The choice: assumption or assurance?

A provocative review of kingpin faith/science issues from a Creationist viewpoint

Lyndon K. McDowell, D.D., is a retired pastor living in Scottsdale, Arizona.

There's an old nursery rhyme that asks, "Where did you come from, baby dear, out of the nowhere and into the here." Good question, though the answer, at least today, is greatly debated.

The informed contemporary person might ask the question like this: "How do those lifeless chemicals produce exquisitely ordered structures called organisms?" This is the question that drives current research. It is the basic reason for the exploration of Mars to find water, and for plumbing the depths of the sea to learn the secrets of the thermophiles and methanogens. It is also the driving force behind libraries of speculative assumptions and hours of laborious research. Yet the answer remains as elusive as ever.

Scientists have succeeded in unraveling the chemistry of living things and have found that they obey the laws of physics and chemistry. But life itself is "not fully explained in terms of those sciences."1 The statement "Omnis cellula e cellula (every cell from a cell), remains one of biology's essential verities."2 In fact, despite all the assurances and predications that presume basic evolutionary theory to be a proven explanation for our origins, the theory is based on an array of assumptions, such as:

Assumption I. The universal phylogenetic tree

The universal phylogenetic trees vary according to the assumptions of those who draw them, but they all have one common feature—the tree has no roots. What is called "the last common ancestor" remains an assumption.

This does not mean that scientists have not tried to invent those roots. Because all living organisms carry their genetic information in nucleic acids, RNA and DNA, and because these are expressed in specific sequences of proteins, attempts have been made to assemble them artificially.

In the 1950s, Stanley Miller, working in Harold C. Urey's laboratory, designed an experiment that elicited much publicity. He tried to simulate the type of air and water he imagined existed on the primitive earth and then bombarded the mixture with a continuous electrical discharge. The experiment produced a number of amino acids and enabled Miller to explain how they were produced.

This work seemed to be encouraging. It generated even more excitement when an Australian meteorite was found to have the same amino acids in relatively the same quantities. It looked as if we were about to find the secret of life. It soon became evident, however, we were mistaken.

Leslie Orgel, who tried a similar experiment, explains the problem: "Nowadays nucleic acids are synthesized only with the help of proteins, and proteins are synthesized only if their corresponding nucleotide sequence is present. It is extremely improbable that proteins and nucleic acids, both of which are structurally complex, arose spontaneously in the same place at the same time. Yet it also seems impossible to have one with out the other. And so, at first glance, one might have to conclude that life could never, in fact, have originated by chemical means."3

A typical phylogenetic tree is found in the authoritative textbook Molecular Cell Biology, which reads in part that it "depicts a view of how all life on earth, from simple bacteria to complex mammals, evolved from a common single-celled progenitor,"4 and it is "based on the assumption that organisms with more similar genes evolved from a common progenitor more recently than those with more dissimilar genes. .. ."5

The tree is divided into three main branches. The lowest branch and, therefore, the earliest in evolutionary time is labeled "Bacteria"; it has six twigs, each carrying the name of a different bacterium, one of which is the familiar Escherichia coli, or, more familiarly, E. coli.

The next branch of the stem, there by indicating more advanced evolution, labeled "Archaea," also has six twigs. The third branch has the general name of Eukarya, and is assumed to be an evolutionary advance to more complexity. The organisms have extensive internal membranes that enclose specific compartments.

One of the six twigs on this branch is the one humans belong to. It is labeled "Animals." Next to us are two shorter twigs. The closest are "Plants," the next closest "Fungi." In terms of this evolutionary theory, our nearest relatives are flowers and shrubs; we are also cousins to mushrooms.

Each form of life on the tree fits exquisitely into its niche. Theodosius Dobzhansky waxes almost lyrical as he contemplates this. "The more one studies living beings the more one is impressed by the wonderfully effective adjustment of their multifarious body structures and functions to their varying ways of life. From the simplest to the most complex, all organisms are constructed to function efficiently in the environments in which they live." Then, he adds, the ancestors of these living things "were in general less complex, less perfect and less diversified than the organisms now living."6

But there are no intermediate forms between the various kinds on the tree. His assumption suffers from the same disability as does the geological column. The different forms are found "constructed to function efficiently in the environments in which they live." There are no others.

Assumption II: Protein sequences determine age

It should be noted that the length of the branches and of the twigs mentioned above represents the extent of the differences between the DNA or RNA sequences of the various creatures. It does not represent time in years. Yet time is implied.

Protein sequences appear to diverge at a fairly constant rate. We are told, for example, the protein components of hemoglobin, called globins, change at the average rate of one amino acid every four million years. Most changes are neutral, that is, they cause no differences in the offspring, but evolutionists believe these changes may be used to compute the number of years since the various species split off from one another.7 This is how they compute the relationship between chimpanzees and humans.

This theory has a problem. The textbook Molecular Cell Biology teaches that "the creative part of the evolutionary process is adaptation to rapidly changing environments." 8 But studies show that this is not possible. There appears to be no way in which "changes in the environment can call forth specific gene mutations." 9 Change comes by chance mutations only. According to Cavalier-Smith, "Such changes should be seen as internally generated accidents rather than adaptive responses to external conditions." 10 Even if an environment did have an evolutionary effect, changes would hardly be regular as postulated by the molecular clock.

One reads or hears so frequently the emphatic affirmations that evolution is a proven fact that it is refreshing to find honest statements to the contrary. Franklin Harold writes: "I share the commitment to a material conception of life, but that makes it doubly necessary to remember that before the cells were taken apart—as long, indeed, as they were alive—they displayed capacities that go beyond chemistry." 11

Any reservations about the mechanisms of evolution are apt to be seized upon by enemies of the principle itself," writes Harold, "and make Darwin's children anxious. Let me, therefore, state unambiguously that I, like the vast majority of contemporary scientists, see the living world as wholly the product of natural caues." But "that said, there remains a battery of open questions about the forces and events that shaped the history of life." 12

Why then are so many scientists so adamant about evolution? Because "we have no better alternative to offer," says Harold. Then he adds, "but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any bio chemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations."13

In an acrimonious correspondence between the editor of Nature and 22 scientists from the various branches of science at the British Museum (Natural History), London, the scientists wrote, "We have no absolute proof of the theory of evolution," while there is circumstantial evidence in favor of it, "the theory of evolution would be abandoned tomorrow if a better theory appeared."14

Assumption III: The "simple" cell

As we have seen, the phylogenetic tree is built on the premise that life evolved from a simple cell, but that "simple cell" has yet to be found. Would Darwin have ever even formulated his theory if he had possessed an electron microscope and been aware of the complexity and design of cells too small to be seen by the naked eye?

E. coli is placed on the lowest branch of the tree, assumed to be early in terms of evolution. Invisible to the naked eye, measuring 2 micrometers long and 0.8 microme ters in diameter, it is a marvelous example of design and complexity.

The cell is enclosed within a double wall, or membrane. Within this membrane are about 2,400,000 proteins, 1,800 kinds of molecules, 14,000 messenger RNAs, and 200,000 transfer RNAs. Add to that 22,000,000 lipid molecules and 280,000,000 small metabolites. All these jostle together in the cytoplasm which is 75 percent water, but they all have a pur pose and work harmoniously.

In the human body the various units share and cooperate in its metabolism. The kidneys, for example, service the blood, but the heart pumps the blood. Stem cells are born in the bone marrow, but they are selected in the thymus and are trans ported by the vascular system.

A similar coordination is present in the tiny bacterium. All the proteins and molecules share in its internal metabolism. Their work is encoded in its genes. It is estimated that those instructions equal about ten pages in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Metabolism requires energy, and energy in E. coli is provided by electri cal power generated by the cell. An alternative energy source is also available, if required. Electricity drives its external flagella, which rotate like propellers. The "propeller shaft" penetrates through the membrane and into the cytosol by means of a bushing and can propel the little bug at a speed of about ten to twenty cell lengths per second.

Besides this, the direction in which the cell is driven is "computerized." The flagella all rotate together in a counterclockwise direction when the cell is in forward gear, but when its "computerized" sensing mechanism informs it that the gradient to which it is heading has changed, a "switch" is thrown, and the flagella change gears and begin a clockwise rotation. This results in what is called a "tumbling motion," and the cell changes direction.

Of course, I am writing metaphorically. The pictures elicited may be unreal, but the facts are correct. 15 Such is just a brief introduction to this simple cell!

Assumption IV: God would have created the world differently

In his book The Astonishing Hypothesis Francis Crick wrote that until Charles Darwin, the "Argument from Design" appeared to be unanswerable. "Yet," he says, "this argument has collapsed completely. We now know that all living things, from bacteria to ourselves, are closely related at the biochemical level." 16

Crick's apparent assumption is that if God created both men and microbes, then He would have creat ed microbes on the basis of a different model than He created man. A related assumption is that God would not have created a world in which there is so much competition and suffering.

Alfred Lord Tennyson expressed those concerns in his poem "In Memoriam." He wrote of "nature red in tooth and claw." "Are God and Nature then at strife?" he asked.

"Who trusted God was love indeed / And love Creation's final law— / Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw / With ravine, shriek'd against his creed."17

Providentially, Seventh-day Adventists were provided with at least a partial answer to the questions about evil in the world with their theology of the great controversy between Christ and Satan.

Because this great controversy theme was first suggested in 1848/1849, 18 the timing appears significant. Genesis 3:17 also hints at an answer. But for evolutionists the metaphysical argument remains. The theory of evolution is true, they say, because in the struggle described as the survival of the fittest, one would expect Nature to be harsh and com petitive, while a world created by a loving God would, at very least, be benign.

Crick is also wrong if he assumes that God would not create microbial life on the same pattern of man. The Bible is clear about the relation between men and animals. "God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life."

The word aphar, translated "dust" means "the dry fine crumbs of earth." 19 We are made of dust, that ubiquitous material less than 63 microns in size and of which even the stars are made.

But Scripture informs us that we are also related to other forms of life. "God formed both man and animals out of the ground" (Gen. 2:19), thus "All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.... All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return" (Eccl. 3:19, 20). It is no surprise then, that we find similar DNA in all forms of living matter. The basic, underlying design is that of the Creator.

From assumption to assurance

In response to an inquiry of mine, Crick ended his letter with, "If you believe in a resurrection, you can believe anything." The statement proved a timely heuristic stimulus to explore the basis of my own faith. Why did I believe as I did about Creation, the virgin birth, and the Resurrection?

As I review my life, God has been good to me. In all the twists and turns of my experience, in both shadow and sunshine, He has been there to sustain and guide. I know that God lives. But experience is too personal to persuade, too subjective to be the foundation of faith in the face of well-nigh-universal disbelief.

The first three chapters of Genesis cannot be used either, for it is "by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command" (Heb. 11:3). To depend on my own personal belief in the existence of God and His way with me, would, in a very real sense, put me on the same level with evolution. Besides, Genesis is such an abbreviated account of Creation that it leaves too many questions unanswered and is too easily open for personal assumptions, of which we have many.

My mind turns to Luke's gospel. There is no question about the basis of Luke's faith. He carefully investigated everything. Many, he found, had written down an account of the events. He listened to the oral accounts of those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning (Luke 1:1-4).

Were it not for the "metaphysical" aspects of the events—the virgin birth and the Resurrection—Luke's history would surely be regarded as one of the most reliable of the time.

Sir William Ramsey, in his book St. Paul, the Traveler and Roman Citizen, recognized this. "I may fairly claim to have entered this investigation with out any prejudice in favor of   which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavorable to it." 20 It was his study of Luke's methodology and his accuracy that changed his mind.

Paul's account also rings with reliability. He affirms that over five hundred were witnesses to the Resurrection, and while "some are fallen asleep," the majority were still alive and able to testify to the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

It is always the metaphysics that people rebel against. As it is today, so it was in Athens in Paul's day. "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered" (Acts 17:32).

Next, there is the gospel story itself. It has what J. B. Phillips called "the ring of truth." John Polkinghorne, former professor of mathematical physics at the University of Edinburgh, is also persuaded by the force of the gospel accounts. "One of the strong lines of argument for the truth of the resurrection is the astonishing transformation of the disciples from the demoralized defeated men of Good Friday to the confident proclaimers of the Lordship of Christ at Pentecost and beyond, even to the point of martyrdom."21

There is an unqualified assurance in the proclamation of faith by those who lived in the first century. "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard," wrote John. "We have not followed cleverly invented stories," wrote Peter; "we were eyewitnesses of his majesty."

Of course faith itself is fundamental, but it is clear that the writers of the New Testament saw the most crucial role for careful investigation, extensive, qualified eyewitness testimony that reliably filled out the whole picture. Faith and this kind of investigation are inseparable, forming a highly convincing whole.

Having made my stand on this assurance, I may then, legitimately and without apology, add my own experience to the weight of evidence. Like thousands of others through the centuries I can say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth."

The choice is clear:

The shaky basis of assumption: "Molecular science, for all of its nononsense airs, asks one to swallow some real humdingers, and none bigger than the assertion that all extant organisms have descended from a unique population of cells in the distant past."22

Assurance: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . .Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life" (John 1:1-4).

1 Franklin M. Harold, The Way of the Cell (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 14.

2 Ibid., 20.

3 Scientific American, October, 1994, 78. Orgel is senior fellow and research professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He discusses several attempts to simulate conditions in which life could originate and then closes his article with the note: "As we have seen, investigators have proposed many hypotheses, but evidence in favor of each of them is fragmentary at best. The full details of how the RNA world, and life, emerged may not be revealed in the near future."

4 Molecular Cell Biology, exec. editor, Sara Tenny (H. Freeman and Company, 2001), 6.

5 Ibid., 5. Emphasis supplied.

6 Readings from Scientific American, "Evolution and the Fossil Record," 20, 1950.

7 For problems with the molecular clock, see also Hunter, Darwin's God, Evolution and the Problem of Evil
(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2001), 42.

8 Op. cit., 3. Emphasis in original.

9 Harold, op. cit. 50.

10 See The Biology of free-living Heterotrofhic Flagellates, D. Patterson and J. Larsen, eds. (Oxford, Claredon Press 1991), 120.

11 Harold, op. cit. 65.

12 Ibid., 190.

13 Ibid., 204, 205; emphasis supplied.

14 Nature, 290, March 12, 1981, 172.

15 For technical description see Harold, op. cit; chapter 5.

16 Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis. The Scientific Search for the Soul (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994).

17 The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate (London: Macmillan and Co., 1901), LVI, 261.

18 Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years, 1:371.

19 Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon In Veteris Testament! Libros, "aphar."

20 William Mitchell Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (London: Hodder and Stoughton,
1927), 7, 8.

21 John Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 33.

22 Harold, op. cit. 169. Franklin M. Harold is emeritus professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at
Colorado State University.



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Lyndon K. McDowell, D.D., is a retired pastor living in Scottsdale, Arizona.

February 2005

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