Seth Andrews did a fine job of dismantling creationist Josh Feuerstein’s claims in a video I posted a while back. Now an apologist for Feuerstein has sent me (and Andrews) an email. This one is from Ed Neeland, a creationist chemistry professor at the University of British Columbia.
Dear Thinking Atheist:
I listened to your vid on Josh Feuerstein and the burden of proof argument. As a scientist, I found myself thinking, doesn’t the burden of proof cut both ways? We have no evidence that lifeless chemicals transformed into life, i.e. chemistry became biology.
Neeland doesn’t have much of a rhetorical strategy other than denial. That “We have no evidence…”? It’s a flat out lie. Of course we have evidence. Cells are made of “lifeless chemicals”. We understand where those chemicals came from. We understand how those chemicals act in the cell. We can find organic precursors to all of the pathways present in the cell, and we have a genetically linked chain of descent. We see vestiges of earlier forms in extant forms, such as the common use of RNA as a catalytic agent in proteins. There’s no magic at any point.
Shouldn’t that missing first piece of the puzzle rankle? Shouldn’t we dismiss the case (as you put it) for chemical evolution?
No. Science deals in provisionally developing natural explanations of phenomena using available evidence. We never have a complete, explicit picture of every single step in an evolutionary process, and this doesn’t perturb us at all. When you eat a french fry, do you have knowledge of every single step of the industrial process that leads to food sitting on the table in front of you? Did you know the original potato as a seed that was planted in a specific farmer’s field? Do you think this means that it is reasonable to postulate that an angel flitted down to deliver a hand cut sliver of starchy goodness to your fry cook?
Further, even if all the components of the cell were in a beaker gratis (phospholipid membranes, enzymes, correct pH level, molecular machines…everything), do we have any evidence that these components cobbled together into a viable cell? No.
Ah, yes, the familiar complaint of the creationist who denies history. If you put DNA, lipids, salts, and amino acids in a beaker, how come it doesn’t spontaneously and instantaneously all coagulate into a perfect functioning cell? For that matter, why doesn’t it just turn into a frog or a potato (oh, that’s where his french fries come from!)?
Of course, there isn’t a single biologist on the entire planet who argues for that scenario of spontaneous generation of complex cells. All of the evidence is for gradual emergence of biochemistry from simple chemical precursors, which leads to self-sustaining chemical reactions, which leads to autonomous chemical factories, which leads to something like a vesicle with inputs and outputs and metabolism of some sort. And all that happened over a hundred million years or more.
The beaker experiment is ludicrous. That alone is sufficient to identify Neeland as an idiot.
Again applying the burden of proof argument, science has neither demonstrated how the cell’s components originated nor once originated, how they might have self-assembled. That’s a big problem because a plethora of scientists are working and have worked on this problem for years with no results.
There he goes again! “No results”, aside from all that stuff published in scientific papers that Neeland never reads, or the work that led to a Nobel prize for ribozymes and RNA chemistry.
In fact, we have lots of experimentation to show that this process demands intelligence, carefully controlled conditions and planning to even manufacture simple parts of the cell.
No, we don’t — we have evidence that we can assemble the components of a contemporary, functioning cell using intelligence and planning. That does not mean that the process demands those things. I can put one rock on top of another using intelligence and planning; that does not imply that natural processes can never put one rock on top of another.
So we can’t purposefully create an entire cell and the closest we can come (simple components) takes everything we’ve got in terms of design and planning. Connecting the dots leads to a Creator. That’s one of the reasons I am a Christian and BTW a practicing scientist. Just food for thought.
Again, this is simply not true, and Neeland must know it. We know that simple components can be formed by natural processes: pressure and heat, for instance, will cause common compounds to spontaneously assemble into pyruvate, or nucleotides, or amino acids. We don’t have a complete explanation, but we do have bits and pieces — the pathway is a dotted line right now, which clearly indicates the direction towards the answers.
When a ‘scientist’ has to resort to blatantly lying about the state of the evidence (and within his own discipline, no less — abiogenesis research is largely about chemistry), it’s good cause to doubt his credibility, and at the very least to completely reject his claims.