Researching Creation

June 26, 2008

Biological Change / Evolutionary Theories


Many people are not aware of the many approaches to evolutionary theory taken today.  So I thought I'd summarize several of them, and then comment on their use within Creation biology.  Note that these are not necessarily mutually exclusive, though people tend to focus on the one they think is the most dominant and descriptive of life on earth.

Darwinism / Evolution by natural selection - this is the idea that evolution proceeds (1) by material means only (no planning ahead, no intelligence either in nature or outside of it, except as describable by physical laws), and (2) by historical contingency - the universe doesn't favor certain possibilties, instead life is almost entirely built out of historical accidents - both the production of a feature through mutation and the mutation's relevancy within an environment are both essentially accidental.  Traits are propogated by keeping the animal from dying better than other traits.

Platonic Evolution / Structuralism - this is the idea that the laws of nature force biology into certain predefined patterns.  While there is some amount of contingency involved in the production of an organism's features, the end-products of evolution are based more on physics than on contingency.  A good description of this is in the title of Michael Denton's book: Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe.

Evolution by Symbiogenesis - this is the idea that evolutionary novelty is primarily the result of symbiotic relationships between organisms.  Lynn Margulis's book, Symbiotic Planet, is a great description of this view of the world.  So, as organisms establish new symbioses, they change their form and functioning within the biosphere.

Front-Loaded Evolution - this is the idea that organisms were created with an initial toolkit, which has elements which can be deployed as needed to survive in new environments.  Different views of this vary as to how fully-formed the toolkit is - i.e. does it have the entire set of information to make a whole structure, or just enough components and pieces that it can arrange them quickly into something workable.  I believe Michael Behe endorses this view.  The website Telic Thoughts is the primary source of advocacy for this opinion. The person pseudonymously known as MikeGene is the primary public mover for this view, and he has a book out called The Design Matrix.

Somatic Selection - This one is not very popular at all, but I'm including it simply because I find the idea fascinating and think it has more merit than it is given credit for.  This is the idea that evolution actually occurs in body cells first, and then successful combinations found in the body cells get transferred via reverse transcription to reproductive cells.  The primary work espousing this view is Lamarck's Signature.

The interesting thing is that, as theories of evolution, none of these is explicitly against Creationism.  Biblically, the mechanism of diversification from the original kinds is not specified, and therefore, any of them are compatible biblicallly.  Scientifically, I don't think Darwinism makes much sense, but, as a view of biological change, is not strictly anti-biblical.

Now, where most evolutionary theories do go against Biblical Creation is in:

  • Being tied to old-earth assumptions
  • Being tied to the assumptions of universal or near-universal common ancestry
  • Being used as an explanation for the origins of life 

Anyway, the point of all this is as follows:

  • Evolution is not a monolithic entity.  A lot of people view the debate is about "creation" verses "evolution", as if they were necessarily distinct in all facets, and as if they were discreet entities.  Evolution is not a single thing, and, at least as the mechanism of diversification goes, neither is Creation.
  • When someone says "evolution is proven" it would help if it was specified which evolution was proven and for what parameters :)
  • While the evolutionary biological literature should not be taken as gospel, there is no reason to discount many of the mechanisms out-of-hand even if we disagree with how they may be applied.

June 25, 2008

Information Theory / Enabling Conditions for Open-Ended Evolution


I just finished reading Enabling Conditions for 'Open-Ended Evolution'.  In a word - fantastic.

These three put together the best summary of a defence for a designed origin of life as I've seen.  Of course, they didn't say that - they couched everything in evolutionary terms.  Nonetheless, I would recommend it for anyone's reading.

My one major critique is that they seem to be focused on the idea of "open-ended evolution".  While I agree that the conditions that they list would be necessary conditions for life to meet in order for open-ended evolution to occur, I disagree that truly open-ended evolution could occur, at least as they have defined it.  Specifically, one of the definitions they seem to agree with for this term says:

Also, by using the term ‘open-ended’ I wish to imply that an indefinite variety of phenotypes are attainable through the evolutionary process, rather than continuous change being achieved by, for example, cycling through a finite set of possible forms.

I'm not sure if I would argue that my own view is that the set is necessarily finite, but that it is necessarily bounded by some properties rather than open-ended.

Anyway, the case they argued was this:

  • In order for a complex metabolic network to be sustainable (i.e. exist as a proto-organism), it must be cyclic 
  • In order for that network to be reproduceable, it has to have a way of encoding relevant information about the network in a way that is:
    • Copyable
    • Readable
    • Sequenceable (i.e. the information must be able to sequence complex interactions)
  • The same chemical system cannot be used to store information and perform metabolic activity, because:
    • The chemical composition of the information must be relatively inert, in order to be able to encode arbitrary configurations of metabolic networks
    • The chemical composition of the metabolic network must not be inert, in order to perform the tasks of metabolism
    • The information must be readable/copyable, which implies a 3D configuration optimized for reading
    • The metabolic network must function, which implies a 3D configuration optimized for engaging in dynamic behavior with the environment
    • Evolutionarily, changes in the "information" part of the system to encode new functions cannot interfere with the existing metabolic network, or it would fall apart during evolution (changing the sequences would cause the information itself to change its own role as an active player - so it wouldn't code for information, but rather be an active component).
  • The metabolic network, in order to read the information to reconstruct itself, must be under formal constraints instead of physical constraints (i.e. it has to obey an established formal rule of interpretation in order to use the information) -- "At the roots of this coupling between endergonic and exergonic processes there must be
    the capacity of a chemical system to build and rebuild (maintain) by itself a diverse set of boundary conditions, or ‘constraints’. We do not refer here to the standard (typically structural and external) constraints that help to solve a dynamical problem in physics, by reducing the degrees of freedom of a system; but to self-generated constraints (new ‘highlevel rules’ that affect ‘low-level molecular interactions’) coming both from self-assembly and self-organization phenomena

So, while using the language of self-assembly, self-organization, RNA world, etc., the authors were able to show why life is a holistic unit, unexplainable in a reductionistic manne, and certainly not by the mechanisms mentioned.

In fact, it is amusing - each stage that was mentioned was shown to be incapable of open-ended evolution, yet the paper, with some magic words, was able to transition us to the next "stage", despite the fact that the author had just said that the previous stage was not open to open-ended evolution!

Anyway, it was a great paper.  Creation researches should pay special attention tothe separation of the metabolism from the information and why that is important.  Also, I thought that it was an excellent description of a non-reductable (i.e. irreducibly complex) system, with explicit functional/theoretical reasons (not just complexity) as to why all parts of the system are needed at once.

June 05, 2008

Biological Change / Another Interesting Perspective on Podarcis sicula


Physorg pointed out another interesting perspective on the new organ within the lizards:

"Cecal valve evolution probably went hand-in-hand with a novel association between the lizards on Pod Mrcaru and microorganisms called nematodes that break down cellulose, which were found in their hindguts"

We have talked about symbiosis as a cause of biological diversity and speciation before.  Here, it could be that a symbiosis actually induced a "new" (to the population) organ to develop.

Very interesting! 

In the first of the above two links, Joe Francis talks about the immune system potentially being a part of detecting and picking up symbiotic partners.  It would be interesting to know if that is how the symbiotic association began, and if that is also what facilitated the growing of the cecal valve. 

June 05, 2008

Biological Change / Rapid Adaptation in Podarcis sicula


I have been planning on writing on this very exciting paper, but Jean Lightner beat me to it :)

In 36 years, a group of lizards which were separated onto a different island from the rest of their species had:

  • Changed their head size
  • Changed their diet to be much more plant-heavy
  • Developed a new (not present in the parent population) organ - the cecal valve - to help digest the more plant-heavy diet
  • Developed new symbiotic relationships
  • Changed their behavior

In case you didn't notice the bolding, it was the development of the new organ that I found most interesting.  Now, when I say "new", that just means new to them.  The cecal valve is present in a number of species.  However, it was not present in the population which the island was seeded with. 

This gives a lot of creedence to the front-loaded "toolbox" concept of Intelligent Design.  That is, species have an available set of rapidly-deployable changes which can be induced as needed.  Many parts of this toolbox are shared by many related and non-related organisms.

The fact that in only 36 years all of these changes happened indicate that it was part of a built-in process. 

June 01, 2008

Discussions around the Web / Design Constraints for Building Materials


TelicThoughts has a very interesting discussion on what the requirements of building materials might be for designing life.  Check it out - very interesting discussion!  I don't think many of them understood my arguments relating to complexity theory.  I hope to expound some of those out in a more extended manner soon.