Newspaper Enterprise Association
By William A. Rusher
HAS SCIENCE REACHED ITS LIMITS ?
It's time to stand back, for a moment, from the astonishing events that are shaking the communist empire and note a little concession that appeared recently in Time magazine. In the long run, it may prove even more important.
Time, which is evidently determined to wrest from Newsweek the title of Most Liberal Newsmagazine, ran an essay by Philip Dunne in its Jan. 15 issue. Dunne's subject was the ongoing battle over school textbooks being waged between evolutionists and creationists. I hardly need add that Dunne is all for the evolutionists.
BUT WHAT CAUGHT my eye was a seemingly casual remark about three-quarters of the way through Dunne's essay. He has been discussing the dispute over whether the fossil record yields sufficient evidence of the "intermediate types" (between species one of which allegedly evolved from the other) that evolutionary theory would seem to require, but then changes the subject.
"But none of that, pro or con, has a thing to do with theories of creation, or the origin of life on Earth........ The mystery of creation, as every real scientist is quick to admit, is not one that science is capable of solving."
Now that is a truly extraordinary admission. For Dunne isn't talking about some temporary inability: He means that the whole subject of ultimate origins is simply, and permanently, beyond the ken of science.
To be sure, he carefully rejects any attempt to offer a religious explanation instead:
"Neither scientists nor religious folk can know why the miracle we call life happened."
But the news isn't that secular humanists have no use for a religious explanation. The big news is that they're beginning to admit that they don't, and can never, have an explanation either.
In the 19th century, when the afterglow of the Enlightenment was still bright in the skies, secular humanists were a good deal chestier. Browning, noting the growth of such secular sciences as biology, geology, psychology, and a flock of other "ologies," taunted religious believers in one of his poems:
"Greek endings, like a little leper's bell, That signifies some faith's about to die."
THE GIVEAWAY that Dunne is making a major concession is his brave effort to slip past it casually: Science is incapable of solving the mystery of creation, "as every real scientist is quick to admit."
If they have been "quick to admit" it, it's news to me.
An inspection of back issues of Time itself, over the decades, will turn up story after story about this or that apparently respectable scientist who was mixing in laboratory flasks the presumed ingredients of tidal pools on the surface of the early earth. Then he would subject the flasks to electric discharges (to simulate lightning) and peer into a microscope at the result, hoping to detect life, or at least some progress in that direction.
Unfortunately, recent sophisticated studies of the molecular chains that would have to be assembled "accidentally" to create the preconditions for life have for all practical purposes ruled out such a possibility.
British cosmologist Sir Fred Hoyle has compared such a coincidence to the likelihood "that a tornado, blowing through a barnyard, might assemble a Boeing 747 out of the materials available there."
WHAT IS REALLY happening is almost breathtaking in its implications.
At one end of the observational spectrum, cosmologists have traced the origin of the universe backward to a Big Bang which they can never press on "beyond," so to speak. And, at the other end, scientists probing the world of the extremely small find themselves confronted by phenomena that simply defy explanation, or even observation, in any terms that can be called scientific.
It looks very much as if science is reaching its permanent limits.