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March 07, 2010

On Second (Chromosome) Thought

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I know God will forgive me if I'm wrong about this. But it sure does appear that the universe and the earth and people are old. Ancient. And it's not just a matter of debate over radiocarbon dating. The "of old" that the Bible speaks of is old beyond my comprehension. I'm not pushing my own view of Genesis, but oh good Jesus do I think hard on it. That's why I'm typing this.

My view of evolution cracked one night last month while reviewing what Frances Collins has to say about your very own second chromosome. Collins has serious street cred as a devout Christian. He's also a molecular biologist and head honcho of the human genome project. Why strain to really understand what the theistic evolutionists (like Collins) and the atheistic evolutionists (like Stephen Hawking) and the Young Earth Creationists (like Ken Ham) have to say on the second chromosome?

Our "closest" living ancestor (by evolutionary thought) is the chimpanzee. Keep in mind that humans and chimps of today supposedly have over 4 million years of divergent evolution since that common ancestor walked or crawled or whatever it did. Anyway, the point is that Chimps and other monkey type things have 24 chromosomes (tightly wound and organized DNA). Humans have 23 of these X looking things (except males have one Y looking thing).

Here's the image of 23 chromosome pairs lined up like we usually see them. Chromosomes of every living thing have many markers that biologists trace and study. The most consistent and obvious of these markers are the centromere at the middle and the telomere, which is kind of a "cap" at the ends of chromosomes.

When you look at the 2nd chromosome of chimps, the telomere caps are placed where they are expected to be, like every other living thing. But when you look at the second human chromosome, there is a pair of these end caps right in the middle of it, like, way out of place.

Being that every other chromosome of chimp and human DNA is a 99% match, how do you make sense of the fact that humans have exactly one less chromosome AND our "missing" chromosome happens to be right beside the only one of either species that has end caps fused into the middle of it?

The obvious answer is that there had to be a huge copying error (genetic mutation) where two separate chromosomes were combined into one bigger one, which we now see as our second chromosome. Rather than being inconsequential or horribly detrimental to the animal, as zillions and zillions of mutations typically are, this one was a major, drastic, advantageous leap out of the trees.

And so we paved a way into the city, car horns, corners, and the gritty. If you buy into that story, that is. I'm still not buying all of it. Minds brighter than mine point out the weak arguments for completely atheistic evolution.

Was that one monumental mutation completely accidental or somehow directed? It still doesn't make sense that a huge mutation for human like pelvic bones would work at all if the rest of the entire system of foot, spinal, and cardiovascular dynamics weren't already in place to support upright locomotion. It gets far more complex when considering something like language. Reading the strictly scientific word circles about how that could, maybe, sorta, possibly happen through processes like genetic recombination sounds a lot like faith to me.

There is no good explanation for the tiny machines that read and process the two-dimensional language of DNA, translating it into infinitely complex three dimensional structures. Evolution without God still has nothing worthwhile to say on such fine-tuning at the sub-cellular level, much less the origin of space and time, the origin of life, why we exist, why we have music, Moral Law, and many other fascinating things that make humanity special.

According to many Bible scholars, Genesis simply does not carry the clear marks of an eyewitness, historical account. But IF the earth, the universe, and our species are indeed ancient, and the book of Genesis is Hebrew poetry describing the why of creation, don't imagine that science is the only way of knowing truth. No single discipline or group has arrived a completely cohesive set of answers.

Where science or philosophy or atheists or Christians can provide a decent set of explanations in one area, they often look kind of silly over elsewhere. It really is a compromise. Ask an atheist why and how altruism has evolved. Try asking a literal creationist what crocodiles ate before the fall of Adam. Are there satisfying answers?

That's why, for right now, I can say this about our second chromosome:

The mutation of our second chromosome seems more probable than vegetarian dinosaurs peacefully coexisting alongside humans. It seems more reasonable than the quirky mathematics (and theology) you have to come up with to explain away starlight that took millions of years to travel to your eye. Why in the world would God have given "the appearance" of vast distances in space?

The evolution of our second chromosome seems more probable than my own ability to conceive geological time. Different scientific disciplines concur that the earth is over 4 billion years old. What person with a lifespan of less than one hundred years can fathom 4 thousand years, much less 4 billion? Isn't the stones crying out "four billion years" the realm of the supernatural?

If oceans swing open like doors and mountains form and vanish like clouds in the sky, my existence is faster and no more material than a spark of static electricity. Woe is me, for I am a man incapable of appreciating the time involved that God may be doing his work.

Yes, creation ongoing, with a built in system that allows for adaptation and survival. According to Collins, our DNA is the very language of God and His imprint on all living things. He has brought us here, now, uniquely human, in His image.

"You have been born again, not of perishable seeds, but of the imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." -the apostle Paul

Do you now hear the depth of the ring of truth in these words?

At any rate, there is something majestic at work here, well beyond science, older than old, from beginning to end. If our second chromosome gives a pretty clean picture of evolution from some shared ancestor, then fine. I posit God on the front end of evolution, with much of "let there be man" written on my second chromosome.

"To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend his wisdom and majesty and power, to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful working of his ways, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge." - Copernicus

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1 comment:

Matt said...

Well said Bob!