The naturalistic imagination

by Barry Newton

Imagine rice turning into mice. For Jan Baptist van Helmont, who lived from 1580 to 1644 A.D., this seemed reasonable. In fact, he proposed a recipe for making mice from rice.

Today it seems incredible that anyone could be so gullible and ignorant of the ongoing processes in biology. Herein lies both the fundamental flaw and the raw power of the naturalistic imagination.

At any given time a ceiling of scientific understanding limits our understanding of life’s true complexities. Our ignorance fuels our ability to imagine the impossible and the absurd.

Imagine a warm little pond filled with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts giving rise to the first life. About a hundred and fifty years ago Charles Darwin dreamed of just such an event. He could imagine this being a possible scenario because he assumed a simple living cell to be little more than a simplistic protoplasm.

While some of Darwin’s aficionados still believe life could arise through such a simple process and for lack of a better explanation some biology textbooks still muse that maybe life began in a manner similar to this, scientists involved in origin of life studies have moved beyond rice producing mice and warm prebiotic soups creating the first living cell.

Imagine a small incremental change to an organism that is passed on to its descendants. Imagine these changes accumulating over vast periods of time to eventually produce entirely new kinds of plants and animals.

Research is now revealing that there are limits to how much an organism can change, in spite of our ability to imagine an unending progression.

If life did not arise by naturalistic impulses, today’s naturalistic imagination of how life arose or how new kinds of animals came to be will always seem feasible given our current level of ignorance. Accordingly, all such nature-based stories regarding origins will eventually lie abandoned on the pile of an outdated era’s curious speculation.

While naturalistic stories flare then wane, the plausibility of another story simply continues to grow. With the discovery that functional information defying naturalistic explanation exists at the very heart of all life, the best explanation for life rests with the ancient witness – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

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