In which Fred Explains why the sting of a hornet is an example of ‘irreducible complexity’ and a problem for Darwinians
By Fred Reed
Writing about evolution is likely an expression of literary masochism, but has its rewards. The difficulties are several. For one thing, for many people belief in evolution indicates to them that they are not of the unwashed, but rather one with advanced thinkers. For another, most people accept nature-show evolution in which in a sort of biological Coeueism: we are getting better and better, when in fact evolution says no such thing, but rather that organisms become progressively better adapted to their environments, making tapeworms, cockroaches, and perhaps politicians pinnacles of successful evolution. Further, many questions involved the Cambrian and Ediacaran fauna, developmental gene regulatory networks, the mathematics of multiple simultaneous mutations, and so on, which few have studied.
When faced with questions, the faithful do not answer. Instead they respond with lofty silence, or hauteur and harrumphing, or assertions of authority. These variations on squirming amuse me, so I ask questions. I am doubtless a bad person.
But the Darwinists don’t answer. When doubters among mathematicians and biochemists express doubts they are likely to be fired for bio deviationism. They don’t get answers either.
Many people need overarching explanations to provide a sense of security in a world that doesn’t make much sense. To protect these beliefs they accept contradictions and logical lacunae while ignoring evidence inconsistent with desired doctrine. Among such ardently defended beliefs are religions, capitalism, socialism, feminism, communism, conspiracy theories, and…Darwinism.
Some questions about evolution are accessible to anyone. Herewith a few of my favorites. The reader will note that in comment sections, amongst all the deprecation and holding-of-breath and turning-blue and name-calling, the evolutionary faithful…
Don’t answer the questions.
There will be much of, “Alas, poor Fred, not a bad fellow but not quite right in the head.” Yes, yes, no doubt. I will remember to take my Thorazine. Answer the questions. Then there will be, “Fred, you know absolutely nothing about….” But what I do or do not know is irrelevant since I am asserting nothing but asking Darwinians what they know. Answer the questions.
They won’t. They will evade, wriggle, wax wroth. They don’t answer because they can’t. If they could, they would. I sympathize with them since without Le Grand Chuck, biologists would lose all sense of structure, order, and certitude.
All right, to work.
Of the many problems with Darwin, the most easily accessible without a lot of technical reading is “irreducible complexity.” Orthodox Darwinism holds that evolution proceeds by small, incremental, beneficial steps. For example, a slightly smarter bushman, smarter because of a fortuitous mutation, might survive more readily than his fellows, get more girls and thus pass on his superior genes. This, so far as it goes, is plausible. It is just selective breeding.
The problem of irreducible complexity arises when a biological system consisting of several interacting parts would have no useful purpose if one of the parts were missing. All of the parts would then have to appear simultaneously, which is astronomically unlikely.
For example, consider the sting of a hornet. It consists of several parts: a biochemical mechanism to make the venom, a sac to hold it, muscles to eject it from the sac, the stinger, muscles to insert the stinger into the victim, nerves to control the first muscles, and nerves to control the second.
If any one of these parts is absent, the mechanism is entirely useless, and so all had to appear simultaneously. This is irreducible complexity.
I ask Darwin’s minions to tell me how this elaborate arrangement evolved. The reader will note that in all the fury and contempt and vile remarks about my maternal ancestry, the Darwinists…
Won’t answer the question.
The thoughtful will additionally note that many of the hornet’s parts would in themselves prove difficult chores of evolution. For example, the stinger is an elegant, precisely formed, long pointed tube of exactly the right diameter. How many simultaneous mutations of what would have to occur to form the thing?
Examples of irreducible complexity litter the natural world. Bugs in particular are rife with it. Consider metamorphosis in insects. There are two kinds of bugs, two-cycle bugs that lay eggs that hatch into tiny replicas of the adults, which grow, lay eggs, and repeat the cycle. Then there are four-cycle bugs that go through egg, larva, pupa, adult. Question: What are the viable steps needed to evolve from two-cycle to four-cycle? Or from anything to four-cycle?
Let us consider this question carefully.
We begin with a two-cycle bug, that for convenience we will call a roach, which will endeavor to evolve into a bug that, also for convenience, we will assume to be a butterfly. From a spirit of charity we will assume that it is a flying roach to give it a head start toward butterflyhood.
To achieve that exalted end, our roach would first have to evolve a larval form—that is, a caterpillar. It is difficult to see how this could occur at all, or why. To become a caterpillar, our roach would have to lose its jointed legs, chitinous exoskeleton, and head-thorax-abdomen body plan. Since not even the most dewy-eyed, dappled evolutionist could attribute such sweeping changes to one mutation, the transformation would have to proceed by steps involving at least several and probably dozens of mutations. Losing the exoskeleton would leave it unarmored and unable to walk, not an obvious selective advantage. It would also have to be able to reproduce to continue evolving, which means become a free-standing species.
Then, for reasons most mysterious, the pupa would have to decide to pupate and become a butterfly. And the butterfly would have to lay eggs that became caterpillars.
Which could not possibly work. Metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly is complex and if you don’t get it right the first time, it’s curtains. It would depend on a great many steps which would have to appear simultaneously. First, our caterpillar probably would have to use its spinnerets (of mysterious provenance, but never mind) to make a cocoon, in which it would proceed to die because it hadn’t yet evolved metamorphosis. Why a caterpillar would think of doing this is not clear. To turn successfully into a butterfly, it would need the biochemical machinery to transform a mushy, legless, wingless, head-thorax-abdomenless worm into an utterly different creature. Where would it have gotten the impossibly complex genetic blueprint of the butterfly? Or the machinery to construct it?
Methinks something is going on that we do not understand. But to admit not understanding might give satisfaction to snake-handling evangelical Christians with three teeth in the mountains of North Carolina (though actually it wouldn’t) so we mustn’t admit that we don’t understand.
Note that the questions posed by these bugs are not merely pleasant musings on a slow afternoon. Either the Theory of Evolution can explain them, or the theory fails.
If I may dive briefly into technoglop, consider genetic coding for proteins. Each amino acid in a protein is coded for by a codon consisting of three nuclear bases. There being four nucleotides, a codon of three allows four cubed or sixty-four triplets, enough to code for the twenty aminos, some control codons, and redundancy. From what simpler system can this have evolved—two nucleotides per codon, allowing for sixteen aminos and no controls? The current system seems a clear and unambiguous case of irreducible complexity, incapable of simplification.
This, note, is a clear question about a simple and well understood coding system. I assert nothing, but ask. An honest Darwinist has three possible responses: answering the question, explaining why it is meaningless, or saying, “I don’t know.” Or he can duck and dodge, shuck and jive, huff and puff, call names, invoke herd authority, or cower in stolid silence. Watch.
Another question: The human bot fly is a squat, ugly, hairy fly that (in one version anyway) catches a mosquito, lays its eggs on said mosquito after positioning it correctly, and attaches them with a kind of glue. It releases the mosquito. When the little syringe lands on, say, a human, the eggs drop off, hatch, and burrow into the host. These make nasty raised lumps with something wiggling inside them. Later the larvae exit, fall to the ground, and pupate.
How did this evolve? Did a grab-a-mosquito gene occur as a random mutation (assuming that a single mutation could cause such complex behavior)? It would have to be a grab-a-mosquito-but-don’t-cripple-it gene. That is a lot of behavior for one mutation. At this point the bot fly would have a mosquito but no idea what to do with it. It would need simultaneously to have a stick-eggs-on-mosquito mutation. This would seem to require another rather ambitious gene.
Catching the mosquito without laying the eggs, or sticking the eggs to the wrong part of the mosquito, or laying eggs in midair without having caught the mosquito, would seem losing propositions. None of these awfully-lucky mutations would be of use without the others. How do you evolve this elaborate dance by gradual, beneficial steps?
Once again, I ask the reader to ignore for the moment the matter of whether I am a bad person, want to tear down science, am the lowest sort of unevolved moron, or adherent of the Cargo Cult. Instead, ask: Did the Darwinists answer the question?
A final example: How did the rhinoceros evolve its horn? “No, I didn’t plagiarize this from Kipling. Honest.)
The horned rhino presumably evolved from a large, rhino-like hornless mammal. Nature-show evolutionism will assert that the horn obviously came about to allow defense. Oh. But how? Since the horn is of keratin, not bone, presumably it arose from either skin or hair. But by what small, incremental, advantageous steps? It would be useless until long and pointed. Whatever the mutation that began horn-formation would have to have done it precisely centered laterally on the beast’s forehead, or have managed to move there later. Why here and not, say, on the left hind leg? Why not over the whole body? ¨This is a serous question. The horn would be useless until long and pointed enough to poke lions. To become pointed it would need a mutation, or some number thereof, to make it grow faster in the middle, and then stop growing. Anyone who actually thinks about this mystery will come up with further questions. If the horn evolved by gradual incremental steps, intermediate fossils must exist. Do they?
I invite the reader to note whether Darwinists give clear, non-metaphysical answers to these simple and straightforward questions.
FRED REED describes himself as [previously] a “Washington police reporter, former Washington editor for Harper’s and staff writer for Soldier of Fortune magazine, Marine combat vet from Viet Nam, and former long-haul hitchhiker, part-time sociopath, who once lived in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from the Yankee Capital.”
His essays “on the collapse of America” Mr. Reed calls “wildly funny, sometimes wacky, always provocative.”
“Fred is the Hunter Thompson of the right,” seconds Thomas E. Ricks in Foreign Policy magazine. His commentary is “well-written, pungent political incorrectness mixed with smart military commentary and libertarian impulses, topped off with a splash of Third World sunshine and tequila.”
Hardboiled is back! (The exclamation point is to arouse wild enthusiasm int the reader, a boiling literary lust.) Gritty crime fiction by longtime police reporter for the Washington Times, who knows the police from nine years of riding with them. Guaranteed free of white wine and cheese, sensitivity, or social justice.