RESPONDblog: New Empirical Evidence Pointing Away from Darwinian Evolution

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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.

 

RESPONDblog: Are Christians Just Atheists Who Believe In One More God?

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“I contend we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” — Stephen F. Roberts

I find this quote to be quite a troubling one… It leaves me wondering whether Stephen F. Roberts is really constructing an argument here…or whether he is just doing his level best to metaphorically “poke Christians in the eye” with a prickly soundbite!

Why do I say that?

First – in what universe can we equate Christianity with atheism? Atheism always involves the rejection of the existence of a deity – that’s what makes it atheism.

“Atheism : Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods”, Oxford English Dictionary

A Christian can never be an atheist – simply because the foundation of Christianity is a belief in Jesus of Nazareth (as presented in the New Testament) as God; the second person of the Trinity that is presented throughout both Old and New Testaments. Yahweh – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Stephen and I can never both be atheists. Altho he is welcome to it if he wants it!

Second – while we are both rejecting gods, we are doing so from a very different starting point. This is where the prickly part of the soundbite emerges – because I think what Stephen is getting at…is this. He is saying, I don’t have to take time rejecting Christ as God…any more than you take the time to investigate and reject all of humanity’s other gods from history. It just happens naturally. My atheism, Stephen says, is the same as your rejection of all these other gods.

My response to this is – no, its really not the same at all. My worldview, my framework for reality, is built upon an expectation of the existence of a creator God. Yet the atheist’s worldview – by definition – excludes any such creator.

What i’m saying is this. I’m committed to the expectation that a real God does in fact exist. Stephen is committed to the very opposite. But I would – of course – argue that my position is the more rational and reasonable one.

Here’s a taste…Belief in a creator makes sense of the observable fine tuning of the Universe and for the existence of the functionally specified information that sits at the center of all life. It explains why objective moral values exist and are – in fact – consistent across all peoples and cultures.

Third – my belief in Jesus as God has got nothing at all to do with my investigation and rejection of historical pagan Gods (or indeed other World Religions). Do Stephen and I have something in common here at last? I’m not so sure.

It is all about the strength of the evidence that points to Jesus of Nazareth as the exclusive and only God. I have raised the world “evidence” now…and it is something that is conveniently denied by many atheists who I have spoken to. The evidence for Christianity is the bedrock on which it stands. It always has been.
“If Christ has not been raised then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” 1 Corinthians 15:14, NLT

So much evidence that so many atheists will deny…and sadly ignore when it is presented to them.

I think it is reasonable to say that – because the case for Christianity is so strong – our search for God can stop with Jesus.

Is this lazy or irresponsible? Well as J Warner Wallace points out, the legal system does this all the time. In a criminal trial, a jury is asked to weigh the evidence against a single defendant. Now – there are countless individuals who could have committed the crime. But the Jury’s job is to evaluate the evidence for just one person – the defendant. And if the evidence is strong enough – the jury will convict that person….based solely on the evidence pointing to that individual. And notice – they do this without evaluating any historical evidence around millions of different alternatives.

If Christianity’s claims are true – then ALL other religious claims are false. So we evaluate the evidence supporting Christianity. We are in the place of the jury in the trial. And if the evidence is strong enough – if the case is strong enough – we can reasonably look no further and stop with Jesus.

“…we can be confident unbelievers when it comes to every other potential god because the evidence for Christianity is more than sufficient.” — J. Warner Wallace

I’m no atheist – I accept my Creator wholeheartedly. Further, the case for Christianity is simply so strong – my search has reasonably ended. And my worship of Christ has begun.

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

 

 

It is Evolution’s Daddy’s Birthday.

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Today is Darwin Day – in other words, it’s the big boy’s birthday. He would have been 205 years old if he had lived!

Charles Darwin was born on this day in 1809 and he died in 1882 at age 73.

He was a Geologist who contributed greatly to so many areas of scientific study. He contributed to Archaeology; he gathered insects and birds of previously unknown types and gifted them to Universities for further study. And he travelled the world. He was fascinated by the ethnography of people.

What a great man.

And he was also fascinated by how breeding could adjust the attributes of pigeons. A breeder could change the shape of eyes and beaks by pairing certain types of birds together over many generations. He was amazed to see a similar phenomenon in Nature – the Finches that lived on the Galapagos Islands seemed to change their beak length depending on what the natural climate was doing.

Darwin put these and many observations into a melting pot of careful observation and study and experience. The result was a proposal that all life on planet earth must have arisen thru selective breeding on a single, primordial life form. But there wasn’t a person doing the breeding. Instead – Nature itself was doing the breeding – randomly changing the attributes of a creature to form a different class of creature. And only the strong variations survived – thru the process of Natural Selection.

I’ve not done justice to his theory – but that’s the crux of it, I think. This was the free thinking, radical theory that challenged the Western World when he proposed it.

And yet I wonder…

… if Darwin had been alive today, would he still have proposed his theory? Would he have stood behind it as a credible idea in 2014?

When today we can peer into the inner workings of each microscopic cell – and watch the operation of a complex biological factory. A factory humming with different machines which are managing and processing information constantly.

  •  Machines to read the instructions that are somehow encoded in your DNA that code for countless proteins that are essential for your body to function correctly
  •  Machines that combine amino acids according to the amazing  instructions
  •  Machines that fold up the resulting strand into a precise shape to allow the protein to do its specific job in your body

When today we have spent nearly 100 years understanding information theory and software engineering. And we can see abundant evidence of both of these disciplines…and so many others… in the groundwork and the operation of our cells.

  • Each of your body’s countless billion cells contains 700 megabytes of digital information. (Scientists have started using DNA as the equivalent of biological USB Memory sticks today. Cool eh? Yet life has had this technology built in all along…and we are only just starting to catch up)
  • Digital information takes time and effort to create. Just ask any software engineer who is staring down the barrel of the project plan. And has a boss breathing down his neck…telling him that he must finish debugging his code NOW! Just ask any blogger who is looking at a blank page – trying to think of something interesting to say.
  • And what effect does randomness have on information? Does it contribute to the creation of information? No. We have found that random activity degrades information. It is like the noise on the line that causes your mobile phone conversation to be so difficult to understand that you end the call. Randomness is not a friend to digital information. It destroys it. It does not create it.

I imagine Mr Darwin looking at the completely new, innovative and mind boggling Scientific evidence we have amassed today, over a century since his death. I imagine him shaking his head in wonder and saying – “Hey – it was a great thought. But in the light of all this new discovery… I’d better think again. Forget evolution. There must be another more reasonable answer to why life on this planet looks so exquisitely and carefully designed!”

He would be right.

I’m pretty darn sure that it was.

“Beneficial Mutations” is a Contradiction in Terms

ascent of man

Perhaps you’re reading this post on your laptop. Or maybe you’re using a phone or tablet? However you are reading – imagine something for me. What if the data in your device suddenly changes? The files on your hard drive…the apps on your phone…they began morphing. Now I don’t mean they instantly become something else. No – I’m talking about gradual slow change. Single bits of data start to flip…a number “1” becomes a number “3” instead. A “4” becomes a “5”…and so on. And let’s say…the change happens very slowly. Out of all of the gigabytes of data that make up the apps, the code, the operating system and the documents you have stored …a single digit flips every day. What do you think might happen?

Would the blog post or the essay you are writing begin to say something better than it did before (that’s a compelling fantasy, believe me). Would the operating system in your tablet begin to morph into a different but equally functional one?

I don’t think you need a degree in Computer Science to answer those questions with a shake of the head. Gadgets and anything with a microprocessor inside them are very sensitive objects. The software is carefully crafted by – probably – hundreds of engineers over decades of time. It is precisely aligned to do a job. And if something’s not right…your laptop and therefore your life is about to get very frustrating.  If you have ever accidently loaded the wrong driver or a virus into your laptop – you will know what I mean.

In my job I sometimes work with engineers who are designing flight computers to operate in the harsh environment of space. And they put an incredible amount of effort into designing their system to make sure that “1s” cannot turn into “5s” when cosmic rays blast the vehicle. Many software systems in space travel are designed to be self-diagnosing and self-correcting – because if it breaks down on the surface of Mars, there’s not a thing we can do about it!

What I am saying is – the specific information contained within a computer system is valuable and any random unforeseen changes to that information will degrade its function. And it will probably eventually break down as a result of the change.

Why am I bringing this fairly obvious conclusion to your attention today?

Because it strikes me that the popular (some would say undeniable) theory from Charles Darwin of Biological Evolution presents the same scenario in a different context. It proposes random mutations on biological systems. And it points to something called Natural Selection and says that this process will make sure the beneficial mutations are carried forward as animals adapt and grow into different types of animals. Over time.

Beneficial mutations? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

Now I grant you – organisms do vary over time based on their environment. Beak lengths, wing colours are well documented examples. Minor change…or minor evolution… can be observed within a class of creature. It’s observable because life is built so that it will adapt to survive. But what about gradual mutation from one class of animal to another?  (Darwin’s theory of Common Descent) I am skeptical and I think the phrase “Beneficial Mutation” is a contradiction in terms here. Why?

Well – I have two problems with Darwin’s theory. And frankly – I’m going to raise them whether it’s PC to do so or not!

FIRST – where did the original organisms come from? The fossil record seems to show that life began with very simple organisms. We know from recent study of simple single celled organisms that they contain an incredible amount of digital information and complex systems for processing that information and generating proteins to manage and control the organism. There’s a vast amount of digital code in simple organisms. Where did it come from? Why does it suddenly appear in the historical record? Evolution? I don’t think so because random change doesn’t create information – it degrades it.

SECOND – Following on from the simple organisms – suddenly a vast array of incredibly complex animals, all with different body plans, appear in the fossil record (a period often called the Cambrian explosion). The fossil record starts by presenting simple organisms…and then many years later in the record we are suddenly presented with a vast array of amazing new Cambrian fully formed animal fossils. Who wrote the code for them then? There certainly isn’t any evidence of transitions from a few simple forms to a vast array of fully functional complex animals! And nor would we expect there to be – because random change doesn’t create information – it degrades it.

Not only has no evidence of transitional forms been found – but Science has begun to understand more and more about life since Darwin’s day. Roy Davidson in the 1960s discovered that each animal inherits biological circuitry (Developmental Gene Regulatory Networks or dGRNs) when it is conceived. What is a dGRN? It’s a biological control system  – completely separate from the cell’s DNA – that ensures that the organism will grow two wings, two legs and a beak (if it’s a bird). These control systems are very specific to the beast in question. And what Roy found was that any minor change to this dGRN system will render the organism unviable…in other words mutation will kill it.  Just like what will happen to the tablet you are holding if its operating system software begins to randomly flip “1s” and “0s”.

If you are anything like me, we have gotten so used to hearing people say with authority that animals evolve from one physical form to another, we naturally accept it. They say that random mutations – guided by Natural Selection – move species forward over a long period of time.

Yet just because people say this with authority does not make it right.

I don’t buy it…not because I am a Christian (which I am) but because practical experience in life with our information rich Sat Navs, our Laptops and our Tablet Computers shows this theory to be naïve and improbable . I don’t buy it because complex information processing systems – and the information they contain – do not improve when the program randomly changes. They break down.

If information systems – electrical or biological – break down in the face of random change, then the mutations that Darwin was talking about couldn’t form new living creatures. Darwin’s mutations would lead to dead ends instead. So there would be no guiding job for Natural Selection to do.

“Beneficial mutations” is a contradiction in terms.

And it’s not just me saying this. Current Scientific discoveries presented by the likes of Origin Scientist Stephen C Meyer give real weight to this conclusion. A conclusion that applies to biology in the same way as it applies to our digital technology today.

Evolutionary biologists are fond of saying that “life gives the appearance of design.” Hey – so does my IPAD. Let’s at least consider the possibility that life looks designed because it is!