Continuing the controversial discussion on Evolution vs. Intelligent Design, I am reviewing a book by the director of the Biologic Institute, Douglas Axe: Undeniable.
Dr. Axe’s book tries to frame the Evol vs. ID debate in terms of “common science” — that is, in concepts that any layperson can understand. Too many scientists like Richard Dawkins try to frame modern science as a practice fit only for the elite, as it increasingly depends on concepts too advanced for the common man to comprehend. This trust is not ‘blind’, people like Dawkins may claim, because scientists have credentials which justify any and all of their findings…no matter how incredulous these findings may seem to the rest of us.
Dr. Axe argues that this attitude is unacceptable. Science has never been a utopian pursuit, and like any other human endeavor is subject to bias and the institutionalization of agendas. Sure, perhaps in the long run the scientific consensus may break free of current biases and agendas, but that is no reason for laypeople to just lay back and accept it quietly, without giving any critical thought to what the experts claim.
This critical attitude is absolutely essential when it comes to scientific questions which have an impact on people’s very philosophy of life. “When it comes to defending the big question of our origin, everyone is scientifically qualified” (55).
So, what fundamental knowledge does the common man have at his disposal which might enable him to comment on the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design debate? In other words, is there such a thing as a ‘nontechnical’ argument that can decide such a vast scientific issue?
Dr. Axe says yes. In essence, Darwinian Evolution depends upon three building-blocks: accident, coincidence, and repetition. In other words, the only way to beat the odds and generate life from a random cosmos is to have billions of generations (repetition) in which to generate random mutations (accidents), which then happen to build upon one-another in a constructive way (coincidence) to create new proteins, cells, organs, and species. If any one of these three building-blocks is undermined, Darwinian Evolution becomes so unfeasible as to be impossible.
Accident & Repetition
What is the chance that random processes can create something as complex as a protein molecule? Evolutionary scientists will claim that this certainly happened; that proteins and other complex molecules arose from some kind of primordial soup. But is that speculation really feasible?
Evolutionary scientists are willing to claim that it is, given enough time. Because with enough time, nothing is impossible, right?
Dr. Axe begs to differ. There is an upper limit to probability; not a theoretical one, but a practical one. Something can be said to be ‘practically impossible’ when the odds of its occurring exceeds all of the atoms in the universe (10^80). If you think that number is too small, you can increase the measure of ‘practical improbability’ to all of the atomic events in the history of the universe (10^116)! This number is so large that it would take about a line and a half of text to write out. Thus, “numbers exceeding about a hundred digits in length also exceed physical representation” (126). Any probability which exceeds that number can practically be called ‘impossible’.
The first thing to understand when trying to build a theory (such as evolution) on random probability, is that the human brain isn’t very good at comprehending the sheer massiveness of random probability.
To demonstrate, Dr. Axe presents a 300 x 400 pixel image lined with letters in 6 x 8 pixel boxes. To the human eye, the image looks absolutely stuffed with letters. For us to pick a letter at random would be laughably easy; we’d get it on the first try. But what is the probability that a blind searcher randomly selecting 6 x 8 pixel boxes from this image would happen to pick one with a complete letter in it?
The answer is a number which we have no name for. It is a number which would require 38 pages of text to write! Remember, all the known events in the universe (10^116) would only need about a line and a half of text to write. A search that seems easy to us would be effectively impossible for a blind searcher to complete!
Ever heard of the claim that a million monkeys on a million typewriters (or something to that effect) could eventually produce the works of Shakespeare? Well, not in this universe, they couldn’t! The probability of a random process producing even half a page of English words would be a paragraph-sized number!
So how probable is it that something as complex as a protein could be formed from purely random processes? For starters, Dr. Axe estimates that for every functional protein, there are about 10^74 non-functional proteins. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Even if amino acids could arise from a primordial soup, and even if those amino acids happened to form a protein chain, odds are 1/10^74 that protein wouldn’t even work!
And that’s just one protein. What is the likelihood that another protein would also appear in the primordial soup that was not only around the same time but also in the same location as the first?! The probability of each successive event is several orders of magnitude greater than the last. Functional lifeforms — even the simplest ones we know of — aren’t equivalent to a bunch of multi-colored beads on a string. “Serious invention requires not just a smidgen of functional coherence, but extensive amounts arranged over a hierarchy of levels” (202).
So, the odds of complex molecules like proteins occurring randomly — let alone DNA or functioning cells — is so low as to be practically impossible. But what if we suppose it somehow happened anyway? What about the remarkable ability of natural selection to continually build and improve on simple materials? If we could get just one functional cell, the whole tree of life would be available to us, right?
Unfortunately, people often overestimate the intelligence of natural selection. According to Dr. Axe, “Selection is incapable of turning down immediate advantages for the sake of something we would consider worth waiting for” (109). In other words, natural selection always chooses short-term benefits over long-term gain. How could it not? Unlike us, it can’t anticipate the future.
Scientists attribute genius to natural selection in the laboratory because they themselves so clearly see the long-term benefits to be gained from a particular line of mutations. But purely random processes do not have that kind of foresight. Some laboratory experiments even show this to be the case: when Gauger et al. crippled a vital gene in a strain of bacteria, then reproduced those bacteria to see if they would ‘fix’ the problem (helpfully nurturing them along the way), the bacteria chose to deactivate the gene completely (suffering a large long-term loss) rather than go through the tedious process of repairing it!
Every experiment that scientists offer to prove that random processes can ‘invent’ new forms of order aren’t actually random at all. For instance, in his book The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins attempts to demonstrate cumulative selection by taking a random sequence of twenty-eight letters and spaces. His computer replicates and mutates that sequence until it produces the line: “Methinks it is like a weasel.” (Shakespeare). This supposedly demonstrates that evolution can work through selection via incremental changes. But the experiment isn’t remotely like natural selection as it occurs in the wild! There is absolutely no measure for how ‘useful’ the intermediate sequences actually are, and what Dawkins is effectively doing is lining up the stepping-stones himself to provide a totally consequence-free path to the ‘right’ invention.
In the wild, far from following convenient stepping-stones to accomplish major biological inventions (such as eyes or wings), natural selection will “burn all bridges” to the ‘right’ fitness signal while slavishly pursuing the ‘wrong’ — but more short-term advantageous — fitness signal (107).
Again, natural selection can fiddle (make beneficial alterations to existing forms), but it cannot invent (create entirely new functional forms). Randomness cannot create life out of nothing; and even if it did, randomness and natural selection alone are not capable of ‘leading’ life into ever-higher and more complex forms.
“Because the impossibility of accidental invention is at the root, and because each new form of life amounts to a new high-level invention, the origin of the thousandth new life form is no more explicable in Darwinian terms than the origin of the first” (193).
Evolutionists like to call Intelligent Design the product of “wishful thinking,” but the truth is that Evolution is equally guilty of that crime.
Nothing evolves unless it already exists, and it can only come to exist through fantastical probabilities. This applies to the very first organism as well as all of its descendants.
Creative stories that explain such fantastical coincidences do not erase the fact that fantastical coincidences did, in fact, occur. One must either find a way to beat the odds, or bypass probability altogether. Evolution is an example of the first; and it fails. Intelligent Design is an example of the second.
ID does not purport to claim who or what the Designer is; only that what science reveals cannot be explained by random forces. Many people resist this conclusion because it seems to move the grand theory of biology back to Square 1, as well as taking the high ground away from materialistic atheism.
But hey, the Big Bang was originally mocked by atheists as pseudoscience (hence the name), but atheists have since embraced it wholeheartedly (while simultaneously proclaiming that of course, it verified their worldview all along)!
Perhaps in the future atheists will make the same claim of Intelligent Design: of course life didn’t evolve spontaneously; it was the handiwork of aliens from another dimension!
Take that, theists!!