Originally published October 25, 2015
Origins, A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth by Robert Shapiro, less than $10
Science: knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation. (Merriam Webster)
Seems simple enough. The field of science is something that we know and learn through watching and testing. Predicting things that should happen and then running experiments to see if that is, indeed, what happens. This is why, even though science has its own battles with dogma and conflicting theories, there comes a time when it self-corrects. When the data and the predictability come together and we have what we can call knowledge.
I love to watch that process. Some of my heroes are physicists, well, maybe a lot of them. People like Michio Kaku, Sean Carrol, Brian Greene, Steven Hawking and so many others that look at the universe as a great big romper room waiting to be discovered. Some evidence hints of faith, some shake their heads with a shrug and a whatever. But they all pursue truth as best they can wherever it leads them. And they don’t get in a twist when questioned. They operate in a field where everything they know may be turned on its head with the next discovery so they research and build and test with whatever tools they have. I have longed for the same kind of dialog in the biological sciences.
One of the reasons I chose this book was because I wanted to know just where we were in the field of evolutionary biology. The book is dated. Copyrighted in 1986 it lacks the progress made for nearly 30 years and that is a lot of time in science. There are many lines of inquiry presented in the book that I would (and probably will) follow up on in order to see what progress we have made. For instance, in 2009 John Sutherland and his team at the University of Manchester were able to synthesize the basic ingredients of RNA. Whether or not the process followed could occur naturally is still, of course, being researched.
The point is that there are as many unsolved issues in the field of evolutionary biology as there are in physics. Maybe more. Who’s to know? The frustrating thing is that questions about this science are often met with derision and comments about myths vs. science. But that isn’t the reason I’m asking.
I liked this book because Shapiro walks through the science of where we have been and where we were as of that time and why some of the things appeared to work and some were, well, just not getting us there. Just to be clear, we do know a great deal about how lifeforms change and modify based on the environment and the needs of everything from climate to culture. We can show how some things evolve and we are deep into research about the story our DNA tells about the past. No, we don’t have all the answers and that’s the point, isn’t it? Science is science when the same, predictable result can be duplicated by someone else with consistency. Self-correcting.
Shapiro steps through the history of our search for that spark that started non-organic chemicals down the path to life. Yes, he discusses the history of conflicts between Creationism and Science on the issue but he does not do it in a manner to disparage faith. He only wants to present what makes science and what is required to test a theory. He was, actually, not all that sold on the ruling paradigm at the time the book was written, leaning more in the direction of a minority opinion on what started the engine. It certainly was interesting reading a text that was looking forward to some of the advances we have made in the past 30 years by visiting Mars with the rovers, as well as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn with our probes.
Is it important that we one day find the scientific roots of our creation? I actually do believe so. Ever since man could think he has sought knowledge about the whys and hows of his existence. He has wondered about his place in the universe from both an egocentric and an insignificant-mite point of view. We are creatures, creations, of reason. Capable of looking out at the place we find ourselves and wondering. There must be a reason, from somewhere or someone, we became so. If you are a believer, in something or someone, most of the ancient scriptures I have seen admonish the faithful to seek knowledge, to learn, to observe the place in which we find ourselves and to grow in wisdom.
Check out Mr. Shapiro. He is not afraid to challenge the science of the day or to ask questions about what we know and why. He may help you put some of those pieces in place.