Remember the last time creationists were terrified? In 2014: “Naturally, I thought they had discovered a man actually morphing into a fly.” It turned out be just Chief pom pom steward Chris Mooney claiming a 98% genetic similarity between humans and chimps, etc. Which mainly shows what genes don’t do for a life form.
At some point, he really should get around to the bottlenose dolphin. Maybe he should get out more generally…
Well, the current frite is “God is on the ropes: The brilliant new science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified,” by Paul Rosenberg over at Salon. This one is even more exotic, as the title suggests:
Darwin also didn’t have anything to say about how life got started in the first place — which still leaves a mighty big role for God to play, for those who are so inclined. But that could be about to change, and things could get a whole lot worse for creationists because of Jeremy England, a young MIT professor who’s proposed a theory, based in thermodynamics, showing that the emergence of life was not accidental, but necessary. “[U]nder certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life,” he was quoted as saying in an article in Quanta magazine early in 2014, that’s since been republished by Scientific American and, more recently, by Business Insider. In essence, he’s saying, life itself evolved out of simpler non-living systems.
Here’s the Quanta piece:
Self-replication (or reproduction, in biological terms), the process that drives the evolution of life on Earth, is one such mechanism by which a system might dissipate an increasing amount of energy over time. As England put it, “A great way of dissipating more is to make more copies of yourself.” In a September paper in the Journal of Chemical Physics, he reported the theoretical minimum amount of dissipation that can occur during the self-replication of RNA molecules and bacterial cells, and showed that it is very close to the actual amounts these systems dissipate when replicating. He also showed that RNA, the nucleic acid that many scientists believe served as the precursor to DNA-based life, is a particularly cheap building material. Once RNA arose, he argues, its “Darwinian takeover” was perhaps not surprising.
The chemistry of the primordial soup, random mutations, geography, catastrophic events and countless other factors have contributed to the fine details of Earth’s diverse flora and fauna. But according to England’s theory, the underlying principle driving the whole process is dissipation-driven adaptation of matter.
This principle would apply to inanimate matter as well. “It is very tempting to speculate about what phenomena in nature we can now fit under this big tent of dissipation-driven adaptive organization,” England said. “Many examples could just be right under our nose, but because we haven’t been looking for them we haven’t noticed them.”
So why hasn’t England gotten the Nobel yet?
The claim that the emergence of life is “necessary” (an outcome of law) isn’t itself new. See, for example, Does nature just “naturally” produce life? It’s a respected position, and England attempts to concoct such a law.
That was when the wheels fell off. As Casey Luskin puts it at The Blaze,
The fundamental problem with England’s theories, and Rosenberg’s polemics, is that sunlight and other forms of energy do not generate new genetic information, nor do they produce new types of biological machines.
It’s one thing to observe that energy keeps a machine running; it’s quite another to claim energy produced the machine in the first place. You could shine light on random Scrabble tiles or disassembled computer components for billions of years, and you’ll never produce a Shakespearean Sonnet or a functional computer. No wonder Harvard biophysicist Eugene Shakhnovich called England’s proposals “extremely speculative, especially as applied to life phenomena.”
Yes, if we leave out the very high levels of information, we can explain life. A friend notes, “To say a theory that leaves it out is wrong is a grave disservice to wrong theories everywhere.” Most wrong theories do attempt to account plausibly for all the facts.
In fact, leaving out high information, we don’t even need a law-based theory. Chance-based theories will do. See: Can all the numbers for life’s origin just happen to fall into place? We can even just throw enough models at the origin of life and hope some of them will stick.
As a general rule, a would-be theory marketed as a terror to creationists is a scambo. For one thing, if a guy could really get the Nobel for whatever he found, why would he care what creationists think? If he can’t, his supporters can whip up their base, but no one is fooled. And that’s pretty much what is happening here, it seems.
Old news hack tip: Check whether creationists act like they view the theory as a threat. Most have probably hardly noticed it.
Idea!: Get back to the creationists for a comment when the Boltzmann brains begin to appear, floating over people’s desks … because if England were right, well, see vid below:
See also: Salon, on the utter triumph of Darwin — NOT
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