in the DNA genome. You need new information in the DNA to make new proteins and you need additional information to rearrange these new proteins into body plans.

So, the Cambrian explosion is an explosion of biological information. Darwin did not know that detailed information resides in every single cell of a living thing because this was not demonstrated until the 20th Century. The first single-celled organisms were thought to have come together simply from a few rogue proteins floating around in the chemical soup of the early Earth. Like little blobs of jelly being assembled into ever more complex entities. But even the first codes of single-celled organisms are extremely complex; they contain detailed information. Where does information come from? Has there ever been an example of information arising from any other source than an intelligent mind?

Now we have the classic chicken and egg problem. What came first -- the code or the machines that build using the code? Or both at the same time in some sort of designer-intervention? When I watch my son code on simple website games, it is remarkable how many complex sentences he has to write in technical code-jargon just to get a computer monkey to grab a banana. Why do we think the real world of living things would be less complex than a basic, yet intricately constructed computer game designed by a 9 year old!

The cell and its DNA are certainly not basic. The genetic instructions for a human being are contained in its DNA that is around 1.6 meters long but only one fifth of a millionth of a centimeter wide. Every cell of our bodies contains a copy of this DNA divided into 46 parts – the chromosomes. These are so highly condensed that they can fit into the cell’s nucleus. Human chromosomes carry three thousand million units of chemical coding. If you stretched out all the DNA from your 50 trillion cells and laid it in a line, it would be about twice the diameter of the Solar System. If the sequence of the human genome were typed onto paper at about 3000 letters per page, it would fill 1 million pages of text (the genome being all the information contained in the 25,000 genes needed to create a human). Darwin’s random, natural forces really do have remarkable skills to form staggering complexity in a short period of time!

When scientists first started to decode the human genome, they incorrectly referred to 90% as “junk DNA” in their ignorance. But also because that is what they were expecting to find if Darwin’s macro-evolution via Natural Selection were true. You should expect a lot of waste residue of junk code that doesn’t do anything in the new species but has been carried over from earlier ancestors which now have little in common with the trajectory of the new species that has formed in its wake. Instead, scientists now understand what 50% of human DNA is for and realise that the whole coded sequence has important functions which they are working towards unpacking. None of it is junk; none of it is waste. Humans, animals and even bacteria have exquisite lines of coded information at their disposal to recreate their species.

Maybe if you have infinite time though, couldn’t random, unguided natural processes achieve virtually anything? While that may be true, scientists have dated the age of the Earth to 4.5 billion years, much of which was uninhabitable for any life to exist, even single-celled organisms (see my post on My Purpose? Fine-tuning Earth). So, we certainly don’t have infinite time at our disposal. But even a few billion years is nowhere near enough time for Darwinian evolution via Natural Selection to explain the life we see all around us.

The cell is an extremely complex piece of machinery and we are nowhere near understanding its full complexity. The cell builds proteins because there are codes in the nucleus which spell out how to do it, character by character. Each one of these positions has to be occupied by 1 of 20 different amino acids and so on. Visualise a string of beads that you are designing. You have 20 choices each time for each individual bead on the chain – will you choose a red one, a green one, another green one, a purple one, etc.? The beaded chains can be hundreds of beads long – that’s a huge number of possible configurations! Even a short protein chain has an astronomical range of choices for each individual position. Darwin didn’t know about amino acids; about the code; or about the length of the chain.

The longer the chain, the possible options for patterns of amino acids grows exponentially. So, the chances of finding a useful, viable, functioning protein through random mutation and unguided naturalistic processes is exceedingly rare and exceedingly small. And that’s just to get you the first life form that became the ancestor of everything else under macro-evolution’s model. Each new species would need greater, longer, more complex protein chains to form and code for. And the chances of getting these grows exponentially unlikely each time you move up the complexity level.

At a convention in the 1960s, MIT scientists were the first to spot the mathematical challenges to Darwinism. At the time they could calculate how many different possibilities of protein amino acid patterns could be formed through random chance. But just because there are ‘x’ number of ways to configure amino acids, that doesn’t mean they will all work as viable proteins, which the 1960s scientists didn’t realise. There are only a tiny amount of combinations that lead to life in comparison to the amount of options available as a mere pattern. There have now been extensive studies done to show how rare the functional codes for proteins are in relation to all the possible gibberish sequences you could in theory come up with randomly. For a short protein (150 amino acids long) the ratio is that for every 1 viable pattern there are 10⁷⁷ gibberish patterns.

So, functioning proteins are exceedingly rare. It’s very hard to imagine random forces leading to functioning proteins and that’s when you’ve got the 20 different amino acids in the first place. Atheist scientists still have to account for how they arose naturally and blindly, which they have not been able to do. The ribosome factories that make protein chains (out of the 20 different amino acids) are themselves made of proteins. Another chicken and egg problem…

References [1] Did you know that a growing number of scientists doubt the Darwinian theory of evolution? - YouTube [2] Giving Up Darwin by David Gelernter [3] Giving Up Darwin by David Gelernter [4] Giving Up Darwin by David Gelernter

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