The Four Paradoxes of Natural EvolutionThere are four paradoxes involved in the program of creating life. All of these paradoxes concern logical problems with producing complex life through purely natural means. In my own view, the paradoxes are unanswerable, and they amount to sharp points as regards the origin of life.
Inexplicable features of natural evolution.
The Combinatoric Paradox. This was the subject of a conference at Philadelphia's venerable Wistar Institute in 1966.M.81 The paradox is that it is impossible to assume that random change could produce from scratch even a few of the critical genes of a living cell. Thus, if natural evolution did occur then the only plausible conclusion is that it occurred as a result of some unknown natural laws—but then those natural laws should be the focus of evolutionary research, not some facile claim that the power of random selection produced life or species. What are those laws? Where is the laboratory evidence for them?
The combinatoric paradox has been expressed in many ways, always leading to an absurd conclusion. Many analogies have been made—how many thousands or millions of Britannica encyclopedias of information are represented in even a single moderate-sized genome, how long it would take monkeys typing at a keyboardM.82 to generate one, etc. One famous scientist made the following remark:
Such remarks are so obvious that nobody makes them any longer. There simply is no direct response.
I should note that random—that is, undirected—evolution becomes increasingly less plausible as one moves up the chain of species complexity. Bacteria, at the bottom of the chain, reproduce in great abundance—it was once said that if the descendents of a single e-coli survived, in a single day the descendents would bury the entire earth to a depth of several feet.M.83 This fecundity gives undirected evolution the maximum opportunity to effect changes. At the opposite extreme, the mammals reproduce very slowly, so opportunities for random change are drastically reduced. If there is a combinatoric paradox for bacteria, it is a doubly implausible paradox at the higher end of the chain of life.
Sometimes it is argued that we can get around the combinatoric problem by building up large genes by combining small segments, which is assumed to avoid the combinatorial problem. This particular suggestion sounds to me (as a mathematician who specialized in probability) like the classical fallacy stated as "there is no combination or betting system that will turn the odds into your favour."M.84 The odds of getting a very low probability result cannot be helped by any “system”. The fact is that although some genes do appear to be repeated copies of small segments, that is not true of most genes.
In the end, the only reasonable response to the combinatorial paradox is that there must be unknown natural laws. Well, if that is the case, then the evolutionists should get on with it and find them. Thus far, to the best of my knowledge, the search has come up pretty empty.
The Eigen Paradox. The second hurdle is what is called the Eigen Paradox, after its formulator Manfred Eigen in a 1971 paper.M.85 In essence this paradox states that a gene with over 100 base pairs must be accompanied by error-correction code (also encoded in genes) that is more complex than the original gene.M.86
Without error-correction, the effect of mutations will overwhelm the stability of the gene.M.87 This paradox has been called by Wikipedia "one of the most intractable puzzles in the study of the origins of life." I think that this says it as well as anything I could say, so I will leave it at that.
Every budding computer expert soon learns to his chagrin that debugging computer software always takes more work than writing the original code. That's just a microcosm of the Eigen Paradox. The implication is that it is impractical to try to “bootstrap” the building of large functional genes by random, undirected processes.
The Levinthal Paradox. The third hurdle is the Levinthal paradoxM.88 after its formulator Cyrus Levinthal in 1969. The Levinthal paradox has to do with the fact that proteins, after they are formed by the ribosome, fold into a unique 3-dimensional shape, which is essential to carry out the function for which that protein exists. This folding occurs when the ribosome has completed the protein chain.
The problem is that there are a huge number of ways that a given protein chain might fold. In fact, for a chain of 100 amino acids, there are as many as 3198 = 3x1094 ways to fold. Considering that there are only about 1080 atoms in the entire universe, picking out a particular folded configuration is like finding a particular atom in 100 trillion universes. Unless you are much more optimistic than I, I assume that you agree that this is hopeless.
In actuality, the folding of proteins is partly spontaneous (for not fully understood reasons) and partly aided by chaperones, which are other molecules whose specific task is to help proteins to fold into the correct configuration. In Eukaryotes, the folding frequently occurs in the endoplasmic reticulum. It's anyone's guess how they "know" which folding is correct. Again, I suppose we have to invoke unknown "laws."M.89
The Regulatory Paradox. The expression of genes coded in the DNA are guided by a complex regulatory schemeM.90 to make the proteins which carry out all of the life functions. This complex working procedure appeared seemingly out of nowhere, much as the universe itself seems to have appeared from nothing. Some scientists assert that the regulation that specifies how and when to transcribe the genes encoded in the DNA, has even greater complexity and information content than is found in the DNA itself.
One function of the regulatory machinery is to modify the mRNA after transcription, but before expression into proteins. "Many of these post-translational modifications are critical to the protein's function."M.90a
A fertilized egg forms its DNA by combining the DNA of the sperm with the DNA from the egg (each is haploid—that it has a single-strand DNA; the fertilized egg is diploid—a double-strand DNA). That is all the sperm contributes. The rest of the egg also contributes ribosomes and the initial regulatory machinery to begin building the embryo. Without this start-up machinery, the fertilized cell would not be able to begin its growth.