Re: [asa] three origin of life scenarios

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sun Jun 07 2009 - 15:09:38 EDT

Hi, Moorad:

I'm not quite sure what you are driving at regarding historical questions.
Are you referring to the idea that science deals with the general or the
universal, not with the historical or the particular? So that E = mc^2
would be a scientific truth, whereas "The first cell was created by a series
of chemical accidents 3.8 billion years ago" would (if true) be a historical
truth, and as such, inaccessible to science?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>; <>
Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 11:46 AM
Subject: RE: [asa] three origin of life scenarios

In your exchange on the origin of life, only either science or metaphysics
are invoked. Could it not be just a plain old historical issue? How come
life? may be more a historical question rather than a scientific one.
Scientists can only presuppose a particular history of life if life can be
created in the lab from purely physical, viz. nonliving, material. I do not
believe in the latter possibility, therefore, the origin of life must be
From: [] On Behalf Of
Cameron Wybrow []
Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 2:42 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] three origin of life scenarios

Thanks, Randy.

Regarding Scenario A: The only *rational* explanation for the complex
integrated nature of a cell -- if we exclude design, which is a very
rational explanation -- is the chemical evolutionary scenario. If a
complete and functioning cell popped into existence -- and in my example, it
was stipulated that I was talking about a real popping into existence, not a
fraud or trick of some kind -- then obviously it was not formed by the
chemical evolutionary process. The only *rational* explanation would
therefore be design. The choice would then be either to accept the rational
explanation, or to rest satisfied with no explanation at all. You may
choose not to call the rational explanation a scientific explanation; that
is fine with me. I was not insisting that it be called a scientific

Regarding Scenario C: I did not speak of theological versus scientific
explanations. I spoke only of "possible explanations", without categorizing
them. Given the phenomena I described, there are three logical options for
explaining it: front-loading by an intelligent agent, intervention by an
intelligent agent, or chance. I asked you whether the choice between these
interpretations was one which science as such was powerless to make. From
what I can tell, your answer is yes: science is incapable of ascertaining
whether front-loading, chance alone, or intervention caused the phenomena;
all three conclusions are metaphysical or theological rather than
scientific. So I will continue on the assumption that you believe this.

Now, first of all, it is not clear to me that science could not adjudicate
the matter. It depends on what was seen. Remember that in my scenarios we
can see everything. If the molecules moved around, as they were
re-arranged, in certain peculiar ways, it might well be that chance could be
ruled out, and even that front-loading could be ruled out. It might be that
intervention would be the only possible explanation for a particular set of
motions. But I won't insist on this point. I'll just accept for the moment
that the motions seen are compatible with all three explanations, and move

Randy, I set up my scenarios as observation events which posed ambiguities
in interpreting the observations, because I sensed that this is the way that
you approach "science" as it relates to atheism, ID, and TE. I think that
many of the scientists here, like you, are imagining themselves in a lab
situation or some other observational situation, and asking: "If I saw
phenomenon X, how would I explain it? Would I be able to rule out chance?
Would I be able to infer design? And if not in this case, how could I infer
design in any other case?" I understand this perspective, and I agree that
in many cases all three options -- front-loading, intervention and chance --
might produce the same phenomena, and that modern scientific methods would
not be able to distinguish between them, so that a non-scientific judgment
(theological, philosophical) would have to be made. So we have a measure of
agreement. But ID people are taking another approach.

ID people are looking at Darwinism's theoretical claims. (And again, by
"Darwinism" I mean the views of the people who have established Darwinian
and neo-Darwinian thought in biology -- Darwin, Huxley, Mayr, Simpson, etc.)
Darwinism as a theoretical claim goes further than saying, "design might be
operative in nature, but if so, that cannot be established by science".
Darwinism lays it down that there is no design in nature. And in saying
this it does not merely comment on how science is in fact practiced (which
is what you say you are doing); it actually stipulates how nature works. It
does not always state the stipulation explicitly, but it consistently
employs it. Thus, if an orthodox Darwinist saw a cell in formation as in
Scenario 3, the Darwinist would not adopt your position of neutrality. The
Darwinist would unhesitatingly choose the "chance" option. The other two
are eliminated because, according to the Darwinists, there is no design in
nature. And ID people are saying that Darwinists are wrong to stipulate
that natural processes operate to the exclusion of intelligent design.

ID people agree with TE people that atheist Darwinists over-reach in their
claims that evolution disproves God. The difference is that ID people
disagree with TE people over exactly what the over-reaching is. For TE
people, all of Dawkins's science is just peachy-keen, and all he has to do
is drop the atheism and all will be well. For ID people, if Dawkins dropped
the atheism -- or rather, to be more precise, dropped the metaphysical
assertion that there is no design in nature -- he would be gutting the
so-called "science" of Darwinism, because the evidence that Darwinian
mechanisms can drive macroevolution is extremely scanty, and without the
assurance that there is no design, and that nature is entirely on its own,
there is no compelling scientific reason for believing that Darwinian
mechanisms can accomplish their Herculean chore. So Dawkins's overreaching
consists in his unproved metaphysical assumption of no-design.

So, Randy, even if I agree with you, for the sake of argument, that design
is not inferrable by the methods of science, you have a much bigger problem.
Your bigger problem is that Darwinism is not a scientific view by your
definition, because it makes metaphysical pronouncements about the
non-existence of design that, according to you, science cannot make. And if
you agree with me on this, and are willing to strip Darwinism not only of
the metaphysical pronouncements, but also of all the "science" that depends
on those pronouncements, then I will go along with you. But bear in mind
that if you strip Darwinism in this way, what will be left over is an anemic
theory of evolution in which all the empirical evidence supports only
microevolution (e.g., finch beaks and antibiotic resistance), and all the
rest is highly tentative and speculative. Without the "no-design
guarantee", we can no longer say: "Well, we don't know how in detail, but
we know that Darwinian mechanisms did it". We must take the longer, harder
route, and prove the macroevolutionary capabilities of the Darwinian
mechanisms. Further, these capabilities must be proved not just in one
case, but in several, if the mechanism is to be safely generalized. And so
far they have not been proved in even one.

I could go either way on this, Randy. I could accept a narrow view of
science which excludes *both* the possibility of detecting design *and* the
stipulation of no-design, which would cut out *both* Paleyism *and*
Darwinism, and would leave evolution as a weak theory, with its evidence
concentrated almost exclusively in that part of the theory which is
non-controversial (microevolution). Or I could accept a broader view of
science in which science *is* allowed to infer that "only chance and natural
law" are operating in nature, provided that science is *also* allowed to
infer the opposite, i.e., that design is operating in nature. That would
admit both Darwinism and Paleyism (ID) into science. Which way should I go?
Choose your poison. Do you want me to keep harping on the incredibly weak
evidential base for Darwinism, or on the propriety of including design
inferences in natural science?


----- Original Message -----
From: Randy Isaac<>
Sent: Saturday, June 06, 2009 9:13 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] three origin of life scenarios

This time you're getting closer but some clarification is still in order.
Your assertion that "design would be the obvious inference" is one for which
neither you nor anyone else I know has offered any evidence. Be it an
electron or a cell, there is no scientific basis for an inference of
"design" from "appearance ex nihilo." There is no known scenario outside of
theological perspectives that would provide such an inference. It is a leap
of faith that says, "I don't know how else it got there so it must be

I'm not sure what you mean by " act of purely personal
interpretation..." That implies that the options are viable and are the
correct options and that a person is right to choose one of them. I'm really
saying that neither front-loading nor design are options for "purely
personal interpretation" within science and "chance" may or may not be,
depending on how the term is used. Yes, those options may be offered from
theological perspectives and are worthy of consideration from that
perspective but science would not distinguish them from alternatives.

----- Original Message -----
From: Cameron Wybrow<>
To: asa<>
Sent: Saturday, June 06, 2009 7:08 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] three origin of life scenarios


There are many things I could say in response to your comments. I could
say, for example, that I am aware that ex nihilo appearance and design are
logically distinct categories, but that in context (the example being a
cell, not a change in the location of an electron, as per your quantum
example) design would be the obvious inference. (I could add that in
quantum mechanics the inference that events are ex nihilo is debatable.) I
could also draw some inferences from your firm stipulations about
observability and repeatability in science that would be quite embarrassing
for Darwinian theory. Etc. But I want to stay focused on getting something
definite established, so I will stay away from side points.

Let's focus on Scenario C, since the first two scenarios were really just
meant as a lead-up to that one. Your answer regarding C is somewhat hard to
follow (not in the details, but in the organization), but I gather that you
are saying that, even if we could observe the entire process of formation of
the first cell, down to the tiniest atomic details, science would not be
able to determine whether it occurred by front-loading, chance, or design.
The decision between front-loading, chance and design would be an act of
purely personal interpretation, with no support from science and of no
significance for science. Is that the gist of your answer?


----- Original Message -----
From: Randy Isaac<>
Sent: Saturday, June 06, 2009 3:41 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] three origin of life scenarios

  You certainly do get an A for effort and I appreciate your approach.
Unfortunately, I have to say that regarding your anticipation of my
response, you're batting 0 for 3. Maybe, if I generously give partial credit
for one aspect of a third of part 3, a score of 0.1 out of 3.

1. I'm puzzled why you see a one-to-one correlation between appearance ex
nihilo and design. Neither mandates the other. In all the analogous examples
of design by intelligent agents like humans, design is never characterized
by appearance ex nihilo. And many on this list have noted that references to
God's creation in the Bible often explicitly claim formation from
pre-existing forms. From a scientific point of view, appearance ex nihilo is
not unknown to anyone who has studied quantum mechanics and it is not
related to design.
   In your example a cell just pops into being ex nihilo. If this is a one
time singularity, scientific methodology has nothing to say or investigate.
It's just an oddity. If it's a reproducible event that can be stimulated
under controlled laboratory conditions, then it would be quite interesting
indeed and worthy of further investigation. If this appearance occurred in
the past and not under controlled observation, then all bets are off. One
could not say scientifically with certainty that its appearance was ex
nihilo or not. But there's no case that I can think of that would lead to a
scientific conclusion of design (by non-human intelligent agents), though
one might indeed be suspicious that a human being had contaminated the

2. Your second example is not one that I would describe as chance, at least
from a scientific perspective. It is an innovative science fiction tale. It
may be valuable as a comparison of vivid imagination and ability to conjure
up fictional scenarios. But it doesn't constitute what science recognizes as
chance. Chance to a scientist is within the framework of the probability
amplitudes of natural processes.

3. This scenario is as much science fiction as the previous one but for
discussion purposes, I'll presume you in fact sketched out a more plausible
scenario. Let's take your comments in reverse order. No, I don't see how an
intervening designer is one that would arise under any scientific
perspective. And, as I've stated previously, I don't see the interventionist
model in Scripture either so this is off the table. And front-loading is
totally transparent to science and isn't Biblically based either, as far as
I can tell. It may serve as a bandaid for some philosophical positions, but
a scientist can't distinguish a well-behaved comprehensible system that is
front-loaded from one that isn't. That leaves what you describe as a "blind,
trial-and-error chemical evolutionary process." That phrase is so loaded
with philosophical presuppositions that it's hard to treat seriously as a
scientific observation. Blind? Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that the
factors triggering mutations are unrelated to and unaffected by the final
impact. No in the sense of being wildly random and out of bounds of typical
reactions. Not necessarily, in the sense of mataphysical purposefulness.
Trial-and-error? Yes, you can get some partial credit for that. But is this
any different from the very core of trial and error inherent in all chemical
processes? Virtually every reaction around us is driven by thermal
activation, which could, though somewhat dubiously, be described as a
trial-and-error approach. On the other hand, from a species perspectives, it
looks suspiciously as if there were a number of different hominid species
that didn't survive. One of those species did survive and become God's
chosen people. Is that trial and error? Maybe scientifically but it
certainly need not be theologically.

I do look forward to listening to the rest of Hazen's course. He seems to be
eminently cognizant of the real possibility that scientifically we'll never
be able to determine the origins of life. You can leap to whatever
metaphysical conclusion you want from that, but it wouldn't be a
scientifically driven conclusion. Alternatively, if the reaction path from
non-life to life is ever documented scientifically it would be most
fascinating indeed. Hazen and the other 500 or so researchers in the
International Society of the Study of the Origin of Life have spent a lot of
time understanding the aspects of life that might make it amenable to detect
its origins. In that case, it most likely would not be a singularity and
would have happened elsewhere in this universe. It would in no way eliminate
a divine designer, though that is not a scientific conclusion either.

----- Original Message -----
From: Cameron Wybrow<>
To: asa<>
Sent: Friday, June 05, 2009 1:38 PM
Subject: [asa] three origin of life scenarios


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 Sun Jun 7 15:10:42 2009

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