Posts Tagged ‘origin of life’

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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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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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  • 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.