Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Thought It Was The Bible That Was Supposed To Be By And For The Simpleminded

Handwaving is the official creation story:

I watch very little television, but I enjoy The History Channel (THC). I’ve learned a lot from it. When it comes to hard science and engineering they do a very good job. I’ve particularly enjoyed their programs about the history of aviation, since I’m a software engineer in the aerospace R&D industry with hundreds of hours of airtime in hang gliders and have a special interest in aerodynamics and aviation history.

When it comes to aviation, THC gets it right, virtually all of the time.

It was thus with trepidation that I watched “How Life Began” last evening. The title of the show was a dead giveaway about what I would see, hear, and experience. The title of the show should have been “How Did Life Begin?” and the answer should have been, “No one has the faintest idea.”

But no, we are presented with endless speculation that doesn’t withstand even the most trivial scrutiny, and are given the impression that “science” has the solution well in hand, with only minor details to be filled in.

We are also greeted with the usual obligatory assurances that “religion” and “evolution” are perfectly compatible, if one has a proper intellectually and materialistically enlightened interpretation of religion*. White-collared Fr. Coyne is prominently displayed as an apologist for this thesis, and assures viewers that “intelligent design” is superbly unnecessary as an explanation for the origin of life. Eugenie Scott would be proud of him.

The big problem with “How Life Began” is that no hard questions are ever asked, much less addressed. We take a journey into the Life, Inc. factory, where all the mysteries of the origin of life are explained.

In the life factory we are given an introduction to basic chemistry. The simple chemical elements — hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon (with a few trace elements) — are mixed in a vat with liquid water. We are also given a grade-school education about the temperature range under which water is a liquid. We are then told about the marvels of the carbon atom, which can produce millions of chemical compounds.

We are then treated to a discussion about amino acids and how they make up proteins. (The obvious implication, presented through computer-generated graphics showing increasingly complex molecules forming spontaneously in an aqueous environment, is that proteins can be generated by stochastic processes.)

We then learn about the DNA molecule, and how it engenders self-replication, with no explanation as to how it could have possibly originated.

We then learn about the cell wall, with no explanation as to how it could have possibly originated.

We also learn about the energy producing systems of the cell, with no explanation as to how this could have possibly originated.

We now exit the life factory. All the essentials of the origin of life have been explained: energy production, proteins, self-replication, and the cell wall.

But wait! Proteins are manufactured by a highly complex and sophisticated machine that operates by interpreting a code in the DNA molecule. Where did the machinery come from? Where did the code come from? These questions are never asked, much less addressed, for obvious reasons.

We are then told about how random mutation and natural selection explains all the rest. We are even assured with no hesitancy that sexual reproduction was an innovation produced by random mutation, which helped provide even more variation upon which natural selection could work. This explains the Cambrian explosion.

Last, but certainly not least, we are taught about the scientific principle of “emergence” — the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As an example of emergence we are shown waves in shallow water producing symmetric ripples in sand. Just as the physics of fluid dynamics can produce ripples in sand, so too can the laws of chemistry, physics, and probability explain all of the emergent properties of living systems, all of biology, and ultimately human existence.

After watching this History Channel program all I could do was stare at the floor and shake my head in disbelief that such transparent BS could be presented as hard science.

*The reason for this obligatory disclaimer is obvious: If modern evolutionary theory were known for what it is — the creation story of atheism that has little scientific, mathematical, evidential, or logical support — it would be banned in the public schools as an instance state-supported anti-religion.

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