Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Design v. Non-design

Most people are familiar with atoms. They have a center made of positive and neutral particles, called the nucleus, with a cloud of negative electrons encircling it. It is amazing to me that the number of these particles make such a big difference in the way the atoms combine with each other to make the huge variety of things we see in the world, including the world itself. These atoms move in a zigzag way which we call "random" and they combine with each other depending on their qualities, but also where they happen to be near each other "by chance."

Many people assume that randomness is the same as non-design, and order is the same as design. I do not believe this is correct, and I think it causes some confusion when we talk about design in nature, especially what we see in biological systems. I want to explain what I mean.

As I said before, the random movement of atoms is important for certain things. It helps mix the molecules in our atmosphere so we can breathe. Imagine walking into a pocket of air that has no oxygen. Where would we run to find it? Without random movements, we couldn't have mixtures of liquids with two or more things. They would otherwise stay separated, like water and oil but worse.

Therefore, if God made everything, the random movements of the atoms were also part of the design. Randomness is not opposite design. Genesis 1:2 tells us (New American Bible, USCCB): the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Leaving aside the word "waters," the opposite of design seems to be a dark abyss--nothingness or the void. Perhaps "waters" is metaphorical. That goes along with our Nicene Creed in which we say we believe God is the Creator of all things seen and unseen.

It is a feature of Intelligent Design Theory to see design in the workings of DNA and proteins in the cell. The trouble is, they compare it to randomness, when this is also design. So they are not proving design, just the discrepancy between biological and non-biological formations. Now this discrepancy is important, but it does not define design. That is why faith is really more important than science. If you believe, it sets the groundwork for studying the rest of God's creation.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Random Cont.

The fact that atoms and molecules make random movements in gas and liquid affects how they interact. There is a theory called the "Collision Theory" which describes the interaction of molecules to form various substances. It is not hard to visualize, as shown in the picture. The random movements are accounted for in the calculations, related to the Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics as discussed in the previous post. It's not necessary to know all the mathematics to understand that atom and molecule interaction is random in nature. And, as the caption of the picture notes, the concentrations of the atoms can affect how much they interact. A higher temperature can affect the movements so that more particles collide when they are hotter, but higher temperature does not give more order to the movements. The properties of the atoms and molecules can affect how they interact, but as we procede we can see how we can narrow down our focus so that we can eliminate some of the factors which would make it impossible to figure.

For example, the pre-life ocean and atmosphere may have changed from the way was at the very start of things to what it is now. We may never know what the beginning concentrations of various atoms and molecules were. This limits our knowledge in certain ways. We don't know how many carbon atoms were available to interact with hydrogen atoms. But there are ways to theorize about these things, and many scientists for years have been trying to figure out how molecules could form into life.

Just recently a new paper came out saying that it doesn't look good for pre-life replication and biological-type behavior of atoms and molecules. This is what I've been saying--that chemistry rules at this level, while biologists were trying to impose biological laws on chemistry. They are not the same. The new research is described by Douglas Axe of the Biologic Institute here, and an abstract of the article is here.

The randomness we are talking about here is what we usually mean with the term "chance." We are talking about nature and not the supernatural. Now there are laws that govern the planets, such as gravity, but gravity is not going to make atoms form into proteins. Atoms of different elements have different chemical properties, such as charges and types of bonds between them. I will get into that more next time.

And, we can still apply probabilities in some cases. We know what the cell has now, so we can look at what needed to take place to get us to the present composition. That, also, I will address in the future. I hope you will read the Axe article and the abstract through the links I have supplied above.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I am working on a book about evolution and Creation. I'd like to coordinate my blogs with the book and I am just starting. I may find eventually I want to change things, but I hope to at least make some progress this way.

It might seem strange to start a book about evolution with Brownian (random) motion of atoms, but that is what I am thinking of doing. A major problem we face in understanding evolution is in the concepts of chance and randomness, design and non-design, and agency and non-agency. We can add to the problem when philosophy becomes involved, because this discipline uses the terms "necessity" and "contingency." These terms are sometimes used in place of non-random and random. I think it is important to stay as simple as we can, which is hard enough. I'd like to talk about the physical description of random. If you think in the way of philosophical terms, I'd like you to drop that for a while.

In 1827, the botanist Robert Brown noticed pollen particles floating in water under a microscope, or so the story goes. They showed a jiggling type of motion, neither sitting still nor moving in a smooth path (something like the blue line in the picture here).

At the time, scientists did not even know if separate atoms existed. Some thought they did, but others didn't, and they were not proven.

Scientists came to speculate that we could use these random movements to understand physical phenomena. Though we could not see the atoms, we could guess that they were each separate and had movement in various directions. This is what Albert Einstein did in a famous 1905 paper, Investigations on the Theory of the Brownian Movement, to prove the existence of atoms. Then, to complete the cycle, we could take all of the atoms as a whole, using the probabilities of each of them put together to even better understand their movements. This is what Ludwig Boltzmann and James Clerk Maxwell did. They worked out what is called the "Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution, which describes velocity of gas atoms or molecules in terms of statistical, probabilistic distributions."

I'll go further in talking about atoms and the categories of design I mentioned above next time, but I want to make the point about physical "randomness" here. Atoms have internal thermal energies that make them move in these zigzag patterns which we can't even theoretically predict. These are inherently random. What's more, we have found with quantum physics that particles within atoms, such as electrons, are not determined to exact positions and momentums by measurements, but have probabilities of being at certain places.

Perhaps the concept of "random" is difficult for us because we want to be in control, and to know all the answers. Humans do amazing things and they constantly strive to do more. That is a wonderful thing--look at all we have done and the diseases we have cured. But our drive must not be so strong that we can no longer find humility.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Catholic Creationism

Many cringe when the word "Creationism" comes in the same sentence as science. We have learned to separate the two, but the separation is uneasy, and underlying problems are coming to the surface.

When I started thinking about writing a book about evolution, I considered myself an advocate of Intelligent Design Theory. I still admire the efforts the advocates have made on behalf of science. They have pointed out deficiencies in mainstream biology, especially concerning the theory of evolution. I will describe Intelligent Design Theory in the book and use many of the same arguments they do.

But there are some significant differences between my own point of view and that of Intelligent Design Theory. The ID advocates seem to assume they compare design and non-design in science. When you believe God made everything, that does not work. Many people confuse complexity vs. randomness with design vs. non-design, but randomness has its own design and purpose. That is one idea that will be difficult to understand, but worth the trouble it takes.

To start, Genesis says there was a void before God created anything. So the void is opposite design, not randomness.

The atmosphere is filled with different atoms and light molecules. These light molecules move around and knock into each other in the form of gasses. Also, in liquids, water molecules move around and allow other elements to move around in them. We have all seen dye dropped into water and break apart to diffuse through the water.

If there was not random movement of molecules, many things wouldn't work. Early scientists realized that gasses move through space and containers in a way that pressure, temperature and volume could be affected. The gasses could do work such as movement of a steam engine when they were heated sufficiently. And in liquids, we can wash dishes because dish-washing liquid does not stay in one place in the water.

If we believe that God made everything, we can accept that random movement of molecules is one part of the whole design. The question is, then, how do we tell biological systems are also designed? The answer lies at least partly in the fact that the physical and chemical laws that work with random molecules and the way they interact do not put biological systems together by themselves.

I cannot keep up with all the specific arguments which evolutionists and IDists continue to wrangle about. There are experts in specific fields from both sides, and all you have to do is follow a few of the ID websites to learn of the battles. I am trying to keep my own book as straightforward and simple as I can, yet try to show the remarkable world of cell biology. Throughout all, the focus is on Creationism and how Catholics as well as other Christians can best deal with the scientific and religious tensions now arising.

We may ask, why bother? There are many reasons. If parents teach their children God made the world, yet teachers and professors constantly push total materialistic evolution instead of creation, the child will tend to choose one over the other instead of integrating. I think this is what has happened in our country over the last century, to the point where life is not seriously viewed as sacred. It may be one of the main contributions to the mindset which allows for abortion and illicit behavior. Even worse, some have a deep-seated distrust of whether there even is a God. If nature can do the work, why is God necessary?

Unfortunately, the secular message comes from many former or so-called Christian Institutions. We must think about our beliefs and stand where we must.