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Investigating Origins

Biblical, scientific and historical articles & media that focus upon the issue of origins and evolution, and includes the historical veracity of Genesis 1-9.

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Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called "knowledge" which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. (I Tm 6:20 - 21, NIV)

The world today has a reverence for science that almost borders on worship. Scientific investigations have resulted in many benefits in our daily lives. Not only do we enjoy the labor-saving de­vices which applied science has pro­vided, but most of us, in some measure, owe our health to scientific advances in medicine and related fields. Many of us, myself included, would probably not be alive today were it not for the medications and treatments that have been developed in the last 50 years. Most folks are aware of these facts and, as a result, have a great respect for science. But few really understand what science is, and fewer stop to consider that science has its limits.

The word science simply means knowledge. In the last century, for ex­ample, theology - the study of God ­- was termed, "the queen of sciences." Today the meaning of the word has been so changed that no one would consider theology to be one of the vari­ous disciplines of science. Webster's New World Dictionary gives the pri­mary definition of science as "the state or fact of knowing." The word derives from the Latin word scientia which came from the word sciens "to know." The base of that word was "to cut" "to separate" and thus "to distinguish between."

Today we regard science as a par­ticular sort of knowledge. In popular opinion it is the acquisition of knowledge about material things, the physi­cal world, the astronomical bodies, chemistry, biology and the like. It has come to mean almost exclusively the study and knowledge of physical pro­cesses. In its three other definitions the dictionary defines science as knowl­edge relating to the natural and physical world.

Even in the more restricted defini­tion of today, science is knowledge. It is in the process of obtaining that knowl­edge that science becomes science and acquires its special authority. We speak of the "laws" of science as though they were some immutable, inexorable, un­failing forces of nature. But science did not establish those laws. The law of gravity, for instance, operated long be­fore anyone even thought of what grav­ity is. Science merely seeks to under­stand and define the processes we see in action all around us. It is in the methods used to gain such understanding that science attains its greatest stature. The scientific method is the tool by which man can obtain knowledge with confi­dence that the knowledge so obtained is valid.

The scientific method is based on the following techniques.

Observation - One sees an event or phenomenon and desires to know more about it.

Hypothesis - One forms a guess as to what might explain the event.It might be an "educated guess" or a more sophisticated explanation of the phe­nomenon.

Experimentation - One then tests the hypothesis by devising a multitude of experiments with controls to elimi­nate all but one variable at a time. This process of testing continues until the hypothesis is either confirmed or denied. Modification of the hypoth­esis is to be expected during this process.

Formation of a Theory - When test­ing has yielded a fairly definite un­derstanding of the event it can be stated as a theory. Further testing will tend to confirm, modify, or deny the theory. The rigor with which one subjects the theory to testing is a matter of one's (subconscious?) de­sire to see the theory confirmed or denied. The skeptic does more test­ing than the gullible.

Statement of a Law - After long-term extensive testing, with completely consistent results, the theory can pos­sibly be stated as a law. But even then, it must be understood, the "law" is still subject to further modification as new tests are de­vised. It is conceivable, for example, that as we learn more about the physi­cal phenomenon we call gravity, that "law" could be modified.

The one essential requirement for the scientific method of investigation to be applicable is the reproducibility of the event in question. One must be able to repeat it or to continually observe it in order to experiment (and thus test a hypothesis) with it.

Herein lies the limit of science. It is, at once, its Achilles' heel and its great­est strength. Science derives great au­thority from the experimental method.

Yet that method in itself places strict limits upon what can rightly be termed science. For a subject to be considered science it must be open to experimenta­tion. That with which one cannot ex­periment lies outside the realm of sci­ence. This does not mean that subjects not available for experimentation are beyond the reach of human knowledge. It is just that such knowledge cannot be termed science. There are other means available to mankind to investigate these subjects, such as the legal/historical method, or in extreme cases, the deduc­tive method of reasoning. These meth­ods are valid in and of themselves, but they do not yield the same level of certainty that the scientific method can achieve.

Any event which happened in the past, to which there were no human observers and of which there is no historic record cannot be subject to scientific investigation. Such is the event or events surrounding the begin­ning of the world.

It is unfortunate that many scientists themselves fail to understand this prin­ciple - or, at least do not put it into practice. Often we hear pronounce­ments by scientists, well qualified and highly respected in their fields, on sub­jects dealing with unique historic eyents. Scientists, of all people, should recog­nize these events are beyond the reach of science.

But scientists are people. They have the same foibles, the same prejudices, biases and personal agendas as do the rest of us. And too often they fall prey to the temptation to trade on their scien­tific expertise by making statements which reach far beyond their creden­tials as scientists. And too many of us are sufficiently naive to believe them when they say "science has proven that..."

Science can prove many things. But never can it prove something outside the realm of experimentation, usually meaning outside the present time. Sci­ence cannot go back into history. It cannot prove what happened at the Battle of Waterloo or the Fall of Rome. The best it can do is investigate the artifacts left in those sites and state that they are or are not consistent with the historic records we possess.

Science, then, can be said to be con­fined to the present. It is a "present tense" discipline. It has, as mentioned above, excelled in the present. But sci­ence is, and scientists should be, mute about events which may or may not have occurred in the far distant prehis­toric past.

A prime example of the violation of that principle can be seen in an article by Art Caplan, Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, appearing in the Phila­delphia Inquirer's editorial page of February I I, 1996. He stated "The ca­nard that evolution is a theory, not a fact, is one of the dopiest arguments ever presented with a straight face in the long history of attempts to bolster religious faith by putting down science." Here, a supposedly respected scientist (?) has done what he, in the same article, decried. "Blurring the line between re­ligion and science is not harmless. Con­fusing schoolchildren about the differ­ence between religion and science is not good for religion, science or the future well being of this country." To this I agree.

But Caplan himself fails to distinguish between scientific and metaphys­ics ("religion" in his words). Evolution, far from being a fact, is not even a theory. Nor yet, is it even a good work­ing hypothesis. Why? Simply because it cannot be tested. It is no more and no less a philosophical concept than is cre­ation. Both stand on level ground -­ neither can be considered science. Caplan rightly stated that some evolu­tionists say it proceeds slowly, others that it goes rapidly. Paleontologists such as Eldredge and Gould have said that evolution works in spurts - rapid bursts of change so rapid that it left no trace. They say this because they admit the absence of transitional forms in the fos­sil record. Others, more traditional, have held that it proceeded slowly - so slowly that no one can observe it.

So fast we cannot see it.

So slowly we cannot see it.

One thing is clear. We have not seen it.

To call something we cannot see science is a travesty of what science really is. True science is absolutely ben­eficial to mankind. In fact, it follows God's command to rule the earth, care for and tend it (Gn 1:28; 2:15). False science is that philosophy which as­sumes an evolutionary history of earth and, contrary to the known facts of true science, seeks to account for man's existence without a Creator.

Genesis is a book of beginnings. It is the record of the beginning of all creation: the universe, the earth, mankind, and the people of Israel. It also contains a record of the beginning of sin and the circumstances of that beginning. This is normally referred to as 'The Fall.' As time progressed and sin increased, man eventually digressed so far that he started believing in and worshipping other so-called gods. As a part of this apostasy the account of the beginning of man slowly evolved to fit with the lifestyle of sin, as well as with these new gods and beliefs. Other things crept in to sometimes completely distort the account. But, some similarities remain.

Frequently in this column, the phenomenon of fitness cost has been discussed. This is when an organism, as it undergoes minor changes in reaction to changes in its environment, improves in one area of its abilities but pays a price by becoming less fit in another area. These minor changes are known as microevolution, in which the individual organism may undergo noticeable alterations and improvements, but does not become a new, superior species.

Lateral gene transfer has been discussed several times previously in this column. This phenomenon occurs at the microscopic level, when bacteria or viruses that get inside a living organism transfer strands of their DNA to the host being. These strands then get worked into the DNA of the host, which in turns causes the host to change or mutate.

In the 1970's, geologists discovered hydrothermal vents, holes in the ocean floor that spew out scalding hot water. They subsequently learned that these seemingly inhospitable environments actually permitted the existence of primitive life forms. Some scientists believe that such conditions, and not the 'warm little pond' theorized by Darwin, might have been the setting for the formation of the first life on Earth.

The cover of the March-April 2010 issue of Harvard Magazine features the headline 'Malaria: An Elusive, Evolving Foe.' The article inside opens by referring to 'a reality of evolutionary biology: EVERYTHING changes and adapts, and microbes have a way of outmaneuvering medicine' (Humphries 2010: 42 [emphasis added]). The clearest case of this phenomenon is malaria, which rapidly adapts to outpace any new drug employed to combat it.

According to the article, 'Treating the disease with a drug immediately prompts its evolution toward developing resistance' (Ibid.). For example, after World War II the main anti-malarial drug, quinine, was replaced by a synthetic drug, chloroquine. 'Chloroquine resistance emerged separately in Southeast Asia and South America more than 50 years ago, and scientists can trace its origins to mutations in a specific gene. Gradually, the resistant types [of malaria-causing parasite] came to dominate' (Ibid. 42-43).

One notable aspect of this change in the malaria parasite is the extreme rapidity with which it occurs. The article refers to 'malaria's rapid evolution' (Ibid. 43) and further states:

In Africa, P. falciparum [one of the four parasites that cause malaria] has textbook conditions for an evolutionary perfect storm. With its two hosts [humans and mosquitoes] living in close proximity, the parasite has many opportunities to mate and diversify, but the bottlenecks it faces as it moves between mosquito and human ensure that only the best adapted individuals survive. This abundant variation, when combined with stringent selection, fosters rapid evolution (Ibid. 45).

The article then points out that the human species has likewise adapted to meet the onslaught of the malaria parasite:

…[T]he parasite's numbers exploded around the time agriculture was developed 10,000 years ago. Humans were then living in denser populations and clearing land for fields and settlements, which meant that some of them were living close to wet habitats where mosquitoes bred. Much of the malaria genome evolved after this large expansion, which was also when the mosquito species that transmit malaria began to expand and diversify' (Ibid. 45-46).

The article immediately goes on to state:

Scientists looking at the human genome can see that malaria has been one of the most important factors in shaping it ever since. The disease has a direct effect on human survival and reproduction….In fact, it was human adaptation to malaria that provided the first direct evidence that the human race has indeed evolved….[S]ickle cell anemia was found to arise from a genetic adaptation that protects people from malaria. Other blood disorders have subsequently been linked to malaria resistance as well, which helps explain why these seemingly harmful genetic diseases have become prevalent among people living in tropical areas' (Ibid. 46).

There are three important points to keep in mind. First, when the article mentions 'evolution,' it is referring to changes within a species. For example, it explicitly compares human evolution to the evolution of the four micro-organisms that cause malaria, yet, just as humans are still humans 10,000 years1 after suffering their first assault from malaria-causing parasites, the four parasites are still the same species. Second, as already mentioned, these micro-evolutionary changes have occurred rapidly, sometimes even within a few years of a new drug having been introduced to combat malaria. Third, as has been discussed several times in previous installments of this column, when a species (including humanity), micro-evolves to adapt to a new threat, it does so at a 'fitness cost,' that is, it grows stronger in its ability to combat the new threat (e.g., malaria), but gets weaker in another area (e.g., blood disorders in people who have built up an immunity to malaria).

In light of this, the use of the term 'evolution' in the Harvard Magazine article is not to be taken in the strict Darwinian sense of one species eventually turning into a new, different, superior species over millions of years. In both humans and the malarial parasites, they're still the same species.

Reference:

Humphries, C. 2010. 'An Evolving Foe: Applying Genomic Tools to the Fight against Malaria.' Harvard Magazine 112, no. 4.

1. Editorial note: ABR holds that mankind, specifically Adam and Eve, was created recently, probably less than 8000 years ago, based on Biblical chronology (Genesis 1:27; 5:3; Romans 5:12ff; Mark 10:6). Part of the author's purpose here is to illustrate the fallacious equivocation that secular scientists regularly use in discussing macro and micro-evolution.

One of the most controversial topics in the debate over origins is the age of the Earth. Geochronology, the science of dating the age of our planet and its major events, is less precise than most people might believe...

Recent studies have suggested that the earliest life sprang from RNA, and two scientists have successfully created a strand of RNA that startlingly mimics the way primitive life is believed to have developed.

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ABRT 28 | 8/1/2019