It's been obvious for some time now that biology and chemistry will be merging together. Only the hopelessly ultra-religious still think there's anything more to life than the interaction of the chemicals involved. It's perhaps less obvious that physics is also pushing from below - the reasons that chemical interactions occur as they do is of course because of the underlying physics of atomic particles. We know that, but we probably can't grok the full implications.
We've seen the beginnings of "mechanical" organs - artificial hearts, artificial limbs - artificial eyes may not be too far off. But what really makes something "mechanical"? What's "natural" - is it anything that we don't make? So an ant hill is "natural" but a building isn't? The lines are easy to draw now, but may not be so obvious in the future.
Let's say you write a fairly complex computer program that takes various inputs and produces a complex result. Nothing natural about that. How about planting a seed? The result of soil, water, air and sun is a plant. Although at this moment we only partly understand the physics that produces that result, the fact is that it's a chain of events just like that computer program: give it the right input and you get the right output. We call one natural and one artificial, but there really is no difference: the same physics underlies both and the same physics is responsible every step of the way.
I understand that many people will object to being reduced to "nothing more than physics". I suspect they dislike this idea perhaps even more than some of them dislike the idea of evolution: being nothing but the interactions of elementary particles may be more distressing than being the descendants of lesser creatures. Nevertheless, that's all we are: nearly impossibly complex, but still nothing more than that.
It's humbling, isn't it? And maybe a little humbling is good for us: rather than being the chosen creatures of some creator-god, we're just the expected and natural result of having the right inputs in the right place of the universal soup. We are "natural" in every sense.
Of course it is quite possible to accept all that and still insist that some creator designed it all, so the humbling effect won't be universal no matter how plain the rest of it becomes. That's unfortunate, I think, but there's nothing to be done about it: people need to believe what they need to believe. And even that gives creationists a loophole: they can say that I need to believe what I need to believe. So none of this kills religion at all. It does, however, mean the the coming decades and centuries should be pretty exciting.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2009-11-07 Anthony Lawrence