Life, the Universe and Almost Everything

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 5)

Having amazed us with their grasp of science in Chapter 4 (and incidently proving along the way that they’re not too clear on the difference between a constant and a variable), Geisler and Turek are now ready to dazzle us with their insight into a biological problem that even the most experienced and intelligent of researchers have found to be a tough nut to crack: the origin of life. Let’s see how many factual errors they can commit in a single paragraph. Ready?

One needs to be playing with only half a deck or be willfully blind to suggest that messages like “Take out the garbage—Mom” and “Mary loves Scott” are the work of natural laws. Yet these conclusions are perfectly consistent with principles taught in most high school and college biology classes today. That’s where naturalistic biologists dogmatically assert that messages far more complicated are the mindless products of natural laws. They make this claim in trying to explain the origin of life.

How many false claims did you find? I’ll list the ones I found, below the fold.

First of all, one needs to be playing with a stacked deck to suggest that the order of atoms in a molecule is an attempt to communicate an arbitrary message. Geisler and Turek begin by assuming that the building blocks of life are the work of an Intelligent Designer (masculine singular, no doubt), and they then use this “evidence” to support the conclusion that life is the work of an Intelligent Designer. They use several familiar examples of unquestionably human messages to illustrate their point: letters from Post Alpha-Bits cereal arranged to spell out English words addressed to a particular person from a known person, messages written in the sand about two people who are standing only a few feet away, skywriting spelling out an ad for Coke.

The order of nucleotides in DNA, they suggest, is analogous to the order of letters in a written message. Just as each written English message needs an intelligent English-speaking writer, each DNA message also needs an intelligent DNA writer. There’s just one problem: new DNA “messages” are being “written” all the time (every time any organism reproduces in fact), and none of these “messages” is being written by an intelligent DNA writer. Geisler and Turek would like to make the naive analogy that each new message requires a message writer, but if they’re going to label DNA as a “message,” they’ve created a vast pool of counter examples that show that new messages are being written all the time without any intelligent intervention.

Please note, these are not mere (pardon the expression) carbon copies of older DNA messages. Fundamental, natural, biochemical processes are creating new “messages,” without intelligent intervention. Creationists would like to hand-wave this problem away by claiming that the DNA was “programmed” to do this, but the fact remains that natural biochemical processes do produce new “messages,” which completely breaks their argument that nature can’t produce new messages without an intelligent message writer. That means that the question of abiogenesis has to be answered by studying biochemistry and figuring out exactly how nature does work. Naive analogies just aren’t going to solve the problem for us.

On to the next error: “these conclusions [that ‘messages’ are the work of natural law] are perfectly consistent with principles taught in most high school and college biology classes.” Is this an error or not? It depends on whether Geisler and Turek consider new DNA as being new messages analogous to the naive examples they cite. If new DNA patterns are indeed new “messages,” then yes, believing in new “messages” (i.e. new DNA) is consistent with the principles being taught in modern biology class (and that’s a good thing, not an instance of “playing with half a deck” or being “willfully blind”). On the other hand, if they’re wrong about DNA being a “message,” then they’re also wrong about biology classes teaching principles that are analogous to claiming that “Mary loves Scott” results from undirected processes. (Aside: what have Geisler and Turek got against education, anyway? They make it sound like learning some biological science is on par with joining an evil cult or something!)

Geisler and Turek’s next error is inexcusably common: they erroneously accuse biologists (and biology teachers no less) of being able to explain abiogenesis, which any qualified biologist can tell you is still an unsolved problem with an unknown answer. Biologists will point out that the evidence we do have is consistent with a natural origin for life, and that we almost certainly will someday puzzle out the natural processes which would allow life to arise (unless the Intelligent Designers succeed in getting everyone to stop looking, so that they can claim that ID is the only possible explanation). But the bottom line is that scientists don’t yet know how life arose, and they freely admit it.

God does not show up in the real world. In His absence, some men, like Geisler and Turek, use their own ignorance of science as an excuse to believe that science will never explain abiogenesis. Like a hydrophobic penguin taking refuge on a melting and shrinking ice floe, they build arguments out of what science does not yet know, even as science continues to learn. It will be interesting to see what happens when scientists learn the answer to this one too. Will Geisler and Turek simply skip chapter 5 in the next edition?

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