Re: The Origin of Life Prize

Bill Hamilton (
Wed, 29 Sep 1999 13:22:31 -0400

I wrote

>> The kicker is "spontaneous". If I were to submit an entry, I would by
>> implication be accepting their claim that life arose spontaneously. As a
>> Christian I know that, whatever the mechanism(s), life was ordained by God
>> and therefore did not arise spontaneously.

George wrote
> I don't see that this is a big problem. Christians talk all the time about
>things happening "spontaneously" (hydrogen combining with flourine, heat
flowing from
>high temperature to low &c) with no implication that God is not involved.

Good point. My concern is how an entry by a Christian would be interpreted
by people who have axes to grind in the C/E dispute. If a Christian
submitted the winning entry, I hope he would give quite a bit of thought to
how he would use the attention he would get from such an accomplishment to
refute the conclusion some folks would jump to that he is claiming that
life arose outside the sovereign will of God. Rightly or wrongly his paper
would be interpreted that way by both extremes in the C/E debate. We don't
get much mileage from evangelizing the extremes, but we need to be prepared
to give reasonable answers that will be valued by people for whom the jury
is still out.

The idea
>that the origin of life must be outside the range of phenomena which can
be explained
>in terms of secondary causation is unfounded. In Gen.1 it is precisely
the origin of
>living things which _is_ spoken of as mediated.

You and I can find implications in Gen 1 that the origin of living things
is mediated.
(and to me they are pretty compeeling) But for the average individual in
the pews of an evangelical church it may not be so obvious. (And to some
extent this is true of mainline churches as well. I grew up in a liberal
Methodist church and remember numerous times hearing that "only God can
make life") In any case my concern was about the implication that
"spontaneous" could be taken to mean "outside the sovereignty of God".
True, we don't attach that meaning to it when we're discussing ordinary,
repeatable, observable phenomena, but something changes when the subject
becomes life. (what?) As a side note I should point out that "explained"
is a potential fighting word to a conservative Christian without a
scientific background. Such a person tends to think of explanations as
being final, rather than assignments of natural causes (which themselves
are caused by other antural phenomena....) to natural phenomena. And these
assignments have varying degrees of tentativity, depending on the specific
field they address.

& for centuries intelligent Christians
>believed in spontaneous generation of flies &c - wrongly of course, but
without any
>sense that there was any conflict with the doctrine of creation.

Also a good point, and one I wish my creationist Christian brothers would
respond to with something other than "I don't put any stock in St.
Augustine anyway :-)"

> However - one thing that makes we wonder about the prize site is the
meter long
>list of "judges" & the combination of some of the names. Watching Dembski
& Atkins,
>e.g., trying to agree on whether or not a proposal for spontaneous origin
of life is
>good would be a treat in itself!

Now I've got to go back and read that list (I tend to pass over long lists
:-). But this sounds entertaining.

Bill Hamilton
William E. Hamilton, Jr., Ph.D.
Staff Research Engineer
Electrical and Controls Integration MC 480-106-390
GM R&D Center
30500 Mound Road
Warren, MI / (home)