Monday, September 7, 2009

Design: The Brain versus a Grove of Trees

A smart man once said a foolish thing – that if he saw a grove of 35 mango trees all in rows, he would conclude that this was more likely a product of design than even the human brain. I have recently read TIME magazine's special issue on the brain, and so I wanted to write about why the brain is clearly shown to be a product of intelligent design, or more specifically designed by the Christian God.


Is the brain really amazing? One writer puts it this way - One-quadrillion "connections" (synapses) between the one-hundred-billion cells (neurons) of an brain. The brain's one hundred billion neurons match the number of stars in the Milky Way, and the number of connections active in the brain's functioning verge on the number of stars in the entire known universe. To fill the capacity of all those synapses, a person would have to learn a one-billion volume encyclopedia (a million "letters" per encyclopedia). That's enough to fill a bookshelf 10,000 miles long. In contrast, the Library of Congress (The largest library in the world) only has 17 million volumes. The brain is the most complex structure in the known universe, far surpassing, by many orders of magnitude, the most advanced supercomputers. One human brain generates more electrical impulses in a single day than all of the world's telephones put together. This is all done with the power equivalent of a single flashlight, 12 Watts. All of our senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, feeling) are transformed to electrical impulses which are sent to general regions of synapses in the brain where we, after complex transformations, finally become conscious of it. To accomplish all this thinking, the brain uses 20 to 25% of the body's oxygen and 20% of its sugar, even though it is only 2% (2.8 pounds) of the body's weight.


But this really only scratches the surface of the uniquely special nature of the 'brain'. Here's a few more things that show the brain's special position in the universe:

  1. Energy Consumption. The only way the brain can work if it is supplied with energy. So what came first, the chicken or the egg (or in this case the brain or the energy source/connection)? How does Darwinism explain this?
  2. Motherboard. The brain is the motherboard of all of the other systems in the human body, including the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the central nervous system, seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling all of which only work when tied into the brain. And they all work simultaneously;
  3. Incredibly Efficient. Despite weighing only 3 pounds, the brain can store multiples of all of the books contained in the Library of Congress;
  4. Incredibly Fast System. Each of the some 300 trillion cells in every human body, the words of life churn almost flawlessly through our flesh and nervous system at a speed that utterly dwarfs the data rates of all the world's supercomputers. For example, just to assemble some 500 amino-acid units into each of the trillions of complex hemoglobin molecules that transfer oxygen from the lungs to bodily tissues takes a total of some 250 peta operations per second. (The word "peta" refers to the number ten to the 15th power — so this tiny process requires 250x1015 operations. – this all obviously from another writer.) Something faster than what the greatest computer geeks in the world can design and create? Does this sound like something designed through a random process?
  5. Unique Genes. TIME: 6,000 genes out of a total of 30,000 are expressed in the brain and nowhere else, meaning that our genome is 20% brain;
  6. And there are many more similar examples than what is provided here from my simple understanding of a non-science geek. But here is the crown jewel of reasons showing that the brain is designed – consciousness. Even the best computer in the world has no idea that it exists. You do. No one knows what creates that ineffable awareness that we're here, although you and I disagree how this took place. Rene Descartes' famous line that "I think, therefore I am", hits it on the head. Our own consciousness is the most indubitable, concrete thing there is. All of the views of the world around us, starts with our own self-awareness, our first person viewpoint. Do you really believe that our brain is nothing more than a collection of electrical impulses?

Alright, this is a good point to stop. Mr. Edward Oleander how do you view the brain, the mind, consciousness, and this special 2.8 pound supercomputer? Does anyone else have thoughts on this topic? Otherwise, with the end of summer, and most kids going back to school tomorrow, here's my prayer for our children this school year: Heavenly Father, keep our children safe this next school year. Bless the principals, school leaders, and teachers with a hunger for truth, that will point to and lead our children inexorably to You. Help them to be less concerned about hurting the feelings of those with an untrue understanding of the world, and instead my prayer is that You are glorified through everything that takes place this school year. Help us all to grow in our faith through a more clear understanding of Jesus Christ. In Jesus' name, Amen.


Edward Oleander said...

ARG!!! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!

Stop the Madness! Arg! Arg! Arg!

When, O God of Abraham, will you provide Your follower, Tom, with some arguement that ISN'T just another tired old version of, "Since we don't understand it, fully and completely, RIGHT NOW, God (and specifically the Christian God) MUST have done it." ??????!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Tom: " I wanted to write about why the brain is clearly shown to be a product of intelligent design, or more specifically designed by the Christian God."

Well, after nearly 1000 words, you managed to do neither.

You did manage to convince us that 100 Billion is a big number and does seem to be correct (although many of your comparative numbers are incorrect).

Unfortunately, the number of synapses has little to do with our capacity for memory. Most brain synapses are not used for memory, and almost all sub-systems in the brain have backups that aren't used much at all. I don't know where you got most of your info, like the billion-volume encyclopedia, but it's wrong. The telephone comparison is meaningless because you're comparing apples (the brain), to a mixed fruit basket. Oxygen and sugar use? The liver beats the brain for total use. Big deal.

Efficient? Heck, yes! but not in the way you imagined. This is part of what makes measuring the brains' capacity nearly impossible. We create memories out of older, used memories, so individual "bytes" of raw information can be used as part of many memories. That is why we better remember things that are familiar already, like the English language over Swahili. Modern computers use "data overlays" in much the same way.

Incredibly fast system? Not really... it just seems that way. Nerve impulses average 254 mph across all body systems. The speed of processing in the brain IN NO WAY dwarfs modern supercomputers. Let's see YOU calculate Pi to a million places. The nerve impulses don't usually have far to travel, so it can seem lightning quick.

Don't underestimate the effect of distance. Electrons circle their nuclei at a mere 1 mph, but the distance is so small that the electrons effectively fill their space and allow us to perceive solid objects.

Consciousness: Hardly unique to humans. It's just another evolutionary trait that isn't fully understood yet. Doesn't mean God had anything to do with it. Is this the next fall-back defense line? First the eye, then the wing, now the cell, and tomorrow consciousness. What will people of faith fall back on next to justify their unjustifiable positions?

Finally... Even if your attempts to bamboozle us into thinking the brain is just TOO AMAZING to have developed by evolution, you didn't even address your assertion that the Christian God is the one behind all this Creationing. Where, ANYWHERE in your "arguement," did you provide any evidence that would favour one Creation theory over any other. I'm still partial to the Norse God's Cosmic Cow story myself...

How's the new job working out? I hope it was the right thing for the Wolff Den...

tom wolff said...

Ed, you provide fluffy generalizations, yet you have provided nothing specific to support your assertion that a grove of mango trees is more likely the product of design than the brain.

If you will allow me, let's get specific. Tell me your understanding of how a human cell's immune system works. Although I provided lots of specific information, you've provided meer hand-waving to dismiss what I've said. So are you willing to look at something specific together to see if we can at least come to a more clear understanding of our positions? If you are, tell me about with specifics how the cell's immune system works. Eschew obfuscation you big goon. /s/Tom

Edward Oleander said...

Oooo... put up yer dukes! Put up yer dukes! Big Goon am I ? OOOOooooo....

Hehehe... Good to see your sense of humor is still intact... And my hand waving had more factual info in it than all of your "specific information," which was basically wrong. The only thing that checked out was the 100 billion cell estimate for the brain, and the brain specs. All the comparisons were either flat wrong or so general as to be meaningless. Check in with Clay some day, he is extremely interested in how memory works and is more up on it than you or I will ever be...

The immune system... Nice to see you start small. How about I break it into 4 chunks and you pick the chunk you're most comfortable with?

Chunk #1) Front line defenses. This involves the skin and it's function as a barrier to pathogens. Healing, clotting and skin integrity are sub-areas. Other frontline components are coughing and sneezing to remove pathologic elements from the lungs and mucus tissues, as well as water-flushing systems for the intestines (which we see as diarrhea). Stomach acids are strongly germicidal.

Chunk #2) White blood cells (WBCs). This area overlaps with #1, as the WBCs interact at breaks in the skin to fight would-be invaders. They also patrol the blood looking for any beasties that don't belong. Killer T-cell, Helper-T cells, macrophages, all combine to identify non-self bits and either kill them or eat them. This is effective against tumor and bacterial tissues, and is based on protein recognition.

Chunk #3) Active adaptive systems. This involves the enzymes that mold themselves to new invaders to help with identification and destruction. Once an enzyme has created an antigenic (or antibody) surface, that enzyme is forever on the watch for that one pattern, and will alert the system if too many are encountered. This works mainly in conjunction with Chunk #2.

Chunk #4) Passive immunity. This is inherited immunity and is carried in the genome as a history of enzyme patterns that have dealt with (mostly ancient) pathogens that mainly fall into the retrovirus category. About 40,000 bug patterns are cataloged by our DNA so each generation doesn't have to learn to fight them all over again.

So, which area would you like to use to illustrate your next attempt to show that Human Ignorance = God?

Edward Oleander said...

I didn't realize we were still back in the mango grove...

The reason we (the real-world, fact and observation-based scientific community)have an easier time seeing design in the grove is because we have solid evidence of certain areas regarding both mango and the brain. To wit:

For mango, we have a fairly decent grasp of the following:

#1) Agriculture. We know that planting such trees in straight lines is an efficient way to care for them and harvest from them. We expect to see such lines from human manipulation.

#2) Seed dispersal in nature. We know how mango trees spread in the wild. We have lots of data showing how the seeds are spread by falling fruit and animal consumption/defecation. We know that it would be next to impossible for a perfect grid pattern of planting to occur.

Given what we know from above and from what you included in the original scenario, it is reasonable to conclude that, when finding the grid of trees, we are seeing the work of humans. The probability of the random alternative is so small that only conclusive proof that humans had never been on that island would lend it any credence, and we could not have that in your scenario.

As for the brain: We have substantial fossil evidence of the development of the brain from it's earliest stages. Remnants of each major stage of development can be found in our own brains, starting the basic brain-stem, and working forward to the pre-frontal lobe. The fossil record shows that within lines of descent among species, brain development is consistent with the evolutionary model. We can extrapolate what we see already, and form a hypothesis that fills in most of the gaps. The conclusion, based on what we know, is that there is clear evolutionary trend in brain development. By Ockham's Razor, this is MUCH simpler of an explanation than "God did it." Conversely, the only arguement in favour of Creation of the brain is that, "Gosh, it's so darn COMPLICATED, God must have done it."

That, of course, is bad science, completely unsupportable, and mere speculation at best.

So we see that while the brain PROBABLY (and i leave some room for doubt), was not designed, the grove of trees was DEFINITELY not a random occurrence.

Therefore, the probability and believability of the design origin of the grove is greater than that of the brain.

Put even more simply, the brain might have been designed, or might not. The grove definitely was, so the grove wins.

You were probably thinking of the complexity of the brain versus the complexity of a planting pattern when you thought I was crazy for picking the grove. But as you can see, it is function of probability, not complexity.

One common mistake in arguements of your type is the time element. Time makes a huge difference. With the grove, not only is the chance of a grid planting next to zero, but the chance of that planting happening ALL AT THE SAME TIME, makes it almost too small to contemplate. With the brain, we have millions upon millions of years for the process of evolution to work on it's complexity. Time and time again, I see this as a downfall among non-scientific people. It IS difficult to understand why TIME makes evolution not only possible, but overwhelmingly probable, if you're not used to thinking in that fashion.

Re-read the basics of Darwin, starting with his Five Facts of natural selection. While much of his work has been superceded with better and more concise understanding (that being how science works), his basic theory is as strong as ever.

Now, back to failure of your post to provide ANY evidence of the Christian God having a hand in Creation. You went out of your way to make that claim, but then didn't back it up, or even mention it again. Now who's the Big Goon? Ppppphhhtttt!

tom wolff said...

All but one of the Wolff pack are home sick with the flu - yuck!

When I brought up the discussion of a cell's immunity system, I was hoping to bring in a recent article on the topic in Science magazine: This is a very interesting article that I think you would enjoy.

The conclusion from this study was that Cells fight off and recognze alien pathogens (the junk inside the cell that causes diseases) through a series of circuits. It receives and processes information much like computers. Information flows in, is read and processed through a complex set of circuits, and an appropriate response is delivered. But instead of tiny transistors, the internal circuitry of mammalian cells is made up of vast networks of genes and their corresponding proteins.

Now before you start your hand-waving again that I am only arguing that complexity proves there is a God, let me add the following. Yes, complex systems does show the presence of Intelligence, because Darwinism's claimed process of Random Mutation + Natural Selection (RM + NS) could never put together something like this. Complex systems with random information thrown in breaks the whole system.

But more, there is a purpose in the systems we see in the cell's immune system. In Intelligence Design lingo, this is called Specified Complexity. It's not just complexity. It's more. It's complexity with a purpose, like when engineers design a crcuit board.

I hope this provides a little more clarity on why I believe that the immune system in cells, with circuits and repair systems similar to a computer, is clearly the product of Intelligence. And more specifically the Triune God described in the Christian Bible and nature. Good Day!

Edward Oleander said...

Ooops... this response was too long, and Blogger is forcing me to break it up, so this is just part one...

First, let's look your own brand of hand-waving: "Darwinism's claimed process of Random Mutation + Natural Selection (RM + NS) could never put together something like this. Complex systems with random information thrown in breaks the whole system."

Using words like "Specified Complexity" and putting things in mathematic-looking notation is a total Red Herring.

By the way, if you look at cellular microbiology, there are plenty of "random" bits that are left-overs from the needs of bygone ages. Much of the genome is "old" info that isn't used anymore. It is still there because it presents no adverse survival traits, so is not screened out by natural selection.

ALL systems have a purpose... ALL of them. By using this "lingo," the I.D. science-wannabees trying to create a false impression that there are "system" that are non-purposeful. EVERY system has a task to perform. That purpose is survival. Some systems are better at their tasks than others. That is why some species last only a short time (like some extinct primates) while others remain unchanged for 100,000,000 years (sharks, horseshoe crabs, alligators, cealocanth(sp?).

Some individual traits have little specific purpose, like eye color, but "systems" are all purposeful. I challenge you to find one that we can't find some survival benefit from...

"I hope this provides a little more clarity on why I believe that the immune system in cells, with circuits and repair systems similar to a computer, is clearly the product of Intelligence."

Yes, I can see quite clearly why, TO YOU, this seems to be the inevitable product of Design, but you never had the science background to see these systems the way Clay or I do. I'm not belittling your education, but it wasn't structured like mine... I even took one whole biology course dedicated to showing WHY Evolution makes so much sense. That was in the '80s, and the evidence for evolution has steamrolled since then (see Nat'l Geographic article: )...

My education contained just enough law to make me dangerous to myself in a legal debate (2 courses). I imagine yours had just as little biology?

I'm not trying to wave my education at you, but it does give me a different perspective on where Evolution Theory has been, and where it stands now. Learning of the existence of systems like the immune cells identification "circuits" is just another step on the path to complete understanding of the genome and DNA.

I think the reason it seems so "designed" right now is that much of it takes place at a molecular level that we cannot see yet. Once we can see how the individual pathogenic molecules interact with the immune cells, we will be able to identify the whole process of how the information passes the outer proteins, is accepted as "self" or "non-self" by the immune cell, and how it then passes that info to other cells. It will be by a chemical process that will make sense.

End of part 1....

Edward Oleander said...

Part 2 of 2

It doesn't help that the only way to explain the function of the micro-systems we find in that article is to talk about them as though they were consciously doing what they do. That is just a confusing bit of anthropomorphizing...

We can theorize that there were many, many versions of immune cell before the ones we have today. They didn't work as well as ours (which are not perfect yet -- another case against design), as they began as mutations that probably did more harm than good.

Here's a way-out attempt to demonstrate why the process doesn't need to have been "designed" by an intelligence: Imagine the early immune cell as a box with small square holes in the lid. Now start dropping a lot randomly shaped onto the lid. Nothing is small enough to fit through. Most of what you're dropping is round balls a little too big to fit in the square holes, and eventually the lids breaks under the assault of the combined bits. The round balls represent the bits that belong to your body ("self") and they vastly outnumber the others ("non-self"). Now replace the lid with one that has a couple round holes big enough to pass through (this is a BENEFICIAL MUTATION). A few balls get through, and that takes some of the strain off the lid. It lasts longer. When a new lid gets made, the round holes get passed to the next lid (THIS IS DNA IN ACTION). Later, non-round holes develop (A NON-BENEFICIAL MUTATION) but these don't help the lid last longer, so new lids may or may be made with them. More round holes appear, and each time they do, those lids last longer and make more baby lids, thus passing along the round holes. Eventually, most of the round balls ("self") pass through the lid, and the lid lasts a long, long time. The round holes have become the dominant type of hole, and the cell now "recognizes" parts that are "self" vs. "non-self"...

That is course very simplistic, because the molecular chemical signatures that identify "self" vs "non-self" are much more complex, and we aren't really talking holes in a lid, but I hope that shows the basic idea...

Immune cells that only eat "non-self" will contribute to better survival, so that trait is passed on.

Now... Here is why I think your entire example is evidence AGAINST a Creator:

Our immune cells are far from perfect. If they were designed, it was a piss-poor job... I need only two words to prove the poor "design"... rheumatoid arthritis.

This condition is only the most common of a hundred conditions where the immune system attacks the wrong cells. Many of those conditions prove fatal. Most of these conditions are NOT the fault of the people carrying the genes, or the foods we eat, or the poisons we put into the water... They are inherent in the system. Why would any sane, loving God design such a poor, and often destructive, system?

Evolution, on the other hand, predicts exactly this sort of non-perfection. Based on time and mutations, and looking at the evidence of past adaptations in the genome itself, a non-guided process of selection makes much more logical sense.

Finally... "And more specifically the Triune God described in the Christian Bible and nature."

HOW? How does that article give the Christian God a leg up? At all... in any way... You threw this in at the end just to piss me off, admit it! On the small chance you were serious, then you should have no trouble showing me an article that demonstrates that the scientists who discovered DNA, it's workings, and the human genome used the Bible to make their discoveries...

Hope everyone there feels better soon!

Edward Oleander said...

Incidentally, I almost forgot to wish you and your family both Eid Mubarak, and Happy National
Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day!

Arrr, matey! I does be hopin' yer all be feelin' better soons, I does.