Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize
Sat, 8 May 1999 02:26:46 EDT

In a message dated 5/7/99 7:04:04 AM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> The word believe is what bugs me!!! I read it in the website you mentioned
> and now I read it in your own post.

It bugs you for one simple reason. You want to equate the word with faith,
as in "I believe in God." However, "believe" has several meanings, only one
of which is religious faith. Here are the definitions from the American
Heritage Dictionary:

To accept as true or real. (Fox's protocells certainly are real.)

To credit with veracity. (People who accept the evidence credit Fox's claim
that protocells are alive with veracity.)

To expect or suppose; think. (See the last definition.)

To have firm faith, especially religious faith. (This is the only meaning
that does not apply. As I said before and as you have yourself confirmed,
you don't need faith when you have evidence.)

To have faith, confidence, or trust. (Those who trust the evidence are
confident that Fox was right.)

To have confidence in the truth or value of something. (Again, those who
accept the evidence are confident that the claim that Fox's protocells are
alive is true.)

To have an opinion; think. (Even people who have not seen the evidence can
be of the opinion that Fox's protocells are alive without engaging religious

The point is that when any scientist (even a physicist) says he believes in
something, he is not expressing religious faith, but his confidence that the
concept is real, is valid and is true based on the evidence.

> In physics we use the word believe
> extremely rarely. Perhaps in questions about origin of the universe,
> planets, etc. But nowhere else in physics do we use the word believe.

Of course they use it, and frequently, but they do not mean religious faith.
You are simply playing word games, trying to justify your refusal to look at
the evidence.

> This
> is the experimental aspect of physics. We give experimental data that can
> be reproduce by anyone and prove the claims being made.

The evidence that protocells are alive is experimental data, has been
reproduced by a great many people (including high school students) and proves
the claims that Fox made for protocells. Stop hiding your head in the sand
and read the evidence! Start with the Fox symposium on that webpage. Then
read the references posted there. You'll find out all you need to know to
convince yourself that Fox's protocells are alive.

> The claim that life,
> as an ordinary person understands it--as something that can die, for

Fox uses a definition of life any ordinary person would agree with --
cellularity, metabolism, reproduction, and response to stimuli -- to prove
that his protocells are alive. And they can be killed, just like any living
thing. I have told you where you can find the evidence that provides that
proof, and I will provide more. You, on the other hand, have never offered
any biological or evidential support for your absolutist claim, and when I
challenge you to do so you claim you are no expert and duck the question.
Yet you imply you are expert enough to dogmatically assert that life has not
been created in the lab. I told you before, you can't have it both ways.
You say the claim that life has been created from pure chemicals is false;
then you can provide evidence or a biological argument that supports your
claim. You have also contradictory claimed that you don't know enough
biology to be able to provide such evidence or such an argument; then you
cannot assert that the claim is false. Which is it Moorad: do have actual
evidence or do you only *believe* it?

> Scientists of all disciples would have known about it. Including me!

There are lots of concepts in biology that only biologists know about, but
which have a profound impact on people's lives. For example, have you ever
heard of apoptosis? It is the mechanism by which otherwise normal heathy
cells simply up and die. The cells literally self-destruct; another way to
put it is that they commit suicide. Apoptosis explains why plants and
animals die. All normal cells only live for so long then self-destruct.
Aging occurs because cells begin to self-destruct faster than they can be
replaced; death occurs when too many cells self-destruct to maintain gross
physiology. If we can figure out how apoptosis works, we could theoretically
greatly extend human life. Cells would still die from necrosis (injury,
disease, poisoning, starvation, etc.) and eventually their genetic systems
would accumulate too many replication errors for them to maintain their
metabolism, but cells that cannot apoptose could live at least ten times
longer than a normal cell. Imagine living to be 700 instead of seventy, and
being "old" only for perhaps the last few decades of that long life. I'm
sure you've read about so-called aging or death genes, but I'ld bet you've
never heard of apoptosis as the solution to that mystery, or how control of
apoptosis could make us virtually immortal. That's because the biologists
who believe they are on that very threshold are being very cautious about
making public claims they cannot yet substantiate.

Similarly, Fox and his colleagues were very cautious about making claims they
could not substantiate, but now that they have the accumulated evidence to do
so they are going public with their claims rather than making them only to
each other or to limited audiences. (Actually this trend started more than a
decade ago, but it is gaining momentum.) I cannot tell you why the popular
press never ran with the story the way they do other discoveries, but the
lack of such wide dissemination does not invalidate the scientific evidence.
Besides, considering your claim that scientists should be persuaded by
evidence only, your implication that the lack of popularization of this claim
somehow invalidates the scientific evidence sounds contradictory, even

Kevin L. O'Brien