Sunday, April 20, 2008


I saw Expelled, because, frankly, I have issues with Darwinism as a complete explanation of life on Earth. I don’t believe in God, but I also think the probability of cellular life is so small, that I just don’t think random mutation plus selection gets us there, and my lack of alternative doesn't mean I should believe the current theory. It’s one thing to turn off a protein (sickle cell anemia), or select for the length a finch's nose, or basically modify an existing structure into various subspecies, which really only takes a couple of flips in the genetic sequence, quite another to create new tissue.

As the movie notes, the first replicating organism needed at least 250 proteins in a specific order, each of which needs at least 20 and probably 400 amino acids in a specific order, and a specific rotation. This structure is needed for selection to guide random mutations--prior to this, natural selection merely destroys. When you listen to the current contenders for how this happened, it’s basically the same ‘a miracle happened’ hand waving no matter which side you are on (the most specific Darwinistic theory offered is that they arose from 'backs of crystals').

Staney Miller's famous experiment showing that he could create a couple of amino acids from methane, hydrogen, ammonia and water, has proven a dead end. You can create some amino acids, and these are also found in meteorites, but then, they need to be assembled into proteins, and then the proteins into a compound. Further, submarine volcanic vents don't make organic compounds, they decompose them. Indeed, these vents are one of the limiting factors on what organic compounds can be created in the primitive oceans. At the present time, the entire ocean gets cycled through those vents every 10 million years. So all of the organic compounds get zapped every ten million years. That places a constraint on how much organic material you can get via merely simmering.

Anyway, I really gave up the Darwinist explanation of creating all life after after reading about some philosophers in the NY Times, who believe we could be living in the SimCity of some giant alien race (one guy put the odds at 20%, which I thought was great, because usually the number is 1%, 99%, or 50%). Anyone who programs writes new code by copying and pasting, or opening and saving, old code. Thus the fact that organisms appear to have a common progenitor is merely from lazy (ie, all) programmers [note to Telluride Asset Management lawyers reading this—that means all my Telluride code is from prior experience, which I look forward to showing to a jury—I did not invent the ‘do while’ loop at Telluride]. So the fact that humans appear to have common ancestry, just means that a resource constrained creator (a design team in the 10-th dimension), merely borrowed a lot of code, or had a template library, and the lower the level of borrowing determines the taxonomic relation. This also explains why there are lots of inefficiencies in code: the great designer is not omniscient and omnipotent, he just has a resource constraint and technology team that makes Google look like a nematode, large but still finite. Like my programs, genetic instructions are a kluge.

But in the movie I found the performance of Richard Dawkins, atheist extraordinaire, most refreshing. First, because he is so honest. He doesn’t say evolution has ‘absolutely nothing to do with religion’ as many like to presume, but rather, it profoundly impacts one view of religion. I’m not religious myself, so that implication doesn’t really affect me, but I do think many people’s views on religion are decided by evolution or vice versa. Indeed, the subtext is that not believing in God can lead to Nazi atrocities, about as likely as believing against Darwinism as explaining all life leads to bible-thumping homophobia. But most importantly, Dawkins said while he thinks Intelligent Design is not science, he would entertain that life on Earth was seeded from aliens, his only concern being those aliens (or the aliens who seeded them) at some point were primordial ooze. In that way, my creationism is perfectly consistent with a type Dawkins would allow.

I think, fundamentally, Dawkins hates the 'arguments by authority' of religion, and anti-empirical nature of religion. Again, I agree with him. But I just don’t buy the current Darwinism that waves its hand and says the complexity of eukaryotes is merely a sequence of random plus selection. For example, in the most famous case in the past 10 years, the Discovery Institute’s Michail Behe argued against Darwinistic explanation of the bacterial flagellum, which Kenneth Miller from Brown argued against Behe's argument. The flagellum involves a constellation of 50 parts very much like an outboard motor, with a rotor, engine, etc. It seems improbable these things arranged together by natural selection. Miller argues that several of the component (ie, proteins) of the flagellum have ‘directly homologous’ proteins that have other purposes ('Directly homologous' is like 'kinda isomorphic'). One, for example, is used as a secretory system in some bacteria, allowing or disallowing various specific toxins. But I found this proof very unconvincing, like saying the outboard motor of a boat could come together, because, you could use the propeller to cut grass, and the carburetor tin to work as an ash tray, the pistons as medicine dispensers. Could happen, but the odds seem really low. Every protein will be similar to some protein (ie, 'homologous'), but the probability that natural selection favored species with individual C-A-T-G errors that slowly took 50 different complex proteins, adjusted them appropriately (remember, each protein contains usually hundreds of amino acids), moved them next to each other, and also kept the supply chain within the cell in lock step with these changes (every part needs a supply and removal chain), seems more improbable than the thought that we are created by really smart aliens in the 10-th dimension.

It has often been noted that the complete works of Shakespeare could by written by a bunch of monkeys, but they have estimated that even this would take 1E183800 keystrokes to write Hamlet. The universe has only 1E79 (ie, 10^79) hydrogen atoms, and only existed for 4E17 seconds. There’s a big difference between infinity and these numbers, especially related to 1E183800. For the human genetic code, it seems like similar odds to writing Shakespeare given the complexity of our various cellular, immunological, and endocrine processes. But the counter argument is that because I’m conscious, and there are many universes, and perhaps the big bang happens again and again, etc., I am really looking at a conditional probability, and I've basically won the most improbable PowerBall in the multiverse (good to remember on bad days). My speculation is that it’s a set of creators, of unknown form, using templates (probably like in Dreamweaver, under C:\users\The Creator\templates\organic\eukaryotes folder), and drinking the 10-th dimensional version of coffee, while cranking out the next beetle (asked what could be inferred about the work of the Creator from a study of His works, the British scientist J.B.S. Haldane replied, that He has "an inordinate fondness for beetles", given there are so many different kinds (conservatively about 350,000). These are probably training exercises for those new to the team).


Anonymous said...

Well, those aliens need some explanation too...

And what about multiverse? Perhaps, there is an infinite number of universes, and even a very improbable event (like the origin of life) had to happen in some of them?

Dave Grossman said...

You seem to be one of the more level-header people who are skeptical of evolution.

The first thing you must realize is that evolution does not concern itself with how life originated. Not at all. It says absolutely nothing about what scientists call abiogenesis.

I appreciate the effort it took you to write this blog but, unfortunately, you are falling into many of the same traps as the theistic ID proponents.

You are using your own intuition to construct arguments that are not logically valid and are not based on the best available information.

I think that you are not properly grasping the time scales involved in abiogenesis and evolution. Not only that, one needs to realize that in addition to the immensely long time scales, we are dealing with a primordial soup the size of (in order of magnitude) all of the oceans on Earth.

Here's some food for thought:

Can you imagine how long a year is? Probably. We all have a pretty good idea about how to judge the passing of a year. It's a long time. Okay, can you imagine 10 years? It's a little harder to grasp but it is within the realm of human experience. How about 100 years? Well, since humans generally don't live that long, this is a much more difficult amount of time to comprehend. 1000 years is obviously so far beyond our experience that we can only vaguely understand how long that really is.

What we've done is gone up in order of magnitude in powers of 10. 10^0, 10^1, 10^2, and 10^3.

Current scientific theories estimate that abiogenesis occurred between 4.4 billion years ago and 2.7 billion years ago. For the sake of argument, let's assume that abiogenesis took 1 billion years to occur. That is 10^9 or 1,000,000,000 years. We can barely comprehend 10^3 and we can certainly get a feel for the jumps in order of magnitude between powers. We're going from orders of 10^3 to 10^9. We are simply not capable of comprehending how vast of a time scale this is.

A similar argument can be made for the volume of the Earth's oceans.

You see where I'm heading, right? We cannot use our own intuition to make decisions about these things. Just because it seems impossible because of the rarity of the events required to cause abiogenesis, doesn't mean that it is impossible.

The same can be said for evolution. Evolution has occurred for approximately 3 times as long as it took for abiogenesis. This is an immensely long period of time.

Just because we can't comprehend abiogenesis or the evolution of complex life doesn't mean that it required an intelligent desginer. Additionally, it is not hard to find cases of extremely unintelligent design, not the least of which is the fact that we eat and breathe through the same passageway.

The bacterial flagellum? Is that really the best propulsion system that an intelligent designer could have come up with? Have you seen some of the bacteria with flagellum? Some of them have so many flagelli (plural? whatever) that they seem to get tangled and are not very efficient. I could imagine a talented chemist coming up with a far superior propulsion system.

Also, why are these "irreducably complex" structures so rare? Why is it that most of the structures we observe are easily explained by evolution?

Anyway, I hope you take the time to better research the issues you bring up in your blog.

Regardless of any of this. Intelligent Design does not follow the scientific method so whatever your interpretation of it is, it does not belong in a science class. Additionally, it is clear that the ID movement is based on the former Creationist movement. This is evident in the fact that Expelled was marketed heavily to Christians to gain support in the theaters. If ID is truly a secular idea, shouldn't they have marketed it more broadly?

The fact is, the Expelled producers and Ben Stein are liars. They have deliberately (or, perhaps ignorantly) distorted the truth or outright lied about the bulk of what is presented in the film. Their dishonesty is well documented.

Please visit for more information. All information there can be verified through other means.

Eric Falkenstein said...

'evolution does not concern itself with how life originated.'

Darwin wrote "The Origin of Species", which I assumed implied the creation of life. If evolution assumes a eukaryote, that's news to me.

I tried to address the inefficiencies argument in a silly way: anyone with a resource contstraint will have inefficiencies. DNA involves a lot of coding, so I empathize with the creator, who, while big, is not infinite.

As per my inability to intuit 1 billion years, true, but I think evolutionist seem to think that 1B=inf, and anything can happen. Then they argue, well, you don't know the environment this irreducibly complex system faced. Basically, they say, I don't know, but neither do you, so my path is possible, therefore it must be true.

I'm not saying I have a falsifiable alternative

Josh said...

Darwin wrote "The Origin of Species", which I assumed implied the creation of life. If evolution assumes a eukaryote, that's news to me.

You assumption is incorrect, then. He was actually talking about the origin of species, not the origin of life, which are two very different things.

His main contribution was that of natural selection, which requires the existence of some form of life, so that descent with modification is possible.

As the earlier commentator noted, the study of the origin of life is called 'Abiogenisis' and while evolution touches all parts of biology, it is a separate field of inquiry.

In recent years, the field of abiogenisis has seen great gains, going far and beyond the study that you mentioned. Take a look at the literature, and you might be surprised!

Anonymous said...

True, we don't understand the origin of life. That doesn't argue for God's existence, people have always attributed to God whatever they didn't understand. (And I agree that scientists who insist that some lightning and hydrothermal vents were all that was needed to create life are nearly as contemptible as the Intelligent Design lot.)

Pro-God people cling to weaknesses in the theory of evolution because it's the one thing they can still attack with some credibility. In 2000 years we have come from "Gods are beings in the sky who have great power over the world" to "God is somehow inside of quarks" or, even more pointlessly, "God set the universe in motion but has no way of further influencing it."

Olorin said...

In his incredulity at the low probabilities for evolution, Mr Falkenstein is looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The probabilility of any given present biological structure is extremely low, as he says.

But consider an analogy. Theer are 60 million people in the UK, and only one Queen. The probability that Elizabeth is Queen is extremely low. are we therefore to conclude that there is no queen, because this probability is so low? No; the probability that there is a Queen of England is 1.0---if Elizabeth were not Queen, someone else would be.

In the same way, the probability of a particular bacterial flagellum structure is very low, but the probability of some means of locomotion can be high. In fact, there are several dozen different types of flagella, and many more means of bacterial locomotion---many different kinds of cilia, for example.