THE "2001" PRINCIPLE
THE FOLLOWING IS A TEXT-ONLY PRINT-OUT OF OUR WEBSITE AND MENU. WHEN YOU HAVE THE TIME, WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND VIEWING THE ORIGINAL, AS WE HAVE PUT GREAT EFFORT INTO MAKING ITS ABSTRACT PHILOSOPHICAL CONCEPTS TANGIBLY REAL WITH ORIGINAL ANIMATIONS AS WELL AS HIGH RESOLUTION COLOR STILLS FROM THE FILM "2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY".
Greetings! If you are like us, you are a fan of "2001 - A Space Odessey." We liked it so much, we wrote a book about it. Some of our ideas are presented here in celebration of Hal's birthday at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
Sit back, relax and enjoy. This is not an overly long presentation. We therefore suggest you view it in sequence, since it presents a logical argument, wherein each section is based on the one preceding it:
1. THE MYSTERY OF "2001"
2. "2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY" - ILLUSTRATED PLOT SUMMARY
3. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE - VONNEGUT'S "BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS"
4. THE "THRESHOLD FOR DESIGN"
5. THE "FINE-TUNING" OF THE UNIVERSE
6. "2001" AS AN ARTFORM
7. MENU for further information
THE MYSTERY OF "2001"
In the annals of motion picture history, the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" holds a special place. Watching the film, the viewer feels that he is being treated to nothing less than a capsulized tale of human civilization, from Day One to the present, and even into the future. The film is panoramic, and of epic proportions. The music is breathtaking, and the plot follows a spaceship that crosses the universe, searching for the source of life itself.
Millions of people have seen this film, and though "2001" is outwardly science fiction, every viewer senses an important message. Something is being said about life, the universe, and reality in general, and the message seems to be one of enormous consequence. What is actually being said, however, is strangely elusive.
In the 1960's, when "2001" came out, it left its audiences so awestruck, so mystified, and so curious, most who went to see it once, went back to see it again and again, hoping that they would be able to decipher it.
The primary mystery is the film's ending. Dave, the sole survivor of Hal's homicidal rampage, has been whisked across the universe, to an undefined place. In a small, stylishly furnished room, we see him grow old and ancient in a time-lapse sequence, until he appears on his own deathbed, incredibly withered. In the last moments of his life, he finds the strength to pull himself up and point to an object which has suddenly appeared in the room. It is the enigmatic black "monolith" which initiated the entire space odessey. Then, just as suddenly, a huge human embryo appears on the screen floating in outer space. Wide eyed, it turns to the viewing audience, and to the triumphant tones of "Thus Spoke Zarathrusta," the film ends. There is no explanation, the film just ends.
Let us try to crack this riddle. We shall see, in fact, that "2001" does contain a message about reality -- one of ultimate importance for every human being.
"2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY"
The film begins with about a half hour of footage featuring a troupe of apes living by a water hole. The place: "Earth." The time: "The Dawn of Man."
The troupe of apes is attacked by a second troupe and driven away from its water hole. In exile, the first troupe is awakened early one morning to the eerie sounds being generated by a mysterious object -- a black metallic slab. It is about 15 feet tall, and shaped like a huge domino. Its smooth metallic surfaces and perfect right angles are totally out of place and incongruent with the pristine beauty of a world untouched by man-made objects. It is immediately obvious to the viewer that the black geometric form originates from an intelligence which dwarfs that of the apes. With great fear and trepidation, the apes eventually work up the courage to approach the slab. They lay their hands on its "wondrous" features -- its smooth polished surfaces. This is their first encounter with "high" technology. The scene is accompanied by loud music and eerie human-like voices in the background. Suddenly, the scene switches.
It is the next day. The leader of the exiled troupe is sitting on his haunches, playing idly with the dried up bones of the skeleton of an ox. Seemingly, yesterday's encounter with the slab has given the leader a jolt forward, increasing his intelligence, for while playing with one of the bones, he discovers that a large bone can be used to break smaller bones. Longing for the water hole that was once his home, the troupe leader gathers up several large bones from the ox's skeleton, and gives them to the other male members of his troupe. Armed with this new, sophisticated weaponry, the apes easily retake the water hole, in a quick and bloody battle. Afterwards, the leader of the troupe triumphantly tosses his ox bone high into the air, and in what has been called "the greatest fast-forward in movie history" the swirling bone comes down as a spaceship, implying that the apes have evolved into man.
Since that first technological advance, at the battle for the water hole, mankind has evolved considerably, and civilization on Earth has made great technological progress. The United States has built a colony on the moon, and scientists digging there find what looks to be the same slab that the apes found! At this point, there is no reason for the scientists to assume that the slab is anything more than an inert building block. What they do know is that it has been on the moon for four million years, precluding the possibility that any human being put it there. The inevitable conclusion, as stated in the film, is as follows:
"THIS IS THE FIRST EVIDENCE OF
INTELLIGENT LIFE OFF THE EARTH."
In other words, it is the first objective evidence that the universe contains intelligent life other than man.
The momentous discovery of the geometric slab is kept secret, for the Americans fear that if Earth's inhabitants learned about it "without adequate preparation and conditioning," widespread "culture shock" and "social disorientation" would inevitably ensue.
The moon moves in its orbit. Sunlight hits the slab, perhaps for the first time in aeons, causing it to emit a beam into outer space. A spaceship is built and a crew is assembled to follow the beam. There is hope that the Americans will discover the intelligence that is responsible for the slab and its beam.
The spaceship takes off, on an odyssey that will span the universe. One of the main characters in this part of the film is a computer which controls and monitors most of the ship's functions. This computer, named HAL, has a human personality. He even has a human voice. For some reason, HAL rebels and begins to kill all the astronauts who are accompanying him on the mission. He tries to murder his creators. Dave, the last surviving astronaut, escapes HAL's cooly-plotted machinations and manages to dismantle him. Dave then continues the odyssey alone. In the end, Dave is captured in an inter-galactic net, apparently by the makers of the slab. We find him facing himself as an old man, sitting in a room on the other side of the universe. No explanations are given. The huge embryo comes on the screen, and the film ends.
To crack this riddle, one needs to understand an elementary principle about human psychology: A person's wants and desires influence more than his behavior. They influence his thinking, as well, and even his powers of perception. This is true even with regard to things that would be otherwise intuitively obvious. Psychologists say that when a person is confronted by ideas or facts that are at odds with his pre-existing notions, what results is "cognitive dissonance," a sort of static in the human psyche. This "static" has the power to distort or even block perception.
An extreme example of this is described by psychiatrist Rollo May in his bestselling book, Love and Will: "A patient of mine presented data the very first session, that his mother tried to abort him before he was born, that she then gave him over to an old-maid aunt to raise him for the first two years of his life, after which she left him in an orphan's home, promising to visit him every Sunday, but rarely putting in an appearance. Now, if I were to say to him -- being naive enough to think that it would do some good -- 'Your mother hated you,' he would hear the words but they might well have no meaning whatever for him. Sometimes a vivid and impressive thing happens. Such a patient cannot even hear the word, such as 'hate,' even though the therapist repeats it... The patient cannot permit himself to perceive the trauma, until he is ready to take a stand toward it." [emphasis ours]
When disturbing information creates "cognitive dissonance," the "static" discredits the information, so that a person does not feel compelled to cope with it, even if it is true. If a fact or idea is sufficiently contrary to his or her "status quo," the threatening data can be prevented from entering their consciousness at all! In effect, "cognitive dissonance" is a tremendously powerful "self-preservation" mechanism which can completely override the human desire for truth.
In "2001" there is a certain idea that can create very intense "cognitive dissonance," even in people who are very well-adjusted and highly intelligent. That is, what the film says about the discovery of the monolithic slab can actually be said of the film itself:
THERE IS SOMETHING IN "2001" THAT CAN CAUSE
"WIDESPREAD SHOCK AND SOCIAL DISORIENTATION."
What, in fact, is it about "2001" that can jolt a person so powerfully?
Man is an intelligent, expressive and creative force in the universe. He realizes this, and is proud of it. This being the case, if there were indications that, really, his entire existence is an expression of a higher intelligence, he would be greatly shaken. Such a notion would be "belittling" to him. Moreover, if this notion is correct, it would require him to make major adjustments in terms of how he views himself and the world around him. Accordingly, such indications would be very threatening, and would trigger great amounts of dissonance in him.
From popular literature we can gain a feeling for just how much trauma might be involved. In Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, the author decides to "go down" into the pages of his book, in order to meet his favorite character. At this point in the book, the favorite character is sitting at a bar, calmly nursing a drink. Suddenly he is overcome by a tremendous feeling of anxiety and apprehension. He senses that something is about to enter the room -- something not only awesome, but also something that he "cannot possibly face." That something is the author -- Vonnegut.
Imagine the scene. There sits the favorite character, content with the idea that he is, in fact, a real human being. To say the least, his encountering his creator would occasion a profound crisis in identity. Finding out that he is nothing more than a character in a story would force him to make major adjustments in his way of thinking. Can you appreciate the potential for trauma here?
Due to "cognitive dissonance," if a person is asked if a certain idea is true, and his response is, "I don't know," it may not be the case that "sufficient evidence" is lacking. His "I don't know" may be of the "cognitive dissonance" variety. In sum, his doubt can be categorized as being of two possible types:
TYPE I, THE LOGICAL "I DON'T KNOW," is based on logic and reason. For example, before probes landed on Mars and sent back reports, if a scientist had been asked if Mars had life on it, he would have answered simply, "I don't know." The basis for his answer was purely rational. He lacked information. Before the probes scientists had no conclusive proof about whether there was life on Mars. Possibly there was life there, but how could anyone know?
TYPE II, THE EMOTIONAL "I DON'T KNOW," is completely divorced from logic and reason. Doubt here is not based on a lack of evidence or a shortage of information. On the contrary, the evidence here is compelling, but doubt springs from a powerful and subconcious "I can't take it." Examples of this type abound, especially in the history of science where sufficient evidence existed to support new, revolutionary discoveries, but scientists could not accept the evidence, and remained skeptical, for the new findings flew in the face of their views. "Cognitive dissonance," the phenomenon that creates this type of doubt, can provoke bizarre thinking even in those who are noted for logic and reason.
The film "2001: A Space Odyssey" contains a subtle message about probably the most important "I don't know" that issues forth from the lips of man. Man asks, "Is there a God?"
On this crucial question, if a person replies, "I don't know," is it Type I or Type II? Is it because there is simply not enough evidence to prove that God exists? Or is it because what ordinarily would qualify as conclusive proof is available, but for certain reasons (e.g. The "Vonnegut Problem"), one cannot accept it? This question touches on the subject of religion, but only peripherally. Really, we are asking here about the human psyche: What goes on in the human mind when a person grapples with the issue of God?
Let us simplify the question by narrowing it down a bit. The best-known argument for the existence of God is the classical "clock in the desert" argument, also known as the "Argument From Design." We know that this argument is not regarded as being convincing. The question, though, is why not?
When an agnostic hears this argument eloquently expressed, with the most astounding examples of nature's grand designs, he usually admits that the level of design in nature is impressive -- yet he remains skeptical. The prevailing opinion is that his doubt is a Type I doubt -- doubt which is due to insufficient evidence. Is this really the case? Perhaps the Argument From Design really DOES provide sufficient evidence for God, and people reject it, or remain in doubt about it, only because of "cognitive dissonance," and the widespread doubt here is really a Type II -- due partly to the difficulty that a person experiences adjusting to the idea that he is an expression of a higher intelligence.
THE "THRESHOLD FOR DESIGN"
In order to discover which of the two possibilities mentioned above is correct, we will need to perform a scientific experiment which reveals what level of design prompts people to react intuitively, "This did not happen by chance." That is, we will need to expose people to different levels of design until we determine what level prompts all of them to say, "This is a product of intelligence." We will call this level of complexity the "threshold for design."
To discover the threshold, we will have to set up a situation which eliminates the potential for "cognitive dissonance" arising. We will need an experimental setting where levels of design are present, and our subjects are under no personal, social, intellectual, metaphysical or other pressures which could prevent their perception of the design. In other words, we will need a controlled environment -- a situation which lacks the factors which could interfere with the normal functioning of man's intuitive faculty.
Fortunately, a quality experiment which establishes the level of complexity which brings the intuitive reaction, "Designer required" already has been done. The controlled environment was the everyday movie theater, and the subjects of the experiment were the millions who saw the film "2001."
THE THRESHOLD: THE "2001" MONOLITH
As we noted in our summary of the film, the discovery of the black monolith was recognized as
"THE FIRST EVIDENCE OF INTELLIGENT LIFE
OFF THE EARTH."
that is to say, the first objective evidence that the universe contains intelligent life other than man.
Please note that not one character in the film objected to this statement. Neither did any film critic take issue. Most importantly, based on all available information, no objections were raised by anyone in any movie theater either. The people in the theaters "agreed" not because they were watching fantasy, and would agree to anything. "2001" was taken very seriously. Viewers were looking at the film critically, and they realized that if such a momentous discovery were to be made under identical conditions in real life, any qualified scientist inevitably would reach the same conclusion. In the theater, eating popcorn, free of personal, social, intellectual and other biases, people agreed unanimously that a black slab with smooth surfaces and a few right angles was conclusive proof of intelligence, for the intelligence that was implied was not God.
In other words, the idea of intelligent life on other planets, superior as that intelligence may be, is not nearly as threatening to man as the idea of God, for the existence of an extra-terrestrial intelligence does not necessarily imply the "dependent-beholden" complex that we encountered in Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. When viewers heard it said that the monolith was proof of "intelligence other than man," everyone agreed, because cognitive dissonance was absent. Not one viewer maintained, "Maybe it just happened."
Everyone had the same immediate "gut" reaction. There was no doubt whatsoever. In that "2001" was viewed by millions of people from all walks of life, it cannot be argued that too few people were "tested," or that the subjects of the "experiment" were not representative.
Therefore, what level of complexity does it take for people to see intuitively that something was made purposefully? Does it take a computer found on the moon? An automobile? A wristwatch? No, even a domino-shaped slab is enough! In short, "2001" serves as a controlled, scientific experiment which establishes man's intuitive "threshold" for design. In the movie theater, where there are no implications for one's life, and the intelligence which is the source of the design is not Divine, this "threshold" level is quite low.
THE COSMIC IRONY OF THE "2001" EMBRYO
- "THE 2001 PRINCIPLE"
Now, compared to the level of design exhibited by the slab, the level of design found in objects in nature is infinitely higher. Take the design of 2001's HUMAN EMBRYO. The human embryo represents probably the highest level of structural complexity in existence -- a level at the OPPOSITE end of the spectrum compared to the level of design present in a domino-shaped slab!
The question, then, is: Why is it that, while watching the movie, millions of people agree that the low level of design exhibited by this slab could not have come about without the intervention of intelligence, but when these same people leave the movie theater, and encounter MUCH HIGHER design in nature, the conclusion is otherwise?
2001's DRAWING POWER
When the film ended, and the embryo filled the screen, it was as if the embryo was saying to the audience, "Hey folks, aren't I much more complex than the domino-shaped slab? If you see that intelligence had to have made the slab, why don't you see that intelligence had to have made me?" Ironic, no? This irony is the basis of this classic film's drawing power. People perceived this message subliminally, but not consciously, because the IMPLICATIONS of the message were too far-reaching. Even though "2001" outwardly was only science fiction, the embryo at the film's end had a real message of ultimate importance for all.
True, at the end of the film, when the embryo filled the screen, the makers of the film probably had in mind only science fiction -- to show the viewers the next intermediary step in man's "evolutionary odyssey." Nevertheless, viewers subconsciously sensed another real and important message here. Seeing the embryo, they felt torn between the science fiction aspect of the film and the statement of "cosmic irony" it implied.
And once people started getting the idea, stronger and stronger indications of this cosmic irony started popping up everywhere. Almost as if he had "2001" in mind, one macrobioligist wrote in 1985:
"It is the sheer universality of perfection, the fact that everywhere we look, to whatever depth we look, we find an elegance and ingenuity of an absolutely transcending quality, which so mitigates against the idea of chance. Is it really credible that random processes could have constructed a reality, the smallest element of which -- a functional protein or gene -- is complex beyond our own creative capacities, a reality which is the very antithesis of chance, which excels in every sense anything produced by the intelligence of man? Alongside the level of ingenuity and complexity exhibited by the molecular machinery of life, even our most advanced artefacts appear clumsy. We feel humbled, as neolithic man would in the presence of 20th century technology..." (Michael Denton, Evolution -- A Theory in Crisis, p. 328).
In short, it is fair to say that simply on the basis of design found in objects in nature that
WERE IT NOT FOR "COGNITIVE DISSONANCE"
GOD'S EXISTENCE SHOULD BE INTUITIVELY
Professor John Wheeler, head of the physics department at Austin University, formerly a colleague of Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr, and considered one of the foremost contemporary thinkers in theoretical physics and cosmology, had this to say (from a PBS science documentary, "The Creation of The Universe"):
"To my mind, there must be at the bottom of it all, not an utterly simple equation, but an utterly simple IDEA. And to me that idea, when we finally discover it, will be so compelling, and so inevitable, so beautiful, we will all say to each other, 'How could it have ever been otherwise?'"
OF THE UNIVERSE
According to growing numbers of scientists, the laws and constants of nature are so "finely-tuned," and so many "coincidences" have occurred to allow for the possibility of life, the universe must have come into existence through intentional planning and intelligence. In fact, this "fine-tuning" is so pronounced, and the "coincidences" are so numerous, many scientists have come to espouse "The Anthropic Principle," which contends that the universe was brought into existence intentionally for the sake of producing mankind. Even those who do not accept The Anthropic Principle admit to the "fine-tuning" and conclude that the universe is "too contrived" to be a chance event.
In a BBC science documentary "The Anthropic Principle," some of the greatest scientific minds of our day describe the recent findings which compel this conclusion.
Dr. Dennis Scania, the distinguished head of Cambridge University Observatories: "If you change a little bit the laws of nature, or you change a little bit the constants of nature -- like the charge on the electron -- then the way the universe develops is so changed, it is very likely that intelligent life would not have been able to develop."
Dr. David D. Deutsch, Institute of Mathematics, Oxford University: "If we nudge one of these constants just a few percent in one direction, stars burn out within a million years of their formation, and there is no time for evolution. If we nudge it a few percent in the other direction, then no elements heavier than helium form. No carbon, no life. Not even any chemistry. No complexity at all."
Dr. Paul Davies, noted author and professor of theoretical physics at Newcastle University: "The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural 'constants' were off even slightly. You see," Davies adds, "even if you dismiss man as a chance happening, the fact remains that the universe seems unreasonably suited to the existence of life -- almost contrived -- you might say a 'put-up job.'"
According to the latest scientific thinking, the matter of the universe originated in a huge explosion of energy called "The Big Bang." At first, the universe was only hydrogen and helium, which congealed into stars. Subsequently, all the other elements were manufactured inside the stars. The four most abundant elements in the universe are, in order, hydrogen, helium, oxygen and carbon. When Sir Fred Hoyle was researching how carbon came to be, in the "blast-furnaces" of the stars, his calculations indicated that it is very difficult to explain how the stars generated the necessary quantity of carbon upon which life on earth depends. Hoyle found that there were numerous "fortunate" one-time occurrences which seemed to indicate that puposeful "adjustments" had been made in the laws of physics and chemistry in order to produce the necessary carbon.
Hoyle sums up his findings as follows:
"A COMMON SENSE INTERPRETATION OF THE FACTS SUGGESTS THAT A SUPERINTENDENT HAS MONKEYED WITH THE PHYSICS, AS WELL AS CHEMISTRY AND BIOLOGY, AND THAT THERE ARE NO BLIND FORCES WORTH SPEAKING ABOUT IN NATURE. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT ANY PHYSICIST WHO EXAMINED THE EVIDENCE COULD FAIL TO DRAW THE INFERENCE THAT THE LAWS OF NUCLEAR PHYSICS HAVE BEEN DELIBERATELY DESIGNED WITH REGARD TO THE CONSEQUENCES THEY PRODUCE WITHIN STARS."
Adds Dr. David D. Deutch: "If anyone claims not to be surprised by the special features that the universe has, he is hiding his head in the sand. These special features ARE surprising and unlikely."
Cosmologists debate whether the space-time continuum is finite or infinite, bounded or unbounded. In all scenarios, the fine tuning remains the same.
It is appropriate to complete this section on "fine-tuning" with the eloquent words of Professor John Wheeler, which we quoted earlier:
"To my mind, there must be at the bottom of it all, not an utterly simple equation, but an utterly simple IDEA. And to me that idea, when we finally discover it, will be so compelling, and so inevitable, so beautiful, we will all say to each other, 'How could it have ever been otherwise?'"
"2001" AS AN ART FORM
Great art has two qualities. 1) It is enduring, and 2) it has the uncanny quality to bear numerous levels of insight and interpretation. People often ask if Shakespeare, Dylan or the Beatles really had everything in mind that we read into their works. The question, however, is irrelevant. As long as the insight is valid in its own right, even if it turns out that we are just using the artform as a peg on which to hang an idea. That after all is what art is about.
"2001" fulfills both these conditions.
1) It is enduring. In the March 1997 issue of Yahoo Magazine, film critic Roger Ebert stated that "2001" was the greatest science fiction film ever made. Considering that this statement is being made 30 years after the film was produced, it shows that "2001" has enduring value. It is generally agreed that there is no comparison between "2001" and "2010." The zenith achieved in "2001" was never equalled.
"2001" has become part of our culture. The Newsweek Cyberscope add for Cyberfest in the Summer of '96 discussed "2001" under the title "Culture."
2) To see evidence of the plethora of interpretations that have been given to this film, see the "Comprehensive List of 2001 Websites," as well as the abundance of books and articles which have been written about the film since 1968.
On this note, it is interesting to compare Arthur C. Clarke's novel with the screenplay of "2001" that was written by Clarke and Kubrick. The novel, which preceded the screenplay, was classic science fiction with a very specific storyline. The film, on the other hand, left a lot unsaid; it was open-ended, wide open for interpretation. As stated in the booklet accompanying the Compact Disc of the film's soundtrack, "Kubrick and Clarke resisted the temptation to 'explain' the film's speculations about life, intelligence, and meaning. Like all of the greatest filmmakers, Kubrick insisted on letting his images do the work." That this gave the film a much higher level as an art form was the secret of its box-office success. Because it gave people exactly enough to make them wonder why they didn't understand it, they felt compelled to come back -- and they did.
In his book The Sleepwalkers, Arthur Koestler describes some of history's greatest geniuses whose epochal discoveries advanced scientific thinking even though they were largely oblivious of the magnitude of their discoveries. In this sense, Kubrick's "2001" provided a very powerful means of solving an old and important philosophical question though he may not have realized the significance of what he had provided.
We started off by saying that "2001" is an encapsulized story of human civilization. The last shot of the film represents not only the end of Dave's life, but the end of an Epoch, the time when Man will ask himself:
"What was it all about?"
At that moment the "2001" Starchild appears to give the answer. It is an answer filled with cosmic irony. An answer that asks another, rhetorical question. The "2001" Starchild asks: "The monolith was the first evidence of intelligence in the universe other than man. What about me?"
In other words, the Starchild is saying: By the year 2001, human civilization will have been around for many thousands of years. In all those thousands of years,why didn't anybody ever consider "me" -- the quintessential complexity inherent in the coming-into-being of every human being that has ever lived?
We would add that the way this statement is made is especially pointed. The Starchild turns wide-eyed, until it faces the viewing audience. It then calmly stares us right in the face. This is reminiscent of the way a great contemporary thinker described how we would view reality free of cognitive dissonance:
"Suppose a case of books filled with the most refined reason and exquisite beauty were found to be produced by nature; in this event it would be absurd to doubt that their original cause was anything short of intelligence. But every common biological organism is more intricately articulated, more astoundingly put together, that the most sublime literary composition... Despite all evasions, the ultimate agency of intelligence stares one in the face" (Frederick Ferre, Basic Modern Philosophy of Religion, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1967, p. 161).
"Despite all evasions, the ultimate agency of intelligence stares one in the face."
IF YOU LIKED "THE 2001PRINCIPLE," YOU WILL WANT TO BUY THE BOOK IT IS BASED ON - "THE OBVIOUS PROOF" by Mordechai Steinman and Gershon Robinson (C.I.S. Publishers), EMAIL TO <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
WE HOPE YOU ENJOYED OUR SITE. AT THE END OF THE MENU, YOU WILL FIND A LIST OF SOME OF OUR FAVORITE SITES.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. EXAMPLES OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE
2. EXAMPLES OF DESIGN IN NATURE
3. DO WE NEED PRIOR EXPERIENCE OF HAVING SEEN LIVE OBJECTS BEING MANUFACTURED TO CONCLUDE THEY WERE DESIGNED?
4. HUME'S CRITIQUE OF THE "ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN"
5. SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND TO HOYLE'S STATEMENT THAT THE LAWS OF NUCLEAR PHYSICS HAVE BEEN DELIBERATELY DESIGNED
6. THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION
7. THE "PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE" AND RELIGIOUS BELIEF
8. ADDITIONAL READING AND VIEWING
9. SOME OF OUR FAVORITE WEBSITES
1. EXAMPLES OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE
We present here two examples:
Example #1: "A decade before Hubble found the cosmos to be expanding, Einstein's equations showed that it should be either expanding or contracting. Unable to believe his own results, Einstein rewrote them to let it stay static" (Beyond the Milky Way, Time-Life, Inc. New York, p. 178). In a letter, Einstein wrote, "The circumstance of an expanding universe is irritating" ("New York Times" Magazine, June 25, 1978). In another letter he wrote, "To admit such possibilities seems senseless to me" (ibid.).
In the PBS science special, "The Creation of the Universe," produced by Timothy Ferris, the same point is made as follows: "The expansion of the universe was predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity, published in 1915. But the idea seemed so outlandish that Einstein himself rejected it. He introduced an extraneous term into the field equations to try to make his theoretical universe stand still. Later Einstein would call this modification of the theory, 'the worst blunder of my career.' Then, in 1929, the American astronomer Edwin Hubble, without knowing of the relativity prediction, discovered that the universe is indeed expanding."
Example #2: Today, it is common knowledge that the Milky Way Galaxy, which contains our sun and solar system as well as some 50 billion stars, is just one of billions of other galaxies, each containing billions of stars of its own. Not long ago, scientists were not even considering that other galaxies existed. An excerpt from a Time-Life series shows quite clearly that for several years, scientists stubbornly refused to accept unequivocal evidence that their one-galaxy view of the universe was terribly narrow:
"Curtis undertook to announce to the world what seemed to him unequivocal evidence that nebulae containing faint novae are separate galaxies. But the world -- at least of astronomy -- was not ready to accept the huge universe that Curtis had to offer. An historic wrangle ensued, continuing at one astronomer's conference after another from 1917 to 1924... Then, abruptly, at a conference session of January 1, 1925, the great debate ended with the reading of a communication from the California astronomer Edwin Hubble...
"The momentous news he had to report was that the new telescope had resolved images of stars in three so-called nebulae: M 31 in Andromeda, NGC 6822 and M33... In the course of this stupendous intellectual voyage -- a rolling back of human horizons unparalleled in previous history and not likely to be equaled ever again -- Hubble calculated that there were almost as many galaxies outside the Milky Way as there are stars in it" (Beyond the Milky Way, Time-Life, Inc. New York, p. 148).
In sum, "unequivocal" evidence about the size of the universe was available for all to see in 1917. Nevertheless, the implications of this new evidence were so startling, so unsettling, it was as if no new evidence existed at all.
2. EXAMPLES OF DESIGN IN NATURE
Example #1: One of the oldest and most prestigeous scientific associations is Great Britain's Royal Society. At the end of the 1970's, OMNI Magazine asked members of the Society to list the five most "sensational" scientific advances of the decade:
"The most frequently mentioned paper in the biological sciences was that by Fred Sanger and his colleagues at Cambridge, England, wherein they described the entire sequence of nucleotides, or 'words,' in the DNA of a virus, PhiX-174 ('Nature', Vol. 265, 1977, p. 687). This achievement marked the first time ever that the complete chemical 'blueprint' of a living organism had been unraveled and followed shortly after Dr. Sanger's group and a second team working under Dr. Walter Gilbert had improved methods for reading DNA sequences. An extremely simple life form, PhiX-174 proved to contain 5,375 words. Grouped into sentences -- genes -- they specify the composition of a virus particle when it replicates, and indeed they control all its functions... A perplexing revelation from this work was that the genes overlap. Like a telegram with no spacing, the coded message read entirely differently, depending upon whether one began with the first, second or third letter. The fact the three messages were contained within one seemed to some researchers artificial or contrived" (OMNI Magazine, in an article entitled, "Future Curves: OMNI Surveys the Royal Society").
Due to this level of "contrived" design, their conclusion was that it did not seem possible that such complexity could have come about through the mechanism of evoluton. (For the explanation they proposed, see further Menu #3)
Example #2: Those who have even casual knowledge of biology or another of the natural sciences are well aware that the level of complexity in nature is far above that which is exhibited by right angles and smooth surfaces. Let us appreciate that. An embryology textbook, From Conception to Birth, published by Harper & Row, asks honest questions about the human brain and its nervous system. How do the billions of cells which comprise this system come into being in the first place, the textbook asks, and how do they attach themselves together to form a network connecting the brain to every muscle, organ and gland in the entire body? How is it possible that, without a designer, there came into being microscopic chromosomes -- each containing all the coded information necessary to produce and "wire" an entire human being?:
"It would be relatively easy to understand if the neurons were connected to the brain like spokes of a wheel, but they are not. Most of these neurons are connected to a great many other neurons; one estimate is that, on the average, each neuron is cross-connected with 1000 others. This means a total of 10 trillion connections. A complete wiring diagram of this network would stagger the imagination. All of the telephone cables of the world would comprise no more than a small fraction of it.
"The neuron, like any other cell, contains a nucleus in which lie chromosomes that are identical to those in the original fertilized egg. Thus the nucleus of each neuron contains a catalog of potentiality inherited from both mother and father. How can a collection of genes possibly account for the multifarious connections between neurons and the human nervous system? Or for the relationship between neurons and the muscles and organs of the body? There are only some 40,000 genes in all the chromosomes, seemingly not enough to encode instructions for performing 10 trillion connections.
"But if every last interconnection is not spelled out in the chromosomes; then how do the neurons get connected? Do they just reach out for one another haphazardly? Obviously not, since all neurons fulfill definite, specialized functions, not random ones. Connections between the nerves associated with hearing and those controlling, say, the bicep muscles, wouldn't be logical or effective, and above all the nervous system effectively coordinates whatever the person does or thinks...
"The eyes, for example, are formed on the sides of the head and are ready for connection to the optic nerves growing independently from the brain. The forces that ensure this integration have thus far not been discovered, but they must be formidable indeed, since more than one million optic nerve fibers mesh with each eye [emphasis ours]. Think for a moment about what is considered to be a feat of human engineering: the drilling of tunnels from both sides of the Alps that must somehow meet precisely and merge into one continuous highway. Yet any one of the thousands of things the fetus must do as part of the routine of development is far more wondrous...
"The nervous system eventually comprises the most efficient cable system in the world for the transmission of messages. Ultimately, each nerve fiber will be covered by a sheath of protective cells (sometimes 5,000 per fiber), and each will be able to carry messages at a speed of 150 yards per second, or 300 miles per hour. From these primitive cells, first distinguishable at 18 days after conception, the embryo will form more than 10,000 taste buds in its mouth... Some 12 million nerve endings will form in the baby's nose to help it detect fragrances or odors in the air. More than 100,000 nerve cells will be devoted to reacting to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or the ticking of a Swiss watch. The piano has only 240 strings, but the baby's ears will have more than 240,000 hearing units to detect the smallest variations in sound. The baby's eyes, which begin to form at 19 days, will have more than 12 million screen points per square centimeter; the retina, or light-sensitive portion of its eye, will have more than 50 billion such points. The composite picture the eyes record is homogeneous because these light-sensitive points blend into a whole. Take a hand lens and examine any picture in any daily newspaper. You will find it made up of hundreds of points, each light or dark, which together make up the picture as you look at it from a greater distance. This is exactly what the eye does, only in much finer detail. Where do these billions of cells in the nervous system come from? From the original fertilized ovum, which is still dividing after one month to form the tissues and organs that the child requires. It has been estimated that all two billion of the specific nerve cells which make any individual educable are located in the outer covering of his brain, its cortex, and that these 2 billion cells could be stored in a thimble..." (From Conception to Birth, Harper & Row Publishers, 1970, New York, pp. 34, 57-58, 76).
Example #3: "Ingenuity in biological design is particularly striking when it is manifest in solutions to problems analogous to those met in our own technology... Although the anatomical components of the eye were well known by scientists in the fifteenth century, the ingenuity of its design was not appreciated until the seventeeth century when the basic optics of image formation were first clearly expressed by Kepler and later by Descartes. However, it was only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as the construction of optical instruments became more complicated, utilizing a movable iris, a focusing device, and corrections for spherical and chromatic aberration, all features which have their analogue in the eye, that the ingenuity of the optical system could at last be appreciated fully by Darwin and his contemporaries. [This is why, while Darwin was attempting to convince the world of the validity of evolution by natural selection, he was admitting privately to friends to moments of doubt over its capacity to generate very complicated adaptations or "organs of extreme perfection," as he described them. In a letter to Asa Gray, the American biologist, in 1861, two years after the publication of The Origin of the Species, Darwin acknowledges these doubts and admits, "The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder"; Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 2, John Murray, London, p. 273; see Denton, Evolultion - A Theory in Crisis, Burnett Books, London, 1985, p. 326.]
"We now know the eye to be a far more sophisticated instrument than it appeared a hundred years ago. Electro-physiological studies have recently revealed very intricate connections among the nerve cells of the retina, which enable to eye to carry out many types of preliminary data processing of visual information before transmitting it in binary form to the brain. The cleverness of these mechanisms has again been underlined by their close analogy to the sorts of image intensification and clarification processes carried out today by computers, such as those used by NASA, on images transmitted from space" (Denton, ibid. p. 332-333).
3. DO WE NEED PRIOR EXPERIENCE OF HAVING SEEN LIVE OBJECTS BEING MANUFACTURED TO CONCLUDE THEY WERE DESIGNED?
A possible objection to the "Argument from Design" might go as follows: When people look at wristwatches, tables or monoliths, they are able to conclude, "This was designed" only because, in the past, they've actually seen such things being made. On the other hand, when people look at babies or potted plants, all that they can recall from experience is that these things seem to take on design by themselves, spontaneously. A person may have a vague feeling that design in babies and plants is, in truth, the work of a designer. However, because he lacks the experience of having seen these things actually being made, he is not sure. Therefore, according to this, a person's not recognizing a designer behind babies and plants does not necessarily stem from personal or social blocks which cause a malfunctioning in his normal perceptive powers. Rather, non-recognition stems from a lack of experience.
This distinction is philosophical. We find, however, that in the real world, scientists are unperturbed by this distinction. When a phenomenon justifies a conclusion, they will draw that conclusion even without having any prior knowledge or experience of the proposed "cause." Here are two examples:
Example #1: Sir Fred Hoyle's statement in BBC's "The Anthropic Principle": "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintendent has monkeyed with the physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. I do not believe that any physicist who examined the evidence could fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce within stars."
In Hoyle's mind, the level of design justifies the conclusion without having had prior knowledge of the existence of a designer. Rather, the existence of a designer is inferred by the method of "induction," as Denton has stated, "The inference to design is a purely a posteriori induction based on a ruthlessly consistent application of the logic of analogy" (Michael Denton, Evolution - A Theory in Crisis, Burnett Books, London ,1985, p. 342).
Example #2: One of the oldest and most prestigeous scientific associations is Great Britain's Royal Society. At the end of the 1970's, OMNI Magazine asked members of the Society to list the five most "sensational" scientific advances of the decade:
"The most frequently mentioned paper in the biological sciences was that by Fred Sanger and his colleagues at Cambridge, England, wherein they described the entire sequence of nucleotides, or 'words,' in the DNA of a virus, PhiX-174 ('Nature', Vol. 265, 1977, p. 687). This achievement marked the first time ever that the complete chemical 'blueprint' of a living organism had been unraveled and followed shortly after Dr. Sanger's group and a second team working under Dr. Walter Gilbert had improved methods for reading DNA sequences. An extremely simple life form, PhiX-174 proved to contain 5,375 words. Grouped into sentences -- genes -- they specify the composition of a virus particle when it replicates, and indeed they control all its functions... A perplexing revelation from this work was that the genes overlap. Like a telegram with no spacing, the coded message read entirely differently, depending upon whether one began with the first, second or third letter. The fact the three messages were contained within one seemed to some researchers artificial or contrived, prompting Drs. Hiromitsu Yokoo and Iairo Oshima to revise the theory, first suggested by Dr. Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel ('Icarus', Vol. 19, 1973, p. 341) that life on Earth began from organisms sent here billions of years ago by extra-terrestrial civilizations that decided to 'seed' other planets. The Japanese scientists suggested that the gene sequence PhiX-174 might contain messages, or signals, as yet uncoded. In their reasoning, such overlapping messages would be a highly economical way to send information through vast tracts of space" (OMNI Magazine, in an article entitled, "Future Curves: OMNI Surveys the Royal Society").
In other words, the most sensational biological discovery of the 70's was that DNA, the "chemical blueprint" of a live form, was so "contrived," i.e. it exhibited such a high level of design and complexity, scientists were forced to conclude that the DNA had to have been produced by intelligence. The design compelled an intuitive appreciation which led them to hypothesize the existence of a mysterious extraterrestrial civililzation. Here, again, we witness the same process of induction at work. The researchers had no prior knowledge that such an extraterrestrial civilization existed. The existence of this civilization is hypothesized by induction.
There is an important lesson here from Yokoo and Oshima. Neither researcher, nor any human being for that matter, could claim to have seen PhiX-174 actually being made. All anyone ever has seen is the final product -- the DNA itself. Clearly, however, not having seen the manufacturing process did not stand in the way of human perception that the live object under study was, in fact, "contrived" purposefully by intelligence. Not having experienced the manufacturing process did not stand as an obstacle to the "gut" intuitive reaction that the DNA was a design of a designer. Lack of experience did not matter. What is more, that the subject under study was alive did not matter either.
Since we have had occasion to mention the concept of "Seeding," we should like to discuss two major objections to this being possible. But first, let us reveal Crick and Orgel's true motives as confided to NYU Professor of Chemistry, Robert Shapiro (author of Origins - A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, Bantam, 1987).
Shapiro writes that Crick and Orgel themselves brought up the entire idea of seeding only to "increase public awareness" and "awaken" people to the demise of the chemical soup idea. Crick himself confided this to Shapiro in a private interview, saying: "We thought of this theory, but we're not completely sold on it... The object is to give the intelligent person an idea of what the problem really is, and this is just a tag to hang it on... Everybody, as they say in the state of California, can relate to certain ideas, and things like coming on an unmanned rocket -- or even bacteria, they think they can relate to" (Origins, pp. 227-228).
The explanation of the origin of life by means of the chemical soup idea had become so entrenched that scientists who knew it was inadequate felt compelled to propose the alternative theory of seeding as a means of increasing public awareness. When Crick and Orgel put forth the seeding proposal to the scientific community, they did not believe in it themselves, and for good reason.
Objection #1: Seeding theory was initially proposed before "fine-tuning" -- the discovery that the laws and constants of physics, the "nuts and bolts" of the universe, all have to be "set" pretty much to the values that we find for them in order for atoms, stars, and life, to have come into existence. Since it is assumed that the Seeders represent a form of intelligent life, to give too much credit to them becomes a classic example of circular reasoning. This is one of two reasons that caused Hoyle to write that as his ideas developed "a monstrous spectre kept beckoning," meaning, the "seeder" could not have created the laws of physics. Rather, according to Hoyle, the ultimate source of life and of the fine-tuning in the universe has powers and intelligence which cannot be grasped even by the alleged seeder (see Evolution From Space, p. 148). Whatever or Whoever created "fine-tuning" has, by definition, to be outside the spacetime continuum.
Objection #2: The mathematical odds against chance and chemistry being responsible for life, Hoyle wrote, "are essentially just as unfaceable for a universal soup as for a terrestrial one" (Evolution From Space, p. 31). In other words, if Earth's chemical soup could not have generated life without the intervention of intelligence, neither could the chemical soup of the entire universe. Hoyle added: "No matter how large the environment one considers [the entire cosmos], life cannot have had a random beginning. Troops of monkeys thundering away at random on typewriters could not produce the works of Shakespeare, for the practical reason that the whole observable universe is not large enough to contain the necessary monkey hordes, the necessary typewriters, and certainly the waste paper baskets required for the deposition of all the wrong attempts. The very same is true for living material" (ibid. p. 148).
Nobel Prize winning Chemist, Dr. Harold C. Urey, likewise admitted: "All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere"[meaning anywhere else in the universe; i.e. "seeding theory"] (interview in "Christian Science Monitor," January 4, 1962).
Hoyle's statement that the mathematical odds against chance and chemistry being responsible for life "are essentially just as unfaceable for a universal soup as for a terrestrial one" is not just a matter of opinion. In order to fully appreciate this, one has to see the mathematical calculations involved. Contemporary astronomy since Hubble tells us that the Milky Way has one hundred billion (10 to the 11th power) stars and the same number of other galaxies with the same number of stars. This calculation gives us a grand total of 10 to the 22nd power stars. Let us be super generous and assume that each one of these stars could have a planet suitable for life. (In actual fact, an estimate of one in a million stars having such a planet would also be very generous.) This increases the chance of life arising "somewhere in the universe" by a factor of 10 to the 22nd. In addition, the age of the universe could be up to three times that of the earth. So we have triple the time as well.
In Origins (Chapter 5, "The Odds") Shapiro summarizes all the various opinions regarding the chances of one bacterium coming into existence on Earth, assuming we already have all the necessary amino acids, and all that remains in to assemble them. On the low end, we have Hoyle's estimate of 1 in 10 to the 40,000th power. (Assuming this to be correct, adding 10 to the 22nd theoretical planets increases the odds to 1 in 10 to the 39,978th power, which is still not very encouraging.) On the other hand, Harold Morowitz, a Yale University physicist, estimates the chances of the above scenario taking place on earth as 1 in 10 to the 100th billionth power. This is the second reason Hoyle found even the "seeders" to be an unacceptable explanation.
Shapiro goes further in his Chapter 7, "The Random Replicator." The absolutely lowest level of life would be a "simple" molecule capable of replicating itself. Shapiro shows that even if we vastly simplify the case from that of a bacterium to that of such a "simple" molecule, the "machinery" required is still too complex to entertain the possibility that it could come into existence randomly. See below Menu #6, "The Theory of Evolution," for details on the above two topics.
4. HUME'S CRITIQUE OF THE "ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN"
In light of advances in the biological sciences over the last decades, and the more accurate and detailed models of biological structures these advances have occasioned, microbiologist Michael Denton provides a powerful reformulation of the original "Argument from Design":
"The eerie artefact-like character of life and the analogy with our own advanced machines has an important philosophical consequence, for it provides the means for a powerful reformulation of the old analogical argument to design which has been one of the basic creationalist arguments used throughout western history -- going back to Aristotle and presented in its classic form by William Paley in his famous watch-to-watchmaker discourse.
"According to Paley, we would never infer in the case of a machine, such as a watch, that its design was due to natural processes such as the wind and rain; rather, we would be obliged to postulate a watchmaker. Living things are similar to machines, exhibiting the same sort of adaptive complexity and we must, therefore, infer by analogy that their design is also the result of intelligent activity.
"One of the principle weaknesses of this argument was raised by David Hume, who pointed out that organisms may be only superficially like machines but natural in essence. Only if an object is strikingly analogous to a machine in a very profound sense would the inference to design be valid. Hume's criticism is generally considered to have fatally weakened the basic analogical assumption upon which the inference to design is based, and it is certainly true that neither in the eighteenth century nor at any time during the past two centuries has there been sufficient evidence for believing that living organisms were like machines in any profound sense.
"It has only been over the past twenty years with the molecular biological revolution and with the advances in cybernetic and computer technology that Hume's criticism has been finally invalidated and the analogy between organisms and machines has at last become convincing. In opening up this extraordinary new world of living technology biochemists have become fellow travellers with science fiction writers, explorers in a world of ultimate technology, wondering incredulously as new miracles of atomic engineering are continually brought to light in the course of their strange adventure into the microcosm of life. In every direction the biochemist gazes, as he journeys through this wierd molecular labyrinth, he sees devices and appliances reminiscent of our twentieth-century world of advanced technology. In the atomic fabric of life we have found a reflection of our own technology. We have seen a world as artificial as our own and as familiar as if we have held up a mirror to our own machines.
"The almost irresistible force of the analogy has completely undermined the complacent assumption, prevalent in biological circles over most of the past century, that the design hypothesis can be excluded on the grounds that the notion is fundamentally a metaphysical a priori concept and therefore scientifically unsound. On the contrary, the inference to design is a purely a posteriori induction based on a ruthlessly consistent application of the logic of analogy. The conclusion may have religious implications, but it does not depend on religious presuppositions..." (Michael Denton, Evolution - A Theory in Crisis, Burnett Books, London, 1985, pp. 339-342).
5. SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND TO HOYLE'S STATEMENT THAT THE LAWS OF NUCLEAR PHYSICS HAVE BEEN DELIBERATELY DESIGNED
Sir Fred Hoyle is honorary member of the U.S. Academy of Science, Plumian professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge University, professor of Astronomy at Great Britain's Royal Institute, fellow of Great Britain's Royal Society, staff member at The Mount Wilson-Palomar Observatory, visiting professor of Astrophysics at California Institute of Technology, knighted for his accomplishments in science.
In the BBC documentary, "The Anthropic Principle," Sir Fred Hoyle, discusses two very fortunate "coincidences," one which allowed carbon to come into being, and another which allowed carbon to continue to be. The composition of stars is mainly hydrogen and heluim, the simplest atoms of all. For the stars to produce all the universe's carbon, which is an atom essential for life, three nucleides of hydrogen must collide, which is a very unlikely occurrence, so much so that it is very surprising that all the carbon necessary for life exists. How did the stars manage this feat? It "just so happens" that when two helium nucleides combine, if a third one draws close, then the two that had combined "enlarge" themselves, making themselves a larger "target" so that it is far easier for the third helium to hit them and produce the carbon! NO OTHER ELEMENTS BEHAVE THIS WAY.
Stranger still is the story of oxygen, which is produced if another helium hits the carbon. This helium should convert all of the carbon to oxygen, so why is there enough carbon left for us? "Fortuitously," the fourth helium converts only half the carbon to oxygen, so that carbon remains for the purposes of life.
6. THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION
One can object to our thesis and counter: A distinction can be drawn between the "2001" slab and things that are alive. In fact, in the 19th century, Charles Darwin proposed the theory of "evolution" and hypothesized that intelligence, which is the logical source of design in nature, is not the source. Rather, highly designed objects in nature came to possess their design through various chance occurrences together with "natural selection."
Before we attempt to address this objection, we want to make the following three points:
A. Our intention here is not to pronounce a judgment on whether the theory of evolution is correct or not. Our purpose here is to make you, our readers, aware that the theory has certain major problems.
B. Even if one assumes that evolution is a plausible theory, the "2001" embryo still expresses the aforementioned "cosmic irony." Since the 1980's scientists have continually confirmed that the level of design is so high even in the inorganic realm of nature (which the theory of evolution does not even address), i.e. there is so much "fine-tuning" of the natural laws and "constants" of physics -- it is not possible that our universe is a chance happening.
C. We will just touch on one of the major problems. (If you want to read books that deal comprehensively with this topic, see Menu #8, "Additional Reading and Viewing.")
Let us begin by quoting two Nobel Prize winning scientists who are themselves advocates of this theory:
Francis Crick (awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA): "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have to have been satisfied to get it going" (Francis Crick, Life Itself, Simon & Schuster, N.Y. 1981, p. 88).
Dr. Harold C. Urey (Nobel Prize winning Chemist): "All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere. But, we believe as an article of faith that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It is just that its complexity is so great, it is hard for us to imagine that it did" (interview in "Christian Science Monitor," January 4, 1962).
These two advocates of the theory of evolution refer to the origin of life as a "miracle" and "too complex to have evolved anywhere," yet remain proponents of evolution as "an article of faith." This allows us to be sympathetic to those scientists who prefer to draw what they consider the logical conclusion that evolution is scientifically unfounded and is a "cultural construct" which survives only because it is "socially desireable and even essential to the peace of mind of the body politic" (Sir Fred Hoyle, Evolution From Space, p. 148).
In a "Life Magazine" article, entitled "Was Darwin Wrong?" Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. Ernest Chain is quoted: "To postulate that development and survival of the fittest is entirely a consequence of chance mutations seems to me a hypothesis based on no evidence and irreconcilable with the facts. These classical evolutionary theories are a gross oversimplification of an immensely complex and intricate mass of facts, and it amazes me that they are swallowed so uncritically and readily, and for such a long time, by so many scientists without a murmur of protest."
According to the above views we can restate our original argument as follows. True, we do not react to living objects as "proof of a designing intelligence." The reason for this, however, is that we have been conditioned to view these objects as the result of evolution. The above stated scientific view lends credence to the possibility that the theory of evolution might itself be a product of cognitive dissonance, revalidating our thesis in the "Cosmic Irony."
In the following discussion we shall limit ourselves to the problem referred to as "The Odds" by Robert Shapiro, Professor of Chemistry at NYU and an expert on DNA research, in his book Origins - A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, Bantam, 1987. As Shapiro's subtitle would indicate, he is a ruthlessly honest "Skeptic," the opposite of a "Creationist." His purpose is to demonstrate that much of what has been accepted as "the explanation" of how life first began simply does not hold up to any level of scrutiny. His position is that, rather than foist what he calls "this mythology" on the academic world and the general public, responsible scientists should make the honest declaration that we don't have any idea how life could possibly have come into existence from the inorganic world. On a personal level, he can sympathize with those who see the only solution in a "cosmic intelligence" -- God. However, on a professional level, as a scientist whose job it is to try to find solutions within science, he feels we have no choice but to continue searching for an answer. He admits that this may turn out to be an impossibility, but again, professionally, he feels scientists should try anyway. In the meantime, they should "go public," fearlessly and honestly, and admit that at this point the origin of life remains an incredible mystery.
The following is from Origins, Chapter 5, "The Odds": "We cannot compute the odds [of spontaneous generation] precisely, but approximations will serve our purposes quite well. Many scientists have attempted such calculations; we need only cite two of them to make the point. The first was provided by Sir Fred Hoyle... He and his colleague, N.C. Wickramasinghe, first endorsed spontaneous generation, then abruptly reversed their position. Why did they do this? Quite obviously, they calculated the odds.
"Rather than estimate the chances for an entire bacterium, they considered only the set of functioning enzymes present in one. Their starting point was not a complex mixture, but rather the set of twenty L-form amino acids that are used to construct biological enzymes. If amino acids were selected at random from this set one at a time and arranged in order, what would be the chances that this process would produce an actual bacterial product? For a typical enzyme of 200 amino acids, the odds would be obtained by multiplying the probability for each amino acid, 1 in 20, together 200 times. The result, 1 in 10 to the 120th power...
"To duplicate a bacterium, one would have to assemble 2,000 different functioning enzymes. The odds against this event would be 1 in 10 to the 20th power multiplied together 2,000 times, or 1 in 10 to the 40,000 power... We can understand why Hoyle changed his mind. His estimate of the likelihood of the event was that it was comparable to the chance that 'a tornado sweeping through a junk-yad might assemple a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.'
"In fact, things are worse. A tidy set of twenty amino acids, all in the L-form, was not likely to be available on the early earth. This situation has not even been approached by the very best Miller-Urey experiments. Nor does a set of enzymes constitute a living bacterium. A more realistic estimate [for spontaneous generation of life] has been made by Harold Morowitz, a Yale University physicist. He has calculated the odds for the following case:
"Suppose we were to heat up a large batch of bacteria in a sealed container to several thousand degrees, so that every chemical bond within them was broken. We then cooled this mixture down slowly, in order to allow the atoms to form new bonds, until everything came to equilibrium... Morowitz asks, what fraction of the final product will consist of living bacteria? Or in other words, if a single bacterium was used to start the experiment... what would be the chances that a living bacterium would result at the end?
The answer computed by Morowitz reduces the odds of Hoyle to utter insignificance: 1 chance in 10 to the 100,000,000,000th power... This number is so large that to write it in conventional fom we would require several hundred thousand blank books. We would enter '1' on the first page of the first book, and then fill it, and the remainder of the books, with zeros..." (Origins, pp. 126-128).
Shapiro calculates these odds for a situation where a maximum chance is given for life to evolve, both in time and in available trials. On page 126, he states, "As a maximum estimate, we can assume that the entire earth was covered by an ocean 10 kilometers deep, which was available for experiments. Further, we will allow that space to be divided into small compartments (1 micrometer on each side) of bacterial size. We would then have 5 times 10 to the 36th power separate reaction flasks. If a separate try was made in each flask every minute for 1 billion years, we would have 2.5 times 10 to the 51st tries available."
As a result, says Hoyle, "If one is not prejudiced either by social beliefs or by scientific training," the chemical soup theory "is wiped out of court. [It is time someone] blew the whistle" (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, Evolution From Space, J.M. Dent and Sons Co. London, 1981, p. 24; Time Magazine, November 21, 1983, p. 49).
THE "RANDOM REPLICATOR"
In Chapter 7 of Origins, Shapiro goes much further to show that the astronomical odds against life coming into existence by chance render it virtually impossible. The absolutely lowest level of life would be a "simple" molecule capable of replicating itself. Shapiro shows that even if we vastly simplify the case from that of a bacterium to that of such a "simple" molecule, the "machinery" required is still too complex to entertain the possibility that it could come into existence randomly.
Briefly, the argument goes as follows:
1. "The most important gap in these proceedings concerns the steps prior to the appearance of the first replicator. Natural selection does not apply, and we are left with only chance itself. Spontaneous generation crawls out of the woodwork once again, but in a more limited way. We are not asking for an entire cell, but only for a single fragment, one molecule, the replicator" (p. 166).
2. "We badly need the point of view of the Skeptic once again. Obviously, the chances for the spontaneous generation of a nucleic acid replicator are better than those for an entire bacterium. But the latter case was so hopeless that there is room for enormous improvement, and matters could still be hopeless. In the bacterial case, the equilibrium calculations of Harold Morowitz left us with a need to climb to the 100 billionth floor (10 to the 100 billionth power) of our Tower of Numbers, yet we calculated that the maximum number of trials available on the early earth would take us only as high as the fifty-first floor.
"Now, how difficult would it be to put together the replicator at random? The minimal published estimates of its size propose a single strand of RNA of perhaps 20 nucleotides. To build this structure, about 600 atoms would have to be connected in a specific way, much less than the many millions needed for a bacterium. More trials would also be available for the purpose of building it, as less time and space would be needed for each trial. The replicase of QB can put together 200 nucleotides in a minute when copying an RNA chain. We will assume that spontaneous assembly would proceed at the same rate, in the most favorable case. Thus a replicator could be built in a tenth of a minute. Furthermore, the space occupied by a 20-unit replicator might be only one-millionth of the volume of a bacterium. Considering these factors together, we can assume that a maximal number of 10 to the 59th power tries at a replicator were available. We have reached the fifty-ninth floor of the Tower of Numbers, an improvement of eight levels. But what are the odds?" (pp. 167-168).
3. Using Charlie the Chimp typing at a typewriter with an ample supply of bananas to give an analogy to our problem of the "first replicator" coming into existence, Shapiro now says: "Now let us give Charlie a normal keyboard with, say, 45 keys. The odds suddenly escalate to 1 in 45 to the 7th power, or 1 in 370 billion tries. It would take Charlie (or his descendants) 11,845 years to run that many attempts [in order to accidentally type the letters of the word 'machine'].
"Things get rapidly worse when we use longer messages. We will let Charlie try for a bit of Hamlet. The phrase 'to be or not to be' has 18 characters, if we count the spaces as characters. The chances that our chimp will type this out are 1 in 45 to the 18th power, or 1 in 6 x 10 to the 29th. At one try per second, it will take poor Charlie more than 10 to the 22nd years to do that number of tries. Should the open model for the universe be correct, Charlie will still be typing away long after the stars have ceased to shine and all the planets have been dispersed into space through stellar near-collisions.
"But now we have developed a real thirst for Shakespeare. We want our monkey to type out 'to be or not to be: that is the question,' which has 40 characters. The chances then become 45 to the 40th power, or about 10 to the 66th power, to 1. This is a number 10 million times greater than the number of trials maximally available for the random generation of a replicator on the early earth.
"THERE WE HAVE IT. IF THE CHANCES OF GETTING THE REPLICATOR AT RANDOM FROM A PREBIOTIC SOUP ARE LESS THAN THAT OF STRIKING 'TO BE OR NOT TO BE: THAT IS THE QUESTION' BY CHANCE ON A TYPEWRITER, WE HAD BEST FORGET IT. THE REPLICATOR WOULD HAVE ABOUT 600 ATOMS. THE CHANCES OF CHARLIE TYPING A 600-LETTER MESSAGE (TWICE THE SIZE OF THIS PARAGRAPH) CORRECTLY ARE 1 IN 10 TO THE 922nd POWER" (p. 169).
4. "We could also use a very different approach to reach a similar conclusion. In an earlier chapter we considered the method of Harold Morowitz. He did not compute total possibilities in his approach, weighting all of them equally. Rather, he calculated what a group of atoms would prefer to do if they came to equilibrium. We cited his odds against getting a bacterium. For a small virus, we would need only to go to the 2 millionth floor of our tower. For a small enzyme, a trip to floor 8,000 would be necessary. He did not list data for a replicator in his table, but it would, by extrapolation, fall many hundreds or perhaps a thousand or two floors up.
"In all of these methods, the odds against the random generation of a nucleic acid replicator still rest considerably above the chances... They are still so unfavorable that the formation of the replicator by chance would seem miraculous (for a distance of even a dozen floors in our tower reflects odds of a trillion to 1, and a win in such circumstances would appear a miracle).
"There is a further irony. Even should the miracle occur and the replicator find itself awash in the seas of the prebiotic earth, its fate would be unkind. It would perish without further issue. For in this random sea, it would encounter only hosts of unrelated chemicals, and not the subunits it needs to reproduce itself. A second miracle would be needed to surround it with exactly the ingredients it needs for further progress" (p. 170).
REMEMBER THAT ALL OF THE ABOVE IS ONLY FOR THE "FIRST REPLICATOR." WE STILL HAVE THE ASTRONOMICAL GAP TO GET TO AN ENTIRE CELL, AND FROM THERE, THE SAME GAP TO A SIMPLE MULTI-CELLED LIFE FORM, AND FROM THERE THE SAME GAP TO THE VERY COMPLEX DEVELOPMENT OF SPECIAL ORGANS (EYE, BRAIN, NERVOUS SYSTEM, ETC.) ETC.
THE REAL GAP BETWEEN ORGANIC MOLECULES AND THE "FIRST REPLICATOR"
In Chapter 4, "The Spark and the Soup," Shapiro shows that the impact of the Miller-Urey experiment is totally unjustified:
"Since that time it has been recognized that the preparation of organic compounds is a feat of no profound difficulty, nor one of any great significance to life... THE DIFFICULT STEP IN THE ORIGIN OF LIFE LIES FOREVER DOWN THE LINE, NOT HERE." [Meaning, the coming into existence of the "first replicator" from organic molecules.] (p. 107)
The Miller-Urey experiment dealt only with the creation of non-replicating organic molecules, "which is of no great significance to life."
With regard to theories or experiments which claim to go further, Shapiro the Skeptic, now speaks with Dr. Midas, the Hopeful Chemist:
The Skeptic: "These [Miller-Urey] experiments show only that a chemist could prepare a nucleic acid in the laboratory today, using a variety of conditions that he chooses to call prebiotic. Even this preparation is not carried out in a continuous manner. Formaldehyde is not collected from a Miller-Urey experiment, purified, and used to make ribose (though undoubtedly this could be done, if modern equipment was employed). Instead, formaldehyde is simply detected as an intermediate in the atmosphere, then the pure chemical is bought from a supply house and used in the next reaction. This type of practice is followed at every step down the line. Unfortunately, on the primitive earth, there was neither modern equipment nor supply houses, and certainly no chemists."
Dr. Midas: "Of course we have taken some shortcuts, to save time. We are only human, and do not live forever. We wished to demonstrate, in a few weeks, the steps that took a billion years on the early earth."
"The Skeptic now asks Dr. Midas whether the availability of a billion years is enough to justify this procedure, citing our earlier example of the monkey at the typewriter. He takes Midas over to the corner where Charlie the Chimp is still happily banging away on the machine, and asks: 'How long do you think it will take for the chimp to type "to be or not to be: that is the question"?'
"Midas picks up a line of random scipt and examines it. 'Not very long at all. Look, there's a t, and further down the page there's an o, and so on. All of the necessary steps could be done.'
"'But can the letters be typed in the right order?' asks the Skeptic.
"'No problem. I only need the proper materials.'
"Midas departs and returns with a bunch of bananas and a fresh pad of typing paper. He removes Charlie, and types for a few minutes, changing sheets frequently. He then places the monkey in the typist's chair once again. He has set the typewriter so that it moves to a new line each time a letter is typed.
"The monkey starts to type, with Midas watching over his shoulder. 'Aha!' Midas yells after a few seconds, stopping Charlie. He gives him a banana, pulls the sheet from the typewriter, and shows it to us. About two dozen letters have been typed, each at the start of a line. The last of them is a t.
"'We've shown that the monkey could type a t to start a line,' Midas claims triumphantly. 'Now we'll try for an o.'
"He pulls a sheet of paper out of his pad. He has typed a t at the start of every line. He puts this sheet into the typewriter, sets the margin that the next letter struck on each line will fall to the right of the t, and turns the monkey loose again.
"After about half a minute, he shouts and interrupts the monkey. Once more he brings the sheet to us. Each line now contains a two-letter unit starting with t. The first thirty are meaningless, tx, tl, te, tt, and so on, but the last one is to.
"'There,' says Midas. 'The monkey has typed the word "to." Now we must try for the space.'
"Thoughtfully, he has prepared in advance a sheet with the word 'to' typed at the start of each line. He returns Charlie to the typewriter.
"An hour and a half later, after a number of such operations, Midas is ready to insert the last sheet into our typewriter. This one contains the message 'to be or not to be: that is the questio' at the beginning of each line. Charlie dutifully types away, adding a different letter at random to each line, until he produces an n, upon which Dr. Midas rewards him again, and stops the process.
"'There is the line you wanted,' he concludes. 'I've shown you that the monkey could do it. I've speeded the process up a bit, but that's because I've other errands to run today. But it is possible. The monkey, left to himself, would just need a while longer. Give him enough time, and you'll surely get the message.'
"Midas departs, bowing gracefully.
"Prebiotic chemists do the same thing. They run a lot of reactions until they get the compound they want. Once they have done this, no matter how many trials they needed or how low the yield of the desired product, they feel free to go to the next step. In doing so, they start with a fresh, pure supply of the compound they've made. They claim that they must cut a few corners to save time.
"But look at the size of the corner that Dr. Midas cut with Charlie. The chimp needed about 45 seconds to strike each letter at random. For the 40-letter message, the total monkey typing time was 45 times 40 seconds, or 30 minutes. Left alone, he would have faced odds of 45 to the 40th power to 1. As we saw a while ago, he probably would have needed 10 to the 59th years or so to get the message right (though if he were very, very lucky, he could of course get it on the first try). Not a bad trick to substitute 45 times 40 for 45 to the 40th power" (pp. 178-180).
7. THE "PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE" AND RELIGIOUS BELIEF
Timothy Ferris (author of The Red Limit - The Search for the Edge of the Universe, Bantam, 1981) wrote, produced and narrated a PBS science special: "The Creation of the Universe." Ferris makes the following two points:
1. Some basic notions in the philosophy of science actually have their roots in the religious concept of one God.
2. Likewise, the search for, and the belief in the possibility of finding, a unified field theory "testifies to the triumph of the old idea that all creation might be ruled by a single elegantly beautiful principle."
Ferris states: "Religion and science are sometimes depicted as if they were opponents, but science owes a lot to religion. Modern science began with the rediscovery, in the Renaissance, of the old Greek idea that nature is rationally intelligible. But science from the beginning incorporated another idea, equally important, that the universe really is a uni-verse, a single system ruled by a single set of laws. And science got that idea from the... belief in one God...
"The founders of modern science -- Kepler and Copernicus, Isaac Newton and even Galileo, for all of his troubles with the church -- were, by and large, profoundly religious men.
"I'm not saying that you have to believe in God in order to do science. Atheists and agnostics have won Nobel Prizes, as have Christians and Jews, and Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. But modern scientific research, especially unified theory, testifies to the triumph of the old idea that all creation might be ruled by a single and elegantly beautiful principle" (PBS science special: "The Creation of the Universe").
In the same PBS special, astronomer Allen Sandage is interviewed. Sandage was once a student of Hubble (who proved that the universe is expanding) and continued most of his career at the Mt. Palomar Observatory continuing Hubble's work. Commenting on the scientific fact of the "Big Bang," the beginning of the expansion, pointing towards a creation event, he says:
"If there was a creation event, it had to have had a cause. This was Aquinas' whole question -- one of the five ways [he tried to prove the existence of God. He said, in effect,] if you can find the first effect, you have at least come close to the first cause; and if you've found the first cause, that to him [Aquinas], was [equivalent to finding] God. What do astronomers say? As astronomers, you can't say anything except, 'Here is a miracle, what seems -- what seems almost supernatural -- an event which has come across the horizon into science, through the Big Bang.' Can you go the other way back, outside the barrier? Can you finally find the answer [to the question] 'Why is there something and not nothing?' No, you cannot, not from within science. But it still remains an incredible mystery: Why is there something instead of nothing?"
8. ADDITIONAL READING AND VIEWING
Books, tapes, videos to broaden your horizons...
The video, "The Anthropic Principle," available in Pal (or for an extra charge, in NTSC) from BBC Video For Education and Training, Horizon Library, Room 8, 2058 at BBC Enterprises Ltd., Woodlands, 80 Wood Lane, London Q12 OTT; Phone: 44-081-576-2867; Fax: 44-081-576-2415.
Origins - A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of the Life on Earth by Robert Shapiro, Professor of Chemistry at New York University and an expert on DNA research and the genetic effect of environmental chemicals. Bantam Books, 1987.
Not By Chance! The Fall of Neo-Darwinian Theory by Lee M. Spetner, PhD in Physics, MIT. Self-published in 1996, the book is available from author. Email to <email@example.com>.
Evolution - A Theory in Crisis, by Michael Denton, Burnett Books, London, 1985. An excellent scientific examination of the status of evolutionary theory.
Genesis and the Big Bang, Gerald I. Schroeder, PhD Bantam, Formerly an MIT professor, Dr. Schroeder; compares contemporary theoretical physics and classical Jewish sources to reveal an almost identical description of the creation and age of the universe. Available at your bookseller or inquire to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Also available on cassette from <email@example.com> for $7.00 plus $2.00 for shipping and handling.
If You Were God - Three Works by Aryeh Kaplan. This book begins where The Obvious Proof leaves off. It goes beyond the wall that Alan Sandage mentions in the PBS special "The Creation of the Universe" (see Menu, end #7). Available in Jewish bookstores, or through NCSY, 45 West 36th Street, N.Y. 10018.
Permission to Believe, by Laurence Keleman, Feldheim Publishers. The author presents rational proofs for God's existence using four separate intellectual approaches, dispelling the misconception that belief in God is irrational.
"Wonders of Creation," an audio tape by Shmuel Silinsky. $7.00 plus $2.00 shipping and handling to <firstname.lastname@example.org>
9. SOME OF OUR FAVORITE WEBSITES
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