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Saturday, June 24, 2006

The odds against life forming from non-life: Abiogenesis

Pasteur disproved it, but....naturalistic, materialistic scientists keep asserting that it happened - life forming from non-life.

"From its first formulation by Aristotle in the 4th century BC it was an article of both common and learned belief, at least in Europe, that complex living organisms arose spontaneously from non-living matter - fleas and adult mice from dirty laundry and from piles of wheat, maggots and flies from rotting meat, aphids from drops of dew. Life, in short, came about by spontaneous generation, or abiogenesis. Holes began to be knocked in Aristotle's dictum by early biologists in the 18th century, but not until the meticulous experiments of Louis Pasteur in 1862 was it finallyestablished that a truly sterile medium would remain forever sterile, and that complex living organisms come only from other complex living organisms. The "Law of Biogenesis", (omne vivum ex ovo or "all life from an egg") based on his work is now a cornerstone of modern biology.

The modern science of abiogenesis addresses a fundamentally different question: the ultimate origin of life itself. Pasteur had proved that abiogenesis was impossible for complex organisms. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution put forward a mechanism whereby such organisms might evolve over millennia from simple forms, but it did not address the original spark, as it were, from which even simple organisms might have arisen. Darwin was aware of the problem. In a letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker of February 1 1871, he made the suggestion that life may have begun in a "warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, lights, heat, electricity, etc. present, [so] that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes". He went on to explain that "at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed." In other words the presence of life itself prevents the spontaneous generation of simple organic compounds from occurring on Earth today - a circumstance which makes the search for the first life dependent on the laboratory.

The answer to Darwin's question was beyond the reach of the experimental science of his day, and no real progress was made during the 19th century. In 1936 Aleksandr Ivanovich Oparin, in his "The Origin of Life on Earth", demonstrated that, pace Pasteur, it was the presence of atmospheric oxygen, and other more sophisticated life-forms that prevented the chain of events that would lead to the evolution of life. Oparin argued that a "primeval soup" of organic molecules could be created in an oxygen-less atmosphere, through the action of sunlight. These, he suggested, combine in ever-more complex fashion until they are dissolved into a coacervate droplet. These droplets, he suggested, "grow" by fusion with other droplets, and "reproduce" through fission into daughter droplets, and so have a primitive metabolism in which those factors which promote "cell integrity" survive, those that don't become extinct. All modern theories of the origin of life take Oparin's ideas as a starting point."

Some evolutionary scientists continue to point to the Miller-Urey model as a starting point for envisioning the formation of the first life. Brad Harrub, Ph.D. and Bert Thompson, Ph.D. weigh in:

Have Scientists Created Life?: Examining the Miller-Urey Experiment


How did living cells emerge from nonliving chemicals? This simple question has dogged evolutionists for centuries. Try as they might, they never have been able to establish a firm foundation for how living things first appeared—a foundation on which they then could build an evolutionary tree of life.

In the past, the modus operandi was to teach the long-ago-disproved concept of spontaneous generation, hope that no one noticed the question of the actual origin of life had never been answered, and then teach the theory of evolution as if “somehow” the origin of life had been established as a fact. As a result, almost every science textbook printed within the last fifty years contains the now-famous Miller-Urey experiment of 1953. In this experiment, Harold Urey and his graduate student, Stanley Miller, tried to simulate what they thought represented the Earth’s early atmospheric conditions, in order to determine what products they could generate by adding an electrical spark (i.e. simulating lightening). These same textbooks never fail to mention that Miller and Urey were successful at producing a few simple amino acids—“the basic building blocks of life.” From there, the textbooks lead into a new chapter on evolution and the origin of life—allowing the student to draw the conclusion that scientists have thus proven that life can be generated from just a few nonliving chemicals.

It is a logical progression, and one that, admittedly, works well in the classroom. The only problem is that this notion is totally false. Not once have scientists succeeded in producing living material from nonliving material. And yet, year after year the public is led into believing that the very foundation upon which evolution stands has been resolved. Nobel laureate George Wald of Harvard admitted:

We tell this story to beginning students of biology as though it represents a triumph of reason over mysticism. In fact it is very nearly the opposite. The reasonable view was to believe in spontaneous generation; the only alternative, to believe in a single, primary act of supernatural creation. There is no third position. For this reason many scientists a century ago chose to regard the belief in spontaneous generation as a ‘philosophical necessity.’ It is a symptom of the philosophical poverty of our time that this necessity is no longer appreciated. Most modern biologists, having reviewed with satisfaction the downfall of the spontaneous generation hypothesis, yet unwilling to accept the alternative belief in special creation, are left with nothing. I think a scientist has no choice but to approach the origin of life through a hypothesis of spontaneous generation (1954, 191:46).

Evolutionist John Horgan concluded that if he were a creationist today, he would focus on the origin of life because 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 (1996, p. 138)."

So let us consider this problem. Now, there can be no natural selection or mutation involved in the development of the first self-replicating organism, because it is the first! Therefore, it must arise from chance. While scientists have tried in vain to carefully produce any set of circumstances possible in order to produce life, if the first life came about by chance it had no help but formed randomly.

Raw Facts

Scientists who believe in a long age for the Universe tend to believe the Universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old. That computes to about 10^18 seconds.

It is believed that there are about 10^78 electrons in the entire Universe.

If every electron had made one effort to form the first life each second of the supposed span of time of the Universe, that would be 10^96 trials. But electrons are quick moving little things, aren't they? Let us give them 10^3 trials per second. Now we are up to 10^99 trials to form life on Earth if every electron in all of space and all of time tries 1,000 times per second to form simple life.

10^99 trials to become life. That is a nice, big number!

Is it sufficient to allow life to have occurred? Has this been studied, quantified? Yes, it has. I turn to Dr. Harold J. Morowitz of Yale and NASA for some answers, excerpted from the book, EVOLUTION: POSSIBLE OR IMPOSSIBLE? MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND THE LAWS OF CHANCE
IN NONTECHNICAL LANGUAGE

A new approach to the subject, based on
exciting recent discoveries involving
proteins and DNA, the "golden molecule "
of heredity

by

JAMES F. COPPEDGE, Ph.D.

Probability Research in Molecular Biology


"The Simplest Possible Living Thing

Dr. Harold J. Morowitz of Yale University has done extensive research for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to discover the theoretical limits for the simplest free-living thing which could duplicate itself, or, technically, the minimal biological entity capable of autonomous self-replication. He took into consideration the minimum operating equipment needed and the space it would require. Also, attention was given to electrical properties and to the hazards of thermal motion. From these important studies, the conclusion is that the smallest such theoretical entity would require 239 or more individual protein molecules.

This is not very much simpler than the smallest actually known autonomous living organism, which is the minuscule, bacteria-like Mycoplasma hominis H39. It has around 600 different kinds of proteins. From present scientific knowledge, there is no reason to believe that anything smaller ever existed. We will, however, use the lesser total of 239 protein molecules from Morowitz' theoretical minimal cell, which comprise 124 different kinds.

Proteins With Only Left-Handed Components

It was noted earlier that there obviously can be no natural selection if there is no way to duplicate all of the necessary parts. In order to account for the left-handed phenomenon, chance alone, unaided by natural selection, would have to arrange at least one complete set of 239 proteins with all-left-handed amino acids of the universal 20 kinds. There is reason to believe that all 20 of these were in use from the time of life’s origin.



Using figures that were furnished by Morowitz, it can be calculated that the average protein molecule in the theoretical minimal living thing would contain around 445 amino acid units of the usual 20 kinds. One of the 20 types of amino acids, glycine, cannot be left- or right-handed, because its “side chain”is not really a chain, but merely a hydrogen atom like the one opposite it. It can be presumed that this minimal theoretical cell would in many ways resemble bacteria in its make-up. In some bacteria, glycine accounts for just over 8 percent of the total amino acid molecules, so we will estimate that in the average protein of the minimal cell, there will be 35 glycine units in the chain. That will leave 410 of the total 445 which could be either left- or right-handed.

If amino acids had been formed naturally in the “primitive” atmosphere, they would have occurred in statistically equal amounts of the left- and right-handed isomers. This became clear from experiments described in the preceding chapter. That means, then, that if a protein chain is to form by random linkups, all 410 of the nonglycine sites could be occupied with equal ease by either L- or D-type amino acids.

The first one has a 1 out of 2 chance of being left-handed. The same is true for each of the other 409. Since we are now figuring this at equal probability for either hand, the probability at anyone site is not affected by the amino acid before that one in the chain.

To calculate the probability in such a case, the formula to use is the multiplication rule, the heart of probability theory. Mathematician Darrell Huff said it thus: “To find the probability of getting all of several different things, multiply together the chances of getting each one.”

To get the probability of all 410 of the isomeric or handed amino acids of just one protein chain, we must multiply the 1/2 probability which is the case for each position in the chain. It is like flipping a coin 410 times, hoping to get all heads. For each step, there is 1 chance in 2, so we must multiply the 2 by itself (2 x 2 x 2 x . . . x 2). using the figure 410 times. That is 1 chance in 2^410. (The exponent means: Multiply together 410 two’s.

It will be easier to work with this figure if we translate it to powers of 10 instead of powers of 2. As you know, multiplying 10 by itself is just adding another zero. The equivalent of 2^410 is roughly 10^123.

The probability that an average-size protein molecule of the smallest theoretically possible living thing would happen to contain only left-handed amino acids is, therefore, 1 in 10^123, on the average.

That is a rather discouraging chance. To get the feel of that number, let’s look at it with all the 123 zeros: There is, on the average, 1 chance in –
1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
that all of the amino acids of a particular protein molecule would be left-handed!

Using All the Proteins That Ever Existed on Earth

Professor Murray Eden at Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimated that the total number of protein molecules that ever existed on earth might be 10^52 as an extremely liberal approximation. If we assume for the moment that all these were the same size as the average protein in the smallest possible autonomous living thing, we can then figure the probability, on the average, that anyone protein that ever existed on earth would have only left-handed amino acids just by chance:

The answer is 1 in 10^71 (which is 10^123 divided by 10^52). Written out, that is only 1 chance in –
100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
that even a single one of all these protein molecules that ever existed on earth would on the average happen by chance alone to have only L-amino acids. Saying it another way, the odds are a hundred billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion to one against that happening!

That isn’t all. Even if one did occur, 238 more all-left-handed ones would be needed to work with it, or all would be lost. Since all 239 would have to be together in space and time, the probability of each of the remaining 238 would be 1/10^123. Those huge numbers would then have to be multiplied together and with the 1/10^71 probability of the first one, according to the multiplication rule. This would give the probability of the needed group of 239 protein molecules being all left-handed.

The number is beyond all comprehension, namely 1 in 10^29345. Even if we allow for overlapping groups, it cuts the exponents only a few “orders of magnitude” (powers of 10). And, if we had all of them, they still could not duplicate themselves, so it would be the end of the line, unless chance could also produce the DNA code and the entire translating system. The code, moreover, would have to specify that amino acids would be manufactured in the left-handed form, and the coding for all the enzymes would have to match.

For comparison, the number of inches across the known universe from one side to the other is only about 10^28. The odds against even one average-size protein having all left-handed amino acids is a figure 10 million trillion trillion trillion times that big, namely, 1 in 10^71. Remember, that is out of all the protein molecules that ever existed on earth. The foregoing calculations were on the assumption of equal likelihood that either hand would link up.

Probability Figured If 6/7 Preference for the Same Hand

Now, the probability is to be computed if this extreme is assumed, namely, a preference factor of six chances in seven that the same isomer will link up next.
If a handed amino acid happens to be first in the chain, no preference would be exerted upon it, since there would be none preceding it. We will assume the same to be true whenever another amino acid follows a glycine residue in the chain, since glycine is neither left- nor right-handed. For all the rest, we are to consider that the probability is 6/7 that the same hand will link up next as the one just preceding.

Let it be supposed that there are 32 sites in the chain of 445 where an isomeric amino acid either follows a glycine or comes first in the entire chain. Each of these 32 will therefore have a probability of 1/2 of being left-handed, as there is no handed amino acid preceding it to exert any preference. Each of the other 378 sites will have a probability of 6/7 that the position involved will be occupied by the same hand as the one just before it. When we remember the 35 glycines, this accounts for all 445.

Computing this for the 32 sites at 1/2 probability and for the 378 sites at 6/7 probability, we arrive at a probability of 1 in 8.7 x 10^34 that a particular protein would have only L-amino acids. Since a minimum of 239 such proteins is required before there are enough for the theoretical minimal living entity, and each would have the same probability, by the multiplication rule, we conclude that on the average the probability would be around 1 in 10^8350 that any given set of 239 would be all left-handed.

Going back to the 10^52 protein molecules that ever existed according to Dr. Eden, we may divide these into contiguous sets of 239 for such a minimal cell. There are 10^49 such sets, rounded. By dividing this figure into 10^8350, and further dividing by a million to allow for overlapping sets, we arrive at the astounding conclusion that there is, on the average, one chance in 10^8295 that of all the proteins that ever existed on earth there would be a set of 239 together which were all left-handed, the minimum number required for the smallest theoretical cell. Another concession was given to make it easier for chance, in that we did not consider the time factor for the 10^52 proteins that ever existed, and calculated as if they all existed at the same time.

Out of all the protein molecules that ever existed on earth, the odds against there being even one set with only left-handed components sufficient for the smallest theoretical living entity are 10^8295 to 1. This is the conclusion when it is assumed that there is a 6/7 selectivity factor for the same enantiomorphic form. Compare that with the number of seconds since the universe began, which is 10^18 for about the longest such estimate – about 15 billion years.

Even if the L-amino acids were 100 times as likely to link with L- as with D-, the odds would be 184 billion to 1 against an average size protein molecule having only L-amino acids. To get the required set of 239 would make the probability slimmer than 1 in 10^2642 out of all the proteins that ever existed on earth. And, even if we also allowed 100 to 1 preference in the case of the 32 amino acids which follow glycine – supposing that the preceding portion of the chain could exert such selectivity – the probability would still be astronomical beyond the ability of the human mind to conceive, namely, 1 chance in 5 x 10^373, using all the proteins that ever existed on earth.
To be more realistic, however, let’s go back to the figure for one minimum set if the preference is assumed to be 6/7. That was a probability averaging 1 in 10^8295. Just to print the number would require more than four full pages. It would take six minutes to say the number in billions, speaking rapidly all the while. These numbers are too fantastic to understand. Chapter 7 on large numbers will offer comparisons that will help.

What if we suppose, contrary to any actual evidence, that at the start there were only forty proteins required, of only forty units in length,16 with 6/7 preference for the same hand? Considering three of these to be glycine, the odds would be sixty billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion to one that no single set of protein molecules out of all that ever existed would have only left-handed amino acids. (That is 60 x 10^69 to 1.)

Conclusion: No Conceivable Probability

No natural explanation which can adequately explain this left-handed mystery is in sight. We have just seen that the odds against its happening by chance are so tremendous as to be completely incomprehensible.

If, on the other hand, there was a Creator of living things, He could have decided for reasons of His own to use just L-amino acids in proteins. He would have placed the proper L-enzymes and coding in the cells which would form only left-handed amino acids for use in proteins.

These created enzymes would thereafter be replaced as needed at the orders of the DNA code. The same Creator would be the Author of that amazing code which carries complete instructions that are incredibly comprehensive and detailed in the genes of every living thing on earth.

For those whose philosophy is evolution, this left-handed matter is an embarrassing problem. The many efforts at solutions that have been made are noteworthy for the questions they bring up rather than for answers. It is not likely that this mystery will ever be adequately explained, as long as the evidence of intelligent planning is ignored."


Hmmmm. Even with 10^99 trials in all of space in all of time, the odds against a simple self-replicating organism appear to be generously given as 1 in 10^8196, which is far more than the 1 in 10^50 considered to be the number beyond which a chance is considered an impossibility.

Now, these are simultaneous trials continually ongoing, so no complaints there. The math is simple statistics, the old coin flip math, much like the binary choices made in a computer. On or off, yes or no, heads or tails, although certain advantages are given to the proteins to make it easier for life to form....and yet statistically it could not have happened!

No strawmen or fallacies here

The math is straight-forward. But you say, suppose the Universe has formed and re-formed infinite times and with so many different Universes, one had to have formed life! Here is the evidence for multiple formation of the Universe:



still waiting?



gee, no evidence? In fact, the fine-tuning required in the formation of this Universe is such that many scientists admit it could not have happened by chance. So to suggest that it has happened over and over and over is, well, silly.



But you say, evolution doesn't require life from non-life, but simply describes simple to complex life. Okay, where did the life come from? If you say, "God", then you didn't need evolution to make all the creatures found today. The remarkable leaps of faith to believe that irreducibly complex systems just happened are no longer necessary......neither is evolution. No, the true evolutionist is a naturalistic materialist who will not conceive of God or any factors beyond the ability of his five senses to apprehend. If you assert that you are a God-believing evolutionist, well, that makes no sense to me, frankly. Panspermia????? We have seen that the conditions in outer space will kill off any simple life that might be drifting in from another location.

Go ahead and try to show me how Morowitz got it wrong. But if you try to assert that "much simpler life-forms existed then" or "simpler self-replicators formed together" or "conditions were more conducive to the formation of life" you had better present evidence or you are just repeating a 'just-so' story that you heard in school. Cheers!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Pasteur disproved it, but....naturalistic, materialistic scientists keep asserting that it happened - life forming from non-life. "

As the piece shows, the emergence of life from non-life today - for example, in a sterile medium sitting in a room-temp flask in someone's lab - is rather different from the emergence of life on the early Earth. The problem of protolife being devoured by already-life - early bird getting the worm, so to speak - isn't a problem in a sterile flask, granted. However, the enormous amount of oxygen just floating around - it's poison, you know, orginally, as far as we can tell, produced as a waste product by early life - makes the kind of chemical processes that (to the extent we can predict) led to life's origin prettty darn unlikely.

What's astonishing is that our primitive, guessworky attempts to recreate early-earth conditions in a small jar have produced not only organic molecules, but, basically, some of the building blocks of life itself. The fact that over a few decades we have so far failed to create life itself (in a small jar) is less impressive - we have, after all, similarly failed to create a balanced artificial ecosystem, let alone cure the common cold!

"But you say, evolution doesn't require life from non-life, but simply describes simple to complex life. Okay, where did the life come from?"

Fascinatin' question. Not one within the field of evolutionary theory, though, anymore than the question of how mammals evolved is one for archaeologists.

" Okay, where did the life come from? If you say, "God", then you didn't need evolution to make all the creatures found today. The remarkable leaps of faith to believe that irreducibly complex systems just happened are no longer necessary......neither is evolution."

The problem, of course, is that you are replacing alleged leaps of faith (and of course, all statements about the world are leaps of faith to some degree) with even bigger ones!

In and of itself, this simply is - that is, it's neither good nor bad, useful nor useless. In terms of science, though, it just doesn't work. The point of scientific explanations is that they in fact explain the phenomena at hand (although this explanation may open up new questions, in the way that painting some bold stripes of new paint across a bare wall increases the number of wall-bits to be filled in). This doesn't. In terms of scientific knowledge, it doesn't get us anywhere - in fact, it most likely makes matters much worse.

" If you assert that you are a God-believing evolutionist, well, that makes no sense to me, frankly."

Well, whose fault is that?

"Panspermia????? We have seen that the conditions in outer space will kill off any simple life that might be drifting in from another location."

While I don't know of any specific evidence for this hypothesis, water bears may (?) in fact be able to survive in space for some time - and they're honest-to-goodness animals.

"No, the true evolutionist is a naturalistic materialist who will not conceive of God or any factors beyond the ability of his five senses to apprehend. "

Hello, Mr. Strawman! How are you doing? Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. On call 24/7? That's not . . . and no vacation time either?! How unfair! What if you're sliced to bits in the line of duty, is there at least some compensation plan . . .? No? And you have a wife and three little strawbabies to feed? That's outrageous! What you need, my friend, is to form a union! What to do? Well, for starters . .

[Dan S. and Strawman walk off into the distance, amid the lilting strains of "Solidarity Forever" (to the tune of"John Brown's Body/The Battle Hymn of the Republic" . .

"Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong . . ."

-Dan S.

Anonymous said...

"No strawmen or fallacies here"

I beg to differ:

"...which is far more than the 1 in 10^50 considered to be the number beyond which a chance is considered an impossibility"

Fallacy: This is total bunk, shuffle a deck of cards and see something with less odds happen for yourself. You should really stop repeating this as it's just plain wrong.

"We have seen that the conditions in outer space will kill off any simple life that might be drifting in from another location"

Fallacy: I was going to mention waterbears as well, but Dan beat me to it. The fact that you have creatures in your front lawn that disproves this argument is somehow very satisfying to me, though I don't know why.

As for the rest of the post, it was entirely a strawman against evolution.

Evolution. and. abiogenesis. are. not. the. same. thing.

I told you before you wrote this post that lumping evolution and abiogenesis together is a strawman argument, and you go and write a HUGE post that does exactly that. I don't know why I even bother sometimes.

-scohen, sadly shaking his head.

Jake said...

Ya know, for all that it's true that abiogenesis, geology, evolution, archaeology, etc, are all different fields, and one can't expect an expert in one to have more than a lay person's knowledge in the others, I think that we with reality-based worldviews should stop answering every accusation against the various non-evolution fields. It gives the false impression that we're avoiding asnwering these questions because we can't. Hey, if IDiots can't tell one scientific discipline from another, that's their problem. The advantage to having a reality-based worldview is that we *do* actually have answers to all these so-called problems.

Anonymous said...

Fallacy: This is total bunk, shuffle a deck of cards and see something with less odds happen for yourself. You should really stop repeating this as it's just plain wrong.

10^50!!! Are you serious? You think the odds of getting a specified hand/card in a 52 card deck come anywhere close to 10^50? I ask again: Are you serious? Perhaps you need more time to think this over eh.

I love the lawn critters who show space isn't all that inhospitable.... you guys are great. :)

As for the rest of the post, it was entirely a strawman against evolution.

That would be abiogenesis... you Darwiniacs should know that already; it's on the talking points. Just under "just so stories" and/or the "circular argument".... evolution creates evolution silly. Just as the survival of the fittest... who survies? The most fit. Well who are the most fit? Those who survive silly. Now that's science!

Jake:

Did you want to show us the answers you already *do* have for these problems. Or were you just talking out yer arse? Never mind... it's right here on the talking points "arse talkin'"