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Comets and Cosmology

CometI had an exchange recently that brought up the subject of life on comets and its implications for ID. As I reviewed the work on comets, it brought up some surprising connections that I had not seen before. I thought it was worthy of a blog, though somewhat old material. The correspondent complained that comets carrying bacteria do not explain the origin of life.

It wasn’t comets. This is like Carl Sagan saying we came from some other place. Well where did that other place come from!

I tend to agree with you, comets don’t really solve the origin of life. They merely move it to a distant place. I was as surprised as you that comets had fossilized life on them, I felt like the theoretical physicist I. I. Rabi who was confronted with the experimental discovery of the muon and remarked “Who ordered that particle?” It’s reminiscent of Arthur C Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama“, or Fred Hoyle’s “Black Cloud“. In other words, bad science fiction. In fact, when I heard from Dr Richard Hoover that he’d found these fossils (spie04.pdf) my first attempt was to disprove him by demonstrating that comets can’t have liquid water on them. I ended proving him right in more ways than he had anticipated; not only can comets have liquid water, they can’t avoid it, and most of their celestial dynamics is controlled by liquid water.  (spie05.pdf) Weird.

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41 Responses to Comets and Cosmology

  1. Wait, are you saying that comets do carry bacteria? That that has been discovered? I thought I would have heard about that. Isn’t just that they carry pre-biotic material, amino acids etc?

  2. Robert
    I think you better add a note of caution, as in MIGHT HAVE contained, to your claim that bacteria existed on comets, as did the researcher you cite:

    from your cited article:

    Evidence for indigenous microfossils detected in situ in freshly fractured interior surfaces of CI and CM carbonaceous chondrites indicates that microbial life existed on the parent body at some point in time. Since comets represent probable parent bodies for CI carbonaceous meteorites, the detection of evidence for indigenous microbiology in the Orgueil meteorite may be interpreted as consistent with the concept that comets may, from time to time, provide habitats for microbial life.

  3. Dr Sheldon,

    I’ve read your whole Procrustean blog entry, one of the SPIE papers, and went through your Reasons to Believe slides. Thank you, I learned a lot about comets and the possibility they have been moving life around the Universe for a long time.

    Pardon me when I say that I fail to see the ID connection here. Taking your furthest speculations at face value, you may have pushed the origin of DNA based cyanobacteria back to within a billion years or so of the Big Bang, and the whole Universe has been their swimming pool ever since.

    That’s really cool, and might even be science. Some questions I have:

    What is the ‘expected’ rate of evolution on a comet? let’s say that the rate of enrgy influx allows us to compare evolution at the surface of the Earth to evolution on comets. Basically, I’m assuming comets are evolving in slow motion (compared to Earth) and form a single large population instead of many small populations. Compared to the surface of the Earth what “year” is it for them?

    If I just take a swag at it, say a comet with period 400 years is inside the Earth’s orbit for half a year, and cooling back down for another half year. So life and therefore evolution is only progressing at 1/400th the speed of life on Earth. So only 8.75 million “years” have passed in evolutionary terms for life on that comet, since life appeared on Earth. Even if life has been evolving continuously on comets for 12 billion years, at this very generous rate, comet life has only had 30 million “Earth years” to evolve.

    Has it had time to evolve an ecology? In addition to bacteria, do comets host viruses? Do they host bacteria that eat other bacteria?

    I find your “planetary life is a cosmic traffic accident” viewpoint very refreshing, though its relationship to conservative Christian theology might be rocky. Or chondritic, as the case might be.

  4. Your paper says: …conclusively established the presence
    of fossil organisms on extraterrestrial bodies…

    Eh? I think we would have heard about this if it was the case.

  5. 5
    Timothy V Reeves

    Fascinating stuff Robert, I’m all ears and I’m all for creative and speculative science, provided we are aware of what we are doing and maintain a studied detachment towards our proposals; speculation is the “mutation” engine that helps drive science if I may be so bold.

    However, I’m afraid I lack the knowledge to evaluate Robert’s interesting ideas immediately, apart from saying that I too thought evidence of life on interplanetary material was still controversial. This whole area reminds me very much of Fred Hoyles’ book “The Intelligent Universe”, a book I have in my possession.

    To answer Nakashima’s question about the ID connection: I think most people here are agreed that measured against the huge space of all that is possible, Earth manifests a class of structure (that is, life = L) of exceeding rarity. Presumably then life’s existence is down to some relatively high conditional probability expressed as P(L|condition) where “condition” is some life favouring situation. But of course (as I interpret Dembski’s recent work) this only projects the seeming improbability of life (that is, its “information content”) on to some unspecified precondition that itself seems highly improbable. Thus, the question of the origin of this “information” and therefore ID looms large.

    Hence, I understand Robert’s work to be relevant here in as much as he is proposing that this “information” might be found at a cosmic level. That interests me because it places ID in a much more rarified, abstract and less tangible realm than the rather more anthropomorphic view that the designer is akin to a genetic engineer who with hammer, chisel and adhesive reifies his designs directly by configuring hard molecular lumps. I afraid I’m a bit old fashioned here – I still think of God as a mathematician rather than a genetic engineer and I’m still a little hung up on the idea that that mysterious life enhancing “condition” could just possibly be found in the abstract and rare particularities of the laws of physics – but I hold onto that view lightly.

    Whatever; Robert’s ideas seem a somewhat radical departure for Uncommon Descent. As Nakashima suggests they may prove just a little too radical for the Christian conservatives, but I very much agree with Nakashima that this is a breath of fresh air. Perhaps UD is not quite so conservative as I thought…

    Anyway, thanks for the post Robert: I’ve book marked this page and I’ll keep tabs on your fascinating work.

  6. Call me a conservative Christian or whatever but your science has some rather interesting holes in it: Robert it is interesting that you tried to disprove by showing water could not exist on comets yet what if water did/does exist on comets? Does this help the evolutionists in the least?

    Abiogenic Origin of Life: A Theory in Crisis – Arthur V. Chadwick, Ph.D.
    Excerpt: The synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids from small molecule precursors represents one of the most difficult challenges to the model of prebiological evolution. There are many different problems confronted by any proposal. Polymerization is a reaction in which water is a product. Thus it will only be favored in the absence of water. The presence of precursors in an ocean of water favors depolymerization of any molecules that might be formed. Careful experiments done in an aqueous solution with very high concentrations of amino acids demonstrate the impossibility of significant polymerization in this environment. A thermodynamic analysis of a mixture of protein and amino acids in an ocean containing a 1 molar solution of each amino acid (100,000,000 times higher concentration than we inferred to be present in the prebiological ocean) indicates the concentration of a protein containing just 100 peptide bonds (101 amino acids) at equilibrium would be 10^-338 molar. Just to make this number meaningful, our universe may have a volume somewhere in the neighborhood of 10^85 liters. At 10^-338 molar, we would need an ocean with a volume equal to 10^229 universes (100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000) just to find a single molecule of any protein with 100 peptide bonds. So we must look elsewhere for a mechanism to produce polymers. It will not happen in the ocean.
    http://origins.swau.edu/papers.....fault.html

    Professor Arthur E. Wilder-Smith “Any amounts of polypeptide which might be formed will be broken down into their initial components (amino acids) by the excess of water. The ocean is thus practically the last place on this or any other planet where the proteins of life could be formed spontaneously from amino acids. Yet nearly all text-books of biology teach this nonsense to support evolutionary theory and spontaneous biogenesis … Has materialistic Neo-Darwinian philosophy overwhelmed us to such an extent that we forget or overlook the well-known facts of science and of chemistry in order to support this philosophy? … Without exception all Miller’s amino acids are completely unsuitable for any type of spontaneous biogenesis. And the same applies to all and any randomly formed substances and amino acids which form racemates. This statement is categorical and absolute and cannot be affected by special conditions.”
    http://theevolutioncrisis.org.uk/testimony3.php

    If being labeled a conservative Christian means abiding by plausible scientific scenarios instead of unfounded conjecture, then by all means label me. At least I will be correct in my science.

  7. 7
    Timothy V Reeves

    …maybe Mr 77! I’m a pretty disinterested party around here: As a Christian (bornagain73ish) I’m not going to lose any sleep at all whichever way the winds of the debate go; that is, whether or not life is implicit in one creative dispensation embodied in physics (if such is possible) or a includes a second creative dispensation involving some ad hoc genetic engineering.

    Actually, although Robert seems to be “thinking outside the box” (for which I admire him) I suspect you’ll find a pretty sound conservative underneath, so do not be put off by my interest in his work. (but I suppose we had let him speak for himself)

  8. Mr Reeves,

    I think most people here are agreed that measured against the huge space of all that is possible, Earth manifests a class of structure (that is, life = L) of exceeding rarity.

    I agree that life is rare against all possible other arrangements, but not necessarily rare against the laws of physics and the Big Bang. If you buy the fine tuning arguments, it is practically inevitable.

    That said, fine tuning isn’t ID, fine tuning is perfectly compatible with TE positions.

    It would appear that Dr Sheldon has an OOL scenario in mind, one that involves comets, not planets. Dr Sheldon’s work is even more at odds with Dr Meyer’s Signature in the Cell position (that there are not enough probabilistic resources) than conventional OOL on the surface of a planet, if it posits that OOL happened at a tempo 1/400th that of Earth.

    Now, Dr Sheldon hasn’t said that. Maybe OOL in space happened in relatively dense and warm gas clouds around protostars, then got blown out into the frozen darkness as the star ignited. I haven’t heard his theory yet (though a panzooic hypothesis needs an OOL in space component).

    Perhaps Dr Sheldon agrees with Dr Meyer, only ever so much more so because of the tempo problem. But what has been presented so far doesn’t argue for ID. A single one of his Reasons to Believe slides argues that atheists prefer a multiverse, but a single universe shows “purpose” therefore God. OK, Dr Sheldon is a theist, even a Christian, but not an ID supporter that I can tell from what has been presented so far.

  9. 9
    Timothy V Reeves

    Mr. Nakashima:

    I agree that life is rare against all possible other arrangements, but not necessarily rare against the laws of physics and the Big Bang

    Absolutely!

    …and like youself I am unclear whether Robert is advocating molecular engineering in space or OOL in space. Perhaps he could tell us.

  10. “but not an ID supporter that I can tell from what has been presented so far.”

    What is an ID supporter? All TE’s are ID supporters. It is just the level of organization that was specifically designed and the necessary consequences from that design that is under dispute amongst the various ID supporters.

  11. 11
    Timothy V Reeves

    Jerry:

    What is an ID supporter? All TE’s are ID supporters. It is just the level of organization that was specifically designed and the necessary consequences from that design that is under dispute amongst the various ID supporters.

    Actually, I very much agree with that. However, the de facto understanding is that TE and ID are mutually exclusive – at least that’s my understanding of William Dembski here

  12. Mr Jerry,

    I’m not sure I can agree, or at least I don’t understand the often venomous back and forth between Discovery Institute and Biologos if it is true.

  13. 13
    Timothy V Reeves

    ….neither do I!

  14. “However, the de facto understanding is that TE and ID are mutually exclusive ”

    No, and I am sure Dembski would agree with me. What is in dispute here is the level of organization at which the design takes place. Many TE’s and atheist deny the organization took place after the creation of the universe. But some TE’s say design or guidance took place even after the Big Bang. There is a whole range of views.

    What Dembski disputes is that many of the TE’s claim that no organization took place after the Big Bang and that there is no way there could have been direct intervention which they associate with most of ID. So all TE’s believe in ID, just the timing and mechanism.

    All atheist and many TE’s end up supporting the naturalistic only process for evolution and seem to be in bed with each other on this issue. One of the bedtime beliefs is that ID is anathema. The TE’s who take such a position are not friendly to ID at all. A lot of this has to do with the association of ID with YEC theology.

  15. 15
    Timothy V Reeves

    … yes I see. The positions seem somewhat nuanced to justify the venom Nakashima talks of. You are probably right in observing that the YEC association helps create tension. Also I suspect politics, especially the left-right divide, may also have something to do with it.

  16. 16
    Timothy V Reeves

    BTW is Robert Sheldon likely to turn up to clarify his position, or would I do better by trying to whistle into the wind?

  17. Mr Reeves,

    Also I suspect politics, especially the left-right divide, may also have something to do with it.

    As an outsider to both groups, it has always looked to me like two ice cream vendors trying to work the same side of the street.

  18. 18

    Professor Walt Brown has an interesting theory about the origin of the comets in our solar system. I was fascinated by his on-line book providing a very persuasive young earth creationism perspective on the comets, Earth, flood and the Solar system.

    I read his on-line book with trepidation – feeling like I was reading an adventures novel. His thoughts are well, scientifically supported and documented. He is a retired physics, mathematics and computer science professor with a PhD from MIT and I belive he is an impressive science, engineering and Cosmology personality – that appears to be quasi unknown.

    Here is an excerpt from the chapter titled: “The Origin of Comets”:

    “Comets may be the most dynamic, spectacular, variable, and mysterious bodies in the solar system. They even contain organic matter—including trace amounts of the amino acid glycine, a complex building block of life on earth.(1) Early scientists discovered other types of organic matter in comets, and concluded that they came from “decomposed organic bodies.”(2) Today, a popular belief is that comets brought life to Earth. Instead, comets may have traces of life from Earth.(3)”

    And here is the Summary that starts this chapter:

    “SUMMARY: Past explanations for how comets began have serious problems. After a review of some facts concerning comets, a new explanation for comet origins will be proposed and tested. It appears that the fountains of the great deep and the sustained power of an “ocean” of high-pressure, supercritical water jetting into the vacuum of space launched comets into the solar system as the flood began. Other known forces would have assembled the expelled rocks and muddy droplets into larger bodies resembling comets in size, number, density, composition, spin, texture, strength, chemistry (organic and inorganic), and orbital characteristics. After a comparison of theories with evidence, problems with the earlier explanations will become apparent.”

    The most interesting theory – and the core theory in his book – is the Hydroplates Theory – that he uses to provide a resonable explanation of the Flood as a planetary cataclysm. I hope that you will also be fascinated but what you can find in the chapter on the comets:

    http://www.creationscience.com.....mets2.html

    as well as in his entire on-line book named “In the Beginning”:

    http://www.creationscience.com.....index.html

    Using the Ocam’s Razor Principle, I found this hypothesis for explaining the origin of organic materials found in comets as simpler and more plausible than the main proposition of the author of this blog.

  19. I found this prediction from Hugh Ross to be interesting to the subject:

    Molecular Mystery Fuels Faith
    By Hugh Ross, Ph.D.
    However, the Martian research will eventually be successful and could prove deceptive. Homochirals must be present on Mars for the simple reason that the planet is being bombarded daily with life forms from Earth. [5, 6] But, not all researchers appreciate either the extent or the significance of this bombardment. Thus, the discovery of homochirals on Mars may lead them to publicize an incorrect conclusion–the conclusion that homochirality, and by implication, life itself, can and does originate under natural conditions.
    http://media.isnet.org/off/Xti.....cular.html

  20. Dr. Sheldon,

    It’s an honor to see you here at UD. I reported of your work here at UD several years ago.

    I am a science hobbyiest (not a professional) and am a part-time student of physics, which I understand is your discipline.

    When I worked at the Army Night Vision Labs, SPIE was always the annual big conference….

    Dr. Sheldon wrote:

    I was as surprised as you that comets had fossilized life on them

    Some have suggested comets are originated from an Earth-Borne explosion. There have been obvious questions as to how an object from Earth could achieve sufficient escape velocity, but suffice to say, I was aware of NASA hypothesizing use of hypersonic water canons to launch objects into space. One of my professors was founder of Exo-Tech and had done reasearch into hypersonic water…

    Walter T. Brown, retired Air Force Academy professor who got his Doctorate from MIT, suggested the Earth-Borne Origin of comets. He accurately predicted the discovery of Olivine and Micro fossils on comets. He did so because he hypothesiszed and Earth-borne origin of comets.

    The launching mechanism of Earth Borne comets, has not been fully resolved. The supposed long period comets could actually be a substantial shorter period since it only takes a slight error in the accounting of the mass of the solar system or orther issues to make a miscalculation for objects with such long orbits.

  21. 21
    Timothy V Reeves

    Scordova:

    Some have suggested comets are originated from an Earth-Borne explosion…..

    All comets?

    The launching mechanism of Earth Borne comets, has not been fully resolved.

    You bet! Here are my first thoughts and questions:

    Firstly the mass of the Sun need not be known since the constant for Kepler’s law can be staked using the accurately measured earth/sun system. I think the big problem is accurately calculating a comet’s orbit from observations of near approach. However, think about an accurately documented comet like Halley’s comet whose aphelion is roughly as far as Pluto – quite a lot of energy there needed to get a 15×8 kilometer object that far! Now imagine Halley’s comet, for which it is proposed was launched from earth, colliding with the Earth and giving up its energy; a 15 x 8 kilometer object hitting earth and producing a creator how wide?

    Where did the energy come from to launch so many comets? The launch explosions (if that’s what is envisaged) needed to get mountains into space must have been colossal and produced huge creators – and where are they? Flood geology has got its work cut out in finding a covering mechanism. Is it possible that these comets gained energy (via slingshot) from interaction with the planets/moon? This seems unlikely in a YEC scenario given that we only have few thousand years for a comet to find an energy gaining interaction.

    Nakashima

    As an outsider to both groups, it has always looked to me like two ice cream vendors trying to work the same side of the street.

    True, but evolutionists are only selling one vanilla flavor (=evolution). However the “ID” people sell lots and lots of flavors, so there’s a lot more choice. So don’t complain.

  22. Timothy,

    I think the objections you raise are very good objections and should be investigated. I don’t have the answers, and I’m not trying to say one position is necessarily correct.

    With that in mind, some thoughts.

    Firstly the mass of the Sun need not be known since the constant for Kepler’s law can be staked using the accurately measured earth/sun system.

    It could be there is more mass than the sun that needs to be accounted for. The sun is not the only gravitational source that a long period comet would see.

    I think the big problem is accurately calculating a comet’s orbit from observations of near approach. However, think about an accurately documented comet like Halley’s comet whose aphelion is roughly as far as Pluto – quite a lot of energy there needed to get a 15×8 kilometer object that far!

    I presume it would be on the order of Solar Escape velocity. As that velocity is encroached, then any practical distance from the sun is reachable.

    Where did the energy come from to launch so many comets? The launch explosions (if that’s what is envisaged) needed to get mountains into space must have been colossal and produced huge creators – and where are they?

    You don’t need a crater to create an explosion that moves a projectile very far. An artillery piece going off doesn’t cause a crater at the origin. A launch mechanism like a canon might be the better analogy, not a bomb going off.

    Flood geology has got its work cut out in finding a covering mechanism. Is it possible that these comets gained energy (via slingshot) from interaction with the planets/moon?

    I doubt the slingshot is needed, all that’s needed is Earth escape velocity. Recall, the Apollo rockets were essentially thrown to the moon via water (wherby the chemical reaction created the energy and created water expelled from the rocket nozzle). Maybe a water based mechanism was responsible for the launch of comets as well. There could have been a nuclear reaction under the Earth. Some YECs are still looking into that. It also may explain a late origin of radiation. Still too many unknowns.

    This seems unlikely in a YEC scenario given that we only have few thousand years for a comet to find an energy gaining interaction.

    Agreed the slingshot is an unlikely scenario, the better scenario is a simple launch with escape velocity.

    I’ve suggested these problems to various engineers with appropriate background in mechanical and aerospace engineering. Engineers with background in orbital mechanics would be a good fit.

  23. “I’m not sure I can agree, or at least I don’t understand the often venomous back and forth between Discovery Institute and Biologos if it is true.”

    The Nazis and Communists were both left wing socialists and they hated each other and went to war with each other. Lenin killed most of the other Russian socialists during and after the revolution. So it is not uncommon to have two sides of the same street fighting each other and often with some intensity. Most murders are committed by family memebers.

  24. “Also I suspect politics, especially the left-right divide, may also have something to do with it.”

    I think basic attitudes about the world determine both beliefs about evolution and political party choice. The fight is between rational approaches and ideologues. The ID people are the rational ones in the evolution debate since they will accept whatever the evidence supports. The ideologues are the atheists, TE’s and YEC’s whose ideology shapes their views on evolution.

    Most atheist reside in the Democrat party which is highly secularist. However, many atheist are free market advocates and anti big government so they reside mostly on the conservative side except for social issues when they are often in favor of such things as choice in abortion, euthanasia and same sex marriage. TE’s tend to be liberal Christians and reside mostly in the Democrat Party. Those that adhere to traditional religion will mostly be Republicans because of the secular nature of the Democrats. I have no firm information about YEC’s but suspect they are mostly Republican due to the highly secular and anti Christian nature of the Democrat Party.

  25. 25
    Timothy V Reeves

    Scordova: Thanks very much for the reply.

    Like most real world conundrums this problem is open ended and new unthought-of features and factors that impinge on the matter can pop up and take one by surprise. I’m all for epistemological humility.

    However, thinking a bit more:

    Extra unknown mass: This is analogous to the dark matter situation with galaxies: Depending on how the matter is distributed this seems to exacerbate the problem as even more energy would be needed to fling an object out as far as Pluto. However I doubt this extra mass is there in quantity; space craft trajectories seem pretty predictable.

    Artillery model: Trouble is, the initial velocity of the projectile (or projectiles – I suppose it could a kind of “shot gun” effect) is related to the pressure within the explosion. Is there any rock at the earth’s surface that could act as a container of sufficient strength to withstand such pressures and not simply explode into fragments, thus producing a crater?

    Apollo model: Are you suggesting a “rocket effect” as well as a canon effect?

    As you say there are still too many unknowns. So is this mechanism of comet production any better or worse than academic establishment theories? Is it a serious challenge to those theories?

    Jerry: Thanks for the political break down which seems to largely fulfill my expectations, but I was interested in your comment about the atheist free marketeers – they seem the joker in the pack! Things over here in England are very different and nobody (apart from Dawkins) talks about evolution and ID much; especially in churches! (Although there are exceptions)

    I would class myself as a kind of TE/IDist! However, I have good and bad days with evolution and won’t be very surprised if it comes a cropper one day. Trouble is, because of deep vested interests and emotional identifications it very difficult to cut through the hype and hard sell from all parties. Anyway, in my semi-retirement the problem is keeping me off the streets and out of mischief.

  26. Dr. Sheldon wrote:

    my first attempt was to disprove him by demonstrating that comets can’t have liquid water on them.

    My understanding is that if they have been around for a long time, all the water would have evaporated and sublimated off them by now. This indicates the comets are a recent phenomenon.

    One might invoke an extra-solar source of coments to solve the problem, but this is speculative. Danny Faulkner (a professor at secular college) gives good arguments against there being an extra solar source of comets.

    My view is we’ll know better in the future when we have better telescopes and space probes. Still too many unknowns….

    There are obviously a lot of views being offered on this thread. Perhaps the one area of agreement is that more empirical observations would be extremely useful. That means more space-based probes and telescopes…..

  27. scordova,

    My understanding is that if they have been around for a long time, all the water would have evaporated and sublimated off them by now. This indicates the comets are a recent phenomenon.

    Take a look at Dr Sheldon’s slides. Repeated trips through the inner system blacken and seal the surface, preventing large sublimation losses after a while.

    Danny Faulkner (a professor at secular college)…

    Nice argument from authority. What’s a professor at a religious college, chopped liver?

  28. “comment about the atheist free marketeers ”

    A lot of atheists are libertarians and generally believe in small government, strong foreign policy and thus they would tend to vote Republican most of the time. The main areas of division are on economics, foreign policy and social issues. So there is lots of diversity amongst these people but most feel no threat from religion so they have no interest in suppressing it. The atheists who are ideologues on the other hand are passionate secularists and pretty much control the Democrat party and push socialism and secularism as best they can. All the Democrats will feign religious observance or respect of religion and many actually are religious even though the party in general is more than subtly opposed to religion.

  29. 29
    Timothy V Reeves

    Thanks for those political insights Jerry.

    Getting back to comets and life:

    When I read Fred Hoyle’s book “The Intelligent Universe” (In the eighties) my interest was piqued when he related cases of very similar genes being found in organisms otherwise widely separated on the proposed tree of life: The Crab spider whose color is determined by a gene shared with the flower it hides on; an undersea plant that uses blood etc. I’m not biologist enough to check out these claims or think of explanations using conventional evolution (viral sharing presumably would one avenue of approach), however I thought them very odd at the time.

    Hoyle’s explanation is that comet’s seed our earth with gene’s through viral infection. So seeing Robert’s work renewed my interest. Hoyle doesn’t provide a clear explanation of the origin of these space invading genes.

  30. My money is on the second law to clear all the conjecture up. i.e. I see no reason to believe that comets have magical abilities to violate the second law in such extraordinary fashion as to produce DNA, proteins, viruses nor, as was implied in the OP, bacteria.

    The Virus – Assembly Of A Molecular Machine – Intelligent Design – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4023122

    And since such a dramatic violation of the second law, would in fact be bordering on the miraculous, on a fairly thermodynamically balanced comet, I think it much more reasonable to try to trace the microfossils origins, if they indeed be genuine microfossils and not bogus as the infamous Martian rocks turned out to be, to the catastrophic events we have strong evidence for in earths history. and Just how strong is his evidence that this are indeed cometary fragments? Well even Sheldon states in his opening statement:

    Which MAY be the remains of extinct cometary cores

    Just how much money do you want to bet that this “May be the remains” is sufficient to overturn one of the foundational cornerstones of modern science?. i.e. the second law?

    And to really stir things up about this issue, there is now gathering evidence for a global cataclysmic event that lead to fairly massive extinctions as recently as 11,0000 BC;

    Was a Giant Comet Responsible for a North American Catastrophe in 11,000 BC?
    Excerpt: Some 13,000 years ago the Earth was struck by thousands of Tunguska-sized (see following link) cometary fragments over the course of an hour, leading to a dramatic cooling of the planet, according to astronomer Professor Bill Napier of the Cardiff University Astrobiology Centre.,,, The cooling lasted over a thousand years, and its onset coincides with the rapid extinction of 35 genera of North American mammals, as well as the disruption of the Palaeoindian culture
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....101527.htm

    The Tunguska Event–100 Years Later
    http://science.nasa.gov/headli.....nguska.htm

  31. 31
    Timothy V Reeves

    Bornagain77:I don’t agree with the point about the second law, but that is by the by.

    However I do agree with the general view that comet seeding merely pushes back the mystery (if indeed there is in fact evidence for it). In the expression I use above for the probability of life P(L|condition) we are constantly facing a “conditional” remainder in this expression that just won’t go away and begs the ultimate question.

  32. Well Reeves we are going to have to respectfully agree to disagree as to the extent of the grip that the second law has. Myself, time and again have been humbled by the second laws relentless grip over nature and in the insurmountable universe wide chasm it presents for any functional information whatsoever arising by natural means. Indeed only by artificially introducing severely biased “thermodynamically uphill” environments in a specified sequential manner are OOL researchers able to obtain the paltry results they do in their experiments. For example:

    Origin of Life: Claiming Something for Almost Nothing
    Excerpt: He refers to the fact that Darwinian evolution by natural selection cannot be invoked till there is a replicator – a system able to duplicate its parts accurately. Yarus admitted, “the tiny replicator has not been found, and that its existence will be decided by experiments not yet done, perhaps not yet imagined.”
    But does this work support a naturalistic origin of life? A key question is whether the molecule would form under plausible prebiotic conditions. Here’s how the paper described their work in the lab to get this molecule:

    RNA was synthesized by Dharmacon. GUGGC = 5’-GUGGC-30 ; GCCU – 5’P-GCCU-3’ ; 5’OH-GCCU = 5’-GCCU-3’ ; GCCU20dU = 5’-GCC-2’-dU; GCC = 5’-GCC-3’ ; dGdCdCrU = 5’-dGdCdCU-3’ . RNA GCC3’dU was prepared by first synthesizing 5’-O-(4,4’- Dimethoxytrityl)3’-deoxyuridine as follows: 3’-deoxyuridine (MP Biomedicals; 991 mg, 0.434 mmol) was dissolved in 5 mL anhydrous pyridine and pyridine was then removed under vacuum while stirring. Solid was then redissolved in 2 mL pyridine. Dimethoxytrityl chloride (170 mg, 0.499 mmol) was dissolved in 12 mL pyridine and slowly added to 3’-deoxyuridine solution. Solution was stirred at room temperature for 4 h. All solutions were sequestered from exposure to air throughout.
    Reaction was then quenched by addition of 5 mL methanol, and solvent was removed by rotary evaporation. Remaining solvent evaporated overnight in a vacuum chamber. Product was then dissolved in 1 mL acetonitrile and purified through a silica column (acetonitrile elution). Final product fractions (confirmed through TLC, 1.1 hexane:acetonitrile) were pooled and rotary evaporated. Yield was 71%. Dimethoxytrityl-protected 30dU was then sent to Dharmacon for immobilization of 30-dU on glass and synthesis of 5’-GCC-3’-dU.
    PheAMP, PheUMP, and MetAMP were synthesized by the method of Berg (25) with modifications and purification as described in ref. 6. Yield was as follows: PheAMP 85%, PheUMP 67%, and MetAMP 36%.

    Even more purification and isolation steps under controlled conditions, using multiple solvents at various temperatures, were needed to prevent cross-reactions. (and then this understatement) It is doubtful such complex lab procedures have analogues in nature

    Scientists Say Intelligent Designer Needed for Origin of Life Chemistry
    Excerpt: Organic chemist Dr. Charles Garner recently noted in private correspondence that “while this work helps one imagine how RNA might form, it does nothing to address the information content of RNA. So, yes, there was a lot of guidance by an intelligent chemist.” Sutherland’s research produced only 2 of the 4 RNA nucleobases, and Dr. Garner also explained why, as is often the case, “the basic chemistry itself also required the hand of an intelligent chemist.” http://www.evolutionnews.org/2......html#more

    Meyer Responds to Stephen Fletcher – Stephen Meyer – March 2010
    Excerpt: Nevertheless, this work does nothing to address the much more acute problem of explaining how the nucleotide bases in DNA or RNA acquired their specific information-rich arrangements, which is the central topic of my book (Signature In The Cell). In effect, the Powner (Sutherland) study helps explain the origin of the “letters” in the genetic text, but not their specific arrangement into functional “words” or “sentences.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2....._flet.html

    Biological Information: The Puzzle of Life that Darwinism Hasn’t Solved – Stephen C. Meyer
    Thus, as my book Signature in the Cell shows, Joyce’s experiments not only demonstrate that self-replication itself depends upon information-rich molecules, but they also confirm that intelligent design is the only known means by which information arises. http://www.evolutionnews.org//.....e_puz.html

    Stephen Meyer Responds to Fletcher in Times Literary Supplement – Jan. 2010
    Excerpt: everything we know about RNA catalysts, including those with partial self-copying capacity, shows that the function of these molecules depends upon the precise arrangement of their information-carrying constituents (i.e., their nucleotide bases). Functional RNA catalysts arise only once RNA bases are specifically-arranged into information-rich sequences—that is, function arises after, not before, the information problem has been solved.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2....._flet.html

    I could cite much more evidence testifying to the second laws grip over nature Reeves, and yet though no instances are known of the second law being violated to the extent of producing even a simple self replicating molecule, it seems you are not so easily convinced of the second laws dominion over material processes.

  33. As well Tim, just what is so special about adding self replication to the mixture that all of the sudden this hypothesized tiny self replicator will start to magically find functional information. Does the problem for finding functional information, that the entire probabilistic resources of the Earth cannot seem to find solution to even now for simple self replication, all of the sudden become much easier for this hypothetical self-replicating entity? No of course not. The problem is still present and I would argue even more formidable because of the chasms presented between colonies of “simple” single celled life and the highly coordinated orchestration of cells in higher life.

    Fearfully and Wonderfully Made – Glimpses At Human Development In The Womb – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4249713

  34. 34
    Timothy V Reeves

    No need to get uptight bornagain77 as I’m not a crypto-materialist nor one of those vehement secular antagonists who are out to abuse you. Hence a point I have repeatedly made about the polarization of this debate and the extreme sensitivity of many its of protagonists is confirmed.

    The problem with the second law is that it measures “disorder” only relative to the constraints of physical law. These laws are not subject to thermodynamic decay. Thus, what is possible within this highly constrained regime relative to the whole space of possibility is extremely ordered and thus may confound our intuitive sense of disorder increase.

    I notice in the examples above that at no point do you invoke the second law in the argument but merely assume that the difficulties in the synthesis of the required organic material is manifestation of the second law.

    The mathematical weakness of the second law to act as a necessary block to abiogenesis is NOT, repeat NOT to say that abiogenesis is possible. Given the physics of our world the class of stable organic structures may not form a connected set in configuration space. Without this connectedness thermodynamic diffusion is not be able to “walk” the set and synthesize complex ordered structures. It is this challenge of irreducible complexity that is a more robust challenge to abiogenesis than is the second law.

    In fact if abiogenesis has occurred the second law is in fact the engine that generates life. Think of it like this: The laws of physics restrict the search space. Thermodynamic agitation is the engine that searches this space. However (and this I stress) it may well be that the laws of physics simply do not restrict the search space enough for the dynamic of computation embodied in the second law to find stable complex ordered structures in a realistic time; in which case another creative dispensation must be sought for.

    If (repeat IF) physical law does have the efficacy to generate life in the foregoing manner this should not be identified with “naturalism” as it would seem to be part of such a rare class of mathematical possibility as to be most unnatural and would be a manifestation of that great information discontinuity I have referred to in previous comments.

  35. well Mr. Reeves I believe you could very well be a subversive cryto-materialist sent here by old Russian communist stalwarts, for the express purpose of corrupting the morals of our youth into a radical socialist agenda. as well I’m pretty sure you have a poster of Lenin in your bedroom. Other than that you may be a nice guy.,,,

    But seriously, regardless of your politics or religious affiliation, your science and your take on the second law is off center for simply this reason:

    “Gain in entropy always means loss of information, and nothing more.”
    Gilbert Newton Lewis

    furthermore the second law is found to be part of the fabric of space-time itself:

    he Physics of the Small and Large: What is the Bridge Between Them? Roger Penrose
    Excerpt: “The time-asymmetry is fundamentally connected to with the Second Law of Thermodynamics: indeed, the extraordinarily special nature (to a greater precision than about 1 in 10^10^123, in terms of phase-space volume) can be identified as the “source” of the Second Law (Entropy).” http://www.pul.it/irafs/CD%20I.....enrose.pdf

    i.e. the second law is foundational to how 3-D particles will behave in space-time. i.e. there is no escape for material particles to gain meaningful information within this space-time! You can speculate all you want about how it may be violated, but the foundational science says it won’t ever happen as things now sit!

    The Future of the Universe
    Excerpt: After all the black holes have evaporated, (and after all the ordinary matter made of protons has disintegrated, if protons are unstable), the universe will be nearly empty. Photons, neutrinos, electrons and positrons will fly from place to place, hardly ever encountering each other. It will be cold, and dark, and there is no known process which will ever change things. — Not a happy ending.
    http://spiff.rit.edu/classes/p.....uture.html

    Big Rip
    Excerpt: The Big Rip is a cosmological hypothesis first published in 2003, about the ultimate fate of the universe, in which the matter of universe, from stars and galaxies to atoms and subatomic particles, are progressively torn apart by the expansion of the universe at a certain time in the future. Theoretically, the scale factor of the universe becomes infinite at a finite time in the future.

    Evolution Vs. Thermodynamics – Open System Refutation – Thomas Kindell – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4143014

    “there are no known violations of the second law of thermodynamics. Ordinarily the second law is stated for isolated systems, but the second law applies equally well to open systems.” John Ross, Chemical and Engineering News, 7 July 1980

    further notes:

    Can “ANYTHING” Happen in an Open System? – Granville Sewell PhD. Math
    Excerpt: If we found evidence that DNA, auto parts, computer chips, and books entered through the Earth’s atmosphere at some time in the past, then perhaps the appearance of humans, cars, computers, and encyclopedias on a previously barren planet could be explained without postulating a violation of the second law here (it would have been violated somewhere else!).
    http://www.math.utep.edu/Facul.....endixd.pdf

    Can Anything Happen In A Open System – Granville Sewell PhD. Math – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyAjvOJiOes

    Evolution’s Thermodynamic Failure – Granville Sewell (Professor of Mathematics – Texas University – El Paso)
    http://www.spectator.org/dsp_a.....rt_id=9128

    Psalm 102:25-27
    Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will have no end.

  36. Mr. Reeves,
    it is interesting to note, that a paper recently came out corroborating Mr. Penrose’s work for the foundational property of entropy. What is interesting in this paper is that he seems arrive at his conclusion that entropy is a part of foundational fabric of space-time itself from a completely different angle of investigation into gravity:

    Evolution is a Fact, Just Like Gravity is a Fact! UhOh!
    Excerpt: The results of this paper suggest gravity arises as an entropic force, once space and time themselves have emerged.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....fact-uhoh/

    The entropy force: a new direction for gravity
    http://www.newscientist.com/ar.....avity.html

    As for myself, I was able to follow Penrose’s paper on entropy much more clearly that this paper, and still have reservations as to his methodology in this paper. But none-the-less it is very interesting for how “basement” level he was to get with entropy.

  37. 37
    Timothy V Reeves

    Hello Bornagain77.

    Going briefly through your points:

    ONE) “Gain in entropy always means loss of information, and nothing more.”

    Yes, but interesting things happen before that information is lost!

    Consider this: A complex organism grows from a seed; the upshot is that there is an increasing quantity of matter annexed into a complex ordered structure and yet the second law not violated. Thus, the second law is consistent with an increase in the quantity of matter annexed into complex ordered structures. In this case the information comes from an organic genetic source. Likewise, if (repeat IF) abiogenesis has occurred then the information required for such a process would be found in a rare layout of configuration space. Presumably in time the second law ultimately leads to the loss of this information in both cases.

    TWO) Furthermore the second law is found to be part of the fabric of space-time itself:

    … and yet the conceptual construction of this fabric presumably entails a set of meta-principles that stand over and above the second law in order to anchor the mathematical goal posts. The second law is about what happens within the cosmos and not at the meta level; it’s the difference between the theatre and the activity that takes place within that theatre.

    THREE) i.e. there is no escape for material particles to gain meaningful information within this space-time! You can speculate all you want about how it may be violated, but the foundational science says it won’t ever happen as things now sit!

    I’m making no claim whatever that the second law is violated, neither am I claiming that there is a gain of information – any more than there is a gain of information when an organism grows from a seed. If (repeat, IF) abiogenesis occurs, then the information required would be found in a rare layout of configuration space – if (repeat, IF) indeed the laws of physics imply or can imply such a structure.

    FOUR) The (speculated) future of the universe:

    This has little bearing on the intermediate states prior to the ultimate run down. As we know from observation, with the appropriate genetic information lying around increasing amounts of matter can be annexed into complex ordered structures – until, of course, the ultimate run down and consequent information destruction makes even this impossible

    FIVE) “there are no known violations of the second law of thermodynamics. Ordinarily the second law is stated for isolated systems, but the second law applies equally well to open systems.”

    For the second time: I’m making no claim whatever that the second law is violated. The growth of complex ordered structures does not violate of the second: No violation is entailed by systems that have the appropriate information to facilitate the development of complex ordered forms – as in the growth from a seed.

    SIX) Can Anything Happen In A Open System?

    This work takes no cognizance of the layout of configuration space or takes into account the information in configuration space (if any). To successfully show that abiogenesis can’t happen in our world we need to show that the class of stable structures in configuration space is unconnected. Sewell makes little or no comment on this vital topic; in fact he appears not to understand it at all.

    SEVEN) “Evolution is a Fact, Just Like Gravity is a Fact! UhOh!”

    Save that for the passionate converts of “scientism” who say that sort of thing more often than they break wind.

    FINAL) Look: It may well be that irreducible complexity (= unconnected set of stable structures in configuration space) renders abiogenesis impossible. The appeal to irreducible complexity is a safer bet for you than the second law – as we have seen given the right information, increasing amounts of matter can be annexed into complex ordered structures and yet the second law not be violated. Let me repeat: We need to get a handle on the information in the layout of configuration space. The concept of irreducible complexity is one way of postulating something about that information.

    However, getting back to the subject of this thread: It’s all about how the required life giving information has been introduced into our cosmos: I’m interested in Robert Sheldon’s work because he is suggesting a rather mysterious way in which that information is introduced. (Note: “introduced” is not the same as “sourced” – presumably for theists the information is sourced in divine intelligence)

    P.S. Do you understand what it means to argue counterfactually without any emotional commitment to one’s counterfactual conclusions?

  38. Mr. Reeves, and what exactly is the point of your post if you are not claiming that Genetic Entropy is violated with empirical evidence? I maintain that it can’t be violated by material processes EVER! I really don’t care to postulate how it may be violated, as I firmly don’t think it can from all the evidence I have seen so far, and as well that responsibility falls directly on the person making the claim that it can be violated such as OOL (origin of life) researchers.

    note:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-351163

  39. Hello again Bornagain77

    My point is that the second law, in spite of being repeatedly quoted by YECs, is no killer argument against abiogenesis.

    The calculation you link to is not very meaningful: It’s not unlike calculating the probability that an organism, such as a primate, will spontaneously form given a soup of the right constituents. Calculations of this ilk simply take a set of assumed independent probabilities, concatenate them into a product series, and thus arrive at a negligible probability. And yet, as we know, primates, as do other organisms, annex increasing amounts of raw matter into their complex ordered configurations as they grow and populate. Organisms circumvent the barrier of improbability by incremental development or “growth”. Growth is in every way a “material” process which does not violate the second law. But organic growth presents no paradox for us because it is clearly resourced by particular initial conditions; namely, the information embodied in biopolymers. If abiogenesis and evolution have occurred they too should be thought about in terms of a “growth paradigm.” But, and this is the big “But”, where is the information to direct such growth? (If indeed it exists) Ironically we can get a clue about this from the concept of irreducible complexity.

    Irreducible complexity arises if the class of viable organic configurations populating configuration space is spread over that space in the form of a pattern of tiny isolated islands of functionality, thus preventing either macro-evolution or abiogenesis traversing the set of organisms via random walk. This platonic structure of disconnected islands of functionality is a very complex object, an object that contains an enormous amount of information*, and yet if it has a mathematical existence it must be implicit in the physics of our world. If configuration space has such a structure it would clearly hamstring abiogenesis (and evolution). A requirement of abiogenesis is that the class of viable organic configurations is clustered into large “continents of functionality” rather than small islands; a growth paradigm would then be supported by the implicit information in configuration space. In this case abiogenesis would no more violate the second law than does organic growth. Because configuration space is an invisible platonic object, rather than a material reification of information such as we see in biopolymers, it easily passes our notice as an object with content.

    However, I would certainly want to concede that it is far from obvious that our particular physics supports a configuration space populated in such a way that organic configurations are clustered together. It would seem that even given the constraints of physics the class of organic configurations is negligibly small compared to the huge space of physical possibility. If this class of configurations is “evenly” distributed (an assumption that may not hold) over that space then the population will be far too sparse to form substantially connected groups and therefore it could not possibly support evolution or abiogenesis.

    The big snag is that, as I have said elsewhere, configuration space may be computationally irreducible and therefore it is going to be very difficult to get an analytical handle on the question of whether functionality is clustered or isolated; in which case we are rather beholden to the more observational sciences of paleontology, biology and biochemistry to show us the way. (Hence, I’m interested in what people like Cornelius Hunter have to say)

    Whether the configurations of life have been superimposed by some clever physics or by more direct means, either way very singular and highly surprising patterns of behavior have to be posited (Which, I suppose, is what concepts of “information” attempt to quantify). In my view the core concept of ID stands up whether life has evolved or not: The cosmos, as far as human knowledge is concerned, will always contain a mysterious, irreducible and very surprising logical hiatus that in my view betrays ID. But as I have said before, I am not going to lose sleep over either evolutionism or anti-evolutionism because in either case something extraordinary has happened.

    So in summary: I support the core idea of ID, but I’m not entirely convinced by the anti-evolutionist version of ID,; although Robert Sheldon’s interesting views seem a new departure altogether.

    * Footnote: I think you will find that this statement is rather dependent on one’s concept of information

  40. Mr Reeves, this podcast may be of interest to you:

    Dr. Charles Garner on Chirality and Origin of Life Research
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....1_16-07_00

    Also of note:

    You stated:

    “* Footnote: I think you will find that this statement is rather dependent on one’s concept of information”

    Exactly, That is the key thing to the whole issue.

    The DNA Enigma; Where did the information come from? – Stephen Meyer
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4125886

    John 1:1
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

    The Capabilities of Chaos and Complexity: David L. Abel – Null Hypothesis For Information Generation – 2009
    To focus the scientific community’s attention on its own tendencies toward overzealous metaphysical imagination bordering on “wish-fulfillment,” we propose the following readily falsifiable null hypothesis, and invite rigorous experimental attempts to falsify it: “Physicodynamics cannot spontaneously traverse The Cybernetic Cut: physicodynamics alone cannot organize itself into formally functional systems requiring algorithmic optimization, computational halting, and circuit integration.” A single exception of non trivial, unaided spontaneous optimization of formal function by truly natural process would falsify this null hypothesis.
    http://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/10/1/247/pdf
    http://mdpi.com/1422-0067/10/1/247/ag

    Stephen Meyer is interviewed about the “information problem” in DNA, Signature in the Cell – video
    http://downloads.cbn.com/cbnne.....f?aid=8497

  41. B’again77: Thanks very much for those links. I’m always more than willing to engage that sort of material. I have read some of Abel but the rest I haven’t read. It should keep me out of trouble and off your back for a bit!

    Romans 8:20,21: “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

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