A critic of Evolution thundered recently: “Scientific observations do not support biological evolution! What about the icons of evolution that have been presented in textbooks for almost 50 years? Don’t these icons support biological evolution? Some of these do show microevolution within species. This type of evolution, even if it permanently points in one direction, is not evolution. It is no more evolution than dog breeding.” (What???) “However, if a dog could be bred into a cat, that would be evolution. Even icons like the peppered moths that were only examples of microevolution, used pinned dead moths on black tree trunks that were not a natural resting place for the moths. Hackle’s embryos, ape-to-man drawings, the horse series, etc.”
The above is taken from a site urging the teaching of Creationism as an alternative to Evolution. That these words are incoherent are not the worst of their faults. Unfortunately, these remarks leave the question of evolution validity or falsehood. Not only are they erroneous, they are misconceived.
A fundamentalist reading of the Bible leads to all sorts of nonsense. In the 19th century, there occurs a belief in the spontaneous life. At one time, people maintained that the sun created crocodiles from the mud of the Nile. Mice were supposed to be created out of piles of old soiled rags. Bluebottle flies had their origin in bad meat. Maggots were created in apples, which is why they at last appeared. U.S. fundamentalists believe this as well. They do think that the earth is only 6,000 years old.
Alas, Louisiana, Tennessee and other states, clearly striving to be in the forefront of every backward movement, are increasing funding for the teaching of “Creationism” in schools there, demonstrating their support for this falsehood by thumping their cave man’s clubs or perhaps enacting animal sacrifices. The problem is that the advocates of Creationism are spiritual and mental primitives. They haven’t evolved at all.
The Creationist folks clearly don’t understand that Evolution is not really a controversy anymore. Evolution is no longer a theory because the debate has long ago moved from biology to chemical analysis. The building up of chemical molecules defines our Life’s beginning. What we have learned from scientists since Darwin is that the cycles of life have a chemical form. Scientists had to do much selfless work to learn how to express the cycles of life in a way that linked them to nature as a whole, and this meant studying chemistry. That’s what the Bible believers get wrong.
In other words, scientific knowledge has moved way, way beyond Alfred Russel (sic) Wallace, and Darwin and Mendel. The blood that flows in our veins is millions and millions of years old. The history of the Earth is interesting to the point of fascination, but the man who solved the mystery of life’s earliest origins was the Frenchman Louis Pasteur who proved the chemical basis of all human life back in 1863, when the French Emperor asked him to solve the question of why wine went bad. Pasteur solved this in two years. He discovered that the wine was a “sea of organisms.” He said, “By some it lives, by some it decays.” What was the most startling of his discoveries was that life could exist without oxygen. He found that no free oxygen existed before Life existed.
After Pasteur, it was chemists, not biologists that began to look at amino acids as the building blocks of human life. When anyone of us moves his or her arm, we rely on something called myogiblin which consists of 120 amino acids. The difference in amino acids between a chimpanzee and a human is a small difference. But between a human and a sheep, the difference of amino acids is much greater. Yet the overwhelming conclusion about our life’s origins is that they have their base in chemistry, in molecules that can replicate. Basic molecules form DNA chains, etc. In fact, our life is controlled by four bases of DNA.
The Earth’s Beginnings
It is perhaps chastening to note that by 8 billion years ago, about two thirds of the history of our universe passed, and it had passed before the creation of the Earth which took place around 4.6 billion years ago. It was around 4.6 billion years ago that a mass the size of Mars crashed into the Earth at 25,000 miles per hour. There was a huge amount of dust that circled us, but our gravity held on to it and out of that dust the Moon was formed. I believe that it was the moon that gave us 24 hour days and seasons. (A lot of the above is still being refined and debated, so please be patient with my mistakes.) So we humans were born out of chaos, collisions, ice ages, volcanic eruptions, and the like. No wonder we are so quarrelsome.
Scientists returned to the beginning, asking, what was the surface of the Earth and what was our atmosphere like? From my own fitful reading, I discovered from reading was that the atmosphere of the Earth was originally a mixture of steam, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane, but no free oxygen. A great step forward occurred in 1952 or thereabouts, thanks to a scientist named Steven Miller, who, with a colleague named Harold Urey, bottled up in a flask what they guessed was the Earth’s original atmosphere. Theirs was an experiment intended to simulate the conditions thought at the time to be present on the early Earth, and the experiment tested for the occurrence of our chemical origins of life. Specifically, the experiment tested Alexander Oparin's and J. B. S. Haldane's hypothesis that conditions on the primitive Earth favored chemical reactions that “synthesized organic compounds from inorganic precursors.” (This language for me is a bit like tramping through a dense thicket in the woods and getting lost, but it is interesting nonetheless.)
So Miller bottled up nitrogen, water, methane, ammonia, water, carbon dioxide, and other reducing gases. The mixture turned pink within a day. For days he and Urey subjected their flask to heat, to ultra-violet light, loud noises, trying to simulate the chaotic fury of the Earth’s original atmosphere. This went on for some time, maybe weeks. Suddenly as Miller and Urey looked on, they saw that the pink liquid had suddenly darkened. Their experiment had produced basic amino acids, rudimental protein. The experiment was seen “as the classic experiment of the origin of life.(*)
A Wikipedia entry notes, “After Miller's death in 2007, scientists examining sealed vials preserved from the original experiments were able to show that there were actually well over 20 different amino acids produced in Miller's original experiments. That is considerably more than what Miller originally reported, and more than the 20 that naturally occur in life. Moreover, some evidence suggests that Earth's original atmosphere might have had a different composition from the gas used in the Miller–Urey experiment. There is abundant evidence of major volcanic eruptions 4 billion years ago, which would have released carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere. Experiments using these gases in addition to the ones in the original Miller–Urey experiment have produced more diverse molecules.
There was another man of genius, Leslie Orgel, who also worked with Miller. There is hardly anything about him on his Wikipedia site, but somewhere I had squirreled notes on him back in the 1980s. Orgel was a Brit, breathtakingly brilliant, and he used ice as a research tool to discover more about the basic elements of air. Freezing things was a way of concentrating them. He froze ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, methane, and some other elements of the atmosphere. He produced amino acids, but he produced something else too something much more important. He produced one of the four constituents of the genetic alphabet, which directs all life. He had in fact discovered adenine, one of the four bases of DNA. He ended by forming organic molecules, a big advance of our understanding.
I did find note of other achievements of his. “During the 1970s, Orgel suggested reconsidering the panspermia hypothesis, according to which the earliest forms of life on earth did not originate here, but arrived from outer space with meteorites.
I am slowly realizing that the ability to analyze a batch of facts requires a certain kind of reasoning. It requires the talent of absorbing an abstraction. To be astute means we have to be a good observer. J.S. Mill once said “The observer is not he who merely sees the thing which is before his eye, but he who sees that parts the thing is composed of.” Someone like me, sees a fact or make an observation, but I don’t realize its particularity. I get only a very general and inadequate view, a hazy gist of the thing. I don’t detect similarities to other observations. But the scientist breaks up the observation and notices the particular attributes of it. He suddenly sees what the rest of us don’t – that the observation has properties which the original, basic observation didn’t have.
I really think that the dedication, the colossal capacity for focused effort, the self-effacing patience, the subordination of the appetite for glory in the service of solid achievement, the building of the powers of analysis in order to define a problem by breaking it down into its simplest elements, then testing a combination of them under different circumstances so something substantial can be proved -- that is and was – nothing short of a miracle to me. And I cannot imagine that God could not help but feeling affection and admiration for the intelligence in the creatures He created.
In the end, science is a test of temperament and mind that underlies a culture. Creationism fails that test.
(*) UPDATED KNOWLEDGE “Originally it was thought that the primitive secondary atmosphere contained mostly ammonia and methane. However, it is likely that most of the atmospheric carbon was CO2 with perhaps some CO and the nitrogen mostly N2. In practice gas mixtures containing CO, CO2, N2, etc. give much the same products as those containing CH4 and NH3 so long as there is no O2. The hydrogen atoms come mostly from water vapor. In fact, in order to generate aromatic amino acids under primitive earth conditions it is necessary to use less hydrogen-rich gaseous mixtures. Most of the natural amino acids, hydroxyacids, purines, pyrimidines, and sugars have been made in variants of the Miller experiment.
More recent results may question these conclusions. The University of Waterloo and University of Colorado conducted simulations in 2005 that indicated that the early atmosphere of Earth could have contained up to 40 percent hydrogen—implying a much more hospitable environment for the formation of prebiotic organic molecules. The escape of hydrogen from Earth's atmosphere into space may have occurred at only one percent of the rate previously believed based on revised estimates of the upper atmosphere's temperature. One of the authors, Owen Toon notes: "In this new scenario, organics can be produced efficiently in the early atmosphere, leading us back to the organic-rich soup-in-the-ocean concept... I think this study makes the experiments by Miller and others relevant again." Outgassing calculations using a chondritic model for the early earth complement the Waterloo/Colorado results in re-establishing the importance of the Miller–Urey experiment.”