Through the Wormhole s04e10 Episode Script

Did God Create Evolution?

Freeman: Were we put here on purpose by someone or something? Or did some random event create all of the incredible complexity we see today? [ Hisses ] Freeman: Scientists have been trying to understand how life was created [ Camera shutter clicks ] But there are still gaps in our understanding.
Could our existence be the work of a higher power or was it the laws of nature? [ Thunder cracks ] Did God create evolution? Space, time, life itself.
The secrets of the cosmos lie through the wormhole.
Captions paid for by Discovery Communications.
Scientists estimate that billions of species have lived on earth from the tiniest microbes to a 50-ton dinosaur.
The Bible says God made them all in six days.
But there's another theory life created itself about four billion years ago, and the myriad species earth has known have all been the product of evolution.
Theology and the science struggle to find a common ground.
Did Charles Darwin get it right when he proposed that evolution created all life? Was it the guiding hand of some supreme being? Or could it have been both? I used to find caterpillars in the bushes near my house growing up fat, stubby worms.
Before long, each one hid away inside a silky cocoon.
I wondered what was going on inside that tiny shelter.
How did something so ugly transform into a beautiful butterfly? Michael Behe is a biochemist from lehigh university in Pennsylvania.
He's an advocate for an idea called intelligent design that someone or something planted the seeds of life on earth and has had a guiding hand in its evolution ever since.
Behe: Intelligent design argues that random processes can't produce what we see in life today, but it has no quarrel with the idea of descent from ancient organisms to modern organisms.
Freeman: Michael's problem with Darwin's theory is that Darwin insists evolution stems from random mutations.
When he looks around in nature, he sees plenty of things that look like they were randomly thrown together, like the debris in these woods.
We had a storm pass through here recently.
Nobody would think that any of this was particularly arranged on purpose.
You know, it's just a jumble.
Here's a stick here.
There's a stick there, a stone there.
Freeman: But Michael believes other things in nature could not have arranged themselves randomly.
They appear to be the work of a designer.
Just as these sticks didn't randomly arrange themselves into the word "Life, " Michael doesn't believe biological life came together randomly, either.
Behe: I'm a biochemist, and so I see evidence in nature and places where most people don't think about, but it's in the cell.
The cell is a fantastic nano-scale factory with machinery literally machines made out of molecules.
Freeman: Michael studies the structure of bacteria.
Some bacteria have tails called flagella that allow them to swim.
Behe: It is quite literally an outboard motor that bacteria use to swim, and just like an outboard motor in our everyday life, it's got clamps to hold it on to the bacterial membrane, it's got a propeller that spins 'round and around.
Turns out if you remove one of more of these pieces, the flagellum doesn't work at all.
Freeman: The complicated structure of bacterial tails led Michael to develop a theory he calls irreducible complexity.
It claims that living systems need all of their parts in order to work.
They can't evolve piece by piece.
So, Darwin's theory requires this gradualism, wherein some feature of biology is built up slowly over time.
But with an irreducibly complex system that means a system that has a number of components you can't build it up gradually over time and have it work.
Freeman: If the tail of the bacterium was missing just one part, the whole thing wouldn't function.
Michael doesn't think organisms could have made such leaps of complexity through evolution alone.
He thinks they must have had help from a creator.
I'm a Christian, and so I certainly think God created the universe, but the nice thing about intelligent design is that you can realize something was designed without knowing who the designer was.
But you can be confident of the design.
Freeman: The complex design of bacteria tails isn't the most mysterious leap in biology.
There are even more complex structures that are harder to explain, like the bony spines of vertebrates.
Our earliest vertebrate ancestors had backbones call notochords boneless, flexible rods made of collagen.
Some big, freshwater fish that are alive today still have them.
Other species, like us, have evolved bones in the back vertebral columns.
But how did long strips of collagen make the leap and become bony spines? Bioroboticist John long at vassar college is searching for these missing links.
One of the great questions we're interested in is how did this group of animals that we belong to called vertebrates first evolve? Now, this happened so we don't have a time machine we can jump in, unfortunately, and go back and see what happened.
Freeman: John suspects the first versions of the vertebral column were small mistakes in our DNA that created little bony deposits on the notochord.
They stuck around because they ended up making animals faster, stronger, and better at finding food.
But fossils of ancient fish don't tell this evolutionary story step by step.
There are huge gaps in the historical record.
So John has decided to try and fill in these gaps by bringing extinct creatures back to life As robots.
Welcome to the abyss.
We create an artificial world here in this tank for our swimming biorobots where we reanimate evolution that happened Freeman: John's robots are called evolvobots.
They are about to play the game of life.
Long: This is a biomimetic vertebral column that's specially designed out of collagen, and we can vary the number of vertebrae, and this is the feature that we're allowing to evolve.
Freeman: John has given them notochords that can each be segmented with different numbers of vertebrae, from 0 to 5 to 10 to 15.
He has created a world in which light means life or food.
The evolvobots' task is to find their next dinner.
Long: So, we go from 0 to 5 to 10 to 15, and what we're expecting to have happen, right, is that the robots with the most vertebrae, over here, will out-compete the robots with the fewest vertebrae.
So, this should be gold-medal winner, silver-medal winner, bronze-medal winner, and thank you for trying.
Now, dragging way behind now, looks like zero vertebrae.
Freeman: The evolvobots with segmented backbones are performing better than the one without.
Long: Look at number 10 way out in front now.
And then we have number 5, and 15 over on the side there is getting there, but slowly.
Freeman: To John's surprise, the evolvobot with 10 bones won, beating the one with 15.
Long: So, what do we have emerging here? It looks like intermediate number of vertebrae is doing a better job at getting food.
So it's not just having a bunch of vertebrae, it's having the right number.
Freeman: John believes this shows that evolution is not a designed process.
Nature may have randomly tried different kinds of backbones, and the best ones survived.
We find that when there's selection pressure for enhanced feeding and fleeing, this is sufficient to drive the evolution of vertebrae.
Freeman: Using his research, John can trace the path of backbone evolution all the way up to us.
Long: So, as humans, we get bothered by the idea that we could have evolved, in all our wonderful, brain-heavy glory, by random processes, but one of the hard things to wrap your head around as a human being is that evolution works not by design but by hands-off emergent principles.
Freeman: John's evolvobots give us a window into how primitive organisms can evolve into upright, complex human beings.
But has there been enough time in the history of earth for this slow and unsteady process of evolution to happen? An M.
Complexity theorist is doing the math to find out.
Darwin's theory of evolution hinges on the idea that species gradually evolve through a process of genetic trial and error.
In the four-billion-year history of life on earth, evolutionists argue, the first single-celled organisms evolved to become me.
Those who believe in intelligent design argue that trial and error could never create something so complex in that amount of time.
Does the theory of evolution add up? That's a question only a mathematician can answer.
When M.
Professor Scott aaronson was growing up, he had big dreams.
When I was a kid, my dream in life was to create my own video games.
You know, video games just amazed me.
They were like these entire worlds in miniature, and yet, you know, unlike with the real world, someone must understand exactly how they work, right? Because someone made them.
Freeman: Scott used to imagine that the characters in his video games were built in a factory like machines.
But he eventually figured out they were actually built from math.
Aaronson: You could say, "Here is the game, and then here's the code of the game.
" and the code, you know, is not just some description of the game.
It is the game, right? You change the code, and then you can watch the game do something different, which is really just a math problem.
And, you know, for me, I think that was a revelation comparable to learning where babies come from.
Freeman: This realization inspired Scott to look for deep mathematical theories to solve the biggest mysteries in science, like how organisms evolved into complex beings.
Believers in intelligent design like to say that for some random process like natural selection to produce the eye or the wing of a bird or the human brain is about as improbable as a toRNAdo passing through a junkyard and somehow assembling a usable building.
This is where I work.
It's called the M.
Stata center, and it does kind of look like a toRNAdo passed through the place.
This building, despite how it may look, was not designed by natural processes.
It was designed by the architect Frank gehry, but in math and computer science, we know that producing interesting structure doesn't always require a designer.
Freeman: Creationists often argue that evolution is a random, exhaustive search through all possible biological combinations.
[ Wheezes ] An impossible task that could never have gotten as far as it has in only four billion years.
[ Oinks ] Scott believes complex traits like the human brain or a bacterium's tail can evolve in a reasonable amount of time because evolution is not a completely blind process.
In fact, evolution has some clever shortcuts.
Imagine this chessboard is blank and Scott's goal is to properly color it so that no two neighboring squares are colored the same.
So, how could you do it? Well, there are three different approaches that may spring to mind.
Let's see my avatar, super Scott, here, try to do it.
If super Scott had the magical powers of an intelligent designer, he could, I suppose, just see in his mind's eye all of the possible colorings and just instantly pick out the one that worked.
Freeman: If it takes just one step for the intelligent designer super Scott to fill each square, it would only take him 64 steps.
You could create humans in a matter of minutes if you had this kind of God-like vision.
Aaronson: What else could we do? A brute-force approach just trying every possible coloring, every possible assignment of colors, to all 64 of the squares.
Well, there are ways of coloring all the squares of a chessboard.
That's about 18 quintillion.
He's obviously gonna be at this for quite a while.
Freeman: On this purely random mission, even if super Scott gets all but one square correct, he has to start over again.
Is organisms evolved like this, it would take millions of times longer than the age of the universe for a single-celled bacterium to evolve into the intelligent life we see today.
But evolution works differently.
It makes random guesses, but doesn't go back to square one whenever it makes a mistake.
Aaronson: Here, super Scott starts out with a complete random coloring.
He can just look for any two squares that are colored the same, pick two of those at random, and then randomly change the color of one of them.
Freeman: In this evolutionary approach, super Scott can make corrections along the way without having to start over every time.
Aaronson: But you might wonder how long will this take? Well, it turns out it will take longer than the intelligent designer, that's for sure.
On the other hand, not nearly as long as the brute-force approach.
With an eight by eight chessboard, this random-mutation approach will take about 5,000 steps.
Freeman: but it's not anywhere near These emerging mathematics of evolution show that complex patterns can arise surprisingly quickly.
We've seen that a mindless evolutionary process really can solve the problem, and it can solve it without an inordinate amount of time.
Freeman: Scott doesn't claim he's proven evolution happened, only that it is possible within earth's timeframe.
Aaronson: For me, the scientific attitude is not that there are no mysteries in the world.
It's that you don't wallow in mystery.
It's that you constantly look for explanations of things, and, you know, if you find a good explanation for something, you go with it, you know, at least until a better explanation comes along.
Freeman: But there is still one unknown variable in the equation of life.
One chemist in Arizona is rolling back the clock to figure out where the first spark of life came from.
All living things on this planet have one thing in common from plants to bacteria to people, every life form uses the same genetic material built from DNA or its close chemical relative, RNA.
This makes perfect sense to evolutionists who believe all life evolved from a common ancestor, but there is a more profound question still to be answered.
If DNA is the spark of life, what or who created DNA? John chaput, a chemist at Arizona state university, studies the roots of DNA where it came from and how it has survived long enough to produce complex life.
For all cells to survive, they require DNA, which is the genetic information or the blueprint for that organism.
And for cells to live, they have to grow and divide, and during that process, that DNA has to be copied identically so that you maintain that genetic information from one cell to the next.
Freeman: John is playing the role of an enzyme called DNA polymerase.
His job is to copy the code of one DNA strand onto another.
Chaput: "A" Always base pairs with "T, " and "C" Always base pairs with "G.
" Freeman: But DNA can't replicate all by itself.
It require John, the polymerase, to do the copying.
But at the first spark of life, there was no John.
It's a big problem for the theory of evolution.
DNA could not have been the first molecular basis for all of life because it can't copy itself.
If not DNA, what was the first spark of life? It's quite possible that DNA may be the product of evolution and that other genetic materials preceded it in the history of life.
Freeman: DNA has a double-helix structure, like this rope.
The genetic material that came before it would have to have been able to bind with its complex shape in order to pass on genetic information.
One candidate is RNA, a simpler form of DNA that is found in our cells today.
But yet, if we look at RNA, RNA is still very complicated, and it may have been preceded by an even simpler genetic material.
Freeman: RNA is too complicated to be the very first genetic material, because it's made of a complex sugar called ribose.
Imagine you were a scientist waiting for the first spark of life.
In order for RNA to form, five specific sugar molecules would have to spontaneously come together, one by one, in a very particular order.
Scientist think the odds of that happening in earth's primordial swamp were highly improbable.
You would be waiting for a very long time.
But John thought there may be a genetic material made of a simpler sugar than ribose, something more likely to form on its own.
By recreating evolution in a test tube, he may have found the perfect fit a sugar that forms TNA.
[ Wolf whistle ] No, not that.
[ Woman giggles ] TNA or Threose Nucleic Acid.
Threose is very exciting, because it's, chemically, much simpler than ribose.
Freeman: John thinks TNA is a likely candidate for being the first spark of life because it is made of four identical sugar molecules that come together in just one easy step.
Chaput: And when you make a genetic polymer out of threose nucleic acid, it turns out that it base pairs very well with RNA, so it has the ability to not only be chemically simpler than RNA, but it can also exchange genetic information with RNA.
Freeman: John may have found an ancestor of DNA, an ancient genetic blueprint that showed up long before the complex machinery that is in our cells today.
He has not yet been able to show that TNA can copy itself, but he believes it is the best candidate so far to be the precursor to complex life.
Chaput: So, life in so complex that many people feel that it must have had a higher power, a God-like power that helped to create life as we know it.
But the reality is, when you take a look at it from the perspective of, say, chemistry, it's really a question of what molecules might have been present and how were these molecules able to react with one another? Scientists are zeroing in on a molecule that may have been the first genetic material on earth.
Would this be the spark of life? Perhaps the answer is deeper than chemistry.
What if the origin of life can be traced back to one simple pattern, a pattern that governs the structure of the entire universe? Imagine if everywhere you looked, you saw the same pattern in the sky, on the ground, in your body.
You might wonder if it was a signature of a craftsman.
In fact, our universe really is filled with such a pattern.
Does this mean it must be the work of a grand designer? Before Adrian Bejan became a Professor of engineering at Duke university, he had a very different career.
Adrian was a basketball star in Romania.
I was a player under the communist system.
Basketball is not communism.
Even under communism, basketball was played correctly.
The greatest single lesson from growing up in basketball was the idea that the ball flows through channels.
The channels are not rigid.
They are constantly morphing.
Freeman: Just as Adrian the athlete saw basketball as the flow of a ball across a court, Adrian the engineer now studies that flow.
He thinks it may be the key to understanding the design of the universe.
Basketball is a live flow system.
The ball flows from any point of the area to the basket.
The players on offense are trying to open up the channels to facilitate the flow.
The players on defense, at the same time, are closing down the channels.
Freeman: Over time, the better players get the ball more often, making certain channels bigger and busier while the less active channels stay smaller.
Eventually, a pattern emerges that resembles the shape of a branching tree.
This tree shape is everywhere.
They occur in the billions and billions.
They constitute a phenomenon of all nature.
Freeman: Adrian sees the same pattern everywhere in nature, from a tree to a lightning bolt to the veins of a leaf.
He's trying to figure out where this pattern comes from.
He thinks it has to do with the way things flow from one point to another.
What flows through the tree? Water is flowing from the ground back into the dry wind.
The other thing that flows through the tree structure is the mechanical force or mechanical stresses.
The force of the wind is transmitted to the ground through the tree.
Freeman: Adrian believes this design is an expression of a universal law of nature.
He calls it the constructal law.
It states, most generally, that anything that is finite size and moves, in order to persist in time, which means to live, it must evolve such that it flows more and more easily for greater and greater access over time.
Freeman: Adrian sees evidence of the constructal law inside of all of us.
Oxygen flows through our lungs, blood flows through our veins, electricity flows through our neurons, all in the same tree-like design.
The universe seems to be hardwired to create complexity, almost as though it was designed that way.
To a believer in creationism, it would seem like the mark of a creator.
Adrian says no.
Bejan: The design is a phenomenon just like the gravitation fall.
We do not know why these things happen.
All we can do is to summarize these phenomena, and those are the laws.
Freeman: Adrian thinks this tree-shaped pattern naturally creates stronger, fitter organisms because it helps improve flow, whether it be water flowing through the trunk of a tree or the ball flowing through the court to the hoop.
Bejan: Basketball is actually a metaphor for the movement of the individual in society.
It is the same kind of movement through channels that the individual strives to open up and, at the same, channels that others are, in fact, unwittingly, trying to close down.
Freeman: Perhaps the design of the universe is like a giant tree constantly growing and evolving through improved flow.
But across the world in South Africa, a cosmologist is looking at the design of the universe through a different lens.
[ Camera shutter clicking ] He's turning the laws of nature upside down.
How do large and complex things come to be? They're collections of many little things.
Bodies are made from cells, and cells are built from atoms.
But the atoms in my body don't know they're part of me.
How do they know what to do? Why don't I just fall apart into a trillion tiny pieces? Are they being guided by a higher power? [ Choral singing ] George Ellis from the university of cape town in South Africa is one of the world's leading theorists in physics and cosmology.
Recently, he has shifted his attention from trying to understand the cosmos to trying to understand how complex systems on earth come to be, like the sounds of the cape town youth choir.
[ Singing continues ] To George, a beautiful song can be scientifically understood in different ways.
His old physicist self would have seen the singing of the choruses as emerging out of activity at the subatomic level.
I think the physicist would tell you what is happening here is the effect of fundamental particles interacting with each other as electrons and protons.
That these youth can sing this way is because in their nerve cells, electrons are flowing and they're sending signals down from the brain to the nerves, and so, it's physics at the bottom, all the way, and the physics is actually what's causing it to happen.
Freeman: But George now wonders if there's another way to understand the choir's music.
Perhaps these singers aren't just an aggregation of subatomic physical processes.
The flow of causation is from the conductor to all the members of the choir, so he is coordinating the chorister's actions, and so the flow of the electrons in the people's brains they're just responding and being controlled by what the conductor wanted to happen.
So, it's top down from the conductor's mind into those electrons that are flowing in people's brains.
Freeman: George calls this idea top-to-bottom causation.
The fundamental particles that comprise each chorister are the bottom level and are being controlled by a higher level the conductor.
If there were no conductor, George would need some ear plugs.
[ Discordant singing ] Ellis: The amount of beauty coordination you can get purely bottom-up is strictly limited.
You have to have the simple coordination, and it's the thought that's controlling the physics and making the physics happen.
[ Camera shutter clicking ] Freeman: Perhaps the universe needs a conductor to create the beauty of nature all around us.
And George thinks there is evidence that this is true in the form of geometry.
Ellis: This is Pythagoras' theorem.
If you take that length, square it, add it to that one squared, you get the square on the hypotenuse.
So that's an eternal principle which is true everywhere in the universe.
Freeman: George believes the universe has an underlying geometry that governs what is possible in the physical world.
He thinks geometric laws existed before our universe existed.
Humans are only discovering them.
It's an idea that stems from the Greek philosopher Plato, who believed mathematical patterns existed in some abstract space before the birth of our universe.
Ellis: I think when the universe was set up, the mathematical patterns pre-existed the universe.
But it isn't only physical things that exist.
There are also meanings that exist.
Freeman: Just as Plato believed the universe was born with mathematical truths, he said the same could be true for human ethics.
To George, it is a philosophy that suggests our rules of right and wrong may stem from some eternal truth that dictates how humans should treat each other.
Ellis: These ethical patterns were set out there, in my opinion, before any human beings ever existed.
I've arrived at this position through a long process of trying to understand complexity, because it's quite clear that there is meaning.
There is more going on than this purely mechanical kind of stuff.
Freeman: Did someone or something create the laws that govern nature and society? Are human ethics a sign that life was designed by a moral being? Or is morality a product of evolution? One man in California is taking a giant leap of faith to find out.
Evolutionary theory seeks to explain life in all its forms.
But in theology, there's more to creation than our physical bodies.
God is master of our moral universe.
Can morality arise in the human brain by the haphazard process of biological evolution or was it designed? [ Bird screeches ] Professor Paul Zak from claremont graduate university is a scientist on the frontier.
He's a pioneer of a field called neuroeconomics, which is the study of how brain chemistry affects people's decisions in life.
His latest quest is for the origin of human morality.
My mother, before she was my mother, was a nun, a catholic nun.
So, mom was the ruler of the morality world.
I really had this underlying kind of worry that aren't there many different forms of morality? Where do good and evil come from? And that's the question I really spent my time running experiments to identify.
Freeman: Paul thinks there might be a single molecule responsible for morality.
His research has led him to one possible candidate a brain chemical called oxytocin.
Zak: Oxytocin is a chemical the brain makes that, until about 10 years ago, was only noted in humans to facilitate birth and breast feeding.
So, when I first started doing this work, one of my colleagues said, "it can't be that important if it's only for women, " but, in fact, men's brains make it, too.
The question was why.
Is it actually doing something? Freeman: Paul wondered if oxytocin had a larger role than aiding in reproduction, that perhaps it helps all humanity feel compassion, love, and trust.
In order to find out, he began a long-term study of how this brain chemical fluctuates when a person is forced to trust a stranger.
Today, his test subject is himself.
We're gonna go skydiving today to find out what happens to the human brain when you're under high stress in the presence of another person.
So, we've shown in a laboratory that oxytocin facilitates trust in strangers, so how about trusting your life to a stranger? That's what we want to test today.
Freeman: Paul first takes a sample of his own blood on the ground.
This will be used as the baseline level of oxytocin so he can compare it to his blood levels when he lands.
Tandem skydiving is the ultimate test of trust.
Two people, one parachute.
Paul's life is in the hands of his instructor, Andy.
So, this is Andy.
So, I've just met him for the first time, and I'm gonna strap myself to him and jump out of an airplane at 12,500 feet, so I don't know how you're trained.
I don't know the pilot.
I don't know who packed your chute.
I don't even know that, either.
[ Chuckling ] Yeah, okay, so After a brief coaching session on the ground, there's nowhere left to go but up.
Most skydive accidents happen from human error improper packing of the parachute, inadequate inspection, poor jumping technique.
Paul is putting his trust into a crew of strangers.
I don't think I have a choice.
I really got to trust Andy now, so I'm just hoping it all works out.
Ready to do this? Let's go! All right! Let's do it, baby.
Oh, look at that view.
Hands on the harness.
Take a nice, deep breath.
Now for some fun.
All right, man.
Head to the right.
[ Yells ] Whoa! Well done.
You're unhooked.
All right.
Welcome to the rest of your life.
Thank you.
Freeman: After the jump, Paul immediately draws his blood again.
Zak: I was strapped to this guy, You know, we dropped like a rock out of this airplane very unusual kind of event where I'm watching the plane move away from me kind of panic, kind of fear.
Freeman: Paul brings his blood samples back to his lab to find out if the intense feeling of trust was reflected in the chemistry of his brain.
As one might expect after jumping out of an airplane, Paul had almost a 500% increase in cortisol, a stress hormone, and a 40% increase in testosterone, which is associated with the feeling of courage.
But did the skydive cause a moral molecule to jump into action? Zak: I had about a 17% increase in oxytocin.
a fairly large increase for an interaction with a stranger.
So, for example, at a bride at her wedding that I went to I took blood before and after I found that she had a 28% increase.
So, I'm half as connected to my skydive instructor as the bride was to her groom at her wedding, so that ain't bad.
Freeman: Paul's studies have shown that oxytocin levels are strongly linked to other social behaviors besides trust, like empathy and generosity.
If oxytocin is the molecule that controls our moral behavior, where did this molecule come from? Was it designed by a creator who yearned for a moral society? Zak: I want to be humble and say, "Look, I don't know "What happened before evolution started happening, and if there's a God, how wonderful is that?" but it's not my place as a scientist to say whether God exists or not.
I think that's a question of faith.
Freeman: Is a moral molecule in our brains the sign that we are designed by a holy God? Or did our brains evolve that way allowing us to survive together as a species? If it is oxytocin that makes us trust and tolerate one another, maybe this single molecule is the answer to bringing creationists and evolutionists together.
Creationists argue that only the guiding hand of God could arrange the countless atoms of the cosmos into the remarkable pattern that exists today, that moral molecules would only form in a moral universe.
The theory of evolution argues that one simple rule survival of the fittest can explain everything that lives today, from the most rapacious predators to beings like us who are guided by a deep sense of what is right and what is wrong.
The debate isn't likely to end any time soon, but there is one thing both sides do agree on the sheer wonder of creation, no matter how it got here.