It is reasonable to speculate that some form of agency outside, or in addition to, the physical and chemical forces we are familiar with is responsible for the organized complexity we observe within the Vicarian Domain. The nature of this agency is unknown. But we can be sure that in addition to the intention, planning, coordination, communication and purposeful processes we observe within a living cell, this agency also played a central role in the origin of life, and in the subsequent stages of evolution that led to the living organisms today, including the evolution of irreducibly complex biological structures.
Consider the following support for this speculation:
· Rational explanations do not exist for the origin of life.
· Current versions of evolutionary theory fail to explain the existence of complex biological structures.
· In nature, organized complexity only exists in living things.
· A living cell is a coherent system. And within a multi-cellular organism, a living cell is a coherent system integrated within a greater coherent system.
Rational explanations do not explain how such systems came about, or how they function as systems.
· Rational explanations do not exist for many biological processes, including such things as how instinctual behavior is translated from the DNA into a living organism, how an organism is able to develop from fertilized egg to adult, how the entire architecture of an organism is determined from within the cells.
None of this is conclusive. It only points out major regions of ignorance. But significant clues emerge from this realm of ignorance while it seems science is focused entirely on minutia:
Imagine a room in which a body lies crushed, flat as a pancake. A dozen detectives crawl around, examining the floor with magnifying glasses for any clue to the identity of the perpetrator. In the middle of the room, next to the body, stands a large, gray elephant. The detectives carefully avoid bumping into the pachyderm’s legs as they crawl, and never even glance at it. Over time the detectives get frustrated with their lack of progress but resolutely press on, looking even more closely at the floor. You see, textbooks say detectives must “get their man,” so they never consider elephants.
There is an elephant in the roomful of scientists who are trying to explain the development of life.
Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box
I believe Behe exactly right, although not entirely in the way he intends. It’s true that molecular biologists focus on the local, tactical explanations with their magnifying glasses while ignoring the large gray elephant in the lab. But Behe considers the elephant as representing deliberate design of the molecular machines, and while this is certainly so, I believe the elephant also resides every moment in a living cell, the biologists all the while ignoring the miraculous and complex activity they have discovered. Behe goes on to make a sound suggestion:
Might there be an as-yet-undiscovered natural process that would explain biochemical complexity? No one would be foolish enough to categorically deny the possibility. Nonetheless, we can say that if there is such a process, no one has a clue how it would work. Further, it would go against all human experience.
Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box
Behe is right on both counts: we have no idea how these undiscovered natural processes would work, and also that it would go against all human experience. In the same way the discovery of gravity, major new continents, general relativity, and cells themselves went against all previous human experience. Such discoveries have happened in the past, and will certainly happen again in the future. But why is there so much reluctance in the scientific community to acknowledge the potential significance of the molecular world revealed in the past few decades?
The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell – to investigate life at the molecular level – is a loud, clear piercing cry of “design!” The result is no unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science…The observation of the intelligent design of life is as momentous as the observation that the earth goes around the sun or that disease is caused by bacteria or that radiation is emitted in quanta….
Why does the scientific community not greedily embrace its startling discovery? Why is the observation of design handled with intellectual gloves? The dilemma is that while one side of the elephant is labeled intelligent design, the other side might be labeled God.
Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box
It is time for the scientific community to dismiss and ignore all theological complaints or criticisms of scientific activity and discovery. Whatever takes place within the natural world originates and resides within the natural world, including everything a human can think, experience, imagine, say or believe.
If some people choose to believe what their religion teaches, and denigrate what is demonstrated by proven scientific methods, the burden of ignorance remains with them, and not the scientists that practice a method that relies on rational means. And as already said in previous chapters, this doesn’t mean that ‘science’ and ‘religion’ are incompatible, or that one is right and the other wrong: it simply means that they reside in different human realms and should not mix. Science is capable for some things, religion for others. But a scientist, as a scientist, who claims to know the proper way to live one’s life, or a theologian, as a theologian, claims to know how the first human came about, are intruding on the other’s domain, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
As for faith, the hallmark of the religious, it is ironic to see faith relied upon in the scientific community:
…molecular biology took a “reductionist” perspective on what it saw as mechanistic problems, Woese argued, such as the workings of the gene and the cell. It lost sight of “the holistic problems” of evolution, life’s ultimate origins, and the deepest mysteries of how life-forms became organized. It lost interest, or never had any, in the big story over four billion years. “How else could one rationalize the strange claim,” Woese wrote, “by some of the world’s leading molecular biologists (among others) that the human genome (a medically inspired problem) is the ‘Holy Grail’ of biology? What a stunning example of a biology that operates from an engineering perspective, a biology that has no genuine guiding vision!”
David Quammen, The Tangled Tree
What this means is that molecular biologists have focused exclusively upon the local and tactical solutions so often referred to in previous sections. They lack the imagination or the interest in attempting to put it all together into a larger biological picture. They exhibit an ongoing ‘faith’ that known physical and chemical properties are entirely responsible for what they observe and discover. And yet, if they found a ribosome the size of a jellyfish, or an mRNA the size of a moray eel, with their appearance and behavior they might mistake them for independent life forms.
Consider for a moment what these physical and chemical properties consist of:
- Gravity. No, gravity has zero impact on molecular biology
- Covalent/non-covalent bonds. Yes – these are the primary forces at work within a living cell.
- Thermal jostling of molecules. Yes, this is certainly a factor, but to what degree?
- Electrical. Yes, certainly, but to what degree?
- Energy from ATP, other molecules. Definitely. This represents a crucial element in biochemistry and is fairly well understood. But this is hardly different than discovering that gasoline provides the energy to motivate cars.
But is this the entire possible list? As covered in a previous section, it seems unlikely that these are the only forces at work within a living cell. Certainly emergence is a critical element, and shouldn’t be dismissed, but can we demonstrate that the command, control, coordination, planning, communication and intention emerges from these basic forces?
Is it possible that increased levels of complexity exist at the molecular level, within the Vicarian Domain? Does complexity increase as we descend? The deeper we go, from organisms to organs to tissues to cells to macromolecules, the more complex it seems to get, especially if you take into account the space in which such complexity operates. Is there some form of extreme complexity at the nano level that we don’t perceive? If super string theory proves out, and the universe consists of 10 dimensions, might unknown complexity emerge from these very small additional dimensions?
I hesitate to speculate further, and only intend to point to possible directions of scientific explanation, and only emphasize the serious possibility that another world exists that we don’t yet understand, one that emerges from the Vicarian Domain.
What practical steps might a scientist consider if they embraced the possibility of the Vicarian Domain? For one thing, if a scientist seriously considered the possibility that such a micro world existed, they would reconsider all the research that has taken place with this new perspective. I suspect that many unanswered questions revealed by that research might become more meaningful. For instance, consider the observation by Dawkins that
…living organisms exist for the benefit of DNA rather than the other way around…The messages that DNA molecules contain are all but eternal when seen against the time scale of individual lifetimes. Each individual organism should be seen as a temporary vehicle, in which DNA messages spend a tiny fraction of their geological lifetimes.
Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker
This touches upon what I am suggesting. Something within the Vicarian Domain intentionally designs and operates living things. Clearly not for the benefit of the living, including individual cells, as cells are often ordered to die, or simply killed off for the benefit of the larger organism.
I am in integrated thinker, capable of connecting elements from many different sources in order to form an integrated understanding of something.
But I am not a scientist, nor do I have the requisite technical expertise to develop an integrated understanding of what takes place within the Vicarian Domain. What we need is a scientist with a creative imagination to consider the Vicarian Domain as the potential location for the solution to life’s mysteries and to link all of their understanding within this new perspective to interpret research findings and to design new experiments with the intention of uncovering the realities within the Vicarian Domain:
Indeed, much of science consists of seeking chinks in the armor of established ideas, and few successes will burnish a scientist’s reputation more than showing that an important orthodox hypothesis is inadequate or flawed.
Douglas Futuyma, Evolution
That’s my challenge to the scientific community: Burnish your reputation. Exploit the chinks in current scientific orthodoxy. Explore the Vicarian Domain without prejudice and discover the secret of life.
To hell with religion. The scientific truth will win out.