Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

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The Evolution of Design?

Monday, July 16th, 2012

(This month, Renewed Thoughts has the pleasure of featuring an article by my good friend and Christian apologist, James Umber).
As one who practices architecture (though I am not yet a licensed architect), I have often thought about the purpose of architects. And you can be certain that anyone who has had to pay an architect’s fee has asked, “Why do we need an architect anyway?” While architects bring to a project a technical knowledge about building codes, materials, systems, construction methods and environmental factors, the fact of the matter is that many general contractors have very much the same knowledge. Fortunately for the future of my discipline, there is an additional skill that architects uniquely bring to the table. Namely, it is art.
The architect is supposed to create art with the building materials. While a painter may use a knowledge and experience of water colors and a sculptor may use a knowledge and experience of marble, the architect uses the knowledge and experience discussed above to create beautiful and meaningful forms that, simultaneously, have a practical purpose. This is why many architecture schools devote much of the instruction time to helping students cultivate a sense of beauty, or in philosophical terms, an aesthetic sense. And this is the unique skill that the architect brings to a client. But this skill is quickly losing its value in our culture. While our society increasingly rejects a theistic worldview, we are eroding the very foundation of aesthetics.
This cannot be illustrated any better than by simply pointing to the cumbersome attempts by many modern scholars to explain aesthetics without any reference to a transcendent creator. One such example is the following short video lecture by the late Dr. Denis Dutton:
http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/01/beauty_explaine055681.html
Dr. Dutton’s aesthetically captivating presentation correctly identifies that many aspects of aesthetics are universal. How does he explain this universality? Does he give any credibility to the idea that objective aesthetics might be grounded in an author of aesthetics (i.e. a Creator as the locus of certain aesthetic “laws,” if you will)? Does he even mention the idea? No. Instead, he laboriously tries to take the long way around the obvious answer, to explain aesthetics as a byproduct of evolution, all the while assuring us that this is the best explanation. The only other alternatives he gives are relative aesthetics.
But, here is the real irony. Even a Darwinian aesthetic is a relative aesthetic. It is relative to “that which helps us pass our genes on more efficiently.” If cheap, ugly buildings (like the ones linked, below) help people save money, which helps them survive better, which helps them pass their genes on more efficiently; then, such buildings are (by definition) beautiful.
Yet another problem with Darwinian aesthetics is that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It is intended to explain (in retrospect) why we found something to be aesthetically pleasing. It does not explain why we ought to see things as aesthetically pleasing that we don’t already see as such. It is a variation on the “is / ought” fallacy (i.e. You can’t get an “ought” from an “is”). A Darwinian theory starts with what “is” aesthetically pleasing and posits what “is” causing it. A theistic theory of objective aesthetics starts with a ground or locus of aesthetics that has the authority to prescribe what we “ought” to find aesthetic.
You see, under a theistic theory of aesthetics architects can discover aesthetic principles, go to school to learn aesthetic principles, hone their aesthetic sense, and they can even make recommendations to their clients about what will be beautiful and what will not. Put simply, aesthetics is a legitimate discipline in which architects specialize. Under a Darwinian theory, each person’s aesthetic sensibilities are what they are for evolutionary reasons. There is no need for training and there is no need for guidance from anyone else. Each person’s sense of beauty is just as valid as anyone else’s. Aesthetics is not a discipline, but a matter of personal preference. So, save yourself some money and have the contractor build what seems beautiful to him. It might even help you survive better.

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Posted in Philosophy | 2 Comments »

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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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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Undermining the Basis for Science

Monday, May 17th, 2010

A few years ago, a close friend of mine invited me to join him in attending an afternoon lecture at ASU that was open to the general public. The speaker was a professor of zoology who also happened to be a staunch evolutionist.  His lecture that day was dealing with the topic of Intelligent Design.  For those who may not be familiar with the term, Intelligent Design (I.D.) is basically the scientific investigation of living systems that reveal striking examples of design, thus implying a designer behind it.  Proponents of I.D. do not make any claims as to who the designer is, only that evidence of an intelligent designer is clearly present.  As those attending the lecture were about to find out, not only was this professor absolutely closed-minded to the possibility of I.D., he was a cynical opponent to the very notion of a designer.

Throughout the entire lecture, in various ways, he continued to drive home the point that “no REAL scientist would ever allow for the possibility of a designer behind the design.”  His presentation included political cartoons that portrayed I.D. scientists as inept, ignorant, ‘pseudo-scientists’ not worthy of serious attention.  By the time he was finished, he had left the students with the impression that there are two distinct categories of people when it comes to the origins debate.   On one side, you have those who are bright, intelligent, educated people who are smart enough to know that evolution is a ‘fact’ and that there is nothing outside of the material world- especially God.  On the other hand, you have those who dare to question evolution, but they only do so because they are ignorant, uneducated, pitiful, superstitious types, most of whom are only pretending to be real scientists.  That was his overall message, but the scenario he had presented that day is a false dichotomy.

During the question and answer time, my friend and I pointed out to the professor that if we are expected to take his claims seriously, then what are we to make of someone such as the late Dr. A.E. Wilder-Smith, professor and lecturer, who held three doctorates and authored or co-authored over seventy scientific publications and thirty books that included such topics as the scientific problems with evolutionary theory and the scientific case in favor of a Creator.  Furthermore, what are we to make of the growing list of  scientists who have recently signed on to a document openly stating their dissent from Darwinism?

Had time allowed, there were many other things that we could have said that afternoon to point out that “the emperor has no clothes”, but the most telling thing of all occurred to me as we were leaving the building after his lecture.  As we stepped outside, I looked back and noticed that on the front of the very building that we had just exited, there were several names engraved across the top of the building for all to see.   The list included such notable names as Pasteur, Newton, and Kepler.  It is no accident that the architect intended for those names to appear on that building because those names represent some of the ‘Founding Fathers’ of science.  More importantly, those very same scientists all shared something in common- they all held the view that there IS a Creator behind the creation and that He has revealed Himself through that which He has made.  More than that, they also felt that through scientific investigation of His creation they would be able to understand  more about Him.

Maybe it’s a good thing that we didn’t get a chance to bring this to the attention of the professor.  Had we done so, he may very well have demanded that the university plaster over those names in an attempt to expunge their memory from science’s ‘Hall of Fame’.  But, try as he may, that professor will never be able to blot out the enormous contributions that they have made in laying the very foundation of modern science- the same science of which he has been a beneficiary as well.

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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.