Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Creationists often argue against any scientific claim that is based on uniformitarianism.

A geology text book provides a good definition of that term[1]:

Uniformitarianism – The belief or principle that the past history of the earth and its inhabitants is best interpreted in terms of what is known about the present. Uniformitarianism explains the past by appealing to known laws and principles acting in a gradual, uniform way through past ages.

This is really not a concept that is difficult to understand. We can apply the same idea to many things that we see in everyday life.

Let’s say you are standing next to a highway and a car drives by you at a speed of 60 miles-per-hour (or one mile-per-minute). That is what we know about the present.

Based on that, what is your opinion about where that car was one minute ago? You didn’t see it one minute ago, but surely it is very reasonable to guess that the car was one mile further up the highway.

Furthermore, it is reasonable to guess that ten minutes ago, the car was ten miles further up the highway.

As you go further and further back in time, the process of guessing where that car was still works but it becomes less and less likely. Since most trips by car are less than 30 miles, the odds that one hour ago the car was 60 miles up the highway are probably less than 50% though that is still a valid possibility. If you go back a full day – 24 hours – it is quite unlikely that you can simply multiply the time by 60 mph and get the likely position of the car at that time. It is likely that the trip wasn’t that long, and even if it was the driver surely stopped along the way to eat and purchase gas.

The point – we can look at current data and make reasonable conclusions about the immediate past. But as you go further and further back in time the odds that the current data is consistent throughout that time frame.

When discussing processes that affect the Earth’s surface, they take place in “geological” time. That means many millions of years. But when dealing with very long periods of time, geologists recognize that it is probably incorrect to simply assume that current processes were operating at that same rate though that has not always been the case.
Wikipedia provides this bit of history about uniformitarianism[2]:

The concept of uniformity in geological processes can be traced back to the Persian geologist, Avicenna (Ibn Sina), in The Book of Healing, published in 1027. Modern uniformitarianism was formulated by Scottish naturalists in the late 18th century, starting with the work of the geologist, James Hutton, which was refined by John Playfair and popularised by Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology in 1830. The term uniformitarianism was coined in 1832 by William Whewell, who also coined the term catastrophism for the idea that the Earth was shaped by a series of sudden, short-lived, violent events.

Charles Lyell’s work influenced Charles Darwin.

Here is a discussion on the current views of uniformitarianism from the Talkorigins discussion forum[3]:
Originally, uniformitarianism included a belief in a rough uniformity of rate of all natural processes. For example, the time required to deposit a given sedimentary formation would have been estimated by using observed deposition rates for similar present-day formations. This sort of strict uniformitarianism has been out of favor for a very long time. Even when it was in favor, it was recognized as being a convenient simplification at best.

However, uniformitarianism has always encompassed much more than that. For example, the uniformity of existence of natural processes, resulting from a uniformity in the basic laws of physics. Even though rate, intensity, and relative importance of natural processes may change over time, the processes observed in the present had been operating in the past as well. Those past processes left traces that look like the traces which those same processes are observed to leave today. "The present is the key to the past," is one way that it is stated.

Modern geologists use the term actualism for these concepts. You may think of actualism as being equal to the modern definition of uniformitarianism, or perhaps as the subset of uniformitarnianism which is still accepted. The overwhelming majority of modern geologists accept actualism -- meaning that they accept a number of the components of uniformitarianism as it was originally defined. You'll find a similar definition of actualism in most introductory geology texts, for example p. 521 of Cooper et al.'s A Trip Through Time, and p. G-1 of Dott and Prothero's Evolution of the Earth.

To the extent that geologists have rejected uniformitarianism, it's of little comfort to the young-Earth creationist cause. The evidence supporting actualism quite clearly rules out the history of the Earth which they desire (for religious, rather than scientific reasons) to support.

In summary, modern geologists don’t really believe in strict uniformitarianism.

The reason that this subject is relevant to creationism is because creationists insist that the Earth’s geological features are due primarily to the Biblical flood of Noah. They embrace the lessening influence of uniformitarianism and say that it is evidence that the concept that the flood is a real event is gaining acceptance.

Here’s how one creationist put it:

> Apparently you still have not realised that Darwinian
> gradualism with its doctrine of "Uniformitarianism"
> has been substantually replaced by many evolutionists
> with "Catastrophism" -- much to the satisfaction of
> Creation scientists, who have been catastrophists all
> along!

But modern geologists are not catastrophists. They are actualists. Surely they recognize that catastrophes have occurred. There have been meteors that have struck the Earth with devastating effects, there have been large regional floods, there were Ice Ages and the like. It has always been the case that geologists understood the ideas of local floods and the other catastrophies. There really is no major paradigm shift here.
But there has never been a global flood.

The idea that giving up the concept of uniformitarianism implies acceptance of the idea of a global flood is absurd.
Moreover, and very ironically, many creationist claims are, at their core, uniformitarian arguments!
For example, one evidence for a Young Earth is the decay in the Earth’s Magnetic field. That decay has been measured consistently for the last 30 years.

Here’s how Answers in Genesis describes it[4]:

`In the most accurately recorded period, from 1970 to 2000, the total (dipole plus non-dipole) energy in the earth's magnetic field has steadily decreased by 1.41±0.16%. At that rate, the field would lose at least half its energy every 1500 years, give or take a century or so. This supports the creationist model that the field has always been losing energy—even during magnetic polarity reversals during the Genesis flood—ever since God created it about 6000 years ago.”

So they are taking present readings (at least those for the last 30 years which is no more than an eye blink in geological time) and extrapolating that back through “past ages”. Which, if we refer back to the very definition of “uniformitarianism”, is just that! Effectively creationists using uniformitarianism as an argument each and every time that it suits them.

Obviously consistency is not one of the facets of creationism.

[1] Definitions from Essentials of Earth History, by W. Lee Stokes, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1982
[2], referenced on February 25, 2009
[3], referenced on February 25, 2009
[4], referenced on January 25, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Polystrate tree fossils are not evidence of a global flood

A polystrate tree fossil is a fossilized tree that protrudes through multiple layers of strata. Here is a picture of one.

These have been found in many places on Earth.

Here’s how a typical creationist web site argues that this is evidence for a young Earth[1]:

“It is not possible that polystrate fossils were buried gradually over many thousands or hundreds of thousands of years because the top part of any tree would have rotted away before it could be protected by sediment. Polystrate fossils point to rapid burial and are evidence for the reality of the global Flood recorded in the Bible.”

It would seem to be a persuasive argument.

Except for the “global” part of the claim.

It’s surely true that floods probably contribute to these fossils. But it doesn’t take a global flood to fossilize a single tree. A single local flood can do that.

Moreover even several feet of sediment from a flood rarely kills a tree. It will continue to grow. Eventually when it dies, it fossilizes and turns into a polystrate fossil[2].

Floods, yes. Global flood, no.

[1] referenced on February 23, 2009
[2], referenced on February 23, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Velikovsky and Joshua’s Long Day

Immanuel Velikovsky has an entry in Wikipedia. It starts out like this[1]:

"Immanuel Velikovsky (June 10, 1895 (NS) – November 17, 1979) is best known as the author of a number of controversial books on prehistory, in particular, the US bestseller Worlds in Collision, published in 1950. Earlier, he played a role in the founding of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and was a respected psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.

"His books use comparative mythology and ancient literary sources (including the Bible) to argue that Earth has suffered catastrophic close-contacts with other planets (principally Venus and Mars) in ancient times. Velikovsky argued that electromagnetic effects play an important role in celestial mechanics. He also proposed a revised chronology for ancient Egypt, Greece, Israel and other cultures of the ancient Near East. The revised chronology aimed at explaining the so-called dark age of the eastern Mediterranean (ca. 1100-750 BCE) and reconciling biblical history with mainstream archeology and orthodox interpretations of Egyptian chronology. Indeed, revising or correcting (in his view) the conventional chronology of Egypt was his principal concern."

Velikovsky's theories have generally been rejected or ignored by the academic community.

In summary, Velikovsky believed that Jupiter expelled a huge comet, which eventually became Venus. The expulsion of this comet created the Red Spot that we see on Jupiter to this day. This comet nearly collided with Earth after it was expelled from Jupiter in about 1500 BCE, causing the plagues of Egypt, and the parting of the Red Sea, and nourished the Children of Israel with manna (which he says is made of hydrocarbons from the comet). That same comet then made the earth stop spinning when Joshua commanded the sun to stand still. The earth started spinning again. Then the comet zoomed to Mars, throwing Mars out of its orbit. Mars then nearly collided with Earth, destroying the army of Sennacherib. Mars settled into its present orbit, and the comet became Venus, settling into its own orbit.That’s quite a busy comet.

Velikovsky was Jewish and attempted to explain many of the events in the Old Testament. Velikovsky was also a contemporary and life-long friend of Albert Einstein – a man who knew quite a bit about the movement of planetary bodies.

Are Velikovsky’s ideas plausible? Here’s a response from a Physics professor:

"Could Velikovsky's ideas be true? How can we test them? If there were some obvious physical mechanism for moving planets around and changing their rotations the way Velikovsky claims, we might have reason to believe him. It would take as much energy as the Sun emits in a year to expel Venus from Jupiter. The normal laws of planetary motion are known well enough for us to send spacecraft to Saturn and beyond, arriving only a few miles off target and a few seconds off schedule after a trip of a billion miles and years in duration, but the normal laws of planetary motion will not move planets the way Velikovsky says they moved. Velikovsky postulated electromagnetic forces, but there is no known way such forces could originate in the Solar system. There are many thousands of known double stars in orbit around one another, but we have never seen any undergo the sort of violent orbital changes Velikovsky claims took place in our solar System. The laws of physics offer little encouragement to Velikovsky[2]."

Velikovsky’s friend Einstein was one of those who was critical of Velikovsky’s ideas. As a friend he didn’t wish to offer insults, but in a letter from Einstein to Velikovsky dated July 8, 1946, Einstein wrote these words:

"I have read the whole book about the planet Venus. There is much of interest in the book which proves that in fact catastrophes have taken place which must be attributed to extraterrestrial causes. However it is evident to every sensible physicist that these catastrophes can have nothing to do with the planet Venus and that also the direction of the inclination of the terrestrial axis towards the ecliptic could not have undergone a considerable change without the total destruction of the earth's entire crust. It were best in my opinion if you would in this way revise your books, which contain truly valuable material. If you cannot decide on this, then what is valuable in your deliberations will become ineffective, and it would be difficult finding a sensible publisher who would take the risk of such a heavy setback upon himself.[3]"

Clearly Velikovsky’s ideas can’t be considered to be serious science.

In my own experience, many creationists know something about Velikovsky and they know that his ideas may explain some of the events in the Bible. Few of them seem to look for details. I have often asked creationists who mention Velikovsky's name to decribe his claims in their own words. They are routinely unable to do so. Clearly this is just another example of creationists not really wanting to know any of the details because they secretly know how unlikely they really are to be valid.

[1] From the web page referenced on September 28, 2007.
[2], referenced on June 4, 2008
[3], referenced on June 4, 2008

Creationist code words

This post lists certain words frequently used by creationists and explains what the intended meaning is for those words.

Creation (often "CREATION") means the accounts of the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis in the Bible. (“In the beginning…”)

“God the creator” (or the “GOD the CREATOR”) is the God depicted in that same book of Genesis; the one who took six days to create everything, and then rested. That’s the same God who chased Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden.

“Science” is anything that contradicts what some say is the Bible’s message.

“Evolutionism” is a belief in evolution. “Darwinism” is a belief in the ideas of Charles Darwin as applied to evolution. Those actually seem to be reasonable definitions for those words. The problem is that creationists add the “ism” to the end of these words for one reason only: they wish to make an acceptance of Darwin’s ideas seem to be nothing but a matter of faith. Note that no one speaks of gravity as “Gravitism” and no one refers to Newton’s ideas about gravity as “Newtonism”. Neither do you hear of “Einsteinism” or “Pastuerism”. Creationists are being more than disingenuous when they start to throw these terms around.

“Assumption”, when used by a creationist, means utter and complete guess; something which is just as likely to be correct as to be wrong. For an example, the Intelligent Design site called “The Discovery Institute” says:

“...the extrapolation from microevolution to macroevolution is still just an assumption.[1]

The word “just” is generally put in front of “an assumption” thereby clearly implying that people are doing nothing better than guessing.

But, of course, not all assumptions are created equal. I can say that, “I assume that the sun will come up tomorrow”. That would be an “assumption” since there are, I suppose, various things that could prevent that from happening.

But that is an assumption that no one would argue with. Obviously some assumptions are much more likely to be true than they are to be false.

So if a creationist throws out the phrase “just an assumption” they are obligated to explain what is invalid about that assumption and show why it is unlikely to be valid. Simply calling something an assumption really doesn’t say anything at all.

[1], referenced on June 16, 2008

The Speed of Light

Another explanation that creationists attempt to use in order to explain light appearing to us from places more than 6000 light-years from Earth is that the speed-of-light was much higher in the past. There are many problems with this explanation as well; one of which I will address.

The speed-of-light is more than just the speed that light travels through a vacuum. It is actually one of the most basic constants in the universe. Most people are familiar with the equation that Albert Einstein derived as a part of the Theory of Relativity: E = M*C**2. While most people have heard that formula, not everyone knows that ‘C’ in that equation stands for the speed-of-light.

That equation describes the amount of energy (E) that will result from a change of matter (M). Because the speed-of-light is a very big number, an awful lot of energy results from a change of matter. Most famously, the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the result of very large amounts of energy being released from relatively small amounts of mass.

In fact, however, atomic bombs are not the only place that this equation becomes relevant. Masses change on the atomic level as well. Every time there is a radioactive decay, such as when an atom of uranium decays and is detected by a Geiger counter, energy is given off, the amount of which can be calculated by this equation. Because the mass is so very small when you are dealing with individual atoms, the amount of energy is relatively small as well. Nonetheless, the total amount of energy released from such radioactive decays in the Earth’s crust is enough to keep the Earth from turning into a cold and frozen rock[1].

So what would happen if the speed-of-light was significantly higher than what it is now?

Let’s say, hypothetically, that it was formerly ten-times higher than it is now. What effects would that have?

Since Einstein’s equation converts mass to energy by the ‘square’ of the speed-of-light (i.e. “C**2”) then the amount of energy released from each radioactive decay in the Earth’s crust would be actually 10-squared or 100 times higher than it is now.

That would melt the Earth’s crust.

Furthermore, the Sun’s energy is a type of nuclear energy (fusion energy resulting from hydrogen converting into helium). The energy released would also be proportional to the square of the speed-of-light. So the Sun would also shine 100 times brighter than it does now.

That would kill all life on Earth – as would the melting of the Earth’s crust.

The bottom line – if the speed-of-light is ten-times what it is now, all life on Earth dies.

To emphasize the absurdity of their claims, some creationists insist that the speed-of-light may have been a billion times higher than it is now during and soon after the creation week! That would mean that energy would be increased by a factor of 10**18 (one billion squared)! Under those circumstances, each radioactive decay would have the effect of an atomic bomb. The sun and the other stars would also shine so brightly that there would never be any darkness anywhere in the universe.

(I can’t resist mentioning that most creationists are fond of pointing out how finely-tuned the universal constants are and suggesting that this “fine-tuning” is evidence of a creator God. It is, therefore, amusing how quickly they will suggest that one of the most fundamental of those constants can be changed willy-nilly with no ill effects on the universe! Consistency is not a common characteristic among creationists.)

[1] At the web site ( referenced on December 30, 2008) Wikipedia has a discussion of this effect.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Richard Dawkins on the truth of evolution

The web page at has anarticle written by Richard Dawkins that reviews a new book titled "Why Evolution is True" byJerry Coyne.

Here's a sample.

"Just as you entrust your travel to a Boeing 747 rather than a magic carpet or a broomstick; just as you take your tumour to the best surgeon available, rather than a shaman or a mundu mugu, so you will find that the scientific version of truth works. You can use it to navigate through the real world. Science predicts, with complete certainty unless the end of the world intervenes, that the city of Shanghai will experience a total eclipse of the sun on July 22, 2009. Theories about the moon god devouring the sun god may be poetic, and they may cohere with other aspects of a tribe’s world view, but they won’t predict the date, time and place of an eclipse. Science will, and with an accuracy you could set your watch by. Science gets you to the moon and back. Even if we bend over backwards to concede that scientific truth is no more than that which enables you to pilot your way reliably, safely and predictably around the real universe, it is in exactly this sense that – at the very least – evolution is true. Evolutionary theory pilots us around biology reliably and predictively, with a detailed and unblemished success that rivals anything in science. The least you can say about evolutionary theory is that it works. All but pedants would go further and assert that it is true."

"Whence, then, comes the oft-parroted canard, “Evolution is only a theory”? Perhaps from a misunderstanding of philosophers who assert that science can never demonstrate truth. All it can do is fail to disprove a hypothesis. Evolution is an unfalsified hypothesis – one that was vulnerable to falsification but has so far survived. Scientists generally don’t mind this kind of philosopher and even thank him for taking care of such matters, thereby freeing them to get on with advancing knowledge. They might, however, venture that what is sauce for the goose of science is sauce for the gander of everyday experience. If evolution is an unfalsified hypothesis, then so is every fact about the real world; so is the very existence of a real world.

Does the Big Bang mean that the Bible is wrong?

Most creationists that I have debated insist that the Big Bang does indeed make the Bible wrong. So they argue against it. (The most common argument presented is the one about the First Law of Thermodynamics that I presented a couple of pages ago.)

I believe that they argue against the Big Bang as part of a sort of “knee-jerk” reaction. Apparently their own initial interpretation of the Bible didn’t include anything like the Big Bang so they immediately reject it rather than consider it as a possibility that improves their understanding of the universe and how it works and even supports their own religious views.

Other theologians have given the issue more thought and have come to different conclusions[1].

Chuck Colson is a former advisor to Richard Nixon and was implicated in the Watergate scandal but was never charged with a crime. But he has been an important evangelical Christian leader for a number of decades since he left the White House. He has strongly argued against “Darwinism” and in favor of Intelligent Design.

But, surprisingly, Colson believes that the Big Bang is probably the greatest gift that science has ever given to people who believe in God[2].

Here are some quotes from him about the Big Bang:

"The Big Bang and [Dr. Fred] Hoyle's Steady State were mere abstractions, unable to be tested. Then, in 1964, Drs. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs encountered continuous static on certain microwave frequencies. Rotating their antenna in a vain attempt to remove the noise, they realized it was coming from all directions-permeating the universe. Physicists hailed this as the first observational evidence of the Big Bang known as "cosmic background radiation" or "the radio echo of creation." Penzias saw the philosophical significance in his discovery. "…(T)he best data we have," he said, "are exactly what I would have predicted, had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole… (T)he creation of the universe is supported by all the observable data astronomy has produced so far."


"Today, advocates of the Big Bang think that their theory is a substitute for God. But it's just the opposite. Hoyle rejected the Big Bang in spite of the evidence because he knew that the Big Bang pointed irresistibly to the existence of God. Science historian Frederic B. Burnham observed that scientists consider the idea that God created the universe, "a more respectable hypothesis today than at any time in the last hundred years." Dr. Geoffrey Burbridge, of the University of California at San Diego, complains that many astronomers are rushing off to join what he calls "the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang." That's a cynic's way of acknowledging that many astronomers are being forced by their data, to recognize the existence of a Creator-God.

Colson also makes this point:

"In other words, the things that exist in the universe are so complex and brilliantly made, that they look as if an Intelligent Designer fine-tuned them. Mao Zedong, by the way, recognized this as well-which is why he would never allow the Big Bang theory to be taught in China. "

So according to Charles Colson, a strong advocate for ID, the best evidence for his beliefs is the Big Bang. In fact even atheists (such as Mao Zedong) can’t deny this as evidence for God.

Colson is not alone.

One of those advocating that the Big Bang actually confirms the Bible is Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder, PhD.
He spells out his ideas in his book titled Genesis and the Big Bang (Bantam Books, 1990). Dr. Schroeder has an unusual background. He is both an applied physicist and a theologian. He is Jewish and teaches at a University in Jerusalem. The fact that he is Jewish shouldn't be significant in this context, of course, because Jews and Christians share the same book of Genesis.

Dr. Schroeder is also a creationist. On page 128 of his book he makes this statement:

"We have seen that the almost immediate appearance of life on the newly formed Earth is so highly improbable that it must be removed from the category of an inevitable event occurring among random chemical reactions."

In other words, Dr. Schroeder feels that abiogenesis is impossible. That is certainly a view shared by nearly all creationists.

Dr. Schroeder's background in physics has convinced him, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Big Bang actually took place. However, he also believes in an inerrant Bible.

How does he reconcile those two beliefs?

One of the ways that he does that is by quoting extensively from a book named "Commentary on the Torah, Genesis 1-4" by a Jewish theologian named Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (or Nahmanides for short).

These commentaries reflect, with uncanny precision (according the Dr. Schroeder), the current view of how the Big Bang took place.

For example, Nahmanides, based on his reading of the Bible, theorized that at the instant of creation, God, filling all eternity, contracted. Within that contraction, the universe expanded, beginning from a speck "smaller than a mustard seed". To form the universe, God chose from the infinite realm of the Divine, ten dimensions or aspects and relegated them to be held within the universe. With an amazing congruity, particle physicists now talk of String Theory, a unified theory of the universe in ten dimensions.

There are a large number of other descriptions in Nahmanides book that Dr. Schroeder claims show identical interpretations between the Bible and current mainstream scientific views, but only if the Big Bang hypothesis is correct.

A common reaction at this point among creationists is probably to guess that Nahmanides is a theologian who is only trying to make an accommodation with science and who is perverting his interpretation of the Bible as a result of that. That is certainly not the case.

You see Nahmaides lived from 1194 to 1270 AD. His commentaries were written a full seven centuries before there was any hint of anything like the Big Bang. As Dr. Schroeder says,

"Because the commentaries were written long before the advent of modern physics, we avoid the folly of using interpretations of tradition that may have been biased by modern scientific discoveries."

There are other theologians who agree.

The creationist web site “Reasons to Believe”, which supports Old Earth Creationism, lists a number of Biblical passages discussing how the Bible describes the creation[3]. Then it adds this:

"This simultaneously finished and ongoing aspect of cosmic stretching is identical to the big bang concept of cosmic expansion. According to the big bang, at the creation event all the physics (specifically, the laws, constants, and equations of physics) are instantly created, designed, and finished so as to guarantee an ongoing, continual expansion of the universe at exactly the right rates with respect to time so that physical life will be possible."

"This biblical claim for simultaneously finished and ongoing acts of creation, incidentally, is not limited to just the universe’s expansion. The same claim, for example, is made for God’s laying Earth’s foundations (Isaiah 51:3; Zechariah 12:1). This is consistent with the geophysical discovery that certain long-lived radiometric elements were placed into the earth’s crust a little more than four billion years ago in just the right quantities so as to guarantee the continual building of continents.

"Finally, the Bible indirectly argues for a big bang universe by stating that the laws of thermodynamics, gravity, and electromagnetism have universally operated throughout the universe since the cosmic creation event itself. In Romans 8 we are told that the entire creation has been subjected to the law of decay (the second law of thermodynamics). This law in the context of an expanding universe establishes that the cosmos was much hotter in the past. In Genesis 1 and in many places throughout Job, Psalms, and Proverbs we are informed that stars have existed since the early times of creation. As explained in two Reasons To Believe books, even the slightest changes in either the laws of gravity or electromagnetism would make stars impossible. As already noted in the accompanying article, gravity, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics yield stable orbits of planets around stars and of electrons around the nuclei of atoms only if they operate in a universe described by three very large rapidly expanding dimensions of space."

There are a number of other examples found in creationist sources.It would seem that a strong case could be made that the Big Bang does not conflict with a literal interpretation of the Bible in any meaningful way. If anything, it would appear that the Big Bang actually supports theism quite significantly.

[1] Disclaimer: for the purposes of full disclosure I am not necessarily indicating that I agree with the views of the creationists and theologians that I am quoting here. But I love it when I find creationists who present arguments that argue against other creationists.
[2], referenced on January 17, 2009
[3], referenced on January 17, 2009

What caused the Big Bang in the first place?

The real answer is:

No one knows.

Science may never know with certainty what caused the Big Bang.

The Big Bang represents something that in mathematics and science is called a “singularity”. It was infinitesimally small and infinitely dense. It is quite possible; maybe even likely, that the physical laws we understand and use to study things in science don’t work under those conditions.

Many scientists feel that it may not be possible to go back to anything that took place before the Big Bang with any sort of assurances that we can understand what actually happened and what caused it. There are some very smart people trying to figure all of that out. But it may very well be the case that no one will ever present a hypothesis that can be tested.

Without an answer, and with the very real possibility that there will never be an answer, creationists rush in to use the “God of the Gaps” argument again. But in this case there initially seems to be a bit more validity to that argument than is the case with other hypotheses.

One argument goes along with the First Law of Thermodynamics. It goes like this (stated as a “proof” that the Big
Bang was supernaturally created:

> So, you want my proof. There is a lot to go over,
> so let's get started...:

> The first law of thermodynamics states that energy
> is not created or destroyed. It can be changed into
> different forms, but there is no gain or loss of
> energy. Thus, the first law of thermodynamics is
> sometimes called the law of conservation of energy.

> This principle derives from the study of the
> physical properties of energy, and therefore,
> states the condition of energy as it is understood
> in our physical world.

> It is an established scientific law because there
> are no known experimental exceptions to suggest
> that energy can be created or destroyed. It has
> been studied and analyzed by thousands of scientists
> for over two hundred years. Observation shows that
> the universe exists in many forms of energy, such
> as matter, light, and heat, but there are no known
> physical conditions whereby energy can be or is
> created. The obvious question often asked is,
> "Where did this energy come from?"

Wow. That sounds like a pretty powerful argument.

What’s the answer?

One answer, of course, is that since we don’t know what happened before the Big Bang it is quite possible that whatever preceded it had energy.

But there is a better answer. That answer involves the idea of “potential energy”. Potential energy is a form of negative energy.

The best example of potential energy is what we see in a pendulum clock such as a Grandfather clock. In such clocks, you pull a weight up and that elevated weight powers the pendulum. As the pendulum moves back-and-forth the weight descends. If you never pull it back up it will hit the bottom of the column causing the pendulum to stop.

So when you pull the weight up, you are “investing” energy into the clock – creating negative energy. Over time the positive energy needed to keep the pendulum moving works against that stored or positive energy. When the weight hits the bottom of the clock, the net energy is zero.

In fact, potential energy – negative energy – is created whenever masses are moved apart from each other in defiance of gravity. The weight in the clock is moved away from the center of the Earth in order to create this potential to allow the clock to continue to run.

The further that you move masses away from each other, the more energy that is required.

If you factor in all of these potential energies, the total energy of the universe is actually zero!

The famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking explains it like this[1].

"There are something like ten million million million million million million million million million million million million million million (1 with eighty zeroes after it) particles in the region of the universe that we can observe. Where did they all come from? The answer is that, in quantum theory, particles can be created out of energy in the form of particle/antiparticle parts. But that just raises the question of where the energy came from. The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero. The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy. However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity. Two pieces of matter that are close to each other have less energy than the same two pieces a long way apart, because you have to expend energy to separate them against the gravitational force that is pulling them together. Thus in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero."

So things are not quite as mysterious and impossible as we would originally think.

[1] Stephen Hawking, "A Brief History of Time", p. 129

Why is it called the “Big Bang”?

The phrase “Big Bang” has a nice ring to it. It’s easy to remember. But it sounds like sort of an unsophisticated name to give to the event that caused the creation of the entire universe!

In fact, it is my understanding that the phrase “Big Bang” is a slang expression used primarily in Britain for a particularly shall I say this? ...enthusiastic sexual encounter.

So it is not really obvious as to how this phrase so widely used and accepted.

The event that initiated the universe was named by Dr. Fred Hoyle. Dr. Hoyle died in 2001 at the age of 86. He was an eminent astronomer and made significant contributions to his field.

But, to his dying day he was a skeptic of the “Big Bang” (for reasons unrelated to this discussion). It was his view that the universe had always existed but that new mass was introduced on occasion in order to support the eternal nature of the universe.

On March 28, 1949, on a BBC radio program called The Nature of Things Dr. Hoyle used the expression “The Big Bang” to sarcastically describe this idea that he didn’t agree with.

Needless to say, the expression caught on.

One problem is that creationists often focus on the name, despite the nearly random nature by which it came into comon usage. The word “bang”, of course, is used most often for an explosion. Explosions don’t generally produce order.

But the Big Bang is really just a sudden expansion of space and time. The concept of a balloon suddenly inflating is closer to what the Big Bang really was than is an explosion.

When did the Big Bang occur?

The time since the Big Bang is estimated by extrapolating the observed expansion back in time. It is sort of like a “word problem” in high school mathematics – if a train is traveling at 50 mph and is 200 miles from the station, how long has it been traveling? There is also evidence based on fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation and data that comes from the galaxies. All of these converge on the same date.

Currently it is estimated that the Big Bang took place 13.73 ± 0.12 billion years ago[1].

At one time, based on available data, it was estimated that the Earth was older than the universe! The Earth’s age estimate, 4.55 billion years, was based primarily on radiometric dating. The universe’s age was based on the sorts of calculations I just described. More recent and more accurate data taken primarily from satellites in space has moved the universe’s age as older than that of the solar system. That, of course, only makes sense.

[1], referenced on January 16, 2009

Evidence for the Big Bang

Much of the evidence is beyond the technical scope of this BLOG. There are more than a dozen different things that support the Big Bang hypothesis. Some of the evidence includes the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect and the Integrated Sachs-Wolfe effect. Understanding those things is as daunting as their names imply.

But some of the pieces of evidence aren’t so difficult to understand.

One hypothesis, not too difficult to believe, is that at the moment of the Big Bang the universe was very, very hot. As it expanded, it cooled off.

But, like a campfire, it should have never cooled off to nothing. This is a testable hypothesis. If you look around the universe, you should see some sort of residual heat. It should be very small, but measurable nonetheless. It should also be very, though not necessarily perfectly uniform. (It should also have a black-body spectrum.)

That is exactly what we see.

This was predicted ahead of time but was originally discovered, quite by accident. Here’s a description of what happened[1]:

"In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were experimenting with a supersensitive, 20 foot (6 m) horn antenna originally built to detect radio waves bounced off echo balloon satellites. To measure these faint radio waves, they had to eliminate all recognizable interference from their receiver. They removed the effects of radar and radio broadcasting, and suppressed interference from the heat in the receiver itself by cooling it with liquid helium to −269 °C, only 4 °C above absolute zero.

"When Penzias and Wilson reduced their data they found a low, steady, mysterious noise that persisted in their receiver. This residual noise was 100 times more intense than they had expected, was evenly spread over the sky, and was present day and night. They were certain that the radiation they detected on a wavelength of 7.35 centimeters did not come from the Earth, the Sun, or our galaxy. After thoroughly checking their equipment, removing some pigeons nesting in the antenna and cleaning out the accumulated droppings, the noise remained. Both concluded that this noise was coming from outside our own galaxy--although they were not aware of any radio source that would account for it.

"At that same time, Robert H. Dicke, Jim Peebles, and David Wilkinson, astrophysicists at Princeton University just 40 miles (60 km) away, were preparing to search for microwave radiation in this region of the spectrum. Dicke and his colleagues reasoned that the Big Bang must have scattered not only the matter that condensed into galaxies but also must have released a tremendous blast of radiation. With the proper instrumentation, this radiation should be detectable.

"When a friend (Bernard F. Burke, Prof. of Physics at MIT) told Penzias about a preprint paper he had seen by Jim Peebles on the possibility of finding radiation left over from an explosion that filled the universe at the beginning of its existence, Penzias and Wilson began to realize the significance of their discovery. The characteristics of the radiation detected by Penzias and Wilson fit exactly the radiation predicted by Robert H. Dicke and his colleagues at Princeton University. Penzias called Dicke at Princeton, who immediately sent him a copy of the still-unpublished Peebles paper. Penzias read the paper and called Dicke again and invited him to Bell Labs to look at the Horn Antenna and listen to the background noise. Robert Dicke, P. J. E. Peebles, P. G. Roll and D. T. Wilkinson interpreted this radiation as a signature of the Big Bang.

"Later a satellite, called the COsmic Background Explorer (COBE), was launched. It made very precise measurements for years in space that matched the expectations of the cosmologists."

Another piece of evidence that isn’t too difficult to understand is the presence of varying amounts of very light elements.

One hypothesis is that soon after the Big Bang a higher proportion of lighter elements were present. Heavier elements (dare I say it?) evolved from these lighter elements over time.

We can effectively look back in time. Since light moves, of course, at the speed-of-light, if we look at a star that is 100 light-years from Earth, we are seeing things as they were 100 years ago. If we look at a star that is a billion light-years from Earth, we are just now viewing that star as it looked a billion years ago.

It is possible to identify specific elements when looking at light because each has a specific spectral pattern.

Therefore, we can look at the light from stars at varying distances from Earth and measure the percentage of lighter elements present on those stars.

The percentages of helium and hydrogen are somewhat suspect, because stars are fueled by fusion energy that involves the conversion of hydrogen into helium.

But lithium, the next lightest element, has no such problem. We see higher percentages of lithium in stars created closer to the time of the Big Bang, exactly as predicted by the theory.

As I say, there is quite a bit more evidence supporting the Big Bang. Very few scientists who have objectively looked at it all doubt that the Big Bang took place.

[1], referenced on January 15, 2009

The Big Bang

While scientists don’t have an immediate answer to how the first life arrived on Earth, they have an excellent idea about how the universe itself came into existence. The Big Bang is the name of the singular event that most scientists believe initiated the beginning of our universe.

Probably for the entire time that humans have had the intellectual ability to think of such things, there were differing opinions over whether or not the universe had existed forever or whether it began at a single point in time.

Aristotle felt that the universe had existed forever. Christian theologians, based on a reading of the Bible of course, felt that the universe began at a particular time. (They even suggested a date and time for that creation of the universe.)

The debate went back and forth for much of human history. In the 20th century Albert Einstein noticed that his description of General Relativity did not allow for the solution of a static universe. Einstein’s philosophical view was that the universe had existed forever – an idea called a “steady-state” universe. Famously, he added a “cosmological constant” that allowed for such a thing.

Early in the 20th century, scientists started to see evidence that the universe was expanding. It is worth noting that some of the 20th century proponents of this expansion of the universe were theists. For example, beginning in 1925 Abbé Georges Lemaître, who was both an astrophysicist and a Jesuit priest, was the first scientist to promote a big bang creation event.

In 1929, the most significant piece of evidence supporting this expansion was presented by the astronomer Edwin Hubble. Hubble discovered that, relative to the Earth, the galaxies are receding in every direction at speeds directly proportional to their distance from the Earth. In other words, the universe was expanding in all directions much like a balloon expands as it is blown up.

If the entire universe is expanding now, then it makes sense that if you play the universe’s history backwards, what do you see? Imagine what happens when you deflate a balloon. Eventually the universe would have existed as a single point in space. If that was the case, then the universe had a beginning.

That hypothesis raised many questions.

Is there any evidence, other than an apparently expanding universe, that any of this really happened?

When was the universe created?

Why is it called the “Big Bang”?

What caused the Big Bang in the first place?

Does the Big Bang prove the Bible to be wrong?

I will try to answer those questions in additional BLOG entries.

Creationists are also wrong about abiogenesis

Evolution explains how the diversity of life that we see on Earth arose from a single common ancestor. But it doesn’t explain where that first common ancestor came from. The name given to the study of the origin of the first living thing from non-living things is called abiogenesis.
Most scientists believe that life came from non-living chemicals through a process not fully understood at this time. Strictly speaking that research is not relevant to evolution itself. The common ancestor of all life could have come from any source – chemicals, outer space, an alien planting life on Earth or from a supernatural act of God – and nothing in evolution would have to change. Not a single word in Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species would change if any of those alternatives was proven to be the source for that first life. Research in abiogenesis is even done by a different group of scientists than is the case for research into evolution. Abiogenesis research is primarily done by organic chemists. Evolutionary research is done primarily by biologists.

Of course there is a close relationship between evolution and abiogenesis. You could even argue that the first living thing was the first thing that could evolve. Effectively the ability to evolve could be used as the first test of when something is actually a living thing.
The real reason why creationists like to raise this subject is because scientists admit that they don’t have an answer yet as to how life first arose. If creationists start talking about abiogenesis they will get the honest answer, “I don’t know” from scientists. On the other hand, scientists have explanations for just about all aspects of evolution itself. The “God of the Gaps” argument so often used by creationists is more persuasive in the case where there is no specific alternative suggested by scientists.

Creationists often insist that abiogenesis was falsified by Louis Pasteur. That is not the case.

Before Pasteur, many people thought that living things arose from non-living things all of the time. If you leave a piece of meat on the ground, you will see things like fly maggots come out of that meat. They’re alive. The general impression was that those maggots arose naturally from the dead meat. This process was called “Spontaneous Generation”.
Pasteur falsified “spontaneous generation”. He showed that fly maggots actually came from germs present in the air that came from living flies. In other words, they can only come to life if there is pre-existing life.
That is not the same thing as abiogenesis.
Fly maggots are relatively large organisms (you can see them with the naked eye). Everyone believes that the first living thing was at most a single cell. Single cells cannot be seen with the naked eye. The processes would be completely different and the end results would be completely different as well. It is interesting to not that even Pasteur felt that abiogenesis was possible. He believed that he had not falsified that idea.
Here’s what Pasteur said[1]:
"Life is the germ and the germ is life. Now who may say what might be the destiny of germs if one could replace the immediate principles of these germs (albumin, cellulose, etc) by their inverse asymmetric principles."The solution would constitute in part the discovery of spontaneous generation, if such be in our power."
Note the phrase, "...the discovery of spontaneous generation..." (The word ‘abiogenesis” hadn’t been invented yet.)Pasteur's words were first written in 1883 but not published until 1922 because the political powers were very conservative when it was first written.
Scientists are making excellent progress towards finding solutions for how the first living thing appeared. But it is a very technical subject. For those interested, Wikipedia and other Internet resources can provide a great deal of information about the state of the research into abiogenesis.
It is worthwhile to discuss the single most famous experiment related to abiogenesis. Creationists are prone to mention it when they are talking about this subject. That experiment is called the Miller-Urey experiment.
In 1952, two scientists (named Stanley L. Miller and Harold C. Urey) attempted to duplicate the early Earth’s environment in order to see what sorts of building blocks for life they could find. They published their results a year later, in 1953.

Their experiment is described by Wikipedia like this[2]:
"The experiment used water (H2O), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), and hydrogen (H2). The chemicals were all sealed inside a sterile array of glass tubes and flasks connected in a loop, with one flask half-full of liquid water and another flask containing a pair of electrodes. The liquid water was heated to induce evaporation, sparks were fired between the electrodes to simulate lightning through the atmosphere and water vapor, and then the atmosphere was cooled again so that the water could condense and trickle back into the first flask in a continuous cycle.
At the end of one week of continuous operation, Miller and Urey observed that as much as 10–15% of the carbon within the system was now in the form of organic compounds. Two percent of the carbon had formed amino acids that are used to make proteins in living cells, with glycine as the most abundant. Sugars, lipids, and some of the building blocks for nucleic acids were also formed."

“Amino acids” are complex, organic (i.e. carbon-based) molecules that are very important in biochemistry. They are critical to life and play a variety of roles in metabolism. Proteins are combinations of multiple amino acids. The most well-known amino acid is probably monosodium glutamate (also called MSG) used in food preparation. The complexity of the molecules produced by this experiment and the relative ease with which they were produced was eye opening.

In the last half-century the standard view of what the early atmosphere was like has changed a bit. Creationists are fond of pointing that out and they claim, therefore, that the results of this famous experiment are now irrelevant. But similar experiments have been performed with artificial environments matching more recent views of what the early atmosphere of Earth was like and similar results have been achieved.
Creationists insist that complex organic compounds leading to life can’t happen by chance. But scientists are not claiming that the first life happened completely by chance. Large complex molecules form because of the nature of how atoms interact with each other. Even water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen that is more complex than either hydrogen or oxygen by itself. But water is still something that will nearly always form with those two atoms are mixed together.
All of the available evidence indicates that life appeared on Earth quite soon after the Earth was formed. It could very well be that life in an environment such as that on Earth is inevitable and unavoidable.
It is even possible, though admittedly unlikely, that new life is continuing to be created today. The problem is that there is now pre-existing life.
If a new, microscopic life form was created thirty minutes ago near some warm water vent in the depths of the ocean, then that new life form was probably eaten by a bacterium fifteen minutes ago. By definition, that would not have been a problem for the very first living thing.
Of course the fact that science doesn’t have a current explanation for how life came about through natural processes doesn’t mean anything except that the solution to this problem is complex. I like to point out that Native Americans were similarly perplexed when asked to provide an explanation for how those very complicated things that we call “thunderstorms” came into existence. They decided that an intelligent being must be responsible. They called that being the “Rain God”. We no longer consider a “Rain God” to be necessary. We have a naturalistic explanation for what causes thunderstorms. We can even predict them (with imperfect but improving accuracy).
That is the fundamental flaw with the “God of the Gaps” argument, one that we have discussed previously because it comes up so often when debating creationists. The basis of the argument is that if we don’t have an answer right now, then we will never have an answer and God is the only possible solution.
That argument has failed time after time after time. It is still not valid.
It never will be valid.
[1] The Evolution Wars by Michael Ruse, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2001, p. 153
[2], referenced on January 15, 2009

There are many transitional fossils

One of the claims commonly heard from creationists is that there are no, or very few, fossils showing a transition from one species into another. Evolutionists claim that many such fossils exist.

I believe that the best evidence favoring the evolutionary side of the argument comes from “creation scientists”!

One characteristic that we would expect from any transitional fossil is that it would show characteristics of both the ancestor (what preceded it) and the descendent (what followed after). A transitional fossil in ape-to-human evolution should show some characteristics of apes and some characteristics of humans.

Many of the fossils show exactly that combination of characteristics.

As support for this claim, a number of different skulls have been found that evolutionists claim demonstrate human evolution. Those fossils have been given names and their sizes have been measured. Creationists are effectively forced to comment on these skulls once a mainstream scientists declares that it is transitional between apes and humans. While this is not a complete list of all fossil skulls, the table shown below lists those skulls which have been commented on by various "creation scientists"[1]. A total of ten different creationists have commented on each of six different specimens of fossilized skulls. The table below summarizes their opinions and shows references to the sources for those opinions. The important thing to notice is the wide diversity of opinions about whether or not each fossilized skull is that of an ape or a human. Note that each and every “creation scientist” is adamant that each and every fossilized skull is absolutely and undeniably one or the other with no possible doubt about the classification they are making.

As this table shows, despite the insistence of the “creation scientists” that each fossil is undeniably either human or ape, they are not able to agree on which is which! In fact, there are a number of creationists who have changed their opinion on some fossils. They do not even appear to be converging towards a consistent opinion. Gish and Taylor both used to consider Peking Man an ape and ER 1470 a human, but now Gish says they are both apes, and Taylor says they were both humans. Interestingly, widely differing views are held by two of the most prominent creationist researchers on human origins, Gish and Lubenow. Bowden, who has also written a book on human evolution, agrees with neither of them, and Mehlert, who has written a number of articles on human evolution in creationist journals, has yet another opinion, as does Cuozzo in his 1998 book on Neandertals. Cuozzo has taken the most extreme stance yet for a young-earth creationist, saying that even H. erectus fossils (in which he includes the Turkana Boy) should not be considered human. (Old-earth creationist Hugh Ross takes an even more extreme stance, claiming that not even Neandertals should be classified as human.)

It could be pointed out that evolutionists also disagree on how fossils should be classified, which species they belong to, etc. True enough. But according to evolutionary thinking, these fossils come from a number of closely related species intermediate between apes and humans. If this is so, we would expect to find that some of them are hard to classify, and we do.

The only reasonable conclusion is that these fossils are indeed transitional between apes and humans and show characteristics of both.

Many more recently found fossils are not commented upon by “creation scientists”. For example, the recently-discovered Dmanisi skulls overlap the erectus/habilis boundary so perfectly that creationists have almost totally ignored it - and when they have mentioned it, they've carefully avoided making any judgment as to what those skulls might be.

Do transitional fossils exist?

Clearly they do, even in the ape/human evolutionary sequence

Chimpanzee DNA is very much like human DNA

Chimpanzees are considered to be the organisms most closely related to humans. Many people don’t know that there are actually two species of chimpanzees. “The better known chimpanzee is Pan troglodytes, the Common Chimpanzee, living primarily in West, and Central Africa. Its cousin, the Bonobo or "Pygmy Chimpanzee" as it is known archaically, Pan paniscus, is found in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo River forms the boundary between the two species[1].” Each are equally closely related to humans.

How close is that?

Based on a great deal of data, scientists believe that the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived from five to eight million years ago[2].

The most interesting evidence that chimps and humans are related to each other is found in the DNA of the species.

There are different ways of quantifying DNA. As most of us are aware, DNA is shaped in something called a double-helix with the two parts of the “double-helix” connected by a very long sequence of hydrogen bonds called “nucleotides” (also called “base pairs” or even “base units”). The picture below is an artist’s sketch of the structure of DNA[3].

Both human and chimp DNA contain about 3 billion nucleotides (hydrogen bonds in this picture).

So, one simple way to compare the DNA of the different organisms is to compare the sequence of nucleotides.

But much of the DNA is non-functioning (it doesn’t do anything). That DNA is called “Junk” DNA. So should only the DNA that performs a function be compared? Does the non-functioning DNA really give us any hints about how different (or similar) chimps and humans are to each other?

As an extra complication, even within humans, there are differences in DNA. If everyone had identical DNA, then everyone would be identical. As one might expect, only identical twins have identical DNA (and even they most often have very minor differences generally involving only a handful of nucleotides). Among all humans, the Human Genome Project found that there is a bit less than a 1% variation in DNA[4] (again, depending on how you quantify the differences). Although chimpanzee DNA has been less well studied than human DNA, it is surely reasonable to expect that a similar amount of variation in DNA is present between different chimpanzees. Therefore you would expect some chimps would have DNA closer to that of some humans than other chimps would have DNA similarities to other humans.

All of these factors make it difficult or even impossible to assign “a single number” that quantifies the differences between chimp and human DNA.

So how different are the DNA sequences of the two species?

One summary puts it this way:

“Humans and chimps each have some 3 billion base units of DNA in their genomes, differing by only 1.2 percent when compared in this way. Other methods of comparison estimate a genetic difference of at most 4 percent.[5]
It is important to note the differences. If you simply count nucleotide differences, then there is only a 1.2% difference. That is actually on the same order of magnitude as the sum total of the DNA differences just among humans (which approaches 1%)!

But there can be no doubt that chimps are different from humans! No one would mistake a human for a chimpanzee. Clearly, and logically, we should compare the DNA in other ways. Probably a better way to compare the genomes is by comparing the functioning DNA. When we do that, we find a larger, though not a large, difference – one that approaches 4%.

So, depending on how we quantify DNA, they are either about 98.8% the same or about 96% the same.

We can learn a few things by comparing these numbers.

First, the largest differences come if you ignore “Junk” DNA. Creationists insist that there is no such thing as “Junk” DNA. (Basically “Junk” DNA implies an incompetent “designer”.)

That creates a paradox for creationists.

If there is no “Junk” DNA, then all DNA should be compared. In that case chimp and human DNA are uncomfortably close to each other.

On the other hand, if you ignore “Junk” DNA, then you are implicitly acknowledging that such “Junk” DNA exists and, therefore, if it is indeed “intelligently designed” then that “designer” has a high error rate in His “designs”.

As would be expected, creationists ignore “Junk” DNA when they give numbers for DNA differences but they then, inconsistently, continue to insist that “Junk” DNA does not exist. (They hope that no one notices.)

Evolution, as always, has an answer to this puzzle.

‘Junk” DNA does not have any function. Because of that it is invisible to natural selection. Since it has no function, natural selection works to neither remove it nor to propagate it throughout the genome of the population.

Because “Junk” DNA is invisible to natural selection, it moves through the population’s genome through a process called “genetic drift” which operates much more slowly than the process of natural selection. Therefore evolution would predict that there would be smaller differences in “Junk” DNA than there are in functioning DNA when comparing chimpanzee genomes to human genomes.

It goes without saying that is exactly what we see.

So what we see is that chimp and human DNA provides strong evidence supporting evolution.

But there is more.

Scientists have learned a great deal since they were learned how to sequence DNA. One of the things that they have learned about is the so-called GULO gene.

There is a gene named “L-Gulono-γ-lactone oxidase”. That long name is generally shortened to “GULO” or even “GLO”. That gene synthesizes vitamin C. If you don’t get any vitamin C at all, you will get a disease called “scurvy”.

However, there is another way to get Vitamin C other than through the GULO gene. That is by including fresh fruit in your diet. Fresh fruit has vitamin C. So if you have vitamin C in your diet because you can eat fresh fruit, then you don’t need a working GULO gene. In that case, the GULO gene becomes a sort of “Junk” DNA gene that isn’t needed for survival. Therefore, from the perspective of natural selection, it makes no difference whether or not the gene stops working. In either case, organisms with a non-functioning GULO gene have no selective advantage or disadvantage over others in the same population.

As it happens, the GULO gene doesn’t work in humans. In fact the reason that a couple of centuries ago, English sailors got the nickname “limies” is because they took limes along with them on long voyages in order to avoid getting scurvy on those voyages.

No big deal, right?

Actually, it turns out that most mammals have a working GULO gene. But contrary to what we see in all of those other mammals, it seems that all primates have the same “broken” GULO gene. Not only is it “broken”, DNA studies have shown that it is broken in exactly the same place in all of these primates.

To understand the significance of these DNA sequences which are broken in “identical” ways, look at DNA as a word made up of letters associated with each of the different possible nucleotides that can be present in DNA (in any particular order). Those nucleotides are called adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and uricil (U),

There is only one way to spell a word correctly[6]. However there are many ways to misspell a word.

Because of that if two people identically misspell the same word, the most likely explanation for that identical “mistake” is that one was copied from the other. In other words the mistakes had a common source.

In order to detect such plagiarism, occasionally people will intentionally misspell some words. This happens so often that there is even an expression for such intentional misspellings. They are called “Easter Eggs”.

Here’s how one Internet resource described his ingenious use of “Easter Eggs”:

“I'm the author of one of the dictionaries that Google ‘adopted’, and I deliberately inserted some ‘misspelled’ (aka ‘easter-egg’) words into the dictionary, so I can immediately recognize a spell-checker based on my dictionary - and it turns out that Google's Gmail spell-checker is indeed based on my dictionary.[7]

Moreover, phone book companies do it. Even the New Oxford American Dictionary inserted an intentionally misspelled word in their dictionary in order detect when someone is copying their words (it took the New Yorker magazine to discover that word)[8].

Similarly, Swiss banks often introduce “misspelled or spelling errors…in their…documents as part of the banks own internal authenticity code”[9].

The point of all of this: identical misspellings are very strong evidence of one document being copied from another. Different misspellings don’t have the same implication.

As it happens, Guinea Pigs also have a “broken” GULO gene. But the gene is “broken” differently from how it is “broken” in primates. A creationist source, arguing against the GULO gene being evidence supporting evolution says this:

“…independently-derived guinea pig and human GULO pseudogenes have an astounding 36% identical `disablement'”[10].

Yes. Creationists are indeed clueless. If it is not identical, then it doesn’t count. In fact a mere 36% match isn't even close to being identical.

These primates have the GULO gene “broken” (or misspelled) identically:

Both species of chimpanzees and humans.

There are no other species of organisms on Earth that have the same “misspelling”.

The only rational conclusion: these species have GULO genes copied from the same source. In other words, they share a common ancestor.

The bottom line: evolution has been confirmed.

[1], referenced on August 16, 2008
[2] McBrearty, S.; N. G. Jablonski (2005-09-01). "First fossil chimpanzee". Nature 437: 105–108
[6] There are, as many of us know, a very few words in the English language that can be correctly spelled in more than one way. Since this is simply an analogy and since that number is small, we will ignore those words here.

Common Features in living organisms show evolution

All life on Earth shares a number of common features. For example, all life on Earth contains DNA that uses the same set of amino acids.

People who support evolution say that this is evidence of common ancestry.

Creationists claim that this is evidence of a common designer.

Creationists support their claim by pointing out that human intelligent designers often use the same components in different designs.

What are the reasons that humans use the same components?

I believe that my own engineering experience – more than 40 years worth – can help answer this question.

Human engineers use common components in different designs for two reasons.

First, it saves money. If General Motors can use the same bolt in both a Chevrolet and a Cadillac, then that bolt can be purchased in larger quantities from the manufacturer and the cost of each bolt will go down. Therefore the cost to build both the Chevrolet and the Cadillac will go down as well. The cost of a single bolt won’t make much difference, but as you make common use of more and more components the total cost savings can become appreciable.

Second, once a component has been used (and reused) the “bugs have been worked out” (as engineers are fond of saying). Humans are imperfect designers and their initial designs often contain flaws. Some of those flaws only become apparent when the component has been put into production. Automobiles, for example, sometimes must be recalled and components replaced because of such design flaws.

However, the more often a component is used, the more it is tested in production environments. Eventually the design flaws are eliminated. Implementing an entirely new component that had never been used before would introduce an element of risk that wouldn’t be present with a component that had been used over and over again.

The expression used by engineers is: "Don't redesign the wheel".

Because of the cost savings and improved component reliability, engineers are often asked during design reviews to reuse existing components. A common statement that you will hear from an engineer is something like, “Yeah. I think that I can make that work.” In other words, the engineer often reuses another component but does so as a compromise.

Of course, an omnipotent, omniscient designer would not be influenced by either of these factors.

Consider DNA. It is comprised of four different bases: adenine (abbreviated A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). It is comprised of those same four bases in all life on Earth.

What if it consisted of a different four bases in different organisms? What if it consisted of six different bases? Or eight or more different bases?

A human engineer would be told that using a different set of bases in different organisms or using more than this four in any particular organism would cost money and would be discouraged. But such a cost would not be apparent in biology. So this factor would not influence an omnipotent, omniscient designer.

A human engineer would also be told that these four bases have been proven to work over billions of years so they have been proven reliable. That would also not be a consideration for an omnipotent, omniscient designer – especially if that designer was able to modify the physical laws of the universe.

Of course, using more bases would seem to be a more efficient design. It would allow genes to be developed using fewer base-pairs than there are now.

One way to look at this is to compare it to language with the four bases comprising the letters of that language in DNA. The English language has 26 letters. Other languages have more (or fewer) letters. The more letters that are available in a language, the larger the number of combinations (i.e. words) that are available in that language.
If the language consists of only four letters, then there are only four times four or 16 different possible two-letter words. If, like English, there are 26 letters available, then it possible to construct 26 times 26 or 676 different two-letter words. As the number of letters allowed per word increases, so does the number of available combinations.
Similarly, having more than four bases to “spell out” the various genes would be much more efficient.

More interestingly, while I’m not multilingual myself, I have been told that some languages allow you to express thoughts that can’t be expressed as easily in other languages. I tend to believe this claim because languages adopt words or phrases from other languages because the adopting language doesn’t have a way of expressing that same message.

The French phrase “déjà vu” which means, of course, the feeling that we’re experiencing something that we had experienced previously, is an example of this. There are, of course, many others.

All of this leads me, as a professional engineer, to believe that an omnipotent, omniscient designer would use different components in designs that were very much unlike each other.

Plants and animals are very different from each other. I seriously doubt that even a human designer would use the same components in both types of living organisms. An omnipotent, omniscient designer not laboring under the constraints of humans is even less likely to do so.

Furthermore, let’s turn the argument around. Let’s say that plants and animals did have completely different “components”. That would be hugely significant. There would be effectively no way for evolution to claim common ancestry if that were the case.

So, at the very least, this omnipotent, omniscient designer is certainly making it look like all life on Earth evolved from a common ancestor. At a minimum, therefore, the contention of creationists that this is the result of the work of a common designer implies that the designer is a bit deceptive. The use of different “components” in living things would make it obvious that they had not evolved from a common ancestor.

Biogeography shows that evolution is true

This subject was discussed earlier as evidence against the flood story in the Bible but it deserves to be mentioned again as positive evidence for evolution. In fact, many people consider this to be the single most powerful argument in favor of evolution.

Specifically “biography” is the distribution of plants and animals throughout the Earth.

If living things had not evolved, it would seem reasonable to expect that they would live wherever that organism’s natural habitat existed. You should find the same desert animals in all deserts, the same jungle animals in all of the jungles, and so on.

Or, more particularly, if they all came from Mt. Ararat in Turkey after a global flood, they would have found and settled into the natural habitat closest to where the Ark settled. Turkey itself has a desert environment ideal for many species of animals that instead chose to live as far away as North America. The closest jungle is found in Africa, not South America.

But, as specific evidence of evolution, what should we see in terms of biogeography?

The talkorigins web site provides this excellent description:

"Because species divergence happens not only in the time dimension, but also in spatial dimensions, common ancestors originate in a particular geographical location. Thus, the spatial and geographical distribution of species should be consistent with their predicted genealogical relationships. The standard phylogenetic tree predicts that new species must originate close to the older species from which they are derived. Closely related contemporary species should be close geographically, regardless of their habitat or specific adaptations. If they are not, there had better be a good explanation, such as extreme mobility (cases like sea animals, birds, human mediated distribution, etc.), continental drift, or extensive time since their divergence. In this sense, the present biogeographical distribution of species should reflect the history of their origination[1]. "

If that’s what we should see if evolution is true, what do we actually see?

Of course we see exactly that!

A well-known example is the fact that marsupials (mammals with pouches to hold their young) live nearly exclusively on the continent of Australia. This is also an example of an exception that “proves the rule”. The non-Australian marsupials are few in number and they all live in South America. South America was once attached to Australia as a single continent.

Similarly there are New World monkeys that all live in the Western Hemisphere, and Old World Monkeys, which all live in the Eastern Hemisphere. The monkeys are distinctly different from each other.

How did that happen if not through evolution?

[1], referenced on May 29, 2008

Our physical characteristics show evolution rather than “design”

If natural selection is indeed the cause of the diversity of life that we see, then what evidence should we find that supports this?

Primarily we should see “order”, but imperfect order. Natural selection basically cobbles together various random genetic changes occurring in many different individuals and turns them into something that makes the population better adapted to the environment. Because natural selection has a limited number of genetic characteristics to work with, we should see “Rube Goldberg” or “jury-rigged” “designs”.

What do we actually see?

We see “Rube Goldberg” or “jury-rigged” designs!

As one well-known example, there are many flightless birds. There are about 40 known species of such birds. For most flightless birds, the wings are completely non-functional, except for the occasional display functions. In some cases, the wings are very small, as they are in kiwis. The practical effect is that the number of usable limbs is reduced from 4 to 2.

The question might be asked: why would evolution eliminate wings? After all wings increase an animal’s range, increase its ability to act as a predator and to avoid predation. Moreover, frankly, it would be a lot of fun to be able to fly.

The “fun” part isn’t relevant to evolution, but what is often overlooked is that having wings is actually a bit hazardous. The odds that a bird will actually fall out of the sky aren’t very great, but when a bird can fly it becomes very dependent on the weather, particularly the strength of the wind. On islands – particularly small islands – a strong wind can push a bird out to sea where it eventually can very easily perish from fatigue. The benefits of being able to fly in order to evade a predator are great, but if there are no large predators around, staying on the ground is a much safer strategy in the long run.

As it happens, we see flightless birds under exactly these conditions. “New Zealand has more species of flightless birds (including the kiwis, several species of penguins, and the takahe) than any other country. One reason is that until the arrival of humans roughly a thousand years ago, there were no large land predators in New Zealand; the main predators of flightless birds were larger birds”[1]. Flying serves no advantage with no such predators around.

Most people are also aware that blind cave fish (and cave salamanders) exist. These creatures are similar to flightless birds in that they have eyes which serve no function. The blind salamanders have eyes with retinas and lenses, yet the eyelids grow over the eye, sealing them from outside light[2]. These animals live in complete darkness so functioning eyes would not provide any benefits. But functioning eyes would take resources from the rest of the body (blood, for example). Therefore, in the complete absence of light, eyes are really nothing but a liability.

Another fairly well-known example of a “flawed design” is the Panda's thumb. Dr. Stephen J. Gould wrote a book titled “The Panda’s Thumb” that goes into great detail about this appendage. “If you count the digits on a panda's paw you will count six. Five curl around and the ‘thumb’ is an opposable digit. The five fingers are made of the same bones our (humans and most other vertebrates) fingers are made of. The thumb is constructed by enlarging a few bones that form the wrist in other species. The muscles that operate it are ‘rerouted’ muscles present in the hand of vertebrates”[3]. This is not good design. If a Panda could make good use of an opposable thumb, then why not just give it an opposable thumb? Something like the thumb “design” in humans should work quite well.

Humans have many “jury-rigged” designs.

The retina in our eyes (a “design” that we share with all vertebrates) is inverted. In our eyes, the sensory cells lie beneath the nerve fibers; light must pass through the nerve fibers in order to reach the light sensors. In order to get the signal from the sensors to the brain, the nerve fibers must pass through the sensors leaving a “blind spot”. Octopus eyes, in contrast, have the sensory cells above their nerve fibers. As a result, their eyes have no such “blind spot”.

Some creationists argue that this is not actually a bad design. To support that claim, they make two arguments.

First, they say that the photoreceptors are embedded in a layer of retinal pigment epithelial cells which perform important functions. Those cells do perform important functions. But that functionality would not be lost if those receptors were embedded in those cells yet on top of the nerve fibers. Our smell (olfactory) system has very similar components yet the receptors in our noses are not beneath the nerves[4].

Next, creationists insist that the light receptors have a high metabolic rate that requires a good circulatory system. That’s also true but really irrelevant. There is no reason that such a circulatory system could not exist if the light receptors were on top. More relevantly, the capillaries that provide this blood are also in the light path! This design, which to emphasize again is not present in octopi, diminishes the effectiveness of the photo sensors by blocking a portion of the light[5]! Clearly this is a poor “design”.

Another example of “bad” designs is found in male humans. In men, the urethra passes through the prostate gland. When the prostate gets infected and swells, as it is prone to do, it causes problems not only with reproduction but also with the excretory system. Putting a collapsible tube through an organ that is very likely to expand and block flow in this tube is not good design. As a result of this, an estimated one male in three will require prostate surgery during their lives[6].

There are numerous other examples present in humans as well as other organisms. Vestigial organs provide many such examples. Most creationists insist that there are no vestigial organs. They say, for example, that even something like the appendix in humans serves a function – there are hints that it has an immunological function. Most specifically, some of its follicles produce antibodies which creationists point to as evidence that the appendix is needed to assist our immune system[7].

But humans have been found with no appendix and they suffer no ill effects. Furthermore many people have had their appendix surgically removed and they have experienced no ill effect either[8]. (At least people suffer no ill effects from the loss of the appendix itself. All surgeries bring some risk, of course, and people have died from complications of the surgery. But that’s a different thing.)

More to the point, some seven percent of the human population will experience acute appendicitis during their lifetime which is a condition that is generally fatal if the appendix is not surgically removed[9]. (My own father had to have his appendix removed by surgeons for this reason.)

How can something that provides no positive effects which can be demonstrated but which presents a possibly fatal condition in one person in 14 be considered beneficial?

The list goes on and on. Certainly our physical characteristics scream out that we evolved rather than were “designed”.

[1], referenced on May 29, 2008.
[2] Durand, J., Keller, N., Renard, G., Thorn, R., and Pouliquen, Y. (1993) "Residual cornea and the degenerate eye of the cryptophthalmic Typhlotriton spelaeus." Cornea 12: 437-447.
[3], referenced on May 29, 2008.
[4], referenced on May 29, 2008
[5] Ibid.
[6], referenced on May 29, 2008.
[7], referenced on May 29, 2008
[8] Hardin, D. M. Jr., 1999. Acute appendicitis: review and update. American Family Physician 60(7): 2027-2034.
[9] Ibid