THE CREATION VERSUS EVOLUTION CONTROVERSY: PART SIX
In installment number six of this series, we will continue to examine how creationists and evolutionists view how life came to be. One of the strongest arguments creationists feel they have in support of intelligent design being responsible for biological organisms is what has come to be called irreducible complexity.
The term irreducible complexity was introduced by biochemistry professor Michael Behe in his book, Darwin’s Black Box. Behe defines irreducible complexity as “a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning." Mr. Behe goes on to say:
"An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly by numerous, successive, slight modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional. .... Since natural selection can only choose systems that are already working, then if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on" (Page 39, Darwin’s Black Box). Mr. Behe is essentially saying that irreducible complexities could not have evolved.
As an illustration, Mr.Behe uses the mouse trap which is composed of a platform, holding bar, hammer, spring and catch. If the mouse trap was missing its base or its hammer, it could not function as a mouse trap because it takes all five parts, working together, to catch a mouse. Its five part structure cannot be reduced and still have it function as a mouse trap. Therefore, the mouse trap is an irreducible complexity. It could not come together gradually and function as a mouse trap. For it to catch mice, all its parts must be present at the same time. A precursor mouse trap consisting of only a hammer, base, catch and holding bar but having no spring would not catch mice. Such a precursor mouse trap would be non functional as a mouse trap.
If a mouse trap was a mechanism of a living organism, it could not be working as a mouse trap if one or more of its five parts were missing. Since natural selection, as part of the evolutionary process, can only choose a system that is already working, it would not choose a non functional mouse trap. The mouse trap would have to be fully functional in order to be of use to an organism and therefore be selected in an evolutionary process. Therefore, all the parts of a mouse trap would have had to come together at the same time in order to be a functioning mouse trap. Evolution teaches that biological organisms came into existence through gradual and random development of the various systems/structures that make up plants and animals. Behe is saying evolution could not be responsible for structures as illustrated by the mouse trap.
The phrase "numerous, successive, slight modifications" are the very same words used by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species in describing the conditions that had to be met for his theory to be true. Darwin wrote that if one could find an organ or structure that could not have been formed by "numerous, successive, slight modifications," his theory would absolutely break down." It is felt by creationists that the identification of irreducible complexities is a decisive blow to Darwinian theory.
Evolutionists believe that biological organisms came into existence through gradual and random development of the various systems/structures that make up plants and animals. For example, there are hair-like structures on the surface of cells called cilia that move fluid across the surface of cells and help move a cell from one place to another. In human anatomy we see such structures lining the respiratory system where they help sweep mucus into your throat for elimination. You will also fine them in the digestive tract where they play a vital role in the absorption of nutrients.
Cilia, as simple as they appear to be, are rather complex structures made up of around 200 protein parts. Included in their complex makeup are nine pairs of microtubules (long thin flexible rods) which encircle two single microtubules. The outer microtubules are connected to each other by a structure called a nexin linker. Each microtubule has a motor protein structure called a dynein which attaches to one microtubule and has an arm that reaches over and grabs the dynein of another microtubule and pushes it down. These two rods start to slide lengthwise in relation to each other. The nexin linkers, which start as loose rope like structures, get stretched and become tight. As the dynein pushes farther and farther, it begins to bend the hair-like structure and then pushes the other way to bend it back. This is how you get the wave like motion of cilia.
According to evolutionary theory, the cilia would have had to gradually come into existence through small incremental structural changes taking place over a long period of time. The problem is that unless the rods, linkers and motor proteins, along with the many other parts of the cilia are all present at the same time, you don’t have working cilia. You don’t even have cilia. Cilia, by definition, are complete complex structures that include rods, linkers, dyneins and a great deal more. You can’t reduce this complexity to less than what it is and still have working cilia. Thus you have irreducible complexity. You can’t reduce the complexity of something and still have it do what it is suppose to do. If it can’t do what it is suppose to do, it reduces or makes impossible the workability of the organism as a whole.
In Behe’s most recent book, “The Edge of Evolution,” he discusses the cilia of the certain single-celled algae. Through a high powered microscope, it was discovered that moving up one side and down the other side of the cilia were a series of “bumps.” Further study of theses bumps revealed they are the machinery that builds and maintains the cilia. If a cilium is cut off an algae cell, another one will be generated in an hour or so by this machinery. This machinery operates throughout the lifetime of the cilia and routinely brings in new copies of cilia components while removing old material. In a several hour period, over eighty different kinds of proteins are exchanged. There are motor proteins responsible for carrying particles up and down the cilium and for a variety of other cilium functions. It has been demonstrated that the proper maintenance of cilia is very important to the function of an organism. For example, a genetic mutation of one of the proteins in the cilium machinery can cause cilia to lack a certain part resulting in the cilium not working and causing infertility and chronic sinusitis in human males.
Michael Behe points to certain bacteria that have a swimming device called a flagellum and are able to move about by rotating their flagellum much like a rotating propeller. The energy required for this function is generated by a flow of acid through the bacterial membrane. The flagellum is composed of a paddle, a rotor and a motor mechanism. It needs all three plus the energy making system in order to work. A lack of any one or more of these devices makes the flagellum inoperable. Mr. Behe sees this as an irreducible complexity.
Creationists see in irreducible complexity the impossibility of the gradual development of the thousands of structures that make up living organisms. Complete development of such structures are required to facilitate the workability of the structure and in turn facilitate the survival of the organism. The human eye is often used as an example. The human eye is enormously complicated - a perfect and interrelated system of about 40 individual subsystems, including the retina, pupil, iris, cornea, lens and optic nerve. For instance, the retina has approximately 137 million special cells that respond to light and send messages to the brain. About 130 million of these cells look like rods and handle the black and white vision. The other seven million are cone shaped and allow us to see in color. The retina cells receive light impressions, which are translated to electric pulses and sent to the brain via the optic nerve. A special section of the brain called the visual cortex interprets the pulses to color, contrast, depth, etc., which allows us to see "pictures" of our world. Incredibly, the eye, optic nerve and visual cortex are totally separate and distinct subsystems. Yet, together, they capture, deliver and interpret up to 1.5 million pulse messages a milli-second! It would take dozens of Cray supercomputers programmed perfectly and operating together flawlessly to even get close to performing this task.
Creationists point out that if all the separate subsystems of the eye aren't present and performing perfectly at the same instant, the eye won't work and has no purpose. Evolutionary theory postulates that random processes, operating through gradual mechanisms of natural selection and genetic mutation, produced the highly complex 40 separate subsystems that make up the even more complex functional eye. These subsystems, however, provide no advantage to the whole until they all appear together at the same time. Since these subsystems of the eye have no functional purpose on their own in separation from the whole, it is asked why they would evolve in the first place. Creationists see the only logical explanation to be that all structures that make up the eye appeared at the same time and could not have evolved. Creationists conclude that irreducible complexity cannot evolve and therefore can only be attributed to an intelligent designer and creator.
THE EVOLUTIONIST RESPONSE:
Evolutionists have observed that simpler organisms have simpler eye structures and therefore postulate there was a gradual development from simple to complex eyes over time. However, this view has been largely negated as paleontologists have discovered that the so-called simple organisms emerged in the world with complex structures already intact. Even the simple trilobite, which is considered by evolutionists as one of the first organisms to evolve, has a very complex eye structure. This same phenomenon is seen in countless other structures of so-called simple biological organisms.
Evolutionists respond to the postulation of irreducible complexity by suggesting such structures could have evolved in response to genetic variation and/or environmental influence (natural selection). They point to the Venus' flytrap as an example of irreducible complexity evolving. This plant is a member of one of the largest genera of carnivorous plants called sundews, having over 170 species. Sundews are found on every continent except Antarctica. The species Venus’ flytrap has a tooth-edged trap which catches insects and digests them. When an insect brushes against the trigger hairs in the center of the trap, the lobes snap shut and the insect is digested over the next few days. The trap is made up of two lobes, the hinge between the lobes (the midrib of the leaf, which anchors the lobes), the trigger hairs, and spines projecting from the edges of the lobes that make a set of bars as the trap closes. All these parts are needed to make the trap work. Therefore, it is an irreducible complexity.
There are other species in this genera which trap insects. Some do so by having a sticky surface on their leaves. Once an insect gets stuck, the leaves of the plant slowly fold around the insect and ultimately digest it. Others, not having as sticky of a surface, close their leaves a lot faster to trap an insect. All the different mechanisms these plants have to trap insects are in themselves irreducible complexities as all their parts must be present for the insect catching phenomenon to work. Evolutionists see evolution of irreducible complexities within this genera through genetic variation. They see movement of plants from those that can only trap insects by secreting a sticky substance to the Venus’ flytrap which responds to the stimulus of an insect on its leaves and folds its leaves around the insect to entrap it.
Creationists respond that it is pure speculation that members of the sundew genera have evolved their different ways of catching insects. Each species in this genera has its own irreducibly complex structure for trapping insects. Creationists see no reason to believe that these structures gradually evolved into increasingly more complex structures. Creationists see this as another example of the comparative anatomy argument which proves nothing as to evolution. Comparative anatomy arguments center around looking at similar anatomy of various organisms and concluding the differences between them evolved over time.
Furthermore, if sundews evolved more sophisticated ways of catching insects, why haven't the species or varieties with less sophistication long ago died out? Natural selection postulates that organisms have evolved from simple to complex with the more complex eliminating the less complex. If movement from simple to complex and survival of the fittest (natural selection) is the goal of evolution, why are there still many organisms within a species or variety of a species with less complex structure still existing and reproducing? If such less complex structure was sufficient for survival, why evolve into something more complex?
Another argument put forth to advance the contention that irreducible complexities can evolve is the development of bacteria that eat the highly toxic chemical pentachlorophenol (PCP). This is a man made chemical that began to be used in the 1930’s and is part of a class of chemicals called chlorophenols, some of which appear naturally in nature. The bacterium, S. chlorophenolica, uses three enzymes in succession to break PCP down and ultimately use it as a food. All three enzymes are necessary to accomplish this task so we have here an example of irreducible complexity as reducing to two or one enzyme would not get the job done.
It’s been found that two of these enzymes are produced by this bacterium in response to the presence of milder forms of chlorophenols which naturally occur in nature. The third enzyme involved is produced all the time and is always available. When PCP is present, this third enzyme combines with the other two enzymes to break down the PCP. This combining of the third enzyme with the other two enzymes is viewed as evolution of an irreducible complexity. Since PCP is a man made substance of recent date, some evolutionists believe a recent mutation changed the way this third enzyme is deployed which is what made PCP degradation possible for this bacterium.
Creationists point out that two of the enzymes only appear when chlorophenols are present. and only then do they combine with the third enzyme to break down the PCP chlorophenol. This suggests a genetically built in capacity to deal with chlorophenols. While it may appear that the manner in which the third enzyme is deployed is in response to the appearance of PCP in the environment, this has not been proven and may not be the case. The third enzyme may have always been deployed in the manner it currently is and may always have had the ability to combine with the two other enzymes to break down PCP. However, this complexing of enzymes would only take place when PCP appeared in the environment. This would not be evolution of an irreducible complexity but a manifestation of an irreducible complexity prompted by the presence of PCP. The ability of the bacterium to destroy PCP did not evolve but was always there. Yet in order to do so, the three enzymes have to work together to accomplish this task and therefore constitute an irreducible complexity.
Evolutions have taken issue with Behe’s statement that "An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly by numerous, successive, slight modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional.” They have apparently taken Behe’s statement about “any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional” as meaning any component of the bacterial flagellum found in some other molecular structure is nonfunctional. They have responded by identifying components found in the flagellum to also exist in other molecular structures where they are perfectly functional within such molecular structure.
Evolutionists point to certain bacteria having specialized protein secretory systems whereby they are able to secrete virulent material into a host cell. Molecular studies of proteins in such systems have found that the proteins that make up the system are similar to the proteins in the basal portion of the bacterial flagellum and have common chemical properties. It is pointed out that a small subset of the full complement of proteins in the flagellum makes up these specialized secretory systems. In other words, these bacteria do their work of secreting material into a host by using similar proteins as those found in the base of the flagellum. Since the secretory structure is made up of the same types of proteins as the base of the flagellum and is able to perform a function without having the other parts of the flagellum, it is believed that Behe’s contention that “any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional" is negated.
The creationist’s response is that the evolutionist is assuming that the proteins that make up the secretory mechanism are a precursor to the proteins that make up the flagellum. There is no evidence this is the case. The makeup of the secretory mechanism in no way negates the irreducible complexity of the flagellum. The fact that similar proteins are found in the secretory mechanism as those that make up the flagellum does not prove they are a precursor to those found in the flagellum. In every respect the secretory mechanism is its own irreducible complexity. To say that since the secretory mechanism has similar proteins to the flagellum and therefore the flagellum evolved from the secretory mechanism is to again introduce comparative anatomy as a determinative in how organisms have appeared. As discussed in part five of this series, similar anatomy does not show evolution but is a strong indicator of design.
It must be pointed out that Behe isn’t saying functional components of the flagellum can’t be found in other molecular structures. What he is saying is that a precursor flagellum cannot be functional if it is missing one of its parts. You can’t have a partial flagellum work in the manner that a whole flagellum works. Yet it is the whole flagellum that must be present in order for the bacterium to move in the manner that it does. Evolutionists respond that a flagellum with fewer parts could have preceded the fully equipped flagellum allowing for a different kind of movement of the bacteria in the historical past. They point to Behe’s mouse trap illustration. You can modify the mouse trap by removing the catch and hooking the holding bar to the end of the spring mechanism and it will still snap to kill mice. Therefore, Behe’s mouse trap is not irreducibly complex. Behe readily admits there are other mouse traps that will catch mice but if you want one to work in the specific manner in which the trap he uses as an illustration works, all its parts must be present at the same time. The same goes for the flagellum, cilia and thousands of other structures that must have all their parts present at the same time in order to work as they work.
Evolutionists agree but maintain that in the biological world there is constant development of new molecular structures as living organisms expand into multiple millions of varieties. It is maintained that as genetic changes take place and natural selection exerts it influence on survival of livings organisms, molecular complexities gradually develop over time to facilitate particular functions only to be replaced by other molecular complexities as evolutionary development continues. Evolutionists maintain that if you are going to insist that irreducible complexity results from the activity of a designer, then that designer must be constantly at work designing new molecular structures as new molecular structures are constantly occurring as mutation and natural selection lead to new varieties of organisms on a continuous basis.
Evolutionists believe irreducibly complex structures have evolved like all other biological components. They see organisms gradually developing structures composed of various parts which become irreducible complexities in so much that such structures must have all their parts working together to produce a particular function at that point in the organisms evolutionary development. As organisms continue their evolutionary progression, parts and components of parts continue to evolve into more advanced irreducible complexities. Therefore, evolutionists see no need to view development of irreducible complexities any different from evolutionary development in general.
Creationists counter that since all component parts of a system or structure must be present at the same time for a particular function to work, it is highly improbable that such parts would all come together at the same time through natural selection and/or genetic mutation. When considering the multiple numbers of irreducible complexities that can be identified in any given organism, the probability that they all came together at the same time is astronomical. Furthermore, it is pointed out that there are no transitional forms in the fossil record to show evolving irreducible complexities. While evolutionists like to point to certain organisms as transitional life forms in the geological record, creationists maintain that the fossil record only shows completely developed biological entities with completely developed structures, including what can be defined as fully developed irreducible complexities.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF MAN:
Evolutionists postulate man has developed over the past million years from apes or a common ancestor to apes and man. In 1856, fossilized limb bones, a pelvis, ribs and a scull cap were found in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf Germany. Similar body parts were found some years later in Belgium and southern France. A study of these specimens led researchers to postulate the existence of what became known as Neanderthal man. Neanderthals are characterized as having large brow ridges and an elongated cranial vault. Bodies are seen as being very muscular. The remains of several hundred Neanderthals have been discovered. A number of largely complete skeletons are preserved, providing detailed knowledge of their biology. The Neanderthal skeletons were found in graves with hands neatly folded, surrounded by fossilized pollen. This would indicate they were buried with flowers in some sort of funeral ceremony. Tools have been found with some of the Neanderthal remains. Evolutionists believe Neanderthals are between 36,000 and 82,000 years old. Some evolutionists believe Neanderthals are an intermediate stage between apes and modern man.
Some Neanderthals had a brain size of around 1,740 cc as compared to 400 cc for apes and 1,350 cc for modern man. Other Neanderthals were found to have a brain size comparable to modern man. In 1908 a Neanderthal skeleton was found in Poland incased in a suit of armor that had not fully rusted. This and other such finds would indicate that Neanderthals are not anywhere near as old as evolutionists have concluded. In the case of the find in Poland, the armor would have been totally rusted if the skeleton was as old as evolutionists make Neanderthals out to be.
There has been much controversy in evolutionary circles as to Neanderthal and what role he played in the development of man. Some evolutionists have concluded that Neanderthal was not much different from modern man because the evidence shows his having ability to use fire, make tools, bury his dead and form culture.
In association with the quest to discover the origins of man, there have been a number of embarrassments in the field of paleontology which is the study of fossils. In 1922 a single molar tooth was found in Nebraska and was determined to belong to a transitional form in the evolution of ape to man. This tooth was embedded in what was determined to be million year old Pliocene stone deposits. An English anatomist and a museum artist collaborated to produce a painting of what they thought this “Nebraska Man” looked like. When John Scopes was tried in 1925 for teaching evolution in the school system contrary to Tennessee law, this tooth was introduced as evidence for evolution. Two years after the Scope’s trail, paleontologists returned to the Nebraska site where the tooth was found and discovered that enough additional rock had weathered to expose additional fossilized body parts which revealed the tooth belonged to an extinct pig.
In 1912, an amateur archeologist found pieces of a cranium and a jaw along with remains of mammals and some stone and bone tools in a gravel pit at Piltdown, Sussex, in southern England. The cranium appeared human but the jar was ape-like. Anthropologists hailed this as a great find supporting the evolution of man. It was named the Piltdown man. Forty years later, it was determined that in 1911 someone had placed a human cranium and an orangutan jaw in the gravel pit. The orangutan teeth had been filed to make them look more human and the jaw had been deliberately broken at the hinge to obscure correct identification. All the bone fragments had been stained brown with potassium bichromate to make them look old. The Piltdown man turned out to be a complete hoax. Yet this discovery was used for years to support evolution including being used in the Scope’s trial.
There is the Peking Man, the Man of Heidelberg, Cro-Magnon Man, Java Man and a variety of other so-called hominids that have been offered as evidence for a gradual development to modern man (Homo sapiens). Many of these hominids were lumped together and called Homo erectus because they were believed to walk in an upright position. All these hominids have come about as a result of piecing together jaw fragments, parts of skulls, bones and other body parts. While various dating methods have been applied to determine the age of these body parts, as discussed in installment three of this series, such dating methods are problematic. For example, in 1951 a scull and jaw was found and named Nutcracker Man. It was announced as being 600,000 years old. In 1961 the skull of Nutcracker Man was dated by the potassium-argon method and found to be 1.75 million years old. In 1968 the skull was dated using the carbon-14 method which found it to be only 10,100 years old. It is these kinds of discrepancies in dating that has produced significant suspicion as to their validity.
ACCELERATOR MASS SPECTROMETRY:
In the late 1970s a new method of measuring carbon-14, called AMS, or Accelerator Mass Spectrometry dating, was developed. This involved directly counting the carbon-14 atoms, using a tandem accelerator. We discussed carbon-14 dating in installment two and three of this series. When using the AMS method, carbon atoms are first negatively charged. This eliminates most of the interference from nitrogen-14, which is much more common than carbon-14 but does not easily take a negative charge. In addition, each atom is accelerated by a very high voltage, and several tests can be done to make sure that we are in fact measuring carbon-14 instead of some interfering isobar, or cosmic rays. Theoretically, the machine should have zero machine background, which makes it ideal for attempting to detect carbon-14 in geologically old specimens.
The standard radiocarbon dating technique only attempts to count the disintegration's of carbon-14 atoms which are sometimes confused with other types of disintegration's. The AMS method only identifies and counts carbon-14. What is of much interest is that the AMS method has consistently detected at least some carbon-14 in every organic specimen tested, even materials formally tested and concluded to be millions of years old. Millions of years old materials would not have detectable carbon-14 still in them. In fact any organic specimen older than 70,000 years should have all their carbon-14 decayed. The fact that the AMS method has detected carbon-14 in every organic specimen it has tested indicates such specimens are much younger than previously believed.
According to a report in the book, “In the Beginning” by Walter Brown, page 245, eleven sets of human bones previously thought to be very old were dated at about 5000 radiocarbon years or less using the AMS method. Some believe that if more of supposed evolutionary ancestors of man are tested and are found to contain carbon-14, scientists will be forced to seriously consider that fossils of living organisms are not as old as previously thought. All research to date using AMS suggests that fossils are younger than previously thought.
Various questions come to mind as to the evolutionary approach to the development of man. If Homo erectus evolved from ape like animals, why did the brain size take such a sudden leap from apes to man? Creationists point out that the number of vertebrae in erectus is different from apes and, most significantly, the DNA of erectus and sapiens is distinctly different form apes, monkeys and all other wildlife. Another question is why written accounts of human activity don’s go back further than 6000 years if hominids/humans have existed for hundreds of thousands of years. Tools and other artifacts of ingenuity have been found with fossil remains of Homo erectus. His brain capacity appears to be equal and even superior to Homo sapiens. It would be logical to conclude that Homo erectus would have developed language and writing skills based on what is known about his IQ.
Careful investigation of Homo erectus has by and large shown them to have the same general characteristics as modern man. Characteristics that have been thought to be peculiar to erectus have been found to be present in modern man in various societies and cultures to this present day. This being the case, the designation Homo erectus as pertaining to ancestors of modern man or Homo sapien becomes irrelevant.
In essence, there appears to be only one species of man with a variety of genetic variations within that species. Assigning ancient dates to fossils of body parts identified as human is problematical for the reasons given earlier in this series. The new method of measuring carbon-14, called AMS, or Accelerator Mass Spectrometry may prove to be the Achilles heel of the proposition that life has evolved over millions of years. If AMS can validly show the age of fossils to be much younger than presently believed by evolutionists and some creationists, it should create a significant challenge to the current evolutionist paradigm that postulates fossils are millions of years old.