August 15, 2005

Abiogenesis Woes — Harvard to the Rescue

It seems that Harvard University has decided to jump into the origins of life fray. One might ask: Why now; what is their motivation? Are they simply joining in on an area of promising and fruitful research, like biotechnology? No. According to this article, "The project begins with an admission that some mysteries about life's origins cannot be explained."

The question of how the first life-forms originated (abiogenesis) has proven to be an intractable problem for naturalistic scientists. As John Horgan, senior writer for Scientific American, has said:
If I were a creationist, I would cease attacking the theory of evolution — which is so well supported by the fossil record [that's a howler] — and focus instead on the origin of life. This is by far the weakest strut of the chassis of modern biology. The origin of life is a science writer's dream. It abounds with exotic scientists and exotic theories, which are never entirely abandoned or accepted, but merely go in and out of fashion.
So, given this problematic area of life-sciences, what hope of success does Harvard bring to the table? Well, according to David R. Liu, professor of chemical biology:

My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention.
Wow! This seems a rather brash claim in light of the fruitless work by all other institutions dedicated to this problem over the past several decades. It's also the most refreshing admission of bias that I've seen in awhile. He's convinced before he even begins that he will find a purely natural process — a "simple" one no less — by which raw chemicals may be assembled into structures as complex as machines and factories. But if one believes that God does not exist, or that He does not intervene in His creation, then a mechanistic process is what one MUST find.

If Harvard ultimately fails to make a meaningful contribution to this field, should we suppose that they will concede the possibility of a designer? Not a chance, unless Intelligent Design theorists manage to break the stranglehold that methodological naturalism has on the biological sciences. If they are unable to identify, much less demonstrate, the chemical pathways necessary for deriving self-replicating life, I expect that no concessions will be made (on the record) to Intelligent Design. In place of evidence will come a story proposing, at the highest level of abstraction, how molecules managed to assemble into amoeba. But the devil's in the details. If some underlying mechanism cannot be identified, then the story remains a fairytale.

But not to worry, there'll always be another decade just around the corner bursting with the promise of science and the power of nature to forestall any suspicions that the theory of evolution may be falsified.

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At 8/16/2005 7:45 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...

I really don't think it's invalid to have a presupposition that becomes a theory that drives scientific investigation.

Don't Christians do the same? For instance, Intelligent Design theory will probably soon legitimize itself, but it derives from a presupposition (in the case of many of it's founders) that there is a God who created it all. This theory is then tested...this is the search for the truth.
The problem comes when someone steadfastly refuses to admit the truth when their theory has been falsified, or an opposing theory has been demonstrated....or as you described, when they rule out an entire class of theories or causal agents just because they are morally distasteful.

Let's see what they can learn that no one's yet discovered. I think they are just as likely to confirm the naturalistic dead-end as previous scientific efforts have.

I hope they don't dishonestly push an atheistic agenda by pretending to have found a natural possibility. The vast majority of us are in no place to confirm or deny the details of very advanced chemistry. This type of deception has been done for years.

At 8/16/2005 12:14 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I simply must share this. I found it posted as a reader comment here:

♪ ♪ ♪ GAS IN THE WIND ♪ ♪ ♪

[Tune: "Dust in the Wind", written and performed by Kansas]

Harvard's grant
Proves that academics lack intelligence
Their dream world
Posits God as just a curiosity

Gas in the wind
Harvard's passin' gas in the wind

Same old song
Sung by purposeless fools who have Ph.D's
Their dogma
Searches only for just what they choose to see

Profs breakin' wind
Ventin' greenhouse gas, breakin' wind

["Musical" interlude, featuring the Sufi Chorus and Chanticleer performing purposeless harmonic dissonance]

"God is dead...."
Comforts them in their cocooned reality
This just in:
Their degrees won't help them in eternity...

Gas in the wind
Harvard's passin' gas in the wind
(Harvard's passin' gas in the wind)

[Tag, to fade]
Gas in the wind
Vanity and chasin' the wind
(Vanity and chasin' the wind)
You don't wanna die in your sin....

At 8/16/2005 1:30 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Jeff. To be perfectly honest we must admit that there are indeed many in the ID movement (certainly the "creationist" camp) who begin with the presupposition that their Christian faith, arrived at by various means, is a true belief and then they go in search of evidence to fit the faith. However, ID is a unique movement for two reasons: 1) Some of those out looking for evidence actually found it in spades and realized it could stand on its own two legs without the clout that Scripture may once have supplied. 2) There are some (non-Christians even) who have joined the movement, or become sympathetic to it, simply by virtue of the evidence for design – David Berlinski and Antony Flew being two such examples.

At 8/17/2005 1:21 PM, Blogger Vman said...

There was a very funny political cartoon I saw with the caption "Teach Both Let the Kids decide" It taught astrology with astronomy. Intelligent Design as well as Evolution. And Solar centric solar system with a geo centric solar system. That's why intelligent design should never be taught. Keep Christianity and science seperate.

At 8/17/2005 2:15 PM, Blogger Paul said...

But the argument is not that we should teach biblical creationism in addition to evolution. The argument is that the difficulties with the theory of evolution should be taught in addition to the "evidences." This seems only intellectually honest, doesn't it? Is evolution so tenuous that it cannot stand up to any scrutiny, and don't we teach the pros and cons of other scientific theories as well? It seems that the only reason not to include the counter-evidence is because evolution is being treated as dogma which it is heresy to question.

At 8/18/2005 4:51 AM, Blogger Bird of Paradise said...

Paul, Good post. And intelligent and eriudite commentators in response. Where do you find them? How much do you pay them? Good, thoughtful comments are worth their weight in gold! Aloha!


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