Saturday, February 25, 2006

Never Enough Creationist Fuzzheads Department

Last night I found a link to a site that tries to convince college students that God, not evolution, was solely responsible for creating humans. Realizing my biases--extreme skepticism at religious hucksters persuing dubious claims that are not verifiable--I didn't expect to be convinced. But I didn't expect to be as annoyed as I was after I got to the heart of the argument. The weakness of the argument they present is only exceeded by their deceptive attempts to convince others of how right the argument is.

The site used a variation on the old theme, "If there's a watch, there must be a watchmaker." The argument was that, if you had a bag full of watch parts and shook it up for a long time, it'd never spontaneously combine to form a watch. Therefore, it's argued, it's ridiculous to claim that inanimate matter could ever spontaneously combine to form life.

Poppycock, balderdash, twaddle, flim-flam, and bullshit. In that order.

This comparison between watch parts and volatile chemicals is weak. Watch parts do not ever spontaneously combine, obviously. But hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen--the most plentiful elements in living creatures--are highly volatile, and do spontaneously combine when mixed together. Elements combine to form simple molecules. Simple molecules combine to form complex molecules. (Likewise, complex molecules also break down into simpler molecules, a key point that's important for life as well.) Some molecu l es even serve as a catalyst for creating more complex molecules, or for breaking them down into simpler molecules. This happens all the time, across the cosmos, which is littered with hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen compounds.

We have even found that amino acids can form readily in deep space, and may be present in comets. They may also show up in meteorites which may or may not in turn come from comets, although there is some controversy on the subject. This is not to say that life necessarily originated from amino acids created off-planet, but that amino acids are so abundant that it hardly matters where they came from.

Amino acids are the building blocks for DNA; it does not take much imagination to see strings of amino acids combining to form longer and longer strings of DNA, or for enzymes (more primitive, chemically, than amino acids) to break the DNA apart and recombine them with still more amino acids--and, due to the nature of DNA requiring matching pairs of chemical bonds, the effect is to create duplicates of the original. And because DNA gives instructions for creating various proteins, enzymes, and amino acids, they define all the basics for life. Errors creep into the DNA a bit at a time, and viruses (DNA wrapped up in an envelope of proteins) interject their DNA into the strand. Over time, this causes considerable change. And thus the mechanisms of evolution are put into effect, as they have been for nearly four billion years.

Admittedly, this description is oversimplified, but based on all known information, it is correct in substance. There may be reasonable differences between biologists about exact details but none of these details are critical to the argument. There are too many similarities between various forms of life--shared genes, enzymes, organ design, etc.--to be so cavalier as to blow off evolution as contrary to "common sense."

Sorry, but REALITY defies common sense: You may believe that, say, your desk surface is solid, when the impression of solidity comes from the interaction of forces at the atomic level, keeping objects from falling through. You may see the sun rise and set, but you know that's an illusion caused by the earth spinning on its axis. You may insist that the universe is but thousands of years old, but we know how fast light travels and, through parallax, we can determine how far away stars and galaxies are, and therefore, we know how long light has been travelling from the stars and galaxies--if we're talking about far-away galaxies and quasars, we get figures in the range of billions of years.

So, would you rather place your trust in a system designed to create testable ideas which can be verified by hard evidence, or in "common sense" based on a rather provincial and literal interpretation of a heavily-modified book like, oh, the Bible? The answer: Science doesn't need trust. It has evidence, testable hypotheses, and accurately predictive theories. And that's all that I need to accept it.

5 comments:

Rev. St. Thea GirlUWant von Fraumench said...

Science does not remove the terror of the gods.

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exipolar said...

the terror of the gods is merely psychological, is the terror of anything.

Popess Lilith said...

Yes, true, science does not remove the terror of the gods. It merely makes the terror more like an amusement park ride, and less like a free-fall into a pit of burning crushed glass. Or so this pamphlet says. (Only $1!)

Popess Lilith said...

What Would Issac Newton do? Somehow I think he'd avoid tentacle rape....