Friday, August 10, 2007

Not A Good Week For The Naturalists

Possible Martian bacteria fossils in a meteorite found in Antarctica. The rock, by keeping its cool, could have sustained life during its travels.

When it comes to comparing the Naturalistic and Theistic worldviews, each has its problems. The theist's biggest one, or at least the one that is most commonly thrown at him, is the problem of evil. "How could it be," it is asked, "that an omnipotent, omni-benevolent God would allow pain and suffering in the world He created." Certainly, this is the most emotionally charged issue facing the Theistic Hypothesis. It is a problem that Christian apologists have been defending themselves against for centuries. But here's the deal. Theistic apologists do two things:

1) They admit there are difficulties posed by the problem of evil and acknowledge it as a legitimate challenge to their worldview that must be addressed.

2) They offer a coherent answer that fits within their worldview and that, even if not accepted, stands as a rational, reasoned answer to the objection.

Not so with the naturalist. It is hard to decide which naturalistic deficiency is the most troubling for them to overcome but for my money I would pick the origin of life. How is it that a purely mechanistic view of the universe can account for the origination (not to mention all the diversity and non-material aspects) of life itself?

Naturalism, though it might acknowledge that the origin of life is a "difficult" issue, fails to admit the extent of the "difficulty" to its view of the world. We are always told that the explanation is forthcoming -- that we just have to wait a little longer to get it. But what we are never given is an admission that the entire subject undermines the very core of naturalism itself. We are most definitely never given a rational, coherent answer to the origin of life problem. The most we get is speculation and then only about theories that are either unverifiable (by definition), serve only to push the argument back indefinitely, or that strangely (and closely) resemble the theistic alternatives we offer ourselves.

Right off the bat, Darwinism doesn't cut it. By definition, Darwinism is a process that picks "winners" from among the variant forms of life. But, before there is any life, there can be no winner and thus nothing from which the much-touted power of Natural Selection can pick. Darwin's ideas about how to overcome this major obstacle have been proven wildly lacking in explanatory power. And in the 150 years since he published Origin of Species, things haven't gotten any better. In fact, origin of life studies have been separated from general evolution because the problems it poses are so overwhelming.

I have addressed this issue briefly in the past so I won't belabor the point here. But one of the favorite naturalistic explanations for the origin of life is panspermia. The "directed" type (aliens put life here as some sort of experimental zoo project) is one of my favorite. For starters, the idea that a transcendent intelligent agent placed life her sounds an awful lot like the Biblical creation account. But if the naturalists insist that the alien they appeal to isn't "god," their theory does nothing but push the origin of life question backward one step. Where and how did the alien life originate?

The "non-directed" variety of panspermia has thus become a favorite among naturalistic scientists. As recently as 2000, some insisted that this version was a legitimate:
One study, reported in the October 27, 2000 issue of the journal Science, shows that a space rock could successfully transport life between planets ... Another group of researchers, reporting in the October 19, 2000 issue of Nature, claims to have found and revived bacteria on Earth that were dormant, in the form of spores, hiding in New Mexican salt crystals for 250 million years. Scientists called the implications of this second discovery profound, suggesting that if further study bears out the findings, it could mean bacterial spores are nearly immortal.
Sounds great. The problem with it popped up this past week in a Rutgers study that blows the whole idea out of the water:

For the first time, there are solid data to refute a popular theory that life came to the Earth aboard a comet, Rutgers researchers said Monday.

Deteriorated DNA from microbes, frozen for millions of years in the Antarctic ice, shows that organisms could not have survived the bombardment of cosmic radiation during deep space travel from outside the solar system, said Paul Falkowski, a Rutgers biologist and oceanographer.

The fact that theistic astronomers and biologists have been making this point for years has gone unnoticed. Remember, their opinion doesn't count because they don't toe the party line by adhering to the "proper" set of presuppositions. That their science is solid and, in this case, reached the same conclusion is irrelevant and goes unreported.

Unfortunately, that's the way the system is set up. But for those of us who follow these issues, this past week was unusually notable. Early on it brought us news from Nature that the commonly accepted notion of human evolution doesn't hold water. Then, later in the week, we find that the optimistic promises of panspermia have been dashed on the rocks of the actual scientific evidence.

No gloating (of course) but let's just say it hasn't been a good week for the Naturalists.

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