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The Origin of Life: Unsolved problem now shopped to off-market solutions?

In a most interesting recent article in Scientific American (November 19, 2007), origin of life expert Paul Davies coments:

The origin of life is one of the great unsolved problems of science. Nobody knows how, where or when life originated. About all that is known for certain is that microbial life had established itself on Earth by about three and a half billion years ago. In the absence of hard evidence of what came before, there is plenty of scope for disagreement.

Yes indeed. Three decades ago, he notes, no one would have expected it to happen twice in the observable universe, because it was so unlikely:

That conservative position was exemplified by Nobel Prize–winning French biologist Jacques Monod, who wrote in 1970: “Man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance.”

Yet researchers are now willing to entertain the very possibility St. Monod rejected. The mood has shifted in favour of a “cosmic imperative.”

That can only be because the effort to find a random origin of life is widely dismissed as unlikely.

Here are two facts: (1) We do not know how life could have arisen by chance here on Earth and (2) a chance origin is grossly improbable given the known age of the earth and the complexity of the machinery of cells.

So the default position, in Davies’s view, is to look for evidence that life somehow arises by chance everywhere IF conditions are right. That implies that there is a law of some sort, according to which life must arise. Fortunately, it may be possible to test his view, sort of.

Happily, he recognizes that. In the linked article, he argues that finding life on Mars would “decisively confirm” the view that “life is written into the laws of nature.” But, because (in his estimation) it may be a long time before studies of Mars yield any worthwhile information, researchers are currently looking for exotic life forms on Earth.

These endless forms most beautiful are – according to the prediction – so different from the common run of life that scientists will be forced to conclude that life was bound to arise on Earth as it is in Heaven somehow… according to a law that no one yet knows and perhaps no one can know.

He hopes to find life in the “distant past” or a “shadow biosphere.” Indeed, it is a “tantalizing possibility” that these alien life forms might have arisen independently:

The orthodox view of biogenesis holds that if life on Earth originated more than once, one form would have swiftly predominated and eliminated all the others. This extermination might have happened, for example, if one form quickly appropriated all the available resources or “ganged up” on a weaker form of life by swapping successful genes exclusively with its own kind. But this argument is weak. Bacteria and archaea, two very different types of microorganisms that descended from a common ancestor more than three billion years ago, have peacefully coexisted ever since, without one eliminating the other. Moreover, alternative forms of life might not have directly competed with known organisms, either because the aliens occupied extreme environments where familiar microbes could not survive or because the two forms of life required different resources.

and also

Even if alternative life does not exist now, it might have flourished in the distant past before dying out for some reason. In that case, scientists might still be able to find markers of their extinct biology in the geologic record. If alternative life had a distinctively different metabolism, say, it might have altered rocks or created mineral deposits in a way that cannot be explained by the activities of known organisms.

These strike me as the explanations of a desperate man. I am not disputing them, I am only saying – not to empty the pub or anything – that I have heard similar arguments for leprechauns … And it pays to be cautious.

(EXTREME CAUTION: Whatever way life originated,, suggesting the possibility of a high-information or intelligent origin may constitute a violation of human rights in Europe.) If you are a resident of Europe, proceed with extreme caution when evaluating the fact base in this area. Ensure that you have a plausible explanation for even seeking information. If caught wondering, you might try pleading insanity or low IQ or use of legal recreational drugs. NEVER say that you doubt whatever official explanation is proferred to you, no matter how far-fetched or ridiculous. “Prison” is not a health food.

But now, for real people: The big news in recent years has not been serious stuff about how life originated (there isn’t any), but the willingness of scientists to entertain the view that it might have originated in ways that contradict long-held beliefs. In that respect, Davies is level with the pack:

Some of the lessons gleaned from the universal tree of life contradict long-held beliefs. For instance, the recognition of the deep evolutionary divergence between Archaea and Bacteria shattered the entrenched notion of evolutionary unity among procaryotes. The phylogenetic results also show that the eucaryotic nuclear line of descent, Eucarya, is as old as the procaryotic lines, Archaea and Bacteria. The idea that the eucaryotic cell arose relatively recently (1-1.5 billion years ago was a common assumption based on no credible data), from the fusion of two procaryotes, proved essentially incorrect. To be sure, the rRNA-based data confirm that mitochondria and chloroplasts are of endosymbiotic bacterial origin, as postulated long ago (note in the figure the association of the mitochondrial and chloroplast lineages with Bacteria). The organellar lineages emerge from subgroups of the Bacteria, however, so their evolution must have occurred relatively late in the history of life. Some microbial eucaryotic lineages seem never to have had mitochondria and chloroplasts so may have diverged from the eucaryotic line of descent prior to the incorporation of the organelles.

Davies makes the very interesting suggestion that – to find the life forms that support his view – we look for right-handed rather than left-handed chirality:

Large biological molecules possess a definite handedness: although the atoms in a molecule can be configured into two mirror-image orientations—left-handed or right-handed—molecules must possess compatible chirality to assemble into more complex structures. In known life-forms, the amino acids—the building blocks of proteins—are left-handed, whereas the sugars are right-handed and DNA is a right-handed double helix. The laws of chemistry, however, are blind to left and right, so if life started again from scratch, there would be a 50–50 chance that its building blocks would be molecules of the opposite handedness. Shadow life could in principle be biochemically almost identical to known life but made of mirror-image molecules. Such mirror life would not compete directly with known life, nor could the two forms swap genes, because the relevant molecules would not be interchangeable.

Shadow life? It looks to me like materialist atheism needs to generate the equivalent of the medieval “realms of faerie” in a modernist world, while using the stage machinery of current science.

Look I don’t care. If the right hand works, fine. If the left hand works, fine.

Presumably, you’d just have to duplicate everything that the left hand does onto the right hand. So then we have transposed all the BIG problems. 

Like, Michelangelo was supposedly left-handed or something, and that EXPLAINS the Sistine Chapel. 

If you live in Europe, consult your human rights advisor before forming an opinion about this post. 

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35 Responses to The Origin of Life: Unsolved problem now shopped to off-market solutions?

  1. I notice that, either way it happens, there’s a spin.

    “It looks like humans are alone in the universe. Just more proof that life is the result of pure chance in a meaningless world!”

    “It looks like humans aren’t alone in the universe. Just more proof that humanity isn’t special at all, and life like ours was inevitable!”

  2. To all:

    First, happy belated thanksgiving day to all — is it that in Canada too?

    On the OOL issue, I looked at the Sci Am article and wonder if Paul Davies was being tongue in cheek, managing to spoof the notorious editorial board into publishing a demolition of current OOL thinking?

    GEM of TKI

    PS: At the risk of riling up GAW further, onlookers may wish to look at my own summary in my always linked, section B. Looks like nothing much has changed in the past year or two!

  3. nullasalus, you are certainly right about that, and with reason. Davies proposes to put blind law in place of blind chance.

    Kairosfocus, the same thought had occurred to me, now that you mention it. But then I thought, no, this is more likely the sound of materialist atheists going mad. It just manages to avoid spoof – I think …

    You know an idea is in trouble though when you can’t tell the spoof from the genuine article.

  4. kairosfocus:
    “On the OOL issue, I looked at the Sci Am article and wonder if Paul Davies was being tongue in cheek, managing to spoof the notorious editorial board into publishing a demolition of current OOL thinking?”

    What demolition? The article is a broad survey, both of the history of thinking in this area, and current thought. You imply there is scientific controversy, when in fact there is nothing more than the usual cut-and-thrust of speculation.

  5. Finding life on Mars, might just prove that an asteroid blasted Earth debris into space teeming with life which landed on Mars. 3.5 billion years is a long time to allow that to happen.

  6. suggesting the possibility of a high-information or intelligent origin may constitute a violation of human rights in Europe

    And Amnesty International thinks my anti-abortion views make me an opponent of human rights, too. I’m just waiting to be indicted. Never mind that the whole concept of human rights makes no sense on atheism.

    If you live in Europe, consult your human rights advisor before forming an opinion about this post.

    I think I’d better go into hiding in Serbia or something. They haven’t found Mladic yet, have they?

  7. Off Topic meanderings:

    I thought this quote interesting and Very fitting for this site:

    Declaration of Scientific Principle:

    When in the course of scientific endeavor, it becomes apparent that deeper truths exist, a decent respect to Nature requires that such truths be explored. We hold these truths to be scientifically approachable, that all forms of existence are interconnected, that they possess certain fundamental and unalienable properties. That to describe this interconnectedness and these properties, successive theories shall be constructed by mankind, deriving their explanatory and predictive powers from the approximations of laws of Nature. That whenever any theory becomes inadequate of these ends, it is the duties of mankind to modify it or to abolish it, and to establish new ones, laying the foundation on such principles and organizing the structures in such forms, as to mankind shall seem most likely to reflect their understanding and knowledge of Nature. In memory of Thomas Jefferson (October, 2003)

    http://www.quantumbrain.org/

    from that site:

    Spin is the seat of consciousness and the linchpin between mind and the brain, that is, spin is the mind-pixel,
    Huping Hu, Ph.D., J.D., Chief Investigator.

    I couldn’t agree more! It seems that Nature has picked the perfect candidate as mind-pixel – the quantum spin,
    Maoxin Wu, M.D., Ph.D., Collaborator

    http://www.quantumbrain.org/ElectricSpinEffect.pdf

    Dated: November 6, 2007

    of special note:

    we explore here a of
    mind-brain interaction within the framework of spin-mediated consciousness
    theory in which these effects in the varying high-voltage electric fields inside
    neural membranes and proteins mediate mind-brain input and output
    processes.

    I haven’t read through the papers yet to get to the nitty gritty, but these guys are not playing.

    “Quantum entanglement is ubiquitous in the microscopic world and manifests itself
    macroscopically under some circumstances. But common belief is that it alone cannot
    be used to transmit information nor could it be used to produce macroscopic nonlocal
    effects. Yet we have recently found evidence of non-local effects of chemical
    substances on the brain produced through it.”

    So it looks like these guys are providing some rock solid experimental proof of “mind over matter” to the level of wave/particle transitions in the brain.

    Very, very interesting stuff to say the least.

  8. Denyse:

    I burst out laughing when I read your:

    You know an idea is in trouble though when you can’t tell the spoof from the genuine article.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: When is/was Thanksgiving Day Canada?

  9. Oh sorry, kairosfocus, Thanksgiving/Action de Graces Sunday was October 7 here (and the Monday following is a statutory holiday).

    We kill the turkey early because it gets cold early.

    As in: It’s October 8. Do you know where your snow shovel and bag of salt are?

  10. Denyse: Who do they thank now in Canada? In the States its increasingly some other person rather than The Deity.

  11. Orthodox materialists are attempting to lay the foundation for a new phase in their resistance movement. This is indicated in the Davies article by two traits that are common to all such movements: an attempt to conjure up an aura of mystery; and the promise, in gushy prose, of results that exceed one’s imagination.

    The life imperative is a potential gold mine for theorists. Since no alternative life forms are known, those who embrace the theory are free to see whatever they want to see in the physical evidence. The very resistance of the theory to common sense will be cited as proof of its veracity.

    The materialists continue to try to wish away the mystery of life. This mystery persists, however, in the difference between the resistance found in the notion of the life imperative and observed fact; between the aura of strangeness that they are trying to evoke, which is a product of intellect, and common sense.

    This difference guarantees that the more they strive to resist the design inference, the more foolish their efforts will become. They have dashed their foot against a stone.

  12. Denyse, off topic of note in regards to “The Spiritual Brain”

    Denyse, I Don’t know if you have seen this, in researching your book, but it looks like some very interesting empirical evidence.

    http://www.ptep-online.com/ind.....-06-04.PDF

    of special note;

    Conclusions
    In light of the results from the entanglement verification
    experiments, we conclude that the brain effects experienced
    by the test subjects were the consequences of quantum entanglement
    between quantum entities inside the brains and those of the chemical substances under study induced by
    the entangling photons of the magnetic pulses or applied lights.

    Thus Denyse, they prove, with hard evidence, that the brain is actually physically effected by “spiritual” non-local information coming from a source outside the physical body.

    Denyse, is not this hard proof of principle for the “spiritual” realms dom^in^ion over the physical realm… i.e. proof of Mind over matter?

  13. I know the difference between ID and Creationism, but what is UD’s general opinion about young earth creationism, in that the earth is only a couple ten-thousand years old? More specifically, are the accusations of radioactive dating being inaccurate well-founded?

    While young earth creationism does present strong evidence against evolution, it’s the dating part that’s hard for me to swallow.

  14. By the way, in defense of Paul Davies, isn’t he somewhat of a maverick when it comes to the whole God and science debate? If I’m right, this is the same guy who talked about how materialism is now dead (due to what we know about quantum mechanics), and he’s at least entertained the thought of deistic view of the universe, or at least a universe in which humanity and life/consciousness plays a central role.

    Naturally, I don’t agree with him all of the time (And I know spin when I see it), but Davies as a materialist apologist is a bit complicated a claim to make.

  15. Agreed. Davies is more of a pantheist than a strict materialist. Here is a blog entry of mine regarding a talk he gave: http://geoffreyrobinson.blogsp.....06/dr.html

  16. Off topic;

    The more I think about this experiment, the more I think it is profoundly breakthrough:

    http://www.ptep-online.com/ind.....-06-04.PDF

    I actually believe this demonstrated “quantum non-local” treatment can be refined to the treatment of specific viruses such as HIV! Potentially a very radical breakthrough!

    They demonstrated transfered effect for specifically similar molecules.

    What is the limit for this effect? Can they transfer the effect for specifically similar molecules of harmful pathogens?

    Truly Truly, a potential breathtaking breakthrough!

  17. i.e. since they used magnetic pulses to non-locally transfer a desired effect, of a specific molecule, to the human brain, is it not also possible, to expand upon this effect to the whole body, and to increase the magnetic pulse to destroy specific desired molecules and to have this “destroyed” effect transfered to the molecules that we desire to be destroyed?

  18. Bornagain77: “….they prove, with hard evidence, that the brain is actually physically effected by “spiritual” non-local information coming from a source outside the physical body.”

    This is fascinating, but it is not clear to me how this makes much progress against materialist theories of mind. It only transfers
    the basic problem one remove. Consciousness is not neuronal
    interactions as in naiive reductionist neuroscience, but some sort of unknown “quantum entities inside the brain” inhabiting quantum field space, that are affected by entanglement with external chemical substances and electromagnetic fields. The basic problem
    of the ontological gulf between the qualia of consciousness and
    fields, forces and matter in motion remains. Also the problem remains
    of understanding how this “something” interacts with physical neurons.

  19. Magnan, I may be reading to much into it, Yet I believe, It is proof that what we may call the “non-local spiritual realm” actually physically effects the brain/bo^dy, by specifically mimicking different, specific, (mor^phine , caffeine, nicotine,,etc..etc..) with non-local information, into a quantum entangled person, and then having the quantum entangled person having a very pronounced similar effect of the dr^ug (complex molecule), even though the person had not ingested the dr^ug (complex molecule) himself (he was just entangled for the complex molecule to be received).
    The ramifications for disease treatment are tremendous, since it is indeed a complex molecule, instead of just a sub-atomic particle, that is being entangled and transfered into the person. A Truly Truly profound breakthrough and very very promising area of investigation! (See post 17)

    As far as the mind/body controversy goes, it is a straight forward proof that the information coming from, what we may call, the “spiritual non-local realm” is telling the brain/body exactly what to do! Although it is not an actual experiment showing an actual “specific thought/information wave” collapsing onto a actual particular particle in the brain, it is solid proof that information coming from the “spiritual” realm is indeed dramatically influencing the brain/body.
    Although this does not totally free us from the materialist’s assertion that mind is purely the result of material, it does at least give “information of mind” a whole lot more weight in the whole grand scheme of things.

    In case you were wondering at my choice of words, I freely say “non-local spiritual” realm” since Quantum non-locality is not bound by any of the known physical laws that apply to material entities of this universe.

  20. “If you live in Europe, consult your human rights advisor before forming an opinion about this post. ”

    Oh, I forgot to do that:
    http://evolution-schoepfung.bl.....nn-es.html

  21. Davies wrote an op-ed piece published in the NYT today. One line from that piece illustrates much about his views on deism:

    “It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence.”

    He is without doubt a scientific maverick, but ID proponents are unlikely to find much to their taste in his work.

  22. To my tin ear, Davies doesn’t sound very much like a pantheist. I don’t see any clear evidence of theism of any stripe in his writing. What I do see (or think I see) is a very clever strategy for perpetuating materialism against the growing awareness that life cannot have come into being by purely natural causes. Retrenchment becomes necessary in such circumstances. Davies is a Postmodernist in the sense that he substitutes playfulness for argument as a rhetorical strategy. This is why he appears to be a science maverick when in fact his materialism is strictly orthodox (English majors are familiar with the type from Stanley Fish). A dodging strategy becomes useful at the end of a theory-centered age, enabling skillful practitioners to perpetuate their cachet a litte while longer. Hence the multiverse ploy. It is self-limiting, however, because the dodges consume themselves upon usage.

  23. Looking for proof of principle for therapeutic use of quantum entanglement I found:

    http://listserv.arizona.edu/cg.....&P=59

    6) Robust quantum entanglement can involve millions of atoms or molecules.

    i.e. since they used magnetic pulses to non-locally transfer a desired effect, of a specific molecule, to the human brain, is it not also possible, to expand upon this effect to the whole body, and to increase the magnetic pulse to destroy specific desired complex molecules and to have this “destroyed” effect transfered to the complex molecules that we desire to be destroyed in the “bo^dy?

    http://www.ptep-online.com/ind.....-06-04.PDF

    Now the question becomes, “Is it possible to entangle key complex molecules of pathogens in the whole human body for the purpose of disabling them and curing the person of the pathogen?”

  24. Bornagain77, it is clear that the phenomena claimed to have been experimentally demonstrated in the paper you linked appear to have immense implications for neuroscience, medicine and physics. Also, this may point to a way of explaining homeopathy.

    According to the authors, independent groups are attempting verification, but apparently there is nothing yet one way or the other.

    The experiments were of two types – one where a small flat glass container holding an anesthetic, medication or water as a control is placed between the head of the subject and a magnetic coil. The coil is energized by an audio amplifier playing music. All experiments are in the dark. The subject reports any unusual sensations such as numbness, drowsiness or euphoria, of course not being told about which substance is in the glass container.

    In the second set of experiments a large flat glass container of water was exposed to the same music-modulated magnetic coil or to a red laser, with the same small flat glass container holding an anesthetic, drug or water as a control in between. The test subject then drank the water and reported his subjective sensations.

    The authors carried out additional experiments to attempt to verify that the brain effects experienced by the test subjects resulted from quantum entanglement, including ones where the distances between the subjects head and the glass containers was between 50 and 6500 kilometers.

    The authors claim that the general anesthetics chloroform and ether produced the most pronounced effects, and that these effects were close to those normally produced by the substances. Many other drugs also produced good results, such as morphine.

    The experimental subjects were the authors themselves and their families and were carried out in China. The primary experiments don’t distinguish the effects from other possible mechanisms involving psi such as telepathy and clairvoyance. Of course skeptics would claim subtle physical cues like slight amounts of the anesthetic leaking out through incomplete seals, but the authors apparently didn’t implement controls and detection devices to rule out these possibilities.

    It seems to me these effects must be replicated by other researchers to have any credibility.

    If these results are real, there are obviously a lot of technological applications that would be very profitable. Such as the ability to deliver the therapeutic effects of many drugs without physically injecting or applying them. If these results are real, a lot of venture capital should flow and we can expect at least some very visible new technologies in the marketplace.

    However, this research appears so far to have sunk like a stone. The reason could be that no one can duplicate the results, or that closed minded skepticism prevents anyone from even trying.

  25. magnan, thanks for putting the experiment into clear words.

    I think your second reason for why it has not generated much research is more probable:

    “closed minded skepticism prevents anyone from even trying”

    Having seen first hand the de^ath grip materialism has on science in this country, I can easily hear the scoffing dismissal of leading labs and universities.

    I, myself, think it is very likely no fluke and in fact think they may have actually actuated specific molecules into the subject instead of just a ghost-like “placebo” effect. Yet because of my own skepticism, as I already pointed out, I dug a little deeper and found this:

    6) Robust quantum entanglement can involve millions of atoms or molecules.

    As you have clearly pointed out, the implications are truly enormous.

  26. Magnan, I found another proof of principle:

    [QA01.04] Quantum Control of Molecules
    Kent R. Wilson (University of California, San Diego)

    Quantum control of molecules has recently rapidly moved from a theoretical field involving simple dilute gas phase molecules with the participation of only a few quantum states to experiments involving large molecules in the condensed phase at room temperature. These advances flow in part from the use of new techniques such as multiphoton control, the molecular pi pulse, and adaptive learning control (in which the experiment automatically learns from successive trials to optimize the light field with respect to the experimental goal). Applications of quantum control and its point of view to other fields are now becoming numerous: control of electronic, as well as nuclear, dynamics; automatic testing of theorems; control of large molecules in solution (including proteins); use of quantum control to discover the nature of chemical reactions; optimization of multiphoton microscopy; and quantum control concepts applied to develop a molecular scale pH meter.

    please note this fact:

    “control of large molecules in solution (including proteins)”

    I think they may have actually leap frogged the big researchers:

    This is solid proof of principle that this ain’t no fluke.

  27. Magnan, I have no doubt “something changed” non-locally, in the experiment,,,AND for me,,

    The song something changed:

    http://video.google.com/videop.....;plindex=3

  28. Excuse me Magnan I meant this video:::

    “Something Changed”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcqFZV8UJMs

  29. Hi Denyse:

    Thanks ever so much! (And, Brr!)

    GEM of TKI

  30. Berceuse writes:

    “I know the difference between ID and Creationism, but what is UD’s general opinion about young earth creationism, in that the earth is only a couple ten-thousand years old? More specifically, are the accusations of radioactive dating being inaccurate well-founded?”

    Berceuse, young earth creationism (YEC) is an essentially religious approach to origins. ID is a scientific approach. UD is a site for the discussion of ID, not creationism of any stripe, including YEC. UD does not have a “general opinion” about YEC, becuase discussing it is not within the scope of our mission. Although you will see many of our commenters alluding to YEC from time to time, UD does not hold itself out as a forum for such discussions.

  31. I suppose I was a little ambiguous; I was basically wondering if radiometric dating was legit or not…. that’s all. But since you got so defensive you completely overlooked that. I only mentioned, and prefaced the post, with YEC because it clearly ties in with dating. I wouldn’t have done so if I was expecting a double standard. If this board is for discussing ID, and consistently discusses alternative theories like evolution, there’s no reason why the SCIENTIFIC arguments for YEC should not be addressed as well.

  32. Berceuse,

    YEC overlooks several important facts in trying to establish its validity.

    In my opinion, the most egregious violation of science (and of basic Theistic mandates) by YEC is when they require the universal constants (such as the speed of light) to vary, in order to arrive at their numbers for a young universe.
    YEC is no better than evolution if they must presuppose that something, that they have absolutely no evidence of, “could have” happened, in order to make the evidence that is available fit their theory.

    It makes a theory unfalsifiable when the theory carries more weight to bend evidence than the evidence has weight to falsify it.

    And that is exactly what we see with evolution and YEC!

  33. Bornagain77 (and Berceuse and BarryA):

    YEC is a mixed bag. Some YEC’s do start with the Bible and simply ignore any contrary evidence. Some YEC’s come to their beliefs largely through scientific evidence, with the Bible functioning more as a source of hypotheses than as a philosophical base to which science must conform. Of course, the latter routinely are conflated with the former by those who wish to argue against YEC. You will, of course, recognize a parallel to this conflation in what is commonly done to ID.

    Not all YEC’s are YUC’s (young universe creationists). There is another variant that allows an old age for the earth, but believes in a young age for life on earth, what might be abbreviated YLEC. It is easy to find oneself arguing against positions that are not actually being held by one’s opponent if one is not careful.

    But BarryA is right; this blog is not primarily for discussing YEC. So unless there is a specific connection to the topic at hand, it may be better to address the subject of YEC elsewhere.

  34. Denyse:

    Re: If you are a resident of Europe…

    and: …But now, for real people…

    As a naturalized Texan, I’ve often suspected that residents of Europe were somewhat, uh, “unreal” … But in a “good way,” honest!

  35. I do live in EU, but really I don’t care about the EC’s “recommendation”.
    As a matter of fact, I have both Behe’s books in my library… :-)

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