Sunday, August 31, 2008

On Evolution, Part I

This is the first in what I hope becomes a series of blathers on the topic of Evolution. Fortunately everyone is of like minds on this topic. But I’ll give it a go anyway, as I am not hearing discussions that hit the key points that I’d like to hear. It’s not that I will only listen to people who agree with my conclusions, rather, I would like to hear certain sub-topics on evolution discussed, whereas they are “tip-toed” around, or worse yet, omitted.

Whenever I start a conversation on Evolution, I am always “forced” to make a couple of preamblic statements, primarily to keep from being summarily ignored, secondarily to keep me from being drawn and quartered.

First off, I do not believe in the literal interpretation of the olde English version of the bible, as translated from Latin, as translated from Ancient Greek, as translated from Hebrew. Call me nuts, but I never believed the bible was meant to be taken as a video-tape-accurate journal of events. And since the Genesis of the Universe was populated by relatively few historians, it would be asking quite a bit to have an accurate play-by-play.

Second, I do not believe that Charles Darwin fabricated a tale of lies simply as an anti-religious manifesto. Actually, there is quite a lot in the theory of Evolution that seems to hold up well to scrutiny. [Here is where I am usually referred to as a bible thumper, knuckle-dragger, flat-earther, or worst of all, a creationist!] But I am convinced the theory itself is deeply flawed, and this defect is made painfully obvious by fossil evidence and observation.

This next statement is another one that brands me a heathen in the scientific community: there is much about living organisms that strongly suggest, or force the conclusion of, Intelligent Design. Whenever I mention “Intelligent Design”, I am officially labeled a “creationist” and summarily tarred and feathered without a trial. But by “Intelligent Design”, I simply identify things that are obviously engineered, not random occurrences. For example, take the DNA molecule. This is really quite incredible. It is the largest known molecule of any kind, far more complicated than any plastic, any medicinal compound.

DNA is not just a molecule. First, it is a storehouse of information. As a brief refresher, the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) resembles a twisted ladder. From my buddies at Wikipedia:

Chemically, DNA consists of two long polymers of simple units called nucleotides, with backbones made of sugars and phosphate groups joined by ester bonds. These two strands run in opposite directions to each other and are therefore anti-parallel. Attached to each sugar is one of four types of molecules called bases. It is the sequence of these four bases along the backbone that encodes information. This information is read using the genetic code, which specifies the sequence of the amino acids within proteins.

Let’s say in the near future we will have fully understood everything about E. Coli -- the simplest single-celled organism we are aware of, with only one chromosome (we humans have 23 pairs). This means we can identify the cell’s internal chemistry, interactions of constituent components, susceptibility to heat, light, gravity, radiation, etc. And further, the interaction of the cell with other E. Coli as well as different organisms…namely its behavior. We would understand every who, what, when, where, and why of the organism and its behavior. If we were to document this bacterium fully, it would take something on the order of 1,000 encyclopedic volumes. And let’s not forget, unlike the first publishing of our future book-of-the-month club underseller, the E. Coli DNA is absolutely complete and correct. We could only hope this would be true with our hypothetical library.

The E. Coli DNA is a bit more efficient at documenting itself, as it is truly microscopic, versus our theoretical “Encyclopedia Escherichia Coliannica”, which would fill a wing of the local library. But even that comparison is misleading, as the DNA does not simply record the information, and do it in incredibly compressed format. Oh, no, it does far, far more than just that. For starters, the data is encrypted in such a way that our greatest minds and most powerful computers still are struggling to understand the most basic information, often incompletely or totally incorrectly. At this point, I like to ask a key question: why encrypt the information? For argument’s sake, let’s posit that somehow DNA was assembled at random. How can it be that nature favored encoding the information stored in the DNA molecule over a straightforward, easy-to-read version. The way the organism deftly deals with its own genetic information, it has no problem whatsoever with encoding and decoding the molecule. Seems to me, the only people who have trouble with this encryption is…US! But the DNA molecule was created literally billions of years before there were human beings around to annoy with an infinitely challenging encrypted, compressed, complex treasure chest of single-cellular information.

...the odds against DNA assembling by chance are 10^40,000 (that's 10 to the power of 40,000 LOL) to one [according to Fred Hoyle, Evolution from Space,1981]This is true, but highly misleading. DNA did not assemble purely by chance. It assembled by a combination of chance and the laws of physics. Without the laws of physics as we know them, life on earth as we know it would not have evolved in the short span of six billion years. The nuclear force was needed to bind protons and neutrons in the nuclei of atoms; electromagnetism was needed to keep atoms and molecules together; and gravity was needed to keep the resulting ingredients for life stuck to the surface of the earth.

--Victor J. Stenger*

But wait, there’s more to DNA than just a compressed, encoded, complete description of the organism. DNA is a mechanism, and an incredibly complicated one at that. It takes the information about the organism and causes the proteins and other molecules that get the organism formed and functioning in the first place. Think of it as the engineering blueprints that create the assembly line. The molecule even creates proteins on its surface that adds another layer of encoded instructions, called epigenetics, just in case you felt the DNA molecule was just too simple! So the molecule isn’t just the rulebook but the rule engine. And here’s where it wins the Ronco multifunction seal of approval…the DNA molecule replicates itself, checks for errors, and corrects itself, too!

Now, let’s look beyond a single celled organism. In a multi-celled organism, like YOU, the same exact DNA is in each cell, telling that cell to be a skin cell, a neuron, a nipple cell, whatever. This DNA molecule is the supercoach, understanding every possible function of the whole organism, and telling each individual cell how to do its job… and not just telling it, but actually setting up the whole environment for it, by producing the proteins that make the cell function. So not only does the DNA molecule tell the liver cell to do liver-type stuff, it tells the whole organism to do stuff…tells the robin red-breast to have a red-breast, tells it what songs to sing, how to build a nest, what to feed the chicks, to beware of cats, what a darkening, humid sky means…it knows EVERYTHING!

And it happened by accident. No, I’m sorry, I cannot even pretend to believe that. The DNA molecule is an extraordinary bit of engineering, far beyond humankind’s ability to replicate. If you watch Star Trek and marvel at the futuristic technology of phasers, transporters, and warp speed, this double helix must really blow you away! It is perfectly descriptive, highly compressed, brilliantly encrypted, self-replicating, self-repairing, and hundreds, thousands, or millions of years more advanced than anything we have developed with any of these attributes. No scientist or technologist can honestly say he is not humbled by the engineering genius of DNA. What tends to steer the scientific community away from admitting the obvious nature of DNA is the resulting question: “if it was engineered, then by whom?”

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