[an error occurred while processing this directive] ZEPHYR Magazine

                              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 
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                            (c) 1986
     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.

     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 
     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 
     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.
     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 
                       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.
     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 
     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. 
     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 . . . .

     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.