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July 4, 1998

Good Evolution Book

More Problems with Darwinism

The more I look into the current, orthodox Neo-Darwinian Theory (NDT) of evolution, the more I see it as based every bit as much on faith, dogma, and ideology as any biblical literalist account of creation.

A book that I found to be wonderfully informative, that goes into the hard numbers that always get brushed over or simply ignored in the standard line that says cumulative selection of random mutations can explain everything, is Lee Spetner's Not By Chance!, Judaica Press, New York, 1997. And the unequivocal outcome at the end of it all is that the standard line can hardly explain anything.

Two examples of the kinds of results that emerge--(very readably derived and easy to follow, I might add):

  • Odds against a new species coming into existence via the NDT, less than one in 102,700
  • Odds against the kinds of similarities conventionally explained away by "convergence" when impossible to explain by descent, less than one in 1054

Pretty daunting, to say the least.

One of the most interesting, and rarely attempted, aspects of Spetner's book is the application of information theory (he is a physicist, specializing in signal processing) to the NDT and its assumptions, with devastating results. Clearly, the DNA of all biological organisms constitute immense repositories of information, not only in the form of an assembly program to construct the organism, but also a maintenance program to regulate its functioning and behavior afterward. But it turns out that this information cannot have come about through the gradual accumulation of selected random variations in the way NDT says. The process simply doesn't have the power to create enough variety to be selected. And more, no known mutation or other instance cited of evolution in action has ever added any information to a genome. All have deleted from it.

The bacteria that evolve strains resistant to antibiotics such as streptomycin, for example, do so by losing the specificity that makes it possible for the streptomycin molecule to attach. The much-quoted example of the British peppered moth that altered from predominantly light to predominantly dark when industrial soot darkened the tree barks that they settle on illustrates simply a change in population mix when the camouflage advantage of one type over another altered. No mutation was involved. Both strains were present from the beginning. Nothing genetically new was created. Yet these are among the textbook examples given of the strongest evidence in support of the NDT that can be found.

In place of randomness, discredited as the driving force of evolution, Spetner develops a convincing case supporting the NDT heresy that the variation responsible for the big leaps of macro evolution is directed, induced by environmental cues. This is another way of saying that the genetic information needed to switch between different body plans is already in there, like a computer program written to function in different modes. Where it comes from is a good question, and random variation can't be the answer.

Two examples that I found stunning:

  • A strain of e.coli bacteria was produced that lacked the enzyme needed to metabolize the milk sugar lactose, which is their normal food supply. Two particular mutations occurring together will create an alternate mechanism. The calculated chance of this variation coming about through random mutation under the conditions of the experiment described was about once in a hundred thousand years. Nevertheless, 40 instances were found within a few days.
  • Species of finches introduced into a bird sanctuary comprising a group of islands in the north west Pacific were found to have developed new beak forms in 20 years. The results suggest that variations qualifying in every respect as a new species could arise in a single generation, a result utterly impossible within the NDT. But there it is.

The explanation seems to be that the diet and eating habits of young animals profoundly affects the shape and form of things like beaks, teeth, jaws, and attached muscle structures that develop. In other words, there's an amazing amount of plasticity built into the program. This raises the intriguing question of whether the variations that Darwin observed in his famous Galapagos finches were in fact a product of the random variation followed by selection that he attributed them too, at all. And more. Since so much of the fossil record consists of just bones and teeth, how much of the differences conventionally interpreted as indicating evolutionary change might be simply differing expressions of the same genome to different environments, with no significant genetic modification occurring at all?

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