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T H E E S T A B - L O I D --------------------------------- Issue #6 3-7-86 --------------------------------- A weekly electronic magazine for users of The Establishment BBS (894-6526) owned and operated by Thane Smith Editor - Gene B. Williams . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . You may share this magazine with your friends under the . . condition that the magazine remain complete and intact, . . with no editing, revisions or modifications of any kind, . . and including this opening section and statement. . . If you like the magazine, the Sysop and I would appre- . . ciate it if you would let your friends know where they . . can log in to find the magazine. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (c) 1986 THIS ISSUE: This past week I read through a pamphlet put out by Jim Lippard - on some of the flaws found in Fundamentalist beliefs. (If you haven't read it yet, and would like to, contact Jim here, on any of several other BBSs around, or send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Jim Lippard, PO Box 37052, Phoenix, 85069.) I don't agree with everything in his booklet; however, are some extremely valid points brought up. This week I'd like to talk about one such point that has been - and will continue to be - a controversy. Evolution. There are bound to be a few users who would prefer to avoid the topic. And that's fine. It's also why I'm introducing the topic in this first section (as usual), Those of you who would prefer to avoid the subject need not go any farther. EVOLUTION A few hundred years ago the "science" of alchemy was hitting a peak. Most people think that the single goal of alchemy was to turn lead into gold. While that's not such a bad goal, it's an inaccurate description of alchemy. If that's all it was about, the church would've never condemned it (or, I doubt that they would have). The alchemists were fiddling with other things as well. One of those things involved something called a "homoculus." The idea was that a living body was a collection of elements and chemicals in unknown arrangements - and so was a nonliving body. The alchemists were searching and trying to find what the difference was between the two. To be fair, not very many of those "scientists" (in quotes because, were they scientists, or weren't they?) were involved in this search. In several parts of the world, to even be *thinking* about such things was considered sufficiently criminal to have the thinker put to death - often by slow torture. In any case, they didn't succeed (as far as anyone knows). But apparently they were on the right track. The interest was revived again in this century. Nobel Prize winning scientists such as Harold Urey were involved with biochemical studies - the new and more respected (and more knowledgeable) name for what the alchemists had tried earlier. The New Studies This time the idea was to attempt to discover if life could have started on our planet spontaneously. (Most of you know the name Carl Sagan. He was also involved in the early studies while connected with the University of Indiana.) What these scientists did first was to concentrate the elemental parts of early earth in a sterile, test-tube environ ment. Energy was then added to the closed system. (The basic elements used were hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen; with the energy used, separately and together, being radioactivity, sunlight, heat and an electric spark [all three of which occur in nature]). The end result in every experiment was a combination of the basic elements into increasingly complex molecules. That kind of chemical reaction was pretty well expected. Chemicals *do* tend to combine. What was more astonishing yet, however, was that the combination that resulted was heading towards organic. As early as 1951 the first organic molecules formed. Two years later, and working with a more and more concentrated (but still sterile) solution, the molecules continued to combine and recombine until no one could deny that they were organic in nature. By the early 1960s the first nucleic acids formed. For those of you less familiar with organic chemistry, nucleic acids are the so-called building blocks of protein - and proteins are the building blocks of . . . YOU! - and of every other living thing on earth. Then later in that same decade, the first prime proteins formed. This happened again and again and again. Take those base elements, add a bit of energy, and organic molecules *will* form and *will* continue to become more and more complex. Under heavily controlled conditions, with a man-made reconcentration of materials again and again and again, it took less than 20 years to go from the purified gases of hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen to a relatively complex protein. During the 1960s and 1970s the studies continued, but along other, related lines. Instead of starting with base elements, the scientists began with already existing simple forms - viruses. In any case, a virus has a protective coat of protein. Strip away this coating and the virus seems to degenerate into a collection of organic chemicals. Specific tests were done that did strip away that coat, leaving two vials - one with the internal chemical structure, and one with the external protein. (This *can* happen in nature if the energy kicked in is violent enough.) Then the two were recombined. And lo and behold! Quite naturally and without any help from the scientists, the internal structure and protein coat recombined to make another complete virus. Meanwhile, the other studies continued. Just shy of 1970 the first virus resulted. Nobody can prove if a virus is alive or not. At times it acts like a living thing. Other times it acts more like a mineral. However, many scientists agree that the virus is the simplest form of life - a kind of missing link between what we definitely recognize as living, and what we definitely recognize as nonliving. Cloning On the surface, cloning may not seem to be related to the discussion above. It is. To date, cloning has been more or less restricted to little more than what farmers have been doing for years in combining the advantageous traits of one plant with another. Despite rumors to the contrary, at this time the highest lifeform successfully cloned has been a salamander, with very limited success having been done with rabbits - mostly in using a female rabbit's womb as the home of an artificially inseminated egg - not true cloning at all. At the same time, cloning is quite similar to artificial insemination (or natural insemination, for that matter) - a combination of genetic materials. The genetic structure of all living things on earth is remarkable similar. It differs primarily in complexity. Other than that, your DNA and that of a frog (for example) are very close to being the same. In very brief, and oversimplest, form, DNA makes you what you are. It's kinda like a twisted ladder of chemicals, with each rung on that ladder sorta-kinda representing a particular characteristic of the creature (including you). Also keeping things overly simplified, there are 4 basic chemicals used within that chain - call them A, B, C and D. A will link only with C and B will link only with D. Rip the DNA ladder in half and it will tend to reform in exactly the same original shape and format due to a given and exclusive chemical recombination. In this way, the DNA can reproduce and reproduce like crazy, making it possible for the half-DNA in the egg, and half-DNA in the sperm to set off a chain reaction of reproduction that eventually will create a whole, new living being. Call it a simple, natural chemical recombination, or call it the will of God. Either way the results are the same. Without it, you and I wouldn't be here, nor would anything else that's alive. Cloning makes use of this. Even when the cells of your body have specialized into being those of the eye, or of a muscle, or a nerve or whatever, they *still* contain the complete genetic code of what you are. (The only place this is different is with the egg of a female, or the sperm of a male, in which case the structure is halved - sorta. The details of this could fill a few thousand issues of the magazine easily.) Scientists haven't advanced all that far in this field. They *have* come along far enough to show that DNA recombination is also natural. It happens, and without a whole lot of help (unless you're religious, in which case it gets all the divine help it needs). Evidence and Decay Any competent scientist can carry out these experiments, and will get the same results. The elements within an organic compound automatically join together, and join together again. Take two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, provide a bit of energy, and you get water. Every time. Take that same pure water and break it apart (such as by electrolysis) and you get two parts of hydrogen to one part of oxygen. Every time. There are quite a few people who deny these facts - who say that the results were rigged, or worse yet that the results are teh effect of the devil getting into the laboratory (or into the scientists, and causing them, and their assistants, and their staffs, and their colleagues, etc. to lie). What these experiments show is that nature quite . . . well, naturally . . . causes inorganic substances to combine into ever more complex organic molecules under certain conditions - the conditions that existed (and still exist to a smaller extent) on earth. Deny it all you wish. You can yell as long as you wish that gravity doesn't exist, but the next time you drop a hammer it *will* fall. From here we drop into the realm of speculation. Since this does happen, does it necessarily mean that given sufficient time true and recognizable life forms will come about? Scientists have been carrying on organized and painstaking research for about 30 years. The earth had millions and millions of years for its own "experiments." We may never know what the next step in the chain would be, simply for lack of time. So this part will remain a matter of speculation for the foreseeable future. It's entirely likely that the "final truths" may never be known - or if they are, won't be for tens of thousands of years. Meanwhile we have other things to look at that *do* exist, such as the remains of creatures that once lived. It has been argued that archeological finds are useless for proof of evolution because there are gaps. Indeed there *are* gaps, sometimes of thousands of years. But then consider the difficulty involved in having anything at all remain after such a period of time. Some very special conditions must exist. Maybe you've once buried a favorite pet in the backyard. Then later on, out of curiosity, maybe you tried to dig it up again, only to find that nothing was there. All that can happen in just a few years. (If you don't believe it, try an experiment on your own. Bury something like a dead mouse, mark the spot and dig it up 2 years later.) Imagine the same effects of nature over a period of, say, 20 or 30 million years. And imagine them taking place on creatures that are more simple than earthworms. (How many earthworm skeletons do you think you'll find, however long you dig?) There is also the argument that things left on the surface take even longer to decay. Fine. That's true within limitations. You can test the validity of this easily by leaving another dead mouse on the ground for a year. By then it will still be gone. The lack of evidence isn't so astounding. It's the fact that any evidence at all remains that is astounding. Take something large and bulky, like an elephant and bury it directly in the ground. Just 100 years later you'll be lucky to find bone fragments. A thousand years later you still *might* be able to perform complicated chemical tests of the soil to show a predominance of certain substances like calcium. Ten thousand years later, not even that is likely to remain. So missing links aren't the befuddlement of science - they are the norm. If those links *were* there and easy to find, it would be time for science to redefine itself. The lack is more understandable, and more scientifically valid. Dating One of the key arguments against any finds is the dating of that particular find. Is the scientist studying the jawbone of a pig slaughtered 10 years ago? Or the jawbone of some ancient creature that died 10 million years ago? There are two general methods of dating. One takes a reading of the radioactive elements that are still present in the remains, along with the elements that this (or those) radioactive elements decay into. The most well known of these is carbon-14, which is a relatively common isotope of "regular" carbon. Basically it works like this: The rate of decay is a known factor. So is what the radioactive element becomes after decay is complete, and what it becomes in each stage along the way. By studying the proportion of decayed elements, it's a relatively simple matter to backtrack mathematically to determine how much was there in the first place, and from there (once again mathematically) to figure out how long it took to happen. It's kind of like a natural clock. There are a few problems with this form of dating, but it is generally accepted to be accurate to within a few thousand years or so, depending on how old the object is (was?) in the first place. Other things can sneak in as well, causing a dating to be more inaccurate. Even so, if this form of dating is even as much as 10% inaccurate (it's more like 1% or 2%), the findings are still enough to provide definite evidence within allowable error. If the dating shows something to be 1 million years old, and the error is 10%, that means that the object under study is somewhere between 1,100,000 and 900,000 years old. And if the dating is totally inaccurate as much as 10% of the time (this is more like 0.1%), that means that it's correct enough for the other 90% (actually the other 99.9%). The second method is more simple, although less accurate. You can see a part of it taking place right in your own yard, and all over the world to a much larger extent. Set something down in the yard. Within a couple of days it will have a visible coat of dust on it. Leave it there long enough it will be covered up completely. If you live on a sandy desert where the wind blow constantly, it will take even less time yet. (On the deserts of northern Africa, which was the site of many battles during World War II, dig around and you can find tanks and other machinery completely buried.) Other forces of nature also assist in burying objects - the flow of a river, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, the wash of the sea, rain, lack of rain, etc., etc., etc. All the forces of nature combine. The conditions on the surface change from time to time. What is now a great desert in Arizona was once an inland sea. Minnesota, with all its lush plantlife and thousands of lakes was once completely covered by ice. Consequently, the "ages" tend to gather as distinct layers. Take a look at the mountains around the valley. Some were produced volcanically. Others are huge hunks of the ground pushed up by related forces. On these you can actually *see* some of the layers. Quite obviously (or what should be obvious), the deeper the layer, the older are the things found in it. There are times when this is not true - such as when the earth has literally turned over from the forces of nature. But in this case, the signs of the turnover will also be present, and the scientists *still* have some idea of the time frame. Imagine that in one layer you find the fossil of fish, with all the fins essentially intact as they are with fish today. Through the layers beneath that you find other fossils of fish, with each successive layer showing that the fish of the time were more and more simple. Conclusion It's true that there have been hoaxes. There have also been cases when a scientist or two will twist the findings to prove a particular pet theory. However, to claim that ALL findings are hoaxes, and that ALL scientists are liars and frauds, is a bit ridiculous. It has also been said that all the findings are inconclusive and mean nothing, other than another case of scientists misinter- preting data. This is a valid point. Scientists are just people, and can make mistakes. History is full of such cases - and in fact the history of science is little more than a long study of errors. However, and at the same time, it has to be taken into account that the studies are becoming more and more accurate. As new studies are completed, they aren't showing that the previous scientists were misinterpreting, but that they were correct in most instances - or even underestimated the results. Just because scientists have made mistakes in the past doesn't mean that they *always* make nothing but mistakes. If we were to take that attitude - that science is always error and to be dismissed out of hand - you're going to have to toss out more of your beliefs than just an objection to evolution. And you can't logically (or justifiably) toss out one faction that makes you uncomfortable and keep the rest - can you? Nor can you casually toss aside the findings of several thousand scientists who have all come to the same results. Beyond that there is the simple logic of the idea - although you *can* argue that point successfully, I guess. Things like - if a mountain under study has layers that took 50,000 years each to form, and you find item A in layer 12, and item B in layer 13, then item B is about 50,000 years older than item A. Literally thousands upon thousands of researches have been done that show that every creature on earth slowly changes. Some of those changes can be seen in a single generation, particularly with the simpler life forms. More extensive changes show up in fossil records. And in both cases, this happens again and again and again and again. Then along comes Harold Urey and those who followed him, with an ever increasing amount of evidence that shows that organic molecules naturally form from the elements that would have been on earth when it was first formed. Coupled together, the indication is that evolution begins on the molecular level and continues up through the most complex creatures. It's the way of nature. Deny it all you like - or play ostrich if you wish. It won't matter. Scream and shout all you want that the earth is the center of the universe. But, just as science showed such thoughts wrong then, and just as the screaming and shouting and threats then didn't move the earth from its orbit around the sun . . . . UNTIL NEXT TIME Well, *that* should get some discussion going! I will ask a couple of things, however. Feel perfectly free to take either side. But whichever side you take, don't allow yourself to drop into emotional attacks or insults. That's easy to do with a controversial topic, but it will get you nowhere. Not here and not in life, either. Ya see, we had this discussion before, on Zephyr. A couple of people decided that the way to "disprove" the facts was to first deny they existed, and then to insult anyone who believed those facts, or who took the time to find them to be true. And these same few stormed out in a huff because everyone was "picking on them." So, if you find yourself getting angry or upset, don't leave a reply at that time. Log off, calm down, and think things over. Second, I am extraordinarily busy at the moment. Everything in this week's issue is verifiable, but I simply don't have the time to go through my files and dig out the actual references. While it is a perfectly valid, and even desirable, point to demand that someone making a statement provide the references, I'll have to pass this time. I apologize for this, but will just have to leave it up to you to find those references on your own. It's not difficult anyway. Just go to any decent library with a good science section and look up the subject. Or get out an encyclopedia and look up the names Harold Urey, Carl Sagan and Cyril Ponnamperamu. These were the 3 prime movers of the original biochemical studies. It's not secret information and is there for anyone to find who cares to look. And, yes - that's a cop out on my part. I just don't have the time right now to do better. But, just because I don't have the time to list the references for you doesn't invalidate the facts. As I said above, check them out for yourself. As to next week - or next issue if it takes more than a week: Once again I have to resort to a cop out. I really don't know what I'll be doing. For the third (or is it fourth?) time, I am quite busy right now - with 3 books due to be put into the publisher's hands in the next month. Then there's the new baby, and . . . well, you get the idea. Perhaps another piece of fiction?
Zephyr Magazine is © Gene Williams. All rights reserved.