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Basics of biblical biology

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Published: 26 December 2013 (GMT+10)

Wikimedia commons/MesserWoland and Szczepan1990; BVU-121 - Robert

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The cell is far more technologically advanced than a Boeing 747, and so must have come from a far superior designer, such as the God of Scripture.

Design by itself will always be an incomplete answer to evolution.

Evolution is wrong, but what do we replace it with? Many of us automatically think ‘design, of course!’ And they are partially correct. Design is certainly important, but it’s not the whole story. Design has to do with the origin of various structures in biology, as well as the origin of life itself. Naturalism can’t explain such features, and design is the only alternative. But there are more questions. What happened after life was first made? How long has life been around? What sort of history has it had? This is where we begin to see the real failure of the Intelligent Design movement: in focussing solely on the origins of function in biology it has paid little attention to the history of biology. Evolution tries to explain both—a naturalistic origin and history of life’s diversity. Therefore, design by itself will always be an incomplete answer to evolution.

Biblical biology

This is why creation biology is so important. Since it is based on the Bible, it not only provides a coherent origin for life, but also a coherent history that describes how life has changed in various ways. But if we take the Bible as our foundation, how should we think about biology? What should we think about the origin and history of animals, plants, and microbes?

Someone far more intelligent than us must have made the cell—someone like the God of the Bible.

First, the Bible says that God created all things biological during the first week of history—Days 3–6 of Creation Week (Genesis 1:11–13, 20–31). Genesis 1 also says He created life according to kinds. These kinds must remain both recognizable and stable through time because they are a part of God’s revelation of his power and character in creation (Romans 1:20). If the message has no consistency, the message would be lost. Therefore, one kind of creature can’t go changing into something completely different if we’re supposed to be able to see God’s hand in biology. The pattern was set with the first life forms created, plants, which were to produce “seed, each according to its kind” (Genesis 1:11). That is, the seed produced that allows reproduction is according to the kind that produced it (e.g. a mango seed will produce a mango tree). And then other living things are described (nine times) as being created “according to their kinds”. This is the most established principle of biology, that like begets like: cats produce cats, bears produce bears, palms produce palms, and no one has ever observed anything different.

But neither can life be completely static. The Bible says creation was cursed because of sin, which means that the Fall allowed things like predation, disease, and suffering (see The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe). Creation is in bondage to decay (Romans 8:20–21). Moreover, since the Fall there have been some massive environmental changes at different times (e.g. Noah’s Flood, the Ice Age). Life had to be able to adapt to such changes, sometimes rather drastically and quickly, or it would have all died out ages ago (see How life works). We can summarise this with three words—design, variation, and degeneration.

Design

Think about, say, a Boeing 747. A typical 747 has about 5 million non-flying parts. But put them together the right way—and they fly! Now, no-one thinks that if a tornado rips through a junkyard that it’s going to produce a 747, even if all the 747 parts were present. Nature is never going to produce a 747 on its own—it requires an intelligent designer.

Now, let’s compare the 747 to the foundation of all life—the humble cell. Or maybe it’s not so humble. A cell has billions of parts that can’t reproduce by themselves, and yet when they are put together in the right way—the conglomeration can reproduce itself!

If life’s core design isn’t maintained, then it couldn’t survive.

And to what can we compare the cell, in terms of complexity? A 747? No. That’s an insult to the cell. Instead, imagine New York city, shrunk to microscopic size. Now imagine it being fully automated, and capable of reproducing itself. And that will give you some idea of what a cell is. Cells have libraries, translation services, maintenance systems, waste disposal systems, internal and external communication networks, food location devices, food processing plants, power plants, transportation systems, and all sorts of different production industries. And on top of this, it has an automated self-replication system. If a 747 is designed, and we’ve only seen such complex contraptions ever come about by intelligent design, then it makes no sense to say the cell made itself. Someone far more intelligent than us must have made the cell—someone like the God of the Bible. (see Design Features Questions and Answers)

Variation

Variation sounds like it’s an evolutionary concept, but it need not be. Think about it—if life could not adapt to different environments, then it would die out—especially in a fallen world. This is where evolution does have one thing right—life adapts or dies. But where evolution goes wrong is that it fails to see that life was designed to do this (see e.g. Evidence for the design of life: part 2—BaranomesThe design of life: part 3—an introduction to variation-inducing genetic elements, and Selection for a behavior, and the phenotypic traits that follow). This means that designed variation is not only created; it can also arise from designed adaptive genetic changes. And life has all sorts of ways in which it can adapt itself (including through genetic changes) to different conditions, and even pass on its adaptations to the next generation. But there have to be limits to this—any system designed to adapt still needs some sort of core structural stability (see Inheritance of biological information—part III: control of information transfer and change). If life’s core design isn’t maintained, then it couldn’t survive. This is why life needs a whole lot of maintenance systems—machines break down if they’re not maintained, and life is no different. But maintenance means keeping the core system the same—it does not tolerate core system changes. So life needs both a core structural stability and the ability to adapt some of its systems to survive.

These copying mistakes are accumulating at such a high rate that we can’t get rid of them.

Think of a car. Adaptation is like adding or subtracting accessories or modifying the tyres (e.g. special compound tyres for icy roads, or a bigger radiator for hot conditions). Its core design can’t change much without destroying the car. It needs to be maintained so that the car still works like a car should. Changing accessories or tyres in a car is fine, but we can’t let half the engine and the axles rust through and expect the car to still work!

Biological systems can’t be infinitely variable like evolution claims them to be. Neither have we seen them produce the sort of changes that evolution needs (see The evolution train’s a-comin’). Rather, life was designed to have a limited capacity for variation (see Molecular limits to natural variation). As such, the more life adapts, the more specialized it becomes. This is a process of weeding out (now) useless information, and it means the more life adapts, the less adaptable it generally becomes (see Muddy waters). It’s also why life can’t change from one kind into another—why, for example, cats don’t produce dogs, and never will. The cat core system would break down if too many changes were made without intelligent input, just like a car that doesn’t undergo maintenance. No amount of maintenance mishaps will turn a car into a jet plane, so neither will a lot of maintenance mishaps make humans out of apes (see Mutations and new information).

Degeneration

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Mutations mean that humans are headed for extinction, along with all other organisms.

We started talking about maintenance mishaps—the proper term in biology is mutation—copying mistakes in our DNA (note that not all genetic changes are copying mistakes, some can be designed adaptive changes, as discussed above). These copying mistakes are accumulating at such a high rate that we can’t get rid of them (see Mutations: evolution’s engine becomes evolution’s end!). This is called genetic entropy. We produce up to 100 new mutations per person, per generation. That means I have up to 100 more mutations than my Dad, and my son has up to 100 more mutations than me. The key however, is that children will always have more copy mistakes than the parents, never the same amount or less. This means natural selection would have to get rid of all the children to keep mutations out of the population to avoid extinction. So the end result of avoiding extinction would be … extinction. To make matters worse, the individual effect of most mutations is so small that natural selection can’t even ‘see’ them to get rid of them. Actually, we’ve got way more chance of dying by dumb ‘luck’ than we do of dying by natural selection. And even if someone manages to get a good mutation, that mutation can’t be separated from the much more common bad mutations, so their effect gets drowned out amid all the bad noise (see The diminishing returns of beneficial mutations). What does all this mean? It means the human race is doomed to extinction, and we can’t do a thing about it. And it’s not just humans either. All life is doomed to the same fate! (see Genetic entropy and simple organisms) Extinction is our future, not evolution.

The end of biology?

Well might we cry—“who will deliver me from this body of death?” But biblical biology does have an answer to this problem—just not evolutionary progress. It’s resurrection! It’s restoration! But this is something only God can do. Only Christ can do. And He will—death is the last enemy to be destroyed by Christ (1 Corinthians 15:26). And He will destroy it just as He broke its bonds in the middle of history—with bodily resurrection. Biology does make sense in the light of the Bible; and it reminds us that the only hope for the restoration of life rests with its designer—the Triune God of the Bible.

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Readers’ comments
Todd C., Australia, 26 December 2013

Hi

i recently read your article about biblical biology,very informative,but i didnt understand the part about Intelligent design and its "Failure" as the article said.

Is not God the intelligence behind the design ?

when referring to intelligent Design is that not meaning God?

I am a christian and Believe God made everything ,he is the intelligent designer for the universe and man.

so i am a little confused about the article ,could you elaborate please ?

Kindest regards

Todd

Shaun Doyle responds

The failure of the ID movement is that by focusing solely on design and origins it is at best an incomplete answer to evolution. Only a rival historical framework such as the Bible provides can address all the questions evolution seeks to address about life. What this means for the ID movement is that the design idea is by default played out in evolutionary history, which makes the notion of design look suspiciously god-of-the-gaps because design is only invoked to do what evolution couldn't do.

Pete B., United Kingdom, 26 December 2013

There is a problem in this article. I basically believe that each kind was designed, and is adaptable, but would never change to become a different kind. The problem lies in a discrepancy between what you write and what readers see. The article implies mankind is heading for extinction based on mutations. That may be right, but what has been observed since the time of Jesus is that people are healthier now, and rather than becoming extinct, the population has exploded simply in the last hundred years. In any case Jesus will come while there are still people upon the planet, otherwise who is he coming for? Sin is a spiritual curse with physical effects. I believe it is known that Christians are healthier, happier and live longer. The healing affect of Jesus starts in this life. Blessings, Pete.

Shaun Doyle responds
Chris S., United Kingdom, 26 December 2013

I agree there are shortcomings in the Intelligent Design approach but we should appreciate the good that comes out of the movement; particularly in the area of evidence for design in biochemical systems. CMI has some excellent individual articles on biochemistry. Journal of Creation also has useful material (see Mike Roe Arneigh's article on microRNAs in the latest issue). But for a good book-length treatment I find I have to go either to the ID authors or the Progressive Creationists like Fazale Rana (author of The Cell's Design). I am not aware of anything book-sized by a Young Earth Creationist.

Shaun Doyle responds

We have just such a book: By Design, which addresses many design features in biology from an explicitly biblical perspective. And this article is not meant to denigrate the good work the ID movement does. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Darwin argued quite successfully against a species of old-earth creationism, and part of the reason his arguments were so successful was that he was able to show that speciation occurs naturalistically. Darwin extrapolated that out to explain all biological diversity, and while we can now show that is invalid (see Desperate attempts to discover ‘the elusive process of evolution’), it made a lot of sense at the time when we didn't have knowledge of molecular genetics—if natural selection could produce different species, then given enough time we would expect it to produce different phyla. And since both Darwin and his creationist interlocutors believed enough time was available, Darwin won the argument because his argument was less ad hoc. Moreover, since Darwin was arguing against a creationist model that accepted much the same timeframe as his own, he was able to make that model look suspiciously like a god-of-the-gaps argument. Many evolutionists would argue that a similar problem exists today for old-age design notions like progressive creationism, and to a certain extent they have a point. Progressive creationism looks like a case of God intervening only when nature can't do the job because it co-opts the evolutionary historical framework, which is intended to be naturalistic, for creationist ends. This does not invalidate empirical arguments for design, but it does mean their persuasive force is severely weakened when combined with the deep time historical framework.

Sid G., United States, 26 December 2013

Shaun,

As an honors (biblical) biology teacher, I agree with your excellent summary of the crucial, core concepts as viewed from a creation perspective. Time, mutations, and natural selection are statistically and scientifically insufficient to generate the new bio-info (genetic and epigenetic) for the novel structures and biochemical pathways necessary for all of the known creatures and their wonderful features. Far worse for the hypothesis (underlying belief) of macroevolutionary theory, as you clearly explained, is the downward devolution of all genomes caused by the accumulating effects of deleterious mutations. While I respect many men and women who are a part of the generic intelligent design (ID) community, I am grieved that most of them leave out, as you put it, the only historical account (His-story) that can explain morally the existence of this escalating disorder, dysfunction, disease, and death. Attributing the current horrible process of violent competition and survival of the fittest to our Designer unwittingly portrays Him as a monster, not the Good Shepherd Christ. So I thank God for those of you who courageously continue to proclaim the full “good news” as our Creator has so clearly revealed about himself through His Word (John 1).

Patrick D., South Africa, 27 December 2013

The testimony of this "scientific" generation: "...Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools..." If we Christians do not put the whole testimony together for our children, firstly, as well as the unbelieving world, that is, the historical as well as the spiritual truth of the Bible, coupled with loving one another (including disciples of other denominations as ones own), allowing the fruits of the Holy Spirit to develop in our lives, we will lose them. The church is not declining because of a lack of "modernisation." It is because of a watered down testimony.

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