Imagine a “primordial soup” on some planet somewhere from which there occasionally emerges a thing that could locomote, and as it locomoted around it would scrape up some of the dust that lay around on the planet, and occasionally eat other things that had come out of the “primordial soup” and it would thus grow. Eventually it would wear out as its molecules, put together by some chemical process of abiogenecis in the aforementioned soup, and thusly worn out, molecules broken down by ultraviolet rays from the nearby star, it would eventually stop moving and remain exposed to the elements and dry out and become part of the dust, to be scraped up and consumed by other things.

Imagine that dozens of shallow seas of primordial soup on this planet each produced a range of such things, and they moved around on the planet, some staying in the soup, some going onto land, interacting, competing, cooperating, eating each other, sliding past each other, being born of the soup and dying, the dust sometimes being blown back into the soupy seas or being scraped up by other things.

The things are alive, right?

What if there was a form of thing on some other planet that had crawled out of the ooze and over time evolved, changed, varied, but over even longer periods of time, a self replicating version of this thing, or set of things, developed a way of perfectly identifying copies of itself that were not perfect, and destroying them. Say this emerged in several lineages of things, and this invariance gave some advantage to the things that did this. All other things, the ones that vary and change over generational time, are out-competed and those lineages disappear. So eventually, there are dozens of lineages of distinct but invariant things walking, sliding, coasting, flying, around on the surface of this planet, replicating but always duplicating perfectly, for hundreds of thousands of generations.

These things are alive, right?

Not according to Edward Trifonov, who defines life as:


“self-reproduction with variations.”

Carl Zimmer has written up a nice piece on the definition of life and in particular the work done by Trifonov (Can A Scientist Define “Life”? By Carl Zimmer). Go read it.

In essence, and you can get the details from Carl’s writeup, Trifonov has done a linguistic analysis of the hundreds of definitions of life previously available and distilled them down to their essence to produce the most functional and applicable definition of life.

Except it isn’t, for three reasons.

1) The search to understand what life is, and possibly find it elsewhere (or forms on earth of which we are currently unfamiliar) is not about finding something we know about, but rather, it is about finding something we don’t know about. By looking only within the stated definitions, we might find a nice linguistic analysis but we’ve limited our definition to a set of criteria less than that which has already been considered. This definition systematically turns its back on the newness that is almost always out there in exploratory science;

2) The simplest distilled definition that is, essentially, the most overlapped part of a set of complex interconnected Venn diagrams, is probably going to leave out details we’ve already thought of, that we were not sure at the time were important, and that may end up being very important, and may even end up being the key nuanced thing that makes both life itself and the definition thereof work; and

3) I just disproved the definition by imagining two universes that you would be hard pressed to disprove exist. I know, I know, I might as well have suggested “Unicorns are born of rainbows” or something, but still… this is a big and long-lived Universe and something that we would call life that does not vary in it’s replication, or that emerges from something we don’t call life such as a Droid or Robot might emerge but where the robot-maker is not a high tech company but rather a puddle, are not outrageously impossible. OK, so maybe I didn’t disprove it, but I made it look weak, don’t you think?

Zimmer also makes the point in his piece that some have questioned the smarts behind NASA going to Mars to find life using an Earth based model, whereby life will exist in relation to water and carbon. I agree with him that life in the Universe may ignore such Earthly rules. However, it is true that Mars is fairly Earth-like, and there is water there, so given the limits on what we can do with remote control robots on other planets, testing the hypothesis that “Mars has or had a roughly Earth-like life” is not too unreasonable. Personally, I think they’ll find it. After all, the only other Earth-like planet we’ve looked at so far has it!

Comments

  1. #1 MadScientist
    January 11, 2012

    I’d like to add that the limitations of chemistry doom us to carbon-oxygen-hydrogen-nitrogen lifeforms, so Zimmer would be incorrect in assuming people are thinking in too limited a fashion when they expect the elemental composition of alien lifeforms to be similar to that on earth. Despite all the “OMG, Martian Bacteria!” hype over the years, in general scientists are not expecting cellular life forms. My definition of life would involve self-replication; that should be sufficient since a calcium carbonate crystal does not replicate (it accretes) and self-replicating robot overlords are an obvious sign of life since they would have had to have been created by intelligent (or perhaps not-too-intelligent) creatures at some point in the past.

  2. #2 rturpin
    January 11, 2012

    People put too much stock into definitions. My brain is large enough to carry around all of the notions life-t, life-g, and several other notions and variations. If we find another planet with something life-like, it won’t really matter if it fits any of those. The world is more interesting than the words we use to describe it. Though words are interesting, too.

  3. #3 Jim Thomerson
    January 11, 2012

    Life, used as a noun, is the property of vitalists. There is no life, only living things. So, the question is, “Is that thing over there a living thing.” Perhaps a question sometimes just as hard to answer.

  4. #4 rturpin
    January 11, 2012

    Alas, turning properties into nouns is one of the ways we fool ourselves with language. When an atheist is asked by someone religious whether he believes in love, I’ve oft thought the responses should be along these lines: Love is something that people do, not some thing that we can properly speak of existing.

    Of course, we noun verbs and verb nouns. It never ends.

  5. #5 bks
    January 11, 2012

    Well in just four comments you folks have rediscovered a basic problem in defining life. NASA would certainly like to answer the question “Is that thing over there a living thing?” but that leaves out all definitions that involve self-replication, natural variation and evolution because we might only have one thing. Catch-22.

    –bks

  6. #6 qetzal
    January 11, 2012

    I think the “with variations” bit is inappropriate because it’s a consequence of entropy, not of life per se. Life generates variation when it reproduces because it’s essentially impossible not to. Just like it’s essentially impossible to make repeated copies of a computer program, or an image, or pretty much anything else, without seeing variation between copies.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    January 11, 2012

    qetzal: there is significant variation in animal, plant, protist, and bacteria and I’m gussing fugi that is caused by behaviors and physiological systems designed (by selection) to increase variation.

  8. #8 qetzal
    January 11, 2012

    Sure. But I take “self-reproduction with variations” to refer to variations among offspring, not variation in behavior. Of course, variation of offspring also is (partly) due to specific properties of most organisms (beyond the simple inevitability of copy errors). But again, if that’s what’s meant, it’s not well expressed in that definition.

  9. #9 Dario Ringach
    January 12, 2012

    One could easily write a compute program that self-replicates with variations… Is it alive?

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    January 12, 2012

    Is that really self replicated? In the context of an OS, sure, it’s alive (virtually). In the context of real life, it’s not because it is not really self replicating.

  11. #11 bks
    January 12, 2012

    It’s a very special sort of replication. It’s not that the variation is hard to explain, but that the variation is held within very tight parameters. A thousand generations of asexual bdelloid rotifers still look just like bedelloid rotifers. A thousand generations of octopuses will still look like octopi. This is not well-explained by simple appeals to copy errors or thermodynamics.

    –bks

  12. #12 qetzal
    January 12, 2012

    bks,

    Then perhaps the definition should have been “a very special sort of self-reproduction with variation that is held within very tight parameters.” Preferably with enough additional explanation to indicate how replication of living creatures is “special,” and how the parameters for variation of life are distinct from non-life. But the simple qualifier of replication “with variation” doesn’t cut it, IMO.

    I confess, however, that I’m not sure what you’re implying when you say variation is “held” within tight parameters. Who is supposedly doing this holding? Variation in living things is mainly constrained by the requirement that they actually be alive and successfully reproduce.

  13. #13 bks
    January 13, 2012

    Qetzal, that’s one of the great unsolved questions in evolutionary theory:

    Thus, a necessary condition for life to evolve
    is not simply replication and not ‘replication with variation’
    (a tautology) but replication with an error rate below the
    sustainability threshold (Trifonov’s ‘almost exact self-
    reproduction’ fits the bill but appears imprecise).

    http://www.jbsdonline.com/mc_images/category/4317/4-koonin-jbsd_29_4_2012.pdf

    –bks

  14. #14 WBenson
    January 13, 2012

    Natural life is (the product of) sustained adaptive (population based) self-replication underwritten by non-trivial variation. The system of generating variation has to be sufficiently error protected to resist entropy and sufficiently versatile to be ‘essentially’ open-ended with regard to phenotype production. The latter condition may be too restrictive, but a minimal ‘organic system’ capable of coding but a few dozen phenotypes is intuitively unsatisfactory I think “artificial life” should be similarly defined, but it would be hard for many biologists to agree.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    January 13, 2012

    ” a minimal ‘organic system’ capable of coding but a few dozen phenotypes is intuitively unsatisfactory”

    Intuitively unsatisfactory is unsatisfactory! As it exists on Earth, life is pretty limited in some really dumb ways. Like only one bit of information per cell juncture or soma in neural systems (instead of coding zillions of bits of info in organelles which could then be reproduced, which makes a LOT more sense). The possibility of a limited number of phenotypes does not diminish because it sounds bad to us Earthlings!

  16. #16 bks
    January 14, 2012

    Greg, I studiously avoid organisms with brains (my bailiwick is plants and protozoa) but I think neurons are better thought of as computers than transistors. Each neuron, has about 10^5 connections. (There are 10^14 to 10^15 synapses in a human brain.) And that does not exhaust the repertoire of “switches” within each neuron. The cell membrane of the neuron is studded with a bewildering array of transducers, each of which is a protein (or protein complex) that can change conformation and effect signalling within the cell and among cells. And the interior of the cell has a small universe of signalling mechanisms and switches.

    Denis Bray, who has been studying bacterial behavior for donkey years, has written an excellent book on the subject, _Wetware, A Computer in Every Living Cell_:
    http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300141733

    –bks

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    January 14, 2012

    bks … well, yes and no. The fact that there is a lot of information in, or processed in cells does not obviate the fact that most of what mammalian brain circuitry does is not known to take advantage of much of that. Also, while many cells manage to live in a wide range of environments, nerual systems are relatively choosy. Organisms with larger brains (say, birds and mammals) require large amounts of energy to maintain this brain tissue. We know cells and organelles can be changed in life and pass those changes on to copies, and we know information processing could use that ability but about 99.99999% of the information passed on for use in neural systems is not passed on via replicaiton, but rather, learning and reinvention. And so on.

    The way neural systems in brainy organisms have come to be is through evolution and not design, and these limitations are probably mostly the result of phylogenetic constraints. But when we are talking about alternative life systems, we can assume that across many many iterations, different results would emerge. If the equivalent of “neural” cells emerges under selection for replication of specific information gathered or manipulated by the organism and then that neural cell is later used in “braininess” brains would be very different. If the initial “neuron” was designed to operate with higher energetic efficiencies, say in our own history, then big brains might be less expensive tissue and that would have changed the constraints on prior selection. And so on and so forth.

  18. #18 P.A. Wahid
    January 19, 2012

    Although biology is the science of life, biologists do not know what life is; geneticists do not know what the gene is; and evolutionists do not know what species is! This is the plight of biology now. Biology literature continues to grow at an alarming rate in these fields! Scientists never stop to think whether science is advancing in the right direction. It is without knowing what life is, biologists are trying to create it. The basic reason why we cannot define or understand the phenomenon of life is the molecular gene (genome) concept is wrong. Biological program responsible for the functioning of an organism is not encoded by a chemical molecule (DNA). By treating DNA as the molecule of life, we are superimposing biological information over chemical information. DNA is the only molecule in the whole universe that carries biological information over and above chemical information! The molecular gene concept is scientifically untenable. It is violation of chemical principles. The Quran reveals that life is non-material phenomenon validating the original proposal of nonphysical gene by Wilhelm Johannsen in 1909. He warned against two things while proposing the gene concept; one is against treating gene as material entity, and the other is against assigning gene for particular character. Both his warnings have been now proved correct.
    The nonphysical biological information can be conceived on the lines of computer concept of the organism. Phenomena of life and death can be defined and explained in the light of the Quranic revelation based on the computer model of organism. The Quran informs that nonphysical rooh (or nafs) (“breath of life” in the Bible) is the cause of life and its removal (deletion) from the body results in death. In the computer model, the chemical structures (including DNA) from cells through tissues to organs constitute hardware of the organism. The nonphysical rooh is the biosoftware of organism. The computer software is also nonphysical although it requires a physical medium (disk) for storage. Similarly biosoftware also requires a physical medium for its storage. The hard disk of organism is chromosome. The invisible software is the soul of the computer as the rooh is the soul of an organism. As the deletion of rooh causes death, deletion of the software also brings the computer to a halt. A dead body is like a computer without software. Based on this reasoning, life can be defined as the manifestation of execution of divine biosoftware in body, and death as the result of its deletion from the body. This assertion based on the Quran is falsifiable. It predicts it will be impossible to create life from non-life without using a living cell or organism at any stage of the process. It also predicts that a dead cell (or dead body) cannot be restored to life. In fact a dead cell has all the material structures including DNA intact at death. But yet the cell doesn’t show any sign of life. This shows a chemical structure (material) does not constitute biological program. All the experiments to create life from non-life going on at various centres in the world are destined to fail proving that molecular gene concept is the costliest blunder ever to commit in the history of science. It will also prove God. Biologists can as well test their idea of material gene by bringing a dead cell back to life by chemical means since dead cell is comparable to prosthetic cell. They don’t have to create genome or cell from scratch chemically, which is not feasible without involving living cell or organism. Our computer, robots, etc., which run on man-made software are forms of ‘artificial life’. For detailed discussion please see posts 4 and 5 at my blog http://quranscienceblog.blogpost.com
    Creating changes in organism through genetic manipulation is not creation of life. Nature herself shows such diversity within species. In computer model of organism, DNA technology is biohardware technology and not biosoftware technology. By that scientists are trying to find hardware solution for software problem.

  19. #19 P.A. Wahid
    January 20, 2012

    Life is nonmaterial phenomenon
    Although biology is the science of life, biologists have not yet been able to define “life”. Although molecular gene is the foundational atom of modern biology, the “gene” also remains undefined. Likewise “species” is the foundation of evolutionary biology, but evolutionists (including Darwin) have not been able to define “species” yet. It is without knowing these, biology is ‘advancing’. Is biology on the right track? If it is, why we are unable to get clear understanding of these things in spite of substantial research already done in biology? We do not pause to ponder over this issue. It is high time we at least doubted something is fundamentally wrong in biology.
    It is without knowing what “life” is, we are trying to create life. The basic reason why we cannot define or understand the phenomenon of life is the erroneous concept of biological information. Molecular gene (genome) concept is wrong. Biological program responsible for life and the functioning of an organism is not encoded by a chemical molecule (DNA). By treating DNA as the molecule of life, we are superimposing biological information over chemical information. This implies that DNA is the only molecule in the whole universe that carries biological information over and above chemical information. This is wrong. The molecular gene concept is therefore flawed and is scientifically untenable. It is violation of chemical principles. The Scriptures lend a helping hand to resolve the issue. Just because the help comes from Scriptures, we should not reject it. That is unscientific. But if the Scriptural revelation cannot be proved scientifically we can reject it. The Quran and Bible reveal that life is nonmaterial phenomenon validating the original proposal of ‘nonphysical gene’ by Wilhelm Johannsen in 1909. He warned against two things while proposing the gene concept; one is against treating gene as material entity, and the other is against assigning gene for particular character. Both these warnings have been since proved correct.
    The nonphysical biological information can be conceived on the lines of computer model of the organism. Phenomena of life and death can be defined and explained in the light of the Quranic revelation based on the computer model of organism. The Quran informs that God created Adam by “breathing rooh into a clay model of man” (Q. 15:28-29). The term nafs is also used in place of rooh in the Quran (Q. 4:1). On ‘breathing of rooh’, the clay model (nonliving matter) sprang to life. The Bible tells us the same story but uses the phrase “breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). Both these sources thus reveal the cause of life is something nonphysical. The Scriptural revelations are metaphors, which can be explained based on computer model of organism. In the computer model, the chemical structures (including DNA) from cells through tissues to organs constitute hardware of the organism. The nonphysical “rooh” is the biosoftware of organism. The Scriptural revelations (“breathing of rooh” or “breathing of life” into the clay model of man) can be explained as installation of biosoftware in the nonliving clay model. Upon installation (‘breathing’) of the “rooh”, the clay model sprang to life much like a computer springs to “life” on installing software in it. Our computer software is also nonphysical although it requires a physical medium (disk) for storage. Similarly biosoftware also requires a physical medium for its storage. The hard disk of organism is chromosome. The invisible software is the soul of the computer as the rooh is the soul of an organism. The Quran further reveals that it is the removal (deletion) of nafs that results in death (Q. 6:93). Deletion of software from our computer also brings it to a halt. A dead body is therefore like a computer without software. Based on this reasoning, life can be defined as the manifestation of execution of divine biosoftware in the body cells, and death as the result of its deletion from the body. Computers, robots, etc., which run on man-made software, can be considered as forms of ‘artificial life’. Biologists are currently pursuing a chemical trail to find out the source of biological information. A summary of my research in this area has been published in J. Software Engineering and Applications 3(7):728-735 (2010).
    The Scriptural assertion of nonmaterial basis of life is falsifiable and hence it is as good as scientific theory. It predicts it will never be possible to create life from non-life through chemical synthesis without using a living cell or organism at any stage of the process. It also predicts that a dead cell (or a dead body) cannot be restored to life chemically. In fact a dead cell has all the material structures including DNA intact at death. But yet the cell doesn’t show any sign of life. This is clear proof that a chemical structure (material) does not encode biological program. Chemical structure encodes only chemical information. All the experiments so far conducted to create life from non-life have failed so far. Going by the Scriptures, future experiments in this line will also fail. This proves two things scientifically; one is God exists, and the other is molecular gene concept is wrong.
    A dead cell is natural equivalent of prosthetic cell as it has all the material structures including genome except life. Instead of chemically synthesizing genome or cell from scratch, a more feasible proposition is to use dead cell for creation of life. If it can be shown that life can be brought back to a dead cell by purely chemical means (without involving a living cell or organism at any stage during the process), that will prove the material basis of life and also nonexistence of God. For detailed discussion please see particularly posts 4 and 5 at my blog http://quranscienceblog.blogpost.com
    Creating changes in organism through genetic manipulation is not creation of life. Nature herself shows such diversity within species. In computer model of organism, DNA technology is biohardware technology and not biosoftware technology. Employing DNA technology, biologists are unwittingly trying to find hardware solution for software problem.

  20. #20 Marc Tessera
    January 25, 2012

    Actually the concept of life is related to an indefinable state. Any definition of life is subjective and arbitrary as is the boundary between living and non-living systems or pinpointing the moment when non living systems would have become living. For instance, saying that virus or prions or vesicles with the capacity of evolving are living systems (or not) adds nothing more than the definition of life one would propose. Finally the statement that any such boundary or moment exists is not falsifiable: no experiment can be considered to prove that it can be wrong. Therefore, as the distinction between living and non living systems is a matter of belief and not science, it is not only hopeless but useless to try to define this indefinable state related to a metaphysical question. By contrast the distinction between systems with evolvable capacity and systems without is not so problematic. It seems more appropriate to focus on the process of Darwinian evolution as the source of the primordial ancestor on Earth and presumably similar systems elsewhere. The consensus to be reached in the quest for the primordial ancestor must be in defining the minimal process that allowed Darwinian evolution to emerge and persist (Tessera 2011 and 2012).

  21. #21 marc Tessera
    January 25, 2012

    537
    As the concept of life cannot be considered as scientifically sound but on the contrary is a metaphysical concept, literally speaking, it is true to say that “We can know nothing about the origin of life” (as it is true to say that “We can know nothing about the origin of the soul, of God etc.”). However it is not true that we can know nothing about the origin of the primordial ancestor on Earth and of the processs at the origin of all the terrestrial systems with the property of Darwinian evolution: we can know much more about the origin of Darwinian evolution. For instance, within the paradigm of open, far from equilibrium systems that should maintain their level of organization, it is possible to only envisage three conditions that would permit the systems to get the property of Darwinian evolution:
    - 1. Local conditions that allow the emergence of open non-equilibrium structural systems, organized on a macroscopic level, generated by a flow of matter and energy that is continuously supplied. These open far-from-equilibrium systems can maintain themselves far-from-equilibrium because they are able to use the matter and energy supplied by the favourable local environment;
    - 2. The systems must be able to self-reproduce;
    - 3. The systems must be capable of acquiring heritable structure/function properties that are relatively independent from the local environment, i.e., the fact that they belong to a specific lineage should not depend on the nature of the nutriments they receive from the local environment. This last condition is required for the emergence of distinct lineages allowing Darwinian natural selection.
    I do not mention an interesting fourth condition:
    - 4. These properties may change sporadically while remaining transmissible to the descendants.
    This fourth condition, although favouring a much more efficient and faster evolution, is not mandatory to allow room for selection if the potential of the systems is very large for the emergence of new distinct lineages. One interesting feature of this set of three conditions is that it does not necessarily involve a genetic component related to nucleic acids. For example there is at least one model, a lipidic vesicle-based model, which can be proposed to address the issues raised by the three conditions above, without involving nucleic acids (Tessera 2011).

    Reference:
    M. Tessera. Origin of Evolution Versus Origin of Life: A Shift of Paradigm. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2011,12,3445-3458.

  22. #22 Raging Bee
    January 25, 2012

    I see this Tessara guy is now spamming multiple threads to plug some book of his. Not sure how valid his thesis is (it sounds kinda vague in places), but this means of advertizing is really not a good look.

  23. #23 Marc Tessera
    January 25, 2012

    Hi Raging Bee,
    Your pseudonyme suits you very well.
    However I would apreciate arguments instead.
    What do you think of my proposal “the quest for the origin of Darwinian evolution instead of the quest for the origin of life”?

  24. #24 Marc Tessera
    January 25, 2012

    Hi Greg,
    Have I no chance for any relevant comment (even from you whose I appreciate the blog pages?) about my statement that it is not only hopeless but useless to try to define life, which is an indefinable state related to a metaphysical question, and, on the contrary, that, it is worthy to focus on the process of Darwinian evolution as the source of the primordial ancestor on Earth and presumably similar systems elsewhere?
    I’d like to specify that the reference I cited is not a book, as supposed by Raging Bee, but an article which is an open access publication with the following link:
    Origin of Evolution versus Origin of Life: A Shift of Paradigm

  25. #25 P.A. Wahid
    January 29, 2012

    Phenomenon of life is definable, understandable and scientifically explainable in the light of Quranic revelations based on computer model of organism, as given above in my previous comment above. Life is nonmaterial phenomenon. We have to accept that. This would imply that our present concept of molecular gene (genome) as encoding biological program is wrong. The failure of experiments to create life from nonlife materials without involving living cell or organism is the proof of nonmaterial nature of biological program (biosoftware). Once we accept this, phenomenon of life will be explainable. The failure of the experiments prove the validity of the Quranic revelation and hence the existence of God scientifically. We should be prepared to accept this truth. The divine revelations predict failure of experiments to create life from nonlife in future also. To create life from nonlife by chemical synthesis without in anyway involving living materials is an impossible proposition. The failure indicates the prediction is correct. Thus it is scientifically proved.

  26. #26 Marc Tessera
    January 30, 2012

    From P.A. Wahid’s responses evolutionists have a new illustration of the problem with the creationist’s arguments.
    Considering the concept of life as belonging to the physical/material world puts evolutionists in a very weak position, actually an impossible position, when facing creationist’s arguments (such as P.A. Wahid’s) in the debate on the origin of life. It is too easy for creationists to say: “Evolutionists claim they will be able to find how life began while nobody can define life, physically or materially speaking”.
    In this impossible position evolutionists are actually dealing with a metaphysical concept (without realizing it is) and thus mixing science and metaphysics, as P.A. Wahid does in his comments.
    On the contrary evolutionists must realize that the hypothetic boundary between living and nonliving systems and the miraculous moment when nonliving systems would have become living are totally arbitrary. They must realize that the statement that such boundary and moment exist is not falsifiable because no experiment can be envisaged to prove it to be false.
    Moreover evolutionists must consider the hypothesis that the existence of all terrestrial systems, extant and past, stemming from Darwinian evolution can be explained only by the emergence of Darwinian evolution in the inorganic world on earth about 4 billion years ago.

  27. #27 Mohammad Shafiq Khan
    January 30, 2012

    Wildon Carr has described logical aspect of evolution in a passage which is quoted as follows;
    ‘If intellect is a product of evolution the whole mechanistic concept of the nature and origin of life is absurd, and the principle which science has adopted must clearly be revised. We have only to state it to see the self-contradiction. How can the intellect, a mode of apprehending reality, be itself an evolution of something which only exists as an abstraction of that mode of apprehending, which is the intellect? If intellect is an evolution of life, then the concept of the life which can evolve intellect as a particular mode of apprehending reality must be the concept of a more concrete activity than that of any abstract mechanical movement which the intellect can present to itself by analyzing its apprehended content. And yet further, if the intellect be a product of the evolution of life, it is not absolute but relative to the activity of the life which has evolved it; how then, in such case, can science exclude the subjective aspect of the knowing and build on the objective presentation as an absolute? Clearly the biological sciences necessitate a reconsideration of the scientific principle.’
    I wonder how evolutionists would answer Wildon Carr. In an article titled ‘Theory of Origin & Phenomenon of Life’ published in Indian Journal of Science & Technology and available free on http://www.indjst.org (Augst 2010)the author has tried to explain what is life.

  28. #28 Marc Tessera
    January 30, 2012

    “If intellect is a product of evolution the whole mechanistic concept of the nature and origin of life is absurd, and the principle which science has adopted must clearly be revised. We have only to state it to see the self-contradiction. How can the intellect, a mode of apprehending reality, be itself an evolution of something which only exists as an abstraction of that mode of apprehending, which is the intellect?”
    From my point of view such sentences have nothing to do with science. Those are clearly metaphysical thoughts. Besides, according to the text cited by Shafiq Khan, Wildon Carr clearly confirmed this point of view: “Clearly the biological sciences necessitate a reconsideration of the scientific principle”.
    I would like just to add that Dr. Wildon Carr was the advocate of Bergson’s philosophy in England and that Henri Bergson defended the concept of “vitalism”.

  29. #29 P.A. Wahid
    February 6, 2012

    Marc Tessera may call it metaphysical, creationism, mixing science with metaphysics, etc. Everybody else also views any Scriptural revelation-based similarly. The basis of my theory is Quranic revelation of nonphysical basis of life. Current scientific view that a material (DNA) constitutes biological program responsible for life activities of organism is wrong because the genome is intact in a dead cell. Why it cannot show sign of life? Life is irreversibly lost from the system. Quranic assertion that deletion of nafs (biosoftware or soul) causes death explains the phenomenon. This is Quranic challenge. Can anybody restore life to a dead cell or create a living cell through chemical synthesis without involving a living cell?
    Dozens of theories of origin of life have been advanced in biology. But none of them suggests how life originated. Yet they all go by the name “theories of origin of life”. Further, none of these theories is testable or falsifiable. They also do not leave any prediction for testing or falsifying. These are the criteria generally adopted for distinguishing a scientific theory from pseudoscience. In spite of that all these theories are accepted as scientific! It is impossible to define life on the basis of material genome. Life and death can only be defined in the light of the Quranic revelations. This is a challenge I put up to biologists and atheists.

  30. #30 Marc Tessera
    February 6, 2012

    Dear P.A. Wahid,
    I agree with people who are saying that “We can know nothing about the origin of life”. The same when it is said that “We can know nothing about the origin of the soul” or ““We can know nothing about the origin of God” etc.
    This is clearly because these entities belong to metaphysics. By contrast it is not true that we can know nothing about the origin of the primordial ancestor on Earth, actually on the origin of all the terrestrial systems, extant and past, which stemmed from Darwinian evolution. In fact, we can know a lot about the origin of Darwinian evolution, scientifically speaking.

  31. #31 Lexx
    February 6, 2012

    “Self-reproduction with variations” is a great definition of life, probably the most correct one I’ve ever read. As to determining if the origin on life and humans in particular actually comes from “primordial soup”, we will need an entire planet (or a smaller independent micro-biosphere and a technical possibility to speed up processes so that we could observe in, say, 10 years what actually tool billions years. That would answer many questions.

  32. #32 Marc Tessera
    February 6, 2012

    “‘Self-reproduction with variations’ is a great definition of life”: a great definition or just a n+1 definition?

  33. #33 Vin Creek
    March 22, 2012

    Interesting discussion. I don’t think self-replication is the baseline for the definition of life. Let’s take a simple example – bees. Neuters are not involved in self-replication. However, they live an active life. I think it’s more about the ability to grow by the means of absorbing and actively changing substances. What do you think?