Monday, March 07, 2011

What Makes Us Human?



This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science.
At the end of my recent stay in Washington, DC (the AAAS Meeting), I decided to spend the half day I had left on some of the great museums that the city hosts (the Mall area).
In addition to the Air and Space Museum, which I had visited many times, I went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), where someone had told me there was a special exhibit about human origins (details of the exhibit can be found here). The NMNH is a fantastic museum, and no one should miss it when visiting Washington. I could have spent the whole day there, if not more, but since I had less than 2 hours, I spent most of my time in the special exhibit (and the store).
The exhibit area is not very large, though still of a decent size, and it is very nicely laid out, with great sculptures and reproductions of ancient and modern humans, their tools, their art, and so forth. There were also several video displays and interactive computer programs to help people learn and appreciate various topics, and many museum staff were available to provide explanation and help to everyone, particularly the scores of children who were there with their parents (it was the President Holiday).
Now, the most fascinating feature of the whole display was its emphasis on the theme “What Does it Mean to be Human”, for which you can find a rich website here. Indeed, instead of the usual emphasis on humanity’s evolution being part of the “tree of life” and its commonness with other species, the main trend that seemed to run through most of the exhibit was “human characteristics”, what makes us human. (The biological part was certainly there, like the percentages of genes shared with chimpanzees, gorillas, and even chicken, but that was not the main idea.)
For example, here’s the way the evolution of humans over the last 6 million years is presented:
-     6 M yrs (ago): walking upright on short legs
-     2.5 M yrs: making tools and eating meat from large animals
-     2 M yrs: longer legs; travel to new regions
-     500,000 yrs: rapid increase in brain size
-     ~ 350,000 yrs: speech (though it is not known when exactly this emerged)
-     250,000 yrs: communication with symbols
-     160,000 yrs: longer childhood and adolescence
-     130,000 yrs: building social networks
-     100,000 yrs; plant and animal domestication + expressing identity by wearing beads and putting colored materials on faces and bodies
-     65,000 yrs: burying the dead (first in Iraq)
-     60,000 – 30,000 yrs: paintings, sculptures, and music tools

One interactive screen drew my special attention. It asked the big question “what does it mean to be human?” and gave a series of words to choose from: imagine, weep, create, write, beauty, believe, understand, giving, pray, sing, mortality, struggle, become, rituals, altruistic, responsibility, consciousness, empathy, chin, brain. (It was not clear to me whether those words were proposed by the program’s creators or were chosen from the participants’ responses.) The program then asks the participant to give one’s answer either by choosing one of those words or by typing in a new word or complete sentence.
Last but not least, I was very impressed to find out that the exhibit creators had set up a Broader Social Impacts Committee to try to examine and include such issues as the religious viewpoints or sensitivities on the topic of human origins. The committee was made up of 15 scholars and religious figures, including, for the Muslim side, Dr. Mustansir Mir, who is a University Professor of Islamic Studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio, USA.  Here’s the ‘personal statement’ posted by Dr. Mir on the question of human origins:

In the phrase “human origins,” the crucial word is “human” rather than “origins.” A scientific account of human origins is, primarily, biological; a religious account of human origins is, primarily, moral. In Islam, as in the other so-called monotheistic religions, God is the creator of all things—minerals, animals, and humans. From a scientific standpoint, minerals are not immoral, and humans are not more moral than animals—all three being equally worthy subjects of study and investigation. But religion might call a certain type of human being “stone-hearted” or “worse than an animal.” The essential difference between religion and science, then, consists in the different valuation system employed by each. If it can be established beyond a shadow of a doubt that human beings evolved from monkeys, then, Islamically, so be it. But while science might say that monkeys, following a linear and irreversible path of evolutionary development, evolved into humans, who now run no risk of relapsing into monkeyhood, religion might say that human beings may—morally—degenerate back into monkeys, just as, on the flip side, they may—morally—reach sublime heights and become superior to angels. In brief, science looks at human beings with reference to the horizontal axis of history, whereas religion looks at human beings with reference to the vertical axis of morality. If this argument is accepted, then, essentially, no conflict need exist between science and religion on the issue of human origins.

I am sure this interesting statement will bring about a series of comments from the readers of this blog, and I look forward to everyone’s reaction.

115 comments:

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Because we cleansed out the peaceful neanderthal who had larger brain and perhaps better IQ and did not beleive in killing its own type and was more human than us. So now we are left on our own in our current shape.

Ali said...

"What makes us human?"
I don't know.
All I know is that it is not a single thing.
The question implies that it is 'something' that makes us human.
Could the answer be a series of random mutations and natural selection?
Or could it be a macro-mutation that transformed the primate to a human being?
Or could it be something else altogther?

"A scientific account of human origins is, primarily, biological; a religious account of human origins is, primarily, moral."

Mir has given a philosophical elaboration. (I am thinking Salman will be pulling his hair now for Mir thinks we might have evolved from monkeys. lol)
Philosophically, we can make long statements and go round and round as many times as we want. But that does not give the proper answer.

You gave a list of characteristics that make us human.
"imagine, weep, create, write, beauty, believe, understand, giving, pray, sing, mortality, struggle, become, rituals, altruistic, responsibility, consciousness, empathy, chin, brain."
I am sure this list is not complete.
But, arrange these characteristics in chronological order and I will believe we evolved.

Mohamed said...

I guess that statement is an attempt to reconcile between faith and science. It's reminiscent of Gould's NOMA: science deals with the physical world and religion with morals and purpose. But it still doesn't address literal readings of scripture which sometimes do conflict with a scientific understanding of the world.

BTW, that looks like a fascinating exhibit!

Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

Seems like very interesting exhibit. The most interesting info for me was the timeline of humans and when they did what. When we look at such timescales our day to day activities, our inventions and technological advancements in last few decades or centuries looks amazing. Wonder where are heading? Singularity?

As for Dr Mustansir Mir's comment, I seem to have lost him some where in between.

I wonder looking at this timeline, when did God intervene and why?

@ Dr. M. Akbar Hussain: I didnt know this info abt Neanderthals. Wonder what happened? Perhaps its rightly said, survival of the fittest.

@Ali: Are you agreeing to human evolution?

Ali said...

@ Ali Kazim

"Ali: Are you agreeing to human evolution?"

This question has shreded my mind into pieces. Or may be it has tied it into a knot.

Honestly speaking, i don't know whether humans evolved. I believe God created Adam and we are all descendants of Adam. This does not contradict evolution.

How God created Adam is a big mystery. I believe Adam cannot be created from Darwinian mechanisms. It defies common sense and intellect to believe that a blind process can produce thinking, rational beings.

If God created Adam from primates, through a process of guided evolution, then it is possible that we evolved from primates. But this is not as simple as it seems. If this was how human beings were created why did God create Eve from Adam? And why did God create Adam through such a long process? It just does not make sense.

Evolution as a guided process can explain the creation of Adam. But it cannot explain Eve.

So, I believe Adam has to be a special creation. So was Eve. What exactly was the mechanism through which God created Adam and Eve, I don't know.

emre said...

I believe the mechanism is called "The Syncretism of Ancient Near Eastern Mythologies"

Ali said...

@ emre

"I believe the mechanism is called "The Syncretism of Ancient Near Eastern Mythologies""

Perfect.
Did someone tell me of a Hadith from the Prophet that says God asked his angels to bring soil/earth from different parts of the world and He created man (Adam) from this mixture?
It is apparently because God used a mixture of soil/earth to create Adam that we have people (all descendants of Adam) with different characteristics.
Eg: some are black, some are white, some are yellow, some are brown, etc.
Similarly some believe they do not know the mechanism, some "believe the mechanism is called "The Syncretism of Ancient Near Eastern Mythologies"" :)

emre said...

Race is an obsolete construct. You might as well call them subspecies ;)

Ali said...

@ emre

"Race is an obsolete construct. You might as well call them subspecies ;)"

I did not say anything about race.
I said some people are black some are white, etc.
Call this difference race, or call it subspecies, or call it something else.
My point is, even though we are all human beings, we are also different. Our differences are seen, not just in skin colour, but also in nature, physical structure, belief, and anything else you may mention.
These differences are there appparently because God created man from a mixture of earth.

emre said...

"These differences are there appparently because God created man from a mixture of earth."

"Appparently" not, I would say. How about trying to make a man out of mud yourself. I wonder how far you will get.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

emre:
Haha...!
Dont ask Ali, ask Dawkins. The blue green algae 'created itself' in hot water vents and muddy pools. As far as my limited knowledge is concerned, the very structure of a single blue green algal cell is infinitely complex. No matter how deep you go in its structure, there is always more. Yet people like Dawkins are so genious, they still find the structure overly simple, even simpler than a pizza which itself cannot orchestrate in own creation from ingredients if left in a kitchen for 100 billion years or longer.

Anonymous said...

Akbar and Ali,
You guys are just incredible, you think a whole community of biologists is making up stories and that they have no "common sense" and "intelligence". Wow, talk about delusions of grandeur! I can understand if you grudge Dawkins his belittling of religion, but you must be in la-la land to think he's a crazy biologist. Please read some books and educate yourselves and before you trivialize an entire scientific community, show me why anybody should take you seriously rather than Dawkins, E.O.Wilson, Trivers, Sean Caroll(the bilogist) and Darwin himself.
And Ali, give me a good reason why the Quranic story is literal rather than allegorical? You seem to proceed from, "this is in the Quran, this is true literally, everything that's consistent with this literal interpretation of mine is True, the rest is False. I don't know why it's not True, but I know it's not". How do you know? How do you know what your God intended when he revealed these words to you? Why can't the story of God creating Eve from Adam be allegorical?
-D

emre said...

Anonymous, don't be surprised. The average Muslim does not know and is not taught how to evaluate what (s)he reads. Thus, they learn evolution from a interior design dropout. (That is academic record of the charlatan called Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya.)

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Anonymous and emre:
Oh ! who said the scientific community is making up stories here? I perhaps have as much knowledge of science as Dawkins has of Islam (or religion). So who loves more to stroll into uncharted territories based on personal perceptions. To believe that creation of a cell needed a 'divine' creator is a leap of faith, but to believe that this process orchestrated its own creation by a mere 'accident' is even a bigger leap of faith. And the role of science is to explain a process, like a recipe explaining the steps involved in the making of pizza, rather than commenting who is making a pizza, or more importantly why a pizza is being made.
Dawkins may be the ultimate authority of evolution and the high priest of atheism, but if any idea that is brought forth defies common sense and literally tears it apart, I will question. And there is a celebrity culture evolving in science as well. That is why when a famous 'super genius' in a wheel chair utters nonsense about 'aliens', it becomes news:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36769422/ns/technology_and_science-space/
Now tell me, how much is his knowledge on 'extraterrestrial life' more than the plumber who visited my house to fix the drain pipe one hour ago? What he exactly means by 'aliens' could you please explain?

emre said...

"To believe that creation of a cell needed a 'divine' creator is a leap of faith, but to believe that this process orchestrated its own creation by a mere 'accident' is even a bigger leap of faith."

First, if the existence of life requires a divine explanation, then surely the divine creator requires some explaining too! How can something be divine? Are there many divinities? How would you test any of these questions? The god hypothesis only creates more questions than it solves. The non-divine hypothesis merely requires the proposition of a falsifiable mechanism. It might only be an approximation to the truth, but if it is useful (has predictive power) then that is all a scientist can ask for.

Secondly, scientists do not posit that cells sprang into existence from nothingness. I believe they claim that they descended from simpler, prebiotic organic compounds, many of which have been synthesized in the laboratory. I am not an abiogenesist so I do not know what the current consensus on this is.

"What he exactly means by 'aliens' could you please explain?"

Just what you think it means. An alien would be a hypothetical life form from another planet.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Emre:
I like your comment. It is quite logcal and there seems to be a room for some sane discussion. It is in contrast to the 'anonymous' comment that was based on worn out tantrum.

So regarding divinity. Yes I am not a big fan of it either. There is no place for a divinity in a scientific discussion, just like there is no need to describe who is making a pizza (if anyone is making it at all) in the recipe of a pizza. The recipe is complete, understandable, and reproducible and does not need to mention what is not required to make it a recipe. 'Religion' would try to add the mention of WHO made it and WHY it was made. 'Atheism' on the other hand would try to enforce that NO ONE made it. Neither have any place in the scientific discussion of the pizza recipe nor would affect it in any way. I think you got a hint of what I mean.

Fortunately I have been an active amateur astronomer for decades and a medical doctor by profession with a special interest in micro- and molecular-biology. So it is even harder for me grasp the idea behind the propagated 'fact' that molecules came together and made a cell over a billion years. A cell is not just a heap of organic molecules. It is a lot more than that. Lead salts dissolved in water (ink) cannot just spill over a sheet of cellulose (paper) to create a literary master piece of Charles Dickens in a billion years, or ingredients of a pizza left in a kitchen wouldn't simply come together and make a pizza in a 100 billion years. This is my understanding based on my extremely limited knowledge of microbiology.

Scientists can make simple amino acids in highly controlled and predictable environments. We will even start making living cells in sophisticated labs may be in 3000 years, and complete species may be in 10000 years. But infering that life came into existence by itself in the first place will remain highly subjective, isn't?


So my dear, divinity is not a subject even closer to be anything scientific. But the same holds true for atheism. Yes of course if someone wants to push the idea of existence of a creator into a scientific discussion, the burden of proof lies on him to prove 'scientifically' based on the known, accepted, and limited criteria. But what 'atheism' is based on is also as absurd 'scientifically'. Not scientifically proving the existence of creator does not automatically prove that there isn't any. Conversely, not being able to prove that there is no creator does not automatically prove that there is one. In short, atheism is as much a leap of faith as religion. There is nothing 'scientific' about atheism.

Alien:
What is your or anyone's definition of alien exactly based on? We don't even know if there is any other place suitable for life (as yet), let alone conducive for the origin of life. And isn't talking about an 'intelligent' life is like asking for too much? And why not then believe in Juju at the bottom of the sea? Just because it didn't come from a more acceptable idiot?

So to summarize, the current definition of scientific methodology has limits...limits towards the most basic questions, like where the universe came from in the first place or how did life came into being. Someday attempting to answer these questions would change basic criteria for scientific methodology, but then a lot would change...quite a lot.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Hey Dr. Salman:
Did you just delete my lengthy comment?

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Ok, in fragments:

Emre:
I like your comment. It is quite logcal and there seems to be a room for some sane discussion. It is in contrast to the 'anonymous' comment that was based on worn out tantrum.

So regarding divinity. Yes I am not a big fan of it either. There is no place for a divinity in a scientific discussion, just like there is no need to describe who is making a pizza (if anyone is making it at all) in the recipe of a pizza. The recipe is complete, understandable, and reproducible and does not need to mention what is not required to make it a recipe. 'Religion' would try to add the mention of WHO made it and WHY it was made. 'Atheism' on the other hand would try to enforce that NO ONE made it. Neither have any place in the scientific discussion of the pizza recipe nor would affect it in any way. I think you got a hint of what I mean.

Fortunately I have been an active amateur astronomer for decades and a medical doctor by profession with a special interest in micro- and molecular-biology. So it is even harder for me grasp the idea behind the propagated 'fact' that molecules came together and made a cell over a billion years. A cell is not just a heap of organic molecules. It is a lot more than that. Lead salts dissolved in water (ink) cannot just spill over a sheet of cellulose (paper) to create a literary master piece of Charles Dickens in a billion years, or ingredients of a pizza left in a kitchen wouldn't simply come together and make a pizza in a 100 billion years. This is my understanding based on my extremely limited knowledge of microbiology.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Fragment 2:

Scientists can make simple amino acids in highly controlled and predictable environments. We will even start making living cells in sophisticated labs may be in 3000 years, and complete species may be in 10000 years. But infering that life came into existence by itself in the first place will remain highly subjective, isn't?


So my dear, divinity is not a subject even closer to be anything scientific. But the same holds true for atheism. Yes of course if someone wants to push the idea of existence of a creator into a scientific discussion, the burden of proof lies on him to prove 'scientifically' based on the known, accepted, and limited criteria. But what 'atheism' is based on is also as absurd 'scientifically'. Not scientifically proving the existence of creator does not automatically prove that there isn't any. Conversely, not being able to prove that there is no creator does not automatically prove that there is one. In short, atheism is as much a leap of faith as religion. There is nothing 'scientific' about atheism.

Alien:
What is your or anyone's definition of alien exactly based on? We don't even know if there is any other place suitable for life (as yet), let alone conducive for the origin of life. And isn't talking about an 'intelligent' life is like asking for too much? And why not then believe in Juju at the bottom of the sea? Just because it didn't come from a more acceptable idiot?

So to summarize, the current definition of scientific methodology has limits...limits towards the most basic questions, like where the universe came from in the first place or how did life came into being. Someday attempting to answer these questions would change basic criteria for scientific methodology, but then a lot would change...quite a lot.

emre said...

Mr. Hussain, scientists say that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof, so if someone claims that there is a god capable of suspending the laws of nature, we want to see strong evidence of this. The burden of proof is NOT on doubters to prove that it does not exist. We are not the one making grand, unfalsifiable claims. Surely you know about Russell's tea pot. Would you say that since nobody has actually found a teapot, we can not assume there isn't one? I hope not. The logical epistemological position would be to believe that there is no tea pot, until evidence is presented to the contrary.

Re. aliens: what is there to debate about the concept of a life form not from this planet? Would we not know it if we saw it? Surely it would have a genome unlike the ones we have seen, or none at all. I think it would be rather easy to identify.

Finally, I want to make a reminder that abiogenists do not claim that cells sprang into existence. They are look for a prebiotic pathway, and the Miller-Urey experiment is a famous contribution in this field.

Best regards.

Ali said...

@ Anonymous (aka D)

"you think a whole community of biologists is making up stories and that they have no "common sense" and "intelligence"."
These biologists are making up scientific conclusions on matters that are beyond science.
Dr Akbar has explained this well in his analogy of the pizza and its maker.

"And Ali, give me a good reason why the Quranic story is literal rather than allegorical? ... Why can't the story of God creating Eve from Adam be allegorical?"
If we assume the Qur'anic story is allegorical, then ...
1. We are assuming some parts are literal and some are allegorical.
2. Which part is literal and which is allegorical will have subjective variation.
3. To make a long story short, this would mean the Qur'an is not authentic.
I believe the Adam and Eve story is literal because ...
1. If it was meant to be allegorical, this view would have been supported by the sayings of the Prophet. Sayings of the Prophet clearly tells how Adam and Eve were created.
2. That we are descendants of a single human being is not contradictory to our present knowledge of evolution.
3. If not divinely revealed, how could the Prophet know of this fact 1400 years ago?
4. That Eve was created from Adam is not provable today. That does not mean it is false.
5. The Qur'an has many scientific facts that were not known during the Prophet's time. If they are proven true, hundreds of years later, why would I think the Eve story will be proven false?
6. In addition to the Qur'an, The Bible and the Torah says Adam was the first human being that God created and Eve was created from Adam.

The Qur'an is much more complex than any book we, humans, have authored. So, as science advances, we find more and more wisdom in the Qur'an. When one day the Eve story will be proven true, Anonymous D, I hope you will not be surprised.

Ali said...

@ emre

"How about trying to make a man out of mud yourself. I wonder how far you will get."

I am only human, emre. But thanks for thinking otherwise. :)

"if the existence of life requires a divine explanation, then surely the divine creator requires some explaining too!"
Actually not.
This is fasle logic successfully propagated by Dawkins et al.
In asking the question you are assuming God must need an explanation. Why do you assume this? What leads to this assumption?

Ali said...

About aliens ...

The Qur'an 042.029
"And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the living creatures that He has SCATTERED THROUGH THEM: ..." (emphasis mine)

The Qur'an 17.044
"The seven heavens and the earth, and ALL BEINGS THEREIN, declare His glory: ..." (emphasis mine)

All the best.

emre said...

"The Qur'an is much more complex than any book we, humans, have authored. So, as science advances, we find more and more wisdom in the Qur'an."

This can't be true because the Koran WAS authored by humans. Mohamed was illiterate and he never saw the Koran--it was written after his death. Furthermore, analysis of the oldest extant copies shows signs of manipulation. In addition, punctuation was inserted after the fact, adding a layer of interpretation. Please look up the Sanaa manuscripts and Gerd Puin.

emre said...

"I am only human, emre. But thanks for thinking otherwise. :)"

You are making the claim that it is possible to make a man out of mud, so the burden of proof is on you to show how.

"Actually not. This is fasle logic successfully propagated by Dawkins et al. In asking the question you are assuming God must need an explanation. Why do you assume this? What leads to this assumption?"

You are the one that claimed the universe needed an explanation. And you claimed the explanation was something even more fantastical than the universe. Now you say that this even more fantastical thing does not itself need an explanation? Pardon me for finding your train of logic amusing.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Emre:
You raised the same points I already tried to explain in the bast logical way I could. Please take out some time to read it. I spent my entire evening writing up the argument...ah!
Regarding aliens, I still don't get where we got this idea from?
Ali:
Good one!

emre said...

Thanks for taking the time to craft a response. Regarding aliens: you brought it up: "That is why when a famous 'super genius' in a wheel chair utters nonsense about 'aliens', it becomes news."

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Emre:
:-) Good one! I like it.
(Btw I was replying why people would lend an ear more to famous celebrities in science like Dawkins or Hawking no matter what nonsense they say.)

Anonymous said...

I repeat, please educate yourselves. Emre is doing a great job here, I am not so patient. But stop paying attention to Dawkin's religious opinions and please pay attention to his science!
And please challenge yourselves, here's a starter:
Dawkins quotes:
"My mind is not closed, as you have occasionally suggested, Francis. My mind is open to the most wonderful range of future possibilities, which I cannot even dream about, nor can you, nor can anybody else. What I am skeptical about is the idea that whatever wonderful revelation does come in the science of the future, it will turn out to be one of the particular historical religions that people happen to have dreamed up. When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable--but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don't see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed."

Here's a debate between Dawkins and Collins that you might find interesting. I say interesting because Collins is a co-Abrahamic faith adherent for you guys, he does not make much sense to me, but he's totally into evolution:
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1555132-9,00.html

Also, if you ever get a chance, watch everything that David Attenborough has ever made/narrated starting from:
http://www.amazon.com/Planet-Earth-Blue-Special-Collectors/dp/B000TEUSQ8/ref=sr_1_22?ie=UTF8&qid=1299806466&sr=8-22

And btw, Akbar one of the reasons why drug resistance is a problem is because most medical doctors aren't educated properly in evolution, it's something that many medical schools now are addressing. And if you claim not to know molecular biology, then be more humble, learn, rather than blindly pass judgments to fit with your hypothesis. You might end up agreeing with evolution :-)
-D
Happy learning!
-D

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Anonymous:
You are totally lost.
Firstly where did I say I am contending Dawkins for his knowledge? I mentioned in one of my comments that he is the ultimate authority on evolution, based on his qualification. Where I have problem with his religious stance only when he disguises atheism as a scientific outcome and misuses his authority to propagate a faith that has nothing scientific in it. I also mentioned that perhaps I may have as much knowledge of evolution as he might have of Islam (or may be other religions). When you listen to his ideas on religion, you immediately realize his level of knowledge about what is written in Quran at least (I don't know about other religions).
And I can guess about your level of knowledge of antibiotic resistance. What you are mentioning is not evolution but variation which is the basis of antibiotic resistance. Variation may be one of the first steps in evolution indeed but there is much more to it than just this.
And yes who is denying evolution? It is one of the ingeniously ingrained gifted processes necessary for the propagation of life on earth. It has roots in the extremely complicated process of meiosis. Natural selection is just a virtual effect of this ingeneous process of alterations in subsequent generations.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

And to add:
And why should studying evolution negate one's view of a creator? For someone like me, it only strengthened it. And when Dawkins admits that his faith in atheism is based on notions like someday science will solve the seemingly impossible answer to the question as to where the laws of physics came in the first place, it is itself a leap of faith. What ground you will stand on of we ultimately find out that the creation of RNA is physically imposssible just by accident (I am not talking about glycine like molecules in MU experiment), wouldn't that be sufficient evidence pointing towards something else.
To give you a hint, the formation of RNA is dependent highly complicated enzyme action, enzymes which themselves need RNA for their own formation, the very building block of life. Neither can form on their own. For DNS's double helix it is even more complicated a story.
And I must admit, Dawkins is immensely eloquent and genius. The way he propagates his faith is impressive. It only requires a quite an attention and knowledge to actually debunk his propositions.

Ali said...

@ emre
"This can't be true because the Koran WAS authored by humans."

This is an argument from incredulity. :)

"You are making the claim that it is possible to make a man out of mud, so the burden of proof is on you to show how."
My claim is not an impossible claim. For example, If I tell you that a man was created out of mud by means of evolution, my claim is true.

"Pardon me for finding your train of logic amusing."
My train of logic will not be so amusing if you believe that Prophet Jesus was a human being and unknowability of God is one of God's characteristics. This concept, is not easy to explain in a comment on a blog. It requires more space. Insha Allah, I will do this in a book.

Ali said...

@ Anonymous (aka D)

Thanks for the link of the debate. I will find time to see what it is. Must be interesting.

"My mind is not closed, as you have occasionally suggested, Francis." says Dawkins.

Why then is it so difficult for Dawkins to see God's craftsmanship in biological creation?

"And btw, Akbar one of the reasons why drug resistance is a problem is because most medical doctors aren't educated properly in evolution,..."
This is funny, D.
You imply that if medical doctors know what evolution is, we will not have drug resistance.
First, resistance to drugs is not always caused by a mutation. There are other mechanisms for it.

Second, if you know what goes on at the molecular level, inside cells, it would be hard to believe that RANDOM mutations can cause anything useful.

A mutation is a variation within the species. It does not cause one animal to change to another. But as Dr Akbar says, "Variation may be one of the first steps in evolution indeed but there is much more to it than just this."

So there is much to do before you advocate to change the curricula for doctors.

Ali said...

@ Anonymous D

To add ...

Dawkins says,
"If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed."

Islam teaches us that God is unknowable. So indeed God is "a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed."

emre said...

"This is an argument from incredulity"

What does that mean? Do you believe an illiterate dead man wrote it from his grave? If so, I'm going to have ask for some VERY convincing proof.

"My claim is not an impossible claim. For example, If I tell you that a man was created out of mud by means of evolution, my claim is true."

Rubbish, you can not by fiat declare "it was created out of mud by evolution". You have to present a plausible mechanism. Your problem is that mud is not subject to evolution. Mud is mud and it remains mud. It does not evolve into anything else.

"My train of logic will not be so amusing if you believe that Prophet Jesus was a human being and unknowability of God is one of God's characteristics. This concept, is not easy to explain in a comment on a blog."

I am unable to parse this paragraph. Honestly I think it makes no sense at all.

Anonymous said...

Akbar,
Sorry, I was arguing on a faulty proposition, I thought you were rejecting evolution. The point I was trying to make was that by all means reject Dawkin's "The God Delusion", that is a scientist's personal opinion, but please don't reject his "Selfish gene" or "Ancestor's tale" and evolution itself. I realized I clubbed you and Ali together, it was Ali who rejects evolution, not you, my apologies. I agree that evolution itself doesn't necessarily render you an atheist/unbeliever but I do think it makes a very unsophisticated/literal reading of the scriptures very hard. In fact I think evolution is a great thing to have happened to religion, it has helped the more sophisticated religious believers to develop a discourse beyond binary settings of wrong and right. Ali said this before in a different vein, if you interpret the story of Adam and Eve allegorically, you are forced to re-evaluate your entire approach to the scipture. He is afraid that this would mean a de-legitimization of his approach to religion. I on the contrary think, that with such an approach you are immediately thrown into a deeper relationship with the religious scripture, interpreting layers of meanings, making it a richer spiritual experience, seeing it beyond black and whites. And yes, for the record I think anybody's guess on the origin of the "big bang" or the primal cause is as good as any other's, God or whatever, for me these propositions are scientifically equivalent. You guys believe it was God, I don't know and wouldn't want to make my mind about it because I don't see evidence for it either way, theoretically God is a possibility, but that raises so many more uncomfortable issues---scientific and non-scientific that I have rejected it. Till we know, I'll keep my mind open :-).

And Ali, I'm not the only one asking for such curriculum changes :-)
" This past summer, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) published a joint report, titled Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians. The report calls for ambitious changes in the science content in the premedical curriculum and on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), including increased emphasis on evolution. "For the first time, the AAMC and HHMI are recommending that evolution be one of the basic sciences students learn before they come to medical school," Nesse explained.
http://www.sciencecodex.com/medical_students_may_soon_be_tested_on_evolution

Here's a doctor's opinion
http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2006/04/medicine_and_evolution_part_4_1.php

Best,
D

Anonymous said...

Ali,
You say"Islam teaches us that God is unknowable. So indeed God is "a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed."
Good, then challenge yourself, no-one is asking to not believe in God, but challenge yourself, if you agree with this statement, how have you decided to be Muslim as opposed to Hindu or anything else? Because such a choice implies that you have a certain idea of God, and you're following a religion with a particular idea of God that appeals to you, that you "comprehend". If you really think God is incomprehensible, then why are you not Hindu or Christian or whatever?
-D

Anonymous said...

Akbar,
I had written a long post, which has disappeared:-(. To summarize, I apologize, I was clubbing you and Ali together, I was working on the assumption that you reject evolution. I agree that as far as the origin of the big bang or the primal cause goes, we don't know and it could scientifically be anything. While you have apriori ascribed it to God, I am open to whatever we find out. I have rejected God because then it raises many scientific and non-scientific questions that I personally don't find satisfactory, but I think you can both believe in God and evolution, at least as of now :-).
-D
And Ali, I'm not the only one who thinks medical school curricula should change :-)
"This past summer, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) published a joint report, titled Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians. The report calls for ambitious changes in the science content in the premedical curriculum and on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), including increased emphasis on evolution. "For the first time, the AAMC and HHMI are recommending that evolution be one of the basic sciences students learn before they come to medical school," Nesse explained."
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-01/nesc-msm012510.php

Also, look at this
http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2006/04/medicine_and_evolution_part_4_1.php

Anonymous said...

For some reason, two of my comments disappeared :-(
-D

Anonymous said...

Ok, so I'll try to summarize what I had written twice in two long posts :-(.
First, Akbar I apologize, I was arguing from a faulty assumption, I was clubbing you and Ali together among evolution-deniers, I realize I was wrong.

I guess my main point was that by all means reject Dawkins' "God Delusion" but not the science, and evolution itself. I agree that it is possible(still) to believe in evolution and God and there are many scientists who do. As far as Science is concerned, anybody's guess on the origin of the Big Bang or the primal cause is as good as anyone else's. For me, God or any other propositions are equivalent, I don't know what caused the Big Bang, why there's something rather than nothing, and I prefer not to ascribe it to God for various reasons. You are sure that this prime cause is God, so I repeat there is space for this belief, I personally find this answer unsatisfying for many reasons---scientific and non-scientific.
I don't think that accepting evolution automatically means rejecting your faith, however I do think that accepting evolution will make you approach religion in a more sophisticated manner. Ali talked about it in a different vein, that he's unwillin to accept human evolution because that means he'll be de-legitimizing his beliefs in the infallibility of his scripture. I on the contrary think contending with evolution will help believers go beyond the standard narrative of white and black, of interpreting the scriptures in a manner more in sync with a personal spiritual quest rather than as a mere dictum of dos and do-nots. In fact I think evolution and anything else that challenges a literal interpretation of scripture, is good for religion.
And Ali, I'm not the only one who thinks medical schools should be teaching evolution :-)

Here are some other people:

"This past summer, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) published a joint report, titled Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians. The report calls for ambitious changes in the science content in the premedical curriculum and on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), including increased emphasis on evolution. "For the first time, the AAMC and HHMI are recommending that evolution be one of the basic sciences students learn before they come to medical school," Nesse explained.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-01/nesc-msm012510.php

http://stanmed.stanford.edu/2006summer/evolutionary-medicine.html

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2006/04/medicine_and_evolution_part_4_1.php

-D

Ali said...

@ emre

"Do you believe an illiterate dead man wrote it from his grave? If so, I'm going to have ask for some VERY convincing proof."

This proof is there, emre, in the Qur'an. But you will have to read it and do some research on what it says before this proof will become visible to you.

"Your problem is that mud is not subject to evolution. Mud is mud and it remains mud. It does not evolve into anything else."
Absolutely.
To evolve mud into 'life' we need the Divine touch. I am afraid, we cannot prove this touch. But, we are endowed with intelligence so that we can 'see' this even if science cannot prove it -- absence of evidence in science is not evidence of absense.

Ali said...

@ Anonnymous D (I wish you will call yourself a name so that it will be easier for me to address you. How about Don?)

"Ali said this before in a different vein, if you interpret the story of Adam and Eve allegorically, you are forced to re-evaluate your entire approach to the scipture. He is afraid that this would mean a de-legitimization of his approach to religion. I on the contrary think, that with such an approach you are immediately thrown into a deeper relationship with the religious scripture, interpreting layers of meanings, making it a richer spiritual experience, seeing it beyond black and whites."

D, even if you do not change your approach, you can still form a very good relationship with the scripture. This, in fact, would be an intellectually stimulating experience. Why would you change your approach if your current approach is fulfilling?

Moreover, according to your logic, our approach would be fluctuating with time and never constant. How rational is this?

"And yes, for the record I think anybody's guess on the origin of the "big bang" or the primal cause is as good as any other's, God or whatever, for me these propositions are scientifically equivalent. You guys believe it was God, I don't know and wouldn't want to make my mind about it because I don't see evidence for it either way, theoretically God is a possibility, but that raises so many more uncomfortable issues---scientific and non-scientific that I have rejected it. Till we know, I'll keep my mind open :-)."

You are thinking on an extremely superficial way, I am afraid. The Big Bang is not just any bang. It created the universe. And if you really do have a look at what the universe is and how it is sustained, the signs of the Creator are not hidden in it. It requires a bit of contemplation to get there. But you can.

About the curriculum change ...
It is the same Nesse, that I am seeing in this video. Watch the video and you can think for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcnCJqDa1us

He probably thinks every anomaly and every disease they teach in medical college is the result of bad design. From Colle's fracture to the blind spot to anything else about the human body that can be critisized, are all results of bad design. Therefore, we are not designed. But it requires a bit of thinking to know that Nesse is also a materialist.

By the way, the most important part of the video for me is in the first 15 seconds. :)

And thanks for the link to the blog by the doctor. But why do you think those doctors who write their own blog has to be listened more that those who comment on someone else's blog?

emre said...

"This proof is there, emre, in the Qur'an. But you will have to read it and do some research on what it says before this proof will become visible to you."

Ali, I think you do not know what constitutes a proof. The Koran merely makes allegations. I can just as easily pen my own Holy Book and pass it off as "proof" of whatever I want to claim to people willing to follow my religion. That is not how science works. We left the "Because I said so"/"Because a book says so" stages a long time ago. Give me something I can verify myself.

"To evolve mud into 'life' we need the Divine touch. I am afraid, we cannot prove this touch. But, we are endowed with intelligence so that we can 'see' this even if science cannot prove it -- absence of evidence in science is not evidence of absence."

Again you are making an unsupported claim. If you want to confirm it, you need to submit positive evidence. The null hypothesis is that mud can not spontaneously turn alive. Thus, the rational position would be to believe that, no, you can not make a human out of mud. Until you can show us otherwise.

Ali said...

@ Anonymous D

"If you really think God is incomprehensible, then why are you not Hindu or Christian or whatever?"

D, you don't even have to ask this question. You already know. You know that Christianity and Hinduism both have their own conception of God. As far as I know, it is only Islam that tells you that 'God's essence (Dhat) can never be known.'

112:001-004
Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;
Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;
He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;
And there is none like unto Him.

D, tell me how one can comprehend such a being?

Ali said...

Have been thinking this for a while now ...

I wonder why Nidhal is sileny after making this post. :)

Ali said...

@ emre

"We left the "Because I said so"/"Because a book says so" stages a long time ago."

This is exactly why I said "you will have to read it and do some research on what it says before this proof will become visible to you."

The Qur'an has claims that will prove to you that it is a divine revelation. In addition, everything about the book itself will tell you of this fact.

"Thus, the rational position would be to believe that, no, you can not make a human out of mud. Until you can show us otherwise."

I disagree.
No big deal, eh.
The rational poistion, at best, would be 'I do not know.'
Just because I, a human being, do not know how mud can evolve into a human, that does not mean it is impossible for a Divine authority to do so.
You may believe what you want, but don't try to justify your position by saying that it is the rational position.

emre said...

"The Qur'an has claims that will prove to you that it is a divine revelation. In addition, everything about the book itself will tell you of this fact."

Which claims are those? Be specific.

"I disagree.
No big deal, eh.
The rational poistion, at best, would be 'I do not know.'
Just because I, a human being, do not know how mud can evolve into a human, that does not mean it is impossible for a Divine authority to do so.
You may believe what you want, but don't try to justify your position by saying that it is the rational position."

You must be out of your mind if you believe an inanimate lump of mud can evolve into a human. This has NEVER been observed in recorded history, yet you want me to believe this? I question your capacity for rational thought. We also don't know whether teapots are orbiting the earth because we have no detected them, but no rational person would merely say "we don't know". He would dismiss the claim outright until positive evidence to the contrary. That is where you currently stand: carrying the burden of having to show positive evidence to support your fantastical claims. You may believe what you want, but don't try to justify your position by saying "we don't know".

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Ali:
I would agree with emre and anonymous to disagree with you over soemthing.
Do you think this biological heap of proteins, lipids, and water is all that makes you and me human? If we look at Quran, it mentions that Adam was not created on Earth, but somewhere not in this physical universe, so was not in a physical form as we know it. This body is essentially is possibly an expendable hardware for a software that has no existence in his physical world. What is your problem with evolution?
Emre and anonymous:
When Dawkins concluded his argument with Collins in following words:
"If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed."
Here he only screamed out his sheer ignorance of what Quran and Islam say about its concept of God.
Quran describes God in surah 112 as a single being, eternal, and independent, does not have an offspring neither is one himself, and is not comparable to anything we know.
In the opening verse in Quran, God is described as the "Lord of many worlds", essentially ruling out the belittlement of a creator to our pale blue dot in this vast universe.
The closest religion to Islam is Christianity that describes God as an oversized bearded man. This is where Dawkins and his likes get their energy from.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

So Ali, the notion of creation of Adam from mud is neither scientific nor religious.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Ali:
I just recalled there is some mention of creation of Adam in S. Hijr as well. I'll go back and look at it.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Surah Hijr describes creation of the living substance from hot muddy pool like something and later the Creator 'breathed His spirit' (possibly judgement and reason, something that separates us from other species, something that makes us create ideas and objects, essentially making us a creator ourselves). These together is what makes us Human.

There is also an interesting mention of another intelligent creation in the same Surah that was made by 'smokeless fire', and not from the matter we are made from. What is that smokeless fire? Energy? Wow! that is intriguing isn't?

Ali said...

@ Dr Akbar

"What is your problem with evolution?"
My problem is not with evolution per se. But with its mechanism. I do not believe Darwinian evolution can do anything.
In Darwinian evolution:
Mutations are random
Natural selection is a blind process
I disagree with this.
I believe evolution is a God guided process. Every mutation takes place according to God's decree.
About creation of Adam ...
All I am saying is that I do not believe Darwinian evolution can make primates into human beings.
I believe Adam was a special creation. I have said that I do not know what the mechanism for this special creation is. (emre said he believes the mechanism is "The Syncretism of Ancient Near Eastern Mythologies" Ha-ha. I have no qualms with him saying this because God created Adam from a mixture of earth. So we are supposed to be different. lol)

Any way, back to my point.
emre does not agree that Adam is a special creation. So he has simplified what I said in his own terms and said that I am arguing that 'a human was created from a lump of mud' or something of that sort. This is an oversimplification of what I said. This leads to the imagination of the creation of human from mud in an abrakadabra style. A 'mud - abrakadabra - human' type of imagination. However, I have not objected to this over-simplification. Instead, i am arguing that how God created a human from a lump of mud is at best unknown. For emre, of course, this is an irrational argument. He thinks the rational poition os to believe that it is imposible. :)

Ali said...

@ Dr Akbar

"What is that smokeless fire? Energy? Wow! that is intriguing isn't"
Absolutely
I think it is the jinns that God created from smokeless fire. Now, there is no evidence in science to believe that a being is created from smokeless fire. So emre and his likes will say there is nothing that is created from smokeless fire. I will, on the other hand argue that there are. And to be a bit linient, i might say, one can be agnostic about this, but cannot say there is no such being.
I will then be told that I "must be out of [my] mind" and my "capacity for rational thought" will be questioned. The reason being "this has NEVER been observed in recorded history." Looks like everything that is there to observe has been already observed in recorded history. lol

"So Ali, the notion of creation of Adam from mud is neither scientific nor religious."
I am lost.
Then what is it?

Ali said...

@ emre

"Which claims are those? Be specific."

Okay.
I will give you two verses as exmples.
You think about them and tell me how Prophet Muhammad could know of these things at that time.

036.038
And the sun runs his course for a period determined for him: that is the decree of (Him), the Exalted in Might, the All-Knowing.

021.030
Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?

By the way, is it also irrational to believe that every living thing was made from water?
Science, to my knowledge, has not proved this (yet).

During the Prophet's time, there would have been people who said it is irrational to believe these things. But hundreds of years later, they are proven true.

Ali said...

Hi Salman,

The post says the number of comments are 57. But we see only 53 comments. Can you please check whats wrong.

Also, i wrote a longish comment yesterday in reply to Anonymous D's comment. (I remember suggesting to him to call a name, like Don.) This comment has not appeared. Can you please check this too.

Best wishes,

Ali

Salman Hameed said...

"The post says the number of comments are 57. But we see only 53 comments. Can you please check whats wrong."

There were a few spam messages. I think we are not missing any actual comments. A few days ago couple of real messages were also caught in the spam filter, but those were posted later.

emre said...

There are some misprepresentations of my position. I do not believe Adam was a special creation because Adam did not exist. Neither did Eve. This is the firm scientific consensus, in light of evolution.

I do not call humans "created". They are evolved from other hominids, not "specially created".

I do not say claim that it is impossible for mud to turn into life. I am not making a claim; you are: you stated that mud HAS turned into life, and I challenged you to show how. I said that this has never been observed, and it seems highly improbable, so you are obliged to provide very strong evidence. In the absence of such evidence, the rational position is to dismiss your claim, which I have done.

The same test applies to your claim creation from smokeless fire. Show me how; don't tell me "it is not impossible".

Ali said...

Thanks, Salman.

My comment to Anonymous D is there now.

All the best.

Ali

Anonymous said...

Ali, Ali, Ali
Are you telling me you have studied all other religions and found their definitions of God, and their characterization of the "incomprehensibility" of God insufficient?
How about this hymn from Rigveda, which talks about this incomprehensibility
"1. THEN was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.
What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?
2 Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day's and night's divider.
That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.
3 Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated chaos.
All that existed then was void and form less: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit.
4 Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.
Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship in the non-existent.
5 Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it?
There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder
6 Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
7 He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not"

I can ask you the same question, how can you comprehend such a being, Ali?

The only reason why you believe in Islam and what you think are the interpretations of it's precepts, is because you were born in it. You have given me no reason to think otherwise :-)

Akbar,
I strongly object to your simplistic characterization of the Christian God while crying foul about Dawkins. Many Christians would feel as slighted by this as you feel by Dawkins. Christianity is as rich or poor as Islam, and it is highly simplistic to reduce it to this, something you accuse Dawkins of. You accuse Dawkins of not having studied religion, may I ask you, how much you have studied other religions? My question to you is the same as to Ali(for different reasons) or to Francis Collins, why a Muslim/Christian God? And I think the closest religion to Islam probably is Judaism rather than Christianity.

-D
P.S Ali, I am a woman so Don would be inappropriate, let's say Dee? :-)

Anonymous said...

Ali,
Hi again!
You say
". I will, on the other hand argue that there are. And to be a bit linient, i might say, one can be agnostic about this, but cannot say there is no such being.
I will then be told that I "must be out of [my] mind" and my "capacity for rational thought" will be questioned. The reason being "this has NEVER been observed in recorded history." Looks like everything that is there to observe has been already observed in recorded history. lol"

Well, now tell me what you think about the Greek Gods, the spirits, the ghosts, the Hindu Gods and Godesses. Please be a little more charitable and consistent and say that you can't absolutely say they don't exist, just because you haven't seen them? What makes your God hypothesis more viable than anyone else's? And please don't tell me in a long-winded fashion "because the Quran says so", because then I will say, "because the Vedas/Upansishada/X, where X is any holy book says so" and that's a deadlock. Come up with something more interesting.
-Dee

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Emre:
Hehe...can anyone show if a particular fossil of a, say fern was a living thing long time ago? Secondly, didn't life evolve in hot water pools full of minerals and organic sludge, bubbly and noisy, like the ones we see in Yellowstone NP? What is the problem if Quran tracks the organic origin of man all the way back to the same noisy clay pools?
It is getting complicated...I quit :-)

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Anonymous:
I have already mentioned in my comments that I have poor knowledge of other religions, I admit. I only contend Dawkins claims that if there is at all a God, it would be a lot more bigger and incomprehensible than ANY religion would suggest. Islam already suggest God as whole lot bigger and incomprehensible than one can imagine, and I have given reference in one of my comments too.
Dawkins is as ignorant about Islam's views (whether correct or wrong is not a subject of my discussion) as an average Cleric on evolution. I oppose both.

Anonymous said...

"Why would you change your approach if your current approach is fulfilling? "

Because your current approach is clearly not fulfilling, why do you think the Catholic church now accepts evolution?
For example, from wiki
"We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the 'project' of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary -- rather than mutually exclusive -- realities.

– Cardinal Ratzinger, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall [Eerdmans, 1986, 1995], see especially pages 41-58"

e Creator are not hidden in it. It requires a bit of contemplation to get there. But you can"

Please point out my superficiality. I never said that the Big Bang is any bang, in fact Salman and Nidhal will tell you it's not even a "bang" :-). And I'm not an astrophysicist, so Salman please correct me if I'm wrong, but as a student of science I understand that we know very little about the earliest moments of the Universe's "birth", again I repeat we don't know why there is something rather than nothing, and if my superficiality is in disagreeing to ascribe it to God, I'm afraid we can't go down that discussion :-). My position is we don't know, and I don't see incontrovertible signs of God being behind it (which God? why one God? why not many? one could have caused the Big Bang, one created man, one created rivers so on?) So apriori, from an evidence point of view you cannot argue for one God, let alone for the one Abrahamic God. As I said before there are beliefs and there is space for some beliefs of now, I don't know if there will be in the future or not, or if we will discover "God" :-). If you believe in a God, it doesn't necessarily contradict Science, and some may find personal reinforcement of belief from studying Science. And that is understandable, there is an underlying common emotion of contending with the unknown in both. But you may have to think a lot about what God, and how to approach such a God. It is the same Universe and world that had led Francis Collins the manager of the human genome project to believe in Christ as his personal saviour, that has led you to reject him as your saviour and accept him as one of your prophets. So, please don't tell me that I'm so blind/superficial that I can't see God's signs :-).
-Dee
P.S. I'm a woman

Anonymous said...

Ali,
Further you say,
"Moreover, according to your logic, our approach would be fluctuating with time and never constant. How rational is this? "

Yes, it would be changing with time, according to human beings' understanding and knowledge. That is perfectly rational, and it is happening whether you agree or not. Sixty years back people found justification from the scriptures for slavery, now nobody in their proper senses thinks slavery should be justified and they attack it on the basis of these very scriptures. Islam, like any other religion is in the words of Reza Aslan,"a living, breathing religion shaped by centuries of history and culture" and to that I will add science. Btw, I highly recommend his book "No god but God". Many other Islamic scholars will give you similar perspectives, for example here is Ziauddin Sardar;
"One can only have an interpretative relationship with a text even more so if the text is perceived to be eternal. But if the interpretative context of the text is never our context, not our own time, then its interpretation can hardly have any real meaning or significance for us as we are now. Historic interpretations constantly drag us back to history, to frozen and ossified context of long ago; worse, to perceived and romanticised contexts that have not even existed in history. This is why while Muslims have a strong emotional attachment to Islam, Islam per se, as a worldview and system of ethics, has little or no direct relevance to their daily lives apart from the obvious concerns of rituals and worship."
from
http://ziauddinsardar.com/2011/02/rithinking-islam/

So, even within the Muslim thought, I don't think your position is the only one, I argue it is one of many, and detrimental to the community if adopted in wholesale.


Also, when you say
"You are thinking on an extremely superficial way, I am afraid. The Big Bang is not just any bang. It created the universe. And if you really do have a look at what the universe is and how it is sustained, the signs of th

emre said...

"can anyone show if a particular fossil of a, say fern was a living thing long time ago?"

As opposed to a non-living thing? A fossil is by definition the remains or impression of something was once alive.

"Secondly, didn't life evolve in hot water pools full of minerals and organic sludge, bubbly and noisy, like the ones we see in Yellowstone Park? What is the problem if Quran tracks the organic origin of man all the way back to the same noisy clay pools?
It is getting complicated...I quit :-)"

You correctly point out that it is the organic compounds in the substrate that gives birth to life, not the substrate itself. Water alone can not become alive; other elements are needed too. This is the key point that I am probably failing to communicate. A minor point is that the substrate in which life on earth is believed to have sprang from is not mud. Perhaps there was mud around, I don't know.

I guess it depends on how literally one interprets the verse. At least mud has water and organic compounds, so it is at least in the running. Perhaps if one focused on that, then the myth would be tenable.

Salman Hameed said...

"And I'm not an astrophysicist, so Salman please correct me if I'm wrong, but as a student of science I understand that we know very little about the earliest moments of the Universe's "birth", again I repeat we don't know why there is something rather than nothing, and if my superficiality is in disagreeing to ascribe it to God, I'm afraid we can't go down that discussion :-)."

Dee - I'm in complete agreement here. The answer to "why is there something instead of nothing" is a matter of faith - be it in a God, gods, or none at all. I would add one caveat here. We just simply don't know when to get to that point. For example, I'm hesitant to place the point of unknown at the Big Bang because I think physicists and astronomers will push this boundary further back (geologists made a similar mistake in the 18/19th century, when they placed the question of the formation of the Earth and Solar system beyond the reach of science).

So, yes, I agree with a theoretical point of unknown. But if as a good scientist, one can never ever assume where that point is. But the question of origins is still different from "why is there something instead of nothing" and that probably has to be based on faith (though Paul Davies wants to push us on at least the laws of physics - see his talk here).

Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

Wow!!! what an lively discussion. It was indeed a learning experience reading all these comments. Not sure if the discussion is over or not...

Personally arguments given by 'Dee' and 'emre' made more sense to me.

Whenever I engage in such discussions with my friends, online n offline, we seldom get to a conclusion, perhaps cuz the stakes are too high.

I always wonder, how come a person born in a particular faith, become atheist/agnostic. After all what could be more important than God? Why is he willing to put everything on stake? His/her most cherished believes, life after death, everything...

Perhaps cuz the answers provided by the holy scriptures doesn't go with the new found understanding given by science (which can be verified).

For me the following video cover this debate (science vs religion) eloquently.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioh7oJNBsu0

Ali said...

Hi Dee :)

"How about this hymn from Rigveda, which talks about this incomprehensibility."

Dee, techincally, you can also write a 'Rigveda'. The difference is what I wrote are verses God Himself has revealed to us. The Rigveda is a human construct.

"I can ask you the same question, how can you comprehend such a being, Ali?"
I can write a fancy poem about how long an alien that lives in Gliese 581g is. Will you then believe that a very long alien lives there?

"The only reason why you believe in Islam and what you think are the interpretations of it's precepts, is because you were born in it. You have given me no reason to think otherwise :-)"
I would say you are partly correct. But if you investigate Islam enough, I am sure you would agree with me that it makes a lot of sense. And if you do an indepth analysis of the Qur'an I am 100 percent sure you will agree with me that it makes perfect sense.

"What makes your God hypothesis more viable than anyone else's? And please don't tell me in a long-winded fashion "because the Quran says so", because then I will say, "because the Vedas/Upansishada/X, where X is any holy book says so" and that's a deadlock. Come up with something more interesting."
I just answered this part.
I am not going to say 'because the Qur'an says so.' Instead, i invite you to analyse this sacred book after doing which you will find yourself talking like me. :)

Ali said...

@ Dee

"Because your current approach is clearly not fulfilling, why do you think the Catholic church now accepts evolution?"
Wow Dee.
you can even read my mind?
But I am afraid you didn't read it right.
The current approach IS fulfilling for me. I don't know what the Catholic Church does or does not do. Nor do i know what Cardinal Ratzinger is upto. :)

"Yes, it would be changing with time, according to human beings' understanding and knowledge. That is perfectly rational, ..."
The meaning we extract from the Qur'an can change with time.I agree with this.
But I do not agree that our approach should change with time.
One day we say we will consider the Qur'an an allegorical story. The other day we will say it is literal. This is unacceptable. I don't think it even makes sense to do this. Why do you think it is rational?

Btw, i have read Aslan's book. A very nicely written book. but i think he did the end part in a haste. (That reminds me; Nidhal, i am now reading your book.)

A.A.A said...

Hey everyone Sorry i Joined in a bit late. did read not all but most of the comments.

Ali u did a good job.

For all those who do not believe in A Creator of All the Creation, A divine Religion. A only God, but Believe Science to be the only Yardstick over all..
Keep one thing in Mind Science does not eliminate the existance of God but the models of God.

"A little knowledge of science makes man an atheist, but an in-depth study of science makes him a believer in God." - Francis Bacon.

I leave u with a with a question here..!!

People in this debate are disscusing about evolution, challenging to make a man out of mud,, looking out in the future where science may advance to such a stage that it will be able to make Cells.. Well why not find a shortcut, fget the cell, evoluting mud into man but find a Fresh Deadbody, i guess it will be a perfect composition of all the elements/constituents present in a Man even at the right spot... Gather all the scientiest and try to put a LIFE back in it....!!
Can they...???
So where did the life that was once in that body come from, Where did it go?? Whay was it in there at the first place??
Try to answer all these questions or even one... No science can help no one...

Some thing that can give you the answer to such is none other but a Religion, Faith in a God, some Supreme authority, To whom shall We have to Return some day.

This life here was not an Accident and none of the deeds will go in vein......!!

Among all the religions, Islam Alhamdulillah stands the test of time, did and will.
Quran has been and will be the Miracle of Miracles, The Sign of Signs...!! Only if one can understand....!!

Allah SWT knows best and can only Guide the Misguided.. All Praises r unto Him alone...!!

Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

@Ali:

I'm afraid we Muslims have to be flexible with our interpretations/ definitions of Quran or else we'll be irrelevant.

World is moving ahead whether or not we accept evolution. Look at the work done in genetics engineering. They are talking about singularity, when man and machine merge. (Yes not everyone agree with this vision of Ray Kurzweil but nevertheless its a plausible) but we are still struck with our medieval questions/discussions.

Wake up guys...

If we look at the rate of technological enhancements and the future predicted by futurists like Ray Kurzweil, we'll have thinking computers better than humans by 2030. Where do you see Muslims by that time? What inventions they would done? At this pace... with such ignorance, with such intolerance we are going to deep trouble.

Let me connect it with what's happening in Pakistan, where a murderer is showered with rose petals and have thousands of fans on facebook.

Yes I'm a Muslim and a Pakistani and it hurts to see us in this state. We are ridiculed by the world. We don't even honor our scientists (case in point is Dr Abdus Salam).

It's time we look into ourselves and stop blaming America/Israel/India for all that ail our country.

Sorry guys for changing the topic but you see its all connected. There is direct relationship between state of education in a country and its well being/prosperity.

That's why Salman cant help but include some political posts (esp. related to Pakistan) on this blog.

@Dee: Thanks for the link to the article 'Rethinking Islam' by Ziauddin Sardar.

@Salman: Perhaps we could have this article 'Rethinking Islam' as a separate post on this group :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Ali,
I thought you'll come with something more interesting than
"Dee, techincally, you can also write a 'Rigveda'. The difference is what I wrote are verses God Himself has revealed to us. The Rigveda is a human construct."
Seriously! :-)
I mean think about it Ali, you say you are sure that God revealed himself/herself through the Quran, a Hindu says the same for Rigveda, he/she considers it the word of God, not man, talk to any devout knowlegeable Hindu scholar, here's wiki for you
"Śruti (Sanskrit: श्रुति, IAST: śrúti, lit. "hearing, listening"), often spelled shruti or shruthi, is a term that describes the sacred texts comprising the central canon of Hinduism and is one of the three main sources of dharma and therefore is also influential within Hindu Law.[1] These sacred works span the entire history of Hinduism, beginning with some of the earliest known Hindu texts and ending in the early modern period with the later Upanishads.[2] This literature differs from other sources of Hindu Law, particularly smṛti or “remembered text”, because of the purely divine origin of śruti. This belief of divinity is particularly prominent within the Mimamsa tradition.[3] The initial literature is traditionally believed to be a direct revelation of the “cosmic sound of truth” heard by ancient Rishis who then translated what was heard into something understandable by humans.[4]"
Pay special attention to "purely divine" :-). Not unlike your claims, except that they don't believe that this is the only divine book :-). What is so special about your religious book's claim to divinity? Everybody says it. And the least you can do is get off from this position of superiority over other faiths and examine them honestly, if you claim to be a religious person. As a non-believer I find amazing things in religious scriptures, such as the RigVeda hymn I posted.

Now please don't tell me if I'll read the Quran I'll find all the wonderful answers that I won't find anywhere else. I was born and brought up in a Muslim household, I had a disproportionate amount of interest in religion as a child, and I have read the entire Quran and while I find parts of it inspiring, I don't think it is special, it is as inspiring as parts of the Bible and Rig Veda and to me as dull and insipid in parts as these other books. For a non-believer I have a disproportionate amount of interest in religion especially Islam, so don't assume things :-)
There goes your 100% belief that I will agree with you. More importantly, I want to make the point that many many believing devout Muslims would disagree with you. If you think the only reason everyone is not a Muslim because they haven't read the Quran with an open mind, you are in dire need of re-evaluating your perspective.

Anonymous said...

contd


I on the contrary am not trying to guess anything about you, I am just saying that your current approach to scripture is closing your eyes to current scientific evidence and things that are happening socially. Again, I sent you a long article by Ziauddin Sardar, which talks about reinterpreting Muslim's approach to their religion and you are asking me how rational is it. This is called "Saari Ramayan sun ke poochta hai Ram kaun hai", translated as "After reading the entire Ramayana, you ask me who is Ram" :-). I repeat not only is this rational, it happens all the time. People use the same scripture to both justify and reject things. There are several interpretations to things, why else would Shias and Sunnis both be Muslims holding the same Quran dear. Why would the Sufis and Wahabis both be Muslim? So on and so forth. If you're saying the meaning we extract from the Quran changes with time, what do you mean when you say the approach shouldn't? What does that mean? Do you mean people should once and all decide if the Quran is literal or allegorical and that it has to be just one of the two, that it can't be both. For example, I could see sense in Muslims taking the essence of the Quran seriously, the concepts of justice, kindness, compassion, etc. While each of these are concrete real things these have been re-interpreted in societies with different requirements. Then there are the more "abstruse" verses, about the purpose of existence, the reason we are here, the many parables, which deserve to be intellectually engaged with by believers. If you take a stock literal interpretation, that is valid forever, what relationship will you as a believer have with the scripture, just of taking taking taking, one way, something that Ziauddin Sardar talks about.
Anyway, that's about it from me on this. Live well!
Dee
P.S. Salman, thanks a ton for the link, will listen to it soon!

Anonymous said...

Can't resist posting this :-P
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/quran/2008/09/evolution.html

-Dee

A.A.A said...

@Ali Kazim:

"I'm afraid we Muslims have to be flexible with our interpretations/ definitions of Quran or else we'll be irrelevant."

Pls correct ur self if u r claiming to be a muslims, that A muslim can not be flexible with his Scripture's definations, it is and will be what it is and one is oblighed to follow it. Yes the change you are talking about (that i can smell) is to Quran and Hadees are been interpreted the wrong way or most of the times, out of context specially wen it comes "Jihad" which no where does mean a WAR or killing the innocent. NOW as a muslim is bound to clarify such misconceptions.


"we'll have thinking computers better than humans by 2030."

Dear no matter how smart a machine one bulids the creator of tht item still stands to be the smartest.. ;)
so a machine can never be smrater then it's engineer, unless or until evoluted... ;) A creator is always best and knows perfectly hpw to operate the object... Considre ur self to be a machine than an accident and listen to ur Creator the one and only Allah SWT, to be guided & Glorified....

Pakistan really needs a revolution (an Islamic one im looking fwd to...) the reason for all such problems in Pak today are cuz Pakistani's who claiming to be Muslims and Pak claiming to be an Islamic is nothing but Words only... We need to adhere the Actual concepts of Islam and revolt for it cuz Islam is th eonly Solution for Humanity....!!

Allah SWT knows best and may Bless everyone.. AAmeen

Ali said...

@ AAA

"Ali u did a good job."

Thanks.
But looks like there is still more to write. :)

Ali said...

@ Ali Kazim

"I'm afraid we Muslims have to be flexible with our interpretations/ definitions of Quran or else we'll be irrelevant."

What do you mean irrelevant?
We do not need to be flexible with our interpretations. The Qur'an does not change. We change and everything about us change. So if we cannot grasp the meaning of a Qur'anic verse it is because we are incapable of doing it.

Futurists talk big. But I do not agree that a machine that is better than humans can be created by humans. This is like talking of an impossible target to achieve.

"Let me connect it with what's happening in Pakistan, where a murderer is showered with rose petals and have thousands of fans on facebook.
Yes I'm a Muslim and a Pakistani and it hurts to see us in this state. We are ridiculed by the world. "

You soud so naive here.
Pakistan is not the only country where this occurs. It happens all over the world.
I remember last year in New Zealand a fugitive was on the run. He was living in the mountains for months before he was eventually caught. He probably was not even aware of a facebook fan club that he has. But there were a good numbe of them -- all supporting his heroism. So what if it happens in Pakistan?

When absurdities happen in developing countries, it becomes international news and everyone mocks at it. When it happens in developed countries, it is acceptable.

"It's time we look into ourselves and stop blaming America/Israel/India for all that ail our country."

I wanted to ignore this bit. But can't resist ...
Only today I heard that 35 people are killed by an American drone attack. Don't blame them. Praise them for their advanced technology.

Ali said...

@ Dee

"Saari Ramayan sun ke poochta hai Ram kaun hai"
Ha ha
Maine Ramayan kabhi suna nahin. lol
This includes the long 'Ramayan' of Sardar Saheb that you gave the link to. lol

My answer to your long 'Ramayan' about Rigveda ...
If it really is of divine origin, it was revealed by God. The one and only God. :)

Ali said...

@ emre

"A fossil is by definition the remains or impression of something was once alive."

God by definition is the uncreated creator of the universe, emre. So hope you will not say again that God 'needs an explanation.'

Sorry, but could not resist. :)

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Ali Gardezi:
I tried my best not to re-enter this discussion spiralling down a bottomless pit, but it seems that opinions based on subjective approach attract your attention more than references and examples I tried to furnish in my comments. Anyways it is your personal preference.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

A request for some help from Dr. Salman, Ali Gardezi, Emre, and Dee. I am in a confusion. What I know from my knowledge of microbiology and physiology, I gather that a DNA/RNA requires stepwise enzyme action for its formation. Enzymes are complicated protein molecules that themselves require DNA/RNA for their formation. DNA/RNA is itself a product of living processes and NOT the other way round. And there is no living organism, neither there was one ever in history, that did not have DNA or RNA. So I am confused with this paradox. Please help me.
(and please avoid the notion that some day science will prove it, no faith nonsense please)

Salman Hameed said...

"I gather that a DNA/RNA requires stepwise enzyme action for its formation."

There are different theories out their on the origin(s) of life (yes, it is not clear if there was only single instance or there were multiple and independent origins of life. It is very hard to test it out - but a concept known as "shadow biosphere" is one way of testing this idea).

There is an excellent book by Robert Hazen called Gen-e-sis - that provides a summary of the research. Here is a review of his book in Science. By the way, he will be out Science & Religion speaker on September 22nd - so you will also be able to check out his lecture.

There is a whole debate about whether RNA came first or the process of metabolism. I'm not an expert in this area - but there is sufficient literature on it and the debate is an excellent illustration of how science proceeds - especially when the problem is unsolved.

As far as your specific question is concerned, RNA molecule can store information and can also act as an enzyme. The RNA World model assumes that RNA was a precursor to DNA. Of course, it has not yet been conclusively shown - therefore no one is saying this IS the correct theory - but there are a number of researchers working these ideas - and only tests will show which idea is the correct one.

Note - there is a big difference when scientists talk about biological evolution in general. There is virtually no dispute about its validity. But the origin of life issue is still not resolved yet. But there are several ideas that are promising. We will see which comes up with tests. [and no - this is not faith].

By the Hazen is big on how science works. Check out his book.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Thank you Salman for the reply.
Yes indeed the origin of life seems more complicated a thing than ever thought. And it is my area of interest too. The more we study the structure of RNA, the more complicated it gets and more difficult to imagine a natural process orchestrating its creation mere by accident, and the more we have to resort to speculations and philosophies than real 'science' as we 'define' it. Same goes to the origin of Universe and the laws of nature. Eddington rightly pointed out the future of any theory that would suggest to violate the laws of thermodynamics, so if any theory about the origin of universe and its laws attempts to contradict it, it has no prospect.
These are areas in science that would require some basic overhaul of our scientific methodology or criteria either now or in distant future.
And I appreciate Dawkins for his stance that if there is at all a creator, it has to be a lot more bigger and incomprehensive than any theologian has ever suggested. This has always been my point too, from your post on chowk.com on cries of baby stars (2006) till now, and in future.
How did your talk on SETI go? I hope my brother in Karachi would have got a chance to meet you. He had planned to be at T2F for your talk.

emre said...

I'm not an expert in abiogenesis, so it is best if I merely mention some relevant books: Chemical Evolution across Space and Time: From the Big Bang to Prebiotic Chemistry, Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life, Life's Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution, The Genomic Potential Hypothesis: A Chemist's View of the Origins, Evolution and Unfolding of Life, How Life Began: Evolution's Three Geneses

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Oh, I used the word 'incomprehensive' instead of 'incomprehensible' in my previous comment...it changes the entire sense!

Ali said...

Dr Akbar,

Not sure whether this will answer your question. Nvertheless, this may be of help.

http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/the-great-debate-what-is-life

Best wishes,

Ali

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Ali:
Thank you for the link. It is quite an interesting discussion. This description of the molecular basis of life and genetics is at a much more basic level than what we are taught in the first year of our medical school. Anyways, the RNA world hypothesis has always been intriguing for me as it mentions the possibility of spontaneous creation of RNA in natural world that might have involved a million individual steps in a correct sequence and in an accurately conducive environment. However it is still hard to grasp the idea of life seeding from outer space. I would rather stick to the group of scientists proposing terrestrial origin of life.

For Dr. Salman:
There are possibly billions of planets out there. Thousands if not millions may have environment suitable for life as we define it. But the environment four kilometers under the Antarctic ice is not suitable for life, neither is the volcanic vents under oceans with extreme temperatures and pressures, nor is the corrosive sulfur pools of volcanic hot spots, or the radiation bathed cloud tops on Earth. Yet life flourishes in these harsh environments...environments equally harsh as perhaps Mars or Titan. My point of view is that life is there on Earth not because it harbours a suitable environment for life itself, but because the carbon-based life that originated here adapted to the Earth's 'harsh' environment, whether it be oceans full of corrosive supersolvent called water, or under its atmosphere one fifth of which is made of an extremely reactive and poisonous gas oxygen. Earth can be a very hostile environment for some other form of 'life' or whatever way we define that phenomenon. If purely defined through physics, the word 'life' does not even hold a meaning. It is just the outcome of perception of the complicated chemical processes by an even more complicated chemical process called consciousness or perception itself.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

And thanks Emre for the list of books. I surely will order a few after reviewing my next month's budget :-)

Ali said...

Dr Akbar

"If purely defined through physics, the word 'life' does not even hold a meaning. It is just the outcome of perception of the complicated chemical processes by an even more complicated chemical process called consciousness or perception itself."

Surely you are not saying that if we cannot perceive a being as alive, it is dead.

I think our perception has nothing to do with something being alive or dead. A living cell, for instance, will be living whether we can perceive it as living or not. Whether we are there to observe it or not.

Ali said...

Dr Akbar,

"This description of the molecular basis of life and genetics is at a much more basic level than what we are taught in the first year of our medical school."
Indeed.
The syllabus at medicall college does not focus on the origin of life. But every mechanism that works inside the living cell. Having studied the biochemistry (I hated the subject when I was in medical college) and physiology of a cell, it is impossible to believe that natural, random processes can give rise to such order, synchrony and harmony.

"Anyways, the RNA world hypothesis has always been intriguing for me as it mentions the possibility of spontaneous creation of RNA in natural world that might have involved a million individual steps in a correct sequence and in an accurately conducive environment. However it is still hard to grasp the idea of life seeding from outer space. I would rather stick to the group of scientists proposing terrestrial origin of life."

I am not convinced life can originate on its own terrestrially or otherwise. So whether RNA was first formed here on Earth, or elsewhere, makes no difference to this. I will not be surprised if life is discovered elsewhere. If life is discovered elsewhere, I think it will add weight to the theory of panspermia.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Ali:
Life is not something that can be defined through physics. It is just the outcome of an intricate process that propagates in a specific pattern that we like to call 'life'. You can vaguely define a living organism but you cannot define 'life'. It is not a physical entity that can be measured or calculated or formulated. If one does believe that life exists, then what is it?...matter, energy, force or what? It is simply beyond the known scientific parameters even to define it.

'...as it mentions the possibility of spontaneous creation of RNA in natural world that might have involved a million individual steps in a correct sequence and in an accurately conducive environment."

You missed the point. It simply means that the spontaneous creation of RNA is impalusible in a practical physical world.

Ali said...

Dr Akbar,

"If one does believe that life exists, then what is it?...matter, energy, force or what?"

Something that animates inanimate matter. :)
I agree we cannot properly define life. But what I said was that whether we define life or not, whether we observe the animation or not, a living thing is a living thing. And it is different from rocks and steel -- non-living things.
Puncture a cell and let its contents squeez out. Once squeezed out, all the contents of the cell will be there, but the cell will no longer be alive. Yet, we know it wasn't the cell membrane that was holding 'life' inside the cell. But then, what was it that made the cell animate? Does the cell also have a soul? :)

"It simply means that the spontaneous creation of RNA is impalusible in a practical physical world."


I agree. Wholeheartedly. My point was that, this implausibility is not eased in any way if we think RNA was first synthesised on Earth.

Salman Hameed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Salman Hameed said...

Akbar:
"Yes indeed the origin of life seems more complicated a thing than ever thought. And it is my area of interest too. The more we study the structure of RNA, the more complicated it gets and more difficult to imagine a natural process orchestrating its creation mere by accident, and the more we have to resort to speculations and philosophies than real 'science' as we 'define' it. "

I really don't think you have a clue how scientists work. They work on unsolved problems. The origin of life is completely under the domain of science. It is not about philosophy or "resorting to speculations". There is a serious study of assessing how molecular complexity develops. RNA is a molecule - not made up of something unavailable in the universe - but rather of materials abundantly available. Whether scientists are able to figure it out or not is a science question - not - miracles. I'm so glad YOU are not working on the problem of the origin of life. As you would have given up 50 years ago. "Nope - too difficult. God must have done it".

By the way, don't bring up the standard creationist argument of 2nd law of thermodynamics. It applies to a closed system and Earth as a body is NOT a closed system (energy from the Sun enters the Earth).

And yes, I did meet your brother at the T2F talk. He actually seemed quite reasonable :)

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Salman:
Ah...what you did is miss point point totally. Anyways leave it.
While you 'rightly' identified that I should not be working on this idea of origin of life, you also missed the point that people like Dawkins and his predecessors are also working on science, hence the firm conclusion that there is no Godand it is a delsuion. My point has always been that this is not the area of science whether there is God or not. This has been my point in 2006 with your discussions and this is my point now and this will remain my point in future.
About 2nd law of thermodynamics, where did I really say that the origin of life is against this law? Now I am being told that the energy comes from sun to earth...thanks for the updated information :-) I only said so that wherever you go to find a theory to describe the origin of the laws of nature and universe, your theory will bear weight as long as it does not violate the laws of thermodynamics.
And I did not say that the RNA is made up of supernatural molecules.
It is just the steps involved in its formation that would boggle scientists and boggle me too. I happen to know about micrbiology and genetics much more than you ever did.
And yes I have as much idea how science works as you do. It is only that I have kept mind mind open against the dogma being pushed into science.
And thanks for the comments about my brother Mehdi :-) He is a reasonable guy indeed.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Just to add:
Science aims to explain a process how it works. It is not the authority to comment whether there is a purpose of not, whether there was a 'thought' behind it or not. And how does one's belief in God or not stops anyone from studying the mechanics of a natural process I don't understand at all? Where exactly did you get this idea from? :-)

Salman Hameed said...

Akbar,

You are creating a false dichotomy. A natural explanation of origin of life does not say anything about the existence of God - one way or the other. This is methodological naturalism. But if you claim that origin of life is too complicated to be explained by natural processes only (as I understand it, you have been making this claim earlier in the thread), then one is invoking a supernatural process (a miracle, a God's intervention, or whatever one calls it). And this is unscientific and problematic. If you are okay with a naturalistic explanation of the origins of life - with God question independent of its explanation - then I don't think we have any disagreement.

And I think you are making a mistake by seeing every scientific idea through the lens of Dawkins. There are hundreds of thousands of scientists and almost all stick to methodological naturalism. But Dawkins' is making a claim of "philosophical naturalism" (about God - not evolution or origins of life) - and that is a matter of belief.

The problem comes with "God of the gaps" argument. "This is too complicated to be explained by science - hence God must have done it". This can have backlash when science explains the gap.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Salman:
Agreed mostly.
Can you define life in the first place? Is it a physical entity? Can you formulate it? Can you measure it? Can you detect it by any scientific means? Is it just an inference derived from complicated natural processes or is it something real? Which branch of science will you refer to, to define life? If we stick to methodological naturalism, how can we ever even describe life, something we can't detect or analyse as an individual entity, let alone describe the origin of it? Is the concept of life purely philosophical and speculative or there is something more to it?
Life does not exist by definition as an entity in this physical universe, yet its effects are all around us. Think

And I used the term 'implausible', I didn't say 'impossible'. And yes it is complicated, far too complicated. How much reason you hold yourself when you don't read what I write, let alone what I mean. It is difficult to understand but won't be so in future, but by then, many basic criteria would have changed too. Like they would change when we will attempt to describe the very origin of laws of nature and universe itself by actually going beyond nature...nature as we define it today.

Dawkins....I like the man except for his manipulation of science to propagate his personal ideas. He is convincing and appealing. His views of a 'possible creator' are same as mine...something incomprehensible than our parameters of defining things.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

"If you are okay with a naturalistic explanation of the origins of life - with God question independent of its explanation - then I don't think we have any disagreement."

This is exactly what I had been literally shouting for years, but all I get is a presupossed assumption that I am a creationist or oppose evolution etc etc.
I always switch on my arguments whenever I get a sense in any propagated idea that misuses scientific evidence to utter nonsense like athiesm. Religion or athiesm has nothing to do with science. (...and Quran is not meant to be a book of science either). And yes if it has an existence in nature, it should be explainable by nature. We are not in a disageement here over this. However if we cannot define any existing phenomenon through our current understanding of nature, that does not mean it does not exist (example of 'life' I mentioned previously). Either we redefine nature or find a suitable alternative meaning of what we see and perceive.
And if you think I believe in God, then yes, I don't believe in the 'God of the gaps, but do believe in 'God of everything' :-)

Ali said...

@ Salman

"I really don't think you have a clue how scientists work."
Wow, Salman.
This is hilarious.
Only Astronomers know how scientists work. Yeah.

"RNA is a molecule - not made up of something unavailable in the universe - but rather of materials abundantly available."
Umm, can anything be made up of something unavailable in the universe?
I might be wrong, but I cannot think how anything in the universe be made of something not in the universe. :)
Is this what they call an antithesis? Or is this an Oxymoron?

"But if you claim that origin of life is too complicated to be explained by natural processes only (as I understand it, you have been making this claim earlier in the thread), then one is invoking a supernatural process (a miracle, a God's intervention, or whatever one calls it). And this is unscientific and problematic."

Not any more problematic than a materialistic explanation.

Dr Akbar

"And if you think I believe in God, then yes, I don't believe in the 'God of the gaps, but do believe in 'God of everything' :-)"

Good one. :)

Salman Hameed said...

Akbar,

Alright. I think we have an agreement on methodological naturalism. But the problem is that you stop before naturalism ends - for example origin of life. The origin of life falls into the natural domain. It is a difficult problem, and this the very reason that scientists find it an exciting issue.

"Can you define life in the first place?"

You really think that scientists are working on the origin of life without definitions? This is a hard problem and there is a lot of lively discussion in the scientific literature about it. (check out a full chapter on it in Hazen's book, Gen-e-sis). The definitions come from the context of biogenesis literature. I don't work in this area - and cannot comment on individual aspects. But these are from various biologists. Here are a few short ones:

-------
Haboku Nakamura - Biology Institute, Konan University, Kobe, Japan:
Living beings are systems that have three simultaneous features: they are self-supported, they reproduce themselves and they evolve through interaction with the environment.

André Brack - Centre for Molecular Biophysics of CNRS, France:
Life is a chemical system able to replicate itself through autocatalysis and to make mistakes that gradually increase the efficiency of the autocatalysis.

Sidney Fox - South Alabama University, USA:
Living beings are protein-made bodies formed by one or more cells that communicate with the environment through information transfer carried out by electric impulses or chemical substances, and capable of morpholigical evolution and metabolism, growth and reproduction.

Camilo J. cela-Conde - Dept. of Philosophy, University of Baleares:
Living beings are beings able to elaborate information in such a way that in the sequence "environmental stimulus - construction of knowledge - motor response", the possible results in terms of input cannot be mechanically predicted.

-----

Salman Hameed said...

Akbar:

Here is a long one (seven criteria for life) from molecular biologist, Daniel Koshland, in Science (March 22,2002):

He suggested that something could be considered “alive” if it meets the following seven conditions.

(1). Living things must have a program to make copies of themselves from generation to generation. This program would describe both the parts that make up the organisms and the processes that occur between the various parts. These processes are of course the metabolic reactions that take place in a living thing allowing it to function over time. In most living systems, the program of life is encoded in DNA.

(2). Life adapts and evolves in step with external changes in the environment. This process is directly connected to life’s program through mutation and natural selection. This condition allows life-forms to be optimized for gradual changes in the environment.

(3). Organisms tend to be complex, highly organized, and most importantly have compartmentalized structures. Chemicals found within their bodies are synthesized through metabolic processes into structures that have specific purposes. Cells and their various organelles are examples of such structures. Cells are also the basic functioning unit of life. In multi-cellular organisms, cells are often organized into organs to create higher levels of complexity and function.

(4). Living things have the ability to take energy from their environment and change it from one form to another. This energy is usually used to facilitate their growth and reproduction. We call the process that allows for this facilitation metabolism.

(5). Organisms have regeneration systems that replace parts of themselves that are subject to wear and tear. This regeneration can be partial or it can involve the complete replacement of the organism. Complete replacement is necessary because partial replacements cannot stop the unavoidable decline in the functioning state of the entire living system over time. In other words, all organisms degrade into a final non-functioning state we call death.

(6). Living creatures respond to environmental stimuli through feedback mechanisms. Cues from the environment can cause organisms to react through behavior, metabolism, and physiological change. Further, responses to stimuli generally act to increase a creature’s chance for day-to-day survival.

(7). Organisms are able to maintain numerous metabolic reactions even in a single instance in time. Living things also keep each of these reactions separated from each other.

---------------------

Salman Hameed said...

Ali,
"Only Astronomers know how scientists work. Yeah."

Hmm...actually anyone with some basic philosophy of science. For example, miracles have no place in science. And that scientists work on unsolved problems. Seem simple enough - but often misunderstood.

And too - astronomers are also scientists. So are biologists, physicists, chemists, etc. There is a good chance, that all of us would agree about the exclusion of any miracles from understanding the physical world.

emre said...

"Not any more problematic than a materialistic explanation."

Ali, I already explained why this is problematic: you are trying the explain a phenomenon by positing the existence of something even less understood. Then you have to explain why we never observe any supernatural phenomenon when we scrutinize them. Why does all the magic happen when scientists are not looking? I would really like to see mud turn into life.

Ali said...

@ emre

"I would really like to see mud turn into life."

Ah, emre, you will never forget this, eh. Never mind. i would like to see that too. :)

"you are trying the explain a phenomenon by positing the existence of something even less understood."
Right, I do not disagree here.
This is because of a simple reason. If you look at the probability curve, you will know that it is a bell shaped curve. It will not touch zero at any time. This means you cannot say something will never happen.
But, given the variations, you can fairly accurately say whether something will happen or not in a given amount of time. For example, if RNA molecule takes 10 billion correct combinations to get synthesised, and the chances of this happenning in 1 billion years is say 1 in 10 to the power 10 billion, then it is extremely unlikely that this will happen.
Rather than this happenning naturally, it is more intuitive for me to believe that the divine touch made it happen. :)
I do not say this based on just the improbability of RNA synthesis itself. I say it based on a whole lot of other observations of the universe that i have made. There are signs of intelligence all over the universe, emre. I think no intelligent human being should ignore these.

"Then you have to explain why we never observe any supernatural phenomenon when we scrutinize them."
What are our methids of scrutinizing supernatural events? Scientific methods? But science by definition is not about supernatural events, emre. So first we should device infallible methods to scrutinize supernatural events.
Mean while, i would like to think that may be the reason is similar to Heisenberg's uncertainity principle.

Ali said...

@ Salman

"I'm so glad YOU are not working on the problem of the origin of life. As you would have given up 50 years ago. "Nope - too difficult. God must have done it"."

Dr Akbar wasn't even born 50 years ago, Salman. How can you expect him to do any science before he was born? :))))))))

Thanks for the long list of definitions of 'life.' Interesting to know that 'if there is a will there is a way.'
Scientists decided that they need to work on what life is and the origin of life. So, as their first step, they made a definition of life; or rather, definitions.
Do you think supernaural events can also be studied the same way?

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Salman:
Thanks for the detailed reflection about living things.
These are mostly retrospective descriptions of how life works, but don't actually define it.
As Dawkins correctly pointed out that it is the accumulation of extremely minute and barely noticeable changes that made complex organisms including humans (and even our emotions). There is no starting point or an absolute border that marked the advent of a phenomenon that we call 'life'. I think the origin of life dates back to the formation of first Hydrogen atom in the Universe.

emre said...

Ali, you are merely shrouding your earlier argument that your claim is not impossible in technical terms. MY rebuttal is still: don't tell me it is impossible, show me convincing evidence.

I don't know what chain of chemical events lead to the emergence of RNA, and I doubt you do either. I believe it involved simpler molecules, such as free-standing nucleotides, which then polymerized into RNA. Don't think that scientists claim that RNA or DNA emerged spontaneously.

"What are our methods of scrutinizing supernatural events? Scientific methods? But science by definition is not about supernatural events, emre. So first we should device infallible methods to scrutinize supernatural events."

That's for you to ponder. I don't spend time thinking about the supernatural. It is enough for me to know that no-one has ever been able to demonstrate they happen, when scrutinized. Supposed miracles usually turn out to have a solid scientific explanation. Anything sufficiently beyond one's comprehension looks like magic.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Emre:
"Don't think that scientists claim that RNA or DNA emerged spontaneously."

(On a lighter note) I think they DO claim RNA and DNA emerged spantaneously :-)

emre said...

Okay, you got me! I meant to say "spontaneously, without simpler precursors".

Ali said...

emre,

"MY rebuttal is still: don't tell me it is impossible, show me convincing evidence."

The only convincing evidence is the imrobability factor. This evidence, by itself may not appear too strong. But if you combine this with the rest of the signs of the Creator you see :) in the universe, then this is quite solid evidence.

"I don't spend time thinking about the supernatural."
This is precisely the reason why you do not see the signs of the Creator. There was a saying in one of my texbooks on surgery. It says: Your eyes do not see what your brain does not know. I think this is absolutely true. :)

Forget about miracles, forget about supernatural happennings and forget about magic. Just look around, emre. The signs of the Creator are there everywhere you look. You just have to view these with an open mind. You do not have to be a plate techtonicist or a rocket scientist to know that the universe has design.

emre said...

"The only convincing evidence is the improbability factor."

The improbability of what?

"This is precisely the reason why you do not see the signs of the Creator."

Or is it because there is nothing to see? What if I told you that you would see pixies and fairies if you looked hard enough? Did you not see them? Look harder!

"The signs of the Creator are there everywhere you look."

That is subjective. I could interpret the same signs as the absence of a creator. After all, this creator makes no overt attempt to communicate with us; his books place much emphasis on believing. It's a bit like a Nigerian scam; if you take his word and make an investment now, he will double it in the afterlife. Maybe.

Ali said...

"The improbability of what?"

The improbability of RNA forming spontaneously.
The whole process starts with the incredible process that synthesised carbon. Then, among other things, the fact that life here is carbon-based, the precision with which nucleopeptides are synthesised, the precision with which they are arranged to for RNA (or DNA), the information that they bear, etc. All these are improbable than probable to have happened naturally. Combine all of these and the improbability gets skyrocketed.

But I can see this spiralling down the bottomless pit Dr Akbar also mentioned. So in the end, this will lead nowhere. :)

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Ali:
I agree with you to some extent here. By getting deeper into the molecular basis of life, we find the complexity increasing at a geometrical rate. The hype created about the origin of life by MU experiment after formation of simplest amino acids in highly controlled and predictable environment many decades ago, is now history. And we are contesting to explain this ever increasing complexity against a fixed time limit of around 4.5 billion years since the creation of this life bearing planet. Added to this fact, we don't find the intermediate compounds between simple organic molecules and the fully formed RNA molecule capable of making copies (like say a small strands of 4-5 nucleotides) in natural environments these days, not even in undersea volcanic vents or hot pools replete with organic sludge that possibly mimic early Earth. There may be a plausible explanation to that also, but all this is very mind boggling and exciting at the same time. We hope to find answers someday as this is what makes us human, but prospect of a discovery that may change our understanding of nature altogether is equally intriguing.

Asad said...

Nice post by Dr. Guessoum. It's amazing how the Creationists come out fighting with their Qurans (and Bibles) whenever evolution or Darwin is mentioned. If you accept that not every verse in the Quran is to be taken literally then you'll accept that there is nothing in it that contradicts natural selection or other sciences.

Anyways, here's a documentary on the same question as this blog. It was aired on Channel 4 (UK) a few years ago. Evolutionary scientist Dr Armand Leroi explores how and why we became human, but instead of looking for clues in ancient fossils, he seeks out the oddities, aberrations and genetic mutations around us in the present.

In part 1 he goes to Pakistan and examines Microcephalics. Check out the documentary on google here:

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/what-makes-us-human/