Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Creationism vs Intelligent Design vs Evolution + Big Bang Theory

In Douglas Adams series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he talked about a massive computer called Deep Thought that was set upon the task of finding the key answer to life. If I recall correctly, the conversation went something like this:

Person: “Right. So what’s it all about then?”
Deep Thought: “What’s WHAT all about?”
Person: “You know – Life, The Universe, and Everything”
Deep Thought: “Hmmmm. Tricky.”
Deep Thought: “I’ll have to think about it.”

And so it did. After seven million years of 'thinking about it', the final answer was, of course, 42. This has now passed into popular culture. It comes up in conversations all the time. It even came up in a business meeting I was in just yesterday.

Well, that was certainly a succinct answer, but not helpful. This article may be a little more helpful, I hope. But it is not short, I warn you. Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
If that’s true, then I am probably witless because I have never been accused of being too brief. If you have read any of my articles here in this blog, you will know this. So I apologize up front for the length, but then this is a deep subject. A “Three-Pipe-Problem” as Sherlock Holmes would say.

We start here with a question posed by my esteemed friend Joe Parr. I have placed his comments and questions in green, my answers in black, and any excerpts from other sources in blue. Joe’s later comments appear in the comment area (through the link at the end).

From Joe To Val:
There has been a tremendous amount of press lately about the whole theory of evolution thing and I wanted to pick your brain on the topic. Call me silly, but for some reason, I'm betting you've pondered the topic a bit. Anyway, I have several issues around this topic. First, I'm not sure I really fully understand the various theories. Second, doing a logical comparison of them makes my head hurt.

As you've probably gathered through our jam discussions, I'm not an overtly religious guy. But... I do firmly believe that there is something beyond the human existence and I do firmly believe that there is a higher power of some nature. For all I know, that higher power may be a super computer on the planet Zenon and we're all just part of an elaborate video game that a bunch of teenage mutant aliens are playing. If that's the case, I hope my teenage mutant alien wins!!

Anyway, let's start with what I think I understand. There are three competing concepts - Evolution/Big Bang Theory, Creationism and the new kid on the block, Intelligent Design.

Let's start with Creationism since, no offense to the fundamentalists out there, is probably the hardest one to logically justify. After all, it is based on faith. Essentially it's based on the Genesis book of the bible and the whole Adam and Eve story. That's all well and good, but my personal opinion is that, as with much of the bible, both of these passages were written in metaphorical terms and were never intended to be taken literally. There are many in the religious community who position it as saying that the 7 days in Genesis could really represent 7 billion or 7 trillion years and therefore this passage of the bible can happily coexist with some version of evolution and/or intelligent design. The Adam and Eve story is, well, just a story. I don't know many (non-fundamentalist) Christians who actually believe that somewhere out there on earth is the garden of Eden.

Now, on to evolution and the big bang. In a nutshell, as I understand it, Darwin claims that over several trillion years, every living plant, animal and organism on earth evolved from the same one celled organism. Hmmm... got some issues with that. I'll be happy to buy off on the concept that man evolved from cavemen who evolved from some form of ape. I'll buy off on various species evolving from their prehistoric predecessors. Those leaps make perfectly good sense to me. What doesn't make sense to me is the cross species evolution, i.e. that somewhere along the way, the same organism split into two - one eventually becoming a modern day shark and the other eventually becoming a modern day tiger, or for that matter, a modern day pecan tree?!?!?

But, beyond that, my biggest issue with evolution isn't evolution itself, but with the big bang theory. As I understand it, a few hundred trillion years ago, there was just a vast nothingness out there. No planets, no life, no supreme being - Nothing. Then one day, for no particular reason, these two inanimate atoms are happily bebopping along in this vast nothingness and bump into each other. Now somehow, from this accidental meeting of these two tiny (non living) particles, this collision sparked a spontaneous set of other collisions that somehow resulted in every planet, star, asteroid, etc in the universe. And more (excuse me if I use this term) miraculously, this collision of two non-living things created the first living cell. And that first living cell went on to kick start the evolutionary process that has finally reached it's zenith with superior beings such as you and I. I'm sorry, I just don't buy it. You'll never convince me that somehow two non-living things bumping into each other can create life of any kind. A rock is a rock. You can kick it, crush it, beat on it, pressurize it, submerge it, throw it in the air or do anything you want to it and at the end of the day, it's still going to be a rock (or at least what's left of a rock). Whatever you want to call it, it won't be alive.

So, that leads to intelligent design. This is somehow being touted as a new concept. Quite honestly, this is the way I've viewed it ever since I was a kid. As I understand it, intelligent design claims that there is a higher power that put this all in motion. That somewhere a few trillion years ago, this higher power created that first atom and that first single celled living entity. And that at certain points along the way throughout the evolutionary process, has "helped out" a little by "creating or radically modifying" species. i.e. making the leap from single celled amoeba to a fish or from a fish to a lizard that walks on land or somehow taking that lizard and making the leap to a monkey, etc. etc. etc. Now, whether that higher power is a "god" or whether it's the alien teenager isn't really relevant to the story. But something along these lines appears, to me anyway, to be the only plausible explanation. To me the Big Bang theory and the Adam and Eve story are equally silly - Rocks don't turn into animals and there is no garden of eden.

Further to my support of there having to be a higher power is quite simply observation. Just take five minutes and watch a human being move, talk and think. The complexity of this machine we can a human is still beyond our comprehension and as cool as mother nature is, you just can convince me that the modern day human being is just some kind of happy accident that was the result of two atoms bumping into each other several hundred trillion years ago and turning into an amoeba. Call me arrogant, but I just don't think my ancestors were amoebas. After all, when was that last time you saw an amoeba play a guitar?

Your thoughts?


My answer to Joe was given in several emails over several days, but they are consolidated here into one stream.

Val's answer back to Joe:
First, I'd like to start with a short excerpt from my previous essay on creative thinking techniques, because part of that is very relevant to this topic. This part is true for all three schools of thought.

When I was giving my seminar on thinking techniques for creative problem solving, as an interesting participative exercise I would ask people, "Put your hand on your watch to cover it up. Now, without peeking, does your watch have roman numerals or ordinary Arabic numbers?" People would think and then say their answer. When I asked them to check, then many of them were surprised that they were wrong.
Then I would say, "Okay, cover up your watch again. Now tell me, does it have a number 6 showing on it? " Again people are surprised to find there is no number six. (many watches don't have a number 6 because of logos, etc.).
Then I would ask them to cover their watch again and ask them, "Okay - does your watch have individual tick marks for each second/minute, or dots, or anything there?" Again, people are surprised to find out that they are wrong AGAIN.
Now I tell them to cover the watch again. "Now tell me without moving your hand. What time is it?" They sit stunned and begin to laugh. "You just looked at your watch THREE TIMES IN A ROW, and you can't even tell what time it is? And that is what the watch is FOR!!!"

The issue is filtering. We all filter everything in our daily lives all the time. It has become necessary because of the sheer volume of things in our lives. We can't possibly deal with all the input flooding into our eyes and ears, and minds on a moment to moment basis. And things like TV and radio are specifically designed to cram even more messages even faster into our heads. Our natural response is to filter out what we expect will be non-essential to our purposes at the moment.

The essential point I wanted to make here is that we tend to see what we expect to see. In fact, often, we see what we want to see, and miss the rest, and that is unfortunate because in doing so we often miss an opportunity to learn something fundamentally new and revealing that way.

How does this apply to our question about our origins?

I think that that is what is happening with many of the people involved in promoting Creationism, Intelligent Design, and also Evolutionists as well. We tend to favor the theories and philosophies we were brought up to believe in and then we continue to use whatever new facts we find to reinforce our existing belief system, rather than use them to seriously challenge our belief system and develop a new understanding. Somehow, over the years, we have invested too much in our current belief system to simply abandon it when we learn new things. Our whole picture of the world and all the decisions we have made along the way were based on certain fundamental assumptions about things. To change those fundamental assumptions now would mean throwing into doubt almost every decision we have made in life to this point.

Most people lack the courage to face that sort of intellectual chaos. So it's a lot easier, and human nature, to just stick with what we know. Or what we think we know.

Let's deal with creationism first.
From a reasonability perspective, it just doesn't seem logical to me. For one thing, Adam and Eve were only two people. That is simply not a sufficient genetic pool to account for all the vast differences of height, weight, body shape, hair, skin color, shape and color of eyes, race, strength, natural talents, intelligence levels, and hundreds of other attributes that represent the vast diversity of the population of 6 billion people on the Earth today. Also, the world cannot have begun 6,000 years ago, because we have tons of evidence of all sorts of things that are much, much older than that. So the facts, and basic logic itself run contrary to the precepts of that doctrine.

But then the purveyors of this school of thought are not looking to convert people to this belief based on logic, or observation, or reason, but merely based on blind faith to a set of religious doctrines, which are based on a written book. The Bible.

I believe Creationism has by now become a rather anachronistic leftover of simpler times. It is the result of people taking the allegorical stories of the bible and interpreting then literally, when they were really meant to be lessons taught to the millions of uneducated peoples of those earlier times to illustrate a point.

The point here is that Creationism seems to me to be an oversimplified traditional answer suitable either for those who want the emotional comfort of a long-established belief system of faith, or for those who don't have the time or intellectual energy to examine the world further. For me personally, it cannot be considered a serious alternative to either evolution or intelligent design as an explanation for the origin of the universe as it exists today.

Intelligent Design
There are a number of people pushing the concept of intelligent design these days as a replacement to creationism and a more viable alternative to evolution. They have degrees, but they are not publishing papers, or doing empirical studies. They are not doing ‘science’. What they ARE doing is lobbying politicians and school boards looking for political support. ID is not about Science. It’s about religion and politics.

Many intelligent and educated people of strong Christian faith now feel that Creationism is too simple for the modern age to the point where it’s actually become embarrassing. Like believing in a childhood fantasy story. Grown adults don’t like to appear foolish or naïve or gullible. They need a belief system that still allows them to believe in God, and yet has enough science to it to seem modern and enlightened.

Also, ID seems to be a compromise position between the warmth of a caring God who nurtured our species into existence in the garden of Eden on one hand, and the alternative of a cold, uncaring universe of science where there is no one to take care of us in the afterlife, on the other hand. They view the evolution answer to our origins to be one where there is no grand purpose for us, and our existence seems like an accident or a series of coincidences. A compromise middle position like ID appeals to our common sense because often in life we find that the extremes of things are not usually true, but the truth often lies in some middle ground. So it’s comfortable. It just feels better. It has enough scientific detail to make it seem reasonable, but enough god-like caring aspects to make it seem warm. It still has hope for those who need a sense of God working in their lives. The happy middle ground.

Let’s look a little closer at the details of the theory itself. The basic premise of ID, as described by it’s biggest promoters such as William A. Dembski, Michael Behe, Johnathan Wells, etc., is that it is based on a concept called “Irreducible Complexity”. We need to understand this concept. One example used by Behe is a mousetrap. He points out that a mousetrap is an irreducible system because it needs all of it’s components to work to catch the mouse. You cannot have just the wood plate, or just the spring or just the metal hammer, etc. So it could not, therefore have evolved slowly one piece at a time and still have been able to catch a mouse.
However, Kenneth Miller, a scientist, counters that concept using the mousetrap analogy. Here is his counter-argument in his own words:
” Ironically, Behe's own example, the mousetrap, shows what's wrong with this idea. Take away two parts (the catch and the metal bar), and you may not have a mousetrap but you do have a three-part machine that makes a fully functional tie clip or paper clip. Take away the spring, and you have a two-part key chain. The catch of some mousetraps could be used as a fishhook, and the wooden base as a paperweight; useful applications of other parts include everything from toothpicks to nutcrackers and clipboard holders. The point, which science has long understood, is that bits and pieces of supposedly irreducibly complex machines may have different -- but still useful -- functions.”

Then Behe goes on to use other, more specific examples. One of these is the flagellum of a bacteria. He says it is an irreducably complex system involving a molecular motor, and proteins that act as bushings where the shaft exits the cell wall, etc. He suggests that this cannot have evolved from a simpler mechanism, because it needs all those parts all at once to perform it’s function. Miller counters with this argument: “He writes that in the absence of "almost any" of its parts, the bacterial flagellum "does not work." But guess what? A small group of proteins from the flagellum does work without the rest of the machine -- it's used by many bacteria as a device for injecting poisons into other cells. Although the function performed by this small part when working alone is different, it nonetheless can be favored by natural selection.”

And so the debate continues. Each example that an ID promoter gives of an irreducible mechanism is refuted by a scientist who points out how the components evolved independently and for other original purposes, but later the mechanism is born of now available parts, and the organism learns to use those parts in a new way. Essentially, the same components have multiple purposes. Like our human hand with five fingers and an opposable thumb. We use it for many things from using tools to eating, to operating a computer keyboard.

Personally, I find that drawing ID-styled conclusions is a little like painting targets on the wall wherever the arrows happen to land, and calling it a bulls-eye. Or digging a hole wherever the golf ball lands and calling that a hole-in-one. ID suggests that wherever we are now and whatever we have now was the ultimate goal and is exactly as originally intended by a universal designer with infinite power to carry out his designs. Evolutionists, on the other hand, see everything we are now as one step in a process. They suggest we are still evolving and still other complex things are yet to come. We are a work in progress. The whole universe is a work in progress.

ID is promoted and presented as a scientific theory because they wish to borrow from the credibility of science and scientific methodology, but it is not science. Not really. Here’s one way to test: In order to appear apart from a religious agenda, the proponents say that ID doesn’t necessarily point to God as the designer, they are merely pointing to the high level of design in the world around us. Usually they talk about biological aspects of the human body, and they say that this must be the result of “a designer”. They lead the listener to the obvious conclusion that the designer must be God. So here is the test: Take God out of the equation. Replace him with an alien race that genetically designed us many thousands of years ago. After all, there are tons of stories and tons of evidence to suggest that theory. Many books have been written on that subject. I’ve read some of them, and they present interesting arguments to support the idea. Present that to the ID enthusiasts and then see if they will accept that. If they are promoting that SOMEONE must have designed us, but are unwilling to accept the concept of anyone else except God, then, logically, they are not objectively looking for a designer for the species. Instead they were merely using ID as a way to try to scientifically prove the existence of God’s hand in our lives. Promoting and supporting their religion was their agenda – not finding an answer. They were not looking for an answer or for truth. They felt they already HAD the answer before they looked. They were only looking for justification of what they already believed.
But that is not what science is about. Real science is about looking for the real truth honestly and openly and without bias or prejudice regardless of what it turns out to be. So it is not about science. It’s really more about politics and religion. It’s about the political clout of the religious far right which has become so powerful in recent years. Most of the activities of the ID groups seem directed more toward that goal, rather than an honest search for the truth.

And there is danger in it. ID promoters have come into power in Kansas. They have now removed science from the schools there and replaced it with ID. Ohio is considering the same thing at the moment. The heads of several major ivy league universities are now speaking out and saying that this is dangerous because the children who go through grade school based on ID are unprepared and unable to go to college to learn science and modern technologies and methods as part of modern society. Having only religious doctrine and contrived theories to base all their understanding on, they are not able to accept or absorb actual science later in college. And by then it's too late to go back and teach them high school science to start over. So they cannot accept these children into their colleges. We in the US are already down to 49th place in education in the world. If we now abandon science and instead promote and teach religion, we will fall even further behind.

But yet, having said this, I won’t go so far as to say that Intelligent Design is definitely not actually true. It may be true. We might well be the result of the specific and deliberate design of God at every level of our existence. As a fair and reasoning human being, I have to allow for that possibility along with other possibilities. However, I just cannot accept the way the ID enthusiasts come to their conclusion, and call it science. It is not. There is some traction to the theory, I think, but it is far too contrived and slanted toward specific religious and political goals for me to accept on the basis of logic and reason alone. And to me, faith exists apart from this.

So, you might ask, do I believe in the existence of God? Yes. I believe in God. A creator. But that does not mean I believe that the creator of the universe necessarily had a specific deliberate hand in every single biological process of every organism. When you have a dream in your sleep at night, you create an entire universe as part of that dream. You create the cars, and the houses, and the trees, and the other people and everything they do and say. You are the creator of that world. You are “God” in the context of that dream world for that time while it exists. And yes, you created all those things, but that doesn’t mean that you are paying specific attention to all the details of the inner biological processes of each person in the dream. You talk to a person there, but you don’t have to think about their digestive tract and how they are processing their last meal, and converting proteins and nutrients and routing that through the body’s internal system. You simply create a person. The details happen automatically and outside your notice or control. In this sense, I suspect this universe is like God’s dream. He may have created us and the universe and everything in it, but it may be done on a more macro level. Some processes may simply take care of themselves. I believe God as creator, but I also believe that much of what happens in the universe is on automatic pilot.

I think that since evolution has been accepted by scientists all over the world as the standard explanation for the origin of species for the past 150 years, we can assume it has scientific merit. That is to say, that for the areas for which it speaks, it makes observations, analysis, conclusions, and predictions that have been verifiable, provable (at least in many parts), and repeatable. That is simply part of the scientific method. That is the part of the rigor that all scientific theories are subjected to. Some theories are tested immediately, while others take quite a while. Einstein’s Specific Theory of Relativity was published in 1905. His General Theory of Relativity was published in 1915, yet it was only last year that Nasa launched Gravity Probe-B to once and for all prove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Nasa had been planning that project for over 40 years before finally launching. Technology had to catch up to measure precisely enough to test the science.

However, with evolution, there has been the so-called ‘missing link’ that connects the known and evidenced earlier evolutionary stages with the modern man stage. This missing link in the chain of changes, has been the flaw that Christian fundamentalists have hung their arguments against evolution on. They suggest that the link has not been found because, unlike all other species of plant and animal, humans are different, and that we were created originally by God, in his own image, as we are now.

Well, there are arguments both for that and against that idea. To me, the arguments for it come from an unlikely source. The field of archeology. Specifically, in the book, “Forbidden Archeology”, by Michael A. Cremo, there are many cases of evidence suggesting that man existed in his current form long, long before the more orthodox archeologists have acknowledged that he had evolved from Cro Magnon man. Conventional archeologists had postulated that homo sapiens (modern man) had reached this current stage only perhaps 50,000 years ago or so. However, in his book, Cremo talks about modern human footprints in Brownsville Texas found in the clay right beside those of Tyrannosaurus Rex, from the same era (possibly running away from same...), thus implying that man existed in his current form at least 65 million years ago, which was the time that large dinosaurs like T-Rex were made extinct.
But then, he also reveals even older findings. Miners in the American Midwest found a piece of coal dating back around 300 million years ago, and when they opened up the piece of coal, they found inside a necklace obviously made by intelligence and tools.
The point here is that there is evidence to suggest that man may have existed in his current form many millions of years ago, at a time long before some scientists had thought that mankind had evolved to this form.
Another stroke against evolution might be the exact opposite situation: modern day apes and monkeys. How is it that they were somehow excused from evolution? Why did some apes evolve into pink-skinned intelligent humans, while others remained hairy apes? Does evolution pick and choose which will evolve? It has been my understanding that the principles of evolution apply indiscriminately to all species, equally. Yet these evidences I mentioned don’t bear that out.
These, frankly, are the questions that trouble me more that anything else about evolution.

Could there be other explanations to account for these anomalies? Always! There are always other possibilities, if you broaden your scope of thought. Time travel is one. That may sound crazy, but let’s not completely rule that out immediately. Remember, just because it is not available today doesn’t mean it will NEVER be available. And if it ever DOES become available in the long future developments of humankind over the next thousands of years, then that opens up a whole new set of explanations as to why evidence of modern humans may appear in the deep distant past, and the appearance of spaceship drawings in caves from thousands of years ago, and many other things. But I will leave all this for another time. For now, let’s stay focused on evolution.

Could evolution be not so gradual and steady, but rather irregular in terms of how it applies to species? For instance, does evolution speed up or slow down during different times of the Earth's development based on climate, temperature, radiation levels from the sun, etc.? Does a huge solar flare create enough radiation to encourage cellular mutations? What about a change in the food supply? When the food supply changes for a given area, does the new source of enzymes, etc. allow for changes over time? Or, are some species simply more prone than others to the tiny cellular mutations and DNA changes that account for evolution? We do know that species evolve. We have seen it and tracked it. It is a fact. But it is also a question of degree, isn’t it?

Some types of evolution are easier for us to accept than others.
For example, developing a darker skinned race from generation after generation of people being exposed to hot sun is probably easier to believe than a fish evolving into a bird. (until you see a flying fish, that is.) Although just yesterday, I read about a Liger. It is a new species of cat they discovered which is a mix of lion and tiger.

Some species become extinct every year, and new species are created and discovered every year. Evolution does happen, and we can even witness it happening in closed loop environments such as with single-celled lifeforms in a laboratory, or larger creatures like the various species of finch in geographically isolated places like the Galapagos Islands.
Viruses evolve rather quickly. In fact, right now one of the biggest threats to the world is the expected new more virulent strain of H5N1 influenza. The so-called ‘Avian Flu’ or ‘Bird Flu’ from China. It has evolved quickly to it’s current deadly state, but dies easily going from person to person. However, viruses are simple organism that evolve quickly and so researchers feel it is only a matter of a few months before it evolves to the next step of being more capable to travel intact from one human to the next via airborne methods. THEN we are in serious trouble. But this evolution is at the level of viruses – single-celled organisms. And the changes required are relatively small, and so are easily seen in the timespan of our observations, unlike the more gradual evolution of larger organisms that takes much longer.

However, there is also evidence of fish becoming amphibians becoming lizards, etc. in the skeletal and fossil remains paleontologists have unearthed and analyzed. There are no missing links there. Evolution is in evidence. It IS true, and it DOES happen. However, does it happen to ALL creatures,? And in fact, did it happen the same way to humans? I really don’t know. I was taught in school that it did, but that was science’s best guess. Some evidence supports it, and some does not.

Life From Rocks
This is an area of interesting discussion. Some people are very uncomfortable with the notion that the very first forms of life developed from inanimate materials. It is one thing to see the evolution on one kind of living thing gradually evolving over millions of years into another kind of living thing. But we often have a mental block about that life evolving from scratch, from inanimate chemicals in the first place. This seems to be the province of God.

Well… why? Why does life seem so special and so important? Perhaps we need a different paradigm for life. If you take away the concept of a soul, or a personality, and or intelligence, and awareness, and simply look at what remains, what you have is a collection of systems for consuming food, digesting it, converting it to energy, and various forms of movement and reproduction.
To make it easier, let’s take it down to the level of bacteria. Single-celled lifeforms. It becomes a little easier to see them as something that sits on the boundary between animate and inanimate. They move, but not by intelligent control, but merely by virtue of the functions of their cellular bodies. Other than those with the little propeller tail flagellum, most are just a blob that processes nutrients and create waste chemicals. It is essentially a tiny little machine performing chemical processing. Technically, it is life, but realistically, is it? It does not have awareness, and so it has no intelligence and no soul. It may move, and it may eat, and it may reproduce, but these are merely mindless automatic functions.
In a way, I would consider bacteria and other single-celled lifeforms to be the evolutionary bridge between living and non-living. They are both forms of matter. One moves the other does not. But is movement a deciding criteria for life? If a rock rolls down a hill, then is it a lifeform? No. And yet, if a tree does not move at all, is it still a lifeform? Yes. So, logically, ‘motion’ is not the deciding factor.

If you go to you will see an article about how many laboratories are now interested in creating “artificial life”. It is called this in deference to those who feel that "real life" can only be created by God. But essentially, they are taking inanimate non-living matter and creating that which qualifies as ‘life’ using our criteria for defining what constitutes life. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the text there:

“Labs say they have nearly all the tools to make artificial lifeMore than 3.5 billion years after nature transformed non-living matter into living things, populating Earth with a cornucopia of animals and plants, scientists say they are finally ready to try their hand at creating life.If they succeed, humanity will enter a new age of "living technology," where harnessing the power of life to spontaneously adapt to complex situations could solve problems that now defy modern engineering.

Scientists eagerly talk of a new world of ultra-small living machines, where marvelously made-to-order cells heal the body, clean up pollutants, transform electronics and communication, and much more.
Though some experts see this new technology as providing unlimited benefits, others worry about the moral appropriateness of human-made life and the introduction of new species with the potential to evolve into creatures that could run amok."It's certainly true that we are tinkering with something very powerful here," said artificial-life researcher Steen Rasmussen of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico."But there's no difference between what we do here and what humans have always done when we invented fire, transistors and ways to split the atom," he said. "The more powerful technology you unleash, the more careful you have to be."
Such concern is escalating as more than 100 laboratories study processes involved in the creation of life, and scientists say for the first time that they have just about all the pieces they need to begin making inanimate chemicals come alive.Unlike any other technology invented by humans, creating artificial life will be as jarring to our concepts of ourselves as discovering living creatures on other planets in the universe would be. It also would bring into sharper focus the age-old questions of "What is life?" and "Where do we come from?"”


What is "life" made of?
I think that it is important to look deeper. And I think if we look deep enough, perhaps we will see something unexpected.

As we now know and accept, all matter, both living and non-living, is made of molecules. All molecules are made of atoms. All atoms are made of sub-atomic particles such as neutrons, protons, electrons, gluons. And these, in turn, are made of even tinier particles called quarks. And those quarks may be made of even tinier things called superstrings. And they are elemental. They are not matter at all anymore, but rather they are merely energy. Energy that can produce vibrations in any of 10 physical dimensions. In fact, it is the speed and direction of these vibrations that determine what type of ‘particle’ it will act as, and therefore be interpreted as. Therefore, that which we interpret as ‘matter’, is really nothing more than the manifested effects of this energy in various forms.

So all matter is made of energy. Living matter and non-living matter. We are all made of the same stuff. And, in fact the rocks of the Earth are literally humming with energy if you look closely enough. And so are we. Do you think the molecule knows whether it is part of a living being or part of a rock? No. In fact, even the observer with intelligence could not tell that from the context of information at that level. We are all made of the same stuff – energy. Rocks, people, birds, air, grass – we are the same basic patterns of energy. We are basically swimming in a sea of patterns of energy. If we were in a spaceship reduced to the size of molecules we could travel between them and not know when we were leaving air and entering water, or a tree, or a human body. At that level, it all looks the same.

That which we call “life” is more or less an effect at a macro level. If you take a live tree and look at it’s molecules, and then chop it down to kill it, and again look at it’s molecules – there is no difference.
If you kill a human, and look at their molecules through a microscope, there is no difference. The matter is still all there. You have to get up to the cellular level before you could tell, and even then, not right away. Life is an effect of matter at a macro level, and is indistinguishable at the basic level of construction. It seems to simply be a more complex state of existence involving independent motion, and other systems for processing food and producing waste and reproducing. It is a machine.
If we create a robot that processes food and produces waste, and can move through independent movement, and reproduce itself by assembling another robot, is that life? Most would say no – but it does fit the criteria we have given for life.
But most would say it is not because it has no soul. What about a tree? Or an amoeba? That has life, but does it have a soul? No, we don’t think so. So therefore a soul is not required. So what IS life then? The answer is we don’t really know. Not when you really think it through. We have a general impression of it, but it is not very precise when you really get down to it.

Therefore I suggest our definition of life contains contradictions and exceptions and is therefore not reliable. It is merely our impression based on our feelings and on what we have been taught. The true fact is that we cannot really, objectively define what life is. Since the boundaries are blurred in terms of observations, and in terms of the rules, and since there are objects/creatures like bacteria and advanced robots that seem to occupy that fuzzy zone between animate and inanimate forms, I’d say the issue of whether ‘life’ evolved from ‘non-life’ has been rendered academic, and possibly moot.

The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory is the most widely accepted scientific view of how the universe began. For most scientists, it has now been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Why do we think there was a big bang that started the universe? Well, the theory began with a discovery in 1929 by astronomer Edwin Hubble. He discovered that all the other Galaxies were moving away from us and each other. And his theory, called “Hubble’s Law” explained and showed how they move away from us at speeds proportionate to their distance. They move away from each other not in the way that soap bubbles do in the bathtub, but rather all are constantly moving away from a single central point. As if they exploded from there. That produced the obvious conclusion that everything in the universe exploded from a single point. They could then calculate where that point was, and therefore when it happened. According to calculations, It happened 13.7 billion years ago.

This theory, if correct, predicted that there should be a background radiation in the universe equal to a couple of degrees Kelvin. This was in fact discovered in 1965 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. They discovered a background radiation of 2.725 degrees Kelvin that is found in all directions, permeating the entire universe. This was the proof that scientists were looking for for decades.
There has been a lot of research and thought dedicated to the Big Bang theory in this past half-century. The theory is based upon a mathematical construct called the “Friedmann-Lemaitre Expanding Spacetime Paradigm” which describes how it exploded, and the conditions during the time of explosion.
Stephen Hawking, (the leading physicist in the world today, and the current holder of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University in England), along with other physicists Roger Penrose, and George Ellis created the theories that extended Einstein’s theory of relativity to include space and time and their work explains that the Big Bang was not an event that happened IN space. Rather, it actually CREATED space itself. And time (since the two are linked).
That is to say that the big bang actually defined a finite beginning to space, time, and the universe.

This countered the earlier view held by Einstein himself that the universe was a ‘steady state’ and that it had been that way in perpetuity. But that view was before Hubble had discovered the expanding universe and developed the model to explain it, so Einstein can be forgiven for that easily enough.
However, as is always the case in Science where you have very clever people trying to out-perform each other, there are always going to be dissenting opinions. For example, in 2003, Dr. Robert Gentry published several papers that contradict the Big Bang theory by pointing out flaws based on faulty assumptions in the underlying Friedmann-Lemaitre Paradigm. He finds more accuracy when he uses the Einstein Static Spacetime Paradigm, which he calls the “Cosmic Rosetta Stone”. And he is not alone. There are several prominent astrophysicists, including Fred Hoyle, who agree with him.

So, the theory, although generally accepted throughout the world, is not universally accepted. But if it is a true picture of what happened, there are some surprising aspects to it. Specifically:
1) We have no idea what happened before the big bang. According to science, the big bang was the beginning of all things, and nothing existed before that.
2) We have no idea in what ‘space’ the big bang happened, since space itself was created by it.
3) We have no scientifically provable explanation for what caused the big bang to happen, or why.
4) The original point of the big bang explosion was a mathematical singularity. An odd anomaly where the laws of physics break down. It is a point of zero volume but infinite mass and infinite density. The mathematics of cosmology suggest that this is at the center of all black holes. And that there are massive black holes at the center of each Galaxy today. It seems strangely ironic to me that the laws of physics predict something that actually defies the laws of physics themselves.
5) Matter did not ‘explode’ from the central point in the traditional sense. There was much heat, but it simply ‘rushed’ out very fast.
6) Rather than slowing down as time went on (as you would expect from an explosion once the original energy that caused it to explode is expended), instead, after about 10 billion years, the expansion of the universe actually started to speed up, and is accelerating to this day. This has spawned a number of new theories about Negative Gravity, Dark Energy, etc. in the last few years since the discovery.
7) Hawking and Penrose have calculated that in the first few seconds as the original big bang exploded (expanded), all the matter expanded at the exact right rate to create a universe filled with matter. That is to say, if the rate of expansion had been any slower, then the atoms of all the matter would not be able to escape the collective aggregate gravitational pull of all the other matter in the universe and it would simply collapse again into another mathematical singularity (similar to how a black hole is formed). On the other hand, if the expansion was even just slightly faster, then all the sub-atomic particles would travel outward too fast and would escape the atomic bonds that would hold it together as cohesive solid matter, and we would have a universe of sparsely scattered particles spread out as a very fine dust.

To my mind, the static spacetime model of Einstein is more closely related to traditional material physical science than the Big Bang Theory. But if the BBT is true, (and there is much evidence to say that it is), then the very fact that the universe had a point of origin suggests to me that there was a God. A creator.
To my personal sense of logic, the fact that the universe did not always exist, and that it was in fact ‘created’, suggests that there was a ‘creator’. The Big Bang theory does not disprove God, it probably proves the existence of God – since there is no other natural or logical cause within the scope of our understanding that could result in this effect. Another point is that, not only was it triggered by a creator, but it was controlled precisely in a way to create a universe full of solid matter that would in all statistical likelihood, not otherwise exist.

So I am led to this statement (which is one of the Laws of the Universe that I wrote in my book currently being published, “The Handbook of Everyday Wisdom”):

“If there is no God, then there sure are a lot of coincidences.”


At 11/16/2005 7:14 PM, Anonymous RobertG said...

Here's some related recommended reading:

The Case Against Intelligent Design
The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name
by Jerry Coyne

One Side Can Be Wrong
by Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne

Unintelligent Design
by Scott Atran

Show Me the Science
by Daniel C. Dennett

. . . and to end on a laugh, try this comic . . .

'Stork Theory' To Be Taught Alongside Pregnancy Theory in Kansas Schools
Don Asmussen
Bad Reporter
San Francisco Chronicle
October 14, 2005

At 11/16/2005 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe’s responses to the different sections follow:

Fascinating!! I'm already learning new stuff. My (very unresearched) understanding of ID was a little off. I was unaware of the irreducible complexity concept. That's very interesting. I can actually see both sides of that argument. It's kind of like saying the V6 engine in my car is too complex to exist and/or function if it's not all in one piece. You certainly won't get very far if you just throw all the pieces of an engine in a box and try to start it. As the scientist pointed out, however, the piston alone could be used as a hammer and could exist by itself. It seems that the logical ID counter is that even though all the pieces and parts can exist and function on their own, they can't put themselves together. Someone (an outside force) has to design and build the engine based on the existing pieces and parts.

Based on your description, I find myself somewhere between ID and Evolution. I could care less about the Christian rights agenda but everywhere I look I see evidence that something or someone (even if it is the alien mutant teenager playing a video game) put all this in motion. While I do believe that we have and are still evolving (i.e. a work in process), I also see the logic that at certain points in the process, there may have been assistance from an outside force (i.e. assembling the engine, creating that first living cell, creating that first atom, etc.).

Your view in the final paragraph is very close to mine. I definitely believe in a higher power, whatever you may choose to call it. I've never really bought into the whole organized religion thing (even though I was raised a Catholic - a whole other topic) or that this higher power is involved in your day-to-day life. If he was involved on a daily basis, I can't imagine that there'd be as much suffering in the world. As you mentioned, the term 'create' can be used on several levels. I can 'create' a universe in a fish tank. As far as the fish know, I'm God. I created their environment. I control their environment and their existence. While I certainly didn't create them, from their perspective, it would be logical for them to assume I did. Using your dream analogy, I create my own dreams and all the characters in them. And while I don't usually concern myself with the workings of their internal organs, I can (and often do) alter their circumstances to affect an outcome. If I want a dream character to drive off a cliff, I can 'design' the scenario where their tire blows out as they're going around a curve. If I were the creator of the universe and it was my dream, I could certainly 'create' a new species (or planet, or galaxy, or etc.) now and then. Once I created that new entity, it might go off and 'evolve' for a few billion years and become something I don't like and therefore, I might 'design' that entities extinction (hmmm... can you say dinosaur?). I'm rambling, but you see my point. The ID folks may not be touting the appropriate science, but if you take the religious agenda out of it, there is a certain common sense and logic to it that I still don't see in either Creationism or Evolution (specifically the Big Bang aspect).

So, much of what you've written reinforces both my belief in evolution and my questions about it. It's only been in recent years that I have come to the understanding that Evolution has been decreed as the defacto origin of the species. When I was in school, it was taught as the Theory of Evolution. There were a lot of qualifying statements such as, "we think" and "we believe" or "evidence leads us to believe", etc. I guess that's one of the reasons the thought of teaching the Theory of Intelligent Design along side the Theory of Evolution doesn't really get my hackles up.

Meanwhile, let's talk about some of your points. The Missing Link does pose a bit of a problem for the evolution proponents, but I think that's just a matter of time before that piece of the puzzle is found. I do wonder often about the how and why some apes would evolve while others didn't. Also, I don't think anyone would disagree that there is something unique about the human species. After all, if we did evolve from apes, when and how did we acquire the ability to reason? When did we develop emotions, a conscience, a spiritual awareness? These are leaps in the evolutionary chain that beg for an explanation other than, "it just happened". It ranks right up there with turning rocks into life. More on that in a minute.

I was unaware of the book, Forbidden Archeology. Very interesting stuff. More reason to continue to consider Evolution to be a 'theory' rather than fact. As for the other explanations, i.e. time travel, etc., I think that makes for a great science fiction movie, but I'm going to continue to play the 'show me' card for a while on that one. You have a much broader acceptance of the various possibilities out there than I do. Maybe it was my conservative upbringing. Ironically, that's the same conservative upbringing that willingly bought into religion without much questioning at all. Hmmm...

Your thoughts on the different types of evolution go down the same path as one of my original comments. I can buy into the concept that man came from apes or the elephants came from woolly mammoths and even the concept that fish became amphibians and then lizards. Where I have my issue is, if we all came from the same first single cell, then somehow that first amoeba not only became a fish that became an amphibian and then a lizard, but it also somehow became an ape that then became a human and a woolly mammoth that then became an elephant. To me, those are other Missing Links that have yet to be explained. And, as you said, viruses are one thing, humans are another. To steal a line from one of my favorite movies, "Young Frankenstein", "worms, with rare exception, are not human beings".

On to the life from rocks area. I know from even my limited science education that all matter at the atomic level is essentially the same. I was even aware (partially from reading your blog) about quarks and subatomic particles. That, and because I've occasionally caught a Star Trek episode - "beam me up Scotty". But you also made the point - the most important point - that the difference between living and non-living matter is at the cellular level, not the atomic level. Let's go back to the engine analogy. I can use steal (the atomic level) to create a paperweight or a building or a V8 engine (the cellular level). Only one of those three has the ability to move and generate power. And none of them would have or could have evolved without a higher power (i.e. humans) designing and creating them.

I do find the thought that all matter at it's lowest level is really just energy. That would explain Carlos Santana's comment that music affects a person at the molecular level. After all, music is energy and one energy source being applied to another will obviously have an effect. It would also go a long way to explaining mental telepathy. If my entire being is nothing but a ball of energy, why couldn't I focus that energy on reading your energy (i.e. mind)? Oooh, I know what you're thinking you dirty pervert!

The concept that they are trying to create life from non-living elements if fascinating. When they succeed, maybe I'll change my mind. Call me a skeptic. I don't think it's going to happen. But as you also said, anything can be 'spun'. After all, nanotechnology already exists that allows us to create artificial microbes and microscopic machines. As far as I know, although these things have some lifelike qualities such as movement, they still fall into the category of non-living because they require external stimulus in order to function.

I guess I do veer from you a bit on the boundaries of what is life versus not. I think there is a clear distinction between something that can eat, breath, grow, think and move on its own with no artificial power source or external stimulus versus something that can't. Even the difference between seaweed and seasalt is substantial. A single cell amoeba is light years more complex than a grain of sand.

At 11/17/2005 7:48 AM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Thanks Robert, for the links. I haven't read ALL of them yet, but the ones I've read have been very good, and I see that I am on the right track.
I can always count on you to have a few excellent sources up your sleeve!

And thanks also to Joe P. Joe this has been a great conversation - like an extended version of our Thursday night Jams!
Thanks for pushing my buttons.


At 11/18/2005 11:37 AM, Anonymous RobertG said...

Here is a link to an article published in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

Vatican Official Refutes Intelligent Design

"God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity, He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves."

At 6/07/2006 12:21 AM, Anonymous igor said...


...alien mutant teenager playing a video game...

...Higher Power that puts everything in motion...

Dear Joe,

I am sorry, but AFAIU using aliens/higherPower/IDesigner to explain our universe get us nowhere. They are just labels to name things we don't (yet-hopefully) understand. What's the point? If you see some blackbox you have no idea what it is, does naming it with some word advance your knowledge?

Ok, let's assume ID is true and there is The Intelligent Designer. Ok. Let's ascend onto The designer's level. Question: how did that Designer come into existance? Evolution? Or another Super Intelligent Designer? Ok, super-designer. Now let's ascend onto his level.... and so on.

Same with the Matrix. Ok, our universe is alien's video game. What about those alien's universe? Video game of super-aliens? What about super-alien's universe? And so on... WTF?!

As far as I see it all - it's just exercise in combining together words into grammatically correct sentences... without any meaning. What's the point?

Someone would say that those higherPower/IDesigner, who rule our universe, are entities "beyond our understanding" and theier level is "not like our universe". And I'd say: so what? if we don't know what the BigBang was, does it help claiming that the bang was action of some higherPower which is even less understandable than big bang itself? how does this help us?

Do you want to have higherPower/Gods around? (I admit that would make our life interesting.) No problem. We have 3 of those Powers right now. No joking! Really. But there is some marketing problem - those Powers have un-attractive names: Gravity, Weak-EM Interaction, Strong Interaction.

Let's rename them: Strong Power, Lighting Power, Hugging Power. (btw - the nature of those Powers is Enigma. like the nature of God.) Oh! let's rename quantum mechanics as Dark Enigma. I hope this would render science as acceptable as, say, astrology, among wide masses of people, who, btw, eat from the science hand day and night, 24/7.


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