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Origin of life: Is this the kindergarten of science or its dotage?


In “A Romp Into Theories of the Cradle of Life” (February 21, 2011), New York Times science writer Dennis Overbye sounds like a man who knows a comic scene when he sees one:

Two dozen chemists, geologists, biologists, planetary scientists and physicists gathered here recently to ponder where and what Eden might have been. Over a long weekend they plastered the screen in their conference room with intricate chemical diagrams through which electrons bounced in a series of interactions like marbles rattling up and down and over bridges through one of those child’s toys, transferring energy, taking care of the business of nascent life. The names of elements and molecules tripped off chemists’ tongues as if they were the eccentric relatives who show up at Thanksgiving every year.

We learn some interesting things:

In front of a 2,400-member audience one night they debated the definition of life — “anything highly statistically improbable, but in a particular direction,” in the words of Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist at Oxford.

Hmmm. I thought that NASA described life as “a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution.” Is this no longer the case? If not, why not?

Superb snapshots by Overbye:

“If you want to think of it that way, life is a very simple process,” said Sidney Altman, who shared a Nobel Prize in 1989 for showing that RNA had these dual abilities. “It uses energy, it sustains itself and it replicates.”One lesson of the meeting was how finicky are the chemical reactions needed for carrying out these simple-sounding functions. “There might be a reason why amino acids and nucleotides are the way they are,” Dr. Krauss said.

What looks complicated to us might not look so complicated to a piece of a carbon molecule awaiting integration into life’s dance. “Complexity is in the eye of the beholder,” said Dr. Sutherland, who after 10 years of trying different recipes succeeded in synthesizing one of the four nucleotides that make up RNA in a jar in his lab.

It’s almost as if the writer is trying to say something he can’t really say. Comments?

These fools will NEVER EVER stumble upon a naturalistic explanation for life because it's not possible. Information must be explained/originated if life is to be explained/originated and information cannot EVER be explained/originated by or in terms of physical laws (naturalism). The symbols and rules of languages are arbitrary conventions (perhaps the genetic language is arbitrary from God's point of view, that is, it could have been other than it is, I haven't thought about that, but no matter here) and IN PRINCIPLE are inexplicable in terms of physical law. They will discover a naturalistic explanation about the same time someone discovers how to make a square circle. Idiots. tgpeeler
"It’s almost as if the writer is trying to say something he can’t really say. Comments?" Possibly, "Living organisms "asise" only from previously existing living organisms" -- that would be rankest heresy in the Church of Chuckie. Ilion
Arkady967 is exactly correct. Every biology book I have read gives the impression that the origin of life is largely explained, or at least well on the way to being so. As one who keeps up with this and who knows enough to put current knowledge in context, exactly the opposite is true. There is no current explanation that has any plausibility, and occasionally one of the more professionally secure and honest scientist will admit that. See, for example, http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/85/8513cover1.html and scroll down to the heading "Origin of life". This guy knows as much chemistry (and usually more) than any of the other scientists involved in the field, yet he says he has "no idea" how life could have gotten started, all of the proposals so far being implausible. Gage
The travesty, here, or so it seems to me, is that just about every graduate of public school leaves that institution with the assurance that such problems, and the relavant associated questions have been definitively solved and answered. Worse, probably most attendees gathered at this conferance would be happy to have them think so. It makes me want to scream. arkady967
...life is a very simple process... What? Excuse me? What alternate, anti-logical universe does this clown inhabit? Living things represent the most complex information-processing systems ever devised. This level of transparent ignorance concerning simple logic and evidence is stunning. Yet, we are exhorted to deify such idiocy by self-proclaimed "scientists"? All I can do is put my face in my hands and shake my head in disbelief at such utter nonsense. GilDodgen

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