Refuting Evolution 2—Chapter 9
A sequel to Refuting Evolution that refutes the latest arguments to support evolution (as presented by PBS and Scientific American).
Argument: Probability of evolution
Evolutionists say, ‘Biochemistry, computer simulations, and observations of “natural” order (such as crystals and snowflakes) show that evolution is highly probable.’
First published in Refuting Evolution 2, Chapter 9
This chapter will examine several claims about the probability of evolution. I’ll quote from points 7, 8, and 9 of Scientific American’s ‘15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense,’ and then respond in turn. Each point in Scientific American gives a charge against evolution, followed by the magazine’s attempted answer.
Origin of life
7. Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on earth.
The origin of life remains very much a mystery, but biochemists have learned about how primitive nucleic acids, amino acids, and other building blocks of life could have formed … . [SA 81]
Actually, they have found out how some major building blocks cannot be formed, e.g., cytosine. The proposed ‘prebiotic’ conditions that biochemists attempt to recreate in the laboratory are unrealistic because it is highly unlikely that the alleged ‘precursor chemicals’ could ever have concentrated sufficiently, and these chemicals would have undergone side reactions with other organic compounds. Cytosine is far too unstable, anyway, to have accumulated over ‘deep time’ because its half life is only 340 years at 25° C.1
… and organized themselves into self-replicating, self-sustaining units … [SA 81]
This is just bluff, since spontaneous polymerization is a major hurdle for non-living chemicals to overcome.2 So is producing molecules all of one handedness.3 Chemical evolutionists have yet to solve these problems, let alone produce any self-replicating system which has any relevance to cells.4
… laying the foundation for cellular biochemistry. Astrochemical analyses hint that quantities of these compounds might have originated in space and fallen to earth in comets, a scenario that may solve the problem of how those constituents arose under the conditions that prevailed when our planet was young. [SA 81]
Again, wishful thinking, partly motivated by the hopelessness of current theories about life spontaneously generating on earth. There are several problems, including the following:5
- The amounts of these chemicals are tiny—far too low to contribute to biological processes.
- The wide variety of compounds in itself counts as evidence against chemical evolution. Even with pure compounds used in experiments, the results are meager, so how much worse would they be with the contaminated gunk produced in the real world?
- Sugars are very unstable, and easily decompose or react with other chemicals. This counts against any proposed mechanism to concentrate them to useable proportions.
- Living things require homochiral sugars, i.e., with the same handedness, but the ones from space would not have been.
- Even under highly artificial conditions, there is no plausible method of making the sugar ribose join to some of the essential building blocks needed to make DNA or RNA. Instead, the tendency is for long molecules to break down.
- Even DNA or RNA by themselves would not constitute life, since it’s not enough just to join the bases (‘letters’) together, but the sequence must be meaningful—and this sequence is not a function of the chemistry of the letters.
- Even the correct letter sequence would be meaningless without elaborate decoding machinery to translate it. Unless the decoding machinery already existed, those instructions could never be read. Similarly, this book would be useless to a non-English-speaker, who may know the Roman alphabet but lacks knowledge of the code of the English language to convert letters into meaningful concepts.
The Scientific American article continues:
Creationists sometimes try to invalidate all of evolution by pointing to science’s current inability to explain the origin of life. But even if life on earth turned out to have a non-evolutionary origin (for instance, if aliens introduced the first cells billions of years ago), evolution since then would be robustly confirmed by countless microevolutionary and macroevolutionary studies. [SA 81]
Here we go again with the bait’n’switch concerning the meanings of evolution. Anyway, that downplays the real problem. Evolution is a pseudo-intellectual justification for materialism, because it purports to explain life without God. So materialism would be in great trouble if evolution had a problem right at the start (‘chemical evolution’). After all, if the process can’t even start, it can’t continue.
Evolution ‘does not depend on chance’? Really?
8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.
Chance plays a part in evolution (for example, in the random mutations that can give rise to new traits), but evolution does not depend on chance to create organisms, proteins, or other entities. Quite the opposite: natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving ‘desirable’ (adaptive) features and eliminating ‘undesirable’ (nonadaptive) ones. [SA 81]
But the raw material on which natural selection acts is random copying errors (mutations). If evolution by goo-to-you were true, we should expect to find countless information-adding mutations. But we have not even found one indisputable example.
It is misleading to claim that evolution does not depend on chance but instead it relies on ‘non-random’ natural selection. This ignores the fact that natural selection cannot explain the origin of complex, self-reproducing life forms—and evolutionists have no way to explain this essential step in the evolution of life.
Incidentally, it’s important to note that a non-complex life form is an impossibility, since it needs to have the ability to reproduce. Even the simplest known true self-reproducing organism, Mycoplasma genitalium (a parasitic bacterium, discussed in chapter 4), has 482 genes with 580,000 ‘letters’ (base pairs). But even this appears not to be enough to sustain itself without parasitizing an even more complex organism. Most likely, as discussed, the parasitism resulted from loss of some of the genetic information required to make some essential nutrients.6 Therefore, a hypothetical first cell that could sustain itself would have to be even more complex.
As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction and produce sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times. [SA 81]
An example would have been nice.
Computer ‘simulations’ of evolution
Scientific American alludes to computer ‘simulations’ of evolution, although these are based on assumptions that do not parallel real life:
As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence ‘TOBEORNOTTOBE.’ Those hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one phrase a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 2,613 sequences of that length. But in the 1980s, Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet’s). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare’s entire play in just four and a half days. [SA 81–82]
These computer programs have been widely popularized by the atheist Richard Dawkins, but are a lot of bluff. Such simulations, which Dawkins and, now, Scientific American propose as ‘simulations’ of evolution, work toward a known goal, so they are far from a parallel to real evolution, which has no foresight, hence a ‘Blind Watchmaker.’ The simulations also use ‘organisms’ with high reproductive rates (producing many offspring), high mutation rates, a large probability of a beneficial mutation, and a selection coefficient of 1 (perfect selection) instead of 0.01 (or less), which parallels real life more accurately. The ‘organisms’ have tiny ‘genomes’ with minute information content, so they are less prone to error catastrophe, and they are not affected by the chemical and thermodynamic constraints of a real organism.
The Journal of Creation published an article about a realistic computer simulation, with a program downloadable from the Creation Ministries International website,7 which shows that the goal is not reached if realistic values are programmed, or it takes so long that it shows that evolution is impossible.8
Also, when it comes to the origin of first life, natural selection cannot be invoked, because natural selection is differential reproduction. That is, if it worked at all, it could only work on a living organism that could produce offspring. By its very definition, it could not work on non-living chemicals.9 Therefore, chance alone must produce the precise sequences needed, so these simulations do not apply. And a further problem with the alleged chemical soup is reversibility, intensifying the difficulty of obtaining the right sequence by chance.10
Random order complexity
Scientific American’s next example of ‘creationist nonsense’ begins with shadow boxing against an argument that informed creationists don’t make (see appendix on the second law of thermodynamics). Then the article proceeds to reveal a common mistake that evolutionists make: assuming that the random occurrence of order (repetitive, low information) in nature, such as crystals and snowflakes, provides insight into the generation of complexity (nonrepetitive, high information).
9. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that systems must become more disordered over time. Living cells therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa.
This argument derives from a misunderstanding of the Second Law. [SA 82]
It would be most surprising, in our experience, if an anti-creationist lacking training in physics or chemistry understood the second law himself. As will be shown, biologist John Rennie, who wrote the Scientific American article on ‘creationist nonsense,’ is no exception. I should say that Rennie’s formulation of the creationist argument is not how informed creationists would argue—see appendix.
If it were valid, mineral crystals and snowflakes would also be impossible, because they, too, are complex structures that form spontaneously from disordered parts. [SA 82]
No, as usual, this anti-creationist confuses order with complexity. The difference between crystals in rocks and proteins in living organisms is profound. Break a crystal and you just get smaller crystals; break a protein and you don’t simply get a smaller protein; rather you lose the function completely. Large crystals have low information content that is simply repeated, while the protein molecule isn’t constructed simply by repetition. Those who manufacture proteins know that they have to add one amino acid at a time, and each addition has about 90 chemical steps involved.
The Second Law actually states that the total entropy of a closed system (one that no energy or matter leaves or enters) … . [SA 82]
It’s more usual for those qualified in physical chemistry to refer to this as an isolated system, and use the term closed system for one where energy, but not matter, can be exchanged with its surroundings.
… cannot decrease. Entropy is a physical concept often casually described as disorder, but it differs significantly from the conversational use of the word. [SA 82]
We totally agree, and point this out often.
More important, however, the Second Law permits parts of a system to decrease in entropy as long as other parts experience an offsetting increase. Thus, our planet as a whole can grow more complex because the sun pours heat and light onto it, and the greater entropy associated with the sun’s nuclear fusion more than rebalances the scales. Simple organisms can fuel their rise toward complexity by consuming other forms of life and nonliving materials. [SA 82]
This energy input is necessary but not sufficient. The proverbial bull in a china shop produces disorder, but if the same bull was harnessed to a generator, this energy could be directed into useful work. Similarly, living organisms have machinery to direct the energy from sunlight or food, including the ATP synthase enzyme. This is the world’s tiniest motor, so tiny that 1017 could fit into a pinhead.11 Paul Boyer and John Walker won a half share of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their proposal that the enzyme was a motor after the research in reference 11 (Nature articles) confirmed it. But machinery presupposes teleology (purpose), which means that the machinery must have had an intelligent source.
References and notes
- J. Sarfati, Origin of life: instability of building blocks, Journal of Creation 13(2):124–127, 1999.
- J. Sarfati, Origin of life: the polymerization problem, Journal of Creation 12(3):281–284, 1998.
- J. Sarfati, Origin of Life: the chirality problem, Journal of Creation 12(3):263–266, 1998.
- J. Sarfati, Self-replicating Enzymes? Journal of Creation 11(1):4–6, 1997.
- J. Sarfati, Sugars from Space? Do they prove evolution? Journal of Creation 16(1):9–11, 2002; Did life’s building blocks come from outer space? Amino acids from interstellar simulation experiments? Journal of Creation 16(2):17–20, 2002.
- T.C. Wood, Genome Decay in the Mycoplasmas, Impact 340 (October 2001); <www.icr.org/index.php?module=articles&action=view&ID=319>.
- D. Batten and L. Ey, Weasel, a flexible program for investigating deterministic computer ‘demonstrations’ of evolution, Journal of Creation 16(2):84–88, 2002.
- For more information, see my refutation of Dawkins’s book, Climbing Mt Improbable, Stumbling over the impossible, Journal of Creation 12(1):29–34, 1998. Also see W. Gitt with C. Wieland, Weasel words, Creation 20(4):20–21 (September–November 1998), and R. Truman, Dawkins’s weasel revisited, Journal of Creation 12(3):358–361, 1998. For a refutation of the whole idea of computer simulations of evolution, particularly in the guise of genetic algorithms, see Don Batten, Genetic algorithms—do they show that evolution works? All these problems also apply to the simplistic ‘simulation’ Scientific American writes about.
- Sidney Fox, editor, The Origins of Prebiological Systems, Synthesis of Nucleosides and Polynucleotides with Metaphosphate Esters, T. Dobzhansky (New York, NY: Academic Press, 1965).
- R. Grigg, Could Monkeys Type the 23rd Psalm?, Creation 13(1):30–33, December 1990–February 1991.
- H. Noji et al., Direct Observation of the Rotation of F1-ATPase, Nature 386(6622):299–302, 1997. Comment by S. Block, Real Engines of Creation, same issue, p. 217–219; J. Sarfati, Design in Living Organisms: Motors, Journal of Creation 12(1):3–5, 1998.
Note about citations: Quotations from the Scientific American article by John Rennie will be labeled ‘SA,’ followed by the page number. Quotations from, and other mentions of, the PBS-TV series ‘Evolution,’ will be labeled ‘PBS,’ followed by the episode number, e.g. ‘PBS 6’ refers to Episode 6. Return to article.