Two things certain to cause nightmares for creationists are: (1) fear of the discovery of life on some other world — especially intelligent life; and (2) fear that some godless scientists will create life in the lab from non-living material. The former will demonstrate that our Earth isn’t the central focus of divine creation, and the latter will demonstrate that life isn’t a miracle at all — it’s just another natural phenomenon.
Creationists have somehow survived a few earlier shocks that science has handed them, such as the sun-centered solar system and the recent discovery that most other stars appear to have planets. They reluctantly accept the fact that Earth is one of several planets that orbit the sun, but they insist that even if we’re not literally in the center of everything, our existence on this uniquely-created planet is the special focus of divine attention. Regarding other planetary systems, they’ve been saying that even if they exist, and some might have some kind of bacteria living on them, the Big Picture is clear — creation is all about us.
But year by year, reality is creeping up on creationists. Today at PhysOrg they just posted this: Protein-like structures from the primordial soup. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
Experiments performed by ETH scientists [that’s ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich)] have shown that it is remarkably easy for protein-like, two-dimensional structures — amyloids — to form from basic building blocks. This discovery supports the researchers’ hypothesis that primal life could have evolved from amyloids such as these.
Wondering what amyloids are? No problem — Wikipedia is a good place to start: Amyloids. Back to PhysOrg:
The story starts at least four billion years ago, when there was no living matter on the planet. Sometime around then, smaller chemical compounds formed into larger organised structures capable of self-reproduction. And so the early precursors of life were born. Exactly which molecules were involved, and what they were made of, is the biggest puzzle in evolutionary history.
That puzzle has been a blessing to creationists, who claim that anything not yet known is a miracle. Then the article says:
However, ETH Professor Roland Riek and his senior scientist Jason Greenwald have a compelling idea: these primordial lifelike structures could well have been proteinaceous aggregates, or amyloids. The latest results of their laboratory research now lend weight to their hypothesis.
The creationists are squirming. Then we’re told:
The scientists performed an experiment to demonstrate that it is remarkably easy for such amyloid structures to assemble spontaneously from building blocks that existed on the prebiotic Earth, and under reaction conditions that also seem plausible for the primeval era. The scientists used four simple amino acids as starting materials: glycine, alanine, aspartate and valine. In addition, they used carbonyl sulphide as a catalyst for the reaction. This volcanic gas is also likely to have existed in the atmosphere billions of years ago.
In the laboratory experiment, the amino acid molecules spontaneously assembled, with the help the carbonyl sulphide, into short chains (peptides) comprising between 5 and 14 building blocks. These chains in turn arranged themselves in parallel into amyloid structures known as beta sheets. In the experiment, these sheet structures took the form of fibres and typically comprised thousands of adjoining peptide chains which the scientists were able to identify using an electron microscope.
Skipping some technical details, the article throws a temporary life-preserver to the creationists:
The ETH scientists stress, however, that there is still an important piece of the puzzle missing from their argument in support of the “amyloid hypothesis”: Are amyloids also capable of self-replication, just like RNA molecules? This is conceivable, claim Riek and Greenwald, but there is still no experimental evidence to support it. The professor and his team are working on it.
Aha — those infernal chemicals can’t self-replicate! Creationism is safe, at least for a while. We’re getting near the end:
Even so, the researchers already describe their hypothesis as being much more plausible than the decades-old scientific assumption that the precursors of life were made up solely of RNA molecules. The scientists’ main contention: RNA molecules with a biological function are comparatively large and complex. “They are so big that it would have been difficult for them to form spontaneously.
Creationists never accepted the RNA world. Neither did a lot of biologists. Here’s the last of the PhysOrg article:
[T]he building blocks of RNA are more complex than those of amyloids and proteins. Furthermore, the latter are more stable even under harsh environmental conditions. “All this makes it plausible that the first functional molecules were amyloids”, concludes Professor Riek.
What will creationists say about this? Nothing of scientific value, that’s for sure. They’ll be skeptical. They may even lapse prematurely into denial mode. The most likely reaction is that they’ll ignore it. Why should they pay any attention to this stuff when they already have The Truth™?
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