Ever since Darwin first put forth his theory, creation scientists have maintained that at best natural selection could only be a conservative force, weeding out the unfit, but would be powerless to generate increasing complexity and to originate something new or novel and thus powerless to change one kind of animal into another. Now some evolutionists are saying the same thing, asserting that natural selection has made no significant contribution at all to the general overall course of evolution. They are saying that there must be some other mechanism at work in evolution. This is outright heresy in the halls of Darwinism.
Thus, Stephen Jay Gould entitled his recent account of one of these schools of thought "A Threat to Darwinism."1 It should be understood that these investigators are unabashed evolutionists, but they are rejecting one of the basic tenets of Darwin and of the modern neo-Darwinian theory, the idea that natural selection is the main driving force of evolution. In his article Gould points out that a significant number of evolutionists are maintaining that most genetic variations (assumed by evolutionists to have arisen by mutations) that have become established are neutral and thus transparent to natural selection. That is (for example), when variants among protein molecules are compared with one another, many, and even most, seem to have no advantage or disadvantage when compared to the others. They are thus selectively neutral; they are transparent to natural selection. Natural selection then has nothing to do with the establishment of most genetic variations, it is asserted. These mutations have become established by random, accidental processes; for example, by "genetic drift." Thus a few individuals may be accidentally cut off somehow from the bulk of the population, carrying with them only a fraction of the total gene pool. The high degree of inbreeding within this small population then concentrates and enhances these genetic traits and a variant form of the species rapidly surfaces. "Neutralists," as advocates of this theory are called, believe that many repetitions of this process, along with continued mutations to replenish the gene pool, have been responsible for the evolutionary origin of all living things. "Selectionists" vigorously dispute this contention.
Creationists insist that at best such a process could only produce variants within an established kind and could never produce new and novel structures, and, furthermore, no random process, genetic drift, mutations or otherwise could produce millions of complex creatures from a single-celled organism in three billion years, or even in millions times three billion years.
A frontal attack on the neo-Darwinian selection theory by Steven M. Stanley appeared recently in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.2 Stanley maintains that "Gradual evolutionary change by natural selection operates so slowly within established species that it cannot account for the major features of evolution."3 Stanley is thoroughly impressed by the apparent sudden appearance (on a geological time scale) in great diversity of various types of animals citing, for example, the Cambrian "explosion" of a great variety of highly complex creatures; the "rapid evolutionary origin" of lungfishes (Dipnoi); and the sudden appearance, or "radiation," of the 32 orders of mammals. He maintains that the neo-Darwinian model of gradualistic change by natural selection cannot account for such rapid origins.
Stanley believes that evolution has occurred by abrupt, random production of new species. He offers no explanation whatsoever how a species may abruptly, at random, produce new species. Assuming evolution to be a fact, and maintaining that the fossil record clearly contradicts the neo-Darwinian theory of gradual change through small mutations and natural selection, he simply assumes then that evolution must have occurred rapidly by "random speciation events." Thus, beginning with a single-celled organism (however that arose in the first place) several billion years ago, Stanley suggests that some sort of blind, random, speciation process must have produced what we have today, because all other suggested ideas are incapable of explaining the overall process of evolution and the actual facts of the fossil record.
In place of slow adaptation through natural selection, Stanley wishes to postulate a more rapid evolutionary process, and he replaces natural selection with the idea that some lines led to more and perhaps better things simply because one species happened to randomly produce more new species than did others. This is rather analogous to the fact that one who purchases a thousand tickets in a lottery has a better chance of winning the prize than one who purchases a single ticket.
Stanley points out that if his theory is correct, neo-Darwinism, accepted by the vast majority of evolutionists, is incorrect. He states, "if most evolutionary changes occur during speciation events and if speciation events are largely random, natural selection, long viewed as the process guiding evolutionary change, cannot play a significant role in determining the overall course of evolution."4 He even goes so far as to say that "The reductionist view that evolution can ultimately be understood in terms of genetics and molecular biology is clearly in error."5 If what Stanley says is true, the theory of evolution, actually devoid of any real evidence from the fossil record to support it, is devoid even of a theoretical framework.
Even if it is assumed that the processes of chance mutations and natural selection are at work, these processes could never have produced millions of complex species (or a single complex species for that matter) from a single-celled organism. Thus, Dr. Murray Eden, an evolutionist, rejects the neo-Darwinian theory of random chance mutations with natural selection. He has asserted that;
"It is our contention that if 'random' is given a serious and crucial interpretation from a probabilistic point of view, the randomness postulate is highly implausible and that an adequate scientific theory of evolution must await the discovery and elucidation of new natural laws -- physical, physico-chemical and biological."6
Eden calculates that this assumed process could produce only relatively slight changes in three billion years and would, in fact, require billions of times longer to produce man and other complex species from a single-celled organism.
If natural selection is a relatively powerless force, then by Sir Julian Huxley's own admission, evolution would be impossible. Huxley, referring to calculations of H.J. Muller, states that the chances of getting a horse from a single-celled organism by mutation but without natural selection is one chance out of one thousand to the millionth power.7 That number is one followed by three million zeroes, a number so large it would take three large volumes of 500 pages each just to print. Clearly, Huxley is saying that getting a horse by mutation but without natural selection would be flatly impossible. But, he declares, it has happened, thanks to natural selection!
Natural selection is evidently Huxley's god, for nothing less could convert an impossibility into a certainty. But, as Eden and other mathematicians have acknowledged, mutation with natural selection can work no miracles. Furthermore, it is manifestly evident that if, as Stanley asserts, natural selection is such an impotent force it has had no effect on the general overall course of evolution, then indeed evolution is impossible. It would require a miraculous force, let alone a relatively impotent force, to overcome odds of one out of a thousand to the millionth power. Belief in evolution indeed requires an incredible faith.
Furthermore, even though the odds against getting a horse from a single-celled organism by naturalistic processes are incredibly impossible, the odds against getting the first living cell from an inanimate physico-chemical world would be immensely greater. Even the most "primitive" living thing would have required hundreds of different kinds of complex molecules, perhaps as many as ten thousand, no one really knows.8 In addition to these complex molecules, many very complex structures, such as membranes, the mitochondria or energy "factories," ribosomes, some sort of organized genetic material, and numerous other structures would have been required for the functioning of living things. Finally, all of this must be coordinated in time and in space in a highly specific and complex manner. The jump from the molecular to the cellular is a jump of fantastic dimensions, requiring a much greater increase in order and complexity than the origin of a horse from a single-celled organism.
Huxley states that the odds against getting a horse is impossibly high without natural selection. Whether or not natural selection can actually overcome the impossible odds against getting a horse from a single-celled organism, it is certain that natural selection could have been of no help in overcoming the most impossible odds of all -- the odds against obtaining a living cell by naturalistic processes from inanimate inorganic material.
Whatever may be said about the operation and efficacy of natural selection in the living world, it is impossible for natural selection to function in the absence of living things. Natural selection is being defined currently as differential reproduction. There can be no differential reproduction in an inanimate world because there is no such thing as a self-replicating molecule on the face of the earth, nor is any even conceivable. Replication not only requires encoded information such as that found in the DNA that makes up the genetic material, but chemical energy of a highly specific type, the necessary sub-units or building blocks, and highly specific catalysts such as enzymes. Other factors found in the cytoplasm of cells are required for the replication of DNA molecules, and the whole is extremely sensitive to the immediate environment. In other words, practically the entire cell is involved in the replication of DNA as well as the production of protein molecules and other complex structures.
There could be no selection of any kind in an inanimate environment. For example, hydrogen peroxide, highly toxic to living cells, is a metabolic product of cellular activity. We therefore possess an incredibly efficient enzyme for catalyzing the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide. This enzyme, catalase, has a turnover rate of several billion per minute. Because of the high toxicity of hydrogen peroxide, our cells require an exceedingly efficient enzyme to catalyze its decomposition. We certainly couldn't survive without this enzyme. If, however, such a molecule somehow should have arisen by chance against impossible odds in the primordial ocean, the primordial ocean couldn't have cared less. Who or what was to determine that a molecule that could decompose hydrogen peroxide was to be preferred over the infinite number of other protein molecules that supposedly could have arisen in the primordial ocean?
As a matter of fact, even though the many metabolic activities found within a living cell are absolutely indispensable for its existence, and these activities are in turn almost totally dependent upon enzymes, the existence of enzymes before living things existed would have been disastrous. Let us suppose that a proteolytic enzyme, that is, an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis or breakdown of protein, somehow arose in the hypothetical "primordial soup" of the primeval world. Its origin would have been totally disastrous, for it would have happily set about catalyzing the rapid destruction of all protein in sight, and soon there would be no protein left. Similarly, RNases would destroy all the RNA, DNases would breakdown all the DNA, deaminases would deaminate all amines, decarboxylases would decarboxylate all carboxylic acids, etc. How could such substances be "selected for" when their presence outside of the regulated environment of a living cell would have been destructive?
By no stretch of the imagination, then, could natural selection have had anything to do with the origin of life. What was the incredibly powerful force operating within the naturalistic world that managed to overcome the fantastically impossible odds against getting the first living cell? There simply was none, and thus the origin of life by naturalistic, mechanistic process is totally impossible.
1 S.J. Gould, "A Threat to Darwinism," Natural History Museum, December 1975, pp. 8-9.
2 S.M. Stanley, "A Theory of Evolution Above the Species Level," Proceedings National Academy of Science, vol. 72, pp. 640-650 (1975).
3 S.M. Stanley, ibid.., p. 646.
4 S.M. Stanley, ibid.., p. 648.
5 S.M. Stanley, ibid.., p. 650.
6 M. Eden, "Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as Scientific Theory," in Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution, P.S. Moorhead and M.M. Kaplan, Wistar Institute Press, Philadelphia, 1967, p. 109.
7 J. Huxley, Evolution in Action, The New American Library, New York, 1953, pp. 45-46.
8 Van Rensselear Potter, "Biothics," Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Autumn, 1970, p. 139.
* Part I, found in Impact Article No. 42, Acts & Facts Vol. 5 No. 12, December, 1976.
**Dr. Gish is Vice President of ICR.