Dr. Paul Nelson Opened Our Minds
Dr. Paul Nelson is a prominent spokesperson for the creation and intelligent design communities. It was in that capacity that he introduced enthusiastic participants at the 2013 Creation Weekend in Edmonton, to new arguments and exciting information.
His first lecture, on Friday evening October 18, was on “Understanding Intelligent Design.” Dr. Nelson began by describing several cases where people have applied their reasoning skills to distinguish between chance events and the activities of a conscious agent. Thus when police detect patterns of behaviour in the commission of a series of crimes, they tend to conclude that one perpetrator was at work rather than many individuals who just happened to act in a similar way. Everyone in addition, naturally distinguishes between events of natural origin and those from a human perpetrator. For example, ripples on the beach are natural, but inscribed words are man- made. So the question arises whether it is possible to use similar criteria to distinguish the source of other features in nature, such as the genetic code.
Dr. Nelson then introduced us to problem solving strategies. If you have more explanatory options, your chances of solving a question are better. Thus scientists lose nothing, he said, if they include in their tool kit of possible explanations, the possibility that certain features of living creatures were designed. Why would they want to rule out the possibility of intelligent design or choice even before an issue is considered? Nevertheless the Darwinian revolution dumped intelligent causation out of the tool kit. Now many say that statements in science must involve only natural processes.
Dr. Nelson then discussed several phenomena that are obviously designed. One includes special structures in the living cell called chaperones. Newly forming protein molecules apparently must spend time with a chaperone in order to fold properly. Proteins are only effective when they are properly folded into a correct shape. Some famous chaperones are barrel shaped. The forming protein enters at the one end and a lid snaps shut. Then the folded protein emerges from the other end after a lid is released there. The chaperones are themselves made of protein, so they had to be already present in order for even themselves to form properly.
All forms of information are subject to degradation (corruption). Specialized enzymes (proteins) maintain the quality of the genetic information (DNA) from generation to generation. But those editing enzymes are themselves coded for by the DNA. This is a closed loop system. It is our experience that closed loop systems are always designed. If the editing enzymes are eliminated, you get error catastrophe in the cell.
Finally as a fun example of intelligent design Dr. Nelson discussed the walking talents of cockroaches. Specialists (all intelligent) in robotics are trying to duplicate in robots the walking skills of the cockroaches, but so far the robots are far inferior to the natural models. How did these insects become so skillful in locomotion without any engineering know how? You decide.
The next morning Dr. Nelson discussed “Why Animals are Hard to Build.” He began by declaring that evolution is the most theologically entangled science that we know about. Many prominent scientists in fact declare that the processes of mutation and natural selection have replaced the need for God. The problem for these people however is that these natural processes do not work to produce new body plans. For example, two scientists won a Nobel Prize for their work with a type of reverse biological engineering. They would disrupt a gene in a fertilized egg and then observe what happened as the embryo developed. They compared normal developing insect larvae to others with various mutations. None of the mutants survived, but mutations that affected the later stages of development, displayed smaller disruptions than the earlier ones. The mutations that affected early stages of development were totally catastrophic. We thus see a paradox. Animal body plans are based on differences in the earliest stages of development. However when mutations are used to try to modify the body plan, the result is catastrophic. There is thus no reason to think that the effects of mutation and natural selection ever led to the major differences in body plan which we see among the various kinds of animal. These had to be designed. Dr. Nelson then more specifically discussed the difficulties for evolutionists in explaining how metamorphosis could ever produce a butterfly. He concluded “If you have a biological system which requires foresight [such as metamorphosis], you can be sure evolution did not do it!”
On Saturday afternoon Dr. Nelson discussed “Whatever Happened to Darwin’s Tree of Life?” Evolutionists have long assumed that all organisms have descended from a common ancestor. This led to the idea of a graph in the form of a tree with living organisms placed at the tips of branches and presumed lines of descent traced out below. However we are now post 1998. That was the year that automated DNA sequencing became available. This has forced new thinking about Darwin’s tree. One big surprise has been the discovery of significant numbers of genes in each species which are unique to that organism. These genes are called ORFans (or orphans). Some of these genes have essential functions. No one expected to find genes with no known similar structure, no known relatives anywhere in the biosphere. Where did they come from?? Evolution theory simply cannot explain how spontaneous processes could produce novel structures requiring complex information in the short period that would be involved in the appearance of new species. Thus once again the evidence indicates intelligent choice.
Dr. Nelson’s last lecture dealt with the problem of evil in nature from the point of view of many scientists. He first declared that recognition of the problem of natural evil can be traced back to the Greeks. Lucretius (96-55 BC) for example, declared that there is too much wrong with the world for God to be involved in it. Similarly many modern scientists declare that if God were the creator, then everything would be optimal (best possible). Since these people do not like what they see in nature, they therefore reject God. What we see here is scientists using assumptions about how God should have acted, to reject the idea of God at all. These are in fact theological arguments and mainstream scientists have themselves said that no religious ideas are allowed in scientific discussions. Stephen Jay Gould, for example, and many other scientists make prominent use of such arguments.
Many cases of presumed suboptimal design however, actually represent good design. Famous examples include the vertebrate eye and the human epiglottis, both of which are criticized by some biologists. However articulate speech would be impossible if we had separate air and food intakes instead of the epiglottis. The crux of the matter is that the evil that we see in nature is best by explained by Genesis chapter 3.
Thus Dr. Nelson concluded that our attitude to mainstream scientists could well be one of cautious respect. These people have not solved the major questions but they have solved some minor problems. For example they have demonstrated that the rules for genetic change have a speed limit. You can use the equations from population genetics to show, for example, that whales could never originate from evolution!! Dr. Nelson thus provided exciting new information in biology. He opened our minds to great new ideas. What a wonderful opportunity that was!!
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