Intelligent Design News Origin Of Life

Origin of life researcher Eugene Koonin on whether we can ever know what really happened

Spread the love

Suzan Mazur Veteran science writer, specializing in origin of life, Suzan Mazur interviewed Eugene Koonin, Senior Investigator at National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) recently at Huffington Post:

Suzan Mazur: You’ve said you think faint signals remain in tracing early ancestry. Carl Woese told me that these things are simply being inferred, that there’s no way to know…

2015-04-24-1429904464-8111312-EugeneKoonin.jpg

Eugene Koonin: Indeed, if you want to be rigorous in a way, there is nothing we can know about the past. Everything we’re saying about the past is inference — yet, inference is not a derogatory term. We are very confident about much of this inference.

We are confident that all animals had a common ancestor about 700 million years ago, a little less. Although, do we know that? No. And no one ever is going to find that ancestor and experiment on that ancestor. In that sense, we do not know that. Do we have doubts? No. Reasonable evolutionary biologists have no doubts about that.

Then we go further into the past. The level of confidence drops. Yet, I would say responsibly, that there are quite a few things that we can infer with confidence about the Last Universal Common Ancestor of all existing cells. That’s pretty deep.

Then, there are things that we can infer with reasonable confidence about some of the things that clearly happened before that Last Universal Common Ancestor of all modern cells existed by comparing those genes that were already present in the Last Universal Common Ancestor.

Is it lost somewhere? Absolutely. Of course. The question is, we discussed that boundary between pre-life and life. And that boundary is the emergence of replication of information carriers, such as nucleic acids. So the question is, do we lose all traceability of evolution at that boundary or later? If we lose the trace at that boundary, there is nothing to be done about it. We have done what we can by comparing and analyzing components of modern living things.

If, on the other hand, there was a period of time when replication already existed but we can make no inferences about that — that’s a bit of a different matter. Then it’s worth trying more, trying harder…

Koonin has flirted with the idea of the multiverse, to address the improbability of random evolution. See In a Darwinian multiverse, Eugene Koonin could be both right and wrong an infinite number of times

Origin of Life Circus Suzan Mazur is the author of The Origin of Life Circus, an overview of the current state of research based on interviews with key researchers.

See also: A quick primer on origin of life scenarios

Follow UD News at Twitter!

Search Uncommon Descent for similar topics, under the Donate button.

3 Replies to “Origin of life researcher Eugene Koonin on whether we can ever know what really happened

  1. 1
    awstar says:

    We are confident that all animals had a common ancestor about 700 million years ago, a little less. Although, do we know that? No. And no one ever is going to find that ancestor and experiment on that ancestor. In that sense, we do not know that. Do we have doubts? No. Reasonable evolutionary biologists have no doubts about that.

    I am confident that all animals were created in their kind about 6 thousand years ago. Do I know that? No. Do I have doubts? No. All those who believe the author if Genesis have no doubts about that.

    There are more believers in the author of Genesis than there are evolutionary biologists.

    There are probable more biologist who believe the author of Genesis than there are “reasonable” evolutionary biologists — which probably numbers zero.

    So why is my faith outlawed in science class, but his is promoted by our government of the people, by the people and for the people?

  2. 2
    harry says:

    It doesn’t matter that we can’t “ever know what really happened” exactly and with certainty. What does matter is that there are conclusions that can be drawn with certainty from what happened.

    Let’s say an unmanned, or should I say “unaliened” extraterrestrial drone lands on planet Earth and just sits there harmlessly; it is as though we were being invited to examine its technology. So we do.

    There are no documents of any kind inside the drone and if there were they would be in some language unknown to anyone on planet Earth. The drone itself appears to be what its authors had to say to us. And it turns out that that is their first and last communication with us as the drone takes off one day and never returns.

    Can we “ever know what really happened” as far as how the drone came to be? Probably not. What can we conclude with certainty from the drone? We can conclude that we are not alone in the Universe. We can conclude that the drone didn’t come about mindlessly and accidentally.

    That is exactly what we can conclude from the Universe and the life within it: they are not mindless, unintended accidents.

    For example, consider Roger Penrose’s calculation that the odds of the Big Bang mindlessly and accidentally producing a Universe low enough in entropy for life to become a possibility are 1 in 10^10^123. That number is so large it gives “law of physics” type certainty to the assertion that the results of the Big Bang were intended by an intellect rather than being a mindless accident. That fact, in turn, makes it exceedingly reasonable to conclude that the same intellect that launched the Universe is responsible for the ultra-sophisticated, digital-information driven nanotechnology of life, the functional complexity of which is light years beyond our own.

    Even though we can’t “ever know what really happened” exactly and with certainty, there are some things we can conclude with certainty from the Universe and the life within it: We are not alone. We are not accidents. Life has a purpose.

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    Inference and confidence? Oh brother. Does this guy understand scientific methodology?
    Origin conclusions are never proven by science. They are about past and gone processes and results. Very difficult to do science on them.
    Thats why origin conclusions are guesses and mostly wrong. YEC creationism has a witness and thats why we are right. not our investigation. We only can debunk the other guys dumb stuff.
    They are just guessing about complicated things.
    I;m confident and infer it.

Leave a Reply