Tag Archives: Origin of Life

New study: first life pushed back earlier, leaving less time for naturalistic 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.

New study: 90% of species on Earth today originated 100,000 to 200,000 years ago

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

Well, it’s Friday, so I thought we would all benefit from reading about a brand new peer-reviewed study that should be the final nail in the coffin of naturalistic evolution. At least for those with an open mind who are not wedded to the philosophical assumption of naturalism.

Phys.org (which is committed dogmatically to fully naturalistic evolution) reports:

Mark Stoeckle from The Rockefeller University in New York and David Thaler at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who together published findings last week sure to jostle, if not overturn, more than one settled idea about how evolution unfolds.

It is textbook biology, for example, that species with large, far-flung populations—think ants, rats, humans—will become more genetically diverse over time.

But is that true?

“The answer is no,” said Stoeckle, lead author of the study, published in the journal Human Evolution.

For the planet’s 7.6 billion people, 500 million house sparrows, or 100,000 sandpipers, genetic diversity “is about the same,” he told AFP.

The study’s most startling result, perhaps, is that nine out of 10 species on Earth today, including humans, came into being 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.

“This conclusion is very surprising, and I fought against it as hard as I could,” Thaler told AFP.

That reaction is understandable: How does one explain the fact that 90 percent of animal life, genetically speaking, is roughly the same age?

Oh, oh. Pick me, pick me. I know the answer. The answer is that the biological information in living systems was put there by an intelligent agent. You know, the same way that information in books is put there by intelligent agents. And the same way that information in computer code is put there by intelligent agents. And the same way that information in blog posts is put there by intelligent agents. We know what introduces information from our own experience.

Well, what about mutation and selection? Couldn’t they create all this information in a couple hundred thousand years? Well, no. You see, mutation and selection have been tested in the lab to see how much information they can produce over generations and generations. And the conclusion is clear: it is impossible for blind forces to create the amount of information we see in living systems in the short time that is available. In fact, the whole history of the universe is not enough time for evolutionary mechanisms to create the information we have in front of us.

Before we leave the paper reported by Phys.org, here is something about whether we see the gradual emergence of complexity via lots of transitional forms in nature.

Not so much:

[…][A]nother unexpected finding from the study—species have very clear genetic boundaries, and there’s nothing much in between.

“If individuals are stars, then species are galaxies,” said Thaler. “They are compact clusters in the vastness of empty sequence space.”

The absence of “in-between” species is something that also perplexed Darwin, he said.

Indeed. So perplexing.

The evidence we gain from the progress of science is always perplexing to people who assume naturalism, and then try to shoehorn reality to match their religious assumptions. I have an idea. Why don’t we just make science the search for truth, no holds barred? Wouldn’t that be a much better way to do science? Let’s just do science honestly, and stop trying to make it prove things that are comfortable for us.

If the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, the origin of the first living system, and the sudden origin of body plans in the Cambrian explosion are impossible to account for on naturalism, then maybe we need to jettison the philosophical assumption of naturalism, and just go where the evidence leads? What’s wrong with that?

What is the best scientific theory to explain the origin of life on Earth?

Christianity and the progress of science

Evolution News talks about a new peer-reviewed science paper which re-caps the current origin of life situation:

…the dominant biological paradigm — abiogenesis in a primordial soup. The latter idea was developed at a time when the earliest living cells were considered to be exceedingly simple structures that could subsequently evolve in a Darwinian way. These ideas should of course have been critically examined and rejected after the discovery of the exceedingly complex molecular structures involved in proteins and in DNA. But this did not happen. Modern ideas of abiogenesis in hydrothermal vents or elsewhere on the primitive Earth have developed into sophisticated conjectures with little or no evidential support.

…independent abiogenesis on the cosmologically diminutive scale of oceans, lakes or hydrothermal vents remains a hypothesis with no empirical support…

The conditions that would most likely to have prevailed near the impact-riddled Earth’s surface 4.1–4.23 billion years ago were too hot even for simple organic molecules to survive let alone evolve into living complexity…

The requirement now, on the basis of orthodox abiogenic thinking, is that an essentially instantaneous transformation of non-living organic matter to bacterial life occurs, an assumption we consider strains credibility of Earth-bound abiogenesis beyond the limit.

The transformation of an ensemble of appropriately chosen biological monomers (e.g. amino acids, nucleotides) into a primitive living cell capable of further evolution appears to require overcoming an information hurdle of superastronomical proportions, an event that could not have happened within the time frame of the Earth except, we believe, as a miracle. All laboratory experiments attempting to simulate such an event have so far led to dismal failure.

Before the extensive sequencing of DNA became available it would have been reasonable to speculate that random copying errors in a gene sequence could, over time, lead to the emergence of new traits, body plans and new physiologies that could explain the whole of evolution. However the data we have reviewed here challenge this point of view. It suggests that the Cambrian Explosion of multicellular life that occurred 0.54 billion years ago led to a sudden emergence of essentially all the genes that subsequently came to be rearranged into an exceedingly wide range of multi-celled life forms — Tardigrades, the Squid, Octopus, fruit flies, humans — to name but a few.

…the complexity and sophistication of life cannot originate (from non-biological) matter under any scenario, over any expanse of space and time, however vast.

What is the explanation of the origin of life, then, according to true-believing atheists?

Richard Dawkins explains:

Got that? The origin of life on Earth is best explained as a result of higher aliens seeding the Earth with life. And where did those aliens come from? They evolved by chance. And can we observe or test the hypothesis that they evolved by chance? No.

Lest you think that this “aliens did it” explanation is a trick of video editing, consider this article from Scientific American.

Excerpt:

Francis Crick (who co-discovered the structure of DNA with James Watson) and Leslie Orgel once proposed that life on Earth was the result of a deliberate infection, designed by aliens who had purposely fled mother nature’s seed to a new home in the sun.

[…]The origins of life remains an unresolved mystery. I argue that Crick and Orgel’s paper was meant both as a serious and plausible scientific alternative and as a means to criticize concurrent origins of life.

Previously, I’ve laid out the evidence for cosmic fine-tuning, so that we could understand how slight changes to the constants and quantities given at the Big Bang would make complex, embodied life in the universe impossible. The smallest of changes has massive effects: only hydrogen, no hydrogen, no stars, universe re-collapses into a hot fireball, etc. The atheistic response to this evidence, which has been documented in the most prestigious academic presses and peer-reviewed journals, is to either deny the evidence, or assert that there is an untestable, unobservable multiverse. As if this were not bad enough, the multiverse generator itself requires fine-tuning.

Similarly with the origin of the universe. The best atheistic responses to the origin of space, time, matter and energy from nothing, about 14 billion years ago, has been to either assert that nothing exists (Peter Atkins) or that the nothing that preceded the universe was actually something (Lawrence Krauss) or to introduce a speculative theoretical model that is disproved by observations (Sean Carroll).

So, let’s take stock. We have evidence for the origin of the universe, like the cosmic microwave background radiation and the light element abundance observations. Atheist answer: either nothing exists right now, or the nothing causally prior to the universe was really something, or here is a disproved speculative theory. We have evidence of cosmic fine-tuning to allow the existence of complex, embodied intelligence. Atheist answer: the unobservable, untestable multiverse did it. We have evidence that origin of life was almost immediate after the cooling of the Earth, and that the problem is best explained by an intelligence sequencing amino acids and proteins, similar to the way that humans write code and blog posts. Atheist answer: unobservable, untestable aliens who evolved did it.  This is not even to mention the Cambrian explosion. The last article I saw argued that the introduction of oxygen was the best naturalistic explanation for that. Does oxygen write genetic code?

I’ll leave it to you to decide which side likes science, and which side likes science fiction. Personally, I would not be comfortable being an atheist at this time in history. We’ve just made too much scientific progress to still believe in stone-age mythology. I understand that atheists find Star Wars and Star Trek comforting and entertaining. I understand that real peer-reviewed science papers are boring and dull compared to science fiction. I’m not saying that we can’t believe in atheism when we are children, and still reading comic books. But there comes a time when we need to grow up and be more responsible about adjusting our worldviews to match the progress of science. A child who believes in Santa Claus is cute, but it’s not the same thing when a grown-up does it.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Dr. Walter Bradley lectures on scientific evidence the creation and design of the universe

Dr. Walter L. Bradley
Dr. Walter L. Bradley

This lecture is special to me, because I bought a VHS tape of it just after I started working full-time, and watched it a million times. A lot of people come to their convictions about God’s existence because of parents or church or intuitions, but for me it’s all about the scientific evidence. This lecture changed my life. I wish more people taught their children about this evidence! This lecture was delivered at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

About the speaker:

Dr. Bradley received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin.

Dr. Bradley taught for eight years at the Colorado School of Mines before assuming a position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU) in 1976.

During his 24 years at Texas A&M, Dr. Bradley served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University and as Director of the Polymer Technology Center, and received five College of Engineering Research Awards. He has received over $4,500,000 in research grants and has published over 140 technical articles and book chapters. He has also co-authored “The Mystery Of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Materials and of the American Scientific Affiliation and serves as a consultant for many Fortune 500 companies.

He currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University.

The lecture: (63 minutes lecture, 25 minutes audience Q&A)

Summary slide:

This slide summarizes the content of the lecture
This slide summarizes the content of the lecture

Introduction:

  • At the beginning of the 20th century, people believed that the progress of science was pointing away from an intelligent Creator and Designer, and towards naturalism
  • A stream of new discoveries has shifted the support of science towards theism, and away from naturalism
  • Richard Dawkins, an atheist, says that nature only has the appearance of design, but that if you look closer, naturalistic mechanisms can account for the appearance of design
  • When deciding between design and apparent design (“designoid”), it matters whether you think there is an intelligence there to do the designing

Evidence #1: The Big Bang:

  • an eternal “steady state” universe is more compatible with naturalism, but a created universe is more compatible with a Creator
  • In 1929, Hubble used telescopes to observe that the light from distant galaxies was redshifted. The further away galaxies were, the faster they were moving away. Therefore, space is expanding in all directions, suggesting an explosive origin of the universe
  • In 1965, the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation matched a prediction of the Big Bang cosmology, and of the creation event
  • In 1992, the COBE space telescope allowed us to test four specific predictions of the Big Bang model, especially the predictions for light element abundances (hydrogen and helium), which matched the predictions of the creation model

Evidence #2: Simple mathematical structure of the physical laws

  • the simple mathematical structure of natural laws allows us to understand these laws, make discoveries, and engineer solutions to problems
  • early scientists saw the mathematical structure of the universe to mean that nature was designed by an intelligent to be understood
  • the fundamental equations of the laws of the universe can be easily written on one side of one sheet of paper
  • Eugene Wigner’s famous paper, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Physical Sciences” makes the point that this simple structure is an unexpected gift that allows is to do science

Evidence #3: fine-tuning of the physical constants and quantities

  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stars that provide energy within specific ranges for long periods of time
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need planets with stable orbits that will not suffer from extreme temperature swings as it varies in distance from its star
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stable atomic structure
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need to have chemical diversity and correct relative abundances of each element
  • organic life has minimum requirements: process energy, store information, replicate, and you can’t fulfill those functions if there is only one element, e.g. – hydrogen
  • the energy level from the photons from the sun have to match the energy levels of the different elements in order to drive the chemical bonding needed for life
  • These requirements for life of any imaginable type depend on the values of the constants and quantities. The constants and quantities cannot vary much from what they are, or the universe will lose the characteristics (above) that allow it to support complex life of any imaginable time
  • For example, ratio of strong force to electromagnetic force:
    – if 2% larger, then no stable hydrogen, no long-lived stars, no compounds containing hydrogen, e.g. – water
    – if 5% smaller, no stable stars, heavy hydrogen would be unstable, few elements other than hydrogen

Evidence #4: initial conditions for habitability

  • Universe: expansion rate of the universe must be fast enough to avoid a re-collapse, but slow enough to allow matter to clump together and form stars and planets for complex life to live on
  • Planet: right distance from the star to get the right climate
  • Planet: right mass to retain the right atmosphere

Evidence #5: origin of life and information theory

  • It’s possible to explain every process in an automobile engine using plain old naturalistic mechanisms – no supernatural explanation is necessary to understand the processes
  • But the existence of engine itself: engineering all the parts has to be explained by the work of an intelligence
  • Similarly, we can understand how living systems work, but the existence of the living systems requires an intelligence
  • Even the simplest living system has to perform minimal function: capture energy, store information and replicate
  • Living systems are composed of objects like proteins that are composed of sequences of components complex such that the order of the components gives the overall structure function
  • Developing the components for a simple living cell is very improbable – even given the large number of galaxies, stars and planets in the universe, it is unlikely that complex, embodied life would exist anywhere in the universe

Evidence #6: more initial conditions for habitability

  • Location within the galaxy: you need to be away from the center of the galaxy, because the explosions from dying stars, and excessive radiation will kill life
  • Location within the galaxy: you need to be close enough to the center in order catch the heavy elements you need for life from the explosions of other stars
  • Location within the galaxy: the best location is between two arms of  a spiral galaxy, where you can get the heavy elements you need from dying stars, but without being hit with explosions and harmful radiation
  • Star mass: determines rate at which the sun burns, determines the energy level of photons that are used to drive chemical bonding reactions, determines the length of time the star will be stable
  • Star mass: star mass must be the correct value in order to allow liquid water on the planet’s surface, while still preserving stable orbit

I wish there was more curiosity about science in churches, and young Christians understood how critical science is for grounding the rationality of the Christian worldview. We need to be training up more scientists who think about the big questions, like Dr. Walter Bradley.

Sean McDowell reviews new book on Darwinian evolution and intelligent design

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

I really love the two books on intelligent design written by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, but they are just so big that you can’t really give them to a co-worker or a family member or a friend to read. I’ve been looking for a decent book that explains the issues in a compelling way, and now it looks like I’ve found one.

First, a review of the new book from Amazon:

Possibly the best ID book to read first

For those with a specific interest, there are many other excellent ID books that take a deep dive into a particular topic. Heretic stands out as being excellent as an introductory doorway into considering Intelligent Design.

One doesn’t need to be involved in the sciences to benefit greatly from this clearly written book. The great majority of the material can be readily understood by a general audience and the authors provide guidance if you want it on how to skim or skip ahead when the next part has more technical details.

That said, this is now my preferred and recommended first book for any scientist who has just assumed Darwin’s grand claim must be true and who hasn’t yet given any serious consideration to the possibility that design is real, not merely an appearance of design.

The book allows one to follow along as the main author begins from that same point of assuming Darwinism, but then must grapple and struggle with the hard realities of the evidence. Along the way, this book provides one of the clearest and most illuminating examinations of the influence of assumptions (and of career considerations) upon what people are willing to consider.

Ultimately the book invites the reader to make the same commitment made early on by the main author to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

I don’t know of a book that does a better job of calling scientists away from blind faith in an assumed paradigm and toward a return to sound science based on following the observed evidence — including those most troublesome facts that don’t agree with old assumptions.

OK, so this review gave me some hope, but it’s what Dr. Sean McDowell had to say that really caught my attention.

He writes:

Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design is the most recent book published by the Discovery Institute, the foremost Intelligent Design (ID) organization. If you are looking for a good, introductory text to help understand the current debate, this is an excellent place to start.

Unlike other recent book on intelligent design (such as Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer or Undeniable by Doug Axe) this book does not offer a fresh argument for intelligent design. But this is hardly a criticism, because the book does not aim to. Rather, it tells the story of Matti Leisola—an accomplished scientist, professor, and researcher from Finland—and how he became disillusioned with the Darwinian paradigm and came to embrace design.

The storied nature of this book is one of its greatest strengths. Rather than weeding into difficult scientific details (that can distract the non-specialist reader), Heretic takes readers on Leisola’s personal journey of wrestling with important issues like the fossil record and the origin of life (It is also co-written with Jonathan Witt). Leisola does discuss relevant scientific issues, but with full awareness of his primarily lay audience.

I am thrilled to see the Discovery Institute publishing books that take a narrative approach to origin questions. In our book Understanding Intelligent Design, William Dembski and I include a plethora of stories and examples. But Heretic is told entirely as a story, and my suspicion is that it may incite new readers to consider the arguments for intelligent design.

Heretic would be an excellent book to give to someone who is new to discussions over Darwin and design. Along with being interesting, the narrative approach is also much “softer” to read. Rather than directly trying to persuade readers, Leisola simply shares his personal conclusions regarding origins. And yet it is impossible for the thoughtful reader to miss the force of many of his arguments, even if he or she ultimately disagrees with Leisola’s conclusions.

Just in passing, I didn’t like “Undeniable” at all, although I’m a great admirer of Doug Axe and his story of getting his PhD from Caltech, and then post-doctoral research on protein formation at Cambridge University. He was able to get his research published multiple times in the peer-reviewed Journal of Molecular Biology. But I just don’t find him to be a good writer, especially for ordinary people.

OK, so after reading the Amazon review and then having it confirmed with Dr. McDowell’s review, I am officially excited. I decided to buy a copy of the book, but not for me. I have lots of friends who are voracious readers who can read it and then tell me what they thought of it. So, I bought a copy of it for my very best friend Dina – she has a couple of STEM degrees and a STEM career, so she’ll be able to make short work of it, and then she’ll tell me whether it is worth giving away to my friends and co-workers.

If anyone else has read the book and wants to send me a review, please do. My e-mail is in the About Me section. There have been so many good books coming out lately that I haven’t even gotten through them all: “A Fortunate Universe” (Cambridge University Press), “The Case for Miracles” (by Lee Strobel), “Why Does God Allow Evil?” (by Clay Jones), “Five Proofs of the Existence of God” (by Ed Feser), “Discrimination and Disparities” (by Thomas Sowell), etc. I hope everyone knows about these books and gets one or two or all to read.