Monday, October 26, 2009

Summary of meeting last Saturday (part 1)

Last Saturday, we had another discussion meeting, this time about the origin of life.

Ugh. This topic is really tricky, because, when discussing it, you get really close to the God of the Gaps fallacy. We spent some time discussing this fallacy, mostly in regards to the Intelligent Design Movement (which I will be posting about in the near future). In summary, the God of the Gaps fallacy is when you say fill in the gaps in our knowledge with god.

An example commonly-used by opponents of theism is that, thousands of years ago, people supposedly thought that bolts of lightning were thrown by the gods. Now we know that it is the electric discharge that occurs after a large potential difference builds between two clouds (or a cloud and the ground).

In relation to the origin of life, the God of the Gaps fallacy works like this: Scientists have no idea how life could have originated by strictly naturalistic means. In fact, by our current knowledge, it basically looks impossible. Therefore, since science can't explain it, it must have been a miracle performed by God.

In a way, I actually find that argument somewhat convincing. My reasoning is that the scientific evidence actually shows that the probability of life originating naturalistically is so remote that it would never happen even in a mole of universes (that is, 10^23 universes). But again, this is negative evidence, and I don't think the field is quantitative enough at this point to rule things out by negative evidence. So, based solely on this argument, I would say that denying a naturalistic origin of life is intellectually satisfying to me, but not scientifically defensible. In other words, I find that argument compelling, but I don't think it is ready to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, much less stand the rigor of getting into high school textbooks (as many are trying to do).

More to come later...