Friday, April 4, 2014

God's Not Dead

My husband and I went to the movie, God’s Not Dead, last week. It was a surprising success and from the reviews I’ve read, many liked it but a wide variety of people, from atheists and Young Earth Creationist Christians (YECCies), didn’t.  If you know the premise (you can read a synopsis here), you know why atheists don’t like it. The main character, Josh Wheaton, is a college student who is in a philosophy class where the professor wants to skip the section of his class in which he spends time convincing students that God does not exist. The professor insists the students write “God is Dead” on a piece of paper, sign it and hand it in.  Josh Wheaton refuses, and so is assigned the task of standing before the class and defending his faith. Atheists either deny the movie is realistic or take the side of the professor who is clearly not the hero of the movie.

The reason some YECCies don’t like it is because Josh Wheaton argues for the existence of God by using the science of the Big Bang and Darwinian evolution theories. Both support an Old Earth, while YECCies believe in direct supernatural Creation of the planet and living species about 12,000 years ago. In addition, though the Big Bang broke through older theories of an eternal universe, both Big Bang and evolution theories now are supported by the scientific community under purely naturalistic explanations.

I learned from a National Review interview that the screenwriters, Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, are Catholics. I was surprised because the movie has an Evangelical feel to it.  I have to give these writers credit for “getting it” about the Catholic New Evangelization movement that is supposed to be in effect.  This actually means EVANGELIZING, folks!!!

This leads me to say there are things I liked about the movie and things I didn’t. I have to give a mild spoiler alert: skip down a few paragraphs to the pictures if you don’t want to know any more about the movie before seeing it. First for the likes: the student takes God seriously. He actually thinks about what his actions have to do with his faith. He stands up for what he believes. I agree with the movie premise that the pressures are against believers in academia, and if you don’t believe this, just follow the Intelligent Design blog, Evolution News and Views (link on right column).  They keep a running tab on the discrimination against anyone who thinks biology is designed, especially in academia. Let’s not forget that Intelligent Design theory, much less Creationism, is not allowed in public schools.

Another thing I liked about the movie is that the tone for the most part was not hostility toward unbelievers but hopefulness for them to realize the truth. I felt this attitude came across several times especially in side-plots, and became more apparent at the end. This is a difficult attitude to take but necessary for all Christians.

For the part I didn’t like, it has to do with one of the points made by Josh when “defending” God’s existence. Like many other Creationists, I believe direct supernatural formation to be the best explanation for biological complexity. I don’t go along with the main character’s explanation of God directing evolution through seemingly random events. Though this is the line taken by many Catholics, I feel that if we had a clearer picture of biology, this is the very place where we can make an effective argument against the extreme scientism of today. Scientism is the cultural belief that science will answer everything and God doesn’t exist. Today’s cultural climate is where the movie premise is hitting the truth. The effect of science on philosophy is large, and well-known evolutionists take the lead in the discrimination and downright prejudice against believers.  It starts in academia and has filtered throughout the whole culture. Unfortunately, lawmakers and judges who hear arguments for teaching exclusively evolution in public school often are swayed by this cultural attitude.

The deep problem is that the people held as experts inform the public that evolution is true.  What can the public believe? They, like Josh Wheaton, must learn for themselves.  This training is just what I’ve been saying we need for the youth of today to defend their faith.  There are problems with that right now in the Catholic culture too, some of which I have discussed in other posts. But putting that aside for now, let me (again) show you biological complexity.

Photosynthesis is present in Cyanobacteria (pronounced sigh-ann-oh-bacteria). These organisms are among the very first the evolutionists tell us were on earth. They take energy, in this case light from the sun, and convert it to the building blocks of life. These are necessary for proteins, DNA, and other components. Evolutionists might tell you there were simpler systems earlier, but because they exist now, it means somewhere along the line they had to form. Plus, the entire photosynthesis system would have been evolutionarily early because these very early fossils show the pigments and bi-products of photosynthesis. And that means the atoms which form them must have been lined up in the precise way of functional proteins and not just a jumble of any old atoms. 

The pictures here show the overall photosynthesis pathway and three of the protein systems close up. The components are mostly proteins, although there are a few other types of molecules. I will shortly talk about proteins in terms of their sub-units called amino acids, but I have made rough estimates of the total number of atoms in the system. This is a very rough estimate, so if anyone has the exact number, I’d be glad to hear it.

The set of proteins known as “Photosystem I” are seen in the second image. There are over 50,000 atoms in this large set of molecules. That means they have to be specifically lined up by the cell enough to be in working order. Describing the system, Protein Data Bank says:
This structural information extends the understanding of the most efficient nano-photochemical machine in nature.

Photosystem II, pictured in the third image, has over 83,000 atoms in specific order.

When we add the atoms of photosynthesis molecules (very approximately), the cytochrome molecule has about 1500 atoms, and another integral part, ATP Synthase, has about 90,000. There are several other proteins to help with electron transfer, so we are looking at a total of around 225,000 atoms in a specific order for the photosynthesis system. Also necessary is a functional membrane so that an electro-chemical gradient can build to work the ATP synthase machine, and of course the genes which act as the template to make the proteins, the other proteins needed to copy the genes and make the proteins, and the regulators. The products of the photosynthesis complex go on to an entirely different set of molecules so they can be used to make the basic component of the parts of the cell (sugars, DNA, proteins, fats, etc.). 

When figuring probabilities that all of these parts could come together by chance, we often use the sub-unit of the protein called “amino acid.” This is because we can then assume the cell is already in working order and we can eliminate the chemistry involved in bringing all the atoms together. All biological amino acids have at least 10 atoms. The Photosystem I complex alone contains about 3100 amino acids.  Because there are 20 types of amino acids in proteins, this would bring a possibility of 20 to the power of 3100 combinations. Converting to a more familiar base 10, that would be 10 to the power of 4030 (written 10^4030). Even if the Earth is 4 billion years old, it could not have had more than 10^50 organisms (based on volume of water). In bacteria, a mutation only happens once about every 300 generations. The DNA that mutates during replication for another generation represents each "search" or "try" for the combination of amino acids that will function in the necessary way. The discrepancy is overwhelming for even one of the sets of molecules, since all reactions in a 14 billion year old universe are less than 10^150. And the total Photosynthesis machinery consists of about 15,000 amino acids (counted from composite parts in the RSCB Protein Data Bank).

Yet, when confronted with these facts, the evolutionist will say something like, “Maybe there was exchange of genes so that part of a previously functional protein became part of this system.” There are several answers to this. First, if evolution were true, all proteins would have to arrive at their functional state by chance. Even a short protein, about 70 amino acids long, would need 10^90 tries to get the right combination of amino acids, and that assumes that the genetic machinery is in full working order and there is an intact membrane. The number 10^90 represents the estimated total number of atoms in the visible universe. Some proteins do need the exact lineup of amino acids, such as histones. And for those less exact, the proportion of functional proteins is still only one in 10^65 or so. Second, even if there are two or more changes at once, the organism will then miss out on the other “tries.” In other words, if the DNA base code changes from CCCCCC to CCCCGG from one generation to the next, it will have missed CCCCCG, which might have been the necessary combination for function (the actual number of bases would be larger but this gives the idea). When you are dealing with random, the genes don’t “know” which parts are functional and which aren’t.

These are the types of facts every Catholic should know.  It is not that difficult, and this is the argument that should be set forth. We should not weakly accept naturalistic, materialistic evolution theory. The student, Josh, said in so many words that though evolution seems random, God could be directing it. This is the argument I hear from Catholics and other Christians and it is not a valid argument. The problem is not with the paradox which is posed. The problem is that though they say evolution, they imply that biology SEEMS RANDOM when biology actually DOES NOT SEEM RANDOM. The photosynthesis machinery needs to have proteins which are folded in exact shapes and have the exact matches to fit with critical molecules in order for our cells to work. It sure does not seem random to me. The atoms are arranged in specific order so they can make products like no other in nature.

There may have been a time when biologists were overcome by the number of species of beetles and in that way biology may have seemed random to them.  Then we discovered that DNA does mutate in a seemingly random manner. Perhaps the changes within DNA that come about when an organism reproduces may eventually be proven to have some explanation, so that small part of cell biology may actually SEEM random to us now and not be. But that small part of biological metabolism has not been proven to provide the specific order that is necessary for fully functional biological systems. Therefore we can’t say meaningful evolution seems random because only very small changes have been shown to produce new function when it is possible. By "meaningful" evolution I mean the formation of all working systems that are present in the full diversity of living organisms, including those systems that make living beings diverse.

The arrangement of these atoms is more complex than simple random connections. Although chemistry depends on probabilities of atom movements, it also depends on attractions of types of atoms and the concentrations of each. Since scientists don’t know the exact original conditions on Earth, they cannot tell us that materialistic origin of life is a fact. Likewise, they cannot exactly account for the photosynthesis mechanisms in life. Evolution is not a fact because no one is able to lay out the scientific details of how such systems formed.

These are the types of arguments we need against the evolutionists who feed the public with “proofs” of evolution. There may be small changes after many generations of bacteria, such as in R. Lenski’s experiments with thousands of generations of E. coli.  However, there are explanations for these that do not point toward totally materialistic, naturalistic evolution. As Michael Behe points out in the link I've just given, most changes are losses of function that somehow help the organism survive but decrease its overall efficiency. Rarely, a very small change in protein can lead to better function, but it is a tiny part of a much larger biological system which already works.

The need in our culture, as demonstrated in this movie, is for Christians to learn the truth and then to evangelize. Let us do so!