Darwin's 'Special Difficulty' Solved? | The Institute for Creation Research

Darwin's 'Special Difficulty' Solved?

Darwin's hypothesis of evolution faced enormous scientific challenges from the very outset of its publication. Recently, a group of evolutionists, publishing in the journal Science, claimed to have simplified one of those challenges. Have they?

In Darwin's seminal work On the Origin of Species he identified numerous examples of biological structures that, at first pass, seem very difficult to evolve. He even wrote a chapter titled "Difficulties on Theory" which he began with this wry comment: "Long before having arrived at this part of my work, a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader. Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered."1

One organ in particular that has dodged evolutionary explanation for over 150 years is the electric organ—the organ in fishes that generates electricity under water. Evolving this organ in one single species would pose serious challenges to evolution. But the organ is present in several fish species which, under the ancestry constraints imposed by the evolutionary interpretation of the fossil record, implies that the electric organ would have had to evolve, not once, but multiple times, making the naturalistic origin of this structure all the more implausible.2

Darwin recognized this challenge early in his work in 1859. He wrote, "The electric organs of fishes offer another case of special difficulty; it is impossible to conceive by what steps these wondrous organs have been produced."3 Nevertheless, he hypothesized a theoretical way over this hurdle: "As Owen and others have remarked, their intimate structure closely resembles that of common muscle."4

Could electric organs have evolved from mere muscle tissue? Since wholesale evolutionary change must ultimately stem from genetic changes, the first step in answering this question is investigating whether the diversity of electric organs could be produced via a common genetic pathway. Since Darwin knew nothing of genetics, he didn't realize how big this difficulty really is. His ideas—his visualizations—were overly simplistic.

Nonetheless, a recent publication in the journal Science claims to have found a solution.2 The authors wrote, "Our analysis suggests that a common regulatory network of transcription factors and developmental pathways may have been repeatedly targeted by selection in the evolution of [electric organs], despite their very different morphologies."5 In other words, a common genetic program appears to undergird the development of very different electric organs, making the evolution of these organs theoretically simpler.

Realistically, the question of whether these organs originated via evolution does not rest on the commonality or differences among the electric organs' genetic programs. Darwin did not cite developmental similarity as the gold standard test of evolution. Instead, in his "Difficulties with Theory" chapter he said, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."6 As Michael Behe has pointed out, this test can be taken only at the molecular level.7 Conversely, as Behe also highlighted, evolution is a failure if an organ—such as the electric organ—relies on mutually interdependent (irreducibly complex) molecular parts for its function.7

To date, no one has comprehensively identified the relationships among the molecular components undergirding electric organ function. Until these relationships are elucidated, the plausibility of the evolutionary origin of these structures remains purely speculative and claims of evolutionary "fact" must be rejected because they are without scientific support.

References

  1. Darwin, C. 1859. On the Origin of Species. John Murray: London. p.171. Posted on darwin-online.org.uk on July 2, 2012, accessed June 27, 2014.
  2. Gallant, J. R. et al. 2014. Genomic basis for the convergent evolution of electric organs. Science. 344 (6191): 1522-1525.
  3. Darwin, p.192.
  4. Darwin, p.192-193.
  5. Gallant et al., p. 1525.
  6. Darwin, p. 189.
  7. Behe, M. J. 1996. Darwin's Black Box. New York: Simon & Schuster.

* Dr. Jeanson is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and received his Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology from Harvard University.

Article posted on July 7, 2014.

The Latest
NEWS
Inside June 2021 Acts & Facts
How do the Everglades illustrate Bible-affirming biology? Why do marine sponges inspire engineers? What can we learn about God’s providence from...

NEWS
Two Excuses for Human Evolution Confusion
Public school textbooks assert that apes and humans emerged from an ape-like animal, whereas Genesis 1 says that God created humans and the different animal...

DAYS OF PRAISE DEVOTIONALS
Summer 2021
...

ACTS & FACTS
Coral Reef
Christy Hardy and Susan Windsor* You’re never too young to be a creation scientist! Kids, discover fun facts about God’s creation with...

ACTS & FACTS
The Legacy and Faith of a Godly Father
Good fathers serve an essential role in the family, and it’s surely fitting that we express our love and gratitude on Father’s Day. After...

APOLOGETICS
Even Seaweed Is Proof of God's Providence
Tidewater-tossed seaweeds display God’s providence.1,2 Hidden in plain view, tidewater seaweeds are spectacular exhibits of Christ’s...

ACTS & FACTS
What It Takes to Make a Cell: A Review of The Stairway to Life
Rare is the science book that can hold even an average reader’s attention. But The Stairway to Life does just that. Coauthored by biochemist Laura...

ACTS & FACTS
Does Radioisotope Dating Prove an Old Earth?
Tim Clarey, Ph.D., and Vernon R. Cupps, Ph.D.* When most people think about radioisotope dating, they think of carbon-14 (C-14), or radiocarbon...

ACTS & FACTS
The Everglades: Two Biology Basics the Bible Got Right
Brian Thomas, Ph.D., and Gary Parker, Ed.D.* Imagine a river 50 miles wide and 100 miles long but only inches deep. Its slow flow is hidden...

ACTS & FACTS
Marine Sponges Inspire
The oceans are alive with God’s diverse and amazing creatures. Scripture tells us “God created great whales, and every living creature that...