|Letter to the Editor, submitted to Scientific American, but not published.
Article: “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” by John Rennie
June 26, 2002
I found the arguments by John Rennie in July’s article: 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense weak and embarrassing to the astute mind. In point 8 Mr. Rennie states that evolution does not depend on chance to create organisms, proteins or other entities. He continues by stating that quite the opposite: “natural selection, the principal mechanism of evolution harnesses nonrandom change by preserving “desirable” (adaptive) features and eliminating “undesirable” (non-adaptive) ones”. If my biology serves me correctly, all living organism are encoded by their DNA. Any changes to the phenotype (outward characteristics) of an organism are a direct result of changes in the DNA of that organism. The changes required for macro-evolution are not brought about by the normal breeding process, but by random changes in the DNA. Natural selection will filter these changes, but it, in no way, effects which changes are made in the DNA. As of yet, there has not been found any direct or indirect feedback, by natural selection or any other means, of effecting desirable change in the DNA based on desirable or required traits in an organism. This means that macro-evolution must rely upon random mutations in the DNA to supply the next round of phenotype changes upon which natural selection may operate.
Another point, that should be made, is that natural selection does not contain any inherent intelligence that it may select which random mutations in the DNA to keep or reject based on future needs. Natural selection can only work on the current phenotype expression of the DNA. While natural selection is an effective filter for micro-evolution, it is a very weak filter for macro-evolution. To quote Richard Hardinson’s work with randomly generated phrases as an explanation of how the mathematical odds against generating the correct proteins to form the molecular machinery of life are beat is grossly misleading. “TOBEORNOTTOBE” is an intelligently crafted set of letters, it is a predefined blueprint of the required outcome. Using a machine to lock in the randomly generated, correct letters as they appear is nothing more than applying intelligence with a-priori knowledge of the desired outcome to the problem at hand. Natural selection can in no way be deemed equivalent to this process.
As is well known, most random mutations are detrimental and cause the organism to die off quickly or reduce its ability to survive; even if in the long run, the change could be beneficial. Mutations to the Hox family of developmental-regulating genes such as the Antennapedia mutation does not produce a novel, useful appendage, it simply scrambles the mechanical location expression of an appendage the genotype has already coded. No one would suggest that a great way to develop new features in a software program such as the Linux operating system would be to randomly change bits in the executable file and then check for better operation. A quick back of the envelope calculation would indicate the futility of such a process no matter how much time was given to the process or how many parallel processes were applied to the problem. If randomly changing bits in software will not work to produce novel, useful code, why would we believe the process will work with something much more complex, such as living organisms?
The reason macro-evolution is not the accepted fact, that many in the informed scientific community would like it to be, is the arguments for it are typically weak and contain far too many hand waving explanations in the face of the hugely complex systems that make up all living organism. The reason William Paley’s “argument from design” and Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity” arguments remain so compelling is that intelligent, deep-thinking people are very familiar with many complex systems and the physics behind them - systems that have taken intelligent beings years of collaborative effort to produce.
It is not difficult, though often humbling, to draw parallels between various designs created by humans and subsystems used in living organisms. In comparing the known design and the design process to achieve that design to that of the living organism, one is left wondering how an accumulation of random changes in the DNA, weakly filtered by natural selection can produce the complex system at hand. The odds of producing complex living systems by this process, even with billions of years worth of random changes, are highly unfavorable at best and leave the intelligent, deep-thinking person wondering about the “fact” of macro-evolution. Maybe the “ignorant” professors of intelligent-design have some sound, scientific arguments that can be openly discussed in the serious scientific publications, if we can leave our bigotry aside.
Harry Direen, Ph.D. EE