Monday, February 19, 2007

Pasteur, Darwin, the Origin of Life, and God

Chapter 3 of Letter to an Atheist , which deals with Science and Faith, continues to both fascinate and frustrate me. The objective of the chapter is to demonstrate that the advance of science is not inconsistent with a belief in a Biblical God.

Along the way, though, the scientific method becomes almost completely intertwined with religious beliefs, personal agendas, and politics.

Is it enough, for instance, to simply demonstrate that Darwin himself, though by this time an agnostic, considered it completely possible for a committed Christian to legitimately believe and support his Theory of Evolution ? Indeed, when seven prominent Anglican theologians, including future Archbishop of Canterbury Frederick Temple, wrote Essays and Reviews in 1860, a year after the publication of Origin of the Species, Darwin was quick to embrace their support.

But soon, the most aggressive defenders of the scientific theories of Darwin also became the most aggressive promoters of agnosticism and Atheism. In Darwin's lifetime it was Thomas Huxley, known then as "Darwin's Bulldog." Today, it's Richard Dawkins, whom Discovery Magazine has dubbed "Darwin's Rottweiler".

Dawkins' best selling God Delusion makes the case for atheism using the science of Darwinian evolution.

To my lay person's mind, though, Dawkins loses his argument completely when he makes a completely unscientific assumption.

"In the beginning there was a Replicator Gene, from which all life flowed." Call it a Replicator Gene or Primordial Soup, Dawkin's invention is more alchemy and wishful thinking than it is science.

Dawkins argues for a one time only creation of animate life from an inanimate object.

Earlier in history, this was called "spontaneous generation" (see illustration of Pasteur experiment above) and was thoroughly disproved by the great scientist Louis Pasteur in 1864, the man behind The Germ Theory, rabies vaccines, and the pasteurization of wine and milk.

Somehow, because Dawkins is a genius, we are apparently supposed to allow him a pass on this fatal error.

Darwin himself offered no explanation for how that original element of life began. He felt the idea that it could have been generated by some divine being was a possibility, but he concluded he just couldn't know either way.

Into the fray on this topic jump the "Young Earth Creationists", who are thoroughly discredited in their concepts of the age of the earth by the quantum physics discoveries of Ernest Rutherford, which make radioactive dating possible. But the "Young Earth Creationists" seem so completely unhinged that they make it difficult for other alternatives to Evolution to be taken quite so seriously.

Enter concepts of Intelligent Design, which account for the strong Biblical religious beliefs as such scientific greats as Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, and Pasteur.

The universe is so complex, so marvelous, it must have been created by some higher power as part of some grand design.

Personally, I'm with Dr. Ralph Seelke, professor of Biology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. This area of inquiry offers great promise, the hint perhaps, of some new theory that may combine elements of Darwin with ID.

But, like any scientific theory, Intelligent Design needs to be subjected to the scientific method. And that means:

1. A clear, well defined description of the theory.
2. Empirical testing of the theory


Anonymous said...

Michael, you might also consider the influence of Nietzsche and the social Darwinist, Jean-Baptiste Lemarck and sociologist Herbert Spencer (who coined the term "survival of the fittest") as bringing a lot of soft science into this mix. Nietzsche's emphasis on becoming and the Ubermensch, as well as the Capitalist laissez-faire economic rationalizations had a lot to do with the politics of jumping onto the Darwin bandwagon.

Shadowin said...

Pasteur disproved that bacteria and fungi arise from their own accord in non-living material. He did not disprove the formation of life precursors in solutions that contain the necessary materials.

Hypotheses of abiogenesis still stand today.

Michael Patrick Leahy said...


Thanks so much for your comments.

I would like to follow up and learn more about hypotheses of abiogenesis.

You say they still stand, yet, as I understand it, that does not mean they have been proven or accepted, correct ?

Point me somewhere I can learn more.

Thanks !