Re: Probing the Chemistry of Creation

Stephen E. Jones (
Sun, 15 Aug 1999 11:16:45 +0800


On Sun, 8 Aug 1999 22:41:10 EDT, wrote:


>SJ>Kevin's argument is unconvincing. If Fox's proteinoid model was half as
>>good as Kevin says it is, then *all* scientific materialists would embrace
>>it with open arms.

KO>Unable to directly refute my argument

Here Kevin again tries to reverse the burden of proof. It is not up to the critic
to refute a theory, it is up to the *proponent* of a theory to *support* it:

"Courtroom experience during my career at the bar taught me to attach great
weight to something that may seem trivial to persons not skilled in
argumentation-the burden of proof. The proponents of a theory, in science or
elsewhere, are obligated to support every link in the chain of reasoning,
whereas a critic or skeptic may peck at any aspect of the theory, testing it for
flaws. He is not obligated to set up any theory of his own or to offer any
alternative explanations." (Macbeth N., "Darwin Retried," 1971, p5)

Kevin's arguments to date in support of his theory have been inadequate.
That in itself is not surprising, when the author of the proteinoid theory,
Sidney Fox, has been unable to convince the majority of his scientific
materialist colleagues that his theory is a realistic model of the origin of life
under plausible early-Earth conditions.

When confronted with counter-arguments Kevin typically has launched into a
complex digression which has little or nothing to do with the point under
discussion. He then thinks he has answered the point!

And when all else fails, Kevin tries to discredit the critic. When someone
does this it is a dead give-away that his argument is going badly.

Now that I know Kevin's personal position better, I do not expect to
*ever* convince him that I have refuted his argument. But it is not
necessary in science to get the proposer of a theory to admit that his
theory has been refuted:

"After all, when confronted by comparable problems in other walks of life,
we proceed exactly as I am proposing, that is, by distinguishing beliefs from
believers. When, for instance, several experiments turn out contrary to the
predictions of a certain theory, we do not care whether the scientist who
invented the theory is prepared to change his mind. We do not say that his
theory cannot be tested, simply because he refuses to accept the results of the
test. Similarly, a jury may reach the conclusions in light of the appropriate
rules of evidence, that a defendant who pleaded innocent is, in fact, guilty.
Do we say that the defendant's assertion "I am innocent" can be tested only if
the defendant himself is prepared to admit his guilt when finally confronted
with the coup de grace?" (Laudan L., in Ruse M., ed., "But is it Science?",
1996, p366).

In the end there is no need to refute Kevin's argument on behalf of Fox's
proteinoids. The scientific community concerned with the origin of life
are increasingly ignoring it, and it will quietly slip into that most
wonderful of all time-saving inventions: the ashcan of history!

KO>Steve resorts to a strawman: unless every scientist excepts it, the
>model cannot be any good. By that logic then no scientific model or theory
>is any good, because there are always a few scientists (if not more) who can
>be found that oppose any model or theory.

This is itself a "strawman". I did not say that Fox's model is not "any good".
What I said (echoing what the majority of the origin of life researchers say) is
that Fox's proteinoids theory is not *realistic*, in that it depends too much on
human contrivance and control. It may be that Fox's proteinoids *were*
steps in the pathway to the origin of life, but then they would be an argument
for Intelligent Design, not for undirected prebiological evolution.

KO>Once again Steve is showing his contempt for science.

Here Kevin, finding the going harder, starts his usual `shoot the messenger
routine". Having called Behe a "liar" and accused two Nobel laureates of
being "shameless", when they didn't agree with Kevin's view of the world, I
am not really surprised to find myself receiving similar treatment. But at
least I am in good company!

However, for the record, I have no "contempt for science" only contempt for
*pseudo*-science which "depends less upon its subject matter than upon the
attitude of its adherents towards criticism" and whose adherents "feel
personally threatened when the theory is under attack" and "leads such
people to embrace uncritically any device that preserves the theory from

"Popper put the essential point in a marvelous aphorism: "The wrong view of
science betrays itself in the craving to be right." In some cases this craving
results from the pride of a discoverer, who defends a theory with every
artifice at his disposal because his professional reputation is at stake. For
Marxists and Freudians, the craving came from the sense of security they
gained from having a theory that seemed to make sense out of the world.
People base their careers and their personal lives on theories like that, and
they feel personally threatened when the theory is under attack. Fear leads
such people to embrace uncritically any device that preserves the theory from
falsification. Popper proposed the falsifiability criterion as a test for
distinguishing science from other intellectual pursuits, among which he
included pseudoscience and metaphysics...Popper's logic implies that a
theory's scientific status depends less upon its subject matter than upon the
attitude of its adherents towards criticism. A physicist or a biologist may be
dogmatic or evasive, and therefore unscientific in method, while a historian
or literary critic may state the implications of a thesis so plainly that refuting
examples are invited. Scientific methodology exists wherever theories are
subjected to rigorous empirical testing, and it is absent wherever the practice
is to protect a theory rather than to test it." (Johnson P.E., "Darwin on
Trial", 1993, pp149-150).

KO>The validity of a model is not based on how many people accept it, but
>on the quality of its research. With a few exceptions, the people who
>oppose the proteinoid model all agree that the research is valid. Their
>rejection of it is instead based on misconceptions of how life originated, or
>on adherence to a rival model, or on a reliance of modern systems as guides
>to what prebiotic systems had to be like.

Kevin's reasoning here is circular. He *defines* "how life originated" and
"what prebiotic systems had to be like" in terms of Fox's proteinoid model.
Then he accuses those who reject Fox's model as having "misconceptions of
how life originated"!

KO>Steve himself has been unable to provide any evidence that invalidates
>any of the research or which supports his claim that the research is

See above on the burden of proof. Since it is *Kevin* who is proposing the
theory, it is up to *him* to support it, not up to me to refute it.

But in fact I *have* provided "evidence that invalidates" Fox's proteinoid
"research" but Kevin just ignores it by changing the subject and/or dismissing
the critics I cite as either knaves or fools.

Kevin's is the *pseudoscientific* method. One could prove *any* theory using
Kevin's method.

KO>All he has been able to offer are personal opinion that is based on
personal bias, misconceptions or speculation.

It is instructive to note how Kevin protects his theory from falsification by
dismissing any counter-evidence as "personal opinion", "bias",
"misconceptions" or "speculation."

It is also instructive that Fox uses this same pseudoscientific method when he
accuses those non-theistic scientists who oppose his theory of being

"Some of the objections raised by scientists to the proteinoid model are at
times repeated by creationists, not necessarily the ICR creationists. There is,
furthermore, little doubt that some degree of creationistic thinking enters into
the personally held paradigms of many scientists" (Fox S.W., "Creationism
and Evolutionary Protobiogenesis", in Montagu A., ed., "Science and
Creationism", 1984, p213)

>SJ>Kevin's `explanation' that the "gene-first" theorist, two of whom are
>>Nobel laureates, are too interested in "shamelessly promoting" their own
>>theory to admit that Fox's proteinoid model is "more successful", is simply
>>absurd and demeaning to the scientists concerned.

KO>Other abiogenecists have voiced this criticism as well, so I am not alone
>in this opinion. Even Orgel has complained that many of his colleagues
>seem more interested in promotion than actual research..

No doubt many (if not most) scientists involved in the origin of life field,
have to be "interested in promotion" because of the number of opposing
paradigms competing for scarcer funding, due to the lack of results.

However, it is one thing to say that the proponents of the "gene-first" model
are promoting their own research, honestly believing it is superior to Fox's
proteinoids model, but it is quite another thing to say (as Kevin does) that the
"gene-first" researchers are "shamelessly" promoting their own model all the
while believing that Fox's proteinoids model is better than their model.

I challenge Kevin to substantiate his charge that "Other abiogenecists" and
"Orgel" have said publicly that "gene-first" theorists (including the two Nobel
laureates), are too interested in "shamelessly promoting" their own theory to
admit that Fox's proteinoid model is "more successful".

>SJ>The fact is that some of the scientists against Fox's proteinoids are
>>*protein-first* advocates, like Shapiro and Orgel.

KO>I don't know where Steve gets his information, but Orgel is genes-first,
>not protein-first. Orgel has admitted that there must have been a pre-RNA
>world that was able to produce catalytically active RNA molecules, but he
>prefers mineral templates to proteins.

My apologies to Kevin. Orgel is indeed not a protein-first advocate. I would
substitute Klaus Dose in place of Orgel as a protein-first advocate who no
longer supports Fox's proteinoids model. Dose does note even regard Fox's
proteinoids as even polypeptides, let alone proteins. He calls them "Thermal
amino acid polymers":

"Thermal amino acid polymers (proteinoids) are probably not pure
polypeptides, but heteropolymers with alternate sections of oligopeptide
chains and chromophors. (Dose K., "The Origin of Life: More Questions
Than Answers", Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1988,

KO>As for Shapiro, I have already shown that he has some serious
>misconceptions about thermal protein research, and I suspect his major
>reason for rejecting thermal protocells as a viable model is because he
>rejects the idea that they are alive. He would rather claim they are
>insignificant than admit they may be alive. Despite this, Shapiro is still
>convinced that Fox's basic concept, if not his specific model, are correct.

I don't know where Kevin gets his idea that "Shapiro is still convinced that
Fox's basic concept, if not his specific model, are correct". Shapiro, although
he is a "protein-first" advocate, clearly does not regard Fox's proteinoid
theory as realistic:

"Apart from the problem of location, other questions have been raised
concerning the microsphere scenario. How were the necessary
concentrations of amino acids assembled? Were the necessary special amino
acids present in any quantity on the early earth? Would other chemicals that
may have been present interfere with the process? Would not the
microspheres, if formed, have dissolved on exposure to fresh water?"
(Shapiro R., "Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Origin of Life", 1986, p198)

Shapiro regards Fox's the relation of Fox's proteinoid microspheres to the
actual processes of life, as "merely shadow play":

"Similarly, the various properties shown by the microspheres-division, weak
catalytic activity, a doublelayered border, electrical signals, and the rest-may
be somewhat general properties of microscopic particles of a certain size and
unrelated, or only slightly related, to the actual processes of life. During my
childhood, I learned that I could make the shadow of a dog with my hand. I
needed only to point my thumb out, bend in my index finger, and hold my
hand before a light to produce the image of a dog's head on the wall. I could
enhance the effect by moving my pinky while making barking noises. But this
form was not a dog, nor could it ever become one; it was merely shadow
play. In the same way, the properties of the microspheres, while entertaining,
may be merely shadow play." (Shapiro R., 1986, p200)

In 1996 Shapiro wrote a letter to the editor of Commentary magazine and
proposed Kauffman's self-organisation model as an explanation for the origin
of life:

"Fortunately, there is a third alternative....In this view, an organizing
principle exists in nature and governs the rise of complexity in life, and in
many other natural phenomena. The roots of this idea lie in several
philosophies, but it has taken on a new respectability with the development of
mathematical theories of complexity. An excellent popular account of this
field and its application to evolution is given by the physicist Stuart Kauffman
in his book, At Home in the Universe. Kauffman argues that both self-
organization and natural selection have driven evolution; the development of
increasing complexity in life is an expected result of these mechanisms...Few
efforts have been made to explore this process, perhaps because complexity
theory is new and scientists have been too devoted to the more traditional
form of Darwinism. Yet I believe the concepts have considerable potential,
particularly in the origin-of-life field, and I hope they will gain greater
attention in the future" (Shapiro R., "Denying Darwin: David Berlinski and
Critics", Commentary, September 1996.

>SJ>Even Dose, another protein-first advocate, who has collaborated
>>with Fox, cannot accept Fox's proteinoid theory.

KO>This is incorrect. I last spoke to Dose only a month ago. We argued
>over whether thermal protocells constitute a viable living system

Well that is interesting in itself! If Fox and Kevin think that Fox's proteinoid
microspheres are "a viable living system" and Klaus Dose, "an outstanding
exponent of the protein-first school of thought" (Shapiro R., "Origins", 1986,
p268), does not, then why should *anyone* believe Fox and Kevin that they

Remember this was a key point in Kevin's claim that Behe was a liar:

On Sat, 24 Jul 1999 00:32:45 EDT, wrote:


KO>Since he [Behe] knows that such research does not produce "goo" but
>in fact living cellular structures, he knew that his statement was factually
>incorrect when he wrote it. What would Steve call the deliberate writing of
>a statement that the writer knows is incorrect, if Steve doesn't call it a lie?


If Behe is charged by Kevin as being a liar because he knows that Fox's
proteinoid microspheres are living, then to be consistent Kevin would have to
charge Dose with being a liar too?

KO>but he reiterated his belief that proteinoid microspheres are still the
>best available explanation for the origin of life.

Which is not saying much because in a major review of origin of life research,
Dose said that "At present all discussions on principal theories and
experiments in the field [which included Fox's proteinoids theory] either end
in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance:

"More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of
chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the
immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its
solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in
the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance. New lines of
thinking and experimentation must be tried." (Dose K., 1988, p348)

Dose concluded his article:

"The flow sheet shown in Figure 2 [of the whole origin of life process!] is a
scheme of ignorance. Without fundamentally new insights in evolutionary
processes, perhaps involving new modes of thinking, this ignorance is likely
to persist." (Dose K., 1988, p355).

KO>He simply believes that someday someone will come up with a better

Which undercuts Kevin's whole argument. If proteinoids were half as good as
Kevin maintains, then Dose would not be waiting for "someone" to
"someday...come up with a better explanation"!

>SJ>Fox's proteinoid model is ignored these days in origin of life discussions
>>because it is *irrelevant*.

KO>Like his claim that TE/CE's are marginalized in science and theology,
>Steve's claim that Fox's model is ignored in origin of life discussions is

The fact is "Fox's model" *is* increasingly "ignored in origin of life
discussions". For example, it is either barely mentioned, or not mentioned at
all in the following major origin of life surveys:

* Orgel L.E., "The origin of life - a review of facts and speculations." Trends
In Biochemical Science, 23, December 1998, 491-495.

* Orgel L.E., "The Origin of Life on the Earth", Scientific American, Vol.
271, No. 4, October 1994, 53-61.

* Horgan J., "In The Beginning...", Scientific American, February 1991, 103-

This would be simply *inconceivable* if Fox's proteinoids were only half as
good as Kevin claims. Kevin might argue that Orgel is biased because he is
"shamelessly promoting" his own model, but what about John Horgan, a
*very* experienced science journalist with Scientific American.

KO>People promoting their particular models in the popular press may not
>mention it, but it gets discussed a great deal at scientific conferences and in
>scientific journals.

No doubt Fox's model "gets discussed a great deal at" origin of life "scientific
conferences" because Fox or one of his disciples would always attend such
conferences. Whether the other delegates are interested in the discussions
is another matter.

And the same goes for origin of life "scientific journals". Fox and his
disciples might write articles for origin of life journals but whether other origin of life
researchers are still interesyed as for that discuss the , ber
See above. Fox's proteinoids theory barely gets mentioned in a major article
in Scientific American on the origin of life, by Horgan who cannot be
dismissed as "promoting" his "particular model".

KO>Whether they support it or oppose it, these scientists do not think it is
>irrelevant. All Steve has to do is subscribe to CAS and he can search their
>databases for abstracts discussing proteinoids, microspheres and thermal
>proteins. Steve can pick up just about any origin of life conference
>proceedings from the last twenty-five years and he should find at least one
>article that discusses proteinoids and microspheres, if not more.

Even if that were true, it would underline that Fox's proteinoids are not as
good as Kevin says they are. Why would "origin of life conference
proceedings" be still *discussing* "proteinoids and microspheres" for "the
last twenty-five years" if they were the answer?

KO>High school and college students are making their own thermal

No doubt. But this is human intelligent design, which is a model of *creation*
not prebiotic evolution. The questions are: a) is unaided *nature* "making...
thermal protocells"; and b) are "thermal protocells" anything to do with the
origin of life?

KO>It is even being discussed in textbooks: Lehninger was the first back in
>1970 and again in 1975; the most recent has been _Principles of Cell and
>Molecular Biology_, Second Edition (1995) by Lewis J. Kleinsmith and
>Valerie M. Kish.

My understanding is that Lehninger's mentioning of "proteinoids and
microspheres" in his biochemistry textbook is unusual:

"Sidney Fox has not merely served as a rallying point for the proteins-first
group, but has advocated the particular system of proteinoid microspheres,
first demonstrated in his laboratory in the late 1950s, as the solution to the
origin-of-life problem. Needless to say, this position has made him a center of
controversy. His system has received favorable attention in the media and in
a number of texts, most notably A. L. Lehninger's widely used Biochemistry,
which termed it remarkable." (Shapiro R., "Origins", 1986, pp191-192)

Interestingly, Lehninger's more recent "Principles of Biochemistry" (1982)
does not even mention Fox's proteinoid microspheres *at all* even thought
he does mention the origin of life and the Miller-Urey experiment. This
would be inexplicable if Fox's proteinoids were even half as good as Kevin
says they are.

KO>The conclusion is obvious: thermal protocell research is not irrelevant to
>those who know and understand it, whether they support or oppose it

So now Kevin admits that Fox's "thermal protocell" (notice how the name
keeps changing!), *is* opposed by some origin of life researchers "who know
and understand it"?

Why can't Behe be in that category? Or are all these researchers who "who
know and understand" "thermal protocell research" also liars?

KO>it is only irrelevant to those who don't know it or don't understand it,
OoLor don't xwant to.

This is another example of pseudoscientific reasoning, which enables Kevin
to dismiss anyone who claims that Fox's "thermal protocell research" is
"irrelevant" as among "those who don't know it or don't understand it, or
don't want to".

Since this post seems to encapsulate in shorter form all the essential issues in
the "God, sort of" threads, I think I will set them aside for now and just
pursue this thread with Kevin for a short while.


"If I were a creationist, I would cease attacking the theory of evolution-
which is so well supported by the fossil record-and focus instead on the
origin of life. This is by far the weakest strut of the chassis of modern
biology. The origin of life is a science writer's dream. It abounds with
exotic scientists and exotic theories, which are never entirely abandoned or
accepted, but merely go in and out of fashion." (Horgan J., "The End of
Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific
Age," [1996], Little, Brown & Co: London UK, 1997, p138).