There Is No Stairway to Life

At the Discovery Institute’s creationist blog, they posted The Stairway to Life Is Really a Cliff. It’s very brief and it has no author’s by-line. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

On a episode [“A” episode? Hee hee!] of ID the Future [Ooooooooooooh! A Discoveroid podcast!], guest host Eric Anderson speaks with medical engineer Rob Stadler, co-author with molecular biologist Change Laura Tan of the new book Stairway to Life: An Origin of Life Reality Check.

Medical engineer? What the flaming *Bleep* is a medical engineer? It doesn’t matter. We searched for the book at Amazon. Here it is! It’s 223 pages long and costs $11.99 in paperback. Amazon has a “Look inside” feature, but we haven’t looked. The publisher is something called Evorevo Books. If they have a website, we can’t find it.

Okay, back to the Discoveroid post. They say:

Stadler explains that it’s a “reality check” because many of the “stairway steps” that have to be mounted for chemistry to become biology must, very inconveniently, happen all at once.

All at once? Egad! That means biology could never happen without a — *reverent tone*– designer! Then they tell us:

Download the podcast or listen to it here. [Link omitted.]

Their final paragraph is real evolution-killer:

DNA can’t survive without repair enzymes, for example, but those enzymes are able to exist because they’re coded in DNA. [Then what’s the problem?] The reality check is needed, says Stadler, because the media eagerly tout every oversold “advance” in origin-of-life research, ignore the mounting difficulties [Mounting difficulties?] for an unguided origin of life posed by various fresh discoveries [Discoveries?], and parrot the question-begging claim that origins scientists must consider only naturalistic explanations.

Only naturalistic explanations? How narrow-minded! What would we do without the Discoveroids?

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22 responses to “There Is No Stairway to Life

  1. Derek Freyberg

    Shouldn’t that be Stairway to Heaven? – much more entertaining.
    But SC asks “what is a medical engineer?” Usually termed a biomedical engineer, a person who designs/makes/works with electrical and mechanical devices that are used for medical purposes. From a quick check of the US patent database, Dr. Stadler seems to work at Medtronic on pacemakers and such. He’s written another anti-evolution book, which seems from a very quick look at comments to be an anti-abiogenesis book.
    Dr. Tan, on the other hand, is an associate professor at Mizzou, and definitely seems to be of a creationist bent, since she has written articles for Answers in Genesis according to her bio.
    Not that this makes either of them incapable of writing a book on abiogenesis; but surely there are people who have made a closer study of it than these two.
    As to the stairway steps all having to be mounted at once, this is awfully reminiscent of the bacterial flagellum, the clotting cascade, and (at a lower level) the mousetrap of classic ID arguments.
    I think I’ll save my $11.99 and remain invincibly ignorant (but not invincibly Egnorant, that’s something else indeed).

  2. Was that play on words deliberate, “mounting” the “stairway”?
    Anyway …
    Of course the idea of a “stairway
    of being” = “scala naturae” = “great chain of being” is an old, pre-evolutiomary concept.
    And the difficulty to a linear progression to life also precedes evolution, and it has often been pointed out that it is irrelevant to natural explanations like evolution which do not assume a linear
    progression. Ho hum.

  3. It is such a simplistic voyeuristic embellishment of quasi religious beliefs that I find it difficult to reply except to say, Have a good day. We all relish our discontents of life’s many doors of belief, hoping that we might find the explanation of life behind one of them. Don’t hold your breath, because it ain’t gonna happen, not now, but maybe in an alternate place of reality the refusal of your beliefs will redeem the contrary of.

  4. “parrot the question-begging claim that origins scientists must consider only naturalistic explanations”
    Unfortunately the IDiots from Seattle last 25+ years haven’t made any progress beyond “goddiddid” regarding supernatural explanations. Some regulars (yes, TomS, I’m looking at you) even go so far to conclude that “goddiddid” (or variations like “The Grand Old Designer Designed it”) is not an explanation at all. And though I’ve given it my very best many times my efforts to squeeze something substantial out of “goddiddid” (or its variations) the results tend to become, ahum, somewhat absurd and ridiculous.
    But me being an optimist I keep on hoping that for instance Annie Green Screen will publish the stunning results of her exquisite and subtil research.

  5. Ah, I almost accused our dear SC falsely of attacking a strawman with “The Stairway to Life Is Really a Cliff”, but it’s really the title of the IDiot blogpost. Well, good to read that the IDiots from Seattle [bleep!] their metaphors as usual.

    Regarding the book: the first sentence expertedly sets the tone.

    “the theory of spontaneous generation has enjoyed exceptional endurance”
    Yeah, abiogenesis (part of biochemistry) is nothing but spontaneous generation a la Aristoteles.

    OK, it’s a door as wide open as possible, but don’t blame me – I can’t help it that our medical engineer’s thinking is that poor.

    “All things are created twice; first mentally; then physically. The key to creativity is to begin with the end in mind, with a vision and a blue print of the desired result.”
    One Stephen R. Covey (I refer to Wikipedia).

    1. Sure, when people create the physical result never deviates from what they envisaged in the beginning.
    2. When god has some time off from punishing devout christians for their sins he likes to design snow flakes or to juggle with magnets.

  6. The DI have a point. Proteins cannot be manufactured to specification unless DNA and the translation machinery are already present. DNA and the translation machinery can only be assembled by the action of correctly specified proteins. Origins of life researchers acknowledge the importance of this “chicken and egg” problem. Hence the popularity of the “RNA world” hypothesis, in which metabolic and information storage functions are contained in the same molecule. Unfortunately, RNA itself is so enormously complicated that it beggars belief that it could ever arisen without the prior existence of some simpler, long since vanished, system. Mathematical models (Freeman Dyson provided one such) show that the problem can be solved in principle, but there are only sketchy accounts of how that solution could have been embodied.

    Enter God of the Gaps, otherwise known as supernatural design.

  7. Now if only the DI weren’t such hypocrites and made the same point regarding (here I go again) superconductivity at relatively high temperature. But they never do.

    So it’s actually a Selective God of the Gaps, ie supernatural design when it suits.

  8. @Paul Braterman
    If nature progresses in a linear way, then there are obvious difficulties for the natural origins of many structures in the natural world.
    Yes.

  9. Michael Fugate

    I think that is important TomS there is no reason to imagine it was linear. The stairway analogy fails from the start by constraining the direction of change. Water running downhill in a complex landscape would be a better start. A bunch of drops coalescing into streams to form a pool.

  10. @TomS, @Michael Fugate; yes, of course, we are in the realm of non-linear far-from-equilibrium processes. And the “merging streams” analogy is an appealing one. However, is still remains to show how separate streams could have been self-sustaining in the absence of the others.

    I have long noticed a strong tendency among advocates of rationality to downplay these problems, for fear of an giving hostages to the woo merchants. I think that is a mistake.

  11. There was a popular way of ordering reality in a linear order: at the bottom was non-living matter, rocks and such; then plants; then animals; then humans;
    then spirits; then god. The pre-Darwin idea of evolution involved progress in that linear order. That doesn’t work.
    It doesn’t even work in the non-living world. See natural arches for a spectacular example. In the world of life, examples are commonplace.
    So somebody shows that the origin of life couldn’t happen in a linear progression? Ho hum.

  12. Dave Luckett

    I realise that this will be taken as a heckle from the peanut gallery, but all I can add to this debate is to remark that Monkey Shoulder is also an achievement that could not be encompassed in one saltation.

    Thank you, Dave, I don’t mind if I do. And neither do you.

  13. Derek Freyberg

    @Paul Braterman (11:47):
    You’re right, but I think only to a point.
    This isn’t my field, but I expect that the scientific literature on abiogenesis is full of suitable caveats on the level of understanding/completeness of explanation – we’re asking to look back, quite literally, billions of years to see what happened then.
    However, in an era of clickbait journalism and “gotcha” non-explanations from creationists, I think failure to fight back is to concede the issue in the public eye. Perhaps this doesn’t matter – the science is what it is, after all; but I think it does especially in a country as irrational as the US, where creationists will seize every opportunity to push “Goddidit” into the classroom as if it were science.

  14. Michael Fugate

    Any cell is the product of billions of years of contingent history. Creationists want us to take something like a current automobile and have us believe all its parts were needed in the first automobile. It is ludicrous from the start regardless of the challenges to a naturalistic explanation. It is a slightly more sophisticated fish to Gish argument, but just as stupid.

  15. “Medical engineer? What the flaming *Bleep* is a medical engineer? ”
    Another point in favor of the Salem Hypothesis.

  16. Michael Fugate

    One comment I heard recently – engineers apply science, scientists do science.

    How does one actually get from evolution is wrong to Genesis as interpreted by YEC is right? It is not like it is a binary choice.

  17. The choice is between naturalism and supernaturalism. Either X has a natural explanation or it has an explanation involving something other than the natural. The possibility that there is no explanation is ruled out. For example, “X is a brute fact, not a consequence of some generalization”. Or, there is some restriction on (human) capacity to explain.
    I find it difficult to understand how an otherwise bright persons can fall into the trap that their alternative is subject to the same argument, mutatis mutandis: for the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, there is a Design Argument Against Supernaturalism. (Supposing that our capacity to reason has been designed, or comes by the supernatural, this does not provide a basis for trusting reason. Designs have flaws. The literature about the supernatural is rife with things going
    amiss.)
    ISTM that every argument against natural explanation is open to the charge that the possibility of a supernatural explanation does not address the supposed flaw in the natural; rather, it has the same flaw, indeed, often, more so.

  18. @TomS, Advocates of the supernatural say that the supernatural agent is capable of doing anything, subject only to the restrictions imposed by logic. If that implies an inordinate amount of hands-on miraculous meddling, so be it. ID, of course, bypasses that problem by pretending that the invoking of a designer constitutes an explanation.

    Natural explanations are constrained by physical laws. Supernatural explanations, on the other hand, are constrained only by the limits of our credulity

  19. We know enough about the supernatural. We know about the wishes granted by genies and about the consequences of relying on magic rings and love potions.
    Yes. the supernatural is capable of doing anything. Is that supposed to give us confidence in what is done?

  20. The short answer: yes.

  21. Seriously. Let us suppose that we are concerned about the reliability of our capacity of reasoning. Let us suppose that naturalism does not provide a reason to trust. Let us suppose that, therefore, we accept the supernatural. I ask, does the reliance on the supernatural provide a reason to trust? I get the short answer: yes.
    I get the longer answer: yes, because the supernatural is capable of anything, and thus is capable of being trustworthy.
    That does not satisfy me, because the supernatural is capable of anything, it is also capable of being subtle, and, contrary to Einstein, also capable of being devious (“raffiniert … boshaft”).