Here’s My Response to Atheists Who Say That Abiogenesis (the Origin of the First Cell from Nonliving Matter) is Not a Serious Threat to the Coherence of Atheism—or to Strict Naturalism

Check this out:

And here’s what philosopher Thomas Nagel says about Meyer’s Signature in the Cell (2009):

Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.

And here’s a link to two British chemists responding to the book, and to Thomas Nagel’s endorsement, in the Times Literary Supplement.

And here’s the link to the article on abiogenesis at Wikipedia.

When you hear atheists say—“Dicing time can readily account for the origin of life—no problem!”—you can say, “I read at agnostic Santi Tafarella’s blog—Prometheus Unbound—that you’re full of it!”

Don’t. Believe. The hype.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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30 Responses to Here’s My Response to Atheists Who Say That Abiogenesis (the Origin of the First Cell from Nonliving Matter) is Not a Serious Threat to the Coherence of Atheism—or to Strict Naturalism

  1. I got as far as ‘Stephen Meyer’ and started laughing. taking the position of someone who is remarkiably ignorant of biology. Hence, there is no need for a response. You’ve done that for me.

    What are Meyer’s qualifications to speak on biology? None. Why should anyone listen to his failed arguments? No reason. If I were to edit his book, I would need a box of red pens. He is quite ignorant of evolution and abiogenesis. Mind you, it would be easier to just rip out sections of that joke of a book wholesale. ID is a dead – well, I’d say hypothesis, but it hardly even qualifies for that. I reiterate – there is no reason to even suggest that abiogenesis could not happen naturally, and we have quite a number of working hypotheses. You read Meyer, but you won’t read anything by a real scientist like Jack Szostak. You demonstrate over and over that you are the one that has an emotional investment in ID. You WANT it to be true. That’s the difference between us.

    So, again I ask, when are you coming out of the closet? You claim agnosticism, but you credulously believe in ID, out-of-body experiences as being real (!), etc. (If a mind needs eyes, how does a disembodied mind see?) To call yourself an agnostic is a gross misrepresentation of the position. This is just where the evidence takes me. If I were an agnostic, I’d be offended.

  2. santitafarella says:


    Your Doctor Evil boast monologue is amusing, but strict naturalism will win more adherents as it becomes more compelling—as more lines of evidence align in its favor. Abiogenesis, the origin of mind from matter, the origin of the laws of physics, the origin of matter itself, are things that reasonable people can draw different inferences concerning.

    As to agnosticsm, what can I say? I don’t feel comfy with atheism, and I don’t feel comfy with theism. Like life on Mars, it’s presumptuous of me to draw a conclusion about whether telos precedes mind in the universe. I simply see too many lines of evidence going in contradictory directions. It’s hard to sort out. That makes me an agnostic.

    To believe or not to believe, that is the question.

    Call me Hamlet, father, Royal Dane! : )

    And thanks to you, I posted a Jack Szostak video on my blog yesterday, and will probably post a bit more from him later. I also wrote a whole response to a NY Times article that included him. I’m not ignoring the other side. I don’t know if abiogenesis occurred via strict naturalism. I’m interested in hearing what both sides have to say. Meyers book, by the way, if you read it (as I have) is good. It’s worth your time.


  3. The Barefoot Bum says:

    “I got as far as ‘Stephen Meyer’ and started laughing.”

    You got farther than me: I started laughing at “Thomas Nagel”.

    It may be impossible to find out precisely how life began on Earth (the evidence is after all buried 4.5 billion years in the past) but we already have several plausible models how life could have begun.

    No one who is even a little bit intellectually honest and scientifically literate (or who can find Talk.Origins) considers the claim the DNA could not have evolved as anything but patently ridiculous; scientists have been proposing alternatives since the 1960s.

  4. santitafarella says:


    You’re sounding a bit ignorant to think ill of Thomas Nagel, and the fact that “scientists have been proposing alternatives”, and continue to do so, means it’s an ongoing problem that has yet to find an adequate solution.


    • It is an ongoing problem that has yet to find an adequate solution.
      Meyer, praised by Nagel, both ignorants in biology, claim to have that solution already: God of The Gaps.
      So what? Do you think his “solution” is “adequate” or not?

  5. noreligion says:

    It isn’t a threat to anything. You might want to read How Did Life Begin

  6. santitafarella says:


    Thanks for the book recommendation.


  7. santitafarella says:


    You mischaracterize Nagel: he is a Camus-style atheist. He is not a “God of the gaps” person. As for me, as an agnostic, “God of the gaps” arguments do not lead me to the conclusion that God exists. It only leads me to the surmise that, in those gaps, the God piece on the intellectual chessboard need not be taken off the table of possibilities.


    • I’m not talking about Nagel. I’m talking about Meyer, who claim to have The solution. Nagel, Camus-style atheist or not, what ever that means, prases him.
      If gaps are all you have then your agnosticism is kind of fundamentalist agnosticism, as nothing will possibly move you away from it, as there will always be gaps.

  8. noreligion says:

    Not a book Santi, that is on my blog.

  9. santitafarella says:


    Oops. Now that I’ve clicked over I see that you have a really excellent blog going. It looks really well done. Good stuff.


  10. noreligion says:

    Thanks Santi. Go ahead and subscribe if you’d like.

  11. santitafarella says:


    If there will, as you agree, always be gaps, then neither confident atheism nor confident theism are justified. My Socratic agnosticism is the correct existential position (given our place in the universe).

    Checkmate. I win!


    • noreligion says:


      Gnosis is knowledge not belief and has nothing to do with atheism or theism. An agnostic can be either a theist or an atheist.

    • I don’t know what the hell you mean by “confident atheism”, as atheism IS NOT a positive claim. Atheists, or at least I, don’t say that there is no God. They simply don’t believe there is, as there isn’t positive evidence for it.
      You are talking nonsense.
      If that is the criteria you use to evaluate claims, what if someone come and said that your wife are cheating you, but give no sound, credible evidence for it, would you be ‘agnostic’ to such claim because, who knows, it’s possible?

  12. santitafarella says:


    As for Meyer, to the degree that he claims to have positive knowledge about the existence of God and God’s nature or plan, of course he’s full of shit. That doesn’t mean, however, that he’s not identifying the correct gaps and describing their perplexities accurately.


  13. santitafarella says:


    So you don’t buy it if I say that an atheist can be described as someone who is confident that there is no god, a theist as someone confident that there is a god, and an agnostic as someone who doesn’t know?


  14. noreligion says:

    Forgot to mention there is a saying that if you scratch an agnostic you find a Christian. I don’t agree but I do believe the reverse is true. Christians almost invariably fall back to the position that we can’t know god’s ways which is itself agnostic.

    • Yeah, when cornered they come with ‘god is mysterious’, ‘unknowable’, ‘who are we to say something about god’, etc., what is quite funny actually because it’s a confession that they really don’t know what they are talking about.

  15. santitafarella says:


    I think you and I are clashing because we’re using the word “agnostic” differently. I’m agnostic, for example, about microbial life on Mars. I don’t know one way or the other. There are people confident about the question. They believe strongly that the evidence that we have points to life on Mars. They are akin to theists. There are also people who are pretty confident that there is no life on Mars (and are akin to atheists).

    An agnostic is a Hamlet—he goes back and forth without claiming to know, exactly, what to believe or do about a question. He doesn’t just lack gnosis, he inists on neutrality or confusion in himself due to lack gnosis.


    • noreligion says:

      No. Denying as in your example, is a positive belief and that is not atheism in any sense of the word. i never said an agnostic lacks belief as an atheist lacks belief. I said an agnostic or rather gnosis deals with knowledge and not belief. Their gnosis, or lack of gnosis if you prefer, might lead them to a belief, or lack, but that belief, or lack, is theism or atheism depending on weather on accepts any supernatural gods or not.

  16. santitafarella says:


    I agree with you that it is curious how malleable apologists can be: they know some things with certainty, but when cornered they suddenly punt to “lack of gnosis.”

    All prejudice functions like this. It’s the difference between agreeing to sit on a jury (an act of openness to evidence and reason) and making a leap of faith into one particular ideology or another and following it no matter what.

    Myself, I want to be around people who are seeking the truth, and not claiming too confidently that they already have the truth.


  17. santitafarella says:


    Your wife analogy is fine, but I think that you downplay the evidence that God might well exist and pretend that all evidence and reasonable inference is on the atheist side.

    I don’t think, for example, that it is an unreasonable inference, from what we know about the universe, that mind somehow precedes matter in the universe, and might account for the laws of physics better than strict naturalism. Before there was something material, there might have been the mind of God.


  18. santitafarella says:


    How absolute the knave is!

    I appreciate the links, and I’ll do my best to look at them before the end of the day. I’m sure they’re full of good stuff that will make me think. But for the moment, though, I’m wondering why there are so many atheists determined to play “king of the hill” with regard to the god question and pretend that atheism has no positive content. Atheism is not the same as scientific empiricism. To be an atheist requires you to, sooner or later, adopt premises and make inferences about the universe that exceed the strictly empirical. No human being escapes that. And the family of positive choices that you have (when you start your reasoning with atheism) is actually pretty narrow.

    I’d be curious to have your opinion on this post of mine. You seem like a smart guy:


  19. Sorry for the change of identities, it wasn’t on purpose.
    As for the “positive” content of atheism you keep been wrong.
    When one say “I’m atheist”, it’s just a short for “I don’t believe in God(s)”. Just like “I don’t believe in unicorns”, only that we have a word for who don’t believe in God(s), but haven’t one for who don’t believe in unicorns. It’s just that.
    Now, of course nobody is an atheist only. We’re all defined by what we believe and why, not by what we disbelieve. So of course atheists have positive claims as anybody else, but not ‘as’ atheists. One thing is to say that somebody who is atheist also have some set of ‘beliefs’ beyond been atheist, and a complete another thing is to say that an atheist is somebody who believes in “atheism”, or something like that. This is bullshit.
    Usualy to be atheist is a conclusion, not a begining. Someone is a Naturalist, or Materialist (Philosophy marxist version), for exemple, so as a consequence, he or she is an atheist, he or she doens’t believe in God(s).
    I’ll check your post.
    Give a try at Luke’s Common Sense Atheism, he’s surprinsingly young but sounds promising. You’ll like him.
    “Atheism” have no positive claims per se. The point I think you are strugling is that an atheist may not be ‘just’ an atheist. Usually his/her atheism is a consequence

  20. santitafarella says:


    So far, I’ve checked out the “Luke’s 17” site, and I thought that was a clever and amusing way of making distinctions, although I think he missed the divide that I would regard as most important (optimism v. pessimism).

    As for the equivelence of a-unicornist with a-theist, I don’t buy that. I think that once you’ve adopted atheism as your position in relation to the existence of the supernatural and gods, you’ve got a very narrow range of positive ideological moves left to make (and I think that atheists have made them and they fall into a couple of broad categories, which I explored in my “eight way of being in the world” post.


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