Not By Chance

Lee M. Spetner

Judaica Press 1998.

Ó 1999, Art Chadwick

 It might be thought strange that a book on biological evolution should be written by a physicist. Thomas Kuhn observed that insights rarely come from those trained in a particular discipline. Spetner's training in physics (Ph.D., MIT) and tenure at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab where he worked on signal processing, did include a stint in the Biophysics department there.

He begins at a readable level, including numerous appendices for those who might not know what DNA is or how enzyme works. But he soon leaves any casual readers behind as he deals pointedly with some of the most esoteric issues in molecular biology.

He summarizes his thesis on page 23: "…it turns out that the theory [of evolution] cannot account for the way information would have had to build up to make evolution work."

Chapter three concerns the Neodarwinian theory of evolution, asking the question: "Can random changes lead to new information?". Citing his own published work, much of it from the Journal of Theoretical Biology, he contends that even where information increase is possible the rate of mutation is far too low in the evolutionary time frame.

He considers the three types of arguments applied to support evolution. The verbal arguments he correctly demonstrates to be useless and contrived. The mathematical arguments are incomplete, ignoring the need to assign probability values to the required events. The experimental evidence is either lacking or, the case of the fossil record, is circular.

Chapter four deals with the mechanisms for evolution. The tension is palpable between a system where errors are catastrophic and great effort is exerted to prevent them, and one where errors are required as the fuel for evolution. Then there is the question of how frequently a new mutation that is beneficial might arise. Using the numbers provided by evolutionary scientists, Spetner demonstrates that fixing a mutation with a slight advantage in a population is essentially impossible. He discusses parallel and convergent evolution, concluding that "…convergent evolution is impossible." He states "The average person finds it hard to believe that complexity and sophistication of such high order was developed by having natural selection organize random events…as we have seen…the average person's intuition is correct…"

Chapter five is the heart of the book. Here Spetner touches the soul of the inadequacy of evolutionary theory. Asking the question " Is there any evidence that evolution can build up information in living things?," he then proceeds to systematically defrock every claim of increase in information in the scientific literature of which I am aware. By assuming the fossil record was a record of evolution, evolutionists have then pointed to the supposed increase in complexity as evidence for the ability of natural selection to increase information in biological systems. Such tautologisms do little to help us understand how information content can be increased. Spetner wisely avoids committing himself to a thesis that there never has been an increase in information. Rather he systematically examines each reported case and concludes none of the claims thus far represents such an increase. First, Spetner introduces us to the meaning of information. Specificity is crucial. The information necessary to tell a person how to get to Texas is far less than that required to specify a locality such as Keene, Texas. Each additional element of specificity requires a higher level of information. Thus an enzyme in a bacterial cell that previously worked only with substrate A, after undergoing a mutation, will accept substrate B as well. This may appear to be an increase in information but it is not, since the enzyme is now less specialized and has less substrate specificity. Other examples play out similarly. The author states "Although there are circumstances where point mutations are good for the organism, all known point mutations lose information" (p.148 para.4), a statement that is well documented in the text.

Chapter six takes on Dawkins point blank. He is merciless in pinning Dawkins weaknesses: "Dawkins talked about chance, but he didn’t calculate the chance of anything. His pointing of Dawkins is also backed up with strong justification. Again and again, he unmasks Dawkins clever phrases and vague assertions. Dawkins is just plain sloppy and it is time someone called his bluff. This Spetner does with the exacting dignity befitting a physicist specializing in information theory. We have known all along that Dawkins was superficial and wrong. The disrobing begun by Behe in "Darwin’s Black Box," Spetner has finished in this well developed chapter. Dawkins cannot survive even casual scrutiny. Spetner debunks careless thinking and unrealistic assumptions and yet is gentle enough on poor Mr. Dawkins: "He let his heart lead his mind, even though he would like to think that he came to his conclusions in a rational and specific way" (p. 174, para. 4).

Chapter seven begins an approach to the question of the origin of information that is different than I have encountered elsewhere. Citing the well-known and controversial studies of Hall, Cairns and others, he develops the paradigm that he calls "the nonrandom evolutionary hypothesis." He suggests that a wealth of information may be hidden away in the genome, provided with switches that can be activated by appropriate environmental cues; a concept consonant with Cairins results. He also suggests rather indirectly that environment may alter organisms in non-hereditary ways as an explanation for some of the differences found in the fossil record. Interesting ideas.

The epilogue summarizes his arguments and reveals their impact. A very interesting read and impressive book. I highly recommend it. It is also inexpensive!