Is the Watchmaker Blind? – Part II

Richard Dawkins, The Blind WatchmakerIn Part I, we looked at the high-level challenges facing Dawkins’ description of Darwinism in The Blind Watchmaker.  Now we shift our attention to some of the specific examples and “evidences” he uses to build the case. 

Biomorphs

Dr. Dawkins created his computer simulation of “Biomorphs” to show the concept of evolution in action.  Through his program, Dawkins shows that random mutations, paired with selection, can rapidly create diverse and “complex” forms.

While Dawkins positions his biomorph program as a conceptual demonstration of evolution, it is nothing of the sort.  First, the simulation required an intelligent designer (i.e. Dawkins) to create the computer program, set-up the parameters, and create the initial nine gene “genome.”  Secondly, the “mutations” it employs are totally unrealistic.  They simply change information whereas real mutations are copy mistakes that degrade and reduce it.  More importantly, progressive evolution requires mutations that increase information, which occurs neither in his program nor real life.  Therefore, unless we assume an intelligent designer to create life and fanciful mutations that are nothing like real ones, biomorphs are completely irrelevant to the evolution discussion.

Fossil Record

Dawkins acknowledges the lack of transitional forms within the fossil record.  He tries to explain how these gaps are caused by people looking in the wrong places or time periods.  Basically, what we see as a “gap” is due to the migration patterns and geographic isolation of transitional species versus a lack of them.   In fact, Dawkins claims we should actually expect these gaps since “evolution usually occurred in a different place from where we find most of our fossils.”1  In short, Dawkins asserts that a lack of fossil evidence proves evolution! 

Dawkins may have a valid point in his claims about geographic and time-period isolation, except for one key factor.  We have a worldwide fossil record across all geologic time periods!  If the fossil record was specific to only one area or time, Dawkins would have a formidable point.  But the record is substantial with hundreds of thousands of fossils over a claimed 3.5+ billion-year period and Dawkins knows this.

Finally, if fossil gaps are predicted by evolution, it was certainly a surprise to Charles Darwin.  The gaps apparent within the “Cambrian explosion” were a significant problem that he lamented.  Furthermore, if these gaps were expected, why do evolutionists continually try to produce transitional fossils or revise evolutionary theory (e.g. Punctuated Equilibrium) to explain them?  It seems Dawkins is the only evolutionist that expected these gaps or believes they support Darwinism. 

Cladistics

Dawkins spends a full chapter discussing why “cladistics” proves evolution.  Cladistics is the practice of using shared characteristics to create patterns of evolutionary relationships.  Dawkins claims these shared characteristics, the universality of the genetic code, and the patterns that emerge from cladistics are exactly what evolution predicts.

The problem is that Dawkins’ argument is circular.  Since cladists are evolutionists,2 it is not surprising they see evolutionary relationships when they build “family trees.”  They assume similarities, whether in body plans, genes, or the genetic code point to universal descent.  Dawkins declares that the universal genetic code is “near-conclusive proof” of evolution.3  However, such similarities are at least as consistent with common design as with common descent.  Cladistics only “proves” evolution because it assumes it!  Dawkins even alludes to this possibility.4

While discussing cladistics and common descent, Dawkins again addresses the lack of intermediates.  He makes the point that we should not see intermediates today because they lived in the past.  Now we only see the divergent descendants of our shared ancestors.  In other words, “the awkward intermediates are all dead.”5

As stated in the previous section, this is a valid point only if we have a relatively incomplete fossil record.  But since we have a massive record, we should be able to look at the past and find the “awkward intermediates.”  As discussed here, the most awkward thing about intermediates is their non-existence.  Only a handful of supposed intermediates have been found and all are debatable.

There is one final point to make about cladistics.  Since cladists look for patterns across huge ranges of characteristics, and they have their own biases, there is much personal judgement that goes into each family tree created.  Consequently, conflicting trees are generated from the same data.6  Such ambiguity raises questions about the accuracy of cladistics and demonstrates they clearly do not represent the “one true tree of life”7 as Dawkins claims.

Amino Acids

On page 210, Dawkins mentions experiments that prove organic compounds like amino acids could be created spontaneously within earth’s early atmosphere.  While he doesn’t mention the famous Miller-Urey experiments by name, the description sounds the same.  The Miller-Urey experiments have been favorites of evolutionists for decades since they “prove” complex organic compounds can arise naturally.

Perhaps Dawkins does not mention Miller-Urey by name because more recent research has thoroughly debunked it.  Miller-Urey assumed an atmospheric composition completely different from what scientists now believe existed on the early earth.8  More recent experiments that replicate the actual early earth atmosphere have failed to produce any organic molecules.9  Furthermore, Miller and Urey used a special separation chamber to isolate the amino acids they produced since even their highly controlled test environment would have quickly destroyed them.10  Presumably, the early earth did not have such a “separation chamber” to protect its amino acids!

However, even if the Miller-Urey experiments had genuinely proven amino acids can form naturally, it would still be largely irrelevant to proving abiogenesis and evolution.  Because once you have all twenty necessary amino acids, you then face the 1 in 1063 odds mentioned in part one to get an actual protein.  Amino acids are light-years away from being functional proteins.  And proteins are light-years away from being even simple lifeforms.  Miller-Urey, and related experiments, basically assume that if wood can form, self-replicating houses will naturally and inevitably result!

RNA Synthesis

Dawkins again tries to make that case that complex organic molecules can create themselves naturally via random processes by citing experiments performed under the direction of famous origin-of-life researcher Manfred Eigen.  In these experiments, and in subsequent ones, RNA molecules spontaneously generated. 

Dawkins is correct that Eigen achieved RNA synthesis in the lab.  However, there is a lot he chose to leave out.  First, all of these experiments were done in highly controlled lab environments, seeded with RNA precursors, that are nothing like the real world.  Secondly, and most importantly, no functional RNA that contains actual biological information has ever been synthesized in the lab.11  All these experiments have produced are inactive RNA fragments that are biologically irrelevant. 

Leading origin-of-life theorist, and evolutionist, James Shapiro admits “The odds against (RNA forming on its own) are astronomical.”12  Even if it did form, RNA is very fragile and breaks down rapidly in nature, so it likely couldn’t last long enough to create life on its own.13  Ultimately, Eigen’s experiment is interesting, but useless in proving evolution.

Irreducible Complexity

Dawkins contends that evolution accounts for complex structures through gradual, incremental improvement.  He describes how if we consider some feature (“X”), we can easily imagine some slightly less complex version of it (“X1)” that could have come before, such that X could have resulted from a random change.  If we extend this process far enough into the past, we can eventually explain any complex feature seen today. 

Dawkins goes on to ridicule the concept of irreducible complexity by citing errant examples used by British author Francis Hitching in his book The Neck of the Giraffe or Where Darwin Went Wrong.  He then describes how complex features such as eyes, lungs, and wings could have evolved gradually since “half a wing” is better than no wing.

It is interesting Dawkins seeks to prove evolution via gradual improvement with a “thought experiment.”  Perhaps that is because it is easy to imagine such changes occurring, but it is vastly more difficult to actually achieve them.  Doing so requires multiple, coordinated mutations, highly effective selection, enough occurrences of the change to “fix” it in the population, and consistent increases in genetic information, all of which are either challenging or practically impossible.   

It is also telling that Dawkins chooses to take on non-biologist Francis Hitching’s examples of irreducible complexity but leaves unanswered the challenges posed by the highly credentialed Dr. Michael Behe.  In Darwin’s Black Box, Behe describes how structures such as the bacterial flagellum, the immune system, and the blood-clotting process involve multiple, coordinated steps that could not have developed gradually.  Without every one of the interdependent steps, the whole process fails.  Dawkins evidently prefers to attack people that cannot punch back.

Dawkins’ discussion of how partial wings and lungs work better than nothing is embarrassingly naive.  He seems to equate “half” of something with simply a smaller version of it.  For example, a partial lung still has enough surface area to provide more respiration than no lung.14 

But Dawkins misses the real point.  Half a lung is not just a smaller lung.  It would more accurately be a lung with alveoli but no blood vessels.  Half a wing might have muscles but no bone structure.  Half an eye may have photoreceptors but no nerve connection to the brain.  Obviously, these are totally useless to an organism.  But to get anything more than these requires multiple, coordinated, simultaneous mutations.  Such interdependent parts cannot develop bit by bit!

Information

Dawkins readily acknowledges the vast amounts of digital information stored within a genome.15  But he offers no real explanation as to how that information could have arisen.  Basically, he believes the information simply arose because some molecule chains can contain more than one type of molecule.  As he says, “as soon as such heterogeneity enters into a polymer chain, information technology becomes a theoretical possibility.”16  Dawkins probably chooses to go no further than a “theoretical possibility” because the creation of genetic information is a major challenge to evolution.

By any standard, the genetic code represents actual information.17  It contains a coded language with the equivalents of syntax and grammar.  It contains specific messages and instructions.  It creates defined actions with purpose behind them.  The bottom line is that there is no other known example of such complex information occurring by natural processes.  Nothing is even remotely close.  We only see this kind of information result from intelligent causes.

Unfortunately for Darwinism, the information-rich, universal genetic code appears to have arisen almost instantly.  There were not a “billion billion planet years” for it to evolve by chance.  Evolutionists point to simple bacterial life dated to 3.8 billion years ago.18  Prior to that time, life would have been difficult to sustain due to heat generated by the constant meteor strikes of the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB).  Consequently, evolutionists are left with two difficult scenarios:  1) Life formed as soon as it was physically possible after the LHB or 2) Life somehow began even earlier in earth’s history (~4.0+ billion years ago) and survived millions of years of the LHB.  Either way, the timing and conditions do not support a gradual, chance beginning.

Even more surprising is that while mutations have changed genes over time, the universal genetic code appears not to have evolved.  There is general consensus that it effectively cannot evolve.19  Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly recognized, even among evolutionists, that the genetic code is highly optimized and “the best of all possible codes.”20  One has to wonder how such a perfect genetic code could have arisen instantly and undergone no evolutionary changes over billions of years if evolution is actually true.

Conclusion

In both the overall theory and its details, Darwinism fails to give a naturalistic account for the beginning, diversity, and complexity of life.  Richard Dawkins makes a compelling and impassioned case, but only by leaving out much of the evidence.  Dawkins clearly knows the pieces he omitted.  But he admits The Blind Watchmaker is “not a dispassionate scientific treatise.”21  Rather, Dawkins has an agenda to do away with God.  And he admits to using the “tricks of the advocate’s trade”22 to do so.  At least he is honest about that part.

Notes:

  1. Dawkins, Dr. Richard.  The Blind Watchmaker.  New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. 2015.  Pg. 343
  2. Ibid.  Pg. 392
  3. Ibid.  Pg. 383
  4. Ibid.  Pg. 392
  5. Ibid.  Pg. 372
  6. Meyer, Dr. Stephen.  Darwin’s Doubt.  New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers 2013.  Pg. 433
  7. Dawkins, Dr. Richard.  Op. Cit.  Pg. 361
  8. Sanford, Dr. John and Rupe, Christopher.  Spontaneous Life…Dead in the Water.  FMS Foundation 2016.  https://www.logosra.org/spontaneous-life  Appendix 3.
  9. Ibid.  Appendix 3.
  10. Ibid.  Appendix 3.
  11. Ibid.  Pgs. 7-9
  12. Ibid.  Pg. 6
  13. Ibid.  Pg. 6
  14. Dawkins, Dr. Richard.  Op. Cit.  Pg. 123
  15. Dawkins, Dr. Richard.  Op. Cit.  Pg. 164
  16. Dawkins, Dr. Richard.  Op. Cit.  Pg. 163
  17. Sanford, Dr. John and Rupe, Christopher.  Op. Cit.  Appendix 2.
  18. Sanford, Dr. John and Rupe, Christopher.  Op. Cit.  Pg. 10
  19. Rana, Dr. Fazale.  FYI:  ID In DNA Deciphering Design in the Genetic Code.  https://www.reasons.org/explore/publications/tnrtb/read/tnrtb/2002/01/02/fyi-i.d.-in-dna-deciphering-design-in-the-genetic-code
  20. Sanford, Dr. John and Rupe, Christopher.  Op. Cit.  Pg. 13
  21. Dawkins, Dr. Richard.  Op. Cit.  Prologue XVI
  22. Dawkins, Dr. Richard.  Op. Cit.  Prologue XVI
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