Science and Religion

This month I am reproducing an interesting article by Cliff Walker,, with his kind permission:

"This morning, I had the honor of completing a brief interview with
Professor Ghadiri. As I suspected, Professor Ghadiri does not have "life"
on his mind, except that his molecules are modeled after naturally
occurring organic molecules.

He mentioned three specific groups of scientists, including his group,
that have created self-replicating molecules, and indicated that there are
others. I asked him if these were derived from naturally occurring
self-replicating molecules, and he said that none of the molecules were
derived from naturally occurring molecules.

Two of the three groups, his group and that of Guntr Kiedrowski, have
created peptides, which are similar in structure to naturally occurring
molecules. Julius Rebek's molecule, says Professor Ghadiri, does not in
any way resemble the self-replicating molecules that we would find in
nature, but is self-replicating nonetheless. I did not ask Dr. Ghadiri if
this means that Dr. Rebek's molecule is *not* a carbon based substance.

I asked him if it was proper to consider these molecules "life" and he
shot back a resounding "No!" Nobody has even come close to creating what
we would call life, according to Dr. Ghadiri.

>From his tone, my imagination conjured an image of a scientist preparing
himself for the accusation that he was a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein of
some sort. However, I must stress that I cannot know for sure what brought
on this apparent tone, or even whether I accurately sensed a change at

Then I asked him how we would define *life* for the purposes of this
research. He reminded me that life means many things to many people. But
for the purposes of this research, he said that to qualify as life,
something must have three qualities:

   1. It is self-replicating.
   2. It is self-sustaining.
   3. It is capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution.

None of the molecules that have been made would sustain themselves (be
able to continue self-replication) in an environment outside of the
chemical reactions under which they are able to self-replicate, says Dr.
Ghadiri. These molecules, he says, are themselves chemical reactions. They
just happen to be self-replicating molecules that mimic one of the
processes -- self-replication -- that is found in what we call living

I would add that the molecules thus far created are probably far too
simple to survive even the smallest changes in structure, and probably
must retain their precise structure in order to work. Organic molecules
that we see in living organisms today contain vast amounts of redundancy
and are extremely complex, so that they can and do undergo small changes
without significantly affecting their ability to sustain themselves in
their environment.

Occasionally, a change or "mutation" will significantly affect an
organism's ability to sustain itself. The majority of these changes impair
an organism's ability to survive, and that organism usually dies before
reaching adulthood. Its mutated code is thus not carried into the gene
pool. Very occasionally (albeit very *frequently* from an evolutionary
time frame), the mutation happens to enhance an organism's ability to
sustain itself within its environment (although the same mutation would
not necessarily help the same organism living in a different environment).
These "improvements" are usually but not always assimilated into the gene
pool, eventually replacing the old code. Notable exceptions would be an
organism which sustains a favorable mutation, but which dies prematurely
from an accident or some other fluke that has nothing to do with an
enhanced or impaired ability to survive in its environment

Back to the interview with Dr. Ghadiri. We were discussing the
publications which document this work, and he asked me if I was a
scientist in order to ascertain whether I was able to read the scientific
papers he was about to recommend. I told him no, that my interest is one
of philosophy and of social activism, and that I am not trained as a
scientist. When I mentioned that in some of my discussions I am called on
to defend Darwinism, he laughed. He said that if man is still here a
thousand years from now, very few scientists from this time period would
be remembered. But one scientist who will be remembered is Charles Darwin.
Another, he said, was "the inventor of mathematics" -- although,
ironically, the name had slipped Dr. Ghadiri's mind. We had a good chuckle
over this. (He mentioned that the scientist was an Englishman, and I now
think he probably meant Sir Isaac Newton.)

Dr. Ghadiri suggested that I stop wasting my time engaging in discussions
wherein I am called upon to defend Darwinism, because it does not need
defending. "People are entitled to their opinions," he said. I said that I
agree, but reminded him that we have this state called Kansas and this
other state called Illinois and this other notorious state called

As the conversation ended, I had the impression that Dr. Ghadiri has never
seen the popular lapel button which says, "Never underestimate the power
of stupid people in large groups." But perhaps he knows something about
this matter that I do not. Maybe he is aware of the three surveys which
show that between 45 and 47 percent of Americans are young-earth
creationists. He could know this and remain unconcerned for reasons that I
cannot see.

I still suspect that his remark may reflect upon why we have these
problems in Kansas and Tennessee: The scientists rightly concentrate on
their work, but some of us may need to support science through social

I am reminded of a call to the Dr. Dean Edell Show several years ago,
where the topic was the fact that many more advances had been made in
breast cancer research in recent years than had been made in prostate
cancer research. (This has since changed somewhat.) Dr. Edell suggested
that this was because women tend more toward organized activist efforts,
whereas men tend to think that if something needs to get done, we should
simply do it rather than talk about it.

Today's culture is based more upon politics than upon practicality. The
work needs to be done, but appropriating the resources to do the work is
itself a lot of work.

People have been working for years to undermine any human progress which
contradicts cherished myths. Today, it seems as if these people think they
are entitled to more than simply their opinions. They seem to want
protection from criticism; but also, they seem to want the ability to
enforce their myth upon the rest of us. Since the myth they want to
enforce cannot stand on its own merit, the only method left for them is to
try to discredit any human progress which contradicts the myth.

We must remember that in 600 B.C.E., philosophers (what scientists were
called back then) knew that the earth is a globe (and is not flat, as it
appears to a mind that is unaided by abstract thinking skills). In 400
B.C.E., philosophers had made a close calculation as to the size of the
earth. By 200 B.C.E., they had realized that the earth is not a perfect
sphere, and had made some concerted efforts to measure how far off from a
perfect sphere this spheroid called Earth is.

The first two-piston steam engine was developed in Alexandria by Hero in
200 B.C.E. The library where Hero worked was later burned and destroyed,
piecemeal, over the centuries, by fanatics of both the Christian and the
Muslim varieties. Scientists and thinkers, both men and women, were
brutally murdered by mobs of priests and other frenzied clerics.

Long after these accomplishments came the Dark Ages. Ancient science had
become so completely forgotten through the domination of the Christian
religion and its flat-earth dogma that we now speak of the Copernican
Revolution -- as if Copernicus was the first to discover and publicize
heliocentricity. Galileo was persecuted in 1633 -- fully 141 years after
Christopher Columbus, in 1492,  "discovered" a land that had already been
inhabited for tens of thousands of years, and fully 111 years after
Magellan's crew, in 1522, completed the first known voyage around the

I suspect that had the science of the wheel contradicted some aspect of
the dominant and cherished myth, Copernicus and his associates would have
been too busy reinventing it to have made much progress in astronomy and
cosmology. We can only hope that science remains so firmly established in
the popular mindset that no upheaval can ever again overthrow it. Man's
persecution of his fellow-man's quest for truth is, in my opinion, the
deepest stain upon the dignity of the human species."

-Cliff Walker,"Positive Atheism" Magazine, P.O. Box 16811,Portland, OR 97292.;

Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, 11/26/1999

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