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Donne Conradie
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Just open your eyes!

21 January 2013, 12:11

Every time I come onto News24, I see yet another article where a Christian is trying to convince the masses that his belief is solid and true, after which a counter-article appears a day so later in which an Atheist then takes a swing at him, mocking Christianity and trying to  disprove everything in the former article. I’m well aware that this might very well be the case yet again, but perhaps some of you will stop along the way and say “Hey, I didn’t think of it that way!”

To give some background, I’m a BSc graduate at Tukkies and will be starting my masters this year in animal breeding & genetics. I went to a Christian school for my entire schooling career and was brought up in a Christian home. When I left the Christian bubble we were in at school and made my way to varsity – the first thing I realised was that God is not as present in the outside world as He was in our little close-knit school. Obviously, this makes one doubt your beliefs and you feel a bit lost in the process.

It wasn’t until end of 2nd year, beginning of 3rd year that I started to realise something; all this time I’ve been lost and confused but right in front of me, Science was saying “Just open your eyes!” And there it was – all the answers I needed was right in front of me!

This picture started becoming all the more clear as we started going into more detail about the physiology of cows, how genetics works and basically what makes a living thing tick.

Let us start with a simple example – how a calf receives maternal immunity. In humans, the foetal and maternal blood is only separated by 1 layers of cells, making it possible for maternal antibodies to cross over (for those wondering – no, maternal and foetal blood never mixes). However, this is more complicated in bovines  (cows) where 3 layers of cells separates maternal and foetal blood, thus preventing the large protein molecule to simply cross over. Instead, maternal antibodies are concentrated in the milk, forming what we call colostrum. For a newborn calf to receive adequate amounts of maternal immunity, it needs to take in a sufficient amount of colostrum within the first 12 hours of life – why 12 hours? Here comes the fascinating part! When a calf suckles, an oesophageal groove forms which directs the milk straight to the abomasum and skipping the fermentation chamber (the rumen). As antibodies are actually protein molecules, they are broken down by gastric secretions such as pepsin and hydrochloric acid. Now in a newborn, these secretions are not active yet until a few hours after birth and the antibodies can pass through the abomasums unharmed. But that’s not all! Normally, the enzymes secreted by the stomach are necessary to ensure that proteins are broken down into much smaller pieces to allow them to pass through the wall of the small intestine. In the newborn calf, the small intestine still allows large molecules such antibodies to pass through – thus the reason for the 12 hours. Now isn’t that incredible? So many mechanisms to ensure that that little newborn doesn’t die and that the species will carry one!

Now we all know the story about evolution and how it works. For those who are uninformed, I’ll use a simple example: say there is a large herd of giraffe in an area with a limited number of very tall trees.  The giraffes with longer necks will be able to reach the very top leaves and therefore not die of starvation like those that could only reach the bottom leaves. These long-necked giraffes are then able to reproduce, producing the next generation of longer-neck giraffes. And so the story continues. So basically, a mutation needs to occur in the DNA that enables the expression of a longer than usual neck. However, neck length is a qualitative trait, meaning that several genes are involved in determining the length of a giraffe’s neck, so we will need several mutations in several genes that all have a role to play in neck length. So in its very basic form, according to evolution, this is how the giraffe developed its long neck.

Now if we consider that little calf again, how many newborns must have died due to not receiving maternal immunity while evolution was slowly sorting this out? Why didn’t it just go the quick route and find a way to avoid needing a 3 cell layer so the antibodies could just pass straight through? Why go the route of first ensuring that the antibodies travel to and concentrate in the mammary gland, then ensure the calf has a oesophageal groove so it can bypass the rumen and not need to waste time by waiting for sufficient milk in the rumen to allow it to spill over to the abomasum, and then ensure that gastric secretions only start off slowly and that the small intestine can take up large molecules.

I’m all for evolution. I understand how it works – biologically and ecologically it all makes sense. But I believe in it to a point.

When they start with the whole “we all developed from a single celled organism” – that’s where I draw the line. And not because the Bible said God created the world, but because of this:

As the first single-celled organism is often compared to Cyanobacteria, I will use it as an example.

If you consider the basic make-up of a simple cyanobacteria – it needs a cell membrane. This is made up of phospholipids – where each phospholipid is made up of a phosphate group and a diglyceride .  This will not only require carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and phosphorous but also for all of them to be joined in the correct arrangement to ensure a viable phospholipid molecule. You will then need a couple of thousand of these molecules to form that lipid bilayer.

Then to allow the cell to function properly (even if it is just to replicate) you will need DNA. This is made up of a double helix of a mix of the 4 nucleotides adenine, tyrosine, guanine and cytosine. Each is made up of a deoxygenated pentose sugar, a phosphate and then one of the 4 nitrogenous bases. Each requires a mix of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, phosphate and nitrogen; again put together in the correct arrangement to form two strands that can then further bind to each other by ensuring that adenine is across tyrosine and guanine across cytosine. Oh, I must also add that these bases then need to be in the correct order to ensure that that they can be translated into viable proteins. For this you need certain regions such as a primer, a stop codon, a promoter region, an enhancer region (just to name a few) and also keep in mind that there are exons and introns (introns code, exons don’t) for alternative splicing  and so forth. The coding region also needs to be in the correct sequence to ensure they actually code for a protein, such as DNA gyrase and DNA polymerase (which are both needed in DNA replication to unwind and replicate the DNA for when the cell duplicates). To produce these molecules (which are proteins) you will need to form a strand of RNA (in which tyrosine is replaced by uracil) which requires free nitrogenous bases to be floating around to allow the formation of a new strand (called mRNA).  You then also need tRNA to bind to the mRNA to ensure that the different amino acids are put together in the correct order (oh yes – amino acids also require a precise arrangement of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur for the basic 20 amino acids) so that you produce a viable protein.

Lastly, it is well known that the first organisms are suspected of oxidizing the earth’s atmosphere by converting nitrogen, carbon dioxide or sulphur into oxygen. This requires them to be able to conduct photosynthesis. I am not even going to go into all that is needed for this simple process.

I can go on and on about all of this but I’m sure I’ve already lost many of you so I will stop now. The point I’m trying to make is – although evolution had a few billion years to figure this out, taking the odds of forming even just one organism with just a basic cell membrane, DNA for replication and the ability to produce oxygen, can you really put away the thought that just maybe – this isn’t all by chance? That perhaps something bigger than us had a hand in creating this incredible, complex, fascinating, beautiful world we live in? That maybe we aren’t here by accident and that there wasn’t just a big bang creating everything out of nothing (basic law of matter?)

Whether you believe in a God or not is up to you. I don’t need a Bible to tell me God created the world just like I don’t need a Bible or the church or a pastor to tell me that God exists. All I needed to do is open my eyes!

PS: If you don’t have something nice or constructive to say, rather keep it to yourself ?

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