The origin of life

I have been having a lot of fun debating the origin of life over at Not PC. Nothing like a bit of good scientific debate to provide a break from my normal science!

Most people assume that life originated in some “primordial soup” way back in the distant past. But this doesn’t work scientifically.

Say we assume that by some fantastic miracle, we got a puddle on the early earth that contained all the building blocks of life – DNA, RNA, protein, lipids etc. We can replicate this by taking a plant and putting it through a blender.

If we leave our blended plant for a while, will we get life forming in this soup? No, the chemicals in it will all break down over time following the laws of chemistry and thermodynamics.

If we put this soup in the sun for a while, giving it the input of energy, will we get life? No, the chemicals will just break down faster. The added energy simply speeds up the processes that must happen. We will get cooked soup. If we are lucky it may be tasty.

On the other hand, if we put the plant in the sun – exactly the same molecules, just organised into a complex structure – it will use the same energy through photosynthesis to grow.

So with a pre-organised system such as the plant, the energy input from the sun can be harnessed to create further order. However the disorganised soup will only become less ordered. There is no known scientific way to get over the hurdle from disorganised soup to organised living tissue, even if you did get a soup of all the right chemicals – which is in itself a chemical impossibility.

But when you present this to an atheist, they generally say something like this:

I’m not sure you wouldn’t get life if you left your blender long enough. Obviously, over the kind of time scales that humans are comfortable with, it’s unlikely that the plant will grow back out of its constituent molecules. However, we don’t know what might happen over hundreds of millions of years, with the addition of random other dust, lightning strikes, etc.

Ultimately, the atheist just ends up having faith. Despite all we know about chemistry and thermodynamics, which clearly states that the molecules in that soup would break down over time (they would actually react with each other and break each other down by the way), they are willing to disregard science and believe that somehow, something happened that science says is completely impossible. Just like in Frankenstein, the lightning hits and bang – the soup comes to life!

That is not rational, scientific logic. That is faith.

Science clearly shows life cannot come from non-life. Louis Pasteur showed this over a century ago, and the more we understand about biochemistry the more his early logic is confirmed. You can therefore conclude scientifically that life must come from life, and therefore the life we have today must have originated from another life.

This is rational. This is logical. This is consistent with the science.

The Christian will then believe through faith that original life was God. But acceptance of God or Christianity is not part of the argument at all, you don’t have to be religious to see that life only comes from life. You may become religious after you realise it though! 🙂

The atheist on the other hand must have faith that our current science is COMPLETELY WRONG! They are not following the science, but rejecting it in favour of some fairytale they hope will be shown in future to be true. All so they can believe in their presupposition that there is no God.

That is a leap of faith I am unwilling to take.

Vatican hosting conference on Evolution

Ok, I’m not officially here, but I couldn’t let this one pass! I had gained the impression that Pope Benedict was more conservative than his predecessor (who stated evolution was “more than just a theory”), but this throws that idea out the window.

I would have no problem with the Vatican hosting a conference that was genuinely “A critical appraisal” of Darwinism, looking at it from both perspectives and discussing the science behind it and how it relates to Christianity. But that is not how they are approaching the issue. From the Vatican News Service:

Saverio Forastiero:

“…biological evolution – which is assumed and discussed as a fact beyond all reasonable doubt…”

Fr. Tanzella-Nitti:

“…from the perspective of Christian theology, biological evolution and creation are by no means mutually exclusive.”

Now the idea that evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive is a valid opinion to hold. But when such views are being stated by people organising the conference, who should be approaching the issue from an unbiased perspective and allowing both sides of the story to be debated, it shows the tone of the conference.

The topic of the conference:

Fr. Leclerc explained that the congress will be divided into nine sessions, focusing on “the essential facts upon which the theory of evolution rests, facts associated with palaeontology and molecular biology; … the scientific study of the mechanisms of evolution, … and what science has to say about the origin of human beings”. Attention will also be given to “the great anthropological questions concerning evolution, … and the rational implications of the theory for the epistemological and metaphysical fields and for the philosophy of nature”. Finally, he said, “there will be two theological sessions to study evolution from the point of view of Christian faith, on the basis of a correct exegesis of the biblical texts that mention the creation, and of the reception of the theory of evolution by the Church”.

In other words, they will be considering evolution to be an established fact, learning all about those “essential facts” underpinning it, then finally looking at how this can be fitted into Christianity through “correctly” understanding the scriptures.

There is only one way that discussion is designed to go…

Evolution is not an established fact – there are many dissenters, including atheists who disagree on purely scientific grounds. But just like global warming, if you speak up you will generally be ignored by the media (or ridiculed if you are lucky to be noticed), and could lose your job. Furthermore in the opinion of many Christians it IS mutually exclusive with Christianity – Evolution requires death before the Fall (undermining the Cross). It also requires God to use millions of years of death and suffering to create a world he then pronounces to be “very good”, and requires passages clearly written as literal (even in the Ten Commandments) to be interpreted as figurative to squeeze the theory into the text somehow.

By accepting evolution as undeniable fact before the conference even starts, discussion is stifled, and the results are predetermined – just like in a Green Party discussion on climate change…

Free thought repressed

I believe there are many parallels between Global Warming and Evolution. Both are the most popular views accepted by the media and the scientific majority, or at least the scientists that are most commonly talked to by the media. Both are questioned by some scientists. Both have strong supporters and opposers, and heated scientific debates around them.

But both are claimed to be the “consensus”, absolute fact, and any “dissenter” must be a nutcase. It doesn’t really matter whether they are true or not – regardless, labelling any scientist a nutter is very unhealthy. Science progresses through debate. It is important to consider opposing views to your own, whether or not they are correct, because it is the consideration of alternative views that develops reason and wisdom.

One example of how “dissenters” are being repressed is the fact that Dr David Bellamy has been blacklisted (according to himself) by the BBC. You probably recognise him in the photo – he used to be on many different nature TV programs. But he hasn’t been hired for anything much for years now, because he is a “climate skeptic”. In other words, a scientist who has the guts to think for himself.

Proverbs 3:13-14 states: Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.

There is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Being able to remember exactly what your teacher told you was true is knowledge. Being able to analyse it for yourself and decide whether or not it actually is true is wisdom. And you only gain this from considering alternative views to your own.

If you only teach students knowledge, they can be indoctrinated with whatever you like.

Hat tip: Not PC