Abiogenesis. Science and/or faith

Discussion about scientific issues as they relate to God and Christianity including archaeology, origins of life, the universe, intelligent design, evolution, etc.
sandy_mcd
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the paradox of design

#16

Post by sandy_mcd » Sat Mar 24, 2007 10:29 pm

Just as with the blind men and the elephant, this topic is being approached from many different perspectives. One aspect that does not seem to have been explicitly addressed is how God would create life. Would God act in concert with natural law or in violation?
In the first case, abiogenesis would be explicable by scientific enquiry. The first occurrence of life would be consistent with the laws of science as determined by research.
In the latter case, abiogenesis would be not be subject to the constraints of natural law. Here philosophy and basic assumptions are important. If scientists had discovered continuous geological strata in which fossils of modern plants and animals appeared suddenly with no evidence of any prior forms of life, a scientific explanation of abiogenesis would be much more difficult. At what point should a scientist give up on the basic assumption that all natural phenomena obey natural law? There have been many seemingly inexplicable phenomena in the past (e.g., Lord Kelvin's age of the earth based on cooling) which were made comprehensible by the light of subsequent discoveries (e.g., radioactivity in the above example). At the moment, abiogenesis can not be scientifically shown to be possible. But it can also not be shown to be precluded by known laws. [And showing that abiogenesis could occur via some mechanism does not mean it did happen that way; there may be some other route which actually occurred.]
Ironically, it seems that many arguments used to prove design (life could not have arisen naturally) are based on the assumption that the universe itself is poorly designed for life; that life could not happen without specific interventions by a creator.

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Re: the paradox of design

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Post by zoegirl » Sun Mar 25, 2007 4:05 pm

sandy_mcd wrote:Just as with the blind men and the elephant, this topic is being approached from many different perspectives. One aspect that does not seem to have been explicitly addressed is how God would create life. Would God act in concert with natural law or in violation?
In the first case, abiogenesis would be explicable by scientific enquiry. The first occurrence of life would be consistent with the laws of science as determined by research.
In the latter case, abiogenesis would be not be subject to the constraints of natural law. Here philosophy and basic assumptions are important. If scientists had discovered continuous geological strata in which fossils of modern plants and animals appeared suddenly with no evidence of any prior forms of life, a scientific explanation of abiogenesis would be much more difficult. At what point should a scientist give up on the basic assumption that all natural phenomena obey natural law? There have been many seemingly inexplicable phenomena in the past (e.g., Lord Kelvin's age of the earth based on cooling) which were made comprehensible by the light of subsequent discoveries (e.g., radioactivity in the above example). At the moment, abiogenesis can not be scientifically shown to be possible. But it can also not be shown to be precluded by known laws. [And showing that abiogenesis could occur via some mechanism does not mean it did happen that way; there may be some other route which actually occurred.]

Ironically, it seems that many arguments used to prove design (life could not have arisen naturally) are based on the assumption that the universe itself is poorly designed for life; that life could not happen without specific interventions by a creator.
WELL SAID, that last part

My first thought is.... to some degree I think we may never know...as you pointed out. We may be able to show abiogenesis in the laboratory (I personally think it unlikely) and yet it still doesn't exclude God intervening. Also, our "observing" reactions in the laboratory does not, in my mind, enlighten how God performed in the past. Again, to my mind it ultimately comes down to a philosophical choice.

My other thought revolves around whether GOd acts in concert with physical laws or in violation. Personally I think the truth lies somewhere between, especially in light of our finite understanding. We think it must be one or the other. I think God has an infinite number of choices for His interactions. FOr example, amino acids don't usually spontaneously react together(or else Miller/Urey experiments would have much more convenient results, once amino acids were made a.a.'s would join togehter). In order to create proteins, enzymes that have specific active sites that act like puzzle pieces cause induced fits between the amino acids that cause a reaciton more likely to occur. Who's to say that God does not act in this way, still using physical laws and yet being the causative agent, much like the enzyme? He would still be using His own physical laws and yet using these physical laws to knit together these molecules.

Clearly, while revealing much in Genesis, God's full actions were unrevealed in Genesis. He is the grand conductor, painter, sculptor, and yet many people balk at thinking of Him being the ultimate engineer with His creation. Imagining that somehow it is a magic trick with God just poofing it into existence ( while I haev no doubt that He could do this in His omnipotence ) I think scripture points to a God who intimately involved in His creation.

any thought? :D
Zoegirl

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#18

Post by sandy_mcd » Sun Mar 25, 2007 8:24 pm

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/f ... /5562/2006Science 15 March 2002:
Vol. 295. no. 5562, pp. 2006 - 2007
News Focus
GÜNTER WÄCHTERSHÄUSER PROFILE:
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Michael Hagmann*
Günter Wächtershäuser had a radical theory of how life began, and he needed all his skills as a patent lawyer to persuade a skeptical community to take it seriously
... In the mid-1980s, however, geologists began to question some of the assumptions Urey and Miller had made about the gas mixture. ...
Enter hobby chemist Günter Wächtershäuser. Although not affiliated with any research institution, WÄchtershÄuser is far from being a stranger to science; he earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1965 at the University of Marburg, Germany, and served as a postdoc there for more than a year. ...
One flaw was what WÄchtershÄuser calls the entropy problem. The dilution of the organic compounds in the early Earth's vast oceans makes any chemical reaction between two molecules unlikely and a meaningful encounter improbable. "As far as I'm concerned, the soup theory is more of a myth than a theory, because it doesn't explain anything," he says. Once he realized that molecules needed some place to meet, it took him only one night to sketch out a first draft of his theory. The meeting place is provided by the surfaces of iron-sulfur minerals such as pyrite, which abound around underwater hydrothermal vents. The formation of pyrite, he speculated, could even serve as a chemical power plant, adding the chemical energy needed to react volcanic gases.

His new friends urged him on. "I was lucky," he says about his relationships with Popper and Woese. "I met the right people at the right time. Without their support, this would have gone nowhere." In 1988 Popper submitted WÄchtershÄuser's first paper on the subject to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "It was my first scientific publication in 22 years," he says.

A series of purely theoretical papers followed, sketching out WÄchtershÄuser's "iron-sulfur world" in Earth's early days, a complex network of chemical reactions that the 64-year-old patent lawyer is happy to scribble down on scrap paper as he explains his theory. His theory-laden approach, with little observational evidence in sight, is pure Popper. In Popper's view, says Woese, true scientific progress is possible only by building a theory and then trying as best as one can to prove it false. "[WÄchtershÄuser's] opponents constantly objected to his 'paper chemistry,' saying it was nothing but theory. Well, I'd say that's about the only thing a lawyer without a lab can do," says Woese, who refers to WÄchtershÄuser as "the last disciple of Karl Popper."

Woese suspects that some of the early attacks on the theory were fueled by the fact that WÄchtershÄuser "was not a card-carrying member of the origins-of-life community." But where others might have recoiled from attacks by scientific heavyweights, WÄchtershÄuser leapt at the chance to battle them at conferences around the world. Microbiologist Karl Stetter of the University of Regensburg, Germany, recalls a squabble between WÄchtershÄuser and Nobel laureate Christian de Duve in which de Duve eventually backed down, saying "Dr. WÄchtershÄuser, we're no patent lawyers here." Notes Stetter, "He is sort of the pugnacious type."

WÄchtershÄuser has his own take on the adversity he had to face: "A lot of people cling to their theories because they depend on them being true to attract research grants, students, and so forth. So they defend them fiercely."

Proving it
But WÄchtershÄuser knew he needed more than words to put his theory on a solid footing; he needed to test it in a lab. Joining forces with Stetter, they published a paper in Nature in 1994, showing that pyrite formation could indeed be the driving force in the creation of amide bonds, which form the backbones of all proteins. But the bonds between the two men soon unraveled, causing an estrangement that continues to this day. "At first it was a very exciting collaboration; I was all for it," says Stetter. "But then one day out of the blue I got a letter from [WÄchtershÄuser] telling me that our collaboration was over. I suspect he was afraid I'd steal the show from him."
...
WÄchtershÄuser then turned to Claudia Huber, a chemist at the Technical University in Munich, and in 1997 the pair reproduced a key reaction: joining two carbon atoms to form activated acetic acid, a chemical at the core of many cellular metabolic pathways. A year later the team linked amino acids into short peptides, the precursors of proteins.

In August 2000, a group led by George Cody of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Washington, D.C., reported creating pyruvate, a crucial component of all living cells consisting of three carbon atoms, with a mineral catalyst under conditions similar to the ones Huber and WÄchtershÄuser use. WÄchtershÄuser believes that the pyruvate finding could be the missing link in a so-called autocatalytic cycle, a circular series of chemical reactions that can sustain itself and produce more and more of the same chemicals. "Autocatalysis is the chemical expression for reproduction, one of the key features and, hence, maybe the first form of life," he says.

Early last year, an international team led by geologist Simon Wilde of Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia, presented evidence that continental crust and primordial oceans already existed on Earth 4.4 billion years ago. This suggests that as far ago as then, just the right conditions of heat and subsea volcanic activity may have been nudging organic molecules toward the earliest life forms.

The experimental results mean that "people can't just wipe [the theory] away as paper chemistry," WÄchtershÄuser says. And recognition was not long in coming. WÄchtershÄuser was awarded an honorary professorship by the University of Regensburg and has received four research grants, amounting to $500,000, from Germany's DFG funding agency. WÄchtershÄuser still maintains his patent practice, leaving him to ponder the secrets of early life in his leisure time. He uses the grant money to fund Huber's lab work--as well as her salary. In 1998, Huber's university contract ran out, so WÄchtershÄuser stepped in and now employs her through his law firm, although she still uses lab space at the university.

Even with this mounting evidence, some scientists believe that WÄchtershÄuser's theory is too simplistic. "Life is not just chemistry. Life as we know it is based on the passage of genetic information from one generation to the next," says Scripps's Bada. And even scientists who agree with the theme of WÄchtershÄuser's iron-sulfur world say that he skates over the finer chemical details. "The energetics [of WÄchtershÄuser's reactions] are plain wrong," says geochemist Mike Russell of the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre in Glasgow. "Pyrite, for instance, plays no role at all. I don't consider any of his stuff significant except his [synthesis of activated acetic acid] in 1997." Acetic acid and pyruvate, adds RPI's Ferris, "are still pretty simple compounds. The real question is how do you build more complex biomolecules."

Woese isn't troubled by the questions that remain unanswered. "They haven't achieved the point they want to be at, but they're well on their way," he says. Along the way, in his pursuit of freedom of thought, WÄchtershÄuser has regained his love for science--and done it on his own terms.

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Carl Woese

#19

Post by zoegirl » Mon Mar 26, 2007 3:13 pm

Ah yes, Woese and Stetter. I have an interesting video highlighting their role in changing the "tree of life" when people thought of LUCA, the last universal common ancestor back in the late 90's early 00's. Interestingly, their tree of life ends of being too simplistic as well in the light of continuing genetic research.

Was curious, however, on your thoughts....do you support the substrate theory? You left out any commentary.

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Re: Carl Woese

#20

Post by sandy_mcd » Wed Mar 28, 2007 9:39 pm

zoegirl wrote:Was curious, however, on your thoughts....do you support the substrate theory?
Not necessarily the substrate theory, but something similar. The chances of all-the-same-handed amino acids forming self-replicating units in an aqueous solution is too preposterous. There must be something else. But certainly at the moment no one seems to have much of an idea of a possible mechanism.

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