Note: This is another essay I want to re-visit in light of the current "contemporary research". I have recently listened to a very compelling lecture by Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who is a key player in the human GNOME projects. Dr. Collins is also author of "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief." Collins believes that God created through evolution. Yet another area I am currently finding compelling arguments for re-visiting.
The Origins of Life In Light of Contemporary Research
THESIS: For generations now we have been taught to believe that general evolution is the only scientific explanation to the origins of life, with some teachers insisting that it is a proven fact. The way we think and teach about the origins of life should be reevaluated in light of the lack of evidence supporting the neo-Darwinian Evolution Model, and the increasing evidence in support of Intelligent Design.
I. Defining the terms used in the discussion of creation versus evolution is essential to understanding the issues.
A. Evolution can mean change over time.
B. Evolution can mean the special theory of evolution (microevolution).
C. Evolution can mean the general theory of evolution (macroevolution) which is very different from microevolution.
D. Theistic evolution is an oxymoron.
E. Science can study the created as well as the evolved.
F. Creation and evolution is not religion versus science, but is really the science of one religion versus the science of another religion.
G. Intelligent design originates in a mind.
II. Biochemistry, a world of ever-increasing complexity.
A. Behe uses the flagellum to introduce the concept of "irreducible complexity."
B. When an organism is irreducibly complex it cannot have evolved.
C. For evolution to be true, life must have evolved from non-life.
D. At present all discussions on principle theories and experiments in the field of abiogenesis either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.
III. For neo-Darwinian evolution to be true, organisms must have gradually developed
over time, and should appear in the fossil record.
A. The fossil record does not show a pervasive pattern of gradualism.
B. The fossil record now appears to be much more complex and much less
gradualistic than originally thought.
IV. Thaxton points out that the discovery of the DNA molecule has given rise to huge
advances in our understanding of molecular biology.
A. The DNA code is a genetic language that communicates information to the cell.
B. Information theory is the science of message transmission.
C. DNA and written language both exhibit the property of specified complexity.
D. DNA has opened the possibility of seeing true design in the universe.
The Origins of Life In Light of Contemporary Research
The sciences of astronomy, biology, biochemistry, and paleontology have made huge advancements in the last 30 years. The Big Bang theory points to a definite beginning to the universe. The disciplines of genetics, microbiology, and biochemistry have found that the building blocks of life are far more complex than were ever imagined. Paleontology has discovered that some fossil evidences, once thought to be supportive of Darwin's theory of evolution, were actually hoaxes or simply misclassified, and it has been frustrated in its attempt to find transitional fossils that support gradual evolution. These discoveries, along with many others, have spawned a new scientific movement within the origins of life research community. The intelligent design movement is challenging the major presupposition of current biological science, which is that all life evolved through a gradual natural process, from non-living matter to simple microorganisms, and eventually to man. For generations now we have been taught to believe that general evolution is the only scientific explanation to the origins of life, with some teachers even insisting that it is a proven fact. The way we think and teach about the origins of life should be reevaluated in light of the lack of evidence supporting the neo-Darwinian Evolution Model, and the increasing evidence in support of Intelligent Design.
Evolution is a term referring to completely different processes depending on the context in which it is used. It is often used to mean change over time. By this general definition theology evolves, cities evolve, and life itself evolves. This kind of evolution is not in dispute, and showing these kinds of changes does nothing to prove Darwinian evolution.
Evolution is also used to mean the special theory of evolution or "microevolution." Microevolution refers to small changes taking place in nature over time, which produce new characteristics. These are adaptive changes that work through natural selection, and allow the organism to survive and reproduce. Some examples of microevolution would be changes in the beaks of finches, changes in the coloring of peppered moths, or changes in a bacteria's ability to resist antibiotics. Microevolution has been substantiated scientifically, it is not in conflict with the creation accounts, and like change over time, it is not in dispute.
Finally, the general theory of evolution, or "macroevolution," is an extrapolation of the special theory of evolution and is used to explain the origins of all life on earth. Macroevolution is the theory that asserts the common ancestry of all living things; that one species can evolve from another, and that all life originated from a pre-biotic soup. Evidence in support of microevolution (the special theory) such as the Galopagos finches or the peppered moths, cannot be used in support of macroevolution (the general theory) because they are not the same thing.
One final use of the term evolution is in the context of theistic evolution. Theistic evolution assumes that the basic conclusions of Darwin are sound, but attempts to bring God into the picture as the designer of the process. Theologian and apologist Greg Koukl is the founder of Stand to Reason, an organization that teaches Christians to think more clearly about their faith. Koukl calls the theory of theistic evolution an oxymoron, because it essentially amounts to design by chance, and he observes that the point of Darwin's entire exercise was to find a non-theistic answer to the issue of origins (5).
Science is based on the observation of facts and is directed at finding patterns of order in the observed data. There is nothing about true science that excludes the study of created objects and order. True science is the search for truth, regardless of where the search leads. Most of the scientific community since Darwin has based its origins research on the general evolution model (more recently refined and termed the neo-Darwinian model) as its starting framework, and so it becomes necessary to qualify scientific origins research that is not based on this model, hence the term creation science. Phillip Johnson, author of several popular books refuting neo-Darwinian evolution, concedes that creation scientists are biased by their pre-commitment to the creation model, but he argues that evolutionists are obviously biased as well. The National Academy of Sciences tells us that reliance upon naturalistic explanations is the most basic characteristic of science. This seems to imply that scientists somehow know that a creator played no part in the creation of the world and its forms of life (1, 14). The 1995 official position statement of the National Association of Biology Teachers accurately states the general understanding of major science organizations and educators in their official position statement, "The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments" (Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds 15). This statement sounds more like naturalistic philosophy than empirical science. And so it becomes necessary to have a distinction based on the starting framework of origins research. Creation science is science based on the creation model as its starting framework, in much the same way as the majority of modern origins science is based on the neo-Darwinian evolution model. Ken Ham, the noted defender of creation science in debates around the world, points out in his book, The Genesis Solution, that, "In reality, the controversy between scientific creationism and evolution is not religion versus science. It is really the science of one religion versus the science of another religion" (22). Henry Morris, President of the Institute for Creation Research, writes in his book, What is Creation Science, "Both the Creation Model and the Evolution Model are, at least potentially, true explanations of the scientific data related to origins, and so should be continually compared and evaluated in scientific studies related to origins" (xi).
The term design refers to an intended arrangement of parts, and is evident when a number of separate interacting components are ordered in such a way as to accomplish a function beyond what the individual components alone could do. The inference to design can be made with a high degree of confidence even when the designer is very remote. Something has been intelligently designed when it is the end product of a thoughtful process that had that product in mind. In other words, intelligent design originates in a mind.
In 1996, Dr. Michael J. Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University (and an evolutionist) published a book challenging neo-Darwinian evolution entitled Darwin's Black Box. To Darwin, and the other scientists of his time, the cell was a Black Box due to the limits of 19th century microscopy. Darwin's Black Box has been steadily explored with the advancements in microscope technology, and many of the organisms making up the inner workings of cells have been revealed. This has taken the search for how life works into the realm of biochemistry, a world of ever-increasing complexity.
Behe uses the flagellum to introduce the concept of "irreducible complexity." If a structure is so complex that all of its parts must be present and functioning for the structure itself to function, then it is said to be irreducibly complex. The flagellum is a corkscrew-shaped, hair-like appendage attached to the cell surface. It acts like a propeller, and allows the cell to swim. The most complex aspect of the flagellum is that it is connected to, and rotated by, a tiny motor made of different kinds of protein. Working much like a miniature electric motor, the flagellum contains a rod, which acts like the drive shaft; a hook, which acts like the universal joint; L and P rings, which act like bushings and bearings; S and M rings, which act like the rotor, and the C ring and stud, which acts like the stator. The flagellar filament (acting as the propeller) is attached to the flagellar motor via the hook. To function completely, the flagellum requires over 40 different proteins. The electrical power for driving the motor is supplied by the voltage difference developed across the cell membrane (69).
Because all the parts of a bacterial flagellum must have been present from the start in order to function at all, it is irreducibly complex. Dr. Dudley Eirich, a microbiologist, and a former theistic evolutionist, who became convinced of the fallacy of the evolutionary theory, explains why the neo-Darwinian evolution model has problems explaining how an irreducibly complex organism, like the flagellum, could evolve. He states that, "According to evolutionary theory, any component, which doesn't offer an advantage to an organism, i.e. doesn't function, will be lost or discarded. How such a structure [as the flagellum] could have evolved in a gradual, step-by-step process as required by classical Darwinian evolution is an insurmountable obstacle to evolutionists" (1). Even Darwin himself writes in his book Origin of Species, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down" (154). Darwin, and the other brilliant scientists of his day, thought that once science had the technology to observe the inner workings of cells, they would discover them to be very simple. Instead they have proven to be irreducibly complex.
For evolution to be true, life must have evolved from non-life. This theoretical process is known as abiogenesis. Life forms are distinct from inanimate matter because they grow, they metabolize, they react to stimuli, and they reproduce. Evolutionists are convinced that abiogenesis happened, but science has been frustrated it its attempt to account for this process. This statement from Harold P. Klien, who was the chairman of a National Academy of Sciences committee reviewing origins of life research, captures the frustration, "The simplest bacterium is so damn complicated from the point of view of a chemist that it is almost impossible to imagine how it [abiogenesis] happened
Even if scientists do create something with lifelike properties in the laboratory, they must still wonder: Is that how it happened in the first place? " (120, 125). Further research and discovery in this area has only served to complicate things. As the sciences of biochemistry and genetics develop, the problem of abiogenesis has become that much more intractable. In July of 1999 the international conference of origin-of-life scientists met in San Diego, CA. The mood observed by two of the participants was described as "Grim, full of frustration, pessimism, and desperation" (Fazale and Ross). One of the foremost experts in this area is the highly respected biochemist Klause Dose, who summed up the situation this way:
More than thirty years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principle theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance (348).
Proving neo-Darwinian evolution to be true also requires proving that organisms gradually developed over time. If evolution were true, we would see a fossil record full of gradual transitions. Instead we see sudden appearances of life forms, such as in the Cambrian layer, and then large gaps until the next appearances. Evidence of gradualism between phyla (a line of descent) classes and even orders of life forms is either non-existent or is much disputed. The fossil record does not show the expected pervasive pattern of gradualism. The distinguished evolutionary paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, a professor at Harvard who also performed extensive fieldwork for the American Museum of Natural History, acknowledged this fact decades ago and described the situation in his book, Tempo and Mode in Evolution, where he points out that the lack of gradualism in the fossil record is true of all thirty-two orders of mammals. The earliest and most primitive known members of every order already had the basic ordinal characteristics, and in no case is a continuous sequence from one order to another known. In most cases the break is so sharp and the gap so large that the origin of the order is speculative and much disputed. This regular absence of transitional forms is not confined to mammals, but is an almost universal phenomenon, as has long been noted by paleontologists. It is true of almost all classes of animals, both vertebrate and invertebrate, and of the major animal phyla, and it is also appears to be true of analogous categories of plants (105-107).
Charles Darwin himself writes that, " The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, [must] be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory" (292). Darwin must have hoped that paleontologists would one day vindicate his theory with findings in the fossil record, but that has clearly not been the case. There have been millions of individuals of millions of species over millions of years. If evolution is true this should have produced billions of transitional forms. Paleontology has simply not produced the fossil record to support evolution, and has even found evidence that refutes some of the classic examples of the theory. Renowned evolutionary paleontologist Dr. David Raup stated it this way:
We are now about 120 years after Darwin, and knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded ... ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of Darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information--what appeared to be a nice simple progression when relatively few data were available now appears to be much more complex and much less gradualistic (25-25).
Charles Thaxton is co-author of the best-selling college-level text on chemical evolution, The Mystery of Life's Origin and The Soul of Science (1994, Crossway). He is a fellow of the American Institute of Chemists and a recent recipient of the Templeton Foundation science-religion teaching grant. Thaxton points out that the discovery of the DNA molecule has given rise to huge advances in our understanding of molecular biology, and the processes of reproduction and self-replication. Although DNA is not alive itself, it is usually regarded as the sine qua non of life, the identifying mark of any living system. The DNA code is a genetic language that communicates information to the cell. The cell is complex, using many DNA instructions to control its many functions. The amount of information in the DNA of even the single-celled bacterium, E. coli, is incredibly vast. According to Thaxton, "It is greater than the information contained in all the books in any of the world's largest libraries" (1). The DNA molecule is exquisitely complex, and extremely precise; the 'letters' of the code must be in a very exact sequence. If they are at all out of order they become like a computer program with a syntax error--the cell is given garbled instructions from its genetic code as a result.
Analogous to the 26 letters of our English alphabet, DNA uses 4 genetic letters to transmit and store communications in the cell. Information theory is the science of message transmission developed by Claude Shannon and other engineers at Bell Telephone Laboratories in the late 1940s. It provides a mathematical means of measuring information. Information theory applies to any symbol system, regardless of the elements of that system. The so-called Shannon information laws apply equally well to human language, Morse code, and the genetic code.
By applying the information theory to biology we can see that a structural identity exits between the DNA code and a written language. H.P. Yockey notes in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, "It is important to understand that we are not reasoning by analogy. The sequence hypothesis [that the exact order of symbols records the information] applies directly to the protein and the genetic text as well as to written language and therefore the treatment is mathematically identical" (16).
It is our uniform experience that it takes an intelligent agent to generate information, codes, or messages. As a result, it is reasonable to infer that an intelligent agent caused the original DNA codes. DNA and written language both exhibit the property of specified complexity. Since we know an intelligent cause produces written language, it is legitimate to pose that an intelligent cause is the source of DNA. If we define the DNA code as a message, then to claim that DNA arose by material forces is to say that information can arise by material forces. However, the material base of a message is completely independent of the information transmitted. The material base could not have anything to do with the message's origin. The message transcends chemistry and physics in much the same way as the written word transcends the media of paper and ink.
Thaxton concludes his paper on the importance of DNA in the study of life's origins with this observation:
Darwin convinced many of the leading intellectuals in his time that design in the world is only apparent, that it is the result of natural causes. Through the discovery of DNA, however, the situation has taken a dramatic turn, though few have recognized its significance. The elucidation of DNA and unraveling the secrets of the genetic code have opened again the possibility of seeing true design in the universe (1).
The last 30 years of intense research in support of the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution has produced more questions and problems for the theory than answers, while at the same time much of this research points in the direction of intelligent design. Biochemistry has so far failed to demonstrate that life evolved from non-life; if science does not know how abiogenesis happened, it cannot know that it did. Paleontologists have not found the extensive support for transitional forms we would expect to see in the fossil record if macroevolution were true. In short, macroevolution has not been proven and remains a theory. We cannot continue to teach macroevolution as the only scientific explanation we have for life's origins. The empirical scientific evidence of the origins of life should be taught in our schools along with the significant and viable models that the evidence supports. The neo-Darwinian theory of evolution should be taught as a scientific theory, not proven fact, and it should be taught alongside the scientific theories of creation and intelligent design.
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