Evolution in Fiction - December 1996

The Lost World

The Lost World (Ev) is Michael Crichton’s sequel to Jurassic Park (Ev). This sequel contains a chapter called, “Problems of Evolution.” In it, the character Ian Malcolm tries to explain why he believes in evolution, even though he knows the theory is wrong.
Malcolm smiled. “The big deal,” he said, “is that everybody agrees evolution occurs, but nobody understands how it works. There are big problems with the theory. And more and more scientists are admitting it. …”

“First of all, there’s a time problem. A single bacterium--the earliest form of life--has two thousand enzymes. Scientists have estimated how long it would take to randomly assemble those enzymes from primordial soup. Estimates run from forty billion years to one hundred billion years. But the earth is only four billion years old. So, chance alone seems too slow. …”

“Second, there’s the coordination problem. If you believe the current theory, then all the wonderful complexity of life is nothing but the accumulation of chance events--a bunch of genetic accidents strung together. Yet when we look closely at animals, it appears as if many elements must have evolved simultaneously. Take bats, which have echolocation--they navigate by sound. To do that, many things must evolve. Bats need a specialized apparatus to make sounds, they need specialized ears to hear echoes, they need specialized brains to interpret the sounds, and they need specialized bodies to swoop and catch insects. If all these things don’t evolve simultaneously, there’s no advantage. And to imagine all these things happen purely by chance is like imagining that a tornado can hit a junkyard and assemble the parts into a working 747 airplane. It’s very hard to believe.”

“Okay,” Thorn said. “I agree.”

“Next problem. Evolution doesn’t always act like a blind force should. …”

Thorn said, “Are you saying evolution is directed?”

“No,” Malcolm said. “That’s Creationism and it’s wrong. Just plain wrong. …”

Malcolm then tells the standard fairy tale about how apes evolved into people, and the problems associated with that story.

Like many people, the fictional character Malcolm believes in evolution even though he knows the theory of evolution doesn’t make any sense. He knows it could not have happened by chance. But if it didn’t happen by chance, then an intelligent force must have been directing the process. He isn’t willing to consider that option. So, he believes in evolution despite the scientific evidence, not because of it.

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