The Unexpected Perspective
The Implications of Darwin and the Big Bang for Christians ... and Everyone Else

Perspectives

New science and technology can hold great promise ... as well as great peril. We embrace the positive, but must be mindful of potential downsides. This post explores these two sides with respect to the emerging science of "brain hacking".

Unless you are a Martian who just arrived on a UFO, you know that the world is becoming both increasingly complicated, and facing ever bigger, seemingly monumental, problems.  Some days it really does seem as though the sky is falling! 

 

There is both good news and bad news.  The good news is that we've been here before.  Doomsday has been repeatedly predicted, but so far it hasn't arrived.  For example, Thomas Malthus predicted in 1798 in An Essay on the Principle of Population that population growth was unsustainable: population was increasing faster than the available supply of food, and thus the world would literally run out of food!  About 50 years ago, similar arguments were made by Malthus's intellectual descendants.  Paul Ehrlich, a biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, as well as a group known as the Club of Rome, made similar predictions.  MIT in the summer of 1970 gathered a group of distinguished experts to address the problem.  Out of the gathering came a book titled The Limits to Growth, which made Malthusian-like predictions.  Likewise, dire predictions have repeatedly been made that the world would run out of oil and other energy reserves.  The funny thing is, these dire predictions never seem to materialize!

 

There's a common reason for this good news – technology keeps getting better.  Malthus, Ehrlich, the Club of Rome, and others predictors of doom never adequately seem to consider how improvements in science and technology will alter the equation. 

 

So what's the bad news?  It actually has to do with the very science and technology that appears to keep rescuing all of us from doom.  You ask, what could possibly be wrong with science and technology that keeps "saving our bacon"?  I see two problems.  First, new science and technology always seem to raise important new ethical dilemmas for us.   As an example, scientists have developed amazing new technology that permits cloning.  The ability to do this raises a whole host of issues.  For example, many if not most people think it's probably okay to clone an animal such as a sheep, but totally reject the idea of cloning humans.  Where should the line on cloning be drawn?  How should decisions be made?  Christians naturally argue that the Bible should be the source of decision-making, but I don't recall anything in the Bible that remotely addresses the question of the suitability of cloning, for example. We are, of course, admonished not to "play God", but is cloning really that?  Maybe ... but in some cases, maybe not. 

 

Second, as our science and technology become ever more sophisticated, there is a tendency for us all to believe that our salvation lies in science and technology.  Needless to say, Christians have, or should have, a problem with that.  After all, there are clear limits to science and technology.

 

When issues related to the ethics of science and technology arise, Christians need to be at the table, participating fully in the discussion.  We need to be taken seriously.  That's one of the key reasons I believe it's important for Christians to come up with a better answer concerning Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the Big Bang Theory.  As I've repeatedly noted, to the extent that non-Christians perceive that Christians are naïve about these scientific theories, they're less likely to take us seriously on some, if not all, of these other science and technology related ethical and moral dilemmas.

 

So what are some of the top ethical dilemmas related to science and technology?  The John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana prepares an annual list of top issues.  Their 2017 list was published a few weeks ago (see http://news.nd.edu/news/reilly-center-releases-2017-list-of-emerging-ethical-dilemmas-and-policy-issues-in-science-and-technology/). 

 

Most of these emerging issues are not things that the average person spends much, if any, time pondering.  For example, the Reilly Center is concerned about what it calls "brain hacking."  (see http://reillytop10.com/2016/12/14/brain-hacking/).  Scientists have developed devices that a person can wear on the head to measure EEG waves.  EEG provides a measure of what your brain is doing.   Measuring EEG waves could be beneficial in certain circumstances.  An excellent example is protection of your computer.  Password protection of your computer is a clumsy, highly inadequate solution: people hate passwords; the passwords they use can generally be easily cracked; and really secure password protection systems tend too be too awkward and complicated to use.  After all, everyone knows that you should have passwords that are at least 8 characters long, use both capitals and lower case letters, numbers and special characters such as the @ sign, and should not use common words, but such passwords are very hard to remember.  Thus, oftentimes when people actually create such passwords, they write the password on a Post It note and stick on the machine, available for all to see!  To the rescue may come EEG brainwaves.  Each person's EEG brainwaves are unique, so if there is a simple way to measure them, they could provide very robust protection of one's user data.

 

EEG waves aren't a practical solution, at least not yet, but what happens when it becomes practical to rely upon your unique EEG "signature" to secure access to your computer?

The concern is that a hacker might surreptitiously hack into a headset, steal the information and gain a whole host of private information.  Think about it?  It's one thing for a hacker to steal your password, then access your computer.  In this case, not only would the hacker gain access to your computer, he'd also potentially have access to your private thoughts!  I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty creepy to me.

 

As with most everything science and technology related, there are both good things and bad things.  The question is, of course, how can the benefits be gained without the negative downsides?  Who should regulate these activities?  Do Christians have any unique perspectives on this?  Now it may be premature to get concerned about brain hacking, at least for the moment.  I can assure, however, there are other science and technology issues that are definitely relevant today.  Christians need to be both aware of them, as well as be prepared to offer an informed opinion about them.  We'll discuss more of these in upcoming posts.

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Humans are endowed with a great capacity to make quick decisions. Like everything else, there are pluses and minuses. This capability worked beautifully for our ancestors, but creates many problems for us today.

Our world is filled with complexity and nuance, yet we always seem to try to reduce it to black and white choices.  Evolutionary psychologists say that this tendency has actually helped us to survive and thrive â€" it is beneficial in an evolutionary sense.  You don't have to believe in evolution, however, to realize that the way humans live today is dramatically different from what it was like during the Stone Age.  Back then, humans were often in dangerous situations.  We still get into them today, but back then it might well have been a daily occurrence.  It was important to be able to distinguish friend from foe, as well as dangerous versus safe animals.  Doubtless, those who didn't make good choices in that regard didn't survive long enough to reproduce.  Thus, the gene pool of human "survivors" was no doubt biased towards those who could make quick decisions about who and what was friendly, and unfriendly.

We are the beneficiaries of that genetic "inheritance", but it doesn't always benefit us in our modern, complex world as it did in Stone Age societies.  Thus, when confronted with complex, nuanced situations, we still tend to classify things as black and white, good or bad, or either/or.  Besides the genetic provenance, most likely we also tend to do this because we only have limited time, or feel we have limited time, to make decisions.  After all, most people are pretty busy!  Moreover, when confronted with a dangerous situation, or at least one perceived as dangerous, like our Stone Age forebears, we're not going to consider subtleties and nuances!

As with other human behaviors, the tendency to reduce decisions to "black and white" has a positive side as well as a negative side.  The positive side, of course, is that it does help us survive and navigate difficult, dangerous situations.  The downside, of course, is that we tend to gloss over complexity and nuance and go for the black and white choices, to our detriment when the matter really isn't just "black and white".

If you doubt this, take a look at the picture below.  You'll tend to see one of two things: 1) a side view of a vase; or 2) the profile of two human heads facing one another.  Sometimes one or the other is hard to pick out.  Now try to look at the picture and hold both the image of the faces and the vase in your mind at the same time.  Nearly impossible to do â€" you can see either one image or the other, but you can't see both at the same time.  This is somewhat similar to the way our mind thinks in "black and white".

When it comes to the question, "how was the universe created, and how did humans emerge?", the tendency to seek out "black and white" very much applies.  Those of you who have read my book, The Unexpected Perspective, know that it applies to the question of evolution versus the Bible.  There are at least seven different viewpoints on the issue, ranging from evolutionary naturalism on one end to young earth creationism on the other, and many shades of grey in the middle.  The interesting thing is that many who haven't spent time thinking about the issue tend to think it's a black and white issue: you either believe in evolutionary naturalism or you must believe in young earth creationism.

Of course this is a huge oversimplification, and a false dichotomy, a false choice.  What I've found interesting is to meet many, many people who have said they're somewhere in the middle of the continuum.  Many have said they can easily see how Christianity and Darwin fit together nicely.  That fact that can happen testifies to the idea that the either/or choice is a false one, and that there is a lot of nuance between the extremes.

Unfortunately, those on the extremes tend to be the people who are most invested in the issue, and devote the most time to it.   This, too, is probably natural, because most people are too busy doing other things to worry about these issues.  After all, the average person has more important things to do on a daily basis than worry about some tradeoff between God and science.  That leaves it to the true believers, those on the extremes, to set the terms of the debate.  All subtlety is lost.  As such, viewed from the outside, the debate looks like an either/or proposition: either you support Richard Dawkins, and those like him who believe in evolutionary naturalism, or you must be a young earth creationist who believes Genesis is literally true!

The funny thing is, this same principle seems to apply to many important social issues.  Take, for example, the issue of gun control in the USA.  On one end of the spectrum is the National Rifle Association, a group that says it has about five million members.  As a percentage of the total US population, that's about 1.5 percent.  The group influences gun policy and gun rights far out of proportion to its membership.  On the other extreme are those who more or less favor significant restrictions on gun ownership.  Unfortunately, all nuance in the debate is lost, and extremists on each side have painted the issues as purely either/or: the NRA would have you believe that ANY restriction on gun ownership puts the country a step away from repeal of the Second Amendment.  Conversely, extremists on the other side see significant restrictions on gun ownership as the only way to limit gun violence.  Both sides paint a black and white, either/or world.

You can look at other issues and reach the very same conclusions.  In the case of abortion rights, on one end are those who want absolutely no restrictions on a woman's right to have an abortion, effectively "abortion on demand".  On the other side are those who want to outlaw legal abortions in all cases.  Unfortunately, once again, while there is a range of views in between these extremes, the world is painted by the extremists as either/or.  As an example, even strongly "pro life" advocates generally tend to believe abortion may be acceptable in certain circumstances (e.g., in the case of rape or incest, or if it endangers the life of the mother).   

The issues of entitlements reform (i.e., reforms to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) are painted in similar ways by their respective sides.  Same tends to be true for climate change: at one extreme are those who believe that rises in carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere are speeding us to an environmental Armageddon in the next fifty years; and on the other side are those who think it's all a hoax.

This capacity to define issues in black and white has helped humans survive.  Yes, occasionally the average person has seen a dangerous situation where it really didn't exist (what's called a "false positive"), but while that is annoying, it is far better than a "false negative", where someone failed to appreciate a real threat and "ended up dead."  We all have a genetic legacy of being able to assess situations in black and white terms and make quick decisions to avoid danger.  Unfortunately, that genetic provenance has led us to perceive a range of other situations in similar black and white terms, to our detriment.   

The good news, of course, is that when someone can get humans to focus on an issue for at least a certain period of time, we humans do have the capacity to appreciate the details and nuance of most any issue.  We can see that there is more than the either/or, black and white of the extremes.  The challenge is to get people to take time to pay attention long enough.  So when we take a little time, we can appreciate that the science versus the Bible issue, as well as each of the other four I mentioned above, is not a black and white one.  In an ever more complex, time constrained world, and with more and more issues to consider, that seems to be getting harder and harder to do, and the unintended consequences are predictible.

 

 

 

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A new solar panel technology points towards "hockey stick" improvements in the battle against carbon emissions

            Besides your typical hockey arena, the most likely place you'll encounter a hockey stick is in a business plan or a startup business "pitch deck".  Actually, you should be very surprised if you DON'T see one there.

            A "hockey stick" in a business proposal is almost always a projection of rapidly increasing sales, profits, or both.  It gets the name because the graph invariably looks like the sticks that hockey players use, like the stick on the left in the graphic above.  Things start off slowly (the blade of the stick), then rapidly turn upward and head towards the heavens (the main part of the stick).

            What might a startup business plan "pitch deck" look like?  How about, sales in year one of $ 50,000, then $ 1,000,000 in year two, and $ 20,000,000 in year three?   Accompanying that will be a giant loss in year one, breakeven in year two, and $ 8 million in profits in year three.

            Don't bet the money in your wallet on any of those year three results.

            "Hockey sticks" always look appealing, but real "hockey stick" results are about as common as seeing a unicorn skating on real ice. 

            But besides hockey arenas, one place you actually see them, both in graphic form and in reality, is in technology.  Moore's Law – the doubling of the number of transistors on a chip every 18 months or so – is a real life technological "hockey stick".  And it's almost 55 years old – or long, if you look at on a graph.  It's an unbelievable "hockey stick", and without doubt, you've benefitted immensely from it, whether you knew it or not.

            There's another technological "hockey stick" that, like Moore's Law, is having a profound impact.  This one has to do with the efficiency of solar photovoltaic panels. When you look at improvements in solar panel efficiency in a graph, you'll see a veritable "hockey stick" on the page.

            The solar panel "hockey stick" just got a little longer.  Recently, Professor Hiroki Misawa and his Japanese research team reported that they've created solar panels that are almost 85% efficient, about double the last solar panel technological breakthrough, which was reported just last year. 

             What the Professor Hiroki Misawa and his Japanese have actually created is a "golden sandwich", described below.

             Here's a quick look at the solar panel "hockey stick": 

  • When Bell Labs created the first solar panel in the 1950's, it had about 1% efficiency, meaning that about 1% of the light was converted into useful energy
  • In 1960, researchers created a panel with 14% efficiency
  • In 1992, a group at the University of South Florida developed a thin film panel rated at 15.9% efficiency
  • In 2015, other scientists developed a panel with 22% efficiency
  • In 2016, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory pushed a panel up to 29.8% efficiency
  • Just last year, other scientists created a panel with 44.5% efficiency.
  • Professor Misawa now has an 85% efficient solar panel.

The bad news, if any, is that we're pretty near the top of the hockey stick.  After all, no matter researchers do, they're not got to get more than 100% efficiency.

            Besides the breathtaking increase in efficiency, the other headline is how Professor Misawa and his team got to 85% efficiency.  As mentioned above, the solar panel prototype has a thin film of gold sandwiched between other substrates.   The Japanese research was published in Nature Nanotechnology.   Misawa and his research team sandwiched a semiconductor, a 30-nanometer titanium dioxide thin-film, between a 100-nanometer gold film and gold nanoparticles to enhance light absorption.

             When the system is irradiated by light from the gold nanoparticle side, the gold film worked as a mirror, trapping the light in a cavity between two gold layers and helping the nanoparticles absorb more light.

             The team was able to harvest more than 85 percent of all visible light using the photoelectrode, which was far more efficient than previous methods. Gold nanoparticles are known to exhibit a phenomenon called localized plasmon resonance which absorbs a certain wavelength of light.

             When gold nanoparticles absorb light, the additional energy triggers electron excitation in the gold, which transfers electrons to the semiconductor. "The light energy conversion efficiency is 11 times higher than those without light-trapping functions," Misawa explained.

            Obviously, these are "just off the press" headlines, so it will take a little time before you can go down to your local solar energy contractor and buy a panel with 85% efficiency. But if the commercialization of previous solar technological breakthroughs is any guide, it shouldn't take too long before such panels start showing up.  After all, scientists only developed panels with 22% efficiency fairly recently, but such panels are presently available in the marketplace.  Most panels, however, produce solar power with between 14 and 21% efficiency.  

          Just like other high efficiency solar panels, those that will be based upon this new technology will very likely be very expensive.  That's because not only is it new technology, the core of it is a thin film of gold.  While the gold layer is only a few microns thick, gold is still gold, costing more than $ 1,000/ troy ounce.  However, the fact that an 85% efficient panel will likely be nearly four times as efficient as highly efficient ones on the market today, it will likely take only a faction of these new panels to generate as much as today's panels.  For example, a panel that can generate power at 85% efficiency should produce as much power as four panels that produce solar at 21% efficiency.  Obviously, it takes more than just panels to make solar installation, but you get the point.

          As a result, the cost of the typical solar installation has been going down quickly.  In fact, on a graph it almost looks like the hockey stick on the right side in the graphic above.  A decade ago the average cost of a home solar system was $ 52,920 before tax credit.  Now it is down to $ 18,840 before tax credits.  This "inverted hockey stick" has a name – Swanson's Law.  Swanson's Law states that the price of solar photovoltaic modules decreases 20% with each doubling of worldwide capacity of solar power capacity.

          Competition in solar panel manufacturing is, to put it mildly, brutal.  There's been a huge shakeout in the industry.  Quite a number of firms, including many in the USA, have exited the marketplace.  The industry is dominated by a number of low cost Chinese producers.

          That might be the end of the story, except when you consider the "hockey stick" of solar panel efficiency.  Obviously, the emergence of new technology is rapidly changing the game.  Which points back at something often overlooked in the race the deal with carbon emissions.

          There's a secret weapon in the battle in the battle against carbon; it's the real "driver" of the "hockey stick": technological change.  After all, its technological change that has driven Swanson's Law and the dramatic improvements in solar panel efficiency.  That's unlikely to change anytime soon.

          The point is, if you want to have a real impact on carbon emissions, focus more attention on technology.  Technology, particularly the basic research type, is creating the dramatic improvements that make solar power a viable alternative to coal, oil, and natural gas.  If we're serious about trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and most people are – then our focus should be on doing more of the type of research that Professor Misawa and his associates are doing.  Of course, what these researchers are doing is not a technological panacea, but it should produce improvements, often on a dramatic scale. 

          Lots of ink is spilled about loosening government regulations over the environment.  Such loosening, in my mind, isn't usually a good idea.  However, it also doesn't place us at the gates of Armageddon, as many people are fearful.  Instead of focusing on regulations, a better approach I believe is to concentrate more resources on basic and applied research.  Fund basic research because it often produces results such as those coming out of Professor Misawa's laboratory in Japan.  Fund applied research because it can do the same thing downstream.

            Hockey sticks won't be disappearing from business plan "pitch decks" anytime soon.  Let's hope the same is true for technological "hockey sticks".  The best way to make sure happens to fund more basic and applied science research.
 

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The USA Could Simultaneously Counter China and Reduce Carbon Emissions

            If you need to kill two birds, the timeless wisdom is, better to do it with one stone.  

            A great new way to do it may have just made an appearance – a way to address two very different, but nevertheless extremely important, problems facing the West.

            Problem number one: how to deal with climate change

            Problem number two: how to counter China's increasing economic assertiveness on the world stage.

            While most people haven't generally thought about these two issues at the same time, it now makes sense to do so.   That's because by addressing the two issues together, there may be a great way to "kill two birds with one stone".  Let's consider how.

            Begin with problem number one – how to deal with climate change.  Lots of efforts are underway to reduce the risks of putting more carbon in the atmosphere.  The problem is that attention isn't adequately focused on where the real problem is.  The good news: to the credit of the people and government in California, huge efforts are being made to reduce the carbon footprint, and even become "carbon neutral" in a few decades;  and even though there has been considerable growth in the state over the past 10 to 15 years, the carbon footprint has been reduced by 13%, a real accomplishment!   The bad news is that California emits only about 1% of the world's total carbon, so no matter how effective the Golden State is, it really isn't making much of a difference with the worldwide problem.   Unfortunately, and sadly, for all of the "patting on the back" that Californians are doing, what they're doing to stop worldwide climate change is, frankly, largely meaningless on a global scale.

            The same is true in the rest of the USA, as well as in other parts of the West.  That's because, unfortunately, while the USA and the European Union are making big reductions in their carbon emissions, those reductions are being offset by increases in places like Asia and Africa.  Net result?  Virtually no worldwide reduction.  If we hope to solve the problem and reduce worldwide emissions, we need to do more than reduce emissions in the West.  Instead, we need to have a real impact in reducing carbon in Asia and Africa.

            Which brings me to problem number two.  China has not only expanded its own economy dramatically over the past 25 years, it is now projecting its economic power outside the country.  The best example of this is what is called the "One Belt, One Road" initiative, also referred to as the "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI for short).  Started in 2013, BRI is a multi-year project to invest $ 4.0 trillion US dollars worth of investments in 65 countries, representing 70% of the world's population, 55% of world GDP, and 75% of energy reserves.

            China is quite serious. 

            The rest of the world is beginning to take notice, including the USA.  In fact, a bill has been introduced in Congress, with support from the Trump Administration, to create a new body with authority to do $ 60 billion in development financing.  That's only a small fraction of what China is doing, but it's a good start.  "People are waking up to what China is doing and see that we have to counter that," US Representative Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida, recently told the Wall Street Journal.  The proposed new agency could help fund infrastructure projects, providing at least some counterweight to what China is trying to do.

            This new agency could "kill two birds with one stone" by focusing on financing infrastructure projects that simultaneously promote economic development AND reduce carbon emissions.    Developing economies in Asia and Africa need large investments in power generation, for example.  Why not use such an agency to encourage the development of new sources of clean power, as well as help with the conversion/removal of existing plants that generate large amounts of carbon emissions?  The economics of low or no carbon emission projects become more compelling by the day.  Why not use such an agency to promote this, especially since it's pretty clear that to meet carbon emission reduction goals, old "dirty" power capacity need to be taken out of commission more quickly.

            Besides direct investment, such an agency could provide incentives for other financial institutions to invest in such projects.  The financing demands are huge, so such help would likely be very beneficial.

            Creating a Western counterweight to China's Belt and Road Initiative, one focused on investments to prevent climate change, could fill the gap in the Paris Climate Accord.  The "gap" isn't the pullout of the USA (though we shouldn't have pulled out).  Instead, the real "gap" is that it doesn't provide a good way to address the problem of growing emissions in Africa and Asia.

            The USA isn't the only country that wants to counter the increasing economic weight of China.  Canada, the European Union, Japan, Australia, and other countries want to do the same.  There's no reason they couldn't join the USA in such an effort.  Like the USA, those countries want both to counter China's increasing clout, as well as reduce the impact of carbon emissions.

            China's BRI focuses on transportation infrastructure such as roads, railroads, and ports.  But while projects such as Hambantota, a port that China built for Sri Lanka, then re-possessed by China when Sri Lanka defaulted on its loan obligations, gets most of the attention, there's also a big energy component to BRI.  This energy component should really raise concerns because China appears to be focusing on coal and hydropower.  As an example, it's building a lot of coal-fired power plants in Pakistan.

             Unquestionably, lots of developing countries want and need such infrastructure investments.  Unfortunately, if the USA and other Western countries try to counter BRI with alternative transportation infrastructure projects, we'll probably just end up in a bidding war.  Instead, if we focus our investment on clean energy, we'll get the following benefits: 1) the promotion of clean energy; and 2) an attractive alternative to what the Chinese are doing.

            Why do I say that energy projects will be more impactful?  It's because these countries need power in order to build their economies, likely more than they need other forms of infrastructure.  We can help them get this infrastructure, and make certain that it is clean energy.  Clean energy is already highly competitive in an economic sense.  It just happens to have hugely important added benefit of being much better for  the environment.

            In particular, the USA should focus attention on power plants in India and Pakistan.  As part of BRI, China is in the process of helping these countries meet their voracious appetites for new power by building coal and hydropower facilities.  If these new coal plants are built, it will work against all of the efforts of California, and other places, to reduce the carbon footprint.  Not only that, but the more the Chinese help built the economies of India and Pakistan, the less influence the West will have in these places in the future.

            As a result, we could offer India and Pakistan (and other countries, for that matter) two starkly different options: dirty coal power from China or clean power financed by the West.  Given such a choice, which do you think public opinion on those places will support?  I'm confident that people in these countries like clean air just as much as you do.  Not only that, they are now just as aware of the risks of climate change as you are, maybe even more.  Moreover, given that people in much of Asia and Africa are already suspicious of the Chinese, I think the answer is fairly clear which alternative they'd choose, if just given the chance.

            Is this a panacea?  Absolutely not!  Will it be an effective counterweight to China?  If well thought out and properly executed, probably yes. 

            By focusing on energy infrastructure investment, the USA and its partners can address real needs in these developing countries.  At the same time, by focusing investment on clean energy, they can accomplish a large part of the goal of either eliminating existing "dirty" capacity or adding "clean" capacity.

            If the West focuses its "BRI response" on clean energy, it will provide these countries in Africa and Asia with an attractive alternative to China's offer.  Of course, the Chinese may respond by offering clean energy alternatives, too.  While it doesn't do anything about China's "hidden political agenda for BRI", at least it will stop the proliferation of coal fired plants.

            Killing the two "birds" of "removing carbon" and "countering China" with the one stone of "a USA/Western alternative to China's Belt and Road Inititative" could make great sense.  Of course, we'll never know the answer unless we move from talk to action.  No time like now!

           

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The second reason Christians ought to love Darwin is because Darwin provides a way for the Garden of Eden to have been a real event, not simply an allegory.

THE SECOND REASON

            In my last post I described in a little more detail why Christians should love both Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the Big Bang Theory.  Now I'd like to turn to the second reason: the implications for the reality of the Garden of Eden.

            From the time the Bible was first compiled in the early 4th century AD until the 18th century, pretty much anyone who believed in the Bible also believed that the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden really happened.  Christians, Jews and Muslims, all believers in the Garden of Eden, had no reason to suggest otherwise.  Since that time, the reality of the event has come into question.  This is particularly true when one considers some of the more recent scientific data that appear to contradict the idea that a single pair of humans, named Adam and Eve, were the first to inhabit the Earth, and all humans are descendants of that original pair.  Let's consider the evidence:

Daryl Domning

Daryl Domning is a paleontologist at Howard University in Washington, DC.  Domning has found considerable evidence that non-human mammals display the very same kind of bad behavior that we call sin in humans.  For example, chimpanzees are known to steal and deceive.   If Adam and Eve committed the original sin and passed it along to their descendants, how can one explain "sinful" behavior in non-human primates?  Surely, no one is suggesting that Adam and Eve were the parents of non-human mammals!

Mitochondrial Eve/Chromosomal Adam

In recent years genetic evidence has been found that traces humans back to an original man and woman.  The man has been referred to as Chromosomal Adam and the woman as Mitochondrial Eve.  Unfortunately, there is also evidence that these individuals did not live either at the same time or close to the same place, thus undercutting this as evidence of a real Garden of Eden. 

The Evidence of Francisco Ayala

Francisco Ayala is an evolutionary biologist at the University of California Irvine.  Ayala has identified what is called the DRB1 gene, one found not only in humans but in our genetic near-cousins such as the chimpanzee and gorilla.  Ayala's research shows that all of these mammals appear to have a single common ancestor about 60 million years ago.  At various points along the way, different groups split off.  The reason Ayala's research is important is that it shows that at no point could there have been only two humans.  In fact, according to Ayala, at no point could there have fewer than 16 humans, but more likely the minimum number of humans was from 5,000 to 100,000.  This suggest that there never could have been just an Adam and Eve.

The Evidence From Genesis

Even the Book of Genesis seems to call into question the idea that there were just two humans.  If there were just two humans, then were Adam and Eve not only the parents of Cain but also of his wife?  If so, that would imply an incestuous relationship.  Really?

How the Proposed Theory Helps the Argument

Many have taken the scientific arguments presented above to mean that Adam and Eve could not have been real people.  But for many evangelical Christians, making Adam and Eve allegorical seriously undercuts the Christian message.  If the price of Darwin and other modern science is an allegorical Garden of Eden, many of these Christians say they'll take the real Garden of Eden and reject Darwin. 

My proposed theory presents a solution to this problem.  Assume, for a moment, that both Darwin and Ayala are correct.  That would mean that humans did descend from precursor species, and it would also mean that when humans first appeared on Earth, there were likely at least 5,000 of them, possibly as many as 100,000.  Even in this circumstance, I would argue, there could easily have been a Garden of Eden scenario.  Let me show how. 

The Garden of Eden story includes the following core elements: a) two creatures called humans, with mental capabilities never before seen in any living creature; b) sufficient mental capacity to understand the difference between right and wrong; c) the capacity make a conscious decision; d) the ability to make a bad choice even when the person knows that it is the wrong choice; and e) a God who is willing to respond to the decision they made.  Let's look at each of these.

First, Adam and Eve could easily have been two people selected by God for a test.  They were amongst the original group of humans, so their actions could have been representative of all humans at that time.  Darwin's theory posits that creatures would slowly evolve the capability for independent thought at judgment.  Adam and Eve, therefore, could have been amongst the first two with the capability.  Presumably, though, all or nearly all of the humans in this original cohort had evolved similar mental faculties: all would have gotten to the point that they understand the difference between right and wrong, yet could make a bad decision. Thus, Adam and Eve's behavior would simply have served as a convenient proxy for the entire cohort of humans.

Second, Darwin suggests that humans evolved higher mental faculties.  Eventually, creatures would emerge with sufficient capability to understand the difference between right and wrong, as well as the capacity to make decisions.

Third, according to the theory, creatures could eventually emerge who could think and act sufficiently independently that they would dis-regard what someone else wanted.  That sounds exactly like what Adam and Eve did.

Finally, God responded to what Adam and Eve did.  What we often forget is that God could have simply ignored Adam and Eve, then redirected His attention elsewhere in the universe.  After all, given the size of the Universe, God could easily have said, I don't have time for these people!  But, of course, Christians believe He made a different decision, one to be actively involved in the world.

Now I know I can't prove that this was the scenario.  The important thing, however, is that Darwin's theory creates a very practical way for this to have been the actual scenario.  Further, this scenario very neatly fits the actual description of Genesis 2 and 3.  Thus, Darwin creates a way to have a literal Garden of Eden.  In other words, Darwin provides a means to reinforce a second fundamental doctrine of Christianity, the concept of a real Garden of Eden where real humans willingly and knowingly dis-obey.

 

 

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A brief Introduction to a new book that explores both the positive and negative aspects of pride, the first of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Those of you who regularly follow my blog, or have read The Unexpected Perspective, are familiar with my idea that what Christians call sin is the negative by-product of human evolution.  Think of each human behavior as a coin with a "head" and a "tail".  The "head" is the positive aspect of the behavior that has helped us succeed, but the "tail" is the negative side of the behavior.  A perfect example, of course, is lying and deception: it's clear that the ability to lie and deceive is evolutionarily beneficial, but we all know the bad side of lying.  Researchers have shown that primates such as monkeys deceive and steal because it helps them survive.  Unlike us, however, monkeys don't understand the negative, sinful side of deception and theft.

Now a new book reinforces the idea as it applies to pride, the first of the famous Seven Deadly Sins.  Jessica Tracy, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada, has written Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success.  It's a very good book, but in case you'd prefer a video synopsis, check out Tracy's Google talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5b46wVZrkQ.

Tracy says her book has three broad messages: 1) pride is an integral part of human nature, found in all societies and cultures; 2) it is evolutionarily beneficial, meaning that it helped us succeed as a species; and 3) there are two types of pride, one positive and one negative.

Tracy has done research in places like Burkina Faso, a small, very poor country in Africa, demonstrating that pride is found in a broad range of cultures, not just in Western ones.  She also cites an interesting study that I wrote about in my book.  Researchers found that para-Olympian athletes who were blind from birth still physically manifested pride in the very same way that everyone else does, by pumping up their chests and swaggering when they were victorious in competition.  The blind athletes could never have observed the behavior, but they acted in the very same way, meaning that it must somehow be innate to humans.

Everyone is familiar with the downside, sinful aspect of pride.  Tracy refers to this as "hubristic" pride.  Around the world, in every culture to which I've been exposed, boastful behavior is frowned upon.  No matter where you live, people tend to dislike braggarts.  Nevertheless, hubristic pride can be a successful strategy, according to Tracy, because the braggart can instill fear in, and achieve dominance over, others. 

So what, then, could be the positive side of pride?  Tracy says that "pride is the reason we bother to learn, discover, and achieve."  Moreover, she argues that "pride is the reason we so urgently need to believe we are good."  She carefully develops the argument that pride emerged as an aspect of our evolution as humans.  She refers to the positive version of pride as "authentic pride."    Tracy notes that if you give people a choice, they will seek knowledge from an "authentically" proud person.     

This is very consistent with the concept of antagonistic pleiotropy.  Readers of The Unexpected Perspective will recognize this as the biological phenomenon that genes not only tend to perform multiple functions, but they can simultaneously have both positive and negative features.  I cite the example of Sickle Cell Anemia, a terrible disease that afflicts mainly blacks.  The negative side of the disease is that it presents both a number of terrible symptoms, but also dramatically shortens the lives of those who suffer from it.  The positive side of the disease is that those who have it, or who are "carriers" of the gene for it, tend to have greater resistance to malaria.  While that probably doesn't make much difference in Europe and America, it is a real benefit in sub-Saharan Africa. 

I think of Sickle Cell Anemia specifically, and antagonistic pleiotropy in general, as a metaphor for human behavior: each behavior has both a positive aspect and a negative aspect.  Just as Sickle Cell Anemia offers the "positive" benefit of greater resistance to malaria, it simultaneously has the "negative" aspect of the disease symptoms.  Tracy makes the very same type of argument about the specific behavior of pride, noting that there is a "positive" aspect of pride that corresponds to the "negative" aspect we already know.

In upcoming posts, I'll explore this concept as it applies to other forms of behavior.

 

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The first reason is that Darwin actually seems to provide an explanation for the basic doctrine of Christianity.  When introducing this idea, I always like to begin by asking Christians, what is the most basic doctrine of Christianity.  You'd think I'd get the correct answer at least 80 to 90% of the time.  In fact, I get a correct answer less than 10% of the time.  What???  How can that be?

FIRST REASON TO EMBRACE DARWIN

In this post we'll discuss the first of five reasons why Christians ought to love Darwin and the Big Bang Theory.  In each case, the reason actually has something to do with the Christian Bible.  Moreover, it helps reinforce things that Christians already believe.

The first reason is that Darwin actually seems to provide an explanation for the basic doctrine of Christianity.  When introducing this idea, I always like to begin by asking Christians, what is the most basic doctrine of Christianity.  You'd think I'd get the correct answer at least 80 to 90% of the time.  In fact, I get a correct answer less than 10% of the time.  What???  How can that be?

The answers I get tend to fall into one of two categories.  In the first, people say that God created the heavens and the Earth.  That's a reasonable answer, but there is nothing uniquely Christian about the answer.  Most other religious traditions maintain that God, or some Godlike agent, created the world. So  what beyond this is uniquely Christian?

In the second category, most of the answers are somehow related to Jesus and salvation.  The responses tend to be perfectly reasonable, except they almost invariably beg the question, why was it necessary for Jesus to appear on Earth?  In response to almost all of the answers I hear, I ask the follow up question, "Why?"  Most of the time, but definitely not always, I finally get to the correct answer: the most basic doctrine of Christianity is that mankind is sinful.  The story of the Garden of Eden recounts the "Fall of Mankind".

What exactly is supposed to have happened in the Garden of Eden?  An original pair of humans, one named Adam and one named Eve, were instructed by God to do pretty much whatever they wanted, except they were not to eat the fruit of one particular tree.  The Devil tries to deceive them by saying that God really didn't mean that they should not eat the forbidden fruit.  Eve and Adam then eat the fruit, the thing they weren't supposed to do.  God, as punishment, bans Adam and Eve from the Garden.

It would be one thing if the story ended there, but it doesn't.  In fact, Christians believe that because of what Adam and Eve did, all human descendants bear the stain of their sin.  In the most  extreme cases, Christians believe that all humans born after Adam and Eve have inherited this stain, and are marked by it from the moment of birth.  

It's the most fundamental Christian doctrine because the entire rest of the Bible actually deals with the problem of sin, as well as how to overcome it.  Christians believe that humans themselves cannot overcome sin on their own.  Instead, they can only overcome it by having faith in Jesus Christ, whose death atoned for it.  It was a gift that was freely provided and could not be earned.

So what's the problem?  The problem is that while this is the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity, Christians have never provided a truly satisfying explanation for what I'll call the "mechanism of transmission.": how did an act of two individuals, who lived who knows how long ago, cause everyone else to inherit the same propensity to sin?  What is the nature and evidence of the mechanism?  Traditionally, two different doctrines have been used to explain this – one called traducianism and the other creationism.  Both describe some type of mystical, non-material means of transmission.  In the highly rationalistic society in which we live, these explanations sound like so much hocus pocus.  

This, I believe, is where Darwin comes in to play because evolution provides the missing "mechanism of transmission."  To understand that, however, we need to take a side excursion and look at our nearest genetic relatives – chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and similar primates.  We share about 97 or 98% of our DNA with them.  The other 2 or 3% obviously makes a huge difference!  In the next post we'll explore how we're related to these other primates, then use that as a jumping off point to look at the Garden of Eden.
 

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A thought provoking book suggests not only that the average person has an out of date view of the rest of the world, but that the more educated and informed we are, the more out of date it tends to be.

            Do you think you could outperform a chimpanzee on a 13 question multiple choice test on general knowledge of the world? 

            Of course you think you could!

            But would you believe me if I told you it's very likely you'll perform worse than the average chimpanzee?  And would you believe me if I told you the more educated and more knowledgeable you are about the world, the less likely you'll beat the chimps?

            Of course you wouldn't!

            The sad truth is, however, it's been repeatedly shown that humans – especially well educated and "world knowledgeable" ones – perform worse than chimps on a certain test that measures general knowledge about the world.

            Try it for yourself.  Here's a link to the test.  The correct answers are found immediately after the test.

            Hans Rosling, a well known, recently deceased medical doctor from Sweden has administered the test to groups all over Europe, North America, and other economically advanced parts of the world.  He's reported that human test-takers consistently underperform chimpanzees!

            Now I don't know that he ever actually gave the 13 question test to any chimpanzees, but if he had, the chimpanzees probably would have randomly pressed the answer buttons and gotten about 33.3% of the answers correct.  That's exactly what you'd expect if you were presented with a multiple choice test on a topic about which you knew absolutely nothing. 

            Still skeptical?  Rosling broke his results out by country.  Here are the results, by question, for Americans who have taken the test:

            Question 1:     10%

            Question 2:     36%

            Question 3:     5%

            Question 4:     43%

            Question 5:     10%

            Question 6:     36%

            Question 7:     11%

            Question 8:     30%

            Question 9:     17%

            Question 10:   27%

            Question 11:   12%

            Question 12:   27%

            Question 13:   81%

 

                        Average for USA Participants:           28.75%

                        Expected Chimpanzee Score:              33.33%

 

            Now this is not another one of those examples of standardized tests given to students around the world, ostensibly to decry the sad state of American education.  No, these were scores for adults; and it wasn't a case that other countries outperformed the USA in a meaningful way.  No, test takers in every "advanced" country did badly!

            So how could people perform worse than 33.33% - the expected random outcome?  Moreover, how could they perform worse than that if they really do know something about the subject matter (and the human test takers typically knew something about the subject)?

            Rosling's answer was that the human test takers performed so poorly because they had outdated mental models of what the rest of the world actually looks like today.  That's the core of his book Factfulness.

            It sounds like really bad news, but it's actually a "good news" story: the real point of the book is that the part of the world most of us think about as "developing" is really much farther along than we thought.  The reason well educated people score poorly on his 13 question test is, according to Rosling, because we're running around with very out of date mental models of the rest of the world.

            Rosling's good news is that humankind has made tremendous progress in eliminating disease and deep poverty.  Not only that, but the levels of education received by children in the developing world – particular young girls – is far higher than the average person ever realized.  It's ultimately a very positive story.

            The only thing that isn't positive is that most of us in the more developed part of the world still have these out of date mental models.

            An excellent example is our tendency to think of the world as being either "developed" or "under-developed".  Instead, he says we should divide countries into four categories – Levels 1 through 4 – defined in terms of how much the average person earns in a day.  At Level 1, the typical person earns $ 1.00/day.  There are still some places like that in the world.   On Level 2, the average person earns $ 4.00/day.  For Level 3 it's $ 16.00/day, and for Level 4, it's $ 64.00/day.  Today, according to Rosling, the majority of the world is somewhere in the middle – Levels 2 and 3 – moving upward very rapidly towards Level 4 where you find the "advanced" world.  In short, our mental model of "two levels" – developed and under-developed - is very much out of date.

            So if that's the case, why is that we tend to have such out of date views about the world beyond North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan?   A key reason is because the advancement in the "developing" world has happened so quickly.  A second reason is because many advanced countries have, themselves, only recently become wealthy themselves.

            Rosling offers the example of his grandparents and parents, all of whom grew up in Sweden, as did he.  We have the mental image today of Sweden as an advanced, wealthy country, with very modern day attitudes about social matters, but Sweden is actually a pretty recent arrival.  Rosling describes his grandparents as having lived at a level comparable to where many African countries are today – Level 2 or Level 3.

            He draws two conclusions from this: 1) countries such as his have developed very rapidly over the past two generations; and 2) countries we think of today as being backward – think much of Africa – will likely be at the level Sweden is at today in a generation or two.  In other words, much of Africa and Asia in 2065 will look very much like Western Europe, the USA, Canada, and Japan look today – members of the Level 4 club.

            The obvious question is, why do so many of us in the "developed" world then hold very out of date ideas of the state of the rest of the world?  An obvious answer is the media, but Rosling would say that's much too simple an answer.  Instead, he examines the approach we take to analyzing problems … and finds many of them wanting.  Much of Factfulness is a refresher course in critical thinking and reasoning.

            At the same time, Rosling points out our very human tendency to look for simple explanations and solutions.  Unfortunately, he doesn't tend to find them, but when he does, it's probably not the answer you want to hear.  As an example, he notes, "most countries that make great economic and social progress are not democracies.  South Korea moved from Level 1 to Level 3 faster than any country has ever done (without finding oil), all the time as a military dictatorship.  Of the ten countries with the fastest economic growth in 2016, nine of them score low on democracy."

            So much for pushing liberal democracy on the rest of the world!   Well, I don't believe Rosling would conclude that we should become friends with military dictators, even though some believe that's a good idea, but that's the conclusion one might reach with "one parameter" thinking.  Instead, as Rosling points out, "there is no single measure – not GDP per capita, not child mortality (as in Cuba), not individual freedom (as in the United States), not even democracy – whose improvement will guarantee improvements in all the others.  There is no single indicator which we can measure the progress of a nation.  Reality is just more complicated than that."

            Rosling, I think, provides a very useful perspective on things.  Unfortunately, I just don't envision things changing a great deal, meaning that if someone gives an updated version of his 13 question test in 2043 – 25 years from now - the results will be materially different than what's presented in the book. In other words, I'll bet test takers in the year 2043 may still do worse than the chimpanzees! 

            That's not because the chimpanzees will get meaningfully better at test taking – it will still be "random pulls of the lever" for them.  It will because we humans probably won't be any more careful in our thinking – in being "factful" – than we are today.  It isn't because we aren't capable of this, we certainly are.  Rather, it will be because it isn't a priority for most of us.

            After all, how many people do you know who spend much time worrying about what's going on in the rest of the world?  How many apply critical thinking skills to analyzing complex problems?  Frankly, not many of us.  It isn't because we aren't capable of doing this, it's because we've probably got better ways to spend our time.  One of Rosling's recommendations is to look at an issue from different perspectives.  Great idea!  How many people, though, take time to do that?  One of the goals of "The Unexpected Perspective" is to encourage people to do just that – to look at issues from multiple perspectives.  If you're reading this, most likely you're one of those people who believe in the same idea.  Sadly, we don't have a lot of company! 

            The reason we don't have a lot of company is simply that most people are already busy and don't want to take extra time to delve into a particular subject.  I understand.  No doubt, there are at least a dozen different topics you and I might consider, but we don't because it simply isn't important enough to do that.

            Instead, we rely upon the usual range of ways to form opinions about various subjects beyond our view.  For example, we tune into our favorite TV network, or website, to get our news.  For some of us, that's CNN, for others it's Fox, and for still others it's "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.

            We're not suddenly going to change the way we think about things, but there are several practical things to do.  First, Rosling's ideas can and should be taught in schools.  Actually, the concept of critical thinking already is taught in school.  What Rosling proposed is really just a variation of critical thinking.

            Second, those of us who are adults in the working world should try to make a point to practice the ideas Rosling espouses.   Of course, we should all also get daily exercise and be more careful about our French Fry consumption.  Well, you already know how likely that is to change.

            Sadly, we will likely continue to underperform the chimpanzees because so many of these ideas we have of the rest of the world are so deeply ingrained.  Yes, over time perceptions will catch up with reality, but it will likely take a very long time.  In the meantime, the underlying reality will probably change – so our ideas will change, but we'll still underperform the chimps because the underlying reality will have changed.

            There is one possible way for Rosling's ideas to gain sudden traction.  That would be if we have another "Sputnik moment".  This refers to the shock the USA, Canada, and Europe experienced in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into orbit.  It was a tremendous shock … and it forced people to re-conceptualize many things about their mental model of the world.  The launch of Sputnik dramatically changed how many people thought about the world.  As a result, many things suddenly changed in the USA.

            While there's a good chance the ideas Rosling espouses in Factfulness will not be widely adopted, what he has to say is definitely worthwhile to consider.  I very much encourage you to read it … and overlook the fact that the more educated and informed you are, the more likely it is that that chimpanzee is going to out-perform you.

 

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My argument is that Christians shouldn't just accept Darwin and the Big Bang. Instead, they should absolutely love them! There are five reasons why. Here's a brief summary of the five reasons.

THE FIVE REASONS

            I've been making the argument that not only should Christians accept Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the Big Bang Theory, they should absolutely love both theories.  In fact, they should love the two ideas even more than committed atheists.  I've identified five reasons why.  There may well be more, but here are my five reasons:

            #1: Darwin provides a realistic explanation for the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity – original sin;

            #2: It provides a way for the Garden of Eden to have realistically occurred, not simply been an allegory;

            #3: It provides a better way for Christians to do evangelism, particularly when trying to evangelize well educated people;

            #4: It provides a way to teach science in public schools that will be quite acceptable to pretty much everyone, ranging from the militantly atheistic to the most fundamentalist of Christians;

            #5: It provides a way for Christians to address important questions/challenges that have been posed by secular humanists.

I'll explore each of these in greater detail in upcoming posts, but here's a quick introduction to the argument for each.

Original Sin  - The Most Fundamental Doctrine

Original sin is the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity.  Mankind's sinful nature is the reason why Jesus came to Earth and was crucified.  The crucifixion was an atonement for mankind's sin.  While it's the most fundamental doctrine, Christians today know very little about the doctrine and its significance.  Why churches speak so little about this is not clear to me.  Christians believe that the sin of Adam and Eve has somehow been transmitted to every human.  But what is the mechanism of transmission?  My argument is that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection provides a perfect explanation for the transmission of sin. 

The Garden of Eden

Did the Garden of Eden really occur?  Were Adam and Eve real humans?  In the past few hundred years, many, if not most, Christians have come to think of this as just an allegory.  More conservative Christians, however, hold tenaciously to the idea that the Garden was a real event.  Modern science seems to call that reality into question, but I believe there is a realistic way the Garden of Eden could have actually happened, and the reality squares with the most modern of science.

Evangelism

Evangelism is clearly important to Christians, but doing it effectively is always challenging.  Perhaps the biggest challenge today is that while the basis of most all evangelism is the Bible, many people sincerely believe that Bible is hocus pocus.  How, then, can one do effective evangelism if the intended audience views the "source" of the evangelistic claims as hocus pocus?  My belief is that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the Big Bang Theory, can serve as the "bridge" between Christians and non-Christians, and the two theories can provide the starting point for a discussion about the Bible.

Teaching Science in the Public Schools

Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, benefits if good science is taught in the schools.  Increasingly, however, students are taught science poorly, or not at all, because teachers are reluctant to tackle the issue of science and religion in the classroom.  I believe that my theory will provide an excellent way to overcome this problem, one that will be acceptable to all, from militant atheists to fundamentalist Christians.

Addressing Secular Humanism

Secular humanists often pose challenging questions to Christians.  For example, the secular humanist may ask, why isn't it sufficient for one to lead a moral life?  The questions are legitimate, and good.  Unfortunately, Christians oftentimes stumble over these questions and fail to provide good responses.  I believe that the twin theories can help provide Christians with better answers when responding to secular humanists.

            In upcoming blog posts, I'll address each of these five "benefits" in greater detail.  Altogether, I believe it will make a strong case for why Christians shouldn't just accept Darwin and the Big Bang Theory, they should absolutely love the two theories.

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The long held assumption is that life first appeared on Earth. But what if life actual predates Earth, and life forms somehow were transported here after Earth's formation?

            Many people readily accept the idea that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection applies on a micro scale, meaning at the level of bacteria and viruses, and maybe even to some extent at the level of species.   While they accept these ideas, they reject the idea that Darwin can explain the evolution of life from its most basic forms up to humanity, meaning that while microevolution is real, macroevolution is not.  The argument is that supporters of macroevolution have stretched the available data and have "overplayed the hand".

            One of the key arguments that skeptics of macroevolution have used is that there simply wasn't enough time to explain the appearance of organisms as complex as bacteria and viruses.  The argument hinges on the evidence that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and the amount of time between the formation of Earth and the emergence of bacteria and viruses is therefore too short.  Implicit in this is the idea that life must have developed "from scratch" here on Earth.  But what if that's a bad assumption?

            Two scientists who have called this assumption into question are Alexei Sharov, a staff scientist at the National Institute of Aging, and Richard Gordon, a Theoretical Biologist at the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Florida.  Sharov and Gordon use a novel way to estimate when life first appeared.  As a proxy for the complexity of life, they consider the number of base pairs in an organism.  More complex organisms have more base pairs than less complex organisms. They observe that number of base pairs of organisms has increased at an exponential rate over time, much like Moore's Law. 

           In 1965, Gordon Moore looked at the number of transistors on a computer chip and noted that it was doubling every 18 to 24 months.  "Curve fitting" just four data points (1962 – 1965), he projected that this exponential growth, referred to as Moore's Law, would continue into the future.  In the original paper his projection only went 10 years into the future – to 1975.  His ten year projection has taken on a life of its own, and for the past 50 years, his projection has proven accurate.  Sharov and Gordon use this as a model and suggest a "reverse Moore's Law".  If you look at the historical data for the number of transistors on a chip, you could project backwards to when there were only a handful of chips, all the way back to 1959, the starting point for Moore's original curve fitting graph.  For example, if one looks at number of transistors on a chip at various points from 1995 to 2015, then one could "reverse project" that there were only a few transistors on a chip back in the 1950's.  The "reverse projection" would be quite accurate.   

            Sharov and Gordon apply this line of thinking and do a similar "reverse projection" for genetic complexity (see the chart above).  They look at the time that various organisms (e.g., prokaryotes, eukaryotes, worms, fish and mammals) emerged, and plotted those dates against the genetic complexity of each type of organism.  Eukaryotes and prokaryotes are both organisms with cell membranes, but eukaryotes also have a nucleus.  Their "reverse projection" suggests that "genomic complexity of zero, meaning just one base pair of nucleotides", would have occurred approximately 9.75 +/- 2.5 billion years ago.  That's well past the date of the Big Bang (approximately 13.8 billion years ago) but also well before the formation of Earth (about 4.5 billion years ago).  Even at the outer lower bound, Sharov and Gordon say that life emerged 7.25 billion years ago, still well before our Earth formed.

            Thus, Sharov and Moore's proposal could address the objection that many have raised about the appearance of life on Earth.  One might argue that life could not realistically have arisen with 500 million years of the formation of Earth, but 5 billion years is more than realistic.

For Sharov and Gordon's theory to be realistic, two key questions need to be answered.  First, could life have begun from only one nucleotide base pair?  Second, if life began before the formation of Earth, how did early life forms survive travel through interstellar space and arrive intact on Earth?

            With respect to the first question, Sharov and Gordon present a theory based upon what they call coenzyme like molecules (CLM's).  Their model is hypothetical, but is certainly not out of the question.    The core idea is that CLM's could be a realistic precursor to the nucleotides A, C, G, and T that underlie genetics.  Sharov and Gordon hypothesize that CLM's existed in a hydrocarbon microspheres.  These hydrocarbon microspheres could have created a realistic environment for nucleotides to emerge.

            Assuming the original nucleotides emerged about 9.75 billion years plus or minus a couple billion years, somewhere in the universe, how did those nucleotides traverse interstellar space?  If that question cannot be adequately answered, whether or not the original nucleotides did emerge at the time hypothesized by Sharov and Gordon, then the idea of life emerging elsewhere in the universe and being transported to Earth is effectively moot.  Sharov and Gordon cite the research of L.H. Lambert and others that staphylococcus succinus was extracted from Dominican amber.  The spores had been dormant for 25 to 35 million years.   At the same time, Sharov and Gordon cite research by Richard Gordon and R.B. Hoover that "remnants of planets from exploded supernovae can carry billions of bacterial spores and maybe even active chemosynthetic bacteria deep beneath the surface."  In other words, bacterial spores could have been buried in interstellar material, laying dormant for possibly millions of years, then revived in another world.  Sounds somewhat far-fetched, but not necessarily unrealistic.

            If Sharov and Gordon are right, then the idea that genetic diversity follows a Moore's Law type of curve isn't far-fetched at all.  Moreover, it could overcome the perceived problem that bacteria and viruses could not have formed on Earth because of the short time period from the formation of the Earth until their appearance.

            What, then, of the idea that life emerged 9.75 billion years ago, about 5 billion years before Earth formed?  The reason this isn't necessarily a crazy is because the universe appears to have as many as 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that's 10 to the 22nd power) stars like our own.  While only a very small fraction of those stars are likely to have had planets with conditions that could have supported the emergence of life, the sheer number of possible candidates makes this a very realistic scenario.  Assume, for a moment, that there was only a one in a trillion chance that any particular star could have had a planet capable of supporting life of some sort.  Even if that is the case, there would still be approximately 1,000,000,000 (one billion) stars capable of sustaining life.  If it was a one in a quadrillion chance, then approximately one million stars have planets orbiting them that are capable of supporting life.

The Big Bang occurred about 13.8 billion years ago.  Assuming Sharov and Gordon are correct, then the first life forms appeared about 4 billion years after the Big Bang.  Four billion years should have been adequate time for life forms to have emerged.

            Assuming this is the case, were the life forms that were transferred to Earth advanced and intelligent?  The idea that Earth was seeded by intelligent life (sometimes known as "directed panspermia") is fairly well known.  Sharov and Gordon reject the idea that the Earth was seeded by intelligent life.  This is because they believe it would have taken at least 10 billion years for intelligent life to have formed.  Assuming the Big Bang really did occur 13.75 billion years ago, then even if life formed within a billion years of the Big Bang, at the time of Earth's formation (4.5 billion years ago), then life could only be about 8 billion years in age.  Sharov and Gordon contend that it would have taken at least 9 or10 billion years for intelligent life to form (refer back to the chart above), thus it would have been impossible for the Earth to have been seeded by intelligent life.

            Non-religious people should have absolutely no problem with Sharov and Gordon's theory, but can the same be said for Christians?  I really don't think it should create problems for most Christians.    

            Young earth creationists (YEC) will definitely have a problem with the theory, but anyone who is a YEC would have problems with any theory suggesting that the Earth, much less the universe, is much older than about 6,000 years.  Young earth creationists believe in a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.  On the other hand, old earth creationists and evolutionary creationists (the latter being, like me, those who believe that God created the world using Darwin's evolution by natural selection) should have no problem with the theory. 

            The Bible says that God created all life, but it doesn't say where or when it happened.  The assumption has always been that life was created on Earth, but it doesn't specifically make that statement.  For most of history, most everyone assumed that life was created on Earth, but no one was aware of the sheer size and age of the universe, and no one was aware of the genetic curve calculated by Sharov and Gordon, suggesting that life began about 9.75 billion years ago.

            At this point, Sharov and Gordon's analysis doesn't prove or disprove anything, but I believe it is useful because it helps reduce constraints on our thinking about how life emerged.  For the longest time, we've constrained ourselves to the assumption that life had to have begun on Earth, not somewhere else.  The available data have not always

fit this model well.  Eliminating the constraint creates the possibility of other alternatives.  At the same time, it also doesn't provide any more evidence that life spontaneously emerged, the claim of many atheists and non-theists.

            If anything, the argument made by Sharov and Gordon should be encouraging for Christians who believe that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is correct.  This is because it provides a way to overcome the objection that life could not have emerged on Earth according to Darwin's theory because of the relatively short time between the formation of the Earth and the emergence of life. 

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Carl Treleaven is an entrepreneur, author, strong supporter of various non-profits, and committed Christian. He is CEO of Westlake Ventures, Inc., a company with diversified investments in printing and software.

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