Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

Even More on Battson and Clark

David C. Bossard

117 Storrs Hill Road
Lebanon, NH 03766

From: PSCF 47 (March 1995): 66-67.

As a mathematician trained in probability (and also a Creationist!) I am somewhat bemused by the discussions on stasis and lack of transitional fossils, most recently exemplified by Battson's article in the December, 1994 issue of Perspectives. My perplexment (!) is that these facts seem to be put forth as somehow arguing against naturalistic evolution. In my own view, these features of living matter are what one would expect and are in themselves largely irrelevant to the argument.

The head picture that I form when I think of evolution is a vast N-dimensional space pockmarked with many sloughs reaching out, so to speak, to ensnare the hapless wanderer (or blind watchmaker). In quantum physics, these sloughs would be called potential wells. To oversimplify things for the purpose of illustration, the plot of a one dimensional slice through this space might appear as a graph with many narrow peaks of varying height separating valleys of varying depth and breadth. Let's say that the x-axis of this graph is DNA configurations and the y-axis is transition probability. (Let's be naive for now and not ask, "Transition to what?" In a realistic model, this probability would be an infinite vector with an entry for every possible target configuration.) A valley would represent the DNA variations corresponding to a particular species.

In this oversimplified picture, to say that a given species exhibits stasis means either that the transition probability (vector magnitude) is extremely low (so that the DNA has a high probability of faithful replication) or that the species valley is surrounded by very high walls so that most transitions to the "slopes" will tumble back in to the valley (Yes, I am mixing metaphors here, but when a mathematician pictures N-dimensional space, all constraints are off!). To say that there are few examples of transitional species means that the species are surrounded by peaks of high transition probability, so that if a DNA configuration on such a peak or slope occurs it will rapidly slip into a neighboring valley, leaving little residual trace. The improbable event is that the traveler will claw its way up the slope and down into the neighboring valley (a transition between species). Along the way there will be few stopping-off points to leave residue of the campfire.

Incidentally, once the traveler has arrived in the new valley, his descendants will tend to diversify within the confines of that valley. Thus one could expect to see the inversion that Battson cites; major changes followed by lesser changesóphyla first, then classes, then orders. One would not expect to see the fossil record creep gradually from one phylum or class to another by innumerable transitional changes. Personally I see this expectation of gradualism the result of a historical accident of science: that mathematics, the language of science, blossomed by contemplating continuous phenomena rather than discontinuous. Note that Darwin's day was long before the realization that the world of physics is not one of continuous but of discontinuous change.

Things are, of course, much more complex than implied in my simple head picture, and involve vast dimensions, but this is the essence of how I see the issue of stasis, lack of transitional forms, and the "inversion" of the fossil record. To expect transitional forms is somewhat like expecting to find intermediate states between elementary particles in physics.

The issue as I see it is not the lack of transitional forms or the remarkable stability of the species or the inversion of the fossil record (I would expect all of these!), but the probability of transition between DNA configurations, and the viability (attainment of both self-sustaining and reproductive ability) of these configurations. The naturalistic evolutionists would argue that these are sufficiently high to account for the diversity of species that we see.

With the amazing advances in the understanding of the genetic code, and of the various mechanisms that support and propagate life, scientists in principle possess the tools to investigate these probabilities. The problem is that to date, no plausible mechanism have been discovered that would provide sufficiently high transition probabilities that would account for a viable path between significantly different species within the (severe!) time constraints since the big bang. And this leaves aside the issue of forming the first life from non-living material.