Tag Archives: Intelligent Design

Stephen C. Meyer and Marcus Ross lecture on the Cambrian explosion

Cambrian Explosion
Cambrian Explosion

Access Research Network is a group that produces recordings  of lectures and debates related to intelligent design. I noticed that on their Youtube channel they are releasing some of their older lectures and debates for FREE. So I decided to write a summary of one that I really like on the Cambrian explosion. This lecture features Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and Dr. Marcus Ross.

The lecture is about two hours. There are really nice slides with lots of illustrations to help you understand what the speakers are saying, even if you are not a scientist.

Here is a summary of the lecture from ARN:

The Cambrian explosion is a term often heard in origins debates, but seldom completely understood by the non-specialist. This lecture by Meyer and Ross is one of the best overviews available on the topic and clearly presents in verbal and pictorial summary the latest fossil data (including the recent finds from Chengjiang China). This lecture is based on a paper recently published by Meyer, Ross, Nelson and Chien “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education(2003, Michigan State University Press). This 80-page article includes 127 references and the book includes two additional appendices with 63 references documenting the current state of knowledge on the Cambrian explosion data.

The term Cambrian explosion describes the geologically sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record during the Cambrian period of geologic time. During this event, at least nineteen, and perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance on earth. Phyla constitute the highest biological categories in the animal kingdom, with each phylum exhibiting a unique architecture, blueprint, or structural body plan. The word explosion is used to communicate that fact that these life forms appear in an exceedingly narrow window of geologic time (no more than 5 million years). If the standard earth’s history is represented as a 100 yard football field, the Cambrian explosion would represent a four inch section of that field.

For a majority of earth’s life forms to appear so abruptly is completely contrary to the predictions of Neo-Darwinian and Punctuated Equilibrium evolutionary theory, including:

  • the gradual emergence of biological complexity and the existence of numerous transitional forms leading to new phylum-level body plans;
  • small-scale morphological diversity preceding the emergence of large-scale morphological disparity; and
  • a steady increase in the morphological distance between organic forms over time and, consequently, an overall steady increase in the number of phyla over time (taking into account factors such as extinction).

After reviewing how the evidence is completely contrary to evolutionary predictions, Meyer and Ross address three common objections: 1) the artifact hypothesis: Is the Cambrian explosion real?; 2) The Vendian Radiation (a late pre-Cambrian multicellular organism); and 3) the deep divergence hypothesis.

Finally Meyer and Ross argue why design is a better scientific explanation for the Cambrian explosion. They argue that this is not an argument from ignorance, but rather the best explanation of the evidence from our knowledge base of the world. We find in the fossil record distinctive features or hallmarks of designed systems, including:

  • a quantum or discontinuous increase in specified complexity or information
  • a top-down pattern of scale diversity
  • the persistence of structural (or “morphological”) disparities between separate organizational systems; and
  • the discrete or novel organizational body plans

When we encounter objects that manifest any of these several features and we know how they arose, we invariably find that a purposeful agent or intelligent designer played a causal role in their origin.

Recorded April 24, 2004. Approximately 2 hours including audience Q&A.

You can get a DVD of the lecture and other great lectures from Access Research Network. I recommend their origin of life lectures – I have watched the ones with Dean Kenyon and Charles Thaxton probably a dozen times each. Speaking as an engineer, you never get tired of seeing engineering principles applied to questions like the origin of life.

The Cambrian explosion lecture above is a great intermediate-level lecture and will prepare you to be able to understand Dr. Meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design“. The Michigan State University book that Dr. Meyer mentions is called “Darwin, Design and Public Education“. That book is one of the two good collections on intelligent design published by academic university presses, the other one being from Cambridge University Press, and titled “Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA“. If you think this lecture is above your level of understanding, then be sure and check out the shorter and more up-to-date DVD “Darwin’s Dilemma“.

Information Enigma: 21-minute video explains intelligent design

Can random mutation and natural selection create new functional information?
Can random mutation and natural selection create new functional information?

The video is here:

I have read and listened and watched a lot of material on intelligent design, but I have never seen so much value packed into such a short lecture. I really hope you’ll watch this and that it’s helpful to you.

Summary:

  • the big question when discussing the origin of life: where did the information in living systems come from?
  • Until 530 million years ago, the oceans were largely devoid of life
  • In a 10 million year period, many new forms of animal life emerged
  • New biological forms of life require new information
  • the discovery of DNA shows that living systems work because cells have information that allows them to build the components of molecular machines: cell types, proteins, etc.
  • can random mutation and natural selection create new functional information?
  • normally, random mutations tend to degrade the functionality of information, e.g. – randomly changing symbols in an applications code does not usually introduce useful new functions, it usually renders what is there non-functional
  • the majority of possible sequences will NOT have functions, so random mutations will more likely give you non-functional code, rather than functional code
  • example: a bicycle lock  with 4 numbers has many possible sequences for the 4 numbers, and only one of them has unlock functionality, the rest have no functionality
  • if you have lots of time, then you might be able to guess the combination, but if the lock as has 10 billion numbers, and only one combination that unlocks, you can spend your whole life trying to unlock it and won’t succeed
  • how likely is it to arrive at a functional protein or gene by chance? Is it more like the 4-dial lock (can be done with lots of time) or the 10 billion dial lock (amount of time required exceeds the time available)?
  • the probability is LOW because there is only one sequence of numbers that has unlock function
  • consider a short protein of 150 amino acids has 10 to the 195th power possible sequences
  • if many of these sequences of amino acides had biological function, then it might be easier to get to one by random mutation and selection than it is with a lock that only unlocks for ONE sequence
  • how many of the possible sequences have biological function?
  • Thanks to research done by Douglas Axe, we now know that the number of functional amino acid sequences for even a short protein is incredibly small…
  • Axe found that the odds of getting a functional sequence of amino acids that will fold and have biological function is 1 in 10 to the 77th power
  • Is that number too improbable to reach by chance? well, there are 10 to 65th atoms in the entire Milky Way galaxy… so yes, this is a very improbable outcome
  • can random genetic mutations search through all the sequences in order to find the one in 10 to the 77th power one that has biological function? It depends on how much guessers we have and how many guesses we get in the time available
  • even with the entire 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth, only about 10 to the 40th organisms have ever lived, which far smaller fraction of the 10 to the 77th total sequences
  • even with a very fast mutation rate, you would not be able to reach a functional protein even with all that time, and even with all those organisms

I was once having a discussion with a woman about the research that Axe did at the Cambridge University lab. He published four articles in the Journal of Molecular Biology. I held out one of the papers to her and showed her the numbers. She said over and over “I hate the Discovery Institute! I hate the Discovery Institute!” Well, yeah, but you can’t make the Journal of Molecular Biology go away with hating the Discovery Institute. JMB is peer-reviewed, and this was experimental evidence – not a theory, not a hypothesis.

We have been blessed by the Creator and Designer of the universe in this time and place with overwhelming evidence – an abundance of riches. For those who have an open mind, this is what you’ve been waiting for to make your decision. For the naturalists who struggle so mightily to block out the progress of experimental science, they’ll need to shout louder and shut their eyes tighter and push harder to block their ears. Maybe if they keep screaming “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” over and over to themselves, they will be able to ignore the real science a little longer.

New study: birds are as intelligent as macaques and other mammals

Cockatiel lets a trusted friend see her wing
Female cockatiel lets a trusted friend spread her wing for inspection

Evolution News reports on a new study about my favorite creatures of all: birds!

It says:

Next time someone calls you a birdbrain, smile and say “thank you.” Our feathered friends come well equipped with hardware and software for complex behaviors. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences puts birds on par with macaques and other mammals, and even suggests they can think.

Here’s what the news from Vanderbilt University says about the results of a detailed study by researchers primarily from the University of Prague, with additional team members from Austria, Brazil, and the United States:

The macaw has a brain the size of an unshelled walnut, while the macaque monkey has a brain about the size of a lemon. Nevertheless, the macaw has more neurons in its forebrain — the portion of the brain associated with intelligent behavior — than the macaque.

That is one of the surprising results of the first study to systematically measure the number of neurons in the brains of more than two dozen species of birds ranging in size from the tiny zebra finch to the six-foot-tall emu, which found that theyconsistently have more neurons packed into their small brainsthan are stuffed into mammalian or even primate brains of the same mass. [Emphasis added.]

How is this possible? The answer includes miniaturization and efficient packaging:

That is possible because the neurons in avian brains are much smaller and more densely packed than those in mammalian brains, the study found. Parrot and songbird brains, for example, contain about twice as many neurons as primate brains of the same mass and two to four times as many neurons as equivalent rodent brains.

Not only are neurons packed into the brains of parrots and crows at a much higher density than in primate brains, but the proportion of neurons in the forebrain is also significantly higher, the study found.

The scientists note that even despised birds like pigeons show much the same brain power. Powered flight, obviously, takes a lot of hardware and software to operate in any bird; how much so in the supreme flyers Illustra Media showed in Flight: The Genius of Birds: starlings, Arctic terns, and especially the tiny hummingbirds? […]The small heads of birds belie the observations of complex behaviors they perform.

But it’s not just routine tasks the brains must perform. Some birds can remember where they stored hundreds of seeds. Birds have been observed to hide a seed while another bird is watching, then move it when the neighbor is gone — indicative of a possible ‘theory of mind’ that shows planning and recognizing what the other bird is thinking.

The study provides a straightforward answer to a puzzle that comparative neuroanatomists have been wrestling with for more than a decade: how can birds with their small brains perform complicated cognitive behaviors?

The conundrum was created by a series of studies beginning in the previous decade that directly compared the cognitive abilities of parrots and crows with those of primates. The studies found that the birds could manufacture and use tools, use insight to solve problems, make inferences about cause-effect relationships,recognize themselves in a mirror and plan for future needs, among other cognitive skills previously considered the exclusive domain of primates.

Indeed, crows have shown the ability to solve a puzzle made famous in an Aesop’s fable (Reuters): dropping stones in a pitcher to raise the water level in order to get a drink. New Caledonian crows have shown the ability to use three tools in succession to reach a food source (BBC News). Owners of parrots know the cleverness of their pets; their ability to mimic human speech and singing is astonishing. Some cockatiels can even do the Riverdance.

I love cockatiels and green cheek conures, they are my absolute favorite birds. Absolutely adorable creatures!

Anyway, the rest of the Evolution News post notes that this intelligence is a problem for naturalistic evolution. Specifically, it’s a convergence problem – the same capabilities being evolved independently, without recent shared common ancestry. How can birds and mammals, who don’t share recent common ancestors, have evolved the same capabilities, e.g. – vocal learning pathways, by chance? There is an explanation that does explain the observations, however – common designs made by a single designer.

Related posts

New study: DNA requires maintenance from surrounding cell

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

My friend Bruce shared this post from Reasons to Believe about some recent research on DNA.

Naturalists like to argue that DNA somehow came into existence randomly, but it turns out that not only is DNA marvelously improbable for even the simplest living organism, but it also requires a lot of support from other areas of the cell in order to remain stable.

It says:

In 2015, three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for decades of research into DNA—research that reinforces the idea that evolution is mythology and makes the modern evolutionary theory of abiogenesis seem more and more indefensible. It turns out that DNA is inherently unstable, and the preservation of genetic information requires a complex symbiotic relationship between the cell and DNA that is so interdependent that neither could have arisen independently of the other.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the giant organic molecule which carries and preserves an organism’s genetic information. DNA is essential to the growth and reproduction of life-forms because precise copying and self-replication of DNA is a critical part of the process of cell division.

Tomas Lindahl, the first Nobel laureate, has demonstrated that the rate at which DNA decays should have made the development of life on Earth impossible.1 The Nobel Committee expresses this on a personal level: “you ought to have been a chemical chaos long before you even developed into a foetus.”2

So why doesn’t our genetic material disintegrate into complete chemical chaos? It is because of molecular repair mechanisms within the cell. The three Nobel laureates “mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information.”3 They found that a multitude of molecular systems constantly monitor the genome and repair any damage.

One such mechanism discovered by Lindahl is base excision repair, which explains why our DNA doesn’t collapse. A base of a nucleotide often loses an amino group and becomes unable to form a base pair, thus breaking the DNA chain. But an enzymedetects the error, and other enzymes repair it so that the DNA can replicate properly.

Paul Modrich, the second laureate, discovered another molecular mechanism calledmismatch repair. Replication errors often occur as the DNA is copied, but Modrich found that enzymes continually detect most of these errors, and other enzymes repair them. The Nobel Committee says this “reduces the error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousandfold.”4

One further issue that DNA must contend with is mutations, caused by DNA damage due to radiation and a variety of mutagenic substances. For example, radiation might make two base pairs bind to one another incorrectly. But the third laureate, Aziz Sancar, discovered that through a mechanism called nucleotide excision repair, enzymes will cut out, remove, and replace a damaged DNA strand.

We have long known that the cell could not reproduce without DNA, but we now know that DNA would self-destruct without the cell. It is this complex symbiotic relationship between a cell and its DNA that makes the modern evolutionary theory more difficult to defend.

[…]This research shows that for abiogenesis to occur, undirected, random processes must have anticipated the inherent instability of DNA and assembled the cell with the variety of enzymes necessary to prevent the self-destruction of DNA. Additionally, the cell’s chemistry, the self-preservation instinct, and anticipatory DNA repair mechanisms must have all come together at the same instant in time within only 1 billion years; otherwise, any nascent life could not have survived. If the probability barrier to evolution seemed like climbing Mount Improbable before, it has now become climbing Mount Impossible.

Could simple single-celled life-forms emerge and evolve into more complex life? Single-celled life-forms are not so simple. For example, the genome of an aerobic hyper-thermophilic crenarchaeon (a thermophilic archaea, a type of bacteria) consists of 1.7 billion base pairs, which is almost 60 percent of the 2.9 billion base pairs in thehuman genome.5

So, not only is it fantastically improbably to 1) get the building blocks of life, and 2) build the sequence of base pairs in DNA, but 3) you also have to have supporting systems to maintain the DNA in the cell: even more specified complexity.

New book on intelligent design by molecular biologist Douglas Axe

Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed
Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed

It’s not out yet, but the Kindle edition is only $12.99, so I pre-ordered it. That helps to get the book up in the bestseller lists. I’ll add it to my list of books that I am reading for the third quarter later, and maybe feature it in the coveted spot in the right column of the blog.

Anyway, here is the description:

Throughout his distinguished and unconventional career, engineer-turned-molecular-biologist Douglas Axe has been asking the questions that much of the scientific community would rather silence. Now, he presents his conclusions in this brave and pioneering book. Axe argues that the key to understanding our origin is the “design intuition”—the innate belief held by all humans that tasks we would need knowledge to accomplish can only be accomplished by someone who has that knowledge. For the ingenious task of inventing life, this knower can only be God.

Starting with the hallowed halls of academic science, Axe dismantles the widespread belief that Darwin’s theory of evolution is indisputably true, showing instead that a gaping hole has been at its center from the beginning. He then explains in plain English the science that proves our design intuition scientifically valid. Lastly, he uses everyday experience to empower ordinary people to defend their design intuition, giving them the confidence and courage to explain why it has to be true and the vision to imagine what biology will become when people stand up for this truth.

Armed with that confidence, readers will affirm what once seemed obvious to all of us—that living creatures, from single-celled cyanobacteria to orca whales and human beings, are brilliantly conceived, utterly beyond the reach of accident.

Our intuition was right all along.

Trailer is here:

Evolution News has a deal for those who pre-order:

A remarkable thing about evolutionary theory is the way it demands that we deny our intuition at almost every step. Evolutionists then assure us that the science is all figured out, so we needn’t trouble our silly heads about the relevant biology.

In a new book, Douglas Axe of Biologic Institute turns this standard assurance on its head. In Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed, Dr. Axe restores the place of intuition alongside intellect in considering the question of life’s origins.

Undeniable will be published on July 12 by HarperOne, but you can pre-order before then and participate in an exclusive, private conference call with Dr. Axe and talk- show host Michael Medved. You’ll also receive digital versions of three complete books from Discovery Institute Press: Debating Darwin’s Doubt, The Unofficial Guide to Cosmos, and Science & Human Origins. See here for easy instructions.

And now, I have a secret story to tell you. I met Doug Axe face to face way back in the late 1990s. He told me and some other people about the post-doctoral work he was doing at Cambridge University on the probabilities of getting a functional protein by chance. He made me promise not to tell anyone, and I never did. It was from conversations like that with the intelligent design scholars that I decided to start using an alias.

From his research at Cambrudge, Dr. Axe found 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.

He published his findings in four separate publications with the prestigious Journal of Molecular Biology, and got his PhD with it. To get a PhD from Caltech, and then do post-doctoral work at Cambridge, you have to be good. And Dr. Axe is very, very good.

I have used the papers he wrote in many, many conversations with engineers in different companies where I have worked. He hit a home run with that research. You could never look at the evidence for intelligent design the same way again. Christian parents, if you have any children, be sure that you tell them about Doug Axe’s story.