BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON EVOLUTION
What is the most basic argument for creation? There are many areas of evidence, but those in the basic "hard" sciences are the most reliable and unequivocal. Mathematics and Physics, in their treatment of probabilities and thermodynamics, are the unbiased officials who blow the whistle on evolution. Because the structures of many molecular components of living systems are known, it can be mathematically determined what the probability would be of their coming together from a "soup" of their component parts.
Living cells consist mostly of protein molecules. These are long chains of amino acids, which become arranged into a folded or globular structure with a distinctive shape and distribution of electrical charges and sites for molecular bonds. The shape and other characteristics are determined by the sequence of amino acids that make it up. Those characteristics then determine what that molecule will do when placed in contact with other molecules. And what proteins do, in general, is to catalyze chemical reactions, by bringing together the necessary substrates and/or transferring energy to them.
Everything that is done by a living cell is done by or with a substantial contribution from protein molecules. That means the muscles you are using to guide your eyes across the seemingly endless lines of this letter, the processing of the patterns of light and dark into intermittent signals to the occipital cortex of your brain, the uncoding of those signals and recognition of words, thoughts and concepts as well as the immediate storage of that information in short term memory later to be reprocessed without conscious intervention into long term memory, not to mention the immediate retrieval on receiving this information of related existing long term memory...(got all that on your short term?) all this is being done by molecules bouncing around and reacting with each other in a manner modulated by protein molecules.
While this is going on, hundreds and even thousands of other processes are being carried out automatically by other parts of the body, such as digesting and transporting nutrients from the intestinal tract, pumping blood and maintaining a stable blood pressure (of course these autonomic functions may be influenced by chemical mediators from the areas of the brain not directly concerned with their function but dealing with the intellectual tasks at hand such that brief waves of nausea may relate to the atrocious grammar and style, and temporary elevations of blood pressure may accompany encounters with distasteful conclusions). All the while, the white blood cells continually monitor every accessible surface in the body, comparing its topography with the master files of all "self" variants and loosing a barrage of destructive but carefully modulated chemical and cellular attacks on anything that does not pass the inspection.
All these complex processes require a fantastic array of macromolecules integrated structurally and controlled by an intricate system of feedback mechanisms and yet it must all function automatically, without a "little man" sitting somewhere pushing buttons. The various protein molecules, if the sequence of their 100 to 10,000 amino acids is altered by omission, addition, or substitution, the functions of those proteins may be changed or even destroyed, depending on the position on the molecule and the specific change that is made.
For example, Sickle cell anemia, a serious and potentially fatal defect of hemoglobin is due to the substitution of one amino acid on the large protein complex that happens to be at a particularly critical location. In contrast, mistakes at some other locations may make no measurable difference in the function of the protein, but in general, careful duplication of the active structure is necessary to put together a functioning organism. In a similar vein, there are a lot more wrong than right ways to put together a functioning radio from a box of components.
In living things, for the most part, the information regarding the correct sequence of amino acids for all proteins manufactured by that organism is kept in coded form in the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). The long chains of DNA look like a spiral staircase with the rungs made up of nucleic acids of 4 different kinds, adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine. They are of such a nature that adenine attracts thymine and cytosine attracts guanine. The rungs of the "staircase" are constructed of one or the other of these pairs, turned one way or the other. Thus if you walked up the right side of the staircase, you would be stepping on a seemingly random sequence of four different nucleotides. On the other side of the staircase would be the exact compliment of the nucleotide on your side, such that if it were split down the middle (as happens in cell division) each side would attract its compliment and reconstruct, barring mistakes, the structure of the whole.
The code of the DNA consists of three letter words constructed from an alphabet of four letters. Three "steps" of one side of the "spiral staircase" (the other side simply being the template used for copying purposes) is the code for an amino acid. Since there are 43 or 64 possible combinations and only 20 amino acids (of the possible hundreds or thousands) there are apparently more than one code for any one amino acid. Other codes of the DNA say things like "start here," "stop here" and serve as chemical locks that will open up the contained information only at the proper time, when activated by the appropriate chemical mediator.
This is particularly important when you remember that the DNA of every cell in your body contains all the information for building and operating every cell and organ. Thus, if the code for growing arms were activated when, for example, some white blood cells had detected a foreign invader and wanted to activate the production of endogenous pyrogen, the substance responsible for setting up the body thermostat in developing a fever, then as you felt the effects of getting sick, you may not only have a pounding headache, you may have a cute little embryonic fist pounding the midbrain. The retrieval of appropriate information from the DNA to read out the code for a protein sequence must be in response to a chemical mediator, a molecule made by some cell or cells in response to some other event.
To put it simply, you cannot put it simply. The system is incredibly complex and interrelated. The protein molecules are made according to the code on the DNA which has to be "unzipped" in just the right location when that particular protein is needed, through the aid of a properly activated protein molecule that only "unzips" that particular location. The information is then recorded on a strand of RNA, identical to DNA except for the substitution of uracil for thymine. This is messenger RNA which floats out away from the DNA and then attracts transfer RNA, triplets of nucleotides corresponding to the codes for amino acids, with the appropriate amino acids hooked on to the other end. When stretched onto a ribosome, the protein is lined up, linked together and folded into the three dimensional structure it was intended to have. Once made, the protein will start to catalyze the chemical reactions it was manufactured for. It will keep on doing just that, without the vaguest suggestion of good sense, as long as it exists. If the organism needs to turn it off, it must come up with a method for inactivating or even destroying it, also by means of a feedback mechanism opening the coded information on an appropriate area of DNA.
To have life, the minimum functioning cell must be present, combining a set of proteins with their corresponding DNA, all organized with the proper feedback systems to perform the minimum number of tasks to maintain its own internal environment, gather energy from the outside, repair various sorts of minor damage and reproduce itself. It has been said that the theoretically simplest cell would have to have 230 different protein molecules with their controlling DNA, organized into an appropriate spatial relationship to function. The proteins would range from over a hundred to perhaps several thousand amino acids in size. How could this come about by chance? It could begin with the protein or with the DNA. Since the DNA would not be useful without the protein and RNA facilitators, it would be most direct to start with the protein. Of course, it is the DNA that has the mechanism for self duplication. But let us look at just one protein molecule, as an example. What would it take to organize it by chance?
Amino acids are relatively simple molecules that do occur outside of living systems. It could be envisioned that the primitive earth had an abundance of them, especially in a "reducing atmosphere" of ammonia, methane and very little oxygen. Now, we can ignore for the time being that there is no geological evidence for such an atmosphere ever existing. It was a "logical necessity," not an observed fact. (This introduces the topic of blind faith in evolutionary science, not only faith, but faith unsupported by any evidence but only by the assumption that evolution must be true.) We also can ignore the fact that the amino acids would be mostly the simplest ones with almost none of the more complex ones utilized by living systems. We will also ignore the fact that the amino acids would exist as a racemic mixture of "d" and "l" isomers (right and left handed forms) rather than all "l" as incorporated in living systems.
What would be the probability of a soup of amino acids organizing themselves into the 230 different proteins necessary for that first living cell? Let's instead consider the probability of forming only one very small protein. Consider a 100 unit protein and consider that the soup out of which it is to be formed is made up of large numbers of each of the "l" form of the 20 amino acids necessary for the protein. The only task is to string them in the proper sequence to form the active enzyme, a protein capable of doing what it is supposed to do. We can even assume that forming them into a string of 100 would be no big problem although in fact, a string could grow only if energy were used to tack on another amino acid and that same energy would be much more efficient at knocking the chain apart. But forget all that and only consider the well established laws of probability to produce by accident a predetermined pattern. It is analogous to the accidental typing of a meaningful sentence with no errors. Perhaps this entire article could serve as a qualitative example but let me try to be more quantitative.
Consider a typewriter with 20 keys including the punctuation and space. What is the probability of typing, by accident, the following: NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN TO COME TO THE AID OF THE PARTY...TO COME TO THE AID OF THE PARTY. This happens to be 100 characters long using 20 different characters. Striking a key at random, which would be equivalent to taking a letter at random from a bowl of alphabet soup or grabbing an amino acid from the special recipe primeval soup I have described above, if the ratio of the choices is equal in the soups and there is one each of the character keys on the modified typewriter, the chance of getting the correct choice in the first position on the first try is 1/20. On the average, 20 tries would have to be made before you would be likely to get it. Of course, you might get lucky right off the bat, then again, you might have a long string of bad luck. Having struck the first key correctly, the chance of striking the second correctly is also 1/20 so that the chance of sequentially striking the first two correctly is 1/20 x 1/20 or 1/400. The chance of striking the first three is then 1/20 x 1/20 x 1/20 or (1/20)3 or 20-3 or 1/8,000. So, on the average we would have 7,999 scraps of paper on the floor before we see one that correctly spells "NOW." (Suddenly I don't feel so ashamed of my typing.) To get the entire phrase would require on the order of 20100 trials which is 10130. Now we certainly are not yet asking monkeys to write the complete works of Shakespeare or amino acids to form a living cell. We are asking considerably less than that, yet the chance of success is incredibly small.
What kind of a number is 10130? It is estimated that there are 1047 molecules of water in all the oceans of the earth. Let's suppose that the primitive ocean contained, not a few parts per million of amino acids, rather that every molecule of water was replaced by an amino acid. Let's suppose that they all try for 30 billion years (1018 SECONDS) at one try per second to put themselves together into a chain 100 units long. After 30 billion years, how many combinations have been tried? It would be 1047 + 18 - 2 or 1063. The -2 is because each combination is 100 or 102 amino acids, so each second it is 1047 - 2 combinations that are being tried.
Are we anywhere near getting lucky? Only 1/1067 of the possible combinations have even been tried. We have already used up more than the allotted time of the earth's existence and do not even have the smallest protein of the simplest possible cell. There is no time for it to evolve into the myriads of species living today, with such intricate adaptations as flight and navigation systems of birds, sonar of bats and porpoises, not to mention the incredible capacity for data processing in the human brain. To get in the ballpark for even getting that simple protein, with all the concessions made for the sake of argument, concessions that would not be made in the real situation, there would have to be 1047 earths (the same as transforming each molecule of water in the oceans into an earth) each with an ocean like ours, each molecule of each of those oceans exchanged for an amino acid. Then let each amino acid try with 99 of its neighbors 1020 times per second to come up with the winning combination. If this could be arranged under these conditions, there is a good chance that somewhere in the universe one group would raise their hands and say "Bingo" once in the 30 billion years. Of course, the poor thing would fall apart waiting for all the other components of a living cell to come along, organize themselves and afford the protection that every macromolecule needs to avoid the destructive forces about it. Unfortunately, also, for this scenario, the matter of the universe has already been exhausted before the cast is complete. There are about 1080 atoms in the universe. Even if it is 10 billion times bigger and there are 1090 atoms, the above described protocol requires 1047 + 47 or 1094 amino acids.
Well, you must be saying, the evolutionist certainly cannot have missed such a simple point. There has to be an answer! If there is, I have not heard it. What I have heard is a lot of squirming. For example, one prominent geneticist said, "Those arguments don't impress me." It's as if one claims to not be impressed by a Mack truck about to run over him. Another answer is that if infinity is the numerator, it doesn't matter what the denominator is. The problem there is that we do not have an infinite universe. What one would have to propose is that there be an infinite number of universes and this is the one that just keeps rolling sevens. Behold another leap of blind faith to solve a logical problem. Yet another is to try to bargain down the odds, for instance by figuring all the "non-essential" positions on various protein molecules, the figuring that one combination might succeed in forming some other essential protein while being counted as trying for this one. All in all, this approach fails to comprehend the magnitude of the problem, like to connect 6 billion brain cells, each one a mini computer, in a way that can coordinate the writing or playing of a symphony, the pinnacle of athletic achievement or the communication of complex information or the conception of new ideas.
Kitcher, in his book Abusing Science, appears to have a sophisticated answer to the randomness problem. He separates "apparently random" processes from those which are "irreducibly random." The difference is that the ones that are apparently random are actually governed by natural laws so that if one knew in detail the initial state of the matter, one could predict what event would take place. His example is of a coin being flipped. If the position, amount of force used in flipping the coin, the direction of the force and its placement on the coin, the coin's mass, the air resistance, the elasticity of the surface on which it might bounce and all other relevant parameters were known, the outcome could be predicted. The process is not random since it can be described.
Excuse me for being disrespectful, but since Dr. Kitcher begins that section of his book saying, "I shall begin by disarming this weapon of obfuscation," I cannot let his distinction pass without saying that he is either deluded or deliberately deceptive. Of course the toss of the coin can be described by natural laws. The outcome will still be 50/50. That is an experimental fact of science. Only if some incredibly clever and dexterous coin flipper learns to control the various parameters does the coin start coming up anything but a random mix. By going on to say that some processes are deterministic, some probabilistic and others chaotic, Kitcher has given the illusion that something profound lurks behind his words. Yet the plain fact is that all real processes that can be examined show the effects of chance. You may be able to predict which water molecule will be the first to leave the surface of a container when it is heated, but that still does not mean that it will line up with billions of its peers in the air to spell out the symbol "H2O." That would be a clearly incredible occurrence that would be open to study by the laws of probability and eventually lead one to consider the possibility that some intelligent force had acted on the dumb molecules to make them behave in a most uncharacteristic manner. I suspect that Kitcher probably knows now, even if he were fuzzy at the time of his writing, that the distinction of types of probability is irrelevant to the real question. However, the section in his book will be referenced for years as "disposing of" the probability argument.
Ross S. Olson