Up until a year or so ago, I believed in evolution. Since then I have undergone a conversion to an entirely different way of thinking, a conversion that is currently provoking a counterrevolution in the way I think about everything. Though it involves no change in faith or creed and thus would not commonly be termed a religious conversion, its import is far greater than that of most changes of faith.
My conversion grew purely from rational principles and empirical evidence. I have always believed that reason overwhelmingly favors a supernatural, intelligent design model for what used to be called Creation, not a materialist one that explains life through the operation of blind mechanistic forces. But I was a theistic evolutionist who thought God developed life through a long, gradual process that included the power of natural selection, that is, one species changing into another because mutations produced creatures better able to survive.
The key scientific concept to be considered here is information. The Darwinian model of evolution by natural selection posits that new information, in the form of mutations, can enter into a species’ gene pool. I no longer believe that is possible. I believe God directly creates all creatures with new information in their genes, and that it is impossible to explain the diversity of life through any materialist means.
A May 10 conference (see “Science vs. Darwin,” June 2, Human Events, page 14) organized by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, held in a congressional office building, helped solidify my lay understanding of the issues involved. The conference brought together some of the leading lights in the intelligent design movement in the United States. Credentialed scientists have written scientific works defending the concept of life’s intelligent design, and biologists around the world have begun to take their arguments seriously, a situation almost unthinkable a decade ago.
Dr. Michael Behe, a biochemist, and Dr. Stephen Meyer, whose Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science is from Cambridge, presented an explanation of the scientific disputes. “Every day we walk down the street and decide what is designed and what is not,” said Meyer at the conference. This is because, he said, people naturally know something is designed if it exhibits “highly improbable specified complexity.” Now William Dembski, who holds doctorates in mathematics and philosophy, has in The Design Inference provided a scientifically rigorous definition of design.
To me, it seems obvious that assenting to intelligent design is the rational choice.
Here I will summarize the arguments about the complexity of life and its origin that I found most important. Most of them come from Behe and Meyer, but not all.
Behe recapitulated the contentions of his book Darwin’s Black Box. He presented a quote from Charles Darwin himself that insisted if the existence of complex organs cannot be explained by small, gradual improvements over time, his own theory would fail. So Behe presented the concept of irreducible complexity. He noted that something as simple as a mousetrap could not have developed step-by-step through natural selection, since all the parts — catch, hammer, spring, holding pin, and platform — must all be present, and in the right configuration, in order to work at all. There is no advantage to a mutation that grants a creature one or two of the parts. Behe went on to review the immense, irreducible complexity of even part of the operation of the eye.
Random Origin of Life
Though many laymen still discuss it, “by the early to mid-1960s, the blind chance hypothesis had been rejected by most researchers,” said Meyer. In an excellent article in First Things (“DNA and Other Designs,” April 2000), Meyer calculates the chances of one functioning protein forming by chance as 1 in 10^125, a number so small that even assuming that the earth is billions of years old, there is no realistic possibility that the one hundred proteins necessary for the operating of a simple cell could have come together randomly and begun functioning. This theory of the origin of life is one of three discussed by scientists today.
Natural Selection Origin of Life
Some scientists have proposed that before what we would normally call life began, some form of natural selection produced amino acids and protein sequences that led to a functioning organism. But no one can explain how this could happen unless sequences that are, for all intents and purposes, living organisms are first formed by random chance.
Chemical Necessity of Origin of Life
Other scientists speculate that there is something about the nature of substances and chemical laws themselves that make the formation of the building blocks of life more likely. All the evidence so far gathered points in the opposite direction.
Some argue that there may be trillions of earth-like planets in the universe, thus increasing the chances of life’s developing randomly somewhere. But, as Meyer pointed out, the chances of there being many earth-like planets is extremely slim, given the many improbable characteristics of our planet, and even if there are many, the chances of life’s, developing randomly are still very remote.
The available fossil record indicates that all the major body types of creatures existing today appeared in one relatively short period, not as part of a long, gradual process as predicted by orthodox Darwinists. Evolutionists have come up with speculative theories to explain this phenomenon, but, curiously, said Meyer, most textbooks do not mention it.
Conditions of Early Earth
Scientist Stanley Miller conducted a series of experiments purporting to show that, under the conditions supposedly prevalent when the Earth was young, amino acids could have formed spontaneously. These substances are the building blocks of proteins, which are the building blocks of life. But in his First Things article, Meyer pointed out that the scientific consensus today, accepted even by Miller, is that the conditions of the early Earth were actually highly unfavorable to the creation of amino acids. Meyer also noted that Miller’s experiment could produce amino acids only as a result of intelligent design: “Without human intervention,” wrote Meyer, “experiments like that performed by Miller invariably produce nonbiological substances that degrade amino acids into nonbiologically relevant compounds.” At the conference, Meyer said that Miller’s now discredited experiments are still presented in biology textbooks.
Though no reputable scientist claims to have observed the evolution of one species into another, scientists claim to have noticed natural selection working within a species. This does not violate the principle I laid out above, that only God produces new genetic information, but it is interesting to note that at least one famous example is a fraud. Biology textbooks still use the example of the peppered moths of England. When the industrial revolution darkened the tree trunks around some cities, the proportion of moths who were dark-colored supposedly increased dramatically, since birds could easily eat the light-colored moths, leaving the dark moths to produce dark offspring. The problem is, as Dr. Jonathan Wells points out in an article available on the Discovery Institute’s website (another version appeared in The Scientist, May 24, 1999), scientists today recognize that no such pattern took place. They even recognize that the moths hardly ever settled on tree trunks at all.
Evolutionists use the fossil record as their great trump. They argue that, independent of any theoretical meandering or other empirical evidence, the fossil record clearly shows the gradual development of one species into another, even if during the Cambrian explosion it happened much faster than they previously believed. Meyer contends that the fossil record shows species changing into other species–if that is even the right word–that are of equal or lesser complexity than themselves. In other words, no new information is produced by evolution, and the central narrative that the fossil record is supposed to tell–of simple organisms developing into more complex ones–does not exist. Evolutionists point to the development of the modern horse as a classic example of the fossil record’s supporting their position. “Jonathan Wells deals with that in his new book,” Meyer said after the conference. “They have the order all wrong. If anything, the record shows a loss of genetic information over time.”