Wow, I just found out that some viruses are infected with their own viruses.
It’s turtles all the way down! Or viruses, anyway.
Here’s an example, in case you doubt – it’s in Nature, so is probably true. If you look it up, you’ll see there are more examples out there in this wacky world of ours.
It’s not the most exciting start to a blog post, but I’m currently thinking about how to calculate the genetic diversity that has accumulated over the course of an exercise in experimental evolution in yeast. This led on to considering measures of the genetic distance between two organisms; and from there, the concepts of homology and common ancestry flitted in to join in with this impromptu brainstorming session with topic “life”.
I’ve also recently been thinking about 1) differences in complexity, and how the complexity in organisms can be divided into ‘what’s in the DNA’ and ‘the other stuff – like sub-cellular compartmentalization & form’, and 2) the ethical difference between a rock and an organism. I’m interested in the ties between a “proper function” account of ethics and natural law theories – on such accounts, broadly, the form of things has some connection to their ethical use. Form matters…
This all coalesces such that it occurs to me that a stone jar and a rock have quite similar chemical compositions. You could easily enough produce formal tables charting the proportions of the various elements or types of material present in each; they could be 100% similar in those terms, or certainly close enough. But the stone jar still quite clearly evinces ‘design’, while the rock, from which it may have been hewn, doesn’t. Perhaps, in a kind of similar way, even though two creatures may share a significant proportion of their molecular make-up (measured in terms of their DNA sequences), and even though they share a common ancestry, they are still able to evince design? If one is the ancestor of the other, the process could have been laden with that unpopular word, ‘intention’ – mere similarity clearly does not dispel that possibility. The same deal as that for the rock presumably could be applied to the Scriptural metaphor of the clay jar, which can be compared to the clay from which it was shaped, but clearly arose from intentional processes nonetheless.
As it comes to mind, here’s an epilogue: if I was to write a book on these things, I’d want to discuss at least these topics:
*The failures of reductionism in describing life.
*The various ways in which DNA is optimised for its function (including the triplet code, & chromosomal packing).
*Measuring the total information content of organisms (not just that in the DNA).
*The pervasiveness of “exaptation” in evolutionary history.
*Evolutionary convergence at the organismal and molecular levels.
You saw it here first, folks!
Here’s a quote from CS Lewis, from the book ‘Miracles’ (which I don’t think I’ve actually read yet). I could fill up this blog with Lewis quotes and it’d probably be better than the rambling that usually finds its way here instead, so I guess this is a special treat.
“It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back—I would have done so myself if I could—and proceed no further with Christianity. An “impersonal God”—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth, and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all. But God himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband—that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing he had found us!”
Thanks to this article, discussing the interesting current prayer experiment (non-scientific) by the ‘Unbelievable’ radio programme in the UK – a great source of discussion on reason and the Christian faith.