RE: Kline article in PSCF

Alice Fulton (
Wed, 3 Apr 1996 09:09:16 -0600

Keith B. Miller posted:

>RNA has been found to be autocatalytic, and able to synthesize its own
>replication. The evolution of RNA by random mutation in cell-free media
>has been observed, and is in fact used to generate new functional
I'm a cell biologist, and I think this is not quite right. The "catalytic"
RNAs are called that by the people who work on them, but the usual
definition of a catalyst is something that accelerates a reaction but is
not consumed. To the best of my knowledge, no RNAs meet this definition.
There are some RNAs that react with themselves, but get consumed in the
reaction, and others that are not consumed, but which depend upon proteins
as co-factors.

The only RNA mutation in cell-free solution that I know of includes a
polymerase that is a protein; without the polymerase the RNA just sits

> My point here is that there is no scientific basis for considering the
>problem of the origin of life to be "in principle" unsolvable.
This is probaby true, and even for problems that eventually did prove
unsolvable, that was only found out because people kept wrestling with them
until a "first principles" reason for insolvability was found.

Maybe I'll add to this a thought that has been in my mind following this
thread. Perhaps in thinking about Genesis 1 and 2 an idea of C. S. Lewis's
might be helpful. He said in several places that interpreters of old
documents often treat as separate concepts what the writers experienced as
a unity. In the case of Genesis, there are statements that on the face of
it are physical (talking about things and time) and metaphysical (talking
about value and transcendent reality). If we, going back in time, were to
ask the author whether the author intended this particular statement as a
physical or a metaphysical claim, the author might well not have been able
to separate the two. Now we have other ways to do physics, but the
metaphysical claims of Genesis (the world is contingent, an intentional
creation of God, by original nature good; humans reflect in profound but
finite and dependent ways the nature of God) are ones that physics and
biology can't address. They are also claims that are not made by all
religions, so they cannot be called self-evident, and revelation would seem
to be the only avenue to receiving them.

Peace -


Alice B. Fulton Phone:
Department of Biochemistry Fax: 319-335-9570
University of Iowa E-mail:
Iowa City, IA 52242