Feature Article - May 1997
by Do-While Jones

The Many Myths of Evolution

It is hard to discuss the problems with the theory of evolution because there are so many theories of evolution. All of them have major problems. Let's look at them.

Lamarkian Inheritance

Modern theories of evolution begin with the 18th century French evolutionist Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamark. In the 1790's he popularized the idea of "the development or atrophy of organs through 'use or disuse' and their transmission to offspring who inherit these 'acquired characteristics'". 1 His ideas weren't universally accepted because he could not really explain how or why these characteristics were passed on. He had a vague notion that they were passed on because the critter "must" pass them on.

We discussed this replacement of logic with wishful thinking in The Santa Similarity. In that essay we said that when a child sees Christmas presents under the tree, the child believes that Santa must have been there, which proves the existence of Santa Claus. In the same way, Lamark saw different sized trees, which he took as evidence that the taller trees must have evolved from shorter trees, which was his proof of evolution.

Since the French word Lamark used for "must" (besoin) was translated as "wants to" in the English translations of his work, English-speaking critics made fun of his idea that Giant Sequoia trees produced seeds for taller trees because the trees wanted to have taller offspring. This criticism wasn't entirely fair. Lamark didn't believe plants had conscious will. But the criticism stuck because Lamark made no attempt to explain the evolutionary mechanism. This left his theory of evolution too close to the realm of magic and miracles for scientists to accept it.

Darwinism

Darwin revived the theory of evolution by doing what Lamark could not do. He supplied a plausible mechanism for descent with modification. He correctly observed: (1) there is a certain amount of variation in offspring; (2) there are more offspring produced than can survive; (3) in the fight for survival, the best variants live and the worst variants die. He correctly concluded that this gradually causes small, but noticeable, changes in species.

Darwin then extrapolated this truth into non-truth. He believed that these gradual changes could continue without limit, resulting in changes so large that entirely new species would evolve. He believed that when more fossils were found, the fossil record would show evidence of these gradual changes. But after more than 130 years of searching, those fossils have not been found.

Pangenesis

Both Lamark and Darwin believed in pangenesis.
According to pangenesis, a trait acquired by a parent during his or her lifetime could be passed on to children (Lamarkian or "soft" inheritance). If a man worked to develop large muscles, for instance, the repeated habit of weight-lifting would somehow leave a lasting record in the cells of his body. Particles carrying this information were called "gemmules." They would migrate from all parts of the body to the sex cells, whereby they could be inherited by the offspring. 2

We now know that acquired characteristics can't be inherited. If you look at really old issues of National Geographic, you will see pictures of African women who from early childhood had placed increasingly large wooden crescents between their teeth and their lips, causing their lips to stick out several inches by they time they were adults, making them very beautiful (at least, in the eyes of the African men of that era). Their daughters, however, were never born with these big, beautiful lips. Every generation of girls painfully had to acquire large lips themselves.

Darwin, who was not a subscriber to National Geographic, didn't know this. He thought that giraffes who stretched their necks to eat the leaves other giraffes could not reach would have children with longer necks. The truth is, acquired characteristics are never inherited.

Suppose I tried to tell you that if you studied hard and spent a lot of time thinking, then you would have children who would be smarter and have bigger brains. You would have good justification for laughing at me. If I told you that we should eliminate IQ tests and simply measure the size of a child's head to determine how intelligent he is, you could legitimately say that is a stupid idea. It is well-known that you can't tell how smart a man is by measuring the size of his brain. You also know that knowledge can't be inherited. These are stupid ideas! But see how these very ideas are used by a UCSC biologist to explain how the human race evolved:

The force that seems to have accelerated our brain's growth is a new kind of stimulant: language, signs, collective memories-all elements of culture. As our cultures evolved in complexities, so did our brains, which then drove our cultures to still greater complexity. Big and clever brains led to more complex cultures, which in turn led to bigger and cleverer brains. 3

In other words, he claims that exercising our brains makes them stronger, and that this acquired characteristic is inherited by our children. This lets them think harder, making them even smarter, and so every generation gets smarter. The foolish notion of pangenesis still plays a part in modern, main-stream evolution.

Neo-Darwinism

When biologists learned more about genetics, and discovered that acquired characteristics could not be inherited, this dealt a serious blow to Darwinism. But in 1905, George Romanes recognized that there is a difference between acquired characteristics and inherited characteristics. He proposed the theory of Neo-Darwinism, which asserted that natural selection could operate using only inherited characteristics. This gave Darwinism a temporary reprieve by replacing Darwin's erroneous concept of inheritance with a plausible genetic explanation for differences in offspring.

Natural Selection

Natural selection is simply the process that determines who wins the battle for survival. It is the filter that removes the inferior individuals and allows the superior ones to reproduce.

Synthetic Theory

The mathematical field of statistics and probability can be used to describe natural variations of things, including populations of living creatures. If you take the concept of a population of creatures with small differences (which are the result of inherited characteristics) and combine it with natural selection you get the Synthetic Theory of evolution. This theory says that the randomness of variations in offspring is guided by natural selection producing a gradual genetic drift towards new, better, more highly-evolved species.

When people talk about Neo-Darwinsim or Gradualism, they usually are really talking about the Synthetic Theory. The Synthetic Theory is one of the two most commonly believed theories of evolution today.

The Synthetic Theory, however, has some major recognized problems. The first problem is that the amount of genetic variation in normal offspring is limited. You can breed thoroughbred horses for speed, but there is a limit to how fast they can run. Everything we have learned from breeding dogs, pigeons, cows, pigs, or any another animal, has shown us that there are limits to the natural variations in animals.

Second, the Synthetic Theory is absolutely incompatible with the fossil record. If the Synthetic Theory were true, then the fossil record would contain, for example, a series of giraffe-like animals. The oldest would have relatively short legs and necks. The more modern ones would have longer legs and necks. But the fossil record doesn't show that.

The real question in the fossil record is not, "What happened to the dinosaurs?" It is, "Where did the dinosaurs come from?" The fossil record doesn't show a gradual change from any creature into Tyrannosaurus Rex, or any other dinosaur.

Hopeful Monsters (Saltation)

By 1940 it was clear (to Richard Goldschmidt, at least) that genetic research had proved that species cannot gradually evolve into other species, and that the fossil record showed that they had not. Since Goldschmidt believed that evolution must have happened somehow, he rejected Darwin's statement that Natura non facit saltum ("Nature does not make jumps"). He reasoned that a small change in a gene might cause a large change in a mutant offspring.

Of course it is true that sometimes five-legged frogs are found living in polluted streams. Mutant creatures can be radically different from their parents. Maybe a reptile did once lay an egg, and a bird hatched out of it. But it isn't very likely.

It has often been observed that mutations are harmful and rarely, if ever, beneficial. It is said that two heads are better than one, and two-headed calves have been born, but two-headed cows have not driven the one-headed variety into extinction yet.

If Goldschmidt's Hopeful Monster theory is true, then there had to be thousands of mutants that each developed into a different species. It is a hard theory to take seriously. Not very many scientists do.

Punctuated Equilibrium

In 1972, it was still evident from the study of genetics that species can't gradually evolve into other species, and the fossil record still showed that species didn't gradually evolve into other species. The Synthetic Theory was not consistent with scientific data. The only other options were Lamark's unspecified magic process and Goldschmidt's Hopeful Monster theory. Neither of these theories were acceptable. So, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge proposed the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium. This popularized Ernst Mayr's earlier idea that "speciation could occur fairly rapidly in small, isolated populations. Cut off from the larger gene pool by geographic barriers, a small amount of variation would be amplified by selection." 4

The theory of Punctuated Equilibrium is the other main theory of evolution that is accepted in evolutionary circles today. Its popularity is due to the fact that it is consistent with the fossil record (which shows no evidence of gradual evolution) without resorting to hopeful monsters.

The problem with this theory is that there isn't any positive evidence to support it. It claims that gradual evolution happens so quickly, in such limited areas, that the chances of finding any transitional fossils is essentially zero. Transitional fossils haven't been found, which is what the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium predicts. So, the fossils that haven't been found are claimed as support for the theory.

Horses

Many people think that transitional fossils have been found. They usually cite the evolution of the horse as an example. The Encyclopedia of Evolution, which has earned an Ev+ rating because it is highly critical of creationists in its sections on Flat-Earthers, Fundamentalism, Scientific Creationism, and Noah's Flood, has a section entitled "HORSE, EVOLUTION OF Saddled With Errors". (Gee, we wish we'd said that.) It says,

[Yale paleontologist Othniel C.] Marsh's classic (straight-line) development of the horse became enshrined in every biology textbook and in a famous exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. It showed a sequence of mounted skeletons, each one larger and with a more well-developed hoof than the last. (The exhibit is now hidden from public view as an outdated embarrassment.)

Almost a century later, paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson reexamined horse evolution and concluded that generations of students had been misled. In his book Horses (1951), he showed that there was no simple, gradual unilineal development at all.

… Marsh arranged his fossils to "lead up" to the one surviving species, blithely ignoring many inconsistencies and any contradictory evidence. 5

If you look at the textbooks used at Burroughs High School 6 and Cerro Coso Community College7, you will see beautiful illustrations showing the classic straight-line development of the horse are still enshrined there. I don't know if those science teachers tell their students that this is an obsolete theory that has been discredited, but both books present the figures as if this development of the horse is still believed to be true by paleontologists. It may be possible that generations of students are still being misled.

One wonders why these textbooks still use the horse as their showcase example of a "progressive series of fossils leading from an ancient, primitive organism, through several intermediate stages, and culminating in the modern form." 8 Could it be because they don't have anything else to offer in its place?

Creation of Life

It is popularly believed that experiments have been done that showed that the chemicals present in the early Earth's oceans and atmosphere could have formed amino acids, which could have combined to form proteins, which eventually turned into the first living cell. This myth arose from the publication of the results of experiments done by Miller 9 and Fox. 10

On March 28, 1997, we showed the video. "Is Life Just Chemistry?" in which Michael Girouard, M.D., showed that these experiments did not prove that amino acids and proteins could have formed naturally. In fact, they prove that life could not have happened that way.

After we showed the video, our favorite critic complained that we had taken a cheap shot by bringing up Miller and Fox. He said that those two series of experiments had been done more than 40 years ago, and that the errors in them are well known. He said that everybody knows that those experiments led nowhere, and that no respectable scientists are doing work along those lines. He said modern research into the origin of life is taking other approaches, but has not produced any positive results yet.

We agree with everything our critic said, except for the part that "everybody knows" it. It is our position that the general public does not know that these experiments failed and mistakenly believes that they succeeded.

One reason we believe that many people are misinformed is because the previously mentioned local high school text 11 presents the work of Miller and Fox as if it were long-established scientific proof of how life evolved.

The second reason is that the previously mentioned 1996 college textbook says this:

Organic Molecules Can Be Synthesized Spontaneously under Prebiotic Conditions

In 1953, inspired by the ideas of Oparin and Haldane, Stanley Miller, a graduate student, and his adviser Harold Urey of the University of Chicago set out to demonstrate prebiotic evolution in the laboratory. They mixed water, ammonia, hydrogen, and methane in a flask and provided energy with heat and electrical charge (to simulate lightening). They found simple organic molecules appeared after just a few days (Fig 19-2). In these and similar experiments, Miller and others have produced amino acids, short proteins, nucleotides, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and other molecules characteristic of living things. 12

But even the strongly-biased Encyclopedia of Evolution admits:

Decades of persistent failure to "create life" by the "spark in the soup" method (or to find such productions in nature) have caused researchers to seek other approaches to the great enigma. 13

But even the most promising, technically sophisticated attempts to demonstrate the origin of life from nonliving chemicals are still guesses and gropes in the dark. For almost a century, many scientists have taught that some version of the "spark in the soup" theory "must" be true. Repetition of this idea as fact, without sufficient evidence, has done a disservice to new generations by capping their curiosity about a profound and open question. 14

To reputable scientists it may look like we are taking cheap shots at old, abandoned theories, but we will have to keep shooting until the public school textbooks abandon them.

Panspermia

Panspermia is the belief that life could not have started by natural processes on Earth, so it must have started in outer space. This theory was first suggested by British astronomer Fred Hoyle in 1978.

Simple life forms or amino acids may have ridden to Earth on comets or meteors. Of course, Hoyle recognizes this is no explanation for the origin of life; it simply moves the problem to another time and place. 15

The important point is that it moves the problem from a place (the Earth) where it has been scientifically proven that life could not naturally originate, to a place (anywhere else in the universe) where one can imagine any set of fantastic conditions that might be conducive to prebiotic evolution. That's why evolutionists want to believe so desperately that meteorite ALH84001 really does contain signs of life.

Summary

We agree that "repetition of this idea [that life could have been caused by a "spark in the soup"] as fact, without sufficient evidence, has done a disservice to new generations by capping their curiosity about a profound and open question." In fact, we would extend this statement to say that the repetition of the idea that evolution is a fact, without sufficient evidence, has done a disservice to the advancement of science in general. It has prejudiced the reconstruction of fossils and the interpretation of geology and astronomy. Science will truly advance when we discard the theory of evolution and examine data without evolutionary prejudice.

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Footnotes:

1 Milner, The Encyclopedia of Evolution (1993), page 375 (Ev+)
2 Ibid. page 353
3 Wills, The Runaway Brain (1993), quoted by Richard Leakey,The Origin of Humans (1994), page 85 (Ev)
4 Milner, The Encyclopedia of Evolution (1993) page 375 (Ev+)
5 Ibid. page 222
6 Sylvia S. Mader, Biology 3rd edition (1990), page 306 (Ev)
7 Teresa Audesirk, Biology 4th edition (1996), page 312 (Ev)
8 Ibid. page 312
9 Stanley L. Miller, "A Production of Amino Acids Under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions", Science, Vol. 117, No. 3046 (1953) (Ev)
10 Sidney W. Fox and K. Baal, Molecular Evolution and the Origin of Life, Dover Publishing (1953) (Ev)
11 Sylvia S. Mader, Biology 3rd edition (1990), pages 328 - 332 (Ev)
12 Teresa Audesirk, Biology 4th edition (1996), pages 365-366 (Ev)
13 Milner, The Encyclopedia of Evolution (1993) page 274 (Ev+)
14 Ibid. page 274
15 Ibid. page 354