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Darwin’s Birth Day

Original Article

Had Charles Darwin been able to witness his own gestation period, might he have changed his mind about the evolution of mankind? Assuming that he was an honest and keen observer of nature—and the evidence suggests that he was—the answer is a resounding yes. He essentially said so in 1872 when he wrote:

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

He could not have known about the union of an egg and sperm, which alone is an extraordinarily complex process that depends on an all-or-none phenomenon (trial-and-error, tiny, successive steps won’t work), and he readily admitted that he had no idea why a child resembled his parents—another incredibly convoluted process with numerous successive, interdependent steps. He wrote a biology- dominating book during a time when science had the badly mistaken idea that human fetuses pass through fish, amphibian and reptilian stages. Biologists also knew nothing about the mechanisms needed to change a fertilized egg into multi-trillion cell human being wherein each successive step is dependent upon the previous ones, resembling a three-dimensional domino game that gets larger and larger (more and more formed) by the millisecond. We now know each step depends on the previous step being correct and on time. Many of the chemical reactions happen in a millionth of a second; billions of reactions happen simultaneously. If one domino, especially an early one (a precursor), falls the wrong way (a mutation perhaps?), it may adversely impact the entire configuration. And note that mistakes will typically result in a damaged or aborted fetus, never a newer, improved version or a changed species.

Just for the record, let’s give Mr. Darwin a more contemporary look at his real birth day. When the time came to initiate his delivery, he would have felt his body release millions of specialized compounds that would travel through the placenta to select sites in his mother’s brain to alert her that he was ready. My lungs are mature enough to breathe, they would have told her. My heart and brain are ready to take the helm. These signals have to be the correct chemical triggers, not successive, sometimes ineffective, trial-and-error touches. He then would have seen a cascade of varied maternal chemicals return to start up the birthing apparatus, dramatically repositioning him for the journey and then rhythmically moving him through the birth canal in a very precise, orchestrated manner. Other newly released chemicals, by the billions, from his mother would have also warded off dangerous infections and lessened her pain (and maybe his pain).

This journey would have been a more dangerous trip than Darwin’s voyage to the Galapagos Islands.

Yet, thanks to good fortune, he slept through it all (purposefully?). Although his skull would have been nearly crushed, the bones would have been pliable enough and the ligaments in his mother’s pelvis relaxed at just the right moment. He would then, being quite slippery, have glided out into a different reality. He would have arrived with brown fat to sustain him, a cry to get attention and sucking reflex to get nutrition. The placenta would follow like a turned leaf in autumn. His mother’s milk would be ready for suckling.

Darwin’s first breath would have needed to come at a very specific moment. If it had come too soon, he would have died of suffocation or aspiration; too late, and he would have suffered brain damage or an anoxic death. As he began breathing, an artery in his chest would shut off and a hole in his heart close so that his lungs could receive the blood. Without this prompt and dramatic shift, his lungs would not been able to deliver oxygen to the rest of his body. Without these kinds of changes, the human race would never have existed.

Every aspect, meaning trillions of cells and an astronomical number of chemical and genetic reactions, had to happen in the right way, at the right time and in the right place. Childbirth, like many processes in the human body, could not have come about in small increments by trial-and-error. Otherwise, it would be like trying to launch a space shuttle craft, adding one wire at a time.

Darwin’s birthday may be a time to celebrate, but not more so than the birthday of any other human being, maybe every living being.

Geoffrey Simmons

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Geoffrey Simmons is a licensed and practicing physician in Eugene, OR, as well as an author and lecturer. Former Governor of the American Academy of Disaster Medicine (AADM) and a member of the Board of Governors of the Sacred Heart Medical Center's Emergency Preparedness Committee, he is the author of six novels and of the books What Darwin Didn't Know and Billions of Missing Links. He has lectured on disaster preparedness on radio and television as well as at many neighborhood associations and high schools, and has been a medical correspondent for KABC in Los Angeles and KUGN in Eugene, a guest on the Steve Allen show, and has made numerous radio appearances related to his writings.