A Preface to the Problem of the Origin of Life

The problem of the origin of life is an Achilles heel, not for science, but for the materialist

Particles of DNA strands flying through space to Earth.
Concept of the origin of life. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

Michael Guillen, who obtained degrees in physics and mathematics from Cornell University, where he studied under Carl Sagan and Fred Hoyle, and who taught physics at Harvard University, has a podcast in which he addresses the problem of the origin of life (among many other things). (See Science + God with Dr. G. Episode #44)

Guillen was an atheist into his late 20’s or early 30’s. Then he became a theist, and then a Christian. He has always been a “science guy”, however.

You can find the explanation of how he gravitated from atheism to Christianity in earlier episodes of the podcast. I am not going to address it here. I want to address the origin of life problem using this particular episode as a backdrop because I think he explains the problem well.

Before I do that, I want to preface the origin of life problem and put it in some context. The unspoken and unexamined assumptions we make can cloud our understanding, so I want to seek a little clarity first.

Continue reading “A Preface to the Problem of the Origin of Life”

Thoughts on Perspective, Science and Faith

As finite beings, We have no choice put to adopt our fundamental principles on faith. We do not have the requisite perspective to have more certainty than that.

I have two blogs I maintain currently: Perspective and Navigating by Faith. Perspective and faith loosely characterize my journey over many years: trying to find perspective and understanding the value, the necessity, and the integrity of a faith grounded in reality, both observable and unseen.

Many people believe that faith is the opposite of fact and at odds with science and reason. I strongly disagree. I have come to believe that faith is inescapable for finite beings – both religious ones and non-religious ones alike – and faith lies at the core of everything we believe to be true.

I was listening to a podcast discussion recently when one of the participants said something like this: When we approach any evidence, we approach it with a perspective. This is a non-pejorative way of saying that we are all “biased”.

As finite beings we are all necessarily “biased” by our own perspective, our own experiences, our own knowledge, understanding and ability to grasp, synthesize and categorize what we know and understand. Our perspective is influenced and filtered through our location in the world, our place in the culture and society in which we live, the history that we remember, and too many other things to summarize them adequately in a short blog article.

The discussion in the podcast that prompts this writing focused briefly on the fact that we all bring assumptions to the table when we consider anything. Those assumptions, however intentionally or surreptitiously developed, are the bedrock of each of our worldviews. They are the foundations on which we stand. They are the filters through which we see the world.

Those assumptions are developed, to a greater or lesser degree, by some combination of our external influences, our internal leanings and reactions to those external influences, and our consciously or unconsciously chosen compass points we use to guide ourselves in sorting out the information we encounter.

At the most basic level, those assumptions are axiomatic. They are truths we take for granted. We cannot prove them, and we rarely question them without crisis. We are fortunate if they hold us in good stead, if they are well-enough grounded in reality and fact to be of benefit to us in our dealings with the circumstances of our lives.

If those basic assumptions are not well considered and well-grounded, we can be blown about by every wind. If they are not based in fact and an accurate grasp of the nuance of reality, they can prove little consolation or comfort in times of crisis. If they are not well-anchored in timeless truth, they can leave us adrift when we need to count on them most.

The unique perspectives in light of which finite beings approach any evidence is necessarily limited and biased because we are limited and finite beings. At best, we can only hope to orientate ourselves in the direction of truth. We don’t define truth. We don’t establish truth. We don’t’ generate truth.

This is necessarily the case with finite beings who can only approach reality from a particular location at a particular time in the context of a particular cultural, historical, and philosophical point of view.

If I was omniscient and all seeing, I could have ultimate confidence in my perspective. My perspective would be objective and factual. My perspective would be the measure of all reality.

But no human being can validly make that claim (though we may and often do think and act like we can). In all honesty and humility, we must each admit that we come at evidence from a perspective with bias born out of our own experience, cultural context, limited knowledge and limited understanding.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

As a necessary corollary to these things, which I believe with all the certainty that I can possibly ascribe to these things, we are creatures of faith. All of us. We have no choice put to adopt our fundamental principles on faith. We do not have the requisite perspective to have more certainty than that.

My conclusion in this regard is based on fact (that humans are finite beings) and “logic” or philosophy, which reasons from the fact that we are finite to conclude that our perspective is limited thereby. Because our perspective is limited, we must rely on faith in making our conclusions which, themselves, derive from the fundamental assumptions we also take on faith. We can’t escape these limitations because they are inherent in finite creatures such as ourselves.

Some people even in this modern age, however, have boldly claimed that science is the study of all the reality that exists. Further, they say, therefore, we no longer need philosophy or theology. (I have heard Neil deGrasse Tyson say this very thing.) I am going to push back on that idea in this blog post.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Perspective, Science and Faith”

When Scientists Stray From Science

Some people today have made the mistake of using scientific methodology that is limited to the study of the natural world to conclude there is no reality but for the natural world.

Depositphotos Image ID: 151533714 Copyright: avemario

Methodological naturalism is the basic approach of science. Since science is the study of the natural world, the methodology of science is limited to the parameters of the natural world. Methodological naturalism is theologically neutral.

So what does that mean?

On a very fundamental level, it simply means that science is the study of the natural world, and, therefore, science is limited to naturalistic methodology. Science is limited to the observations of matter, energy, space, and time.

Another way of putting it is that science has no preoccupation with anything that is super natural. Science is limited to a focus on the natural world. Science doesn’t bother itself with anything but the natural world (though scientists might stray beyond it).

None of this should be in the least bit earth-shattering. Confusion arises, however, when we begin discussing the supernatural, the metaphysical, the theological, and even the philosophical realms in relation to science.

There are those scientists, for instance, who have recently suggested that the advance of science today has done away with the necessity of philosophy. People like Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson have made statements like that, though they have both backed off of those initial statements more recently. It’s important to understand that those statements, themselves, are philosophical in nature, and not scientific.

To suggest that science has done away with necessity for philosophy is to ignore the limitations placed on science in its very methodology. Science, itself, is not philosophical, but evidence from science can support premises that are philosophical, and scientists themselves draw philosophical conclusions from scientific facts.

Science may inform philosophy, but it can never replace philosophy. To think otherwise is to exalt science beyond its natural parameters (pun intended) and to fail to appreciate the difference between science and philosophy.

Continue reading “When Scientists Stray From Science”

The Myth of Objectivity

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

Thoughtful and thought-provoking articles are a source for many articles I write. When those two characteristics are exemplified in the same single article, I often use it as a springboard. An article by Trent Horn, Neil DeGrasse Tyson Shows Why Science Can’t Build a Utopia[1], is my springboard for this article.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, of course, is the outspoken agnostic ambassador of science. The Horn article was precipitated by Tyson’s tweet: “Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence”[2] and Horn’s counter-tweet: “@neiltyson ‘Rationalia’ is as useless as ‘Correctistan,’ or a country whose constitution says, ‘Always make the correct decisions.'”

To illustrate what he means by his counter-tweet, the author used the example of a driverless car. Fatalities have already happened with them and will undoubtedly happen again. That isn’t the point, though. The point is this: how should they be programmed when confronted with two options – to run over pedestrians or run into an object that may kill the passengers?

How does Rationalia weigh the evidence to determine which is the best course? Continue reading “The Myth of Objectivity”