In this article, I will address the questions asked at 15 Questions for Evolutionists.
1. How did life originate?
In the beginning, the universe was either chaotic or orderly, maybe even a bit of both. Regardless of which it was, the universe was eventually orderly. If it was initially chaotic, it eventually become orderly as follows. In a chaotic universe, we may expect that stuff was in all kinds of random configurations. Some of these configurations proved more stable than others, and the stable configurations stayed around, eventually forming such building blocks as quarks, electrons, protons, neutrons, and atoms. The first atoms may have been hydrogen atoms. These coalesced into stars, which is one kind of stable configuration of atoms, and the stars fused the hydrogen atoms into helium and other higher elements, which were released when stars exploded. These elements formed molecules and minerals, and they eventually came together by gravity to form planets. This planet, the Earth, had large bodies of water and a relatively stable climate that allowed water to remain liquid most of the time. In this liquid water, configurations of elements came together that could replicate themselves. The ability to replicate arose from two simpler processes: growth and division. Some configurations of stuff had the ability to incorporate new materials into themselves, causing them to grow larger. Although they could not consciously seek out new materials, the movement of water brought them into contact with them. When configurations of stuff capable of growth fed on new materials, they arranged the new materials into the same structure. Although such a structure could grow, it would be most stable within a certain size range, and when it grew too large, it would lose stability and split apart. This would complete the process of replication. Through growth and division, some configurations of stuff replicated themselves. Due to copying errors, replication did not always produce perfect clones. This resulted in replicators with slightly different properties than their parents. Some new properties gave the replicators who had them advantages over other replicators, leading them to replicate more of their kind. This started the process of evolution, and the non-living replicators eventually evolved into life. To state it all in reverse order, life evolved from non-living replicators, which came about from random configurations of building blocks that had the ability to grow and divide, and the building blocks they were made out of were themselves stable configurations of stuff that lasted significantly longer than other configurations of stuff.
I have previously addressed these same issues in an earlier blog post and video: a review of Daniel Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.
2. How did the DNA code originate?
DNA is a form of non-living self-replicator. It evolved from more primitive forms of self-replicators, perhaps something like RNA. DNA is notable for providing instructions for building robots that house and spread it. These DNA robots include plants, animals, and us. Getting back to the first question, the first true lifeforms might have been DNA robots. DNA robots are an advanced form of replicator, but they evolved by gradual steps from more primitive replicators.
3. How could mutations—accidental copying mistakes (DNA ‘letters’ exchanged, deleted or added, genes duplicated, chromosome inversions, etc.)—create the huge volumes of information in the DNA of living things?
These copying mistakes were made by self-replicators, and these mistakes resulted in new properties. The properties that helped a replicator replicate got spread around more. This process repeated over and over, resulting in new improvements to already improved species of replicators. As replicators competed with each other for resources, an arms race went on between replicators, resulting in greater and greater sophistication. The important thing to remember here is that natural selection is what is responsible for the huge volumes of information stored in DNA. Mutations are what natural selection works with, but mutations alone are not responsible for the huge volumes of information in DNA. Natural selection uses mutation to better adapt lifeforms, the DNA robots, to their environment. As that environment includes other lifeforms, including both predators and prey, the environment changes, requiring new adaptations. As the environment keeps changing, and as natural selection keeps adapting life forms to the environment, and as more species diverge from each other over the millennia, we get a huge variety of long and complicated DNA sequences.
4. Why is natural selection, a principle recognized by creationists, taught as ‘evolution’, as if it explains the origin of the diversity of life? By definition it is a selective process (selecting from already existing information), so is not a creative process.
As the creator of several games, the inventor of an online system for playing them and others, and the author of my own programming language, I know a thing or two about the creative process from firsthand experience. The important thing to know about it is that it has two components, the generation of ideas and the selection of good ideas. In evolution, mutation is analogous to the generation of ideas, and natural selection is analogous to the selection of good ideas. Natural selection is not itself the whole creative process, but it is an important part of it. Together, mutation and natural selection are fully analogous to the creative process I go through when I create games or design computer programs. In fact, my own non-omniscient creative process parallels the way that evolution works. My best games, such as Eurasian Chess and Kamikaze Mortal Shogi, are based on previous games. Instead of coming to me all at once, they evolved from earlier ideas. Unlike my conscious creative process, there is no consciousness behind mutation and natural selection, but it still gets results. Together, natural variation (due to copying errors or the shuffling of genetic material in sexual reproduction [see question 8]) and natural selection account for the diversity of life.
5. How did new biochemical pathways, which involve multiple enzymes working together in sequence, originate?
I’m sure they came about through mutation and natural selection, evolving from something more primitive.
6. Living things look like they were designed, so how do evolutionists know that they were not designed?
If lifeforms were intelligently designed, we should expect designs to be better optimized than they are. When I write a computer program, I don’t just modify earlier programs and hope for the best. Instead, I envision how the program should work and write original code designed to meet the specific needs of my program. If we were intelligently designed, we should expect that our designer conceived what we should be like and made us that way without reusing old designs that were not that suited for us. Looking at us, we find that we are not optimized. Instead of being designed as bipeds, we have the design of quadrupeds who have taken to unnaturally walking on two legs. Instead of having a singular human brain, we have a human brain layer on top of a mammalian layer on top of a reptilian layer. The evidence shows that we are modified animals, not a fresh creation. Comparing our DNA with that of animals shows the same pattern. Our DNA is most like the animals most like us, the apes, and DNA between similar species tends to be similar. This shows the branching of gradually changing designs, not the diversity of wholly different designs we should expect if we were intelligently designed.
7. How did multi-cellular life originate?
At the point where individual cells existed, groups of cells had advantages over lone cells. This is analogous to how people living in groups, such as families, cities, and nations, have advantages over people living entirely on their own. So, some cells grouped together and started evolving as groups instead of as individuals. In large groups of related cells, there was a division of labor, just as their is a division of labor in human society. The same DNA sequence could instruct a group of related cells to perform different functions, depending upon their place in the group. As groups allowed cells the opportunity to specialize, multi-cellular lifeforms could grow more complex.
8. How did sex originate?
If we look at plants, we see that the same organism is both male and female. Sex did not begin with species divided into male and female members. It began as a new way for a multi-cellular organism to reproduce. Single cell organisms normally reproduced by copying themselves asexually. This happened through the processes of growth and division. This was good enough for single cell organisms, because they were simple enough in structure that when they split apart, both divisions would retain the same structure as the undivided parent. But multi-cellular organisms were more complicated. These made use of the division of labor between cells, and if cells with different jobs split apart from each other, neither division would be fully functional. If you were beheaded, for example, your head could not pump blood, and your heart could not understand the world or direct your muscles. Some multi-cellular organisms might be simple enough that they could still reproduce through growth and division, but any of sufficient complexity, distinguished by sufficient division of labor between cells, would be unable to reproduce simply through growth and division. One alternative would be for every cell in the body to grow and divide at the same time, but this would require tight coordination between the cells, and even if that problem could be solved, a doubling of every cell would more likely disrupt the structure of the organism than split apart as a perfect copy of it. With such a high cost and such a low chance of success, a different method of reproduction would be more likely to succeed with multi-cellular organisms. What worked for multi-cellular organisms was to bring the division of labor to reproduction. Instead of reproducing itself as a whole, a multi-cellular organism would give the job of reproduction only to some of its cells. These would be the reproductive cells.
Given a multi-cellular organism with dedicated reproduction cells, there was now the problem of preventing them from getting to work too early. If any of the reproductive cells in an organism started reproducing too early, their growth into new organisms would interfere with the growth of the parent organism. This would either kill the parent too early or force the parent to jettison the reproductive cells early in life. In either case, the parent could not do much to support its offspring. Killing the parent early would stop it from growing complex enough to protect its offspring, and jettisoning the offspring before the parent grew in complexity would make its subsequent complexity useless to its offspring. Neither alternative was good for reproductive success. So a delay mechanism was needed.
There were two possibilities for a delay mechanism. One was to stop the reproductive cells from reproducing until the right time, and the other was to not produce any reproductive cells until it was time to reproduce. The least costly way to do either involved the other. The simplest way to stop reproductive cells from reproducing right away was to split them apart, and the simplest way to produce fully functional reproductive cells was to bring together two incomplete reproductive cells that could join together to form a fully functioning reproductive cell. But it wouldn’t do to split reproductive cells equally. If all reproductive cells were equal, they could join together just by bumping into each other. Splitting reproductive cells into two types of incomplete reproductive cells solved this problem. Each contained half the genetic material needed to reproduce the organism, but only one type contained the materials the reproductive cell needed to start reproducing. Each type could be stored with others of the same type without any danger of prematurely merging. The primary type of incomplete reproductive cell was like a normal reproductive cell with some genetic code stripped from it. This was the female egg. The secondary type contained the extra genetic code needed. This was the male sperm.
With this division of labor between reproductive cells, multi-cellular lifeforms gained the ability to recombine their DNA. This allowed the production of new variations without depending on mutation, which sped up their evolution. This division of labor also allowed reproductive cells from different organisms to meet, allowing for new organisms with two parents instead of one. This sped up evolution even more, because you would get more combinations of DNA from two different organisms than from just one. Being lighter and smaller, the secondary reproductive cells were more mobile. They could separate from the host lifeform and find a primary reproductive cell from another host. Since this practice resulted in greater complexity at a faster rate, it became favored in organisms that could support it. It initially happened without the organisms themselves moving. For example, the secondary cells might swim in the water or get blown by the wind to related organisms with primary cells waiting for them.
As multi-cellular lifeforms became mobile and gathered together in groups, there were new divisions of labor between the members of the group, and one of these divisions of labor was between members with one type of reproductive cell and members with the other type. Initially, they just combined their cells together outside of their bodies, as fish do. In time, some species evolved delivery systems and reception centers for the secondary cells. The delivery systems and reception centers evolved together, evolving to fit into one another. This provided a safe place for conception, and then the female would lay fertilized eggs. Mammals went the further step of letting the new organism grow inside the female.
9. Why are the (expected) countless millions of transitional fossils missing?
Every fossil is a transitional fossil, and plenty are available, but the fossil record is incomplete, because not all remains get preserved as fossils. It takes special conditions for remains to get preserved as fossils, and those conditions have not been present for the majority of remains left behind. Also, however many fossils we find, gaps will remain, and the more fossils we find, the more gaps there will be between the fossils we have.
10. How do ‘living fossils’ remain unchanged over supposed hundreds of millions of years?
Since “living fossils” is an unfamiliar term, I looked at the article this question linked to. It says, “Living fossils are fossilized animals and plants that look similar to modern organisms.” The idea behind this question is that if creationism is true, we should expect to find fossils of modern creatures alongside fossils of ancient creatures, since all creatures, according to creationism, were created at once. The article goes on to claim that this has happened. However, this argument is fallacious, because it takes the form “If P, then Q. Q. Therefore, P.” This is the fallacy of affirming the consequent. The finding of so-called living fossils may fit with creationism, but it doesn’t prove it. It may be that some lifeforms evolved earlier than we realized and lived alongside the closer relatives of their common ancestors. For example, humans evolved from apes, but apes are still around. Of course, humans didn’t evolve from the apes living today, but we do share common ancestors with the apes living today, and the apes remain more like our common ancestors. Likewise, birds and mammals could have evolved from reptiles while dinosaurs still roamed the earth.
11. How did blind chemistry create mind/ intelligence, meaning, altruism and morality?
It wasn’t blind chemistry. It was natural selection, working with mutations and new combinations of genetic material made through sexual reproduction. Intelligence came about, because even the smallest inklings of intelligence better enabled organisms to feed, live, and reproduce. Intelligence gradually developed more and more, because greater intelligence kept conferring more advantages. Like their one-celled ancestors who evolved into multi-cellular organisms, the multi-cellular organisms evolved into groups, and then they evolved behavior that helped maintain group solidarity. Altruism and morality and the prototypes of these found among groups of animals help keep the group together, functioning as a unit instead of as separate individuals. Since functioning in groups conferred reproductive advantages, such as teamwork and the division of labor, natural selection favored moral-like instincts that helped groups better function as groups. The sense of meaning we have often arises from the roles we play in groups. You may feel it is meaningful to be a father or daughter or whatever you are. So a sense of meaning probably evolved with the division of labor in groups.
If everything evolved, and we invented God, as per evolutionary teaching, what purpose or meaning is there to human life? Should students be learning nihilism (life is meaningless) in science classes?
No, nihilism should not be taught in science classes. Meaning may be found in your ties to other people, in what you do creatively, or in how you deal with suffering, just to name three sources of meaning mentioned by Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning.
12. Why is evolutionary ‘just-so’ story-telling tolerated?
Evolution gives us the best tool we have for understanding how we came to be, but that doesn’t mean it automatically provides all the answers. There is room for speculation. Some people have different ideas on how things evolved. What I told you about the origins of sex earlier is something I just came up with while writing answers to these questions. It makes sense to me, but there is a chance that things happened differently. The important thing to bear in mind is that our understanding of evolution assures us that there are naturalistic answers to how things came to be, and even though it doesn’t fill in all the details, it does point us in the right direction.
13. Where are the scientific breakthroughs due to evolution?
The theory of evolution has made possible the new scientific fields of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and memetics. Each of these can give us further insight into the origins of religion, as well as helping us better understand ourselves in general. It has also enabled progress in medicine. Since evolution tells us that viruses and germs evolve faster than us, we know to keep making new vaccines for the flu, for example, so that our medicine can keep up with the evolution of our microscopic enemies. I have also read that modern astronomy really began with Darwin, because it provided the idea that the constituents of the universe had natural origins. It’s also worth noting that the greatest advances in technology came about only after Darwin came up with the theory of evolution. I can’t prove cause and effect here, but it is certainly a remarkable coincidence if nothing else. While the world all believed in creationism, technology plodded along slowly, and after evolution was discovered, technology advanced by leaps and bounds.
14. Science involves experimenting to figure out how things work; how they operate. Why is evolution, a theory about history, taught as if it is the same as this operational science?
Although we cannot do experiments like we can in physics or chemistry, the theory of evolution does make predictions that can be checked out. For example, it predicts that if we look at the DNA of multiple species, we will find a pattern of similar species having similar DNA with a history of changes that can be traced back through greater and greater differences between the species. And we do find this. The DNA of various species fits perfectly with the predictions of evolution but not so well with the predictions of creationism. We have also seen evolution actually happening among living species, such as viruses evolving to better kill us, or moths evolving to better blend in with sooty environments. Although evolution makes predictions we cannot simply test with experiments, it provides the best tool we have for understanding the diversity of species and the origins of life. It just makes a lot more sense than creationism does, because it explains how order can arise from chaos, something creationism cannot explain.
15. Why is a fundamentally religious idea, a dogmatic belief system that fails to explain the evidence, taught in science classes?
That happens because religious people keep trying to have creationism taught in science classrooms.
Karl Popper, famous philosopher of science, said “Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical [religious] research programme ….” Michael Ruse, evolutionist science philosopher admitted, “Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.” If “you can’t teach religion in science classes”, why is evolution taught?
Oh, the question is actually referring to evolution, not creationism. I disagree with this characterization of evolution. I believe Popper and Ruse were looking at evolution through the wrong paradigm. When Darwin’s theory first came on the scene, it answered questions that the prevailing religion considered part of its domain. So some people looked at evolution through the paradigm that anything answering the same questions as religion must itself be a religion too. In earlier times, the heliocentric model of the universe might have been considered a religion on the same grounds. But in modern times, we don’t have this silly idea. And the theory of evolution is no more of a religion than the heliocentric model of the solar system. Each is a scientific theory that fits the facts better than pre-scientific religious stories have. Unlike religious stories, evolution is not the supposed revelation of a deity, it enhances our understanding of the world in various ways, it points out new avenues of research, and it remains open to revision.