Saturday, February 16, 2008

Evolution and chance

In the comments to Rob Singleton's post about sex and marriage, Rob trots out an old trope and some egregious misconceptions about evolution and cosmology.
Truly, I don’t have near enough faith to be an atheist. And yes, I mean faith. In one sense, atheists are as religious as anyone else. ... Well the universe, earth, even human body — heck, let’s just take the human eye for that matter — are infinitely more complex than the greatest painting ever done, yet people want to believe it all just happened by chance–no God.

All we see from nothing?

Intricate design throughout the universe (let alone the human body) yet no designer?

All the complexity required just to keep the human body alive?

Random?

All the details in place for planet earth to be able to sustain life?

The exact speed of it’s rotation, the exact distance from our sun?

The perfect orbit to keep seasons form lasting forever and casting us into either a permanent freezer or a scorching hot death valley?


I'm trying to be nice so I will limit my condemnation to this: There is simply no excuse for a literate 21st century human being with a computer to be ignorant about what the theory of evolution actually says. Evolution, reduced to its philosophical essence, is about chance and natural selection. Evolution without natural selection is like Christianity without the New Testament, and half the story is worse than no story at all.

It's important to understand that before we even begin to discuss the scientific theories that fall under the rubric of "evolution" that the design hypothesis has immense, probably fatal flaws, flaws that were apparent in the 18th century. It's not just the presence of trivial design flaws. The whole way that terrestrial ecology is structured, relying as it does on predation and parasitism, with every organism existing at the edge of starvation, speaks to "design" of almost supernatural waste, inefficiency and incompetence, not to mention an immorality that eclipses the horror of the Old Testament character of Yahweh. And that's even before we get to 19th science, with the old age of the Earth, biology that revealed the utter lack of horizontal transfer of biological "technology" from one species to another, and, of course Charles Darwin's naturalistic theory of evolution by natural selection.

It is probably true that, to some extent, the habitability of the Earth is a matter of chance. Solar systems do not evolve as do life forms and are not subject to natural selection. However, there are about 200 billion stars in just our own galaxy, and there are about 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, for a total of 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Just by comparison, if you dealt that many random hands of bridge, you would receive about 10,000,000,000 perfect hands, with 10 of them dealt in perfect order. It's extremely likely that some planet is ideally situated for the development of life, and of course it is precisely on that planet where life would occur.

The characteristics of life appearing exactly as it appears today is far more improbable by pure chance than merely being ideally situated for life. But, of course, no one suggests that pure chance is the explanation. The explanation is natural selection, where only those organisms with some sort of physical advantage over their peers survive and are able to reproduce.

Evolution takes a long time, longer by several orders of magnitude than would design even by human agency with technology only slightly improved over what we have now: After less than a hundred years of genetics, we are already improving the genomes of selected organisms. Assuming we don't blow ourselves up, drown in our own shit or revert to worldwide totalitarian theocracy, it is entirely plausible that we could develop the technology to create whole ecosystems from scratch in just a thousand years (or even a mere century).

If you're going to employ modern science in your apologetics, it really is incumbent upon you to actually find out what modern science actually says.

31 comments:

  1. Creationism/ID can only appeal to the innumerate, to people who can't grasp the difference between six thousand years and 3.5 billion years.

    I think that at some point we will have to give up on them, declaring them afflicted with an incurable brain defect.

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  2. Now that's the kind of skeptical thinking we need. Informed skepticism, not the knee-jerk, faith-based kind that says "i don't understand it so it had to be God."

    Let's look at all the possibilities and consider the mathematical probabilities. Is there a God? Is God really just an abstraction to take in all the laws of nature and science? Or is He a thinking, planning, rational mind? No one can know, at least the answers don't readily appear.

    Pure faith is absurd. Science and informed speculation is the only way.

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  3. Enjoyed your article (post)

    I will keep in the spirit of 'niceness' and tell you where I'm headed so that you don't wonder if I disappeared.

    Several things are ignored in what you say that sink your already leaky ship;

    1. Natural selection is "chance" if not, than natural selection is the very designer you refuse to accept. However, chance does not have a brain so is, therefore incapable of 'selecting' anything.

    I know, I know you want to say the weak are simply weeded out and what remains is what nature "selected" and the new and improved models keep getting better until, presto chango, you have George Clooney. But the absence of transitional forms kills this argument. And I'm not talking about the plethora of horse varieties evolutionists throw out there -- I'm talking about the mutations that serve as the "missing link" if you will.

    In short, other than drawings or rebuilt ape like men based on a tooth...they're still missing.

    I don't just roll out the charts and thank Australopithecus for pointing me in the right direction, I want to know where the bones are of the actual Australopithecus. There ought to be as many fossils of the missing link as there are of anything else, but there are none.

    Actually, far from being the preacher right out of "Little House on the Prairrie," I am a skeptic like you and evolution is still a "theory" (that's why it's called the 'theory of evolution' rather than the fact of evolution. You've simply taken it one step further and decided it's a fact.

    You did this by faith, Larry b/c there is no 'proof' for the theory. If there were leading scientists would simply say, "we're done, this is exactly how we got here and we can back up every shred of what we say with hard scientific, verifiable proof."

    I'm not saying they would stop 'tweaking,' but they're not perfecting the theory, they're still trying to substantiate it. It's not going to happen because 'natural selection' still lacks the designing capacity necessary for life. This 'improving' attribute often 'assumed' for natural selection is impossible.

    Also, you said that the designer deal is shot as far as you're concerned because the design is not that great.

    Are you serious?

    It's not only great, it's impossible by chance. Leading scientists today can't even create life in the form of a single cell -- even with materials. That's a far cry from life with no materials which is what God did.

    And, if you go back far enough NOTHING is what you end up with...

    Either something from nothing or something from a God whose ways are higher than our own and impossible for us to fathom.

    BTW The flawed design thing?

    I thought you read the Bible. The Bible says we messed it up when we rebelled against God. The first design was not flawed, but sin brought the flaws.

    You skipped over that part...

    more to come, but I have a message (sermon) to wrap up.

    Talk to you soon

    Pastor Rob

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  4. Oops, one more thing -- a fairly substantial thing I might add...

    Anyone can see that 'micro adaptations happen all the time, but macro is just a theory.

    Charles Darwin sparked a revolution in scientific thought with the publication of his book, The Origin of Species, in 1859. With his concept of evolution by natural selection, Darwin attempted to render invalid the biblical idea that "every living thing produces life after its own kind."

    In the first half of Species, Darwin cited evidence for "micro-evolution," or changes on a small level between species. His discovery of the several different types of finches on the Galapagos Islands with similar characteristics, derived from a common ancestor, comprised his evidence for micro-evolution. The 14 different species of finches vary according to plumage, size (from the size of a sparrow to that of a large blackbird), beak morphology, behavior and environmental habitat. They were each very different, yet closely related.

    From this observation, Darwin then extrapolated his explanation for the origin of life forms from a common ancestor, or "macro-evolution." He used the evidence from the first half of his book on micro-evolution to suggest that the same mechanism could produce all life forms. However, this concept of macro-evolution is not supported by modern scientific evidence. Although we can explain and understand the mechanism behind micro-evolution, we still can only theorize about possible explanations for macro-evolution - since it has no scientifically valid occurrences.

    That's all I'm saying. Call it what it is, a theory that you've placed your faith in -- one that has not been verified by the facts.

    Again, The concept of micro-evolution - or diversification of species - is a fact of nature. Species do vary and change, but only on a small scale. We have many examples of Darwin's finches and even the breeding history of dogs which supports the notion of micro-evolution.

    Evolutionists, however, have expanded the model to suggest the origin of the universe, the origin of life from non-life, the origin of amphibians from fishes, the origin of birds from reptiles, and so on. Scientists have many theories of the mechanisms behind macro-evolution, but none of them have any direct evidence. The theories are merely extrapolations from what can be seen on the smaller scale.

    And that's just evolution, we haven't even touched on God yet...

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  5. Rob,

    You really are... woefully uninformed... about the state of the biological sciences.

    Natural selection is "chance" if not, than natural selection is the very designer you refuse to accept.

    No, the unintelligent, non-teleological, mechanical laws of physics form an obvious alternative.

    But the absence of transitional forms kills this argument.

    That's one. This is a patently false-to-fact statement; you are repeating a lie. There are many transitional forms

    I want to know where the bones are of the actual Australopithecus. There ought to be as many fossils of the missing link as there are of anything else...

    This is a false-to-fact statement, and again you are repeating a lie. Because the process of fossilization is distinct from that of evolution, there is no reason to expect as many physical fossils as there are transitional forms.

    ...but there are none.

    Do you mean complete fossils? Complete fossils are rare. There are many partial fossil remains of various species of Australopithecus.

    For a member of a religion that accepts the most fragmentary and dubious evidence (Josephus anyone?) when it supports your position, you seem quite picky when it comes to evidence against your position. Can you say, "double standard"?

    ... and evolution is still a "theory"

    I think you are unclear as to what the word theory means in the sciences. Gravity is just as much "just a theory" as evolution. Facts and theories in more detail.

    You did this by faith, Larry b/c there is no 'proof' for the theory.

    You are venturing into the realms of esoteric philosophical epistemology. Nothing about the world can be "proven" with certainty. If everything is "faith" then the word becomes vacuous, and all we can do is shout our faith at each other. In which case, why bother with a pretense of "rational argument" and not just burn me at the stake for having the wrong faith?

    You've simply taken it one step further and decided it's a fact.

    It is quite rude to pretend you have ascertained what I have or have not decided, especially when you are wrong. I have decided that evolution is a scientific theory overwhelmingly supported by the evidence.

    It's not going to happen because 'natural selection' still lacks the designing capacity necessary for life.

    Please prove, or at least show evidence, that this assertion is true.

    It's not only great, it's impossible by chance.

    Did you even read my post? No one says it's by chance.

    The Bible says we messed it up when we rebelled against God. The first design was not flawed, but sin brought the flaws.

    This qualification renders any design hypothesis completely useless so far as an actual explanation goes. It could even "explain" evolution: even if you were 100% convinced that evolution were true, it would still be compatible with this qualification.

    However, this concept of macro-evolution is not supported by modern scientific evidence.

    Another false-to-fact statement; you are repeating yet another lie. The evidence does support macroevolution.

    Evolutionists, however, have expanded the model to suggest the origin of the universe.

    You are mixing up evolution and cosmology, which are two completely different sciences.

    It's also worth noting that even if evolution were completely and decisively disproven, it would not add one iota of support for the Christian God.

    You have repeated several lies. I am not usually so patient: I believe that any literate, reasonably well-educated advocate of any position, especially a critical position, has a positive duty to ascertain the facts and present them honestly. Since I am trying to be nice, I will bend way over backwards and attribute your false statements to an egregiously poor education. My patience is not, however, entirely without limit.

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  6. Larry, I have never seen you so patient! LOL Rob's original answer had me gnashing my teeth and tearing my hair out at his blatant ignorance.

    Rob, even the most zealous Protestants of the 17th century at some point decided that they ought to look at God's Creation for answers rather than relying on centuries-old dogma. Shouldn't you at least be willing to do the same?

    Unless your position is the Bible is infallible, in which case we are wasting our time trying to have a rational discussion with you.

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  7. Larry, I have never seen you so patient!

    I was not the... easiest... comment I've ever written. It's interesting that Rob would open with a direct frontal attack like that.

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  8. Well it's late--just got back, caught up on LOST and read some comment bantering here on your blog.

    Sorry you took my "opening as a frontal attack." I was just trying to get in the spirit of things. Which seemed to be 'Christian bashing' but alas, I can't very well hop on that band wagon.

    I do observe a trend of sorts here. It seems to me a bit of a herd mentality exists. Not surprising since it is your blog and typically draws your kind of readers, but I usually disengage when I discover the familiar pattern of name calling and group think rather than plain old friendly debate -- although sarcasm is acceptable when it's well done.

    When it's well done.

    Examples of frustration setting in and name calling:

    Robert wrote: "I think that at some point we will have to give up on them, declaring them afflicted with an incurable brain defect."

    Nice, Robert. I can actually count past 10, but thanks.

    anonymous: "not the knee-jerk, faith-based kind that says "i don't understand it so it had to be God."

    Slut said: Well, never mind... :)

    Barefoot (aka, Larry) said: "Rob,

    You really are... woefully uninformed... AND, "repeating a lie"

    What about when you say, "Do you mean complete fossils? Complete fossils are rare. There are many partial fossil remains of various species of Australopithecus."

    Complete fossils of Australopithecus are not rare, Larry, they don't exist. Rare implies a few. None implies, zero.

    Nevertheless, I didn't call it a lie, I simply think you are putting forward half the story.

    Evidence for a "missing link" isn't a small problem, it's huge. And you'd think if all the charts were correct there would be at least a couple thousand partial missing links. And by partial I mean more than a tooth or jaw bone.

    [insert derogatory comment about Pastor Rob now. -- How about, "Newsflash! We just found your missing link, Rob. It's you!"}

    At least that would have been funny :) .

    AND, "I think you are unclear as to what the word theory means in the sciences. Gravity is just as much "just a theory" as evolution. Facts and theories in more detail."

    Gravity may be invisible but it's still observable today. Macro evolution cannot be scientifically verified because it cannot be scientifically observed. Unless you're older than you let on :) )

    I also went to each and every link you provided and note that, while the reading is interesting, the positions are one sided. In other words, these are people who have already decided to reject creation/ID flat out and move forward viewing everything from their presupposed lens.

    You never got back to me on the two books. Lets make it one. How about "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." I would honestly love to hear your opinion on it.

    Finally, you say, "It's also worth noting that even if evolution were completely and decisively disproven, it would not add one iota of support for the Christian God."

    To this, I must agree. But I've already said faith has to come into the equation at some point. Hebrews tells us that "without faith it is impossible to please God."

    I really do want you and your readers to know there is a God and that He loves you and sent His Son to die for your sins (and mine -- and they are many) but realize your anger and hostility come from feeling like I'm cramming it down your throat. For that I apologize.
    Love forced is no love at all.

    I'll lay low for a while. I see I stir up a lot of harsh feeling here. And I don't want you to have to keep trying to be nice.

    Take care, Barefoot!

    Pastor Rob

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  9. Rob: You are welcome to return when you can argue with honesty and ordinary good faith.

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  10. To other commenters: This is not an evolution blog. It is neither a platform for pseudoscience spam nor a venue for me to demolish pseudoscientific bullshit.

    If you want to discuss alternative theories of biology, go discuss them with a biologist.

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  11. I have to agree with Slut here regarding your patience, Larry. One thing I've learned is that debate isn't necessarily about the participants; it's about the audience. I couldn't agree with you more regarding your points, and I'm sure your silent readers cannot either.

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  12. Pastor Rob here to enlighten you all once again.

    BTW, I have a new blog just for such festooning and philosophizing. It's at www.pastorrobsrants.blogspot.com

    This way I can keep the two groups straight.

    Well, I've got a few minutes here, but once again, you'll find some of your arguments in "post form" over at the other blog, then you can see my responses and so forth...

    First of all, I'll address real questions, but where anonymous and slut (gotta love that name) offer nothing but gibberish and name calling, I'll leave them to the school yard of 3rd grade.

    So let me hit just one area here that Larry attempted to brush aside a little too quickly. So quick, in fact, I sensed something wrong there.

    At this point, before reading further, some of you might want to throw in a few expletives about those @#$#$%$@*& Christians!

    Feel better?

    Let's continue then.

    Larry says: "It's important to understand that before we even begin to discuss the scientific theories that fall under the rubric of "evolution" that the design hypothesis has immense, probably fatal flaws, flaws that were apparent in the 18th century."

    He then goes on to talk about how there are a number of design flaws that would indicate the designer was, well, less then stellar at His task.

    Forgetting for a moment all the perfectly good things in nature we humans screw up, I want to make sure we bring the point back in focus. The point was that intricate design points to a designer -- not that "only perfect design points to a designer." If that were the criteria then we'd have to assume all American made cars are a result of evolution over millions of years since they all seem to have a million and one flaws. But that isn't the question. The question is, at what point is there too much intricacy for chance or natural selection and even a trillion years to be a legitimate possibility?'

    For some of your very well known (former) atheistic colleagues, that point has already been reached.

    Astronomer Fred Hoyle had his atheism shaken by the Anthropic Principle and the complexity he saw in life.

    Hoyle concluded, and I quote, "a commonsense interpretation of the facts suggest that a super intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature."

    While Hoyle was vague about who this super intellect is, he recognized that the fine tuning of the universe requires intelligence.

    Time out.

    At this point let me share with you all (the readers) a curious reaction I witness time and time again when more than adequately qualified individuals break from the (your) party line.

    They immediately get labeled as discredited, loony, secret agents for the religious right (or something to that affect). It jsut amazes me that your own heroes of old need only step over the line (to the light side) one time and they are immediately thrown to the wolves.

    It's a little bit like what I see people doing to Hilary Clinton now that Obama has the lead. Yesterday she was the democratic poster child. Today many seem ready to throw her body in the volcano and sacrifice her to the atheistic, um, well, throw her in the volcano.

    I don't want to go down that rabbit trail too much other than to say that emotions seem to play an enormously disproportionate role here.

    Just my observation.

    Back to the festooning.

    Other atheists admit design but then claim there is no designer. They say it all happened by chance (Larry prefers the term, 'natural selection' i.e. 'chance') But how can you seriously suggest this when there is virtually zero probability that all the 100-plus constants (that have to be there for life on planet earth) would be there absence intelligence?

    Larry seemed to lean on the numbers angle. So, I assume you are talking about the multiple universe theory here. Am I right?

    Or at least something like it.

    That theory would assert that there are an infinite number of universes out there and we just happen to live in the one with all the right conditions.

    I've heard this many times, but find it to be an incredible leap of faith on par with Steve Martin in his movie, "Leap of Faith."

    Essentially, atheists holding to this are saying "given an infinite number of universes, every set of conditions will occur, including the life supporting conditions of our universe.

    Larry makes it clear that he stands with those who adhere to this when he says, "It is probably true that, to some extent, the habitability of the Earth is a matter of chance. Solar systems do not evolve as do life forms and are not subject to natural selection. However, there are about 200 billion stars in just our own galaxy, and there are about 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, for a total of 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Just by comparison, if you dealt that many random hands of bridge, you would receive about 10,000,000,000 perfect hands, with 10 of them dealt in perfect order. It's extremely likely that some planet is ideally situated for the development of life, and of course it is precisely on that planet where life would occur."

    "Extremely likely"?

    "10,000,000,000 perfect hands"?

    I address the "likelihood" of this on my blog..,

    Let me finish this Guinness Book of World Records length comment first.

    There are many problems with the multiple universe explanation. First and foremost is that there is absolutely not even one shred of proof for it. The evidence shows the exact opposite. It's another 'theory' Larry attempts to set forth in a factual manner.

    It's perfectly fine for him to believe it and accept it on faith, but ludicrous to set it forth based on it being "extremely likely." For something to be 'extremely likely" there ought to be at least a modicum of evidence for it.

    I'll continue. What the 'evidence' does show is that all of finite reality came into existence with the 'Big Bang. Finite reality is exactly what we call the universe. If other 'finite reality' exists, they are beyond our scientific ability to detect. No one has ever observed any evidences that any such universes exist. Larry takes it on faith based on 10,000,000 perfect hands of bridge (<-- by the way, I checked into that a little more thoroughly and, let's just say, you might want to run those numbers again).

    In short, the multiple universe is nothing more than a metaphysical concoction-- a fairytale built on blind faith--as detached from reality as Stephen Hawking's "imaginary time."

    For more, go to, www.pastorrobsrants.blogspot.com

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  13. Let me start this off by saying I am not trying to force my opinion on anyone, I am not making a frontal attack, I do not have a hidden agenda, and I am not taking sides, well maybe a little skewed towards Rob. I considered long and hard on whether or not I wanted to jump "into the fray" here and post a response especially since I am, for the most part, only a “recreational” blogger. We may disagree on most, if not all, points made based on religion, but I believe we have similar opinions in other matters, probably closer than you would think at first blush. If you want to post a reply please visit my blog http://famulusdeus.blogspot.com/ or http://pastorrobsrants.blogspot.com/
    Please keep it clean, these are family friendly blogs. : )

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  14. At this point let me share with you all (the readers) a curious reaction I witness time and time again when more than adequately qualified individuals break from the (your) party line...

    This is called the fallacy of poisoning the well.

    Yet again you abuse my hospitality and the platform I have offered you for your remarks with intellectual dishonesty.

    This is your last warning. If you want to discuss the substantive issues, and you're capable of showing the respect in my venue that I've shown in yours, you're welcome to do so.

    However, if you continue to act like a spoiled, illiterate child, I see no reason to continue to publish your remarks.

    Do I make myself clear?

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  15. Jake & Elwood Blues: You're free to post whatever you position you like. Please make sure that you stay within shouting distance of the facts, and avoid the most egregious of the rhetorical fallacies, such as Poisoning the Well.

    Most people get a couple of abusive comments published here. I can tolerate a little abuse, but repetitive abuse becomes tedious.

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  16. Rob:

    Besides being intellectually dishonest (if you have a substantive point, just make it; there's no need to complain about oppression before you've actually been oppressed) the substantive portion of your latest comment is very confusing.

    You've managed to throw evolution, intelligent design, abiogenesis, the suitability of the earth for life, and (incomprehensibly) Multiverse speculation into one incomprehensible mish-mash.

    Pick a topic, one topic, and make argument of whatever length you deem sufficient.

    (And if you have a problem with my arithmetic, please show your work. You're correct though; my arithmetic is off.

    1e11 * 2e11 = 2e22 (number of stars in this observable universe)

    2e22 / 1.7e8 = 1.2e14 (odds of a perfect Bridge Hand).

    1.2e14 / 13! = 1.2e14 / 6.2e9 = 19,000 (number of perfect hands dealt in strict order)

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  17. Rob's response appears here. I've grown bored with his stupidity, mendacity and dishonesty.

    It's a free country, and Rob is free to speak as he pleases on his own blog, just as I'm free to ignore him.

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  18. Please note that having a comment published or rejected is a matter of editorial discretion, not free speech. Free speech is adequately provided for by the capability of publishing on one's own blog, an option which Rob has availed himself of.

    I don't mind publishing competing views, but I become quickly bored with abuse and snotty insinuations, and I have no obligation to publish lies, intellectual dishonesty and egregious bullshit.

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  19. Barefoot I have struggled with this question for many years. I understand that there are arguments against the 2nd law of thermodynamics... but has man (using his vast knowledge) been able to create life?

    In the the 150ish odd years since Darwin, scientist have repeatedly tried to "create" life using the conditions of the pre-historic earth. Why haven't they been successful? I understand that we have created and modified life once we have a seed (i.e test-tube babies.. and or genetic cloning), but we have yet created the most basic life-form from scratch.

    What is most confusing to me is that during this time we have developed many of the theories that you describe... sent a man to the moon... developed nuclear power... mapped the human genome... but still no life.

    How can we expect something to have happened spontaneously (even over many multiples of generations) if after 150 years we have been able to duplicate something that should (on the surface) be pretty basic?

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  20. I understand that there are arguments against the 2nd law of thermodynamics...

    No. There are no good scientific arguments against the 2LOT. Of course, it's vitally important to understand precisely what the Laws of Thermodynamics actually say... and, more importantly, what they don't say. Thermodynamics is a subtle and complicated field of scientific inquiry.

    How can we expect something to have happened spontaneously (even over many multiples of generations) if after 150 years we have been able to duplicate something that should (on the surface) be pretty basic?

    The genesis of life is basic, but there's no reason to believe that just because it's basic means that it's at all easy, either to understand or to replicate.

    In any event, 150 years is not a very long time, even by the standards of human tenancy or modern civilization. Remember that while DNA was discovered in 1869, its structure was elucidated only in 1953. Give it a little time.

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  21. We may also be closer than you think. According to Wikipedia:

    The goal of wet artificial life and synthetic biology, the first artificial biochemical life would look and act like oversimplified bacteria. Researchers involved feel that the creation of true synthetic biochemical life is very close, relatively cheap, and will be easier than getting a man on the Moon was.[1]

    On Oct 6, 2007, Craig Venter announced that he is "on the verge" of creating the first ever artificial life form. In an interview with UK's The Guardian newspaper, Venter reported that he has built a synthetic chromosome using chemicals made in a laboratory. The Canadian bioethics group, ETC, has already, only one day later, come out with a statement concerning the development. Their representative, Pat Mooney, in a communication with The Guardian, averred that Venter's "creation" was "a chassis on which you could build almost anything." The new single-cell organism, dubbed "Synthia" by ETC, is reported to have 381 genes, the minimum necessary to sustain life. A Venter spokesperson has declined to confirm any breakthrough at the time of this writing.

    On January 24, 2008, a United States team reported in Science magazine how it built the entire DNA code of a common bacterium in the laboratory using blocks of genetic material. Dr Hamilton O. Smith, who was part of the Science study, said the team regarded its lab-made genome - a laboratory copy of the DNA used by the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium - as a step towards synthetic, rather than artificial, life. Mycoplasma genitalium is a small parasitic bacterium which lives on the ciliated epithelial cells of the primate genital and respiratory tracts. M. genitalium is the smallest known free-living bacterium. Dr. Smith told BBC News: "We like to distinguish synthetic life from artificial life. With synthetic life, we're re-designing the cell chromosomes; we're not creating a whole new artificial life system."[2]


    [1] NOVA: Artificial life
    [2] Synthetic life 'advance' reported

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  22. I honestly had no idea that we were potenitally so close to developing artificial life. I can only imagine the implications that this could have on the medical community.

    I still have some misgivings on item

    "Researchers involved feel that the creation of true synthetic biochemical life is very close, relatively cheap, and will be easier than getting a man on the Moon was.[1]"

    Maybe I am reading into this a little too much, but if creating life is being compared to getting a man to the moon... I wonder how artificial (or natural life) could be accomplished without a team of scientists?

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  23. if creating life is being compared to getting a man to the moon... I wonder how artificial (or natural life) could be accomplished without a team of scientists?

    There are two separate concepts here: natural vs. artificial and natural vs. supernatural (or paranormal).

    Of course, creating artificial life will require a team of not just scientists, but also engineers, technicians, managers, executives, clerks and janitors.

    It's very probable that the creation of artificial life will not shed all that much light on how terrestrial life actually arose on Earth. For that, you'll need to investigate other sciences. Keep in mind that much of the evidence of the actual origins of terrestrial life is buried under four billion years of history.

    artificial life can, however, perhaps shed some light on some of the philosophical issues.

    The creation of artificial life shows is that supernatural or paranormal means are not necessary to create life. That's a big issue, but we pretty much figured it out when we discovered the biochemical basis of life, not just in DNA but in the general study of how proteins, enzymes and the other chemicals in typical cells interact.

    More importantly, we will soon have a growing "ecosystem" of interacting life forms we know were intelligently designed. We can then compare and contrast existing terrestrial life-forms. If, for instance, we can create interesting ecosystems using very different techniques — especially better techniques — than found in existing life-forms, that would argue for a non-intelligent origin of terrestrial life.

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  24. Anon wrote: How can we expect something to have happened spontaneously (even over many multiples of generations) if after 150 years we have been able to duplicate something that should (on the surface) be pretty basic?

    LOL. Seriously, think about what you just said here in the context of the timeframe of the universe, which seems to have taken billions of years to develop life. Try watching this video clip from Cosmos for a little perspective.

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=EYzx6C4irsI

    A few hundred years ago, the best thinkers still imagined demons caused illnesses and that the heart was the seat of rational thought. We've only had the scientific method since the 17th century or so.

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  25. Sacred Slut you are correct in the vastness of time, but to me it still seems incomplete.

    In the last 150 years a variety of complex polymers have been developed (I am a materials scientist), such as Kevlar, Teflon, and a slew of other polycarbonates, ceramics and engineered metals (such as shape memory alloys). However, despite the efforts of many scientist, over many years, we have been unable to spawn life... which again on the level of bacteria... should be less complex.

    Also, we are not really talking about billions of years. Citing the Wikipedia "The study by Maher and Stephenson[19] shows that if the deep marine hydrothermal setting provides a suitable site for the origin of life, abiogenesis could have happened as early as 4000 to 4200 Myr ago, whereas if it occurred at the surface of the earth abiogenesis could only have occurred between 3700 and 4000 Myr"

    While we can all agree that 200-400 million years is still an amazingly large amount of time. I still wonder why it has taken scientists, who were able to invent and market teflon in less than 10 years, 150 years to duplicate the feat.

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  26. Anon: Why should bacteria be less complex? The materials you deal with in materials science are static; life forms are inherently dynamic. Dynamic systems have not only additional complexities in three dimensions, they have an entirely new dimension, time. It's not just plus something, it's something to the fourth power.

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  27. Barefoot, technically speaking many materials are not quite static. In fact, this is the aspect that makes material science exciting (to me at least). The most important (and definitely the most difficult) course of my college career was kinetics.

    Without going into too many of the boring details, things such as the solidifcation of metals has dramatic impact on the final properties. Improper cooling rates, alloy additions or "seeding" is the difference between a properly functioning jet engine and a catastrophic failure (from dyanmic forces such as creep and fatigue).

    Other areas of material science have similar (or greater) levels of complexity. The development of semiconductor industry and the selective doping of the materials comes to mind.

    What does that prove? Not too much... especially since I am NOT a biochemist. I can not pretend to understand the depth of the complexity of their science.

    However, I am a bit of a gambler - and if I was given a choice between the collective effort of the top scientists for the last 50 years or the efforts of a random-walk practive associated with nature during a 500 million year window.... I would have a hard time betting that nature would win.

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  28. The most important (and definitely the most difficult) course of my college career was kinetics.

    I'm not surprised: anything that changes in time is difficult. The kinetics of materials such as Kevlar and Teflon are a giggle compared to the dynamics of even a bacterium.

    However, I am a bit of a gambler - and if I was given a choice between the collective effort of the top scientists for the last 50 years or the efforts of a random-walk practive associated with nature during a 500 million year window.... I would have a hard time betting that nature would win.

    Casinos make money because, with no disrespect intended, people such as yourself rely on their intuitive notions of probability rather than on rigorous analysis.

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  29. Re: Anon

    "Citing the Wikipedia "The study by Maher and Stephenson[19] shows that if the deep marine hydrothermal setting provides a suitable site for the origin of life, abiogenesis could have happened as early as 4000 to 4200 Myr ago, whereas if it occurred at the surface of the earth abiogenesis could only have occurred between 3700 and 4000 Myr"

    Am I suffering from a bizarre hallucination, or is 4000 Myr = 4 billion years? And 4.2b and 3.7b respectively?

    Please correct me if I'm wrong.

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  30. raatrani

    Am I suffering from a bizarre hallucination, or is 4000 Myr = 4 billion years? And 4.2b and 3.7b respectively?

    You are not hallucinating. Myr (or Mya) does indeed mean million years (ago), and 4,000 Myr = 4 billion (4x10^9) years ago.

    I think the source of confusion comes from the fact that life itself is about 3-4 billion years old (3-4 x10^9), but multicellular dates from about the Cambrian/late Precambrian, about 500 million years ago (500x10^6 or 5x10^8).

    ReplyDelete

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