On a famous Star Trek episode, Captain Kirk found big trouble when a bunch of cute fluffy creatures called tribbles started breeding out of control. Well friends, for years now Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution has been facing a similar problem. It’s called the Cambrian Explosion because during the Cambrian period (545 million years ago), the Earth was suddenly filled with creatures for which there were no pre-Cambrian precursors. Such a rapid gain in biological information and species introduction does not set well with the theory that only slow mutations (coupled with natural selection) can produce new flora and fauna. The Cambrian was a sudden influx of creatures. There was nothing gradual about it. In the span of only five to ten million years, virtually all complex species on earth made their first appearance.
Darwin himself, when confronted with this problem by the famous Harvard professor Agassiz, realized that his theory seemingly broke down in the fossil record of the Cambrian. Darwin knew that massive changes by way of mutation would almost always produce non-viable organisms. Only through the slow process of gradual change could the DNA be modified under his theory. Yet that is not what happened. Creatures like the Trilobites (first exoskeleton animal), sponges and cordates seemingly came out of nowhere. And where did all the new information that “coded” these ever more complex creatures come from … certainly not from mutations and natural selection. The problem of information infusion is a correlated puzzlement of the Cambrian explosion problem. See below for quick overview of the Cambrian Explosion:
The sudden bursting forth of new life forms is not the only problem that Darwin’s theory faced. For natural selection to work there must be creatures with inherited traits that can be acted upon … no living creatures … no way for natural selection to work. Thus the problem with crossing the living / non living barrier is completely unexplained by Darwin. He simply started with the assumption that all life had a common ancestor in the deep recesses of time. He had no thoughts as to how this came to be. It is a little like the advice on getting rich “… first get a million dollars … then …”
Why this is important is that schools are teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution as if all scientists agree that it explains how life evolved. I can understand why they do not want to introduce religious thought into the curriculum, but it is doing the students a disservice not to let them know of these issues. It’s a little like saying that the standard model completely explains the universe when the vast majority of matter and energy is dark matter and dark energy for which the standard model has virtually nothing to say. I say let’s be honest. Let’s tell students that Darwin’s theory explains much, but that science is still working on filling in some missing components of the theory.
Let us step back a moment and think about natural selection. To start, lets us imagine a human interjecting themselves into the breeding process. Want bigger sheep or thicker wool, just pick out the ones that meet the criteria you are after and viola, given enough generations of selective breeding and you will achieve the result you are looking for. Nature can do the same. Make the environment colder and only those with thick coats survive. This is natural selection and there is no doubt it is a driving force in changing the characteristics of a species.
The difficulty comes when you want to produce an entirely new species. This requires a level of change (and in many cases information content growth) that is a bridge too far for humans and artificial breeding methodologies. Even natural selection would have a hard time producing entirely new species … the gradual changes require thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of generations to move say from sheep to horse.
There is an instinct on the part of educators, newspapers etc to say that the theory of evolution has no weakness and should be taught as absolute fact. That is simply not the case. We still have much to learn about this complex subject and we should keep an open mind. This does not necessarily mean intelligent design (though it might), rather it just means the science is incomplete. NAA has a theory that explains the Cambrian explosion but it shall have to wait until after the next post on … cellular automata.
Whoa the dark elves are restless. You can explain the Cambrian explosion and somehow relate it to simple patterns and rules, they ask. Yes and I even have a theory on the life/nonlife barrier.
“Patience my pointed ear ones. All shall be revealed soon.”
Both of the above books make the case for Intelligent Design. Since I have always believed that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, I am skeptical of Intelligent Design. Instead I think we should look at every possible scientific basis to explain the crossing of the nonlife /life barrier and the Cambrian explosion – the two great mysteries surrounding the world of one Charles Darwin and his marvelous theories.
In the end, I think these wonderful mysteries will be explained by a new kind of science.