Tuesday, July 25, 2006

God and the Divinity of Life

Life is awesome. It so awesome that only the firm minded will accept life without the need to explain it by calling in (some) Divinity. Two totally unrelated articles in the NY Times of today (25-07) once again reminded me of this.

One was about the discovery of a hitherto hidden mechanism in life’s production system which dictates the exact application of a DNA sequence, or rather: particular parts of our entire genome according to the identity of the cell. Whenever cells split, their DNA splits all the way, and it reassembles all the way, from the stemcell up to the last hairfollicle. We all know that our entire bodyplan is stored in the DNA of each of our countless cells. But we did not so far figure out how the process of protein production in each cell gets so neatly attuned to its specific function.

But now Researchers believe they have found a second code in DNA in addition to the genetic code. This second code, superimposed on the first, sets the placement of the nucleosomes, miniature protein spools around which the DNA is looped. The spools both protect and control access to the DNA – i.e. the relevant part for the particular cell - itself.

The new code is described in the current issue of Nature by Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute in Israel and Jonathan Widom of Northwestern University in Illinois and their colleagues.

Well, that’s a marvel. I mean, the discovery is a marvel, if only one thinks of the tiny dimensions in which all of this has to be sorted out. But the mechanism is a marvel too, of course. Just imagine how it must have come about in the early ascent of living entities billions of years ago. At this level humans are not different from peas, so we can well assume this is pretty fundamental to everything we call life today.

DNA's Double Helix with all our genetic heritage stored in each of our cells

Then there is the other article, titled “Faith, Reason, God and Other Imponderables”. It is a review of a number of books by scientists (some atheist, some religious) on our contemperary fascination with the Origin of it All.

Initially I thought it was just another ramble about the question whether faith in God can coexist with faith in the scientific method (which is one of the most stupid questions I know). But it highlights a few salient contradictions worth mentioning.

First of all it recounts the stories of intelligent men gone haywhire; ardent scientists who seem to have succumbed to our current latter days religious revivalism.

- In “The Language of God,” Dr. Collins, the geneticist who led the American government’s effort to decipher the human genome, describes his own journey from atheism to committed Christianity, a faith he embraced as a young physician.

- In “God’s Universe,” Dr. Gingerich, an emeritus professor of astronomy at Harvard, tells how he is “personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos.”

Indeed, the more we understand of life’s underlying fabric, the stronger our tendency to reject the idea that life arose just by itself rather than by the machinations of a superior intelligent creator. This notion brings me the shivers. From the Age of Reason we are full circle back in the Age of Superstition.

But then the article mentions the courageous, yet countereffective efforts of professor Richard Dawkins (the emeninent scientist of the 1970s publication on The Selfish Gene) to help our world retain its common sense. He doesn’t convince above Gingerich, who argues that in simultaneously defending evolution and insisting upon atheism, Dawkins probably “single-handedly makes more converts to intelligent design than any of the leading intelligent design theorists.”. My God (I beg your pardon for saying so), what a conundrum! But indeed, most likely nothing good is achieved if we try to hammer in the concept of evolution through God bashing. Still, it is pretty disconcerting that scientists use their aura of knowledge to gain a higher footing with the unsuspecting faithful. Secondly, behind their reasoning lurks the argument that if we cannot disprove the existence of a Divine Creator, then he must exist. I find it hard to grasp that serious people readily accept this ignorant position, but there it is.

So far, I believe, Richard Dawkins (*) has made all the sense in the world. But we may have to accept that to counter Religion with more science, this will only throw new oil on the fire. Most likely, it will be more effective to counter the arguments with Religion itself.

I am not particularly religious, but I do hold that there is a place for God in our human life. The mistake we should never make however, is to use God, or Divinity, or any other Creator, to explain life on Earth or the life of humanity itself. God was never created for explanation. God and all his institutions are with us for guidance only. Humanity created God (not the other way around)to serve its need for moral codes of conduct and to glue the fabric of society. Religion in essence is the antithesis to the rules of nature. God would never think of Darwinian wildness and genetic selfishness. Yet these very processes made the advent of humanity possible, including the advent of spiritual life - and of science.

In the larger part of its history the Roman Church stifled science, and interfered with the advance of knowledge at great cost and human sacrifice. It learned the hard way never to try that again. So let's not wish to go back to the days of Galileo or worse.

Learned professors too better stick to their trade.
In a recent TV documentary aired by BBC Channel 4 (The Root of All Evil) Dawkins describes his astonishment that, at the start of the 21st century, religious faith is gaining ground in the face of rational, scientific truth. Science, based on scepticism, investigation and evidence, must continuously test its own concepts and claims. Faith, by definition, defies evidence: it is untested and unshakeable, and is therefore in direct contradiction with science.

In addition, though religions preach morality, peace and hope, in fact, says Dawkins, they bring intolerance, violence and destruction. The growth of extreme fundamentalism in so many religions across the world not only endangers humanity but, he argues, is in conflict with the trend over thousands of years of history for humanity to progress – to become more enlightened and more tolerant.


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