I sent my religious father a copy of the God Delusion for Christmas. After reading it, his first response (so far, assuming there are more considering it was only on the phone) is that Richard Dawkins is a "blind scientist" in the same way "some Christians" have "blind faith". He want on to say that the mitochondrial motor (plz be gentle I went to a Christian high school, kk?) in cells that runs on protons not electrons and runs at 90% efficiency as opposed the 30% or so that man made motors apparently achieve could not have developed from the similar-looking tiny mechanism that unwinds dna (as he says richard dawkins suggests, which I cannot recall), because the dna needs that energy producing motor to exist in the first place. 

Ok, so, like, what?

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What a load of horseshit.  I refer you to Kitzmiller v. Dover, where the issue of the flagellum of some single-celled animals was cited as an example of "irreducible complexity" by Michael Behe ... and rebutted by the prosecution with their example of a stinger mechanism which uses a great many of the very same structures used in the flagellum, But Not ALL.

Tell your father to have a look at the PBS recreation of that trial.  Behe, the Discovery Institute, and "intelligent design" took a serious hit from that little fracas ... whether they want to acknowledge it or not.

Loren said it better than I could have. That is a good reference too.

Loren, thanks for the link to Wikipedia's better-than-excellent article on the case. I read the decision and especially liked some of Judge Jones' concluding words:

The breathtaking inanity of the [School] Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

Yes this kind of god of the gaps argument comes up a lot between some JW's I have been enjoying the hilarious/sad company of lately. An absolutely impenetrable method of ignorance :/

It's no different than a child, constantly asking "why?" to every answer the parent gives. In most cases, an answer will understandably involve some aspect that requires further explanation. So, again we get "why?". This is definitely a GITG approach.

The problem I see, and what gives atheists so many headaches, is that at some point we personally have lost our motivation for examining every question for the possibility of a god answer. I would not call it faith, but theists do, when we commit ourselves to the idea that a logical natural explanation exists for every phenomena. Coupled with an acceptance that solutions to increasingly complex problems are slow in coming, we have what may appear to a theist as a flawed argument. It isn't at all, but to anyone who wants an answer "RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!", it may appear as such.

What more can you do than listen to the arguments and knock them down one at a time? I'm willing to listen to my son constantly asking "why?" as a four year old. I'm not going to be as patient when he's fully grown. In an adult, I would find it obnoxious if, after knocking down every GITG argument they have come up with, they continue to look for more. At some point, they have to admit they've got nothin'.

Mitochondria aren't really motors, they break down glucose for a form of energy the rest of the cell can use, changing ADP to ATP. There are tiny rotating "motors" in flagella, which are completely different. Mitochondria evolved from endosymbiotic bacteria. At one time free living bacteria started living in association with other cells, symbiotically, and eventually they "moved inside" and lost some of their genes for free living.

I don't know what "runs on protons not electrons" means.

Figure 2: The electrochemical proton gradient and ATP synthase
At the inner mitochondrial membrane, a high energy electron is passed along an electron transport chain. The energy released pumps hydrogen out to the matrix space between the mitochondrial membranes. The gradient created by this high concentration of hydrogen outside of the inner membrane drives hydrogen back through the inner membrane, through ATP synthase. As this happens, the enzymatic activity of ATP synthase synthesizes ATP from ADP.

© 2010 Nature Education

image source

The high energy electron passing along the electron transport chain enables protons to be pumped, through membrane pores. The energy from the electron drops a little, each time some of it is used to help a proton cross the membrane. This process of proton pumping in a sense runs on electrons. Where does you dad think the protons get their energy? (H+ in the diagram are the protons)


Wonderful post. Loved the image too.

I'm not a biologist so I don't know much about this stuff. I did get the impression from what little I've read that there is still plenty of debate about the origin of mitochondria. Though most biologists seem to believe the endosymbiotic explanation, without proof, they do allow for the possibility of a different origin. Is that your understanding as well?

Either way, it is an amazing power source. To think it was somehow absorbed into the inner workings of a cell is an incredible idea.

I haven't detected an answer to my question in the replies yet so I'll reiterate.

My problem is that what dad is suggesting makes sense to me. How can mitochondria have evolved from something that is essential in copying dna, if the dna needed to have mitochondria to generate the energy to make them in the first place?

I'm sorry I find the illustration highly confusing.


Alexandra, I will try. I will first deal with possible communication problems. Keep in mind that technically trained people might do well with technology and not well with language.

In every attempt at communication, thoughts have to pass through several "screens" (a Zen idea), and at any of these screens errors can harm the communication. Don't feel picked on; this stuff affects every attempt at communication.

1. Your dad formed conclusions about what he'd read. Were his conclusions correct?

2. He used words he knew to tell you his thoughts. Did his words accurately tell you his thoughts?

3. You formed conclusions about what you heard. Were your conclusions the same as his?

4. You used words you knew to tell people here. Did your words accurately tell us your thoughts?

5. People here formed conclusions about what we'd read. Were our conclusions correct?

Enough; the same problems affect our attempts to communicate our thoughts to you.

Now I will deal with evolution. (Warning -- I'm neither a biologist nor a neurologist.)

I used to figure that particles coming from the sun randomly struck cells and changed them, and these changes were sometimes helpful and sometimes harmful to offspring. I now understand that the help or harm is done at the DNA level.

In the less random part of the process, when genetic material from the parents join, errors can happen and these errors might be evolutionarily helpful or harmful.

If helpful, the offspring lives and might be better off than either parent. If harmful, the offspring might die or might live and be worse off than either parent.

Okay, one of those random particle strikes might make a cell sensitive to light. Through millions of generations, one light-sensitive cell might change in helpful ways to a rudimentary "eye".

The idea of irreducible complexity turns this process around to run backwards, and this is where the people who oppose evolution go wrong.

Any questions?

Just need clarification on "run backwards", how do you mean?

Alexandra, the eye evolved from a light-sensitive spot to something more capable and helped the organism survive. The eye slowly evolved further and became still more capable.

The creationists try to run evolution backwards when they start with the highly evolved eye we now have, imagine it as less evolved, and say their less evolved form cannot function as an eye.

The following article from the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences counters the argument effectively, but it is technical:


The PNAS is a prestigious journal that only publishes papers of high quality. Here is a quote from the paper cited:

There is no question that molecular machines are remarkable devices, with independent modules capable of protein substrate recognition, unfolding, threading, and translocation through membranes. Nonetheless, the complexity of these machines is not irreducible. At a defined point in evolutionary time, when the early eukaryotes carried in their cytoplasm intracellular, symbiotic bacteria, there were no mitochondria and therefore no mitochondrial protein transporters. Subsequent to that point in time, TOM and TIM23 complexes arose in eukaryotic organisms, with surveys of modern organisms showing them to have evolved to varying degrees of sophistication. Darwin wrote, “if it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive slight modifications my theory would absolutely break down”. Even viewed at the molecular level, evidence suggests that the theory holds.

[my emphasis]




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