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evolution-digest Saturday, May 8 1999 Volume 01 : Number 1436


Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 02:27:24 EDT
Subject: Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize

In a message dated 5/7/99 8:14:46 AM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> Thanks, Kevin, but what I wanted was articles claiming the proteinoid
> microspheres were alive. Non of the cited references make such a claim.

More games. Art, you said that for a scientific claim to be valid, it had to
be "published in Nature and Science and in the top peer-reviewed journals in
the country, and only after the experiments had successfully been repeated by
others." I then pointed out that Fox had been published in _Science_ and
_Nature_ as well as other top peer-reviewed journals, and that his work had
been replicated by others. Your only response was "References, Please."
Obviously, you wanted me to provide references that showed that Fox had been
published in _Science_, _Nature_ and other top peer-reviewed journals, plus
references showing who has replicated his results, since you made no
qualifying statements and you made your request directly after my claim. So
I gave the _Science_ and _Nature_ references I knew of, then provided a list
of other journals he had published in, plus a list of scientists who had
reproduced his results. From that you could then find your own references.

Obviously you did not expect me to comply, because now you are back-peddling
and trying to to claim that what you really wanted were articles that claimed
that protocells were alive. It's in fact obvious that you wanted something
else, but let's say you are right and that I misunderstood you. I have
already given you such a reference: it is Fox's symposium posted at that
website, and from which I posted a text version several days ago. In my
upcoming essay I will provide references that formed the experimental basis
for Fox's claim, but in fact you have ignored that symposium as if it didn't
even exist. Why? Is it because you cannot dispute Fox's evidence, so you
would rather pretend it doesn't exist? Are you afraid that if you read it
you may just be convinced that Fox is right? Are you afraid that if you
discuss it you may encourage others to read it and thus discover just how
wrong you are about all this? You have in fact ignored me everytime I have
provided references, even when you demanded them as you did now. Will you do
the same when I post my essay? It seems somewhat hypocritical of you to
demand references, then refuse to respond to them by ignoring them.

If, on the other hand, you wish to read the symposium, then explain how Fox
is mistaken, I would be happy to discuss it with you.

Kevin L. O'Brien


Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 02:27:14 EDT
Subject: Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize

In a message dated 5/7/99 7:22:26 AM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> That is precisely the point. Death is an integral part of what life is. Yet
> I never her the proponents of "life-in-a-test-tube" talk about it. Death is
> the cessation of life. You see, such deep issues are always circular.

Which is exactly why biologists do not discuss it. Biology is the science of
life; hence biologists cannot study it when it no longer exists. Nor can
they study something that cannot be measured or experimented with. Death is
part of life only in that death is what you have when life stops. As such,
no one can say what it is, only what it is not. Like any science, biology
can only study what is; it cannot study what is not. Death is not a physical
concept like life; it is metaphysical, and science cannot study metaphysical

Besides, as you admit your argument is circular. You are saying that to
prove protocells are alive we have to show that they can die, but before we
can do that we must prove that they are alive in the first place. In other
words, since death is the cessation of life, to use death to prove the
existence of life we have to know that life exists and thus can cease.
That's why it is better to define life by what it does, not by what you have
when it stops doing what it does. Which is exactly what Fox accomplished.
As such, knowing that his protocells are alive, we can now also say that they
can die.

Kevin L. O'Brien


Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 02:26:56 EDT
Subject: Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize

In a message dated 5/7/99 7:14:44 AM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> Non physicists, for instance, take most of what they know about physics by
> faith. It is by faith that you sit on a chair. If you did not "believe"
> that it would hold you, you would not sit!

You're playing word games again, Moorad. People accept what physicists say
because they are confident that physicists are telling them the truth.
Without that confidence they wouldn't believe anything a physicist said, even
if one claimed that the sky was blue or that water was wet. We sit in chairs
because our experience gives us the confidence to believe that it won't
break. Yet even if that confidence is occasionally betrayed, we still accept
our accumulated experience as being valid and continue to sit in chairs even
though there is a risk that a few may not be sound. In neither case do we
have faith, except in the form of confidence and trust.

And my point still is that we don't need to rely solely on trust. We can
read the evidence for ourselves if we want to. Most people simply don't feel
they need to.

> Here you go again using the word "believe."

There you go again playing more word games. I mean it the way any scientist
would: trust that Fox is accurately reporting his results and confidence
that those results support his claims. If, however, the results do not
support his claims, then we would have no reason accept his claims as valid;
hence we would not "believe" them.

> Why can't you say that "life
> has been reproduce in the lab by means of inert matter?"

While I wouldn't express it that way, that is precisely what I am claiming.
I didn't think you had any doubt about that, considering how adamant you are
that I am wrong.

> Kevin, just sit for
> a while in a quiet room and think of what you are saying.

And I suggest you learn something about what we are discussing before you
pass judgement on concepts you obviously know very little about. Start with
Fox's symposium, then go on to the references. Stop hiding behind your
ignorance and start reading the scientific literature.

> We would all know
> about such a breakthrough if it were true. Believe me!

It has never been a secret, Moorad; you just never tried to find out if it
might be true. I really don't understand this obession you have about
popularization. Are you sayng that if every scientist doesn't know about it
cannot be true? Are you saying that the only valid science is that which is
well known to anyone? Does popularization override evidence? What if the
popularization is wrong? For someone who gets so bent out of shape over the
word "believe" that he feels forced to lecture people on the evidentury basis
of science, you have a nasty habit of throwing that basis away in favor of a
popularization that may turn out to be flawed (and often does, in fact).

Kevin L. O'Brien


Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 02:27:50 EDT
Subject: Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize

In a message dated 5/7/99 4:04:25 PM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> My guess is that the most you can say about these protocells is that they
> are the "protolife" in someone's theory of how life came into being.
> more.

Guess is right, because in fact Fox wasn't testing a theory that involved
protocells, yet got experimental results in which protocells formed.
Protocells are real, not theoretical. They also demonstrate life; this is
not wishful thinking or delusion, but demonstrably true. Some people say
they have protolife because protocells are not fully modern in function or
morphology, yet if the basis for life is simply cellularity, metabolism,
reproduction and response to stimuli, then protocells have more than
protolife; they would qualify as completely alive. Again, there is nothing
theoretical about any of this.

Kevin L. O'Brien


Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 02:27:42 EDT
Subject: Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize

In a message dated 5/7/99 11:40:28 AM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> What theory is this that makes it "theoretically" possible?

I would assume that William is being metaphorical. However, let's instead
assume that I am wrong. The question you ask is valid, but largely

It should be pointed out that Fox's work is nearly all experimental, rather
than theoretical, and there are some results that are frankly mystifying.
For example, as Fox points out in his symposium that I posted some days ago,
protein chemistry would have predicted that a mixture of amino acids in equal
proportions would form peptides of random lengths and compositions, so that
what you would get is a mixture that would be different each time you did the
experiment, would produce few if any catalytic molecules and which would
produce a bumpy but otherwise flat chromatograph if you tried to isolate
these peptides using an HPLC (there would be too many of them to resolve one
from the other and each would have a concentration too low to be detectable).
Instead, howver, what you get are only a few peptides from each mixture and
you get the exact same peptides everytime, assuming you do not change the
mixture. In other words, you get extremely non-random, highly reproducible
peptides, most of which have some form of catalytic activity. Obviously the
formation and folding of the peptides are governed by the laws of chemistry,
but exactly how is still something of a mystery. Yet there can be no doubt
that whatever the cause the experimental results are real.

Other features, however, are no mystery. For example, the formation of the
microspheres themselves is simple amphiphilic chemistry, like you see with
lipids. The point is that these are real phenomena, so they must be governed
by physiochemical forces. We may not know what some of these are forces are
or how they work, but they must be present. As such, living protocells are
theoretically possible because: 1) they are real, so they must be governed
by physiochemical laws; 2) we know what some of those laws are, as well as
the theories behind those laws; and 3) if life was derived from non-living
chemicals then we should be able to reproduce the key events in the lab. It
is only logical.

Kevin L. O'Brien


Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 02:28:00 EDT
Subject: Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize

In a message dated 5/7/99 6:48:48 PM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> If God were material, then we would have detected him in the lab.

Not if we did not have a sample of Him. God may very well be material, or
partially so; we simply haven't discovered Him yet is all. As for man being
the detector of the supernatural, it is just as likely that the supernatural
is a figment of our imagination rather than a real phenomenon.

Kevin L. O'Brien


Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 02:41:57 EDT
Subject: Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize

In a message dated 5/7/99 10:55:42 PM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> I have to admit that this presents extreme difficulties with what we have
> technologically at this time. So I will exercise proper "incredulity" for
> Fox's claims - until I am convinced by his work when I see it.

Go to <>; there you will find a symposium by Fox in
which he describes his best evidence in support of his claim that protocells
are alive.

Kevin L. O'Brien


End of evolution-digest V1 #1436