I have been stewing on this topic for a couple of days now, so I think I will take a few minutes now to, as it were, “shoot my bolt” on this article by Rabbi Adam Jacobs paradoxically titled, “A reasonable argument for God’s existence.”
The essence of the article rests on the fact that we — scientists and free thinkers — have no idea how the first RNA molecule first appeared on Earth, and that to fill in this gap (Jacobs’ Yahweh is the great God of the Gaps, after all), we must inextricably look to a “conscious super-intelligence” as the “architect of life” to account for this gaping hole in our scientific knowledge. This, Jacobs declares, is the reasonable position when science leaves us without answers.
Not one of them (scientists) has the foggiest notion about how to answer life’s most fundamental question: How did life arise on our planet? The non-believer is thus faced with two choices: to accept as an article of faith that science will eventually arrive at a reasonable, naturalistic conclusion to this intellectual black box or to choose to believe in the vanishingly small odds that the astonishing complexity, intelligence and mystery of life came about as a result of chance, which of course presents its own problems.
He then quotes Dr. Robert Shapiro, professor emeritus at New York University:
Suppose you took scrabble sets, or any word game sets, blocks with letters containing every language on Earth and you heap them together, and then you took a scoop and you scooped into that heap, and you flung it out on the lawn there and the letters fell into a line which contained the words, ‘to be or not to be that is the question,’ that is roughly the odds of an RNA molecule appearing on the Earth.
What Jacobs doesn’t tell readers, however, is that Shapiro has not abandoned a naturalistic explanation of how RNA might have come about. Shapiro simply says that earlier particles might have eventually led to RNA. A link on Shapiro’s Wikipedia page was broken, but here is a snippet from his entry:
opposes the RNA world hypothesis, holding that the spontaneous emergence of a molecule as complicated as RNA is highly unlikely. Instead, he proposes that life arose from some self-sustaining and compartmentalized reaction of simple molecules: “metabolism first” instead of “RNA first”. This reaction would have to be able to reproduce and evolve, eventually leading to RNA. He claims that in this view life is a normal consequence of the laws of nature and potentially quite common in the universe.
And that is really the theory that I think most work from, that RNA and later DNA first came about from earlier and simpler compounds. Now, we revert back again to this question: where did the simpler compounds come from? We can keep reverting back to the regression after regression until we hit the infinite one. But at least the scientific explanation of how something exists rather than nothing finds its basis in quite simple, naturalistic explanations. Jacobs, however, would have the scientific community introduce an immensely complex being such as God to explain how our little dot of a planet in the cosmos came into being, a concession that would beg many more questions than it answers, such as, “Who made God?” and “How can we theorize a scientific explanation for a spiritual realm?” and “How can we possibly qualify or scientifically observe or record a spiritual reality?”
I posit to you that all the evidence points, in an obvious and inextricable way, to a supernatural explanation for the origin of life. If there are no known naturalistic explanations and the likelihood that “chance” played any role is wildly minute, then it is a perfectly reasonable position to take that a conscious super-intelligence (that some of us call God) was the architect of life on this planet. Everyone agrees to the appearance of design. It is illogical to assume its non-design in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
Jacobs’ thesis here is very primitive indeed. First, it’s not chance. Second, let’s go back before Darwin so eloquently explained natural selection. What were believers saying? They were saying that humankind has its origins in the divine, that we are made in the image of God, that a complex being such as humans could not have possibly originated from any thing other than a supreme being. I posit that this is precisely what Jacobs is doing on the origin of the universe. Whether Jacobs might like to admit it or not, Darwin all ready solved the great mystery of how man ascended from his former lower position in the animal kingdom to being the most intelligent species on the planet. Science, not the divine, solved that riddle for us. Today, believers are making the origins of the universe analogous with earlier questions of the origins of man, and God is the ever-present and ever-ready answer.
But that would be the wrong answer. Just as evolution eventually became the accepted means by which humans developed from lower strata, eventually, we will have the answer on the initial origin of life so long as we let science do its grand work. There is no point in throwing up our hands and summoning a god in the meantime. It is this primitive tendency of us humans that gets us into arguments in which we can’t escape, and it’s far from constructive to continue the practice of looking to the heavens for answers to stuff we can’t yet explain, like the ancients.
I vehemently disagree with the final two sentences above: “Everyone agrees to the appearance of design. It is illogical to assume its non-design in the absence of evidence to the contrary.”
Perhaps every theist agrees that there is an appearance of a design, but when I consider the vast number of failed planets and potential planets in our universe through the eons, the likelihood of a planet like ours eventually arising seems quite high, and in some 12-14 billion years, so high that we should be surprised if such a planet had not eventually formed. We live in that eventuality.