Atheism Intelligent Design Origin Of Life

At Evolution News: An Optimistic Solution to the Mystery of Life’s Origin

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Walter Bradley and Casey Luskin write:

Image credit: Geralt, via Pixabay.

One might think that, in this series, we have been overly pessimistic in our analysis of the current status of origin-of-life research. But consider what five prestigious origin-of-life thinkers say about the current status of origin-of-life research:

  • Nobel Prize-winning biologist Jack Szostak: “It is virtually impossible to imagine how a cell’s machines, which are mostly protein-based catalysts called enzymes, could have formed spontaneously as life first arose from non-living matter…Thus, explaining how life began entails a serious paradox.”1
  • Harvard chemist George Whitesides: “Most chemists believe, as do I, that life emerged spontaneously from mixtures of molecules in the prebiotic Earth. How? I have no idea… We need a really good new idea.”2 “I don’t understand how you go from a system that’s random chemicals to something that becomes, in a sense, a Darwinian set of reactions that are getting more complicated spontaneously. I just don’t understand how that works.”3
  • “Origin of Life” entry in the Springer Encyclopedia of Astrobiology by Mexican biologist Antonio Lazcano: “A century and a half after Darwin admitted how little was understood about the origin of life, we still do not know when and how the first living beings appeared on Earth.”4
  • Richard Dawkins, leading evolutionary biologist and New Atheist: “The universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple…The fact that it did not — the fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing — is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.”5
  • Eugene Koonin, a prestigious biologist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information: “The origin of life is one of the hardest problems in all of science, but it is also one of the most important. Origin-of-life research has evolved into a lively, inter-disciplinary 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, from the synthesis and accumulation of nucleotides to the origin of translation; through the multiplication of probabilities, these make the final outcome seem almost like a miracle.”6

An Alternative Solution 

But there is an alternative solution to the information sequence problem and the mystery of life’s origin — and it has the benefit of being based upon our uniform experience with how information arises. I (Walter Bradley) and my coauthors hinted at this solution in the original edition of The Mystery of Life’s Origin, published in 1984, wherein we observed, “We know by experience that intelligent investigators can synthesize proteins and build genes” and concluded that “intelligence is the authentic source of the information in the biological world.”7 In 2020, Discovery Institute published an updated edition of The Mystery of Life’s Origin, and all involved in the project were struck by how few changes were needed, owing to the fact that little meaningful progress had been made in the field of origin-of-life research over the previous 35 years.

ID theorists thus propose that the action of an intelligent agent was required for the origin of the first living cell. In keeping with their materialistic outlook, meanwhile, mainstream origin-of-life theorists still maintain, as they must, that a self-replicating cell arose naturally. Darwinian evolution then took things the rest of the way and allowed the grand diversity of living organisms to evolve. 

Notes

  1. Alonso Ricardo and Jack W. Szostak, “Life on Earth,” Scientific American (September 2009), 54-61.
  2. George M. Whitesides, “Revolutions in Chemistry: Priestley Medalist George M. Whitesides’ Address,” Chemical and Engineering News 85 (March 26, 2007), 12-17.
  3. Conor Myhrvold, “Three Questions for George Whitesides,” MIT Technology Review (September 3, 2012), https://www.technologyreview.com/2012/09/03/184017/three-questions-for-george-whitesides/ (accessed November 18, 2020).
  4. Antonio Lazcano, “Origin of Life,” Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, eds. M. Gargaud et al. (Berlin, Germany: Springer, 2011), 1184.
  5. Richard Dawkins, The Ancestors Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), 613.
  6. Eugene V. Koonin, The Logic of Chance: The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution (Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2011), 391.
  7. Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories (Dallas, TX: Lewis and Stanley, 1984), 193, 197.
  8. Stephen C. Meyer, “Evidence of Intelligent Design in the Origin of Life,” The Mystery of Life’s Origin: The Continuing Controversy (Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2020), 455-456.

Full article at Evolution News.

It’s fairly evident that non-theistic origin-of-life researchers, while seeing the daunting obstacles to any conceivable naturalistic pathway for abiogenesis, nevertheless believe that life arose naturally, not based on scientific evidence, but due to their nearly absolute determination that God’s creative agency not be considered. What plays a greater role in their convictions, the evidence of nature or their predilections?

33 Replies to “At Evolution News: An Optimistic Solution to the Mystery of Life’s Origin

  1. 1
    asauber says:

    “their nearly absolute determination that God’s creative agency not be considered”

    It’s a kind of religious devotion. Rivals and surpasses any extreme fundamentalist.

    Andrew

  2. 2
    Alan Fox says:

    It is virtually impossible to imagine how a cell’s machines, which are mostly protein-based catalysts called enzymes, could have formed spontaneously as life first arose from non-living matter…

    Hmm. Being a bit skeptical of ellipses, I checked the original article. Unsurprisingly, the quote is misleading. The thrust of Szostak’s article is to explain how RNA world neatly sidesteps the conundrum of how proteins could have arisen prebiotically. Answer: they didn’t have to. I wonder if the other quotes stand up to scrutiny.

  3. 3
    BobSinclair says:

    Alan fox,
    So do we have an account for how the RNA world gave up the goose to the DNA/protein world or has the can simply been kicked here.

  4. 4
    AaronS1978 says:

    @2 what scrutiny?
    Do you mean your minimal attempt to say the quote was taken out of context? The quote wasn’t taken out of context, Jack Szostak was describing the difficulty of the problem and how he was going to solve the issue which he didn’t in all reality.

    So what scrutiny are you talking about? Is it the AF nitpicking and hairsplitting, because that’s not scrutiny, it’s just being annoying.

  5. 5
    Belfast says:

    You shouldn’t go back for your hat, AF.
    You revealed your ignorance once before over this very issue of the appearance of the first reproducing molecule. Now you affect to summarise what Szostak wrote on this point.
    The key word he uses in the article is “plausible. ” Now, take some schooling on “plausible.”
    ‘Plausible’ is frequently used in origin of life speculation to describe a postulation with a superficial appearance of rationality whilst admitting there is no evidence. ‘Plausible’ is different from ‘likely’or ‘probable’, it does not even necessarily mean ‘possible’; a great deal of semantic mistiness can be found in ‘plausible.’
    Professor Orgel, who suggested criteria for ruling on the concept of probiotic plausibility suggested that it would not be wise to define ‘plausibility’ too carefully.
    Your summary that Szostak neatly sidestepped the problem seems to have been made in ignorance of the fact that the RNA world theory is now adrift. He didn’t sidestep the problem. he hoped to do so, but did not.
    And your hint that other quotes are unreliable is as big a bust as the RNA world.

  6. 6
    Red Reader says:

    The non-sequitur of all non-sequiturs:
    “We have no idea how life arose. But we’re sure God didn’t do it.”

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    AF, by now you should note the psychology of projection. You are confessing by projection as you repeatedly put up innuendoes of dishonest citation. You have been corrected already, but persist. You need to realise that he who gratuitously accuses or suggests others to be guilt of dishonesty on mere suspicion toward the despised other has confessed the dirty secrets of his own heart. Going forward we have to reckon your claims and arguments as tainted by what you reveal about yourself. KF

  8. 8
    Seversky says:

    It’s fairly evident that non-theistic origin-of-life researchers, while seeing the daunting obstacles to any conceivable naturalistic pathway for abiogenesis, nevertheless believe that life arose naturally, not based on scientific evidence, but due to their nearly absolute determination that God’s creative agency not be considered. What plays a greater role in their convictions, the evidence of nature or their predilections?

    The same question could be asked of ID/Creationists. We have examples here of contributors whose interest in science apparently extends only to quotes culled from the literature on the grounds they fit with their religious predispositions.

    The real question to be answered is why should science invoke God as a creative agency when there is no compelling evidence that such a being, let alone its handiwork, even exists? Even the most ardent creationists who attribute the whole of the natural world to God’s agency cannot explain how He accomplished His designs which is nonetheless what they expect of science.

  9. 9
    AaronS1978 says:

    @8
    Yeah, but the people that are predominantly atheists are currently running the show not religious people. You might’ve had a point if there was an equal standing, but there’s not.

    And, of course, my rebuttal question to you would be why do scientists invoke a naturalistic explanation for everything and never entertain any other possibility

    Also, no scientist to my knowledge can tell me how the laws of physics came about and how they work or why so if they can’t do that, then you holding us to the card that we need to explain how God created things is equally stupid.

    The questions you present are Tail chasing exercises that can’t easily be thrown back in your court never accomplishing anything as we run circles around each other

    Lastly, when we figure out how it all happened we’ll figure out how God did it now won’t we

  10. 10
    William J Murray says:

    Odd, since according to GR spacetime, life always existed, no “creation” or “natural origin” required. The linear time experience is an artifact of perceptual capacity and location, not an actual quality of what is being perceived.

  11. 11
    Alan Fox says:

    You revealed your ignorance once before over this very issue of the appearance of the first reproducing molecule. Now you affect to summarise what Szostak wrote on this point.

    *chuckles*

    Not just my ignorance. Nobody knows how life got started on Earth. Most of the comments above, including Szostak’s, are acknowledging this simple point.

    RNA world is a proposal that sidesteps the otherwise chicken-and-egg problem of whether DNA or protein happened first by producing a candidate that Is a precursor to both. But it is still a hypothesis, notwithstanding it being widely accepted as plausible.

  12. 12
    Alan Fox says:

    Going forward we have to reckon your claims and arguments as tainted by what you reveal about yourself.

    No, you don’t, KF. You are free to make your own stuff up and not bother to take my skepticism of ID on board.

    You can continue to pretend that ID is a scientific theory of merit while refusing to test (for example, how to quantify “complex specified information”) any ID claims. You can continue to rail about being ignored while confining yourself to an obscure blog that is gently fading into oblivion along with ID.

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    Sev:

    You are persuading me that I should comment on a now common attitude to the reality of God:

    The real question to be answered is why should science invoke God as a creative agency when there is no compelling evidence that such a being, let alone its handiwork, even exists? Even the most ardent creationists who attribute the whole of the natural world to God’s agency cannot explain how He accomplished His designs which is nonetheless what they expect of science.

    >>The real question to be answered is why should science invoke God as a creative agency>>

    1: Projection, especially as regards the design inference, which is from reliable sign to causal process.

    2: The design inference on fine tuned cosmos is to design of a cosmos fitted for C-Chem, aqueous medium, cell based life.

    3: The questions that point to God are logic of being, reality root and ground of moral government issues, including being root of our credible rationality which requires freedom.

    4: I find it at first amusing then sad, that people argue for why we should believe determinism. That is self referentially incoherent.

    >> when there is no compelling evidence that such a being,>>

    5: Little more than an announced policy of hyperskepticism. What accessible evidence would be persuasive, the obvious answer is none. As evidence not accessible to us would be demanded despite there being key evidence refused attention.

    6: Evidence is not confined to what conventionally labelled sciences provide, e.g. millions testify to and show in transformed lives, the power of encounter with God. Where, the numbers are so significant that to hold them all delusional (a common inference of hyperskeptics_ would at once bring credibility of minds, including skeptical minds in doubt.

    7: I find also, that the built in undeniable moral government of our behaviour attested by conscience and the thirst for justice requires an adequate explanation, including of the moral government of reason by duties to truth, right reason, prudence including warrant.

    8: Where, your objection is in fact an appeal to said duties. Objectors find themselves enmeshed in self referential incoherence, which often includes undermining of the rational freedom for argument to be credible and not merely pre programmed mouth noises of no rationally compelling significance.

    9: Are rationally free arguments possible and are we duty bound to respect them? If no, then there is no basis for discussion including scientific discussion, evidence is a bit of meaningless mouth noise and discussion collapses into might and/or manipulation make ‘right’ — another bit of mouth noise.

    10: We find ourselves compelled instead to see rational freedom and duty to responsible reason as real. Which require adequate cause and credibility. For non being has no causal power and the poof magic of emergence is little more than 0 –> everything.

    11: After centuries of debates — yes, rational exchange — there is just one serious post Euthyphro, post Hume etc candidate: the inherently good, utterly wise, creator God, a maximally great, necessary being [and so root of reality]. One, worthy of respect and of the responsible service of doing the good that accords with our evident nature. A familiar figure.

    12: Would be objectors are invited to offer an adequate alternative that does not pull a rabbit out of a non existent hat, does not end in self referential discredit, does not require a causal-temporal thermodynamic succession of years to cumulatively traverse a completed transfinite [an infeasible supertask], is not an open door to nihilism, and balances causal adequacy with rational freedom. As in _____________________

    13: I predict, hard to do.

    >> let alone its handiwork,>>

    14: Visible all about. (You are likely imposing a self-referentially incoherent and causally grossly inadequate worldview such as evolutionary materialistic scientism and/or fellow travellers that has not been properly tested on comparative difficulties.)

    >>even exists?>>

    15: This raises logic of being.

    16: There are suggested entities that are impossible of being such as a Euclidean plane square circle, due to mutually contradictory core characteristics, and of possible beings, contingent and necessary. The latter being framework to any possible world.

    17: God is a serious candidate necessary being, such candidates are either impossible or else actual. I suspect, post Plantinga, you will struggle to pose a reason why God would be impossible of being, and

    18: the notion that God is comparable to contingent entities such as a flying spaghetti monster does not even pass the Phil 101 giggle test, it is a category error of gross ignorance to set up and knock over such a strawman.

    >> Even the most ardent creationists>>

    19: Loaded, emotive language, would you consider your atheism or the like as expressions of the emotions or psychological compulsions?

    >>who attribute the whole of the natural world to God’s agency cannot explain how He accomplished His designs which is nonetheless what they expect of science.>>

    20: Strawman. First, you rhetorically conflate Creationism and the design inference on tested, reliable sign. Which last, is suppressed in your argument.

    21: To recognise on signs that design is best causal explanation is antecedent to investigation as to means, and you know it.

    22: Sciences often engage causal mechanisms but often they do not have such in hand but do not thereby become unscientific.

    23: Agent cause is also a valid explanation and is implicit in rational responsible freedom required to have credible argument.

    24: That is, there lurks here a self referential undermining of your own credibility to argue.

    KF

  14. 14
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: RNA world is a speculation, lacks adequate warrant and has no causally adequate source for functionally specific, complex organisation and/or associated information. A something from nothing gambit yet again. KF

    PS, AF you have shown yourself by repeated confession by projection. In particular your repeated gratuitous insinuation of dishonesty and refusal to acknowledge correction exclude you from serious, responsible discussion.

  15. 15
    Belfast says:

    AF
    You display again you don’t know what you are talking about by telling us the RNA world ‘proposal’ as though it hasn’t be discussed here many many times. The RNA world is an umbrella term for many proposals around the first replicating molecule.
    To quote Jack Szostak, who is respected here for his honesty, “In retrospect, we were totally blinded by our belief ….(involving RNA World) we were not as careful or rigorous as we should have been” – you could learn from him.
    BTW Professor Szostak is now in Chicago co-ordinating their Origin Of life program, but they appear to have dropped the RNA world; they are now excited about microbes arriving from other planets. Microbes which have mastered safe interplanetary travel.
    Now here’s your hat, must you go?

  16. 16
    Alan Fox says:

    Every tub must stand on its own bottom, KF. While the World moves on, the “Intelligent Design” movement can offer what as insight into the origin of life on Earth?

  17. 17
    Alan Fox says:

    I’m familiar with Jack Szostak. We had some email correspondence recently, some if which I published here. I agree he is an aspirational figure for scientists to emulate. I also hope for that second data point from elsewhere than Earth which may answer some questions. Not too long to wait.

    You’re right though. The law of diminishing returns applies to interactions here. I’ll grab my hat and go. Mind you, if it turns out “Intelligent Design” becomes legitimate, finds a hypothesis or two to test, becomes less of a vehicle for the religious right, maybe I’ll pop back for a visit.

  18. 18
    kairosfocus says:

    AF, stuck record hyperskepticism trick. We both know, deep down, the significance of complex coded algorithmic information in the heart of cell based life. That is underscored by what you tried to dismiss, code, then your pretence that ellipsis was automatically suspect. Words you never took back when the full clip and more was given. Telling. KF

    PS, Lehninger is telling, as is shown by your reaction:

    “The information in DNA is encoded in its linear (one-dimensional) sequence of deoxyribonucleotide subunits . . . . A linear sequence of deoxyribonucleotides in DNA codes (through an intermediary, RNA) for the production of a protein with a corresponding linear sequence of amino acids . . . Although the final shape of the folded protein is dictated by its amino acid sequence, the folding of many proteins is aided by “molecular chaperones” . . . The precise three-dimensional structure, or native conformation, of the protein is crucial to its function.” [Principles of Biochemistry, 8th Edn, 2021, pp 194 – 5. Now authored by Nelson, Cox et al, Lehninger having passed on in 1986. Attempts to rhetorically pretend on claimed superior knowledge of Biochemistry, that D/RNA does not contain coded information expressing algorithms using string data structures, collapse. We now have to address the implications of language, goal directed stepwise processes and underlying sophisticated polymer chemistry and molecular nanotech in the heart of cellular metabolism and replication.]

    See https://uncommondescent.com/darwinist-debaterhetorical-tactics/protein-synthesis-what-frequent-objector-af-cannot-acknowledge/

  19. 19
    chuckdarwin says:

    Today’s lesson, kids is on “projection” and the psychology of displacement….

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    CD, Cognitive dissonance (and projection):

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/cognitive-dissonance

    The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people are averse to inconsistencies within their own minds. It offers one explanation for why people sometimes make an effort to adjust their thinking when their own thoughts, words, or behaviors seem to clash with each other.

    When one learns new information that challenges a deeply held belief, for example, or acts in a way that seems to undercut a favorable self-image, that person may feel motivated to somehow resolve the negative feeling that results—to restore cognitive consonance. Though a person may not always resolve cognitive dissonance, the response to it may range from ignoring the source of it to changing one’s beliefs or behavior to eliminate the conflict.

    Ahhhhhnnd

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/projection

    Projection is the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object. The term is most commonly used to describe defensive projection—attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another. For example, if someone continuously bullies and ridicules a peer about his insecurities, the bully might be projecting his own struggle with self-esteem onto the other person.

    Apply the mirror principle and we see confession by projection.

    KF

    BTW, forced conformity backed by intimidation is a known technique to create dissonance and shift of beliefs and values to conform to degraded behaviour. This is patently happening at civilisation level currently.

  21. 21
    relatd says:

    CD at 19,

    I’ve got a mirror I’d like to show you…

  22. 22
    Marfin says:

    CD,SEV,AF-When you guys accept that the origin of life by a non directed natural process is a religious belief ,then maybe we can start to have a honest debate.

  23. 23
    relatd says:

    Marfin at 22,

    All of these so-called debates will always boil down to God or Atheism.

    Example:

    God did it.

    Nothing did it.

  24. 24
    relatd says:

    I just got my box of “Simpler Origin of Life Cake Mix.” The directions include this line: “All ingredients will combine and produce life by themselves. NO outside intervention required.”

    I’m still waiting…

  25. 25
    Viola Lee says:

    Those are not the only two alternatives.

  26. 26
    relatd says:

    VL at 25,

    Of course they are. Science wants “it happened by itself.” Christians know, through Divine Revelation and natural reason, that God created and guides His Creation to this moment.

    • ‘The Church “proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things.”

    • “Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.”

    Christoph Cardinal Schönborn is archbishop of Vienna and general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

  27. 27
    Viola Lee says:

    The Christian God is not the only alternative to materialism for explaining how there might be some non-natural causes for design at some level in the universe.

  28. 28
    martin_r says:

    to Alan Fox and Co.

    Let me remind you one more time:

    Even if you would have all life’s chemicals (RNA, DNA, lipids, etc etc) pre-made and securely stored in freezers (so they don’t degrade), THERE IS NOBODY ON THIS PLANET WHO CAN ASSEMBLY IT IN ORDER TO CREATE EVEN THE SIMPLEST CELL.

    When you guys finally get how big is the problem ? Looking for a self-replicating molecule ? You don’t have to look for it … i will give it to you … but then what ? No OOL-researcher knows what to do with it in order to create a working cell :))))))))))))))

    But we creationists are the stupid ones, right ?

  29. 29
    martin_r says:

    Red Reader

    The non-sequitur of all non-sequiturs:
    “We have no idea how life arose. But we’re sure God didn’t do it.”

    touche … this perfectly illustrates Darwinism …

  30. 30
    martin_r says:

    Alan Fox

    you have mentioned Nobel laureate and famous OOL-researcher Jack Szostak who plays a lot with RNA self-replicating molecules …

    This is just to remind you, that Szostak retracted his 2016 paper (published in Nature),
    here you go

  31. 31
    martin_r says:

    Alan Fox

    you have mentioned Nobel laureate and famous OOL-researcher Jack Szostak who played a lot with RNA self-replicating molecules (to confirm RNA World hypothesis) …

    This is just to remind you, that Szostak retracted his 2016 paper regarding this, published in Nature,
    here you go (from RetractionWatch.com):

    Some researchers who study the origins of life on Earth have hypothesized that RNA evolved before DNA or proteins. If true, RNA would have needed a way to replicate without enzymes. The Nature Chemistry paper found that a certain type of peptide, which may have existed in our early history, made it possible for RNA to copy itself.

    Jack W. Szostak—a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider for their pioneering research on aging—told us he was “incredibly excited” when he “thought we had at least a partial solution to this problem,” which researchers have been working on for over 50 years.

    But in subsequent experiments, Tivoli Olsen, a member of Szostak lab, could not reproduce the 2016 findings. When she reviewed the experiments from the Nature Chemistry paper, she found that the team had misinterpreted the initial data. The peptide in question did not appear to provide an environment that fostered RNA replication.

    The errors were “definitely embarrassing” Szostak told us:

    In retrospect, we were totally blinded by our belief (in our findings) … we were not as careful or rigorous as we should have been (and as Tivoli was) in interpreting these experiments.

    Szostak added:

    The only saving grace is that we are the ones who discovered and corrected our own errors, and figured out what was going on.

    Source:

    https://retractionwatch.com/2017/12/05/definitely-embarrassing-nobel-laureate-retracts-non-reproducible-paper-nature-journal/

    PS: by the way, this is not the first Szostak’s paper retracted because it could not be reproduced. In 2009 he retracted another one for the same reason.

  32. 32
    martin_r says:

    Alan Fox,

    one more more note regarding Szostak.

    There was an interview with Szostak, back in 2014.
    In that interview, Szostak said, that he will create “Life in lab” in 3-5 years, more likely in 3 years.
    That was in 2014.
    Today, almost 10 years later, he got nothing … he even don’t started …

    https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1406/S00007/jack-szostak-life-in-lab-in-3-5-years.htm

    Darwinists embarrassed over and over again … and Alan, i can assure you, there will be way more embarrassment …

  33. 33
    relatd says:

    Back to my box of “Simpler Origin of Life Cake Mix.” List of ingredients:

    Water
    The Building Blocks of Life – Amino Acids
    Secret Sauce (Warning: Will cause exothermic reaction.)

    I tried contacting them about that last one but couldn’t reach them.

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