Bill Keel’s notes from forum on Evolution: fact or creation myth?

[as usual, my own comments are in square brackets]

Held 25 August 2000, Woodmont Hills Family of God (a Church of Christ), Nashville


Koukl — "Why I’m Not an Evolutionist"

Follow the "spirit of Huxley" — we should admit only facts in grave scientific debate So are these matters of prejudice or truth? (please, no argument by ridicule) Communism, for example, was rooted in an evolutionary notion that might makes right.. This killed 120,000,000 people in the 20th century. Ideas have consequences. Three definitions of evolution:

    1. change with time (unremarkable)
    2. microevolution (small organic changes, adaptive, natural selection) sort of a "special theory of evolution".
    3. "general theory" — macroevolution, no limit to the change an organism can undergo from #2 given enough time.
No serious dispute about 1 and 2 among these [though Koukl did try a switch during the Q&A session afterward in claiming that "theistic evolution" is self-contradictory in requiring the same events to be both divinely directed and result from random chance. I found this stab unimpressive]. Features of #3: natural, physical, observable processes. Driven only by blind, random, chance events. Two pillars: abiogenesis (life from non-life) Transitions (simple to complex forms over time). Objections to both:

The argument from design

    1. cosmic fine-tuning (anthropic principle)
    2. complexity of the DNA blueprint
    3. irreducibly complexity — a partial mousetrap is no good. This is especially apparent at the biochemical level (Behe’s argument)
Darwin discussed this very issue in [I think] The Origin of Species [again, I think the context was an eye]. Design changes everything — there are answers to our deepest questions.

Rana — biochemical evidence of design

  1. rapid origin of life
  2. no primordial soup
  3. early Earth conditions, frustrating events
  4. O2-UV problem
  5. Complexity of minimal life forms
  6. Irreducible complexity
  7. Analogues to artificial devices
  8. Chicken/egg paradox
  9. Molecular ???
  10. Appearance of pre-planning
  11. Biochemical information systems
  12. Biochemical information as Turing machines
  13. Impossibility of generating biological information systems by natural processes
  14. Fine tuning and error correction in genetic code (apparent optimization of genetic code for error correction)
  15. Absence of nonfunctional small-molecule protein binding sites (nothing just sitting there waiting to be exploited by further evolutionary changes)
  16. Absence of nonfunctional protein complexes (same story)
  17. Absence of nonfunctional protein-membrane complexes
  18. Failure to duplicate presumed natural processes without experimenter intervention.
"Classic" paradigm for origin of life: Early atmosphere —(electric discharges) —> prebiotic molecules —>(time) —> prebiotic soup —(agglomeration) —> biomolecules —(aggregation) —> protocells —(time) —> simple cells —> LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor) - perhaps not much more than a cell wall?

Relevant aspects of the emerging RTB creation model: [the Reasons to Believe staff has been trying to put together a specific model for creation which makes distinct and testable predictions about the natural world, fossil record, etc., since testability and falsifiability are such important parts of natural sience]

Supernatural origin of life (Gen 1:2)

Creation paradigm — early appearance of life

Earliest life: 12C-enriched carbonaceous deposits 3.86 billion years old

Fossils 3.6 (these were like photosynthetic cyanobacteria)

Just after the Hadean era of frequent giant impacts, which melted the crust multiple times prior to 3.9 billion years ago. Oldest rocks are from 3.9 billion years.

Frustrating events — impacts, about 30 averaging 10 million years apart powerful enough to melt the crust. This would suggest multiple origins of life in order for it to be there immediately afterward from 3.5-3.9 billion years ago [or deliberate introduction knowing the last killer asteroid had already hit… Random chemistry arguments have real trouble with life appearing in a few million years unless its production is hardwired into the fabric of physical and chemical law, which doesn’t sound very random either.]

No geochemical evidence for primordial soup.

12C/13C ratio of earliest carbonaceous deposits looks biological in origin. [The longtime presumption was that life originated in some kind of warm, shallow body of water which was very rich in the appropriate chemistry, especially carbon-rich substances.]

Early terrestrial conditions inappropriate for it anyway.

Complexity of the simplest organisms

Least known genome size is 470, theoretical estimates have been 256 BUT these are not freestanding organisms, but parasites which use the host’s chemistry. E. coli has 4100. Smallest free organisms (some thermophiles) have 1500-1850, consistent with their being close to minimal.

Origin of information in the peptide chain

P=0.0125 per element, N=110, P=4,6e-280

Thus, in the nonexistent primordial soup, continued reactions at a rate at 1/second gives characteristic formation timescale of a trillion Hubble times. (for this single protein).[Hubble time = rough current age of the Universe, 15 billion years]

Harold Horowitz’ calculation gives odds of 1:10e10e11

Or mass of the Universe together at 1 million trials/second for 15 billion years, 1:10e99,999,999,916. The newer minimal genome sizes make this problem worse.

Internal organization of bacteria. They aren’t just an internal molecular soup — lots of inside structure and time-based localization. Needed for survival, universal among bacteria, so LUCA must have had it.

How about panspermia? — solar system/interstellar, directed (deliberate)


Natural history of Mars — could we be transplanted Martians?

Wet-dry (warm-cold) transition now thought to be 3.6 billion years ago (impacts stripped atmosphere), too long ago to be much help.


Directed panspermia (alias "There is absolutely positively no God in the gaps")

Giant impactor seems to have produced the unique set of Earth/Moon properties and made Earth clement for life, which seems a bit much to ask of two successive abodes

Nelson "How can an educated person disbelieve Darwin about common descent and natural selection?"

Clearly (this is standard biology) a trait linked consistently to reproductive success will differ predictably between parent and offspring populations. This kind of natural selection can be observed (i.e. antibiotic-resistant bacteria). How far can this go? Can it account for the very disparate body plans we see?

Big problem: how these plans are assembled in "developmental time".

Crick: need this understanding before we can talk sensibly of evolution.

A —> B evolution requires process for building A —> process for building B, which each involve division of a single cell into billions, and must be viable at each step of this huge decision tree. Example: sea squirt, a sessile filter feeder, 8 cm long. Starts as a 1-cm gutless "tadpole" larva with notochord. Metamorphoses after sticking to a rock.

Developmental fate of cells is continually restricted during early cleavage stages (which intermediate stages are not independently viable). (Sea Squirt example) This is a process with a directed endpoint.

"Marching band problem" — instructions are present at the outset, independent elements all mesh. Change one without a plan, you have a mess.

James Valentine 1977 — the development pattern or field is what we need to trace in the history of life. Ancestors of both the organism and its development.

C. elegans has been well-studied in this regard — one can kill single cells during development and get nonviable result — it’s irreducibly complex in this sense. To build something by natural selection, the mutated cells must be dissociated from the process so they’re free to change and do something new without destroying the process (Cameron et al. 1998, in context of Cambrian explosion)

BUT these developmental changes must precede the body plans on which natural selection operates. Natural selection can’t anticipate.

Selection sees only final form; it’s causally inefficacious for ontogenetic networks. [Natural selection doesn’t operate on reproductive success, it can only operate on DNA which directly controls the development of the organism from an initial egg cell. This throws a major wrench into the simple and intuitively appealing idea of how natural selection works for larger and larger changes.]

This relates to Rupert Riedl’s (1978) paradox of teleological evolution. These are all classic problems in evolutionary biology, no big secrets here.

What is the deep, fundamental difference in ontogenetic paths? Is it possible to change one?

Drosophila (fruit fly) experiments have been especially important in genetics — when they are zapped with mutagens (chemicals, radiation) result sticks to the same basic body plan, viable organisms aren’t very different.

Early developmental mutations have the most leverage, but are least likely to be viable. Late changes (probably viable) can’t accumulate backwards in the developmental tree to get an early (hence major) change (Wallace Arthur 1997).

Nelson prefers to distinguish natural/intelligent causes rather than natural/supernatural.