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Breaking the Spell of Darwinism

All Things Examined

Red_Sponge_Coral_FossilWhen evolutionism’s front man, Richard Dawkins, wrote, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist,” he grossly overstated his case. If atheism is to be more than wish fulfillment for folks troubled by what Thomas Nagel calls “the cosmic authority problem,” it must be based on a materialistic narrative that accounts for chemical evolution and biological evolution. The former explains how life first arose; the latter, how current life forms developed from earlier ones.

How matter became live

Darwinists are quick to tout the Urey-Miller experiment for how matter went live, but the facts are something else. True, researchers Harold Urey and Stanley Miller produced some amino acids from a prebiotic cocktail in 1953. However, their “success” depended not on an unguided, materialistic process, but on an intelligently designed experiment that was meticulously controlled to ensure “just-right” conditions for producing life’s building blocks.

On top of that, their experimental conditions, as it was later learned, did not reflect those of early Earth, which were hostile to, not “just right” for, amino acid production. Had those conditions been faithfully simulated, intelligent intervention or not, their much-heralded life-building chemicals would not have survived.

Dr. Stephen Meyer highlights this in “Signature in the Cell,” as part of an impressively comprehensive critique of chemical evolution. Drawing upon research over the last 60 years on the biological cell, Meyer shows that it is a theory at odds with what is known about biological complexity.

The reason the Urey-Miller experiment failed—and was destined to do so—is that the “probabilistic resources” of the universe (never mind a lab!) are insufficient to account for the appearance of life from unintelligent processes. Meyer demonstrates, in detail, that universe is neither old enough nor large enough for the creation of proteins necessary for essential cell processes by the chance arrangement of their constituent amino acids. And yet, as Meyer points out, the instructional content of amino acids is just one tier of biological information in a hierarchal structure that includes, in ascending order, DNA, genes, gene clusters, gene “folders,” and gene “superfolders.”

After 300 or so pages, establishing the impotency of chemical evolution, Meyer spends the last 200 pages on an alternative theory: intelligent design. He makes a compelling case for intelligent design as a legitimate area for scientific research, then advances a convincing, scientific argument for why intelligent causation is the best explanation for the origin of life. (My detailed review of “Signature” can be found here.)

In his most recent book, “Darwin’s Doubt,” Meyer takes on the primary subject of Darwinism: biological evolution.

A doubting Darwin

The crux of Meyer’s critique and, indeed, a major source of doubt in Charles Darwin himself, is the absence of fossilized transitional forms predicted by the theory of common ancestry.

If all life forms today descended from simpler ones, as Darwin proposed, the fossil record should be replete with intermediate forms. In fact, considering the vast number of morphological differences between original and final forms, it would be expected that there should be just as many (if not more!) intermediate as final forms.

Instead, Meyer notes, geologists “have found no such myriad of transitional forms” but, rather, “the abrupt appearance of the earliest animals.”

For example, in the Cambrian Period the fossils of 20 phyla (out of 27 total in the fossil record) were laid down in a blink of geological time—roughly 5 to 6 million years. Not only is this their first appearance in the fossil record, their complexity represents a quantum leap over pre-Cambrian fossils with no traceable line of descent.

In fact, the whole “bottom-up” pattern predicted by Darwin—that is, small, gradual changes over time leading to large-scale differences—is completely overturned in the Cambrian stratum, where the sudden appearance of complex organisms is followed by small-scale variation. But it’s worse than that, if you’re a Darwin acolyte.

The “top-down” pattern in the Cambrian fossil record is not the exception, but the rule. Even back in Darwin’s day, Adam Smith observed that the Ordovician, Devonian, and Triassic strata also exhibited the abrupt arrival of novel life forms without any trace of precursors.

A case in point is the Ediacaran stratum where, Meyer writes, “the only living forms documented in the fossil record for over 3 billion years were single-celled organisms.” Then, within the brief geological span of 15 million years, sponges showed up—something akin, as Meyer puts it, to “transforming a spinning top into a bicycle.”

What’s the response from the evolutionist camp to these inconvenient and well-known facts?

Usually, it’s this: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!” (It’s an argument somehow lost upon them in the consideration of non-materialistic causes.)

Too small, too soft?

Faced with nature’s stubborn refusal to cooperate with their creation narrative, Darwinists explain, “Ah, but those intermediate organisms were just too small or too soft to be preserved in the fossil record.”

Again, Meyer raises facts that aren’t kind to such excuses.

As already mentioned, fossils of single-celled organisms (including algae and blue-green bacteria), which are both soft and small, have been found in strata predating the Cambrian. What’s more, that is not news. Louis Agassiz, premier paleontologist in the late 19th century, is quoted in Meyer's book as remarking that “the most exquisitely delicate structures, as well as embryonic phases of growth of the most perishable nature, have been preserved from very early deposits.”

More recently, researchers exploring a geological formation outside of Chengjiang, China, in 1984 discovered “many excellent examples of well-preserved animals . . . including soft-bodied members of phyla,” like corals, jellyfish, comb jellies, and segmented worms. Then in 1998, a researcher at that same formation found sponge embryos and what appeared to be “cells undergoing cell division.” Upon closer examination with an electron microscope he was able to identify fossilized cell membranes and, within some specimens, cell nuclei (!).

These discoveries flatly refute the “feeble artifact” theory, leaving Darwinian hard-liners with a thorny dilemma: The complex and highly-differentiated organisms found in the early fossil record could not possibly be the common ancestor of all organisms, and the simple, undifferentiated fossils found there leave no trace of gradualism.

Why the lack of evidence?

Meyer goes on to explain (as he did in “Signature” concerning chemical evolution) why the evidence of gradualism is not there.

First, there is the limitation imposed on adaptive change by integrated complexity. Every biological system depends on myriad components that must be present and working in concert to perform its purpose. Claiming that the reproductive system, say, could be functional as it is being built by gradualism, is like claiming that you could fly an airplane as you’re building it.

Second, the genetic mutations needed for body plan changes must 1) occur early in embryonic development, 2) be viable, and 3) be transmitted to offspring. However, those types of mutations have “never been tolerated in any animals that developmental biologists have studied.” For example, after nearly a century of inducing genetic mutations in fruit flies, only three things have been observed: unchanged flies, deformed flies, and dead flies.

Third, and most importantly, the immense quantity of functional information resident in the biological hierarchical structure of proteins, cells, cell clusters, cell regulatory networks, tissues, organs, and body plans vastly exceed the creative powers of undirected processes.

Given the contrary fossil record, some evolutionists, like Francis Collins, have latched on to the large non-coding sections of the genome, called “junk DNA,” predicted by neo-Darwinism. (In 2003, Collins’ Human Genome Project identified just 2 percent of genome with a coding function.) However, in 2012, when the ENCODE Project, a five-year study involving 30 peer-reviewed papers, discovered that at least 80 percent of the human genome has a biological function, that argument, as Meyer explains, “largely evaporated.”

“Darwin’s Doubt” is an important follow-up to “Signature in the Cell.” Together, they not only reveal the “house of cards” upon which the creation narrative of materialism rests, but they also present the scientific case for intelligent design and provide the evidentiary bases for intelligent causation. These companion works will help layman and expert alike understand, and engage intelligently with, these issues. I cannot more highly recommend them.

For Further Reading:

John Stonestreet, "Darwin's Doubt: Explosions, Gaps and a Theory in Crisis," BreakPoint Commentary, September 6, 2013.

Image copyright BioFinity. Review copy obtained from the reviewer's personal collection.

Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at

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Great Stuff, Regis; Keep it Up
I read “Signature in the Cell”; can't wait to read “Darwin's Doubt”.