The question in our title is about a story in the Daily Express, a British tabloid: Origin of life breakthrough: Charles Darwin’s creation theory ‘PROVED after 100 years’.
Darwin’s creation theory? He never had a creation theory! And how did his non-existent theory get “proved”? Here are some excerpts from the tabloid’s story, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:
Charles Darwin was the legendary 19th-century scientists best known for his contribution to the study of evolution, where he proposed that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors – now widely accepted and considered a foundational concept in science. However, when Darwin published “The Origin of Species” 150 years ago, he deliberately avoided the subject of the origin of life, as he could not prove his ideas.
What ideas were those? The tabloid says:
Privately though – in a letter – Darwin told his friend, the explorer Joseph D. Hooker, that he could imagine a small, warm pool where the inanimate matter would arrange itself into the evolutionary matter, aided by chemical components and sufficient sources of energy.
It’s not all that different from the “tangled bank” Darwin mentioned in the final paragraph of Origin of Species:
It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
Not much of a “theory.” Anyway, the tabloid tells us:
Amazingly, that theory has been proved [Gasp!], according to astrobiologist Tara Djokik, who made an astonishing discovery in Pilbara, Western Australia. Speaking in a recent TedTalks podcast, she said: “Little did I know that our research would provide a clue to the origin-of-life puzzle.
Why haven’t we heard of this before? They quote Tara:
“It was on my first field trip here, towards the end of a full, long week mapping project, that I came across something rather special, what probably looks like a bunch of wrinkly old rocks are actually stromatolites. At the centre of this mound was a small, peculiar rock about the size of a child’s hand. It took six months before we inspected this rock under a microscope, when one of my mentors at the time, Malcolm Walter, suggested the rock resembled geyserite. Geyserite is a rock type that only forms in and around the edges of hot spring pools.”
Whoa! Wait a minute! We’ve heard of this before. PhysOrg had an article on it a month ago: Earliest signs of life: Scientists find microbial remains in ancient rocks, which says:
Western Australia’s famous 3.5-billion-year-old stromatolites contain microbial remains of some of the earliest life on Earth, UNSW scientists have found. Scientists have found exceptionally preserved microbial remains in some of Earth’s oldest rocks in Western Australia — a major advance in the field, offering clues for how life on Earth originated.
“This is an exciting discovery — for the first time, we’re able to show the world that these stromatolites are definitive evidence for the earliest life on Earth,” says lead researcher Dr. Raphael Baumgartner, a research associate of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology in Professor Martin Van Kranendonk’s team at UNSW. Professor Van Kranendonk says the discovery is the closest the team have come to a “smoking gun” to prove the existence of such ancient life.
That’s nice, but what about “Darwin’s theory” about the origin of life, and what about Tara, the star of the tabloid story? Curiously, PhysOrg makes no mention of Darwin’s previously unknown theory, but Tara pops up near the end. PhysOrg says:
Just over two years ago, Dr. Baumgartner’s colleague Tara Djokic, a UNSW Ph.D. candidate, found stromatolites in hot spring deposits in the same region in WA, pushing back the earliest known existence of microbial life on land by 580 million years
There’s a bit more about her work, but nothing about “proving” Darwin’s “theory.” Okay, back to the tabloid. They quote Tara again:
“Well, we know of warm little ponds, we call them ‘hot springs’ and in these environments, you have hot water dissolving minerals from the underlying rocks. This solution mixes with organic compounds and results in a kind of chemical factory, which researchers have shown can manufacture simple cellular structures that are the first steps toward life. But 100 years after Darwin’s letter, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, or hot vents, were discovered in the ocean and these are also chemical factories.”
The tabloid continues for several more paragraphs, but we still don’t have an answer to our questions. Can you figure it out, dear reader?
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