|MadSci Network: General Biology|
To properly answer your question would require that I have more information about your education. You have had 12 years of elementary and high school and one year of college I presume. My question would be "Have you had any science courses?" Especially, "Have you had any biology courses?" Also, I'm not at all sure what you mean by "the theory of religion's creation." There are many different religions and about as many creation stories. Given these qualifications, I'm afraid that my answer will have to be quite long. I hope you can bear with me. Judging by your question, I would assume that you are stuck in the "proof" mode of thinking. This "proof" requirement is often used by opponents of science to discredit scientific ideas. For example, there is no proof that one type of extinct animal evolved into another type of extinct animal because no one was there to see it. I would counter this type of argument with the assertion that I am 100% sure that my mother's egg was fertilized by my father's sperm. By 'my mother' and 'my father' I refer to my biological parents regardless of who I may think they are. But how can I make such a positive assertion if no one was there to see it? Are there alternative explanations? I suppose I could have been cloned in 1943 by some advanced biological technology as yet unheard of. Perhaps I was a product of a virgin birth. Do you see what I mean? There are some things that we are sure of because the alternative explanations do not correspond to our perception of reality. In order for science to work as a tool for gathering knowledge we must admit two assumptions. The first is the existence of an objective REALITY. By 'objective reality' I mean one that is independent of our perception. At first glance this may seem like an odd requirement but this is only because you are probably not familiar with philosophy and, especially, epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity (I got most of that from the American Heritage Dictionary). The point is that there are those who believe that our perception creates what we think of as reality, just as our brain alters and manipulates the image projected onto our retina to help make sense of what we "see." There are even those who will insist that reality itself, not only our perception of it, varies from person to person and from time to time. It should be clear to you that to the extent that such suppositions are valid our ability to predict natural events is greatly diminished. In an extreme view, which I will here call relativism, science is basically no better than any other method of attaining knowledge about the universe, such as introspection or philosophy (both of which are probably involved in the conception of religious ideas). But what is the evidence? What are the "facts?" Science has given us technologies that have enabled us to fight or cure disease, travel around the world in hours rather than years, communicate with friends on the other side of the Earth instantaneously, protect ourselves from the elements, and feed and clothe ourselves on an undreamed of scale. When it gets right down to the real nitty gritty most of us will go to a doctor or a hospital, not a church or philosophy lecture room when we are really sick or injured. We may pray for help but the bottom line is scientifically generated technology. So, to some extent, our perception of reality, at least our scientific one, must coincide with some aspects of the presumptive objective reality or science would not be so successful. So, the first assumption of science is the existence of an objective reality. The purpose of science is to expose the core or bedrock of this reality in a way that is UNDISTORTED by our perception. Human perception is notably fallible. We are just coming to realize that eye-witness testimony is the worst of all kinds of evidence upon which to convict someone of a crime. The process of examining evidence and drawing valid conclusions, the subject of a philosophical discipline called logic, is loaded with pitfalls for the non-logician. Our brains are designed by a process of natural selection to jump to quick conclusions and believe them. Then, our brains become very resistant to change. To paraphrase Aristotle, the purpose of a good education is to enable one to entertain an idea without accepting it. The rules and procedures of science (sometimes put into lists as "the scientific method) are mainly designed to avoid perceptual errors in our observation of the universe, be it the sub-units of a proton, the location of planets in another solar system or the probability of contracting cancer from second hand smoke. Properly speaking, science has no beliefs, only working explanations that are called theories. Beliefs, in the biological sense of what that means to our minds, bring about stagnation because if we believe, we have no motivation to look for better ideas. This immutability of belief is the power base of authoritarian social systems like dictatorships and religions. What I am saying here is that good scientists don't "believe in" their theories. They simply work with them until better explanations are found. A corollary to the first assumption of science, that there is an objective reality, is that it is POSSIBLE to know what it is. As for the second assumption of science, it is simply that the universe is governed by discoverable laws that are themselves both a part of and the source of objective reality. Often this assumption is called universality. This is the idea that given similar conditions, things will behave in the same way. Anything else would be magic or miracles. I prefer to think of it as CONSISTENCY. To sum up, to the extent that there is an knowable objective reality that operates consistently (no magic), a scientific view of the universe is feasible. To get to your direct question, "how did [life] come to be 'in the beginning' of the creation of the earth," scientific ideas and theoretical explanations about this phenomenon are firmly grounded in observation, experimentation, and critical analysis. There is a significant amount of evidence to support the idea that essential molecules critical as building blocks of living cells will arise spontaneously under appropriate circumstances that may have been common during the early stages of Earth's history. There is a significant amount of evidence to support explanations involving the ability of many kinds of molecules to self-assemble and to self-replicate. The components of the cell membrane, the biological structure that marks the point of delineation between what is alive and what is not, can be induced to form sheets and spheres without direct human manipulation. Estimates of the age of the Earth, determined by multiple, mutually supportive methods and agreed upon across scientific disciplines (physics, biology, chemistry, geology) put the origin of the Earth at 4.5 billion years ago. To give you some feel for the enormity of such lengths of time, it would take you about a million years to count to 4.5 billion if you counted 1 number per second. Solid observational evidence has been gathered indicating that life was present on Earth as early as 3.5 billion years ago. If that life did not get there by processes consistent with objective reality, as we currently understand it, then there are at least two other optional explanations. It was a miracle (a notion that is not consistent with our current perception of reality) or the result of some natural process, one consistent with the bedrock of objective reality but that we have not yet properly perceived. This prediction highlights the corollary to the second assumption of science, consistency, which is SUFFICIENCY. Sufficiency is the idea that complete knowledge of a consistent, objective reality will ultimately explain everything and that no miracles or magic will have to be invoked as explanations. In summary, the scientific theory of the origin of life predicts that life did not originate as the product of a miracle or magical event but was the product of natural processes. During unimaginable lengths of time, self-assembling, self-replicating molecules became encapsulated by membranes and began to function as self-perpetuating entities. If we are correct in our assumption of sufficiency, it should someday be possible to recreate this process in a laboratory setting. Such is not now the case. As for the "theory of religion's creation," this is not a theory but a story. The story varies with the religion. Based on the way you posit this assertion, that there is a (as in one) religious "theory" of creation, and on your location (Canada), I will assume that your are coming from a Christian perspective. The Christian story of creation is inherited from the Hebrew creation narrative as the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. If you read it carefully, which, in my experience, few ever accomplish, you will find a number of surprises. Not the least of these is that there are two distinct, inconsistent accounts of the creation. Many read the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis and don't notice the transition. This was no doubt the case with the editors (scribes) who consolidated the biblical narratives in the seventh century B.C.E. The disjunction occurs in the second chapter between verse 3 and 4. This particular story of creation, as is the case with the other creation narratives of the diverse cultures that populate the Earth, is not supported by evidence. It is, in fact, contradicted by a great force of evidence. It does not coincide with objective reality as we know it. It is riddled with vague references to things for which we have no 'proof' if you will. To believe such a story is a matter of faith. Faith, by definition, is belief that disregards the evidence. To predict that living systems arose as a part of the natural processes that govern the universe is consistent with evidence. Such possibilities, which have only been under close scrutiny for about 50 years in a few laboratories scattered over the world, are consistent with objective reality as we now understand it. In the short time that these investigations have been underway, we have seen the potential for spontaneous, autonomous origination (that is, following known laws of physics and chemistry) of phospholipid bilayers, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), and proteins. Barring magic and miracles, the initial spontaneous, autonomous generation of living cells and the subsequent evolution of all existing earthly life from those initial forms is the most reasonable explanation we have for the organic diversity we see today. I will end my answer with a quote from the second Judeo Christian creation story (Genesis 2:7) "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground ... ." Bear in mind that the literal truth of this particular assertion is consistent with science. I sincerely hope that my answer has helped to clear things up for you and moved you a bit further down the road on which you seem to have embarked. Good luck!
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