Re: Why did progress fail?, etc

From: Stephen E. Jones (
Date: Fri Jan 07 2000 - 08:12:29 EST

  • Next message: Cliff Lundberg: "Re: Why did progress fail?, etc"


    On Thu, 06 Jan 2000 09:48:56 -0600, Susan Brassfield wrote:


    >>SJ>[No doubt if some of the bacteria survive we will hear all about
    >>>on the front page of the newspapers, e.g. "Scientific Experiment Proves we
    >>>Came from Mars!" What is interesting in the shift of the focus of origins-
    >>>of-life research to space, as science quietly gives up on chemical evolution
    >>>on Earth, perhaps without ever admitting to the public they were wrong
    >>>these last 40+ years!]

    >CL>I think the shift to space is due to the space bureaucracies, which need
    >>justifications for funding. The public seems to have accepted paying for
    >>space operations even though the payoffs have been abstract, so perhaps
    >>these people are smart to add evolution to the package.

    Agreed. Now the Cold War is over they can't use the defence pretext they
    used to put a man on the moon. So the origin of life is the next best thing.
    Shapiro regards "NASA's...concentration of power over funding" in the
    origin of life as "unfortunate":

    "Funding for origin-of-life research in this country has largely become the
    province of NASA. Its influence on the entire field is profound, as more
    than half of the worldwide membership of ISSOL is drawn from this
    country. The space agency justifies this connection with claims that "all
    steps in the origin and evolution of life are inextricably linked with the
    physical and chemical processes of cosmic evolution." This statement is
    certainly true in that life could not have originated on earth, or arrived here,
    if the earth had not been created by the processes that made the solar
    system. However, the specific steps in the origin of life here could well
    have been governed by local environmental factors on this planet and have
    had no relation whatever to chemical events in the interstellar dust clouds
    or within comets. Many possibilities for the origin of life remain open at
    this point, including the cosmic link, so the interest of NASA in the
    question appears valid. Much odder, though, is the lack of interest by other
    federal agencies. According to NASA administrator Donald DeVincenzi:
    "The other agencies have not yet taken that direct a role in origin-of-life
    research. If you ask them why, they don't give a very logical answer. They
    just say, that's NASA's program." Whatever the reasons involved, this
    concentration of power over funding seems unfortunate. Some points of
    view will inevitably be preferred to competing ones, and the losers have no
    alternative resource. Dangers of greater magnitude may also come up, and
    threaten funding for the field altogether. (Shapiro R., "Origins: A Skeptic's
    Guide to the Origin of Life", 1986, pp276-277).

    SB>are you guys really sure there has actually been a "shift to space"?
    >Stephen has recently posted abstracts of articles on research being done on
    >oceanic heat vents and on bacteria found in deep-earth core samples. In
    >other words abiogenesis research is alive and well on planet earth. It
    >*would* be interesting to find extra-terrestrial life or evidence of it,
    >but I think that research is in *addition* rather than *instead of.*

    *Today's* bacteria are not evidence for the *origin* of life any more than
    today's vertebrates are:

    "The view that the Bushmen are `primitive' is like the notion that bacteria
    are primitive. One may forget that the bacteria have undergone a longer
    evolutionary history than the vertebrates." (Lewontin R.C., "Human
    Diversity", 1995, p167).

    Corliss, who discovered the first "oceanic heat vent" (ie. hydrothermal
    vent), believes that all the life around such vents migrated there:

    "Since James Corliss and others agree that current life at the vents
    probably migrated there, the thermal-vent origin of life remains a
    vague idea, lacking both conceptual details and experimental support."
    (Bradley W.L. & Thaxton C.B., "Information & the Origin of Life", in
    Moreland J.P., ed., "The Creation Hypothesis", 1994, p194)

    Moreover hydrothermal vents are actually a *problem* for the origin of

    "Stanley L. Miller and his colleague Jeffrey L. Bada are not convinced that
    deep sea hydrothermal vents could have served as the womb for the origin
    of life. They have conducted experiments which indicate that the incredibly
    hot water inside these vents (frequently exceeding 300 degrees C) would
    destroy complex organic compounds. Miller has said that if the surface of
    the early earth was a frying pan, then the deep sea hydrothermal vent was a
    fire. Norman R. Pace of Indiana University does not believe that the first
    organisms could have originated at these vents. He disagrees with James
    Corliss and hypothesizes that the archaea originated in another place,
    perhaps near the surface of the earth during a respite from the meteorite
    impacts, and then migrated to the vents." (Overman D.L., "A Case Against
    Accident and Self-Organization", 1997, p80).

    This is because the superheated water in hydrothermal vents would
    *destroy* any organic compounds:

    "Stanley Miller and Jeffrey Bada at the University of California at San
    Diego have done experiments that suggest the superheated water inside
    vents, which sometimes exceeds 572 degrees F, would destroy rather than
    create complex organic compounds. As a result, Miller actually considers
    the vents a hindrance to the origin of life." (Bradley W.L. & Thaxton C.B.,
    1994, p194)

    >CL>If the bacteria should survive re-entry by being on the lee side of the
    >>module, that would be unfortunate for evolutionary biology, as it would
    >>encourage nebulous notions of extraterrestrial origins, and possibly put
    >>a damper on conventional approaches.

    Organic molecules are *not* bacteria, any more than silicon molecules are a
    microprocessor. As even Dawkins points out they are no big deal these
    days, being formed whenever there is "thundery weather":

    "Chemists have tried to imitate the chemical conditions of the young earth.
    They have put these simple substances in a flask and supplied a source of
    energy such as ultraviolet light or electric sparks-artificial simulation of
    primordial lightning. After a few weeks of this, something interesting is
    usually found inside the flask: a weak brown soup containing a large
    number of molecules more complex than the ones originally put in. In
    particular, amino acids have been found-the building blocks of proteins,
    one of the two great classes of biological molecules. Before these
    experiments were done, naturally-occurring amino acids would have been
    thought of as diagnostic of the presence of life. If they had been detected
    on, say Mars, life on that planet would have seemed a near certainty. Now,
    however, their existence need imply only the presence of a few simple
    gases in the atmosphere and some volcanoes, sunlight, or thundery
    weather." (Dawkins R., "The Selfish Gene", 1989, new edition, p14)

    >>SJ>I wonder when some honest leading Darwinist
    >>>(assuming that is not a contradiction in terms) is going to have the courage
    >>>to point out to publicly to his colleagues that they are misrepresenting
    >>>what *really* happened, if they continue claiming that the Board "removed"
    >>>evolution from the State's curriculum?]

    >CL>Let's not get into this 'honesty' stuff. I think it's enough to say that
    >>the events in Kansas were good for science, and that it's just dumb to
    >>uncritically accept macroevolution through Darwinian gradualism.

    While I do not normally "get into this 'honesty' stuff" I do think that
    Darwinists, by repeating the same false story about "the Board "removed"
    evolution from the State's curriculum" are *bordering* on dishonesty.

    I do not necessarily claim that Darwinists *think* they are being dishonest.
    I am sure that to them creationism is such an evil that they think the end
    justifies the means. Indeed, some Darwinists have been quite frank in
    advocating making bad (but effective) arguments in order to defeat
    creationism, even though it is morally corrupt:

    "When one is aware that this is the situation-and I suspect this is rather
    common-then one confronts the philosophers dilemma. One horn looks
    roughly like this. Convinced of the overall rightness of ones position, one
    opts to present the effective bad argument. Each time one does this, one's
    hands get a little bit dirtier. At first one is painfully sensitive to even small
    compromises that one knows to be violations of one's intellectual integrity,
    but gradually numbness of conscience sets in. At last, when presenting the
    effective bad argument has become easy and habitual-second nature, as it
    were-one's hands have become dirty beyond all cleansing and one suffers
    from a thoroughgoing corruption of mind. The other horn looks roughly
    like this. Concerned to preserve one's integrity al all costs, one resolves
    never to present the effective bad argument. One always presents the best
    argument one can for the position one thinks most nearly right, and one's
    hands remain clean. But frequently these good arguments fail to persuade
    or carry the day, and gradually one's credibility and effectiveness wane. At
    last, when one has an established track record of failure, the decision-
    makers conclude that one is of no use to them, and one is unceremoniously
    cast aside. Though it should be obvious that I have been exaggerating a bit
    for rhetorical effect, I think the hard choice between corruption and
    ineffectuality is sometimes real enough. That is the dilemma! Is there a way
    between its horns? Perhaps. My colleague, Dan Brock, suggests that
    academic philosophers should only get involved in the policy-making arena
    on a temporary, short-term basis. Maybe this is a way in which we could
    manage to have our cake and eat it too. For a short period one might
    engage in giving bad effective arguments without being thoroughly
    corrupted. Then one could retreat back to the academy to wash one's
    moderately soiled hands. After having one's intellectual integrity restored
    and reinforced, one might then be ready to repeat the cycle....So there may
    well be circumstances in which only the bad effective argument will work
    against them in the political or legal arenas. If there are, then I think,
    though I come to this conclusion reluctantly, it is morally permissible for us
    to use the bad effective argument, provided we continue to have qualms of
    conscience about getting our hands soiled. But I also believe we must be
    very careful not to allow ourselves to slide all the way down the slippery
    slope to intellectual corruption. Perhaps, if we divide up the labor so that
    no one among us has to resort to the bad effective argument too frequently,
    we can succeed in resisting effectively without paying too high a price in
    terms of moral corruption." (Quinn P.L., "Creationism, Methodology, and
    Politics", in Ruse M., ed., "But is it Science?", 1996, pp397-398).

    SB>I've read the curriculum recommendations proposed by the scientists the
    >Kansas school board originally hired to write them and I've read the final
    >curriculum recommended by the board. Stephen posted urls to both documents
    >(thanks!). The two documents were quite similar except anything that
    >challenged the religious convictions of the board members had been deleted,
    >including recommended reading which would have presented some of the
    >evidence supporting evolution. Where Stephen got this nonsense I have no
    >idea. Perhaps he should present some supporting documentation.

    That the Board was motivated by "religious convictions" is one thing. That
    it "removed" evolution from the State's curriculum" is quite another.

    >>SJ>"In the middle sits the lone figure of Steve Jones, a man so universally
    >>>sceptical that unless he had his birth certificate he would doubt his own
    >>>existence." (Hurst L., "The darling of the masses", New Scientist, 6 June
    >>>1998, p50)

    >CL>That birth certificate is a meaningless piece of paper that anybody could
    >>make up. The matter remains unproven.

    Now Cliff has got me worried! :-)

    SB>ROFL!!! :-) I've debated creationists who tried to convince me that since
    >abiogenesis hasn't been nailed down solid, then evolution (which is the
    >*history* of life, not the origin) didn't happen.

    It is question-begging to say that " the *history* of life".
    Evolution is a *theory* which attempts to *explain* "the history of life" in
    materialistic-naturalistic terms. There are alternative theories which attempt
    to explain "the history of life" on supernaturalistic (Fiat Creation), and
    supernaturalistic-naturalistic terms (Progressive Creation/ Mediate

    The point is that if a fully materialistic-naturalistic "abiogenesis" cannot be
    demonstrated (and indeed if it is in the process of quietly being abandoned
    as intractable) on materialistic-naturalistic terms, then it is a reasonable
    assumption that an Intelligent Designer's intervention was required to
    originate life, especially since that is what the origin-of-life experiments
    actually show:

    "Over the years a slowly emerging line or boundary has appeared which
    shows observationally the limits of what can be expected from matter and
    energy left to themselves, and what can be accomplished only through what
    Michael Polanyi has called "a profoundly informative intervention.". When
    it is acknowledged that most so-called prebiotic simulation experiments
    actually owe their success to the crucial but *illegitimate* role of the
    investigator, a new and fresh phase of the experimental approach to life's
    origin can then be entered. Until then however, the literature of chemical
    evolution will probably continue to be dominated by reports of experiments
    in which the investigator, like a metabolizing Maxwell Demon, will have
    performed work on the system through intelligent, exogenous intervention.
    Such work establishes experimental boundary conditions, and imposes
    intelligent influence/control over a supposedly "prebiotic" earth. As long as
    this informative interference of the investigator is ignored, the illusion of
    prebiotic simulation will be fostered. We would predict that this practice
    will prove to be a barrier to solving the mystery of life's origin." (Thaxton
    C.B., Bradley W.L. & Olsen R.L., "The Mystery of Life's Origin", 1992,

    But materialist-naturalists realise that once the intervention of an Intelligent
    Designer is granted as a possibility in the origin of life, it is also possible that
    the same Intelligent Designer may have had a decisive part to play in
    subsequent major transitions in the history of life, especially since these
    are intractable too!

    So, as Johnson points out, Darwinists *must* provide a materialistic-
    naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, if they are to maintain a
    materialistic-naturalistic explanation of evolution:

    "Biological evolution is just one major part of a grand naturalistic project,
    which seeks to explain the origin of everything from the Big Bang to the
    present without allowing any role to a Creator. If Darwinists are to keep
    the Creator out of the picture, they have to provide a naturalistic
    explanation for the origin of life." (Johnson P.E., "Darwin on Trial", 1993,

    SB>This is like saying that if Stephen can't prove the authenticity of his
    >birth certificate he doesn't exist!!! :-)

    My existence and my birth certificate are two entirely different things. My
    existence is a fact, and my birth certificate throws additional light on that
    fact (eg. the names of my parents, when, where, etc).

    This has an analogy to origin of life. The existence of life is a fact. *How*,
    when, and where that life originated is what is in dispute.

    Some people do find themselves without a birth certificate. For example,
    only about 10-15 years ago, an aboriginal man and his wife came out of
    the desert having had no prior contact with white men or civilisation. For
    such people a birth certificate must be reconstructed based on things that
    can be learned from them or deduced about them.

    If Materialistic-Naturalistic science can plausibly demonstrate the origin of
    life without needing the intervention of human intelligent designers then
    they will have, in effect, reconstructed life's missing `birth-certificate'
    without needing the hypothesis of the intervention of an Intelligent

    But if Materialistic-Naturalistic science cannot reconstruct life's `birth
    certificate' on materialistic-naturalistic terms, and yet Intelligent Design
    theory can on its terms, then the `birth certificate' of life should be
    registered in the Intelligent Designer's `name'!


    "The origin of the [genetic] code is perhaps the most perplexing problem in
    evolutionary biology. The existing translational machinery is at the same
    time so complex, so universal) and so essential that it is hard to see how it
    could have come into existences or how life could have existed without it.
    The discovery of ribozymes has made it easier to imagine an answer to the
    second of these questions, but the transformation of an 'RNA world' into
    one in which catalysis is performed by proteins, and nucleic acids specialize
    in the transmission of information, remains a formidable problem."
    (Maynard Smith J. & Szathmary E., "The Major Transitions in Evolution",
    W.H. Freeman: Oxford UK, 1995, p81).
    Stephen E. Jones | |

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