Re: Origin of Life

Paul Arveson (
Tue, 9 Apr 96 17:02:20 EDT

In message <v01540b16ad90526ac712@[]> Peter Vibert writes:

> Paul wrote:
> > I just want to add a general comment regarding the origin of life/species
> >problems. Since Oparin and Stanley Miller, the work has been done mostly in
> the
> >field of chemistry, by Ponnamperuma and many others. But recently the most
> >important insights have been coming from computer science...
> I will come back later to Kauffman et al. and where their computer
> simulations get us (or don't). But I wanted to append a few quotes from my
> aging file on 'abiogenesis' (chemical). Although they do not deal with what
> is now the frontline, they do show WHY a new frontline was needed. And what
> these people say has NOT yet percolated down to HS or college textbooks (or
> to the pew in general), which is why I find these perspectives worth
> pointing out to my HS students before they go off to college.
Apparently the main outcome of the research so far has been a humbler
attitude on the part of scientists. (I wish we Christians could show such
humility when we don't know something!) The original work by Oparin et al. made
it seem that life in a test tube was right around the corner. That was in the
arrogant days of scientism. "I was so much older then; I'm younger than that
now." (Dylan).

Far away mountains are foreshortened; they all seem to be jammed together;
when we get closer, we see a much more complex terrain. The easy and hard
problems get separated in a way that never could have been anticipated before we
knew anything. Consider how this has happened in other fields, like artificial
intelligence and robotics. Fifty years ago everyone expected robots that would
walk, see, talk, converse etc. We now have much clearer ideas as to what these
tasks really entail. Some functions are fairly easy. My Mac talks in very
clear speech; video CCD cameras can record images in low light, etc. But real
conversation requires speech recognition (just recently developed for the Mac),
and natural language processing (not even close). And real seeing entails
pattern recognition - surprisingly difficult problems.

The easy problems have now been solved, packaged in shrink-wrap, and sold in
the local shopping center. The hard problems remain a far-off mystery, and
generally they have developed whole new fields of science, or research programs.
The point is that it is hard to anticipate what problems will prove intractable
in advance.

> (Note that neither I nor they are claiming that it is impossible in
> principle to understand the mechanism of the origin of life. But it does
> make eg. John Wiester's concordist statement that "each creation command in
> Gn correlates with a scientific puzzle or gap" a correct statement (at a
> lay level) at present. And that is something of apologetic if not
> philosophical significance).
These 'gaps' were also discussed by Schaeffer and I assume by many
commentators before them. But every field of science has its tough problems,
and if so inclined you can add to the list of gaps as much as you please. But I
fail to see why they have any apologetic significance. And philosophically, I
recall the law that a negative, such as "there is no natural process that can
originate life" can never be proved, and it doesn't lead to any research
programs. On the contrary, it shuts science down. No wonder Christians are
accused of being anti-scientific.

Paul Arveson, Research Physicist
(301) 227-3831 (W) (301) 227-1914 (FAX) (301) 816-9459 (H)
Code 724, NSWC, Bethesda, MD 20084