Science and origins
Religion and origins
In Six Days
Why 50 Scientists Choose
to Believe in Creation
Nancy M. Darrall, botany
Dr Darrall is a speech therapist at the Bolton Community Health Care Trust in the United Kingdom. She holds a B.S. with first class honors in agricultural botany from the University of Wales, a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and an M.S. in speech and language pathology and therapy from the University of London. For 14 years, Dr Darrall worked in the area of environmental research at the National Power, Technology, and Environmental Centre at Leatherhead, studying the environmental impact of electricity generation, and in particular the physiological effects of gaseous air pollutants on agricultural crops and trees.
In the north of England, in a small industrial town called Helmshore, is some grass that has made it famous throughout the world of air pollution research. It looks much the same as any other grass of the same species, ryegrass—or Lolium perenne to the biologist—but there are certain differences that have enabled it to survive in an area highly polluted by sulphur dioxide during the days of heavy industry. Similarly, groups of individuals from various species survive in industrial areas with high levels of lead and zinc in the soil. Many authors of the scientific papers describing these findings have referred to the evolution of resistance to pollution. As a biologist involved in research on air pollution, I have had good opportunity to study much of this work, for example, Bell and Mudd (1976), Horsman et al. (1978), Roberts et al. (1983), and Taylor (1978). Bradshaw and McNeilly (1981) comment that the almost universal occurrence of metal tolerant populations on mine spoils shows the remarkable power of natural selection as a force for evolutionary change in response to environmental factors—evolution in action! Is this true? Can examples like these be used to prove that all life evolved by mutation and natural selection? I would suggest that there is too much scientific evidence around today to leave us in doubt about the answer to that question.
I would like to discuss those areas that have particularly influenced my own perspective on the origin of living things, the character of God, evidence of irreducible complexity, the origin of information, and the probability of a new species appearing. The complexity of the natural world is beyond doubt; the origin of such complexity, by evolution or design, requires careful evaluation of information from all sources. The essence of neo-Darwinian evolution is that new species, new designs, new organs such as the eye, the wing, and the ear, can arise by chance. More than that, it says that life originated spontaneously from chemical matter and, over millions of years, all the different life forms came into being by the processes of mutation and natural selection. The origin of life is matter and only matter; anything else is irrelevant and unnecessary, excluded from debate by definition, before that debate is started (Johnson, 1995). The process is unguided and mindless, unpredictable in its outcome; man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind (Simpson, 1967).
Evolution—an added extra
During my time at university studying agricultural botany and pure botany, there were no courses in evolution.
I studied the nature of DNA, genes, and chromosomes and went on to look at gene expression in individuals and populations and the transfer of genetic information to subsequent generations. We learned to classify plants by traditional methods and modern techniques. The professor who lectured this last course commented that evolutionary theory had provided no new techniques or procedures for constructing classifications and that speculative attempts to produce phylogenetic trees and systems without much valid evidence actually retarded the progress of taxonomy (Heywood, 1967).
In ecology, the complex interrelationships between plants and animals within various environments were explored, and the evolution of these complex webs of interaction was stated as a fact.
However, in no subject area was experimental or observational evidence given or theoretical arguments provided to support such a statement. In other subjects—plant anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, crops of agriculture, plant breeding, crop pests, and diseases—no reference was made to the topic of evolution. Clearly, the complexities of all these fields of study can stand alone and develop without the evolutionary basis that is claimed to underpin all areas of biological science. Little has changed in biochemistry and biological sciences, judging by the scientific texts today.
Planned, purposed, and designed
At university, I also had the opportunity of benefiting from systematic study of the biblical Christian faith. I was already a Christian with a knowledge of God’s saving power before I went to university. However, during this time, my understanding of the character of God developed. There came a point where I could see a nonconformity between the God revealed in the Bible and the nature of a god who would be compatible with the processes of evolution. Evolution with an add-on module of belief in God was very unsatisfactory and would contradict and downgrade the revelation of God in Scripture. The purposeful, supernatural being revealed in the Bible, who is all powerful, the originator of all things, including all material objects, of all design and of all the rules by which the natural world operates, would have to give way. I would have to admit to a god of limited power; things might come into being independent of his will.
Outcomes may not necessarily be of his choosing and autonomous self-sufficient nature might just happen to produce something else instead.
God planned, purposed, and designed the perfect result, the world as originally created, and He achieved it by the perfect means, with flawless precision (Tozer, 1961). Creation is an expression of the being of God and will therefore reflect the character of God. However, to be consistent with the principles of evolution, I would have to acknowledge a wisdom with a source in things, in matter, in molecules, and also in processes in the natural world that might change or improve on God’s beginnings of a task. This would involve agreeing with the view of neo-Darwinists, that science is the only reliable path to knowledge. As a consequence, I would have to accept that science has a monopoly on the production of knowledge and that the boundaries of science are the boundaries of knowledge and reality. A God who is all-knowing and planned our salvation before the foundation of the world cannot be allowed alongside a naturalistic interpretation of the world. At best, a god might be tolerated who is a remote being who set things in motion, but then watched helplessly from the sidelines as things unfolded. In this case, I would have to consider the Bible no longer as an inerrant source of knowledge about God’s dealings with man, about the origin of sin and suffering, but as writings merely of tradition, irrelevant to today’s world, because we have evolved beyond God’s plans.
The historical accuracy of the accounts in the early chapters of Genesis, dealing as they do with the creation of Adam and Eve, corruption of the natural world and death as a result of the Fall, would also be unacceptable. This would have to be replaced with a view of evolutionary progression of plants and animals, a gradual improvement upwards to better things. This, then, would deal a deathblow to the authority of the New Testament, as the authors use the historicity of these early people as a basis for developing arguments about salvation and judgment.
As my Christian faith is part of my everyday life, I found that it was impossible to relegate faith to a separate sphere from my observations and understanding of science. Professor Edgar Andrews has discussed the illogical nature of compartmentalizing faith and science in his book Christ and the Cosmos (1986) and I found his arguments helpful in clarifying my own position. He points out that we make observations and perform experiments using our natural senses to collect scientific information. From this factual information we use our powers of reason to develop an understanding of the natural world. However, this understanding excludes knowledge of spiritual things. Our five senses enable us to observe the natural world, but faith enables us to observe the spiritual realm of God. To develop our spiritual understanding, we use our faith.
We cannot use faith on its own, so our powers of reason look at the information, using our faith to come to spiritual understanding. Reason works on faith plus information to give spiritual understanding, just as reason acts on the observations of the five senses to develop our understanding of the way the natural world functions today. Faith is not an alternative pathway to a different form of knowledge unrelated to the material world in which we live. Both routes lead to understanding. However, by the use of reason plus faith plus information, we come to a growing understanding of the way God works in the world, “the wisdom of God.” I realized that His work in the natural world would be no less a reflection of His character than His dealings with men and women. These would be consistent with His direct revelation through Scripture, although they might not be as complete. To believe that God created the world by evolution would mean that the God of the Bible would have to step aside for some lesser being.
This was something I was not prepared to accept. I needed to start evaluating the evidence and looking at the arguments for evolution and also those for creation by an intelligent being.
A new examination technique?
One argument that I found particularly helpful came from information theory (Wilder-Smith, 1981). A major difference between living and inanimate things is the power to reproduce. This is possible because of the genetic blueprint, the genes, that are contained within all cells of living things. Usually they are made up of molecules of DNA, and the identification of the structure of this molecule has been one of the great achievements of science in this century. DNA strands found in ribbon-like structures, chromosomes, are duplicated before cell division. These copies are passed on to succeeding generations, which can then develop the same form and function, anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry as their ancestors. Three units of coding are the basis of DNA, just as the English language has 26 letters in the alphabet, and these letters are combined in various ways to mean different things when the code is translated. These units of coding in the genes provide the instructions to make strings of amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins. Many of these proteins are enzymes that catalyze biochemical reactions and make the other constituents of the cell.
The DNA double helix is analogous to the paper and ink of my biology textbooks. Anyone who has sat down in front of a blank piece of paper in an examination will be aware of the need for something more than paper and ink in order to pass. We need ideas, concepts, plans, purpose, memory of lecture notes, mathematical equations—in other words, information—in order to complete the paper. Does the stuff of paper and ink contain these ideas? An accidental spillage of ink can leave an interesting pattern of dots, lines, and circles on a piece of paper, but we do not see information there. Nor do we see it when a two-year-old decides to brighten up the wallpaper with some felt-tip pens! However, when we see writing on a piece of paper, we expect to gain information as we read it.
Why is this so? Unlike the accidental spill or the example of the two year old with felt-tip pens, a person who used his intelligence to put information down was responsible for the writing of the paper. There is no difference between the accidental spillage of ink on paper and the paper with writing on it as far as the materials used. However, information is present on one and not the other. Where does the information come from? Is it the property of the materials, the paper and ink? Many an examination student would wish so! The information is not a product of the paper or ink, but the thinking mind that has so organized these two things. There is intention, purpose, design, and meaning riding on the straight lines, the curves and circles of ink that form the letters.
Take the example of a piece of paper with the words written in ink, “John passed math.” We could just as easily have conveyed the information by writing with our finger in the sand. Only one material, sand, is used here and yet the message is the same; the message is not part of the property of the sand. We could pass on the message by talking. This would involve the vibration of a column of air in a particular sequence of patterns in the mouth and throat. The message would be the spoken form of English, but it is not a property of the vibrations nor of the words themselves. These words just happen to code for the meaning in English. We could use sign language to convey the information—a different language, but the same message conveyed. Also, here no material would be involved, just the movement of hands. The information is not in the hands and face; it is transferred in coded form through the instructions for the contraction and relaxation of muscles and face.
I would like to go back to the illustration of the examination student again. If we have written half the examination paper and cannot remember the other key points, no amount of copying and rewording what we have already written will give us more marks from the examiner. The student needs to recall more information from the brain. The same applies to the origin of information that is coded in the genes. There is nothing special about DNA; it is just a collection of molecules as is paper and ink. DNA molecules can be strung out in line, copied, and still not contain information. It needs a thinking mind to design the cells of living things and then to commit that design in coded form to the DNA, so that each organism can function and reproduce itself. Beyond that, to make another organism with new and different structures needs the addition of further coded information. Copying out a recorded part of information will do no more for the plant or animal than it did for that unfortunate examination student halfway through his examination paper.
Failure of supporting arguments
During lectures and television presentations and in his book The Blind Watchmaker (1986), Dawkins, a leading proponent of evolution, has used computer examples to show the creative power of natural selection in generating new information. One demonstration involves the generation of a phrase on a computer screen from Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” (written without the gaps). This is done to supposedly simulate the appearance of a short portion of new genetic code. The correct number of slots is set out and then filled at random with letters from the alphabet. Letters are then randomly re-allocated to the slots until the correct ones appear at each position. In a short time, the correct phrase appears on the screen. Dawkins argues that over a long period of time it is therefore possible for the processes of evolution to generate all the information required to code for the new structures of novel species. He also used computer graphics to demonstrate the development of new animal shapes. He omits just one thing from his discussion: the information was already in hand in both examples.
In the first, the target phrase “tobeornottobe” was in the memory of the computer and all that was necessary was a matching exercise. In the second, the design was already present in his own intelligent mind and he was controlling the process. In sharp contrast to his intention, he has provided a powerful demonstration of an intelligent designer at work.
I have found the arguments about the origin of information very useful, but there are many examples quoted where new features are said to have come about, for example, the peppered moth, evolution of tolerance to pollution, antibiotic resistance, and sickle-cell anemia. In the peppered moth, large numbers of the dark form appeared in the age of heavy industry in the United Kingdom, but small numbers of this form have always existed (Kettlewell, 1958). In the same way, populations of plants include those that survive better in polluted environments because of small differences in the structure of the plant and in its metabolism, as discussed earlier. These variations are inherited in the genes. Planting a mixed bag of seed at a polluted site would mean that the more tolerant individuals would survive and the less tolerant would die, or at best survive to grow as less healthy individuals and produce less seed. This is a clear example of natural selection acting on a pre-existing gene pool, in response to change in environment.
However, this sort of natural selection tells us nothing about the origin of the gene or genes for tolerance, whether it is a mutant form, or part of the variation within the species. It tells us nothing about the origin of that plant species. It is equivalent to the selection of red smarties from a bag of mixed sweets; nothing new has appeared in the genes, no new information. Many other examples of such variation are known: winter or summer flowering in clover, variations between populations of yarrow in a transect across the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California and between rice populations grown for successive generations at various latitudes in Japan (discussed in Bradshaw and McNeilly, 1981). Now, is this evolution? No, it is not that understood by Darwin or any of the present-day proponents of the theory, such as Dawkins (1986) and Simpson (1967). Why not? Because no new designs, no new organs have appeared. Here we simply have a reworking of what is already present. We could call such a reworking microevolution, but this is an unsatisfactory term because no amount of microevolution can add up to evolution proper, since nothing new, however “micro,” has been formed.
In other examples, changes do occur in the genes of individuals. Spetner (1997), in his book Not by Chance, discusses details of changes leading to antibiotic resistance in bacteria, and it would be useful to summarize the points here. One example of resistance to antibiotics that involves changes in the genes is that of the antibiotic streptomycin. The molecule works by interfering with the manufacture of protein within the bacterial cell. This happens when the streptomycin molecule attaches itself to the specific part of the cell where the reaction to form a protein is taking place. This does not stop protein being made, but the streptomycin interferes with the results. The bacterium is now unable to put the right amino acid in the chain at this point; the wrong amino acid is included, and so the wrong protein is made. This wrong product cannot fulfill its task in the bacterium; the cell cannot grow, divide, and multiply, and the infection disappears. When a bacterium becomes resistant to streptomycin, a mutation has occurred in the DNA so that streptomycin can no longer lock on to the site of protein manufacture and interfere with the process. The change could occur at a number of places in the gene, but will always have the same effect. What has actually happened to the bacterium is that there has been a loss of information in the genes. No longer does the DNA contain all the necessary information to make the manufacturing site the correct shape. The bacterium is not able to grow and multiply as effectively as before, but nonetheless has gained resistance to the antibiotic.
Similar changes have occurred in the example of sickle-cell anemia. This is a condition found in areas of the world where malaria is prevalent (Cavalli-Sforza and Bodmer, 1971). The mutation alters the composition of the hemoglobin that carries the oxygen in red blood cells and, as a consequence, the red blood cells change to become sickle-shaped. This means that the malarial parasite is no longer able to live and grow inside the red blood cells, and the individual with this altered gene does not suffer from the malaria. Again, this change has also occurred by a loss of information. The ability to put together the right combination of molecules to enable the red blood cells to function efficiently has been lost. Instead an inferior form is manufactured in its place (Ling, 1992).
These examples provide convincing evidence of changes without information being added to the genes of a living organism and in some cases the loss of information. In a recorded interview, Dawkins was asked to give examples of changes in organisms that have occurred by the addition of new information. He was unable to do so (Keziah, 1997). As Spetner points out, “The failure to observe even one mutation that adds information is more than just a failure to find support for the theory. It is evidence against the theory.”
The probability of a new species—possible or not
Another very powerful argument against evolution comes from the calculations of Spetner (1997) into the chance of one event of evolution occurring: the emergence of a new species. Many authors of books on the evolution controversy have touched on this issue in the past, but in this book Spetner uses numbers taken from the scientific literature as the basis for detailed calculations. He takes estimates of the chance of getting a mutation, the number of replications (births) in each step of the chain towards a new species, and an estimated value of the number of steps necessary to get a new species. He assumes that at each step information is added to the genetic code and that the smallest change possible to the genetic code is advantageous. Both are unproved assumptions of enormous proportions in favor of the theory of evolution, as the author points out, but need to be made for the calculations. Then he estimates the chances that a typically advantageous mutation would occur and spread throughout the population. From this he went on to work out the chance of a new species evolving, assuming that only one potential copying error was of advantage at any one point. The possibility was found to be extremely small, and the chances against were extremely large. No evolutionist shown the detailed calculations has been able to refute them. Suggested alterations to some of the assumptions may increase the chances at some stages, but are totally insufficient to make the theory of evolution an event of acceptable probability.
Irreducibly complex—it’s all or nothing
Another major challenge to my acceptance of neo-Darwinian evolution came through an awareness of the complexity of living things. At the biochemical level, I know of some of the complexities of metabolism in living things. I could look with amazement at the chart of biochemical pathways in cells even after several years of research work. The chart is the size of a large student poster and is covered with small print showing the various pathways that synthesize the molecules required for the cell to function. Needless to say, the publisher updates it at regular intervals as more is learned of biochemical processes in cells. Biochemical pathways are, however, very different from pathways that lead down the sides of a mountain in various directions; they are more like a network. Most pathways are highly integrated with other pathways, and the levels of certain manufactured products (metabolites) can inhibit or increase the activity of that pathway and often of other pathways, too. Certain products are synthesized that are needed in the pathways to make quite different products. All this forms an intricately balanced web of biochemical processes within the cell. It would be very difficult to introduce a completely new pathway into the network, and this would be the sort of change that would need to occur in an organism that was evolving. More than that, it is very difficult to conceive of the gradual evolution of such a complex system. For any one part to be functional, many other pathways would also have to be fully functional.
Behe (1996) considers that many biochemical systems are the product of intelligent design. His criteria are evidence for “highly specified, irreducible complexity—the ordering of separate, well-fitted components to achieve a function that is beyond any of the components themselves.” He uses the example of a mousetrap as a simple analogy. On top of a piece of wood are fixed a number of items.
- A metal hammer will hold down and kill the mouse.
- A spring will allow the metal hammer to move across the trap at speed and do the job quickly and efficiently.
- A metal restraining bar holds the hammer back when the trap is set.
- A catch sufficiently sensitive so that the slight pressure of a mouse sampling the food will release it.
Each one of these parts is essential to the success of the trap. Without the hammer, the mouse would not be caught and could take the food with impunity night after night. Without the spring, the hammer and platform would not be able to act together as a vice to catch the mouse. Without the catch or the metal restraining bar, the trap could not be set for later action when the mouse arrived; it would be more likely to have a go at one of your fingers when you are attempting to set the trap! Without the piece of wood forming the base, the components could not be arranged in the correct position to work with one another. All parts have to be of the correct size, mounted in the correct position, made of appropriate material, and in working order. Otherwise it would be back to the hardware shop for another trap!
If one part of the trap were missing, it would not work just occasionally—it would never do the job at all, or do the wrong job. To apply this principle to living systems, a partly evolved form is not a candidate for natural selection, because it is not yet able to perform the required function at all. Behe then goes on to demonstrate design in the natural world using several examples of irreducible complexity taken from biochemical processes and structures within cells. These examples include the cilium, a subcellular structure “which looks like a hair and beats like a whip”; the process of blood clotting, and intracellular transport. He also discusses the human eye, making the point that here there are a number of irreducibly complex systems, for example, the retina, the tear ducts, and eyelids. I would agree with Darwin when he wrote of his difficulty in understanding how the eye could have evolved, because he was aware that such a complex organ could not have originated in a few steps. In his words, the idea was “absurd in the highest possible degree” (Darwin, 1859, edited 1959).
Nevertheless, Darwin proposed that beneficial changes leading to the development of the eye accumulated over many generations, each intermediate being useful to its possessor. However, since publication of The Origin of Species, much more has been discovered about the structure and function of the eye. Much is known about the physiology and biochemistry of vision itself, and developments in neurosciences have helped us to understand more about the processing of the visual image in the neurological pathways and the brain. Baker (1991a, 1991b, 1992) provides a readable account of the structure and function of the eye and a discussion of the even greater difficulties raised for the theory of evolution.
The evidence directs
My main arguments against evolution are well illustrated by the human eye:
- Where would the new information come from to provide the genetic blueprint for this new structure?
- How did the irreducibly complex systems within the eye come about? I would agree with Behe (1996) when he concludes that an intelligent designer is necessary to explain their origin. The changes necessary for the appearance of the eye are more complex than for a new species.
- The probability of this organ evolving by chance is therefore even more remote than those of a new species evolving, which Spetner (1997) estimates to be impossible anyway.
The evidence points to an intelligent designer of the vast array of life, both living and extinct, rather than to unguided mindless evolution. However, some see that evidence from the natural world requires a designer but are content just to accept the possibility of an intelligent force behind the universe. If an intelligent force designed the world, surely we, as intelligent beings, must take this further and find out the nature of this being. The Bible tells me that the intelligent mind behind the universe is a God who is in total control; this excludes the possibility that He acted through evolution. The basis of my own faith is the inerrancy of the biblical account, and this provides my starting point in understanding the scientific evidence—my paradigm, my “presuppositions,” if you wish. A short timescale is eminently possible for a world originated by an intelligent designer, although it is not necessarily required. What is no longer needed are the long periods of time to try to explain the origin of chance improvements. Reasoning from the scientific observations and faith in the Bible, I conclude that creation was the result of an intelligent designer, entirely possible within the short period of six days.
Author’s note: I would like to thank P. Garner and M. Garton for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.
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