Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Origins 3, Perspectives


We are talking about origins of life. Since biological life is so complex, it’s a little hard to know where to start. As I was thinking about it, I realized an over-all perspective is important. Many of the arguments that support totally naturalist, materialistic evolution seem to focus on the ability of biological life to “fix” properties (bring about traits that are beneficial to itself) through natural selection. And this is true. For example, if a bacteria has a mutation in its gene and becomes resistant to drugs, it is more likely to survive than its neighbors and therefore reproduce more progeny with this modification. Therefore, the random mutation will be selected and live on in ancestors. But we must remember this fixation is within an already working organism and its progeny, which already have all the cell processes present and in working order. Each cell is protected by specialized membranes which keeps most of the outer environment outside of consideration. The mutations come as a result of copying of genes. The cell already has the equipment to do the copying and use what is produced. Most are copied correctly. However, the mutation itself IS random, and when drugs are withdrawn, as is described in Michael Behe’s book, Edge of Evolution, the progeny of drug-resistant organisms may go right back to being killed by drugs. The mutation itself has no knowledge of whether it helped the bacteria or not.

An especially important application of the random process is before life began. Here, atoms and molecules are affected in different ways, with no limiting factor of the specialized cell membrane. There are many circumstances which affect them. For one, a tremendous variety of atoms and molecule combinations come into contact with each other in an open ocean, atmosphere or other large medium. Though they have varying attractions to each other, they are susceptible to forces which break them up as well as put them together. In this case, nothing is "set" and even if several molecules combine, they can just as easily fall apart. Another factor is their concentrations in relation to the water or air in which they float. This will have an affect on their chemical equilibrium.

Yet many biologists and those doing computer simulations try to impose the "fixations" by natural selection at these levels. As an analogy, they want to tell us random letters will stay put in a sentence once they are "correct." The same for atoms and molecules floating around in the primordial ocean. One of the physical laws for fluid movement and the molecules therein is the Law of Mass Action, which is concerned with equilibrium in chemical reactions. This has no power to put atoms and molecules in particular orders for life to begin.

Now, if there were a law that brought random molecules together to form life, I think I would have heard of it. We will keep this division in perspective as we explore possibilities for the beginning of life.

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