October 8, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Life: Do Ingredients Imply Emergence?

Science articles continue to push the idea that if water is found somewhere, life is certain to emerge.  Other articles look for so-called “building blocks of life” or “ingredients for life,” implying or even plainly stating that life simply emerges from its parts.  While many have complained that this kind of thinking is as ridiculous as assuming a building will construct itself from a lumberyard, reports persist without shame or apology.

  1. Asteroid water bombs:  Water ice has been discovered on a second asteroid, reported Science Daily, echoing a press release from University of South Florida.  A professor said, “And it supports the theory that asteroids may have hit Earth and brought our planet its water and the building blocks for life to form and evolve here.”
  2. Primordial haze:  Space.com and other sites are publishing speculations by Sarah Horst [U of Arizona] claiming that Titan may have the “ingredients for life” in its atmosphere.  “We don’t need liquid water, we don’t need a surface,” she said.  “We show that it is possible to make very complex molecules in the outer parts of an atmosphere.”  The toxic sludge pouring through Hungary contains complex molecules, too (BBC News).
        Horst omitted explaining how a genetic code or molecular machinery might arise from her ingredients for life.  She was focused on the ingredients themselves.  She simply assumed they will spontaneously spring into living things: 06/07/2010 entry.
  3. Life signs:  The news reports about Gliese 581g, an exoplanet in its star’s habitable zone (09/29/2010), were spiced with liberal use of the L-word.  Most recently, David Shiga remarked in New Scientist that it might be “be awash with liquid water and perhaps life.”  Maybe we could tell by detecting “possible by-products of life, such as oxygen and methane,” he said, even though Saturn’s lifeless rings have oxygen and Titan has lots of methane without sentient beings peering through telescopes at earth.  Incidentally, the unfunded Terrestrial Planet Finder mission was renamed Darwin.
  4. Hard questions and genetic divination:  How life got started is “one of the biggest questions in evolutionary biology,“ but that didn’t stop PhysOrg from publishing Oxford University’s press release about one of its scientists teasing insights from the genetic tea leaves of archaea, bacteria and eukaryotes about which one “emerged around 3.5 billion years ago.”
  5. Complexity and computer divination:  Computers provide another way to peer into the mysterious origins of life.  PhysOrg reported on supercomputer simulations being done at Oak Ridge National Lab into the mechanics of a ribozyme, an RNA molecule of catalyzing some reactions while being composed of nucleotides that could be considered a rudimentary code.  The article claims these simulations are “helping scientists unravel how nucleic acids could have contributed to the origins of life.”  Admittedly these experiments, that are simply looking at how a magnesium atom keeps an active site open in one ribozyme, are a far cry from life, but the simulation is said to “probe an organic chemical reaction that may have been important in the evolution of ribonucleic acids, or RNA, into early life forms.”

If simple ingredients can be expected to overcome the biggest hurdle – life itself – it follows that simple ingredients will help evolution proceed up the path of complexity.  For instance, PhysOrg called on oxygen as a cause.  When oxygen levels varied as plants and animals “emerged and flourished,” an astrobiology wizard claimed, “the variation had direct consequences for the evolution of complex life.”  The article headline was, “Plants kick-start evolutionary drama of Earth’s oxygenation.”
    Science Daily promoted the idea that “novelty and complexity are [the] result of small evolutionary changes.”  A researcher at University of Oregon may have found differences in a particular nuclear receptor protein “which existed before the last common ancestor of all animals on earth – as much as a billion years ago,” failing to answer how that complex enzyme “emerged” so far back; but then he applied it as a general principle: “evolution tinkers with early forms and leaves the impression that complexity evolved many times.”  The “tinkering” theme was mentioned four times in the press release and eight times in the paper in PLoS Biology,1 including the title, but neither said anything about the evolution of multi-part molecular machines, tissues, organs, and complex structures like wings and eyes.

1.  Bridgham, Thornton et al, Protein Evolution by Molecular Tinkering: Diversification of the Nuclear Receptor Superfamily from a Ligand-Dependent Ancestor,” Public Library of Science Biology, 8(10): e1000497. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000497.

The Cult of Tinker Bell pervades our scientific institutions and schools.  It’s a cult of magic, superstition, and imagination.  Don’t be tricked by the trappings of science; this cult has wizards, divination, and indoctrination.  In this cult, buildings not only “emerge” from the lumberyard in their Magic Kingdom; they evolve into castles and thrill rides every time Tinker Bell comes by with her mutation wand.  When they wish upon a star, like Gliese 581, all their dreams come true (12/05/2008 commentary).

“Evolution was a tinkerer,” he claims, thus personifying the favorite little Darwin Party goddess and proving that not even an evolutionist can be a consistent atheist.  Now we know who their ding-a-ling goddess is.  She gets the gong for her hopelessly inadequate impersonation of an intelligent designer.  It’s Tinker Bell.  (03/08/2005 commentary).

If this were just fun and games, it would be a temporary escapist fantasy.  But this is presented as science (05/27/2010 commentary).  It’s a bag of lies, with all the building blocks of lie (03/19/2008) and ingredients of deception built in (see Baloney Detector).  Deceiving the public by implying that life is a simple matter of stirring ingredients with water is a crime.  But can you blame a perpetrator of a crime when he or she believes the crime is a good thing?  That’s the problem: the deceivers are among the deceived.  This hopeless situation is the fulfillment of a scientifically-testable prediction by someone who came face to face with a lot of their kind: “evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (Paul, in II Timothy 3:13).

Suggested reading: Meyer, Signature in the Cell ch. 3-5; Behe, Darwin’s Black Box ch 3-7; Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis ch. 13-14; and our online book, ch. 6-10.  These books describe the complexity of life (particularly the cell) and dispel the notion that life would ever “emerge” from building blocks.

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