Does This Explain the Origin of Life?

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?

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

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15 responses to “Does This Explain the Origin of Life?

  1. In the past I’ve been accused of being a homophobe but it’s just not true. I’m the biggest supporter of homochirality.

  2. First of all, the beginning of life is not the subject of evolutionary biology.
    Perhaps some time there will some extension to evolutionary theory.
    Secondly, the creationists will point out that this experiment takes the intervention of intelligent designers, the experimenters.

  3. Our Curmudgeon observes that

    life isn’t a miracle at all — it’s just another natural phenomenon.

    Yes indeed—but I’m nonetheless going to quibble with your phrasing here on the grounds it may be seized upon by the Creationists and spun into one of their many and frequent distortions.

    And my quibble is over the seemingly-dismissive tone of that little word “just,” which Creationists will read here as “mere.” It’s similar to the way legitimate biologists sometimes rather sloppily describe anatomical features as ‘designed’ when they mean ‘well adapted by evolution’, but the Discoveroids seize upon such as evidence that science secretly acknowledges an Intelligent Designer (blessed be he/she/it/them!) but conspires to cover that up for the sake of carrying on pursuing unbridled licentiousness, or some fool thing.

    Creationists like to suppose that, unlike godless materialists, only they possess a sense of appreciation of life and human values which they insist science either ignores or denigrates. Only they can experience the wonder of the cosmos. Only they can not only celebrate the delights of human existence but also protect them from the brutal ‘scientific’ abortionists and euthanasiasts.

    All of which is utter tosh, of course. No natural phenomenon is “mere”, it is the very marvel that is the cosmos which leads us to science, for our understanding only enhances our awe and — dare I say it — a kind of reverence and humility in the presence of the natural world.

  4. I meant to also say in the above: “humility” is something utterly lacking in pathologically narcissistic Creationists who suppose, in their pathetic intellectual onanism, that the entire cosmos was created for their benefit, and that they are the ‘privileged’ (by virtue of their ‘intuition’) members of the ‘privileged’ species of this ‘privileged’ planet…

  5. “Patologically”?

    O Great and Mysterious Hand of Correction, from Whom no secrets may be hid, you know what I meant…🙂

    [*Voice from above*] I know what you mean even before you do.

  6. “…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. …”
    SEE!!! intelligent designers!!! ID WINS!!!!!
    Any bets this is used against science by ID!? I did it and did not even try!

  7. Speaking about naturalism, Megalonyx says: “it is the very marvel that is the cosmos which leads us to science, for our understanding only enhances our awe and — dare I say it? — a kind of reverence”

    Ah, so you admit that your Darwinism is a religion! Hambo was right all along!

  8. It doesn’t matter what chemicals those infidel Jew communist scientists say were the precursors of life. The Bible teaches that 6,000 years ago (give or take), God waved his hands, said “Alakazam!” and life, the universe and everything (sorry, Douglas Adams) appeared, fully formed. (Okay, okay, Genesis says six days, but if A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day, that hardly matters. Six days would be an eyeblink to the Creator.

  9. life isn’t a miracle at all — it’s just another natural phenomenon.

    Agreed, life will be found to be a very common expression of the universe.

  10. Sitting here on a calm morning, no wind, no sulfuric acid rain, no sharknadoes – it seems like a lovely planet to live on. To some other life form all that nitrogen might be a problem, or maybe the oxygen. Who knows?

    From my comfy armchair, courtesy of the Spanish Inquisition, it’s difficult to imagine the prebiotic Earth with all that sulphur, ammonia, methane and thousands of stinky chemicals. What a horrible, messy disgusting place it must have been, much like my kitchen after Burrito Night.

    But I do know one thing from my years of failure in organic chemistry lab, it’s a whole lot easier to make stuff by akkident than it is by design. I never mastered the light touch with “eye of newt.”

    For another interesting concept about the origin of self-replicating molecules and all that stuff, check out MIT’s Jeremy England and his ideas about how atoms driven by an external source of energy (the Sun) and surrounded by a heat sink (ocean and/or atmosphere) become ordered to dissipate increasing amounts of energy – I’m winging it from an article I read a few years back – anyway, that the thermodynamics of the process make “life” inevitable. Something like the Infinite Improbability Drive that only required a nice hot cup of tea.

  11. Why should the Discoveroids care? They can always retreat to their claim that historical science is not real science … “Were you there?” And responding to such efforts puts the Discoveroids dangerously close to practicing historical science on their own. Of course, when they claim God did it, really, because the Bible tells us so, I always respond “How could you know, were you there when the Bible was written?”

  12. I always respond “How could you know, were you there when the Bible was written?”

    Old Hambo had an answer to that. It might have been brought up by Bill Nye. Anyway, old Hambo replied, “No, but God was and it’s all written right here in this little book.” Nanny nanny boo boo! Game over, rationalist!

  13. @Steve Ruis
    When they say that God/intelligent Designers/the Supernatural did it, I wonder what it is that they did. Or, how things turn out as they do, rather than any of the countless other results that are consistent with G/ID/S.
    And where the Bible tells them that – to take one example, that vertebrates share the same structure of eyes, in contrast to the shared structure of insects – where the Bible says that.

  14. @michaelfugate
    And, once again, they overreach:
    Yet scientists still cannot come close to producing even a single cell from raw chemicals in the lab.
    In other words, intelligent design cannot come close, so it must be done by intelligent design.

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