What has caused the diversity of life?
In most schools nowadays, the standard answer is evolution.
According to a 2009 Scientific American article, Charles Darwin, the founder of evolution, was well aware that his theory would undermine people’s faith in God. Originally a controversial hypothesis, evolutionary theory now enjoys an orthodox status in society.
According to PBS’s Evolution website, “The Darwinian theory of evolution has withstood the test of time and thousands of scientific experiments; nothing has disproved it since Darwin first proposed it more than 150 years ago.”
Really? I remember my science teacher said that, if a statement is too absolute, it is likely unscientific.
As of April 2020, more than 1,100 scientists and researchers in chemistry, biology, medicine, physics, geology, anthropology, paleontology, statistics and other fields have signed a scientific dissent from Darwinism. It reads, “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”
However, if you google “evolution,” you would not find this dissent or any other challenges to the evolution theory in at least the first 12 pages. If you are a student, evolution would be taught to you as a proven theory that is very close to, if not the truth. If you are a researcher, you would know that publishing a study challenging evolution could threaten your career. On Wikipedia, any theories about the origin of life different from evolution are labeled as “pseudoscience.”
Evolution is revered as an unquestionable faith, although it is labeled as a “science” and thus has defeated creationism or intelligent design theory again and again in the Supreme Court.
Since my children have been indoctrinated with this “faith” in school, I felt obligated to explore its veracity and the strategy used for it to reach its current status.
An Introduction to Evolution and Its Evidence
According to a UC Berkeley website, “The central idea of biological evolution is that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor, just as you and your cousins share a common grandmother.”
The “common ancestor,” or “grandmother,” mentioned here is currently considered by some scientists to be a single-celled organism that lived near the hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. From there, the diversity of life is said to have been achieved through random DNA mutations and natural selection. Many mutations are harmful, but some lucky ones might make species better suited for their environment and are thus preserved through reproduction. As this process repeats for billions of years, different species would be generated. Humankind is thus formed.
The key terms for the theory of evolution are “common ancestor,” “random DNA mutation,” and “natural selection.”
Examples of evolution shown in my younger daughter’s evolution class handout include
- One kind of Mexican tetra fish that lost its eyesight and silver color due to living in dark caves
- Bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics
- Moths changing color due to changes in their habitat
The claimed evidence for evolution includes fossil records and the similarities among all life.
However, do examples of environment-adapting changes within a species prove that evolution takes place from one species to another? Do all fossil discoveries support evolution? Do similarities definitely indicate a common ancestor?
Similarities as Proof of a Common Ancestor
One of the main points of the common ancestor argument is the similarities of certain anatomical features, embryos, and molecular mechanisms among all life.
Darwin pointed out that the forelimbs of humans and many animals have similar bone structures, although the forelimbs are used for different purposes. Biochemistry has also found that almost all living things share a similar genetic code and mechanisms for transforming energy and building proteins.
However, do similarities definitely indicate a common ancestor?
There is a logical loophole here. It is true that, if all species were evolved from a common ancestor, they would share some similar structures and mechanisms. However, it is not necessarily true if we say it the other way around: if all species share similar structures and mechanisms, they must be evolved from a common ancestor.
For example, we can say, if James is John’s older brother, James must be older than John. However, the reverse statement is not necessarily true: If James is older than John, James must be John’s older brother.
Same idea. If all species share similar structures and mechanisms, they could be evolved from a common ancestor. But there are other possibilities. For example, if all species were designed by a “designer,” they can share similar structures and mechanisms, too. Imagine a fashion designer who designed a collection of garments and accessories. All the items in the collection will embody the same style and have common technical details.
One thing I wish to point out is the so-called similarity of early embryos of different species. This belief stemmed from an embryo illustration by German biologist Ernst Haeckel in 1874. Haeckel’s drawing has been widely reproduced in textbooks and articles as a proof of Darwinism. However, it is now considered by some to be “one of the most famous fakes in biology.”
Michael Richardson is an embryologist at St. George’s Hospital Medical School in London. After examining the early embryo specimens of more than forty different animals and those of humans, Richardson published a research paper with six other authors in the journal Anatomy and Embryology in 1997, showing that Haeckel had arbitrarily added or omitted features of the embryos of different species and falsified the relative scale of some in order to exaggerate their similarity. He wrote:
“Our survey seriously undermines the credibility of Haeckel’s drawings, which depict not a conserved stage for vertebrates, but a stylized amniote embryo. An interesting perspective was provided by Goldschmidt (1956) [in “The Golden Age of Zoology: Portraits from Memory,” by Richard Benedict Goldschmidt]:
” ‘… Haeckel’s easy hand at drawing made him improve on nature and put more into the illustrations than he saw … one had the impression that he first made a sketch from nature and then drew an ideal picture as he saw it in his mind.’ ”
According to a 1997 article published in Science magazine introducing Richardson’s findings, Haeckel’s peers in Germany a century before “got Haeckel to admit that he relied on memory and used artistic license in preparing his drawings.” However, “Haeckel’s confession got lost after his drawings were subsequently used in a 1901 book called ‘Darwin and After Darwin’ and reproduced widely in English-language biology texts.”
What Can and Cannot Be Achieved by DNA Mutation?
Some examples provided in my daughter’s school handout have been found to be caused by DNA mutations, like the eyeless Mexican tetra fish, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the moths’ color change. However, with mutation, a fish is still a fish, a bacterium is still a bacterium, and a moth is still a moth, just like a person with tattoos or sunglasses is still a person.
How far can DNA mutations go? Can they accomplish the jump from one species to another? Dr. Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University, has written excellent books on this topic.
In his 2008 book “The Edge of Evolution,” Behe used an analogy to describe the limitation of DNA mutations: jumping over a ditch 4 feet wide does not predict that you will be able to jump over a ditch 40 feet wide or a canyon 100 feet wide.
Behe further explained the science about mutation in plain English. Mutations, or uncorrected mistakes that occur when DNA is copied, are rare. “On average, a mistake is made only once for every hundred million or so nucleotides of DNA copied in a generation.” If more mutations need to be made in order to achieve a variation, the chance of getting this variation will decrease exponentially. Imagine, when playing the lottery, the difference in the odds of matching one number versus matching two numbers.
On the other hand, the larger the population of an organism, the shorter time it takes for mutations to occur. Think about the chances of someone winning the jackpot with only ten people playing the Powerball lottery versus one million people playing. In that sense, it is much easier to achieve mutations by bacteria (ten thousand trillion trillion trillion, or 10^40 bacterial cells in the history of life on earth) than primates (one trillion, or 10^12 primates in the line leading to modern humans in the past ten million years according to evolution theory).
Behe used scientists’ persistent fight with malaria as an example. P. falciparum is a deadly single-cell parasite that causes malaria. Over the decades, various medicines have been developed to kill them. However, the parasites can develop resistance to drugs via amino acid changes resulting from certain DNA mutations. The resistance to the drug atovaquone can be developed within a few weeks, but the resistance to chloroquine was developed much more slowly. It took P. falciparum a few decades to fully defeat chloroquine.
The big difference is caused by the different number of amino acid changes needed to develop resistance. For atovaquone, a single-point mutation (one amino acid change) is needed. For chloroquine, a double-point mutation (two amino acid changes) is required.
Although the chance for P. falciparum to make the double-point mutation for chloroquine resistance is only 1 in 10^20, the huge population of P. falciparum organisms—10^20 born each year—makes it possible. However, it is much more difficult for primates to achieve the same mutation complexity because their population size is much smaller. The number of primates in the past ten million years is 0.000001% of P. falciparum’s population in a single year.
Behe concludes, “On average, for humans to achieve a mutation like this by chance, we would need to wait a hundred million times ten million years. Since that is many times the age of the universe, it’s reasonable to conclude the following: No mutation that is of the same complexity as chloroquine resistance in malaria arose by Darwinian evolution in the line leading to humans in the past ten million years .” [emphasis in original]
Keep in mind that the odds we were discussing are for the chance of only two specific amino acid changes. How many amino acid changes are actually needed to “evolve” from ape-men to humans?
A research paper published in the journal “Molecular Biology and Evolution” in 2004 estimated that the divergence of humans and chimpanzees occurred 4–6 million years ago. Since then, there have been 147 amino acid changes that contribute to human-specific characteristics.
If two amino acid changes for ape-men are not achievable within the history of the universe through random mutations, it is impossible for 147 changes to occur that way.
From HIV to the Edge of Evolution
In “The Edge of Evolution,” Behe examined an extreme case, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), to explore the edge of evolution. It is the simplest form of life and can mutate ten thousand times faster than cells. “HIV mutates at the evolutionary speed limit—Darwinian evolution just can’t go any faster.”
For the malarial organism P. falciparum to achieve a double-point mutation for chloroquine resistance, the odds are only once per year worldwide, but for HIV, it occurs once a day in every AIDS patient. Since it was found in human body a few decades ago, HIV “has undergone more of at least some kinds of mutations than all cells have experienced since the beginning of the world.”
In other words, like pressing a fast-forward button, what has happened to HIV in the past few decades gives us a glimpse of what can happen to larger organisms over the past hundreds of millions of years through random mutations.
However, studies have showed that “there have been no significant basic biochemical changes in the [HIV] virus at all” since it was discovered in humans decades ago. Mutating or not, the virus always binds to the same protein in the patient’s immune system. Billions of billions of mutations play the same trick: changing the shape of its proteins so that drugs cannot stick to and destroy the virus.
The study of malarial organisms and E. coli bacteria yielded the same observations.
Behe has confidence that “the results we have in hand for malaria and HIV are broadly representative of what is possible for all organisms” because “to a remarkable degree all of life uses very similar cellular machinery.”
Modern biochemistry has revealed life’s secrets on a molecular level that could not have been imagined by Darwin and his contemporaries. Instead of a “simple little lump of albuminous combination of carbon” as deemed by Ernst Haeckel, the cell is a complex and coherent “factory” with intricate structures and amazing coordination among its functional units.
In “Darwin’s Black Box,” a 2006 book by Dr. Behe, he described some fascinating mechanisms of cilia that line the respiratory tract, the blood-clotting process that helps a cut finger heal, and flagella of bacteria. Microscopically, these mechanisms are no simpler than any modern machinery or industrial plant.
Evolution is said to be the basis of modern biology, but according to Behe, “If you search the scientific literature on evolution, and if you focus your search on the question of how molecular machines—the basis of life—developed, you find an eerie and complete silence. The complexity of life’s foundation has paralyzed science’s attempt to account for it; molecular machines raise an as-yet-impenetrable barrier to Darwinism’s universal reach.”
Indeed, if you cannot expect nature to assemble a bunch of parts by itself into a watch, then these “irreducibly complex” systems cannot be achieved without the involvement of intelligence.
As for what evolution can and cannot do, Behe wrote:
“The eminent geneticist François Jacob famously wrote that Darwinian evolution is a ‘tinkerer, not an engineer.’ He’s exactly right. Tinkering means looking for quick fixes, features that work for the moment—incoherent, patchwork change, doctoring machines with chewing gum and duct tape, stopping an invader by burning a bridge or breaking a lock, ‘improving’ a text by typing disjointed changes to words, letters, paragraphs, and chapters. If Darwinism is a tinkerer, then it cannot be expected to produce coherent features where a number of separate parts act together for a clear purpose, involving more than several components.
“The major architectural features of life—molecular machinery, cells, genetic circuitry, and probably more—are purposely designed. But the architectural constraints leave spandrels [triangular corner areas between structures] that can be filled with Darwinian adaptations.”
Fossils: Show or No Show?
Do all fossils support evolution? No.
However, not all fossils are treated equally. Those thought to support evolution got promoted without much scrutiny; those contradicting the theory were suppressed and denigrated. Sometimes, fossils were forged or pieced together from different species.
The 1993 book “Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race” by Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson gives a meticulous examination of the fossil records for and against human evolution.
Due to space limitations, the focus here will be on the fossils of the “missing link,” or ape-men, between ancient apes and modern humans. They are widely considered to be “a crucial proof of the correctness of the theory of human evolution.”
Since the 19th century, several fossils have been considered to be the “missing link.” The most famous ones are Lucy in East Africa, Java Man in Indonesia, and Beijing (Peking) Man in China.
The assertive tone of teachers and the vivid skeletal reconstructions in museums have convinced students that the “missing link” has been found. Few, however, realized how fragmented the fossils are and how divided scientists are.
Lucy is thought to have a chimpanzee-sized brain, but walked upright. She is important because she could be the evolutionary evidence showing how human ancestors walked before their brains reached the size of those of modern human brains. However, some scientists do not agree that Lucy walked on two legs. Instead, they believe Lucy was apelike, dangling from trees with her powerful arms. A 1983 New York Times article detailed the fervent argument between scientists. Lucy could just be an ape, making her status as the “missing link” questionable.
The controversies surrounding Java Man and Beijing Man are also documented in “Forbidden Archeology.” When the Java Man was excavated in the 1890’s, only a skull cap, a tooth, and a thigh bone were found. In fact, the thigh bone was found a year later, 45 feet away. The discoverer, Eugène Dubois, believed that these three bones were from a chimpanzee. But after communicating with Ernest Haeckel, he was convinced that it was a “missing link.”
In 1895, when Dubois exhibited his findings in Europe, he got mixed feedback from scientific circles. Some supported the “missing link” claim, some thought it was a human, some thought it was an ape, and some doubted whether the thigh bone had any relationship with the skull cap and the tooth. This controversy continued for decades.
In the 1930s, Dutch researcher von Koenigswald, who continued excavating in Java, got a grant from the Carnegie Institution. According to the book “Forbidden Archeology,” evolution was one of the Carnegie Institution’s most important areas of interest because they were central to influencing philosophy and beliefs of mankind. Von Koenigswald constructed a skull from thirty fragments he had collected and bought from natives and sent it to Dubois.
By then, Dubois had concluded that Java Man was the remains of a gibbon, a species of apes unrelated to humans. He disapproved of von Koenigswald’s skull and accused him of falsification. However, Dubois’s opinion was no longer taken seriously. With the growing clout of evolution, both Java Man and von Koenigswald’s skull were revered as the forerunners of mankind.
Beijing Man’s excavation in Zhoukoudian, China, in the 1920s was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. By 1927, with only three teeth found, the discovery of a new human ancestor was announced. Although the declaration was criticized by some scientists because of the lack of evidence, funding for the excavation and promotion continued.
Skulls and other fragments were later found in Zhoukoudian, together with traces of fire use and a collection of stone and bone tools showing a “mastery of rather complex methods of manufacture.” Many scientists doubted that “Beijing Man,” with such small brain, could produce the fine tools and make fire. It could be “simply an apelike being who was hunted for food by Homo sapiens [humans].”
Probably all “missing links” were met with great challenges. Some were found to be mistakes or hoaxes. For example, Nebraska Man was considered to be “the first higher primate of North America” based on a single tooth found in Nebraska in 1917. Later, the tooth was proven to belong to an extinct pig.
Piltdown Man, a claimed “missing link” found in the UK in 1912, was determined forty years later to be a forgery made up of altered bones from an orangutan and a modern human. BBC called it “Britain’s Greatest Hoax.” However, before the forgery was exposed, along with the over-hyped Java Man and Beijing Man, Piltdown Man had shaped public opinion into accepting evolution as a plausible theory.
From a Controversial Hypothesis to an Orthodoxy
The 1989 book “Eugène Dubois and the Ape-Man from Java” by L.T. Theunissen describes the initial controversies surrounding evolution.
British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was the co-author of the evolution theory. He, however, disagreed with Darwin about human evolution. He did not believe the human mind can be developed by natural selection. In his late years, he believed that the origination of humankind was “guided by a superior, purposeful force or power.”
While many biologists and anthropologists in the late 19th century were cautious about evolution and viewed it as a hypothesis that needed to be tested, some materialists promoted it fervently in order to yank religion out of society and prove that humans are just another kind of animal. This included Thomas H. Huxley (an English biologist nicknamed Darwin’s Bulldog), Ernst Haeckel, and Carl Vogt (a German zoologist who despised religion). After decades of heated debates, the materialists gained an upper hand after 1880. This may have been caused by the pro-socialist trends at the time.
Apparently, evolution theory was a gift to the budding communists and socialists at the turn of the 20th century. They pushed it on all fronts with the support of famous foundations. The highly publicized Scopes Monkey Trial in the United States in 1925 was a case financed by the leftist American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to challenge a Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of human evolution in public schools. The fraudulent Piltdown Man was used as evidence for human evolution. Although the evolutionists lost the trial, its true purpose as a publicity stunt was achieved. The conflict between evolution and religion was placed at the center of society.
Public opinion gradually shifted towards evolution due to relentless promotion. In 1968, the United States Supreme Court revoked an Arkansas law that prohibited the teaching of human evolution in public schools. Furthermore, in 1987, the Supreme Court ruled against a Louisiana law that required teaching creationism if human evolution was taught in public schools.
In the end, the hypothesis became orthodoxy. As genetics and biochemistry develop in recent decades, many of Darwin’s original statements do not hold up, but its core is tightly embraced by many—God or a creator had no role in the origin of mankind.
Due to evolution, fewer and fewer people truly believe in God. Many consider animal instincts as the deepest human nature, and indulge their desires without moral restraint. They have lost their humbleness and think they can be the rulemakers of the universe. To them, anything that “feels good” is right. Why can’t two plus two equal five? Why can’t a man be a woman? Why can’t some people rob or set a fire if they want to?
A Word for My Children
As I share with my children what I have learned about evolution, I hope they understand that science does not necessarily equal truth. Science is limited. It is supposed to be a sincere pursuit of truth. But now, some aspects of it have degenerated into a servant of political correctness or a weapon of attack on religious beliefs.
How much do we humans really know about the vastness of the universe and the wonders of life? Knowledge at the molecular level has already wowed the scientists and overturned the perceptions of Darwin and his peers. What would we find if we could somehow observe everything at the atomic level? How can we be so sure that God or other higher beings do not exist simply because we can’t see them or detect them with current science?
Humility would keep us on the right track.
Jean Chen is originally from China, and writes under a pen name in order to protect her family still inside China.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.