Fossil evolutionary intermediates

Creationists and evolutionists have disagreed over intermediate fossils for decades.  An intermediate fossil is one that seems to be an evolutionary transition between two groups of organisms.  If all life was the result of evolution, there must have been innumerable intermediates that existed, and many of these should still exist as fossils.  If this were true, and if we could view a video of the history of life we would see a continuous series of life forms, gradually changing from one type to another.

According to the biblical description of creation, within a week all the major types of life were created.  Then perhaps evolutionary changes (microevolution and speciation) occurred within each of these created groups, but major groups, like worms, crabs, reptiles, birds, and humans did not evolve from common ancestors, and evolutionary intermediates between the major types never existed.  Notice that in this creation concept there are two categories of evolution: some evolution (adaptation) did occur, at least within groups of species.  However, larger scale evolution, e.g. evolution of reptiles from amphibians or pterosaurs from other reptiles, did not occur.  Which of these two options does the evidence support?  I won’t try to answer this in detail (this is a blog, not a book), but will consider some reasons why I think the fossil record leaves considerable room for debate over the nature of the fossil record of presumed intermediates.

First of all, there is abundant reason why creationists do accept microevolution and adaptation of organisms to changing environments as very real processes.  It would be no surprise if fossil intermediates at this level were common.  The odd thing is that they are not numerous as fossils.  In the fossil record the most common picture is that one fossil species disappears from the record and another appears, without evidence of evolution from one to the other.

The bigger issues arise when we consider intermediates between the higher categories, such as orders, classes, and phyla (loosely described as body plans) of organisms.  There is generally a lack of fossil intermediates between most of these groups.  But there are a few cases in which there are fossils described in the literature as intermediates.  This is where most of the controversy arises.  The most prominent of these presumed intermediates are between fish and amphibians, amphibians and reptiles, therapsid reptiles and mammals, dinosaurs and birds, and between terrestrial mammals and whales.  I will suggest reasons why it may be difficult to determine with any finality whether these really are transitional forms or not.  The first reason is the evidence that the earth once had a much wider variety of creatures than those that survived to the present day.  In addition to those groups that are extinct, other groups have many fossil forms but few living representatives.  The Creator was not stingy with variety of life forms.  This may be a reason why some presumed intermediates, like Archeopteryx and others may not be evolutionary intermediates, but simply evidence of a greater diversity of original organisms.

For some groups there is no discussion of intermediate forms, because there are none.  The first fossil bats and pterosaurs (flying reptiles) are fully developed flying animals, and there are no intermediates.  Perhaps this is because flight requires a whole suite of integrated structures, so they will either be fully flying or not flying at all.  Thus it is all or nothing – there were no forms that were partly flying and thus no intermediate fossils.  Other body forms, like amphibians and reptiles are not radically different in their structural requirements, and there can be a variety of types, not so different from each other.

In other cases there are fossils that seemed to be good intermediates, but new fossils changed the picture.  For example there are a number of forms considered to be transitional forms between fish and amphibians.  Then good fossil amphibian tracks were found lower in the geologic record, dating by radiometric methods at about ten million years older than any of the intermediates.  Whether or not it is assumed that the radiometric dates are valid, this leaves the interpretation of the intermediate fossils in question.

One more thing I have observed is that creationists and non-creationists emphasize the observations that fit their views best.  If a few fossils can be interpreted as evolutionary intermediates the creationists emphasize how little evidence there is for intermediates.  Meanwhile the non-creationists emphasize the presence of these intermediates and how important they are.  Neither of these conclusions is significant unless there is some type of quantitative evaluation of the abundance of intermediates.

The fossil record of presumed intermediates has puzzles and unanswered questions for everyone.  They don’t provide good reasons to change one’s views of the history of life.  The best approach is to wait and see what new evidence will turn up in time.

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Leonard Brand

Loma Linda University

April 2, 2014

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Change in Species – Biblical or Not?

Many kinds of animals appear designed for predation and violence, in contrast to what one would expect based on the biblical description of Edenic peace. It seems that animal species must have changed in major ways since the creation, but is this idea compatible with biblical teachings? Many people have asked this question, wondering whether changes in species point to evolution rather than creation. I will show here that change in species is a part of the biblical story and does not imply the general theory of evolution.

When God completed His work of creation at the end of the sixth day of that first week,[1] He declared that everything was very good. Plants were provided as food for the animals, so there was no need for predation, violence and suffering. This picture of an original peaceful kingdom contrasts sharply with what we observe in our world today, where every kind of animal seems engaged in a struggle for existence, resulting in conflict, injury, starvation, disease and death. Creationists have discussed this question for hundreds of years, and have proposed a reasonable general explanation.

As scientists have studied the mechanisms of inheritance in organisms, they have discovered that the genome seems designed to allow genetic variation. Biologists have tended to focus on mistakes in copying of genetic information, called mutations, to explain genetic variation. There is no question that mutations occur. However, calculations of the frequency of mutation, the proportion of beneficial mutations, and the probabilities of a beneficial mutation being preserved strongly suggest that mutations are an entirely inadequate explanation for the variation seen among organisms.[2] Some other mechanisms must be involved.

In recent decades, molecular biologists have discovered that genes are not, as was once believed, merely a simple sequence of nucleotides in a strand of DNA. Instead, genes are made up of subunits, called exons, that can be combined in different ways to produce different genes –  a process known as exon shuffling. A DNA sequence may interact with other sequences on the same or different chromosome. Reserve copies of genetic information may be used to correct errors when they do arise. Some evidence suggests that environmental signals may trigger gene interactions that result in beneficial genetic  changes. While some genetic changes appear to be random, others appear to be designed to be helpful to the survival of the species.

These advances in science have enabled creationists to come to a better understanding of how creatures that were originally designed for a peaceful environment could adjust and survive in a world where violence and predation are ubiquitous. Mechanisms for non-random, beneficial genetic changes suggest pre-planning and intelligent design, consistent with the biblical record of earth history. Such changes have enabled species to survive through environmental changes, but the mechanisms that enable helpful changes also make possible changes that result in violence and suffering.

Some creationists have objected to the idea that species might have changed significantly since the creation. One objection is that the Bible speaks of different “kinds” of animals, each of which should “reproduce after their own kind.” Indeed, the Bible does speak of different kinds of plants and animals. The account of creation day three indicates that different kinds of plants were created on that day. Likewise, the accounts of creation days five and six indicate that numerous kinds of organisms were created – filling the seas and sky with diverse kinds of creatures on the fifth day, and filling the land with diversity on the sixth day. However, the phrase “after their kind” is not referring to reproduction at all, but to creation – indicating a diversity of kinds that were created together. For example, the creation statement for the land animals is “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind” (Genesis 1:24). This is a statement about creation, not reproduction. The statement says nothing about whether the animals would or would not change. The point that is important in this discussion is that diversity was already present from the beginning of creation. It did not derive from long ages of cumulative changes in species.

People have always known that individuals of a species differ from each other, and can infer that this variation reflects differences based on changes from the parents of the individuals. However, the idea that such changes are not significant comes from Greek philosophy, not from the Bible. The Bible states that significant changes occurred as a result of sin. Among these changes are production of thorns and thistles and loss of limbs in snakes (Genesis 3). According to Romans 8,[3] the entire creation groans under the curse and is subject to decay, waiting for restoration.

Although some changes in species have resulted in violence and suffering, other changes have been beneficial. As animals dispersed across the surface of the earth after the flood, they would unavoidably encounter diverse habitats. In order to spread out across the earth’s surface, they must necessarily be able to adapt to different environmental conditions. Changes that facilitated such dispersal and adaptation to local environments would be beneficial changes. We see the results of this type of change in the different species of dogs, bears, cattle, mice and other types of creatures that are clearly closely related but live in different habitats. The process of change is beneficial in general, despite the distortion that sometimes resulted in violence.

There is nothing unbiblical about the idea that species have changed in significant ways. What is unbiblical is the notion that such changes are responsible for creating all the various kinds of plants and animals that populate our world. It seems clear that the major groups of organisms have separate origins, and have not evolved from a common ancestor. However, this does not mean that species have not changed significantly since the creation. We should re-examine the phrase “after its kind” and recognize that it refers to the creation of many different kinds of organisms during creation week, but does not address the question of whether they change or not. This biblical teaching of created diversity, followed by corruption due to sin, is incompatible with the general theory of evolution, but it does help explain how the diverse kinds of creatures that God created for a world without predation, violence and suffering could survive and provide the diversity of living organisms we all observe in our present world of violence and death.

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Jim Gibson

Geoscience Research Institute

March 17, 2014


[1] Genesis 1:31-2:1.

[2] Sanford, J. Genetic Entropy. Lima, NY: Elim Publishing, 2005.

[3] Romans 8:20-22.

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PROTOLOGY AND THE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH: A BRIEF HISTORICAL SURVEY

The Adventist Church emerged during a historical period of great epistemological turmoil, especially relating to protology (i.e., the study of beginning––creation, the day of rest, and flood––Gen 1-11).[i] Since its establishment in 1863, Adventism has believed in biblical protology, but valued both the positive outcomes of the Enlightenment and Scriptural authority. The purpose of this essay is to trace how Adventists have maintained their belief in biblical protology since the inception of the church.[ii] Methodologically, I have chosen to create this short historical survey from the perspective of a dialogue between mainstream science and theology instead of approaching the subject from the perspective of warfare between mainstream science and theology.[iii]

A Brief Historical Background

In the years following the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the works of some key Enlightenment thinkers[iv] helped to unsettle the notion that the Christian church had the final word on which sources of knowledge were authoritative and should be embraced by society. First throughout Europe and subsequently in America, liberalism contributed to the spreading of the principles of the Enlightenment (i.e., rationalism and empiricism). Human reason and empirical data in a naturalistic framework became the norm to determine what should be considered true knowledge about protology.

In theology, liberalism facilitated the rejection of theological foundationalism in order to promote the principles of Enlightenment.[v] Thus, while the proponents of theological foundationalism insisted that Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) should be considered the moderator source to evaluate knowledge about protology, the proponents of liberalism insisted that human reason should have priority over Scripture as the source of true knowledge. Feeling the pressure that came from the proponents of liberalism, Friedrich Schleiermacher­­ suggested that the only way to preserve the significance of theology in epistemology was to accommodate the interpretation of Scripture to the findings of modern science.[vi] The theological world followed his lead.

According to Ronald Numbers, “by the late nineteenth century even [some of] the most conservative Christian apologists readily conceded that the Bible allowed for an ancient earth and pre-Edenic life.”[vii] By the year 1870, after American scientists accepted “the broad outlines of organic evolution,” Christian thinkers in America grew divided in relation to these issues,[viii] and by the end of the nineteenth century, three groups of Christians coalesced: the “liberal proponents of evolution” (LPE), who chose to embrace evolutionary theory;[ix] the “conservative opponents of evolution”[x] (COE); and the “conservative proponents of evolution” (CPE), who followed Charles Hodge’s advice to interpret Scripture in the light of modern science.[xi] With this context in mind, I consider this question: how did Adventists maintain their belief in biblical protology?

The Adventist Response

Adventism entered the scene of American religious life during a period of epistemological turmoil in the mid-nineteenth century when foundational beliefs about Scripture were under heavy attack. In relation to protology, German higher criticism helped to accelerate the spreading of Darwinism among Protestants and non-Protestants, and the biblical worldview of origins fell out of favor.[xii] Adventism, however, grew strong and sought to develop an epistemological understanding that embraced the acquisition of knowledge through reason while upholding Scriptural authority. Instead of adopting a method of accommodating the interpretation of Scripture to the interpretation of nature, or simply dismissing mainstream science as incompatible with the biblical view of creation, like fundamentalists did,[xiii] Adventism sought to embrace mainstream science and theology as complementary enterprises. Adventists perceive both nature and Scripture as God’s revelations to humankind, and believe that since both issued from the same author, they should agree.[xiv]

How did Adventists sought to embrace mainstream science and theology as complementary enterprises? On the one hand, Adventists have insisted repeatedly on the need for theology to be built upon the sola-tota-prima Scriptura principles, emphasizing that Scripture should be the rule of the Christian faith. Expressing her views on this subject, Ellen White wrote, “I recommend to you, dear reader, the Word of God as the rule of your faith and practice.”[xv] For mainline Adventists, it is through Scripture alone that knowledge about the relationship of the natural and the supernatural realms coalesces intelligibly. And when addressing the question of how Christians should interpret the biblical account of creation, White said, “But the infidel supposition, that the events of the first week required seven vast, indefinite periods for their accomplishment, strikes directly at the foundation of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. It makes indefinite and obscure that which God has made very plain.”[xvi] Ellen White believed that the biblical account of creation should be read and interpreted literally.

On the other hand, this literal interpretation of biblical protology did not mean that Adventists were alienated or unaware of the positive outcomes of the Enlightenment, or that mainstream science had brought new challenges for the students of Scripture. As a matter of fact, Adventist theologians noticed the importance of showing that the correct interpretation of Scripture through theology and of nature through science would show that Scripture and nature were in harmony.[xvii] Ellen White says:

God is the foundation of everything. All true science is in harmony with His works; all true education leads to obedience to His government. Science opens new wonders to our view; she soars high, and explores new depths; but she brings nothing from her research that conflicts with divine revelation. Ignorance may seek to support false views of God by appeals to science, but the book of nature and the written word shed light upon each other.[xviii]

Building on this premise, George McCready Price[xix] recognized the challenges of the scientific evidence coming from geology, and proposed a two-stage biblical creation in an attempt to show how the biblical account of origin and the data collected from nature could be brought into harmony. In spite of rejecting the alleged sequence of the fossil record as proof for ancient life on earth and conclusive evidence for macroevolution,[xx] Price thought that the age of the rocks surrounding the fossils could be brought into harmony with a biblical concept of young life on earth. Price suggested in his theory of two-stage biblical creation that God had created the entire universe first (Gen 1:1), and then after eons had returned to give shape to the earth and to create life on earth.[xxi] Price explains:

And it may be well to remember that the record in Genesis has not put the least direct limit upon our imaginations in accounting for the manner of our world’s formation. It only says: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” This, be it clearly understood, and as other writers have so clearly pointed out, was before the six days of our world’s creation proper began. The six literal days of creation, or peopling our world with life forms, begin with verse 3. . . . How long it had been formed before this we are not told, and whether by a slow or rapid process we have no information.[xxii]

In essence, while most conservative Christians had accepted that the Bible allowed for ancient inorganic matter and pre-Edenic life on earth,[xxiii] Adventists like Price insisted on preserving the integrity of the biblical text, and accepted only ancient inorganic matter on earth (not life). Price’s approach to biblical protology gave rise to what became known in America as “creation science.”[xxiv]

After Price, many Adventist scientists gained prominence among the COE. Among these scientists we find Harold W. Clark, Frank L. Marsh, Harold G. Coffin, Ariel A. Roth, L. James Gibson, and Arthur V. Chadwick. Due to space constraints, only some of the contributions made by Clark, Marsh, and Coffin will be described further.

Harold W. Clark (1891-1986) was the first SDA to earn a graduate degree in biology.[xxv] After spending time “studying glaciation in the mountains of the West,” Clark became convinced that “ice had once covered large portions of North America, perhaps for as long as fifteen hundred years after the flood.”[xxvi] Then, Clark introduced the theory of “ecological zonation,” arguing that this interpretation could work as “a substitute for the commonly accepted theory of geological ages. In other words, an ‘age’ of time would be replaced by a ‘stage’ of Flood action.”[xxvii] Ecological zonation proposes that whatever sequence there is in the fossil record “is due to the burial of ancient life zones or habitats that lived contemporaneously, and not to the succession of life throughout long ages of time.”[xxviii]

Besides introducing glaciation to Adventist views, Clark also thought that microevolution was compatible with biblical protology. Clark said, “When one considers these problems in relation to science and religion, he faces a perplexing situation.” On the one hand, there is “a voluminous literature assuming that . . . all change means evolution. This attitude is so generally accepted that anyone who dares deny the validity of the conclusions is branded as ignorant and uncultured.” And, on the other hand, there are those who let their antievolutionary convictions blind them to a point where they unjustifiably ignore most––if not all––“scientific data that one almost wonders if the accusations of the evolutionists against creationists might not be true.”[xxix] As a solution to the impasse, Clark pointed out how microevolution was a well-documented fact in hybridization, and that some were suggesting “it is possibly the only way new species are ever formed.”[xxx] Clark asks, “Should we believe that they [i.e., the different types of rabbits, sparrows, etc.] were all created just as they are now? No, it is rather easy to understand how variation within the Genesis ‘kind’ could have resulted in all these different species.”[xxxi]

Following in the footsteps of Clark, Frank Lewis Marsh (1899-1992) joined “in advocating post-Edenic speciation.”[xxxii] According to Numbers, Marsh “became the first Adventist to earn a doctoral degree in biology.”[xxxiii] Throughout his career, Marsh wrote about post-Edenic speciation and pled with his “‘brother fundamentalists’ not to equate limited variation with evolution.” Reviewing Marsh’s Evolution, Creation, and Science, the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) wrote in the American Naturalist that “Marsh had written what he had previously thought to be impossible: a sensibly argued defense of special creation.”[xxxiv]

Another Adventist, Harold G. Coffin, made a great contribution with studies that ended up favoring a recent catastrophic event as the mechanism that shaped the earth’s surface. A paleontologist with a PhD from the University of Southern California, Coffin uncovered evidence in different parts of North America, Europe, and Asia that supported the biblical account of a global flood (Gen 6-8) a few thousand years ago.

For example, Coffin notices that the average rate of erosion (about one foot every 5,000 to 10,000 years) used by conventional geologists to explain the current configuration of the earth’s surface is insufficient to explain why tall mountains still exist in many locations around the globe. He explains that when applied conservatively––one foot every 5,000 years––the average rate of erosion should be responsible for eroding about one mile of sediments from the mountains every 25 million years. The bottom line is this: if gradual erosion is the mechanism responsible for the formation of the earth’s surface, a period of 10 to 20 million years should have turned tall mountains into low hills; since this is not the case, another mechanism––a global cataclysm––must have affected the surface of the globe in recent years. Coffin concludes, “Tall mountains, lakes not filled with sediments, and well-preserved fossils in their original burial sites indicate that the surface of the earth is not as old as frequently claimed.”[xxxv] These observations, among others, raise questions about whether the conventional geological time scale provides the best model to explain the formation of the earth’s surface.

Besides participating in the science and theology dialogue by presenting scientific evidence favoring a recent creation of life on earth and the recent formation of the earth’s surface through a global catastrophe, Adventists also have looked seriously at the biblical and theological evidence of the creation and flood. Some of the scholars who participated in these efforts are Richard M. Davidson, John T. Baldwin, Jacques Doukhan, Gerhard Hasel, Randal Younker, and Jiri Moskala. Again, due to space constraints, I will mention only some of the contributions made by Davidson and Baldwin.

As far as the biblical evidence goes, Richard M. Davidson has recently dealt with the question of the meaning of berēšît (“In the beginning”) in Genesis 1:1 from an exegetical standpoint. Davidson explains that when dealing with the biblical account of creation, questions have been raised in relation to the “when” of creation. To put this in the context of the science and theology dialogue, mainline scientists have rejected the biblical account of creation because conventional science requires deep time for the formation of inorganic matter on earth, and this seems to be in conflict with the biblical time scale.

Davidson, however, shows exegetically the harmony that exists between the book of Scripture and the book of nature. After a careful analysis of the Hebrew text, Davidson concludes that the biblical evidence favoring the absolute beginning of the universe (including inorganic matter on earth) sometime before the creation week is very persuasive. The biblical evidence he presents rests on the grammatical structure of berēšît (“In the beginning”), which, Davidson concludes, is better understood as an independent clause in the absolute state.[xxxvi] Davidson’s conclusion is remarkable, because it allows theologians and conventional scientists to agree that inorganic matter in the universe (including inorganic matter on earth) is very old, perhaps billions of years old, without compromising the literal interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis 1:3-2:4a.

From the theological point of view, John T. Baldwin has responded to the claim that associating the biblical account of a recent, literal, seven-day creation and a global flood with historical reality is a sacrifice of the intellect.[xxxvii] Baldwin shows in Creation, Catastrophe, and Calvary that the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is far from being a sacrifice of the intellect: in fact, it is essential to maintain the univocity of the biblical metanarrative.[xxxviii] Baldwin, who won a John Templeton Foundation prize in 1994, explains that biblical eschatology is contingent to biblical protology. He insists that the language used to describe divine action in the latter (Gen 7:11, Exod 20:11) is implied in the former (Rev 14:7),[xxxix] which suggests the need for interpreters to preserve biblical univocity.

In addition, Baldwin has shown how the use of evolutionary theory to interpret the fossil record in the geological column undermines the biblical doctrine of atonement. This is because evolution places “death for seeming millions of years prior to the first human sin.”[xl] If this were true, death would be no longer a consequence of sin (Rom 5:12), but a necessary mechanism for progression. Consequently, the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross would be nothing more than a mere event in the history of Israel, without any theological meaning or value. How can theology address this problem? Baldwin says:

The global deluge geologically establishes the needed causal connection between human sin and all death by burying animals into the geological column subsequent to Adam’s sin, thus confirming the truth of the biblical claim that all death is the wage of sin. In this fashion God’s global flood corroborates the fact that the death of Jesus constitutes the wage of sin, one that he bore salvifically for human beings.[xli]

Conclusion

The epistemological turmoil of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is not over, and there is still much work to be done. Although mainstream science and theology have improved their understanding of their objects of study (i.e., nature and Scripture), the philosophical impasse between naturalism and supernaturalism continually insists that these two disciplines should not overlap. Yet Adventists have attempted to study nature and Scripture as overlapping magisteria.

Throughout the history of Adventism, Adventists have tried to establish a productive dialogue between mainstream science and theology. Their approach has been one that engages mainstream science and theology as companions, not as enemies, in the search for true knowledge.  For this reason, Adventists have refused to join Schleiermacher in claiming that science had proven wrong the biblical teaching of creation.[xlii] Instead, Adventists saw in this epistemological turmoil an opportunity for both mainstream scientists and theologians to seek greater knowledge about their fields, and to see how nature and Scripture complement each other. I think Leonard Brand explains the mainline Adventist approach well when he says, “We establish the most constructive relationship between science and religion when we allow findings in each of these fields of knowledge to challenge us to analyze the other more carefully.” Brand concludes, “I believe that this feedback process can improve our understanding of both fields. Conflicts between the two force us to dig deeper in both as we seek for genuine resolution that does not relegate either to a secondary role.”[xliii]

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Sergio L. Silva

SDA Theological Seminary (PhD Candidate)

January 20, 2014

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References

[i] After the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) the search for a foundation of knowledge intensified, causing many to renounce their belief that Scripture is a reliable source and a foundation of knowledge. This debate over whether Scripture or Science should be considered the ultimate source of knowledge is what I am delineating as the epistemological turmoil of the mid-nineteenth century.

[ii] The term “biblical protology” is a reference to the study of origins (creation, Sabbath, flood, etc.) as described in Genesis 1-11.

[iii] For information see Andrew D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vols. (New York, NY: D. Appleton & Company, 1896).

[iv] E.g., (1) In 1605 A.D. Francis Bacon proposed to remove purpose from biological studies (Francis Bacon and Thomas Markby, The Advancement of Learning (London: Macmillan and Co., 1898); (2) In 1635 A.D. in Descartes’ famous turn to the subject (René Descartes and others, Discourse on Method, The Focus Philosophical Library (Newburyport, MA: Focus, 2007); (3) In 1748 A.D. Hume challenged miracles in David Hume and Charles William Hendel, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1st ed., The Library of Liberal Arts 49 (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Educational, 1955). (4) In 1771 Semler separated the concept “Word of God” from Scripture in his On the Free Investigation of the Canon Joh Salomo Semler and Heinz Scheible, Abhandlung Von Freier Untersuchung des Canon, Texte zur Kirchen- und Theologiegeschichte, Heft 5 ((Gütersloh): Mohn, 1967).

[v] For information on this discussion see Nancey C. Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda, Rockwell Lecture Series (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996), 11-35.

[vi] I will use the term “modern science” and “science” interchangeably to describe science as a discipline and not as a philosophical concept. Thus, science in this essay is a reference to the achievements of various scientific fields (e.g., medicine, cosmology, physics, etc.).

[vii] Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists, 1st ed. (New York, NY: A. A. Knopf, 1992), x.

[viii] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 180-181.

[ix] The “liberal proponents of evolution” (LPE) are individuals who choose to adopt “higher criticism” as part of their hermeneutical method to read and interpret the Bible. That implies that LPE’s theology is subjected to the propositions of science (as commonly understood). In this sense, the early chapters of Genesis, the biblical accounts of miracles, and the incarnation of Christ and his resurrection, were viewed as the product of Jewish culture instead of the product of inspired revelation.

[x] I use the term “conservative opponents of evolution” (COE) to refer to any individuals who choose to accept a simple, literal reading of the biblical account of creation. In this sense, when the text says, “for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth” (Exod 20:11), a COE understands that the creation week described in Genesis 1:3ff, occurred sometime six to ten thousand years ago, in a period of six literal, consecutive days, of approximately twenty-four hours. The conclusion of a short period of time since creation (6-10 thousand years) is based upon the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11.

[xi] The term “conservative proponents of evolution” (CPE) refers to any individual who accepts Darwinian evolutionary theory and claims to read the Bible on a literal fashion, but chooses to accommodate his/her views to whatever challenges science may bring to the literal reading of the biblical text. Thus, when the text says “in six days,” if the letter of the text conflicts with geological assumptions, for example, a CPE understands the word “day” (יומ) to render the meaning of a long age, accommodating the biblical text to geological assumptions.

[xii] Michael J. Oard and Tas Walker, Flood by Design: Receding Water Shapes the Earth’s Surface (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008), 20. Colin W. Mitchell, Creationism Revisited (Grantham: Autumn House, 1999), 17–33. Additional information on the history of the creation and evolution dialog can be found in John C. Greene, The Death of Adam: Evolution and Its Impact on Western Thought, rev. ed. (Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1996). For a critical view on this subject, see Norman Cohn, Noah’s Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996).

[xiii] Raymond A. Eve and Francis B. Harrold, The Creationist Movement in Modern America (Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers, 1991), 49. In relation to biblical protology, fundamentalists actively participate in the Young Earth Creationism movement (YEC). Independently of mainstream science providing reliable evidences in favor of an old universe, fundamentalists insist that because the genealogies in Scripture seem to account for the beginning of human life on earth some six to ten thousand years ago, that the entire galactic universe was created about the same time in six literal days. A good example of this theologically fundamentalist understanding is found in the belief statement of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), Principles of Scientific Creationism. It says: “The record of earth history, as preserved in the earth’s crust, especially in the rocks and fossil deposits, is primarily a record of catastrophic intensities of natural processes, operating largely within uniform natural laws, rather than one of gradualism and relatively uniform process rates. There are many scientific evidences for a relatively recent creation of the earth and the universe, in addition to strong scientific evidence that most of the earth’s fossiliferous sedimentary rocks were formed in an even more recent global hydraulic cataclysm.” Institute for Creation Research, “Principles of Scientific Creationism,” Institute for Creation Research, http://www.icr.org/tenets/ (accessed April 10, 2012). Emphasis supplied. See also Institute for Creation Research, “Principles of Biblical Creationism,” Institute for Creation Research, http://www.icr.org/ tenets/ (accessed April 10, 2012).

[xiv] Norman R. Gulley, Systematic Theology: Prolegomena (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2003), 191.

[xv] Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, 3 vols. (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1958), 3:28.

[xvi] Ellen G. White, The Spiritual Gifts, 4 vols. (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1858), 3:191.

[xvii] Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1890), 114.

[xviii] White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 115. See also Gulley, Prolegomena, 192.

[xix] George McCready Price is the author of more than twenty books and dozens of articles. He is considered the founder of a worldwide movement known as creation science. For more information see Numbers, The Creationists, 72-101; Harold W. Clark, Crusader for Creation: The Life and Writings of George Mccready Price, A Destiny Book, D-110 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1966).

[xx] Macroevolution in the context of Darwinian evolutionary theory, suggests that simple life forms changed into complex life forms through a process of natural selection during millions of years.

[xxi] Thomas P. Arnold has compiled into one creation theory––entitled Two-stage Biblical Creation––that which he regards as the biblically supported arguments given by some ten theories (i.e., model) of creation. He has failed, however, to recognize the works and contributions made by Price as a key proponent and precursor of biblical creation in two stages. For more information see Thomas P. Arnold, Two Stage Biblical Creation: Uniting Biblical Insights Uncovered by Ten Notable Creation Theories (Arlington Heights, IL: Thomas Arnold Publishing, 2008), 339-426.

[xxii] George McCready Price, Outlines of Modern Christianity and Modern Science (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1902), 112. See also Richard M. Davidson, “The Biblical Account of Origins,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 14, no. 1 (2003). For a revised version of this article see Richard M. Davidson, “Genesis Account of Origins,” in UNKNOWN,  (Silver Springs, MD: Biblical Research Institute, Forthcoming).

[xxiii] Numbers, The Creationists, x.

[xxiv] Numbers, The Creationists, xi. See also Margaret Wertheim, “Does the Bible Allow for Martians?,” The New York Times (1996). http://www.nytimes.com/1996/08/11/ weekinreview/does-the-bible-allow-for-martians.html (accessed 08/12/2013).

[xxv] Numbers, The Creationists, 123.

[xxvi] Numbers, The Creationists, 124.

[xxvii] Harold W. Clark, Fossils, Flood, and Fire (Escondido, CA: Outdoor Pictures, 1968), 58. For explanations on Clarks’ ecological zonation see, Clark, Fossils, Flood, and Fire, 51-60.

[xxviii] Clark, Fossils, Flood, and Fire, 59.

[xxix] Harold W. Clark, Genes and Genesis (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1940), 6-7.

[xxx] Clark, Genes and Genesis, 90, 91.

[xxxi] Harold W. Clark, Genesis and Science (Nashville, TN: Southern Publication Association, 1967), 13. See also Clark, Genes and Genesis, 60-106.

[xxxii] Numbers, The Creationists, 129.

[xxxiii] Numbers, The Creationists, 129.

[xxxiv] Numbers, The Creationists, 131.

[xxxv] Harold G. Coffin, Robert H Brown and L. James Gibson, Origin by Design, Revised ed. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2005), 366-367.

[xxxvi] Others have claim that berēšît is a dependent clause in the construct state, and that it should be translated as “In the beginning, when. . . .” For more information see Richard M. Davidson, “Back to the Beginning: Genesis 1–3 and the Theological Center of Scripture,” in Christ, Salvation, and the Eschaton, ed. Daniel Heinz, Jirí Moskala and Peter M. van Bemmelen,  (Berrien Springs, MI: Old Testament Publications, 2009), Footnote #8, 9.

[xxxvii] John T. Baldwin, Creation, Catastrophe, and Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 9.

[xxxviii] Baldwin, Creation, Catastrophe, and Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement, 22-25.

[xxxix] Baldwin, Creation, Catastrophe, and Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement, 19-23, 25-28.

[xl] Baldwin, Creation, Catastrophe, and Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement, 110.

[xli] Baldwin, Creation, Catastrophe, and Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement, 115.

[xlii] Friedrich Schleiermacher and Friedrich Lücke, On the Glaubenslehre: Two Letters to Dr. Lücke (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981), 61.

[xliii] Leonard Brand and David C. Jarnes, Beginnings (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2006), 7.

Posted in Biblical and Theological Perspectives | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Biomimicry: The Search for Brilliant Design

The West Chester University Professor of Biology, Frank E. Fish, was vacationing along New England’s coast frequented by magnificent humpbacked whales. While browsing in a gift shop one day he couldn’t help but notice a gifted sculptor’s rendition of one of the splendid creatures and commented to the shop owner that the artist had put bumps on the wrong side of the pectoral fin. The bumps should be on the trailing edge. As director of the Liquid Life Lab at West Chester University and world-renowned expert in fluid dynamics, Fish knew that the leading edge of fins and swimming structures needed to be sleek and smooth in order to reduce drag[1]. Yet the artist had made the leading edge of the fin on this sculpture bumpy and rough. The gift shop owner assured Fish that, in fact, the art-work was a real-to-life rendition and no mistake. This head-scratcher for Fish proved to be the first step in a journey that would lead to an intensive research effort, a partnership with Dr. Phil Watts and others, as well as patents for a much improved design for fan blades and wind turbine blades all having bumps on their leading edge. In fact, the technology boost gave rise to a whole new company called “WhalePower” with the tag line, “Building the energy future on a million years of field tests”. I will say more about the “million years of field tests” later.

Fish and Watts now work in a fast growing discipline called biomimetics – that is –carefully studying biological systems to discover designs and processes to make things work better and do things with less environmental impact. It is in reality a form of reverse engineering where one takes things apart to learn how they work. The word biomimetics is a moniker coined by an electrophysiologist Otto Schmitt in the 1950’s which made its debut in one of his five 1969 publications.[2] But biomimetics (mimicking life) has a long history. Anyone using a design or a process inspired by nature is in fact using biomimetics.

Even as a child, Otto Schmitt was truly gifted, a genius with things electrical. Because of his brilliance, at the age of 17, before completing high school, he was accepted as a student in his hometown’s Washington University, St. Louis. And by the time he graduated with a BS with majors in Zoology and Physics, he had 8 publications to his name. His research focused on studying the electrical conduction of nerve impulses and then designing electronic circuitry to match. Undoubtedly, his most useful contribution to society and technology was the Schmitt trigger, widely used in this digital age. The young Otto continued his studies, earning a Ph.D. from the same institution, which launched him into a career of continued inventions, publications (228), and patents (41) both in academia and in the military. Whether designing electrical circuits, or building a better submarine detector, Schmitt based much of his work on inspiration or instruction from nature’s designs, biomimetics.

As noted, Schmitt and Fish are innovators/inventors. And inventors are a fascinating lot. They are always solving problems, trying to make things work better. As usual, there are design tradeoffs even in a seemingly simple blade. The blade needs to be light enough to respond to a gentle breeze but strong and heavy enough to withstand strong gusts. Blades need to resist stalling when the angle of the wind gets too steep and, when they do stall, they need to stall gradually because stalling is typically violent and destructive. When you take time to consider even the simple design of a fan blade, there is much to think about. Because of all the variables involved, the final design is nearly always a compromise.

When Fish and Watts tested leading edge protuberances on the blades of fans, turbines, and even airplane wings, bumps inspired by those seen on the leading edge of the humpback whale, they found huge improvements in performance and stall characteristics. Incidentally the humpback whale’s scientific name Megaptera novaeangliae (Latin for big-winged New Englander) refers to the unusually long pectoral fins, the largest and only whale pectoral fins with bumps or tubercles. This whale is also the only one to use aggressive changes[3] in direction during bubble netting for krill and small fish. The leading edge tubercles of the pectoral fins must give them more maneuverability. Whale-inspired blade improvements are still being optimized but are already showing up as quieter more efficient industrial fans, computer fans and wind generators, although not in airplane wings yet.

Speaking of airplanes, the history of flight has benefited greatly from close scrutiny of nature’s flyers. In his circa 1505 “Codex on the Flight of Birds” artist and engineer Leonardo da Vinci is known to have studied birds while designing flying machines. None of the designs that he built was successful. But with continued study of wing structure of birds and their engineering know how, the Wright brothers achieved that success late in 1903. That was only because these brothers were persistent, were tireless experimenters who kept careful records, were bright and innovative, and kept safety as a high priority. They are credited with doing the “first sustained, controlled, powered, heavier-than-air manned flight”.

Besides aviation (the very word pays homage to Avis (or Avice), the Latin name for birds) and fan blades, and electronic circuits, there are literally thousands of inventions in the biomimetics inventory – inventions or strategies inspired by biological systems. Some of the best publicized include Velcro, paints that resist dirt, bullet trains with long tapered nosecones, buildings designed like termite mounds for cooling, hard fracture-resistant materials, strong fibers, better valves, stronger adhesives, faster swimsuits – you get the idea, the list goes on and on. Check out photos and videos of many of these inventions in the web section below.

Now, I have some observations and comments concerning the “millions of years of field tests” and the “brilliant” designs. It seems that scientists have overlooked the obvious need for intelligence in the origin of such systems. First, the appearance of design is obvious and universally recognized.  Listen to Janine Benyus as she writes on page 6 in her Biomimicry book.

“Our most clever architectural struts and beams are already featured in lily pads and bamboo stems. Our central heating and air-conditioning are bested by the termite tower’s steady 86 degrees F. Our most stealthy radar is hard of hearing compared to the bat’s multifrequency transmission. And our new “smart materials” can’t hold a candle to the dolphin’s skin or the butterfly’s proboscis. Even the wheel, which we always took to be a uniquely human creation, has been found in the tiny rotary motor that propels the flagellum of the world’s most ancient bacteria.” [4]

And again from page 132 Dr. Benyus writes about spider’s silk:

“Compared ounce to ounce with steel, dragline silk is five times stronger, and compared to Kevlar (found in bulletproof vests), it’s much tougher–able to absorb five times the impact force without breaking. Besides being very strong and very tough, it also manages to be highly elastic, a hat trick that is rare in any one material. If you suspend increasingly heavy weights from a steel wire and a silk fiber of the same diameter, their breaking point is about the same. But if a gale force wind blows, the strand of silk (five times lighter in weight) will do something the steel never could–it will stretch 40 percent longer than its original length and bounce back good as new.”

Second, the preponderance of the biomimicry literature assumes that nature’s brilliant designs and earth friendly, non-polluting, sustainable processes arose by means of naturalistic evolution over long periods of time. In fact, one of the most celebrated web portals is biomimicry.org. This site is titled Biomimicry 3.8 to commemorate the 3.8 Billion years of nature’s experimentation. Here is a quote from the “About” page.

“In nature, if a design strategy is not effective, its carrier dies. Nature has been vetting strategies for 3.8 billion years. Biomimicry helps you study the successful strategies of the survivors, so you can thrive in your marketplace, just as these strategies have thrived in their habitat.” [5]

And here is another quote from Yoseph Bar-Cohen, an articulate spokesperson for biomimetics.

“The evolution of nature over 3.8 billion years led to the highly effective and power efficient biological mechanisms. Imitating these mechanisms offers enormous potentials for the improvement of our life and the tools we use.”

. . .

“Nature is the largest laboratory that ever existed and ever will and in its evolution it tested every field of science and engineering leading to inventions that work well and. [Sic] Nature has “experimented” with various solutions to its challenges and has improved the successful solutions. . . . through evolution nature, or biology, has experimented with the principles of physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, materials science, mobility, control, sensors, and many other fields that we recognize as science and engineering.” [6]

Third, in addition to the incomprehensibly long periods of time alleged, there was experimentation and selection of what worked. And it not only works, but it is brilliant design — elegant design.

Listen to Dr. Alex Chin talking about photosynthesis:

“Biology has evolved phenomenally subtle systems to funnel light energy around and channel it to the right places. It has also become incredibly good at building tiny devices that work with high efficiency, and at replicating them millions of times.” [7]

And another typical piece titled Brilliant Bio-Design from the webecoist:

“Surveillance cameras flap their wings in the sky just like birds and bats. Tiny little hairs on gecko feet help a robot climb a smooth vertical surface. The impact-resistant surface of human teeth inspires light and durable aerospace materials. Just like designs inspired by the seainsect-mimicking inventions and buildings that look like natural terrain, these 14 examples of biomimicry based on animal and human biology capitalize on the unparalleled efficiency of nature.” [8]

When I read these pieces, I have to admit, my heart swells with appreciation, and worship for a Creator who thought about and crafted this obviously unparalleled, brilliant, phenomenal stuff being described. At every level that I choose to study, I see spectacular order and unfathomable intricacy in structure as well as sustainable, earth friendly, cyclic, interactive, other-serving, processes from the nano scale to the macro scale and even the mega scale. And the inescapable fact is that everybody, no matter their faith position, recognizes and appreciates the incredible designs and sustainable processes. When one chooses to study biological systems closely, they always come away stunned by their beauty and the elegance.

Unquestionably, biomimetics is an exciting and fertile field of study. The enthusiasm is palpable throughout the biomimetics literature. I have great respect for the brilliant engineers and biomimetic biologists who are busy reverse engineering a biological system. The work is hard. The complexities are so great that there is no way to get to the bottom of any story. So they are left with fragments if you will; fragments that are discoverable, fragments that are understandable. They work with bits and pieces that are humanly reproducible components of nature’s elegant structures or processes. And with those discoveries, they help to solve human problems, making life both easier and greener.

I wonder sometimes how they feel. Reverse engineering a system usually implies that someone has been there and done that way ahead of you. In this case the elegant system was supposedly created through mindless blind chance processes over unimaginably long periods of time. Is this the case of a thinker learning from the mindless? In either case it leaves the scientist playing catch up. Either someone was smarter and faster, or the endless chance process got there first. I wonder if they ever see the tell-tale fingerprints of the Deity.

Every time I return to Job 12:7-13, it sounds to me like the language of biomimetics. Could the science of biomimetics date back that far? Listen to Job and see if this doesn’t sound like Janine Benyus or Yoseph Bar-Cohen “ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you.” I ask you, “Isn’t this the heart of biomimetics?” Then Job’s conclusion is clearly a different faith position than most biomimetic engineers. Most choose to accept Darwinian evolution as the brilliant designer, the grand experimenter. I choose rather to side with Job. Listen now to his conclusion implying that the non-sentient animals and even the earth know the obvious answer. “Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

The apostle Paul speaks directly to these issues in his letter to the Romans. Paul doesn’t mince words when he says: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:18-21

The truth is that God created everything that is (Ephesians 3:9Colossians 1:16) which is why “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 4:11

For further study:

Excellent Books on Biomimetics

Allen, Robert (Editor). 2010. Bulletproof Feathers: How Science Uses Nature’s Secrets to Design Cutting-Edge Technology. University of Chicago Press

Bar-Cohen, Yoseph. 2005. Biomimetics: Biologically Inspired Technologies. CRC Press

Bar-Cohen, Yoseph. 2011. Biomimetics: Nature-Based Innovation. CRC Press

Benyus, Janine M. 2002. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. 2nd Edition. William Morrow Paperback

Some of my favorite TED talks dealing with biomimicry

Janine Benyus http://www.ted.com/talks/janine_benyus_shares_nature_s_designs.html

Janine Benyus http://www.ted.com/talks/janine_benyus_biomimicry_in_action.html

Michael Pawlyn http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_pawlyn_using_nature_s_genius_in_architecture.html

Cheryl Hayashi http://www.ted.com/talks/cheryl_hayashi_the_magnificence_of_spider_silk.html

Markus Fischer http://www.ted.com/talks/a_robot_that_flies_like_a_bird.html

Nina Tandon http://www.ted.com/talks/nina_tandon_caring_for_cells.html

Fiorenzo Omenetto http://www.ted.com/talks/fiorenzo_omenetto_silk_the_ancient_material_of_the_future.html

Robert Full http://www.ted.com/talks/robert_full_learning_from_the_gecko_s_tail.html

Robert Full http://www.ted.com/talks/robert_full_on_engineering_and_evolution.html

Robert Full http://www.ted.com/talks/robert_full_on_animal_movement.html

Biomimetics on the web:

• Intelligent Design in Nature makes Engineers Envious, October 31, 2013, Evolution News and Views from the Discovery Institute http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/10/intelligent_des_12078571.html

• University Programs in Biomimicry, a web page from the Biomimicry Institute that keeps an updated listing of universities offering programs in biomimicry. http://www.biomimicryinstitute.org/education/university/external-programs.html  14 universities in the US and 24 universities outside the US have courses or programs at various levels in Biomimicry/Bioengineering/Biomedicine that actively pursue biologically inspired designs.

• Biomimicry 3.8 Institute,  http://biomimicry.net claims to be the “global leader in biomimicry innovation consulting, professional training and educational program and curricula development. Founded in 2006 by Janine Benyus the institute “promotes the study and imitation of nature’s remarkably efficient designs”

• Lists of strategies/examples of biomimicry:

From Ask Nature http://www.asknature.org/

From Biomimicry 3.8 http://biomimicry.net/about/biomimicry/case-examples/

From Mother Nature Network http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/photos/7-amazing-examples-of-biomimicry/copying-mother-nature

From Biomimicry Education Network http://ben.biomimicry.net/tag/examples-of-biomimicry/ and http://ben.biomimicry.net/category/examples/

From Biomimicry, more than 70 examples in a table http://www.biomimicry.info/examples

From How Stuff Works http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/evolution/biomimicry.htm

From Schlumberger Excellence in Educational Development (SEED) http://www.planetseed.com/relatedarticle/finding-examples-biomimicry-seed-web-site

From Interface – a designer and maker of carpet tile http://www.interfaceflor.co.uk/web/inspiration/biomimicry

From the Nature Conservancy - http://www.nature.org/newsfeatures/specialfeatures/biomimicry-in-nature.xml

From Jeremy Eddy http://faculty.headroyce.org/~jbrakeman/website04/Bio/EXAMPLES OF BIOMIMICRY2.pdf

From Brainz http://brainz.org/15-coolest-cases-biomimicry/

From Treehugger http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/nature-inspired-innovation-9-examples-of-biomimicry-in-action-slideshow.html

From Environment Team http://www.environmentteam.com/list/14-examples-of-biomimicry-based-on-animal-and-human-biology/

From Forbs http://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2013/04/15/the-best-of-biomimicry/

From Bloomberg http://www.bloomberg.com/slideshow/2013-08-18/14-smart-inventions-inspired-by-nature-biomimicry.html

From Pintrest https://www.pinterest.com/kleinke58/biomimicry-examples/

From Discovery http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/some-examples-of-biomimicry

From University of Cambridge Phys.org http://phys.org/news/2013-10-nature.html and http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/inspired-by-nature

From Ecouterre http://www.ecouterre.com/10-eco-fashion-garments-inspired-by-nature-and-biomimicry/

From University of Montana http://www.umt.edu/urelations/pubs/Vision magazine/Vision 2012/Biomimicry.php

From FastCompany http://www.fastcompany.com/1741949/innovative-nature-baking-biomimicry

From Designboom  http://www.designboom.com/contemporary/biomimicry.html

From Inhabitat http://inhabitat.com/finding-design-inspiration-in-nature-biomimicry-for-a-better-planet/

From Popular Science http://www.popsci.com/category/tags/inspired-nature

From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomimicry

From Rushlane http://www.rushlane.com/12-concept-cars-inspired-1295983.html


[1] Frank E. Fish. 2004. Structure and Mechanics of Nonpiscine Control Surfaces. IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering 29(3):605-621 [PDF]

[2] Otto H. Schmitt. “Some Interesting and Useful Biomimetic Transforms”,
Proceedings, Third International Biophysics Congress, Boston, Mass., Aug. 29-Sept. 3,1969, Abstracts, p.297.

[3] F. E. Fish and J. J. Rohr. 1999. Review of Dolphin Hydrodynamics and Swimming Performance. Technical Report 1801. SPAWAR System Center San Diego [PDF]

[4] Janine M. Benyus. 2002. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Harper Perennial. 308 pp.

[5] Biomimicry.net/about/biomimicry/

[6] Yoseph Bar-Cohen. Biomimetics: Using nature as an inspiring model for human innovation. http://trs-new.jpl.nasa.gov/dspace/bitstream/2014/38700/1/05-3200.pdf

[8] http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2011/01/14/brilliant-bio-design-14-animal-inspired-inventions/

________________________________________________________________

David Steen, PhD

Andrews University (retired)

December 6, 2013

Posted in Anatomy and Physiology, Biology, Design | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Where Did Life Come From?

Among those who reject the Biblical record of God’s action in creating everything, including all living things, the process of chemical evolution from atoms to the first cell is usually explained something like this: elements reacted with each other spontaneously forming simple molecules. These simple molecules continued to react forming larger and more complex molecules such as the nucleotide building blocks of nucleic acids. Building block molecules continued reacting, forming proteins, nucleic acids and so on, some of which happened to start associating together due to chemical attractions in such a way that they commenced reproducing themselves and that was the spark of life from which all living things descended.

It is tempting, and in fact it has been done many times, to pick apart this materialistic mythology, pointing out scientific problems at each hypothetical step along the way. Another natural response is to ask for some kind of evidence, perhaps fossil molecules intermediate between living cells and non-living chemicals. While this evidence appears to be lacking, Christians may point to the historical record of Jesus Christ, the Creator Himself, who came down to Earth and demonstrated his power over nature, particularly his power over death. Materialists are left only with a faith, uncluttered in its purity by relevant evidence. Something like chemical evolution has to have happened according to materialistic thought because any Creator God is excluded as a possibility and life is here, so it must have come about by “natural” means.

For the sake of brevity, we will look at only two characteristics of life, both of which are problematic for materialistic explanations and are well explained by a kind of brilliance that we humans have yet to come close to emulating. The first of these is the universal association of water with living things, the second the integrated nature of life.

Water makes up the bulk of most cells, although some cells store large amounts of other materials such as fat or starch. Still, free-living cells are generally composed primarily of water, which acts as a necessary solvent for minerals, proteins and other cellular components and may serve other purposes.

Water is so universally associated with life as we know it that it is considered to be essential for life. It is a good thing that water is so abundant on the earth, but its presence poses a serious challenge to the hypothesis that biological macromolecules were formed spontaneously before life existed. The problem is that the major biological macromolecules – proteins, nucleic acids, polysaccharides and triglycerides – are all formed via condensation reactions in which a water molecule is removed during the process of forming the bonds that hold them together. For example, when an amino acid is added to the end of a growing protein, a water molecule is removed when the connecting peptide bond is formed. This means that these macromolecules will be broken down again if the reaction is reversed and a water molecule is inserted back into the bonds connecting their subunits.

In the presence of abundant water, biological macromolecules formed by condensation reactions – proteins, nucleic acids, polysaccharides, triglycerides – spontaneously break down; they do not spontaneously make themselves. Even if catalysts are added that speed up the rate of bond formation, they also increase the rate of the reverse reaction. The only way to make the macromolecules essential to life is by harnessing energy and using it to do the work of driving chemical reactions in the direction opposite to the one they spontaneously go in. Human beings have managed to do this using complex laboratory procedures and equipment, so we know at least in principle that it is possible for intelligent beings to synthesize the macromolecules of life. We also know, from studying the molecular machines inside cells, that cells are composed of complex machinery that does this. What we don’t see are examples of these reactions occurring outside of these two scenarios. The closest may be some chemicals recovered from meteorites, but even if meteorites supplied the raw materials for life on earth, the presence of water will break them down over time, not serve as a medium for them to form ever more complex and integrated systems.

Because water is universal to life and the molecules from which life is composed do not spontaneously form in the presence of water, but in fact break down, materialistic scenarios involving a gradual accumulation of complexity appear to lack a sword in their arsenal to cut this biochemical Gordian knot.

A second issue with materialistic origin of life scenarios is the assumption that it is possible in principle for a single simple life form to exist alone. In nature no example of this has been observed. Life is characterized by its interdependence on other life. It may be argued that bacteria can be grown axenically, in the absence of other organisms, but this is not really true. When pure bacterial cultures are grown on agar (a product of seaweed) plates or in liquid culture, they require sources of carbon and nitrogen among other nutrients. These are isolated from other organisms and are supplied in the growth medium by the scientists who are culturing bacteria or other cells.

Interdependence is illustrated nicely by the interaction between humans and the organisms inhabiting our gut. When we think of ourselves, we typically think of just the human cells from which we are composed, but the human body actually contains more non-human cells than human cells.[1] This may seem startling, but many of the non-human cells are bacteria and bacterial cells are, on average, considerably smaller than human cells. The flora living in the intestines of a healthy human contains a variety of bacteria that appear to aid in digestion. The human microbiome appears to be essential to good health, possibly to life itself. It also forms the basis of an entire industry selling “macrobiotics” designed for optimal bowel health.

The amazing thing is that humans don’t normally need to purchase industrially produced bacterial cultures to manage the flora of their gut. It is all done automatically most of the time, although anyone who has experienced a perturbation in their gut flora probably found it to be a memorable experience. How do these bacteria become established in our guts? A particularly elegant cooperation was recently discovered between babies and bacteria that allows this to happen.[2] It used to be thought that babies were born with immature immune systems and were thus prone to various infections. This might look like a design flaw, but in fact, something much more interesting is going on. It appears babies are born with immune systems that are quite capable of fighting infections, but they dial it back to allow healthy bacteria to colonize their guts without eliciting a massive immune reaction that would compromise the health of the baby and possibly prevent development of a healthy gut flora. In fact, gut inflammation commonly observed in premature babies may be the result of an immune system not ready for gut colonization and thus over reacting to gut colonizing bacteria.

The dialed-back immune system of newborn babies is not a design flaw, but rather an elegant cooperation between the baby and the bacteria it needs for normal health. This kind of cooperative interdependence is a hallmark of life. Flowers need a mechanism for pollination; bees need nectar to produce honey. Lichens involve a cooperative relationship between algae and fungi that allows them to live under harsh conditions. Cleaner wrasse fish take care of the hygiene of other fish by eating away debris and ectoparasites their “clients” can’t remove themselves. Fungi work to expand the surface area of roots, enhance absorption of nutrients and also supply a means of communication between plants while plants provide them with sugar.[3]

Although there are many examples of predation and suffering in nature, life at its core is the result of cooperation between many different organisms. The science of ecology has revealed little reason to expect that any organism can survive in the absence of other organisms. Life on Earth at this time exists as robust and cooperative relationships among organisms. These relationships appear essential, elegantly balanced and mutually beneficial leaving little reason to expect that a single first cell could survive and proliferate to produce the robust interdependence we observe. In other words, life looks like a system that must be first established before it can propagate, the kind of thing that genius might design, not something we would expect to see from unguided self-assembly.

Normal science, unencumbered by arbitrary materialistic assumptions about the nature of reality, gives little reason to expect that even the most basic cells originated independent of intelligent guidance. The origin of intelligent life that is self-aware and conscious of its place in the world is another question about life layered on top of the question of living cells, or even complex multi-celled organisms such as plants. The bottom line is that no matter what definition of life one is using, it is a phenomenon well explained as a result of brilliant intelligence that thought it through in advance and put it together as a functioning interdependent system.

________________________________________________________________

Timothy G. Standish

Geoscience Research Institute

December 18, 2013

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[1] For information on the human microbiome, see: http://commonfund.nih.gov/hmp/

[2] See: http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2013/11/new-reason-why-newborns-cant-fight-colds http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature12675.html Shokrollah Elahi, James M. Ertelt, Jeremy M. Kinder, Tony T. Jiang, Xuzhe Zhang, Lijun Xin, Vandana Chaturvedi, Beverly S. Strong, Joseph E. Qualls, Kris A. Steinbrecher, Theodosia A. Kalfa, Aimen F. Shaaban & Sing Sing Way. 2013. Immunosuppressive CD71+ erythroid cells compromise neonatal host defence against infection. Nature (2013) doi:10.1038/nature12675. Received 27 March 2013 Accepted 18 September 2013 Published online 06 November 2013

[3] Babikova Z, Gilbert L, Bruce TJA, Birkett M, Caulfield JC, Woodcock C, Pickett JA, Johnson D. 2013. Underground signals carried through common mycelial networks warn neighbouring plants of aphid attack. Ecology Letters 16(7):835-843.

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The perfect wing stroke

What is the utility of a fourth or a fifth of a wing stroke? Could any insect or bird get by with a wing that is a fraction of its normal size? Could it serve its purpose working at a reduced capacity? These questions are a challenge for those who accept Darwinian gradualism and adaptation. According to the Darwinian evolution theory, biological traits arise by small genetic variations steadily modifying body structures that are subject to natural selection. The new traits are selected or eliminated in the struggle for survival and adaptation to the environment. In this context, a wing that is designed for flying and not fully formed or functional would not be helpful and natural selection would eliminate it.

A bird or an insect cannot fly with a fifth of a wing, or with the fifth of a wing stroke. Nevertheless, evolutionists want us to think that those structures evolved through multiple intermediate stages to the full size over a span of long evolutionary time. This claim raises two questions: Is there any case of intermediate forms in the fossil record of birds and insects? What would be the usefulness of an incompletely formed wing?

In the Darwinian model, beneficial mutations capable of producing full wings accumulated over millions of years through gradual stages, avoiding the forces of natural selection that tend to eliminate useless traits, and resulting in the fully formed wing structures we now see in birds and insects. If that were the case, we would expect to see multiple intermediate forms in the fossil record. However, that is not case.

Wings in the Fossil Record

Birds show up in the fossil record with fully formed wings for flight. The alleged intermediates—Dromeosaurids and Archaeropteryx—show a mixture of reptile and avian traits, and in fact are not good candidates for intermediate forms, because they show what paleontologists call mosaic morphology, in which the alleged lineage does not show a sequence of gradual changes, but discontinuities, reversals and out-of-sequence traits.[i]

Insect wings are a sophisticated trait that also appears abruptly in the fossil record without any ancestor with intermediate or transitional traits. Within the evolutionary timescale, insects with wings capable of flight appear in the fossil record in the Upper Carboniferous, some 320 million years ago. Fossils of wingless insects appear in the Silurian, supposedly some 80 million years before.[ii] No fossils have been found showing intermediate stages in the evolution from wingless forms to insects with wings. This raises the question of how it is possible that 80 million years of alleged evolution did not leave any record of transitional forms.

Modeling the Origin of Wings in Insects

A number of hypotheses have been proposed for the origin of wings in insects. In 1985, Kingsolver and Koehl[iii] evaluated two hypotheses that included adaptive factors that could have favored the transition from flightless insects to forms with wings capable of flight. These adaptive factors included aerodynamics (gliding and parachuting) and thermodynamics. Kingsolver and Koehl indicated that wings initially might have functioned as aerofoils for steady-state gliding that would allow insects to leap from the ground or trees and avoid predators. Alternatively, proto-wings might have developed as parachutes to slow the rate of descent of a falling insect, or as thermoregulatory structures to increase body temperatures by absorbing radiation, hence allowing more vigorous activity. After modeling for different shapes and sizes of insects, and experimenting with artificial models in an open circuit and jet wind tunnels, they concluded that none of those factors could be predicted as a driver for the evolution of insect wings. There are multiple uncertainties, including the ecological conditions in the past that could have affected the needs of insects, and the unknown climate conditions in the Devonian (was the climate cold and that drove the development of thermoregulation?).

Kingsolver and Koehl suggested that insect wings evolved from small, rudimentary structures that were pre-adapted (pre-programmed) with respect to flight. In other words, evolution was directional and had a purpose in the long term, developing some early structures that would later serve as flight organs, which in the meantime were serving other purposes. This idea is somehow contradictory with the assumption that mutations and natural selection are unguided, blind and purposeless forces of nature.[iv] Moreover, it is a poor explanation and indeed it does not solve the problem of lack of evidence for evolution of wings in insects. The lack of evidence for an idea is not solved with another idea for which there is also no supportive evidence.

Did Wings Evolve as ‘Pre-Adapted’ Structures?

The pre-adaptation or pre-programming idea is also embedded in other hypotheses for the origin of wings in insects. Consider, for example, the ‘fin theory’, the idea suggested by Bradley[v] and reviewed by Kukalova-Peck[vi] that pterygotes, a group of ancient primarily terrestrial arthropods[vii] became swimmers and over time increasingly adapted for excursions into the water. According to this theory, these primitive aquatic arthropods had small thoracic side lobes or protowings that later evolved into wings. Bradley suggested that “the little pro-wings which would have had little or no effect in air, could have been highly useful as fins and propulsion organs in water. In the process of using pro-wings as fins, the hinge and flight musculature began to develop.”[viii] He also suggested that pterygotes were probably capable of leaving the water for purposes of mating and dispersal.

What Do ‘Primitive’ Insects Show?

For this theory, Bradley presented fossil evidence: all primitive Paleozoic nymphs[ix] had articulated and movable winglets throughout their ontogenetic development.[x] Although he presents no evidence for it, he states that these winglets were used for a propelling function. According to Kukalova-Peck, it is “quite evident that use of the wings in some Paleozoic nymphs under aerial conditions was already decreasing. Thus, the wings in all terrestrial juvenile roaches were completely flightless. Some nymphal wings in Palaeodictyoptera, as judged by their general shape and position, were in the process of rapidly losing their ability to function. At the same time, aquatic ephemerid nymphs used their wings for promoting forward motion under water.”[xi] Here the author is saying that in the Paleozoic there were land nymphs with wings, which were gradually losing their functionality. As a result of this evolution, some land insects became flightless, and at the same time some aquatic arthropods began to use body lobes for promoting motion under water, which later developed into wings. This whole scenario is fictional and contradictory: first, wings in land insects; then reduction or loss of them; at the same time development of wings (for propelling) in aquatic arthropods; and finally gradual transition from water to land and development of wings in land insects again. Is there any evidence for each of the alleged steps? No. The only thing available is fossils of winged and wingless insects and other arthropods. But fossils per se do no show evolution. They only show what existed: both winged and wingless arthropods, in both aquatic and terrestrial environments.

Moreover, Kulakova-Peck’s model faces a very important problem: pterygotes, the alleged ancestor of winged insects, appear for the first time in the fossil record in rock layers above layers with winged insects.[xii] So they are out of sequence. The alleged ancestor appears after the diversified, supposedly descendant forms, a similar scenario as with birds. So to avoid having to explain the origin of wings twice, first in land insects, and then later in aquatic arthropods, evolutionists say that the evolution of pterygotes occurred considerably earlier, evolving the winged forms of insects and also persisting as wingless aquatic forms. Has anyone found fossil evidence for any such speculations? No evidence has been found in the fossil record for the alleged transitions from land to water and from water to land, just assumptions derived from the evolutionary theory.

Evolution Wants to Explain Everything

The idea that flight developed in land insects from aquatic ancestors lacks supportive fossil evidence other than isolated examples of both winged and wingless specimens. Adding more to the faulty reasoning, and following the usual evolutionist strategy, Kukalova-Peck adds that “Bradley’s hypothesis [the ‘fin theory’], even if it erroneously explains the origin of the wing itself, seems to somehow conform with the fossil evidence in the origin of flight.”[xiii] We have seen that the fossil record does not show evolution, it just shows what was there. Kulakova-Peck thinks that the fossil record might support an idea that nevertheless might be wrong for other reasons. The question is, what is then the value of the fossil record? Isn’t it supposed to show evidence for probable or against ideas? This is typical of materialistic reasoning: the assumptions, hypotheses or models are never questioned, because they know that evolution is true anyway, even if data signal the opposite.

Other speculations about the origin of wings in insects have been proposed, including the development of wings first as thoracic structures for courtship display in male insects,[xiv] or the development of both thoracic and abdominal segments of aquatic nymphs as structures used in ventilation and/or gas exchange.[xv] Again, there is no evidence for these ideas. They stem from the necessity to explain the origin of winged insects within a paradigm in which evolution from a common ancestor is assumed.

Evolution of Wings Does not Fly

The fossil record of insects shows sudden appearance of both flightless and flight capable insects, without any transitional forms. The fossil record shows species that show high complexity, both anatomically and physiologically, and fully adapted to the land or to the water, but no intermediate forms in either morphology or ecology. And even if there were intermediate forms, how would we know that they were evolutionary intermediates, and not just different ecological forms with no connections between them?

Kinsolver and Koehl acknowledged the problem that the fossil record poses for models of insect wing evolution, and they ask the question, “[w]hat are the characteristics of the stem-group for pterygotes [the alleged ancestors of winged insects] before the full development of wings and flight?”[xvi] In other words, what did the ancestors of winged insects look like? He answers that paleontologists think that in birds some species like Archaeopteryx might offer some hope in understanding the evolution history, but “the complete lack of such transitional insect fossils between the early Devonian and their Upper Carboniferous poses considerable problems for analogous studies of evolution of insect wings and flight.”[xvii] Here we surmise that both the evolutionary assumption of transitional forms and the time involved are wrong.

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Raúl Esperante

Geoscience Research Institute

November 19, 2013


[i] For a review see T. Standish, Aves fósiles, Ciencia de los Orígenes 67(May 2004): 1-5; R. Esperante, ¿A dónde ha volado la secuencia evolutiva de los reptiles a las aves? Ciencia de los Orígenes 68 (Autumn 2004):8-9.

[ii] Engel, M. and Grimaldi, D., 2004. New light shed on the oldest insect. Nature, 427: 627-630.

[iii] Kingsolver, J.G. and Koehl, M. 1985. Aerodynamics, thermoregulation, and the evolution of insect wings: differential scaling and evolutionary change. Evolution, 39(3):488-504.

[iv] Douglas J. Futyuma, in his book Evolution (Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Connecticut, 2009), p. 282, states that “[Darwin's] alternative to intelligent design was design by the completely mindless process of natural selection, according to which organisms possessing variations that enhance survival or reproduction replace those less suitably endowed, which therefore survive or reproduce in lesser degree. This process cannot have a goal, any more than erosion has the goal of forming canyons, for the future cannot cause material events in the present. Thus the concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology (or any other of the natural sciences), except in studies of human behavior.”

[v] Bradley, J. C. 1942 .The origin and significance of metamorphosis and wings among insects. Proc. VIII. Pan Amer. Sci. Congr., Biol. Sec., 3: 303-309.

[vi] Kukalova‐Peck, J. 1978. Origin and evolution of insect wings and their relation to metamorphosis, as documented by the fossil record. Journal of Morphology, 156, 53-125.

[vii] One of the most common representatives in the fossil record is Pterygotus, which was an ancient genus of large marine arthropods that included the sea scorpions. They had four pairs of walking legs, a pair of swimming paddles and a pair of large chelae (pincers) for capturing prey. These were fully developed, adapted marine organisms that show no evidence of transitioning from or to any other animal form.

[viii] Bradley, p. 69.

[ix] Nymphs are immature forms of some invertebrates, including insects, which undergoes gradual metamorphosis before reaching its adult stage.

[x] Ontogenetic development (or ontogeny) is the process of development of an individual from conception, embryo, through the fetal stage through birth and growth to adult.

[xi] Kukalova-Peck, p. 70.

[xii] Kingsolver, J.G. and Koehl, M. (1994) Selective factors in the evolution of insect wings. Annual Review of Entomology, 39, 425-451. More specifically, in the geologic time scale pterygote insects (those aquatic arthropods with alleged proto-wings) appeared after insects like paleopterus and neopterus, which already had fully formed wings.

[xiii] Kukalova-Peck, p. 70, emphasis added.

[xiv] Alexander, R.D. and Brown Jr, W. (1962) Mating behavior and the origin of insect wings. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, 1-19.

[xv] Kingsolver and Koehl, 1994.

[xvi] Kinsolver and Koehl, 1994, p. 429. Emphasis added.

[xvii] Ibid. Emphasis added.

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Traces of life from Archean rocks: evidence and challenges

The rocks found on the surface of the Earth did not form all at the same time. Geologists schematize this different order of formation using a column, of which the lower layers represent older rocks and top layers represent younger rocks. Archean rocks are the ones at the very bottom of this geologic column, and are therefore interpreted as the oldest rocks. They are often heavily deformed and altered and, because they do not contain fossils visible with the naked eye, have generally been considered as not preserving a record of life. In recent decades, however, this notion has changed and numerous publications have presented evidence implying the existence of microorganisms at the time of formation of Archean rocks.

The big question: life-related or not?

Scientists trying to demonstrate that some Archean rocks contain material or structures of biological origin face a significant challenge. The criteria that can be used to support a biological origin of a microscopic feature of a rock, such as shape or chemical composition, are not so unequivocal because there could be non-biological processes that can produce similar structures. As a consequence, claims for life-related material preserved in Archean rocks are considered robust only when multiple lines of evidence are presented. What are, then, the main clues used to point to a record of past life in the Archean rocks?

Evidence based on chemical composition

One of the elements that make up living organisms is carbon. In nature, there are different variants of carbon atoms, some lighter and some heavier. While performing their life-functions, microorganisms preferentially incorporate lighter rather than heavier carbon atoms. If some biological material derived from these microorganisms is preserved in a rock, it will have a composition richer in lighter carbon atoms in comparison with material of non-biological origin. This enrichment of lighter carbon has indeed been observed in numerous samples from Archean rocks. However, some studies have shown that the enrichment could also be the result of non-biological processes [1]. Furthermore, some rock samples can be contaminated by more recent microorganisms, with the effect of altering the original ratio of light and heavy carbon in the sample [2].

Another type of evidence used to show that Archean rocks preserve a record of life are chemical compounds interpreted as the remnants of the membrane of cells of microorganisms. In some cases, successive studies indicated these compounds probably represented contamination by more recent organisms [3], but in others they appear to be genuinely coeval with the formation of the rocks containing them [e.g., 4].

Evidence based on physical structures

Microbes in shallow water or in moist environments can cover surfaces in sheet-like aggregations called microbial mats, often characterized by a slimy consistency. The stickiness of these mats can trap or make loose sediment more cohesive, generating specific macro-structures known as microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS) [5]. For example, microbial mats may cause sand to break in chips instead of washing away in individual grains. Mats can also cover and consolidate delicate ripples on sand produced by waves and currents, making their preservation more likely. MISS have been identified in Archean rocks, but the exact interpretation of their origin is difficult because they could also have formed by purely chemical or physical processes.

Another interesting structure, which has been related to biological activity, consists of microscopic borings of tubular shape found in some Archean rocks [6]. These tubules seem analogous to modern ones produced by microbes on the oceanic floor. However, it has been shown that comparable structures can also be formed through inorganic processes[7].

Fossilized microorganisms

Perhaps the most well-known Archean microfossils are carbon-rich filaments found in northwestern Australia, originally interpreted as fossilized bacteria [8]. Their biological affinity, however, has recently been strongly questioned [9].

At times, it can be difficult to distinguish between real microfossils and non-biological material that looks like fossils. Contamination by younger microorganisms can also be a problem [10]. Nevertheless, there are numerous published examples of structures currently interpreted as real microfossils from Archean rocks [11].

Stromatolites

Stromatolites are structures in size ranging from a few centimeters to meters, with very thin internal lamination and forming, in modern settings, through the growth and biological activity of microbial mats. Stromatolites are locally abundant in Archean rocks, but undisputable fossilized microbes preserved in Archean stromatolites have not been found. Some authors have questioned that Archean stromatolites should be considered of biological origin, suggesting that they could have been formed by inorganic precipitation of minerals [12]. Other authors still favor a biological origin for Archean stromatolites [13].

Implications for origins models

For evolutionary scenarios, the fact that evidence for life found in the lowermost rocks belongs to the simplest biological forms (unicellular microbial organisms) seems to fit well the expectations of the evolutionary narrative. On the other hand, finding evidence of life in the earliest rocks also creates a problem, because it shortens the time available for the supposed emergence of life from inorganic matter. In the words of S.J. Gould [14], “the notion that life has been found in the oldest rocks that could contain evidence of it, forces us, I think, to abandon the view of life’s slow, steady, and improbable development.”

The significance of Archean fossils for creationist models depends on the view on the origin of Archean rocks themselves. Most of those who think that planet Earth existed in an uninhabited state for some time before creation week would probably place the formation of Archean rocks in this period. For this reason, however, they would most likely evaluate with skepticism any purported evidence for life in Archean rocks. Doing otherwise would require admitting that bacteria existed on Earth before creation week, with a related discussion on how the Biblical concept of death and its connection to sin applies to modern biological categories [on this general subject, see 15]. Those who believe Archean rocks formed during or after creation week would most likely be open to the recognition of fossils in those rocks.

The quest for evidence of life in Archean rocks is a good example of the difficulties inherent to the practice of historical sciences, where data are often incomplete and altered and interpretations are necessarily based on what we observe in the present. They also illustrate how data are more intensely scrutinized when they do not seem to fit with pre-existing expectations (whether the idea that life needed a long time to arise on Earth or that Archean rocks formed in the time before creation week). In the study of evidence for life in Archean rocks, this skeptical approach has been shared by secular and creationist scientists. Both groups, for example, highlight the risk of external contamination of Archean samples by more recent microbial material [e.g., 16].

For those who value Scripture and science as sources of knowledge, the experience of uncertainty and the stance of caution could have the positive effect of avoiding dogmatism in trying to relate specific categories of current descriptions of nature (such as “Archean” or “bacteria”) to the Biblical text.

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Ronny Nalin

Geoscience Research Institute

November 1, 2013

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References

1.         Horita, J. and M.E. Berndt, Abiogenic Methane Formation and Isotopic Fractionation Under Hydrothermal Conditions. Science, 1999. 285(5430): p. 1055-1057.

2.         Westall, F. and R.L. Folk, Exogenous carbonaceous microstructures in Early Archaean cherts and BIFs from the Isua Greenstone Belt: implications for the search for life in ancient rocks. Precambrian Research, 2003. 126(3): p. 313-330.

3.         Fischer, W.W., Biogeochemistry: Life before the rise of oxygen. Nature, 2008. 455(7216): p. 1051-1052.

4.         Ventura, G.T., et al., Molecular evidence of Late Archean archaea and the presence of a subsurface hydrothermal biosphere. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2007. 104(36): p. 14260-14265.

5.         Noffke, N., The criteria for the biogeneicity of microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS) in Archean and younger, sandy deposits. Earth-Science Reviews, 2009. 96(3): p. 173-180.

6.         Furnes, H., et al., Early Life Recorded in Archean Pillow Lavas. Science, 2004. 304(5670): p. 578-581.

7.         Brasier, M., et al., A fresh look at the fossil evidence for early Archaean cellular life. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2006. 361(1470): p. 887-902.

8.         Schopf, J.W., Microfossils of the Early Archean Apex Chert: New Evidence of the Antiquity of Life. Science, 1993. 260(5108): p. 640-646.

9.         Brasier, M.D., et al., Questioning the evidence for Earth’s oldest fossils. Nature, 2002. 416(6876): p. 76-81.

10.       Buick, R., Microfossil recognition in Archean rocks: an appraisal of spheroids and filaments from a 3500 my old chert-barite unit at North Pole, Western Australia. Palaios, 1990: p. 441-459.

11.       Schopf, J.W., Fossil evidence of Archaean life. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2006. 361(1470): p. 869-885.

12.       Grotzinger, J.P. and A.H. Knoll, Stromatolites in Precambrian carbonates: Evolutionary mileposts or environmental dipsticks? Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 1999. 27(1): p. 313-358.

13.       Allwood, A.C., et al., Stromatolite reef from the Early Archaean era of Australia. Nature, 2006. 441(7094): p. 714-718.

14.       Gould, S.J., The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History. 1980, New York: Norton & Company. p. 220.

15.       Brand, L., What are the limits of death in Paradise? Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 2003. 14(1): p. 74-85.

16.       Roth, A.A., Origins: Linking Science and Scripture. 1998, USA: Review and Herald Publishing Association. pp. 164-168.

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