Atheist Son Writes… What do you believe (for god’s sake answer the question already)?

Hi mum,

It’s good to hear from you and even better to read that you are doing some studying around the topic. I will respond to your points one-by-one but first I must say I am very disappointed and frustrated that once again you have not answered the question. Please re-read my previous emails and give me your reply in your next email. I am confident enough in the evidence supporting evolution by natural selection to clearly lay out the physical and biological processes behind its claims. Are you so uncertain of the evidence for whatever you believe that you are unable or unwilling to do the same? Your silence speaks volumes.

To get you started I have included a few questions off the top of my head for you to answer about the origin of life. Feel free to add to them. Together I will accept your answers as your reply to the original question:

  • Approximately how long ago did life first appear on Earth?
  • What specific physical and biological process resulted in the vast number of complex biological lifeforms we observe today (this is the most important question)?
  • Are all lifeforms related to each other or completely independent from each other?
  • Did plants and animals appear before or after humans?
  • Did humans and dinosaurs live at the same time?
  • What does fossil evidence tell us?
  • What does genetic evidence tell us?
  • Do you believe in talking snakes (I’m serious)?

No part of your email referred to evolution by natural selection although once again you brought up two completely unrelated topics: abiogenesis and astrophysics. As I’ve stressed before we need to stay focussed of we will get nowhere. However, I can understand you wanting to adress the topic of abiogenesis in the context of our discussions and so will respond to it briefly.

sorry I’ve been so long in answering your questions, now , on hearing your own personal belief…

I wouldn’t characterise it as my “own personal belief” – it is the scientific consensus based on all available evidence.

for me personaly, it would require for me far more faith to believe [evolution by natural selection], than believing Gods record described in Genesis.

I am very familier with your argument and it even has a name. It’s called the ‘argument from incredulity’ and it goes something like this: “I don’t understand this, therefore it cannot be true” or in your case “I don’t understand this, therefore god did it”. You can find this logical fallacy particularly among children, primitive cultures, and littered throughout history. At one time we didn’t understand why the tides moved, why volcanoes erupted or why the apples fell to the ground and assumed god did it. This irrational argument simply exposes a lazy mind and a lack of imagination. Thankfully there were individuals who did the hard work of asking questions, gathering evidence and testing their ideas to arrive at the true reasons for these phenomena. Because of these individuals and the scientific method used by them then and which continues to be used we are able to cast off the yoke of superstitions. The origin of species and life on Earth is just another example where vast quantities of rock-solid evidence has been accumulated and tested resulting in the fact of evolution by natural selection. You don’t need faith to believe in science, just evidence. Faith, on the other hand, is belief despite the absence of evidence.

I am so glad we are disscusing these things Sam, I also am finding information, which confirms my conclusions in these speculations. Melvin Calvin, the Noble Prize winner, gave a fascinating lecture as to how certain of the chemicals which are essential to the life process might have arisen by purely natural causes in the dawn of history, but he admitted, as any scientist must admit, that we are very, very far indeed from demonstrating how any of the basic biological “stuff of life” could have come into being by such natural combinatiions. Even if such molecules could be made from the kind of chemicals that existed in primitive earth atmosphere, there would be the absolute necessity of the intelligent control of the synthesis by the chemist himself, He said, quote,” As far as I am aware, no scientist claims that the chemical evolution of life is proven, its just pure speculation”.

Melvin Calvin was a great chemist who showed in remarkable detail evidence how the complex process of photosynthesis naturally evolved in plants. He was a great advocate for biological evolution, however in this speech Calvin was referring to something very different: chemical evolution, otherwise known as abiogenesis. Nobody denies that the origin of life is an extremely difficult problem. There is a great deal about abiogenesis that is unknown, but investigating the unknown is what science is for. Speculation is part of the process. As long as the speculations can be tested, they are scientific. That it has not been solved, though, does not mean it is impossible. In fact, there has been much work in this area, leading to several possible origins for life on earth (references supplied at the end of the email):

  • Panspermia, which says life came from someplace other than earth. This theory, however, still does not answer how the first life arose.
  • Proteinoid microspheres (Fox 1960, 1984; Fox and Dose 1977; Fox et al. 1995; Pappelis and Fox 1995): This theory gives a plausible account of how some replicating structures, which might well be called alive, could have arisen. Its main difficulty is explaining how modern cells arose from the microspheres.
  • Clay crystals (Cairn-Smith 1985): This says that the first replicators were crystals in clay. Though they do not have a metabolism or respond to the environment, these crystals carry information and reproduce. Again, there is no known mechanism for moving from clay to DNA.
  • Emerging hypercycles: This proposes a gradual origin of the first life, roughly in the following stages: (1) a primordial soup of simple organic compounds. This seems to be almost inevitable; (2) nucleoproteins, somewhat like modern tRNA (de Duve 1995a) or peptide nucleic acid (Nelson et al. 2000), and semicatalytic; (3) hypercycles, or pockets of primitive biochemical pathways that include some approximate self-replication; (4) cellular hypercycles, in which more complex hypercycles are enclosed in a primitive membrane; (5) first simple cell. Complexity theory suggests that the self-organization is not improbable. This view of abiogenesis is the current front-runner.
  • The iron-sulfur world (Russell and Hall 1997; Wächtershäuser 2000): It has been found that all the steps for the conversion of carbon monoxide into peptides can occur at high temperature and pressure, catalyzed by iron and nickel sulfides. Such conditions exist around submarine hydrothermal vents. Iron sulfide precipitates could have served as precursors of cell walls as well as catalysts (Martin and Russell 2003). A peptide cycle, from peptides to amino acids and back, is a prerequisite to metabolism, and such a cycle could have arisen in the iron-sulfur world (Huber et al. 2003).
  • Polymerization on sheltered organophilic surfaces (Smith et al. 1999): The first self-replicating molecules may have formed within tiny indentations of silica-rich surfaces so that the surrounding rock was its first cell wall.
  • Something that no one has thought of yet.

You might also wish to read a summary of ideas by Robinson, Richard (2005) Jump-starting a cellular world: Investigating the origin of life, from soup to networks. PLoS Biology 3(11): e396. http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0030396

However, lets be very clear, abiogenesis has nothing to do with evolution by natural selection. I hope we can get back to what we are supposed to be discussing which is the origin of the enormous variety of life on Earth without further attempts to avoid answering the question by introducing unrelated topics.

Conclution, intelligence has to be behind , and in the whole creation of the origin of life. as explaned in record of all beginnings, in the book og Genesis.

Okay, I’m glad to see you provide something like a testable hypothesis! Namely, your hypothesis is that biological and physiological processes are not sufficient to explain the origin of biological organisms and therefore they must be clear evidence of ‘intelligent’ interference that we can observe. Do you agree with my characterisation of your argument? It is a bold claim that contradicts what we see in nature but lets run with it. If it is true then we can safely predict that there would be a vast number of specific examples from biology where we see clear tinkering by an outside ‘intelligence’. Since you make this claim the onus of proof lies with you to present the evidence. I eagerly await your reply.

Love,

Sam

PS. I never intended this email to get so long and will try to keep them shorter in future!

References:

 

  1. Ball, Philip. 2001. Missing links made simple. Nature Science Update (15 Mar.). http://www.nature.com/nsu/010308/010308-5.html
  2. Cairn-Smith, A. G. 1985. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life, Cambridge University Press.
  3. de Duve, Christian. 1995a. The beginnings of life on earth. American Scientist 83: 428-437. http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/21438?fulltext=true
  4. Fox, S. W. 1960. How did life begin? Science 132: 200-208.
  5. Fox, S. W. 1984. Creationism and evolutionary protobiogenesis. In: Science and Creationism, ed. A. Montagu, Oxford University Press, pp. 194-239.
  6. Fox, S. W. and K. Dose. 1977. Molecular Evolution and the Origin of Life, Revised ed. New York: Marcel Dekker.
  7. Fox, S. W. et al. 1995. Experimental retracement of the origins of a protocell: It was also a protoneuron. In Ponnamperuma, C. and J. Chela-Flores, pp. 17-36.
  8. Huber, Claudia, Wolfgang Eisenreich, Stefan Hecht and Günter Wächtershäuser. 2003. A possible primordial peptide cycle. Science 301: 938-940.
  9. Lee, D. H. et al. 1996. A self-replicating peptide. Nature 382: 525-528.
  10. Martin, W. and M. J. Russell. 2003. (see below)
  11. Nelson, Kevin E., M. Levy and S. L. Miller. 2000. Peptide nucleic acids rather than RNA may have been the first genetic molecule. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 97: 3868-3871.
  12. Ponnamperuma, C. and J. Chela-Flores (eds.). 1995. Chemical Evolution: Structure and Model of the First Cell. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  13. Pappelis, A. and S. W. Fox. 1995. Domain protolife: Protocells and metaprotocells within thermal protein matrices. In Ponnamperuma, C. and Chela-Flores, pp. 129-132.
  14. Russell, M. J. and A. J. Hall. 1997. The emergence of life from iron monosulphide bubbles at a submarine hydrothermal redox and pH front. Journal of the Geological Society of London 154: 377-402.http://www.gla.ac.uk/Project/originoflife/html/2001/pdf_articles.htm
  15. Smith, J. V., F. P. Arnold Jr., I. Parsons, and M. R. Lee. 1999. Biochemical evolution III: Polymerization on organophilic silica-rich surfaces, crystal-chemical modeling, formation of first cells, and geological clues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 96(7): 3479-3485. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/96/7/3479
  16. Tamura, K. and P. Schimmel. 2001. Oligonucleotide-directed peptide synthesis in a ribosome- and ribozyme-free system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 98: 1393-1397.
  17. Wächtershäuser, Günter. 2000. Life as we don’t know it. Science 289: 1307-1308.
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