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September 23, 2016 6:38 am

Atheists Still Waiting for the Origin-of-Life Messiah

avatar by Moshe Averick

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Far-away galaxies photographed in 2012. Photo: Wikipedia.

Far-away galaxies photographed in 2012. Photo: Wikipedia.

“Despite the widespread view that Darwinian Evolution has been able to explain the emergence of biological complexity that is not the case…Darwinian theory does not deal with the question how [life] was able to come into being. The troublesome question still in search of an answer is: How did a system capable of evolving come about in the first place?…Nature just doesn’t operate like that! Nature doesn’t spontaneously make highly organized…purposeful entities…And here precisely lies the [origin of] life problem…it is not just common sense that tells us that highly organized entities don’t just spontaneously come about. Certain basic laws of physics [coupled with mathematical probability] preach the same sermon – systems tend toward chaos and disorder, not toward order and function… Biology [i.e. a naturalistic origin of life] and physics seem contradictory, quite incompatible”

What is Life: How Chemistry Becomes Biology, Oxford University Press, 2012 – Dr. Addy Pross, professor of chemistry, Ben-Gurion University, Israel.

Dr. Pross echoes the words of distinguished philosopher Thomas Nagel, who wrote the following in 2006, in his review of Richard Dawkins’ atheistic magnum opus, The God Delusion: “The entire apparatus of evolutionary explanation therefore depends on the prior existence of genetic material with these remarkable properties…since [the genetic system] is a precondition of the possibility of evolution, evolutionary theory cannot explain its existence. We are therefore faced with a problem…we have explained the complexity of organic life in terms of something that is itself just as functionally complex as what we originally set out to explain. So the problem is just pushed back a step; how did such a thing come into existence?”

In other words, despite the prodigious amounts of energy invested by people like Richard Dawkins in spreading propaganda to the contrary, Darwin provided exactly zero evidence to support an atheistic view of biology. Nothing has changed at all; the awe and wonder of the miraculous design and engineering that characterizes every single living creature on earth points as clearly to Divine creation in our day as it did in the period before Charles Darwin published his famous treatise.

In their heart of hearts, non-believers like Richard Dawkins understand that the Origin of Life problem means that their so called “scientific atheism” stands on a foundation of thin air and wishful thinking. That is why they longingly cast their eyes towards the horizon in hope of the imminent arrival of the atheist Origin of Life messiah who will finally explain how life can come from non-life without the involvement of that annoying Creator.

One such “messianic” figure that appeared within the last couple of years is, oddly enough, a young Orthodox Jewish physicist at MIT by the name of Jeremy England. His proposed theory about inanimate systems capturing energy and dissipating it as heat inspired some of the following headlines and statements in the popular press:

  • Has Science Just Disproved God?
  • Is a new discovery the last nail in God’s coffin?
  • Jeremy England, a 31 year-old physicist at MIT, thinks he has found the underlying physics driving the origin and evolution of life
  • Meet the Orthodox Jewish physicist rethinking the origins of life
  • Massachusetts physicist claims he solved mystery of how life emerged from matter
  • Under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life
  • Jeremy England…bold enough to tackle science’s greatest question: How life arose on our planet
  • Jeremy England thinks life is inevitable under certain conditions
  • Jeremy England, The Man Who May One-Up Darwin
  • His name is Jeremy England, and at 33, he’s already being called the next Charles Darwin.
  • Why You Should Care: Because this guy could change the way we think about evolution – and faith

And my personal favorite from Salon: “God is on the ropes: The brilliant new science that has the creationists and the Christian right terrified!”

Headlines like these sort of take your breath away, don’t they? However, a careful reading of the articles themselves quickly restores one’s bronchial equilibrium:

  • “Although his theories are far from proven…”
  • “We’ve made progress, but we have a long way to go”
  • “At this point [his ideas] are extremely speculative, especially as applied to life phenomena.”
  • “Whether or not England’s ideas turn out to be exactly right, thinking more broadly is where many scientific breakthroughs are made.”
  • “Unfortunately, England’s work hasn’t provided any answers, leaving the professor in a kind of speculative state as he doggedly tries to put numbers to it all.”
  • “He hasn’t put enough cards on the table yet, he’ll need to make more testable predictions.”
  • (etc. etc. etc.)

Actually, all of the above, the latest of which is dated October 2015, are nothing more than rehashes of the original Quanta Magazine article about England which appeared on January 22, 2014. There is no new information in any of the articles appearing afterward and in the past year not much has been heard at all about Dr. England. This is not surprising to those like myself who have been carefully following this issue for years; messianic-origin of life figures touted by atheist ideologues invariably flame out quite quickly and are rarely mentioned again in the popular science press. The reason is quite simple: these articles, with their screaming headlines, are not written to actually inform the public about the origin of life field (which has been dead in the water for 160 years), rather they fulfill a profound human need. All believers need hope to sustain their faith; Atheists are no exception.

What does Jeremy England himself – as opposed to articles in the popular press — have to say about the origin of life question?

I actually took the trouble to watch an hour-long lecture by England entitled, “What is Life,” presented on September 9, 2014 at the Karolinska Institute near Stockholm, Sweden. Please watch and judge for yourself if you are so inclined, but if I had not previously seen all the hyped-up articles and headlines it hardly would have crossed my mind that his theories had any bearing at all on the origin of life. It seemed to be mentioned only in passing.

The hype also was missing during an interview of England by Robert Wright on Meaningoflife.tv – January 25, 2016:

Wright: Is it a kind of theory that among other things could explain why life emerged or how life emerged?

England: I try to be pretty cautious about claiming that…we like to think about the physics of how things that don’t seem to behave in life-like ways at all, start to behave in ways that are particularly life like [“life-like” here means being driven by an external force and then as a result, dissipating heat energy into the surrounding environment, not an actual living entity]…I don’t have any horse in the race when it comes to the detailed question of was it on these clays or on these hydrothermal vents or on these asteroids or whatever, I have no idea.

In an interview on Greater Boston (WGBH TV) the host opened the segment with the following:

Host: What is the origin of life? It’s a question scientists, philosophers and theologians have debated for centuries. If you believe one widely accepted scientific theory, life on Earth was one big happy accident, overcoming the astronomical odds against it. But a new notion is rocking the scientific world, claiming that’s not the case at all. Jeremy England is a physics professor at MIT who says that life coming into existence on Earth was rational, predictable, and really almost bound to happen….Jeremy, what has the accepted explanation of the origin of life been in the academy in recent decades?

England: [As to the question of ] how it all got started at the beginning…I wouldn’t say, uh, that we’re at all really even scratching the surface on that yet in my group at MIT.

It is very clear that England himself has made none of the wild hyped-up claims that are attributed to him in the press. As a physicist he is as clueless about how a strictly material process could bridge the gap between non-life and life as his scientific colleagues who are chemists and microbiologists.

The original Quanta Magazine article quoted England as saying the following: “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant.”

Imagine if they had quoted him as saying: “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be surprising that you get a smiley face with the slogan, ‘Let’s all be happy campers today.'”

The actual quote attributed is much more absurd and nonsensical than my hypothetical suggestion. The gap between a smiley face with a few words and a living plant in terms of their functional complexity and sophistication, is the roughly the gap between a paper airplane and an F-15 fighter bomber. Shining light on a clump of atoms will not get you a paper airplane either; much less a self-replicating, DNA-based bacterium.

I am willing to bet that England never said such a thing or if he did, it was taken wildly and irresponsibly out of context. Jeremy England is clearly much too intelligent, thoughtful, and careful to say something so ridiculous. So not only is God not on the ropes, he is doing quite well as he has been for eternity. This is not to suggest that those who espouse an atheistic approach to biology are the ones who are “on the ropes;” actually, they are lying flat on their backs on the mat, staring up at the sky trying to remember what day it is…as the referee counts them out.

Rabbi Moshe Averick is the author of  The Confused World of Modern Atheism (Mosaica Press, 2016available on Amazon and in fine bookstores. He was ordained as an Orthodox Rabbi in 1980 and has taught Judaic studies, spirituality, and Jewish theology for over three decades. He may be contacted at: RabbiMosheDavidAverick@gmail.com. If you would like to subscribe to his column, send an email to above address with the word “Subscribe” in the subject line.

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