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talk.origins FAQ (Creation) 1 of 3

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The talk.origins FAQ (Creation)

[0] About this document.
[A] The scientific explanations for the origin of the universe, the earth,
the various species of living organisms and of humans are based on
evidence that is also consistent with creation by God. The aim of the
following answers is to explain the origin of life from a Christian
perspective and to point out some of the flaws in the explanation offered
by supporters of evolution.

[1] Who is a biblical creationist?
[A] A person who believes that the creation account in Genesis (the first
book of the bible) is correct.

[2] Do all biblical creationists believe the earth is around 6,000 years old?
[A] No. There are different schools of thought among biblical creationists.

Young earth biblical creationists believe the earth is 6,000 to 12,000
years old, they think that the ages determined by radioactive dating of
specimens are incorrect and they quote examples of errors in individual
dating attempts in support of this view.

Old earth biblical creationists accept the age of the earth estimated by
geologists at around 4,500 million years.

Many biblical creationists believe that God created the earth but do not
think that the time scale of the creation process is important.

[3] Does the bible tell us how old the earth is?
[A] No. There are passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament
that immediately follow a discussion of creation with the statement that a
day to the Lord is as a thousand years.

From the Old Testament,

"A prayer of Moses the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling-place
throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought
forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are
God. You turn men back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, O sons of men."
For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night." [Psalm 90:1-4]

From the New Testament, Saint Peter writes:

"But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens
existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these
waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same
word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for
the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this
one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and
a thousand years are like a day." [2 Peter 3:5-8]

So, according to the use of the word day in the bible, the separate phases
of creation described in the first book of the bible need not be literal
days as we now use the word day. The phrase "and there was evening and
morning" is used after each day in the Genesis account and this indicates
to some that they were literal days, however the phrase is used after each
of the first three days of creation and the fourth day of creation records
the creation of the sun so it is difficult to see how evening and morning
as we now use the words could have occurred without the sun. It seems
likely in the opinion of this writer that the "evening and morning"
phrases refer to interludes in the creation process when no new creation
was taking place.

[4] How does the big bang theory explain the origin of the universe?
[A] According to the big bang theory, the universe came into existence in
a very small space then immediately began expanding outwards. Most
astronomers now date this event around 10 to 15 billion years ago.

During the early stages of expansion the energy density of the whole
universe was so high that matter was unable to exist. As Einstein
explained, energy can be converted to matter and matter converted to
energy, and at this time (according to the theory) all of the universe was
in the form of energy. As the universe expanded outwards, the energy
density lowered and the particles we now recognise formed out of the
energy. The first to emerge were wave / particles of electromagnetic
radiation that we call light together with electrons and positrons (the
antimatter equivalent of electrons). Only later as the universe continued
to expand and the energy density was further reduced were protons and
neutrons able to remain stable as they formed from the initial energy and
produced atoms.

[5] Does the big bang theory contradict the bible?
[A] The opening lines of the bible are:
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was
formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the
Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be
light", and there was light." [Genesis 1:1-3]

The formation of light in the very early history of the universe is a
feature of both the biblical account of creation and the big bang theory.
The big bang has the appearance of a creation event.

[6] The big bang theory is accepted by virtually all astronomers, should
we regard the big bang as a fact?
[A] The big bang theory is supported by the apparent expansion of the
universe and by other evidence such as the energy level of the cosmic
microwave background radiation but astronomers regard the big bang as an
explanation that is probably true, not definitely true.

[7] Does our modern understanding of geology contradict the creation viewpoints?
[A] The old earth creation view is entirely consistent with conventional
geology.

Geology does contradict the young earth creation viewpoint. Some of the
young earth creationists are attempting to develop an alternative
explanation for the origin of rocks, particularly those that contain
fossils.

[8] What is abiogenesis?
[A] Abiogenesis is a hypothesis that suggests life originated from a
self-replicating (reproducing) molecule that was formed by chemical
reactions that occurred following random collisions of simple molecules in
oceans, lakes or puddles on the pre-biotic earth (pre-biotic = before
life). The energy for these chemical reactions is said to have come from
lightning or UV radiation and the molecules themselves from the earth's
atmosphere. In the original form of the hypothesis a combination of amino
acids formed by natural processes was thought to have formed a
self-replicating protein molecule that evolved into a cell. A flaw in this
hypothesis is shown in a 1957 paper by Miller:

"It is pointed out that organic compounds would not be synthesised on the
Earth if oxidising conditions were present. Therefore, if one assumes that
amino acids (and other organic compounds) must have been present for life
to arise, then the atmosphere of the Earth must have been reducing. In
particular, ammonia must have been present (in the oceans) for the
synthesis of amino acids. This implies that the partial pressure of
hydrogen was at least 10^-3 atmosphere." [#1]

Miller assumed the correctness of the abiogenesis hypothesis in order to
justify the starting conditions for experiments that he then claimed as
support for the hypothesis. More recent research indicates that the early
earth did not have the reducing atmosphere Miller suggested.

Some scientists continue to consider the explanation where life begins
with a self-replicating protein because of the difficulty of explaining
the synthesis of a nucleic acid (RNA) by the combination of simple
molecules as a result of purely natural processes. In the pre-RNA world
hypothesis as it is now known a self-replicating protein evolves the
ability to make RNA, although how this could happen is not explained.
Self-replicating proteins would have to be able to both reproduce
themselves and catalyse nucleic acid synthesis to be part of a plausible
origins story, yet it is far from certain if it is possible for a protein
to self-replicate or to catalyse nucleic acid synthesis. Even if a
self-replicating protein could exist the synthesis of RNA by a single
molecule is highly unlikely.

[9] What is the RNA world hypothesis?
[A] The version of the abiogenesis hypothesis that is currently most
popular is that life originated from self-replicating RNA molecules that
were formed by the combination of simple organic molecules as a result of
random collisions of these molecules in oceans, lakes or puddles. Natural
selection within the resulting population of RNA molecules is then thought
to have favoured molecules changed by mutations that produced molecules
with an increased chance of survival and the continuing ability to
self-replicate. Individual molecules with Nitrogen base sequences that
produced advantageous characteristics would be more likely to survive and
reproduce than others and, assuming limited resources and the breakdown of
some molecules, the molecules with advantageous characteristics would
predominate. It is imagined that changes to Nitrogen base sequences caused
by mutations produced genes coding for characteristics that increased the
complexity of these self-replicating molecules and that they evolved into
a living cell.

There are many differences between a molecule and a cell. Cells are
complex structures made of many different chemical substances that are
produced within the cell. Nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) control the
activities of a cell and the synthesis of cell components by coding for
proteins, these proteins include enzymes that carry out chemical reactions
within the cell. There are many stages of increasing complexity between an
RNA molecule and a functioning cell that can reproduce, and possible
mechanisms for these stages of development are unexplained.

[10] What is the current state of research into producing a non-creation
explanation for the origin of the first living organism?
[A] It has not been possible to produce the nucleotide monomers that make
up the nucleic acids RNA and DNA using sparked or UV irradiated mixtures
of gases that may reasonably presumed to have been present in the
atmosphere of the early earth and water. Mixtures of the stereo isomers of
Nitrogen bases have been produced under laboratory conditions that include
combinations of cyanoacetylaldehyde and urea and some researchers have
suggested that puddles with relatively high concentrations of these
substances may have been present of the early earth, a highly unlikely
story.

Some very short and simple polymers have been made to produce copies under
laboratory conditions with a relatively high concentration of monomers
present and in the absence of other reactive molecules. The laboratory
"self-replication" of longer polymer chains has not been achieved and the
nature of larger molecules presents obstacles to replication that appear
insurmountable, a long polymer will coil into a three dimensional
structure and will not be able to replicate in this state.

A 1993 paper by Joyce and Orgel, two of the leading proponents of the RNA
world, explains the highly imaginary nature of the hypothesis:
"In our initial discussion of the RNA world we accept The Molecular
Biologists Dream: 'Once upon a time there was a pre-biotic pool full of
(beta)-D-nucleotides... .' We now consider what would have to have
happened to make the dream come true. This discussion triggers The
Prebiotic Chemist's Nightmare: how to make any kind of self-replicating
system from the kind of intractable mixture that is formed in experiments
designed to simulate the chemistry of the primitive earth." [#2]

Although the authors go on to discuss possible solutions to the dilemma
they concede that there are many unresolved problems in developing a
plausible scenario for abiogenesis, for example:
"The only remotely plausible route to the molecular biologists pool would
involve a series of mineral-catalysed reactions, coupled with a series of
subtle fractionations of nucleotide-like materials based on charge,
stereochemistry, etc. Even minerals could not achieve on a macroscopic
scale one desirable separation, the resolution of D-ribonucleotides from
the L-enantiomers. This is a serious problem because experiments on
template directed synthesis using poly(C) and the imidazolides of G
suggest that the polymerisation of the D-enantiomer is often strongly
inhibited by the L-enantiomer." [#2]

Thus RNA would not form in the sort of mixtures that might very
optimistically be imagined to have existed on earth because in such
mixtures chemical reactions with other molecules would be favoured rather
than the reactions that made functional RNA.

A 1996 paper published in the journal "Nature" [#3] describes experiments
where a calcium phosphate mineral and a clay were used as a catalyst to
produce polymers up to 55 units long by daily additions of a nucleotide
monomer over some weeks. It is unremarkable, given the considerable
ingenuity of biochemists, that an experiment designed to synthesise a
polynucleotide from nucleotide monomers succeeded in doing just this. This
experiment has no relationship with the real pre-biotic earth, since there
is no reason to suppose that nucleotide monomers were actually present in
the oceans of the primitive earth and, if they were present, they would
react with other molecules that would also be present rather than
combining to form RNA.

The RNA world is an imaginary world in the minds of molecular biologists.
The treatment of this imaginary world as science rather than science
fiction is a result of the lack of any other non-creation explanation for
the origin of life on earth and a historically recent determination not to
accept creation as part of biology.

[11] Could a self-replicating molecule have formed on the real earth as
imagined in the molecular biologists dream?
[A] No. Functional biological molecules need to be stereo specific, that
is, they need to be present in only one of the two mirror image forms that
can occur. Even if the relatively complex nucleotide monomers were formed
in puddles or oceans of the pre-biotic earth by random collisions of
simpler molecules they would include approximately equal concentrations of
the two stereo isomers (mirror images) of each molecule. A polymer such as
a protein or a nucleic acid must be stereo specific in order to coil into
a three dimensional structure properly, that is, it must be composed of
only one of the two mirror image forms of the monomer units that make up
the polymer. It has been suggested that the RNA strands produced in the
hypothetical RNA world could have used both alternative forms of the
nucleotide monomers and that natural selection could then have eliminated
the molecules that were not stereo specific leaving only a stereo specific
form. This could not have happened.

A self-replicating molecule would need to be large. If either RNA or a
protein is to function as an enzyme the distribution of partial electric
charges over the three dimensional structure of the molecule is critical
to be able to bind the precursor molecules in useful orientations. The
hypothetical self-replicating molecule would need to copy itself, but it
is not clear how a long molecule could do this since it would need to
uncoil to replicate and then it would lose the enzymatic ability that was
a function of the electron charge distribution over it's structure. It is
probably impossible for a large and complex self-replicating molecule to
exist.

Even if RNA or a large and complex protein could be formed on the
pre-biotic earth only the stereo specific forms of the polymer would be
functional and these represent an infinitesimal proportion of polymers of
sufficient length. For a 1,000 unit polymer to be formed by natural
selection of randomly joined monomers only one in 2^1000, or approximately
one in 10^300 molecules of the right length would be functional. In the
unlikely event of the monomers existing at all they would be in limited
supply, there is a very large number of possible combinations of monomers
and a very small number that might work. A thousand million years is not
nearly long enough to make a self-replicating molecule in this way on a
small planet like earth.

[12] Are there other weak points in the belief that abiogenesis took place?
[A] Yes. A major gap in the abiogenesis explanation is the lack of any
explanation for the origin of protein synthesis. Protein synthesis works
like this:
DNA contains a long chain of Nitrogen base pairs, each three bases on one
side form a codon that is the code for one particular amino acid. There
are 4 different Nitrogen bases in DNA and different combinations of these
bases in a codon determine the amino acid (of 20) that codon specifies. A
sequence of 900 bases can specify the types and order of 300 amino acids
in one protein. A protein is a long chain of amino acids joined end to end
and folded into a three dimensional structure, the length of DNA
containing the base sequence that is the code for one particular protein
is known as a gene.

Genes are a code, to convert the code into a protein a number of separate
and complex structures are needed. First the gene is transcribed by a
large molecule called an RNA polymerase enzyme into a strand of messenger
RNA that is similar to a single strand of DNA. This strand is sometimes
edited when the strand is cut by an enzyme, sections containing many bases
are removed and the cut ends of the long mRNA strand are rejoined.
Different varieties of another type of RNA, transfer RNA, then attach to
an amino acid at one end and and to the base triplet on the messenger RNA
strand that codes for that amino acid at the other. The attachment of
amino acids to the appropriate transfer RNA molecules is done by
specialised enzymes, a different enzyme attaches each of the amino acids
to the transfer RNA that matches the code for that amino acid. The
positioning of the appropriate transfer RNA's carrying the coded for amino
acids along the messenger RNA strand and the formation of peptide bonds
between the amino acids to complete the synthesis of a protein is done by
a cellular organelle called a ribosome, a complex structure consisting of
several very large molecules.

Without the different forms of transfer RNA, the different enzymes that
join amino acids to the appropriate transfer RNA molecules, messenger RNA
and ribosomes DNA is one complex structure in isolation and proteins are
other complex structures in isolation. Protein synthesis is a complex
multiple step process and the intermediate structures are large and
complex molecules that are not useful in isolation. The origin of the link
between nucleic acid and proteins is not explained by evolution, and the
height of this complexity hurdle is evidence of creation.

[13] Where does evolution stand in the absence of abiogenesis?
[A] Without abiogenesis evolution is a story without a beginning, such a
story is incomplete. Evolution does not explain the origin of species.

Evolution is an incomplete explanation for the origin of life and of
species and so Occam's razor does not preclude the investigation of
alternative hypotheses that may represent a more complete explanation.

Since there is no plausible explanation for the origin of the first living
organism by purely natural processes it is reasonable to assume that the
first living organism was created by God, and therefore reasonable to
consider that the process of creation continued beyond the appearance of
the first species.

[14] How is evolution currently defined?
[A] In biology the term evolution refers to the theory first published in
1859 by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace. The current version of this
theory suggests that the processes of random mutations and natural
selection produced the present variety of species following the appearance
of a simple ancestral organism. The term evolution has been used for more
than a century to describe a theory that includes the whole process of
speciation as a result of natural processes and this usage is still
current.

Some people have recently tried to define evolution in a different way.
Evolution is also currently defined as any change in the gene or allele
pool of a population. It is often unclear if any given usage of the word
evolution in biology refers to the definition of genetic change or to the
Darwin / Wallace theory. It is also unclear from the current definition of
evolution if the genetic changes referred to are only those that arise as
a result of random natural processes or if genetic changes that take place
following the active intervention of God also satisfy the definition. The
former case is often assumed but it is an assumption that is unstated.

A definition should isolate an idea from other ideas, the current
definition of evolution also includes creation and does not distinguish
between the process that is said to produce changes and the presumed
outcome of these changes.

[15] What is the effect of having a broad and misleading definition of
evolution?
[A] Minor examples of natural fluctuations in populations and small
changes in existing characteristics can be observed and claimed as
evidence to support a  theory of large scale change including the
formation of complex organisms with novel characteristics from simple
ones.

[16] How should evolution be defined?
[A] Evolution should be defined as an explanation for the origin of all
species by the natural selection of organisms that inherit advantageous
genes produced by random mutations following the formation of an ancestral
organism by the combination of simple molecules as a result of natural
processes.

[17] Does evolution include abiogenesis?
[A] Evolution includes large parts of both the pre-RNA world and the RNA
world abiogenesis hypotheses since the processes that are thought to have
occurred during the formation of the first cell following the presumed
appearance of a self-replicating molecule are identical with those of
evolution.

* A population of RNA molecules that carry the codes for different
characteristics during the hypothetical development of the first  cell is
an example of a gene or allele pool.
* The population of RNA molecules is changed by mutations.
* Individual RNA molecules containing Nitrogen base sequences that 
produced advantageous characteristics would be more likely to survive and
reproduce than others and so would be naturally selected.
* Limited resources are present.
* Some molecules are broken down.
* The molecules with advantageous characteristics would predominate.

The current explanation for the formation of the first cell includes the
evolution of RNA into a cell, and this view is accepted as evolution by
leading researchers studying the RNA world hypothesis [#2, #3, #4].

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