Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “complex

An evolutionary miracle

The theory of biological evolution is the current scientific explanation of life on earth. This assumes that life has developed from simple to complex over time. So if we extrapolate backwards in time, we eventually reach the first living cell. As this theory relies on natural selection, it only operates on populations of species, and not on the original members of the species (like the first living cell). So where did the original living cell (which is assumed to be the ancestor of all life on earth) come from? It’s assumed that life originated from non-living chemicals via chemical evolution.  Did you know that this theory includes a miracle that can’t be explained by modern science? According to the Macquarie dictionary, a miracle is “an effect in the physical world which surpasses all known human or natural powers and is therefore ascribed to supernatural agency”.

Complexity of life

In the 19th century many people believed the theory of spontaneous generation; that life arose from non-living matter. This is understandable because they knew little about the cell’s structure.

But today we know that even the simplest living single-cell organism is extremely complex, including numerous, complex machines and instructions to build them, all stored in a way that can be both decoded for use by the organism and passed on to offspring. In fact, a single cell is vastly more complicated than anything human minds have ever engineered.

Scientists agree that the first living cell possessed DNA, RNA and proteins, a universal genetic code, ribosomes (the protein-building factories), ATP and a proton-powered enzyme for making ATP. The detailed mechanisms for reading off DNA and converting genes into proteins were also in place. So it must have been like a modern cell. This is called “irreducible complexity” – all these components are required for a cell to function and reproduce. Because this complexity could never arise by chance, it was either designed or it was a miracle. Life can’t evolve from chemicals by chance.

Information

Living cells are comprised of hardware and software. The software is information stored in the DNA molecule. Enormous amounts of coded information are stored in DNA. Each of the thousands of genes on a DNA molecule contains instructions necessary to make a specific protein that, in turn, is needed for a specific biological function. All the detailed chemical and structural complexity associated with the metabolism, repair, specialized function, and reproduction of each living cell is a realization of the coded messages stored in its DNA. This information is read by a RNA molecule and used to make proteins. But the RNA is also encoded in the DNA, which is a “chicken and egg” problem! And the energy to do this is produced by the nano-motor ATP synthase which is also encoded on the DNA and is decoded by machines needing ATP! So there are multiple “chicken and egg” problems.

ATP synthase is one of many enzymes which are biological catalysts that speed up vital chemical reactions. Without them many reactions essential for life would be far too slow for life to exist. These enzymes, as well as other processes, must exist in the first replicating cell in order for that cell to survive and pass on the DNA, and the DNA must code for the proteins required for those processes!

The naturalistic explanation of the origin of life from non-living matter has a problem because there is no known natural process which can cause information to originate by itself in matter. Information cannot arise by naturalistic processes. The DNA code within all plant and animal cells is vastly more compact than any computer chip ever made. Therefore, the originator of the information must be supremely intelligent.

The theory of the chemical evolution of life assumes that this information is produced by physical processes. But the chemical workings of the cell are controlled by information which does not reside in the atoms and molecules of that cell. For example, the order of the DNA base pairs (like letters in a message) cannot be predicted from the chemical characteristics of the individual base pairs (letters). And as there is no law of physics about creating information from nothing, this assumption is equivalent to a miracle.

Extra-terrestrial life

Because of the impossibility of chemical evolution on earth, some have suggested that life began in outer space. In order to be able to start the evolution of life on earth, it has been proposed that life was seeded on earth by meteorites, comets or extra-terrestrials. Of course, there is no evidence of this and it doesn’t answer the question of the origin of life. It just transfers it to another place in the universe.

Discussion

Besides the above, the theory of chemical evolution goes against the law of biogenesis (Appendix A).

And the Milller-Urey experiment, which is often quoted to support the theory of chemical evolution didn’t produce the amino acids necessary for life (Appendix B).

Conclusion

The theory of chemical evolution of life on earth involves a miracle that can’t be explained by operational science. This is a fatal flaw for a model that doesn’t accept miracles! But the theory of biological evolution can’t start without this miracle.

I’m skeptical of a model that claims to be based on naturalism, yet requires miracles! It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat! This kind of historical science isn’t consistent.

But the Bible is consistent when it attributes the creation of plant, animal and human life to the all-powerful spiritual God (Gen. 1:11-12; 20-27).

Appendix A: The law of Biogenesis

The law of biogenesis says that all life comes from life. Lois Pasteur disproved the idea of spontaneous generation (that life could come from non-living material). He demonstrated that life does not arise from matter that has not been contaminated by existing life. This means that life has never come from non-life.

Appendix B: The Miller-Urey experiment

This was a chemical experiment that simulated the conditions thought at the time to be present on the early Earth. In this experiment a mixture of water, methane, ammonia and hydrogen was exposed to an electrical current. It resulted in the production of amino acids that were claimed to be the precursors of life. But this experiment relied on the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere, whereas more recent studies indicate that oxygen was present in the earth’s atmosphere earlier than had been believed. And if there was no oxygen, there would be no ozone and the amino acids would be destroyed by ultraviolet solar radiation. Also, they had to isolate the amino acids from the mixture to stop them being destroyed (by hydrolysis, for example). And the amino acids produced were a mixture of left-handed and right-handed, which would be detrimental to life because all the proteins in animals and plants are only made up of left-handed amino acids. So this experiment didn’t produce the amino acids necessary for life.

Reference

Sarfati J. (2014), “The origin of life”, Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels, Creation Book Publishers, p.79-111.

Written, May 2019

Also see: Two Big-bang miracles


Complex creation

William Shakespeare is the best-selling fiction author of all time. But his plays and poetry were written over 400 years ago. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has decided that Shakespeare’s language is too difficult for today’s audiences to understand. So it has commissioned 36 playwrights in a 3-year project to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.

CERN 1 400pxIs the universe more complex than we realize? Many people think that scientists understand how it was formed and how it works. But even the most brilliant scholars don’t understand this. For example, here’s summary of what they know (and don’t know) about the forces and particles that make up the universe. This shows that the intelligence behind the universe is greater than the intelligence of the human mind.

Fundamental forces

The four fundamental forces of nature are gravity (which holds planets, stars and galaxies together), electromagnetism (which holds atoms together so that electrons are attracted to the nucleus), the strong nuclear force (which holds the atomic nucleus together) and the weak nuclear force (which is involved in radioactive decay). These forces hold together atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies. Gravity is described by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, while the other three forces are part of the Standard Model of particle physics.

How well do we understand these forces? Let’s look at the force of gravity.

Gravity

In the late 16th century Isaac Newton developed three laws of motion, which included a description of gravity. Newton’s laws of motion described the movement of objects. In 1915 Einstein’s theory of general relativity replaced Newtonian mechanics. This theory describes the force of gravity and describes the motions of bodies in our solar system. The general theory of relativity describes an expanding universe, which has been detected by scientists (although some dispute whether the universe is expanding). But observations of distant spiral galaxies defy the predictions of general relativity. To explain this behavior, scientists postulate the existence of dark matter and dark energy. They are named “dark” because they can’t be detected. So they are “fudge factors” to make the mathematical model work. Dark matter and dark energy are theoretical inventions that explain observations we cannot otherwise understand.

On the scale of galaxies, gravity appears to be stronger than can be accounted for using only particles that are able to emit light. So scientists added dark matter as 27% of the mass-energy of the universe. But these particles have never been directly detected! The Hubble Space Telescope found that the expansion of the universe is increasing with time, instead of decreasing as was expected from the force of gravity due to the matter in the universe (whether ordinary or dark matter). So scientists added “dark energy” (a weak anti-gravity force that acts independently of matter) as 68% of the mass-energy of the Universe. Dark matter is an invisible substance that can only be seen through the effects of its gravity, while dark energy is pushing our universe apart. The nature of both remains mysterious.

However, the amount of dark matter and dark energy postulated in the universe is huge. The mass-energy of the universe is assumed to be 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter and 5% observable matter! This means that without the fudge factor, the general theory of relativity only explains 5% of what is observed to exist! So, the universe is so complex that the best mathematical description of gravity needs to be adjusted by a factor of 95%! General relativity is also part of the framework of the standard Big Bang model of cosmology.

So the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scholars to understand all aspects of the forces that control it. For example, we don’t really know:
– if dark matter exists
– if dark energy exists
– if the universe is really expanding (because it can’t be explained by general relativity without using these fudge factors)
–  if Einstein’s theory of gravity is correct (because it can’t explain the universe without using these fudge factors).

This situation is influenced by the fact that astronomy uses remote sensing (measurements made from a distance) to gather its data. Many assumptions are made when interpreting these data and the assumptions have a large influence on the findings. If any of the assumptions are wrong, then the findings are probably also wrong.

These fundamental forces act on atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies. How well do we understand the matter that makes up atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies? Let’s look at the particles that combine to form atoms.

Fundamental particles

CERN 5 400pxIn late 1800s scientists thought that the atom was the smallest building block of nature. But then the electron was discovered in 1897, the proton in 1919 and the neutron in 1932. By the mid-1960’s, it was realized that the understanding that atoms were composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons, was insufficient to explain the many subatomic particles being discovered. Via quantum theory, protons and neutrons were found to contain quarks—now considered elementary particles. Then the Standard Model of particle physics (of fundamental particles and their interactions) was developed to explain the behavior of these subatomic particles. The Standard Model is a mathematical equation that describes the particles and forces that govern quantum physics.

In the Standard Model there are 61 elementary particles (18 quarks, 18 antiquarks, 6 leptons, 6 antileptons, 8 gluons, 4 electroweak bosons, and one higgs boson). This number varies according to what is assumed to be an elementary particle. So in a century the number of fundamental particles has risen from one to 61! That’s a huge increase! The particulate structure of creation was more complex that was imagined. I wonder how many more fundamental particles will be discovered in the next 100 years?

But the Standard Model that describes these particles can’t explain gravity, dark matter or dark energy! The quantum theory used to describe the micro world, and the general theory of relativity used to describe the macro world, are difficult to fit into a single framework. No one has managed to make the two mathematically compatible in the context of the Standard Model.

So the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scholars to understand all aspects of the fundamental particles that are the building-blocks of the atoms and molecules of matter.

The implications of this complexity

Clearly the forces and particles of the universe are complex. The pattern (design) of the universe is too complex for the human mind to understand. This shows that the intelligence behind the universe is greater than the intelligence of the human mind. Is this evidence of design by a being that is more intelligent than humanity? This is consistent with what the Bible says.

What the Bible says

According to the Bible, Jesus Christ created and sustains the universe.

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together” (Col. 1:15-17NLT).

Jesus “existed before anything was created”, including time. As He existed before time was created, Jesus is eternal. In this way, He is different to His creation (the universe). He is “supreme over all creation” because He “created everything”. He created the stars and galaxies (“the heavenly realms”). He not only made the “things we can see” (the visible universe), but He also made “the things we can’t see” (so there is a spiritual unseen dimension to God’s creation which is inhabited by angels). And Jesus “holds all creation together”. This means He controls all the forces of nature including gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. Hebrews also says that Jesus “sustains everything by the mighty power of His command” (Heb. 1:3).

Solomon said, “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11). God works in nature, in the spiritual world, in society and in our own lives. This means that no-one can discover the full extent of what God does. Our understanding is limited. Our knowledge is finite, and thus infinitely less than God’s. Some of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God is evident in His creation. But it is so vast and our capacity is so limited and our life is so short that we only understand a miniscule part of what God does. Consequently, there are many mysteries that we don’t understand. For example, when science answers one question usually several replace it. There’s always more to discover.

If complexity requires a creator, who created God?

A common objection to the idea of an intelligent creator is “if all complex things require an intelligent creator, then why is that creator himself not bound to the same rule? Would that complex deity not require an even more complex creator, and so on, for infinity?”.

What this fails to acknowledge is that there are two categories of complex things – those that have a beginning (and so were created) and those that don’t have a beginning (and so were not created). Those that have a beginning (such as the universe and people) do require an even more complex creator. The reason for this is that everything which has a beginning has a cause. This is the law of cause and effect. But as mentioned above God is in a different category. He has no beginning; He is eternal. God, as creator of time, is outside of time. This means He has no beginning in time. As He has always existed, He doesn’t need a cause. So the seemingly endless sequence proposed by the questioner stops at God – He doesn’t have a more complex creator.

Summary

We have seen that the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scientists to understand all aspects of the forces that control it and all aspects of the fundamental particles that are the building-blocks of the atoms and molecules of matter. This complexity should cause us to be humble before our God who created and sustains the universe. And to praise Him as Paul did when he wrote:
“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give Him advice? And who has given Him so much that He needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).

Written, August 2017

Also see: How the universe is held together