Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
Ann Gauger received her bachelor’s degree from MIT, did a postdoc at Harvard University, and received her Ph.D. from the University of Washington’s department of zoology. Her scientific writing has appeared in Nature, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and other scientific publications. These establishment credentials are helpful because she’s also involved with the Discovery Institute, the world leader in developing and explaining intelligent design theory, which many establishment scientists despise. Here are edited excerpts of our interview.
How did your professors react when you became involved with Discovery? “She used to be smart.”
But defenders of Darwin do admit that life appears to have been designed. Richard Dawkins says biologists have to constantly remind themselves that life is evolved.
I used to work at DuPont, the inventor in the 1930s of nylon—and 40 years later scientists found a bacterium with an enzyme dubbed nylonase that was able to digest nylon, which is a synthetic chemical not found in nature. Evolutionists use that as proof that new proteins can rapidly evolve, but you found a different story. It wasn’t what we call a frameshift mutation, a DNA deletion or insertion that shifts the whole way a sequence is read. I discovered a whole body of literature by some Japanese workers who had found pre-existing protein folds. There was no new protein, no novel protein fold, no new mutation.
‘Most scientists are blind to their own assumptions. They don’t even consider that there might be another explanation. For them, common descent is an automatic. It’s a given.’
And now you’re undermining what we’ve seen frequently reported in newspapers and magazines: that a special creation of Adam and Eve, one couple from whom all of us are descended, could not have happened. Most of my scientific career seems to be involving people asking me questions and then I start down a path. In this case, a philosopher asked me how strong was the genetic evidence against Adam, because everywhere it’s been proclaimed we had to come from a population of 10,000. It’s led to people in the church suggesting there is no such thing as a historical Adam. So when the philosopher asked me, I said, “I don’t know. I’ll go look.” I started with a paper that Francisco Ayala, a very famous evolutionary biologist, wrote to disprove the possibility of a first pair.
I understand that part of the detective work involves mitochondria, the tiny power plants within a cell that nonscientists like me became conscious of when we began hearing about “mitochondrial Eve.” We inherit mitochondria mother to daughter, mother to daughter. Some scientists in the 1980s sequenced mitochondria from people from all around the world, and then came up with a map showing the pathway of sequence descent and tracing it back to a single sequence, one woman in Africa. Everybody said, “Look: mitochondrial Eve.” Ayala didn’t like that idea. He did some calculations and concluded there were too many variants to pass through Adam and Eve.
Seemed like a solid argument? Yes, but I kept looking and found two papers a few years later suggesting that the number of variants was much smaller. So I’m working on an alternative population genetics model that doesn’t depend on evolutionary assumptions.
The Templeton Foundation, a very well-funded group based in Philadelphia, gave Ayala its big award and so forth. Has it given you an award? Of course not. I don’t even know if he’s issued a retraction of his paper, even though it was mainstream scientists who demonstrated he was wrong.
I suspect many of the Patrick Henry College students here have heard that man’s evolutionary path is pretty obvious since 95-99 percent of our DNA is the same as that of chimps, thus proving evolution. But doesn’t that show similarity, not descent? That two things look alike doesn’t mean they came from a common origin. Also, the fossil record shows a gap between apelike creatures and humanlike creatures.
No one’s found the missing links. They have things they attribute to being intermediate, but it’s usually just a jawbone or a piece of skull—and that’s a lot of weight to put on one piece of bone. Gaps can be filled, but mathematical analysis shows you can’t get specific mutations in the number you need in order to have that transition take place. Mathematicians from Cornell asked how hard it is to get a binding site in the DNA.
That’s a place where the combining of chemical substances can take place? Yes, a place requiring only one mutation: How long would it take? The answer: 60,000 years for a mutation to arise, 6 million years for it to become general in the population, to go from an apelike ancestor to us. That’s just one mutation. If you need two coordinated mutations, it takes 216 million years.
The idea is that you have to have these mutations coordinated and appearing simultaneously in the same individual? Yes. Another group from Harvard looked at Homo erectus from 2 million years ago and Lucy—Australopithecus—from 3 million years ago. How many changes would you have to make to the skeleton to enable Homo erectus to run? Minimum estimate is 16. If you don’t have enough time to get one or two mutations, how will you get 16? And 16 mutations is an absurdly low estimate for how many mutations it would take to get spine, pelvis, legs, feet, rib cage, skull all changed, etc.
You’re skeptical about some fossil finds? Paleontologists know fossils that are transitional between groups can make a career. There is a desire to release the news with the most fanfare and public exposure possible. That happens with declarations in Time magazine: the latest breakthrough … first example of the ability to walk upright … Lucy, she’s bipedal. Then, a few years later, comes careful reconsideration. Other paleontologists examine the remains, and they say, “Lucy could have been on all four. She has long arms, looks like she could knuckle walk, swing through the trees. Maybe she didn’t walk upright.”
Paleontologists in 1974 discovered the fragments they say made up Lucy about 3 million years ago: small brain plus legs that theoretically could have been for walking. Here’s a joke: They looked at her fossil skeleton to see if they could determine a cause of death. Do you know how she died? She fell from a tree.
You face strong opposition from BioLogos, an organization that receives funding from the Templeton Foundation and others to push into churches what’s called “theistic evolution.” BioLogos has a firm statement of faith on its website: There never could have been a historical Adam, or a first pair. But with evidence that there could have been, BioLogos may have to revise its statement and all of the things it’s taught to churches.
What motivates the scientific establishment to defend its assumptions of common descent? Most scientists are blind to their own assumptions. They don’t even consider that there might be another explanation. For them, common descent is an automatic. It’s a given.
Some of your writing is in a big white book, Theistic Evolution, that’s a great resource for people who are being propagandized to accept Darwinism. We call the book the great white whale. It’s a comprehensive scientific, philosophical, and theological critique of theistic evolution.
Where else can people go for information? EvolutionNews.org every day has new content about intelligent design.
And WORLD’s website, wng.org, has a weekly roundup, Beginnings, that reports on science and intelligent design.