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Monday, September 24, 2012

Redrawing Darwin - part 3

Geneticists estimate that we use about 20% of our DNA and the rest, a whopping 80%, is just junk. Recent researchers speculate this junk DNA does serve a purpose of sorts, acting as switches that turn the core 20% on or off. It's still a wild west, because what we know is small compared to what we don't know.

But how would Darwin see this?

A few points:

Darwin believed that useless things, like tiny tails on giraffes, or the appendix in humans, might be vestiges of earlier forms. He thought that once upon a time, before the giraffe grew so large, the tail may have served a useful purpose, such as swatting away flies. Some folks speculate that the appendix once upon a time served a useful digestive function for humans.

So it might go with our "junk" DNA. Some of it might just carryover from the past.

Darwin would also look to the developmental stages of the fetus. He believed that the change from simple to complex that occurs during the fetal stage parallels the theoretical change from simple to complex during evolution. In fact, he thought the body remembers, and that the early evolutionary forms of humanity were visible in the fetus, at its various stages of growth. He'd want to check out the junk DNA to see if we use it when we're still in our mother's wombs.

There is an alternative view. Call it the intelligent design view.

Under intelligent design, it's possible that junk DNA has been stored in our bodies for future use. It would be a simple thing to construct an experiment using junk DNA in some mammal to see if: 1 - we can produce an older form of the animal, or 2 - we can produce a more advanced form of the animal for which no fossil record has ever existed.

Once again, we can put Darwin to a real test if we have the will to do so. We can step beyond the thicket of theoretical arguments and moral supremacy so often used to maintain the consensus opinion of evolutionists, and get to the real truth of the matter.

Don't we owe it to ourselves to do this?

PS - On the other hand, something tells me God wouldn't make it so easy for us.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Redrawing Darwin - part 2

In response to my last post about Darwin, I received an interesting question. From my dad. He asked: "Exactly why does new DNA have to appear?"

I refer you to my previous post to understand why he asked this question. It got me thinking.

So here's my answer: We don't know yet if new DNA truly has to appear.

If Darwin's theory were true - really true - then someone could prove it by the following experiment. They must rearrange the existing DNA of an animal or plant, and produce an offspring that leaps forward to a higher level of complexity. Perhaps they could start on a lifeform without an eyeball (such as an earthworm), or without a brain (such as a plant), or without a ball-joint (such as a fish or snake perhaps). If they could rearrange the existing DNA of that animal or plant (like shuffling a deck of cards) and produce, respectively, an earthworm with an eyeball or two; a plant with a brain; or a fish with five fingers and an opposable thumb (or even just a single finger), then most of us now arguing the point would have to concede the victory to Darwin.

Even though this experiment would violate the rules of natural selection, it could still prove the theory of natural selection, because these new species wouldn't have to survive in the wild. Their mere existence would be enough to make the point.

By the way, if they spliced DNA from a human into a fish, for example, that would be cheating. It wouldn't count. However, they could take from male and female partners of the same species. As long as they're capable of mating in the wild.

It'll be a while before anyone conducts such an experiment, although someday I expect they will. First we have to map the genomes of the animal kingdom. It took twenty or so years to do the human genome. How long before we get to all the other animals? How long before we start testing this stuff?

I don't know.

But Darwin and his adherents could be in for a rude downfall. I wonder if they're willing to take that risk.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Redrawing Darwin

I read "The Origin of Species" during my recent Martha's Vineyard vacation, and have a few takeaways to share.

Darwin can be taken two ways. Primarily, his theory combined many ideas from his time into a coherent vision for the history of the natural world and the living forms that inhabit it. Secondarily, his views provided a metaphor for the progress of human civilization, particularly Christian civilization. However, since the progress of Christian civilization was manifestly obvious during Darwin's days, it undoubtedly served as the cause of his ideas, rather than effect of them. The evolution of Christian civilization enabled him to conceive and arrange his ideas about natural evolution by providing a context. None of us has an intelligence that we can use in a vacuum. Our ability to understand the world starts with the complexity of what surrounds us.

If you're like me, most of what you know about Darwin comes from what you've heard about Darwin. And if you're like me, you haven't actually read Darwin. So finally I did. And I discovered that Darwin hoped that someday his theory would be proven true, but that he did not have the kind of zealous confidence his current adherents possess. At the time he wrote the book, the only competing worldview came from a literal reading of the Bible, which suggested a young earth approximately 6000 years old, plus the immutability of species, which were created by God for Adam and could not change, or so the theory went.

Before I explain where Darwin jumped the shark, I want to offer a view of science that many scientists reject. I believe that they do so in error. Science is not an alternative to religion. If we live in a created universe, then science is the means by which we learn a little bit more about what God has created. Science even helps us understand the nature of God. But, if you will, God also personifies the great mystery of all that surrounds us; not only all that we know, but all that we do not know. He fills the gap between our small bit of knowledge, and our vast ignorance. And yet, like a carrot on a stick, he holds out to us the promise of ever more knowledge, if we only keep trying, keep learning, keep evolving and overcoming the world. So when we learn something new in science, our knowledge does not replace God. Instead, we push back the mystery, and our focus shifts just a little bit, until we find where God holds out for us a new mystery, a loving mystery, to keep us going on the upward track. It is when we fail to recognize that God holds out the carrot of mystery and discovery that we end up with superstition, and arrogance. We jump the shark, because we believe that our theories and our metaphors explain more than they actually explain.

Darwin used his first five chapters to present his case for why species can and do change over time. He did a very good job of this. It would be very difficult to argue against. Well nigh impossible I think.

Darwin also spent the first five chapters showing that species reach a kind of maximum competitiveness, and then plateau. A single progenitor species may give birth to multiple divergent species, but eventually they all plateau, and new variations that would have given rise to new species instead go extinct, because they are less competitive than the old variations.

In chapter six, Darwin engaged in wishful thinking. He used the example of an eyeball, which he "imagined" may have started with a single nerve that somehow acquired the ability to detect light. He referred to the will of God, who may have directed the development of the eyeball from nothing into something. He even tried to shift the burden of proof away from himself and onto his critics by suggesting that it wasn't impossible for an eyeball to have emerged from nothing, so therefore his theory still stood.

But, for his theory to work as a grand vision that governs all living species for all time, from the beginning of life until the present day, species must continue to evolve and grow more complex. They cannot plateau. New genetic material must arise to continue the march of life. He never explained where new genetic material, new DNA, comes from. His vision of natural selection only allowed for an existing animal to rearrange its existing DNA to reach maximum competitiveness over the long course of time.

Darwin had a problem here. We can forgive him the error, because he wrote before we knew about genetics and DNA. But, and for the same reason, we must hold our contemporary scientists to account for their failure to recognize Darwin's failure to prove his own theory.

And without an explanation of where new DNA can come from, we're left with nothing. A big blank mystery that can only be filled with the idea of intelligent design. We need to teach intelligent design in our schools for this single, most important reason - that without it, the scientists are chasing a rabbit down a hole, or a wild goose. We need new thinking, and our children need to know the problems with our present thinking.

Someday someone will come along and present a bigger more comprehensive theory than Darwin ever could, and the great march of mystery will continue on an upward track.

Let's help that along by giving our kids a better education.