Why are there still Archaea?

Carl WoeseIn memorial of the death of microbiologist Carl Woese Brian Thomas brings out an old classic creationist trope, that which asks “why are there still monkeys?”, for ‘Ancient’ Bacteria Still Alive and Not Evolved. Because stupidity loves company just as much as misery, a few other, similar arguments are chucked in as padding.

Archaeans are amazing microbes that run on completely different metabolic processes than other microbes. Discovering the first of them must have been like finding a car that runs on hydrogen fuel cells amidst a landscape of gasoline-powered vehicles. This was the privilege of evolutionary biologist Carl Woese, who died on December 30, 2012. How did he interpret these findings, and what should we remember about his contributions?

They don’t have completely different metabolic processes – Thomas is exaggerating significantly here. He also thinks that he’s smarter than Woese, or at least has a better “interpretation” of his results.

Woese was famous for adding a whole new major classification of microbes, called archaea, that biology textbooks published about well within his lifetime. But the name assigned to this unique domain of life reflects evolutionary concepts, not science.

The biochemistry of these tiny survivors is so fundamentally different from most oxygen-burning creatures that evolutionists like Woese believed it must have evolved way back when the first normally-functioning bacteria were also inventing themselves. The name “archaea” derives from the Greek word “arkhaios,” meaning ancient or primitive.

HalobacteriaUnfortunately, it seems that Brian’s exaggeration may actually form part of his point. Simply having “different biochemistry” is not why they are considered ancient – that wouldn’t make any sense. It would also seem that the “primitive” meaning may be be the true reason for the name, but I don’t actually know.

But though these bacteria defy so many norms of microbial life, they don’t appear ancient at all. Scientists observe them alive today, albeit in hostile places like deep sea toxic vents. Why call them ancient if scientists did not actually observe them billions of supposed years ago?

See – he really is asking “why are there still monkeys?” – just with a different group, and without the “evolved into humans” angle. Many of the problems are therefore the same. Why can’t they be both old and still in existence? The wikipedia article offers a discussion of the last question there.

In fact, Woese was familiar with at least two reasons why archaea could never have evolved. First, their fundamentally different biochemistry is fully formed and well designed. It consists of interdependent arrays of molecular machines with form-fitted protein parts. Nature alone couldn’t generate all of the miraculous biochemistry on which familiar oxygen-burning cells depend, just like nature alone couldn’t generate gasoline burning engines in cars. Therefore the discovery of bacteria that live on sulfur, for example, doubles both the biochemical barriers that evolution cannot hurdle and the credit that the Creator deserves for constructing them.

These assertions are cited to other ICR articles, which fail to properly back them up. This is therefore a typical “x couldn’t have evolved” argument, lacking any specifics.

Second, without microbes and other organisms with extreme diets, like those that eat oil or survive radiation and other extreme living conditions like saturated salt, the life-giving properties of earth’s atmosphere would not exist. Woese told The New York Times in 1996, “If microbial life were to disappear, that would be it — instant death for the planet.” That means Woese was familiar with the appearance of purpose in bacteria on a planetary level—they appear to have been created to maintain the grand earth systems that support plants and animals.

Arguments relating to “purpose” in this way I find interesting, though largely because they are flawed. My house is on a hill, a hill which supports it quite well, foundation-wise. Indeed, the hill also protects the house from the various dangers of valley existence, which range from floods to seiches and tsunamis, and also including liquefaction and a general lack of exercise. But it would be folly to argue that the hill has a ‘purpose’ to do these things, and especially that it was designed to do so and could not therefore have arisen through natural processes.

Despite these problems Thomas still concludes:

Revealing the amazing designs of archaeans’ unique ways of life is commendable, but naming them “archaean” merely reinforces unscientific evolutionary ideas. Unfortunately, Woese’s legacy includes twisting the facts of God’s creation to fit the falsehood of evolution.

Projection, much? Woese will already be spinning in his grave at a rate of knots. If creationists write articles like these after the deaths of scientists then perhaps there really is a hell for evolutionary biologists – albeit one not experienced by the people themselves.


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