THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION

One can object to our thesis and counter: A distinction can be drawn between the "2001" slab and things that are alive. In fact, in the 19th century, Charles Darwin proposed the theory of "evolution" and hypothesized that intelligence, which is the logical source of design in nature, is not the source. Rather, highly designed objects in nature came to possess their design through various chance occurrences together with "natural selection."

Before we attempt to address this objection, we want to make the following three points:

A. Our intention here is not to pronounce a judgment on whether the theory of evolution is correct or not. Our purpose here is to make you, our readers, aware that the theory has certain major problems.

B. Even if one assumes that evolution is a plausible theory, the "2001" embryo still expresses the aforementioned "cosmic irony." Since the 1980's scientists have continually confirmed that the level of design is so high even in the inorganic realm of nature (which the theory of evolution does not even address), i.e. there is so much "fine-tuning" of the natural laws and "constants" of physics -- it is not possible that our universe is a chance happening.

C. We will just touch on only one of the major problems. (If you want to read books that deal comprehensively with this topic, see Menu #8, "Additional Reading and Viewing.")

Let us begin by quoting two Nobel Prize winning scientists who are themselves advocates of this theory:

Francis Crick (awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA): "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have to have been satisfied to get it going" (Francis Crick, Life Itself, Simon & Schuster, N.Y. 1981, p. 88).

Dr. Harold C. Urey (Nobel Prize winning Chemist): "All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere. But, we believe as an article of faith that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It is just that its complexity is so great, it is hard for us to imagine that it did" (interview in "Christian Science Monitor," January 4, 1962).

These two advocates of the theory of evolution refer to the origin of life as a "miracle" and "too complex to have evolved anywhere," yet remain proponents of evolution as "an article of faith." This allows us to be sympathetic to those scientists who prefer to draw what they consider the logical conclusion that evolution is scientifically unfounded and is a "cultural construct" which survives only because it is "socially desireable and even essential to the peace of mind of the body politic" (Sir Fred Hoyle, Evolution From Space, p. 148).

In a "Life Magazine" article, entitled "Was Darwin Wrong?" Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. Ernest Chain is quoted: "To postulate that development and survival of the fittest is entirely a consequence of chance mutations seems to me a hypothesis based on no evidence and irreconcilable with the facts. These classical evolutionary theories are a gross oversimplification of an immensely complex and intricate mass of facts, and it amazes me that they are swallowed so uncritically and readily, and for such a long time, by so many scientists without a murmur of protest."

According to the above views we can restate our original argument as follows. True, we do not react to living objects as "proof of a designing intelligence." The reason for this, however, is that we have been conditioned to view these objects as the result of evolution. The above stated scientific view lends credence to the possibility that the theory of evolution might itself be a product of cognitive dissonance, revalidating our thesis in the "Cosmic Irony."

THE ODDS

In the following discussion we shall limit ourselves to the problem referred to as "The Odds" by Robert Shapiro, Professor of Chemistry at NYU and an expert on DNA research, in his book Origins - A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, Bantam, 1987. As Shapiro's subtitle would indicate, he is a ruthlessly honest "Skeptic," the opposite of a "Creationist." His purpose is to demonstrate that much of what has been accepted as "the explanation" of how life first began simply does not hold up to any level of scrutiny. His position is that, rather than foist what he calls "this mythology" on the academic world and the general public, responsible scientists should make the honest declaration that we don't have any idea how life could possibly have come into existence from the inorganic world. On a personal level, he can sympathize with those who see the only solution in a "cosmic intelligence" -- God. However, on a professional level, as a scientist whose job it is to try to find solutions within science, he feels we have no choice but to continue searching for an answer. He admits that this may turn out to be an impossibility, but again, professionally, he feels scientists should try anyway. In the meantime, they should "go public," fearlessly and honestly, and admit that at this point the origin of life remains an incredible mystery.

The following is from Origins, Chapter 5, "The Odds":

"We cannot compute the odds [of spontaneous generation] precisely, but approximations will serve our purposes quite well. Many scientists have attempted such calculations; we need only cite two of them to make the point. The first was provided by Sir Fred Hoyle... He and his colleague, N.C. Wickramasinghe, first endorsed spontaneous generation, then abruptly reversed their position. Why did they do this? Quite obviously, they calculated the odds.

"Rather than estimate the chances for an entire bacterium, they considered only the set of functioning enzymes present in one. Their starting point was not a complex mixture, but rather the set of twenty L-form amino acids that are used to construct biological enzymes. If amino acids were selected at random from this set one at a time and arranged in order, what would be the chances that this process would produce an actual bacterial product? For a typical enzyme of 200 amino acids, the odds would be obtained by multiplying the probability for each amino acid, 1 in 20, together 200 times. The result, 1 in 10 to the 120th power...

"To duplicate a bacterium, one would have to assemble 2,000 different functioning enzymes. The odds against this event would be 1 in 10 to the 20th power multiplied together 2,000 times, or 1 in 10 to the 40,000 power... We can understand why Hoyle changed his mind. His estimate of the likelihood of the event was that it was comparable to the chance that 'a tornado sweeping through a junk-yad might assemple a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.'

"In fact, things are worse. A tidy set of twenty amino acids, all in the L-form, was not likely to be available on the early earth. This situation has not even been approached by the very best Miller-Urey experiments. Nor does a set of enzymes constitute a living bacterium. A more realistic estimate [for spontaneous generation of life] has been made by Harold Morowitz, a Yale University physicist. He has calculated the odds for the following case:

"Suppose we were to heat up a large batch of bacteria in a sealed container to several thousand degrees, so that every chemical bond within them was broken. We then cooled this mixture down slowly, in order to allow the atoms to form new bonds, until everything came to equilibrium... Morowitz asks, what fraction of the final product will consist of living bacteria? Or in other words, if a single bacterium was used to start the experiment... what would be the chances that a living bacterium would result at the end?

The answer computed by Morowitz reduces the odds of Hoyle to utter insignificance: 1 chance in 10 to the 100,000,000,000th power... This number is so large that to write it in conventional fom we would require several hundred thousand blank books. We would enter '1' on the first page of the first book, and then fill it, and the remainder of the books, with zeros..." (Origins, pp. 126-128).

Shapiro calculates these odds for a situation where a maximum chance is given for life to evolve, both in time and in available trials. On page 126, he states, "As a maximum estimate, we can assume that the entire earth was covered by an ocean 10 kilometers deep, which was available for experiments. Further, we will allow that space to be divided into small compartments (1 micrometer on each side) of bacterial size. We would then have 5 times 10 to the 36th power separate reaction flasks. If a separate try was made in each flask every minute for 1 billion years, we would have 2.5 times 10 to the 51st tries available."

As a result, says Hoyle, "If one is not prejudiced either by social beliefs or by scientific training," the chemical soup theory "is wiped out of court. [It is time someone] blew the whistle" (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, Evolution From Space, J.M. Dent and Sons Co. London, 1981, p. 24; Time Magazine, November 21, 1983, p. 49).

THE RANDOM REPLICATOR

In Chapter 7 of Origins, Shapiro goes much further to show that the astronomical odds against life coming into existence by chance render it virtually impossible. The absolutely lowest level of life would be a "simple" molecule capable of replicating itself. Shapiro shows that even if we vastly simplify the case from that of a bacterium to that of such a "simple" molecule, the "machinery" required is still too complex to entertain the possibility that it could come into existence randomly.

Briefly, the argument goes as follows:

  1. "The most important gap in these proceedings concerns the steps prior to the appearance of the first replicator. Natural selection does not apply, and we are left with only chance itself. Spontaneous generation crawls out of the woodwork once again, but in a more limited way. We are not asking for an entire cell, but only for a single fragment, one molecule, the replicator" (p. 166).

  2. "We badly need the point of view of the Skeptic once again. Obviously, the chances for the spontaneous generation of a nucleic acid replicator are better than those for an entire bacterium. But the latter case was so hopeless that there is room for enormous improvement, and matters could still be hopeless. In the bacterial case, the equilibrium calculations of Harold Morowitz left us with a need to climb to the 100 billionth floor (10 to the 100 billionth power) of our Tower of Numbers, yet we calculated that the maximum number of trials available on the early earth would take us only as high as the fifty-first floor.

    "Now, how difficult would it be to put together the replicator at random? The minimal published estimates of its size propose a single strand of RNA of perhaps 20 nucleotides. To build this structure, about 600 atoms would have to be connected in a specific way, much less than the many millions needed for a bacterium. More trials would also be available for the purpose of building it, as less time and space would be needed for each trial. The replicase of QB can put together 200 nucleotides in a minute when copying an RNA chain. We will assume that spontaneous assembly would proceed at the same rate, in the most favorable case. Thus a replicator could be built in a tenth of a minute. Furthermore, the space occupied by a 20-unit replicator might be only one-millionth of the volume of a bacterium. Considering these factors together, we can assume that a maximal number of 10 to the 59th power tries at a replicator were available. We have reached the fifty-ninth floor of the Tower of Numbers, an improvement of eight levels. But what are the odds?" (pp. 167-168).

  3. Using Charlie the Chimp typing at a typewriter with an ample supply of bananas to give an analogy to our problem of the "first replicator" coming into existence, Shapiro now says: "Now let us give Charlie a normal keyboard with, say, 45 keys. The odds suddenly escalate to 1 in 45 to the 7th power, or 1 in 370 billion tries. It would take Charlie (or his descendants) 11,845 years to run that many attempts [in order to accidentally type the letters of the word 'machine'].

    "Things get rapidly worse when we use longer messages. We will let Charlie try for a bit of Hamlet. The phrase 'to be or not to be' has 18 characters, if we count the spaces as characters. The chances that our chimp will type this out are 1 in 45 to the 18th power, or 1 in 6 x 10 to the 29th. At one try per second, it will take poor Charlie more than 10 to the 22nd years to do that number of tries. Should the open model for the universe be correct, Charlie will still be typing away long after the stars have ceased to shine and all the planets have been dispersed into space through stellar near-collisions.

    "But now we have developed a real thirst for Shakespeare. We want our monkey to type out 'to be or not to be: that is the question,' which has 40 characters. The chances then become 45 to the 40th power, or about 10 to the 66th power, to 1. This is a number 10 million times greater than the number of trials maximally available for the random generation of a replicator on the early earth.

    "THERE WE HAVE IT. IF THE CHANCES OF GETTING THE REPLICATOR AT RANDOM FROM A PREBIOTIC SOUP ARE LESS THAN THAT OF STRIKING 'TO BE OR NOT TO BE: THAT IS THE QUESTION' BY CHANCE ON A TYPEWRITER, WE HAD BEST FORGET IT. THE REPLICATOR WOULD HAVE ABOUT 600 ATOMS. THE CHANCES OF CHARLIE TYPING A 600-LETTER MESSAGE (TWICE THE SIZE OF THIS PARAGRAPH) CORRECTLY ARE 1 IN 10 TO THE 922nd POWER" (p. 169).

  4. "We could also use a very different approach to reach a similar conclusion. In an earlier chapter we considered the method of Harold Morowitz. He did not compute total possibilities in his approach, weighting all of them equally. Rather, he calculated what a group of atoms would prefer to do if they came to equilibrium. We cited his odds against getting a bacterium. For a small virus, we would need only to go to the 2 millionth floor of our tower. For a small enzyme, a trip to floor 8,000 would be necessary. He did not list data for a replicator in his table, but it would, by extrapolation, fall many hundreds or perhaps a thousand or two floors up.

    "In all of these methods, the odds against the random generation of a nucleic acid replicator still rest considerably above the chances... They are still so unfavorable that the formation of the replicator by chance would seem miraculous (for a distance of even a dozen floors in our tower reflects odds of a trillion to 1, and a win in such circumstances would appear a miracle).

    "There is a further irony. Even should the miracle occur and the replicator find itself awash in the seas of the prebiotic earth, its fate would be unkind. It would perish without further issue. For in this random sea, it would encounter only hosts of unrelated chemicals, and not the subunits it needs to reproduce itself. A second miracle would be needed to surround it with exactly the ingredients it needs for further progress" (p. 170).

REMEMBER THAT ALL OF THE ABOVE IS ONLY FOR THE "FIRST REPLICATOR." WE STILL HAVE THE ASTRONOMICAL GAP TO GET TO AN ENTIRE CELL, AND FROM THERE, THE SAME GAP TO A SIMPLE MULTI-CELLED LIFE FORM, AND FROM THERE THE SAME GAP TO THE VERY COMPLEX DEVELOPMENT OF SPECIAL ORGANS (EYE, BRAIN, NERVOUS SYSTEM, ETC.) ETC.

THE REAL GAP BETWEEN ORGANIC MOLECULES AND THE "FIRST REPLICATOR"

In Chapter 4, "The Spark and the Soup," Shapiro shows that the impact of the Miller-Urey experiment is totally unjustified:

"Since that time it has been recognized that the preparation of organic compounds is a feat of no profound difficulty, nor one of any great significance to life... THE DIFFICULT STEP IN THE ORIGIN OF LIFE LIES FOREVER DOWN THE LINE, NOT HERE." [Meaning, the coming into existence of the "first replicator" from organic molecules.] (p. 107)

The Miller-Urey experiment dealt only with the creation of non-replicating organic molecules, "which is of no great significance to life."

With regard to theories or experiments which claim to go further, Shapiro the Skeptic, now speaks with Dr. Midas, the Hopeful Chemist:

The Skeptic: "These [Miller-Urey] experiments show only that a chemist could prepare a nucleic acid in the laboratory today, using a variety of conditions that he chooses to call prebiotic. Even this preparation is not carried out in a continuous manner. Formaldehyde is not collected from a Miller-Urey experiment, purified, and used to make ribose (though undoubtedly this could be done, if modern equipment was employed). Instead, formaldehyde is simply detected as an intermediate in the atmosphere, then the pure chemical is bought from a supply house and used in the next reaction. This type of practice is followed at every step down the line. Unfortunately, on the primitive earth, there was neither modern equipment nor supply houses, and certainly no chemists."

Dr. Midas: "Of course we have taken some shortcuts, to save time. We are only human, and do not live forever. We wished to demonstrate, in a few weeks, the steps that took a billion years on the early earth."

"The Skeptic now asks Dr. Midas whether the availability of a billion years is enough to justify this procedure, citing our earlier example of the monkey at the typewriter. He takes Midas over to the corner where Charlie the Chimp is still happily banging away on the machine, and asks: 'How long do you think it will take for the chimp to type to be or not to be: that is the question?'

"Midas picks up a line of random scipt and examines it. 'Not very long at all. Look, there's a t, and further down the page there's an o, and so on. All of the necessary steps could be done.'

"'But can the letters be typed in the right order?' asks the Skeptic.

"'No problem. I only need the proper materials.'

"Midas departs and returns with a bunch of bananas and a fresh pad of typing paper. He removes Charlie, and types for a few minutes, changing sheets frequently. He then places the monkey in the typist's chair once again. He has set the typewriter so that it moves to a new line each time a letter is typed.

"The monkey starts to type, with Midas watching over his shoulder. 'Aha!' Midas yells after a few seconds, stopping Charlie. He gives him a banana, pulls the sheet from the typewriter, and shows it to us. About two dozen letters have been typed, each at the start of a line. The last of them is a t.

"'We've shown that the monkey could type a t to start a line,' Midas claims triumphantly. 'Now we'll try for an o.'

"He pulls a sheet of paper out of his pad. He has typed a t at the start of every line. He puts this sheet into the typewriter, sets the margin that the next letter struck on each line will fall to the right of the t, and turns the monkey loose again.

"After about half a minute, he shouts and interrupts the monkey. Once more he brings the sheet to us. Each line now contains a two-letter unit starting with t. The first thirty are meaningless, tx, tl, te, tt, and so on, but the last one is to.

"'There,' says Midas. 'The monkey has typed the word to. Now we must try for the space.'

"Thoughtfully, he has prepared in advance a sheet with the word to typed at the start of each line. He returns Charlie to the typewriter.

"An hour and a half later, after a number of such operations, Midas is ready to insert the last sheet into our typewriter. This one contains the message to be or not to be: that is the questio at the beginning of each line. Charlie dutifully types away, adding a different letter at random to each line, until he produces an n, upon which Dr. Midas rewards him again, and stops the process.

"'There is the line you wanted,' he concludes. 'I've shown you that the monkey could do it. I've speeded the process up a bit, but that's because I've other errands to run today. But it is possible. The monkey, left to himself, would just need a while longer. Give him enough time, and you'll surely get the message.'

"Midas departs, bowing gracefully.

"Prebiotic chemists do the same thing. They run a lot of reactions until they get the compound they want. Once they have done this, no matter how many trials they needed or how low the yield of the desired product, they feel free to go to the next step. In doing so, they start with a fresh, pure supply of the compound they've made. They claim that they must cut a few corners to save time.

"But look at the size of the corner that Dr. Midas cut with Charlie. The chimp needed about 45 seconds to strike each letter at random. For the 40-letter message, the total monkey typing time was 45 times 40 seconds, or 30 minutes. Left alone, he would have faced odds of 45 to the 40th power to 1. As we saw a while ago, he probably would have needed 10 to the 59th years or so to get the message right (though if he were very, very lucky, he could of course get it on the first try). Not a bad trick to substitute 45 times 40 for 45 to the 40th power" (pp. 178-180).

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