Origin of Life – How Will Creationists React?
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 24, 2009
Every now and then we are lucky enough to bear witness to a big scientific discovery, such as that outlined recently in the New York Times in the following article concerning the origin of life…
An English chemist has found the hidden gateway to the RNA world, the chemical milieu from which the first forms of life are thought to have emerged on earth some 3.8 billion years ago.
He has solved a problem that for 20 years has thwarted researchers trying to understand the origin of life — how the building blocks of RNA, called nucleotides, could have spontaneously assembled themselves in the conditions of the primitive earth. The discovery, if correct, should set researchers on the right track to solving many other mysteries about the origin of life. It will also mean that for the first time a plausible explanation exists for how an information-carrying biological molecule could have emerged through natural processes from chemicals on the primitive earth.
There are those scientists who are skeptical of these claims, as they should be until further testing and corroborating evidence is revealed, but I am sure that the scientific community will reach consensus on this research soon. What is more revealing to me is what the reaction of various creationist groups might be.
This is because many creationists use the following argument (or some variation) against evolutionary science: that because we cannot trace a fully completed fossil record all the way from present-day life to the very first primordial cells which arose from the prebiotic chemical soup then evolution cannot be true.
This argument on the part of creationists is flawed on many levels. First of all, the science which studies the origin of life from non-life (also known as abiogenesis) is different than Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Creationists often mix the two up, and they insist because the former hasn’t been completely answered then Darwin’s work must be false. This kind of argument against evolutionary science is basically a straw man argument, but it isn’t even a decent straw man because – as the New York Times article outlines – scientists are filling in the steps to life from non-life.
Another argument offered by creationists against evolution usually goes something like this: “until scientists can mix chemicals together in a petri-dish and something crawls out, I won’t accept evolution.” The interesting thing about this particular argument is that it seems that within a few years, origin-of-life researchers might be able to do that very thing. It is my guess that if this creation of synthetic life were to occur in the lab, creationists would deny that it is”real” life because “it didn’t come from God.”
Such thinking on the part of creationists is called moving the goalposts – this particular variation, that synthetic life in the lab isn’t “real life”, would be an example of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy. By setting down a set of criteria for accepting evolutionary science, the creationists make attaining those criteria impossible because when they are met the creationists simply “move the goalposts” and either claim the criteria haven’t been met or lay down new, equally unattainable criteria. Through this process, creationists (plus many other pseudoscientists) preserve their belief system in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.
One thing is for certain, when the day comes (and I think it will come) that scientists are able to conclusively show the chemical pathways from non-life to life, it will be very interesting indeed.