Sunday, November 27, 2011

Point Two: Life

There are four dimensions of living beings. Such beings are agents, goal seekers, self-replicators and fourthly, they are semiotically driven (their existence depends on the interplay between codes and chemistry). Each and every living being acts or is capable of action. And each such being is the unified source and center of all its actions. Since these agents are capable of surviving and acting independently, their actions are in some fashion driven by goals (nourishment), and they can reproduce themselves; they are therefore goal-seeking, self-replicating autonomous agents. Moreover, as Howard H. Pattee points out, you find in living beings the interaction of semiotic processes (rules, codes, languages, information, control) and physical systems (laws, dynamics, energy, forces, matter).

Of the books (by new atheists) under study here (in Appendix A of There is a God), only Dawkins’s addresses the question of the origin of life. Wolpert is quite candid on the state of the field: “This is not to say that all the scientific questions relating to evolution have been solved. On the contrary, the origin of life itself, the evolution of the miraculous cell from which all living things evolved, is still poorly understood.” Dennett in previous works has simply taken it for granted that some materialist account must be right.

Unfortunately, on even the physico-chemical level, Dawkins’s approach is manifestly inadequate or worse. “But how does life get started?” he asks. “The origin of life was the chemical event, or series of events, whereby the vital conditions for natural selection first came about . . . . Once the vital ingredient—some kind of genetic molecule—is in place, true Darwinian natural selection can follow.” How did this happen? “Scientists invoke the magic of large numbers. The beauty of the anthropic principle is that it tells us, against all intuition, that a chemical model need only predict that life will arise on one planet in a billion billion to give us a good and entirely satisfying explanation for the presence of life here.” Given this type of reasoning, which is better described as an audacious exercise in superstition, anything we desire should exist somewhere if we just “invoke the magic of large numbers.” Unicorns or the elixir of youth, even if “staggeringly improbable,” are bound to occur “against all intuition.” The only requirement is “a chemical model” that “need only predict” these occurring “on one planet in a billion billion.”

Atheists often accuse believers of invoking the power of the God-of-the-Gaps to save them from the unknown. How did life arise? God did it. How do we have consciousness? God did it. How does there exist some sense of morality? God did it. Of course to simply say this and leave it at that is absurd and yet atheists use the same argument but instead of invoking God they call upon the magic of large numbers. How did life arise? Naturally, but it took billions of years. How do we have consciousness? Through natural processes, but it took millions of years. How does there exist some sense of morality? It evolved in us, it just needed millions of years. For atheists, who love to rely on the power of scientific observation, these claims can be described as extremely unscientific.

Science is all about observation and experimentation and yet with regards to origins (of life with regards to this post anyway) many take natural process over intelligence despite a complete lack of evidence. In fact, life has only ever been demonstrated or observed to come from pre-existing life and yet despite this observed requirement we seem to be able to overlook it by invoking the magic of large numbers. Can life arise naturally without a pre-existing form of life? Yes, it only needs x amount of years. Is this really the best answer?


  1. I don't think it's fair to say atheists use the same "god of the gaps" arguments. Atheism doesn't require answers for everything - it just means 'the disbelief in god' - and even then it isn't saying "there is no god". So...

    How did life arise? I don't know.
    How do we have consciousness? I don't know.
    How does morality exist? I don't know.

    However, science has proved to be very valuable in not accepting the "god did it" explanation - searching for a deeper understing of reality by slowly uncovering the truth through observation and experimentation. Science has led us to a lot of incredible answers that we wouldn't have if we were willing to settle for "god did it". Maybe science will one day lead us to a "god*"? Or maybe it will lead us to a natural explanation? We will see...

    *Note: I struggle to see how this god would by anything more than a deistic one - as I don't see why a personal god would rely on mystery in regards to origins and complexity as evidence for his existence.

  2. Well I definitely wouldn't say that you specifically use the same type of argument but it seems to be a common theme from strong atheists, from my random readings anyway.

    And absolutely science has proven to uncover many things that were attributed to gods, rainbows, rain, earthquakes etc. but I don't think we should confuse saying God did it and the natural mechanism by which something works. I think I used this example before, but I can look at my car and say a mechanic did it but I could also look at the science of how my car, or any car, works. Sure the mechanic made it but he's not actually starting my car everytime I turn the key. So maybe the two options (nature and God) aren't mutually exclusive and have a lot of overlap.

    In anycase the five points from Varghese, which I'm sharing, are arguing for God on the deistic level and not theistic although theistic arguments could be made/added to the points I'm sure. I know what you mean though. Even Dawkins said one could make a convincing argument for a deistic god but in his opinion any argument for a theistic one is silly.

    In anycase we'll just have to keep following the evidence and see where we end up. Thanks for the post!