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Proteins: Taking Origami To A Whole New Level

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a pack rat, but there are some things that I just can’t bring myself to throw away. Unlike some of my friends, I’ve never collected coins, stamps, or baseball cards. The truth of the matter is that the items that I tend to hang onto would not be considered valuable by most people, but to me they are priceless. One of those items is sitting on top of my bookcase. It’s a small swan that was given to me by a friend’s daughter who had carefully folded it for me out of a piece of blue paper. Given that I find it challenging enough to re-fold a roadmap, I have a real appreciation for anyone who has the patience and the skill to do origami. Taking a sheet of paper and transforming it into a work of art is hard enough. Yet there is something else that requires folding in order to make it, and the precision with which it is folded is so critical that life would be impossible without it. This “something” that I’m referring to is a protein.

All living things are made up of proteins, and proteins are made up of “building blocks” known as amino acids. More specifically, those proteins must be made up almost exclusively of left-handed amino acids. Amino acids exist in what has come to be known as “left-handed” and “right-handed” forms. In other words, if you were to look at a three-dimensional model representing each type, you would notice that they exist as mirror-images of each other, similar to placing your hands together, touching fingertips. Again, even though amino acids exist in both forms, living things are made up almost exclusively of the left-handed kind. So, even if you have a long chain of left-handed amino acids linked together, if just one right-handed amino acid finds its way into that chain, the protein’s ability to function is diminished greatly, if not entirely. To make life even more improbable, all of the “letters” of the “genetic alphabet” in that chain must be in exactly the right sequence in order to be meaningful, much like the proper arrangement of letters in a book or a set of instructions. How improbable is it? Just ask the co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix design, (evolutionist) Francis Crick:

“If a particular amino acid sequence was selected by chance, how rare an event would this be?….The great majority of sequences can never have been synthesized at all, at any time.”

Francis Crick, “Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature”, 1981, pp.51-52

We’re not finished yet. Not only do all of the correct amino acids have to be in proper order in the chain, not only do they have to be exclusively left-handed amino acids, in addition to this, the protein must be folded into a three-dimensional configuration to exact specifications. This is a critical step because the folded protein must have the proper “lock and key” fit in order to function and to interact with the other components within the cell that require an exact match to it. To say that the protein must be “precisely folded” is an understatement. In an outstanding presentation titled, “The Origin of Life”, Mike Riddle of the Institute for Creation Research draws our attention to two different studies in order to help us understand how improbable it is to properly fold a protein. He begins with the following statement by H.J.C. Berendsen:

“Scientists have been attempting to be able to determine a protein’s native conformation (or folding) by examining the amino acid sequence. Despite years of study, the ability to do this using even the fastest computers is beyond our reach…”

“…Using a super fast computer (one quadrillion computations per second) it would take 1080 seconds, which exceed the age of the universe by a factor of 60 orders of magnitude! This fact alone may give you a better perspective on the mind of God.”

H.J.C. Berendsen, “Perspectives: Protein Folding, a Glimpse of the Holy Grail?”

-Science, 1998

Or consider another study in Los Alamos, N.M. in October 14th, 2002, where researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of California, San Diego, used some of the fastest computers available to simulate the folding of a “simple” protein consisting of only 18,000 atoms. (Again, this is after getting all of the right atoms, arranged in the right order- all it has to do is fold the protein properly). How long did it take the computers? It took 6 months on 82 parallel processors, which amounts to 34 years of CPU time! Riddle goes on to point out that by comparison, a living cell folds this particular protein in about 10 microseconds (millionths of a second), which is 100 trillion times as fast as our fastest computers. As it turns out, the fastest “computer” in the world is a cell!

All of this leads one to ask the question:  if there is so much evidence for a Creator, why do so many people, especially in the sciences, continue to deny His existence?  It all comes down to one word- accountability. That is, it’s not a problem with the evidence, it’s a problem with the heart of man. We rebel against the idea that there is anyone who has ultimate authority over us, to whom we will be accountable at the end of our lives. In our attempt to flee from God, we are willing to deny the obvious.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”         (Romans 1:21)

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Mutations And “Faded” Genes (Part 2)

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

In my previous post we were examining the claims of evolutionary theory which says that every living thing which exists is the result of an unguided process of natural selection acting upon random mutations.  The point that I emphasized was the fact that natural selection is powerless to create the very thing that is most needed-  new genetic information.  I ended by saying that the evolutionist would remind us that we are overlooking the most important factor of all-  mutations.

            So, do mutations have what it takes to save evolutionary theory?  It’s highly unlikely.  Just as with natural  selection, mutations cannot create any new information.  When asked if new information can originate through mutations, Dr. Werner Gitt, a director and professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology answered this way:

             “…this idea is central in representations of evolution, but mutations can only cause changes in existing information.  There can be no increase in information, and in general the results are injurious.  New blueprints for new functions or new organs cannot arise; mutations cannot be the source of new (creative) information.”

Gitt,W., In the Beginning Was Information, CLV, Bielefeld, Germany, p. 127, 1997

            It’s bad enough that mutations are not the “hero” that the evolutionist was hoping for.  To make matters worse, mutations actually turn out to be the villain in the story!  Not only do mutations lack the very thing that it takes to drive us forward in some onward, upward evolutionary direction, mutations are actually driving us irreversibly and inescapably in a direction toward decay and death.  In fact, mutations are the primary reason that all of us age and eventually die.  But not only do our bodies, individually, age and die, the overall effect of genetic decay (entropy) is that the entire human race is “aging” genetically and will eventually die.

            In order to understand why that’s the case, we need to understand what mutations are and how they work.  In short, mutations are “typographical errors” that occur in our DNA code as that information is replicated during cell division.  Similar to word-processing errors, mutations can occur as deletions, insertions, “letter substitutions” (point mutations), and inversions.  Just as errors in word-processing corrupt the meaning and integrity of a text, mutations corrupt genetic information.  As a result, the cumulative effect is that the genetic information necessary to build human beings is in a state of disintegration

            In his presentation, “The Mystery of Our Declining Genes”, retired Cornell University Professor Dr. John Sanford comments that a famous geneticist once stated that if the mutation rate was as high as one mutation per person, per generation, human extinction and human degeneration would be certain.  Dr. Sanford goes on to point out that current research in human genetics has confirmed that there are more than one hundred new mutations per person, per generation-  a fact that is well-known among human geneticists.  By the way, the “genetic mistakes” of each generation are passed along and added on to each successive generation.  In other words, each of us will have one hundred more mutations than our parents did.

            Evolutionists insist that it all makes sense once you include natural selection in the process-  that natural selection acting upon those mutations is the key to understanding evolution.  However, that explanation is entirely inadequate to salvage the theory.  For the most part, natural selection cannot select for “beneficial” mutations because they are extremely rare and much too subtle at the genetic level-  so subtle, in fact, that they are virtually “invisible” to natural selection.  On the other hand, natural selection has the additional problem of not being able to select against  (get rid of) bad genes for the same reason (too subtle to detect). 

            Here’s the problem:  Since nearly all mutations are harmful, and since most of them are so subtle that they go largely undetected by natural selection, the overall, cumulative effect on an organism is one of decay and disintegration.  Sanford compares the effect of harmful mutations to rust on a car.  The rusting of metal is a subtle process (one atom at a time) that takes place long before there are any visible signs, and  the overall effect is always destructive not constructive.  In addition to this, it’s important to keep in mind that natural selection cannot “pick and choose” between which genes it “likes” and which ones it “doesn’t like”.  It can only select the entire organism-  it must take the bad genes (the majority) along with the “good” genes (extremely rare by comparison).

            Dr. Sanford says that the declining condition of our genes is well known among human geneticists.  He goes on to say that he is puzzled by the fact that even though geneticists agree that the human race is degenerating, many of those same geneticists continue to believe in evolution despite evidence to the contrary.  What doesn’t surprise Dr. Sanford is why they withhold that information from the general public.  After all, it’s not easy to face up to the fact that the human race is dying, and dwelling on it can leave a person feeling hopeless and in a state of despair.

            However, the good news is that we are not the “byproducts of time plus matter plus chance”.  You and I were created by the purposive act of an awesome, all-powerful God-  the same God who sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to vanquish death and to offer eternal life to those who are willing to place their trust in Him.

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Mutations And “Faded” Genes (Part 1)

Monday, May 16th, 2011

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of taking my nephew and niece to the Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson where we had the opportunity to observe various wildlife and habitats that are indigenous to Arizona.  Later that evening, I took their two younger sisters to the Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe where we visited the Arizona SeaLife Aquarium.  It was a great experience that gave us a chance to take a close-up look at marine life of various sizes and brilliant colors.  As I look back on both of those experiences and as I reflect on all that I had seen, I can’t imagine someone who would come away from such an experience without asking at some point, “How did all of this come to be?” 

            If you accept the explanation given by those who have embraced evolutionary theory, then everything which exists, the universe and everything in it, came about through a purely naturalistic process of “time, plus matter, plus chance”.  More specifically, the theory suggests that every living thing came into existence through a combination of random mutations and natural selection.  Even though that idea has been the dominant view in science for many, many years, the most recent research in various scientific disciplines tells a much different story.

            One area of research that has exposed some of the theory’s weaknesses is the study of genetics.  In order to appreciate its significance, it’s crucial that we begin with an understanding of DNA and its function.  Every living thing, from microbes to man, is built upon genetic information in the form of DNA.  Without this information it’s impossible to build life.  You might think of DNA as a set of “blueprints” or “assembly instructions”.  If you’ve ever had the experience of building a model plane or assembling a child’s bicycle, you know that it’s not enough to simply have all of the necessary parts.  You must also have a set of assembly instructions to tell you exactly how and where each piece fits together.  It’s important to keep in mind that the more complex something is, the more assembly instructions it’s going to require in order to build it.  A model plane or a bicycle may come with a sheet of assembly instructions requiring twenty or more steps.  Designing and building an automobile will take much more information.  A space shuttle will take an even greater amount of information.  This same principle holds true for living things as well.  While the leap in complexity from a child’s bicycle to a space shuttle is unimaginably great, by comparison, the leap in complexity from a bacterium to a human being is far greater.  If evolution is true, if life somehow evolved from single-celled organisms all the way up to complex human beings, it would require an increase in genetic information of staggering proportions! 

            The nagging question for evolutionary theory is this:  Is it likely that an increase in information of that magnitude actually took place?  Is there any mechanism that we’ve observed that has the ability to produce new genetic information?  The reason that I emphasize “new” information is because there are processes that can transfer a loop of genetic material (a “plasmid”) from one place to another.  But notice that such transferred information is not new, created information.  It was pre-existing information that was simply relocated.  Also, in plants there are processes that can result in the doubling of all the chromosomes, but such a process does not create new information.  It would be analogous to a malfunction in a printing press that causes it to double-print the pages in a textbook.  Even though it would result in twice the amount of pages, the book would not contain any more information than that which is in the properly printed book.  This brings us back to the question of whether there is any mechanism capable of producing brand new genetic information. 

            The evolutionist will tell us that mutations and natural selection are the driving forces behind evolution.  But in order for that claim to be true, one must first of all show that those processes have the ability to create the information necessary to build new, novel features. Everything that we’ve observed about natural selection and mutations would indicate that neither are capable of producing the new information that would be necessary for “molecules to man” evolution. 

            While it is true that natural selection is an undeniable process that we observe in nature, it is imperative that we understand the limitations of that process and not attribute to that process abilities that it does not possess.   The most significant limitation of natural selection that we need to acknowledge is that it does not have the ability to produce new genetic information.   Natural selection can only sort out, rearrange, and separate the information that already exists in the genes.  The point is, natural selection cannot create new biological features because it cannot create the information that’s necessary to build  those features. 

            At this point, the evolutionist would remind us that it’s not entirely up to natural selection alone to perform the “miracles”-  it is a combination of natural selection and mutations.  But is that really the case?  Are mutations the “hero” of the plot?  Can mutations come to the rescue of evolutionary theory?  We will explore that question in my next post.

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The Soup Kitchen Remains Closed For Darwin

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

At the end of last year, Access Research Network gave a list of ten of the top scientific discoveries made in 2010 (plus five honorable mentions) that offered a positive case for intelligent design and a challenge for evolutionary dogma.  In a brilliant article titled, “No More Soup For You!”, they cited a paper by evolutionary biologist William Martin regarding origin of life theories, specifically putting to rest the “primordial soup” theory.  The 81-year-old theory was first introduced by J.B.S. Haldane and it proposed that life on earth first began in a “soup” of organic molecules before “evolving” out of the oceans “millions of years” later. 

            The paper that was cited by ARN appeared in Bioessays 27 Jan 2010.  In it, Martin and his colleagues get right to the point in the introduction, “Primordial soup at 81, well past its sell-by date.”  They go on to explain some of the more recent problems that plague the “soup” theory and why it should have been discarded a long time ago.  In place of it, they propose an alternative explanation that involves deep-sea hydrothermal vents.  Even though the “hydrothermal vents” theory faces serious obstacles of its own, (the hydrolytic effects of water, etc.) my main point at this time is to ask why so many outdated evolutionary ideas persist, despite having been thoroughly discredited by reputable scientists.  For example, in the four leading biology textbooks currently being used in our educational system, the discredited “soup” theory continues to be presented as a “fact” to unsuspecting students by way of several references to the famous Miller/Urey experiment in 1953.

            The Miller experiment was conducted in a laboratory apparatus using water vapor, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen (to simulate what was believed to be the early earth’s atmosphere), a sparking chamber (to provide an energy source), and a “trap” to catch the final product.  The experiment resulted in a product that contained, among other things, a few amino acids, the basic building blocks of life.  At the time, the media hailed Miller’s experiment as, “Life Created In A Test Tube.”  Since that time, many scientists have pointed out that Miller’s experiment was not only light-years away from “creating life”, it was misguided in every way, from the manner in which it was set up, right down to the final product.

            To begin with, Miller started off with the wrong assumptions about the early earth’s atmosphere.  Knowing that oxygen would actually prevent the formation of any precursors to life, he assumed that the early earth’s atmosphere did not contain any oxygen.   Based on that assumption, he did not include oxygen in his experiment.  However, more recent research has revealed that oxygen has been present in the atmosphere throughout earth’s history.  Secondly, the “trap” Miller used was entirely unrealistic.  In the event that any organic molecules formed, the purpose of the trap was to protect and isolate them from “overexposure” to the very same spark that was used to produce them.  For Miller, the trap would prove to be a Catch-22 because with the trap, any resultant products collected in the trap would run into a dead end.  Yet, without the trap, there would be no way to isolate and protect the delicate product (amino acids) from being destroyed by the same energy source (spark) that was necessary to produce them in the first place.  Lastly, Miller’s experiment produced the wrong results.  Amino acids come in both “left-handed” and “right-handed” forms (mirror-images of each other).  Proteins in living things are made up exclusively of left-handed amino acids, yet Miller ended up with a lifeless mixture of left-handed and right-handed amino acids.  To make matters worse, the final product resulted in a tar-like substance, a mixture which would have been toxic to life.

            In the end, all naturalistic explanations on the origin of  life require a serious leap of faith.  To believe that random, chance processes organized the necessary building blocks of life, in just the right order, in the correct three-dimensional configuration, (like a lock and key) leading all the way up to a self-reproducing organism, is to invoke an even greater miracle than the one given by an all-wise, all-powerful Creator.  As for Darwin, it appears that the “soup” kitchen remains closed and it’s not expected to open any time soon.

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It’s A Matter Of Which Bias Is The Best Bias To Be Biased With

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

In my previous post I made mention of an editorial, written by a local high school student, which was published in his school’s newspaper.  I went on to explain that the author of the editorial had expressed a great deal of skepticism with regard to Christianity, the Bible, and the existence of God.  The reason that I decided to use his article as a springboard for discussion is because he raised some very important questions and objections that frequently come up in conversation whenever the topic of Christianity is being discussed. 

          One of the many issues that he raises is the idea that science has not only discredited the Bible, it has somehow called into question God’s very existence.  Throughout the article he attempts to portray the debate over God’s existence as a matter of “science vs. religion” or “facts vs. faith”.  For example, he states, “Of course many religious people dismiss the overwhelming majority of scientists as wrong.”  This idea that science and religion exist in two distinct, separate, and even opposing categories with no overlap between them is a view that seems to be held by most people today, both by believers and unbelievers alike.  As they see it, on the one hand you have science which deals only in matters of fact and reason, proven by experimentation.  On the other hand you have the category of religion which is portrayed as the very opposite of science, logic, reason, and rationality because it supposedly requires a “leap of blind faith”  as a feeble attempt to make up for its utter lack of scientific evidence and credibility.

            Even though this view of “science vs. religion” persists as one of the great myths of our time, it is not grounded in reality.  It cannot be the case that the debate over God’s existence is a matter of “faith vs. science” because both sides of the debate use scientific facts to support their view and both of them require some element of faith.  For example, the atheist, by faith, must believe that the universe either came from eternal matter or that it came from nothing, out of nothing, by nothing for no reason.  (By the way, notice that while some atheists ridicule Christians for believing that Someone created everything, they are apparently willing to believe that nothing created everything!)  In addition to their views on the origin of the universe, the atheist must believe, by faith, that the process of evolution began with the “biochemical evolution” of life from non-living matter.  By faith, the atheist must believe that the staggering complexity and order that we observe at every level in biological systems arose out of chaos and disorder.

            Not only do both sides of the “God debate” require some element of faith, both sides offer scientific arguments in an attempt to support their view.  The creationist and the evolutionist are both examining the same facts from the same fossil record, geology, biology, etc.  In the final analysis, the origins debate is not over the facts themselves.   The debate is strictly a matter of how to best interpret those facts. 

            When it comes to the process of interpreting the facts, one thing that we must be careful not to overlook is the role that one’s bias plays in that process.  In his editorial, the writer falsely assumes that all scientists are objective and unbiased when it comes to the process of interpreting the facts in front of them.  Either that, or he’s  assuming that no scientist would ever allow his or her bias to influence the outcome of their work.  At one point he writes, “Scientists are not trying to prove God is unreal, they base their work on evidence and logical reasoning.”  Let’s be up front and honest here.  Everyone has a bias of some sort, and everyone carries that bias with them wherever they go.  As a result, it influences everything they say and do, whether they are a teacher, a politician, a judge, or a scientist.  There is nothing “magic” about putting on a lab coat that somehow enables a person to suddenly give up their bias.  To illustrate, here are a couple of quotes from two scientists who are atheists:

“Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”  

-Dr Steven Weinberg

Nobel Laureate in Physics: in New York Times, 11-21-06

 

“We take the side of science,…because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism….Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”  

-Richard Lewontin (of The Museum of Comparative Zoology) in “Billions and billions of demons.”  The New York Review, January 1997, p.31

 

So much for the editorial’s claim that no scientist is trying to disprove God’s existence.

            Not only does one’s bias play a role in interpreting the facts in science, it may actually be the most important factor of all.  If that’s the case, then the real question we need to ask is, “Which bias does the best job of explaining the facts?”  Or, as Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis says, “It’s a matter of which bias is the best bias to be biased with.”  The bias of an atheistic worldview suggests the following; Something came from nothing.  Order came from disorder. Life came from non-life.  Mind and consciousness came from inanimate matter.  Moral law and moral obligation came from amoral material.  Non-physical entities, such as information and the laws of logic came from purely physical processes. 

            In contrast to this, the bias of a Christian worldview offers us a more plausible, coherent, and comprehensive explanation that comports with reality.  As C. S. Lewis said,  “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

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If You Can’t Get Started, You’re Not Going Anywhere

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Picture yourself preparing to take your family on vacation.  For weeks you’ve been talking about where you’re going to go, who you’re going to see and what you’re going to do.  With great anticipation, you’ve thought about your upcoming adventure in such vivid detail that it’s almost as if you’ve already been there.  So you get in the car with your spouse, the kids, your luggage, and plenty of snacks all packed up and ready to go on your long-awaited trip.  As you turn the key to start the car, the unthinkable happens.  You realize that the battery in your car is dead!  At that point, no matter how much you talk about the trip, no matter how excited you are about the prospects of going, and no matter how vivid your imagination may be, you are not going on vacation-  at least not until you’re able to replace the battery.  The point is, if you can’t even get started, you’re not going anywhere.

            Such is the position that the theory of evolution finds itself.  For all of the talk, for all of the hype and speculation, and for all of the stories spun about how, when, and where evolution allegedly happened, scientists have yet to discover a realistic mechanism to begin the “journey”.  Even Richard Dawkins, one of the most visible and certainly one of the most vocal atheists today, cannot provide a convincing explanation for the origin of life.  Despite all of his rhetoric promoting evolution and for all of his rabid hostility toward creationists, when interviewed by Ben Stein in the documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, he openly admitted that scientists do not know how life got started.  The reason I emphasize that no realistic mechanism has been found to explain the origin of life is because many scientific theories and scenarios have been suggested from time to time, such as the “RNA world” hypothesis.  But for all of their explanations filled with “what if”, “maybe”, and “probably”, each theory they propose faces deep and serious obstacles from a biochemical standpoint.

            In order to appreciate how improbable it is that life somehow began on its own, consider the following example given by microbiologist Jonathan Wells.  In the highly acclaimed presentation, “The Case For A Creator”, Dr. Wells walks us through the following experiment.  Take a sterile test tube and fill it with just the right amount of fluid, at just the right temperature.  In addition to this, make sure that the fluid has just the right amount of salts and the right balance of acidity and alkalinity.  In other words, create the perfect environment for a living cell.  Now take a living cell and place it in that fluid.  Notice that this cell already contains all of the “ingredients” necessary for life.  In fact, it contains much more than that because it not only contains the basic building blocks of life, it contains all of the complex molecules of life already assembled.  Now take a sterile needle and poke the cell to puncture it, resulting in all of its contents being released out into the fluid.  What you now have is a test tube which contains everything that is necessary to create life.  If ever  there was a chance for life to begin on its own, here is the perfect opportunity and yet, it’s not going to happen.  It cannot and will not create life.  So if life cannot begin on its own under perfect conditions, with all of the major components already assembled, why would we think that it happened under less-than-perfect conditions?  Or, as Dr. Wells summarizes, “What makes you think that a few amino acids dissolved in the ocean are going to give you a living cell?  It’s totally unrealistic.”  So, while evolution as a theory makes for interesting conversation and speculation, as a plausible explanation of the real world of biology, it leaves too many important questions unanswered.  For now, the theory appears to be dead in the water-  literally.

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A Bone to Pick With the Theory of Evolution

Monday, January 10th, 2011

In April of 2010, the media announced another fossil discovery of an alleged “pre-human species”. The actual find took place in March 2008 during an exploration of the Malapa caves near Johannesburg, Africa. In one article, a paleoanthropologist was quoted as saying, “This (discovery) is a thing that has a unique relationship to us. They are extraordinarily important.”

Despite such grandiose claims by the media, over the past several years I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of the fossil record’s ability to support evolutionary theory. I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I’m ignoring the evidence of the fossil record nor do I see it as any sort of “threat” to the Christian worldview. Instead, it’s had the opposite effect. I’m absolutely fascinated with the fossil record because I’m convinced that a closer, more objective examination of it points further and further away from an evolutionary view of history. Rather, it reveals a record of earth history that tells of a sudden, abrupt, catastrophic burial of nearly all life as the result of a global flood of the magnitude recorded for us in the book of Genesis.

The failure of the fossil record to support evolutionary theory is a whole topic in itself that I will address at a later time. What I wish to focus on at this time is the question of why evolutionists place so much confidence in the fossil record. I certainly understand that fossil evidence is not the only evidence offered in support of evolution. I also realize that the fossil evidence, just as with any other evidence in a forensic type of investigation, serves as a vital, available source of information about past events- events that none of us can go back and repeat or observe directly. By the way, it’s important to keep in mind that both the creationist and the evolutionist are using the same science to observe the same fossils, so their disagreement is not about the evidence itself, it’s about how to best interpret that evidence.

When it comes to the task of interpreting the evidence, my concern with those who are relying so heavily on the fossil evidence to “prove” evolution is that it seems much too convenient for a number of reasons. In short, the skeletal remains of an organism are much easier to fit into evolutionary theory than trying to deal with the intricacies and complexity of soft tissue or “soft biology”. In his book, Evolution: A Theory In Crisis, Australian molecular biologist and medical doctor Michael Denton writes on page 177, “To begin with, ninety-nine percent of the biology of any organism resides in its soft anatomy, which is inaccessible in a fossil.” (emphasis mine). The point that he goes on to make is that two organisms which may appear to be related with respect to their skeletal remains alone, often turn out to be radically different, unrelated creatures once you include the other ninety-nine percent of the creature’s biological composition.

Interpreting the fossilized remains of a creature has certain liabilities. For one thing, relying on the skeletal remains alone leaves too much room for conjecture and artistic imagination. In 1995, Creation magazine interviewed medical illustrator Ronald J. Ervin. Ron’s outstanding knowledge of anatomy and his incredible gift as a medical illustrator has kept his artistic talents in such demand that he has been called on to produce medical, scientific, and graphic illustrations for courtroom use, journals, and textbooks, including a major college biology textbook- Raven and Johnson’s Biology. In a very candid interview titled, “Filling in the Blanks”, Ron states that when he was asked to do illustrations that attempt to re-create extinct creatures or alleged “transitional” creatures between ape and man, he explains that “No one knows for sure what they looked like, so the artist has the freedom to “create” with colors and forms.” He further explains that when he was asked to provide a textbook illustration of “Lucy” (a supposed pre-human ancestor), each time he submitted a sketch to the authors, they kept asking him to either add or remove “ape-like” or “human-like” qualities to his drawings in order to conform to their evolutionary bias. It’s interesting to note that even the famous evolutionist Richard Leakey was once quoted as saying that Lucy’s skull was so incomplete that most of it was “imagination made of plaster of Paris” (Weekend Australian, 7-8 May 1983, p.3).

Getting back to my earlier quote by Michael Denton, I believe that the biggest liability of all in relying on fossil evidence alone is that once you take into consideration a creature’s (ninety-nine percent) soft biology, the task of trying to imagine some transitional form or intermediate (i.e.-“missing link”) becomes much, MUCH more difficult. After all, it’s relatively easy to compare the skeletal (one percent) remains of a reptile and a bird and imagine some sort of an evolutionary “link” between them. It is something entirely different to explain in terms of real biology the necessary changes of scales to feathers, hollow bones, flight muscles, and “navigational equipment” (in migratory birds). In addition to this, there must also be radical, necessary changes in the creature’s cardiovascular, central nervous, and respiratory systems, all of which would require changes of unimaginable complexity.

To be sure, the fossil record will always be helpful in providing us some insight in the study of origins. But as Denton reminds us, “The systematic status and biological affinity (relationship) of a fossil organism is far more difficult to establish than in the case of a living form, and can never be established with any degree of certainty.”

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Filling in the Gaps

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Earlier this year I needed several repairs done around the house, so I hired a guy to do the work because I knew that he had the skills to do a great job and get it done much more quickly than I could.  Upon completion, he took me outside to point out a concern that he had regarding the new lighting fixture that he had just installed on the exterior.  Apparently, some wasps had managed to squeeze through a gap between the old fixture and the stucco on the wall and had built a small nest in there.  He suggested that a bead of caulking around the new fixture would fill in the gap, preventing this from happening again- and he was right.

Filling in the gaps is always a good idea when it comes to construction.  What isn’t such a good idea is when we try to use God as a “gap-filler”.  Unfortunately, that’s what many Christians are doing today.  That is, they are trying to use God like a tube of caulking to “fill in the gaps” when it comes to knowledge.  In other words, any time they come across something that they don’t understand, rather than trying to understand more about it through careful investigation, they just fill in the unknown by saying, “God did it.”  If you were to ask them where the universe came from, they would say, “God did it,” without offering any further details.  How did life begin?  God did it.  How did biological systems come about?  God did it.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  In principle, I wholeheartedly agree with them that God did it.  My concern in offering such a simplistic answer is really two-fold.  For one thing, such an answer perpetuates the myth that faith is a “blind leap into the dark” that needs no justification behind it.  (That, by the way, is not a Biblical view of faith).  Secondly, I’m concerned that most people who say that God did it are not saying this as a result of careful, critical thinking.  Rather, they say it out of convenience because they really don’t know what else to say, nor do they feel that it’s worth their time or effort to investigate the issue more fully.

Sad to say, it is this lack of intellectual rigor and discipline on the part of many Christians that draws so much fire from some of the “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins.  On more than one occasion, Dawkins has expressed a real disgust for Christians who simply reply in a dismissive sort of way that God did it.  This is one of the reasons that Dawkins and others have arrived at the false conclusion that ALL Christians are content with such shallow answers.  They assume that Christians have no desire to pursue the sciences in order to gain more of an understanding of such issues through careful study and through the discipline of hard, mental work.

Recently, I was having a discussion with a guy who described himself as a “skeptic”.  In an attempt to understand my view a little better, he asked me if I was one of “those people” who tries to use God as a way of explaining something that I don’t understand.  I assured him that I’m not taking that approach at all.  I went on to explain that the reason I’m offering God as an explanation is because the evidence we see around us points directly to God as the best explanation.  Out of all of the competing explanations, God is the most plausible explanation for the origin and fine-tuning of the universe, the information content of DNA, the irreducible complexity of biological systems, and so on.

I mentioned earlier that Dawkins and other well-known atheists abhor anyone who uses the “God of the gaps” to explain that which they don’t understand.  The irony in all of this is that for all of their ridicule, Dawkins and others like him often rely on a “gap-filler” of their own, namely evolution.  If you were to ask Dawkins how the universe came to be, he would say (in effect), “Evolution did it.”  How did life begin?  Dawkins would say, “We’re not sure- but we are sure that evolution did it!”  Where did consciousness come from?  Evolution did it.  How do we explain love?  Evolution did it.  Where did morality come from?  Evolution did it.  So, whether he wants to admit it or not, it seems that Dawkins has a “god of the gaps” of his own-  except in this case, Dawkins’ “god” turns out to be time and chance.

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DNA: The Information Molecule

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Imagine a setting in the old west.  An old rancher named Gus needs some help on his ranch, so he’s got to try and find a way to contact his longtime friend Benjamin who is now living in a remote area far away.  Gus travels to town where he arrives at the telegraph office.  He verbally dictates the following message to the clerk:  “Ben, I need you to come help me on the ranch.  -Gus.”  The clerk writes the message down on a piece of paper, and then begins tapping it out on the telegraph.  The message travels over the wire until it reaches a clerk in another town who receives the message.  The second clerk writes down the incoming message on a sheet of paper and hands the letter to a courier on horseback who rides up into the mountains where he finally delivers the message to Ben.

It’s a pretty simple story, yet something very significant was taking place.  Even though nothing of a physical nature made the journey from beginning to end, there was obviously something that traveled all the way from Gus to Ben.  What was it?  It was the message- the information. The information was able to travel all the way from Gus to Ben even though the material means by which it traveled was constantly changing.  This fact alone reveals two very important principles about the nature of information:

1)  Information is not the same thing as matter. Information is something that exists separately and independently from matter.  Even though information requires a physical medium to store it or to carry it, information, in and of itself, is a non-physical, immaterial entity.

2)  Information always comes from a mind. It is never the product of a purely material process.  Whether the information comes in the form of computer software, text, some type of code, or hieroglyphic symbols, it always comes from an intelligent sender.

These two concepts are extremely important to grasp, because our understanding of the nature of information raises some very profound questions regarding DNA.  DNA is an incredibly complex information molecule that is tightly coiled up inside the center of the cells of your body.  It is the molecule that carries the “assembly instructions” necessary for life.

How much information does DNA carry?  Dr. Werner Gitt, professor of information science gives us some insight into this question in his thought-provoking presentation, “In the Beginning was Information.”  Dr. Gitt points out that the DNA molecule has the highest density (storage capacity) of information of any system known to man.  As an illustration, he shows a small 32mm x 33mm slide on which the entire Bible is printed.  That is amazing enough.  But Dr. Gitt points out that the DNA molecule is 7.7 million MILLION times more density of information than his 32mm slide. He goes on to point out that if you took just one pinhead of genetic material and converted all of its information into text, it would fill so many books that if you were to stack them up, the stack of books would be 500 times the distance from the earth to the moon!

As you can see, the storage capability of DNA is nothing short of mind-boggling.  But as it turns out, the most crucial thing of all about DNA isn’t the molecule itself, it’s the information that it carries.  Without that information, DNA is a dead molecule.  Again, it’s important to keep in mind that the information carried by DNA does not reside in the molecule itself.  That information exists independently and separately from the physical medium of DNA.  In many ways, it’s similar to the ink on your newspaper.  Ink does not posses any information in and of itself.  Ink that is simply spilled onto a sheet of paper cannot arrange itself into information.  In order to get an intelligible message, information must be imposed upon the ink by an intelligent source outside of it, who already has that information in his or her mind.

This brings us down to the most important question of all:  How do we account for the ORIGIN of the information that is carried by DNA?  Since information is a non-physical, immaterial entity that only comes from an intelligent source, this question proves to be an insurmountable problem for the atheist, materialist, or evolutionist who accepts, by faith, that all of reality can be reduced to a physical/material explanation.  However, this question is not a problem for those who hold the view that the universe and everything in it is the product of an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent Creator.

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Chimp vs Human DNA- The “Ninety-Eight Percent” Myth

Monday, August 9th, 2010

As we enter the month of August, it’s time once again for students to head back to school.  That being the case, there’s a good chance that in science classes all across the country, as teachers cover the topic of evolution, sooner or later they will make mention of the “98 percent similarity” between human DNA and chimpanzee DNA, thus implying common ancestry.  Over the past several years, this idea of 98 percent similarity has been repeated so many times that it is now widely accepted by most people as a “scientific fact.”  But is that really the case?

To begin with, it’s really important to understand that this whole idea of comparing DNA can be rather tricky business and we must exercise a great deal of caution when it comes to the conclusions that we draw from the data and how we interpret that data.  For example, compare the two sentences below:

“You are going on an all-expense-paid trip to the Caribbean aboard a luxurious cruise ship.”

“You are NOT going on an all-expense-paid trip to the Caribbean aboard a luxurious cruise ship.”

Even though these two sentences have 98 percent homology (similarity), they have  opposite meanings- the difference between going and not going!  In a similar way, since DNA is all about information, a high degree of similarity between two DNA sequences does not necessarily mean that they have the same meaning or function.

Another pitfall that we must avoid in comparing DNA is that we have to be careful not to assume that genetic similarity necessarily points to some sort of ancestral-descendant relationship or relatedness.  After all, some studies have shown that humans and daffodils share a 35 percent genetic similarity.  But I don’t think that anyone is prepared to interpret that data to mean that humans are “related to daffodils” or that humans are “over one-third daffodil.”

Getting back to the claim that humans and chimps are 98 percent similar, the most damaging evidence of all was revealed in more recent studies as reported a few months ago in the journal Nature.  (see Nature. 463 (7280):536-539)  The article’s title alone speaks volumes about what researchers found: “Chimpanzee and Human Y Chromosomes are Remarkably Divergent in Structure and Gene Content.”  In other words, chimp and human Y chromosomes are surprisingly different.  The results of this more recent research contradicts the initial findings from the 2005 chimpanzee genome project which ultimately led to the idea of 98 percent similarity.  As it turns out, one of the underlying problems with the 2005 study was that it was extremely biased toward an evolutionary view.  Rather than trying to determine whether or not chimps and humans are related, researchers in the 2005 study began with the assumption that chimps and humans are related.  When they began the process of assembly and orientation of the sequences gathered from the chimpanzee genome, they did so based on a map of the human genome rather than basing it on a map of the chimpanzee genome.  Taking this approach allowed their evolutionary bias to influence the outcome of the study.

So, the long and short of all of this is that the idea of “98 percent similarity” is a myth.  According to the latest, more accurate study, the overall similarity turned out to be 70 percent or less.  It will be interesting to see whether or not this latest information is mentioned at all in our high school science classes this year.  If not, it should be a reminder to all of us that those who knowingly disallow such information are more interested in pushing their ideology than they are about doing good science.

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  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.