Fourteen quotes about evolution

Natural selection explains adaptation not common descent

#1) The history of life presents three great sources of wonder. One is adaptation, the marvelous fit between organism and environment. The other two are diversity and complexity, the huge variety of living forms today and the enormous complexity of their internal structure. Natural selection explains adaptation. But what explains diversity and complexity?” (Daniel McShae and Michael Brandon, Biology’s First Law :The Tendency for Diversity and Complexity to Increase in Evolutionary Systems, location 78, Kindle)

#2) By the time Darwin came to publish On the Origin of Species in 1859, he had amassed enough evidence to propel evolution itself, though still not natural selection, a long way towards the status of fact. Indeed, it was this elevation from hypothesis towards fact that occupied Darwin for most of his great book. The elevation has continued until, today, there is no longer any doubt in any serious mind, and scientists speak, at least informally, of the fact of evolution. All reputable biologists go on to agree that natural selection is one of its most important driving forces, although —as some biologists insist more than others—not the only one. Even if it is not the only one, I have yet to meet a serious biologist who can point to an alternative to natural selection as a driving force of adaptive evolution—evolution towards positive improvement. (Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, p. 18)

#3) Facilitated variation is not like orthogenesis, a theory championed by the eccentric American paleontologist Henry Osborn (1857–1935), which imbues the organism with an internal preset course of evolution, a program of variations unfolding over time. Natural selection remains a major part of the explanation of how organisms have evolved characters so well adapted to the environment. (Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma, page 247)

#4) P. falciparum, HIV, and E. coli are all very, very different from each other. They range from the simple to the complex, have very different life cycles, and represent three different fundamental domains of life: eukaryote, virus, and prokaryote. Yet they all tell the same tale of Darwinian evolution. Single simple changes to old cellular machinery that can help in dire circumstances are easy to come by. This is where Darwin rules, in the land of antibiotic resistance and single tiny steps…There is no evidence the Darwinian process can take the multiple, coherent steps needed to build new molecular machinery, the kind of machinery that fills the cell. (Michael J. Behe, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, Free Press, 2007, p. 162)

#5) In Behe’s view, these are examples of nothing more than a kind of “trench warfare” in which the two species have progressively disabled or broken parts of themselves in order to survive. Nothing genuinely new, novel, or complex has resulted from this struggle, and we shouldn’t expect otherwise. The reason, according to Behe, is that the sorts of changes we see in this well-studied interaction represent the limit, the “edge” of what evolution can accomplish. They can go this far and no further. A line in the sand is drawn, and the other side of that line is intelligent design.  How does Behe know where to draw that line? (Kenneth Miller, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for the American Soul,p. 67)

#6) They [Pinker and Bloom] particularly emphasized that language is incredibly complex, as Chomsky had been saying for decades. Indeed, it was the enormous complexity of language that made is hard to imagine not merely how it had evolved but that it had evolved at all.

But, continued Pinker and Bloom, complexity is not a problem for evolution. Consider the eye. The little organ is composed of many specialized parts, each delicately calibrated to perform its role in conjunction with the others. It includes the cornea,…Even Darwin said that it was hard to imagine how the eye could have evolved.

And yet, he explained, it did evolve, and the only possible way is through natural selection—the inestimable back-and-forth of random genetic mutation with small effects…Over the eons, those small changes accreted and eventually resulted in the eye as we know it. (Christine Kenneally, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, pp. 59–60)

#7) To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. (Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species)

#8) But are they right [advocates of ID] in saying that the Darwinian mechanism is inadequate to explain biological complexity? Most biologists, including most of those who are devout Christian believers, doubt it very strongly. And even if the ID people are right, it will be virtually impossible to prove that they are right because they are asserting a negative. They are saying that no Darwinian explanation of certain complex structures will ever be forthcoming. Well, there may not exist such an explanation now, but there might exist one later. So, in practice, I don’t see a slam-dunk proof for miraculous intervention in evolution as coming out of this movement. (Stephen M. Barr, quoted in “The Mythological Conflict Between Christianity and Science | An interview with physicist Dr. Stephen Barr,” Ignatius Insight, September 25, 2006 )

Model of protein

#1) By comparison, if we question how long it would take a high-speed computer to write randomly a specific Shakespearean sonnet, we are asking that all the letters of the words of the sonnet will come up simultaneously in the correct order. It is an impossible task, even if all the computers in the world today had been working from the time of the big bang to the present. Even to compose the phrase, “To be or not to be,” letter by letter, would take a typical computer millions of years. (Marc W. Kirschner and John C. Gerhart, The Plausiblity of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma, page 32)

#2) Each of the four identical polypeptide chains that together make up transthyretin is composed of 127 amino acids…The primary structure is like the order of letters in a very long word. If left to chance, there would be 20 to the 127th power different ways of making a polypeptide chain 127 amino acids long. (Campbell and Reece, Biology, 7th edition, page 82)

Second law of thermodynamics

#1) Based on what we have said so far, some will be poised and ready to make a leap, from the notion of accumulation of accidents to the second law of thermodynamics…. We advise readers against this, for their own safety. We are concerned that on the other side of that leap there may be no firm footing. Indeed, there may be an abyss. First, we think the foundation of the ZFEL [zero-force evolutionary law] lies in probability theory, not in the second law or any other law of physics. And second, our notions of diversity and complexity differ fundamentally from entropy, in that entropy, unlike diversity and complexity is not a level-related concept. (Daniel W. McShae and Robert N. Brandon, Biology’s First Law: The Tendency for Diversity and Complexity to Increase in Evolutionary SystemsBiology’s, location 220 on Kindle)

#2) Considered thermodynamically, the problem of neo-Darwinism is the production of order by random events. (Ludwig von Bertalanffy, “Chance or Law,” in Beyond Reductionism: New Perspectives in the Life Sciences, The Macmillan Company, 1969, page 76)

#3) Modern biology is faced with two ideas which seem to me to be quite incompatible with each other. One is the concept of evolution by natural selection of adaptive genes that are originally produced by random mutations. The other is the concept of the gene as part of a molecule of DNA, each gene being unique in the order of arrangement of its nucleotides. If life really depends on each gene being as unique as it appears to be, then it is too unique to come into being by chance mutations. There will be nothing for natural selection to act upon. (“Natural Selection and the Complexity of the Gene: Conflict between the idea of natural selection and the idea of uniqueness of the gene does not seem to be near a solution yet,” Nature, Vol. 224, 1969, p. 342)

#4) Unfortunately this principle cannot explain the formation of biological structures. The probability that at ordinary temperatures a macroscopic number of molecules is assembled to give rise to the highly ordered structures and to the coordinated functions characterizing living organisms is vanishingly small. The idea of spontaneous genesis of life in its present form is therefore highly improbable, even on the scale of the billions of years during which prebiotic evolution occurred.

The conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that the apparent contradiction between biological order and the laws of physics—in particular the second law of thermodynamics—cannot be resolved as long as we try to understand living systems by the methods of the familiar equilibrium statistical mechanics and equally familar thermodynamics. (“Thermodynamics of evolution: The functional order maintained within living systems seems to defy the Second Law; nonequilibrium thermodynamics describes how such systems come to terms with entropy,” Phys. Today 25(11), 23 (1972); doi: 10.1063/1.3071090.)

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