Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Origin of Life

"Honey" has left a comment (here) discussing Louis Pasteur (again) and the origin of life. I address her comments here, expanding on the issue of the origin of life:



You wrote :

[Pasteur was] Free from what?


…and then please let us know exactly what it was that Pasteur was free from after all those years of scientific observation.

Louis Pasteur was free to discover the world for what it is.

I am not sure why you asked me to read that link, because it describes Pasteur's drive to discover the truth, wherever it might lead. Yes, the link says Pasteur was a theist, and I have already admitted this. Pasteur was a practicing Catholic. But in his science, it appears he was able to leave the dogmas behind, and to pursue the truth wherever it led. That is why I say his mind was set free.


“Yes, understanding the origin of life is still a big hurdle, and scientists still do not understand exactly how it happened. But they have no reason to believe it did not happen on its own.”

So the reality is, that you want us to disregard what God says in the Bible, for which there were numerous witnesses (of Christ’s life and resurrection from the dead – and Christ himself attests to the truth of the Old Testament Law and Prophets), and replace it with something THERE IS NO EVIDENCE FOR. There are two reasons to believe it did not happen on its own – 1. God said He created it. 2. No matter how hard we try we cannot make it happen.

Wow, where do I begin?

First, I was discussing the origin of life here, and not the entire content of my worldview. When I said that scientists do not understand exactly how it happened, "it" refers to the origin of life. I was by no means declaring that there was no evidence for anything I believe.

Second, there is plenty of evidence for the points I stress at my web site, such as the old age of the universe, evolution, mistakes in the Bible, etc. I am by no means stating that I have no evidence for my views.

Third, regarding the origin of the first life--that is, the origin of the first microbes--this event is so far remote, and the evidence of what happened is so scarce, that we cannot be dogmatic about it. However, once those first microbes had come into existence, there is very clear evidence that all other living creatures evolved from those microbes. So when I mention discussion about the nature of the origin of life, I was by no means doubting the evidence for biological evolution. The fact of evolution has been firmly established by science.

Fourth, the fact that there is a gap in our current knowledge when it comes to the first microbes does not prove that this is where we must insert God. Many people jump when they see this gap in scientific knowledge, and they assume that since scientists don't understand it, therefore God did it. This is known as The God of the Gaps. If, for instance, scientists say they don't know where whales come from, people would jump in and insert God into that gap, and say the first whale was a miracle. However we now have a range of intermediate fossils between land creatures and whales, and we now have a good idea how they evolved . Okay, so now does God back out of that gap between land creatures and whales? Do we now search for another gap to put him into? The problem with inserting God every time we find a gap in our current scientific knowledge is that the gaps keep getting smaller. Is God shrinking? One sometimes feels like a fool defending the God-of-the-Gaps, for the gaps in our knowledge keep getting smaller, and the God-of-the-gaps defenders find themselves constantly backpeddling. I cannot say with absolute certainty that God did not step in at this gap and create the first microbe, but I would urge caution in inserting God whenever one sees a gap. If one does not enjoy backpeddling, then one should not be authoritatively inserting the God-of-the-gaps every time she finds a gap in our current knowledge. If there is a gap in our knowledge, why not just say , "We don't know".

Fifth, you say there are two reasons to believe "it" did not happen on it's own. (I assume by "it" you are returning to the subject, that is, the origin of the first microbes.) The first reason you give is that God said he created "it". Oh, really? Exactly where did God say he created the first microbes? Please show me. Are you referring to the Bible? The Bible makes no mention of microbes. Genesis reflects the primitive views of an early tribe that certainly had no microscopes, and had no concept of microbiology. So exactly where does the Bible say that God made the first microbes? Are you just pulling on my leg? The second reason you give is that humans cannot do it. But how does that prove the spontaneous origin of life is impossible? The origin of life was apparently stretched over millions of years in an environment far different from our own. We don't understand it all yet. There is a gap in our knowledge. Your argument here is nothing more than a God-of-the-Gaps argument.

Sixth, regarding the witnesses to the resurrection that you claim, see my web site where I deal with that issue.

You also said, and I quote:

“To win the argument, I would need to prove that all possible means for the spontaneous origination of life were impossible. That I could never do. So I abandoned the fight.”

How do you reason that you have to prove anything? The proof is in the Bible. If they want to claim differently then THEY SHOULD PROVIDE PROOF that their belief is correct. Christians have the Bible – atheists have nothing.

No, the burden of proof was indeed upon me, for I had made a specific claim back then. I had been arguing that the natural origin of life was scientifically impossible. Now since I had made the assertion, the burden of proof was on me to back it up with evidence. I made a fairly noble case for one particular aspect of that assertion, that is, that proteins could not have evolved first. But all of my evidence against the view that proteins evolved first did nothing to prove my assertion that the natural origin of life was scientifically impossible. To prove it impossible, I would have needed to prove that life could not have arisen by any possible method. When I realized what I was up against, I wisely abandoned the fight. I could never prove that the natural origin of life was impossible.

Later my views would evolve even further, to the point where I now think that the first life most likely came by natural causes.

Also, my defense at this site is not of atheism in particular, but of the freedom of thought that allows one to explore beyond the restraint of predefined dogmas.

And yes, I do have something on which to base my views. I have reason and the accumulated scientific evidence.

Now, think carefully for a moment about how illogical and unscientific this ‘spontaneous life’ dilemma really is. How is it that scientists can suggest numerous possibilities, none of which, even under the most favorable of synthesized conditions, can actually produce life, but they can then turn round and expect Christians to accept these possibilities on the grounds of SCIENCE! If your foundation is science, and yet you can’t prove your theory scientifically sound and expect intelligent others to discard their beliefs, then YOU’D BETTER GET REAL ABOUT WHAT YOU BELIEVE.

I am real about what I believe. There is overwhelming evidence that the earth is billions of years old and that life evolved from the first microbes.

And no, we have not yet produced life in the lab. In the first place, nobody knows how it began, so we don't even know exactly what to test. In the second place, this would require duplicating the original earth conditions. Although we have a good idea what it was like on the early earth, we don't know all the details, so we cannot know exactly what to duplicate when we design our experiments. Third, the origin of life is thought to have taken millions of years. We can't wait that long to see how an experiment turns out. So the fact that we have not created life in the lab in no way proves that the origin of life by natural means is impossible.

Let me close with a quote from Bossuet
"The greatest disorder of the mind is to believe that things are so because we wish them to be so."

Okay, we both agree that it is a great disorder of the mind to believe things because we wish them to be so. Since we agree to this, let us then look at the facts, and not simply try to confirm what we wish to be so. I think the facts will lead away from the dogmatic assertions of fundamentalism.


Honey said...

RE: Louis Pasteur
Good, good. I just wanted to clarify that you can be a Christian, AND your mind can be being a Christian doesn't automatically mean that scientifically your mind is biased, or irrational, or illogical.

Honey said...

Re: “Where do I start?”

You say
‘First, I was discussing the origin of life here, and not the entire content of my worldview.”

Yeah that’s what I was discussing, but then apparently you wanted to share with us some of your world views regardless.

So back to the origin of life. Did God create the first microbes? The Bible states clearly that indeed He did.

Acts 17:24
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth

Psalm 146:6
the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— the LORD

• Colossians 1:16

Revelation 4:11
"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, FOR YOU CREATED ALL THINGS, and by your will they were created and have their being."

But the most important one is

Nehemiah 9:6
You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. YOU GAVE LIFE TO EVERYTHING

Note: caps mine.

Merle said...

Ah, Honey, so your Bible says God made everything, and that is your reason for believing that the first microbe was made by special creation?

When I had said that scientists have no reason to believe that the first microbe could not have appeared on its own, I meant, of course, that they have no scientific reason for believing it could not have happened that way. Yes, of course, there are ancient books that say creation occurred otherwise. Ancient books also speak of talking snakes and flying horses, but scientists don't consider those ancient books to be real evidence for such things.

But even if one believes all of the Bible, your verses in no way say that the first microbe could not have appeared by natural means. After all, if everything was made by God, are not you also part of "everything"? But how were you made? Did God miraculously form you from nothing, or were you made by a natural process from the sperm and egg of your parents? If you are part of the "everything" that God created, and you were made by natural means from pre-existing material, why could not the first microbes have been "created" by a similar natural process?

Your verse don't even specifically mention microbes, and they say nothing at all about how the first microbe came to be. To use these verses as proof that the first microbe was made by a specific process--special creation out of nothing--seems to be stretching the meaning of those verses.

Anonymous said...

Let's look at that quote again.

"The greatest disorder of the mind is to believe that things are so because we wish them to be so."

All the scientific evidence we can gather on the matter demonstrates that life does not occur spontaneously.

And what a coincidence...the Bible says that GOD gave life to everything.

On this matter the Bible and the scientific evidence irrefutably agree.

And thank God He didn't mention everything he created by name! That would have been exceedingly superfluous to the needs of our intellect on the matter. The Biblical evidence is that God created the first of, and that reproduction followed after it's kind.

"Special creation"? "Out of nothing"? I didn't use these phrases at all, and I make no such claim. God created man out of the dust of the Earth, and the Breath of God, so there is every reason to believe the other forms of life were created in similar manner.


Anonymous said...


Interesting thread.

It is interesting that Science and Religion both have starting assumptions that inform their view of the world.

As an atheist who prefers a scientific viewpoint over a religious one, the biggest assumption i'd make is that the world is rational and comprehendible.

Starting from that assumption, I would of course disregard any Bible, simply because I cannot guarantee the validity of its content.

It is interesting that the Bible is accorded special respect. I mean it COULD be the work of deity, but how would you know? Can we test that somehow? But what if we are wrong?

In summary, I discount biblical viewpoints simply because I cannot validate them, and they the claims made by the Bible are either wrong when compared to tentative, evolving scientific knowledge, or that they are reliant upon a deity that in itself would seem to require an explanation.


Anonymous said...

May I ask what you define validate to mean in this respect?

Anonymous said...

Not to speak for someone else, but I will put forth the following definition.

Validate: To assert the veracity of an observation, statement,pronouncement, dictum, creed, or idea.

Merriam Webster states something similar: to support or corroborate on a sound or authoritative basis (experiments designed to validate the hypothesis) b: to recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of (validate his concerns)