Reasons to Believe

Evolution as Mythology, Part 4 (of 5): The Myth of Macroevolution

The last article discussed the mythlike characteristics of abiogenesis, a key component of the theory of evolution, that says living organisms appeared spontaneously from nonliving matter. This article discusses evolution itself, which is separated into two categories:

Microevolution (n): Evolution resulting from a succession of relatively small genetic variations that often cause the formation of new subspecies.

Macroevolution (n): Large-scale evolution occurring over geologic time that results in the formation of new taxonomic groups.

The neo-Darwinian theory of evolution assumes that life-forms proceeded along a tree of life from a common ancestor via random genetic mutations. It assumes that life-forms microevolved into similar variations of themselves (such as different species of finch) via a succession of simple changes, and, ultimately, dissimilar creatures macroevolved (such as a fish into an amphibian and a land-mammal into a whale) over geological ages.

These categories are separated because there is little debate about microevolution—even to the point of forming a new species. Charles Darwin observed this about Galapagos Islands finches; it has been apparent for centuries in plant and animal breeding. Even young-earth creationists such as Jonathan Sarfati of Answers in Genesis accept microevolution (usually called by a different name) to explain an explosion of life-forms between Noah’s flood and Abraham.1

Yet there is a problem with macroevolution. Biologist Sean Carroll states, “A long-standing issue in evolutionary biology is whether the processes observable in extant populations and species (microevolution) are sufficient to account for larger-scale changes evident of longer periods of life’s history (macroevolution).”2

The simple truth is that there is no hard evidence for macroevolution; it is inferred by extrapolating microevolution over geological ages. Yet this inference is questionable.

Even when he originally proposed this notion, Julian Huxley observed: “It must be admitted that the … proof of the utilization of mutations in evolution under natural conditions has not yet been given.”3

And the same is true today. Zoologist Pierre-P. Grassé claims: “to insist … that life appeared quite by chance and evolved in this fashion is an unfounded supposition which … (is) not in accordance with the facts.”4

Biologist Lynn Margulis says, “I have seen no evidence whatsoever that these changes can occur through the accumulation of gradual mutations.”5

Scott Gilbert, John Opitz, and Rudolf Raff conclude, “Microevolutionary changes in gene frequency were not seen as able to turn a reptile into a mammal or to convert a fish into an amphibian… . The origin of species—Darwin’s problem—remains unsolved.”6

The “consensus” is that harmful gene mutations in humans occur once in 105-106 sperm or egg cells in a generation;7 the beneficial mutation rate is probably much less than 1% of this. Even if mutations occurred significantly more frequently eons ago, neo-Darwinism predicts a slow macroevolution, which ought to leave transitional forms in the fossil record. But instead, the fossil record illustrates “punctuated equilibrium:” life goes on stably for long periods of time, interrupted by periodic bursts of great activity for no known naturalistic reason, followed by a return to stability.

The most dramatic example of this is the Cambrian explosion about 500 million years ago. Prior to the Cambrian period, there was no evidence of any organisms with hard parts,8 but during a mere ~50 million years, “all of the main phyla and divisions of organisms that exist today—except for the land plants”—appeared.9 “Once all the basic niches were taken, however, this frenzy of new forms not only came to a stop, it was pruned back,” as some Cambrian phyla became extinct.10

Rather than the neo-Darwinian pattern in which lower levels in the biological hierarchy should emerge before higher ones, the Cambrian pattern “creates the impression that (animal) evolution has by and large proceeded from the ‘top down.’”11 According to evolutionary theorist Jeffrey Schwartz, the major animal groups “appear in the fossil record as Athena did from the head of Zeus: full blown and raring to go.”12 Furthermore, the Cambrian explosion is not a special case, but rather illustrates that “punctuated equilibrium” is the rule—not the exception. James Valentine and Douglas Erwin claim “the evidence … suggests that the [Cambrian Explosion] has not been explained by any of the present theories … neither microevolutionary species selection, nor rapid macroevolutionary jumps will adequately satisfy the data.”13

There is such a dearth of transitional forms that every claim based on fragmentary information is greeted with great fanfare as evidence for evolution. Yet Stephen Jay Gould confesses:

“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.”14

According to James Valentine and Douglas Erwin: “The sections of Cambrian rocks that we do have (and we have many) are essentially as complete as sections of equivalent time duration from similar depositional environments, [yet] transitional alliances are unknown or unconfirmed” for any of the phyla or classes.15

Paleontologist Steven M. Stanley states, “Despite the detailed study of the Pleistocene mammals of Europe, not a single valid example is known of phyletic (gradual) transition from one genus to another.”16

As an alternative—if genetic sequence differences among the major animal phyla are due to mutations steadily accumulated over long periods of time, it should be possible to use protein or DNA sequence differences in living species as a “molecular clock” to estimate how long ago they shared a common ancestor. However, such analysis often produces bizarre results, such as grouping rabbits with primates instead of rodents, placing sea urchins among the chordates, and putting cows closer to whales than to horses.17 Furthermore, critical analysis of such phylogenetic dating reveals uncertainties so large that the results are virtually meaningless.18

Homology (nonfunctional similarity, such as the five-digit limbs of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) is often cited as evidence of macroevolution, but genetic research shows a lack of correspondence between genes and limb structure. Embryologist Gavin de Beer wonders, “What mechanism can it be that results in the production of homologous organs, the same ‘patterns,’ in spite of their not being controlled by the same genes?”19

The failure of neo-Darwinian macroevolution is no surprise to mathematicians. Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe have written a book Why Neo-Darwinism Doesn’t Work on the subject.20

Biologist Michael Behe has provided empirical experimental verification to such probability calculations by reviewing mankind’s fight against malaria, which is a single-celled microbe with a population “far more vast than any species of animal or plant,” resulting in a far greater reproduction and mutation rate. The relative time for malaria to develop a resistance to atovaquone (a drug requiring one point mutation) vs chloroquine (requiring two mutations) matches reasonably with the probability calculations. “On the average, for humans to achieve a mutation like this by chance, we would need to wait (1015 years)”21—100,000 times longer than the age of the universe. Man’s natural resistance to malaria is sickle hemoglobin, which has “arisen independently no more than a few times in the past 10,000 years—possibly only once,”22 even though it requires only one point mutation.

Discovery of regulatory genes, which can turn genes “on” and “off” to produce vast changes in phenotype, presents a new dilemma. Paleontologist Jack Horner predicts that within 50 years, “we will be able to flip genetic switches … and retro-engineer a dinosaur from a bird.” But this makes neo-Darwinism even less plausible. The probability of complex life-forms evolving from nonliving matter by chance is insurmountable, yet it seems even more improbable to also randomly evolve a class of regulatory genes and the genetic material to adapt to future environmental conditions not yet experienced. That would require super-intelligence—attributing a mythological godlike character to natural selection. Ironically, creationists have long suggested that observed changes in life-forms after Genesis 1 might be based on surplus genetic material, responding to environmental changes—an idea now made possible by regulatory genes.

Even though macroevolution seems improbable via the traditional pathway (and regulatory genes are a strong argument for creationism) the myth-like character of neo-Darwinism continues to keep it as the dominant theory. As Behe says, “Most biologists work within a Darwinian framework and simply assume what cannot be demonstrated.”23 Evolutionists even claim regulatory genes make neo-Darwinism more plausible because punctuated equilibrium is more easily explained by regulatory genes, but this only emphasizes how the myth of macroevolution must be protected with religious zeal. This is actually an argument for theistic evolution, because the more likely outcome of random mutations in regulatory genes is a monstrosity.

Dr. Hugh Henry, Ph.D.

Dr. Hugh Henry received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Virginia in 1971, retired after 26 years at Varian Medical Systems, and currently serves as Lecturer in physics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY.

Daniel J. Dyke, M.Div., M.Th.

Mr. Daniel J. Dyke received his Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary 1981 and currently serves as professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, OH.

Dr. Charles Cruze, Ph.D.

Dr. Charles Cruze received his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences in 1977, and currently works in research at Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


Subjects: Atheism, Evolutionary Trees, Macro vs. Micro Evolution, Naturalism, Philosophy of Science, Speciation Events, TCM - Speciation, Theistic Evolution, Transitional Forms, Worldviews

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1 Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Evolution (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1999), 31-46.
2 Sean B. Carroll, “The Big Picture,” Nature 409 (February 8, 2001): 669.
3 Julian Huxley, Evolution, the Modern Synthesis (New York and London: Harper Brothers, 1943), 116.
4 Pierre-P. Grassé, Evolution of Living Organisms, (New York: Academic Press, 1977), 107.
5 Charles Mann, “Lynn Margulis: Science’s Unruly Earth Mother,” Science 252 (April 19, 1991): 378-381.
6 Scott F. Gilbert, John M. Opitz, and Rudolf A. Raff, “Resynthesizing Evolutionary and Developmental Biology,” Developmental Biology 173 (1996): 357-72.
7 E. Peter Volpe and Peter A. Rosenbaum, “Mutation,” chapter 4 in Understanding Evolution, 6th ed. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2000).
8 Roger Lewin, Thread of Life: The Smithsonian Looks at Evolution (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 1982), 114-5.
9 Sandra Alters and Brian Alters, Biology: Understanding Life (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2006), 289.
10 David Krogh, Biology: A Guide to the Natural World, 3rd ed, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005), 380-1.
11 James Valentine et al., “The Biological Explosion at the Precambrian-Cambrian Boundary,” Evolutionary Biology 25 (1991): 279-356.
12 Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution, (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2002), 41.
13 James W. Valentine and Douglas H. Erwin, “Interpreting Great Developmental Experiments: The Fossil Record,” Development as an Evolutionary Process, ed. Rudolf Raff and Elizabeth Raff (New York: Alan R. Liss, 1985), 100.
14 Stephen Jay Gould, “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History 86 (May 1987): 14.
15 James W. Valentine and Douglas H. Erwin, loc cit, (1987), 84-85, 88.
16 Steven M. Stanley, Macroevolution: Patterns & Process (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1979), 82.
17 Jonathan Wells, loc cit (2002), 51.
18 Dan Graur and William Martin, “Reading The Entrails Of Chickens: Molecular Timescales of Evolution and the Illusion of Precision,” TRENDS in Genetics 20 (February 2004): 80-6.
19 Gavin de Beer, Homology: An Unsolved Problem (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), 16.
20 Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, Why Neo-Darwinism Doesn’t Work (Cardiff, Wales: University College Cardiff Press, 1982).
21 Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution (New York: Free Press, 2007), 44-63, 61.
22 Michael Behe, loc cit, (2007), 26.
23 Michael Behe, loc cit, (2007), p 9.