What Lies Behind Evolution?

Italian geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti succinctly summed up the problem with evolution: “There never really has been a scientific theory of evolution.”

As evolutionary theory continues to fall apart, the most stubborn questions refuse to go away.  How can duplication equipment so liable to error that it mutates wildly into every imaginable (perfected) lifeform, also remain constant for tens, or even hundreds, of millions of years?

100 million years:

New Zealand Kaka: endangered species at least 100m years old

For a lifeform to remain constant for that period of time, with the individual lifespan of its members measured in a handful of years, the duplication machinery must accurately maintain itself for tens of millions of vertical copies, amidst hugely varying environments stretching over the history of a planet.

This points to something very robust behind the mechanisms itself: a rule of nature so consistent that the the mechanical assemblies are obliged to follow its patterns, whether consistent or otherwise.  The biological principles have not changed over millions of years only because something behind them has remained constant.

140 million years:

The world’s oldest known spider web discovered in Sussex, England, inside amber. Scientists confirmed it contains remnants of spider silk spun roughly 140 million years ago by an ancestor of modern orb-weaving spiders; the silk threads share several features common to modern spider webs, including droplets of sticky glue used to hold the web together and capture prey. According to paleobiologist Martin Brasier of Oxford University, spiders were starting to spin webs that were better for catching flying insects. “Interestingly, a huge radiation took place in flying insects and bark beetles about 140-130 million years ago,”

150 million years:

The frilled shark belongs to one of the oldest still-extant shark lineages, dating back to at least the Late Cretaceous (c. 95 Ma) and possibly to the Late Jurassic (c. 150 Ma). Because of its ancient ancestry and “primitive” characteristics, it has been described as a “living fossil”, although the term only indicates the gulf between what we think is a fossil, and what a fossil actually is.  These are modern creatures.

160 million years:

Drosophila: 160m year old amber. It is thought that Drosophila may have originated some 200m years before the Jurassic, placing it at the 350m year mark. Some forms of Drosophila have more than 2billion base pairs in their genome.  This is no crude creature: wing hearts were recently discovered, which add to the mystery surrounding their evolution.  Without them, the wings cannot form properly.  Other pumps are located at the base of antenna, to ensure blood circulates aropund these narrow constructions.  How this could all evolve by chance is an absurdity which modern theories never even tried to address

170 million years:

To the left, a 170 million year old Ginkgo fossil; to the right, modern Gingko biloba plant

200 million years:

200m year old fossils show that the tadpole shrimp is virtually the same today

The same principles must apply to life.  Common sense dictates that if you set a copying mechanism in action, there are bound to be changes from time to time, but the DNA systems have four separate layers of defences to detect and correct these mistakes to a very high degree.

The amino acid – codon relationships are so concentric that if mistakes do sometimes get through, the damage is negligible because only codons similar in nature to those they inadvertently replace can escape detection as errors, and they code for amino acids with very similar properties.

Within any species there will necessarily be a huge number of different duplication processes going on constantly, so that a single mutation in one member is completely negligible in the context of the hundreds of thousands of others taking place at the same time.

300 million years:

The vampire squid, a remarkable creature with the ability to fold itself into its own cape, and with huge eyes (here reflecting the ligh tof the submersible) has remained unchanged for at least 300m years, in the extreme depths of the sea, away from the sight of man

400 million years:

The class Osteichthyes (bony fish) is divided into two subclasses: ray-finned (Actinopterygii) and lobe-finned (Sarcopterygii). There are only four living genera of lobe-finned fish, but the group is known from fossils that date back to the very beginning of the class, 400 million years ago in the Devonian period. Only discovered in 1938, coelacanths represent a group of fishes that had been thought to have been extinct for at least 70 million years.

As I have shown, the increase in speed over the last 114 years in the Olympics is a consistent rate to which the human race generally complies.  Where it does not,  successive years’ performances are as if the failing years never happened.  The same strange behaviour is observed in shicldren whose growth is artificially held back for some years: after the blockage is removed, the child’s growth accelerates to match as far as possible the targets missed up until that point.  It is not a static process – which could never exist in any randomly mutating mechanical device – but an overall movement in some superior epi-biological plane to which the organism attempts to comply, regardless of circumstance.

450 million years:

Horseshoe crabs resemble crustaceans, but belong to a separate subphylum, Chelicerata, and are therefore more closely related to arachnids e.g spiders and scorpions. The earliest horseshoe crab fossils are found in strata from the late Ordovician period, roughly 450 million years ago.

The evolution of insects dates back to the Devonian period, with the oldest definitive insect fossil being the Rhyniognatha hirsti, estimated at 407 to 396 million years ago. Global climate conditions changed several times during the history of the earth, along with it the diversity of insects. The Pterygotes underwent a major radiation in the Carboniferous while the Endopterygota species underwent another major radiation in the Permian.

Survivors of the mass extinction at the PT boundary evolved in the Triassic to what are essentially the modern Insecta Orders that persist to modern times. Most modern insect families appeared in the Jurassic, and further diversity probably in genera occurred in the Cretaceous. It is believed that by the Tertiary, there existed many of what are still modern genera; hence, most insects in amber are, indeed, members of extant genera. What seems most fascinating is that insects diversified in a relatively brief 100 million years (give or take) into the modern forms that exist with minor change in modern times.

Hardly a primitive mechanism

In the case of Olympic speeds, what is even more curious is that no vertical inheritance has taken place at all from the fastest runners.  Their children did not excel them, and most did not even enter athletics.  Many were childless.  The consistent 4-year increase must be a product of a regular increase completely apart from the genetic inheritance model.  The correlation between the fittest and greater numbers of children does not exist: it is simply not there.

About iain carstairs

I have a great interest in both scientific advances and the beauty of religion, and created www.scienceandreligion.com about 15 years ago with the aim of finding common ground between the scientist and the believer, and to encourage debate between the two sides.
This entry was posted in Biology, Cambrian explosion, Designs in nature, Evolution and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What Lies Behind Evolution?

  1. donsalmon says:

    great post as always. I don’t remember if I mentioned this to you, but in case you haven’t heard, the philosopher Thomas Nagel has just come out with a marvelous book: Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.

    • Many thanks – I got a bit tied up with other projects and didn’t post much for a while, apart from the article on the atheist in Indonesia. I think after 1400 hits I managed to get him about 23 signatures!

      Dawkins is embarking on a US tour but I can’t help feeling he’s winding down a bit. Partly age and partly it must be sinking in that he’s wasted his time pushing a penny farthing. Faircloth’s politicalisation of the atheists seems to have ground to a halt, and the group itself is now two rival factions, with the low-level A and the new A+ movement. All you seem to hear is people either giddly floating about saying “This. So. Much. This.” while others busily dissect crumbs and argue over the name. But no social action that I can see.

      There don’t seem to be many reactions now to endless re-releases of Hitchens’ books, and you also never hear much criticism of the new thinkers on evolution probably because they are so well grounded in biology, far more so than their critics. The atheist movement has the lowest retention rate of any such demographic probably because it’s such a fragile state: a mix of arrogance and blinkers which life has many ways of peeling away. Some of my atheist muggers on twitter were clearly teens – they ought to go out, get a relationship, or have a child, or live through a disaster, and then come back and say life is a mechanical nothing.

      For a while I got involved in the atheism debates there but it was insane – each reply was like popping open a new flavoured can of hatred. In the end I gave up because you can’t have discussion in that atmosphere, where everything is torn to shreds with insults. I’ll leave it to the academics to argue it out, but if the crumb-cutters are interested, they would read the new books.

      The point is, they refuse to do so and this episode shows how they think: one woman wrote to me from an airport in California and said she’d be very pleased to read one of the books if I sent it. So I wrote back and asked which one, suggesting the last three or four I reveiewed. I then got an email back saying not to bother because she “preferred reality”. It was a put-down equivalent of pulling your hand away from a handshake and thumbing your nose. It’s a terrible attitude; I feel I’m done with that whole group now. The proof is all there.. they can take it or leave it.

      Glad you liked the article!

      • donsalmon says:

        yes, this is a lesson I’m still learning. Chris Carter, in the third book of his trilogy, makes the point repeatedly that he is NOT speaking to such close minded people. Rather, he is seeking to reach those who are questioning the conventional wisdom with an open mind – who are perhaps not yet ready to fully reject reductionist materialist thinking but feel there is something wrong with it. For those who are committed to the artificial abstraction they think is “reality” – there is no more ‘converting” them than trying to talk sense to an American tea partier – “get the government off our backs – don’t touch our Medicare!” Really, you can’t have a conversation with such people. “We reject your ‘teleology.’ We accept only the unchanging fact of evolution by purely mechanical processes, and we believe it so much we’ll fight to the death anyone who tries to tell us otherwise! And don’t you know that those of us who believe in science are only committed to the facts, and always have an open mind?”

        Impossible to talk to:>))

  2. Brock Haussamen says:

    Hi Iain, welcome back. I’m new to the discussion of the inadequacy of the theory of evolution so maybe you can clarify a couple of points and point me to additional readings. I don’t see how the theory is falling apart. Here, you ask how the duplications can go on for millions of years with such constancy, you point to need for something very robust behind them, a rule of nature, and finally you explain the layers of DNA defenses that minimize the impact of errors. It seems to me you’ve answered your question about the duplications, and the answer is within the realm of the process of variation and selection (too many errors having too large an impact could make short work of a species). If you could say any more (in not-too-technical terms) about the kind of thing that might be behind, separate from, and overseeing evolution, that would help me.

    The illustrations are really useful to me as examples of creatures from different eons ago. Thanks.

    And I’m agreeing about the atheists, in my more limited contacts with them. I’m also reminded of my community college students (English) and of my bringing up evolution occasionally; only half would agree that the “theory” made any sense to them at all but at the same time they made no bones about having no interest and only the vaguest belief in religion, so the problem seemed to be that biological history was something they just did not see as a question or problem that merited any attempt at all to construct an explanation for.

    Brock Haussamen, livingasmeaning.com

    • Yes, the new evolutionary theories are getting very comprehensive, and as you’d expect, they’re expanding into what seem like new directions but what are actually directions observed in the lab as long ago as the 1960’s by Barbara McLintock, I believe. The old random stuff just doesn’t make sense, whether from the “living fossil” idea or the error detection machinery – it’s just a no-hoper.

      The best book to read about this, that I have found, is Shaprio’s Evolution from the 21st Century. This guy has superb credentials and the only people disagreeing with him are crumb cutters who just disagree for the sake of it; they love a good wordy scrap but the truth of it is irrelevant to them. The evidence is all on his side. He once went to a Dawkins lecture and, on hearing the dogma before he heard the reasoning, mused that the creationists have a point, in that many evolutionists are just militant atheists in drag.

      The book is as comprehensive as it gets, with 1300 references and decades of experience. You can read between the lines and sense the frustration from being in the field and virtually forbidden from questioning the dogma. This is why he barely writes a noun without a reference behind it. There isn’t a single phrase that someone can pounce on and say – opinion! It’s bullet proof and I’m sure it will encourage others to speak out about what they have felt all along – that “life requires cognition at all levels.”

      I think the human mind, for whatever reason, gravitates to dogma. It saves thinking, saves energy, saves risk, saves time. It gives people some comfort to say what other people believe. You see it everywhere from parking wardens to MPs to teachers to scientists to soldiers to the religious. It’s been the problem throughout the ages, in that no matter how ludicrous the idea, people will believe it if it welds them into a group, and it’s the same problem now.

      Anyway, as far as evolution goes, this book is to my explanations what the Sistine Chapel is to a stick man drawn in the sand. Same thing, but different!

  3. Brock Haussamen says:

    Thanks. It sounds excellent.

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  6. Scott Wilson says:

    great article. ive grown up studying the bible and have begun a little foray into the theory of evolution just to be a bit prepared to defend my beliefs. people do seem very dogmatic about their beliefs, but its always important to view things from an unbiased standpoint, to test out whether what you believe is truth or a mistake. im sure many held onto the theory that the earth was the center of the universe for quite some time after further evidence proved otherwise.

    its as if you approached someone at a job site, and they were doing their job to the best of their ability. you admire their diligence. but you have word that they are doing their job wrong, and if they dont adjust their workmanship, they will lose their job. its up to them if they want to listen. like you said, the evidence is there, they can take it or leave it.

    there are however extremes in both directions. i understand some creation theories indicate the universe was created in 7 literal days. science does not support this, but perhaps they are looking at the bible account improperly. these 7 days viewed as figurative days, or 7 creative periods, would allow for vast amounts of time to pass, and would still harmonize with what science has proven to us. Job 26:7 indicated the earth is suspended on nothing, despite what many may have theorized about the shape and manner in which the earth was existing.

    this is merely an example of how science and bible passages support one another, if they are looked at reasonably, and if perhaps there seems to be some conflict, instead of dismissing it as nonsense, we ought to have humility to realize that maybe OUR understanding of a scientifical phenomenon or of a seemingly contradictory bible verse is perhaps wrong.

    the scientific world is plagued with things that inhibit real progress. many are under pressure to produce results to keep the funding coming, and may present shaky findings as irrefutable fact, to laymen this authorities sometimes seem infallible, so they take it as fact. however rarely when these findings are disproven are they ever published, or are quietly retracted. another is the problem of trying to reach a predetermined conclusion, where any evidence proving a theory is accepted, but none disproving it, however theory shattering is may be, is discarded.

    the same is true in the religious world. dogma plagues religion, the bible is interpreted in countless ways, and so many times misunderstood and in conflict with scientifical findings that ARE irrefutable. religions are packed with traditions that have no biblical origin, which muddy the waters. many religions are preached with such extreme emotion that many do not look at it logically, but rather blindly and dare i say foolishly. theories in the bible may be based on a single scripture, but ignore countless other scriptures that dont harmonize with it.

    the fact is, as you would piece together a 1000 piece puzzle, you wouldnt discard a single piece because it didnt fit initially… but as the picture becomes clearer, soon the piece will fit. as a bible student this happens very often, and as i learn about the universe and the massive research that constantly goes into it, we can see that it will take immense time before we can say we fully understand how EVERYTHING works… so reasonably we would expect a measure of real research into the bible to understand Gods word.

    humility will take us much further, whether scientifically or spiritually, because the ability to admit we are wrong will open up the doors to real truth. that humility is a difficult thing to cultivate.


    • All very true; people who believe the world was made in seven days have allowed faith to override common sense. Without a Sun, how is there even a day? Darwinists are presented as logical thinkers, but the essence of Darwinism was the need to replace the “supernatural”. This makes them nervous about anything not explicable by random, aimless changes.

      It seems that in the human mind, belief comes first, and the intellect comes second. I got into a heated debate yesterday with a fellow who insisted that James Shapiro’s book was “long discredited”. When I pointed out it had only come out 18 months ago, and was supported by Nobel and Science Medal winners, he confessed he hadn’t even read it. Why did he think it’s long been discredited? He replied, that the wider scientific community felt this way. But, I said, if you are a freethinking skeptic, surely you can’t then accept other people’s thoughts as your own? Perhaps the wider community is pointing at your belief as the reasoning to justify theirs! It’s not freethinking, it’s nothing but an echo chamber.

      The proof that the world of science is as prone to incorrect beliefs is the length of time it takes for new ideas to be accepted.They often have to wait for the old guard to die out. Who really embraces change, when they’ve built a career on the old idea? The danger comes when people assume a scientist has done all their homework and can be relied upon to know better than the ordinary person, because they embody a clinical, dispassionate personality. But as the GM fiasco shows, scientists are so intrigued with technicalities, they lose all grasp of the wider implications. This is why GM studies on rats only lasted 90 days – industry realised serious problems would turn up much later than that. So while scientists labour away conscientiously doing what they’re told, industry is cleverer still, focused on making money with low risk. Each group defends their belief as “perfectly reasonable”.

      I’m working on some articles about the genome, which I hope people will enjoy, if I can only get my head around the machinery involved. Mind-bending stuff!

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