Paul Giem’s comment to my Faith and Reason post below is so good, I thought it deserved its own post. Read on to see how Paul demonstrates decisively that in the origin of life context (OOL) the materialists’ faith commitment is the sort of blind-leap-in-the-dark-in-the-teeth-of-the-evidence stretch of which they delight in accusing theists of making.
Paul is responding to a comment from Tom MH:
It does seem like we share the axiom that the universe is rational, although we need to explore precisely what that means.
Does that mean that the universe is self-explanatory? If Big-Bang cosmology is correct, then there was a time when the universe was not self-explanatory. One can postulate a God, or multiple universes, or a super-universe. But the universe we know cannot explain itself, when pushed back beyond some 13.7 billion years. So, unless one is prepared to challenge Big-Bang cosmology, one must admit that rationality (for the universe) does not entail complete obedience to natural law (the laws of physics as we understand laws) and nothing else. For the laws of physics fail at the moment of the Big Bang. That’s why it is called a singularity.
Are there any other times at which there is evidence for a singularity? Are there any other times when the laws of physics fail to explain the observed phenomena? Probably the best candidate for such a time is at the origin of life. Consider three postulates:
1. Life exists at present.
2. Life could not have existed for a substantial period of time after the Big Bang.
3. Life comes only from life.
I believe we can agree on the first postulate. I believe that, given the Big Bang, we can agree on the second postulate. The real question is whether the third postulate is secure.
As you know, there was a time when the third postulate was believed to be demonstrably false. That time is gone. In fact, the whole point of evolution would be moot if the third postulate were routinely violated. Need some new phyla in the Cambrian? No problem. Trilobites, starfish, clams, hallucinogenia, and hagfish can just spontaneously pop into being. No need to postulate, let alone find, intermediates between ediacaran life and trilobites, for instance. For that matter, no need to find intermediates between reptiles and birds, or between chimpanzees and humans. They just spontaneously generated. The point is that it is generally recognized that the spontaneous generation of life is at least difficult and rare.
Is it even possible without the intervention of some kind of intelligence? We certainly don’t know the answer is yes by any kind of scientific experimentation. In fact, all our experiments to date argue that the answer is no. So if there is to be any evidence for the belief in abiogenesis, it must (at present) come from theory.
But as you also probably know, there is no coherent theory that explains the origin of life from non-life without intelligence either. Otherwise, Harverd scientists would not have gotten their grant to produce such a theory.
And the obstacles in the way of such a theory are formidable. They include (not an exhaustive list):
1. Miller-Urey apparati do not produce all the amino acids used in life.
2. Miller-Urey apparati produce numerous other compounds not used in life, and some that are toxic (the most prominent one being hydrogen cyanide).
3. Miller-Urey apparati do not produce sugars in the presence of ammonia, which is required for producing amino acids.
4. Miller-Urey apparati do not produce all the bases needed for DNA and RNA (Adenine, (HCN)5, being the only one made in appreciable amounts).
5. No known reaction will add bases to the 1-position of ribose (even living organisms do not synthesize the nucleosides that way, using either a complicated synthesis for adenine and guanine, or orotic acid for uridine and cytidine).
6. There is no known process for consistently forming one chirality (left-handed versus right-handed) of biochemical compounds from racemic (non-chiral or mixed chiral) reagents, outside of life itself.
7. There is no known way to get nucleoside triphosphates from nucleosides other than biochemically.
8. When nucleosides polymerize naturally into RNA, they form 2?-5? linkages rather than the 3?-5? linkages normally found in RNA.
9. When RNA is formed by RNA polymerase, shorter RNA molecules outcompete longer ones.
10. Reasonable requirements for the specificity of RNA required for the origin of life are vastly beyond the probabilistic resources of the universe.
11. Even given all the ingredients for life, life will still not spontaneously reorganize. That is why canned fool can sit on the shelf indefinitely without spoiling.
Thus all the evidence we have points to postulate 3 above being correct; life only comes from life. This appears to point to another singularity, this time after the universe began.
Postulating a material intelligence (as Dawkins allowed) doesn’t solve the problem. For then that intelligence must have arisen via some mechanism also. If it is life, then we still must allow for its spontaneous generation, or else a singularity for it. Non-living intelligence is even more of a reach. To postulate that computers, for example, can evolve without intelligent (e. g., from people) input completely strains credulity. And computers cannot have made it through the Big Bang.
So we are left with three alternatives.
1. There are laws of which we are totally ignorant that can produce life from non-living material, without the intervention of intelligence.
2. Life arose through a singularity with no cause, sometime after the universe was formed (implying a break in rationality).
3. Life arose through the action of an intelligent agent, whose intelligence is not dependent upon the organization of matter (which would make that agent supernatural).
Option 2, it seems to me, is irrational, and concedes a universe that is at least partly irrational. Option 3 is not irrational, but is not materialistic, postulating an entity or entities that is/are not restricted to the material. That is, it is rational, but not materialistic.
Option 1 is rational in one sense; we know that our information is incomplete, and this could be one more area where our information is incomplete. And belief in abiogenesis allows us to view the universe as completely (well, except for quantum mechanics and the Big Bang itself), explained by cause-effect relations.
But it is heavily faith-based. We have no experimental evidence for this belief, and the theoretical problems appear insoluble. We have here belief against all the evidence, analogous to the most daring leaps of religious faith imaginable, that is to say, faith not only without evidence but in the teeth of evidence. And it is even worse; there is no appeal to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining. It is a miracle without God.
The rationale that I have seen for this leap of faith is usually that “science” has solved all previous problems and will solve this one too. But this argument is wrong, on two counts. First, even if successful, it would only establish that there was relative parity between the argument for the supernatural origin of life and those for abiogenesis. We would still be completely dependent on faith to believe in abiogenesis.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, “science” has in fact not solved all previous problems. Science has come up to a stone wall regarding the origin of the universe. In fact, “science” has come up to several difficult obstacles, issued promissory notes, and moved on without actually solving the problems. The origin of the Cambrian fauna is something that non-interventionalist evolutionary theory has simply postulated without fossil evidence. The origin of the flagellum in a step-by-step manner has never actually been demonstrated (the best try, that of Matzke, was actually a leap-by-leap explanation, and even then without any experimental evidence to back up his scenario). This insistence that nature must be self-contained is in fact faith against the weight of evidence.
Now if you want to believe in abiogenesis by faith, I won’t begrudge you. But some of us prefer to be a little more evidence-based.