The Limitations of Natural Selection

The general scientific belief is that the processes of mutation and natural selection have been able to beget all the many different, wondrous creatures that presently exist, and the many more that have existed in the past, on this planet ever since Life first appeared and subsequently began to diversify into an astonishingly wide variety of living shapes, forms, and sizes. Furthermore, it is believed that these two processes can also explain the development of complex processes like identical and sexual reproduction, the ability to perceive pain and pleasure, memory, consciousness, bioluminescence, the many different perceptual systems that are possessed by different organisms, the ability to change colour or form rapidly, the ability to fly, the ability to learn from experience, the ability to transform the Sun’s radiation into chemical energy, the ability to repair damage to oneself, the numerous homeostatic processes like hunger, thirst, and temperature control that are possessed by larger organisms, specialized organs that perform specific functions like the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, stomach, pancreas, scent or poison glands, eyes, ears, nose, and brain, the ability to live in the water, the ability to withstand high temperatures or large amounts of radiation, so on.

However, this belief, which many people take for an established scientific fact, is nothing more than an assumption about biological reality. Another way of stating this orthodox scientific belief is that the Theory of Evolution by natural selection can explain every single aspect of every creature that has ever existed on Earth. The problem with such an attitude is that it blinds those who hold it to the many phenomena that cannot be explained by this theory and by these natural processes.

Although the fossil record is literally written in stone, the problem with it, apart from its incompleteness in many instances, is that one tends to interpret this record in accordance with one’s belief about how Life evolved, or developed, in the past. Even the use of the word “evolved” in this context indicates that one probably believes in the Theory of Evolution, while denying the possibility of any sort of divine intervention during Life’s extremely long existence on Earth. Whether wittingly or not, these evolutionarily-devout individuals attempt to create a logically-consist framework to account for the development of different species based on evolutionary principles. In the time prior to the presentation of the radical idea that the Sun, rather than the Earth, lies at the centre of the solar system, those who believed in the Ptolemaic system of the heavens interpreted celestial observations in accordance with this belief. An example is that Ptolemaic astronomers posited the existence of epicycles within epicycles to account for the otherwise inexplicable observation that, during a part of their presumed trajectories around the Earth, certain planets appear to reverse direction. Similarly, orthodox evolutionists diligently seek to resolve difficulties in the evolutionary record by positing all manner of different mechanisms and processes in order to rescue their cherished theory from difficulties and embarrassments, while preserving the belief that it is a globally-valid theory. Just as it never occurred to those who believed in the Ptolemaic theory of the heavens to question their belief because it might be wrong, it does not occur to many orthodox evolutionists at the present time to question their belief in the validity of the Theory of Evolution, not because it might be wrong, but because it might not be as globally valid as they believe it is.

In his book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins makes the spurious and highly misleading distinction between the replicator and the survival vehicle. However, when thinking about evolution, it is important to distinguish between the generator of the abilities, behaviours, and features which are possessed by living organisms, and the selector of those traits. Obviously, by favouring some features and species over others, natural selection can only select among the various abilities, behaviours, and morphological features that are manifested, but it is not able to generate these abilities, behaviours, or features. Natural selection requires materials on which to act in order to produce its wondrous and ever-changing results. Just as judges and critics do not produce the things which they judge or evaluate,[1] neither does natural selection produce the many different forms, features, and abilities, some of which it selects, and thus enables to become widely dispersed. Furthermore, and this point is equally important and overlooked, natural selection does not modify – because it cannot modify – an organism or species by endowing it with abilities or features which previously it did not possess. It is common for people to confound these two independent biological processes, such as when a person says that evolution produced this or that particular adaptation, feature, or species of organisms, including sexual reproduction, the ability to fly, insulating fur or feathers in the case of creatures that live in cold climates, echolocation in some species like bats and porpoises, or the evolution of modern humans from primate ancestors.

There is another assumption made in this context that, in many cases, is also mistaken: the belief that, if a species’ development was gradual, then it must have occurred as a result of natural – meaning non-divine – processes. However, the truth that many people overlook is that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution only showed that the extremely simplistic creation story contained in the Book of Genesis, in which it is related that God created the world and Life on Earth in a mere six Earth-days – along with the many other alternative accounts of how Life first began and developed that are recounted in different cultures – is wrong. Contrary to what many scientifically-confused people believe, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution did not show that God has not intervened in the development of Life, such as to guide it in a particular direction, to invent new processes like sexual reproduction, or to endow certain species with certain abilities, such as endowing the members of our species – and no other – with the capacity to understand the workings of the Universe. This is an example of the imposition of a false logical dichotomy on certain aspects of the world that has deceived many people into believing that either God created, by fiat, the world and all the living organisms that exist, as it is related in the Bible or some other holy book, or Life evolved gradually according to the Theory of Evolution by natural selection; but no combination of these seemingly mutually-exclusive possibilities is permissible. Hence, many people have rejected the possibility that, although the development of Life was indeed gradual and derivative, in the sense that all species of organisms developed from previously existing species, as is revealed by the fossil record and other evidence, its development has been periodically determined, guided, and ordered by God. In other words, the mere fact that Life’s development has been gradual is no proof that it did not result from divine intervention, for this gradual development is entirely compatible with the belief in periodic divine intervention in the development of different life forms on Earth.

All living creatures are related by descent from common ancestors. Humans and other mammals are descended from shrewlike creatures that lived more than 150,000,000 years ago; mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes share as ancestors aquatic worms that lived 600,000,000 years ago; all plants and animals are derived from bacteria-like microorganisms that originated more than 3,000,000,000 years ago. Biological evolution is a process of descent with modification. Lineages of organisms change through generations; diversity arises because the lineages that descend from common ancestors diverge through time.[2]

The difficulty, then, is to determine exactly when God has intervened, and when natural processes have begotten new species or new features of species. But the mere fact that, in many cases, it is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to make this distinction is no reason to reject this thesis outright – for having combined two views that most people would declare are incompatible, the one theological and the other scientific. Phrased in another way, we can ask the following question: If God has indeed fashioned the many different living creatures, not as it is recounted in the Bible, but by transforming those organisms that result from identical or sexual reproduction so that they develop or possess new abilities, forms, or functions, would we be able to find evidence for this view? In several other essays, I have considered examples that I believe support this thesis. In this essay, I wish to consider this topic from a different perspective, by considering the limitations of what can be accomplished by the mechanisms of mutation and natural selection, which the vast majority of evolutionary biologists and their admirers – or, as I prefer to call them, orthodox evolutionary believers – consider to be the primary mechanisms that underlie the development of Life on Earth.

The bat is the only mammal that is able to fly. Although there exist many different species of bats, during the long existence of mammals, which have existed for more than 100 million years, a relatively long period in evolutionary terms, they are the only group of mammals that have developed the ability to fly in the air, just as many different species of birds, insects, and reptiles are or were able to do. The relatively small size of bats may give the impression that it is not possible for larger, heavier mammals to fly, since the largest bats weigh less than two kilograms. However, the existence of fossilized pterodactyls and other large flying dinosaurs, as well as flying birds that weigh considerably more than the heaviest bats, shows that this belief is probably wrong.

In trying to reconstruct the evolution of bats, one must be careful not to commit the conception fallacy. The mere fact that one can conceive of these numerous cumulative changes – from a non-flying to a flying mammal – occurring gradually via the processes of mutation and natural selection does not mean that this is in fact the way they occurred. But even if this evolution occurred gradually, there is another important consideration regarding its transformation from a terrestrial or arboreal species to a flying species. Bats have several unusual features that enable or enhance their ability to fly. These include the fact that several of the fingers on their front limbs have become extremely elongated in order to form the structure of their wings, which wings consist of a thin, flexible membrane, rather than the feathers of birds or the translucent wings of many insects. Clearly, if bats could not fly, these abnormally elongated digits would be a fatal handicap to their ability to survive by fleeing potential predators, either by hindering their ability to climb trees or run on the ground. In other words, lacking their ability to fly, bats would not be able to survive as arboreal or terrestrial creatures, as their non-flying ancestors must have done. Since bats must have evolved from non-flying mammals at some distant period in the past, what is true of all the many intermediate species that link their non-flying ancestors to present-day bats is that every single one of these intermediate species, which were neither flying nor terrestrial or arboreal creatures, must have been able to survive in their intermediate forms. And this is true whenever one species, or a small number of the members of one species, evolves into a completely different species possessing radically different abilities or characteristics.

From considering this example, we can formulate the Law of Intermediacy: every intermediate-stage species between two different species of organisms must produce organisms that are also viable, in the sense of being evolutionarily fit, if the development is to proceed uninterrupted. In other words, at every stage of its evolution, these adaptations must be beneficial, otherwise there exists an evolutionary barrier or dead end, beyond which a species cannot develop.

In the case of bats, there are no intermediate-stage species that exist today. And yet, at least for a time, every single one of these species must have existed and survived, since otherwise bats would not exist today. In addition, it is wrong to consider these intermediate species as merely means to an evolutionary end, specifically the end that we know, or believe, evolution to have produced, namely, the only order of flying mammals that has ever existed. For viewed from the non-purposive perspective of evolution by natural selection, every single species that exists is, for the time that it exists, an end in itself, since it is not at all clear how it will evolve in the future. In other words, viewed from the non-purposive perspective of evolution by natural selection, there was no necessity for the flying mammals that we call bats to have evolved, since it was entirely possible that they might never have arisen, just as there are no, and never have been any, flying primates, felines, rodents, kangaroos, or pigs.

But, you may object, what about flying squirrels, which do indeed appear to be an intermediate form between bats and their distant arboreal or terrestrial ancestors? First of all, the misnamed flying squirrels do not possess the ability to fly; rather, they are able, by fully extending and holding taut the thick layer of fur-covered skin that lies between their front and hind legs, to glide from one tree to another. Second, there is no evidence that flying squirrels are the ancestors of bats. Third, the claws of flying squirrels are not much different from the claws of non-flying squirrels, since they are not abnormally elongated like the front claws of bats. And fourth, flying squirrels have existed in their present form for a long time, measured in millions of years; and during that time, they have not shown the slightest tendency to make the evolutionary leap, both figuratively and literally speaking, to become a species that can actually fly, as bats can.[3]

Although we could imagine a series of gradual changes that would transform some flying squirrels into flying creatures, this does not mean that this transformation is in fact possible, merely through the processes of random mutation and natural selection. Even though flying squirrels are significantly closer to being able to fly than other mammals, the gap between their present ability to glide from one tree to another, and their potential evolution into a truly flying species is still quite large. In other words, a great many coordinated or sequential changes would need to occur in order for their descendents to acquire the ability to fly; and it cannot simply be assumed that these major changes are within the realm of possible results that can be engendered by random mutations and natural selection, as orthodox evolutionary believers assume, since this is the very belief that I am challenging.

Let us not forget that, since mutation is assumed to be an entirely random process,[4] in cases when there must have been coordinated changes, such as the elongation of the bat’s fingers and the development of a thin and highly flexible membrane between these fingers, one is committed to assuming that these random mutations could have occurred together merely by chance. For the development of this membrane without the elongated fingers, or the development of the elongated fingers without the membrane, would not have allowed the bat’s ancestors to fly. Rather than being a beneficial change, either one of these changes occurring on its own would have been a maladaptive change that would have reduced, especially in the case of the bat’s unevenly elongated fingers, or done nothing to aid the organism’s chances of survival. And the chances of coordinated mutations in two separate features of an organism occurring together is much lower than the chances of a series of individual mutations occurring in only one feature of an organism, which itself is already a highly unlikely occurrence.

To give another example, let us consider cetaceans, which include whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Contrary to what their fish-like shapes suggest, a similarity that, until fairly recently, led people to regard these creatures as fish, cetaceans are in fact mammals, a fact that has changed many people’s attitudes towards these aquatic creatures. In their case, their evolution followed the appearance of terrestrial mammals. This means that, while they have retained the lungs possessed by all mammals, they have undergone numerous adaptive changes so that they are able to live their lives entirely in the water. In fact, cetaceans cannot survive for long periods out of water, so highly adapted are they to this environment that is deadly to most mammals. These changes include the thick layer of fat that insulates their bodies from the cold and provides buoyancy in the water, the loss of their hind limbs and the transformation of their forelimbs into fins, the development of a dorsal fin that helps to stabilize and direct them as they swim through the water, the development of a blowhole on the top of their heads, whose passageway to the lungs is wholly separated from their mouths, the ability to hold their breaths underwater for much longer periods than other mammals, and, in the case of some whales, the ability to endure extreme compression as they dive to great depths.

In their case, unlike in the case of bats, there are many mammals that bridge the divide between cetaceans and land-based mammals, being equally adept and comfortable in both water and on the land. These include otters, beavers, seals, walruses, and manatees. Some of these mammals, such as otters and beavers, are better adapted to living on land, while others, such as seals, walruses, and manatees, are better adapted to living in water.

When there exists variation in a particular trait, such as docility, size, colour, hairiness, buoyancy, and so on, then one can choose those members that possess it more than others and breed them exclusively, in order to increase that trait or make it more widespread in later generations. But when a trait doesn’t exist within a species, then one cannot select for it. To give an obvious example, natural selection cannot select for flying ability in any mammalian species other than bats, for the simple reason that none of them can fly, since none of them possess the distinctive anatomical features that would enable them to fly. In other words, natural selection has no materials on which to act so as to produce, at some time in the future, flying weasels, flying shrews, flying antelope, flying rats, flying pigs, flying cats, or flying monkeys. This example makes clear the important but frequently overlooked fact that natural selection does not – and in fact on its own it cannot – generate the abilities, features, or behaviours, some of which it selects or favours over others.

In the case of the finches that were studied by Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, the variations that existed between them, such as in the size and shape of their beaks, were within the range of genetic variability that exists in these species. But when we consider the great differences that exist, for example, between a flying species and a non-flying species, or between a mammalian species that lives primarily on land and one that lives primarily in water, we are talking about a range of genetic variability that is possessed by no species.[5] Those who believe in the universality of the Theory of Evolution simply assume that, over very long periods of time, measured in millions and millions of years, these variations could arise due to random mutations, which would then be preserved by natural selection because they are advantageous. However, one is simply assuming that this is possible, but without actually having any or much evidence to support this belief.

Similarly, all the many different breeds of dogs, which exhibit a wide range in terms of their shape, size, colour, hairiness, the length of their legs, the features of their faces, and so forth, are clearly within the range of possible results that can be produced by natural selection, or, in this case, by human selection. But what is not possible is to produce a breed of dog that can fly, as bats can, or live its life entirely in the water, as cetaceans can, because the numerous adaptive changes that these radically different modes of living and surviving require are not within the range of genetic variability that is presently possessed by the entire species of dogs.

The question is, how do these genes, which are presently not in the range of genetic variation of a particular species, appear in some of the members of that species, so that, provided they are advantageous, they will be selected by natural selection and become more numerous? In considering this question, one must remember that, unlike in the case of human selection, whereby traits that do not render individuals more evolutionarily fit can be preserved by artificially protecting those individuals from predation, disease, and competition, these traits must also enable the creatures that possess them to pass the stringent test of the Law of Intermediacy, by enabling, or at least by not hindering, the survival of these creatures in a state of Nature. An example of such a maladaptive feature is the extremely large udders that have been selected by cow breeders in order to increase the quantity of milk that cows produce. Such heavy udders would make it more difficult for cows to escape predators in the wild, and so this feature would be eliminated by natural selection.

The thick layer of fat that is possessed by all cetaceans has several advantages for aquatic creatures: it provides insulation from the cold and it provides buoyancy, thus reducing the possibility of drowning. However, this same layer of fat would be a serious hindrance for terrestrial creatures, whether they are predators or prey animals, since the added weight would significantly reduce their ability either to pursue their prey or flee from their predators. This is because fat is slightly less dense than water, but it is more dense than air, meaning that while it enables aquatic animals to float in water, it weighs down terrestrial animals. Hence, a trait that is adaptive for aquatic animals, by enabling them to float in the water, is maladaptive for terrestrial animals, by hindering their ability to run rapidly. And this is true of other features of cetaceans and terrestrial mammals, such as the fact that the former have lost the limbs that all terrestrial mammals possess, replacing them instead with fins and a large flat tail, features that render these creatures helpless on land. Although there exists genetic variation in the size and shape of the fins and tail of cetaceans, and there is likewise genetic variation in the size and shape of the feet or hooves and legs of terrestrial mammals, there is no species that possesses sufficiently large genetic variation so as to bridge the divide between these two very different kinds of mammals. And the reason for this is that such a high degree of genetic variation would render many of the offspring of such a hybrid species unable to survive either on land or in the water, since many of the features that render a species highly adapted to living in water are maladaptive to living on land, and vice versa. An obvious example is a cetacean that possesses legs and feet rather than flippers and a tail, or a terrestrial mammal with flippers and a tail rather than legs and hooves, feet, or claws.[6] The same is true of the particular features that enable bats to fly, since these features would hinder their ability to survive as terrestrial or arboreal creatures. The key question is “How did these abilities and morphological features arise in cases where we know that a certain species with novel abilities and features arose from a completely different group of creatures, such as bats from non-flying mammals, aquatic mammals from terrestrial mammals, or birds from dinosaurs?”

The orthodox evolutionary answer is that it resulted from a series of random mutations that were preserved and propagated by natural selection because they endowed organisms with an evolutionary advantage over other organisms. But then we can further ask, “Can the process of random mutation in fact produce such large changes over the course of evolutionary time, or are orthodox evolutionists and many others simply assuming that it can do so, while also assuming that all these intermediate species could have successfully passed the Law of Intermediacy?” The mere fact that an anatomical feature, ability, or behaviour is advantageous for a species to possess does not mean that, given enough time, it will arise inevitably through the processes of mutation and natural selection.

Since humans have a penchant for modifying existing species in order to beget creatures with features that please us, would we be able, solely by the processes of human selection and selective breeding, to beget a flying species from a species of organisms that presently is not capable of flying? In such a case, what exactly would one select for? For the anatomical features that would enable a non-flying species to develop the ability to fly are presently not within the range of genetic variation that is possessed by all species of non-flying organisms. This example shows that many people regard natural selection as a sort of master biological designer that, given enough time, can work miraculous transformations in the biological realm. The following excerpt describes this common attitude which is held by orthodox evolutionary believers about the transformative powers of evolution by natural selection:

Parallel evolution implies that two or more lineages have changed in similar ways, so that the evolved descendants are as similar to each other as their ancestors were. The evolution of marsupials in Australia paralleled the evolution of placental mammals in other parts of the world. There are Australian marsupials resembling true wolves, cats, mice, squirrels, moles, groundhogs, and anteaters. These placental mammals and the corresponding Australian marsupials evolved independently but in parallel lines by reason of their adaptation to similar ways of life. Some resemblances between a true anteater (Myrmecophaga) and a marsupial anteater (Myrmecobius) are due to homology—both are mammals. Others are due to analogy—both feed on ants.[7]

Since the development of Australian marsupials and mammals on other continents occurred independently of each other, and since the mutations that would have had to occur in both cases in a number of separate species would also have occurred randomly, the probability that all of these many modifications could have occurred by chance is so vanishingly small as to be impossible. Unless one has bothered to work out the probabilities of these many independent events occurring concurrently and shown that they are sufficiently high so as to be probable, one has no justification in assuming that they can be produced by random mutations that are then screened by natural selection.

The fact that biologists study primarily successful organisms and species has a very strong tendency to bias their beliefs about the probabilities that these organisms and species could have arisen by random processes that are then subjected to natural selection. Similarly, because we only deal with more or less successful examples of writing, many people overestimate what a random process can achieve, such as the common belief that a random process could beget a literary work that is as long as one of Shakespeare’s plays. For the same reason, biologists overestimate what a random biological process can produce in terms of beneficial adaptations.

Genes, which are the basic units of heredity, can vary significantly in length; in humans, they vary from hundreds to millions of bases, each base containing a single nucleotide. Since there are four different kinds of nucleotides that occur in DNA – adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine – this means that, in a gene that contains, for example, one hundred bases, there are 4100, or roughly 1060, possible combinations of those nucleotides. In a gene containing 1000 bases, the number of possible combinations is 41000, or 10602; and in a gene containing 10,000 bases, the number of possible combinations is 410000, or 106020. As these examples show, the number of possible combinations increases exponentially as the number of nucleotides in a gene increase. However, a single gene, no matter how long it is, cannot produce a living organism. Even the simplest single-celled organisms contain hundreds of genes; and large multicellular organisms contain tens of thousands of genes, which further dramatically increases the estimates of the possibilities involved. Clearly, the fact that there are so many different possible combinations of nucleotides in DNA accounts for the wide variety of Life that exists, and has existed, on the Earth.

Given these extraordinarily large numbers – numbers which exceed, by vast amounts, the age of the Universe,[8] not to mention the shorter age of the Earth – how is it possible that, of all these enormously large numbers of different possibilities, those outcomes that were able to beget Life occurred? For to declare cavalierly that these outcomes occurred randomly, with the successful outcomes being selected and propagated by the discriminating process of natural selection, is to fail completely to understand how large are the numbers of possibilities in these cases, the vast majority of which would not have begotten a viable, living organism. Most people’s inability to understand the difference between large numbers like millions, billions, or even trillions, and numbers like 1060, 10600, or 106000 leads them wildly to overestimate the things that a purely random process can produce. For this important difference – between large numbers that are within our comprehension and much larger numbers that are not – means that outcomes like the existence of Life, as well as its later development into more complex forms, could not have arisen by chance.

To give an example of the enormous number of different possibilities involved, in order to try out, at the rate of 1000 combinations per second, all the different possible combinations of a gene that contains 1000 nucleotides, this would require 3.6 x 10591 years, or a time that is equivalent to 2.7 x 10581 times the age of the Universe![9] Clearly, given the enormous number of different possibilities involved in both the creation of Life and its later development into more complex forms, as more and more genes were added to organisms’ genotypes, it is obvious that there was already a selection process prior to natural selection that eliminated the huge numbers of outcomes, or nucleotide combinations contained in genes, that would not have given rise to viable, living, and functional organisms.

An analogy can be made with writing in the case of a language like English that uses an alphabet, since the degree of complexity is comparable in the genetic and the linguistic case. Although the number of possible combinations of words that yield a grammatically correct and interesting composition is large, it is nowhere near as large as the number of different combinations of random letters. The degree of difference is comparable to the difference between the number of possible viable organisms and the total number of random combinations of nucleotides in genes of varying lengths, as well as the random combination of different genes in organisms’ genotypes.

One could imagine an editor that screens submissions in order to reject those compositions that contain only random combinations of letters, since a cursory glance is sufficient to tell these apart from those compositions that contain words that are placed in a more or less correct order. But the mere fact that a composition is grammatically correct and contains few spelling mistakes is no guarantee that it will be interesting, or even that it will make much sense. In this case, one would need a second editor to read each composition, or at least a part of each composition, in order to make this judgment.

To return to the biological case, the process of deciding which, among the many viable combinations of nucleotides contained in genes, as well as the combinations of genes in organisms, will succeed and be widely reproduced is performed by natural selection. In other words, natural selection performs the role of the second editor, but it does not perform the vital role of the first editor.

Why have biologists overlooked the existence of the first editor – the one that eliminates the enormously large number of random combinations of nucleotides that are the equivalent of genetic gibberish or noise? I believe there are two reasons: first, because biologists study almost exclusively the genetic combinations that are contained in viable, living organisms;[10] and second, I doubt many biologists have bothered to calculate the very large numbers of possible combinations of nucleotides in genes and organisms. Consequently, they confound the two editors together, by assuming that, on its own, natural selection is capable of eliminating all the very many genetic combinations that would not have given rise to viable, living forms of life.

Once a particular sequence of nucleotides is set down, then this eliminates all the many other possible combinations of that length; it also limits the possible changes that the sequence can incur in the future. However, this does not resolve the question we are considering, which is, “Of all the enormous number of possible combinations, how was a random process able to generate those nucleotide sequences in organisms’ genes that give rise to viable, living organisms – not once but many times in the case of different genes – when there was only enough time to try an infinitesimally small portion of all the possible combinations?”

Of course, one could object that nucleotides are very small, and the Earth is a much bigger place, meaning that these random combinations could have occurred in many different places on the Earth, thus greatly increasing the chances that the right combinations, or those that could have given rise to living creatures, could have arisen by chance. However, this does not resolve the difficulties we are considering. First of all, the picture that I have described – of an endless, regular, and rapid process of trying out different combinations of nucleotides to see which of them are useful in begetting Life and which are not – does not correspond to the state of the Earth prior to the existence of Life. It is not the case that, at that time, such a random process was occurring at a rapid and regular rate until the right combinations arose. I have presented this inaccurate scenario in order to give an idea of the probabilities involved. Second, this process requires a liquid medium, since in the absence of a liquid the molecules would not be able to move around much. Third, it would require that all four nucleotides existed in sufficient abundance so that they could combine in many different combinations – an assumption that is made less likely by the fact that we are assuming that the nucleotides themselves arose randomly.

However, the most important problem is that, prior to Life’s existence, even if a useful combination of nucleotides were to arise randomly, there was no way of telling it apart from the many other combinations that were not useful. In the time prior to Life’s existence, since any given sequence of nucleotides did not do anything different, or produce a different result, from any other sequence, there was no reason for it to have been preserved and multiplied over all the other possible sequences.[11] In other words, there was no way of telling – and preserving – the successful from the unsuccessful sequences of nucleotides. We must not forget that DNA only produces its wonderful effects within the confines of a cell, which already presupposes a very considerable amount of biological development: the existence of messenger RNA to transfer the instructions contained in DNA to ribosomes, where protein production takes place, a source of energy to power the manufacture of proteins and other cellular processes, and the existence of cell membranes to protect all these structures and processes from the hostile external environment, to name just a few; and none of these biological entities or processes exist or occur randomly in a physical environment where there is no life. Outside of a cell’s membranes, or during the time where there were no cells because there was no Life, nucleotides, just like all other organic molecules such as amino acids, are merely chemical compounds. And why should these chemical compounds have formed long sequences – and remain preserved in these sequences – long before the time that they were useful? Let us not forget that, in order to produce even a single-celled organism, the most basic form of Life, it is not sufficient for just one correct sequence of nucleotides to arise randomly in order to form a gene, for this would have required that hundreds of these nucleotide sequences arose randomly and were preserved before they had any utility. Stated in this manner, we can see that the assumption of randomness leads to an absurdity – the absurdity that the development of Life was impossible.[12]

Prior to Life’s existence, the likelihoods that the four nucleotides would arise, that they would combine in various sequences, and that the useful sequences would be preserved and reproduced are determined by the laws of chemistry, and not by the laws of biology, since biological laws apply only to living organisms. We can ask, then, given the laws of chemistry, what the probabilities of each of these occurrences are – of nucleotides arising randomly and combining randomly in a liquid environment, and how long these random combinations would remain intact given other factors like temperature variations due to the Earth’s rotation, radiation from the Sun, the existence of other chemical compounds with which the nucleotides might react, and so on.

These considerations lead us to a new definition of the science of genetics: genetics is the study of the language that God has used to create, develop, preserve, and perpetuate Life on Earth. For those who are inclined to deny this definition, they must explain how it happened that, of all the enormous numbers of possible combinations that could have occurred in organisms’ genes, only those combinations that were favourable to Life occurred both at the very beginning of Life’s appearance and during its later development into more complex forms. If one is going to assume that these changes could have occurred by chance, as all orthodox evolutionary believers assume, then one must calculate the probabilities involved and show that these probabilities lie within the realm of probability, instead of being so low that, given the time frames in which they are believed to have occurred, they are in a practical sense impossible. For, given the estimated age of the Earth, as well as the documented scientific fact that Life appeared not long after the Earth’s formation, there simply wasn’t enough time for all these many possible combinations of nucleotide bases to be tried in order to determine which had the promise of begetting life and which were useless towards this end.

We arrive, then, at the following rough demarcation: the processes of mutation and natural selection, along with the variation that exists within different species, allows for the diversification, or adaptive radiation, of the original species into a wide variety of similar but slightly different species, as is illustrated by the many different species of bats, bees, butterflies, finches, whales, lemurs, flies, frogs, snakes, trees, flowering plants, or mushrooms that exist. Moreover, in many cases, these processes enable organisms to adapt to the particular features of their environment, both living and non-living. However, it is unlikely that these natural processes can account for major changes that are visible in the fossil record, some examples being the development of sexual reproduction; the development of terrestrial animals from aquatic animals; the development of flying mammals (bats) from non-flying mammals, the development of aquatic mammals (cetaceans) from non-aquatic mammals, and, more recently, the development of an intelligent species (human beings) that is capable of understanding the workings of the Universe from mammals that did not possess this capacity. For these major changes are probably due to divine intervention in the development of Life on Earth.

There is no contradiction in maintaining such a seemingly incongruous position. The sense of contradiction or incongruity only results from our erroneous human belief that either the Theory of Evolution by natural selection is true all the time, or God created all the living organisms that exist, and have existed in the past, on this planet by divine fiat. But this seemingly obvious belief is merely an instance of the false imposition of the rules of human logic on the world, a common tendency that is one of the many sources of human error in our quest to understand the world we live in.

 

[1] The Irish writer Brendan Behan once said of critics that they “are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.”

[2] From “Evolution: Introduction”, Encyclopaedia Britannica. CD-ROM version, 2004.

[3] If there were no bats, then we would be less likely to consider flying squirrels as intermediaries between bats and non-flying mammals. In that case, many people would conclude from the absence of any flying mammals that, for whatever reason, it simply isn’t possible for mammals to fly.

[4] Any deviation from the belief that mutation is wholly random leads one essentially to admit that there is purpose in the development, or evolution, of living creatures.

[5] In making this statement, I mean that, in the case of the ability to fly, this variation does not exist in the case of non-flying mammals, since it can happen that some of the offspring of a flying species lack the ability to fly due to a genetic defect.

[6] Although we might find it interesting if Nature were able to beget such hybrid creatures, an important reason why speciation occurs, meaning the reluctance, unwillingness, or inability of certain organisms to mate with each other, is to limit the variability inherent in the process of sexual reproduction so that it does not beget organisms that would not long survive in this world. If two significantly different species were able to breed and produce offspring, this would increase the genetic variation to such an extent that a high percentage of the resulting offspring would not be viable or have a poor chance of surviving in their environment. Although a limited amount of genetic variation is good, too much variation is bad, since it reduces the probability that the resulting offspring will be able to survive and reproduce. In other words, one of the key functions of speciation is to increase the probability of evolutionary fitness by preventing the exchange of genetic material between radically different species of organisms.

[7] From “Evolution: The process of evolution: Patterns and rates of species evolution: Reconstruction of evolutionary history: Evolution within a lineage and by lineage splitting”, Encyclopaedia Britannica. CD-ROM version, 2004.

[8] Based on the current calculation of the Universe’s age as 13.7 billion years, this is equivalent to a mere 4.3 x 1017 seconds. Even expressed in microseconds, or one-millionths of a second, this still only yields 4.3 x 1023, which number is very greatly exceeded by the numbers contained in the previous paragraph.

[9] This simplified account of the possibilities involved, as well as the amount of time it would take to try all these many possible combinations of nucleotides, probably overestimates these figures. We can make them more accurate by incorporating the information that nucleotides occur in groups of three, called codons, which code for one of twenty different amino acids. There are more than one hundred amino acids that are found in Nature, but only twenty of these are used to make proteins that are found in all living organisms. Since there are 4 x 4 x 4 = 64 possible combinations of the four nucleotides, this means there are redundancies. There are three amino acids that are coded for by six different codons; five amino acids that are coded for by four different codons; one amino acid that is coded for by three codons; nine amino acids that are coded for by two codons; and two amino acids that are coded for by only one codon. Of the last two, one is the amino acid methionine, which acts as the initiating codon, telling the ribosome, where proteins are manufactured, to begin producing a protein. In addition, there are three codons which do not code for an amino acid but instead tell the ribosome to stop manufacturing the protein. The fact that many codons code for the same amino acid means that the blueprint of Life has a built-in margin of error; for if each codon coded for a unique amino acid, then a mutation in one of the three nucleotides would mean that it would code for a different amino acid, which could potentially have harmful effects on the organism.

In a gene containing 1000 nucleotides, dividing 1000 by 3 yields 333 codons, which have one of 20 different possible outcomes, so that the number of possible combinations is 20333, or 1.7 x 10433. At the rate of 1000 combinations per second, it would still take 5.5 x 10422 years, or 4 x 10412 times the estimated age of the Universe to try all of the different possibilities. Although these figures are significantly lower than those contained in the original calculation, they are not sufficiently low as to alter in the slightest the conclusions that follow from them.

To state this result in another way, at the rate of 1000 combinations per second, since the Universe began, there would only have been enough time to try a fraction that is equivalent to 2.5 x 10-413 of all the possible combinations. To write this number out longhand, one would have to start with “0.000” and add an additional 409 zeros to this figure before one adds the “25” at the end. This number is so infinitesimally small that it is absurd to suppose that such a miniscule sampling of all the possible combinations could produce the one that matches the gene in question. Even in the case of a gene containing just 100 bases, or 33 codons, at the rate of 1000 combinations per second, there would only have been enough time since the beginning of the Universe to sample a mere 5 x 10-23 , or 0.00000000000000000000005, of all the possible combinations. Based on the assumption that these genetic combinations arose randomly, the fact that genes containing more than 100 nucleotides actually exist very clearly defies the laws of probability.

[10] Some geneticists do spend their time trying to discover which genes are responsible for serious diseases and birth defects. This is comparable to the changing of a single word or several words in a composition, which could have important effects on its meaning, since the rest of the organism’s genome is not defective. For example, in the sentence “The U.S. and the Soviet Union did not directly engage in war with each other during the twentieth century”, the removal of the word “not” would significantly change its meaning. And the insertion of the same word in the sentence “This man is going to die tomorrow” would obviously alter its meaning: “This man is not going to die tomorrow.” However, just as most mutations do not have serious negative consequences on an organism, the existence of spelling mistakes in a composition does not alter its readability or the ability of the reader to understand its meaning.

[11] To return to the linguistic analogy, this is comparable to the fact that, for those who do not understand a foreign language, the different combinations of letters contained in two or more compositions will not beget different effects or consequences upon those who examine them.

[12] Although the probability that a random combination of three consecutive nucleotides in a gene will code for an amino acid or a useful nucleotide sequence is 100 percent, it is most certainly not true that any random combination of codons will beget a protein or an instruction that is useful in the formation, preservation, and propagation of life. In fact, the vast majority of these random combinations of codons will be useless for this purpose. The fact that every single possible combination of three nucleotides codes for an amino acid greatly increases the chances of success, since if this were not the case – if there were codons that did not code for an amino acid, or if some codons coded for an amino acid that is not one of the twenty amino acids that are used to create all living organisms – then this would increase the chances of biological failure.