Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Comment on Abiogenesis

Blogging on the fringes of cyberspace as I do, I am happy to receive comments whether they be yea or nay. There was a comment in the last post, which I'd like to thank the commenter for taking the time to make. I'll try to give an answer. He referred to whether biological life started by chance and that research in abiogenesis, the study of beginnings of life, presumably refutes chance origins. The commenter is correct that we should be aware of origins research. I have a list of evolution-related references (link in right column) that address some of these issues. But it is always easier to read literature that supports one's own theory, and I've meant to do more reading in this field. A challenge from someone else often moves a person to stop procrastinating. I went to Wikipedia for a start and printed out the "Abiogenesis" entry and read it. Wikipedia may be looked down upon by some, but it is a good place to get started on a technical subject and to get references.

I had written posts early-on in my blog about chance. One of them was from March 30, 2008, so I will not re-write the whole thing. But I do want to repeat that one of the references was from the book, God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox. He is a mathematics professor at Oxford University, so has a pretty good idea of what chance is about. He gives the probability that one protein of 100 amino acids formed by chance as 1 in 10^60. This includes only the chirality of the amino acids (whether they are left-handed as in organisms or right-handed) and the particular chemical bond they take, and not whether the protein is even functional (no information theory included). Therefore the chance that 3 such proteins formed with just the correct chirality and chemical bond exceeds the universal probability bound that is given by William Dembski (in other words, less than 1 chance in all the events of the universe so far). The smallest bacteria that I've seen has 1100 proteins, and free-living Cyanobacteria, thought to be one of the earliest organisms, has ~3500 proteins.

The example from Lennox directly addresses one of the theories of abiogenesis: that amino acids are made from natural processes which turn the "pre-biotic soup" into long chains of proteins that can then carry on metabolism. Yes, some amino acids on meteorites show a preference for "handedness," and maybe the numbers would change if you factor in those proportions, but only to a certain degree. One cannot say the problem is solved. Though this example covers only one of the models, the others meet similar types of so-far insurmountable blockages, some of which the Wikipedia author states.

As to whether the chance occurrence was needed only once in the theorized march of evolution, ScienceDaily reported here on Nov. 18, 2008 that many orphan genes are being discovered (the original scientific paper is here). These are unique genes which seem to make species-specific differences in organisms. The paper reports that these genes have no known homologs. In other words, they are not found in any other species and have no known shared ancestor. Granted, we are discovering new species all the time, and our knowledge is growing exponentially. Someday we may figure out where these genes came from , but do not know now.

The Wikipedia article about Abiogenesis has the statement (under Current Models):

There is no truly "Standard model" on the origin of life.
The article gives many theories of models from many possible starts, but they are theories. Therefore, evolution is not a fact now. This is the distinction that seems to get lost when we talk about evolution and/or teaching evolution. Intelligent Design Theory does not necessarily exclude "descent from common ancestor" as a possibility. But it excludes entirely materialistic, naturalistic evolution--that which occurs only by the laws of physics and chemistry as we know them now.

Another quote from the Wikipedia "Abiogenesis" article says:
The question "How do simple molecules form a protocell?" is largely unanswered but there are many hypotheses.
This is under the heading, "From organic molecules to protocells."

The problem is that I don't think we can convince those who are totally materialistic, naturalistic evolutionists of scientific proof that life did not come in that way. The unequivocal, totally convincing scientific proof against materialistic, naturalistic evolution may never come for some because they will always think a proof of "total-natural evolution" is just around the corner. And so, I think the real difference is our opinion of what we think is true, whether it will be proven or not. I'll try to expand on these points in my next post or two.

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