Design and Evolution

The year 1859 is significant in the story of life. It was the year the British scientist Charles Darwin published a book, answering one of the greatest questions of all time—Where did life come from?

Entitled, “On the Origin of Species,” his book proposed that all living creatures may have descended from a single cell or organism that evolved through time. By means of natural selection, the organism acquired new traits and lost others to be better suited for its environment. In the end, the fittest of the lot survived.

Today, as the world celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Origin’s publication, its critics are more vocal than ever. More significantly, however, they are coming not simply from religious institutions but from within the academe, even from biologists themselves.

“Evolution per se needs a lot of evidence to convince me,” Dr. Anacleto Argayosa Jr. said, his voice in a crescendo as he explained.

“In terms of life coming from inanimate objects, the odds are basically zero. That everything came from chance and given enough time became plants and animals… does not make sense to me,” the 42-year-old biology professor from the University of the Philippines (UP) said bluntly.

The Biology Teacher

Dr. Argayosa has been teaching in UP-Diliman for the past 16 years, handling, among others General Education (GE) and Higher Biology subjects.

Though his institute did not give him the specific course on evolution, the light-mannered professor shares his views to an auditorium packed with students taking up Math-Science and Technology (MST) GE subjects.

In class, he teaches both evolution and an alternative view which, in recent years, has been called many names including the Intelligent Design Theory and Creation Science. Different from other professors, Dr. Argayosa presents the arguments of the alternative view not simply from a religious perspective. Instead, he includes recent scientific breakthroughs that support the theory.

“It is mandated in the curriculum that we teach the origin of life so I teach both. And I think it’s good for students to also hear what they can’t find in ordinary literatures…I consider them as models, and because we can’t replicate them in the lab why not present both as possible explanations?,” he argued.

Natural Science 2 (Earth Science and Biology) is among the GE subjects Dr. Argayosa handles, usually with a teaching fellow from the UP Institute of Geology. At least a hundred students from different colleges and year levels take the GE every semester.

At the College of Science auditorium, he would open the course with the controversial debate on the origin of life, and immediately gets mixed reactions from his students. Not once did he get negative feedbacks from atheists enrolled in his class. He said some would argue with him while others just walk out of the room.

But there are also students who appreciate the two-pronged approach the professor uses in teaching the origin of life.

“Because he presented both [creation and evolution] and was neutral in handling them, I felt balance in the way he taught the subject,” Arnold Sanchez, a graduating Broadcast Communication student said.

Sanchez added that he liked how the professor attempted to reconcile faith and science by using the latter to explain a number of Biblical passages presented in class.

Another student, Carl Cedric Celera from the College of Home Economics, said he was impressed with the new ideas from Dr. Argayosa’s class. He added that the lecture on the origin of life was a fresh take from the conventional Darwinian perspective.

A Christian and a Biologist

Earning his undergraduate degree in Biology from a Catholic university, the University of Sto. Tomas, Dr. Argayosa does not deny that he is a Protestant Christian. But unlike Fundamentalists who threatened evolutionists with condemnation and hellfire, the professor said Biology itself showed him the flaws of Darwin’s theory.

“If you crack a cell,” Dr. Argayosa said, his hands trying to visually represent a cell, “and you extract its DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) or its protein , isolate the protein, purify it and check its function, you will soon realize a pattern that makes things work.”

He added, “Honestly, when you crack a cell, you know that by chance it will not become another cell. When you crack a cell and leave it behind it’s going to decompose. So I don’t believe in chance.”

Dr. Argayosa drives his point further through his research on infectious diseases and genetic disorders. He said his study shows that changes and abnormalities in genes confuse the body, causing genetic diseases, even cancer.

This runs against the idea that organisms change in order to adapt to their environment. He said the genetic mutations or changes do not make “better humans,” instead, they cause diseases.

“Genes that control cell growth, repair DNA damage, those that allow the cell to multiply, and stop cells from growing—if there’s a mutation in these genes, it can lead to cancer. So that observation gives you some glimpse that there might be a right order and this damage is causing these diseases,” he said.

When the professor talked about the “right order” he said the “deeper mechanism” which Physicists, Chemists and Biologists have so long sought to understand but failed keeps the world’s “living systems” alive.

“if you study Biology and you study it seriously—how it works—it would be no surprise that you begin to ascribe to a Creator because of how complex life is,” he paused with a smile in his face before nodding and saying, “Truly.”

Dr. Argayosa added that his consideration of creation and suspicion of evolution allowed him to advance his research on a fish protein as a possible immunity booster. Evolutionary thought would have ruled out the fish protein because it belonged to a supposedly “less complex” organism.

Complexity, however, is appreciated in Creation as a “stamp of design,” thus giving scientists who ascribe to it better insight on complex natural processes, functions and structures, he said.

This idea is shared by proponents of the Intelligent Design Theory and even elevates it into the concept of “irreducible complexity.” That is, certain biological structures are too complex to have evolved from a less complicated predecessor. The eye is the most cited example. Scientists of Intelligent Design say the biochemical reactions that allow the eye to function cannot be traced to simpler antecedents.

Keep on telling your story

In the end, Dr. Argayosa concedes that in the academe, the way you tell your story makes a difference. When a professor chooses to present the origin of life through evolution, he brings with it all the implications of the theory. The heaviest, perhaps, is the denial of God.

On the other hand, when professors choose to present the story through Creation, they may have to stand up against accusations of promoting pseudo-science, which is also a legitimate argument. But, at the same time, they also promote underlying claims of the theory like the “purpose of existence.”

“If you subscribe to creation, it’s very sensible for me to walk around the earth viewing myself as its steward. That I should take care of it and not abuse it for I am commanded by my Designer,” he said.

150 years after Darwin’s book, the debate rages on. For Dr. Argayosa, however, the more he teaches both perspectives, the more he becomes true to science. He says, science, after all, is in pursuit of truth.
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  1. I know Dr. Argayosa. He used to speak in Yakal. But I missed the opportunity to attend his class. Sayang.