Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fine-Tuning in the Universe

The idea that was discussed was the fine-tuning in the universe, sometimes called the “anthropic principle”. The idea is that the universal constants in the universe (such as the universal gravitational constant, strong/weak nuclear force, speed of light, etc.) seem to be “finely-tuned” to allow for sustaining life. For example, if the electromagnetic force constant was different by 1/10^40 (0.000000000000000000000000000000000000001%), then we wouldn’t have any molecules, just elemental atoms floating around.. and obviously you can’t get life without molecule formation.
This fine-tuning in the universe is something that leading atheists like Richard Dawkins acknowledges as perhaps the “biggest challenge” to atheism. Below is the video where Richard Dawkins talks about this. You can post your questions or comments on the anthropic principle. Dawkins does give his reply (which he fleshes out in his book "God Delusion") to the mystery of the anthropic principle, so you can comment on that as well.
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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Truth Project: Issues with Evolution

One of our brothers at Gracepoint Berkeley, a Ph.D. structural biologist in UCSF, has given us a brief explanation of evolution below that might be helpful in understanding the issues with evolution that have been mentioned in our Truth Project.

I. What is Evolution?

Darwinian evolution is defined as the change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation, leading to new adaptations and the emergence of new traits that ultimately lead to the genesis of new species. Although these changes in any single generation are small, the belief is that the changes that give a competitive edge to an individual or population accumulate over the course of multiple generations. Therefore these traits add up over time as those individuals with these ‘good’ changes out-competed those without. This mechanism is called natural selection or commonly known as “survival of the fittest.” Proponents of evolutionary theory point to the similarities between organisms and suggest that all species have descended from a common ancestor.

Figure 1 – Two classic icons of evolution. A) The picture of evolution that depicts the evolution of man from ape. B) The different colors of the peppered moths that give selective advantage of a certain colored moth in different environments.

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2. The problem with Natural Selection.

Natural selection is one of the cornerstones of the naturalistic worldview, in which all creation and living things are believed to be the result of random chemical and physical events that have led to the addition of complexity over time into the diverse kingdoms of life we see today. One can say that it is one of the pillars of the church of science & naturalism and places its trust and faith on the blind and unguided chemical/physical processes to bring forth life and the millions of different species we see today.

3. Technical problem with evolution – Irreducible complexity:

Since evolution is a gradual process in which slight modifications produce advantages for survival, it cannot produce complex structures in a short amount of time. Darwin recognized this shortcoming to his theory and stated this disclaimer to his theory:

"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." --Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

The fact is, mutations may gradually build up and modify complex structures, but it cannot produce them in their functional form without meaningless and non-functional intermediate steps. Mutations may change function, but in most cases, it is detrimental to life and leads to the loss of function. Furthermore, mutations cannot bring about the formation of multi-component complexes that are involved in almost every molecular process in our cells and organs required for life. A great illustration of the complexity of even a single response in the cells can be visualized in a great computer animation called “the inner life of the cell” (http://multimedia.mcb.harvard.edu/anim_innerlife_hi.html). It is not far-fetched to compare a single cell to a large bustling metropolis, with thousands of different functions and signal networks interacting at the same time. With the incredible complexity of a single cell, it takes a huge amount of faith to conclude that this complex system have derived from unguided and blind mutational changes.

The concept called irreducible complexity was developed by biochemist Michale Behe to describe this problem of the genesis of complex biological systems. Simply put, everything is there and it works, or something is missing and it doesn’t work.

Figure 2 – The mousetrapclip_image001

The concept illustration for an irreducible complex system is the mousetrap (Figure 2). This device contains 5 interdependent components to work: the wooden platform, the spring, the hammer, the holding bar, and a catch. Each of these components is absolutely essential for the function of the mousetrap. Remove any of the parts, and it can no longer catch mice. This example implies that an irreducibly complex system cannot come about in a gradual manner. A step-by-step approach to constructing such a system will result in a useless system until all the components have been added. The system requires all the components to be added at the same time, in the right configuration, before it works at all.

Some of the biological examples used by Behe are the bacterial flagella, the blood clotting mechanism in humans, and the eye. In each of these cases, either you have everything and it works, or you take away something and it doesn’t. One can take any known molecular machine or signal system in the cell and it runs into the problem of irreducible complexity.

Figure 3 – Illustrations of the irreducible complex systems

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Blind evolution, as described by Darwinian theory, cannot produce complex structures in a single generation, as would be required for the formation of irreducibly complex systems. Even the production of one or a few of these proteins at a time is not only improbable, and it would provide no advantage to the survival of the individual because those few proteins would have no function. Darwin recognized this as a weakness to his theory when the cell was understood as a sac of goo, and the advances we are making in biological sciences today only add to the incredible complexity of life that makse belief in Darwinian evolution a feat of great faith indeed.