Titlu original: The Language of God – A Scientist Evidence for Belief
Autor: Francis S. Collins
Editura: Free Press
Anul apariţiei: 2006
Preț: 10 $
Recenzie de Valentin Teodorescu
If in the area of the transitional fossils and the evolutionary mechanism dr. Collins does not seem (to us) very convincing – and some of his critics explain that evaluation by his eventual lack of close familiarity with the critical literature in this direction (due to the fact that this is not his area of specialty) -, what can we say about his arguments coming from his area of expertise, the Human Genome?
Here his arguments seem to be more powerful indeed: for example, he argues that the existence of some repetitive elements – which originated, in his opinion, in some “jumping genes”, and which could be found in the same places in the mouse’ and human’ genome – is a proof of a common ancestor between humans and mice. He affirms that, although some of these kinds of elements might be functional – and not Junk DNA sequences –, this cannot be the case with the aforementioned example, because there are, in the case of the mouse and the humans, some repetitive elements which became one-legged – losing a part of their AND sequence, and, as result, losing any possibility of functioning. In many cases, observes Collins, these one-legged elements are found in parallel positions in human and mouse genome. This seems to be a proof of their common descent, because this process can happen only during the migration of a jumping gene – when the respective process cripples this gene.
Another argument refers to some pseudogene cases (gene with one or more defects which make their original information useless). For example, the caspase-12 gene of the chimpanzee and mouse functions perfectly, but that of the humans does not: why would God insert a non-functional gene right in this place?
And last but not least, the difference between the 23 chromosomes pears of the humans and the 24 chromosomes pears of the chimpanzee seems to be the result of a fusion between two chromosomes of medium size of the chimpanzee, 2A and 2B, which resulted in the chromosome 2 of the human. The fact that those sequences are found exactly where the theory of evolution has predicted seems to confirm the idea of a Common Ancestor.
How could we answer to these real and serious challenges to the Creationist model – which clearly would suggest (at least) the truth of the “Common Ancestor” hypothesis?
First of all, we can say that this area of research is very new and undeveloped, and one needs – for this reason – to be very cautious when trying to offer clear and absolute answers in this domain. Moreover, these kinds of arguments offer, if valid, only some support to the Common Descent hypothesis: but we already saw that there are some theist scientists, as Michael Behe, who accept the idea of Common Ancestry, but maintain that the missing transitional links and the lack of a valid naturalistic mechanism for explaining macroevolution suggest the need for a miraculous divine guidance of the evolutionary process).
However, in the case of the above mentioned jumping genes, the fact that they might be junk DNA sequences is not necessary an argument for the Common Descent (of their possessors). That is because some scientists discovered that horizontal gene transfer – mediated by parasites – could generate the same genetic signature as that of the common ancestry, by transferring DNA sequence elements (called transposons, a type of jumping genes) among organisms. This transposable elements help explain why flatworms, insects, mollusks, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals share several distinct classes of these DNA sequence elements; their distribution in these animals suggests a transfer from animal to animal via parasites. Moreover as scientists observed, transposable elements do not insert at random locations into the genome, but rather within specific locations (called hotspots). So it seems that some classes of junk DNA may genuinely be junk, and yet reflect not common ancestry – but rather reproducible, nonrandom biochemical events; this might very well be the case with the example suggested by Collins.
In the case of the aforementioned pseudogene cases, we need not forget that recent experiments showed that many pseudogenes are not useless; rather they protect the protein-coding genes from malfunction – or actually encode functional proteins. But even if some of them would be useless, that does not necessary falsify the creationist model (at least the model suggested by ‘Reasons to Believe’ organisation) – which suggests that the optimal designs present when God created the species would gradually degrade as consequence of natural mutations. In these conditions, a small amount of real junk DNA is to be expected, including eventually – in the case of humans -, the caspase-12 pseudogene.
In the case of chromosome 2 – as Dr. Fazale Rana suggests -, it seems implausible that its apparition resulted from undirected natural processes. The fusion of those two chimpanzee chromosomes would require a succession of high improbable events. First of all, for human chromosome 2 to arise, it would have required a very rare event: the fusion of an intact chromosome at its telomere with a sticky end generated when another chromosome fractured near its telomere. Moreover, this event had to occur either in the sperm or in egg cell, changing the number of its chromosomes. When the chromosome number of the egg does not match that of the sperm, again, it is an extreme rare event that their offspring would be viable and fertile. Furthermore – even if this last event would happen -, it needs to impart such an advantage to the offspring that it would rapidly sweep through the population, becoming fixed, and reducing the genetic variability of the group. All these series of events are so highly improbable, that more plausible seems the suggestion that God was involved in this process, reshaping eventually a preexisting ‘template genome’ of a monkey in order to create the physical make-up of the human beings.
Moreover, recently new research brought some data which seem to call into question the validity of the fusion model.
In addition to that, although the biochemical studies seem to suggest a high genetic similarity between humans and chimps (when we line up their genes, the regions in DNA that contain information for creating proteins are 98,5% – though we might add that these regions represent only a small part of our genome), we can still see a great dissimilarity between the areas of their genomes that do not code the genes and in the way in which these genes are expressed (the way in which the genes are related to the proteines they code for): for example, the differences of gene expresion between the human and chimps testes is very great: approximately 70% !; a good analogy for understanding the situation is to compare this case with a lego game: one may use the same building blocks in a very different ways; in each particular game a designer is needed if one wants to build a functional house.
In conclusion, the above mentioned Human Genome arguments in favor of Common Descent (brought by Collins), – although serious and strong -, are not necessary convincing (as the new discoveries in this domain seems to show).
In addition to that, there are also some strong arguments – which Dr. Collins did not mention – some of them from the area of genetics, which suggest that, on the contrary, the Creation model is more convincing than the Evolutionary Theism (or the ‘BioLogos’ model which Collins is defending).
For example, we have the Precambrian events (as the Eukaryotic Big Bang and the Avalon explosion), the Cambrian explosion, the major radiations throughout life’s history (for example the sudden apparition of 15 new mammalian orders in Paleocene), the massive extinctions followed by massive origination events (for example the Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous extinctions – the last of them even suggesting the amazing observation that in only 10000 years the whole Earth could have been filled with an abundance of brand new species after all the previous dinosaur species dissapeared), the many cases of repeated evolution and anatomical and molecular convergence in various species; all these examples seem to support rather a progressive Creation than a Common Descent.
The many cases of repeated evolution and convergence are particularly convincing in this respect. In the case of repeated evolution, the neo-darwinian model would predict that, due to the mutation-selection mechanism, contingency should characterize the living realm – that the evolutionary process should not repeat itself. Given that naturalistic evolution (supposedly) happened in response to a large number of unpredictable and of dissimilar events, design convergence resulting from natural processes should be extremely rare. Stephen Jay Gould affirms in this respect that: ‘No finale can be specified at the start, none would ever occur a second time in the same way, because any pathway proceeds through thousands of improbable stages. Alter any early event, ever so slightly, and without apparent importance at the time, and evolution cascades into a radically different channel’.
But, on the contrary, what we observe in nature is an abundance of cases in which creatures apparently belonging to the same species have in reality a different genomic composition: this is the case with some crabs, cichlids, sticklebacks, Ranid frogs, tropical salamanders, Anolis lizards, Legless lizards, Old World and New World vultures, river dolphins, mangabeys, extinct pliosaurs, extinct cave bears, etc.
The same kind of argument can be made for the many cases of convergence in nature, where various anatomical structures (sometimes incredibly complex and beautifully coordinated), have (from an evolutionary perspective) evolved independently in different kinds of creatures (creatures sometimes living in very different conditions) – contrary to what a contingent evolutionary mechanism would have predicted. Some examples of this kind are: echolocation appearing independently in different orders of bats, bat and flying lemurs flight structure, arthropod compound eye, song bird brain structure, sandlance and chameleon eye and attack trajectory, gecko adhesion mechanism, etc. Also there are some impressive examples of behavioral convergence as: maternal care strategies, mirror self-recognition, insect social behavior, fungus farming in ants, termites and beetles, etc.
The American biochemist Fazale Rana offers a hundred exemples of design convergence at the molecular level, and English paleontologist Simon Conway Morris from Cambridge University describes dozens more at the organismal level. It is interesting to know that Simon C. Morris is a supporter of theistic evolution, but that he disagrees with S. J. Gould on the idea that the evolution would be fundamentally unpredictable: that if the ‘tape of life’ were replayed from some point in the distant past, the outcome would be far different from the one we see today. He claims that, while the possible evolutionary routes are near infinite in number, because of some hidden mechanism of nature, the number of outcomes must be extremely limited if one wish to explain all examples of design convergence from the living realm. In this way – in his view – there is a kind of (divine) biological predestination in nature, which led gradually to the apparition of life, plants, animals and humans on Earth.
It is interesant that these ideas of Morris triggered an experiment with the goal of adjudicating who won the Gould-Conway debate. A team of microbiologists from MichiganStateUniversity observed, over a twenty-year period, 44000 generations of twelve different populations of E. Coli bacteria. Each population was raised in a glucose-poor, citrate rich environment, and each population experienced billions of mutations. After testing different samples of population, to see if they will duplicate the capacity to feed on citrate – which actually evolved in one population after 31500 generations -, the team concluded that ‘the evolution of the phenotype was contingent on the particular history of that population’. In other words, the team proved Gould right and Conway Morris wrong: replaying the tape of life will not produce identical evolutionary outcomes, even under repeated highly controlled conditions. Still, Conway Morris’s observation that nature presents dozens of examples of repeated design outcomes continues to be correct. The experiment only proved that no natural law or process explains the repeated outcomes. In other words, our conclusion is that neither the Darwinian contingent model, nor the ‘divine evolutionary predestination’ model of Conway Morris, are able to explain the aforementioned cases of repeated evolution and convergence from nature. In our opinion, only a divine miracle can explain these examples; in other words, this outcome is in agreement with a creationist model – or eventually with a miraculous guided evolution model (through miraculous macro-mutations). But if one corroborates these two options with the many cases of massive extinctions followed by massive origination events during nature’s history quoted above, the best explanation among these last two suggested solutions seems to us that of the creationist model.
Thus, we conclude that the creationist model seems more convincing than its Common Descent alternative. Our opinion is that the observations from nature rather support the Creationist model than the Evolutionary one (even than the Theistic Evolutionary one).
As we have suggested in the beginning of this book review, Collins’ book contains many good, cogent and interesting arguments for Christian theism. But, in our opinion, when the author tries to convince us of the truth of the neo-darwinian model, his arguments fail.
We would warmly recommend this book to the people who do not believe that between the Christian theism and the neo-darwinian model is possible any chance of harmonization. This book clearly shows that a person can be both a good Christian and a convinced evolutionist – without sacrificing in this process his reason. We believe that for an informed atheist this book could be a challenge – and eventually a chance for becoming a Christian.
However, for a Christian who believes in supernatural Creation (and who believes that we could find in Nature good arguments for the existence of God), this book might be a bit disturbing. We would not recommend her to read this book if she is not interested to do a more serious research in this area; this we affirm because we believe that, given the strong and convincing arguments offered by Collins to the people who are not very familiar with any good counterarguments (against evolution), they have great chances of becoming (at the end of reading his book), theistic evolutionists – a perspective which to us does not seem very convincing.
But, in any case, to the people who are willing to pay the price of seriously studying the arguments related to the Creation-Evolution debate we would warmly recommend this book: it is written by a great scientist who is – in the same time – a sincere and serious evangelical believer; and it gives the reader the chance of becoming familiarized – in a short time – with some of the best arguments for theistic evolution ever given since now. In addition to that, we would warmly recommend to such open-minded persons to read the books: ‘Explore Evolution’ – an excellent introduction into the evolution – intelligent design debate (and generally in the disciplines of biology and biochemistry), the book ‘More than a Theory’, a good introduction into the ‘Reasons to Believe’ creationist model, but also the books of Michael Behe ‘Darwin’s Black Box’ (2006) and ‘The Edge of Evolution’ (2007) (which are foundational for the understanding of the Intelligent Design model).
In this way the reader will be able to see a cogent alternative to Bio-Logos model of Francis Collins and she can thus weight the arguments for a Theistic Evolution model, an Intelligent Design position and a ‘Reasons to Believe’ Creationist model – forming an informed personal opinion on these matters. Surely, these models would not represent all the spectrum of opinions in this respect, but they will be in any case a good starting point in this sense.
 See also the article from the address: http://www.reasons.org/junk-dna-hotspots-connect-case-intelligent-design .
 See in this respect: Hugh Ross, More than a Theory, Baker Books Publishing, 2009, p. 201-202.
 See in this respect the article from the address: http://www.scribd.com/doc/57705584/Is-Chromosome-2-the-Best-Evidence-for-Human-Evolution .
 See in this respect the arguments of Dr. Jeffrey Tomkins and Dr. Jerry Begman from these articles: http://www.icr.org/article/6089/ and http://www.icr.org/article/ongoing-telomere-research-at-odds-with/ .
 See more about this problem at the address: http://www.audiopress.net/science-news-flash/junk-dna-human-chimp-differences.
 Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life, New York, W. W. Norton Publishing, 1989, p. 51.
 Fazale Rana, The Cell Design, Baker Publishing, Grand Rapids, 2008, p. 205-215.
 Simon Conway Morris, Life’s Solution, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004; see also the name ‘Simon Conway Morris’ on the search engine of the internet address: http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/Multimedia.php .
 See in this respect: Zachary Blount, Christina Borland, Richard Lenski, ‘Historical Contingency and the Evolution of a Key Innovation in an Experimental Population of Escherichia coli’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 105, June 10, 2008, p. 7899.
 Stephen Meyer, Scott Minnich, Jonathan Moneymaker, Ralph Seelke, Explore Evolution, Hill House Publishers, London, 2007.
 Hugh Ross, More than a Theory, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2009.