Subtitle: What the ID/Creationism movement should preach if they truly want to inspire faith in a Designer/Creator
My husband, a computer scientist, and I took our first class together this summer: Practical Bioinformatics at Iowa State. He’s helped me with the software and computation aspects while I helped him with biology and genetics. One conversation leads to another, and we often find ourselves discussing how these amazingly complex biological mechanisms came to be.
He shared the example of the compiler, required to translate a computer program from the language it was written in to “assembly”, the language the computer understands. At some point, there had to be a first compiler, produced by a “creator”. He asks: “what was the origin of the first compiler in biology?”
My husband and I are both what we call “Catholic-agnostic”, although he is more truly agnostic than I. This conversation on the origins of life started flurries of conversations about the existence of god and god’s role in our lives/universe – much more so than any other topic we have discussed or any activity we have done in the seven years that we have been together.
The process of copying DNA and transcribing DNA to RNA then post-transcriptionally modifying the RNA and translating that RNA to protein then modifying the proteins to perform roles to do all of the above functions and so much more… it’s a beautiful, amazing chicken-and-egg dilemma. Which came first? How did it all get started in the proverbial primordial ooze?
The most amazing thing about these questions is: No one has the answers! Sure, we have some really good theories (I’m a fan of the RNA world), but I don’t know if we can ever really know. Synthetic or artificial biology is bringing us closer to understanding, but it’s not quite the same as recreating what happened 4 billion years ago.
I’ve heard many “proofs” for the existence of god, but strangely, the idea of abiogenesis (life from non-life) is rarely mentioned. There is no way to prove or disprove the possibility that some some force guided the formation of these complex biological molecules (be it god, angels, aliens, comets, etc). All we have is faith.
Not knowing and not being able to know aren’t proof of anything in a scientific sense, but the human need to explain is the origin of religion. Civilizations across the globe invented sun gods to explain the source of light in the sky. Does knowing the physical reality of the sun invalidate those beliefs? I think we need to accept they physical reality, but we all have the choice to partake in a more ethereal beleif to accompany it. Similarly, when/if scientists find the key to abiogenesis, the idea that the hand of god took part won’t be invalidated. Neither is god invalidated by evolution or the earth being billions of years old.
Trying to prove the existence of god with things like flagella is, frankly, sacrelige – especially since examples of “irreducible complexity” only take additional research to disprove. We can’t prove (or disprove) the existence of god, but we can inspire or discourage belief.
Miracles are all around us – simply watch a seed germinate. Knowing how cells in the stem elongate doesn’t make it any less miraculous. In fact, knowledge of the process makes it even more awe inspiring. The wonder and joy inspired by learning about the world around us feels a lot more like the presence of god than learning dogma to most people. The stories in the bible are nice, but can they really compare to knowing how mountains came to be?
Catholics have long known that evolution and the creation story are simply two different ways to explain the same thing, one via science and one via religion. Some religious scientists (particularly Catholics, for some reason) know that every discovery they make adds to the glory of god. What is the alternative to this approach? The faithful could “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and leave science alone, but ignoring science isn’t much of a solution.
They could continue to condemn science as materialism that detracts from god, but this forces most people to choose between two very different (and mostly unrelated) things. It seems that this strategy has two possible effects: those who choose science simply leave their church, and those who choose religion dismiss and villify science. I have no problem with those who leave the church to become productive citizens, but those who remain are keeping themselves and the entire country behind (sorry for being Americentric) when it comes to science and technology. It serves no one, least of all god, for people to ignore problems in the world that need science and technology. All of these doubters, coached by groups like the Discovery Institute, are refusing to help their fellow man and to be good stewards of god’s creation by not partaking in all of the tools that god has given us.
In sum, literal creationists and their ilk are in effect making a mockery of god with their efforts. To best encourage faith, they should instead preach about the beauty of god’s world, in all it’s complexity.
Image: “The Fourth World was Black and White” by Julie Newdoll, depicting a juxtoposition of part of the Creation story of the Dine’ tribe with the RNA world theory.