woody zimmermann 120President G. W. Bush provoked controversy during his tenure when he remarked to reporters that children should learn that there are “different schools of thought” on the origins of life. “Both sides should be properly taught…so people can understand what the debate is about,” he said. He referred, of course, to the century-plus argument over Darwin’s theory of evolution, the teaching of which has achieved the status of holy writ in both public schools and universities – a truly remarkable development, since no evidence of inter-species evolution has ever come to light in all that time.

For his advocacy of academic objectivity (is that a non sequitur?) Mr. Bush took a rhetorical thumping reminiscent of the one endured by Harvard President Lawrence Summers a few months earlier. Mr. Summers had the temerity to suggest that if women are not reaching the highest academic levels of science and mathematics, it might be because their abilities therein are innately inferior to men’s. Both Mr. Summers’ and Mr. Bush’s views constitute rank heresy among the chattering classes. (In fact, Mr. Summers lost his job because of the feminist uproar he caused.)

Some media-wags joked that Mr. Bush might want to re-open the Scopes monkey debate – a reference to the 1925 “Monkey Trial” in which famed lawyer Clarence Darrow debated evolution for seven days with three-time Democratic presidential candidate and legendary orator William Jennings Bryan (c.f., the “Cross of Gold” speech, 1896). Ostensibly, the trial was held to determine the guilt or innocence of John Scopes, a Tennessee schoolteacher who had taught evolution in disobedience of a local law. Before it ended, the trial had drawn a crowd of 5,000 spectators and international attention.

clarence darrow

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)

Mr. Darrow, for the defense, made a circus of the proceedings – things really haven’t changed all that much – grandly arguing that “Scopes isn’t on trial, civilization is on trial!” But he lost the main argument. His client was convicted and fined $100. Indeed, Darrow, himself – evidently enjoying the spotlight – requested the “guilty” verdict so he could appeal to a higher Tennessee court. He became a liberal folk hero for supposedly defending “scientific enlightenment” against “ignorant religiosity.” (Tragically, W. J. Bryan died six days after the conclusion of the highly publicized trial.)

william jennings bryan

William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925)

Following Mr. Bush’s innocuous (I thought) remarks about letting children know that we might not have evolved from monkeys, I heard columnist Charles Krauthammer criticize the president for trying to insert religious belief into the teaching of science where (he said) it does not belong. He called evolution “settled science” and the “foundation of biology,” while admitting that it had “gaps.” Dr. Krauthammer had a medical education, so his views could be expected to carry some weight.

In this space I have written very little about evolution. Although I had some scientific education, I am not an expert in biology. Whole libraries of books have been written about Darwin’s theory by people far more qualified than I, so I thought it best to leave it to them. How much can one accomplish, anyway, in a short column-piece such as this?

I reconsidered this view on two counts. First: because the issue has now entered the arena of popular discourse. Commentators – not necessarily scientists – opine on whether teaching religious beliefs alongside “scientific fact” is proper. This cannot go unanswered. My second reason relates to mathematics, which I do know something about. I expect that my readers will let me know if I have added light (and not merely heat) to the debate.

Modern journalists – mostly educated after the teaching of evolution had hardened into non-debatable dogma – tend to be very careless with the term fact. Adherents claim that Darwin’s evolutionary theory is so obviously supported by facts that doubters must be either ignorant or dishonest. In reality, though, it is supported by very few facts. Even Darwin acknowledged that his theory was based on “inference and analogy.” He expected facts to follow, but this has not occurred.

Darwin started out by observing changes that could be produced by selective breeding of living animals – pigeons, for example, which he bred extensively to produce wide variations. Noting how much change could be produced in a short time, he then extrapolated backward, through the eons of time, to infer that changes made at a constant rate must certainly have produced a progression of species.

But in all his pigeon-breeding, Darwin never produced anything except varieties of pigeon. There was not the least indication that another kind of bird – or an entirely different animal – might emerge. Similarly, the many varieties of dogs have been produced by selective breeding, over thousands of years, from a single species: wolves. From Great Dane to Chihuahua to nondescript mongrel to wolf, all dogs can breed with each other. They are genetic variations, but they are all still dogs. That such variations can (and have been) observed is a fact, but this is not evolution across species in the way that Darwin projected, and these are not the facts he looked for.

The fatal flaw in Darwin’s inferential reasoning is essentially mathematical. He assumed that a constant rate of change in species must have occurred across the eons of time, and he was certain that present animals (and plants) thus came from earlier, simpler forms via random selection. But modern experiments have shown that Darwin’s assumption of a constant rate of change is incorrect. Change can be fairly rapid at first. Soon, however, it levels off, reaching a limit which cannot be crossed. The life-form remains true to type. All changes are from gene-selection, not species-crossover.

For example, when botanists began to experiment with increasing the yield of sugar beets, the sugar-content was only 6%. Over seventy-five years of selective “breeding,” scientists increased the sugar-content to 17%. But further efforts produced no additional increase. 17% was evidently the limit. And they were still sugar-beets.

The fruit fly is also a favorite tool of instruction for demonstrating “evolution.” The fly reaches sexual maturity in five days, so several generations can be observed within a typical semester. By external selection, red-eyed or green-eyed flies can be produced. Also, white flies, flies with fuzzy wings, and other variations. But millions of student-experiments have never produced anything except fruit flies.

Evolution-devotees’ supreme quest – their “Holy Grail,” so to speak – has been to find proof in the “fossil record” that a species-crossover has occurred somewhere in history. These are the “gaps” Dr. Krauthammer spoke of. They remain unfilled. The “facts” Darwin anticipated are still missing. No trace of a so-called missing link has ever been found. Occasionally a jawbone or a fragment of a hip – or the like – has been eagerly proclaimed as evidence of the long-sought link between apes and humans. Inevitably, though, these hopes are dashed by new discoveries which trace to one species or another, but not to an intermediate. Often, however, the original report goes uncorrected, thereby leading future students to believe that a “missing link” was actually found.

The fossil record consistently contains fully formed organisms. Variations around a “mean” may be found, but never any transitional stages of the kind Darwin expected. Some famous discoveries initially pronounced missing links by scientists were ultimately disproved. The skull of Piltdown Man, thought to be a primitive ancestor of man – discovered in England in 1912 – turned out to be just an elaborate hoax. And the famous Neanderthal Man of Northern Europe was shown to be the product of an error by a French paleontologist who mistook the skeleton of a hunchbacked ancient man for an ape-man in the process of becoming upright.

This is not a comprehensive treatise, of course, so I shall pass by the issue of “favorable genetic mutations” – another pillar of evolutionary theory. I merely note that actual transition across species would require not just selection of recessive genes (e.g., the fruit fly experiments), but a string of favorable genetic mutations whose collective probability of occurrence is minute beyond comprehension.

This mathematical reality bears on a modern biological construct known as “irreducible complexity” – a concept first developed in 1993 by a Lehigh University professor of biochemistry named Michael Behe. Dr. Behe explains the concept using the mousetrap as a model. The device, he points out, cannot “evolve” gradually. You cannot start out with a wooden platform, catch a few mice, add a spring, catch a few more mice, add the hammer-device, etc. – with each new addition making the device more effective. Unless the trap is fully assembled, with all the essential parts in place, it will not function at all. It is irreducibly complex.

Most organisms are like this. They must have all their parts in place, fully functional, in order to survive. Thus, a fish which happened to develop lungs would not survive. It would drown in water. To live on land it would need all the other working parts of a land creature, too. Just the lungs would be insufficient.

The eye is a classic example of irreducible complexity. It is complex beyond the understanding of all but the most highly educated scientists – and barely so for them. The organ is useless unless all of its parts are fully formed and functional. The slightest alteration from its correct form destroys its functionality. How could it possibly evolve from a primitive form by slight alterations over time? Even though less understood in Darwin’s era, the eye was cited then as proof against his theory.

A passage from How Now Shall We Live – written by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey – mentions an effort by contemporary Darwinist Richard Dawkins to trace the evolution of the eye:

…[start] with a light-sensitive spot and [move] to a group of cells cupped to focus light better, and so on through a graded series of small improvements to produce a true lens. But, as Behe points out, even the first step – the light-sensitive spot – is irreducibly complex, requiring a chain reaction of chemical reactions starting when a photon interacts with a molecule called 11-cis-retinal, which changes to trans-retinal, which forces a change in the shape of a protein called rhodopsin, which sticks to another protein called transducin, which binds to another molecule…and so on. There are dozens of complex proteins involved in maintaining cell shape, and dozens more that control groups of cells. Each of Darwin’s steps is itself a complex system. Adding them together doesn’t answer where they came from…

Nothing in the Darwin theory explains how irreducibly complex organisms came into existence. Only the theory of intelligent design can account for them. Darwin, himself, realized that irreducible complexity could crash his theory:

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

Scientists not married to evolution by financial or career considerations are now beginning to agree that irreducible complexity does represent the theoretical breakdown Darwin predicted. The probability of the eye developing spontaneously has been estimated at 1 chance in 10e123 (i.e., 1 with 123 zeroes following) – a probability of essentially zero. The gigantic denominator far exceeds the number of nanoseconds in the postulated age of the universe (i.e., 3.15 x 10e26) or the estimated number of molecules in the entire universe (i.e., ~10e78).

Many scientists now say they can more easily believe that the eye was designed by a “creative intelligence” than that it developed by chance with such an infinitesimally small probability. (One said it is easier to believe that the Bible came into being by an explosion in a print-shop than to hang onto Darwin’s theory, quantified at these remote probabilities.)

An automated factory with its computers, robots and machinery, all timed and coordinated, is less complex than the workings of a single cell. That scientists did not comprehend this in Darwin’s time is one of the reasons his theory gained acceptance. That people making decisions about education do not comprehend this now is why the theory still hangs on.

Although the foregoing barely scratches the surface, I have tried to show that evolutionary theory has serious problems, at least mathematically. It cannot be considered “settled science” with such objections unanswered – no matter how many Ph-doctors jump up and denounce evolution-deniers as “Neanderthals.”

In our time, what my colleagues of yore called “prostituted science” has become something of a growth industry. Politicians and scientists in thrall to government-financing have been assuring us that global warming and climate-change are also “settled science” – especially with respect to human-produced carbon dioxide causing these phenomena. Wild claims that the earth will be rendered uninhabitable in a few years unless we stop using fossil-fuels are springing up all over. Ditto for increasingly violent hurricanes and Manhattan flooded by rising seas. (Would that really be so bad?)

The flaws in evolutionary theory – as outlined above – should make us very wary of such claims. There is no scientific agreement that the climate is warming, and even less “consensus” on the cause, if it is. Recently, some scientists have revived the “Maunder theory” [1] which relates climate temperature to sunspot-frequency.

Schoolchildren need to know these things. Adults do, too. At the very least, serious governmental and economic decisions based on such “settled science” should be vigorously resisted. It is not “settled.” And much of it is propaganda, not science. Predictions of environmental catastrophe a century or more out – supposedly “proved” by computer models – are a marshy foundation on which to base draconian fiscal policies and wholesale changes of our lives. I spent a career building and operating computerized simulation models, and I can testify that their limitations are very significant. “Garbage in, garbage out” remains the time-honored watchword of this discipline.

The Bible says, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” My personal hope – indeed, my prayer – is that we won’t become the generation that affirms this grim wisdom by bankrupting itself over some very questionable theories.


[1] The Maunder Minimum (also known as the "prolonged sunspot minimum") –named after astronomers Annie Russell Maunder and E. Walter Maunder – is the name used for the period starting in about 1645 and continuing to about 1715 when sunspots were exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time. That era, which featured very low temperatures, has sometimes been called “The Little Ice Age.”