Discoveroids: The Impossible Origin of Life

This appeared at PhysOrg two weeks ago: An equation to quantify the origins of life on other planets. It says, with bold font added by us:

A pair of researchers, one with the Columbia Astrobiology Center in New York, the other with the University of Glasgow in the U.K. has come up with a mathematical equation that when solved is meant to offer a means for estimating how often life begins on other planets. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Caleb Scharf and Leroy Cronin describe their equation, how they came up with it and why they believe it might become more useful as scientists learn more about the true nature of other planets and solar systems.

This is a link to their paper: Quantifying the origins of life on a planetary scale. You can read it online without a subscription, but we’ll stay with PhysOrg:

Back in the 1960’s, an astronomer named Frank Drake came up with a formula for estimating the likely number of alien civilizations that might be capable of transmitting radio signals in such a way as to be recognizable by receivers here on earth. That equation, named quite naturally the Drake Equation has been the unofficial standard-bearer for half a century, despite it having no solution because some of the parameters are still unknown. The same holds true for the new equation developed by Scharf and Cronin, but the results given should the unknowns ever be discovered would offer a different sort of answer than Drake was looking for.

Let’s read on:

To build their formula, the duo came up with several parameters to solve for abiogenesis, which is the likelihood of an event occurring that leads to life beginning, they included the number of possible building blocks, the mean number of such blocks per possible organism, the availability of building blocks that might exist during a given time period, expressed as a fraction and the probability that the existence of the building blocks would actually lead to life starting in a given unit of time. It looks like this:

Nabiogenesis(t)= Nb · 1/no · fc · Pa · t

One more excerpt:

In essence the formula is meant to suggest that the probability of life beginning on a given planet is very likely connected to whether there are building blocks available on a given planet, and how much of them there might be. As more is learned by space researchers it is hoped that the formula could help narrow down search targets by offering a statistical probability of success for a given planet.

As you can imagine, none of that is acceptable to creationists, because they already know the answers. A typical response is at the creationist blog of the Discovery Institute: Once Again, Astrobiologists Put a Veneer of Sophistication on Ignorance. It has no author’s byline, and it’s quite long. We’ll give you the guts of it, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

People who follow SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, likely know about the Drake equation. It was the brainchild of one of the founding fathers of SETI, Frank Drake. In order to estimate the probable number of other intelligent civilizations in the galaxy, he wrote his famous equation as the product of a series of factors … .

Yes, we all know about the Drake equation. Then they say:

An equation is only as useful as its inputs. Almost every variable in the Drake equation is pure guesswork. … Is there any value in such an exercise, when the answers can vary over many orders of magnitude? Perhaps. At least the equation drew attention to minimum requirements for intelligent life. … The bottom line is still ignorance, but a more sophisticated ignorance.

Here’s more:

In the tradition of Drake, Caleb Scharf from the Columbia Astrobiology Center and Leroy Cronin of Glasgow University decided to hone in on the “entry point” for speculations about SETI, the origin of life (OoL). … Their resulting “OoL Frequency Equation” considers the following factors, which can be seen as expansions of Drake’s variable fl, the fraction of habitable planets on which life does arise.

They describe the factors in the new equation, but we don’t need to get into that. Moving along:

The last factor Pa is clearly the most significant of all. It’s about probability. Scharf and Cronin recognize that the origin of life, in their own perspective, boils down to one thing: a lucky accident.

The published paper doesn’t call it a “lucky accident.” Scharf and Cronin say: “We purposefully treat Pa as a catchall that circumvents the need to go into the (unknown) mechanical details.”

Another excerpt from the Discoveroids:

Unless the probability is sufficiently high for a minimal cell to self-assemble, the other terms don’t matter.

To show how improbable it is, they quote Fred Hoyle, famous for the junkyard tornado analogy, which is forever quoted by creationists. They also refer to remarks made by Discoveroids Doug Axe and Stephen Meyer. On with the article:

Evolutionists are eager to leap over the OoL hurdle so that they get where they feel more comfortable, with Darwinian evolution. Once life exists, natural selection becomes their magic wand, able to turn protocells into philosophers’ brains.

We’re skipping a load of Discoveroid blather, but this is from the end of their article:

If nothing but chance is available to sequence the ingredients needed for a minimal cell, the probability is so tremendously beyond the universal probability bound as to rule it out of court. By contrast, we know of a cause that can organize building blocks into functional complex structures. That cause, of course, is intelligence.

Aha — the Discoveroids have the magic answer! No fancy equations are necessary.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Discoveroids: The Impossible Origin of Life

  1. As stated before using the only badly explored example we have the chances of life on a planet are 100%.

  2. Leonardo da Vinci had the intelligence to design flying machines, but that was not enough to build one.
    Intelligence is not a sufficient cause to organize building blocks into a complex structure.

  3. michaelfugate

    Neither is it necessary. Unless of course you believe God is behind everything, but then it explains nothing.

  4. Why do people who are certain that all life came from oogity-boogity spend so much effort in an attempt to discredit speculation on the origins of life by people with actual science credentials? You don’t suppose that they are scared? Naw, they’re too well informed to be frightened of that pagan science stuff.

  5. So if the odds of life forming naturally are “tremendously beyond the universal probability bound,” then the Intelligent Designer did not itself form naturally.

    So, the designer cannot exist… unless it is some supernatural entity formed from some unknown supernatural cause that is impossible for to investigate. What are the odds of that unknown supernatural cause occurring, resulting in supernatural “life?” What is the equation for that? What are the variables and how does one determine what inputs to use? Is there only one designer, or many? Does the process by which designers are formed replicate itself? If not, why not?

    Maybe we can be of some help to the creationists by taking a stab at such an equation. Since the probability of a supernatural realm – based on the evidence we have so far – is zero, solving the equation should be simple enough for even creationists to understand.

  6. One more thing – in the past the DI has equivocated by claiming that life could have been designed by aliens, and not necessarily a supernatural entity. By ruling out any possible natural cause to life, they have thrown that argument out the window. They become more overtly religious every day.

  7. Charles Deetz ;)

    By contrast, we know of hypothesis a cause that can organize building blocks into functional complex structures.
    There, fixed that for you, DI dummies. You call it a hypothesis yourselves, don’t you?

  8. @michaelfugate Neither is it necessary. Unless of course you believe God is behind everything, but then it explains nothing.
    The reason that I mentioned sufficiency is that their argument against natural causes is: they are (supposedly) not sufficient to cause life.
    Their argument (if it has any point) against sufficency, applies also against their stance.
    (Everybody knows that any known cause, whether it’s the round Earth or compound interest or evolution, is not a necessary cause of a particular effect. One can always say, as you point out, that there might be some other ineffable cause – and, as you go on to point out, that is pointless.)

  9. “about probability. ….. a lucky accident.”
    Once again the difference between IDiocy and YEC disappears. YECers never understand that probability doesn’t mean random chance either.

    “natural selection becomes their magic wand”
    Yeah, like gravity is the magic wand to explain why the Moon revolves around the Earth.

    “That cause, of course, is intelligence.”
    Almost correct! The complete answer is “the cause, of course, can be an intelligence in a physical body.”

  10. @mnbo
    I’d like to see an anti-evolutionist show the probability that an unspecified intelligence (or designer, or whatever) would make the complex pattern that we observe in the variation of life on Earth.

  11. I’d like to see an anti-evolutionist show the probability that an unspecified intelligence (or designer, or whatever) would make the complex pattern that we observe in the variation of life on Earth.

    That would actually take some work from them and so far all I have seen from ID’ers is their denial of evolution and the stomping of their little feet when told otherwise.

  12. So, life on only one planet circling one star. Uh, so what are the other 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000+ stars for and the 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000+ planets surrounding them? Oh, God works in mysterious ways? Oh, so does bullstuff, I suspect.

  13. Steve Ruis, 10^21 planets seems like a lot until you consider the requirements for carbon-based life. Then that number becomes quite small. And before anyone uses the weasel words “life as we know it”, DocBill and I have been around that block already elsewhere.

  14. The weasel words that are bandied about are “intelligent design”.

  15. Other weasel words are “strengths and weaknesses,” “more and more scientists,” “Darwin Lobby,” and “complex specified information.”

  16. An equation is only as useful as its inputs. Almost every variable in the Drake equation is pure guesswork. … Is there any value in such an exercise, when the answers can vary over many orders of magnitude? Perhaps. At least the equation drew attention to minimum requirements for intelligent life. … The bottom line is still ignorance, but a more sophisticated ignorance.

    A creationist complaining about other people’s ignorance?

    Seriously, the point of the Drake equation wasn’t to solve for N right away, but only to lay out a set of factors which, when known, would give us a good answer. Yes, N is still “guesswork,” but there’s no reason to suppose it always will be.

    Creationism, on the other hand, isn’t even a guess; it’s a dogma. It presumes the answers and then puts the evidence through a biblical strainer to separate out the Good Stuff (anything that can be waterboarded into supporting Genesis) from the Bad (everything else).
    To borrow from Will Rogers, the worst thing about these people isn’t what they don’t know’ it’s what they know for sure that’s just not so.