Archives for May 2015

The Big Bang by C. W. Bobbitt

southernprose_cover_CAFGWhen he noted parallels between his independent research and my musing on the Big Bang theory in my book Counterargument for God, Professor C. W. Bobbitt was kind enough to share his thoughts on that same subject.

This post is overdue — it really should have been published along with his writings on the origin of the universe published on this web page last month.

Professor Bobbitt has also offered a unique perspective on Darwin and evolution theory that I will post that article in the near future, as soon as I locate the email that I accidentally filed in the wrong folder.

HOW THE UNIVERSE BEGAN: THE BIG BANG 

The realm of existence contains everything that has being, everything that is. This includes “nothing”, which is the absence of something. This is said to set the stage for our understanding of how something can come from nothing; that is, how the universe could come to be.

At some point in existence, “nothing” spontaneously separated into two somethings—two universes, mirror images of each other, each with its own space and time. Since we presently live in a universe which contains matter, let us choose one of these universes to be ours, and let the other universe be one of anti-matter so that the net change of matter due to this event is zero. This has the advantage of satisfying in a measure our innate sense of scientific correctness.

We can focus on our universe and forget the other one, which is now in its own space-time .somewhere in existence. The appearance of our universe in existence was instantaneous: there was nothing, then there was something. This was the event dubbed the BIG BANG by Sir Fred Hoyle and marked the beginning of time for our universe.

To aid our understanding of this action, let us call upon a simple mathematical function called the unit step, U(t), where “U” is the name of the function and “t” is its “argument”. The value of t determines the value of U; when t is less than zero, U is equal to zero; when t is greater than zero, U is equal to one (the identity element for multiplication; e.g, 1xA=A). When t is equal to zero, U is discontinuous and undefined. This point is commonly regarded as a singularity. U is used to multiply a function or a process to show its starting point (then –U to stop it).

Let us consider the argument t to be the time of the universe measured from t=0, the instant of the big bang. Note that U(t) could not exist before t=0 because time did not exist. An infinitesimal time after zero the universe was completely in place and the clock was running, so to speak. The distribution of matter in the space represented the initial condition for the subsequent evolution of the universe in accordance with its governing laws.

There is in this present time another (prevailing) concept of how the universe came into being, deriving from the work of Hubble and those who followed in his work. The unit step singularity at t=0 is viewed as a mathematical source from which the space and matter of the universe emanated over an exceedingly short, but nevertheless finite, period of time. This contradicts the notion that the universe appeared instantaneously in its entirety.

Undoubtedly there will be other scenarios presented to describe the origin of the universe, and undoubtedly mortal man will never know the truth of the matter, so it becomes clear that an interested individual must make a choice.

There is one more issue to be addressed. In the beginning of this note, it was stated that “nothing” spontaneously split into two “somethings,” universes of matter and anti-matter. The question comes to the reader’s mind: what caused this event to take place? There are two responses to this question. The theist will immediately say that God willed it so it happened, while the scientist will say (remembering that science does not recognize the supernatural) that the answer is not presently evident, but we will continue to seek it.

This is one scenario for the origin of the universe. Accepting this as plausible, we may now move on to a consideration of the origin and development of life on earth.

Oliver the humanzee, and The Origin of Species

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The last thing on earth I want to do is create the impression that I’m obstinate, but I’m afraid that’s may be my only choice — unless I choose to go quietly into that good night, pretending that my curiosity has been completely sated, when in fact it hasn’t.

I almost wish I could fake it. But that will never be my style, I’m afraid.

Long before I began writing Rocky Leonard detective novels, I admired the tenacity of fictional police detective Lieutenant Frank Columbo. I guess his stubborn refusal to never admit a problem might have stumped him rubbed off on me. Also, I graduated from the University of Georgia, which makes me a Bulldog — creatures notorious for refusing to quit. Apparently, it’s in my genes and chromosomes.

Once I began writing detective novels, I realized I had to train my own mind to think like a detective. I had to learn to apply deductive reasoning in situations where I’m evaluating potential evidence. I’m afraid my reticence to simply believe and accept everything I’m told comes quite naturally to me, even when the information is coming from an authority figure. Trust, but verify. Those are words to live by.

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Lt. Columbo

When I have questions I feel compelled to ask them, even if they don’t get answered…because if I never ask my questions, no one even knows that I’m legitimately seeking answers. Of course, my stubbornness in refusing to believe something until I can understand it sometimes creates an impression that I’m unable, or unwilling to learn, and occasionally I alienate an acquaintance, sometimes even a friend.

I have no desire to make my atheist friends believe that I’m absurdly stupid or incapable of understanding allegedly simple and straightforward concepts like evolution theory, but it may not be avoidable. Please don’t allow me to add to anyone’s confusion — I know what supposedly has happened for monkeys to make men by descent with modifications, but not how, which is where the rubber actually meets the road.

Simply stated as I see it, there are only three ways that humans could have descended from apes.

The first is that two apes could have mated and given birth to a human via radical sudden mutations — the Goldschmidt “hopeful monster” theory. However, Dr. Ken Miller of Brown University completely eliminated as a possible scenario to explain the origin of species in his recent reply to my letter.

That seems to leave only two other possible ways in which descent with modification could produce a new kind of organism — lucky, accumulated small mutations in an isolated breeding population accumulated over time (the method described by Dr. Miller), or successful hybridization (which is usually ruled out by biologists, because offspring of two different species are almost always sterile.)

If descent with modification over long periods of time is true, oak trees are not only related to pine trees, but they are related to humans by the same basic biological processes as well. Humans would not only be cousins to chimpanzees, but more distant cousins to the banana we both enjoy eating.

The relationships continue to evolve into more and more spectacular morphological forms simply by adding more Deep Time to the equation. LUCA was only a simple, single-celled organism, but if common descent is true, all modern life descended from it.

I believe it’s fairly safe to say that I’m comfortably familiar with the theory of natural selection in general, and with concepts such as genetic drift, allopatric speciation, and the founder effect to attempt following the logic. What I don’t see is how those things add up to the variety we observe in nature, even with the staggeringly long periods of Deep Time suggested by the geologic record.

For example, ape-t0-human evolution requires quite a few morphological changes. But let’s focus on probably the easy change to visualize. Apes and chimps have fur virtually covering their entire body. Humans don’t have an fur. They have body hair. Except for rare cases of hypertrichosis, human hair is nothing remotely comparable to fur. At some point in the process of descent with modification over time, a dominant trait not only must have become recessive, it virtually vanished. The only rational explanation for this happening without a reason for it is merely because it was theoretically possible.

I can’t deny that common descent is theoretically possible. It just isn’t all that plausible, when one considers the alternative of intelligent design by a supernatural creator God, and all the evidence suggesting such a God must exist..

I know that biologists claim they can “test” the theory of macro evolution by making predictions about the past and then finding evidence that can be interpreted as proof the prediction is true. What it seems the theory of natural selection cannot do in regard to the origin of species is provide an observable case in real time. We may assume that slow, gradual changes occurred over time by “careful inference” rather than observation and true experiment, but we can’t reverse-engineer the process and watch it happen, of course.

We can only accept the argument for descent by default, because no other alternative is allowed for consideration. If asked to provide a test for design, about the best I could suggest without giving it a whole lot of thought would probably be the angler fish, with its very unusual means of sexual reproduction and a fishing pole protruding from its head. The female angler fish is much larger than the males, which literally affix themselves to the female, in parasitic fashion. Much like the platypus, the angler fish seems to suggest our creator God has a very interesting sense of humor.anglerfish

I remain extremely grateful to Dr. Miller for his patience with me over the past few days, as well as his kindness and generous effort to answer all the questions I posed about the theory of evolution, particularly in relation to the origin of species in relation to the origin of humans.

Unfortunately, though I believe I understood the explanations that Dr. Miller provided rather well, I still have plenty of questions noodling around in my head.  It is my fault completely, for failing to ask all the right questions when I had the opportunity. I wouldn’t dream of imposing on Dr. Miller again — I’m sure he has better things to do than correspond with me, and I’m sure I’ve taken enough of his time.

One very cogent point Dr. Miller made was that no one seems to know of a way to test design, but I would counter that experts such as himself haven’t tried, and they would be most capable.

I wouldn’t know where to begin.

The evidence for descent — the fossil record, comparative anatomy, and DNA, can be argued as evidence for an iterative design process just as easily. Instead of intermediate fossils, if we view transitional species as prototypes created to prove a concept before the final design went into mass production, the fossil record makes even more sense than interpreted to mean common descent.

The evidence for design appears to be ubiquitous: by studying physics, we learn the cosmologists believe that our universe was allegedly “fine-tuned” with incredible precision.  Even the slightest variation in any of six identified cosmological factors would have allegedly prevented life from coming to exist. From chemistry, we learn that the cell is a remarkable construction with up to six billion bits of information encoded into two strands of organic material we call DNA, and recognize to be the building blocks of life.

From simple observation, we can see evidence of patterns, Fibonacci spirals and Mandelbrot fractals, from microscopic scale to the gargantuan. We can see the suggestion of sophisticated design in complex structures and functionality. The immune system, the central nervous system, flight, the ability of bats and dolphins to navigate using echo-location…this is not simple functionality.

But I must admit that I haven’t thought of a biological test or experiment that might provide evidence in support of a design theory. Of course, I’m not a biologist.

In my book Counterargument for God, my theory of design was compared to a theory of descent in the context my Big Picture.  My objective is not to eliminate Darwin from the discussion, but to understand how far Darwin’s theory can go to answer my existential questions.

Descent simply doesn’t fit in the Big Picture as a fully functional alternative to design. You need descent to work, plus a lot of good luck.

From what would the universe descend with modification — the multiverse? Life didn’t descend from inanimate matter. Design is potentially a comprehensive solution, but descent must be augmented with copious amounts of good luck.

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Life cannot evolve until it exists. The Big Picture necessary to contemplate our existential questions must begin with the cosmological evidence for the Big Bang, segues into the chemistry of abiogenesis, and finally considers the evidence of descent coupled with lots of good luck versus design before we can conclude humans appeared on Earth without divine intervention.

The reason I directed my open letter to Dr. Miller and Dr. Collins was because I knew both men have impeccable reputations for their work as scientists, and that both have proclaimed themselves to be Christian. To be brutally honest, I had very little hope that either man would find the time for me, given my experiences asking questions of atheist scientists and professors in the habit of making rather audacious claims.

I feel fortunate to have received a response in the first place, given the fact Dr. Brown is a well-respected professor at an Ivy League school, and I have no credentials of merit. After all, Jerry Coyne never even bothered trying to answer my questions, even though I could tell from reading his Why Evolution is True blog that he wasn’t very busy.

Truthfully, had I watched a video lecture by biology professor P. Z. Myers titled “Scientists! If You’re Not An Atheist, You’re Not Doing Science Right!before ever writing to Dr. Miller, I would have asked much better questions.

In the video, Dr. Myers grudgingly conceded that Dr. Collins and Dr. Miller are both excellent scientists and have produced exemplary work, though he simultaneously mocked them for what he called their “wacky” religious beliefs. My questions would have been largely focused on what Dr. Myers claimed was Dr. Miller’s theory of quantum indeterminacy.

Use of the word “quantum” piques my interest, because I personally believe that discoveries in quantum theory hold the key to coming closer to the answers to our existential questions. I would contend that the separation of the spiritual mind from the physical brain is NOT an illusion or hallucination, but evidence of what I have called quantum consciousness. Scientific evidence exists strongly suggesting that the mind of an incapacitated person can accurately “learn” and retain new information while the physical brain remains temporarily out of commission.

For the record, I have tried to contact Dr. P. Z. Myers directly in the past. I sent him questions via email as well as posting comments at his blog Pharyngula, but I never tried an open letter. All of my attempts to communicate with Dr. Myers failed rather miserably. As a result, I assumed that any additional efforts to make contact would only amount to another exercise in futility, so I didn’t bother.

In his lecture where he poked fun at Drs. Collins and Miller, Dr. P. Z. Myers repeatedly claimed that science and religion were completely incompatible. He also declared that advocates of theistic evolution are creationists in reality.

I’m tempted to agree with Dr. Myers on that point. The majority of theistic evolution advocates do appear to believe in limited creation, that God created the universe and then got tired.

Some even believe that a supernatural creator formed LUCA (although in The Language of God, Dr. Collins doesn’t rule out the possibility that abiogenesis might have been nothing but an accidental chemical reaction.)

In contrast, as an atheist Dr. Myers would seem to believe that good luck created the universe, and nothing caused the animation of matter. Our only real options to explain true miracles of creation on that scale are either a supernatural God or nothing but incredible, stupid good luck.

Unless atheists happen to reject the Big Bang theory (without any evidence to support an eternal universe), they must believe that something (specifically this universe) came from virtually nothing. However, we should believe the universe did have an origin, because of the scientific evidence known as redshift and cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB).

The evidence in favor of the Big Bang appears to be overwhelming.

Because he’s a biologist and not a physicist, Dr. Myers doesn’t seem to feel the need to worry about the origin of the universe, even though he has been intellectually honest enough to assert that claiming abiogenesis is not part of evolution is a cop-out.

Dr. Myers mockingly claimed that Dr. Miller believes that all evolutionary mutations are intentional. If that’s really true, I suspect there may not be nearly as much difference between my interpretation of the scientific evidence and Dr. Miller’s as I would have believed.

However, I suspect that Dr. Myers may have misrepresented Dr. Miller’s views on that subject. I didn’t see any room for divine intervention to play a role in the explanation of evolution that Dr. Miller provided. There was no mention of quantum indeterminacy.

Natural selection is not difficult a difficult concept to understand. I feel confident that I understand the concept well enough. Random mutation and descent with modification allow one species of animal to evolve into another. I just don’t accept that the attempts to explain evolution offer the best possible explanation for the existence of modern life we can easily observe watching Planet Earth DVDs.

The problem is that I didn’t give Dr. Miller enough information in my open letter to fully explain in full my questions/problems/objections to evolution theory as it’s been explained to me, over and over, and now I’ve blown the opportunity. I wouldn’t dream of presuming to bother him with additional questions.

I really would like to understand how evolution might work in the real world. According to Darwin’s theory of natural selection (which Dr. Miller confirmed), primates with fur are believed to have gradually evolved to become human over millions of years. Nobody really believes rapid emergence of new species is possible, not through “hopeful monster” sudden, major changes, or through hybridization.

Then what caused the furor about Oliver, the alleged humanzee?

Humans are one species, and chimpanzees clearly another. Though there are similarities easily discerned using comparative anatomy and DNA comparison, . For example, if you put a human in a room full of chimps or vice versa, it wouldn’t be difficult to tell the species apart. Nobody in their right mind believes a human could mate with a chimp and produce viable offspring. So why did scientists allow the general public to speculate for so long about whether or not Oliver was half-chimp, half-human? The reason was probably because Oliver looked and acted like a cross between a human and a chimp.

The first image on display in this article is an artistic representation of what Australopithecus Afarensis (nicknamed Lucy) might have looked like when she lived approximately 4.5 million years ago.

Lucy's actual remains

Lucy’s actual remains

Lucy has often been described as a transitional fossil, a missing link in the fossil record bridging the gaps between apes and humans. Her remains are shown on the right.

Of course, Lucy is far from the only alleged transitional fossil. She’s not even the only transitional species filling the gaps in the fossil record from “Old World” apes to humans.

One of the most famous of the alleged missing links was Archaeopteryx, the alleged intermediate species filling the gape between reptiles and birds.

The problem with assuming Archaeopteryx was a transitional fossil seems to be that we must ignore the more recent paleontological discovery of Protoavis, a more true bird fossil that allegedly lived more than 60 million years prior to Archaeopteryx.

If the evidence about Protoavis is accurate, it suggests that Archaeopteryx was not a transitional species, but actually a biological dead-end.

I trust and believe that Dr. Miller is absolutely telling me the truth, or at minimum what he believes in his expert opinion to be true, when he says that the Robertsonian translocation of human chromosome 2 didn’t abruptly turn some apes into humans — but what did?

Random mutation, isolation, and luck made humans out of furless apes? Not long ago, an untrue rumor circulated saying that Josef Stalin once funded research attempting to create hybrid soldiers with the strength of a chimp but the intelligence of a human being.

Now back to Lucy — humans are humans, and chimps are chimps. Nobody really believes that humans could ever successfully interbreed with chimps, not since Russian scientist Ilya Ivanov conducted a few experiments in the 1920s, in what proved a futile effort to prove ape-to-human evolution was true and humans and apes could interbreed.

Because of the presumed physical appearance extrapolated from her skeletal remains, scientists have assumed Lucy had mostly ape-like physical traits with a few characteristics of the future human race, namely the ability to walk upright.

She was considered the earliest of several missing links in the assumed gradual transformation of apes to humans.

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Scientists were able to observe Oliver in action and learned from his behavior over a period of several decades and observed that Oliver didn’t act like other chimps. He walked upright, and preferred the company of humans over chimps, so much that many people suspected he was a hybrid species, half-human, half-chimpanzee.

Literally, people believed that he was the biological offspring of a human that somehow mated with a chimpanzee, referring to Oliver as a humanzee.

Oliver certainly acted human — he walked upright most of the time. He performed household chores. Oliver tried to have sex with human females, but apparently showed no interest in mating with other chimps. He even smoked cigars.

No kidding.

But DNA testing proved once and for all that Oliver was nothing but a chimpanzee — a very rare and special chimp perhaps, but at the end of the day, still only a chimp.

One wonders — could Oliver have mated with Lucy, if both had been alive at the same time? Would he have even tried?

It seems that no matter what we believe, it eventually becomes a matter of faith.

Reply from Dr. Ken Miller

Dr_Kenneth_MillerDr. Ken Miller of Brown University graciously took the time to respond to my onen letter that was addressed to him and Dr. Francis Collins.

He has given me permission to publish his reply in full.

I will not be making any editorial comments or raising additional questions at this time.

I only wish to add my sincere gratitude to Dr. Miller for his kindness and the sincerity with which he answered my questions. I did take the liberty of highlighting excerpts from my original letter in bolded italics to make it easier to distinguish my questions from Dr. Miller’s answers.

Trust me, my questions are not more important than Dr. Miller’s answers. That is not an impression I’m trying to create. Highlighting was added solely for purpose of improved readability.

Without any further ado, it is my distinct pleasure and an honor to present Dr. Miller’s unexpurgated, detailed reply:

May 26, 2015

Dear Mr. Leonard,

I don’t know if Dr. Collins will find the time, in the midst of his public duties, to respond to your open letter. But I do have a few minutes right now, after submitting all of my grades for the semester and having finished my last set of recommendation letters, to respond to your inquiries.

One thing that you and Professor Miller seem to share in common with Professor Coyne is your apparent belief in the infallibility of evolution theory, and that descent is the only viable explanation for the origin of species.

I cannot speak for either Coyne or Collins, but I suspect they would answer this statement the same way I will. No scientific theory is “infallible.” That’s a word that does not belong in science, but finds its use within the confines of religion. Rather, I find the scientific evidence for evolution to be compelling, and that many different lines of evidence, from paleontology to physiology to biogeography to genetics to molecular biology all support the notion that present day organisms are descended from earlier forms by common ancestry. No scientific theory is ever beyond dispute, and that includes evolution. But as the decades have gone by, the evidence for evolution has become stronger and stronger.

I don’t believe my personal religious beliefs will keep either of you gentlemen from answering my questions because we are all professed Christians. I’m merely asking you to help a brother understand why design is stupid and unscientific and how common descent makes perfect sense, even to describe the relationship between plants and animals.

I have never said that design is “stupid.” I see no reason to use such insulting language. But let’s consider what is meant by “design” in this context. “Design” in its current usage in the US is centered around a series of arguments made against evolution and intended to demonstrate that evolutionary mechanisms cannot generate the changes that are documented in the natural history of species. As an alternative, “design” argues that organisms were in fact created by a force acting outside of nature (a supernatural force) and therefore is actually a theory of special, supernatural creation.

Could an all-powerful creator have created every transitional sequence we see in the fossil record so that they give an appearance of evolution over time? Of course, if that creator chose to give us a deceptive impression of natural history. Could such a creator have fashioned the genomes of every living organism so that they give an illusory picture of being related by descent with modification? Of course? And could such a creator have created the world a 1 PM this afternoon, installing false memories in each of us and false evidence of a past history for the universe? Of course, once again. But that is exactly why “intelligent design” and other such ideas are not science, because even if they were true, they would not be testable by scientific means.

I sincerely seek truth — if the truth turns out to be descent and not design, so be it. Quid est veritas?

I will take you at your word, of course, as I hope you will do for me.

Design makes sense to me. Descent does not. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, and all apes supposedly have 24 pairs.

That’s not quite true. There are many apes with different chromosome numbers. Gibbons are an example of this, which I will return to in a moment. But what you are most likely referring to is the fact that the other great apes (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos) have 24 pairs of chromosomes, while humans (and yes, we are also classified among the great apes for very clear biological reasons) have 23 pairs.

But how exactly did ape-like primates evolve to become human?
Of course, I know that biologists have “widely accepted” the theory two “ancestral” chromosomes fused end-to-end and formed human chromosome 2. Professor Miller even says as much in this video.

You are missing something very important here. Human ancestors split from the ancestors of today’s great apes between 5 and 9 million years ago, depending on which of the other great apes one is considering. However, the fusion of two chromosomes (originally numbered 12 and 13 in the other great apes) to form human chromosome 2 was not a driving force in the development of our species. Indeed, it’s likely that this event produced very little in the way of genetic or physical change for our species.

Rather, the structure of chromosome 2 indicates something far simpler, and that is merely that we are descended from a species that once had 48 chromosomes instead of our present 46. That’s all.

My concern specifically revolves around Professor Miller’s use of the word “fusion” to describe this alleged freak accident of nature. Because in every science text I’ve read, fusion typically describes the process when two atoms collide at high speed and bond together.

Well, perhaps that’s because you’ve been reading a lot of physics books, and I grew up in a working class household headed by my grandfather, a welder. As he taught me the use of tools, I became familiar with the processes used to fuse metals together to form a strong bond, so I use the term “fusion” to apply to any process that links two structures together.

If you prefer, we could use the proper genetic term for an event like this, which is a “Robertsonian Translocation,” and refers to any event in which part or all of a chromosome becomes attached to another chromosome. But I find the term “fusion” simpler, less jargon-laden, and very appropriate. The fact that you’re more familiar with nuclear fusion does not invalidate its use here, believe me.

In this case it would seem that the collision could have only occurred inside the first atom formed at the moment of conception, then replicated in every additional cell formed in this new organism — sort of a chain reaction. After all, fusion is an instantaneous process.

Surely your argument isn’t that two ancestral chromosomes “gradually” fused into one single chromosome over thousands, or even millions of years, is it?

Nope, that’s not my explanation at all. Rather, the best explanation for our second chromosome is that in one of the germ line cells of one or more of our ancestors two chromosomes underwent a Robertsonian tranlocation and became one. This event would then have resulted in a fused chromosome, today’s number 2, being passed along to descendants.

In the video link provided above, Professor Miller said the chromosome missing in humans could not have ever been lost without causing fatality in the offspring. Therefore, if fusion is truly the only means by which this new human chromosome 2 could have formed (as Professor Miller suggested)

then Goldschmidt’s hopeful monster theory would seem to best describe the ape-to-human evolutionary process, wouldn’t it? And if that is so, the mating problem of the hopeful monster is reintroduced into our discussion, correct?

No, that is not correct, if you will permit me to speak plainly. It turns out that the fusion of two chromosomes has only a very slight effect on fertility, and does not turn the recipient of the fused chromosome into a “hopeful monster,” or any sort of monster at all.

Here are the facts. Chromosome fusions exactly like the one that produced our second chromosome are common in the animal kingdom, and happen al the time. Examples? Well, the most common chromosome number reported for mice is 40 (20 pairs of chromosomes). However, isolated populations of mice have been discovered with 24 and 22 chromosomes, the result of multiple chromosomal fusions (Nature 403: 158, 2000). Such fusions (and fissions) have also been reported in goats and horses, and especially in gibbons. A 2014 report (Nature 513: 195-201) showed that different populations of gibbons in southeast asia had chromosome numbers of 38, 44, and 52, indicating that chromosome fusion and splitting are common events that do not produce strongly adverse effects on species viability.

In plain language, chromosome fusions happen all the time, and they have only minimal effect on viability.

If Australopithecus had 24 chromosomes, then it was some sort of an ape. If Homo Habilis had 23 chromosomes, it was human. If Australopithecus evolved into Homo Habilis by fusing two chromosomes into one, it would only seem possible if it occurred within one single generation.

This is also wrong, for the reasons I have outlined above. The fusion of two chromosomes did not make us human. In fact, it probably had very little effect on us at all. So you are mistaken in trying to equate 24 chromosome pairs with the genus Australopithecus and 23 pairs with Homo.

If the parents of Adam (the first human with 23 chromosomes) had 24 chromosomes, then Adam was not even biologically compatible with his own parents. Therefore, Adam could only have mated with another lucky product of fusion, a female “Eve.”
Eve would have had to be born within Adam’s lifespan and within close enough proximity for them to meet and of course, reproduce to create viable offspring that perpetuated the new species. That would seem to make descent twice as unlikely than if it only needed to happen for Adam within a single generation.

Here’s one more key thing to consider if you are really interested in Quid est veritas, as you state. It is clear that such chromosomal fusions continue to occur among present-day humans. A recent report in fact described an individual with just 44 chromosomes (22 pairs), resulting from a fusion between chromosomes 14 and 15 (Biomedical Research 24: 171-174, 2013).

What this means, of course, is that your concerns about your 23-chromosome Adam finding a suitable Eve to mate with are misplaced. In small population groups, such as those that characterized the early human population, a chromosome fusion could easily have become established as the norm, just as has happened today for breeding groups of mice and gibbons as I have noted. Therefore, there is nothing particularly remarkable about human chromosome 2 that makes its emergence in its present form unlikely. Rather, all it does is to show that we have recent common ancestors that carried 48 chromosomes.

Are biologists wrong to use the word “fusion” to describe the formation of human chromosome 2? Is there any possible way that the forming of this particular chromosome could have taken a very long period of time? Inquiring minds would like to know…

No, there is nothing wrong with using the word “fusion” to describe this particular form of Robertsonian translocation. And the formation of such a chromosome, as we can see from studies of other organisms and from that family with 44 chromosomes, is an event that can take place in just one or a very few generations.

I hope very much that I have answered your questions.

With Best Regards, Ken

Kenneth R. Miller Professor of Biology Brown University Providence, RI 02912 USA

 

 

An open letter to Dr. Francis Collins (and Dr. Ken Miller)

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Australopithecus

Dear Dr. Collins,

I’d like to begin by saying that I have tremendous respect for your work on the Human Genome Project. I enjoyed your book The Language of God so much that even quoted you a couple of times in my book, Counterargument for God.

So, if there is a human being on planet Earth as qualified to answer my question as (atheist) biologist Jerry Coyne, it would appear to be either you, or (Catholic) biology professor Ken Miller, whose work I’m most familiar with from watching his lectures posted on You Tube that attack intelligent design. However, I did appreciate his calm and pleasant demeanor on display while he ridiculed my personal beliefs.
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One thing that you and Professor Miller seem to share in common with Professor Coyne is your apparent belief in the infallibility of evolution theory, and that descent is the only viable explanation for the origin of species.

Unsurprisingly, Professor Coyne didn’t respond to his open letter. However, I didn’t really try to hide the fact that I am a creationist and an advocate of intelligent design. Professor Coyne may have been hostile to the source, rather than the questions asked. In retrospect, I probably could have done a better job of framing my questions without antagonizing him.

Professor Benoit LeBlanc was kind enough to attempt answering them, but unfortunately his answer required Deep Time that I don’t believe is available in the scenario we’re hopefully about to discuss.

I don’t believe my personal religious beliefs will keep either of you gentlemen from answering my questions because we are all professed Christians. I’m merely asking you to help a brother understand why design is stupid and unscientific and how common descent makes perfect sense, even to describe the relationship between plants and animals.

Before going any further, please let me assure you that my only interest is in finding the best possible and most comprehensible answers to my own existential questions. These aren’t trick questions — I really want to know the answers, assuming they can be answered. I will be very pleased to publish responses from either of you gentlemen as a separate post, in its entirety.

I sincerely seek truth — if the truth turns out to be descent and not design, so be it. Quid est veritas?

Design makes sense to me. Descent does not. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, and all apes supposedly have 24 pairs.

As experts in biology, I know you were already quite familiar with that very important fact.

But how exactly did ape-like primates evolve to become human?

Of course, I know that biologists have “widely accepted” the theory two “ancestral” chromosomes fused end-to-end and formed human chromosome 2. Professor Miller even says as much in this video.

My concern specifically revolves around Professor Miller’s use of the word “fusion” to describe this alleged freak accident of nature. Because in every science text I’ve read, fusion typically describes the process when two atoms collide at high speed and bond together.

In this case it would seem that the collision could have only occurred inside the first atom formed at the moment of conception, then replicated in every additional cell formed in this new organism — sort of a chain reaction. After all, fusion is an instantaneous process.

Surely your argument isn’t that two ancestral chromosomes “gradually” fused into one single chromosome over thousands, or even millions of years, is it?

In the video link provided above, Professor Miller said the chromosome missing in humans could not have ever been lost without causing fatality in the offspring.

Therefore, if fusion is truly the only means by which this new human chromosome 2 could have formed (as Professor Miller suggested) then Goldschmidt’s hopeful monster theory would seem to best describe the ape-to-human evolutionary process, wouldn’t it? And if that is so, the mating problem of the hopeful monster is reintroduced into our discussion, correct?

If Australopithecus had 24 chromosomes, then it was some sort of an ape. If Homo Habilis had 23 chromosomes, it was human. If Australopithecus evolved into Homo Habilis by fusing two chromosomes into one, it would only seem possible if it occurred within one single generation.

Homo Habilis

Homo Habilis

If the parents of Adam (the first human with 23 chromosomes) had 24 chromosomes, then Adam was not even biologically compatible with his own parents. Therefore, Adam could only have mated with another lucky product of fusion, a female “Eve.”

Eve would have had to be born within Adam’s lifespan and within close enough proximity for them to meet and of course, reproduce to create viable offspring that perpetuated the new species. That would seem to make descent twice as unlikely than if it only needed to happen for Adam within a single generation.

Are biologists wrong to use the word “fusion” to describe the formation of human chromosome 2? Is there any possible way that the forming of this particular chromosome could have taken a very long period of time?

Inquiring minds would like to know…

Christian atheists

southernprose_cover_CAFGSome words just don’t seem to go together.

For example, there’s honest politician. Another phrase that seems somewhat oxymoronic is lucky loser. And then there’s Christian atheist.

Seriously?

How can anyone be an atheist and a Christian? The contradiction of the two terms seems painfully obvious. The short answer is, you can’t.

This isn’t another way of describing Christian apostasy — apostates tend to be activists, relentless and very aggressive with their attacks on Christianity. Many Christian apostates not only reject the tenets of their former faith, they seek to eradicate belief in weak Christians.

Wikipedia defined a Christian atheist as someone who rejects belief in any sort of a supernatural God, but tries to emulate the moral example of Jesus.

I must admit that I’ve never encountered a Christian atheist before — in fact, the only person that might have fit the description of one was Mahatma Gandhi, and he was murdered years before I was born.

Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t seem to make any sense to reject that Jesus was the Christ, yet make him your primary role model.

Let’s face facts — Jesus wasn’t real big on having fun, was he?

Think about it…if atheism really is true, and Darwin’s theory about how life randomly descended into modern animals without rhyme or reason, then the only sensible rule for society should truly be survival of the fittest.

Every man for himself and woman for herself, and get all you can while you can. After all, you’re going to die soon enough, and there goes your chance to lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, or whatever your pleasure. If it feels good do it, right? What’s stopping you?

I know what’s stopping me from behaving like a drunken frat boy on spring break. I know why I don’t sleep with my neighbor’s wife — or my sister, for that matter.

I know it’s wrong. But how do I know?

Objective morality, which can only come from God. When we deny God as the source of objective morality, we may find ourselves getting quite confused about the difference between right or wrong.

For example, one allegedly very intelligent atheist found himself equivocating about whether or not incest might be wrong in every example, That shouldn’t be a difficult question for anyone to answer, to be brutally honest.

Is cannibalism wrong? Is anything wrong? As the internet joke (sort of) goes,

Let’s eat Grandma! Or should I say: Let’s eat, Grandma!

(Christian) Writers truly understand the importance of proper punctuation.

The truthful atheist either says that morality is relative or doesn’t exist. Morality as such varies as each of us defines it, because the atheist has rejected the only possible source of objective morality.

The “honest” atheist cannot say rape, incest, adultery, or even pedophilia is always wrong, because to do so, they must claim the authority of God for themselves. They can only assert that they personally believe such vile behavior would always be wrong without giving a reason why — especially if, as in the case of adultery, the act is no longer illegal.

The obvious benefit of being an atheist that you should be able to do anything you want, whenever you want. Want your neighbor’s wife? If he isn’t home, who’s to say it’s wrong to sleep with her? For that matter, why not have sex with your neighbor’s sheep, too?

So if you’re an atheist who acts like a Christian but rejects the divinity of Christ, in my never-humble-enough opinion, you’re doing it wrong. You should be able to justify doing anything that feels good.

You’re paying the cost of being a Christian without receiving the benefits. No offense, but why go through the motions? So you can feel morally superior to your fellow human being for the duration of your short, miserable life? We’re all going to die. The only question is about the timing.

You can either be a Christian, or an atheist. If you don’t believe in Jesus, why go through the motions? To make the “real” Christian more aware of his or her shortcomings?

Trust me. I don’t need to be reminded how badly I’ve failed with Jesus as my primary role model.

In my opinion, you’re wasting valuable time trying to be both a Christian and an atheist. The payoff isn’t simply worth it. There is no one good but The One God.

If you’re going to be miserable for eternity, you might as well enjoy this life with all the gusto you can muster. I also believe in hell, and from what I’ve heard and read about the place, it isn’t someplace that I intend to visit.

I am a Christian. No additional qualifiers are necessary.

 

 

How does the brain record memories?

southernprose_cover_CAFG

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I am not a scientist, nor do I pretend to be one. However, that’s never going to stop me from asking serious questions to those people who do claim or pretend to be professional scientists.

Recently an atheist friend (probably former friend, to be technically correct. I think he “unfriended” me after this exchange) asserted in our discussion as a statement with authority that neuroscientists have pretty much figured out how the human brain works.

Really? I thought. It’s been my considered opinion for some time now that we humans aren’t nearly as smart as we think.

So I asked my now-former friend what I thought was a pretty simple and straightforward question: how does our brain store a memory?

I do know how computers manage the feat but for humans, I can only guess.

Most people understand that computers mimic the human brain in several respects. However, as a former developer, I know quite a bit about how computers go about performing their job, and the ways in which computers and the human brain are quite different.

Computers and humans both have memory, meaning an ability to recall historical information for use in current and future decision-making.

When we work in a computer program, our efforts are only stored temporarily in that computer’s memory. For our work to become persistent and thus made available for future use, we must take specific action to save our effort in the current session to the computer’s hard drive.

Otherwise, when we close the browser and turn off the machine, our work is lost forever. Furthermore, if we tell the machine to delete something we told it to remember, we must jump through hoops to recover the deleted information.

If it was never saved to the hard drive, that information is gone for good.

Conversely, sometimes things get stuck in human memory for which we have no “delete” button. Ever get a song stuck in your head? It isn’t easy to willingly “forget” something after you’ve learned it.

With a computer, the storage solution is relatively straightforward–human words are translated into the computer’s native machine language and physically written to a storage device called a hard drive.

Where is the “hard drive” in the human brain? How is it that we can we wake up today with not only a memory of yesterday, but memories of something that happened even twenty or more years ago?

Machine language is nothing but a stream of zeroes and ones that form a numerical pattern that can be mapped rather easily back to the human equivalent upon retrieval.

For example, consider that the following stream of information bits:

0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0111

actually represents one byte of information in machine language containing the numeric value “7” on a computer with a 32-bit processor.

So where is the hard drive in the organic tissue that comprises my brain? How is it that I can remember certain things, for example that today is my granddaughter’s birthday?

We know how cells in our bodies store inherited information. That’s fairly easy to explain — DNA is the ultimate “source code.

One of the most remarkable things that any man of science has ever said to me came from an orthopedic surgeon about to stick pins in my finger in order to immobilize it.

When I said that I didn’t understand how a removable pin would solve the problem he replied, “The body wants to heal itself.”

How does “the body” meaning my body, know how to do something “I” don’t know how to do? Where are these self-repair instructions written?

An even better question: Who wrote them?

But perhaps more importantly for today’s question, how does our brain store learned information?

How does the organic tissue inside my skull remember that 12 x 12 is 144 almost five decades after my mother taught me that information using flash cards?

I no longer have the cards, but I can still recall the information that was on them.

As I see it, there are two possibilities — one possibility is that a currently unknown or unidentified physical attribute of a brain cell somehow allows learned information to be stored in it.

For example, perhaps the microtubules and microfilaments in our brains actually form some sort of networked nano-storage device that link brain cells together into a fully functional, organic computer.

Presumably another alternative is that all our learned information is written into that ethereal data cloud we call a soul.

It seems that all that we can safely say for certain is that we don’t really have any idea how our brains allow us to function, think, and remember.

And now given this food for thought, where and how will you store it?

 

 

The origin of the universe

Sir Fred Hoyle

Sir Fred Hoyle

Once upon a time, some of the smartest people in the world thought the universe might have always existed in its current state, hence the name steady state theory was given to the idea of an eternal universe that has always existed in more or less its current form.

Aristotle. Bertrand Russell. Sir Fred Hoyle.

These men were certainly not stupid. In fact, they were among the most brilliant intellectuals of their respective eras.

Coincidentally, all three of these men were atheists. They believed our allegedly “fine-tuned” universe was eternal in part because there was insufficient scientific evidence, at least in their minds, for them to believe otherwise. But they also believed the universe had always existed as it currently is because of the implications created by the alternative, a fine-tuned universe that once had a beginning.

Hoyle famously said,

Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom; otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.

Clearly, the idea of an eternal universe has more appeal than the idea of a fine-tuned universe produced from absolute nothingness, possibly because it is less complex.

Fred Hoyle stubbornly refused to believe in that super-intellect he mentioned despite the growing evidence that supported the Big Bang theory and advocated steady state theory until his death, presumably because he couldn’t conceive of an entity that much smarter than him.

However, after Edwin Hubble discovered redshift, and Penzias and Wilson won a Nobel Prize in physics for their work on the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the Big Bang theory seemed to have settled the debate over a universe with a beginning versus an eternal universe.

If we assume the universe had the origin all the scientific evidence now suggests, then our focus should turn to a different question — was the creation of the universe an accident, or did it happen on purpose? Also, the exquisitely timed period of inflation that immediately followed the Big Bang…was that also due to unintelligent good luck?

Extrapolating further, if the creation of the universe was an accident, how do we explain the origin of life — another fortunate accident?

Is it possible to create a universe from nothing without the help of a Creator? Can DNA and a living cell be the result of nothing more than a lucky chemical reaction?

Exactly how much serendipity is required for the human race to exist?

Suffice it to say that the probability problems created by the Big Bang alone led to the development of multiverse theory, and the problems caused by abiogenesis gave us panspermia theory — meaning literally, sperm from outer space.southernprose_cover_CAFG

My contemplation of these probability and other existential problems led to my development of what I call my “Big Picture” argument, described in detail in my book Counterargument for God.

Honesty compels me to admit that I’ve been trying to focus my full attention on writing novels, fairly confident that there won’t be any scientific breakthroughs in the meantime that might shake up my current worldview enough to require me to revise it.

But when my friend Shane asked my opinion on this article titled “No Big Bang? Quantum equation predicts universe has no beginning,” of course I had to read the article in order to form an opinion.

My initial reaction is to suggest to my friend that he reread the article again, this time more carefully, and note how it asserts some sort of quantum calculation might have solved the mystery of the Big Bang by eliminating the beginning of the universe by making “corrections” to existing theory. To remove the need for an invisible God, these two theoretical scientists proposed a universe filled with an invisible quantum fluid composed of hypothetical particles called gravitons.

My friend should pay closer attention to all of the conditional verbs that were used in a few short paragraphs vaguely describing a theory promising great potential: how many times the article claims the new math “may” or “could” mean something — it is mostly speculation for a specific purpose, which is to eliminate a need for a God to properly answer an existential question.

The article asserts that “the Big Bang singularity arises directly and unavoidably from the mathematics of general relativity” before offering the problems with the Big Bang “can be resolved by this new model in which the universe has no beginning, and no end.”

What the author really seems to be saying is “just trust us.”

The article doesn’t explain is how the scientific evidence of redshift and the cosmic microwave background radiation fit with this new theory. That evidence is universally accepted, and if this new theory can’t explain it, then it will be practically useless.

According to the author, the laws of physics “break down” at the moment of the Big Bang and thus fail to properly explain that singular event, or what could have come before the Big Bang. However, it has been my experience that the best way to solve a problem is not to simply pretend it doesn’t exist.

All of the available scientific evidence indicates the universe is expanding from a point in time that occurred billions of years ago.

These new “corrections” to the existing theory do not promise to solve the mystery of why the universe appears to have been fine-tuned uniquely to support life, or why inflation was necessary immediately following the Big Bang. It doesn’t solve the mystery of abiogenesis, or explain how descent via sexual reproduction alone might account for the millions of diverse forms of life on earth.

This “new” theory appears to be nothing but another effort to fix a problem with the existing theory that describes the creation of this universe without invoking a Creator, if for no other reason, because that seems to be an unwritten rule among modern scientists.

In short, the alleged new information promised by the article was virtually useless. The time of those involved would have been better spent seeking to understand quantum consciousness.

My advice to Shane is simple: don’t worry about articles with wild speculation and audacious claims like these until the Big Bang theory becomes obsolete, and the scientists proposing these theories have won virtually universal acceptance from the physics community — and a Nobel Prize, of course.

 

Dr. Ben Carson for President

Carson Scholars FundThere are quite a few excellent candidates for President in 2016, but I have a personal favorite, Dr. Ben Carson.

Please don’t misunderstand — for example, I like both Scott Walker and Dr. Rand Paul well enough and think either of them could also be a good man for the job…just not the best man for the job.

Ditto Mike Huckabee. I like that Huckabee supports the Fair Tax. However, without reading details of his plan to reform the tax system, I’m confident that Dr. Carson will likewise simplify our tax code.

What gives me this confidence? Radical simplification is absolutely essential in order to create new economic growth. Dr. Carson is obviously a very smart man, and after reading his editorial essays and listening to his speeches, I am very confident his primary objective will be solving our problems, rather than consolidating his political power.

In my opinion, what is usually identified as his greatest weakness as a candidate is also Dr. Carson’s greatest strength — he’s a medical doctor, not a professional politician by any stretch of the imagination. Dr. Carson has never held any political office, in fact.

So he’s not a polished politician. He’s not “politically correct.”

However, Dr. Carson is a brilliant thinker, and a terrific public speaker — very articulate without a teleprompter, as this inspiring speech he gave at the prayer breakfast demonstrated.

And he is a man accustomed to hard work – and a man known for getting things done. For example, Dr. Carson became internationally famous after leading a team of his fellow neurosurgeons in the world’s first successful operation to separate twins conjoined at the head, a twenty-two hour ordeal.

It was such a big deal that Cuba Gooding, Jr. played him in the Hollywood movie.

Clearly, Dr. Carson has a reputation for solving the unsolvable problem. Prior to his retirement, one might say that he was a little too busy helping save the lives of critically ill children to play politics.

Furthermore, Dr. Carson’s life story epitomizes the “rags-to-riches” American dream that many believe is now dead. He’s living proof that isn’t true.

Simply stated, Dr. Carson represents everything that has made America into the greatest nation in the history of the earth — the freedom to reach for and even exceed our wildest dreams of achievement.

If elected, he wouldn’t be the first American President without prior experience in politics. Dwight Eisenhower was the most recent, and George Washington the most famous.

I’d rather we elected a true patriot over an experienced politician. We need an experienced problem solver. It should be noted that Dr. Ben Carson has successfully dealt with some of the most difficult problems encountered by medical science and taken significant risks over the course of his professional career in order to save the lives of children. Dr. Carson is truly a selfless man.

Barack Obama promised a fundamental transformation of America, and has largely succeeded by dividing Americans against each other.

Racial tensions are being aggravated by the government instead of being quelled.

I believe Dr. Ben Carson can transform America back into the country the founding fathers intended. And he isn’t being shy about going public with his idea for how to replace the Affordable Care Act.

The man has read de Tocqueville, so he knows American history. Dr. Carson also understands the problems of poverty, and from his own personal experience. He certainly didn’t grow up as a child of privilege in a tropical paradise. He’s humble enough that he prays every day.

Assuming that America’s problems can be solved, Ben Carson will solve them. If anything can be done, Ben Carson will do it better.

Because that’s his work ethic.

The Pearl: 2 May 2015

images-5Biggest thing I learned my first year in the NFL is nobody gives a crap about what you did last week. The league is about what have you done for me now. That’s the NFL. It’s also our culture. So you keep working hard because that’s the biggest truth about football. — Andrew Luck

Once upon a time, while arguing about a call with the referee during a game, coach Jerry Glanville famously claimed that the initials of the NFL really meant “Not For Long” rather than “National Football League” because a bad call could cost someone his job.

And it’s obviously true.

The NFL Player’s Association has estimated that the average length of a player’s career is 3.5 years.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell replied:

There is a little bit of a misrepresentation or a misunderstanding on that. Frequently, it is said that the average career is about 3.5 years. In fact, if a player makes an opening day roster, his career is very close to six years…If you are a first-round draft choice, the average career is close to nine years. That 3.5-year average is really a misrepresentation. What it adds is a lot of players who don’t make an NFL roster and it brings down the average.

Only the best of the best football players make it into the NFL, and then mostly because of their God-given, natural athletic talent.

However, the right to stay there must be earned every day, by preparation and hard work.