Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Genesis Revisited
June 22, 2009 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Genesis Revisited scientifically summarises the scientific field of Creation Science (warning: science) [transcript]
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 (103 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have created an even more concise summary of the entire scientific content of Creation Science: .
posted by chalkbored at 2:07 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cuz Jesus he loves me, and he knows I'm right.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 2:10 PM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


What's saddest of all is, back when I was really really high on Jesus, I actually looked at the universe through exactly this lens.

(Although to be honest, my particular slant was that Satan made all the fossils to confuse and corrupt man's intellect, not that God did it for no good reason at all.)
posted by hippybear at 2:10 PM on June 22, 2009


I hope it goes without saying that, like the man who was turned into a newt, I got better.
posted by hippybear at 2:11 PM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm glad to hear it hippybear. What changed your mind?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:13 PM on June 22, 2009


EMRJKC'94: um... that's a very long story, involving time spent abroad, an increasing awareness that it wasn't boobies that made my dick hard, and finally having the pastor at my church tell me that I was no longer welcome there. After 4-5 years of complete rejection of spirituality altogether, I finally found some kind of balance, but discovered my previous ability to believe in zombie saviors had disvaporated in the meantime. Happily, a lot more of the world made sense without those coke-bottle lenses distoring my view, and it's been much easier ever since.
posted by hippybear at 2:16 PM on June 22, 2009 [11 favorites]


an increasing awareness that it wasn't boobies that made my dick hard, and finally having the pastor at my church tell me that I was no longer welcome there.

The world can be so hard on ass men.

I keed.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:18 PM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


roll truck roll: can I MeFi marry you?
posted by hippybear at 2:20 PM on June 22, 2009


Too late. We can talk later about an annulment.
posted by hippybear at 2:24 PM on June 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


out of curiosity, being largely unfamiliar with the actual texts of Intelligent Design, can anyone tell me how closely this adheres to the things proponents of ID have said?
posted by shmegegge at 2:41 PM on June 22, 2009


The bang was followed by cosmological inflation

...maybe

out of curiosity, being largely unfamiliar with the actual texts of Intelligent Design, can anyone tell me how closely this adheres to the things proponents of ID have said?

As far as I'm aware ID is purely focused on biology. So it would be similar just with the creator (...in no way related to the Christian God *nudge* *nudge*) making new species at various intervals, which then undergo "micro-evolution."

If you want to know more about ID this documentary is pretty good .
posted by Erberus at 2:50 PM on June 22, 2009


"Thy equilibrium shall not be punctuated" may now be my fourth favourite sentence.
posted by carmen at 2:58 PM on June 22, 2009


out of curiosity, being largely unfamiliar with the actual texts of Intelligent Design, can anyone tell me how closely this adheres to the things proponents of ID have said?

About zero%. This is more a satire of 7-day, young-earth creationists.

Most of the people who have attempted to make actual science-sounding arguments for Intelligent Design (Michael Behe, et. al.) actually believe that the universe is billions of years old. They read Genesis more like the way Christians such as St. Augustine have classically read it, not in the "literal" sense that was invented in the last couple centuries as a reaction to German Higher Criticism and which gave birth to young-earth creationism in the 20th century.

Most of the Intelligent Design movement is a sort of "God of the gaps" argument, claiming that, while most of what scientists say about the formation of the universe and the evolution of life is correct, there are some gaps in scientific theory that can only be explained by some sort of outside intervention, typically thought to be God working a miracle.

This is not to deny that there are plenty of young-earth creationists who champion the phrase "Intelligent Design," not because they have any idea what it means, but because they think it's a way to sneak creationism back into the schools.

Also, Intelligent Design, as a serious attempt to get scientists to re-examine whether there are some serious flaws with evolutionary theory, is pretty much dead. Because the movement got co-opted by the Christian Culture Warriors into a political shouting match, it was (rightly) shouted down. Even if these people had something worth serious scientific consideration (I don't think they did), there's no chance of them getting a hearing outside of their little circle of believers now.
posted by straight at 3:08 PM on June 22, 2009 [11 favorites]


typically thought to be God working a miracle

Also, I think some of the people who call them selves proponents of "Intelligent Design" would go so far as to say that evolution happens, but it was in some way programed into the universe's design, rather than talking about miraculous interventions. So, more like Deists, and again, not subscribing to the young-earth creationism reading of Genesis.
posted by straight at 3:12 PM on June 22, 2009


I'm a volunteer blacksmith at a small recreation smithy at a nature center near where I live.
Often, groups of children will visit the nature center and I'll demo a little russian rose or something for them on the cavalry forge.

Anyway, part of the demo is that I show them the three phases of coal: "green" coal, coke, and clinkers. At one point in the demo, I ask, "Does anybody know what coal is made out of?" And they all shake their heads. And I say, "DINOSAAAAUUURS! RAAAAWRR!" and I make the little piece of coal attack them like a dinosaur. (Never mind that it's actually dinosaur plants, which are way less cool.) A few months ago, when I got to this point in the demo, a middle-aged woman ran to the front and grabbed her kid, clasping her hands over his ears and carrying him out. It was all quite weird. After the demo, I saw her standing outside the smithy. I asked what I had said that was so offensive - I honestly wanted to know so I wouldn't repeat my mistake. I thought maybe her kid was petrified of dinosaurs.
She looked at me and scowled. "Coal isn't made out of dinosaurs, that's ridiculous. Dinosaurs aren't real." I gaped. I asked her why she thought that. "Dinosaurs aren't in the bible, they're a fairy tale made up to trick people into not believing in God." This, I had not heard. I was still stuck on the coal, though. I asked her why she thought it was called a "fossil fuel." She wrinkled her nose and shook her finger at me, like I was trying to trick her or something. I think she also said something about how I better clean up my act if I want to continue working with kids.

Watching her drive off in her gasoline-powered minivan was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:13 PM on June 22, 2009 [91 favorites]


And here I thought this would be about Peter Gabriel.
posted by goethean at 3:13 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


And here I thought this would be about Peter Gabriel.

Gabriel is the lone holdout of all the original members for doing a Lamb Lies Down reunion tour. How can we convince him??? HOW????

posted by hippybear at 3:22 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Watching her drive off in her gasoline-powered minivan Earth vehicle powered by exploding dinosaurs was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

Just a suggestion for the next time you tell that awesome story.
posted by straight at 3:26 PM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


I emphatically cannot take seriously any individual who thinks the earth is 6000 years old.

Fundies are about the only people on Earth I actually hate. Sure, I can have some measure of contempt, disgust, or pity regarding various folks, but fundies are so fucking militant and proud of their ignorance and their illogicity and their irrationality and they're so fucking STUPID that frankly, I don't see why I SHOULDN'T hate them.
posted by kldickson at 3:28 PM on June 22, 2009 [11 favorites]


I emphatically cannot take seriously any individual who thinks the earth is 6000 years old.

I'm still half-convinced that such people don't actually exist, that it's all a big put-on by the Christian fundamentalists just to screw with the rest of us.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:38 PM on June 22, 2009


And here I thought this would be about Peter Gabriel.
Huh? Who else do you think the protagonist is?
posted by Flunkie at 3:40 PM on June 22, 2009


Baby_Balrog:

If coal is made of hundred-million-year-old dinosaurs, then how did cavemen make dinosaur barbecue? Huh? Smartass.
posted by qvantamon at 3:41 PM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


...so He created creation myths.

Ah HA! It's all a myth. God himself said so.

Wait... doesn't that self contradict everything into an Ouroboros like destructive cycle that ends in the heat death of everything?

Because I'm ok with that.
posted by quin at 3:41 PM on June 22, 2009


I remember back in my first year as a teacher presenting a highly simplified version of the "big bang" hypothesis to the gr. 9 kiddies, and having someone put up their hand and commenting "that's not what it says in the bible". Good times. I was actually pretty shocked--didn't realize there were still so many creationist wackos out there. That's the stuff they don't warn you about in teacher's college.
posted by Go Banana at 3:41 PM on June 22, 2009


No, really.. the "God Said It, I Believe It, and That Settles It" bumpersticker is an honest worldview for some. When I was doing the Jesus thing, I went to a Baptist church once in TX where I was attending college, and had with me my New International Version Bible. The pastor was teaching the sunday school class, and he said something about some verse, and I pointed out that in my translation, the wording was slightly different enough to change the implied meaning of the quotation. He walked over to me, took my Bible out of my hands, looked at it, and then gave it back to me. He then walked to the front of the room, waved his own Bible in front of all of us and declared, "I read the King James Bible. And I tell you, if it was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for me."

That was the last day I went to that church.
posted by hippybear at 3:41 PM on June 22, 2009 [18 favorites]


ID people seem to think of God as the tuckpointer of knowledge, filling in the unexplained gaps until we figure it out. Most of His mortar is pretty crumbly and doesn't last long though. I'm gonna file a complaint.
posted by jamstigator at 3:54 PM on June 22, 2009


I knew God was a Mason!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:58 PM on June 22, 2009


Cuz Jesus he loves me, and he knows I'm right.

You magnificent bastard!
posted by kid ichorous at 4:03 PM on June 22, 2009



'straight' referred to Baby Balrog's smithy story as awesome. I suppose. But personally I found it depressingly sad.
posted by notreally at 4:16 PM on June 22, 2009


Gee, this thread is just going to poop out in a big poop pile of self-congratulation unless someone pipes up for creationists. Personally, I support the creationist theory of Philip Henry Gosse, the inspired 19th century biologist (there's an excellent biography,"Glimpses of the Wonderful" by Ann Thwaite), entemologist, botanist, lepidopterist and marine biologist (he invented the aquarium and gave it its name), described by Stephen Jay Gould as the "David Attenborough of his day," for his enthusiasm for natural science. (See Gosse's wonderful illustrations here along with a discussion of Gosse vs. Darwin.) Gosse was a fine and honest fundamentalist who believed that God created the earth and all its fossils and all evidence of its non-Godly creation not 6,000 years ago, but just... then. I mean, just... right... then... when you read that. He planted all the evidence retroactively in that instant -- all the evidence including Richard Dawkins' most recent book. He did it that way because he's God and he's cool.
posted by Faze at 4:17 PM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


I emphatically cannot take seriously any individual who thinks the earth is 6000 years old.

I think it should be remembered that a lot of these people were homeschooled and grew up in very closed communities. Which is to say on a rational assessment of the evidence what they believe is incorrect....but they are never exposed to such a thing, the closest they get to understanding the big bang is a complete straw man.

The other thing I think creationists demonstrates is that we often feel that our rationality/logic informs our beliefs. Were as in fact the reverse can occur, once a worldview sticks firmly in your head enough your logic can be distorted to a disturbing extent by your willingness to make it fit with what you expect/want.

I completely disagree with creationists but I don't feel I do or should hate them.

Watching her drive off in her gasoline-powered minivan was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

That's hilarious. I wonder what such people think of the ancient egyptians.
posted by Erberus at 4:18 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


It was certainly NOT good enough for Jesus. I'd consider it good enough if Jesus read it, thought "WTF, they're gonna fucking crucify me!" and got out of Dodge before Passover, then gave that snitch Judas some concrete boots and dropped him on the Jordan.
posted by qvantamon at 4:18 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


hm, that was in reply to this
posted by qvantamon at 4:20 PM on June 22, 2009


Saying "God instantaneously poofed everything into existence with the appearance of age" is just as convincing to me as "billions of years and billions of murky processes turned nothing into sludge into people".

While it is pretty hurf-durf-hilarious to mock Creation Science, would anyone care to point me in the direction of a robust explanation for the origin of life?
posted by mhjb at 4:37 PM on June 22, 2009


You know Faze, that's kind of like my belief but it I believe all the right thens line up in an unbroken chain about 15000000000 year long.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:39 PM on June 22, 2009


would anyone care to point me in the direction of a robust explanation for the origin of life?

Why, certainly.

Oh, wait... never mind /EmilyLotilla
posted by hippybear at 4:47 PM on June 22, 2009


There are certainly people around who say that God made everything with the appearance of age, which is a much larger deception than it might seem at first. It's not just that he started with a "mature" Earth (whatever that means)--it would also involve making "back stories" for everything we can see with our telescopes, going back for millions of years. If you think the Earth is 6000 years old, but we can see light from a star that is 11 million light years away, then God must have generated 10,994,000 years of images of things that never really happened. It is a perfectly flawless and enormously convincing deception.

And, as I've said to my fundy acquaintances time and time again, how could God possibly punish me for believing a lie that he put so much creative energy into?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:50 PM on June 22, 2009 [13 favorites]


mhjb: Chapter 1 of The Selfish Gene is probably the best explanation I know of. (And the entire book is worth reading, it's by far Dawkins' most important work... in that it is important at all, rather than a diatribe.)
posted by mek at 4:55 PM on June 22, 2009


@mhjb How Robust? It's a broad set of sciences with a number of branches here and there.

As it is there is no single concrete "Origin of Life on Earth" theory that has been conclusively proven (what with a lack of reproducible or at least observable evidence) which of course is preceded by a series of lengthy and sometimes unlikely cosmic events (the formation of earth itself being one of them, as a coalesced ball of fused matter tossed from the spinning core of a stellar creche or as a captured mass from a previous cosmic expulsion.

However, any serious "origin of life" discussion is going to first have to define it's bounds. Do you mean, origin of Earthly life or Life as a whole in the Universe. As to the latter I have no idea at all.


Otherwise there is always the never ending search ;)
posted by NiteMayr at 4:57 PM on June 22, 2009


What emerges as the most compelling thing for me about Genesis is that it existed in a time when profit margins and sales figures weren’t the sole motivator of industry execs, and yet God gets criticism for selling out because he keeps touring some two thousand years after his #1 hit was popular.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:58 PM on June 22, 2009


From a scientific standpoint, the origin of life (abiogenesis), is at the "That's a good question" phase.

That's science for you. Questions first, then answers. Sometimes no answers.

Many people do not like that.
posted by Xoebe at 5:12 PM on June 22, 2009 [11 favorites]


1. Given enough space and time, anything within the laws of physics is inevitable.
2. However unlikely it may seem, it is within the laws of physics for simple chemicals to undergo reactions which eventually form partially-self-replicating chemicals. These eventually undergo natural selection in which those best adapted to surviving and replicating are more likely to be partially replicated, and so complex organisms evolve.
3. Therefore, life is inevitable and does not require an intelligence to design it.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:17 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


What emerges as the most compelling thing for me about Genesis is that it existed in a time when profit margins and sales figures weren’t the sole motivator of industry execs

And yet, Peter Gabriel STILL left to start his solo career.

C'mon Pete! Lamb on Tour! You know you want to!
posted by hippybear at 5:17 PM on June 22, 2009


I think it should be remembered that a lot of these people were homeschooled and grew up in very closed communities.

While I'm certain there are a great many homeschooled Bible-thumping Creationists out there, there is also an astonishing preponderance of this school of thought among traditionally-educated people.

The father of one of my friends is a high school biology teacher in Iowa. (And don't leap to judge Iowa - remember the recent ruling on gay marriage? - they've got some forward-thinking people there.) It wasn't too many years ago he had to fight to continue to teach evolution. In biology class! And he's still having to fight to keep creationism out.

I've run into a fair number of people who made it all the way through the public school system in a metropolitan area (and one or two who made it through 4 years of college) and managed to maintain their belief that God is the greatest practical joker of all time, planting those dinosaur bones just to trick us. And oh, how they pitied me that I was so easily fooled.

Creationists are everywhere, Erberus. So stop being so, erm, closed-minded about the origins of...closed-minded people.
posted by philotes at 5:18 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who's mocking Creation Science (at least in this thread)? And by the way, surely a more ob(li)vious self-mockery has yet to be invented.
posted by sneebler at 5:22 PM on June 22, 2009


If you think the Earth is 6000 years old, but we can see light from a star that is 11 million light years away, then God must have generated 10,994,000 years of images of things that never really happened.
That's not true. It only need have created as much as we can have seen, i.e. 6000 years' worth.
posted by Flunkie at 5:25 PM on June 22, 2009


(I mean, taking this absurd hypothesis at face value)
posted by Flunkie at 5:27 PM on June 22, 2009


There are certainly people around who say that God made everything with the appearance of age, which is a much larger deception than it might seem at first.

While I don't believe this is true, I find it much more appealing than most people, and I wouldn't call it a "deception". I'd call it "creating a fully-fleshed-out world with extensive backstory." Because a "brand new" world would be empty and boring. The sky would have been empty if Adam had to wait years and years for the starlight to reach him. And there would be no water-eroded harbors, no wind-eroded canyons. No fossil fuels to burn.

If Adam were truly created from the dust, he'd better have been created with a meal in his belly, or he'd have no energy to eat his first "real" meal. Never mind the belly button, would it have been "deceptive" for God to create Adam with muscle definition as if he'd been moving his limbs for years? With the necessary neural connections in his cerebellum to walk, as if he'd been doing so since he was a child?

If you accept the idea of creation ex nihilo at all, then it's going to look "deceptive" in the sense people complain about here. Whatever God creates is going to look like it must've had some sort of existence before it was created. Unless it doesn't look real.

Supposedly, the story of The Hobbit was born when Tolkien doodled on a student essay the sentence: "In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit." And then he started writing a story to see where it went. And along the way he incorporated a whole bunch of Elf lore he'd been thinking about but hadn't written into a story yet.

So imagine if Tolkien could talk to Bilbo, and tell him about how The Hobbit was written. Bilbo could tell people, rightly, that the Shire was created in a day, and that he himself was the First Hobbit. The Elves, of course, would scoff, knowing (remembering!) as they did that Middle Earth had existed for ages before Bilbo was born.
posted by straight at 5:55 PM on June 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


I should disclose my foregone conclusion instead of pretending to be open-minded:

I was raised to believe the most literal interpretation of Genesis, and taught to defend this position by massively intelligent men (lettered men well acquainted with science). Indoctrinated, yes, but no more so than any public school kid.

It was by immense personal effort, study, and honest introspection that I eventually made the decision to break my solemn vow to the church, and break ties with an entire community that had generously and compassionately nurtured me my entire life.

One of the deciding factors was this origin-of-life question: where did all this stuff come from, and how did this stuff become animated? Regardless of how much science or faith you put into it, it always comes down to a personal choice to believe or not believe. This was too fickle a standard for me to stake my life on.

In considering the options, I am yet to find any explanation that comes close to satisfactory, and I am baffled that the enormous majority of people can be so militantly certain of theories which to me seem so obviously riddled with holes.

My conclusion is this: ineffability is fundamentally crucial to a healthy understanding of life. Being able to say "I don't know" is the most liberating tenet I've ever signed up to.

p.s. It is ignorant to assume everyone who believes in creation science is a hillbilly idiot. Plenty of intelligent people are satisfied by the creation science explanation because creation science has an answer for everything. E.g. Old starlight is visible due to an expanding event horizon initiated at the instant of creation.
posted by mhjb at 5:56 PM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


If you think the Earth is 6000 years old, but we can see light from a star that is 11 million light years away, then God must have generated 10,994,000 years of images of things that never really happened.

I would be shocked if Creationists haven't come up with some pseudo-physics way around this, a la their misrepresentation of the second law of thermodynamics.
posted by brundlefly at 6:04 PM on June 22, 2009


Plenty of intelligent people are satisfied by the creation science explanation because creation science has an answer for everything. E.g. Old starlight is visible due to an expanding event horizon initiated at the instant of creation.

SEE?
posted by brundlefly at 6:05 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


straight:While I don't believe this is true, I find it much more appealing than most people, and I wouldn't call it a "deception". I'd call it "creating a fully-fleshed-out world with extensive backstory."

I can understand the appeal, and might share it myself, if it weren't for all the folks who think that I have to believe that the Earth is 6000 years old, in spite of all appearances, or I'm an apostate heretic. Maybe "deception" isn't quite the right word for that, but it certainly is problematic if I'm supposed to look at a universe that is indistinguishable from one that is billions of years old take it as an article of faith that it's actually quite new.

brundlefly:
I would be shocked if Creationists haven't come up with some pseudo-physics way around this, a la their misrepresentation of the second law of thermodynamics.


Answers in Genesis is on the case, as usual.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:23 PM on June 22, 2009


Many people fail to appreciate the difference between "I don't know" and "no one knows", which is precisely the same as "I don't care very much and can't be bothered to learn" and "I'm an expert in the scientific field X, and after reviewing the majority of evidence, have concluded that there is no satisfactory theory". While the first statement may seem unflattering, it's simply true for most people about most things. I don't know a damned thing about dog grooming, wine pairing, or Victorian-era French poetry, and therefore refrain from commenting on theories about them. I'm nearly completely ignorant about fluid dynamics, so ditto there. I'm okay with that, I don't care about those subjects.

You should admit that you haven't really done a literature review of evolutionary science, cosmology, or abiogenesis. You haven't even taken college-level classes on those subjects. This is not in itself shameful. But claiming that they are riddled with unspecified "holes" (when in fact, they are not) is shameful. Many other people do care very much about these topics, and after studying them intensly, virtually all of them come to the same conclusions. Many interested non-experts recognize this fact, and therefore align their opinions accordingly.
posted by Humanzee at 6:35 PM on June 22, 2009 [12 favorites]


Plenty of intelligent people are satisfied by the creation science explanation because creation science has an answer for everything.
Bullshit. Part of being intelligent is a willingness to admit that you don't know everything.
posted by Flunkie at 6:36 PM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


I tried to make it clear that my rejection of creationism (and subsequent rejection of all codified theories of origin) was made on the basis of a great deal of study, an effort that was motivated by a genuine concern for My Ever-Living Soul (tm). I.e. I care a lot about the subject, and I know a lot about the subject.

The holes I am referring to are 1) where did all this stuff come from, and 2) how did it become animated. I appreciate that science never claims to know everything, and is always in development, I myself am a deeply rationalistic and science-minded individual.

But I can also say I have never come across a theory that even comes close to answering either of these points. I'm not trying to call anyone out here; I salute anyone who has conviction in whichever theory it is that they have on their banner. All I'm trying to say is that scientific theories of the origins of life all sound to me like very long winded and obfuscated ways of saying 'we don't know', and that suggests to me that perhaps not knowing is the point.

p.s. please excuse the apparent glibness, ignorance and arrogance in my philosophy. There is something inherent in this discussion that makes everyone sound like a dick; this dick-tendency seems to be reinforced by the medium. The only known cure for this malaise is coffee and cigarettes.

On Preview: Flunkie, I agree that admission of ignorance is a hallmark of intelligence, but in practice, many intelligent people implicitly disagree.
posted by mhjb at 7:06 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Generally speaking, amongst the Young Earth Creationists with whom I have spoken, two general explanations exist for starlight coming from billions of years away.

The first is what you'd expect: God created the universe as is, including photons a few billion years off. One of the going reasons is that it is a test of faith — God wants people who can "overcome" the distractions of the material world. A variant of this is that God allowed the Adversary, whose job (heh) it is to test humanity, to create elaborate deceptions.

The second is definitely a physics fumble: the speed of light has radically changed and all of these other things have happened in six thousand years which have rather coincidentally misled scientists into this "error."
posted by adipocere at 7:14 PM on June 22, 2009


All I'm trying to say is that scientific theories of the origins of life all sound to me like very long winded and obfuscated ways of saying 'we don't know'

Unimaginable numbers of molecules (e.g., the contents of primordial earth's oceans) undergoing an unimaginable number of random interactions eventually yielded a primitive form of DNA. Like a suitably large number of monkeys randomly typing recreating Shakespeare. Brute force search. Of course, hard to prove exactly how likely it is, or that a 'random' process isn't guided somehow, but it's not a particularly outlandish explanation.
posted by blenderfish at 7:22 PM on June 22, 2009


(nor long winded, nor obfuscated)
posted by blenderfish at 7:32 PM on June 22, 2009


(townspeople sing)

IT WAS GOOD ENOUGH FOR BRADY AND ITS GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME!



Yallaregointohell.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:48 PM on June 22, 2009


The holes I am referring to are 1) where did all this stuff come from, and 2) how did it become animated. I appreciate that science never claims to know everything, and is always in development, I myself am a deeply rationalistic and science-minded individual.

But I can also say I have never come across a theory that even comes close to answering either of these points. I'm not trying to call anyone out here; I salute anyone who has conviction in whichever theory it is that they have on their banner. All I'm trying to say is that scientific theories of the origins of life all sound to me like very long winded and obfuscated ways of saying 'we don't know', and that suggests to me that perhaps not knowing is the point.


Real work on abiogenesis is, and will be for quite some time "very much in development."

A couple of pointers, though:

The first and best-known are lipid bilayers, which tend to self-organize into structures suspiciously similar to cell walls.

The second and much less well-known are PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - which have been found freely floating in interplanetary space, and have certain chemical properties (stacking at 0.34nm) that are very, very eerily similar to RNA and DNA. These in particular make an excellent candidate for a naturally-occurring RNA-precursor.

Put the two together and you have the most important parts for an extremely simple life form capable of reproduction and evolution.

There's a lot of work and speculation being done in this area, but those are two of the better leads I've seen.
posted by Ryvar at 7:54 PM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


There are various hypotheses about where life came from. The abiogenesis wiki article looks to be in reasonable shape, although it is certainly long-winded and may seem obfuscated if you don't have a background in biochemistry. Since nobody was there and RNA (or your favorite self-replicating macromolecule) doesn't fossilize, we can't really show any material evidence, but obviously we got life from somewhere. Maybe one day we'll be able to make more fleshed-out guesses, if some lines of inquiry pan out better than others, and maybe some now-unforeseeable discovery will lead to a widely accepted explanation.

I just want to suggest that we don't know right now, not because the origin of life is inherently ineffable, but because it happened a really long time ago and it was really tiny. There are plenty of things we don't know, and some we will never know, because the information has been irretrievably lost, but which we can still make plausible, non-mystical guesses about-- for example, what was the fly I just smashed thinking right before he died? Who knows? Probably "oh shi-".

I don't really get how not knowing something like that is mind-blowing, or how it could be "the point".
posted by molybdenumblue at 8:03 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's mind-blowing to an ex-fundie :)
posted by mhjb at 8:17 PM on June 22, 2009


Regarding abiogenesis: wasn't this posted to the front page a while ago? It's worth viewing.
posted by ixohoxi at 8:20 PM on June 22, 2009


Basically, the article says that "life was created 6000 years ago with false evidence that it had evolved from before then planted by God."
posted by LSK at 8:22 PM on June 22, 2009


If you want to know more about ID this documentary is pretty good .

Or, you could just make shit up. It'd be as accurate.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:24 PM on June 22, 2009


It's all wee little machines, all the way down.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:25 PM on June 22, 2009


Another aspect of my bias that I should volunteer is that I am fundamentally uncomfortable with the notion that all this* is purely the result of chemistry. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if I am the universe is fucking lame.

*All this = love, music, progress, art, colour, boobs, spirited debates, optimism, respect, LSD, dignity, new shoes, familial bonds, ethics, design, wonder and your first kiss.
posted by mhjb at 8:44 PM on June 22, 2009


Perhaps I'm wrong, but if I am the universe is fucking lame.

No, the universe is fucking awesome, and it doesn't need supernatural hokum to soup it up.
posted by brundlefly at 8:55 PM on June 22, 2009 [14 favorites]


Another aspect of my bias that I should volunteer is that I am fundamentally uncomfortable with the notion that all this* is purely the result of chemistry. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if I am the universe is fucking lame.


Nothing to worry about, it's actually the result of physics.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:04 PM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Another aspect of my bias that I should volunteer is that I am fundamentally uncomfortable with the notion that all this* is purely the result of chemistry. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if I am the universe is fucking lame.

The universe is what it is regardless of its origins - it doesn't become lose meaning just due to their material construction. Instead of thinking that a chemical basis for life reduces the beauty of what you experience, isn't it possible to allow it to increase your potential appreciation for chemicals?

I don't know how life works either, and I agree people on all sides can be too quick to assume they know the answers when sometimes they aren't even seeing the questions clearly, but that said, it's no embarrassment for the universe to have formed itself out of matter. Chemicals are just specific patterns of energy, after all. Just because you see it every day doesn't make it "fucking lame"...
posted by mdn at 9:15 PM on June 22, 2009


I think that the massive divide in the debate comes down to this:

Scientists and folk who are happy with purely scientific explanations for the universe are ok with "we don't know yet" statements and will go on with their lives uncaring whether or not those questions get answered.

Folk who like the statements of ID and God As Creator have a book that tells them how it all came about and have grown up with, for them, complete answers to everything ready to hand. And they will fill in any "we don't know yet" statement with "God must have done it".

I say that we, as a species, need to get more comfortable with "i don't know" for big stuff like love, the enjoyment of sex, creativity and just enjoy mystery for its own sake without reaching for easy answers.

That is, until the easy answers find us.
posted by Severian at 9:19 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am fundamentally uncomfortable with the notion that all this* is purely the result of chemistry.

An interesting thing about the universe: it operates however it likes, regardless of whether anyone finds it comfortable or uncomfortable, fascinating or lame. If your beliefs about the universe are so readily constrained by your emotional prejudices, it's no surprise that you would be susceptible to fundamentalism.
posted by ixohoxi at 9:32 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Another aspect of my bias that I should volunteer is that I am fundamentally uncomfortable with the notion that all this* is purely the result of chemistry. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if I am the universe is fucking lame.

*All this = love, music, progress, art, colour, boobs, spirited debates, optimism, respect, LSD, dignity, new shoes, familial bonds, ethics, design, wonder and your first kiss.


What it means is that chemistry and reality is super-amazing. If it contains all of these things, how could it not be? Does it matter if the best wine you've ever had came out of a crystal decanter or out of an aluminum can?
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:34 PM on June 22, 2009


Your response, ixohoxi, is an apt example of why debates such as this so rarely bear fruit. I've done all I can to demonstrate my open-mindedness; I've provided a history of how I came to the conclusions I've made, the core of which boil down to 'I could be wrong'; I've made an honest appraisal of the biases that are inherent in my argument. Perhaps I am being overly emotive, but I think it is fair to say in a forum such as this that labelling someone 'susceptible to fundamentalism' is a very thinly veiled insult and a pretty weak response to my admission of a less-than-complete reliance on rationality in my decision-making process.

What part of admitting that emotion (or whatever you want to call it) influences my rationality makes my beliefs constrained?

P.S. Surely uh, being born into a fundamentalist community would more readily explain my "susceptibility to fundamentalism"? And further, getting out of such a community on my own steam, by my own earnest study and meditation, might indicate a susceptibility in the exact opposite direction?
posted by mhjb at 10:04 PM on June 22, 2009


all this (art|life|love|etc) is purely the result of chemistry. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if I am the universe is fucking lame.

The search for meaning in meaningless events is more or less how religions are started... And arguments about of the suggested meaning is correct is how wars are started!

The big questions that have no answers are so enormously big that they are just mind blowing... Science answers the question 'Why do we exist' with the incredibly depressing 'because some chemical dice roll came up with a double-six a while back'...

This is so depressing for a great deal of people, that need to fall back to a (for them) more reasonable explanation that makes them feel better and give their life more meaning... eg God did it. Why? Because we make him happy by behaving well and if we behave well, we will get rewarded with an eternally pleasurable afterlife...

This theory of course gives the added benefit of some psychological crowd control: Be good and do what I tell you, or no paradise for you :)


Back to science. The universe is what you make it. If you accept that evolution exists, and is more or less governed by chance, then you also have to accept that the existence of love|art|shoes|you is pure chance as well...

You can choose to find this mind-blowingly lame or mind-blowingly wonderful that a few (gazillion) random dice rolls over a few billion years combined to produce the Mona Lisa, Monica Belluci, Hitler, Ghandi and Britney Spears (hey, you get the good with the bad!).


Random chance... as EMRJKC'94 boiled down, no matter how unlikely an event is, over 13.7 billion years, in a universe with 70 thousand billion billion stars, (7x10^22) -- thats 100 times more than the number of grains of sand on the earth , unlikely events become more likely

posted by nielm at 1:32 AM on June 23, 2009


If you bump enough atoms and molecules together over a long enough period of time, eventually anything that can possibly happen *will* happen, and so, life happened. No need for a magic unicorn that farts entire universes or whatever the religion of the day happens to be. Time + Possibility = Event.
posted by jamstigator at 1:53 AM on June 23, 2009


all this* is purely the result of chemistry.
*All this = love, music, progress, art, colour, boobs, spirited debates, optimism, respect, LSD, dignity, new shoes, familial bonds, ethics, design, wonder and your first kiss.

Chemistry and physics ganged up with chance to create the atomic structure we know as humans by some counterintuitive, antientropical process science really don't know much about (for some values of "much"), where the pinnacle might be the brain and that spark of self awareness/sentience that i would guess we know even less about. And your list of "all this" is mostly concerning abstract concepts that has since then evolved in that weird brain. So of course those "things" you talk about has nothing to do with chemistry directly. My guess it's another couple of million years before we could identify and explain "love" thoroughly with some kind of scientific rigor.

And I will call bullshit on anyone who states that we currently know that "if this part of the amygdala is stimulated with x Joule then the subject experience the feeling of love hence love is: ... ".

So I guess you could learn "facts" about chemistry and physics w.r.t abiogenesis and ruminate about why the atoms that are "me" work as they do and where "me" comes from. But your list of things that are amazing can not be explained with those facts, so that awesomeness is not threatened by a reduction to mere chemistry. Keep that philosophers hat on and return 1 000 2009 AD to discuss this scientifically.
posted by mnsc at 2:18 AM on June 23, 2009


When I first started my physics undergrad, I didn't believe that relativity or quantum mechanics could possibly be right. I was a curious high school student, so I'd read popular books on the subject, which made them sound crazy. In my college classes, the professors systematically laid down evidence (that was collectively irrefutable) that the world was not classical. They also explained the outlines of relativity and quantum in a way that made them seem logical and reasonable. And they predicted the outcome of experiments well. One thing I learned from this was, the universe didn't ask me permission to be the way it is. If I want to understand it, I need to accept that it was here before me, and to take it on it's own terms. That means being willing to abandon my intuitions and form new ones based on evidence.

So what is evidence in this case? I think people often look at the past history of the universe backwards. Let's suppose you drive to work. You get to work and tell someone this and they say, "Likely story, it's full of holes! For instance, do you remember how many people you drove past on the street?" They'd hardly have a point. Just because an explanation can't recreate every past detail on its own, doesn't invalidate it in anyway. Large gaps can be missing. It's certainly possible to drive somewhere and not remember the trip. Furthermore, I'd be amazed if you had a very good idea of how a car works. I mean, you turn a key, and now this huge machine is moving around, obeying your commands. It's really complicated, and depends on the precise movement of electrons through doped semiconductors. Still, there's enough evidence that you started out at home, you wound up at work, and driving the car is probably how you got there. And there are experts who really do know how the car works.

That's the way our understanding of the history of the universe works. We have really solid understanding of the behaviour of matter and the movement of galaxies, stars, and the earth, and that allows us to do things like date fossils and place them in a historical context. We know the world is old, we know that there's been life in it for a long time, and we know that life has been changing. So how did we get from A to B? The theories of cosmology, abiogenisis, and evolution describe plausible mechanisms. The details are necessarily complicated, because the history of life is more complicated than the operation of a car.

Finally, since it's been mentioned several times, matter coming from nowhere isn't terribly surprising. It's a fact that quantum mechanics predicts (and experiments regularly observe) that matter can and does appear from "nowhere". There's pair production for one thing, but even more mundane: when you turn on a flashlight, those photons weren't there before. So if the expansion of the universe was energetically favorable in the early stages, matter would spontaneously appear, according to the same theory that governs the behavior of matter today.
posted by Humanzee at 4:36 AM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Thank you Humanzee, that is an apt metaphor. My only query is with your last paragraph - how do you get from the flashlight photons to the wholesale production of a universe-full of matter? And if you care to discuss further, do you necessarily argue for a point in time (or not-time, or whatever), where there was nothing?

I guess that was another assumption present in the position I was arguing from - that there was ever a nothing-nothing.
posted by mhjb at 5:20 AM on June 23, 2009


all this (art|life|love|etc) is purely the result of chemistry. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if I am the universe is fucking lame.

Embrace it. Embrace the meaninglessness; it's very liberating. During the bad times, you'll be able to say "well, universe, at least I know it's not personal".
posted by Summer at 6:09 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Creationists are everywhere, Erberus. So stop being so, erm, closed-minded about the origins of...closed-minded people.

How meta. I don't necessarily mean to say there are no educated creationists*. All I meant to say is that some people can't understand why anybody would adopt such a viewpoint on a neutral assessment of the facts, I'm merely arguing that often people do not go through a neutral assessment of facts to determine their viewpoints (myself included).

Though really creationism is a point of faith. Unless the person accepts/believes that the scientific method is a valid way to investigate the history of the universe/origins of life, the debate is going to go nowhere.

My only query is with your last paragraph - how do you get from the flashlight photons to the wholesale production of a universe-full of matter? And if you care to discuss further, do you necessarily argue for a point in time (or not-time, or whatever), where there was nothing?

1) A lot of things you thought you knew about time, space & causality are probably wrong.

2) I think the way to understand how it works is to remember that solving the equations governing general relativity gives you a complete geometry of spacetime which is an object in it's own right**. It tells you what everything does at every point in time and space. The natural temptation is to give the universe some kind of external dynamics. But such a thing isn't required by general relativity; the universe is the universe and that's that. From the perspective of all observers it has 'always' existed, so your prior position was correct in an odd way.

3) No-one really knows much about the big bang itself, or whether there was anything before it because its a proper singularity. Like at the centre of black hole (or better a white hole), all our present theories break down. It's described as the start of the universe because that's what it is for all intents and purposes.

It's kind of amusing that this kind of criticism is the one most frequently levelled at the big bang theory, when it's a feature that cosmologists don't really feel is a problem. There a number of (significant) problems and one slightly tenuous assumption backing big bang theory that cosmologists would well accept as valid criticisms, but which are never made by creationists.

*Though I don't think I actually know any creationists.

**Technically it only gives you local not global features of the geometry, but the later you can measure.
posted by Erberus at 6:33 AM on June 23, 2009


Well, the energy density in a flashlight is quite small, whereas briefly, the energy density in the universe was huge. The question of how the elements that make up matter came to exist is complicated. There's the issue of "where did the particles come from?", then separately, "where did the chemical elements we're made of come from?" I am not a cosmologist. I have taken some classes in cosmology and I worked in an observational astronomy lab for a couple of years ---just so you understand the limits of my knowledge.

The origin of chemical elements is reasonably well understood (although obviously precise details are still subject to debate/change). The nuclei of lighter elements were formed over the course of around 20 minutes, in a process called big bang nucleosynthesis. During that brief time period, the entire universe was dense and hot enough that fusion was happening everywhere. Around 380,000 years later, the universe would cool enough for electrons to attach to these nuclei and form atoms. Much later, the heavier elements (heavier than lithium) were formed (again via fusion) within the interior of stars.

The first question is more complicated, and I'll have to resort to analogy. Suppose that the universe was just the surface of a sphere (e.g. there's no "inside" or "outside" the sphere, just particles, and critters wandering on the surface). Further suppose that the sphere has "poles" and everything is always moving from the south pole towards the north pole, but can move east or west at will (at least subject to the laws of this universe's physics). Now for the denizens of this universe, north/south will seem like time to them --they're always moving north, and if light hits their eyes, it necessarily originated at a point south of their current location, etc. In the southern hemisphere, the universe will seem to be expanding, and looking back, scientists will reason that the universe began in one point. So there's going to be someone who asks, "what's south of the south pole", or observing that there is matter in their universe, they will wonder, is there a point so far south that there was no matter?

Now we're getting close to the territory that Erberus was talking about. In this analogy, the answer to the first question is that it's nonsense. There is no point south of the south pole because at that point, every direction points north! More precisely, our coordinate system of choice no longer works well at the big bang. In the analogy universe, there's nothing special about the south pole, except that everyone's history begins there. But in our universe, it may be that the big bang is so curved that it's a singularity (maybe think of the sphere as having a very sharp cusp). The answer to the second question is "no." At every time in the universe, there has always been matter, but it doesn't make sense to ask questions about "before" the big bang. Rather, one must envision the universe as a discrete object, and time is a property that only exists within it. To properly get at the issues that the second question is trying to address, one could ask why such an object exists, or why it has the properties it does.
posted by Humanzee at 7:07 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


two general explanations exist for starlight coming from billions of years away...One of the going reasons is that it is a test of faith...

Again, this seems bizarre when the obvious motive for creating photons streaming through the universe already en route from the stars is so you could have pretty lights in the sky right now.

"If God had intended man to see stars in the sky, he should have created the universe 20 billion years ago."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Tolkien. We can't publish a story set in the Third Age until you've released books explaining everything that happened in the first two ages. That would be deceptive."
posted by straight at 7:44 AM on June 23, 2009


Well, if you take the bible literally, the Earth is flat (maybe square? it has corners), and the heavens are water held up by a firmament. In Genesis, it's pretty clear that the Earth is the center of the universe, metaphorically if not literally. So from a biblical perspective, I would think it would be less deceptive if the stars were simply lights in the firmament or the heavens, and so close to us that the light travel time was negligible. Then again, I've never understood the popular usage of the word "metaphor" to explain away factual inaccuracies in religious works. Anyway, I think that the light from too distant stars is deceptive any way you look at it. If the light was created to duplicate the appearance of stars, there's no need for those stars to actually exist. Just the stream of light is enough. God could create streams for some stars but not others, and streams with no stars to back them up. You think you're looking at something, but there may really be nothing there.
posted by Humanzee at 8:13 AM on June 23, 2009


Humanzee: actually, the waters WERE held up by a firmament. That whole Noah incident sort of let those fall. I hear nobody had even bought the correct insurance.

Are we really going to use Tolkien as an equivalence for God in this discussion? That seems a bit fallacious to me.
posted by hippybear at 8:22 AM on June 23, 2009


Neither religion nor science created anything in and of themselves. They are both mearly attempts at understanding our existence. They take decidedly different methodological perspectives towards that end. In a sense, they are really attempts at describing different parts of it all.

Religion (and its sibling philosophy) comes from the point of view of *why* while science (chemistry, physics, biology, et al) is more focused on *how*. These points of perspective are similar enough to interesect and collide from time to time and thus muddle the primordial waters. But while both religion and science are goverened by rules and laws, neither makes any of those rules or laws nor has any authority to ammend them.

Both religion and science are observational endevours, nothing more and nothing less. It is when one or the other claims supreme knowledge beyond its territory, stops observing, and proclaims Mission Accomplished in regards to understanding "it all" that it all begins to fall apart.

That complete understanding would make us God (whether that is in an anthropromorphic or cosmological sense does not really matter). We can never be God nor god, but that does not mean we should not attempt to get as close as we can.
posted by ElvisJesus at 9:07 AM on June 23, 2009


Are we really going to use Tolkien as an equivalence for God in this discussion? That seems a bit fallacious to me.

Yes, really. As dense as The Silmarillion was, it was still leaps and bounds more coherent and internally consistent than any given draft of the Bible. I'd say a more apt comparison would be somewhere between Maya Angelou and R.L. Stine.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:29 AM on June 23, 2009


Are we really going to use Tolkien as an equivalence for God in this discussion? That seems a bit fallacious to me.

All I meant to do with that silly analogy is suggest there are other ways to look at the idea of creating a fully-formed, "old" universe besides thinking it's some sort of deception. (Which is a very scientist-centric view of the universe, as if the main concern God should have in making the universe is that it be comprehensible to scientists.)
posted by straight at 9:34 AM on June 23, 2009


straight: "So imagine if Tolkien could talk to Bilbo, and tell him about how The Hobbit was written. Bilbo could tell people, rightly, that the Shire was created in a day, and that he himself was the First Hobbit. The Elves, of course, would scoff, knowing (remembering!) as they did that Middle Earth had existed for ages before Bilbo was born."

The difference here is that the nature of Middle Earth is entirely different from the nature of our world. To the elves, Middle Earth has existed for ages. To say otherwise is to claim Batman's origin story is that Bob Kane thought him up one day.

mhjb: "Another aspect of my bias that I should volunteer is that I am fundamentally uncomfortable with the notion that all this* is purely the result of chemistry. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if I am the universe is fucking lame.

*All this = love, music, progress, art, colour, boobs, spirited debates, optimism, respect, LSD, dignity, new shoes, familial bonds, ethics, design, wonder and your first kiss.
"

The wonder of our universe is that of emergent behavior. Amazing complexity that arises from the repeated interaction of simple rules.

My suggestion, mhjb, for visualizing how such things could be, and be awesome, when ultimately they have as their bases relatively simple processes, is to play around with Conway's Game of Life for a bit. Stephen Wolfram's blather aside, cellular automata are an excellent tool for demonstrating how interesting emergent behavior can be.
posted by JHarris at 9:55 AM on June 23, 2009


“No, the universe is fucking awesome, and it doesn't need supernatural hokum to soup it up.”
&
“The big questions that have no answers are so enormously big that they are just mind blowing... Science answers the question 'Why do we exist' with the incredibly depressing 'because some chemical dice roll came up with a double-six a while back'..”

I think the big problem is hubris. Which any interpretive knowledge is subject to.
Let’s strip our universe down to one particle and take the uncertainty principle as an example. The more one knows about the property of the position of the particle, the less one knows – and the less one can know, about it’s momentum. It’s impossible to simultaneously measure both position and velocity.

One can argue that God knows (or indeed, that (contrary to QM) a state exists which has both position and momentum, but we can never know it). But – so? It makes no difference whether he does or not, so it's meaningless.
In some respects this is “supernatural hokum.” If one asserts the universe has meaning because of the existence of God – who knows the position and velocity of our universe-particle and the continuation of existence in another form (of universe-particle) – what is the ultimate meaning of that form and existence, and what is the nature of God?
Well, you can’t know that either. So again – what’s the difference what it ‘really’ is?

Religion in many respects gives the illusion of meaning simply by “souping up” the perceived nature of existence. At best this is to give comfort to folks who need comfort, the ill or the dying by having a class of folks who assert that they know better. And there are other theatrical elements that support this by visibly accepting it (rituals of consecration, initiations – e.g. into a priesthood, etc. etc.), more of a description than a denigration of it – we do similar things with folks in secular society – initiation into the armed forces, political office, police forces, etc. etc.
This support can be obfuscative in any situation, and the delegated authority can be just as subject to abuse as any secular position.
However there are checks in secular society, and in science, that highlight when someone is presuming in their interpretation rather than, say, simply observing.

In the case of science - science (at best) makes no interpretation as to the fundamental meaning of the universe and its practitioners cannot do so without being checked by oversight. There are exceptions and many scientists expound on the meaning of this or that, but that’s informal; for more formal speculation there’s a whole system from hypotheses to theory.
Religion on the other hand demands that its practitioners interpret the fundamental meaning of the universe, or God, or whatnot. There is only variation in degree.

Point being – anyone can derive from scientifically produced data – the meaning of the universe or an aspect of it. Religion, or indeed even many secular systems, ascribe to a more coherent meaning based on interpretation, so any meaning one derives is from previously interpreted thought.

Again, not a problem in some ways. But once we get down to meaning, the meaning of one’s life, the relationship one has to the universe and more elementally the relationship between one’s own consciousness and one’s own being – its arrogant folly to presume one’s own interpretation should hold for everyone else. And I think violence, not always physical, but certainly force, follows in the wake of such a perspective.

Clearly this doesn’t hold for all aspects of all religions at all times anymore than it’s true of all things called ‘science.’
But speaking generally, a statement by a scientist saying why – not how – why the big bang occurred (or why we exist) would be seen as glaringly inappropriate. Not so for a religious leader.

And yet, again, what strikes me is why so many followers of various religions demand such simplicity from their interpretation of God. As though God’s going to though all these goofy machinations of creating the stars 6,000 years ago but altering the physical laws to ‘fool’ mankind, playing with fossils and such – instead of simply having the universe be as it appears to be in the vast complexity and unknown reaches it exists in. Just seems analogous thinking one knows fully the mind of God in his creation and thinking one knows the fundamental answers to the universe.

We know so little about the universe, even much of what we do know has big question marks sticking out of it – so there’s little or no difference beyond human hubris in dispute. Meaning is not subject to external interpretive verification. No one can tell you why you’re here. They can say how. But whether the ‘how’ is God or random chance or evolutionary nature or the bootstrapping concept of conscious thought as it relates to matter and being – why is not something that can be externally imposed from the conditions of the how. One cannot delegate the meaning of one’s being (although many folks do cede it).

However some religions generally – but most certainly the forms of Christianity we’re dealing with - do demand an individual delegate that to their representatives. And the restrictive conflict between the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ there is obvious.

I mean, is there anyone who believes in creationism and yet does not believe in God?
And further – why cut the ‘how’ to fit the interpretation? The only real answer is that the interpretation can’t be wrong because it would mean the gatekeepers of such knowledge could be wrong.
Allow that kind of perspective in science and we’d still be driving horses. Hell, look at Islam and the middle east. Not so long ago they were the enlightened scientific center of the world. Not so much anymore. Observation of reality has to come before any interpretation (whatever that interpretation may be) in order to derive a meaning that has substance. Otherwise it winds up as a sort of oligarchical solipsism.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:16 AM on June 23, 2009


But while both religion and science are goverened by rules and laws, neither makes any of those rules or laws nor has any authority to ammend them.

I'm afraid I don't see what you're getting at. Where do these rules or laws come from, if not the consensus of practitioners (or perhaps philosophers of science, in the latter case - people like Popper and Quine were certainly trying to set down rules or laws scientists should follow!)

I also would not call religion an observational method. A lot of it is intuitive.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:46 AM on June 23, 2009


The rules and laws are the universe. Science, for instance, does not make the rules of quantuum mechanics or math or molecular biology. It can only try to make sense of them, make sense of how things work. Science does establish a methodology for this observation and validation but that is purposefully external to what is being observed. Manipulating the test case is not manipulating the fundamentals of what is going on.

You are right to a degree when it comes to religion. Religion is tough to think of as an observational method because what is being observed is not mostly tangible. Religion and philosophy (and I guess psychology and sociology) look at the world from a viewpoint of the metaphysical. Is there a fundamental good? Why is there suffering? What happens when I die? Where did I come from? Who created me?

Religion is not science. That is not to say it does not have worth because it attempts to answer questions that science cannot and probably should not attempt to answer. Calling it intuitive is fair to a degree, except that the best philosophers did attempt to codify and structure thier observations of the world around them. Religion gets in trouble when it oversteps this intangible line.
posted by ElvisJesus at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2009


The difference here is that the nature of Middle Earth is entirely different from the nature of our world. To the elves, Middle Earth has existed for ages. To say otherwise is to claim Batman's origin story is that Bob Kane thought him up one day.

You're begging the question. The whole issue is whether there is a being who stands in relation to the world as Tolkien stands to Middle Earth. Batman's true origin is the fact that Bob Kane thought him up one day. If there is a God who created the world, then our true origin is, "God thought us up one day."
posted by straight at 11:10 AM on June 23, 2009


Your response, ixohoxi, is an apt example of why debates such as this so rarely bear fruit. I've done all I can to demonstrate my open-mindedness; I've provided a history of how I came to the conclusions I've made, the core of which boil down to 'I could be wrong'; I've made an honest appraisal of the biases that are inherent in my argument.

You have, and I appreciate that.

Perhaps I am being overly emotive, but I think it is fair to say in a forum such as this that labelling someone 'susceptible to fundamentalism' is a very thinly veiled insult and a pretty weak response to my admission of a less-than-complete reliance on rationality in my decision-making process.

I honestly didn't intend it as an insult. I almost included a disclaimer to that effect; perhaps I should have. I can be pretty glib sometimes, so please forgive me.

I'm glad that you've let go of fundamentalism, and I'm glad that you're willing and able to have an honest and constructive conversation here. I'm simply commenting on a thread running through your posts, which was made most explicit with the "fundamentally uncomfortable" remark, and which is integral to fundamentalist thinking: the notion that it matters (for the purpose of determining objective truth) whether we like/dislike ideas. The truth or falsity of an idea has nothing to do with our emotional reaction to that idea, or whether the idea seems intuitive to us. (Lots of hard, provable, absolute facts are very counterintuitive—see the birthday problem for the canonical example, and quantum/relativistic phenomena for more.)

I could be way off base—but in your first few messages (I haven't read past the comment to which I'm currently replying), it sounded like you were hesitant to accept the scientific explanations* for, e.g., abiogenesis not because you had reviewed the science and found it wanting, but because the basic premise doesn't sit well with you:

Saying "God instantaneously poofed everything into existence with the appearance of age" is just as convincing to me as "billions of years and billions of murky processes turned nothing into sludge into people".

That's a false comparison, for starters: those are only the crudest outlines of what scientific hypotheses of abiogenesis actually claim. As such, this is a bit of a straw man. In reality, science offers some very specific hypotheses of the chemistry of abiogenesis, based on our best knowledge of the environment on Earth at the time, and even some experimental evidence. Far from conclusive, of course—but also far more substantive than "an invisible man did it".

What part of admitting that emotion (or whatever you want to call it) influences my rationality makes my beliefs constrained?

It's not the admitting that constrains you; it's the emotional influence itself. If you allow your emotions to exercise influence where they have no business—e.g., if you're willing to reject an idea simply because it makes you uncomfortable—well, you're preventing yourself from believing things that might be perfectly true just because they aren't warm and fuzzy.

Again, I appreciate your honesty—I just don't understand how it's possible to be aware of the irrational biases in one's thinking and still remain susceptible to them. Surely becoming conscious of the logical flaws in one's thinking is practically synonymous with correcting those flaws? I mean, once you know the ghost is just a guy in a sheet, how can you still be afraid of the ghost?

* And their attendant uncertainties, of course—uncertainty is interwoven with all science, and especially in a field like this one.
posted by ixohoxi at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2009


Manipulating the test case is not manipulating the fundamentals of what is going on.


That's a crappy explanation of what I meant. Let me try it this way.

Scientists observe the universe trying to understand how it all works. They have created a method to do this and have codified their findings in things such as quantuum mechanics or math or molecular biology but quantuum mechanics or math or molecular biology are not the laws of the universe but observations of how we see them. Where do these rules or laws of the universe come from? That is the realm of religion.
posted by ElvisJesus at 11:28 AM on June 23, 2009


"I'm sorry, Mr. Tolkien. We can't publish a story set in the Third Age until you've released books explaining everything that happened in the first two ages. That would be deceptive."

The situation being discussed is more like, "I'm sorry, Mr. Tolkien. We can't publish a story of time beginning in the Third Age when you've already written the history of ages Two back through Negative One Million. That would be deceptive."
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:16 PM on June 23, 2009


Note to posters, please put a (Youtube) after link to identify. K thx.
posted by JJ86 at 12:49 PM on June 23, 2009


Note to link clickers, please hover over links before clicking. K thx.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:57 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Note to posters, please don't bother putting superfluous parentheticals after your links.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:54 PM on June 23, 2009


ixohoxi - glibness forgiven, join the club :)

My Final Caveat:* while rationality/logic/the scientific method obviously have a very important role to play in our processing of the universe, I believe their scope is limited. I don't see pure rationality as being the highest possible standard to test an idea against. The brain is powerful for following IF, THEN, ELSE statements, but I believe it has more powerful processors at work, too.

E.G. I like to do the anagram puzzle in the local paper (rearrange these letters into a 9-letter word) most mornings. If I can't get that 9-letter word within a minute or so I just forget about it, safe in the knowledge that my clever little processors will do the work for me and present me the answer sometime in the middle of the night.

Furthermore, I don't see 'pure rationality' as some sort of attainable goal that some people have reached and weaker others are missing out on, by letting their emotions (etc) get in the way. Irrational bias permeates the fabric of our every decision, appraisal, interaction to the extent where I believe it deserves a little more credit than just 'irksome flaw'.

I'm doing a terrible job of elucidating what what will one day be my magnum opus ;) so maybe I will just skip to the point: on the assumption that I am a somewhat intelligent man, with a fairly broad experience of life and a track record of making pretty good decisions, then yes, something 'not sitting well with me' certainly counts as a significant data point when evaluating a weighty decision.

*alternatively titled, How To Get An Entire Community To Throw Up Their Hands And Never Discuss Anything With You Ever Again.

P.S. I seem to have avoided, for now, the temptation to blame the patriarchal hegemony for the over-inflated position of rationality in our culture but I'm this close ;)
posted by mhjb at 5:16 PM on June 23, 2009


People have mentioned unlikeliness, etc. If you have trouble thinking about how unlikely the formation of life is, consider this- even back in the prehistoric ages when a good percentage of babies died at birth all of your ancestors survived long enough to have children. Looking back, the odds are 100%. Looking forward from the past, those odds looked a great deal smaller. As Jostein Gaarder put it, the universe is a lottery, but only those holding the winning tickets are visible.
posted by Hactar at 6:25 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


on the assumption that I am a somewhat intelligent man, with a fairly broad experience of life and a track record of making pretty good decisions, then yes, something 'not sitting well with me' certainly counts as a significant data point when evaluating a weighty decision.

Attaining a track record of making pretty good decisions, more often that not, requires a handy command of rationality and logic. Not exclusively but predominantly. Irrational bias is fine, except when you are contemplating jumping the river in your car because the traffic on the bridge is too heavy and you feel like you can make it.
posted by ElvisJesus at 7:26 PM on June 23, 2009


>As Jostein Gaarder put it, the universe is a lottery, but only those holding the winning tickets are visible.

The anthropic principle.
posted by ixohoxi at 8:03 PM on June 24, 2009


« Older If you thought The Beatles' incredible success had...  |  The Great Johnny Quest Documen... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments