Darwinism's Recent Loss of Credibility
In our lesson on the teleological argument for the existence of God, we showed that the universe bears obvious marks of a supreme Designer. The evidence for design is overwhelming. Why then does anyone still believe in evolution? The world-renowned astrophysicist and cosmologist Sir Fred Hoyle has long attacked the idea that life originated by mere chance. By his calculations, the probability of life emerging spontaneously is only 1 in 10^40,000 (1). In a book coauthored with Chandra Wickramasinghe, Hoyle said in 1981 of Darwinism,
It is not only inadequate to explain the evolutionary changes that have occurred, sometimes over quite short intervals for both plants and animals, it is woefully inadequate (2). . . .
Darwinian evolution is most unlikely to get even one polypeptide right, let alone the thousands on which living cells depend for survival. Its woeful inadequacy to account for the biochemistry of life is well-known to geneticists, and yet nobody seems prepared to blow the whistle decisively on the theory. If Darwinism were not considered socially desirable, and even essential for modern man to retain peace of mind, it would of course be otherwise (3).
In other words, the well-informed people have known for quite some time that evolution by chance did not produce the living organisms we see in the world around us.
When I belonged to the secular academic world, the well-informed people still believed in evolution by chance. They were pinning their hopes on neo-Darwinism, which we will consider in a later lesson. But this refinement of Darwin's theory failed to eliminate its implausibilities and its dearth of supporting evidence. The turning point in learned opinion arrived in the 60s and 70s, when it became exceedingly obvious that cell chemistry is far too complex to have been the product of random events. Any theory of evolution by chance became untenable to the extent of being absurd.
Let us now examine in some detail the specific reasons for rejecting any theory of evolution by chance. First, no such theory can explain the origin of life. It has always been believed by evolutionists that conditions on the earth were at one time favorable to the spontaneous formation of organic molecules, that many of these molecules grew step by step until they became proteins, nucleic acids, and other macromolecules useful to life, and that from time to time compatible macromolecules came together and organized themselves in just the right way to constitute a living, reproducing organism. Even Darwin recognized that this was a huge improbability, and since his day no one has offered any remotely plausible theory as to how the first living cell might have been produced by known chemical processes. Today, thanks to great advances in molecular biology, it is well established that life simply could not have appeared spontaneously, just by chance, for four reasons.
1. The complexity of life
It has been learned that the simplest single-celled organism is incredibly complex. E. coli, a bacterium that lives in the human intestine, has a complexity roughly equivalent to 10^12 bits of information. That is the information content in about 100 million pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Probably no cell has any less complexity. Yet supposedly this highly refined and organized structure, the cell, arose gradually over millions of years by haphazard events. Pianos, automobiles, and even space vehicles are far simpler by comparison. Everyone can see the absurdity in supposing that these man-made devices could be assembled gradually by natural forces. Why then do evolutionists not see the far greater absurdity in supposing that a device of surpassing elegance and complexity, the living cell, arose spontaneously from nonliving chemicals?
2. The dependence of life upon DNA
Someone might argue that the simplest forms of life now present in the world are at an advanced stage of evolution, whereas the first forms of life were much simpler. But we now know that all life is based on the DNA molecule, which forms each chromosome in the nucleus of a cell. A cell's complement of DNA molecules enables it to maintain and reproduce itself. No simpler form of life either exists or is imaginable.
The simplest functional cell, on the order of complexity exhibited by E. coli, requires in addition to at least one DNA molecule perhaps over a thousand other macromolecules. All of these must be organized properly and enclosed by a protective membrane. No simpler way of specifying and carrying out all the processes essential to life and reproduction can be imagined.
3. The impossibility of building useful molecules by chance
Although a thousand or so macromolecules is not itself a large number, it is now understood that every macromolecule essential to life is an enormously complicated mechanism, rather like a giant assembly line in miniature. Most of these necessary macromolecules are huge proteins—compounds made by joining together amino acid molecules. In a typical biologically useful protein there are fifty to several thousand amino acids arranged in precise order. If only one amino acid is changed, the protein might not work properly. It will probably be useless and might even be harmful. For example, the genetic defect responsible for sickle cell anemia involves a change in only one out of the 287 amino acids in hemoglobin.
The chance that nature could assemble any useful protein is exceedingly small.
- Useful proteins, of the kind we actually find in living organisms, use only about twenty amino acids out of the thousands known to exist. Moreover, these are all of the type known as alpha amino acids, with the amino and carboxyl groups attached to the first carbon. From any natural process that synthesized amino acids would come a great preponderance of the few simplest types. Some of the more complicated amino acids among the twenty used in proteins would be synthesized hardly ever, if at all. Many of the amino acids synthesized at random would be alpha amino acids other than these twenty, or they would not be of the alpha type.
- Nearly all amino acids exist in two forms called isomers: one a D (right-handed) form, the other an L (left-handed) form. Isomers are identical in composition and in arrangement of atoms. The only difference is that one is the mirror image of the other. When an amino acid is synthesized in the laboratory or made by any nonbiological means, the D and L forms are represented in equal amounts. Yet all proteins in living organisms are made exclusively of L-amino acids.
It is evident that a useful protein has a highly differentiated structure. Consider the implications for the theory of evolution. Suppose you had some sort of machine for building proteins, each consisting of a hundred randomly chosen and assembled amino acids. According to probability theory, our machine should succeed in leaving out D-amino acids only once in 2^100 tries—that is, about 10^30 tries. If it turned out one protein per second, it should make a strictly L-form protein only once in 3 x 10^22 years, or 30 sextillion years. The further requirement that it use only the twenty alpha proteins actually found in living organisms would multiply the time we have stated beyond comprehension.
Any reasonable person should therefore be able to see that nature does not have the power, and never had the power, to build the kind of proteins that are the stuff of life. We reach the same conclusion when we consider the other macromolecules present in a cell. The one critical to life is the DNA molecule. From the study of mutations, it is clear that randomly produced changes in the DNA molecule almost always if not always result in a much inferior or simply nonviable form of life. Therefore, the number of useful nucleic acids must be very small compared with the total number that could be made.
Moreover, the DNA molecule has a regular structure enormously divergent from anything random. It contains millions of units called nucleotides, each with three constituents. One is the sugar deoxyribose in its D form. No other sugar works. Another is a phosphate. The third is one of four bases, either adenine, guanine, cytosine or thymine. The first two are purines and the last two are pyrimidines, classes of compounds that include hundreds of other bases, but only these four (or rarely an informational equivalent) appear in DNA. Hence, the task of producing just one DNA molecule conformable to DNA molecules in living organisms would be impossible by any haphazard process.
So far, we have discussed only the probability that nature could build just one useful macromolecule. Yet if life in fact originated by chance, nature somewhere at some time created a whole system of compatible molecules. For the sake of argument, we will allow that nature might have been able to make one macromolecule; moreover, that it was able to use that one molecule as the starting point for life. Yet for a compatible system of molecules, the others would be limited to the small number that would exactly fit the first one. In essence, nature would have to come up with designer molecules. Each one would have to be just right.
Let us reinvent our machine for making proteins. We will increase its output so that it turns out many more than one per second. How many shall we imagine? A million, billion, trillion? What is the largest number you can name—one decillion, perhaps? That is 10^36. In five billion years, the supposed age of the earth, there are only 10^17 seconds. So, our prodigious machine could in that time turn out only 10^53 proteins.
How many different proteins with a hundred acid units could our machine assemble? If for every position it randomly chose one of the twenty essential L-amino acids, the answer is 10^130. The probability that our machine would turn out any particular hundred-unit protein we might name even if it kept churning out proteins for five billion years is a difficult computation. The probability of obtaining the protein on any given trial is 1 divided by 10^130. Replacing the numerator with 10^130-1 gives the probability of not obtaining the protein. This probability raised to the power of 10^53 gives the probability of never obtaining the protein in all trials, and subtracting this from 1 gives the probability of obtaining the protein at least once. Doing the computation with desktop resources gives an answer of 0, a very close approximation.
We can obtain an even closer approximation by taking a different approach and making some assumptions. For starters, let us assume that the probability our machine will make more than one desired protein is so slight that we can safely ignore it. We may therefore be content with computing the probability that it will make exactly one, which we will call P(1). In each trial the machine will either make the protein or it will not. The probability it will is 1 over 10^130, which we will call P(yes). The probability it will not is 10^130-1 over 10^130, which we will call P(no). The first probability governs one trial. The last governs 10^53-1 trials. If P(series) is the probability of a particular series of outcomes with a single success,
P(series) = P(yes)^1 x P(no)^(10^53-1)
P(no)—that is, (10^130-1)/10^130—is essentially 1. If we assume the difference is negligible and substitute 1 for this quantity, P(no)^(10^53-1) is 1 also. Thus,
P(series) = P(yes) x 1 = P(yes)
The number of possible series with one success, since that success might fall on any trial, is 10^53. Therefore,
P(1) = P(series) x 10^53
P(1) = P(yes) x 10^53
P(1) = (1/10^130) x 10^53
P(1) = 10^53/10^130
P(1) = 1/10^77
In conclusion, the probability that our machine will make exactly one desired protein is 1 in 10^77. For comparison, there are 10^78 atoms in the known universe.
Notice we are making the hugely unrealistic assumption that in each try, the machine has as raw materials an unrestricted supply of all twenty essential L-amino acids, without contamination by any other amino acids or organic compounds. Notice also we are making the further, equally unrealistic assumption that the machine could be fine tuned at the beginning to make only proteins of the right size. It should be obvious that our machine could never do the job. The chance that nature could make any particular protein needed for a compatible system is vanishingly small, beyond calculation.
Yet nature could not do much with one or two proteins. It would need a large number of compatible proteins, and it would have to bring them together at the same time and place. Moreover, it would have to protect them from degrading, and provide them with a way of reproducing themselves so that the new life would not simply disappear at death. You see that the chance that a whole functioning system could emerge is ridiculously small. We are speaking of probabilities so small that they amount to sheer impossibility.
4. Absence of original conditions thought to be favorable to the origin of life
Conditions on earth would never have permitted any macromolecule to evolve from the raw materials of the sea and atmosphere. Evolutionists imagine that in the early days of earth's history, vast quantities of amino acids and other organic chemicals accumulated in the oceans, often described as the prebiotic soup or the primordial soup. Somehow, the exact proteins and other molecules needed to complement each other within a viable cell evolved separately, migrated to one place at the same time, arranged themselves into functional structures like the nucleus and the ribosome, and surrounded themselves with a protective membrane. But it must be remembered that the synthesis of proteins is not something that occurs spontaneously anywhere on earth today, and conditions were never more favorable in the past. We say this for three reasons.
- The atmosphere would never have permitted synthesis of proteins. It would have introduced free oxygen into the oceans, and this would have destroyed any proteins dissolved there. Thus, origin-of-life theorists have always insisted that oxygen was missing from the original atmosphere of the earth—that the earth had what is known as a reducing atmosphere. It is now believed even by secular geologists, however, that this notion is incorrect, because
- we find an abundance of oxidized minerals in the oldest rocks—minerals such as sulfates and iron oxides (rust).
- An atmosphere of methane and ammonia, such as evolutionists suppose, would have been rapidly destroyed by ultraviolet radiation.
- The temperature of the earth would never have permitted synthesis of proteins. Amino acids do not combine with each other spontaneously at room temperature. An input of heat energy is required to make this kind of reaction occur. Yet the same heat that promoted the formation of proteins would also quickly break them down. They are unstable at high temperatures. So, origin-of-life theorists suggest that proteins were formed somewhere at high temperature, perhaps on the lip of a volcano, and then immediately washed into a freezing ocean nearby. You can see that desperation has driven them to some far-fetched scenarios.
- The oceans would never have permitted synthesis of proteins. For two reasons it is unrealistic to suppose that proteins and other macromolecules could have accumulated even in a cold ocean under a reducing atmosphere.
- Like organic waste dumped into the oceans today, any organic material in the primordial oceans would have been rapidly degraded by various means. Amino acids and thus proteins are destroyed by solar ultraviolet radiation. Many organic compounds in the ocean settle to the bottom either under their own weight or as a result of absorption by minerals. Sugars and amino acids react with each other and form an insoluble tarlike polymer useless to life, and this also precipitates to the bottom. All organic compounds of any biological importance eventually disintegrate in aqueous solution as the result of the process known as hydrolysis. Water molecules continually push and pull at any complex molecule in solution until they eventually break it apart.
- The oceans are too large to foster organic evolution. Anyone who imagines that the earth's oceans might become a prebiotic soup has no conception of how vast the oceans are. Mountains of organic molecules would have to be dumped into the ocean before any single species reached significant concentration. Indeed, because this material would be undergoing continual degradation, more mountains of it would have to be regularly dumped into the oceans just to prevent initial concentrations from declining.
A final decisive argument against the chance origin of life is that no scientist has ever come close to simulating it in the laboratory. They have tried. They have created what they considered to be a prebiotic soup, furnished the right conditions and a source of energy, yet essentially nothing has happened. Never have they observed the synthesis of a single protein.
The Verdict of Sober Science
For all these reasons, many non-Christian scientists have recognized that it is preposterous to speak of life originating spontaneously. The French scientist Lecomte du Noüy wrote that
the time needed to form, on an average, one such molecule [that is, a highly structured molecule of 2000 atoms, like a simple protein] . . . in a material volume equal to that of our terrestrial globe is about 10^243 . . . years (4).
Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, in the book mentioned earlier, stated that the chances of life arising accidentally from non-life are "outrageously small." It would be incredible "even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup" (5).
Another scientist who has rejected the chance origin of life is Dean Kenyon, who became well known as coauthor of a standard textbook presenting an evolutionary explanation for the origin of life. After this book, entitled Biochemical Predestination, was published in 1969, Kenyon at considerable personal cost abandoned evolution and embraced creationism. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Kenyon in 1989.
- Q: What do you think now of the theory of biochemical predestination?
- A: I think the theory is wrong. If you survey the experiments performed to date, designed to simulate conditions on the early earth, one thing that stands out is that you do not get ordered sequences of amino acids. Nor do you get ordered sequences of nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA. These simply do not appear among the products of any experiments. If we thought we were going to see a lot of spontaneous ordering, something must have been wrong with our theory. . . .
- Q: The book by Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen, The Mystery of Life's Origin, is largely a critique of the theory of biochemical predestination. Do you find their critique persuasive, and if so, which arguments do you find particularly cogent?
- A: Yes, I find their critique to be quite persuasive. I use the book as a textbook in my origin-of-life class here at San Francisco State University. I have my students read a book in favor of chemical evolution and then read Mystery as a rebuttal. The book contains several cogent objections to chemical evolution. One is the presentation of evidence that there was oxygen in the ancient atmosphere. Oxygen destroys many organic compounds. If there was oxygen in the atmosphere in any substantial amounts, it would have killed chemical evolution in its earliest stages. The section on the "myth of the prebiotic soup" is an excellent treatment of the problem of dilution mechanisms that must have been at work in any reasonable scenario of the early earth. The reactions by which organic compounds form are reversible. The same energy sources that induce these compounds to form also break them back down again—indeed, they are even more effective at destruction than at synthesis. So the dominant trend would not be the creation and concentration of organic compounds, it would be destruction and dissolution. Walter Bradley's thermodynamic arguments lay to rest the claim often made that life could arise spontaneously because the early earth was an open system. Simply applying energy to a system doesn't produce order, certainly not the high level of order we see in living matter.
- Q: What I find fascinating is that several of these problems are alluded to in Biochemical Predestination—but merely as difficulties within evolutionary theory, not as objections against it. In other words, the problems you now find devastating to evolution didn't strike you as devastating back then. What changed? Has there been new data discovered since you wrote your book or is the decisive thing your new outlook on the data?
- A: I think both. My own new outlook is certainly a good part of it. But it is also true that back in 1969, when we wrote our book, we were only sixteen years into the field of origin-of-life studies. It was too early to tell whether a given problem was temporary and solvable or whether it represented a persistent trend. For example, it was not at all clear to us then, as it is now, that the dominant trend in simulation experiments is the formation of non-biological material. Today, we are no longer wondering what might happen in the next electric discharge experiment; we know the basic form the products will take and are merely refining our ability to detect and identify these products. . . .
- Q: Your expertise is in the origin-of-life field and your criticisms of evolutionary theory center on chemical evolution. What implications do you see for other aspects of evolutionary theory?
- A: The conclusion one reaches about the origin of genetic information at the beginning of life has implications for the origin of new genetic information at the origin of species, genera, families, and so forth. Of course, in these cases the context is a living organism instead of non-living matter. Nonetheless, the probabilities of new genetic information arising spontaneously seem to me to be overwhelmingly low, approaching zero. We simply don't know any mechanism by which the information in a genome could increase spontaneously to any significant extent. Evolutionists appeal to the gene duplication hypothesis, but we still have no basis for believing that truly novel genetic information could appear in a genome, even over thousands of generations. We have no direct evidence of it happening, of course, and even in theory it is a very improbable proposition (6).
Silence of the Knowledgeable Elite
Although leading intellectuals have known for over thirty years that classic evolutionary theory is bankrupt, the truth has not filtered down to ordinary people. It has not even filtered down to people who are reasonably well educated but who nevertheless depend on others to tell them what to believe. Why are most people still under the impression that evolution is a proven fact? Because most of the knowledgeable elite are not willing to say otherwise. The reason is fear, actually two fears: first, fear of reprisal. The academic world looks with hostility on anyone who challenges evolution, and it marginalizes or ostracizes him if he is trying to pursue an academic career.
A second fear is divulged by Hoyle. He says the knowledgeable elite are afraid to speak out lest they "open the flood-gates to new waves of irrationalism" (7). "Irrationalism" is a code word for Biblical Christianity. What they are afraid of is this: if the general public realizes that the scientific establishment has for over a century been telling lies about the origin of life and the origin of man, there will be a revival of old-fashioned religion. Today's intellectuals see such a prospect with great horror. A return to a Biblical world view would mean a reversal of all those changes in society that have made sin easier. Of course, many people who fear Biblical Christianity expect further consequences that would be truly disastrous. The incessant propaganda against religious fundamentalism has convinced them that if Christians held power, they would end freedom of religion and persecute dissenters. But such an idea of what a Christian society would be like is bigoted. In fact, Biblical Christianity demands freedom of religion as the only guarantee that men will come to God by love and free choice, as He desires.
You can see why, both for realistic and unrealistic reasons, today's intellectuals are reluctant to work against the general belief in evolution. They do not want the common man to espouse a God that they themselves are unwilling to accept. Although they are ready to believe in some sort of tame and tolerant god who is merely a reflection of themselves, they are by no means ready to believe in a holy God who holds them accountable for their sin.
But, you say, if evolution is entirely groundless, surely people will not go on believing it. Its failure to explain the facts will surely come to light and people will reject it. That is what the devil is afraid of. Evolution has been one of his most effective lies, serving as the very cornerstone of modern secularism. Determined to protect it, he has worked hard in the last fifty years to dummy down education. He foresaw that discoveries in microbiology would soon show smart independent thinkers that evolution by chance never happened. So, he has been trying to eliminate smart independent thinkers.
Alternatives to Biblical Theism
Yet the devil's campaign is not succeeding altogether. He is working to maintain a pro-evolution consensus, but the consensus is developing many cracks. Recently, Antony Flew, a British philosopher long prominent as a proponent of atheism, announced that he has always been wrong. He said that the complexity of nature could never have arisen by chance. Behind it there must be an intelligent designer, a superior being that he is willing to identify as God. But although he believes in God, he does not believe in the God of the Bible, whom he maligns by calling Him a cosmic Saddam Hussein (8).
Here is a man who has been dead wrong all his life in his answer to most important question man can ponder—does God exist? Now that he has changed his mind, how can he expect us to accept him as an authority on what God is like? According to the Bible, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Psa. 14:1). If a fool comes to a new opinion, what is more likely? That he has suddenly become wise, or that he has adopted another kind of foolishness?
Flew says that he is now a deist. Deism was briefly popular in the eighteenth century among intellectuals seeking a socially and politically acceptable alternative to Biblical theism. But deism quickly faded from the scene because it contains huge improbabilities. It sees God as having intelligence, but no active love or morality. Thus, He disdains to interfere in the affairs of mankind. He is a cosmic person who is all brain and no heart. Indeed, we could only describe such a god as morally retarded.
- But consider this. When God created the universe, He was obviously guided by a sense of what was fitting and beautiful. Thus, He is not indifferent to values.
- Consider also that moral perception is an important dimension of human experience. We all have a strong sense of right and wrong. This sense may become warped, but it is never absent. The most hardened sinner retains the ability to resent any injustice done against himself. If morality is important to God's creatures, is it likely that God Himself is amoral?
After forsaking deism, intellectuals in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries turned to a form of romanticism known as transcendentalism, which believed that God is no more than a so-called oversoul that exists within the universe, not beyond it. God is in everything, including you and me. The modern New Age movement revives much the same thinking. Yet transcendentalism, like deism, was short-lived as a popular philosophy because it too contained huge improbabilities, which it tried unsuccessfully to hide under mystical vagueness. It could not decide whether God is a person. It could not grant Him such attributes of personality as a mind and purpose of His own without making Him separate from the universe. Thus, it treated Him as little more than a force or principle inherent in the universe. Yet why bother then to consider Him as God in any sense? New Agers today are guilty of the same ambiguity. When it suits them, they consider the divine as having personal attributes such as will, or such as power to control nature. But they back down from making the divine personal when He then reminds them too much of the real God.
After Darwin, the official religion of Western intellectuals became atheism. But thirty years ago, romanticism resurfaced in the New Age movement. Now, in the intelligent design movement, there has been a return to deism. We seem to be going backward in history. Let us hope that the next step is a return to Biblical theism.
What is the real significance of Flew's conversion from atheism? He is merely a rat deserting a sinking ship. God has allowed man in the last half century to discover such complexities in nature that no educated mind could suppose that they arose by chance. Not even the Flews can hold on to atheism without exposing themselves to the ridicule of the next generation.