Selection from Pyramids of Thrush Creek


          Rick felt the warm sun on his shoulders as they put the canoe into the water.  But still, each breath of the fresh spring air held a crispness that heightened the anticipation of the day ahead.  The mountainsides radiated a dozen shades of green and the sound of water gurgling over rocks beckoned them to join the flow of the river.  Roger steadied the boat as Rick got seated in the bow.  They paddled briskly out to the middle of the creek and headed downstream with paddle blades flashing in perfect unison.

            “Ya know?” said Rick, breaking their rhythm.  “Something just doesn’t make sense to me.  You see four stones piled up in a simple little pyramid and you notice a triangular pattern.  You assume that since there’s a pattern, someone must have intentionally arranged them that way.  You even consider that the triangular pattern might have some special meaning.  You don’t assume that the currents of a flooded creek could have randomly deposited them in that position.  You assume a person did it.”

            “Of course,” Roger butted in eagerly.  “That seems like a reasonable assumption, doesn’t it?  And obviously it was right.  What are you getting at?”

            “But yet,” Rick continued thoughtfully, “when you study the complex patterns formed by the chemicals in our DNA, you conclude that there was no intentional plan for that.  We’re not talking about a simple triangle here.  We’re talking about a complex code that contains the blueprint for the human body, or any other living thing.  Those codes, you believe, came about by the random process of nature.”

            “Well, not exactly.”  Roger paused at the end of his J-stroke.  “As you know, the process is called natural selection.  And it’s not a random process.  Yes, the mutations occur at random.  But the changes that make the organism inferior die out while those that improve the organism get passed on.  So, as the name suggests, there is a selection process which is responsible for continual improvement.  It’s not random.  And the complex DNA code doesn’t prove that there’s a God.”

            “No, it doesn’t prove it.  But it certainly suggests a plan.”

            “Not when you understand the whole process.”

            “Okay.  But how did this process of improvement get started?” Rick pressed on.  He knew Roger was enjoying this debate.  “You believe that four chemicals could have come together randomly to form the first amino acids.  And you believe that some number of different amino acids randomly came together to form the first proteins.  And that somehow developed into the first living cell, which just happened to have its blueprint recorded in a DNA code so it could reproduce itself.  All that happened without any planning.  However, you see four stones on a pile and you say, ‘Ah, there’s a pattern.  There must have been a plan or a purpose.   Some intelligent mind has been at work here.’  Does that make sense?”

            “Well,” Roger replied slowly.  “I think it does.  Those stones weren’t in the water where the current could move them around.  They were put there in one week’s time and there was no flood water during that week.  On the other hand, the chemicals for the amino acids were in solution.  For billions of years these chemicals were randomly coming in contact with each other.  Sooner or later the right ones had to link up and form an amino acid.  That’s not as far-fetched as you make it sound.”

            “It sounds like pretty long odds, to me.”  Rick gazed downriver.

            “It is long odds.  But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

            “Well, for me, it’s easier to believe that the process was guided by some kind of intelligent being.”

            “Well, for me, it’s not.  And where did the intelligent being come from?”

            “Yeah, no matter how we explain it, we always get back to something that always existed.  And that blows my mind.  I just wish I could prove to you that God exists.”

            “I wish too you could,” Roger agreed.  “I wish we could prove it one way or the other and put an end to this eternal debate.”