Review of Evolution of Living Organisms- By Pierre-Pual Grasse
by William J. Bauer, Ph.D.
The book reviewed here first appeared in print in 1973, in the French language. It is the 1977 English translation which is reviewed here (Academic Press).
Pierre-Paul Grassé is a renowned French scientist and past President of the Academie des Sciences. He is editor of the 35-volume "Traite de Zoologie" published by Masson, Paris. During his long life as a zoologist and biologist, Dr. Grassé has written several books and many papers in his chosen field.
Grassé’s purpose in writing his book is concisely stated in his own words: "Today our duty is to destroy the myth of evolution, considered as a simple, understood, and explained phenomenon which keeps rapidly unfolding before us. Biologists must be encouraged to think about the weaknesses and extrapolations that theoreticians put forward or lay down as established truths. The deceit is sometimes unconscious, but not always, since some people, owing to their sectarianism, purposely overlook reality and refuse to acknowledge the inadequacies and falsity of their beliefs."1
This is not to say that Grassé has abandoned evolution as a viable hypothesis. On the contrary, he says "Zoologists and botanists are nearly unanimous in considering evolution as a fact and not a hypothesis. I agree with this position and base it primarily on documents provided by paleontology, i.e., the history of the living world ... Naturalists must remember that the process of evolution is revealed only through fossil forms. A knowledge of paleontology is, therefore, a prerequisite; only paleontology can provide them with the evidence of evolution and reveal its course or mechanisms ... that is why we constantly have recourse to paleontology, the only true science of evolution. From it we learn how to interpret present occurrences cautiously; it reveals that certain hypotheses considered certainties by their authors are in fact questionable or even illegitimate."2
Grassé is then one of the current intellectual majority who believes evolution to be true. His book is a call for this majority to put its house in order by casting out those ideas not founded on or even contradicted by observed facts or by observed laws of science and mathematics.
In several places in his book, Grassé reveals that he considers the subject of origins to lie outside the field of science, at least as far as present knowledge is concerned. In his Introduction, he says, "Any living thing possesses an enormous amount of ‘intelligence’… Today, this 'intelligence' is called 'information,' but it is still the same thing ... This ‘intelligence’ is the sine qua non of life. If absent, no living being is imaginable. Where does it come from? This is a problem which concerns both biologists and philosophers, and, at present, science seems incapable of solving it."3
A creationist of course attributes the source of the 'intelligence' to the Creator, a position apparently shared by Grassé, but which evolutionists are usually prohibited from taking, according to the convention of the majority of intellectuals of our day. He expresses his views in the following curiously contradictory analogy: "When we consider a human work, we believe we know where the 'intelligence' which fashioned it comes from; but when a living being is concerned, no one knows or ever knew, neither Darwin nor Epicurus, neither Leibnitz nor Aristotle, neither Einstein nor Parmenides. An act of faith is necessary to make us adopt one hypothesis rather than another. Science, which does not accept any credo, or in any case should not, acknowledges its ignorance, its inability to solve this problem which, we are certain, exists and has reality. If to determine the origin of information in a problem is not a false problem, why should the search for the information contained in cellular nuclei be one?" One notes two contradictions:
(1) He says "science" does not accept a credo or should not, yet the implicit credo contained in that position is a credo that God does not exist or if He does, that one is not permitted to acknowledge His existence in scientific thought.
(2) He says that "science" is unable to solve this problem of the origin of "intelligence," and yet says that determining that origin is not a "false problem."
Grassé’s meaning in (2) above is found in the closing sentence of his book: "Perhaps in this area biology can go no farther: the rest is metaphysics."
I close this section on "origins" by quoting from page 107 of the book: "To insist ... that life appeared quite by chance and evolved in this fashion is an unfounded supposition which I believe to be wrong and not in accordance with the facts." As far as origins are concerned, Grassé appears to believe in a Creator.
In spite of his insistence that paleontology is "the only true science of evolution," Grassé does not provide much evidence to show that paleontology actually provides observable data in support of evolution. On the contrary, there are numerous references to gaps in the paleontological record. For example, in discussing "Chronological Order Of Appearance" of Chordata, he says: "Accurately naming the group of invertebrates from which the phylum Chordata arises is another matter. Some zoologists hold that the metamerism of prospective mesodermal structures and the relationship of the excretory system and the gonads with the mesodermal cavities (coelom) relate vertebrates to annelids. These conclusions are no doubt very impressive but they do not bridge the immense gap between polychaete annelids and Amphioxus. How many missing links are there between the two of them? Nobody can tell. We find it unnecessary to survey the other hypotheses put forward by phylogenists; they are not satisfactory since they are not based on any paleontological data."4
With regard to the paleontological record relative to the origin of the phyla, Grassé says there is "the almost total absence of fossil evidence." He goes on to say that "it follows that any explanation of the mechanism in creative evolution of the fundamental structural plans is heavily burdened with hypotheses. This should appear as an epigraph to every book on evolution. The lack of direct evidence leads to the formation of pure conjectures as to the genesis of the phyla; we do not even have a basis to determine the extent to which these opinions are correct."5
Even when he makes statements such as "For instance, the genesis of mammals from reptiles is rather well known," Grassé goes on to say, "In paleontology, however, the discovery of a new fossil can considerably modify our views and make interpretations obsolete which were previously thought to be definitive."5 This same view is repeated with regard to fossils of birds. "Numerous species have only been found in fossil form in the Pleistocene (22 families); but the discovery of a fossil does not always indicate the date when its species, genus, or family appeared."6
Fossils of mollusks are said to demonstrate "evolution" which is "hardly noticeable,"7 because they are so much like modern mollusks. But while fossils of mollusks and insects are said to demonstrate little if any "evolutionary" change, Grassé also notes "explosions" in the fossil record which show the "sudden appearance" of a wide variety of different organisms for which no evolutionary ancestors are found in the paleontological record.
Random chance mutations are generally considered by Darwinian evolutionists to provide the opportunity for evolutionary steps. Grassé disagrees vigorously, and says that mutations have nothing to do with evolution. His summary statement is, "Some contemporary biologists, as soon as they observe a mutation. talk about evolution. They are implicitly supporting the following syllogism: mutations are the only evolutionary variations, all living beings undergo mutations, therefore all living beings evolve. This logical scheme is, however, unacceptable: first, because its major premise is neither obvious nor general; second, because its conclusion does not agree with the facts. No matter how numerous they may be, mutations do not produce any kind of evolution."8 He goes on to point out that bacteria—the subject of study of many geneticists and molecular biologists—are organisms which produce the most mutants. Yet bacteria are considered to have "stabilized a billion years ago!"9 He regards the "unceasing mutations" to be "merely hereditary fluctuations around a median position; a swing to the right, a swing to the left, but no final evolutionary effect."9 He asks, "How does the Darwinian mutational interpretation of evolution account for the fact that the species that have been the most stable—some of them for the last hundreds of millions of years—have mutated as much as the others do? Once one has noticed microvariations (on the one hand) and specific stability (on the other), it seems very difficult to conclude that the former (microvariation) comes into play in the evolutionary process."10
Grassé compares a mutation to "a typing error made in copying a text."11 He says "Mutations have a very limited 'constructive capacity;' this is why the formation of hair by mutation of reptilian scales seems to be a phenomenon of infinitesimal probability; the formation of mammae by mutation of reptilian integumentary glands is hardly more likely (integuments of reptiles show very few integumentary glands; Gabe and Saint-Girons, 1967), etc."12 He goes on to say, "Mutations, in time, occur incoherently. They are not complementary to one another, nor are they cumulative in successive generations toward a given direction. They modify what preexists, but they do so in disorder, no matter how. Derivation obviously does not demand that variations be coherent and follow preferential paths. Evolution, however, followed courses to which it faithfully adhered over very long periods of time. Although everything is not as it should be, the living world is not at all chaotic and life results from a very well-defined order. As soon as some disorder, even slight, appears in an organized being, sickness, then death follow. There is no possible compromise between the phenomenon of life and anarchy."13
Grassé in several different places in his book provides devastating evidence to show that "chance" cannot account for evolution. He correctly evaluates the attitude of Darwinists toward "chance" when he says: "Directed by all-powerful selection, chance becomes a sort of providence, which, under the cover of atheism, is not named but which is secretly worshipped. We believe that there is no reason for being forced to choose between either randomness or the supernatural, a choice into which the advocates of randomness in biology strive vainly to back their opponents. It is neither randomness nor supernatural power, but laws which govern living beings; to determine these laws is the aim and goal of science, which should here have the final say."14
Grassé on page 170 provides a summary statement about natural selection—which he says has nothing to do with evolution—as follows: "The role assigned to natural selection in establishing adaptation, while speciously probable, is based on not one single sure datum. Paleontology (cf. the case of the transformation of the mandibular skeleton of the thecodont reptiles) does not support it; direct observation here and now of the genesis of a hereditary adaptation is nonexistent, except, as we have stated, in the case of bacteria and insects preadapted to resist viruses or drugs. The formation of the eye, the inner ear, of cestodes and the whale, etc., does not seem possible by way of preadaptation. Besides, paleontology teaches that the evolution of the stirrup bones of the inner ear took place exceedingly slowly by the unambiguous addition of tiny changes, preadaptation had nothing whatever to do with it.
The role of natural selection in the present world of living things is concerned with the balance of populations; it is primarily of demographic interest. To assert that population dynamics gives a picture of evolution in action is an unfounded opinion, or rather a postulate, that relies on not a single proved fact showing that transformations in the two kingdoms have been essentially linked to changes in the balance of genes in a population. Circumstances occasionally award a given mutation a selectivity bonus, but for a variable time, as witness the heterogeneity of populations due to the abundance of alleles of a single gene and their composition over time. Studies on natural populations in their own proper environment show that the composition of genes is changeable and that dominant species vary over time. Ford (1971), in his book, says precisely this and nothing else; as for seeking in it proof of the formation of new species, there is no such hope."
Why is this book of importance to creationists? Isn't the author an avowed evolutionist, albeit a theistic one? The answer lies in Grassé’s thoroughly buttressed reasoning which demonstrates the lack of evidence for what the majority of evolutionists believe to be the principal elements of their hypothesis, namely (1) origins based upon random or chance events; (2) evolutionary progress by chance mutations acted upon by natural selection; and (3) that population dynamics gives a picture of evolution in action. All of these are demonstrably false notions, according to Grassé.
Grassé proposes a new approach to the hypothesis of evolution, reasoning that just as "information" or "intelligence" is the distinctive feature of all living organisms which can be observed at present, so it is other "information" or "intelligence" which has guided all past evolutionary development. He says that without such "information" or "intelligence" to guide it, evolution is impossible. Such a position is tantamount to the creationist position which says that the Second Law of Thermodynamics makes evolution impossible, unless there is a plan for evolution, plus an intelligence and a conversion mechanism for putting that plan into effect. Such pre-existing plans are, of course, anathema to the conventional Darwinian evolutionist.
One is struck by the fact that the sole proof for evolution from Grassé's viewpoint lies in the record of the fossils in the rocks. Yet he himself is not a paleontologist. Even many evolutionary paleontologists do not claim as much for the record in the rocks as Grassé is apparently willing to accept.
1 Grassé, Pierre-Paul, 1977, Evolution
of Living Organisms, Academic Press, New York, NY, pg. 8.
2 Ibid., pp. 3, 4.
3 Ibid., p. 3.
4 Ibid., p. 17.
5 Ibid., p. 31.
6 Ibid., p. 67.
7 Ibid., p. 63.
8 Ibid., p. 88.
9 Ibid., p. 87.
10 Ibid., p. 88.
11 Ibid., p. 96.
12 Ibid., p. 97.
13 Ibid., p. 97, 98.
14 Ibid., p. 107.