The problem of genetic improbability


Mutations and the Problem of Genetic Improbability

From The Myth of Natural Origins; How Science Points to Divine Creation 
Ashby Camp, Ktisis Publishing, Tempe, Arizona, 1994, pp. 53-57, used by permission.

Even on a theoretical level, it does not seem possible for mutations to account for the diversity of life on earth, at least not in the time available. According to Professor Ambrose, the minimum number of mutations necessary to produce the simplest new structure in an organism is five (Davis, 67-68; Bird, 1:88), but these five mutations must be the proper type and must affect five genes that are functionally related. Davis, 67-68. In other words, not just any five mutations will do. The odds against this occurring in a single organism are astronomical.

Mutations of any kind are believed to occur once in every 100,000 gene replications (though some estimate they occur far less frequently). Davis, 68; Wysong, 272. Assuming that the first single-celled organism had 10,000 genes, the same number as E. coli (Wysong, 113), one mutation would exist for every ten cells. Since only one mutation per 1,000 is non-harmful (Davis, 66), there would be only one non-harmful mutation in a population of 10,000 such cells. The odds that this one non-harmful mutation would affect a particular gene, however, is 1 in 10,000 (since there are 10,000 genes). Therefore, one would need a population of 100,000,000 cells before one of them would be expected to possess a non-harmful mutation of a specific gene.

The odds of a single cell possessing non-harmful mutations of five specific (functionally related) genes is the product of their separate probabilities. Morris, 63. In other words, the probability is 1 in 108 X 108 X 108 X 108 X 108, or 1 in 1040. If one hundred trillion (1014) bacteria were produced every second for five billion years (1017 seconds), the resulting population (1031) would be only 1/1,000,000,000 of what was needed!

But even this is not the whole story. These are the odds of getting just any kind of non-harmful mutations of five related genes. In order to create a new structure, however, the mutated genes must integrate or function in concert with one another. According to Professor Ambrose, the difficulties of obtaining non-harmful mutations of five related genes "fade into insignificance when we recognize that there must be a close integration of functions between the individual genes of the cluster, which must also be integrated into the development of the entire organism." Davis, 68.

In addition to this, the structure resulting from the cluster of the five integrated genes must, in the words of Ambrose, "give some selective advantage, or else become scattered once more within the population at large, due to interbreeding." Bird, 1:87. Ambrose concludes that "it seems impossible to explain [the origin of increased complexity] in terms of random mutations alone." Bird, 1:87.

 When one considers that a structure as "simple" as the wing on a fruit fly involves 30-40 genes (Bird, 1:88), it is mathematically absurd to think that random genetic mutations can account for the vast diversity of life on earth. Even Julian Huxley, a staunch evolutionist who made assumptions very favorable to the theory, computed the odds against the evolution of a horse to be 1 in 10300,000. Pitman, 68. If only more Christians had that kind of faith!

This probability problem is not the delusion of some radical scientific fringe. As stated by William Fix:

Whether one looks to mutations or gene flow for the source of the variations needed to fuel evolution, there is an enormous probability problem at the core of Darwinist and neo-Darwinist theory, which has been cited by hundreds of scientists and professionals. Engineers, physicists, astronomers, and biologists who have looked without prejudice at the notion of such variations producing ever more complex organisms have come to the same conclusion: The evolutionists are assuming the impossible. Fix, 196.

Renowned French zoologist Pierre-Paul Grass' has made no secret of his skepticism:

What gambler would be crazy enough to play roulette with random evolution? The probability of dust carried by the wind reproducing Dürer's (Matt, I can't get the 'u' to go small for me there!) "Melancholia" is less infinitesimal than the probability of copy errors in the DNA molecule leading to the formation of the eye; besides, these errors had no relationship whatsoever with the function that the eye would have to perform or was starting to perform. There is no law against daydreaming, but science must not indulge in it. Grass', 104.

In 1967 a group of internationally known biologists and mathematicians met to consider whether random mutations and natural selection could qualify as the mechanism of evolutionary change. The answer of the mathematicians was "No." Morris, 64-65; Sunderland, 128-36. Participants at the symposium, all evolutionists, recognized the need for some type of mechanism to reduce the odds against evolution. In the words of Dr. Murray Eden of M.I.T.:

What I am claiming is that without some constraint on the notion of random variation, in either the properties of the organism or the sequence of the DNA, there is no particular reason to expect that we could have gotten any kind of viable form other than nonsense. Sunderland, 138.

Summarizing his and Hoyle's analysis of the mechanism of evolution, Wickramasinghe states:

We found that there's just no way it could happen. If you start with a simple micro-organism, no matter how it arose on the earth, primordial soup or otherwise, then if you just have that single organizational, informational unit and you said that you copied this sequentially time and time again, the question is does that accumulate enough copying errors, enough mistakes in copying, and do these accumulations of copying errors lead to the diversity of living forms that one sees on the earth. That's the general, usual formulation of the theory of evolution.... We looked at this quite systematically, quite carefully, in numerical terms. Checking all the numbers, rates of mutation and so on, we decided that there is no way in which that could even marginally approach the truth. Varghese, 28.


Thus, several decades have only confirmed the observation of Gertrude Himmelfarb in her book Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (1959):


[I]t is now discovered that favorable mutations are not only small but exceedingly rare, and the fortuitous combination of favorable mutations such as would be required for the production of even a fruit fly, let alone a man, is so much rarer still that the odds against it would be expressed by a number containing as many noughts as there are letters in the average novel, "a number greater than that of all the electrons and protons in the visible universe" -- an improbability as great as that a monkey provided with a typewriter would by chance peck out the works of Shakespeare. Fix, 196.



  • Bird, W.R., The Origin of Species Revisited (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991; originally published by Philosophical Library in 1987). Bird graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University and has a J.D. degree from Yale Law School. He has published articles in numerous law journals and represented the State of Louisiana in the challenge to its "creation statute." Both volumes of this work are extensively documented with references to the pertinent scientific literature.
  • Davis, Percival and Dean H. Kenyon, Of Pandas and People (Dallas: Haughton Publishing Co. 1990). Davis has an M.A. degree from Columbia University and is a life science professor at Hillsborough Community College. Kenyon has a Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford and is Professor of Biology at San Francisco State University. He is the co-author of Biochemical Predestination published by McGraw-Hill in 1969. The Academic Editor of Of Pandas and People was Charles B. Thaxton who has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Iowa State University and is the co-author of The Mystery of Life's Origin published by the Philosophical Library in 1984.
  • Fix, William R., The Bone Peddlers (New York: Macmillan PUblishing, 1984). Fix has an M.A. degree in behavioral science from Simon Fraser University (Canada) and is the author of several books.
  • Grass', Pierre-P., Evolution of Living Organisms (New York: Academic Press, 1977). Grass' is France's most distinguished zoologist. Dobzhansky has described his knowledge of the living world as "encyclopedic."
  • Morris, Henry M. and Gary E. Parker, What is Creation Science (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1982). Morris has a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering from the University of Minnesota. Parker has a M.S. and Ed.D. in biology from Ball State University.
  • Pitman, Michael, Adam and Evolution (London: Rider & Co., 1984). Pitman has a B.A. degree in science from Open University (England), a M.A. degree in classics from Oxford, and teaches biology in Cambridge, England. The introduction is by Dr. Bernard Stonehouse, a scientist who has held academic posts at Oxford, Yale, and other prestigious universities.
  • Sunderland, Luther D., Darwin's Enigma: Fossils and Other Problems, 3d ed. (Santee, CA: Master Book Publishers, 1984). Sunderland had a B.S. from Penn. State University and worked as an aerospace engineer with General Electric specializing in automatic flight control systems (died 1987).
  • Varghese, Roy Abraham, ed., The Intellectuals Speak Out About God (Chicago: Regenery Gateway, 1984). Those quoted are Robert Jastrow and Chandra Wickramasinghe. ...Wickramisinghe is an internationally recognized authority on interstellar matter and is the head of the department of applied mathematics and astronomy at University College in Cardiff, Wales.
  • Wysong, Randy L., The Creation-Evolution Controversy (Midland, MI: Inquiry Press, 1976). Wysong has a B.S. and D.V.M. from Michigan State University

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.