The article below has attracted quite a lot of attention and comments, the majority of which are negative. I fear that I must take some of the blame for this as I had failed to make my position clear. This would include the heading, which I have now changed to, ‘Why the Darwinian interpretation of evolution does not make sense.’ Darwin would have been more than a man of science if his theory has been wholly complete and impregnable; he would have been a prophet. One of the most fascinating things about human knowledge is how it evolves (no pun intended), and how further research qualifies, modifies and adds to what we know, especially our interpretations of facts. An example of this would be Newton’s work; though his Laws are quite obviously still very much valid and in use today, the mechanistic interpretation of the universe we live in has been proved to be superseded to some degree by quantum mechanics. I believe that animals (including humans) adapt and change for a number of reasons, including environmental reasons, which I shall term ‘micro-evolution’. This much Darwin observed on the Galapagos islands. It is the interpretation and extrapolation of these facts which concern me, including using it as the basis for a wholly materialistic view of the universe as well as ‘macro-evolution’ – the belief that all life evolved from single cell organisms. I hope I shall make my thinking behind my conclusions clear below.
1) It fails to explain how life started. I have a plastic table in my garden. It is not alive. I find it inconceivable that at some point, no matter how many millennia pass, no matter how many protein rich soups of organic matter it is dipped it, it will change from being non alive to alive. Yet, according to the theory of evolution, at some point life is meant to have sprung from non-life. But how can an inanimate object become animate? I accept that strictly speaking this is not part of evolutionary theory; however, I thought it was worth pointing out the obvious problems with a purely materialistic view.
2) Even if life does arise spontaneously and independently it needs to then consume and reproduce. To do this it must already have a ‘program’ written within its DNA that instructs it how to do this. Where does this teleological input come from? The first living cell must not only be alive; it must also have the instructions already encoded in its DNA to tell it to reproduce. To draw a parallel with a computer, it must not only have assembled its own hardware, and gained an energy supply, but must have also have the software which tells it what to do. Otherwise it would simply die without reproducing. For these three fairly miraculous things to happen spontaneously at the same time would be, well, miraculous. Evolutionary theory offers no explanation of how this could happen. This is also true for RNA. Biologist Frank Salisbury says, ‘It’s nice to talk about replicating DNA molecules arising in a soupy sea, but in modern cells this replication requires the presence of suitable enzymes. … [T]he link between DNA and the enzyme is a highly complex one, involving RNA and an enzyme for its synthesis on a DNA template; ribosomes; enzymes to activate the amino acids; and transfer-RNA molecules. … How, in the absence of the final enzyme, could selection act upon DNA and all the mechanisms for replicating it? It’s as though everything must happen at once: the entire system must come into being as one unit, or it is worthless. There may well be ways out of this dilemma, but I don’t see them at the moment’. Frank B. Salisbury, “Doubts about the Modern Synthetic Theory of Evolution,” American Biology Teacher, 33: 335-338 (September, 1971).
3) Current models for how 1) & 2) occurred are flawed. Contrary to received wisdom, there is no viable mechanism that we currently know of for how the all-important ‘primordial soup’ was created. Granted, the Miller – Urey experiments were able to create amino acids, but did so using conditions that would be strikingly different from those that would have existed in the Earth’s early atmosphere. Contrary to the high amounts of reducing gases such as methane, ammonia and hydrogen, it is widely believed that the atmosphere was composed largely of nitrogen and carbon dioxide, neither of which support the synthetic pathways leading to possible monomers. Nick Lane, a biochemist at UCL stated that the primordial soup theory does not hold water., “Is It Time To Throw Out ‘Primordial Soup’ Theory?,” NPR, Feb 7 2010
4) RNA cannot fulfil the role it is given in current theories of evolution. RNA would, to fit current theories have to arise by unguided biological processes. However, as yet it has not yet been observed that this is possible. As New York University chemist Robert Shapiro says, ‘The sudden appearance of a large self-copying molecule such as RNA was exceedingly improbable. … [The probability] is so vanishingly small that its happening even once anywhere in the visible universe would count as a piece of exceptional good luck.’
3) Given that 1) and 2) have happened, it is then a mystery how complex features in creatures arise. Darwin himself remarked that the problem of explaining how, for example, the eye arose turned him cold. The eye of made of several complex components (retina, lens, eyeball, nerves etc), each of which is useless by itself. This means that the owner of a single eyeball, for example, would gain no evolutionary advantage, would have no greater chance to reproduce more successfully than its competitors and would be as likely to become extinct as any other creature until the various parts of its eye had been created by chance. Given the timescale over which such evolutionary processes are meant to happen, this seems unlikely. I used the example of the eye, but to be honest any complex organ within the human body would be a good example such as the heart. It has taken scientists 40 years of conscious effort, billions of dollars and some of the best brains in the business to create an artificial heart that that weighs twice as much and is a fraction as efficient as the heart that beats in all our chests. To suggest that blind chance has succeeded, no matter what the timescale, where conscious intelligence has not, seems to be frankly incredible. It is worth bearing in mind that the heart is one of the simpler physiological systems.But to the eye. I argued that a retina without an eyeball, without a lens etc would be unworkable and confer no advantage upon the creature that has it, and therefore fail to the test of natural selection. On reflection, I feel that this point is not as watertight as I previously believed, although I still fail to see how much evolutionary advantage the ability to see a faint glimmer of light (as in the case of a creature with a very rudimentary retina) would confer. However, I accept that it is possibly conceivable that this might be the case. This is not the end of the story with the eye, however. For even the most rudimentary retina to function at all (and therefore confer any evolutionary advantage) three things need to happen simultaneously and spontaneously; the retina needs to be created, as well as the nerves that connect it to the brain and the sight cortex in the brain that interprets the information the retina is receiving. Therefore instead of a series of very gradual steps as described by Darwin in ‘The Origin of the Species’, three drastic modifications must have to happen in the evolutionary blink of an eye. Again, evolutionary has no explanation for this. Moreover they must have to be ‘positive’ ones, and as the atheist philosopher, Anthony Flew remarked in his book ‘Darwin and Evolution , Darwin put far too much emphasis on positive modifications. Genetic modifications tend to be negative or destructive for the organism involved.To clarify Darwin’s evolutionary case, Dawkins used the example of the limpet, which has a light sensitive spot, shellfish which have such a spot set in a cup, a deeper cup such as the mollusc nautilus has, leading up to the eye of the squid or the octopus which is very like the humans. However, this is not proof of evolution, as Dawkins himself says, these do not represent ancestral types. What would be proof of such evolution would be if we were to discover, say, the remains of an octopus with a less evolved eye (ie missing the lens, to give a simple example). No such single example has been found ever. What has been found, however, is that the very earliest marine creature, the trilobite which lived 450 million years ago, had an eye optimally designed for life underwater. This would seem to turn natural selection and evolution on its head. There are also 40 different forms of the eye; this would mean that the extremely fortuitous ‘numerous successive slight modifications’ that make up each eye would have to happen 40 different times. Not impossible, maybe, but surely highly improbable.
4) Anthony Flew remarked in his book ‘Darwinian Evolution’ that changes brought about by gene mutation do not have to be beneficial; all that is required is that they do not disadvantage the bearer. Therefore we would expect to see a great number of anomalous and useless features on animals; Flew himself gave the exaggerated example of a pair of tiny and therefore useless wings upon a human being. This does not seem to be the case, however; each creature we see today seems to be specifically and supremely well designed to exist in its environment, despite the fact we would expect the number of anomalous effects to increase, not diminish as time went by. To me this is a minor point, but I have included it because I find it hard to refute it. Flew says that changes do not have to offer the possessor an advantage; all they have to do is not disadvantage the possessor. Therefore logically we would expect to find creatures with many useless features such wings. This is just spinning the natural selection argument on its head. Basically my argument in points 3 & 4 is that natural selection does not stand up whichever way you look at it; whether you believe it has to confer an advantage, or not. It represents a logical inconsistency in the Darwinian interpretation of evolution, not an absolute rebuttal of.
5) Moving from a four legged stance to a two legged stance (as humans are said to have done when evolving from primates) requires a pretty massive redesign of the whole skeleton, muscles and nerves, which must happen more or less spontaneously as a gradual transformation would leave the hybrid creature with a shuffling, limping gait which would severely impede its attempts at hunting or avoiding being hunted.. For example, in learning to walk upright it would have to drastically redesign muscles, skeletal framework, nerves, perception. The (presumably) millenia that it would take to do that would leave it less well equipped to survive than in its original condition. Here I will cheat and quote from James Le Fanu Why Us? ‘The strengthening of the gluteus muscle was essential but this would have needed the simultaneous redesign of the bones of the pelvis and the upper thigh, the ligaments to lock the knees, the adaptation of the foot to standing upright etc.’ Now either these all happened simultaneously, rather in contradiction to the idea of slow evolutionary change, or any transitional species without this full set of anatomical changes would basically be crippled, and therefore unlikely to survive long enough to pass its genes on. Now people talk about chimps and bears being able to stand unsupported on their back legs for short periods of time (in order, for example to intimidate others) and point to these being hybrid species to bear out the four legged to two legged hypothesis. However, for these species to be truly hybrid, they would have to be as adept on two legs as on four legs. I have never seen any four legged animals run successfully on two legs, or vice versa, nor has evidence for any ever been discovered. The only other option would be an animal which lives in a strange, half crouching position somewhere between the stance of a four legged animal and a two legged one. The existence of such an animal has never been postulated, let alone discovered.
6) Homo sapien’s prodigious brain may make a Shakespeare possible, but it is difficult to see how it makes it more of a hunter than a wolf pack, who, with their (presumably) smaller and more limited brains, use the teamwork techniques that is so often vaunted as being an example of human ingenuity. For that matter, birds and primates also use tools, for example to break open nuts. It would appear that other creatures have developed the abilities that it is traditionally said are unique to man’s enlarged brain and therefore the reason for his evolutionary ascent. In fact, it is the size of his enlarged brain which makes birth so difficult amongst humans, and, until recently, the risk of death to mother and infant so high. Our large brains means we have a Darwin and a Leonardo Da Vinci, but not necessarily any evolutionary advantage. Mutations may not stop but they would no longer be beneficial. My point was that there are bottlenecks; to go from being ape (which, lets face it, is pretty well suited to its natural environment) to man the ape would have to take several evolutionary steps backwards. Further on this point, I was picked up on a rather throwaway remark I made that ‘our large brains means we have a Darwin and a Leonardo Da Vinci, but not necessarily any evolutionary advantage.’ To put it succinctly, I struggle to see why, if Darwinian evolutionary theory and natural selection is true, we have evolved to produce artists as I struggle to see what evolutionary advantage art can bring. The same is true of philosophy, or any of the humanities, bearing in mind that science is an offshoot of these branches of knowledge. Furthermore, reflective thinking does not, in the short term, offer much in the way of evolutionary advantage. Mere survival would surely be better served by the quick as lightning instinctive reactions observable in creatures, rather than the slower, reflective thinking of humans. Of course, there is the argument that the use of tools (including fire) benefited early man and this is undoubtedly true, but a) many other animals also use rudimentary tools, and b) the cognitive abilities required for the use of these is not huge. Without wishing to be disparaging, you do not require a PhD in order to use a hammer or a shovel; therefore it would seem curious that human intelligence continued to evolve beyond what is necessary for survival. Moreover most animals have their own ‘tools’ in the shape of claws and teeth, in the face of which a stone axe would seem puny by comparison. These animals have these ‘tools’ without having to put in any extra labour; the amount of time and energy expended by early man in order to create a fire or an axe is by comparison huge. So rather than tools offering a huge advantage over competitors, they would instead seem to be an attempt to emulate these animals at the cost of much extra time and calories.
6) To be fair, we have no idea how the mechanics of evolution work. The Human Genome Project has been successful in explaining how the genes ‘code for’ hormones, enzymes and proteins but ‘there is not the slightest hint in the composition of the genes of fly or man to account for why the fly should have six legs, and the human two. (p16, Why US, James Le Fanu, 2009, Harper press).My point is that the majority of DNA only codes for different enzymes, hormones and proteins that make up the cells; there is no overall blueprint. It is rather like having the instructions for making bricks, tiles, rafters etc without any architect actually drawing up a design for a house. DNA by itself does not explain the differences in shape, size and form between humans and apes, flies etc; there is nothing in our DNA or indeed any creatures DNA, as far as we can discover, that can explain the form, shape and size of us or other creatures. DNA codes for the building blocks, but has no blue print as to how these are put together. As historian of science Evelyn Fox Keller puts it, there is a large gap between genetic information (ie DNA) and biological meaning.(Making Sense of Life Harvard University Press 2002). Or as Elizabeth Culotta said in Science 2005 vol 309 pp1468-9, ‘the obvious differences between humans and chimps cannot be explained by genetics alone.’ Fair comment, but then what is the explanation? Often the close correlation between humans and say chimps, which share 98% of our DNA is held up as proof that we evolved from chimps; however, we also share many of our genes with flies, which presumably we did not evolve from. Darwin’s interpretation of Cuvier’s homology principle was that it was evidence of their originating from a common ancestor. However, this would evidently require that they originate from the same basic structures in the developing embryo. This is clearly not the case. Even to the untrained eye the pattern of division of the fertilised egg is quite different in amphibians, reptiles and mammals. ‘The similarity of structure cannot be pressed back to similarity of position of the cells of the embryo out of which these structures are ultimately formed. (Gavin De Beer, Homology, An Unresolved Problem, Oxford University Press 1971). Moreover the paucity of genes (the 1mm long blind roundworm C.Elgans with 959 cells comes in at 19,100 genes, only 6,000 less than humans,) their multitasking and master genes such as Pax 6 flatly contradict Darwin’s idea of natural selection acting on numerous small, random genetic mutations.
7) Edith Heard, Head of Genetics and Developmental Biology at Institut Curie has discovered that genes can switch themselves on and off every couple of cell cycles. ‘You can take a cell that has made all sorts of decisions, stable decisions you would think, yet it can undo them all in a couple of cell cycles.’ Given that each living creature would have thousands of such cell cycles each lifetime, this rather goes against the idea of fortuitous gene mutations being slowly accumulated over millennia, as the mutation X that gave me so an advantage over my competitors (such as giving me excellent eyesight, may have changed into mutation Y by the time it is passed onto my son. Heard goes onto say that, ‘there is no good evidence that this can be heritable over several generation.’ Observer 23.613 Epigenetics is the study of gene expression independent of DNA mutations. Acting in a fashion that contradicts Mendelian inheritance, epigenome changes result from genes being turned off or on by certain environmental factors. Darwinism was in serious trouble by the 1940s owing to the ‘Cambrain explosion’ and the realization that advantageous genes would eventually be diluted out of existence, therefore failing the natural selection test. However, a Roman Catholic priest called Mendel came posthumously to the rescue with his work on plants a century before. His work gave rise to the idea of recessive and dominant genes which underpinned Darwin’s theory and especially the ideas of the new atheists such as Dawkins until they were contradicted very recently by the new work in epigenetics.
8) Most people assume that fossils provide important (evidence) in favour of the Darwinian interpretation of the history of life. Unfortunately, this is not strictly true,’ observes David Raup, of the Natural History Museum in Chicago. ‘Rather than the gradual unfolding of life… species appear in the sequence very suddenly, show little or no change during their existence in the record, the abruptly disappear.’ David Raup, Conflicts between Darwin and Palaeontology’ Field Museum of Natural History Bulletins, 1979, vol 50 (1) pp22-9
To refute this people will quote the example of the eohippus, for example. This is not proof of evolution from single cell organisms to the complex creatures we see today, but rather examples of ‘microevolution’; species adapting to their environment but essentially remaining the same. A mammal does not become a reptile; a hominoid does not become a goat.
Then people will say the fossil record is incomplete. This is true; by definition it is unlikely to include the fossil of every animal that ever walked upon the earth, but even in 1860, the year after when ‘The Origin’ was published, palaeontologist John Phillips would point out there was still more than enough evidence in the rich abundance of marine fossils of the Cambrian explosion to test Darwin’s hypothesis. It failed the test. Since 1860 the fossil record has become ever more complete but that ‘inconceivably great number of transitional species’ that Darwin himself said would be needed to verify his theory have not been discovered.
The origin of life itself, the evolution of the miraculous cell from which all things evolved is still poorly understood.’ Wolport, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, 78
I personally have no great problem with the theory of evolution from a religious or philosophical perspective. What annoys me is how uncritically it has been accepted and this is dangerous. It has become a sacred cow which no-one dare criticise without being labelled, ‘stupid, mad or ignorant’, as Professor Dawkins has put it. In fact what has happened is that, as Thomas Huxely, ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ as he was known, ‘heresy has become superstition’.
Please leave comments below; I am always interested in what people think. If I am wrong on any of the points above, please let me know. I would be most grateful if people could keep their comments civil; I am launching no personal attack on you, so please do not do the same to me.
In response to agnophile’s comment on 22/7/13.
I apologise; you were correct. I had missed your comment regarding point 1. Please find below an elaboration of this which I hope covers your point. If there is anything else I am missing, please let me know. This is very much a work in progress and so I really value yours, and others’, inputs. Thank you for your time and effort in responding to this and keep on rocking. If you know anyone else who has anything to add, negative, critical, or otherwise, please direct them this way.
‘Life is not a quality, it’s (in a strictly biological sense) simply a functional arrangement of matter.’ If this is the case, then surely we can simply synthetically manufacture matter and then place it in the correct functional arrangement, and whatever we wish will become alive? I am not aware that this can or has happened. Moreover, this does not explain why something things, such as a virus is alive, whilst a rock is not. I agree that for life to function the parts have to be in the right arrangement but what is it that makes these parts come alive? I’m not saying I have the answer; I am suggesting that neither does science. Something that is alive is by definition goal seeking, self replicating autonomous agents. This is much more than simply being a correct arrangement of cells. Science has yet to answer the question, ‘How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self replication capabilities and “coded chemistry”? (A Flew 2007)
By its very nature science is ill equipped to answer these questions. As Einstein said, ‘Scientists make poor philosophers’, and the famously atheistic philosopher Nietzsche said, ‘Science does not explain, it merely describes.’ At present people like Dawkins and Dennet get round this by denying such questions even exist. This is the equivalent of saying to a child, ‘It just is’, when the child is asking a question. As parents we have all done this, but it is remarkable how we use that response when we have reached the edge of our knowledge and understanding.
I believe that Carl Woese, a leader in origin of life studies, sums the problem up. Writing in the journal RNA, he says, ‘The coding, mechanistic and evolutionary facets of the problems now became separate issues. The idea that gene expression, like gene replication, was underlain by some fundamental physical principle was gone.’ (2001) Paul Davies adds to this; he observes that most theories of abiogenesis have concentrated in the chemistry of life, but says that, ‘ life is more than just complex chemical reactions. The cell is also an information storing, processing and replicating system. We need to explain the origin of this information and the way in which the information processing machinery came to exist.’He goes onto say.‘ The problem of how meaningful or semantic information can emerge spontaneously from a collection of mindless molecules subject to blind and purposeless forces presents a deep conceptual challenge.’ “The Origin of Life II; How did it begin?”
The first life wasn’t complex or refined, it was simply a self-copying collection of atoms, perhaps something akin to a simple virus inside a soap bubble in terms of complexity. ………. But once you have replication and the ability to pass on structure you have natural select. Maybe, but what told it to do this? Why did it do this as opposed to simply dying? Moreover, no-one has the authority to say the first life was this or that, because no-one knows for sure. We can presume or guess, but this is all these are, presumptions.
And as we see from the fossil record life has been changing for a very, very long time. As you can see from point 8, not in a strictly Darwinian sense it hasn’t. There has been no gradual transition, rather sudden changes. Moreover, as the atheist philosopher A Flew remarked in 2005, ‘the present physicist’s view of the age of the universe gives too little time for the theories of abiogenesis to get the job done.’