Signs of Life

Jane Jimenez

Jane Jimenez

August 1, 2005

On the one hand, mankind has been engaged in an eternal quest for the explanation of human existence…where did we come from?  And this debate eventually gets reduced to the basic test…looking for signs of life in the primordial soup.

Where did the first living cell come from, the building block of life?  In the 1950s, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago was busy researching early earth.  Bringing together the work of several scientists, Stanley Miller created a chamber with only hydrogen, water, methane, and ammonia to simulate the possible atmosphere of the first earth.

To speed up “geologic time,” Miller boiled the water.  Then, instead of exposing the mix to ultraviolet light, he used an electric discharge to simulate lightning. After just a week, Miller had a residue of compounds. He analyzed them and the results were electrifying: Organic compounds had been formed, most notably some of the “building blocks of life,” amino acids.

Miller’s experiment and his small collection of amino acids were instantly heralded as the first evolutionary sign of life.  At the same time, other scientists were beginning to break into the DNA code to unravel the chemical design of life.

Their claims of support for evolution have not gone unchallenged.  One of the most striking discussions on the possible origins of life is Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box.  A biochemist at Lehigh University, Behe explains complex chemical concepts in plain English, disputing the probability of evolution by chance.

Miller and Behe are two of the many experts at the center of raging debates about human life.  Amazon posts 477 reviews from Behe’s readers alone. On the one hand, peering millions of years into the past, we are feverishly seeking the first sign of life.

On the other hand, with evidence in front of us in the here and now of the most perfectly designed living beings, we are engaged in another feverish battle to ignore signs of life.

Delivering the decision of the Supreme Court in 1973, Justice Blackmun recorded the history of “attitudinal change” regarding the “potentiality of human life.”  For the Pythagoreans, “the embryo was animate from the moment of conception, and abortion meant destruction of a living being.”  In other words, they saw signs of life.  And for Blackmun, this was evidence of their backward thinking and inflexible dogma.

As a modern Intellectual, Justice Blackmun wrestled with “the raw edges of human existence,” looking for signs of life.  But this was hard for him because of the distraction of pollution.  Pollution?  Yes, pollution…it’s right there in Blackmun’s decision.  The Supreme Court can’t find signs of life because of pollution, even as Stanley Miller claimed signs of life in theoretical primordial soup?

For Justice Blackmun, the science of life was not a concrete matter based on fact.  It was a problem with “racial overtones,” complicated, fraught with emotion and subject to “attitudinal change.”  For Stanley Miller, either it was an amino acid, or it wasn’t.  Attitude and emotion had nothing to do with signs of life.

In 1973, Blackmun struggled to find even “the potentiality of human life.”  In 2000, Justice Breyer evaluated a pile of evidence demonstrating more than life’s “potentiality” and declared for the court… “We don’t care.”

Reading through the Court Decision of Stenberg v. Carhart, a truly civilized human must cringe at the signs of life described.  Clinical details of the doctor’s procedure describe  instrumental disarticulation or dismemberment of the fetus or the collapse of fetal parts to facilitate evacuation from the uterus.  The Court writes of problems in the dismemberment of life that can result in a ‘free floating’ fetal head that can be difficult for a physician to grasp and remove.

On the one hand, thousands of the brightest minds in science are intent on defending the evidence of life implied in a simple amino acid.  On the other hand, hundreds of the most educated minds in America are intent on denying absolute signs of life inside the womb.

Has the best of human intellect and the purest of the human spirit reduced us to this level?  Pushing aside the facts, we find signs of life when we want to?

Supreme Court Decision:  Stenberg v. Carhart

Decision Issued June 28, 2000

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