In September, I discussed some of the scientific findings regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that spewed hundreds of millions of gallons of water into the Gulf of Mexico. Those findings were quite encouraging. They showed that the ocean’s natural “cleanup crew” was busy trying to mitigate the damage that we did to the gulf. They demonstrated that the populations of bacteria rose and fell depending on what kinds of hydrocarbons were present in the ocean. This demonstrated there was a good chance that bacteria could take care of most of the oil that was released into the Gulf.
There was one nagging problem, however. While many of the hydrocarbons that were released into the Gulf were being destroyed by bacteria, the lightest hydrocarbon (methane) seemed to be persisting stubbornly. A study of the lighter hydrocarbons in the Gulf, which was published in October of last year, showed that very little methane from the spill had been destroyed.1 In fact, one of the authors of the study said that the results indicated:
methane would persist for many, many years, if not almost a decade.2
Well, it turns out that this particular scientist (and those who agreed with him) just didn’t have enough faith in the ocean’s natural cleanup crew!
Last year, I posted my take on Dr. Craig Venter’s amazing accomplishment in which he copied the genome of one bacterium and transplanted it into a different (but very similar) species of bacterium whose DNA had been removed. It was a marvel of biochemistry, but as I pointed out, it clearly demonstrates the impossibility of abiogenesis (the fantasy that life originated by natural processes). One commenter announced that my claim was bogus and undermined my credibility. He further said that the claim was “infantile and wrong on so many levels.”
Well, I guess there are now at least two PhD chemists whose credibilities have been undermined and who are “infantile and wrong on so many levels.” It turns out that Dr. Fazale Rana, a PhD chemist (with emphasis on biochemistry), also takes the same position in his book, Creating Life in the Lab. Indeed, the theme of the entire book is how modern developments in the attempt to make artificial life have conclusively demonstrated that life cannot the the product of strictly natural processes.
While the goal of Rana’s book is to survey all the different ways scientists are trying to produce life in the lab, he starts out his first discussion of actual laboratory results with Venter. This is probably because Venter has come the closest to producing artificial life. However, as I stated in my original post, Venter’s team had to rely on already-living cells no less than three separate times in order to produce their “synthetic” life form. As Dr. Rana states in his discussion of Venter’s results:
Though not their intention, Venter and his colleagues have provided empirical evidence that life’s components and, consequently, life itself must spring from the work of an intelligent Designer. (p. 46)
Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science is an attempt by open theism to grapple with the issues of creation, evolution, and the scientific process. It contains many chapters, each authored by a well-known voice in modern Christendom. If you have read my blog from its early days, you know that I am sympathetic to open theism. I am not an open theist, but I certainly think that open theism takes the Bible more seriously than most other theologies in modern Christendom. I also think open theologians have displayed some truly original thinking when it comes to understanding many Biblical passages that most Christian theologies would rather ignore. Thus, I was excited to get the chance to read this book on my vacation. Unfortunately, my excitement quickly gave way to disappointment.
When it comes to the issue of origins, this book takes a theistic evolutionary position. Now I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. While it is a very weak scientific position to take, a Biblical argument can be made for it. I consider that argument to be rather poor, but not as poor as the scientific argument. Nevertheless, theistic evolution itself doesn’t bother me all that much.
Here’s the source of my disappointment: There are some wonderful ways that Christians have addressed the origins issue throughout the history of Christendom. However, this book shows that the same people who demonstrate incredible originality of thought when it comes to theology and philosophy subscribe to the most mundane, worn-out modern view of origins: that God “set everything up,” and evolution then took care of the rest.
A commenter asked a question before I left on vacation. I gave him a brief answer as a reply, but now I want to go into the details of my answer. As the commenter mentioned, he was doing research for a sermon and came upon some information that indicated the sun is shrinking at a rate of about 5 feet per hour. While that’s not a lot for something as big as the sun, it indicates that the sun is rather young. After all, if we extrapolate the sun’s size backward over time using that rate, we would find that the sun would have been touching the earth a “mere” 11 million years ago.
If this were true, it would be a clear indicator that the earth and sun are not billions of years old. After all, the earth would not be a haven for life if it were anywhere near the surface of the sun! So if the sun is (and always has been) shrinking at anywhere near a rate of 5 feet per hour, the earth and sun could not be very old.
The problem is that this argument is based on faulty ideas about where the sun gets its energy and, more importantly, it is based on faulty data.
My previous post dealt with symbiosis, which I consider to be the most stunning example of the design that is inherent in nature. In this post, I want to discuss a specific kind of symbiosis that scientists find in Creation: farming. While many think that farming is a uniquely human activity, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the more we study nature, the more it seems that farming is a consistent theme throughout the natural world. This was brought home to me recently as I read a paper in the journal Nature. Before discussing the main topic of the journal article, I want to write about the various farming animals of which I am aware.
Probably the most famous example of an animal farmer is the leafcutter ant. There are more than 40 species of this ant, and they are found in the forests of South and Central America. If you are in such a forest, look down at the ground. You might see what appears to be small leaves “walking” along the forest floor. If you look more closely, however, you will see that they are being carried by ants. The ants cut leaves and carry them back to their mound, but they do not eat the leaves. They use the leaves to grow a fungus, and they eat that fungus. Not only do they cultivate the fungus, they also protect it by culturing a species of bacterium along with the fungus. The bacterium produces antibiotics which prevent the growth of organisms that are pathogenic to the fungus!1
One of the most fascinating aspects of the biological world is the phenomenon of mutualism – two or more different species living together so that each organism benefits. I have blogged about this topic before (here, here, and here), and I discuss it quite a bit in my science texts. Technically, it is a subcategory of symbiosis, where two or more organisms live together. If all organisms benefit from this living arrangement, we call it mutualism. If one benefits and the others are not harmed, we call it commensalism. If one benefits and another is harmed, we call it parasitism.
Many scientists consider mutualism (and symbiosis as a whole) to be a fairly uncommon thing in nature. Sure, you can find some organisms that help each other out from time to time, but overall, nature is about organisms “battling it out” for survival. Nothing could be further from the truth! While organisms do compete against one another in nature, they also help each other quite a bit. As George D. Stanley, Jr wrote a few years ago in the journal Science:1
Symbiosis is the most relevant and enduring biological theme in the history of our planet.
Indeed, symbiosis (and mutualism in particular) is incredibly common throughout creation, and nothing makes that more apparent than a study of the microbiological communities that live in each one of us.
The journal Science recently reported on the results of The National Survey of High School Biology Teachers.1 This survey studied the teaching habits 926 public high school biology instructors that are supposed to be representative of the nation as a whole. The results cause alarm in some and hope in others.
The “take home” result is that 13% of the teachers surveyed spend at least one hour teaching either creationism or intelligent design in a positive light. In contrast, 28% of teachers are strong advocates of evolutionary biology, stressing it as a unifying theme in the life sciences. The majority (roughly 60%), however, advocate neither position. In fact, many of them spend as little time as possible on the subject of origins.
James D. Watson and Francis Crick are credited with determining the basic structure of DNA. They had been studying an enormous amount of data that had been collected on DNA, and in a brilliant flash of insight, they came to the conclusion that DNA is shaped like a spiral staircase. The “stairs” on the staircase were composed of two nucleotide bases linked together. There are four nucleotide bases in DNA: adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G). In their model, A could only link to T and C could only link to G. This has become the generally-accepted view of DNA’s molecular structure, and a simplified illustration is shown on the left.
One of DNA’s elegant features is that the nucleotide bases are linked together with hydrogen bonds. Unlike their name implies, hydrogen bonds aren’t really chemical bonds at all. Instead, they are very strong attractions that exist between a hydrogen atom on one molecule and another atom (typically oxygen or nitrogen) on another molecule. Because hydrogen bonds are not true chemical bonds, they are not nearly as strong as chemical bonds. As a result, they can be “broken” with only a small amount of energy.
It turns out that this is the perfect design, because in order for DNA to code for proteins, the double helix must “open up” to expose the nucleotide bases. To do this, the link between the nucleotide bases must be broken. If the nucleotide bases were held together with chemical bonds, it would take a lot of energy to break the link, and that energy could easily damage the other bonds in DNA. Since the nucleotide bases are linked with hydrogen bonds, however, it takes only a small amount of energy to break the link. As a result, DNA can “open up” very easily, and the rest of the molecule is not harmed when that happens.
Watson and Crick determined all this, including exactly where the hydrogen bonds formed. Not surprisingly, the way in which the links form is called Watson-Crick pairing. Well, it turns out that there is another way the nucleotide bases can pair up, and a recent study shows that this is yet another amazing design feature of DNA.
Naturalistic evolutionists face many problems, most of which are the result of the fact that science doesn’t support what they want to believe. As a result, they must make up desperate explanations to work around what science clearly says. Nowhere is this more true than in origin-of-life research. Serious scientists understand that life comes only from other life. That’s what all the data clearly demonstrate. However, a naturalistic evolutionist simply cannot believe that. As a result, he or she must cook up wild scenarios by which nonliving chemicals can react with one another to magically create life.
Of course, there are countless problems with such wild scenarios. Demski and Wells recount many of them in their book, The Design of Life. Simon Conway Morris has an even more devastating review of the various origin-of-life scenarios in his book, Life’s Solution. One of the many intractable issues in any naturalistic origin-of-life scenario is chirality.
There are many molecules that have the same chemical formula but are quite different chemically. Glucose, for example is the sugar found in green, leafy vegetables. Fructose, on the other hand, is the sugar found in fruit. They are chemically quite different (which is why they taste different), but they have the exact same chemical formula: C6H12O6. They are chemically different because despite the fact that they contain exactly the same complement of atoms, the atoms arrange themselves into differently structured molecules. We call such molecules isomers.
There are many kinds of isomers, and one specific kind is a stereoisomer. Consider your hands. They are mirror images of one another. If you hold them together at the palms, your fingers and thumbs all match. However, if you try to lay one of your palms on the back of your other hand, your fingers and thumbs will not match. Your thumbs, for example, will be on opposite sides. In other words, while your hands are reflections of each other, they cannot be superimposed on one another. There are molecules like that as well. They are mirror images of each other, but there is no way you can turn one of the molecules around and make it look exactly like the other molecule. Such molecules are called stereoisomers. Because they are like your hands, we actually refer to one stereoisomer as the “left-handed” isomer and the other as the “right-handed” isomer.
An example of such a molecule is shown in the sketch above. The amino acid alanine can be formed two ways. Like your hands, those two molecules are mirror images of each other, but there is no way you can turn one of those images into an exact replica of the other. If a molecule has a stereoisomer, it is called a chiral molecule, and chiral amino acids cause all sorts of headaches for those who want to believe that life sprung from nonliving chemicals.