Andrew and I Have A Civil Discussion Pt.2-Physics and Biology Edition

Posted on June 17, 2010. Filed under: Atheism, Religion, Science |

Note from George to the reader:

This post is a follow up to my previous post, Andrew Rosenberg and I have a Civil Discussion. These posts stem from an invitation by me and accepted by Andrew to answer questions he posed to PZ Myers by e-mail.  If you are unfamiliar with the background story, click here for my summary of what happened.  Also note that I am more than happy to accept comments and questions for Andrew, but I will not tolerate the ridiculous hatred and vile threats tossed at Andrew on other blogs, and I reserve the right to delete comments that are not in good taste.

Please read this part carefully:

I am not a physicist, nor am I a biologist.  In fact, any of the “facts” I state here could be just plain wrong.  If the reader has any problems with the facts I present, and can display accurate information to the contrary; I will happily amend this post and credit the commenter/author.  I will not be amending the post to accommodate science deniers, those who think their religion of choice has anything substantive to say about the science of our universe’s origins. I will however, happily direct you to sources where you can investigate those claims further.

Andrew,

First let me thank you for reading and responding to my first post.  I hope that you also took the time to read my follow up comments to you and have given them some thought.  I can tell that you are eager to learn about these topics, and I can only offer you a short introduction to both subjects.

Physics is definitely not my favorite subject.  I am humble enough to tell you that I got the basics of this answer from my eleven year old son, then confirmed them on the internet.  My son gave me a stunned look as if to say ” Dad, are you serious?” , and I will mention that he is a virtual sponge of information on the physics of outer space.  I see my investment in “Space Camp” last summer is paying dividends.

I will assume, a priori, from your original letter that we both agree that a young universe was hydrogen rich.  My son explains it like this:

After the Big Bang the universe was much denser than it is today.  Much of the matter in the universe was at this point hydrogen.  Stars are hydrogen rich and nuclear reactions turn it to hydrogen-2 which then almost instantly becomes unstable and fuses to form helium.  Stellar fusion can account for just about every element in the periodic table up to iron.  Iron is one of the base metals of the earth’s core and likely was brought within the orbit of our sun because of a supernova that sent denser elements flying through space.

Hearing my son tell me this brought tears to my eyes.  Sadly, he won’t be much help in the biology section of this post; I just proofread his independent study on Polar Bears and was not impressed.  Oh well, we can’t all be experts on everything….

So I looked up all this stuff that he told me and it turns out that he is almost bang on!  It’s a lot more complicated than that but it’s a pretty good description of nucleosynthesis and its impact on the formation of a young Earth.  So to answer your question, there is a scientific process by which hydrogen can fuse to form the other naturally occurring elements in our solar system.

…how is this emergence of protons, neutrons, and electrons something that could just happen? THe 4th grade rule of science is that matter cannot be created or destroyed, so by the physical laws of our universe, how are we existing at all? If according to Newton (or whoever wrote that law) matter cannot be created or destroyed.

So as you can see from that brief explanation, matter was neither created nor destroyed, simply changed.  None of this violates any physical laws of the universe.  So on to how we are existing at all….

The young earth so far in the past, it is hard to imagine a place inhospitable to our kind of life.  Yet so it was some 4 billion or more years ago when the first traces of like sprung from this primordial state.  We have already touched on the elemental foundations necessary to create life, but what of the organic genesis?  As I mentioned in my previous post, science has no clear answers or consensus on the subject of abiogenesis.  There are postulations, to be sure, but nothing more.  So let me touch on one way it could have happened.

Certainly the first hint of life came in the oceans of a young Earth.  Many “building block” amino acids have been proven to synthesize in conditions similar to those believed to be found on an early earth.  It is unclear as to whether these reproduced or metabolized first but they would be sufficient to form RNA, the most basic of organic compounds.   There is a really great little post over at Lousy Canuck that talks about DNA replication unaided by life, and this could have been the very vehicle by which life arose on Earth.  From this point forward, evolutionary theory does all the handiwork, with a little help from a symbiotic relationship from early bacteria that form the basis of our mitochondria.  The rest, as they say, is history. Evolution caused prokaryotes to be eukaryotes , to multi-cellular sea creatures- ever growing more complex- finally leaving the sea for the land- becoming early mammals- then early primates- and eventually becoming Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

A long traveled journey to be sure, and certainly one that asks a bunch more questions.  Rest assured though that at no point did “something come from nothing”.  Creationists love to conflate abiogenesis with spontaneous generation and then attack that strawman as if they were one and the same.

So although these events seem awe-inspiring, it is important to remember that none of them contradicts the laws of the universe.  Some have most certainly happened (evolution), some are hard to disprove (big bang), and some are still in their infancy (abiogenesis).

Rest assured though, the corner into which we have painted an “Alpha and Omega” type God is ever decreasing with time and progress.


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5 Responses to “Andrew and I Have A Civil Discussion Pt.2-Physics and Biology Edition”

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One of the really important points of that abiogenesis piece is that we don’t know if this is how life started here. However, it’s a way that life CAN start. We’ve found a few now. And the more we find, the more likely abiogenesis looks. Take a giant rock, sprinkle some chemicals that can interact with one another, add energy from a sun and the continuing rotation of the Earth’s core, and let bake for a billion years. If something doesn’t start happening in some way, where the fuzzy line between chemistry and biology is breached, I’d be surprised. Especially given that all these chemical interactions are happening everyplace on Earth simultaneously, meaning you have billions of lottery tickets a second before you hit that one jackpot that starts the infinite chain reaction of life.

We’re a runaway chain reaction of self-arranging carbon molecules. That just blows my mind.

[...] This brings us to George, who at the time of the Andrew Rosenberg controversy had just begun his blog and who promptly reached out to Andrew Rosenberg by inviting him to a dialogue on the questions he had raised to PZ.  Andrew accepted and their exchange can be read here and here. [...]

Sorry my response is coming so late, but I have been very busy with work and other summer activites. Once again I thank you for this well written post.

that makes very much sense to me and has many of the answers I was looking for. I am beggining to feel it is possible for things such as the big bang to have happened, but as to whether I will fully believe in it and denounce my God, that will take many more years of research, thinking, and maturing. I still am a strong Christian and the ability for the universe to exist without a creator is mind-boggling to me and feels like something just isn’t clicking in my brain. But your response to my questions did give me many stimulating things to ponder and I much appreciate your efforts. It is VERY interesting to me to discover that DNA can synthesize without life! I will look into this even further!

Andrew,
My only goal here is to give you the information you were looking for. I sensed in your e-mail to PZ that you were genuine in your quest for information. I hope that one day you come to an informed decision about your faith, whether you remain a Christian or not. There are some very well informed Christians out there, and perhaps that is the path you will take.
I hope you ask as many more questions as you have and I assure you that I will answer them as promptly as I can. I don’t want to end the conversation here.

[...] PZ Myers.  One of the comments turned out to be from Andrew himself, and this prompted two more posts where I tried to answer his questions about evolution, religion, and science.  These posts [...]


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