Tag Archives: Evolution

New study: first life pushed back earlier, leaving less time for naturalistic magic

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Whenever you discuss origins with naturalists, it’s very important to get them to explain how the first living organism emerged without any help from an intelligent agent. The origin of life is an information problem. A certain minimal amount of biological information for minimum life function has to be thrown together by chance. No evolutionary mechanisms have the potential to work until replication is already in place.

Evolution News reports on a new study that makes the window for naturalistic forces to create the first self-replicating organism even smaller.

Excerpt:

A paper in Nature reports the discovery of fossil microbes possibly older, even much older, than any found previously. The lead author is biogeochemist Matthew Dodd, a PhD student at University College London. If the paper is right, these Canadian fossils could be 3.77 billion years old, or even as old as — hold onto your hat, in case you’re wearing one — 4.28 billion years.

From the Abstract:

Although it is not known when or where life on Earth began, some of the earliest habitable environments may have been submarine-hydrothermal vents. Here we describe putative fossilized microorganisms that are at least 3,770 million and possibly 4,280 million years old in ferruginous sedimentary rocks, interpreted as seafloor-hydrothermal vent-related precipitates, from the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec, Canada. These structures occur as micrometre-scale haematite tubes and filaments with morphologies and mineral assemblages similar to those of filamentous microorganisms from modern hydrothermal vent precipitates and analogous microfossils in younger rocks. The Nuvvuagittuq rocks contain isotopically light carbon in carbonate and carbonaceous material, which occurs as graphitic inclusions in diagenetic carbonate rosettes, apatite blades intergrown among carbonate rosettes and magnetite–haematite granules, and is associated with carbonate in direct contact with the putative microfossils.

This new paper is interesting to compare with a paper from last year, Nutman et al., “Rapid emergence of life shown by discovery of 3,700-million-year-old microbial structures,” also in Nature, which found microbial structures that are a bit younger.

But the “microbial structures” from Nutman et al. 2016 are different from these new “microfossils” presented by Dodd et al. 2017. In Nutman et al., they only found stromatolite-type structures rather than actual microfossils. Some stromatolite experts were a bit skeptical that what they found were really stromatolites.

But the new paper by Dodd and his colleagues, “Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates,” seems to offer potential bacteria-like microfossils. They are tiny black carbonaceous spheres and “hematite tubes” which the authors think are biogenically created. We’ve seen more convincing ancient microfossils, but these aren’t bad.

According to Dodd et al., these new finds would be the oldest known microfossils, if that is in fact what they are. Very interesting. If so, that just keeps pushing unquestionable evidence of life’s existence on Earth further and further back, which leaves less and less time for the origin of life to have occurred by unguided chemical evolution after Earth became habitable.

If they are in fact 4.28 billion years old, then that would mean there was life very, very early in Earth’s history — as Cyril Ponnamperuma said, it’s like “instant life.”

Instant life is “rational” for naturalistic fideists, but for evidence-driven people who understand the long odds on generating even a simple protein by chance, it’s irrationality.

Let’s recall exactly how hard it is to make even a simple protein without intelligent agency to select the elements of the sequence.

The odds of creating even a single functional protein

I’ve talked about Doug Axe before when I described how to calculate the odds of getting functional proteins by chance.

Let’s calculate the odds of building a protein composed of a functional chain of 100 amino acids, by chance. (Think of a meaningful English sentence built with 100 scrabble letters, held together with glue)

Sub-problems:

  • BONDING: You need 99 peptide bonds between the 100 amino acids. The odds of getting a peptide bond is 50%. The probability of building a chain of one hundred amino acids in which all linkages involve peptide bonds is roughly (1/2)^99 or 1 chance in 10^30.
  • CHIRALITY: You need 100 left-handed amino acids. The odds of getting a left-handed amino acid is 50%. The probability of attaining at random only L–amino acids in a hypothetical peptide chain one hundred amino acids long is (1/2)^100 or again roughly 1 chance in 10^30.
  • SEQUENCE: You need to choose the correct amino acid for each of the 100 links. The odds of getting the right one are 1 in 20. Even if you allow for some variation, the odds of getting a functional sequence is (1/20)^100 or 1 in 10^65.

The final probability of getting a functional protein composed of 100 amino acids is 1 in 10^125. Even if you fill the universe with pre-biotic soup, and react amino acids at Planck time (very fast!) for 14 billion years, you are probably not going to get even 1 such protein. And you need at least 100 of them for minimal life functions, plus DNA and RNA.

Research performed by Doug Axe at Cambridge University, and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Molecular Biology, has shown that the number of functional amino acid sequences is tiny:

Doug Axe’s research likewise studies genes that it turns out show great evidence of design. Axe studied the sensitivities of protein function to mutations. In these “mutational sensitivity” tests, Dr. Axe mutated certain amino acids in various proteins, or studied the differences between similar proteins, to see how mutations or changes affected their ability to function properly. He found that protein function was highly sensitive to mutation, and that proteins are not very tolerant to changes in their amino acid sequences. In other words, when you mutate, tweak, or change these proteins slightly, they stopped working. In one of his papers, he thus concludes that “functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences,” and that functional protein folds “may be as low as 1 in 10^77.”

The problem of forming DNA by sequencing nucleotides faces similar difficulties. And remember, mutation and selection cannot explain the origin of the first sequence, because mutation and selection require replication, which does not exist until that first living cell is already in place.

New study: 90% of species on Earth today originated 100,000 to 200,000 years ago

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Well, it’s Friday, so I thought we would all benefit from reading about a brand new peer-reviewed study that should be the final nail in the coffin of naturalistic evolution. At least for those with an open mind who are not wedded to the philosophical assumption of naturalism.

Phys.org (which is committed dogmatically to fully naturalistic evolution) reports:

Mark Stoeckle from The Rockefeller University in New York and David Thaler at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who together published findings last week sure to jostle, if not overturn, more than one settled idea about how evolution unfolds.

It is textbook biology, for example, that species with large, far-flung populations—think ants, rats, humans—will become more genetically diverse over time.

But is that true?

“The answer is no,” said Stoeckle, lead author of the study, published in the journal Human Evolution.

For the planet’s 7.6 billion people, 500 million house sparrows, or 100,000 sandpipers, genetic diversity “is about the same,” he told AFP.

The study’s most startling result, perhaps, is that nine out of 10 species on Earth today, including humans, came into being 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.

“This conclusion is very surprising, and I fought against it as hard as I could,” Thaler told AFP.

That reaction is understandable: How does one explain the fact that 90 percent of animal life, genetically speaking, is roughly the same age?

Oh, oh. Pick me, pick me. I know the answer. The answer is that the biological information in living systems was put there by an intelligent agent. You know, the same way that information in books is put there by intelligent agents. And the same way that information in computer code is put there by intelligent agents. And the same way that information in blog posts is put there by intelligent agents. We know what introduces information from our own experience.

Well, what about mutation and selection? Couldn’t they create all this information in a couple hundred thousand years? Well, no. You see, mutation and selection have been tested in the lab to see how much information they can produce over generations and generations. And the conclusion is clear: it is impossible for blind forces to create the amount of information we see in living systems in the short time that is available. In fact, the whole history of the universe is not enough time for evolutionary mechanisms to create the information we have in front of us.

Before we leave the paper reported by Phys.org, here is something about whether we see the gradual emergence of complexity via lots of transitional forms in nature.

Not so much:

[…][A]nother unexpected finding from the study—species have very clear genetic boundaries, and there’s nothing much in between.

“If individuals are stars, then species are galaxies,” said Thaler. “They are compact clusters in the vastness of empty sequence space.”

The absence of “in-between” species is something that also perplexed Darwin, he said.

Indeed. So perplexing.

The evidence we gain from the progress of science is always perplexing to people who assume naturalism, and then try to shoehorn reality to match their religious assumptions. I have an idea. Why don’t we just make science the search for truth, no holds barred? Wouldn’t that be a much better way to do science? Let’s just do science honestly, and stop trying to make it prove things that are comfortable for us.

If the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, the origin of the first living system, and the sudden origin of body plans in the Cambrian explosion are impossible to account for on naturalism, then maybe we need to jettison the philosophical assumption of naturalism, and just go where the evidence leads? What’s wrong with that?

What is the best scientific theory to explain the origin of life on Earth?

Christianity and the progress of science

Evolution News talks about a new peer-reviewed science paper which re-caps the current origin of life situation:

…the dominant biological paradigm — abiogenesis in a primordial soup. The latter idea was developed at a time when the earliest living cells were considered to be exceedingly simple structures that could subsequently evolve in a Darwinian way. These ideas should of course have been critically examined and rejected after the discovery of the exceedingly complex molecular structures involved in proteins and in DNA. But this did not happen. Modern ideas of abiogenesis in hydrothermal vents or elsewhere on the primitive Earth have developed into sophisticated conjectures with little or no evidential support.

…independent abiogenesis on the cosmologically diminutive scale of oceans, lakes or hydrothermal vents remains a hypothesis with no empirical support…

The conditions that would most likely to have prevailed near the impact-riddled Earth’s surface 4.1–4.23 billion years ago were too hot even for simple organic molecules to survive let alone evolve into living complexity…

The requirement now, on the basis of orthodox abiogenic thinking, is that an essentially instantaneous transformation of non-living organic matter to bacterial life occurs, an assumption we consider strains credibility of Earth-bound abiogenesis beyond the limit.

The transformation of an ensemble of appropriately chosen biological monomers (e.g. amino acids, nucleotides) into a primitive living cell capable of further evolution appears to require overcoming an information hurdle of superastronomical proportions, an event that could not have happened within the time frame of the Earth except, we believe, as a miracle. All laboratory experiments attempting to simulate such an event have so far led to dismal failure.

Before the extensive sequencing of DNA became available it would have been reasonable to speculate that random copying errors in a gene sequence could, over time, lead to the emergence of new traits, body plans and new physiologies that could explain the whole of evolution. However the data we have reviewed here challenge this point of view. It suggests that the Cambrian Explosion of multicellular life that occurred 0.54 billion years ago led to a sudden emergence of essentially all the genes that subsequently came to be rearranged into an exceedingly wide range of multi-celled life forms — Tardigrades, the Squid, Octopus, fruit flies, humans — to name but a few.

…the complexity and sophistication of life cannot originate (from non-biological) matter under any scenario, over any expanse of space and time, however vast.

What is the explanation of the origin of life, then, according to true-believing atheists?

Richard Dawkins explains:

Got that? The origin of life on Earth is best explained as a result of higher aliens seeding the Earth with life. And where did those aliens come from? They evolved by chance. And can we observe or test the hypothesis that they evolved by chance? No.

Lest you think that this “aliens did it” explanation is a trick of video editing, consider this article from Scientific American.

Excerpt:

Francis Crick (who co-discovered the structure of DNA with James Watson) and Leslie Orgel once proposed that life on Earth was the result of a deliberate infection, designed by aliens who had purposely fled mother nature’s seed to a new home in the sun.

[…]The origins of life remains an unresolved mystery. I argue that Crick and Orgel’s paper was meant both as a serious and plausible scientific alternative and as a means to criticize concurrent origins of life.

Previously, I’ve laid out the evidence for cosmic fine-tuning, so that we could understand how slight changes to the constants and quantities given at the Big Bang would make complex, embodied life in the universe impossible. The smallest of changes has massive effects: only hydrogen, no hydrogen, no stars, universe re-collapses into a hot fireball, etc. The atheistic response to this evidence, which has been documented in the most prestigious academic presses and peer-reviewed journals, is to either deny the evidence, or assert that there is an untestable, unobservable multiverse. As if this were not bad enough, the multiverse generator itself requires fine-tuning.

Similarly with the origin of the universe. The best atheistic responses to the origin of space, time, matter and energy from nothing, about 14 billion years ago, has been to either assert that nothing exists (Peter Atkins) or that the nothing that preceded the universe was actually something (Lawrence Krauss) or to introduce a speculative theoretical model that is disproved by observations (Sean Carroll).

So, let’s take stock. We have evidence for the origin of the universe, like the cosmic microwave background radiation and the light element abundance observations. Atheist answer: either nothing exists right now, or the nothing causally prior to the universe was really something, or here is a disproved speculative theory. We have evidence of cosmic fine-tuning to allow the existence of complex, embodied intelligence. Atheist answer: the unobservable, untestable multiverse did it. We have evidence that origin of life was almost immediate after the cooling of the Earth, and that the problem is best explained by an intelligence sequencing amino acids and proteins, similar to the way that humans write code and blog posts. Atheist answer: unobservable, untestable aliens who evolved did it.  This is not even to mention the Cambrian explosion. The last article I saw argued that the introduction of oxygen was the best naturalistic explanation for that. Does oxygen write genetic code?

I’ll leave it to you to decide which side likes science, and which side likes science fiction. Personally, I would not be comfortable being an atheist at this time in history. We’ve just made too much scientific progress to still believe in stone-age mythology. I understand that atheists find Star Wars and Star Trek comforting and entertaining. I understand that real peer-reviewed science papers are boring and dull compared to science fiction. I’m not saying that we can’t believe in atheism when we are children, and still reading comic books. But there comes a time when we need to grow up and be more responsible about adjusting our worldviews to match the progress of science. A child who believes in Santa Claus is cute, but it’s not the same thing when a grown-up does it.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

How brief was the period in which the Cambrian phyla suddenly appeared?

The Cambrian explosion refers to the sudden appearance of new body plans in the fossil record. ID proponents think that the period is between 5-10 million years at the most. Naturalists want to stretch out the period in which the body plans appear to tens of millions of years. The two sides can’t both be right. What’s the truth?

Evolution News has the answer.

Excerpt:

To establish the length of the most explosive period of innovation within the Cambrian explosion itself, Meyer cites the work of MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring and his colleagues as well the work of another group led by Smithsonian paleontologist Douglas Erwin. The Bowring-led study showed that (in their words) “the main period of exponential diversification” within the Cambrian lasted “only 5-6 million years” (emphasis added). Meyer explains:

An analysis by MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring has shown that the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation occurred in a sedimentary sequence spanning no more than 6 million years. Yet during this time representatives of at least sixteen completely novel phyla and about thirty classes first appeared in the rock record. In a more recent paper using a slightly different dating scheme, Douglas Erwin and colleagues similarly show that thirteen new phyla appear in a roughly 6-million-year window. (p. 73)

[…][T]ake a look first at the following figure that Bowring and his colleagues included in their definitive 1993 article, published in the journal Science. They use radiometric methods to date the different stages of the Cambrian period, including the crucial Tommotian and Atdabanian stages in which the greatest number of new animal phyla and classes arise. Note that the so-called Manykaian stage of the Cambrian period lasts about 10-14 million years. Note also that the main pulse of morphological innovation didn’t begin during this stage but rather during the Tommotian and Atdabanian — a period that they describe as taking between “5 to 10 million years,” and in a more detailed passage as taking about 5-6 million years.

[…]In the figure above, the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages of the Cambrian period together span only about 5 million years, starting at about 530 and ending about 525 million years ago. Bowring’s figure also depicts the total number of classes and orders present at any given time during the Cambrian period. The biggest increases in morphological innovation occur during the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages. Indeed, during this period the number of known orders nearly quadruples. Moreover, Bowring and his colleagues also make clear that this period corresponds to the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation as measured by the number of new phyla and classes that first appear. They note that, while a few groups of animals do arise in the earliest Manykaian stage of the Cambrian, the most rapid period of “exponential increase of diversification,” corresponding to the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages, “lasted only 5 to 6 m.y.”

You can see the figure they are reference in the Evolution News article.

Also, check out these clips that explain the Cambrian explosion:

Part 1:

Part 2:

The first clip features James Valentine, a professor of biology at the University of California who just co-authored a new book on the Cambrian explosion and is not a proponent of intelligent design.

The consensus among scientists regarding the period of time in which the new body plans appear is 5-6 million years. Biologically speaking, that’s a blink of an eye. You aren’t going that kind of complexity and innovation in such a short period of time any more than you can expect to win the lottery by buying 5-6 million tickets when the odds of winning are 1 in a googol (10 to the 100th power – 1, followed by 100 zeroes). You don’t have enough lottery tickets to make winning the lottery likely. Similarly, 5-6 million years is not enough time for naturalistic mechanisms to code brand new body plans from scratch. It would be like trying to research and write a Ph.D thesis during a single lunch hour. It’s just not enough time to produce the amount of information that’s required.

Can a person believe in both God and Darwinian evolution?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

The term for a person who believes in fully naturalistic evolution but who also believes in God is “theistic evolutionist”.

Terrell Clemmons takes a look at one organization of theistic evolutionists “Biologos”, and makes a distinction between their public statements and the real implications of their public statements.

Here is the PR / spin definition of theistic evolution:

Evolutionary creation is “the view that all life on earth came about by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent. Evolution is a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes in creation.” This view, also called theistic evolution, has been around since the late nineteenth century, and BioLogos promotes it today in a variety of religious and educational settings.

And here is the no-spin definition of theistic evolution:

As Dr. Stephen Meyer explains it, the central issue dividing Bio-Logos writers from intelligent design theorists is BioLogos’s commitment to methodological naturalism (MN), which is not a scientific theory or empirical finding, but an arbitrary rule excluding non-material causation from the outset. “Unfortunately,” Meyer writes,

methodological naturalism is a demanding doctrine. The rule does not say “try finding a materialistic cause but keep intelligent design in the mix of live possibilities, in light of what the evidence might show.” Rather, MN tells you that you simply must posit a material or physical cause, whatever the evidence.

What this means, according to BioLogos’s own epistemology, is that God is objectively undiscoverable and unknowable—a tenet that sits squarely at odds with Christian orthodoxy, which has for centuries held that God is clearly discernible in the natural world (e.g., Romans 1:20). Obviously, this is theologically problematic, but Meyer also points out that theistic evolution faces problems from a scientific standpoint as well, as the technical literature among evolutionary biologists is moving away from the Darwinian mechanism.

Whenever I talk to theistic evolutionists, I try to stop them from talking about the Bible or their faith, because that’s not what is interesting to me. I don’t really care about their history as a religious person, or where they go to church, or who their pastor is. When I talk about origins and evolution, I only care about the science. What the ordinary process of scientific inquiry tells us about nature? Does nature have the capacity to create all of the varieties of life without any intelligent agency playing a role? Or, are there parts of nature that are similar to computer programs, blog posts, and term papers, where the best explanation of the effect is an intelligent agent choosing how to arrange the parts to achieve functionality?

I don’t accept molecules-to-man unguided evolution. This is not because I start with faith and let faith override the findings of science. It’s because I think that if you look at specific areas of natural history, there is clear evidence of intelligent agency, such as in the origin of life, or the Cambrian explosion. These effects in nature are well-studied and well-understood, and they look much more like the code that a computer scientist (like me) writes than the simplistic “order” created by wind erosion or crystalline patterns or anything the blind forces of nature could produce. Blind forces are observed to make small changes – short or long finch beaks, fruit flies with 4 wings and no balancers, bacterial resistances.

What’s also interesting is how often theistic evolutionists drop the theism but keep the evolution.

Consider this article about Stephen Matheson from Evolution News:

Biologist Stephen Matheson is a longtime critic of the theory of intelligent design. His extensive attacks on Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, for one, ranged from the substantive to the trivial and personal. The tone was frequently…abrasive, and we responded at the time. With Arthur Hunt, Dr. Matheson has debated Dr. Meyer in a forum at Biola University. Formerly a professor at an Evangelical Christian school, Calvin College, Matheson is still listed as a Blog Author at the theistic evolutionary website BioLogos, where it notes that he enjoys “explor[ing] issues of science and Christian faith.”

Well, his theistic evolutionary explorations have now terminated. As he reports on his personal blog page, where he took a hiatus of more than five years along with a break from his teaching, he is “happily” no longer a Christian.

OK. Now that’s just one case, but what about Howard Van Till, also of Calvin College?

Salvo magazine takes a look at what he wrote in a recent book:

In what follows I shall use the term “naturalism,” when unqualified, to represent neither more nor less than the rejection of supernaturalism. Stated positively, naturalism is committed to the belief that all events that occur within this Universe are consistent with and adequately explained by the system of natural causes. This commitment necessarily entails the additional belief that the system of natural causes is fully adequate to account for all events that transpire. Focusing on the issue of the Universe’s formational economy, we can say that naturalism—as here defined -entails the RFEP.

He now gives presentations for atheist groups entitled “From Calvinism to Freethought”. Freethought is a euphemism for atheism.

Now, for the big three Western monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. To deny supernaturalism IS to deny the robust theism present in the world’s big three monotheistic religions. Van Till denies theism as commonly understood now. And again, this isn’t because of the science. His heavy handed naturalistic assumption squashed out any kind of serious inquiry into areas like the origin of the universe, the cosmic fine tuning, the origin or life, the Cambrian explosion, biological convergence, so-called junk DNA, deleterious mutations, and so on. Places where you can see that naturalistic forces cannot do the creating that Van Till has faith that they can.

And for the record, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the standard Big Bang cosmology, and a 4.5 billion year Earth. My problem with evolution is not Bible-based, it’s science-based. If the science shows the need for intelligent causes, and I think it does, then I think that the naturalists need to adjust their assumptions and pre-suppositions to match the evidence. We have blog posts and computer science code, that’s evidence for a programmer. We have DNA and proteins and sudden origin of body plans, that’s evidence for a programmer, too.