Re: Probing the Chemistry of Creation A
Sat, 21 Aug 1999 11:27:17 EDT

Greetings to One and All:

As is usually the case, Steve's post is so long that to adequately respond to
it AOL forces me to split it into two pieces. I beg everyone's pardon and

My experiences in debating Steve have convinced me that it is not worth the
time and effort to respond to his every point, especially when he tends to
ignore my responses and simply repeats his arguments as if I had never
responded to them. On top of that, Steve has demonstrated that he is more
interested in rhetoric than he is persuing the scientific merits of this
topic, despite the fact that it is the science that is what is important
here, not how well Steve can argue.

As such, in the future I will perform a sort of debate triage and respond
only to specific references to empirical evidence meant to validate Steve's
critiques, rather than get bogged down in an endless repition of the same old
arguments that I have already addressed in previous posts. However, it seems
likely now that Steve will never produce that kind of evidence (see later),
so I realize that I am in essence effectively giving him the last word on
this thread as well as the opportunity to declare victory. Unfortunately,
Steve's style of debate leaves me no choice.

Still, I plan to post additional information on thermal protocells as it
becomes available. Steve is welcome to comment on them, but whether I will
respond in depth depends upon whether his comments are constructive or simply
repeat the same tired arguments.

> >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
> >>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
> it:
> "Courtroom experience during my career at the bar taught me to attach
> weight to something that may seem trivial to persons not skilled in
> argumentation-the burden of proof. The proponents of a theory, in science
> 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
> for flaws. He is not obligated to set up any theory of his own or to offer
> alternative explanations." (Macbeth N., "Darwin Retried," 1971, p5)

Macbeth is taking the standards of one profession and trying to apply them to
another, different profession, in a classical apples-and-organges comparison
meant to confuse the reader. In point of fact, in science the "burden of
proof" is on both the proponent AND the critic, because in science theories
can only be supported OR refuted by empirical evidence. It is the
responsibility of the proponent to provide empirical evidence that validates
his theory, but it is not his responsibility to try to refute it (though
scientific integrity demands that the proponent publish any data that
contradicts his theory). Instead, it is the responsibility of the critic to
provide empirical evidence that refutes the theory. In other words, to
paraphrase Duane L. Rohlfing, both support for a theory and critiques against
a theory must be empirically tested and shown to be valid, otherwise they are
inadequate. Macbeth is correct that a critic need not propose an alternative
theory to counter the model being criticized (though that is often the surest
way to refute any model), but even the "pecking" must be empirically
verified, otherwise it will be invalid.

"If based on theoretical [or speculative] grounds only, critiques do little
more than alert to possible weaknesses in the model, or merely place doubt on
the model. To prove that a model is faulty, or to show that an alternative
model is more valid, the theoretical [or speculative] basis of the critique
must itself be tested and verified by experiment or by observation." Duane
L. Rohlfing, "Evolution of Models for Evolution," _The Origin of Life and
Evolutionary Biochemistry_, edited by K Dose, SW Fox, GA Deborin and TE
Pavlovskaya, New York: Plenum Publishing, 1974, pg. 399.

I am not asking Steve to propose an alternative model; I am merely asking
that he live up to his responsibilities as a critic of the thermal protocell
model and provide empirical evidence derived from experiment or observation
that either invalidates the model or supports his claim that the model is
irrelevant. So far he has offered nothing but personal opinion; such
critiques without empirical evidence are not only inadequate, they are also

> Kevin's arguments to date in support of his theory have been inadequate.

Since Steve has yet to address any of my previous arguments, this claim of
his is more wishful thinking than anything more concrete. To support the
thermal protocell model I have provided empirical evidence from cited
references; if Steve believes he can refute this evidence I invite him to
provide counter empirical evidence from the scientific literature.

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

Which is irrelevant, since the validity of a model is based on the quality of
evidence that supports it, not on how many people accept it. Again, I invite
Steve to present empirical evidence that refutes the evidence I have provided
in support of this model.

> 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!

Again, since Steve has yet to discuss any of my "counter-arguments" this is
simply his spin-doctoring attempt to hide the fact that had he understood the
science behind what I was saying, he would have recognized that in fact my
arguments were very much to the points under discussion.

> 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.

So Steve says, but so far he has not been able to support this contention
with concrete examples. I prefer to deal strictly with the facts of the
critics' arguments, but if it becomes clear that the critics have lied, or
not bothered to try to understand the model they are critiquing, or basing
their critiques on professional biases or misconceptions or bad evidence, I
do not hesitate to point that out as well.

> Now that I know Kevin's personal position better, I do not expect to
> *ever* convince him that I have refuted his argument.

Translation: Now that I know that Kevin's argument is based on empirical
evidence that I cannot refute, I will have to concentrate on rhetoric from
now on.

The problem is that Steve hasn't even tried to refute my arguments yet. And
in fact I would be willing to admit that Steve has refuted my arguments, but
I will do so only in the face of empirical evidence, not personal opinion.

> 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
> 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
> 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
> confronted with the coup de grace?" (Laudan L., in Ruse M., ed., "But is it
> Science?", 1996, p366).

The answer to the question under discussion is no; a theory is not considered
testable based solely on whether the proponent(s) of the theory will accept
the results of a particular test. But this is not the same thing as sayng,
as Steve claims immediately below, that it is not necessary to try to refute
a theory with empirical tests. Nowhere in the above quote does Laudan claim
or even imply that one need not test a scientific theory, or the defendant's
claim of "not guilty", to refute it; in fact he is arguing the exact
opposite, that the theory as well as the defendant's claim MUST be tested to
refute it, regardless of whether the theoretician or the defendant will
accept the results of that test. In essence, Laudan is verifying what
Rohlfing said: critiques must be empirically tested if they are to be
accepted as valid criticisms of a theory.

> 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!

Translation: I acknowledge that I have no empirical evidence that can
adequately refute the thermal protocell model, so I will instead concentrate
on the "relevance argument" and just ignore the empirical evidence.

It will, however, be difficult for the model to "quietly slip into ... the
ashcan of history" while there are still some two dozen researchers
world-wide working on the model, as well as the even larger number of
scientists using thermal protocells to investigate new material and
biomedical uses for them. See
<> for more details.

> 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
> >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".

Except that the phrase "If Fox's proteinoid model was half as good as Kevin
says it is" strongly implies that in fact the model is not really any good at
all. If Steve meant to say something different, he should have been more

> What I said (echoing what the majority of the origin of life researchers
> is that Fox's proteinoids theory is not *realistic*, in that it depends
> much on human contrivance and control.

Except that no non-creationist, non-ID theorist origin of life researcher has
claimed that the thermal protocell model is unrealistic because "it depends
too much on human contrivance and control." This is a uniquely
creationist/ID argument; no other critic of the model has used this argument,
not even Yockey. The reason is because the argument is based on the absurd
unspoken assumption that by manipulating experimental conditions researchers
can create physiochemical forces and mechanisms in the lab that could never
exist in nature. Fox and his colleagues did not create thermal protocells
because they were able to create novel physiochemical forces and mechanisms
in the lab that never did and never could exist in nature, but because they
manipulated physiochemical forces and mechanisms that already existed. The
question then becomes whether nature could manipulate these existing
physiochemical forces and mechanisms in the same way that Fox and his
colleagues did. Fox and his colleagues have demonstrated that in fact nature
could, and so far no one has been able to provide any emiprical evidence to
refute that.

Besides, simply substituting "realistic" for "any good" doesn't change
Steve's fallacious argument: unless every scientist excepts the thermal
protocell model, it cannot be realistic. By that logic then no scientific
model or theory is realistic, because there are always a few scientists (if
not more) who can be found that oppose any model or theory.

Whether a model is realistic does not depend upon how many people accept it,
but whether it can satisfy certain criteria. For origin of life models,
these criteria are evolutionary continuity (does the model provide a smooth
continuous unbroken account from the simplest molecules to fully functional
living cells) and environmental relevance (are the conditions required by the
model realistic); collectively these criteria are known as evolutionary
relevance. [Duane L. Rohlfing, "Evolution of Models for Evolution," _The
Origin of Life and Evolutionary Biochemistry_, edited by K Dose, SW Fox, GA
Deborin and TE Pavlovskaya, New York: Plenum Publishing, 1974, pg. 399.] So
far the thermal protocell model has survived all tests of evolutionary
relevance made against it.

> It may be that Fox's proteinoids
> *were* steps in the pathway to the origin of life, but then they would be
> argument for Intelligent Design, not for undirected prebiological

See above; all that is required is that nature itself be able to create the
necessary conditions that will produce thermal protocells. Since such
conditions exist on the modern-day earth (hot springs, lagoons, arid regions,
hydrothermal vents, etc.), they almost certainly existed on the primordial
earth as well.

> KO>Once again Steve is showing his contempt for science.
> Here Kevin, finding the going harder, starts his usual `shoot the
> 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,
> am not really surprised to find myself receiving similar treatment. But at
> least I am in good company!

The fact that Behe lied in that one instance is a point independent of
whether we disagree or not. Contrary to what Steve implies I do not call
anyone who disagrees with me a liar, and I would challenge him to prove
otherwise. As for "shameless" Nobel laureates, it was Orgel and Cech who
called them shameless; I am simply repeating what they said. Since they used
that term to describe over-zealous **supporters** of their models, my use of
the term cannot be misconstrued as a "shoot the messenger routine" against
people who disagree with me. Again, I used that term in one specific
instance; I have never used it to generally describe anyone who disagrees
with me and I defy Steve to prove otherwise.

It is in fact Steve who must engage in a "shoot the messenger routine", now
that he has admitted he has no empirical evidence that can refute the thermal
protocell model. By discrediting me, he hopes to convince people not to read
the references I have provided, references that will demonstrate both the
validity and the relevance of the thermal protocell model.

> However, for the record, I have no "contempt for science"....

This is self-evidently false, considering how he denies his responsibility as
a critic of a scientific theory to provide empirical evidence that
demonstrates the validity of his critiques, considering the way he denigrates
experimental protocol has having no relevance to the natural world, and
considering how he claims that a model's validity is determined by how many
people accept it instead of the quality of its evidence.


Speaking of which....

> 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
> >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
> Then he accuses those who reject Fox's model as having "misconceptions of
> how life originated"!

Steve is again showing his contempt for science; this time he defines
empirical evidence as "circular reasoning". I have not "*defined* 'how life
originated' and 'what prebiotic systems had to be like' in terms of" the
thermal protocell model. I am pointing out how the empirical evidence --
which the others accept as valid -- demonstrates that the others' theoretical
basis for rejecting the model as relevant is based on misconceptions or
professional biases. It is the empirical evidence that "*defines* 'how life
originated' and 'what prebiotic systems had to be like'", not my personal

> 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
> >irrelevant.
> 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.

See earlier for my reply. As the critic of a scientific theory, it is
Steve's responsibility to provide the evidence which validates his critiques.
Without that empirical evidence his critiques are both inadequate and

> But in fact I *have* provided "evidence that invalidates" Fox's proteinoid
> "research"....

Steve's "evidence" consists of quoting certain select scientists and ID
theorists as saying in essence, "We don't believe it." Unfortunately this is
not in and of itself empirical evidence and neither does it substitute for
empirical evidence. What little empirical evidence he has presented has been
incidental, contained within the body of his personal-opinion quotes in the
form of citations. However, so far he has ignored this evidence in favor of
presenting the opinions of those he has quoted. What I am beginning to
discover, however, as I acquire and read these citations, is that they tend
to contradict the opinions Steve quotes. I'll have more to say about this in
upcoming posts.

> ...but Kevin just ignores it by changing the subject and/or
> dismissing the critics I cite as either knaves or fools.

I would defy Steve to quote me calling anyone a "knave" or a "fool". What I
have said is that the critics Steve has quoted object to the model because of
either philosophical or scientific biases or both, or because they have
misconceptions about what the model says, or because they never really
bothered to find out for themselves what the model says, but instead rely
upon the opinions of others. If Steve wants to call such people "knaves" or
"fools" that is his business, not mine, but is does suggest that even Steve
recognizes the weaknesses of his own "evidence".

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

And again Steve is showing his contempt for science; this time he defines
experimental methodology as "the *pseudoscientific* method". I am defending
the thermal protocell model using the scientific method: providing empirical
evidence and reasoned scientific argument to support it. Steve is trying to
attack it using "the *pseudoscientific* method": providing personal opinion
in place of empirical evidence and using "shoot the messenger routines" in
place of reasoned scientific argument.

> 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 instructive to note how Steve ignores the fact that I dismissed
nothing; that in fact I demonstrated in each case how the "counter-evidence"
in fact was personal opinion, bias, misconceptions or speculations. This
would have been a perfect opportunity for him to refute at least one of my
arguments, but once again he avoids doing so. And now he has announced
earlier in this post that he will give up trying to refute what I say and
simply maintain that it is "irrelevant".

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

It is also instructive to see how Steve misconstrues what people say and
misquotes them to support his baseless accusations.

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

Steve is being dense again. Fox said, "There is, furthermore, little doubt
that some degree of creationistic thinking enters into the personally held
paradigms of many scientists." In other words, he is saying that many
scientists tend to repeat the same misconceptions that creationists tend to
make. Contrary to Steve's edited conclusion, Fox did not say, "There is,
furthermore, little doubt that any scientist who objects to my model is a

Furthermore, Steve left out the references at the end of that statement that
would have supported Fox's conclusion. One was a paper Fox himself wrote
[Fox, SW. 1959. Review of the book _The Biological Replication of
Macromolecules_. Journal of Chemical Education 36, 706A], but the other was
a paper written by another party not connected with Fox [Gillespie, NC.
1979. _Chareles Darwin and the Problem of Creation_, University of Chicago
Press]. In other words, this is not simply Fox's paranoid delusional
opinion, but a real trend obvious to others as well.

> >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
> >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
> have to be "interested in promotion" because of the number of opposing
> paradigms competing for scarcer funding, due to the lack of results.

That is not what Orgel meant. Orgel was complaining about how many of his
own supporters were spending far too much time promoting in the public press
highly speculative and largely invalid versions of his model rather than
investigating them to see if they were valid. Orgel himself used the term
shameless to describe the actions of these people. He was very careful to
distinguish this from the normal scientific promotion done to secure grants.
So in fact Orgel, and myself, are talking about something very different from
what Steve is discussing immediately above.

> 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
> their model.

I never said 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 am sure that they all truly believe that their
models are superior to that of thermal protocells. What I have said is that,
because (as Orgel and Cech and others have stated) many researchers are
promoting their own models, they are not going to undermine their efforst by
discussing a rival model that has been more successful than theirs has been.
These researchers no doubt believe that one day their models will catch up
with and surpass the thermal protocell model, but for the time being why call
attention to the fact that there exists another model that can explain more
than their model can?

> I challenge Kevin to substantiate his charge that "Other abiogenecists"
> "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".

Steve is being dense again. I never said that Orgel or anyone has publicly
stated that any other gene-first theorist is **too interested in promoting
his own model to admit that Fox's model is more successful**. I made it
clear that that was my conclusion. What I said was that other origin of life
researchers have also criticized their colleagues for "shamelessly" promoting
models as superior to rival models instead of testing them to be sure they
really are. In other words, Steve has misinterpreted what I was trying to
say (whether by accident or on purpose I cannot say). As such, I cannot
"substantiate" a "charge" I never made.

I should also point out that I never used the word publicly; Orgel and Cech
told me their concerns in personal e-mails. However, the "other
abiogenecists" I referred to did make public statements in newspapers and
magazines within this decade (though I have seen none so far this year). I
cannot provide citations because I did not keep the references. If I had
known that one day someone would refuse to take my word for this claim, I
would have kept them to use as evidence. However, Steve should be able to
find his own substantiation if he were willing to work at it. Personally, I
don't believe Steve wants to know if I am telling the truth or not. It's
simply easier for his peace of mind to assume I am lying than to take the
effort to discover otherwise.

> >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
> >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
> substitute Klaus Dose in place of Orgel as a protein-first advocate who no
> longer supports Fox's proteinoids model.

As I have already explained, this is not true. Dose has become more critical
of the model over the years, but he has assured me that he still considers it
to be the best model for explaining the origin of life. Steve can ignore
this endorsement all he wants, but that doesn't change its significance.

> Dose does not even regard Fox's
> proteinoids as even polypeptides, let alone proteins. He calls them
> 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,
> p354)

Steve is being dense yet again. Dose said, "Thermal amino acid polymers
(proteinoids) are **probably not pure polypeptides**"; this indicates that he
would still consider them to be polypeptides that also contain other
proteinous and non-proteinous materials. Dose did not say, "Thermal amino
acid polymers (proteinoids) are not polypeptides...." The fact that Dose
calls thermal proteins "thermal amino acid polymers" is meant to indicate
that he believes that as a group proteinoids are made up of non-proteinous
material as well as proteinous material. This in no way can be claimed as an
endorsement of Steve's view that thermal proteins are neither proteins nor

> 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
> >convinced that Fox's basic concept, if not his specific model, are
> I don't know where Kevin gets his idea that "Shapiro is still convinced
> Fox's basic concept, if not his specific model, are correct".

In 1988 -- two years after he wrote the book that Steve quotes from --
Shapiro was asked to review Fox's new book _The Emergence of Life_. This is
what he said: "Professor Sidney Fox has been one of the outstanding and
controversial figures in the origin of life field for the past generation.
His ideas have upset the establishment in a number of ways, yet they are
likely to be right on some key concepts: in particular in his advocacy of
the evolutionary development of proteins before nucleic acids." These
comments can be found on the back of the book cover in the hardbound edition.

As such, while Shapiro may have questions concerning Fox's specific model, he
accepts that his basic concepts are most likely right.

> Shapiro, although he is a "protein-first" advocate, clearly does not regard
> Fox's proteinoid theory as realistic:


I've already dealt with these objections at length in a previous posts.
Concerning locations and amino acid compositions and inferring substances and
the like, Shapiro is simply being incredulous; he offers no empirical
evidence that would refute any of Fox's answers to his questions.

Regarding the idea that thermal proteinoids "may be merely shadow play" (not
are "merely shadow play" as Steve claims) Shapiro is not questioning whether
thermal protocells are realistic; he questions whether they are relevant to
the question of the origin of life. He bases his uncertainty on the
speculation that the properties displayed by thermal protocells are due to
their being vesicles of a specific size. I have explained that the empirical
evidence demonstrates that the properties displayed by thermal protocells are
due directly to the thermal proteins themselves, and that other types
microparticles of the same size (lipid vesicles, coacervate droplets, etc) do
not display the same properties. So Shapiro's speculation is wrong.

Shapiro's endorsement of Kaufmann's model does not in and of itself
constitute a total repudiation of thermal protocells, since the latter could
easily be incorporated into the former.

End of Part One; as usual I shall post Part Two when this post has propagated.

Kevin L. O'Brien