Methinks it is Like a Weasel
D. Pitman M.D.
© April 2007
Table of Contents
The observation that
things in nature change has been considered and theories proposed as
explanations throughout recorded history.
Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, etc. all proposed theories to explain the
"flowing" or "liquid" quality of a changing nature.1 Naturalistic and evolutionary ideas appeared
early on in recorded human history.
However, not until Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published his On the
Origin of Species in 1859, with the proposed mechanism of "natural
selection", did a purely non-deliberate naturalistic process become generally
accepted by the scientific community as the true origin of all living as well as
Finally, a logical, apparently rational, evidence-based theory
had been proposed that seemed to clearly explain most, if not all, of the
observed changes in the natural world without the need to appeal to a God or any
other superhuman intelligence.
Obviously Darwin was correct in his observations that living creatures do in fact change over time. He then proposed a theory to explain these changes. He theorized that the small changes he observed in nature could add up over generations to produce larger and still larger changes; to the point of evolution between species. He in fact proposed that all living things, including humans, evolved from a single common ancestor and that all life continues to evolve. The proposed process of evolution suggested that very slight random changes in some creatures give them an advantage in a particular environment. This very slight advantage translates into better survival and reproductive fitness. These advantages are passed on to the favored offspring, who in turn survive better and are more reproductive. More and more traits are added (or subtracted) in each generation until, over the course of millions of years, the incredible diversity of living things that we see today is the result.
This is a great theory. It sounds reasonable. It does in fact explain some interesting observations and it makes some predictions that can be tested. Darwin did in fact observe small changes, such as changes in the size and shape of finch beaks etc. However, Darwin never did see a finch turn into an iguana or visa versa (or any other such major change). The small changes are testable, but the larger changes are not because they are theorized to take many thousands or even millions of years to occur. This is far too long to be observed or tested for, even in many lifetimes. Can it then be said that large-scale evolution is not observable or directly testable and therefore not a true science? Well, not quite. Science convincingly proposes a great many things that cannot be or at least have not been directly observed based on what has been observed and tested. However, lets take a look at what has been observed and see if Darwin's conclusions really stand up in the light of additional information.
Darwin did observe very clear changes in creatures, no doubt. These changes are so impressive as to make evolution appear quite reasonable if not downright obvious to the candid mind. In fact, it seems like the only reason that it was not accepted without any qualms whatsoever is because it clashed with the prevailing understanding of origins in the religious communities of the day. However, just because truth might be distasteful, does not change the fact that it is true. Those with strong religious convictions seemed unable to explain the obvious evidence in existence before their own eyes. The reaction of the religious community in general was not calm and considered, but explosive, defensive, and authoritative. This is a common human reaction in the face of an unanswerable challenge to a cherished idea. However, just because no effective challenge could be given during Darwin's day does not mean that a theory should not continue to be tested and questioned. Only by testing and retesting do theories grow and improve. We are now in the age of genetics where the small morphologic or "phenotypic" changes noted by Darwin can be analyzed on the sub-cellular/molecular level.
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) is the father of modern genetics. He was an Austrian monk who lived during the time of Darwin. Unfortunately, Darwin was never made aware of Mendel's work. During Darwin's time, no one knew about DNA or genes or exactly how traits were passed on from parents to offspring. It was generally known that certain traits could be selected for since this was commonly done with the breeding of animals such as dogs, cats, cows and horses etc. But, until Mendel, no good explanation for the process of inheritance had been proposed. Mendel observed predictable changes in specific characteristics of various plants in his garden as he bred them in specific ways. He observed that certain "traits" were predictably "dominant" in expression over other less expressed or "recessive" traits.
So, what does this prove? Mendel's experiments proved that not all observed changes are random, but are based on predictable rules of inheritance. A certain degree of potential variation is programmed into the "genetic pools" of many creatures giving them a variety of available "options" or characteristics to pass on to their offspring.2
Since Mendel, the human understanding of genetics has grown at an impressive rate. We now know that all traits in all living cells are written in a coded language and stored in a molecular book called D.N.A. (Deoxyribonucleic Acid). We know that this language is written using an alphabet of four chemical letters labeled A, T, G and C (Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, and Cytosine). The language of DNA has also been decoded. We know that this language only recognizes three letter words or "codons." A three-letter codon in turn is "transcribed and translated" into one of twenty different amino acid "residues". Amino acid residues are also letters in another code-like language of proteins. Specific orders and lengths of the twenty different residues make different proteins with specific functions - much like different letter sequences make words with different functions. Not every series of amino acids is recognized by an individual cell, but only those that have a recognized function within that particular cell (Just as not every series of letters in the alphabet is recognized by an English speaking person as having meaning).
Proteins perform a great many vital functions within all living things. So, in order to have function all cells that make up all living things must make proteins. In order to make proteins, a cell must have DNA that tells it exactly how and when to make each protein as well as how to use each protein. DNA is the "blueprint" for the cell/creature. DNA contains all the instructions for the building and function of every part of the creature. If there is any change in structure or function, it will be as a result of change in DNA. Therefore, if evolution occurs, it will be occurring in DNA since the creature is just an expression of the instructions of DNA.
So, in the study of genetic inheritance, what happens to the DNA? Why are some traits "dominant" while others are "recessive?" The dominance and recessiveness of genes is made possible because of sex. Creatures that have the ability to reproduce sexually have some pretty interesting DNA. Half of that creature's DNA came from its mother and half from its father. This creature is able to make specialized cells called "gametes." As this cell develops during a very complex process called "meiosis," the DNA that came from one parent mixes with the DNA that came from the other parent in a very specific and yet random way called "genetic recombination." If all goes according to plan, by the time a gamete is fully developed, it is uniquely different from every other gamete produced by that creature and yet none of them have any gene that their "parent" did not have. Genetic recombination does not involve any mutational changes in the genes, and yet it allows for a huge variety in expression of these genes. A gamete that is produced by the "mother" is then joined with a gamete that is produced by the "father" and they fuse into a single cell and combine their DNA. During its life, the creature expresses only those traits that it received from its parents via their combined DNA. Because of genetic recombination, the expression of traits is always unique and yet predictable. The likelihood of having two identical offspring from the same set of parents at different times is, for all practical purposes, zero.3,13 For example, I have light skin, light brown hair and blue-green eyes. My brother by the same parents has very dark skin, dark brown hair, and dark green eyes. We do have similarities, but we do not look exactly like each other, or even our parents. These differences are not the result of any evolutionary changes, but are simply the result of genetic recombination of pre-existing options in our parent's "gene pool" of options.
Selective breeding has been going on throughout recorded history. However, it is impossible to breed beyond certain limits. For example, in dog breeding there is a limit to the maximum or minimum size that can be bred for. No matter how much selection pressure is applied, a Great Dane is about as big as a dog can get, and a Chihuahua is probably at the limit of doggy smallness. There is definitely a very wide range for size, color, temperament et cetera that can be bred for, but there are limits to the expression of each of these traits. This applies to all creatures that multiply using sexual reproduction. Likewise, the variation in groups of finch beaks that Darwin noted is easily explained using genetic recombination. The same can be said for the famous color changes in England's peppered moth. The major variations between the different human races are also easily explained using genetic recombination. Therefore, these "examples" are not examples of evolution at all - at least not when it comes to producing any new types of functions within the pool of options which were not already there.
Dr. Walter Veith, zoologist and senior professor at the University of the Western Cape, says, "By selecting from the built-in natural variation of the gene pool, various breeds of dogs and domestic cattle were produced. Great changes in physiology and morphology are involved, and evolution is here certainly excluded."4
Darwin had no idea since he was not capable of understanding the genetics involved, so he can be excused for assuming some sort of evolutionary process here. However, for us in this modern age of increased enlightenment we can no longer use Darwin’s finch beaks or other such variations within a "species" as examples of evolution in action. Why? Because in none of these examples has anything that is actually genetically new or unique evolved!
The Theory of Evolution claims not only that life has evolved in the past, but that it continues to evolve. If these claims are to be born up scientifically, then this theory is going to have to be subjected to tests that give evidence to present evolutionary activity. To do this, not only do changes that are informationally unique have to be demonstrated, but the extent to which these changes can add up must be tested. For example, by appealing to genetic recombination alone, it is impossible to turn a dog into a cat or a monkey into a man regardless of the selection pressure applied. Different gene pools are involved and some similar genes work together in different ways in different pools. Some other process outside of genetic recombination is needed to explain the "missing links" between unique, functionally different genes and gene combinations.
Richard Dawkins - to the Rescue?
The Theory of Evolution is in serious crisis because of this very problem despite much effort by many great minds to explain it away. One valiant attempt was made by the famous British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In his 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins described an experiment of his that showed how evolution is supposed to work. He programmed a computer to generate random sequences of letters to see if the computer would, over time, generate the line from Hamlet, "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL." This line has 28 characters (including spaces), so the computer was programmed to make 28 selections using the 26 letters of the alphabet plus a space for a total of 27 possible characters to pick from. A typical output was "MWR SWTNUZMLDCLEUBXTQHNZVJQF." With this information, a calculation of the probability of picking the "correct" sequence can be made, as well as how long it would take, on average, to find this "correct" sequence. Dawkins's own calculations suggested that it would take his computer a million million million million million million years (or a trillion trillion trillion years… 1 x 1036 years), on average.
Well, this is clearly way too long for the
current theory. So, how could evolution
possibly take place? Dawkins now put some
"natural selection" into the computer program to simulate "real
closely. The computer made multiple
copies of "MWR SWTNUZMLDCLEUBXTQHNZVJQF" (Offspring) while introducing random
"errors" (mutations) into the copies. The
computer then examined all the mutated "offspring" and selected the one that had
the closest match to, "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL." This selection by the computer (nature) was
now used to make new copies and random mutations (in a "new generation"), from
which the best copy was selected again… and so on. By ten "generations" the sequence had
"evolved" to read something like, "MDLDMNLS ITJISWHRQEZ MECS P." By the thirtieth generation it read something
like, "METHINGS IT ISWLIKE B WECSEL."
Instead of taking many trillions and zillions of years this time, the
computer came up with the "fittest" phrase in about 40
generations.5 Of course, Dawkins made a disclaimer
noting that this
experiment was not intended to show how real evolution works, but that it does
illustrate the advantages gained by a selection mechanism in an evolutionary
Of course, Dawkins made a disclaimer noting that this experiment was not intended to show how real evolution works, but that it does illustrate the advantages gained by a selection mechanism in an evolutionary process.
"Although the monkey/Shakespeare model is useful for explaining the distinction between single-step selection and cumulative selection, it is misleading in important ways. One of these is that, in each generation of selective 'breeding', the mutant 'progeny' phrases were judged according to the criterion of resemblance to a distant ideal target, the phrase METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. Life isn't like that. Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection, although human vanity cherishes the absurd notion that our species is the final goal of evolution. In real life, the criterion for selection is always short-term, either simple survival or, more generally, reproductive success."5
How Does Natural Selection - Select?
Now, if Dawkins's illustration does not show how real evolution is supposed to work, what's the point? Clearly a selection mechanism can work in certain cases like this, but can biosystem functions evolve in any remotely similar way? Therein lies the problem. Dawkins's computer did not make its selection based on phrase function, but on phrase sequence comparisons to a pre-existing "ideal" phrase. So, why might this be a problem? After all, its just an illustration. Perhaps it is an illustration, but it is not illustrating anything even close to what natural selection is capable of achieving when it comes to many types of functional biosystems. The theory of evolution is based on the fantastic powers of "Natural Selection". The problem is, natural selection, in real life, selects based only on differences in function.
If two genetic sequences are both non-functional or if they both have the same function, then natural selection cannot select between them. In other words, nature is blind to their genetic sequence differences if they both have the same function. If Dawkins had wished to mirror the type of selection proposed by the theory of evolution, he would have based his computer model on functional phrase selection. The problem here is that "MDLDMNLS ITJISWHRQEZ MECS P" doesn't mean anything. This phrase has no language function. A selection mechanism that only recognized changes in function would look at this phrase and compare its function to the function of a phrase like, "SDLDMNLS ITJISWHRQEZ MECS P" where an M was mutated into an S and throw up its hands and say, "I can't tell the difference". Why? Because, both phrases have the same non-functional function. A selection mechanism that is based on function will not be able to tell the difference between them. Therefore, one sequence will not be selected over the other for "survival" in the next generation. In short, there will be no "directed" evolutionary change toward some sort of improvement or new function. At this point, nature is basically blind to such changes; it cannot act as any sort of guiding non-random evolutionary force.
Another problem with Dawkins's illustration is that the computer already had the "ideal" phrase programmed into it by an intelligent designer (Dawkins) to begin with. The evolution of something that is already there is not the evolution of anything new at all. If nature already has what it wants or needs, then it does not need to "evolve" it.
Mindless nature does not "see" the actual letters of words (in DNA or Protein). All that a mindless nature can see is what function results. Since function is arbitrarily attached to words by an outside source of information, such as a system of function or definition, a gradual change in the letters of the words themselves is not necessarily going to result in a gradual evolution of their meaning or function. A gradual change in a recognized word or phrase will most likely destroy its original meaning well before any new word or phrase is recognized as having beneficial meaning/function. Without stepwise improvements in function the entire way, natural selection is blind and even Richard Dawkins will admit that without natural selection to guide evolution, evolution is statistically impossible.
Yes, blind evolution might result in change to the "spelling" of genetic sequences, but such changes would not necessarily be functional changes. Changing one nonfunctional word into another nonfunctional word is a "change", but it is not a functional change since both words remain, well, nonfunctional or non-beneficial to the same degree. Two nonfunctional words both have the same nonfunctional function. You see, although natural selection is a real force of nature, it acts as a stabilizing force; it does not promote speciation. It is not the creative force that many people have suggested.16
Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, says that, "Molecular evolution is not based on scientific authority. There is no publication in the scientific literature in prestigious journals, specialty journals, or books that describe how molecular evolution of any real, complex, biochemical system either did occur or even might have occurred. There are assertions that such evolution occurred, but absolutely none are supported by pertinent experiments or calculations." 6
Real Evolution in Action
Many might say that bacterial antibiotic resistance or diseases such as sickle-cell anemia (SCA) are examples of evolution in action. To a certain extent I would agree, but these changes and the unique functions that result have their limits. Often such changes are the result of a loss of a genetic function or pre-established interaction. Such changes might make a creature look different (maybe even survive better in certain environments, such as flightless birds on windy islands or cavefish without eyes). Certainly such changes are the result of genetic modifications where genes that where once functional are no longer functional. However, it is very easy to mutate a sequence so that it looses function. The reason for this is that each functional sequence is surrounded by a vast ocean of potentially nonfunctional or at least potentially non-beneficial sequences. A very few mutations are all that are needed to change a functional sequence into a nonfunctional sequence - regardless of which direction the mutations happen to drag a particular sequence into the surrounding ocean of the potential of sequence space. A huge number of evolutionary paths lead from function to nonfunction. Any one of these paths will do. So, this type of evolution is simple and happens all the time. Remember good ol' Humpty Dumpty? It was much easier to break Humpty Dumpty than it was to put him back together again. Why? Because there were a lot more ways for Humpty Dumpty to be broken than there were ways for him to be fixed. But, there are actually a few ways to make new Humpty Dumptys . . . right?
Well, yes there are. The actual gain of new genetic or biosystem functions, new functions that are not based on the loss or disruption of some other functional system, have in fact been demonstrated with experiments that include the evolution of the lactase enzyme in E. coli bacteria performed by Professor Barry Hall,23 and the evolution of the nylonase enzyme demonstrated by Kinoshita, et. al., 24,25 - to name just two of many such examples. However, all such examples of the evolution of novel functions occur as the result of one or two point mutations. No gaps of neutral or nonfunction wider than a handful of non-beneficial mutations have, to my knowledge, ever been crossed. Statistically, as the size of the gaps increase in a linear fashion, the number of mutation or amount of time required to cross these gaps increases exponentially - to the point were increasing the population size simply cannot keep up.
As Richard Dawkins noted himself, "However many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead." 5
The Non-Beneficial Gap Problem
So, do these non-beneficial gaps really increase in real life? And, if they do increase, what causes them to increase?
The gaps do indeed seem to increase, in a linear fashion, as one examines functional systems that have a greater and greater minimum threshold structural requirement. What this basically means is that those types of biosystem functions that require a greater minimum number of amino acid residues all working together at the same time in specific orientation relative to each other are more and more isolated from each other in the potential of sequence space. The odds that anything that exists in a gene pool will be just one or two mutations away from any potentially beneficial sequence that does not yet exist start to drop with each increase in the minimum structural threshold requirements - by more than 2 fold for each single character increase in threshold with a specificity of 1 of only 10 or so amino acid residues per sequence position (out of 20 total character options). Pretty soon trillions upon trillions of years are required to cross apparently small non-beneficial gaps between anything that exists within a gene pool and anything that might exist at a higher-level of functional complexity. In real life, this problem translates into a complete lack of evolution "in action" beyond those types of functions that require more than one or two thousand fairly specified residues working together at the same time. There isn't a single example in all of scientific literature of evolutionary mechanisms producing any novel function beyond this threshold - not one example.
A Little Bit of Math
To understand this
problem a little more, lets take a closer look at proteins and how they work. In a living cell, proteins work like locks and keys called enzymes and
substrates. Like other locks and keys,
proteins are very specific molecules. All
proteins have certain amino acids or protein "letters" in their makeup that
cannot change without a loss of protein function. These amino acids are called
are generally the foundation of the functional three-dimensional shape of the
protein. There are other locations, besides these, that can change only between
certain types of amino acids (twelve polar, including two acidic and three basic
amino acids vs. eight nonpolar amino acids).
For example, the hemoglobin protein consists of four amino acid residue chains
(of two different types) adding up to a total of 574 amino acids. Richard Dawkins claims that 190 (33%) of these
are "invariant." 5 Much more of
the molecule is "nonpolar" and can only change within a group of eight nonpolar amino
acids (partially variant).7 Of course, this means that the
hemoglobin "function" requires a fairly high degree of
"specificity" of amino acid arrangement before its function can
be realized to a beneficial degree. In short, only a very tiny fraction of the
huge number of potential arrangements of 574 amino acid residues (~1e746) will
actually work to produce the hemoglobin function (a ratio of less than
1e-500). Given these odds, one would have a far far greater chance of
finding one specific atom in the entire universe (ratio of ~1e-80).
Of course, this means that the hemoglobin "function" requires a fairly high degree of "specificity" of amino acid arrangement before its function can be realized to a beneficial degree. In short, only a very tiny fraction of the huge number of potential arrangements of 574 amino acid residues (~1e746) will actually work to produce the hemoglobin function (a ratio of less than 1e-500). Given these odds, one would have a far far greater chance of finding one specific atom in the entire universe (ratio of ~1e-80).
Cytochrome c, part of the electron transport chain of proteins responsible for making usable energy for the cell, also seems to have a fair percentage of "invariant" amino acids in its structure. Out of the usual 104 amino acids that make up cytochrome c humans differ from bread mold by only 44 amino acids. Even with these differences, the various cytochrome c sequences are basically the same, having essentially the "same 3D topology." Furthermore, in vitro studies have shown that the cytochrome c sequences from any species can integrate themselves correctly with the other elements of the oxidation processes of all other creatures using cytochrome c. In other words, all the varieties are interchangeable because they are basically identical in 3D structure and function. In order to maintain this specificity, other studies that compared sequences of 40 species have shown that "at least 35 of the 104 amino acids are invariant. . . Furthermore, at another 40 sites, only 2 or 3 amino acids occur, and at each of those sites, the pairs of triplets are always very similar in chemical character - i.e., they are either hydrophilic, hydrophobic, or neutral with respect to water. At only a very few sites can radically different amino acids occur. Why might this be? Presumably, mutations occur at all sites. However, changes at some sites destroy the function of the molecule, whereas at other sites, some change is tolerable, and at a few sites, major changes don't seem to be of much consequence. Subsequent detailed studies of molecular structure confirmed these premises. Many of the invariant sites are critical in causing the molecule to fold itself properly--changes at these sites would completely disrupt the molecule's function." 27
With these thoughts in mind, lets do a few calculations and see if we cannot make the situation a little more clear. Let's take a protein sequences of 100 amino acid residues. How many different 100aa protein sequences are possible? There are just over 1e130 different possible amino acid arrangements in a 100aa protein (20100). That is a huge number. It is estimated that there are only 1e80 particles of matter (electrons, proteins, neutrons) in the entire universe. The question is, of these 1e130 different sequences, how many of them would have the cytochrome c function? If we say that 35aa of the 100aa are invariant and that another 40aa can only change between two amino acids, and perhaps another 20aa can change between 5 or so amino acids and the five that are left over can change between all 20 amino acids . . . how many variations will still have the cytochrome c function? These numbers add up to around 1e40. Of course, 1e40 is the tiniest of tiniest tidbits when compared to a number like 1e130. However, there are some who suggest that there are actually several more "variant" amino acids in cytochrome c and that even certain amino acids that are "invariant" between many different groups of animals can in fact be changed without a complete loss of cytochrome c function. They suggest that a more reasonable number of amino acid sequences with potential cytochrome c function would be on the order of 1e60. Certainly 1e60 is a great deal larger than 1e40, but this is still nothing compared with a number like 1e130. In comparison, each one of the functional 1e60 sequences would be surrounded by 1e70 sequences that would have absolutely no cytochrome c function. This is an absolutely huge sea of protein sequences that would not have even a small bit of cytochrome c function. Finding even one of the 1e60 functional cytochrome c sequences out of 1e130 possibilities would be like finding a particular proton out of all the subatomic particles in the universe.
What one has to ask is what are the odds that the any of the correct sequences, at this level, will be within striking distance of anything that already exists within any genome?
Armadillo vs. Armada
To help visualize these neutral and/or nonfunctional gaps, consider the word, "armadillo." This word has a meaning and sometimes a beneficial function, in certain situations or contexts, in the English language system. However, lets say that the next closest understood word in the English language is "armada." Obviously no single letter change is going to get us from armadillo to armada. Before single character changes to "armadillo" achieve the new function of "armada" all function is going to be lost. For example, what does "armadallo" mean? If we are allowed to only select between words that have meaning, we cannot select armadallo over, say, "brmadillo" simply because "armadallo" is closer to our desired goal of "armada." Why? Because, as with natural selection, we can only select, in a biased manner, between functional differences. Two nonfunctional words are equally nonfunctional or functionally "neutral" when compared with each other. So, there is no basis for non-random selection between them. Without selection ability, it is quite obvious that random chance alone will take a very long time, on average, to cross the functional gap between armadillo and armada - if we use one letter change at a time. Remember how long Dawkins said it would take to evolve, "Methinks it it is like a weasel" without the benefits of a selection mechanism?. . . zillions of years? So, you see, the gap problem is really a tough one for evolution to explain since the mindless naturalistic theory of evolution must rely on a functionally-based selection mechanism. No intuition, creativity, or intelligence is allowed in the door to help out the process.
But, what about multicharacter mutations? What if we can change many characters at the same time or import pre-formed commonly used character sequences from somewhere else within the gene pool? Such mutations are called "indels" or "genetic duplication" mutations. The problem is, as the gaps between higher-level systems become wider, the odds that any sequence that could fill the gap exists preformed anywhere within the gene pool drop dramatically - exponentially in fact. Also, the odds that a longer sequence will get copied and pasted into the new position properly also drop dramatically with each increase in the gap size.
A Few Skeptics
Problems such as this have caused many well-educated scientists to reevaluate their position on evolution. Two prominent British scientists and outspoken atheistic evolutionists, Sir Frederick Hoyle (Big Bang Theory) and Chandra Wickramasinghe were, in their own words, "driven by logic" to conclude that there "must be a Creator." Both of them admitted that this was a tough conclusion for them to admit and that their conclusions were basically forced upon them, "against their will."
Dr. Wickramasinghe went on to say, "From my earliest training as a scientist I was very strongly brainwashed to believe that science cannot be consistent with any kind of deliberate creation. That notion has had to be painfully shed. I am quite uncomfortable in this situation, the state of mind I now find myself in. But there is no logical way out of it. I now find myself driven to this position by logic. There is no other way in which we can understand the precise ordering of the chemicals of life except to invoke the creations on a cosmic scale. . . We were hoping as scientists that there would be a way round our conclusion, but there isn't." 8
his recent book, "Darwin's Black
Box," the biochemist Michael Behe promotes the idea of "irreducible
complexity" in the natural world as giving evidence of intelligent
There are many more scientists, famous and non-famous, who are leaving the theory of evolution behind, often reluctantly, because of the overwhelming "logical" flaws in the theory. So why does it continue to be so popular with most modern scientists? Perhaps, as Chandra Wickramasinghe suggested, it has to do with the fact that it is an integral part of the public educational system?
More than a Theory?
Evolution is rarely questioned in the public school system, but instead is taught as the gospel truth; as "more than a theory." Textbooks never question it but instead refer to evolution as an unquestioned fact of nature. The process of evolution itself may be debated in the public school system, but no one ever challenges the fundamental "truth" that all living things have descended from a common ancestor life form and that this life form arose from the non-living prehistoric ocean chemistry. Perhaps then Dr. Wickramsinghe is correct in describing his educational training in evolution as a "brainwashing"? Maybe it is because of such a bias in training that almost everyone's understanding of evolution is based on someone else's authority, even among scientific experts and professors? No one seems to know exactly how evolution works, but most are sure that someone else knows.
Some might have even more personal reasons for their belief in evolution as suggested by the anthropologist Michael Walker when he said, "One is forced to conclude that many scientists and technologists pay lip-service to Darwinian theory only because it supposedly excludes a Creator from yet another area of material phenomena, and not because it has been paradigmatic in establishing the canons of research in the life sciences and the earth sciences."9
The idea of an intelligent Creator or "God" seems to bother a lot of people. For some, God might create meaning in life, and therefore personal responsibility. Many might have a desire to be free from any such personal restraint. Others might have a painful image of God, or associate the idea of God with dogmatic superstition and ignorance.
Some might feel like the famous writer and evolutionist Aldous Huxley (grandson of Thomas Huxley; "Darwin's Bulldog") when he stated, "I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves... For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political." 10
I find it very interesting that what is supposed to be a completely rational science can be so influenced by personal feelings and philosophy. It seems like even scientists are human. We cannot avoid our personal biases but we can at least be aware of them and how they influence our perception of "truth." However, if there is a “truth” it will be true regardless of how we might feel about it. An honest seeker for truth will search for it and accept it despite its implications.
So, how does one search and sort out truth from error in a non-passionate manner? It seems that the subjective human mind cannot know truth absolutely, but can know error. The scientific method does not prove theories to be absolutely true, but it can prove them to be false. Theories that are beyond the realm of human investigation cannot be proven false and so remain beyond the reach of the scientific method. Such theories are called, "non-falsifiable" or "non-scientific." The claims of evolutionary theory concerning the past are not directly covered here, but are its claims concerning the present and the future testable? If so, they have yet to be demonstrated or even theorized in a testable way. If this particular part of evolutionary theory is in fact non-testable, then it is not a science. It therefore remains strictly a theory based in historical evidence, however "good" or "bad" that evidence might be.
Intelligent Design Theory is in the same boat. No one has yet been able to demonstrate the "Designer of life at work." However, without the ability for evolutionary theories to demonstrate or even theorize genetic evolution in any meaningful way, the obvious complexity of living things does historically match with the complexity seen in other complex objects/machines, all of which were designed outside of any naturalistic process with the use of intelligence. For historical studies, correlation seems to be very important. Design Theory does have the ability to correlate the complexity of living things with the complexity of intelligently designed machines and not with any other known source of informational/functional complexity or apparent design originating at the present time.
Should these facts be passed by unacknowledged by the scientific mind? It seems like evolutionary theories have had ample time to prove themselves. "Darwin's theory of natural selection has never had any proof, yet it has been universally accepted." 18 If significant evolution could happen in just a few generations as Dawkins indicates, then why is it not being observed in life forms like bacteria that have very short generation times? Over the past 50+ years, greater than one million generations of E. coli have been observed, radiated, drugged, burned, frozen, dissected, mutated, selected and manipulated in every conceivable manner (talk about selection pressure), yet E. coli are still E. coli. This seems especially strange when one considers that humans supposedly evolved from apes in less than 200,000 generations using a much lower mutation rate (on the order of one mutation per gene per 100,000 generations).19, 20
A similar case can be made for the fruit fly. Fruit flies are still fruit flies. Why is this?
Gordon Taylor observes, "In all the thousands of fly-breeding experiments carried out all over the world for more than fifty years, a distinct new species has never been seen to emerge." 17
Dr. Robert Macnab seems to be asking the same question about certain highly complex bacterial functions when he states, "...one can only marvel at the intricacy in a simple bacterium, of the total motor and sensory system which has been the subject of this review and remark that our concept of evolution by selective advantage must surely be an oversimplification. What advantage could derive, for example, from a "preflagellum" (meaning a subset of its components), and yet what is the probability of 'simultaneous' development of the organelle at a level where it becomes advantageous?" 21
The fact is that scientists are speaking beyond their ability to really know. They are so cock sure of themselves and the theory of evolution, and yet they really do not have a very good idea about how DNA really works. They have some idea, but when it really comes down to it, DNA and the information it contains is far more complicated than scientists have even begun to realize. For example, for many years it was thought that humans had between 60,000 to 100,000 genes. But, a surprising discovery was made by those working on the human genome project. When they finished the project in 2001, they estimated a that the actual gene count was somewhere between 35,000 to 40,000 genes. What is even more surprising is that the estimates for the genes needed to make a mouse were only about 500 or so different from the absolute number needed to make a human.14 These new estimates were short lived however. In February of 2002, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Science), one of the presenters, Victor Velculescu, suggested that the real number of genes in the human genome may actually be closer to 70,000 genes after all. He and his colleagues, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, have gone back to the lab to look for genes that the computer programs may have missed. Their technique, called serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE), works by tracking RNA molecules back to their DNA sources. After isolating RNA from various human tissues, the researchers copy it into DNA, from which they cut out a kind of genetic bar code of 10 to 20 base pairs. The vast majority of these tags are unique to a single gene. The tags can then be compared to the human genome to find out if they match up with genes discovered by the computer algorithms. Velculescu said that only roughly half of the tags match the genes identified earlier. For him, this is evidence that the human inventory of genes had been underestimated by about half. The reason for the disparity may be that the standard computer programs were largely developed for the genomes of simple (prokaryotic) organisms, not for the more complex sequences found in the genomes of humans and other eukaryotes. "We're still not very good at predicting genes in eukaryotes," said Claire Fraser of The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland. It's entirely possible that there could be more than 32,000 genes, and SAGE is an important approach to finding them. She adds, "You absolutely have to go back into the lab and get away from the computer terminal." 26 Even more recently it seems that what used to be known as non-coding "junk DNA", the remnants of evolutionary discards, may actually be more informationally rich than the coding portions of the DNA, or genes, themselves.
If we still do not really know how many genes we have in our genome, even after having sequenced the entire human genome, how can we be so sure that our genes evolved from lower organisms? And, if even so-called junk-DNA isn't really junk anymore, how do we anyone "know" that humans are between 94% and 99% the same as chimps? And, even if we are, who is to say that our similarities were clearly the result of common descent over some other possibility? The similarities are easily explained by common descent, but what about the functional differences that exist between many different living things? The differences are the real question here. How can these functional differences be explained? If the differences can be explained by the theory of evolution, well and good. However, there seem to be many differences between various genes and biosystem functions that cannot be explained as a result of common descent. The problem is that these "small" differences might turn out to be rather huge. Even a single gene difference can be gigantic depending on how isolated it is in functional sequencing from the available genetic real estate of a given gene pool.
"...An intelligible communication via radio signal from some distant galaxy would be widely hailed as evidence of an intelligent source. Why then doesn't the message sequence on the DNA molecule also constitute prima facie evidence for an intelligent source? After all, DNA information is not just analogous to a message sequence such as Morse code, it is such a message sequence." 22
Has Design Theory come full circle? Many, even among the most respected of scientific minds, seem to be giving it more than another look.
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See also: Wikipedia's "Weasel Program" (Link)
See also: Wikipedia's "Weasel Program" (Link)
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