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Origin of life—Unreasonable standard of proof?

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A comment at Why OOL won’t flatline reads,

… The Darwinists will never stop arguing that the fact that a natural mechanism for OOL has not yet been discovered does not mean that it does not exist. The IDers need to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that a natural (i.e., non-intelligent) mechanism for the creation of life is impossible.

Not clear whether the commenter means that that is the bar Darwinists set or whether that is what the commentator believes reasonable persons would require.

In any event, it is exceedingly difficult to prove, under most normal circumstances, that something does not exist. Even English common law (with its presumption of innocence) asks only for the standard: “beyond reasonable doubt” to obtain a conviction in criminal cases.

Not beyond all doubt or any doubt or any individual’s right to doubt, against damning evidence. Beyond reasonable doubt.

If the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard were applied to naturalistic origin of life claims, how would they fare as a group?

In math we have a class of problems which cannot be solved because of the way the question is phrased--they are "ill posed" in contrast to "well-posed" problems. This claim, that ID needs to prove that spontaneous generation is impossible, is an ill-posed problem. For starters, the word "impossible" is a metaphysical word. Science can only tell us about "improbabilities". It is improbable that a man dead for 3 days can regain life, but it has been reported more than once. It is improbable that a trillion dollars can vanish from the money supply without a trace, but it seems to have happened at least once. By way of contrast to the science of improbabilities, there is the metaphysical world of impossibilities. It is impossible for God to lie. It is impossible for a circle to be a square. These are metaphysical certainties. Therefore the question is ill-posed if it expects a materialist or "scientific" answer, simply because it can only be answered metaphysically. On the other hand, ID is not afraid of metaphysics, and would happily deconstruct the question from a metaphysical standpoint. So the question is whether Natural (e.g. non-intelligent) mechanisms can create life. The three big metaphysical words in this question are "Natural mechanism", "create" and "life". We are told, rather unhelpfully, that natural means "non-intelligent", which adds a fourth metaphysical word into our dictionary. I'm going to ignore this limitation on natural, because it really doesn't make any difference if the natural mechanism is intelligent or not. That is, if humans are intelligent, and they created life in the laboratory, the materialists would be crowing--even though on the surface it would seem to suport ID! So in real life, whether intelligent or not, the question is can life be created in the laboratory? Let's deal with the words one at a time. "Life". Is a virus alive? Because we are probably at the cusp of being able to mass produce viruses in the lab. The proteins in their outer coat are "self-assembling", and it would seem likely that we can take a vial of synthetically made DNA, synthetically made proteins, stir it up and get complete viruses. But of course, it won't help the OOL problem in the slightest, because a virus can't replicate without a cell. So perhaps the author really means "independent life". If so, then perhaps we'll follow Craig Ventor and pick some species of Mycoplasmium as our "simplest cell". b) "Create". As we said in (a), we can probably make synthetic DNA and proteins from bottles of reagents on the shelf. Does that constitute a "create", or as the old joke goes, does God say "Whoa! Get your own dirt." ? How is "getting your own dirt" a reasonable response to the metaphysical meaning of "create"? I didn't invent this objection. Let's suppose Apple comes out with the iPhone5, and you buy one, copy it, and change the case color to IBM blue. You then file a patent on your "creation", and start selling them for 1/2 of what Apple does. What would Apple do? THe word "create" has to include a substantial change, or it isn't a creation. So what substantial change is involved in "creating life"? This gets us into the third definition of "natural mechanism". c) "Natural Mechanism". Once again, even being able to mix reagents in the lab may not help OOL if those reagents don't exist in the pre-biotic cosmos. If we are truly working on the OOL problem, then we will have to "get our own dirt". So we probably have to follow the Astrobiology community and discuss "create" in terms of the reagents available in a pre-biotic world. But even the pre-biotic world is barren if we don't posit something about nucleosynthesis and the Big Bang. Is it still "creating" if we use pre-existing matter? That is, why is the Big Bang considered a "natural mechanism" when we have no explanation of where it came from or what brought it into existence. Clearly, there's a continuum, and we have to decide where to draw the line of "natural". If the line is drawn at the Big Bang, then we are done. No natural mechanism created the Big Bang, intelligent or otherwise. If we draw the line at nucleosynthesis, then we can say confidently, no natural mechanism created the values of the fine structure constant so as to make Boron-8* a metastable state for the creation of Carbon-12. If we draw the line at the formation of galaxies, we can state only slightly less confidently, "No material mechanism produced the clumping of matter necessary for galaxy and star formation". Wait a minute! Am I claiming that cosmological models aren't based on physics? Yes. Because every one of those models have adjustable parameters that are arbitrarily set to give the observed results. This is not a "natural mechanism" no matter how obscure the label on the dial. After several more of these "no natural mechanism" steps involving planetary formation, liquid water formation, and amino acid formation, we finally arrive at the Astrobiology scenario--water, amino acids, reducing atmosphere, thermal vents, drying ponds, yada yada. Is this last step metaphysically impossible, or simply scientifically improbable? Despite everything you have read in the Darwinist literature, this last step is STILL metaphysically impossible. But the reason is not the one you expect. Oh sure, we can calculate the probability that the minimal set of DNA (some 900,000 codons) accidentally formed, and the probability that this minimal set didn't come apart immediately upon being formed. We can also calculate the probability that the 10,000 or so proteins needed to keep the DNA intact were also accidentally formed and nearby. All this gives improbabilities that are truly astronomical, and any scientist worth his title could tell you that the probabilistic resources of the universe could not make a dent in those improbabilities. But this isn't the same as being declared "impossible", the Darwinist pleads while making spaniel eyes at us. But there is something that is impossible. In physics, we talk about metaphysical conservation laws--such as the conservation of energy. We state that it isn't just "nearly" true, it "must" be true, or else the rest of the universe would come apart at the seams. (And there are experimentalists who are always looking for seams.) In other words, even physics has metaphysical absolutes that are implicitly held, or they would stop being physicists. One such invariant quantity has emerged in the past 2 decades which physicists call "Information". A version of it was discovered 150 years ago in the field of thermodynamics that was called "entropy". Many Nobel-prize caliber physicists have intoned that the laws of thermodynamics are the most fundamental laws in physics. And the ordering of the DNA is pure information. No chemical process can account for it. It had to be put there. And the conservation laws of physics means that you would have to drain the universe of information to create that first cell, and you still might not have enough to make it. So that is why even given all the priors of the Astrobiology community, no natural mechanism can create life. c) "Natural Mechanism" Robert Sheldon
Dawkins' scenario is so funny it is breathtaking. Particularly this part: "a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident." Ah, yes. The old self-replicating molecule. The holy grail of Darwinists, because after that molecule exists, then anything goes. The molecule which has never in the history of science been seen. The molecule which we have no reason to believe ever existed. When I read this comment from Dawkins a while back I literally almost fell out of my chair laughing. Eric Anderson
In a criminal case, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. In a civil suit, the burden of proof lies with --the plaintiff. Credible evidence--that is, evidence that in the light of reason and common sense is worthy of belief--must be presented. Richard Dawkins, writing in The Selfish Gene posits the origin of life thusly: (1)in the beginning, Earth had an atmosphere composed of carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and water. Through energy supplied by sunlight, and perhaps by lightning and exploding volcanoes, these simple compounds were broken apart and then they re-formed into amino acids. (2) A variety of these gradually accumulated in the sea and combined into proteinlike compounds. Ultimately, he says, the ocean became an “organic soup,” but still lifeless. (3)Then, according to Dawkins’ description, “a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident”—a molecule that had the ability to reproduce itself. Though admitting that such an accident was exceedingly improbable, he maintains that it must nevertheless have happened. (4)Similar molecules clustered together, and then, again by an exceedingly improbable accident, they wrapped a protective barrier of other protein molecules around themselves as a membrane. Thus, it is claimed, the first living cell generated itself. At this point a reader may begin to understand Dawkins’ comment in the preface to his book: “This book should be read almost as though it were science fiction." Speculation, in any court of law, is not credible evidence. Let's break down Dawkins's argument: (1)It is a bold assumption that earth’s primitive atmosphere contained the necessary gases in the right proportions to start the chain of reactions. There is no evidence to support this. Again, speculation is not admissible as evidence in a court of law. (2)If such an atmosphere did exist, and if the amino acids were produced, they would be destroyed by the same source of energy that split the methane and ammonia and water vapor. Amino acids are very complex molecules; therefore they are less stable and more easily destroyed. (3) When amino acids are formed at random they come in two forms that are chemically the same but one is a “right-handed” molecule and the other a “left-handed” molecule. They are all mixed together, in about equal numbers of each kind. But in living organisms only “left-handed” amino acids are used. It is not enough to get the right kind in sufficient quantity. Each of the 20 different kinds of amino acids must link up in the protein chain in the correct sequence. If one amino acid is out of place, the organism may be crippled or killed. (4) The cell membrane is formed from membranous tissue. Due to an "exceedingly improbable accident", a film of water around a glob of proteins became a membrane, or that fatty globules enveloped proteins and became a cell membrane. The membrane is extremely complex, made up of sugar, protein and fatty molecules, and governs what substances can or cannot enter and leave the cell. Not all of its intricacies are understood. Without the fats there could be no membrane; without the membrane, no living organisms. OOL may never flatline, although from an evolutionary standpoint it should, since there is literally not one shred of evidence of a naturalistic mechanism that can account for the diversity of life on our planet. Nobel-Prize-winning biologist Dr. George Wald stated: “One only has to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are—as a result I believe, of spontaneous generation.” On his own admission, he believes in the impossible. This kind of reasoning is comparable to that of an earlier biologist, D. H. Watson, who said that evolution was “universally accepted not because it can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.” So there you have it: scientists who utilize tools of logic every single day have elected to believe in a logically incoherent theory. Barb

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