Re: Origin of Life

Paul Arveson (
Tue, 2 Apr 96 09:35:05 EST

In message <v01540b12ad85acc10c2f@[]> Peter Vibert writes:
> 3. " each creation command in Gn correlates with a scientific puzzle or gap".
> While point 1. is debatable, and 2. may be overstated, I have felt for a
> long time that point 3. is a fair description of where we are today in
> science, and have been for a long time despite eg. the past 40 years of
> 'origin of life' studies or findings from paleo-anthropology. I
> occasionally tell HS students that it's worth remembering that among the
> best people in the field of 'abiogenesis', there is no longer any consensus
> that *"even in principle"* can the (earthly) 'origin of life' be claimed to
> be understood (no matter what HS textbooks may say).
> To say this of course means stepping onto that infamous slippery slope,
> the "God of the gaps" approach... Although this view is in one sense
> philosophically disastrous (if it is taken to mean that God is not
> constantly "upholding the universe by His word of power..."), what if it's
> true in the sense that God did something very "unusual" at certain points
> during the history of the universe?? Is is ok to be (as Jack calls it)
> "mildly concordist"?? Is this a position that is 'faithful to science and
> Scripture', even if it's philosophically vulnerable??
> Peter
Dear Peter and others:

I appreciated your post describing reactions to alternative views of Genesis
in your church. I had the same kinds of reactions when I taught recently.

I just want to add a general comment regarding the origin of life/species
problems. Since Oparin and Stanley Miller, the work has been done mostly in the
field of chemistry, by Ponnamperuma and many others. But recently the most
important insights have been coming from computer science. The growth of
fundamental science and new technology go hand-in-hand. The discovery of DNA
was facilitated by work in crystal diffraction, the electron microscope etc.
The new work on genetics is facilitated by computers, creating the new fields of
informatics, genomics, neural networks, etc. This technology is being used to
investigate origin of life problems in a fundamental way. I recently read a
survey of the field of Complexity by M. Waldrop. It describes the work of the
Santa Fe Institute in doing fundamental, competent science on these problems.
These scientists are not interested in high-school hand-waving. They understand
the seriousness of the problems, and are trying to deal with them directly. (I
highly recommend this book - it conveys the feelings as well as the ideas of
cutting-edge scientists in action).

We have only just begun to explore nature with these new tools. Much
remains to be discovered; perhaps even fundamental new principles. Waldrop
reports that many scientists can "smell" the solutions coming within reach.
It is far too early to rule out the origin of life "in principle". Such
reasoning is analogous to Descartes' principle that "Nature abhors a vacuum".
In the 17th century, this principle seemed utterly reasonable and absolute.

Paul Arveson, Research Physicist
(301) 227-3831 (W) (301) 227-1914 (FAX) (301) 816-9459 (H)
Code 724, NSWC, Bethesda, MD 20084