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Origin of life: Speculation rents the “science” costume – leaves without head

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In Probability’s nature and nature’s probability: A call to scientific integrity, information scientist Donald E. Johnson tackles, among other things, the origin of life.

Johnson takes on the aimless speculation that characterizes so much consensus science today on such issues:

… one should not be able to get away with stating “it is possible that life arose from non-life by …” without first demonstrating that it is indeed possible (defined in the nature of probability) using known science. One could, of course, state “it may be speculated that …,” but such a statement wouldn’t have the believability that its author intends to convey by the pseudo-scientific pronouncement.”(p. 5)

I am so fed up with pseudoscientific pronouncements on the origin of life that I decided to cover all such stories at my Colliding Universes blog, along with speculations about the end of the universe – rather than at Post-Darwinist, where many claims – whether well-supported or not – have at least some basis in fact.

This is a great book for scientists with a background in probability who want to understand why there is a controversy over design in the universe.

Also today at Colliding Universes:

Particle physics: Do electrons have free will?

Origin of life: “Primordial soup” belief undermines traditional spirituality?

Cosmology: I seem to have yanked particle physicist Lawrence Krauss’s chain

Coffee! Greatest sci-fi special effects

Colliding Universes is my blog on competing theories about our universe.

(Note: If you follow me at Twitter, you will get additional; regular notice of new Colliding Universes posts, usually when I have posted five or so stories.)

Lenoxus: "For one thing, the proposed phenomenon of a disembodied intelligence has yet to be observed or demonstrated in any non-philosophical way." I don't know what you mean by "non-philosophical way." However, I think that the phenomenon of disembodied intelligence HAS been observed - it just has not been observed by everyone. Religious experiences with "The Spirit" are legitimate enough to be able to study the phenomenon among people who claim to have experienced it. But science has limited itself to only naturalistic phenomenon, and so has summarily rejected anything non-related. I think that's rather limiting to science. And then when social scientists do study religious experience, they do so under the assumptions present in a Darwinian framework. I propose that we forget Darwin and look into these phenomenon without any pre-held assumptions, and we might learn something. CannuckianYankee
So, will Dr Johnson be holding intelligent design proponents to the same standard? When known science demonstrates that it is possible to intelligently design the origin of life, then it is fair to say “Intelligent design is possble.”
This is just semantics. It's possible that the sun will rise tomorrow. It's possible that my plane will be late. It's possible that I'll live to be 120. It's possible that someone follows me wherever I drive and turns the traffic lights red just ahead of me. These statements describe things that are certain, probable, uncertain, or absurd, all using the word "possible." They are derived from evidence, imagination, or hope. The use of the word in each sentence does not mean that evidence is equally available or lacking to support them all. ScottAndrews
CannuckianYankee: I like that metaphor; it reminds me of something D'nesh D'Souza said in making the First Cause argument for God, which is that the author of a novel does something vis-à-vis that novel which its characters would not be able to comprehend. It's a neat image to think about. I still contend that there are some major problems with talking about "non-biological" life. For one thing, the proposed phenomenon of a disembodied intelligence has yet to be observed or demonstrated in any non-philosophical way. I guess all I'm trying to say is the same thing that others have posted on this thread — "speculation" undoubtedly cuts both ways. While ID-ists absolutely have the right to formulate and argue their hypotheses, I don't think they have the right to get snotty about those silly materialist Darwinists and their ridiculous notions of abiogenesis, when creation by a divine designer is (by most definitions of "life") just as abiotic and unknown. It is true that we don't have any known instance of life being formed from non-life — but it's just as true that we have no known instance of life being formed from disembodied intelligence (or even of disembodied intellligence doing anything, period). There's no reason to talk about ID as any more well-established a physical explanation of the mystery of life than chemical abiogenesis. vjtorley: Thanks for the link. I've skimmed the piece and it looks really fascinating — I think it's helpful for us all to remember that the definition of life is complex/fuzzy no matter what it may be. Bless PDFs! I went ahead and searched for "robot" and found a discussion on how machines relate to the Aristotle-Cameron thesis. Really interesting because it ties in with earlier UD discussions about "purpose"; according to Cameron (to give what could be a totally mistaken summary), machines are not teleological life because their purposes are not their own, but those of their creators. The idea that biological life may be 'designed' to fulfill its 'own' purposes is amazing to wrap one's mind around. Lenoxus
Lenoxus You wrote:
If we’re talking about an immaterial designer, saying the designer is “alive” would only be poetically true, like saying a painting is “alive”. Or can the designer die? Eat? Reproduce?
The distinguishing feature of life is none of these things. If you want to know what it is, then I strongly suggest you read Teleology in Aristotle and Contemporary Philosophy of Biology: An Account of the Nature of Life , a brilliantly argued dissertation thesis by Dr. Richard Cameron. Until now, science has not managed to provide a good answer to the question: what is life? This is a very practical question, with bearings on matters as diverse as SETI, the quest for life on Mars, the anthropic cosmological principle, and origin of life scenarios. In the very first chapter of his thesis, Cameron demonstrates the inadequacies of definitions of life which commonly appear in the contemporary scientific literature, including your own implied definition (life = possession of metabolism plus reproduction). He argues that a new approach to the problem is required. In his thesis, Dr. Cameron argues that finality (or teleology) is a basic, irreducible category in the world, which has contemporary relevance to biology. In brief, Dr. Cameron argues that the distinguishing feature of life is intrinsic finality. Cameron is, as it happens, a perfectly orthodox Darwinist, but one who retains Aristotle's philosophical categories and shows that they still apply in the 21st century. Intrinsic finality might sound like mumbo-jumbo to some, but Cameron makes a strong case for its intelligibility, its compatibility with scientific mechanism, and its indispensability to biology. In the last chapter of his thesis, Cameron argues that the definition of life which he puts forward is the one originally developed by Aristotle, and mentions in passing that it can be extended even to God. For all intrinsic finality requires is the subject's performance of an activity which benefits it. The nature of the activity is left unspecified; consequently, there can be no a priori argument, on Aristotelian grounds, against the possibility of a disembodied being being alive. vjtorley
On Energy, Mass, Gravity And Galaxies Clusters, A Commonsensible Epilogue, And A Prologue To Life Evolution http://www.sciencenews.org/index/generic/activity/view/id/42988/title/Blob_may_signal_monster_galaxy_feeding The onset of big-bang's inflation started gravity, followed by formation of galactic clusters that behave "classically" as Newtonian bodies while continuously reconverting their shares of pre-inflation masses back to energy, and of endless intertwined evolutions WITHIN the clusters in attempts to resist this reconversion. Astronomically there are two "physics", a "classical physics" behaviour of and between galactic clusters, and a "quantum physics" behaviour within galactic clusters. A. "Heavyweight galaxies in the young universe", at http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/42419/title/Heavyweight_galaxies_in_the_young_universe New observations of full-grown galaxies in the young universe may force astrophysicists to revise their leading theory of galaxy formation, at least as it applies to regions where galaxies congregate into clusters. B. Some brief notes in "Light On Dark Matter?", at http://www.physforum.com/index.php?showtopic=22994&st=0&#entry373127 - "Galaxy Clusters Evolved By Dispersion, Not By Conglomeration" - Introduction of E=Total[m(1 + D)] - "Dark Energy And Matter And The Emperor's New Clothes" - "Evolutionary Cosmology: Ordained Or Random" - "“Movie” Of Microwave Pulse Transitioning From Quantum To Classical Physics" - "Broken Symmetry" Is Physics' Term Of Biology's "Evolution" - "A Glimpse Of Forces-Matter-Life Unified Theory" C. Commonsensible conception of gravity 1. According to the standard model, which describes all the forces in nature except gravity, all elementary particles were born massless. Interactions with the proposed Higgs field would slow down some of the particles and endow them with mass. Finding the Higgs — or proving it does not exist — has therefore become one of the most important quests in particle physics. However, for a commonsensible primitive mind with a commonsensible universe represented by E=Total[m(1 + D)], this conceptual equation describes gravity. It does not explain gravity. It describes it. It applies to the whole universe and to every and all specific cases, regardless of size. 2. Thus gravity is simply another face of the total cosmic energy. Thus gravity is THE cosmic parent of phenomena such as black holes and life. It is the display of THE all-pervasive-embracive strained space texture, laid down by the expanding galactic clusters, also noticed within the galactic clusters in the energy backlashes into various constructs of temporary constrained energy packages. 3. "Extrapolation of the expansion of the universe backwards in time to the early hot dense "Big Bang" phase, using general relativity, yields an infinite density and temperature at a finite time in the past. At age 10^-35 seconds the Universe begins with a cataclysm that generates space and time, as well as all the matter and energy the Universe will ever hold." At D=0, E was = m and both E and m were, together, all the energy and matter the Universe will ever hold. Since the onset of the cataclysm, E remains constant and m diminishes as D increases. The increase of D is the inflation, followed by expansion, of what became the galactic clusters. At 10^-35 seconds, D in E=Total[m(1 + D)] was already a fraction of a second above zero. This is when gravity started. This is what started gravity. At this instance starts the space texture, starts the straining of the space texture, and starts the "space texture memory", gravity, that may eventually overcome expansion and initiate re-impansion back to singularity. D. Commonsensible conception of the forces other than gravity The forces other than gravity are, commonsensibly, forces involved in conjunction with evolution within the galactic clusters: http://royalsociety.org/downloaddoc.asp?id=4770 The farthest we go in reductionism in Everything, including in Life, we shall still end up with wholism, until we arrive at energy. Energy is the base element of everything and of all in the universe. At the beginning was the energy singularity, at the end will be near zero mass and an infinite dispersion of the beginning energy, and in-between, the universe undergoes continuous evolution consisting of myriad energy-to-energy and energy-to-mass-to-energy transformations. The universe, and everything in it, are continuously evolving, and all the evolutions are intertwined. E. PS to "On Cosmic Energy And Mass Evolutions" As mass is just another face of energy it is commonsensible to regard not only life, but mass in general, as a format of temporarily constrained energy. It therefore ensues that whereas the expanding cosmic constructs, the galaxies clusters, are - overall - continuously converting "their" original pre-inflation mass back to energy, the overall evolution WITHIN them, within the clusters, is in the opposite direction, temporarily constrained energy packages such as black holes and biospheres and other energy-storing mass-formats are precariuosly forming and "doing best" to survive as long as "possible"... F. From "Strings Link the Ultracold with the Superhot" http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/42632/title/Strings_Link_the_Ultracold_with_the_Superhot "Perfect liquids suggest theory’s math mirrors something real. When the universe was very young, and still superhot from the aftermath of the Big Bang, plasma should have been the only state of matter around. And that’s what scientists at Brookhaven expected to see when they smashed gold ions together at 99.99 percent of the speed of light using a machine called RHIC (for Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider). RHIC physicists thought the ion collisions would melt the gold’s protons and neutrons into a hot plasma of quarks and gluons at a temperature of a trillion kelvins, replicating conditions similar to those a microsecond after the birth of the universe. But instead of a gaslike plasma, the physicists reported in 2005, RHIC served up a hot quark soup, behaving more like a liquid than a plasma or gas." G. The expectation of Brookhaven scientists was a bit unrealistic The "aftermath of the Big Bang" lasted much less than 10^-35 seconds. This is evidenced by the fact that "Gravity Is THE Manifestation Of The Onset Of Cosmic Inflation Cataclysm": http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/184.page#1950 and http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/184.page#1982 With all respect due to the scientists at Brookhaven it is unrealistic to expect that they can recreate the state of pre big-bang energy-mass singularity. Commonsense is still the best scientific approach. H. PS To "Gravity Limits Link Ultracold And Superhot": Our Inability To Create Singularity a. From "Strings Link the Ultracold with the Superhot" A new truth always has to contend with many difficulties,” the German physicist Max Planck said decades ago. “If it were not so, it would have been discovered much sooner.” b. IMO gravity is attempted reversal of inflation To me, a simple uninformed one, E=mc^2 is a derived formula, whereas E=Total[m(1 + D)] is a commonsensical descriptive concept. I intuitively regard both the ultracold and superhot liquids as being in a confined space and "striving but unable" to overcome D, to render D=0. I also intuitively regard our accelerated collisions smashups as attempted "reverse inflations" in the sense that Newton's law of universal gravitation seems to me as "reverse inflation". I. An epilogue and a prologue Here ends the basic story of Energy, Mass, Gravity and Galaxies Clusters. For us, humans, this is the prologue to the story of Life's Evolution, briefly presented in "Updated Life's Manifest May 2009". Dov Henis (Comments from 22nd century) http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-P81pQcU1dLBbHgtjQjxG_Q--?cq=1 Updated Life's Manifest May 2009 http://www.physforum.com/index.php?showtopic=14988&st=495&#entry412704 http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/140/122.page#2321 EVOLUTION Beyond Darwin 200 http://www.physforum.com/index.php?showtopic=14988&st=405&#entry396201 http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/100/122.page#1407 Dov Henis
Lenoxus: "Given that life only ever arises from life (according to many posters here), its ultimate origin would have to be a physical organism, correct?" I don't see how that is exactly correct. Your terms are not specific enough. As far as biological life as we know it, then I would say that it is correct. However, I don't believe that we have experience with all potential "life" that could exist, and therefore, our definition is limited. Certainly a designer does not need to be alive as we are alive in the biological sense to create life. After all, we design computers, automobiles and cell phones; that doesn't imply that we ourselves are computers, automobiles and cell phones. To take that analogy further, we possess the intelligence and the resources to design these things. The designer of life therefore, in theory, would only need to possess the inteligence and the resources to design biological life, but does not need to be biological life himself. In case you wish to take the objection further into the area of replication; I would simply say that we could in theory, have the intelligence and resources to design mechanical objects that have the ability to replicate and/or evolve on their own (for what purpose, I don't know). So that objection would pretty much end there. CannuckianYankee
The debate is over. Life originated and evolved by purely materialistic processes, and anyone with a basic high-school education in probability and statistics could figure this out. Those who think otherwise are equivalent to Holocaust deniers, probably believe in a flat earth, and certainly want to impose a theocracy. How could this not be obvious to anyone with a basic science education? GilDodgen
Given that life only ever arises from life (according to many posters here), its ultimate origin would have to be a physical organism, correct? Otherwise we're just fudging the definition of "life" to include either physical laws (such as the principles of chemistry) or some immaterial phenomenon whose effects in any area, biological or otherwise, have yet to be more than philosophically demonstrated. If we're talking about an immaterial designer, saying the designer is "alive" would only be poetically true, like saying a painting is "alive". Or can the designer die? Eat? Reproduce? Lenoxus
I think it would be better to say that Dr Johnson is objecting to a common use of an English word, and before trying to ban it, he should find out if people reading the scientific literature are really confused in the way he thinks they are. Nakashima
Hi Nakashima If you say "but until then we can only say “Intelligent design is speculation," then that standard should be applied equally across the board, without a priori commitments to naturalism (ateleology in the context of the ID debate). Currently, that isn't the case and would be a step forward. NSM
Nakashima, You are correct, we could clarify various ID claims. "Intelligent Design of complex, integrated, digital systems is demonstrated" (Robotics, Computer Systems, etc) "Intelligent Design of genomes is demonstrated, at least on a small scale" (Craig Venter's work) "Intelligent Design of self-replicating machines has not yet been demonstrated for physical systems, but has been demonstrated for digital systems" (Cellular Automata, Game of Life, etc) So you are correct, some parts of ID are still speculative (creation of entire genomes, etc), but we're working on it. What has been demonstrated thus far, in terms of the causal powers of intelligent agents (and their intelligent agency), however, is quite impressive. Atom Atom
So, will Dr Johnson be holding intelligent design proponents to the same standard? When known science demonstrates that it is possible to intelligently design the origin of life, then it is fair to say "Intelligent design is possble." but until then we can only say "Intelligent design is speculation." right? Nakashima

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