Sunday, September 28, 2008

Current Theories of Abiogenesis:

The myth that we have no hypotheses, and no explanations for the origin of life on earth persists. In fact, biologists are considering and testing a long list of possibilities that would explain the shift from non-living to living materials. Here’s a few summarized from Wikipedia.

Primordial Soup—Miller-Urey use a mix of methane, ammonia, and hydrogen to form basic amino acids in the lab.

Deep Sea Vent Theory—Hydrogen saturated, heated, fluids from hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor mix with carbon dioxide laden water. Continued chemical energy from the interactions sustains processes that produce simple organic molecules.

Spontaneous Formation of Small Peptides from Amino Acids: Sidney Fox demonstrated that the conversions could occur on their own.

Eigen's hypothesis—Eigen and Schuster argue that some molecules, possibly RNA, can serve as an information storing system that brings about the formation of other information storing systems, or a kind of replication.

Wächtershäuser's hypothesis: Günter Wächtershäuser argues that some compounds come with inboard energy sources like iron sulfides that could release energy and synthesize simply organic molecules. His experiments produced small amounts of dipeptides and tripeptides.

Radioactive beach hypothesis: radioactive elements such as uranium may have concentrated on beaches and become building blocks for life by energizing amino acids, sugars from acetronitrile in water.

Homochirality: The right or left handedness of organic molecules may be explained by the origin of compounds in space.
Self-organization and replication: Under the right circumstances, many non-organic molecules exhibit properties of self-organization and self-replication.

"Genes first" models: the RNA world It has been argued that short RNA molecules could have formed on their own. Cell membranes could have formed from protein-like molecules in heated water. Chemical reactions in clay or on pyrites could have initiated self-replication.

"Metabolism first" models: iron-sulfur world and others. Some theories argue that metabolic processes started first, then self-replication.

Bubbles collecting on the beach could have played a role in forming early, proto-cell membranes.

Autocatalysis Some substances catalyze the production of themselves such as amino adenosine, pentafluorophenyl ester, and amino adenosine triacid ester.

Clay theory Complex organic molecules could have arisen from non-organic replicators such as silicate crystals. It has even been reported that the crystals can transfer information from mother to daughter crystals.

Gold's "Deep-hot biosphere" model Gold argues that life originated miles below the surface of the earth. Microbial life has been found there. And it may be present on other planets.

"Primitive" extraterrestrial life Organic compounds are common in space, and early life may have been transferred here from other planets such as Mars.


Even if none of these hypotheses turn out to be corroborated by empirical investigation, the important point is that there are a number of live hypotheses being considered.

31 comments:

Reginald Selkirk said...

A good relatively recent book on the topic is Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins by Rober Hazen. ISBN-13 978-0309103107.

Talk.Origins is an excellent online resource for anything related to evolution and creationism.

Most creationist attacks on abiogenesis show a lack of familiarity with the current state of the research. For example, a common creationist approach is to calculate the astronomical improbability of a certain number of proteins coming together at the same place and time. This reveals ignorance of the RNA World theory which is widely accepted amongst biologists.

made in god's image said...

it is surprising that atheist still want to hide behind evolution when it comes to the question of life. clealry, E theory can show the progression of life back to the big bang. neat little videos i watched in college of rocks leading to bubbles then to plants and single celled organisms. but after this vidoe i still was burdened with the question I always had...where did it all come from. some say this is a pseudo qeustion and others say my qeustion has been answered. but many of us aretn satisfied with E theories account of animal progression. atheist seem to hide behind the fact that e theory DOES NOT claim to answer the qeustion that burns inside many of us - where did it all come from - and why?

I believe that what makes humans so special is there ability to probe further even when an answer has been given. grant it some answers are prima facie like subsituting e theory for a life theory.

Eric Sotnak said...

I have met people whose problem with abiogenesis is that they think that there is a problem "getting life from non-life". I find this interesting. It harkens back to the days when people thought that something had to be added to material stuff to get life -- some vital principle, or soul. But life is chemistry. There is no division in kind between "life" and "non-life"; there is, at most, a difference in complexity.

There are some who realize this, and turn their attention to the issue of complexity, arguing that the sort of complexity that characterizes living things could not have come about naturally. Therefore, there must have been miraculous intervention. What is odd about this view, to me, is the "helpful miraculous nudge" that they are positing. The story seems to go like this: Once upon a time, there was a world in which all sorts of processes happily churned along according to purely naturalistic processes, and then for some reason, things couldn't get to the next stage someone (presumably God) wanted them to get to without help. So, someone helped them (IDers cagily refrain from saying it was God because they don't want their hypothesis to be blatantly religious). Then, things went back to churning along naturalistically, except where the Intelligent Designer wanted to introduce more complextiy, and then there was more miraculous intervention, and so forth.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks all for the input. Reginald's a great source of info out there.

Eric's right. There's is something deeply odd about taking the view that nature is only partially able to bring about life and that God had to nudge it here and there. First, it is just stultifying to suggest that the grand creator of all reality, the master of all space and matter upon which the foundations of the world were laid would resort to such a convoluted, unreliable, fragile, circuitous route in order to achieve his ends. Suppose I want to get to San Francisco, and I have a working car in the driveway with a full tank of gas. SF is about 100 miles from my house. But instead of head the opposite direction on a tricycle. Then I switch to a bicycle and wander south for hundreds of miles. Then I take a plane back north to the north pole. Then I walk in a winding path towards Austrailia. I kayak for a while, then I swim. Then I crawl, all the while taking a convoluted path. Ultimately after taking years and wandering for thousands of miles, I arrive in San Francisco. Clearly, given that I was trying to get to SF, the path and means I took to get there were the most effective, efficient, and direct means possible.

Believers would do well, I think, just from a strategic stand point, not to pretend to do better biology than the biologists. Of all the fights that the believer has to fight, pressing this one seems like one of the most foolish.

MM

Reginald Selkirk said...

but after this vidoe i still was burdened with the question I always had...where did it all come from....
I believe that what makes humans so special is there ability to probe further even when an answer has been given....


Oddly enough, most of the people who talk this way do not want to consider the question when it is applied to their God; their vigorous need to dig deeper seems to just evaporate.

Reginald Selkirk said...

I have met people whose problem with abiogenesis is that they think that there is a problem "getting life from non-life"...

A few months ago I met a Hindu Creationist. His views were different from Christian Creationists in interesting ways; e.g. a very old universe is no problem at all. Although this person was college-educated, he had no training in biology, and he seems to have been an adherent of vitalism. Hearing his views on the topic was rather shocking for someone trained in biochemistry.

unmoved mover's assistent said...

Oh erick , you dont think that the learning process ever gets easier, do you?

watch maker's consumer said...

Oh dr. matt why do you insist that your opinion on what consitutes an engineered world have any valdity? Are you even a human engineer? its so easy to see tha bad in any design but its diffcult yet knwoledgeable to see the design as a whole...

anon from babylon said...

RE: Mr. reginald

I am sorry sir but were you making an argument or an infantile attack?

Please explain...

Anonymous said...

Since when did randomness become a casaul factor?

Who made the natural selection algorithim?

Does anybody here doubt that the creation of humans is not a fine piece of work? for a creator to allow free agency to roam abundent upon its creation? I dont think humans are even so masterful as to create an AI with free will...

ChrisAC said...

"Who made the natural selection algorithim?

Does anybody here doubt that the creation of humans is not a fine piece of work? for a creator to allow free agency to roam abundent upon its creation? I dont think humans are even so masterful as to create an AI with free will..."

That... that is possibly the most insane thing I've ever heard. Who made some things living and some things dying based on if they're fit to live in an environment? That's not an
"algorithim"[sic]that's a natural consequence of living things.

Are you to claim that there needs some sort of intelligence to make a creature that breaths (or needs lot of) water die on land during a drought? Honestly?

Anyhow, humans are horribly evolved (designed*snort*) if one looks at the huge illogical imperfections. Wisdom teeth, tailbones, the blind-spot in the eye, the same pipe to both breathe and eat with, appendixes, and susceptibility to a plethora of crippling diseases (there's a reason children need vaccines)

Out of curiosity, by the way, do you think we should let kids get polio and smallpox, since God "designed" these and getting children vaccinated is going against "his" will by avoiding his creations?

Regardless, I also don't believe in free-agents, and you've yet to make an argument to that effect. Even if we are free agents it's painfully obvious they could have evolved and I see no reason as to why one should invoke "Allah did it" as an explanation.

ChrisAC said...

"some say this is a pseudo qeustion and others say my qeustion has been answered. but many of us aretn satisfied with E theories account of animal progression. atheist seem to hide behind the fact that e theory DOES NOT claim to answer the qeustion that burns inside many of us - where did it all come from - and why?"

This is a rather absurd statement. One can easily make the claim "Where did God come from, and why" also removes God as a satisfying answer. Not to mention it's not satisfying at all outside the most sidelong glance.

I don't see how "Magic man in the sky who we have no evidence exists did it -- we still don't know how or why. Of course I don't know why he came to be or how he uses his powers but dangit, I'm so afraid of not knowing something I'll make something up and throw a bunch of other crap on top of it until it's even more puzzling and five times as absurd as the original problem"

Inability to explain how something happened doesn't mean "magic powers" were the cause. If you really want that poor dogma broken just go ask Penn and Teller.

Knowledge of good and evil said...

RE: Chrisac

Ya, I guess your incomprehension of a diverse and complex environment forbids you to appreciate a masterful work. You also seem to cry a lot about how poorly things are designed. But I ask from what other worlds are you familiar with that are better than this? In other words, please explain how the concept of good and evil, right and wrong can exist without pain and suffering, misfortune and discontent?

And further, why do we humans believe ourselves to be the measure of all moral things. The potential good that could arise from what we humans perceive as strategic may in fact be outweighed by a greater good. Possibly, the human comprehension of good, by knowing evil, serves as motivation for doing more good.

Perhaps angry Chris, it is that you expect your desert on silver platter? You demand of the creator to have the very best without working for it? Could this be why you’re such an angry atheist?

theist guy said...

RE: chris sac 2

if you asked where god came from then yiou have just asked an illogical question. God ex nilho himself as such he is the creator of himself/herself. if you have a problem with this than you're are not taking the claim of an omni being seriously. you wouldnt doubt that zombies are mindless or that merlin was a magician? You cannot discount an entity by discounting its attriubte without referring to another claim. thus god is creator and there is no need for his creation. merlin may ior may not be real but our reference of him is at least presuming the same set of traits ie a magician.

i think you are just so very angery chris. i am not sure why. but i have a hunch that you are angry with god. i must wonder though that if ylou do not believe in god than what basis do you have for hating him? or his followers?

Arg fun said...

An arg proving god is the creator and that evolution is just one of his mechanisms...

1) If God exists he is necessary

3) If Science including E theory exists it is contingent

4) What is contigent must be necessarly contingent

5) what is necessary must necessarily be necessary

6) Only necessary things can beget contingent things

-------------------------------

God beget all scientific things

M. Tully said...

Knowledge,

You wrote, “In other words, please explain how the concept of good and evil, right and wrong can exist without pain and suffering, misfortune and discontent?”

Ok, let me begin by saying that I’m not an omnigod nor do I play one on TV.

But let’s say that I was and I wanted to instill in a person a feeling of how want them to behave without actually causing harm.

A person decides that she should club another one over the head; they pick up the club and approach the victim. As they swing the club, after it reaches the point where they could no longer stop it even if they wanted to, I stop it and simultaneously broadcast it into all other thinking persons brains. The rest of the tribe condemns the perpetrator. I’ve also programmed an adverse reaction to condemnation. The perpetrator would dislike the condemnation. Now I’m an omnigod so I would set up the laws such that brain functions that would lead to psychopathy could not exist. So unless the perpetrator really was “evil,” she would change. There you go. Free-will and no harm to innocents and I’m not even an omnigod. Oh, by the way, I certainly wouldn’t have allowed for flooding, famine, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. Where the innocents die for no moral reason at all.

How about that?

Jon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TheTheist said...

Wait a second. Let me see if I got this Tulley. If you were God then you would favor the exact sort of interfering that is usually condemned by atheists? You would “stop” every immoral act in its tracts, extraneously impose feelings of condemnation, and then on top of it all you would make the person “dislike” these feelings. I’m not exactly sure you have maintained freedom of anything here. Also, what do you mean you would prevent the development of psychopathic brain functions? It seems you are saying if you were God then you would entirely scrap any sort of evolutionary process and be content with playing human chess. Checkmate sucka, you’re moral!

If this is the sort of God that existed then I would definitely have to dissent from all participation. I understand your repugnance at comments that posit the necessity of evil for free will’s sake. However, theists have consistently screwed this up. Evil was not created just so people could choose between right and wrong. Swinburne makes comments to this effect that just blow me away. Evil is a consequence of free will, not some necessary component for its existence. Freewill in of itself does not result in evil, only abuse of it. Who would you blame for burning down your house, the pyromaniac or the company who made the matches?

We live on an evolutionary world. Hence, we came about from a selfish process. Greed indeed paid off quite well in the development of life. Could you imagine the starving caveman saying: “No, I’m not going to steal your hard earned meal Mr. Saber tooth tiger, that just wouldn’t be nice”. Ironic that albeit the ridiculousness of the original sin doctrine, in some very real sense it is correct. We absolutely have an inherent tendency to care about our own.

Evolution is by far the most creative amazing process in the universe but it is still evolution. We began as greedy little cells and have developed into amazingly complex organisms that are still unfortunately grappling with a selfish history of development. The amazing thing about humans is that we have the ability to step outside of our deterministic past and transcend it. The operative term here is “we”. It is we who must do the work; this is freewill. So often we complain about the misfortune of evil in the world. Well let’s do something about it then. Why is it that God is supposed to have done all this for us?

I seem to be a little off topic however. In regards to abiogenesis I happily await scientific evidence for life from non-life. Currently however all we have is theories and we all know theories are a dime a dozen. The theist stance (read should be) is that life was placed into a non-life situation. That is, God did not have to intervene here and there to keep life going but simply initiated life; placement of organic molecules into an inorganic environment was the extent of intervention. Calling this “miraculous” is nothing but straw. Is it miraculous when a scientist inoculates a substrate with fungi spores?

Theists who talk of miracles unfortunately retard this perspective: that life implantation via God is very much a scientific enterprise. No miracles needed. If science proves me wrong, that is if we confirm life coming from non-life, then so be it. I’ll go from there. Until then, happy arguing; I got nothing but love for you all.

Eric Sotnak said...

Thetheist wrote:
"We live on an evolutionary world."

I agree, of course, but we know that quite a few theists do not agree. This is interesting, when you think about it. Acceptance of evolution is, after all, a hard-won concession, gained only in the face of overwhelming evidence. But now some theists want to argue that a world containing evolving life is just what we would expect from a supremely wise creator. That, in fact, no matter what features of the world the athologian wants to point out as evidence against the existence of God, for all we are in a position to judge, this is just what we should expect.

There are stronger and weaker versions of this. The stronger version is: "If God exists, then he would create the world by means of exactly the naturalistic processes we observe to characterize the actual world."

The weaker version is: "If God exists, his ways are so inscrutable to us that we are in no position at all to judge which processes he would be likely to use in creating the world."

I'm not sure how a proponent of the stronger course could justify such a stance, so let's consider just the weaker option.

It seems to me that the effect of taking such a stance is to shut down all attempts to decide the matter of God's existence by appeal to any empirical considerations. No matter what happens, or what we observe, the theist can just reply. Hey, for all we know, that's just the way a supremely wise God would want things to be.

But I find this position deeply implausible. It reminds me of paranoid conspiracy theorists who would explain away apparently conflicting evidence by simply saying "Right. That just proves that there is a really sophisticated coverup."

Swinburne's theodicical strategy seems to me to be in line with this. It seems to amount to the view that in order to live in a world where there is significant moral freedom, God has to have set things up so that it looks just like a world in which there is no God at all. So if God existed, it would appear from the standpoint of empirical evidence that he did not.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks Eric. I think this is right on. Here's my rant on the topic of Christians stealing the hard work of science and giving God all the credit:

Everything to the Glory of God

Anonymous said...

RE: MM

More like atheists stealing god's creation and attributing it to man (or at least mankinds notions of things)

atheist mind = omni knowledge ? said...

RE: erick

"It seems to me that the effect of taking such a stance is to shut down all attempts to decide the matter of God's existence by appeal to any empirical considerations. No matter what happens, or what we observe, the theist can just reply. Hey, for all we know, that's just the way a supremely wise God would want things to be."

You are correct in characterizing my position. So what is so implausible about this? I find your position highly improbable. What are the odds that you would remotely fathom a supreme beings thinking? We would ordinarily laugh at the fact that a cow or moose can comprehend algebra or utilitarianism. So how then can you be so confident in understanding a supreme beings moral knowledge? Please note that the analogy between the cow and human is minuscule compared to a Omni god and a human.

Eric Sotnak said...

anonymous friend wrote:
"What are the odds that you would remotely fathom a supreme beings thinking?"

Depends on what the subject matter is. Consider your own example of cows and algebra. I think it is far to say that no cows exist that understand algebra at all. But consider instead a Freshman student in a Princeton University math class. The student sees the professor write something on the board that appears to be a fairly simple mistake, raises her hand and says, "Excuse me, Professor, but I think you made a mistake there." Now, the professor COULD respond by saying, "Listen you twit, I have a Ph.-freaking-D in mathematics. What are the odds that you would remotely fathom my thinking?" But this would be a terrible reply to make (not just because it is rude and childish), because the student (presumably) is NOT a cow, and DOES know something about algebra -- perhaps enough to be able to recognize that something is, in fact, a mistake.

I think that most people also have basic moral competence (even atheists, agnostics, and skeptics). In fact, it is part of the theistic worldview that God HAS rendered us capable of at least basic moral competence. So, against the background of our basic moral competence, it certainly seems that there are some things that would be wrong for a perfectly good being to do or permit.

M. Tully said...

Theist,

You wrote,"Checkmate sucka, you’re moral!"

Yes, yes I am. Thank you for noticing. And as a moral human, when given the chance, I try to minimize human suffering. I wouldn't allow it and then hide behind the mantra of free will. I do this without any belief whatsoever in any supernatural entity or phenomena.

So, your point would be?

M. Tully said...

Theist,

You wrote, "Who would you blame for burning down your house, the pyromaniac or the company who made the matches?"

This part of my point. If a person actually suffers from the brain disease pyromania, I can't even blame him or her (this is not to say that I don't want that person separated from ignition sources and habitable buildings).

But, what kind of omnigod could allow for such a brain defect to exist and the hide behind "free will."

M. Tully said...

Theist,

"We live on an evolutionary world. Hence, we came about from a selfish process."

Human evolution is complex. At the gene level it is selfish, but as you move to complex organisms, selfish (selfish is a cognitive term applied here for simplicity, there is no evidence that genes have any cognition whatsoever)genes are served by altruistic impulses, until at a certain level of complexity the organism can override the the gene. This has been demonstrated in whales, porpoises and other primates. It is a wonderful thing, but requires nothing beyond nature to occur.

M. Tully said...

Theist,

And finally you wrote, "Theists who talk of miracles unfortunately retard this perspective: that life implantation via God is very much a scientific enterprise."

And what evidence do you have for your premise?

If all you have is, "It's not fully explained, ergo god." What you have is an argument from ignorance, universally recognized as a logical fallacy.

Anonymous said...

*laughs* Did you guys (atheists) realize that the literal translation of atheist is,"a non-thinker"?

Reginald Selkirk said...

Chemist Shows How RNA Can Be the Starting Point for LifeBy NICHOLAS WADE
Published: May 13, 2009 (NYTimes)

An English chemist has found the hidden gateway to the RNA world, the chemical milieu from which the first forms of life are thought to have emerged on earth some 3.8 billion years ago.

He has solved a problem that for 20 years has thwarted researchers trying to understand the origin of life — how the building blocks of RNA, called nucleotides, could have spontaneously assembled themselves in the conditions of the primitive earth.
...
The miracle seems now to have been explained. In the article in Nature, Dr. Sutherland and his colleagues Matthew W. Powner and Béatrice Gerland report that they have taken the same starting chemicals used by others but have caused them to react in a different order and in different combinations than in previous experiments. they discovered their recipe, which is far from intuitive, after 10 years of working through every possible combination of starting chemicals.
...

Christos Tsirkas said...

Some theist wrote the following:
“*laughs* Did you guys (atheists) realize that the literal translation of atheist is,"a non-thinker"?”
Atheist is a word of Greek origin and as a Greek I would like to have a say. Atheist is from the Greek word “atheos” which comes from a-theos. “a” in the beginning of a word means something like “not heaving” and is present in English in many words like symmetric – asymmetric etc.
Now “theos” which means “god” is of unknown etymology. The prevailing opinion among Greek linguists is that it comes from the word “theome” which can in today’s words mean “I see everything”. This attribute being given to ancient gods, it is not all that strange to accept it as a possible etymology. Another possibility is that "theos" comes from "Zeus" but it is not very popular.
Please note that it has nothing to do with thinking. This seems to be one more inaccuracy that theists seem to believe in.

pal2002 said...

I'm not a creationist - in the sense of the Evangelicals. I, for the most part, believe in evolution. But evolution does not explain, or even address abiogenesis. The Mueller experiment, 60 years ago, proved that you can make amino acids out of nothing. In those 60 years on, we managed to learn about DNA and even sequenced so many genomes. And yet, we have made absolutely no progress past the amino acids. Putting a bunch of amino acids in a tube, no matter what you do to it, will not make a functional protein. Putting all the functional proteins and components for a bacteria in a tube will not make a bacteria. And the most fundamental thing, putting all the ingredients for DNA or RNA in a tube won't even make nucleotides, much less a billion connected nucleotides that comprise a genome. Molecular biology has really helped us understand a lot, is an aid to evolution, but does nothing for abiogenesis.