cumulative selection/abiogenesis

From: Josh Bembenek (
Date: Sat Aug 10 2002 - 16:23:56 EDT

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    The following is a discussion I had with Dr. Lindsay (website mentioned in
    text.) It highlights concepts that prevent me from currently accepting that
    evolution is a plausible mechanism for the derivation of life. I would
    greatly appreciate it if Terry Gray and other biochemistry/ evolutionists
    would take the time to dig into the following discussion and provide
    feedback. The tone of the letter is more confrontational than I would like
    to be in our discussion, mostly because Dr. Lindsay is an atheist and put me
    on the defensive. Dr. Lindsay referred me to discuss these matters with
    others and up to this point I have had NO satisfactory feedback on these
    issues and would greatly enjoy anyone who could provide insight into these
    issues. No rush, references to published material is highly encouraged, I
    would really like to continue investigating further into these issues.
    Also, at the time I had this conversation I was unaware of Van Till's
    viewpoints and gave much more of impression that evolution=methodological
    naturalism, which I now understand is not necessarily true. I do believe
    that this equation occurs much more often than not, however.

    Josh Bembenek

    Conversation with Dr. Lindsay
    Organized with {brackets} around who wrote what

    > Let me start by thanking you for investing time and energy into
    > our present conversation, it is very stimulating on this end. I am a
    > novice on these issues, having read The Blind Watchmaker and Darwin's
    > Black Box, some internet browsing and that's it. I am a graduate
    > student and these discussions took on a new interest once I read
    > Dawkins' book and felt unsatisfied with his explanations due to my
    > current understanding of biology.

    {Dr. Lindsay}
    I would recommend some courses, since you are at a school. If you don't have
    time for exams, you can audit. I am very busy lately, and do not have much
    time to give you.

    > I had previously accepted evolution
    > without quarrel, but now I have become quite interested in examining
    > the evidence. I would like to avoid becoming adversarial in our
    > conversation and hope to continue this as a discussion of science and
    > evidence and interpretation, so please understand my comments in this
    > light. I contacted Dr. Behe recently, along with you, and he simply
    > agreed with my objections.

    {Dr. Lindsay}
    That's his profession lately. He gives speeches to religious groups,
    reiterating his popularized book. He has not published these ideas in any
    peer-reviewed scientific journals, and he has not done any publishable
    research inspired by his ideas. In fact, when asked, he is unable to point
    to research done by others, either. His ideas are sterile.

    {Note} I don't believe he has demonstrated any evidence to support the
    claims that form the foundation of all of his arguments entirely either!!!!
    As you'll see below, he simply says he doesn't have any time to address
    issues that illuminate his own personal set of beliefs and assumptions which
    are neither published or peer-reviewed. Also, why the cheap shot at Behe,
    when the topic is quite different?

    > As a scientist, it is comforting to know
    > that someone agrees with you, but it is quite another thing to fully
    > investigate the claims offered by someone who accepts an alternative
    > viewpoint. I am very grateful for you taking the energy to support
    > the "alternate viewpoint." (Which also happens to be the most widely
    > accepted among scientists.)

    {Dr. Lindsay}
    A view supported by 99%, for the last century, isn't "alternate".

    Note: .......argues semantics, something I even said.......

    > Your supply of references is extremely
    > helpful and I have enjoyed learning new science as I stretch my
    > understanding of evolutionary principles. To get back to our
    > discussion......

    {A quote from a previous Lindsay letter}
    > "That's why he said it was a simplified example. More complex examples
    > not goal oriented. In fact, he stated exactly this, clearly and

    {Josh Response to Lindsay's quote}
    > ---The effectiveness of the analogy isn't what I have in mind, its
    > implications in terms of biology is where my interest lies. I think we
    > avoid analogies or "complex examples" and directly discuss the phenomena
    > that these analogies are supposedly explaining. Here's my point: saying
    > that the generation of biomolecules was cumulatively selected and not
    > goal-oriented needs more support beyond the analogy and assertion that
    > true.

    {Lindsay response again}
    Precisely why does the obvious null hypothesis need support? Surely it is
    Behe who must produce evidence to be taken seriously. And he hasn't any.
    Notice the total lack of experimental results in his book. Notice the
    total lack of quantitative work. He hasn't got anything except ego and
    pessimism about the ability of science to advance. Misplaced pessimism, at
    that, since most of his examples have fallen since his book was written.

    {Note} I guess he doesn't respect those who dare to question the
    assumptions and unproven dogmatic declarations that the evolutionist
    community feels so free declare. Notice I wasn't ever asking a single thing
    about Behe's argument, but he uses any opportunity to launch biased
    criticisms about issues I never discuss or bring up. It is like if you
    question Dawkins' account then you wholeheartedly agree with Behe, and
    therefore the argument can be broken down to an Us against Them type of
    thing. To me, regardless if Dr. Behe has or has not produced evidence,
    etc., this does nothing to provide support or evidence for Dawkins
    arguments. Ad hominem attacks don't really help us much here, and they
    don't address the issues. Finally, notice how he says the "obvious null
    hypothesis." This is the obvious null hypothesis simply because it agrees
    primarily with materialistic and naturalistic philosophy, not because it
    flows directly from the evidence. If the entire position of evolutionists
    stems completely from scientific data, Lindsay would never have said "Why
    does this null hypothesis need support?" We wouldn't be working with a null
    hypothesis, we would simply be deriving the best theory that fits all the
    data. Evolution poorly fits all the data, especially in terms of
    abiogenesis, but the only other options remain outside the scope of sciences
    ability to produce answers. Therefore evolution is our only scientific
    option and thus is the only option, hence we have a null hypothesis which is
    not the only way to think about the issue especially if one is an
    open-minded investigator of truth.

    > Directly after explaining the methinksitslikeaweasel analogy Dawkins
    > states (p.49):
    > "If, however, there was any way in which the necessary conditions for
    > cumulative selection could have been set up by the blind forces of
    > strange and wonderful might have been the consequences. As a matter of
    > that is exactly what happened on this planet, and we ourselves are among
    > most recent, if not the strangest and most wonderful, of those
    > consequences."
    > As far as I can tell, the evidence for this "matter of fact" is not
    > concrete. I think the experiments that recreate the formation of
    > biomolecules in the test-tube have been quite problematic and
    > from what I have seen (as to demonstrating the generation of biomolecules
    > and creating self-replicating codes on the early earth) to this point,
    > especially considering the likelihood of oxygen being present in the
    > atmosphere (my guess is that this point is debatable).

    The current most popular theory is that the protobiont developed at deep
    ocean thermal vents, and there's no oxygen there. We have all kinds of
    suggestive evidence, some of it from lab work at high pressures. Perhaps
    your sources are a few years old. Almost everything we know about the
    vents postdates Dawkins' book. This is an area that is advancing rapidly -
    thus demonstrating that Behe's pessimism is entirly to his discredit. Of
    course, his use of decades-obsolete nomenclature for the clotting cascade
    was to his discredit even when his book was fresh.

    I'd suggest reading the archives about abiogenesis, and
    asking questions on Several biology professors hang out

    {Note} If you read the abiogenesis archive at talkorigins you won't find
    anything conclusive and it pretty much confirms my statement. Abiogenesis
    is quite problematic and suggests the status of the theory currently is
    either: (A) In infant stages of explaining the mystery OR (B) Highlighting
    the impossibility of the idea. Whichever you think (or best supports your
    belief system.) Again, we're back on the Behe bashing train to defend
    Dawkins, simply because there's nothing straightforward and positive to
    support Dawkins, therefore we must use negativity towards the "enemy" to
    defend Dawkins. It really ignores and looks past the issues. "Suggestive
    evidence" that he does not reference from work on vents is certaintly not
    identical to concrete or 100% reliable or generally-accepted evidence, and
    I'd bet suggestive depends upon who you ask.

    > I admit that my
    > position on this issue is less than thoroughly researched, so if you
    > offer more sources (specific experiments and references shedding light on
    > this problem) I would be highly interested. Also, the hypothesis
    > in Chapter Six of Dawkins' book about the origin of the first replicating
    > code leaves me quite unsatisfied as far as being a convincing scientific
    > description/ plausible theory. Are there more convincing theories
    > concerning the origin of the first replicative code that has data to back
    > them up? Regardless of my concerns in these two areas, my real questions
    > start with the assumption that both occurred with relative ease such that
    > cumulative selection could have begun from the first mixture of amino
    > or ribonucleotides and the first replicative machinery capable of
    > RNA synthesis.

    We've known for at least a decade that the protobiont didn't use proteins.
    The subject is referred to as the "RNA world".

    {Note} Anybody who has studied freshman biology knows this. His comment is
    peripheral and semantic (and in any case the RNA world must have been
    converted into a protein world at some point eventually, a mechanistic
    nightmare if you ask me.) But thanks for clearing that up, just in case I
    was ignorant.....

    > From this starting point I have considerable doubts as to
    > the plausibility of the solution Dawkins proposes through cumulative
    > selection. Most of our previous discussion focuses on this issue, which
    > brings me back to the "goal-orientation" of life's origin. A goal is
    > defined as the object of effort, an end or aim. Our first assumption
    > requires a process that must achieve some goal for cumulative selection
    > start. This goal is not just a code originating from a special
    > of the blind forces of nature, but a self-replicating code at that!

    No, it's not a goal, since there are many possible such systems, and since
    no molecule was sitting there thinking "I must be part of a system".
    It's a criterion. Any system having that criterion perpetuates, as a
    system. Since we are here, we can claim that as evidence that
    perpetuating systems exist. But nothing in the non-religious evidence says
    that we *had* to come into existence. An atom is just as "happy" in one
    kind of molecule as in another. What's in it for them?

    {Note} Criterion, Goal, Aim, Requirement. Again we're arguing semantics
    about the choice of verbiage to describe what I'm talking about. Regardless
    of the wording you use, certain things must happen as a
    requirement/goal/aim/criterion, for a self-perpetuating system to form from
    chaos and random chance verses being designed by a creator. Again, the
    concept that "many possible such systems" exist and were capable of
    spontaneously forming on the early earth and are all equally capable of
    acting as precursors to current biological self-replicating systems is a
    matter of faith and assumption. As far as I've seen, there's no evidence or
    scientifically peer-reviewed data to back that up (which is all he will
    apparently accept from Behe.)

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