[asa] three origin of life scenarios

From: Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Date: Fri Jun 05 2009 - 13:38:02 EDT


Let me try a different approach.

Instead of finding fault with your argument, I want to try to find some common ground, some points we can agree on.

I have created three origin-of-life scenarios, and I've analyzed them in terms of design, chance, and front-loading. I have then inferred how you would relate each of these three scenarios to the limits of scientific explanation, i.e., what you would say science could determine from them. I want to see how closely I have anticipated your responses. Your answer may give us a basis to find more agreement than we have found so far.


Let's imagine a cell being formed in the primitive ocean. Suppose that we could watch all the details, at the microscopic level, from the first beginnings to the finishing touches. I can imagine three scenarios:

1. In a patch of ocean where there is nothing but salty water (no ammonia, no methane, no carbon dioxide), a cell just pops into existence -- it's suddenly there, complete and functioning.

2. In a patch of ocean, crowded with atoms and simple molecules (carbon dioxide, oxygen, hydrogen, methane, ammonia, etc.), there is a sudden bolt of lightning, and five seconds later, all the atoms and molecules have re-arranged themselves into a cell.

3. In a patch of ocean, crowded with the same atoms and simple molecules, there is a bolt of lightning, and simple sugars and slightly more complex molecules form. A few months later, there is another bolt of lightning and some amino acids and nucleotides are formed. A year or two later, after an unusually active month for cosmic rays, some simple self-replicating molecules, precursors to the ones we know now, form. Over time these self-replicators become associated with crude complexes that will later become the material of cell walls. Etc. Ten years later, after a violent eruption of volcanic heat from the sea floor, the first true cell appears.


Now let's examine these three scenarios.

1. Just "plain" sea water, i.e., water with only salt in it, doesn't have the right elements in it to form a cell. The requisite atoms were therefore created out of nothing, or magically teleported from elsewhere. We therefore have the miraculous creation or introduction of new matter and a deliberate arrangement of it according to a design. This appears to be the only possible explanation.

2. Either this is a case of "a tornado tearing through a junkyard and building a Boeing 747", i.e., an astounding freak which might happen once or twice in the history of the whole universe, if mere probability is considered, or this is a miraculous re-arrangement of the existing matter in accord with a design. There are therefore two possible explanations.

3. Either this series of events is caused by chance, i.e., by fortuitous combinations of atoms which end up undergoing a blind, trial-and-error chemical evolutionary process (analogous to the popular conception of Darwinian evolution), or it is caused by a front-loaded biochemical program which is driving the re-arrangements of matter (triggered by surges of energy which are predictable in general terms if not in their exact timing), or a designer is intervening stepwise to assemble everything. There are therefore three possible explanations.


Now, what I think you are saying is something like this:

If scenario #1 were ever observed, you would concede that the cell was designed, but you don't expect that #1 will ever be observed.

If scenario #2 were ever observed, you would say that it would be impossible to tell whether an intervening invisible designer or a freak of nature assembled the atoms and simple molecules within five seconds in just the right way.

If scenario #3 were ever observed, you would say that it would be impossible to tell whether a series of accidents assembled the cell over time, whether an invisible designer set up the properties of atoms and molecules to automatically form the cell over time (given certain environmental triggers), or whether an invisible designer intervened over an extended period of time to assemble the cell.

Thus, I think you would say that science could infer design only in the case where the apparent design was accompanied by the unnatural violation of the law of the conservation of matter and energy (#1), but that in the other cases (#2 and #3), science could not determine whether chance, an intervening designer, or a front-loading designer was the cause of the origin of the cell.

Would this be an accurate statement of how you would look at the matter?

If not, why not?

If so, what comments would you add, to clarify your position further?



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Received on Fri Jun 5 13:39:11 2009

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