Bacteria

Whilst bacteria are only microscopic single cell organisms, they are the most numerous and widespread of all  organisms – in fact it is said that there are more bacteria in a handful of soil than the total  number of people that  have ever lived! And yet we see the creative genius of our1 Father even at this incredibly minute level… the genius which  exists at every level –  from the universe, so expansive we can’t comprehend its laws and dimensions, to the finely tuned  detonation device housed in the Bombardier Beetle (considered in the last issue), to those things we have only recently been able to view with the aid of powerful magnification tools.

All these things are the product of a Divine mind that loves to design and create, to interest and enthral His creation… but they are not only for us! Many, in fact the overwhelming majority of  spectacular creative miracles locked up in Creation, will never be unveiled this side of the kingdom – still undisclosed, existing 2only for the pleasure of the great Designer General. With this in mind, as man tinkers on the edges, scientific examination of the depths of the wonders of what God has created is seen to be progressing at a painfully slow pace, and the deeper they delve, the greater the minefields of  untapped knowledge they reveal!

Should not mere man then content himself to close forever Darwin’s door of atheism and lift his gaze to the boundless heavens, humbly and joyfully to acclaim, “O Lord, how manifold [numerous] are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches”? (Psa 104:24).

The bacterial flagella

Bacteria are motile – self-propelled organisms. Protruding from their surfaces are two hair-like  structures – flagella, at their rear, by which they are  propelled, and much shorter and more numerous pili, which cover their surfaces and allow for attachment to other objects (see figure 1).

3It is these flagella we want to focus on. Michael Behe is professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in the USA. Alongside other scientists he has used the bacterial flagellum as a centre-point of his argument for the evidence of intelligence and design in the natural world. He has likened the bacterial flagellum to an outboard motor, having all the components of such a system: a rotor, a stator, bushing, a universal joint and a propeller (see Figure  2). All this assembly is locked into the cell wall of  the bacteria (see Figure 3).

One of the most phenomenal aspects of the flagellum is its capacity to rotate at speeds of up to 100,000 rpm! Not only this, but when a change i n d i r e c t i o n i s required, this same tail can stop and change direction to rotate at the same speed in the opposite direction in a quarter turn! Compare this amazing unit to the engines in Formula 1 racing cars which peak at less than 20,000 rpm, or the average vehicle which likes to be brought to a standstill before any change of direction is possible – a comparatively arduous procedure it seems!

Irreducible complexity

To appreciate the amazing speed at which this organism can rotate its flagellum is one thing. To attempt to explain how this propeller possibly evolved is another. This system has forty components by which it functions. These components must all be present for the flagellum to function, forming a system that is ‘irreducibly complex’. Remove any single part and the flagella does not work. In a theory called “co-option” it has been proposed that these forty parts may have been borrowed from other previously existing systems. However this convenient explanation is thwarted by an understanding that whilst ten of the molecular components are common to other molecular machines, the remaining thirty are unique to the bacterial flagella. Why would these thirty components continue to materialise over millions of years, each having no useful purpose until all 40 existed together in the bacterial flagella?

No code, no go!

In fact, each of these forty parts is not only essential, but must be assembled in the correct order if they are to function correctly, and this requires a precise list of genetic ‘instructions’ to control this procedure! The full assembly manual (a complex DNA sequence), constructed by combinations of A-C-T-G base or nucleotide molecules (genetic ‘letters’) must all be there to encode the assembly instructions before anything can be put together. Where did these instructions come from? How did they know to bring these forty essential components together, and in what order to construct the flagellum’s apparatus?

‘Natural Selection’ and ‘Survival of the Fittest’?

Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection is of no benefit for such a system. Everything is against the evolution of this phenomenal unit. Imagine an immobile bacterial cell, even one that had grown a flagellum tail but which had not yet developed the ability to rotate this tail for propulsion! How vulnerable would it lie? And if bacteria had to wait for slow incremental changes over millions of years before their animation evolved, how would these microorganisms compete? Natural selection would soon select against such an impediment to the cell’s activities!

In his Origin of Species, Charles Darwin wrote the following: “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.” The flagellum of microscopic bacterium is clearly one such organ.

Size does matter!

Oh, one small point. The size. A bacterial cell typically measures between 1–5 micrometer or micron (1–5μm). That is, 200–1000 bacteria headto- tail would make up 1 millimetre! (see figure 4) And the flagellum itself may measure about half of this length. The intricacy involved in building such a high-tech and complex system boggles the mind, and yet there are viruses, minerals and elements all with their peculiar miraculous properties all far smaller in size even than bacteria! What infinite wisdom God possesses!

‘Science falsely so called’

There can be nothing worthy of commendation in the pursuit of oblique explanations for the existence of all the wonders of Creation we consciously or otherwise live amongst every moment of every day. Bacteria are entirely ubiquitous, minuscule, invisible to our view and yet how complex! Even the most superficial understanding of bacterial function is enough to end any debate concerning their origin. It is the wisdom of God to conceal. It is our wisdom to assent that if God is in control of such pervasive minutia, then our lives, health, future are absolutely within His compass. In that confidence then, let us “always abound in the work of the Lord for as much as we know that our labour is not in vain in the Lord”.

“Serve Yahweh with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psa 2:11)

References

Unlocking the Mystery of Life, DVD produced by Illustra  Media, Dir: Lad Allen

Campbell, N.A. (1993), Biology (3rd edition), Benjamin-  Cummings Pub Co

Michael J Behe (2006), Darwin’s Black Box, (10th  edition), Free Press

Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882), Origin of Species,  The Harvard Classics.

Pictures

Cell pili and flagellum – Biology p121 (Figure 1)

Flagellum motor – Darwin’s Black Box p71 (Figure 2)

Flagellum attachment – Biology p518 (Figure 3)

Pin head – Biology p515 (Figure 4)