Commentary

Cliff Goldstein

is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His next book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity has just been released by Pacific Press.

Cliff’s Edge - Science and Progress Toward the Truth

In my last online column, “Bias in Science! Say It Ain’t So!” (Aug. 11, 2017), a commenter chided me for ignoring the progress that science, despite its bumbles, stumbles, and missteps, always makes toward the truth. When I used the obvious corruption of science in regard to the deleterious health effects of smoking, my critic said that this was actually a good example of science eventually correcting itself and getting closer to truth.

Fair enough.

He then cited other examples of science progressing toward truth, including, he said, our “origins.”

Origins?

You have no idea how funny I find that. Funny, but sad, too.

How far has science progressed toward the truth about our origins?

Well, for starters it has progressed to where it claims that the universe arose from nothing. None other than the world’s most famous living scientist, Stephen Hawking, has assured us that “because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.” No doubt that a great deal of mathematics and cosmogony involved here float beyond my petty reach, but doesn’t Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity teach that gravity is mass bending space and time? So how did mass bend space and time when there was nothing—no mass, no space, no time—to begin with?

Just a minor detail, I’m sure.

Anyway, science, progressing toward the truth, declares that gravity (mass bending space and time) turned nothing (no mass, no space, no time) into mass, space, and time, what is commonly known as the universe. Then, billions of years later, some of this mass (created from nothing by gravity) congealed and cooled into a lump of matter, our earth.

Then, through laws of physics and chemistry (also created by gravity out of nothing) organic molecules arose either in the famous “pre-biotic soup,” or in thermal vents, in shale, in clay, or in (some argue) molten rock 1,000 degrees Centigrade. Whatever their origins, according to another famous scientist, Richard Dawkins, one of these molecules by chance became a “replicator.” This means that it “had the extraordinary property of being able to make copies of itself.” Dawkins concedes that the conversion of this single molecule into a replicator was “exceedingly improbable,” but given enough time it was, he assured us, bound to happen. Perhaps, then, a potato chip, more organic than a single molecule, will eventually start replicating itself, too; that is, given enough time.

Scientists remain baffled at how consciousness works, or how brain matter translates what’s outside of it into qualia, images, thoughts, and rationality.

We’re told by those who are progressing toward the truth about our origins that, next, this replicator molecule (still fermenting in the primeval soup, or in the thermal vent, or in the molten rocks 1,000 degrees Centigrade) copied itself again and again until some became living cells filled with DNA, RNA, and the other amazingly complex stuff of a single cell. And this spontaneous generation happened through the laws of physics and chemistry alone, though no one has ever seen the laws of physics and chemistry alone spontaneously generate molecules into anything close to life; scientists can’t even do it in tightly-controlled labs.

Then, billions of years later, now through random mutation and natural selection, these living cells evolved into beaucoup de living entities, including dinosaurs, some weighing about 70 tons. (From a microscopic replicator molecule to 140,000 pound Brontosaurs; what a trek that much have been!) However, something knocked off the dinosaurs, and the theory du jour is that a giant asteroid, filling the air with dust and dirt, did them in. Others hypothesize that volcanic activity caused their demise; and, finally, some blame it on, yes, good old climate change.

Whatever killed off the dinosaurs paved the way for new life to arise, everything from peach trees (though I still wonder, in an evolutionary model what came first, the peach or the peach pit?) to human beings with conscious rational minds, a transition about as likely as organic molecules spontaneously generating into life.

In another online column, “The Neo-Darwinian Inquisition” (Jul. 21, 2017), I mentioned that an atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel, disputed the idea that carbon-based matter, even as complicated as human neurons, could on its own evolve into conscious, rational, and loving beings. In response, a commentator railed against Nagel’s position, arguing that Nagel obviously hadn’t read much in “evolutionary neurobiology.”

Evolutionary neurobiology?

You have no idea how funny I found that, too.

I mean, we have living and breathing bona fide rational conscious human beings to study every day; we scan brains, map brains, dissect brains, and scrutinize them in devices worth millions of dollars. We watch neurons fire and even peer into their guts. Yet with all this here and now and immediately before us, scientists remain baffled at how consciousness works, or how brain matter translates what’s outside of it into qualia, images, thoughts, rationality, and the ability to make and to appreciate music. Human consciousness persists as perhaps the greatest physical (or is it only physical?) mystery before us.

Yet what? This commentator claimed that if only poor Thomas Nagel had read some scholarly papers, written by conscious beings speculating about what might have happened millions of years ago, with things that do not exist now but that, nevertheless, supposedly caused carbon-based, non-conscious matter to become thinking and loving human beings; if only he had done so, then Thomas Nagel wouldn’t have challenged evolution’s ability to explain the origin of human thought and consciousness. I found that funny because scientists don’t know what consciousness is, much less how it works, even with it before them in flesh and blood and grey matter. Yet according to this comment, evolutionary biology has answers to how it arose millions of years ago.

But I digress. Back to the issue: What does science teach about origins? It teaches that because of gravity—dinosaurs, peach trees, rational human beings, everything—came from nothing, with no forethought or planning.

Any wonder, then, I find the notion that science is progressing toward the truth about origins funny, but sad, too?

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, will be released by Pacific Press in September 2017.


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