March 9, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Archive: Gates of the Cell, and More ID Evidence

These articles from March 2002 were interesting then and still are now.

Note: some links may no longer work.


Gates of the Cell Open to Awe-Struck Eyes   03/12/2002
The cover story of the March 9 Science News Vol 161:10, pp 152-154 is about ion channels, the complex gates that attract and channel electrically-charged atoms into the cell (see our Jan 17 and Mar 7 headlines on this topic). The article has color diagrams of the complex proteins that make up the channels and describes how they function: the KcsA potassium channel, for instance, “can shuttle up to 100 million potassium ions across a cell membrane in a single second while keeping out similarly charged sodium ions, whose smaller size would seem to make the passage easier.”  (Sidelight: Nature Science Update reports that scientists have engineered a synthetic chloride channel, imitating nature.)

The importance of ion channels is emphasized: “Literally every single thought or action involves these channels. After all, among their duties is regulation of the electrical excitability that nerve cells use to communicate and that muscles exploit to contract.” Roderick MacKinnon and other researchers who first revealed their intricate structure were surprised that lowly bacteria had fully-formed ion channels:

There was something even more surprising. No one had previously reported voltage-gated ion channels in a microbe. Jellyfish were the simplest creatures known to possess such channels. It was generally thought that microbes, which lack muscles and nervous systems, don’t need the high-speed reactions that voltage-gated ion channels permit.

“This changes the whole evolutionary picture of [ion] channels,” says Clapham. “It means that bacteria, the most primitive life forms, have what was thought to be a very specialized channel.”

The descriptions of these channels and their fast-acting voltage-regulated gates borders on awe at times. MacKinnon, though pleased at the possibility of medical advancements now that ion channels are becoming better understood, “admits that he’s motivated more by the thrill of understanding these remarkable proteins. ‘I just wonder how nature does things,’ he says. ‘How did nature make an electrical signal go from my brain to my toes so fast? The more you learn about what the ion channels have to do to make that signal, the more incredible it seems.’”

Yes! Keep asking questions like that. Let the evidence speak for itself. The closer you look at the cell, the more amazing it becomes, and the more old-fashioned Darwinism looks totally inadequate to account for it. This article would be great to share with materialists, because, while from a secular source, it makes all the points the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists are making. There is incredible engineering in the most “primitive” life (bacteria) that is unexplainable by chance and time. These structures display engineering for efficient function that presupposes intelligence, not chance. What’s more, the instructions to code for these channels and the processes that build them are, of necessity, even more complex than the channels themselves.

Let’s consider for a moment how scientific papers might be written from an ID perspective. Scientists come from a wide variety of cultures and religious backgrounds; how can science remain neutral? Evolutionists are worried that if ID were to supersede methodological naturalism, scientific papers might include Scripture quotes in them or praise be to Allah or other religious/metaphysical references that could start holy wars in the scientific world. That is a red herring; it’s like saying it’s better to keep Saddam Hussein in power than to trust democracy.

Nothing religious is necessary or proper in a scientific paper, which should be concerned strictly with the phenomenon in question, what it is and how it works. No reference to the identity of the designer should be the intent of empirical studies; just whether it shows design tied to function. In fact, that is what already characterizes most scientific papers today!  A survey of papers reviewed in Creation-Evolution Headlines will reveal the amount of Darwinian speculation to be inversely proportional to the quantity of good empirical data (see Eddington’s Theory). Design is also the approach scientific papers used since the advent of the Royal Society, when most scientists were devout Christians.  Science done from a design perspective, therefore, is nothing new or strange.

What is strange are the forced references to Darwinian evolution and materialism, the near obsession with explaining how complex specified structures arose spontaneously. If we just omitted those references, we would have Intelligent Design science right now. This article is a good example. It shows what the potassium channel is, what it does, what it looks like, how it operates, what genes code for its formation, etc.–in other words, a description of its design. It is even fair to call it beautiful, intricate, and exquisite. But the brief reference to the evolutionary history of these channels adds nothing to the story, other than to show what an awful predicament the evolutionists are in.

Design presupposes information, which could be assumed to be a fundamental entity of the universe alongside matter and energy. In this way, scientists from around the world, from all different faiths, could abide by acceptable scientific rules of publication. Everyone can describe information, design, and function, but leave out the identity of the Designer. That part would be left to the metaphysicians; philosophers, theologians, even atheists, who could attempt to take the scientific discoveries and incorporate them (with more or less success) into their world view. Design has profound metaphysical implications, but the observation of design comes from the data, not from the metaphysics.

In short, an ID approach would be good for science. It is non-religious and non-sectarian, it is empirically based, it has a long history as a fruitful approach. It’s how Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Pasteur and Carver did their science. It’s how archaeology, cryptography, forensics, and SETI approach their scientific work even now. The scientific community has nothing to fear from an ID paradigm. The cell has fermented naturalism beyond its bursting point. It is time to put the new wine of biochemistry into new wineskins of intelligent design.


Pulsars Puzzle Astronomers: How Old Are They, Really?   03/12/2002
Last December, astronomers decided they had dated a pulsar too young. Now, they figure they dated another one too old by 43,000 years, says the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, “Age Discrepancy Throws Pulsar Theories into Turmoil.”

Using the Very Large Array in New Mexico, astronomers measured the proper motion of a pulsar away from its presumed supernova progenitor, and got a much younger age than the technique used for years, measuring the slowing of the rotation rate. Bryan Gaensler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who reported the discrepancy in the March 10 Astrophysical Journal Letters, said, “We are learning that each individual pulsar is a very complicated object, and we should assume nothing about it.” The NRAO report says,

“Previous estimates of pulsar ages have assumed that all pulsars are born spinning much faster than we see them now, that the physical characteristics of the pulsar such as its mass and magnetic-field strength do not change with time, and that the slowdown rate can be estimated by applying the physics of a magnet spinning in a vacuum. ‘With one pulsar older than the estimates and one younger, we now realize that we have to question all three of these assumptions,’ said Gaensler.”

Notice that important word assumptions. Dating methods are often presented as empirical tools that give objective results. In reality, they are interpretations of measurements made with unverifiable assumptions. Some of the assumptions may seem reasonable, but consider that for decades now, these assumptions seemed reasonable, but are now being questioned. Does that give you any confidence that the ages tossed around in this story–64,000 years– have any validity at all? What headline might show up in year 2005 that will throw out the current assumptions?


Intelligent Design Gets a Powerful New Media Boost   03/09/2002
Exclusive  Over 600 guests gave a standing ovation Saturday March 9 at the premiere of a new film by Illustra Media, Unlocking the Mystery of Life.  This 67-minute documentary is in many ways a definitive portrayal of the Intelligent Design movement that is sweeping the country.

Intelligent Design is a non-religious, non-sectarian, strictly scientific view of origins with both negative and positive arguments: negative, that Darwinism is insufficient to explain the complexity of life, and positive, that intelligent design, or information, is a fundamental entity that must be taken into consideration in explanations of the origin of complex, specified structures like DNA. The film features interviews with a Who’s Who of the Intelligent Design movement: Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, Paul Nelson, Stephen Meyer, Dean Kenyon, William Dembski, and others, who explain the issues and arguments for intelligent design as the key to unlocking the mystery of life. The film also features nearly 20 minutes of award-quality computer animation of molecular machines, manufacturing plants, and storage libraries of elaborate information – DNA and proteins at work in the cell, climaxing with a dazzling view of DNA transcription and translation.

In his keynote address, Dr. Paul Nelson (who appears in the film), gave reasons for optimism. He said that Time Magazine, usually solidly Darwinian, admitted just last week that these Intelligent Design scientists may be onto something. U.S. News and World Report is also coming out with a piece on I.D. And Stephen Meyer, who also appears in the film, could not be at the premiere because he was on his way to Ohio (see next headline), armed with copies of the film to give to the school board members.

Nelson said that scientists should not arbitrarily rule design off the table. “Keeping science from discovering something that might be true is like having a pair of spectacles that distorts your vision,” he said. “It does profound harm to science.” He described how Ronald Numbers, evolutionist, once told him that design might be true, but science is a game, with the rule that scientists cannot even consider the possibility of design; “that’s just the way it is,” he said. (See this quote by Richard Lewontin for comparison.)

Yet design is already commonly considered in archaeology, cryptography, forensics, and SETI, so why not in biology? Apparently this arbitrary rule has become a national controversy. Intelligent Design, says Nelson, is finally removing a “rule of the game” that is hindering science. If the reaction of the crowd at the premiere luncheon was any indication, Unlocking the Mystery of Life has launched a well-aimed smart weapon at the citadels of Darwinism.

We highly recommend this film. Copies are just now becoming available for $20. Visit IllustraMedia.com and order it. View it, and pass it around. Share it with your teachers, your co-workers, your church. You will have no embarrassment showing this high-quality, beautiful, amazing film to anyone, even the most ardent evolutionist.

Ed. note: The film is available free on YouTube now, and can be purchased or streamed at Go2RPI.com. The film can also be ordered in bulk in quicksleeve packaging for ministry handouts.


Batteries, Chaperones, Translators: Wonders of the Cell Continue to Dazzle   03/08/2002
Recent techniques have allowed scientists to peer into the cell at 1.6-nanometer resolution. What has appeared in sharp detail is a veritable factory of living machines that can manufacture things, charge batteries, edit code and much more. The March 8 issue of Science has several papers that explore more the complex goings-on inside our cells, and even the cells of the lowly bacterium E. coli:

  • Battery Rechargers: Three biochemists have described how some anaerobic bacteria recharge their batteries. To get work done, all organisms have to use electricity. They do this by pushing charges the way they don’t want to go (against the energy gradient), creating an electromotive force (in this case, PMF or proton motive force). The authors examined the proton pump in the membrane of E. coli, and found that it is a complex of very complicated protein molecules shaped somewhat like a mushroom. It effectively passes proteins down a 90-angstrom channel somewhat like an electric wire, using a series of chemical reactions called a redox loop.
  • Assembly Plant: The cell is a crowded place. Newly manufactured proteins, if not protected before folded into their proper shape, can turn into harmful gunk. Not to worry; a family of chaperone proteins is at their service to whisk the proteins to safe barrel-shaped havens where they can fold in peace. Two German biochemists have examined the process from newly-synthesized chain to folded protein:

    “To become functionally active, newly synthesized protein chains must fold to unique three-dimensional structures. How this is accomplished remains a fundamental problem in biology. Although it is firmly established from refolding experiments in vitro that the native fold of a protein is encoded in its amino acid sequence, protein folding inside cells is not generally a spontaneous process. Evidence accumulated over the last decade indicates that many newly synthesized proteins require a complex cellular machinery of molecular chaperones and the input of metabolic energy to reach their native states efficiently.” 

    They describe some of the bad things that can happen: aggregation or clumping, which might be implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease, among many other problems. The paper describes a staggering array of complex chaperone molecules and procedures that work together to prevent trouble under a wide variety of conditions.

  • Editing Room: Two Greek biochemists from Crete peer into the process of transcribing a gene of DNA into messenger RNA, which then travels to the ribosome to build a protein. It’s not a simple job. The DNA is bundled tightly into balls of chromatin and nucleosomes, preventing the editing apparatus from getting to it. Again, not to worry: there is a squad of chromatin-unscramblers to unlock the precious code and let the translator, RNA-polymerase II, scan the code and build the messenger RNA. Think of scrolls locked in a library of ancient manuscripts that need to be translated into English. These scrolls contain the instructions for building machines. You need someone with a key to let you in, then you need a way to safely unroll the scroll to the right spot. These steps must precede the translation and manufacturing processes. In this paper, the scientists found that two squads are needed. A pre-initiation complex (PIC) gets the unrolling machinery ready before the door is unlocked. A chromatin-remodeling squad unlocks the door. The unlocking is actually more like unscrambling tightly-wound strands so that the PIC can get to it, before the translator can do its work.

The activities going on in our cells, every moment, every day, are absolutely astounding. Trouble is, papers like this are very difficult to read; they are loaded with technical jargon and concepts that assume a great deal of prior knowledge. Nevertheless, just looking at the illustrations and scanning the nearly overwhelming complexity described is a worthwhile exercise. It is also interesting to note that the word “evolution” is rarely mentioned in papers like this. Even more rare is any attempt to explain how these detailed processes, involving many interdependent complex parts, could have originated in the first place. The machinery is already fully operational in the simplest living cells!

It is for this reason many believe that modern biochemistry is sounding the death knell for Darwinism. Darwin had no idea what his theory would have to face starting in the late 20th century. But he gave creationists the gun when he said, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

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Comments

  • JSwan says:

    Since these we have 1) seen some leaving at minimum neoDarwinism and 2) division within the evolutionary ranks concerning neoDarwinism’s ability to explain microbes-to-man evolution.
    The research on the molecular pumps reminds me that when more is learned empirically more confounding is applied to the materialistic starting hypothesis. But I like your wording better: “…amount of Darwinian speculation to be inversely proportional to the quantity of good empirical data”❗

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