The cell is an incredibly complex machine fundamental to all known forms of life. The more we learn about it, the more we discover how sophisticated it is, but also how absolutely amazingly precision engineered it is. To evolve a human, first you must evolve a cell. How can anyone possibly look at a living cell and say it evolved any more than they can point at a rolex watch and say that evolved?
And what about the eye? A complex piece of engineering on its own even before you factor in the amazingly complex visual system?
A little knowledge can be so dangerous. Even when I was a practicing Christian, that argument troubled me. I’d go so far as to say it began my fall from faith.
The human animal is a terribly imperfect creature, take the eye, for instance. A terrible piece of engineering. In the human eye, the retina is wired up back-to-front, with the light-sensitive cells behind the nerves and blood vessels that support it. That’s like putting the wiring of a ditigal camera infront of the CCD. And the nerves and blood vessels have to dive through the retina, creating a blind spot in each eye.
Squids and octopuses have eyes that are wired the other way around giving them far better vision and allowing more brain power to be spent on processing the actual image than constructing it. Well, according to Genesis 1, the process of 6 days of back to back creation left God in need of a rest, so maybe it was around after he made the cephalapods that he started getting tired and started botching up the eye design?
The human visual system is all a constructive illusion that we believe because we live within its confines. Canals on Mars? Ever noticed the second hand on a clock seem to pause? If you have one handy, watch it for a while and blink occasionally. When you happen to blink just as the hand move, the next second will seem to take longer. You can get the same effect by rapidly moving or rolling your eyes but harder to achieve as pronounced an effect.
This is the brain’s built-in response to a saccade – after restoring normal vision, the brain uses the first image it receives to fill in the last few miliseconds of the preceeding gap so that you don’t see darkness every time you move your eyes allowing us the impression of seamless, continuous vision.
Infact, our “frame rate” is incredibly low. But our self-contained little system is inherently self-delusional, as evidenced by the pausing second hand where the brain’s little visual deception causes an internal consistency with its own timing mechanisms.
Even conscious of this, its hard to shake of the absolute certainty that the hand is not keeping perfect time.
I find the limitations, failings and deceptions of the visual system astounding. What I once took to be the most conrete and infallible of the senses turns out to be a hodge-podge of make believe. And, indeed, our entire perception of reality is similarly manufactured and fictional. Most people have an image, a moment or a place they can recall in perfect detail. Wrong. Your brain is acting as both collector and inspector. Its more like you remember an index of associated memories and the process of that rememberance creates the illusion of a more complete memory.
Your mind’s eye is not a HDTV, that’s just how the sense we give ourselves of it.
The entire brain is similarly self-expressionate. We see, feel, hear and understand everything in recursive patterns. Because that’s how our brain works. Ultimately, everything resolves to some pattern of neurons. As I’ve said before, the human brain cannot understand randomness. We can get the concept, but never truly understand it. You get that randomness means no pattern, but still we see patterns in clouds, or stars, or static on the TV. 11111111122222222. That’s random. Just me pressing two keys at random. Your brain interpreted it as ones and twos, a pattern, so seeing beyond that is immediately and automatically hampered.
Religion – not uniquely, I see far too many ‘scientific’ theories that are based on the same thing – provides answers to basic universal questions – like the bizzare and sometimes crazy theories that percolate out of quantum physics. Unlike science, which throws a terrifying universe of further questions and answers at us – religion is succinct, simple, storable as a pattern.
So once you believe, it becomes incredibly difficult to see there are answers and questions beyond our immediate scope; it becomes very hard to be objective and see that our own questions are framed in the context and assumption of our existing belief set – just like its hard to accept that you can’t recall in perfect detail that amazing vista or the day she said “yes” or the moments before that terrible accident because you are both inquirer and respondent.
The cell didn’t evolve over night nor did life go from mud puddle to cells in a blink. Chemicals combined and separated, compounds formed and mixed, broke down and dissipated, seeped and flowed. And here and there some stuck together and became fussy about what else they would combine or react with. Gradually more and more complex compounds formed. At some point, an environment formed in which a new compound emerged with a new and different property. Instead of interacting with surrounding compounds, to break down and form something else, it caused surrounding compounds to form more of the same.
Did you think I was talking about DNA or life or something? Actually, I was just talking about salt crystals. When certain atoms link up in the right way, they create an opportunity for repetition. Over a million years the early earth veritably froths and bubbles, boils and churns. It gets smacked about by rocks and snowballs containing all kinds of atoms and molecules. Lightning, wind, vulcanism, rain, erosion… But when your belief system tells you the universe was created in 7 days, its really very hard just to conceive of how simple and obvious it is that all these lucky coincidetal science experiments would happen to come together in the same puddle of mud. Chances are all of those experiments happened countless times until they happened upon a molecule of two hydrogen atoms and one of oxygen bumped into them.
Its absolutely incredible to believe that blind chance happened to zap a puddle of mud and create life. But we’re talking about a planet’s worth of atoms that weren’t doing anything else. Billions and billions of little laboratories. There are over 70 naturally occuring elements on this here planet of ours, over 50 of them in abundance. An entire planet of temperature variations and varietous mixing activities. Its so far beyond the scale the human brain can comprehend and so we quietly simplify it down to the analogy of “natures chemistry set”. Of course life didn’t evolve from a handful of test-tubes.
But a salt crystal is simply the simplest of all generations – atoms of the same element binding together. The evidence for a tumltous laboratory of ever varying conditions and environs is right there in the ground beneath our feet – there is no single chemical formula for “rock”; we don’t find tin atom by atom, it comes in veins; we don’t dig up carbon, and we don’t find diamond mountains, we find diamonds.
The cell didn’t evolve from a puddle of mud anymore than the iPhone is the direct descendant of the telegraph. How did the blind watch maker conjuor up something as complex and full of interdependencies as the cell? It didn’t. The blind watch maker probably invented something more like a sundial or an egg-timer or the water clock.
Many of the essential components of the cell – like DNA, RNA, amino acids, proteins, all exist in nature. Between the telegraph and the iPhone there’s John Logie Baird, the CRT and the mobile phone, to name but a few steps.
The cell, no doubt, has its dinosaurs. After all, if you put aside the religious scale of creation for a while, there was an awful lot of time for an entire planet of atoms to try out one or two variations on the theme.
PS I’m not trying to tell you what to believe, and if your personal faith rested on the basis that evolution isn’t true and that Genesis 1 was a literal truth then I guess you weren’t paying much attention when you read Genesis 2 where the order is a little bit different.
If the bible is genuinely divinely inspired then I take that as the author’s way of saying “Creation? Bit complicated that and a bit off topic for this book of moral and spiritual guidance (but not taboo). We’re going to be focusing on when to stone people and when not to kill, having a few battles and some significant slavery and suffering, discuss rituals for cutting meat and, uhm, other things, and a lil’ bit about loving one another in a spiritual way before a big finale of fire and brimstone for a climax”.
Base your faith on the message and not the translation.