Saturday, July 28, 2012

Compelled to atheism

By Mathew Goldstein

Every week there are press releases covering recent research results that undermine one or more arguments made by theists for a god. To illustrate this I will summarize three research results reported within the past three days and cite the arguments for god that they counter.

The argument from consciousness takes the nature of mentality as evidence for God’s existence. The key idea in the argument from consciousness is that mental events are something over and above physical events. This past week scientists from the Max Planck Institutes of Psychiatry in Munich and for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and from Charité in Berlin reported completing a study that provides more evidence that consciousness is realized through physical activity in particular areas of material brains.

They studied people who are aware that they are dreaming while being in a dream state, and are also able to deliberately control their dreams. Such lucid dreamers have access to their memories during lucid dreaming, can perform actions and are aware of themselves – although remaining unmistakably in a dream state and not waking up. Magnetic resonance tomography was utilized to demonstrate that a specific cortical network consisting of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the frontopolar regions and the precuneus is activated when this lucid consciousness is attained. The first two brain regions are responsible for evaluating our own thoughts and feelings. The precuneus is a part of the brain that has long been linked with self-perception. These findings thus confirm earlier studies in identifying these specific neural networks as seats of consciousness.

An argument from design says that the many species of life could not have arisen by chance and therefore must have been created in their current forms by God. Researchers, led by a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, developed a method to search the vast archives of known gene sequences to identify and compare similar proteins across the many kingdoms of life to see if they physically evolved from a common, material ancestor. They concentrated their efforts on proteins that are found on the surface of cell components called ribosomes. The ribosomal proteins are among the most accurately identified proteins, and because they are not transferred between individuals independent of reproduction, are good candidates for tracing the evolution of species.

Four proteins, named S9, S12, S13, and S19 have been studied by the team. They tapped into gene banks containing more than 600,000 genes from the genomes of more than 6,000 species. Utilizing an efficient method to search through the gene banks, they looked for all copies of the same family of protein. Analyses of the data points to Actinobacteria as the last universal common ancestor among those species included in this study.

An argument from biological complexity says that proteins are made only of left-handed amino-acids, but naturally occurring amino-acids are 50% right-handed, so a god is needed to build the proteins from only the left-handed amino-acids. Life can't function with a mix of left- and right-handed amino acids because a mix of both in proteins would produce different protein shapes for each different combination of amino-acid orientations. Researchers analyzing meteorite fragments that fell on a frozen lake in Canada reported this week that they found evidence for an entirely materialistic explanation for the origin of life's left-handedness. The meteoroid pieces were collected within days of landing on earth and kept preserved in their frozen state.

The meteor has four times as many left-handed versions of aspartic acid as the opposite hand and just eight percent more left-handed alanine. Both amino-acids are found in the proteins found in life. The team confirmed that the amino acids were probably created in space using isotope analysis. The large left-hand excess in aspartic acid but not in alanine gave the team a critical clue. Aspartic acid has a shape that lets them fit together in a pure crystal composed of just left-handed or right-handed molecules. Alanine has a shape that prefers to join together with their mirror image to make a crystal, so these crystals are composed of equal numbers of left- and right-handed molecules. A process of crystallization and dissolution from a saturated solution with liquid water would amplify any initial handedness imbalance in amino-acids that crystallize like aspartic acid. Polarized ultraviolet light or other types of radiation from nearby stars might favor the initial creation of left-handed amino acids or the destruction of right-handed ones. This imbalance then gets amplified via repeated crystallization and dissolution with some handedness conversion taking place during this process. Left-handed amino acids may then have been incorporated into emerging life due to their greater abundance.

People who are committed to responsibly and properly justifying their beliefs need to spend the time required to learn about the ongoing accumulations of evidences and then allow the evidences to direct their beliefs. It is my conviction that when we do this honestly we are compelled to draw the conclusions that the universe is entirely materialistic, and that religions, and gods, are imaginary, human created fictions.

1 comment:

Don Wharton said...

A profoundly relevant piece of science! Thanks Mathew.