Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Ramble on The Origin of Life and Human Dignity

One of the premises of contemporary evolutionary theory views life as a self-replicating molecular and biological pattern. Another equally essential premise is that unimaginably long periods of time, as in billions of years, are necessary for evolution to "work." For a really, really nice overview see: Primordial Soup Experiment.

Given these two premises, it is inevitable that life would arise. First, consider that the spectra of various organic compounds of varying complexity have been observed near other stars. Second, consider that organic compounds have been found in meteorites and in comets. Further, consider the "Primordial Soup Experiment" by Stanley Miller.

My essential point is that once an immense amount of time is factored into the Miller experiment or into an experiment with similar starting conditions, it would only take once for the set of self-replicating molecules to arise and begin to replicate. Further once the relative size and energies available [solar, volcanic, ultraviolet, impactors, etc] are factored in, it does seem unlikely that life in some form would not arise, and not in just one isolated incident.

Given that survival in the most general sense in evolutionary biology is replication, it just doesn't strike me as all that problematic that life would eventually arise and no doubt has arisen many times throughout the history of the universe in ways that we are unlikely to ever imagine.

Essential to evolution, however, is immense stretches of time. It is for this reason that fundamentalists, Christian or otherwise, insist that creation of human beings and of life, generally, took place at what ought to be a historically verifiable moment.

Running all through the theory of evolution like a red thread is this necessity for unimaginably vast periods of time.In addition to the temporal and spatial vastness in modern science, evolution adds another element to the diminution of humanity: there is no guarantee of the immortality of humanity. Not only will everyone die, but at some point in the future, all human beings will have died. Either replaced by another species or extinct because of a failure to adapt to hostile changes in the earth's environment. The mortality of homo sapiens as a species is a major theme in science fiction. The most famous example is probably Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (the book is much clearer on this than the movie).

I can understand the creationists in this regard, they are saying with Immanuel Kant what he said of the Copernicus's heliocentric theory, "It diminishes my sense of importance." How much of human psychology is hard-wired to assume without question, not personal immortality, but immortality of the species? It is not just that everyone will die, but that everything that would persist past my death will eventually perish, as well. One day it will be as if humanity had never existed. Whether that day is only a couple of millennia in the future, or won't be until our sun becomes a bloated red giant and destroying the earth. Or, at some other time in the future, when the universe has become unrecognizable. Again, this is the major theme of 2001 and Clarke treats the problem more thoroughly and in much more detail than I do here., even if I think his "solution" makes 6-day creationism seem quite reasonable in comparison.

This ramble suggests a defense of Christianity, albeit an ironic one: human beings can't handle the truth. It is the rationale of Dostoyevski's Grand Inquisitor from The Grand Inquisitor for crucifying Jesus once again. It is also the pessimistic conclusion that human beings do not want the truth, don't care for it, and most definitely don't like it. But any denial of truth, requires that critical inquiry at best be curtailed and at worst be punished on pain of eternal damnation.

And as for the celebrated criticism of evolution that it is an affront to human dignity, I can't but think that it really means that human beings can't afford to take the risks entailed by searching for and possibly finding the truth of their origins. In other words, human beings are weak, cowardly, and little better than children who need protection from the challenges of life and of being responsible for their actions. Again shades of The Grand Inquisitor.

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