Darwinism's Rumble in the Jungle
For years, Darwinists have been touting the fossil record, drug-immune bacteria, anatomical similarities between species, "junk" DNA, and the like, in the fashion of Don King hyping the indomitability of a heavyweight champ. However, a champ's greatest strength can also be his greatest weakness, as George Foreman learned from Muhammad Ali in their 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle."
While Ali's "rope-a-dope" strategy was criticized by many fans, others recognized the wisdom of letting an opponent defeat himself by his own strength. The same is true with respect to a giant of science that has been pounding its chest for over 150 years.
Darwin's theory of evolution was founded on the pillars of natural selection, random and unguided natural processes, gradualism, and common descent—the validity, of which, say its evangelists, comes from the strength of the evidence. But despite the best efforts of its handlers to keep the pillars of evolution propped up with peppered moths, missing links, and other just-so stories, the champ has been showing signs of fatigue for some time now.
Over a decade ago, British historian Paul Johnson noted that "the Darwinian brand of evolution is becoming increasingly vulnerable as the progress of science reveals its weaknesses."1 And here's why.
Natural selection is the process whereby nature "selects" certain modifications in life forms over others, based on their evolutionary fitness. Over time, accumulated modifications lead to ever more complex and "fit" species, or so the story goes.
Examples paraded in many standard biology textbooks include Darwin's finches, peppered moths, and drug resistance.
In the 1980s, Princeton evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant studied the famous finches first noted by Darwin during his visit to the Galapagos Islands. The Grants observed that the beak size of finches increased after a drought. They theorized that the drought reduced the number of small seeds relative to the quantity of larger ones, such that only finches with larger, stronger beaks would be able to grasp and eat the larger seeds and survive. In a 1992 follow-up study, their research team estimated that if a drought occurred once every ten years, a new species of finch would evolve in only 200 years.2
What the team failed to notice was that the finches' beak size returned to normal within a few years after a drought ended, resulting in no directional change. Yet even if a directional change had occurred, it would not have demonstrated how a finch could one day become a falcon any more than it would have shown how a primordial swill of molecules could become a gene.
This is not to suggest that genetic alterations have not occurred in species. The changes observed in the finches present an example of "micro-evolution": the in-built process of genetic variation and inheritance that enables a species to adapt, within pre-defined limits, to changing environmental pressures. Micro-evolution explains why dogs come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and abilities, yet are forever distinguishable from other life forms by their unique gene pool.
Even with thousands of years of intelligent intervention—i.e., breeding—dogs have always remained dogs, with improvements in their stock more than offset by increased susceptibility to disease and decreased longevity, effects rendering them less, not more, evolutionarily fit. The long history of animal breeding strongly suggests a terminal point of evolution, bounded by genetic limitations.
Ecologist H. B. D. Kettlewell "found" that light-colored moths turned dark during England's Industrial Revolution, when pollution buildup on tree trunks made light moths more visible to predators. His apparent discovery was touted as "evolution in action," even though it was later learned that peppered moths do not normally rest on tree trunks and that the photos purportedly supporting the findings had been staged—dead moths had been glued to trees and then photographed. Nonetheless, the shoddy moth study still adorns school textbooks as a classic "proof" of natural selection.
In 2005, Patrick Chisholm of the Christian Science Monitor referenced the moth study to emphasize that "Evolution is fact." Miffed at school administrators who refused to elevate the theory to proven status, Chisholm scolded, "Saying evolution is a theory is like saying the earth revolving around the sun is a theory."3
Not quite. In contrast to heliocentrism, which we do experience and have empirically verified, evolutionary change, in Chisholm's own words, "happens much too slowly for humans to perceive" or to validate scientifically.
So, to bolster his argument, Chisholm went on to cite the evolution of organisms' resistance to drugs and other toxic chemicals.
While evolution can occur as small, limited changes in an organism's genome, such changes are far more often detrimental than they are beneficial. In the rare instances where a benefit is conferred (e.g., antibiotic immunity, pesticide resistance), it usually comes about as a result of the loss or suppression of information in certain genes (such as the genes controlling the digestion of the drug or pesticide), not of a gain in information, which is necessary for novel life forms to occur. When resistant bugs are placed in competition with "normal" ones, the resistant ones often die off because of the loss of function associated with the drug resistance.
The bottom line is that mutations tend to destroy functions at a far greater rate than they create new ones. Consider the much-studied fruit fly: radiation experiments over the last hundred years have yielded dead flies, deformed flies, and unaffected flies, but no new species or useful traits.
A Random, Unguided Process
The champ's promoters insist that evolution is a blind, unguided, and purposeless process of change that leads to ever more complex and "fit" life forms. Yet the features of the most elementary building blocks of life countervail this claim.
DNA contains the instructions for life in its famous double-helix structure. Functioning like the hard disk in a computer, DNA stores the software that controls the construction and maintenance of biological systems. Cell instructions are written with a chemical "alphabet" of four nucleotide bases—adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T)—in segments of functional units called genes. The complete code consists of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of genes (depending on the organism), which, in turn, consist of many thousands of "letters." Even the smallest organism requires nearly one million molecules to "spell out" all of its needed instructions.
There is no physical or chemical law that determines the order in which nucleotide bases appear in DNA. This means that the DNA sequence is not determined by its chemistry any more than the letter sequence in a written sentence is determined by the chemistry of the ink. Just as the lyrics to "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" are not reducible to the chemical reaction between ink and paper, so also the "complex and specified information" of DNA is not a product of chemical laws. That leaves two options: blind chance or design.
Consider a simple, one-celled organism that requires 250 proteins of 150 amino acids each. Using the experimental findings of protein scientist Douglas Axe, intelligent design theorist Stephen Meyer calculated that the probability of such a cell being produced by chance is one in 1041,000.4
Low odds for sure. And even if "chance" had every moment of time over the 15-billion-year existence of the universe to work in, its probability of success in producing that cell would be about one in 1060—much better odds, but still astronomically low.
The upshot is that the resources of the universe are insufficient to produce even the most elemental cell. And without cells, evolution is like a factory assembly line with nothing on the conveyor belt.
The Urey-Miller Experiment
In 1953, in an early attempt to show how life could have arisen naturally, researchers Harold Urey and Stanley Miller conducted an experiment that produced a small yield of amino acids. At first glance, this result seemed to demonstrate that chemical evolution was possible, but all Miller and Urey actually showed was that an atmosphere properly designed could be carefully guided to produce a few life-essential building blocks. That is, their success depended not on a random and unguided process, but on an intelligently designed and managed experiment that started out with the necessary chemical components. While attempting to verify evolution by blind, materialistic means, Miller and Urey merely confirmed the need for an intelligent agent to create and control the conditions necessary for life.
The same year that Urey and Miller published their work, Francis Crick and James Watson unraveled the structure of DNA—the macro-molecule that carries information for building proteins and governs a whole range of cellular functions, including replication, repair, data transmission, feedback looping, and self-correction of transcription errors. In the 1990s, by which time computer programming had become very sophisticated, a group of Microsoft engineers analyzed the chemical sequences of DNA and remarked, "Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created."5
Just think, if the most highly evolved thing in the cosmos—the human mind—using the collective imagination, creativity, cognitive power, and scientific know-how of the brightest software engineers on the planet, is unable to re-create the instructions resident in DNA, then to conjecture that those instructions could have been cobbled together through an aimless process of random variation and adaptation is nothing short of stupefying.
If complex and specified information is inexplicable by natural laws or by chance, then it must be a product of design. In fact, the evidence for design is so overwhelming that Crick felt compelled to warn his fellow evolutionary biologists that they "must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved." Reminds me of the ancient warning about people who are "ever seeing but never perceiving."
The observation that random mutations produce change and variation in genes led evolutionary biologists to conclude that useless genetic material must blindly accumulate in our genomes over time. They called strands of DNA for which they could not discern a function "junk DNA." Their conclusion seemed reasonable in 2003, when the Human Genome Project was completed, for at that time only 2 percent of the human genome was known to have a biological function.
ID theorists, however, predicted that as research went on, functions would be discovered for that so-called junk DNA. And that is precisely what happened. In Salvo 31, I noted that the ENCODE Project, "a five-year study encompassing 30 peer-reviewed papers, concluded in 2012 that 80 percent of the human genome has a biological function."6
Junk DNA is dead. ID predicted it, and ID predicts that this trend of discovery will continue.
According to Darwinism, large-scale changes in species are the result of numerous small-scale changes building on each other over glacial periods of time. This notion, however, doesn't square with the fact that life at all levels, from single genes to fully integrated organisms, exhibit "irreducible complexity" (IC)—that is, they have multiple interacting components each of which is essential for the system to function.
At the genetic level, DNA depends on the existence of many protein-based molecular machines which, themselves, are encoded by DNA. At the cellular level, DNA, RNA, cell membranes, and assorted cellular machinery are all needed for a single cell's survival. Other biological systems, such as the eye, our blood-clotting mechanism, and the bacterial flagellum, also exhibit IC. Each depends on a host of integrated parts, and if a single part is missing, the whole system is rendered non-functional.
Take, for example, the bacterial flagellum, which functions like an outboard motor, enabling a bacterium to navigate in its aquatic environment. The flagellum is made up of over 30 different proteins and has the ability to turn at up to 100,000 rpm and to reverse directions in one-quarter of a revolution. Harvard biologist Howard Berg calls it "the most efficient machine in the universe."7
Obviously, an organism like this, whose functionality depends on dozens of integrated and coordinated parts, spells trouble for the gradualism theory. But in the scramble to keep their champ from stumbling, evolutionary scientists have argued that the existence of a needle-like structure similar to the flagellum is evidence that both evolved from a common ancestor, and that a partial flagellum could have had a viable function during its evolutionary development.8
My mountain bike shares many similarities with my Toyota Tacoma: both have wheels, brakes, gears, and a metal frame. So, given enough time, the combined effects of quantum jitters, cosmic rays, and wind erosion should be able to morph my bike into a pick-up truck, right?
Hardly—there's a huge chasm between the two systems that could not be bridged by gradual evolution. The same goes for the needle and the flagellum. And my Tacoma comes nowhere close to being "the most efficient machine in the universe."
The Fossil Record
It is argued that the fossil record shows that all life forms today share a common ancestry. But there's a problem: the lack of intermediate forms in the fossil record. Considering the vast number of morphological differences between original and final forms, there should be just as many (if not more!) intermediate forms as final ones. But as Stephen Meyer notes in his book Darwin's Doubt, geologists "have found no such myriad of transitional forms," only "the abrupt appearance of the earliest animals."9
For example, in the Cambrian Period, the fossils of 20 phyla (out of a total of 27 in the fossil record) were laid down in a blink of geological time. Not only does the Cambrian mark their first appearance in the fossil record, but the complexity of these phyla evinces a quantum leap over pre-Cambrian fossils, with no traceable line of descent between them. As Meyer writes, "the only living forms documented in the fossil record for over 3 billion years were single-celled organisms." Then, within a brief geological span, sponges showed up—something akin, as Meyer puts it, to "transforming a spinning top into a bicycle."10
The response from the champ's corner is that the intermediate organisms were too small or too soft to be preserved. However, in 1984, researchers exploring a geological formation outside of Chengjiang, China, discovered "many excellent examples of well-preserved animals . . . including soft-bodied members of phyla" like corals, jellyfish, comb jellies, and segmented worms. In 1998, a researcher at that same formation found sponge embryos and what appeared to be "cells undergoing cell division." Closer examination with an electron microscope revealed fossilized cell membranes and even cell nuclei!11
This discovery shows that small or soft-bodied ancestors of living animals could have been preserved in the fossil record—if they had existed. Gradualism simply does not explain what we see.
Common descent, popularly depicted as a Tree of Life, is the theory that all life forms can be traced back to a common primordial ancestor. Yet much of what is interpreted as evidence for common descent can just as easily be explained by common design. Consider the witness of morphology and genetics.
Common descent, say evolutionists, is evident in the body plan similarities between fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals at the embryonic stage. There's just one problem: the early-stage embryos of these groups are significantly different from each other. Many of their putative resemblances are based on the nineteenth-century drawings of Darwin admirer Ernst Haeckel, who fabricated the depictions.
But even if the drawings were accurate, they could as easily be rallied in support of common design as common descent. The same can be said for certain genuine structural similarities across species, such as those between the fish fin, the bird wing, and the human hand. To suggest that similarities between species are counter-indicative of design is like arguing that similarities in the musical arrangements of the songs on the Sergeant Pepper album are counter-indicative of songwriting.
Nevertheless, many school textbooks published over the past 50 years—including some still in print today—contain the Haeckel drawings, even though the scientific community has known about the fakery for over a century.
In addition to common morphology, much is made of similar genes across species to support Darwinian theory. For instance, in one study involving the decoding of 3 billion bits of the chimpanzee genome, researchers found that the chimp and human genomes are 99 percent identical in regions that both share. The remaining 1 percent, however, comprises 40 million differences, which the investigators refer to as "40 million evolutionary events that separate them from us."12
Like common morphology, common genes provide no more evidence of common descent than they do of common design. Nor do they illustrate how evolution best explains the noted similarities and differences.
In fact, the genetic differences in themselves are far too meager to explain why chimps lack the uniquely human faculties of complex language, math, self-consciousness, moral and transcendent awareness, true altruism, creativity, and logical thought. As Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, opined, "I'm still amazed, when I see how special humans are . . . that we don't find stronger evidence for a huge difference in our genomes."13
Rather than demonstrating "evolution in action," the chimp genome study suggests that what separates us from them is something much more than the sum total of our genes.
The Giant Staggers
So why do Darwin's promoters keep backing a champ riddled with so many problems? I think the best answer comes from self-professed atheist Thomas Nagel:
It isn't just that I don't believe in God. . . . I hope there is no God! . . . I don't want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and is responsible for . . . the overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.14
In short, devotedness to evolution may stem not so much from the champ's scientific strength as from an emotional aversion to his number one contender: intelligent design.
Back in the Jungle
In round after round of his bout with George Foreman, Muhammad Ali did little more than move and lean on the ropes as Foreman mercilessly pounded him. But after seven rounds of throwing leather, the champ was spent. At the opening bell of the eighth, Foreman lumbered toward the challenger, only to be greeted by a flurry of viper-like strikes followed by a rock-solid shot to the head. Foreman hit the canvas and soon afterwards faded into the obscurity of exhibition matches, while Ali regained the title and dominated heavyweight boxing for the next four years.
Judging by how long and feverishly the Darwinist corner has been pitching a theory based on flawed studies, fraudulent evidence, and emotional preferences, I would say we're nearing the opening of the eighth round. •Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and physicist, a Colson Center fellow, and a Christian commentator on faith and culture. He is the author of Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters, available at Amazon.This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #40, Spring 2017 Copyright © 2021 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo40/champ-change