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Lions Roar : September 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 5 5 that perhaps molecular machines appear to look designed because they really are designed.” But there is no comparative data by which to judge the Intelligent Design theory, no experiment you can conduct which says biology isn’t a kind of divine clockwork, no way of falsifying the claim. It is possible, as the ever clever Stephen Jay Gould once suggested, that natural selection is uncertain enough that if biology on earth were rerun everything would be different. No lions, no rhubarb, no humans. It is possible that comparing five biologies would show nothing but appar- ent randomness, and thus it is not impossible that evolution is indeed smarter than we are. Given all this uncertainty you would think that if they were truly concerned about resolving the debate in biology both sci- entists and religious believers would slaver for other biologies, would demand that humans need to travel out into the ether to find other biologies to learn how they and we work. Sigh. Exploring the universe to find other biology to under- stand how biology on earth works is a way-out-there idea that nothing will likely come of in the near future. But something else more concrete and literally way-in makes me hopeful of a change in the nature of the debate. Biology is becoming in large measure molecular biology, and in so doing, changing the landscape of dispute. For the first time biologists have a common language, the sequences of DNA, for everything liv- ing. The expression of this to date has been those collective gene maps—the species’ genomes—which are announced with great excitement every other week. So far their biggest accom- plishment has been to be completed, but what is starting to be done is comparison. If we can’t compare our biology with another elsewhere, we can compare, DNA sequence by DNA sequence, the biology of individual creatures on earth. Through this single biological language that connects black fly, lion, rhubarb, and Paris Hilton, and in so doing overrides all the visual and behavioral disconnects that have made it so hard to see biology as a whole, we may be able to answer many of the unanswered questions which today make much of biol- ogy theoretical mush. Not just any answers, but answers that can then be tested in a way that both scientists and religious people who dispute with them will find convincing. My guess is that ultimately we will need biology’s versions of both a Newton and an Einstein to unravel the mystery of DNA, but when we do, big, big things may happen. The first change that should arise is a clear explication of what Darwin said he would explain, but didn’t: the origin of species. In essence, how does DNA become stuck in being something like a lion, and then become unstuck? Why is it so hard, relatively speaking, to turn lions—and all other living things—into something else? And why a lion and not another creature? Are there rules in the DNA that make lions more likely, and not three-headed dragons and pigs that fly? What the DNA language should also give us are not just theories but Popperian ways of testing our theories. If you make this, and this, and this change in the DNA, do you always get a new species? If you alter this and this and this in the DNA, do you create a cascade that creates a new organ? If you reverse some changes, can you always create some Ur- creature that predated a lion or a black fly or rhubarb, and does that Ur-creature look like anything in the fossil record? Further along the way are literally cosmic questions. Lying in the tangled mass of DNA is the chemical roadmap by which the biological past made it to the present. If we can unravel its progression—the principles that governed it, the A New Dark Age? T H E D E B AT E between science and religion and the attachment of that debate to a larger political argument is anything but new in the United States. Consider the following equation: “The deplorable fact must be recognized that in the United States today there exists, side by side, two opposing cultures, one or the other of which must eventually dominate our public institutions, political, legal, educational, and social. On one side we see arrayed the forces of progress and enlightenment, on the other, the forces of reaction, the apostles of traditionalism. There can be no compromise between these diametrically opposed armies. If the self-styled Fundamentalists can gain control over our state and national govern- ment—which is their avowed objective— much of the best that has been gained in American culture will be suppressed or banned and we shall be headed backwards toward the pall of a new Dark Age.” These remarks were made by president of the Science League of America in a 1927 book enti- tled The War On Modern Science, which detailed with great vivacity the various science/religion battles then going on in various states. — S TEPHEN STRAUSS continued on page 69