by Denyse O'Leary
We sometimes hear that the origin of life is a simple question with simple answers.
Couldn't life begin with simple entities like bacteria with few genes, viruses, viroids*, or proteins such as prions** and then gradually build up to complex forms?
Not as far as we know, because all these entities are parasites on more complex life forms. Whatever the answer is, they are not the answer. A life form that devolves into a parasite may indeed survive even though it sacrifices complexity - but only because the much more complex host provides many needed functions.
*viroids - short stretches of RNA that lack a protein coat, known to cause plant diseases
** complex folded proteins
The National Academy of Sciences identifies origin of life as an active research area that will soon yield key answers:
Of course, even if a living cell were to be made in the laboratory, it would not prove that nature followed the same pathway billions of years ago. But it is the job of science to provide plausible natural explanations for natural phenomena. The study of the origin of life is a very active research area in which important progress is being made, although the consensus among scientists is that none of the current hypotheses has thus far been confirmed. The history of science shows that seemingly intractable problems like this one may become amenable to solution later, as a result of advances in theory, instrumentation, or the discovery of new facts.
But the telling phrase is "seemingly intractable problems like this one." "Seemingly" intractable or actually intractable? And in either case, why?
Now, it's fine with me if NAS members solve the problem tomorrow. BUT ... we need to be clear about one thing: It is perfectly possible that they will never solve it, not because it is some kind of forbidden knowledge, but simply because the relevant information is lost. In other words, it could be a cold case file with no new clues.
After all, most NAS members believe in a naturalistic materialist universe, so there is no reason to assume that the information about the origin of life was saved. In their own view, no intelligence created it or took the trouble to save it.
Here is a timeline that gives some idea what to expect from this line of research:
1988 Klaus Dose, Director of the Institute for Biochemistry at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany candidly admitted in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews :
More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present, all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in a stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.
1992 Dr. Werner Arber, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Basel and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1978, stated:
Although a biologist, I must confess that I do not understand how life came about. . . . I consider that life only starts at the level of a functional cell. The most primitive cell may require at least several hundred different specific biological macro-molecules. How such already quite complex structures may have come together, remains a mystery to me. The possibility of the existence of a Creator, of God, represents to me a satisfactory solution to this problem.
1998 Trends in Ecology and Evolution (March 3) contained a report on a NASA-sponsored workshop called "Evolution: A Molecular Point of View." Many of the big names in origins research were present and a lot of interesting points of view were discussed. The author of the article noted:
Sherwood Chang opened the program with the cautious reminder that any canonical scenario for the stepwise progression toward the origin of life is still a 'convenient fiction.' That is, we have almost no data to support the historical transitions from chemical evolution to prebiotic monomers, polymers, replicating enzymes, and finally cells.
2004 Andy Knoll, a professor of biology at Harvard and author of Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Life, was interviewed (May 3) as part of a PBS NOVA program. He is described as a person who has "exhaustively investigated" the origin of life. Here are excerpts from an interview:
NOVA: In a nutshell, what is the process? How does life form?
Knoll: The short answer is we don't really know how life originated on this planet. There have been a variety of experiments that tell us some possible roads, but we remain in substantial ignorance.
NOVA: So at this point we're seeing the origins of life through a glass darkly?
Knoll: If we try to summarize by just saying what, at the end of the day, do we know about the deep history of life on Earth, about its origin, about its formative stages that gave rise to the biology we see around us today, I think we have to admit that we're looking through a glass darkly here. . . .
. . . We don't know how life started on this planet. We don't know exactly when it started, we don't know under what circumstances.
It's a mystery that we're going to chip at from several different directions. . . .
NOVA: Will we ever solve the problem?
Knoll: I don't know. I imagine my grandchildren will still be sitting around saying that it's a great mystery, but that they will understand that mystery at a level that would be incomprehensible to us today.
2005 The July 1 issue of Science included in its top 25 questions facing science "How and where did life on earth arise?"
2005 The article "Jump-Starting a Cellular World: Investigating the Origin of Life, from Soup to Networks" in the November 15, 2005 issue of PLOS (Public Library of Science) included:
"But beyond assuming the first cell must have somehow come into existence, how do biologists explain its emergence from the prebiotic world four billion years ago?
"The short answer is that they can't, yet."
Actually, scientists would be better to put their faith in intelligent design if they want to solve origin of life mysteries, because then they might reasonably believe that someone left them clues - in much the same way that Arthur Conan Doyle always left clues for his great detective Sherlock Holmes to find. But it's okay with me if they don't. I have other stories to cover. Most of the world's problems can be addressed without knowing the origin of life anyway.
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).
No Pingbacks for this post yet...
|<< <||> >>|
Evolution has become a favorite topic of the news media recently, but for some reason, they never seem to get the story straight. The staff at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture started this Blog to set the record straight and make sure you knew "the rest of the story".
A blogger from New England offers his intelligent reasoning.
We are a group of individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds and not speaking for any organization, who have found common ground around teleological concepts, including intelligent design. We think these concepts have real potential to generate insights about our reality that are being drowned out by political advocacy from both sides. We hope this blog will provide a small voice that helps rectify this situation.
Website dedicated to comparing scenes from the "Inherit the Wind" movie with factual information from actual Scopes Trial. View 37 clips from the movie and decide for yourself if this movie is more fact or fiction.
Don Cicchetti blogs on: Culture, Music, Faith, Intelligent Design, Guitar, Audio
Australian biologist Stephen E. Jones maintains one of the best origins "quote" databases around. He is meticulous about accuracy and working from original sources.
Most guys going through midlife crisis buy a convertible. Austrialian Stephen E. Jones went back to college to get a biology degree and is now a proponent of ID and common ancestry.
Complete zipped downloadable pdf copy of David Stove's devastating, and yet hard-to-find, critique of neo-Darwinism entitled "Darwinian Fairytales"
Intelligent Design The Future is a multiple contributor weblog whose participants include the nation's leading design scientists and theorists: biochemist Michael Behe, mathematician William Dembski, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, philosophers of science Stephen Meyer, and Jay Richards, philosopher of biology Paul Nelson, molecular biologist Jonathan Wells, and science writer Jonathan Witt. Posts will focus primarily on the intellectual issues at stake in the debate over intelligent design, rather than its implications for education or public policy.
A Philosopher's Journey: Political and cultural reflections of John Mark N. Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds is Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at