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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Least Scientifically and Theologically Literate Article from the Independent Since the Last One

I don't know. I reckon this could be one of the worst ever. In many ways worse than articles in the tabloids telling you that rearranging the astrological chakras in your airing cupboard can make sex better.

"New theory could prove how life began and disprove God" says Andrew Griffin in the Indie.

The theory is basically "given long enough, things can happen". This is true, but not exactly radical.
There is an explanation of the theory given that is, in essence, drivel. I think Andrew Griffin is trying to say something about how organisms apparently break the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but of course don't. I think he's trying to say that. As that is what the original article in Quanta magazine says. But the following.....
"But a new theory, proposed by a researcher at MIT and first reported in Quanta Magazine, proposes that when a group of atoms is exposed for a long time to a source of energy, it will restructure itself to dissipate more energy. The emergence of life might not be the luck of atoms arranging themselves in the right way, it says, but an inevitable event if the conditions are correct.
“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said."
..... is basically just a set of words vaguely related to each other, piled up in the hope that we believe the author sounds plausible.

I got the feeling from the Independent piece that I was missing the whole "and then a miracle happens" box in the flowchart. We're given the researcher's second name  but no first name. I was left wondering if the researcher is the entire south-eastern half of the United Kingdom?

But here's the killer blow to God from Andrew Griffin's perspective...
"As Rosenberg notes, the idea that life could have evolved from non-living things is one that has been held for some time, and was described by the pre-Socratic philosophers. But England’s theory marks the first time that has been convincingly proposed since Darwin, and is backed by mathematical research and a proposal that can be put to the test."
The idea that life could evolve from non-living things has been a given for ages. The mechanism - the divine spark - if you like - that's the bit that needs a bit more explanation. Though not much. When all is said and done, this is still a theory that if you put energy into an inert mass of material, there is the possibility of life. That's what the "lightning bolt in a chemical soup" theory of the origin of life holds. In a weird kind of way, it's what the creation of Adam describes - the inert Adam, made from the dust of the ground, needs a kick from the outside (the breath of God in this case) to make him move.

The Independent article has proved nothing. It's meant nothing. Frankly, it's barely resembled English and never got close to science. And has it disproved God? As far as I can see, the main thing it disproves is that Andrew Griffin is a journalist who should ever write on religion or science.

Meanwhile, the actual article in Quanta is here.  It's interesting, it's well-written, it accepts the theories that England is setting forward are there to be challenged, and it doesn't mention disproving God at all. Which means it is scientific. It's important sometimes to understand these distinctions. And "England" is actually Jeremy England. Looks a nice, thoughtful young man. Maybe he should write for the Independent. Somebody ought to.

1 comment :

  1. I've always thought that a spark could create life. A bright spark that I once knew told me that its a fact that all in Genesis is the literal word of God. When I finished choking the life out of him, a miracle happened, he started breathing again, once I let go. I'd call this an #Indie miracle if I didn't happen to think that an Apple falling off a tree and hitting Charles Darwin on the head had scrambled his marbles and made him put forward his theory of evolution. Everyone knows that life started after a couple of hairy Primates had a boozy night down at the water hole and discovered that they were compatible and had Adam as their first born. Any other theory is completely off the wall and probably the result of a comet hitting the earth and damaging their minds.

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