Tag Archives: Origin of Life

The media reported that TRAPPIST-1 planets were “Earth-like”, but were they?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

My assumption whenever I read these headlines from the naturalist mainstream media is that they are just scientific illiterates pushing a science fiction agenda. Naturalists believe that no intelligent designer was required in order to create a planet, a solar system and a galaxy fine-tuned for complex embodied life. The mainstream media tries to help naturalists by trumpeting that make planets that support life look common, so that no designer is needed.

Recently, there was a story about some planets that the mainstream media called “Earth-like”. But were they really Earth-like?

Evolution News reports: (links removed)

Do you recall the hubbub only one month ago about TRAPPIST-1, a dim red dwarf star some 40 light years from Earth? This star has seven planet, three of which, roughly Earth-sized, were announced as being potentially habitable. This led to excited speculation about alien evolution:

  • “Scientists find three new planets where life could have evolved” (Sky News)
  • “Nasa discovers new solar system where life may have evolved on three planets” (The Telegraph)
  • “Nasa’s ‘holy grail’: Entire new solar system that could support alien life discovered” (The Independent)
  • “Seven Alien ‘Earths’ Found Orbiting Nearby Star” (National Geographic)

Well, not so fast. Much of the breathlessness about the system stemmed from a tho

roughly imaginative artist’s rendering courtesy of NASA. The planets are designated by letters, b through h. The middle three planets are depicted as rather inviting, with what appear to be pleasing Earth-like oceans.

Today, the TRAPPIST-1 bubble looks to have popped, with 3D computer climate modeling showing major problems with the system. According to Eric T. Wolf of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, the inner three planets would be barren, the outer three frozen. And the middle, planet e? In NASA’s rendering, it looks the most Earth-like. However, in a system like this centering on a dim red dwarf, planet e would need to have been stocked, to start, with seven times the volume of Earth’s oceans.

roughly imaginative artist’s rendering courtesy of NASA. The planets are designated by letters, b through h. The middle three planets are depicted as rather inviting, with what appear to be pleasing Earth-like oceans.

Today, the TRAPPIST-1 bubble looks to have popped, with 3D computer climate modeling showing major problems with the system. According to Eric T. Wolf of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, the inner three planets would be barren, the outer three frozen. And the middle, planet e? In NASA’s rendering, it looks the most Earth-like. However, in a system like this centering on a dim red dwarf, planet e would need to have been stocked, to start, with seven times the volume of Earth’s oceans.

Let’s review what’s needed for a planet to support life, so that when these stories come out, we can recognize how many “Earth-like” qualities required for life are not mentioned.

Previously, I blogged about a few of the minimum requirements that a planet must satisfy in order to support complex life.

Here they are:

  • a solar system with a single massive Sun than can serve as a long-lived, stable source of energy
  • a terrestrial planet (non-gaseous)
  • the planet must be the right distance from the sun in order to preserve liquid water at the surface – if it’s too close, the water is burnt off in a runaway greenhouse effect, if it’s too far, the water is permanently frozen in a runaway glaciation
  • the planet has to be far enough from the star to avoid tidal locking and solar flares
  • the solar system must be placed at the right place in the galaxy – not too near dangerous radiation, but close enough to other stars to be able to absorb heavy elements after neighboring stars die
  • a moon of sufficient mass to stabilize the tilt of the planet’s rotation
  • plate tectonics
  • an oxygen-rich atmosphere
  • a sweeper planet to deflect comets, etc.
  • planetary neighbors must have non-eccentric orbits
  • planet mass must be enough to retain an atmosphere, but not so massive to cause a greenhouse effect

Now what happens if we disregard all of those characteristics, and just classify an Earth-like planet as one which is the same size and receives the same amount of radiation from its star? Well, then you end up labeling a whole bunch of planets as “Earth-like” that really don’t permit life.

New study: first life pushed back earlier, leaving less time for naturalist magic

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Whenever you discuss origins with naturalists, it’s very important to get them to explain how the first living organism emerged without any help from an intelligent agent. The origin of life is an information problem. A certain minimal amount of biological information for minimum life function has to be thrown together by chance. No evolutionary mechanisms have the potential to work until replication is already in place.

Evolution News reports on a new study that makes the window for naturalistic forces to create the first self-replicating organism even smaller.

Excerpt:

A paper in Nature reports the discovery of fossil microbes possibly older, even much older, than any found previously. The lead author is biogeochemist Matthew Dodd, a PhD student at University College London. If the paper is right, these Canadian fossils could be 3.77 billion years old, or even as old as — hold onto your hat, in case you’re wearing one — 4.28 billion years.

From the Abstract:

Although it is not known when or where life on Earth began, some of the earliest habitable environments may have been submarine-hydrothermal vents. Here we describe putative fossilized microorganisms that are at least 3,770 million and possibly 4,280 million years old in ferruginous sedimentary rocks, interpreted as seafloor-hydrothermal vent-related precipitates, from the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec, Canada. These structures occur as micrometre-scale haematite tubes and filaments with morphologies and mineral assemblages similar to those of filamentous microorganisms from modern hydrothermal vent precipitates and analogous microfossils in younger rocks. The Nuvvuagittuq rocks contain isotopically light carbon in carbonate and carbonaceous material, which occurs as graphitic inclusions in diagenetic carbonate rosettes, apatite blades intergrown among carbonate rosettes and magnetite–haematite granules, and is associated with carbonate in direct contact with the putative microfossils.

This new paper is interesting to compare with a paper from last year, Nutman et al., “Rapid emergence of life shown by discovery of 3,700-million-year-old microbial structures,” also in Nature, which found microbial structures that are a bit younger.

But the “microbial structures” from Nutman et al. 2016 are different from these new “microfossils” presented by Dodd et al. 2017. In Nutman et al., they only found stromatolite-type structures rather than actual microfossils. Some stromatolite experts were a bit skeptical that what they found were really stromatolites.

But the new paper by Dodd and his colleagues, “Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates,” seems to offer potential bacteria-like microfossils. They are tiny black carbonaceous spheres and “hematite tubes” which the authors think are biogenically created. We’ve seen more convincing ancient microfossils, but these aren’t bad.

According to Dodd et al., these new finds would be the oldest known microfossils, if that is in fact what they are. Very interesting. If so, that just keeps pushing unquestionable evidence of life’s existence on Earth further and further back, which leaves less and less time for the origin of life to have occurred by unguided chemical evolution after Earth became habitable.

If they are in fact 4.28 billion years old, then that would mean there was life very, very early in Earth’s history — as Cyril Ponnamperuma said, it’s like “instant life.”

Instant life is “rational” for naturalistic fideists, but for evidence-driven people who understand the long odds on generating even a simple protein by chance, it’s irrationality.

Let’s recall exactly how hard it is to make even a simple protein without intelligent agency to select the elements of the sequence.

The odds of creating even a single functional protein

I’ve talked about Doug Axe before when I described how to calculate the odds of getting functional proteins by chance.

Let’s calculate the odds of building a protein composed of a functional chain of 100 amino acids, by chance. (Think of a meaningful English sentence built with 100 scrabble letters, held together with glue)

Sub-problems:

  • BONDING: You need 99 peptide bonds between the 100 amino acids. The odds of getting a peptide bond is 50%. The probability of building a chain of one hundred amino acids in which all linkages involve peptide bonds is roughly (1/2)^99 or 1 chance in 10^30.
  • CHIRALITY: You need 100 left-handed amino acids. The odds of getting a left-handed amino acid is 50%. The probability of attaining at random only L–amino acids in a hypothetical peptide chain one hundred amino acids long is (1/2)^100 or again roughly 1 chance in 10^30.
  • SEQUENCE: You need to choose the correct amino acid for each of the 100 links. The odds of getting the right one are 1 in 20. Even if you allow for some variation, the odds of getting a functional sequence is (1/20)^100 or 1 in 10^65.

The final probability of getting a functional protein composed of 100 amino acids is 1 in 10^125. Even if you fill the universe with pre-biotic soup, and react amino acids at Planck time (very fast!) for 14 billion years, you are probably not going to get even 1 such protein. And you need at least 100 of them for minimal life functions, plus DNA and RNA.

Research performed by Doug Axe at Cambridge University, and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Molecular Biology, has shown that the number of functional amino acid sequences is tiny:

Doug Axe’s research likewise studies genes that it turns out show great evidence of design. Axe studied the sensitivities of protein function to mutations. In these “mutational sensitivity” tests, Dr. Axe mutated certain amino acids in various proteins, or studied the differences between similar proteins, to see how mutations or changes affected their ability to function properly. He found that protein function was highly sensitive to mutation, and that proteins are not very tolerant to changes in their amino acid sequences. In other words, when you mutate, tweak, or change these proteins slightly, they stopped working. In one of his papers, he thus concludes that “functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences,” and that functional protein folds “may be as low as 1 in 10^77.”

The problem of forming DNA by sequencing nucleotides faces similar difficulties. And remember, mutation and selection cannot explain the origin of the first sequence, because mutation and selection require replication, which does not exist until that first living cell is already in place.

Stephen C. Meyer and Doug Axe discuss 5 major problems with macro-evolution

Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed
Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed

The host of the Cross Examined radio show Dr. Frank Turek talks with Stephen C. Meyer and Doug Axe about a recent conference of Royal Society scientists discussing the problems with the theory of macro-evolution.

The MP3 file is here.

Summary:

  • about the Royal Society conference
  • the main topic was whether naturalistic mechanisms can produce new body plans and new organ types
  • no one disputes micro-evolution: beaks changing size, antibiotic resistance
  • many of the naturalistic scientists admitted the problems with current naturalistic theories, but they don’t want to embrace the need for a designer
  • none of the proposals that were debated solved the real problems with macro-evolution
  • Problem #1: the sudden origin of body plans in the fossil record
  • Problem #2: the origin of information (e.g. – in protein molecule)
  • Problem #3: need for favorable early mutations (for body plans)
  • Problem #4: the problem of epigenetics
  • Problem #5: the universality of the design intuition

Some of these problems have actually gotten worse for naturalistic evolution as our scientific knowledge has grown.

If you want the two best books on intelligent design, get Dr. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt”. I should note that Dr. Meyer is not a young Earth creationist, and has defended the Big Bang cosmology as a solid evidence for a Creator of the universe. Being in favor of an old universe and an old Earth is compatible with being opposed to evolution – because of scientific reasons.

Stephen C. Meyer debates intelligent design with two scientists on NPR

British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight
British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight

Evolution News reported on a 27-minute debate featuring Dr. Stephen C. Meyer – probably the best proponent of intelligent design there is.

Description:

We often say that Darwinists are reluctant to debate advocates of intelligent design, but here are two who deserve a tip of the hat. Keith Pannell is a chemist at the University of Texas at El Paso who hosts a program, Science Studio, on the NPR station there. He invited Stephen Meyer on to talk about the science of ID, pegged to the Dover anniversary.

Clearly Pannell is an ID critic so he gets kudos for being willing to have a civil and informative conversation. Perhaps feeling insecure about facing the author of Darwin’s Doubt by himself, Dr. Pannell invited a biologist colleague, Ricardo Bernal, to serve as “co-host.”

So it was two against one, but no worries. Meyer is, as always, superb, and the discussion sounds like it was an education for the two Texas scientists. Listen and enjoy.

I took a back-up of the MP3 file here.

Summary:

  • How did Dr. Meyer get interested in science?
  • What is intelligent design? (origin of life, fine-tuning)
  • What is creationism? (young Earth, different epistemology)
  • Who does Dr. Meyer think the intelligent designer is?
  • Finding the best explanation from multiple competing hypotheses
  • Critic: aren’t you arguing for a designer from ignorance, then?
  • The importance of naturalists acknowledging what they do and do not know about the origin of life
  • We do have experience with intelligent causation, whenever we sequence symbols to have meaning and purpose, e.g. – writing
  • Critic: information in DNA is not digital information, is it?
  • Information in the cell follows a 4-character alphabet
  • the sequences are composed of many parts / symbols
  • the sequences themselves are specified to have function
  • Critic: the complexity just emerges from change over time
  • the origin of the first life is immune to explanation of change over time, because there is no replication – this is the first replicator
  • Critic: but isn’t it just ignorance about the origin of life?
  • what we do is look at a number of competing hypothesis and what they are capable of, and see whether each cause is capable of generating the effects we observe in nature
  • Critic: where is the experimental verification of your theory?
  • well, in the appendices of Signature of the Cell, we predicted that the non-coding regions of DNA (junk DNA) would be found to have function, and that was later proven out
  • the Darwinists said that non-coding regions of the DNA was junk, but that’s not what has been proven experimentally
  • Critic: where was this prediction written up, who wrote it?
  • intelligent design theorists predicted it: Dembski, Kenyon, Mims, Sternberg
  • Critic: but we used the scientific method to disprove the Darwinian predictions, you don’t like the scientific method
  • intelligent design proponents love science, and the scientific method, and they do work in labs to confirm their hypotheses, (WK:for example, the probability of generating a protein by chance)
  • Critic: what about the Dover court case that you lost?
  • the Discovery Institute objected to actions taken by the Dover school board
  • Critic: what about the molecular machines, how are they related to intelligent design?
  • even in the simplest living organisms, there are tiny machines that are tightly integrated, and cannot be built up in a stepwise fashion
  • Critic: I’ve worked with the ATP-synthase and other molecular machines, but “you can kind of begin to tease how some of these molecular machines have come about” – pieces have multiple functions, and they are co-opted into larger systems
  • the problem with the co-option argument breaks down when you look at the specific details of different machines
  • for example – the type III secretory system cannot be an precursor to the bacterial flagellum, it is younger, not older than the bacterial flagellum
  • Critic: what would it take for your view to be falsified?
  • demonstrable undirected processes that are capable of creating functional information in DNA, or processes that can build up an irreducibly complex molecular machine within the time available with a decent probability

If you like this debate, check out Stephen C. Meyer’s two books: “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt”. They are now out as audio books, too.

New study: DNA requires maintenance from surrounding cell

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

My friend Bruce shared this post from Reasons to Believe about some recent research on DNA.

Naturalists like to argue that DNA somehow came into existence randomly, but it turns out that not only is DNA marvelously improbable for even the simplest living organism, but it also requires a lot of support from other areas of the cell in order to remain stable.

It says:

In 2015, three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for decades of research into DNA—research that reinforces the idea that evolution is mythology and makes the modern evolutionary theory of abiogenesis seem more and more indefensible. It turns out that DNA is inherently unstable, and the preservation of genetic information requires a complex symbiotic relationship between the cell and DNA that is so interdependent that neither could have arisen independently of the other.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the giant organic molecule which carries and preserves an organism’s genetic information. DNA is essential to the growth and reproduction of life-forms because precise copying and self-replication of DNA is a critical part of the process of cell division.

Tomas Lindahl, the first Nobel laureate, has demonstrated that the rate at which DNA decays should have made the development of life on Earth impossible.1 The Nobel Committee expresses this on a personal level: “you ought to have been a chemical chaos long before you even developed into a foetus.”2

So why doesn’t our genetic material disintegrate into complete chemical chaos? It is because of molecular repair mechanisms within the cell. The three Nobel laureates “mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information.”3 They found that a multitude of molecular systems constantly monitor the genome and repair any damage.

One such mechanism discovered by Lindahl is base excision repair, which explains why our DNA doesn’t collapse. A base of a nucleotide often loses an amino group and becomes unable to form a base pair, thus breaking the DNA chain. But an enzymedetects the error, and other enzymes repair it so that the DNA can replicate properly.

Paul Modrich, the second laureate, discovered another molecular mechanism calledmismatch repair. Replication errors often occur as the DNA is copied, but Modrich found that enzymes continually detect most of these errors, and other enzymes repair them. The Nobel Committee says this “reduces the error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousandfold.”4

One further issue that DNA must contend with is mutations, caused by DNA damage due to radiation and a variety of mutagenic substances. For example, radiation might make two base pairs bind to one another incorrectly. But the third laureate, Aziz Sancar, discovered that through a mechanism called nucleotide excision repair, enzymes will cut out, remove, and replace a damaged DNA strand.

We have long known that the cell could not reproduce without DNA, but we now know that DNA would self-destruct without the cell. It is this complex symbiotic relationship between a cell and its DNA that makes the modern evolutionary theory more difficult to defend.

[…]This research shows that for abiogenesis to occur, undirected, random processes must have anticipated the inherent instability of DNA and assembled the cell with the variety of enzymes necessary to prevent the self-destruction of DNA. Additionally, the cell’s chemistry, the self-preservation instinct, and anticipatory DNA repair mechanisms must have all come together at the same instant in time within only 1 billion years; otherwise, any nascent life could not have survived. If the probability barrier to evolution seemed like climbing Mount Improbable before, it has now become climbing Mount Impossible.

Could simple single-celled life-forms emerge and evolve into more complex life? Single-celled life-forms are not so simple. For example, the genome of an aerobic hyper-thermophilic crenarchaeon (a thermophilic archaea, a type of bacteria) consists of 1.7 billion base pairs, which is almost 60 percent of the 2.9 billion base pairs in thehuman genome.5

So, not only is it fantastically improbably to 1) get the building blocks of life, and 2) build the sequence of base pairs in DNA, but 3) you also have to have supporting systems to maintain the DNA in the cell: even more specified complexity.