This article, which demotes Neo-Darwinism from fact to fantasy, appears as a chapter in a university textbook published by World Scientific. But while the science has evolved, unfortunately most scientists have not, as of yet.
It is commonly believed that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has disproved the Biblical account of creation in general, and individual creation of species in particular. The result is that many deny the truth of Torah because they are convinced that science has vindicated evolution over revelation. However, both the creationists and the evolutionists tend to labor under gross misconceptions about Darwinism and its status within science. The purpose of this essay is to demystify the evolutionary concept so that the rational person, whether layman or scientist, can evaluate for him/herself regarding the need for an alternative concept of species origin.
To talk meaningfully about species evolving, we need a working definition of species. For practical purposes, we will use a common, working definition, even though it only strictly applies to sexually reproducing organisms, and that is: A species is comprised of individuals capable of interbreeding to produce fertile offspring. Thus horses are species and donkeys are species but the product of their interbreeding, mules, are not a species for they are not capable of producing fertile offspring.
If we define evolution as simply a change in species over time, any student of biology must agree that species do evolve, for it is an often observed fact that many species do change over time.
If, on the other hand, we define evolution in the Darwinian sense – as a process of random mutation and natural selection by which all living beings have arisen by chance from single-celled organisms over 100’s of millions of years – we may not be on equally firm ground from a scientific perspective.
To explain, random mutation refers to tiny, unpredictable changes in the hereditary qualities of a living being that get passed down to the next generation. If this slight change improves the chances of survival of the offspring, the next generation of that species will have slightly more of this new quality. This is the concept of survival of the fittest, which is equivalent to the term natural selection. Darwin argued that the cumulative effect of these small hereditary changes coupled with natural selection should eventually lead to new species and suggested that all species have come into existence from common ancestry in this way.
Introductory classes in Darwinian evolution universally cite the famous example of the peppered moth. Individuals of this British species are either black or white. From the mid-1950’s until recently, the accepted story was as follows: The white form was believed to be predominant until the industrial revolution when the black variant gained a selective advantage and became far more common. This was thought to be the case because the soot in the atmosphere from the burning of coal darkened the tree trunks where the moths would rest, rendering the white moths easy prey while the black moths remained well camouflaged. Once industrial processes became more efficient and the trees became lighter in color, the white variety returned to dominance while the frequency of the black variety declined (Kettlewell, 1955).
However, this entire view has been challenged in academia (Wells, 1999), and an investigative journalist, Judith Hooper, has published a widely acclaimed book, “Of Moths and Men” (2002) on this very subject. The validity of these arguments is demonstrated by the credentials of the giants of biology who praise the book, including the legendary biologist Ernst Mayr and distinguished geoscientist, Lynn Margulis. But even if we assume that the old peppered moth scenario is correct, there are issues with extrapolating that speciation could occur in this way. First, the peppered moth population started out with both varieties. We cannot use the fact of polymorphism (multiple forms) to prove they arose through mutation. Thus at best we may have a case of natural selection only and hence not a Darwinian evolution. Second, no speciation has occurred here – only changes in the frequency of one variety over the other. And third, even if one of the variants had gone extinct, it would not exemplify Evolution, but rather a kind of Devolution since there would be a loss, not a gain in hereditary information.
In any case, microevolution, or subspecific evolution, does occur in many species including dogs. All familiar breeds of dogs are actually one species, Canis familiaris, whether it’s a chihuahua or great dane. That’s why breeders are careful about with whom their thoroughbreds mate; they don’t want a mutt. But with all the thousands of years of microevolution of dogs through selective breeding, no speciation has occurred, and each type of dog is capable of producing fertile offspring with another.
With plants, we see the same phenomenon. For instance, one might think that cabbage, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and broccoli are different species but in fact it is not so. If you allow them to interpollinate, within a few generations, all the produce will look like cabbage. That’s because they are all one species, Brassica oleracea, and the changes that growers achieve through selective breeding are microevolutionary, and not speciation.
In some cases, we do find speciation occurring, but never through adding bits of hereditary information. We have seen in both lab and field how some plant and animal species have developed or split into two such that the populations can no longer interbreed to produce fertile offspring (e.g., Callaghan, 1987). However, in none of these cases did this come about through random mutation or any other gradual addition of hereditary information. On the contrary, any genetic additions have been non-evolutionary, through hybridization, polyploidy, etc. Moreover, in most cases cited, the new species come about not through an addition but rather through a reduction in the amount of hereditary information. Hence none of the new species lend any credence to the idea that life gradually evolved from simple to complex forms (Spetner, 1996).
In short, in the several centuries that we have been making detailed biological observations, and in thousands of years of selectively breeding plants and animals, we have not seen any Darwinian evolution in the lab, farm or field. That does not mean it could not happen; it just means that we have no direct evidence of it ever having happened.
So what is the scientific status (e.g., Popper, 1965) of Darwinism, or macroevolution, i.e., the idea that all living species evolved from a common origin through random mutation and natural selection?
Can we say that it is a fact? Well, if we define ‘fact’ as that which has been empirically observed, then no.
Can we say it is a theory? Well, if a theory is an idea which generates falsifiable hypotheses that can be tested through experimentation, then once again the answer is no. The normative use in science of the term ‘theory’ involves the necessity to be able to disprove it through experimental observations. We cannot call macroevolution a scientific theory because we cannot go back in time to make the necessary observations that would either support or refute it.
So if macroevolution is not a scientific fact and not a scientific theory, then what is it?
It is certainly not rationally compelling in the sense of deductive reasoning where one uses syllogisms of the type that A implies B and B implies C and therefore A implies C. These types of proofs are strong logical proofs characteristic of philosophy and mathematics, but not the natural sciences.
Science progresses using inductive reasoning, that is, rational inferences from what is known or observed to what is not known, or what has not been observed. But within scientific inference, there are stronger and weaker methods (Gotfryd et al., 2003).
First, when one infers from the known to the unknown, it is more reliable to use interpolation than to extrapolation. That is, if one has measured a variable quantity at two points, one will be more secure in estimating the situation at some intermediate condition between the measurements than in some state that is beyond the range of observation.
For instance, consider the relationship of temperature and density in water. If we know the density of water at 4°C and 99°C, and then try to predict some other values at other temperatures, we will be tremendously better off interpolating the density between these two temperatures than extrapolating even one or a few degrees outside this range. After all, with one more degree of heat, the water vaporizes and the density crashes, while at the other end, cooler water becomes less dense instead of more dense, an anomaly in all of nature. Besides, just a few degrees cooler yet yields a solid, ice, which unlike any other solid form is actually less dense than its liquid form.
Evolution is based on the weaker inferential method of extrapolation and not the stronger method of interpolation. We scientists have been studying organisms in the lab, field, and fossil record for only two or three centuries, and yet we attempt to make conclusions over 100’s of millions of years. These are not modest extrapolations, but very big ones indeed.
Within inferences based on extrapolation, we again have two types: forward and backward. When we extrapolate forward from a known present to an unknown future, our inferences are much more secure than when we use the same means to infer backwards into an unknown past, and especially a distant past.
To exemplify forward extrapolation, imagine we have two numbers, 2 and 3, which will interact and produce some result. Depending on whether we add, subtract, multiply, divide, take roots or exponents, we will get a small range of possible results based on extrapolation forward from known conditions. If however we end with the numbers 2 and 3, and try to extrapolate backward, i.e., to determine which numbers have combined and in what way to yield these two numbers, we will be confronted by a truly infinite number of possibilities. Clearly backward extrapolation is a far more uncertain and variable method than forward extrapolation.
Of course any uncertainty over a short period of time will be greatly magnified over a long period. In science, we calculate uncertainty using confidence intervals. This is the likelihood and margin of error we attach to our estimates. The farther into time we guesstimate, the larger these confidence intervals become, but not in a linear or gradual way. Indeed it is the tendency of confidence intervals to widen geometrically with linear increase in time. In other words, errors multiply. For example, if doubling the time gives four times the uncertainty; tripling the time will result in nine times the uncertainty, and so on.
All this applies even when environmental conditions are constant. But what happens when the uniformitarian principle is violated, i.e., when conditions have been variable over the purported period of study? For example, if we have two substances that when mixed together produce a third, we cannot assume that the rate of production is always the same. It is possible that some catalyst has been present in the environment that changes the rate of reaction. Modern chemistry has discovered many such catalysts that can increase reaction rates by thousands of times, even though they are only present in minute amounts.
All of the fossil and rock dating techniques rely on the uniformitarian principle and yet every worker in the field believes that it most certainly has been violated in very significant ways, rendering calculations unfathomably vague.
The most common of these methods is carbon dating. This involves comparing the relative amounts of two forms (isotopes) of carbon in the fossilized remains. The idea is that while the organism was alive it had a known amount of each type of carbon but that once it has died, the amount of one type decreases at a known rate through a process of radioactive decay. This would allow the scientist to calculate the age of the fossil.
One of the problems with this is that the relative amounts originally in the living organism depend on such environmental factors as temperature, humidity, radiation, and magnetic fields, solar flux, and ambient levels of organic combustion, all of which have been subject to change to an unknown degree in the distant past. Consequently experts continually revise their opinions and frequently disagree about dates with high and low estimates varying by as much as 20 times and more (reviewed in Hanoka, 1987).
Rocks are dated in a similar way using elements other than carbon, and these dates are even more variable. Volcanic rock from 25-50 year-old lava flows of known origin have been analyzed in commercial laboratories with results typically overestimated by a factor of 100,000 (Snelling, 1999). In fact the very same rock dated with different elements, samarium and potassium, have given results that vary by one billion years (Chandler, 1997). Considering that the lower age estimate was 0.7 billion years, the margin of error was even more than the estimated age!
Another issue is that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution makes fairly specific predictions about what the fossil record should reveal about the history of life on earth. The fossil record is presumed to be like a vertical time line with more recent organisms near the surface and more ancient ones deeper down. In his 1859 book, Origin of Species, Darwin predicted that the fossil record will show that 1) species appear gradually, 2) change constantly, 3) disappear gradually, and 4) missing links between major types will be filled in.
After some century and a half of digging up fossils all over the world, we now know that all of Darwin’s predictions have been refuted: 1) Species appear suddenly, 2) show no significant change, 3) disappear suddenly, and 4) the missing link problem gets more acute instead of more resolved with time. Under these conditions, Darwin himself would have dropped evolution as an explanation for the origin and diversity of life.
Evolutionists have themselves noted these glaring flaws in Darwinian theory and have sought to deal with them in the manner of Stephen J. Gould who has suggested that speciation is a sudden and dramatic event which therefore does not show up in the fossil record (Gould and Eldridge, 1977). Gould himself states that “the fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change,” and then proposed that “macroevolution proceeds by the rare success of these hopeful monsters, not by continuous small changes within populations” (Gould, 1977) It sounds nice, but from a scientific standpoint, the fatal objection to his punctuated equilibrium notion is the absolute lack of any conceivable mechanism by which the necessary genetic and organic changes could occur. Gould and Eldridge (op. cit.) admitted as much, saying, “No theory of evolutionary mechanisms can be generated directly from paleontological data… we cannot generate new mechanisms.”
In addition to all the above, are the unanswered challenges to macroevolution posed by information theory and molecular genetics (Lewin, 1980; Spetner, 1964, 1968, 1997) in such prestigious journals such as Science and the Journal of Theoretical Biology. For example, Spetner’s calculations, published over 35 years ago, show that billions of years are insufficient to evolve even one new species, yet somehow not one scientist has ever even attempted to refute his arguments in a scientific journal. Spetner (1997) calculates the likelihood of one species evolving from another at no better than 1:102738. This is comparable to the probability of every person on the planet entering a daily lottery with over 6 billion tickets and the same person winning every day for a year. At this ratio, even one speciation event would be an impossibility in the eyes of the rational man. How much more so if we were to recreate such an unlikelihood for each and every one of billions of speciation events purported to have happened over the history of the planet.
Many, if not most, leading scientists agree. Royal Society astronomer Sir Frederick Hoyle (1981) says that a tornado generating a jet in a junkyard is more likely than one species evolving from another. Nobel Prize-winning Chemist Harold Urey (1962), famous for his leading role in recreating the building blocks of life from inorganic matter, said “All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere.” And Francis Crick (1981), Nobel laureate, father of modern genetics, and discoverer of DNA’s helical structure, said, “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.”
Above and beyond all the probabilistic arguments is the biochemical challenge to evolution. When Darwin proposed his theory, no scientist could imagine in his wildest dreams the incredible chemical intricacies underlying every biological process. This posed a new problem for the Darwinists: irreducible complexity. This means that if any one of dozens of key elements of a biochemical process would be missing, the entire process would simply shut down. Just as the dysfunction of one small screw could destroy a jetliner, so too one missing chemical can terminate an essential life process such as photosynthesis, respiration, blood clotting, or reproduction (Behe, 1996).
This is an impossible outcome for Darwinian evolution. Macroevolution requires a progression of one beneficial mutation after another, with each generation becoming more fit and more developed than the previous one, until more complex organisms evolve from simpler ones. But if an irreducibly complex system of, say, 10 elements is to evolve, than element 1 has to add some fitness, element 2 has to add some fitness, and so on until all the parts are in place. The problem with the complex system is that elements 1, 2, 3… and 9 do not add any survivorship to the species, and there is no natural selection favoring those intermediate stages. On the contrary, they will be selected against. Thus irreducibly complex systems cannot evolve into existence, and therefore higher life forms cannot evolve from simpler ones.
The notion that the diversity of life arose through random mutation and natural selection is neither an empirical fact nor a scientific theory, but rather a groundless conjecture based on weak, inferential methods of backward extrapolation through eons of unobserved time over unknown conditions and having known and uncontrollable systematic errors.
According to Darwin’s own criteria in Origin of Species, he himself would have rejected evolution based on today’s knowledge of the fossil record. Even the most modern formulations of Darwinian evolution have been shown to be impossible, based on unchallenged statistical models of molecular genetics, as well as the irreducible biochemical complexity of all physiological processes.
All this does not prove that the Torah is true or that the Biblical story of creation is true. What it does show is that accepting Darwinian evolution requires a leap of faith that may be more radical and less substantiated than to believe that G-d created the world in six days and on the seventh day He rested.
(This article appeared as Ch. 44 in Divine Action and Natural Selection, published by World Scientific http://www.amazon.com/Divine-Action-Natural-Selection-Evolution/dp/9812834346. It also appears as Appendix 4 in Mind Over Matter: The Lubavitcher Rebbe on Science, Technology and Medicine available for purchase here (Link to books page J)
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