BIOLOGY - Life and Its "Ordinary Rules of Stability"

"To know the reasons for infrequent change,
one must understand the ordinary rules of stability."
Stephen Jay Gould

Icons of Evolution

Dr. Jonathan Wells, Molecular Biologist



Resources on the Life and Work of Charles Darwin

Books by Charles Darwin available online

Darwin Bicentennial Celebration: A Retrospective Look at Origins of Species (DVD)

Darwin and the Darwin Revolution by Gertrude Himmelfarb

From discussions based upon "On the Origin of Stasis by Means of Natural Processes"

Darwin's Origin of Species established the fact that species are not immutable. In one continuous and compelling argument he was able to transform the scientific view of life from one that was fundamentally discontinuous into one that was thoroughly continuous from ameoba to man, fish to philosopher. Perhaps most significantly, he was able to convince many scientists of his day that the geologic column developed by creationists decades earlier was actually the result not of progressive acts of creation but rather of a purely materialistic process he called natural selection. Although natural selection could account for the survival of the fittest, critics pointed out that it could never account for the arrival of the fittest. Be that as it may, Darwin put evolution on the map.

The term evolution has many meanings. It may refer to a population of light and dark colored moths evolving into a population of dark and light colored moths. It may refer to microevolution or it may refer to more significant change - macroevolution. It may refer to speciation and the loss of ability to interbreed. It may even take on elements of a secular religion where, as the eminent zoologist Pierre-Paul Grasse put it, "Directed by all-powerful selection, chance becomes a sort of providence, which, under the cover of atheism, is not named but which is secretly worshipped."

In his book, Evolution and Myth of Creationism, Tim Berra uses the evolution of the Corvette to make the point that everything evolves.
"Everything evolves in the sense of "descent with modification," whether it be government policy, religion, sports cars, or organisms. The revolutionary fiberglass Corvette evolved from more mundane automotive ancestors in 1953 (1st image). Other high points in the Corvette's evolutionary refinement include the 1962 model (2nd image), in which the original 102-inch wheelbase was shortened to 98 inches and the new closed-coupe stingray model was introduced; the 1968 model (3rd image), the forerunner of today's Corvette morphology, which emerged with removable roof panels; and the 1978 silver anniversary model (4th image) with fastback styling. Today's version (not shown) continues the stepwise refinements that have been accumulating since 1953. The point is that the Corvette evolved through a selection process acting on variations that resulted in a series of transitional forms and an endpoint rather distinct from the starting point. A similar process shapes the evolution of organisms." (pp. 118-119)

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(Photos courtesy of General Motors Corporation)

Tim Berra's illustration is important for a number of reasons. First of all, notice that the term "evolution" is actually used in the sense of progressive creation - a series of purposefully created automobiles. While the survival of the fittest automobiles has much to do with competitive selection, the arrival of the fittest was clearly the result of intelligent design. Secondly, while the appearance of "descent with modification" is common for created things like automobiles, computers, and computer software, such evidence does not at all support the notion that "evolution" was the result of purely unguided and unplanned natural processes. Indeed, without continuous intelligent input, the evolution of the Corvette (which follows a pattern of punctuated equilibrium - sudden appearence and stasis) would never have been possible. Remove the intelligent input and one gets stasis or lack of change.

Berra's example of Corvette evolution is also important because it serves as an analogy for some of the most difficult problems still facing Darwinian theory. One of those problems is natural selection itself. Although it is useful as an explanation for microevolution, its ability to inhibit major evolutionary change places it on a collision course with itself.

In his book, Darwinism: The Refutation of a Myth, Soren Lovtrup points out that,

"some critics turned against Darwin's teachings for religious reasons, but they were a minority; most of his opponents ... argued on a completely scientific basis.

...the reasons for rejecting Darwin's proposal were many, but first of all that many innovations cannot possibly come into existence through accumulation of many small steps, and even if they can, natural selection cannot accomplish it, because incipient and intermediate stages are not advantageous."

Perhaps the most formidable of Darwin's critics was St. George Mivart. His major book, On the Genesis of Species (1871), took aim at the notion that natural selection could account for the accumulation of the incipient stages of useful structures. Stephen Jay Gould notes that

"Darwin offered strong, if grudging, praise and took Mivart far more seriously than any other critic...Mivart gathered, and illustrated "with admirable art and force" (Darwin's words), all objections to the theory of natural selection---"a formidable array" (Darwin's words again). Yet one particular theme, urged with special attention by Mivart, stood out as the centerpiece of his criticism. It remains today the primary stumbling block among thoughtful and friendly scrutinizers of Darwinism. No other criticism seems so troubling, so obviously and evidently "right" (against a Darwinian claim that seems intuitively paradoxical and improbable). Mivart awarded this criticism a separate chapter in his book, right after the introduction. He also gave it a name, remembered ever since. He called it "The Incompetency of 'Natural Selection' to account for the Incipient Stages of Useful Structures." If this phrase sounds like a mouthful, consider the easy translation: we can readily understand how complex and full developed structures work and owe their maintenance and preservation to natural selection---a wing, an eye, the resemblance of a bittern to a branch or of an insect to a stick or dead leaf. But how do you get from nothing to such an elaborate something if evolution must proceed through a long sequence of intermediate stages, each favored by natural selection? You can't fly with 2% of a wing or gain much protection from an iota's similarity with a potentially concealing piece of vegetation. How, in other words, can natural selection explain these incipient stages of structures that can only be used (as we now observe them) in much more elaborated form?"
Stephen Jay Gould
"Not Necessarily a Wing"
Natural History, October, 1985, pp. 12, 13

Gould goes on to point out that among the difficulties of Darwinian theory "one point stands high above the rest: the dilemma of incipient stages. Mivart identified this problem as primary and it remains so today."

Back to the Corvette.

Imagine the steps necessary to transform the tube-type radio in the 1953 model into the digital CD player in today's Corvette. One thing is obvious. The transitional forms between the starting point and endpoint would constitute useless and non-functional collections of components that would be eliminated in the marketplace by competitive selection. Radios cannot be evolved into televisions through a gradual step-by-step in the presence of competitive selection nor can bicycles evolve into motorcycles on a step-by-step basis. What good would adding a spark plug or a piston be to a bicycle until all of the components necessary to produce an engine and drive train are in place? Even bacteria have irreducibly complex rotary motors that propel them through their environment. If it is not reasonable to believe that a relatively simple motorcycle engine could be created by a gradual step-by-step basis, what logic would propel us to believe that random mutations could lead to the first appearance of a vastly more complex bacterial motor, particularly when "evolving" bacteria would have to compete with other bacteria unencumbered with superflous parts. Even Darwin admitted that natural selection should act to eliminate such evolving creatures. (See On the Origin of Stasis)

If relatively simple automobiles and computers required intelligent design and continual guidance in their evolution, why should we assume that the evolution of vastly more complex lifeforms required less intelligence?

Not only are the fundamental predictions of Darwinian theory in opposition to the pervasive patterns of the natural history, Darwin's mechanism of natural selection actually does a better job of explaining why major evolutionary change is inhibited from occurring on a gradual step-by-step basis. Michael Behe's descriptions of cilia and bacterial flagella serve as illustrations of how natural selection would act to eliminate the useless incipient stages leading to irreducibly complex biological systems.




Despite the major conflicts between Darwinian theory and natural history, it does remain the best purely materialistic explanation of our origins. Once any sort of intelligent design or divine intervention is ruled out of science, Darwinian theory simply becomes the best "scientific" explanation of biological diversity and disparity by definition. The best "scientific" explanation for our origins is that we are the result of a series of randomly generated mutations that have been selected by a randomly generated environment. Let's be honest. There is nothing like a good theory of origins and Darwinism is nothing like a good theory of origins.

While it is healthy to remain skeptical of the belief that major evolutionary change is fully natural, we can be virtually certain that the phenomenon of stasis is completely natural and subject to scientific investigation. As Stephen Jay Gould put it, 'Stasis is data."














Explain how natural selection inhibits major evolutionary change.

Darwinian evolution predicts a systematic bottom-to-top pattern of natural history - species to genera to familes to orders to classes to phyla. Increasing species diversity according to Darwinian theory should precede the disparity of the phyla. The geologic column shows a pervasive pattern in reverse to Darwinian predictions - the disparity of the phya precedes the diversity of species. Is this a valid reason to reject Darwinian microevolution as a valid explanation for the origin of the major body plans? If not, what reasonable evidence could possibly falsify the theory? Explain.

Why can natural selection account for the survival of the fittest but not the arrival of the fittest?

Explain why appeal to purely random mutations to account for the arrival of the fittest is not a scientific explanation of origins.

Explain how speciation prevents major evolution change from occuring via saltation or quantum leap.

Explain how naturalistic or materialistic presuppositions play a major role in the acceptance of Darwinian theory in the natural sciences.

Explain how the effects of peer review and social acceptance (forms of artificial selection) might account for the survival of Darwinian theory as an explanation of major evolutionary change in the science community.

Why might a Theory of Conservation or Macrostasis more accurately describe natural history than Darwinian microevolution?

With respect to extinction, how might microevolution produce longer periods of macrostasis?

If the entire universe was a result of an act of metaphysical creation, explain how evolution might be possible?

If the entire universe was the result of random chance, explain how evolution itself - including natural selection - must ultimately be the result of purely random processes.

In light of the preceding questions, is evolution more probable in a universe that was the result of creation or a universe that arose as a random Cosmic accident?

Is it rational to conclude that creation preceded evolution?

Sudden appearance is natural. "Stasis is data." Is sudden appearance natural? Is there a scientific test to determine if it is natural or do scientists simply rule out any and all alternatives by definition?




Dr. Michael J. Behe

Professor of Biochemistry
Lehigh University

Dr. Michael J. Denton

Professor of Biochemistry
University of Otago

Philip E. Johnson, J.D.

Professor of Law
UC Berkeley

Dr. James W. Valentine

Professor of Integrative Biology
UC Berkeley

Dr. Jonathan Wells

Molecular Biologist
Discovery Institute


Video material courtesy Access Research Network.