The gases of the early atmosphere and the primordial soup

I find this very interesting, partly because I recreated Stanley Miller’s famous experiment for my high school science fair. It brings back fond memories of basement science projects. – Anthony

Credit: James W. Brown, NC State University - click for a much larger image to read the ingredients

Primordial soup gets spicier

‘Lost’ samples from famous origin of life researcher could send the search for Earth’s first life in a new direction

Stanley Miller gained fame with his 1953 experiment showing the synthesis of organic compounds thought to be important in setting the origin of life in motion. Five years later, he produced samples from a similar experiment, shelved them and, as far as friends and colleagues know, never returned to them in his lifetime.

Caption: Preserved samples from a 1958 experiment done by "primordial soup" pioneer Stanley Miller contain amino acids created by the experiment. The samples had not undergone analysis until recently when Miller's former student Jeffrey Bada and colleagues discovered a wide range of amino acids. The find could be an important step toward understanding how life on Earth could have originated. The vials have been relabeled but the boxes are marked with Miller's original notes. Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

More 50 years later, Jeffrey Bada, Miller’s former student and a current Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego professor of marine chemistry, discovered the samples in Miller’s laboratory material and made a discovery that represents a potential breakthrough in the search for the processes that created Earth’s first life forms.

Former Scripps undergraduate student Eric Parker, Bada and colleagues report on their reanalysis of the samples in the March 21 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Miller’s 1958 experiment in which the gas hydrogen sulfide was added to a mix of gases believed to be present in the atmosphere of early Earth resulted in the synthesis of sulfur amino acids as well as other amino acids. The analysis by Bada’s lab using techniques not available to Miller suggests that a diversity of organic compounds existed on early planet Earth to an extent scientists had not previously realized.

“Much to our surprise the yield of amino acids is a lot richer than any experiment (Miller) had ever conducted,” said Bada.

The new findings support the case that volcanoes — a major source of atmospheric hydrogen sulfide today — accompanied by lightning converted simple gases into a wide array of amino acids, which are were in turn available for assembly into early proteins.

Bada also found that the amino acids produced in Miller’s experiment with hydrogen sulfide are similar to those found in meteorites. This supports a widely-held hypothesis that processes such as the ones in the laboratory experiments provide a model of how organic material needed for the origin of life are likely widespread in the universe and thus may provide the extraterrestrial seeds of life elsewhere.

Successful creation of the sulfur-rich amino acids would take place in the labs of several researchers, including Miller himself, but not until the 1970s.

Caption: This is a photo of Stanley Miller in his UC San Diego lab in 1970. Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography Archives

“Unbeknownst to him, he’d already done it in 1958,” said Bada.

Miller’s initial experiments in the 1950s with colleague Harold Urey used a mixture of gases such as methane, ammonia, water vapor and hydrogen and electrically charged them as lightning would. The experiment, which took place in a closed chamber meant to simulate conditions on early Earth, generated several simple amino acids and other organic compounds in what became known as “primordial soup.”

With the gases and electrical energy they produce, many geoscientists believe the volcanoes on a young planet covered much more extensively by water than today’s served as oases of raw materials that allowed prebiotic matter to accumulate in sufficient quantities to assemble into more complex material and eventually into primitive life itself. Bada had already begun reanalyzing Miller’s preserved samples and drawing conclusions about the role of volcanoes in sparking early life when he came across the previously unknown samples. In a 2008 analysis of samples left from Miller’s more famous experiment, Bada’s team had been able to detect many more amino acids than his former mentor had thanks to modern techniques unavailable to Miller.

Miller, who became a chemistry professor at UCSD in 1960, conducted the experiments while a faculty member at Columbia University. He had collected and catalogued samples from the hydrogen sulfide mix but never analyzed them. He only casually mentioned their existence late in his life and the importance of the samples was only realized shortly before his death in 2007, Bada said. It turned out, however, that his 1958 mix more closely resembled what geoscientists now consider early Earth conditions than did the gases in his more famous previous experiment.

“This really not only enhances our 2008 study but goes further to show the diversity of compounds that can be produced with a certain gas mixture,” Bada said.

The Bada lab is gearing up to repeat Miller’s classic experiments later this year. With modern equipment including a miniaturized microwave spark apparatus, experiments that took the elder researcher weeks to carry out could be completed in a day, Bada said.

###

Parker, now a student at Georgia Tech, led the study. Co-authors include H. James Cleaves from the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Washington D.C.; Jason P. Dworkin, Daniel P. Glavin and Michael P. Callahan of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; Andrew D. Aubrey of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif. and Antonio Lazcano of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography: scripps.ucsd.edu

Scripps News: scrippsnews.ucsd.edu

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154 Responses to The gases of the early atmosphere and the primordial soup

  1. 1DandyTroll says:

    Condensed primordial soup, ready in 4.5 billino years.

    Pretty much the same as the field rations we had in the army. The essential proof of why the latrines should be deep and way off camp.

  2. t stone says:

    What a fantastic, thought-provoking post. The quest for knowledge continues.

  3. barn E. rubble says:

    Of course the importance of CO2 in those early days can’t be overlooked and (perhaps arguably?) the importance of CO2 in the atmosphere for life moving onto land . . .

    Just say’n . . .

    -barn

  4. Hector Pascal says:

    Interesting to see Harold Urey’s name there. Urey won a “real” Nobel Prize for physical chemistry, the discovery of deuterium. He was a pioneeer of 18O chemistry, and therefore one of the fathers of quantitative palaeoclimatology.

  5. Mark.r says:

    Got the primordial soup but wheres the life?.

  6. Tim McHenry says:

    RE: Mark.r says:
    March 22, 2011 at 9:04 pm
    Got the primordial soup but wheres the life?.

    Indeed, also where is the mechanism for assembling protiens? How is it that there are “laws” governing the process?
    “Science” often overextends itself into Metaphysics.

  7. Lady Life Grows says:

    My father was a young-Earth creationist until he died, and a chemist. He found it quite unremarkable that you got “higher order chemicals” with an input of energy. But our universe seethes with energy. It is what it is made out of.

    Miller’s experiments were conducted under hypothesized primitive atmospheres. Since we live on land in the air, we have sought the origin of life in an interface of water, land and air. Today, we know that life began in deep sea vents, where there are sharp gradients that protolife could exploit for energy. To this day, our mitochondria get their energy from windmills driven by a sharp pH gradient on opposite sides of a mitochondrial membrane.

    I researched origins for Biochem II a few years ago and found an embarassment of riches–many explanations for origin of basic monomers and mechanisms of polymerization. My favorite scientific articles on the origin of life are:

    Westheimer, F. H. “Why nature chose phosphates” Science 235, 1173-1178
    Martell, Edward A., Radionuclide-induced Evolution of DNA and the Origin of Life”, J. Mol. Evol. 35: 346-355. 1992 [a key one that is almost unknown]
    Martin, william and Michael J. Rusell (2003) “On the Origin of Cells: a hyposthsis for the evolutionary transitions from abiotic geochemistry to chemoautotrophic prokaryotes, and from prokaryotes to nucleated cells” Philosophical Trans. of the Royal Soc. of London, Series B: Biological Sciences 358: (1429): 59-85

  8. rbateman says:

    Mark.r says:
    March 22, 2011 at 9:04 pm
    Got the primordial soup but wheres the life?.

    Ah, you had to ask, “where’s the farmer who planted the seeds”.
    With millions of Earths out there, Johnny Galactic Appleseed must have had a field day.

  9. Jeff Alberts says:

    Mark.r says:
    March 22, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Got the primordial soup but wheres the life?.

    Got a mirror?

  10. Ray says:

    Most importantly… add a can of water!

  11. Ray says:

    Although interesting, this primordial soup experiment is too simple. Surely the atmosphere was much more complex and the solar system, especially the sun, surely also influenced what was happening on earth. Then you have snowball earth… what happened to life then? Did it contribute? Some say the fact of freezing the water out and concentrating the “soup” might have helped. But then you face the problem of UV radiation which would destroy any protein not properly protected.

    The origin of life is not that simple to explain through a simple chemistry experiment… too simple to explain the complexity of life.

  12. Max Hugoson says:

    I believe there is a fundamental problem with the 1953 experiment.

    Aside from the “information theory” problem of ACTUALLY RUNNING AN ANALYTICAL PROCESS to “determine” the existance of the Amino acids (does anyone understand what I mean by this??? I.e., INFORMATION was added to the system by doing the analysis….hello!) there is also the problem of COMPOSITION.

    The atmosphere has never, to the understanding of most paleo-researchers, been BASIC in it’s composition. I.e., it never had high NH3 composition, and has always been an OXIDIZING atmosphere, not a reducing.

    Thus the basic elements in the composition are not correct in the experiment.

    I’m sort of cognizant of this experiment, as it was performed about the time of my birthday. So my critics, who point out that I’m old enough to KNOW FIRST HAND the primative atmosphere, can …as our Brit friends say, “Bug Off”! (And, yes, I’ve been trying to reduce myself most of the years past my 14th year on this Earth.)

  13. “that allowed prebiotic matter to accumulate in sufficient quantities to assemble into more complex material and eventually into primitive life itself.”

    God did something to make it come together on earth, and who knows where else in the Universe, or I should say, the Multiverse, or “The Bulk”, since it’s becoming clearer there’s more than one Universe, nobody can know how many just yet. Creation becomes more beautiful and interesting the more we learn. The earth and everything on it (they say there’s more life under the surface of the earth in the crust and mantle than there is above it in the oceans and on the dry land) was made by materials that are all over the Universe. The puzzle pieces were brought together by God to make the Blue Marble:

    “…….God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth”

  14. pwl says:

    It has been mathematically proven by Stephen Wolfram that some simple systems can generate complexity as complex as any complex system in Nature or as complex as any system humans have built. See chapter two of A New Kind of Science for the proof. It is stunningly simple and an inherent or emergent property of the universe that we exist in.

    The fact that we’re complex is no surprise, the fact that we arose from simpler chemical process is no surprise especially in light of the primordial soup experiments combined with other self assembling molecular systems and Wolfram’s discoveries about how these simple systems can and do in fact generate maximal complexity – such as us.

    No need for any magical super powers, no need for any unexplainable non-evident magical super beings; all that is needed is just blind and basic chemical processes mixed with a dash of physics and a zap of electricity and a tad of information and the touch of internally generated randomness coming together into a complex system, cellular life.

    http://www.wolframscience.com/nksonline/toc.html

    It’s alive!

  15. John J. says:

    Meh. When they figure out the way that only the alpha amino acids, and only the L- isomers (as opposed to the R-) in that racemic mixture, end up in the peptides that might form in a watery soup that acts to hydrolyze those same peptide bonds, then they’ll have something.

    And don’t forget at some point you need to have a proper nucleotide sequence at the same time to keep the whole thing propagating.

  16. Dave Dardinger says:

    Cool! I remember writing a paper about Stanley Miller and his experiments for a college Chemistry class back in 1963-4.

    I have my own theory about how life came about, but the margin of this reply is too small to contain it.

  17. Legatus says:

    Experiments are supposed to be replicatable, thus, the scientist is supposed to tell us exactly how they got the results they got. Thus, I fail to see why there is any need at all to look at the old stored results of this experiment to see what they were. If the original guy, Stanly Miller, had done it right, we should be able to replicate his experiment exactly and get the exact same results. Thus, there is no need to look back at the stored chemicals he came up with from way back then, nor should there be any suprise at what we find if we do, since we should still be getting the exact same results if we do it again. If we are suprised, and we are not getting those results, the experiment is a failure, and the scientific method was not followed. So why does this article even exist, as if this is some big discovery? Are we unable to replicate this experiment now?

    Then there are the real questions about life, such as:
    Sure, we can get some amino acids, but how do we get only left handed amino acids, with not one right handed?
    How do we get them essembled into more complex chemicals and forms needed for life after we do, and how to we get them properly attactched to each other? Sure, we can get an occasional square rock, but how did these rocks get assembled into this cathedral? For that matter, how did they even all get together in one place?
    We have tried to get them into more complex forms, but in many cases we have to do things with machines and carefull filtering and chemicals that cannot exist naturally, how do we get all that done in a natural setting, especially making a variety of different chemicals many of which need different conditions for evcn a very rare occurence, and all in one place?
    Sure, we get some amino acids, but the essemeblage after that is so diffucult that scientists are now looking at such things as RNA instead of protiens since they have been unable to solve the problems starting with amino acids to protiens to life, so why does this article seem so revolutionary when currently scientists believe it leads to a dead end (literally)?
    Scientists still talk about life evolving, yet they cannot even tell us what this life was like. They say “it evolved”, yet they cannot even tell us what IT IS that evolved, much less how.

    All we really know about life, after decades of experimenting, is:
    1) It appears that the chance for life to appear on this (or any other) planet is so statistically impossible that it cannot happen in the lifetime of this universe, or any other, and…
    2) It happened anyway.

    I wasn’t thrilled by this article when I first saw it (some time ago) and am no more thrilled now. We didn’t know how life began then and we still don’t now. Discovering that way back then they made a few more chemicals than scientists today believe they did (but should have) that lead to an evolutionary dead end isn’t exactly news.

  18. Anthony Anthony Anthony,

    You forgot about this piece.

  19. Eric Anderson says:

    Thanks, Anthony. I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying the Miller-Urey experiment, althought I can’t say that I reproduced it in high school as you did! Incidentally, tonight was my 5th grader’s science fair at the elementary school. He focused on something much more mundane (mold) than you did for your science fair. :)

    Renewed interest in the Miller-Urey experiment is great, both to learn what can actually be accomplished through natural processes, and to remind us of the limitations. Will be interesting to see if the $100M Harvard origins initiative finds much additional substance to work with in the recent findings.

    Ultimately, we can find all the amino acids we want, and we still won’t be anywhere close to having life. I continue to be amazed that so many people reflexively think the yawning gulf between amino acids and life is but a tiny step, probably because they haven’t really taken time to think through what is needed to get life off the ground. So the news article is much too optimistic in characterizing the find as a potential breakthrough. Nevertheless, it is fun to see renewed interest in the Miller-Urey experiment and it is always great to learn new things, so I will certainly watch this development with interest.

    Incidentally, this reminds me of one of my favorite quips:

    “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.”

  20. Eric Anderson says:

    pwl, there is a fundamental difference between the “complexity” that Wolfram is talking about and the “complexity” that exists in life. Totally different situation.

    “The fact that we’re complex is no surprise, the fact that we arose from simpler chemical process is no surprise especially in light of the primordial soup experiments combined with other self assembling molecular systems and Wolfram’s discoveries about how these simple systems can and do in fact generate maximal complexity – such as us.”

    Self-assembling is not interesting, at least not in the vague sense referred to here. Self-reproducing is. Can you please point me to a single example of a self-reproducing molecular system that is known to have arisen through natural causes? Of course not, because if you could, you would have a Nobel Prize attached to your name and you could tell the Harvard folks to save their $100M recently committed to trying to figure this out. This is the holy grail of origins research.

    Your post rests on a confusion of the word “complexity,” mixed with with a failure to think through what is actually needed for life to start.

    /rant (sorry)

  21. Ray says:

    pwl says:
    March 22, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    I guess you have no clue of what Thermodynamics is.

  22. Ray says:

    charles the moderator says:
    March 22, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    That was hilarious.

    I wonder how they could get organic molecules from only inorganic salts. Also, considering that heating the solution would only put water vapor in the gas phase it was truly an amazing experiment… or maybe it was some major contamination of their glassware.

  23. pwl says:

    No Eric, it’s the same “complexity”, watch Wolfram’s video in full and read his tome, ANKS, and you might have your eyes opened to a whole new aspect of Nature. It’s likely you just think it’s a different “complexity” because it you to think that that if we’re just an electro-bio-chemical-information-processing machine made of goop that we’re not special, but it’s the same. We’re just bio-goop-mostly-ugly-bags-of-water that can reproduce and made up of many complex systems built upon simple systems generating complex behaviors. RNA and DNA are in many ways cellular automata that can copy themselves or be copied.

    Self assembly is a step required before self-copying aka self-reproduction. It’s a matter of “exploring the space of simple molecules that self assemble” to find the ones that can “self-copy” and thus replicate which is a prerequisite for life. Nature can easily conduct exhaustive combinatorial searches through such even vast combinatorial spaces. All it takes is at least one time having something that self assembled and can replicate to get the entire process going, however it’s very possible that it occurred many times. That takes time and the Earth (and possibly the Sol System) had plenty of time to shake and bake the first life.

    “Can you please point me to a single example of a self-reproducing molecular system that is known to have arisen through natural causes?”

    Look in the mirror Eric and you’ll see such a system that must have gone through that step and with N (where N is a very large number) of generations of copying resulted in you.

    Self assembly is not only very interesting but essential to the process, as is the self assembly of self reproducing systems, even if they are haphazard for many generations at first.

    When you dig into Wolfram’s ANKS – as well as other required fields relating to the origins of life – you may find yourself altering your limited perceptions and conceptions.

  24. Hoser says:

    Legatus says:
    March 22, 2011 at 10:36 pm
    All we really know about life, after decades of experimenting, is:
    1) It appears that the chance for life to appear on this (or any other) planet is so statistically impossible that it cannot happen in the lifetime of this universe, or any other, and…
    2) It happened anyway.

    No, it is an energy-driven process, self-organizing. It may have happened several times, and possibly underground where very interesting catalysis can occur.

    2) demonstrates 1) is wrong.

  25. Hoser says:

    Max, for help with a primitive atmosphere, open the bathroom window. It works for me, at least until the neighbors complain.

  26. pwl says:

    Comment pwl March 22, 2011 at 11:34 pm Version 2.0: Woops, please let me fix the grammar of second sentence that got mangled in the editing evolution, which also shows the need not just for self assembling systems that can reproduce but that which can also correct errors during copying and transcription. [:)]

    No Eric, it’s the same “complexity”, watch Wolfram’s video in full and read his tome, ANKS, and you might have your eyes opened to a whole new aspect of Nature. It’s likely you just think it’s a different “complexity” because if you were to think that it’s the same complexity it would mean that we’re just an electro-bio-chemical-information-processing machines made of bio-goop and that we’re not magically special in some way; but it’s the same complexity that Wolfram talks about, and we are just made of bio-goop. We’re just bio-goop-mostly-ugly-bags-of-water that can reproduce and that are made up of many complex systems built upon simple systems generating complex behaviors. RNA and DNA – low level key parts of our systems – are in many ways cellular automata that can copy themselves or be copied, and which self correct most although not all errors during copying. Wolfram’s discoveries are relevant to the processes of life at the atomic, molecular, cellular and even quantum levels.

    Self assembly is a step required before self-copying aka self-reproduction. It’s a matter of “exploring the space of simple molecules that self assemble” to find the ones that can “self-copy” and thus replicate which is a prerequisite for life. Nature can easily conduct exhaustive combinatorial searches through such even vast combinatorial spaces. All it takes is at least one time having something that self assembled and can replicate to get the entire process going, however it’s very possible that it occurred many times. That takes time and the Earth (and possibly the Sol System) had plenty of time to shake and bake the first life.

    “Can you please point me to a single example of a self-reproducing molecular system that is known to have arisen through natural causes?”

    Look in the mirror Eric and you’ll see such a system that must have gone through that step and with N (where N is a very large number) of generations of copying resulted in you.

    Self assembly is not only very interesting but essential to the process, as is the self assembly of self reproducing systems, even if they are haphazard for many generations at first.

    When you dig into Wolfram’s ANKS – as well as other required fields relating to the origins of life – you may find yourself altering your limited perceptions and conceptions.

  27. Thomas L says:

    Origin of life – lemma: life is possible – as we exist – end lemma.
    Add Hugh Everett’s interpretation of Schrodinger – since all possible combinations of quantum events exist, life must exist in a (unknown percentage) subset of these combinations, and must continue in a (unknown percentage) subset.
    Unfortunately, since we cannot traverse the combinations, we must be content to continue to exist in this sheath of exploding subsets of possibilities. G-d throws dice, and they each come up all six ways (or up to twenty, depending on the dice). And G-d keeps adding to the number of dice thrown at each turn, as this universe keeps expanding. Even so, we may run into the Bekenstein bounds, in a trillion or so years. Until then, I expect people to keep looking for answers.

  28. ROM says:

    Just one old guy’s opinion!

    Life! One of mankind’s holiest grails is to define “life”, to explain it’s existence, to try and explain the ‘creation” story, the way in which “life” came into existence and became what we call ‘life” and then the rise of ‘intelligence”, nature’s greatest gift to life on this planet, a gift that enables mankind alone out of all the life forms on this planet, to sit here and ponder this question of the hows and whys of the very beginnings of “life” and “intelligence” itself.

    Nobody will ever know just how “life” came into existence.
    Nobody will ever know how many possibly uncountable times “life” started and was then snuffed out.
    Nobody will ever be able to recreate those same conditions for “life” itself has now irrevocably altered those conditions and filled those then vacant niches with it’s now long dominant life forms.

    I am a bit amused at the absolute certitude expressed by some highly qualified commenters above about the impossibility of some types of chemical reactions and conditions contributing to the initial molecular organising that was perhaps needed to create a type of self replicating molecule, a self replicating molecule that was the precursor for life itself.

    Such self replicating molecular mats could have spread over vast areas and there would have invariably been mistakes in the assembly of those interacting molecules as they came in contact with other elemental molecules or lighting strikes into the vast mass, hot volcanic acidic drops of molten magma with it’s mix of excited radical atoms, molecules and chemicals, intense ultraviolet light and even intense nuclear radiation from natural reactors in some regions or oil films and clay sheets that the newly created molecules could assemble on.
    Uncountable failures occurred but just very rarely perhaps only once every few tens of thousand years in that seething elemental mass of assembled molecules, an assembly mistake stuck and a new self replicating and more complex molecular structure was created and began propagating.

    None of this can ever happen again on this planet as all those niches and reaction sites are filled and loaded by far more advanced organisms and the far more advanced molecular structures of today nor will we ever know how many times life got started and was then destroyed until finally against all the odds that the Cosmos could throw against it, “life” finally made it into a molecular structure where it could start to strategically adapt to changes and “life” as we know it was finally on it’s way.

    Life I believe is extremely common across the Universe for the conditions that allowed “life” to be created on this planet, that’s if it was actually created on this planet and not elsewhere in the Cosmos , are as far as we can guess also common right across the Universe

    But “intelligence” that is another question altogether.
    Life could have settled down to an almost status quo and it did so if we are to believe the archeobiologists for the aeons of the early Earth as life in it’s most simple forms filled all the available niches that it could exist in.
    But that Earth was a far from a stable environment for those extremely primitive life forms that existed just above a self replicating molecular level so the mistakes in assembly went on and only a tiny proportion of those new off spring of those molecular mistakes could adapt and survive the changing Earth as it rolled on through it’s long creative phase.

    The Earth continued to change and the “life” forms had to adapt and this forced changes until a point was reached where life began to develop the ability to consciously react to changes in conditions it existed in and then and only then was there any sort of assurance that ‘life” on this planet was going to survive.

    “Intelligence” was a whole new ball game and it came very late in the Planet’s history. Probably over 85% of the Earth’s life time of 4.5 billion years had passed and some 3.2 billion years had passed since “life” first appeared on the planet before what we would call recognisable “intelligence” first appeared probably no earlier and perhaps a good deal less than some 600 million years ago.
    “Intelligence” simply would not exist on this planet except for the radical changes in climate, the weather systems, the heat , the cold, the ever changing oceans and land masses all of which forced “life” to adapt and often adapt fast.
    You need a constantly changing, rapidly evolving, chaotic mixed up planet to force the changes and to eliminate the life forms that cannot adapt fast enough or adapt at all.
    Then long intervals of stasis are needed for the newly rising life forms and their newly developing intelligence to settle down and fill the niches before another episode of violent change again forces the evolving life forms to again adapt or get wiped out.
    It is the extremes of this planet but extremes that were quite limited in their range, a very unusual combination, that has forced the development of “Intelligence” as we know it.
    The slow adapters were eliminated and wiped out and more often than not this no doubt removed a life form that was developing or could have developed a level of intelligence.
    But that’s life!
    And we as a race need to heed the circumstances.

    There were so many twists and turns and nasty probabilities working against the rise of intelligence that it’s existence in my opinion is far more of a miracle than the creation of life itself.

    And “Life” in my opinion is probably quite common across the Universe.
    “Intelligent life”, even at the probably modest level we humans operate at, may be very, very rare indeed.

  29. John Marshall says:

    Why did the original experiment include hydrogen? It is too light to have remained in the atmosphere indeed soon after formation there was has been described as the magma ocean. The surface was molten, at about 1200C so hydrogen in this excited state would definitely have deserted the sinking ship that was to become earth. The primordial atmosphere more probably contain methane, hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, and our old friend CO2.

  30. David L says:

    I’m surprised that they didn’t find life in those sample vials, what with all those amino acids sitting around together for some 50 odd years!

  31. John Marshall says:

    And I should have mentioned Water vapour.

  32. Roger Carr says:

    Fascinating, Anthony… many, many thanks for shining your light on this.

  33. Frank Kotler says:

    Good argument for archiving your data, if nothing else!

    Best,
    Frank

  34. ScientistForTruth says:

    This is mythology, not science.

  35. jrwakefield says:

    Black smokers at spreading ridges appears to be on the focus for the origin of life. The energy flow and chemistry is more favorable than an over all sea of soup.

  36. jrwakefield says:

    1) It appears that the chance for life to appear on this (or any other) planet is so statistically impossible that it cannot happen in the lifetime of this universe, or any other, and…
    2) It happened anyway.

    Thus #1 is an incorrect assumption. Chance was only part of it. Chemical evolution, chemical selection and high energy input did it. Life happened because the energy and chemistry forced it. Given the same conditions throughout the universe, and there is a lot of life out there.

  37. Joe Lalonde says:

    Anthony,

    I follow the time line to the past through the study of wet ice ages and our oldest salt mines. Water evaporation is a key to understanding the creation of an atmosphere that has water vapor in it.
    This shows that salt was far more concentrated and water was almost as pure as today and not a bunch of chemical compounds. Meteors and comets, many have a great deal of water compounds longer than this planet was created.
    Planetary rotation was faster in the past, which needed more density not to fly off.

  38. Joe Lalonde says:

    Anthony,

    Ever hear science say that the salt on this planet came from the rocks?

    They have it backwards. The salt, silt and fossils created the rock.

  39. David A. Evans. says:

    On facebook I posted…

    It may seem strange to some but only negatives can prove a positive… Until a better negative comes along!

    I was actually referring to the four basic tenets of logic, AND/NAND OR/NOR. They can only be reduced to the negatives with NAND being the most reduced form.

    Is this a basic that’s been forgotten?

    DaveE.

  40. Dave says:

    Instead of rehashing old debates about the roles of god/chance/whatnot in the origin of life, does anyone want to take a stab at suggesting a reason why it should matter one way or the other? Would you change anything about your behaviour or lifestyle if you knew for sure which it was?

  41. DR says:

    Tornado in the junkyard comes to mind.

  42. Ken Lydell says:

    Primordial hogwash, I think. Chemical feedstocks are entirely too dilute and energy input too weak to support vigorous autocatalytic activity in bodies of water. Far more plausible processes can be found in Tom Gold’s Deep Hot Biosphere and in ocean floor geothermal vents.

  43. Doug Allen says:

    One of the puzzling things in life is life! What is extremely improbable over a few million years may be probable (a thousand times more likely) over a few billion years. This misunderstanding (or underappreciation of the immense scope of time) is one of the major blinders of the “can’t happen” crowd.

  44. Eric Anderson says:

    jrwakefield: “Chance was only part of it. Chemical evolution, chemical selection and high energy input did it. Life happened because the energy and chemistry forced it. Given the same conditions throughout the universe, and there is a lot of life out there.”

    So your idea is that life is inevitable because the laws of chemistry and physics cause life to form? I’m curious, what’s your theory? How does this occur, are you aware of some as-yet-undisclosed law of chemistry and physics that would cause this to happen. Please enlighten us.

  45. Mike M says:

    Who knew “you are what you eat” applied to molecules. If it doesn’t violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics who am I to disagree?

  46. Don K says:

    The Miller-Urey experiments are very important historically, but IMO are not too relevant to how life evolved. They were the first of a number of experiments that demonstrated that complex organic compounds can be created from simple precursors, without the help of living creatures/plants. Neither is the exact mix of stuff Miller used all that important. The early earth — like the earth today — probably had a primary surface chemistry system as well as a number of niche situations with quite different physical characteristics. We don’t actually KNOW what any of them looked like and probably won’t for many decades, or centuries, or maybe ever. It’s probably plausible to assume that any molecule necessary to a particular evolutionary scheme could have existed — at least in small quantities.

    And yes there are two things that we do not understand very well:

    1.0 Exactly how one particular family of atomic organizations came to consistently dominate its mirror image form. Once life evolved, that ceases to be an issue since living creatures have the preference built in. But how did that come about?

    2.0 Last time I looked, there’s a pretty big gap between simple organic compounds with a few or maybe a few dozen atoms in the largest molecules, and the simplest self replicating systems which are (or were when I last looked) proteins with over 1500 atoms. (and also, are in no way, shape, or form, alive).

  47. Eric Anderson says:

    pwl, thanks, I’m familiar with Wolfram. I’m also familiar with Kauffman and the emergence theorists. Neither of these are very helpful in understanding the formation of life.

    “We’re just bio-goop-mostly-ugly-bags-of-water that can reproduce and that are made up of many complex systems built upon simple systems generating complex behaviors.”

    This kind of statement illustrates my prior point exactly: many people take a very simplistic view of life and don’t take time to think through what is actually required for life. As a result, they tend to vastly underestimate the task at hand.

    “Self assembly is a step required before self-copying aka self-reproduction. It’s a matter of “exploring the space of simple molecules that self assemble” to find the ones that can “self-copy” and thus replicate which is a prerequisite for life.”

    Can you point me to a single example of a self-replicating molecule? (Hint: we’re not talking about a self-replicating system, we’re talking about a self-replicating molecule, which is what you posit was somehow formed to allow life to get off the ground.)

    “Nature can easily conduct exhaustive combinatorial searches through such even vast combinatorial spaces.”

    This is just evidence that you haven’t run the math. The combinatorial space required to get even a simple complex of the required proteins is way beyond the available time and resources of the known universe. This is precisely why other folks are trying to come up with some other self-organizing mechanism, just like jrwakefield alluded to in the comments above.

    I asked, “Can you please point me to a single example of a self-reproducing molecular system that is known to have arisen through natural causes?” And you responded “Look in the mirror Eric.”

    Very funny, but, sorry, that is an invalid response. First of all, you don’t have any evidence that life arose through natural causes, you are just assuming and stating it as though it were a fact. Second, we’re talking about the formation of life; that is the entire question at hand. You can’t provide a valid explanation for life by circularly referring to life. I didn’t think it was necessary in the context of the discussion to say so, but just so we are clear, allow me to rephrase the question:

    In the context of a discussion about the formation of life, can you please point me to a single example of a self-reproducing molecular system that is known to have arisen through natural causes (without invoking circular references to life, the very thing we are trying to explain)?

  48. Alexander K says:

    Thanks for this one, Anthony. I brilliant example of why I am a daily visitor here.
    I remember seeing a working model train set in store window during WWII, when I was somewhere past three years old. I get a similar feeling of wonder and fascination from posts such as this.

  49. LarryD says:

    The current understanding of the evolution of Earth’s atmosphere has the “primordial” atmosphere much like that of Venus; 90 times our current atmosphere’s mass and over 98% CO2. But Earth has been in the Habitable Zone from the beginning, liquid water has been present in vast amounts for a very long time. Much of the primordial CO2 has been sequestered into carbonate rock.

    Miller’s experiments used a composition of gasses that did not match Earth’s atmosphere during the period when life first appeared, so they are not really all that illuminating.

  50. johnnythelowery says:

    There’s been lots of evolutionary biology study on Phenotype, Evo/Devo. Multi-cellular, etc. but it’s rather bizarre that no one has done any on the cell itself. It got over looked. So, if you go trawling through the popular books about evolution such as Dawkins and the like you won’t find any evolutionary cellular biology. Because no one has done any. Came as a shock to me but then I never could understand why I couldn’t find any. It’s the last frontier if Dr. Michael Lynch of Ind. Uni. is to be believed. I recommend put this link in your search box and go through the presentation given my Lynch. You’ll be up to speed very quickly…at least to Jan 2010. But then, if you don’t want to see your favourite arm waving book author disssed, …. Dawkins, Behe, Gould…. then I wouldn’t. It lasts an hour and is a presentation given by him summarizing a much longer presentation. Infact, the whole KITP conference is available….free. 24/7. As to whether there is or isn’t meta-physics involved: perhaps we can wait until the cellular science is done before rulling meta in or out, afterall, that’s where it all begins.
    Hour version – Quicktime

    http://online.itp.ucsb.edu/online/bblunch/lynch/rm/qttv.html

    Longer version – Quicktime

    http://online.itp.ucsb.edu/online/evocell10/lynch4/rm/flashtv.html

    As for this experiment by Miller. It’s very telling that it could be done in by kid in his basement but no one has bothered to reproduce it (and get the results he overlooked).
    Very telling. Obviously; they feel it’s not science noteworthy so why the excitement now?

  51. Kip Hansen says:

    Following Schrödinger, we know the cat is either dead or alive, but we just don’t understand, at a deep level, what the difference really is. Making chemicals whether hydrocarbons or amino acids, does little to illuminate this question.

  52. A G Foster says:

    Max Hugoson: What about banded iron 2 billion years ago? When oxygen first appeared (and reappeared) in the air, iron first began to oxidize, and in fact O2 could not establish itself until all surface iron had been oxidized. This had not been the case before.

  53. D Caldwell says:

    In my view the vast gulf that separates a few organic compounds created in this kind of experiment from the incredible chemical and structural complexity of a single living cell is not even close to being bridged by our current scientific understanding. Oh sure, we have lots of brilliant speculation as to how it might have happend over billions of years of random events, but it remains only speculation. The fact that life is indeed here in no way settles the question as to how it came to be.

    I submit that the question as to how the first single living cell came into being remains a profound mystery.

  54. johnnythelowery says:

    The second link I posted is the 3 hour presentation but begins with the discussion of populist ‘evolution’ books—-FYI.

  55. tmtisfree says:

    a single example of a self-reproducing molecular system that is known to have arisen through natural causes

    First, it may be difficult to find a suitable example because it is the precise process searchers are after to fill the gap between the ‘primordial soup’ and the ‘complex system’ we could define as ‘life’. So demanding for such example is fallacious.

    Second, concluding from such missing step (and many others), as some people have done previously (here and elsewhere), that because we don’t know, it must be God, is the equivalent of saying that because we don’t know why climate changes, it must be CO2. Such method is unscientific.

    Third, Biology obeys the laws of Physics (ie all what we know in Biology is explainable and consistent with Physics). No divine intervention is required to describe and explain the world in which life has emerged, ie Physics is a self-sufficient framework. Therefore no supernatural entity nor any other teleological speculation has to be logically assumed to explain the currently unknown in Biology, only laws of Physics.

    So, as usually in Science, the proper experiment will (one day) fill the gap between what we know and what we don’t (yet) know.

    But let the folklore lives in the meantime.

  56. maryr says:

    Dave says:
    March 23, 2011 at 6:06 am
    Instead of rehashing old debates about the roles of god/chance/whatnot in the origin of life, does anyone want to take a stab at suggesting a reason why it should matter one way or the other? Would you change anything about your behaviour or lifestyle if you knew for sure which it was?

    Well of course it matters whether we were created by God or by chance. And of course it changes your behaviour. If I am created by God then I have to do something with that God. Does He care about us? Does He have rules as to what is right and what is wrong? Is there a consequence for not obeying Him? If there is an eternal God does that mean I will live somewhere, based on my life, forever?
    And if this all happened by chance then there is no creator no God and I assume the role of God. I decide what is right or wrong based on how I was raised or my cultural beliefs or what feels right to me. No one can impose his or her will on me because I am my god and you are your god. No absolutes, no truth, no rules, except mine for me and yours for you.

    As for me I know that there is a God who created everything and gave it order and structure. When I see discussions like this I think of Occam’s razor. Scientists have spent years and years coming up with the most complex convoluted theories to explain the extraordinary complexity of life that we see around us. Saying that this great complexity of something evolved from nothing instead of looking to the obvious that we were created by God. And they do it because if they admit that God created us then they have to do something with that God, either believe in Him or deny Him.

    So yes it does matter whether you believe we are created by ‘chance’ or by God, and I would suggest it is the most important belief you’ll ever have in your life.
    mary

  57. Dave Worley says:

    “Doug Allen says:
    March 23, 2011 at 6:43 am
    One of the puzzling things in life is life! What is extremely improbable over a few million years may be probable (a thousand times more likely) over a few billion years. This misunderstanding (or underappreciation of the immense scope of time) is one of the major blinders of the “can’t happen” crowd.”

    Well said….it’s way beyond our perception.

    Amino Acids in Meteorites says:
    March 22, 2011 at 10:15 pm
    “that allowed prebiotic matter to accumulate in sufficient quantities to assemble into more complex material and eventually into primitive life itself.”

    “God did something to make it come together on earth, and who knows where else in the Universe, or I should say, the Multiverse, or “The Bulk”, since it’s becoming clearer there’s more than one Universe, nobody can know how many just yet. ”

    The term Universe by definition means one. There can be no more. Perhaps what you are referring to are other dimensions within the universe? Otherwise know as things far beyond our perception.

    IMHO the proper combination of materials exist on earth, and time permitted the events to unfold. Of that we can be sure.

    If that disagrees with one’s religious belief, then why not be comforted by the knowledge that the properties of the inorganic materials, and their motions, were not likely self ordained.

  58. Eric Anderson says:

    tmtisfree: “First, it may be difficult to find a suitable example because it is the precise process searchers are after to fill the gap between the ‘primordial soup’ and the ‘complex system’ we could define as ‘life’. So demanding for such example is fallacious.”

    Excellent, so you concede that no-one knows of such an example yet. Precisely my point.

    “Second, concluding from such missing step (and many others), as some people have done previously (here and elsewhere), that because we don’t know, it must be God, is the equivalent of saying that because we don’t know why climate changes, it must be CO2. Such method is unscientific.”

    I generally agree with you on this point. I certainly didn’t make that assumption (though perhaps others have).

    “Third, Biology obeys the laws of Physics (ie all what we know in Biology is explainable and consistent with Physics). No divine intervention is required to describe and explain the world in which life has emerged, ie Physics is a self-sufficient framework. Therefore no supernatural entity nor any other teleological speculation has to be logically assumed to explain the currently unknown in Biology, only laws of Physics.”

    Yes, of course biology obeys the laws of physics. Your conclusion that physics is a sufficient cause for the formation of life does not follow, however, and is wholly unwarranted. To wit, the fact that in your first paragraph you acknowledged that no-one knows how it happened yet. Thus, your statement is little more than a declaration of faith in physics. And by physics, I presume you mean chance chemical and physical occurrences that happen to not violate the laws of physics? Or do you posit some physical law that inevitably causes life to arise? Further, you haven’t even dealt with the critial aspect, that of information. The fact that biology follows the laws of physics is no more relevant to the origin of life than the fact that pen and paper both follow the laws of physics is relevant to the origin of War and Peace. Life is *not* simply a collection of particles that follow the laws of physics and chemistry. What do we make of the fact that there is information in life?

  59. Ellen says:

    I’m hardly learned about the Miller synthesis experiment; but it has been my impression that whatever the mixture of gases they started out with, they ended up with molecules basic to biology. If that is true, then the exact composition of the early atmosphere is of minor relevance.

    While the Miller experiment proves very little, it is a powerful plausibility argument. If you can create this many complex organics in a volume of a few liters, over a week or so — think what could happen if we run the same experiment over the entire Earth, for a billion years!

    A billion years is not only longer than you imagine, it’s longer than you can imagine.

  60. tmtisfree says:

    Saying that this great complexity of something evolved from nothing instead of looking to the obvious that we were created by God.

    It does not matter you believe in God (or not): your (absence of) belief is independent of the research about the complexity of life. The complexity of the whole Universe relies upon the interactions of a few dozens of particles (and possibly at a deeper scale of few elemental strings) which combinations lead from deeper scales to higher scales to entities with greater complexity but relatively decipherable laws governing their existence and interactions: no deity is required for explaining this chain of processes. Arguably life is a matter of 3 or 4 scales on the whole body of scales, where 1 or 2 are yet unknown. There is no reason why we should not find in the future the mechanisms behind the complexity of life or any similarly and apparently intractable problems. If History is of any help, it shows that at any given time the unknown has only defined the limit of our own understanding, not the requirement of any supernaturality.

  61. Mike M says:

    tmtisfree says: “No divine intervention is required to describe and explain the world in which life has emerged, ie Physics is a self-sufficient framework. ”

    Yeah, but who came up with that exact value for Pi that we can’t quite nail down yet?

  62. Smokey says:

    …And who invented Physics?

  63. AC says:

    I haven’t read all the comments so I’m adding blind here forgive me if someone has already mentioned this.

    There is some questions about out gassing from the earth and when the last Extinction Level Event (ELE) occured that would have destroyed all of the . It seems the geo physical evidence puts the outgasing ending about 4.2 Billon years ago, and the last surface ELE at 4.2 Billion years ago.. .. if they bring that ELE forward to 4.1 the experiement would be interesting but fruitless.

    Another option is seeding of pre-biotics from space – that is meteors raining in simple sugars and such that are imbeded in them. This happens today btw.

    Lastly another option is that in a sufficently mixing ocean, with lots of disovled CO2 and other chemicals the water will organize like 5 and 6 carbon sugars for a breif instant – measured in milli seconds – but perhaps long enough to help provide a frame work for ribose or glucose to be formed.

    All of these are interesting, but lacking a TARDIS, I suppose we won’t ever know for sure… ;)

    (all this from a 1 credit hour college course 20 years ago ! – but then it was perhaps about 1 of about 30 credit ours of my degree that was really interesting – total degree was like 120-130 so 1/4 was of any lasting interest)

  64. tmtisfree says:

    Yes, of course biology obeys the laws of physics. Your conclusion that physics is a sufficient cause for the formation of life does not follow, however, and is wholly unwarranted. To wit, the fact that in your first paragraph you acknowledged that no-one knows how it happened yet.

    There is no (causal or others) relation between my third and first statements : that the precise mechanism(s) of how life formed is yet unknown, this stands by itself as our current level of knowledge (or lack thereof). That does not impede any consequence about the enforcement of physical Laws on Biology. In addition, you cannot have it both ways: either Biology obeys the Laws of Physics (ie Laws of Physics is sufficient to explain Biology), either Physics is not sufficient (ie Biology is explained by some other undefined and non-physical something. That is, Biology does not obey the Laws of Physics). There is an inescapable logical inconsistency in this line of reasoning.

    And by physics, I presume you mean

    By Physics, I means all the fundamental Laws governing all the processes at all the scales of what is currently measurable. Not more, not less.

    What do we make of the fact that there is information in life?

    Information is indeed important in the characterization of the degree of complexity of system, together with energy and matter. But this concept offers no explanation (because of its fuzziness or ill-definition), at every levels [(sub-)molecular, macromolecular, cellular and even above] considered, on the physical mechanisms or processes (which obeys Laws of Physics) involved in life emergence, and thus is irrelevant.

  65. Eric Anderson says:

    Ellen: “While the Miller experiment proves very little, it is a powerful plausibility argument. If you can create this many complex organics in a volume of a few liters, over a week or so — think what could happen if we run the same experiment over the entire Earth, for a billion years!”

    Yeah, you get more of those organics. Has very little to do with formation of life.

    “A billion years is not only longer than you imagine, it’s longer than you can imagine.”

    A billion years is but a rounding error for the kinds of time that would be required to form proteins and similar kinds of complex molecules by chance. Amino acids are but the building blocks and assuming that they can self-organize into anything closely resembling life is a bit like finding some silicate sand on the beach and assuming it can turn into a supercomputer.

    ————

    tmtisfree, can we set aside the discussion about God and the supernatural and just look at what we have from an objective standpoint. I don’t know what you mean by “supernatural.”

  66. D Caldwell says:

    Ellen said:
    “think what could happen if we run the same experiment over the entire Earth, for a billion years!
    A billion years is not only longer than you imagine, it’s longer than you can imagine.”

    You make a good point and it would be quite easy for one to overlook the notion of the incomprehensible passage of time in a billion years. However, methinks that some here are oversimplifying or completely assuming away the equally incomprehensible leap from a brew of organic compounds to the incredible complexity of a single living cell. No one comes anywhere close to understanding how such a leap could have occurred – much less actually reproducing it.

    Assume a primordial mix of elements, add a volcano here, a strike of lightning there, maybe a few meteors, agitate with unknown perturbations for a billion years, and badda bing! – out comes a living, reproducing cell.
    Get what I mean?

  67. tmtisfree says:

    Yeah, but who came up with that exact value for Pi that we can’t quite nail down yet?

    I have had discussion in the past with some folks who think Maths are no Science. But to be fair I am not sure what is your point.

  68. tmtisfree says:

    can we set aside the discussion about God

    My response to you (March 23, 2011 at 1:11 pm) is God-free.
    My post at March 23, 2011 at 11:36 am is to maryr March 23, 2011 at 9:50 am.

  69. Jim G says:

    Even if life is a great statistically determined accident of time, laws of physics and biology, just knowing that if the fine structure constant were a little different, or if the universe had expanded a little slower, or a little faster, or if the energy levels within the atomic structure were a little different, etc, etc, that none of what is would exist, is enough to prove, for me, that there is an Intelligent Designer. And He must have a a great deal of patience and a tremendous sense of humor to put up with us.

  70. Dave Worley says:

    One of those deep threads it seems.
    Take, for example, the Big Bang.

    Why must the universe have had a beginning, when it seems to really have no end (temporal or spatial)?

    Could it be that we project our own mortal limitations upon the universe? Out of envy perhaps?

    Why would an omnipotent being wait until a certain point in time to make a big bang?

    Makes me wonder if there is another explanation for Red Shift.

  71. tmtisfree says:

    No one comes anywhere close to understanding how such a leap could have occurred – much less actually reproducing it.

    This is the point of contention. It appears that a lab experiment using a mix of simple gases and ingredients and by applying also simple physical phenomenons is able to produced relatively complex molecules which are the bricks of a key molecular system required to sustains life.
    In itself, it is not a demonstration of anything (panspermia can also explain those molecules). But this link suggests a line of research like a light in a tunnel: the combination of the simple leads to the complex, a paradigm so usual in other scientific fields.
    Nevertheless, at scales above this simple experiment (for example the apparition of auto-catalytic systems) how such mechanisms emerge is still unclear, even in a simple living entity. So they are studied in chemistry or material science (ie self-assembly).
    I agree thought the puzzle looks awfully mingled at the moment, but History shows that Science is a succession of such despairs only to push the limit further.

  72. Tim McHenry says:

    I find it interesting that the “scientific” community that believes in abiogenesis has a hard time finding representatives for formal debate. Several have posted here that seem as if they, or someone they know, would qualify and be able to receive sponsorship for a debate on the subject. I can easily arrange the place, a qualified debater, an academic institution’s facilities, and sponsorship for one arguing against abiogenesis, Any takers on the other end?

  73. johnnythelowery says:

    Just because someone is a Christian (say) doesn’t mean they don’t find the story of how life began interesting, worth studying and pursuing. Vigilance is also needed so no one hijacks the subject to declare a winner when infact no such conclusion can be drawn(hello Mr. Dawkins). It is one of the most fascinating subjects there is frankly, for me, and would like to see the WUWT brain power brought to bear on the subject but as it gets close to religion…..the heat gets turned up and the discussion dissolves.
    What is the truth of the matter. What is the limit of knowledge. What are the gaps and what can fill it. As NO ONE has done any evolutionary biology on the cell, and no one has cracked the origin of life…..we have a long way to go on this one. As Dr. Lynch said, if all the human cells in us died and all the bacterial ones kept going, you’d still be able to see us walking around. We are the accumulation of many divisions of cells and we tend to accumulate intron errors spliced into our DNA. We are al Mutants with each generation of human having a 100 or so additional intron inserts. Most of them are delitirious. The development can only be explained…in the absence of natural selection (though it does play a minor role). Before RNA is completed and certified to be used to make a protein, the introns have to be snipped out. One virus has 2 introns and a 128 protein splicing machine to manage those two introns. I digress…. so, the origin of life story, which doesn’t exist yet, is important because life is incredibly…. implausible! Yes? No?

  74. johnnythelowery says:

    …Ambiogenesis??

  75. johnnythelowery says:

    Wasn’t there a headline recently about a find of a living _________ which was living and thriving in a pond of brackish ___________ (i’d like to say Sauerkraut but that would be just wrong!)

  76. JimF says:

    Good geological arm-waving stuff in that post. And one, because it deals with US (and not some esoteric thing like andesite or eclogite), we ALL can wave our arms about. However there were some entirely new geological concepts introduced in the comments.

    Now a question:
    @Thomas L says:
    March 23, 2011 at 12:52 am “…G-d throws dice…”. Who is this Geedashduh you speak off? I’m looking for a good game of craps. Got a phone number for him/her?

  77. johnnythelowery says:

    You are a big name author of ‘science’ books and your books clog the local book store however they are mythological. You’ve put no effort into understanding evolutionary science and show no desire to. Please stand up………………………… Mr. Dawkins!!!!

    (Don’t believe me: watch first 5 minutes of this gem!)

    http://online.itp.ucsb.edu/online/evocell10/lynch/rm/qttv.html

  78. pwl says:

    In response to “Eric Anderson, March 23, 2011 at 7:07 am”

    “Self assembly is a step required before self-copying aka self-reproduction. It’s a matter of “exploring the space of simple molecules that self assemble” to find the ones that can “self-copy” and thus replicate which is a prerequisite for life.” – pwl

    “Can you point me to a single example of a self-replicating molecule? (Hint: we’re not talking about a self-replicating system, we’re talking about a self-replicating molecule, which is what you posit was somehow formed to allow life to get off the ground.)” – Eric Anderson

    DNA is a self replicating molecule. Clearly it is an example.

    “Nature can easily conduct exhaustive combinatorial searches through such even vast combinatorial spaces.” – pwl

    “This is just evidence that you haven’t run the math. The combinatorial space required to get even a simple complex of the required proteins is way beyond the available time and resources of the known universe. This is precisely why other folks are trying to come up with some other self-organizing mechanism, just like jrwakefield alluded to in the comments above.”

    I don’t have to run the math, Nature did and we are the evidence of it not taking more than the available time and resources of the known universe. In fact it seems that life formed within a few billion years of the Sol System forming (assuming life in the Sol System originated within the Sol System). Really it took much less time once conditions on the newly formed Earth were amenable.

    “I asked, “Can you please point me to a single example of a self-reproducing molecular system that is known to have arisen through natural causes?” And you responded “Look in the mirror Eric.”” – Eric Anderson

    “Very funny, but, sorry, that is an invalid response.” – Eric Anderson

    Not invalid at all, it’s a evidence based response. You exist. You can verify that by looking in the mirror. Clearly you and other life on earth are self-reproducing molecular systems. When you look in the mirror you see that evidence. So while funny it’s 100% accurate, and evident..

    “First of all, you don’t have any evidence that life arose through natural causes, you are just assuming and stating it as though it were a fact.” – Eric Anderson

    Excuse me? Are you suggesting that life magically started some other way? Like the wave of a magic wand or something?

    Of course the origin of life is 100% natural causes. This isn’t Sunday School Eric, this is real hard life and actual science about the objective reality of Nature.

    Are you Eric proposing a super natural explanation? If so please provide all the evidence for that. Oh right, there is no evidence for that and tons of scientific evidence against it from even being possible.

    “Second, we’re talking about the formation of life; that is the entire question at hand. You can’t provide a valid explanation for life by circularly referring to life.”

    Not allowed to explain life because we’re looking for an explanation of life. Sigh.

    Yes you can use life to explain life; clearly life exists. That’s an observable evident fact and is not circular, it is just what is so. Clearly life must have gone through a phase of development where it was able to self assemble and self-replicate and to correct those mistakes otherwise no life would be here today. These are self evident facts. Unless you want the non-scientific Sunday School explanation that life magically appeared out of a puff of magic smoke, but if you go that route you’re not being scientific at all so good luck with that.

    Wolfram’s discoveries are highly relevant to not just self assembly, but to self replication and self correcting during transcription copying. Cellular Automata and other simple systems exist all over in Nature and proliferate in biology demonstrating the relevance of Wolfram’s discoveries at all scale levels. With simple systems generating complex behaviors that can be as complex as any complex behavior it’s no wonder that life exists. Yes, in many ways the universe is a computing machine that has chemistry and physics that are highly amenable to the process of life generation. It’s a matter of Nature working the combinations in the muck or in the atmosphere with zaps and going through the chemical bumps in the sunlight or night or depths of the oceans near the heat vents. Whatever the specifics the universe using very simple non-intelligent rules to be not just able to produce life but it’s almost easy given the physics, chemistry, and and other conditions. It’s likely that there are many forms of life, more than we can imagine. Nature doesn’t have to compute them all but over the vast span of the Goldilocks era of the Universe’s existence it’s very likely that life has or will start a vast number of times. In fact given what we now already know about physics, chemistry, biology, information science, simple systems generating complexity, the primordial soup, etc… it’s reasonable to say that life starting in the universe is pretty much inevitable in places where the conditions and timing are “right”. It’s a shake and bake life creating universe. Nature seems to like to create life and even puts the parts needed for life together in space! That’s so cool.

    “In the context of a discussion about the formation of life, can you please point me to a single example of a self-reproducing molecular system that is known to have arisen through natural causes (without invoking circular references to life, the very thing we are trying to explain)?”

    Look in the mirror Eric, look in the mirror and put your books with imaginary invisible super alien being aside and pick up some science books instead. Open your mind to the objective reality of Nature with all it’s magnificent beauty and stark horrors and learn what is actually real and what is actually possible.

  79. Zeke the Sneak says:

    I’ll go with jonnythelowry that the complexity of life is “implausible.” I would also add that it is amazing, breathtaking and awe inspiring, particularly with recent biological improvements in teeth, brain organization and speed, and perfected form in limbs/extremities.

  80. D Caldwell says:

    tmtisfree says:
    “I agree thought the puzzle looks awfully mingled at the moment, but History shows that Science is a succession of such despairs only to push the limit further.”

    I liked your post and mostly agree. Perhaps we will someday unravel the profound mystery of the origin of life. I am really happy you acknowledge there is an enormous leap from a brew of amino acids to an actual living cell. That’s all I really meant to express.

  81. George E. Smith says:

    “”””” And “Life” in my opinion is probably quite common across the Universe.
    “Intelligent life”, even at the probably modest level we humans operate at, may be very, very rare indeed. “””””

    Seems like a self defeating proposition to me.

    The whole SETI project is predicated on one quite unsupportable fallacy; that “intelligence somehow imparts greater survivability.” Intelligent systems can manouver around their own weaknesses, and therefore survive when non-intelligent self replicating systems couldn’t.

    Ergo since intelligent systems have superior survivability; there must be more intelligent systems than there are non-intelligent systems.

    We can conclude therefore, that “intelligence is just the latest gimmic that Mother Nature is trying out in the search for “survival of the fittest”, and there is little evidence that it is any good for that purpose.

    The dinosaurs survived for 140 million years or so, just by being big and mean and ugly; and maybe it did take a Iridium meteorite to wipe them out; but i doubt it. So we aren’t even very far into our very first million years of intelligence; and we may not make it through the next millenium.

    Besides there are more creatures on earth that look like lobsters, than there are that look anything like humans, so we clearly are on the wrong track.

    Carl Sagan went to meet his maker, without ever having discovered even one single binary digit of scientific observational data on “intelligent life” originating outside a thin shell perhaps +/- 25 km about mean sea level on planet earth. So much for a great waste of intelligence.

    Seems clear to me that intelligence can’t be the secret to longevity in survival, or else it would be the most abundant form of life.

  82. pwl says:

    Eric Anderson, since you’d rather stay blind and not look at the evidence of life in the mirror here is another example of self replicating molecular systems.

    Life makes more of itself. And now so can a set of custom-designed chemicals. Chemists have shown that a group of synthetic enzymes replicated, competed and evolved much like a natural ecosystem, but without life or cells.

    So long as you provide the building blocks and the starter seed, it goes forever,” said Gerald Joyce, a chemist at the Scripps Research Institute and co-author of the paper published Thursday in Science. “It is immortalized molecular information.”

    Joyce’s chemicals are technically hacked RNA enzymes, much like the ones we have in our bodies, but they don’t behave anything like those in living creatures. But, these synthetic RNA replicators do provide a model for evolution — and shed light on one step in the development of early living systems from on a lifeless globe.

    Scientists believe that early life on Earth was much more primitive than what we see around us today. It probably didn’t use DNA like our cells do. This theory of the origin of life is called the RNA World hypothesis, and it posits that life began using RNA both to store information, like DNA does now, and as a catalyst allowing the molecules to reproduce. To try to understand what this life might have looked like, researchers are trying to build models for early life forms and in the process, they are discovering entirely new lifelike behavior that nonetheless isn’t life, at least as we know it.

    As Joyce put it, “This is more of a Life 2.0 thing.”

    The researchers began with pairs of enzymes they’ve been tweaking and designing for the past eight years. Each member of the pairs can only reproduce with the help of the other member.

    We have two enzymes, a plus and a minus,” Joyce explains. “The plus assembles the pieces to make the minus enzyme, and the minus enzyme assembles the pieces to draw the plus. It’s kind of like biology, where there is a DNA strand with plus and minus strands.

    From there, Joyce and his graduate student Tracey Lincoln, added the enzymes into a soup of building blocks, strings of nucleic bases that can be assembled into RNA, DNA or larger strings, and tweaked them to find pairs of enzymes that would reproduce. One day, some of the enzymes “went critical” and produced more RNA enzymes than the researchers had put in.

    It was an important day, but Joyce and Lincoln wanted more. They wanted to create an entire population of enzymes that could replicate, compete and evolve, which is exactly what they did.

    “To put it in info speak, we have a channel of 30 bit capacity for transferring information,” Joyce said. “We can configure those bits in different ways and make a variety of different replicators. And then have them compete with each other.”

    But it wasn’t just a bunch of scientist-designed enzymes competing, like a miniature molecular BattleBots sequence. As soon as the replicators got into the broth, they began to change.

    Most of the time they breed true, but sometimes there is a bit flip — a mutation — and it’s a different replicator,,” explained Joyce.

    Most of these mutations went away quickly, but — sound familiar? — some of the changes ended up being advantageous to the chemicals in replicating better. After 77 doublings of the chemicals, astounding changes had occurred in the molecular broth.

    All the original replicators went extinct and it was the new recombinants that took over,” said Joyce. “There wasn’t one winner.
    There was a whole cloud of winners, but there were three mutants that arose that pretty much dominated the population.

    It turned out that while the scientist-designed enzymes were great at reproducing without competition, when you put them in the big soup mix, a new set of mutants emerged that were better at replicating within the system. It almost worked like an ecosystem, but with just straight chemistry.

    “This is indeed interesting work,” said Jeffrey Bada, a chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who was not involved with the work. It shows that RNA molecules “could have carried out their replication in the total absence” of the more sophisticated biological machinery that life now possesses.

    “This is a nice example of the robustness of the RNA world hypothesis,” he said. However, “it still leaves the problem of how RNA first came about. Some type of self-replicating molecule likely proceeded RNA and what this was is the big unknown at this point.”

    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/01/replicatingrna

  83. Paul Westhaver says:

    http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.php/literature/2010/02/25/primordial_soup_is_well_past_its_sell_by

    More is implied about Stanley Miller’s experiments than actual occurred.

    It was shelved since no appropriate polymerization model could be shown.

    Ok he made salts.

  84. Dave Worley says:

    Lots of arm waving for sure.
    We can’t even come close to modeling the earth’s atmosphere, much less the origin of life.
    A dose of humility is in order.

  85. Paul Westhaver says:

    I believe that the scientific method will prevail. In our technological world, the discipline of science has fallen victim to the vernacularization of investigatory discipline even amongst scientists.

    If spontaneous generation happened long ago with simpler and less abundant base materials, then it MUST be happening now as well. With all the eyes and laboratories out there, one would think that we could have seen it once in a lab.

    So, show me.

    PW

  86. Roger Carr says:

    ROM says: (March 23, 2011 at 1:30 am)
    But that’s life!

    Very, very nice essay, ROM. Thank you.

  87. Khwarizmi says:

    Fascinating post with some excellent comments.
    I first read about the Miller experiment 39 years ago (when I was 4 years old) in an extraordinary book called “The Origin of Johnny”:

    Some people have said that there are no theories or plausible explanations offered for breaching the gulf between organic molecules and a fully functioning cell. Nevertheless, my old copy of Biology, by Campbell, Reece & Mitchell (5th edition, 1999), contradicts that oft-repeated assertion with a ten page segment dedicated to the development of cells from organic precursors. e.g.:
    =======
    According to one hypothetical scenario, the first organisms were products of a a chemical evolution is four stages: (1) the abiotic (nonliving) synthesis and accumulation of small organic molecules, or monomers, such as amino acids and nucleotides; (2) the joining of these monomers into polymers, including proteins and nucleic acids; (3) the aggregation of abiotically produced molecules into droplets, called protobionts, that had chemical characteristics different from their surroundings; and (4) the origin of heredity (which may have been under way even before the “droplet” stage). It is possible to test the plausibility of these stages in laboratory experiments.
    (op.cit, pp. 492-493)
    ============

    Interestingly, awash with vast tracts of abiotic hydrocarbons, Saturn’s moon Titan–according to some folks at NASA–“contains all the ingredients for life” :

    http://esse.engin.umich.edu/PSL/PRESS/Titan_Cassini_Huygens/AP_Wire_012705.pdf

    Perhaps petroleum was crucial to our origin.

  88. johnnythelowery says:

    Zeke….all this time we’ve been talking and you are this lovely….limbs perfect with
    perfect extremeties [Snip ]…
    Leif isn’t going to show up here I don’t think. Anyway, Well, he might…now. Look, the reason you have finger print stuff on your finger tips…for grip and identification and not on your elbow is because……[ ] There will be a mechanistic explanation as there are for the 30 million other odd ‘technologies’ in biology which i find, in total, to be incompatible with my sense of how everything would be in the absence of a ‘intervening and pervasive presence’. We can all agree; there is something weired about this planet, our lives and the universe we live in. If Physics, Chem, Bio etc strains to come up with a convoluted long shot potential explanation doesn’t change the first premise for many. And the more I look, I feel more comfortable i am with the former. Take the quantum light offsetting of the pigment-less Peacock feather which gives it it’s color. Scientists say ‘….it’s as if the Peacock is an expert in Quantum Light offset effects…’ without considering that…………. it is. Because…that opens pandora’s box. And we can’t have that. When you read the actual science, it’s riddled with observations and statements like that always stop short of…the next (ill)logical step. No, No, No,…let’s not go there. Let’s just say “IT’S AS IF…” That next step will always be optional no matter how patently absurdley obvious.

  89. tmtisfree says:

    I’ll go with jonnythelowry that the complexity of life is “implausible.”

    There is no mean to determine this probability. Even if you consider Drake’s equation has some heuristic value, not one of the probabilistic and non-probabilistic terms in the equation is known, has been measured or will be in the foreseeable future, meaning that the result can be anything from zero to any big number, ie is a unscientific guess.

    What is more interesting is how to formalize the complexity of living entity in term of specific organizational hierarchy to overcome complexity. For example the seminal paper by Varela et al (Autopoiesis: The organization of living systems, its characterization and a model, available here) suggests that we can get ride of non-essential biological phenomenons such as evolution and reproduction to focus instead on the characterization of the necessary and sufficient properties at the organization level to sustain life (theory of autopoiesis).

    Such theoretical studies suggest that the key property of living entities (autopoietic systems) is the maintenance of their own organization. “In other words, autopoietic systems are self-generating systems, operating as homeostatic systems that have their own organization as the critical fundamental variable that they actively maintain constant” (see an accessible résumé here).

    This kind of new approach (some called it a paradigm shift) has led to what we know in artificial life, cybernetics and much much more. Fast forward some 35 years, and appreciate what is now possible with synthetic genomics. As Freeman Dyson notes about this paper:

    I feel sure of only one conclusion. The ability to design and create new forms of life marks a turning-point in the history of our species and our planet.

    Should we deduce that we, Humans, are now playing at the level of God?

  90. Smoking Frog says:

    Yeah, that brings back a memory. Around 1960, someone in my high school made a science fair project out of it, and I recall standing with a friend and explaining it to two or three adults – maybe including the school principal – who had never heard of Miller and his experiment. We had read about in Scientific American or somewhere.

  91. Leave God out? I have a much better idea: leave Dawkins out.

  92. Eric Anderson says:

    tmtisfree: “My response to you (March 23, 2011 at 1:11 pm) is God-free.”

    Fair enough. My bad. I think we cross posted, as I was typing my 1:12 p.m. post while yours went through the moderation cue, so I didn’t see your 1:11 post before I posted. So to address your 1:11 post:

    “. . . either Biology obeys the Laws of Physics (ie Laws of Physics is sufficient to explain Biology), either Physics is not sufficient (ie Biology is explained by some other undefined and non-physical something. That is, Biology does not obey the Laws of Physics).”

    This is a logical fallacy. The fact that something follows the laws of physics in no way whatsoever means that the laws of physics are sufficient to explain its existence. You are fundamentally confusing consistency with sufficiency; they are totally different concepts. Is it necessary for biology to follow the laws of physics? Sure. Does that mean that physics is sufficient to explain the origin of biological systems? Absolutely not. Look at the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.

    “By Physics, I means all the fundamental Laws governing all the processes at all the scales of what is currently measurable. Not more, not less.”

    My mistake. I thought you were proposing that life arose by chance. I now realize you are saying that life arose not by chance but as an inevitable byproduct of the laws of physics. So which law(s) of physics do you think caused life to arise? (Please, no vague generalizations and hand waving to physics generally as though it has some magical property to form life. Inquiring minds want to know: what is your proposal for how these laws of physics formed life? Which laws are you invoking and how do they operate to form life?)

    “Information is indeed important in the characterization of the degree of complexity of system, together with energy and matter.”

    It is not just a degree of information (or the oft-abused word “complexity”). It is a difference in kind. Compare a rock to an ant. It is not just a difference of degree in some vague concept of “complexity”. There is a fundamental difference in kind. One has a scalable, distributed system architecture with a 4-bit digital coding system, information storage, retrieval and translation mechanisms, concatenation and bit-parity algorithms, and so on. The rock doesn’t have the same thing, just in some less complex degree. It doesn’t have it, period.

    “But this concept offers no explanation . . .”

    It offers an exceedingly important clue about the origin of life.

  93. Eric Anderson says:

    pwl, I apologize in advance if the tone of the below is a bit abrupt, as I am somewhat exasperated that you seem to be missing the points, not out of an inability, but more an unwillingness. I think I was quite clear, but let me try again.

    pwl: “DNA is a self replicating molecule. Clearly it is an example.”

    No it isn’t. Do you have any idea what is required to replicate DNA? There is an entire suite of protein complexes, enzymes, carefully-controlled procedures, software heirarchy protocols, correction algorithms and more to get DNA copied. DNA is not even close to being “self-replicating.” Abiogenesis proponents are so fond of referring to their undefined, hypothetical “self-replicating” molecule that formed at some vague point in the distant past that they never stop to think about what is required for replication. So you have not provided an example and I ask again, can you provide me a single example of a self-replicating molecule?

    pwl: “I don’t have to run the math, Nature did and we are the evidence of it not taking more than the available time and resources of the known universe.”

    Thank you for that admission. I didn’t think you had run the math. Just a suggestion, if you want to find out what is actually required for life to form, you need to start dealing with some of the numbers, not just parroting vague statements about lots of time and resources. The time and resources of the known universe are but a rounding error against the probabilities needed for formation of life by known natural processes.

    Finally, you ask me to look in the mirror again. Do you understand that pointing to the existence of life as proof that life can arise through natural causes constitutes circular reasoning? The entire context of our discussion is how life arose. If all you are going to do is point to the existence of life it is entirely circular. If you don’t get that simple logical point, then I’m not sure we can pursue this particular aspect further.

    “Excuse me? Are you suggesting that life magically started some other way? Like the wave of a magic wand or something?”

    Nope, no magic wands, although it is funny that an abiogenesis proponent would accuse someone else of waving magic wands — lesseee, put some chemicals in a pot, stir them around for a while and tahdah! life! Talk about magic wands . . .

    “Of course the origin of life is 100% natural causes.”

    This is just a blatant statement of blind faith in the power of chance to so something that we have zero reason to believe it can. I know you haven’t done the math, so this is one area where it could really help.

    “It’s a matter of Nature working the combinations in the muck or in the atmosphere with zaps and going through the chemical bumps in the sunlight or night or depths of the oceans near the heat vents. Whatever the specifics the universe using very simple non-intelligent rules to be not just able to produce life but it’s almost easy given the physics, chemistry, and and other conditions.”

    This is an astounding statement. It’s almost easy, huh? Well, let the folks at the Harvard Origins project know right away, please. Again, it bears repeating: those who think that forming life is a simple process have no idea what is involved in getting simple life off the ground. You are Exhibit A in proving my point.

    “Look in the mirror Eric, look in the mirror and put your books with imaginary invisible super alien being aside and pick up some science books instead.”

    Well, you sure love that mirror. I’m trying to say this in a non-demeaning way, but it appears you are not in any position to lecture me about origins science. I have obviously picked up way more science books on the topic than you have. If you haven’t done the math, as you admit, if you don’t have a good feel for what is involved in the formation of life, that is fine. A decade ago I didn’t either. All I can suggest is that you set aside for a moment your a priori commitment to the idea that abiogenesis is an easy, inevitable outcome of physics and chemistry and take some real time to think through on a detailed level — from an engineering and math standpoint — what is required for life. Once you’ve done that, we’ll be in a much better position to continue the discussion.

  94. Jim G says:

    There are closed minds in both science and religion. People like to have definitive answers in both arenas. The way it is set up, however, is that those with open minds find out as much as possible, come up with a theory (or conjecture) but are not disappointed when they find out they are wrong and just keep digging. Every satellite we have sent to other parts of our solar system has informed us that our theories regarding the various planets have invariably been wrong. Every path we have gone down in cosmology or quantum physics has resulted in inconsistencies which we cannot explain. The Great Setter Upper has set this up this way, to keep us searching and learning. Even if the pretty unbelievable perfection of physical facts which allow our universe and us to exist at all is an accident, the rules, themselves, by which it all works are too perfect to be an accident. The more I learn the more I believe this and that vanity is the great closer of minds.

  95. Dave Springer says:

    ********************************News Flash!*****************************

    Pasteur’s Flasks Still Sterile

    Film at 11.

  96. Dave Springer says:

    @tmsisfree

    re; synthetic biology

    “Should we deduce that we, Humans, are now playing at the level of God?”

    No, creating new forms of life based on bits and pieces of things found in nature is no more than going to a junk yard and building a new car out of pieces of other car.

    We won’t be playing God until we can create new laws of physics.

  97. Joel K says:

    I’m glad you’re able to call out pwl on his circular reasoning. The existence of life is not proof that life arose naturally. Its self confirmation of the original underlying assumption “Everything in the universe has a natural explanation.” There is not evidence or proof that this assumption is true, just as there is no evidence or proof that “God exists” is true. Starting with the assumption that “there is no God” immediately introduces a cosmic amount of bias and misinformation if that underlying assumption is wrong.

    As a previous poster said “Tornado in a junkyard”. Its funny, because even a tornado in a junkyard has a better chance of assembling a working 747 than life has of occurring naturally. Yet no one points to a 747 and says “see, it exists therefore it happened naturally”. How ridiculous a statement.

  98. tmtisfree says:

    Does that mean that physics is sufficient to explain the origin of biological systems? Absolutely not.

    You keep repeating it. But what is this mystery ingredient that is missing to get a complete (and sufficient) picture of the apparition of life and that seems beyond Physics?

    So which law(s) of physics do you think caused life to arise?

    Your question is meaningless until we have defined and agreed precisely what one means by ‘life’. If for example we choose the Kaufman definition (“life is an expected, collectively self-organized property of catalytic polymers”, see ref. below), then trivial biochemistry (to describe enzymatic reactions), basic thermodynamics (to characterize phase transitions of the system), etc are required to explain the emergence and the behaviour of such system (see chapter “Crystallisation of Life” in the book “The Origins Of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution” for an extensive description). Kaufman also discusses this work by linking to chaos theory (chapter “Adaptation to the edge of chaos”, same book). More generally, and that relates to my question above, a physical system, complex or not, biologically living or not, depends upon, can be described by, and has to be explained with the (known or not) physical laws that rule this world. Calling for something beyond Physics to explain (emergence of) life is outside Science’s scope and only leads to unfruitful discussion.

    It offers an exceedingly important clue about the origin of life.

    What is its relevance to the (potential) physical mechanism(s) at play in eg the definition of Kaufman?

  99. Bart says:

    pwl says:
    March 22, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    “No need for any magical super powers, no need for any unexplainable non-evident magical super beings; all that is needed is just blind and basic chemical processes mixed with a dash of physics and a zap of electricity and a tad of information and the touch of internally generated randomness coming together into a complex system, cellular life.”

    Erm…, yeah…, but how did those miraculous chemical and physical processes come about? Why do they exist?

    The urge to do away with supernatural (meaning, that which is beyond what we currently understand and commonly observe) explanations is as bad as the urge to accept them, and emanates from the same basic human fear of the unknown, and the need to create comfortable myths to paper over the gaps in our knowledge. Why not just say, here is how some elementary building blocks of life may have come about by processes we can duplicate, and leave it at that?

  100. Bart says:

    tmtisfree says:
    March 24, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    “Calling for something beyond Physics to explain (emergence of) life is outside Science’s scope and only leads to unfruitful discussion.”

    That is a completely arbitrary demarcation. How about just admitting that we do not currently know how life emerged, but if you have a falsifiable hypothesis and ideas of how it may be practically and rigorously tested, we are all ears.

  101. tmtisfree says:

    Tornado in a junkyard

    This is a classical quote by Shapiro (in “Origins: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth”, 1986) against the time argument by Wald (Scientific American, 1954): “Time is in fact the hero of the plot. The time with which we have to deal is of the order of two billion years. What we regard as impossible on the basis of human experience is meaningless here. Given so much time, the impossible becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs the miracles.”

    Continuing with Kauffman’s work he offers this refutation of Shapiro’s view (from the book referenced earlier):

    “Shapiro continues with an effort to calculate the odds of attaining, by chance, something like E. coli. He begins with an argument by Sir Fred Hoyle and N. C. Wickranlasinghe (1981). Rather than estimate the chances for obtaining an entire bacterium, these authors try to calculate the chances of obtaining a functioning enzyme. They begin with the set of the 20 amino acids which are used to construct enzymes. If the amino acids were selected at random and arranged in random order, what would be the chances of obtaining an actual bacterial product? For a typical enzyme with 200 amino acids, the probability is obtained by multiplying the probability for each amino acid, 1 in 20, together 200 times, yielding 1 in 20^200. Since more than one sequence of amino acids might provide enzymes with proper function, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe estimate that the chance of obtaining an enzyme of the appropriate type at random was “only” 1 in 10^20. But to duplicate a bacterium, one would have to assemble 2000 different functioning enzymes. The odds against this would be 1 in 10^20 multiplied 2000 times, or 1 in 10^40000. As Shapiro points out, it is clear why Hoyle and Wickramasinghe gave up on spontaneous generation, since the likelihood of the event was comparable to the chances that “a tornado sweeping through a junk yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.”
    .
    Against Wald’s world enough and time, Shapiro says that with only 10^51 possible trials, the odds of success – l in 10^40000 – are vastly too improbable to have happened. Life, on this argument, cannot have arisen spontaneously.
    .
    The arresting feature of this example is not the apparent improbability of success but how typical the apparent failure is (Eden 1967; Schutzenberger 1967). The same sense of mystery surrounds the origin of a coupled metabolism, of the genetic code, of tissue organization. The general feature of each of these mysteries is that each exhibits, in one form or another, the evolutionary emergence of a mutually necessary set of processes. Each time we confront the evolutionary emergence of such a whole, whose parts are mutually necessary to one another, there is a tendency to reason along with Shapiro. What is the chance of obtaining the first part, of obtaining the second part – and since each is useless without the rest, what is the chance of obtaining them jointly? Where the odds can be estimated, even crudely, the joint probability is always very low. Typically, one cannot even estimate the odds of obtaining any single part.
    .
    Yet it is clear that Shapiro’s argument is flawed. Having calculated the probability of obtaining a protein with some particular catalytic activity as 10^20, he then argues that an organism would require a set of 2000 enzymes for 2000 particular reactions. It is this requirement for one particular set of coupled enzymatic activities which yields the overwhelmingly poor odds he calculates. We should instead be concerned with the probability of finding any one of possibly very many properly coupled sets of enzymatic activities which might constitute a living proto-organism. I will suggest in Chapter 7 that, viewed in this way, the origin of life was a quite probable consequence of the collective properties of catalytic polymers. More generally, I suggest throughout this book that many properties of organisms may be probable emergent collective properties of their constituents. The evolutionary origins of such properties, then, find their explanation in principles of self-organization rather than sufficiency of time.”

    The major conclusion of Chapter 7 reads as follows:
    “The combinatorics of polymers and their reactions, coupled with a simple model of the distribution of catalytic capacities in peptide or RNA space, leads to the expected existence of collective reflexive autocatalysis due to the percolation properties of random graphs. We have the beginning of a theory for the minimum complexity required to achieve autocatalytic closure. Below that minimum, disconnected subsystems exist. Above it, a connected whole emerges. [...] For any fixed probability of catalysis P, autocatalytic sets must become possible at some fixed complexity level of numbers of kinds of polymers. The achievement of the catalytic closure required for self-reproduction is an emergent collective property in any sufficiently complex set of catalytic polymers.”

    He calls the transition phase occurring within such systems “Crystallisation of Life”.

    Of course creationists might better take some beta-blocker first before reading such heretical book.

  102. tmtisfree says:

    That is a completely arbitrary demarcation.

    This is my limit between what is scientifically acceptable and what is not. Put yours wherever that please you.

    How about just admitting that we do not currently know how life emerged

    I can accept that. As I already wrote earlier in this thread: “I agree thought the puzzle looks awfully mingled at the moment, but History shows that Science is a succession of such despairs only to push the limit further.”

    if you have a falsifiable hypothesis and ideas of how it may be practically and rigorously tested, we are all ears.

    The book I referenced above presents just that, a testable theory of the origin of life (see a partial conclusion in the post above). I cannot however copy the 700+ pages of the book here (with about 1000 peer-reviewed papers in the bibliography section).

  103. pwl says:

    Eric Anderson, it’s not that I “miss” your points, it’s that your points are irrelevant.

    DNA is a self replicating molecular system.

    “Abiogenesis proponents are so fond of referring to their undefined, hypothetical “self-replicating” molecule that formed at some vague point in the distant past that they never stop to think about what is required for replication. So you have not provided an example and I ask again, can you provide me a single example of a self-replicating molecule?”

    Ah, a self replicating system is discussed because at some point the molecules would have needed to copy themselves somehow directly or indirectly Eric Anderson. That is why it’s mentioned, and while the specifics of how our ancestor molecular systems specifically started replicating themselves might be obsecured to us at this point in time, clearly it is a step that must have gotten started. Why you attack it is beyond me.

    I did provide you an example, two in fact, (1) existing life that uses self replicating molecular SYSTEMS, and (2) the lab experiment of Gerald Joyce et. al. that had chemists create self replicating molecular systems that produced unexpected results that mirror evolution (pwl March 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm ): “We have two enzymes, a plus and a minus,” Joyce explains. “The plus assembles the pieces to make the minus enzyme, and the minus enzyme assembles the pieces to draw the plus. It’s kind of like biology, where there is a DNA strand with plus and minus strands.”. The second example let’s you stay blind Eric Anderson so you don’t have to look in the mirror at the actual evidence of self replicating molecular systems.

    Again with the “math”, it’s Nature that ran through the combinations of life over the ~700 to ~1000 million years after the Earth formed inorder to generate life (unless life was seeded from materials formed in the Sol System space in which case Nature could run the “math” much longer after the formation of Sol itself). Considering that Nature can run the “math”, actually chemistry experiments, in parallel in billions and billlions of locations at the same time it’s not a problem. Oh, and then it just takes a tiny bit of “natural math” aka chemistry for Nature to whip up a batch of “primordial soup” in meteors. So maybe it’s not that much “natural math” aka chemistry, physics, simple systems generating complex behavior at all to take the next step to self replicating systems based upon RNA and DNA. Eric Anderson you’re just assuming it’s hard since you don’t know the answer, maybe it is hard, and maybe it isn’t.

    Life exists on Earth. Life either originated on Earth, in the Sol System or in the universe due to processes that exist in the universe within the bounds of and using the processes of physics, chemistry, and the inherent information processing capabilities of the universe. That’s not a stretch at all, that is simply an observation of fact and uses what we already know with evidence based science of the objective reality of Nature.

    “Finally, you ask me to look in the mirror again.” – Eric Anderson

    You are an example of a self replicating molectular SYSTEM are you not? Are you denying that life on Earth is based upon self replicating molecular systems? Seems that you are excluding relevant evidence.

    “Do you understand that pointing to the existence of life as proof that life can arise through natural causes constitutes circular reasoning?” – Eric Anderson

    Not relevant. Life is an example of a self replicating molecular system. That is why I use it. It is proof that self replicating molecular systems can evolve from the muck (so to speak) and stand up and comphrened the universe and how we came to be. It’s not cicular reasoning at all, it’s looking at the actual evidence and saying this is interesting, how did we get here, how do we work, how does life work, how did life get started, oh, that’s how. Very interesting indeed.

    “The entire context of our discussion is how life arose.” – Eric Anderson

    Glad you finally showed up to the party Eric Anderson.

    “If all you are going to do is point to the existence of life it is entirely circular. If you don’t get that simple logical point, then I’m not sure we can pursue this particular aspect further.” – Eric Anderson

    You’re the one missing the point Eric Anderson. The point is to understand how the machinery of life got started. I’ve presented that in general and with some specifics. You asked for an example, and I gave you two in fact, but all you need do is look into a mirror for an example of a self replicating molectular system. Not my fault if you don’t like what you see in the mirror or think it’s cicular. It is what it is and isn’t what it isn’t.

    “Nope” to life magically starting.

    “it is funny that an abiogenesis proponent would accuse someone else of waving magic wands” – Eric Anderson

    Why do you think that abiogenesis is “waving magic wands”? That’s a really strange thing to believe about abiogenesis Eric Anderson.

    I have no interest in any magic wands nor in waving any. Just because there are “gaps” in our knowledge doesn’t mean that any magic wands are being waved. Wolfram’s work, the primordial soup experiments, evidence from meteors, Gerald Joyce’s experiments, and others clearly shows that no magic wands need any waving at all.

    If not abiogenesis then what Eric Anderson? Aliens seeded Earth with life? At least aliens is a viable answer but they would have started with their own abiogenesis somewhere in the universe.

    If not abiogenesis then what Eric Anderson? Panspermia seeded life on Earth? At least panspermia is a viable answer but life would have started with abiogenesis somewhere in the universe.

    Which only leaves us with one more non-possibility: If not abiogenesis then what Eric Anderson? An alleged God? It’s clear Eric Anderson that if you are proposing that (which it seems you are given how you attack “chance” in your next quoted comment below) that you’re an Intelligent Design advocate who wants to wave a godly magic wand so why even bother talking with science oriented folks like myself if you’re going to play the magical invisble super alien being card?

    “Of course the origin of life is 100% natural causes.” – pwl

    “This is just a blatant statement of blind faith in the power of chance to so something that we have zero reason to believe it can. I know you haven’t done the math, so this is one area where it could really help.” – Eric Anderson

    No faith at all, no belief at all, just hard raw rational logic based upon the evidence and laws of Nature. Not chance, but internally generated randomness of simple processes based upon simple non-intelligent rules using basic chemistry and physics. Just because we don’t know all the steps Eric Anderson doesn’t mean that it wasn’t Natural. There isn’t an alternative to the creation of life being 100% natural unless you invoke magic. Sure aliens could have seeded life, or life could have arrived on Earth via panspermia but ultimately the evidence is clear that the universe is a life creating system given the set of laws of Nature that we now know so well to be true. Don’t like it? Too bad, look in the mirror or under a microscope for the evidence.

    “It’s a matter of Nature working the combinations in the muck or in the atmosphere with zaps and going through the chemical bumps in the sunlight or night or depths of the oceans near the heat vents. Whatever the specifics the universe using very simple non-intelligent rules to be not just able to produce life but it’s almost easy given the physics, chemistry, and and other conditions.” – pwl

    “This is an astounding statement. It’s almost easy, huh? Well, let the folks at the Harvard Origins project know right away, please. Again, it bears repeating: those who think that forming life is a simple process have no idea what is involved in getting simple life off the ground. You are Exhibit A in proving my point.” – Eric Anderson

    Why is it astounding? It’s just a summary of the known facts and logical deductions based upon the actual hard evidence. No need to “inform” the Harvard Origins project as they already know this.

    I never said that forming life “is a simple process”. It might be, it might not be. Certainly making some if not most of the RNA and DNA building blocks is relativly easy as Stanley Miller’s famous experiment shows.

    Is that the point your attempting to make Eric Anderson? That life isn’t a simple process to get started? Well then say so without all the other verbage, please. The fact is we don’t know if it’s a simple process to get started or not. Certainly cooking up aminoacids – the building blocks of RNA and DNA – is not just simple but very easy, almost effortless given the right conditions. The rest could be easy or hard, we don’t know yet. Eric Anderson you seem to have committed to it being hard which is a strange thing to do.

    “All I can suggest is that you set aside for a moment your a priori commitment to the idea that abiogenesis is an easy, inevitable outcome of physics and chemistry and take some real time to think through on a detailed level — from an engineering and math standpoint — what is required for life.”

    When did I say it was “easy” for life to get started? I never did. I have no commmitment that abiogenesis is easy even if portions of it clearly are easy and simple, it might turn out to be easy all the way through or it might not. Of course it always looks harder not knowing the recipie. If kids ever get to the point of creating life from scratch for their school science projects then I’d say it would have turned out to be easy to create life in the universe. That has yet to be seen of course.

    As for abiogenesis and the generation of life being an inevitable outcome of physics and chemistry and simple rules of Nature that generate complex behaviors that does seem very likely that abiogenesis is inevitable, as long as the environmental conditions are condusive OF COURSE. It would be astounding if that wasn’t the case! The fact that the building blocks of RNA and DNA have been found in meteors from space is compelling evidence that life “could be” abundant in many ecololgical niches where ever they happen to be located. This seems very reasonable given the current evidence including the new evidence of planets abounding. Not only that, the fact that RNA and DNA building blocks are found in space suggests that life based upon RNA and DNA might be the rule rather than the exception. Lots of real possibilities grounded in the science.

    For abiogenesis, self assembling molecular systems are needed. They have to self copy or replicate in some way directly or indirectly. They have to correct for errors but not perfectly. It’s clear that that is not just possible but evident in life on Earth and in the Gerald Joyce et. al. experiments. RNA and DNA building blocks are clearly easy for Nature to cook up with basic chemistry. This is an exciting field indeed.

  104. Joel K says:

    tmtisfree

    Even if we take the odds of 1:10^20th power for the chances of a protein to spontaneously occur, over the course of 4.2 billion years assuming 1 “chance” used per second still leaves us with only 1 chance in 755 that ONE protein will randomly assembly itself.

    Great, so after 4.2 billion years, we’ve generated MAYBE one protein. And I’m being generous with the frequency of viable interactions. How again does that explain the multitudes of life on earth, from a statistical standpoint?

  105. pwl says:

    Joel K mistakenly said: “I’m glad you’re able to call out pwl on his circular reasoning. The existence of life is not proof that life arose naturally. Its self confirmation of the original underlying assumption “Everything in the universe has a natural explanation.” There is not evidence or proof that this assumption is true, just as there is no evidence or proof that “God exists” is true. Starting with the assumption that “there is no God” immediately introduces a cosmic amount of bias and misinformation if that underlying assumption is wrong.”

    I refer you to my response to Eric Anderson posted above regarding the topic at hand, the origin of life in the objective reality of Nature.

    Joel K, as for your alleged god hypothesis when you have evidence, any independently verifiable evidence at all, of your alleged god then we can explore that possibility, until then the origin of life is entirely Natural. Oh, you’ve have to also invalidate most of the laws of Nature too by the way along with providing evidence of your alleged god. Note we are talking hard scientific evidence by the way, none of which has ever been found nor presented.

    The currently well known laws of physics actually prevent the alleged god(s) from existing or operating in the universe. Blame Einstein. Damned Speed of Light Limit prevents any and all omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, but most importantly of all prevents any and all omnibenevolence aka omnievil from occurring as it takes a lot of time for information, matter or energy to travel and all those “omni*” capabilities would need to violate the laws of Nature for them to work.

    In science we can rule things out as not possible by using our existing scientific knowledge that we have evidence for. It is done all the time. It’s called building up knowledge based upon verifiable evidence.

    For example, from the laws of gravity we know that a human being can’t jump from the surface of the Earth to the Moon and back again without using any technology. It is not possible. You can imagine it but it’s not possible in the objective reality of Nature. Same with the alleged god, just not possible given the well known and well tested laws of Nature in the objective reality of Nature. By all means you can enjoy imaging your alleged god if you wish, won’t make it real though.

  106. Joel K says:

    pwl:

    Circular logic is not a proof unto itself. “Life exists therefore it arose through natural causes” is just as ridiculous as saying “Life exists therefore God exists.”

    You could say to me “Prove to me God created Life.” And I could say “Look in the mirror, you’re alive aren’t you, therefore God created Life.”

    Which is exactly the same as you saying “Look in the mirror, you’re alive aren’t you, therefore life arose 100% naturally.”

    The only difference is the point at which you start. The question, as a reminder, is “Where did life come from?” When answering that question, you can’t say “Life exists, therefore it arose naturally”, because the METHOD is the very point of the question. Either it arose 100% naturally through one of the many situations you have postulated, or it arose supernaturally. Those are the 2 possible answers to the question. Assuming one is correct and then stating that since obviously life exists so the one you picked must be correct, even though we don’t know the details, is a fallacious conclusion. Circular arguments are not proof, and circular arguments are all you have contributed so far.

    As Eric Anderson said, we don’t know the method of a natural origin of life. That also means that there may not BE a method for the natural origin of life. Assuming there is one, and therefore eventually it will be found, and since there is life therefore there must be one is a textbook example of circular reasoning.

    Can you open your mind? Can you step back and even consider the possibility of “What if the origins of life are supernatural”? Anathema to science, yes, I know. But that doesn’t mean its impossible.

  107. Bart says:

    tmtisfree says:
    March 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    “The book I referenced above presents just that, a testable theory of the origin of life (see a partial conclusion in the post above). I cannot however copy the 700+ pages of the book here (with about 1000 peer-reviewed papers in the bibliography section).”

    Sorry if I muddled my message, but you misunderstand. I was taking the part of being you, responding to someone demanding that you provide knowledgeable proof of how life came to be. Personally, I would simply answer: “I do not know. If you believe it was an outside intelligent agency, then please provide something beyond circumstantial evidence of his/her/its/their existence which would be worth researching.”

    The whole Evolution/Creation argument strikes me as a tempest in a teapot. Neither side really knows, so why do they insist on antagonizing one another with facades of certainty? IMHO, the evolutionists need to be more forthcoming on what is known, what is merely consistent with the evidence, and what boils down to conjecture, albeit conjecture which leads along paths of inquiry worth pursuing. The creationists, in my view, are doing a service when they point out loose ends, but they need to realize that, at the point they bring in an unobservable outside entity as explanation, they are no longer contributing to the acquisition of knowledge.

    But, it’ll never happen. It’s the prisoner’s dilemma. If either side gives ground, the other will sweep in and claim it for their own.

    I once thought about writing a novel in which the protagonist actually does get to meet the Creator, and asks him, “where did you come from?” And, he answers, “I do not know. Some of my kind have ideas ranging from spontaneous being to another race of even greater entities giving birth to us, but we have no real evidence one way or the other.”

  108. tmtisfree says:

    How again does that explain the multitudes of life on earth, from a statistical standpoint?

    There is not much value discussing probability when first terms cannot be measured not even be estimated crudely with any proper justification, so instead of repeating myself I refer you to my preceding posts dealing with probability.

    About the “multitude of life”: matter is built from some particles by the mean of a very few number of rules, yet the forms of matter are multiple. Do you have any troubles with the multitude of materials? Probably not, then you should not have any one with life’s diversity. The implication of this analogy is more profound (ie general) than you might think at first sight.

  109. tmtisfree says:

    Personally, I would simply answer: “I do not know.

    I think I gave you quite the same message in the post you quote me, if you read with attention.

    The creationists, in my view, are doing a service when they point out loose ends, but they need to realize that, at the point they bring in an unobservable outside entity as explanation, they are no longer contributing to the acquisition of knowledge.

    Critical thinking is a requirement in Science, wherever it comes from, and refining theories an endless process. But from your own perspective, it is easy to find what proposition is the real dead end.

  110. Dave Worley says:

    Science is the study of nature, so the supernatural has no place in scientific discussion IMHO.

    It may be that we apply a supernatural label to things in nature that we cannot explain, such as the origin of life. In which case there is no harm in exploring possible causes of these things we cannot explain. That’s why we do science.

    To waive off scientific theory with a supernatural explanation is to leave the realm of science.

    That’s not to say that there is no supernatural force, it’s just that it will never be discovered scientifically, for if it were, the mystery would end. A catch 22.

  111. Dave Worley says:

    Many great scientists have publicly espoused their theological views; Einstien, Galileo, Kepler are a few who come to mind. These views never appeared in any scientific theory or formula that they proposed as best I can recall.

  112. Bart says:

    pwl says:
    March 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    “The currently well known laws of physics actually prevent the alleged god(s) from existing or operating in the universe. Blame Einstein. Damned Speed of Light Limit prevents any and all omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, but most importantly of all prevents any and all omnibenevolence aka omnievil from occurring as it takes a lot of time for information, matter or energy to travel and all those “omni*” capabilities would need to violate the laws of Nature for them to work.”

    Not in hyperdimensional universes, of which ours may be one. So might a Flatlander insist that no observer could see his entire world disk at once.

    Why do you feel a need to assure yourself that you know the unknowable?

  113. pwl says:

    Hate to tell you Bart but there isn’t any hard verifiable evidence yet for any “hyperdimensional universes”, just hypotheses, none of which enable us or anyone to actually move in those dimensions. Usually they are so caught up in tiny balls or other such tiny spaces as to be practically irrelevant. Evidence rules Bart. Provide some please.

    I don’t know the “unknowable” nor do I claim to. How would you know that something is “unknowable”?

    There is zero evidence for any alleged gods and plenty of excellent evidence which we can verify for their non-existence (except in the brains of believers, we know that their alleged gods are experienced as real delusions to them there) due to the laws of Nature. Can’t be omniscient if omniscience isn’t permitted by Nature, and if you can’t be omniscient you’re not a god. Ditto for the other “omni*” magic powers of the alleged gods. What we can tell is that the alleged gods are omni-impotent.

    Provide some evidence for your alleged gods Bart if you can, otherwise you’re just wasting keystrokes on nothings Bart.

  114. Bart says:

    “…otherwise you’re just wasting keystrokes on nothings Bart.”

    Indeed. It is best not to argue with fanatics.

  115. pwl says:

    I’ve not used any circular logic at all Joel K., Eric Anderson is incorrect about the circular argument nonsense as are you. Life is a valid example of the existence of self replicating molecular machines, you can’t just exclude it willy-nilly as Eric Anderson wants to do.

    If you have another explanation for how life arose other than natural causes please present your hypothesis with actual evidence otherwise, well, the evidence of natural life stands as the only solution.

    “we don’t know the method of a natural origin of life. That also means that there may not BE a method for the natural origin of life.” – Joel K. quoting Eric Anderson.

    The logic of your argument doesn’t follow. If the origin of life wasn’t natural then what was it? Magical supernatural? Good luck with that line of nonsense Joel K. as it has ZERO evidence. None. Zippo. Ziltch. It’s also against the laws of Nature as explained above. Two whammies against your line of nonsense non-logic.

    It’s obvious that life is 100% natural unless you want magical non-explanations of alleged gods. If that’s what you want then why are you on a science blog, go to your Sunday school instead.

    Yes, it is not possible that the origins of life are “super natural” since the “super natural” is not possible given the laws of Nature in the objective reality of Nature where we actually really do exist.

    We deal in actual real science Joel K that has actual evidence. Enjoy your illogical and fantasies of your alleged god Joel K.. Even though I don’t understand your need for an alleged god you can have it if you want it but it’s certainly not a viable explanation for the origins of life.

    I have an open mind, just not so open that my brain falls out. Evidence Joel, actual evidence and not silly logic and nonsense arguments that are disconnected from the objective reality of Nature such as the ones you’re making Joel K..

    Sigh, why does the discussion of the origin of life always bring out those who want their magical invisible all powerful yet omni-impotent super alien being to be the answer? Sigh.

  116. pwl says:

    Well Bart, if it’s fanatical to ask for evidence that can be verified per the scientific method then I’m guilty of being a science fanatic.

    Bary if you need to assume on nothing but faith that your alleged god exists and magically created the universe and life in it and offers you a magical heaven after your sure to be obliterating death then that’s fine, be that way if you wish but typically that is what is called fanatical in the way you meant. Your faith based beliefs won’t save you from the obliterating death that awaits all life but you can pretend that it will if that gives you hope or solace or the ability to get through the day.

    I prefer to embrace the facts of life as they actually are in the objective reality of Nature with it’s awesome majestic beauty and wonder along with it’s utter stark horrors.

    The scientific method works as the best way to comprehend the actual universe where we exist because it demands verifiable evidence from experiments or observation and it’s uncompromising in that requirement. The hypotheses rise or fall based upon being able to repeat those experiments or see the same or similar observational data that fit the hypothesized claims (such as equations). Evidence. Hard evidence, that can be verified over and over again and independently by others. That is what it takes to win the day and nuggets of knowledge about the actual objective reality of Nature.

    The human body is hard evidence of self replicating molecular systems. You can ignore it if you wish but that wouldn’t be being scientific.

    The lab experiment of Gerald Joyce et. al. that had chemists create self replicating molecular systems that produced unexpected results that mirror evolution (pwl March 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm ) is also evidence that Nature can create self replicating systems: “We have two enzymes, a plus and a minus,” Joyce explains. “The plus assembles the pieces to make the minus enzyme, and the minus enzyme assembles the pieces to draw the plus. It’s kind of like biology, where there is a DNA strand with plus and minus strands.”.

    Again you can ignore the hard evidence but then you’re not being scientific.

    Without any evidence for your non-natural origin of life hypothesis you’ve got nothing. When you have any verifiable evidence of supernatural events or origins of life please let the world know as that would be quite the claim to verify and very important as it would overturn most of science.

    Until then and even after then I’ll be fanatical in my need for evidence in support of scientific claims according to the means and methods of the scientific method and the philosophy of objective science; Bart, you, Joel K. and Eric Anderson can be fanatical in your faith based beliefs in your alleged god as the cause of the origin of life if you’re so inclined, however faith isn’t being scientific, faith is being the opposite as it endarkens the mind rather than enlightening it with the facts of life in the objective reality of Nature. In the end it’s your choice, let faith based dogma from the bronze dark ages determine what you believe or let the facts of life no matter how much you don’t like them to inform you and make your life in the here and now better.

    If you have any actual science points on the topic I’d be interested in talking about them, otherwise I’ve dealt with the non-scientific nonsense enough.

  117. pwl says:

    Pardon me for the typo, “Bary”, I meant “Bart”. Sorry about that. It slipped past my second reading before posting the comment.

  118. Bart says:

    Sigh… Why do atheist fanatics, with their underpants gnome theories of how life “just happened”, not see that they are just as illogical and faith biased as traditional religious fanatics? Sigh…

  119. Bart says:

    “Your faith based beliefs…”

    Please find some passage, innuendo… anything anywhere in what I have written which suggests I profess a faith of any kind? Did you even bother reading? (Don’t answer – it’s strictly rhetorical.)

  120. Dave Worley says:

    As an illustration of the problem, one can look to complex natural crystal formations which would be very difficult to reproduce precisely in a laboratory given only a seed crystal. Crystals grow according to some very simple natural rules.

    Given enough time….and enough matter…..and enough motion…..and enough energy….one can imagine…..

    It still leaves the question of who made the matter and set it into motion.

  121. Jeff Alberts says:

    Dave Whorley said “That’s not to say that there is no supernatural force, it’s just that it will never be discovered scientifically, for if it were, the mystery would end. A catch 22.”

    “Supernatural” is an oxymoron. If something exists, then it is natural, or exists in the natural world.

  122. Joel K says:

    Where is the proof, the hard evidence, the empirical scientific evidence that life can spontaneously generate itself.

    No one is arguing that self replicating molecules don’t exist. Only that self replicating molecules cannot possibly come into existence given the known time, material, and sheer mathematical probability of the task at hand. Do you disagree with my basic probabilities? You must disagree, though on what ground I haven’t seen. Well, let me tell you what the probabilities mean. They mean that arguing for a natural origin for life on earth is just as scientifically impossible as my arguing for creation by God. The difference between us then, is I’m willing to admit faith in my origin belief, yet you are unable to see that it takes just as much faith to believe yours, as they are equally impossible.

    I”m sorry if your rabid atheism gets in the way of your being able to see objectively, as other posters have been able to. Fanaticism can’t be reasoned with, and condescension and rudeness are not the hallmarks of someone who can debate reasonably. You deny the obvious circularity of your arguments, you refuse to concede that you have a bias by your initial assumptions about origins, and you completely lack any imagination in thinking about what you don’t know.

    As Bart says “Why do you feel a need to assure yourself that you know the unknowable?” Because you are convinced that you know the scientifically unknowable concerning the existence of God.

  123. Dave Worley says:

    “No one is arguing that self replicating molecules don’t exist. Only that self replicating molecules cannot possibly come into existence given the known time, material, and sheer mathematical probability of the task at hand. Do you disagree with my basic probabilities?”
    Not wanting to get involved in the apparent bitterness, but I disagree with this premise.
    Frankly, the time, the material, and the physical processes of the earth are not so well accounted for. For example, life around deep ocean black smokers in were unknown 20 years ago.
    We cannot model climate, much less the probabilities you seem so certain about.

    Jeff Alberts says:
    March 24, 2011 at 7:13 pm
    Good point.

  124. pwl says:

    Well Bart a number of your posts suggest that you support “supernatural explanations” for the origins of life as somehow being on par with natural causes which would indicate that you’re of the faith based variety or don’t comprehend the philosophy of science vetted against the harsh objective reality of Nature.

    As for your silly comments regarding atheism, it has nothing to do with atheism, it has to do with actual verifiable evidence in the objective reality of Nature, your alternative hypothesis based in faith has zero evidence. There is zero evidence for any alleged gods, or for the origin of life being caused by magic, and there is lots of verifiable evidence against such beings being possible due to the laws of physics. Science is about evidence Bart. If you plan on putting forward religious hypotheses for the origin of life you’d better have some compelling verifiable evidence but we both know you got none.

    Clearly you don’t comprehend science if you think that religious answers based in faith are on par somehow with scientific answers that require verifiable evidence. At this point Bary you’re just attempting flame baiting nonsense rather than trying to contribute anything of value to the conversation.

  125. pwl says:

    The urge to do away with supernatural (meaning, that which is beyond what we currently understand and commonly observe) explanations is as bad as the urge to accept them, and emanates from the same basic human fear of the unknown, and the need to create comfortable myths to paper over the gaps in our knowledge.” – Bart

    Clearly Bart you can let your brain fall out of your head all you want and accept “supernatural explanations” or attempt to redefine “supernatural” to mean what we don’t understand currently or don’t commonly observe, however I like my brain in my head where it does the most good testing the alleged evidence being presented against the objective reality of Nature as we know it to be and know it not to be from the well tested laws of Nature.

    It has to do strictly with evidence, scientific evidence Bart. There is none for your alleged magical supernatural possibilities, and you know it.

    Now maybe you’re not into “faith” but it appears Bart that you’re too willing to accept nonsense such as the supernatural.

    To me it’s really mute since the test of any hypothesis is the evidence that can be verified. So please if you insist on being open to crazy notions please provide evidence of anything supernatural, otherwise the natural explanations are the only ones that have merit in science.

    I say provide the verifiable evidence for your claims that life is not of natural origin (assuming you’re making such claims), otherwise your hypothesis in that regard is refuted by the laws of Nature that clearly show that the supernatural and alleged gods are but dreams of the faithful believers or the deluded.

    Clearly life can and did originate in the universe from natural causes. There is zero evidence for any other possibility. Not only that the laws of Nature prevent the typical alternative hypothesis, the alleged god or supernatural. The primordial soup experiments clearly show RNA and DNA building blocks are not just easy to make but simple and the discoveries of them in meteors from space show that Nature cooks them up even in harsh and inhospitable environments, it’s very likely that these building blocks are in many places and not just in the Sol System. Furthermore the experiments of Gerald Joyce et. al. show that non-living molecular systems can not only self replicate but can evolve as well even beyond what humans expected. It’s only a matter of time before someone cooks up living organisms from scratch. Heck, Craig Venter created synthetic life already using existing parts. The more experiments that are done the more we learn and the closer we seem to be getting to creating life ourselves or priming the necessary conditions for Nature to do it again on it’s own.

    “Dr Venter created the lifeform by synthesising a DNA code and injecting it into a single bacteria cell. The cell containing the man-made DNA then grew and divided, creating a hitherto unseen lifeform.”

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1279988/Artificial-life-created-Craig-Venter–wipe-humanity.html#ixzz1HaBSuOEr

    So you can fret over whether or not supernatural explanations should be considered Bart or you can dig in and contribute something to the actual conversation. I’m betting that you’ll stick with being non-scientific and prefer the magical fantastic over the harsh facts of life in the objective reality of Nature that we can determine with hard verifiable evidence.

  126. pwl says:

    “Craig Venter and team make a historic announcement: they’ve created the first fully functioning, reproducing cell controlled by synthetic DNA. He explains how they did it and why the achievement marks the beginning of a new era for science.”

  127. pwl says:

    “No one is arguing that self replicating molecules don’t exist.” – Joel K..

    Ok.

    “Only that self replicating molecules cannot possibly come into existence given the known time, material, and sheer mathematical probability of the task at hand. Do you disagree with my basic probabilities?” – Joel K..

    I also can’t agree with that. Clearly self replicating molecules DID in fact come into existence given the known time, material and other constraints of Nature.

    You’re assuming it is too difficult without having any basis for your conclusion and in fact you are ignoring the evidence that life did in fact jump from primordial soup to self replicating systems. So, not a good start for you Joel K. Oh and it has nothing to do with your twisted mutant notion you call “rabid atheism”, it is strictly about verifiable evidence Joel K..

    Provide verifiable evidence of an alleged godly source of life and I’m sure that it will be tested by a lot of scientists – failing your production of evidence there is nothing but Nature – even if aliens or panspermia seeded life on Earth since at some point in the chain the first organisms would have had to have been naturally generated somewhere, somehow and somewhen by Nature – it’s called the Natural Null Hypothesis.

  128. Eric Anderson says:

    Well, the discussion has devolved (pun intended) and gone off the rails, so I’m not sure how much more can be gained, so I’m just going to summarize where we are at:

    1- Abiogenesis requires some kind of self-replicating molecular system to arise, either by chance or inevitably through natural laws. Typically this is proposed as a self-replicating molecule (a la Dawkins and others), rather than a more complicated self-replicating system. This is a perfectly rational proposal for the abiogenesis proponent to make, both because it is much more believeable and because it is more probable that a single molecule could arise by chance than a coordinated, inter-related system of molecules. Therefore, to begin drilling down in the discussion I asked whether anyone could in fact provide an example of a self-replicating molecule, which pwl has not been able to (nor can anyone else, I presume). We do, of course know of self-replicating *systems*, on which we could then do a probability calculation, but not a self-replicating molecule. The other example of a self-replicating system besides DNA which pwl provided is research on a simple two-enzyme combination. He is quite impressed with this research, which is indeed interesting. On close reading we find the following description:

    “The researchers began with pairs of enzymes they’ve been tweaking and designing for the past eight years. Each member of the pairs can only reproduce with the help of the other member.” . . . However, ‘it still leaves the problem of how RNA first came about. Some type of self-replicating molecule likely proceeded RNA and what this was is the big unknown at this point.’”

    They’ve made good progress in designing a self-replicating system after eight years of effort, but gee (no doubt recognizing that such a system could not have come about by chance), they are still looking for that elusive “self-replicating” molecule. If anyone knows about one, please speak up now.

    So that is point number one: there is no self-replicating molecule.

    2- Even if there were such a thing as a self-replicating molecule (or if folks are willing to accept the fact that there isn’t one so that we can move on to talking about a self-replicating *system*), we then need to determine how that system came about. pwl asserts that such a system (and all subsequent life, but let’s set that aside for now) came about through completely naturalistic processes, and offers two lines of argument: (i) well, we’re here aren’t we?, and (ii) the laws of physics somehow inevitably cause such as system to arise.

    The first line of argument is entirely circular, as the very point in question is how the system came about, not whether the system exists. The second line of argument I was hoping pwl would flesh out, but thus far we have received only vague general references to the laws of physics (no specific explanation of which laws cause such-and-such a result), coupled with self-organization theories like Kauffman’s. Some of the self-organization ideas are interesting in their own sphere, but certainly don’t explain the origin of self-replicating biological systems or life. Again, if anyone is under the mis-impression that they do, please tell the folks at the Harvard Origins project right away, as they don’t seem too convinced by the self-organization ideas that are out there.

    So here is where we are at:

    No evidence that there is such a thing as a self-replicating molecule. No evidence that the laws of physics can bring a self-replicating system or life into being on their own. The only self-replicating systems we can think of are either contained in life itself (the very system the origin of which we are trying to ascertain), or have been carefully designed by intelligent beings, as pwl helpfully pointed us to, after 8 years of painstaking effort.

    What anyone wants to make of this based on their own metaphysical leanings is up to them. But this is the state of affairs as it stands, and a mighty interesting state of affairs it is.

  129. pwl says:

    Clearly existing life is evidence that self assembly and self replicating molecular systems came into being in Nature from natural processes. If can keep ignoring that evidence all you want but it won’t make it go away Eric Anderson.

    The only alternative you have Eric Anderson is the non-scientific magical non-explanation that an invisible alleged god did it and that takes you in to woo woo land. Good luck there.

  130. pwl says:

    “No evidence that there is such a thing as a self-replicating molecule. No evidence that the laws of physics can bring a self-replicating system or life into being on their own. The only self-replicating systems we can think of are either contained in life itself (the very system the origin of which we are trying to ascertain), or have been carefully designed by intelligent beings, as pwl helpfully pointed us to, after 8 years of painstaking effort.” – Eric Anderson

    Utterly bizarre statement by Eric Anderson. In the first sentence he contradicts and denies the two clear examples of evidence for self replicating molecular systems presented in his second sentence – such clear denial – yes denial – is stunning.

    For some bizarre incomprehensible reason Eric Anderson insists that existing life is NOT a viable example of a self replicating molecular system that could only have been (ultimately) created by Nature.

    Then of course after finding the second example of another self replicating molecular system that isn’t good enough for Eric Anderson since humans created it. Sigh. Yes, humans created it but there is no reason that Nature could not have in principle and that seems to be the key point of disagreement, whether or not Nature can in principle generate life, well existing life is the hard evidence that yes Nature can not just in principle generate life but has in fact done so at least once.

    Eric Anderson seems to be a “gaps” type of non-thinker, just because we don’t have exactly some very narrow example of what he’s looking for (after he excludes the best example of them all, existing life on Earth) he discounts all possibility that life was created by Nature since we don’t have an isolated example of one of the obviously essential steps along the way from primordial soup to existing life self replicating itself.

    Yes at the moment we have ONLY ONE example of a self replicating molecular system and YES it is us and other Life on Earth but so what, it’s still evidence that it was done by Nature – Unless you want to go all magical. Hey that’s fine with me, the magical explanation, as long as you provide the hard evidence for it that can be verified. At least with Nature we know it Nature could have done it just based upon the chemistry, physics, simple rules generating maximal complexity, and the other laws of Nature.

    Eric Anderson argues like he’s a “creationist” or an “intelligent designer” using “gaps” and excluding actual evidence. Well Eric Anderson there is NO scientific basis for you to exclude existing life on earth as an example of self replicating molecular systems.

    I do agree that it would be “better” to have another isolated example of Nature generating such self replicating molecular systems. I’ll look around and see what else I can dig up, but really Nature did it once and that is enough to prove that it happened. Exactly how Nature generated the first life on Earth is an open question but the question of whether or not Nature can generate life is an abounding clear YES Nature Generates Life (whether it originated here on Earth or was seeded here by aliens or via panspermia).

  131. pwl says:

    Correction in caps.

    Utterly bizarre statement by Eric Anderson. In the first TWO SENTENCES he contradicts and denies the two clear examples of evidence for self replicating molecular systems presented in his THIRD sentence – such clear denial – yes denial – is stunning.

  132. pwl says:

    Eric Anderson it doesn’t matter if Nature used a self replicating molecule or a self replicating molecular system (more than one molecule working in conjunction with each other) to accomplish the self replication. Clearly Nature accomplished this feat at least once regardless of the specific means, we are the evidence and wouldn’t be having this conversation otherwise.

    To deny that is to admit the supernatural non-scientific non-explanation of a magical alleged god doing it which takes you Eric Anderson into woo woo land. You can go there if you wish but seriously take it to your sunday school please.

  133. Smoking Frog says:

    pwl says: Clearly existing life is evidence that self assembly and self replicating molecular systems came into being in Nature from natural processes.

    No, it’s not. The mere existence of a thing is not evidence that a given cause C caused it, unless there is evidence that C caused other instances of the same kind of thing.

  134. pwl says:

    “The starting 24 RNA variants reproduced, some faster than others depending on the environmental conditions. Each molecular species competed with the others for the common pool of building blocks. And the reproduction process was imperfect, so new mutants — Joyce calls them recombinants— soon appeared and even thrived. “We let it run for 100 hours,” Joyce recalls, “during which we saw an overall amplification in the number of replicator molecules by 10^23. Pretty soon the original replicator types died out, and the recombinants began to take over the population.” – Evolution in a Bottle, Scientific American, April 2009

    “New Mutants soon appeared and even thrived” is an example of Nature CREATING NEW self replicating molecular systems! They were not created by humans but by Nature!

    So there we have the third case of self replicating molecular systems, and the second case of Nature generating self replicating molecular systems on it’s own! Conclusive evidence and proof that Nature can and does produce self replicating molecular systems (aside from the other existing example of Life).

  135. pwl says:

    What kind of frogs are you smoking? That’s not good for your mental health dude.

    The “mere” existence of life is in fact evidence that life came to be from Natural processes. What else could have done it? Sure aliens could have “designed” us but we’ve covered that possibility since the aliens had to have come into being somehow as living beings so we’re just back to life being generated by Nature. Maybe Earth was seeded by organic materials in the Sol System or from another Star System, no problem as life again came from Nature at some point in time.

    Your statement Smoking Frog is nonsense.

    Life exists. It had to start somehow. There is no other option other than by Natural causes that doesn’t take you to the kids woo woo play room.

    If you know of an alternative please illuminate us with your psychedelic wisdom.

  136. Smoking Frog says:

    pwl says: The “mere” existence of life is in fact evidence that life came to be from Natural processes. What else could have done it? Sure aliens could have “designed” us but we’ve covered that possibility since the aliens had to have come into being somehow as living beings so we’re just back to life being generated by Nature. Maybe Earth was seeded by organic materials in the Sol System or from another Star System, no problem as life again came from Nature at some point in time.

    Your statement Smoking Frog is nonsense.

    Life exists. It had to start somehow. There is no other option other than by Natural causes that doesn’t take you to the kids woo woo play room.

    If you know of an alternative please illuminate us with your psychedelic wisdom.

    No, your argument is nonsense. If nothing but natural processes could be the cause of life’s coming into existence, then life’s coming into existence is not evidence that the cause was natural processes. You’re begging the question, i.e., assuming what you set out to prove.

    “Smoking Frog” has nothing to do with psychedelia. It’s the name of a Mayan warlord of the 4th century, or actually it’s what historians called him before they decided that the glyphs for his name really meant “Fire is Born” or “Born of Fire” (maybe they still haven’t decided which).

  137. tmtisfree says:

    No evidence that there is such a thing as a self-replicating molecule. No evidence that the laws of physics can bring a self-replicating system or life into being on their own. The only self-replicating systems we can think of are either contained in life itself (the very system the origin of which we are trying to ascertain), or have been carefully designed by intelligent beings, as pwl helpfully pointed us to, after 8 years of painstaking effort.

    I understand your point, but it is a questionable one. Consider the opposite of your claim: [there exists] [n]o evidence that the laws of physics can NOT bring a self-replicating system or life into being on their own. Indeed, there is no reason to state that the latter premise is false until you have carefully eliminated all possibilities. This Science is so young that it seems improbable we have done enough work to declare end of the game. Thus it must be considered (at least potentially) true. And because it is the very point that is investigated (ie determining if some particular definition of ‘emergence of life’ can be theorized and supported by laboratory experiments), such opposite view of yours is open to scientific investigation, while yours is an epistemological deadlock.

    Now, as I said in one of my previous post, the belief in an IDer is completely independent of the research of how “things works”. Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures (or elsewhere) it is written that it is forbidden to find why and how “things works”. Particularly, nowhere it is written that finding what is life and how it appeared is forbidden or discouraged. Indeed, even the greatest scientists and philosophers who believed in God (or some other deity) had spend their own live to find why and how “things works” precisely because, or better, thanks to their belief.

    Let’s give the last words to one of this great mind:
    “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
    – Albert Einstein, 1954. From Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press.

  138. tmtisfree says:

    The mere existence of a thing is not evidence that a given cause C caused it, unless there is evidence that C caused other instances of the same kind of thing.

    It is true, but the very article at the head of this thread points to such (arguably very incomplete) evidence. This first result has been repeated and extended by Miller himself and other workers in the 60’s and 70’s to show that building blocks of RNA, DNA, lipids and sugars can be formed under primitive abiogenic conditions (for a summary, see Ferris, J. P. (1987). Prebiotic synthesis: Problems and challenges. In Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, vol. 52. CoId Spring Harbor Laboratory, CoId Spring Harbor, N.Y.).

    The next step, according to Kauffman, is how to “obtain self-reproducing systems of complex organic molecules capable of a metabolism coordinating the flow of small molecules and energy needed for reproduction and also capable of further evolution”. He shows that “any sufficiently complex system of peptide or RNA polymers capable of catalyzing the formation and cleavage of new polymers either from other peptides or RNA polymers or from their monomeric building blocks can be expected to contain self-reproducing subsystems capable of metabolism and evolution”.

    So there are (some) experimental evidences about the early beginning of life arising from primitive bricks and a general theory about auto-catalytic polymers (backed by experimental evidences mostly conducted in the 80’s and 90’s). All of this and beyond is extensively discussed by Kauffman.

    It is clear that evidences exists, although incomplete.

  139. Mike M says:

    Dave Worley says: March 24, 2011 at 4:17 pm – …It may be that we apply a supernatural label to things in nature that we cannot explain, such as the origin of life. In which case there is no harm in exploring possible causes of these things we cannot explain. That’s why we do science. ..

    Or, thousands of years ago, to explain why the days were getting longer again. Back then some NH people would make a human sacrifice in January then proclaim that they had fulfilled their yearly obligation to their Sun god with the obvious proof being that the days would start getting longer again … time to drink blood and party!

    I wish people would recognize that that application of the supernatural back then is not much different than what climate alarmists are doing now in that both involve the placement of human activity in the middle of the equation as though what nature/Ra/Sun god is doing MUST have some connection to what we humans are doing. Young virgins or the economy of the free world, something has to be sacrificed at the alter of the false gods or we’re all gonna die. CAGW is therefore no Johnny-come-lately scam and the attendant prospect of death in following the charlatans purveying such conceit is as real today as it was when Stonehenge was built.

    But what actually happened when we figured out orbital mechanics? Does explaining it with science preclude the existence of the supernatural? While it appears to disqualify any and all reasons for human sacrifice, it does not disqualify God in any way at all. Science is the study of God’s wonder and infinite knowledge. For every question ever answered by science, one or more questions are always there just waiting to be revealed to us to then ask. There is never any ultimate answer in sight, only more questions.

    I have no disdain for those who try to use science to disprove God because they nonetheless generally continue to contribute reasons contrary to such a stance without realizing it. That is.. excepting those who come around to my way of thinking ;)

  140. Eric Anderson says:

    pwl, I have appreciated the opportunity to debate this very interesting topic and share my thoughts. However, I am disappointed with your continued misrepresentation of what I am saying. Do you understand the difference between a single molecule and an integrated system of molecules? Do you understand that observing that something exists is not the same as explaining how it came to exist? I’m going to try this one last time.

    The question of the origin of life is an exceedingly interesting one, with a multitude of open questions. We will not solve the origin of life on this thread, but in an effort to focus the discussion and home in on one of abiogenesis’ primary claims, I asked whether there is indeed such a thing as a self-replicating molecule, which is typically claimed to be the first critical step in an abiogenesis scenario.

    Thus far, no-one has been able to point me to a single example of a self-replicating molecule. Indeed, the researchers who were working on enzymes that you yourself cited, are still looking for the elusive beast. I have very clearly stated that a self- replicating *system* exists; that is not the question. The question is whether there is such a thing as a single self-replicating molecule. Either you cannot read or have deliberately chosen to ignore the distinction between a molecule and a system. I am not attempting to solve all origin of life issues all at once. I am taking a very measured approach and asking whether the initial abiogenesis concept of a self-replicating molecule has any legs. If you are willing to acknowledge that no-one knows of a self-replicating molecule and that no-one knows whether there ever was such a thing, then we can mark that small, but critical, point off our list and move onto the next issue, that of formation of a self-replicating system. If you are not able or not willing to see the distinction between a single molecule and an integrated system, then unfortunately, there is little point in proceeding.

    Secondly, everyone following this thread, with the possible exception of you, can clearly see that “explaining” how life came to exist by pointing out that life exists is a circular argument that is logically invalid. Unless you are willing to acknowledge that the existence of life does not explain how life came about, then there is no point in proceeding.

    I understand that you have a deep philosophical commitment to a naturalistic origins scenario. However, please take some time to think about these things outside of this thread. If you get to the point where you are willing to acknowledge that: (i) the existence of life does not explain its origin, and (ii) no-one knows whether there ever was a self-replicating molecule, then we will have made some progress and I would be happy to continue the discussion to address more challenging issues. However, if your philosophical commitment prevents you from even taking these initial obvious logical steps, then our time is probably better served elsewhere.

  141. Bart says:

    pwl says:
    March 24, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Dude, you are so deep in your cocoon, you are barely coherent. An example: You claim to prove that an omnipresent creator cannot exist. I explain how your model of reality may be incomplete (read the words, no doubt for the first time):

    Not in hyperdimensional universes, of which ours may be one.

    You fire back that ‘there isn’t any hard verifiable evidence yet for any “hyperdimensional universes”, just hypotheses.’ But, this in no way contradicts what I stated. I merely falsified your claim that the “well known laws of physics actually prevent the alleged god(s) from existing”. You, yourself, effectively conceded that those laws may be not be complete, though the evidence, according to you, is currently lacking (in fact, we know perfectly well that those “laws” are incomplete, because they do not mesh even within the local realm of our observational space). You were wrong. You “proved” nothing. Deal with it.

    You then go into these tirades which are effectively the underpants gnomes belaboring phase I of their plan, additionally spouting utter nonsense and circular reasoning (which others have called you on). You do not recognize the glaring gaps in your logic, and insist on making conclusions based on fragmentary evidence correlated in your own mind by your assumed narrative (in precisely the same way religious fanatics reason out their philosophy). This marks you as irrational. This marks you as the (ir)religious fanatic that you are.

    I am not particularly religious. I mean, F*** God. If there is one, I’ve a few bones to pick with him, anyway. I merely refrain from making conclusions where evidence is lacking, and suspend my judgment until I can learn more. You choose another path. Fine. But I have no more time for your dumb rants. As you grow older, and learn the answers were not so simple as you thought, perhaps you will gain a more balanced perspective.

  142. Jim G says:

    pwl,

    Why are you so emotionally invested in proving to others that only “natural” processes could have come up with life? That may well be the case, but study some more physics and you start to think about where everything came from, and the incredible coincedence of why it all works so perfectly for the existence of anything at all, let alone living organisms. The more some of us learn about science and “nature’s rules” the more we believe in a God who made the rules that may well allow for naturally occuring life. Why is an eternal God any less believable than an eternal universe or a spontaneous one for that matter?

  143. Dave Worley says:

    Isn’t ID/Creation discussion off limits on the blog?
    This thread illustrates the reason for such a policy.
    Guess we need to be reminded why occasionally.
    Yuck.

  144. Smoking Frog says:

    tmtisfree says:

    [Smoking Frog] The mere existence of a thing is not evidence that a given cause C caused it, unless there is evidence that C caused other instances of the same kind of thing.

    [tmtisfree] It is true, but the very article at the head of this thread points to such (arguably very incomplete) evidence. …

    Yes, but that’s not the claim I was addressing. I was addressing pwl’s claim that the mere existence of life is evidence that natural causes are the cause of life’s coming into existence. That’s just bad reasoning.

  145. Smoking Frog says:

    Jim G says:
    Why is an eternal God any less believable than an eternal universe or a spontaneous one for that matter?

    The usual answer is that God, to be a person and intelligent, must be complex, but complex things come later rather than earlier.

  146. Jim G says:

    Smoking Frog says:
    March 26, 2011 at 1:46 am
    Jim G says:
    Why is an eternal God any less believable than an eternal universe or a spontaneous one for that matter?

    “The usual answer is that God, to be a person and intelligent, must be complex, but complex things come later rather than earlier.”

    Whoever said that a god needs to be a “person” or even “complex” for that matter. Einstein believed that fundamental answers to complex questions would be simple like his E=MC2 that’s one reason why he did not like the uncertainty principle and said , “God does not play dice”. And here was a guy who even when he was wrong turned out to be right! ( See the cosmological constant.)

  147. Bart says:

    Smoking Frog says:
    March 26, 2011 at 1:46 am

    “The usual answer is that God, to be a person and intelligent, must be complex, but complex things come later rather than earlier.”

    What is “later”? What is “earlier”? Could beings exist like on Tralfamadore, who see time as just another dimension like any other?

    The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

    Perhaps our perceived four dimensional universe is compact, and all roads eventually lead back to where you started. Who knows? We are limited in our perceptions, and have only begun to comprehend the smallest part of what the universe is.

  148. Bart says:

    One last comment I would like to leave on this board. We may, one day, fully understand the questions regarding How. We may say, “here is how life began, here is how it evolved.” We may even succeed in starting the process ourselves on new worlds. But, will we ever answer the question of Why? Why do these molecules with such extraordinary properties of clinging together and self-organizing even exist? Was it the effects of an improbability field?

    The nothingth of a second for which the hole existed reverberated backward and forward through time in a most improbable fashion. Somewhere in the deeply remote past it seriously traumatized a small random group of atoms drifting through the empty sterility of space and made them cling together in the most extraordinarily unlikely patterns. These patterns quickly learned to copy themselves (this was part of what was so extraordinary about the patterns) and went on to cause massive trouble on every planet they drifted on to. That was how life began in the Universe.

    Did a conscious entity create them for some purpose? What is the point? Is there a point? Diversion from the unbounded tedium of immortality and omniscience? How can you write a God or gods out of the picture entirely when you don’t know Why?

  149. Dave Worley says:

    42

  150. Bart says:

    Dave – :-D

  151. Jim Masterson says:

    >>
    pwl says:
    March 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    The currently well known laws of physics actually prevent the alleged god(s) from existing or operating in the universe. Blame Einstein. Damned Speed of Light Limit prevents any and all omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, but most importantly of all prevents any and all omnibenevolence aka omnievil from occurring as it takes a lot of time for information, matter or energy to travel and all those “omni*” capabilities would need to violate the laws of Nature for them to work.
    <<

    Which “well known” laws of physics are you referring to? General Relativity is a theory that’s superseded Newton’s Law of Gravitation. Whereas the speed of gravity under Newton’s law is infinite, under GR it’s a space-time distortion that can only travel at light speed.

    Space-time was created in the Big Bang. To ask questions like “What occurred before the Big Bang?” or “What does space-time expand into?” is as meaningless as asking “What’s north of the North Pole?” (or “What’s south of the South Pole?”), “What’s on the other side of a Mobius Strip?”, or “How do you empty a Klein Bottle?”

    However, if there was a creator of space-time, then its existence wouldn’t depend on space-time. Attempting to restrict that creator’s properties to those that restrict us as space-time creatures doesn’t follow.

    Jim

  152. Legatus says:

    Many of the agruments are the usual ‘scinece versus religion” ones, but are those really apposed, lets look:

    “Gen 1:11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation”
    Note what it does not say, it does not say “and God waved his magic want and plants appeared out of nowhere”. No, instead, it says the land produced vegatation, thus, it was a land/earth/world(ly) (alternative translations of the word) event, ie, a natural event, one not breaking natural, or earthly, law.

    In short, the bible does not deny evolution, in fact, it demands it.

    It then goes on to show the order things evolved after that, plants, then fish (starting with godzillions of tribolites) and birds (dinosaurs), then later “livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals” ie mammels, and after that mankind. Once again, we see it not denying evolution, but agreeing with every fassil we now know. The only place we see anything out of the ordinary is where it goes into detail about the creation of mankind, which makes sense when you think about it, if sentient creatures have souls that go to God, yet they evolve that way slowly, what do you do with the half sentient creatures?

    In fact, the only problem with evolution is …science. Yes, they have been able to make a few simple (not all left handed as required) amino acids, yet the path from that to actual life has so many difficulties that they have given up on that route and switched to “something like RNA” (never actually described, lots of vigorous handwaving here), and even down that route there is no real noticable success, just more handwaving. Thus, the people who SHOULD be arguing FOR evolution are the “religious” people, and the ones against it should be the “scientists”. And a fine kettle of fish THAT would be!
    Thus, we see that it appears that something so fraught with difficulties if it happens by random chance that it is impossible in this universe or any conceivable universe happened anyway.

    But wait, there’s more! This sin’t the first time something like this has happened, there is also the big bang. Here is what must happen for a big bang to produce a universe with the natural alws we see all around us (describing possible universes and the chance of getting one like this one):
    “The vast majority of the space consists of states which are macroscopically “dead de Sitter;” that is, nearly empty de Sitter containing only some thermal radiation. A tiny subset of the states are anthropically acceptable, meaning that they contain complex structures such as stars and galaxies, and a very small subset of those are macroscopically indistinguishable from our universe (labeled MIFOU in the figure). Inflationary initial conditions occupy an even smaller fraction of the space. Trajectories which pass through the inflationary patch will almost always lead immediately to the MIFOU region, “mixing” into it in a “porous,” phase-space-area-preserving manner. The vast majority of the points in the MIFOU region did not come from inflation, but rather from unstable trajectories originating in the dead region. Finally, any trajectory in the dead region will remain there almost all of the time, but will occasionally enter the anthropically acceptable region, and very much more rarely the MIFOU region, and almost never the inflationary region. Therefore, livable universes are almost always created by fluctuations into the “miraculous” states discussed above.”
    8.Dyson, L., M. Kleban, and L. Susskind. 2002. Disturbing Implications of a Cosmological Constant. Reprint from arXiv.

    http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/hep-th/pdf/0208/0208013v3.pdf

    In other words, this entire universe appears to be almost as improbale as the creation if life from non living matter. It has forced many scientists (such as Hawkins) to belief in an infinite number of universes, for which there is not the slightest evidence. We thus have “religious” people believing in something based on life, the universe, and everything (yes, I hadda do it) and ‘scientists” believing something based entirely on blind faith.

    It appears therefore that both the creation of this universe, and of life, are what I would call “natural miracles”, that is, not a classic miricle, where natural laws are abviously broken, but a “miricle” that reguires a LOT more finess, where you do it anyway WITHOUT breaking any natural laws. In other words, God took a whole bunch of coins, all with heads and tails, of all different sizes and colors, threw them up in the “air” and they then bounced and rolled around the universe for about 9 billion years, all arriving at the same place at the same time, all landing heads up, and, oh yes, also happening to form a picture of the Mona Lisa. He did this, not by “cheating” (breaking natural laws, like grabbing the coint and placing it heads up) or by “random chance” (since this is statistically impossible), but by shear skill in coin flipping. There doesn’t seem to be any other way these things could have happened.

    This is not to say that miricles (breaking antural law) are impossible. The usual argument against miricles goes like this (the first two always unstated assumptions are in perenthesis):
    (We know that there is not god.)
    (Therefore we know that miricles are impossible)
    Since miricles are impossible, we know they did not happen.
    Since they did not happen, there is no god.
    (This is called circular reasoning.)

    The only way to know if they are possible is, dare I say it, the same way you know if, say, AGW is true, look at the evidence. Did people witness it, is there some evidence of it after the fact, etc. In other words, if it actually DID happen, then it is, of course, possible.

    My conclusion for all this is that you “religious” people and you “scientific” peaple are both on the wrong side. You should switch side and NOW you can fight! Although exactly what you will now be fighting about eludes me.

  153. Dave Worley says:

    “Space-time was created in the Big Bang. To ask questions like “What occurred before the Big Bang?” or “What does space-time expand into?” is as meaningless as asking “What’s north of the North Pole?” (or “What’s south of the South Pole?”), “What’s on the other side of a Mobius Strip?”, or “How do you empty a Klein Bottle?””

    The big bang is also a theory.

    What if the universe is as old as its creator? Why would on omnipotent creator have hesitated for half of eternity?

    “However, if there was a creator of space-time, then its existence wouldn’t depend on space-time.

    The big bang theory may be another of our attempts to “humanize” the universe with a beginning and an end. Interestingly, an infinite universe would have no center of gravity and thus would not be subject to an eventual collapse or a “big chill”.

    ” Attempting to restrict that creator’s properties to those that restrict us as space-time creatures doesn’t follow.”

    Well said.

    If the idea of an infinite universe makes one feel uncomfortably small, he may draw comfort knowing that all things, including himself, are halfway between the infinite and the infinitesimal.

    Along the same lines….how long is a moment?

  154. Bart says:

    Well, we’re sure having fun now that the killjoys have exited the party. Indeed, how do we know that existence isn’t just a relatively lucid dream? Or, that our universe isn’t a molecule in some giant’s fingernail? A lot of us used to argue things like that in college with the help of certain substances…

    Or, in philosophy class. I finally got so annoyed with it, I wrote in my final essay something along the lines of, “this is all useless. You just go and you do and you be.” It was a bit longer, and criticized some of the more intense naval gazing we had been subjected to in rather more detail than I can remember. But, I got an A!

    Years later, someone told a joke which reminded me of it all, which you’ve no doubt heard and winced at:

    “To be is to do” – Socrates
    “To do is to be” – Aristotle
    “Do be do be do” – Sinatra

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