Biophysics Intelligent Design Origin Of Life

Is origin of life research undergoing a renaissance?

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From Suzan Mazur at HuffPost, an interview with German biophysicist Dieter Braun,

Redford-style good looks have not been enough to divert Dieter Braun from his research interest in nonequilibrium conditions on the microscale, and what is now a central role in the investigation into the origins of life. Braun—-a professor of systems biophysics at Ludwig Maxmilians University in Munich, a Simons Foundation collaborator on the origins of life, and scientific coordinator of the OLIM initiative (Origin of Life Munich)—-says a whole new breed of scientists, “experimentally driven,” have entered the field as funding opens up and that origins of life research is no longer a “side activity,” fishing expedition, or place for dreamy “pet theories.”

He tells Mazur,

We’re getting a good corps of people now who are reshaping the field in a completely new way. It’s clearly a time to invest in origins research. We’ll see solid science back from these investments.

In the past, origins of life was a side activity for older, established scientists. Now young people are entering the field who are much more experimentally driven. They don’t write long papers about their pet theories without solid experimental proof. It becomes a real scientific exercise now, particularly as funding becomes more available.

Mazur, in a feat rare among science writers, presses Braun on the use of Darwinian terminology in origin of life studies:

Suzan Mazur: There seems to be a need for new terminology, new language in the field to describe this. Selection isn’t an accurate description.

Origin of Life Circus

Dieter Braun: That’s a big difficulty in the field, absolutely. Selection, if I say that to biologists, to physicists, to chemists, it has completely different meanings to each. In science we have trouble writing papers because we run into these ambiguities in different fields. That’s what’s going on right now in the origins field. Things are increasingly interdisciplinary. It would be a great advantage to have more precise language. We will find this as we continue to communicate across disciplines. In the end, experiments will be our common language. More.

The new researchers seem to be trying to replace the establishment “What if?” with Michael Behe’s “How, exactly?” At that point, genuine limitation and problems will emerge—and, in thee times, that is progress.

Note: Mazur is the author of Origin of Life Circus, a series of interviews with current researchers.

See also: Netherlands sponsors major origin of life research project

and

Maybe if we throw enough models at the origin of life… some of them will stick? (This is probably the sort of thing Braun means.)

16 Replies to “Is origin of life research undergoing a renaissance?

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    Is this a paradigm shift I see before me?

    I don’t see anything about a Creator or Intelligent Designer being an OOL explanation, though, just another scientist talking up his own field of research, something which is often condemned here.

  2. 2
    gpuccio says:

    Seversky:

    “I don’t see anything about a Creator or Intelligent Designer being an OOL explanation, though, just another scientist talking up his own field of research, something which is often condemned here.”

    Why do you say that?

    Facts, and only facts, will prove ID to everyone.

    Good new facts can only be welcome. Good facts and honest interpretations of them. That will set the question between ID and non design theories, in the end.

    And we are eager to have those facts and those honest interpretations. Not only because we are really, really convinced that ID is the true answer, but also because, up to now, each new fact and honest interpretation has only supported ID, and never non design theories. There is certainly a reason for that.

  3. 3
    LocalMinimum says:

    Is this a paradigm shift I see before me?

    Paradigm shift or fresh new attitude, reality is not a respecter of funding and positive outlooks.

    Even if we do catch up to life’s design (or designoidness, if you insist) with an incredible array of techniques and technologies, dirt’s tech doesn’t improve retroactively with us. No 5th dimensional aliens to help our modern RNA Mcconaughey drop inspirational peptides from the bookshelf for despairing prebiotic polymers.

  4. 4

    A/mat scientists will consider (and publish) almost anything as a possible cause for the origin of life, no matter how speculative the idea/theory. The one possibility they never seriously consider is design/mind, which ironically is the only thing we know of (empirically) that can create computer-like coding, transcription, and translation processes found inside the cell.

    I have no problem with a/mats choosing to believe that natural causes can create such things. That is their chosen faith and I respect that. However, I do have a problem with a/mats who claim a monopoly on scientific justification for their chosen faith. That is…stupid.

  5. 5
    gpuccio says:

    Truth Will Set You Free:

    “I have no problem with a/mats choosing to believe that natural causes can create such things. That is their chosen faith and I respect that. However, I do have a problem with a/mats who claim a monopoly on scientific justification for their chosen faith. That is…stupid.”

    That’s exactly my point of view!

    Like you, I respect all faiths, even the faith of the convinced atheist. But, when we discuss science, each of us should be willing to avoid faith interference as much as possible, as much as human honesty allows.

    That’s not exactly what scientistic reductionists, and in particular neo-darwinists, seem to be willing to do. Even the best of them, even the more honest of them, have never been able, in a discussion where very strong arguments were given for design in biology, to admit for a moment: OK, your position has some reasons, and can be considered a scientifically legitimate position, even if I don’t agree with it.

    That is really serious. That is the result not only of faith, but of faith that has gained such exterior power as to be convinced that it can be assumed as truth, and should be assumed as truth, by all, whatever the ideas or arguments of others who think differently.

    As you say, it’s stupid. But it is also arrogant, the more or less conscious affirmation of power and irrational force, in spite of reason and truth.

  6. 6
    Seversky says:

    gpuccio @ 2

    Facts, and only facts, will prove ID to everyone.

    Good new facts can only be welcome. Good facts and honest interpretations of them. That will set the question between ID and non design theories, in the end.

    And what are ‘facts’? I’m sure you’re familiar with Gould’s 1994 piece Evolution as Fact and Theory:

    In the American vernacular, “theory” often means “imperfect fact”—part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is “only” a theory, and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists can’t even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it?

    Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome

    Moreover, “fact” does not mean “absolute certainty.” The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, “fact” can only mean “Moreover, “fact” does not mean “absolute certainty.” The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms. I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

    If you were to explain the structure and function of a digital camera and compare it to the structure and function of the human eye I suspect you would have little difficulty in persuading an audience to see the similarities. In fact, you would probably be able to persuade enough people for that observation of similarity to rise to the level of ‘fact’ by Gould’s definition “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.”

    However, to claim that those similarities are sufficient to infer that, because we know the digital camera was designed, therefore the human eye was also designed is an analogical argument. The problem with analogical arguments is that, in order to assess how persuasive they are, we must give due consideration to both the similarities and the differences, weighing one against the other. On that basis, we can allow that the appearance of design in some aspects of the natural world is a fact. The real debate is whether the inference that these natural structures were also designed is warranted.

    The problem for proponents of ID is, as you say, they need more ‘facts’ than just the appearance of design to establish the theory, such as it is, of a firmer foundation.

  7. 7
    ET says:

    The appearance of design exists because the design is real. And if you and yours had some science to show it was just an appearance then ID would be squashed. But the fact remains your position has nothing but to attack ID with ignorant rhetoric.

    You don’t even have a methodology to test the claim that the appearance of design is really the result of blind, mindless processes. At least ID has a testable methodology.

  8. 8
    gpuccio says:

    Seversky:

    While I could agree some of the things you say in your post #6, I still find your terminology (and Gould’s) a little confused.

    So, I will try to specify better my point, and let’s see if we can agree at least on some basic epistemology, if not on the conclusions.

    “Facts” are observables. They are the things that e can observe, either directly or indirectly.

    As such, facts bear no specific meaning in themselves. Let’s say that they are data to be intepreted.

    Another important point is that, exactly because of their nature of observables, facts are, in a sense, always “true” (in the sense that they are events that are real, except, of course, for possible errors in the observation process.

    So, the important point is: facts are real, but they have no meaning in themselves.

    Now, “theories” are interpretations of facts. They give some meaning to observed facts. They originate in the human mind.

    So, theories are proposed mental structures which give meaning to facts. They are never absolutely true, because they are based on inference (what you call “analogical argument”).

    Now, I definitely disagree with Gould’s statement:

    “In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.””

    He is confounding categories here.

    Facts in science are exactly the same thing as facts in general: observables.

    What Gould is trying to say, I suppose, is that some theories are so much confirmed that we can, operatively, consider them as “very strong”. That does not mean that they have changed their epistemological nature, and become facts. Still, they are not observables, but proposed intepretations of observables. IOWs, they are theories anyway, however confirmed and strong they may be. And, as empirical theories, they are based on inference. Exactly as ID theory.

    Mathematical knowledge is different: it is deductive, and not based on inference. It has no relationship with empirical facts, and while it is “true” in a logical sense, in itself it bears no added knowledge about the observable world.

    Of course, mathematical structures, and logical structures, have an important role in the building of theories. They guarantee that some explanation has inner consistency, or they can measure the probabilistic strength of the explanation.But they are not the foundation for the inference itself. The inference is based on observable facts, and on the need to explain their form.

    So, it is simply not true that “evolution” is fact and theory. If for “evolution” we mean the neo-darwinian theory (RV + NS can explain biological objects), it is obvious that it is a theory, and only a theory. There is no problem with that. ID is a theory too, and so are Newton’s mechanics, and Quantum mechanics, and so on. None of them is a fact, or ever will be.

    Now, the problem is that: Newton mechanics, Quantum mechanics, and many other important theories, are certainly “strong” theories.

    Not so neo-darwinism.

    Not only it is not “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent”. It is not confirmed at all.

    But of course you will disagree about that. 🙂

    Now, my point is simply: all new facts (observables) that are discovered daily in biology constantly provide new levels of functional complexity in living beings, levels that were previously unknown and that are daily added to what we have to explain. I hope you can at least agree with this simple observation.

    Now, my point is: ID theory is based on the concept that functional complexity is a safe foundation to infer design for objects.

    On the other hand, neo-darwinism has never been able to explain functional complexity in biological objects.

    So, my simple conclusion is: each new fact that is discovered in biology is a strong confirmation of ID theory, and a strong new empirical disqualification of neo-darwinian theory.

    It’s as simple as that.

  9. 9
    EugeneS says:

    Seversky

    “The problem for proponents of ID is, as you say, they need more ‘facts’ than just the appearance of design to establish the theory, such as it is, of a firmer foundation.”

    Information translation: polypeptides are specified!

    No rhetoric can talk this single grand scientific fact away. This single scientific fact is enough for those who are intellectually honest.

    For translation to happen two conditions must be satisfied:

    1. The referent must not be physically/chemically dependent on the token;
    2. The tokens must be physically/chemically allowed to be interchangeable to enable arrangements of tokens to carry a semantic cargo without creating any physical/chemical biases.

    Because of these two requirements, non-telic explanations are simply not up to the job. For information translation to happen, factors other than dynamics of matter should be at play. Information translation is infeasible without foresight.

    The only empirically warranted candidate for the origin of information translation is intelligence. Intelligence has been observed to cause information translation. On the contrary, no non-telic processes have even been observed to cause information translation.

    You have no case.

  10. 10
    Dionisio says:

    If the politely dissenting interlocutors don’t understand what gpuccio wrote so clearly @8, they don’t want to understand anything. Please, note that I’m not expecting them to agree 100% with gpuccio’s insightful explanation, but at least understand it. However, agreeing would be more rational.

  11. 11
    Dionisio says:

    EugeneS @9,
    Good point. Thank you.

  12. 12
    Mung says:

    > On the other hand, neo-darwinism has never been able to explain functional complexity in biological objects.

    Then what good is it?

  13. 13
    EugeneS says:

    In addition to my post, some very important requirements for translation systems to be persistent (replicable) are:

    1. the information translation system must be semantically closed, i.e. the self-replicating translation system must specify itself as part of the code to be translated!

    2. The self-replication process must include two stages:

    a. copying the code as data i.e. without interpretation (for future translation using the organism of next generation to be synthesized);
    b. translating the code (i.e. treating the code as the program);

  14. 14
    Dionisio says:

    EugeneS @13,
    Interesting addendum to your comment @9. Thanks.

  15. 15
    Dionisio says:

    “each new fact that is discovered in biology is a strong confirmation of ID theory, and a strong new empirical disqualification of neo-darwinian theory.”
    -gpuccio @8.

  16. 16
    Dionisio says:

    It seems like gpuccio and EugeneS have wrapped up this discussion.
    Their politely dissenting interlocutors have been left without arguments.
    What else is new?

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