We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Defining Life

In the course of an argument calling for a reevaluation of Darwin's outmoded doctrine of evolution entitled, "Life after Darwin,"biologist Didier Raoult writes, "Life is primarily the expression of the information contained in genes."  His point is that Darwin's views on evolution were based on theological and philosophical currents of his day, which have proven inadequate to account for the way evolution works.

The quoted sentence, however, requires reflection and serious reconsideration.  Is life, in fact, primarily the "expression of the information contained in genes"?  While the sentence may make sense in the context of Raoult's article, it is not stated as having either context or condition.  It is stated as an absolute matter of fact.  If he had written that "life is an expression of the information contained in the genes" there would be no reason to argue his point.  As best we know today, that is true.  But when he claims that life is "primarily the" expression of genetic information without qualification, he reduces not some forms of life, but all of life to its genetic attributes.

It is fair to ask whether or not human life, which is a significant form of life, is primarily the expression of its genetic information.  Are all other aspects of human life secondary to our genetic code?  Is there, in fact, a hierarchy of humanness?  On the face of it, Raoult's statement seems rather imperial in its inmplied assumption that biology is the primary field of study when it comes to life, including human life—making biology the "queen of the sciences."  Is the leap from non-life to life a matter of the genes?  Is that where the miracle and the mystery of life is located in us?  We don't know.  Raoult doesn't know.

The statement that life is an expression of the information contained in the genes is a scientific statement based on what we know today about life.  We might better expand the statement by saying that the forms life takes as we understand them biologically are expressions of their genetic information.  In this more modest light, Raoult's statement is not a scientific statement.  It is an ideological claim stated as an absolute truth.  It is an imperial claim that assigns all other aspects of life, such as the human spirit, to a secondary status.  As I've written before, thus far science can't even study the nature of the human spirit let alone either discredit its existence entirely or assign it a secondary status.