Thursday, June 14, 2007

Where's it's Rectum?

So this isn't your average post about what's going on in my life. I'm thinking today... I know this is a long post, but I really think it's interesting, and I tried to make it easy to read. If you have a minute, read it. If you don't come back when you do. I actually think it's pretty important.

I went to make coffee today. When I opened the lid to put in some grounds, I realized two things: 1. I hadn't made coffee in a long time. 2. I left the grounds in the coffee maker last time I made coffee. 3. There was mold all over the place. So naturally, I started thinking about the old notion of spontaneous generation. (What can I say, I'm a geek.)

If you're not familiar with the idea, it's pretty simple. Take a piece of meat, and put it in a bowl for two weeks and there will be maggots on it. Therefore, beef turns into maggots. The same thing works for hay. Leave a pile of hay in the corner, and some of it's going to turn into a mouse. Leave a piece of candy on the ground and it will turn into ants. It goes on and on.

The fascinating thing about this idea is that people believed in it for so long. Aristotle wrote about the readily observable truth that aphids rise from dew, and mice from hay back in 600 BCE. It wasn't until 1646, that some guy named Thomas Browne challenged the idea. But he wasn't taken very seriously, in fact, some other guy named Alexander Ross responded to his book saying "To question this [Spontaneous Generation] is to question reason, sense and experience." You could also read that: "Duh. Meat turns into maggots. Shut up."

The idea was so easy to observe, and so widely believed to be true, that we accepted such a ridiculous notion to be scientific fact, all the way up to Louis Pasteur in 1862. In other words, for at least two thousand, four hundred years people thought that meat turned into maggots, and hay turned into mice. I can laugh about that silly idea today, but really it makes a lot of sense. Scientifically, you could repeat the experiment again and again and again, and always come up with your hypothesis proven correct. Meat always turns into maggots. Every freaking time.

So, now I'm coming to my point. I started reading up on this silly idea of Spontaneous Generation. And I realized that people (including me) still believe in it. Of course, we don't think mice come from hay anymore. Today, we think if you mix up methane, ammonia, and sulfur, and then hit it with lightning, it will turn into bacteria. You've heard of it. "Primordial Soup." When someone talks about "Primordial Soup" they're saying that lighting, methane and ammonia turns into bacteria.

The funny thing is, this idea is everywhere, but we have absolutely no reason what so ever to believe in it. If I leave beef out, it will eventually crawl with maggots. So I can't blame humanity for believing that one for thousands of years. However, scientists have stirred up methane, ammonia and other such stuff and then zapped it with lightning a million times, but it's never turned into life. At best, the atoms will rearrange and maybe we'll have some organic looking molecules, but we never get genes, DNA, or something with a rectum. (Which some scientists say is the best measure for determining whether or not something is alive. Where's its rectum?)

So what am I saying? That scientists are wrong, and Creationists are right and God made a mud pie in Eden and that's where we came from? Not quite. I'm not a hard-core creationist in that sense. In fact, I very much believe that life came from that Primordial Soup. And, I think that life evolved slowly through the processes of mutation and inheritance and natural selection to eventually end up with some guy writing on his blog about it. But, I think none of that process was spontaneous at all. The whole thing was ushered along by God. He shifted the first few molecules when they were hit by lightning in such a way that they turned into life.

But lets not go any deeper into that. I have no scientific claim for that belief, and I never will. Sorry. What I really want to say is that this notion of Spontaneous Generation is all over science books without a shred of evidence backing it up. It's a theory that everyone (including me) accepts simply because there is no other theory. And, I'm not the only one who's starting to feel a bit jaded. There's this guy Hubert Yockey (who is not a Creationist by the way...) who wrote this:
The history of science shows that a paradigm, once it has achieved the status of acceptance (and is incorporated in textbooks) and regardless of its failures, is declared invalid only when a new paradigm is available to replace it. Nevertheless, in order to make progress in science, it is necessary to clear the decks, so to speak, of failed paradigms. This must be done even if this leaves the decks entirely clear and no paradigms survive... Belief in a primeval soup on the grounds that no other paradigm is available is an example of the logical fallacy of the false alternative. In science it is a virtue to acknowledge ignorance. This has been universally the case in the history of science as Kuhn (1970) has discussed in detail. There is no reason that this should be different in the research on the origin of life.
Note what he says: "In science it is a virtue to acknowledge ignorance." And he's right. Scientists still don't know what gravity really is, but it's totally okay to say "We don't really know what gravity is." It is not okay to say "Gravity is black space velcro." I totally agree, and yet we believe in in this notion of Spontaneous Generation even though our experiments keep telling us we're wrong. We're putting the beef on the counter, and no maggots are showing up, but we keep telling people "Truuust me, beef turns into maggots."

So, what should we do? Maybe this Yockey guy's right. When people ask "Where did life come from?" Maybe its time for science to finally fess up and just start saying "We don't know yet." I'm not saying they have to say "Okay fine. It came from God." I'm just saying they need to start saying "I don't know" instead of "From soup."


Tony Steward said...


Ryan said...

Where's its ANUS- interesting brother Joshua; need to do some thinking about this one; teaching science last year taught me much about this topic and how HOSTILE christians (at a christian school) can be when you think of deviating from the step by step literal translation in Gen. 1- not sure where I stand on this one, glad it doesn't depend on me, glad God knows and I agree completely, WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR PEOPLE TO FREAKIN SAY THEY'RE NOT SURE?????

Hope you healed from your skinned pubis

Tim 2 said...

Silly Wabbit...Trix are for Kids!

I am sure of it!

Tom Gibson said...

My favorite blog post I've read online in weeks!

Joshua said...

Thanks Tom, glad you enjoyed it! How'd you stumble on the blog by the way?

Tom Gibson said...

Tony Steward forwarded it on to me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post! I cam across it looking for an illustrative example against induction.
Here is a very thorough review of the history of microbiology:
Note that the "spontaneous generation" idea was actually promoted by religious authorities and scientific advance came with more exact methods and instruments and the readiness to question and falsify a theory.