Saturday, July 30, 2005

Daniel's 70 weeks: Proof that Naturalism is false and Christianity is true!


In my debates with anti-supernaturalists, when challenged to produce evidence for the supernatural, I have responded with Daniel's prophecy of the 70 weeks (Dn 9:24-27)[1] as proof[2] that Naturalism[3] is false and Christianity[4] is true!

[Above: The prophet Daniel, Michelangelo (1475-1564), Sistine Chapel]

In 605 BC Daniel was carried off to Babylon as a youth with members of the Jewish royalty and nobility (2Ki 24:1; Dn 1:1-6)[5]. Then in 586 BC the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its temple (2Ki 24:17-25:21)[6]. The prophet Jeremiah had predicted that Jerusalem would become desolate and its people taken captive to Babylon for seventy years, after which Babylon would itself be made desolate and after the seventy years, and those carried off into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon would be brought back (Jer 25:11-12; 27:22; 29:10)[7].

After Babylon itself fell to the Medo-Persians under Cyrus (Dn 5:1-31; 6:28)[8] in 538 BC[9], it being nearly 70 years since the beginning of Jerusalem's destruction by the Babylonians in 605 BC[10], the aged Daniel prayed to God that His promise through Jeremiah "that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years," would be fulfilled (Dn 9:1-2), and in response God sent the angel Gabriel to Daniel to reveal to him the prophecy of the 70 `weeks' (Dn 9:20-23).

Liberal and other naturalistic (i.e. anti-supernaturalistic) scholars, realising that Daniel's prophecies, especially of events that transpired in the Maccabean period (167-164 BC)[11], are so accurate, and since genuine predictive prophecy is impossible (on their naturalistic premises) they must be vaticinia ex eventu (prophecies after the event)[12]. However, the linguistic[13] and archaeological[14] evidence is decisively against this. Also, the historians Josephus (c. 37-100 AD)[15], Tacitus (c. 55-120 AD)[16] and Suetonius (c. 69-130 AD) [17], recorded that the Jews were expecting the fulfillment of a prophecy of a ruler to arise in the first century AD, and Daniel's 70 `weeks' seems to be what they had in mind.[18]

The prophecy of the 70 `weeks'[19] has three main components: 1) a starting point (terminus a quo) "From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" (Dn 9:25); 2) a period of 70 `weeks' comprised of 7 + 62 + 1 `weeks' that would elapse from the starting point; and 3) an ending point (terminus ad quem) after the 69th `week' when "the Anointed One [Heb. Messiah], the ruler, comes", and is then "cut off" with the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Dn 9:26). Since the ending point 3) is a product of the starting point 1) and the time unit 2), all three components are here analysed under the three main claimed starting points.

STARTING POINT: "the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" (Dn 9:25)

There are three main candidate decrees (Heb. dabar,"word")[20] which have been claimed as starting points:

1. The decree of the first year of Cyrus I in 538/537 BC (2 Chr 36:23; Ezr 1:1-4. cf. Isa 44:28; 45:13). However, that decree refers only to the rebuilding of the temple, not of the city of Jerusalem.[21] Also, if each `week' is seven years (see below), then 7 + 62 = 69 `weeks' to the coming of the Messiah is 483 years from 538/537 BC, i.e. 55/54 BC.[22] But no Messiah came then, nor was Jerusalem or the temple destroyed soon after.[23] Daniel would then have been a false prophet (Dt 18:21-22) and his book would not have been included in the Jewish Scriptures and we probably would never have heard of him. So that decree does not fit the Biblical or historical facts and therefore should be rejected. There is also the decree of the second year of Darius I Hystaspes in 520/519 BC[24] (Ezr 4:24-6:15), but this was merely a confirming of Cyrus' decree that the temple be rebuilt.[25]

2. The decree of the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus in 458/457 BC [26](Ezr 7:7-26). This decree included permission for "any of the Israelites ... including priests and Levites, who wish to go to Jerusalem with" Ezra, to go (v.14); Ezra to take with him "silver and gold" (vv.15-16) "to buy ... offerings ... and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple ... in Jerusalem" (vv.17, 21); Ezra "may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of ... God" (v.18. My emphasis); "articles ... for worship in the temple" (v.19); "anything else needed for the temple of ... God ... from the royal treasury" (v.20); "the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates ... have no authority to impose taxes ... on any of the priests ... or other workers at this house of God" (vv.21, 24); "Ezra ... [to] appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice ..." (v.25); with penalties up and including "death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment." (v.26). This all-embracing decree to "restore" (socially and religiously) and "rebuild" (physically) Jerusalem, included rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem: "The king had granted him [Ezra] everything he asked" (Ezr 7:6-7. My emphasis) and Nehemiah 13 years later in 445/444 BC was surprised and disappointed to hear that Jerusalem's wall and gates were still in their broken down and burned state (Neh 1:1-3).[27] So while Ezra had authority to rebuild the city, it seems he was too busy with social and religious restoration to arrange for it to be done.[28]

Also, if each `week' is seven years, then 69 `weeks' to the coming of the Messiah is 483 years from 458/457 BC, i.e. 26/27 AD.[29] This is precisely the years of Jesus' baptism in 26 AD and the commencement of His public ministry in 27 AD (Mt 3:13-4:17; Mk 1:14-15)[30]! A starting point of 457/458 BC would also fit the first seven `weeks' or 49 years to 408 BC, being the period of the rebuilding and restoring of Jerusalem covered in the books of Ezra-Nehemiah [31].

3. The decree of the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus in 445/444 BC (Neh 2:1-4:23; 6:1-16) This decree was for permission for Nehemiah to take leave of absence and purchase a supply of timber to rebuild Jerusalem's wall and gates, not to restore and rebuild the city of Jerusalem itself[32]. It really is just an enlargement and renewal of Artaxerxes' original decree to Ezra[33]. The KJV's "the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times" (v.25) is a mistranslation, the Heb. harus rendered "wall" by the KJV was later found to mean "trench" or "moat"[34]. So there seems to be no good reason to focus exclusively on rebuilding Jerusalem's wall as though that is the same as "to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" (my emphasis).

Moreover, if each `week' is seven years, then 69 `weeks' to the coming of the Messiah is 483 years from 445/444 BC, i.e. 39/40 AD[35] which is far too late for the coming of Jesus and indeed well after Jesus' crucifixion in 30 AD.[36]. There have been two main attempts which each "involve an unusual chronological artifice"[37] to try to shorten the time units to make this later starting point fit the historical facts of Jesus' life. The first uses 360-day "prophetic years"[38], to arrive at "the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem" in 33 AD.[39] But apart from the fact that there is no evidence of the Jews ever using anything other than ordinary 365-day solar years in their calendar[40], this is three years after the most likely year of Jesus' crucifixion in 30 AD,[41] let alone His coming in 26/27 AD. Also, the first seven `weeks' following a 445/444 BC starting point does not correspond to the 49-year period of Ezra-Nehemiah 457/458 to 408 BC[42], since it starts well into that period. The second main attempt to reconcile a 445/444 BC starting point with significant events in the life of Jesus, is Robert C. Newman's Sabbath-year cycles[43]. This suffers from the same problems of the 360-day year, with an additional problem that, as Newman acknowledges, "Daniel says `after the sixty-two weeks Messiah will be cut off,' whereas by our calculation the crucifixion occurs on the 62nd week (the 69th, adding the first seven)", that is "28-35 AD"[44].


The second starting point, that of the decree of the seventh year of the Medo-Persian king Artaxerxes I Longimanus in 457/458 BC to Ezra, fits all the facts, both Biblical and historical. It was an all-embracing general decree to "restore and rebuild Jerusalem" itself, socially, spiritually and physically. It does not resort to "an unusual chronological artifice" but uses ordinary solar years. Also, only that decree as the starting point, makes sense of the first seven `weeks', being the period of the restoring and rebuilding Jerusalem under Ezra-Nehemiah.

Moreover, only that decree of 457/458 BC matches the historical facts of: 1) Jesus' public coming in His baptism and commencement of His public ministry at the end of the 69th `week', which was 26/27 AD; 2) then His being "cut off" at His crucifixion in 30 AD; 3) His confirming a new "covenant with many" by His death (Jer 31:31; Lk 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 8:8; 9:15; 12:24) which also 4) "put an end to [Old Testament] sacrifice and offering"; and finally 5) the consequent destruction of "the city and the sanctuary" by the Roman army led by Titus Vespasian in 70 AD.[45] The Jewish historian Josephus, who survived that destruction of Jerusalem, realised that it was a fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy (evidently of the 70 `weeks') and therefore Epicureanism (Materialism-Naturalism) was false[46]:

"And indeed it so came to pass, that our nation suffered these things under Antiochus Epiphanes, according to Daniel's vision, and what he wrote many years before they came to pass. In the very same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them. All these things did this man leave in writing, as God had showed them to him, insomuch that such as read his prophecies, and see how they have been fulfilled, would wonder at the honor wherewith God honored Daniel; and may thence discover how the Epicureans are in an error, who cast Providence out of human life, and do not believe that God takes care of the affairs of the world, nor that the universe is governed and continued in being by that blessed and immortal nature, but say that the world is carried along of its own accord, without a ruler and a curator; which, were it destitute of a guide to conduct it, as they imagine, it would be like ships without pilots, which we see drowned by the winds, or like chariots without drivers, which are overturned; so would the world be dashed to pieces by its being carried without a Providence, and so perish, and come to nought. So that, by the aforementioned predictions of Daniel, those men seem to me very much to err from the truth, who determine that God exercises no providence over human affairs; for if that were the case, that the world went on by mechanical necessity, we should not see that all things would come to pass according to his prophecy."

Jesus is the only claimed Jewish Messiah who went on to found a world religion[47], yet it just so `happened' that Daniel six centuries before in 538 BC accurately predicted (using the most reasonable starting point and time unit): 1) the very year of the commencement Jesus' public ministry (26/27 AD); 2) His death in the middle of the 70th week (30 AD); 3) the establishment of a new covenant (the New Testament) by it; and 4) the consequent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple soon afterwards (70 AD). This is proof, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Naturalism is false and Christianity is true!


[1] See also my in-progress online project, "Daniel's prophecy of the seventy `weeks' (Dn 9:24-27)."[return]
[2] By "proof" I do not mean in a mathematical sense of "absolute certaintly" but in the scientific sense of "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent" (Gould S.J., "Evolution as Fact and Theory," in "Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes," [1983], Penguin: London, 1984, reprint, p.254).[return]
[3] By "Naturalism" I here mean both Materialism (matter is all there is = there is no God); and Naturalism (nature is all there is = there is no supernatural).[return]
[4] By "Christianity" I here mean, historic, orthodox, `mere' Christianity, "the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times" (Lewis, C.S., 1952, "Mere Christianity,"Fount: London, 1997, reprint,[return]
[5] Hill, A.E. & Walton, J.H., 2000, "A Survey of the Old Testament," [1991], Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, Second Edition, p.455; Barker, K., ed., 1985, "The NIV Study Bible," Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, p.1300.[return]

[6] Hill & Walton, 2000, p.455; Barker, p.1300.[return]

[7] Barker, 1985, pp.1164, 1169-1170.[return]

[8] "Darius the Mede" was either Cyrus' general Gubaru (Gobryas) who captured Babylon and governed it as Cyrus' viceroy (Archer, G.L., 1964, "A Survey of Old Testament Introduction," Moody Press: Chicago IL, 1966, p.372); or it was an alternative name of Cyrus himself (Thompson, J.A., 1982, "The Bible and Archaeology," [1962], Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, Third Edition, p.200; Baldwin J.G., "Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary," Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester UK, 1978, p.27).[return]

[9] Finegan, J., 1964, "Handbook of Biblical Chronology," Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ, p.212.[return]

[10] La Sor W.S., Hubbard, D.A. & Bush, F.W., 1982, "Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament," Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1987, reprint, p.671.[return]

[11] Unger, M.F., 1966, "Unger's Bible Handbook: An Essential Guide to Understanding the Bible," Moody Press: Chicago IL, p.391; Millard A.R., 1986, "Daniel," in Bruce F.F., ed., "The International Bible Commentary," [1979], Marshall Pickering/ Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, Second Edition, 1994, reprint, p.865.[return]

[12] This does not help the anti-supernaturalists explain away Daniel's 70 `weeks' since its fulfillment is in the first century AD, but they cannot claim it is any later than the second century BC, because the book of Daniel is in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was completed during the third and second centuries BC (Unger, M.F., 1969, "Unger's Bible Dictionary," [1966], Moody Press: Chicago IL, Third edition, p.1147; Archer, 1964, p.38).[return]

[13] The language of Daniel is similar to known 5th and 6th century BC Hebrew and Aramaic (Harrison, R.K., 1969, "Introduction to the Old Testament,"Tyndale Press: London, 1970, reprint, p.1125; Hill & Walton, 2000, p.454). There are only three Greek loan words (Dn 3:5-15) and they are names of musical instruments, and there are Persian administrative loan words where their Greek counterparts would be expected if Daniel was composed in second century Palestine that had been under Greek rule since Alexander's conquest in 333 BC (Archer, 1964, p.375; Harrison, 1969, pp.1124-1126; Harris, R.L., 1957, "Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible: An Historical and Exegetical Study," Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, p.149).[return]

[14] "The evidence of the LXX and Qumran indicates that Daniel was in existence in its full form, and had been distributed over a relatively wide area, prior to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes [167-164BC]." (La Sor, et al., 1982, pp.666-667).[return]

[15] "But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, `about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.' The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea. However, it is not possible for men to avoid fate, although they see it beforehand. But these men interpreted some of these signals according to their own pleasure, and some of them they utterly despised, until their madness was demonstrated, both by the taking of their city and their own destruction." (Josephus, "Jewish War," 6.5.4, in Whiston, W., 1999, "The New Complete Works of Josephus," Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids MI, Revised Edition, p.899).[return]

[16] "The majority were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present as the very time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world. This mysterious prophecy really referred to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, true to the selfish ambitions of mankind, thought that this mighty destiny was reserved for them, and not even their calamities opened their eyes to the truth." (Tacitus, "The Jews," 5.13, in Wellesley, K., 1995, "Tacitus: The Histories," [1964], Penguin: London, Revised, p.288).[return]

[17]"An ancient superstition was current in the East, that out of Judaea at this time would come the rulers of the world. This prediction, as the event later proved, referred to a Roman Emperor, but the rebellious Jews, who read it as referring to themselves, murdered their Governor, routed the Governor of Syria when he came down to restore order, and captured an Eagle. To crush this uprising the Romans needed a strong army under an energetic commander, who could be trusted not to abuse his considerable powers. The choice fell on Vespasian. He had given signal proof of energy and nothing, it seemed, need be feared from a man of such modest antecedents. Two legions, with eight cavalry squadrons and ten auxiliary cohorts, were therefore dispatched to join the forces already in Judaea; and Vespasian took his elder son, Titus, to serve on his staff." (Suetonius, "Vespasian: Aftrerwards Deified," X.4, in Graves, R. & Grant, M., 2003, "Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars," [1957], Penguin: London, Revised).[return]

[18] Newman, R.C., 1988, "The Time of the Messiah," in Newman R.C., ed., "The Evidence of Prophecy: Fulfilled Prediction as a Testimony to the Truth of Christianity," Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute: Hatfield PA, Fourth Printing, 1998, p.111; Newman, R.C., 1997, "Fulfilled Prophecy as Miracle," in Geivett, R.D. & Habermas, G.R., eds., "In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History," Apollos: Leicester UK, p.223; Newman, R.C., 2002, "The Time of the Messiah," [1981], IBRI Research Report #9.[return]

[19] The Heb. shebu`im here is literally "sevens." (Harris, R.L., Archer, G.L. & Waltke, B.K., eds, 1980, "Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament," Moody Press: Chicago IL, 1992, Twelfth Printing, p.2:899). The Heb. here is masculine, whereas the normal gender of seven, as in a seven-day week, is feminine, thus indicating that time units other than ordinary seven-day weeks is here intended (Archer, G.L., 1982, "Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties," Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, p.289). Clearly ordinary weeks of seven days cannot be intended, because then after 70 weeks (i.e. about a year and four months) Daniel would have been discredited as a false prophet (Archer, G.L., "Daniel," in Gaebelein F.E., ed., "The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets," Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1985, Vol. 7, p.121).[return]

[20] Harris, et al., 1980, p.1:393; Archer, 1982, p.289.[return]

[21] Archer, 1982, p.290; Pusey E.B., "Daniel the Prophet. Nine Lectures, of the University of Oxford. With Copious Notes." Funk & Wagnalls: New York NY, 1885, p.189.[return]

[22] 538/537 BC-483=55/54 BC.[return]

[23] This does not fit the liberal anti-supernaturalists' preferred "Anointed One," the High Priest Onias III, who was killed over a century later in 172 BC, and their preferred desecration of the temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes which was in 167 BC (Millard, 1986, p.865; Lindsell, H., ed., 1964, "Harper Study Bible," Revised Standard Version, Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, p.1313).[return]

[24] Finegan, 1964, p.212.[return]

[25] Pusey, 1885, pp.188-189.[return]

[26] Finegan, 1964, p.213.[return]

[27] Archer, 1982, p.290.[return]

[28] Archer, 1985, p.114.[return]

[29] -458/457 BC +1+483 = 26/27 AD. The +1 is to adjust for there being no year zero between 1 BC and 1 AD (Newman, 1988, p.117; Archer, 1985, p.114)[return]

[30] Finegan, 1964, p.298; Pusey, 1885, p.189; Archer, 1964, p.387; Archer, 1982, p.291.[return]

[31] Lindsell, 1964, p.1313; Davis, J.D., 1966, "A Dictionary of the Bible," [1898], Baker: Grand Rapids MI, Fourth Edition, p.163; Boice, J.M., 1989, "Daniel: An Expositional Commentary," Baker: Grand Rapids MI, p.100.[return]

[32] Archer, 1982, p.290; Archer, 1985, p.114.[return]

[33] Pusey, 1885, pp.188-189.[return]

[34] Harris, et al., 1980, p.1:326; Millard, 1986, p.864.[return]

[35] -445/444 BC +1+483 = 39/40 AD.[return]

[36] Finegan, 1964, p.300; Archer, 1985, p.114.[return]

[37] Davis, 1966, p.163.[return]

[38] Archer, 1985, p.115; Harris, 1957, p.151.[return]

[39] McDowell, J., 1988, "Evidence That Demands a Verdict," [1972], Here's Life Publishers: San Bernardino CA, Revised Edition, Twenty-Ninth printing, Vol. I, p.173.[return]

[40] Archer, 1985, pp.115, 120.[return]

[41] Archer, 1985, pp.115-116; Finegan, 1964, p.300.[return]

[42] See note 31.[return]

[43] Newman, 1988; Newman, 1997, pp.223-224; Newman, 2002.[return]

[44] Newman, 1988, p.118 (emphasis in original). Newman argues that this is "a conventional Jewish idiom in which `after' means `after the beginning of'." But if "After the sixty-two 'sevens'" could mean "after the beginning of the sixty-two 'sevens'" then it could mean anytime within the sixty-two 'sevens'. So whatever "after" may mean in Jewish idiom elsewhere, here "After the sixty-two 'sevens'" must mean after the end of the "sixty-two 'sevens'", i.e. after the 69th `week', in the 70th `week'.[return]

[45] Young, E.J., 1949, "A Commentary on Daniel," The Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, 1978, reprint, pp.206-221.[return]

[46] Josephus, "Jewish Antiquities," 10.11.7, in Whiston, 1999, p.357. My emphasis.[return]

[47] Newman, 1997, p.224.[return]

Copyright © 2005, Stephen E. Jones. All rights reserved.
Posted 30 July 2005. Updated 15 April 2024.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Do Prayers for the Heart Patient Help?

A study by Dr. Mitchell W. Krucoff, a professor of medicine at Duke University and reported in the British medical journal, The Lancet, has found that prayer from a distance - whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist - did not significantly improve the outcome for common elective cardiac procedures performed on a group 737 patients. The study did find some positive benefit in bedside stress-reduction techniques like music, imagery and touching.

Half of the study participants were randomly assigned to a group to be prayed for, and half to a group that was not prayed for. Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist congregations were then given the names of patients to be prayed for, and prayed for their healing for five to 30 days. The group prayed for had no significant reduction in deaths either in the hospital or in later hospital readmissions, although the report does say that 6-month mortality was slightly lower (in fact 25% compared with 35%!) in patients assigned to the prayer group.

Dr. Krucoff conceded the results was "not a disproof of prayer," noting that "most of the patients - whether or not they received prayers from the congregations - had friends and relatives praying for them." This last alone would seem to invalidate any such intercessory prayer experiments. An essential component of an experiment is the ability to isolate the variable one is seeking to study, which in this class of experiments is God! Specifically, how could the experimenter ever be able to rule out that persons outside the experiment are not praying for individuals in both the experimental and control groups, and that God is not answering some of those prayers? Former atheist-turned Christian Paul Glynn asks of a similar experiment involving cardiac patients, where the results seemed to indicate that prayer had made a significant difference:

"Then there was the more fundamental problem of putting `prayer' itself in this fashion under the scientific microscope. Presumably, some of the patients in the control group had relatives and friends praying for them. Indeed, one would expect the majority of people in coronary care units to have people praying quite earnestly for them. Why should the prayers of the control group's relatives not have been `heard,' while the prayers of the strangers in Byrd's recruited prayer groups were? Were the latter prayers `better,' even though they came from strangers who did not know the patients? How earnestly did the prayer groups pray, and for that matter did they pray at all? Byrd's was an ingeniously and carefully structured study. But as is clear, one sails quickly off the scientific deep end in this kind of research." (Glynn, 1997, p.91)
This is apart from other issues, such as the assumption that "Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist" are all praying to the same God (according to comparative religions scholar Huston Smith, "Buddhism is atheistic"), and that God is not some automatic celestial vending machine who would obligingly cooperate with a scientific experiment that sets a limit that He must work on just the prayed-for patients, within the allotted six months time-frame in response to prayer from "five to 30 days"! As Glynn had previously observed, the idea that God can be manipulated to perform in this type of experiment is more akin to magic, than genuine spirituality:
"There is a kind of relentlessly utilitarian bent to the American mind that is prepared to reduce everything in life to a tool or a commodity. Spirituality is no exception. Think about it for a moment. Over the course of centuries, countless children have prayed earnestly over sick parents-and for that matter parents over sick children-who, despite countless, earnest prayers, have died. To date, none of us have escaped that particular earthly fate. Precious few of us escape illness over the course of a long life. Statistics show that religious people are, on average, physically and mentally healthier than their atheistic or agnostic counterparts, and that is well and good. Nevertheless, they do get sick, and they do die. The notion that spiritual forces can be invoked at will to change the material conditions of our lives, or those of others, properly belongs not to religion or to genuine spirituality as it has been understood by mankind's greatest religious teachers, but rather to magic. It is not accidental that one of the most important phrases in Christian prayer is `Thy will be done.'" (Glynn, 1997, p.92)
Christian teaching on prayer is that it is primarily in the context of a a private personal relationship between the individual believer and God (Mat.6:6); prayer often has to be persistent (Luke 18:1-5); personal righteousness is an important factor in effective prayer (James 5:16); God can answer prayers with a "no" as He did to the Apostle Paul's request for healing (2 Cor. 12:7-9); and even Jesus' prayers were conditional on their being in accordance with God's will: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Mat. 26:39).

Which is not to say that God does not heal in answer to prayer. He does, but in my experience it is always on His terms. For example, several years ago my wife accompanied her friend, who was suffering from chronic pain in her face, to a travelling Christian healer's tent. After being prayed for by the healer, my wife's friend's pain went completely away a couple of days after the meeting and has not since returned. My wife, who has MS, was not herself seeking healing but the healer asked her if she wanted him to pray for her too, so she said yes. While my wife was not healed of her MS, a couple of months later she realised that she had not had one of her regular migraine headaches since that healing meeting, and that is still the case today. Needless to say, neither my wife, nor her friend, nor I, need scientific experiments to convince us that God answers prayers for healing, even if it is not always exactly what we ask for!

"Prayer 'no aid to heart patients'," BBC, 15 July, 2005.

"Prayer Groups, Other Therapy Found Ineffective," Ivanhoe's Medical Breakthroughs, July 15, 2005.

Bakalar B., "Do Prayers for the Heart Patient Help?" The New York Times, July 26, 2005.

Glynn, P., "God: The Evidence: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World," Forum: Rocklin CA, 1997.

Krucoff, M.W., et al., "Music, imagery, touch, and prayer as adjuncts to interventional cardiac care: the Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA) II randomised study," The Lancet, Vol. 366, No. 9481, 16 July 2005.

Osterweil, N., "Prayer Does Not Affect Primary Heart Outcomes," MedPage Today, July 14, 2005.

Smith, H., "The World's Religions," [1958], Harper Collins: New York NY, Revised, 1991, p.114.

Wible, B., "Healing Power of Prayer Doubted in Patient Study," Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2005.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

'Lucy' walked upright just like us

A robotics model of Australopithecus afarensis locomotion

Dr. William I. Sellers a "computational primatologist" of Loughborough University in the UK, and colleagues under leadership of Professor Robin Crompton of the University of Liverpool, have attempted to settle the question whether `Lucy' was fully bipedal (walked fully upright with a striding gait), as we modern humans do, a question that anthropologists still disagree on.

`Lucy' is the name given to the ~3.2 million-year ago Australopithecus afarensis 40% complete fossil skeleton discovered at Hadar in Ethiopia by Donald Johanson in 1974. This fossil, together with the ~3.5 mya Laetoli footprints preserved in volcanic ash that were discovered in Tanzania in 1978, and presumed to be made by an A. afarensis, were the earliest evidence of full bipedality in a presumed human ancestor.

As they reported in the journal Royal Society Interface, Sellers and colleagues built a robotics model, with assumed virtual muscles for `Lucy', that used genetic algorithms to determined the optimum locomotion for a particular set of body proportions. The resulting model of A. afarensis locomotion closely matched that of the Laetoli footprints. The researchers concluded, "Assuming that the early human relative A. afarensis was the maker of the Laetoli footprint, our study suggests that, by 3.5 million years ago, some, at least, of our early relatives, despite small stature, could sustain efficient bipedal walking at absolute speeds within the range shown by modern humans."

Bipedality too early!: A problem of evolution

This study further confirms what has been a a long-standing problem of evolution, that Lucy's bipedality is too early for Darwinian evolution. The ABC article touches on this: "By suggesting that our ancestors walked upright before the earliest stone tools were made and before brains got bigger, the prediction conflicts with the previous hypothesis that A. afarensis shuffled like chimps walking upright." The original Darwinian gradualistic explanation was that hominid bipedalism was an adaptation to living and hunting on the savannah grasslands that opened up in Africa with the drying of the climate at the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary about 5 million years ago. However, this "Darwinian package of bipedalism, tool making, and intelligence marching in evolutionary concert is not correct" because Lucy showed that bipedalism occurred well before "the great plains and the immense herds on them [that] are relatively recent aspects of the African environment" (Leakey & Lewin, pp.84-85). The problem for evolution is that:

"The evolutionary shift from quadrupedalism to bipedalism would have required an extensive remodeling of the ape's bone and muscle architecture and of the overall proportion in the lower half of the body. Mechanisms of gait are different, mechanics of balance are different, functions of major muscles are different-an entire functional complex had to be transformed for efficient bipedalism to be possible." (Leakey & Lewin, 1993, pp.83-84).
However, it gets even worse for evolution, with recently discovered hominid fossils that appear to be bipedal, three million years before Lucy, as no less than Dawkins acknowledges:
"WHATEVER THE REASON for the evolution of bipedality, recent fossil discoveries seem to indicate that hominids were already bipedal at a date which is pushing disconcertingly close to Rendezvous 1, the fork between ourselves and chimpanzees (disconcerting because it seems to leave little time for bipedality to evolve). In the year 2000, a French team led by Brigitte Senut and Martin Pickford announced a new fossil from the Tugen Hills, east of Lake Victoria in Kenya. Dubbed `Millennium Man; dated at 6 million years and given yet another new generic name, Orrorin tugenensis was also, according to its discoverers, bipedal. Indeed, they claim that the top of its femur, near the hip joint, was more human-like than that of Australopithecus. This evidence, supplemented by fragments of skull bones, suggested to Senut and Pickford that orrorins are ancestral to later hominids and that Lucy's are not. These French workers go further and suggest that Ardipithecus might be ancestral to modern chimpanzees rather than to us. Clearly we need more fossils to settle these arguments. Other scientists are sceptical of these French claims, and some doubt that there is enough evidence to show whether Orrorin was or was not bipedal. If it was, since 6 million years is approximately the time of the split from chimpanzees according to molecular evidence, this raises difficult questions about the speed with which bipedality must have arisen. If a bipedal Orrorin pushes back alarmingly close to Rendezvous 1, a newly discovered skull from Chad in southern Sahara, found by another French team led by Michel Brunet, is even more disturbing to accepted ideas. This is partly because it is so old, and partly because the site is far to the west of the Rift Valley (as we shall see, many authorities had thought early hominid evolution confined to the east of the Rift). Nicknamed Toumai (Hope of Life in the local Goran language) its official name is Sahelanthropus tchadensis after the Sahel region of the Sahara in Chad where it was found. ... If their discoverers are right that Orrorin and Toumai were bipedal, this poses problems to any tidy view of human origins. The naive expectation is that evolutionary change spreads itself uniformly to fill the time available for it. If 6 million years elapsed between Rendezvous 1 and modern Homo sapiens, the quantity of change ought to be spun out, pro rata one might naively think, through the 6 million years. But Orrorin and Toumai both lived very close to the date identified from molecular evidence as that of Concestor 1, the split between our line and that of chimpanzees." (Dawkins, 2004, pp.94-96).
Note Dawkins' words: "disconcerting," "alarmingly," "disturbing", "problems"! To resolve the problem, Dawkins considers several possibilities, including:
"An extremely rapid burst of evolution occurred immediately after Concestor 1, which itself walked on all fours like a chimpanzee. The more humanoid Toumai and Orrorin evolved their bipedality so swiftly after Concestor 1 that the separation in dates cannot easily be resolved. ... We shall learn from the Galapagos Finch's Tale and the Lungfish's Tale that evolution can be extremely rapid or can be extremely slow. So [this] ... is not implausible." Dawkins, 2004, p.97).
However, Dawkins forgets what he once wrote:
"To 'tame' chance means to break down the very improbable into less improbable small components arranged in series. No matter how improbable it is that an X could have arisen from a Y in a single step, it is always possible to conceive of a series of infinitesimally graded intermediates between them. However improbable a large-scale change may be, smaller changes are less improbable. And provided we postulate a sufficiently large series of sufficiently finely graded intermediates, we shall be able to derive anything from anything else, without invoking astronomical improbabilities. We are allowed to do this only if there has been sufficient time to fit all the intermediates in. And also only if there is a mechanism for guiding each step in some particular direction, otherwise the sequence of steps will career off in an endless random walk. It is the contention of the Darwinian world-view that both these provisos are met, and that slow, gradual, cumulative natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence. If there are versions of the evolution theory that deny slow gradualism, and deny the central role of natural selection, they may be true in particular cases. But they cannot be the whole truth, for they deny the very heart of the evolution theory, which gives it the power to dissolve astronomical improbabilities and explain prodigies of apparent miracle." (Dawkins, 1986, pp.317-318. My emphasis)
So Dawkins, like Darwin, when it comes to the crunch, is prepared to abandon natural selection, in order to save "evolution." That is, for Dawkins, like Darwin (who abandoned slow gradualism in the last edition of his Origin of Species, to accommodate the physicist Lord Kelvin's ~100 million-year estimate of the age of the Earth - Darwin, 1872, p.315):
"Darwinism, therefore, began as a theory that evolution could be explained by natural selection. It ended as a theory that evolution could be explained just as you would like it to be explained." (Darlington, 1959, p.60)!


"UK Robotics show Lucy walked upright," BBC, 20 July, 2005.

Darlington, C.D., "The Origin of Darwinism," Scientific American, Vol. 201, May 1959, p.60.

Darwin, C.R., "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," [1872], Everyman's Library, J.M. Dent & Sons: London, 6th Edition, 1928, reprint.

Dawkins, R., "The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution," Houghton Mifflin Co: Boston MA, 2004.

Dawkins, R., "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint.

Jurmain, R., Kilgore, L., Trevathan, W.R. & Nelson, H., "Essentials of Physical Anthropology," Wadsworth/Thomson: Belmont CA, Fifth edition, 2004, pp.194-199.

Leakey, R. & Lewin, R., "Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human," [1992], Abacus: London, 1993, reprint.

Lorenzi, R. "'Lucy' walked upright just like us," ABC/Discovery News, 25 July 2005.

Sellers,W.I., et al., "Stride lengths, speed and energy costs in walking of Australopithecus afarensis: using evolutionary robotics to predict locomotion of early human ancestors," Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 18 July, 2005.

I have included the above quotes in my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, PE 14.1.2 "Man ... Uniqueness ... Bipedalism," as notes for when I come to that part of the book itself.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"

Monday, July 25, 2005

This planet has three suns!

A triple-star planetary system

Going one better than Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine with its two suns, astronomer Maciej Konacki of the California Institute of Technology and NASA, has reported in Nature the detection of the first extrasolar (outside our solar system) planet with three suns!

The triple-star system is named HD 188753 in the constellation Cygnus (The Swan), about 149 light-years from Earth. The primary star is like our Sun, weighing 1.06 solar masses. The other two smaller stars, a larger orange one and a smaller red one, form a tightly bound pair, totalling 1.63 solar masses, and orbit around each other at a distance similar to that between Saturn and our Sun.

Dr. Konacki detected the planet using a new technique he had developed for precisely measuring velocities of all objects in multiple-star systems that might reveal the presence of planets.

The planet is a gas giant slightly larger than Jupiter, and orbits the main star, every 3.35 Earth days. Such planets are called hot Jupiters because of their nearness to their star, and they have been found around 30 other stars.

Challenge to model of how planets form

In the current model of giant planet formation, the heat from its star prevents the initial stage - the formation of a planetary core. Therefore, hot Jupiters are thought to form about three AUs (astronomical units - the distance between the Sun and the Earth) farther out, beyond the "snow line" and have then migrated inwards to be close to their sun. However, this planet had to contend with the competing gravitational pull of three stars, and the pair of smaller suns should have sheared off much of the planet-making material in the disk around the primary star in its youth, and so it should not exist!

More evidence that our solar system is special

This discovery means that planets may exist in double and triple star systems that have been largely ignored. It is not that triple-star systems are rare, in fact in 2002 an astronomer looking for signs of planet formation around young, double-star systems found a third star in about half the cases. While the implication is that there may be more planets out there than previously thought, if that were case it would be  further evidence that our Solar System is even more special!


"Scientists find planet with 3 suns," CNN, July 14, 2005.

"This planet has three suns," ABC, 15 July 2005.

Britt, R.R. "Search for Planets Instead Yields Bevy of Stellar Triplets,", 10 January 2002.

Konacki, M., "An extrasolar giant planet in a close triple-star system," Nature, 436, July 14, 2005, pp.230-233.

Peplow, M., "The triple sunset that should not exist: Astronomer spies improbable world with three suns," News@Nature, 13 July 2005.

Schirber, M., "Triple Sunset: Planet Discovered in 3-Star System ,", 13 July 2005.

Wilford, J.N., "Discovery of a First: A World With 3 Suns," The New York Times, July 15, 2005.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Little liquid water on Mars for past 4 billion years

Researchers David Shuster of the California Institute of Technology and Benjamin Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, examined Martian meteorites called nakhlites and the famous ALH84001, which had been blasted from the surface of Mars to Earth. Shuster and Weiss measured the meteorites' loss of argon, which is highly dependent on temperature, in the minerals within the meteorites.[1]

The results, reported in Science,[2] showed that the meteorites could not have been heated to more than zero degrees celsius since the meteorites crystallised, estimated at four billion years ago.[3] Therefore they concluded that the top several kilometres of the crust of Mars has not been significantly warmer during that period and so the surface of Mars probably has not had significant amounts of free-standing liquid water for the last 4 billion years.[4]

Their finding does not mean that there were not pockets of isolated water in geothermal springs, but only that there have not been large areas of free-standing water for four billion years.[5] Those surface features on Mars that indicate the presence and flow of liquid water must therefore have formed over relatively brief periods.[1] This implies that it is unlikely that Mars has ever had an environment hospitable for life in the last 4 billion years, meaning that if Mars ever had life it would have had to be in the first half-billion years of its existence, when it was probably warmer.[4]

I still consider it a real possibility that life originated on Mars, which may have been more favourable to life ~4.0 bya than the Earth. Being smaller than the Earth and nearer Jupiter, Mars may have been spared such an intense Late Heavy Bombardment 4.0-3.8 bya as the Earth.[6] Life in the form of hardy single-celled bacteria , could then have been transferred from Mars via meteorite impact ejecta to Earth[7], which had then become more favourable for life, after the giant impact that created the Moon and the LHB, and then went extinct on Mars.

However, this then would make the fine-tuning problem of the Earth for life worse for evolution, in that not just one planet, Earth, but the Earth-Mars (and indeed the Earth-Moon, Mars and Jupiter) system would have to be just right in masses, orbits, time-frame, etc! If this was the case, then likelihood of life (let alone intelligent life) being on any other planet in the Universe, would have just become that much less!


[1] Whitehouse, D., "'Four-billion-year chill' on Mars," BBC, 21 July, 2005.

[2] Shuster, D.L. & Weiss, B.P., "Martian Surface Paleotemperatures from Thermochronology of Meteorites," Science, Vol 309, 22 July, 2005, pp.594-600.

[3] "Little liquid water on Mars for past 4 billion years: study," ABC, July 23, 2005.

[4] Britt, R.R., "Report: Mars Cold, Bitter Planet for a Long, Long Time,", 21 July, 2005.

[5] "Meteor study pours cold water on warm Mars theory," CNN/Reuters, July 22, 2005.

[6] This is questioned in Rana, F.R. & Ross, H.N., "Origins of Life: Biblical And Evolutionary Models Face Off," Navpress: Colorado Springs CO, 2004, p.194.

[7] Ward, P.D. & Brownlee, D.C., "The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World," [2002], Piatkus: London, 2003, reprint, pp.72-73; Gonzalez G. & Richards J.W., "The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed For Discovery," Regnery: Washington DC, 2004, pp.39-40; Rana & Ross, 2004, p.195.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Dinosaurs had respiratory system like birds 2/2

[Continued from part 1/2]

Birds' unique respiratory system is a preadaptation

These results indicate that birds' unique respiratory system[1], which enables them to meet the metabolic demands of high altitude flight[2], developed well before birds themselves arose. This Majungatholus atopus fossil is dated at 67 million years ago, but the first undisputed fossil bird, Archaeopteryx, is dated at 145 million years ago.

That is, the unique avian respiratory system is a preadaptation, a structure adapted to an earlier environment that was later found to be advantageous in a very different environment[3]. In this case a respiratory system in a line of terrestrial dinosaurs was found to be advantageous, indeed essential, for the high altitude flight that only birds are capable of[4]. However, evolutionists these days don't like the term "preadaptation" because it has "overtones of 'foresight'"[5] and has "teleological implications"[6], so in the past 20 years have they increasingly used the term exaptation, meaning "useful as a consequence of."[7].

The avian `flying kit: a `construction project' design argument

However, when one considers all the preadaptations (using the original term) that `just happened' to have occurred in the non-flying dinosaur ancestors of birds, amounting to an avian "flying kit," including feathers, furcula (wishbone), keeled sternum (breastbone), hand of three fused fingers, pygostyle (fused tail vertebrae), shoulder joint allowing up, forward and down strokes, folding forelimb, highly efficient respiratory system[8], hollow bones[9], hallux (reversed rear claw) and nesting[10], together they have the hallmarks of a `construction project' carried out by an Intelligent Designer (who I assume to be the Christian God), towards a long-term goal.

This avian `flying kit' is only one of a number of such `construction projects' (for example, the amniotic egg; the mammalian ear; and the `human package') which together will form part of my "`Construction Project' Argument from Design" in my future book, "The Design Argument."


1. Denton, M.J., 1998, "Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe," The Free Press: New York NY, p.361.

2. Kardong, K.V., 2002, "Vertebrates: Comparative Anatomy, Function, Evolution," [1995], McGraw Hill: Boston MA, Third Edition, p.434

3. Ayala, F.J., 1978, "The Mechanisms of Evolution", Scientific American, Vol. 239, No. 3, September, p.51.

4. Schmidt-Nielsen, K., 1997, "Animal Physiology: Adaptation and Environment," [1975], Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK, Fifth edition, reprint, 1998, pp.41,46.

5. Thain, M. & Hickman, M., 2000, "The Penguin Dictionary of Biology," [1951], Penguin Books: London, Tenth Edition, p.520.

6. Allaby, M., ed., 1999, "Oxford Dictionary of Zoology," [1991], Oxford University Press: Oxford UK, Second Edition, p.429.

7. Gould, S.J., 2002, "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory," Belknap: Cambridge MA, Fifth printing, p.1320.

8. Shipman, P., 1997, "Birds do it ... did dinosaurs?" New Scientist, Vol. 153, 1 February, pp.26-31.

9. Futuyma, D.J., 1986, "Evolutionary Biology," [1979], Sinauer Associates: Sunderland MA, Second Edition, p.424.

10. Shipman, P., 1998, "Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Bird Flight," Simon & Schuster: New York NY, pp.130-138, 98-99.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"

Friday, July 22, 2005

Dinosaurs had respiratory system like birds 1/2

Dinosaur Majungatholus atopus had air sacs

Patrick O'Connor of Ohio University and Leon Claessens of Harvard University, compared air sacs in the neck and chest vertebrae of a 67 million-year-old carnivorous therapod dinosaur fossil, Majungatholus atopus, with those in more than 200 living birds. They reported last week in Nature that M. atopus' structures, while not identical, were very similar to birds. This, together with bird-like soft tissue preserved in a Tyrannosaurus rex, is more evidence that birds share a common ancestor with therapod dinosaurs.

The avian respiratory system

Birds have the most efficient respiratory system of any living vertebrate. Its unique flow-through design has flexible air sacs in hollow bones that continually move fresh air through the lungs, keeping the volume of air in them constant. This is radically unlike that of the dead-end bellows-type lungs of mammals or living reptiles[1]. This unique avian respiratory system supplies high levels of oxygen, which in turn allows for the high metabolic rate necessary to sustain the energy requirements of flight. Therefore O'Connor and Claessens concluded that therapod dinosaurs had a respiratory system with the potential to support higher rates of metabolism than other reptiles, although not as high as in birds.

[Continued in part 2/2]


1. Kardong, K.V., 2002, "Vertebrates: Comparative Anatomy, Function, Evolution," [1995], McGraw Hill: Boston MA, Third Edition, pp.419-428.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Minimal Cell: A Problem of Evolution 2/2

[continued from part 1/2]

The origin of the components is just the start of the
problem of the minimal cell for evolution. What then needs
to be explained is their self-assembly. As physicist Harold
F. Blum observed, "The living machine is clearly not just a
mixture of chemicals, yet there seems to be widespread
belief that, once the proper molecular compounds were
there, life would appear, whether on the earth, on Mars, or
elsewhere in the universe. This no more follows ... than that
an automobile ... might spring spontaneously from a
mixture of all the chemical species from which it is

A free-living single celled organism, such as a bacterium, is
a Von Neumann machine, named after the mathematician
Johann Von Neumann, who before the cell's self-replication
machinery was known, worked out the minimum level of
complexity for any self-replicating system.[2] Von Neumann
found his minimum self-replicating automaton was
enormously complex, with 200,000 components, totalling 3
kilometres across and requiring 200 pages just to describe
it![3] But even then, unlike a living cell, no provision was made
for the automaton obtaining its energy direct from the
environment.[4] While simpler Von Neumann machines have
since been proposed, they are not fully self-replicating and
yet are still enormously complex.[5] Indeed no machine that
can fully replicate itself from simple basic components[6] has
ever been built.[7] Yet uncountable trillions of living cells
replicate themselves every day, from simple basic components,
according to the principles Von Neumann worked out.[8] Not
surprisingly, Von Neumann himself found the origin of life
to be utterly perplexing.[9]

As Blum pointed out, the problem of the origin of life is not
"to do with the origin of the materials from which living
systems are composed" but rather it is "the perplexing
problem of the origin of the self-replicating, living machine ...
a machine that replicates itself can, with some difficulty be
imagined; but such a machine that could originate itself
offers a baffling problem which no one has as yet solved."[10]

The cell is the basic unit of life.[11] A single-celled organism
such as a bacterium is therefore the lowest level of structure
capable of independently performing all the activities of
life.[12] Therefore, for evolutionists the origin of life
is the origin of the first, minimal cell.[13]

So the problem of a naturalistic origin of life is not only to
explain how 256+ genes, plus all the other chemical
components and structures for survival and reproduction
arose (which is problem enough-see part 1/2), but also how
those components then put themselves together[14] into
"a fully working machine of incredible complexity: a machine
that has to be complex, it seems, not just to work well but to
work at all."[15]

1. Blum, H.F., "Time's Arrow and Evolution," [1951], Harper
Torchbooks: New York NY, Second Edition, Revised,
1962, p.178G
2. Denton, M.J., "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis," Burnett
Books: London, 1985, p.337.
3. Johnson, G., "Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the
Search for Order," [1995], Penguin Books: London,
1997, p.254.
4. Denton, M.J., "Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology
Reveal Purpose in the Universe," Free Press: New York
NY, 1998, p.147.
5. Newman, R.C., "Artificial Life and Cellular Automata,"
Access Research Network, March 15, 2000.
6. Scott A., "The Creation of Life: Past, Future, Alien,"
Basil Blackwell: Oxford UK, 1986, p.197.
7. Cairns-Smith A.G., "Seven Clues to the Origin of Life,"
[1985], Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK,
1993, reprint, p.14.
8. Drexler, K.E., "Engines of Creation," [1990], Oxford
University Press: Oxford UK, 1992, reprint, p.53.
9. Cairns-Smith, 1985, p.15. My emphasis.
10. Blum, 1951, pp.178G-178H.
11. Becker W.M., Kleinsmith L.J. & Hardin J., "The World of
the Cell," [1986], Benjamin/Cummings: San Francisco
CA, Fourth edition, 2000, pp.2,4.
12. Campbell N.A., Reece J.B. & Mitchell L.G., "Biology,"
[1987], Benjamin/Cummings: Menlo Park CA, Fifth
Edition, 1999, p.4. Emphasis in original
13. Campbell, et al., 1999, pp.492-493.
14. Ross, H.N., "Simplest Bacterium Not So Simple," Facts &
Faith, Reasons To Believe: Pasadena CA, Vol. 10, No. 4,
Fourth Quarter 1996, p.5. My emphasis.
15. Cairns-Smith, 1985, p.37. My emphasis.

Stephen E. Jones
"Problems of Evolution"

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Minimal Cell: A Problem of Evolution 1/2

Human genomics pioneer Craig Venter has revived his
project of artificially constructing a bacterium. Venter's
company Synthetic Genomics will take the bacterium with
the simplest known genome, Mycoplasma genitalium, a
parasite that lives in the human urogenital tract, and remove
each of its 517 genes one-by-one until the minimum gene
set is reached for the organism to survive in a controlled

Earlier theoretical studies by Mushegian and Koonin
predicted that the minimum bacterial genome would be 256
genes. Gene knockout experiments on M. genitalium by
Venter's The Institute for Genomic Research found
that the minimum genome for a bacterium was 265 to 350

However, the Mycoplasmas are parasites and cannot live
outside their host or the laboratory, lacking the genes to
synthesise all their metabolic requirements.1 Indeed, of all
bacterial genomes sequenced to date those that fall below
1,500 gene products (proteins and RNAs) belong to
parasites. Free-living organisms (those capable of
permanent independent existence) seem to require a
minimum of between 1,500 and 1,900 gene products.2

A gene is made of nucleic acids (DNA or RNA), and as Michael
Behe explains, "Imagining a realistic scenario whereby natural
processes may have made proteins on a prebiotic earth-
although extremely difficult-is a walk in the park compared to
imagining the formation of nucleic acids such as RNA. The
big problem is that each nucleotide `building block' is itself
built up from several components, and the processes that
form the components are chemically incompatible."3 Atheist
origin of life theorist Robert Shapiro regards the chance origin
of a ribozyme (a self-replicating strand of RNA) to be equivalent
to the idea that a golf ball could play its own way around a
difficult golf course, at well-under par, without the golfer!4

Another atheist origin of life researcher, Cairns-Smith, based
on the 14 steps, each comprising an average of 10 sub-steps,
that a chemist would take to synthesise a nucleotide, estimates
that the probability of the spontaneous generation of even
one nucleotide to be of the order of 10-109, which is 1 chance
in 1 followed by 109 zeros!5 By comparison the number of
elementary particles in the universe are estimated to be 1080.

Yet M. genitalium has 580,070 nucleotide base pairs with
each gene being an average of 1,040 base pairs.5 Even
assuming the lower minimum of 256 genes necessary for life,
and an average of 1,000 base pairs per gene, that is a
requirement that no less than 256,000 nucleotide base pairs
would have to spontaneously self-assemble.

But as we shall see in part 2/2, that is just the start of
evolution's problem with the minimal cell!

1. Morowitz H.J., "Beginnings of Cellular Life: Metabolism
Recapitulates Biogenesis," Yale University Press: New Haven
CT, 1992, p.67.
2. Rana, F.R. & Ross H.N., "Origins of Life: Biblical and
Evolutionary Models Face Off," Navpress: Colorado Springs CO,
2004 pp.162-163.
3. Behe, M.J., "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical
Challenge to Evolution," Free Press: New York NY, p.171.
4. Shapiro R., "Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover
Life beyond Earth," John Wiley & Sons: New York NY, 1999,
5. Cairns-Smith A.G., "Seven Clues to the Origin of Life: A
Scientific Detective Story," [1985], Cambridge University
Press: Cambridge UK, 1993, reprint, pp.46-47.
6. Fraser, C.M., t al., "The minimal gene complement
of Mycoplasma genitalium," Science, Vol. 270, October 20,
1995, pp.397-403.

Stephen E. Jones
"Problems of Evolution"

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Universe 'too queer' to grasp: Dawkins

Only 78 years after his fellow evolutionist J.B.S. Haldane
suggested that "the universe is not only queerer than we
suppose, but queerer than we can suppose,"1 Oxford
University's Professor for the Public Understanding of Science,
Richard Dawkins has told a global conference that the
"Universe may be just `too queer' to understand." The
reason, Dawkins explained, is that we are living in a "`middle
world' ... the narrow range of reality that we judge to be normal
as opposed to the queerness that we judge to be very small or
very large." He then asked, "Are there things about the
Universe that will be forever beyond our grasp, in principle,
ungraspable in any mind, however superior?"

But as Phillip E. Johnson commented on Haldane's
suggestion, "For some obscure reason, Darwinists like to quote
that statements although Darwinism asserts that the realm of
life is not queerer than we can suppose but at bottom very
simple and commonsensical. All it takes to make a world of
living things, according to the theory, is variation, natural
selection, changing environments and long periods of time. But
that is nineteenth-century science.... When biology finally has
its quantum revolution, our view of life and its origin will change

Dawkins is but one among many rationalists who has poured
scorn on the famous statement of the early Church Father
Tertullian (c.160-220 AD), on the doctrine of the Trinity,
"I believe because it is absurd."3 Tertullian's point was
that because the Trinity seemed absurd from a human
perspective, no one would have invented it, so it must be
divinely revealed,"4 But if the Universe is "`too queer'
to understand," and there are "things about the
Universe that will be forever beyond our grasp, in principle,
ungraspable in any [finite] mind, however superior," as
Dawkins says, then Tertullian would be right, after all!

Then paradoxical doctrines of Christianity, like the Trinity,
while they may seem "queer" to rationalists, whose minds are
only reliable for the "Middle world," would be just what one
would expect of the "very large," that is, infinite. This
is in fact the teaching of the Bible, e.g. Isaiah 55:8-9,
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways
my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than
the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my
thoughts than your thoughts."

So Dawkins is unwittingly groping towards the Christian view of
reality. To paraphrase the agnostic astronomer Jastrow, "For
the [atheist] who has lived by his faith in the power of reason,
the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains
of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he
pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of
theologians who have been sitting there for centuries"!5

Stephen E. Jones
"Problems of Evolution"

1. Haldane, J.B.S., "Possible Worlds: And Other Essays,"
[1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.286.
Emphasis in the original.

2. Johnson, P.E., "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds,"
InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1997, p.95.

3. Dawkins, R., "A Devil's Chaplain: Selected Essays by
Richard Dawkins," [2003], Menon L., ed., Phoenix: London,
2004, reprint, p.164.

4. Erickson M.J., "Christian Theology," [1983], Baker: Grand
Rapids MI, 1988, Fifth Printing, p.342.

5. Jastrow R., "God and the Astronomers," [1978], W.W.
Norton: New York NY, Second Edition, 1992, pp.106-107.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Roman Catholic Church's `wedge'

The big news of the week (if not the year) was the Roman Catholic cardinal archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn letter to the New York Times of July 7, 2005, stating that:

"The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things. Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science." (Schonborn C., "Finding Design in Nature," The New York Times July 7, 2005).

As a creationist who accepts common ancestry, this is where I believe the `wedge' should be inserted, between common ancestry (which is not necessarily evolution, since a Creator could supernaturally intervene at links in ancestor-descendant chains) and the mechanism which evolutionists cannot possibly know was "an unguided, unplanned process".

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"

Introduction to CED

My name is Stephen E. (Steve) Jones. I am 58, an evangelical Christian and have recently completed a biology degree. Since 1994 I have been debating creation/evolution/design on the Internet.

Since February 2001 I have been moderating a Yahoo eGroup called CreationEvolutionDesign, which I am going to terminate because I want to write a book, "Problems of Evolution" and after over a decade of debates I find most debates largely a waste of time. I regard this blog (CED) as a successor to my list (CED).

I plan to continue posting science and other news items on creation, evolution and design issues as well as Christianity. I invite comments, but those I consider low-quality I will ignore or delete.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"