Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Letter


Reply by van der Ziel

From: JASA 28 (September 1976): 144

am sorry that Mr. Manoushagian seems to have misunderstood my intentions. Perhaps I was not careful enough in keeping fact from speculation. Those who have read my book The Natural Sciences and the Christian Message know that I take a very firm stand against mixing up fact and speculation. If I slipped in respect in my latest ASA paper, I am sorry. 

First of all a general remark. What I say in section 5, a-e, does not exclude creation, but includes it, even where I do not specifically say so. I want to leave the distinction between "creative guidance" and "direct creative intervention" open. A strictly scientific explanation falls in my notation in the "creative guidance" category whereas a creationist explanation falls in the  "direct creative intervention" category.

 Since Mr. Manoushagian objects mostly to parts a-e of section 5, 1 discuss these in some detail.
(a) His quotation does not make sense. The text says that the  electrical discharges "would" have produced all the important  amino acids. This refers to Miller's experiments published and  discussed several years ago. I say "would", for this is in my opinion a hard fact. These "should" have combined to more complex molecules and "could" have formed living matter. Note the difference.

 Then I go on to discuss the definition of life and mention that viruses are non-living. I make the statement that the hypothetical first living structures "must" have been much simpler than the present day cells. That is perhaps too strong; the word "could" would be better. I use the stronger word "must" in order to build up an argument against Neo-Darwinism in (e). 

When I say "Apparently it did somehow this includes "creation" in either of the two above forms.

(b) I point out the fact that all living proteins have the same lefthanded structure. I then discuss Schroedinger's interpretation of this fact, contained in his little book: What is Life? This I must object strenuously to an article (Random Processes in interpretation leads to the concept of "unique event". So far I quoted Schroedinger. Then I make a comment on this. I point out that in my opinion all unique events have an extremely small probability, so that probability arguments are no valid objection in  such a case. This unique event can be interpreted differently; it
includes "creation" in either of the above forms. 

(c) Here I follow up on the hypothesis that primitive life forms were much simpler than present ones. If that is granted, then a  large accumulation of genetic material must "somehow" have taken place. I injected remark (c) in order to build a case against neo-Darwinist hypothesis in (e). Again, the word "somehow" allows room for creation in either form.

(d) Mutations, genetic drift and selection are facts. How far they can bring us we don't know and I say so. 

(e) Here I first present my case against the neo-Darwinist hypothesis. I then go on to discuss Portmann's critical evaluation of evolution. I gave a review of Portmann's work in the Journal ASA a long time ago. See also my book: The Natural Sciences and the Christian Message for details and references.

Now I come to two important paragraphs: "When one looks at " And "those who at this point . . . .". Here I point out that the structure of the genetic code is the weakest link in the theory of evolution, and I openly admit that those who invoke a Creator here have a very strong position. I add two words of caution, a  scientific and a theological one. They are not added in order to take away what I had said but caution against over-enthusiasm.

In my opinion the bottleneck is not the transition from protein molecules to simple living entities, but the accumulation of the genetic code. At that point I see good grounds for invoking "direct creative intervention" rather than "creative guidance". I could also have invoked this at the transition from non-living matter to living structures, but in my opinion that claim could be less strong  than in the former case.

The fact that non-living matter is not now transformed into living structures should not lead to the logical conclusion that such a transformation has never taken place. Apparently it did, either by
creati ve guidance or by direct creative intervention.

A few remarks must be made about the second law of thermodynamics. It applies only to closed systems and the systems discussed here take in energy, so they are not closed. Moreover, mutations occur in viruses, which are non-living, as the changes in flu strains clearly indicate. Such mutations are not forbidden by the second law of thermodynamics; on the contrary, a consistent application of that law requires them, as I can show mathematically. But I don't know how far that can go and I said so.

As I see it, the creationists and I differ only in the  "how" of creation. I believe that God is my Creator as they do, but I have preference for "creative guidance" over "direct creative intervention", and am only willing to invoke the latter where it seems to be required.

A. van der Ziel
Department of Electrical Engineering
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455