The Corner

Re: Stein’s Decline

A reader corrects me:

Mr. Derbyshire,

Bravo on debunking Ben Stein’s nonsense ravings in the Corner [yesterday] … but a statement you made in your refutation of Mr. Stein should not stand unamended:

“‘Darwinism’ does not claim to explain life. It claims to explain the origin of species — why there are so many kinds of living things in the world, not why there are living things at all, a thing we currently do not know and have no testable theories for.”

This is simply untrue; as far back as the 1920′s, Oparin and Haldane were theorizing about the origins of organic molecules, and even the beginnings of a primitive metabolism, in the prebiotic ocean. In the 1950′s, Miller and Urey experimentally evaluated a variation of this hypothesis, and demonstrated that plausible prebiotic oceanic conditions favored the synthesis of small organic molecules (even amino acids) from simpler, inorganic molecules. Others have built on this work, including Jeffrey Bada, who has demonstrated that, in the presence of iron and carbonate, an even richer array of amino acids can arise from primitive conditions. Other investigators have demonstrated the spontaneous formation of a lipid bilayer from phospholipid precursors.

More tantalizingly, Woese, Gilbert, and others have contributed to the RNA World hypothesis, which (with considerable, cleverly-conducted experiments supporting it) holds that simple RNA, which, in contrast to more complex DNA, is capable both of storing genetic information and of catalyzing reactions, might have supplied the basic template for the beginnings of life.

I am a mere medical student — I am sure a molecular biologist could give you a more thorough and compelling synopsis of testable theories regarding the origins of life. I hope you take a moment to amend your statement in the Corner …

[Me]   Duly amended. I am sorry to have misled.

I’d also note, what several readers have pointed out, that Ben Stein’s piece illustrates quite exceptionally well the close intellectual kinship between creationism and leftist postmodernism. Only power relations are real; all power relations consist of someone oppressing someone else; all of society, and all of society’s epiphenomena — literature, science, philosophy — are mere reflections of the power relations, et cetera, et cetera, et bloody interminable cetera. There is no reality, no objective truth, only wicked imperialists, racists, patriarchs, Darwinists, cynically manipulating our minds for their own wicked ends by means of spurious “texts,” etc., etc, …

You have to wonder how these people with such contempt for science and scientific method can ever summon up the courage to get on a plane. I guess aerodynamics, medicine, electronics, geology (you want petroleum, right?) and other useful fields are exempt from the critique, like Japanese businessmen being “honorary whites” in apartheid South Africa. Very convenient.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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