Origins questions led to career in genetics
Tasman Walker talks to Dr Peter Borger about biochemistry and the meaning of life
Ever since he can remember, encouraged by his biology-teacher father, Peter has been interested in science, especially biology, paleontology, and cosmology. Peter recalls,
In the 1970s, my father regularly took me to the lowlands of Friesland in the Netherlands, to hang nesting boxes for birds of prey.
Often, Peter was out and about in nature, collecting fossils and stones. He read popular science magazines and was fascinated by questions about origins, such as about apemen (e.g. Lucy) and dinosaurs. “I found it a wonderful and enigmatic world.”
Peter’s father had not grown up in a Christian home, but some people he met told him about the Bible, creation, and Jesus Christ. They explained to him the Resurrection and the promise of a new Heaven and Earth. Consequently, he taught this to Peter and his siblings. Peter said, “I don’t remember our family ever attending church, but the Bible stories were part of my early childhood.” Through his teenage years he lived a very secular lifestyle without any firm purpose or anchor for his life.
Nothing is left to chance
When he began his studies at university, he would read everything he could find in the library on the question of origins. It was this interest that led him to major in molecular genetics and biochemistry in his master’s degree. He said, “In my mind, these concerned the very foundation of life.”
What Peter discovered in his studies amazed him.
The complexity of the chemistry of life is immense, and nothing is left to chance. I saw interconnected biochemical systems closely working together to maintain the cell, without which life would be impossible. They were cooperating systems. That convinced me that evolution, as taught at the academy and popularized by materialistic philosophers, such as Richard Dawkins, could not be right. I realized that life cannot be explained by naturalistic means, and so must be the work of an intelligent Creator.
Gene expression discoveries
Peter started his Ph.D. studies in 1993, when little was known about gene expression in humans. Peter said, “Nobody knew in detail how and when genes were switched on and off.” One of the genes he studied was the IL4 gene which specifies how to build the protein known as interleukin-4, one of the small cell-signalling proteins called cytokines. Understanding how this gene is regulated and expressed to produce interleukin-4 is of crucial importance, since excess of the protein can cause allergies, asthma, and dermatitis.
One of the unexpected discoveries of molecular biology is that these cytokine proteins have two remarkable characteristics. First, every gene studied in higher organisms has been found to affect more than one organ, a characteristic called pleiotropy. Second, several distinct forms of cytokines have been found to have overlapping functions such that they can compensate for each other, a characteristic called redundancy. As he thought about these characteristics, Peter concluded that neither could be explained by naturalistic evolution working step-by-step. Both are a clear sign of intelligent design.
Genetic redundancy is the peculiar situation where the disruption of a gene has no effect on an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce. In other words, it is selectively neutral. The phenomenon was discovered in so-called knockout experiments, which were designed to uncover the biological function for a gene. In lab animals the gene of interest is disrupted (i.e. knocked out), and the animals lacking the gene of interest are called knockouts.
The big surprise from these experiments is that a huge number of knockouts do not show any biological shortcomings, indicating that natural selection does not work on such genes. Peter said,
The origin of these genes cannot be explained within the Darwinian framework, where genes are the result of mutation plus selection, because selection does not affect redundant genes. They are a hallmark of intelligent design.
It turns out that genetic redundancy is a general phenomenon of all living systems. And through this discovery Peter came to realize that life must be of recent origin and not as old as the evolutionists claim. Peter said,
Since natural selection was not working on these redundant genes, the redundancy would have been corrupted by random mutations long ago. I could see that living cells were very much like self-replicating and self-sustaining minicomputers made of millions of cooperating parts.
Natural selection is not evolution
In July 2001, Peter began a post-doctorate in Sydney, Australia. “It was here that I realized there was no such thing as an Evolution Theory.” When Peter had studied population genetics, it was presented as providing the scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution. Population genetics examines how, from generation to generation over time, some varieties of a gene (called alleles) tend to increase, whereas other alleles of the same gene tend to decrease. This process is caused by genetic drift, and natural selection.
I realized in Sydney that varying allele frequencies was not the same as Darwinian evolution. For Darwinian evolution to change apelike creatures into humans, the process must create brand new DNA sequences. However, population genetics only studies genes that are already present in the population. I realized that population genetics provides no support for the claimed ape-to-man evolution because it has no mechanism to generate new genetic information.
Discovering his heritage
Peter explained some surprising findings from studies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in women around the world. MtDNA is found in tiny structures within each cell, organelles called mitochondria (singular mitochondrion), which are passed from generation to generation through the female.
Studies have shown that there is very little variability in the mtDNA among women worldwide, which indicates that all women alive today must have come from a very small human population not that long ago.
Peter explained that the same result was found in the human Y chromosome, which determines the characteristics of males. The low variability of the human Y chromosome also supports a recent origin for all men.
This is entirely consistent with the biblical account that all people are descended from one founding couple—Adam and Eve. In fact, scientists humorously call this woman ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ and the man ‘Y chromosome Adam’.
Peter went on,
Having said that, the timing of this founding couple was problematic. Reports claim they lived 100 thousand years ago or more, which is much older than the Bible indicates for Adam and Eve. But when I checked the details, I realized that the calculated date assumed the long ages. Specifically, it is assumed that apes and people evolved from a common ancestor some five million years ago. If we discard this Darwinian assumption and use experimentally measured mutation rates, the origin of mankind, as well as the origin of animals, is reduced to some six thousand years. This is fully in accordance with the biblical timeframe.
Taken together, these findings of molecular biology and genetics support Genesis not Darwin. Of course, there are always questions that need to be addressed, such as when a report appears that seems to fit the Darwinian paradigm and contradict the biblical one. That is the nature of science. Such anomalies simply call for more research, which will reveal an answer in the creation paradigm. It is all very exciting. We simply have to work on it together, which is the only way to further our understanding.
Peter’s book Darwin Revisited, which scientifically refutes the Darwinian paradigm and presents a novel theory to explain rapid speciation, was published in the Netherlands in 2009 (the English version is available at Amazon). It was the only book critical of evolution published in the Netherlands in the Year of Darwin. Since then he has been regularly invited to present his ideas in the Netherlands, the USA, and Germany.
Given amazing confidence
So why is all this significant? Peter explained,
The issue of evolution and Genesis creation is hugely important for our understanding of who we are, why we are here, and why things are the way they are.
Evolution has suffering and death in the world for millions of years. However, Genesis clearly teaches that God created this world “very good”, so there was no suffering, disease, or death. These entered because Adam and Eve disobeyed their Creator.
Peter laid it out plainly:
This history is picked up in the New Testament when it sets out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” In other words, the good news of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ comes out of the bad news that bodily death came through sin, as explained in Genesis.
All my experience with science, molecular genetics, and biochemistry has confirmed the truth of the events in Genesis and given me a wonderful confidence in the good news presented in the New Testament. When I examined the Bible and compared it with my scientific studies, I found the answers to my long-held quest to understand origins in our wonderful and enigmatic world. It really is a great place to be.