God in the Cell
Have you seen the video The Inner Life of the Cell? Yes, it’s the Harvard video misappropriated by the liars who put together the pseudoscientific creationist propaganda piece Expelled (am I being too subtle?), but that’s not why I want to talk about it. I want to talk about it because it perfectly illustrates a trend I’ve been noticing: that it’s the exact same things which drew me away from religion which draws many other to it.
Go ahead, watch that video again. It’s amazing, isn’t it? We are amazing, aren’t we? Out cells are so incredibly small, but they each hold several meters of genetic material, they each express different parts of that material depending on what kind of cell they are, they let things in, they send things out, they carry things around. And at any time, if anything went wrong, the results could be catastrophic. The cool thing is, things so very rarely go wrong to that extent. Our cells have self-checks and repair mechanisms, and suicide triggers just in case.
A religious person recently recounted to me the life of a cell, and then down-scale – the life of an atom. She was nearly brought to tears with the beauty of it, and explained that it was in the understanding of these systems that she was able to affirm the existence of God. To her, the amazing organization of it all, the delicate balances which must constantly be struck (and which most often are) imply, no, necessitate an organizer, a balancer, a creator. More than that: a Creator.
I understand her awe at the beauty of life, but I feel that attributing it all to a god is a little bit lazy. Saying “God did it” effectively puts an end to questioning. There are very important questions that can be (and are being) examined by scientists on the nature of this organization, the maintenance of these balances, the processes through which things came to be the way they are. If you say “God put all this in place” you are left with two options: 1) Not pursue those questions because you believe you have an answer or 2) Pursue the questions anyways. The first option is unscientific, and the second involves sloppy thinking. Pursuing the questions after accepting God’s hand in them implies either that you do not believe your own profession of faith or that God works through natural means which can be discovered. If God works through discoverable natural means, then clearly a supernatural intervention was never necessary to the process in the first place.
Furthermore, although important errors at the cellular level happen with surprising rarity, they do happen. This is not the mark of a careful purposive creation, this is the mark of a cobbled together system which arose over millions of years of trial and error. The cells which worked well (or well enough) reproduced. The cells which included self-check mechanisms did particularly well. If God made our cells, why did He allow for errors? Why didn’t He just make them work right in the first place?
Finally, the intricacy and amazing functionality of our bodies and our worlds leads many believers to claim “There must be a God. Without a God, how can our bodies be so complicated and yet work so well.” I would argue the reverse, that God is not necessary to the functionality of our bodies but the existence of these incredible bodies with incredibly complex minds is necessary to our conceptualization of, and questioning of God. If we didn’t have these bodies, we wouldn’t be able to ask these questions. This is similar to what Dawkins said in the God Delusion, that of course our planet is pretty incredible in it’s capacity to sustain our life. If it weren’t we wouldn’t be here to question it. There are plenty of worlds which didn’t develop life, we are here only because ours did.