So we tackled the question of theism vs. atheism in that last post. But I didn’t really touch on the question that’s probably of greater importance to Dr. Dawkins—Was there a creator of life on Earth?
This question is very often linked to “Is there a God?” which appears to be a natural link, but to me feels unneeded. That there is or is not a “God” does not need to relate to the question of whether there is or is not a creator of life on Earth. At least not for me because of my own viewpoint of how “God” should be defined.
My objections to coupling the question of life’s origin with theism aside—do I believe that life on Earth has an origin outside random chance?
To answer that, I’d start with another question. Does life have purpose? And—you’re going to cringe—I have to refer to Scientology for this one. One of the key pieces of Scientology is a definition of the meaning and purpose of life. That definition is “to survive.” A synonymous definition of life could be “that which actively seeks to preserve its current form.” Rocks are not alive. They make no measurable attempts at all to continue to be rocks. So we say that rocks are not alive. Even the simplest of vegetation, while generally passive, actively processes sustenance in order to generate the energy needed to keep from decaying away from its current form. If something is actively—even if only barely—trying to survive, then we consider it alive. If not, we consider it not alive. Life is that which seeks to survive. So there is this purpose—to survive—inherent in the very definition of life itself.
While not proof positive, purpose to me suggests design. Rocks—I assume—are not designed but just clumps of matter because there is no purpose inherent to them. A rock can be used as a knife, of course, but it does not actively seek to be a knife. Most archeologists can tell the difference between a rock and a stone knife because they can see the inherent shaping of purpose applied to a rock carved into a knife by noting its crafted suitability for fulfilling a given purpose and evidence of its use to do so. That observable application of purpose is what suggests design to them.
While happenstance can demonstrate design, it is very rare that it is self sustaining and even rarer that it would continue to sustain itself when pushed out of its environment. A stone knife left on the ground at best does not go dull. But it certainly does not continue to become a more effective cutter and/or create successive generations of itself each whittled to even more effective cutting instruments through natural trial and error.
Life shares with the stone knife one thing—a clear purpose that it is equally clearly designed to fulfill. Yes, natural selection has sharpened and refined that purpose, but it would appear to me that evolution is much more of a whetting stone and not the one wielding the blade. Who held the blade and fashioned it into the knife may remain forever a mystery in both archaeology and our analogy here. I fully acknowledge that. But I have a hard time escaping the argument above. Life has purpose (i.e., to survive)—purpose suggests design—design necessitates a designer
Random chance and happenstance seems to reasonably well explain the existence of matter in clumps such as rocks but random chance and happenstance does not reasonably well explain for me why those rocks would start consuming each other in order to maintain their current forms, which is exactly what happened when the first single cell organisms became “alive.”
As scientific backing for the above, I note that we have been unable to observe or reproduce this alleged accident that transformed matter/energy into a purpose-driven organism—the rock into the knife so to speak—even when purposefully trying to cause it to happen. Good science should be predictive and based on observation. The “accident” that is postulated to have created life arguably lacks both those qualities as a scientific idea. Oddly enough some of the earliest use of modern science in fact disproved spontaneous generation (in that case, of maggots).
As I said, none of the above ties in for me with the argument of whether or not there is a “God.” See my previous post if you want that. For Dawkins it seems to, though. He has acknowledged the possibility that the natural processes of evolution inherently evident in any thorough study of biology could have been set in motion by another, sentient life form/s. He clarified that such a creative force, if it did exist at all, would not have been “God” but something like perhaps extraterrestrials. I think that’s an unnecessary distinction. While often linked, equating “God” with the creator of biological life is an unnecessary leap per my previous post. And so using the lack of divine nature of this creative force to either prove or disprove anything beyond that life was crafted with purpose isn’t valid.
To finish this out, I’ll come back to the analogy of music from the previous post—We’re walking along the street and hear music. The music follows us and continues the same melody. Because the music is following us and continuing the same complex melody even as the wind changes and the streets around us change, we believe that the patterns of sound are not just caused by some random set of circumstances in our environment such as wind whipping through a drain pipe. We may not be certain whether the source of the sound is a recording or a live performer, but we can tell that there is music and that it has a pattern that seeks to sustain itself. Continuing our definition from the previous post, God in this analogy is not the musician or instrument but that quality of the music that is more than natural. So even if we find this mysterious source of the music and empirically study him/her/it, that will likely tell us little about the transcendent qualities of the music that are not explainable by simply studying the existence or generation of the music.