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Comprehensive Critique of Neo-Darwinian Theory

V4wic0sHGB8CCharles Darwin published his theory in a literature titled ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’. For the sixth edition of 1872, the short title was changed to ‘The Origin of Species’. Darwin’s book introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection.

Neo-Darwinism postulates that natural selection acts on the heritable (genetic) variations within individuals in populations and that mutations (especially random copying errors in DNA) provide the main source of these genetic variations.

In my past many articles I have shown that although evolution does occur and that Natural selection is an actual scientific phenomenon, the Neo-darwinian mechanism fails to account for all complexity we see in life.

I recently came across a new book, Darwin’s Doubt,  Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer. This book, I feel, sums up the most basic problem with the Neo-Darwin Theory. As  Dr. Wolf-Ekkehard Lonnig, senior scientist emeritus (biologist) at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research puts it “Darwin’s Doubt is by far the most up-to-date, accurate, and comprehensive review of the evidence from all relevant scientific fields that I have encountered in more than forty years of studying the Cambrian explosion.”

The book starts with the doubt Darwin himself had about his theory and what has become of it. The main argument presented in the book is regarding the Origin of Biological form and structure.  How do we explain, how organisms get built? This, he says, is the central mystery facing evolution thought. How would the evolutionary process construct organisms of such exquisite, integrated complexity? That question has been made more acute in the second half of the twentieth century, and in the begging of our new century, by what is in sense an information revolution. In 1953 Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA. Later on Francis Crick gave the “sequence hypothesis” according to which the chemical constituents in DNA function like letters in a written language or symbols in a computer code. The DNA molecule is storing function in a digital form. On the inside of the molecule there are 4 chemicals called bases or nucleotide bases. These characters function like like letters in a written language or digital characters in a machine  code, that is to say that it is the precise arrangement of these bases that allows the DNA molecule to both store and transmit information.

Thus the arrngement of the chemical’s represented by A C G & T dictate instructions for arranging constituent parts of protiens called Amino Acids.

The shape of the protein determines its functions. These shapes of protiens are detrmined in large part by Interactions between each of these amino acids. Each Amino acid has side chains. The interactions between the side chains set constellations of forces that causes different shapes to form.

How does that shape arise? The shape arises from the specifity of Amino acids, which inturns is derived by the specific arrangement, the digital code stored along the DNA molecule.

Now a question arises, if you want to give your computer a new function, what do you have to give it? Information, code, software. It turns out that the exact same thing is true in life. If you want to produce life in first place, from simpler non-living chemicals, you need DNA moleclues that are full of information that have the instructions for building the hundreds of different protiens that even the simplest cells need to stay alive.

If you want to build a new form of life from a simpler pre-existing form, you also need new information. For example,  in case of the Cambrian explosion or the mammalian radiation or other big events in the history of life you need quantum jumps in the amount of information. To build a trilobite or an arthopad, you need lots and lots of new code because all these new forms of animal lives have multiple new types of cells. In the Cambrian period new fishes arose. In pre-campbrian period there were organisms of much less complexity. There is a jump in the number of cell types.

Every type of cell requires specific dedicated proteins to service it. For example, gut cell require digestive enzymes. So to explain the origin of all that new structure, you need new cell types which require new protiens, which again requires new code, new information. That’s the central question of modern biology.

Why is the natural selection and random mutation inadequate to do that? The information stored in DNA is digital in character. We know something about digital information. If you have a section of computer code and you start to change zeros and ones randomly, because that’s what mutations are, random mistakes in copying, are you more likely to produce a new functional computer program or degrade the information in the existing program. The answer is degrade.  The reason is the following.

It turns out in all information bearing systems there are vastly more reasons for going wrong than going right. Vastly more ways of arranging characters that will give you gibberish than there are ways that will perform a function. We know this from lots of examples. Meyer gives the example of  a Combination Lock. It is a combinatorial system. The combination is information rich system that performs a function. But there are lots more ways to spin the dial that wont open the lock than the ones that will.

So if we are relying on random mutations to generate a functional outcome, there are some things we need to know as to whether or not that would be plausible. One is, how vast are the possible combinations that have to be searched. If you have a lock with 4 dials and theif starts fideling with the dials, its conceivable, if you have a couple of days that you will actually crack the code. There are 10000 ways of arranging those digits. eventually, you may crack it by chance. But what if you had a lock with 10 dials with 10 digits. we now have 1010 Combinations. Suppose a security guard comes around in every 5 minutes. Then is it more likely than not, or less likely than not that you are going to succeed in opening the lock? Its overwhelmingly less likely, because there are so many combinations to be searched and the one you are looking for is so rare in relation to the combinations.

That essentially is the problem mutation and natural selection are confronting.

Douglas Axe, molecular biologist, spent fourteen years in Cambridge University researching a very important question, i.e. How common (or rare) are functional arrangements in the DNA and in the Protein molecules in comparison to all the other ways of arranging. His findings show that for every arrangement of amino acids in a protein that will allow it to perform a function, there are 1077 possible ways that will not perform a function. So if think of it just conceptually, its like a lock with 77 dials and 10 digits on each.

Now that is such an enormous number that it turns out to be small even in relation to  the time available even in the whole history of life on earth. For there are couple of things that we need to know. First, how big is the combinatorial space? How many combinations are there? Secondly, how much time do you have? and is the time you have in relation to the number of possibilities small or large? It turns out that there have been only 1040 Organisms in the History of Life. On a very generous assumption that every time you have a reproductive event you get a brand new gene searching sections of DNA, you still only search a very tiny fraction of the total possibilities, 1040 over 1077 , that’s like one big combination lock and very little time to search. That’s essentially the Situation that mutations, selection are facing with respect to building even a single gene in the known history of life on earth. There is a huge information problem in neo-darwinism. The neo-darwinian mechanism is not a plausible mechanism for building even a new gene or protein. It cant account for any of the higher structures either. Yet, there we also have problems.

One of the exciting things that have been discovered in recent years is that we just don’t have genes, we have network of genes inside cells that are functioning like integrated circuits. There are genes that turn on other genes, which turn on other genes, and so on, all in a tightly choreographed way. These network of integrated genes being expressed in different times are crucial to coordinate the development of animals from embryo to adult. They are crucial in differentiating one type of cell from another. Here is a problem. Scientists who have marked out these circuits of genes have performed experiments on the core parts of these circuits. they have found that if you mutate or cause a change to any of these genes, the whole network breaks down, and the animal ceases to develop properly.  These are called Developmental Genes Regulatory Networks.

Here is a huge problem. You want to build a new animal form from pre-existing animal form, you have got to change the genetic circuitry.  But you can not change the genetic circuitry without destroying animal development and stopping evolution. This raises the question, how do you get from one animal form to another animal form?

Then there is another closely related problem. Neo-Darwinism says that natural selection, acts on random mutations, but it turns out that all mutations are not equal. If you want to build a new body plan, and a body plan is a unique arrangement of body parts and tissues, you have got to have mutations that occur early in the development of an animal. Why? When cell divide they increase the number geometrically. Two, four, eight, sixteen, and so forth. So if you want to have a change that effects the whole architecture of an animal, it got to happen early, so that it gets into the system and works its way through all the cells. But it turns out that when scientists have done experiments on those types of mutations, they have a problem, called the problem of embryonic lethal. If you mutate the DNA in a developing animal, in the early stages of cell development, invariably, again and again, every thing shuts down  and you have the death of the animal. Why? well it turns out that the mutations that occur early effect everything and they then  maybe helps some things in a beneficial way, but deleterious to everything else.  So the very kind of mutation we would need to produce fundamentally new forms of life never happen because we would need early acting, developmental, body plan mutations. Mutations that effect the whole architecture of the animal. Those are the very mutations that are harmful. There are other later mutations that occur later in development that can be passed on and maybe beneficial but only in a minor sense. They don’t effect the major structures of the animals.

So another huge problem for Neo-Darwinism.

There is one more problem. Building an animal requires more than just genetic information. Today Biologists are talking about information that is stored at higher levels in biological systems. We have information stored in genes but also information stored in cell membranes, in the architecture of the interior of the cells called cytoskeleton,  in the sugar molecules on the outside of cell membranes. An organism is a hierarchically organised system of information and information processing. Now here is a problem. According to Neo-Darwinism, all the new information we need is conveyed in mutations in the DNA. But DNA in the best of cases, even if you overcome those long odds we discussed, only codes for building of new proteins. But proteins need to be organised into different cell types. Different cell types need to be organised in the more complex tissues. Different tissues need to be organised into different organs. Organs and tissues need to be organised into new body plans to make things like the trilobite or a dinosaur or a mammal. So DNA is in effect providing information for building the low level parts only. What that means is that you can mutate the DNA indefinitely without respect to those long odds. Then also in the best of cases all you get is a new protein. The new proteins themselves are not enough to build these high level structures. They got to be organised too and other sources of information are necessary to do that. What this means is that the Neo-Darwin mechanism of natural selection acting on random mutations is not adequate to build new animals. So instead what you have is an information hierarchy.

With this inadequacy of neo-Darwinian theory to provide an explanation to the origin of new biological forms and structures surfacing the peer reviewed scientific literature, many scientists are calling for a new theory of evolution. Thus many new theories have come up. Dr. Meyer discusses these in his book and shows that while these theories have certain advantages over the neo-darwinian theory, they too fail to account for the origin of new information to build new forms of animal life. There are infact self organisational processes but they only work once you have both genetic and epigenetic information. So they just push the problem back.

So how does new Biological from and structure arise? Dr. Meyer shows that Intelligence does what blind materialistic natural process cannot. We know  from our day to day experience as well as experimental evidence, that Intelligence has the capability to produce complex specified information. The information on a computer screen can be traced back to a user or programmer. The information in a book ultimately came from a writer-from a mental, rather than a strictly material, cause.

We also know from experience that Intelligence has the capacity to arrange information on hierarchical level, for example, electrical components that are made by machine instructions. They are placed on circuit boards, which requires additional information, and finally computers and computer network.

This connection between information and prior intelligence enables us to detect or infer intelligent activity even from unobservable sources in the distant past. As Pioneering information theorist Henry Quastler observed, “information habitually arises from conscious activity.”

Using the scientific methodology of inference to best explanation, it leads us to a conclusion that an Intelligent Being has been responsible for origin of new forms and structures in the history of life.

In the book, Dr. Meyer gives a detailed explanation about the scientific validity of his argument and how many scientists, including Darwin himself followed the same scientific methodology. The book is very well written and is a must read for all those who are interested in this topic.


About Kashif Zuberi

Student of Knowledge

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