The Origin of Life

Five questions worth asking

Incl. intelligent design, belief in divine creation

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The Origin of Life

#1  Postby The_Metatron » Apr 18, 2011 2:55 pm

This topic will be my homework assignment on abiogenesis. I was just given a copy of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania's pamphlet, The Origin of Life - Five Questions Worth Asking.

The five questions they say are worth asking are:
  1. How did life begin?
  2. Is any form of life really simple?
  3. Where did the instructions come from?
  4. Has all life descended from a common ancestor?
  5. Is it reasonable to believe the bible?


The pamphlet starts out with a page titled, A STUDENT'S DILEMMA. They seem to like using all caps in this pamphlet. The dilemma is about a confused student who can't reconcile the dogma taught to him by his parents about creation and what the school is teaching him about Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution.

I already have to note a conflation of the theory of evolution and what it tells us, and abiogenesis. Two separate things. As far as I know, the theory of evolution says nothing about the origin of life. Having flipped through this pamphlet, we'll be seeing this conflation a lot.

It's a fine line between quoting too much material and being accused of quote mining. I'm not the first person to start a topic discussing this publication, either. Are the Jehovah's Witnesses a big enough threat to reason and rationality to warrant a great deal of effort tearing apart only one of their pamphlets? Or, is this such an affront that we cannot let it stand, simply out of principle? I opt for the latter, and begin this small undertaking. Nothing on the scale of Agrippina's review of the whole damn bible.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#2  Postby HughMcB » Apr 18, 2011 2:58 pm

I always liked this video (although admittedly it's just one of a few leading theories);

"So we're just done with phrasing?"
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Re: The Origin of Life

#3  Postby John P. M. » Apr 18, 2011 3:37 pm

Millions of people world wide hang on to the words of The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses, for those who don't know) as if it came straight from God's mouth (which to them means it's an authority), so it's important to put the record straight. Sadly, a refutation most likely won't reach the eyes or ears of any JW, and if it does, it most likely won't reach their conscious minds, as they have a "firewall" installed in their brain for that purpose. But some will notice. They do after all have access to the internet, although they get copious amounts of warnings on what to do and not do there.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#4  Postby Calilasseia » Apr 18, 2011 6:20 pm

If you need help carpet bombing this piece of supernaturalist bullshit, I have something like 168 scientific papers on abiogenesis alone in the collection you can happily borrow. Plus at least 11 scientific papers on the evolvability of the "genetic code". Indeed, researchers have now reached the stage where they are planning experiments on model protocells.

The JWs are another group who need to be tackled head-on for disseminating lies about valid science. They're creationists, after all.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#5  Postby LarianLeQuella » Apr 18, 2011 6:31 pm

Calilasseia, please reproduce that list here for my own uses if you would be so kind. <3
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Re: The Origin of Life

#6  Postby The_Metatron » Apr 18, 2011 6:48 pm

I'm happy for all the help I can get. Please keep an eye on this topic. The first few pages of that pamphlet should be within my grasp. But, they do get rather technical later.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#7  Postby Rumraket » Apr 18, 2011 7:11 pm

From those "questions worth asking" it seems to me you should be prepared for a stonewall of IDiocy, mostly reducible to endless canards about information and complexity. I wouldn't be surprised if they start babbling Dembski propaganda directly. The "is any life really simple?" and "where did the instructions come from?" is a dead giveaway that that's what they intend to do. Baffle the credulous with tales of unfathomable complexity and useless appeals to computer-programming analogies, complete with bullshit expressions like "algorthimically defined mathematical information-instructionals" or something like that.

A good example of ID-shitspeak, as I like to call it, is this paper ID paper: http://www.tbiomed.com/content/2/1/29
I'd expect them to throw nonsense like that at you.

Genetic sequence complexity is unique in nature
"Complexity," even "sequence complexity," is an inadequate term to describe the phenomenon ofgenetic "recipe." Innumerable phenomena in nature are self-ordered or complex without being instructive (e.g., crystals, complex lipids, certain polysaccharides). Other complex structures are the product of digital recipe (e.g., antibodies, signal recognition particles, transport proteins, hormones). Recipe specifies algorithmic function. Recipes are like programming instructions. They are strings of prescribed decision-node configurable switch-settings. If executed properly, they become like bug-free computer programs running in quality operating systems on fully operational hardware. The cell appears to be making its own choices. Ultimately, everything the cell does is programmed by its hardware, operating system, and software. Its responses to environmental stimuli seem free. But they are merely pre-programmed degrees of operational freedom.


My blue. The paper is full of idiotic gems like that, designed to baffle people with fancy talk.
Or later in the paper, he almost orgasms from the complexity crap:

Functional Sequence Complexity (FSC)
A linear, digital, cybernetic string of symbols representing syntactic, semantic and pragmatic prescription; each successive sign in the string is a representation of a decision-node configurable switch-setting – a specific selection for function.


:rofl:

How did life begin?

At first I would concede that we don't know how it began and supply it with a reminder that using this as a platform to argue that we can't figure it out and never will is an argument from ignorance, in addition to being a pathetic and defeatist attitude to scientific problem solving. And then of course there's the fact that they want to shovel god in to a gap here.

Second, just because we don't know how life actually began doesn't mean we don't have a pretty good idea for how it could have. What is particularly interesting here, is the information canard that they are probably dying to boil it down to, and here one would simply have to provide examples of naturally occurring information generating and information changing systems, like sand-dunes and the growth of crystals.

Is any form of life really simple?

Noone thinks modern life sprang into existence fully formed the way it is now. This is simply a strawman question, purposefully engineered to baffle the ignorant with complexities.

Where did the instructions come from?

There are no instructions anywhere. There are only molecules reacting to molecules according to the laws of physics and chemistry.
Edit : Well, if they are going to go semantic on you and attempt to define functional genes into being instructional entities, the problem is merely one of evolution. So the answer then becomes : They evolved.

Has all life descended from a common ancestor?

Yes. The most compelling evidence for that is found not only in the near-universality of the genetic code(which is itself an evolvable system) but in the progressively lesser homology in sequence you find in the genes of increasingly distantly related life. The simple fact is that every way in which we can test for common ancenstry, the evidence testifies to it with remarkable interdisciplinary consilience. If someone wants to argue that life was designed and didn't evolve with common ancestry, they will have to concede the designer set up life to look evolved. Everything else is lunacy.

Is it reasonable to believe the bible?

No. :crazy:
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Re: The Origin of Life

#8  Postby Shrunk » Apr 18, 2011 7:21 pm

The Metatron,

I know from your other thread that you are going to be discussing this in person with a real live (well, they seem to walk around and talk and do stuff that living things do, so I guess they're alive) JW. So I think letting them set the stage by adopting these questions as the framework would already be conceding too much. The questions themselves are mostly irrelevant red herrings and don't have anything to do with each other. I would start with that and show how they are already poisoning the well from the outset, and then go on to discuss the science of evolution, how it is not the same as abiogenesis, and does not mean that complex forms of life suddenly came together from chance. IOW, that they are arguing against a strawman.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#9  Postby John P. M. » Apr 18, 2011 7:48 pm

AFAIK, they've wisened up slightly since a few years ago, when their anti evolution books (which were meant to come across as 'fair and balanced' views of the two 'options') were filled with quote mines and misrepresentations. A list of quote mines from their earlier book on evolution can be found here.

I skimmed through one of the latest pamphlets on the subject not long ago (maybe it was the one you're talking about actually; I threw it out), and noticed they had changed their way of going about it somewhat. But I think it still follows the same 'formula': Complexity of living beings and processes, wild probability numbers based on a top down approach, quoting one or two scientists (or claimed scientists, or scientists commenting out of their field) and letting that quote have the weight of more than the entire scientific community combined, and then at the end, give a carefully orchestrated interpretation of biblical passages from the 'appropriate' translations showing how the Bible must be divine in origin because it is historically correct on some points (they would say all), contained scientific knowledge before its time (they have a couple of alleged examples), and fulfilled prophecies etc.

Shouldn't be too hard to debunk, but it takes time and effort. It is after all easier and faster to throw out assertions than it is to then find the material needed to show how it's false.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#10  Postby Paul G » Apr 18, 2011 8:38 pm

Get them to explain evolution first. Don't let them throw questions at you as if you're the one who needs to justify anything.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#11  Postby Occam's Laser » Apr 18, 2011 9:25 pm

I usually accept these pamphlets/booklets and agree with the JW's that I will read the book until I find the first significant error or indication of ethical shortcomings. That's perfectly OK with them.

I then read aloud the title of the article, then the first sentence... and stop. "Wait a minute!" I say - "who wrote this article?" JW looks at the pamphlet, then notices what I've noticed: there is no author's name attached to the article, or any article in any of their publications. "Well, this is published and distributed by the Watchtower Society." I then point out I wasn't asking who it was edited by, published by, or distributed by - all I want to know is who wrote it. They're not sure, but it has to be approved by the WTS, yadda yadda yadda. That's disturbing, I say - without knowing who the author is or what the author's credentials are, it's not possible to get a feel for how authoritative the information is. I mean, it could be written by someone with a degree in evolutionary biology, or for all I know, by Otis the Town Drunk.

None of the authors of any of their articles is ever identified.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#12  Postby Calilasseia » Apr 19, 2011 12:51 am

Above all, remember that like all creationists, they peddle lies to sell their doctrine. They have to do this, because if observational reality supported any creationist assertions whatsoever, then science would already have integrated those assertions into their framework, on the basis that those assertions now constituted evidentially supported postulates.

So, let's tackle these "five questions" in sequence, shall we?

[1] How did life begin?

The correct answer is "whilst we do not know for certain the answer to this question, we have a large body of experimental evidence pointing to relevant testable natural mechanisms, that have been demonstrated repeatedly to work in the laboratory". The testable natural mechanisms in question being chemical reactions. It is perfectly reasonable to postulate chemical reactions as the basis for the origin of life, because living organisms today are manifestly reliant upon chemistry for their functioning, and the body of evidence for this is overwhelming. Scientists have elucidated in exquisite detail a whole range of metabolic pathways, ranging from the utilisation of glucose to produce energy in metazoan cells, through the chemistry of photosynthesis in plants, to the mechanisms extant for the synthesis of DNA itself. Indeed, so vast is the extant body of literature presenting the relevant empirical elucidation of these chemical reactions, that it would take several dozen lifetimes for a human being to read them all. Consequently, since we have a vast body of evidence to the effect that life is chemistry writ large, it makes eminent sense to postulate a chemical origin thereof.

[2] Is any form of life really simple?

In order to answer this, one needs to have in place a proper, rigorous metric defining what is meant by "simple", and conversely, what is meant by "complex". Without such a metric, the question is meaningless.

However, light is once again being shone upon this question by relevant laboratory research. Scientists are now in the position to plan and execute experiments focusing upon the properties of simple model protocells, of the sort that are hypothesised to have been formed 3.5 billion years ago. Indeed, much of the previous research in the field of naturalistic abiogenesis centred upon the establishment of a rigorous basis for the appearance of the building blocks needed for said protocells, and the empirical demonstration that relevant molecules were not only capable of self-assembly, but did so quite naturally under relevant conditions. The cutting edge of research is now moving toward determining how the first protocells were likely to behave.

[3] Where did the instructions come from?

This is a deliberately loaded question that presupposes its purported "answer". The simple fact is, that whilst the chemical reactions that are associated with genetics and the inheritance of traits, bear the appearance of "instructions", carrying this analogy too far is misleading. Not least, because it has been determined by numerous researchers and their empirical work, that the so-called "genetic code" is itself an evolvable entity. Indeed, numerous papers on this subject exist, illuminating our understanding of the origin of the genetic code, and all serious researchers consider that body of work to be sound and robust.

[4] Has all life descended from a common ancestor?

The evidence for a "yes" answer to the above is overwhelming. Not least, because, having elucidated the basics of inheritance, scientists are in a position to know what patterns would appear in the genes of living organisms, if common descent with modification was in operation, and what patterns would appear if this mechanism were not in operation. The evidence is conclusive - common descent with modification unifies the entire biosphere. The patterns expected to appear as a result of this mechanism have been found right across the biosphere, in everything from single-celled amoebae to primates. Denial of the validity of this evidence is not only untenable, but farcical.

[5] Is it reasonable to believe the Bible?

No. This book contains hilarious absurdities, that could only have been written by people who were woefully ignorant of, for example, basic biology. A classic example being the nonsense contained in Gen 30:37-39, which asserts that it is possible to induce large scale changes in the genomes of living organisms, by the faintly ridiculous process of having the parent animals mate alongside different coloured sticks. An Austrian monk demonstrated that this was nonsense, by providing an empirical determination of the real mechanisms underlying inheritance. I direct the interested reader to look up "Gregor Mendel".
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Re: The Origin of Life

#13  Postby tnjrp » Apr 19, 2011 6:22 am

:popcorn:

Have to leave actually reading this for a bit later.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#14  Postby The_Metatron » Apr 19, 2011 9:50 am

Let us begin.

The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, in THE ORIGIN OF LIFE - FIVE QUESTIONS WORTH ASKING wrote:Peter shifts uneasily in his chair, a know forming in his stomach. His teacher, a woman he respectsm has just finished describing how Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution advanced scientific understanding and liberated mankind from superstitious beliefs. Now she has invited her sutudents to express their opinions on the topic.

Peter faces a dilemma. His parents have taught him that God created the earth and all life on it. They say that the Bible's accound of creation is trustworthy and that evolution is simply a theory - one not supported by evidence. Peter's teacher and his parents all mean well. But whom should Peter believe?


There are five more paragraphs on this page, but this is enough to work with for now, as it sets the stage nicely for what we can expect to follow. Here's what I find troubling about those first two paragraphs:

First, was that one of the stated goals of Darwin's theory, liberating mankind from superstitious beliefs? I thought is was, to summarize, the explanation for the origin of species through the mechanism of evolution by natural selection. Where exactly do these creationists keep coming up with the idea that his theory of evolution attempts to even speak to the origin of life? This conflation simply will not die.

Secondly, of course, is the "it's only a theory" canard. So obviously put forth by authors who have no idea what the word theory means in science. I'm certain they are using it in the popular usage, meaning "nothing more than an idea". When, in science, a scientific theory comprises a collection of concepts, including abstractions of observable phenomena expressed as quantifiable properties, together with rules (called scientific laws) that express relationships between observations of such concepts1.

I consider the remark the author(s) made, " ...one not supported by evidence." to be an outright falsehood. Darwin himself meticulously documented evidence in support of his theory in his book Origin of Species. There has since been untold mountains of evidence confirming his theory to be correct. I'd sure appreciate some killer papers or sources for more of this evidence.

Finally, I note that "Peter" is most certainly not alone. I think this is an example of child abuse by religious dogmatism. Peter is at a disadvantage to his secular peers in learning about what is testable reality, because he first has to plow through the rubbish pounded into him since probably his earliest memories. If he succeeds in plowing through it at all.

1. "Scientific theory," Wikipedia, accessed on April 19, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_theory
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Re: The Origin of Life

#15  Postby byofrcs » Apr 19, 2011 10:00 am

Between Awake! and The Watchtower they publish over 81 Millions copies in over 80 languages per month - free of charge I understand. Whilst we care little about their apologetics they do fail on the science.

Though it is "free" humans have evolved a very strong reciprocity behaviour that makes us obliged to return even free "gifts" in some kind of return payment (and without regard to the value of the gift). Cialdini covers this very well using the results of the Hari Krishna and Amway in his books.

This is an incredibly powerful emotional response that people who give away something "free" are utilising and for a group like the Watchtower Tract they know they are using this evolved response.

Even if you gave away competing copies of science tracts then you'll never cancel the influence of the reciprocity that the person has to the Watchtower (you'll just make them obliged to you as well !).

Thus the way to attack the misunderstanding of the science in the Watchtower is to get them to publish what you want. The only way to do this is to attack them legally and force them to not publish statements that they know to be untrue. Will they do this ? Not bloody likely. So given the litigious environment in the US it should be possible to show that the Watchtower is harming understanding of science and so thus someone that makes money from "science" should be able to sue the Watchtower for their libel. There must be some issue that has stepped over the line a little too much and made a claim that could be shown to cause a loss of trade or business and as such is defamation per se.

The intent of these sections in the Watchtower is to fight science and promote their own business model. It is very rare (if at all) that an equivalent science journal uses this same approach. It is unlikely that they could use a defence that it is their opinions because they quote (or quote mine) other people to show this.

If I gave a shit, lived in the US, and was rich enough, this would be my approach in attacking this threat to understanding of science.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#16  Postby byofrcs » Apr 19, 2011 10:08 am

...Oops I forgot to say...

It won't actually matter how illogical and nonsensical what they say in the Watchtower or Awake actually is nor how easy it is for us to refute what they say - the receiver of the gift (i.e. Joe and Janet -average) will feel obliged to reciprocate back to the Watchtower Tract society.

This is a game being played with evolved human emotions and drives so we know that those have been selected for survival and so we know we can't undo millions of years of evolution.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#17  Postby tnjrp » Apr 19, 2011 10:18 am

The_Metatron wrote:First, was that one of the stated goals of Darwin's theory, liberating mankind from superstitious beliefs?
Probably not, and it matters fuck all if it was. This is the "let's conflate theory of evolution with ideological/religious belief" canard (for the lack of more pithy a name). The motivations of Darwin are not an issue after more than a century of amassing evidence and formulating the TOE.

Where exactly do these creationists keep coming up with the idea that his theory of evolution attempts to even speak to the origin of life? This conflation simply will not die.
I would think that the more specious at least repeat it because abiogenesis is not yet a completely formulated theory and thus it's "a chink in an evolutionaut's armour". Obviously they conveniently "forget" that TOE indeed does not address abiogenesis any more that big bang theory addresses the actual birth of the entire universe, but hey, it's lying for Jeebu$ so it's a-o-kay :pray:

The somewhat less well "indoctrinated" just don't know what TOE actually means and conflate it with creation because that's pretty much everything they know about the history of life -- which is to say zilch and nada really, of course.

I consider the remark the author(s) made, " ...one not supported by evidence." to be an outright falsehood
REF: my comment about lying above. Think back and lie of England...
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Re: The Origin of Life

#18  Postby stijndeloose » Apr 19, 2011 11:41 am

The_Metatron wrote:I consider the remark the author(s) made, " ...one not supported by evidence." to be an outright falsehood.


They're probably going to claim that that's only a quote of what Peter's parents are saying. Not that it matters much, though. Clearly, in the story, Peter's parents are JWs. :mrgreen:
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Re: The Origin of Life

#19  Postby The_Metatron » Apr 19, 2011 11:52 am

I don't think we hear any further about the hapless Peter. But if we do, I'll be sure to keep this topic updated.
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Re: The Origin of Life

#20  Postby hackenslash » Apr 20, 2011 6:59 am

If you don't mind killing a tree or two, you could always drop Cali's collection on his head in pdf form.
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