Dr. Bijan Nemati's talk at the 3rd International Conference on The Origin of Life and the Universe

It's an honor to be with you today. We live in an era where the dominant scientific worldview is based on materialism, a metaphysics that holds aspects of the physical world, such as matter and energy, as self-existent. From the physical universe and its laws, this view claims, we can explain everything we see, everything we experience. The material universe is sufficient to explain the nature of all that exists, and if that is true, in the words of the late Stephen Hawking, “science can explain the universe without the need for a creator.” This or some version of this view is very common in our day, particularly in academic circles.

Yet, this view leaves many questions unanswered. For example, what is the nature of consciousness? What is the origin of morality? Does it even exist? What about love, or mercy? Are these illusions? Are they simply electrochemical impulses? Did they simply arise as encoded reactionary patterns in our brains through evolution? If so, are moral principles simply reducible to mathematics and statistics? And finally, given these questions, can a proponent of materialism live their life consistently with their worldview?

While these profound questions remain unanswered, materialists use ancillary arguments in support of their view. One such argument, that I want to examine here, is the appeal to mediocrity, sometimes called the Copernican principle. To explain what I mean, consider the story of the pale blue dot:

In his book, the Pale Blue Dot, the late astronomer Carl Sagan recounts an event that occurred in the course of NASA’s Voyager 1 mission. In 1990, 12 years after the launch of Voyager 1, the spacecraft had left the outer planets of the solar system, and on February 14, it was commanded to turn around and take a family portrait of the planets in the solar system it was leaving forever behind. When the images were transmitted back, NASA scientists and engineers were having difficulty finding the Earth. Eventually they found it, as a pale blue dot, near a shaft of light that was entering the camera, reflecting from some point on the spacecraft. About this picture, Carl Sagan had this to say:

“Because of the reflection of sunlight . . . the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world. But it’s just an accident of geometry and optics. . . Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light . . .  Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark …” – Carl Sagan

As you can sense here, this is actually not a scientific statement, but a philosophical, actually a theological one. But the claim is not supported by all the science that we have learned over the last few hundred years in fact. In this talk I would like to examine the assertions of this so-called Copernican principle in the light of modern science, and in particularly, my field, which is extra-solar planets (or “exoplanets”).

Brief History

Before we discuss exoplanets, let’s take a brief historical look. It was Aristotle who 2400 years ago argued for a geocentric model of the Universe. He envisaged concentric crystalline spheres in which the heavenly bodies resided. Most nearby where the moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars, then Jupiter and Saturn. Further out where the firmament, which are the stars, and these were all set into motion by a prime mover. Aristotle said reason and common experience confirmed this view, and no one doubted it.

But there were problems with this simple view. One was the retrograde motion of the planets. For example, if you look in the night sky at Mars, which comes near us every two years, it comes to a point called “opposition” (which is the point on the sky opposite to the direction of the sun at that time) and if you watch its location relative to the background stars you will notice a retrograde motion: over the course of a few months, you see the planet moving one direction then backwards, and then forward again in the same direction relative to the stars. This was difficult to explain in the basic geocentric view of Aristotle.

Five hundred years after Aristotle, in his great work called the Almagest, Ptolemy provided an explanation. He agreed with Aristotle that the perfect, heavenly bodies have to have perfect motion, which meant they were going in circles, but the planets are actually traveling in smaller circles called epicycles, and the epicycles are centered on something we call deferents, which in turn are centered on the earth. In this way the planets can have retrograde motion. By setting the diameters and rotation rates just right, Ptolemy was able to make very accurate predictions of the locations of the planets, so good in fact, that for the next 14 centuries there was no rival to this picture.

It was not until the 16th century that a serious alternative was proposed, and here it was Nicolaus Copernicus, who in his own magnificent work, called “On the Revolutions of Heavenly Bodies” detailed a much more elegant system: the sun-centered (or “heliocentric”) system. The earth, he suggested, was not the center of the universe, and the heavenly bodies do not all revolve around a central point. With these and a few other axioms, he was able to explain the same observations more elegantly and simply.             

But it goes even further. In the 20th century it was the astronomer Harlow Shapley of Harvard University who discovered that the sun is not at the center of our galaxy, which is called the Milky Way. He did this by measuring the locations of globular clusters on the sky, including their distances. Globular clusters are mini-galaxies with hundreds of thousands of stars. Shapley noticed that they are orbiting an area of our galaxy that is many thousands of light years from us. So, he famously concluded: “The solar system is off center, and consequently man is too…

So, you see this pattern. Copernicus showed us that the Earth is not at the center of the solar system, then Shapley showed us that the Sun is not at the center of the galaxy, and later, although I didn't mention it earlier, Edwin Hubble discovered that the Milky Way is only one of hundreds of billions of galaxies. Pointing to these observations, the so-called “Copernican” principle seems to show us that man does not hold a central position in the universe, and by extension, it must be true that we are not here for a purpose.

The claim seems to be well supported, when expressed as I just did. But the claim gets some of the history wrong (for example neither Copernicus nor Galileo would consider the Earth’s removal from the center as a demotion!) but also, the claim actually completely missed much of what we have learned in the last century about habitable planets. These are planets where life could at least survive if placed there.

Habitable Planets

So now, we consider the question "what is a habitable planet?" What do we need for a habitable planet?

There are many requirements. But at the minimum, a habitable planet must be a terrestrial planet that supports complex carbon and water-based life. It needs to be a planet in what is called a Circumstellar Habitable Zone. And finally it needs to be a planetary system in the Galactic Habitable Zone.

The first requirement, mainly that it should be a terrestrial planet, meaning a rocky planet, is already limiting. This is because much of the matter in the universe consists of Hydrogen and Helium. It takes complex processes in the stars to generate the heavy elements that make up a planet that is rocky like the earth. Beyond being rocky, however, it must also have water. And these are just minimum conditions.

There is also the location of the planet. The Circumstellar Habitable Zone (CHZ) is defined as that region around a star where water can be liquid at some part of a rocky planet that is situated there. Since the surface heat of a planet is from the sunlight it absorbs, around a cold star the habitable zone is close in, while around a hot star, it has to be further out. If a planet is located closer to its host star than the inner edge of the HZ, a runaway greenhouse effect will raise the temperatures, causing the water to evaporate into the atmosphere, and be carried away by the solar wind, making the planet dehydrated.  At the other extreme of the HZ, there will be precipitation in terms of ice and snow, and that will make the planet absorb less of the star light and become colder still. This leads to an uninhabitable “snowball” planet. In our solar system, only the Earth is inside the HZ. So, the planet has to be the right distance from the star.

Earth

As for the star, are all the stars equally suitable? It turns out that the answer is no! Many astronomy textbooks refer to our Sun as an “average” star. This is true only in a limited sense: there are certainly stars that are more hot than our star, and there are stars that are cooler than our star, than our sun. But the sun is actually within the 10% most massive stars in the Milky Way. And in fact, stars that are much more massive than the Sun are actually too unstable to be producing habitable zones. And then stars that are less massive than our star, they are cooler, so they have habitable zones that are closer in. But when a planet gets that close to a star, it suffers from an effect called tidal locking. So for the cool stars, tidal locking problem occurs: the spin of the planet becomes equal in duration with its orbital period, and as a result, one side of the planet becomes permanently “day” while the opposite side becomes permanently “night.” The day side becomes hot and the moisture is transported to the other side, where it snows down and stays permanently frozen. Tidally locked planets are poor choices for life. Cool stars also have more frequent life-threatening events called coronal mass ejections. In the end, only 4% of the stars are main sequence G stars like our Sun.

What about the location of the star within the galaxy? To get heavy elements, from which a rocky planet can form, you have to be closer to the center of the galaxy. On the other hand, if you get too close, life threatening events like super-novae become more frequent. A supernova can sterilize all life within many light years around it. These are not only more frequent near the center but also within the spiral arms. So, the planetary system, to stay safe, needs to be at the right radius from the center of the galaxy. Not too far and not too close, and also not within a spiral arm.

What about the galaxy itself? Here too, we find ourselves in a privileged place. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is among the 3% most massive galaxies in the nearby universe. Because it was so massive, it was able to accumulate heavy elements more quickly, and planet formation started earlier around the stars in the Milky Way. Almost two-thirds of the age of the universe had gone by by the time there was enough material that a planet like the earth could be formed. So there was a brief window.

There are in fact many parameters that we could discuss; the list is very long. Very briefly, at least we need a planet with a magnetosphere. Our magnetosphere on the Earth protects us from cosmic rays and occasional solar bursts that would otherwise dehydrate our atmosphere. We need a large moon. The Earth’s moon is unusually large relative to the Earth's size. This is important because our massive moon stabilizes the axial tilt of the Earth's rotation, and that helps to stabilize our climate. To support large living beings like animals and like us humans, a planet needs to have high enough oxygen content, but then if it has too much oxygen there will be rapid fire growth. There needs to be a neutral gas as well, to avoid devastating fires. Our oxygen-nitrogen dominated atmosphere is the perfect balance of these requirements. Finally, the Earth’s planetary neighbors play important roles. Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, has 300 times the mass of the Earth. It has a near-circular orbit five times farther from the sun as the Earth. This combination of being massive and having a large circular orbits makes Jupiter a benevolent agent in the solar system, absorbing to itself, like a massive vacuum-cleaner, comets and asteroids that could potentially threaten life on the earth: many of these eventually crash into Jupiter or Saturn. 

We now move from theory to experiment: over the last two decades there have been many discoveries of exoplanets, planets around other stars. What have we learned from them?

First, very briefly, I'd like to point out some of the techniques. In the first, very important technique, called Radial Velocity, the planet is not detected directly, but the wobble of the star in reaction to the pull of the planet is detected, from the red and blue shifts of the star’s spectrum. Another highly successful technique, called Transit, looks for the very small drop in the light from a star when a planet transits, when the planet comes in front of the star. A third one that is special to me because this is the area in which I work is one of direct imaging where a technique is used to actually image the planetary system directly. Here you see a montage of many years of images of an exosystem and the planets moving around that.

Now, what have we learned from these? From the radial velocity measurements, we have discovered one very important lesson: that Jupiters, like our Jupiter, are very uncommon. Most gas-giant planets (and Jupiter and Saturn are examples of gas-giant planets) have elliptical, rather than circular orbits, it turns out. Over time, the elliptical orbit means they migrate towards the star, eventually settling from an elliptical orbit to a circular orbit very tightly around the star. Along the way, they can knock off other planets in the solar system; they are dangerous when they do that. This kind of planets are called "hot Jupiters", very dangerous.

The other technique was the transit technique. And it has also provided us a picture of thousands of other planetary systems. But here too, the results show that in the great majority of the planets discovered they are closer to their host star even than our innermost planet – Mercury. So our solar system by that comparison is exceedingly unusual.

So, we see that a very large number of conditions are necessary for a life-hospitable planet, and when we look at the universe we see that the usual condition, the usual situation is that these conditions are not all present at the same time. In fact, one can make a statistical estimate of the expected rate, following the approach of Francis Drake from the 60's. He used a very simple calculation, and he estimated the number of planets in the Milky Way that could host advanced life, such as they could give us a radio signal. Considering a few conditions, he estimated that there should be on the order of a million other planetary systems in our galaxy that could send us a signal.

But half a century later, the list of conditions is actually quite a bit more. And when you actually make the same type of calculation now you expect much less than 1 in 10,000 Milky Ways, where you could expect to see a planet like the Earth. So up to now, it's been an argument to say that the Earth is a very rare planet. But there is again a more profound aspect to our existence here, and this is a notion of what is called the 'priviliged planet'. This was first pointed out by astronomer Guillermo Gonzales and philosopher Jay Richards. Their point was  that the requirements for habitability appeared to be overall coinciding with the requirements for discovery. That is, the same conditions that make a planet habitable are altogether what we would need for that habitable planet to be a place where intelligent beings could study and learn about the universe.

A beautiful example of this is the example of the perfect eclipse. Did you know that from the Earth's point of view the moon on the sky and the sun on the sky are exactly the same diameter? And as a result, the Earth is the only place where we can have what is called perfect eclipses. If the moon was a little bit closer, it would cover too much. If it was a little bit farther, it would not cover enough of the sun. As it is, we have perfect eclipses and we can study aspects of the sun that were otherwise unavailable to us.

For example, historically, it was from observing the spectrum of the atmosphere of the sun during a perfect eclipse that astronomers first discovered that the sun is a hot ball of gas. It also enabled them to know what elements are present in the sun. This in turn opened the door for studying other stars.

It was also during an eclipse that Einstein’s theory of gravity, which eventually told us about the beginning of the universe, was put to its most famous test. The sun’s mass bends light from distant stars, but the bending is so small that only the stars seen very near the sun show an effect. But you can only see this effect during a perfect eclipse.

Many of the other factors also facilitate discovery. Because we are not at the center of the galaxy, our night sky is dark, it's not bright; we can actually do astronomy. Remember we said that we need an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere; that's a clear atmosphere. By comparison, Venus has a carbon-dioxide atmosphere, which is opaque. You couldn't do astronomy from Venus. It's also 400 degrees Celsius on the surface of Venus, so it is not a good platform.

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

The list of interconnected requirements for habitability and discovery is long. But the picture should by now be clear.

There is abundant, solid evidence that the world is designed, and we can infer as well that God wants us to study this world and see its design and realize the glory of its Creator.

So, far from being a mere pale blue dot, our planet was not only made for supporting life, but it was also made to support knowing about the universe, and extending from that observation, to know, and be amazed by, its Creator.

 

 

 

 

ADNAN OKTAR  Today, the relativity of time is a proven scientific fact. This was revealed by Einstein's theory of relativity during the early part of the 20th century. Until then, it was not known that time was relative, nor that it could change according to the circumstances. Yet, the renowned scientist Albert Einstein proved this fact by discovering the theory of relativity. He showed that time is dependent on mass and velocity.

However, the Qur'an had already included information about time's being relative! Some verses about the subject read:

… A day with your Lord is equivalent to a thousand years in the way you count. (Qur'an, 22:47)

He directs the whole affair from heaven to earth. Then it will again ascend to Him on a Day whose length is a thousand years by the way you measure. (Qur'an, 32:5)

The angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a day whose length is fifty thousand years. (Qur'an, 70:4)

The fact that the relativity of time is so definitely mentioned in the Qur'an, which began to be revealed in 610, is more evidence that it is a divine book.

ADNAN OKTAR  In 1929, in the California Mount Wilson observatory, an American astronomer by the name of Edwin Hubble made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of astronomy. While he observed the stars with a giant telescope, he found out that the light from them was shifted to the red end of the spectrum and that this shift was more pronounced the further a star was from the earth.

This discovery had an electrifying effect in the world of science, because according to the recognized rules of physics, the spectra of light beams traveling towards the point of observation tend towards violet while the spectra of the light beams moving away from the point of observation tend towards red. During Hubble's observations, the light from stars was discovered to tend towards red. This meant that they were constantly moving away from us.

Long before, Hubble made another very important discovery: Stars and galaxies moved away not only from us, but also from one another. The only conclusion that could be derived from a universe where everything moves away from everything else is that the universe constantly 'expands'.

To better understand, the universe can be thought of as the surface of a balloon being blown up. Just as the points on the surface of a balloon move apart from each other as the balloon is inflated, so do the objects in space move apart from each other as the universe keeps expanding.

In fact, this had been theoretically discovered even earlier. Albert Einstein, who is considered the greatest scientist of the century, had concluded after the calculations he made in theoretical physics that the universe could not be static.

However, he had laid his discovery to rest simply not to conflict with the widely recognized static universe model of his time. Later on, Einstein was to identify his act as 'the greatest mistake of his career'. Subsequently, it became definite by Hubble's observations that the universe expands.

What importance, then, did the fact that the universe expands have on the existence of the universe? The expansion of the universe implied that if it could travel backwards in time, the universe would prove to have originated from a single point. The calculations showed that this 'single point' that harbored all the matter of the universe should have 'zero volume' and 'infinite density'. The universe had come about by the explosion of this single point with zero volume. This great explosion that marked the beginning of the universe was named the 'Big Bang' and the theory started to be so called.

It has to be stated that 'zero volume' is a theoretical expression used for descriptive purposes. Science can define the concept of 'nothingness', which is beyond the limits of human comprehension, only by expressing it as a point with zero volume'. In truth, 'a point with no volume' means 'nothingness'. The universe has come into being from nothingness. In other words, it was created.

The Big Bang theory showed that in the beginning all the objects in the universe were of one piece and then were parted. This fact, which was revealed by the Big Bang theory was stated in the Quran 14 centuries ago, when people had a very limited knowledge about the universe; Allah says (what means): "Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe?" [Quran 21:30]

As stated in the verse, everything, even the 'heavens and the earth' that were not yet created, were created with a Big Bang out of a single point, and shaped the present universe by being parted from each other.

When we compare the statements in the verse with the Big Bang theory, we see that they fully agree with each other. However, the Big Bang was introduced as a scientific theory only in the 20th century.

The expansion of the universe is one of the most important pieces of evidence that the universe was created out of nothing. Although this fact was not discovered by science until the 20th century, Allah has informed us of this reality in the Quran (revealed 1,400 years ago) saying (what means): "And the heaven We constructed with strength, and indeed, We are [its] expander." [Quran 51: 47]

JERRY BERGMAN  The cover story by professor Howard Smith in the latest issue of the journal titled American Scientist asked “Are There Other Earths?” The answer was “Recent Astronomical Discoveries show Our Planet is Far from Average”.[i] New planets outside of our solar system, called exoplanets–planets that orbit another star– were first discovered in 1996. As of 2017, the total exoplanet tally now stands at about 3,200, and the vast majority are very un-Earthlike. Those that resemble earth so-far show no signs of intelligent life.


 

The cover story by professor Howard Smith in the latest issue of the journal titled American Scientist asked “Are There Other Earths?” The answer was “Recent Astronomical Discoveries show Our Planet is Far from Average”.[i] New planets outside of our solar system, called exoplanets–planets that orbit another star– were first discovered in 1996. As of 2017, the total exoplanet tally now stands at about 3,200, and the vast majority are very un-Earthlike. Those that resemble earth so-far show no signs of intelligent life.

The article title, “Questioning Copernican Mediocrity,” refers to the famed 20th century Cornell University astronomer, Carl Sagan, who proclaimed “We live on an insignificant planet, of a humdrum star, lost in a galaxy, tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe” which he presumed is also humdrum as well.[ii] The source of this worldview that Sagan describes, Smith writes, is “implied by Darwin’s theory of natural selection, that humanity is the meaningless product of evolutionary processes.”[iii] Smith then notes that one of the dramatic developments in modern astronomy, namely the discovery of many planets around other stars, “suggest that we may not be so ordinary after all,” and may “be special in some way” after all.[iv]

Around the turn of the last century many scientists assumed that life must be common in the universe. The leading American astronomer, Percival Lowell, wrote in a book published in 1908 that “From all that we have learned” life is “as inevitable … as is quartz or feldspar or nitrogenous soil. Each and all of them are only manifestations of chemical affinity.”[v] Today we know that this conclusion is naïve in the extreme. The SETI (search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) research project, using the most sophisticated modern search technology, has found no clear sign of extraterrestrial intelligence in its 50 years of searching.[vi] Smith then stresses that all of the evidence we have now is that we live on a rare planet and we must protect “our rare planet and its precious inhabitants”[vii]

The idea that our planet’s traits are rare in the universe has produced a spat of books that eloquently document the same conclusion. One example is Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe.[viii] In this book, paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee claim that Earth’s planet type is rare, and advanced life is also rare. The reason, they document, is  that complex intelligent life requires an exceptionally unlikely set of circumstances, and therefore is likely to be extremely uncommon in the universe. One of the most recent books, Lucky Planet: Why Earth is Exceptional—and What That Means for Life in the Universe[ix] by David Waltham used more recent data and research to arrive at the same conclusion.

Ironically, one of the most popular books in this area, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery,[x] by astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and philosophy professor Jay Richards and the movie[xi] by the same title, resulted in the termination of professor Gonzalez at Iowa State University. This case is documented in the film Expelled[xii] and in Chapter 12 of Slaughter of the Dissidents.[xiii] Several Iowa State University faculty stated that Gonzalez was denied tenure because the university feared that granting Gonzalez tenure would cause the university to become associated with the idea that life is the result of intelligent design of a Privileged Planet.

The Gonzalez case illustrates the fact that many atheists and university professors want to ensure that the idea that humans, and all life, are not special does not lose support. This is shown by the fact that, if life is found in many places throughout the universe, this fact proves that life can evolve purely as a result of the laws of physics without the need for an intelligent creator. The article and the books discussed above strongly argue against this worldview. And this is the reason why Gonzalez and other like-minded scientists have been denied tenure or fired. And the number is not small.[xiv]


[i] Howard A. Smith. 2017. Questioning Copernican Mediocrity. American Scientist. 105(4):232-239.July-August.

[ii] Smith. 2017. p. 232.

[iii] Smith. 2017. p. 232.

[iv] Smith. 2017. p. 232.

[v] Smith. 2017. p. 233.

[vi] Smith. 2017. p. 236.

[vii] Smith, 2017. p. 239.

[viii] Copernicus Publishers. New York. 2000.

[ix] New York: Basic Books. 2014.

[x]  Regnery Publishing, Washington, DC. 2004

[xi] The Privileged Planet. Illustra Media. 2010.

[xii] Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Starring Ben Stein and directed by Nathan Frankowski. Premise Media Corporation. 2008.

[xiii] Leafcutter Press Southworth, WA. 2nd edition. 2012. Chapter 12 pp. 229-259.

[xiv] 8000 dissidents | Search Results | iSoul

ADNAN OKTAR  On February 22, 2017, NASA announced that the Spitzer Space Telescope discovered 7 planets around a star 39 light-years away named TRAPPIST-1. It was claimed that three of these planets in particular have the so-called necessary conditions for life, and that these planets might have been host to the evolutionary process.

ADNAN OKTAR   The 3.2 million-year-old fossil discovered in Africa in 1974, popularly known as  "Lucy", has been periodically brought up for propaganda purposes. However, with the ever-growing means of science and technology, it has become evident that this fossil, which had been long alleged to be  "evidence" for the theory of evolution, has actually dealt a devastating blow to the theory.
Although the Lucy fossil is supposedly portrayed as a transitional form specimen representing the so-called evolution from ape to man, it has in fact proven this claim to be a scenario based on mere prejudice.

Dr. Fazale Rana's talk at the 3rd International Conference on The Origin of Life and the Universe

Greetings!

I am honored to be invited to take part in this year’s 3rd International Conference on the Origin of Life. I had the privilege of speaking at the first two conferences. And, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this year’s conference. Thank you to the Technics and Science Research Foundation for the vision to sponsor and host such an important event.


 It’s exciting to be part of a project in which one of the goals is to show the world how science can be used to build a bridge of friendship between Christians and Muslims. Based on our shared belief in a transcendent Creator, we can collaborate to demonstrate to people of all worldviews how scientific advance 1) points to the existence of God; and 2) undermines the evolutionary paradigm—a paradigm often used to justify atheism.

As a Christian and a scientist, I am convinced that nature provides evidence for God’s handiwork. As is written in the Old Testament book of Job:

7“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?”

13 “To God belong wisdom and power;
    counsel and understanding are his.

  Job 12:7-9, 13

 And yet, when presented with compelling evidence for design that comes from biology, so many skeptics reject the evidence—and with this rejection, they reject belief in God.

 Why?

 They justify their skepticism by pointing to so-called flawed designs in nature—designs that would be unworthy of a Creator.

 As the late, evolutionary biologist and atheist Stephen Jay Gould wrote in his famous essay, “The Panda’s Thumb”

 “Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution—paths that a sensible Creator would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.”

 And, yet in my experience, as we learn more about the so-called “odd arrangements and funny solutions” inevitably, what we thought was a flawed design turns out to be an elegant, sophisticated design—one that reflects the Creator’s glory.

 The latest scientific insights into the human genome beautifully illustrate this point.

As a biochemist and someone who has spent most of my life studying biology, I rank the sequencing of the human genome as the most significant scientific accomplishment of all time all-time.

Why?

Because the human genome sequence is the genetic blueprint for human beings.  From our genetic blueprint, we can gain fundamentally important information about the nature of humanity—at least, in a biological sense.

The draft sequence of the human genome was reported in June 2000. There is a famous picture showing then President Bill Clinton standing next to two gentlemen and bitter scientific rivals: Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project funded in part by NIH; and Craig Venter, the head of Celera Genomics, a private company that was looking to sequence and commercialize the human genome.

The Human Genome Project funded by NIH was initiated fifteen years earlier, spending 3.2 billion dollars to sequence the human genome. Celera was in a race with the Human Genome Project, hoping to complete the sequence before the publically funded project. If they could, they planned on monetizing the sequence data.

 As it turns out, Collins and Venter decided to call a truce, agreeing to walk arm-in-arm across the finish line. In the process, they shared data with one another facilitating the completion of the draft sequence.

 During the press conference President Clinton made these now-famous remarks:

 “Today, we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God's most divine and sacred gift. With this profound new knowledge, humankind is on the verge of gaining immense, new power to heal. Genome science will have a real impact on all our lives—and even more, on the lives of our children. It will revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases.”

 Truly, President Clinton appreciated the significance of having the sequence for the human genome.  He went so far as to describe the human genome sequence as the language God used to create human life. 

human genome

 Yet, the initial analysis of the human genome sequence indicated to many scientists that the human genome was anything BUT the product of Creator’s handiwork. Instead of being the language God used to create human life, it appeared to many scientists that the human genome was cobbled together over hundreds of millions of years by evolutionary processes, with much of the human genome riddled with molecular fossils—vestiges of an evolutionary history.

 Many scientists would argue that the human genome stands as the most powerful evidence for human evolution, while, at the same time, indicating that God had nothing to do, whatsoever, with humanity’s origin.

 In the next few minutes, I will explain why scientists reached these conclusions.

 Then I’m going to describe some recent insights into the structure and function of the human genome that is radically changing our perspective on the human genetic blueprint in a way that reflects the Creator’s handiwork.

 Let’s begin with a little background information, beginning with the structure of DNA.

 This biomolecule consists of chain-like molecules known as polynucleotides. Two polynucleotide chains align in an antiparallel fashion to form a DNA molecule. The two strands are arranged parallel to one another with the starting point of one strand (the 5' end) in the polynucleotide duplex located next to the ending point of the other strand (the 3' end) and vice versa. The paired polynucleotide chains resemble a ladder with the side groups extending from the backbone interacting with each other to form rungs. The coupled polynucleotide chains twist around each other forming the well-known DNA double helix. 

 The cell's machinery forms polynucleotide chains by linking together four different subunit molecules called nucleotides. The four nucleotides used to build DNA chains are adenosine, guanosine, cytidine, and thymidine—famously abbreviated A, G, C, and T, respectively.

DNA

 The human genome consists of 3.2 billion genetic letters that are distributed among 24 discrete DNA molecules. These molecules interact with proteins to form complexes called chromosomes. These structures become visible in the cell nucleus as the cell divides. Each chromosome consists of a single DNA molecule that wraps around a series of globular protein complexes. These wrapped complexes repeat to form a supramolecular structure resembling a string of beads. Biochemists refer to the “beads” as nucleosomes.

 The chain of nucleosomes further coil to form a structure called a solenoid. The solenoid condenses to form higher order structures that constitute the chromosome. Between cell division events, the chromosome exists in an extended diffuse form that is not detectable. Prior to and during cell division, the chromosome condenses to form its readily recognizable compact structures.

All the genetic material (DNA) in the cell’s nucleus is distributed among numerous chromosomes. The number of chromosomes in its cells is a characteristic feature of each species. For example, in the nucleus of each cell, chimpanzees possess 48 chromosomes and humans, 46.

 The human genome is comprised of 22 autosomes, numbered 1 to 22 based on size, with chromosome 1 being the longest and chromosome 22 being the shortest. There are also two sex chromosomes, dubbed the X and Y chromosomes.

 Every cell in the human body has 23 pairs of chromosomes, one set comes from the mother, one from the father. The set is made up of 22 autosomes and 1 sex chromosome, either X or Y.

One of the surprises about the human genome came shortly after the rough draft sequence was produced. The initial analysis indicated only 20,000 genes exist in the human genome. This was a far cry from the predicted number: 100,000 genes, at minimum.

This meant that less than 2 percent of the human genome coded for proteins—the workhorse molecules of the cell. Evolutionary biologists interpreted the rest of the human genome as junk DNA.

Evolutionary biologists argue that most of the human genome looks like it was derived from retroviral infections. Also, included in the human genome are nonfunctional genes, dubbed pseudogenes, along with other types of evolutionary debris. At first glance, the human genome looks like a vast wasteland of junk.

Of course, this begs the question: Why would a Creator make the human genome with so much useless DNA?

In Psalm 8 of the Old Testament, David asks the question:

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

 David answers his own question by remembering the Genesis 1 and 2 creation accounts for humanity’s origin. David replies:

 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.

You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet:

 Given David’s words, a human genome littered with garbage is not what one would expect if human beings are the crown of creation. But, it is exactly what one would predict, if evolution cobbled together the human genome.

 For evolutionary biologists, a high level of junk DNA in the human genome (and the genomes of other creatures) provides resolution to the C-Value paradox, adding to the case for evolution.

 The C-Value paradox traces its origins back to the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. At that time, biochemists developed techniques to quantify the amount of DNA found in individual cells. They used these techniques to measure the amount of DNA in the different cell types comprising an organism. For example, human beings have approximately 210 different cell types that make up our bodies. Biochemists were interested in the amount of DNA in each of these cell types. For every organism studied, biochemists found that all the cells in their body contained the same amount of DNA. They dubbed this value as the C-value, with C standing for ‘constant.’ The C-value refers to the constant amount of DNA found in each of an organism’s cells.

 At that time, biochemists thought that the amount of DNA should correspond to the complexity of the organism. More complex organisms should have more DNA, than less complex organisms. When biochemists plotted C-values for different organisms, they failed to discover any relationship between complexity and quantity of DNA in the organism’s cells.

The discovery of junk DNA resolved the C-value paradox. Accordingly, most of an organism’s genome consisted of junk DNA, which accumulated through random events. As a result, the C-value varied from organism to organism, with no rhyme or reason. In other words, the size of an organism’s genome has no relationship to complexity. It is just the vestiges of an unguided, evolutionary history.

This of course begs the question: Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing God create genomes with more junk than functional DNA?

 An even more problematic question: Why would organisms that naturally group together possess identical (or nearly identical) junk DNA sequences at corresponding locations in their genomes?

 On the surface, the explanation that makes most sense is an evolutionary one; the junk DNA sequences arose in the shared evolutionary ancestor and persisted in the genomes as the different evolutionary lineages diverged from the common ancestor. In other words, junk DNA sequences in our genome and the genomes of other organisms reflects our evolutionary history and can be used to map evolutionary relationships.

 Yet, over the course of the past decade, molecular biologists and geneticists have made discoveries that force us to re-think the evolutionary view of the human genome. Bit by bit researchers have discovered that most of the classes of junk DNA have function.

 Of course, if junk DNA is functional, it undermines the case for evolution. One could argue that the shared junk DNA sequences in corresponding locations in genomes reflects common design, not common descent.

The case for the design of the human genome became stronger virtually overnight, thanks to the ENCODE project. This project was initiated shortly after the human genome was sequenced. It became immediately apparent that simply having the DNA sequence for the human genome was not enough. There had to be some means to interpret the sequence data. Nobody knew how to read the 3.2 billion genetic letters, comprising our genome. We knew how to fish out gene sequences from the human genome. But, nobody knew what the rest of the genome sequences meant, if anything, at all.

 Scientists needed a Rosetta stone for the human genome.

 Hence, the ENCODE project was birthed. Its goal: To identify all the functional elements in the human genome. ENCODE stands for the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements.

This project began in the early 2000’s. The pilot phase cost 55 million dollars—an expense pilot study.  The research consortium attempted to identify all the functional elements in 1 percent of the human genome. Their success with phase I, lead to phase II. This phase cost 130 million dollars and was completed in September of 2012. Phase III is currently under way. The total cost of the ENCODE project will be about 300 million dollars—a bargain, because to sequence the human genome cost 3.2 billion dollars. We will be able to interpret the human genome for a mere tenth of the cost of sequencing our genetic blueprint.

 The ENCODE project was ‘Big science’ coming to biology.  The ENCODE consortium for phase II consisted of:

  • 440 Scientists
  • 32 Research Groups
  • Performed 1650 Experiments
  • Analyzed 147 cell types
  • Produced 15 X 1012 bytes of data
  • Required 300 years of computer time to analyze

The ENCODE consortium produced:

  • Nearly 40 publications
    • Nature
    • Science
    • Cell
    • Genome Research
    • Genome Biology
    • Journal of Biological Chemistry

Phase III of the ENCODE project will survey the remaining 63 cell types for functional DNA and look for functional DNA at different stages of the cell cycle.

This data will go a long way towards helping us gain a fundamental understanding about human biology and human uniqueness.

We will be able to develop a better understanding of the genetic basis of diseases and develop diagnostic tools and improved treatments for many of these disorders.

The insights coming from ENCODE also impacts the creation/evolution controversy.

 These results:

  • Eliminates best argument for evolution
  • Eliminates biggest challenge to biochemical design

What did ENCODE find that is so important to the case for a Creator?

These researchers performed six assays that measured

  • Transcription
  • Binding of transcription factors
  • Histone binding
  • Modified histone binding
  • Methylation
  • 3-D interactions within the genome

All these processes play a key role in gene expression.

It is one thing to know what genes are present in the genome. It is another to know how and when those genes are used. We can think of genes within the genome like words in a dictionary. To write a novel, one needs to use the words in the dictionary in a variety of combinations, often using words more than one time. Each novel uses words from the dictionary in different ways to produce pieces of literature that communicate different meanings.

The set of genes found in the genome are like the words in the dictionary. These genes can be used to build each cell in the human body, with the cells functioning like novels. The genes are used or expressed differently from cell to cell, accounting for their unique features.

Gene expression not only differs from cell to cell, it also changes throughout the cell cycle and during growth and development. Each stage of the cell cycle, each stage of development represents a different novel that needs to be written.

It appears as if most of the DNA sequences found in the human genome are regulating gene expression needed to build, and then, maintain the human organism. Phase II of the ENCODE project reported that 80 percent of the human genome displays biochemical activity that likely reflects biochemical function.

The ENCODE scientists expect that as phase III comes to fruition, 80 percent will become 100 percent.

Ed Yong wrote in an article for Discover magazine:

And what’s in the remaining 20 percent? Possibly not junk either, according to Ewan Birney… “It’s likely that 80 percent will go to 100 percent,” says Birney.

Ewan Birney serves as the head of the ENCODE consortium.  

The human genome doesn’t appear to be a wasteland of junk. It appears to be functional. Most of the DNA sequences in the human genome play a role in making us human beings. This insight stands as a radical revision of our view of the human genome. It is not a wasteland of junk, but an elegant biochemical system that is far more complex than we initially imagined.

How have biologists responded to the ENCODE results?

Within hours of the publication of the phase II results evolutionary biologists condemned the ENCODE project, citing several technical issues with the way the study was designed and the way the results were interpreted.

These technical complaints continue today, igniting the junk DNA wars between evolutionary biologists and genomics scientists. Evolutionary biologists argue that if the results of the ENCODE project are correct, then cornerstone ideas in evolutionary theory—such as the C-Value paradox— can’t be correct. On the other hand, genomics scientists see value in the ENCODE results, using them to understand the genetic basis for disease.

Evolutionary biologists have roundly criticized ENCODE scientists, claiming them to be incompetent and decrying the design of the ENCODE assays. Evolutionary biologists claim that if ENCODE is correct, then key aspects of the evolutionary paradigm are in trouble.

These critics are doing science, ‘backwards.’ Instead of data used to evaluate a theory, the theory is used to evaluate the data.

The character of these objections aren’t lost on objective members of the scientific community who have suggested the real motivation behind the criticisms of the ENCODE project are philosophical—even theological—in nature.

For example, molecular biologists John Mattick and Marcel Dinger write in an article published in the scientific journal HUGO Journal:

“There may also be another factor motivating the Graur et al. and related articles (van Bakel et al. 2010; Scanlan 2012), which is suggested by the sources and selection of quotations used at the beginning of the article, as well as in the use of the phrase ‘evolution-free gospel’ in its title (Graur et al. 2013): the argument of a largely non-functional genome is invoked by some evolutionary theorists in the debate against the proposition of intelligent design of life on earth, particularly with respect to the origin of humanity. In essence, the argument posits that the presence of non-protein-coding or so-called ‘junk DNA’ that comprises >90% of the human genome is evidence for the accumulation of evolutionary debris by blind Darwinian evolution, and argues against intelligent design, as an intelligent designer would presumably not fill the human genetic instruction set with meaningless information (Dawkins 1986; Collins 2006). This argument is threatened in the face of growing functional indices of noncoding regions of the genome, with the latter reciprocally used in support of the notion of intelligent design and to challenge the conception that natural selection accounts for the existence of complex organisms (Behe 2003; Wells 2011).”

John Mattick who wrote these words is not friendly to creation or intelligent design.

Our understanding of genomes is in its infancy. Forced by their commitment to the evolutionary paradigm, many biologists see genomes as the cobbled-together product of an unguided evolutionary history. But, the more we learn about the structure and function of genomes, the more elegant and sophisticated they appear to be—and the more reasons to think that genomes are the handiwork of our Creator.

I would like to conclude with the words of Eric Green, the Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute:

“During the early debates about the Human Genome Project, researchers had predicted that only a few percent of the human genome sequence encoded proteins, the workhorses of the cell, and the rest was junk. We now know that this conclusion was wrong. ENCODE has revealed that most of the human genome is involved in the complex molecular choreography required for converting genetic information into living cells and tissues.”

In light of the data coming from the ENCODE project, as a Christian I am justified in viewing the human genome, and hence, human beings as the product of a Creator’s handiwork.

In Psalm 139, David sings a song of praise to the Creator, summarizing the latest insights from the ENCODE project well, when he declares:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

 

JERRY BERGMAN  The latest issue of the popular science magazine, Discover,[i]  contains an article titled “Everything Worth Knowing About Evolution.” The article begins by claiming that over 350 million years ago our fish ancestors traded aquatic for terrestrial life, implying that this conclusion is science when it actually is problematic speculation.


 

The latest issue of the popular science magazine, Discover,[i]  contains an article titled “Everything Worth Knowing About Evolution.” The article begins by claiming that over 350 million years ago our fish ancestors traded aquatic for terrestrial life, implying that this conclusion is science when it actually is problematic speculation. The article includes four illustrations that were drawn to portray the theory of evolution from sea to land. The problem is, the illustrations look like four separate modern day creatures and show little evidence of gradual evolution from the first drawing to the last one. One could take four living animals, which it looks like the artist did, and produce a very similar set of pictures.

Photos of humpback whale with calf courtesy Illustra Media / Dave Anderson

The confidence of the headline is shattered when one reads the article. For example, the author admits that “The tetrapods’ move to land has long been one of the great evolutionary puzzles” and then added “Researchers have yet to find the species that can link early fishapods with fully terrestrial tetrapods.” This theory of evolution from water to land is proposed only because, since life is presumed to have first evolved in the water, and life now abundantly exists on land, in spite of the lack of evidence, life must have evolved from water to land.

The tetrapods’ move to land has long been one of the great evolutionary puzzles.

The only presumed physical evidence of evolution from water to land is fossil bones, not visceral organs, which means that we have only a small percent of the putative physical evidence. Furthermore, the fossil evidence that we have is rarely a complete skeleton. Most often it consists of bone fragments that have to be assembled, which itself is a daunting task. It is true that organs and organ systems can be inferred from bones, but this process is very problematic. As a result, conflicting interpretations exist among scholars.

The alleged sequence is largely artistic license. Illustration courtesy Illustra Media.

After marine life evolved to become terrestrial, evolutionists postulate that terrestrial animals evolved to again become marine life, such as the cetaceans including whales. Again, the theory is postulated only because the alternatives, such as aquatic fish evolving into whales, is even more problematic. The problem of terrestrial mammals re-evolving into marine life is enormously problematic. Although Professor Pyenson,[ii] Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian, wrote, the “evolution of cetaceans is one of the best examples of macroevolution documented from the fossil record,” when we analyze the changes required in the anatomy and physiology, clear problems are obvious.

One obvious example is that the body size changes required to evolve from a small terrestrial mammal to a whale are enormous—from a 50-pound dog-sized animal to a 300,000-pound sea animal, or 6,000 times larger, and from an animal a few feet long to a 100-foot-long animal. The tongue of a blue whale alone weighs as much as an elephant. Changes required to evolve from a land to a sea animal require not only size modifications, but major design changes in every body organ and structure.

Illustration courtesy Illustra Media.

For example, the heart size increase requires evolving a heart from the size of a human fist to one close to the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. The heart valves would have to evolve from those smaller than the size of a dime to the size of an automobile tire rim. A human heart beats about 70 times a minute, a whale heart only nine times a minute, but the force of each beat is many times stronger in a whale than that in humans. This requires major design changes in the entire circulatory system. The fact is, “How and why baleen [and other whales] evolved is one of the greatest mysteries of marine mammal evolution, with even Charles Darwin himself speculating upon its beginnings in his On the Origin of Species.”[iii]


[i] Gemma Tarlach. When we left the Water. Discover Magazine. July-August, 2017, pp. 44-47.

[ii] Nicholas Pyenson. 2017. The Ecological Rise of Whales Chronicled by the Fossil Record. Current Biology. 27(11):R558-R564.

[iii] Felix Georg Marx, David Hocking, And Travis Park. 2016. The evolution of the baleen in whales. https://phys.org/news/2016-11-evolution-baleen-whales.html. November.

Resource: Creation-Evolution Headlines https://crev.info/

 

FAZALE RANA  Why do I think God exists? In short: The elegance, sophistication, and ingenuity of biochemical systems—and their astonishing similarity to man-made systems—convinces me that God is responsible for life’s origin and design.

While many skeptics readily acknowledge the remarkable designs of biochemical systems, they would disagree with my conclusion about God’s existence. Why? Because for every biochemical system I point to that displays beauty and elegance, they can point to one that seems to be poorly designed. In their view, these substandard designs reflect life’s evolutionary origin. They argue that evolutionary mechanisms kludged together the cell’s chemical systems through a historically contingent process that co-opted preexisting systems, cobbling them together to form new biochemical systems.

According to skeptics, one doesn’t have to look hard to find biochemical systems that seem to have been put together in a haphazard manner, and DNA replication appears to be an example of this. In many respects, DNA replication lies at the heart of the cell’s chemical operations. If designed by a Creator, this biochemical system, above all others, should epitomize intelligent design. Yet the DNA replication process appears to be unwieldy, inefficient, and unduly complex—the type of system evolution would generate by force, not the type of system worthy to be designated the product of the Creator’s handiwork.

Yet new work by Japanese researchers helps explain why DNA replication is the way it is.1 Instead of reflecting the cumbersome product of an unguided evolutionary history, the DNA replication process displays an exquisite molecular logic.

To appreciate the significance of the Japanese study and its implication for the creation/evolution controversy, a short biochemistry primer is in order. For readers who are familiar with DNA’s structure and the DNA replication process, you can skip the next two sections.

DNA

DNA consists of chain-like molecules known as polynucleotides. Two polynucleotide chains align in an antiparallel fashion to form a DNA molecule. (The two strands are arranged parallel to one another with the starting point of one strand in the polynucleotide duplex located next to the ending point of the other strand and vice versa.) The paired polynucleotide chains twist around each other to form the well-known DNA double helix. The cell’s machinery forms polynucleotide chains by linking together four different subunit molecules called nucleotides. The nucleotides used to build DNA chains are adenosine, guanosine, cytidine, and thymidine, famously abbreviated A, G, C, and T, respectively.

The nucleotide molecules that make up the strands of DNA are, in turn, complex molecules consisting of both a phosphate moiety, and a nucleobase (either adenine, guanine, cytosine, or thymine) joined to a 5-carbon sugar (deoxyribose).

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Image 1: Adenosine Monophosphate, a Nucleotide

Repeatedly linking the phosphate group of one nucleotide to the deoxyribose unit of another nucleotide forms the backbone of the DNA strand. The nucleobases extend as side chains from the backbone of the DNA molecule and serve as interaction points when the two DNA strands align and twist to form the double helix.
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Image 2: The DNA Backbone

When the two DNA strands align, the adenosine (A) side chains of one strand always pair with thymidine (T) side chains from the other strand. Likewise, the guanosine (G) side chains from one DNA strand always pair with cytidine (C) side chains from the other strand.

DNA Replication

Biochemists refer to DNA replication as a template-directed, semi-conservative process. By template-directed, biochemists mean that the nucleotide sequences of the “parent” DNA molecule function as a template, directing the assembly of the DNA strands of the two “daughter” molecules. By semi-conservative, biochemists mean that after replication, each daughter DNA molecule contains one newly formed DNA strand and one strand from the parent molecule.

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Image 3: Semi-Conservative DNA Replication

Conceptually, template-directed, semi-conservative DNA replication entails the separation of the parent DNA double-helix into two single strands. By using the base-pairing rules, each strand serves as a template for the cell’s machinery to use when it forms a new DNA strand with a nucleotide sequence complementary to the parent strand. Because each strand of the parent DNA molecule directs the production of a new DNA strand, two daughter molecules result. Each one possesses an original strand from the parent molecule and a newly formed DNA strand produced by a template-directed synthetic process.

DNA replication begins at specific sites along the DNA double helix, called replication origins. The DNA double helix unwinds locally at the origin of replication to produce what biochemists call a replication bubble. The bubble expands in both directions from the origin during the course of DNA replication. Once the individual strands of the DNA double helix unwind and are exposed within the replication bubble, they are available to direct the production of the daughter strand. The site where the DNA double helix continuously unwinds is called the replication fork. Because DNA replication proceeds in both directions away from the origin, there are two replication forks within each bubble.

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Image 4: DNA Replication

DNA replication can only proceed in a single direction, from the top of the DNA strand to the bottom. Because the strands that form the DNA double helix align in an antiparallel fashion with the top of one strand juxtaposed to the bottom of the other strand, only one strand at each replication fork has the proper orientation (bottom-to-top) to direct the assembly of a new strand, in the top-to-bottom direction. For this strand—referred to as the “leading strand”—DNA replication proceeds rapidly and continuously in the direction of the advancing replication fork.

DNA replication can’t proceed along the strand with the top-to-bottom orientation until the replication bubble has expanded enough to expose a sizable stretch of DNA. When this happens, DNA replication moves away from the advancing replication fork. DNA replication can only proceed a short distance for the top-to-bottom oriented strand before the replication process has to stop and wait for more of the parent DNA strand to be exposed. When a sufficient length of the parent DNA template is exposed for a second time, DNA replication can proceed again, but only briefly before it has to stop again and wait for more DNA to be exposed. The process of discontinuous DNA replication takes place repeatedly until the entire strand is replicated. Each time DNA replication starts and stops, a small fragment of DNA is produced. Biochemists refer to these pieces of DNA (that will eventually comprise the daughter strand) as “Okazaki fragments,” named after the biochemist who discovered them. Biochemists call the strand produced discontinuously the “lagging strand,” because DNA replication for this strand lags behind the more rapidly produced leading strand.

One additional point: The leading strand at one replication fork is the lagging strand at the other replication fork, since the replication forks at the two ends of the replication bubble advance in opposite directions.

Before the newly formed daughter strands can be produced, a small RNA primer must be produced. The protein that synthesizes new DNA by reading the parent DNA template strand—DNA polymerase—can’t start production from scratch. It has to be primed. A massive protein complex, called the primosome, which consists of more than 15 different proteins, produces the RNA primer needed by DNA polymerase.

Once primed, DNA polymerase will continuously produce DNA along the leading strand. However, for the lagging strand, DNA polymerase can only generate DNA in spurts to produce Okazaki fragments. Each time DNA polymerase generates an Okazaki fragment, the primosome complex must produce a new RNA primer.

Once DNA replication is completed, the RNA primers are removed from the continuous DNA of the leading strand and the Okazaki fragments that make up the lagging strand. A protein called a 3’–5’ exonuclease removes the RNA primers. A different DNA polymerase fills in the gaps created by the removal of the RNA primers. Finally, a protein called a ligase connects all the Okazaki fragments together to form a continuous piece of DNA out of the lagging strand.

DNA Replication and the Case for Evolution

This cursory description of DNA replication clearly illustrates the complexity of this biochemical operation. (Many details of the process were left out of the discussion.) This description also reveals why biochemists view this process as cumbersome and unwieldy. There is no obvious reason why DNA replication proceeds as a semi-conservative, RNA primer-dependent, unidirectional process involving leading and lagging strands to produce DNA daughter molecules. Because of this uncertainty, skeptics view DNA replication as a chance outcome of a historically contingent process, kludged together from the biochemical leftovers of the RNA world.

If there is one feature of DNA replication that is responsible for the complexity of the process, it is the directionality of DNA replication—from top to bottom. At first glance, it would seem as if the process would be simpler and more elegant if replication could proceed in both directions. Skeptics argue that the fact that it doesn’t reflects the evolutionary origin of the replication process.

Yet work by the team from Sapporo, Japan indicates that there is an exquisite molecular rationale for the directionality of DNA replication.

Why DNA Replication Proceeds in a Single Direction

These researchers recognized an important opportunity to ask why DNA replication proceeds only in a single direction with the discovery of a class of enzymes that add nucleotides to the ends of transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules. (tRNA molecules ferry amino acids to the ribsosome during protein synthesis.) If damaged, tRNA molecules cannot properly carry out their role in protein production. Fortunately, there are repair enzymes that can fix damaged tRNA molecules. One of them is called Thg-1-like protein (TLP).

TLP adds nucleotides to damaged ends of tRNA molecules. But instead of adding the nucleotides top to bottom, the enzyme adds these subunit molecules to the tRNA bottom to top, the opposite direction of DNA replication.

By determining the mechanism employed by TLP during bottom-to-top nucleotide addition, the researchers gained important insight into the constraints of DNA replication. As it turns out, bottom-to-top addition is a much more complex process than the normal top-to-bottom nucleotide addition. Bottom-to-top addition is a cumbersome two-step process that requires an enzyme with two active sites that have to be linked together in a precise way. In contrast, top-to-bottom addition is a simple, one-step reaction that proceeds with a single active site. In other words, DNA replication proceeds in a single direction (top-to-bottom) because it is mechanistically simpler and more efficient.

One could argue that the complexity that arises by the top-to-bottom DNA replication process is a trade-off for a mechanistically simpler nucleotide addition reaction. Still, if DNA replication proceeded in both directions the process would be complex and unwieldy. For example, if replication proceeded in two directions, the cell would require two distinct types of primosomes and DNA polymerases, one set for each direction of DNA replication. Employing two sets of primosomes and DNA polymerases is clearly less efficient than employing a single set of enzymes.

Ironically, if DNA replication could proceed in two directions, there still would be a leading and a lagging strand. Why? Because bottom-to-top replication is a two-step process and would proceed more slowly than the single step of top-to-bottom replication. In other words, the assembly of the DNA strand in a bottom-to-top direction would lag behind the assembly of the DNA strand that traveled in a top-to-bottom direction.

Bidirectional DNA replication would also cause another complication due to a crowding effect. Once the replication bubble opens, both sets of replication enzymes would have to fit into the replication bubble’s constrained space. This molecular overcrowding would further compromise the efficiency of the replication process. Overcrowding is not an issue for unidirectional DNA replication that proceeds in a top-to-bottom direction.

The bottom line: In light of this new insight, it is hard to argue that DNA replication has been cobbled together via a historically contingent pathway. Instead, it is looking more and more like a process ingenuously designed by a Divine Mind.

 

FAZALE RANA  Before joining Reasons to Believe in 1999, I spent seven years working in R&D at a Fortune 500 company, which meant that I spent most of my time in a chemistry laboratory alongside my colleagues trying to develop new technologies with the hope that one day our ideas would become a reality, making their way onto store shelves.

From time to time, my work would be interrupted by an urgent call from one of our manufacturing plants. Inevitably, there was some crisis requiring my expertise as a chemist to troubleshoot. Often, I could solve the plant’s problem over the phone, or by analyzing a few samples sent to my lab. But, occasionally, the crisis necessitated a trip to the plant. These trips weren’t much fun. They were high pressure, stressful situations, because the longer the plant was offline, the more money it cost the company.

But, once the crisis abated, we could breathe easier. And that usually afforded us an opportunity to tour the plant.

It was a thrill to see working assembly lines manufacturing our products. These manufacturing operations were engineering marvels to behold, efficiently producing high-quality products at unimaginable speeds.

The Cell as a Factory

Inside each cell, an ensemble of manufacturing operations exists, more remarkable than any assembly line designed by human engineers. Perhaps one of the most astounding is the biochemical process that produces proteins—the workhorse molecules of life. These large complex molecules work collaboratively to carry out every cellular operation and contribute to the formation of all the structures within the cell.

Subcellular particles called ribosomes produce proteins through an assembly-line-like operation, replete with sophisticated quality control checkpoints. (As discussed in The Cell’s Design, the similarity between the assembly-line production of proteins and human manufacturing operations bolsters the Watchmaker argument for God’s existence.)

Ribosomes

About 23 nanometers in diameter, ribosomes play a central role in protein synthesis by catalyzing (assisting) the chemical reactions that form the bonds between the amino acid subunits of proteins. A human cell may contain up to half a million ribosomes. A typical bacterium possesses about 20,000 of these subcellular structures, comprising one-fourth the total bacterial mass.

Two subunits of different sizes (comprised of proteins and RNA molecules) combine to form a functional ribosome. In organisms like bacteria, the large subunit (LSU) contains 2 ribosomal RNA (rRNA) molecules and about 30 different protein molecules. The small subunit (SSU) consists of a single rRNA molecule and about 20 proteins. In more complex organisms, the LSU is formed by 3 rRNA molecules that combine with around 50 distinct proteins and the SSU consists of a single rRNA molecule and over 30 different proteins. The rRNAs act as scaffolding that organizes the myriad ribosomal proteins. They also catalyze the chain-forming reactions between amino acids.

Ribosomes Make Ribosomes

Before a cell can replicate, ribosomes must manufacture the proteins needed to form more ribosomes—in fact, the cell’s machinery needs to manufacture enough ribosomes to form a full complement of these subcellular complexes. This ensures that both daughter cells have the sufficient number of protein-manufacturing machines to thrive once the cell division process is completed. Because of this constraint, cell replication cannot proceed until a duplicate population of ribosomes is produced.

Is There a Rationale for Ribosome Structure?

Clearly, ribosomes are complex subcellular particles. But, is there any rhyme or reason for their structure? Or are ribosomes the product of a historically contingent evolutionary history?

New work by researchers from Harvard University and Uppsala University in Sweden provides key insight into the compositional make up of ribosomes, and, in doing so, help answer these questions.1

As part of their research efforts, the Harvard and Uppsala University investigators were specifically trying to answer several questions related to the composition of ribosomes, including:

  1. Why are ribosomes made up of so many proteins?
  2. Why are ribosomal proteins nearly the same size?
  3. Why are ribosomal proteins smaller than typical proteins?
  4. Why are ribosomes made up of so few rRNA molecules?
  5. Why are rRNA molecules are so large?
  6. Why do ribosomes employ rRNA as the catalyst to form bonds between amino acids, instead of proteins which are much more efficient as enzymes?

Ribosome Composition Is Optimal for Efficient Production of Ribosomes

Using mathematical modeling, the Harvard and Uppsala University investigators discovered that if ribosomal proteins were larger, or if these biomolecules were variable in size, ribosome production would be slow and inefficient. Building ribosomes with smaller, uniform-size proteins represents the faster way to duplicate the ribosome population, permitting the cell replication to proceed in a timely manner.

These researchers also learned that if the ribosomal proteins were any shorter, inefficient ribosome production also results. This inefficiency stems from biochemical events needed to initiate protein production. If proteins are too short, then the initiation events take longer than the elongation processes that build the protein chains.

The bottom line: The mathematical modeling work by the Harvard and Uppsala University research team indicates that the sizes of ribosomal proteins are optimal to ensure the most rapid and efficient production of ribosomes. The mathematical modeling also determined that the optimal number of ribosomal proteins is between 50 to 80—the number of ribosomal proteins found in nature.

Ribosome Composition Is Optimal to Produce a Varied Population of Ribosomes

The insights of this work have bearing on the recent discovery that within cells a heterogeneous population of ribosomes exists, not a homogeneous one as biochemists have long thought.2 Instead of every ribosome in the cell being identical, capable of producing each and every protein the cell needs, a diverse ensemble of distinct ribosomes exists in the cell. Each type of ribosome manufactures characteristically distinct types of proteins. Typically, ribosomes produce proteins that work in conjunction to carry out related cellular functions. The heterogeneous makeup of ribosomes contributes to the overall efficiency of protein production, and also provides an important means to regulate protein synthesis. It wouldn’t make sense to use an assembly line to make both consumer products, such as antiperspirant sticks, and automobiles. In the same manner, it doesn’t make sense to use the same ribosomes to make the myriad proteins, performing different functions for the cell.

Because ribosomes consist of a large number of small proteins, the cell can efficiently produce heterogeneous populations of ribosomes by assembling a ribosomal core and then including and excluding specific ribosomal proteins to generate a diverse population of ribosomes.3 In other words, the protein composition of ribosomes is optimized to efficiently replicate a diverse population of these subcellular particles.

The Case for Creation

The ingenuity of biochemical systems was one of the features of the cell’s chemistry that most impressed me as a graduate student (and moved me toward the recognition that there was a Creator). And the latest work by researchers on ribosome composition from Harvard and Uppsala Universities provides another illustration of the clever way that biochemical systems are constructed. The composition of these subcellular structures doesn’t appear to be haphazard—a frozen accident of a historically contingent evolutionary process—but instead is undergirded by an elegant molecular rationale, consistent with the work of a mind.

The case for intelligent design gains reinforcement from the optimal composition of ribosomal proteins. Quite often, designs produced by human beings have been optimized, making this property a telltale signature for intelligent design. In fact, optimality is most often associated with superior designs.

As I pointed out in The Cell’s Design, ribosomes are chicken-and-egg systems. Because ribosomes are composed of proteins, proteins are needed to make proteins. As with ingenuity and optimality, this property also evinces for the work of intelligent agency. Building a system that displays this unusual type of interdependency requires, and hence, reflects the work of a mind.

On the other hand, the chicken-and-egg nature of ribosome biosynthesis serves as a potent challenge to evolutionary explanations for the origin of life.

The Challenge to Evolution

Because ribosomes are needed to make the proteins needed to make ribosomes, it becomes difficult to envision how this type of chicken-and-egg system could emerge via evolutionary processes. Protein synthesis would have to function optimally at the onset. If it did not, it would lead to a cycle of auto-destruction for the cell.

Ribosomes couldn’t begin as crudely operating protein-manufacturing machines that gradually increased in efficiency—evolving step-by-step—toward the optimal systems, characteristic of contemporary biochemistry. If error-prone, ribosomes will produce defective proteins—including ribosomal proteins. In turn, defective ribosomal proteins will form ribosomes even more prone to error, setting up the auto-destruct cycle. And in any evolutionary scheme, the first ribosomes would have been error-prone.

The compositional requirement that ribosomal proteins be of the just-right size and uniform in length only exacerbates this chicken-and-egg problem. Even if ribosomes form functional, intact proteins, if these proteins aren’t the correct number, size, or uniformity then ribosomes couldn’t be replicated fast enough to support cellular reproduction.

In short, the latest insights in the protein composition of ribosomes provides compelling reasons to think that life must stem from a Creator’s handiwork.

 

 

A Stop to the Evolution Journey Of Birds

Origin of Life

FAZALE RANA  Is the biochemical activity measured for the human genome merely biochemical noise or is it productive for the cell? The answer to this question doesn’t just have scientific implications. It impacts questions surrounding humanity’s origin. Did we arise through evolutionary processes or are we the product of a Creator’s handiwork?


 

The time my wife Amy and I spent in graduate school studying biochemistry were some of the best days of our lives. But it wasn’t all fun and games. For the most part, we spent long days and nights working in the lab.

But we weren’t alone. Most of the graduate students in the chemistry department at Ohio University kept the same hours we did, with all-nighters broken up around midnight by “Dew n’ Donut” runs to the local 7-Eleven. Even though everybody worked hard, some people were just more productive than others. I soon came to realize that activity and productivity were two entirely different things. Some of the busiest people I knew in graduate school rarely accomplished anything.

This same dichotomy lies at the heart of an important scientific debate taking place about the meaning of the ENCODE project results. This controversy centers around the question: Is the biochemical activity measured for the human genome merely biochemical noise or is it productive for the cell? Or to phrase the question the way a biochemist would: Is biochemical activity associated with the human genome the same thing as biochemical function?

The answer to this question doesn’t just have scientific implications. It impacts questions surrounding humanity’s origin. Did we arise through evolutionary processes or are we the product of a Creator’s handiwork?

The ENCODE Project

The ENCODE project—a program carried out by a consortium of scientists with the goal of identifying the functional DNA sequence elements in the human genome—reported phase II results in the fall of 2012. To the surprise of many, the ENCODE project reported that around 80% of the human genome displays biochemical activity, and hence function, with the expectation that this percentage should increase with phase III of the project.

If valid, the ENCODE results force a radical revision of the way scientists view the human genome. Instead of a wasteland littered with junk DNA sequences (as the evolutionary paradigm predicts), the human genome (and the genomes of other organisms) is packed with functional elements (as expected if a Creator brought human beings into existence).

Within hours of the publication of the phase II results, evolutionary biologists condemned the ENCODE results, citing technical issues with the way the study was designed and the way the results were interpreted.

Is Biochemical Activity the Same Thing As Function?

One of the technical complaints relates to how the ENCODE consortium determined biochemical function. Critics argue that ENCODE scientists conflated biochemical activity with function. For example, the ENCODE Project determined that about 60% of the human genome is transcribed to produceRNA. ENCODE skeptics argue that most of these transcripts lack function. Evolutionary biologist Dan Graur has asserted that “some studies even indicate that 90% of transcripts generated by RNA polymerase II may represent transcriptional noise.”In other words, the biochemical activity measured by the ENCODE project can be likened to busy but nonproductive graduate students who hustle and bustle about the lab but fail to get anything done.

When I first learned how many evolutionary biologists interpreted the ENCODE results I was skeptical. As a biochemist, I am well aware that living systems could not tolerate such high levels of transcriptional noise.

Transcription is an energy- and resource-intensive process. Therefore, it would be untenable to believe that most transcripts are mere biochemical noise. Such a view ignores cellular energetics. Transcribing 60% of the genome when most of the transcripts serve no useful function would routinely waste a significant amount of the organism’s energy and material stores. If such an inefficient practice existed, surely natural selection would eliminate it and streamline transcription to produce transcripts that contribute to the organism’s fitness.

Most RNA Transcripts Are Functional

Recent work supports my intuition as a biochemist. Genomics scientists are quickly realizing that most of the RNA molecule transcribed from the human genome serve critical functional roles.

For example, a recently published report from the Second Aegean International Conference on the Long and the Short of Non-Coding RNAs (held in Greece between June 9–14, 2017) highlights this growing consensus. Based on the papers presented at the conference, the authors of the report conclude, “Non-coding RNAs . . . are not simply transcriptional by-products, or splicing artefacts, but comprise a diverse population of actively synthesized and regulated RNA transcripts. These transcripts can—and do—function within the contexts of cellular homeostasis and human pathogenesis.”2

Shortly before this conference was held, a consortium of scientists from the RIKEN Center for Life Science Technologies in Japan published an atlas of long non-coding RNAs transcribed from the human genome. (Long non-coding RNAs are a subset of RNA transcripts produced from the human genome.) They identified nearly 28,000 distinct long non-coding RNA transcripts and determined that nearly 19,200 of these play some functional role, with the possibility that this number may increase as they and other scientific teams continue to study long non-coding RNAs.3 One of the researchers involved in this project acknowledges that “There is strong debate in the scientific community on whether the thousands of long non-coding RNAs generated from our genomes are functional or simply byproducts of a noisy transcriptional machinery . . . we find compelling evidence that the majority of these long non-coding RNAs appear to be functional.”4

Copied by Design

Based on these results, it becomes increasingly difficult for ENCODE skeptics to dismiss the findings of the ENCODE project. Independent studies affirm the findings of the ENCODE consortium—namely, that a vast proportion of the human genome is functional.

We have come a long way from the early days of the human genome project. When completed in 2003, many scientists at that time estimated that around 95% of the human genome consisted of junk DNA. And in doing so, they seemingly provided compelling evidence that humans must be the product of an evolutionary history.

But, here we are, nearly 15 years later. And the more we learn about the structure and function of genomes, the more elegant and sophisticated they appear to be. And the more reasons we have to think that the human genome is the handiwork of our Creator.

Endnotes

  1. Dan Graur et al., “On the Immortality of Television Sets: ‘Function’ in the Human Genome According to the Evolution-Free Gospel of ENCODE,” Genome Biology and Evolution5 (March 1, 2013): 578–90, doi:10.1093/gbe/evt028.
  2. Jun-An Chen and Simon Conn, “Canonical mRNA is the Exception, Rather than the Rule,” Genome Biology 18 (July 7, 2017): 133, doi:10.1186/s13059-017-1268-1.
  3. Chung-Chau Hon et al., “An Atlas of Human Long Non-Coding RNAs with Accurate 5′ Ends,” Nature 543 (March 9, 2017): 199–204, doi:10.1038/nature21374.
  4. RIKEN, “Improved Gene Expression Atlas Shows that Many Human Long Non-Coding RNAs May Actually Be Functional,” ScienceDaily, March 1, 2017, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170301132018.htm.

ADNAN OKTAR A mighty waterfall tumbling down from on high, the boundless oceans and the glorious, stunning mountains are all matchless works of God. The stars, clouds, birds and fish are all His miracles. 

            Most people are in no doubt that a green forest that blossoms once again, grows and flourishes in the spring is one of the beautiful and glorious works of God.
  
Some people, however, regard skyscrapers, airplanes, laboratories and computers rather differently. The fact that these are made and built by human beings deceives them. They imagine that technology, civilization, scientific and technical progress are independent of God (God forbid) and forget that the human beings who are instrumental in their coming into existence are also created by Him. They fail to think that God, Who has made clouds the cause of rain and the Sun the cause of light, has also made man the cause of technology and civilization. They make the error of thinking that human beings have a power independent of God (God forbid) and that human beings invented the Internet, that human beings cause planes to fly, that human beings invented the tea spoon or biro, that human beings build space craft and that human beings discovered the forces responsible for keeping planes aloft. They imagine that plasma TVs, CD players, carpets, lampshades, cars and the products of advanced technology all appeared as the result of human intelligence and ability.
 
They make a terrible error in not regarding these as the artistry of God, and forget that He created them out of His mercy.
  
The fact is, however, that all these things, just like the seas, trees, flowers, fruits, the Sun and the boundless mountains, are all works of God. God in His mercy makes human beings the cause of all these things listed above. God has given human beings the intelligence and ability for this. Our Lord inspired them to discover these things. But it is certain that God has the power to have created them with no direct cause.
  
And everything we see is in fact CREATED “SPECIALLY FOR US” AND “INDEPENDENT OF NATURAL CAUSES” as God’s sublime artistry.
 
In order to understand this, we need to know that the matter we see and touch is an image created in our brains, that it is specially created for us, specially and moment by moment, and that we can never have direct experience of the originals on the outside.

ADNAN OKTAR A miracle is created every day, every moment in the human brain.


 Although only electrical signals reach the brain, and although the interior of the brain is pitch black and although this region is only a few square centimeters in size, all the mountains, seas, fields, the sky, endless wastes, houses, televisions, people, trees and in short everything we see are all in the brain. Everything there is colored. But there is no color in the brain. Everything there is light and bright, but there is no light in the brain, nor even outside it. Everything there is noisy and accompanied by sound, but the interior of the brain is completely silent. There is a depth to everything there; the stars seem very far away, while a pencil we hold in our hand seems very close. But in fact everything is on the same plane in our brains and at the same distance. The Sun seems to be thousands of kilometers away. But it is actually right next to us, inside our brains. The reason why the Sun exists in our brains is simply and solely electrical signals. A heavenly body we know to be thousands of kilometers across is actually created in a space of just a few square centimeters. And, to remind ourselves, it exists solely as an electrical signal, that we cannot hold in our hands nor even really know exists.

For that reason, the world we see is not the original of matter. We can never have direct experience of the original of matter on the outside. Our world is limited to what we are shown on the screens in our brains. Apart from that, we have no guarantee whether entities really exist or not, just as we have no guarantee whether the world created for us is the same as the real world on the outside.

The world we see is the world that Allah transmits to our souls. There is no matter in that world; no hardness, softness, scent or color. There are only electrical signals. Allah makes electrical signals the causes of the bright and colorful world He shows our souls. And it is the soul He created for human beings that perceives and interprets these images, rejoices, grieves, doubts, feels joy and longing, remembers, loves and feels excitement in that world.

ADNAN OKTAR Our life is like a movie and we can only see every frame of that motion picture when the designated time comes. That storyboard is delineated with millions of instances, which we will experience from the moment of our birth to our last breath. 


 Every detail is captured on that movie, and what we should never forget is that we will not ever be able to go outside that storyboard.

This is just like a movie we watch in a cinema. The beginning and the end, as well as the entirety of circumstances we will encounter in the movie are predetermined before we even start viewing it. This means while we are on the first frame of this film, the final scene is already set. The fact that we are not aware of it does not indicate that these matters have not taken place or have not even been specified yet.

The reason why our heart beats faster while watching the most exciting scene of the movie is not because the next frame is not determined yet, or that the events will be a surprise for us since the following acts are fixed right from the moment of the scenario’s completion. But, we are not informed of the following segment, and we are convinced that the course of affairs will occur spontaneously. Actually, our lives are just like this movie we see in a cinema.

The only difference is that there is a distinct movie for each one of us, and everyone is only capable of experiencing the predetermined story in his particular movie. Our past, future and present are all a part of this motion picture. Just as how we cannot change the characters, story line, or the end of a movie, in the same way, we have neither the capacity nor the power to make even the smallest revision related to our lives. And there is no exception to this. 

And every one of us is seeing over our own movie right inside a dark room just as we are in a movie theater. We can never go outside that room throughout our lives.

 When compared to a movie theater, the difference is that we are viewing our own motion picture not inside a huge cinema, but on the contrary inside a few cubic millimeters of flesh at the rear of our brains. This fact is not an opinion, a belief or a philosophical doctrine: It is the scientific truth. Every person who has lived has watched the external world solely from within that minute center of vision at the back of the brain. All the things we describe as seeing, hearing, touching or feeling take place in the interior of our brains. But what is most surprising is that there is no color, sound or picture inside of it because the minuscule movie theater in our brains is sound and light proof. In other words, there is only pitch darkness and absolute silence in the brain. The only thing we can find there are electrical impulses.

In her book Mapping the Mind, the science writer Rita Carter describes how we perceive the world:

Each one [of the sense organs] is intricately adapted to deal with its own type of stimulus: molecules, waves or vibrations. But the answer does not lie here, because despite their wonderful variety, each organ does essentially the same job: it translates its particular type of stimulus into electrical pulses. A pulse is a pulse is a pulse. It is not the color red, or the first notes of Beethoven’s Fifth—it is a bit of electrical energy. Indeed, rather than discriminating one type of sensory input from another, the sense organs actually make them more alike.

Just like the movie that we see in a cinema is reflected on the screen from a projector, all the images we come across are reflected on our eyes in the form of photons, and our eyes, ears and skin turn that light into electrical impulses then transmit it to the appropriate center inside our brains. In that regard, we can only experience the happenings we are shown or made to hear and sense inside our brains. In other words, we are dependent on that miniature movie theater inside our brains and we can never move it into the outside world. It is as if we are locked up there. And there is no other alternative than to live by what is in that movie script. The day of our birth, the date, hour and second of our death, the schools where we will receive our education and the college we will enter, how many children we will have and which diseases we will have throughout our lives are all fixed on that reel of film. Our Lord, Who decrees what is in our destiny, informs us of this truth in the Qur’an:

“We have created all things in due measure.” (Surat al-Qamar, 49)

Now that we can understand that all the incidents we experience in our lives are a part of our destiny, and our Lord has predestined the entirety of details even before our birth and creates them all for a good reason, then our responsibility is to be in full awareness that we are experiencing our destiny and we should be completely pleased with our Lord.

Despite all the precautions we may take, we cannot prevent any accidents that are in our destiny…

No matter how much we study, we cannot be admitted to a better school than what is predestined in our destiny…

Even if we may work our hardest, with maximum effort, we can never achieve any success other than the one designated in our destiny…

Our efforts, our endeavors and our precautions, are all but service to God and obligatory in religion. But, all of these have no power to change what is prescribed for us in our destiny.

Consequently the only thing that we should be doing while we are watching our own movie inside that pitch black, desolate, silent cinema hall the size of a lentil inside our brains is to think that the end of the movie we are watching is already determined and to put our trust in God, not to be sad in the face of troubles we come across and not to be spoiled in the face of blessings we’re given, to love our Lord dearly and to be pleased with everything He created. Because the opposite is haram (forbidden) according to the Qur'an and the result won’t change. This fact is revealed in the Qur'an as thus:

 “Nothing occurs, either in the earth or in yourselves, without its being in a Book before We make it happen. That is something easy for God. That is so that you will not be grieved about the things that pass you by or exult about the things that come to you. God does not love any vain or boastful man.”  (Surat Al-Hadid; 22-23)

Dr. Hans Köchler's talk at the 3rd International Conference on The Origin of Life and the Universe

 

Never before in the history of mankind has there been a situation where a multitude of civilizations and religions has co-existed in a more complex and immediate form than in our era of globalization. Anywhere on the globe, the human being is faced with the simultaneity of different metaphysical conceptions and belief systems. This diversity exists under conditions that are increasingly determined by technology of which, at the beginning of the 21st century, the most salient feature are the digital information and communication techniques. In earlier eras, a community may have been able to retreat into its own domain and shield itself from outside influences. This option – not to interact, not to communicate – is not available anymore.

Through all of recorded history, religious differences have all too often been causes of conflict between communities of believers or the political entities (states) in which those communities were organized. The crusades of the Middle Ages are testimony to this. People have eagerly tried, and invested a lot of intellectual and emotional energy, to identify the differences that distinguish them from one another in order to assert their cultural and religious identity. Drawing the borderlines between “us” and “them” – as a means of self-assertion – has been part and parcel of identity politics until the present day (to the point that even within communities, sub-groups have zealously striven to distinguish themselves from one another). Inter- and intra-religious conflicts, often fuelled by socio-economic interests, have constituted an important part of the history of civilizations. Since Samuel Huntington, upon the end of the Cold War, introduced the thesis of an intrinsic hostility between different religious worldviews, the paradigm of the “clash of civilizations” has become a buzzword in discourses on world order, and in particular as regards relations between the Western world and the world of Islam.

The simultaneity of distinct civilizational and religious life-worlds and value systems under the conditions of our “global village” has given new importance to peaceful coexistence, to the ideals of peaceful coexistence. In the context of globalization, the plurality of religious faiths has become, as I indicated in the beginning, a fact that determines every-day life in our interconnected world; it has indeed become an inescapable social reality. To “manage” cultural and religious differences in a rational manner is now an imperative of peace, at the local, regional and global level. This is where philosophy of religion can play a useful role.

There should be no misunderstanding: Acknowledging a plurality of religions and analyzing or accepting their structural content does in no way imply a defense of relativism. Accepting religious pluralism is also not to be confused either with a reductionist approach that merely derives religious dogma and belief from historical or socio-cultural factors, subordinating it to the empirical realm, or with forms of religious syncretism.

To describe the compatibility of a plurality of faiths with the universality of truth, one might use the metaphor of the Copernican model in cosmology: All theistic belief systems actually reveal different aspects of one and the same reality of the true God, merely taking different paths to achieve the same goal, in a way that is similar to the planets’ revolving around the same star (the sun), which keeps them in their unique place, but along different trajectories.

It is certainly legitimate to describe the actual multitude of belief systems empirically and in their sociological, psychological and historical dimensions, but only a deeper phenomenological approach will help us to understand religious experience as a comprehension of the world sui generis, and to grasp its inherent metaphysical truth – in a manner that allows us to reach an understanding of ourselves in the context of the cosmos (the universe). Just to give one example: The classical Aristotelian notion of the Supreme Being as the proton kinoun akineton  (“the first unmoved mover”) has through the ages informed metaphysical thinking in different religious and civilizational contexts.

General ontological concepts – that transcend, that go beyond cultural differences – indeed allow the philosopher to undertake a structural comparison between distinct systems of faith and their metaphysical notions, and, subsequently, help the believer to better define, and defend, his own position. A logical point can also be made in this ontological context, namely in regard to the ultimate truth that is expressed in and conveyed through the three monotheistic religions:

If there exists only one god, then this God must be one and the same for all. There cannot be three different “gods” for Jews, Christians and Muslims – only three different perceptions of God or manifestations of truth in the context of the respective revelation. Awareness of this logically obvious, but nonetheless often neglected, truth can foster a deeper sense of community among believers and may contribute to religious and societal peace beyond all those historical and socio-cultural differences. In this context, let me recall a message from one of our religious leaders in Austria, the late Cardinal Franz König, Archbishop of Vienna, underlined that “particularly today a discussion between Islam and Christianity on monotheism has a beneficial function and should contribute towards the reduction of suspicion, towards the understanding of the peoples of the world and the peaceful coexistence of nations.” He made these remarks in a message addressed to the first international conference on “The Concept of Monotheism (Tawhid) in Islam and Christianity,” which I organized in Rome in the year 1981. I had then characterized the aim of this undertaking – namely an analysis of the central metaphysical notion of monotheism – as to “deepen one’s own self-comprehension, or self-understanding, through the encounter with and respect for other religious and cultural traditions.” This is what I have identified as “dialectics” of cultural identity, which is the basis of a genuine understanding and mutual appreciation among civilizations. It goes without saying that this reflection about the nature of monotheism also includes the teachings of Judaism.

As regards the role of philosophy in thinking about faith, I would like to make one more point. It is obvious, but must be stressed nonetheless, that “philosophy of religion” is not identical with “religious philosophy.” The philosophical approach per se is neutral vis-à-vis a particular faith; it embodies the universality of the mind – without prejudice to the individual religious commitment of the philosopher. A widely used term such as “Christian philosophy,” to give just one example that illustrates this semantical, or terminological issue, relates to the philosophical ideas developed by thinkers who, as individuals, belong to the Christian faith; it does not mean that the specific notions or theories expounded by them as such are exclusively “Christian.” And the same could be said about other philosophical discourses in other cultural and religious contexts. No one can claim the λόγος / lógos (reason or, in a modern context, rationality) as a privilege of his religion alone, excluding believers of other faiths from the “community of discourse” and denying them the status of equal partners in the quest for metaphysical truth. Any exclusivist approach is intrinsically alien to the philosophical mind – in whichever historical or sociological context.

Endowed with the capacity of self-reflection (which cannot merely be reduced to the physical realm, as for instance evolutionary epistemology tried to do), the human being has always striven for the ultimate truth and meaning of life. The search for the transcendent has united thinkers of all civilizations throughout the ages. This genuinely philosophical quest is based on experience and reason in a comprehensive sense (and not only in the meaning of European Enlightenment). Through its universal outlook, and transcending cultural differences, philosophy has created a common space of reflection on the existence of the absolute. This is the essence and basis of the mission of philosophy also in the present age – in spite of the vain efforts, in our modern era, to relegate religious experience to the psychological and sociological domains.

It is here where the question of the specific meaning of coexistence between different religions, and the civilizations associated with them, comes into play. We cannot avoid posing the one fundamental question: In what sense may one speak of “coexistence” if one bears in mind that each religion represents the ultimate truth in the form that is unique to its socio-cultural environment and the circumstances of its revelation? In view of this uniqueness in the self-perception of each tradition, one may conceptually distinguish between institutional co-existence, implying mutual respect, between different religions with their specific manifestations of truth and religious practices on the one hand, and the joint spiritual undertaking among those who analyze and compare the underlying metaphysical notions, on the other. The latter relates to the efforts of those who engage in the philosophy of religion, who analyze the distinct forms of revelation of the absolute, and its categorizations, and who undertake to relate the basic elements of each system of faith to other such systems. Hermeneutical analysis and structural comparison between concepts of faith is the field where a philosophical approach – in clear distinction from an apologetic one – is conceptually appropriate and theologically legitimate.

I would like to conclude by referring again to the anthropological constant that is at the roots of religious belief as well as philosophical thought: The quest for the absolute is an intrinsic characteristic of the human being; it is the essence of our common spiritual heritage. While, in the religious domain, this effort is pursued on the basis of revelation and faith, the philosophical method is solely dependent on (human) reason. These two distinct approaches are not contradictory, but complementary. Without imposing itself on the original domain of faith, philosophy – through an analysis of the common structure of religious experience – may assist the believer to overcome a merely apologetic approach, and to reach out to the truth revealed in other religions.

In this way, philosophical reflection of and understanding between religions may give metaphysical depth to our modern technological civilization, which, in its globalized version, risks forgetting its metaphysical roots. In the spirit of “unity in diversity,” coexistence between the monotheistic religions can indeed become the cornerstone of a lasting order of peace and justice in the 21st century.

Dr. David Snoke's talk at the 3rd International Conference on The Origin of Life and the Universe

 

The word ‘intelligent design’ that has been used here basically means ‘God’s intelligence designing the Earth’. So imagine that you woke up one day in the future and found that the Intelligent Design movement had won the day, and all biology and all biophysics scientists followed the principle that life had been intelligently designed. What would the world look like? How would people do science differently?

Let me give you an analogy: To answer how science might look different, let’s imagine that you are an engineer, working for a computer company. You are given a chip made by a rival manufacturer.  It works very well. Your job is to see how it works, so that you can make improvements on it, and make your company’s own version to sell. This is known as “reverse engineering.”

Imagine how your work would look different in two different cases.

In case 1, you are told that the chip was created by making random circuits, and throwing away the ones that didn't work, and you continue to do this until the chip is found that works.

In the second case, you are told that the chip was designed by a brilliant designer, a master engineer.

Can you imagine that your work would differently depending on which one of these stories you believed about the chip?

I would expect that in the first case, I would find a lot of junk, while in the second case, even if I find things I didn’t understand at first, I would have believed that they had a purpose and work really hard to find what the purpose was for the things that I didn't understand.

Which one better understands the way biology is being done today? I am here to tell you that an enormous amount of biology that is being done today is being done on the second premise, that biological systems are extremely well designed. It is as if the Intelligent Design movement had totally won the day already. All kinds of biological research is being done as “reverse engineering” in which it is assumed that living systems are nearly optimally designed. Of course, the scientists by and large do not give credit to God. I will discuss later in this talk how they explain their findings, and I will give a critique of that.

So a lot of the work that I am going to be talking about here is in a publication, this publication is available online, and in this article I quote from and cite many articles from the scientific literature. It is also based on my experience from going to physics conferences in the US and sitting in on some, very crowded biophysics sessions, as well as personal conversations I’ve had with well known biophysicists, including people like Bill Bialek from Princeton (who does not believe in God, as far as I know).

A general term for this type of thinking is “teleology”, which means looking for a “purpose” or “goal” in something. In designed systems, we assume that there is a goal that was set and things were done to reach that goal. In standard evolution, there is no purpose and no goals. So for instance, Richard Dawkins titled his book on evolutionary theory “The Blind Watchmaker”, no purpose. But the literature on biological systems now people actually doing biology is full of terms “teleology”, and “purpose” and “goals” and "design".  All of these imply the idea of not being blind, but actually having a purpose in mind.

So I’m going to give you several quotes here for examples of this. This one is fairly lengthy but I’m gonna read some parts of it at length because this is a famous biologist writing a review article in a well-known biology journal and he says ‘biologists must learn to embrace the idea of teleology’. So he says: ‘Why is the sky blue? Any scientist will answer this question with a statement of mechanism: Atmospheric gas scatters some wavelengths of light more than others. To answer with a statement of purpose—e.g., to say the sky is blue to make people happy—would not cross the scientific mind. Yet in biology we often pose ‘why’ questions as to the purpose, and not just the mechanism that interests us. So the question ‘Why does the eye have a lens?’ most often calls for the answer that the lens is there to focus light, and only rarely the answer that the lens is there because lens cells are induced by the overlying ectoderm.

As a group, molecular biologists shy away from teleological matters, perhaps because early attitudes in molecular biology were shaped by physicists and chemists, and I’ll come back to that in a little bit. Geneticists routinely define function not in terms of the useful things that the gene does, but by what happens when the gene is altered. Molecular biology and molecular genetics people continue to dodge teleological issues and they would continue that if it not were for their fields’ remarkable recent successes. Molecular biologists are forced to wrestle with an overtly teleological question: What purpose does all this complexity serve?

These elements can be seen as the foundation of a new calculus of purpose.’

Let me just say that again: ‘he is saying that biology has to embrace a new calculus of purpose, of design in the actual biology.’…’enabling biologists to take on the much-neglected teleological side of molecular biology. What purpose does all this complexity serve?’ may go from a question few biologists dare to pose, to one on everybody’s lips.

This is a well-known biologist, writing in a secular biology journal.

These next quotes, I’m not going to read them all, but I’m just going to summarize them. In this one here, again these are some quotes from the mainstream literature, not only teleology, but explicitly the word design is now accepted in common. In the first quote here, a non-causal explanation means one looking at the end of the process, not just the beginning.

Aristotle called such things ‘final causes’, which is another way of talking about teleology. One looks for the purpose and then works backwards to find out what things were needed to find that goal, to achieve that goal, just like we did with the computer chip.

So, in the literature now, and in the article that I did, I did a survey all of these engineering concepts here, which are now commonly used in biology, it’s not just a language, but it is actually driving the science. The following things are all found in biology and found to be just as the same as the engineering concepts.

Feedback loops

Thresholding and discrimination

If you’re not an engineer, I’m sorry I don't have time to explain all of these but these are all things that are learned in graduate school engineering.

Ÿ Oscillators and frequency filtering

Ÿ Control and signaling

Ÿ Information storing

Ÿ Timing and synchronization

Ÿ Addressing and routing

Ÿ Hierarchies of function

Ÿ Redundancy and failsafes

Ÿ Interactive adaptation

Ÿ Optimization and tradeoffs

and actually in many cases, engineers are learning good methods of doing things by looking at biology and learning new methods from them.

Here is another quote, which again I will not read these at length here. But you can see in them how design is now being used. In the first quote, this is a writer who is not a believer as far as I know, who wrote an entire paper about design in the living systems, yet feels compelled for political reasons to say ‘there is no implication of a designer’. You see that, I think I have a laser pointer. So he feels, in the parenthetical remark, to say ‘even I’m going to talk in this whole paper about design, nevertheless don't take me to be talking about God’. In the second quote, there is the term of “information science” which is being used and called the essence of all biology. In past decades, the term “information” was rejected by many people to talk about biology because information intrinsically implies teleology: gathering knowledge about a system to accomplish a purpose. In other words information science is a highly sophisticated type of engineering.

In this next slide, I’m gonna show you just one example of a kind of design we see at the cellular level. We had a dance just a few minutes ago, and a very beautiful dance. Now when we look at these molecules, this is the molecule that is used to reproduce DNA inside of every living cell. And it is, I would say, a type of dance. The video I’m going to show is the DNA duplication mechanism. It is produced by professional scientific institute in Australia. And it’s based on years of research and computer modeling. Let me go forward to that now. Imagine in your mind the dance God has put into the cell. It should start just in a minute. One more try. I’m willing to wait because this is a beautiful video. So, while we are waiting for that, let me tell you more about it. This is a mechanism that is used to copy DNA. Whenever you have the DNA, and two cells, a cell divides into two … OK. So you can see, this is the weaving mechanism, the dancing mechanism by which the DNA is copied. And I want to emphasize that this mechanism has to work before natural selection can work, because natural selection is based on the idea of copying the DNA from one generation to the next. So this one mechanism has to be there before natural selection can do anything, because you have to copy the DNA. So let’s just enjoy it with the music for a minute. We can turn up the music a little bit. All of this is necessary for life even to exist, for the DNA to be copied. These are all molecules, and each one of those dots was a single atom. Duplicating an information string with billions of sites is not easy! And this is the kind of mechanism that we need in order for that to work.

So how do biologists who are not believers in God, think about these things? Essentially they would argue that this high level of design is to be

expected as an outcome of Darwinian evolution. The argument is that ‘weak organisms will be killed off and therefore since inefficiency generally makes things weaker, inefficiency will increase’. There are two problems with this:

Ÿ First is, it’s not been historically a prediction of atheistic Darwinism. Just like we did sort of in our thought exercise in the beginning of my talk, if we imagined that a device was randomly made, we would expect a lot of junk. And that’s historically how Darwinists have actually argued that there is a lot of junk, as Fazale Rana talked about earlier.

Ÿ Secondly, although this might work as some explanation for some improvement of efficiency, it doesn't explain why everything is so exquisitely well done, so nearly perfectly well done.

So I’m not going to go in great length about the ENCODE project we heard from Dr. Rana, about all the amazing results from the ENCODE project. So I’ll just summarize here. It is still somewhat in debate about how much of the DNA really could be considered to be junk. But I am old enough to remember that it was just universal that everyone talked about vestigial organs. Things like the appendix and the tonsils, which are known to have functions as part of our immune system. There are many arguments that have been made over the years about how biological systems are badly designed. But as I have said, in general the field of systems biology is moving rapidly toward an optimal view of things, in which everything is well designed.

So when we think about these claims that the design, the efficiency, the optimization of life comes from natural selection, there is some problems with this. And I’m not going to go into detail on this paper, because it is fairly technical but a few years ago I did some numerical simulations, in collaboration with two others, to ask whether it makes sense that natural selection can give optimization to living systems. People tend to assume this, and even though they assume this, surprisingly very little has been done to actually prove that it can happen.

So just to summarize the results then, I call this the “Catch-22” problem. A “Catch-22” is an English phrase that means a situation in which if you choose one option, you lose, but if you choose the other option, you also lose. (This is based on a movie called Catch-22).

If we suppose that living systems can easily add new things, then all kinds of new, non-functioning things will appear-- what sometimes are called “vestigial” organs. This was historically what Darwinists predicted, what they thought was the case, and they felt living systems should be full of non-functioning elements, and that is the argument for “junk DNA” that we heard earlier from Dr. Rana.

But that does not lead to optimization– it leads to creatures carrying around all kinds of useless stuff, hoping that maybe one day it will have some use. The new thinking on optimal design in systems biology, does not allow a lot of useless stuff.

So to fix this problem, let’s suppose that we say that natural selection removes such useless stuff because the creatures with useless stuff die off. That is the main argument I’ve heard from the “optimal design” people, who don't believe in God.

But if that was the case, then evolution could never move forward! Because new things that don’t have any function will not remain in the population long enough and will be killed off. And so again, it’s a catch 22. If there is rapid generation of these useless things, then you have a body full of vestigial organs, and if there is killing off of these things, then you never develop anything new. Now let me just in my final section here, talk about why teleology was banned from science. A very good book on this is by Peter Harrison who gave a history of the scientific revolution, which happened around the same time as the Reformation in Europe and that was not a coincidence. It was the same kind of thinking that was going on in both spheres. If we go way back to ancient times, it was very common for people all around the world to read signs, to read into nature what we might call ‘signs’, and ‘portents’, looking for things in the natural world or in the Holy Scriptures that would be personal messages from God. And this led to very bad science and bad theology. Because there was no limit to the speculation and imagination people might have to interpret something. So one could say that the Reformation in Europe was a revolution of “sober”, or “non-superstitious” thinking, of people saying ‘let’s hold back from wild speculation and interpret things as they are’. This also led to a very straightforward looking at the Bible and also led to a straightforward look at science and led eventually to the Scientific Revolution.

After the reformation, after the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment followed, which gave rise to what we now call modern secularism, went further to abolish all ideas of purpose, and to create the idea of a universe as a machine with no soul.

But, as I have said, biology and physics are bringing back into our terminology, the idea of purpose and teleology! In physics world, there is a similar thing going on, what is known as “fine tuning”, where not just biology but the whole universe looks like it is designed and has purpose.

Many modern people fear the Intelligent Design movement will lead us back to the “bad old days” of superstition and looking for portents and miracles in everything that we see.

But for at least two hundred years, after the reformation, many leading scientists, really I would say the majority, were active Christians who saw God’s purpose in nature, not going on flights of fancy, but being very careful in their science.

In the following, I am just going to give you a survey of famous scientists and I will not be reading these quotes at length, but I just want to survey them to show in fact that belief in design does not imply a return to mysticism and superstition.

My first example is Isaac Newton. Many people did not know that Isaac Newton and most of the founders of modern science were Christians, who believed in God. This was not just a nominal belief. When I say nominal, there are many people who would say "I’m a Christian" and by that they just mean I was born in a Christian family, they don't actually believe it. But Isaac Newton was not that way, Isaac Newton believed strongly in God and actually wrote two books on science and four books on theology. He believed strongly in God and he brought his beliefs into his science. For example in these quotes, Newton really is making fun of people who don't believe in God saying, he is really, you could say, dismissing people as foolish, and he says that atheism is senseless.

William Harvey is considered by many people to be the founder of modern medicine. He used his belief in God actually to drive his science, because when he was looking at the body, he wanted to deduce how the blood system worked. And he assumed that it was well designed and so when he found something that he didn't know what it was doing, namely the valves and the blood, he assumed that it was for some good purpose and he reverse engineered to find out how the system worked. So he says explicitly in his writing that it could not be that there is so many valves there without design, so that drove him to look for the purpose of those valves.

Blaise Pascal, very famous mathematician, also a very dedicated Christian, said, ‘Men despise religion; they hate it and fear it is true. To remedy this, we must begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason.’ And he wrote many things about his religious faith.

Leibniz, the father of calculus. Actually, Newton claimed also to be the father, they had a debate between them. Leibniz believed that the observation of nature showed the handiwork of God. He says ‘in reflecting on the works, we are able to discover the One Who wrought,’ the One Who made them.

William Thompson, who was raised to be Lord Kelvin, considered to be the father of thermodynamics, had a very active Christian faith and he argued that our existence itself is evidence that nature is not just a fortuitous concourse of atoms. He says that the fact that scientist is even thinking about whether there is a creator is evidence that there is not just dead matter, but there are people with brains and souls, who are thinking things. Because we are not blind, because we have purpose, in some sense, it proves that there is purpose in the universe. Because purpose doesn't just come out of nowhere.

And finally, I think I have one more, in this present century, I should say the 20th century, there has been more examples. Wernher von Braun, the father of space travel, said ‘finite man cannot begin to comprehend an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and infinite God ... I find it best to accept God through faith, as an intelligent will, perfect in goodness and wisdom, and revealing Himself through His creation ... ”

So notice all of these scientists are saying that God can be seen in what is made. They are not just saying "take any rational leap", they are saying "believe because of what God has made". And there are many others, one I know personally is Dr. Bill Philips, who won the Nobel prize for his work on cold atoms. So we see in the short survey that believing in God, and in particular believing that God has designed the creation with purpose, in a good way did not stop people from doing good science. Quite the opposite, it led these people to do very good science.

So let me finish up then with my conclusions. In this brief survey, I’ve tried to show that in fact biology and biophysics are moving rapidly toward a view of good design of things, of living systems in particular, which is to say teleology, the idea that things are designed with a purpose. Many types of biology, such as systems biology, very little reference is actually made to evolution, often times in the first paragraph, they will say ‘of course evolution led to this’ but then they immediately go on to talk about all the design. And the emphasis is on reverse engineering of what we see in living systems with the assumption that it is very well made. These scientists do not, by and large, acknowledge the existence of God. But they attribute this good design to years of blind evolution but as I have discussed no one has showed how that is possible. And by my own numerical simulations, it would indicate that it is a very difficult problem, to make it happen purely through natural selection. So there is still debate about these things. A lot of it, I would say, is driven by fear that people have that embracing a role for God in our scientific thinking, will lead to a return to mysticism and superstition. But that is not necessary. In fact, the scientific revolution itself came from people who are religious Christians, thinking rationally about their faith and the world that God had made. Belief in teleology can lead to good reverse engineering. I’ll finish with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADNAN OKTAR Believers are like the different parts of a building, each one supporting the other.' Then he demonstrated what he meant by interlocking his fingers.

(Hadith of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, Words of the Prophet Muhammad, p. 67)


 

Unity, cooperation, solidarity, friendship, self-sacrifice, support, and similar other qualities are some of the beautiful attributes which are the underlying foundation of the Qur'anic morality. This is stated in many sayings of Our Prophet (pbuh). One of them reads:

'Believers are like the different parts of a building, each one supporting the other.' Then he demonstrated what he meant by interlocking his fingers. (Hadith of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, Words of the Prophet Muhammad, p. 67)

The religion of Islam ensures the establishment of a better world where there is love, peace, tolerance and understanding to one another. Societies possessing these features experience rapid development and achieve greater power. Once unity and cooperation are attained, individuals of such a society could channel their strength and energy towards goodness and good deeds rather than into disputes, fights, conflicts and wars. Essentially, a cause to which people commit themselves and devote all their effort, power, zeal and support, both material and spiritual, results in an ultimate success and beauty. What is more important is that God gives glad tidings that individuals working in unity and solidarity for good will receive God's help, support and power. For this reason, God reminds believers not to dispute among themselves so as not to lose strength. The verse below makes this point clear:

Obey God and His Messenger and do not quarrel among yourselves lest you lose heart and your momentum disappear. And be steadfast. God is with the steadfast. (Surat al-Anfal: 46)

Establishing unity among the righteous is an exalted virtue recommended by God. Especially in a time where evil has permeated every aspect of society, not a single evil feature like peevishness, resentment or bickering should be tolerated among the good. Putting forth effort to remove such evil influences and adopting a compromising and conciliatory attitude is a great act of worship.

The believers are brothers, so make peace between your brothers and have fear of God so that hopefully you will gain mercy. (Surat al-Hujurat: 10)

Disputes, enmity, hatred and anger are the features of immoral conduct inspired by the evil. True Muslims never conduct themselves under the influence of these undesirable feelings; they have fear for God and are always modest, friendly, thoughtful and full of love in their relations. People who are not sincere in their cause may feel jealous of their closest friends and even of their own brothers and sisters. Each other's success may stir up feelings of envy in their hearts. On the contrary, a true Muslim takes pride in other believers' success, and is happy for them as if it were his own accomplishment, and feels grateful to God for the blessings He has granted believers. Furthermore, he supports them in their endeavour and offers guidance if necessary. Those lacking such morals, on the other hand, hamper the progress of others. Feelings of rivalry and jealousy spoil the good deeds engaged in to attain the good pleasure of God, and accordingly, ruins any beauty or blessings. God's Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), also drew attention to this point and advised the believers to guard against such bad manners:

Do not envy each other, do not bid against each other, do not hate each other, do not turn your backs on each other, and let none of you sell upon the sale of another. Be slaves of God, brothers. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim, he does not wrong him, fail to assist him, lie to him nor despise him. (Imam an-Nawawi, The Complete Forty Hadith, p. 122)

Said Nursi, also known as Bediuzzaman (the Wonder of the Age) who is one of the greatest Islamic scholars of the 20th century gives extensive reference to these issues in his Risale-i Nur collection, a commentary on the Qur'an. In the sincere style that is peculiar to him, Bediuzzaman relates that believers should strictly avoid corrupt feelings such as competitiveness when they strive for a common goal:

The service of the truth is like carrying and preserving a great and weighty treasure. Those who carry that trust on their shoulders will be happy and grateful whenever powerful hands rush to their aid. Far from being jealous, one should proudly applaud the superior strength, effectiveness and capacity of those who in upright love come forward to offer their help. Why then look on true brothers and self-sacrificing helpers in a spirit of rivalry, thus losing sincerity? You will be exposed to fearsome accusations in the eyes of the people of misguidance, such as pursuing worldly interest through religion, even though it is something a hundred times lower than you and your belief, earning your livelihood through the knowledge of truth and rivalling others in greed and acquisitiveness. The sole remedy for this disease is to accuse your own soul before others raise these charges, and always to take the side of your fellow, not your own soul. (Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Risale-i Nur Külliyati II (The Risale-i Nur Collection II), The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash)

As Bediuzzaman Said Nursi also states, offering one's service towards establishment of the moral values of the Qur'an can be seen as preserving a treasure for the believers; one that is extremely precious. To this invaluable service, everybody must provide his wholehearted support and help. Feeling jealous of another believer who offers his devoted and unwavering support, or considering him as a rival, is unacceptable for a true Muslim. A believer should be proud of others' commitment and provide his support.

Jealousy is an attribute of the evil alliance. The existence of such an evil trait among individuals collaborating for a righteous end does nothing but diminish the strength of the alliance. It is surely the evil alliance that benefits from such detriment. As Bediuzzaman says, the only cure for this illness is not following one's ego and always taking the side of one's fellow.

In the Risale-i Nur collection, Bediuzzaman draws a comparison between the machinery of a factory and believers. The harmonious and smooth functioning of this machinery is essential for a productive output. A similar harmony is also required in the co-operation among believers. Said Nursi explains that believers should avoid talk which could cause jealousy and bitterness. Just as how a factory ensures a timely and efficient output only when its machinery works in harmony and does not conflict with itself, so should believers working for a common goal to earn the good pleasure of God exhibit similar harmony. They should strive together without searching for one another's mistakes and defects. In a world where disbelievers ally themselves against the good, are filled with feelings of hatred and envy for the believers, and oppress the poor, the homeless, women, children, and the elderly, all these oppressed people hope for the help of the conscientious. In this case, if wise, sincere, conscientious and honest people use their powers against each other, they may be held accountable for this in the sight of God. It is essential that believers see no limits in improving their alliance, cooperation, friendship, solidarity and affection for another, and never fall into a disagreement which will weaken them. This spirit of believers is best stated in the words of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):

You will observe that the believers are like the parts of the body in relation to each other in matters of kindness, love and affection. When one part of the body is afflicted, the entire body feels it; there is loss of sleep and a fever develops. (Hadith of Al-Bukhari and Muslim on the Authority of Nu'man Ibn Bashir, Words of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, p. 68).

The solidarity of the people, who purify themselves of every form of worldly ambition, jealousy and competitiveness, who channel every positive feeling, every effort, and every activity for the good of others, without making it a matter of personal pride, will break the resolve of the alliance of the evil. 

ADNAN OKTAR Following ratification of the ruling by the Malaysian Court of Appeals  that the name “Allah” can only be used by Muslims, Prime Minister Najib Razak once again defended the decision. What first needs to be said is that in the same way that this ruling is incompatible with the friendship of Christians and Muslims - who have lived together in Malaysia for many years -  it also conflicts with understanding of Islam itself.


 

Non-Muslims constitute some 40% of the population of Malaysia. The fact that copies of the Bible published in the Malay language 400 years ago used the term ‘Allah’ gives us a better idea of the problem to which this ban will lead. Alongside the question of social peace and understanding, there is no logic in religious terms in telling someone who uses the name ‘Allah’ that he must not do so. There is nothing troubling about a non-Muslim using the name Allah in prayer and worship; on the contrary, it is a cause for rejoicing for a Muslim. 

While this is going on in Malaysia, more interesting things are happening in Iran. No matter how much I say that there can be no solution until the deep state in Iran and Shiite extremism are eliminated, I still support all the initiatives, since the election of President Ruhani in Iran indicates a positive step forward for the region that will lead the way to peace and brotherhood. 

Following the election of Ruhani, major steps have been taken toward the dream of a freer Iran. Language denying the  Holocaust  is being abandoned, moderate messages from President Ruhani via Twitter on the occasion of  his U.S. visit, the telephone conversation between President Obama and President Ruhani, and President Ruhani ending his address to the U.N. by emphasizing the common values found in the Torah, the Gospels and the Qur’an are some of these strides forward. Another instance was added to these just the other day.

President Ruhani hosted Archbishop Leo Boccardi in his office. The message, accompanied by a photograph, that was published on Twitter following that meeting was exceedingly important. President Ruhani said:

“Today we have common objectives and enemies. Extremism and terrorism are our common enemies and, based on the divine teachings, human interactions and cooperation for the elimination of poverty and injustice are common objectives,” We need to have a deeper knowledge of each other’s beliefs and cultures, because nowadays, most of the gaps and enmities are rooted in unfamiliarity and lack of knowledge about each other’s cultures.”

President Ruhani’s words are actually a reflection of the moral values recommended by Islam. According to Islam, Christians and Jews are the People of the Book, and Muslims’ relations with the People of the Book are based on love and understanding. The faithfulness to the Prophet Jesus or the Prophet Moses of the People of the Book, and their loyalty to the Torah or the Gospels, are delightful things for Muslims.

Another important matter shaping Muslims’ relations with the People of the Book is that it is lawful in Islam for Muslims to eat food prepared by them, and Muslim men are allowed to marry women from the People of the Book. The fact that Allah encourages Muslims to engage in such social relations is clear proof that He wishes us to establish warm and high-level human relations with the People of the Book. Sitting down at the same table and raising children together by marrying and spending a lifetime together is a fine and appropriate response from Islam to those who strive to create division and sow disagreement between the two communities.

There may have been various conflicts and disagreements between members of the three divine faiths in the past. However, these did not originate from the essence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but from mistaken ideas and opinions on the part of nations, communities and individuals, and from expectations of political or economic gain. Otherwise, one of the common aims of the three divine faiths is for all people to live in peace, tranquility and security, and all opinions that reject that aim and encourage conflict are mistaken in the eyes of all three faiths.

The responsibility of sincere and sensible Christians, Jews and Muslims of good conscience is to assist one another against wickedness and wicked people, and to work together in union and togetherness. That union must be built on the basis of the principles of love, respect, affection, compassion, understanding, harmony and cooperation.

So let us be united and work together to eliminate all the causes that might lead to conflict and fighting. Let us strive together against the bigotry that hinders such an alliance. Let us love and watch over one another. Let us not make differences of belief into pretexts for conflict. Let us build upon our common beliefs for unity and togetherness.

ADNAN OKTAR There is an urgent need for solidarity and cooperation between people of good conscience from Christians, Jews and Muslims, as they are capable of preventing the scourges of our day when they unite. This is not difficult considering the common ground between the Islamic civilization and the Judeo-Christian culture that constitutes the fundamentals of the Western civilization. 


 

Today the world needs peace, friendship, and solidarity more than ever. The conflicts that defined the twentieth century still persist, and innocent people all around the world continue to suffer.

There is an urgent need for solidarity and cooperation between people of good conscience from Christians, Jews and Muslims, as they are capable of preventing the scourges of our day when they unite. This is not difficult considering the common ground between the Islamic civilization and the Judeo-Christian culture that constitutes the fundamentals of the Western civilization.

Today, hundreds and thousands of children, women and men are being killed, displaced, or persecuted due to hostility, hatred and anger instilled in people through anti-religious sentiments. In other words, the lifeblood - faith in God- was cut off from people, and the world turned into a scene of madness with new terrorist attacks and killings every other day. 

This plague of unbelief is hurting all people of the world. The only way to end to this tyranny is the alliance of devout people of Abrahamic religions as only such unity can help build societies of peace, happiness, and safety.  In essence, Muslims, Christians, and Jews have common principles of faith, worship, and moral values. The followers of these faiths believe that God created the universe from nothingness and sustains all matter with His Endless Power; that God created all life forms in a miraculous way; and that man has a soul given by God; that God sent Prophets to humanity throughout history, like the Prophet Muhammad (may God bless him and grant him peace), and the Prophets Jesus, Moses (peace be upon them) along with the Prophets Noah, David, Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph (peace be upon them all); and they love them all; that God created our lives according to destiny; and they all believe in the Resurrection, Hell, Heaven, and the existence of the angels. Not only in matters of faith, the followers of Abrahamic religions also have common values about morality such as the importance of honor, chastity, modesty, selflessness, honesty, compassion, mercy, and unconditional love.

Although Jews and Christians were given a different Law than the Muslims, all sincere believers are required to submit wholeheartedly to God, do what is good, and compete in doing good deeds. All of them who believe in the existence of God and the Hereafter and do good deeds are, in reality, following the true religion our Lord revealed to the Prophet Abraham (pbuh). In the Qur’an God reveals that the religion of Abraham (pbuh) was a haneef religion. The word haneef means: one who surrenders to God’s Will, not compromising in any way on His Religion, and being devout. In one verse, God commands the Prophet Muhammad (may God bless him and grant him peace) to abide by the haneef religion of the Prophet Abraham (pbuh): “Then We revealed to you: ‘Follow the religion of Abraham, a man of pure natural belief. He was not one of the idolaters.’” (Surat An-Nahl: 123)

The Prophet Abraham’s (pbuh) devout descendants all abided by his haneef religion. In the Qur’an this truth is revealed as follows: “Who would deliberately renounce the religion of Abraham, except someone who reveals himself to be a fool? We chose him in this world, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the righteous. When his Lord said to him: ‘Become a Muslim!’ he said: ‘I am a Muslim who has submitted to the Lord of all the worlds.’ Abraham directed his sons to this, as did Jacob: ‘My sons. God has chosen this religion for you, so do not die except as Muslims.’ Or were you present when death came to Jacob and he said to his sons: ‘What will you worship when I have gone?’ They said: ‘We will worship your God, the God of your forefathers, Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac – One God. We are Muslims submitted to Him.’” (Surat Al-Baqara: 130-133)

The religion followed by the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) represents the common ground among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Love, faith, and respect for the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) are just as important to Muslims as they are for Christians and Jews. Essentially, all Prophets have invited their nations to believe in and worship God and to abide by the limits He has established for humanity. All nations are expected to follow God’s will without fail and to do good deeds in order to earn His reward. So, Muslims, Jews and Christians, people believing in God and obeying His revelation, should unite in this common premise of the haneef religion which commands all to love and obey God, our Creator and our Lord, and pray to Him to lead us to a truer path.

When Muslims, Christians, and Jews unite under these premises, when they realize that they are allies and not enemies in their intellectual efforts against irreligious ideologies, the world will become an altogether different place. The pure religion of the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) who submitted himself to God is the path that will guide them to unity and peace. When this great task of unity is achieved, pains and suffering will be replaced by peace, happiness, wealth and good fortune for entire humanity.

Every step to bring faithful Jews, Christians and Muslims together, will be another step towards ending the darkness that is afflicting our world. Faithful believers should not even miss a second to start working on this crucial mission and seek to be a means to provide peace and security for all the downtrodden, who ask for salvation from our Lord.

ADNAN OKTAR The concepts of right and wrong that show us the way in our lives mostly come from values that are universal to all mankind. Everyone knows, for example, that marriage is sacred or that killing a person is wrong. Being kind to people, helping the poor and elderly are all accepted norms in societies.


 The reason why these principles that constitute the standard moral values in societies are familiar to all of us is that they come from religions. There are major religions in the world that have shaped humanity’s understanding of good and bad, even though one may not be religious or have no detailed knowledge of a religion. Religion brings the most beautiful forms of life for people and hence offers peace, tranquility, order and freedom to societies. The Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, together constitute about 56% of the world’s population: Everyone, in one way or another, is acquainted with the ethics these religions put forth.

A single passage from the Gospels is the summary of these values that are in common with both Islam and Judaism.

“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” (Mark, 10:19)

In today’s world even though various tensions occur, the original nature of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is firmly against war, conflict, terror and anarchy. This is because the essential elements of all these three religions come from their relative Divine books that are all built on love, respect, understanding and cooperation. The Abrahamic religions do not discriminate between nationality, race, gender, one’s level of education and amount of wealth. Believer or not, they respect and look out for everyone.

Jesus is an example in the Gospel of how people should love one another: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John, 13:34)

Our Lord commands Muslims in the Qur’an not to discriminate among the Prophets and what was revealed to them:

Say: “We believe in God and what has been sent down to us, what was sent down to Abraham and Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, and the Tribes; what Moses and Jesus were given; and what all of the Prophets were given by their Lord. We do not differentiate between any of them. We are Muslims submitted to Him.” (Qur’an, 2:136)

Another notable fact in the Qur’an is that believing Jews and Christians are praised and given glad tidings for the hereafter:

Those with faith, those who are Jews, and the Christians and Sabaeans, all who have faith in God and the Last Day and act rightly, will have their reward with their Lord. They will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. (Qur’an, 2:62)

It is widely known that the People of the Book, Christians and Jews, have lived peacefully under Islamic administrations both in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and later under Ottoman rule. So much so that those fleeing persecution have always sought shelter in Islamic lands and found security among Muslims.

Indeed, the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was the finest example of the character God advised. In addition to countless examples of his gentle approach towards the People of the Book, his letters addressed to Christian and Jewish kings and tribes at the time are still kept in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul to serve as undeniable testaments to his respect and love for them.

History has proved numerous times that members of these Divine faiths have united against perils that threaten humanity such as atheistic and materialistic philosophies, perverse ideologies, moral corruption and degeneration.

What is not generally acknowledged is that there is no hostility against Christians or Jews in the Qur’an. The radicals and some opponents of Islam misinterpret some verses of the Qur’an and use some fabricated hadith to incite animosity between members of these religions.

For instance, the verse below is used by some as a supposed evidence for not taking Christians and Jews as friends.

You who have faith! Do not take the Jews and Christians as your friends [patrons]; they are the friends of one another. Any of you who takes them as friends is one of them. God does not guide wrongdoing people. (Qur’an, 5:51)

In truth, the word translated as ‘friends’ is ‘patrons’, or ‘awliyao’ in Arabic. The real meaning of this word is “guardians, those responsible under the law, saints, lords, owners or rulers.” What is forbidden for Muslims in this verse is for them to come under the rule and management of Jews and Christians; not for them to be friends with them.

As a matter of fact, Almighty God commands Muslims to have friendly ties with the People of the Book in every aspect of social life such as marriage, dining and trade. According to the Qur’an, a Muslim man is allowed to marry a woman of the People of the Book; this is a significant permission because marriage brings two people even closer than kinship, it is a desire to start a family, to spend an entire life and eternity together, to look after one another when they are ill and trust one another. The Qur’an urges such a powerful bond of love between people of these faiths.

The same principle is true for social life. According to the Qur’an, Muslims are allowed to eat food prepared by Jews and Christians, which clearly shows that they are to be trusted. In a similar manner, the way that Muslims are allowed to dine with Jews and Christians under the same roof, as each other’s guests or hosts and enjoying each other’s company is clearly another description of love, friendship and brotherhood.

In a world afflicted by constant war, conflict, moral decline and hunger, all of which result from a lack of faith in God, we, the followers of Abrahamic faiths, cannot accept being responsible for more friction. “Blessed are the peacemakers! For they will be called servants of God..”, states the Gospels [Matthew, 5:9]. Instead of focusing on the differences, we should join forces on the basis of commonalities. It is crucial that Muslims and Christians act together in the intellectual struggle against materialism and atheism.

Let’s not forget: Unity and cooperation bring success, whereas disputes and conflict brings nothing but weakness. The current situation of the world demands the immediate formation of such an alliance between the pious people of the three faiths.

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