Falsehood!!!

Sometimes people say that because it seems reasonable to them … what, with life originating so long ago and so much geological mushing-around happening since then. But sometimes people say that, and sound quite innocent in saying it, because they want to throw the average person off track and make them think that Evolutionary Biology has this big gap … at the beginning … in which any-old kind of story can fit, including a supernatural or religious story, or even just a spiritual Jungian story, or anything but a story about molecules interacting.

So, the purpose of this blog post, the one you are reading right now, is to be handy, to point to, to produce a link to, in answer to that question. Every time somebody says “We can know nothing about the origin of life bla bla bla” you respond with a link to this post. In the mean time, if you think there is something missing in this post that should be conveyed to anyone making that argumen, add it to the comments.

Here’s the code to copy and past to link to this post:

<a href=”http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/07/we_can_know_nothing_about_the.php”>”We can know nothing about the origin of life”</a>

Below the fold are two lists. The first list is a set of blog posts by a variety of science bloggers about the origin of life. The second list is the bibliography my installation of Mendeley (reference management software) spit out at me when I asked it to find all the references to “Origin of Life” on my hard drive or nearby localities. This includes only a subset (about 5%) of my PDF files and none of my paper files (of which there are about 5,000) of which, in turn, probably only 1 or 2% address this issue, as it is not my field.

So, the reference list is provisional and just to get your stared, but also serves the purpose of demonstrating how there is quite a bit of work on the topic.

At present, we know something about the origin of life. I think we could know a lot more, and I think we will eventually. The assertion that we can’t because it isn’t happening now and happened a long time ago is wrong for several reasons: 1) Are you sure it is not happening now?; 2) It could be replicated in the lab; 3) It might be happening somewhere else, or evidence of it could be found on another celestial object; and 4) Yes, indeed, it turns out that we actually can reconstruct things through inference from ancient data, modeling, and experiment that happened in the past, and do so scientifically. If you hear someone telling you that you can’t, that this is not science, that it violates the scientific method, then you are hearing the words of a person who either knows nothing about science or is telling you a lie, because science can and does address the past.

So, without further ado, the lists:


A sampling of blog posts on the origin of life:

Is the origin of life different from evolution?
Super-Hero Experiment #1: The Origin of Life
The Origin of Life and of the Atmosphere
Origins of Life – Amino Acids and the Triplet Codon
Origin of Life – RNA Self Replicators
New place, new view, slow reactions and the origins of life
NASA’s new organism, the meaning of life, and Darwin’s Second Theory
Arsenic and Old Lace
Common ancestry of life – Q.E.D?
Report from Alife XII: life’s origin, and its evolution
The origin of life cannot escape basic organic chemistry
The Origin of Life on Earth: New Research
Origin of Life (mica)
Amino acid crystallisation and the origin of life
The Origin of Life: RNA?
Why are all earthly lifeforms lefties?
A Simple Kind of Life
Life, The Universe, and Everything Else…
Avalon and the origin of multicellular life
The Origin of Life on Earth: New Research

A sampling of mainly peer reviewed research and science editorial commentary related to the origin of life:

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Bedau, M., Church, G., Rasmussen, S., Caplan, A., Benner, S., Fussenegger, M., Collins, J., et al. (2010). Life after the synthetic cell. Nature, 465(7297), 422-4. Nature Publishing Group. doi:10.1038/465422a

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Blaney, D. L. (2002). Using Mars’s Sulfur Cycle to Constrain the Duration and Timing of Fluvial Processes, 12p.

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Comments

  1. #1 Physicalist
    July 30, 2011

    “Tendon-associated bone features of the masticatory system in Neandertals.

    Chewing apes tell us about the origin of life? I’d better check out that article!

    And Jerry Bergman’s piece in Creation Science Quarterly counts as “peer reviewed research” (or “science editorial commentary”)?

    I’m pretty sure those weren’t my peers who reviewed it . . .

  2. #2 bks
    July 30, 2011

    Let’s not get carried away. Science knows next to nothing about what “Life” is or how it came to be. Some great physicists (e.g. Einstein, Bohr, Elsasser, Schrodinger) tried their hand at biology and came up empty. In a letter to Leo Szilard, Einstein said, “One can best feel in dealing with living things how primitive physics still is.”

    Synthesis of life is not the opposite of analysis. The reductionist approach throws away the organization and studies the particular material manifestations of life, but the only way to make progress (IMO) is to throw away the material manifestations and study the organization.

    This is not a religious position. I am a scientist. I used to call myself an atheist but I found it much more powerful, in these sorts of discussions, to call myself a pantheist.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pantheism/

    Start with the proposition that the Universe is alive and you will refute the arguments of the anti-evolution crowd effortlessly. Start with the proposition that the Universe is dead (and life is some sort of “noise” in the deadness) and you will find yourself constructing lists of references rather than cogent arguments.

    21st Century Biology is the search for *new* phyics, not the application of the old.

    –bks

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    July 30, 2011

    Physicalist: Well, like I said, I just asked the bib software to spit out what it had. I’ll delete the neanderthal one. I’ll look at the other. Maybe it’s relevant ….

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    July 30, 2011

    bks, did you look at the list or the blog posts? You are suggesting that because a bunch of turn of the 20th century physicists “tried their hand” at biology (which is questionable) that there is no validity to the science of biology? Holy crap, why would anyone read the first paragraph of your comment and then continue reading the rest of it!!!!

  5. #5 bks
    July 30, 2011

    Four exclamation points? I thought you were going to counter with the name of a turn-of-the-21st century physicist who had made serious inroads into the question of _What is Life_ (Schroedinger, 1944).

    As someone asked Walter Gilbert “But where did the RNA come from?”

    I saw Francis Crick (yet another physicist who tried his hand at the question) at Berkeley about 15 years ago and he challenged the crowd of cutting-edge biologists with the question “What is a gene” Think you know the answer?

    James Watson in perhaps the greatest textbook of all time, _The Molecular Biology of the Gene_, wrote that cells obey the laws of chemistry. He forgot to ask the chemists if they had an exhaustive list of those laws! See, e.g.
    http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/water/anmlies.html

    The Urey-Miller experiments were carried out in 1953(!!!!) and there has been no progress in that direction since, except to point out that Urey and Miller had the “pre-biotic” environment wrong.

    As Donald Knuth pointed out in 1993: there are enough foundational problems in biology to keep scientists preoccupied for five centuries (but Computer Science had reached a point of diminishing returns). I’m just saying that we have a long way to go, not that any of your sources are “wrong” or bad science. I just don’t like to see scientists overstate the depth of our understanding.

    –bks

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    July 30, 2011

    Four exclamation points? I thought you were going to counter with the name of a turn-of-the-21st century physicist who had made serious inroads into the question of _What is Life_ (Schroedinger, 1944).

    I happen to think that the literature of the last 20 years in the biological sciences is more relevant to … the current state of the biological sciences.

    Regarding FC’s comments a couple of decades ago about what a gen is … actually, yes, I do have a (very complex) answer to that, but again, I’ll stick with current literature on that topic.

    The Urey-Miller experiments were carried out in 1953(!!!!) and there has been no progress in that direction since

    There has been some progress. I recommend you have a look at this.

    I’m just saying that we have a long way to go … I just don’t like to see scientists overstate the depth of our

    Now you are just annoying me and insulting me. If you are going to criticize a post I wrote, read the damn thing first. Like, where I say “At present, we know something about the origin of life. I think we could know a lot more, and I think we will eventually.”

  7. #7 Lishui
    July 30, 2011

    The new physics of complexity in the 70′s seems to have spawned all kinds of amazing new discoveries in biology in the 80′s. The key seems to have been to allow the mystery to become part of the discovery process. Consciousness as a tool for learning. Imagine that.

    Anyway, most of the amazing things that have been discovered since then have been completely tossed out by the prevailing cultural mythology because it would put the medical-pharmaceutical industry out of business, close down all the special-needs warehousing agencies, destroy the personal-growth industry, and make the whole of public education completely obsolete. The universities themselves would have to restructure and rethink much of what they teach.

    As you can imagine, this would have devastating effects on our number one God: the economy itself. Lives would be lost, chaos would come again. It would destroy the future we insist on creating for our grandchildren.

    Check out the works of Dr. Ryke G. Hamer, Dr. Stefan Lanka, and Dr. Bruce Lipton as a start. There are many, many pages on the Internet devoted to demonstrating that these pioneers are charlatans out to destroy the world. But scientists like myself seek benefits and experimental results, not the approval of the priests of our global financial religion.

  8. Holy crap, why would anyone read the first paragraph of your comment and then continue reading the rest of it!!!!

    I read the first paragraph and immediately went for the scroll button.
    Greg, your theory regarding the worthiness of bks’ comments seem to have great predictive value.

  9. #9 Trilobutt
    July 30, 2011

    bks:

    I would suggest the third linked blog post (which just happens to be mine. Thanks for the link, Greg!). Specifically from “In the history of human civilisations” onwards. Or just skip that and google “emergence”. [I would summarise a more complete answer, but it's my birthday and I am tipsy.]

  10. #10 MadScientist
    July 30, 2011

    My head hurts!

    I’m hoping someone will come up with some neat mechanisms for abiogenesis. I would have loved to work on such questions but there’s not much money for funding such research. :( Interactions between atoms and simple molecules are all very well understood. The challenge to coming up with ideas of how life began is to demonstrate mechanisms showing self-assembly of molecules needed to start life. Then the bigger challenge would come along: determining mechanisms for the evolution of various features such as the cell walls etc.

  11. #11 Jason Thibeault
    July 30, 2011

    The provided HTML for how to quickly link back here scrolls over the edge of the page, for the record. If you select it and copy, then paste elsewhere, it works fine. Looks like the URL is longer than your column width. No biggie, it’s just cosmetic.

    bks sure does love his really old science. Funny how it’s only the old stuff that supports his points about the origins of life being unknowable.

    While I agree that it might be extraordinarily difficult to pin down the exact way that it happened this time, finding plausible ways that it could have happened (the Urey-Miller experiments showed a way that life could have emerged, regardless of the fact that they got the experiment wrong!) then figuring out which model matches the early environment best (via other evidence-based methods of discovering how the environment was composed) is the best way to figure out what happened.

    You make hypotheses (e.g., environments where life can demonstrably emerge in experiments), then you compare these hypotheses against the evidence about how the environment was composed, and you get a good approximation of how life started this time.

    We may never have an exact way, but the multitudes of ways that life COULD emerge should prove anathema to any “fine-tuning” or “god of the gaps” arguments, so you’d think ANY experiment that shows how abiogenesis can occur would scuttle them. Sadly, falsehoods stick around way longer than they have any right.

  12. #12 Jesse
    July 30, 2011

    bks, you’ve gone into woo-land a bit.

    I’m not entirely sure what great myths you are thinking of that will so radically change our world, and I am afraid to ask. (Allowing “mystery” to be part of the scientific process? I thought it was already…)

    But I can tell you that just in 2009, Gerald Joyce and Tracey Lincoln t Scripps Research Institute took a manufactured enzyme (call it C), which catalyzed with two other enzymes (A and B) to form a precursor to itself (let’s call it pre-C). The precursor then catalyzed again with A and B to form enzyme C.

    At first the reaction did not work very efficiently. But then Joyce and Tracey made several copies of the original designed enzyme they started with, and introduced small “mutations.”

    The result: the enzyme, all by itself, started catalyzing its own reactions more efficiently after several thousand “generations.” It became an RNA enzyme, more complex than what they started with.

    This is at least proof of concept that simple chemicals can self-catalyze to more complex ones.

    Anytime someone brings up ineffable mysteries to scientific discussions and complains about reductionism then I know I am about to hear some woo-ish stuff. Usually someone will bring up QM at that point without much understanding of what it actually says. There’s certainly a lot of room to find stuff out, and systems theory is actually an interesting field. But I don’t see what the heck the origin of life has to do with the self-help industry, for instance, or pharmaceuticals, which whatever issues I have with the way the industry is structured, work.

  13. If you believe that we are descended from one common ancestor, which I do believe, you are not talking about some theoretical entity, you are talking about a real, living organism that reproduced itself and its offspring reproduced. Those offspring came from whatever biology-chemistry was operating in that first organism, that doesn’t explain the development of the original organism which would have had to have had a far different origin because it wasn’t the product of reproduction of a living organism.
    The origin of life is through that original ancestor, whatever bio-chemistry allowed its creation, amazingly complex just in itself, and the chemistry of its successful reproduction was not theoretical, it was whatever it was and specific to that organism. You would have to know about that organism to know about it, you can’t reconstruct it out of theories, no more than you know you had successfully imagined another form of life that arose on another planet. That is speculation and you might develop some science in the effort but that still doesn’t tell you anything real about that organism and how it formed at that level of complexity. With that level of complexity your chances of getting it very wrong a very high. And that doesn’t even get to the question of what the environment it survived and reproduced in was like. You don’t know when, or where, or what its environment was like, you don’t know what its method of being contained was, you don’t know anything about the chemistry of its reproduction or any possible mechanism of inheritance of traits or if it was subject to what is called, by us, “selection”, in far later generations.

    In the end, you can not know anything about it except that it was alive, it reproduced and that subsequent generations of its descendents changed to produce the diversity of life. Without physical evidence about it, you can know nothing. You can’t even know if you’re barking up the wrong tree. And as speculations in the name of science show, there will be a forest of those trees as time goes on and scientists compete with each other. That even happens when there is physical evidence, without it, all hell breaks loose.

  14. Jesse, do you know that research is relevant to the first organisms? How do you know that? How would that mechanism have developed in the first organism, before it reproduced? Why would it have developed?

  15. #15 John Swindle
    July 30, 2011

    I can’t say I thoroughly understand the issues here, as I have no training in any science. But if given a choice of listening to a scientist or to a luddite, I have a pretty good idea of who is more likely to be right.

    So when I saw the title of this post, I was struck by its similarity with that recent pronouncement by Bill O’Reiley concerning the tides. The short answer to O’Reiley’s silliness is “gravity”. I suppose the answer to this one is a bit more complex, but still accessible by anyone whose world-view does not preclude thinking.

  16. John Swindle, Bill O’Reiley is an idiot who spouts whatever he believes is temporarily advantageous to him and those who sponsor him. In matters re gravity, his mind is a cavity. And politics are a lot more complicated than gravity.

  17. #17 Garnetstar
    July 30, 2011

    The origin of life can be scientifically studied and demonstrated. The exact chemical pathway or pathways that occurred on earth 3.5 billion years ago cannot be shown, but evidence-based pathways for the arising of biological molecules and protocells can be.

    It’s all chemistry; what is needed is a way to demonstrate the origin of a relevant self-replicating molecule. Not much is discussed about this online (or at least, I haven’t found it) because chemists are outside the evolution wars. No creationist goes around challenging basic chemical principles (although I’ve seen an hilarious claim that amino acids can’t form in water, because they would react with the oxygen in it), or trying to teach pseudo-chemistry in public schools. So chemists have largely been out of it.

    Not all that much progress has been made in this field, not (IMO) because it is so extraordinarily difficult, but because very few chemists work on it. The funding level for basic chemical research approaches zero. In grant applications, you had better demonstrate that your research has pretty short-term practical applications, or you won’t be funded. Much more funding was available a couple of decades ago, but the modern body of chemical knowledge was, of course, not yet available.

    As has been demonstrated, amino acids and nucleotides can spontaneously form under a variety of conditions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis). Both proteins and DNA/RNA are commonly lab-synthesized, with specific sequences, under optimized conditions. I’m not aware (yet) of any report of spontaneous self-assembly or catalytic assembly of DNA/RNA under “early earth” conditions.

    But proteins are easily self-assembled. Sidney Fox showed that amino acids react to give proteins when just dissolved in water containing the correct salts, and then warmed (a detailed review: Sidney W. Fox, “Creationism and Evolutionary Protobiogenesis”, in Science and Creationism, ed. Ashley Montague, Oxford University Press, 1984). The sequences of the proteins are not random, but follow thermodynamic rules about the differential favorability of chemical reactions. So these reactions give rise to proteins of specific amino acid sequence.

    Fox envisioned such proteins forming in “warm little ponds” such as tide pools, warming in the sun. The sequence of the proteins would depend on thermodynamic rules and also on the amounts of different amino acids that happened to be present. So many, many different proteins would spontaneously arise.

    Such proteins spontaneously self-assembly to form microspheres, little sphere-shaped clumps, the composition of which depends on the particular sequences of the proteins that happen to be present. The spheres, on their own, perform a large number of biochemical reactions, reactions which are also carried out by proteins in living cells.

    So, no problem forming biologically-reactive proteins on the early earth, not even a need for an RNA-based catalyst. That could have arisen later.

    As I say, no relevant conditions are yet known for nucleic acid spontaneously self-assembly. But, not that many have been tested, nor have many potential catalysts for the reactions been examined.

    As to current proteins being formed of only left-handed amino acids? The preferential delivery of left-handed molecules from space is of course plausible. But, stereospecific catalysis may be chemically more likely.

    There are many, many known catalysts for many processes (especially for the production of fine organic chemical and drugs) that are stereospecific, i.e., they cause only molecules of *one* handedness to react and form the product. In a mixture of right- and left-handed molecules, they select only, say, the left-handed ones, and incorporate only them into the product. The molecules of the handedness that is not selected remain completely unreacted, and are not incorporated into the product at all. Very very useful, since so many desirable biological chemicals exist in only one handedness (ex. Advil–one hand of this molecule is a pain-killer, the other is an efficient poison.).

    RNA acts as a catalyst to assemble proteins, of course, but I don’t know if it selects for left-handed amino acids, or if left-handed ones are all that are available.

    The majority of catalysts are metal atoms. Almost every known metal has some sort of catalytic activity, for something. All of these metal atoms are found in the oceans and in rocks, minerals, soil, etc, sometimes in great abundance. Very small changes in reaction conditions (temperature, which molecules are available to the catalyst, what the rest of the molecules in the environment are, temperature, how much water is/is not present, amount of sunlight, etc.) result in very large changes in which metals catalyze what and what product is formed. Catalysts for the formation of nucleic acids, and for the formation of proteins from only left-handed amino acids, are chemically very likely, and these sorts of reactions could be scientifically demonstrated by future research.

    Jack Szostak has demonstrated by experiment a plausible pathway for molecules to assemble into primitive cell precursors (Schrum JS, Zhu TF, Szostak JW. The origins of cellular life. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2010 May 19, download PDF at http://genetics.mgh.harvard.edu/szostakweb/publications.html). It has been known for decades that fatty acids (ubiquitous and easily self-assembled molecules) dissolved in water spontaneously self-assemble into micelles, i.e., small hollow spheres. They have a layer of fatty acids on the outside, analogous to a cell wall, and an open space filled with water on the inside. Ordinary-size molecules readily move in and out of the spheres, crossing the fatty acid layer. If however, amino acids or nucleotides inside the spheres react and form proteins and nucleic acids (as I say, perhaps by catalysis), the proteins and nucleic acids cannot leave the spheres, because those molecules are very large, and can’t get across the fatty acid barrier. Reactions to form proteins and nucleic acids inside the spheres are even more likely, because they are inside a small space and so are more often brought into contact with each other.

    So, it has been shown that a spherical fatty acid outer layer containing proteins and nucleic acids could arise. Off we go!

  18. #18 Garnetstar
    July 30, 2011

    BTW, the Miller-Urey experiments have been repeated many times using many different atmospheres, including the most unreactive gases and gases that are certain to have been present on early earth (nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water). The experiments always produce amino acids. The only differences are which amino acids are produced and in what quantity.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB035_3.html

  19. Is there a location on early Earth where the conditions of the Miller-Urey experiments are known to have prevailed or been temporarily present? They can show that amino acids form under those conditions but that’s a far different matter from it being the mechanism that gave rise to them on the early Earth and far, far from explaining anything about the beginning of life, as it actually happened without laboratory conditions or any research plan or intelligent intention.

    I’m kind of interested in this discussion as a phenomenon of intentional suspended skepticism.

  20. #20 Garnetstar
    July 30, 2011

    bks,

    I assure you that chemists have an “exhaustive” list of currently-known chemical laws. The link that you posted has nothing at all to do with that. That page discusses the observation that water is an anomalous solvent–so what? That it’s different from most (not all) common solvents is due to well-known chemical laws, all of which are explained at that link.

    Chemistry explains why water acts the way it does, and why many other solvents do not have those properties. That water is anomalous does not suggest that its properties were fine-tuned for the emergence of life.

  21. #21 Garnetstar
    July 30, 2011

    Anthony M.,

    The laws of chemistry demand that the conditions I posted a link to (nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water as the gases that react) were present on early earth.

    Those three gases are “thermodynamic sinks” for the elements they’re composed of. All other molecules that contain those elements must eventually convert to those gases. They were certainly present, and amino acids form from them in Miller-Urey type experiments.

  22. Garnetstar, in order for that experiment to have been of known relevance to the origin of life on Earth, you would have to have evidence that the conditions of the experiment were relevant to the environments of the Earth in the period needed for that. I doubt that’s possible, just as I doubt we will ever know how life arose on Earth, that the environment in which it happened or the nature of its initiation can be known. I doubt that life even very long ago is of known relevance to it because that life would have been evolving for quite a while, subject to enormous change over the millions of years before even our oldest evidence is available. Who knows what line you should follow to try to tease out to find accurate evidence of what the first organism in our line of development would have been like and how its extraordinarily complex structure, essential for it to reproduce reliably and repeatedly, could have come about? Only, since we’re talking about multiple, very likely intertwined lines, which lines you could follow back is even more impossible to know. In current evolutionary biology there would have had to be that common ancestor, the first organism assembled out of whatever was available at the unknown time place and conditions in which it attained life.

    If you want to consider the possibility of multiple origination of life, that would only give you more problems, including that life being similar in structure would be so unlikely as to be even more open to miraculous claims. I’d think quite credible ones, in that case.

    Pretending that the myriad of citations above — all of the ones I looked up based in far, far later biology, evolved for millions of years and unknown numbers of generations after the original organism — can reliably point to what that event was like and what the resultant organism, complete with the ability to take in and use nutrients to maintain its life and the ability to reproduce and, one would guess, give its descendents the ability to construct and pass on those mechanisms and who knows what other essential aspects of its biology, is an act of faith. Usually the faith in promissory materialism, a note in continual arrears, especially in this instance.

    What’s wrong with just admitting we will never have the essential knowledge of those things, which you can’t know by faking it. That information is lost and we won’t ever know more than that there was an organism that reproduced and which eventually gave rise to biological diversity, including us. Making believe we know when we don’t doesn’t do anything to enhance the rightness of what we can know something about.

    Linking this problem with the fact of evolution only serves to give creationists ammunition. It’s unnecessary and foolish to continue doing it.

  23. #23 tacroy
    July 30, 2011

    @Anthony McCarthy: You have a weirdly binary definition of knowledge. You seem to be saying that unless we can say “yes, this is definitely the one organism from which life originated”, we can never know anything about the origin of life.

    Knowledge doesn’t work like that! It has shades and degrees; it is not “this is a fact, that is not a fact”, it’s “this is true with 90% probability, that’s true with 10% probability”.

    We can narrow down the range of ambient environments that it would have developed in, we can figure out the most likely forms it would have taken, we can figure out what the most likely chemical pathways for it to develop along would have been…

    Even if we can never know any of it for certain, we can narrow down the probability space, and say “this is more likely than that”. That is knowing something about the origin of life, even if it is not knowing things to 100% certainty.

    I mean, even the original Miller-Urey experiment that you object to says something about the origin of life; it says “If the ancient atmosphere was similar to our experiment, then amino acids could have been generated” – that is knowledge about the origin of life, even if the ancient atmosphere was not similar to the experiment. After all, if it is possible to generate amino acids with one atmospheric composition, then surely it is possible to do the same with a slightly different composition?

    This is knowledge. It is not certainty, but it is knowledge.

    We can know a lot, if you just accept that knowledge is not and never has been binary.

  24. #24 Rod
    July 30, 2011

    What people mean is really “I cannot understand the chemistry and biology to understand any of this so it must be God” or whatever they use.
    I ran into a parallel situation a few years ago regarding a public meeting concerning a chemical plant. I heard “Nothing is known about these dangerous chemicals that are being trucked in and out of our community”. These chemicals were methanol and acetone, among the most-used and most-studied industrial chemicals going.
    Some people, especially non-scientists seem to think that if they do not know of, or can’t work through the science, it is unknowable, or no-one knows it.

  25. Knowledge doesn’t work like that! It has shades and degrees; it is not “this is a fact, that is not a fact”, it’s “this is true with 90% probability, that’s true with 10% probability”.

    When you are talking about the origin of life, you are talking about a specific organism, you aren’t talking about a subatomic particle, you aren’t even talking about a species of organisms you can collect data about today. Data does, actually, have to report something about observed reality relevant to your application of it. When you have not an actual datum about that organism or its environment, how are you supposed to establish probabilities concerning it?

    You are also talking about the enormous problem of how that organism arose out of non-living matter, not only means of how it could possibly have happened, but how it actually DID happen in that specific and, so far as we know, unique instance.

    Either you believe in a common ancestry for life on Earth or you don’t. If you do, you have to deal with the fact of that original organism in order to know how it happened and there is no available evidence of what it was like or how it arose.

    I mean, even the original Miller-Urey experiment that you object to says something about the origin of life; it says “If the ancient atmosphere was similar to our experiment, then amino acids could have been generated” – that is knowledge about the origin of life,

    First, I didn’t object to the experiment, I object to making claims that it is a recreation of an ancient atmosphere on Earth. I doubt they did, I doubt there is any evidence that the conditions they created ever existed in any location on the ancient Earth. They did show that you can make amino acids the way they did. It might be tantalizingly suggestive and has certainly fueled a number of materialist fantasies about nailing down the actual origin of life on Earth but those are speculations and explanatory myths. The actual origin of life on Earth, the unique process and event of life arising out of non-living matter, was known to have happened, that life was known to have successfully reproduced, that’s about all that is known. Which doesn’t carry an explanation of how the body of that organism, perhaps the most complex entity on the Earth at that moment, formed or what that body was like. We don’t even know the nature of its descendents, except that it’s possible to understand how their bodies could have formed through biological processes, though we don’t know exactly what those were. Their origin was unlike that of the original parent organism because they arose from life, not from non-living matter.

    How do you “know” something about that event without any evidence specific to it? Your range or probabilities might contain accurate evidence of it, or it might be entirely off the mark.

  26. #26 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 30, 2011

    Let me start to note, as a current student of astrobiology, that this is a valuable source. Duly bookmarked!

    As for adding on to the general probing of OOL, I would note a couple of points:

    - Both top down (biological evolution) and bottom up (chemical evolution) approaches have _already_ contributed knowledge.

    For the former, I would note the evidence of gene history including the Archaean Expansion (easily overtaking the small genetic diversity blip of the Cambrian Explosion), the large genome size of the LUCA and the previous RNA only genetic world.

    For the latter I would note the Miller observations, the new high chemical rate/natural enzyme selection results (see below), and spontaneous protocell formation on chemical evolution existence and connection with protometabolism.

    - Already current observations on early life shows that the pro- to protobiotic OOL process was easy. You can use a simplest possible Poisson model of abiogenesis attempts to, arguably depending on accepted evidence, test this prediction.

    - Also within reach for testability is pro- to protobiotic pathways! Yes, it really seems so, as the following toy model shows:

    DNA-protein cell machinery, RNA or ATP biosynthesis before the first membranes, the first enzymes are examples of (not fully exclusive) common evolutionary chicken-and-egg problems. Luckily such problems conveniently bottleneck possible pathways to a smaller set.

    Bottom up, chemical network enzymes are a natural outcome in newer scenarios. High-temperature reactions seems to be much faster than orthodox theory believed from scant data. This temperature dependence gives a self-selection for enthalpic pre-proteinous enzymes. ["Impact of temperature on the time required for the establishment of primordial biochemistry, and for the evolution of enzymes", Stockbridge et al, PNAS, 2010.]

    Now looking top down, we see that pathways meet. The first modern metabolic networks originated with purine metabolism, and specifically with the gene family of the P-loop-containing ATP hydrolase fold. ["The origin of modern metabolic networks inferred from phylogenomic analysis of protein architecture", Caetano-Anollés et al. PNAS, 2007; "Rapid evolutionary innovation during an Archaean genetic expansion", David et al, Nature, 2010.]

    That is, ATP sits at the intersection between a cooling and/or hydrothermal vent active Earth prometabolism and nucleotide protometabolism. (Which compound seems to later have been exaptated by modern proteinous metabolic genes as coenzyme/energy currency.) Minimum change of traits picks ATP use before RNA evolution

    Note that this is an (informal) test of a phylogenetic pathway. Abiogenesis is actually slightly testable today as far as I can see.

    I think Shostak’s spontaneous assembling protocells (see above) may be testable as well; they are likely necessary for self-replication of RNA polymerases. Otherwise polymerases promiscuous nature, dilution by copying any odd RNA besides themselves, are prone to self-extinction.

  27. #27 Garnetstar
    July 30, 2011

    “Garnetstar, in order for that experiment to have been of known relevance to the origin of life on Earth, you would have to have evidence that the conditions of the experiment were relevant to the environments of the Earth in the period needed for that.”

    Wrong. You seem to have missed a few things I said.

    1) The laws of chemistry demand that certain elements be present, in any conditions, as certain molecules (unless you are proposing that the conditions we need to know are that the laws of chemistry were the same then as they are now). Amino acids are formed from that gas mixture.

    2) Amino acids form readily from many gas mixtures, including from the most unreactive gases known (the ones that the laws of chemistry demand were present). The reaction is ubiquitous–no matter what gases were present, amino acids form. So why do we need to know what specific gases were present when AAs first began to form? AAs form from all of them.

    “You are also talking about the enormous problem of how that organism arose out of non-living matter, not only means of how it could possibly have happened, but how it actually DID happen in that specific and, so far as we know, unique instance.”

    Wrong. You don’t need to know the exact linear line of ancestral dinosaurs that evolved specifically into modern birds, to know that dinosaurs did evolve into birds. All you need is conclusive evidence, demonstrated examples, showing that could happen. There is, in fact, no demonstration of the exact line of dinosaurs that led to birds. But there are many fossils showing that key transitional points did occur.

    Multiple species transitional between dinosaurs and birds are known, but only one of the ancestral lines (apparently) gave rise to modern birds.

    So, why be scared of the idea of multiple starts of different self-replicating molecules, only one of which successfully became the basis of life today? Chemical reactions change as different conditions arise: some slow down, some speed up, some stop, some give different products, some become catalyzed and get wildly successful, swamping out all others. New reactions also arise. Why is this more impossible than species doing the same thing?

    Sorry, but you sound like a creationist, ignorant of the facts of evolution, exclaiming “Biology is so complicated, I can’t imagine how species could arise! We’ll never know.” Chemistry is not extrordinarily complex, and life *is* chemistry. A sustaining set of chemical reactions.

    “What’s wrong with just admitting we will never have the essential knowledge of those things…”

    That’s what creationists do. Scientists don’t sit down and whine, they find things out. Where would science be if everyone had always taken that attitude? Because you don’t know any chemistry and so find it difficult to imagine that we’ll ever know more about this branch of it, doesn’t mean that everyone is similarly ignorant.

    “Linking this problem with the fact of evolution only serves to give creationists ammunition. It’s unnecessary and foolish to continue doing it.”

    Another argument from profound ignorance, extremely insulting to all chemists. Learn some chemistry.

    “Who knows what line you should follow to try to tease out to find accurate evidence of what the first organism in our line of development would have been like…”

    I do. So do a lot of scientists. I wrote a long post about this, which is now being held in moderation. I suppose it’ll show up sometime. In the meantime, please acquire some information on the subject, instead of sitting down under the argument from personal incredulity.

  28. #28 bks
    July 30, 2011

    Trilobutt: emergence is snake oil. You can’t define it, you don’t even know it when you see it. Emergence puts the OO in woo. You might just as well tell us that Jesus Christ rose after three days as appeal to emergence.

    –bks

  29. #29 bks
    July 30, 2011

    Jesse:

    Kageyama, et al, had more interesting results in creating a circadian rhythm, in vitro, some years before:

    http://www.cell.com/molecular-cell/abstract/S1097-2765%2806%2900381-9

    Of course this sort of loop has been studied for over 60 years:

    But in recent years there has been a tendency to move on to the synthetic phase, that is to build up *systems* consisting of two or more enzymes linked together functionally, …

    Dixon, Malcolm, _Multi-Enzyme Systems, Four Special Lectures given to University College, London, in May 1948_, Cambridge, 1948, Lecture 1, page 1.

    That’s all good science, but it’s not the creation of a new lifeform under the sun.

    –bks

  30. #30 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 30, 2011

    @ Anthony McCarthy Leveler:

    Your prolific commenting suggest that you are not interested in the facts as much as a way out of acknowledging them. However, let me address some misconceptions of yours, since it bears on the general topic:

    “If you believe that we are descended from one common ancestor, which I do believe, [...] whatever biology-chemistry was operating in that first organism, that doesn’t explain the development of the original organism [...]”

    - One (common) misconception is that the last common ancestor (LCA) or all extant life was the LCA of all extinct life. The LCA of extant life is known to use DNA and have as many genes as the average bacteria of today. Earlier LCAs are known to use RNA and have fewer genes (obviously).

    The existence of the DNA LCA for extant life is the best tested observation in the whole of science! The likelihood that there was no such LCA is 1:10^2040 [Theobald].

    - Another (common) misconception is that there was a single first organism. Since biological evolution operates on populations to take viable populations to viable populations, we know the cellular LCA was a population. Similarly, chemical evolution including selection worked on viable populations of protometabolic molecules. So we know that these pathways were not random results.

    We also know that from the speed with which life was established. See my previous comment, currently on hold for acceptance.

    [Btw, this also address the "life from non-life" non-issue. Life is populations, not individuals obviously, which participates in the process of life, evolution. That is a fact, whether you consider genetic inheritance (biological evolution) or chemical inheritance (chemical evolution).

    It is a fuzzy boundary as is everything biological, say species. We don't claim that species doesn't exist, or that speciation is a problem, just because we can't draw a black-and-white world definitive line in the sand.]

    “You are also talking about the enormous problem of how that organism arose out of non-living matter, not only means of how it could possibly have happened, but how it actually DID happen in that specific and, so far as we know, unique instance.”

    - We are not interested in a unique pathway, though of course it would be nice if it was constrained thusly. But that requirement sounds like the requirement that physical constants should be uniquely constrained instead of anthropic selected.

    Similarly here, since we know it happened, we can feasibly get to know the _likeliest_ pathways out of sufficiently predictive hypotheses and constraints.* That would make for testability as well as for the further knowledge the article is concerned with.

    My previous comment, currently on hold for acceptance, walks through some scenarios that seems to point to that this is eminently feasibly.

    ————–
    * Your erroneous view of distributions of possible pathways as a requirement of uniqueness is a complete strawman.

    It reminds of a brazen lawyer in a court. There people get a conviction for sufficient evidence, not for a factual description of everything happening during their crime.

    However, this lawyer seems to consider otherwise:

    “- My Lord, do the court know which books were purloined from which shelf during the alleged break-and-entry? If not, I suggest you release my client *because you know nothing*!”

    Or in other words, it is the creationist “- Where you there?” Which doesn’t concern science at all.

  31. #31 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 30, 2011

    @ bks:

    “emergence is snake oil. You can’t define it,”

    Blather. Let me introduce you to encyclopedias:

    “In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.”

    Common examples of emergence is classical mechanics out of the classical sector of quantum mechanics, or chemistry out of the bound system sector of particle physics.

    Emergence is a common, and well understood, phenomena in science.

  32. #32 bks
    July 30, 2011

    Torbjörn: Classical mechanics did not emerge out of quantum mechanics; quite the reverse. Has there been any major input to molecular biology –or all of biochemistry, for that matter– from quantum mechanics? I mean *major*, not some minor paper published in a third-tier journal. Joseph Fruton says “No” so it would be interesting to see a solid example from you.

    –bks

  33. #33 Jason Thibeault
    July 30, 2011

    If you think emergence is snake oil, you’ve obviously never looked at a fractal in your life.

  34. #34 Trilobutt
    July 30, 2011

    bks:

    Next time you go to the beach (or the playground…), gather a pile of sand. Keep adding grains on top of each other. Pretty soon you will get a nice cone.

    How do you explain that, without invoking emergence?

    If the thought experiment worked properly, you should now be able to envision a framework for the origin of life pretty easily.

    Anthony McCarthy Leveler:

    Just a couple of sentences that I don’t think the other commenters have addressed.

    “you would have to have evidence that the conditions of the experiment were relevant to the environments of the Earth in the period needed for that.”

    We have a pretty good idea of what the early atmosphere and early ocean chemistry was like. This knowledge isn’t just from models, they’re from the geological record (off the top of my head: banded iron formations for oxygen levels; eroded zircons for presence of earliest oceans), and so they count as “true knowledge” (= facts).

    Which automatically solves this:
    “Is there a location on early Earth where the conditions of the Miller-Urey experiments are known to have prevailed or been temporarily present?”

    Yes. We know that plate tectonics has originated, so hydrothermal vents must have been there (important for the black smokers as location for the origin of life hypothesis). We know a hydrological cycle was present very early on in Earth’s history, meaning that onland lakes with mud were present (another hypothesis, less accepted, is that life originated in shallow lakes with clayish mud, under the influence of UV and thunder). If we don’t have evidence for these models, they wouldn’t be proposed in the first place.

  35. #35 Jesse
    July 30, 2011

    Anthony–

    By your lights, since we don’t have a time machine, we could never really know that George Washington existed or what he did. After all, all the evidence we have is circumstantial.

    Christ on a cracker, scientists can make hypotheses (and test them) about things such as the origin of the Earth itself, precisely because you can say “hey, here are the laws of physics as we know them. Assuming that they haven’t changed radically over time, what would you get if…”

    It’s really not that complicated. Now, you are right in one sense: lacking a time machine we can’t go back and see what happened. But you can say that there are certain classes of phenomena that are more or less likely to be how it worked.

    Criminal investigations, by the way, do this all the time. Are you going to say “hey, we can’t really know if this guy murdered someone? It’s so complicated!”

  36. #36 bks
    July 30, 2011

    Trilobutt: You’re confusing emergence with catastrophe theory. I certainly agree that bifurcation is an important part of this discussion. But, as I said, “emergence” is snake oil. Catastrophe theory is well-defined. Rene Thom was one of the great modern thinkers working in the mathematical theory of biology. I mourn his passing.

    Who are the modern intellectual fathers of emergence? It smacks of vitalism to me.

    –bks

  37. #37 Trilobutt
    July 30, 2011

    bks:

    Emergence is the complete opposite of vitalism, because there is no magical invisible force at work. The key underlying assumption is that everything is made of matter. It is simply the combined interactions of many components – in the sand example, it’s sand grains + gravity + whatever other physics is at work (friction, capillary forces if the sand is wet, etc.). Once you put enough interacting components together, you will reach a threshold (which may or may not be a fuzzy line) where there are simply other processes at work.

    Compare individual mentality and mob mentality. Each individual is different, but put a bunch of people in a mob with a united purpose, and their dynamics will be completely different than if you had a bunch of individuals acting alone. (For an entertaining look at this, just watch both Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series.) This is chaotic if you look at it at the individual level, but if you zoom out to the mob, you see that there is a sense of organisation. That’s what arises out of emergence.

    There is nothing vitalistic about it, it’s just the way it is (or, alternatively, how we perceive things, but that’s going into some weird philosophical quagmire).

  38. One (common) misconception is that the last common ancestor (LCA) or all extant life was the LCA of all extinct life. The LCA of extant life is known to use DNA and have as many genes as the average bacteria of today. Earlier LCAs are known to use RNA and have fewer genes (obviously). Torbjörn Larsson

    I didn’t deal with possible other lines of life, I only talked about the one that gave rise to extant life which is known to have evolved. About other, possible, lost, extinct lines even less can be known, you don’t know if it evolved while it existed, you don’t know if it was subject to genetic drift, if it even had genes or if it was subject to natural selection. You can’t know if they existed. You can’t know if they could have shared common characteristics with the form of life that developed into life as we know it.

    How do you know that original organism in our line had what DNA or RNA? How do you know that those didn’t develop considerably after that event? How do you know how rapidly those could have developed from other, unknown molecules? Since the actual date of the first organism we are descended from is not known the speed with which life was established isn’t known. And since that event and the subsequent life that come from it is the unique instance you have available to speculate about, you don’t have anything to compare that with.

    My previous comment, currently on hold for acceptance, walks through some scenarios that seems to point to that this is eminently feasibly.

    More than one scenario? Well, it only happened once, in one way, which of those stories do you propose was that one? Or which other one that others could invent could it have been? Or, since all of this is speculation based in biology from well after the event, which was likely far evolved from the character of that original organism, which was likely quite alien to your knowledge, which stories that you couldn’t imagine based in that might it be? What if the way it really happened was stranger than we could imagine?

    Considering there are people who seriously consider it possible that life on Earth is extra-terrestrial in origin the range of possibilities is quite vast. And in the case of that extraterrestrial origin, your time frame, other observations and experiments about the imagined environment of early Earth could be entirely irrelevant to how our form of life originated.

    Lawyers deal with evidence, often evidence of things far more certainly known in detail than any speculations about the origin of life on Earth. It really matters that something actually happened in reality. In the case of the origin of life, what actually happened could comprise the only accurate account of how it happened. There was only one scenario that would be accurate, if we could have it. We don’t have it and it’s not possible to know what it is.

    Garnetstar, so much nonsense that I don’t know where to begin. You don’t know how to work back from the earliest physical evidence of life to discern what the first life was like, no one does. Everything that is said about that is speculation based on no evidence because there is no evidence to base it on. Forget birds and dinosaurs, you can’t work back for fossilized algal mats which are almost certainly very,very remote from the original form of life.

    Considering the complexity of that first example of life, and the chance of any necessary step adding to its improbability of it ever happening to start with, the idea that it could happen even twice in the same way would seem to be even more incredibly improbable. Which would certainly be welcome for people looking for divine intention in it happening, though that could never be a part of science. Neither is making up stories about things. That’s story telling, you can make whatever you want to happen, happen in a story, even taking “facts” into account. Real life isn’t like that, real life happened the way it happened, the way it happened is the only thing that can tell you about the origin of life. The real one, not the creation myths that are so enthusiastically adopted by materialists, though not all the same one, who think they’re doing science.

    “What’s wrong with just admitting we will never have the essential knowledge of those things…”

    That’s what creationists do. Scientists don’t sit down and whine, they find things out. Where would science be if everyone had always taken that attitude? Because you don’t know any chemistry and so find it difficult to imagine that we’ll ever know more about this branch of it, doesn’t mean that everyone is similarly ignorant.

    No, not at all. That’s exactly what creationists DON’T do. They believe they know how life arose based on their choice of story. The only way scientists can find out anything is on the basis of physical evidence, though a lot of them seem to be going in for creation myth and story telling in support of their choices of ideology. That would be “choices” as they don’t agree on which story they choose to call science. Well, as I said, it only happened once and in one way. That is unless you want me to change from believing in a common ancestor for all life and in favor of the creation of multiple kinds of life, which is more in line with the creation myth of Genesis than in anything I was ever taught about evolutionary science.

  39. Jesse, if you can’t understand that there is considerably more evidence of George Washington than there is of the first life form, you are really stretching reality well, well past the breaking point. We know what species George Washington was supposed to be, when he was born and that he was born of another human being, for example, something we can’t say about the first form of life. We can confidently say how he came to be conceived, gestated and born, we know the possible ways that happened. Not to mention that there is considerable physical evidence that he lived, which is entirely absent when it comes to the original organism and its immediate descendents.

    I’d like a scientist to identify the species of first life, what kind of life was it, which modern kingdom of life it is most like or if it was unlike all of them. I’d like a scientist to identify within a hundred million years of when it developed and what the environment it developed in was like, physically and chemically. If it’s so well known, they must be able to fill in some of that information.

  40. #40 bks
    July 30, 2011

    Hah! So life “emerges” because “it’s just the way it is.” eh Trilobutt?

    Welcome to Pantheism, young person, welcome! I think you’ll find that starting with the simple axiom that the Universe is alive will satisfy all your philosophical needs. Life is generic, thank the lord polyphosphate! I was sure you were about to lead us into the netherworld of the Singularity. Then there would have been computer goo emerging out of all the orifices in Greg’s blog.

    –bks

  41. #41 Jason Thibeault
    July 30, 2011

    I would imagine then, Anthony, that you also believe theoretical physics to be mythmaking and dogma. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the way people are pursuing the convergent lines of evidence to approximate a way that life could have arisen. Since no proper scientist is ever going to point without extraordinary evidence to one of these ways that life could have emerged and say “This. Is. How. It. Happened.”, really, your entire argument serves only to cockblock an entire field of study. Why, exactly? Are you defending a gap so theists can shoehorn in their gods?

    Or is “theoretical” science not really science? How much of science are you throwing out here? And how far back are you willing to go? Would you like to throw out some other theories before they were proven to be true, given that they didn’t have supporting evidence until after they were tested and shown to be true? How about gravity? Shall we deny gravity because we don’t really have all that much of an idea as to how or why it happens?

    Life started here. It started somehow. If we can show that there are a number of ways it could have started, that’s good enough for me to show that this wasn’t a magical intervention. There is only one truth, it’s true, but we can’t stop searching for the best models to approximate that truth just because it’s *whine* really hard.

  42. Jason Thibeault, I believe that since the question is the origin of life you need to have evidence of what that life was and how it came about to know about that. It’s a pretty specific question about a specific event, not something that happened more than once or routinely and certainly hasn’t been directly observed and it isn’t something that happened in the way that all subsequent life came from already existing life.

    I’m skeptical about some of speculative physics, I’m especially skeptical about the bizarre idea Hawking floated last year:

    We seem to be at a critical point in the history of science, in which we must alter our conception of goals and of what makes a physical theory acceptable. It appears that the fundamental numbers, and even the form, of the apparent laws of nature are not demanded by logic or physical principle. The parameters are free to take on many values and the laws to take on any form that leads to a self-consistent mathematical theory, and they do take on different values and different forms in different universes.

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=3141

    If the practice of physics is to do without “logic or physical principle” it’s not physics and it’s not even science. It’s the creation of scholastic models of possible universes which can’t be tested, whose reality can’t be known. As Woit says, it can’t even be wrong. The excuse that it’s necessary to avoid some possibilities considered to be aesthetically objectionable doesn’t strike me as sufficient reason to think it’s anything but wishful thinking and professional opportunism.

  43. #43 Trilobutt
    July 30, 2011

    bks, am I not allowed to use some colloquialisms anymore? :(

    How did you extrapolate *anything* I said into something as silly as pantheism, or as downright idiotic as the Singularity? The Universe isn’t alive. Does it metabolise? Does it replicate itself? Does it undergo evolution (in the biological sense, not the colloquial sense meaning “development”; galaxies ‘evolve’, but there’s not even an analogue to selection or drift)? Those are the characteristics of life, and whose origins are elegantly explained by invoking emergence.

  44. #44 Nemo
    July 30, 2011

    bks, why do you want physicists to do the work of biologists?

  45. #45 BinJabreel
    July 30, 2011

    @BKS-

    Holy crap, you say “Emergence is snake oil”, but I’m pretty sure that emergence is your religion.

    Want to see real, true, factual emergence? Here’s the nerdiest one I can find:

    http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/01/skynet-meets-the-swarm-how-the-berkeley-overmind-won-the-2010-starcraft-ai-competition.ars

    They programmed the unit’s AI with a simple physics-type simulator. Targets cause an attractive force, dangerous things a repulsive force. From this, incredibly elaborate behaviors emerged from the program. EMERGENCE.

  46. #46 Jason Thibeault
    July 31, 2011

    Reading comprehension, Anthony. Hawking is not saying you need to divest physics from logic or principles. He’s saying that nothing about this universe’s logic or physical principles demand that the “variables” that underpin the universe’s equations need to be what they are. You’re therefore free to model other theoretical universes as long as they’re mathematically consistent. It will only help you determine if other theoretical universes could exist, or could form particles with different physical properties (emergent from the equations you put together no less!), or could even give rise to life, putting the lie to the idea of the fine-tuned universe. We’re basically looking to prove the strong anthropic principle to close another gap.

    And if you think I’m beating on that particular drum a good deal, it’s because I am. Emergence is pretty much everywhere. I can’t think of any abstraction of reality with more readily available physical evidence than that which allows for all the matter in the universe.

  47. A theoretical universe divested of principles of physics and logic, how would you verify its existence or show your theorizing was anything more than a figment of your imagination, a kind of very specialized fiction? I’m not sorry to say, I’m with Woit on that. Physics divorced from the subject matter of physics, why not math divorced from the subject matter of math? Imagine what worlds you could create with that.

    As Richard Lewontin said in another context, this mania for storytelling turns science into a game. It looks like intellectual decadence to me.

    As biology, and, especially, ecology has shown us, life is very complicated and often quite unimaginable when looked at in all its detail. The post is about “the origin of life”. That wasn’t a theoretical event, it wasn’t something that happened in a bare bones scenario designed to be studied, it’s an event that happened in an unknown environment and which led to all of the surviving life on Earth. You can’t have accurate ideas about that very real, very important event except by knowing what really happened, what the original organism was like, how it came about and how a bunch of inert matter assembled in an extremely unlikely and complex manner to somehow attain life as that happened, not in some theoretical scenario or even a nifty lab experiment based on much, much later life. If there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that nature didn’t do it under laboratory conditions.

    And those experiments only show that you can mimic some events that happened in nature through some rather intelligently designed and executed experiments. Considering how successfully the creationist industry has been in trying to insert ideas very much like that into the popular understanding of science, we really don’t need scientists giving them ammunition.

    I’m taking an agnostic position. What you don’t have any evidence of, you can’t know scientifically. No matter how much you guys might want to put the nail in the coffin of God, or vitalism or to “close another gap” or anything else, using this issue isn’t going to get you what you want. Without real evidence of that event, it will get you nothing. That plan has turned out to be a very unintelligent design, as can be seen in the numbers of people who are unconvinced by the ideological presentation of science as a materialist faith. That attempted use of science is as little to do with science as the I.D. industries’ attempted use of it. Ideology is no substitute for observation of reality. You can’t use it to invent evidence. You can’t even use well established ideas, such as natural selection, to invent evidence, though a
    lot of ideological science is based entirely on that attempt, always in the interest of an ideological position. In that many an atheist has practiced the same intellectual dishonesty as many a scriptural fundamentalist.

  48. #48 Trilobutt
    July 31, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy Leveler:

    “As biology, and, especially, ecology has shown us, life is very complicated and often quite unimaginable when looked at in all its detail. The post is about “the origin of life”. That wasn’t a theoretical event, it wasn’t something that happened in a bare bones scenario designed to be studied, it’s an event that happened in an unknown environment and which led to all of the surviving life on Earth. You can’t have accurate ideas about that very real, very important event except by knowing what really happened, what the original organism was like, how it came about and how a bunch of inert matter assembled in an extremely unlikely and complex manner to somehow attain life as that happened, not in some theoretical scenario or even a nifty lab experiment based on much, much later life.”

    That’s an argument from ignorance, and that leads to a very slippery slope to boot.

    We know what the Earth back then was approximately like from the geological and geochemical record. Nobody makes anything up about the environment when talking about abiogenesis, and there is no theory involved that is not grounded in fundamental (and proven!) aspects of physics and chemistry (self-assembly of lipids isn’t theoretical, it’s demonstrable!), and partly also demonstrated in the lab. (Try reading the book Genesis, by Robert Hazen. It’s got all sorts of detail on how we go about abiogenesis research.)

    And from phylogenetics, we can see what is truly ancestral in cells (shared by archaeans, eukaryotes and bacteria), and it is not unreasonable to use that as a clue as for where life evolved, even if you go for the “these are all recent organisms” argument. They’re all recent – even though age is completely irrelevant to systematics and phylogeny – but they ultimately all have the same common root. That’s what phylogenetics allows us to uncover. The ultimate smoking gun, fossils, may never be found, but ancestral character reconstruction has proven time and again to be pretty reliable and predictive.

    “If there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that nature didn’t do it under laboratory conditions.”

    That’s the slippery slope. Let’s just skip straight to animal and human experimentation of all drugs, without going through preliminary trials. After all, a human body works differently than a bunch of cultured cells. Not a very sound viewpoint, is it?

  49. #49 bks
    July 31, 2011

    Nemo: Biologists must do the work of physicists, but they are trained that there is no new physics in biology. That’s what Watson means by saying that cells obey the laws of chemistry. Physicists are not afraid of philosophy (Shroedinger’s Cat, Maxwell’s Daemon, Theory of Everything) but biologists are. I am always amused by the commenters in Greg’s blog who think that practicing biologists form “hypotheses” and then test their hypotheses by experiments. Nothing could be further from the truth. Can you name three “theoretical biologists?”

    BinJabreel: Ugh! Do you have a reference that’s less turgid?

    –bks

  50. #50 Jason Thibeault
    July 31, 2011

    And without forming these hypotheses, we won’t know where to look or how to get that evidence. How many hypotheses have preceeded experimental or evidential verification? So what’s your problem exactly?

  51. #51 OgreMkV
    July 31, 2011

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2691805/pdf/11084_2009_Article_9164.pdf

    In 2008, the International Society for the Study of Origins of Life, held a symposium on the origins and early evolution of life.

    350 scientists from all over the world came together with more than 310 presentations.

    The journal Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere has collected the abstracts into one volume. This is 214 pages of abstracts of peer-reviewed papers on origins of life research.

    Enjoy.

    P.S. some of these are probably copied in GL’s list.

    P.P.S. Thanks for the plug on my blog (Cassandra’s Tears), clicking on ‘origins of life’ in the category list will bring up a few more than Greg linked too.

  52. That’s an argument from ignorance, and that leads to a very slippery slope to boot. Trilobutt

    It’s an argument outside of ignorance, refusing to pretend that ignorance can produce accurate evidence about a specific question, a refusal to make believe that something as complicated as an unknown organism can be intuited from information coming many hundreds of millions of years and after who knows how many mutating, evolving generations after it probably existed. What if there was a new generation on an average of every twenty minutes during that entire period? The slippery slope is pretending you can do what can’t be done, of mistaking the creation of a narrative for the collection of evidence, of pretending your scenario is an actual fact instead of a story.

    That’s the slippery slope. Let’s just skip straight to animal and human experimentation of all drugs, without going through preliminary trials. After all, a human body works differently than a bunch of cultured cells. Not a very sound viewpoint, is it?

    There is an enormous difference between being able to observe and collect data about living animals you can see and study and being entirely unable to collect data about an organism which lived several billion years ago, which you know next to nothing about and, especially, considering the question of its unique transformation from non-living matter to a living, surviving, reproducing living being, something which is not known from any other example.

    We know what the Earth back then was approximately like from the geological and geochemical record.

    Oh, is there unanimous agreement as to what that was in all possible locations on Earth which could have been the environment in which life originated for the entire period during which that might have happened, a rather long period of time, the last time I looked. In how much detail? And for how long will the present ideas about that stand before further research leads to other ideas about that?

    What was this original life like? Tell me. If you want to take the route some above did, where did its “genetic” information come from? And when did that become “information”?

  53. #53 Jesse
    July 31, 2011

    Jesus, Anthony, are you being deliberately obtuse?

    Look, it’s not that hard. We have all kinds of lines of evidence showing what the Earth, in a general sense, was like. Do we know what it was like at every location and circumstance? No, of course not. You don’t know what every single location in your house looked like when it was built but the house is there, and you can make reasonable assumptions and hypotheses about it, even if it has been remodeled.

    In fact, you can make a pretty good assumption about earlier structures even if they have been replaced entirely — for instance, if my house is built on a craggy outcrop near the sea, and assuming that the laws of physcis are the same, I know that if anyone built a previous house there it would have to have stood up to storms, it would have to have been anchored down somehow. Couple that with, say, old holes in the rock that are clearly cut, and I could reasonable say that the previous house was dug into the stone with pilings. I don’t know what the pilings were made of, though I can make a few goo hypotheses based on what is physically possible (and I can test those in a limited way). I don’t know how old the previous house was, but I can date the rock it was in, look at evidence of sea level, see if there are any fragments I can carbon-date and then I get a pretty good picture of what my upper and lower bounds are. That’s how this kind of science works.

    I brought it up before: assuming the laws of physics and chemistry haven’t gone whacko on us in the last few billion years, and further taking as read that the laws of physics are the same everywhere, there are lots of things you can say about the early Earth and further, lots of things you can say about the possibilities for the origin of life. Other people on this thread have noted the evidence that allows for this.

    Now, this doesn’t mean we can say “I know for a fact that life originated this way…” But it does mean that you can say “I know that life probably did NOT originate this way…” and then go from there. For example, it’s not likely that life originated because a bunch of thorium and xenon mixed in a particular way, or rubidium and hydrogen, or that amino acids arose out of a chlorine atmosphere.

    Your point about not knowing what the whole surface of the Earth was like is just silly. Of course local conditions differed within a certain set of parameters, just as local conditions differ on Earth today — within a certain range. That is, there is no place on Earth where temperatures go to absolute zero and we find nitrogen flowing as a liquid outside a container, and there are no places on the surface where the ambient temperature is hot enough to separate hydrogen and oxygen. (Except in the mantle, maybe, but even then… ) You don’t have places where the air pressure is 1000 atmospheres unless you are at the bottom of the ocean.

    But the point is that with the experiments people do, you can put certain constraints on the process. You can say that given a million experiments going on (lots of chemistry happening all over the place on the early Earth) and 100 million years or so, and crucially, that there may be multiple avenues to making self-replicating molecules, it is pretty likely that you would get something like life. People aren’t just pulling it out of thin air. But you seem to think that because knowledge is incomplete that is the same as not knowing or even being able to know anything.

    You know, in astronomy, you deal with objects that you will never be able to get samples from, nor will you ever be able to visit, and they are separated from us by millions of years in some cases. So how do you think people get any understanding of things like stars at all? Doing paleontology or geology is no different.

  54. The issue Greg Laden posed was the extremely difficult question of the origin of life. That is about a specific event, one which really happened. A phenomenon no one observed which, in no sense, gives up an obvious line of investigation. Having what you assume is “a general sense” of the environment in which that happened or “a general sense” of any other aspect of the problem just adds uncertainty to what is already an unknown event. What you get from that is not knowledge, it’s supposition at most, complete nonsense, quite frequently.

    If scientists want people to believe what they say, they should avoid overselling the status of what they claim. Asserting that they have knowledge that they don’t doesn’t do a thing to enhance the real status of those claims. Eventually they will get junked like a piece of social science that doesn’t have an adequate foundation.

    You can get direct evidence of the objects studied by astronomy. Where is the direct evidence of the origin of life, the actual event, not proposed substitutes for it?

  55. #55 Garnetstar
    July 31, 2011

    A correction to my previous post above @17.

    It has been demonstrated that montmorillite, a clay that was known to be present on the early earth (mostly in seabeds) catalyzes the follwing reactions:

    –the formation of amino acids and nucleotides from inorganic chemicals.

    –the formation of long-chain proteins and RNA from those precursors.

    So, there are catalysts for the synthesis of RNA. Abiogenetic chemistry is more advanced than I previously thought.

    http://www.hhmi.org/news/szostak3.html

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCEQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Frpi.edu%2Fdept%2Fchem%2Fchem_faculty%2Fprofiles%2Fpdfs%2Fferris%2FELEM_V1n3_145-150.pdf&ei=1J01Tr7YH9PpgQfN2qnmDA&usg=AFQjCNH2jPzwdTQN9lW44Mvm3OcYLMtO1w

    The latter paper discusses the role of metal ions in abiogenic catalysis.

    Here is quote from the first paper, just for Anthony:

    “We are not claiming that this is how life started. We are saying that we have demonstrated growth and division without any biochemical machinery.”

    You happy now?

    Logically following your argument, unless we find and completely describe the last common ancestor of man and apes, we can’t demonstrate their common ancestry. We also need to find every single ancestor to man that evolved from that LCA, describe every evolutionary change each one underwent, in order, exactly how long ago each change occurred, exactly what the conditions on earth were, exactly where on earth the evolutionary changes occurred, and exactly what selection pressure caused the change.

    You are in complete agreement with creationists about that. As with them, there is no reasoning with someone who has his fingers in his ears and is shouting la-la-la when shown the evidence.

  56. Garnetstar, above you were arguing against me when I said I thought there was a single, original ancestor and now you’re saying I was arguing against that? Here is what I said way up at #13

    If you believe that we are descended from one common ancestor, which I do believe, you are not talking about some theoretical entity, you are talking about a real, living organism that reproduced itself and its offspring reproduced. Those offspring came from whatever biology-chemistry was operating in that first organism, that doesn’t explain the development of the original organism which would have had to have had a far different origin because it wasn’t the product of reproduction of a living organism.
    The origin of life is through that original ancestor, whatever bio-chemistry allowed its creation, amazingly complex just in itself, and the chemistry of its successful reproduction was not theoretical, it was whatever it was and specific to that organism. You would have to know about that organism to know about it, you can’t reconstruct it out of theories, no more than you know you had successfully imagined another form of life that arose on another planet.

    As I’ve been having this argument here, at Josh Rosenau’s blog I’ve been having a fight with a creationist accusing me of holding positions I’ve been arguing against here, as I argued against creationism there.

    “We are not claiming that this is how life started. We are saying that we have demonstrated growth and division without any biochemical machinery.”

    Well, yeah. The authors of a lot of those papers made far more modest claims for them than ideologues who have used them for their ideological purposes. I think I might have said that here this weekend, here or on another comment thread.

    Logically following your argument, unless we find and completely describe the last common ancestor of man and apes, we can’t demonstrate their common ancestry.

    No, that would be an example of a logical disconnect. The question of the common ancestry of human beings and apes has far, far more supporting data both that it is extremely likely and that the mechanism of genetic change over time could be the mechanism that explains it. And, not least of all, many of the species involved are either living now or are in the fossil record. And, the origin of all of the individual organisms in the entire problem would be known to have come from the normal processes of sexual reproduction. None of that is known about the original organism or its offspring. So, you see, even applying some rather simple logic, your assertion drawing an analogy between those two instances is bald faced nonsense.

  57. #57 Jesse
    July 31, 2011

    Having what you assume is “a general sense” of the environment in which that happened or “a general sense” of any other aspect of the problem just adds uncertainty to what is already an unknown event. What you get from that is not knowledge, it’s supposition at most, complete nonsense, quite frequently.

    So the fact that we don’t know every detail of the mechanism of cancer means we can’t treat it, right? I mean, do you hear yourself? The fact that the problem can be constrained — we know life exists, and we know that it can’t be done with certain chemistries (or is really, really unlikely) does precisely the opposite: it narrows down the problem. It makes it easier to get a handle on it. You can’t make chemical reactions with noble gases, so that eliminates a chunk of the periodic table. You can’t make chemical reactions with solids at absolute zero, yu can’t have a host of other things if you want anything like life to arise. But to you that makes the problem harder?

    How do you think science works? I just outlined to you a number of ways to falsify various theories of life’s origin — unless you know a way to build a room-temperature molecule from neon and something else. Therefore with some pretty simple experiments you can falsify a whole class of theories. That eaves you with a big field to look into, but it isn’t infinitely large. And you want direct evidence? Several people have outlined to you direct, tangible, you-can-go-look-at-it evidence of what the early Earth was like. (Hint: iron oxides don’t form in the absence of iron and oxygen, and other chemicals have to have their precursors exist in the first place). Oxygen needs a source or it reacts with other stuff, so free O2 has to come from somewhere. Conversely, absent plants or something, you won’t have it on an archaean Earth.

    The Earth is made largely of silicates, iron, and nickel, with a smattering of volatiles. So odds are life didn’t form out of yttrium or halogens. In fact you can, with what we know of stellar evolution and the likely range of solar temperatures 4.5 billion years ago, give a pretty good lower bound on the Earth’s temperature (assuming it was just a ball of cold rock and a blackbody to boot). That narrows down the parts of the periodic table you could be working with. This in turn constrains the kind of chemicals that you could expect to form self-catalyzing reactions. On top of that there are laws of chemistry that tell you an awful lot. There is a reason we do not expect to see life-bearing molecules based on Germanium, lead, silicon or tin, despite their abilities to bond in similar fashion to carbon, though they might be possible in some conditions (just not those on Earth).

    What is so hard about this? Every time someone points out a constraint on the problem (which makes it easier to solve) you go “la la la no it isn’t you can’t know anything.”

    Crikey, I give up.

  58. #58 Garnetstar
    July 31, 2011

    Please cite any “ideologues who have used them for their ideological purposes.” With references. Scientists only, no one who has put some kind of personal spin on the actual data for reasons of their own.

    If you say “But scientists aren’t doing this!”, you’ll be correct. We have no responsibility for people who distort our data and conclusions to support any religious/political/philosophical position.

    And I’m done.

  59. #59 BinJabreel
    July 31, 2011

    @BKS

    And here we come to the crux of the problem. Can’t parse information that’s not parsed for you? Here’s one of many, many relevant paragraphs:

    “Most interesting of all, the contain-harass-expand strategy that beat Oriol and Krasi0 was a completely emergent behavior. With the prediction code, our agent knew it couldn’t survive a frontal attack on heavily defended bases, so instead it circled looking for targets it could attack without incurring heavy losses. This strategy prevented opponents from expanding to additional resource sites because the mutalisks’ superior mobility made it impossible to defend multiple bases simultaneously. In the meantime, the Overmind itself swiftly occupied the rest of the resource sites, building up an overwhelming force. All of this occurred naturally as a result of the internal decision-making at each level of the agent, not because a human told it to do so.”

    @Leveler

    One of the many ways of exploring something we know nothing about yet is by casting randomly into the void. It’s not the most efficient method, but it’s a vital part of the process. If we manage to synthesize life somehow, it shows us something about the conditions needed for life to synthesize itself. If we manage to synthesize life many different ways, it shows us that it might’ve happened multiple times and multiple ways. Neither of these things are meaningless, and they both would bring us vastly closer to being able to answer this question you think we can’t answer.

    Personally, I think some sort of self-replicating protein synthesis took place in multiple places, but I have a feeling that life based around that sort of principle would make it easy for two “organisms” (using the term as loosely as is probably possible) to combine into one. Which would make the question spectacularly more complicated (and fun!) to answer.

    Not that we shouldn’t keep trying, of course.

  60. It’s pretty amazing what really,really inapt analogies you people can draw between things about we we have abundant, direct observation and data and this one instance about which we, actually, have none.

    Promissory materialism applied to the matter of the origin of life apparently isn’t that far removed from I.D.

    I expect this will be a lot of fun to look at as one after another of the proposed theories falls from a serious absence of evidence. The replacement of science by scholastic assertions.

  61. #61 mark
    July 31, 2011

    Andrew Knoll’s “Life on a Young Planet” (2003) provides an introduction for the general reader to some of the things we know about very early life.

    What we have been learning about chemistry and mineralogy can help us understand conditions leading to origin of life.

  62. #62 bks
    July 31, 2011

    Here’s the first book to read on the subject:

    _Origins: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth_ by Robert Shapiro

    http://www.robertshapiro.org/origins__a_skeptic_s_guide_to_the_creation_of_life_on_earth_25518.htm

    –bks

  63. #63 bks
    July 31, 2011

    Jesse, we’re not very good at treating cancer.

    http://www.csicop.org/si/show/war_on_cancer_a_progress_report_for_skeptics/

    –bks

  64. #64 Jesse
    July 31, 2011

    bks — so you are just as likely to die of cancer now as you were 100 years ago? We’ve made no advances since then? Really?

    “We can cure all forms of cancer” and “we know more about it and can treat some forms successfully, others not” are two very different things. Cancer is a whole stack of diseases — leukemia, to name one, comes in a wide range of types, some of which kill you fast and some of which are treatable. (“Treatable” and “curable” are also not the same).

    Assuming a tumor hasn’t metastasized you can remove those now, you know. You are aware of things like surgery? It’s used a lot in case you weren’t aware. Sometimes it works.

    Want a better analogy? OK, we don’t know every detail of of how some viruses work but vaccines are effective. There are plenty of things that aren’t completely understood in every detail but there are all kinds of things we do know and can act on.

  65. Jesse, examples of cancerous tumors are available for cutting up and making slides of and analyzing chemically and any other way scientists can devise. People who have the disease can be examined and data about the diseases, its etiology and progress can be studied, proposed treatments can be tested for effectiveness based on having actual access to the people and other organisms that develop cancers. Nothing like that is available for the original life. The would be study of the origin of life has nothing comparable to go on, it can’t be known in any detail because you don’t have any evidence specifically about it.

    Your comparison is of entirely dissimilar situations, which makes all the difference to the consideration of the question.

  66. #66 Jesse
    July 31, 2011

    Against my better judgement, once more.

    Gold exists, Anthony. Right? But nobody has ever seen where gold ultimately came from. Nobody has ever actually been inside a supernova. The only evidence we have that gold is made in supernovas is the relevant theories of nucleosysnthesis — it isn’t like anyone has ever taken a sample of a supernova, planetary nebula, or anything else like that. But we know gold exists, we know how much energy it takes to make it, we know how atoms and neutrons and such work, to a point. Find me a physicist who thinks we can’t know anything about the origins of heavy elements.

    Life exists. We can’t observe where it came from and we can’t go back in time to do it. But like gold, (which we know exists) we can do all kinds of experiments to figure out what its likely origins are. All we have to go on is the evidence of early Earth (which people have presented to you ad nauseam) and the relevant theories of chemistry and physics. We know how many chemicals work together, to a large extent.

    Life is made of the same atoms and such that everything else is, so it is sort of unlikely that it operates in a wildly different fashion, dont’cha think?

    But you go on about how we can’t know anything. It’s tiresome. You must think that when you cover your eyes everything else in the world disappears.

  67. #67 bks
    July 31, 2011

    Jesse, “Life is made of the same atoms…” is word soup. It’s like saying “turbulence is made of the same atoms” or “government is made up of the same atoms.”

    –bks

  68. #68 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2011

    Turblence is made up of the same atoms turbated. Government is made up of the same atoms in a state of chaos.

  69. #69 bks
    August 1, 2011

    Greg, have you covered this important article in your blog?
    It’s quite old now (pub. 2005):

    “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”

    http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

    –bks

  70. #70 Anthony McCarthy Leveler
    August 1, 2011

    Jesse, gold is an element , for all anyone knows, for its entire history as part of the Earth, its character has been the same based on its atomic structure and the physical characteristics of gold in very different ambient conditions. As far as I remember from the relevant courses, gold doesn’t beget gold.

    Life is not like an element, it has changed continually and in ways that make an enormous difference. You can make pretty good guesses about the nature of gold wherever and whenever it is, you can’t make guesses about life and have any certainty that you will be right.

    We know the nature of gold because we have samples of gold to observe and to subject to science. We don’t have a sample of the earliest life and we certainly don’t have the first living organism nor, essential to the question, the possibility of observing how it came about.

    The question in this discussion is about “the origin of life’, if you can know anything about it. I’m glad you came up with yet another really bad analogy because it shows, clearly, why you can’t reasonably assume you can make successful and meaningful statements about a kind of life and have any reasonable certainty that those will be correct. It being a form of life makes all the difference in the world to that effort. Your chances of being absolutely wrong in making even the most “educated” guesses about a specific kind of life are extremely high. A theoretical, microscopic piece of gold 3.75 billion years ago has to have the same atomic structure as any piece of gold today or it wouldn’t be gold. But a microscopic organism near the beginning of life on Earth can be extremely varied, in ways that you very likely couldn’t possibly guess.

    That is far, far, more true of the first life that began as non-living matter and, somehow, in ways we have never seen before, became alive. It became alive in one way and in the actual way that happened, not in some alternative method, no other proposed way will be the way in which it did happen. The only way you can know that it did happen is to have information that is lost, almost certainly for all time. No matter how dissatisfying it is to your purposes or even on an aesthetic level, that’s the truth of the matter.

    I gather that for a number of people in this discussion it is the desire to nail down an absolutely material explanation for that, overturning alternative guesses about how it happened, definitively. Well, that doesn’t change the nature of the problem and the insurmountable challenge that materialists have set or taken up. considering the absolute lack of data relevant to the actual event, it was stupid to frame the question that way in the first place. You, as those wanting to confirm an alternative explanation for the origin of life are stuck with not knowing. Materialists, however, have proposed using science to consider the question, and science lives or dies by evidence and confirmation in the observation of actual events and things. The beginning of life is not available to subject to those absolute necessities of science. Trying to bend the requirements of logic, evidence and science to your purposes isn’t any more honest than creationists attempts to do that. It is a sign of ideological desire being imposed on science and the resultant claims aren’t warranted by the results.

  71. #71 Jesse
    August 1, 2011

    So, bks, the carbon atoms in your body obey different physical and chemical laws from the ones not in your body?

    Remember when the whole “arsenic life” flap came up? Do you remember that during the press conference one of the skeptics of the work explicitly stated why he didn’t think arsenic would make a backbone that was as workable as phosphorus? Why do you think he could make that statement? Simple: he was working from what was known about the physics and chemistry of arsenic. Things like the strengths of chemical bonds and solubility in water. He could be wrong, but the fact is it isn’t like there is magical arsenic in the water of Mono Lake that will suddenly have super-strong bonds to DNA.

  72. #72 Jason Thibeault
    August 1, 2011

    Anthony, you are aware that life is made up of elements too, right? Exactly as Jesse has suggested? Carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, oxygen, all of which were forged in supernovas exactly as gold?

    Life begets life only because the chemicals that life is made up of, allow for it as an emergent property of their own properties. We’re just chemistry. And we can investigate and understand chemistry. Get used to it.

    For a bit of ad hominem in the conclusion of my argument: why is it I honestly suspect your objections are purely made on theological grounds? That you see investigation of the origins of life to be impinging on the very gap into which you’ve spirited away your particular conception of God? That your vehement denial of an entire swathe of science comes because you recognize that scientists learning anything about abiogenesis would be a win for atheists that you simply cannot allow?

  73. #73 bks
    August 1, 2011

    Jesse: No, I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that we don’t know all the “laws” yet. I think you’ll find that is in complete agreement with the particle physics guys who are scratching their heads over yet another year without finding Higgs, and the string theory guys who are scratching their heads over convoluted TOE that have no testable hypotheses.

    I highly recommend Shapiro’s book to you (referenced above).

    –bks

  74. #74 Dan S.
    August 1, 2011

    Anthony – my comment’s being held for moderation on the search engine thread, so let me dump it here – if you’re more interested in arguing against bigotry and anti-feminist propaganda on scienceblogs, there’s ERV’s “monument” –

    http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2011/07/the_monument.php

  75. #75 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    The issue Greg Laden posed was the extremely difficult question of the origin of life. That is about a specific event, one which really happened. A phenomenon no one observed which, in no sense, gives up an obvious line of investigation. Having what you assume is “a general sense” of the environment in which that happened or “a general sense” of any other aspect of the problem just adds uncertainty to what is already an unknown event. What you get from that is not knowledge, it’s supposition at most, complete nonsense, quite frequently.

    The above paragraph is (IMHO) a classic example of obscurantism: a strategy used by anti-rationalists, creationists and other denialists, religious con-artists, and anyone else with a vested interest in getting people to mistrust or ignore the fruits of rational enquiry. In the above example, Anthony is trying to distort and misrepresent how science works, and what we already know or can conclude from the available evidence, in order to maintain a pretense that a certain line of enquiry (in this case, inquiry into the origin of life) can NEVER be expected to offer any results that people need take seriously. Note that Anthony continues to maintain this pretense despite having seen explicit corrective information from other commenters here.

    First, the origin of life need not be ONE specific event, or even ONE specific set/chain of events. Second, the fact that no one has directly observed the events in question does NOT prevent us from developing useful hypotheses based on currently-available evidence (this is just a much wordier version of the old “were you there?” BS we hear from creationists — and yes, it can just as credibly be used WRT George Washington as well). Third, postulating a “general sense” of what the early Earth was like does not add uncertainty, it reduces it by narrowing the range of speculation down to what can reasonably be guessed/assumed. Fourth, the fact that we’re not talking about specific events now, does not mean we can’t narrow things down over time; most specific theories start as vague suppositions. Fifth, what we get from this sort of reasoning has always been more useful knowledge, not “complete nonsense” (except in the eyes of the ignorant, of course). And sixth, the London Underground is not a political movement.

    If scientists want people to believe what they say, they should avoid overselling the status of what they claim. Asserting that they have knowledge that they don’t doesn’t do a thing to enhance the real status of those claims.

    Citation please? Who, exactly, is “Asserting that they have knowledge that they don’t?” This is a typical Rovian tactic of making insinuations when you know you can’t support a direct accusation.

    I’ve only had a quick glimpse at Anthony’s web site, but it seems to be a lot of anti-liberal BS (“Suicide of Liberalism?” Really?!), with lots of gleeful, self-inflating blather about how much abuse and hate-mail he gets and expects to get. In other words, a right-wing hater with paranoid delusions. But even if that guess proves false on closer examiniation, we’re still dealing with a pretentious, verbose, deeply dishonest anti-rationalist.

  76. #76 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    The issue Greg Laden posed was the extremely difficult question of the origin of life. That is about a specific event, one which really happened. A phenomenon no one observed which, in no sense, gives up an obvious line of investigation. Having what you assume is “a general sense” of the environment in which that happened or “a general sense” of any other aspect of the problem just adds uncertainty to what is already an unknown event. What you get from that is not knowledge, it’s supposition at most, complete nonsense, quite frequently.

    The above paragraph is (IMHO) a classic example of obscurantism: a strategy used by anti-rationalists, creationists and other denialists, religious con-artists, and anyone else with a vested interest in getting people to mistrust or ignore the fruits of rational enquiry. In the above example, Anthony is trying to distort and misrepresent how science works, and what we already know or can conclude from the available evidence, in order to maintain a pretense that a certain line of enquiry (in this case, inquiry into the origin of life) can NEVER be expected to offer any results that people need take seriously. Note that Anthony continues to maintain this pretense despite having seen explicit corrective information from other commenters here.

    First, the origin of life need not be ONE specific event, or even ONE specific set/chain of events. Second, the fact that no one has directly observed the events in question does NOT prevent us from developing useful hypotheses based on currently-available evidence (this is just a much wordier version of the old “were you there?” BS we hear from creationists — and yes, it can just as credibly be used WRT George Washington as well). Third, postulating a “general sense” of what the early Earth was like does not add uncertainty, it reduces it by narrowing the range of speculation down to what can reasonably be guessed/assumed. Fourth, the fact that we’re not talking about specific events now, does not mean we can’t narrow things down over time; most specific theories start as vague suppositions. Fifth, what we get from this sort of reasoning has always been more useful knowledge, not “complete nonsense” (except in the eyes of the ignorant, of course). And sixth, the London Underground is not a political movement.

    If scientists want people to believe what they say, they should avoid overselling the status of what they claim. Asserting that they have knowledge that they don’t doesn’t do a thing to enhance the real status of those claims.

    Citation please? Who, exactly, is “Asserting that they have knowledge that they don’t?” This is a typical Rovian tactic of making insinuations when you know you can’t support a direct accusation.

    I’ve only had a quick glimpse at Anthony’s web site, but it seems to be a lot of anti-liberal BS (“Suicide of Liberalism?” Really?!), with lots of gleeful, self-inflating blather about how much abuse and hate-mail he gets and expects to get. In other words, a right-wing hater with paranoid delusions. But even if that guess proves false on closer examiniation, we’re still dealing with a pretentious, verbose, deeply dishonest anti-rationalist.

  77. #77 Stephanie Z
    August 1, 2011

    I gather that for a number of people in this discussion it is the desire to nail down an absolutely material explanation for that, overturning alternative guesses about how it happened, definitively.

    Really? From what words of which people actually in this discussion do you gather any of that? I see a bunch of people explaining science to you in progressively simpler terms.

  78. #78 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    You say “nail down an absolutely material explanation” like it’s a BAD thing. “Absolutely material explanations” are the ONLY explanations that actually do anyone any real good. If you doubt this, see how far you get with non-material explanations in, say, bridge-building or crime-solving. This is a matter on which Christians who actually WANT to do real good are in total agreement with atheists.

  79. #79 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    You say “nail down an absolutely material explanation” like it’s a BAD thing. “Absolutely material explanations” are the ONLY explanations that actually do anyone any real good. If you doubt this, see how far you get with non-material explanations in, say, bridge-building or crime-solving. This is a matter on which Christians who actually WANT to do real good are in total agreement with atheists.

  80. #80 AM
    August 1, 2011

    You say “nail down an absolutely material explanation” like it’s a BAD thing.

    No, I say it like it’s something that ideological materialists are always claiming for everything. Are you making believe materialists DON’T claim that there is an absolutely material explanation for all phenomena?

    “Absolutely material explanations” are the ONLY explanations that actually do anyone any real good.

    I’d like to know how you propose to back this up with evidence. However,we weren’t talking about whether or not an absolute, materialist explanation of the origin of life would do anyone any good. I figure it’s of absolutely neutral value in that regard since it happened and there’s not much we can do about it.

    If you doubt this, see how far you get with non-material explanations in, say, bridge-building or crime-solving.

    There is a huge difference between asserting a material explanation when there is physical evidence and asserting it when there is NO material evidence.

    This is a matter on which Christians who actually WANT to do real good are in total agreement with atheists.

    First, I suspect you and several others on this blog thread assume I’m a Christian when, it happens, I’m not. I doubt that there is a “Christian” who believes in an absolutely material explanation of the origin of life.

    As to who is asserting knowledge that they don’t have, anyone who is arguing that they KNOW much about the first life on Earth other than that it was alive and that it successfully reproduced is asserting knowledge they don’t have.

    I’m always very interested to see the status of scientific method among the materialists.

    A long comment answering J. T. is being held back. I have copied this exchange and will post the parts relevant to my points on my blog.

  81. #81 AM
    August 1, 2011

    Jason Thibeault, my objections are made entirely on the basis of evidence of a specific event not being available and so it can’t be known, addressing the claim that the origin of life is, not only known, but known to standards sufficient to regard that “knowledge” as being science.

    Your suspicion says a lot about your thinking, and I believe, the thinking of many of the others who can’t me stand taking the rigorous requirements of science seriously. You are so religio-phobic that you see it behind any challenge to the culture of contemporary materialism, part of which is that it is known that life had a purely material origin. Which might be true but science is never going to be able to tell you if actual life, here on Earth, the line of life we are all part of did come about the way you believe it did. It also can’t tell creationists it came about the way they so very much want to believe it did. It came about, once, in the only way it did come about and we don’t know anything about that except that it happened. That isn’t a religious idea anymore than pointing out that any speculation of “other life” on other planets is entirely unknowable to us on August 1, 2011. We have no evidence it is there, we have no evidence of what any which might be there might be like because we have NO EVIDENCE TO BASE THAT KNOWLEDGE ON. We also don’t know the one and only way in which the first organism of life here formed and became life.

    What I’m learning from these arguments is that many atheists, especially those calling themselves “skeptics” or “Gnus” aren’t much better at observing the requirements of logic, evidence or science, they aren’t really good at keeping their ideological desires from overruling a careful, even skeptical, inspection of claims made in the name of science. That’s something that religious fundamentalists aren’t especially good with either and when they claim that science supports them, it causes lots of problems.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve got to tell you people, when someone asserts they KNOW something, it puts it in an entirely different category of claims than if they merely say they believe something. The claim of knowing something carries higher responsibilities of providing evidence and being honest about it than the more modest claim of believing in something. While you can often test claims of belief against conduct to see if there is any evidence that conduct is according to belief, leaving the “believer” open to charges of hypocrisy, the claim to knowledge opens that claim to other and, in some ways, more exigent tests. When it’s a claim of scientific knowledge of a specific and unique event, those tests require evidence that might not be available. And the absence of that evidence to support the claim of knowledge is a real refutation of that claim. The person who claims “knowledge” in the absence of sufficient evidence has revealed their knowledge to, actually, be belief. I’m finding that among “skeptics” and “Gnus” the claim of knowledge for their most fervently held beliefs is nearly ubiquitous.

    I don’t care what atheists believe, I don’t care what creationists believe. The alternative of not believing one of those creeds doesn’t logically require automatically swallowing the other one.

    What I believe about the actual, real origin of life on Earth is that it will never be known. What I know is that it isn’t known today and that the requirements for knowing that means that those requirements will almost certainly never be met.

    I’m not especially interested in the religious aspects of unanswerable questions that have little to no effect on moral conduct, but this discussion is about a claim of science, not one about religion.

    Here, I’ll do it this way.

  82. #82 AM
    August 1, 2011

    Oh, and Raging Bee, you didn’t, by some chance, READ the sad obituary for liberalism and the call for something far more liberal, did you?

    The problem with what’s come of liberalism in 2011 is that it’s stopped being liberal, it’s stopped believing in equality, justice and the fair distribution of resources and the necessities of life.

    I’m a leveler, equal resources, equal rights, equal justice, equality in all possible cases to all people, perhaps animals too. Unless rights can be equally practiced, they become privileges for the privileged instead of rights. I am also an absolutist in terms of self-government by an accurately informed electorate and a secular government. That’s far to the left of contemporary liberalism which has committed suicide on the basis of cultural fads, fashions and follies.

  83. #83 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    No, I say it like it’s something that ideological materialists are always claiming for everything.

    Got any specific instances where “ideological materialists” have been wrong in such claims?

    I’d like to know how you propose to back this up with evidence.

    Um…just every new theory or inovation that’s done any real good in the real world? I’m pretty sure thay’re all based on purely materialistic explanations of something.

    However,we weren’t talking about whether or not an absolute, materialist explanation of the origin of life would do anyone any good.

    That’s probably because you’re not concerned with doing anyone any good. I’m pretty sure that the scientists who are working on this will somehow figure out how to do someone some good with whatever insights arise. That’s pretty much how they roll: do pure research, then find uses for it.

    I figure it’s of absolutely neutral value in that regard since it happened and there’s not much we can do about it.

    Something happened, therefore an explanation of how it happened is of neutral value? You really don’t care enough to think any of this through, do you? Where would we be if police detectives thought that way about criminal actions?

    There is a huge difference between asserting a material explanation when there is physical evidence and asserting it when there is NO material evidence.

    “NO material evidence?” That’s pure dishonest bullshit. As others have already explained, there IS material evidence pertaining to the origin of life — just not quite enough to form a specific theory. Yet. They’re still working on it.

    First, I suspect you and several others on this blog thread assume I’m a Christian when, it happens, I’m not.

    I did not “assume” you were a Christian; I DEMONSTRATED, by quoting you, that you are a dishonest obscurantist.

    …anyone who is arguing that they KNOW much about the first life on Earth other than that it was alive and that it successfully reproduced is asserting knowledge they don’t have.

    Specific quotes, please, or I’ll have to conclude you’re misrepresenting what scientists have actually said. Seriously, is ANY real scientist actually saying we KNOW how life came from nonliving matter?

    I’m always very interested to see the status of scientific method among the materialists.

    Your repeated use of the vague word “materialist,” without any qualifiers, as an epithet, strongly implies that your agenda has more to do with politics, religion and tribalism than it does with actual pursuit of knowledge. (Oh, and how’s the scientific method doing among the immaterialists?)

    What I’m learning from these arguments is that many atheists…

    What makes you think we’re all atheists? (I, for one, probably believe in more Gods than you do.) And what does our alleged atheism have to do with the validity of this or that scientific theory on the origin of life? Your bigoted religious agenda is showing.

  84. #84 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    No, I say it like it’s something that ideological materialists are always claiming for everything.

    Got any specific instances where “ideological materialists” have been wrong in such claims?

    I’d like to know how you propose to back this up with evidence.

    Um…just every new theory or inovation that’s done any real good in the real world? I’m pretty sure thay’re all based on purely materialistic explanations of something.

    However,we weren’t talking about whether or not an absolute, materialist explanation of the origin of life would do anyone any good.

    That’s probably because you’re not concerned with doing anyone any good. I’m pretty sure that the scientists who are working on this will somehow figure out how to do someone some good with whatever insights arise. That’s pretty much how they roll: do pure research, then find uses for it.

    I figure it’s of absolutely neutral value in that regard since it happened and there’s not much we can do about it.

    Something happened, therefore an explanation of how it happened is of neutral value? You really don’t care enough to think any of this through, do you? Where would we be if police detectives thought that way about criminal actions?

    There is a huge difference between asserting a material explanation when there is physical evidence and asserting it when there is NO material evidence.

    “NO material evidence?” That’s pure dishonest bullshit. As others have already explained, there IS material evidence pertaining to the origin of life — just not quite enough to form a specific theory. Yet. They’re still working on it.

    First, I suspect you and several others on this blog thread assume I’m a Christian when, it happens, I’m not.

    I did not “assume” you were a Christian; I DEMONSTRATED, by quoting you, that you are a dishonest obscurantist.

    …anyone who is arguing that they KNOW much about the first life on Earth other than that it was alive and that it successfully reproduced is asserting knowledge they don’t have.

    Specific quotes, please, or I’ll have to conclude you’re misrepresenting what scientists have actually said. Seriously, is ANY real scientist actually saying we KNOW how life came from nonliving matter?

    I’m always very interested to see the status of scientific method among the materialists.

    Your repeated use of the vague word “materialist,” without any qualifiers, as an epithet, strongly implies that your agenda has more to do with politics, religion and tribalism than it does with actual pursuit of knowledge. (Oh, and how’s the scientific method doing among the immaterialists?)

    What I’m learning from these arguments is that many atheists…

    What makes you think we’re all atheists? (I, for one, probably believe in more Gods than you do.) And what does our alleged atheism have to do with the validity of this or that scientific theory on the origin of life? Your bigoted religious agenda is showing.

  85. #85 Jason Thibeault
    August 1, 2011

    My suspicion of your religious views, Anthony, first is not that you are specifically Christian but rather a theist in the broad sense. And this suspicion is predicated on two facts: 1) the only people I’ve ever seen accuse pro-science commenters of being dogmatic materialists have been people who have dogmas of their own; and 2) your only argument is that something which is not presently known, *cannot* be known. You are the only one making a positive claim, and you’re providing no supporting evidence, only as others have pointed out obscuritanism. I have never met a non-theist that has argued in this manner, and if you are indeed not only not Christian but also a non-theist, I would apologize for my overreach.

    Regardless of whether I’ve overreached or not, you’re grossly mischaracterizing the process of science despite half a dozen commenters trying to correct you on the matter. I speak here not as an atheist, though I am one, but rather as someone who actually understands that the process of science sometimes includes wild speculation that may or may not later be borne out. And in the case of that which you’re railing on against, the specific truth of the specific abiogenesis event that created life here, you’re railing against the merest idea of investigating it.

    As I and others have said, there is nothing about this process that involves pointing to a specific way that life could emerge, and saying “This. Is. How. It. Happened.” I reiterate the point because you don’t seem to have internalized it any other time anyone else has said it.

  86. #86 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    Did Anthony change his handle to “AM?” I wonder why. Is he morphing after being banned? Or is he trying to hide something about himself?

  87. #87 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    Did Anthony change his handle to “AM?” I wonder why. Is he morphing after being banned? Or is he trying to hide something about himself?

  88. #88 Jason Thibeault
    August 1, 2011

    Also, as Raging Bee just pointed out, there is in fact material evidence that abiogenesis occurred. You’re part of that evidence. It is insufficient to form judgments of how exactly this lineage began, but it is sufficient to know THAT it began through chemical means. The fine grind of scientific inquiry will approximate the method and develop a good working theorem as to the exact methods, and where new evidence overturns parts of it, that theorem will be revised to better reflect reality.

    If you don’t like it, you’re free to postulate your immaterial, but without evidence (which you rightly point out doesn’t work for immaterial postulates), you’re not going to convince anyone but others who believe the material can’t be all there is. You’re preaching to your immaterialist choirs.

  89. #89 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    The problem with what’s come of liberalism in 2011 is that it’s stopped being liberal, it’s stopped believing in equality, justice and the fair distribution of resources and the necessities of life.

    Compared to who? Republitarians who openly pander to racism and religious bigotry, always opposed every legislative and regulatory attempt to reduce inequality, and support policies that have widened the gap between the richest and poorest Americans?

    I’m a leveler…

    Wow, that sounds pretentious. You mean you actually levelled things yourself, with your own hard work?

    Your political discourse is just as bogus, and just as full of tired old right-wing lying-points, as your scientific discourse.

  90. #90 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    The problem with what’s come of liberalism in 2011 is that it’s stopped being liberal, it’s stopped believing in equality, justice and the fair distribution of resources and the necessities of life.

    Compared to who? Republitarians who openly pander to racism and religious bigotry, always opposed every legislative and regulatory attempt to reduce inequality, and support policies that have widened the gap between the richest and poorest Americans?

    I’m a leveler…

    Wow, that sounds pretentious. You mean you actually levelled things yourself, with your own hard work?

    Your political discourse is just as bogus, and just as full of tired old right-wing lying-points, as your scientific discourse.

  91. #91 Anthony McCarthy Leveler
    August 1, 2011

    My suspicion of your religious views, Anthony, first is not that you are specifically Christian but rather a theist in the broad sense. And this suspicion is predicated on two facts: 1) the only people I’ve ever seen accuse pro-science commenters of being dogmatic materialists have been people who have dogmas of their own; and 2) your only argument is that something which is not presently known, *cannot* be known.

    Jason Thibeault

    I haven’t argued in favor of any religious interpretation of physical evidence and have only argued a pretty orthodox view of science, that science, especially when dealing with a specific, unique event, requires direct evidence about that event. And without that direct evidence you can’t be certain that anything you say about it is accurate or wildly wrong. That is especially true in the case of the origin of life for all of the reasons I’ve already stated. It was an actual event which happened once in the way it happened and in no other way. It’s not like Fermat’s Last Theorem which could be solved in a way, with mathematics unavailable to Fermat, unless you get it right about the one way it happened, what you say about the origin of life on Earth is wrong.

    Unless you have direct evidence of this billions of years old event, almost certainly on a microscopic scale and lost in who knows what sediments or volcanic rocks or entirely consumed by later life or chemical erosion or, let’s be extravagant, meteor strike, you have no way to collect information about it. Are you saying that you expect that to be found and adequately identified as THE ORIGIN OF LIFE ON EARTH? As it is, I usually couch that aspect in the conditional, though I am absolutely confident that information will never be found.

    I have not postulated any “immaterial” I’ve dealt with nothing to do with anything but the need for physical evidence in order to do science. You and Raging Bee are merely trying to appeal to prejudices in your insertion of that into this discussion. While that might work with people who are already prejudiced, it’s no way to argue honestly.

    Astounding that it’s necessary to defend the regular methods of science and reason from ideological materialists. Anyway, there was a time I’d have found it astounding. Not any more.

  92. #92 Anthony McCarthy Leveler
    August 1, 2011

    Raging bee, less rage and more accuracy would make your last response less wrong. As it grows longer, your comment grows wronger. I’d go point by point but that doesn’t seem to help with your comprehension, as seen in your last comment.

  93. #93 Anthony McCarthy Leveler
    August 1, 2011

    Anthony posted a couple of comments on a different computer during the day and didn’t feel like typing his entire name in. He assumed everyone following this discussion would be able to deal with that minimal level of ambiguity.

    Your political discourse is just as bogus, and just as full of tired old right-wing lying-points, as your scientific discourse. Raging bee

    Oh really, a gay, socialist, leveler who is a Wall of Separation absolutist, who believes that corporations shouldn’t hold rights, who says that women and other people own their bodies and the state has no legitimate interest in regulating those, in favor not only of single-payer, universal healthcare but free education up to and including the graduate level as a right, who is furious with Barack Obama’s capitulation to the Republicans… those are “right wing lying points”?

    I hadn’t thought you’d really read it.

  94. #94 bks
    August 1, 2011

    Why are Raging and Stephanie getting so belligerent? Mr. Leveler has been extremely well-mannered in the face of a lot of derisive comments. He is perfectly correct in his characterization of what is know about the Origin of Life: almost nothing. It’s not even clear if the cell membrane came first or the RNA came first. Stop pretending that the OoL is well-understood. It is not.

    –bks

  95. #95 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    Mr. Leveler has been extremely well-mannered in the face of a lot of derisive comments.

    Yeah, I’ve known lots of liars and fools who present their nonsense in very well-mannered tones. It doesn’t make the content of their statements any more truthful.

    He is perfectly correct in his characterization of what is know about the Origin of Life: almost nothing.

    As others here have pointed out, he and you are both wrong on this. And you’re getting wronger every year.

  96. #96 Jason Thibeault
    August 1, 2011

    In the sake of fixing this discussion which has obviously gone off the rails, here are the ways I agree with Anthony:

    1. We don’t know very much about the origin of life.
    2. We won’t ever find direct physical evidence of the exact way it happened.

    Here are the ways I disagree:

    1. Science requires direct physical evidence to the exclusion of all other types of evidence to form testable models that inform us about reality accurately.
    2. We know nothing about the origin of life. (Yes, this disagrees with the first point 1.)
    3. Physical evidence is impossible to obtain about the origin of life.
    4. The event of abiogenesis is fundamentally impossible to investigate.
    5. People in this conversation who are claiming that they are looking for information about the origin of life will settle on the first plausible myth, with not a shred of evidence.

    Are these accurate descriptions of your positions on the matter?

    Seriously, it’s this last point (#5 in my disagreements) that gets me riled up. Everything else, I’d be happy to just disagree with you on, but that last one — you just keep rebuilding that strawman and tearing it down over and over. Even though I’ve said it twice, and other commenters have said it severally themselves, you’ve again repeated this ridiculousness in @86.

  97. #97 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2011

    bks, I refer you to the OP. Don’t make me add more references, because I easily could.

  98. #98 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2011

    I normally don’t rely on arguments-from-authority; but in this case, when you’re asserting that scientists specializing in a certain line of inquiry don’t have specialized knowledge of what they’re working on (which is, let’s face it, what AM and bks are saying about OoL), it does make sense to ask how you know what others don’t know.

    So, AM and bks, what inside knowledge do you have about what scientists don’t know about OoL? Are either of you working on OoL yourselves? How, exactly, do you know scientists don’t know anything about OoL?

  99. #99 bks
    August 2, 2011

    Let’s just cut to the chase. On the abiogenesis page in Wikipedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis

    “The sequence of chemical events that led to the first nucleic acids is not known. Several hypotheses about early life have been proposed, most notably the iron-sulfur world theory (metabolism without genetics) and the RNA world hypothesis (RNA life-forms).”

    So which is it, metabolism first, or heredity first?

    –bks

  100. #100 bks
    August 2, 2011

    Ahh! I just found out that Robert Shapiro wrote a review of the outstanding problems in abiogenesis in _Scientific American_ in 2007:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=B7AABF35-E7F2-99DF-309B8CEF02B5C4D7

    As Lynn Margulis put it:
    “To go from a bacterium to people is less of a step than to go from a mixture of amino acids to a bacterium.”

    I don’t believe there have been any *breakthrough* discoveries since 2007. Your belief may differ.

    –bks

  101. #101 SushiMPLS
    August 2, 2011

    “Were you there?” ROFLMAO…. Certainly you jest….

  102. 1. Science requires direct physical evidence to the exclusion of all other types of evidence to form testable models that inform us about reality accurately.

    The question is not of a general observation about things we have examples of or something which has been seen to have happened even once again, or even the once we know it happened. It isn’t even about something that we know happened more than once in a number of locations, it is about the one and only origin of life that led to the enormous diversity of life around and including us today.

    That would make this a question about a single event which has, apparently, happened once in about four billion years. Which in its apparent uniqueness would mean it couldn’t even be considered to be an every day, normal event in the natural world as we experience it or even know from the geological record.

    In order to deal with THAT EVENT you would have to have direct physical evidence. While I absolutely believe it happened and that all life has a common ancestor, even that is based on indirect, though massive evidence.

    For all those reasons it would have been politically wiser to not make grandiose claims about science which might be suggestive of the nature of that origin, giving the ideological opponents of evolutionary science ammunition surrounding an unanswerable question. But political savvy has seemed lacking in a rather surprising number of people on the science side of things.

    2. We know nothing about the origin of life. (Yes, this disagrees with the first point 1.)

    I suppose this is a matter of my making a stronger distinction between what is believed, what people desire to have been true and what can be known with a high level of reliability. I consider evolution to be a fact and not merely a theory, in the common understanding of those terms, because of the massive evidence in living organisms and the geological record from periods far, far after the actual origin of life. None of which is available for the period in which life would have first happened. Which is why I said I believed in a common ancestor of all living beings which reproduced and changed. I believe that based on what is known about evolution.

    3. Physical evidence is impossible to obtain about the origin of life.
    4. The event of abiogenesis is fundamentally impossible to investigate.

    At 86 above, I said:

    As it is, I usually couch that aspect in the conditional, though I am absolutely confident that information will never be found.

    If that information is found and the case for it being the example of the origin of life, I will revise. However, I won’t hold my breath.

    Without the information contained in that example you can never know if any science done today is relevant to that singular event. Most of what I’ve seen which is claimed for abiogenesis is based on biology from a far, far later date, mimicking things that could have evolved well after the original event. I’m among those who think a lot of the complex chemistry of life today probably evolved in living systems, I think it takes life to create those. Exactly how, I don’t know and I doubt anyone else really does either. Just discovering their contemporary operations is an enormous challenge. Any claims about this matter, that people involved with that can ever know they’ve solved the problems of the origin of life on Earth, are possible only through a suspension of so many doubts that it isn’t justified by reason or the normal requirements of science or even in some of the humanities. Their belief in the relevance of their work to the actual beginning of life will always remain a belief. In many, I suspect, a belief with motives as much ideological as anything else.

    5. People in this conversation who are claiming that they are looking for information about the origin of life will settle on the first plausible myth, with not a shred of evidence.

    I said nothing about them settling on “the first plausible myth”, did I? There have been so many of those myths in the ideological materialist abuse of evolution that it would be hard to figure out priority.

    There is no shred of evidence concerning the first organism which attained life, how that happened, the order in which the various incidents leading to life arising happened, if-for example- the order in which different incidents happened were crucial to life happening, the absolutely crucial matter of the environment or environments in which those incidents happened, over what period of time. We don’t know what the first organism was like, how a mechanism of completely reproduction just happened to happen in this one assemblage of presumably complex molecules and and how it passed on that ability to reproduce.

    As I said, anything I’ve seen about that is based in far later biological chemistry which, I guess, evolved within living organisms and could have not been present in the original organism. I doubt that later chemistry just happened to happen in non-living nature, though a simpler chemistry might have. Though all of that is supposition because WE DON’T KNOW.

    Considering the ideology drenched history of this issue, I would be surprised if the materialist side of that hasn’t been a primary motivation for this discussion. I’ve taken no side in that ideological struggle because, frankly, I don’t think it’s all that important and we can never have a resolution of it. I am, though, interested in the lapses in scientific rigor among ideological materialists, just as I’m interested in the moral laxness of fundamentalist “christians”. The extent to which people can violate their own asserted codes of beliefs and values interests me quite a bit, especially when they are arrogant about it.

    So, Jason, I pointed out I’m not a Christian above, where are you, ideologically, on this question? Are you a materialist? A “Gnu”? Do you identify with an ideological persuasion in that, the most common motivation to discuss these issues in the non-specialist population? How about you, Raging bee? Do you ever wonder if your ideological desires lead you to believing more in this than the evidence warrants? That is an absolutely essential part of real skepticism, questioning yourself, your motives and the status of what you believe and, especially, what you and your side want to be true.

  103. #103 Raging Bee
    August 2, 2011

    A Wikipedia article? That’s all you got? And even that doesn’t support your case. “We don’t have enough information — yet — to form a solid hypothesis” is NOT the same as “We don’t know anything.” If you assert the latter, you are dead wrong.

  104. #104 Jason Thibeault
    August 2, 2011

    “Ideological materialist” is a slur, plain and simple. It states that someone who believes that there is no supernatural, has some kind of ideological stake in there being only material explanations for everything. I don’t have an ideological stake in anything. I am first and foremost about evidence, and the immaterial does not provide evidence, so I suspect that the immaterial can be excised from the body of human knowledge until such evidence is forthcoming. There is no ideology here, only pragmatism.

    Every other thing that we once thought was supernatural in the history of humankind has had a material explanation that, with better tools and smarter scientists, we found evidence for and added to the body of knowledge of things we know to have material causes.

    You believe that abiogenesis had a material cause (I agree). You also believe that evolution is a fact (I agree). Once upon a time, evolution did not have evidentiary support with the fossil record being as sparse as it was when Darwin postulated it, and with no knowledge of genetics, there was no known mechanism. Scientists postulated mechanisms from the homunculus model to Lamarckian heredity, until DNA was discovered.

    How are these two cases different at all? We’re merely at an early stage in investigating the abiogenesis event, and we haven’t been able to unearth adequate evidence to form a plausible model.

    We know a lot about the initial conditions of the planet, though certainly not everything. We know a lot about the chemicals required to form life as we know it, though certainly not everything. We know what elements all of us are made up of, we know much of the chemistry. We know what amino acids we’d need to form. We know that given certain initial conditions, many of those amino acids form spontaneously and self-replicate spontaneously. And yet I’m still saying that we don’t know very much at all. And I’m saying, and have been saying from the very beginning, that developing a plausible model based on the best evidence we have is not myth-making. It may be accurate to within (100-X)% confidence where X is greater than zero, and the more evidence we gather that IS still available, the more we can refine that model and improve our confidence in the event.

    And for what it’s worth, almost everything we know about the history of the planet is through indirect evidence. We use proxies to get temperature, we use fossils to learn about animals that don’t exist any more, we use geology to learn about meteor strikes. And all of these lines of inquiry have confidence levels themselves, but are anything but mythmaking.

    It’s time you give up some of your own prejudices. You’ve expressed practical solipsism about only one scientific topic in this discussion, being the event of abiogenesis, and to do so, you are erecting and tearing down the same strawman in every comment without fail, that those of us who believe abiogenesis can be investigated are engaged in some sort of ideology and lacking in skepticism. Everything else you deem to be fact, you seem to be okay with the varying levels of confidence that scientists have in the lines of evidence supporting them.

    What’s YOUR prejudice, Anthony?

  105. #105 Raging Bee
    August 2, 2011

    That would make this a question about a single event which has, apparently, happened once in about four billion years. Which in its apparent uniqueness would mean it couldn’t even be considered to be an every day, normal event in the natural world as we experience it or even know from the geological record.

    As has already been pointed out to you, at least once (and you seem to have deliberately ignored), that’s not necessarily true. Life could have been created as a result of a long (or short) chain of events, one after the other, over a long or short period of time. It could have been a single POOF-type event, but as far as we currently know, it didn’t have to. Again, you show your theistic agenda by insisting on a singular, “let there be light” type of creation event.

    For all those reasons it would have been politically wiser to not make grandiose claims about science which might be suggestive of the nature of that origin…

    I keep on asking you for specific examples of “grandiose claims” by actual people, and you keep on failing to deliver. Is ANYONE actually guilty of what you’re accusing someone or other of? Or are you just making up stories of alleged atheistic-scientist arrogance?

    …the ideological materialist abuse of evolution…

    Again, examples, please? Do you have any? And what, exactly, do you mean by “ideological materialist?” Your constant abuse of the word “materialist” — and your refusal to distinguish between methodological and other “materialisms” — once again indicates a dishonest agenda that has more to do with religion or ideology than with science. You keep on insisting you’re not a Christian; but you keep on sounding like a right-wing anti-rationalist Christian trying to attack basic science (using EXACTLY the same long-discredited arguments and talking-points as the right-wing Christians use) and keep it out of this or that gap so his god can keep hiding in it.

    Dude, if you need a gap for your little god to hide in, stick with the Big Bang. Nothing else in science says “Let there be light!” like the Big Bang. And scientists actually say that moment was a “singularity” in which today’s physical laws were not in effect. You’ll probably never get a better gap than that. Hell, that gap is big enough to fit EVERYONE’S gods and goddesses quite confortably.

  106. #106 Jason Thibeault
    August 2, 2011

    I seem to be getting caught in the spam filter more often than not, probably because we’re talking about something that Greg needs to moderate relatively often. Apologies if my replies take a while to come through.

  107. Raging Bee, maybe you should read the long article by Robert Shapiro he linked to just below that. I know reading can be hard work but it will save you from saying silly things such as you have at 98.

    Looking at what you’ve said here, for you it’s not a matter of science but of pop materialist faith. Not everyone approaches these questions that way.

    Have you ever considered that rage isn’t any way to achieve a reasoned position?

  108. #108 Raging Bee
    August 2, 2011

    No worries, Jason, it’s not like AM or bks will actually acknowledge your responses honestly when they do come.

  109. #109 Raging Bee
    August 2, 2011

    No worries, Jason, it’s not like AM or bks will actually acknowledge your responses honestly when they do come.

  110. #110 bks
    August 2, 2011

    Raging Bee, you completely avoided a simple direct question: Heredity first or Metabolism first? These are not two sides of the same coin, these are completely different models. If you can’t answer the question, then you are blowing smoke about OoL. You can read the details of the dichotomy in the _SciAm_article by Prof. Shapiro, URL given above, or in the longer book by Shapiro, full reference given above.

    BTW, corrected quote and attribution for the question directed to Nobel winner Walter Gilbert: it was Nobel winner Christian de Duve who asked “Did God make the RNA?”

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v336/n6196/abs/336209b0.html

    You can find some cogent criticism of RNA-world by Stanley Miller (yes that Stanley Miller) in PNAS

    http://www.pnas.org/content/95/14/7933.full.pdf

    But back to the question Raging Bee: Heredity first or metabolism first?

    –bks

  111. #111 Raging Bee
    August 2, 2011

    Raging Bee, you completely avoided a simple direct question: Heredity first or Metabolism first?

    I don’t have to answer that question because: a) I’m not a scientist and I never pretended I had the answer; b) that’s not what we’re arguing about here; and c) it’s totally irrelevant to my main point, which is that you and AM are acting like dishonest denialists and obscurantists.

    Besides, why does it have to be one or the other? Maybe it was heredity frist in one part of the Earth, metabolism first somewhere else, then the ocean curents mixed them together and after awhile, something evolved that incorporated both in a more complex process that came one more step closer to what we now call “single-cell life forms.” (But hey, that’s just my own Pagan interaction-of-opposites mindset talking here: light and dark, matter and energy, destruction and creation, summer and winter, rise and fall, Yin and Yang…it doesn’t have to be one OR the other, it can always be both in dynamic equilibrium.)

    These are not two sides of the same coin, these are completely different models.

    And the mere fact that we have such models disproves your allegation that we do not and can not eventually know how life arose on Earth. Each of those models represents bits of useful knowledge whose existence and usefulness you’ve both been denying.

  112. #112 Raging Bee
    August 2, 2011

    Raging Bee, you completely avoided a simple direct question: Heredity first or Metabolism first?

    I don’t have to answer that question because: a) I’m not a scientist and I never pretended I had the answer; b) that’s not what we’re arguing about here; and c) it’s totally irrelevant to my main point, which is that you and AM are acting like dishonest denialists and obscurantists.

    Besides, why does it have to be one or the other? Maybe it was heredity frist in one part of the Earth, metabolism first somewhere else, then the ocean curents mixed them together and after awhile, something evolved that incorporated both in a more complex process that came one more step closer to what we now call “single-cell life forms.” (But hey, that’s just my own Pagan interaction-of-opposites mindset talking here: light and dark, matter and energy, destruction and creation, summer and winter, rise and fall, Yin and Yang…it doesn’t have to be one OR the other, it can always be both in dynamic equilibrium.)

    These are not two sides of the same coin, these are completely different models.

    And the mere fact that we have such models disproves your allegation that we do not and can not eventually know how life arose on Earth. Each of those models represents bits of useful knowledge whose existence and usefulness you’ve both been denying.

  113. #113 bks
    August 2, 2011

    Here’s the outline of another fundamental question of OoL that Raging Bee and Jason will gloss over: How did the first cell membrane arise:

    http://schaechter.asmblog.org/schaechter/2010/03/on-the-continuity-of-biological-membranes.html

    We don’t know how the nucleic acids arose, we don’t know how the membrane arose, and we don’t even know which came first.

    We know almost nothing about the OoL. For that matter, panspermia is still a possiblity:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21518884

    Of course panspermia is not an answer, it just pushes the problem off-world.

    –bks

  114. #114 bks
    August 2, 2011

    Raging Bee, your response to the direct question is absurd. But at least you are admitting that you are ignorant of the underlying issues which puts you one step up on Jason in your quest for truth. You are engaging in knee-jerk responses for what are probably good reasons (combating biblical literalists –I join you in that struggle).

    You put me in mind of this passage:

    In fact, the question of whether the problems with medical research should be broadcast to the public is a sticky one in the meta-research community. Already feeling that they’re fighting to keep patients from turning to alternative medical treatments such as homeopathy, or misdiagnosing themselves on the Internet, or simply neglecting medical treatment altogether, many researchers and physicians aren’t eager to provide even more reason to be skeptical of what doctors do–not to mention how public disenchantment with medicine could affect research funding. Ioannidis dismisses these concerns. “If we don’t tell the public about these problems, then we’re no better than nonscientists who falsely claim they can heal,” he says. “If the drugs don’t work and we’re not sure how to treat something, why should we claim differently? Some fear that there may be less funding because we stop claiming we can prove we have miraculous treatments. But if we can’t really provide those miracles, how long will we be able to fool the public anyway? The scientific enterprise is probably the most fantastic achievement in human history, but that doesn’t mean we have a right to overstate what we’re accomplishing.”

    We could solve much of the wrongness problem, Ioannidis says, if the world simply stopped expecting scientists to be right. That’s because being wrong in science is fine, and even necessary–as long as scientists recognize that they blew it, report their mistake openly instead of disguising it as a success, and then move on to the next thing, until they come up with the very occasional genuine breakthrough. But as long as careers remain contingent on producing a stream of research that’s dressed up to seem more right than it is, scientists will keep delivering exactly that.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/8269/1/

    –bks

  115. #115 Raging Bee
    August 2, 2011

    Raging Bee, your response to the direct question is absurd.

    I’ll believe that when you honestly address and refute even ONE of my statements.

    You put me in mind of this passage…

    Trnaslation: you’re changing the subject — and perhaps unintentionally revealing your real agenda, which appears to be emotional resentment of science, based on misunderstanding of what scientists actually say and do, and possibly also on a rude dashing of earlier unrealistic expectations.

  116. #116 Jason Thibeault
    August 2, 2011

    bks, where exactly are your goalposts for “origin of life”? Is it merely the fuzzy boundary between chemistry and the runaway chemical reaction where lipids self-catalyzed? Is it once metabolism starts, or once heredity starts? Can either of those be explained by the precursors that are the self-replicating molecules (which must “metabolize” the environment into copies of themselves, and imperfectly, thus creating “heredity”)? Where are the boundaries to what you would consider the “origin of life”, if not merely the “abiogenesis” event where chemicals started self-replicating?

    Or is it that you really don’t care that there are unanswered questions, and want to point to these unanswered questions as evidence that we will NEVER have answers?

  117. #117 bks
    August 2, 2011

    Raging Bee, I am not changing the subject. You have admitted that you do not understand the subject and I am trying to educate you (or, more likely, non-participating lurkers) and I was trying to provide some common ground.

    When you say something like:
    “And the mere fact that we have such models disproves your allegation that we do not and can not eventually know how life arose on Earth.”

    How is one to respond? Ptolemy had a model, Witchdoctors have models. Creationists have models. Georges Vacher de Lapouge had a model. Having a model is not proof of anything! Having two contradictory models is certainly not proof of anything!

    Also, I never said we can not *eventually* know how life arose on Earth, so you’re being completely disingenuous. I am talking about our current state of knowledge.

    –bks

  118. #118 bks
    August 2, 2011

    Sheesh, now Jason is starting with the *future* tense! Sure, in 2311 someone might actually create life de novo. That would not change my statements about the *current* state of knowledge one iota.

    –bks

  119. #119 Raging Bee
    August 2, 2011

    bks, the second sentence of your first comment here is as follows: “Science knows next to nothing about what “Life” is or how it came to be.” That assertion is refuted by the existence of useful models — among other things.

    Also, I was addressing both you and AM, who DID assert that we can not know how life first arose on Earth. I can address you both collectively, because you’re both using bogus obscurantist arguments, and you’re both demonstrably wrong.

  120. #120 Raging Bee
    August 2, 2011

    bks, the second sentence of your first comment here is as follows: “Science knows next to nothing about what “Life” is or how it came to be.” That assertion is refuted by the existence of useful models — among other things.

    Also, I was addressing both you and AM, who DID assert that we can not know how life first arose on Earth. I can address you both collectively, because you’re both using bogus obscurantist arguments, and you’re both demonstrably wrong.

  121. #121 Jason Thibeault
    August 2, 2011

    Could you kindly answer my question as to your goalposts, bks?

  122. Jason, how about answering the question I put to you? Or, how about I pose this one, instead. Do you believe that all things have a full explanation in material terms? That those are the only legitimate explanations? How about you, Raging bee. Can you get behind that idea?

    I will say, Jason, you’ve read a number of things into what I said which I not only didn’t say but have never said because I don’t agree with them. Why not stick with what I said instead of what you might have liked me to have said, but which I didn’t.

    No worries, Jason, it’s not like AM or bks will actually acknowledge your responses honestly when they do come. Raging bee

    I’ve been entirely frank about where I’m coming from, I’ve said that no one knows the answer of how non-living matter came to be alive. Here is what I said at 79 above, with bolding for emphasis.

    You are so religio-phobic that you see it behind any challenge to the culture of contemporary materialism, part of which is that it is known that life had a purely material origin. Which might be true but science is never going to be able to tell you if actual life, here on Earth, the line of life we are all part of did come about the way you believe it did. It also can’t tell creationists it came about the way they so very much want to believe it did. It came about, once, in the only way it did come about and we don’t know anything about that except that it happened. That isn’t a religious idea anymore than pointing out that any speculation of “other life” on other planets is entirely unknowable to us on August 1, 2011. We have no evidence it is there, we have no evidence of what any which might be there might be like because we have NO EVIDENCE TO BASE THAT KNOWLEDGE ON. We also don’t know the one and only way in which the first organism of life here formed and became life.

    I wonder what anyone who cares about the integrity of science makes of this. If anyone like that is paying attention.

    As I said on another thread, I came here after immediately refuting a creationist on Josh Rosenau’s blog, noticing that this issue was listed as one of the most active discussions.

    Here is what I said just before I first came here:

    harmon, no one knows how life originated, I doubt they ever will because the evidence needed to figure that out is forever lost. That’s quite a different problem than that life subsequently evolved into different species about which quite a bit is known from quite a bit of evidence.

    You can’t say how “dead elements” originated, exactly how where they came from but you don’t deny their existence or the results of their combination into molecules and the combination of those into larger molecules. You don’t have to go back to the absolute beginning of things in order to understand a lot about them. The evidence that evolution happened is massive, the evidence that species today are related is massive. Whether or not that is the result of a an intentional design is not scientific question since science couldn’t deal with the idea of a designer, which would be beyond its competence. It’s pretty silly to believe that God could be seen with science, which is designed to investigate material phenomena, unless you want to demote God to having the same status as material stuff.

    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2011/07/are_evolution_deniers_scientif.php

  123. Raging bee, you clearly don’t have the slightest idea what this discussion is about and your repeated assertions that I’m a right winger lead me to doubt your ability to deal with them.

    Has anyone ever suggested that you might have anger management problems?

    What other things do you think can be known on the basis of there being no evidence for it?

    I’m curious, what does your “Paganism” consist of? All of the Pagans I’m aware of are animists of some variety. I’ve never heard of a materialist Pagan before.

  124. bks, this from the link to the article by Franklin M. Harold is relevant to this discussion.

    Karl Popper taught us that science advances best by the interplay of conjecture and refutation; unfortunately, students of cell evolution do the former rather better than the latter. Even in this Age of Omics, when it comes to making sense of the incomprehensible we can only place our trust in tales of the imagination.

    Only, I’d add that the link between the conclusion and actual organisms in the evolution of cells is probably never going to be there.

  125. #125 bks
    August 2, 2011

    Anthony, I’m a bit more optimistic than you. I don’t feel that we’re never going to get get there, only that the current approaches are lacking. I think there will be a 22nd century Eduard Buchner who will cut the Gordian Knot.

    I’m not really that concerned with OoL, though. Might as well work on the Big Bang, as it’s a precursor to OoL. I’ve spent the past several years in the library trying to get a handle on definitions of Life *as it exists* and doing a lot of microscope work with protozoa.

    BTW, what is the alternative to materialism in your view?

    –bks

  126. #126 cyan
    August 2, 2011

    AM and btk,

    It seems that the name given to this research is what you have been arguing about here: origin of life, in that you think that people infer it must then relate in some way to the origin of the life that led to humans. So, what if it were referred to as “trying to observe life form from non-living chemicals under conditions different from current normal Earth conditions”?

    Or would you prefer that no research such as this go on at all?

  127. cyan, I am in favor of scientists and others not making exaggerated claims for what they can do. Or for others to make ideological claims on their work.

    I’d have misgivings about the creation of artificial life because it could be impossible, when it escaped, as I’m sure it would, to know what possible impact that would have on natural life. I’m not especially in favor of having things that could, possibly, replicate themselves unstopped, created without an absolute certainty that they couldn’t be malign to real life. I don’t have any confidence that scientists or others with an interest in that life being created would be able to honestly evaluate and report any risks. Their status as scientists doesn’t make them immune from the common flaws of human character. No one can police their own profession or business opportunity. They’ve had a lousy track record of doing that in the past century.

    Other than that, I don’t have any opinion about whether or not that kind of research should be funded or allowed. I do have an opinion about it being reported honestly.

  128. #128 Jason Thibeault
    August 3, 2011

    Anthony, I’ll say it again, as you evidently did not take my post @99 as a proper answer, though it was certainly meant as such — I am all about evidence. If the immaterial provided evidence, I would weigh that evidence exactly as I weigh evidence for anything else. I am a “probable monist”, if you’ll allow the term, because until some other form of “stuff” other than matter happens to show some evidence for its existence, I’m assuming de facto that there IS only matter. If this is not sufficient to answer your question as to whether I’m an “ideological materialist” or whatever other slur you’d like to come up with, you need to step back and reread my other comments on the matter impartially.

    And you’ll note that I have not once disagreed with the idea that we don’t presently know how the abiogenesis event happened. We know that it happened, though — and we both agree with this.

    My entire quarrel with your assertions is that you claim that we are claiming some knowledge of how it happened. We aren’t even claiming we have a working model yet. You’re erecting, as I’ve said before, the same strawman over and over. Please stop it. Nobody claimed what you say we claim.

    Oh, sorry, I guess that isn’t my entire quarrel — there’s one more thing I quarrel with, specifically the assertion that we know absolutely nothing else about the event. As I’ve said, we know many of the details surrounding it, as pointed out in Greg’s original post and all the links therein, and I outlined them in layman’s terms in my post @99. They are a layman’s understanding, but I note that you have not argued with any of them.

    And I’m glad to note that the vehemence with which you argued once that we can never obtain evidence for this event so anything postulated about it is pure conjecture and mythmaking, is largely waning. It is that positive and unevidenced assertion which is easily disproven merely by the evidence for the early conditions surrounding the event. And it is that assertion that causes me to believe that you are acting in the best interests of other people who would like to stuff their deity into the gap, which is what causes me to believe that you have a religious agenda.

    If you are an atheist, surely you would like the research to continue to close that gap? Or if you are a theist, or an immaterialist, surely you would like to give up that prejudice and make it plain for the world, rather than impugning others’ prejudices by calling them “ideological materialists”?

  129. Jason Thibeault, did you see any reference to an “immaterial” in anything I said in this discussion except a few references to science not being able to confirm the heart’s desire of creationists anymore than it could that of materialists?

    Just an historical note, not that I’m confident you’d take it, but the warning that religious people shouldn’t try to find God in the gaps in scientific knowledge was first given by a liberal, evangelical preacher, who accepted evolution, named Henry Drummond. And God isn’t the only thing people can try to insert into the gaps of knowledge. The insertions of that promissory materialism mentioned above is constantly inserted or at least asserted by atheists. As E. O. Wilson’s defection spreads, I think the Hamiltonian equation, on which Dawkins’ and so many others’ claim to science fame rests, will become just another of those which is found to be nonredeemable.

    Scientists and teachers of science are as able to make over sized claims about their work as bankers or artists. Any assertion that what scientists are doing that is called “cellular evolution” is extremely speculative but one thing is certain, without direct physical evidence of the way in which cells, did, actually evolve in the period before that is available can’t be honestly asserted as being KNOWN to be relevant to those events. It can’t honestly be claimed that we KNOW anything about what happened in the distant past without direct evidence of it. You might be able to have that within physics or geology for which there is direct or at least rather clear inferential evidence about things far less prone to variability than life can be, but the complexity of life and the possibilities of unknown complexities in the physical action of that life means that you can’t make those same kinds of inferential guesses with anything like certainty. Richard Lewontin said that life had qualities of indeterminacy that were at least as important as those in quantum physics. Which is just another thing to take into account when you are trying to take a shot in the dark, in the absence of direct evidence or even evidence from as much as half a billion years of microscopic, evolving life, very possibly with generations happening in terms of minutes instead of years. A heck of a lot of evolution can happen in that period of time. There isn’t even any way of knowing how much that is known or assumed from later periods, the stuff scientists use to educate their guesses about later periods, are at all relevant to life back then.

    But all of that, the assumptions of scientists or skepticism about those assumptions, is entirely on the basis of speculation without that evidence. Any scenario about life in that period can attain mythic status if it is asserted as true or reliably believed. The entire history of evolution has generated many myths, many of those constructed to fill in gaps in knowledge. Those have proven to be very useful to those who oppose the teaching of evolution in public schools and have had to be explained away by the defenders of teaching evolution. It would have been far better if those myths had never been asserted in the first place.

    I’ll make a prediction about the future. As the obvious flaws of “evolutionary psychology” become more obvious and it is junked, as all schools of psychology eventually are, the huge amount of, then discredited, story telling engaged in by it will become a gold mine by the opponents of teaching evolution in their political efforts.

    Let’s see if that happens. I believe it is a far more certain bet than the developmental biologist and media “skeptic”, Lewis Wolpert made that an entire organism, including its abnormalities, would be predicted by knowing its gene sequence. Which, considering the non-genetic factors in the developments of organisms, is a pretty stunningly naive belief for a scientist to hold. I am skeptical that you could even completely define a living organism. I suspect any such definition would be riddled with gaps and the assertion would have to overlook those gaps, some of which, almost certainly, wouldn’t be known at the time. But, then, I am pretty skeptical about the idea we have more than very partial knowledge of anything.

  130. #130 Stephanie Z
    August 3, 2011

    Those of you confused about what Anthony is attempting to positively assert by all his negativity really only have to read this last comment. He isn’t defending theism. He isn’t claiming a place for immateriality. He’s simply saying that if he doesn’t know something, nobody else does or can either.

    Really, what else could he mean? Everything else he brings up has already been addressed.

  131. #131 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    Um…thanks, Stephanie, you’ve pretty much summed AM up…with far fewer keystrokes than I wasted on him. Your point is certainly reinforced by this earlier quote of his: “I figure it’s of absolutely neutral value in that regard since it happened and there’s not much we can do about it.”

  132. #132 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    Um…thanks, Stephanie, you’ve pretty much summed AM up…with far fewer keystrokes than I wasted on him. Your point is certainly reinforced by this earlier quote of his: “I figure it’s of absolutely neutral value in that regard since it happened and there’s not much we can do about it.”

  133. #133 Greg Laden
    August 3, 2011

    OK, now its time to do a little poll. I wonder of each of those who have commented cold answer each of the following two questions with a simple number.

    1: How many of the linked-to blog posts in the OP have you read?

    2) How many of the 100+ cited journal articles and science-press editorials have you read?

    As a follow-up, has this number changed recently. I.e., did you pursue any of this information after seeing it listed here?

    TYVM

  134. Stephanie, if you’re going to allow that level of speculation to be considered as “known” then you had better be ready for a flood of that kind of “knowledge”. I’m sure the ID industry will be very happy with it. I don’t think you’re going to find that you can set a double standard in the matter.

    Let’s see if that prediction I made about the junking of evo-psy and the usefulness of its decaying carcass is to the creationists. I think Wilson’s walking back on Hamilton is a really bad sign for EP, but that was bound to happen as Hamilton’s equation was a pretty far fetched speculation in itself. One with no way of verifying. It’s one of the worse examples of trying to create evidence out of an ideological application of natural selection without any basis other than that. Wish I could have made a money bet over behaviorism but I was a lot more nervous about taking on the common received wisdom in my early college years. Looking at things more closely, I became more sceptical about current fads in the sciences and would be sciences.

    Imagine, a bunch of materialists rejecting the need for evidence before you could assert you knew something. And being unwilling to admit that they are materialists. Ideology generates irony, that’s one thing that’s for sure.

  135. #135 Stephanie Z
    August 3, 2011

    I’ve read about a dozen of the blog posts and none of the articles and editorials. Not quite half of the blog posts were new reading.

  136. #136 bks
    August 3, 2011

    Greg I have read some of them. I have read most of the single-author books on OoL in the Koshland Biosciences Library (U.C.Berkeley). As I stated above, I am not questioning the scientific merit of your list of references (in fact I’ve provided cites to a few of the same authors myself), just the characterization that we’re closing in on the answer to OoL.

    I don’t even think we’re that close to answering Schroedinger’s question of 1944: “What is Life?” which, if answered, is probably the key to OoL. Mr. Leveler is probably correct that we will never know *exactly* what happened[1], but if we can create life de novo, I’d say we’re close enough to declare victory.

    –bks

    [1] There are two schools here: One, the Shapiro doctrine that it was a highly unlikely event, and Two, the Kauffman idea that it was a highly likely event. Some days I’m a Shapiroite and some days I’m a Kauffmanite. On other days I just marvel at the complex behavior of unicelluar life, somehow able to thrive with zero neurons.

  137. Greg Laden, I’ve looked at some of the blog posts and articles. I don’t know how many I looked at. I’ve read quite a few things speculating about the origin of life over the years, all of which was based in a combination of far later biology which aren’t known to be relevant to it or based in speculation about that. None of which is based in a knowledge of what the earliest life was actually like because that isn’t known.

    How many fossilized examples of any resolvable detail from within 250,000,000 years after what would presently be guessed at as the origin of life have been discovered? How many generations of single cell lives do you think that period might, and I emphasize, might represent? What would you guess would be the rate of change among those organisms during that period?

    How many times do you think life arose from non-living matter? How many of those times are represented in the present line of life on Earth which would have shared a single ancestor?

    When you say “The origin of life” being “known” are you talking about an actual event of which anything but the actual representation of how it actually happened will, in fact, be wrong? Because if you aren’t, you aren’t talking about the actual origin of life but a series speculations about that event, which is quite a different thing.

  138. #138 Greg Laden
    August 3, 2011

    “just the characterization that we’re closing in on the answer to OoL”

    Actually, I said:

    “At present, we know something about the origin of life. I think we could know a lot more, and I think we will eventually.”

  139. #139 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    Let’s see if that prediction I made about the junking of evo-psy…

    Changing the subject again? What does evo-psych have to do with the origin of life?

    Once again, it’s looking like the know-nothingism, anti-rationalism, and vague blitherings about “materialism” are based on old grudge(s) against scientists in other, unrelated fields of study; not on any understanding or concern about the origins of life.

    As for Greg’s poll, I haven’t read any of it. It wasn’t necessary in identfying or debunking anti-rationalist BS.

  140. #140 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    Let’s see if that prediction I made about the junking of evo-psy…

    Changing the subject again? What does evo-psych have to do with the origin of life?

    Once again, it’s looking like the know-nothingism, anti-rationalism, and vague blitherings about “materialism” are based on old grudge(s) against scientists in other, unrelated fields of study; not on any understanding or concern about the origins of life.

    As for Greg’s poll, I haven’t read any of it. It wasn’t necessary in identfying or debunking anti-rationalist BS.

  141. #141 Jason Thibeault
    August 3, 2011

    Have read roughly 75% of the blog posts prior to reading and fighting extensively on this post. I’m not privy to the science journals.

    I’m done with arguing with Anthony until he gives up his prejudices and stops assuming everyone arguing with him is a) foregoing evidence, and b) an “ideological materialist”.

  142. Greg Laden, I’ll ask again, when you are talking about The Origin of Life, are you talking about an actual event which happened, in the only way it happened? And if anyone says it happened in any other way than that way it did happen, that they are not talking about the real and only Origin of Life on Earth but are, in fact, wrong about that?

    If you aren’t talking about the actual event, you aren’t talking about something that actually happened.

    How do you know you know something about the origin of life if you can’t observe direct evidence left from that event or even the descendents of that life for many millions of years after it happened?

    If you had no fossil evidence in the past quarter of a billion years of life leading up to now, do you think science could make successful predictions of what life a quarter of a billion years ago was like, if you had no evidence of it? Do you think that genetics would have been linked with evolution, if it had managed to have developed? Or that it would exist as an independent science? I don’t. I think what we’d have are creation myths, as we did before science began to be done around the presence of fossils, I’ll credit Nicholas Steno with some of the earliest of that. Any evolution that was speculated about would have been far different than what we have today. It might have been a lot like the evolutionary theories that existed before The Origin of Species was published or maybe not.

    Raging Bee, you say that as if you’ve experience reason. Was it a long time ago?

  143. bks, unless there was direct evidence of the origin of life any creation of artificial life would probably have to be based in much later bio-chemistry etc. It would be an artificial reproduction of that and it might have something to do with the origin of life, though if the chemistry is very complex, I’d doubt it very much. I think it probably took life to create those complex molecules and structures that we know today. I’m prepared to think that the earliest living, replicating being on Earth was probably a lot stranger than can be successfully imagined. Just imagining what its environment and the habitat it created around it, if that modern idea is at all relevant, is probably beyond our ability, and we’d never know if we were right.

    I pointed out to Stephanie Z, I think it was, on another thread that one thing about the artificial reproduction of life which is certain is that ID proponents would point out that it took a very intelligent design to do what was done. Which would be true and so they would be within their rights to point that out. That point was made about those self-replicating models of DNA, so it’s certain they have that argument ready. I don’t think that would be such a great result, I prefer science classes in public school be science only, to the extent possible.

  144. #144 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    Greg Laden, I’ll ask again, when you are talking about The Origin of Life, are you talking about an actual event which happened, in the only way it happened? And if anyone says it happened in any other way than that way it did happen, that they are not talking about the real and only Origin of Life on Earth but are, in fact, wrong about that?

    If you aren’t talking about the actual event, you aren’t talking about something that actually happened.

    Does this bit of blithering have any meaning at all? What, exactly, are you asking? It sounds like you’re still stuck on something we’ve discussed before: we’re not talking about specific events — YET — we’re talking about what we know of the early-Earth conditions in which the first life-forms arose, based on what we currently know, and speculating about what specific events are likely to have occurred then to create living matter.

    How do you know you know something about the origin of life if you can’t observe direct evidence left from that event or even the descendents of that life for many millions of years after it happened?

    WE have evidence that tells us a good bit about early-Earth conditions, plue evidence from repeatable experiments that tells us a bit about how living things can be created under certain conditions. That’s not the whole job, of course, but it’s as good a start as many other scientific advances have.

    Short answer: while you sit at your keyboard and insist we can’t know anything about the origin of life, other people are actually doing real work and learning things about the origin of life. Their work is nowhere near finished, of course, but your criticisms of it are just plain ignorant and self-serving.

  145. #145 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    Greg Laden, I’ll ask again, when you are talking about The Origin of Life, are you talking about an actual event which happened, in the only way it happened? And if anyone says it happened in any other way than that way it did happen, that they are not talking about the real and only Origin of Life on Earth but are, in fact, wrong about that?

    If you aren’t talking about the actual event, you aren’t talking about something that actually happened.

    Does this bit of blithering have any meaning at all? What, exactly, are you asking? It sounds like you’re still stuck on something we’ve discussed before: we’re not talking about specific events — YET — we’re talking about what we know of the early-Earth conditions in which the first life-forms arose, based on what we currently know, and speculating about what specific events are likely to have occurred then to create living matter.

    How do you know you know something about the origin of life if you can’t observe direct evidence left from that event or even the descendents of that life for many millions of years after it happened?

    WE have evidence that tells us a good bit about early-Earth conditions, plue evidence from repeatable experiments that tells us a bit about how living things can be created under certain conditions. That’s not the whole job, of course, but it’s as good a start as many other scientific advances have.

    Short answer: while you sit at your keyboard and insist we can’t know anything about the origin of life, other people are actually doing real work and learning things about the origin of life. Their work is nowhere near finished, of course, but your criticisms of it are just plain ignorant and self-serving.

  146. #146 DuWayne
    August 3, 2011

    Anthony –

    I’d have misgivings about the creation of artificial life because it could be impossible, when it escaped, as I’m sure it would, to know what possible impact that would have on natural life.

    Please define “artificial life.” More to the point, how would facilitating chemical reactions to produce self-replicating proteins be any more dangerous than manipulating existing genetic material? It seems to me that teh latter has a greater capacity for causing serious problems. Or are you talking about genetically modified organisms? If so there are already a whole lot of examples of artificial life that humans have been producing for thousands of years.

    Of course the biggest problem with this line of reasoning, is that the artificial/natural dichotomy is absolutely silly. A quick thought experiment…

    Assume there exists rather advanced artificial intelligence, capable of learning new things and adjusting it’s thought processes based on new information. Now of course this AI was initially built and programmed by humans. But it is likely that after some amount of learning it’s programming will only vaguely resemble it’s original system. Not only has what it knows or how it thinks changed, the very way that it learns has changed as well.

    At what point do we accept that it’s ability to reason and learn can no longer be credited to it’s original programming? At that point, can we reasonably call it’s intelligence artificial? If not, then what is it?

    I’ll make a prediction about the future. As the obvious flaws of “evolutionary psychology” become more obvious and it is junked, as all schools of psychology eventually are, the huge amount of, then discredited, story telling engaged in by it will become a gold mine by the opponents of teaching evolution in their political efforts.

    In other words; “Because I don’t understand something and can’t imagine how anyone else could, it’s just wrong.”

    Greg –

    Not sure if any, how many of those papers I have read. I have read this blog post and a few papers that are relevant to this topic.

    On a completely irrelevant point, “Wonder Pets” has got to be coming close to the most obnoxious, current tee vee for small children.

  147. I’m interested in this tactic of allegedly rational people pretending that clearly stated questions make no sense. I’ve run into it a number of times now, every time it was a self-appointed defender of reason and science who did it.

    Though I’m prepared to think that Raging Bee might not understand them, I am not prepared to believe that the one asked doesn’t.

  148. #148 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    I’m interested in this tactic of allegedly rational people pretending that clearly stated questions make no sense. I’ve run into it a number of times now…

    Well, if more than one person voices the same criticism of your questions, maybe there’s something to the criticism that can’t be blamed on just one critic. Ever consider that possibility?

    Oh, and what was your response to those other critics?

  149. #149 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    I’m interested in this tactic of allegedly rational people pretending that clearly stated questions make no sense. I’ve run into it a number of times now…

    Well, if more than one person voices the same criticism of your questions, maybe there’s something to the criticism that can’t be blamed on just one critic. Ever consider that possibility?

    Oh, and what was your response to those other critics?

  150. Please define “artificial life.”

    As of yet there isn’t any. Anything made by people that is a version of a naturally occurring substance or thing is artificial. Any life that scientists might manage, someday,to create would be artificial life.

    Whether or not organisms with humanly altered genetic material are artificial or not, I don’t know. They are certainly altered by artifice instead of natural processes. But I was talking about created “life” presumed to be a kind of life which no one has ever seen in nature, not the artificial manipulation of natural organisms.

    As to evo-psy, I can understand when people make up stories about things in the distant past no one has seen before, actions no one has documented, to explain things, the stock in trade of evo-psy, what Gould called Just-so Stories, in this context. And also when stories like that are created to opportunistically manufacture adaptive advantages, also unobserved or documented, leading to reproductive advantage in the form of increased numbers of offspring, likewise not counted or documented, in order to assert the persistence of genes, also not documented, into the present day and explaining “behaviors” now which are often the clear product of opportunistic reification, conflation and ideological assertion. I can understand all of that and similar intellectual tactics in Freudianism, Behaviorism and a number of other, minor isms in the behavioral sciences. Which have pretty much, one after another, been junked.

    It ain’t rocket science, I doubt it’s even science.

  151. #151 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    …Freudianism, Behaviorism and a number of other, minor isms in the behavioral sciences. Which have pretty much, one after another, been junked.

    Once again, you show your ignorance of how theories are born and changed over time. The “isms” you mention above were not “junked” altogether; some of their central premises/postulates/whatever you want to call them, were carried over into more refined and up-to-date hypotheses. Saying those ideas were “junked” is a bit like saying aviation was “junked” when the Wright Brothers’ original airplane went out of use.

  152. #152 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    …Freudianism, Behaviorism and a number of other, minor isms in the behavioral sciences. Which have pretty much, one after another, been junked.

    Once again, you show your ignorance of how theories are born and changed over time. The “isms” you mention above were not “junked” altogether; some of their central premises/postulates/whatever you want to call them, were carried over into more refined and up-to-date hypotheses. Saying those ideas were “junked” is a bit like saying aviation was “junked” when the Wright Brothers’ original airplane went out of use.

  153. #153 DuWayne
    August 3, 2011

    AML –

    Anything made by people that is a version of a naturally occurring substance or thing is artificial.

    So lets assume that scientists have managed to find the correct combination of amino acids and environment, resulting in life. This life is going to be a very simple organism – likely with a short lifespan and rapid reproductive cycle. So it is going to evolve quickly. Is it still artificial when it changes to such a degree that it is no longer recognizable as teh organism originally created?

    My point here, is that it is really easy to throw around terms like “natural” and “artificial.” It is a lot harder to nail them down into an operational definition. And without an operational, or common definition, you aren’t communicating.

    Lets see if we can simplify a little. How are you defining life?

    I can understand all of that and similar intellectual tactics in Freudianism, Behaviorism and a number of other, minor isms in the behavioral sciences. Which have pretty much, one after another, been junked.

    By all means, let your ignorance shine on. Not even Freud has been completely “junked,” – though in the case of Freudian bullshit, most of it has. Like every other science, what the evidence would suggest works is retained, what the evidence suggests doesn’t is not. And in some cases, what was once discarded is redressed, based on new information.

    Evopsych has very serious problems, but those problems are largely related to a relatively few psychology and anthropology researchers. Personally, I don’t go in for trashing an entire group or field, based on the fuck-ups of a few asshats.

    I hate to tell you this, but you aren’t doing very well here. About the only thing you’ve succeeded in doing is to prove you are nearly, but not quite entirely ignorant of what science is and the processes involved. You have failed to justify your position – ie. to “prove” that origins and bio evo are two separate categories.

  154. #154 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    AM’s blithering about “artificial life” is a bit of a side-issue and a distraction. Experiments aimed at creating primitive life-forms under simulated-early-Earth conditions, are done for the purpose of determining what sorts of conditions are required to create life, and how, exactly, life-forms get created under said conditions. The purpose is not so much to mimic EXACTLY the kind of life originally created; as to give ourselves a better idea of how living systems might (or might not) have been created, and/or what sort of living systems might have been created.

    It’s a bit like archeologists building a replica of Stonehenge to test their theories of how the original was built. The point is not to make an exact copy, or to know every exact step the ancients took in building the original; it’s to see whether their ideas of primitive engineering work in real life, and to at least rule out alleged practices that prove impractical or impossible. Simulations of this sort are done in many different fields, from archeology to disease-control to solar physics.

  155. #155 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    AM’s blithering about “artificial life” is a bit of a side-issue and a distraction. Experiments aimed at creating primitive life-forms under simulated-early-Earth conditions, are done for the purpose of determining what sorts of conditions are required to create life, and how, exactly, life-forms get created under said conditions. The purpose is not so much to mimic EXACTLY the kind of life originally created; as to give ourselves a better idea of how living systems might (or might not) have been created, and/or what sort of living systems might have been created.

    It’s a bit like archeologists building a replica of Stonehenge to test their theories of how the original was built. The point is not to make an exact copy, or to know every exact step the ancients took in building the original; it’s to see whether their ideas of primitive engineering work in real life, and to at least rule out alleged practices that prove impractical or impossible. Simulations of this sort are done in many different fields, from archeology to disease-control to solar physics.

  156. #156 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    AM’s blithering about “artificial life” is a bit of a side-issue and a distraction. Experiments aimed at creating primitive life-forms under simulated-early-Earth conditions, are done for the purpose of determining what sorts of conditions are required to create life, and how, exactly, life-forms get created under said conditions. The purpose is not so much to mimic EXACTLY the kind of life originally created; as to give ourselves a better idea of how living systems might (or might not) have been created, and/or what sort of living systems might have been created.

    It’s a bit like archeologists building a replica of Stonehenge to test their theories of how the original was built. The point is not to make an exact copy, or to know every exact step the ancients took in building the original; it’s to see whether their ideas of primitive engineering work in real life, and to at least rule out alleged practices that prove impractical or impossible. Simulations of this sort are done in many different fields, from archeology to disease-control to solar physics.

  157. #157 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    AM’s blithering about “artificial life” is a bit of a side-issue and a distraction. Experiments aimed at creating primitive life-forms under simulated-early-Earth conditions, are done for the purpose of determining what sorts of conditions are required to create life, and how, exactly, life-forms get created under said conditions. The purpose is not so much to mimic EXACTLY the kind of life originally created; as to give ourselves a better idea of how living systems might (or might not) have been created, and/or what sort of living systems might have been created.

    It’s a bit like archeologists building a replica of Stonehenge to test their theories of how the original was built. The point is not to make an exact copy, or to know every exact step the ancients took in building the original; it’s to see whether their ideas of primitive engineering work in real life, and to at least rule out alleged practices that prove impractical or impossible. Simulations of this sort are done in many different fields, from archeology to disease-control to solar physics.

  158. #158 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    Oops, sorry about the double post.

    Oops, sorry about the double post.

  159. #159 Raging Bee
    August 3, 2011

    Oops, sorry about the double post.

    Oops, sorry about the double post.

  160. DuWayne, if you don’t like the meaning of the word “artifical” take it up with the lexicographers, I’m only using the word according to it’s primary meaning.

    Where do you stand on “artificial intelligence”?

    I don’t know if the offspring of the first artificial organism would be artificial. I suppose that will be argued out in the distant future when that’s possible, if it ever is. That has nothing to do with the problem of assuming that any artificial life someone makes would have anything to do with the origin of life on Earth, which would have to be a species of faith, not science.

    Do you think that copies of computer viruses are a part of the natural world?

    How do I define life? I haven’t attempted to define it, I don’t think anyone has come up with a real definition, as at least one person above has pointed out. Can you define time?

    As to the problems with evo-psy, how many “behaviors” in the Paleolithic period or earlier have been rigorously observed and documented, the data from those amassed in a statistically significant amount and analyzed in a manner to be scientifically adequate? How about to the level that allowed the recent review of Marc Hauser’s papers that were withdrawn because there was no evidence that the “behaviors” that he had on video and which he reported weren’t actually there?

    Continuing with the problems:

    Have the people or our recent ancestors not of our species, who have exhibited those “behaviors” been documented to leave more offspring than our ancestors who don’t exhibit that “behavior”? You would certainly need that information to get to the point where you could identify a “behavior” as conferring a reproductive advantage, something I’d like you to point out as having been demonstrated in a human behavior today, by the way. Which would all be necessary to get to the next part of the evo-psy Just-story, that the “genes” which are the means by which that “behavior” is exhibited and passed on to succeeding generations actually are there. Oh, but, then, you would need to establish that the behavior was, actually, based in actual genes, something else that is more than just a bit iffy. And you would also have to establish that any “behavior” you want to identify today was, actually, the same “behavior” that existed, not only in the Paleolithic period but for the entire period, generation after generation, all during that period, unaltered in ways that might, actually, constitute a maladaptation which would result in no offspring. No offspring, even in one generation, the “genes” would disappear from the genome. We do know that traits that seem to be a favorable adaptation apparently can stop being favorable with changing circumstances and can seemingly lead to extinction. I suspect we might be done in by over population, in which case the behavior of having too many offspring would, ironically enough, turn out to be maladaptive.

    So, do you have that for any proposed “behavior” of the kind that evo-psys are always claiming?

    A lot of those “asshats” hold positions at universities teaching evo-psy, Kevin MacDonald, for example. Though I think they might have decided he shouldn’t be the editor of any more evo-psy journals after he was the only witness that David Irving called to support his unsuccessful libel case against Deborah Lipstadt. I don’t know what the status of John Hartung in the evo-psy crowd is these days, I don’t know if Dawkins has broken with his former good friend. He didn’t find his putrescent “Love Thy Neighbor” too objectionable that he didn’t cite it in his second most famous book.

    I know that Freudian bilge is still taught and that people are still allowed to peddle it to the gullible. Woody
    Allen, quite famously. That doesn’t change the fact that Freud’s “science” was entirely unfounded as a science and still is, the “studies” done to support it a joke as science. It should be a scandal that it’s still taught in university departments as science.

  161. Raging Bee, I’ll talk to you again when you can understand there’s a huge difference between the man-made Stonehenge, large parts of which are still extant and parts of the ruin of which are quite clearly discernible today, and the original form of life which is not man made, the remnants of which aren’t available. Your examples just get stupider as this goes on. You are comparing apples with the Pyramid of Cheops.

    Let me get this straight. You are the guys who are supposed to be the skeptics?

  162. #162 Stephanie Z
    August 3, 2011

    Wow, Anthony. Way to ignore what Raging Bee actually said about the process and focus on the weaknesses of the analogy that is “a bit like” the process he just described. That’s hardcore trolling, there.

  163. Stephanie Z. The issue is what can be known from the distant past and what can’t be. The issue is an event so far in the past that there is no evidence of it, which is why we are in dispute as to what can be known about it. Drawing an analogy between that event and between a massive, man made structure which is available for study, for the purpose of this dispute, is about as inept a proposed basis for an argument as could be misconceived.

    The problem of using any modern creation to learn about the entirely unknown origin of life is entirely unlike recreation a known structure in order to try to understand it better.

    An analogy has to be similar enough for it to tell you something about what you are drawing the analogy from or it is a false analogy. In this discussion, we’ve had gold, the common ancestry of human beings and other apes, and stone henge, proposed as analogies to problems with knowing about the origin of life. All of which don’t share the crucial problem with the origin of life, there being no available evidence to study with science of the actual thing.

    Though the support you and others are giving R.B. is quite useful in understanding that for a lot of you, reasoned, non-ideological consideration of the problem is unimportant. And that’s another thing that interests me, quite a bit.

  164. #164 DuWayne
    August 3, 2011

    DuWayne, if you don’t like the meaning of the word “artifical” take it up with the lexicographers, I’m only using the word according to it’s primary meaning.

    Not in the context of what we are talking about. When the conversation is about sweeteners, that is the primary definition. When you start talking about artificial life and artificial intelligence, “artificial” takes on a great deal of ambiguity. Especially when talking about life.

    And when you are talking science, what lexicographers have to say about most any words is irrelevant. The definitions given to us by lexicographers suffer the problem of being too damned vague to be of much use. Science requires a great deal of specificity. We won’t even get into the evolution of language, as I suspect that one is beyond you.

    Where do you stand on “artificial intelligence”?

    In what context? That is a huge fucking question, the answer to which is extremely contextually dependent.

    As to the problems with evo-psy, how many “behaviors” in the Paleolithic period or earlier have been rigorously observed and documented, the data from those amassed in a statistically significant amount and analyzed in a manner to be scientifically adequate?

    No one with the least bit of credibility is saying anything definitive about the behaviors of prehistoric humans or our protohuman ancestors. Assuming that is what evopsych is all about, only betrays your extreme ignorance.

    How about to the level that allowed the recent review of Marc Hauser’s papers that were withdrawn because there was no evidence that the “behaviors” that he had on video and which he reported weren’t actually there?

    Do you have the foggiest clue how much of the “science” reported in biomed glam journals ends up being redacted because of fuck-ups or outright fraud? I’ll give you a hint, it happens a hell of a lot more than it should, given the supposed quality of peer review that should be happening with such journals. Hell, fraud even occurs in the hallowed ranks of physicists – though not as often, as it is rather more readily apparent in physics.

    So, do you have that for any proposed “behavior” of the kind that evo-psys are always claiming?

    Nope and I have no interest in making those sorts of claims. My interest is in studying mental illness across cultures (form a neuropsych perspective), looking for apparently universal characteristics – as apposed to characteristics that are obviously culturally driven. I am also interested in primate research, with the understanding that neither of the above are going to teach us anything definitive about our prehistoric and protohuman ancestors. What their lives were like would be very interesting, but obviously that is impossible – at least today.

    That some theoretically prestigious scientists would like to believe their stories are science doesn’t mean shit.

    I know that Freudian bilge is still taught and that people are still allowed to peddle it to the gullible.

    I am sure it is in some places (certainly not where I am studying), but that isn’t what I am talking about.

    That doesn’t change the fact that Freud’s “science” was entirely unfounded as a science and still is, the “studies” done to support it a joke as science.

    It was never science, it was a lot of assertions that were based on observations and inferences on the part of Freud. That it wasn’t science doesn’t mean there weren’t useful ideas mixed in with the tons of bullshit. All science starts from an idea someone had and which was then subjected to rigorous testing. It happens to work out that there are a few ideas that Freud had that weren’t useless bullshit – it would be surprising if there weren’t. For his flaws, he was a very bright guy. His failure was really one of bias. He refused to even attempt to recognize and compensate for his biases.

    Your problem, Tom, is that you haven’t even a vague notion what the science of psychology is about and have only a slightly better grasp of science in general.

  165. #165 DuWayne
    August 3, 2011

    Err, Sorry Anthony, got you mixed up with another ass.

  166. DuWayne, did you happen to skip over the first sentence in my answer about what I meant by “artificial life”:

    As of yet there isn’t any.

    If you had read the Post you would have found this in the list of articles Greg Laden listed:

    Deamer, D. (2008). Origin and Early Evolution of Life. Artificial Life, 14(4), 471-472.

    If you took the initiative to google the journal that article was published in, you might read this at its website:

    Artificial Life is the official journal of the International Society of Artificial Life (ISAL).
    Artificial Life is devoted to a new discipline that investigates the scientific, engineering, philosophical,
    and social issues involved in our rapidly increasing technological ability to synthesize life-like behaviors
    from scratch in computers, machines, molecules, and other alternative media.

    Apparently a number of science folk think it’s able to be known to the extent that they have a journal devoted to it.

    “Life” might be ambiguous, “artificial” has a far clearer definition. Or is it “life” you care complaining about, in which case, do you object to “the life sciences”?

    Where do you stand on “artificial intelligence”?

    In what context?

    Well, since “intelligence” is also an ambiguous word, I will say do you think that people can create an intelligent entity? I tend to doubt it, though I think people can fool themselves into believing what they’ve created can think. A lot of fairly smart people believed that the Eliza bot could think, and it was designed to parrot the language of a particularly wacky therapeutic fad of the time.

    As it happens, the Marc Hauser scandal is a very important demonstration of how trained scientists in the behavioral sciences can talk themselves into seeing “behaviors” that they want to see, or, if you believe he consciously did what he did, that they can gull other scientists into believing in “behaviors” that they want to exist. And how long that “behavior” can remain current in “science”, being taught and elaborated on. And that was with alleged behavior that was available on video for review. When that alleged behavior happened in the Paleolithic and no one was there to document it. Which is the very stuff of so much of evo-psy because it would have had to have happened sufficiently long enough ago to have been subjected to selective forces to test it as a favorable adaptation. Not to mention that we don’t have any of that other knowledge which would be necessary to support the edifice of evo-psy.

    As to Freud, I’ve looked at his “psychological study” of President Wilson, which he cranked out during the rise of Hitler. It is among the most unhinged pieces of crackpot assertion I’ve ever seen from an alleged intellectual of any repute. As Europe was descending into the tidal wave of violence that was about to break, Freud was mocking Wilson as a girly-man because he shed a few tears over the young men he was about to send to be killed or maimed in the First World War. You might want to go look up his answer to Einstein’s letter asking him about the problem of violence. Freud didn’t see it as a problem, he endorsed it. Again, as Europe was descending into violent insanity.

    I think Freud’s junk does give us a good view of the mind, but only the very bizarre and twisted mind of Freud. His true believers apparently had issues of their own. How anyone could have not noticed that there was no science involved for so many decades at the most esteemed universities in the world is certainly suggestive of a deep problem with the intellectual honesty of intellectual culture.

  167. #167 Jason Thibeault
    August 3, 2011

    Since you have such an ideological fixation on the primacy of direct physical evidence, Anthony, do you believe the Big Bang model of the universe best reflects our current understanding of it, despite the fact that we have zero direct physical evidence that a Big Bang occurred?

    Seriously, if we had no evidence for the origin of life, we have no reason to believe one happened. We’d be better off assuming life has always been. But since we have evidence that it happened, we can use that evidence to draw conclusions about how.

    How is any of this difficult for you to comprehend without resorting to calling people ideologues all the damn time and erecting the same damn strawman in every post over and over, claiming we’re all saying something which we are definitely not? Were you by chance raised as a member of the Pirahã tribe?

  168. Jason, here, read how Lawrence Krauss answered a question about lack of evidence:

    Physicist Lawrence Krauss and Case Western Reserve colleagues think they have found the answer to the paradox. In a paper accepted for publication in Physical Review D, they have constructed a lengthy mathematical formula that shows, in effect, black holes can’t form at all. The key involves the relativistic effect of time, Krauss explains. As Einstein demonstrated in his Theory of General Relativity, a passenger inside a spaceship traveling toward a black hole would feel the ship accelerating, while an outside observer would see the ship slow down. When the ship reached the event horizon, it would appear to stop, staying there forever and never falling in toward oblivion. In effect, Krauss says, time effectively stops at that point, meaning time is infinite for black holes. If black holes radiate away their mass over time, as Hawking showed, then they should evaporate before they even form, Krauss says. It would be like pouring water into a glass that has no bottom. In essence, physicists have been arguing over a trick question for 40 years.

    Asked why then the universe nevertheless seems to be full of black holes, Krauss replies, “How do you know they’re black holes?” No one has actually seen a black hole, he says, and anything with a tremendous amount of gravity–such as the supermassive remnants of stars–could exert effects similar to those researchers have blamed on black holes. “All of our calculations suggest this is quite plausible,” Krauss says.

    Your assertion about making believe life always existed is too silly to bother answering. Especially after asking about The Big Bang.

    I am copying this as one of the most irrational series of assertions by the self-identified champions of science and reason I’ve had the dubious privilege of reading.

  169. #169 Jason Thibeault
    August 3, 2011

    I’m saving a copy of this thread for one of the most irrational series of assertions by the self-identified champions of “skepticism” I’ve had the dubious privilege of reading, Anthony, so fair’s fair. I put “skepticism” in scarequotes because skeptics who are unwilling to look at evidence are usually called “denialists” around these parts, and rightly so.

    Your quote shows Lawrence Krauss is rightly skeptical that black holes are actually specifically singularities that evaporate away. Likewise you should be skeptical that abiogenesis happened on this planet as opposed to panspermia, which while panspermia is grossly unlikely with the speed of bodies hitting a planet our size most probably destroying said life, is certainly possible. But without any evidence of an impact around the time we believe life to have started, I’d be skeptical of it, and would place the confidence level of that as being the specific abiogenesis event on Earth at a very low level. I’d much prefer a theory that does not multiply entities unnecessarily, and assumes that the early Earth’s composition was capable of catalyzing chemicals into a self-sustaining chain reaction as an emergent property of their makeup. You know, since this last one only contains the entities we know existed — e.g., chemicals, and an environment.

    None of what I’ve or anyone else has said about abiogenesis suggests that anyone is claiming any special knowledge about how it definitely happened, as I’ve pointed out probably a dozen times. At least as often as you’ve claimed that we are, anyway. We’re talking about probabilities, and you’re fighting with imagined certainties. I’d really rather you stop. And I strongly doubt that you will.

    I don’t know why I’ve bothered to continue. This discussion is wholly fruitless at this point. Claim victory and point to us as irrational all you’d like. I give up.

  170. #170 Stephanie Z
    August 3, 2011

    Thing is, there’s nothing silly about Raging Bee’s analogy or Jason’s comment about assuming life always existed.

    Raging Bee was talking about engineering. We have no direct evidence of how Stonehenge was built. We know that it exists. We have geological and archaeological evidence that narrows down the timeframe during which it could have been built. The archaeological evidence further narrows down the technology that could have been used to build it.

    We will almost certainly never have direct physical evidence of the means used, for example, to raise the stones into place. That hasn’t stopped people from formulating engineering hypotheses that are within the bounds of the existing knowledge we do have, then testing those hypotheses to determine whether they are plausible. If they aren’t, the remaining possibilities are narrowed. If they are, no statement is made that this is how Stonehenge was engineered. A statement is made (like those in these comments, in the post, and in the linked post) that we are now closer to understanding the situation in which Stonehenge occurred. We don’t know everything, but however the experiment turns out, we know more than we knew before.

    Jason’s statement about assuming life has always been is a simple application of Occam’s Razor to your commentary that we know nothing about the origin of life. It demonstrates the vapidity of that commentary.

    Just as with Stonehenge, we know quite a bit about the limits on when it must have occurred. Before a particular point, the planet was inimical to life as we understand it. We have no evidence of life existing during that time. Life may have existed then, but there is no evidence of it.

    Sometime later, we have evidence that very simple life existed. From that point, we have evidence that life became more complex and varied. Because of all this evidence, we deduce that life came to exist during the gap between the planet not being able to support life and simple life existing. From that time period (as you’ve already been told) we have geological evidence and geochemical evidence of the variety of conditions under which life came to exist.

    Using this evidence, we can and have set bounds on what the origin of life can have entailed. Within this, we have created tests to determine whether the precursors of the simple life (of which, remember, we have evidence) could have come into being in a number of ways. The outcomes of those tests, whether the results are positive or negative, increase the knowledge we have about what happened.

    As was pointed out to you more than 125 comments ago, this doesn’t mean we claim 100% certainty about what happened, only that we know significantly more than we did before. For that matter, nothing in this comment hasn’t already been pointed out to you. This is really just a summary of the bits you’ve ignored.

  171. #171 DuWayne
    August 3, 2011

    It is apparent, Anthony, that you aren’t actually reading what I am writing – this has become rather pointless. I will reiterate however, that you have made it abundantly clear that you know nothing of psychology and little, if anything of science.

    I get that most people like to break things down into simplistic, black and white little boxes. I also understand that people like to believe that if they can’t actually understand something, that it must be impossible to understand it. The problem with that kind of thinking, is that it is completely antithetical to science and skeptical inquiry. Just because the tools we have are inadequate for studying aspects of the universe around us, doesn’t mean adequate tools are an impossibility. Just because something, such as behavior, is complicated by seemingly innumerable factors, doesn’t mean that we can never understand important aspects of it.

    That science can’t be wrapped up into neat little boxes, doesn’t make it useless. It is certainly preferable to sustained, stupefying ignorance.

  172. #172 Shirakawasuna
    August 4, 2011

    bks, you seem to be a personal fan of the arrogance of ignorance – you namedrop and seem to have read five books on a topic, likely those intended for a lay-audience, so now you’re an expert who can poo-poo all biologists. Are you one of the rare scientists who has not yet acquired the ability to know what it is they do and do not fully grok yet? No, that’s not an invitation to poo-poo biologists again, as seems to be your mode of operation.

    You want quantum mechanics in biology (not sure why)? It pops up in biochem and physics journals often enough. A popularized example is that of the plant photosynthetic antenna apparatus. It’s even, typically, largely theoretical, but sometimes even has predictions and testing.

    The proposition that the universe is alive is nonsensical and sounds, quite simply, like a bastardized version of some new age crap I’ve read hundreds of times before. It’s notable only in that you went nowhere with it at all.

    Answering the question, “what is a gene?” would receive a complicated, but coherent answer, just like the definition of a scientific model for how the world works. There will always be a point where a generalization breaks down, but that is not an excuse for completely misunderstanding the point. There’s stuff out there, it’s demonstrated to exist and act in a given way by good experiments and ideas. Physics is no different from biology in this way.

    There has been quite a bit of progress since the famous Urey-Miller experiment in terms of producing biological compounds from simple and reasonable conditions. You apparently can’t be bothered to google this.

    In terms of overstating the depth of our understanding, I would remind you that Greg (along with others here) is a biologist and you are not. Of course that doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but by not listening (at all, apparently) it makes you arrogant and hypocritical. Notice your eagerness to dismiss Trilobutt and their research. Defining emergence is in no way difficult to define or see. It is the generation of complex behaviors or results from simple rules/phenomena. Typically there is no intuitive connection between the two, as the complexity is very large, but the sufficiency of simple rules to produce such things is well-demonstrated. Cells divide. They do so by relatively simple rules on a rich media plate. They form very strange colonies with incredibly complex and seemingly organized patterns if you give them the right compounds. Life is emergent, whether you like it or not. Human-designed systems carry many emergent properties. I simply do not understand how you can be so dismissive of such an obviously-existent thing without making any kind of explanation.

    From your response to Torbjörn, it seems you don’t even know what emergence is. Your response seems to imply that you think the emergence of classical mechanics from quantum mechanics is historical, when in fact the statement is addressing causality (emergence itself). “quite the reverse” makes no sense if you are using the term emergence correctly, as there is no way in which quantum mechanics is emergent from classical mechanics.

    “I am always amused by the commenters in Greg’s blog who think that practicing biologists form “hypotheses” and then test their hypotheses by experiments. Nothing could be further from the truth. Can you name three “theoretical biologists?”"

    Having a subfield of theoretical scientists is not necessary for hypotheses to be formed and tested. You’re getting way ahead of yourself.

    End rant.

  173. #173 bks
    August 4, 2011

    I think you’re being a bit hard on Freud, Anthony. Even today it is extremely difficult for people to speak rationally about sex. This has been amply demonstrated in the Rebecca Watson peripheral discussions right here on Greg’s blog. I’d compare Freud to, say, Jan Baptist van Helmont, who arrived at many erroneous conclusions but who is universally considered to be a giant in the history of chemistry.

    That’s a bit off-topic, but we can drag OoL back in by considering “spontaneous generation”(SG). Helmont (like Aristotle) thought SG was true and even had an algorithm for creating mice from cloth and wheat. For the next two hundred years SG went in and out of favor with the “establishment” until Pasteur proved that SG was wrong in 1859. Of course abiogenesis *is* SG. Catch 22.

    –bks

  174. #174 bks
    August 4, 2011

    Shirakawasuna, I think that I can say unequivocally that Life will never be created from “simple rules.” (I can’t prove it though.)

    Your statement about the progress of Urey-Miller experiment is risible. Shapiro’s _SciAm_ article (URL above) covers this.

    As to “dismissing” Trillobutt, I have to appeal to the lack of affordance in this absolutely horrible interface which does not have threading and does not allow use of a proper text editor nor automatic recording of one’s comments. USENET was far, far better for electronic conferencing. There is also some sort of erratic “caching” of comments which can take hours to show up.

    The whole “Web 2.0″ experience is a major step backward in having serious technical discussions.

    Thanks for your comments.

    –bks

  175. #176 Steve L
    August 4, 2011

    I think I should read this blog more often. I think I should probably read the whole thing more carefully. But I’m going to bed and I will mention the one thing that caught my attention: “Are you sure it is not happening now?”
    To get at this a different way, I’m wondering if there’s any evidence for multiple origins of life on Earth. I rather think that everything using ‘pretty much’ the same genetic code is evidence for the trait ‘living’ having arose only once. But maybe that’s analogy rather than homology. Or maybe there’s something important and relevant in Uracil versus Thymine. Anyway, there’s one reason that I want to live a long time — I want to know if life arose more than once.

  176. #177 BinJabreel
    August 4, 2011

    Holy freakin’ crap, Anthony:

    What part of, “If we manage to synthesize life we’ll learn more about the conditions needed to synthesize life” are you not getting?

    Core concept?

  177. #178 BinJabreel
    August 4, 2011

    @Steve L.

    The way I’d always understood it is that once you have a massive world-ranging population of well-established micro-organisms eating the organic molecules that self-assemble (at, say, an undersea volcanic vent) the odds against life synthesizing itself again (and being successful) become astronomically small.

    Because even if some new single-celled thing shows up in a puddle, odds are good some other, and much older, multiple-celled things are just going to end up eating it.

    Of course, none of this says it can’t happen, it’s just me thinking that it’s probably spectacularly unlikely. Though I’d probably wager that the first steps of the origin of life was a riot of different self-catalyzing proteins of various kinds.

  178. Thing is, there’s nothing silly about Raging Bee’s analogy or Jason’s comment about assuming life always existed. Stephanie Z

    First Jason’s comment about assuming life always existed.

    Did you happen to miss the tiny detail that he began that comment with the assumption that The Big Bang is the explanation for the existence of the universe? Here is how he put it:

    Since you have such an ideological fixation on the primacy of direct physical evidence, Anthony, do you believe the Big Bang model of the universe best reflects our current understanding of it, despite the fact that we have zero direct physical evidence that a Big Bang occurred?

    Seriously, if we had no evidence for the origin of life, we have no reason to believe one happened. We’d be better off assuming life has always been. But since we have evidence that it happened, we can use that evidence to draw conclusions about how.

    He begins by asserting The Big Bang, the beginning of, among everything else, time, and then in the next paragraph he asserts that life could have, somehow, always existed, despite that catastrophic beginning event. That must be about the ultimate in logical disconnects.

    You also have no business calling yourself a “skeptic” if you, as Jason, brush aside the need for evidence of what happened in a specific,unique event as optional in understanding that event. Without that evidence you might come up with something that you can fit into a narrative and pass off as representing that event, but since there is no evidence you can never know if that’s true.

    Really, if you think that an assertion that the universe had a beginning is compatible with the assertion that life always has been, I don’t know what to make of your idea of reasoning.

    And now:

    Raging Bee was talking about engineering. We have no direct evidence of how Stonehenge was built. We know that it exists.

    I’ve already said that it is exactly the absence of evidence that is the major problem of knowing about the origin of life, at least three times above. The second problem is that we don’t know how it happened or what the first life generated from non-living matter was like so we have no way to construct an investigation of it. Since that is the basis of the problem, proposing to refute my point examples for which we have a lot of evidence is incompetent argument. I’m at a loss to explain how people who think they’re fans of science could possibly not understand that.

    We much more than knowing Stonehenge exists, we have its far from negligible remnants and its ruins situated geographically in the same place it was constructed, we have what that large amount of evidence can tell us. We know people made it and within a far more certain time frame than we have for the origin of life. We can observe it in relation to sunrises and the calendar and can and draw conclusions as to the likelihood that its structure and orientation was intended to be related to that as opposed to a really remarkable coincidence. We can use that evidence to draw any conclusions drawn about it with any legitimate claim to be called science and to inform any fictional or fantastic claims made about it with no legitimate right to be called science. Though there is a lot we can’t know about the people who built it, what and exactly how they used it because, as with so much of the behavior of living beings, that information is lost and unrecoverable.

    None of that is available for the question Greg Laden posed as the topic of this thread, the origin of life.

    I will lay out the problem, step by step.

    1. The origin of life is known to have happened once, otherwise we wouldn’t be here arguing about this. If it happened more than once, the relevance of that to life as we know it is certainly unclear.

    2. Genetics and evolutionary biology make a compelling case that it is likely that all identified organisms have a single common ancestor, that ancestor might have been the one and only original organism that ever developed from non-living matter or a later single survivor in its line, I’d guess it would have to have been fairly early or there would have been other surviving examples of life. So far we haven’t identified “other life” among us or anywhere else in the universe. Not that it has kept people from making wild assumptions they can say what that would be like, based on no evidence of what it would be like.

    3. When we are talking about the origin of life, the only kind of life we know of, we are talking about a real event that actually happened in the one and only way it happened, not in some alternative way. Any other attempted description of that event which proposed another way for it to have happened, will, in fact, be wrong. We have no idea if the way it happened is something we can imagine or if it’s so unrelated to what we know that we couldn’t figure it out. I suspect it’s closer to being so strange that we will have killed ourselves off before we figure it out.

    4. We don’t know the one and only way it did happen, we don’t know how relevant our knowledge of biology or biochemistry is relevant to that event. Our retrospective knowledge of relatively “early” life, which is cut off hundreds of millions of years after the origin of life, can lead us closer to a knowledge of that singular event or it might lead us seriously astray. A few hundreds of millions of years in the life of micro-organisms in the numbers found in the earliest fossil evidence, represents a stupendous number of generations which, we can somewhat more safely assume, might have been changing far more rapidly than much of the life we know today. I seriously doubt that the complex chemistry of reproduction and inheritance we have today was present in the earliest organism but believe it evolved in living organisms. What the actual way it did evolve and from what unknown earlier mechanisms of reproduction are unknown, if that was the way it happened. The vaguely resolved examples available in the oldest fossils hundreds of millions of years in that evolution might lead us seriously astray of what the very earliest life was like. We don’t have any way to know if it leads us closer to the origin of life or farther from it.

    5. We have never seen life spontaneously generate from inert substances in nature, we have no idea how that happened naturally. Any experiment done by scientists in regard to that will a. almost certainly be based in biology many hundreds of millions of years after that event, or b. will be created out of suppositions not known to be relevant to the actual origin of life. We don’t know if that life was anything like the original organism that first reproduced and left reproducing generations that evolved and eventually, through many ages and changes, came to the results around us and us, as well.

    Your scenario that “sometime later” we have evidence of life ignores the enormous gap in time between the first, far from complete, evidence of life at that time and the original event which would have had the unique quality of not having been produced from life but from non-living material. I don’t think you or your comrades understand the size of those gaps. It can sound so easy if you present it as a neat narrative but it’s hardly neat and tidy in reality. But the origin of life isn’t a story that works if you can just skate over those holes in it. Not if you’re interested in what really happened instead of the creation of a storyline. Jumping over those without finding out what is there isn’t an optional step you can just skip.

    This has been a most enlightening trip into the willing suspension of doubt among “skeptics,” when the results are what they want, a purely material explanation of the origin of life, a confirmation of their materialism. And that they don’t much care what its relation to the actual event was as long as they are able to assert they’ve nailed that down. I don’t know how much it can tell about the contemporary practice of science but it doesn’t do much to enhance my confidence in its general culture.

    Maybe the problem for you is that I’m not willing to just be a true believer, saying amen and call it science, going along with any particular club and routing for them to win. Doing that and asserting that it’s science is lying and I won’t do it.

    I will be analyzing this and writing it up, eventually.

  179. #180 Stephanie Z
    August 4, 2011

    Anthony, your insistence that narrowing down the possibilities is creating some kind of story that amounts to a creation myth is the really fascinating aspect of all this. Please, write it up in detail.

  180. #181 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    Shirakawasuna, I think that I can say unequivocally that Life will never be created from “simple rules.” (I can’t prove it though.)

    EVERYTHING happens as a result of “simple rules.” It’s either simple rules, or complex interactions of many simple rules at once. Your unequivocal unproven statement is unequivocally wrong, and laughably stupid to boot.

    The whole “Web 2.0″ experience is a major step backward in having serious technical discussions.

    It’s the Internet’s fault that you’re a dishonest anti-rationalist who can’t handle a grownup conversation about science?

    You also have no business calling yourself a “skeptic” if you, as Jason, brush aside the need for evidence of what happened in a specific,unique event as optional in understanding that event.

    Yeah, right, we can’t call ourselves skeptics unless we let you win the argument. That line is so old you’d have to be an idiot to think it’s still plausible. We’re not “brushing aside the need for evidence,” jackass, we’re telling you there IS evidence to work with, and you’re dead wrong — and probably a liar with an agenda — to keep on insisting otherwise, in the face of so much actual published work on the subject.

    And since you, Anthony, have proven yourself a liar when speaking of the evidence regarding the origin of life, your other assertions denying any religious affiliation or agenda are also lacking credibility. You can deny you’re a Christian all you want, but you’re spouting the same dishonest crap we’ve been hearing from certain Christians for years. Your behavior speaks louder than your words; and we’ll judge you by your behavior because your words are not credible.

  181. #182 bks
    August 4, 2011

    Jason, yes I am aware of the distinction that is made between OoL and SG, but that distinction has been made solely to resolve the paradox, not based on some sort of natural law or scientific discovery. There is absolutely no question that abiogenesis is SG; it’s just that it’s not the type of SG believed by Helmont and Aristotle and “proved” wrong by Pasteur.

    Raging Bee, Hilbert thought all mathematics could be reduced to “simple rules” but Goedel showed that Number Theory, the Queen of Mathematics, could not be reduced to simple rules without losing most of the power of mathematics in the process. That created a foundational crisis in mathematics. It is my belief, based on 25 years of study, that Life, like mathematics, cannot be reduced to simple rules. I freely admit that I cannot prove it. But one thing is certain: No one has managed to create life by simple rules, so your claim that it can be so created is also based on belief, not science. I think this quote from Nobel laureate Albert Szent-Gyorgi is apposite:

    My own scientific career was a descent from higher to lower dimension, led by the desire to understand life. I went from animals to cells, from cells to bacteria, from bacteria to molecules, from molecules to electrons. The story had its irony, for molecules and electrons have no life at all. On my way life ran out between my fingers.

    –bks

  182. #183 Jason Thibeault
    August 4, 2011

    You didn’t read the link, then, bks? It makes the distinction between the two separate and distinct hypotheses in much the same way that Lamarckian inheritance is not genetics. The distinction was made between the two not to “resolve the paradox”, but because they aren’t the same thing. Period. Apples are not oranges, Lamarckian inheritance is not genetics, abiogenesis is not spontaneous generation, and forum trolls are not careful readers.

  183. #184 cyan
    August 4, 2011

    From many posts such as these:

    Science Without Physical Evidence, Dawkins Brings Us Back To The Middle Ages.
    http://anthonymic.blogspot.com/2009/06/science-without-physical-evidence.html

    The Challenge To Subject The Virgin Birth of Jesus To The Methods of Science
    http://anthonymic.blogspot.com/2009/06/challenge-to-subject-virgin-birth-of.html

    I gather that AM thinks that a lot of what biologists do is not science – that it is only science if it concerns things that can actually be seen now.

  184. #185 Jason Thibeault
    August 4, 2011

    And I’m amused by the idea that you don’t understand the converse of the Szent-Gyorgi quote. If you go from smaller to larger, you get life from non-life.

    The “life” question is one of definitions. How do you define life? I define it as a runaway chemical reaction, because at its base, that’s exactly what life is.

  185. #186 oofreerefilloo
    August 4, 2011

    Abiogenesis is spontaneous generation in the same way that oxygen and hydrogen bonding to become water is spontaneous generation. The problem is that we have no clear definition of “life”. Many people think it means a single-celled organism. If that were true, then yes, materialistic abiogenesis would have to be false because that sort of life couldn’t spring up out of nothing; the odds would be next to impossible.

    However, research has shown that self-replicating RNA can exist. It is subject to Darwinian evolution. Is it alive? Well it doesn’t fit the definition of “life” that most of us hold intrinsically. But maybe, like time when Einstein came along, we have to let go of our preconceived notions of what is or isn’t alive. If we accept that a self-replicating simple RNA strand fits a broader definition of “life”, then we can narrow that molecule down to the point where it is not only plausible but -likely- for it to spontaneously generate in a warm organic puddle. Suddenly, the idea that “life” can spontaneously generate is -not- as implausible as it was before, because we have re-defined our terms to accept less complicated forms of life.

    Of course, calling something like that “spontaneous generation” is silly; we already have a name for it. It’s called “chemistry”.

  186. #187 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    It is my belief, based on 25 years of study, that Life, like mathematics, cannot be reduced to simple rules. I freely admit that I cannot prove it.

    That’s just fucking hilarious. You have no proof after a QUARTER-CENTURY of “study?” What else could you have possibly been “studying,” if not evidence to prove your thesis? Or did you spend all that time looking for proof and not finding any?

    Were you really doing any “studying” at all, or just making shit up in your own head?

    Besides, dumbshit, mathematics IS INDEED reduced to simple rules. All the complicated stuff is nothing more than lots of simple rules (like basic arithmetic) forming building-blocks for more complex operations like trig and calculus. And you can’t see that even after TWENTY-FIVE YEARS of so-called “study?” Did you even make it out of high school?

  187. #188 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    It is my belief, based on 25 years of study, that Life, like mathematics, cannot be reduced to simple rules. I freely admit that I cannot prove it.

    This blithering by bks sounds like a rewording of that old “irreducible complexity” hoax that’s already been thoroughly debunked.

    Speaking of which, here’s a handy little article in which Behe himself pretty much admits “irreducible complexity” is crap:

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2011/08/behe_disproves_irreducible_com_1.php

  188. #189 bks
    August 4, 2011

    Jason, I did read the link. My characterization of abiogenesis and SG is far more cogent than is that of “Lousy Canuck” but arguing about the historical meaning of SG is not going to get us any closer to OoL.

    You are quite wrong about the quote from Szent-Gyorgi. It is from his little book _The Living State With Reflections on Cancer_ and his meaning is made quite clear there: Synthesis is *not* the opposite of analysis.

    By the way, Lamarck bashing is quite out of date:

    BMC Med Genet. 2010 May 13;11:73.
    Is Lamarckian evolution relevant to medicine?

    Handel AE, Ramagopalan SV.

    Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of
    Oxford, Roosevelt Drive, Headington, Oxford, OX3 7BN, UK.
    Abstract

    BACKGROUND: 200 years have now passed since Darwin was born and scientists around the world are celebrating this important anniversary of the birth of an evolutionary visionary. However, the theories of his colleague Lamarck are treated with considerably less acclaim. These theories centre on the tendency for complexity to increase in organisms over time and the direct transmission of phenotypic traits from parents to offspring.
    DISCUSSION: Lamarckian concepts, long thought of no relevance to modern evolutionary theory, are enjoying a quiet resurgence with the increasing complexity of epigenetic theories of inheritance. There is evidence that epigenetic alterations, including DNA methylation and histone modifications, are transmitted transgenerationally, thus providing a potential mechanism for environmental influences to be passed from parents to offspring: Lamarckian evolution. Furthermore, evidence is accumulating that epigenetics plays an important role in many common medical conditions.
    SUMMARY: Epigenetics allows the peaceful co-existence of Darwinian and Lamarckian evolution. Further efforts should be exerted on studying the mechanisms by which this occurs so that public health measures can be undertaken to reverse or prevent epigenetic changes important in disease susceptibility. Perhaps in 2059 we will be celebrating the anniversary of both Darwin and Lamarck

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20465829

    Denis Noble, one of the founders of “Systems Biology” also has some kind words for Lamarck if you have the time to watch a fascinating lecture: http://videolectures.net/eccs07_noble_psb/ (nb: Noble has some harsh words for Richard Dawkins!),

    –bks

  189. #190 bks
    August 4, 2011

    Raging Bee, must you be so vituperative? Your use of argumenta ad hominem is the antithesis of reason.

    I don’t know what you think that article you link to says but it is completely orthogonal to what I have been saying. I am not an adherent to ID, quite the contrary, I am a proponent of evolution.

    –bks

  190. #191 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    bks, you are flat-out lying when you accuse me of “ad hominem” this and that, and you know it — if you even know what the phrase means.

  191. #192 bks
    August 4, 2011

    Raging Bee,

    It’s the Internet’s fault that you’re a dishonest anti-rationalist who can’t handle a grownup conversation about science?

    In other words, a right-wing hater with paranoid delusions. But even if that guess proves false on closer examiniation, we’re still dealing with a pretentious, verbose, deeply dishonest anti-rationalist.

    you are a dishonest obscurantist.

    Q.E.D. You are guilty of argumenta ad hominem.

    –bks

  192. #193 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    Wrong again, bks. It’s not “argumenta ad hominem” if it’s based on prior proof of the dishonesty of your arguments.

  193. Stephanie Z, how do you narrow down the possibilities of how an unknown event happened?

    What if it happened in a way that we have not discovered, though, in answer to G. L’s point, that wouldn’t mean that we know anything about the origin of life today, other than that it happened and that we have no evidence of that.

    I’m pretty impressed that the folks who are always gassing on and on about the need of evidence are so willing to do without any when they, illogically, believe that the stories invented without evidence will back up their materialism.

    cyan, you didn’t happen to notice in those posts that I said that I don’t happen to believe in The Virgin Birth did you? Which I don’t. I think it was an invention of the Pauline tradition to assert a status for Jesus superior to Augustus. Nor do I believe that Jesus was divine, or in vicarious atonement or other things necessary to be a Christian.

    I do, though, believe that you can’t do science in the absence of evidence, especially to disprove assertions of unique events, held to have happened outside of the normal course of nature and for which there is no evidence.

    Keep it up, though. I am always interested in the “skeptical” understanding of science, such as that is and their eventual resort to bigotry when they can’t hold up their end of the discussion.

    R.B. read my last comment to you. Though, you can call yourselves “skeptics” all you want, that doesn’t change the fact that you aren’t skeptics, you are ideological materialists with a pretty lousy knowledge of logic and scientific methodology.

    Science without evidence, it’s good enough for the “skeptics”, obviously

  194. Forgot. I think Kimura should be celebrated a lot more than he is. Though I don’t think the BBC will be doing costume dramas around him, genetic drift lacks the dramatic potential of NS. With any luck, by 2059 there might be even more mechanisms of evolutionary change that have been discovered. That is if we haven’t succeeded in killing ourselves off.

  195. #196 Stephanie Z
    August 4, 2011

    Anthony, I’ve already told you how one narrows down the possibilities–and how it’s already being done in the case of abiogenesis. You just don’t find that narrow enough to suit you, even though you have yet to point to anyone saying anything that incorrectly describes the uncertainties inherent in that narrowing.

  196. #197 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    You don’t understand, Stephanie — it has to be narrow enough to fit in his mind. Try printing it on tissue paper, that might be thin enough to slip into such hard-to-reach spaces.

  197. #198 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    Anthony: since you’re so down on “materialists,” you must have some alternative way of thinking in mind that you think is better. Care to specify what that alternative is? Immaterialism? Supernaturalism?

    Your continued overuse of the “materialist” label once again indicates that you’re thinking like a religious anti-rationalist, attacking science to protect some cherished unquestionable doctrine from honest scrutiny. I’ve certainly heard plenty of reactionary Christians talk this way. Not sure if reactionary Muslims talk this way as well…

  198. #199 cyan
    August 4, 2011

    AM,

    When I first read those articles, I did indeed notice that you said that you do not believe in the Virgin Birth. However, that was not the point of your article nor my point in linking to it.
    That point is that you think of what is within the scope of science as that which can be seen now.

  199. #200 DuWayne
    August 4, 2011

    …with a pretty lousy knowledge of logic and scientific methodology.

    Oh my, you did not just write that…Only you did. You are fucking hilarious Anthony, you really are. Someone who knows virtually nothing, if anything about science, making claims about the understanding that others have of science.

    You are too ridiculous for words.

  200. #201 cyan
    August 4, 2011

    AM,

    If any of those papers on Greg’s list are not what you deem to be science, why don’t you write to the researchers and ask them to just write what procedures were done and what the results they saw were, and to leave off making any generalizations, extrapolations, or inferences based on those results.

  201. #202 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    DuWayne: he’s The Leveler, donchaknow — and since education is unequally distributed, it’s The Leveler’s sworn duty to pretend everyone is just as ignorant as he is. Because, as he said before, “Unless rights can be equally practiced, they become privileges for the privileged instead of rights.” So if education is unequally distributed, it’s an elitist privilege, not a right.

  202. #203 bks
    August 4, 2011

    “Raging Bee” is making fun of Mr. Leveler’s name. Par for the course, I guess.

    Cyan: I don’t believe that Anthony criticized any of the papers on Greg’s list. Could you quote him, or reference the comment number so that I can follow your argument?

    Duwayne, Raging Bee has admitted that she is not a scientist. And she’s clearly ignorant of the historical development of mathematics in the 20th century. Her only contribution to this discussion has been childish taunting and name-calling. Mr. Leveler’s criticism of the level of discourse is well-founded.

    –bks

  203. Stephanie Z, if you don’t know what the event was like, you can’t know if you are “narrowing down” the possible ways it happened or if you are narrowing down the possible ways that it didn’t, actually happen. Keep it up, though, this is turning out to be a lot more useful in terms of examples of logical disconnect than I’d expected.

    cyan, my point in the posts was what I said it was, to show that you could not refute a belief in a unique event, held by its believers to have been unique and to have happened by other than natural means and which you cannot witness, IF YOU HAD NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE TO STUDY. In a lot of ways it’s pretty much the same issue as this one.

    As I’m certain your motive was to hide in a shared bigotry with some of the other people here instead of addressing the problem, that was the motive I was addressing.

    DuWayne, I wrote that and you and your buddies confirm it with just about every answer.

    Raging Bee, I’m curious about the presence of a “Pagain” among the “skeptics”. What does your “Paganism” consist of that is so compatible with this crowd. Are you a polytheist, an animist, a self-appointed “shaman” or some other species of intermediary with some kind of supernatural? Or do they just over look your “Paganism” because you’re singing from the same hymn book?

    Feel free to give me material, folks. I’ll be using it.

  204. #205 cyan
    August 4, 2011

    bks,

    Greg posted a list of research papers that have to do with gaining more information about the origin of life, the whole topic of his post. I think that AM has said that research on the origin of life is unscientific – I am inferring from that, that he must think these papers unscientific for mentioning that any of their results might be relevant to knowledge about the origin of life.

  205. #206 Stephanie Z
    August 4, 2011

    bks, “Leveler” is a self-claimed description. He’s Mr. McCarthy.

    Stephanie Z, if you don’t know what the event was like, you can’t know if you are “narrowing down” the possible ways it happened or if you are narrowing down the possible ways that it didn’t, actually happen.

    Bullshit. Already addressed bullshit, at that.

  206. #207 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    …my point in the posts was what I said it was, to show that you could not refute a belief in a unique event, held by its believers to have been unique and to have happened by other than natural means and which you cannot witness, IF YOU HAD NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE TO STUDY.

    AS has been pointed out to you, Gods-know-how-many times, your point is, and always was, based on a false premise: YES, WE ACTUALLY DO HAVE PHYSICAL EVIDENCE TO STUDY. Not enough to get a definitive answer today, but a lot more than the zero you allege. You are lying when you insist, or assume, that we have no physical evidence. And the fact that you continue to repeat this lie, after being corrected numerous times, once again proves your deep, disgraceful dishonesty. Seriously, what’s your fucking problem? Why the unhinged negativity and hand-waving? If you really don’t care for this line of inquiry, just get on with your life and quit wasting your time ridiculing someone else’s work (which isn’t affected by your opinions anyway). That’s how I handle string theory: I just concentrate on other things that matter more to me, and science will tell us whatever it tells us when they have something to tell us.

  207. #208 Greg Laden
    August 4, 2011

    …if you don’t know what the event was like, you can’t know if you are “narrowing down” the possible ways it happened or if you are narrowing down the possible ways that it didn’t, actually happen.

    Seriously? You mean if I come up with a hypothesis about how some aspect of early life may have spring from non life and test it and demonstrate through good experimental method that this hypothesis has to be tossed in the trash I’ve not eliminated an idea?

    Huh. Just when I was thinking that I understood the scientific method. Uh.

  208. #209 oofreerefilloo
    August 4, 2011

    Anthony, philosophically, you are correct. No one was there when it happened, so we can never develop an absolute truth.

    Philosophically, you are absolutely, 100%, without a shred of doubt, correct.

    However, there’s a problem. Being “philosophically correct” doesn’t get you anywhere. In fact, it gets you nowhere. By that very logic, you can’t have -any- truths whatsoever; you can’t even trust your own senses to give you the correct information. The obligatory example is the movie “The Matrix”, in which our entire universe is just a program. That is a valid truth, one of infinitely many, and by definition, if that was the truth, we couldn’t possibly be aware of it.

    At some point, a long, long time ago, a very frustrated philosopher decided that trusting ones senses was good enough. Thus was born natural sciences, built on the foundation that we are NOT born in the Matrix, that what we observe must be true. Keep in mind, however, that science has NOT completely shed its philosophical underpinnings; we -can- still be fooled. We are human after all. Not only do we make mistakes, but our powers of observation are limited. So we never create truths, we create theories, and support them with evidence.

    Which brings up your other issue; that there was not enough evidence. In fact, there is. Now before you fly off the handle, let me clarify; there IS evidence, but it is, of course, not as abundant as, say, the theory of gravity. It was a very long time ago, and there are things we simply don’t know about that era. But to imply, assume, or suggest that we know nothing, or at least not enough to build upon an idea of materialistic abiogenesis, is truly disingenuous. We do know from fossils that life becomes less complex as we proceed further back in time. We do know that the solar system coalesced out of a nebula. We have rocks that are about half a billion years older than the estimates for the beginning of life, which means we can get some idea of the chemical composition of the Earth during that era.

    Your argument seems to be that, since we weren’t there, we can’t possibly know that materialistic abiogenesis is the one and only truth. That’s true. Aliens might have planted some self-replicating organisms. There might have been a deistic intervention. A thousand years from now there might be an accident involving a time machine and a contraceptive. We don’t know.

    Suddenly, along comes Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation tends to be the better one. Define ‘better’? Well, we have evidence that materialistic abiogenesis could have happened. Yes, we do have that. Read the original post for all that evidence. We do NOT have evidence of a deity or alien. A lack of evidence does not invalidate a truth, but it does mean that we can’t study it in a laboratory.

    We can still philosophize on it, though.

  209. #210 mgr
    August 4, 2011

    Leveller at 165 said:
    “we are talking about a real event that actually happened in the one and only way it happened, not in some alternative way”

    This where your argument goes off the rails. Science predicts the future and explains the past. A hypothesis that best explains the outcome wins, even if it is not an exact replication of the original event.

    What you appear to not get is the expanse of time involved, and your position has a little of the flavor of Zeno’s paradoxes.

    Mike

  210. #211 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    Raging Bee, I’m curious about the presence of a “Pagan” among the “skeptics”. What does your “Paganism” consist of that is so compatible with this crowd.

    Respect for reality. Specifically, the ability to assimilate and appreciate reliable information about the ‘Verse without feeling threatened or having to block out uncomfortable ideas or superimpose a simple worldview over a complex world. Not all Pagans have this, unfortunately, but I do, and so do the other Pagans (and the few Christians) I hang with. You should try it sometime.

  211. #212 cyan
    August 4, 2011

    woops – cut myself off

    What do you propose as a change for the better, since the current state does not reflect your view of what real science is?

  212. #213 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    Another thing Pagans and atheists have in common: we’re both mistrusted minorities within the Abrahamic world, and have been libelled, lied about, and too often robbed, tortured and murdered by the “authorities” of this or that “religion of peace.” And one of the most often-used tools of demonization and repression has been anti-rationalism, obscurantism, know-nothingism, incitemenmt of hysteria, and systematic propaganda knowingly crafted to justify and encourage treating “infidels” as less-than-human (if not less-than-livestock). And the obscuarntism and outright disregard for reality that I’m seeing from AM and bks is part and parcel of that longstanding — and currently resurgent — threat, not only to my liberty, but possibly to my life as well.

    Pagans and atheists support rational thought because it’s a necessary weapon against a longstanding common enemy.

  213. #214 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    Duwayne, Raging Bee has admitted that she is not a scientist. And she’s clearly ignorant of the historical development of mathematics in the 20th century.

    I eagerly await your explanation of which developments prove me wrong. If you can’t manage that right away, why don’t you explain exactly what makes you think I’m female?

  214. #215 bks
    August 4, 2011

    Greg, there is a middle ground to that point. For example, narrowing down the possibilities from 10^-17 to (10^-17)/2 has reduced them by 50%; significant, but you’re not much closer to 1.0 –especially if the next reduction by half is ten times as hard. This is like the problem of ab initio protein folding prediction. Professor Noble has quite a lot to say about this sort of combinatorial impasse in the lecture referenced above.

    BTW, let me apologize for mischaracterizing your synopsis of the state of OoL research. I think it is worth restating it here:

    At present, we know something about the origin of life. I think we could know a lot more, and I think we will eventually.

    I certainly agree with that.

    –bks

  215. #216 bks
    August 4, 2011

    Raging Bee. My apologies. You appeared to represent yourself as understanding the Umwelt of women (in the elevator-guy discussions). My mistake.

    I characterized the role of Goedel in demolishing Hilbert’s program above. Your response, which begins, typically, “Besides, dumbshit,” is so ignorant that I suspect you don’t even recognize the names let alone understand the issues involved,

    –bks

  216. #217 Jason Thibeault
    August 4, 2011

    bks:

    At present, we know something about the origin of life. I think we could know a lot more, and I think we will eventually.

    I certainly agree with that.

    And how does this disagree with anything Raging Bee, Stephanie, DuWayne, or I have said about what we know about the origin of life? I wholeheartedly agree with exactly what Greg said, without reservation or nuance. I do not agree with anything Anthony “Leveler” McCarthy claims that I or anyone else say.

    And per oofreerefillsoo, this:

    For example, narrowing down the possibilities from 10^-17 to (10^-17)/2 has reduced them by 50%; significant, but you’re not much closer to 1.0 –especially if the next reduction by half is ten times as hard.

    …is almost exactly Zeno’s Paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise. Zeno’s Paradoxes are self-evidently false because they depend on subdividing time as finely as subdividing distance.

    What I don’t get is your assertion of difficulty. If reducing the first set of possibilities by half is really easy, and each halving takes ten times as much effort, what if you manage to reduce the set of possibilities for a particular truth by 99.9[bar]% in one fell swoop by examining it? Haven’t you just produced a work of infinite difficulty just by verifying it?

    I have just looked at my legs, and have determined to within an extremely high level of certainty that I am wearing pants. This is apparently infinitely difficult.

  217. Seriously? You mean if I come up with a hypothesis about how some aspect of early life may have spring from non life and test it and demonstrate through good experimental method that this hypothesis has to be tossed in the trash I’ve not eliminated an idea? Greg Laden

    Greg Laden, for all the reasons cited in my comments, it would be possible that your hypothesis didn’t contain a single thing relevant to the origin of life on Earth as it really happened. Or it might be somewhat related to the actual event but, your assumptions being seriously incomplete, what you believe you have found about it might be seriously wrong. If your assumptions about the conditions under which that origin of life happened were wrong and it happened under considerably different conditions, the chances of your hypothesis having much to do with the origin of life are considerably reduced. If your conception of what that original organism was like are wrong, your hypothesis is more likely than not to be irrelevant to the issue you made the topic of this comment thread. If your ideas about how that organism assembled are wrong, you are very likely to miss it altogether.

    What you might show is that your hypothesis about whatever problem of chemistry or geology or biology is incorrect, what you can’t know today, in 2011, is if your assumption or even fervently held belief is relevant to the origin of life on Earth, as it really happened instead of however you assert it happened in your creation story.

    If you held yourself to a far less glamorous claim about what you had done, you might not get the AP to write an inaccurate story making extravagant claims on your behalf, but you would be honest about it.

    Greg Laden, I can’t find that you’ve answered my questions about what you are asserting. Would you answer them now?

    1. When you talk about “the origin of life” do you mean the actual event that happened in the way it did and only in the way that it did, resulting in exactly the organism that it did result in, or do you mean something else.

    2. Do you also agree that if you are not talking about that, specific, event you are not talking about something that really happened but something that didn’t happen?

  218. #219 DuWayne
    August 4, 2011

    Duwayne, Raging Bee has admitted that she is not a scientist.

    One needn’t be a scientist to understand science and the processes of science. RB has, on several occasions, betrayed his understanding of science – an understanding that would be hard not to come by, when one primarily reads and discusses science blogs.

    More importantly, I wasn’t referring to anyone except Anthony, in terms of understanding science. Though if you would like I could. Greg, for example, is a Harvard (I don’t hold that against him) trained scientist. Stephanie spends a great deal of time around scientists and skeptics, as does RB.

    And I am an undergrad, studying neuropsychology, linguistics and international studies (turns out I need a total of four non-curricular classes and plenty of gen-ed slots). I spend most of the time I’m not dealing with children, domestic tasks and classes, reading papers (mostly psych and neurobiology, with some intercultural com, interstate violence/terrorism and comparative politics thrown in for good measure). And with a tablet that reads to me, I can actually “read” papers while engaged in the seemingly neverending march of domestic work (I just finished cooking tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s, because I will be out with a visiting sibling tomorrow – I am also doing laundry and loosely monitoring the three year old – oi, and the nine year old will be home soon too – at least putting my foot down about the fucking “Wonder Pets” worked out – if only I could get him off “My Little Pony,” but that is hopeless – we actually just ate and now it is time for showers, nine year old first then I do the three year old – then books and bed, glorious, beautiful bedtime).

    Ok, my life is insane, but I am driving headlong into a solid career in science. And while my science won’t involve the origins of life, it will involve trying to trace certain neurological disorders across cultures and hopefully in some cases, across time. I will be researching how those neurological disorders are manifest and dealt with on a cultural level in other cultures. Most importantly, I will be trying to discover what, if any behavioral characteristics tied to a given disorder are universal and which are likely largely driven by culture.

    What I am going to be researching is complicated, to some degree subjective and will ultimately be neverending. I will never learn what I want to learn, because what I want to learn will take far more than my lifetime to discover, if we ever do. But regardless of how complicated and ultimately well outside my grasp my research interest might be, I am all about spending most of what is left of my life heading in that general direction.

  219. oofreerefilloo, I never saw “The Matrix”, I have no idea what it’s about.

    Your argument seems to be that, since we weren’t there, we can’t possibly know that materialistic abiogenesis is the one and only truth.

    No, my argument is that we have no physical evidence of it, if we had that we might not have had to have been there to know something about it, maybe even enough to know if any ideas about it had anything to do with the actual event and the resultant organism.

    You folks seem to miss that, that this really did happen in one way and not in some kind of flexible, accommodating narrative that you could sort of guess into accurate knowledge that was reliably true. It’s not an event like any other naturally occurring event that it could be compared to.

    Since I’m skeptical that aliens exist, or that, if they do, they’d have happened upon our particular speck in space, I’ll leave story telling about that to you folks.

    I’d like to know how being philosophically right about this differs from being right about this. Since there’s no physical evidence to evaluate it’s certainly not an issue of scientific rigor.

  220. This where your argument goes off the rails. Science predicts the future and explains the past. A hypothesis that best explains the outcome wins, even if it is not an exact replication of the original event. mgr

    Well, that’s one of the big problems, since we don’t know what the organism was like we don’t know what could best explain the outcome. THE ORGANISM WAS THE OUTCOME. Surely you didn’t miss that tiny little detail, that we don’t know what the life that is the product of “the origin of life” is like. It strikes me as a rather important detail.

    Do you think it’s unimportant to the consideration of this issue that we don’t have any idea of what that rather unique organism was like?

    And that still wouldn’t necessarily tell us how it originated.

  221. Respect for reality. Raging Bee

    I wonder how many of the atheists here, especially the “skeptics.” respect your “Pagan” reality.

    Pagans and atheists support rational thought because it’s a necessary weapon against a longstanding common enemy

    Something must have changed in the culture of “skeptical” atheism because, from everything I’ve ever read from the “skeptics,” they were the enemies of Pagans and just about every similar group that came to their attention. Have you ever searched Skeptical Inquirer or the catalog of Prometheus Books to see what they might say about you Pagan folk?

  222. #223 oofreerefilloo
    August 4, 2011

    Anthony… the physical evidence you’re demanding is on par with physically being there. Unless you’re ignoring every scientific publication in the original post and every single comment posted here, then you have to accept that no only do we have evidence, but that many people here have given it to you.

    If there is indeed a disagreement here on the quality of the evidence (since it does exist), then that could be spoken of. I for one would like to know how a rock that has been radiometrically dated to the estimated point of the genesis of life on this planet (as given by DNA evidence and the disappearance of fossilized cellular organisms) could NOT be evidence of the condition of the planet at that time. I could fathom that, over 4 billion years, radioactivity could break down the molecules and thus that which is cannot be that which was… but that’s exactly what happens with radiometric dating. In fact, it’s necessary. By knowing the rate of decay and the amount of remaining product and byproduct, we can determine a samples age. Thus we know how much product there was at the time. Is that not evidence? We can use spectroscopy to determine the chemical makeup of interstellar dust clouds. We know that our solar system formed from those clouds, so we know, to a high degree of probability, that those chemicals existed on our primordial Earth. We know, by studying other stars, the evolution of our Sun, so we know what it was doing 4 billion years ago. We can study lunar craters to determine the sorts of chemicals that probably smashed into the Earth. This is all evidence. It’s subtle, but it is evidence. Is it great evidence? No, not really. I’m sure most of us would like to see some fossilized remains of a self-replicating molecule (not that that’s really possible) from 3.8 billion years ago. That would be -better- evidence. It would be more profound evidence. But in lieu of that, we make do with the overwhelming amount of everything else.

    Do we know? No. Can we know? Maybe. Do we have strong evidence to support strong theories? Yes. A thousand times yes. That is a fact. It has been demonstrated several times already. It has been written and published in peer reviewed articles for 50 or more years now, several of which are sourced above.

    I’d like to ask a question: Why, exactly, does the evidence that has been supplied NOT count? You specifically said

    Since there’s no physical evidence

    and yet, much evidence has been supplied. Why is that evidence not qualified to be evidence? Be specific, or your answer is not an answer. You will need to analyze every specific example and provide valid scientific data or logical reasoning to demonstrate that it is NOT evidence for abiogenesis.

  223. #224 bks
    August 4, 2011

    Jason, I don’t understand what you are driving at. Could you restate your objection to what I said in respect to the protein-folding problem? It’s not Zeno’s paradox (which may well come up when R.B. responds to the Hilbert program question) which involves the paradoxes of infinity. I’m talking about real world problems in biology that involve combinatorics with finite solutions [1].

    Duwayne, good luck with the program. By the way, Chomsky is antagonistic to materialism. You’ll find a good summary here:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/
    So you, Greg, Stephanie Z. and Raging Bee all know each other in the real world? That explains why Greg doesn’t 86 R.B.

    –bks

    [1]e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levinthal_paradox

  224. oofreerefilloo, we weren’t there to see any of the animals from the distant past which left fossilized remains, those fossilized remains tell us quite a bit about those animals, though, certainly, not everything. You didn’t have to be there to know some of that knowledge is quite accurate due to that evidence.

    What you don’t have any physical evidence of, skin color, for example, is a matter of guessing. But at least you might be able to know if it had skin. As it is, whether or not the original organism had a containing membrane isn’t known or understood. How that would have sealed itself in the first act of reproduction is rather interesting to think about and why that ability would be present.

    You don’t think that makes a difference?

    We have no idea if the original organism had RNA, nevermind DNA. I doubt it. If it did I’d think the origin of life would only be explainable by asserting a miracle. I’d love to know how anyone believes those molecules developed by chance out side of living organisms and the actions of mutation and selection. Maybe they developed in the original organism over a very long time and that led to it reproducing. See how fun it can be to speculate on the basis of there being no evidence to restrain you? Though I’d rather leave that outside of biology and the solid science and in such stuff as psychology where it is solidly entrenched anyway.

  225. Oh, and, about Occam. The simplest thing to do in the absence of evidence is to admit that you can’t draw conclusions.

    I wonder if Raging Bee is going to attack William of Ockham since he was a Franciscan Priest. Not to mention Gregor Mendel who was an Augustinian. Perhaps Occam’s razor is fruit from the poisoned tree, huh, RB?

  226. and yet, much evidence has been supplied. Why is that evidence not qualified to be evidence? Be specific, or your answer is not an answer.

    I went over that in my answer to G.L. Read that.

  227. #228 oofreerefilloo
    August 4, 2011

    Anthony, you contradicted yourself. You said specifically that there was no physical evidence, when you accepted that there was. Which is it, is there NO physical evidence whatsoever, or is there evidence which points to abiogenesis?

    Perhaps I could say it a bit differently; the theory of abiogenesis is just one theory, one of many plausible theories. Completely aside from that, we have evidence of the likely chemical makeup of the Earth at specific times. The research that’s going on is taking that evidence of the chemical makeup (amongst other things) and attempting to show that abiogenesis can occur from what is known. Does that mean it absolutely did? Absolutely not! It DOES, however, validate the theory.

    So that’s really what I’m getting at. You’re claiming that there is no evidence, and yet, there is. For you to substantiate that claim, you have to take every scrap of evidence which supports the theory of abiogenesis (although it might not be the only theory the evidence supports) and refute it; you MUST show that it does NOT support abiogenesis in order for you to make the claim that there is NO evidence.

  228. Anthony, you contradicted yourself. You said specifically that there was no physical evidence, when you accepted that there was.

    What do you mean? Quote me accepting that there is evidence of the origin of life, because if I said it it was a typo I’d want to correct.

    Which is it, is there NO physical evidence whatsoever, or is there evidence which points to abiogenesis?

    Unless someone published it recently, I’ve never read someone claiming that they had physical evidence of life within even a quarter of a billion years of the presumed origin of life. Well, there are those wavy rocks that some say might be evidence of it but I’d read those had no resolvable details of organisms. I can’t remember how old those were.

    As for abiogensis, any of the many methods proposed would need evidence of the actual event to know if what they find is relevant to it.

    Since Greg doesn’t seem to want to face the central problem of this, how do you propose for any of them to KNOW that they have described aspects of the actual origin of life, as it really happened, without evidence of it? Maybe they’ve actually described the genesis of life on some planet in some other galaxy but which never happened that way in this galaxy. In which case it w

  229. cont.

    In which case it would be irrelevant to the origin of life on Earth.

  230. #231 DuWayne
    August 4, 2011

    Sorry – I was writing that over time and failed to make my point, though I rambled plenty long enough…

    The point is, just because we can’t have exact understanding of something, doesn’t mean we can’t learn a great deal about it. While trying to understand some of the fundamentals of the nature of human behavior is rather less daunting than trying to understand the origins of life, it is still complicated to the brink of impossible. Close enough to impossible, that it is likely to prove impossible.

    But we can certainly learn a hell of a lot. And in that hell of a lot that we can learn, will be a hell of a lot of very useful, practical information. Much of it will be erroneous and we will even figure out that a lot of it was wrong. What is really great about psychology – as well as biology, chemistry and all other science (with the possible exception of physics), is that being wrong doesn’t inherently mean what you’re doing with what you learned won’t work. Indeed quite often it does.

    And when we learn something we thought was right was, in point of fact, wrong, we accept that and move on. That is what makes science fucking brilliant, beautiful and exciting. I cannot think of a better profession, than one in which being wrong is only slightly less useful than being right. Because wrong or right, we are taking steps to increase human understanding of ourselves and the universe around us.

    Anthony, you are a narrow minded little man who really doesn’t understand science or logic. Science doesn’t come in neat, pretty little boxes with definitive answers – it would be fucking boring if it did. Science is messy. It creates more questions, not less. As often than not, a given experiment or study tells us just a little bit more of what we don’t bloody well know – or reveals that the “big picture” is even more complicated than we thought. It happened with the human genome, with neurobiology, with cell biology – it happens all the time.

    That is not a flaw, as you seem to believe it is. It’s the fucking point.

  231. DuWayne, you are a very credulous materialist who can’t follow a logical argument.

    You’re in neuro-sci? The way that’s going, you should fit right in.

  232. #233 oofreerefilloo
    August 4, 2011

    You didn’t have to be there to know some of that knowledge is quite accurate due to that evidence.

    You accept that fossils are evidence of past organisms? Why? Why can’t some clever aliens have created it for fun? Why couldn’t it have spontaneously arranged itself in that fashion to make something that looks like an organism but isn’t?

    And don’t point out that 65 million year old dinosaur bones are different from the 3.8 billion year old remains of a self replicating molecule. They’re both evidence. Again, as I stated, one is more profound than the other (I don’t think anyone would debate that), but they are both, irrevocably, evidence.

    The point is, every scrap of evidence CAN have an alternate explanation or interpretation; which, I think, is what you were talking about with your response to Greg (post #202, I think.. correct me if I’m wrong.. you posted a lot to go through). Yes, evidence can be wrong. You are absolutely correct on that. And if our analysis of ancient rocks, interstellar dust clouds, comet and asteroid cores (which, due to being protected by stellar radiation and liquid rock dynamos due to lack of mass or distance from the Sun haven’t changed much, if at all, in billions of years), and everything else is incorrect, then the current running theory of abiogenesis will indeed lack all of that evidence that currently supports it.

    Unless someone published it recently, I’ve never read someone claiming that they had physical evidence of life within even a quarter of a billion years of the presumed origin of life.

    That statement, whilst technically correct, is disingenuous. First off, we have dinosaur DNA, and we know that natural radiation is breaking down the DNA polymer. After 65 million years (minimum), it has broken it down to the point where scientists cannot clone a dinosaur. The information is gone. So, if the RNA World hypothesis is even plausible, it would be impossible, after 3.8 billion years, to recover any samples of the original molecule; radiation would have obliterated it beyond all recognition. You’re asking for physical evidence of the first life form; can you prove that it started with something that would leave a fossil behind?

    Since Greg doesn’t seem to want to face the central problem of this, how do you propose for any of them to KNOW that they have described aspects of the actual origin of life, as it really happened, without evidence of it?

    This is why I mentioned philosophy. No one KNOWS anything in science; the truth cannot be proven. Science isn’t logic or math; it uses both because they are powerful tools, but bottom line is that some things simply cannot be accepted at 100%. We can get close; your example of dinosaur bones seems to indicate that there were dinosaurs. We don’t know that there were; perhaps some trouble-making alien or bored/sarcastic/starch-based deity put them there. But we’re pretty darn confident. I can’t give a real number, but I can certainly pull 99.999% out of my ass, if I were to estimate how many people believe that dinosaurs existed.

    What I’m about to say may be disingenuous, and since I’ve used that particular word a few times already it might label me a hypocrite. However, I’m going to say it.

    Anthony, your argument seems to be that, after everything, the bottom line is that we simply cannot know for certain. There are people who make claims like that; philosophers who do not accept anything as solid fact, religious people who do not want to, smartasses who do but who claim they don’t in order to make other people claim it as well, and I’m sure many others. People like that are the ones who widen their eyes, grin maniacally, jab their finger into the air and say, “Ah HA! But what IF…?!”, to which the scientist, who has been patiently feeding them the evidence and theories and the logic that connects them, dutifully slides his palm across his creased brow and mumbles, “Yeah, that’s true.”

    So here you go.

    *facepalm* You’re right.

    E pur si muove…

  233. #234 DuWayne
    August 4, 2011

    BKS –

    I really don’t care for Chomsky. He has some very clever things to say about language, but he goes seriously off the rails outside the context of language and even, to some small degree within the context of language.

    And I have never met Greg or Stephanie in “real” life, I have just had a great deal of communication with them both. I am familiar with Raging Bee because he has been a regular commenter on some blogs that I frequent with great regularity myself, though not so much as I used to. I know what I know about all three of them, because I have rather a lot of experience with them.

    Anthony –

    I wonder how many of the atheists here, especially the “skeptics.” respect your “Pagan” reality.

    I have my issues with Raging Bee, though they have waned quite a bit. But my problems with him have nothing to do with whatever spiritual nonsense he believes in – and I don’t really know anything about what he actually believes in. “Pagan” is probably a wider ranging label than “Christian.” But regardless of what he believes, I respect his understanding of science and respect him as a skeptic.

    I used to be a Christian. When I was young I was even a rather hardcore fundie. I was also a skeptic. I was part of a rather wide ranging skeptic community when I was still a Christian (and didn’t even realize that I was a skeptic) and I was respected by many within that community – in spite of being a Christian. And it was my skepticism that eventually broke through the bullshit conditioning that kept me stuck in rather fucked up thought patterns.

    I know a lot of skeptics who believe weird shit. I know skeptics and atheists who are complete fucking morons. I know Christians who are very clever and some who have a hell of a lot better claim to the label of skeptic, than a lot of atheists I know. I really don’t care what someone believes, as long as they don’t think their beliefs should infringe on the rights of others.*

    *It is rather more complicated than that, but I am not going to spend the time delving any deeper.

  234. oofreerefilloo, try again when you’re not being so silly and I might answer you.

    I’m waiting for Greg Laden to answer the questions I put to him above. I don’t think there’s any hope for resolving this until he does.

  235. #236 bks
    August 4, 2011

    oofreerefilloo: No we don’t have dinosaur DNA. What are you talking about? You sound like a complete crank.

    –bks

  236. #237 DuWayne
    August 4, 2011

    Anthony -

    Where the fuck are you getting the impression I am a materialist? Contrary evidence lacking, I am an atheist and assume materialism as a default. I do not, however, believe that there is nothing besides the matter that surrounds me. I don’t believe there is, to be sure – but that is not the same as believing there is not. I make observations based on what I can experience with my senses, with the understanding that said senses are flawed. And I accept what the best evidence would suggest about humans and the universe we inhabit – until better evidence comes along to suggest that was wrong.

    As for logic – I would be interested, but not interested enough to actually do the calculations, whether any of your arguments would functionally stand the test of formal logic. It is very clear that you don’t actually understand logic, or the point at which logic can interfere with your ability to reason. That is to say, the point where you begin to believe that you are right, merely because your argument is logical.

    Here’s logic for you; You (not YOU you, just a general “you”) absolutely do not trust the government. The government fucks a lot fo shit up – they are just not trustworthy. You were a soldier in Iraq, and your superiors kept a really close watch on you – from boot camp, all the way to boots on the ground, where your left eye got fucked up in a helicopter accident. The VA saved the sight in your left eye, but you experience a twitch sometimes and there is pressure behind your left eye. Not trusting the government, and having suffered a head injury, you come to believe that the government implanted a tracking device – possibly a mind reading chip behind your left eye. You trust the government even less now. You decide to rip your left eye out, so you can get that fucking chip out of your head and do so.

    Please point out what part of that narrative wasn’t logical. While you’re at it, you can feel free to point out where my arguments have failed the test of logic. Not that, as I have pointed out above, logic means a hell of a lot. It is important to be sure, but far more important than logic, is accurate premises.

  237. “I’m an atheist and assume materialism as a default”. DuWayne

    So I guessed correctly then. You reacted as if you were ashamed of being a materialist. That you are credulous is obvious from what you’ve said.

    There is no physical evidence of the way life originated or the life that was the product of that origination.

    There is no physical evidence of the descendents of that life for hundreds of millions of years after it came to life and reproduced.

    We do not know how that first organism came about or what it was like.

    We do not know exactly what environment it developed in was like.

    Anything which proposes to address the event of the origin of life begins without the person proposing it knowing if what they assume is accurate or wildly inaccurate.

    It continues in not knowing if the there are some or many aspects of that event and the organism that resulted which are unknown to them but are, in fact, unknown to anyone.

    Anything that is presented as addressing the question of the origin of life begins and proceeds of by and in the unknown, the results cannot rationally be considered to be an accurate account of the origin of life.

    Though, it’s clear, that a bunch of ideological materialists on the Scienceblogs are prepared to pretend that it is. Only, which one? Which one of the stories of creation created that way is the one and only one that is accurate? Will that give them pause? No. They can believe any number of possibly impossible things all at the same time as long as they can say that it proves their ideology is sciency and truthy.

  238. #239 Stephanie Z
    August 4, 2011

    There is no physical evidence of the descendents of that life for hundreds of millions of years after it came to life and reproduced.

    How do you know?

  239. #240 oofreerefilloo
    August 4, 2011

    Bks, the link that was in my post decided to not be a link. However, a quick google search provides this, which was my intended link:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7285683/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/scientists-recover-t-rex-soft-tissue/#.Tjs_nGErp8E

    It’s not a DNA sequence, but it’s a heavily degraded one; that, in fact, was the point. If I misspoke, then I apologize. The point is that soft tissue was found, but so heavily degraded that a DNA analysis couldn’t be performed, and that wasn’t younger than 65 million years old. If the RNA World hypothesis was correct, then no protein sequences would exist after 3.8 billion years… and since RNA is a protein sequence, IT wouldn’t exist, thus there cannot be any data.

    And for the rest… I think Anthony is a troll. It seems to be pretty clear at this point, since I was doing everything I could to explain my point and understand his, and he just calls me “silly” and refuses to answer.

    Anyone who continues feeding him, you have my sympathy.

    E pur si muove.

  240. #241 DuWayne
    August 4, 2011

    So I guessed correctly then. You reacted as if you were ashamed of being a materialist.

    I am not ashamed of anything, I’m just not a materialist. I assume materialism, I don’t believe in it.

    That you are credulous is obvious from what you’ve said.

    Be specific. What exactly have I claimed that would indicate I am actually credulous?

    Please keep in mind that you have no idea what I think about anything that you yapped about after claiming I’m credulous. I haven’t involved myself in that discussion, because I have a much greater interest in the metadiscussion about your complete lack of understanding of anything you are talking about. I have even tried to give you the benefit of the doubt and assumed you actually know anything about science.

    I have been forced to give up on that assumption.

  241. There is no physical evidence of the descendents of that life for hundreds of millions of years after it came to life and reproduced.

    How do you know? Stepahnie Z

    Well, picky, picky. There isn’t one that is known of today.

    That is unless you are proposing that the many fossilized organisms that comprise the stromatolites all are the product of amazingly coordinated spontaneous generation. Which would be quite miraculous. I doubt that.

    oofreerefilloo, I’m not really interested in much more than to have Greg Laden address those two questions. Who knows, if he answers those I might not post any more comments here, after I’ve answered his answer. Other than that, I think I’ve learned as much as there was to be learned from the rest of you.

  242. #243 DuWayne
    August 4, 2011

    Who knows, if he answers those I might not post any more comments here, after I’ve answered his answer.

    If I still drank alcohol, I would bet a bottle of small batch bourbon that you won’t go away until everyone stops responding to you. You aren’t going anywhere, because you have a nearly pathological need to flaunt your profound ignorance. Not that you are aware of your ignorance. While I suspect that you are aware that you are less knowledgeable than you wish us to know, you assume you are clever enough to fill in the gaps by pulling shit out of your ass.

    Please be assured, you are both far more ignorant than you even believe you are – deep down and you are considerably less clever than you believe yourself to be.

  243. #244 cyan
    August 4, 2011

    Greg,

    Thank you for putting together these two lists – already they have proved delicious.

    I thought that something new or interesting might come up in this comments section, but even though that didn’t happen, having these materials on your list to enjoy more than makes up for the time spent.

    Also have now read your other recent posts. I like your blog.

  244. #245 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2011

    I wonder how many of the atheists here, especially the “skeptics.” respect your “Pagan” reality.

    I don’t have a “Pagan reality.” I live in the same plane of matter/energy/space/time as everyone else, and — to the best of my ability at least — use pretty much the same rational observation and thought processes everyone else is supposed to use to understand the ‘Verse and solve problems. The only difference is my subjective beliefs in various supernatural entities, but I generally don’t bother the atheists with all that, so they have no incentive to get pissy with me about them. We have our own creation-of-life stories (which I, for one, think are WAAAY cooler than that boring Genesis stuff), but AFAIK, none of us have tried to pretend there’s, say, fossil evidence of Frost Giants with Mjollnir-shaped dents in their skulls.

    Something must have changed in the culture of “skeptical” atheism because, from everything I’ve ever read from the “skeptics,” they were the enemies of Pagans and just about every similar group that came to their attention.

    Here’s a little secret: generally they don’t really call you an “enemy” unless you ACT like one. They’re a bit busy with REAL enemies these days — you know, people who actively seek to defame them and strip them (and us) of our rights and human dignity. As long as you support their legitimate interests (like decent education, freedom of religion, speech, etc.), they won’t bother arguing with the voices in your head.

    By the way, Chomsky is antagonistic to materialism.

    WHAT KIND of “materialism?” You keep on failing to answer this important question. (Not that I have any reason to care what Chomsky says.)

    So you, Greg, Stephanie Z. and Raging Bee all know each other in the real world? That explains why Greg doesn’t 86 R.B.

    Wrong as usual. Got another explanation? Here’s one: they have no reason to because I’m not a consistently dishonest troll.

    I wonder if Raging Bee is going to attack William of Ockham since he was a Franciscan Priest. Not to mention Gregor Mendel who was an Augustinian.

    St. Francis was pretty cool for a Christian saint. Respectful of all of his God’s creation, open to understanding his God’s other creatures as they were (not just as resources to be exploited)…what’s not to like about that? And Augustine of Hippo had some damn good advice about how to understand reality without claiming bogus supernatural authority or nonsensical misinterpretation of the Bible. He gave that advice back when Christianity was the minority religion, so they had to act sensibly because they didn’t have the firepower to keep people from mocking their stupidity.

    DuWayne, you are a very credulous materialist who can’t follow a logical argument.

    How would you know? You haven’t given us any such arguments for him to follow. All we’ve heard from you is the same tired repetition of an assertion that was disproven in the OP; along with a bunch of rationalizations that he, and others, have quite sufficiently refuted. And all you can do is repeat the same old discredited nonsense over and over. Du Wayne hasn’t “followed” your “arguments” so much as swatted them aside. Your insult has absolutely no connection or reference to anything he actually said.

    You reacted as if you were ashamed of being a materialist.

    Where do you get that? That’s one theory for which there really is no evidence. Like most evangelist con-artists, you’re just making up narratives of guilt because you have nothing else to offer.

  245. If I still drank alcohol, I would bet a bottle of small batch bourbon DuWayne

    I don’t drink alcohol. I do, though, drink coffee, black no sugar.

    you assume you are clever enough to fill in the gaps by pulling shit out of your ass. DuWayne

    For Pete’s sake, DuWayne, from the beginning of this I’m one of the few here who have been arguing THAT WITHOUT EVIDENCE YOU COULDN’T FILL IN GAPS IN KNOWLEDGE.

    Geesh, literacy isn’t a well practiced skill among pop atheists much more than reasoning is.

    That’s my major difference with Greg Laden in this matter. That’s the reason I asked him those two questions that he won’t answer. I assume he won’t answer them because he knows how he would have to answer them in order to maintain any kind of rational credibility among rational people who might happen to read this.

    Here is what I asked him way up at 202:

    Greg Laden, I can’t find that you’ve answered my questions about what you are asserting. Would you answer them now?

    1. When you talk about “the origin of life” do you mean the actual event that happened in the way it did and only in the way that it did, resulting in exactly the organism that it did result in, or do you mean something else.

    2. Do you also agree that if you are not talking about that, specific, event you are not talking about something that really happened but something that didn’t happen?

    You and Raging Bee and freerefill and the rest can believe any of the many sciency Just so stories you want to in the absence of confirmatory evidence, but it’s just story telling without that. And those stories go in and out of fashion like fads in the social sciences so I’m sure you’ll all be jumping from one to another without noticing that your new one doesn’t have that evidence to pin it down as actually having something to do with anything real anymore than the one you left behind like something that used to be considered kewel.

    Lewontin was right about this, that the standards of the social science have turned a lot of what gets called science into story telling.

    I don’t have a “Pagan reality.” RB

    In just what way does being a “Pagan” differ from being anything else, then? Is it like being a sports team fan?

    We have our own creation-of-life stories

    Well, haven’t I been saying all along that unless you had evidence that story telling was all it was?

  246. Like most evangelist con-artists, you’re just making up narratives of guilt because you have nothing else to offer. Raging Bee

    As Buffy The Vampire Slayer once asked, “Are you twelve?”

  247. #248 DuWayne
    August 5, 2011

    Geesh, literacy isn’t a well practiced skill among pop atheists much more than reasoning is.

    That would be your problem, not mine. If you were to go back and actually read what I wrote, you would note that I said you know less than you would like to let on and believe you are clever enough to fill in the gaps in your knowledge.

    As for this supposed lack of ability to reason on my part, I am still waiting for you to point it out. You have yet to provide me with a single example of my alleged credulity, lack of reasoning or failure of logic.

    Meanwhile, you have repeatedly engaged in the logical fallacy of assuming that because you can’t understand something or understand how someone else might understand a thing, it must be impossible. And you have repeatedly engaged in the logical fallacy of argument ad hominem. While I doubt anyone you have accused of being a materialist finds it insulting, you obviously believe that our allegedly being materialists somehow weakens our arguments. While addressing me specifically, you have also accused me of credulity and inability to reason – though you have yet to actually provide a specific example of either. Or in the case of Raging Bee, you have attacked him on the basis of his being pagan.

    And finally, you respond to my assertion that you won’t be going away with the clear implication that you have somehow won a bet.

  248. I said you know less than you would like to let on and believe you are clever enough to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. DuWayne

    Let me allay your suspicions, NO ONE CAN fill in gaps in knowledge and claim they know what they’ve filled it in was real. Not Greg, not Dawkins, not the Discovery Institute, not the unhinged Hagee, not anyone. What they fill it in with are beliefs, speculations, ideological fantasies, etc. But it isn’t knowledge.

    I wish some serious scientist, not a behavior psy poseur, would do a serious study of the effect that religio-phobia and ideological materialism had on the culture of science because they make some people say a lot of pretty stupid things. I would guess that they account for most of the crap science done surrounding these kinds of things.

    Hey, let’s let Greg Laden answer those two questions and we’ll see what shakes out after that.

    I’ll bet he has to answer that The Origin of Life was a real event that could have only happened in the one way it really did happen and that if you say something about that which isn’t the way it happened that you’re talking about something that didn’t happen and so isn’t real. Though if he came out with something else, things could get really interesting.

    You want me to let you in on a little secret, DuWayne, when you don’t claim things that you don’t know are true you don’t have to eat your words. All I’ve claimed is that no one can know anything about the origin of life except that it happened and that the descendants of the original life form reproduced, changed and evolved. No one knows because there is no evidence known to be relevant to that event. No one knows.

  249. #250 Stephanie Z
    August 5, 2011

    Anthony, you’ve claimed “no one can know anything about the origin of life except that it happened and that the descendants of the original life form reproduced, changed and evolved” and that “[t]here is no physical evidence of the descendents of that life for hundreds of millions of years after it came to life and reproduced.” Please pick one.

  250. #251 Raging Bee
    August 5, 2011

    In just what way does being a “Pagan” differ from being anything else, then? Is it like being a sports team fan?

    I gotta have my own bubble-verse to be different? These days, facing reality and learning stuff seems radical enough. The Republicans sure think we’re radical. We’re certainly not as blah as those Christian wankers hiding from reality in their bare lilywhite “Christian nation” fantasies.

  251. #252 Raging Bee
    August 5, 2011

    All I’ve claimed is that no one can know anything about the origin of life except that it happened and that the descendants of the original life form reproduced, changed and evolved.

    And all we’ve demonstrated (not merely claimed) is that your claim is dead wrong, and was proven so by the documents cited in the OP before you even showed up here. Even your fellow obscurantist bks has had the good sense to walk away from that claim, back in comment #199.

    You’ve made other claims, of course, but they’ve all been debunked too. Since you clearly don’t have anything new to add here, why don’t you either fess up and admit your true agenda, or just piss off and play your broken record somewhere else?

    PS: strictly from a gambling standpoint, predicting that science CAN NOT or CAN NEVER accomplish something seems like a bad gamble. When have such predictions ever proven true in the long term? You’d think even the hardcore Luddites would have learned something after predicting that we’d never have powered flight, never split the atom, never stop polio, never go to the Moon…

  252. #253 AM
    August 5, 2011

    Anthony, you’ve claimed “no one can know anything about the origin of life except that it happened and that the descendants of the original life form reproduced, changed and evolved” and that “[t]here is no physical evidence of the descendents of that life for hundreds of millions of years after it came to life and reproduced.” Please pick one. Stephanie Z.

    Stepahnie, is the concept that the reason that no one can know about life except that it happened and we are the result BECAUSE there is no physical evidence that can be known to be relevant too complex an idea for you? The reason we don’t know is BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE ANY DIRECT EVIDENCE OF IT.

    Those aren’t mutually exclusive ideas. You don’t know what I ate for breakfast this morning. You don’t know BECAUSE you have no evidence of what I ate this morning, and in that case you don’t even know if I ate anything for breakfast. I assure you, what I ate is not something you are ever going to guess because it’s my own invention, made in an unconventional way. You don’t know BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO EVIDENCE TO GO ON. That you don’t know is not evidence of what I ate, it’s a statement about your knowledge of that, which is zero.

    I hope someone is reading this who can appreciate the level of thinking among the self-appointed guardians of logic and science. It’s quite something to behold.

  253. #254 AM
    August 5, 2011

    Raging Bee, you wouldn’t know a debunking from your elbow. And as Phil Platt said, “You’re twelve”.

  254. #255 Stephanie Z
    August 5, 2011

    Anthony, is the concept that the circumstances and consequences are physical evidence in a universe that to the best of our knowledge operates in a consistent manner too difficult for you? To give you an example, if I were to have evidence that you were consistent (which I’ve already seen you aren’t, so don’t get too invested in this analogy), I would know that your breakfast, like everything else about you, would be something slimy and pretentious.

  255. #256 AM
    August 5, 2011

    Stephanie Z, go back to when I pointed out the difference between making assumptions about gold in he relevant period and making assumptions about the original form of life, above. Gold had to have had all of the known qualities as gold today in order to have been gold, life almost certainly had qualities very unlike life today, certainly whatever organism came, not from another living organism but from non-living matter did. As I also said above, the organism that resulted was the point of this entire discussion, anything you imagine that isn’t like that organism is, in fact, wrong and so is not known but is mistaken.

    Insulting whatever image you have made up about my breakfast doesn’t do anything to change that fact, though, since it was not slimy or pretentious, it is a good illustration of the folly of making junk up and pretending it’s knowledge of something real.

    I’m used to blog atheists thinking that talking like an adult is pretentious, that’s mildly interesting as an insight into the deficiencies of the fad, but not as interesting as what else I’ve found out here.

  256. #257 bks
    August 5, 2011

    Raging Bee, the only one obscuring anything here is you with your foul-mouthed ignorance. You have added absolutely nothing to this discussion but vitriol. I don’t agree 100% with AM’s characterization about the hopelessness of understanding OoL but his position is much closer to the facts than is yours (to the extent that you have a cogent position, which I am beginning to doubt). The conditions that obtained on the early Earth (in the period from formation ~4.5 billion years ago to first life ~3.8 billion years ago) is still a matter of conjecture and without more information on that topic closing in on OoL on Earth is not really possible. That we are indulging in gross conjecture is acknowledged by every authority on the subject.

    AM is quite correct that if OoL is a *unique* event, a sheer coincidence based on chance occurences, Science will never be able to solve the riddle. Science is powerless in the face of events that are sui generis. This is where AM and I apparently differ. I am not convinced that Life on Earth is a unique event in the Universe. I look to science to find out more about Life once it sheds the sort of ossified perspective that you parrot. Is RNA/DNA/Protein the only form of life? I say no.

    –bks

  257. #258 Stephanie Z
    August 5, 2011

    Anthony, I already told you that I’m aware you’re not that consistent. It was an example, not an assertion. That you can’t seem to tell what is actually an assertion as opposed to a description of a conditional probability is a great deal of your problem here.

  258. #259 Shirakawasuna
    August 5, 2011

    bks:

    “Shirakawasuna, I think that I can say unequivocally that Life will never be created from “simple rules.” (I can’t prove it though.)”

    Then you are making a claim well within the realm of science (and engineering) which is, nevertheless, faith-based. I could explain how it’s misguided (and you still missed the point about emergence), but the fact that you consider a point you can’t prove to be reasonably stated “unequivocally” is enough.

    “Your statement about the progress of Urey-Miller experiment is risible. Shapiro’s _SciAm_ article (URL above) covers this.”

    You need to get over your love for Shapiro and read the actual literature. As a scientist, there’s a very good chance you have access to scads of journals. And yes, I read the article. I’ve read Shapiro before.

    And you were dismissive of Trilobutt. You don’t need threading to use a search function: “by: bks”. Your first comment to them makes my case.

  259. #260 DuWayne
    August 5, 2011

    I am curious, Anthony, who you are talking about, when you talk about ideological materialism and religiophobia.

    I am also still waiting for those examples of my irrational, illogical credulous nature. After all…

    …when you don’t claim things that you don’t know are true you don’t have to eat your words.

    And yet you haven’t produced any evidence that I am not logical, that I am a materialist or that I am credulous. I think the time has come for you to eat your bullshit.

    BKS –

    Is RNA/DNA/Protein the only form of life? I say no.

    This is actually precisely why I think it is important to clearly define your terms in this sort of discussion. It is why I was trying to get Anthony to define “artificial” upthread. I don’t think it is reasonable at all to assume that all life is protein based.

    Where I think it gets complicated is in the definitions. Personally, I like to think that at sometime in the future there will be beings that look back at the machine I am using to write this as an example of the precursor to their own ancestry (yes, I am a hardcore scifi geek). But that potentiality calls into question how we define “life,” “artificial/natural,” “intelligence” and many other terms.

    And even if we aren’t talking about robots that developed from machines we built, if we aren’t talking about protein based life we still have to work out how to determine what exactly we’re talking about. Given how excited I get by language, that is a fascinating to me.

  260. #261 Raging Bee
    August 5, 2011

    And as Phil Platt said, “You’re twelve”.

    And you couldn’t even paste that simple quote right? In the slightly less mortal words of Sookie Stackhouse: “How fucking lame is that?”

  261. #262 Shirakawasuna
    August 5, 2011

    bks:

    Reading further down, I see that you reply to Raging Bee by citing math as non-reducible to “simple rules” and go on to say that life is analagous to this (no reason is given). This is missing the point: even designed systems, which *do* follow simple rules, and produce complex, unintuitive results, could be stated to not follow simple rules in the sense of math. I am pointing out the obvious existence of emergent phenomena while you dither about another context. I am discussing phenomena, actual real, demonstrated things, while you are discussing sufficiency. Before you jump all over that and continue harping on sufficiency, I’ll note that 1) that’s a very complex topic where it’s easy to misunderstand each other, and your debate style does not lend itself to hashing it out and 2) it’s not germane to my claims.

    Much of your claims boil down to asserting, without evidence, that life is essentially untractable. You then make some other irrelevant claim, supposedly as an example.

    “But one thing is certain: No one has managed to create life by simple rules, so your claim that it can be so created is also based on belief, not science.”

    So, I take this to mean you’re clinging to Vitalism, or would have favored it? There is a difference between a reasonable expectation and what has been scientifically demonstrated, and I don’t see anyone but you confusing the two. I expect medical prosthesis to improve dramatically in my lifetime. Am I being unscientific and clinging to mere belief (admit it, you mean faith)?

    Nice scare quotes around systems biology, by the way…

    Finally, argumentum ad hominem is claim (usually fallacious) in which you state that because a person is X, what they say is false. This has not been used – the people piling on abuse give specific reasons for why you’re wrong, or just stare aghast at the things you say. Abuse is not the same as an argumentum ad hominem.

  262. #263 bks
    August 5, 2011

    Shirakawasuna, you wrote:

    There has been quite a bit of progress since the famous Urey-Miller experiment in terms of producing biological compounds from simple and reasonable conditions. You apparently can’t be bothered to google this.

    Okay, I googled it and came up empty. I see absolutely no justification for saying there has been “quite a bit of progress.”
    Perhaps you’d be kind enough to elaborate. How about starting with *one* URL or *one* paper that we could discuss? That should be simple considering all the progress.

    Once we establish that your faith in the progress of sixty years of Urey-Miller type experiments is in justified, we can move on to your next point.

    Here’s one interesting paper that is somewhat related that *I* found while trying to figure out what the heck you’re talking about:

    The origin of life—a review of facts and speculations
    Leslie E. Orgel,
    Salk Institute for Biological Studies
    Abstract
    Three popular hypotheses attempt to explain the origin of prebiotic molecules: synthesis in a reducing atmosphere, input in meteorites and synthesis on metal sulfides in deep-sea vents. It is not possible to decide which is correct. It is also unclear whether the RNA world was the first biological world or whether some simpler world preceded it.

    http://www.cell.com/trends/biochemical-sciences/abstract/S0968-0004%2898%2901300-0

    Of course that was written only 45 years after Urey-Miller; no doubt there has been all kinds of progress since then.

    –bks

  263. bks, I don’t have a very strong position on the possibility of other life. I don’t see why it shouldn’t happen, I only doubt we’ll ever have an example of that and so speculating about what it would be like isn’t science. Though it might motivate people to research questions, the results of those have no known relevance to other life.

    If the Martian mud yields up some, that will be interesting to see if it’s at all like our line of life but that would still not tell you anything about any other lines of life. If it was much like ours it might give credibility to the idea that life here and life there might be related, though I’d imagine it would take longer than I’ll be alive to figure that out, I can’t imagine it will not be the subject of dispute and professional rivalry.

    And you couldn’t even paste that simple quote right? Raging Bee

    I didn’t paste it, I recalled it. Do you think other people would look something like that up? You didn’t try googling it did you? That would be so …. twelve.

    That you can’t seem to tell what is actually an assertion as opposed to a description of a conditional probability is a great deal of your problem here. Stephanie Z

    You mean the gold example? I talked about assumptions that could be made about that with some reasonable expectation that you could be accurate. I’d guess you would have to be close to dead on in any of those but gold isn’t alive and it’s rather uniform in physical and chemical characteristics, it doesn’t reproduce and it doesn’t do much in the way of behaving. There is no way you could figure out the probability of your guesses about any life form anywhere are without evidence to help you.

    My problem here? I wasn’t aware of having one. I’m not losing my temper and having a sputtering hissy fit.

    Greg Laden, I would like you to answer those questions at 202.

  264. #265 Stephanie Z
    August 5, 2011

    There is no way you could figure out the probability of your guesses about any life form anywhere are without evidence to help you.

    You’ve already been told what some of the evidence is. You’ve used some of that evidence to determine your own conditional probability (phrased as an absolute certainty, by the way) that “There is no physical evidence of the descendents of that life for hundreds of millions of years after it came to life and reproduced.” You determined when that life came to be based on what?

  265. #266 DuWayne
    August 5, 2011

    My problem here? I wasn’t aware of having one.

    Oh, I don’t know. There is your complete and utter ignorance of science. There is also your engagement in multiple logical fallacies, on numerous occasions on this thread. Then there are the assertions you have made about me, but refused to back up (I honestly quit paying attention to all but the metadiscussion quite some time ago – so I can’t assume absolutely that you aren’t backing your assertions with everyone else).

    There is also your inane, possibly pathological need to accuse people here of being ideological materialists and assume we’re all relgionophobes – except when we don’t hate on Raging Bee for being a pagan. While that falls under your most prevalent logical fallacy, it really deserves a specific mention.

    Greg Laden, I would like you to answer those questions at 202.

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Greg stopped paying any attention to this thread some time ago. He is counting on someone else to inform him if there is something sufficiently interesting or amusing enough to warrant his attention happening here.

  266. Stephanie Z. I understand you’re a writer of sci-fi. I don’t think you quite understand that inventing a narrative isn’t the same thing as observing nature. There is zero evidence of the event being called “the origin of life” in this discussion. There is zero evidence of its assembly, its animation- the actual beginning of life, what that event was, its structure, its action, we have no idea why that organism reproduced, why the act of reproduction came about, how it happened, we don’t know if that organism had a containing membrane- a problem in itself, considering the construction of a biological membrane would have been an enormously complex chemical reaction – if that’s even relevant, etc, etc, etc. We have no way of knowing if all that nifty science being motivated by those questions had any relevance to the actual event.

    Let me ask you. Why is it so important to you that you believe that any of the things asserted by you and your pals is KNOWN to be a part of the one and only origin of life, as it happened billions of years ago? Why does it upset you when the impossibility of us knowing if that is relevant to it without actual evidence of that event annoy you so much?

    Maybe while you’re at it you’ll answer those two questions G. L. is avoiding.

    1. When you talk about “the origin of life” do you mean the actual event that happened in the way it did and only in the way that it did, resulting in exactly the organism that it did result? Or do you mean something else?

    2. Do you also agree that if you are not talking about that, specific, event you are not talking about something that really happened but something that didn’t happen?

    You determined when that life came to be based on what?

    Based in what the earliest fossilized life available is like and the guesses made that it would have taken many millions of years for it to have reached that stage and, presumably, those numbers. Those could be wrong but I doubt it’s not a matter of many millions of years, including for reasons some of your fellows above have mentioned.

    I’m not answering you any more unless you answer those questions. I’ve answered lots of them from your side of this argument, now it’s your turn to answer some.

  267. #268 Raging Bee
    August 5, 2011

    Okay, I googled it and came up empty.

    That’s probably because you went into it empty.

    Greg Laden, I would like you to answer those questions at 202.

    You repeat the same falsehood over and over, ignore every effort to correct your obvious mistakes and fallacies, refuse to back up your wild accusations with any specifics despite repeated requests to do so, and can’t even be bothered to define the terms that are most central to your sophistry (what do you mean by “materialism” again?)…but now you’re pompously demanding that the owner of this blog answer your questions, like you’re his paying client? Would Little Lord Fauntleroy like a bedtime story as well? Or maybe some vanilla ice cream to go with His Lordship’s frozen vanilla religious mindset?

    Get off your damn hobby-horse, boy. You’re not answering our questions, so why the fuck should we answer to you? And since you’ve ignored all the information we’ve spoon-fed you so far, why should we expect you to listen to whatever answers Greg might give you?

  268. #269 Stephanie Z
    August 5, 2011

    1. When I am talking about the origin of life, I am talking about the event or events that actually happened.

    2. I agree that anything I may say on the topic may be incorrect. That is why, in contrast to your guess about when this/these event(s) happened that you stated as a certainty and tried to use to prove your point, I’m talking about probabilities and contingencies.

    Nice to see you’re rattled enough to try to use my writing as an ad hominem attack on my arguments, though. Sweating yet, Anthony?

    Now, since I’ve answered your questions, where is anyone in this argument (aside from you) asserting anything but probabilities and contingencies? You’ve been asked about a dozen times without bothering to answer.

  269. I think you should look up the meaning of ad homenim in rhetoric. I do, honestly suspect you don’t appreciate the difference between constructing a narrative and observing nature. That’s not uncommon, these days, Gould, Lewontin, Orr and many others have pointed out, since the rise of evo-psy it has proliferated and is swamping the understanding of science. You might want to read Lewontin’s excellent collection of essays, “It Ain’t Necessarily So”. No one explains it better than Richard Lewontin.
    Though there was some of it even before then, though mostly confined to behavior sci and popular narratives purporting to be about nature red in tooth and claw, he men and submissive women. Ridiculous stuff.

    Probabilities, I’ve already pointed out the impossibility of knowing that without more actual evidence and when the contingencies are that contingent, they can’t constitute knowledge but are, in fact, belief. Faith in many cases.

    Perhaps you would like to tell me why it is so important to you that the nature of something that isn’t known can be characterized, I assume to your liking. That’s another thing about replacing actual observation with the construction of narrative, the temptation is to make it come out your way. I’ve never run across an evo-psy Just-so story that doesn’t uphold evo-psy. Since they’re constructed out of evo-psy instead of the observation of phenomena, inconveniently unavailable, ephemera lost in the lost past, that’s not a surprise.

  270. #271 bks
    August 5, 2011

    Apparently Raging Bee, aka Simplicio, couldn’t find a URL either.

    Twas ever thus.

    –bks

  271. #272 Stephanie Z
    August 5, 2011

    Once again, Anthony, you fail to point out where I or anyone else is constructing any story. You can knock off the accusations until you actually can point to anyone doing it. Your certainty that it must be happening is entirely insufficient.

  272. #273 bks
    August 5, 2011

    Duwayne, do you speak for Greg? There’s nothing forcing him to read the commentary on the blog, but I would be very surprised to find out that he was disinterested in the most active thread on the weblog!

    –bks

  273. #274 Raging Bee
    August 5, 2011

    …since the rise of evo-psy it has proliferated and is swamping the understanding of science.

    What the hell does evo-psy have to do with this? Is it evo-psy’s fault you can’t back up your accusations about scientists making wild claims, and can’t define what you mean by “materialism” or why it’s supposed to be bad?

    …Faith in many cases.

    So now you’re trying to recycle that “science=religion” canard after the creationists tried it? As long as you’re recycling old religious BS, why not throw in the Second Law of Thermodynamics as well? How about “what good is half a mitochondrion?”

    It looks to me like AM is a former cdesign proponentsist, taking all of his faction’s old tactics to a new battlefield and hoping we won’t notice.

  274. #275 bks
    August 5, 2011

    Something more to add to the primordial soup:

    I would like to add that there are so many claims about the origin of life — it has been “found” on hydrothermal vents, on ice, on clay, on pyrite, at very high and very low pressure … and there are so many corresponding “worlds” — but, as we have seen, all these worlds stop at the synthesis of low-molecular-weight compounds or at the most short oligomers. Of course, for the “origin of life” you need to start from low-molecular weight compounds, and in this sense the synthesis of water from hydrogen and oxygen can also be considered the origin of life. However, as is mentioned throughout the book, you could have all the low-molecular-weight compounds in any quantity –and you would not be able to make life.

    Luisi, P.L., The Emergence of Life, From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology, Cambridge, 2006, p.268

    (Ellipsis and quotes as in original.)

  275. Raging Bee, I have never believed that science could deal with anything but physical evidence. Since I’ve been arguing against the idea that you could know about this without physical evidence from my first comment on this blog, on another thread, your bizarre attribution of “design” to me only shows that you continue to have not a single clue as to what this is about.

    Since you are irrationally attributing motives to me, I suspect your odd materialistic “Paganism” could show that you are a pop fad surfer, always trying to catch the next wave of what your little antennae indicate is the next thing. Your inability to maintain a rational address of the issue without your rage getting in the way might indicate that you’ve got other major issues but I really don’t care about those.

    Why don’t you try reading a few books. You might try that one by Lewontin, from what I understand he’s a life long atheist. Though I’m sure you’ll be able to attribute similar motives to him, too.

  276. #277 Stephanie Z
    August 5, 2011

    Still waiting, Anthony. Where am I or anyone else constructing any story?

  277. #278 pornonymous
    August 5, 2011

    @251 “some of your fellows above have mentioned.”

    That is clearly an anti-shemitic remark! Are you suggesting that stephanie and “her fellows” are some kind of caball, scheming to take over the discussion!??

  278. #279 bks
    August 5, 2011

    Danish theoretical physicist Per Bak review some OoL literature in 1998:

    I find hot primordial soups unappealing, whether on the surface or beneath the sea. Hot, reactive systems tend towards thermal equilibrium, with no possibility of the unlikely events needed for the formation of complex molecules. I would argue something like this: since DNA-like molecules can be transported through space, they were. The entire Universe is replete with so many possibilities–so much more “phase space” is available than on our tiny Earth that it is much more likely that the very unlikely process of formation of DNA, or its precursors, took place somewhere out there.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16021556.000-think-life-think-maths.html?full=true

    I should spend more time with the OoL literature. This stuff is great!

    –bks

  279. #280 Stephanie Z
    August 6, 2011

    pornonymous, ssssh. If you don’t mention it, it will never, ever, ever occur to him.

  280. #281 Raging Bee
    August 6, 2011

    I think you should look up the meaning of ad homenim in rhetoric…

    AM, you came here making wild accusations against scientists that you never bothered to back up; and you kept on using “materialist” as an epithet without even trying to define the word. For you to accuse ANYONE of “ad hominem” is just plain hypocritical. Yet more proof that you have neither the ability nor the intent to argue in good faith in an adult forum.

  281. Stephanie Z. anything that creates a scenario and action and proposed organisms would be the creation of a narrative. Which isn’t bad in itself, to some extent it is necessary to do that. But when you want to call your narrative science you have to be able to bring it farther, you have to compare it to the part of the actual universe you want it to represent. Science is all about making assertions about aspects of the actual universe, as it is or as it was. That is used, among other things, to make predictions that can be tested. Though, in this case, you can’t go back and retrospectively make predictions about the origin of life and turn those into science because you can’t compare what you might discover against the now lost evidence of what that was.

    The famous Miller-Urey experiment succeeded in synthesizing amino acids in a laboratory. They were successful in showing that those would form under the conditions they set. That’s what they proved could happen in the part of the actual universe they created in their vessels, with the chemical and physical conditions they created. Any narrative description of that experiment would be almost completely reliable as science.

    If the assertion is that they recreated natural conditions on the early Earth, that is embroidering the narrative of the story with far less reliable content. No place on the early Earth was just like the conditions inside their vessel, I doubt there was anyplace like the inside of their vessels with exactly those contents and under the kind of electrical charges and temperatures, anywhere. However amino acids formed on the natural Earth, it wasn’t under the same conditions they created in their experiment. The suggestions people took from their experiment that they had successfully shown how the synthesis of some building blocks of life had, in fact, happened, is the creation of a narrative about the natural world. One which can be told in a pretty far fetched manner.

    Unfortunately, narratives created about that natural world need something more to become reliable enough to be considered science, they need to be able to be matched to observations of what they are purported to represent. And in this attempt, there is almost nothing to go on in that regard. So the narrative remains a narrative instead of a representation of the natural world and universe. Only a lot of people, some within science, most outside of it, mistake that narrative for a representation of the earliest glimmerings of life, as it happened on the early Earth when it isn’t. If they want to believe that, that’s their right, if they want to say they’ve nailed it down as it happened on the early Earth, they can do that but they really haven’t.

    Let me go farther. Just as the I.D. industry wants to use science to support their favored narrative of the origin of life, including divine intention, materialists have wanted to refute that idea with science, many of them within science, most of them merely sci-fans. Of course, science only being legitimately able to address physical evidence and what you can say about its physical properties, it can’t clear up the question of divine intent in evolution or anything else. Trying to use science to put God in the picture or to take God out of the picture is not a scientific effort, science is incompetent to do either. It is an ideological abuse of science.

    I contend that a lot of the less reliable science of the past century and a half have been attempts to nail down the proof of ideological materialism with science. Sometimes, as in Francis Crick’s crusade to “put the nail in the coffin of vitalism” something like that is a stated goal. Things like that have been claimed for science from the beginning of science. Claims that science supports the presence of God are also made but not as often, at least not until the rise of pseudo-scientific creationism. With the possibilities of profits and financial backing, the ideological abuse of science will likely flourish. Look at what it did for some of the most blatantly absurd assertions in psychology.

    All of those narratives about the universe, both the ones with God and the ones putting the nail in God’s coffin are the creations of stories in the name of science and, in so far as they claim to be science, the people telling them are lying. There would be no way to know if the universally accepted triumph of the ideological materialists would have precluded the possibility that what they hadn’t discovered had merely been the real way God created life on Earth, as opposed to the Genesis narrative. Being quite as naive about that as the creationists, materialists overlook that before God is said to have created life, that God created the material universe, all of it, at every scale of resolution, including molecules, atoms, subatomic particles and even whatever might fill it way, way, way down at the Planck scale. And God was said to have set it in motion. Which would include the motions of planets and stars and the combinations of atoms and molecules. Materialists, in the end, are stuck with the exact same tools to use to convert people to their point of view, they have to convince them. No matter how much they want to use science to do that, no matter how many ignorant people they might convince with their sciency narrative, that narrative is not reliable as science, it falls outside of what science can do.

    Given the naivety of creationists and others unaware of science, they might be forgiven for believing the hype that it has powers which it doesn’t. There isn’t any excuse for highly educated scientists to believe that it does except that there are obvious holes in their educations.

    You can’t deal with God with science, it is outside of the only legitimate subject matter of science, it can’t be done with its methods and tools which are not designed to look at or for anything but that part of the physical world that are susceptible to its methods and tools. Everything else falls outside of its competency, any claims made that extend outside of those are unreliable, they don’t cut the mustard as science. Or, honest science, at any rate.

    Whatever the scientists who think they are working on this problem do s that they can show that they could produce whatever results they have produced, in the way they did it. Lacking evidence of the real beginning of life, as it happened in the natural world, claims about the applicability of their work to that problem are speculations, they can’t be known to be reliable, they can’t even be tested for unreliability against the real thing. No more than claims which have, actually, been made about life in the distant reaches of the universe. Dawkins has claimed those farthest reaches of the universe for natural selection when there is absolutely no way to know if that is true. It’s possible that natural selection has happened on only one planet in the entire universe. His claim is ideological it isn’t scientific. It is no more legitimate than a claim that a six day creation happened on another planet. It’s his preferred creation myth.

  282. Pornonymous, Stephanie, z, apparently you aren’t aware that most of the meanings of the word “fellow” are quite unisex. Imagine me having to suggest the use of a dictionary to a published writer.

  283. People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.

    Will Rogers

  284. #285 DuWayne
    August 6, 2011

    bks –

    Duwayne, do you speak for Greg?

    No, I just know Greg. Not as well as I would like mind, but well enough to know that he hasn’t paid attention to this thread in some while. Greg is a rather busy guy and has other bloggy things to do – not to mention, you know, life. I’m actually rather busy myself, but I just finished two of my three classes for the summer and am unwinding.

  285. Oh, and Stephanie, I have answered you. My answer is in moderation.

  286. #287 DuWayne
    August 6, 2011

    “Clueless fucking morons should learn to stay within their depth of understanding.”

    - Me

  287. DuWayne, I’m not inclined to pay much attention to a recent grad in neuro-sci about this topic way, way outside of your specialtye anymore than I would anyone else.

    And, no matter how many letters after your name you might obtain, science is subject to logic. I wonder if G.L. would agree to that last point, at least.

  288. #289 DuWayne
    August 6, 2011

    Anthony, I haven’t even talked about this issue. What I have noted is your ignorance of science and logic – and your refusal to specify what I have said that is indicative of my credulousness, religionophobia or ideological materialism.

    You are, I must say, a very amusing little man. You have not only publicly flaunted your ignorance with pride, you have yapped about logic – while repeatedly engaging in multiple logical fallacies, you have accused people of being unscientific – while exposing your complete ignorance of science and you have accused others of making assertions based on incomplete knowledge – while doing exactly that.

  289. #290 Raging Bee
    August 6, 2011

    A lying anti-rationalist who quotes Will Rogers is still a lying anti-rationalist.

    -Me

  290. #291 bks
    August 6, 2011

    DuWayne: Well, he seems to have enough time to discuss boating safety…hmmm … I wonder if the OoL on Earth can be traced to an inebriated, micturating E.T. falling off the Saucer into the primordial soup? Would seem to agree with Per Bak’s thesis and with Greg’s!

    –bks

  291. Stephanie Z. I have posted my last response to you at my blog.

    http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/

  292. Raging Bee, so, you’ve quoted Will Rogers too?

    DuWayne, you are a very callow young materialist of the kind I’d once have been surprised might have achieved a degree in the sciences, before the current decadence set in.

  293. #294 DuWayne
    August 6, 2011

    And yet I note that while I have actually specifically pointed out your shortcomings, evidenced in your own writing here, that you have yet to point out a single scrap of evidence that any of the assertions you have made about me are true.

    The difference between you and me, is that I actually understand science and logic, while you quite obviously do not.

  294. DuWayne, give me your logical proof that you can know something about the physical world without evidence of what it was like. How can you compare what you hope it to be like with what it really was like without knowing what it really was like?

    Wow me with your logical erudition. Points will be taken off for the incorrect use of “Occam’s razor”, “straw man”, “cherry picking”, “quote mining” or any other common dodges of new atheist discourse.

    By the way, you do understand that “Occam’s razor” lacks a scientific basis, don’t you? Not to mention it isn’t even a requirement of logic, as the great logician Bertrand Russell said, it was merely a “maxim”. It hasn’t enjoyed universal support, both Liebnitz and Kant were skeptical of it. It’s a tool, not a requirement. As I once speculated, it might have been called a “razor” due to the all too common recourse to it by the unskilled cutting off far more than was really useful to discovering reality. I’ve seldom seen its skilful use in blog discussions. It’s more of a last resort when someone who once read a popular book by Carl Sagan can’t argue their way out of a refutation. Maybe it would be more honest to call that “Sagan’s sophistry”. It could join the rest of that list of locutions given above in that.

  295. #296 Stephanie Z
    August 6, 2011

    Shorter Anthony: “Well, you have to be constructing a story, and here is why you must want to.”

    Bzzzt. There are plenty of statements here and in the posts Greg links to that are characteristic of the way this topic is talked about. Which of them are myth-making, Anthony? Don’t tell me you can’t conceive of talking about the subject without making it a story. Show me where we’ve done it.

  296. Stephanie Z. You left out the little detail that without the ability to compare a narrative to THE REAL WORLD AS IT REALLY IS that it couldn’t really become science. Without that requirement science turns into a neo-scholastic exercise.

    There are plenty of statements here and in the posts Greg links to that are characteristic of the way this topic is talked about. Which of them are myth-making, Anthony?

    Any of them that are presented as knowledge of something that existed or exists in nature when that can’t be observed. That turns it into a myth. Often those claims weren’t made by the scientists but are frequently made by ideologues, such as yourself, on behalf of scientists.

    Don’t tell me you can’t conceive of talking about the subject without making it a story.

    Did you bother reading my answer to you posted on my blog?

    Stephanie Z. anything that creates a scenario and action and proposed organisms would be the creation of a narrative. Which isn’t bad in itself, to some extent it is necessary to do that. But when you want to call your narrative science you have to be able to bring it farther, you have to compare it to the part of the actual universe you want it to represent. Science is all about making assertions about aspects of the actual universe, as it is or as it was. That is used, among other things, to make predictions that can be tested. Though, in this case, you can’t go back and retrospectively make predictions about the origin of life and turn those into science because you can’t compare what you might discover against the now lost evidence of what that was.

    Do read it, you’ll love the part where I say that science cannot confirm your ideology or that of creationists. Not.

    I should confess that the reason I’m still here is to try to get insights into how deeply the new atheist desire to turn science into an ideological tool goes. I’m guessing right to the bottom.

  297. #298 Stephanie Z
    August 6, 2011

    I read it, Anthony. Your problem is that what you’ve accused people of saying bears zero resemblance to what anyone here or in the linked posts is actually saying. You’re all upset about what you think atheists might say (but aren’t) about the subject and you’re using that to say that atheists are myth-making.

    Perhaps you should start comparing your myths about atheists to the real world.

  298. #299 DuWayne
    August 6, 2011

    I hate to break it to you Anthony, but you are the one claiming that I am a credulous, illogical, ideological materialist. I have made the points that I wish to make, argued what I wish to argue. I am waiting for you to point out where what I have written here would indicate I am any of those things.

    Wow me with your perceptive intellect…Or, far more likely, hammer away with even more logical fallacies. Coming from you, they are really quite precious…They remind me of my nine year old, when he was seven…

  299. #300 Raging Bee
    August 6, 2011

    I should confess that the reason I’m still here is to try to get insights into how deeply the new atheist desire to turn science into an ideological tool goes.

    “Atheists are turning science into a religion?” That’s right out of the right-wing anti-science playbook. The creationists tried that line in court a few years back, and it didn’t work.

    I read it, Anthony. Your problem is that what you’ve accused people of saying bears zero resemblance to what anyone here or in the linked posts is actually saying.

    This is another standard feature of religious evangelists and con-artists: they’re arguing from a script that demands they say certain things in a certain order; and the script also tells them what the heathens/atheists/potential converts are supposed to say in response, and what to say to refute those responses. If the person they’re arguing with doesn’t respond on-script, they have to either ignore the off-script response, or distort it or misrepresent it to pretend it fits the script. Anthony has been doing both here from the get-go, and it’s both laughable and disgraceful to see him making such an ass of himself while pretending he’s the smartest guy in the room and nobody can see through his game.

  300. I should confess that the reason I’m still here is to try to get insights into how deeply the new atheist desire to turn science into an ideological tool goes.

    “Atheists are turning science into a religion? Raging Bee

    So, which is it Raging Bee, you don’t know how to read or you don’t know how quotes are used? You are amazingly consistent in your inaccuracy and hair trigger nuttery. I think you should go see your shaman and get help.

    DuWayne, Stephanie, I’ve learned all I need to from this discussion. BKS, good luck. Greg Laden, I will be writing something about this later this month.

  301. #302 DuWayne
    August 6, 2011

    No fair there Anthony, taking your deformed little ball and going home, before dazzling me with your insights into my psyche. I have waited oh so patiently for you to point to the evidence that I am a credulous, illogical, ideological materialist. Frankly, I’ve kind of been hoping you would also satiate Stephanie’s interest in learning what the fuck “ideological materialist” even means.

    I can only conclude that you’re just another fucking tease…Asshole.

  302. #303 Greg Laden
    August 6, 2011

    Wow me with your logical erudition. Points will be taken off for the incorrect use of “Occam’s razor”, “straw man”, “cherry picking”, “quote mining” or any other common dodges of new atheist discourse.

    This is actually my favorite comment of the week, though I’d re-write it slightly:

    “ow me with your logical erudition. Points will be taken off for the incorrect use of “Occam’s razor”, “ad hominem”, “straw man”, “cherry picking”, “quote mining” or any other common dodges of the so called skeptical movement’s discourse.”

    … and one might question the exact usage inre commas and quotation marks but that’s a British vs. US English thing.

  303. Greg Laden, I just got a message telling me you had suddenly reentered the discussion, after I’d given up on getting you to answer those two questions at 202. To refresh your memory:

    Greg Laden, I can’t find that you’ve answered my questions about what you are asserting. Would you answer them now?

    1. When you talk about “the origin of life” do you mean the actual event that happened in the way it did and only in the way that it did, resulting in exactly the organism that it did result in, or do you mean something else.

    2. Do you also agree that if you are not talking about that, specific, event you are not talking about something that really happened but something that didn’t happen?

  304. #305 Greg Laden
    August 6, 2011

    1. When you talk about “the origin of life” do you mean the actual event that happened in the way it did and only in the way that it did, resulting in exactly the organism that it did result in, or do you mean something else.

    What do you mean by “the organism”?

    Do you also agree that if you are not talking about that, specific, event you are not talking about something that really happened but something that didn’t happen?

    I do not understand that question, but it seems to be predicated on an assumption you are making about my answer to the first question. But, I can’t address your first question as it is (see above).

  305. Certainly the origin of life resulted in an organism. What was alive if there wasn’t an organism? What reproduced if there wasn’t an organism at the end of “the origin of life”?

    You don’t understand the second question? Are you talking about the actual origin of life if what you are talking about isn’t a description of how it actually happened? If your conception of the origin of life completely misses the way that event happened, aren’t you, in fact, talking about something that didn’t really happen and so isn’t real?

    For example, if you talk about the universe, the Earth, life etc, happening in six days, if you talk about the origin of life in that scenario you aren’t talking about what actually happened so you are talking about something that isn’t real. And if another scenario is greatly different from the actual way that life originated, you are also not describing something that happened and so isn’t real.

  306. #307 Raging Bee
    August 6, 2011

    My response to Anthony’s questions, just to further highlight his dishonesty…

    1. When you talk about “the origin of life” do you mean the actual event that happened in the way it did and only in the way that it did, resulting in exactly the organism that it did result in, or do you mean something else.

    We’ve already gone over this at least twice before, and you’re still pretending we don’t get it. We don’t have to establish a single specific instant for the creation of the first life form, any more than we have to specify exactly when and where the first T-Rex hatched, or the first Asian stepped onto Alaskan soil from the land-bridge. The progression of our understanding will, as in the other examples I cited, lead us to a range of time, places, and conditions under which the first living cells are most likely to have been formed; just as our understanding of dinosaurs leads us to a range of times, regions and conditions in which certain reptile species began to evolve dinosaur-like traits. In neither case do we have to pin down a single first-ever-creature event before we can rightly claim to have increased our understanding of the subject-matter.

    We can achieve great understanding of the origin of dinosaurs without having to specify exactly when and where the first dinosaur EVER was hatched. We can understand the first migration of people from Asia to the Americas without having to give the name of the first Asian ever to walk onto Alaskan soil*. And, by the same token, we can understand a lot about the origin of life on Earth without having to pin down EXACTLY when and where the very first living cell was formed.

    We may actually be able to pin down exactly when and where the first life-form was formed, or we may not; but no honest person actually believes that’s necessary to be able to claim increased understanding of the origin of life.

    2. Do you also agree that if you are not talking about that, specific, event you are not talking about something that really happened but something that didn’t happen?

    No, we’re talking about narrowing down the range of possible scenarios for the origin of life. Again, we’ve belabored this point for your benefit already, and you refused to listen. Your question looks like it was deliberately worded to exclude the answer that didn’t fit your script. And again, I’ve seen behavior like this from dishonest religious zealots.

    _____________________
    * It was Bob.

  307. Greg Laden, certainly those points didn’t stump you, did they? I thought you might be avoiding answering them but I never would have suspected you would avoid dealing with the events of the origin of life and the organism that resulted from that process as if those were not, actually, what the origin of life consisted of. What was it if it wasn’t that? Something that didn’t happen in a specific way that resulted in an actual, specific organism? If that’s so then nothing anyone says about the origin of life has a tether in reality but is like those imaginary universes discussed above. That’s not biology, it’s metaphysics.

    Bee, I’m not bothering with you anymore because you are clearly somewhere in the meaner parts of Nephelokokkygia.

  308. #309 pornonymous
    August 6, 2011

    @292 Now they’re a bunch of necromancer coccyx blockers and anti-shemitic thorny crown of data conflators??

    Wow, you just don’t quit do you? Then they are a caballo full of chestnuts, then they are a troop of groupers, what next??

    And who said life had only one main organism? Imagine an explosion of proteins and other muck that resulted in simultaneous organisms that were separate entities, but also oddly, conjoined in the ether–by the ether? Like pools of conjoined muck, related by electromagnetic pulses; with the capacity to interact as a group or as individual slime formers for the benefit of the larger interconnected entity?

    Or, if you will, bloggers, and crafty word manglers?…

    http://pornalysis.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/academic-culture-is-the-etic-rapist-of-emic-meaning-by-classification-co-option-and-preemption-of-secular-paralanguage-part-1/

  309. #310 pornonymous
    August 6, 2011

    BTW Greg–that is an incredible list of resources you have posted up there–thanks for that!

  310. It’s pretty astounding the extent to which you are going to avoid dealing with the meaning when you talk about “the origin of life”, the topic of this post and this discussion. Apparently when you assert that something can be known about “the origin of life” you aren’t, actually, talking about the actual formation and animation of the first organism, the time when life on Earth began, nor the first organism, both as it was forming out of non-living matter, as it somehow became alive and what it was which allowed it to live and successfully reproduce. Aren’t you, at all, curious about the question of what led to it reproducing? It’s not obvious that the first organism would have had any need to reproduce. Just attaining life would have been pretty remarkable, but then to reproduce? It’s pretty remarkable that the first organism which could have just maintained its own life, apparently, either was originally designed to reproduce or it developed that ability as it lived. And it’s even more remarkable that it worked, that whatever contained it successfully divided without spilling its guts, as it, perhaps, were.

    Just what does this “origin of life” you are proposing to know about consist of if not that remarkable event, unknown in any detail except that it, obviously happened and we are the result of it? If it wasn’t that, actual, event, you’re talking about something that didn’t happen or something that isn’t the actual and very real origin of life. You’re talking about an academic fiction.

  311. #312 Marta Torres @TorresMarta
    August 6, 2011

    Why the discussion about the origin of life always turns to a debate between creationists and evolutionists? Why can’t we keep the religious matter out of the discussion?
    This debate is so important in USA, cause while the evolution theory is hold as a non-false statement, it can be treated as a scientific theory (using the falsifiability conception of Popper), therefore it can be taught in public school classes, whether creationistic ideas, or at least some of them, or at least in some form, is considered nonscientific. If the evolution theory “break down”, and the creationistic idea is considered “nonscientific”, what will we teach to on school?
    Even though the evolutionists and creationists start in a different point (a common origin or God’s creation), both theories go to a common end: humans are the most evaluated specie and human is better than all the other beings lived (as the most evaluated or as the final creature made by God to run the whole world). Those theories repeat the anthropocentric value which bases our society’s choice of destroying the environment as if it was all human property. That’s why this discussion is so important not only on the scientific level, but also reflects on the ideology which is chosen by our society to teach our kids and to direct the values which will be protected by the law.
    Why the evolution theory is so acceptable among the scientists even though there are lots of discoveries that at least would make us rethink about the evolution’s premises?
    Evolution theory is based on Darwin’s studies, who said: “Now let us turn to nature. When a part has been in an extraordinary manner in any one species, compared with the other species of the same genus, we may conclude that this part has undergone an extraordinary amount of modification, since the period when the species branched off from the common progenitor of the genus. This period will seldom to be remote in any extreme degree, as species very rarely endure form more than one geological period.[…] And this, I am convinced, is the case. That the struggle between natural selection on the one hand, and the tendency to reversion and variability on the other hand, will in the course of time cease; and that the most abnormally developed organs may be made constant, I can see no reason to doubt. (The origin of species., page. 172-173).
    And Darwin also said “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to much-isolated species, round which, according to my theory, there has been much extinction” (DARWIN, Charles. The origin of species. Londres: Collector’s Library, 2004, p. 210. Grifos acrescidos).
    That’s Darwin’s first premisse: one common origin, which being mutating until create all sorts of life, and those mutations ceased in a remote period. If that premise was proved to be wrong, why can’t we rethink his theory and try to find a different explanation to the origin of life, or at least we can recognize that the evolution theory could possibly be wrong?

  312. #313 bks
    August 6, 2011

    The scientific consensus is that there is a Last Universal Common Ancestor(LUCA). This is single organism from which all life on the planet is evolved. If you believe in evolution but you don’t believe that, you are several lightyears into the twilight zone of crankdom.

    But there are no limits on the number and types of thingees that existed before, or contemporaneously with, LUCA.

    Hope that helps.

    –bks

  313. #314 Raging Bee
    August 6, 2011

    Bee, I’m not bothering with you anymore because you are clearly somewhere in the meaner parts of Nephelokokkygia.

    No, you’re trying to avoid me because I answered your questions and caught you on all your BS. That’s why you ran away without ever trying to actually, you know, refute or disprove what I’ve said.

  314. #315 Raging Bee
    August 6, 2011

    The scientific consensus is that there is a Last Universal Common Ancestor(LUCA).

    A common ancestor organism, or a common ancestor species?

  315. #316 Raging Bee
    August 7, 2011

    Aren’t you, at all, curious about the question of what led to it reproducing? It’s not obvious that the first organism would have had any need to reproduce. Just attaining life would have been pretty remarkable, but then to reproduce? It’s pretty remarkable that the first organism which could have just maintained its own life, apparently, either was originally designed to reproduce or it developed that ability as it lived. And it’s even more remarkable that it worked, that whatever contained it successfully divided without spilling its guts, as it, perhaps, were.

    Sounds like yet another recycled ID argument: It’s totally remarkable, therefore Goddidit.

  316. #317 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    Certainly the origin of life resulted in an organism. What was alive if there wasn’t an organism? What reproduced if there wasn’t an organism at the end of “the origin of life”?

    Are you talking about a single individual, like if it was my pet I would give it a name and have just one of them? You need to be VERY clear what you mean by “organism” if you are trying to ask me that particular question.

  317. #318 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    Oh, and while you are working out the answer to my first question, you should work out this as well: What exactly do you mean by “event.”

    I really do feel as though you are asking a question that has a very specific answer that is inside your head but not inside my head.

  318. #319 bks
    August 7, 2011

    Not sure if your question is reasonable, Raging Bee. Do you mean that a number of identical organisms arose simultaneously?

    –bks

    p.s. I admit that since Porny arrived you’re sounding a lot more rational (by comparison) but I wish you’d stop dismissing points out of hand. If there is a cogent refutation of an argument, offer it or point to it. In the old days we’d type it in but now you can just cut and paste or offer a URL. Saying that something “sounds like yet another recycled ID argument” is specious to the max.

  319. #320 Raging Bee
    August 7, 2011

    Saying that something “sounds like yet another recycled ID argument” is specious to the max.

    Not to someone who’s heard ID arguments before, and doesn’t have a vested interest in pretending he hasn’t.

  320. Greg Laden, how about we concentrate on the one proposed origin of life I’d imagine we all would pretty much have to agree existed, the one whose line we are in, the one whose descendents evolved and, eventually gave us the only evidence we have that evolution happened.

    Is it your contention that what that organism was actually like, how it actually formed from nonliving materials, in the environment that provided those materials and the physical forces that resulted in them forming into life, is unimportant to knowing anything about the origin of life?

    It seems to me that you are asserting that those things, as they actually were, are unimportant to knowing about the origin of life instead those things being the only possibility of knowing that anything proposed to be relevant to the origin of life IS actually relevant to it.

    Which is complete nonsense.

    Your attempt to mock my questions by feigning not to understand them actually illustrates the problem instead of supporting your effort. Your attempt to divert attention from those inconvenient problems with your proposition that we know something about it, is only possible because of the huge numbers of unknown and unknowable aspects of the the origin of life on Earth, that there is no evidence of what it was or even agreement about the number of “origins of life” we are talking about. Though, unless you are supporting the idea of simultaneous multiple “origins”, one had to happen first. I will point out in passing that spontaneous, multiple origins is a lot closer to creationism than what I recall was the assumption of evolutionary science, a single common ancestor, the idea I’m supporting, tentatively. Even a later “single common ancestor” would have had to have had an ancestor, the origin of life in that line.

    I’d guess that a single original organism which had the potential to generate the more complex biological chemistry but with far simpler chemistry, is a likelier thing for nature to put together in the dearth of materials available, as pointed out in that interesting article by Robert Shapiro bsk linked to above, It would be far easier to explain how it could have plausibly happened than some disembodied assemblage of RNA that was, somehow, reproducing in the buff in who knows what environment.

    I would expect such a very different original form of life than what we know from much later biology – assuming a rapid rate of reproduction over a quarter of a billion years or more – would to be able to generate a lot of variation, perhaps including some which later could have, somehow, been incorporated as organelles in later life, but which weren’t able to pass through some unknown bottle neck and so didn’t survive to leave independent lines today, But that’s merely a guess.

    You ask, what do I mean by “event” in this discussion. The process of life forming for the first time, however long and consisting of however many steps involved.

    Really, you’re quibbling over simple words that have a clear meaning.

    Now that I’ve answered you, why don’t you answer my questions instead of pretending they aren’t obvious ones.

    If the way it happened and the resulting organism aren’t what “the origin of life” consists of, what do you mean by knowing something about it? How can you know about an event unless your idea of it corresponds to what actually happened and what it resulted in?

    If you are going to open up the right to assert that you know something to that level of speculation the results aren’t going to be reliable, they are going to be as liable to the rise of unfounded fashions and their catastrophic collapse as psychology is. Given the political atmosphere surrounding evolution, I couldn’t imagine a worse thing for the public acceptance of the fact that evolution happened.

  321. Obviously Raging Bee is as ignorant as the stereotypical hillbilly fundamentalists her good pals among the new atheists are always sharing yucks about. And to no correction by the champions of truth and accuracy. How very revealing of their actual motives.

    A bumblebee, perhaps?

  322. Marta Torres, evolution is known from the enormous amount of science done after the death of Charles Darwin. Citing Charles Darwin is not necessary to support the knowledge of evolution except in historical terms. The fixation on him is political, not scientific.

    Evolution is the the idea in science most supported by massive and diverse evidence. If nothing is ever really known about the earliest form of life that doesn’t negate what is known about evolution anymore than not knowing what went on before the origin of the universe would overturn chemistry.

  323. I really do feel as though you are asking a question that has a very specific answer that is inside your head but not inside my head. Greg Laden

    Oh, I forgot this, the veiled, tacit accusation of some kind of creationism or vague scientific apostasy.

    What I have in my head is exactly what I’ve said, that science doesn’t have the evidence it needs to know what happened, how it happened or what the organism that resulted was like except that it was alive and it successfully reproduced. No one has that evidence, it is lost, almost certainly for all time. I have the certainty that science can only deal with physical evidence so any ideological or religious ideas about that origin of life must remain outside of science and science has to ignore them or suffer a loss of reliability in what it asserts, becoming less scientific.

    I believe we will never know what the origin of life was like though I’m certain a parade of assertions about it will gain followers who might fight over it like the children of Freud or that schools of thought will rise to dominate, before they are toppled like those in the social sciences, one after another, gulling middle brow followers and university administrations into ignoring the parade doesn’t actually consist of reliable knowledge and that science will become the more decadent for that. And all for an ideological struggle that science never had any business getting involved in to start with.

  324. #325 DuWayne
    August 7, 2011

    Anthony -

    Every time you claim that given terms have specific meanings, you reveal a profound ignorance of the process of science. When I have been tasked with designing experiments, the very first aspect of the actual design process (after I have developed a hypothesis and come up with a question) is to define my terms – ie. provide operational definitions. The reason this is important, is that language is not an absolute.

    Words are not static. They have different meanings that are not only dependent on context, but also dependent on regional variations, the background of the transmitter and receiver, linguistic evolution and general cultural context. Even if you are choosing to use a lexicographer definition, such definitions leave more room for ambiguity than is usually acceptable in science.

    The problem you are having with getting people to answer your questions, is that you are asking questions that are relevant to what you think we believe. Questions relevant to what you think we should be talking about/asserting, rather than what any of us are actually talking about. You want us to be asserting something that fits a paradigm that you want to attack. Because we aren’t doing that, you just pretend that we are.

    If you were asking honest questions that relate to what people are talking about, you would get answers. But you aren’t interested in honest, good faith discourse. You want to argue with something no one is actually arguing – that is fine, argue against what you want. But I would strongly suggest that you actually find someone who is arguing those points.

    There are people who do make those sorts of arguments. They make them about OOL, they make them about evo psych – they make them about all sorts of shit. Of course they also tend to be rather easy targets and are generally disparaged by the very people you are arguing with here. Even worse, you would be forced to engage in honest discourse.

    What is interesting to me, is that you are actually arguing with people who have a lot they could teach you that would facilitate your ability to argue with those folks. But instead of choosing to alleviate your ignorance, you are bent on maintaining that ignorance and arguing from it. And based on what you have said about psychology (I am not that familiar with the OOL argument, so I’ll stick with what I actually know) you are absolutely clueless about what is being taught, researched and how that research is performed.

    There are all sorts of things to argue are wrong with most psych research and even the things being taught in most psych programs. But while what you are arguing certainly exists, it isn’t any more representative of mainstream psychology, than the Phelps clan is representative of mainstream Christianity.

    If you want to be taken seriously, I would strongly suggest that you consider listening, learning and not making dishonest assertions about the people you’re arguing with and what they are actually saying. I would also strongly suggest that if you are going to accuse people of being “ideological materialists” as though it is a bad thing, that you not then turn around and argue for materialism.

    I would also suggest you try to understand a very important concept – one that is virtually impossible for most religionists to understand. Assuming materialism as the default, doesn’t = believing in materialism. My assuming materialism as a default means I don’t believe in the supernatural. That is not the same as believing the supernatural doesn’t exist. I don’t believe the supernatural exists, but neither do I believe it doesn’t exist. I accept that a time might come when the tools that can prove the existence of what we call the supernatural may be developed and ultimately indicate that it does.

    Of course given teh best evidence we have, you wouldn’t grasp nuance, if someone attached it to a 2×4 and beat you upside the head with it. And you have provided us with more than ample evidence in this comment thread.

  325. DuWayne, if you think I have any interest in the opinons you, Stephanie Z, Raging Bee, Freerefill, or several of the others here who have tried every way to wiggle out of these problems on Greg Laden’s behalf have of me, you are mistaken.

    What I am interested in is having Greg Laden answer the points I have brought up without hiding behind pretended ambiguities as if those bolstered his claims instead of actually undermining them. When your claim is knowledge, that either stands of falls on the evidence for it and your claimed knowledge being the inevitable logical conclusion that has to be drawn from that. You guys don’t have it. No one does.

  326. #327 oofreerefilloo
    August 7, 2011

    I wasn’t going to come back but since you mentioned me…

    How dare you claim I was trying to wiggle out of any problems. That is completely wrong. Hell, several times I pointed out that you are technically correct… and you accuse me of trying to wriggle out of problems?

    How dare you. That is completely wrong, sir.

  327. #328 Stephanie Z
    August 7, 2011

    If you are going to open up the right to assert that you know something to that level of speculation the results aren’t going to be reliable, they are going to be as liable to the rise of unfounded fashions and their catastrophic collapse as psychology is.

    Welcome to science, Anthony. You’ve got some of the details wrong, of course, but you’re new. You’ll get it eventually.

  328. #329 JimV
    August 7, 2011

    This is the best presentation I’ve seen about abiogenesis:

    by a researcher in the field – who starts by stating that abiogenesis and the Theory of Evolution are related, but different things. He seems a credible source to me – much more so than this site, frankly, which, the last time I was here, was telling me that a Windows PC couldn’t start up and go online in less than three minutes or so – when this piece-of-crap Windows 7 Dell laptop I’m typing on does it in one minute and 26 seconds.

    Dr. Laden has a right to his opinion, but it would be great in a science blog if he did some research into contrary opinions before coming out with one of his pontifications.

  329. #330 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    Oh, I forgot this, the veiled, tacit accusation of some kind of creationism or vague scientific apostasy.

    That is not what I was thinking at all. Seriously. Let me ask you a different way: Are you claiming that the origin of life involved the coming into existence one way or another (we presume by natural processes, not talking about creation here) of one single organism? Like “joe the organism” who then is the grandparent of all other organisms? And if so, on what basis do you think this is the likely scenario?

    What I have in my head is exactly what I’ve said, that science doesn’t have the evidence it needs to know what happened, how it happened or what the organism that resulted was like except that it was alive and it successfully reproduced.

    OK, I was addressing the two questions you asked me. Now you are getting well beyond those questions; I suppose if you don’t think science can know stuff, then likely you don’t think YOU can know stuff either, thus there is no way to clarify your point about what you mean by “organism.”

  330. #331 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    JimV, thank you for your insightful contribution to this discussion. I’m so glad some guy on YouTube can clear this all up for us.

    Jack’s video is a response to the creationist claims about evolution. He and I disagree, and I think his separation of the two is political though well intentioned. Of course, that was the point of my post, which you should read over.

  331. #332 Raging Bee
    August 7, 2011

    DuWayne, if you think I have any interest in the opinons you, Stephanie Z, Raging Bee, Freerefill, or several of the others here who have tried every way to wiggle out of these problems on Greg Laden’s behalf have of me, you are mistaken.

    Well, I guess you’ve just listed, and brushed off, everyone who has actually addressed your questions — without actually showing why our responses were flawed or wrong; and without even showing you understand our responses. Which proves, once again, that you are arguing in transparently bad faith, just like every other religious bigot I’ve heard trying to discredit rational inquiry.

  332. #333 Greg Ladeng
    August 7, 2011

    Oh, and Jim, did you notice that the video to which you point is an excellent summary of amazing stuff we know about the origin of life because of research donein an EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY LAB by and EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST?

  333. #334 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    Wait, I guess I haven’t been paying attention… is Anthony making a religious argument about the origin of life?

  334. #335 Raging Bee
    August 7, 2011

    Incidentally, if anyone needs further proof of Anthony’s religious, anti-rationalist agenda, let’s just re-paste these words of his from comment #79:

    I don’t know how many times I’ve got to tell you people, when someone asserts they KNOW something, it puts it in an entirely different category of claims than if they merely say they believe something. The claim of knowing something carries higher responsibilities of providing evidence and being honest about it than the more modest claim of believing in something.

    There you have it: a knowingly crafted rationalization for accepting belief without question while treating observation and reason as suspect and easily discounted unless it can meet some high standard of proof. And it comes complete with the standard (and unsupported) insinuation that observation and reason somehow have failed to meet that standard.

  335. #336 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    Raging, I don’t know, one could interpret this the other way around as an argument from Anthony that “knowing” something is misguided and that knoweldge is essentially tenuous and always subject to revision, not a supporting argument for religious “belief.”

  336. No, Anthony is making an argument for science being based in physical evidence. He is making an argument that science can’t do anything else but collect, measure, analyze, publish and review physical evidence about physical phenomena and that even the high priesthood of theoretical science is answerable to the less prestigious address of the real world. Without relevant information from the real world their ideas aren’t any more than guesses. He is also arguing that when any extraneous ideological content is forced into science the reliability of what it can tell is impaired.

    The question of whether life has a religious explanation is quite a different matter, which I have not dealt with. But no religious people have any more evidence of what the origin of life was like than anyone else so they are no more able to make science support whatever they wish that was any more than ideologues of any other character can.

    We are all in a state of unknowing about the actual event event, anyone calling what they believe about the origin of life “knowledge” is distorting reality.

    Now, why don’t you answer those questions I’ve been trying go get you to answer for well over a hundred comments instead of avoiding them. It might upset a few of the true believers here but it might help the cause of intellectual integrity.

  337. #338 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    Anthony, are you making the claim that we can’t know about the origin of life because it happened in the past and we weren’t there?

  338. Greg Laden, what was alive as a result of “the origin of life” if it wasn’t a living organism? Or did organisms not come about at “the origin of life?

    How do you know that was “the origin of life” if there was no organism of some kind that lived and reproduced?

    You keep adding problems to the claim of “knowing” something about the origin of life but if you’re going to claim that the origin of life didn’t result in a living being you apparently think it was some event far more nebulous and undefinable than I did and so would be even less known that what I proposed. I don’t think there is a rational way to talk about “the origin of life” if a living, reproducing organism which left descendents including all of life which is the topic of biology. If that’s not the case then your “origin of life” has no connection to evolution at all since it would be entirely unrelated to the process of reproduction and inheritance of traits. Evolution is all about those things, the word means nothing in terms of biology if that is the case.

    I’ll have to say, I’ve elicited some odd assertions in these kinds of arguments but that one is the oddest of them all.

  339. Anthony, are you making the claim that we can’t know about the origin of life because it happened in the past and we weren’t there?

    No. That is just another way to try to associate my argument with creationism, something your side has done consistently since the beginning of this discussion.

    It’s possible to know something without being present IF YOU HAVE EVIDENCE OF WHAT HAPPENED.

    What is it that has made all of the materialists here go allergic to evidence all of a sudden? Not to mention the self-appointed “skeptics”. I thought you were the “only evidence” folks who believed evidence was a requirement for even the modest claim to believe something, never mind the far more exigent claim of knowing something.

  340. #341 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    Anthony, I take it you have ruled out the possibility that the origin of life could involve the emergence of multiple things we would call “alive” from some chemical background that is not life. Why?

  341. I haven’t ruled anything out except that whatever happened at “the origin of life” it had to result in a living being which successfully reproduced.

    If you want to multiply complications, with different, alternatives of “origins” with different outcomes, you are only making it more unknowable and, certainly, more at odds with the majority of evolutionary science. As I pointed out above, you are also handing creationists ammunition because they, also, believe in more than one genesis of life. But since you can’t know even the one, proposed “origin of life” which resulted in us and our fellow living beings today, it all looks like two-stepping in terms of this argument.

    Now, why don’t you answer the question?

    If someone comes up with a description of “the origin of life” which is not an accurate description of the real, “origin of life” as it happened, in whatever way it did happen, are they not, actually, talking about something that didn’t happen and that wasn’t real? Are they not, just as someone who proposes a six-day creation less than ten thousand years ago, talking about something that didn’t happen?

    Certainly, in order for any assertion about “the origin of life” to be known that has to be true. If anyone can say

  342. cont. If anyone can say something about “the origin of life” and it isn’t susceptible to that level of falsification, doesn’t that make the concept of “the origin of life” a meaningless phrase?

  343. #344 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    I haven’t ruled anything out except that whatever happened at “the origin of life” it had to result in a living being which successfully reproduced.

    I don’t think you understand my question.

  344. Oh, Greg, I think I did understand your question, as I addressed it completely, including the problem multiple “origins of life” poses to knowing something about it.

    I do think the assertion that it happened even twice in the same way also adds, considerably, to the unlikelihood of it happening, though that’s got little to do with this argument, I can imagine the people happiest with that assertion being made would be creationists who could make an effective recruiting tool of it.

    I doubt it happened more than once, that it would have almost certainly been an extremely complex series of occurrences, each which could have happened in a way that didn’t produce life and which could have extinguished the experiment, as it were. Any variation in genetic contents in cells today could have been the result of one organism absorbing variants extending from the original organs and the first generations after that. Though, since there is no evidence to go on, that’s all guessing, just as every other proposed bit of knowledge about this is since there is no evidence of what actually did happen, in the natural world, very unlike in laboratory conditions, about the only definite thing you can say about that.

    I’m finding this to be quite informative as to the current state of the understanding of what science is. Apparently evidence has gone into the “optional” list. In which case I think materialism and skepticism both need to trim their claims.

  345. #346 Stephanie Z
    August 7, 2011

    Anthony, one more time: which specific claims that you see here or in the linked posts need to be trimmed?

  346. #347 oofreerefilloo
    August 7, 2011

    Interestingly, Anthony, the idea that it happened the same way multiple times is MORE likely than the idea that it only happened once.

    I actually became enlightened to this on another one of Greg’s posts, regarding the origin of life and whether it should be included in the theory of evolution. I argued that, no; since evolution describes the way a species changes over time due to selection pressures from the environment, it necessitates a living set of organisms (or self-replicating molecules, what have you). Basically, it demands that something fulfill the qualities of “life” as we know it, even down to the molecular level. Evolution requires life, and the origin of life must require that something is not alive; thus the two cannot be combined.

    Someone who responded to me said no; it’s entirely possible that the same process which spawned one self-replicating molecule probably did not do a “good” job of it; it was probably random, and although the molecule could have replicated itself, the randomness meant that it probably didn’t do a very good job; it likely died out. But what of the process that spawned it? To think that any chemical process that generates a self-replicating molecule could ONLY happen once, or that once it happened the process can no longer occur due to other circumstances, is a highly improbable assertion. It is more likely that the process happened repeatedly, and through trial and error (similar to evolution, but not exactly), produced something that eventually produced us. The idea here is that, like trimming down a single cell to determine what is absolutely necessary for self-replication, we trim down evolution to determine what is absolutely necessary to produce greater amounts of complexity; one process spawning multiple molecules which may or may not be able to self-replicate and to different degrees would actually be a similar process to evolution. The process is not subject to adaptation pressure, but the results of it are. And instead of self-replication, the process which made one molecule makes another, somewhat different; similar to how one organism mutates with each generation.

    And, you know what, that makes a lot of sense. Whatever happened to produce the first “something” that fulfilled even the most basic definition life (ie, self-replication), for it to only happen once requires an immense amount of probability; once again, like the idea of a watch coming together without a watchmaker, or the Boeing 747 parts caught up in a series of tornadoes, any single, complex event is more unlikely than several, less complex events.

    What are your thoughts on that? That whatever process spawned something that could be considered “alive” likely went on to spawn other things equally likely considered “alive”?

  347. #348 DuWayne
    August 7, 2011

    No, Anthony is making an argument for science being based in physical evidence. He is making an argument that science can’t do anything else but collect, measure, analyze, publish and review physical evidence about physical phenomena…

    And who here has ever asserted otherwise? You keep making assertions that imply someone here has made an argument against them. You have also repeatedly accused people of all sorts of shit, while steadfastly refusing to actually point out where they have done anything that would support such accusations. You keep preaching about logic, while repeatedly engaging in multiple logical fallacies.

    What is really annoying though, is that you keep demanding responses to your questions, while refusing to respond to basic questions – such as what exactly would indicate that anyone here is anything you have accused us of being.

    You are either really fucking stupid, a hypocrite, a liar or some combination of the three. I hope that you understand that the internet is, for all intents and purposes, forever. This discussion – a discussion in which you have made a complete ass of yourself, isn’t going to disappear. Your ignorance will continue to be on display, long after you have forgotten about this conversation – as will your hypocrisy and lies.

  348. #349 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    DuWayne, I would add this:

    Say there is a thing we’d call life -1, not life, but chemicals doing stuff that is almost life, but for one thing missing.

    Then, the thing is added to a whole bunch of instances of this chemical: Thousands of primordial ponds on a continent all acquire that one thing at roughly the same time, and life -1 becomes life in all of them.

    Further assume that the missing element was a change in the gaseous environment, and further assume that this change was caused by the chemical activity of life -1.

    Frankly, if something like that didn’t happen, I’d be surprised (not specifically gas, but whatever … some molecular byproduct or aqueous condition or something).

    This is why I’m uncomfortable with a model that asserts that there is a single organism, like something you could carry home from the pet shop in one of those blank Chinese food containers, and name “Fido.”

  349. I think I will make the unwillingness of Greg Laden to address those questions will be the theme of this when I write it up.

    Sciency is good enough for the regulars here, I guess.

    DuWayne, thank you for reinforcing my skepticism about contemporary standards in neuro-sci,
    Stephanie, I don’t think I’ll be looking up your books,
    Refill, without evidence there is no way to evaluate probabilities, you can’t know that life can only originate in one way and that it is the most improbable of events or that it is extremely common.

    Though, as Greg Laden’s avoiding the issues he was asked about seems to show, none of you are really interested in how these things happen, you’re interested in it as an ideological tactic.

  350. #351 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    Anthony: I think I will make the unwillingness of Greg Laden to address those questions will be the theme of this when I write it up.

    I’ve asked you for clarifications that you refuse to address, apparently. Please include that as part of your writeup!

    Where will you be writing this up, by the way?

  351. #352 oofreerefilloo
    August 7, 2011

    It doesn’t matter… Anthony does not want to learn, he just wants self satisfaction. Everyone, including me I begrudgingly admit, wasted our time trying to educate someone who does not want to be educated.

    I said it earlier… Anthony is a troll. He knows nothing and doesn’t want to; he is content with his limited view and refuses to accept anything outside of it.

    Case and point: the original post leading to this discussion was an enumeration of the evidence and research into the origin of life. A paltry collection, as admitted by Greg, of what actually exists. Anthony has claimed numerous times that this evidence does not exist. He is a troll.

  352. #353 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    oofreerefilloo, agreed, but I don’t think Anthony is a creationist.

  353. #354 bks
    August 7, 2011

    AM has an interesting blog entry here:

    http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/2011/07/you-dont-have-to-believe-it-but.html

    in which he explains his motivations, and from a *tactical political* viewpoint he has some valid points (IMO) and it is not unrelated to the *tactical* reasons that I switched from calling myself an atheist to calling myself a pantheist[1].

    –bks

    [1] If you want to attack this, please read this first:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pantheism/#PaT

  354. #355 DuWayne
    August 7, 2011

    DuWayne, thank you for reinforcing my skepticism about contemporary standards in neuro-sci…

    Would you please either stop making claims about me, or fucking back up your assertions? The only thing I have done is pointed out you’re making a number of logical fallacies (some of which I explicitly note in comment 232), explained what science is and psychology is – because you seem not to understand them and have repeatedly asked you to point out the comments that would indicate I am a credulous, illogical, ideological materialist.

    You have no credibility here Anthony. You have repeatedly exposed your abysmal ignorance of science, psychology and logic. You have repeatedly engaged in numerous logical fallacies. You have proven that you’re either stupid, or lying. You have repeatedly misrepresented what people are saying and bandied about insults that you refuse to back up and that you seem to believe are adequate responses to arguments you don’t respond to.

    You might at least achieve some credibility, if you were to actually provide us with what we have said that indicates that anything you have accused us of is true. But of course you can’t actually do that, because you’re full of shit and have nothing to show.

  355. #356 Stephanie Z
    August 7, 2011

    bks, Anthony has an obsession that appears to have come out of the accommodation debate (although it’s possible that the debate just fed into an existing obsession), that atheists are the reason that people refuse to accept evolution. His “tactics” amount to sneering at atheists in hope that will help somehow. He’s never, in my experience, been good at answering questions or accepting answers that anyone has given him.

  356. #357 oofreerefilloo
    August 7, 2011

    I’m not saying Anthony is a creationist. I wouldn’t, since he has specifically stated (several times, I think) that he isn’t. However he IS refusing to accept the piles of evidence that have been laid before him. He is demanding answer to questions that do not address the issue. He is refusing to answer questions put against him which clarify or defeat his argument.

    I think DuWayne mentioned that these tactics were similar to those employed by creationists; I agree. However, again, Anthony has stated that he is not one. Since we can infer but not irrefutably prove one way or another, we must accept the evidence as given and make judgements from that. That is why I theorized that he is either attacking it from a philosophical standpoint (in which nothing could ever be known for certain) or a self-centered standpoint (in which he perpetuates the argument for his own satisfaction). I confess that these are only theories, and the evidence I use to back them up is only evidence refuting other theories, essentially narrowing down the possibilities. I also accept that the truth may be different from what I have theorized, however the truth cannot contradict the evidence unless the evidence has been falsified.

    And despite that, I would not be surprised to see a scathing reply by Anthony which completely ignores the caveats I have just placed, despite being partially inspired by his own arguments and partially driven by scientific methodology.

  357. #358 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    Well, I think he’s over-read Lewontin.

  358. #359 Raging Bee
    August 7, 2011

    I’m not saying Anthony is a creationist. I wouldn’t, since he has specifically stated (several times, I think) that he isn’t.

    He’s also made wild accusations that he’s never tried to back up. He’s proven himself so blatantly dishonest that his word cannot be trusted. We have only his actions — his overall argument style, if you will — to judge him by, and those actions show him to be a dishonest obscurantist with a religious/anti-”materialist” agenda. He may never have been an actual creationist, but his blither-points are suspiciously similar to those of creationists, and other denialists.

  359. #360 oofreerefilloo
    August 7, 2011

    He’s also made wild accusations that he’s never tried to back up.

    In the words of Ricky Jay,

    No argument from me. :)

  360. #361 Wowbagger, Man-Hating Man of Pharyngula
    August 7, 2011

    Raging Bee wrote (of Anthony McCarthy):

    He’s proven himself so blatantly dishonest that his word cannot be trusted.

    Indeed. I consider him to be the by far the most consistently intellectually dishonest person I’ve encountered on the internet – and that’s saying something. Y’all here on this thread have showed astonishing endurance in dealing with him for as long as you have.

  361. #362 bks
    August 7, 2011

    I went searching for the “just-so stories” cite and found Lewontin’s 1997 review of a book by Carl Sagan. I’ll quote the paragraph, but I recommend reading the whole review (it includes some Dawkins bashing!). It’s not long, it’s very entertaining, and to my eye his comments on Cancer and the Human Genome Project have not been proved wrong in the intervening 14 years. Excerpt follows:

    Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

    http://www.drjbloom.com/Public%20files/Lewontin_Review.htm

    –bks

  362. Wowbagger. Yeah, I’m really going to lose sleep tonight.

    Well, I think he’s over-read Lewontin. Greg Ladin

    That would be as compared to who? Daniel Dennett?

    bks, Lewontin’s comments about the actual political cause of the fundamentalist reaction against Darwinism in that review were quite insightful. But Lewontin is always worth reading or listening to. This lecture he gave at Berkeley was particularly good.

  363. #364 Jason Thibeault
    August 7, 2011

    I think the problem, Wowbagger, is that he is accompanied by a fellow evidential Church of Lewontin disciple. Because of this tag-team of bks and Anthony, it looks as though there’s actual discussion going on, when there is, in fact, actually a bunch of people trying to convince TWO people to point us to what’s got them so hot under the collar, not just one. They don’t appear to be internalizing any of our repeated assertions that science isn’t interested in “just so stories” but is rather about building theories and gaining evidence to improve our certainty or to scuttle it in favor of a new theory that better fits.

    As Stephanie points out, I strongly suspect Anthony fights almost entirely against atheists, whom he feels have an ideological necessity to support materialism, to the point where he projects this “certainty” or support in absence of evidence even where everyone in the discussion couches their assertions in terms of probability. I strongly feel that he and bks are both more interested in scoring points in the accomodationism debate than in actual rational discourse. If either were interested in rational discourse, they might understand that we actually for the most part agree that nothing is “certain” or “absolutely true”, and that there is a difference between ideological (meaning: philosophical) materialism and methodological materialism, in that the latter would turn on a dime if any shred of evidence turned up that showed they were on the wrong path.

    Instead we get rhetoric. No arguments, no addressing of the points we make, no acknowledgement of every concession anyone has ever made on the topic. They are desperate to paint scientists as ideological materialists without having to point to a single person or claim that shows that this is the case.

    It’s for these reasons (and reasons like my freshly discovered ulcer) that I bowed out of the conversation.

    I suspect the ulcer predated the conversation, for the record.

  364. #365 bks
    August 7, 2011

    Okay, I guess I’ll have to read about “the accommodation.” Jason and Stephanie (or anybody): Where is this debate going on? I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    –bks

  365. #366 pornonymous
    August 7, 2011

    @303 BKS, are you that concern troll from over at ERV’s blog? I see you piddling in and out of converstaions, with nothing but humorless snark–you must be either a lesbian or a male lab rat.

    I thought your sycophantic, shallow critique sounded familiar.

    Did you have a substantive critique of anything I have said or represented, here or anywhere? If so, please state it–but I am certain it is just more useless feministic mindlessness that will dribble from the holes in your fingertips.

    If you really want to attack me, do it to my face: I currently have a posting up requesting data from medical professionals and othersabout autopsy processes, and procedural differences between medical examinations when the victim is a boy versus a girl.

    Because we know that male children die in great numbers compared to female children, and a good deal of that is at the hands of women, I am curious to know if saliva samples are taken from little boy corpses that are dumped, burned, and buried by female murderers.

    I don’t have a lot to add here that Greg and Anthony haven’t said already, but I have a little bit to say about the “END” of life at the hands of women, for many young boys who don’t have science bloggers advocating for their safety and health.

    Anything to say about that? I didn’t think so

    Useless parrots….but it is refreshing to have someone else note the redundancy of Raping Bee.

  366. I only came back because someone who knows me was reading it and told me they were still going on about me. Flattering as that is, it would be a lot more interesting if Laden answered the questions about his topic. Which he won’t because he knows what the answers to those would have to be for him to not say something really silly.

    The origin of life not producing a living organism. The origin of life not producing a living organism. How detached from reality does it get?

  367. #368 oofreerefilloo
    August 7, 2011

    I just read that entire article that bks linked to, and I think I have a better understanding where the two are coming from.

    Yes, it is in fact a philosophical perspective, and it is wholly correct. I’ve considered the gist of the argument myself several times, and I have found it to be without resolution, as Lewontin, Anthony and bks seem to think.

    The idea here is that, because science cannot be replicated by the average Joe, it demands Joe’s faith in authority (logical fallacy) or his “gut instinct” to provide the “one true answer.” Anyone reading that would admit that it is both true and completely unscientific. If Richard Dawkins sauntered up to you and began a rant about biology, would you accept that the facts he states are true? That they have been repeatedly observed and verified multiple times by third-party researchers? If you do, you have succumbed to an argument from (in this case, literally) authority.

    This is primarily why I said that Anthony was technically correct. Reading Lewontin’s article, I can see further; it -is- technically a correct argument. Philosophically.

    As I stated a while ago, though, science understands this argument. This is why we keep testing things; even after 150 years, we’re still testing evolution. Do some theories, which may be true, get shoved aside because they are counter-intuitive? Or because certain “respectable” scientists throw their weight around? I’d have to say that, yes, that does happen from time to time. It’s an imperfect system created by imperfect beings. And it is unfortunate. However, there’s a difference between “science” and “scientist”. A scientist can make all the mistakes a human can, regardless of how hard they try. Science is a collection of scientists that, by that collection, attempt to remove the human factor. Science, as opposed to scientists, does have a trend toward understanding the nature of the universe. Some things slip by, yes; but anyone at any time can produce a new study with new data and keep trying. To think that science, by default, does not allow certain ideas to exist is to suggest some sort of conspiracy amongst scientists to actively blacklist certain concepts.

    So I agree fully that scientists are human and they make mistakes, and that appeal to authority is a necessary evil of science… but BOTH of those, whilst fully non-scientific, are accounted for IN science; mistakes can be corrected by repeated trials performed by other people, and so authority can be removed from an individual. Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins are not authorities on a subject; they have done much investigation and discovery sure, but they have only been able to do that because of the contributions of hundreds, if not thousands, of the giants upon who’s shoulders they stand. And it is the group who holds the authority, the group where each individual has, to varying degrees, either reviewed the reasoning for inconsistencies or performing the experiment in its entirety a second time. This is the “peer review” part of science; there are humans who speak louder than others yes, but there are no authorities, only peers. And yes, I do wish it worked better, I’m sure we all do. But it’s doing literally the best it can. You can’t have science without scientists, which means human factors will come into play, regardless of how hard we try to prevent them.

    But that’s that. My real beef with this article is this:

    Do physicists really expect me to accept without serious qualms that the pungent cheese that I had for lunch is really made up of tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless packets of energy with nothing but empty space between them? Astronomers tell us without apparent embarrassment that they can see stellar events that occurred millions of years ago, whereas we all know that we see things as they happen.

    Intuition and common sense are human factors and, as I stated, have no place in science. What “seems reasonable” or “appeals to common sense” is neither data nor evidence. I don’t even need to point out that matter and energy are interchangeable; I can simply say “atomic theory” and then ask whether or not Lewontin can distinguish the flavor of a proton. Let me reword it a bit: “Do physicists really expect me to accept without serious qualms that the pungent cheese that I had for lunch is really made up of tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless atoms with nothing but empty space between them?” Sir, do you deny atomic theory? Do you deny chemistry? Or does your statement imply something that I cannot perceive? As to the second, again, a resounding “yes”. We know that light can only travel so fast, and our perceptions of an event rely on when our physical senses pick it up. We view the Sun as it was 8 minutes ago, because that’s when the photons left the surface of the Sun. The information is limited in its travel time. We cannot look at the Sun and see what is happening “now” unless we allow that “now” is subject to relativistic effects, in that “now” extends backwards in time as it extends away from us. But that is simply a different way of looking at the same thing; it is imply that “now” here is “8 minutes ago” on the Sun. Is Lewontin denying relativity?

    This one I cannot understand:

    We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs

    This, to me, seems to sum up everything this man is talking about: “I don’t understand it, therefore it cannot be.” Yes, to the uneducated, a whole heaping lot of physics goes against what we would consider “normal”. Quantum physics itself often carries the warning, “If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t understand quantum physics.” It is highly counter-intuitive, and in many cases, undesirable. Who wants the universe to evaporate? That would suck. But, even if it was the ultimate in suckiness (I think having the universe disintegrate into energy would fulfill that requirement), it does NOT mean it is not true. Ask anyone at NASA if they would like gravity to turn off every time they launch a rocket ship; If they don’t unanimously say “yes”, then ask the guys footing the bill. Physics is routinely inconvenient and disturbing; this does not, can not, mean that it is false.

    And perhaps this is where Anthony is coming from. Perhaps he disagrees with certain concepts, because they are either counter-intuitive or disturbing. If that were the case, it would be natural for him to combat them and, of course, deny any evidence necessary to be denied. After reading Lewontin, I would say that that is a valid theory, and certainly not one of the two I previously suggested.

    When I learned that all of life could be accounted for by chemical interactions, it dawned upon me that there is no such thing as life. I am not alive, I am merely a temporary arrangement of complex chemical phenomena. This idea was disturbing… at first. It still twists my stomach a bit. But I understand it to be true. I know it happens. I accept it. It is ugly, it is counter-intuitive, it is undesirable, it is fact, it is physics, it is science. And it will not go away no matter how much you debate it.

    In fact, that’s good advice for all of you. Anthony seems unwilling to accept it, so don’t bother trying to force-feed it to him. Let him get his last word, let him feel smug for another day, let him write up a wholly incorrect blog post. No matter how much he, or anyone else, complains, facts will not change.

    “We’re just fucking monkeys in shoes.” – Tim Minchin

  368. #369 Wowbagger
    August 7, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    Wowbagger. Yeah, I’m really going to lose sleep tonight.

    Of course you won’t. It takes character to feel guilt for one’s profound dishonesty, and you’ve got about as much of that as can be found in the average helping of navel fluff.

  369. #370 bks
    August 7, 2011

    Refill: Lewontin is a scientist of the first rank. When he says We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs. he is not setting up a bowling pin in order to knock it down for some ulterior purpose, he is trying to give you an accurate picture of how he sees science. At the same time he was at Berkeley to give the Hitchcock lecture, he gave an interview to Harry Kreisler for the Conversations With History series. I think you’re underreading him and will understand him better if you watch even the first ten minutes:

    –bks

    p.s. I am not a member of the Church of Lewontin but if it’s a choice between that and one of the abrahamic religions …

  370. #371 Raging Bee
    August 7, 2011

    I was wondering how long it would take for pornonymeme to try to bring his pet grudges into this. Obsessed troll is obsessed…

  371. #372 oofreerefilloo
    August 7, 2011

    I didn’t want to reply until I did indeed watch the first ten minutes of that video. Which I just did. And yes, it did give me some insight into the nature of the man; indeed he seems to have a respect for science, an honest one.

    However, that has no bearing on anything I just said. None whatsoever. The quote being:

    We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs

    I can see that as being interpreted in one of two ways.

    First, the clear argument that there are flaws in the execution and distribution of science. I accounted for that when I admitted to the flaws and attributed them to human error, and then went further to point out that the scientific model is aware of the flaws and attempts (albeit not entirely successfully) to fix them.

    Second, the argument that the science itself implies “absurdity” as he makes clear when he refers to “accepting without serious qualms” that “pungent cheese” can be constructed of “tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless” entities. As I said, to make that claim is to deny atomic theory.

    Perhaps I am simply misinterpreting the man. If I am, then please, educate me.

  372. #373 bks
    August 8, 2011

    He’s not denying atomic theory, Refill. He precedes that with:

    With great perception, Sagan sees that there is an impediment to the popular credibility of scientific claims about the world, an impediment that is almost invisible to most scientists.

    He believes in atomic theory, he’s talking about the impediment to public acceptance of consequences of the theory.

    There are endless examples of the difficulty of wrapping common sense around even trivial scientific concepts, e.g.

    There are several interesting things about the relationship between gravity and horizontal velocity. Assuming, once again, that air resistance is not a factor, the vertical acceleration of a projectile is g. This means that when a cannonball is at the highest point of its trajectory, you could simply drop another cannonball from exactly the same height, and they would land at the same moment. This seems counterintuitive, or opposite to common sense: after all, the cannonball that was fired from the cannon has to cover a great deal of horizontal space, whereas the dropped ball does not. Nonetheless, the rate of acceleration due to gravity will be identical for the two balls, and the fact that the ball fired from a cannon also covers a horizontal distance during that same period is purely incidental.

    http://www.answers.com/topic/projectile-motion#ixzz1UPLjPnXL

    –bks

  373. #374 pornonymous
    August 8, 2011

    OOps, sorry Bee, were you being redundant again?

    I am still cracking up over the cannibals, and Gregs comment about the body o’ chrise” eating the body of their spiritual leader in the form of a sort of voodoo doll made of a cracker”
    hawhawhawhaw..

  374. #375 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    The origin of life not producing a living organism. The origin of life not producing a living organism. How detached from reality does it get?

    It depends on what you mean by “a” … as I’ve been saying, and you’ve been ignoring.

    Why do you keep ignoring the question I’ve asked you?

  375. As opposed to the meaning of “is”? I thought that kind of quibble was one of the reasons that scientists didn’t think very highly of the standards in the legal profession.

    An organism which would be the actual topic of your alleged study of “the origin of life”, an organism which was able to sustain its life as an independent entity – there being no other organism to live off of at that point – an organism which would reproduce, leave descendents, eventually including us arguing here over it having been kind of an important aspect of “the origin of life”.

    As it is you seem to want to have this thing you’re calling “the origin of life” but which doesn’t actually have a living thing which originated. An academic study that, somehow, is able to sustain itself without its focus ever being available for study.

    If it’s the word “organism” that you want to use as a shield against those questions, how about I replace “organism” with “a living thing” What was the living thing that originated in the origin of life? What was it like? How did non-living matter assemble itself to produce that living thing? You propose to know about it other than that it was alive and it reproduced living things. You propose to know about it without knowing anything else about it. And not only knowing about it in an informal use of the word but in the far more formal sense which something is known by the procedures of science.

    So, tell me how you can know you know about it without knowing about it.

  376. refill, some people have trouble with Lewontin because he assumes anyone paying attention to what he says can read and has a minimum level of awareness of what he’s talking about. Some of his antagonists have depended on the opposite, on a group of people who weren’t very good readers and who wouldn’t notice the problem with stuff, like that they had no real basis for what they were claiming. Stuff you used to be able to count on before the current decadence set in.

  377. #378 DuWayne
    August 8, 2011

    I posted the following at my brothers blog, because it is nearly as relevant here, as it was there;

    I get increasingly frustrated and irritated with this fucking “psychology (or insert social science and in some cases biology here) isn’t science” meme. If it isn’t science, then why the fuck am I spending more time (as an undergrad) learning about method and theory of science, than I am about specific clinical techniques for treating mental illness? Why I am virtually being beaten about the head and neck about what constitutes “bad” or more often just sloppy science, versus solid methodology? Why have I been repeatedly tasked to design experiments that would explore (usually well studied) a given question – or on many cases asked to also work out a reasonable question to explore as well?

    I get this sort of attitude from the anti-intellectuals that seems so pervasive in U.S. American culture – especially those who simply believe that “Jesus is always the best abswer” (though my fundy, cultish mother doesn’t even buy that). But I most certainly don’t understand this when it comes from people who espouse to be skeptics and scientifically minded. And when it comes from actual scientists, it is even more fucking ridiculous.

    Do these folks actually believe that because it is so fucking complicated, we just shouldn’t try to understand human behavior? Are we supposed to just let people with mental illness suffer, because we can’t work out exactly the best way to help them – though psychologists are constantly striving to understand a little more and improve treatments accordingly, all the fucking time?

    Don’t they get that the exact same fucking problem exists in medical research? Should we just give up on improving medicine, because we can’t actually do the science they believe is actual science?

    Human behavior is fucking complicated. In the field I am going into, addiction/substance use disorders, there is currently no way to know just how many underlying factors there are to contend with. In my own case, all it took to deal with it, was being treated for my rather extreme attention deficit and mood disorder/s.

    After spending my late teens, up until I started on meds for my underlying mental illness, with a compulsive need to be high or drunk as much as possible, I literally lost the desire, much less the pervasive need to get high after about three weeks on medication. But that was my relationship with my substances of abuse. There are many others who have many different such relationships, because substance abuse and addictive behaviors are far from being a singular problem.

    Now according to the psychology “skeptics,” this is just too complicated an issue to ever understand using science. What a fucking load of horseshit. It is too complicated to break down into a simple paradigm with universal predictive power – that doesn’t make it impossible. It just means that what I am going to spend most of what is left of my life doing, is contributing to a body of knowledge. The science I am going to engage in will likely produce only very limited applications in terms of treatments – but it will also produce more pieces of a very large picture.

    And that is what psychological science is about. It is about understanding that what I daresay the vast majority of those of us who choose to go into the science of human behavior wanting to learn, will not actually come together as comprehensively as we would like, until long after we are dead. But also understanding that if we don’t do what we are doing right now, it is a larger picture that will never come together.

    It would be absolutely wonderful if we could just put all the variables together and easily define human behavior in mathematical terms, like they do in physics. I would love nothing more than to be a part of breaking down human behaviors in such elegant and simplistic terms. But that is simply not possible. I will never learn the answers I really want to understand about human behavior – though I am going to spend my life trying to learn them. That doesn’t mean I should just give it up for lost, because it isn’t as simple as physics. It just means that I am going to take part in an ongoing, likely never-ending quest to answer those questions.

    And I, for one, am absolutely fucking grateful that biomed researchers feel the same way. Because just as this ongoing quest that I am taking part in provides real, tangible results in terms of helping people who have problems with behavior, biomed science is constantly coming up with new ways to help people live longer and healthier lives. Our respective sciences are messy, complicated and inundated with problems of subjectivity. But we keep plugging along, refusing to accept that “it’s just too complicated” and continually find ways to improve not only our understanding of our respective sciences, but also finding ways to eliminate more and more of the subjectivity.

    So if you want to claim we aren’t doing science, that is totally your right. But in so doing, you should probably quit using modern, evidence based medicine – because who wants to risk their body to unscientific bullshit and you should just give up the mentally ill for lost – because obviously there is no way to understand any way of helping them. By all means, feel free to dive headlong back into the dark-ages in terms of health.

    For my part, I would much rather spend my life using the tools and methods of science to develop more successful tools for helping my fellow humans. Whether you think it qualifies as science, or not.

    And if you neither believe what I am studying to do is science, nor want to just give up ill humans for lost – then by all means, enlighten me as to what the fuck you think we can do to make them better. Put up, or please feel free to shut the fuck up.

    I would just add, to bring it full around to this conversation, that those who believe this is somehow related to proving some ideological stance, need to get over themselves. Trying to understand the origins of life has absolutely nothing to do with proving or disproving some ideology and everything to do with trying to understand the natural world. Because one thing that becomes increasingly apparent with each passing day, is that we never know what lines of inquiry are going to prove useful in terms of improving the quality of life of our fellow humans. And we never know just what might shed light on interesting and important questions.

    The idiotic notion that we should just assume that there are things that science can’t explore or understand is fucking pointless. Because I don’t believe that there aren’t things science can’t explore, I am willing to accept that that is a real possibility. But understanding that might be the case, is not an argument for not trying to understand everything we can about ourselves, our world and the universe we inhabit. It is precisely because I don’t have an ideological belief about some hypothetical natural/supernatural dichotomy, that I am all for assuming materialism – especially in terms of scientific inquiry.

    Because when it comes down to it, whether you believe in the supernatural or not, what is the point of not trying to understand everything we can of the material world? When I was still a Christian – and this includes when I was a very young fundamentalist Christian, I still believed we should do everything we can to understand the material world. Such investigations weren’t a threat to my religious beliefs – to the contrary, they would serve to help me better understand the world that, at the time, I believed my god had created.

    I had the confidence in my beliefs necessary to not perceive such inquiries as any sort of threat to my faith. As far as I have come to understand it, the reality revealed by those inquiries directly contradicted my beliefs – though it certainly didn’t and can’t disprove them altogether. For my own part, the contradictions became way too much to maintain that faith – and that is the threat that folks like Anthony can’t accept.

    Anthony is here with his arguments, because he is afraid of what sort of evidence science will come up with next – what else of whatever beliefs he holds will be contradicted. I can understand that. The final loss of my religious beliefs was fucking terrifying, traumatizing and left scars behind that I will likely never be rid of. It was a brutally painful and in some ways, humiliating process. But it also freed me of burdens that have caused a great deal of damage to me, since I was a small child. It hurt and in some ways will likely continue to cause me pain until I die – but the trade was worth it.

    The dishonesty of Anthony and his ilk is irritating, because in their desire to maintain their own ideological posture, they make my job and the jobs of other scientists that much more complicated. They fuel anti-intellectual sentiments that prevent people from accepting what science has to offer – even though all we are doing is investigating ourselves, our world and the universe we inhabit.

  378. #379 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    As opposed to the meaning of “is”? I thought that kind of quibble was one of the reasons that scientists didn’t think very highly of the standards in the legal profession.

    Did you pay any attention to my question?

    If it’s the word “organism” that you want to use as a shield against those questions, how about I replace “organism” with “a living thing”

    So am I to understand that you require all theories of the origin of life to involve the rise of one single individual organism and not, say, 2 or 100 or some other number? Just one. Is that what you require?

  379. #380 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    some people have trouble with Lewontin because he assumes anyone paying attention to what he says can read and has a minimum level of awareness of what he’s talking about.

    Anthony, you are describing a man very different than the one I knew when I was getting my degree. Has he changed that much?

  380. So am I to understand that you require all theories of the origin of life to involve the rise of one single individual organism and not, say, 2 or 100 or some other number? Just one. Is that what you require? Greg Laden

    How about we settle on what we can agree on, that there was at least one which would have had to, among other things, have been formed from non-living matter, would have been alive and which would have successfully reproduced, leading to lines of organisms as its offspring reproduced,eventually including life, including us and the other life which had it as a common ancestor.

    Knowing anything proposed to be about that living thing requires knowing what that living thing was like, anything proposed to be about how it formed out of living matter requires quite a high level of knowledge about how that happened, knowing how it reproduced would also require quite a bit of knowledge. Consider that we only know anything about any living thing today is because we have quite a lot of physical evidence available that is of knowable relevance to those contemporary living things, anything without that link between proposed knowledge about living things now and the actual living thing isn’t known but it is believed.

    Two or a hundred? Why not billions or an infinity of them? It would be a rather modest claim as opposed to what the multi-universe people who are in style these days are claiming. Only, unless you have actual physical evidence that yields information known to be relevant to even one of them you can’t know if what you are proposing about it has anything to do with it.

  381. DuWayne, that something is “fucking complicated” doesn’t change that if you want to address it scientifically you have to observe the requirements of science. Neither complexity nor the need for something changes the fact that if you want to attain the reliability of knowledge that is the only reason that science was invented, the requirements to get that are pretty stiff.

    The history of psychology and the standards accepted for publication in journals accepted as legitimate within psychology are pretty wretched. Which accounts for the unreliability of its holdings and schools which get overturned with astounding frequency.

    We might need history and economics to be able to do what real science does, produce reliable knowledge through honest and rigorous procedures, that doesn’t mean they really can be. They are too complicated and what they study too ineffable to study scientifically. They don’t get a dispensation because “it’s really hard”.

    Don’t get me started on memes.

  382. #383 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    What do you define as a “high level of knowledge”?

  383. Just as an example, DuWayne. “Gay conversion therapy” isn’t an invention of the fundamentalist hucksters, it was an accepted practice within clinical psychology and is still practiced by people given credentials in psychology by real universities. One of the big proponents of it, even today, is Robert Spitzer, a psychiatrist who has taught at Columbia University, who happens to be an atheist.

    He became convinced to change his former, “science based” position on the basis of some pretty shoddily done research – based in self-reporting.

    But before it went out of fashion, “curing the gaii” was an acceptable “therapy” in the major schools of psychology, Freudianism and Behaviorism, for example, leading to much misery for the unfortunate victims of the “therapy” and their parent, especially, of course, the mothers. And all of that “gay conversion” was “based in solid science”.

    And then there is the case of the former head of the APA who claims that he had no idea his lecture about torturing dogs into submission, given to military and CIA agents in the wake of 9-11, might be taken as a how-to to be applied to prisoners in Afghanistan and elsewhere. That a psychologist of that stature couldn’t have suspected what any reasonably bright 8th grader might have known about how people really think is one of the most absurd things said in recent times.

  384. How about at least on a level to get a scientist claiming to be able to intuit something from a fossil published in a real scientific journal and for that to stand review. You know, something that at least has an object something can be known about.

  385. #386 DuWayn
    August 8, 2011

    So because the history of my field is shady, we can not possibly have changed?

    When I say it is complicated, I am not claiming we need some dispensation from the rigors of scientific inquiry. I am merely pointing out that we have far more variables to account for. This does not make scientific inquiry impossible, just very difficult and therefor slow.

    Meanwhile, just like evidence based medicine, we use the tools that the best evidence would indicate for treating a given patient. It is not perfect, but like evidence based medicine, we do our best while constantly using science to improve our tools.

    Or do you believe that evidence based medicine and evidence based mental health care should just be abandoned for their imperfections?

  386. I’m saying exactly what I said. That if something is too complicated or, in your terms, that it has too many variables to be handled with sufficient rigor, any conclusions you draw about it will be unreliable.

    If scientists want science to devolve into its former state by accommodating claims that aren’t reliable I’m not in any position to stop them. That doesn’t’ make the crap produced anything but what it is. They can’t expect people not to notice that and they will have done a lot to ruin the reputation of science.

    I’d like a lot of things to be available in medicine on a reliable basis. That doesn’t mean they are.

    Do you think medical science should be allowed to adopt the standards of the psychotherapy scam? How about the Rorschach Test, which has representation in the AAAS, the last time I looked. How about the kind of “therapy” Dr. Spitzer advocates for curing gay folks? How about the “science based” practice of giving gay men shocks to their genitals when they see sexy photos of men? Not to mention the psychiatrist who told the mother of one of my high school friends that it was natural for husbands to hit their wives? He knew that on the basis of evolutionary science and what he’d learned in his education at one of the big name universities in the North East. All of that was psychological science and “therapy” of its time.

    The dumping of the most severely schizophrenic patients from mental hospitals, only to have lots of them die on the streets or to be convicted of crimes and sent to prison was done with the excuses of professionals in psychology and psychiatry, leaving aside the collusion of politicians and others. And so was the testimony of Dr. Death in Texas that based on his superior and scientific knowledge of psychology that he could guarantee that death penalty defendants would kill again.

    Pretty big mess to have resulted from that rigorous “science”. I think it’s been allowed to spread and influence what gets called “science” in the real sciences today. Not to mention fields like economics and history. If the scientific history of this period is ever written, I think it will be seen as teetering on decadence because of stuff like that.

  387. #388 pornonymous
    August 8, 2011

    Anthony: there is evidence that groups of organisms collaborate to consume the resources of smaller, singular organisms to eventually produce life.
    Here is some video evidence if you don’t believe science ( and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t believe science, after all it is such a pure, evidence based discipline, devoid of biases….
    http://pornalysis.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/men-are-all-rapists-checklists-brought-to-you-by-sex-negative-feminists-and-bitter-girls-with-red-hair/

  388. #389 DuWayne
    August 8, 2011

    That if something is too complicated or, in your terms, that it has too many variables to be handled with sufficient rigor, any conclusions you draw about it will be unreliable.

    You are misrepresenting what I said and basing your response on that misrepresentation.

    Psychology is absolutely not too complicated to be handled with sufficient rigor. It just isn’t as simple as physics and will require a great deal more time in which to draw absolute conclusions. Meanwhile, the research that is done is providing us with increasingly useful treatments for a variety of mental illnesses. That the goal of achieving answers that can be broken down into absolute terms may never be achieved is irrelevant. We are using the methods of science to work towards that goal and in the process of working towards that goal, we are improving our ability to treat mental illness.

    You are welcome to claim that isn’t science, it really doesn’t matter. You can claim that evidence based medicine is also not science – you sound like a complete nutter when you do, but it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change the basic fact that the rigorous study of human behavior in myriad contexts is leading to improved treatments for mental illness and it doesn’t change the fact that the rigorous study of the human body and illness is leading to improved treatments for other illnesses.

    Most importantly, it doesn’t change the fact that our use of the methods of science to make our inquiries means that we are scientists, working in legitimate fields of science. Your belief that it is simply too complicated doesn’t mean that it is – it just means you are too narrow minded to accept that your inability to understand how something could be possible, doesn’t mean it is.

    Now you are welcome to point out the failures of psychology – of which there are many, but you are being disingenuous if you don’t also point out the failures found in every fucking science. Science isn’t perfect and doesn’t offer perfect answers. Science is subject to the biases of scientists and no matter how aware a given scientist is of their biases, no matter what they do to try to compensate for those biases, biases always enter into the equation. All we can do is work to ensure that science continues to be self-correcting. And of course there are cranks and quacks in every profession and every science.

    As I have said repeatedly, your biggest problem here is a complete and utter ignorance of psychology and science. And for someone who quacks poetical about rigor and evidence based assertions, you have made a hell of a lot of assertions in this thread that – no matter how many times you are challenged to produce it, you have absolutely refused to back up with evidence. Not evidence that would be hard to come by, if it actually existed – it is all right here, in black and white.

  389. #390 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    How about at least on a level to get a scientist claiming to be able to intuit something from a fossil published in a real scientific journal and for that to stand review. You know, something that at least has an object something can be known about.

    I wouldn’t expect fossils. Were you thinking this would be figured out with fossils? Highly unlikely.

  390. #391 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    That if something is too complicated or, in your terms, that it has too many variables to be handled with sufficient rigor, any conclusions you draw about it will be unreliable.

    How many variables is to many, what is the shape or nature of the falloff of reliability, how do you know this, and can you cite some peer reviewed research that develops this claim?

    Even more interesting …. what would cause you to rethink this rather strong conclusion you’ve drawn, what kind of finding would prove you wrong?

  391. #392 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    Anthony [368] those may be good examples of bad science, or of science getting it wrong, but they are also good examples of science getting it right. You do see that, right?

    The way science works, it would be impossible …. utterly impossible … to look at the history of thinking on some area of research and not find that it was wrong at various points along the past. You get this, right?

    If so, I’m not sure why you are pointing this out exactly. Did you have a point?

  392. #393 Raging Bee
    August 8, 2011

    That if something is too complicated or, in your terms, that it has too many variables to be handled with sufficient rigor, any conclusions you draw about it will be unreliable.

    That depends almost entirely on what you try to do with such conclusions. If you draw such conclusions and say “This is the final answer,” then yes, you’re on very shaky ground. But if you use such conclusions only as a basis or guide for further research and experimentation, then you’re well within the bounds of valid scientific inquiry. And it’s the latter, not the former, that is curently being done by OoL researchers. The conclusions curently being drawn are not “reliable” as final answers, but they are very useful in pointing the way for subsequent inquiries.

    Do you think medical science should be allowed to adopt the standards of the psychotherapy scam?

    Now you sound like a $cientologist.

    How about the kind of “therapy” Dr. Spitzer advocates for curing gay folks? How about the “science based” practice of giving gay men shocks to their genitals when they see sexy photos of men? Not to mention the psychiatrist who told the mother of one of my high school friends that it was natural for husbands to hit their wives?

    None of that is based on valid science, it’s based on entrenched popular bigotry; and honest scientists have lately been exposing such practices for the bigoted nonsense it is. (Otherwise how do you know it’s bogus?)

    He knew that on the basis of evolutionary science and what he’d learned in his education at one of the big name universities in the North East. All of that was psychological science and “therapy” of its time.

    So now you’re bashing science AND evolution AND universities AND that old standard boogeyman the “North-East Coast Elite” in one paragraph? You’re blatantly dishonest, but you sure are efficient about it. Once again, your true agenda is showing, and it’s all about politics, religion and culture, not science or a decent understanding of how it works.

    Seriously, Anthony, have you considered a career with Uncommon Dissembling?

  393. Greg Laden, if don’t have physical evidence of what happened in the past and no way to trace that back across a silence from a tenth to a quarter of a billion years, also with nothing on the other side of it, you have nothing to go on. Especially with something which is entirely unknown as to how it happened or what was produced. Which is the first point I made about the problem of “knowing about the origin of life”.

    Nothing you have come up with has lowered the barriers preventing us from knowing about the origin of life, everything you have pointed out only makes what is asserted as far more uncertain.

    As to psychology, it’s the business of psychology to clean itself up. Its professional practices, its bumbling ad hoc methods of research that is published in its journals and other, ridiculous junk gotten away with in psychology. Until they do that no one has any reason to take what they say seriously without checking out the methodology used and what is being claimed. And, given what I’ve found when I looked into those, it won’t do a thing to build confidence that it doesn’t measure up as a science.

    Dr. Death, Dr. George Denkowski, hasn’t been kicked out of the profession that I’ve noticed, neither has Seligman. As the Hauser scandal shows, when it’s allegedly science done around “behavior” the slack is cut incredibly long. And it’s the people in the “science” that do the cutting of that slack.

  394. #395 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    Greg Laden, if don’t have physical evidence of what happened in the past and no way to trace that back across a silence from a tenth to a quarter of a billion years, also with nothing on the other side of it, you have nothing to go on.

    Why do you say there is no physical evidence go go on?

    …everything you have pointed out only makes what is asserted as far more uncertain.

    I haven’t pointed to anything. I’m still trying to clarify where you are coming from on this.

    As the Hauser scandal shows, when it’s allegedly science done around “behavior” the slack is cut incredibly long. And it’s the people in the “science” that do the cutting of that slack.

    Slack = research thrown out, career ended?

  395. Slack = research thrown out, career ended? Greg Laden

    Yes, over something that should have been caught in review years ago, before it was taught and built on, probably never to be completely removed.

    So now you’re bashing science AND evolution AND universities AND that old standard boogeyman the “North-East Coast Elite” Raging Bee

    As I was born and have always lived about as far in the North East as it is to get and the graduate of a North Eastern university who holds a graduate degree from another one, and have always accepted the fact of of evolution, etc. you are entirely out of your depth this discussion and can only substitute personal attacks based in nothing for substantial comment. Since I’ve only seen one mild correction of your wacky, paranoid, accusations, Raging Bee, I guess that’s not found objectionable by your side of this discussion on the basis of your shared ideology.

    See, it can come off on you folks if you don’t correct your side.

  396. Why do you say there is no physical evidence go go on? Greg Laden

    Because there is nothing that contains information as to what happened at the origin of life or what the organism that became alive in that origin was like. No evidence, no information from that event, none that might, miraculously (?) survive has been produced. Not a single bit, nothing.

    There, refute me.

  397. #398 Raging Bee
    August 8, 2011

    …you are entirely out of your depth this discussion and can only substitute personal attacks based in nothing for substantial comment.

    I made a substantive comment in the first paragraph of my last post, and you chose to ignore it. Just as you chose to ignore all of my requests for you to back up any of your wild-assed accusations. Pretending I’m out of my depth, without proving it by refuting any of my points, only further proves you’re nothing but a blustering poseur.

  398. Consider yourself ignored, Raging Bee

  399. #400 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    There, refute me.

    I guess I would start with the isotopic evidence and the diagenetic mineral evidence from the earliest sediments. See references here

  400. You need more than that to demonstrate relevance to what became alive and how it became alive, which are far from simple problems.

    You do understand that living things aren’t able to be easily intuited from general principles, don’t you? Maybe you should read a bit more Lewontin, if you think that. As he said there is indeterminacy in biology at least as important as that in quantum mechanics, which would make it impossible to even predict just what a living organism would be like based on its genome, far more information than you propose to use to intuit an entirely unknown form of life. As he pointed out, environmental influences on organisms have a profound effect and you can’t predict an organism due to those factors. As mentioned above, it’s a lot harder than rocket science.

  401. #402 Raging Bee
    August 8, 2011

    You went out of your way to point out that you were “ignoring” me? Consider my point proven, Anthony.

    Oh, and if you really “always accepted the fact of evolution,” then why did you try to blame “evolutionary science” for acts of malfeasance that had nothing to do with evolution? That’s been a standard creationist tactic practically from day one — especially at Uncommon Dissembling, where evolution is routinely blamed for eugenics, the Holocaust, and just about every other evil known to Man. The more you claim to be a supporter of honest science, the more you sound like the exact opposite.

  402. #403 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    You do understand that living things aren’t able to be easily intuited from general principles, don’t you?

    Do you know what biofractionation of stable isotopes is?

    Maybe you should read a bit more Lewontin, if you think that.

    I’ve read everything he’s written, I’ve had numerous conversations with him, as a student at a University Museum’s connected department I worked with his colleagues on a daily basis for several years.

    I don’t think you understand what he is talking about.

  403. #404 pornonymous
    August 8, 2011

    Anthony: be careful–Raping Bazungu, aka Raping Bee prides himself on being ignored! Your feeding the stomachless!

    Bee: there you go again, fantasizing about “wild-assed accusations”….?

    Haven’t Anna Ardin, Sofia Wilen, and Naffisatou Diallo (the false rape accusing wild asses that are trying to frame Julian Assange and DSK )fed you enough of that for a lifetime??

  404. #405 DuWayne
    August 8, 2011

    Yes, over something that should have been caught in review years ago, before it was taught and built on, probably never to be completely removed.

    You do understand, I hope, that this happens with far more frequency than it should, in every field of science, with the possible exception of physics. What is ironic, is that it happens with greater frequency in high profile biology journals, than anywhere I am aware of, because those journals limit space so much that they don’t actually want scientists to go into method. At least in psychology the method is there for all to see and criticize.

    That doesn’t always prevent data fraud or confirmation bias problems, but it is a flaw that exists across the board in science. What is fucking brilliant about science, is that it is self-correcting. While bad data may pervade for a long time in some cases, when it happens to be something important, it will come out that there was some bullshit involved, because someone will try to build on that work and discover it doesn’t fucking work.

    And then there is the uber oddity – the occasional bullshit (which often comes out anyways – did recently with a Duke (IIRC) biomed prof) that actually works. Fraudulent data does occasionally conform to reality.

  405. What years was that? I met him a number of times around the Science for the People era.

    Do you think he would endorse the idea that we knew anything about the origin of life in the terms I’ve talked about it, how it happened, what the life that was originated in the origin of life was like, that those things were unimportant to knowing anything about the origin of life? Considering his skepticism about speculations that are, effectively, seconds ago, in terms of geological time, I tend to doubt it.

    I wonder, have you ever gone on about evidence being the only way of knowing something in your activities as a Skeptic? Have you ever endorsed that idea, perhaps here, on your blog? Do you agree with it now? Do you hold that you can’t know something unless you have evidence of it? Do you think that it is wrong for people to believe things for which they have no evidence? And I would appreciate a real answer instead of sidestepping.

  406. Fraudulent data does occasionally conform to reality. DuWayne

    Well, any kind of speculation can. It’s no way to run an intellectual program, never mind one that wants to falsely claim the repute of science.

    You folks do understand that science can’t escape the requirement that it be logically coherent, don’t you?

  407. #408 Raging Bee
    August 8, 2011

    It’s no way to run an intellectual program…

    Yes, you tiresome troll, we’re all quite aware of that. That is, in fact, why DuWayne called that particular incident “the uber oddity.”

    Do you think that it is wrong for people to believe things for which they have no evidence?

    Who here believes anything that isn’t supported by the (currently available) evidence? Got any specifics here? Given your past performance, probably not. (If you’re referring to OoL researchers, they’re not “believing” things without evidence, they’re speculating and doing research based on what evidence they have. There’s a difference, and you show your religious mindset (again) by failing to see it.)

    And I would appreciate a real answer instead of sidestepping.

    Coming from the king of sidestepping, evasion, and outright lies, your demands are as hyporcitical as they are babyish. This isn’t your forum, you have no credibility, and even your Lewontin bluff has been called. You don’t get to stamp your little feet and tell others how to talk to you. Go f[l]ail somewhere else; and when you’re finished with your temper-tantrum, just go to bed.

  408. Have I mentioned I’m ignoring you Raging Bee? Since you’re focused on attacking me and adding nothing to the discussion I’m not even bothering to read you. Encouraging as that might be that I can’t be all wrong.

  409. #410 Raging Bee
    August 8, 2011

    Yes, you have, and every time you mention it proves you know damn well you CAN’T ignore me.

  410. I’m ignoring your drone, Raging Bee.

  411. #412 Raging Bee
    August 8, 2011

    Just like you ignore every question you can’t answer, every statement that flatly refutes your allegations about how science and scientists actually work, and every other comment that doesn’t support your con-game.

  412. #413 DuWayne
    August 8, 2011

    I find it very amusing that the only thing you latched onto out of my entire comment was the part that I clearly stated is a rarity and a bizarre one at that. I find it amusing, because the only reason I mentioned it, was to see if you would actually respond to anything else – and you didn’t disappoint.

  413. #414 Jesse
    August 8, 2011

    I’ve been following this thread a bit after I kind’a gave up. Here’s the interesting thing about Anthony McCarthy Leveler’s view of science. He seems to think that if you can’ know something absolutely you don’t know it. The whole concept of conditional probability and building up from simpler concepts and assumptions seems lost on him.

    I brought up way up thread the origin of gold, and Anthony says for gold to be gold it would have to remain the same. But that’s the point: life forms may have changed a lot in the last 3 billion years, but they are all made of the same basic elements (Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Sulphur, Phosphorus, Hydrogen) which haven’t changed at all in that time. Knowing that, you do know more than you did before. Because you know what is not possible (or at least really, really unlikely).

    Scientists often speculate on things like the origin of the moon, that they can’t go back in time for. But there is a reason that the “big whack” theory has gained currency, and it wasn’t because a bunch of planetary geologists just loved collisions. Do we know it absolutely? No, but you can say what is likely. The moon being built by smurfs is less likely than a collision. So we go with the latter.

  414. #415 TTT
    August 8, 2011

    I gather that for a number of people in this discussion it is the desire to nail down an absolutely material explanation for that, overturning alternative guesses about how it happened

    There’s a similar desire for absolutely material explanations for the mechanism of nuclear fission. We’ve never observed its fine details with the naked eye and surely never will, and there are still many things unknown about what makes this or that neutron go in whichever direction it does.

    But that doesn’t mean reasonable people can reasonably think that maybe an invisible faerie was at the center of the bomb directing all the particles via magic wand.

    Apparently it hurts AM’s feelings for people to presume him a creationist, but if the whole crux of your argument is that you have to leave the door open for divine intervention, that’s how it’ll be seen.

  415. if you can’ know something absolutely you don’t know it. The whole concept of conditional probability and building up from simpler concepts and assumptions seems lost on him. Jesse

    I never said that or anything like that. I said that in order to know something you had to have evidence of it. Either direct evidence or evidence known to be close enough to have some reasonable chance of intuiting something that actually had to do with it. Neither of which is available for this topic.

    Any attempt to reconstruct conditions under which life originated is based in assumptions so general about the variety of possible conditions under which that happened, as to be a guess as likely to be wrong as not.

    Any attempt to imagine what the series of chemical events which could have led to life forming is hampered no evidence of how that happened is available. Even imagining how it might have happened is extremely difficult but in order to know anything about the origin of life you would have to know how it DID actually happen.

    The object that went from being non-living to being alive is entirely unknown to us, what that could have been like, what its chemistry and physical character was that could have gone from inanimate to alive, sustaining and reproducing, is entirely unknown to us. We have never observed an object that became alive, we don’t even know what that looks like. Any proposal that the chemistry or physical structures of that object-organism was like which is complex enough to match what we know from life a quarter of a billion years later, a. increases the problem of figuring out the formation of it, b. increases the chance that we can’t figure its formation out. c. makes it likely that there was a unique, very complex series of events leading up to it becoming alive.

    We have no idea why a bunch of non-living matter spontaneously became alive, why that non-living being spontaneously reproduced is even more perplexing. Understanding that requires quite a bit of actual detail about what that being was like, in very great detail and would also require a detailed knowledge of its formation. Anticipating a dodge into an enormous number of living beings that didn’t reproduce and the one which did being just one that lucked out, doesn’t go anywhere because it is a. entirely speculative, b. still does nothing to explain why what happened did.

    This argument is about evidence that is tied to an event in the natural world being an absolute requirement for knowing ANYTHING about it, it’s not a question of absolute knowledge of it. One of my most satisfying moments in a blog argument was the day, after about two weeks of trying, to get Sean Carroll to admit that there isn’t a single object in the universe of which physics had complete and exhaustive knowledge, what you might call “absolute knowledge”. Since I was the one who introduced that question into the argument, I can document that I don’t believe that absolute knowledge is possible.

    All of those things listed in the post, yes, they might have found out some interesting things, they all lack an evidential link with the event which Greg Laden made the topic of this discussion, whether or not we could know about the origin of life. Without that they can discover all kinds of nifty things, some of them might even achieve usefulness. Without that evidential link to the actual event of the origin of life, anyone who thinks those things are relevant to that very real, very specific event, is expressing a belief, quite often a belief motivated by ideology, not scientific integrity.

    I’m interested in the abuse of science by materialists, which is far more subtle and complicated than its abuse by religious fundamentalists. I’m also interested in its commercial abuse, a far more important problem, something in which quite a number of scientists participate. I’ve been studying these issues for about the past three years and will probably continue to do that. I think it’s an important problem that is related to climate change denial, probably the most crucial problem which is both scientific and political. I think there are complex reasons for that, scientists overselling science in other areas, scientists selling out to corporate oligarchs, scientists hostile to non-scientists and their non-scientific beliefs as well as other things.

    I’m mildly interested in the phenomenon of sci-fans, sci-jocks and sci-rangers on the blogs, but that’s only a freak show compared to the real issues that mean something in real life. Real life is the only thing that makes science about something real, it’s the only thing that elevates it from a hobby. I am discouraged at the abysmal level of reading comprehension among the sci-and that you can be one without knowing anything much about logic or even science.

    I could go on for quite a while. If Greg Laden had given real answers to those questions at 202, this could have ended a long time ago.

  416. #417 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    I wonder, have you ever gone on about evidence being the only way of knowing something in your activities as a Skeptic?

    I’ve not decided yet if I’m a member of the “skeptics community.” So far I’m a “Skeptical Skeptic” in the business of critiquing insufficiently skeptical skeptics.

    Yes I like evidence. You seem to be arguing that things that I’m pretty sure are evidence are not.

    For instance, stable isotopes, a topic about which I suspect you know very little. And, yet another question that I’ve raised for you that you seem to have ignored.

  417. #418 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    Yes, over something that should have been caught in review years ago, before it was taught and built on, probably never to be completely removed.

    Ah, so you don’t actually know the story. I see.

    You need more than that to demonstrate relevance to what became alive and how it became alive, which are far from simple problems.

    You told me I had nothing and you demanded that I disprove that. I showed you I have something. Now you are changing the game. I’m starting to think you ARE some sort of creationist, because that’s right out of the playbook.

    Have I mentioned I’m ignoring you Raging Bee?

    Good idea, but don’t miss RB’s last three comments, they’re amazing!

  418. #419 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    …if you can’ know something absolutely you don’t know it. The whole concept of conditional probability and building up from simpler concepts and assumptions seems lost on him.

    then

    I never said that or anything like that. I said that in order to know something you had to have evidence of it.

    And you asked for evidence but you failed to notice that this blog post is all about the evidence, which you’ve ignored. You lie.

  419. #420 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    I could go on for quite a while. If Greg Laden had given real answers to those questions at 202, this could have ended a long time ago.

    You are quite correct that I’ve not answered your questions. I’ve asked for simple clarification on question 1 and you refuse to give it. I cant’ address question 2 until after question 1 is addressed, and probably not even then because it is predicated on a construct you’ve got in your head that is not in anyone else’s head and that your not entirely clear on.

    So, this concern you have about my answering the questions is, well, a lie. You lie.

    Lewontin never lied, stop comparing your world view favorably with his. He does not deserve that insult.

  420. #421 DuWayne
    August 8, 2011

    I will have to amend my earlier assessment of you Anthony. You’re definitely stupid, hypocritical and dishonest – I wasn’t entirely sure, but you have indeed confirmed it. And you are also almost, if not completely unhinged. It has been an interesting train ride, but the time has come for me to get off.

    I would just like to note, Anthony, that unless things have changed since the ad takeover from NG, Greg gets paid the more people click on this thread. Your comments have helped drive some amount of cash or another, into Dr. Laden’s pockets, as well as having exposed you as a complete buffoon. Seeing as I don’t like you (dishonesty annoys the hell out of me), this makes me very pleased indeed. I really hope that you post something about this discussion to your own little blog.

    I am not, just to be clear, suggesting that you should go away. You have entertained the masses and will likely to do so, the longer you stick around. Your complete and utter ignorance of science and everything else you have talked about is fucking comedy gold. It is just that I try to limit myself to one or two blog posts at a time and this has gone on long enough.

    That, and I am making a beautiful Italian sausage red sauce with fresh from the yard basil, oregano and thyme (pictures will be up on my blog later). Alas we don’t have enough ripe tomatoes yet, but the couple of Romas we have gotten so far would indicate that when we do, I am going to make some seriously asskicking marinara. They are absolutely incredible – sweet, tart – yet still plenty meaty.

    It may have to wait until Wed though. Rumor has it that we will have fresh tenderloin tuna coming in tomorrow and if we do, a buddy is going to pick some up and bring it by so I can make the good sushimi. No matter how stressful it might get, life is good with good food, good friends and great entertainment.

  421. Greg Laden, I don’t believe you didn’t understand those questions. I doubt, but don’t yet know, that you have never expressed disdain for the idea that you can know something without direct evidence for it, but I’ve certainly heard and read it often enough for me to doubt you’re unfamiliar with the idea.

    So, Richard Lewontin is skeptical about knowing things which would have to be based in unavailable evidence from the Paleolithic period, from our own species, even, but he would have no problem with knowing about life in the Archaean period with no evidence of even what kind of life that was, hundreds of millions of years before the closest available evidence, in unknown environmental conditions, arising by unknown means, etc.

    Wish I could ask him.

  422. DuWayne, I don’t know what faction of your specialty you are associated with, but when that is overturned due to the primitive state of the technology it is based on and the vagueries of what is known from it means, remember I told you it was going to happen. Then remember your last comment.

  423. #424 Tlazolteotl
    August 8, 2011

    From my experience, I don’t think Anthony McCarthy can actually be bothered to read any actual scientific articles. Keep that in mind when you argue with him.

  424. Oh, Tlaz has brought her bossy boots act to this blog. I was, actually, expecting that, having mentioned this to a science teacher in her presence. I think she’ll bring the rest of her posse with her. She’s trying to contact the biggest boot of them, just now.

    I can ignore you here as well as at Eschaton, Tlaz.

  425. Oh, maybe I’ll get to tell the story of how she slammed a comment I posted earlier today as an expression of scientific ignorance. Only, if she’d bothered to read it all she would have seen the entire comment was a quotation from “Cargo Cult Science” by that well known scientific illiterate, Ricard Feynman.

  426. #427 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    Wait, is Tlazolteotl a Posse of Science Teachers? COOL!

  427. I think she’s a lab assistant or something. The other guy is a physics teacher who actually can read and even think.

    I should tell you, Greg Laden, it’s all material at this point. Including the sarcastic attempts to avoid dealing with the issues.

  428. #429 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    Anthony, I’m glad to hear you want to stop avoiding the issues.

    No, give us a rundown on stable isotopes and fractionation. Seriously.

    Or do you plan to just reject all science because you worship someone who you think said that nothing is knowable?

  429. #430 bks
    August 8, 2011

    I still don’t know what the accommodation debate is, but onward.

    Let’s quickly note Christian Schwabe’s ‘The Genomic Potential Hypothesis’ which posits more than a billion separate OoL, one for each species. This is apparently a serious suggestion, not creationist, and which at least gets lip service from the OoL theorists. A critical review of the ideas can be found here:

    http://home.wxs.nl/~gkorthof/korthof56.htm

    By the way, the official terms for Shapiroite and Kauffmanite are “Contingency/Determinism.” You can find Nobel winners who think that Life is contingent (a “frozen accident” was Crick’s term) and those, like de Duve, who think it was inevitable. Those in the latter camp will not admit the highly improbably while those in the former insist on it. Note that Schwabe is in the latter camp.

    –bks

  430. #431 Jason Thibeault
    August 8, 2011

    Yeah, I did some more research on Lewontin. Smart man. Can’t find a lot to disagree with, even the parts Anthony pointed to. Certainly isn’t saying what Anthony suggests he’s saying though, unless I missed it somehow in the “subtext”. Which is, of course, immaterial and not evidence-based.

    I stand by my earlier Church of Lewontin comment. Surely Jesus Christ, if he were a real person who preached as he is claimed to have done in the Bible, would see as much of a disconnect between his teachings and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as Lewontin would find between his own philosophy and Anthony’s.

  431. #432 Tlazolteotl
    August 8, 2011

    I’m a lab assistant? Good one. I’d give you a list of publications, but I’d like to remain psuedonymous.

    Anyway, at another blog, Anthony was criticizing some study and sniping about its methodology. After some questioning by some members of the community, Anthony admitted he had not read the actual study in question, only the abstract and some stories about the study in the mainstream press. He maintained that he would know enough about the methodology from reading the abstract alone. This makes me highly suspicious whether he has ever actually read a paper published in the scientific literature, for reasons that should be obvious.

    I can only conclude that not only does Anthony not really have a good grasp of the process of science, but he is too intellectually lazy to actually read any actual scientific literature and find out what that process actually involves.

  432. Greg Laden, here is what I just told Jesse at 400.

    I never said that or anything like that. I said that in order to know something you had to have evidence of it. Either direct evidence or evidence known to be close enough to have some reasonable chance of intuiting something that actually had to do with it. Neither of which is available for this topic.

    And also (unintended editing flubs corrected)

    This argument is about evidence that is tied to an event in the natural world being an absolute requirement for knowing ANYTHING about it, it’s not a question of absolute knowledge of it. One of my most satisfying moments in a blog argument was the day, after about two weeks of trying, I got Sean Carroll to admit that there isn’t a single object in the universe of which physics had complete and exhaustive knowledge, what you might call “absolute knowledge”. Since I was the one who introduced that question into the argument, I can document that I don’t believe that absolute knowledge is possible.

    I can assure you, Carroll was no more eager to answer that question than you are to deal with those I’ve asked you. I knew how he would have to answer it before I asked him and I knew that he wouldn’t want to answer it. Do you think I don’t know how you would have to answer the questions I asked you in order to maintain your credibility in this argument?

    Of course an event in the natural universe happened only in the way it happened, with exactly the physical entities, objects and forces being intrinsic to the nature of that event. Things happen the way they happened, they happen with and to the things involved with that event.

    Any description of that event which deviates from an accurate account of that event is wrong, it’s far easier to be wrong about complicated events you can’t observe and for which you have no direct evidence. If it’s nothing like anything you have yet seen and for which you have no direct evidence, the chances of your getting it right rapidly approach being so improbable that you have no right to assert that what you conclude is known and anyone would have a right to point that what you have done is made a speculation.

    Of course you have to have evidence that anything you want to claim about an event that happened is relevant to that event in order to legitimately claim to know something about it. That is so basic to logic, never mind to science, that to answer that you don’t need to establish that link would be ridiculous. Though, as ridiculous, is for someone with your blogging history to pretend that what I asked you about that is incomprehensible.

    In order to establish that link to an event in the natural world, you would already have to have sufficient knowledge of it before you can reliably link your proposed evidence to it. If you don’t know anything about it, then you have no way of knowing if what you conclude about the event on the basis of your “evidence” has anything to do with it. Your existing knowledge has to be sufficiently detailed for you to know it is relevant to your description of that event. You might propose something about DNA to the organism that was the product of the origin of life, though RNA is more in style. But without knowing that organism contained either or a primitive predecessor of either, you have no way of knowing that is relevant to the origin of life. It’s possible it had neither or that any predecessor of those would have quite different characteristics and nothing you bring from your knowledge of later chemistry would be relevant to it but would, actually, lead you farther into the cold.

    No one has that evidence of the event you have chosen to make assertions about, the origin of life. There is no way to know if any asserted application of modern science to that event has anything to do with it.

    I’m fascinated at the flexibility of the “skepticism” demonstrated in this argument, how I have consistently, from the beginning, insisted on the necessity of evidence in trying to know something and the demonstration that any ideas proposed as relevant to what you want to know had to have a demonstrable relevance to it and it’s the “skeptics” who have been, consistently, arguing against those logical necessities.

    Do you think that science can escape the necessity that it be logically coherent? That science, somehow, has power that allows people to know something without that logical coherence? It seems that you do and it’s certain that many of the others participating in this argument do. Which is magical thinking, not science.

  433. I have no idea what you do, Tlaz, I do know you tend to be irrational at times.

    As I mentioned, she’s capable of mistaking a long passage written by Feynman as being something I wrote and declaring it to be scientifically incompetent on that basis. And that’s with a citation, author and title, and a link given. Happened just this morning.

    Since the comment I made was about that stupid study that said Boston was the meanest city in America (meaner than cities that have illegalized feeding the homeless), and the only thing available by the authors of the study was an abstract of a study, I quoted that. I doubt she has read the thing. It was all about cities that voted for Obama as being “head cities” and those which voted for McCain as being “heart cities” (everyone knows that Republicans are all heart, right) I stand by my statement that it was crap science.

    Tlaz is a bit OC about me. It’s given me a few laughs.

    Jason, maybe we’ll get lucky and someone will show this to Lewontin so he can speak for himself. I’d like to hear what he has to say about knowledge without evidence of organisms from more than three and a half billion years ago in light of his profound skepticism of science about evidence free assertions made about people a few tens of thousands of years ago. Though I can imagine him having better things to do.

    You really hadn’t read him before this? Geesh, imagine if I’d chosen to cite more people.

  434. #435 Graculus
    August 8, 2011

    I see you have an Anthony infestation. He used to leave his droppings all over PZ’s place. Try to ignore it, its only interest is its own ego.

    Greg, thanks for this post, it’s a fascinating field.

  435. #436 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    Lewontin, atheist socialist commie and beloved professor: His grad stats class is/was legendary. I never took it because it was basic and I was busy teaching advanced elsewhere, but my then spouse and many fellow students did.

    Here’s the deal: If you do the daily homework (and yes, daily homework is a bit unusual for a PhD program grad class) and hand it in and address corrections, you get a B in the class. Otherwise, you get a D. A’s are for class obsessed running dogs! Oh, and he generally wore workers clothing, as I did in those days as well.

    Everyone who wants to talk seriously to me about race but is not otherwise an expert is assigned this book: Human Diversity, and of course, this classic: Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature

  436. I think I might have commented at PZ’s playhouse about five times, in all, under my name and the pseudonym I used to use on blogs. Though, at PZ’s, who could tell one person’s droppings from the heap?

    I wonder if PZ is on record as thinking evidence is optional in science. Maybe I’ll look at the archives of some prominent ideological materialists to see what they’ve said on that topic.

  437. #438 Greg
    August 8, 2011

    I can tell you that pz and I discussed the issue Of the origin of life a few weeks ago in a public forum on evolution And we essentially agree on the main outline

  438. #439 Tlazolteotl
    August 8, 2011

    As I mentioned, she’s capable of mistaking a long passage written by Feynman as being something I wrote and declaring it to be scientifically incompetent on that basis.

    Actually I didn’t read it at all, and my only comment had to do with when you probably last did read an actual scientific paper, when you were in college back in – when was it? The late 60s?

    Anyway, I have no wish to derail the thread further.

  439. So, PZ thinks you can know about something without evidence for it? Is this some revolution in atheism among scientists I missed? Because if there’s one thing I’ve heard them say it’s that without evidence, you couldn’t know anything.

    Does he think science has escaped the necessity of logical coherence as well?

    I have had more than enough material for what I’d planned but if PZ wants to give me more I’ll take it. I haven’t had such an easy time since I was writing about Nixon

    How about you, Tlaz, you going to endorse evidence free science? I’d ask you about logic but if you think you can know what something says without reading it…

  440. #441 Greg
    August 8, 2011

    You have a plan?

  441. #442 Raging Bee
    August 8, 2011

    I’m interested in the abuse of science by materialists, which is far more subtle and complicated than its abuse by religious fundamentalists.

    Examples, please? If you’re really interested in the subject, then you should have at least a few really good examples, right? (Oh, and you’re showing your creationist colors again — that line about how science is okay but it’s been corrupted by “atheists”/”materialists” is one of their oldest lying-points.)

    I’ve been studying these issues for about the past three years and will probably continue to do that.

    If you’re really been “studying” it for that long, then you REALLY should have some good examples to cite. Where are they?

    I think there are complex reasons for that, scientists overselling science in other areas, scientists selling out to corporate oligarchs, scientists hostile to non-scientists and their non-scientific beliefs as well as other things.

    Oh yeah, lots of things…things of which you still have no specific examples. No examples? No case.

    Oh, Tlaz has brought her bossy boots act to this blog.

    “Bossy?” What’s so “bossy” about pointing out something that’s bloody obvious from your behavior? She didn’t give any orders. Once again, you’re hiding behind patronizing macho insults when you have nothing else to offer.

    Also, it’s funny how so many of us said a certain thing about you, but the only one of us you call “bossy” is the one you either think or know is female. You got a special problem with women speaking up to your face? And now you’re responding with both paranoia and mockery about her “posse?” God but you’re a bogus little git.

    Oh, maybe I’ll get to tell the story of how she slammed a comment I posted earlier today as an expression of scientific ignorance.

    Oh, I get it — you’re still all butthurt ’cause she didn’t follow your precious script either, and you’re still nursing the grudge.

    Greg Laden, I don’t believe you didn’t understand those questions. I doubt, but don’t yet know, that you have never expressed disdain for the idea that you can know something without direct evidence for it, but I’ve certainly heard and read it often enough for me to doubt you’re unfamiliar with the idea.

    Um…you still didn’t give Greg the clarification of your question #1 that he asked for. You said you were waiting for his answers, then when he asked for clarification, you tried to duck and dodge. Do you really think you’re fooling anyone here?

  442. #443 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2011

    I for one see no evidence for Tlaz’s boots.

  443. #444 Jesse
    August 8, 2011

    Anthony, what counts as evidence?

    Really, I want to know.

    People say the origin of the moon is likely a large collision, because the moon is made of stuff that looks a lot like the Earth’s mantle. Is that evidence of anything? Anything at all? THe fact that it is made of stuff like the Earth’s mantle — and unlike the other differentiated bodies of similar size. Do you think that tells you anything? What?

    Life as it is on Earth is made of a certain basic six elements across the board. What does that tell you, Anthony? Anything at all?

    You keep saying “we know nothing about the earth then” when that is patently false. You keep saying “life has changed a lot” which is true, but the laws f chemistry and physics have not changed. You keep saying that narrowing down the problem — the fact that we know that much of the periodic table won’t form self-catalyzing molecules — tells you nothing. Holy. Freaking. Shit.

  444. #445 Graculus
    August 8, 2011

    I think I might have commented at PZ’s playhouse about five times, in all, under my name and the pseudonym I used to use on blogs.

    I think John Kwok posted more than that before getting thrown in the Dungeon. Although you weren’t ever thrown in the Dungeon, even though you spent a lot of time and energy saying that you had.

    Do you realize I’ve been posting and lurking on Pharyngula (among others) since before there even was a sciblogs?

  445. #446 bks
    August 9, 2011

    Jesse: I’m not sure what you’re getting at with your refrain about elements. Life passed throught the LUCA bottleneck, but there are various other necessary elements beyond your six to produce LUCA. Iron for the iron pyrite world, aluminum and silicon for the clay world, etc. So we have no real knowledge of what the essential elements are to *produce* life. I’m not even sure that the six you list are enough to sustain life. Certainly not human life.

    –bks

  446. #447 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    So, PZ thinks you can know about something without evidence for it?

    Quote PZ himself saying that, or admit you’re full of shit.

  447. #448 BinJabreel
    August 9, 2011

    Nah, it’s pretty obvious that Anthony is a broomhandle.

    Because he’s convinced himself that the origin of life had to be a single, finger-of-god event and refuses to listen to anyone who tries to tell him that it had to be spectacularly more chaotic than that based on what we’ve discovered about biology. I mean, hell, they can still see the separate protein pathways in the human genome that predate the synthesis of the eukaryotic cell.

    There’s a fundamental disconnect in that he keeps insisting that there had to be only one single organism that arose one single way, instead of, say, dozens upon dozens of different self-catalyzing proteins like more or less everyone here has pointed out. Also, the fact that he refuses to accept that if someone manages to synthesize an organism, we’ll have learned at least a little bit about the conditions needed to synthesize an organism seems kind of telling.

  448. Greg Laden, you clearly don’t follow Eschaton. A cute attempt at rejoinder is no substitute for a logical refutation, though. I’m looking forward to your next blog post touting the primacy of evidence and logic and “skepticism”.

    Quote PZ himself saying that, or admit you’re full of shit. Raging Bee

    Though logic doesn’t seem to be a strong point with the regulars here.

    RB, you’ve got to be about the stupidest person I’ve ever seen who could pass muster among the self-appointed rationalists. And considering what the typical regular at of some of these blogs is like, that’s pretty stupid.

    Macho insults? That she was too foolish to notice the difference between Richard Feynman, with his name and the title of his piece attached to the quote, for something I said? That’s stupid in any gender. Tlaz is an ass.

    Graculus, PZ’s fanboys might think he is the center of the universe but, let me break this to you gently, he isn’t. He’s a side show, something I might look into on occasion if something calls my attention to it, the left side bar of more interesting Scienceblogs, typically, but I don’t go there unmotivated. That’s how I came here after making the argument to a creationist at Josh Rosenau’s blog that our not knowing how life began wasn’t bar to knowing that evolution happened and quite a bit about it. I said that unlike the origin of life, about which we could know next to nothing, evolution is the phenomenon in science that is most heavily SUPPORTED WITH EVIDENCE. Then Greg Laden put a link to this post in that thread and things went on from there. But I digress.

    I have had the pleasure, several times, of asking biology teachers and about three working researchers in biological topics what they thought of PZ Myers, only to have most of them ask, “Who’s PZ Myers?”. He’s really not a big deal outside of the blogs and most people don’t bother with blogs. I suspect most public school science teachers have better things to do with their limited time. Maybe they’re looking for something substantial about their topic.

    I thought a “lurker” was someone who read a blog but didn’t comment. How do you perceive “lurkings” at a blog? Though as you can apparently see things that aren’t there maybe you think you can do that too. Or is it that you can’t count? As some here seem to not see tacit information during a quarter of a billion years, I suppose you losing count isn’t to be noticed.

    If I lurk, it’s at political blogs. Politics being of a lot more pressing importance than these brawls. I’ve been wasting my time here but studying the folly of conceited pop materialists is a weakness of mine.

    I could spend the next week trading insults with idiots, Greg Laden, and it’s clear you are never going to

  449. cont. you are never going to address what I’ve said, dodging and weaving around questions you don’t want to answer because you can’t without undermining your argument, so I’m just going to look in to amuse myself unless something substantial happens.

  450. #451 pornonimous
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony Leveler@
    “I said that in order to know something you had to have evidence of it. Either direct evidence or evidence known to be close enough to have some reasonable chance of intuiting something that actually had to do with it. Neither of which is available for this topic.”
    and
    @424 “So, PZ thinks you can know about something without evidence for it? Is this some revolution in atheism among scientists I missed?”

    Anthony, one thing you will get used to at sciblogs is “conflation” of evidence with massive amounts of opinion, in-group out group ad hominem, and misguided misandry.

    For a remarkable treatise on the power of conflating scientific fact with popular opinion (popular to the minions), and the masquerading of opinions with ‘scientific fact’ look at the recent Rebbeca Watson man in an elevator’ debacle.

    Then stumble over to ERV blog and see some of the fallout.

  451. #452 bks
    August 9, 2011

    Looks like Panspermia is back in vogue. New article in PNAS:

    Detection and formation scenario of citric acid, pyruvic acid, and other possible metabolism precursors in carbonaceous meteorites

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/08/04/1105715108.abstract

    –bks

  452. pornonimous I supported Rebecca Watson in that thing, you can go to read some of what I said about it here:

    http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2011/07/point-you-are-proving-it.html

    Anthony, one thing you will get used to at sciblogs is “conflation” of evidence with massive amounts of opinion, in-group out group ad hominem, and misguided misandry.

    Do you people know what a question mark is used for? Greg Laden said that PZ agreed with him about the origin of life. So I was asking if he agreed that evidence relevant to that was optional as G.L. seems to.

    I know the evo-psys have a hard time understanding some of the simpler aspects of math foundations, a lot of their pals seem to have a problem with some of the simpler aspects of reading.

    As for your charge of “misandry” I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about and can only assume you don’t know what the word means.

    I think you might mean its opposite, but that would be even stupider. If you mean me telling Raging Bee that she’s among the stupider people I’ve encountered on a new atheist’s blog, that’s got nothing to do with her gender but with her inability to think. I thought she was stupid before I knew her gender.

  453. #454 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony, you have failed to quote PZ saying anything like what you imply he said. That’s an admission that you’re full of shit. (That, and, of course, the fact that you even mentioned PZ in a thread that wasn’t about him at all.)

    RB, you’ve got to be about the stupidest person I’ve ever seen who could pass muster among the self-appointed rationalists. And considering what the typical regular at of some of these blogs is like, that’s pretty stupid.

    So show me where I’m stupid by refuting my arguments and/or showing why my questions are invalid. Or, again, admit you’re full fo shit.

    Macho insults? That she was too foolish to notice the difference between Richard Feynman, with his name and the title of his piece attached to the quote, for something I said? That’s stupid in any gender.

    Then you should have pointed out where she was wrong, instead of calling her “bossy,” which is totally unconnected to any of her alleged mistakes. Childish macho insults in lieu (that’s French) of direct refutation, doesn’t cut it here, and doesn’t convince us that you even think you’re right.

    Tlaz is an ass.

    Even if she is, she’s an ass with a LOT more credibility than you have. It’ll take a LONG time for her to dump as many lies and logical falacies as you’ve dumped here. In the meantime, her word is trustworthy, yours isn’t.

  454. #455 Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy ‘Leveler’ wrote:

    you are never going to address what I’ve said, dodging and weaving around questions you don’t want to answer because you can’t without undermining your argument, so I’m just going to look in to amuse myself unless something substantial happens.

    There was so much irony inherent in that comment that it set off the metal detector in my spare room.

  455. #456 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    …so I’m just going to look in to amuse myself unless something substantial happens.

    Does anyone trust a bald-faced liar like Anthony to keep this promise?

  456. #457 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    Greg Laden said that PZ agreed with him about the origin of life. So I was asking if he agreed that evidence relevant to that was optional as G.L. seems to.

    Where does Greg even imply that evidence is “optional?” Direct quotes please, or admit you’re full of shit.

  457. OK, I looked at your blog, pornonimous, and you don’t seem to be able to write a coherent idea.

    I’ve written quite a bit about porn at the blog I formerly wrote for. I’ll repost all of those pieces at my current blog so my former blog partner doesn’t have to be bothered by more irrational comments. Here’s one I already have reposted.

    http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/2011/06/cold-case-crush-porn-has-more-rights.html

    I’ll begin reposting the others later today.

  458. #459 Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne
    August 9, 2011

    Raging Bee asked:

    Does anyone trust a bald-faced liar like Anthony to keep this promise?

    In the immortal words of Rowan Atkinson: I wouldn’t trust him to sit the right way on a toilet seat.

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    I’ve written quite a bit about porn at the blog I formerly wrote for. I’ll repost all of those pieces at my current blog so my former blog partner doesn’t have to be bothered by more irrational comments. Here’s one I already have reposted.

    You know, if someone had ever asked me what would be the least appealing author/subject combination I could envisage, I’m fairly sure ‘that pompous fraud Anthony McCarthy writing about porn’ would almost certainly be at the top of the list.

  459. I’ve been giving Laden the opportunity to say that you had to have evidence relevant to the actual origin of life in order to know something about it from the first comments I posted on this thread.

    He’s the one who suggested PZ saw eye-to-eye with him. I was hoping that Myers would tell us how he saw that little detail of evidence known to be relevant to what you want to know.

    I don’t know what to suggest, RB. Reading some very, very easy things and seeing if you can deal with what’s written without inserting delusional content? I know reading can be hard but words don’t do their work if you won’t.

  460. Here’s the first comment I made on this thread @13, Notice :
    the last part where I said that without evidence you could know nothing. I had been under the impression that’s something I could agree with new atheists on, but apparently they don’t believe it anymore. I haven’t noticed them coming to the defense of evidence in this brawl.

    If you believe that we are descended from one common ancestor, which I do believe, you are not talking about some theoretical entity, you are talking about a real, living organism that reproduced itself and its offspring reproduced. Those offspring came from whatever biology-chemistry was operating in that first organism, that doesn’t explain the development of the original organism which would have had to have had a far different origin because it wasn’t the product of reproduction of a living organism.
    The origin of life is through that original ancestor, whatever bio-chemistry allowed its creation, amazingly complex just in itself, and the chemistry of its successful reproduction was not theoretical, it was whatever it was and specific to that organism. You would have to know about that organism to know about it, you can’t reconstruct it out of theories, no more than you know you had successfully imagined another form of life that arose on another planet. That is speculation and you might develop some science in the effort but that still doesn’t tell you anything real about that organism and how it formed at that level of complexity. With that level of complexity your chances of getting it very wrong a very high. And that doesn’t even get to the question of what the environment it survived and reproduced in was like. You don’t know when, or where, or what its environment was like, you don’t know what its method of being contained was, you don’t know anything about the chemistry of its reproduction or any possible mechanism of inheritance of traits or if it was subject to what is called, by us, “selection”, in far later generations.

    In the end, you can not know anything about it except that it was alive, it reproduced and that subsequent generations of its descendents changed to produce the diversity of life. Without physical evidence about it, you can know nothing. You can’t even know if you’re barking up the wrong tree. And as speculations in the name of science show, there will be a forest of those trees as time goes on and scientists compete with each other. That even happens when there is physical evidence, without it, all hell breaks loose.

  461. #462 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    I’ve been giving Laden the opportunity to say that you had to have evidence relevant to the actual origin of life in order to know something about it from the first comments I posted on this thread.

    Greg NEVER disputed that premise. He has, in fact, said — literally from the get-go — that we do indeed have at least enough evidence to speculate on possible scenarios and guide further research. Your assertion that he said or implied that evidence is “optional” is a total fabrication. In other words, you’re full of shit. Now take your balls and go home and sulk with them like you promised.

  462. Wowboy, I said I was going to look in for my amusement and I’m finding this amusing. I’m not arguing with Greg Laden until he stops side stepping, I’ve got enough to of that to use already.

    I’ve got to teach at eleven EDT so I’ll be amusing myself for about another ten minutes.

  463. #464 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    Here’s the first comment I made on this thread @13, Notice : the last part where I said that without evidence you could know nothing.

    Go back a little further than that…like, to the original fucking post. Notice: dozens of peer-reviewed papers that discuss evidence pertaining to the origin of life. WE HAVE EVIDENCE, you stupid lying sack of shit, and no one here has ever said evidence is “optional.” You’ve been lying about what we’ve been saying, plain and simple, the whole time.

  464. #465 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    You’re a “teacher?” I pity your students, and sincerely hope they fnid out how untrustworthy you really are before you do them serious harm.

  465. #466 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony, since you’ve reposted your first comment, here’s a summary of everything you’ve been ignoring in the hundreds of comments since then: (1) We do not have complete evidence, but we have some, as Greg has helpfully provided to you; (2) as such, we make provisional statements about what that evidence tells us; (3) we do not, as you vaguely claim, overstate the certainty or completeness of our knowledge based on this evidence; (4) we expect that, as in any scientific endeavor, further evidence will change our understanding; (5) this does not mean that everything we understand now is incorrect, simply that it is incomplete; (6) we consider this is a desirable outcome, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable, because it means that science and human knowledge have advanced; and (7) any scientific field that you view as relatively settled has gone through exactly this kind of process, but now the main body of knowledge in that field is stable and the process is happening in the details. Care to address any of that, or are you going to go on just repeating your original premise as though no one had answered it and swapping insults?

  466. #467 Greg Laden
    August 9, 2011

    I’ve been giving Laden the opportunity to say that you had to have evidence relevant to the actual origin of life in order to know something about it from the first comments I posted on this thread.

    Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I’ll take it. Here is a list of references and blog posts that discuss the evidence and the overall science pertaining to the origin of life: click here

    Refute that.

  467. #468 Greg Laden
    August 9, 2011

    I’ve got to teach at eleven EDT so I’ll be amusing myself for about another ten minutes.

    Holy crap.

  468. #469 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony, since you’ve reposted your first comment…

    It kinda looks like he’s been doing that the whole time, with the garnish of various wild, irrelevant and unsupported (and probably made-up) accusations tossed in for “variety.”

  469. #470 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    Yep. It’s standard denialist troll behavior.

  470. #471 BinJabreel
    August 9, 2011

    @Anthony McCarthy Leveler:

    And here’s how we can tell he’s a compete fucking idiot. He refuses to back off the idea that the origin of life and the last common ancestor were the same thing.

    Fuck, as it stands know, some of the biologists I know are pretty comfortable saying that the origin of life probably happened a couple of times. Pull your head out of your ass (It’ll make more room for those ten paragraph piles of drek you keep finding in there) and listen to what people are saying.

    The evidence of what the last common ancestor was like is right fucking here. It’s US. The evidence of what the origin of life was like are spottier, but the number one way we’re going to start figuring out WHAT MUST HAVE HAPPENED on Earth for life to originate is by figuring out WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN for us to make life *now*.

    I pity whichever class you’re going to teach, and have a feeling that you’re akin to the miserable 10th grade World History teacher whose class I bullshitted my way through because he’d never read a god-damned history book in his life.

  471. #472 Jason Thibeault
    August 9, 2011

    Greg@451: Thank you for that link! What a useful compendium of references to our current evidence and what scientists have extrapolated from it.

  472. #473 pornonymous
    August 9, 2011

    @Anthony Leveler: Geez, tell me what you really think–oh, wait you did.

    Thank you, good criticism is always welcome. So try a do-over, you blow-hard; and I mean that with all the juicy relish that such a term carries.

    I made it to your blog–some post about something or other and was awe struck with your use of words–lots and lots and lots and more lots of them, without any substantiation, any second opinions, or any life anecdotes that made such a loooong hot wind seem tolerable.

    Sure,you have the Henry Miller page-length paragraphs, but without the humor, the substance, the passion, or the ‘life’ for which Miller strove.

    Or more appropriately: as Henry sought to exuviate from himself the detritus of his soul–which by the way is and was an eminently readable soul,it seems that Anthony is looking for one in the first place;

    And I might add, Henry would have fit Anthony’s defintion of a loathly paramour to free speech absolutism in his day–he said cunt!Run for the shotguns! Protect your daughters from the filth! Uphold the virtuos women, shelter their ears from …CUNT!

    And, equally, the Supreme Court, which didn’t allow Millers novels to enter the country, would indeed still be required to uphold the ban on Miller, et al, by Anthony’s logic.

    Which makes me wonder: if what I read at Anthony’s blog is indeed the genuine refuse of Anthony’s soul, what emptiness must now lurk in his heart, his mind and his thoughts, because even Anthony’s refuse contains no hair of human,no whiff of an animate stayer, or stink of fresh nailed frame,post, or plinth upon which one can hang a hat, or rest a novel idea.

    A caricature: Anthonies writing, a mere limning of [a] reality of some kind-but wholly unsubstantiated, highly opinionated regurgitation of well worn moralistic tropes. But no spirit! No feist! And certainly no spice.

    I had to do a double take, and make sure I wasn’t reading a something or other from a Catholic school boys daily catechism journal, that would be edited eventually by an approving nun, or his mother.

    And then I got to the paragraph where there actually was a period in a sentence! And I paused; not stopped…and when I awoke, I realized that baiting Anthony could be an endless task. Reading his work for substance that can’t be found elsewhere–and certainly IS found anywhere–a one time thing!

    But there at that point, a note to self: a better idea not to tread again, ever, at Anthony McCarthy Leveler’s incredibly dull blog.

  473. Holy crap. Greg Laden

    I know, for years they’ve been asking me to teach summer school again, I finally had to agree because of the economic downturn.

    Being as I’ve spent a good part of the last two hours with students hoping to pass Freshman math and go into the 10th grade, I could put it in terms of sets and your inability to find the intersection of those sets, when most of the elements of one of them are unknown and there is a gap of a few billion years between the two sets but….. naw.

    Do you always deal with people pointing out inconvenient lapses in your assertions by irrelevant sarcasm or is that something you picked up when you came to the Scienceblogs?

  474. pornonymous, you sound like The Dirty Vicar sketch. Only that was coherent.

    Here’s the second in that series.

    http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/2011/08/reason-for-liberalism-to-exist-at-all.html

    Greg, you ever read any of p’s writing? Go look at the quality of support you’ve got.

  475. Steph, what am I supposed to be denialing?

  476. #477 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony, you’re denying that the substance of this discussion is as represented in comment 450, which you have again failed to address.

    Also, the name is Stephanie. And pornonymous jumped in to support your PZ-bashing, not Greg. Now he just doesn’t like you.

  477. #478 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    Greg, you ever read any of p’s writing? Go look at the quality of support you’ve got.

    Greg’s got plenty of support right here, and you’re desperately pretending to ignore it because we’ve proven you wrong and you can’t defend yourself or your words. Once again, Anthony, you show your cowardice and dishonesty by pretending the most obviously irrelevent troll is “representative” of Greg’s “supporters.”

  478. #479 Graculus
    August 9, 2011

    I thought a “lurker” was someone who read a blog but didn’t comment. How do you perceive “lurkings” at a blog?

    “others” is a plural. I lurk on some blogs, I occassionally post on others.

    With your level of reading comprehension it is no wonder you get yourself into these shitstorms.

  479. #480 BinJabreel
    August 9, 2011

    So, Tony, what exactly are you trying to say, anyway? That we can’t find out about the origin of life?

    How does figuring out how the conditions necessary for organic molecules to appear not teach us something about the origin of life? How does determining the conditions that result in the appearance of nucleic acids not teach us about the origin of life? How does trying to determine how the jump can be made from simple self-replicating protein to RNA and DNA as the self-replicators not teach us about the origin of life? How does studying how self-replicating proteins could aggregate together not teach us about the origin of life?

    Honestly, you’re either a blinkered dolt, or you’ve got your hand down creationism’s pants without realizing it.

  480. (1) We do not have complete evidence, but we have some, as Greg has helpfully provided to you;

    Laden has linked to a lot of experiments and posts talking about things that happened in the past 60 years which may have shown what they showed within the boundaries of the experiments. He has not provided any evidence that links those to an event that happened a few billion years ago. No one has. You can’t because there is no evidence of the event and what aspects of an imagined origin of life which Laden and others wish to associate that science with, may not have actually present at the origin of life.

    If you wrote a nonficton book asserting something about an event in the past that you knew exactly two general facts about but absolutely no detail of how those happened, you would either have to provide evidence of that event or you would be writing conjecture. What Greg Laden has done is present conjecture about of the origin of life as knowledge. Which is standard procedure in the social sciences but it is also the reason what they claim as knowledge is so regularly overturned.

    I don’t think you understand the difference, I think he does but he doesn’t want to have to admit it. Some of the others just know which team they like and nothing else.

  481. #482 bks
    August 9, 2011

    BinJabreel: “self-replicating protein” “conditions that result in the appearance of nucleic acids”? You’re not helping Greg, if that’s your intention. Quite the contrary.

    I speak only for myself, but the dialogue between AM and Greg, once engaged, would have been much more interesting without the howler monkeys in the canopy.

    –bks

  482. #483 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    What Greg Laden has done is present conjecture about of the origin of life as knowledge.

    Exact quotes from Greg, please, or admit (again) that you’re full of shit.

  483. #484 pornonymous
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony Leveler:You’re kidding right? Go over to your blog more than once? Naaw. Once was more than plenty nuf, thanks.

    I think the bigger issue is looking at the level of support that you need–as well as lacking any form of citation and substantiation your work is just dusty at best.

    Your a puffer fish with no poison up against lionfish here.

    And you are not a very good reader, are you? Read my post above, and refer to it in the future as I deride, and criticize your long winded time consuming, Anthony Leveler referencing, vain assertions from this day forwards.

    But my post @457 is clearly a review of you as writer, [you], that isn’t worth reading–the first time was gratuitous, because after all, you did peek at my work as well.

    But Anthony, your writing is shit; self effacing, windy, droll, dull, repetitious restatements of other peoples work. And all of that without any substantiation!

    You are a classic example of college being a training ground for the ordinary, the conformist, and the status quo–why college is wasted on the white middle class, I will never know.If you were any type of minority–even someone with a sixth finger–I might give you a break, because after all, I am a liberal at heart; but your work sucks.

    Or, to re-iterate: “Anthony’s refuse contains no hair of human,no whiff of an animate stayer, or stink of fresh nailed frame,post, or plinth upon which one can hang a hat, or rest a novel idea.”

    Another way to say it is, your work is what one might expect out of someone who had spent most of their living, reading about living instead; a mathematical rationalization of what life should be,what it looks like on a blackboard, but isn’t, in reality. Dusty, dry, formulaic, without the raw materials of actual experimentation.

    Stick with teaching the kids–after all, most of them are at your intellectual level-r already and the most you can do for them is provide the pedantry that is requiredto inspire fifteen and sixteen-year-olds; and they will soon surpass you. That is by design, teacher–because those who know….and those who don’t?

    You get the picture. Didn’t you get that out of my review? I think others might.

  484. #485 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    So, yeah, your answer is, “Were you there?”

    You reject out of hand everything that came from the origin of terrestrial life as being evidence about the nature of the origin of life, despite not doing the same when the subject is historical evolution or the origin of the universe. You reject geochemical evidence regarding the time period during which life has to have arisen, as demonstrated by the changes that life made on our world. You reject reasoning from general chemical principles, as though they may have changed in the intervening time.

    None of that, all of which is represented in Greg’s list, is anything you consider evidence because it isn’t a handy, dandy little snapshot of the one thing you want to know about absolutely or not at all. How do you get through the day?

  485. #486 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    bks: Anthony would have had to engage with Greg’s original presentation, which he never did, and probably will never do. That’s all Anthony would have had to do, and he chose not to do it. You cerainly can’t say Greg was unwilling to engage; nor can you pretend us “monkeys” had any power to stop Anthony from engaging.

  486. “Were you there”?

    I hadn’t figured you’d stoop to that attempted guilt by association dodge, Stephanie, though if you’ve got nothing else what do you have but calumny?

    None of us were there for the Gettysburg address, there is no recording of it being given or another of Lincoln’s voice to compare it with but there is plenty of evidence that it was given by Abraham Lincoln on the date it was given. There is every reason to believe that the enormous amount of physical and documentary evidence of it results in a quite detailed description of the event.

    None of us were there to meet Nicholas Steno and observe his work but there is a great deal of evidence that he lived, did the early research he did and lived and you would be entirely justified in saying he lived.

    None of us were there to see the creation of that 35,000 year old female figure that was much in the news a few years back. There is the evidence of the object, its form, it’s clear signs of having been worked, even the gender represented. Human beings are the only animals we know of at that time who could have done that, we can have a fairly good date for it. Though there were many things asserted about it which were pure conjecture. When I wrote about that I pointed out none of the people I heard talking about it considered the possibility that it might have been made by a woman, so the man drooling over a sexy female figure theory was far less than reliable. I said it was possible it a self-portrait or a portrait a woman had made of her mother, also something that the antropo-boys didn’t seem to have considered as a possibility. They didn’t consider that the artist might have intended a wax or clay head be attached to the vestigial head of that it was merely bad planning that had shortchanged the doll in the head dept, they didn’t consider that the artist considered it a failed work and a piece of junk. They didn’t consider that it could have been the work of more than one hand, perhaps by people very far removed in space, culture and time from each other, with different attitudes and ideas about it, it might have been altered after having been stolen, …. etc.

    And we can go all the way back to the origin of life well, well over 3,000,000,000 years ago of which we have absolutely not a single shred of evidence except that we can safely assume it was alive, somehow, and that it successfully reproduced and its descendents evolved or we wouldn’t be here arguing about it. Multiply the ambiguous possibilities about the manufactured doll above many, many, many times as the original life which was made was not the product of human hands, it had a form that we don’t know, its formation is not known, it wasn’t a nonliving doll but an actual, living, reproducing organism, which may have changed over time, which reproduced offspring of who knows what resemblance to the parent. etc. etc. etc.

    And you want to call that knowledge. And not only knowledge, but scientific knowledge, linking it to lab research from the past sixty years, with no way to compare it with an unknown life form which we don’t know and can’t observe and can’t even look at near relatives remains so there is no way to establish relevance between the research of today and that life. And you think I don’t understand the problem, when I’ve done something neither you nor Laden have, considered that it was a real event that really happened in the one way it had happened and not some disembodied idea to play with. I don’t, now, after all of this, believe you do understand it. I’m certain that Greg Laden does but it is ideologically inconvenient for him to admit anything I’ve pointed out.

    The rest of you, here is what I say at my blog About Me:

    Anthony McCarthy, sometimes known as the infamous, Anthony McCarthy, if not “you goddamned little bastard”, though usually only to my dearest friends. E -mail thinkingcriminal(at)gmail(dot)com. If you are writing to tell me how much you hate what I wrote, or that you hate me! hate me! hate me! save your fingers, I don’t care. I don’t usually communicate with people I’m fighting with in public except in public. I don’t open attachments.

    There’s a reason I call myself The Thought Criminal. I said it and I meant it.

  487. #488 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    Aaaaand…splat! Anthony falls back on another anti-rationalist tactic — pretended vindication through phony paranoia and crybaby victimhood. Dude, do you really think that quoting the most ridiculous and childish part of your blog (that I’ve seen so far at least) makes you look MORE credible?

  488. #489 Quietmarc
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony, you seem a little off-balance.

  489. #490 quietmarc
    August 9, 2011

    I shouldn’t have posted that, but AM’s latest post struck me as funny…for a minute I thought that his examples were leading toward a clue as to where he thinks the cut-off point in evidence was. Obviously 35,000-year-old evidence is okay, but evidence from 4 billion years ago isn’t…but then he went off on a tangent about how those mean anthropologists aren’t taking his opinions into account about how to do research…..

    To (just about) everyone else, this has been a really educational thread about how to try to tackle issues regarding how science is done, and even though “The Leveler” will probably never come around, rest assured that your efforts haven’t been completely wasted.

    DuWayne> I’m a former neuroscience student myself, and I agree with everything you said about the state of psychology as a science. I wish you the best in your future endeavours!

  490. #491 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    So, yeah, your answer is, “Were you there?”

    Actually, it’s mostly sort of a muddled mix of recycled “were you there?” arguments and recycled “it’s just a theory” arguments. With little bits of “materialists are corupting science” and plenty of flat-out lies spread all over as icing. Oh, and one little bit of “evolution leads to eugenics and stuff!”

  491. quietmarc, you really didn’t understand that did you.

    What four billion year old evidence do you know about? The problem with it in this problem, is there isn’t any.

    You don’t think some women 35,000 years ago might have been able to have made that figure? I’d have thought the conjecture that it was a sex toy told us a lot, only a lot about the guys making that assumption far more than it told us about whoever made it, which was the point of my piece.

    I think anyone who has read much of what I’ve written would think it was pretty funny to suspect I’d crave the respect of someone in the social sciences.

    you seem a little off-balance.

    As compared to Raging Bee? And I’m supposed to take your thought on that seriously?

  492. #493 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony, there’s nothing criminal about denying the evidence that’s been listed (and once again ignored in favor of acting injured). It’s just transparent, like your self-aggrandizement.

  493. The evidence listed is about the success of experiments done recently. They’re fine to the extent they’ve been reviewed and, maybe, even replicated successfully.

    Now, show me how they’re linked to what happened at the origin of life. Show me the details of the organism which those studies address, directly. Since you can’t even show me the organism, you can’t show me anything about it.

    What Greg Laden wants to do is create missing evidence out of these studies. That’s not the way reality works. What you get is only a simulation of evidence. When you create a simulation of evidence instead of having the real evidence, you don’t know if it was ever real and your process is untestable because your “evidence” is the product of your study and so will have to agree with it. I’ve yet to find an evo-psy study of that sort which didn’t support the contention of the one doing the research.

    Laden made a list, he didn’t make the connection of what was on that list to the event, he didn’t because he couldn’t. No one can.

  494. #495 pornonymous
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony@ wherever:
    “that 35,000 year old female figure that was much in the news a few years back”

    Oh, the Hohle Fels Venus–what a rack, huh, huh? I bet they burned the person who crafted her–no doubt they had some form of self promoting, self deluded anti-free speech crusader-douche claiming that viewing her equated with the rape of real womem.

    “anyone who has read much of what I’ve written” Youmeanthere is a person out there who reads Anthony’s references to Anthony?

    “Thanks mom, you make it all worthwhile…”

  495. #496 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    So, Anthony, you’re saying the laws of chemistry might have been different when life originated? You’re saying that life could have originated with no influence from the chemistry of the environment in which it originated? You’re saying that the chemical changes in our atmosphere were caused by something other than life? You’re saying that life has mutated so dramatically since its origin that nothing of the original chemistry that new life would have had can be deduced?

  496. #497 Greg Laden
    August 9, 2011

    He has not provided any evidence that links those to an event that happened a few billion years ago. No one has

    Anthony, was it you who said this? Please clarify.

  497. No, that’s certainly not what I said, Stephanie Z. I didn’t make an outlandish statement you could use to avoid what I actually did say.

    If you don’t understand that organisms are considerably more varied, complex, unpredictable and so not reliably guessed about than even complex chemical reactions it’s no wonder you don’t understand what this is about. Not that guessing molecules is all that easy, as seen from the huge effort coming up with various genomes has required. And that’s something they have samples of to base their work in. As I will continue to point out, there is nothing to base such an effort about in attempting to catalog or document the original organism, the result of the origin of life.

    If you had read even a bit about the problem of the origin of life you would know that there are enormous difficulties with just about every proposed aspect of it. You should go back and read that article by Robert Shapiro bks linked to. It was pretty good.

    If it was as easy as predicting what molecule was going to result from a chemical reaction there would be no problem. Go back and read what I said about why this wasn’t like assuming that gold had the same characteristics four billion years ago as it did today.

    I’m waiting for you guys to show some of that scientific rigor you are always pretending you own. Not to mention skeptical discernment. I’m seeing none.

    About “The Thought Criminal”. Stepahnie, Stephanie…. Here, I, a mere blogger, have to remind an author such as yourself of that most famous literary reference.

    I’m simply not going to lie about this, to pretend that what can’t be known, is known. I will, though, use any information you folks reveal to me about the understanding of science among the sciency and “skeptical” and materialist. Which doesn’t seem to be in such good shape around here. Not to mention the epidemic of reading dysfunction.

  498. No, Greg, I’ve clarified enough around here only to have you and your friends distort it. You are making the claim of knowledge, you clarify. Isn’t that the code of the “skeptic” that it’s the one making the claim and not the one expressing skepticism of that claim.

    Link your proposed knowledge to the actual organism that was the result of the origin of life, the actual organism that embodied “the origin of life”. In the detail necessary to really establish that what you asset is knowledge is relevant to the actual origin of life. Lay it out, back up your claim with evidence of the real thing. It’s what any skeptic would demand of someone making a claim of knowing about something they didn’t like.

  499. pornonymous, I think you’ve been doing too many poppers.

  500. #501 Greg Laden
    August 9, 2011

    Not that guessing molecules is all that easy, as seen from the huge effort coming up with various genomes has required.

    What do you mean by “guessing a molecule.” I think this is what my wife has been doing much of the summer …. guessing molecules in muscle in a lab a the University. Should I be worried that she’s wasting her time?

    No, Greg, I’ve clarified enough around here only to have you and your friends distort it. You are making the claim of knowledge, you clarify. Isn’t that the code of the “skeptic” that it’s the one making the claim and not the one expressing skepticism of that claim.

    You have not answered a single question that I’ve asked you, and you ignored what I said about “skeptic.”

    In the detail necessary to really establish that what you asset is knowledge is relevant to the actual origin of life.

    This does not make any sense. Is this what you meant to say?

    Lay it out, back up your claim with evidence of the real thing.

    I’ve provided evidence for my claims. You have ignored the evidence. You’ve also ignored my claims.

    It’s what any skeptic would demand of someone making a claim of knowing about something they didn’t like.

    What? What do you mean by this? You are not making any sense.

  501. What do you mean by “guessing a molecule.”

    Guessing the structure of any organic molecules that you know was involved in the transformation of non-living matter into a living organism. How about the popular one, that which led to the unprecedented first act of reproduction. Predict what the structure of those were like as they spontaneously assembled by chance out of nonliving matter of no one knows what character. Assuming you can make recourse to the chemistry found in modern cells will necessitate you explain how that happened before they became life.

    There, Greg, you can no longer claim that I’ve not answered a single question. I’d catalog the others I’ve already answered, though you would only deny it.

    I will assume you, or Stephanie or your other fans here would subscribe to the idea that claims require evidence, perhaps even that extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence. I won’t be as exigent as that with you, though.

    I’d characterize a claim to know something about the origin of life to be one sufficiently extraordinary to at least require a clear connection between the claimed knowledge and the living being which was the embodiment of that origin of life, the only possible evidence that there would be of life originating. That connection doesn’t have to be extraordinary, it just has to be clear and unambiguous.

    You are the one making the claim to know, not me. I’m the one skeptical of your claim for all the reasons I’ve given. Back up your claim with evidence. Real evidence from that real organism, not the simulation of evidence created out of supposition about otherwise legitimate science.

  502. #503 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    Um, Anthony, have you read the Shapiro piece? You do understand it’s arguing for the plausibility of one hypothesis over another, right? You understand that instead of hand-wringing over the impossibility of it all, it lays out a chain of evidence that would demonstrate a likely origin of terrestrial life? You understand that it makes reference to the same sort of evidence that Greg lists in this post?

    And I’m well aware of the origin of the idea of a thought criminal. That’s part of what makes it pretentious.

  503. #504 Greg Laden
    August 9, 2011

    Predict what the structure of those were like as they spontaneously assembled by chance out of nonliving matter of no one knows what character.

    Why do you use the word spontaneously here?

    There, Greg, you can no longer claim that I’ve not answered a single question. I’d catalog the others I’ve already answered, though you would only deny it.

    Thank you, you did answer that question. Earlier, however, you said ” Not that guessing molecules is all that easy, as seen from the huge effort coming up with various genomes has required” which made me think you were talking about molecules in general. But now you have clarified that in your earlier statement that you were talking about specific molecules at the origin of life.

    We know that cells are alive and a lot about how they work without knowing about all the molecules in them. In fact, we knew quite a bit back when we know only about a very small number of molecules in them. I’d be very pleased with that level of understanding of the earliest cells or proto-cells.

    Regarding molecular structure, I refer you again to fracionation and stab. isotopes. I’m sure you see how this relates.

    I’d love to see the catalog of questions I’ve had that you’ve answered, if you’d post it. I can’t keep up with all the comments, I certainly don’t read them all. That would let me know what you’ve responded to. Thanks.

    I’d characterize a claim to know something about the origin of life to be one sufficiently extraordinary to at least require a clear connection between the claimed knowledge and the living being which was the embodiment of that origin of life, the only possible evidence that there would be of life originating.

    So, is your null hypothesis that life did not originate? Do you think that the claim that life originated is extraordinary?

    You are the one making the claim to know, not me.

    Well, I’ve not really “made a claim” … it’s more like I’ve “provided a buttload of information” about claims.

    Real evidence from that real organism, not the simulation of evidence created out of supposition about otherwise legitimate science.

    What does that mean? What would “real evidence from that real organism” look like? Are you saying that you want the actual organism(s), or that you require that we go back in a time machine?

  504. #505 pornonymous
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony, you mean jalapeno poppers, right, like the kind your mom used, to pack your lunch?

    Dude, get over yourself.The whole time I have been watching you post, I am wondering if you aren’t on coke, which is why I thought you and Bee were a good match.

    Not that I have been reading your shit here, I just saw the opportunity to inflate your wind-prone ego some more, just to watch the lil’ puffer deflate himself.

    That and watch you get skewered by Laden’s rather brilliant dome. Hell, this shit ain’t even my subject; I was just tuuning in to watch your debacle.

  505. #506 bks
    August 9, 2011

    Refill points us to an important remark by Lewontin at #357. It’s not an OoL topic, per se, but it should not be swept under the rug with Occam’s broom. Hopefully it can be returned to on another day. I think AM and Greg might have common ground there.

    –bks

  506. #507 Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy ‘Leveler’ wrote:

    I’m simply not going to lie about this…

    That’d be a first. I’m not holding my breath, though.

  507. #508 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    Dammit, Wowbagger of the changing name. Now I’m going to have to find that book. Missed out when I was a kid.

  508. Why do you use the word spontaneously here? Greg Laden

    If spontaneously isn’t to your liking how about we just say we drop that and say:

    “Predict what the structure of those were like as they assembled by chance out of nonliving matter of no one knows what character, in who knows what way.”

    I think you’ll find that “spontaneously” isn’t going to be anywhere near as problematic as verifying your prediction, in this case, in who knows what way.

    And as the quibbling continues, how about we say:

    “Not that guessing many molecules of known relevance to life is all that easy, as seen from the huge effort coming up with various genomes has required”

    I assume you won’t assert that was easy, seeing the enormous effort it took some extremely good scientists to first find the structure of DNA, some believe even resorting theft, and the technical apparatus and science they needed to map genomes decades later.

    So, is your null hypothesis that life did not originate? Do you think that the claim that life originated is extraordinary?

    You should get points off for excessive cuteness.

    Considering that I’ve said from the start of this that there are only two things that you could know about the origin of life, that it produced a living thing and that it reproduced, its offspring eventually evolving and producing the diversity of life around us, you are just stalling. And, while I’m sure it will thrill your fans tonight, it’s just plain pathetic.

    As the rest of your comment is quibbling in order to avoid answering questions, you’ve certainly failed yet another opportunity of providing evidence for your claim that the we knew the origin of life.

    That your pals, especially the “skeptics” among them, clearly miss that you have not provided even clear evidence of an unextraordinary nature that anything in the list of citations you give can be linked to the origin of life, isn’t a surprise. If there is one thing I’m certain it is that “skeptics” don’t hold themselves to the standards they advocate for others who make claims, some of them far less extraordinary than what you have proposed.

    Claiming to know about the origin of life requires you to know an event without any evidence of it. Which is an extraordinary claim. I wonder what your or Stephanie’s archive might show about your reaction to similar claims by other people.

    If I claimed I knew the gender of the person who made that 35,000 year old statue, mentioned above, the choices would be that it was either a woman or that it was a man so there is an even chance I would be right. Though I’m sure you’ll bring up the possibility of a hermaphrodite making it, just to stall more. But if I said that I could know the gender of the artist in, say FATE magazine, and one of you wanted to mock that claim, you would demand clear evidence that I could back up my claim that I knew it. And, of course, I couldn’t and there would be no way to verify that because it would require identifying the artist and how I knew she had made it. So you would smugly mock the claim as woo or some other such word.

    There would be no way to know that because there is no evidence to back it up. And that is with far more information available about the statue and the species that made it. You have nothing like that with your claim of knowledge about the origin of life and you also have no way of determining the probability that your guess would be right, though for many things you might claim to know about it would be far more likely to be wrong.

    The longer you stall and quibble, the more material you are giving me and the harder to back up your claim of knowing about the origin of life becomes to support. If the questions surrounding it are this hard to parse, that only adds to the possibility of any claim of knowledge you make is wrong. Which would turn your claim of knowledge into an assertion of belief.

    Again, not that I expect your fans to even understand that, though I expect you will continue to pretend you don’t understand it.

    Stephanie, you did understand the improbability of a number of those scenarios proposed by competent scientists was quite extraordinarily large. I liked the one he said that a gorilla typing out a recipe was larger than life forming from one of them.

  509. That’d be a first. I’m not holding my breath, though.

    Oh, do, Wowbagger, hold your breath until you turn blue to get me to lie about this question. Maybe you can win one for your team. I promise I’ll notice.

  510. #511 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony, you do understand that knowing some of the possibilities are improbable is still knowledge, yes? And again, Shapiro makes reference to the same body of evidence Greg lists and links to in this post.

  511. Stephanie, there is a large difference between being able to estimate the infinitesimally remote probability of the evaporation of a pool containing amino acids condensing into larger parts assumed to be relevant to the original form of life and knowing how life actually originated. In making that estimate of probability, you haven’t approached how that very dilute liquid formed life and what that life was like, which is a good part of the problem, those surrounding reproduction another good part of it.

  512. #513 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    Anthony, search this thread for the word “probability.” See how many times it’s been explained to you. Then get around to addressing the fact that you cited something that cites some of the same evidence Greg cites.

  513. #514 Raging Bee
    August 9, 2011

    If you don’t understand that organisms are considerably more varied, complex, unpredictable and so not reliably guessed about than even complex chemical reactions it’s no wonder you don’t understand what this is about.

    So now you’re falling back on “life is too complex for science to explain?” So why is science able to explain life in the present day, even though that’s far more complex than it was back when it first began? Your religious obscurantism is showing again.

    No, Greg, I’ve clarified enough around here only to have you and your friends distort it.

    You haven’t clarified anything, you lying jackass. You certainly haven’t clarified any of the wild groundless accusations you’ve made about scientists; nor have you made any attempt to even clarify your own questions for Greg.

    You are making the claim of knowledge, you clarify.

    Um…Greg DID clarify, right in the OP, with — as he just put it — a buttload of information. And here you still are, denying the information exists, like the classic denialist you’ve been proving yourself to be.

  514. #515 Jason Thibeault
    August 9, 2011

    I was waiting for evidence of a Galileo complex. “The Thought Criminal” is no doubt it, since Anthony is equating his ideas with that which an establishment might seek to prosecute him for having. Oh, all these scientists are being mean to me because I can’t comprehend what they’re actually saying about things! Go cry, emo kid.

  515. #516 Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne
    August 10, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy ‘Leveler’ wrote:

    Oh, do, Wowbagger, hold your breath until you turn blue to get me to lie about this question.

    Get you to lie? But you do it with as little effort as most people breathe; getting you to stop lying, on the other hand…

  516. Wow–Anthony is still at it? Anthony:here is evidence of the origin of life, in real time!

    When you stumbled over here, you were known for irrational, incredibly non descript phrases, sentences, and poor reasoning smashedup into HUGE paragraphs of almost incomprehensible logic bombs.

    Now look at you! Growing up, into not necessarily-always focused on Anthony phrases; some reading skills,combined with shorter paragraphs, sometimes two way conversations, and listening skills!

    Good job! Gold Star, class champ, you’re waking up! You are starting to LIVE!

    To whit: “you haven’t approached how that very dilute liquid formed life and what that life was like, which is a good part of the problem, those surrounding reproduction another good part of it.”

    Look at your earlier posts, and how thick and gooey they were–in contrast to the now somewhat dilute flow of conversation here with Steph!

    See, even Anthony can crawl up from the muck, and make a life for himself at Gregs blog;-)

    Oh–did I forget to mention white female privilege, Steph? I bet competitive Tony has some thoughts on that!

    https://pornalysis.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/rule-number-one-never-never-ever-make-the-white-women-mad/

  517. #518 Anthony McCarthy Leveler
    August 10, 2011

    Stephanie Z. I’ve known what probability means in a mathematical sense since about 1968. Yours and Laden’s condescension doesn’t do a thing to make your case any better. You are lacking knowledge of the event to calculate probabilities from. You have no way of knowing how probable many aspects of actual relevance to the actual origin of life were. Knowing the probabilities of any proposed aspect of that happening would still not tell you what did happen. You would need physical evidence no matter how impressive your math looked.

    Life is a far more complex affair than you seem to want to believe. You still don’t understand that you are talking about a specific event that happened in a specific way with a specific result, nothing you address that wasn’t relevant to that event is relevant to it and you have no way to know just what was relevant to it.

    Bee, Bagger, TSTBW.

  518. #519 hoary puccoon
    August 10, 2011

    This is a thread on which I decided early on that lurking was the better part of valor. Two points, though, I see getting confused here.

    A. “The question of the origin of life” has two possible meanings:
    1. Can we identify the first living organism on earth?; and
    2. Can we identify ordinary chemical processes by which life is able to form from non-life?

    These are not at all the same question. 1. will be much harder to answer than 2., if it is answerable at all. Among other problems with 1., I’m amazed no one has brought up bacterial conjugation– bacteria exchanging genes, even though they actually replicate by division. This phenomenon has been studied since the 1940′s. It offers convincing evidence that we will never be able trace back a neat line of ancestry, since, among other problems, there’s a certain amount of, aah, bestiality, in the prokaryotic community. (Bacteria picking up genes from single-celled individuals who aren’t closely related.) This turned out to be easy to study because bacteria sex lasts several lifetimes, and coitis interruptis can be forced by whirring the bacteria in a blender. [Pornonymous, why don't you do something useful and write up a disquisition on this?]

    The biggest advance on question 1. is probably discovering that RNA can act as both genetic material and as an enzyme. The question of which came first, DNA or protein, used to be considered unanswerable by science (usually with the implied answer ‘therefore God.’) Now it turns out neither one needed to come first.

    As anyone who actually read the sources Greg cited now knows, the question, 2., of whether there are ordinary chemicals pathways which result in structures associated with life, has resulted in some solid findings. The papers which Greg lists presented, among other things, evidence that membranes similar to modern cell membranes will form spontaneously in certain conditions. In answering question 2., the Miller-Urey experiments were a huge advance, even though they got the conditions on pre-biotic earth wrong.

    If it turns out that life is still forming from non-life today in underwater vents, only to be gobbled up by bacteria, it will be relatively easy to answer question 2., how life can form from non-life. And question 1., what was the actual first life form on earth, will become a possibly interesting, but not really important, question.

    I’ve noticed Leveler has focused exclusively on question 1., ignoring or even sneering at the mass of evidence regarding question 2. I don’t expect he or bks will respond to this post with anything other than incomprehension, but I would be interested if any of the rest of you find dividing the question of the origin of life into the two questions above useful.

  519. #520 Greg Laden
    August 10, 2011

    “Predict what the structure of those were like as they assembled by chance out of nonliving matter of no one knows what character, in who knows what way.”

    Are you insisting on a “chance” based model? No selection allowed? Why do we have to use matter of which no one knows the character? Why not matter that we understand based on a combination of direct and indirect evidence? What do you mean “who knows what way”?

    I’m starting to think you are begging the question here, maybe.

    I assume you won’t assert that was easy, seeing the enormous effort it took some extremely good scientists to first find the structure of DNA,

    What was hard about it once the technology of x-ray diffraction was developed and applied? Yeah, that was some good work, but really, once the tools were developed, had they become widely distributed before FWC this result would have developed at dozens of labs in a matter of monhts .

    You should get points off for excessive cuteness.

    A lot of people tell me that.

    Considering that I’ve said from the start of this that there are only two things that you could know about the origin of life, that it produced a living thing and that it reproduced, its offspring eventually evolving and producing the diversity of life around us, you are just stalling.

    I didn’t realize that you had admitted that we could know anything! But your insistence that the two things you decided you will accept are the only things that we could possibly know does not conform to this.

    As the rest of your comment is quibbling in order to avoid answering questions

    You have asked, essentially, “How do you know X based on an unknowable Y and an inadmissable Z, and you must answer the question in a way that relies on irrelevant A, B and C” … and after repeated requests your question has not become any more useful.

    Claiming to know about the origin of life requires you to know an event without any evidence of it.

    I didn’t claim that.

  520. #521 Greg Laden
    August 10, 2011

    the evaporation of a pool containing amino acids condensing into larger parts assumed to be relevant to the original form of life

    Is that your theory? That’s not the most common thinking right now on this topic. You should check out the lit from, say, since you were born.

  521. #522 Greg Laden
    August 10, 2011

    . It offers convincing evidence that we will never be able trace back a neat line of ancestry, since, among other problems, there’s a certain amount of, aah, bestiality, in the prokaryotic community.

    When the gene exchanges happen, the genes are not digested. They are more or less retained. All DNA phylogeny is about the phylogeny of genetic lineages not organisms. The organisms are a secondary (but useful) inference. So no, there is no way in which bacterial exchange (which may have evolved long after bacteria evolved) obviates paleogenetics.

    Having said that, I don’t think DNA phylogeny was ever considered a way of addressing question 1 of yours. And that question does have the same grammar-related ambiguity that Anthony insisted on, so you should consider rewording. It assumes the way you’ve worded it that a thing we could classify as living is unambiguously classifed as living as opposed to some similar thing that is not (ie that our working definition of life is settled) and then, it assumes that there is one of them in the past (“THE first living organims[no "s" here]“) That may not be how it was at all.

    The biggest advance on question 1. is probably discovering that RNA can act as both genetic material and as an enzyme. The question of which came first, DNA or protein, used to be considered unanswerable by science (usually with the implied answer ‘therefore God.’) Now it turns out neither one needed to come first.

    And more broadly that the current configuration is probably a subset of possibilities. This is a point Anthony could have pointed out in favor of his “we can know nothing” approach but I don’t think he knows enough about the research.

    Funny, that. I’ve been pointing him to evidence that he is correct (which may also be evidence that he is incorrect) all along yet he has refused to look at it.

    Regarding your question 2, I wrote a few words on that, which got me in trouble with some of Anthony’s friends, here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/12/nasas_new_organism_the_meaning.php

  522. #523 Raging Bee
    August 10, 2011

    Repetitive lying troll is still repetitive. And still lying.

  523. #524 Jesse
    August 10, 2011

    bks–

    I missed your comment maybe, or didn’t have time to deal with it. Anyhow, the short version is that given that every modern life form’s DNA involves a certain set of elements, it isn’t unreasonable to think that whatever origin life has, it probably involves them in some fashion. That is, as I have pointed out several times, since we do not see DNA made of gallium, tin or lead in the place of carbon, there is a reason for that. So, for conditions on earth, if you want to make something like DNA, you have to use those (or more accurately, a class of elements that resembles them).

    This narrows down the problem considerably. Since we can eliminate from consideration origins that involve noble gases, and probably radioactive metals, and a host of other things that say, react violently with water.

    The stuff you’re talking about also has some pretty hard constraints. Clay world, for instance, means you have to have clays, which only form in water. OK, so life probably isn’t forming with lithium or sodium in that instance.

    Once you have that, it’s not so hard to come up with the classes of phenomena that you can plausibly say result in life forming. That still leaves tons of room to experiment in though, which is why there is any scientific controversy about the OoL at all. In that sense it’s like studying the origins of the universe: there are a lot of things you can say about that too, and certain classes of theory that we are pretty sure are wrong given the way the universe looks now. Anthony would probably say we can’t know anything about it tho, since the universe has changed so radically int he last 15 billion years.

  524. #525 Anthony McCarthy Leveler
    August 10, 2011

    Is that your theory? Greg Laden

    Maybe you should try reading the article we were talking about, Greg Laden. It was one mentioned as being of enormous improbability in it.

    I have no theory, many other people have many, though I’d think those should really be called “guesses”. As I’ve stated, my only guesses is that all living beings today have a common ancestor and even if that ancestor was the survivor of some bottle neck, it’s original ancestor was the product of the origin of life which has left us no evidence that we can use to understand the origin of life.

    I wonder if any other allegedly skeptical blogs is paying attention to this eye-opening discussion. Not that I’d expect them to do more than cheer on their team.

    Claiming to know about the origin of life requires you to know an event without any evidence of it.

    I didn’t claim that.

    You claimed that much was known about the origin of life, far, far more than is supported by evidence that can be linked to that event.

    You’ve had well over a week to come up with something linking the studies you assert produced knowledge of the origin of life and the actual event and you have come up with nothing but come up with a series of dodges that is rapidly looking more like dissembling. Which I’d not expected, considering the general content of your blog.

    Claims of knowledge can be challenged to produce evidence supporting those claims. If the one claiming knowledge can’t produce evidence, their claim to know something is unsupported and deserves real skepticism. Anyone who wants to, is within their rights to point out that your unsupported claim isn’t known but is believed.

    Politically, in the present atmosphere when creationism is making dangerous inroads on science, overselling claims of belief related to the well supported fact of evolution is dangerous and foolish. Without evidence claims about the origin of life should be presented as being entirely contingent and unknown, not as being known. There is no reason not to as that is the actual case.

    But the overselling of simulated evidence created in the absence of real evidence, on the bases of theories, which the simulated evidence, big surprise, supports the theories they were made from, is rampant in several areas that get called science, these days. My guess, that is a habit that began, in large part, from the promotion of ideological materialsm, that seems to account for a huge swath of it in the socalled sciences.

    I despair at the state of science after this discussion. Though I will use it.

    I’m done.

  525. #526 Raging Bee
    August 10, 2011

    Without evidence claims about the origin of life should be presented as being entirely contingent and unknown, not as being known.

    Got any specific examples of invalid or unsupportable claims made by actual scientists? You’ve had over a week to back up such vague insinuations, and you’ve never done so. Why? Because there are no such incidents to report, and you know it. You’re a liar engaged in a premeditated campaign to defame people who don’t agree with you.

  526. #527 Raging Bee
    August 10, 2011

    I despair at the state of science after this discussion.

    Oh Heavens, scientific accomplishments like solar power, wind power, flight, antibiotics, space travel, improved farm productivity, electric cars, the Internet, and a vastly greater understanding of our Universe than we ever had before, aren’t good enough for Little Lord Trolleroy? Pray tell us, your Lordshit, what more must science do to get back in your good graces?

    Or perhaps you have in mind something else that’s had more and better accomplishments than science? Perhaps Your Lordshit would deign to tell us what that wonderous and mysterious tool may be…?

    Go to bed, little man. Maybe if you ask nicely enough, perhaps Karl Rove will give you another pearl necklace to clutch, ifyouknowwhatimean…

  527. #528 TTT
    August 10, 2011

    It’s God-in-the-gaps all the way down.

  528. #529 bks
    August 10, 2011

    Raging bee, re comment 510:

    Open research casts doubt on arsenic life
    Blog documenting quest to replicate finding could be taste of things to come.

    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110809/full/news.2011.469.html

    I just mention that one because it came out yesterday. I think I could provide hundreds of others. See also comment 107.

    –bks

  529. #530 Greg Laden
    August 10, 2011

    Is that your theory? Greg Laden

    Not sure what you are referring to here. I’ve not presented any theories.

    it’s original ancestor was the product of the origin of life which has left us no evidence that we can use to understand the origin of life.

    That is incorrect.

    I wonder if any other allegedly skeptical blogs is paying attention to this eye-opening discussion. Not that I’d expect them to do more than cheer on their team.

    That would be “are” not “is”

    You claimed that much was known about the origin of life, far, far more than is supported by evidence that can be linked to that event.

    That is incorrect.

    You’ve had well over a week to come up with something linking the studies you assert produced knowledge of the origin of life and the actual event

    Are you talking about time machines again? My Tardis is in the shop.

    Politically, in the present atmosphere when creationism is making dangerous inroads on science, overselling claims of belief related to the well supported fact of evolution is dangerous and foolish.

    Demonstrate that such a claim has been made. Don’t just say it again and again, but prove it.

    simulated evidence

    Wht is “simulated evidence.”

    I’m done.

    This, I doubt.

    TTT: It’s God-in-the-gaps all the way down.

    Anthony is definitely not a creationist.

    bks, thanks for that link, had not seen that yet. Very interesting!.

  530. #531 Raging Bee
    August 10, 2011

    bks: thanks for the interesting article, but how does it support any of Anthony’s claims about scientists making unsupportable claims? All I see here is some scientists saying their research shows one thing, and others doing similar research and coming up with differing conclusions, so they argue about who is right. Some of those claims will be proven, others disproven, but in this case at least, all of the claims appear to be supported by at least some evidence and experimentation. If you see a claim in there that’s TOTALLY without support, by all means quote it.

    And there’s certainly nothing here showing unsupportable claims about the origin of life.

  531. #532 Stephanie Z
    August 10, 2011

    Anthony, that’s what you think has been said about probability in this thread? Do you actually read any comment for comprehension or just to pull out some phrase you think merits attack?

    For those who actually care about the topic, understanding the probabilities is accumulating knowledge. Knowledge, not certainty. That’s why we talk about these things as conditional probabilities. All you’ve done in endorsing bks’s link is point to another scientist saying we can determine some of these probabilities based on the kind of evidence Greg listed in this post. Congratulations for making our point for us.

  532. #533 hoary puccoon
    August 10, 2011

    Greg @506– from the post you cited on “NASA’s new organism” “What I’m suggesting here is that the origin of life involved several different biochemical experiments that would now and then spatially overlap, and when they did so, sometimes combined.”

    That’s pretty much what I was trying to talk about [post #503] apparently not very clearly. There may not have been one, single solitary “first life.” In fact, my bet would be that there were repeated instances of chemical combinations spontaneously developing metabolism and/or reproduction (or parts of those processes). And knowing what goes on in bacteria, they probably did sometimes combine. That would make the question of whether we still have chemical processes in our bodies which we inherited from the *very first* living organism, versus, say, the tenth or the three-hundred-and-eighty-seventh– or if we got metabolism from one source and reproduction from another– a pretty uninteresting thing to know, compared to knowing that life can, in the right circumstances, evolve from non-living systems. And on that last point, it looks more and more likely that we will, in fact, learn how things that metabolize and reproduce can develop from things that can’t.

  533. #534 DuWayne
    August 10, 2011

    I just couldn’t stay away – though in part, that is because there isn’t much that interests me elsewhere.

    Anthony –

    …but when that is overturned due to the primitive state of the technology it is based on and the vagueries of what is known from it means…

    You really are fucking clueless about science. Of course I expect to get things wrong – though I also expect to get shit right too. I am going to get a bit right and a lot wrong. Then later, someone is going to come along and building on my work, prove that I am wrong and get a little something right in the process – as well as getting a good bit wrong. Then the process will repeat – each step along the way, our understanding of behavior increasing a little – even if it is just to know more about just what we don’t know.

    Indeed, I expect that I will probably come along after my own work and realize that I fucked up.

    The thing is, if we don’t try and fuck up to begin with, we will never get it right. Just like we can’t come up with better technologies, without building on, or noting the weaknesses of more primitive technologies. I think neural imaging technology is a brilliant fucking example of this phenom. Both the equipment and procedures have continually improved over the past nearly forty years – at an increasingly rapid pace. The advances made in this field in the last 8 years, is greater than the advances made in the thirty years proceeding them.

    Anybody who tells you we have absolute certainty about much of anything is lying to you. Science is about what is supported by the best evidence available at a given point in time. There are things that are supported by stronger evidence than others, but about the only place we have real certainty, is in overarching theories. Such as evolution. We know it happened and is happening – but within the field of evolutionary biology, there is a lot of science that is hotly debated – largely because so many people have been wrong, we have a great deal to build on and this leads to conflicting ideas, which in turn lead to more research – more refinement.

    That is what science is about.

  534. #535 bks
    August 10, 2011

    Raging bee: You seem to have dropped the word “invalid” from your question. Hedging? Well at least the Tourettes Syndrome has abated.

    But even with your redefinition, it’s trivial to find examples:

    http://tech.mit.edu/V111/N25/balt.25n.html
    http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2008/06/the_hellinga_retractions_part.php

    Just drop it. You’re on the wrong path.

    –bks

  535. #536 quietmarc
    August 10, 2011

    This was just posted on sciencedaily.com… < a href = "http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110809144517.html">plausible theory on origin of life?

  536. #537 Raging Bee
    August 10, 2011

    bks, I just had a look at both of your citations, and neither of them substantiate any of Anthony’s accusations. In both cases, some scientists got something wrong, and some other scientists proved them wrong by trying to duplicate the experiments. Anthony’s bogus accusations about unspecified scientists making unspecified unsuppoertable claims about our knowledge of the origin of life remain just that — bogus accusations.

    And why are you telling me to “just drop it?” Are you trying to bluff me off the trail?

  537. #538 Greg Laden
    August 10, 2011

    quietmarc, somehow your link did not survive:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110809144517.htm

  538. #539 bks
    August 10, 2011

    RB: Now you’re playing Fizzbin[1]. I’m responding to what you said and what you said was nonsense. But you know what? You write down the set of rules for satisfying your question and then I’ll answer it, but you will not be allowed to import new categories for me to jump through like flaming hoops nor to drop old categories as you just did. I’m betting that you’ve forgotten exactly what you’re talking about, if you ever knew. No handwaving, be specific.

    –bks

    [1]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_games_in_Star_Trek#Fizzbin

  539. #540 Quietmarc
    August 10, 2011

    Thanks Greg. I was having an html moment.

  540. #541 Raging Bee
    August 10, 2011

    “Import new categories?” What the fuck are you talking about? My original demand was for specific incidents that support Anthony’s vague allegations that unspecified scientists were making unspecified unsupportable claims regarding our knowledge of the origin of life. That demand has not changed, and if you’re trying to say otherwise, you’re a fucking liar.