Thesis 4: We believe life is God’s gift. However, we do not claim to know fully its processes, capabilities, and development. We welcome the use of life sciences to better understand it. Science cannot deny God.
In the previous post I submitted to you the idea that we, as part of Creation, cannot fully understand the Creation. Take for instance these two concepts: “God is unlimited and omnipresent” and “the Creation is limited in space and time”. How do you put these concepts together? Is the Creation part of, or incorporated in, God, or is it outside God? Did God restrain Himself in order to create a space where a limited Universe could be placed? Astronomers do not have an answer whether the Universe is infinite or finite. They only can tell that in whatever direction they look, it seems that there are no repeated formations, there are no other “you” or “me” out there. However, I ventured to say that the Creation, understood as the totality of what has been created, is limited in time and space, because I started with the premise that God exists (whatever that means) and if God exists, He created something that has to be finite, limited. If the Universe were infinite, it would be itself God, or it would mean that unlimited version of “you” and “me” would be out there, with the possibility of you meeting at some time and space the others “you” out there, and that is nonsensical.
As much as we would like to know and as much as we have learned already, there are many unknowns yet to be discovered. I mentioned that the “creation science” has failed to make progress towards knowledge in terms scientific because: a) it started on a wrong premise, a religious belief based on a literal understanding of the Book of Genesis taken as inerrant, and b) because they did not have a solid set of scientific evidence to call upon, but rather felt pressured by evolutionists to offer “an alternative”. On the other hand, naturalists and evolutionists did not offer a coherent theory either. It is enough to mention “the origin of life” and the evolutionists will jump like burned by a torch: “that’s not our business; that is abiogenesis’ field”. They think that by creating a separated field of science dedicated to studying the possibility of life arising from inorganic matter, the theory of evolution can explain how life “evolved” once the first replicating organism appeared. But it can’t. Based on what we know today in the fields of biology, microbiology, genetics, epigenetics, etc., there is no “light at the end of the tunnel” yet, no coherent and proven theory that can account for the development of life. All we have is a series of conflicting theories than cannot be sewn into a harmonic, fully integrated explanatory theory.
Classical Darwinism failed because it was more about theology rather than science. Darwin was right to observe that the concept of “special creation” needed to be abandoned, but he did not have any clue as to how organisms transmit their attributes to their offspring. He thought that the mighty natural selection is capable of shaping the biological world, which later has been discarded by scientists like Kimura and Shapiro. Darwin introduced the concept of “Common Descent with Modification” (Common Ancestor) where the natural selection would act upon the slow occurring and continuous changes in organisms provoked by the changing environment. Regarding life itself, Darwin mentioned in his Origins of Species that “it was created”, but later he regretted making that statement because, you see, he was now in the era when everything had to be explained by natural means.
Punctuated equilibrium theory of Eldridge and Gould (which was developed within the Neo-Darwinism) proved Darwin’s idea of gradualism wrong by showing that the fossil record provides absolutely no evidence for a gradual development of life but rather shows that life developed in “leaps and bounds”. Eldridge and Gould showed that species tend to hold to their form and attributes for as long as possible, an attribute called stasis, but they still believed that evolution occurred by allopatric speciation, a process by which species are split and isolated geographically due to natural or man-caused events. Thus, the isolated population would be prevented from normal genetic interchange and will differentiate from the original species until it would become a new species. This may be true, as it is clearly the case with the radial speciation of finches observed by Darwin in the Galapagos Islands. But this is not a proof for macroevolution “from-cell-to-human”; rather it is a proof that organisms have been endowed be the Creator with certain abilities to adapt to their surroundings.
Neo-Darwinism appeared in the first half of the twentieth century as a reaction to the rediscovery of the Mendel’s principles of inheritance and the challenges to Darwinism coming from the new field of genetics. Discarding the classical Darwinian view that the environment influenced changes in organisms, while maintaining the concept of natural selection, Neo-Darwinists embraced the idea that random mutations in the DNA are responsible for innovations that lead to new forms of life. In spite of the fact that renown mathematicians like Fisher, Wright, and Haldane gave neo-Darwinism the aura of science by conceiving mathematical models that could provide a “way” in which evolution may happen, those mathematical, theoretical, models contained clauses and premises that never applied to the real world. Fisher showed that a single random mutation has way too little, if any, chance to be preserved in a population, so, in order to have an influence towards modification of species, random mutations needed to be occurring in significant and consecutive numbers, but this has never happened in real life. On the other hand, Haldane calculated that there is a limited number of mutations that can simultaneously undergo fixation within a population before provoking a breakdown of the system that can lead to extinction of the species, this being known as “the Haldane Dilemma”. Some theorists tried to discard the Haldane Dilemma, charging Haldane for making various technical errors, but Crow and Kimura confirmed Haldane’s findings of how many places in genome can undergo simultaneous mutation. The main errors of Neo-Darwinism are: a) that random mutations, which have been empirically proven to be mostly detrimental or slightly neutral, can never produce the variety and complexity required by the concept of evolution, and, b) the natural selection raised at high, almost personal, status of a biological mastermind, is actually a very limited phenomena that, like random mutations, is incapable of producing the complexity of life as we know it. The hocus-pocus of Neo-Darwinism was to shift the unit of natural selection from the organism, as a whole, to that of the gene or nucleotide, but selection can never act at the nucleotide level. Its supposition, proclaimed by ideologues like Dawkins and Coyne, that these uninterrupted chain of mutations lead to the accumulation of “junk-DNA” as being the 98% of the genome has been seriously challenged by the ENCODE project, which showed that up to 80% of the whole genome has various functions, thus pointing to us how little we know about life.
Kimura and his student Ohta came in 1968 with an opposing theory, the Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution, first because they realized the power of Haldane’s argument that put limits on the number of simultaneous possible fixation of mutations, but also because Kimura showed that natural selection has almost no role in evolution. He admits that most random mutations are deleterious, thus are eliminated by selection, and those which are not eliminated are not positive mutations either, therefore he concluded that they are neutral mutations (mutations that do not affect reproduction and survival) and they “fly under the radar” of selection. Kimura proposes that these neutral mutations lead to mutant alleles. These mutants will undergo genetic drift and thus may lead to disappearance of certain alleles in offspring of populations, leading to new species. Of course, Kimura’s theory runs contrary to Fisher’s ideas who did not consider the genetic drift having any significant role in evolution. Ohta brings a modification to the theory in 1973 by what she called the Nearly Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution to show that what was considered neutral mutations are not really neutral, but rather slightly deleterious. Therefore the genetic drift’s effect, she argued, depends on the size of the population and the generation time. Leaving the details on the side, it is noteworthy to mention that Kimura and Ohta’s theories run against neo-Darwinian theories, at the same time being just as “theoretical” and without empirical support as Neo-Darwinian theory.
All the differences, puzzles, and contradictions noted, the late scientists brought additional phenomena to light, with the field of epigenetics taking a central stage since 1990s. At a 2008 meeting at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, as noted by this article, it has been adopted the definition that: “An epigenetic trait is a stably heritable phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence.” This means that changes in how organisms look or function depend considerably not on changes effected by mutations at the chromosomal level, but by other changes that leave the DNA sequence intact, like those induced by environmental factors, internal stressors, or such processes as DNA methylation or histone modifications. It amazes me how amateurs bring, for example, the human development from one fertilized egg (the zygote) to the amazingly complex mature individual as an argument for evolution, when, in fact, this is an example of what epigenesis is like, where genes are expressed or suppressed, made active or silent, due to the program encoded in the DNA coupled with the stimuli from the environment.
With epigenetics coming strongly into the filed of life sciences, another field of biology is taking now the center stage, that of systems biology, which starts looking at the whole individual and its interaction with the outside world in order to understand the smaller components functions, as those of cells, organs, etc.. Systems biology is a holistic approach compared with the reductionist approach of molecular biology, which started from the smaller units of life in order to understand how they lead to the full grown-up organisms. Part of this kind of systems biology is James Shapiro’s theory of Natural Genetic Engineering. After showing that the classic and neo versions of Darwinian theories are incapable of explaining almost anything in biology (far gone is the once famous saying of Dobzhansky that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”), Shapiro acknowledges that we have no clue as of yet regarding how life emerged, how prokaryotes and eukaryotes came into being, and how many of the complex organic systems have been formed, such as the immune system or the blood coagulation cascade. He is showing that, far from being a result of random mutations and selection, the organism is a system of systems working together in an unimaginable precision and cooperation, and with purpose and scope, within which information is being exchanged between various body parts in any direction, not only in the old-fashioned direction described by the “dogma of molecular biology”, to use Francis Crick words. So close to a design theory Shapiro’s theory can be read that some evolutionists “hard core” like Coyne called him a creationist or Intelligent Design advocate, accusations that Shapiro had to fight by distancing himself of the ID movement, which he publicly blamed for lacking a scientific basis. Indeed, like I mentioned in the previous post, any approach that makes room for a Creator who was involved, more or less, in the formation of life, cannot attain to a scientific status, but is a religious belief.
So, what is life after all? We have some idea but nobody has a definitive answer. How did life start? This has absolutely no answer at all. The Miller-Urey “classical” experiment of abiogenesis conducted in 1953 is mostly cited by those who try to argue that life could have arisen from various chemical reactions that lead to more complex organic structures in what was considered to have been the putative conditions of an early Earth. Not only that nobody knows what those conditions could have been, but later studies showed that Miller-Urey assumed conditions that were erroneous. Surely, in a very controlled environment and under the input provided by intelligence (of scientists) you can have amino-acids formed thru chemical reactions that are similar to the amino-acids occurring naturally. You may have prebiotic molecules flying thru space, given the carbon content present out there, but we know not of any form of life without DNA, and this is the real “irreducible complexity” of life, an expression of functional information that only intelligence can produce. Yes, we would like to know more about life. Yes, life sciences can help our understanding of it and we welcome it to the extent that it is done properly and avoids supposition and pseudo-knowledge. But we also believe that true science will never deny God and can never deny God if it is done with all diligence and humility.