The Faith of a World’s leading Evolutionary Anthropologist

Recently, evolutionary anthropologist Richard Leakey, famous for being the son of Louis and Mary Leakey, and for discovering the Turkana boy hominin fossil, had gave a revealing interview. Here is an excerpt.
“In an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Richard Leakey, a 67-year-old, Kenyan-born Stony Brook University professor, paleoanthropologist, and avowed atheist, said that he believed scientific discoveries over the next 15 to 30 years will have reached the point that “even the skeptics” will be able to accept the theory put forth by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book Origin of Species.”

The Faith of Richard Leakey

Leakey here touches on a point that I find curious. He ‘believes’ future discoveries (and rather far in the future) will prove to be so convincing that people will have to accept non-design explanations. But is he saying this as a scientist? Observation is the cornerstone of the scientific method. But how can we ‘know’ what we will observe in the future? In point of fact, there is no scientific way to know what we will observe in the future. The scientific method is inherently limited to observations that can only be made in the present. So what is the basis by which Leakey makes his predictions for future observations? It is by faith pure and simple.
When Richard Leakey says this, he is not speaking as a scientist, but as a believer. This shows that everybody, secularists and atheists included, has faith in something that cannot be proven by observations made today. Leakey may be right and perhaps observations will be made in the future, but that belief cannot be proved or disproved today – it can only be believed or not believed.

University Evolution Text summarizes most compelling evidence for Evolution

But we can, using reason and logic from observations we have on hand today make judgments. So let’s continue where we started in the last post to look at similarities in architecture across the biological world. The quote below is taken from a university text entitled Evolution and from the chapter entitled ‘Evidence for Evolution’. In going to this source we drill down to the nub of the matter to look at the foundational evidence on-hand today.
Patterns of Relationship provide the Most Powerful Evidence for Evolution
Although direct observation and the fossil record each provides powerful support, the most compelling evidence for evolution comes from the patterns of similarity between present-day organisms, which reveal features that are shared across all organisms: a nested pattern of groups within groups, consistent across many different traits, and a correspondence between biological relationship, geological history, and geographical distribution
Universally Shared Features [subcaption]
The full extent of this similarity [of biological life] was revealed when the universal principles of molecular biology were discovered in the middle of the last century. Almost all organisms use DNA to encode their genetic information, which is transcribed into RNA and then translated by a single universal genetic code into protein sequence. … Indeed the basic machinery of replication, transcription and translation is conserved across all living organisms. The success of molecular biology lies in the essential universality of its mechanism….  Any code that maps the 64 triplet codons onto the 20 amino acids would work and could be implemented just as easily by an appropriate set of tRNAs. Evolution 2007 by N.H. Barton, D. Briggs, J. Eisen, D. Goldstein, N. Patel.  p66-67
In other words, this textbook is saying that if we want to get directly to the most compelling hands-down evidence that we have observed in the last 100 years for evolution it would be that there is the same DNA code across all organisms, that there is a secondary (and also universal) code in the RNA to transfer the information stored in the DNA to the protein assembly, and that this code universally maps ‘triplet codons’ (i.e. 64 sets of three DNA/RNA instructions) to the 20 different amino acids (which are like the ‘letters’ used to build the long protein string out of which we are made).

Bioinformatics Text: Human Designed Information System Architecture

In my previous Post I introduced the textbook on Bioinformatics – the science of mapping and storing genetic information on computers worldwide so that this information can be analyzed by scientists. Here is how this science is described.
As mentioned primary databases are central repositories and distributors of raw sequence and structure information. They support nearly all other types of biological databases … therefore in the biological community there is a frequent need for the 2ndary and specialized databases to connect to the primary databases and to keep uploading sequence information… All these create a demand for linking different databases. The main barrier to linking different biological databases is format incompatibility as current biological databases utilize all three types of database structures. Essential Bioinformatics. 2006.  Jin Xiong. p16-17
In other words, biological information scientists, in order to design a robust and efficient genetic information storage, retrieval and processing system to conduct their research with have: 1) primary databases, 2) secondary databases connected to this primary database to process specific information, and 3) a major problem is that there are different database structures that are not compatible.
Let’s make a comparison between the genetic architecture of information in living organisms and that designed by information scientists by putting these quotes side-by-side
The ‘most compelling evidence for evolution’ quoted in evolutionary text
Information science quoted in Bioinformatics
“…all organisms use DNA to encode their genetic info”…
“…primary databases are central repositories and distributors of raw information…”
“which is transcribed into RNA and then translated by a single universal genetic code into protein sequence.”
“…in the biological community there is a need for the 2ndary databases to connect to the primary databases…”
“…Indeed the basic machinery of replication, transcription and translation is conserved across all living organisms…”
“… All these create a demand for linking different databases.”
“The success of molecular biology lies in the universality of its mechanism….”
“…The main barrier to linking is format incompatibility as current databases utilize 3 types of structures…”
When placed side-by-side, we can see that the architecture of both systems are described very similarly. In both there is a primary database (the DNA in organisms) housing the raw information, secondary databases (RNA in organisms) to transfer this information to processing sites, and finally the processing sites (protein assembly in organisms). The only real difference is that the human engineered system is NOT universal and this creates problems in the implementation of the human designed system. In other words, if the human system had a universal structure, like the information system in nature, it would be better designed and more efficient.
The reason that there are different structures in the human systems is that there were different researchers that began this work in different parts of the world. If they had coordinated their efforts from the beginning they would have adopted one universal system. However, since bioinformatics is an architecture designed by intelligent agents the obvious parallel to the genetic information system in nature is that of being designed by a Mind. The fact that we observe (today!) one universal genetic system that stores, retrieves, utilizes and duplicates information at an efficiency, speed and fidelity that information scientists are still striving to achieve, speaks volumes to the inference that there is One Design Mind behind it all.
In fact, if chance and random processes has produced the one natural information system that we do observe, and this same chance and random processes have been in operation through all time why do we find no evidence in organisms today, or from those of the past, that there has ever been another information system architecture that has also arisen by these same natural processes? If there were several different systems out there we could deduce either that there were several designers out there (like the Greek Gods of old) or that indeed there is a natural process that spontaneously develops information system architectures.
This is why Leakey must appeal to the unobservable future, and base his appeal on faith, pure and simple, because the fact of the matter is that the ‘most compelling evidence’ we do observe today actually infers a Design cause much more naturally than a mindless natural cause. But though it may be more logical and reasonable from the observations we make today, it is far less popular. Therefore world-leading evolutionary scientists, like Leakey, by faith “are sure of what they hope for and certain of what they do not see”
Why should we form beliefs simply from world opinion shapers when theirs is simply faith anyways?  Why not investigate for ourselves?  Here is a good place to start on a biblical theme and here is a good intro on human evolution – Leakey’s specialty.

Computer super-virus shows anomaly of evolutionary thinking

News broke out in global media outlets at the end of May about the most sophisticated computer malware virus ever discovered. Dubbed Flame, it has infected hundreds of computers across the Middle East. Here is how media outlets describe it:

From Macleans

Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cyber security firm, has discovered that thousands of computers in the Middle East (mostly government machines, mostly in Iran) have been infected with a malicious piece of software they are calling Flame. Flame is insidious, destructive, and very cool. And no one will ever take credit for building it.

Similarities between Flame and the Stuxnet and DuQu viruses are leading to speculation that the programs were all created by the same people. Stuxnet, which bloodlessly set back the Iranian nuclear program by as much as a decade, is widely believed to be the product of an Israel-America cyberweaponry team-up. Of course, neither country has confirmed this.

From Discovery News

The most sophisticated and powerful cyberweapon to date — a Swiss Army Knife spy tool that can evolve and change to deal with any situation — has been discovered on the loose in several Middle Eastern countries, security researchers said Tuesday.

The Worm.Win32.Flame threat, or “Flame” for short, was likely built by the same nation-state responsible for the Stuxnet virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear power plant in 2010.

Flame can grow and change, too: What makes this cyberweapon so powerful is the ability to be reconfigured with new modules that turn an infected PC or industrial control system into whatever tool a spy dreams up.

From CBN

Experts see similarities between Flame and the Stuxnet virus, which disrupted Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in 2010. Stuxnet was widely believed to be the work of Israeli intelligence, leading to speculation that Israeli programmers may have struck again.

From Surface Earth

According to a wired.com report, The Flame virus is twenty times more complex than the Stuxnet virus , which struck Iran’ s nuclear facilities in 2007. Flame can take screenshots, and capture messages sent over an infected network, and even use the computer’s microphone to record conversations.

The experts believe that this level of complexity indicates that Flame was created by a government rather than an individual criminal or group of hacktivists. Commentators quoted in the Telegraph have suggested that Israel, China, or the United States may be responsible. Israel and United States were widely suspected of creating the Stuxnet virus, and Iran claims that it has noted significant similarities between Flame and Stuxnet, although the western cyber security firms investigating Flame disagree.

From National Post

He said there was evidence to suggest the code was commissioned by the same nation or nations that were behind Stuxnet and Duqu, which were built on a common platform.

Both Flame and Stuxnet appear to infect machines by exploiting the same flaw in the Windows operating system and employ a similar way of spreading.

That means the teams that built Stuxnet and Duqu might have had access to the same technology as the team that built Flame, he said.

From New York Times

Flame, these researchers say, shares several notable features with two other major programs that targeted Iran in recent years. The first virus, Duqu, was a reconnaissance tool that researchers say was used to copy blueprints of Iran’s nuclear program. The second, Stuxnet, was designed to attack industrial control systems and specifically calibrated to spin Iranian centrifuges out of control.

Because Stuxnet and Duqu were written on the same platform and share many of the same fingerprints in their source code, researchers believe both were developed by the same group of programmers.

From The Globe and Mail

In addition to its massive size and many modules, the software’s sophistication is evident from the way it infected machines in the first place. To get on a host computer, Flame was designed to provide a fake Microsoft security certificate. Pulling that off, experts say, would have required incredibly advanced knowledge of cryptography, indicating that math geniuses were among Flame’s authors.

Notice what these articles tell us that software security experts are deducing:

  1. A common design team developed both the Flame malvirus and the earlier discovered Stuxnet and Duqu viruses because of similarity in architecture between them.
  2. The ability of Flame to adjust and change (evolve) means that experts and resources on the level of nation states are behind this virus. This was not made by a bedroom hacker.
  3. Complexity of the malware is broadly measured by its functionality. It can do many things, more things than Stuxnet, and is thus considered more complex.

This reasoning and these deductions seem so reasonable to us that we, without much thought, follow along in their line of reasoning. And that should make us re-think another line of reasoning that is directly confronted by this logic. Notice what the following university textbooks quotes tell us about evidence for naturalistic evolution.

It became apparent that animal species that were similar in their anatomy also had similar genetic instructions. Researchers have also shown that, even though the wing of an insect and the arm of a primate look very different, the same basic instructions are used during their development. … The only explanation for these similarities and this connectedness that has withstood scientific scrutiny is evolution, and the only mechanism for evolution that has withstood scientific scrutiny is natural selectionBernard Wood. Human Evolution. 2005. p. 22

Hox gene expression provides the basis for anterior-posterior axis specification throughout the animals. This means that the enormous variation of morphological form among animals is underlain by a common set of instructions. Indeed hox genes provide one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence for deep evolutionary homologies among all the animals of the world.  Developmental Biology 8th Ed. 2006. SF Gilbert. p. 725

These two university textbooks (and many others could be cited) are telling us that similarity in genetic code is ‘one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence for deep evolutionary homologies’.   Really?  So why does similarity in code between computer viruses indicate to computer experts a common design team behind them?  These are very analogous comparisons and yet the conclusions drawn are opposite.

So how strong is this evidence for evolution? A couple of years ago, because of my background in software development and database design I picked up a university textbook dealing directly with sequencing of genetic information and storing that information in computer databases. Note how an expert in DNA sequencing data sees similarity in genetic information.

It is important to distinguish sequence homology from the related term sequence similarity because the two terms are often confused by some researchers who use them interchangeably in scientific literature. To be clear, sequence homology is an inference or conclusion about a common ancestral relationship drawn from sequence similarity comparison when the two sequences share a high enough degree of similarity. On the other hand, similarity is a direct result of observation from the sequence alignment. Sequence similarities can be quantified using percentages… In dealing with real research problems the issue of at what similarity level can one infer homologous relationships is not always clear … Essential Bioinformatics Jin Xiong 2006 p 32

In other words, the homology (i.e. evolution) is just an inference from the data. Therefore other inferences could also explain the data. But Xiong notes that the scientific literature ‘often’ (his word) confuses the inference with the data itself. If this is the case, then these researchers will not recognize other inferences since they think that their inference is really data.   The issue is not with the data, but with the mind interpreting the data.

The inferences drawn from the experts who reported Flame should lead us all to recognize that there is another good inference that can be drawn from similarity in DNA sequences between organisms. Similarity in code naturally infers common designer. And this makes sense. The reason that the iphone, ipad and the ipod share common features has nothing to do with evolution. They share common features because they share a common design team – those working in Apple. The fact that so many textbooks do not even acknowledge this very natural inference should raise our curiosity. The design inferences from Flame, in a context outside of biology, should prompt us to also consider design inferences in the natural sciences.

We recognize a mind behind the Flame virus because the code shows plan and purpose.  No one disputes this.  We can use this same reasoning to see if biblical events also exhibit verifiable plan and purpose.  You can be the judge, but the remarkable coordination of events separated by thousands of years in the sacrifice of Abraham and the inauguration of Passover lead me to think there is a Mind behind the coordination of these events.  And since they are converging on the same point it is reasonable to deduce that it is the same Mind behind these events, in the same manner that software experts deduce the same design team behind Stuxnet and Flame because of similarities between the two.  This mind is different than a human mind since it also makes verifiable predictions deep into the future.

Interesting to me, these  leading computer software experts were curious about the virus and investigated it with an open mind.  Why should we be afraid to do likewise with this Mind?  We might discover something life-changing.

 

 

The Ubiquity of the Design Inference

I have noticed that it is often the very things that surround us all the time that escape our notice.  Or at least we seem to easily miss the significance of that which is everywhere – the ubiquitous.   It is fish who are likely to fail to notice the water that they swim in – precisely because it is all around them, all the time.

The same is true of our Design Inference.  It is so innate to us that we can miss it even when it confronts us directly.  This realization snuck up on me last week when I was staying with a friend of mine.

This friend is wrestling deeply with questions pertaining to the Gospel.  Is there a God?  Has He revealed himself?  Or have people made him up?  If He has revealed himself, how should one separate his ‘fingerprints’ from those of people?  Is the historical Jesus accessible to us?  As we shared our thoughts, insights and doubts about these and other similar questions our friendship grew because it is often the sharing of these questions, rather than having similar answers that can spark fellowship.  As part of his search he was exploring naturalistic answers, and given that I believe the gospel assertion that we are made by a Creator, he invited me and another to view the NOVA series Becoming Human. It is a documentary on naturalistic human evolution.  We watched the third episode entitled Last Human Standing.

I predicted that the general trend would be that as more information is gathered one would see that the supposedly intermediate ‘ape-men’ would be either human or ape.  This was based on my experience in discovering in the literature that there is marked absence of transitional fossils across the fossil record (see Session 1b video for more on that).  The documentary did show, through DNA sequencing comparisons that Neanderthals were fully human.  Their DNA is the same as ours.  I showed my friend how other data presented in the documentary fit readily within a Biblical framework.  One needed just to look at the data slightly differently.

But it was the inferences and reasoning logic of the anthropologists interviewed in the documentary that made me take note.  They were excited because they had discovered rocks in Africa that had etchings scratched on them.  They had also discovered shells with patterned holes in them.  Their conclusion was that this was the first instance ever of information being stored outside a human brain.  And given the presence of these artefacts, hominids at this point must have evolved sufficiently to have minds capable of symbolic thought.  And it was then that the irony struck me.

Why did these anthropologists very naturally, and without hesitation, deduce that hominids at this ‘stage’ of evolution must have developed the capability of symbolic thought? Because we know from universal experience – it is ubiquitous – that information and design only comes from an intelligent agent.  These anthropologists did not stop to wonder if the holes in the shells and the etchings on the rocks were produced by time, chance and natural processes.  They used the design inference to deduce that they were made by hominids and that these hominids must therefore have been ‘intelligent’.  And we the viewers did not even question their reasoning.  Without batting an eye we accepted it as self-evidently logical and reasonable.  The inference to an intelligent agent when confronted by design is ubiquitous.

Yet in the same interview these same anthropologists surmised that these etchings and shell holes were the first instance ever of information stored outside the brain.  Really?  The information stored universally in the biological world in DNA, from which kidneys, wings, lungs, feathers – and yes even brains – are built is astronomically more complex and functional than any etchings on rocks or holes in shells.

Is it really a stretch to deduce an Intelligent Designer when we are confronted with information in DNA that is far more complex than anything man has ever developed when we at the same time so naturally deduce ‘Intelligent Hominids’ when confronted by information that is far less impressive?  That is the question we take up in Session 1 – The Case for God: Considering Design.  The videos in this session are high definition and they are partitioned into chapters so you can stop and then re-start viewing in marked spots.