It is obvious that randomly selected letters aren’t likely to form a meaningful message. The exact probability is difficult to compute but it is astronomical. As physicist Gerald Schroeder has pointed out, even a simple Shakespearean sonnet of only 488 letters would never be produced by those monkeys (there are 10^691, or a 1 followed by 691 zeros, different possible transcripts). As Schroeder explains:
Convert the entire 10 to the 56 grams of the universe (forget working with the monkeys) into computer chips each weighing a billionth of a gram and have each chip type out a billion sonnet trials a second (or 488 billion operations per second) since the beginning of time, ten to the 18th seconds ago. The number of trials will be approximately ten to power of 92, a huge number but minuscule when compared with the 10 to power 690 possible combinations of the letters. We are off by a factor of ten to power of 600. The laws of probability confirm that the universe would have reached its heat death before getting one sonnet. We will never get a sonnet by random trials, and the most basic molecules of life are far more complex than the most intricate sonnet.
And the fact that there are many possible sonnets, not just one, does not make a meaningful dent in these astronomical probabilities. Both prose and proteins are not going to arise by chance.
But evolutionists say it is not a matter of chance because natural selection guides the way. Evolution is not required to create a complete organism or even a complete gene, it needs only small victories which natural selection preserves.
Consider the word “selection.” It has 9 letters and for a 26 letter alphabet there are 26^9, or 5 million million different possible combinations of letters. The monkeys would never type out even this single word.
But what if a correct letter, whenever it happens to be typed, is preserved by natural selection? Then the search shrinks from 26^9 to 26*9 different possibilities. The search space reduces from 5 million million to 234 different possible combinations of letters.
From Charles Darwin to Richard Dawkins, evolutionists have elaborated on how natural selection largely removes the random element from evolution and makes the origin of the complex biological world all but inevitable. As Darwin wrote:
Although the belief that an organ so perfect as the eye could have been formed by natural selection, is enough to stagger any one; yet in the case of any organ, if we know of a long series of gradations in complexity, each good for its possessor, then, under changing conditions of life, there is no logical impossibility in the acquirement of any conceivable degree of perfection through natural selection.
Darwin explained that his theory “would absolutely break down” if we found a design that could not possibly have arisen gradually. Not surprisingly Darwin concluded that he could find out no such case. What he didn’t tell the reader is that his falsification criteria was impossible. It is obvious to objective observers that the biological world abounds with such designs, but showing this to an evolutionist is another matter.
Evolving even a single protein under carefully controlled laboratory conditions has proved to be elusive. You can see the details here, here, here, here and here. The problem is that blind gradualism, even with perfect selection, doesn’t magically produce fantastic designs as Darwin, Dawkins and the rest had hoped.
The specific difficulties with their fanciful idea are many. From the rough fitness surfaces to the smallest unit of selection not being small, it is difficult to coax intricate designs from a warm little pond.
Consider again, for example, the word “selection.” It seemed impressive that selection could reduce the search space from 5 million million to 234 different possibilities. But this cannot actually happen because selection cannot select individual letters. What good is an “s”? The word “selection” doesn’t make sense until you have the entire word.
Recognizing these problems evolutionists are now searching for non gradualistic mechanisms to do the job. Proteins must form not by the gradual accumulation of mutations but by sudden rearrangements and new designs may evolve by macromutations.
Perceptive readers will see the obvious problem: replacing gradualism with saltationism does not solve the underlying problem. For instance, from where did the protein modules come? Or from where did the macromutation mechanisms come?
Ultimately, no matter how many thought experiments and just-so stories are brought to bear, the problem remains the same. Evolutionists claim that incredibly complex designs just happened to arise all by themselves.
Natural genetic engineering
This silliness reached new levels in a recent review paper which attempted to summarize this emerging, non gradualistic view of evolution. Even evolutionists admit that biology has turned out to be complex. And this complexity is no less observed at the cellular and molecular levels of biology. As the review paper, for example, explains:
Molecular cell biology has uncovered sophisticated networks in all organisms. They acquire information about external and internal conditions, transmit and process that information inside the cell, compute the appropriate biochemical or biomechanical response, and activate the molecules needed to execute that response. These information-processing networks are central to the systems biology perspective of the new century.
The genome is not like a blueprint as evolution once envisioned, but more like an interactive read-write memory system. The cell’s ability to monitor, detect and repair genome damage is astonishing. But the complexity doesn’t stop there. Yes the genome often needs a repair, but it also sometimes needs a redesign.
The twentieth century discovered that cells can read and write information onto their genomes at several levels. Beyond this, cells can even restructure their genomes to meet environmental challenges. And these redesigns can be passed on to future generations.
All of this means biology possesses incredible capabilities evolutionists never envisioned. And it also means that biological change responds intelligently to the environment. Biological variation is not according to blind, undirected processes such as mutation, as envisioned by evolutionists. Evolutionists thought that such variation was random with respect to need and that adaptation was merely the result of the useful variations surviving via natural selection. This unintelligent process would require long time periods but biology revealed intelligent, fast adaptation.
There was strong resistance to this paradigm in the evolution camp but now evolutionists are increasingly finding it to be a convenient enhancement to the ailing gradualism. If organisms can restructure their genomes to meet environmental challenges, then could they not have evolved via such brilliance? This would remedy the problems with strict gradualism, and fit the abruptness of the fossil record.
Cells redesign proteins by shuffling their modules, and genes are shared between organisms via complex horizontal transfer mechanisms. To these add even greater mechanisms such as cell fusions and whole genome doublings and you have nature’s version of genetic engineering. Is this natural genetic engineering not capable of evolving the species?
Once we were breeders, so evolution was viewed as a natural breeder. Now we are genetic engineers, so evolution is viewed as a natural genetic engineer. Evolution somehow created this marvelous genetic toolkit with which to create the biological world. And fortunately the tools cooperate, working when and where needed, and not when and where not needed.
Now evolutionists can continue to speculate about “the origins of complex adaptive novelties at moments of macroevolutionary change.” For instance, is it not evident that retrotransposons were necessary for the emergence of mammals in evolution?
According to evolutionists, evolution just happened to create the retrotransposons which later just happened to be needed for the emergence of mammals. This and the many other fantastic mechanisms that form the natural genetic engineering toolkit first had to be created by evolution so they then could cause evolution to happen.
Evolutionists ignore such serendipity while they debate the nuances of how evolution occurred, secure in their knowledge that it did occur. As the review summarizes:
Thus, novel adaptations that require changes at multiple locations in the genome can arise within a single generation and can produce progeny expressing all the changes at once. There is no requirement, as in conventional theory, that each individual change be beneficial by itself.
Just as genetic engineering has many advantages over the old breeding techniques, evolutionists find that the new natural genetic engineering version of evolution works so much better than the old breeding version of evolution.
Natural genetic engineering is the most recent version of evolutionists’ attempts to explain how the entire biological just happened to arise spontaneously. A fluke that now amazes us.
Evolution is a religiously motivated mandate that, from a scientific perspective, is unlikely. But as Michael Polanyi once explained, they will “come so firmly to uphold this fiction that they will regard it as ‘the scientific view’ of life and condemn anyone challenging this fallacy as an anti-scientific obscurantist.”
Polanyi was often prescient and no less so here. For the evolutionist’s certainty comes not from the science, but from the underlying religion. And crucial to this dogma is the turning upside down of science. The legitimate scientific concerns, that evolution is profoundly improbable, are themselves cast as an anti-scientific obscurantist, just as Polanyi put it. As the review paper concludes:
In other words, our best defense against anti-science obscurantism comes from the study of mobile DNA because that is the subject that has most significantly transformed evolution from natural history into a vibrant empirical science.
It is truly difficult to know whether to laugh or to cry. Evolution is, at once, both hilarious and dangerous. Religion drives science, and it matters.