Cologne Cathedral and the evolution of species
Author: Juan Luis Lorda
date of on-line publication: 27 May 2008
Some argue that evolution could have been caused by the bombardment of radiation to which genetic material is subjected. This would produce alterations, and those that prove viable and provide an adaptive advantage would prevail over the others.
The problem with these things is that the mind needs representations to think and, if they are too simple, it gets confused, because it forgets relevant things. In this example, relevant things are forgotten and it is useful to give other examples.
At the end of the Second World War, the Allies bombed several German cities. Cologne was also bombed. Although they tried not to damage the cathedral, it was badly damaged. The Cathedral is a complex building, with many outbuildings and embellishments, though far less complex than a cell.
The likelihood that a cell or its gene pool would be improved in any way by radiation is far less than the likelihood that Cologne Cathedral would be improved by bombing.
How is it possible that a cell (or its gene pool) can be improved by bombardment? It may be useful to think about it using the same example, which is more manageable than the biological reality.
What would it take for the stones of Cologne Cathedral to rearrange themselves in a more efficient or more beautiful way than before? How could they give rise to a better structure?
This is the fundamental question of biology because it is the fundamental question of evolution. What is it in the gene pool that produces viable improvements? What is it about biological rocks that, under some quite exceptional conditions, when bombarded, form new, viable and improved Structures ?
Some would deny that these are "improvements", and would argue that a paramecium with a flagellum is as successful in adapting to the environment as a man with his intelligence. But we could also reply that a hut in the Andean highlands is as perfectly adapted to its environment as the Cathedral of Cologne is to its own. But nobody would pay the same for the hut on the altiplano as for the Cathedral in the centre of Cologne. And if they don't pay the same, it means that, at least in some sense, they are not worth the same.
But we must return to the question: what is it about biological stones that makes them capable of improvising another improved structure? And you have to realise that the question is about the pieces and not the bombardment? The question is not what is it about radiation that is capable of ordering DNA. Rather, what is it about DNA that seems capable, in some circumstances, of rearranging itself to give rise to some viable, improved forms?
One could say that lightning is the cause. But, in reality, it is rather the occasion. Lightning can bring the energy needed for change. But change comes from a certain ability to rearrange the same pieces. And therein lies the mystery that has not yet been explained. Therein lies the third factor that the theory of evolution needs to stand as a complete explanation.
So far, the theory of evolution works on two assumptions: spontaneous alteration of the gene pool, leading to variation in offspring. And the selection of variants that prove to be better adapted to the environment. This explanation is missing a leg to stand on.
It is necessary to know why the pieces are able to rearrange themselves to give rise to Structures which, at least in some sense, represent a growth in complexity and value, and which make it possible to move from single-celled organisms to human beings.
What laws are there in the pieces that cause this change when, in a random way, they are bombarded by radiation (or altered in the processes of reproduction)? This is the third leg that is still to be done. This is what Darwin is still missing, on the centenary of his birth.
We owe him the beginning of a great chapter in science. We owe him the two explanations, which today are held almost in the same terms in which he formulated them, although with more knowledge from Genetics. The third leg is still missing.