Re: God...Sort Of -- Polymerization
Fri, 6 Aug 1999 16:44:33 EDT

Greetings to One and All:

This will be my sixth in depth reply to Steve's post. It will deal with
various issues of polymerization.

> >MB>...with the water gone, the amino acids could join together.
> >>Unfortunately, other workers had earlier shown that heating dry
> >>amino acids gives a smelly, dark brown tar, but no detectable
> >>proteins.
> KO>This is essentially true, but Behe leaves out two important details.
> Having alleged that Behe had "willfully lied" Kevin now admits that what
> Behe said about "heating dry amino acids gives a smelly, dark brown tar"
> was "essentially true", but incomplete, in that he left out "two important
> details".

Steve is engaging in an old debator's trick here, taking two separate
comments by the same individual (in this case Behe) and treating them as if
they were the same. My conclusion that Behe willfully lied applied only to
his Weekly Standard claim that the inevitable result of any origin-of-life
experiment is goo instead of living cells. The above statement was quoted by
Steve from Behe's book. They are two separate statements from different
sources; the question of their factual validity is therefore also separate.
Behe's claim in the Weekly Standard, as it was worded, was false; this claim
above, from Behe's book, as it is worded, is true. However, the above claim
as it is worded is also misleading, because it implies that no one had been
able to thermally synthesize polypeptides before Fox. It is also misleading
because it implies that what the earlier researchers obtained was not
polypeptides. Finally, it is also misleading because it implies that what
Fox obtained was not polypeptides either.

As such, while the claim as worded is true, it is in fact both inaccurate and
imprecise because it leaves out crucial information that would in fact reveal
the whole accurately precise story. See further details below.

> First, if incompleteness is the criterion for having "willfully lied",
> *everyone* would be a liar!

I made no claim that Behe "willfully lied" when he made the above statement;
Steve is trying to make a case that I believe Behe is a general liar. I have
no way of knowing whether he is; all I can do is judge each claim separately
on its own merits. The Weekly Standard claim is a lie, but the above
statement is not. However, the above statement is inaccurate and imprecise.

> Second, Kevin fails to recognise that Behe was writing a one-page *book
> review* for a weekly political magazine, not a full length article in a
> scientific journal! Behe would have had to keep it simple, because of
> limitations and the level of scientific knowledge of the readers of that
> type of magazine.

I have already dealt with this in "Re: God...Sort Of -- Behe's Lie". To
summarize briefly, this is no excuse for making a statement that Behe knew
was false when he made it. Though Steve doesn't want to believe me, Behe
tacitly admitted he was making a false statement, but refused to correct it.

> Indeed, it is even possible that the editors changed, or
> even cut out, some of Behe's words to make them more understandable to
> their readership.

Then instead of avoiding the issue or admitting that the statement was false,
he should have been outraged at what the editors had done as well as grateful
that I had brought it to his attention.

> For Kevin to conclude that anyone (let alone a fellow Christian), is a
> in such circumstances, and then to publicly accuse him of having
> lied" on the Internet, is reckless and unwarranted, to say the least.

As I keep reminding Steve, despite the fact that he refuses to listen, I am
not saying Behe lied because the statement was simplistic; I am saying he
lied because it was false and he knew it. And I know that because he
admitted to it.

> It is further evidence to me of the adverse effect evolutionary beliefs has
> on its adherents, particularly on those Christian evolutionists like
> who seem to me to have the appearance of suffering the inevitable inner
> conflict of trying to serve two opposing `masters' simultaneously (Mt
> namely materialistic-naturalism and Christian theism.

As long as Steve has brought it up, Steve's refusal to accept that Behe lied
is further evidence of the adverse effect creationist beliefs have on their
adherents, particularly on those Christian creationists like Steve, who seem
to be suffering the inevitable inner conflict of trying to serve two opposing
"masters" simultaneously (Mt 6:24), namely his own brand of creationism and
Christian theism.

As for myself there is no conflict, because materialism-naturalism is not my
master; Christ is.

> Third, the "details" that Kevin says Behe left out, do not change the
> essential truth of what Behe said, that: "heating dry amino acids gives a
> smelly, dark brown tar, but no detectable proteins" (see below).

But they do reveal how the statement as worded is inaccurate and imprecise.

> KO>First,
> >all the earlier experiments involved trying to thermally polymerize
> >amino acids, not mixtures. In other words, they would heat up a few
> >grams of alanine all by itself to try to make poly-alanine; this is known
> >as homopolymerization. Fox was the first person to try heating mixtures
> >of amino acids; he called this copolymerization.
> So this is the first of the "two important details" that Behe is judged by
> Kevin to "had willfully lied".

Again, I did not say that Behe "had willfully lied" when he made the claim
that begins this post.

> I am sure the readers of a *political* weekly
> magazine like The Weekly Standard would be absolutely *devastated* that
> they missed out on this "important detail"! ;-)

Again, Steve is deliberately confusing the Weekly Standard quote with the
quote under discussion, which Steve took from Behe's book.

> And anyway, how does this materially alter Behe's statement that Kevin
> admits is "essentially true" namely that "heating dry amino acids" (note
> plural)....

Steve is just being willfully dense in this case. You cannot polymerize a
single amino acid molecule, so even if you are trying to homopolymerize an
amino acid, you have to have more than one. Behe's statement "heating dry
amino acids" is an entirely appropriate thing to say as long you are dealing
with a collection of molecules, regardless of whether they are all the same
kind of molecule or a mixture of different kinds of molecules. However, if
we grant Steve's implied interpretation, that Behe was referring to previous
attempts to copolymerize different kinds of amino acids together, then this
means that Behe's statement is NOT factually correct after all, because
before Fox did it, no one tried to thermally polymerize more than one kind of
amino acid together.

> does this materially alter Behe's statement ... that "heating dry
> amino acids" gives a smelly, dark brown tar, but no detectable proteins"?

Because Behe is implying that all previous attempts to thermally polymerize
amino acids were identical in method to what Fox did, but this is not true.
All previous attempts had been to thermally homopolymerize a single kind of
amino acid, whereas Fox had proposed trying to thermally copolymerize
different kinds of amino acids together. Just because the former method did
not work does not mean that the method would not work either, but Behe is
implying that it shouldn't.

Behe is also implying that no attempt before Fox succeeded, which is also
untrue; see later for details.

> KO>Second, Behe neglected to mention that at the turn of the century two
> >German scientists managed to get a pure mixture of aspartate to
> >thermally homopolymerize into poly-aspartate, thus proving that thermal
> >polymerization of amino acids is possible.
> And this is the second of the "two important details" that Behe is judged
> Kevin to " had willfully lied" by omitting, namely in a one-page *book
> review* in a *political* weekly magazine, that Behe "neglected to mention
> that "at the turn of the century two German scientists managed to get a
> pure mixture of aspartate to thermally homopolymerize into poly-
> aspartate"!

Again, the quote under discussion has nothing to do with the Weekly Standard
quote. I do not claim that Behe's statement at the beginning of this post,
which Steve took from Behe's book, is a willfull lie. It is, however,
inaccurate and imprecise.

> And again, how would the mention of this "detail" change what Behe said
> above which Kevin has already admitted was "essentially true", namely that
> "...with the water gone, the amino acids could join together" but
> workers had earlier shown that heating dry amino acids gives a smelly,
> brown tar, but no detectable proteins."?

Because it demonstrates that before Fox even conceived of his
copolymerization experiments, polypeptides had already been made by the
thermal homopolymerization of one kind of amino acid, namely aspartic acid.
In other words, other workers had earlier shown that heating dry amino acids
can indeed give detectable proteins instead of a smelly, dark brown tar.

> KO>As such, before Fox even began his experiments he knew that
> >aspartate could form thermal proteins.
> So what? How does this detail change what Behe said above?

Behe is claiming that before Fox no one had been able to make thermal
proteins. In fact, Fox knew that aspartate could form thermal proteins
because someone before him had done it and published the results. It
therefore led him to believe that he could form proteins by copolymerizing
other amino acids with aspartate.

> And why did the other researchers (who presumably were mostly Fox and
> his colleagues) keep "heating dry amino acids" which "gives a smelly, dark
> brown tar, but no detectable proteins"? Was it not because what these "two
> German scientists" who "at the turn of the century" had "managed to get"
> namely "a pure mixture of aspartate to thermally homopolymerize into
> poly-aspartate, was *unrealistic* in an early-Earth scenario?

Steve has everything turned around here, whether by choice or ignorance I
cannot say. The other researchers Behe is referring to are those who, before
Fox, tried to homopolymerize amino acids, such as those two German
scientists, and they were not trying to do origin of life research, but to
help demonstrate that oroteins were made up of amino acids linked by the
peptide bond, as per the demands of organic chemistry methodology. See "Re:
God...Sort Of -- Proteinoid Goo" for more details.

> >MB>Fox, however, demonstrated that if an extra-large portion....
> KO>Yes, Fox's proof-of-concept experiment used a mixture of amino
> >acids consisting of 1/3 aspartate, 1/3 glutamate and 1/3 mixture of all
> >remaining amino acids, but he supsequently discovered that as little as
> >1/10 aspartate/glutamate would work as well, and others have shown
> >that as little as 1/100 aspartate/glutamate can promote thermal
> >polymerization of amino acids.
> First, Kevin's careful choice of words that this was a "proof-of-concept
> experiment" is noted! A "proof-of-concept experiment" does not mean that
> it was *realistic*.

Realistic in what sense? A "proof of concept" experiment is not meant to
precisely and accurately recreate the environmental and evolutionary
conditions of the prebiotic earth; it is to test the validity of a central
and fundamental assumption underlying a model. In the case of the protenoid
microsphere model of the protocell, one of those assumptions is that
proteinous material can be made without recourse to biotic systems. If
proteinous material could only be made by biotic material, then Fox's
experiment would have failed. The fact that it did not means that proteinous
material can be made by abiotic systems, such as geological systems. As
such, the result of this proof of concept experiment demonstrates that the
abiotic formation of proteinous material is realistic.

> The fact is, as Yockey pointed out in my previous post
> that Fox's protenoids experiments depend unrealistically on the amino
> "aspartate" and "glutamate" which are rare in chemical evolution
> experiments.

And as I pointed out in my reply to that post, Yockey is wrong. Aspartate
and glutamate are not rare in most chemical evolution experiments, but even
if they were, glycine by itself can also promote copolymerization, and
glycine is the most abundant amino acid made in any chemical evolution
experiment. As such, Fox's experiments are very realistic in terms of what
amino acids were likely to be present on the prebiotic earth.

> Second Kevin is confusing the words "portion" (which Behe used) and
> *proportion* which his "1/3" , "1/10" and "1/100" refer to. Nothing Kevin
> says above refutes what Behe said about "an extra-large portion" of "one
> three different amino acids is added to a mix of purified amino acids..."

Steve is simply trying to confuse things again. Behe's claim of an
"extra-large portion" is suitably vague to allow any interpretation, but more
than likely he is referring to the "classical" recipe of one part aspartate,
one part glutamate and one part equal mixture of all remaining amino acids.
I believe that even Steve would agree that an amount of aspartate/glutamate
making up two-thirds (67%) of the total mass of amino acid used constitutes
an "extra-large portion", especially when any other amino acid only accounts
for one-fifty-fourth (1.8%) of the total mass of amino acid used. However,
in experiments where all amino acids contribute equally to the total mass
(one-twentieth, or 5%), the one-tenth (10%) contributed by
aspartate/glutamate is no longer an "extra-large portion", and in experiments
that seek to duplicate a Miller-Urey result, where aspartate and glutamate
together make up less than one-hundreth (1%) the total mass of amino acid
present, I would say that if anything you have an "extra-small portion" of
these amino acids. Yet you still get proteinoids.

The point is, Behe is wrong: you do not need "extra-large portions" of
either glycine, aspartate, glutamate or lysine to make proteinoids. They
just need to be present in any amount starting with 1% of total mass.

Kevin L. O'Brien