Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Comparitive Genetics

There have been several long comment lists to posts about evolution at the First Thoughts blog of the magazine, First Things. I was happy to be able to contribute some comments. The first post is called "A Walk to the Moon" by Joe Carter. Then Dr. Stephen Barr presented more opinion in a subsequent post on First Thoughts blog called, "Re: A Walk to the Moon." Many have been related to evolution and the new discoveries being found in comparative genomics.

I had followed many of the ID arguments in the pages of First Things when Cardinal Christoph Schonborn and Dr. Stephen Barr were first exchanging their thoughts about design in nature. Cardinal Schonborn had written a letter, "Finding Design in Nature," in the New York Times on July 7, 2005. I also had read the letters to the editor at the time and in some of the years following.

The exciting part about the new genomics is that it allows us to compare organisms at the level of the gene. Eugene Koonin, director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has been writing for the past few years about the discoveries being made. One of the most startling discoveries is this, from "The Biological Big Bang Model for the major transitions in evolution" (Biology Direct, 2007 2:21):
Major transitions in biological evolution show the same pattern of sudden emergence of diverse forms at a new level of complexity. The relationships between major groups within an emergent new class of biological entities are hard to decipher and do not seem to fit the tree pattern that, following Darwin's original proposal, remains the dominant description of biological evolution. The cases in point include the origin of complex RNA molecules and protein folds; major groups of viruses; archaea and bacteria, and the principal lineages within each of these prokaryotic domains; eukaryotic supergroups; and animal phyla. In each of these pivotal nexuses in life's history, the principal "types" seem to appear rapidly and fully equipped with the signature features of the respective new level of biological organization. No intermediate "grades" or intermediate forms between different types are detectable.
Why has this discovery not been heralded from the rooftops? With any transition of understanding, it takes time. It took hundreds of years for the whole of humanity to assimilate and accept the change of view that Copernicus brought about. The switch from an Earth-centered solar system to sun-centered involved religious as well as scientific understandings. Also, science is complicated and not everyone can or will take the time to study the specific underlying mechanisms. On the other hand, today we have almost instantaneous communication and educational systems in place. I hope people will soon realize the implications.

Koonin himself is oriented toward describing all phenomena in terms of scientific materialism. Therefore he proposes a "Big Bang" model for these unexplained transitions in life. It includes very fast evolution mechanisms. However, slow evolution is hard enough to explain, much less fast evolution. He says it all when he starts his speculations with "I propose..."

Since one lifetime does not last hundreds of years, we can't wait that long to make our own decisions about whether we think science shows us there is a God. Scientific knowledge changes, but God has given us other ways to know about Himself. He has revealed Himself through His Word. The majesty of the universe suggests there is much more going on than just ourselves and our own accomplishments.

Yet sometimes we discover things that really do point the way to Him. When we see these things, it is nice to share them with others and help them understand. I hope I have been doing that here and that I can continue. After all, He is a Master beyond any master craftsman.

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