15 December 2007

Of RNA Worlds and Creationism

My mind has been a jumbled mess over the past week, and I've been in the library for sometimes twelve hours a day. But exam period does have its perks--interesting discussions about the origin of life in entirely hushed whispers, for one.

In my reading I came across the concept of the "RNA World," or what much of the science community believes may have been the origin of life on Earth. In this theory, the world was once a molten blob of hydrogen sulfide, other foul smelling gases, and a bunch of random molecules randomly associating and dissociating. With enough energy--a lightning strike, a volcanic eruption, a beam of UV radiation from the sun--the molecules randomly associated, and what was a bunch of carbons, nitrogens, and oxygens came together and became RNA, the precursor of DNA. Anyway, the cool part is that the RNA might have been suddenly encased in a shell and became the very first of what we might call a "cell." Even cooler, these spontaneous reactions have been reproduced in modern day labs, and it turns out that a certain type of clay that was a major component of the surface at the time can be the catalyst for the formation of the RNA cell. The RNA cell was subject to evolutionary pressures, and eventually became the basic cell of everyday life, with DNA as its genetic code and all of the other organelles in place.

It's such an interesting concept, and despite the infinite number of possibilities for how it really might have happened, it sparked my friend and I to wonder for the umpteenth time: how do people not believe in evolution? For someone who doesn't come from a religious family, ingrained daily with the empirical methods of chemistry and biology, the concept of creationism is understandably foreign.

And then I wonder, how do people separate their personal beliefs from their profession? How can an evolutionary biologist be Christian or otherwise? There are many of them, and it's astounding to me how they can find a way to either compromise their beliefs or agree that one part of their life just doesn't harmonize with the other. But then again, life is about contradictions--I claim to be an environmentalist, but I waste water and get my food to-go all the time. We claim to be advocates of social justice, but then we stand by as yet another atrocious event goes by. It's part of being human.

Maybe, all of those religious evolutionary biologists tell themselves that, instead of Adam and Eve out of Adam's rib, God first created the RNA molecule. And then the lipids that surrounded it to make the cell membrane. I'm pretty sure that was just blasphemy, but in some ways I find that more comforting than both the cold, hard science viewpoint, and the entirely alien idea (to me at least) that people just existed.

Anyway, back to work.


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