Feature Article - January 2001
by Do-While Jones

Gould’s Final Column

For the past 27 years, Steven Jay Gould has written a series of columns on evolution for Natural History magazine. The 12/00-1/01 issue contains his 300th column. It is the last in the series. In it, he makes this interesting observation about evolution.

I would nominate as most worthy of pure awe the continuity of the tree of earthly life for 3.5 billion years, without a single microsecond of disruption.

Consider the improbability of such continuity in the conventional terms of ordinary probability: take any phenomenon that begins with a positive value at its inception 3.5 billion years ago, and let the process regulating its existence proceed through time. A line marked zero runs along below the current value. The probability of the phenomenon’s descent to zero may be almost incalculably low, but throw the dice of the relevant process billions of times and the phenomenon just has to hit the zero line eventually.

For most processes, the prospect of such an improbable crossing bodes no permanent ill, because an unlikely crash (a year, for example, when a healthy Mark McGwire hits no home runs at all) will quickly be reversed, and ordinary residence well above the zero line will be reestablished. But life represents a different kind of ultimately fragile system, utterly dependent upon unbroken continuity. For life, the zero line designates a permanent end, not a temporary embarrassment. If life had ever touched that line for one fleeting moment at any time during 3.5 billion years of sustained history, neither we nor a million species of beetles would grace this planet today. A single handshake with voracious zero dooms all that might have been, forever after. 1

What he has said so poetically (but perhaps not so clearly), is that at any given time there is a number that represents the total number of living things on Earth. Every time a baby is born, that number increases by one. Every time you step on an ant, it decreases by one. The total number of living things on Earth goes up and down every moment. But if the total number of living things on Earth ever goes to zero, it will get stuck at zero because, as environmentalists like to remind us, “Extinction is forever.”

What makes this observation so interesting is that Gould says that if all life on Earth dies, life will never evolve again. That isn’t surprising to us because evolution of life from non-life is unscientific. You would expect us to say life would never evolve again. We didn’t expect Gould to say it.

Gould considers life to be a “phenomenon that begins with a positive value at its inception 3.5 billion years ago.” But how did it get to be positive in the first place? Evolutionists believe that there were no living things on Earth when it formed. So, there was a time when it was zero.

How did the number of living things get to be one or more? Why didn’t the first living thing die before it could reproduce? What did it eat?

Gould clearly states that if the number of living things on Earth was ever zero, “for one fleeting moment at any time during 3.5 billion years of sustained history, neither we nor a million species of beetles would grace this planet today.” He is absolutely right. Life could not re-evolve on a totally dead Earth. Nor could it evolve the first time on a totally dead Earth for exactly the same reason.

The fossil record is filled with dinosaurs and other critters that were once alive but are now extinct. The dinosaurs aren’t coming back (unless a gene jockey can find enough dinosaur DNA somewhere to clone one).

Every year a few more species go extinct, and no entirely new species are evolving to take their places. Some species are evolving new varieties which have minor differences from their parents, it’s true. We just planted some rose bushes that have been bred to produce pink and yellow blooms. This kind of evolution (“micro-evolution”) is common. It is just variation in an existing species.

No entirely new critters are evolving to fill the ecological niches left by extinct species. That’s why environmentalists are so alarmed. If it really were true that environmental pressure stimulates evolution of new, superior life forms, then there would be nothing to worry about. More advanced creatures would simply evolve that would be better suited to the environment.

But the theory of evolution isn’t true. Since life is just “a single handshake with voracious zero” away from extinction, sooner or later (barring divine intervention) the number of living things on Earth will go to zero, and will remain zero, just as Gould says.

Pollution: Friend or Foe?

Can an evolutionist be an environmentalist? It wouldn’t make sense. Here is how we see the evolutionary position.

  • Premise 1. Evolution is good.

    Evolution is the process by which inferior species are replaced by superior species. If not for evolution, life would consist entirely of pond scum. It is evolution that caused pond scum to evolve into all the wonderful creatures alive today. Survival of the fittest has produced superior life forms by weeding out inferior ones.

  • Premise 2. Environmental pressure stimulates evolution.

    When food is abundant, and the climate is favorable, evolution doesn’t happen because every organism, no matter how inefficient it is, can survive long enough to produce offspring. It is only when times are hard that only the best survive.

    When the forests were replaced by tall grasses, those ape-like creatures that could walk upright evolved into Homo erectus. If not for that environmental change, we might all still be walking on four legs. We evolved from apes to people partly because of environmental changes.

  • Premise 3. Pollution puts environmental pressure on many species.

    Most species breathe air and drink water. Polluting the air and water makes it difficult for most species to survive.

  • Logical Conclusion: We should increase pollution to stimulate evolution.

    We should pollute the air and water as much as we can. We should let atomic power plants emit as much radiation as possible. This will kill off the weaker species, creating vacancies in ecological niches that superior species will fill. Pollution is the path to super races of creatures.

We don’t know any evolutionists who come to this conclusion, however. Why not? We’re glad you asked.

Faith in Evolution

It has been said that there is a difference in faith between a person who believes that a tight-rope walker can push a wheelbarrow across the Grand Canyon, and a person who volunteers to ride in that wheelbarrow. Evolutionists adamantly preach the three premises above. But they don’t seem to have enough faith to ride in the wheelbarrow.

We suspect that is because, although they really want to believe in evolution, they know deep down inside that it isn’t really true. They have seen how many species have gone extinct. They have never seen an entirely new species evolve. All they have seen is minor variations in size, shape, or color of existing species. Nobody has been able to breed flying monkeys, except the Wicked Witch of the West. They know that excessive pollution will bring a “silent spring”, not flocks of improved birds that can chirp Handel’s Messiah.

There are difficult moral, scientific, and political questions about how mankind should relate to the environment. We don’t want to get side-tracked on these issues. We merely want to point out that for several decades, scientists have been observing the effect of pollution on living creatures and have found that it decreases, rather than increases, the number of living species.

If evolution were true, then new species should be evolving to fill the niches left vacant by the extinct species. The high levels of modern polution should be producing "more advanced" species that have adapted to the polluted environment at unprecedented rates. We don’t see that happening today.

Yet, we are told, that mammals flourished because an environmental change wiped out the dinosaurs, giving the mammals the motivation and opportunity to evolve into a wide variety of radically different species. Extinction supposedly stimulated evolution.

That simply isn’t consistent with what we observe today. Scientific observation isn’t consistent with the theory of evolution.

There were comments about this essay from Chris and David.

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1 Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, 12/00-1/01, “I Have Landed”, Page 46 (Ev)