A Believing Atheist: The Speculative Dawkins Theory of the Origin of Life

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The origin of life involves water. Image Credit: Peoria Public Radio

Liquid water is a necessary condition for life as we know it, but it is far from sufficient. Life still has to originate in the water, and the origin of life may have been a highly improbable occurrence. Darwinian evolution proceeds merrily once life has originated. But how does life get started? The origin of life was the chemical event, or series of events, whereby the vital conditions for natural selection first came about. The major ingredient was heredity, either DNA or (more probably) something that copies like DNA but less accurately, perhaps the related molecule RNA. Once the vital ingredient — some kind of genetic molecule —- is in place, true Darwinian natural selection can follow, and complex life emerges as the eventual consequence. But the spontaneous arising by chance of the first hereditary molecule strikes many as improbable. Maybe it is — very very improbable, and I shall dwell on this, for it is central to this section of the book.

The origin of life is a flourishing, if speculative, subject for research. The expertise required for it is chemistry and it is not mine. I watch from the sidelines with engaged curiosity, and I shall not be surprised if, within the next few years, chemists report that they have successfully midwifed a new origin of life in the laboratory. Nevertheless it hasn’t happened yet, and it is still possible to maintain that the probability of its happening is, and always was, exceedingly low — although it did happen once! (Richard Dawkins. The God Delusion, Kindle Edition. Boston and New York: First Mariner Books, 2008, pg. 163)

The God Delusion is a book that has attacked Christians for positing a “God of the Gaps” when they can’t explain how something works scientifically. That is, Dawkins claims that Christians don’t make an effort to explain the evolution of life: the multiple biological life forms that we see. Instead, when they can’t explain how something works (such as photosynthesis), they throw up their hands and say “God did it” to free themselves from doing the intellectual legwork to examine how it works. In the words of Richard Dawkins, Christians want scientists to stop trying to figure out the workings of the world and claim “mystery” so that they can say, “See? It’s a mystery because God is the origin of life.”

Dawkins is incorrect in his claim because there are many Christians that I know of personally that believe science points to God. These same individuals are passionate about just how genius God was when crafting the universe. But what’s interesting is that Dawkins doesn’t label Christians as making an “educated guess” about the origin of life. While his pre-scientific self believed that God did it, he says that science has educated him about the matter:

The Argument from Personal Incredulity screams from the depths of my prescientific brain centres, and almost compels me to say, ‘It must be a miracle. There is no scientific explanation. It’s got to be supernatural.’ But the still small voice of scientific education speaks a different message. Penn and Teller are world-class illusionists. There is a perfectly good explanation. It is just that I am too naive, or too unobservant, or too unimaginative, to think of it. That is the proper response to a conjuring trick. It is also the proper response to a biological phenomenon that appears to be irreducibly complex. (The God Delusion, pg. 154)

You’d think with all of this response of Richard Dawkins to Christians and the religious who posit God as the Intelligent Designer of the universe, that Dawkins would have firmly discovered how life began on earth. You’d think that we Christians are reaching in the dark for an answer that defies common sense, that the scientific answer is staring us in the face and is under our noses. And yet, that isn’t the case; Dawkins doesn’t have an answer for the origin of life.

In the major quote above from page 163 of The God Delusion, Dawkins reveals some things about himself and the origin of life that may surprise you.

I’ll tackle them one by one.

Darwinian evolution explains evolution of life, not origin of life

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Ammonites, an extinct group of marine animals. Image Credit: ThoughtCo

You may not have caught it from the statement above, but Darwinian evolution doesn’t explain how life arrived on this earth. It explains the evolution of life, the variation in biological life forms, but it doesn’t explain the origin of life. “Darwinian evolution proceeds merrily once life has originated. But how does life get started?” Dawkins asks, a question that should jolt you. Dawkins doesn’t really know how life starts, and the remainder of the quote provides some interesting insights into just how “rock solid” evolution is as a solution to the origin of life.

In other words, if evolution doesn’t explain the origin of life, then what does?

Dawkins’s origin of life theory is “iffy,” hesitant, and uncertain

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The Witch’s Broom of the Veil Nebula. Image Credit: Discover Magazine

The major ingredient was heredity, either DNA or (more probably) something that copies like DNA but less accurately, perhaps the related molecule RNA. Once the vital ingredient — some kind of genetic molecule —- is in place, true Darwinian natural selection can follow, and complex life emerges as the eventual consequence.

Notice that Dawkins discusses what could have been an explanation for how life originated. He says that “either DNA or (more probably) something that copies like DNA but less accurately” explains how life originated. The words “more probably,” and “something that copies like DNA but less accurately” are indicative that Dawkins doesn’t have a definite answer behind it. The word “probably” isn’t certainty (but likelihood, which still doesn’t give a firm answer), and “something that copies like DNA” tells us that Dawkins doesn’t know what that DNA-like material could be.

“Something” is indefinite and hesitant, a description given in the absence of a name or definitive concept. If Dawkins knew what this DNA-like structure was, he could give a definitive answer. He goes on to say that the DNA-like substance could be “perhaps the related molecule RNA,” but the word “perhaps” is only stating a possibility or “maybe,” not a “this is what it is, this is how it works,” “we know how this happens” response.

Then, there’s the “vital ingredient” that brings life into existence: “Once the vital ingredient — some kind of genetic molecule —- is in place, true Darwinian natural selection can follow, and complex life emerges as the eventual consequence,” Dawkins says. “Some kind of genetic molecule” doesn’t inspire confidence that he knows what he’s talking about. After all, a genetic molecule may not be able to explain how the origin of life came about because, after all, as we’ve shown in Dawkins’ quote above, he doesn’t know anything about how life began.

Dawkins sums it up by saying that “the origin of life is a flourishing, if speculative, subject for research.” The word “speculative” here tells us that Dawkins has a theory that has yet to be proven or validated in the laboratory. He says that “I shall not be surprised if, within the next few years, chemists report that they have successfully midwifed a new origin of life in the laboratory,” though there’s been nothing certain over the last billions of years (Dawkins’ view of the age of the earth) to give us certain chemicals and ingredients involved in the creation of the first cell. Nothing has surfaced for these billions of years, but Dawkins “shall not be surprised” if something does surface.

Dawkins has put a theory in place or given what he believes to be an “educated guess” about how life began, but isn’t science based on observable facts and experimentation, not speculation? Isn’t science supposed to focus on the tangible evidence, not say “probably,” “maybe,” or “speculative” where there’s an absence of evidence? Dawkins’s belief that science could produce life in the lab in the next few years is more indicative of faith than anything. “Blind faith” is defined as believing something when there is no evidence that it will come true. Evolutionists have little evidence that the next few years will bring anything (as evidenced by Dawkins’s speculative quote), so are they not guilty of having blind faith in science to show them something that it has been unable to show them over the last billions of years?

When you have never seen evidence of something, but believe it without question, and continue to hope for its arrival, you have what I call “faith.” Might Dawkins have suggested here a theory of blind faith for atheists that is merely designed to place their hope in something other than a “sky-fairy,” as Dawkins says God is (pg. 161)?

Dawkins cannot speak on the origin of life; he’s not a chemist

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Image Credit: Wikimedia

Remember, Dawkins wants to have scientists to speak on the origin of life, despite NOMA and the view of many that science can’t speak on the supernatural, if the supernatural exists (let me write this to give some fairness in speech to atheists who’ll likely accuse me of bias).

Dawkins, as much as he talks about evolution and attacks Christians that posit “God did it,” isn’t a chemist and cannot talk on the subject of chemistry and the first chemicals responsible for biological life formation. Isn’t it interesting that he thinks God can be proved scientifically, that scientists can speak on God, but then excuses himself from the discussion of the origin of life because he isn’t a chemist? If he can’t speak on the original chemicals of life, how can he speak on something greater — such as the supernatural and God?

It’s likely you already knew this, but I wanted to remind you: Dawkins is not a chemist. I repeat: Richard Dawkins is not a chemist. If you take his words on the origin of life to be “gospel,” (a charge made about Christians who take the words of Jesus seriously), you’re honoring a situation of “the blind” (Richard Dawkins) leading the blind into even further blindness.

The origin of life, according to Dawkins, could be a miracle

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Image Credit: The Science Explorer

Nevertheless it hasn’t happened yet, and it is still possible to maintain that the probability of its happening is, and always was, exceedingly low — although it did happen once!

This last quote, taken from the end of the major quote at the very top of this article, shows that, despite Dawkins’s hope that science will “tell all” in the future, “it hasn’t happened yet.” The scientific and empirical evidence Dawkins hopes would surface didn’t arrive in 2013 — and it hasn’t arrived, even in 2017. And I doubt 2018 will produce any different results than the “expectation unfulfilled” theme we’ve seen with science and the origin of life already.

This all goes to show that science won’t be able to produce the beginnings of life in the lab, a possibility that science and scientists such as Dawkins have been touting as “what’s next” for a long time. So, without proving that life happened by way of small-scale changes over billions of years, how will Dawkins adherents manage when they realize that their “scientific” view is purely faith-based?

And yet, the origin of life could be miraculous. Though Dawkins doesn’t come right out and say it, he does say that “the probability of its happening is, and always was, exceedingly low.” One thing science has shown is that it won’t be easy to replicate the formation of biological life, so Dawkins is honest to admit this (the failure to replicate the very beginning of existence shows how improbable the event really is; this is empirical evidence since scientists have tried to replicate the chemical origin in vain).

One thing that few may consider, however, is that, if the event happens only once, and no evidence surfaces in the lab that can be verified and tested multiple times, then the origin of life is nothing short of miraculous! Science says that an event has to be replicated multiple times to become a law and to leave the “theory” label. The origin of life as posited by Dawkins, Darwin, and evolutionists hasn’t surfaced yet. There’s more evidence for the possibility of life on Mars (if the discovery of water on “the red planet” means anything) than there is for a physical origin of life; yet, that hasn’t stopped scientists like Dawkins from gambling on this speculative theory. If something happens only once and cannot be verified over and over again, science can admit its occurrence but can’t label it a law. In the absence of a label for something that happened that can’t be repeated, what would scientists call it? I’d call it a miracle.

And, if it is a miracle, could it be said that Dawkins is a believing atheist? Well, possibly. Dawkins has more faith in evolution and the physical origin of life than he does in a supernatural origin. And yet, this “improbable” event could occur in the lab one day, Dawkins says, which leads me to think he’s certainly a believer in this unproven, scientific theory. If science has yet to prove what it claims, and God has said things and brought them to pass in the Bible, which position is rational and which is not? The answer is as easy as seeing the sun rise.