Speculation, Faith, and Unproven Assumptions: The History of Origin of Life Research in Scientists Own Words

September 27, 2012 2:00 am 91 comments

Dr. Ernst Chain, Nobel Prize winning chemist

(1945) Dr. Ernst Chain, Nobel Prize Medicine, 1945- The Life of Ernst Chain: Penicillin and Beyond, (R.W. Clark, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London (1985), pg. 148)

I have said for years that speculations about the origin of life lead to no useful purpose as even the simplest living system is far too complex to be understood in terms of the extremely primitive chemistry scientists have used in their attempts to explain the unexplainable that happened billions of years ago.

(1954) Dr. George Wald- Nobel Laureate-Scientific American August, 1954

There are only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of Gd. There is no third possibility…a supernatural creative act of GD. I will not accept that philosophically because I do not want to believe in GD, therefore I choose to believe that which I know is scientifically impossible; spontaneous generation arising to Evolution.

(1960) Dr. Gerald Kerkut, Profesor  Emeritus of Neuroscience at the University of Southahpton, Professor of Physiology and Biochemistry – 1960

The first assumption was that non-living things gave rise to living material. This is still just an assumption…There is, however, little evidence in favor of abiogenesis and as yet we have no indication that it can be performed…it is therefore a matter of faith on the  part of  the biologist that abiogenesis  did occur and he can choose whatever  method…happens to suit him personally; the evidence for what  did happen is not available.

(1962) Dr. Harold C. Urey, Nobel Prize Chemistry, 1934-Mentor of  Dr. Stanley Miller-Christian  Science  Monitor, 1/4/62

All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel it is too complex to have evolved anywhere. We all believe as an article of faith that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It is just that its complexity is so great, it is hard for us to imagine that it did.

Dr. Harold Urey (left) and his student, Dr. Stanley Miller

(1973) Dr. Ilya Prigine, Nobel  Prize  Chemistry 1977- Impact  of Science on Society-1973

But let us have no illusions…[we are still] unable  to grasp the  extreme complexity of the  simplest of organisms

(1976) Richard Dawkins,  [Zoologist and Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University], “The Selfish Gene,” [1976]

The account of the origin of life that I shall give is necessarily speculative; by definition, nobody was around to see what happened. There are a number of rival theories, but they all have certain features in common.

(1977) Dr. Hubert Yockey, renowned Physicist and Information Theorist –Journal of  Theoretical Biology 1977

One must conclude that…a scenario describing the genesis of life on earth by chance and natural causes which can be accepted on the basis of fact and not faith has not yet  been written.

(1978) Richard E. Dickerson [Professor of Molecular Biology, University of California, Los Angeles]., “Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life,” Scientific American, Vol. 239, No. 3, September 1978, p.77).

The evolution of the genetic machinery is the step for which there are no laboratory models; hence one can speculate endlessly, unfettered by inconvenient facts. The complex genetic apparatus in present-day organisms is so universal that one has few clues as to what the apparatus may have looked like in its most primitive form.

(1981) Dr. Francis Crick – Nobel Prize Medicine (1962)- Co-Discoverer of Structure of DNA- “Life Itself”- 1981

Every time I write a paper on the origin of life, I determine I will never write another one, because there is too much speculation  running after too few facts.

Dr. Leslie Orgel (right) with long-time colleague and collaborator, Dr. James Watson

(1982) Leslie E. Orgel [Biochemist and Resident Fellow, Salk Institute for Biological Studies], “Darwinism at the very beginning of life,” New Scientist, Vol. 94, 15 April 1982, p.150).

Prebiotic soup is easy to obtain. We must next explain how a prebiotic soup of organic molecules, including amino acids and the organic, constituents of nucleotides evolved into a self-replicating organism. While some suggestive evidence has been obtained, I must admit that attempts to reconstruct the evolutionary process are extremely tentative.

(1984) Sir Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wichramasingnhe- Evolution from Space (New York, Simon and Shuster, 1984, pg.148)

Indeed, such a theory (intelligent design) is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific.

From my earliest training as a scientist I was very strongly brain-washed to believe that science cannot be consistent with any kind of deliberate creation. That notion has had to be very painfully shed. I am quite uncomfortable in the situation, the state of mind I now find myself in. But there is no logical way out of it; it is just not possible that life could have originated from a chemical accident. (ibid, pg. 53)

(1986) Andrew Scott [biochemist and science writer], “The Creation of Life: Past, Future, Alien,” Basil Blackwell: Oxford UK, 1986, p.111).

Due to this scarcity of financial resources the study of the origins of life has been forced to become a most efficient and cost-effective industry from just a thimble-full of facts the scientists engaged in that study manage to generate a virtually endless supply of theories!

But what if the vast majority of scientists all have faith in the one unverified idea? The modern ‘standard’ scientific version of the origin of life on earth is one such idea, and we would be wise to check its real merit with great care. Has the cold blade of reason been applied with sufficient vigor in this case? Most scientists want to believe that life could have emerged spontaneously from the primeval waters, because it would confirm their belief in the explicability of Nature – the belief that all could be explained in terms of particles and energy and forces if only we had the time and the necessary intellect. They also want to believe because their arch opponents – religious fundamentalists such as creationists – do not believe in life’s spontaneous origin. It is this combative atmosphere which sometimes encourages scientists writing and speaking about the origin of life to become as dogmatic and bigoted as the creationist opponents they so despise.

Sir Fred Hoyle (right) and Chandra Wickramasingnhe

(1988) Dr. Klaus Dose – The Origin of Life: More Questions Than Answers,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1988, p.348

More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.

(1989) Carl Woese, Microbiologist, Gunter Wachtershauser, Chemist – “Origin of Life” in Paleobiology: A Synthesis, Briggs and Crowther – Editors (Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1989)

In one sense the origin of life remains what it was in the time of Darwin – one of the great unsolved riddles of science. Yet we have made progress…many of the early naïve assumptions have fallen or have fallen aside…while we do not have a solution, we now have an inkling of the magnitude of the problem.

(1995) Dr. Christian DeDuve, Nobel Prize, Medicine 1974 – The Beginnings of Life on Earth- American Scientist Sep/October 1995

Even if life came from elsewhere we would still have to account for its first development…How this momentous event happened is still highly conjectural though  no longer purely speculative.

Wordnet Online Dictionary: Conjecture: A.) noun – a hypothesis that has  been formed by speculating…usually with little hard evidence (synonym: speculation)

B.) verb: to believe on uncertain  or  tentative  grounds (synonym:speculate)

It is now generally agreed that if life arose spontaneously by natural processes—a necessary assumption if we wish to remain within the realm of science—it must have arisen fairly quickly, more in a matter of millennia or centuries, perhaps even less, than in millions of years. Even if life came from elsewhere, we would still have to account for its first development. Thus we might as well assume that life started on earth.

Is there a scientific, materialistic answer to the question: How did life begin?

(1997)Billions and Billions of Demons”, Dr. Richard Lewontin, Geneticist – Harvard University, January 9, 1997 NY Times Book Reviews

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

(2001) Dr. Franklin M. Harold, Biochemist, The Way of the Cell: Molecules, Organisms, and the order of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, pg. 251)

It would be agreeable to conclude this book with a cheery fanfare about science closing in, slowly but surely, on the ultimate mystery; but the time for rosy rhetoric is not yet at hand. The origin of life appears to me as incomprehensible as ever, a matter for wonder but not for explication.

(2002) Dr. Paul Davies, Physicist and authority on Origin of Life research, from “In Search of Eden, Conversations with Paul Davies and Phillip Adams”

First, I should like to say that the scientific attempt to explain the origin of life proceeds from the assumption that whatever it was that happened was a natural process: no miracles, no supernatural intervention. It was by ordinary atoms doing extraordinary things that life was brought into existence. Scientists have to start with that assumption.

(2006) Richard Dawkins, The Gd Delusion, 2006, pg. 164

The origin of life is a flourishing, if speculative subject for research.

John Horgan of Scientific American writes that scientists are "stumped as ever by the riddle of life."

(2011) John Horgan, Senior Writer Scientific American -2/28/11

Dennis Overbye just wrote a status report for the New York Times on research into life’s origin, based on a conference on the topic at Arizona State University. Geologists, chemists, astronomers, and biologists are as stumped as ever by the riddle of life.

(2011) Dr. Eugene Koonin, molecular biologist – The Logic of Chance: The Nature and origin of Biological Evolution (Upper Saddle River, NJ, FT Press, 2011, pg. 391)

The origin of life is one of the hardest problems in all of science…Origin of Life research has evolved into a lively, interdisciplinary field, but other scientists often view it with skepticism and even derision. This attitude is understandable and, in a sense, perhaps justified, given the “dirty” rarely mentioned secret: Despite many interesting results to its credit, when judged by the straightforward criterion of reaching (or even approaching) the ultimate goal, the origin of life field is a failure – we still do not have even a plausible coherent model, let alone a validated scenario, for the emergence of life on Earth. Certainly, this is due not to a lack of experimental and theoretical effort, but to the extraordinary intrinsic difficulty and complexity of the problem. A succession of exceedingly unlikely steps is essential for the origin of life…these make the final outcome seem almost like a miracle.

After reading all the above, perhaps it is reasonable to consider that the reason the emergence of life seems “almost like a miracle,” is because it is a miracle.

Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi, a regular columnist for the Algemeiner Journal, and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on Amazon.com and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website. If you wish to be informed when new articles appear, send an email to moe.david@hotmail.com with the email address and the word “Subscribe” in the subject line.

91 Comments

  • Has Rabbi Averick retired?

  • Rabbi Averick claims: “It is the astounding level of functional complexity of the simplest bacterial cell and its genetic code that lies at the heart of ID theory.

    But he’s wrong about that. The “heart of ID theory” is blind faith in the fantasy of a “Supernatural God.” The “functional complexity” of life has absolutely no logical connection to “Creation, by God!”

  • Hopefully, the transcript of the debate will be published sometime.

  • At least we know that Romney clobbered Obama in a debate. But we don’t know how Rabbi Averick fared.

    Neither Obama nor the rabbi have reality on their side. But that’s not necessarily predictive.

  • [{}]After reading all the above, perhaps it is reasonable to consider that the reason the emergence of life seems “almost like a miracle,” is because it is a miracle.[{}]

    Since miracles don’t happen in real life, but only in fiction, why do you wish to make that claim, Rabbi Averick? It seems like you feel that your fantasies of an “IDOL” are somehow realistic, while the method of logically sticking to the facts is unreasonable!

    Your approach to this matter is exactly backwards — which is why ignoring substantial disagreement seems like the only way for you to save your “argument.”

    You are illogically pushing a religious agenda, and that is not reasonable.

  • ATHEISTIC NATURALISM God does not exist. There is no real design (only apparent design) and nature is all there is. [eg. Carl Sagan: "The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."]

    AGNOSTIC NATURALISM One is unsure whether God exists. Though nature may not be all there is, nature is all that matters.

    THEISTIC NATURALISM God exists. He designed the natural laws. There is no design in the strict sense, and although _in principle_ nature is not all that matters, _in effect_ it is.

    THEISTIC EVOLUTION (WEAK DESIGN). God designed the natural laws so that their ordinary operation would result in the intended outcome.

    THEISTIC EVOLUTION (STRONG DESIGN).To ensure the intended outcome, God not only designed the natural laws, but also determined their initial conditions.

    Phillip Johnson [Darwin on Trial] says naturalists define words like “evolution” and “science” in such a way that naturalism is true by definition. Johnson
    commented in World magazine: “Evolutionary science is based on naturalism and draws philosophical conclusions to that base. That’s why any theistic evolution is inherently superficial. It leads people into naturalistic
    thinking, and they don’t realize it.” (Nov. 22/97, p.13)

    Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism
    http://www.arn.org/docs/johnson/pjdogma1.htm

  • [][][]
    Moshe Averick
    September 27, 2012
    8:45 am

    Steve,… I ignore your comments.
    [][][]

    You have no sensible replies to my comments. That’s understandable.

    • Moshe Averick has no substantive criticism of (or answer to) anyone who does not share his blind faith in his imaginary “IDOL“. That much clear, at least.

      The notion of an “Intelligent Designer Of Life” is contradictory and unreasonable. Trying to put the cart before the horse is not realistic: intelligent designers only evolved after life had already originated.

    • Why don’t you write your own column, Steve? I mean aside from the obvious drawbacks that no one would probably publish it or probably even bother to read it, let alone comment on it. If nothing else it might help you formulate a few original, or at least new, ideas.

      Since you seem to thrive on “posting” (emesis seems a more accurate description, but I digress) on every thing the Rabbi writes, one could easily arrive at the conclusion that you desperately need the Rabbi in order to vent your spleen.

      If that were true, then one would describe your relationship to the Rabbi as parasitical in nature, with the Rabbi being the host, of course.

  • [][]The SETI project recognizes that we can identify “intelligence.” There simply is no way of knowing the nature of that intelligence. It could be physical and it could be non-physical.[][]

    No, it could not be “non-physical.” The notion of supernatural intelligence is sheer fantasy. There is nothing the least bit realistic or sensible about it.

    Your notion, Moshe, amounts to absolutely nothing. You have no logic, no facts, no reasonable idea behind your “IDOL“.

    And besides, SETI is obviously looking for actual, physical intelligent life, since they are studying electromagnetic radiation (which is most definitely a physical phenomenon).

  • Your attempt to sidetrack the discussion won’t work.

    1. All living things evolved from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process.

    2. The first bacterium was obviously a living thing.
    3. Therefore, the first bacterium obviously evolved from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process.

    We may then conclude that a simple self replicating molecule formed spontaneously because it solves the philosophical problem of the infinite regress.

    My argument for a natural, unguided origin of life has never been refuted. You’re welcome to try:
    Name me one example of a living thing that did not evolve from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process.

    If your example is the first bacterium, then prove it!

  • If SETI identified an intelligent message from space, scientists would logically conclude that it was the product of PHYSICAL intelligence because (1) all KNOWN examples of intelligence are PHYSICAL, and (2) the message would be in the form of light or sound waves, which are the products of interactions between PHYSICAL matter. Any ideas as to how a NONPHSYICAL being could interact with, let alone create, PHYSICAL matter, thus violating the first and second laws of thermodynamics? I didn’t think so. That is not “a priori”. That is “a posteriori”. Feel free to look up what those phrases actually mean.

    So, you haven’t actually addressed why my objection to your argument is “arbitrary and self serving”, other than to repeat that it is. But more importantly, you’ve now ignored the second, critical part of the question three times now. I’ll repeat it here in all caps to get your attention:

    ———-

    Your argument: every known example of functional complexity is the product of intelligence; therefore, all functional complexity must be the product of intelligence. My objection: all known examples are of PHYSICAL intelligence; therefore, your conclusion does not apply to NONPHYSICAL intelligence.

    MY ARGUMENT: EVERY KNOWN EXAMPLE OF INTELLIGENCE IS FUNCTIONALLY COMPLEX; THEREFORE, ALL INTELLIGENCE MUST BE FUNCTIONALLY COMPLEX. YOUR OBJECTION: ALL KNOWN EXAMPLES ARE OF PHYSICAL INTELLIGENCE; THEREFORE, MY CONCLUSION DOES NOT APPLY TO NONPHYSICAL INTELLIGENCE.

    WHY IS my objection “arbitrary and self-serving” and YOUR OBJECTION VALID?

    • A “non-physical intelligent being” is an impossibility.

    • [][]Any ideas as to how a NONPHSYICAL being could interact with, let alone create, PHYSICAL matter, thus violating the first and second laws of thermodynamics? [][]

      Since “a NONPHYSICAL being” is a fantasy, the question boils down to: how could a fantastic being interact with reality?

  • Let’s try this again.

    Your argument: every known example of functional complexity is the product of intelligence; therefore, all functional complexity must be the product of intelligence. My objection: all known examples are of PHYSICAL intelligence; therefore, your conclusion does not apply to NONPHYSICAL intelligence.

    My argument: every known example of intelligence is functionally complex; therefore, all intelligence must be functionally complex. Your objection: all known examples are of PHYSICAL intelligence; therefore, my conclusion does not apply to NONPHYSICAL intelligence.

    Why is my objection “arbitrary and self-serving” and your objection valid?

    • AW,

      The SETI project recognizes that we can identify “intelligence.” There simply is no way of knowing the nature of that intelligence. It could be physical and it could be non-physical. You simply have no reasonable or logical basis to a priori rule out the possibility of non-physical intelligence, except as an arbitrary self-serving exercise.

      Having said that, the reason we conclude that the first life is the result of a non-physical intelligence is because of the philosophical problem of the infinite regress.

      • “SETI” does not stand for “the search for God.”

        Even if it did, there wouldn’t be anything to find.

      • There’s no speculation involving the existence of intelligence(s) that not only are entirely unlike our own, but even based on “processes” and “substrates” that are completely unknown to us.

        Yes.

        If you can believe that you can believe anything. Which is a good thing, you know.

        Glen Davidson

      • In any contest for the origin of life between “physical non-intelligence” and “non-physical intelligence,” the actual, physical world will naturally win.

        Life is real; supernatural intelligence is only fiction.

      • In reality, there is only reality: the one and only actual universe.

        But the religionists wish there to be two realities: the reality we perceive or the natural world; and a higher, more-important but unperceivable reality — the ‘supernatural’ world or the realm of ‘God.’

        They wish for God to rule. They feel that God can will anything, even contradictions. What a fantasy.

        • “In reality, there is only reality: the one and only actual universe”

          Thanks for clearing that up, Steve. Better start working on the acceptance speech for your Nobel Prize.

  • Eitan – “Name me one example of a living thing that did not evolve from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process?”

    Moshe – “The first bacterium.”

    ———–

    Okay, prove it!

    • Eitan,

      Why do scientists hypothesize that there must have been a simple self-replicating molecule at some point in time, why not just say that the bacterium came together fully formed some 3.8 billion years ago? I’d appreciate a short and to the point answer if possible.

  • ]["First, I should like to say that the scientific attempt to explain the origin of life proceeds from the assumption that whatever it was that happened was a natural process: no miracles, no supernatural intervention."][

    It is not an "assumption" that whatever happened was a natural process. Of course, it was a natural process. That is 100% certain. In real life, there is no alternative to nature. In fiction, faith can move mountains, and you can hear tell of miracles. But that is fiction, not real life.

    • “100% certain”. Great slogan for a tee shirt, but a little too simplistic to take seriously considering complexity of the question.

  • Moshe Averick has no substantive criticism of (or answer to) anyone who does not share his blind faith in his imaginary “IDOL“. That’s clear, at least.

    The notion of an “Intelligent Designer Of Life” is nonsensically contradictory.

    • Paul Sternberg

      Steve,
      Only. Because you define the possibity out of existance. You have no evidence by which you can prove your assertion – as the above quotes by eminent scientists prove. At least some Of them are honest enough to admit that they assume a materialist world view because they rebel against the idea that there could be an intelligent designer – God. They know what such an admission means. I believe you do also.

      What I would like to know from you is how valid do you think a scientist’s explanation for events or actions can be if you know they have an a priori belief that leads them to exclude evidence or othe potential explanations for what they are studying. Are they being “scientific”?

      • [] Only because you define the possibility out of existence. []

        Not exactly. Valid definitions follow the actual possibilities. The possibilities don’t follow the definitions.

        There is precisely the same possibility for an “Intelligent Designer Of Life” as there is for a square circle. Zero.

  • “Statement 1 is at best, nothing more than speculation on your part.”

    Oh, yeah? Name me one example of a living thing that did not evolve from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process?

    • Eitan,

      The first bacterium. You have not yet realized that even if we accept Darwinian Evolution as truth, it has nothing to do with the origin of the fantastic machinery of life. It is nothing more than a description of the unfolding of life. Just as an acorn contains the entire potential of the oak tree that will eventually grow, the first living cell and its genetic coding contained the potential for all future life. Where did life come from Eitan, you have not answered the question.

  • [][][]
    Moshe Averick
    September 28, 2012
    12:40 am

    There are only two possible beginnings for the very first physical living organism in the universe: A. A naturalistic process that begins with the big bang.
    B. A non-physical designer/creator before whom there was no other designer/creator because inasmuch as this designer does not exist in time, there is no “before.”

    [][][]

    Now you’ve added an interesting twist, Moshe. Your claim that “there are only two possibilities” has been reduced to saying the only possibility is “creation, ex nihilo“.

    Here are some of the things wrong with your analysis.

    Nature does not require a “Big Bang.”

    And your point “B” amounts to claiming that “a being that never existed never created life.” Now maybe there you are onto something.

    • Paul Sternberg

      “a being that never existed” is your spin on what the Rabbi said and a deliberate misstatement. A non-material being Existing outside of our time/space universe is not outside the realm of possibility. It is more probable than the materialist proposition that the universe exploded without cause out of nothing. We know of no other effects that occur without a cause. That there must be a cause for the materialist world view to operate must logically dictate that there was a cause for the Big Bang. Because time and space did not exist prior to the Big Bang, the cause must necessarily exist outside of time and space. If you want to contend that the Big Bang was uncaused, then you are requiring greater and shakier faith from us because that assertion violates ALL of our experience. Can science exist in a universe where even one event can happen uncaused? Isn’t thatby definition the kind of “miracle” you so strenuously object to?

      • [][] A non-material being Existing outside of our time/space universe is not outside the realm of possibility.[][]

        Actually, “outside the realm of possibility” is exactly what it is. There is no other reasonable interpretation of “outside the universe.”

        [][]It is more probable than the materialist proposition that the universe exploded without cause out of nothing.[][]

        It is precisely as probable as that, viz., not possible, period.

  • I suppose it boils down to this, Moshe:

    You have this notion of a supernatural “Creator/Designer” and you want us all to take that seriously, as if it were a valid scientific or philosophical thought.

    But it isn’t valid, and you have no way of getting around that little glitch. You blindly believe — and pretend that you’re on the right track.

    • Unlike you, Steve, who blindly believes and pretends to be on the right track.

      Oh, that’s the same thing, isn’t it?

  • “What I would agree with is that all PHYSICAL intelligent agents are functionally complex.”

    And why is this a logical distinction?

    I would agree that all functional complexity is the product of PHYSICAL intelligence. But you claim that the complexity of bacteria prove they were the product of NONPHYSICAL intelligence.

    Why is this a logical nondistinction?

    Please answer both questions.

    • AW,

      Don’t quite understand your first question but I will try to answer anyways.

      1. Isn’t it self-apparent that there is a difference between a physical intelligent agent and a non-physical intelligent agent?

      2. I did not say that the functional complexity of the bacterium and all its encoded specified information prove they were the product of non-physical intelligence. I said that it demonstrates they were the result of “intelligence.” The non-physical designer/creator/intelligence is the result of dealing with the problem of “who designed the designer” and the problem of the infinite regress of designers which comes after determining that it is the result of intelligent intervention.

      • [][]“1. Isn’t it self-apparent that there is a difference between a physical intelligent agent and a non-physical intelligent agent?”[][]

        Physical intelligent agents actually exist. No non-physical intelligent agent actually exists. That’s definitely a difference.

      • [][]{}the functional complexity of the bacterium and all its encoded specified information prove they were … the result of “intelligence.”{}[][]

        I suppose the simplest way to describe that is “pompous nonsense.”

        In fact, there is no way in the world that “the functional complexity of the bacterium” proves, demonstrates, or implies that it was “the result of intelligence.” It is literally impossible that intelligence could exist before life existed (since intelligence is a function of life). It’s a physical, logical impossibility. It’s like trying to tell a kid that losing her second tooth was the cause her losing her first tooth.

        And trying to beg the question by tossing in that extra nonsense about “specified information,” just digs the creationist hole deeper.

      • [][]The non-physical designer/creator/intelligence is the result of dealing with the problem of “who designed the designer” and the problem of the infinite regress of designers which comes after determining that it is the result of intelligent intervention.”[][]

        There is no problem of “who designed the designer” of life, or of some “infinite regress of designers,” because it is as logically and physically impossible for there to have been “intelligent intervention” in the origin of life as it is for there to be square circles.

  • [][][]
    Moshe Averick
    September 28, 2012
    12:31 am

    “The notion that a bacterium and its genetic code could emerge without intelligent design is as ridiculous as proposing that a simple mud hut made out of mud bricks could emerge through a naturalistic unguided process …”
    [][][]

    You are wrong about that, Rabbi Averick.

    We know, of course, through entirely natural experience, that huts and bricks (of mud, or whatever sort) are man-made objects.

    But it makes no sense to claim that “a bacterium and its genetic code” are similarly man-made — or otherwise intelligently made. That would be a case of putting the cart before the horse, i.e., of trying to reverse cause and effect.

    Intelligence is a result of there being life — not the cause of it. (As a mud brick could not create itself, so intelligence could not have created itself.)

    And no fair going outside of reality into religious fantasies about “Creation, by God!” Let’s stick to the facts.

    Though, I suppose, your feeling that it’s no fair sticking to reality — because you wish to believe in something unreal. But while you are certainly capable of believing in God, you are still not capable of making that fantasy come true.

    • Paul Sternberg

      “As a mud brick could not create itself, so intelligence could not have created itself”

      But under the materialist assumption, intelligence DID “create” itself. That or non-intelligence “created” it. Either way, intelligence is just the happy confluence of the right molecules in the right stimuli outputting meaningless patterns that we call thought or words. “why” is a meaningless question in a materialist universe. It just is because it must be.

  • The argument below proves that the gap between non-life and life was crossed through an unguided process.

    1. All living things evolved from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process.
    2. The first bacterium was obviously a living thing.
    3. Therefore, the first bacterium obviously evolved from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process.

    This syllogism is valid. So, unless you can prove that either 1 or 2 is untrue, then 3 must also be true. It’s called logic.

    So, specifically, which statement, 1 or 2, is untrue and why?

    • Eitan,

      Statement 1 is at best, nothing more than speculation on your part. There is no scientist in the world who has any idea whatsoever how life began. Isn’t that obvious from the citations that I wrote in the article?

      If the leading Origin of Life researchers in the world would never assert Statement 1, why would you?

    • 1. All living things evolved from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process.

      Did Venter’s cell with the synthetic genome emplaced within it evolve from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process? Since the cell apart from the genome did, for all we can tell from the evidence, it did in part, but certainly not in whole.

      This brings up the first problem: that science cannot be done through syllogisms and/or deduction. We need evidence to say that something has happened, and then we do it with various confidence levels. A living thing might conceivably have been created by aliens, or whatever you prefer, there is no absolute certainty that living things evolved from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process. Science is a matter of induction, or some prefer to say it’s a matter of inference.

      Most scientists wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t, but I think “wouldn’t” works) pretend to rule out guidance in evolution or in abiogenesis, they just want some sort of evidence for it happening before considering it a viable option. Mere speculation won’t do, which is why Averick constantly fails, although it’s not clear how he fails to see how he fails.

      The evidence thus far indicates that the first bacterium (or archeon, or something in-between?) did indeed evolve from a simpler (actually, more complex is a possibility as well) self-replicating thing, but this sound notion is simply arrived at by noting the evidence of evolution prior to the “first bacterium/archeon (whatever),” the lack of any identifiable signs of intelligence behind wild-type life, and the lack of any meaningful candidate intelligences that might have pulled a Venter or some such thing.

      Glen Davidson

    • [][]“1. All living things evolved from simpler self-replicating things through an unguided process.”[][]

      Your premise has two parts, so let’s look at each one.

      The first part: “1. All living things evolved from simpler self-replicating things …”

      I suppose that might be a possible hypothesis; but it is by no means an established principle. It may not be true.

      The second part: “1…. through an unguided process.”

      If we correctly understand “unguided process” to mean a natural process, then whatever happened there is no doubt that there was nothing supernatural involved (simply because there are no such things as “supernatural processes”). There is only the real world; there is no alternative.

      The notion of an “unreal world” (e.g., a “world not in space and time”) is sheer fantasy.

  • Moshe -

    These two statements of yours can’t both be true:

    1. “Everything that is functionally complex has a creator.”
    2. “There exists a non-physical creator before whom there was no other creator.”

    This creator is intelligent. Everything intelligent is functionally complex. Therefore, this creator is functionally complex.

    If there exists a functionally complex creator that itself was not created, then it isn’t true that everything functionally complex is created.

    If everything that is functionally complex is created, then a functionally complex being that wasn’t created can’t exist.

    So, which statement is false?

    • AW,

      I hope this helps clarify my position. I never said that all intelligence is functionally complex, if it seemed that way either I wasn’t clear or you misunderstood. What I would agree with is that all physical intelligent agents are functionally complex. That’s why I pointed out that although the messages from outer space are clearly the result of intelligence we don’t know anything about the source of that intelligence other than the fact that whoever sent it is capable of intelligent creative activity. More than that we cannot say.

      All agree that at one point in time there was no life and at a later time there was life. That means there is a beginning to the process. Again, the only two possible beginnings are a designer/creator/intelligence that is not subject to the physical limitations of time, space, matter, or energy… or a naturalistic series of causes and effects.

      Does that make it clearer?

      Sometimes I will respond to comments quickly or late at night and it certainly is possible that I was unclear or imprecise. As I said, I hope that is helpful in clarifying things.

      • [][]“All agree that at one point in time there was no life and at a later time there was life.”[][]

        I believe that is true.

        [][]“That means there is a beginning to the process.”[][]

        That is probably correct.

        [][]“Again, the only two possible beginnings are a designer/creator/intelligence that is not subject to the physical limitations of time, space, matter, or energy… or a naturalistic series of causes and effects.”[][]

        In fact, there is only one possible beginning: a natural series of causes and effects.

        The notion of a “designer/creator/intelligence that is not subject to the physical limitations of time, space, matter, or energy…” is sheer fantasy. In real life, that is not a possibility. Religion does not trump reality.

        You may certainly believe in God if you feel the need. If it makes you feel better about your life to imagine that God created it, then go for it (and accept the responsibility for your blind faith). But it remains as always a cognitive error to think that “the supernatural” is a literal possibility. Since you are actually alive, you can’t get there from here. Not cognitively, that is — but in fiction, faith can move mountains.

  • [][]{}There are only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of God. There is no third possibility…{}[][]

    Not only is there no third possibility, there also isn’t that second possibility. “A supernatural creative act” is not an actual possibility; it is only wild imagination. In fact, there is no alternative to natural processes in the origin of life — or anything else, for that matter.

    As I’ve said before, look around at the world. You do not (and can not) see anything “beyond space and time.” Not even a hint of anything. Thus, notions of “the supernatural” are utterly frivolous, unwarranted, and unreasonable. (Sometimes I like to imitate Perry Mason, and point out the declarations about “the supernatural” are irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent in regard to understanding the world.)

    The claim that “life began via an unnatural process” amounts to nothing. As for “unnatural processes,” there is simply no there there.

    Cognitively, the claim that “God created life” (or “God created the universe”) means nothing. Just try to explain (or simply imagine) even approximately how such a process could have worked.

    Outside of nature, there is absolutely no point of reference to explain anything whatsoever.

    Blind (i.e., religious) faith never explains anything. “It was magic!” is not a valid explanation. “It happened naturally!” is on the right track.

  • I have an air tight argument for a natural origin of life:

    1. All living things evolved from simpler self-replicating things.
    2. The first bacterium was obviously a living thing.
    3. Therefore, the first bacterium obviously evolved from simpler self-replicating things.

    The validity of this argument is self evident, unless you have irrational faith in another explanation.

    • That’s an absurd argument. (It doesn’t let in air, and it doesn’t let in light, either.)

      [][]1. All living things evolved from simpler self-replicating things.[][]

      That’s a nonsense pontification, and it makes no sense as premise in any reasonable argument.

    • Elan,

      Evolution can only take place after life begins. This is elementary. The simplest living thing that is known to exist is mycoplasma genitalium. Simpler than that you don’t have primitive life, you have no life. This is also elementary. It is your burden to prove that the gap between non-life and life can be crossed through an unguided process. Good luck. A testable, falsifiable hypothesis: The notion that a bacterium and its genetic code could emerge without intelligent design is as ridiculous as proposing that a simple mud hut made out of mud bricks could emerge through a naturalistic unguided process even though mud, stones, straw and leaves are abundantly available. The only difference is that the bacterium is quantum leaps ahead of any man made machine in its level of functional complexity and there is not even a clue how the massive amounts of information necessary for life to exist could have come into being without an intelligence programming it. You are welcome to accept it as an “article of faith” like all the rest of the materialistic, atheistic scientists. I prefer the reasonable option.

      • [][]It is your burden to prove that the gap between non-life and life can be crossed through an unguided process.[][]

        Rabbi, this “God of the Gap” argument is not reasonable.

        If you wish to claim as knowledge that “God Created Life,” then the burden to prove it is all on you.

        Since only a “natural unguided process without intelligent design” could have led to the emergence of life, you are going to have no luck trying to prove that something unnatural happened.

  • Moshe – Can you reconcile these quotes?

    Poster: The premise of your argument is that everything that is functionally complex is the result of intelligent intervention . Well, isn’t all intelligence functionally complex?

    MA: Only MATERIAL intelligence is functionally complex.

    May 6, 2012
    1:23 am

    —————-

    Poster 1: Our only experience in all of human history is that information is produced by intelligent agents.

    Poster 2: Our only experience in all of human history is that information is produced by intelligent, MATERIAL agents.

    MA: If SETI scientists received intelligible messages from another galaxy they would acknowledge their intelligence, consciousness and creative ability even though they would not have the slightest idea about who or what they were. In fact, they would not even know if they/he/it was even physical. Your distinction is ARBITRARY and SELF-SERVING (emphasis mine).

    May 5, 2012
    11:11 pm

    —————–

    So which is it? Do we distinguish between material and immaterial intelligence in order to avoid the regressive conclusion that your intelligent Creator is functionally complex and therefore, must also be created? Or is that distinction “arbitrary and self serving”?

    • [][] Do we distinguish between material and immaterial intelligence …”[][]

      “Immaterial intelligence” is a figment of the imagination. That is basic distinction from the actual intelligent of actual, material living beings.

    • Aw,

      There are two steps here. The first leads us to the inescapable conclusion that life is the result of an intelligent creator. We are then faced with the dilemma of the infinite regress. There must be a beginning.

      There are only two possible beginnings for the very first physical living organism in the universe: A. A naturalistic process that begins with the big bang.
      B. A non-physical designer/creator before whom there was no other designer/creator because inasmuch as this designer does not exist in time, there is no “before.”

      IF that designer/creator exists we have no more problem of who designed the designer or the infinite regress of designers. IF the first life was created it must be that creator.

      Our task is now relatively simple: What is the most reasonable explanation for the origin of life; an intelligent designer or an unguided naturalistic process. The answer is obvious as far as I’m concerned.

      • [][]… the inescapable conclusion that life is the result of an intelligent creator.[][]

        That’s like claiming you have reached “the inescapable conclusion that circles are square.”

        A self-contradictory proposition (e.g., “life is the result of an intelligent creator”) can never be an inescapable conclusion, but only an invalid conclusion.

      • [][]What is the most reasonable explanation for the origin of life; an intelligent designer or an unguided naturalistic process?[][]

        The only reasonable explanation is: a NATURAL PROCESS. There is no other possibility.

        Any other “alternative” explanation is simply religious fantasy. Such as the “Averick IDOL.”

  • while the mechanism of abiogenesis is unknown and may well remain so we must resist the temptation to assume that evolutionary processes are restricted to the biological phase. For example, the geologist Robert M Hazen in Scientific American, March 2010, describes the evolution of minerals on this planet.

    In fact a very good case can be made for nature’s machinery to be described in terms of an evolutionary continuum that extends (at least) from stellar nucleosynthesis right through to the autonomous development of technology that we observe today.

    Within the context of this paradigm the primary function of our species can be regarded as the generation of the next phase of the on-going “life” process.

    The broad evolutionary model which supports this is outlined (very informally) in: “The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?” It is a free download in e-book formats from the “Unusual Perspectives” website

    • [][]In fact a very good case can be made for nature’s machinery to be described in terms of an evolutionary continuum that extends (at least) from stellar nucleosynthesis right through to the autonomous development of technology that we observe today.[][]

      That sounds like yet another version of the bogus notion of psychological determinism.

    • Peter,
      Why must we resist the “temptation” as you put it? Robert Hazen is as clueless as anyone else when it comes to explaining the origin of life. There are staggering amounts of information that must be accounted for in order for life to exist. What source of information does anyone know of other than intelligence.

      The whole point to the article is that science has completely failed to make any kind of case at all for anything in nature that could result in life emerging. My question is: Why did anyone think such a notion was plausible in the first place? Two reasons: One is that scientists were blinded by the evolutionary process that took place AFTER life began and sort of hoped that somehow they would figure out how all that fantastic machinery got there in the first place without taking stock of the fact that by ignoring the dilemma of the origin of life they had completely avoided the real question. Second: They do not like the idea of a Creator and as Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra W. have said, the problem is psychological and that they have been brainwashed that there are no processes outside of material processes.

      • [][]“The whole point to the article is that science has completely failed to make any kind of case at all for anything in nature that could result in life emerging.”[][]

        It is absurd to believe that science needs to make any such kind of case for the existence of nature.

        You may not believe in nature, but it is still beyond the pale to claim that science should try to “make any kind of case” to convince you that there is such a thing as nature.

        No matter how strongly or weakly you believe that “life is not natural,” there is no reasonable way to make “any kind of case” that nature (including life) really is here.

      • You are entirely missing the point (a number of points, actually, Moshe.
        For example, Robert M Hazen makes no attempt to explain the origin of bioogical life.
        He describes the evolution of minerals on this planet. It is a most interesting article which I suggest you read.
        It may give you a new perspective.
        If you are not irretrievably bound to religious dogma I would also recommend Nick Lane’s very thoughtful and informed “Life Ascending” which does give some interesting aspects of possible routes for abiogenesis. Should be in your public library system.

  • It’s time to just admit it–the honesty of science and of scientists shows that science is a failure, and that making up causal entities is far superior to honest discovery.

    Now the really interesting part begins, which is to decide which superhero is the best candidate for making our world. Superman, Santa Claus, Yahweh (sorry, YHWH for the proper superstitions of proponents of one superhero), the Incredible Hulk, Ironman? Of course there are a whole lot more gods and superheroes, but I’ve not realized that making stuff up was so useful in explanation and haven’t delved much into fictions like comic and holy books, so while I could add superheroes, gods, and miscellaneous miracle figures like Santa, I can’t make anything like a comprehensive list.

    It’s a nerd fight! I’m rooting for Santa, but guessing that the good guys will finish last, as usual. May the best superhero win. Let’s get serious folks, no more denying that a miraculous figure made life, it’s time to deal properly with the task of determining which god, superhero, or saint, produced life–and how (sexual means are certainly more interesting, but clearly a Frankensteinian god could have made life in the lab, too).

    Glen Davidson

  • [][][]
    Moshe Averick
    September 27, 2012
    8:45 am

    Steve,

    With pompous faith-based declarations like these with not even an attempt to back them up with any reasonable, logical argument, you now understand why I ignore your comments.
    [][][]

    What you ignore are the reasons that back up my position on the issue of “the supernatural vs. nature.” You ignore my comments because I have reasons based in reality, and all you have in response are declarations based on blind (i.e., religious) faith.

    Moshe, you seem to be basically declaring, “No contest,” or “No mas” (which I don’t think is a Jewish phrase, but you get the idea).

  • Nu, Rabbi Averick–how did the debate go with Shauli? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • So when we convince you that miracles are possible that won’t be a miracle?

    • My comment above was in response to this:

      Steve Stoddard
      September 27, 2012
      2:29 am

      No, it is never reasonable to consider something a miracle. Not even anything. Miracles are religious fantasies, not actual possibilities.

  • I don’t know how Rabbi Averick did in that “debate,” but notice how he studiously avoids engaging anyone on this blog who disagrees with him.

  • Just because something is not yet understood doesn’t mean it’s necessarily “magic”. I believe that G-d wills the world to function according to natural order. I believe that G-d is to material reality as consciousness is to a material human body, only infinitely more so where the consciousness of G-d gives reality to the material creation instead of the opposite process in humans…

    Certainly, the logic of “I don’t understand it therefore it must be G-d” is weak and faulty. This kind of logic is a desecration of Judaism where scientific approach was regarded as superior to the religious approach in matters of nature.

    As the statement of Rabbi Yehudah in the Talmud: “Their view is preferable to ours…” on the topic of the path of the sun, over the heavens or under the earth at night.

    From the position of Rabbi Yehudah we can learn that Torah knowledge of science is just not scientific.

  • [][]There are only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of God. There is no third possibility…[][]

    Not only is there no third possibility, there also isn’t that second possibility. “A supernatural creative act” is not an actual possibility; it is only wild imagination. In fact, there is no alternative to natural processes in the origin of life.

    • Steve,

      With pompous faith-based declarations like these with not even an attempt to back them up with any reasonable, logical argument, you now understand why I ignore your comments.

      • What a coincidence, you did speak up. (Sort of.)

        Notice, however, that you are the one basing his case on religious faith. I am one who rejects such a faithful approach to life.

        I think you like to ignore my comments because faith is “not-of-this-world” and thus cannot stand up to facts.

      • You need to support your position with a better effort than dismissing dissenters as merely “pompous.”

        Then again, why should you bother trying to support your position when it rests on nothing but blind faith?

      • The only alternative to natural processes would be something supernatural. But “supernatural” means impossible.

        That’s why nature is what we actually have. Look around. What do you see?

    • I’m starting to think Steve has a macro on his computer that randomly generates the same nonsense, only in different order, each time he posts. I’ve developed something like that on my computer to generate cool-sounding but total BS technical excuses e.g. “Asynchronous Decryption Underflow Signal”. It’s actually quite funny and no one takes it seriously.

  • [][]After reading all the above, perhaps it is reasonable to consider that the reason the emergence of life seems “almost like a miracle,” is because it is a miracle.[][]

    No, it is never reasonable to consider something a miracle. Not even anything. Miracles are religious fantasies, not actual possibilities.

    To consider something a miracle is not merely a confession of ignorance, but of lazy, senseless ignorance. Perhaps deliberate ignorance — driven by blind (i.e., religious) faith.

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