The Improbability of Mount Improbable

In his 1996 book entitled Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins uses the analogy to the geological contour of a hypothetical mountain to explain how gradual development could produce complex life-forms…over long periods of time…like a falcon or a grey whale.

This mountain…in profile view…has a vertically steep, impregnatable rock face on one side…too high to climb in one naturalistic upward leap.  The highest peak of the mountain represents all of the combined features needed in any specific living organism to produce functional survival…or to bring to functional utility any specific single feature of a living organism…such as a leg, an arm, a wing, or a tail, for example.

The vertical rock face of the mountain represents the improbability…according to a purely naturalistic explanation…of producing any complex living creature in whole…or any complex part of a living creature…in one single step.

For every living thing…the assemblage of functioning parts is too complex to put together in a single leap…from the base of the mountain rock face up to the top…in scientific terms called a saltation or macro-mutation…in theistic, biblical terms called fiat creation or creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing).

In his ground-breaking 1859 book The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin recognized this problem in differentiating philosophical naturalism from theistic creation…when he wrote in Latin: Natura non facit saltum…”Nature makes no sudden leaps.”

If new creatures were to suddenly appear in the fossil record…fully formed and functioning…this would be evidence against gradualism and a counter-argument for what Darwin called “miracle”…or fiat creation out of nothing.

Enter Richard Dawkin’s 1996 metaphor to explain how gradual genetic improvements over time could produce complex living things according to natural means alone.

This explanatory Mount Improbable has another slope…up the backside of the vertically steep rock face…that has a long, gradual upward incline…that can be scaled in comparative ease using random, naturally selected, incrementally small steps that take us by an alternate route to the top of the mountain…the analogy to reaching the high altitude of the complex features that make up each and every living thing…that otherwise logically would have to be ascribed to the premeditated design of a divine, intelligent agency…God.

On the surface…literally the upper contour profile of the mountain…this sounds like a plausible program…worthy of our deepest thought and critical analysis.

But upon further reflection the fundamental problem…well-known to modern science in this Age of Information understanding of the vast molecular complexity of all living things…is that the elevation at the base of Mount Improbable does not start at zero feet sea-level.

The diversity and variability of species that Charles Darwin observed in the middle 1830’s on the Galapagos Islands…to use this Mount Improbable analogy…was only the visible top 100 feet of 25,100-foot high, molecular mountains of DNA, proteins, amino acids, and architectural body-plans unknown to Darwin in the 1850’s…and unknown to us until the 1950’s with the discovery of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick.

Natural selection…operating upon genetic mutations…the core principle of the Darwinian evolutionary framework…needs an already functioning organism “up and running” to enable the opportunity for natural selections to improve upon and “create” the astounding diversity of life we see today.

Natural selection must already have an existing baseline of living things functioning and surviving at a minimum level…before any creature-altering diversification can occur.

A person does not have to have a PhD in the natural sciences to see the commonsense logical error in the metaphor of Mount Improbable as an explanation for the argument for gradual, trial-and-error development in the living world.

Nature makes no sudden leaps also applies to this metaphor of Mount Improbable.

There must be some backstory explanation…recorded in the fossil record or observable today as an explanatory mechanism…for the underlying complexity of information and integrated functionality…the bottom 25,000 feet…that gets the baseline prototypical living organism up to the starting elevation of Mount Improbable…that would then enable a gradual final ascent through natural selection…up the remaining 100 feet to the summit of “the survival of the fittest” variability and functionality that Darwin observed on the Galapagos Islands…and that modern science today more accurately labels as micro-evolution…small adaptive changes over time.

Within the foundational mass of the 25,000 feet of mountain…there must be a nearly infinite number of individual dots and gradually upward sloping developmental lines…that creates the underlying structure of function that at some elevation in the “mountain” then enables natural selection to operate.

This is a classic case of which came first…the cart or the horse…the chicken or the egg.

Genetic mutation acted upon by natural selection needs living organisms up and running…at some elevation in the growing mountain…before genetic mutation acted upon by natural selection…can begin.

And this requires some explanation of the near infinite number of dots and upward sloping lines of progressing improvements…that would have to come together…to form the mass of the mountain…to get us to this higher elevation where the Mount Improbable explanation makes sense within the definition of microevolution…not macroevolution.

In other words…it is not just the uppermost contour line of a gradually upward sloping line going up the backside of Mount Improbable…at the top-most elevation…that offers an explanation for the diversity of life.   This explanation must also include all of the innumerable sloping lines and individual dots that fall underneath this uppermost contour line…the gray-shaded area below the contour graph-line.

This Mount Improbable explanation for the diversity of life is way too simplistic.

Without going into the discontinuities…the gaps…between the phyla groups in the living world, or the current impasse in the origins-of-life research, or the lack of transitional nodes in Darwin’s tree of life…not only in the fossil record…but in many cases not even being able to imaginatively conceive of the sequential anatomical changes required in the gradual transitions needed to go from running on the ground to sustained flight…or from a respiratory system of lungs like ours to the totally different respiratory system of the lungs of birds…avian lungs…that require a sudden leap of functionality…or death ensues in minutes in the case of a dysfunctional respiratory system.

The fundamental problem inherent in unguided, trial-and-error gradualism…this challenge and difficulty in the purely naturalistic explanation of the origin and the mechanics for the diversity of life…applies to the divergence of each of the brilliantly original body-plan architectures and unique life-style habits of every living thing.

The huge block of factual disclosure that is missing in the analogy to Mount Improbable…as an explanation for the diversity of life…is that the mass of molecular information that gets us from non-living matter…from zero elevation at sea level to 10,000 or 15,000 elevation where diversification could begin to create the branching nodes of Darwin’s hypothetical “tree of life”…is entirely missing.  It is missing in the fossil record.  It is missing in our current observation of the living world.  And it is missing as hypothetical constructions out of our creative imagination.

Darwinists want us to apply what we see at the uppermost 100 feet of microevolutionary change at the top of the mountain…to explain the origin of the underlying large mass of mountain from zero elevation at sea level…up to the start of the gradual upward incline of Mount Improbable at 25,000 feet…the top 100 feet of change we can actually see in the fossil record and in the natural world today.

This requires an assumption as a “given”…a philosophical extrapolation…a hypothetical leap…that is not scientifically reasonable.

The nature makes no sudden leaps…requires an unbridgeable leap from non-living matter containing zero DNA…to the simplest living forms such as bacteria that gets life started on earth about three-and-one-half billion years ago…living bacterial cells that have an enormous amount of complex and functionally integrated DNA information.

Darwinian evolution has always been an effort to establish macroevolution through an expansion of microevolution…to take the top 100 feet of the 25,100-foot high mountain of information that makes up living creatures…and apply what we see and know about the top 100 feet…down into the underlying 25,000 feet of what we do not know and are ignorant about…which conceivably would have to be made up of a nearly infinite number of crisscrossing, gradually inclined slope-lines and individual dots…of progressively creative genetic improvements…producing ever-changing uppermost contours of the gradually rising Mount Improbable…to reach the 25,000-foot elevation where we can actually observe change.

The metaphor of Mount Improbable is therefore a misleading explanation for the diversity of life…because it ignores the vital fact that the baseline diversity of living things is built upon multiple divergences at some elevation above “sea level” in information content and functional organization…and natural selection is inoperable as an explanation for this underlying development to reach the beginning height of 10,000 or 15,000 feet…when natural selection could conceivably take-over and start producing diversity.

The correct answer here is that it takes divine creation to take each living thing up to its unique 25,000-foot high elevation…where the built-in genetic variation allows each creature to diversify within different habitats…as Darwin observed in the variations of finches on the Galapagos Islands…finches named after him.

The interesting feature in making the case for gradualism to explain the diversity of life…is that when it fails…each time it falls short as a plausible explanation…it then actually makes an argument in the opposite direction…that adds to the growing evidences in science that are slowly bringing down the edifice of modern Neo-Darwinism…logically and empirically piece-by-piece.

If gradualism does not exist in reality as a plausible causation method to explain the huge diversity in the living world…leaving fiat creation ex nihilo…sudden creation out of nothing as the only remaining option…this then sheds light on the divine origin of the biblical narrative stories of faith…the theme of this book.

Like the Mount Improbable metaphor that is unsatisfactory because the base of the gradual incline slope up its backside does not start at zero elevation sea-level…but rather at the top of 25,000 feet of underlying genetic information such as DNA, proteins, amino acids, and a body-plan architecture displaying creative foresight…similarly the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Ruth, Esther and Mordecai, Daniel, Peter, John, James, and Paul…also do not start at zero elevation sea-level.

The life-story of Abraham does not start from scratch at zero-information…at zero elevation sea-level…with God and Abraham improvising the events leading toward Abraham becoming the “father of faith”…making the whole thing up as they go along gradually up the slope of Mount Improbable.

This would be the biblical equivalent of Mount Improbable…of nature blindly selecting the next beneficial genetic mutation one-by-one while traversing up the gradual incline of the mountain…without plan, foresight, or premeditation as to where it is going and how it will end-up as a functionally perfected, living organism.

The biblical narrative stories of faith do not start from scratch.  They exist above 25,000 feet of the mountain of moral DNA…of righteousness and goodness and truth that makes up the character and person of God…in the same way that there is a mountain of complex information coherently integrated within every living thing…beneath what Darwin observed in the variety of finches on the Galapagos Islands in the 1830’s…and below what we can visually observe in the varied body-plan architectures and life-style habits of the billions of living organisms we see today.

The biblical narrative stories of faith do have variation and diversity…but again this diversification is built upon the base of 25,000 feet of the knowledge of good and evil…which is opened up for us to explore through a God-composed journey of faith life-script…the Holy Spirit leading us into the “all truth” of John 16:13.

Author: Barton Jahn

I work in building construction as a field superintendent and project manager. I have four books published by McGraw-Hill on housing construction (1995-98) under Bart Jahn, and have six Christian books self-published through Create Space KDP. I have a bachelor of science degree in construction management from California State University Long Beach. I grew up in Southern California, was an avid surfer, and am fortunate enough to have always lived within one mile of the ocean. I discovered writing at the age of 30, and it is now one of my favorite activities. I am currently working on two more books on building construction.

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