We all knew it was just a matter of time, right? For years now, one of the last strongholds of Intelligent Design proponents has been science’s inability to explain how RNA came to exist in the first place. IDers have held to the final “irreducible complexity” argument. RNA itself must have been created by an intelligent being.
Actually, that’s not true. All you need, apparently, is water, sugar, and one of four different nucleobases (nitrogen compounds which could easily have been present in the primordial environment.) Granted, it’s a bit of an oversimplification, but get this: All you need to do is heat the molecules in some water, let the water evaporate, and repeat the process several times. After a while, toss in a simple phosphate, and “Blammo!” (Thanks, KB) Ribonucleotides!
“By changing the way we mix the ingredients together, we managed to make ribonucleotides,” said Sutherland. “The chemistry works very effectively from simple precursors, and the conditions required are not distinct from what one might imagine took place on the early Earth.”
This will not dissuade the hardest of the hardcore Christians who insist on believing that life on earth was created by God. However, anyone who holds science in any regard whatsoever will have to admit that the ID argument, which was always on the edge of the precipice, has toppled right over, and is on its way to the abyss where it belongs. Scientists have known for a while now how ribonucleotides can self-assemble into RNA. This really is the last refuge of ID, since scientists also know how the simple ingredients in this experiment could have naturally come to exist in the primordial ooze. In other words, Occam’s Razor now fits into pretty much every nook and cranny of the scientific description of the origins of life.
Isn’t it odd that this story isn’t making headlines in America?
Anyway, since I like this blog to be about critical thinking, let’s look at why the ID argument has always been a failure. In its simplest form, the reasoning goes like this:
* Life is too complex to have been formed by any means other than an intelligent creator. Therefore, because life does exist, a Creator must also exist.
Notice the misuse of the anthropic principle? Recall that the anthropic principle states that because we are here asking the question of the origin of life, the conditions necessary for the origins of life must have existed. IDers take this a step further and postulate the specific condition they believe to be true. They’ve got the principle right, but they skipped the whole “Burden of Proof” required by science to state that a thing is true.
Also, consider this riddle: How would science prove that a thing is scientifically unexplainable?
If that question makes your head spin, you’re thinking correctly. It’s absurd. There is no answer to the riddle, for the riddle is nonsense. Remember from my article on Science and Knowledge that reliable knowledge is inseparable from the scientific method. Man didn’t invent the scientific method. He discovered that he’d been using it in some cases, and realized that he could use it in all cases. Science is the only possible way to know anything about the empirical universe. However, if that is true, then how could science prove that science couldn’t prove something? The answer is that it couldn’t. All science can do when faced with an unanswered question is say that there isn’t enough information to answer the question — yet. There’s no way to ever know if we will answer the question in the future.
That being the case, the only defensible position with regard to any unexplained phenomenon is “I don’t know.”
Here is where ID fails utterly. Instead of doing the responsible thing and admitting ignorance, IDers make up an answer and declare it to be true. It feels satisfying to be able to put a label on the box, but when has satisfaction been the measure of truth? Whatever the next round of ID propaganda, it will acknowledge the advance of science in the ribonucleotide experiment, and will fall back to another unanswered question, proclaiming it to be unanswerable.