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Maybe It WAS The Flying Spaghetti Monster
Friday, 2005 August 19 - 11:31 pm
Did life on Earth start because of a botched science experiment? That's as good an explanation as any.

Researches in Berkeley are experimenting with building synthetic living organisms out of bits of genetic material. This young field of study is called "synthetic biology", and it's sure to throw more fire on the evolution-versus-creation debate.

Advocates of "intelligent design" might argue that our ability to create a synthetic organism actually supports the idea that life comes about because of the handiwork of some sentient being. On the other hand, evolutionists would say this suggests life is not so complex that it couldn't come about from ordinary chemical processes.

Earlier this week, Harvard threw its hat into the ring, announcing a research project with a $1 million annual budget to study the origins of life.

Listen, I'm trying very hard not to be critical of people's faith. But faith and science are very different things. Science is concerned with observation, hypothesis, testing, and refinement. Faith is based on a core unprovable belief. If something can not be proved right or wrong, then it lies outside the bounds of science.

For anyone who's an advocate of teaching "intelligent design" in science classrooms: tell me what scientific data we will use to test this hypothesis, and I'll be more inclined to play along with it. And you have to tell me something else: even if I accept the premise that life on Earth originally came about due to the actions of an intelligent creator, what's the scientific evidence that the creator was something supernatural, as opposed to some alien high school kid who dropped his test tube on our primordial planet surface? And what's the scientific evidence that this hypothetical creator is still manipulating things now, as your religious texts would have us believe?

If your argument is that we have no other rational explanations on how certain things work... well, we humans also used to puzzle at the behavior of the sun and the moon and the sea, and at one point we thought they were gods too. Ignorance of something should not lead us to grab any competing theory that's available. If we were to do that, we might as well go for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

One more thought for you: why do people still think heaven is "up"? I can understand that line of thinking if the Earth were flat. But if heaven were above our heads, then it would be below the feet of people in Australia. I'm hopeful that we humans have at LEAST progressed beyond the flat-Earth stage.
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Posted by Ken in: commentaryscience


Comment #1 from Nicholas (Guest)
2005 Aug 20 - 9:06 am : #
It occured to me recently that the intellegent design debate may show an erosion of the traditional creation belief. Are people who used to believe in 7 days of creation now believing in intelligent design, which may include a smidgen of evolution? I don't really know. The idea that a greater power made the rules and created the building block just so sounds more belivable, to me.

Intelligent design always reminded me of some peoples proof of God. I call it "Puppies and Rainbows". It is when people say "how can you explain the cuteness of puppies, and the beauty of rainbows. God must have created these wonderful things."
Comment #2 from MonoCerdo (Guest)
2005 Aug 20 - 11:42 am : #
Up there in paragraph four, you ask those who believe in intelligent design to offer data and evidence to support those claims. This is where you go wrong (and I think this was your point), because those who are fundamentalists believe on faith that all life was created by God because the Bible says so, and that's proof enough for them. To ask for scientific proof ignores the point.

I haven't written about this on my own site, and I probably never will, but I just had a long phone conversation with my father (a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian) who explained to me, in a very matter-of-fact manner, how evolution can't be true because life is too complicated (and also that the world is not billions of years old because carbon dating is inaccurate) (and also that the Bible does not contradict itself, ever). The problem is (aside from the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of evolution), that you can turn that first reasoning around and say that if all life was created as is by a divine creator in 7 days, why make it so complicated? What's the point?
Comment #3 from The Darkness (Guest)
2005 Aug 20 - 1:31 pm : #

Nicholas, there's an answer:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (no, not the monster).
It makes about as much sense as the puppy and rainbow argument.

Here's one for you: God created everything, therefore God created the Devil. So God must hate us all since he lets "the Devil" do bad things to us. No.. it's never our fault.. easier to blame The Devil. Pick a fallacy and have at it.

I find that some people just don't want their beliefs challenged. They are such a core part of that persons identity that any challenge to that belief is seen as direct attack on the person. Of course, that's hard for some of us to understand because we want to know why things are and not just be told by someone we percieve wants control over us.

And then there are those of us who just want to live good lives without the control freaks on the planet telling us how we have to live or we're going to "Hell."
Comment #4 from Ken (realkato)
2005 Aug 20 - 2:37 pm : #
Good points, all.

I want to reiterate that I don't mean to be critical of people's personal faiths and beliefs. I have my own pet theories on the origins and the nature of the universe. But I don't go around fighting to have those theories taught in a taxpayer-funded school.

What we should teach our kids in science class is how to reason. I would hope that even the most religious of people believe that God gave us brains so that we can think for ourselves.
Comment #5 from JohnC (Guest)
2005 Aug 23 - 10:33 am : #
The only place you are on a slippery slope is here:
"If something can not be proved right or wrong, then it lies outside the bounds of science."

Science never proves anything. It simply proposes a theory based on available facts. Right now evolution is the best theory fits the observed facts. As a friend of mine once said, "the first thing a scientest should be aware of is what he does not know."

Take gravity for example. There are a lot of observable facts that tells us that some force exists, and gives us an idea of the rules it follows. But last time I checked, the current theory on how it works is gravitons (I could be out of date on this one). And no one really knows what those are. Read this definition:
"In physics, the graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that transmits the force of gravity in most quantum gravity systems. In order to do this, one theory posits that gravitons have to be always-attractive (gravity never pushes), work over any distance (gravity is universal) and come in unlimited numbers (to provide high strengths near stars)."

Does this tell us anything in a difinative way? Absolutely not. In the next twenty years someone (if they have not done so already) will come up with a competeing theory on what causes gravity to work, and this graviton buisness might be out the window.

So Science has no pervue over what is right or wrong, other than to simply state and label the functions of the universe.

The reason I call attention to your statement about "right and wrong" is that companies have beeing using that same arguement to say there is no global cliamte change for years. Why? because it could not actually be proved. To say that science proves anything is to play right into this kind of thinking. We need to address global cliamte change because our best working theory states that it is happening and requires action. But if you wait for absolute proof, we will all be wearing goloshes.

What science teaches us is that our understanding of the universe is an ever changing thing. The reason Intelligent desing is a problem is that is:
A) Not even a recognizable theory.
B) An intellectual cop-out.

So I agree, Ken, when you say science class is there to teach us reason. Or more acurately, critical thinking. I am not a worshipper of reason. As a sales person, if I tried to use reason to sell things, I would quickly be out of a job. But critical thinking that lets you evaluate your own belifs and knowledge is vital to moving forward as a spieces and a country.
Comment #6 from Ken (realkato)
2005 Aug 23 - 3:02 pm : #
What I meant to say was this:

"There is a very important characteristic of a scientific theory or hypothesis which differentiates it from, for example, an act of faith: a theory must be 'falsifiable'. This means that there must be some experiment or possible discovery that could prove the theory untrue."

(Stolen from here.)

I didn't mean to say that something has to be proven completely true for it to be considered science. I meant that it needs to testable.

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