Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Getting Over the Code Delusion

This is an interaction with the New Atlantis article, “Getting Over the Code Delusion,” based on my printer-friendly version. This way page numbers and paragraphs are more easily identified.

When I read this article, I was reminded first of the great milestones of science (the earth is flat; there are only 1,100 stars, which happen to be all the same; the earth sits on the back of a large animal; light was fixed, air was weightless and blew straight; the ocean floor was flat and was fed by rivers and rain; sick people must be bled; hands must be washed in still water; and last, but not least, complete ignorance of invisible elements, such as atoms) and second, how science has been working hard to catch up to the Bible (the earth is a sphere, Isaiah 40:22; stars are without number and are different, Jeremiah 33:22, 1 Corinthians 15:41; the earth floats in space, Job 26:7; light moves, Job 38:19-20, air has weight, Job 28:25 and blows in cyclones, Ecclesiastes 1:6; the ocean floor contains mountains, valleys and contains springs, 2 Samuel 22:26, John 2:6, Job 38:16; blood is the source of life and health, Leviticus 17:11; hands should be washed under running water, Leviticus 15:13; and last but not least, creation contains invisible elements, Hebrews 11:3). It is not by accident the word “science,” means “knowledge” and what science discovers is mostly affirmation to what is already common and very ancient knowledge.

“So what?” was my knee-jerk, default setting to Steve Talbott’s article, but not in an apathetic sense; rather, my question serves as a filter. The first paragraph met the filter immediately because such a premise deserves to answer the question. Are chimps human? Why not state that humans are chimps? This may be clarified later. The fact that chimps don’t seem interested in the conversation altogether is evidence enough for our humanity and their non-humanity (the key word being “conversation”).

The human body is defined by epigenetic research as, “not a mere implication of clean logical code in abstract conceptual space, but rather a play on the complexly shaped and intricately interacting physical substances and forces.” In other words, epigenetic research has reduced the human to a spasmodic lump of chemical reactions, or simple, “we are chemic Tourettes.” Talbott hopes that “more discoveries will be made that will continue to undermine the doctrine that a genetic code defines the ‘program of life.’” (p. 19).

A bulk of this 23 page (printed) article is a basic explanation of DNA, what it is, how it functions and other related findings of genetic and epigenetic research. There is an unmistakable tone of breath-taking awe and wonder in these descriptions—everything working together in concert; yet, sprinkled throughout are these constant reminders that all this happened by accident through evolutionary process—one wrong move and we have nothing to discuss.

Talbott extends to the reader the very heart of concern for researchers, that “the genetic code was supposed to reassure us that something like a computational machine lay beneath the life of the organism.” (p. 4) In other words, that life is the machine. Talbott is correct to point out that “if an organic context really does rule its parts in the way molecular biologists are beginning to recognize, then we have to learn to speak that peculiar form of governance, turning our casual explanations upside down.” The key here is “peculiar form of governance.” Without a key, nothing is unlocked, no matter what is understood about the lock or what lies behind it. Despite their findings, researchers cannot answer questions they hope to avoid because the deny the “peculiar form of governance,” such as: “how is it that DNA topology and physical features alone are crucial to life? What happened in the evolutionary process to determine structure—and this before the specific proteins that make the structure, much less make it operate?”

Let us return: if we share 98 to 99 percent of DNA, some feel compelled to ask the question, “are chimps human?” Is this a good question? Talbott reports that The Human Genome Project revised the human gene count from 100,000 to 20,000-25,000. This was a problem because of the count that brought apes and humans closer together. The same count showed that the roundworm has roughly the same number of genes as humans, as does the pea aphid and the water flea. Scientists suddenly don’t want to say that fleas are human nor do they want to say that humans are worms. Why be so specific to elevate humans above a worm or a flea, but not a chimp? Why stop there?

Face it: we are confused. We want to call animals human (selectively, of course), but humans are often treated like animals. One cannot help but remember when Ray Comfort called the airlines asking about taking a relative on-board with two handlers. The airlines would not allow primates in the cabin, no matter what we teach in the science books (watch from mark 2:17 to 7:13 of this video of the conversations with the airlines). Perhaps if the other species were just a little more human, they could sue. But then, what does it matter—US Airways won’t let you fly if you are too disabled, unless you have handlers.

One oddity (among several) that Talbott highlights is that scientists have determined that our coding scheme for deciphering the genetic book of life render most of it as “nonsense”, that “some 95 or 98 percent of human DNA was useless for making proteins . . . at first dismissed as ‘junk’—meaningless evolutionary detritus . . .” (p. 4) How did they come to that conclusion? Scientists did not know enough detail of the coding scheme, so the “book of life” as a whole was not understood and subsequently dismissed. Here is what they said, slightly reworded: humans have climbed to the top of the evolutionary ladder because 98% of what we are is really useless. Si lo que se dice que no se entiende, se lo digo a ser sin sentido? This is like pulling mortar from between the bricks. How can we possibly rise on the evolutionary scale with more junk DNA (p. 5) This is like going backward in order to go forward.

One of the strongest sentences of Talbott’s article is on page 6: “Constant things cannot by themselves explain dynamic processes.” The other strong sentence speaks of the performance of chromosomes: “this performance cannot be captured with an abstract code.” (p. 8) An exploded rock cannot describe dynamite: it can only show the evidence of what dynamite can do. Scientists lacking knowledge want a lump of clay to make itself into a pot. “The chromosome, like everything else in the cell, it itself a manifestation of life, not a logic or mechanism explaining life” (p. 11).

I appreciated most Talbott’s choice of words that demonstrate the failure of this kind of autonomous thinking: “somehow;” this or that “can be thought of as . . ;” “researchers have yet . . ;” “I don’t think anyone would claim to have the faintest idea how . . .”, etc.

Chemical reaction does not equate human life. We are distinguished from the rest of creation because of the one thing that makes us human, and that is found in a less-obvious place. We do find the evidence in what we see in physical features—these features merely showcase the necessary tools for existing on the planet. God created with words and appointed man to bear his image in creation as His vice-regent by being creative with words. God did not name the animals, but left man to interact with other living beings in this fashion. Life is for the living and is only understood in the context of The Person that many so-called scientists are trying not to see by exalting the creation over the creator. God says that life is in the blood—they are so close, and yet so far away.

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