What Gets You Going?

Connecting Molecular Motors and Movement to Materialism and Motivation

by Calvin Smith on September 19, 2022
Featured in Calvin Smith Blog
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For me, there’s nothing quite like the smell of coffee brewing in the morning. To be honest, I’ve long given up on the idea that it will somehow give me a great boost of energy or keep my mind alert and razor sharp. It’s more like liquid comfort food at this point, just part of my daily routine—but one that gets me up and keeps me going throughout the day.

However, what’s truly amazing is what actually does provide the energy we need to function on a day-to-day basis. Something that lies within our cells and produces an important molecule found in all life forms which provides the vitality or “fuel” living things need—a powerful substance called ATP.

How Important Is ATP?

Firstly, before we take a look at what produces ATP, we should probably know what ATP is and just how important it is for life. ATP stands for Adenosine Triphosphate, which is a high energy compound considered to be the universal life currency of biological energy.

Because having large amounts of free energy inside your cells would create excessive heat and eventually destroy them, cells don’t store substantial amounts of free energy. So, energy through ATP is an effective solution as it enables cells to store energy safely in small “packets” and release the energy “as needed.”

As a simple analogy, think of an ATP molecule like the energy bar you wolf down when you need a quick pick-me-up. It’s not a huge meal that would last you a long time but more of a timely treat so you can keep on trucking.

So, when your body needs to perform functions—for example, your brain telling your body to catch your pencil from rolling off the desk or to swat the fly that’s buzzing around your head—your body provides the needed energy to perform the task (nerve impulse propagation, intra- and extracellular signaling, muscle contraction, etc.) through the use of ATP.

But ATP isn’t only used in what might be considered more mundane tasks, such as scratching your head or taking a walk. It is integral in providing energy for such things as the synthesis of your DNA and helping maintain efficient functioning of your chromosomes.

ATP also plays a critical role in maintaining your cells’ very structure by facilitating the assembly of the cytoskeletal components, which, as it sounds, is basically the framework or skeleton of each individual cell—a network of protein filaments and microtubules in the cytoplasm that controls the cell shape, maintains intracellular organization, and is involved in cell movement.

And luckily (for me anyway), we don’t have to pay attention to any of this mind-blowingly sophisticated coordination of processes that are constantly going on inside us, because it all happens automatically.

However, all these ongoing processes (as well as several other associated reactions) create a high demand for ATP in your body. So, what’s producing all of those high-impact “energy packets” so-to-speak?

The ATP Synthase Motor

Well, if you were able to shrink down in size on the order of billionths of a meter and travel around inside the cells of someone’s body, one of the things you would see would be trillions of tiny engines spinning around spitting out ATP molecules with astounding speed and proficiency.

As fantastic as it sounds, it turns out ATP production in most living things is because of little rotary motors in the membrane of the cell’s powerhouse (called the mitochondria), and they are one of the most efficient engines ever discovered.

Indeed, no less than Lubert Stryer, the Emeritus Professor of Cell Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine with over four decades of study in biochemistry, said the ATP Synthase motor appeared to operate near 100% efficiency.1

Here’s a quick rundown as to how a scientist would likely explain this motor and its function in a clinical fashion: ATP synthase is a 20-nanometer in height molecular motor (one nanometer is one thousand-millionth of a meter) that turns in response to incoming protons (at well over 1000 rpm). Rotation of the motor converts adenosine diphosphate (or ADP molecules) into Adenosine Tri Phosphate (ATP molecules), the cell’s fuel.

However, their obvious amazement at the nanotechnology they are observing within living things is revealed in rather “gushing” quotes (for scientists anyway) from those doing research on these motors.

Rather than starting from scratch to invent . . . [a] nano-motor, scientists and engineers at the University of Michigan are looking at these self-assembled, ultra-efficient, incredibly small, natural motors that exist all around us and within us. The blueprints and operating instructions for them are contained within DNA.

“These things are machines!” says Michael Mayer, an assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering. “It would be amazing to figure out how to make them.”2

Now, although some anaerobic bacteria don’t use ATP synthase to manufacture ATP, they do have ATP synthase motors and use them to pump protons out of their cytoplasm to maintain pH balance instead; otherwise, they’d die. So, ATP synthase motors are a requirement for all known life forms. As the Biology Dictionary says,

ATP synthase is found in all lifeforms and powers all cellular activities. . . . Across all forms of life, ATP synthase has basically the same structure and function. Therefore, it is thought to have evolved early on in the evolution of life, and would have been found in the last common ancestor of all life on Earth.3

So, what’s the big takeaway here? It’s this: the so-called simplest living things we’ve ever observed have this incredible level of technological biological complexity, so there’s no such thing as a “simple living thing.”

From what we’ve observed, these motors have been around since life began. You can believe there must have been something “simpler” before they existed, but you’d believe it on faith—not observable fact.

Motors Inside Life—What’s the Big Deal?

Now, in a world where naturalistic explanations for everything are taught and promoted throughout our education system and media (i.e., the story of evolution as the supposed explanation for everything), many today will look at discoveries like this and say something equivalent to, “wow, that’s really cool,” but won’t realize the full implication of what such evidence actually reveals.

The Bible describes it this way,

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Scripture makes it clear—such evidence is proof of our Creator. Yet people have been so conditioned to view everything found in nature materialistically, that most simply shrug off such incredibly sophisticated designs as simply being brought about through millions of years of evolution rather than truly comprehending what is staring them plainly in the face!

It’s as if there’s a disconnect in their reactions between last Tuesday when they visited their brother-in-law, drooling over his 1970 Barracuda with a 440 six-pack and marveling at its amazing intricacy and architecture, then later on in the day watching a program on Discovery Channel featuring magnificently designed creatures with similar component parts (gears, motors, etc., but at a far-more sophisticated microscopic level) and simply shrugging it off as a product of random, chance processes.

Such is the power of authority figures repeating the story of evolution over and over again in lockstep—people become convinced of the grand narrative without truly thinking it through critically. However, it wasn’t always this way, even for the materialists themselves.

Way Back When

For example, back in 1949, our ability to see what was going on inside cells was severely limited in comparison to what our technology reveals today, and a famous British evolutionist (and communist) J. B. S. Haldane was bold enough to provide a falsifying criterion for the story of evolution.

Because he rightly understood that naturalistic processes (by definition, having no mind behind them) have no predictive or “learning” ability, he claimed that evolution could never produce

[V]arious mechanisms, such as the wheel and magnet, which would be useless till fairly perfect.4

However, today we know that living things not only make use of exactly what he said evolutionary processes could never produce, but they have far more complex mechanisms than Haldane would ever have dreamt.

More Than Could Be Imagined

For example, many bacteria are powered by the equivalent of a real electrical outboard motor, comprised of a stator, rotor, drive shaft, and bushing that guides the driveshaft out through the cell wall. Their driveshaft connects to a long, whip-like filament that spins and enables the bacteria to swim around. One such bacterial motor has been described this way.

The flagellum is one of nature’s smallest and most powerful motors—ones like those produced by B. subtilis can rotate more than 200 times per second.5

Comparing what we see in nature to our modern technology is not an overreach, as these bacterial motors even have a clutch like modern vehicles do, and researchers make the same inferences.

We think it’s pretty cool that evolving bacteria and human engineers arrived at a similar solution to the same problem: How do you temporarily stop a motor once it gets going?6

As for Haldane’s reference to evolution being incapable of producing magnets, it has been discovered that not just one but several creatures (fish, ants, turtles, birds, etc.) are in fact known for using magnetic sensors for navigation, so that’s been satisfied as well.

On top of that, we now know some living things (such as the plant hopper—Issus coleoptratus) even have interconnecting toothed gears that allow them to jump from plant to plant. And again, scientists can’t help but make reference to the similarities between the technology found in living things (which they refer to as being the result of natural processes) and the mechanisms known to have been designed by highly intelligent people.

The gears in the Issus hind-leg bear remarkable engineering resemblance to those found on every bicycle and inside every car gear-box. Each gear tooth has a rounded corner at the point it connects to the gear strip; a feature identical to human-made gears such as bike gears.7

Evolution—Intelligent?

When you add up these more recent discoveries in living things—such as the miniature biological “robots” called kinesin, data-compression within DNA, and dazzling displays of engineering seen such as the ubiquitous ATP synthase motor inside cells—it’s becoming harder and harder for naturalists to avoid the obvious conclusion. These features were designed by a Mastermind. They are not the result of random processes.

However, we must recognize that for many, acknowledging God is simply not allowable in their worldview, and so we are now seeing truly remarkable comments such as the following appear in so-called scientific papers to explain the astonishing design we observe in God’s creation.

Evolution may be more intelligent than we thought . . . evolution is able to learn from previous experience, which could provide a better explanation of how evolution by natural selection produces such apparently intelligent designs. . . .

If evolution can learn from experience, and thus improve its own ability to evolve over time, this can demystify the awesomeness of the designs that evolution produces. Natural selection can accumulate knowledge that enables it to evolve smarter. That's exciting because it explains why biological design appears to be so intelligent.8

It’s About God, Not Science

Such foolishness, cloaked in scientific jargon, reveals the oft hidden, true nature of the creation/evolution debate. Ultimately, for many, belief in the story of evolution is simply an attempt to overthrow the truth that God exists, that he created us and therefore owns us and that we are responsible to him.

To some, it doesn’t matter how high the bar is set or whether it’s been met. Haldane’s criterion has not simply been met, it’s been proverbially blown out of the water! And yet many will continue to blindly believe in the story of evolution, regardless of—in fact, despite—what science reveals.

The following comment from one of the world’s leading evolutionary biologists, Professor Richard Lewontin, a geneticist (and self-proclaimed Marxist), clearly illustrates this implicit philosophical bias against Genesis creation—regardless of whether or not the facts support it.

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.9

God Not Allowed

And there you have it. What Lewontin is describing is called methodological naturalism. It is an ideology that is virtually impervious to the consideration of the truth of God’s existence and his Word.

For those with their hearts hardened toward the Lord, it seems it doesn’t matter what science reveals. “There is no God” is the mantra driving this kind of mentality that leads to such absurd considerations and declarations such as evolution (a no-mind process) somehow having mental abilities, forethought, planning and “learning capacity,” in order to account for the design seen in nature, without allowing for a Designer behind it all.

And such hardening of their hearts is not without consequences. Indeed, Romans 1:18–19 declares,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

It should be noted that not all who believe in the story of evolution are as dogmatic, and some are open-minded enough to examine the facts and consider other views. But many are driven by a foregone conclusion.

What Gets You Going?

The American poet Louise Bogan once wrote the profound statement,

The Initial Mystery that attends any journey is: how did the traveler reach his starting point in the first place?10

Christians should be highly suspicious of a supposed scientific theory (the story of evolution) that is rooted in such naturalistic philosophy and note that when science “speaks against their conclusions,” its proponents will discard “the evidence” and simply double down on their ideological underpinnings instead.

And that often reveals what the motivation behind their interpretation of facts comes from and which Scripture reveals,

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)

Often times, that was the starting point of where their long quest to disprove God began and ended.

Footnotes

  1. L. Stryer, “The World’s Smallest Molecular Motor: Rotational Catalysis,” Biochemistry 18.4.3.
  2. Karl L. Bates, “Molecular Motors,” Michigan Today, accessed September 15, 2022, http://web.archive.org/web/20130404111650/http://michigantoday.umich.edu/04/Fall04/story.html?molecular.
  3. “ATP Synthase,” Biology Dictionary, last updated January 28, 2020, https://biologydictionary.net/atp-synthase/.
  4. Douglas Dewar, Is Evolution a Myth? A Debate between D. Dewar and L. M. Davies vs. J. B. S. Haldane (London: Watts & Co. Ltd/Paternoster Press, 1949), 90.
  5. “Microscopic ‘Clutch’ Puts Flagellum in Neutral,” Phys.org, June 19, 2008, https://phys.org/news/2008-06-microscopic-clutch-flagellum-neutral.html.
  6. “Microscopic ‘Clutch.’”
  7. “Functioning ‘Mechanical Gears’ Seen in Nature for First Time,” University of Cambridge, September 12, 2013, https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/functioning-mechanical-gears-seen-in-nature-for-the-first-time.
  8. “Is evolution more intelligent than we thought?” University of Southampton, December 18, 2015, https://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2015/12/evolution-learning-theory-study.page.
  9. Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review, January 9, 1997, 31, https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1997/01/09/billions-and-billions-of-demons/.
  10. Louise Bogan, Journey Around My Room (New York: Viking Press, November 17, 1980).

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