Mathematical Challenge to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Here’s a fascinating interview that sheds light on the current state of Darwinian evolution. The purpose of the interview was to discuss David Gelernter’s essay, “Giving up Darwin”, in which he credits Stephen Meyer and David Berlinski for convincing him that Darwin has failed.

The interview is about an hour long, so I’ll highlight some of my favorite quotes and provide a few comments. It’s also worth noting that both Berlinski and Gelernter considered themselves secular Jews, and neither adheres to intelligent design or any form of creationism.

According to Gelernter, “There’s no reason to doubt that Darwin successfully explained the small adjustments by which an organism adapts to local circumstances: changes to fur density or wing style or beak shape. Yet there are many reasons to doubt whether he can explain the big picture- not the fine-tuning of species but the emergence of new ones.”

He’s right. No one has ever observed one organism evolve into a different kind of organism, and neither has science demonstrated that such a concept is possible. The only changes we observe are adaptations based on inherited genetic traits, and rare mutations benefiting an organism, but none that lead to a new species or organism.

Gelernter goes on to lament his decision to reject Darwinism: “Nobody wants to define anything to Darwin’s disadvantage… I- speaking for myself- appreciated the beauty of what Darwin did… It certainly was no joy to conclude that Steve was right. It was no joy for me to give up a beautiful theory.”

I find it interesting that he would describe Darwinism as ‘a beautiful theory’. But I think it demonstrates how reluctant he was to give it up- only doing so after serious, critical analysis. He went on to explain, “Darwin’s theory struck me as beautiful, in so far as it explains big things by generalizing little things… The fact that we can explain this huge question of where species came from- the origin of a species- using the same mechanism that will work for tiny variations in the fur of a sheep or the beak of a bird, is one aspect of what makes the theory beautiful.”

Stephen Meyer elaborated: “It had an appeal. It as a well-argued book, the Origin of Species. But it was well-argued on the basis of evidence that was known in the 19th century, but not the 20th or 21st.”

So, what was it that convinced Gelernter? He says, “Darwinian evolution is gradual, step-by-step. Yet in the ‘Cambrian explosion’ of around half a billion years ago, a striking variety of new organisms- including the first-ever animals- pop up suddenly in the fossil record over a mere 70-odd million years.”

Surely 70 million years is enough time for new organisms to appear, right? Wrong. Meyers explains that even Darwin recognized the problem of the Cambrian explosion, but he assumed future fossil finds would resolve the issue. But Meyers points out that the time frame is narrowing, and is commonly accepted as about 10 million years. Then he explains how population genetics- which measures mutation rates, generation time, and population sizes in calculating how much evolutionary change we ought to expect in a given amount of time, and he says it blows-out the time scale, which is considered to be “hundreds of millions or billions of years.”

In his essay, Gelernter asks, “What does generating new forms of life entail? Many biologists agree that generating a new shape of protein is the essence of it… And inventing a new protein means inventing a new gene.”

Okay, but nature inventing a new gene isn’t complicated, right? Meyer explains, “If you want to invent a new form of life, you’ve got to have code in the form of the information inscribed along the spine of the DNA molecule… You need the information to build the protein molecules that service the different types of cells, and then you need additional information to arrange the cells into the body plans.”

David Berlinski concurs, saying, “The cell is an unbelievably complex bit of machinery. Unfathomably complex. And we haven’t understood its complexity at all. Every time we look there seems to be an additional layer of remarkable complexity that needs to be factored into our theories.”

Well, what about the math? Gelernter says, “The mathematical element of this… is remarkable… protein molecules are assembled because there are codes in the nucleus of cells that spell them out, character by character, codon by codon… each one of these positions has to be occupied by one of 20 amino acids… Now, if there are several hundred of these things in the string, that’s a huge number of possible choices… there’s an astronomical number of choices, and Darwin could easily have computed that. He just didn’t know about the amino acids… It’s not the mathematics that stumped him, it’s the biology.”

Myers referred to a conference in the 1960’s convened by MIT scientists who were among the first to notice the mathematical problem with Darwinism. The conference was titled, “Mathematical Challenges to NeoDarwinism. But it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that experimental evidence showed that the ratio of functional gene and protein sequences was reported to be 1 over 10 to the 77th power.”

And what are the odds of this happening? Eventually it has to happen, right? Gelernter rejects such a notion, saying, “The question is, does the history of life, with which Darwin was concerned, allow you enough chances to make it at all probable?… The point is from whatever angle you come at it, the answer is, no, there has not been enough time.”

But is it impossible? Berlinski says, There’s hardly a difference… Unlikely, impossible. We’re talking about odds that are so prohibitive.”

Gelernter considers the early development of organisms and says, “there are a total of no examples in the literature of mutations that affect early development and the body plan as a whole and are not fatal.” He claims this is not an attack on Darwin, but “it’s the job of science to figure out what guesses are right and what are wrong. Scientists are paid for making guesses- not for making right guesses, but for making interesting, plausible ones. And if scientists after the guess has been made, don’t do their job, don’t investigate the gaffs, don’t do their bests to figure out if it’s true or false, then we are false to science and we are betraying science.”

That’s quite a criticism- one that I’ve pointed out many times.

So, if evolution is impossible, then what is the answer? According to Meyer, an intelligent designer is the logical conclusion, but Gelernter refuses to accept that answer: “I can’t accept intelligent design as Meyer presents it.” Likewise, Berlinski refers to his view towards intelligent design as “warm, but distant. It’s the same attitude that I display to my ex-wives.”

And even though Gelernter doesn’t accept ID, he defends what Meyers wrote in his book, saying “it’s not a way to bring in a theological argument. It is a scientific approach.”

Meyer discussed the genetic code in cells, saying, “this is a genuine information storage system… what we know from experience is that information… whenever we find information, and we trace it back to its ultimate source, we always come to a mind, not a material process… And yet we do know from our uniform and repeated experience- which is the basis of all scientific reasoning- of a source of information, of a cause, of the origin of information. That cause is intelligence, or mind… what we’re seeing in life is evidence of the activity of a directing mind in the history of life.”

Berlinski has trouble with intelligent design, but admits that information is present: “yeah, it’s information, I recognize that. Information in some loose sense.”

Now, even though Gelernter isn’t an ID advocate, he states, “I have no theological argument with Steve. My argument is with people who dismiss intelligent design… it’s widely dismissed in my world of academia as some sort of theological put-up job. It’s an absolutely serious scientific argument… It’s gotta be dealt with intellectually, not by the bigotry… because outside the scientific world, one might now know how ideologically bent the world of science are becoming. I say it with real sorrow.”

Finally, Gelernter is quoted as saying, “Darwinism is no longer just a scientific theory but the basis of a worldview, and an emergency religion for the many trouble souls who need one.” Now that he has rejected Darwinism and calls it a religion, he’s viewed as a ‘traitor’ by his colleagues at Yale. But he insists that “Darwinism has indeed passed beyond a scientific argument. As far as they are concerned, you take your life into your hands to challenge it. Intellectually. They will destroy you if you challenge it.” Gelernter admits he’s attacking their religion and understands why they’re angry: “It is a big issue for them, unquestionably.”

This is an important interview, and Gelernter’s essay is very helpful in pointing out many of the major flaws of Darwinism, and I hope others will be encouraged to reject evolutionary ideas as well. Further, I hope people will be able to clearly see that there is an intelligent designer, and I would suggest that that designer is God, who has revealed himself in Scripture.


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