Saturday, March 9, 2019

An Argument For God From Biology

The more we study nature, the more reasons we have to conclude that God exists. Recent discoveries in biology are no exception. What we have discovered in the field of biochemistry and archaeology is a powerful argument for God; investigating nature can lead us to the reasonable conclusion that life was created by a mind.[1]

Either mind comes from matter or matter comes from mind. If life was designed and created by a mind, what we detect when we look at nature should point us to a mind planning and creating it all.  Evidence for this intelligence has actually been increasing in the last hundred years; the more science we do, the more evidence we find for God. 

If life appeared through a purely materialistic process, there should be evidence for a prebiotic chemical soup on the early earth; we should find evidence in the oldest rock formations of some mixture of chemicals that could organize into the first life. We do not find any evidence at all to support this; instead, what we do find is strong evidence that life is designed and created. Carbon-13 to carbon-12 ratio measurements from 3.8 billion year old rock formations show that life was abundant on earth at this time.[2]  Measurements of nitrogen-15 to nitrogen-14 ratios and calculations of the abundance of ammonia on the early earth, along with the carbon ratio data, all support the conclusion that there was no prebiotic soup present on the earth when life began.[3]

This early appearance of life at 3.8 billion years ago provides evidence for a designer.  Life appeared in a geologic instant on earth.  If God created life, then we would expect it to show up as early as it could and we would expect it to appear without going through a gradual, step by step process. Biochemically and metabolicallycomplex life appeared suddenly on earth as early as it possibly could![4]

If life evolved through a materialistic process, we should see a gradual progression from one form of life to another in the fossil record; yet this extrapolation of microevolution is not confirmed by the evidence in the ground. Charles Darwin himself wondered, “By this theory innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?”[5]The fossil record does not show gradualism.

There is another and allied difficulty, which is much graver. I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group, suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks.[6]

Yes, we do find fossils of transitional forms (defined as an organism that seems to have characteristics of other organisms found both earlier and later in the fossil record), but what we overwhelmingly observe in the fossil record is explosive, abrupt appearances every time there is biological innovation. The history of life on earth is mass originations coupled with mass extinctions. 

The fossil record indicates that prior to about 570 million years ago life on Earth appears to have been dominated by single-celled organisms. At that point an event known as the Avalon Explosion took place. During this origins event, an enigmatic fauna of complex marine creatures known as the Ediacarans appeared. The Ediacaran faunaconsisted of about 270 species that have been recovered as fossils in about thirty localities around the world. The organisms disappeared shortly before the Cambrian explosion. New research indicates that Ediacaran fauna emerged explosively, in the same manner as that of the Cambrian event. During the Avalon explosion the full range of anatomical characteristics displayed by the Ediacarans was already expressed around 570 million years ago. In other words, no evolutionary buildup of biodiversity. 
Known in Darwin’s time, the Cambrian explosion refers to the dramatic appearance of complex animal life in the fossil record about 540 million years ago. Within a short period of time—perhaps less than 5 million years—anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of all animal phyla to ever exist on Earth appeared. The animals that came into existence during the Cambrian explosion were marine creatures. Instead of relatively simple organisms originating at the base of the Cambrian and then evolving toward increased intricacy, complex animals appear suddenly. The traditional evolutionary explanation argues that life should transition from simple to complex in a gradual, branching, tree-like fashion. On the other hand, such explosive appearances are exactly what should be expected if a Creator is responsible for orchestrating life’s history.[7]

A new discovery of 540 million year old fossils in Kootenay National Park[8]has added more evidence for the explosive nature of the Cambrian period. Twelve new Cambrian species, including a chordate, have been found so far, as well as many of the same species as found in a Chinese Cambrian fossil bed.  These animals showed up suddenly, were prolific (because the fossil beds are exceedingly dense), and show a wide geographic extent (Canada to China).  The Chinese site has identical fossils which are 10-15 million years older, so these creatures remained the same for quite a while without any evolutionary change taking place. Recent research is also showing that the time interval that these body plans arose is even shorter than what we first thought; that these brand new body plans appeared in a geological instant.[9]Lynn Margulis, American Biologist and 2008 winner of the Darwin-Wallace Medal (given for major advances in evolutionary biology), who also happens to be the ex-wife of Carl Sagan, has noticed the same problem.

What you'd like to see is a good case for gradual change from one species to another in the field, in the laboratory, or in the fossil record--and preferably in all three. Darwin's big mystery was why there was no record at all before a specific point [dated to 542 million years ago by modern researchers], and then all of the sudden in the fossil record you get nearly all the major types of animals. The paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould studied lakes in East Africa and on Caribbean islands looking for Darwin's gradual change from one species of trilobite or snail to another. What they found was lots of back-and-forth variation in the population and then--whoop--a whole new species. There is no gradualism in the fossil record.[10]

Eugene Koonin, an American biologist and Senior Investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology InformationNational Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Healthnotices the same pattern of explosive appearance, followed by periods of stasis and slow micro-evolution.

Major transitions in biological evolution show the same pattern of sudden emergence of diverse forms at a new level of complexity. The relationships between major groups within an emergent new class of biological entities are hard to decipher and do not seem to fit the tree pattern that, following Darwin's original proposal, remains the dominant description of biological evolution. The cases in point include the origin of complex RNA molecules and protein folds; major groups of viruses; archaea and bacteria, and the principal lineages within each of these prokaryotic domains; eukaryotic supergroups; and animal phyla. In each of these pivotal nexuses in life's history, the principal "types" seem to appear rapidly and fully equipped with the signature features of the respective new level of biological organization. No intermediate "grades" or intermediate forms between different types are detectable.[11]

Not only does the evidence show explosive appearance (which is what we would expect to see from a creator), but laboratory evidence seems to be pointing to a limit to what natural selection and micro-evolution can accomplish. We have directly observed the HIV virus, the malaria organism, and E. coli bacteria evolve through countless generations, greatly surpassing the numbers of mammals that have ever lived in the earth.

The bottom line: Despite huge population numbers and intense selective pressure, microbes as disparate as malaria and HIV yield similar, minor, evolutionary responses. Darwinists have loudly celebrated studies of finch beaks, showing modest changes in the shapes and sizes of beaks over time, as the finches’ food supplies changed. But here we have genetic studies over thousands upon thousands of generations, of trillions upon trillions of organisms, and little of biochemical significance to show for it.[12]

We have directly observed these huge numbers of populations in the lab under more stress than they would experience in nature and we have not seen very much cumulative micro-evolutionary changes; this directly observed lack of variation contributes to the doubt of macro-evolutionary change and supports the idea that life on earth was created.

The long-term E. coli experiment has provided another piece of evidence in support of a designer. As Michael Behe writes in his new book, Darwin Devolves, we are discovering that Darwin’s mechanism works chiefly by squandering genetic information for short term gain.[13]We are repeatably finding that beneficial mutations are actually a degradation of the genetic code; what superficially looks like a gain is exactly the opposite at the molecular level.

After fifty thousand generations of the most detailed, definitive evolution experiment ever conducted, after so much improvement of the growth rate that descendant cells leave revived ancestors in the dust, after relentless mutation and selection, it’s very likely that all of the identified beneficial mutations worked by degrading or outright breaking the respective ancestor genes. And the havoc wreaked by random mutation had been frozen in place by natural selection.[14]  

We are finding the same thing in several different organisms. For example, the brown bear to polar bear transition was a degrading of the genes that its ancestors already possessed. The normal operation of a specific protein in finches will make a finch beak sharper and elongated, but when the normal operation of that same protein is hindered, the beak gets shorter and thicker. The beneficial mutation that helps the birds break through the thicker seed casings is actually one that damages the molecular machinery.[15]In dog breeding, the great majority of dog mutations selected by humans are very likely to be damaging, degrading, or an outright loss of a functional coded element.[16]

Another example of the degradation of the genetic code is Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that caused the Black Death in the 14thcentury.  Analysis of its DNA shows that it’s closely related to a free-living Yersinia species in soil that either are benign or cause only mild digestive distress and are transmitted by contaminated biological waste. About 5000 years ago, Y. pestis apparently acquired two small DNA plasmids from other bacteria that carried several genes that allowed it to survive in fleas – which then could be transferred to humans by way of a flea bite.  The microbe then quickly adjusted to its new infectious lifestyle by losing a hundred and fifty genes that apparently were no longer needed for its environment.  The bug is now stuck where it is – in the blood.[17]  

No new mutation can override or fix the loss of function so the organism that gained an advantage through a loss of genetic information is stuck in stasis. The more genes that are degraded for short-term gain, the fewer are available for future adaptation and the more brittle a species becomes. Just like a car that is stripped down to gain speed becomes limited for any other use, when an organism is “stripped down” to survive it too becomes biologically limited. If this stripped down version gives the organism a survival advantage, then this new version will take hold in the population through natural selection and therefore severely limit any other changes due to mutation. This degradation of DNA theory nicely explains what we see in the fossil record:  explosive changes followed by stasis.
So how is this new discovery evidence for design? Darwinian processes account nicely for changes at the species and genus level of biological classification, but not for changes at the level of family or higher.[18]A designer created the original body plans and all the original biological information in the original DNA, but also provided a way for organisms to survive major changes to their environment by varying slightly when necessary. This fits well into the biblical description of God creating “kinds,” but does not fit well into a materialistic scenario of all life, as well as the genetic code, building up slowly from one common ancestor. Coupled with the Cambrian evidence, we have good reason to think that all life came from a creator.

While we have directly observed a species ability to respond to a stress, many times this variation reverses itself when the stress is reversed.  The beaks of Darwin’s finches, for example, will revert back to a baseline size and shape when the rains return and they no longer have to break through tougher shells to get food. In fact, it could be argued that evolution within a species, the ability of plants and animals to adjust to their environmentis an incredible design. We are actually finding that many of the adaptive mutations that occur are not random with respect to survival needs of the organism!  Instead, we are discovering that they are under some kind of algorithmic control; that there exists a preprogrammed adaptive capacity built into organisms that allow them to respond to various kinds of environmental stressors!

Another positive biochemical argument for a designer is that machines in living systems are the same as machines we build; biochemical systems have the same properties as systems produced by humans. One example is biomolecular motors. The protein complex F1-F0ATPase is an actual motor.  Found in the inner membranes of mitochondria, it is an electrically powered rotary motor complete with a cam at a right angle to it that does work to manufacture ATP. F1-F0ATPase has actually been removed from the cell and used to power a human engineered nanodevice![19]  If life is just a product of purely natural processes, why would our minds design things like a motor that are identical to what we find inside the cell?

Computer scientists and molecular biologists have come to realize that the cells machinery, which manipulates DNA, literally functions like a computer system at its most basic level of operation. A group of insects called planthoppers have a large interacting gear system on their legs that look exactly like gears we have designed. Magnetotactic bacteria have a membranous compartment called a magnetosome which mimic a compass manufacturing plant. There are fiber optic cables in our eyes that channel light directly to the rods and cones of the retina. Myxococus xanthus has tank treads and a rotary motor; it must also have something like rack and pinion gears to change the rotary motion into linear motion![20]Again, if life arose through a purely naturalistic process, why would humans design things that are identical to what we find already existing on a microscopic level inside various life forms?  A reasonable explanation is that we share the mind of the creator.

Another piece of evidence for a designer is our use of biological systems as models for systems we engineer.  For example, we have produced a polymer that can store digital information, which was modeled off the information storage capabilities of DNA[21]and we have used a beetle shell to design a frost-free surface.[22]Both of these examples highlight very elegant designs in nature; designs that we model because they are way more advanced than anything we can engineer.

Given the unguided nature of evolutionary mechanisms, does it make sense for engineers to rely on biological systems to solve problems and inspire new technologies? Is it in alignment with evolutionary beliefs to build an entire subdiscipline of engineering upon mimicking biological designs? I would argue that these engineering subdisciplines do not fit with the evolutionary paradigm. On the other hand, biomimetics and bioinspiration naturally flow out of a creation model approach to biology. Using designs in nature to inspire engineering only makes sense if these designs arose from an intelligent Mind.[23]

One last positive argument for a designer is in the area of synthetic biology. To create an artificial cell, protein, or enzyme requires extensive planning and highly sophisticated techniques that must be carried out by intelligent minds.  Recent work in synthesizing an enzyme from scratch required a large team of scientists and hundreds of hours of super computer time just to come up with the strategyto build it! Despite the best minds on the planet working in it, the created enzyme operated with ten thousand to a billion times less efficiency than a natural enzyme.[24]  The more work we do in the area of artificial biology the more we see that minds are required to build the molecules required for life.  Life requires the work of a designer.

The more we study nature, the more verification we find for the God of the Bible. Evidence for biological systems being designed by a mind includes:
1.    The lack of a prebiotic chemical soup on the early earth.
2.    The fact that life appeared on earth at the very instant it was first possible.
3.    The fact that the history of life on earth is rapid biological innovation followed by stasis.
4.    The data that is accumulating supporting the fact that variations to organisms is limited because beneficial mutations are a degradation of the original DNA.
5.    The data that is showing some kind of a preprogrammed adaptive capacity built into organisms that allow them to respond to various kinds of environmental stressors. The only source of “preprogramming” is a mind.
6.    DNA is information and the only source of information is a mind.
7.    The fact that we are finding machines and processes inside of cells that are identical to machines we have built and processes we came up with before we even knew about cells.
8.    The fact that we are now copying these biological materials and systems to engineer new technology.
9.    The fact that we can’t create the materials necessary for life without using our own intelligence.
From this evidence, you can reasonably conclude that a mind, which we can call God, exists and created life on this planet.

[1]How To Build the Case for Biochemical Design, Fazale Rana, DVD from Reasons to Believe, 2017
[2]Fazale Rana & Hugh Ross, Origins of Life, Reasons to Believe, 2014
[5]Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species.
[7]Fazale Rana, Ph.D., Reasons to Believe.
[11]Eugene V Koonin, The Biological Big Bang model for the major transitions in evolutionBiology Direct 2007, 2:21,
[12]Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution, 2007, Free Press, New York.
[13]Michael J. Behe, Darwin Devolves, 2019, HarperOne
[14]ibid, page 179
[15]ibid, page 152
[16]ibid, page 195
[17]Michael J. Behe, Darwin Devolves, 2019, HarperOne
[19]Robert Service, Borrowing from Biology to Power the Petite, Science 283, January 1, 1999
[20]Michael J. Behe, Darwin Devolves, 2019, HarperOne, page 55
[24]Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab, Reason to Believe, 2011

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Universe: Fine-Tuned For Our Redemption

This blog is a summary of three works: 
1.    The calculation done by Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe determining the probability of a planet existing that can sustain a global, high-tech civilization.
2.    Portions of the book Improbable Planet, by Hugh Ross
3.    Hugh Ross’s talk at the 2017 AMP Conference[1]on the events necessary for the gospel to be spread world-wide to a population of 8 billion people.

The Bible makes it clear that everything which God creates is for the purpose of bringing humans into a redemptive relationship with Christ. There have been many articles written on how Jesus was born at the perfect – and the earliest – time in history to enable the gospel message to spread to the most number of people.  The Roman Empire had a highway system and a unified Greek language, ships had come of age, and the “Pax Romana” created a stable environment that allowed for the spread of a new idea. But it is not just historical events that align perfectly. In nature, the entire universe and every geological event that has occurred is for the purpose of making that redemption possible.

Every event in the history of our universe, our galaxy, our solar system, and our planet plays a role in making the redemption of billions of people on Earth a possibility.

The chances that life can exist on a planet become exponentially greater as you move from simple bacteria to animals and plants to humans simply existing to the capability of spreading the gospel message to 8 billion people all over the planet. Several hundred events must all coincide for this to happen. The incredible odds against all of these events occurring provides reasonable evidence to conclude that an intelligence planned it all.

The recognition that Earth today possesses abundant and diverse species of multiple levels of advanced life and that the existence of such life requires a very long history of much simpler life has spawned what is known in the scientific literature as the “rare Earth” hypothesis.  Even scientists who believe the origin of a bacterium is an easy step and that natural processes efficiently evolve life acknowledge that it takes an extraordinary planet for all these supposedly easy steps to occur.
The panoply of advanced life on Earth also requires a universe with an extraordinary history for there to be any possibility for the kind of spiral galaxy in which such an exceptional planet can exist.  Furthermore, that planet must reside in a planetary system that experiences a highly specified birth and journey within its extraordinary galaxy.[2]

Reasons to Believe has compiled four lists, with references, of all the necessary events that must occur for a global, advanced civilization to exist on Earth. The probability of each event is also calculated.

Billions of years before life first began, the universe itself must be fine-tuned. For physical life to be possible in the universe, several characteristics (140 in this list) must take on specific values.[3]You can view the first list by clicking here.

Once all the parameters of the universe are set, you must have specific parameters for a galaxy, a sun, a solar system, a moon, and of course the specific planet that each fall within an extremely narrow range of values for intelligent physical life to exist.[4]You can view this second list by clicking here.

Hugh Ross has calculated that the chance of a planet having all the requirements to sustain our current civilization is 1 out of 101032. This list contains the probabilities and the references. You can view this list by clicking here.

For human life (or its functional equivalent) to possibly establish a globally distributed high-technology civilization on some kind of astronomical body, many characteristics of its environment — from large-scale to small, galaxy cluster to proximate ecosystems — must take on specific values. These characteristics are listed on eight specific size scales, large to small, along with estimates from a naturalistic perspective (assumption that no supernatural Being is responsible for fixing the value of any of the characteristics) of the probabilities that the values of these characteristics will fall within the required ranges.[5] You can view this list by clicking here.

As you can see from the above lists, there are hundreds of parameters that must be fine-tuned within a very narrow range for our civilization to even exist.  Even more fine-tuning is required if the gospel is to be carried to every human on the planet.  Hugh Ross spoke on this at the 2017 AMP Conference, focusing on just four (he said three, but I made it four) of the factors that are necessary for the Great Commission to be fulfilled[6].

Factor Number 1:  We are living at the end of a fine-tuned ice age cycle.
The Earth is in an ice age right now, with about 10% of the planet covered in ice. We are currently at the end of a hundred-thousand-year cycle, a periodic change from 10% ice to 20% ice that has been present on Earth for only about 800,000 years.[7]This cycle is critical because large amounts of melting ice are necessary to irrigate the great agricultural plains of China, India, and North America.  The melting ice also uncovers high plateaus from which wind-blown dust can fertilize these plains. Water and fertilized soil is obviously required to grow enough food for billions of people to survive.

Factor Number 2:  The Sun is exactly the right age and mass.
Stars are unstable when they are young and then unstable again when old. Our star also has a stable mass, as both large and small stars are unstable. This means that solar flare activity for the Sun is at a minimum for the life of a star right now.  Bacteria could live with more flaring, more UV radiation, and more x-rays than the Sun is producing right now, but an advanced life could not. Neutrinos also show that the Sun entered this extremely stable phase about 50,000 years ago and that it will exit this stable phase in about 50,000 years.  This means that our current 100,000 year window is the only one in which advanced life could exist on Earth.

Factor Number 3:  Tectonic events cool the planet.  
As the sun ages, more hydrogen gets converted to helium, increasing the core density, which results in a more efficient fusion reaction, increasing the brightness. Our Sun has been getting brighter for the last 4 billion years, resulting in an increasing amount of heat being transferred to Earth. In fact, given how bright the sun is right now there should not be any ice at all on our planet. It took five simultaneous events, all happening within the solar stability window, to help keep the Earth cool.

1st Tectonic Event: Antarctica’s Move
Antarctica used to be attached to Australia but split away and began moving south 40 million years ago, stopping on the South Pole.  All around Antarctica is open ocean with nothing to stop the flow of wind that always blows at a minimum of 40 mph.  These winds create an ocean current that helps to cool the Northern Atlantic. The large amount of ice on Antarctica also reflects sunlight which also helps to cool the planet.

2nd Tectonic Event:  Greenland’s Uplift
The northward movement of Greenland from next to Newfoundland to its current location, passing over a mantle plume in the process, caused the eastern parts of Greenland to be elevated high enough to support a massive build-up of ice. This vast ice sheet reflects much of the Sun’s heat and light and is a major factor in cooling the planet.

3rd Tectonic Event:  Pangea
After Pangea broke up, landmasses replaced oceans in the northern hemisphere and nearly enclosed the Arctic Ocean. Becauseof the lower heat-storing capacity of continents compared to oceans, this configuration dramatically cooled the northern hemisphere and played a significant role in the formation of the polar ice cap.[8]  

4th Tectonic Event: Isthmus of Panama Formation
Approximately 3 million years ago, converging tectonic plates led to the formation of the land bridge connecting North and South America. This shut down the flow of warm water from the Pacific Ocean into the cooler Atlantic Ocean, rerouting ocean currents and atmospheric circulation to a north-south direction. The new ocean currents enhanced global cooling as well as providing more moisture to the Arctic, contributing to the formation of a large Arctic ice cap. [9]

5th Tectonic Event:  Rise of the Tibetan Plateau
About 50 million years ago, the Indian tectonic plate hit the Eurasian tectonic plate at the extraordinarily high velocity.  This ongoing collision between India and Asia raised the Tibetan Plateau high enough to store vast amounts of ice.  This huge amount of low latitude ice reflects sunlight four times more efficiently than polar ice.[10]

Given the Sun’s current brightness and the abundance of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, nothing less that the simultaneous tripping of the five tectonic triggers could have launched the Earth into an ice age.[11]                     

Factor Number 4:  Extreme Climate Stability 
Because of the unique alignment of the Earth’s tilt and orbit, we are currently in a time of exceptional temperature stability. For the past 9000 years, Earth’s temperature has remained at an optimal temperature for maintaining a large, globally distributed, technologically advancing human population; extreme temperature variation kept early humanity from having large population, as large-scale agriculture was not possible; almost every family had to farm individually. 9000 years ago, seven out of sync rotational, orbital, and tilt cycles all came in sync and created what is known as the “long cool summer.”  We can now feed the entire world with only 2% of the population involved in agriculture.

We now have the technology, wealth, and people power to take the Gospel to everyone on Earth before we enter another period of climate instability. This would only have been possible with the unusual climate stability, along with the large amount of ice, allowing large scale agriculture and helping to cool the planet. It is reasonable to conclude that there is no way this could all be a coincidence. We need a highly fine-tuned universe, galaxy, solar system, and planet just to have advanced life; with odds so high that it is reasonable to conclude that it was planned by an intelligent being.  We needed five simultaneous tectonic events that all had to happen at the exactly right time to combat the brightness of the sun at a time when the sun was exceptionally stable. In addition, we needed seven different Earth orbit, rotational, and tilt variations to all be in sync at this exact right tectonic and sun moment.

It is reasonable to conclude that everything which God creates is for the purpose of bringing humans into a redemptive relationship with Christ. God has planned every event in the history of our universe, our galaxy, our solar system, and our planet plays so that redemption will be a possibility for every one of the billions of individuals on Earth.

[1]Hugh Ross, Reasons to Believe, AMP Conference 2017 
[2]Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet,Baker Books, 2016, page 22
[6]Hugh Ross, Reasons to Believe, AMP Conference 2017 
[7]Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet,Baker Books, 2016, page 200
[8]ibid, page 200
[9]ibid, page 201-202
[10]ibid, page 204
[11]ibid, page 204