Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Unbreakable Law of Biogenesis

The site recently had a rambling, and possibly mentally-ill, religious visitor who posted probably a hundred comments or more on a single thread.  Many of those were long cut-and-paste jobs directly from another website.  One of the things he cited in his argument was the supposed Law of Biogenesis, meaning that all life must come from previous life.  This, he argued, was evidence for his god.  And by the way, his god and beliefs were not exactly mainstream.

I had never really given this much thought, but I want to credit Martin on yesterday's Atheist Experience show for changing my thoughts on this issue.  If a religious believer wants to argue that all life must come from previous life, and that this proves his god(s) exists, then not only is that an argument from ignorance, but it also suggests that the creature(s) he is referring to is biological in nature.  It implies that his god(s) is alive and physical in the same sense that we are alive and physical.  As this definition of a god would contradict what most of them believe, I think it's fair to say that the argument would be rejected.  But isn't it valid?  If you want to cite a law that claims all life must come from previous life, then doesn't that make your god(s) biological?  Doesn't it also mean that your god(s) must have been created by another biological being?

This brings us into an infinite regress, which is not really an intellectually satisfying answer to any question.  So I assume they'd cave and admit that there was a time when life came from something other than life.  They would argue that this first cause of life was a magical man in the sky, using magical powers.  A scientifically-minded person would probably argue that the first cause of life was atoms and chemistry.  Which side can prove that its proposed first cause processes and materials actually exist?  Which side can show that it has made any progress at all in determining exactly how such a thing could have happened?

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

The "complexity" of life is often cited as an argument for the existence of gods. I can't agree. I find the complexity of biology (and cosmology, and physics, etc) to be evidence AGAINST the existence of gods. Gods have no need of such complexity. Their will be done, and all by magic. Simplicity would be their signature. The presence of complexity shows that it is far more likely NATURE, hard at work eons, that has slowly crafted this complex, messy, frail, striving, thriving force called life.

Admin said...

I agree with you completely. I've mentioned this exact argument before on the site, I'm just not sure where. It might have been in a comment section, not a regular post. If it truly was magic, then there should be no detectable physical mechanisms making it all happen, unless deception is the name of the game.

Magnamune said...

The problem I run into is trying to describe Abiogenesis theory. It always sounds stupid, even though it makes sense. Is there a simplified version I can read up on, so I can describe it to my less intelligent friends and debate opponents?

Admin said...

Assuming they'll know what these words mean, I'd start with the facts that currently we know amino acids can form by themselves, we know nucleotides can form by themselves, and we know RNA can replicate itself (see 1989 Nobel Prize for Chemistry).

Given the formation of nucleotides, it doesn't seem strange to think that RNA could form, as it's a chain of nucleotides. Once RNA has formed, we know that it is a self-replicating molecule, so it can begin to do its thing. Ta-da, life!

Other than those basics, I'd recommend they don't pepper you with questions and challenges, and instead look up the current state of scientific literature on the subject for themselves. Oh, right. Well, do your best. Perhaps point out that citing incomplete knowledge of this topic as evidence for the supernatural is an argument from ignorance and is completely unacceptable.

Admin said...

You could alternatively challenge them to explain the mechanisms of magibiogenesis.

Gordon said...

As Carl Sagan said - "why not save a step"

David McNerney said...

@Anonymous

Even the bible agrees with you:

Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

We should be just animated dust - which would be clear evidence of a god.

Unfortunately we're not.

Magnamune said...

Thanks admin, that's a good idea. I'm not sure if they know those words, but if they don't they shouldn't be attacking the theory, as they clearly no little to nothing of the subject. Although, with the more... persistant people I debate with, quoting their fallacies has no effect, other then them accusing me of avoiding the issue. *sigh* I really should stop with those guys...

Hanna said...

"If you want to cite a law that claims all life must come from previous life, then doesn't that make your god(s) biological? Doesn't it also mean that your god(s) must have been created by another biological being?"

I do not quite agree with your claim that God should have been created by another being. If you want to stay relevant to the assumption that God exists and that the Bible is true, then all scientific laws including the law of biogenesis will have been set by God; therefore God is actually superior to scientific laws, rather than under them. Does this make sense? This means that since God is not under the law of biogenesis that He does not need to come from another being.

Jim said...

"If you want to stay relevant to the assumption that God exists and that the Bible is true..."

If you want to stay relevant to the assumption that Superman exists and that the comics are true...

If you want to stay relevant to the assumption that Unicorns exists and that fairy tales are true...

If you want to stay relevant to the assumption that Leprechauns exists and that Irish folk lore is true...

See what I did there? You have to prove something is true before we can discuss it. You can't just assume that god(s) is(are) real. You have to prove it. Period.

And remember:
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
― Christopher Hitchens

Hanna said...

My point was that you have to stay consistent with previous assumptions/suppositions, at least until there is a direct contradiction as a result of that assumption. I think you misunderstood me by the word "assumption". When I said "assumption" I did not require it to be true--I meant it as a "condition". We all know about indirect proofs from Geometry, right? The very first assumption made in the proof--according to you we cannot discuss it unless we have already proven it to be true?

Admin said...

Hanna, your entire argument is what is known as "special pleading". All life must come from previous life, except this life (a god) because it's special and does not obey the laws, which solves the problem. Your argument is completely unsatisfying and pointless. It will not find any support or sympathy here.

Jim said...

"My point was that you have to stay consistent with previous assumptions/suppositions, at least until there is a direct contradiction as a result of that assumption."

Okay, I'll bite. But you have to concede that the origianl assumption is that there are no gods. At all. Because prior to civilization, there was no religion. Therefore, the original assumption is that there is no god(s).

"We all know about indirect proofs from Geometry, right? The very first assumption made in the proof--according to you we cannot discuss it unless we have already proven it to be true?"

Do you remember geometry? Because I sure do. The first thing you did before you even made a proof was to define it. You had to bring forth evidence to support your proof, and you could then define your proof.

Now let's say that the universe is a geometry problem. You want to prove that something supernatural created the universe. Not a problem, let's do the "math" on this.

You would first have to prove that some form of supernatural being exists.

This is the first part of the entire problem. You can't just assume that god exists. Because there is no need for any god to exist, let alone any proof. The universe does not require a creator at all. There is nothing we have seen anywhere on earth or in the entire universe that we have that requires god to exist.

JimBobBuddyRoe said...

Jim stated:

"You have to prove something is true before we can discuss it."

Can you prove that the universe created itself? Where did the initial mass come from?

Jim said...

"Jim stated:"

Oh, man, you're about to get into something that's way over your head, but go ahead and quote me.

"'You have to prove something is true before we can discuss it.'"

Yep. That was me who said that. Good job. Let's see where this goes...

"Can you prove that the universe created itself?"

Dammit, JimBobBuddyRoe, you fucked it all up, buddy. I mean, fair play trying to quote me, but you screwed it all up.

You see, your problem was that you think I said you have to prove anything before we can discuss it. The thing you have engaged in is called "quote mining." You tried to stick me with this quote to argue for anything in existence. What you failed to do was read what I wrote before and use my qu0ote in context. But I'll just go ahead and spell it out for you.

The universe exists. That is true. The universe stared sometime around 13.6 billion years ago. That is also true, even if we haven't nailed it down to the exact second. The universe being created does not require a creator. That is also true. Naturally you're going to want to pick a fight at this point, but no one has proven that anything else could have created the universe. Based on this simple fact, we must default to the position that the universe was created without a creator. Therefore the statement, "The universe came into existence without the aid of creator," remains a true statement.

See, you think that I have to prove that "the universe created itself." I don't. Because that is the default. It requires no proof because there is nothing to disprove this statement. Yeah, I know, it's a paradox, and you'll try to use it in your argument for supernatural beings. But you are forgetting that supernatural beings is not a default.

Jim said...

Remember Sherlock Holmes? I know he was a fictional character, but his statement that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" is actually quite true. He is right. There is also something else to this statement: you have to reduce every problem to its simplest parts to find the truth. The universe coming into existence is really quite simple ("Created itself" is a very stupid phrase. It implies that the universe has a mind of its own, or some sort of conscience that dictates the life of the universe. This is untrue.). It amounts to, as we know so far, basically that the universe just came into existence (Yeah, I know, there is much more to it than that, something you get into with your second question, but I'll get there). Meanwhile, the statement, "God created the universe" requires a ton of explanation because it is super complicated.

Which leads me to your second question (told you I'd get there), which, really, you should know not to ask when you're trying to discredit the non-supernatural formation of the universe.

"Where did the initial mass [for the universe] come from?"

That's a great question for a scientist. Terrible for your argument. Put simply, no one knows yet. But we do know that it was there.

But why is it a terrible question for you to pose? Maybe because if you pose that question to me while trying to use it as an argument against a natural universe formation, you MUST answer it for any alternative theory you have. If your alternate theory is that supernatural beings willed the universe into existence, then you must tell me where they got the initial mass for the universe. Hell, I'll skip that answer if you'll tell me where the supernatural beings came from. Where were they created? Who created them?

So, you see, your argument is quite flawed, even though you thought yourself quite clever in asking it. You tried to trap me using my own words, and I applaud that. So, I say again, after letting it be known that the universe indeed exists without any proof of anything other than natural formation, that you have to prove something is true before we can discuss it. I've proved that my statements are true.

Andre Nel said...

If a person was to create a "living" robot or AI (artificial intelligence) then it would be a biological life form giving rise to a electronic (/mechanical) life form. In the same way it is possible that biological life was created by a non-biological being. Just because we are biological it doesn't mean that the God who created us is biological. He could be pure energy for all we know - as matter is created from energy (E=mc2). This is the basic failure of your argument against Biogenesis. Biogenesis indeed proves that God must exist and to dismiss that is to be unscientific and willfully ignorant. Only life can give rise to life and because life exists today it must always have existed, even during and before the Big Bang...

Admin said...

"If a person was to create a "living" robot or AI (artificial intelligence) then it would be a biological life form giving rise to a electronic (/mechanical) life form."

This is not the creation of a biological life form, and is off-topic.

"In the same way it is possible that biological life was created by a non-biological being."

Evidence for existence of such a thing as a non-biological being, please. I also would like a definition of the term.

"Just because we are biological it doesn't mean that the God who created us is biological."

If you want to argue that all biological life comes from other biological life, then it would have to be. Evidence for existence of a god, please.

"He could be pure energy for all we know - as matter is created from energy (E=mc2)".

So your god does actually follow the laws of this Universe? You're in contradiction to many of your fellow believers, and energy is detectable. Evidence of its existence, please.

"This is the basic failure of your argument against Biogenesis."

No, it isn't.

"Biogenesis indeed proves that God must exist"

No, it doesn't.

"and to dismiss that is to be unscientific and willfully ignorant."

No, it isn't. Unscientific? Please show me the consensus among biologists that there was no non-biological origin or that this proves the existence of a god. Are the scientists being unscientific?

"Only life can give rise to life"

It doesn't seem that this is the case at all. Infinite regress.

"and because life exists today it must always have existed, even during and before the Big Bang... "

Evidence that life has always existed, please. Definition of "before the Big Bang", please.

So in short, your argument sucks, is completely wrong, and you have no evidence for anything that you wrote. I'll wait for your Nobel prize to be awarded.

Jim said...

"He could be pure energy for all we know - as matter is created from energy (E=mc2)."

That is not what that equation means. It means that energy and matter are the same, not that matter is created from energy. There is no creation process involved.


"Only life can give rise to life..."

You literally just said that energy could create matter (life). How do you contradict yourself so fast?

"...and because life exists today it must always have existed..."

So your god didn't create life. Because if your "life" always existed, then why would it need a creator?

Do you understand that your arguments literally contradict themselves and state that there is no need at all for a god?

Admin said...

Now Jim, you're being wilfully ignorant and unscientific. He is clearly relying on the existence of non-biological life, which is well-documented, as we know.

Jim said...

But I thought only biological life can give rise to life? But I thought it always existed?

Is his god a Transformer? Are we in the Matrix?

Anonymous said...

You wrote: "It implies that his god(s) is alive and physical in the same sense that we are alive and physical."
That is a lie; and you are dishonest or ignorant for making that assertion.

Admin said...

Wow Anonymous, that was a well thought-out and explained argument. I'm convinced. Please take my money and subscribe me to your newsletter.

Leon Westbrook said...

I'm a Christian and I came across this... Somehow, but this just made me confused. The conclusion that everything (biology, cosmology, and physics etc, as you said) is so complex that it stands as evidence against God makes no sense... Why would God, being of so much power (unlimited beyond our comprehension), create something unrealistic when he doesn't need to. That doesn't even make sense in the way I worded it, because to us humans (being a creation) we want to know more and more and especially atheists or unbelievers, want to avoid using God as an answer, when realistically, it fits perfectly. For us to say "everything is too complex, it would be simple if it were made by God," belittles the power of God. To God, creating us was simple (as it says in the Bible, all He did was speak), but in our eyes, we try come up with logical conclusions that for OUR limitations: i.e. the theory of big bang, evolution, earth's formation, etc. It's all from the perspective without God. I'd understand if God was a new concept but He isn't and it's His creation and that's why He is still doing amazing things to this day through the Holy Spirit. More and more people are realising it. It's strange to think that so many people are following this new "spiritual" thing rather than the usual materialism but still call Christians crazy when we rely on something more evidential.