Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Goal-Directed Evolution

Evolution cannot find the mechanism that drives evolution forward. They have also shot down theistic evolution's idea that God planted an "Omega Point" within each life form that is its ultimately state of perfection in evolutionary time. What does that leave us? God the Creator formed each kind of life at the same time, during Creation Week! We know this is true from His Word, the Bible, as told to the first humans, Adam and Eve...

"The collapse of each new attempt to explain the origin of new biological information in species is additional support for the creation origins views. The neo-Darwinian concept of mutations and natural selection may well also be discarded when its limitations are more fully understood."

Selections from The Rise and Fall of the Orthogenesis Non-Darwinian Theory of Evolution, by Jerry Bergman.

(These selections by Marko Malyj are of the article published in Creation Research Society Quarterly Journal, Volume 47, Number 2, Fall, 2010, to appear at

Evolutionists have always struggled to come up with a final theory to explain the origin of new biological information in species. Darwin himself recognized that his initial theory was merely "a provisional hypothesis or speculation", the best so far that "until a better one [can] be advanced, it will serve to bring together a multitude of facts which are at present left disconnected by any efficient cause" (Darwin, 1896, p. 350). However, ever since Darwin's published Origin of the Species in 1859, no such final theory is in sight. It can continue to be said that "evolutionary theory is a tumultuous field where many different views are now competing for dominance" (Esenstein, 2003, p. 2).

What is Orthogenesis or Goal-Directed Evolution?

Orthogenesis was one of the leading evolutionary theories between 1875 and 1950. It tries to answer several issues.

First, "Darwin assumed that the variation of individuals occurred more or less at random" (Bowler, 1979, p.40). But early on, numerous objections were raised against Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Random variations, acted on by natural selection, are not a sufficient mechanism by which evolution might produce the life-forms existing today.

Second, evolution seems to have stopped for many forms of life. Called "living fossils," they have not changed much since their initial appearance in the geologic record. Evolutionary change ceases and stasis [stability] prevails.

Orthogenesis, also called straight-line or "goal-directed" evolution, raises the idea that "if variations were not random - if they tended to occur more readily in some directions than others - then the direction of variation might itself control the course of evolution" (Bowler, 1979, p. 40). In orthogenesis, there is therefore an "internal drive", a biological force that drives species to evolve to perfection. This force is built in to the organic world. Henry Fairfield Osborn, the "giant of paleontology", explained that once a "perfect mechanism evolved, evolution stopped" (Ruse, 1996, p. 265). Evolution continues until a maximized structure evolves, at which point evolutionary change ceases and stasis prevails. The evolution of organisms would be driven in one direction to a "state of perfection."

Of course, the most well known supposed example of goal-directed evolution is the famous human evolution progression series, which we will discuss further below.

The Spread of the Orthogenesis Idea

One of the earliest supposed examples of goal-directed evolution is the horse. Professor Othniel Marsh, a 19th century  paleontologist, collected a magnificent set of fossil horses and then attempted to trace its evolution

from a small three-toed animal "the size of a fox" through larger animals with progressively larger hooves, developed from the middle toe. Darwin thought Marsh's sequence from little Eohippus ("Dawn horse") to modern Equus was the best evolutionary demonstration anyone has produced in the 15 years since the Origin of Species (1859) was published (Milner, 1990, p.220).
Marsh's classic orthogenetic, unilinear horse evolution soon became "enshrined in every biology textbook and in a famous exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History" (Milner, 1990, p.220).

Osborn argued that evolutionary parallelism - today called convergent evolution - was persuasive evidence for orthogenesis. Convergent evolution is when animal structures evolve along discrete, but similar, lines to yield very similar structures (Colbert, 1994, p.64). Thus, wings are believed to have evolved separately at least three times (in birds, bats, and pterodactyls). To Osborn these examples proved the existence of the orthogenetic inward drive.

Orthogenesis was further popularized by Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin. He argued for an orthogenetic evolution that would eventually reach a state of perfection, which he called the "Omega Point". De Chardin wrote that without orthogenesis life would only have merely spread out, but with it, the ascent of life became "inevitable" (1959, p. 109).

In recent years, orthogenesis was used by Calvin College physics professor Howard Van Till [who has moved away from Calvinism - MM] His theory concluded that a "complete initial creation" and an inbuilt "robust foundational formational economy" are responsible for the creation of all things, living and nonliving (1990, pp. 112-115). This form of vitalism credits God with constructing the seeds of life very early in the universe, and for this reason life contains the drive to perfect itself. (This view is simply another form of theistic evolution and orthogenesis).

Opposition to Orthogenesis by Evolutionists

Close to a century after Marsh's horse exhibit first appeared, the paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson reexamined horse evolution and "concluded that generations of students had been misled" (Milner, 1990, p.220). Simpson (1951, pp. 163-171) argued that horse evolution was not gradual. Teeth, toes, and even body size "varied in different lineages, independently of each other" (Milner, 1990, p.220). He concluded that orthogenesis did not provide an adequate explanation of horse evolution (Simpson, 1953).

Of course, the most well known supposed example of goal-directed evolution is the famous human evolution progression series pictured above. However, the prominent evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould (1989, p.30) concluded this series is a gross distortion of the fossil evidence.

Problems with the Human Evolution Progression Series, courtesy
Ultimately, most evolutionists rejected orthogenesis because it fails to explain the source of the "unknown inner forces inherent in organisms" that moved them "toward some ideal goal". Simpson was opposed because he concluded it required "some mysterious inner force" that cannot be explained by science (Simpson, 1953, p. 125).

The orthogenesis theory has largely been abandoned, because no plausible physical mechanism for the postulated internal drive that caused life to evolve in a specific direction was ever found (Ruse, 1996; Simpson, 1967). Examples used to support it have all been shown to have many exceptions and irregularities or are just plan wrong. Darwinists vehemently rejected the conclusion that "direction" exists in evolution (Simpson, 1967, p.132).

Creation Science's Answer to Orthogenesis

Howe (1965, 1972, 1999, and 2000) has summarized and evaluated a great deal of evidence. It is erroneous to see "convergent evolution" as supporting orthogenesis. Instead, our Creator displays his extraordinary versatility by producing wings in different kinds of animals that are taxonomically widely separated. Such parallelism supports creation, not evolution.

The collapse of each new attempt to explain the origin of new biological information in species is additional support for the creation origins views. The neo-Darwinian concept of mutations and natural selection may well also be discarded when its limitations are more fully understood.

References (selected)

Bowler, P.J. Theodor Eimer and orthogenesis: evolution by "definitely directed variations." Journal of the History of Medicine 34(1):40-73.

Colbert, Edwin H. 1994. Four giants of paleontology, Natural History 5:62-67.

Darwin, Charles. 1896. Animals and Plants Under Domestication. Vol II. D. Appleton, New York, NY.

De Chardin, P.T. 1959. The Phenomenon of Man. With an Introduction by Julian Huxley. Harper, New York, NY.

Esenstein, J.H. 2003. Death to intelligent design. The Harvard Crimson Online Edition, March 3, 2003.

Gould, S.J. 1989. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of life. Norton: New York, NY.

Howe, G.F. 1965. Homology, analogy, and creative components in plants. Creation Research Society Quarterly 2:11-21.

Howe, G.F. 1972. Homology, analogy, and innovative teaching. Unpublished manuscript.

Howe, G.F. 1999. Homology and origins. Creation Matters 4:1-5.

Howe, G.F. 2000. The origins of flowering plants. Creation Research Society Quarterly 37:66-67.

Milner, Richard. 1990. The Encyclopedia of Evolution: Humanity's Search for Its Origins. Facts on File, New York, NY.

Ruse, M. 1996. Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Simpson, George Gaylord. 1951. Horses: The Story of the Horse Family in the Modern World and Through Sixty Million Years of History. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Simpson, George Gaylord. 1953. Life of the Past. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

Simpson, George Gaylord. 1967. The Meaning of Evolution. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

Van Till, Howard J. 1990. The scientific investigation of cosmic history. In Van Till, Howard, J., Robert E. Snow, John H. Stek, and Davis A. Young (editors), Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation, pp. 82-125. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI.

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