Originally published in Creation 17, no 3 (June 1995): 28-30.
Q & A with Dr. Eric Norman
Q:Dr Norman, what is the specific biomedical research area in which you have been labelled a groundbreaking pioneer?
A:It has to do with vitamin B12. Along with co-workers at the University of Cincinnati, I developed a highly accurate, simple urine test for identifying an early deficiency in this vitamin.
Why is B12 deficiency serious?
It can lead to anemia (called 'pernicious anemia'). It can also cause problems with the nervous system. These include walking difficulties due to spinal cord degeneration, and memory loss which is indistinguishable from early Alzheimer's. The person can become confined to a wheelchair or permanently demented. However, if it is treated early with B12 injections, these conditions can reverse. If not treated in time, the changes can be permanent.
What causes B12 deficiency?
Usually it is not from a poor diet. As a person ages, the stomach produces less of the protein which carries B12 into the body. Thus, even though a person eats a perfectly normal diet, the vitamin B12 cannot be absorbed. Of course, since B12 is found only in foods from animals, strict vegetarians are also at risk. It has been known that vitamin B12 is needed to change methylmalonic acid (MMA) to succinic acid. With low B12 levels, this conversion is blocked, so MMA builds up in the body. Testing for MMA in a urine sample using gas chromatography mass spectrometry is the best way to detect vitamin B12 deficiency.
Is there evidence that this problem has been seriously overlooked? For instance, that people in nursing homes labelled as having the untreatable Alzheimer's brain degeneration actually had this treatable B12 deficiency?
Yes. Traditionally doctors have looked for anemia; when there was none, they did not suspect B12 deficiency. However, research shows people can have neurologic and psychologic problems without having anemia. In my studies of hospital patients with diagnosed B12 deficiency, 20 per cent had no anemia. Many had severe neurologic problems; they just had not been diagnosed correctly because they did not have anemia.
Has there been any testing on the general population?
As part of my research, hundreds of people over age 65 were tested. I found that about five out of every 100 had a B12 deficiency without any evidence of anemia. This research was partly funded with a grant from the National Institutes of Health. This work also showed that about 49 per cent of the people identified as having a definite B12 deficiency with the MMA test had a normal or low-normal blood test for B12. This means that blood tests for vitamin B12 are not accurate enough for screening.
It seems that with proper screening in that age group, many thousands of people can be rescued from being demented, crippled, or both. Are others beginning to pick up on this?
Yes, a number of other researchers have now reproduced what I have done. Some have measured MMA in the blood and are coming up with the same pattern of results. At a recent national convention on the subject, MMA testing was mentioned as the biggest advance in this area in recent years. Now some doctors are screening their patients to identify B12 deficiency early, when it can be corrected.
That's wonderful. How did your belief in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord influence your research?
I received Jesus as my Lord and Saviour when I was 11. However, in my late twenties I began to really study the Bible and realized that God's entire Word was trustworthy. I believe as I have followed Christ, He has guided my life, including my research. One of my favourite Bible verses is Proverbs 3:6. ['In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.']
What about evolution?
As I studied the complexity of life processes and biomolecules, I saw there were really no facts at all for evolution.In graduate school, I had an open mind about it. People presented evolution as fact, and I thought, 'Can you show me? Not just statements, but from real evidence?' As I studied the complexity of life processes and biomolecules, I saw there were really no facts at all for evolution.
Dr Norman, didn't you work on DNA for your Master's degree?
Yes, I did chemical synthesis on parts of the DNA molecule. These sub-units, the nucleotides and nucleosides, have bases out the side that act like 'letters' carrying genetic information. I worked many long months connecting just three of these bases.
But everyone is told that this complex molecule needed for life, with millions of bases in the proper order, just 'happened'.
Actually, I found that to connect these DNA 'letters' together correctly, a protective group must be attached on parts of the molecule to prevent wrong connections. A catalyst is also needed as a condensing agent, and the chemical reaction must take place in a completely water-free environment. If the flask is left open even momentarily, the humidity in the air would prevent the reaction. So I thought, I am connecting only three bases together. How could DNA randomly form out in an ocean or pond? What about all the proteins, sugars, and lipids also needed for life? The DNA in a 'simple' bacterium carries so many 'letters' in sequence that, if you typed it out, it would fill about 2,000 ordinary pages. One human cell would take about a million pages.
So you came to your creation belief experimentally, in a sense?
Yes. I did not read any specific creation literature. Evolution is just unscientific. It violates the laws of chemistry including the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the laws of probability, and information theory.
Anti-creationists commonly charge creationists with misusing the Second Law of Thermodynamics, saying that an 'open system' solves the problem.
Well, if you put a drop of dye in a swimming pool, that's pretty open, but the molecules are going to diffuse out, not collect together. Systems tend to move into states of greater disorganization. The complex DNA molecules I was working with have a tendency to break down into less complex forms. Very hard, directed work is required to get even the simple parts to form in a particular order. Random processes just won't do it. Chemical synthesis is a very exact science. Living things make these chemicals because they carry intelligently designed programs which direct all the complicated machinery needed.
So an open system and energy doesn't solve the problem for the evolutionist? You need to have all this programmed machinery already there?
In fact, a number of scientists are now acknowledging this and admitting that there must be an undiscovered scientific law that caused simple molecules to organize themselves into life. But they don't know how.
What about six-day creation versus long-age creation like Rossism?
Hebrew professors say the word 'day' in its context in Genesis can mean only a 24-hour day. Also, the Genesis account is in harmony with other Bible passages. I believe what God tells me and there is nothing in my understanding of science that convinces me otherwise. In evaluating all the models, the six-day, global-flood model, which is what the Bible plainly teaches, is the only one that really holds up.
Some would be surprised that scientists like yourself who have made a name in their field can believe in creation and the Bible.
Actually, I know of quite a number of scientists in various fields who are solidly creationist, although they are not out there giving talks at seminars or submitting papers on it. I think it is important to get it into the open and rationally discuss the existence of a creation model. I think that if the facts are brought out, more and more people will fall into the creation camp because that is where the evidence lies.
Why do most educated people believe in evolution?
I think it is because they have been told that 'most educated people believe in evolution'. They have rarely investigated the facts. That is why I think the Creation Science Foundation, the Answers in Genesis ministry, and Creation magazine are so beneficial and important.