RESPONDblog: New Empirical Evidence Pointing Away from Darwinian Evolution

cell

An important experimental discovery has just been made that casts doubt on the traditional models of Darwinian Evolution. And instead, provides support for the existence of irreducibly complex – and by implication designed – mechanisms within Biology.

 

Biochemist Michael Behe does not believe that the incredibly intricate biological machinery in the cell has developed step by step, with natural selection acting on each viable mutation. Instead – he has contended that much cellular machinery is – like a mousetrap – irreducibly complex. In other words – if you take away the base or the spring or the lever or the trigger…the system fails to function as a mousetrap altogether. While the mousetrap example is hotly debated amongst Biologists – it is just a simple example. The real issue – is the incredible complex co-dependent mechanisms that we find, working away in the billions of cells that operate within our bodies.

 

And there is now some tantalizing experimental evidence that could just suggest that Behe has been on the right track all along.

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/07/so_michael_behe087901.html

 

The experiment was undertaken by the National Academy of Sciences, USA, and has focused on the proposed Darwinian process of Protein Evolution. While I’m no Biologist – I’ll explain what I know as simply as I can!

 

What are Proteins? They are the crucial biological machines that keep our bodies running. For example, Hemoglobin is the protein that allows oxygen to be carried thru your bloodstream. The protein is basically a precise, complex chain of many different amino acids. Proteins are constructed within cells – the protein has a distinctive 3 dimensional shape that determines its function. The instructions for assembling proteins from amino acids are found in our DNA, which lives in the nucleus of our cells.

hemoglobin

 

Since Charles Darwin, it has long been proposed that the evolution of life occurs one step at a time. Zooming down to the cellular level, it is proposed that protein evolution works something like this. An event causes the protein – which is composed of many amino acids – to randomly flip one of its amino acids in its chain. Assuming the newly mutated protein is still functionally viable – natural selection ensures that the system continues creating more and more proteins like the new mutated one for a while longer. Until the next new protein mutation occurs – and so on.

 

John Maynard Smith, Evolutionary Biologist, describes the process using a word game.

The object of the game is to get from one meaningful word to another meaningful word while only changing one letter at a time. Remember – each intermediate step must also be a meaningful word.

For example, to get from the word “WORD” to the word “GENE” takes 4 steps  –

WORD -> WORE -> GORE -> GONE -> GENE

 

This is the essential understanding of how protein evolution would work – one step at a time. Whenever an amino acid flips causing the intermediate to be non-meaningful (e.g. WORD -> WORQ) then natural selection ensures that that this latest protein does not continue to reproduce. This protein dies out.

 

This model makes sense – and it fits inside the wider cultural understanding of evolution in the West. Namely – day by day…step by step…we are getting better and better all the time.

 

So – what is the big deal around the latest experiments that perhaps point towards Design rather than evolution?

 

Behe has proposed in his book “The Edge of Evolution” that – for many functioning proteins, one could never ever arrive at its function by moving just one a step at a time toward it. Why? Because in order for the protein to survive – and maintain its meaningful status – more than one amino acid has to flip state simultaneously. In other words…two letters or more have to flip SIMULTANEOUSLY. Further, the nature of the protein is such that – were you to try to get to certain functions one step at a time – you would fail. The protein would die, it would become non-functional during the intermediate steps. UNLESS two or more specific amino acids flipped to the appropriate setting at the same time.

 

Behe was predicting that for the process of evolution to actually produce the complex protein mechanisms we find in life forms today – highly complex changes must happen in one evolutionary step. This is a massive problem for the theory of evolution – because science doesn’t believe the Universe is old enough to accommodate all the probabilities and random letter flipping involved. Darwin only works if we can get there one step at a time!

 

As you can imagine, many Darwinian Evolutionary Biologists have rejected Behe’s proposition. They choose instead to believe in a step by step approach to protein formation.

 

Well – this belief is now more tenuous than it used to be. The big deal this year is – Behe’s proposal of necessary highly complex mutation has been experimentally verified and documented by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

 

The experiment was related to how an important protein in the Malaria Parasite becomes resistant to anti-malarial drug chloroquine. They have proven experimentally that it cannot happen in a step wise fashion (WORD -> WORE -> GORE -> GONE -> GENE). Instead – for the protein to remain viable – it has to happen in a much more complex scenario (WORD -> GONE -> GENE). Two specific letters switching to a specific alterative SIMULTANEOUSLY. The Malarial Parasite does not become resistant to the drug unless this very rare and very specific complex mutation happens this precise way.

 

Now this is just one example where protein function requires highly complex mutation rather than stepwise mutation to arrive at a viable, new function. There are bound to be countless more. But it provides some experimental evidence that begins to support Michael Behe’s overarching thesis.

 

What is the overarching thesis?

 

The Universe is not old enough for all of life’s various proteins to evolve because more and more highly complex mutations would be required to get from one viable stage to another. The latest experimental results intensify this position – its not longer a theory, its experimental observation.

 

THEREFORE…maybe evolution hasn’t been the cause of these proteins after all. Rather – these irreducibly complex and co-dependent biological mechanisms are actually a small part of the work of an Intelligent Designer.

 

Does Human Reason Point Toward God’s Existence or God’s Absence?

thinker

Human anatomy is a mind bogglingly amazing thing.

 

For example…

 

The cardiovascular system threads through your body. Hundreds of miles of plumbing carry 5 litres of blood around our frame every minute. Oxygen is distributed, nutrients shared, and cellular waste products are disposed of.

 

The digestive system converts food into energy, absorbs that energy and excretes the waste.

 

The skeletal system is like scaffolding that supports and protects our soft tissues. Each bone is a living organ; some featuring mounting points for muscles, many containing red marrow for the production of new blood cells.

 

And on – and on it goes. Amazing.

 

Now some think that your body and its systems are simply the product of the blind and purposeless forces of nature. Others feel that it is the intentional product of a supernatural (i.e. outside of time + space) Designing Intelligence. But both groups agree – there is clear purpose inherent in each and every one of our body’s systems.

 

 

 

We also have another incredible system.

 

I’m referring to our faculties of REASON. This is our capacity to think, to consider, to explore, to theorise and to speculate about whatever takes our fancy! I believe (or I reason) that our ability to reason has as much purpose as any of the other biological systems we have mentioned.

 

We can reason for a good reason.

 

So what is the purpose of our ability to reason? Surely it is there so that we can begin to understand. So that our choices are carefully selected from the options open to us. And we use reason in the hope that it will lead us to an important destination. Discovery of the truth!

 

If the purpose of the digestive system is to keep me energised and healthy – then the purpose of my faculties of reason are to allow me to move towards discovering the truth – in which ever topic takes my fancy.

 

I reason that it’s a pretty cool system. But it leads me to a question.

 

Why do you trust your ability to reason?  And why do I?

 

 

 

Okay – we might not feel very clever, or quick to reason. Yet I can guarantee that we are sharper than we think we are. Think of the smartest person you know. Perhaps you’ve read one of their books or listened to them talk. And you have been captivated by their ideas and their discoveries around life’s big questions. Why are we here? What is our purpose in life? My question is not why do you like their ideas – my question is is why do you trust their ability to reason in the first place?

 

“The fact that we human beings – who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature – have come close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our Universe is a great triumph.” — Stephen Hawking

 

Yes okay Professor Hawking – but why do we choose to trust your understanding of the Universe? After all, we did not create the Universe. Did we? We were born into it. We have found ourselves here and some of us are compelled to study it and reach some understanding about the truth contained within it. But here is an important thing to consider. My ability to reason does not define that truth – it simply seeks to understand it. However clever the reasoning is – these are just ideas and theories about how life works. How do I know the theories are right?

 

Ah – by using our senses. That’s the answer. By gathering evidence! But wait – evidence is simply an input to my system of reason. I’ve still got to draw conclusions about the evidence I have found. This takes me back to my original question. Why does anyone trust the conclusions that we make?

 

Is human reason capable of reaching objective truth? Think of it like this. Someone who sits down at a piano with no training – will quickly master the ability to make the sound of musical notes. But as they randomly press down on the keys, the result will most likely sound horrible! It takes time and training to master the instrument – to play a tuneful melody (altho what is tuneful to my teenagers right now, ain’t so to me!). My question is – we do we believe that human reason is able to reach the truth, in the same way that a pianist can work reach that tuneful melody?

 

To most people – the intuitive rightness of human reason is just assumed. But I am asking – why is that…and is it right?

 

 

 

It is common amongst many people today to assume that life is a big cosmic accident. That human beings are the product of millions of years of biological mutation and natural selection of the most appropriate mutants. This counts AGAINST our assumption that human reason is right and trustworthy. Why? Because if all of life’s an accident – then there’s every chance that my reasoning faculties are just compounding the mistake!

 

“if the thoughts in my mind are just the motions of atoms in my brain – a mechanism that has arisen by mindless unguided processes, why should I believe anything it tells me?” — J.B.S Haldane

 

Why indeed.

 

It seems to me – as I exercise my questionable faculties of reason – that if people are solely the result of blind, unguided, Darwinian evolution, then we lose any solid ground for rationality. Chaos leads to chaos – randomness leads to randomness not exquisite structure and information.

 

Further – if we are the product of evolution – why do people intuitively care about truth anyway? Why do we spend so much of our lives seeking for our own truth that will bring us security and happiness? Or running from that same truth? Why do so many spend their lives seeking a true understanding of how our Universe works? Surely if we really were the product of evolution – we would simply be a machine that prioritises survival above everything else. Genes are apparently selfish, not truth seeking!

 

 

 

I suspect the irony of atheism is that it may undermine the very rationality needed to understand, to study and to explore the Universe.

 

“If Dawkins is right that we are the product of mindless unguided natural processes, then he has given us strong reason to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties and therefore inevitably to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce – including Dawkins own science and his atheism.” — Alvin Plantiga

 

 

I am not painting a rosy picture here. If evolution is right – then human reason is broken.

 

 

 

Unless, however, Christianity is true.

 

 

 

If Christianity is true then we have a coherent explanation for why our Universe is rationally intelligible. Because God lovingly created everything – including my mind – to be rational and intelligible. He made me in his image – in other words, he has passed his rationality on to me.  This is precisely why I can trust the capacity of human reason. Because I’m built to reason my way toward the truth.

 

“we are faced, not with the choice between God and science, as the New Atheists would have us to think, but with the choice either to put faith in God or to give up on understanding the universe. That is, if there is no God there can be no science.” — Robert Spaemann

 

 

If there is no God – there is no designing first cause mind – therefore there is no guarantee of a rationally understandable universe.

 

And yet a rationally understandable universe is precisely what we find. Surely a Designing Intelligence is sure to follow?

 

Personally I believe that Christianity is true; that it makes sense of human reason and points to God’s existence. And I agree with CS Lewis, when he 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.” — C. S. Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

If you have reached this far – you will be reacting to the argument that I am laying out. Namely that human reason points to the existence of a creator God. At this point – let me mention that we have also been provided with free will in addition to human reason. This means I am well within my rights to acknowledge God – or not. Some today happily stand on the firm ground he has provided – and declare him absent. Or shake their fists at him in anger. Or exercise their reason and communicate in a way that tries to obscure his presence for other people. I can choose to use my God given reason to deny him.

 

At least I can for now. But our window of opportunity for ignoring him is closing. The clock is ticking.

 

And frankly what an unreasonable exercise anyway? Cos I reckon the human faculties of reason point to the true, loving, patient and hope giving God that we are working so hard to avoid!

 

 

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him–though he is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:27, NLT

 

 

RESPONDblogs: FAITH isn’t Pretending to Know Something You Don’t Know

in_the_event_of

 

A poll was done recently which suggests that when Christians use the word faith – Skeptics think they mean “believing something even though its not supported by the evidence.” Interesting result – because the poll ALSO shows that this is exactly NOT what the majority of Christians mean when they use the word “faith”!

You can see the poll here…

 http://tinyurl.com/pjm8nju

What is causing the confusion?

When I personally use the word “faith” – I do so in a particular set of circumstances. It is usually when I’m in a position where I cannot CONTROL the outcome – yet I have some EVIDENCE that has convinced me that I can PREDICT a good outcome.

Peter Boghossian, on the other hand, describes faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know.” And Peter seems to repeat Richard Dawkins’ aggressively anti-faith position. It was Dawkins who claimed that, “faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate. Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any Religion.

 

It seems odd to me to attack the activity of putting one’s faith in something or someone. Because we all do it whether we believe there’s a God or not. Of course what is really going on here is this. A caricature of religious faith is being rejected. Why? Because belief in God is being rejected.

 

Well – faith in God is no different to any other sort of faith. For faith to rise within us – there has to be a good reason for it. And two things are usually present.

 

 1 – TRUST IN SPITE OF DIFFICULTY:

For example – I recently climbed aboard an aeroplane that was flying to Malawi in Africa, I had faith that I would reach the destination safely. Now – I guess I could substitute the word faith for the word confidence. But faith seems more appropriate to me. Why? Because even tho I faced difficulty and uncertainty – I stayed on the plane. What difficulty? Well a safe journey depends on the aeroplane being of sound mechanical construction and maintenance. I know nothing about these two disciplines – thats a problem. But I do not have to be an aeroplane engineer to have faith that the airline looks after their aircraft properly. My arrival in Malawi also demanded that the person flying the plane was an experienced pilot of large body aircraft. Now – I didn’t meet my captain. Frankly he had no interest in inviting me up to visit the cockpit. And I don’t think I would know a fully qualified pilot just by looking at him anyway! I know nothing about training to fly aircraft. But – I had faith that my captain was qualified, that he had many hundreds of successful flying hours under his belt.

 

I had faith – even tho I had no immediate way of checking these things as I sat in economy and waited for the wheels to leave the runway.

 

I use the word faith – when I trusting myself to something in spite of challenges or difficulties. In my flying example – the difficulty is that I can’t be 100 percent sure the aircraft is airworthy and the pilot is trained before we take off. In my Christianity example – it’s because I can’t sense God directly with my traditional senses.

 

 

 2 – COMFORTED BY PAST EXPERIENCE:

And this leads to the next aspect of the use of the word faith. It is used when we are faced with uncertainty, but we are comforted by past experience.

Because of experience – or to put it another way – because I have evidence based on my past experience – I believe that this aircraft and this airline will get me to Malawi in one piece.

 

Today I have faith in the God of the Bible. I also have faith in air travel. But it wasn’t always that way.

 

The first time I ever climbed onto an aircraft, I was seven. And as soon as I saw the safety card talking about the escape procedure should the aircraft land in water – I began to wail and howl. I publicly humiliated my poor parents. “We’re all gonna die!” I confidently wailed. I had no faith in air travel at that point. I’d never done it before – and there was a great big picture of a crashed plane staring at me from the seat back in front of me. What’s a seven year old to think? Thankfully, my parents shared their experience with me. It’s ok Stuart. We have done this before. We will be fine! They injected faith into me at that moment. Of course, all they really wanted to do was to shut me up and stop me making an embarrassing noise. Rightly so.

 

My point is – faith starts with difficulty and uncertainty. And then faith flourishes with the injection of some evidence – either our own evidence, or evidence given to us from someone else.

 

 

So when I hear Boghossian confidently assert that faith in God is somewhere between lies and delusion….it sounds a little bit like 7 year old me in the plane. Wailing and shouting. “Christianity is evil – it’s based on an absence of evidence, etc.” What he’s actually saying is – I’ve never flown in a plane before and I don’t trust it!

 

Well – okay, I get your problem. But it is just possible that there is someone sitting in the seat next to you who is saying – its okay. I’ve got experience here. This works. It’s safe. You will be fine. Why not stop wailing and listen?

 

Today I have faith in air travel. And I also have faith in the God of the Bible. Because one day I experienced God’s love for me in a tangible and real way and I’ve never been the same since. Because in the years that have passed, God has proven Himself real and trustworthy to his words. And because He clearly has a purpose for my life that He is working out.

Try it. It’ll be alright – I promise.

“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” Hebrews 11:1, NLT