Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Way of the Cell

I just finished reading a fascinating book called, The Way of the Cell; Molecules, Organisms and the Order of Life by Franklin M. Harold, emeritus professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Colorado State University. The book describes in detail the unbelievable complexity of life at the cellular level.

Dr. Harold pulls no punches in his rejection of Intelligent Design theory. He writes, “Let me, therefore, state unambiguously that I, like the vast majority of contemporary scientists, see the living world as wholly the product of natural causes…” (190).

Fifteen pages later he goes on to say,
“We should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity; but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations” (205, emphasis mine).
As “a matter of principle”? Not as a matter of science? I find it amusing how atheists and some scientists pretend that they have “science” on their side while Christians have only faith (what they mean is “gullibility”). While I admire Dr. Harold’s honesty, I hardly think “wishful speculations” falls under the category of science. Dr. Harold goes on:
“Cell components as we know them are so thoroughly integrated that one can scarcely imagine how any one function could have arisen in the absence of the others. Genetic information can only be replicated and read out with the aid of enzyme proteins, which are themselves specified by those same genes. Energy is harnessed by means of enzymes whose production requires energy input. Darwinian evolution is at bottom the struggle among individuals defined by cell membranes, yet how could membranes and transport catalysts arise without genes, proteins and energy?(245)
Excellent questions! Dr. Harold chooses, as a matter of faith, to believe that it all came together by chance, natural laws, and natural selection. Many of us don’t have that much faith. We prefer to postulate a designer. Dr. Harold continues:
The origin of life is also a stubborn problem, with no solution in sight…Biology textbooks often include a chapter on how life may have arisen from non-life, and while responsible authors do not fail to underscore the difficulties and uncertainties, readers still come away with the impression that the answer is almost within our grasp…In reality, we may not be much closer to understanding genesis than A.I. Oparin and J.B.S. Haldane were in the 1930’s; and in the long run, science would be better off if we said so.” (235-236)
I agree. It would be better if many scientists, and especially the new atheists, had the kind of honesty and integrity that Franklin Harold exhibits. Finally, Dr. Harold writes:
“It would be agreeable to conclude this book with a cheery fanfare about science closing in, slowly but surely, on the ultimate mystery; but the time for rosy rhetoric is not at hand. The origin of life appears to me is incomprehensible as ever, a mater of wonder but not for explication” (251).


jazzycat said...

Evolution is based on faith! Their ultimate starting point (origin of universe) is based on nonsense!

Robert said...

One area that evolutionary scientists have been taking a closer look at is RNA. It was once accepted (and for the most part still is) that DNA -> RNA -> Protein Expression. The problem is that without proteins, you can’t build DNA. Without DNA, you can’t create the structures necessary to assemble DNA. So it is a real chicken and the egg problem.

The question everyone started to ask is why RNA couldn’t have been the early form of things? Well, if you think of the properties of RNA:
- It can act as a true catalyst
- It can replicate itself in the absence of protein enzymes
- It can also act as information storage molecule (though is short lived)

So the hypothesis goes that RNA forms (which it will) from organic compounds. Through the process of evolution it eventually forms more advanced molecules, which in turn synthesize proteins that are catalysts. These proteins help RNA replicate and synthesize proteins better which in turn helps RNA make DNA. Eventually because DNA makes a better long term storage molecule, it takes over as the primary means of storage.

Now, a couple of quick interesting things I’ve learned. We don’t consider viruses as being “alive.” I guess it’s somewhat of a cruel irony that they’re viewed as primarily molecular replication engines that tend to have deleterious effects on the host but are not considered alive despite their apparent “intelligent” methods of attacking.

In the case of the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), it is an RNA virus that infects plants. It has an RNA core surrounded by proteins. Now interestingly enough, we’ve done experiments where they’ve essentially stripped the virus of its proteins and broken it down. When mixed back together with its components, it reassembled on its own. So we found that more complex structures can form from simpler ones (yet, still not alive).

Finally, we’ve also found that reverse transcriptase can move data back from RNA -> DNA (which 20 years ago we though impossible). This does tend to throw a kink in how we’ve always thought evolution worked.

I guess this is a lot of information to get to my point.

The whole process of evolutionary biology is still really very young and the theory is constantly being modified and changed. Anyone who purports to have all the answers and the final word on things is not only being disingenuous, but doing an outright disservice.

We might someday finally understand how the origin of life developed on Earth based on a solid set of understandings and natural mechanics. However, would this preclude an intelligent designer or to be blatant… God?

I wouldn’t find at all such a discovery to be threatening to God unless you believed that God was incapable of developing a natural world that would operate under a series of laws that would carry out his will. This should not be confused with the “watchmaker” analogy where God would simply build his creation and then remain apart from it. I believe God does interact with his creation and that he does provide a bump here, or suspend natural law there if it suits his will. How should humanity know for certain how God would choose to directly intervene?

What I object to is the narrow minded view that since a natural law exists or that because something could potentially form more complex organisms that it somehow precludes the existence or design of God. Science would be best served if it didn’t have activists trying to use it as a political weapon and it remained independent as a means to discover our world.

For people like me, science is simply one of the means in which God has chosen to reveal himself. Obviously, the Bible is the primary method of revelation. However, as John Paul the II said, “The truth cannot contradict the truth.” Wise words meaning that what we learn from science doesn’t contradict the truth in the Bible and vice versa. It is only the limits of human understanding that prevents us from recognizing the full meaning.

L'oiseau said...

Robert, I'm loving your perspective the more I read your posts. Thanks!

Dennis said...

Robert wrote: "What I object to is the narrow minded view that since a natural law exists or that because something could potentially form more complex organisms that it somehow precludes the existence or design of God."

Robert, in one sentence you have encapsulated the primary point I have been trying to make in all my intelligent design posts.