Fearfully and Wonderfully Made – Dr. David Menton

The second talk was a biology talk by Dr. David Menton. The strategy is to give a really detailed talk about some organism or biological process, way more detail than any other public talk would. Make sure that the lecturer is the most knowledgeable person the audience will ever meet, so that when their friends say that no serious scientist believes in Creationism that is who they think of. Then interject periodically with some comment implying that a system this complex never could have evolved. (Dr. Menton’s favorite was “How’s dumb luck workin’ for ya?”)

He completely ignores that almost no scientist that actually studies these systems in detail has any trouble believing that they evolved, and knowing that they evolved in fact often enhances their understanding. We look at how the system differs between different species to gain an understanding of what is important to the function and what is not. If we want to examine a very similar system, we don’t think “God designed all of the species and the only reason we have similarities is that he had a tendency to reuse good designs” and start checking species at random. We take a closely related species.

I love these talks. They are in depth science talks on often fascinating subjects. And yes, they are as accurate as any secular talk on the same subject. They don’t just make stuff up. First of all, lying is a commandment, which they take very seriously. Secondly, they are aware that if they lie, and the audience goes out and looks for more information and discovers everything they were told is untrue, they are not going to win anyone over to their side. But more importantly, the presenters sincerely believe in Creationism. They are not fraudsters trying to sell you snake oil and run with your money. They are not trying to fool you, they are trying to show you what they honestly believe to be the truth. I have never looked for more information on a biology presentation at a creationist event and found the information to be incorrect. You simply don’t have to lie to make biology look incredibly complicated, especially to the uneducated public.

This particular talk was on embryology, and thus doubled as a prolife talk. The full presentation is available online. It doesn’t seem to have changed much, although he looks much younger in the video:

He starts out with that clear Biblical evidence that life begins at conception, Psalm 139:13:  “You knit me together in my mother’s womb”.

Now I generally try not to tell other people how they should read their holy books, and I obviously don’t think your holy book should have any effect on your political decisions anyway. But I really don’t get this one. Yarn is not a sock. And conception doesn’t actually take place in the womb. In fact I would be significantly more inclined to believe that life begins at conception ignoring the Bible than if I accepted it as an authority.

He goes through the process of fertilization, and actually defines the “moment of conception”, as a moment, rather than the usual “when the sperm meets the egg, and the DNA combines” implying that the “moment of conception” is actually about 36 hours long.

Dr. Menton defines the “moment of conception” to be at when the two pronuclei fuse. Unfortunately the human pronuclei don’t actually fuse, and the DNA doesn’t combine until after it replicates. I tried to pin him down on Sunday about exactly what stage of the process was critical but he didn’t seem that familiar with the details. (I doubt that you could find a retired secular anatomy professor that would be familiar with the details either, but he is giving a presentation on the topic).

Even if human pronuclei did fuse, his reason for choosing this point doesn’t make much sense to me:

“If we just keep our hands off at this point it will progress from this point”

That statement is true throughout the process of fertilization. In fact it is true from ejaculation. If nothing interferes, the process is continuous.

Furthermore, Dr. Menton only talks about twinning at the two cell stage in his presentation. Most human twins actually divide at the early blastocyst stage, and some even later. If the pronuclei meeting is what determines when a new human organism begins, when does the twin begin?

This was followed by an interesting quote:

“How do you know if someone is a sinner? You ask yourself ‘can they die?’  Because in Genesis it says death came into the world through sin.”

Therefore I concluded that Jesus was a sinner! And Satan was not! Good to know.

He also emphasized that Jesus went through all of these stages. But I’m curious about the first steps. Was there a God sperm? Did the Holy Spirit implant a male pronuclei directly into the egg? Does God have DNA? Is there a diploid 46-chromosome God genome from which the 23-chromosomes that went to Jesus was taken? How exactly did that process work?

Then he talked about Plan B, the morning after pill. He read the FDA statement that says it works up to 3 days and cannot stop a pregnancy that has already begun. He then said that this was a government lie, look it up on Web MD. (Always trust Web MD for medical advice over the FDA.)

His explanation was that sperm can get to a fallopian tube in 30 minutes, so how could the pill work to prevent fertilization after 3 days?

This confused me. After that entire in depth discussion of early embryology I don’t see how he couldn’t understand that the issue is more complicated. I think the actual problem here, which I noted repeatedly in Dr. Menton’s presentations, is that he doesn’t have a good understanding of probability. Things were either possible or impossible, there was no unlikely.

Yes, the fastest sperm could get to a fallopian tube is 30 minutes. Although capacitation, which he clearly understands because he mentions it in his presentation, generally takes a couple of hours. So realistically the earliest conception could possibly occur is a couple of hours after sex. If you have unprotected sex immediately after ovulating and the sperm race up there and undergo capacitation as fast as possible, Plan B will not work. That is why Plan B is not 100% effective. However most of the time sperm don’t travel at maximum speed, and then in the fallopian tube up to 3 days for an egg to show up. So Plan B can prevent most pregnancies by preventing ovulation, and it can work up to 3 days after sex, although it is less effective the longer you wait. We have pretty good evidence that this is the main way that Plan B prevents pregnancy.

Now the problem is that if you actually believe that a zygote is a person, and you believe that a woman taking an action to prevent that person from attaching to her for life support is murder (even though you could not compel her to donate blood to her newborn infant to save its life), then you don’t care if that is not the main way Plan B prevents pregnancy. You want to know if it ever prevents implantation. And the answer to that is way too complicated to discuss here.

Next he got into the details of the placenta, and showed some slides of placental tissue in uterine tissue. (I’m having trouble with language here. I can’t remember what language Dr. Menton actually used. My husband uses words like “invading”, which sounds terrible. But he is studying oncology, and his interest in the placenta is in how closely it resembles cancer. So when the cancer is described as invading, and the placental tissue is doing the same thing, you use the same words.)

He then stated that he would give the evolutionists everything else if they would just explain how transferrin could have evolved! Because transferrin is necessary to transfer iron across the placental barrier, and without it the fetus could not get iron and would die. So this incredibly complex molecule would have to appear, fully functioning, in a single generation in order for the species to survive.

Transferrin (in receptor)

The answer, of course, is that transferrin did not evolve to transfer iron across the placental barrier. Transferrin evolved long before placental mammals. It is used to regulate iron levels in biological fluids, and is present in pretty much everything with blood. If the protein was designed specifically to transport iron across the placental membrane, you would expect to only see it in placental mammals. In fact it is present across phyla, including in egg laying organisms like fruit flies and fish. And we have examples of less complex versions of transferrin-like proteins which are used for iron uptake from the environment in species like roundworms

The structure of transferrin does not have to be exact for it to bind to iron, in fact the structure varies slightly even within humans. And it varies even more between different organisms, and is more different for more distantly related organisms than for closely related ones. But if you put human transferrin into a fruitfly, it still works. This seems like a rather odd design choice to me. If the similarities between the species are largely explained by God reusing his good designs, why would he make a slightly different iron binding protein for each species when using the same one would have worked? I suppose if none are better than the others then the differences could just be corruptions of the original perfect transferrin design caused by random mutation due to sin. But if they were all originally the same 6000 years ago, why don’t the differences between the kinds vary randomly? Why did human transferrin and mouse transferrin drift in generally the same direction, while fruit flies and fish took a different turn?

Overall the presentation was interesting and almost overwhelmingly detailed (and my husband studies pre-implantation embryology)! But whenever he was making a point he switched to drastic oversimplification. Still, I found it very enjoyable, and I have to support bringing science to an audience that would not otherwise have gone to a science lecture.


Moment of Conception

Mad Scientist: I am going to commit the world’s earliest murder to get into the Evil Genius Book of World Records!

Biologist: Huh?

Mad Scientist: I hold here a petri dish containing a single human egg, an eye dropper containing a single capacitated human spermatozoon, and a bottle of ethanol. I’ve been reading this pro life website that says that life begins at the moment of conception, because it is the moment when a new, genetically distinct human being is formed, and there is really no other place during pregnancy to draw the line. I will now combine the egg and the sperm in the petri dish. Then I will zap the cell with this ray gun, destroying the cell and committing the world’s earliest murder!


Biologist: Wait! The sperm has only made contact with the outer coating of the egg. If there was more than one sperm they would now be racing to dissolve the coating. Obviously the moment of conception cannot have occurred yet!

Mad Scientist: Well how long does that take?

Biologist: About 20 minutes.

Mad Scientist: I’m going for a coffee break.


Biologist: Wait! The sperm is physically inside the egg, but its DNA is still separate. Nothing about the DNA has changed. And the female DNA in the egg is still diploid. The half that will combine with the sperm hasn’t even separated yet. Errors in that process could still happen to determine whether the embryo has a chromosomal abnormality like Down’s Syndrome. How can that be the moment of conception?

Mad Scientist: Sigh. What happens now?

Biologist: The female DNA in the egg finishes splitting, and the DNA that will form the embryo becomes the female pronucleus. Then the DNA from the sperm will turn into the male pronucleus.

penetration copy

Mad Scientist: OK, but they are still separate. When will they meet?

Biologist: 12 to 24 hours.

Mad Scientist: Wake me up when this moment is over.


Mad Scientist: OK, the pronuclei are close together. Now what?
together copy

Biologist: The envelopes of the two pronuclei dissolve…

Mad Scientist: Yes…

Biologist: And the chromosomes duplicate…
division copy

Mad Scientist: OK…

Biologist: And the cell splits into two cells.
twocell copy

Mad Scientist: When did the DNA combine?

Biologist: Soon.

Mad Scientist: WHAT? Why didn’t the DNA combine before it duplicated?

Biologist: Because it would just have to separate again in order to duplicate. Most mammals, including humans, skip that step, and don’t have diploid DNA until after the first cell division.

Mad Scientist: But obviously the Moment of Conception has to occur before there are two cells! The prolife website says that the process of development is controlled entirely by the embryo’s DNA. How can it be controlling development if it hasn’t even combined yet?

Biologist: It’s not. They are correct that no input from the mother is required for this process, which should be obvious because you are using a petri dish. But the first 2-3 divisions were preprogrammed by the mother’s DNA when the egg was formed. They are a chemical reaction that occurs independent of the DNA. They can be induced chemically without sperm at all.

Mad Scientist: But when was the moment of conception? It seemed like a continuous process!

Biologist: Yes. That’s why embryology textbooks refer to the “process of conception” not the “moment of conception.”