Monday, December 21, 2009

Darwin's Dilemmas: Essence Precedes Existence--Part 4

So we've seen that the fossil record, as it is understood by evolutionary scientists, appears to give us an illustration of life's increasing diversity that contradicts the "tree of life" of evolutionary theory. Instead, it's a "forest of life" with distinct kinds of creatures coming into existence all at once, contradicting existentialism's "existence precedes essence."

Evolutionary theory also posits that complex biological structures comprised of many parts are the results of the happenstance assembling of the parts which appeared individually over long periods of time, without respect to one another. Bacteria have a moving "tail" called a flagellum, for example, which is comprised of dozens of individual proteins. According to evolutionary theory, there was once an ancestor organism that had none of these proteins. At some point, the first of these proteins appeared as the result of random mutations in DNA. Then, at some point in the distant future, another appeared, and so on and so forth until the bacterial flagellum was what we see today. There is no foresight involved, in this view, no idea of a flagellum that led to its existence. Instead, the random formation of its parts over long periods of time--existence--became the flagellum we see today--essence.

Is this a feasible explanation for the complex structures we see today? When we look at developing organisms closely, does what we see confirm or contradict evolutionary theory and the existential nature of the biological processes it proposes?


Evolutionary theory points toward random mutations during the copying of DNA as the mechanism by which a change in an organism is passed on to its descendants. But what biologists have discovered is that while an organism's genetic code defines the parts necessary for the organism to function, it does not contain the instructions for putting those pieces together.

Imagine opening a lego set, and finding the pieces that comprise the creation, as well as an instruction booklet that explains how to put those pieces together. The two are mutually depedent: without the instructions, you don't know how to put the pieces together; and without the pieces, the instructions serve no purpose. But the two are nonetheless separate and distinct from one another.

As it turns out, an organism's DNA is sort of like the lego pieces, in that the processes of gene transcription and translation in the cell create protein parts based on their definitions in the DNA. But the DNA isn't also the lego set's instruction booklet. The information necessary to put the pieces together appears somewhere else. This means that even if random mutations could produce a new part, the assembly instructions would be "unaware" of this part, and would not put it anywhere.


For years, intelligent design advocates have been pointing out that DNA contains an enormous amount of information. We know that information comes only from intelligent sources. We know when we see a heart carved into a tree that a human did it, because it is unlikely, but also because it specifies something. The same is true of the faces of Mount Rushmore, or heiroglyphics carved into pyramid walls. In the same way, any organism's DNA is as unlikely a configuration of the genetic base pairs adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine, and only a very select few of their possible combinations actually specify the chains of amino acids that can be formed into viable proteins.

But now we see that there are two separate sources of biological information within every organism. In a computer, an individual file is actually stored in small chunks scattered throughout the disk. The computer's operating system seeks out and locates those file chunks and assembles them into the file it is asked to work with. DNA is an organism's hard drive, each gene the chunk of a file. But the operating system of life, that seeks out and locates the genes it needs to build a structure, is somewhere else.

So even if random mutations in a creature's DNA during reproduction could account for new parts, it cannot account for the instructions necessary to assemble the parts into a complex structure. Even if we were to believe the impossible--that random processes can produce information--it would seem infinitely more absurd to believe that random processes acting upon two separate processes--the DNA that defines the parts and the instructions for assembling them--could produce new, mutually dependent information. No, the reason that the assembly instructions and the parts list line up so perfectly is because something conceived of the structure--essence--and then put into place the information necessary for the structure to be formed--existence.


The study of biology actually contradicts evolutionary theory's "tree of life" and "structure by serendipity". Contrary to its existentialist nature, we can see that the "forest of life" illustrated by the fossil record, and the "structure by instruction" seen in an organism's assembly instructions correctly putting together the parts defined by DNA, demonstrate that in life, "essence precedes existence."

So, like the operating system of life, how do we "put the pieces together"? What does all this mean? To what does it point? If, as is obvious, random processes operating upon two separate sources of information cannot produce new, mutually dependent information at exactly the same rate, what could account for complex structures in an organism? Stay tuned.

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