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Ten Scientific Problems with Biological and Chemical Evolution

Casey Luskin Permalink
Based upon Casey Luskin's chapter, "The Top Ten Scientific Problems with Biological and Chemical Evolution," in the volume More than Myth, edited by Paul Brown and Robert Stackpole (Chartwell Press, 2014)

"There are no weaknesses in the theory of evolution."1 So said Eugenie Scott, the de facto head of the Darwin lobby, while speaking to the media in response to the Texas State Board of Education's 2009 vote to require students to learn about both the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinian evolution.

For those who follow the debate over origins, Dr. Scott's words are as unsurprising as they are familiar. It seems that almost on a daily basis, we find the news media quoting evolutionary scientists declaring that materialist accounts of biological and chemical evolution are "fact." Students who take college-preparatory or college-level courses on evolution are warned that doubting Darwinism is tantamount to committing intellectual suicide -- you might as well proclaim the Earth is flat.2 Such bullying is enough to convince many that it's much easier on your academic standing, your career, and your reputation to just buy into Darwinism. The few holdouts who remain are intimidated into silence.

But is it true that there are "no weaknesses" in evolutionary theory? Are those who express doubts about Darwinism displaying courage, or are they fools that want to take us back to the dark ages and era of the flat Earth?3 Thankfully, it's very easy to test these questions: all one must do is examine the technical scientific literature and inquire whether there are legitimate scientific challenges to chemical and biological evolution.

This chapter will review some of this literature, and show that there are numerous legitimate scientific challenges to core tenets of Darwinian theory, as well as predominant theories of chemical evolution. Those who harbor doubts about Darwinism need not be terrified by academic bullies who pretend there is no scientific debate to be had.

Problem 1: No Viable Mechanism to Generate a Primordial Soup

>According to conventional thinking among origin of life theorists, life arose via unguided chemical reactions on the early Earth some 3 to 4 billion years ago. Most theorists believe that there were many steps involved in the origin of life, but the very first step would have involved the production of a primordial soup -- a water-based sea of simple organic molecules -- out of which life arose. While the existence of this "soup" has been accepted as unquestioned fact for decades, this first step in most origin-of-life theories faces numerous scientific difficulties. ( more )

Problem 2: Unguided Chemical Processes Cannot Explain the Origin of the Genetic Code

Let's assume that a primordial sea filled with life's building blocks did exist on the early Earth, and somehow it formed proteins and other complex organic molecules. Theorists believe that the next step in the origin of life is that -- entirely by chance -- more and more complex molecules formed until some began to self-replicate. From there, they believe Darwinian natural selection took over, favoring those molecules that were better able to make copies of themselves. Eventually, they assume, it was inevitable that these molecules would evolve complex machinery -- like that used in today's genetic code -- to survive and reproduce. ( more )

Problem 3: Step-by-Step Random Mutations Cannot Generate the Genetic Information Needed for Irreducible Complexity

According to evolutionary biologists, once life got started, Darwinian evolution took over and eventually produced the grand diversity we observe today. Under the standard view, a process of random mutation and natural selection built life's vast complexity one small mutational step at a time. All of life's complex features, of course, are thought to be encoded in the DNA of living organisms. Building new features thus requires generating new information in the genetic code of DNA. Can the necessary information be generated in the undirected, step-by-step manner required by Darwin's theory? ( more)

Problem 4: Natural Selection Struggles to Fix Advantageous Traits in Populations

In 2008, 16 biologists from around the world convened in Altenberg, Austria, to discuss problems with the modern neo-Darwinian model of evolution. The journal Nature covered this "Altenberg 16" conference, quoting leading scientists saying things like:

Problem 5: Abrupt Appearance of Species in the Fossil Record Does Not Support Darwinian Evolution

The fossil record has long been recognized as a problem for evolutionary theory. In the Origin of Species, Darwin explained that his theory led him to believe that "[t]he number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, [must] be truly enormous."However, he understood that the fossil record did not document these "intermediate" forms of life, asking, "Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links?" Darwin's answer showed the tenuous nature of the evidence backing his ideas: "Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory." ( more )

Problem 6: Molecular Biology Has Failed to Yield a Grand "Tree of Life"

When fossils failed to demonstrate that animals evolved from a common ancestor, evolutionary scientists turned to another type of evidence -- DNA sequence data -- to demonstrate a tree of life. In the 1960s, around the time the genetic code was first understood, biochemists Émile Zuckerkandl and Linus Pauling hypothesized that if DNA sequences could be used to produce evolutionary trees -- trees that matched those based upon morphological or anatomical characteristics -- this would furnish "the best available single proof of the reality of macro-evolution." Thus began a decades-long effort to sequence the genes of many organisms and construct "molecular" based evolutionary ("phylogenetic") trees. The ultimate goal has been to construct a grand "tree of life," showing how all living organisms are related through universal common ancestry. ( more)

Problem 7: Convergent Evolution Challenges Darwinism and Destroys the Logic Behind Common Ancestry

In Problem 6 of this series, we saw that the main assumption underlying all phylogenetic trees is that biological similarity is the result of inheritance from a common ancestor. The problem for evolutionary biologists faced with conflicting evolutionary trees is that biological similarity often appears in places not predicted by common descent. In other words, everyone recognizes that biological similarities often appear among species in cases where they cannot be explained as the result of inheritance from a common ancestor. This means the main assumption fails.

We also saw at the end of Problem 6 that when biologists are unable to construct phylogenetic trees, they often make ad hoc appeals to other processes to explain away data that won't fit a treelike pattern. One of these explanations is convergent evolution, where evolutionary biologists postulate that organisms acquire the same traits independently, in separate lineages, and not through inheritance from a common ancestor. Whenever evolutionary biologists are forced to appeal to convergent evolution, it reflects a breakdown in the main assumption, and an inability to fit the data to a treelike pattern. Examples of this abound in the literature, but a few will suffice. (more)

Problem 8: Differences Between Vertebrate Embryos Contradict the Predictions of Common Ancestry

Another area where evolutionary biologists claim powerful evidence for common ancestry is the patterns of development of vertebrate embryos. Biology textbooks typically portray the embryos of different groups of vertebrates as starting off development in a highly similar fashion, reflecting their common ancestry. However, such claims overstate the degree of similarity between the early stages of vertebrate embryos.

Biologists who investigate these questions have found considerable variability among vertebrate embryos from their earliest stages onward, contradicting what we are told to expect from common ancestry. As a paper in Nature stated, "Counter to the expectations of early embryonic conservation, many studies have shown that there is often remarkable divergence between related species both early and late in development." Or, as another article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution stated, "despite repeated assertions of the uniformity of early embryos within members of a phylum, development before the phylotypic stage is very varied." ( more )

Problem 9: Neo-Darwinism Struggles to Explain the Biogeographical Distribution of Many Species

Biogeography is the study of the distribution of organisms in time and space both in the present and past on Earth. It is often contended that biogeography strongly supports neo-Darwinian theory. For example, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a pro-Darwin advocacy group, claims that "consistency between biogeographic and evolutionary patterns provides important evidence about the continuity of the processes driving the evolution and diversification of all life," and "[t]his continuity is what would be expected of a pattern of common descent." However, the NCSE dramatically overstates its case and ignores the many instances where biogeography does not show the sort of "continuity" that would be expected under a pattern of common descent. ( more)

Problem 10: Neo-Darwinism's Long History of Inaccurate Predictions about Junk Organs and Junk DNA

For decades, evolutionists have claimed that our bodies and genomes are full of useless parts and genetic material -- "vestigial" organs -- showing life is the result of eons of unguided evolution. During the Scopes trial in 1925, evolutionary biologist Horatio Hackett Newman contended that there are over 180 vestigial organs and structures in the human body, "sufficient to make of a man a veritable walking museum of antiquities."

Over time, however, these predictions of vestigial body parts and useless DNA have not held true. As scientists have learned more and more about the workings of biology, important functions and purpose have been discovered for these so-called vestigial structures. Indeed, in 2008 the journal New Scientist reported that, since the days of Professor Newman, the list of vestigial organs "grew, then shrank again" to the point that today "biologists are extremely wary of talking about vestigial organs at all." Structures that were previously -- and incorrectly -- considered to be vestigial include:

Based upon Casey Luskin's chapter, "The Top Ten Scientific Problems with Biological and Chemical Evolution," in the volume More than Myth