May 21, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Carbon Units Study Carbon Unity

Life’s dependency on carbon was so distinctive to aliens in Star Trek, they nicknamed humans “carbon units.”  With its four valences, carbon is able to form an almost infinite number of complex molecules based on chains (polymers) and geometric shapes.  But does the presence of carbon in abundance explain the appearance of life?  Evolutionists desire a unified, “bottom-up” story that derives complex life from particles exploding out of the big bang by undirected processes and natural law.  Here’s a look at stages in the grand story.

  1. Whence carbon?  Over a half century ago, flamboyant astrophysicist Fred Hoyle realized that a finely-tuned resonance state in nuclear reactions going on in the interiors of stars was responsible for carbon nucleosynthesis.  Now, according to PhysOrg, researchers at North Carolina State University have modeled the Hoyle State state from first principles and proved it correct.  Dean Lee at NC State commented, “This work is valuable because it gives us a much better idea of the kind of ‘fine-tuning’ nature has to do in order to produce carbon in stars.”
  2. Whence carbon-rich planets?  Once you have carbon, what happens to it?  Much of it remains in stars, but supernovas can blast it and other heavy elements out into molecular clouds.  As theory has it, these clouds condense and form planets (but see 05/21/2009, 06/09/2009, 08/21/2009).  Rocky planets might have abundant carbon.
        Science news outlets are asking if the Kepler spacecraft has found one.  Space.com asked, “Is the Rocky Alien Planet Gliese 581d Really Habitable?”  It’s seven times bigger than earth, but appears to lie in the circumstellar habitable zone (see other habitable zone requirements in the 02/26/2011 commentary).  Beyond that, nobody knows if it has the requirements for life, and detection of life is beyond current capabilities.
        Guillermo Gonzalez, astrobiologist, intelligent design advocate and co-author of The Privileged Planet (see video version on YouTube), was asked about the likelihood of life on this world on ID the Future.  He said that other factors, such as plate tectonics and the right atmosphere and temperature, will have to be evaluated.
        Uncommon Descent noticed that Gonzalez, who predicted in his book that habitable planets would be rare, has been right in that prediction so far – but that didn’t win him any awards in academia.  After The Privileged Planet came out proposing that life was rare in the universe, he later lost his tenure battle at Iowa State due to the intolerance of some atheist professors for his views on intelligent design (05/22/2007 bullet 7, 11/08/2007, 12/16/2008).
        An article on New Scientist agrees that worlds like ours are rare, and is worried about it.  In “No place like home: Our lonesome solar system,” Lee Billings quoted planet hunter Geoff Marcy saying, “Our system is a rarity, there’s no longer a question about that.  The only question that remains is, just how rare is it?”  (More from March in the 02/23/2011 entry).
  3. Whence carbon-based life?  Is that end of the road – a planet with carbon and other heavy elements that just sits there?  Obviously, evolutionary scientists would like to see those elements self-organize into living cells.
        A story on Science Daily promised “important clues to how life originated from non-life and how modern cells came to exhibit complex behaviors.”  Unfortunately for tantalized readers, the researchers at Penn State did not bring carbon to life.  They played with toy models of cells.  They “generated simple, non-living model ‘cells’ with which they established that asymmetric division – the process by which a cell splits to become two distinct daughter cells – is possible even in the absence of complex cellular components, such as genes.”  Whatever this oversimplified model has to do with the origin of life is anyone’s guess.
        One researcher claimed, “We observed that even model cells can divide in a structured way, which implies a kind of intrinsic order.”  Whether that order was intrinsic or was inserted by the investigators into the system, since they tweaked variables in their model to get the outcomes they desired, is a good follow-up question.  They modeled various carbon-based molecules such as amino acids and lipids to get their toy cells to divide without genetic control.  It was left unstated if real molecules would do such things.  Real cells divide with a host of complex machines, and require accurate copying of millions of base pairs of DNA.
        They saw their work as just a piece of a puzzle: “Scientists have simulated early-Earth conditions in laboratories and have demonstrated that many amino acids – the biochemical constituents of proteins – can form through natural chemical reactions,” Christine Keating [Penn State] said.  We hope our research helps to fill in another part of the puzzle: how chemical and spatial organization may have contributed to the success of early life forms.”  Taxpayers can thank the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health for funding these imaginary scenarios.
  4. Whence life complexity?  Give evolutionists all the carbon-based molecules they want – will they get life to form and evolve?  Will the amino acids form proteins (see online book) that can evolve into complex life?  Michael Lynch and Ariel Fernandez, scientists at the University of Chicago, reported PhysOrg began with proteins, and then speculated that “Errors in protein structure sparked evolution of biological complexity.”  That’s right: complex life is the result of mistakes.  This idea was published in Nature.1 

    Over four billion years of evolution, plants and animals grew far more complex than their single-celled ancestors.  But a new comparison of proteins shared across species finds that complex organisms, including humans, have accumulated structural weaknesses that may have actually launched the long journey from microbe to man.

    This new idea is actually un-Darwinian.  In a nutshell, PhysOrg said, “random introduction of errors into proteins, rather than traditional natural selection, may have boosted the evolution of biological complexity.”  How can that be?  Is there any complex system that gets better with the introduction of random errors?  The article continued, “Flaws in the ‘packing’ of proteins that make them more unstable in water could have promoted protein interactions and intracellular teamwork, expanding the possibilities of life.”
        Jason Palmer cheerfully echoed this “could have” story on the BBC News, quoting Michael Lynch [Indiana U], who added this un-Darwinian comment: “We’ve opened up the idea that the roots of complexity don’t have to reside in purely adaptational arguments.”  The team felt that new protein interactions “nudged complexity forward” with functional possibilities.  No actual possibilities were presented.  Wouldn’t many of these actions be deleterious?  Don’t proteins denature into sticky, shapeless masses unless they fold correctly?  To solve this problem, they had another could-have story up their sleeves: “The authors suggest then that other adaptations occur that ‘undo’ the deleterious effects of the sticky proteins.”
        Co-author Fernandez applied the tinkerer metaphor to their idea while tossing a useful line to intelligent design advocates: personification.)
        Palmer’s BBC story included a curious quote by Ford Doolittle [Dalhousie University] about this “new evolutionary pathway that didn’t exist before.”  Doolittle commented about what he perceived as useless complexity in real life: “Darwinists are a little bit like the pre-Darwinists before them, who would have marveled at the perfection of God’s creation.”  Doolittle disagrees with Lynch about the repair of deleterious proteins; instead, he imagines cells with “presuppression” mechanisms that would protect them from mistakes.  “But we both agree that much of complexity does not have an adaptive explanation.”  They also agree that it does not have a design explanation, but that goes without saying; their idea presents a random explanation: stuff happens.

That’s a new label for creationists: “pre-Darwinists”.  Will they like it?


1.  Ariel Fernandez and Michael Lynch, “Non-adaptive origins of interactome complexity,” Nature published online 18 May 2011, doi:10.1038/nature09992.

Help your local pre-creationist friend at the university become a full-fledged one.  Give him or her the following books:

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