Creationists' Caricatures
vs. Dr. Ghadiri's Peptides

Mark Woodward

From: Mark Woodard
To: Cliff
Subject: bio or abio???that is the question.
Date: Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Hi Cliff,

Once again I apologize for taking so long to respond to your last letter. In my defense, it's not easy for a simpleton such as myself to come up with trick questions worthy of someone of your keen intellect. Thus, I have resorted to someone else's brain power. I stumbled across this on the web while doing some casual reading.( I don't know how I found this when I was looking for archives of Doonesbury,,,anyway.) Though the gentlemen who put this together have long since assumed room temperature I found their observations and conclusions quite compelling. I would very much enjoy your opinion on this subject. I await your response with great eagerness.

Humbly Submitted,
Mark Woodward

Graphic Rule

Biogenesis and Abiogenesis

According to their Greek derivation these two terms refer to the origin of life. Biogenesis is the theory that life originates only from pre-existing life; while the theory of abiogenesis implies that life may also spring from inorganic matter as such.

Some philosophers maintain that life existed prior to inorganic matter. Thus Fechner considers the stars and the universe as conscious organic beings of a higher order, which in the course of time differentiated themselves to organisms of an inferior kind. W. Preyer imagines the present world of organisms as a last remnant of gigantic primeval organisms, whose breath, perchance, was luminous iron-vapor, whose blood was liquid metal, and whose food meteorites--a fantastic conception which offers no solution of the problem. Others, again, as Liebig, Helmholtz, W . Thompson, E. Dubois-Reymond, assume the transference of small living germs from other cosmic globes to our cooling earth by means of meteorites--an evasion of the question at issue, with the additional difficulties arising from the nature of meteorites. Lastly, others admit that life must have originated somewhere and at some time, since our earth and all the celestial spheres were once in a state of fusion, incapable of sustaining living germs. But here opinions diverge. Those who deny a special directive principle assert that matter and energy as such are sufficient to account for the origin of life. Vitalists, on the other hand, maintain that life is generated from living beings only; its origin must ultimately be sought in a creative act of God, who endowed matter with a force sui generis that directed the material energies towards the formation and development of the first organisms. Hence the distinction between abiogenesis and biogenesis. Let us examine which view harmonizes best with the facts actually observed.

A most careful and universal research has proved beyond prudent doubt that all visible organisms arise only from germs of the same kind and never from inorganic matter. Omne vivum ex vivo. However the conditions of the experiment be varied, provided the receptacles and materials are free from living germs, results always verify Pasteur's well-known aphorism: La génération spontanée est une chimère. The attempts of J. B. Burke to produce small living cells from inorganic matter by means of radium were unsuccessful; the radiobes produced were merely bursting gas bubbles of microscopic size. Similarly, Pflüger's cyanic acid, which he compared to half-living molecules, is but a dead chemical compound. The formation of cells by a process of crystallization, as was assumed by the founders of the cell-theory has likewise proved unfounded. In short, Virchow's statement, Omnis cellula ex cellulâ, has become an axiom of biology. Now, it is a principle universally acknowledged that the laws derived from present observations of nature are applicable also to past phenomena. How, then, can the defenders of abiogenesis uphold their theory in the face of contrary facts?--Two explanations are offered. Many authors, such as Halliburton, Verworn, Rosenthal, assume that the conditions of the earth during earlier periods were perhaps more favorable for the origin of life than those which come under our experience. Others call the spontaneous origin of life from inorganic matter a logical necessity, and add as explanation that the cell must consist of more primitive units of life, which will ever remain invisible, and whose spontaneous origin from matter is thus withdrawn from observation. These units of life have received various names; Weismann, for instance, calls them "biophorids".

But these assumptions are arbitrary. Scientific research has established the cell as the simplest and lowest unit of visible independent life. No living organism has as yet been discovered that did not contain at least two essential elements of great complexity: a granule of chromatin and some amount of cytoplasmic substance. Deprive of these constituents no cell continues to live. Hence, if life ever originated from inorganic matter, it had to appear in the form of an organized cell. Invisible biophorids are no more capable of life than the visible chromatin granules, whose parts they are supposed to be. Even if such entities as biophorids could live independently, they could not have originated spontaneously; for however primitive an organism be imagined, it must at least be capable of nourishing itself, of propagating its kind, and of evolving into higher specific forms. But such a diversity of function supposes a differentiation of structure, made up of different chemical compounds of high tension and continuously unstable equilibrium. Besides,, there must be in the most primitive biophorids a perfect correlation of parts and a purposeful anticipation of future ends, tending towards the gradual perfection of individual and species. But crystals, as well as all chemical combinations and mixtures, show clearly that inorganic matter as such tends toward stability of equilibrium and homogeneity of structure. How, then, did those complicated chemical compounds of unstable equilibrium which composed the first organisms originate, especially since, at the beginning, the crust of the earth, totally burnt, was in the desolate condition of perfect oxidation? Besides, it is hard to see how the energy of the sun could serve to reduce the ashes, since to-day that action depends on the presence of chlorophyll and similar substances, which again are products of cells. Even if some form of energy would at once commence continually to unite the atoms to such unstable and complicated bodies as the phosphoric proteids, there is still wanting a directive to build up, by means of existing matter and energy, the chemical compounds into correlated structures, and to make them active organisms.

Matter, then, can never, not even under the most favorable circumstances, produce either living cells or living biophorids, and hence we conclude that life owes its origin to God, the Creator of matter and energy.

VON HARTMANN, Das Problem des Lebens (Bad Sachsa, 1906), 178; TYNDALL, Fragments of Science; BASTIAN, Nature and Origin of Living Matter (London); WASMANN, Die Moderne Biologie und die Entwicklungstheorie (Freiburg, 1906), 182; ROSENTHAL, Allgemeine Physiologie (Leipzig, 1901), 552; WEISMANN, Vorträge über die Descendenztheorie (Jena, 1904), II, 305; MUCKERMANN in The Messenger (New York, April, 1906).

H. MUCKERMANN Transcribed by Bob Mathewson

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From: Positive Atheism
To: Mark Woodard
Subject: Re: bio or abio???that is the question..
Date: Wednesday, October 27, 1999

This is precisely why I so viciously attack what I call trick questions. By its very nature, a trick question is not all that easy to detect: it takes work and some skill. The most successful trick questions are those that are both enticing and easy to remember (that is, picturesque).

Richard Dawkins has called these self-replicating ideas "memes." A meme is neither true not false, neither subtle nor straightforward; a meme is simply an idea that is catchy for whatever reason. Included in Dawkins' (and now others') definition for meme are such innocuous "ideas" as an insipid '60s tune that you just cannot get out of your head.

I apologize for the fact that when I point out to you that you have used a trick question, I do not discuss whether you are the one who originated the question. Chances are, someone who uses such questions on this forum did not originate the question but is repeating something they have heard floating around. However, the point of this forum is not to comment on where an idea came from but rather to comment on the idea's validity.

I am sorry if these limitations have prompted you to think that I credited you with originating the idea.
 

This straw-man presents a false dilemma: either biogenesis occurs and therefore abiogenesis cannot occur (what the writer wants you to think) or abiogenesis occurs and therefore biogenesis cannot occur (the obviously false "straw-man" that the author uses to force his position to his side of this simplistic either-or ultimatum).

However, we have observed the construction of self-replicating molecules in the laboratory. We also observe life begetting life in the natural environment. Thus, the either-or element in his argument is falsified: there is a third alternative that exists, an alternative that I did not detect in the brief amount of time I spent reading this piece.

Then the writer makes a hasty generalization: Since (the writer's straw-man caricature of) his opponent's position is (according to the writer) untenable (which it is because it is this author's unfair caricature and not his opponent's actual position) then we are left with another false dilemma: If (his caricature of) his opponent's position is false, then God exists. Oops! How did we get from Point A to Point X? (Never mind the question "How did we even get to Point A in the first place"?)

Of course, since the author's hasty generalization is premised upon a false dilemma, we cannot expect him even to discuss more than two possibilities: his position and his caricature of his opponent's position. Other possibilities do exist, such as (for example) the Raelian extra-terrestrial creationism model
http://www.rael.org/
or (gaud for bid) his opponent's actual position (as opposed to his phantom caricature of his opponent's position)

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: Mark Woodard
To: Positive Atheism
Subject: Re: bio or abio???that is the question..
Date: Thursday, October 28, 1999

Hi Cliff,

I have a question...What is the gravity like where you live, er I mean exist? Lighten up my friend. I am attempting to lighten The mood with sarcasm and wit. Though I may be lacking in the wit department. ( That was another example of my unmatched sense of humor.)

Without meaning to offend you, I sense when you come upon a question that leads you in a direction you do not wish to go, you label it a trick question. How one or a society measures people or actions to be good or evil is not a trick question. It is a relevant question to our discussion. In my estimation that is.

Regarding the article, I must confess I didn't break it down too thoroughly myself. However, I do have one question to your response. When exactly has science been able to bring forth life, ( repeatedly or even once in a lab ) from something other than an already living entity? Could you give a specific example as I would find this very fascinating?

Again I thank you for your timely responses and I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,
Mark Woodward

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From: Positive Atheism
To: Mark Woodard
Subject: Re: bio or abio???that is the question..
Date: Thursday, October 28, 1999

Then I suspect that we cannot hold a serious dialogue. I don't know if you're trying to pull my leg or if I am to take you seriously.

There some a great comedy sites at:
http://www.jokedujour.com/
http://www.freespeech.org/boblarson/
http://www.jumbojoke.com/
http://www.chick.com/
if this is what you are after.

Our webpage is here to support our magazine, which engages in serious discussions of ethical and philosophical matters. We also take occasional, well-stated pot-shots at some of the more ridiculous examples of activities on both sides of the discussion (atheists are not exempt from our barbs).
 

This will not do.

In both cases, I mapped out my reasons for pronouncing the question a trick question. You must now attack my reasons, and not simply my challenge. Had I simply pronounced it as a trick question, this remark would be understandable, but I have made a detailed argument backing up my opinion.

Therefore, I will not accept this response because it says nothing to the reasons I gave for seeing your question as a trick question.

Or, are you simply pulling my leg again?
 

This is what makes it so difficult for us to engage in dialogue with many Christians: they tend not to check the material they parrot (or simply copy and paste) for accuracy or for logical fallacies.
 

Here is yet another example of a faulty question from you. You wish me to document when science has "been able to bring forth life" when I made no such claim. I did not use the term "life" because it is not an easily defined term when discussing this and other matters.

Graphic ImageI did say that scientists have created self-replicating molecules, which are not simply mutations of existing life forms. The most spectacular example is the one developed a few years ago by the Ghadiri Group at Scripps Institute in La Jolla, California.
http://www.scripps.edu/pub/ghadiri/
Professor M. Reza Ghadiri's group has perfected a self-replicating peptide
http://www.scripps.edu/pub/ghadiri/html/selfrepli.html
which they hope will be useful in the construction of objects whose size is less than one micron. At less than one micron, forming objects becomes difficult. But with the ability to create self-replicating molecules, constructing small objects, builrding them up from the molecular level, becomes possible.

Is this life? Well, is a naturally occurring virus or a prion life? If the latter is life, then the difference is only in degree. [Note: This was a quote from another professor, name forgotten; I later tried to ask Dr. Ghadiri this question, but I could not make myself understood: I think, then, that this statement might be invalid.]

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: Mark Woodard
To: Positive Atheism
Subject: Re: bio or abio???that is the question..
Date: Thursday, October 28, 1999

Hi Cliff,

To answer your question, both...I am to be taken both seriously, and when appropriate or obvious on the lighter side. Why is it civilized people cannot have a discussion of weighty matters and not have humor involved in any way? I have learned to laugh at myself, when appropriate. Can't you do likewise? Cliff, though you frustrate me at times, I am enjoying our discussions. Taken too seriously, anger might surface, as I since in our latest letter. The trouble with printed communication is we're unable to communicate with voice tones, inflection, or body language. Now, to address your response.
 

WHAT??????? Why is it an interrogatory that anyone with a third grade or higher education could recognize as such you would simply declare said question a non question? Long wordy explanations don't make a legitimate question a non question. It is what it is....A logical, legitimate question. Next:
 

Are you attacking me for something you admitted to first? I could've jumped all over you for commenting on something you confess to having not read thoroughly, but instead I came clean. I was honest. Obviously I am interested in your thoughts on this. I made no concrete statements about the validity or lack thereof in this article. Apparently my mind seems to be more open than yours at this point in the discussion.
 

I love how many, many atheists are so anal about the construction of questions. For the sake of argument let's use a simple kindergarten definition of life. HMMMM...I know...something that is alive. Now, rerun the premises of the article through that template. One that most 5 year olds can comprehend. Example....a dog displays signs of life, a rock does not.
 

Are you kidding me? Creationism is a myth but you could honestly consider space men created stuff? Oh,,I get it. This is you injecting humor into the discussion. Good one.

In Closing. Though these discussions have become somewhat contentious, I am enjoying them. I hope you are too.

Mark Woodward

Graphic Rule

From: Positive Atheism
To: Mark Woodard
Subject: Re: bio or abio???that is the question..
Date: Thursday, October 28, 1999

When the "humor" is of the quality wherein one can detect that it is an attempt at humor, and if the humor has a basis in reality, and if it is funny, I laugh. If I detect an attempt to pull my, but think the attempt is tasteless or is not based in reality but upon falsehood, I treat it as a simple statement and do not pretend to "get" the joke.

More than a few have become livid with me for using this method, which I developed at the tender age of six as part of a larger technique to protect my dignity against the wiles of older cousins and others. However, this method has served me well, and I do not intend to abandon it at this stage of the game. I think my cousin's merciless attempts to "pull my leg" may have inspired a lifelong inability to function in a situation where falsehood is tolerated.
 

Then please rephrase your question. Is that simple enough for you? I refuse to respond to it as worded, because I do not share the presuppositions that exist in your question. Remove the presuppositions and tell me what you are really asking.
 

I did read the article thoroughly and thoughtfully before sending the response, but forgot to alter my [already partially completed] response to reflect that fact that I had gone back and given it a more thorough reading. (It still did not take me very much time to do this.) I was more interested in my assessment of the article and it slipped my mind that I had mentioned that I had only perused the article. However, the more thorough reading of the article only revealed more of the same of what I initially suspected during the first perusal.

I did, nevertheless, accurately describe the flaws in the man's argument, and my reasons for finding his case untenable.
 

This is an undignified generalization that attempts to justify your use of interrogations containing presuppositions.

Tell me: Have you stopped beating your wife?
 

Okay, what does alive mean, something that has life?
Then, what is life, something that is alive?
Then, what does alive mean, something that has life?
Then, what is life, something that is alive?
Then, what alive mean, something that has life?
Then, what is life, something that is alive?
Then, what alive mean, something that has life?
Then, what is life, something that is alive?
Then, what alive mean, something that has life?
Then, what is life, something that is alive?
Then, what alive mean, something that has life?

Mister Rogers: Can you say, "circular reasoning"? Sure!
 

Raelians are atheistic creationists. Theirs is a model that is not the only alternate possibility to the previous author's caricature of evolution, and is not the only alternate to what evolutionists actually teach. Therefore, even if one were to actually rebut evolution (they haven't), this still would not require us to jump to the supernatural creationists' position. And even if one were to establish supernatural creationism (they haven't), this still says nothing about the god of Genesis. And even if one were to establish the Genesis tale (they haven't), we still have not established Christianity. And even if were to establish the Gospel story (they haven't), we still have the problem posed by 23,000 mutually exclusive mutations of the myth of the crucified savior. For example, Roman Catholicism and the Jehovah's Witlesses cannot both be right. And there are other explanations out there, none of which may be correct.

Can you say, "jumping to conclusions"? Can you say, "false dichotomy"? Sure!

All theists disbelieve the gods of the other theists. I simply disbelieve one more god than you do. What's the big deal? You don't believe in the Allah of Mohammed and neither do I. You don't believe in the Quetzalcoatl of the Aztecs and neither do I. You don't believe in the gShen-Lha-Odkhar of the Tibet of yore and neither do I. You don't believe in the Paramahansa Yogananda of the Religion Section of most California Newspapers and neither do I. You don't believe in the Fidi Mukullu of yester-Zaire and neither do I. You don't believe in the Yaldabaoth of the Gnostic Christians and neither do I. You don't believe in Ho-No-Kagu-Tsuchi-No-Kami of the Shinto and neither do I. You don't believe in the Celtic vegetable god Bres Macelatha and neither do I. The only difference is that besides these 4,999 gods and goddesses that mankind has endorsed that you disbelieve, I disbelieve one more deity: the very deity that you insist really and truly exists.

All theists are on even ground with me. Someone who wants me to believe in Qaitakalnin must go through the same process I require of all theists who wish to tell me to believe in their god: They must first describe what they mean by the word "God" or describe the entity that they are naming.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: Positive Atheism
To: Mark Woodard
Subject: Short interview with Dr. M. Reza Ghadiri concerning self-replicating molecules
Date: Friday, October 29, 1999

Here is a follow-up to a previous discussion:
 

Like I said before, I am not the one who is using the term "life" in this discussion, you are. I never said that scientists have created life in the laboratory; I merely said that they have developed self-replicating molecules.

In my previous response to this question, I mentioned that M. Reza Ghadiri hopes to use these molecules to construct, from the molecular level, extremely small structures, the size of which precludes such common manufacturing processes as carving and forming.
 

Professor Ghadiri's self-replicating peptideThis morning, I had the honor of completing a brief interview with Professor Ghadiri. As I suspected, Professor Ghadiri does not have "life" on his mind, except that his molecules are modeled after naturally occurring organic molecules.

He mentioned three specific groups of scientists, including his group, that have created self-replicating molecules, and indicated that there are others. I asked him if these were derived from naturally occurring self-replicating molecules, and he said that none of the molecules were derived from naturally occurring molecules.

Two of the three groups, his group and that of Guntr Kiedrowski, have created peptides, which are similar in structure to naturally occurring molecules. Julius Rebek's molecule, says Professor Ghadiri, does not in any way resemble the self-replicating molecules that we would find in nature, but is self-replicating nonetheless. I did not ask Dr. Ghadiri if this means that Dr. Rebek's molecule is not a carbon based substance.

I asked him if it was proper to consider these molecules "life" and he shot back a resounding "No!" Nobody has even come close to creating what we would call life, according to Dr. Ghadiri.

From his tone, my imagination conjured an image of a scientist preparing himself for the accusation that he was a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein of some sort. However, I must stress that I cannot know for sure what brought on this apparent tone, or even whether I accurately sensed a change at all.

Then I asked him how we would define life for the purposes of this research. He reminded me that life means many things to many people. But for the purposes of this research, he said that to qualify as life, something must have three qualities:

None of the molecules that have been made would sustain themselves (be able to continue self-replication) in an environment outside of the chemical reactions under which they are able to self-replicate, says Dr. Ghadiri. These molecules, he says, are themselves chemical reactions. They just happen to be self-replicating molecules that mimic one of the processes -- self-replication -- that is found in what we call living organisms.
 

I would add that the molecules thus far created are probably far too simple to survive even the smallest changes in structure, and probably must retain their precise structure in order to work. Organic molecules that we see in living organisms today contain vast amounts of redundancy and are extremely complex, so that they can and do undergo small changes without significantly affecting their ability to sustain themselves in their environment.

Occasionally, a change or "mutation" will significantly affect an organism's ability to sustain itself. The majority of these changes impair an organism's ability to survive, and that organism usually dies before reaching adulthood. Its mutated code is thus not carried into the gene pool. Very occasionally (albeit very frequently from an evolutionary time frame), the mutation happens to enhance an organism's ability to sustain itself within its environment (although the same mutation would not necessarily help the same organism living in a different environment). These "improvements" are usually but not always assimilated into the gene pool, eventually replacing the old code. Notable exceptions would be an organism which sustains a favorable mutation, but which dies prematurely from an accident or some other fluke that has nothing to do with an enhanced or impaired ability to survive in its environment.
 

Back to the interview with Dr. Ghadiri. We were discussing the publications which document this work, and he asked me if I was a scientist in order to ascertain whether I was able to read the scientific papers he was about to recommend. I told him no, that my interest is one of philosophy and of social activism, and that I am not trained as a scientist. When I mentioned that in some of my discussions I am called on to defend Darwinism, he laughed. He said that if man is still here a thousand years from now, very few scientists from this time period would be remembered. But one scientist who will be remembered is Charles Darwin. Another, he said, was "the inventor of mathematics" -- although, ironically, the name had slipped Dr. Ghadiri's mind. We had a good chuckle over this. (He mentioned that the scientist was an Englishman, and I now think he probably meant Sir Isaac Newton.)

Dr. Ghadiri suggested that I stop wasting my time engaging in discussions wherein I am called upon to defend Darwinism, because it does not need defending. "People are entitled to their opinions," he said. I said that I agree, but reminded him that we have this state called Kansas and this other state called Illinois and this other notorious state called Tennessee.
 

As the conversation ended, I had the impression that Dr. Ghadiri has never seen the popular lapel button which says, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups." But perhaps he knows something about this matter that I do not. Maybe he is aware of the three surveys which show that between 45 and 47 percent of Americans are young-earth creationists. He could know this and remain unconcerned for reasons that I cannot see.

I still suspect that his remark may reflect upon why we have these problems in Kansas and Tennessee: The scientists rightly concentrate on their work, but some of us may need to support science through social activism.

I am reminded of a call to the Dr. Dean Edell Show several years ago, where the topic was the fact that many more advances had been made in breast cancer research in recent years than had been made in prostate cancer research. (This has since changed somewhat.) Dr. Edell suggested that this was because women tend more toward organized activist efforts, whereas men tend to think that if something needs to get done, we should simply do it rather than talk about it.

Today's culture is based more upon politics than upon practicality. The work needs to be done, but appropriating the resources to do the work is itself a lot of work.

People have been working for years to undermine any human progress which contradicts cherished myths. Today, it seems as if these people think they are entitled to more than simply their opinions. They seem to want protection from criticism; but also, they seem to want the ability to enforce their myth upon the rest of us. Since the myth they want to enforce cannot stand on its own merit, the only method left for them is to try to discredit any human progress which contradicts the myth.

We must remember that in 600 B.C.E., philosophers (what scientists were called back then) knew that the earth is a globe (and is not flat, as it appears to a mind that is unaided by abstract thinking skills). In 400 B.C.E., philosophers had made a close calculation as to the size of the earth. By 200 B.C.E., they had realized that the earth is not a perfect sphere, and had made some concerted efforts to measure how far off from a perfect sphere this spheroid called Earth is.

The first two-piston steam engine was developed in Alexandria by Hero in 200 B.C.E. The library where Hero worked was later burned and destroyed, piecemeal, over the centuries, by fanatics of both the Christian and the Muslim varieties. Scientists and thinkers, both men and women, were brutally murdered by mobs of priests and other frenzied clerics.

Long after these accomplishments came the Dark Ages. Ancient science had become so completely forgotten through the domination of the Christian religion and its flat-earth dogma that we now speak of the Copernican Revolution -- as if Copernicus was the first to discover and publicize heliocentricity. Galileo was persecuted in 1633 -- fully 141 years after Christopher Columbus, in 1492, "discovered" a land that had already been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, and fully 111 years after Magellan's crew, in 1522, completed the first known voyage around the globe.

I suspect that had the science of the wheel contradicted some aspect of the dominant and cherished myth, Copernicus and his associates would have been too busy reinventing it to have made much progress in astronomy and cosmology. We can only hope that science remains so firmly established in the popular mindset that no upheaval can ever again overthrow it. Man's persecution of his fellow-man's quest for truth is, in my opinion, the deepest stain upon the dignity of the human species.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: Mark Woodard
To: Positive Atheism
Subject: Re: Short interview with Dr. M. Reza Ghadiri concerning self-replicating molecules
Date: Wednesday, 03 November 1999

Hi Cliff,

I don't get it. How did we get off the subject of the origin of life? Now we are debating definitions of "Life" and "origin" and " what is or isn't a question".

Cliff, you are alive. How did that happen? That's as clear as I can put it to you. And yes, this could be construed as a trick question because you have probably already figured out my next question is where did your parents come from and so on and so on.( you know..like that old shampoo commercial from the seventies) This isn't a trick question. It's difficult to answer I submit, but it is one I am interested in exploring. Because some question require more than study or reading, but actually require thought, they can be the most challenging and engaging. As always, I look forward to your response.

Mark Woodward

PS I was checking out your web page the other day. It's very nice. That's not sarcasm. You obviously put a lot of thought into it.

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From: "Positive Atheism"
To: "Mark Woodard"
Subject: Re: Short interview with Dr. M. Reza Ghadiri concerning self-replicating molecules
Date: Wednesday, 3 November 1999

I'd remark, at this point, that your dishonesty is unparalleled, but the posts from your colleagues in Christ, Mike Boston and Gregory Auman, go further, I think, than even you have.

You have asked specific questions, many of which contain presuppositions with which I do not agree (presuppositions that are plainly false), but nevertheless demand an either-or answer based upon those presuppositions.

You have also taken many side trips over some of my attempts to respond to your questions. In some cases, you have asked me to justify a position that I did not even express.

I have, during the course of this discussion, called you on every one of these ploys, so please don't ask me to go over them again. The entire conversation is posted in our Letters section, and a link to the Dr. Ghadiri section lives on our front page, in the index of my writings, and the Interviews index. If you need to go over some of these questions (in case you have forgotten), the entire conversation is there for your reference.
 

By conscription: I was inducted into this game, and there is no burning of the draft card.

A young woman was either attracted to or taken advantage of by a military man, and organic chemistry did the rest until such point as hospital politics took over with some special maneuvers for which I can, in retrospec, only be extremely thankful. I now exist. I continue to exist despite several close brushes with illness. I would never have survived beyond early infancy given the medicine that predated me by even ten years.
 

My father who raised me was the only child of two very wonderful atheists. I don't even know the name or race of the "sperm-donor" (if you will). My mother who raised me was the second child of two wonderful atheistic Unitarians. The woman in the hospital was promised that her name would never be released to me, but I know it anyway (that slick hospital politics, again). I still don't know her race.
 

.. and so on and so on, for a long, long, very long time. We've been at it for over three billion years. Can you fathom that length of time? Your ancestors -- every one of them -- has survived long enough to procreate. My lineage goes back through the eukaryotes to the cyanobacteria which produced the atmospheric oxygen we now depend upon for our lives, and back to the prokaryotes which survived in very high temperatures without oxygen. My heritage is survival and procreation and adaptation through natural selection dating back at least three-and-a-half billion years of direct ancestry.

As for the "origin" of the universe, I will interview Professor Victor J. Stenger, a leading particle physicist, this weekend (November 6, 1999) and I welcome any tough questions you wish to submit for the interview. Stenger says that the Big Bang could have spontaneously occurred from absolute vacuum without violating any known laws of physics. You can bet I have been familiarizing myself not only with the theistic objections to his position but also with the atheistic objections as well.

I am sorry you don't find this awe-inspiring. I am sorry you choose, rather, to mock and to misrepresent even our position, much less the facts.

I am sensitive to the fact that some people find this idea disgusting; however, it sure looks like this is what happened. I am also sensitive to the fact that this contradicts the cherished myths of several hundred peoples. Oh, well. So does the heliocentric model of the solar system, and so does what we now know about the size and age of the universe.

Science is not concerned with privately available information, such as that derived from a personal religious experience like that experienced by Paul of Tarsus. Science, by definition, only concerns itself with publicly available information that is testable. Such questions as how old the earth is and how large the universe is are empirically testable and are a product of a vast, ongoing public discussion.
 

I quit watching TV when Gilligan's Island stopped being produced. Someone gave me a TV a few years back in order to watch a certain murder trial. I turned it off the moment I heard the foreperson exclaim "One hundred percent not guilty" and its only purpose now is to sit atop the hutch that keeps my rare book collection and to keep my antique clock out that much further of reach of the kittens. Occasionally I threaten to dust it off (literally) and watch some more nature and animal programs (like Mutual of Omaha and Jacques Cousteau). If they ever make a show that even approached Gilligan's Island regarding its value as social commentary, I might turn it back on; however, I have never been much for watching television, so I doubt I'd have an easy time developing the television habit even if I tried.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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