Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fred Reed's Five Questions for Abiogenesists

    (1) Do we actually know, as distinct from hope, suspect, speculate, or pray, of what the primeval seas consisted? (2) Do we actually know what sort of sea or seas would be necessary to engender life in the time believed available? (3) Has the accidental creation of life been repeated in the laboratory? (4) Can it mathematically be shown possible without making highly questionable assumptions? And (5) If the answers to the foregoing are 'no,' would it not be reasonable to regard the idea of chance abiogenesis as pure speculation?
For asking such questions he was "accused of 'trying to tear down science,' [and] of wanting 'to undo the work of tens of thousands of scientists'" — Evolutionary Psychology, Sort Of.

"A question is an admission of ignorance," he reminds us. "If the answers to all four questions were 'no,' it wouldn’t establish that the asserted abiogenesis didn’t happen, but only that we didn’t know whether it had happened. So why the blisterish sensitivity?" He concludes by reminding that "Richard Feynman said that 'science is the culture of doubt.'"

Speaking of Feynman, physicists, from my experience, are not so blisterishly sensitive as are evolutionary biologists. Life Science is the only science to which this blogger has any high-level exposure (through years of tutoring graduate students and researchers with their presentations). And let me tell you, the more you learn about protein trafficking and signal transduction and such things, the less sense it all makes. One of the wiser students I tutored admitted, "We'll never know how life functions."

The undergraduate students I teach, all science and engineering majors, tend to hate biology, unless, of course, they are that third rarest of birds, biology majors (the first and second rarest of birds are the physics and math majors). Why? "It makes no sense," they tell me. At least it makes no sense the way other sciences do. As a linguist (applied), I can relate to that. Linguistics is either the most scientific of the humanities or the most human of the sciences, and the similarities to biology are many. But linguists are known for their tolerance of ambiguity.

The rabidly angry Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers are both biologists. Perhaps a failure to come to grips with the uncertainties and ambiguities in their own field, especially when posed with the scary anthropocentric speculation posited by some interpretations of Quantum Mechanics, is at the root of their rage.

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3 Comments:

Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

Fred Reed is my favorite crusty ex-pat curmudgeon. As with many such types, one's enjoyment is tempered with the suspicion that one's own turn on the ducking platform will come soon.

Me, I would actually think less of the Creator if He was constrained to take a visible hand in the operation of the universe, if our scientific inquiries could actually jacklight Him at His forge, pumping the bellows of Creation. We know so much now, that was previously shrouded in darkness, that I can never assent to a god of the gaps.

2:33 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I agree; they don't make 'em like Fred Reed anymore.

From your blog, I know that you are "a Christian conservative who loathes creationism in all its forms," which is intriguing. I've called myself "A Young Earth Creationist for Fun."

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Burkean83 said...

In the past, I regarded creationists as loony, but I'm beginning to think that there's no way the random mutation/natural selection mechanism can account for everything we see in nature.

1:53 AM  

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