From Nothing?

This started as part of the second installment of “Why Creationism Horrifies Me”, I felt it was wandering too far off topic (even for me!) so I cut it. Since it’s still relevant, and since I’m too far behind to trash this much writing, I’m posting it on its own, even though I think I’ve said all of this before in older posts.

A common criticism I hear, or rather read, from creationists is that the scientific explanations say we came from nothing, or that the universe came from nothing. Although I freely admit that I don’t understand these relevant theories completely, I know enough to say that this isn’t so.

The thing is, we are the same matter and energy as everything else in the cosmos. Our matter came from the Earth, and our energy came from the Sun. It’s clearly true of life now, we can follow the cycles through the food chain and see that, and there’s no reason to believe it was any different for the first self-replicating molecules, the progenitors of what we call life.

As for where those first self-replicators came from, right now science doesn’t have a solid answer to that. There are some very interesting clues, though. The Miller-Urey experiment has a lot of controversy around it, mostly because the details of early Earth are still so hazy, but it demonstrated one thing for certain: The basic building blocks of life can, and under the right circumstances will, form naturally from complex organic molecules.

(On a side note, check out the bottom of that wiki article, life may have started in a volcano!)

Complex organic molecules are found all over the Solar system! On moons of Saturn and Jupiter, on Mars, in comets. All this complex chemistry came from the same source as Earth and the Sun, from the remnants of a giant star than went supernova eons ago. I always wonder if anyone’s given a name to that long-dead star.

In one of his books, Douglas Adams joked “In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.” But if I understand the scientists correctly, there has never been nothing. All of the matter and energy of our universe existed right from the beginning of time. That’s still a fairly uncertain area of study, mind, I seem to recall reading that it’s pretty well understood back to the first second, but before then things get hazy fast.

What I’ve been talking about so far has nothing to do with evolution. In fact most of this isn’t even biology. The origin of life falls under the theory of abiogenesis, which I tend to think of as the border between chemistry and biology. The rest is chemistry, cosmology, physics. The model for the beginning of space-time is known as the big bang theory, which was originally an insulting name given by its detractors.

Evolution is all about the diversity of life, it models how populations, not individuals, change as they interact with their environment. It’s useful in the real world, several years ago virus researchers saw what looked like selection pressure in the evolution of HIV, and when they examined it they found a previously unknown part of the human immune system called tetherin. Evolution isn’t a story made up to explain away the supernatural, it’s a tool developed with a lot of care and hard work that helps us to understand the world better.

I’ve written a bit about evolution before here. I’m sure I’ll be writing more in the subject.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on May 10, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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