I've just rewritten a small section of a play I perform for students involving a conversation between Darwin and Galileo. Darwin is describing how random damage to genes can act as variation for natural selection to work on. Galileo follows up by asking a question.

DARWIN: What makes it work is natural selection. Every once in a while, just by chance, the result of damage [to the genes] will actually be an improvement. Natural selection will keep selecting in favor of each of those improvements until there’s enough of them to provide some entirely new benefit, like an elephant’s trunk.

GALILEO: All that’s needed to make an elephant’s trunk, you say, is enough genes that, despite having been damaged, provide each some particular benefit for which they continue to be selected.

I think you may have left something out. Think what you are asking of the living creature! It must take all those genes, each one providing its own small benefit, and turn them into machinery so perfect that together they now fashion some entirely new benefit, even something as complex and intricate as an elephant’s trunk, not just in the adult but at every stage along the way.

What an amazing feat of engineering that is, out of such crude and unpromising materials, to fashion such exquisite machinery!

Here’s my question. Given that they have such an amazing capability to re-engineer their own genes, why do these creatures need those genes to be damaged, in the first place? If they must be damaged first the creature clearly has the capability to damage them itself, just the ones it wants, whenever it wants. So, my second question is --since a living creature is so capable an engineer of its own genes, why do you need some other mechanism to damage its genes, at random, in the first place?

DARWIN: No, no, you’ve got the process all backwards. It’s the random damage that pre-engineers the genes, so they come all ready to fit exactly into the machinery. That's what they get selected for; they don’t have to be selected for something else while they wait to be made part of the machinery, they arrive exactly when they’re needed. Random damage can engineer genes as precisely as you like, provided you allow enough time. Oh, wait a moment, then they can’t arrive exactly when they’re needed. There seems to be some kind of contradiction here. I must be missing something. I’ll think it up right now.

(Pause.) Oh, I can’t do this on the spur of the moment. I can’t explain it, even to myself! (Dejected, to Galileo) OK, you win.

I propose that Darwin, along with evolutionists in general, is guilty of a couple of fallacies. One is the fallacy that the products of a random process modified by a filter (a stochastic process) can amount to a design process of any degree of complexity in less than the duration of the universe. An example is, can a chimp banging away on a typewriter keyword compose the entire works of Shakespeare? Yes, but not in less time than the duration of the universe. Here's another example: How long will it take a hurricane centered over a vast motorcycle junk yard to blow together a four-stroke, four-wheeled, car capable of being driven out of the junk yard? Here even eternity might not be long enough. That's because of a second fallacy: the eternity=plausibility fallacy. Some things just aren't possible even if you set a random process to work for eternity, despite how potent an eternity of randomness seems (to some people). The hurricane in a motorcycle junk yard will never blow together a rocket capable of going to the moon because the junkyard doesn't contain the necessary fuel.

So how about genetic mutation and natural selection? Could they in combination "evolve" an elephant's trunk in, say, 10 million years, Suppose it takes two thousand alterations to genes to code for the trunk, they get supplied one at a time as single-gene mutations, and they are needed in a particular order. If elephants live for around 60 years we have 5000 years per mutation, or around 80 elephant lifetimes. The efficiency of natural selection is so low that to alter the frequency of a gene mutation it probably has to be presented to natural selection around 80 times, or once per lifetime in the breeding population. Each female averages six offspring (according to Darwin) so natural selection has only a couple of culls per elephant that survives to operate with. With each mutation a particular point mutation has a one in three billion chance of expressing itself. I can't do the math, but to me this seems orders of magnitude short of plausibility.

That's an indicator of fallacy 1, belief that the products of a random process modified by a filter (a stochastic process) can amount to a design process of any degree of complexity in less than the duration of the universe.

Now fallacy number 2. Starting with bacteria, can you through mutations of bacterial genes over any period at all create the bone, muscle, gristle and nerves needed to make a mammalian leg? Possibly, no. The potential of bacterial genomes may not include being turned by single-point genetic mutations into mammalian tissues. But proponents of the creativity potential in random processes may judge yes, just because of the intoxication induced by contemplation of the productivity of random processes operating over millions of years. And they're the ones who insist that the rest of us cannot possibly appreciate what's possible in a million years!

Add comment

Security code