Too Little Knowledge or Infinite Potential for Discovery?

How much does any one of us know?

Even the brightest, like a Hawking, an Einstein, or a Ross only knows a fraction of what can be known. Do we corporately even possess knowledge of 0.01% of what can be known of reality?

When it comes to knowledge, and our ongoing acquisition of it, defeasible reasoning is the play of the day. Defeasible reasoning is basically belief revision—necessitated because we know so very little about what can be known of the reality that surrounds us—a reality through which we navigate life despite our pervasive ignorance.

This concept and the following series of questions go much deeper than the apologetic tactic of trying to get an atheist to transition to an agnostic by asking him how much he thinks he knows of reality and what there is to know. Or by asking him how much the most intelligent person he is aware of might know about reality. One percent? One tenth of a percent? Even less? Then following up with the concept, that if there is 99% or 99.9% or greater percent unknown, isn’t it at least reasonable to consider that God may exist as part of that unknown reality?

There Is So Much More to Know!

In conjunction with considering our pervasive ignorance and the need for defeasible reasoning, I have been contemplating the ever-increasing, often surprising, and unimagined complexity of the human genome, its controlling epigenetic molecules and signals, the diversity and complexity of protein modifications (e.g., post-translational modifications, including information-bearing glycosylations), and the striking complexity of cellular systems, pathways, networks, and signaling mechanisms (biochemical, electrochemical, mechanotransduction, etc.). We collectively know quite a bit about many intricacies of well-studied genomes, signaling and regulatory molecules, protein modifications, cellular systems, and organismic development, but the extent of what we don’t yet know is so unimaginably more in regard to these things. I am overwhelmed at the complexity of these systems and wonder how long it will take us to unpack them.

Not a problem! That’s why scientists will have endless work to pursue. We continue to revise beliefs in small and sometimes large ways with every new scientific discovery.

Is It Bad? Or Is It Just Unknown Or Mismanaged?

Now consider this, what if it is only, or primarily, our lack of current knowledge that allows us to reach conclusions that one day might be considered false (like the percent of the human genome that is of functional relevance)? What if a lack of current knowledge also causes us to brand naturally occurring things—for instance, earthquakes, bacteria, and viruses—as evil or bad? What if a lack of knowledge and a failure of adequate management of nature allows bad manifestations and outcomes from an otherwise critically good creation?

What if the ultimate function or purpose of a system is very good but obscured by ignorance beneath a veneer of “bad”—or of “somewhat good”? What if we judge something as mostly bad because of ignorance of the thing itself or ignorance leading to our mismanagement? Or what if bad things for individuals or society occur—neither by a failure to recognize something’s proper function nor lack of knowledge of how to rightly manage it—but by a failure to implement change for good due to competing reasons (such as immediate personal or corporate monetary gain)? In other words, even obviously good things can easily be bad under poor management.

Consider the three things I listed above. Earthquakes result from the movement of Earth’s crust (plate tectonics). Scientists have discovered that the movements of the continental plates are critical for recycling chemicals and nutrients and regulating global temperatures that sustain life on Earth. Likewise, we’ve discovered that the vast majority of life is single-celled life and that prokaryotes (like bacteria) are critical for maintaining the availability of key elements and organic molecules for higher organisms to live and thrive. Bacteria play key symbiotic roles in ecology and in organismal physiology and metabolism as well. And viruses—well, viruses are gems that keep Earth from being nothing more than a giant ball of bacteria and other single-celled masters of reproduction.

Plate tectonics keep our planet habitable. Bacteria critically contribute to biogeochemical and precipitation cycles as well as ecological harmony and organisms’ essential microbiomes. And viruses critically open ecological space for survival of higher organisms. All good, or at least more good than bad. But what if there is more, much more innate good to be discovered if we only persist in inquiry and examination?

What if we could predict when and where earthquakes would happen? What if we could harvest and store energy from earthquakes by developing a much deeper understanding of plate tectonics? What if, by hijacking bacterial immune systems or commandeering viruses as tools, we gain understanding and a capacity to manipulate cells in need of repair or removal? Scientists now have CRISPR, discovered in a bacterial immune system, to use as a versatile tool for managing crops, animals, and human disease. And we’ve engineered and employed viruses for delivering payloads for medical applications and in discovering the workings of our own cellular machinery and the molecular foundations for life.

What if this is only the beginning of imagined potential applications that emerge from ongoing studies of such things as plate tectonics, bacteria, and viruses?

People Love Discovery, and God Loves to Be Discovered

For some people it’s discovering a deal so good we express it as “a steal.” For others it’s sheer exuberance in finding some precious item or perhaps a friend we once considered lost. Maybe it’s a great band, a fabulous restaurant, a creative artist, or a magnificent park. Discovering something new delights us all! Many who choose science choose it for this very reason, as do many theologians. We’ve made vocations from discovering utterly new things and old things once obscured.

A robust Christian theology lies at the foundation of understanding nature this way and fosters delight in discovery. Creation was designed as good and providentially supplied for our discovery, delight, and careful management. Despite our prevailing ignorance, in each discovery we find the handiwork of a good and beautiful Creator. This is what the scholars at Reasons to Believe endeavor to do for each scientific discovery—to show you the harmony between science and the God of the Bible.

We believe that God reveals himself in nature, in the scriptures, and ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ. As we explore the good in nature we unveil the heart of a personal Creator. With each discovery we see added layers of complexity and an ever deeper engineering cleverness. All that surrounds us sustains and allows our flourishing. And all we discover reveals the power and nature of God.

This idea is at the heart of the biblical story—God delights in our discoveries, especially when they point to the grandeur of the Creator. He desires restored relationship with those created in his image, male and female. He desires our restored relationship with him, his creation, and with one another. God reveals himself in nature because he wants to be known. He reveals himself just enough so people will seek him even more. He taps into our curiosity and love of discovery and mystery. He created us with these innate characteristics. He invites us to the great hunt and promises we will find him when we seek him with all our hearts.

The delight of an infinite Creator who creates so we can eternally discover more and come to fuller knowledge, but always have still more to discover and delight in as we thrive in righteous, redemptive relationships with creation and each other: this is the Christian story. This beautiful, good, true, hope-filled, and purposeful story.

But Isn’t Science Amoral?

I was recently in a long conversation with an atheist who commented that science is amoral. We discussed how science is morally neutral but people who do science are not. And to my surprise, he judged people as basically bad, concluding that evolution has produced a type of selfish apex predator. As we talked, he admitted that his worldview was one without hope. This was the coherent outcome of his self-examined understanding of an atheistic, evolutionary worldview.

I shared with him the work we do at Reasons to Believe and how we strive to show that science harmonizes with a biblical view of God in a true story of redemption, hope, purpose, forgiveness, and a new creation. I invited him to read some of our blogs and C. S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man. I shared the hope I have for him. It seemed to be the thing that resonated with him the most. We’re in touch by email. He has bought and started the book. We hope to meet again to continue our conversation soon.

Our World Needs Hope.

This is our vocation, created for discovery and relationship, made new in Jesus Christ, appointed ambassadors for the reconciliation of others. Our world needs hope. We Christians need to be men and women of faith, courage, deep compassion, and humility. We need to embody the hope of our powerful, good, and loving Creator and share how he reveals himself in order to be known. It is our privilege at Reasons to Believe as scientists, theologians, and evangelists to unpack and share these mysteries with those around us and to encourage and equip other believers to do the same. Thanks be to God!

Additional Resources (for further discovery!):

Subjects: Apologetics, Human Flourishing, Problem of Evil

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Logically Questioning Strange Ideas and Controversial Theories

As a Christian scholar and logic instructor, I often get asked about my thoughts on strange phenomena, controversial theories, and alternative conspiratorial explanations. Through the years I’ve frequently been asked about such unusual things as UFOs, the apparitions of Mary, near-death experiences, and a host of conspiracy theories such as those relating to the JFK assassination, denial of the Holocaust, the so-called moon-landing hoax, secret societies, and various speculative end-of-the-world scenarios.

Not all of these topics are on the same level when it comes to their rational or non-rational basis and their evidentiary or non-evidentiary support level, but they are all unusual and highly controversial issues. Thus, before accepting any strange and/or controversial idea these topics need to be thought through carefully—lest we affirm belief in something that is false, misleading, or possibly even harmful. Of course from a Christian perspective a believer in Christ should also ask if certain issues and beliefs are biblical and compatible with the Christian worldview.1

However, in this article I want to offer a basic logical checklist when it comes to thinking broadly about unusual phenomena. This list is intended to include basic questions to ask about the viability of strange ideas and beliefs. These questions will not necessarily resolve whether certain controversial ideas and theories should be affirmed, but will help to identify if some phenomenon or belief is problematic in nature. At minimum these questions will serve as a good place to begin a logical evaluation of challenging topics.

Questions to Ask about Strange Ideas and Controversial Theories

Here are five logical questions to ask when thinking about unusual phenomena or peculiar claims:

1. Does the theory hold together foundationally?

Well-conceived ideas and theories are logically sound and internally consistent. Viable explanatory theories avoid self-stultification or being self-defeating in nature (they do not contradict by both affirming and denying essential elements of the same theory). So begin by asking whether the idea, phenomenon, or explanation is logically coherent as a whole. For example: Does the grand theory that extraterrestrial civilizations are visiting Earth from other galaxies hold together internally as a whole?

2. Does the theory comport with the facts?

Good theories and explanations are closely connected to facts. They not only correspond to the known facts, they make sense of the facts by tying them together in a coherent fashion. So ask carefully about the factual nature and basis of the belief, phenomenon, or explanation. Grand conspiracy theories can often make short shrift of the facts. For example: What is one to do with the overwhelming physical evidence and eyewitness reports from various sources (Jewish, Axis, Allied) supporting the factual nature of the Holocaust?

3. Does the theory avoid unwarranted presumptions?

There is a huge difference between presuming to know something and in fact knowing something. Genuine knowledge includes proper justification for one’s true beliefs. Solid theories are based upon that which can be proved or verified. So reflect on the basic assumptions behind a theory or belief and ask whether they are well-grounded. For example: When it comes to big government conspiracy theories, can the assumption of the large number of people required to be involved in the conspiracy and keep a secret be reasonably grounded?

4. How well does the theory handle counter-evidence and viable challenges?

Feasible ideas and theories are flexible enough to accommodate possible counter-evidence. The most potent explanatory theories carefully regard the best critiques from alternative perspectives and can answer the challenges. Critical thinking, however, demands that a person fairly consider viable alternatives. Unfortunately, too often people who affirm strange beliefs and conspiracy theories in particular have not considered genuine challenges to their viewpoints. For example: If the moon-landing was a hoax how does one account for the physical evidence and eyewitness testimony supporting it?

5. Is the theory at least theoretically open to falsification; if so, how?

Viable ideas and explanatory theories make claims that can be tested and proven true or false (verified or falsified). Nonfalsifiable claims that cannot be investigated, evaluated, and critiqued carry little rational weight. So ask how an idea, theory, or phenomenon could at least theoretically be discredited. For example: How would one go about falsifying a religious-based apparition?

These are the logical questions that I begin with when something seems strange, unusual, or controversial. They help me to consider the rational and evidentiary basis of a challenging issue. I hope they will help you to think through peculiar topics. And, as a Christian, I invite people to ask these critical questions about Jesus’s resurrection.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. In thinking about the Christian worldview, see Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007).

Subjects: Conspiracy Theories, Controversies, Critical Thinking, UFOs & Extraterrestrials, End Times

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pursuing the Truth

I received an inquiry recently from someone wanting to know what it meant to follow the truth scientifically and theologically. In other words, when there are competing explanations in theology and science respectively, how do you follow the truth in each discipline?

To properly answer that question, let me first outline a model for how science and theology relate to one another in a Christian worldview. Historic Christianity affirms that God reveals himself in a specific way (through the words of the Bible) and in a general way (through his work in creation). To quote my colleague Ken Samples, “God is the author of both the figurative book of nature (God’s world) and the literal book of Scripture (God’s written Word).”

Because God is the source of both revelations, they must both be true and they both must agree. If we had God’s mind, perhaps this simple statement would be the end of the discussion . . . but we don’t. We cannot simply see revelation (either special or general) and understand it. Instead, we must carefully study and analyze revelation to come to a proper interpretation. For purposes of making a diagram, I use the term systematic theology to describe the process of interpreting the biblical texts. Similarly, science is the term to describe our study and analysis of creation.

While both revelations must agree (because they are derived from God’s nature), our interpretations of those revelations can conflict. Where we see conflict, that is a signpost of an inaccurate interpretation of either the record of nature or the words of the Bible.

So, how do you pursue truth when theology and science seem to conflict? Basically, you test each interpretation to ensure the highest possible accuracy in both. Scientists do this all the time. Different experiments give conflicting results, so they design more detailed experiments to resolve the conflict. For example, one of the key projects of the Hubble Space Telescope was to resolve conflicting measurements (or interpretations, if you will) of the Hubble constant. And scientists in different disciplines often encounter phenomena that requires both disciplines to understand. It took the application of physics and geology to understand the natural nuclear reactors at Oklo and Bangombé.

Often, people claim that theology and science are in conflict. Many of these conflicts arise from trying to make the data say more than it does. On one hand, some Christians claim that the Bible demands a universe/earth that is a few thousand years old—but not all legitimate interpretationsof Scripture make this demand. On the other hand, some atheists claim that science explains everything without the need for a God. Even if this were true, science does not justify the philosophical presuppositions necessary for science to operate (but a Judeo-Christian worldview does).

Also, we must also recognize that neither gives us a complete picture of reality. Although the Bible clearly provides all we need to know for a right relationship with God, it was never meant to give exhaustive truth. The universe “speaks” a less precise language and science is largely limited to physical explanations. However, in my studies so far, I have yet to encounter a genuine contradiction between the words of the Bible and the facts of nature. I have encountered numerous conflicts in our interpretations, but as I dug deeper one of two scenarios occurred. Either there was not enough data to truly answer the question at hand or the two revelations ultimately agreed. That is exactly the outcome I would expect if God created the universe and then inspired the biblical authors to pen the words they did!

Subjects: Bible, Christian History, Christianity, Creation, God, Interpretation, Science & Faith, Theology, Historical Theology

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can Intelligent Design Be Part of the Construct of Science?

“If this result stands up to scrutiny, it does indeed change everything we thought we knew about the earliest human occupation of the Americas.”1

This was the response of Christopher Stringer—a highly-regarded paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London—to the recent scientific claim that Neanderthals made their way to the Americas 100,000 years before the first modern humans.2

At this point, many anthropologists have expressed skepticism about this claim, because it requires them to abandon long-held ideas about the way the Americas were populated by modern humans. As Stringer cautions, “Many of us will want to see supporting evidence of this ancient occupation from other sites before we abandon the conventional model.”3

Yet, the archaeologists making the claim have amassed an impressive cache of evidence that points to Neanderthal occupation of North America.

As Stringer points out, this work has radical implications for anthropology. But, in my view, the importance of the work extends beyond questions relating to human migrations around the world. It demonstrates that intelligent design/creation models have a legitimate place in science.

The Case for Neanderthal Occupation of North America

In the early 1990s, road construction crews working near San Diego, CA, uncovered the remains of a single mastodon. Though the site was excavated from 1992 to 1993, scientists were unable to date the remains. Both radiocarbon and luminescence dating techniques failed.

Recently, researchers turned failure into success, age-dating the site to be about 130,000 years old, using uranium-series disequilibrium methods. This result shocked them because analysis at the site indicated that the mastodon remains were deliberately processed by hominids, most likely Neanderthals.

The researchers discovered that the mastodon bones displayed spiral fracture patterns that looked as if a creature, such as a Neanderthal, struck the bone with a rock—most likely to extract nutrient-rich marrow from the bones. The team also found rocks (called cobble) with the mastodon bones that bear markings consistent with having been used to strike bones and other rocks.

To confirm this scenario, the archaeologists took elephant and cow bones and broke them open with a hammerstone. In doing so, they produced the same type of spiral fracture patterns in the bones and the same type of markings on the hammerstone as those found at the archaeological site. The researchers also ruled out other possible explanations, such as wild animals creating the fracture patterns on the bones while scavenging the mastodon carcass.

Despite this compelling evidence, some anthropologists remain skeptical that Neanderthals—or any other hominid—modified the mastodon remains. Why? Not only does this claim fly in the face of the conventional explanation for the populating of the Americas by humans, but the sophistication of the tool kit does not match that produced by Neanderthals 130,000 years ago based on archaeological sites in Europe and Asia.

So, did Neanderthals make their way to the Americas 100,000 years before modern humans? An interesting debate will most certainly ensue in the years to come.

But, this work does make one thing clear: intelligent design/creation is a legitimate part of the construct of science.

A Common Skeptical Response to the Case for a Creator

Based on my experience, when confronted with scientific evidence for a Creator, skeptics will often summarily dismiss the argument by asserting that intelligent design/creation isn’t science and, therefore, it is not legitimate to draw the conclusion that a Creator exists from scientific advances.

Undergirding this objection is the conviction that science is the best, and perhaps the only, way to discover truth. By dismissing the evidence for God’s existence—insisting that it is nonscientific—they hope to undermine the argument, thereby sidestepping the case for a Creator.

There are several ways to respond to this objection. One way is to highlight the fact that intelligent design is part of the construct of science. This response is not motivated by a desire to “reform” science, but by a desire to move the scientific evidence into a category that forces skeptics to interact with it properly.

The Case for a Creator’s Role in the Origin of Life

It is interesting to me that the line of reasoning the archaeologists use to establish the presence of Neanderthals in North America equates to the line of reasoning I use to make the case that the origin of life reflects the product of a Creator’s handiwork, as presented in my three books: The Cell’s Design, Origins of Life, and Creating Life in the Lab. There are three facets to this line of reasoning.

The Appearance of Design

The archaeologists argued that: (1) the arrangement of the bones and the cobble and (2) the markings on the cobble and the fracture patterns on the bones appear to result from the intentional activity of a hominid. To put it another way, the archaeological site shows the appearance of design.

In The Cell’s Design I argue that the analogies between biochemical systems and human designs evince the work of a Mind, serving to revitalize Paley’s Watchmaker argument for God’s existence. In other words, biochemical systems display the appearance of design.

Failure to Explain the Evidence through Natural Processes

The archaeologists explored and rejected alternative explanations—such as scavenging by wild animals—for the arrangement, fracture patterns, and markings of the bones and stones.

In Origins of Life, Hugh Ross (my coauthor) and I explore and demonstrate the deficiency of natural process, mechanistic explanations (such as replicator-first, metabolism-first, and membrane-first scenarios) for the origin of life and, hence, biological systems.

Reproduction of the Design Patterns

The archaeologists confirmed—by striking elephant and cow bones with a rock—that the markings on the cobble and the fracture patterns on the bone were made by a hominid. That is, through experimental work in the laboratory, they demonstrated that the design features were, indeed, produced by intelligent agency.

In Creating Life in the Lab, I describe how work in synthetic biology and prebiotic chemistry empirically demonstrate the necessary role intelligent agency plays in transforming chemicals into living cells. In other words, when scientists go into the lab and create protocells, they are demonstrating that the design of biochemical systems is intelligent design.

So, is it legitimate for skeptics to reject the scientific case for a Creator, by dismissing it as non-scientific?

Work in archaeology illustrates that intelligent design is an integral part of science, and it highlights the fact that the same scientific reasoning used to interpret the mastodon remains discovered near San Diego, likewise, undergirds the case for a Creator.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Colin Barras, “First Americans May Have Been Neanderthals 130,000 Years Ago,” New Scientist, April 26, 2017, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129042-first-americans-may-have-been-neanderthals-130000-years-ago/.
  2. Steven R. Holen et al., “A 130,000-Year-Old Archaeological Site in Southern California, USA,” Nature 544 (April 27, 2017): 479–83, doi:10.1038/nature22065.
  3. Barras, “First Americans.”

Subjects: Anthropology, Archaeology, Intelligent Design

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Great Imposition Of God And Man

By Will Myers

At a stage of creation, God breathed life into Adam the first human and all other animal life. Thereafter, the man was imposing on God’s perfect righteousness and God’s perfect righteousness continuously imposing on the man. The imposition by the man simply began as he sought food with procreation following.  The man suffered many shortcomings during his plight for survival and fought to overcome those shortcomings. At present, we continue to overcome shortcomings with the desire to exist in a utopia (Matthew 6:33; “Seek ye first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given you as well.”).

In the Great Imposition, we have the God Equation, UspaceVspace=Q, that shows how we learn knowledge. Firstly, every point in time God has a law or principle working. No space is void of God’s perfect righteous giving perfect order to all things. Even our human design with body and mind is imposing on God and God imposing at all points of space on the human constantly without ceasing. From God’s perfect order humans observe and learn with experimentation as they attempt to imitate God’s perfection. The Vspace is the nexus of all things. Nothing is static; all things are changing. They are coming into being and going out of being (Aristotle the Greek Philosopher).

With Q being a law or principle or a particle (Cicero the Greek Philosopher) or anything that exist we can show in one expression the cosmic power and the extent of God’s creation. In other words, God has created everything. Man learns to imitate God’s righteousness. Also, the God Equation can be a guideline for the scriptures in the Bible (Romans 1:20; “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from which has been made, so that people are without excuse:”  In Isaiah 28:16; “See, I lay a stone in Zion (in the essence of things), a tested stone (Uspace), a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation (UspaceVspace=Q); the one who relies on it will never be stricken by panic.” The God Equation, UspaceVspace=Q, is comparable to the stone that God laid. The stone represents God’s Kingdom that shall grow into fullness and His Perfect Righteousness. The God Equation being metaphysical also in nature represents everything including the dynamics human spirit; therefore, it represents everything from nature into the human spirit.

Our spirit is our true self. God’s Spirit constantly imposes on the human spirit and vice-versa. From the Spirit, we get the perfect forms, Q’s. The human mind which is our will and emotions is constantly being influenced by God and our brain is constantly being changed by our mind. We could say that the mind is constantly being guided by God as expressed by the God Equation’s effects, Q, that are inherently part of our conscience.

One could ask where is the Son Of God, Jesus? Where is sex or procreation? Sex is a creation of God alone with His procreation. We are supposed to live with God in the spirit; we are his children. Now, Jesus was sent by God to overcome the world problems. The humans are imperfect and are never to become perfect without God’s intervention. God always had the solution to man’s problems; it was His Son in whom the worlds were created by and through the Son of God. The works of God is to make people believe in whom He has sent. God’s molding hands are constantly and mostly gently molding (UspaceVspace=Q) each of us to be like His Son.

The Son of God, Jesus, is from above Who possesses God’s Holy Spirit, but His nature is in creation in the beginning. Jesus manifested as a man to save us and fulfill the laws of the Kingdom, UspaceVspace=Q. In the name of Jesus, God is our Heavenly Father and we are to fellowship with God forever. With God, all things are possible. The book of nature (UspaceVspace=Q) is perfect and the scriptures (the perfect spiritual part of Uspace) are perfect. One can not correct the other because both are perfect, but one can correct faulty interpretations of the other.

The God Equation shows a convergence onto something, Q. Men are always looking for the convergences, Q’s that are perfect and what is desired by humans. This resulting convergence gives the man the knowledge and awareness of the Son of God; accepting the Son as their Savior and Lord is a personal act. Science is the observances of nature in search of fundamental answers in order to overcome problems at present. Science is a subset of knowledge and the God Equation expresses that God created science and all other knowledge for He is the Creator and master of all knowledge.

The worlds are framed by the Word of God. Matthew 6:33; ” Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Like It or Not, Dark Energy Is Real

Dark energy refers to the self-stretching property of the space-time fabric of the universe. Space, because of dark energy and independent of matter and of any heat or light, stretches itself. Moreover, the larger the space-time envelope of the universe grows, the more stretching energy it gains. This gaining of stretching energy causes some science writers to refer to dark energy as an anti-gravity factor. The effect of dark energy on the space-time envelope of the universe is to make two massive bodies appear to repel one another. Moreover, the farther apart two bodies are from one another, the more strongly they will appear to repel one another.

In contrast, gravity acts as a brake on cosmic expansion. In junior high physics classes we all learned that, according to the law of gravity, two massive bodies attract one another and that the closer two massive bodies are to one another the more strongly they will attract. Since the universe contains a lot of mass, gravity works to pull the massive bodies together and thereby slows down cosmic expansion.

When the universe is young and more compact, gravity’s effect on cosmic dynamics would be powerful while dark energy’s would be weak. However, when the universe is old and more spread out, dark energy’s effect would be strong while gravity’s would be weak. Thus, if gravity alone influences cosmic dynamics, astronomers will observe that throughout cosmic history, the expansion of the universe slows down. The slowing down effect will be seen to get progressively weaker as the universe ages. However, if both gravity and dark energy are operable, astronomers will see cosmic expansion transition from slowing down to speeding up.

For more than two decades, many atheists and virtually all young-earth creationists have been adamant in denying the existence of dark energy. Atheists reject dark energy because it implies a relatively recent cosmic beginning. It implies a beginning so recent as to defy a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life and a history of life that makes possible the origin and existence of human beings who attain a global high-technology civilization.

Another reason they do not like dark energy is because of the fine-tuning design it implies. In 2002, Philip Ball (an atheist physicist and former senior editor for Nature) conducted an interview with theoretical physicists Lisa Dyson, Matthew Kleban, and Leonard Susskind about a paper1 they had just written and quoted them as saying in regard to dark energy, “Arranging the cosmos as we think it is arranged would have required a miracle.”2 In the same interview the three physicists said the existence of dark energy would imply that an “unknown agent intervened in the evolution [of the universe] for reasons of its own.”3

The three physicists, all of whom are nontheists, concluded their paper with these words, “Perhaps the only reasonable conclusion is that we do not live in a world with a true cosmological constant.”4 Cosmological constant is another term for dark energy. They felt compelled to deny the existence of dark energy because the alternative was an Agent beyond space and time performing miracles for reasons of his own.

Young-earth creationists, too, wish that dark energy would go away. They wish it, however, for a reason opposite to nontheistic scientists. If dark energy is real, it makes the universe too old for their interpretation of the Genesis 1 creation days and the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies.

Like it or not, dark energy is real. With a measure as accurate as dark energy comprising 70.8±1.2%5 of all the stuff of the universe, there no longer is any rational basis for doubting its existence. It makes up more than two-thirds of the universe. Those who believe in the God of the Bible should really like it. It implies that the universe had a beginning in finite time just like the Bible repeatedly declares. Furthermore, the fine-tuning design it implies means that a known Agent who can operate from beyond space and time has miraculously intervened in the history of the universe for reasons of his own.

Featured image: Artist’s impression of the influence gravity has on space-time. Image credit: Phys.org.

Endnotes

  1. Lisa Dyson, Matthew Kleban, and Leonard Susskind, “Disturbing Implications of a Cosmological Constant,” Journal of High Energy Physics 2002 (November 12, 2002): id. 011, doi:10.1088/1126-6708/2002/10/011.
  2. Philip Ball, “Is Physics Watching Over Us?” Nature, August 13, 2002, doi:10.1038/news020812-2.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Dyson, Kleban, and Susskind, “Disturbing Implications.”
  5. Hugh Ross, “RTB’s Dark Energy Articles,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, December 5, 2011, http://www.reasons.org/articles/rtb-s-dark-energy-articles; The following articles give the latest and best measurements: P. A. R. Ade et al., Planck Collaboration, “Planck 2015 Results. XIII. Cosmological Parameters,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 594 (September 20, 2016): id. A13, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201525830; Ariel G. Sanchez et al., “The Clustering of Galaxies in the Completed SDSS-III Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey: Cosmological Implications of the Configuration-Space Clustering Wedges,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 464 (January 11, 2017): 1640–58, doi:10.1093/mnras/stw2443; LIGO Scientific Collaboration, Virgo Collaboration, “Upper Limits on the Stochastic Gravitational-Wave Background from Advanced LIGO’s First Observing Run,” Physical Review Letters 118 (March 24, 2017): doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.118.121101; E. Komatsu et al., “Five-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Cosmological Interpretation,” Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series 180 (February 11, 2009): 333–35, doi:10.1088/0067-0049/180/2/330; G. Hinshaw et al., “Nine-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Cosmological Parameter Results,” Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series 208 (October 2013): 9–15, id. 19; doi:10.1088/0067-0049/208/2/19; Hinshaw et al., “Nine-Year Wilkinson Microwave,” 9–11; Salvador Salazar-Albornoz et al., “The Clustering of Galaxies in the Completed SDSS-III Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey: Angular Clustering Tomography and Its Cosmological Implications,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 468 (March 15, 2017): 2938–2956, doi:10.1093/mnras/stx633; Éric Aubourg et al., “Cosmological Implications of Baryon Acoustic Oscillation (BAO) Measurements,” Physical Review D 92 (December 14, 2015): id. 123576, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.92.123516; G. S. Sharov and E. G. Vorontsova, “Parameters of Cosmological Models and Recent Astronomical Observations,” Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics 2014 (October 2014): id. 057, doi:10.1088/1475-7516/2014/10/057; T. de Haan et al., “Cosmological Constraints from Galaxy Clusters in the 2500 Square-Degree SPT-SZ Survey,” Astrophysical Journal 832 (November 18, 2016), id. 95, doi:10.3847/0004-637X/832/1/95; Chia-Hsun Chuang et al., “The Clustering of Galaxies in the SDSS-III Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey: Single Probe Measurements from CMASS Anisotropic Galaxy Clustering,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 461 (June 26, 2016): 3781, doi:10.1093/mnras/stw1535; Xiao-Dong Li et al., “Cosmological Constraints from the Redshift Dependence of the Alcock-Paczyski Test and Volume Effect: Galaxy Two-Point Correlation Function,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 450 (April 20, 2015): doi:10.1093/mnras/stv622; M. Betoule et al., “Improved Cosmological Constraints from a Joint Analysis of the SDSS-II and SNLS Supernova Samples,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 568 (August 2014): id. A22, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201423413; Nico Hamaus et al., “Constraints on Cosmology and Gravity from the Dynamics of Voids,” Physical Review Letters 117 (August 25, 2016): id. 091302, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.117.091302; Raul E. Angulo and Stefan Hilbert, “Cosmological Constraints from the CFHTLenS Shear Measurements Using a New, Accurate, and Flexible Way of Predicting Non-Linear Mass Clustering,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 448 (February 5, 2015), 364, doi:10.1093/mnras/stv050; David N. Spergel, Raphael Flauger, and Renée Hložek, “Planck Data Reconsidered,” Physical Review D 91 (January 27, 2015): id. 023518, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.91.023518.

Subjects: Age of the Earth, Big Bang Theory, Creation & Genesis, Dark Energy & Dark Matter, Evolution, Old Earth Creationism, Young-Earth Creationism, Origin of the Universe, Universe Design

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

DNA Wired for Design

Though this be madness, yet there is method
in’t.

Hamlet (Act II, scene II)

Was Hamlet crazy? Or was he feigning madness so he could investigate the murder of his father without raising suspicion?

In my senior year of high school, Mrs. Hodges assigned our class these questions as the topic for the first essay we wrote for honors English. I made the case that Hamlet was perfectly sane. Indeed, there was method to his madness.

I wound up with a B- on the assignment. Mrs. Hodges wasn’t impressed with my reasoning, writing on my paper in red ink, “You aren’t qualified to comment on Hamlet’s sanity. You are not a psychologist!” When she returned my paper, I muttered, “Of course, I’m not a psychologist. I’m a high school student. You were the one who asked me to speculate on his sanity. And then when I do . . .”

I was reminded of this high school memory a few days ago while contemplating the structure and function of DNA. This biomolecule’s design is “crazy.” Yet every detail of DNA’s structure is crucial for the role it plays as an information storage system in the cell. You might say there is biochemical method to DNA’s madness when it comes to its properties. One of DNA’s “insane” features is its capacity to conduct electrical current through the interior of the double helix.

DNA Wires

Caltech chemist Jacqueline Barton discovered this phenomenon in the early 1990s. Barton and her collaborators attached different chemical groups to the two ends of the DNA double helix. Both compounds possessed redox centers (metal atoms that can give off and take up electrons). When they blasted one of the redox centers with a pulse of light, it ejected an electron that was taken up by the redox center attached to the opposite end of the DNA molecule, causing the compound to emit a flash of light. The researchers concluded that the ejected electron must have travelled through the interior of the double helix from one redox center to the other.

Shortly after this discovery, Barton and her team learned that electrical charges  move through DNA only when the double helix is intact. Electrical current won’t flow through single-stranded DNA, nor will it flow if the DNA double helix is distorted, due to damage or misincorporation of DNA subunits during replication.

These (and other) observations indicate that the conductance of electrical charge through the DNA molecule stems from π-π stacking interactions of the nucleobases in the double helix interior. These interactions produce a molecular orbital that spans the length of the double helix. In effect, the molecular orbital functions like a wire running through DNA’s interior.

DNA Wires and Nanoelectronics

Charge conductance through the DNA double helix occurs more rapidly than it does through “standard” molecular wires made from inorganic materials. These “insane” transport speeds have inspired researchers to explore the possibility of using DNA as molecular scale wiring in nanoelectronic devices. In fact, some researchers think that DNA wires might become an integral feature for the next generation of medical diagnostic equipment.

Does DNA Function as a Wire in the Cell?

While the charge conductance through the DNA double helix is an interesting and potentially useful property, biochemists have long wondered if DNA functions as a nanowire in the cell.

In 2009, Barton and her team discovered the answer to this question. DNA’s capacity to transmit electrical charges along the length of the double helix plays a key role in the DNA repair process, and recently Barton’s collaborators have demonstrated that DNA’s wire property plays an important role in the initiation of DNA replication. Both processes are important for DNA to function as an information storage system. Repairing damage to DNA insures the integrity of the information it houses. And DNA replication makes it possible to pass this information on to the next generation. There is a purpose to every aspect of DNA’s properties—a method to the madness.

Detecting Damage to DNA

Damage to DNA distorts the double helix. In a process called base excision repair, the cell’s machinery recognizes and removes the damaged portion of the DNA molecule, replacing it with the correct DNA subunits.

For some time, biochemists puzzled over how the DNA repair enzymes located the damaged regions. In the bacteria E. coli, two repair enzymes, dubbed EndoIII and MutY, occur at low levels. (E. coli is a model organism often used by biochemists to study cellular processes.) Biochemists estimate that less than 500 copies of EndoIII exist in the cell and around 30 copies of MutY. These are low numbers considering the task at hand. These repair enzymes bear the responsibility of surveying the E. coli genome for damage—a genome that consists of over 4.6 million base pairs (genetic letters).

Barton and her team discovered that the two repair enzymes possess a redox center consisting of an iron-sulfur cluster (4Fe4S) that has no enzymatic activity.1 They speculated and then demonstrated that the 4Fe4S cluster functions just like the compounds they attached to the DNA double helix in their original experiment in the 1990s.

It turns out Barton and her team were right. These repair proteins bind to DNA. Once bound, they send an electron from the 4Fe4S redox center through the interior of the double helix, which establishes a current through the DNA molecule. Once the repair protein loses an electron, it cannot dissociate from the DNA double helix. Other repair proteins bound to the DNA pick up the electrons from the DNA’s interior at their iron-sulfur redox center. When they do, they dissociate from the DNA and resume their migration along the double helix. Eventually, the migrating repair protein will bind to the DNA again, sending an electron through the DNA’s interior.

This process is repeated, over and over again. However, if the DNA becomes damaged and the double helix distorted, then the DNA wire breaks, interrupting the flow of electrons. When this happens, the repair proteins remain attached to the DNA close to the location of the damage—thus, initiating the repair process.

Initiating DNA Replication

Recently, Barton and her team discovered that charge conductance through DNA also plays a critical role in the early stages of DNA replication.DNA replication—the process of generating two “daughter molecules” identical to the “parent” molecule—serves an essential life function.

DNA replication begins at specific sites along the double helix, called replication origins. Typically, prokaryotic cells, such as E. coli, have only a single origin of replication.

The replication machinery locally unwinds the DNA double helix at the origin of replication to produce a replication bubble. Once the individual strands of the DNA double helix unwind and are exposed within the replication bubble, they are available to direct the production of the daughter strand.

Before the newly formed daughter strands can be produced, a small RNA primer must be produced. DNA polymerase—the protein that synthesizes new DNA by reading the parent template strand—can’t start production from scratch. It must be primed. The primosome, a massive protein complex that consists of over 15 different proteins (including the enzyme primase), produces the RNA primer. From there, DNA polymerase takes over and begins synthesizing the daughter DNA strand.

Barton and her team discovered that the handoff between primase and DNA polymerase relies on DNA’s wire property. Both primase and DNA polymerase possess 4Fe4S redox clusters. When primase’s 4Fe4S redox center loses an electron, this protein binds to DNA to produce the RNA primer. When primase’s 4Fe4S redox center picks up an electron, the protein detaches from the DNA to end the production of the RNA primer.

When DNA polymerase binds to the DNA to begin the process of daughter strand synthesis, it sends an electron from its 4Fe4S redox center along the double helix formed by the parent DNA-RNA primer. When the electron reaches the 4Fe4S redox center of primase, it brings the production of the RNA primer to a halt.

DNA Wires and the Case for a Creator

The work by Barton and her colleagues highlights the elegant and sophisticated design of biochemical systems. DNA’s wire property is so remarkable that it serves as inspiration for the design of the next generation of electronic devices—at the nanoscale. The use of biological designs to drive technological advance is one of the most exciting areas in engineering. This area of study—called biomimetics and bioinspiration—presents us with new reasons to believe that life stems from a Creator. It paves the way for a new type of design argument I dub the converse Watchmaker argument: If biological designs are the work of a Creator, then these systems should be so well-designed that they can serve as engineering models and, otherwise, inspire the development of new technologies.

The converse Watchmaker argument complements William Paley’s classical Watchmaker argument for God’s existence. In my book The Cell’s Design, I describe how recent advances in biochemistry revitalize this classical argument. Over the last few decades, one of the most astounding insights from biochemistry is the recognition that many biochemical systems display the same properties as human designs. This similarity can be used to argue that life must come from the work of a Mind.

The Watchmaker Prediction

In conjunction with my presentation of the revitalized Watchmaker argument in The Cell’s Design, I proposed the Watchmaker prediction. I contend that many of the cell’s molecular systems currently go unrecognized as analogs to human designs because the corresponding technology has yet to be developed. That is, the Watchmaker argument may well become stronger in the future, and its conclusion more certain, as human technology advances.

The possibility that advances in human technology will ultimately mirror the molecular technology that already exists as an integral part of biochemical systems leads to the Watchmaker prediction: As human designers develop new technologies, examples of these technologies, which previously went unrecognized, will become evident in the operation of the cell’s molecular systems. In other words, if the Watchmaker analogy truly serves as evidence for the Creator’s existence, then it is reasonable to expect that life’s biochemical machinery anticipates human technological advances.

The Watchmaker Prediction, Satisfied

The discovery that DNA’s wire properties are critical for DNA repair and the initiation of DNA replication fulfills the Watchmaker prediction. Barton and her team recognized the physiological importance of DNA charge conductance a year after The Cell’s Design was published.

Nanoscientists have been working to develop molecular-scale nanowires for the last couple of decades. The discovery of DNA’s wire properties occurred in this context. In other words, as new technology emerged—in this case, nanoelectronics—we have discovered its existence inside the cell.

Considering the wire properties of DNA, it is not madness to think that a Creator exists and played a role in life’s genesis.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Amie K. Boal et al., “Redox Signaling between DNA Repair Proteins for Efficient Lesion Detection,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 106 (September 8, 2009): 15237–42, doi:10.1073/pnas.0908059106Pamel A. Sontz et al., “DNA Charge Transport as a First Step in Coordinating the Detection of Lesions by Repair Proteins,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 109 (February 7, 2012): 1856–61, doi:10.1073/pnas.1120063109; Michael A. Grodick, Natalie B. Muren, and Jacqueline K. Barton, “DNA Charge Transport within the Cell,” Biochemistry 54 (February 3, 2015): 962–73, doi:10.1021/bi501520w.
  2. Elizabeth O’Brien et al., “The [4Fe4S] Cluster of Human DNA Primase Functions as a Redox Switch Using DNA Charge Transport,” Science 355 (February 24, 2017): doi:10.1126/science.aag1789.

Subjects: Biochemistry, Design, Intelligent Design

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment