The host of the Cross Examined radio show Dr. Frank Turek talks with Stephen C. Meyer and Doug Axe about a recent conference of Royal Society scientists discussing the problems with the theory of macro-evolution.
the main topic was whether naturalistic mechanisms can produce new body plans and new organ types
no one disputes micro-evolution: beaks changing size, antibiotic resistance
many of the naturalistic scientists admitted the problems with current naturalistic theories, but they don’t want to embrace the need for a designer
none of the proposals that were debated solved the real problems with macro-evolution
Problem #1: the sudden origin of body plans in the fossil record
Problem #2: the origin of information (e.g. – in protein molecule)
Problem #3: need for favorable early mutations (for body plans)
Problem #4: the problem of epigenetics
Problem #5: the universality of the design intuition
Some of these problems have actually gotten worse for naturalistic evolution as our scientific knowledge has grown.
If you want the two best books on intelligent design, get Dr. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt”. I should note that Dr. Meyer is not a young Earth creationist, and has defended the Big Bang cosmology as a solid evidence for a Creator of the universe. Being in favor of an old universe and an old Earth is compatible with being opposed to evolution – because of scientific reasons.
There are two problems related to the origin of the first living cell, on atheism:
The problem of getting the building blocks needed to create life – i.e. the amino acids
The problem of creating the functional sequences of amino acids and proteins that can support the minimal operations of a simple living cell
Normally, I concede the first problem and grant the atheist all the building blocks he needs. This is because step 2 is impossible. There is no way, on atheism, to form the sequences of amino acids that will fold up into proteins, and then to form the sequences of proteins that can be used to form everything else in the cell, including the DNA itself. But that’s tomorrow’s topic.
Today, let’s take a look at the problems with step 1.
The problem of getting the building blocks of life
Now you may have heard that some scientists managed to spark some gasses to generate most of the 20 amino acids found in living systems. These experiments are called the “Miller-Urey” experiments.
Miller’s experiment requires a reducing methane and ammonia atmosphere,11, 12 however geochemical evidence says the atmosphere was hydrogen, water, and carbon dioxide (non-reducing).15, 16 The only amino acid produced in a such an atmosphere is glycine (and only when the hydrogen content is unreasonably high), and could not form the necessary building blocks of life.11
Miller and Urey didn’t account for UV of molecular instability:
Not only would UV radiation destroy any molecules that were made, but their own short lifespans would also greatly limit their numbers. For example, at 100ºC (boiling point of water), the half lives of the nucleic acids Adenine and Guanine are 1 year, uracil is 12 years, and cytozine is 19 days20 (nucleic acids and other important proteins such as chlorophyll and hemoglobin have never been synthesized in origin-of-life type experiments19).
Miller and Urey didn’t account for molecular oxygen:
We all have know ozone in the upper atmosphere protects life from harmful UV radiation. However, ozone is composed of oxygen which is the very gas that Stanley Miller-type experiments avoided, for it prevents the synthesis of organic molecules like the ones obtained from the experiments! Pre-biotic synthesis is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. The chemistry does not work if there is oxygen because the atmosphere would be non-reducing, but if there is no UV-light-blocking oxygen (i.e. ozone – O3) in the atmosphere, the amino acids would be quickly destroyed by extremely high amounts of UV light (which would have been 100 times stronger than today on the early earth).20, 21, 22 This radiation could destroy methane within a few tens of years,23 and atmospheric ammonia within 30,000 years.15
And there were three other problems too:
At best the processes would likely create a dilute “thin soup,”24 destroyed by meteorite impacts every 10 million years.20, 25 This severely limits the time available to create pre-biotic chemicals and allow for the OOL.
Chemically speaking, life uses only “left-handed” (“L”) amino acids and “right-handed” (“R)” genetic molecules. This is called “chirality,” and any account of the origin of life must somehow explain the origin of chirality. Nearly all chemical reactions produce “racemic” mixtures–mixtures with products that are 50% L and 50% R.
Two more problems are not mentioned in the article. A non-peptide bond anywhere in the chain will ruin the chain. You need around 200 amino acids to make a protein. If any of the bonds is not a peptide bond, the chain will not work in a living system. Additionally, the article does not mention the need for the experimenter to intervene in order to prevent interfering cross-reactions that would prevent the amino acids from forming.
Now keep in mind that even if you get the building blocks, you are left with the sequencing problem. Like the letters of the words in this blog post, the building blocks of life also need to be put in a meaningful sequence in order to do work in a living system – but that’s another topic for another day.
An amazing debate about the origin of life and the cosmic fine-tuning between a Christian and a materialist agnostic. John Lennox is AWESOME in this debate, and he only talks for a tiny part of the debate. He’s very gracious, and focused the discussion on the areas that we care about. Paul Davies is an EXCELLENT scientist and well aware of what Christians believe. This is a great debate, very easy to listen to. Justin, the moderator, does a great job controlling a fantastic discussion.
What does it take for life to get going in our universe? Is there intelligence in the stars or right under our nose? Renowned astrophysicist Paul Davies chats to Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox.
A popular science author, Davies is also the Chair of the SETI post detection task force. His latest book “The Eerie Silence” which marks SETI’s 50th anniversary examines the likelihood of the universe producing life elsewhere.
John Lennox is a Christian Mathematician and philosopher. He is the author of “God’s Undertaker: has science buried God?” and has debated Richard Dawkins on several occasions.
Davies’ work on the fine tuning of the universe for life has been sympathetic to theism. In this programme Lennox challenges Davies to look to design not just in cosmology but in the cell. They also chat about what the discovery of ET would mean for Christian theology.
Is there meaning in the universe?
We have no evidence for or against intelligent life elsewhere in the universe
The vastness of the universe makes me think there is life elsewhere
Humans are capable of observing and understanding the universe
It seems the universe has the ability to create observers to understand it
If one species has this ability, then we should expect others to do it
The fact that we can observe the universe and do science has cosmic significance
Our rare habitable planet and our ability to do science is suggestive of purpose
So science itself points to an extra-terrestrial intelligence: GOD
The complexity of life and consciousness itself points away from atheism
Monotheism gave birth to science
Human minds capable of doing science are not compatible with atheistic materialism
Why do you say that either we are the only life or there are many different kinds of life?
There are lots of factors that have to be met to have a site for simple life
These are related to the fine-tuning of cosmic constants, e.g. gravitational force
But there are also factors that have to be met for originating intelligent life
Things like convergence, self-organization, etc.
So the cosmic requirements and evolutionary requirements are different
Darwinian evolution doesn’t solve the problem of the origin of life
50 years ago, skepticism about alien life existing anywhere was excessive
Today, credulity about alien life exiting everywhere is excessive
The naturalist is searching for a process that creates life easily
Paul agrees that there is no theory for a naturalistic origin of life
This is fatal for the idea that life can emerge elsewhere in the universe
We have not discovered any law that produces life without an intelligence
Consider the method used by SETI used to detect an alien intelligence
Why can’t this method be applied to the origin of life on Earth?
Why can’t an intelligence created specified complexity (functional information)?
Why can’t an intelligence created epigenetics and protein folding?
Darwinian evolution can add new biological information after life begins
Darwinian evolution assumes a mutating replicating life form to act on
You can’t generate specified complexity by using physical laws
You can’t generate specified complexity by chance
At this point we are guessing as to how life might have formed
Why do we have to rule out an intelligent cause a priori
If you can recognize an intelligence in outer space, why not in living systems?
I don’t mind the word “intelligence”, it’s the word “signal”
I oppose the idea that God or aliens manipulated physical stuff to create life
It’s an “ugly explanation and very unappealing both theologically and scientifically”
I prefer the idea that the universe has processes to self-organize and create complexity
When it comes to supernatural meddling by God, “I don’t want that”
If I were God, I would create the universe so that I would not have to intervene
I think God would be more clever if he did not have to intervene
My preferences about what is “clever” determines what scientific conclusions are allowed
Humans already have experience with their non-material minds to move atoms (matter)
If God is a mind, then there is no reason why he cannot move atoms (matter)
My mind is physical, so are you saying that God is physical?
If God intervenes in the universe, then what is he doing now?
There is a distinction between acts of creation and providential upholding the universe
God is also speaking to people and drawing humans toward him
God is spirit, not material
How can a non-physical entity cause effects on the physical world?
What science reveals that there is information needed for the origin of life
Information requires an intelligence to create it, just as with human who write books
That’s not God of the gaps – it’s an inference based on what we know today
We may be able to explain the origin of life later, using matter, law and chance
What you’re saying is that God tinkers with the genome
If you say that God intervened once, then he intervenes all the time, everywhere!
I don’t want a God who tinkers in the genome
if God could intervene in the universe that would remove its intelligibility
Look at the cover of this book – when I read words, I infer an intelligence
There are bad gaps that the progress of science closes
There are good gaps that science opens, showing the need for intelligence
On the one hand, you say we have no theory of the origin of life
On the other hand, you know that an intelligent designer wasn’t involved
If we don’t know how life began, why do you rule God out a priori?
What scientists want to do is to explain the universe without involving God
naturalists want to use science to discover only materialist explanations
The purpose of SETI is to prove that there is other life in the universe
This would then show that there is a naturalistic way of making life
I agree that information in living systems is real hard to explain materialistically
I believe in the power of emergence
We might discover laws that prove that complexity can emerge without intelligence
The discovery of alien life would help to show that no intelligence is needed to make life
What sort of cosmic fine-tuning is needed at the Big Bang for life to occur?
It’s true that the universe appears extremely fine-tuned for life to exist
The typical answer from naturalists is that there is a multiverse
But the multiverse “falls far short” of providing a good answer to the fine-tuning
It’s irrational to appeal to massive numbers of unseen universes to explain fine-tuning
The design and purpose seen in the universe may be due to God or it may be emergent
The fine-tuning is real and the multiverse is a desperate attempt to evade the creator
Sir Martin Rees (an atheist) says he “prefers” the multiverse to a designer
Scientists are not supposed to prefer anything except what is true
Would the discovery of aliens hurt Christianity, because of the belief in the uniqueness of humans?
Christians believe that Jesus came to save HUMANS specifically, not animals or aliens
If we were to discover intelligent aliens, it would challenge traditional religions
What will God do with alien races? Multiple incarnations? Or just preach the gospel to them?
We don’t know if the aliens exist, first of all – it’s speculative
The Bible teaches that humans bear the image of God
We just don’t know whether alien species are also made in God’s image
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.
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
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)
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.
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.
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?