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Peer-Reviewed Paper in Medical Journal Challenges Evolutionary Science and Inaccurate Evolution-Education

Casey Luskin

A new article by Dr. Joseph Kuhn of the Department of Surgery at Baylor University Medical Center, appearing in the peer-reviewed journal Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, poses a number of challenges to both chemical and biological evolution. Titled “Dissecting Darwinism,” the paper begins by recounting some of the arguments raised during the Texas State Board of Education debate that challenged chemical and biological evolution. Those challenges include:

1. Limitations of the chemical origin of life data to explain the origin of DNA
2. Limitations of mutation and natural selection theories to address the irreducible complexity of the cell
3. Limitations of transitional species data to account for the multitude of changes involved in the transition.

(Joseph A. Kuhn, “Dissecting Darwinism,” Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, Vol. 25(1): 41-47 (2012).)

Regarding the chemical origin of life, Kuhn points to the Miller-Urey experiments and correctly observes that “the experimental conditions of a low-oxygen, nitrogen-rich reducing environment have been refuted.” Citing Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, he contends that “the fundamental and insurmountable problem with Darwinian evolution lies in the remarkable complexity and inherent information contained within DNA.” Kuhn also explains that “Darwinian evolution and natural selection could not have been causes of the origin of life, because they require replication to operate, and there was no replication prior to the origin of life,” but no other known cause can organize the information in life.

Dr. Kuhn then turns to explaining the concept of irreducible complexity, citing Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box and noting that “irreducible complexity suggests that all elements of a system must be present simultaneously rather than evolve through a stepwise, sequential improvement, as theorized by Darwinian evolution.” Further, “The fact that these irreducibly complex systems are specifically coded through DNA adds another layer of complexity called ‘specified complexity.'” As a medical doctor, Kuhn proposes that irreducibly complex systems within the human body include “vision, balance, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the immune system, the gastrointestinal system, the skin, the endocrine system, and taste.” He concludes that “the human body represents an irreducibly complex system on a cellular and an organ/system basis.”

Kuhn also explores the question of human/ape common ancestry, citing Jonathan Wells’s book The Myth of Junk DNA and arguing:

DNA homology between ape and man has been reported to be 96% when considering only the current protein-mapping sequences, which represent only 2% of the total genome. However, the actual similarity of the DNA is approximately 70% to 75% when considering the full genome, including the previously presumed “junk DNA,” which has now been demonstrated to code for supporting elements in transcription or expression. The 25% difference represents almost 35 million single nucleotide changes and 5 million insertions or deletions.

In Dr. Kuhn’s view, this poses a problem for Darwinian evolution because the “[t]he ape to human species change would require an incredibly rapid rate of mutation leading to formation of new DNA, thousands of new proteins, and untold cellular, neural, digestive, and immune-related changes in DNA, which would code for the thousands of new functioning proteins.”

Kuhn also observes that a challenge to neo-Darwinism comes from the Cambrian explosion:

Thousands of specimens were available at the time of Darwin. Millions of specimens have been classified and studied in the past 50 years. It is remarkable to note that each of these shows a virtual explosion of nearly all phyla (35/40) of the animal kingdom over a relatively short period during the Cambrian era 525 to 530 million years ago. Since that time, there has been occasional species extinction, but only rare new phyla have been convincingly identified. The seminal paper from paleoanthropologists J. Valentine and D. H. Erwin notes that the absence of transitional species for any of the Cambrian phyla limits the neo-Darwinian explanation for evolution.

Despite Texas’s call for discussing the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution, Kuhn closes by noting, “In 2011, when new textbooks were presented to the State Board of Education, 9 out of 10 failed to provide the mandated supplementary curricula, which would include both positive and negative aspects of evolution (44).” Citing Discovery Institute’s Report on the Textbooks, he laments:

[S]everal of the textbooks continued to incorrectly promote the debunked Miller-Urey origin of life experiment, the long-discredited claims about nonfunctional appendix and tonsils, and the fraudulent embryo drawings from Ernst Haeckel. In essence, current biology students, aspiring medical students, and future scientists are not being taught the whole story. Rather, evidence suggests that they continue to receive incorrect and incomplete material that exaggerates the effect of random mutation and natural selection to account for DNA, the cell, or the transition from species to species.

Kuhn concludes, “It is therefore time to sharpen the minds of students, biologists, and physicians for the possibility of a new paradigm.”

Rebuttal to Kuhn Full of Unsophisticated and False Darwinian Assumptions
The journal also published a rebuttal to Dr. Kuhn by Charles Stewart Roberts, a cardiovascular surgeon in Virginia. Dr. Roberts’s rebuttal simply asserted, as if it were a truth that required no scientific backing, that all biological features could be produced by evolution:

The notion of “irreducible complexity” in a cell, as an argument against evolution, is beyond my present understanding. Knowing that life has existed on planet earth for billions of years, however, I suspect that there has been time enough for evolution, no matter how complex, with reducibility.

We’ve encountered and addressed this type of unsophisticated argument for Darwinian evolution many times before. You can’t just vaguely appeal to vast and unending amounts of time (and other probabilistic resources) and assume that Darwinian evolution can produce anything “no matter how complex.” Rather, you have to demonstrate that sufficient probabilistic resources exist to produce the feature.

Rather than making assumptions, proponents of intelligent design seek to test what the Darwinian mechanism can, or cannot, do. For example, a 2010 peer-reviewed research paper by pro-ID scientist Doug Axe modeled a population of evolving bacteria, and found that there are severe limits on the ability of Darwinian evolution to produce multi-mutation features. (A multi-mutation feature is one that requires multiple mutations to be present before there is any advantage given to the organism.)

Axe’s research makes assumptions very generously favoring Darwinian evolution. He assumed the existence of a huge population of asexually reproducing bacteria that could replicate quickly — perhaps nearly 3 times per day — over the course of billions of years. But he found that complex adaptations requiring more than six neutral mutations would exhaust the probabilistic resources available over the entire history of the earth. Moreover, if only slightly maladaptive intermediate mutations are required for a complex adaptation, only a couple (at most two) mutations could be fixed. If highly maladaptive mutations are required, the trait will never appear. Axe discusses the implications of his work:

[T]he most significant implication comes not from how the two cases contrast but rather how they cohere — both showing severe limitations to complex adaptation. To appreciate this, consider the tremendous number of cells needed to achieve adaptations of such limited complexity. As a basis for calculation, we have assumed a bacterial population that maintained an effective size of 109 individuals through 103 generations each year for billions of years. This amounts to well over a billion trillion opportunities (in the form of individuals whose lines were not destined to expire imminently) for evolutionary experimentation. Yet what these enormous resources are expected to have accomplished, in terms of combined base changes, can be counted on the fingers.

(Douglas D. Axe, “The Limits of Complex Adaptation: An Analysis Based on a Simple Model of Structured Bacterial Populations,” BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2010(4):1-10.)

Axe’s work suggests that we cannot assume, as Roberts does, that sufficient probabilistic resources exist to produce all the features we see in life, “no matter how complex.” Indeed, follow-up research by Axe and Ann Gauger suggests that many biological features might require enough mutations before conferring an advantage that they easily exceed Axe’s limit. Their 2011 study attempted to convert one protein into another, closely related protein — the kind of transformation that evolutionists claim happened easily in the history of life. Through mutational analysis, they found that a minimum of seven independent mutations — and probably many more — would be necessary to convert the protein and its function into that of its allegedly close relative. But this would exceed Axe’s limit of the number of mutations which could be fixed over the history of the earth before conferring any advantage.

Their finding severely limits the creative power of the Darwinian mechanism:

The extent to which Darwinian evolution can explain enzymatic innovation seems, on careful inspection, to be very limited. Large-scale innovations that result in new protein folds appear to be well outside its range. This paper argues that at least some small-scale innovations may also be beyond its reach. If studies of this kind continue to imply that this is typical rather than exceptional, then answers to the most interesting origins questions will probably remain elusive until the full range of explanatory alternatives is considered.

(Ann K. Gauger and Douglas D. Axe, “The Evolutionary Accessibility of New Enzyme Functions: A Case Study from the Biotin Pathway,” BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2011(1) (2011).)

Unfortunately, Dr. Roberts’s way of thinking is extremely common among evolutionists, who simply assume the Darwinian mechanism is sufficient, even though that has not been demonstrated. ID proponents take a much more sophisticated approach, doing research that is putting these long-standing Darwinian assertions to the test, and finding they are false.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Baylor UniversityCambrian ExplosionCharles Darwinevolutionfossilsintelligent designJonathan WellsJoseph KuhnMichael Behepeer-review