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Icons of Evolution & The Case of the Missing Mechanism

Dr. Raymond Bohlin of Probe Ministries

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Icons of Evolution

The Miller-Urey Experiment.
Tree of Life, Homology, and Haeckels Embryos
The Peppered Moth
Birds, Dinosaurs, Fruit Flies, and Human Evolution

The Five Crises in Evolutionary Theory

The Case of the Missing Mechanism
The Origin of Life
The Inability to Account for Complex Adaptations
The Bankruptcy of the Blind Watchmaker Hypothesis
The Prevalence of Stasis over Mutability


Icons of Evolution
In an article entitled Lies and Distortions Masquerading as Truth in the Halls of Science, Dr. Raymond Bohlin of Probe Ministries critiques the book Icons of Evolution (Regnery Publishing, 2000),

by Jonathan Wells (Ph.D., UC Berkeley, molecular and cell biology; Ph.D., Yale University, religious studies), which he calls “a frontal assault against some of the most cherished and revered "proofs" of the evolution story”, and not “a plea for creation in the schools or a selective and picky rant against trivial details”.

As Dr: Bohlin says

    “Most everyone was required to take biology in high school, and many who went on to college likely took an introductory biology course as an elective, if not as a beginning course for a biology major. Required in most of these courses, mainly because of its inclusion in the textbook, was a section on evolution. Therefore, most people with a secondary education or above are familiar with the more popular evidences and examples of evolution nearly all textbooks have been using for decades. These include the peppered moth story of natural selection, Darwins finches as an example of adaptive speciation, and the ubiquitous tree of life with its implied common ancestor to all life forms.”

In Icons of Evolution, Wells focuses on ten of these icons and meticulously exposes them to be false, fraudulent or at best, misleading. Six of which are documented below..


The Miller-Urey Experiment.
This purports to show that molecules necessary for life could have arisen by simple chemical reactions on an early earth. The Miller-Urey experiment uses an atmosphere of reduced gases: ammonia, methane, water vapor, and hydrogen. Then it adds some energy in the form of sparks, and produces as Carl Sagan said, "the stuff of life." Dating back to 1953, this experiment has been around for nearly fifty years. The problem is that for at least the last twenty-five years origin of life researchers realized that this atmosphere does not reflect that of the early earth. Many textbooks will begrudgingly admit this, but include the experiment anyway. One can only guess the reason: no other simulated atmosphere works. I suppose that textbook writers would suggest that since we "know" some form of chemical evolution happened, they are justified in not representing the facts accurately!


Tree of Life, Homology, and Haeckels Embryos
The tree of life is ubiquitous in evolutionary literature. The notion that all of life is descended from a single common ancestor billions of years ago is how many would define evolution. But the actual evidence argues strongly against any such single common ancestor, and most animal life forms appear suddenly without ancestors in what is known as the Cambrian explosion of nearly 543 million years ago in evolutionary time. The Cambrian documents life forms so divergent that one would predict a fossil record covering hundreds of millions of years just to document the many transitions required from the first multicellular animal ancestor. Current estimates suggest this change took place in less than 5-10 million years. Yet the tree of life, documenting slow gradual changes, persists.

Another critical evidence for evolution over the years has been homologous structures. The forelimbs of all mammals, indeed all vertebrates, from bats to whales to horses to humans, possess the same basic bone structure. This is routinely held up as evidence of having descended from a common ancestor. The different forms simply tell of different adaptive stories, resulting in their unique functions relying on the same basic foundation. What becomes puzzling is, first, a confusion of definitions. Homology is defined as structures having arisen from a common ancestor.{1} But then homology cannot be used as an evidence of evolution. Something is very wrong, yet textbook orthodoxy concerning homology continues to perpetuate a myth that has been exposed for decades. Second, supposed homologous structures do not necessarily arise through common developmental pathways or similar genes.

Next, Wells turns his attention to perhaps the most inexcusable icon of all: similarities in vertebrate embryos originally pointed out by Ernst Haeckel in the 19th century and used by Darwin in The Origin of Species as a powerful evidence for common descent. Haeckel's vertebrate embryos are shown passing through a remarkably similar stage early in development and only later diverging to the specific form. This passage through a common form early in development was seen as obvious evidence for a "community of descent." Yet, once again, the evidence gets in the way.

Since before the dawn of the 20th century, embryologists have known that Haeckel misrepresented the evidence. Vertebrate embryos never pass through a similar stage. What's more, Haeckel left out the fact that the earlier stages of embryonic development between classes of vertebrates pass through remarkably different pathways to arrive at this supposedly similar intermediate stage. The fraud was recently "rediscovered," though most embryologists have been aware of the inaccuracy all along. This shows the longevity of even falsified evidence, due to its persuasive appeal even in the hallowed halls of science. Perhaps scientists are human after all, seduced by a fraud simply because it makes such a good case for a treasured theory.


The Peppered Moth
Probably the granddaddy of all the icons of evolution is the peppered moth story. In pre-industrial England, the peppered moth was common in entomologists' collections. By the 1840s a dark or melanic form was increasing in frequency in populations across England. By 1900 the melanic form comprised as much as ninety percent of some populations. In the 1950s experiments by Bernard Kettlewell clearly established that this change in frequency from a peppered variety to a dark variety was due to two factors.

First, the surface of tree trunks had changed from splotchy, lichen-covered patchwork, to a uniform, dark complexion, due to increased levels of pollution. The pollution killed the lichens and covered the tree trunks with soot. Second, the peppered variety was camouflaged from predation by birds on the lichen-covered tree trunks, and the melanic variety was camouflaged on the dark tree trunk. Therefore, the switch from peppered variety to melanic variety was due to natural selection, acting through selective bird predation as the trees changed from lichen-covered bark to soot- covered bark. Then with stricter air quality standards, the lichens are returning and the peppered variety is predictably coming back strong.

The peppered moth story became legendary as a classic example of Darwinian natural selection. But within 20 years of Kettlewell's work, cracks began to appear. It was soon noted that the characteristic switch from the peppered form to the dark form happened in areas where the lichens still grew on tree trunks. In other areas, the dark form began to decrease before the lichens began returning on trees. A similar pattern of a switch from a light form to a dark form was observed in ladybird beetles. Birds don't like ladybird beetles. Therefore, predation is ruled out as the selector. It all began to unravel when it was observed that peppered moths of both varieties never rest on tree trunks!

Essentially all photographs of moths on the trunks of trees were staged using dead or sluggish moths. They are not active during daylight. If that were the case, how could birds find them on tree trunks at all? Kettlewell released his moths in his mark-recapture-predation experiments in daylight hours, when the moths are naturally inactive. They simply found the nearest resting place (tree trunks in their sluggish state), and the birds gobbled up the non-camouflaged moths. We still don't know exactly where moths rest or whether lichens play any significant role in the story. Yet many biologists insist that the traditional story makes a good example of evolution in action. "To communicate the complexities would only confuse students," they say. Once again, flawed, yet cherished, examples persist because they are just too good not to be true!


Birds, Dinosaurs, Fruit Flies, and Human Evolution
The reptile-like bird, Archaeopteryx, has long been heralded as a classic example of a true ancestral transitional form. The improbable change from reptile to bird has been preserved in snapshot form in this remarkable fossil from Germany. Possessing a beautifully preserved reptilian skeleton with wings and feathers, Archaeopteryx was a paleontologist's dream. This would certainly explain why Archaeopteryx has found its way into just about every textbook. But Archaeopteryx has fallen on hard times. As happens with so many perceived transitions, it is universally viewed now as just an extinct bird, an early offshoot of the real ancestor.

Surprisingly, bird-like dinosaurs from much later geologic periods are hailed as the real ancestors. This is based on structural similarities despite their existence after Archaeopteryx. Never mind that the child exists before the parent. So enamored are some, that birds are just today's feathered dinosaurs. National Geographic was recently caught red-faced by perpetrating a fraudulent dinosaur/bird fossil as the real thing in its pages. Scientists have even accepted molecular evidence indicating an identical match between turkey DNA and Triceratops DNA. Never mind that the identical DNA match is more likely the result of contamination from a turkey sandwich in the lab and that Triceratops is in the wrong dinosaur family for bird evolution. Such is the power of wanting to believe your theory is true.

In the next four chapters, Wells visits the familiar icons of Darwin's finches, fossil horses, mutant four-winged fruit flies, and the ultimate icon, diagrams of the progressive change from ape- like creatures to full human beings. Like the others above, these icons turn out to be far less than what the textbooks suggest. In each case, as in the six discussed above, there are plenty of experts willing to expose the lack of evidence for each icon. But they remain staples in the arsenal of evidences of the evolutionary process. Fossil horses and human evolution turn out also to be indicators of the difficulty evolution has in separating philosophical preferences from conclusions drawn from the evidence.

Textbook writers are either ignorant of current data, which prompts one to be skeptical of the accuracy of the rest of the textbook, or they are willfully misrepresenting the evidence in order to present a united front on the factualness of evolution. Unfortunately for our children, Wells is able to provide direct quotes indicating that at least some see no problem with including misleading or false data in order to make a point. After all, we know evolution is true, so just because we don't have easy simple stories to tell, doesn't mean they aren't out there waiting to be discovered. [Icons of Evolution.

Written by Dr. Ray Bohlin. http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4218247/k.C2A6/Icons_of_Evolution.htm]




The Five Crises in Evolutionary Theory
Dr. Ray Bohlin
[©1993 Probe Ministries]

The Case of the Missing Mechanism
The growing crisis in Darwinian theory is becoming more apparent all the time. The work of creationists and other non-Darwinians is growing and finding a more receptive ear than ever before. In this discussion I want to elaborate on what I believe are the five critical areas where Darwinism and evolutionary theory in general are failing. They are:

    1. The unsubstantiation of a Darwinian mechanism of evolution

    2. The total failure of origin of life studies to produce a workable model

    3. The inability of evolutionary mechanism to explain the origin of complex adaptations

    4. The bankruptcy of the blind watchmaker hypothesis

    5. The biological evidence that the rule in nature is morphological stability over time and not constant change.

Much of the reason for evolution's privileged status has been due to confusion over just what people mean when they use the word evolution. Evolution is a slippery term. If evolution simply means "change over time," this is non-controversial. Peppered moths, Hawaiian drosophila fruit flies, and even Galapagos finches are clear examples of change over time. If you say that this form of evolution is a fact, well, so be it. But many scientists extrapolate beyond this meaning. Because "change over time" is a fact, the argument goes, it is also a fact that moths, fruit flies, and finches all evolved from a remote common ancestor. But this begs the question.

The real question, however, is where do moths, flies, and finches come from in the first place? Common examples of natural selection acting on present genetic variation do not tell us how we have come to have horses, wasps, and woodpeckers, and the enormous varieties of living animals. Evolutionists will tell you that this is where mutations enter the picture. But mutations do not improve the scenario either. In speaking of all the mutation work done with bacteria over several decades, the great French zoologist and evolutionist Pierre-Paul Grasse' said:

    What is the use of their unceasing mutations if they do not change? In sum, the mutations of bacteria and viruses are merely hereditary fluctuations around a median position; a swing to the right, a swing to the left, but no final evolutionary effect.

When I speak of evolution or Darwinism, it is the origin of new biological forms, new adaptive structures, morphological and biochemical novelties that I am referring to. This is precisely what has not yet been explained. When people question the popular explanations of the origin of complex adaptations such as the vertebrate limb, or sexual reproduction, or the tongue of the woodpecker, or the reptilian hard-shelled egg, they are usually given a litany of reasons why these structures are beneficial to the organisms. More precisely, the selective advantage of these structures is offered as the reason they evolved. But this begs the question again. It is not sufficient for an evolutionist to explain the function of a particular structure. What is necessary is to explain the mechanistic origin of these structures!

Natural selection does explain how organisms adapt to minor changes in their environment. Natural selection allows organisms to do what God commanded them to do. That is to be fruitful and multiply. Natural selection does not, however, explain the crucial question of how complex adaptations arose in the first place.


The Origin of Life
We have been led to believe that it is not to difficult to conceive of a mechanism whereby organic molecules can be manufactured in a primitive earth and organize themselves into a living, replicating cell. In fact, the ease by which this can (allegedly) happen is the foundation for the popular belief that there are numerous planets in the universe which contain life. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Early experiments suggested that it was relatively simple to produce some of the building blocks of life such as amino acids, the components of proteins. However, the euphoria of the Miller- Urey experiment of 1953 has given way to a paradigm crisis of 1993 in origin of life research. The wishful, yet workable atmosphere of ammonia, hydrogen, methane, and water vapor has been replaced by the more realistic, but stingy atmosphere of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen cyanide. This is the stuff that volcanoes belch out. This atmosphere poses a much more difficult challenge. Molecules relevant for life would be much rarer. Even more damaging is the possibility of the presence of molecular oxygen in the atmosphere from the break-up of water vapor. Molecular oxygen would poison any reaction leading to biologically significant molecules.

Coacervates, microspheres, the "RNA world," and other scenarios all have serious flaws obvious to everyone in the field except those who continue work with that particular scenario. Some have privately called this predicament a paradigm crisis. There is no central competing model, just numerous ego-driven scenarios. Even the experiments in which researchers try to simulate the early earth have been severely criticized. These experiments generally hedge their bets by using purified reactants, isolated energy sources, exaggerated energy levels, procedures which unrealistically drive the reaction toward the desired product and protect the products from the destructive effects of the energy sources which produced them in the first place.

The real situation was summed up rather well by Klaus Dose:

    More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance." [From Interdisciplinary Science Review 13(1988):348-56.]

But all of these difficulties together, as staggering as they are, are not the real problem. The major difficulty in chemical evolution scenarios is how to account for the informational code of DNA without intelligence being a part of the equation. DNA carries the genetic code: the genetic blueprint for constructing and maintaining a biological organism. We often use the terms of language to describe DNA's activity: DNA is "transcribed" into RNA; RNA is "translated" into protein; geneticists speak of the "genetic code." All these words imply intelligence, and the DNA informational code requires intelligent preprogramming, yet a purely naturalistic beginning does not provide such input. Chemical experiments may be able to construct small sequences of nucleotides to form small molecules of DNA, but this doesn't make them mean anything. There is no source for the informational code in a strictly naturalistic origin of life.


The Inability to Account for Complex Adaptations
Perhaps the single greatest problem for evolutionary biologists is the unsolved problem of morphological and biochemical novelty. In other words, some aspects of evolutionary theory describe accurately how existing organisms are well adapted to their environments, but do a very poor job of explaining just how the necessary adaptive structures came about in the first place.

Darwinian explanations of complex structures such as the eye and the incredible tongue of the woodpecker fall far short of realistically attempting to explain how these structures arose by mutation and natural selection. The origin of the eye in particular, caused Darwin no small problem. His only suggestion was to look at the variety of eyes in nature, some more complex and versatile than others, and imagine a gradual sequence leading from simple eyes to more complex eyes. However, even the great Harvard evolutionist, Ernst Mayr, admits that the different eyes in nature are not really related to each other in some simple-to-complex sequence. Rather, he suggests that eyes probably had to evolve over forty different times in nature. Darwin's nightmare has never been solved. It has only been made 40 times more frightening for the evolutionist.

In his 1987 book, Theories of Life, Wallace Arthur said:

    One can argue that there is no direct evidence for a Darwinian origin of a body plan--black Biston Betularia certainly do not constitute one! Thus in the end we have to admit that we do not really know how body plans originate.

In 1992, Keith Stewart Thomson wrote in the American Zoologist that:

    While the origins of major morphological novelties remain unsolved, one can also view the stubborn persistence of macroevolutionary questioning...as a challenge to orthodoxy: resistance to the view that the synthetic theory tells us everything we need to know about evolutionary processes.

The ability to explain major morphological novelties is not the only failing of evolutionary theory. Some argue that molecular structures are even more difficult to explain. The molecular architecture of the cell has recently described by molecular biologist Michael Behe as being irreducibly complex systems which must have all the components present in order to be functional. The molecular workings of cilia, electron transport, protein synthesis, and cellular targeting readily come to mind. If the systems are irreducibly complex, how do they build slowly over long periods of time out of systems that are originally doing something else?

While publishing hundreds of articles pertaining to molecular homology and phylogeny of various proteins and nucleic acids over the last ten years, the Journal of Molecular Evolution did not publish one article attempting to explain the origin of a single biomolecular system. Those who make molecular evolution their life's work are too busy studying the relationship of the cytochrome c molecule in man to the cytochrome c molecule in bacteria, rather than the more fundamental question of where cytochrome c came from in the first place!

Clearly then, whether we are talking about major morphological novelties such as the wings of bats and birds, the swimming adaptations of fish and whales, the human eye or the molecular sub- microscopic workings of mitochondria, ribosomes, or cilia, evolutionary theory has failed to explain how these structures could arise by natural processes alone.


The Bankruptcy of the Blind Watchmaker Hypothesis
In his 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins states, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." He explains that

    Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purposes in view. Yet the living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning.

Darwinism critic, Philip Johnson, has quipped that the watchmaker is not only blind but unconscious!

Dawkins later suggests just how this process may have brought about the development of wings in mammals. He says:

    How did wings get their start? Many animals leap from bough to bough, and sometimes fall to the ground. Especially in a small animal, the whole body surface catches the air and assists the leap, or breaks the fall, by acting as a crude aerofoil. Any tendency to increase the ratio of surface area to weight would help, for example flaps of skin growing out in the angles of joints...(It) doesn't matter how small and unwinglike the first wingflaps were. There must be some height, call it h, such that an animal would just break its neck if it fell from that height. In this critical zone, any improvement in the body surface's ability to catch the air and break the fall, however slight the improvement, can make the difference between life and death. Natural selection will then favor slight, prototype wingflaps. When these flaps have become the norm, the critical height h will become slightly greater. Now a slight further increase in the wingflaps will make the difference between life and death. And so on, until we have proper wings.

This can sound rather seductively convincing at first. However there are three faulty assumptions being used.

The first doubtful assumption is that nature can provide a whole chain of favorable mutations of the precise kind needed to change forelimbs into wings in a continuous line of development. What is the larger miracle, an instantaneous change or a whole series of thousands of tiny changes in the proper sequence?

The other assumption is "all things being equal." These mutations must not have secondary harmful effects. How is the creature's grasping ability compromised while these wingflaps grow? These little shrew-like animals may slowly be caught between losing their adaptiveness in the trees before they can fully utilize their "developing" wings. Or there might be some seemingly unrelated and unforeseen effect that compromises survivability.

A third faulty assumption is the often used analogy to artificial selection. "If artificial selection can do so much in only a few years," so the refrain goes, "just think what natural selection can do in millions of years." But artificial selection works because it incorporates foresight and conscious purpose, the absence of which are the defining qualities of the blind watchmaker. In addition, artificial selection actually demonstrates the limits to change since an endpoint in the selection process is usually reached very quickly.

The blind watchmaker hypothesis, when analyzed carefully, falls into the category of fanciful stories that are entertaining--but which hold no resemblance to reality.


The Prevalence of Stasis over Mutability
Rather than observing organisms gradually evolving into other forms, the fossil record speaks of "sudden appearance" and "stasis." New types appear suddenly and change very little after their appearance. The rarity of gradual change examples in the fossil record were revealed as the trade secret of paleontology by Steven J. Gould of Harvard. Gould also refers to stasis as "data" in the paleontological sense. These are significant observations.

Darwin predicted that there should be innumerable transitional forms between species. But the reality of paleontology (the study of fossils) is that new forms appear suddenly with no hint of the "gradual" change predicted by evolution. Not only that, but once these new forms have appeared, they remain relatively unchanged until the present day or until they become extinct.

Some animals and plants have remained unchanged for literally hundreds of millions of years. These "living fossils" can be more embarrassing for the evolutionist than they often care to admit. One creature in particular, the coelacanth, is very instructive. The first live coelacanth was found off the coast of Madagascar in 1938. Coelacanths were thought to be extinct for 100 million years. But most evolutionists saw this discovery as a great opportunity to glimpse the workings of a tetrapod ancestor. Coelacanths resemble the proposed ancestors of amphibians. It was hoped that some clues could be derived from the modern coelacanth of just how a fish became preadapted for life on land, because not only was there a complete skeleton, but a full set of internal organs to boot. The results of the study were very disappointing. The modern coelacanth showed no evidence of internal organs preadapted for use in a terrestrial environment. The coelacanth is a fish--nothing more, nothing less. Its bony fins are used as exceptionally well-designed paddles for changing direction in deep-sea environment, not the proto-limbs of future amphibians.

Nowhere is the problem of sudden appearance better demonstrated than in the Burgess Shale found in the Canadian Rockies. The Burgess Shale illustrates that in the Cambrian period (which evolutionists estimate as being over 500 million years ago) nearly all of the basic body plans (phyla) of animals existing on earth came into existence in a geological instant (defined as only 20-30 million years), and nothing that new has appeared since that time. The Cambrian explosion as it is called is nothing less than astounding. Sponges, jellyfish, worms, arthropods, mollusks, echinoderms, and many other stranger-than-fiction creatures are all found to suddenly appear in the Cambrian without a hint of what they descended from nor even how they could all be related to each other. This is the opposite expectation of Darwinism which would have predicted each new body plan emerging from pre-existing phyla over long periods of time. The Cambrian explosion is a direct contradiction of Darwinian evolution.

If Darwin were alive today, I believe he would be terribly disappointed. There is less evidence for his theory now than in his own day. The possibility of the human eye evolving may have caused him to shudder, but the organization of the simplest cell is infinitely more complex. Perhaps a nervous breakdown would be more appropriate!


About The Author

Raymond G. Bohlin is president of Probe Ministries. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University (M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological Change, served as general editor of Creation, Evolution and Modern Science, co-author of Basic Questions on Genetics, Stem Cell Research and Cloning (The BioBasics Series), and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin was named a 1997-98 and 2000 Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.

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