Darwinism Deconstructed

Darwinism is a set of propositions pertaining to the origin and evolution of animal and human species. Among “educated” elites, it is considered “settled science”, immune to challenge. Jonathan Wells, who holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in religious studies from Yale, summarizes Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as follows:

“In 1859, Charles Darwin proposed that minor variations within existing species are preserved or eliminated by natural selection (survival of the fittest), and that given enough time this process generates new species, organs, and body plans. Darwin argued that variations and selection are unguided, so the results of evolution are left to the working out of what he called chance.”  (Zombie Science, p.19).

With the discovery of DNA and its correlation with proteins, the “central dogma” was updated and summarized by the statement,

“DNA makes RNA makes protein makes us” (Wells, p.86),

or as I once heard a prominent surgeon put it, “It’s all in the genes.”

Darwin himself articulated the key implication of his theory:

“The old argument of design in nature, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered”…. “There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection than in the course which the wind blows.”

In essence, Darwin and his successors are arguing that random, genetic variations (mutations) can produce complex organisms.

Before examining the evidence for evolution, Wells cautions us that we must be careful to specify what we mean by evolution. No scientist disputes that species evolve in the sense that minor changes in existing species occur from generation to generation. But Darwin was making a larger claim. He titled his book, Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. [emphasis added]. He was claiming that the process of natural selection can cause the creation of new species. It is this premise – that random mutations over a long time scale induce the creation of species – that will be examined for its evidentiary support. It turns out that the evidence from science does not support the premise.

How can any layman even remotely familiar with the foundational concepts of biology make the apparently outrageous claim that Darwinism is wrong? After all, literally thousands of papers have been written by full professors of biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, etc., based on the conceptual foundation established by Darwin that a purely materialistic process, random natural selection working over a long time scale, is sufficient to explain what we observe. What is not generally known, and almost never referenced in the mainstream media, is that there exists a large, scientifically sophisticated literature challenging the premises of Darwinism and pointing toward the necessity of acknowledging design, and by implication a designer, as the only logical way of explaining what we observe and how it came to be.

The stakes in the debate are huge, as Darwin well understood:

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, then my theory would absolutely break down.”

Logic and evidence have demonstrated exactly that.

First, the logic. No one has ever been able to explain how an unguided, mindless process can produce something as complicated as a human hand, much less a human brain. All the scientific explanations boil down to, “It just happened as the result of a blind, random search process over a very long period of time.” Dan Tawfick of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Department of Biomolecular Sciences, who would not want to be included in the rational design camp, gets to the heart of the matter:

“Evolution has this catch-22: nothing evolves unless it already exists.”

Douglas Axe, a molecular biologist with a Ph.D. from Caltech, concludes that there is a “gaping hole” in evolutionary theory because it “ascribes inventive power to natural selection alone. However, because selection can only home in on the fitness signal from an invention after [italics added] that invention already exists, it can’t actually invent.” (Undeniable, p. 97). Evolution can and does modify, but it doesn’t create anything.

Axe notes that “repetition is the only factor that can conceivably offset the improbability of stumbling upon biological inventions by accident.” (Axe, p. 113). According to biologists, the evolutionary process for any species is nothing more than a process of blind, i.e., unguided by intelligence, search that eventually results in an organism fit to survive in its environment.

Even the simplest organisms can perform only if they have a property Axe calls functional coherence, which is “the complete alignment of low level functions in support of the top-level function.” (Axe, p. 143).

Functional coherence [sufficient for useful biological inventions] makes accidental [biological] invention fantastically improbable and therefore physically impossible.” (Axe, p. 189.)

To give a sense of what “fantastically improbable” means, consider that “Of the possible genes encoding protein chains 153 amino acids in length, only about one in a hundred trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion is expected to encode a chain that folds well enough to perform a biological function!” (Axe, p. 181). To this layperson, it seems obvious to infer that the blind search hypothesis, no matter how long the time period, is nonsense. Modern Darwinists have not been able to show that evolution can invent and assemble the building blocks of life forms, so their claim that evolution did the design, construction, and assembly necessary for organisms to exist is not supported.

The common view among laypeople, including me before I decided to see what the skeptics had to say, is that the evidence for Darwinism is robust across many disciplines. This turns out not to be true. For a full review of the nature and quality of the evidence, I recommend Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth, as well as his Zombie Science. His theme is that various explanations / demonstrations of how Darwinism works misrepresent the evidence, and “… many biologists have known this for decades.” (Wells, Zombie Science, p. 23). To my knowledge, these critiques of the evidence for Darwinism have not been disconfirmed. If someone has information to the contrary, I would like to see it.

To give a flavor of why the evidence for blind evolution is not overwhelming to say the least, let us examine specific examples Darwinists offer in support of:

(1) the “Darwinian idea that organisms could evolve solely by the gradual accumulation of small variations preserved by natural selection, and (2) the neo-Darwinian idea that DNA is the sole agent of variation and unit of inheritance.” (Zombie Science, pp. 181-182).

A detailed explanation of why certain iconic assertions of Darwinism sketched below are disconfirmed by the evidence is presented in Zombie Science.

Are we nothing but our DNA?

According to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s leading spokesperson for gene centered evolution,

“… we and all other animals are machines created by our genes…. [DNA] is a set of instructions for how to make a body [in order for the organism to assure its survival].”

It is well understood among biologists that a person’s genome (a complete set of an organism’s DNA) doesn’t remotely contain all the information needed to make an organism. As explained by MIT professor emerita;Evelyn Fox Keller in her 2000 Harvard University Press book The Century of the Gene, the instructions for living things

“consists of, and lives in, the interactive complex made up of genomic structures and the vast network of cellular machinery in which these structures are embedded. It may even be that this program is irreducible – in the sense… that nothing less complex than the organism itself is able to do the job.”

Something irreducibly complex cannot evolve one mutation at a time. Intelligence and information are absolute prerequisites.

Genetic (DNA) determinism has no empirical foundation. As British biologist Denis Noble wrote in 2008,

“…there are no purely gene networks!” The reality is vastly more complicated; there “is a gene-protein-lipid-cell network. It does not really make sense to view the gene as operating without the rest of the cellular machinery…..The genetic program is not a DNA program.”

Did the eye  evolve and is it poorly designed?

If the general idea of evolution is correct, then the eye would have had to have evolved from the simple to the complex. The fossil record suggests that it did not evolve over time. Paleontologists report that:

  • Some of the earliest animals that first appeared in the Cambrian explosion possessed eyes that were highly complex. According to Ricardo Levi-Setti, an expert in trilobites, extinct members of a class of organisms that includes insects and crustaceans (think shrimp),
    “… some of the recently discovered properties of a trilobite’s eyes represent an all-time feat of optimization….Evidence of the success [of their structure] is widespread experience, since the eyes of insects and crustaceans … still follow a design closely related to that developed by trilobites.”
  • Paleontologists reported in a 2013 review that “the available fossil record illustrates that the Cambrian explosion spawned the simultaneous birth of the principal invertebrate compound eye and the vertebrate camera-style eye.”

No one has ever given a scientific explanation of how mutation and natural selection could build something as complex as an eye.

Darwinists must debunk any evidence of design because its acceptance would necessarily imply the existence of a creative designer, a concept they abhor. To this end they point to apparent design flaws in the eye. In all vertebrate eyes, including humans, the light sensing cells point to the back of the retina away from the light. Richard Dawkins concludes from this that the eye is wired backwards. Once again, Dawkins in rushing to judgment shows that he is more polemicist than careful scientist. Jonathan Wells explains:

“If the rods and cones were to face the incoming light, as evolutionists claim they should, the blood-filled choriocapillaris [where the blood supply flows]  and the RPE [retinal pigment epithelium which transports blood to the rods and cones] would have to be in front of the retina where they would block almost all of the light. By contrast, nerve cells are comparatively transparent, and they block very little of the incoming light. Because of the high metabolic requirements of rods and cones and their need to regenerate themselves, the inverted retina is actually much more efficient than the ‘tidy-minded’ design imagined by evolutionary biologists.” (Zombie Science, p.145).

Is human DNA full of “junk”?

In 1994, a biology textbook writer, Kenneth Miller wrote,

“If the DNA of a human being…resembled a carefully constructed computer program…, the evidence of intelligent design would be overwhelming. In fact, the genome resembles nothing so much as a hodgepodge of borrowed, copied, mutated, and discarded sequences and commands that have been cobbled together by millions of years of trial and error against the relentless test of survival.”

If the premise were right, the conclusion would be too, but growing evidence suggests that it isn’t. Dr. Wells summarizes recent research as follows:

“Since 2012 there has been a virtual flood of new reports of functions in RNAs transcribed from non-protein-coding DNA. Such RNAs help to specify the three-dimensional structure of chromosomes, and their three-dimensional positioning inside the nucleus, both of which have profound effects on gene expression. Non-protein-coding RNAs are involved in fat metabolism, maintenance of immune system, and the proper functioning of stem cells. Non-protein coding RNAs also are necessary for the development of nerve cells and the nervous system, for bone cells and the skeleton, and for muscles…. The evidence demonstrates that most of our DNA is transcribed into RNA and that most of RNAs have biological functions.” (Zombie Science, pp. 128-129).

It is junk science to assert that most of our DNA is junk.

If the evidence for Darwinism is missing or misrepresented, and the evidence for design growing, why haven’t more scientists spoken out? Challenging the Darwinian orthodoxy is a sure career killer; there is nothing to gain and everything to lose, especially since funding is highly concentrated. Over time, however, the weight of disconfirming evidence may become too great to ignore.  As Max Planck, the Nobel winning theoretical physicist who was the originator of quantum theory, noted,

“a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Darwinism will be defended with great ferocity because its disconfirmation would do huge damage to the materialist worldview that everything – consciousness, humans, the cosmos – arises from purely physical reality. The main implication of this for humans is that once you’re dead, you’re dead. Maybe not. Darwinism looks more and more like a rickety edifice of made-up, just so stories while the evidence for intelligent design, which is immaterial and whose existence necessarily implies a designer, grows by the day.

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Ground rules for comments 

I strongly welcome comments, but  ask you to abide by the principle, “Always respect the person, never respect the idea.”  A thoughtful analysis of why the views  I present are wrong helps all of us get closer to discerning what is true, but civility must rule.



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