Wonders of Life—Part 2: ‘Endless forms most beautiful’
Published: 6 April 2013 (GMT+10)
This is a continuation of our response to the BBC’s recent series Wonders of Life, presented by Professor Brian Cox.1 The subtitle Endless forms most beautiful, is the title of Episode 3 of the BBC series and is taken from the last sentence of Darwin’s Origin of Species.2 Part 1 of our response can be found here.
Evolution of the ear (Episode 2)
Cox made the claim that certain bones in our ears had clearly evolved from reptilian ancestors and, before that, jawless fish that lived around 530 million years ago. These bones, known as the malleus, incus and stapes, sit between the ear drum and the entrance to the inner ear and help to channel and amplify sound, acting as a series of levers magnifying the movement of the ear drum.
Using a flick book animation, Cox showed how various bones had allegedly moved and changed shape over millions of years to produce the complex arrangement of the mammalian ears we see today. Needless to say, no fossils were shown supporting the view that the transitional forms ever existed;3 nor was any attempt made to explain how or why the intermediate designs would have offered any advantage; nor was any evidence presented that random mutations could realistically have provided the numerous small changes upon which natural selection could have acted to drive the evolutionary process.4
Given the resources available to the BBC, I was surprised that they didn’t put together a stronger case. Sir Gavin de Beer showed that the correspondence between parts of the reptilian ear and the mammalian ear is truly striking.5 This is not only true of the bones but also arteries and nerves. An artery, for example, passes through the hole in the mammalian ‘stirrup’ (stapes) and similarly through a hole in the equivalent bone in reptiles. Similarly, the facial nerve passes along the side of the incus in mammals and along the same side on the equivalent bone in reptiles. As de Beer points out, similarities exist even at a minute level.
De Beer, however, although an evolutionist, was more honest than the BBC in presenting a more complete picture of the evidence. Having discussed a number of striking examples of similarities between different organisms, he then explained the problems with the evolutionary interpretation of these patterns. As an embryologist, he knew that similar organs and structures, found in animals that evolutionists believe share common ancestors, often develop in very different ways, from different parts of the egg and embryo and under the control of different genes. All this flies in the face of the evolutionary interpretation of common anatomy. A perfectly reasonable (and arguably better) alternative explanation for similarities in nature, of course, is a common designer.6
The capabilities and intricacies of the ear boggle the mind, and it is one of the most awe-inspiring examples of design one could hope to find.7 Evolutionists cannot point to natural processes which appear remotely capable of producing anything like it.8
Evolution of the eye (Episode 2)
Here Cox arguably makes one of the most misleading statements of all: “The eye is a tremendously complex piece of machinery … and it seems very difficult to imagine how that could have evolved in a series of small steps; but actually, we understand that process very well indeed” (emphasis added). He then proceeded to demonstrate how, in his opinion, complex eyes could have evolved. The naivety of the presentation beggared belief. In 2005, George Gilder wrote, “two human eyes can do more image processing than all the supercomputers in the world put together.”9 Where does Cox think the information came from to do this? How many trillions times trillions times trillions of years would it take for the right mutations to arise to generate such a data processing system? And how did the exceedingly sophisticated (and apparently irreducibly complex) biochemical systems evolve, required to convert the light into an electric current in the optic nerve? This alone is mind-boggling.10 There are no scientific papers that even begin to explain all this.
Endless forms most beautiful (Episode 3)
According to Cox, scientists can explain the presence of life on Earth and all its diversity. He asks, “How could it be that so many diverse life forms, so beautifully adapted to their environment, could have emerged from a universe that’s governed by a simple set of natural laws? …The fact that we know the answer to that question is one of the greatest achievements in science.” Indeed, he continued, “In this film I want to explore how these endless forms most beautiful have emerged from a lifeless cosmos.”
The explanation for life, he said, begins with the forming of carbon atoms, as these provide the basis for life’s essential molecules such as proteins. Carbon, he claimed, was produced in aging stars which formed from hydrogen and helium gas left over from the ‘big bang’; and this carbon, in the form of dust, was then caught up in the formation of planet Earth.
In this scenario, however, Cox fails to mention some important details which make the story so improbable as to be absurd. As explained by Professor John Lennox of Oxford University,11 if the alleged ‘big bang’ had produced a very slightly different universe, these carbon atoms would simply never have formed. If the ratio of the nuclear strong force to the electromagnetic force had been just slightly different, the helium atoms which allegedly came together to produce the carbon would have fallen apart before fusion occurred. Actually, if this ratio had been different by just 1 part in 1016, no stars could have formed at all. Moreover, in Cox’s story, the ratio of the electromagnetic force-constant to the gravitational force-constant is even more critical—in this case to 1 part in 1040. Again, for the ‘big bang’ to produce and sustain galaxies, the expansion and contraction forces at the beginning of the ‘bang’ (actually 10-43 second afterwards) would have had to have been just right to within 1 part in 1055. Moreover, many other factors would have had to be just right for life.
To deal with the overwhelming odds against such fine-tuning arising by chance, some atheists turn to the idea of a ‘multiverse’. If there are an infinite number of universes, they say, it’s not surprising that everything came out just right in one of them. The problem here, of course, is that there is no observational evidence for there being even two universes, let alone an infinite number. So the multiverse argument has absolutely no place in real, testable science.
Evolution of photosynthesis? (Episode 3)
Cox then discuses how plants obtain carbon through photosynthesis, a process, no doubt, he thinks evolved along with all the rest of nature. The process of photosynthesis, however, is so complex that the world’s best scientists have still failed to copy it. One version of this process, known as ‘C4 photosynthesis’, is particularly complex and evolutionists have to argue that this evolved independently some 30 times!12 It takes enormous faith to believe that photosynthesis could have evolved once. The idea that it evolved many times by random mutations and natural selection is just absurd.
Life began as a ‘tiny speck’, Cox assures us and, “We know that every living thing on the planet is descended from that one speck.” But how do we ‘know’ that? According to Cox, “We know that because every living thing on the planet today shares the same biochemistry. We all have DNA. It’s made of the same bases, A, C, T and G; they code for the same amino acids; those amino acids build the same proteins, which do very similar jobs …”
The truth about DNA (Episode 3)
Yet again, however, the BBC only tell us the facts that support the evolution story. While it’s true that all organisms have DNA, not all utilise the same DNA code. The ‘bases’ Cox refers to are like the letters of our alphabet. They form ‘words’ which have three letters called ‘codons’. The codons, made up of different combinations of the letters (A, C, T and G), specify which amino acid is positioned in which part of the protein. However, while the majority of organisms that have been studied use the same code, it is not universal; a few use different combinations of letters to specify the same amino acids.13 This is very hard for evolutionists to explain, because altering the code requires a simultaneous change in both the DNA and its translation apparatus; otherwise, it would be like changing which key represented which letter on a computer keyboard, scrambling many of the words that are typed. The probability of such simultaneous changes must be miniscule.
Moreover, much harder (if not impossible) for evolutionists to explain is the fact that the standard DNA code is optimised. Firstly, as pointed out by information scientist Dr Werner Gitt, having four different letters and three letter words, the code is optimal in terms of information storage, translation and accuracy of information transfer.14 Secondly, it is also highly optimised in counteracting the harmful effect of mutations. According to some researchers, of the millions of possible codes that nature could have used, the standard code “might indeed be the best.”15 For the Darwinian process to have achieved this, many thousands of different codes would have had to have been tried, each time requiring simultaneous changes in the DNA and translation apparatus. The probabilities involved must be so small that it would be difficult to find words to adequately describe them. In fact, it is impossible for a ‘small step’ by ‘small step’ process to have optimised the DNA code, because each step would have had to have been a ‘big step’: much of the DNA and its translation apparatus would have had to have changed simultaneously each time.
Many evolutionists would respond to this kind of argument by saying that, given enough time, even such unlikely events as these can and will happen. Such people, however, don’t understand probability. Professor Richard Dawkins is a case in point. In his book The Blind Watchmaker, he discusses the unlikely event of a perfect deal in bridge, where each of the four players receives thirteen cards of the same suit. Although very improbable, he considers this to be within the “range of more or less improbable events that do sometimes happen.”16 Hence, he argues, if we lived for millions of years, we would not regard such events as so unexpected.17 This, however, is wildly unrealistic: if the probability of something happening is really miniscule it cannot be expected to happen even if it is tried again and again over millions of years. This can be illustrated for the case of the perfect deal in bridge. The probability of a perfect deal is less than 1 in two thousand million million million million (actually 0.000000000000000000000000000447).18 Suppose we played 10 hands every day for a billion years. During this time we would play 3,650,000,000,000 hands. To obtain an estimate of the probability of a perfect deal occurring at least once, we can use a simple calculation where we multiply 3,650,000,000,000 by 0.000000000000000000000000000447. This gives us the minute probability of less than 1 in six hundred million million (actually 0.00000000000000163).This is akin to someone randomly picking a specific star from some six thousand galaxies, each of which contains a hundred billion stars.
Can natural selection overcome the improbability of evolution? (Episode 3)
According to Cox, “We now know” why life on Earth is so varied. The Darwinian process of genetic mutations and natural selection explains it, he said. He then repeated the totally unsubstantiated assertion that this does not defy the laws of probability because it is not a random process, being directed by natural selection. Such a fact free argument, however, would never be accepted in any other branch of science. As pointed out by Nobel Prize-winner, Professor Brian Josephson,
“…. a crucial part of the argument concerns whether there exists a continuous path, leading from the origins of life to man, each step of which is both favoured by natural selection, and small enough to have happened by chance. It appears to be presented [by some evolutionists] as a matter of logical necessity that such a path exists, but actually there is no such logical necessity.”19
No evolutionist has ever demonstrated that the probability of the right mutations occurring falls within the limits of plausibility, even given millions of years. They just believe it by faith. Moreover, when studies have been conducted that conclude otherwise, they are just ignored.20,21
The lemurs of Madagascar (Episode 3)
In order to demonstrate ‘the fact of evolution’ Cox takes us to Madagascar. Over 90 species/subspecies of lemur can be found here, all of which are probably descended from a few lemurs that rafted to Madagascar from Africa. These different species can be found in different habitats, with each being ideally suited to its environment. Some thrive in the spiny forests of the south, while others are most at home in the rocky canyons of the north. Does this diversification of lemurs, then, show that microbes can evolve into men? No it doesn’t. It shows that lemurs can become other sorts of lemur. Evolutionists claim that mutations and natural selection gave rise to all the different species of lemur, and that such a process can be extrapolated to turn apes into people; but since they have never demonstrated that mutation and selection can do any of this, it is, again, no more than a fact-free assertion.
The diversification of lemurs, however, is well explained by the biblical creation model. According to this, God designed plants and animals to vary within their kinds, so as to be able to adapt to different environments.22 They were created with all the genetic information needed to give rise to many different species. The fact that this kind of speciation often occurs rapidly provides strong scientific evidence in support of this view.23
Evolution and the laws of physics (Episode 4)
In this episode, Cox argued that the laws of physics have limited the scope of evolution and, particularly, the maximum and minimum possible sizes of organisms. Trees, for example, are limited in their height by the force of gravity. An alternative view, of course, is that organisms were created and designed to exist and thrive within the limits of the laws of physics. This latter view would have been the one held by the clear majority of the founders of modern science.
In discussing the smallest known forms of life (bacteria), Cox made a very significant statement: “Single celled life needs to be big enough to accommodate all the molecular machinery of life.” This of course is true. All life, for example, requires a means of producing energy, which is why all cells have machines that manufacture ATP. Similarly, the simplest forms of life require several hundred very specific genes, without which they could not live and reproduce. Neither Cox nor any other evolutionist has any idea how such machines and genes could self assemble from inanimate matter. Nor has anyone postulated a series of partly assembled cells each of which could realistically function. Professor Stuart Kauffman, a leading researcher into the origin of life remarked,
“Anyone who tells you that he or she knows how life started on the earth … is a fool or a knave. Nobody knows.”24
How, then, can it be a scientific fact that this happened?
Chicxulub crater (Episode 5)
Here, Cox takes us to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, the site of the enormous Chicxulub crater, around 180 km (110 miles) in diameter. “All the evidence points to just one explanation”, he said, a gigantic asteroid strike which hit the earth 65 million years ago. This, of course, is the same asteroid that is said to have ended the ‘age of dinosaurs’ and wiped out many other species of plants and animals. But does all the evidence point to an asteroid? The impact is said to have occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period; but an asteroid large enough to produce such a larger crater would have blasted out the upper Cretaceous sediments—yet they are still there. Moreover, there is no sign of a melt sheet which surely would have been formed by the intense heat of the impact. Another explanation, of course, is that the crater arose from volcanic activity, for which there is clear evidence within the crater layers.25,26
An angel of light?27
In the conclusion to the final episode, Cox described the Genesis account of creation, as broadcast to Earth by American astronauts, as “their culture’s creation story”. Unlike the evolution story peddled by Cox in Wonders of Life, however, the Genesis account of Earth history is supported by numerous scientific facts and eye witnesses.28
For those intent on de-Christianising society, Cox is an ideal ally. As a Professor of Physics, his claims that science can explain our existence without God will appear plausible to many; people warm to his affable and interesting personality, which gives the impression that his views are harmless; and those who find security in following trends and fashions will be quick to join his followers. What they fail to realise, however, is that the religion he preaches acts to destroy all that makes him attractive. In Romans 1:18–31, the apostle Paul warns of the dire consequences awaiting societies which deny the creator and worship the creation instead.
Although much diminished over the last fifty years, the western world still enjoys the remnants of our Christian heritage. The Gospel transformed much of the world from the violence and tyranny of paganism, and put decency, honesty and respect in its place. But buildings without foundations collapse; and without the foundation of Christianity so much of what we value in society will collapse too—and perhaps sooner than we think.
References and endnotes
- Wonders of Life, BBC 2. (1) What is Life?, first screened 27 January 2013; (2) Expanding Universe, 3 February 2013, (3) Endless Forms Most Beautiful, 10 February 2013; (4) Size Matters, 17 February 2013; (5) Home, 24 February 2013. Return to text.
- Darwin, C., On the Origin of Species, 1st ed., 1859, p. 490. Return to text.
- Needless to say, such transitional fossils do not exist. See Camp, A.L., Reappraising the Crown Jewel, Creation Matters, September/October 1998; http://www.trueorigin.org/therapsd.asp. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., Could the mammalian ear have evolved … twice?. Return to text.
- De Beer, G., Homology, An Unsolved Problem, Oxford University Press, UK, 1975, pp. 6-7. Return to text.
- Statham, D.R., Homology made simple, Creation 34(4):43-45, October 2012. Return to text.
- Menton, D., The Hearing Ear and the Seeing Eye, DVD, 2003. Return to text.
- Spetner, L., Not by Chance! Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution, Judaica Press, New York, 1998. Return to text.
- Gilder, G., The Silicon Eye, Atlas Books, New York, 2005, p. 29. Return to text.
- Behe, M., Darwin’s Black Box, Free Press, New York, 2003, pp. 18-22. Return to text.
- Lennox, J.C., God’s Undertaker—has science buried God?, Lion Hudson, Oxford, 2007, p. 68–70. Return to text.
- Morris, S.C., Life’s Solution: Inevitable humans in a lonely universe, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2005, p. 293. Return to text.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Taxonomy/Utils/wprintgc.cgi?mode=c Return to text.
- Gitt, W., Without Excuse, Creation Book Publishers, Georgia, USA, 2011, pp. 162-166. Return to text.
- Ref. 12, p. 18. Return to text.
- Dawkins, R., The Blind Watchmaker, Penguin Books, London, UK, 1986, p. 161. Return to text.
- Ref. 16, p. 162. Return to text.
- Gridgeman, N.T., The mystery of the missing deal, The American Statistician 1(8):15-16, February 1964. Return to text.
- Josephson, B., Letter: Science Giants Do a Good Job: We’re Hooked and Keen to Learn. The Independent on Sunday, London, UK, 12 January 1997. Return to text.
- Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, C., Why Neo-Darwinism Does Not Work, University College Cardiff Press, Cardiff, 1982. Return to text.
- Ref. 8. Return to text.
- Statham, D.R., Biblical Biology 101, DVD, 2012; also available as a digital download. Return to text.
- Herrel, A. et al., Rapid large-scale evolutionary divergence in morphology and performance associated with exploitation of a different dietary resource, Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences, 105(12):4792-4795, 2008. Return to text.
- Kauffman, S., At Home in the Universe, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995, p. 31. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Book review: The great dinosaur extinction controversy, J. Creation 12(2):154-158, August 1998. Return to text.
- Meyerhoff, A.A., Lyons, J.B and Officer, C.B., Chicxulub structure: A volcanic sequence of late Cretaceous age, Geology 22:3-4, 1994. Return to text.
- 2 Corinthians 11:14. Return to text.
- See, for example, Cooper, W.R., The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis, Creation Science Movement, 2011. Return to text.