Couple for creation
Jonathan Sarfati chats with biochemistry researchers John and Sally McEwan
Photo by Gloria Heasley
John and Sally McEwan
Many evolutionists claim that there are no scientists who support creation. However, one aim of our magazine over much of its 25-year history has been to inform our readers of well-qualified scientists who are also committed biblical creationists.
One example is the husband-and-wife couple, John and Sally McEwan, who live in Sydney, Australia’s largest city [they now have a son and a daughter—Ed.]. Still in their 20s [at time of writing, 2003], they have been involved in important research.
Both of them majored in chemistry—John at The University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand; and Sally at the University of Sydney. John gained a scholarship and moved to Sydney University for his Ph.D., which involved making natural products. He is now senior chemist at Access Pharmaceuticals Australia, researching more effective anticancer drugs against tumours, making them more specific and lengthening their time in the body to do their work.
[Added mid-2013: since 2004 John has been working for Sylvan Pharmaceuticals, a veterinary pharmaceuticals supplier, as a chemist and research scientist.]
Sally gained an M.Sc. using her chemical training in analyzing reproduction of wombats and the Tasmanian devil. She then became a researcher in brain biochemistry and metabolism, and now splits her work between the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Department of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences, University of Sydney. Both have published papers in secular scientific journals.
One reason that evolution is so entrenched is the grand claim that it is vital for scientific research. A leading 20th-century evolutionist, Theodosius Dobzhansky, even went as far as saying, ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.’ So I asked them how this fitted in with their own cutting-edge research.
Photo by Warwick Armstrong
‘Some might argue that we rely on common descent in choosing animal models for drug research, i.e. other mammals like rats and mice for tumour experiments. However, one can better point to common design. Similarly, we rely on different mammal species having similar protein sequences; for example, in the use of human growth hormone in rats. We do not invoke evolution when designing drugs or treatment regimes, and in synthetic organic chemistry, evolution is irrelevant.’
‘Biochemical and biological processes can be discovered to exist without reference to, or knowledge of, their origins. How they came about is far removed from just discovering the processes themselves. This is because much of our research involves building on the accumulated data in a particular area of research. However, many founders of modern science were influenced by creationist thinking, which required an ordered and a designed-for-a-purpose universe. It has been my observation that when new processes are discovered to exist, it is only afterwards that investigators go on to speculate how and why they exist in light of evolution. In other words, evolution is accepted a priori.’
‘OK,’ an evolutionist might reply, ‘but still, most biological researchers believe in evolution.’ I asked the McEwans to respond:
‘So what?’ asked John. ‘As someone once said, it is doubtful that the majority has ever been right. Most people believe in evolution due to the mob mentality, rather than because they have critically examined the evidence. I find that very few people have looked at the alternative evidence—that supporting creation. So most people are not in a position to choose between the two. Also, few people have thought through the implications of evolution as it relates to everyday life—for example, how can there be true right and wrong if we have just evolved from a primordial soup?’
Sally agrees, and affirms that evolution had absolutely nothing to do with any of her research. She is particularly critical of university lecturers who teach undergraduates to accept evolution as truth without much detailed scrutiny. She recalls: ‘Instead of teaching us how to think critically, I feel that, especially in this area, we were taught what to think, and those who sided with creation were viewed as intellectually inferior. So Christians should not be intimidated by the bluff, “Evolution must be true because most scientists believe it.”’
OK, this might be enough to counteract that evolutionary argument, but on the other hand, what relevance does creation have for research? So I asked them what they thought was the strongest support for creation, especially in their own fields of expertise.
Photo byWarwick Armstrong
John answered that his Ph.D. research was extremely unfavourable to chemical evolution, the belief that life arose from nonliving chemicals:
‘One big problem is getting the exclusively “left-handed” amino acids for proteins and exclusively “right-handed” sugars for DNA. I worked on inducing chirality (from Greek χειρ cheir = hand) into a potential pharmaceutical using chiral auxiliaries and chiral catalysts (if that had been done with thalidomide, then the horrific birth defects would have been avoided). In other words, I was trying to make new left-handed molecules starting from left-handed molecules. It is very difficult to create compounds of only one chirality, even starting from 100% chiral molecules. So how could this have happened in a primordial soup with half of each handedness, especially with no organic chemists around?’ [See colour diagram of chirality and Origin of life: the chirality problem]
John’s current research includes using Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) to help target drugs to tumours, since tumours have more receptors to it than other cells. Vitamin B12 is called the ‘red vitamin’ because it is deep red, and has a vital role in making red blood cells. A lack of this vitamin causes pernicious anemia. John explains that our bodies can make use of this vitamin only with an intricately designed multistep process:
‘First, an enzyme releases B12 from food in the stomach, but the strong acid there would destroy it without a protein from saliva to protect it. Then in the intestine, other enzymes attack this protective protein, and another protein called intrinsic factor binds instead. Intrinsic factor also enables the vitamin to pass through the gut wall. After this, yet another enzyme releases the B12, then still another protein binds to it. Then it can be transported around the bloodstream to sites where it is required. Unless all these steps were in place, the body would be unable to use Vitamin B12. In fact, it’s the lack of intrinsic factor, rather than lack of B12 in the diet, that causes pernicious anemia. Natural selection could not build up this system by tiny steps, because none of them works without the whole sequence being fully coordinated.’
This prompted Sally to add:
‘I see amazing design (though now marred by the effects of sin) in the world, and of course this points to an amazing Designer. I think that the information stored in DNA is one of the greatest pointers to God, who put the information there. Many people do not understand that the information is not the DNA itself, just as the words in this article are not the information, but rather you require both a sender and a receiver of this message and a code with which to make sense of the words, so that the information is received and understood and acted upon. So if there is no intelligent Creator out there, where did information come from and how do we get the alleged increase in information from mutations?
‘I agree that the irreducible complexity in living systems is another great support for creation. An example is the Vitamin B12 uptake system John describes—it needs all the coordinated steps to work. Other examples are the tiny rotary motors of the bacterial flagellum and the enzyme ATP synthase, vital to produce the “energy currency” required for all life to function.’
John and Sally are also members of the Sydney CMI Support Group, who volunteer a lot of their time to help CMI speakers when they give talks in the Sydney area. So I asked them: what’s so important about creation, considering that many Christians say that it’s just a side issue?
This brought a strong reaction from John. He pointed out:
‘If there was no Creator then there would be no sin against that Creator and no need of Christ—no Christianity. I believe it is central to all of the important doctrines in the Christian faith.’
How central? Sally explained:
‘If you do not believe what the Bible says in the beginning, how are you going to believe anything else it says? Evolution is really a belief system to try to explain how the complexity of living things could arise without any intelligent input. So of course it is a stumbling block to people believing in anything else we may say about God and the Bible. Our society has been virtually brainwashed into evolution and I think creation is where we must start if we are going to defend the Bible. We need to start at the beginning because our society is largely pagan now.’
However, what about the well-meaning Christians who think that design is the most important issue, and our priority should be to counteract materialistic evolution? They argue that we should just leave the age of the earth out of it because it’s ‘divisive’. So what is the big deal about the age of the earth?
John said that the age is important because it again involves the accuracy of the biblical record. ‘If we start to question, through liberal interpretation, what the Bible says about creation in six days, then we open the door to question what it says on everything else. The problem with all the extra time that people want to add to the biblical record is that it brings the Curse before Adam. In other words, fossils of dinosaurs etc. are pronounced to be prehistoric, which entails death before sin.’
Although many Christians believe in long ages, Sally points out that the long-age view does not come from the Bible, but from the opinions of fallible human beings. This is amply clear in the commentaries by otherwise conservative exegetes who accept long ages—they agree that the text itself strongly appears to teach a ‘young’ earth, but they can’t accept it because of ‘science’, so they rationalize the plain meaning.
‘If we honestly study what the Bible says about creation, we cannot conclude that it means anything but a literal six-day creation,’ Sally asserted. ‘We shouldn’t be surprised that the world adopts a viewpoint that leaves God out of the picture. The Bible emphatically states that creation-rejectors profess to be wise yet are fools [Romans 1:22]. I think that aptly describes many in the highly educated scientific world who don’t want to attribute anything to their Creator God. We should not be afraid of being ridiculed by such people just because we choose to believe the Bible. As it is written in Proverbs 29:25, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”’