Origins of Life Revisited – 'A origem da vida revisitada'

Origins of Life Revisited

The letter against intelligent design [in reference to “Ultimate Questions,” Summer 2006] signed by 49 U.Va. science faculty is revealing: not only do they oppose ID due to a false characterization of the theory, but they repeat false claims that there are no pro-ID, peer-reviewed science publications.

The faculty wrongly define ID as saying, “The less we know, the greater is the support for supernatural explanations.” In reality, ID limits its claims to what can be learned from the empirical data. ID therefore only appeals to intelligent causes and does not try to address unscientific religious questions about whether the designing intelligence was supernatural. ID is also not an “argument from ignorance.” Rather, design is inferred based upon what we know about the powers of intelligent causes, and detecting in nature informational patterns known to only come from intelligence. As microbiologist Scott Minnich and philosopher of science Stephen Meyer observe, “In all irreducibly complex systems in which the cause of the system is known by experience or observation, intelligent design or engineering played a role in the origin of the system.”

Finally, the letter asserts “no peer-reviewed scientific studies in support of ID have ever been published in any major scientific journal.” In 2004, Meyer published a peer-reviewed paper in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington arguing that intelligent design best explains the rapid “explosion” of biological information in the Cambrian period.
Casey Luskin
President emeritus, IDEA Center

I was mentioned in the article “Ultimate Questions.” I hope to set the record straight about what the issues really are.

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Charles Townes said, “Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real.” Another Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Richard Smalley, wrote, “Evolution has just been dealt its death blow. … [After studying the origin of life] with my background in chemistry and physics, it is clear evolution could not have occurred.”

If world-renowned scientists can accept ID, why should there be such a fuss about pro-ID students at U.Va.? Acceptance of ID is not a hindrance to the pursuit of science. If that were the case, there would have been no great scientists in the past like Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Pasteur, Mendel and Plank, or Nobel laureates like Townes and Smalley in the present.

The real issue is epitomized by the work of world-class physicists like John Barrow, whose mathematical derivations of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics imply that the source of the universe (and thus all life) is a super-intelligence. Whether Barrow and other ID-sympathetic scientists are ultimately correct is the real issue. Everything else pales in comparison.
Salvador Cordova
IDEA Center affiliate
Falls Church, Va.

Darwinism is now treated like the American state religion, argues author Ann Coulter. Gullible judges impose orthodoxy on the government school system. Americans who reject Darwinism are forced to pay for it to be taught unchallenged in government schools.

Challenges to Darwinism now come from scientists and other specialists, for nonreligious reasons: An embryologist predicts that Darwinism will be seen as one of the greatest deceits in the history of science; a Nobel-laureate physicist calls the theory of evolution an obstacle to thought; a specialist calculates that the probability that the DNA molecule, containing more information than a small library, developed by accident is close to zero. “Where there is information there is a preceding intelligence,” asserts George Gilder (“Evolution and Me,” National Review, July 17, 2006).

Life from dead matter (once), order from disorder, mind-boggling designs with no designer, information without preceding intelligence, transitional forms missing from the fossil record, bogus missing links, a core tautology—believing in godless Darwinism demands more faith than believing in the Supreme Designer.
Lew Lesko (Arch ’72)
Clarksville, Del.

Thanks for publishing my letter in the Fall ’06 issue. Your editing removed one important point of my letter; that is, that the politicization of scientific fields of inquiry can effectively rule out certain lines of research. In this case, the line of research is a determination of whether or not the universe was created by an intelligent designer.

Science has, I think, hampered itself by insisting there is no intelligent designer, rather than exploring the ultimate truth of this hypothesis. There is a long-held fear that acknowledging religion somehow leads to, or actually comprises, its establishment, and it is true that a particular creed should not hold sway over science. But it is also true that science should not arbitrarily direct legitimate lines of inquiry.

If we assume that there is nothing outside of science, as arbitrarily defined, then there is no logic which concludes that there is a higher purpose for mankind. This approach is more likely to lead to disaster rather than divinity.
John Fornaro (Arch ’76, ’79)
Charlottesville, Va.

The current controversy over evolution and intelligent design recalls an earlier controversy over the nature of light. Sir Isaac Newton proposed a particle theory, but it was later largely rejected in favor of a wave theory. The scales had tipped so far by 1890 that Heinrich Hertz asserted, “The wave theory of light is from the point of view of human beings a certainty.” However, within a few decades new discoveries led scientists to agree that both wave and particle theories are needed to provide an adequate theory of light, and the phrase “wave-particle duality” was coined to embrace both theories. As familiar as scientists are with this history, it is surprising that most of them are now so hostile to the idea of dual theories to explain life.
Walter S. Friauf (Engr ’64)
Bethesda, Md.

Jefferson’s own words on the ID issue speak for themselves. In a letter to John Adams in April 1816, Jefferson wrote: “I hold, on the contrary, that when we take a view of the universe; … the movements of the heavenly bodies so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces; the structure of our earth itself, with its distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere; animal and vegetable bodies, whether an insect, man or mammoth; it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a Fabricator of all things from matter and motion” (The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, Charles B. Sanford, University of Virginia Press, 1984). Jefferson goes on to say the creation indicates a “first cause, possessing intelligence and power
, power in the production, and intelligence in the design” and in the “constant preservation of the system.”

One of the first quotations most of us would remember from Jefferson is “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” I cannot help but think he would have been disappointed by those wishing to suppress your provocative article.
Robert F. Baldwin Jr. (Com ’62, GSBA ’68)
Alexandria, Va.

Although I am inclined to agree that intelligent design is not a science in the traditional sense, the emotion in the letter from Professor Beyer et al. is as palpable as it is inappropriate. The problem with most defenses of the theory of evolution is that, instead of stating clearly and succinctly why opponents are mistaken, the defenders pose as selfless and long-suffering seekers of truth and respond self-righteously with more fallacies than a sophomore logic quiz.

The truth is that the theory of evolution is based almost solely on the fairly limited adaptability of species, as chronicled by Darwin and others over the years, to environmental conditions. The problem with relying on adaptation is that neither the fossil record nor any laboratory experimentation has demonstrated more than modest intraspecies changes. Thus, the theory requires faith that the hypothesis will ultimately be vindicated by evidence of transspecies adaptation that, at present, simply does not exist. The theory also requires faith not only that the living organism that started the miraculous evolutionary process was generated spontaneously out of muck, but also that scientists will ultimately be able to demonstrate the initiation of life in the laboratory.

The theory also has serious probability problems. What is the likelihood that life forms generated on their own and not only survived, but multiplied exponentially and grew increasingly complex by random forces?

Equally troubling is the irreducible complexity problem (illustrated in the article by the bacterial flagellum) that Beyer et al. sweep aside with this blow-one-by-the-rubes smokescreen: “[T]he flagella assembly is known to be homologous … with the bacterial type Three Secretion System, and thus evolution can explain how a secretory system evolved into one capable of both secretion and motility.” This pedantic eyewash should have embarrassed every scientist in every science department at U.Va.

Typical of defenses of evolutionary theory, these selfless seekers of truth unsheathed their big gun: the ad hominem in which any person who is not bowled over by evidentiary fluff is compared to people who think earthquakes are God’s handiwork and the earth is the center of the universe. The selfless seekers then pluck Galileo from the pages of history to shame unbelievers into acquiescence and unmask the errant forces of religion. They fail to note that, prior to Galileo, most people (including the scientific community) thought erroneously that the sun circled the earth. They also fail to note that scientists initially thought that the earth is flat; that bacteria in milk resulted from exposure to air; that humans’ mental and physical constitution was determined by “humors.” The history of science is so strewn with bogus hypotheses that it should engender not the arrogances of Beyer et al.’s letter, but a profound and deeply felt humility.
J. William Lewis (Law ’68)
Fairhope, Ala.

Hundreds of scientists are studying intelligence: human intelligence, animal intelligence, and, for that matter, artificial intelligence. Is it the contention of these biologists [Beyer et al.] that none of that is science? That all their research should only be allowed in a religious discussion? That would be absurd. Intelligence is not a mystical fantasy; it is a known natural phenomenon that scientists define, measure and study, and therefore it could also be the cause of other phenomena.

The biologists ask, “Why is the concept of evolution so troubling to proponents of ID?” But that question cuts both ways. Why is ID so troubling to the proponents of Darwinism? The Darwinists are afraid of a debate because they are not confident that the evidence supports their theory. They are afraid of a debate because they don’t think they can win it.
Sonja (Nutley) West (Grad ’89)
Auburn, Wash.


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