Pharyngula

Origin of life

Nick Matzke has a fine summary of progress in research into abiogenesis. He chastises those people who try to argue that abiogenesis is independent of evolution, or that you can get out of trying to answer the question of where life came from by simply saying that that isn’t evolution. It is! I’ve said it myself, and I really wish people would stop trying weasel out of that question by punting it off to some other discipline.

Comments

  1. #1 Hez
    July 5, 2008

    Hmm, I always pull the abiogenesis =/= evolution when discussing with creationists, I can’t wait to check this little essay out tomorrow.

  2. #2 aleph1=c
    July 5, 2008

    I always thought abiogenesis was within the same discipline (biology?), but not necessarily a part evolutionary theory, unless we expand it to include abiogenesis. PZ considers it a subset of evolution, in the form of chemical evolution. I think of it as more of an add-on.

    It seems that we make unnecessary partitions of most of our fields of study. It’s just a historical convention that makes things convenient, things like how to divide up a university into separate departments in some coherent way.

  3. #3 Jason
    July 5, 2008

    Damn rights. I hate when people say that “Oh, okay, evolution does happen, but because it doesnt explain the origin of life, that means God did it!”
    When people dodge the question it just moves the scientific road block of religion to another intersection.

  4. #4 Joachim Arnerholm
    July 5, 2008

    The Migthy PZ is to afraid to go on 1280 the patriot…

    ouch!…

  5. #5 Joachim Arnerholm
    July 5, 2008

    Come on pz, you can crush those Christloving a??ho??les with one arm behind your back. I smell chicken!!!!

  6. #6 tacitus
    July 5, 2008

    The problem is that creationists will claim that if you can’t solve the problem of abiogenesis, then the whole of evolution is bunk.

    So I think when evolution defenders attempt the disassociation of abiogenesis from the rest of evolution, it’s well intentioned in that they are trying to get creationists to focus on the vast amounts of evidence for evolution independent of how life began in the first place.

  7. #7 Sven DiMilo
    July 5, 2008

    (Joachim: huh?)
    Sure, the origin of life was an evolutionary process, and once you had (as must have been the case) replicators competing for limited resources, it had to have included natural selection, perhaps even before we would have considered them (the replicators) “alive.” Abiogenesis is best seen as a subset of the evolutionary story writ large; what the creos get wrong is that even if life qua life was dumped on Earth from space, evolution still happened here. We may well never know with much certainty how life got started, but we know damn well what happened once it did.
    This is kind of like the well-meaning rhetorical device of “humans are not descended from apes/monkeys; we are all descended from a common ancestor.” Truth is that the common ancestor of humans and other extant apes was an ape, and if the term “monkey” has any meaning at all (it doesn’t to a monophylomaniacal cladist–hey where’s David M. been lately?), then the common ancestor of humans and extant “monkeys” was a “monkey.”

  8. #8 info_dump
    July 5, 2008

    Very interesting. I have one complaint though: It always disappoints me when truly informative and interesting articles such as this are punctuated with ham-fisted paragraphs about how anyone who doesn’t know this information hasn’t done enough thinking and doesn’t know what they’re yammering about. It’s unnecessary, and it brings the whole article down a notch in my mind.

    But still very good.

  9. #9 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 5, 2008

    tacitus, I get what you are saying, but to tailor a response on origin-of-life questions to thwart creationists is almost as silly as wanting to change the designation of Theory of Evolution to something like “Fact” or “Law” of evolution. It may appease or salve some factions, but it doesn’t reflect the research accurately.

  10. #10 Colugo
    July 5, 2008

    “or that you can get out of trying to answer the question of where life came from by simply saying that that isn’t evolution. It is!”

    Which logically means that evolutionary science is not restricted to biology, since it also covers the transition from abiotic reproducer to biotic reproducer. Abiotic chemical replication cycles subject to modification are therefore also part of evolutionary biology. And if these are, why not any kind of reproducing entity (memes, language, technology, computer viruses…). Evolutionary biology, then, is just a special case of a more universal evolutionary science.

  11. #11 AndrewC
    July 5, 2008

    colugo,
    I’d prefer to say any that replicates has a chance to be explained in Darwinian terms. Everything being evolutionary science may be confusing and be just what somebody like Ben Stein thinks we think.

  12. #12 Jason
    July 5, 2008

    I thought evolution presupposes the existence of life.

    It is about how selection changes a population over time or something like that. I’m not qualified to debate this with PZ but I just listened to a Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate where he seems to make this point.

  13. #13 BaldApe
    July 5, 2008

    I saw that article the other day, consider myself chastised for using that disingenuous argument myself, and am impressed with what I didn’t know before about the current state of origin of life research. I’ve saved it so I can go over it in more detail, and will try to read up some more on this exciting research.

    But I agree with info_dump that the article is diminished by some of the attitude tantrums.

  14. #14 Holbach
    July 5, 2008

    Only the religion afflicted mind can ascribe to a god all that they don’t understand or want to undertand. “How is your body able to engage in all the physical workings to keep you alive?” “Duh, I don’t know; god takes care of that for me.” “Describe “Duh”. “Don’t Understand How”.

  15. #15 BobC
    July 5, 2008

    “PZ says that sure, big exciting unanswered questions like the origin of life exist in science, but scientists said this first, and furthermore consider them research opportunities, not flaws.”

    From a New York Times article: “Evolution as a principle is not disputed in the scientific
    mainstream, where the term ‘theory’ does not mean a hunch, but an explanation backed by abundant observation, and where gaps in knowledge are not seen as grounds for doubt but points for future understanding.”

    The creationists translate every gap in knowledge to be a weakness. Evolution does not have weaknesses. It has opportunities to learn more. I have tried to explain this to creationists but they don’t get it. Of course they don’t understand anything.

  16. #16 brian
    July 5, 2008

    Thanks for the info. I was one of the people who tried to keep abiogenesis and evolution separate. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  17. #17 John Pieret
    July 5, 2008

    While we justifiably expect that evolutionary forces will be involved in the origin of life and its fair to say we know a considerable amount more about it than “nothing,” it is, as a number of commentators at the Panda’s Thumb have pointed out, quite correct to say that our confidence in the truth of evolution does not depend on an understanding of abiogenesis. They are not different diciplines but the evidence and inferences for each are independent. Darwin was right to say that his case for common descent was strong, even though he truly knew nothing about the origin of life.

  18. #18 Chiroptera
    July 5, 2008

    To echo the point that several have already made, I think that the “abiogenesis is not evolution” is meant to express the point that the evidence for evolution from a common ancestor is pretty solid, and we have very good reason to believe that all known life has evolved from a common ancestor, even if the exact processes that led to the existence of that common ancestor are not yet completely understood. A typical creationist attack is to claim that science cannot yet answer how the first life came about, therefore all of evolutionary theory must be false.

    That said, I have seen many people making the claim that abiogenesis is not evolution and then stop there, seemingly not understanding the point they are supposed to be making.

  19. #19 Capital Dan
    July 5, 2008

    I’m guilty as well, but sometimes I can only take so much incessant rattling about some sky-daddy with magic snapping fingers.

  20. #20 shash
    July 5, 2008

    All evolution is chemical..

    Therefore, all evolution is abiogenisis… ;)

  21. #21 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 5, 2008

    As others have written, when creationists attack the theory of evolution for failing to explain how life began it is perfectly legitimate to point out that the theory was proposed as an explanation of how life expanded and diversified over time after it had appeared. Emphasising the distinction between abiogenesis and evolution is neither a denial that the two fields of research are closely linked nor is it an attempt to evade answering the question of how life began, it is exposing a strawman.

    As for weaseling about the distinction, would PZ say he is working in the field of evolutionary biology or abiogenesis? Nothing of what we have read of his research suggests he is investigating the origins of life itself. There is a clear and present distinction between the two fields and it is not weaseling to make that clear.

  22. #22 hyperdeath
    July 5, 2008

    On the subject of flawed responses to anti-evolution drivel, my pet hate is:

    Q. If people evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?
    A. People didn’t evolve from monkeys. They both evolved from a common ancestor.

    Whilst the answer is technically correct, it evades the question’s central point, and comes across as hair-splitting. It is far better to engage the the challenge head-on and to describe speciation.

  23. #23 Matt Silb
    July 5, 2008

    We have definitions of words so we can agree on how to use them. The best definition of evolution I know of is: “the change in inherited characteristics of a population of living organisms over time.” The key word in this context is “living”: by *definition* evolution only occurs to populations of living things. It may well turn out that the same *processes* (imperfect replication, differential success) are involved, but that is a research issue.

    The correct answer to creationists is: “yes, evolution does not tell us how life began, but biologists are working on it and we have learned quite a bit.” I then ask them if they wish to discuss the relative likelihood of life originating in black smokers or clay substrate. They never respond.

  24. #24 AnswersInGenitals
    July 5, 2008

    Chiroptera, in post #18 complains:

    “A typical creationist attack is to claim that science cannot yet answer how the first life came about, therefore all of evolutionary theory must be false.”

    I think that whenever a creationist makes such an attack, it is appropriate to point out that the exact origins of many books of the bible are not known. Their argument would thus lead to the conclusion that the entire bible must be bunk. I think they might better be able to see the fallacy of this line of reasoning in this context.

    Whether abiogenesis is or isn’t included in the definition of biological evolution is just an epistemological choice and is decided for the convenience of whatever is being discussed. After all, what happened, happened and didn’t wait for mankind to decide on how to categorize things.

    The word ‘evolution’ has become common parlance and been applied to a broad range of processes, both biological and non-biological, wherein something is changing over time in response to its environment. An excellent current example is the evolution of the automobile industry, which is shuttering SUV plants as fast as they can nail the boards up (so to speak) in response to the cost of fuel.

    If this example is held up (by creationists) as an example of intelligent decision making, then that intelligence has certainly demonstrated a total lack of foresight. But then, the bible teaches us that god is far more often surprised, even shocked, by his creation, than he is please, so maybe lack of foresight is exactly what creationists mean by “intelligent” design.

  25. #25 Sven DiMilo
    July 5, 2008

    Matt, your definition is of biological evolution. The word “evolution” has been used for many other changing systems , including cultural and stellar evolution. Before there were cells that we all would agree were “alive,” there were evolving chemical systems that (in retrospect) were “on their way” to life. This process of chemical evolution likely graded imperceptively into true biological evolution, so why draw an imaginary boundary line?

  26. #26 Sven DiMilo
    July 5, 2008

    Hyperdeath (#22): Actually that answer isn’t even technically correct…see my comment #7 above.

  27. #27 BobC
    July 5, 2008

    If people evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

    My reply to this incredibly stupid question from creationists is “Human apes and chimpanzee apes developed from the same ancient ape species.”

  28. #28 Chiroptera
    July 5, 2008

    AIG: I think that whenever a creationist makes such an attack, it is appropriate to point out that the exact origins of many books of the bible are not known. Their argument would thus lead to the conclusion that the entire bible must be bunk. I think they might better be able to see the fallacy of this line of reasoning in this context.

    Unfortunately, I think that the fundamentalists feel that the certainty in which they believe about the exact origins of everything (including the books of their Bible) vs. the uncertainty in current scientific knowledge is their ace in the hole.

    Although I may just try this argument to see what their reaction really is.

  29. #29 Daniel R
    July 5, 2008

    I like that one:

    “And God said, let the NA precursors link together into a short noncoding kinetically favored chain and pseudoreplicate approximately statistically after their kind.”

  30. #30 Benjamin Franklin
    July 5, 2008

    re # 29

    … and it was good.
    .

  31. #31 Ace of Sevens
    July 5, 2008

    I agree with many of the commenters here. The point people are trying to make is whether evolution happened is quite independent of how abiogenesis happened, much as how we don’t really know the evolutionary history of bats, but can safely say the have a common ancestor with other mammals.

  32. #32 LisaJ
    July 5, 2008

    Sven at #25… wonderful description of what the theory of evolution really encompasses. Since taking the time to really understand for myself what this theory means, this all encompassing definition makes clear and perfect sense.

    I think that those (on the side of science) who follow through with the argument that ‘evolution doesn’t explain the origin of life’ have either not thought the theory through completely yet, or are just caught up in semantics.

  33. #33 Graculus
    July 5, 2008

    If people evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

    If Americans came from Europeans, then why are there still Europeans?

  34. #34 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Graculus@33,

    Wouldn’t surprise me to see American creobots starting to deny that Americans did come from Europeans. After all, it’s well known we’re a lot of decadent, socialistic, atheistic, homosexual abortionists who are failing to reproduce and are on the point of being conquered by Islam, so “I didn’t come from no European” would seem a logical step ;-)

  35. #35 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 5, 2008

    I can abridge and repost the core of my PT comment:

    The first point is the consequence of yielding points to anti-scientists or media.

    To make evolution dependent on OOL is at the very least premature.

    The second point is the consequence of conflating theories.

    However you look at science areas, definitions and theories (and the status of abiogenesis), in practice evolution stands on its own. This is why we have a valid theory of evolution already.

    The third point is a general observation on systems.

    When I point out that how an LCA (or a replicator) came about is an independent issue from evolution, I’ll most often do so trying to put over a general characteristic of systems.

    In physics (and chemistry) we learn that processes can be specified by a dynamical description and a specific but independent boundary condition. Here, an initial condition, whether first replicator, LCA, vertebrate or tetrapod.

    I don’t subscribe to Nisbet’s ideas. This is what I see when I work, so that is a fact among others I want out there, I don’t lie on or hold back facts.

    It is a general principle, and we use it daily. For example biologists when making cladiograms, meteorologists when solving for weather predictions, and engineers when making fuel saving cars.

  36. #36 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 5, 2008

    I think that those (on the side of science) who follow through with the argument that ‘evolution doesn’t explain the origin of life’ have either not thought the theory through completely yet, or are just caught up in semantics.

    I don’t think so – at the very least you will have to add descriptions of distributed heredity, like the quasispecies concept that covers fast developing viruses like HIV. Isn’t there a discussion whether to follow the lineages of individual biomolecules instead, when you try to go back to the LCA (and possible further, to RNA and earlier worlds)?

    So while evolution as a process (or observable fact, if you will) likely cover biogenesis all the way back to incomplete hereditary closure (and you should really try to cover the first abiogenesis part also, if you want to make a general claim), I have doubts that the current theory describes it.

  37. #37 SLC
    July 5, 2008

    I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with Prof. Myers and most of the commentors here. If the origin of life is defined as the appearance of the first replicators, then the theory of the origin of life and the theory of the evolution of life are separate and distinct theories in that it doesn’t make any difference how the first replicators appeared. Another way to put this is to say that the origin of life is a problem in chemistry, the evolution of life is a problem in biology.

  38. #38 Sven DiMilo
    July 5, 2008

    If the origin of life is defined as the appearance of the first replicators

    But that’s an arbitrary definition. Most people don’t consider self-replicating RNA molecules to be “life.” It may well have been a long way from the first replicators to the first metabolizing, membrane-enclosed cells (“life” by any definition), and the first replicators may have been preceded by sort-of-replicators or sometimes-replicators that could nevertheless have evolved by natural selection.

  39. #39 David Marjanovi?, OM
    July 5, 2008

    hey where’s David M. been lately?

    V Spi?skej Novej Vsi.

    And tomorrow afternoon I’ll go to Hradec Králové for the next congress…

    I wouldn’t say “monkey” has no meaning at all. Just keep it out of formal nomenclature — unless of course you include yourself and all the other apes among the monkeys (by equating “monkeys” with Anthropoidea).

  40. #40 Bad
    July 5, 2008

    As much as you and Nick have important points to make here, PZ, I think you guys are to some extent throwing people who argue in good faith under the bus, when what you guys are really differing about is a matter of emphasis. There are a lot of other important reasons why people separate evolution from abiogensis that you ignore:

    1) Historically, Darwin’s theory was not proposed in order to explain the origin of life, but rather the diversity of species, and the validity of his arguments did not and does not rest in any way on how one thinks life first began. This is because:
    2) Logically, an intelligent origin of life would not invalidate fully naturalistic evolution, so linking the two things, as creationists try to do, is simply unjustified.
    3) There are most certainly different levels of knowledge about the origin of life vs. evolution. The origin of life is a historical event that happened at one extremely distant era in time, leaving very little direct evidence of exactly how it happened: it’s highly likely that we may end up with lots of plausible possibilities as to how life began with no way to be certain exactly which one was “the” one. In contrast, the record for specifics on evolution is far more robust, and it’s also an ongoing process, with a decent amount of continuity, that we can see happening today. There are certainly elements we may never know, but this is true to a far lesser extent.

    And so on…

    You and Nick are making good points in that none of these things should lead people to say things that imply that the origin of life is not in the domain of biology, bio-chem, or even science, or that we don’t know anything about it, or that evolution and abiogenesis are differences in kind when it comes down to the specific mechanisms. But I don’t think a significant number of people really mean or argue those things when they say that abiogenesis and evolution are different and independent matters.

    What you guys don’t like, I think, is the implication that abiogensis is somehow in another category of science that is sufficiently fuzzy such that it legitimizes religious additions and assertions, or that it has some mysterious character that blocks future progress, and makes current progress more questionable than elsewhere in science. That’s a fair point, but not one worth going overboard on.

  41. #41 LisaJ
    July 5, 2008

    #36, agreed. It’s when considering what the PROCESS of evolution entails that it makes sense that abiogenesis is included in this process. Perhaps how the theory of evolution is defined should be clarified for this argument to hold true. Hence my note that semantics can easily confuse interpretation of the theory.

  42. #42 Sven DiMilo
    July 5, 2008

    I wouldn’t say “monkey” has no meaning at all. Just keep it out of formal nomenclature

    Of course I agree with you 100%; for some reason I just enjoy yankin’ your chain about stuff like this. (Especially since you embarrassed me by knowing that crocs have crosscurrent gas exchange when I didn’t! Know it, that is, and I call myself a comparative physiologist and a herpetologist when it suits me to do so.)

  43. #43 Holbach
    July 5, 2008

    SLC @ 37 Problem? What problem? I accept it as fact becuase that is the way it evolved. It should not be defined as a problem, but just not having all the facts due to immense time and changes we could not observe at the present time. There is no god. No problem there either.

  44. #44 Scott Hatfield, OM
    July 5, 2008

    I really wish people would stop trying weasel out of that question by punting it off to some other discipline.

    Weasel, schmeasel. PZ, if your point is that abiogenesis is a far more robust research program than the creationists would have folks believe, and that we shouldn’t be afraid to say so, I’ve got no truck with that.

    But if you want to portray abiogenesis as somehow essential to evolution itself, it seems to me you are overselling Nick’s comments for rhetorical effect.

    After all, NCSE and UCMP both properly distinguish abiogenesis from TENS (evolution by natural selection). Here’s a typical example of this at work:

    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/misconceps/IAorigintheory.shtml

    Are you saying NCSE and UCMP are weaseling on this point?

    If so, I gently demur. That’s not running away from the hard question, it’s a matter of honestly distinguishing between a speculative research program (abiogenesis) and a scientific theory (TENS). They don’t enjoy the same ontological status, and it seems to me that we run the risk of slipping into a custom-made noose whenever we use ‘Evolution’ (with a capital ‘E’!) to refer blandly to any and all dynamic historical processes.

    After all, conflation between the well-established and the not-so-certain risks giving lay people the impression we are playing a shell game. Our foes will be quick to seize upon this point. Why play into their hands?

  45. #45 Ichthyic
    July 5, 2008

    Are you saying NCSE and UCMP are weaseling on this point?

    I think the confusion lies in the fact that whatever form abiogenesis takes should leave a demonstrable imprint molecularly that will have an impact on what specific predictions will be made (and be likely).

    in that sense, it’s quite important and relevant to the theory of evolution as a whole.

    just to be simplistic, if replicators were confirmed to be based on the RNA model, vs. the “mineral” model, the predictions that would be made wrt to inherent constraints, among other things, would be quite different.

    That said, a fuzzy knowledge of the origins of self-replicators hardly means that we can’t learn much about how evolution itself actually works.

    so, one can indeed isolate the importance of abiogenesis when studying change withing extant populations themselves, while still realizing the importance of understanding abiogenesis for what the implications might be overall, and what new predictions we might make as we study modes of inheritance.

    Our foes will be quick to seize upon this point. Why play into their hands?

    there is reality, and then there is what the delusional will make of it.

    should we ignore reality out of fear the delusional will intentionally misintrepret what is noted for their own ends?

    Did you suggest PZ not criticize Expelled and instead ignore it, like several other scientists and journalists who shall go unnamed?

    At this point, I’m sure you understand why PZ chose to go on the attack, and deliberate expose the mind-numbing “wrongness” of everything presented in that charade of a movie, right?

  46. #46 Ichthyic
    July 5, 2008

    … think of it this way, Scott:

    take yourself back to when we didn’t know exactly what DNA was (long before Watson-Crick).

    Is knowing the structure of DNA important to the theory of evolution? Can you see how different predictions are made based on knowing more about the exact nature of the primary molecule of inheritance?

  47. #47 robbrown
    July 5, 2008

    The idea that evolution only applies to “life” while abiogenesis involves “non-life” presupposes that life is a well-defined concept, and that there isn’t a lot of gray area. If we were to be able to examine things far back enough, we’d certainly find examples that would be unclear whether we should call them life, or just a complex chain reaction.

    Self-replication as well is an extremely fuzzy concept. Are these — http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/may05/selfrep.ws.html — really self replicating robots if they need sophisticated robot parts as a raw material? Does fire self replicate? What about “non-vertical dominoes”?

    Seems to me that the principle of natural selection certainly applies to things other than what we now know as “life”. Its just due to lack of imagination if we can’t imagine that life could have started as a chemical chain reaction that was naturally selected into something more sophisticated.

  48. #48 PeteK
    July 5, 2008

    Abiogenesis is the process of life from non-life so it is by definition BOTH chemistry AND evolutionary biology …It’s not black or white, it’s a huge grey area, different disciplines describing a plethora of shifting, dynamic, mutually interdependant, interlocking, interconnecting, processes…a bit like an ecosystem…

  49. #49 Stuart Weinstein
    July 5, 2008

    I have to disagree PZ. First let me say what I do *agree* with. And that is you shouldn’t (if you can help it) beg off the question.

    However, lets face it. The only reason creationists bring it up is to derail any discussion on evolution, not because they give a damn about auto-catalytic networks and the like.

    I say abiogenesis and evolution are really quite different disciplines that do address quite different issues. How many times do you suppose you or other evolutionary biologists call up the local abiogenesis expert asking for information pertinent to your research? Or vice versa? I think thats an indication that the link between the two disciplines is not well traveled. At least not yet

    You don’t need to have a clue about abiogenesis in order to study and try to comprehend the history life over the Phanerozoic. Or the reverse.

  50. #50 Ichthyic
    July 5, 2008

    You don’t need to have a clue about abiogenesis in order to study and try to comprehend the history life over the Phanerozoic.

    see the post I JUST made wrt to Scott’s complaints above.

    can you see why you are picking a narrow view of separation?

    It is indeed like saying that those studying the form and function of the molecules of inheritance were irrelevant to the study of evolution.

    Knowing the pathway(s) self-replicators took on the road to becoming DNA could have many implications for various predictions affecting the realm of evolutionary theory, regardless of the fact that information isn’t necessary to understand how a particular mechanism of evolution works (for example, selection).

    There is no real harm in pointing this out, as any creationist proposing that abiogenesis arose from the will of a deity would still have to make predictions about what happens AFTER, just like a scientist would, and since they simply can’t (and they’ve had thousands of years to do so)…

  51. #51 Stuart Weinstein
    July 5, 2008

    “see the post I JUST made wrt to Scott’s complaints above.

    can you see why you are picking a narrow view of separation?”

    In a word, No.

    “It is indeed like saying that those studying the form and function of the molecules of inheritance were irrelevant to the study of evolution.”

    I disagree. I would say an understanding of how the genetic code arose is irrelevant to applications of population genetics.

    I can understand as well, that knowledge of how DNA, transcription and all of that machinery has contributed mightily to figuring out issues as diverse as descent and the development of novel structures. However, you can do all that and not have a clue as to how DNA came to be.

    “Knowing the pathway(s) self-replicators took on the road to becoming DNA could have many implications for various predictions affecting the realm of evolutionary theory, regardless of the fact that information isn’t necessary to understand how a particular mechanism of evolution works (for example, selection).”

    Certainly, an understand of abiogenesis will help us understand why the genetic code is the way it is, and certainly that will enhance our overall understanding of how things came to be the way they are. But they are still separate disciplines.

    “There is no real harm in pointing this out, as any creationist proposing that abiogenesis arose from the will of a deity would still have to make predictions about what happens AFTER, just like a scientist would, and since they simply can’t (and they’ve had thousands of years to do so)…”

    I don’t think there is harm in pointing out what knowledge of Abiogenesis stands to benefit our understanding of biological evolution. The harm comes in when you allow the creationists to muddy the waters and suggests that evolution doesn’t make sense except in the light of Abiogenesis. In which case it does serve to point out this isn’t true, and that they are largely separate disciplines.

    After making that distinction, a brief survey of what we have figured out regarding abiogenesis and how ID utterly fails to address the issue becomes that much more effective.

  52. #52 Ichthyic
    July 6, 2008

    The harm comes in when you allow…

    LOL

    and how would you propose one go about “disallowing” creationists, or anyone for that matter, espousing an ignorant opinion on the matter?

    I disagree. I would say an understanding of how the genetic code arose is irrelevant to applications of population genetics.

    so, DNA structure is irrelevant to how genes are coded, and how genes code are irrelevant to population genetics.

    uh, sure. somehow, I rather think any teacher of population genetics would seriously disagree with you.

    open any population genetics text you care to, and tell me whether they ignore molecular genetics.

    largely separate disciplines.

    ..but not entirely, and that’s the point. It fucking doesn’t matter one whit WHAT creationists think about the relationship between abiogenesis and evolutionary theory.

    I don’t listen to my dog about his opinions on how to fix my car, either.

    The implications of which particular theory of abiogenesis is actually correct reach far beyond abiogenesis itself. Those implications are not even conceivable by the ignorati, not having any real knowledge of any related field or related subject matter to begin with.

    in short, it really doesn’t matter WHAT is said, creobots will inevitably twist it towards their own ends, regardless.

    you might as well be as accurate as possible about it, for the people out there who actually know something about the relevant subject matter.

    otherwise, all you are doing is FRAMING.

    shall we go into why framing in science is bad, again?

    ’cause if so, I think PZ wrote half a dozen threads on the subject I’ll just link to.

  53. #53 clinteas
    July 6, 2008

    I always think when I hear people argueing that we havent figured out how life evolved from chemicals,and havent succeeded to recreate the process in a lab,that this whole idea of attempting to recreate the conditions and the actual processes that led to abiogenesis are futile,because there must be an almost unlimited number of possibilities of how amino acids could have formed,how a genetic code could have come into existence etc.I cannot believe that there is but only one singular mechanism to the origin of life,so even if we figure out one way,that is not going to mean that is what actually happened.

    On a personal note,every time I read or hear of abiogenesis,the scene from the last Star Trek-TNG episode comes to mind where Q teleports Picard back to primordial earth and scoops up a handful of goo proclaiming that here is where life is about to form…..

  54. #54 Celtic_Evolution
    July 6, 2008

    I have to admit, before reading this, and the subsequent link to Panda’s Thumb, I was one of the “unwashed” who went out of my way to separate abiogenesis and evolution when arguing with creationists. But having read the data, I can see why such a position is indeed a “cop-out”… as there is plenty of available data on abiogenesis as a sub-set of evolutionary theory…

    Truth is, I didn’t have all the latest information to argue cogently on the subject of abiogenesis… so simply separating it from evolution made it easy to not have to explain that lack of knowledge. Shame on me. I feel better armed to argue the subject, and now have a decent refernce to point to… thanks for the link, PZ.

  55. #55 Sam C
    July 6, 2008

    If people evolved from monkeys

    I think that’s only some of us and that there’s a misprint for others: creationists clearly evolved from donkeys. Or some other ass.

    A better question would be “if intelligent life evolved, why are there still creationists about?”.

  56. #56 Scott Hatfield, OM
    July 6, 2008

    Icthyic (#46) makes an interesting point:

    … think of it this way, Scott:

    take yourself back to when we didn’t know exactly what DNA was (long before Watson-Crick).

    Is knowing the structure of DNA important to the theory of evolution? Can you see how different predictions are made based on knowing more about the exact nature of the primary molecule of inheritance?

    Well, the first thing I would say is that I am not saying that abiogenesis research is not germane to evolutionary biology. Obviously, knowing exactly how DNA replicates is of great significance, and comparative genomics developed from that understanding has provided an outstanding independent way to test evolutionary claims, and as such is now part and parcel of evolutionary biology…today.

    However,there was a time when DNA’s structure and, indeed, identity were not known, as when Schrodinger speculated about the possible existence of ‘an aperiodic crystal’ capable of encoding information. This was before there was even such a thing as information theory.

    Even so, it would’ve been acceptable on first principles (which is to say, the general logic of evolutionary theory) to predict that organisms which did a better job of efficiently and reliably encoding information would leave more offspring. As I recall, Watscon, Crick and Wilkins have all made comments to that effect: they were not hostile to Darwin by any means! Yet, in the middle of World War II, there was indeed a time when not just the structure, but the identity of that ‘aperiodic crystal’ was purely speculative and did not enjoy the same ontological status as the emerging modern synthesis.

    Yet, what if, say, in 1951 Watson and his contemporaries had oversold the possible existence of an information-storage molecule as a ‘fact’ that ‘proved’ natural selection? They certainly would’ve had some tantalizing results and observations to support the speculative hypothesis (Chargaff’s Rule, Avery’s experiment, etc.), but they would’ve been out on a limb, conflating not only different fields of study but (far more importantly) blurring their distinctive ontological status. That they didn’t do this (and that abiogenesis research programs tend not to do this) should be instructive.

  57. #57 Patricia
    July 6, 2008

    Thankyou for bringing this up again PZ, you are right. Tacitus – #6 – Your first sentence sums it up perfectly.
    It’s all good fun to argue amongst your ‘sciency’ selves about a difference, but when you constantly shoot one another in the foot, to the generally ignorant American like me, goddidit sounds just about as good.
    This may be where Dawkins comes off as arrogant to a lot of people, he doesn’t get how stupid the public is over here. PZ has been in the trenches with us and knows you have to start at 8:00 am day one, or the bottom falls out.
    Isn’t there any kind of an overview the community can agree on?

  58. #58 Stuart Weinstein
    July 6, 2008

    “The harm comes in when you allow…

    “LOL

    and how would you propose one go about “disallowing” creationists, or anyone for that matter, espousing an ignorant opinion on the matter?”

    You don’t. What you do is you prevent creationists from derailing your explanations and discussions of evolution. I take it you don’t have a whole lot of experience debating creationists outside of a few posts here and there on the internet.

    I said: I disagree. I would say an understanding of how the genetic code arose is irrelevant to applications of population genetics.

    “so, DNA structure is irrelevant to how genes are coded, and how genes code are irrelevant to population genetics.”

    Which is not what I said. Let me rephrase with littler words. Not understanding how DNA came to be is not an impediment to understanding how it functions.

    When you grow up a little bit and are actually prepared to read and respond to what people actually write, we can continue this conversation.

  59. #59 truth machine, OM
    July 6, 2008

    take yourself back to when we didn’t know exactly what DNA was (long before Watson-Crick).

    Is knowing the structure of DNA important to the theory of evolution? Can you see how different predictions are made based on knowing more about the exact nature of the primary molecule of inheritance?

    Wrong analogy. Knowing that, say, Linus Pauling might have discovered the structure of DNA first if the U.S. State Department had not withheld his passport would not aid in making predictions about evolution.

  60. #60 gorobei
    July 6, 2008

    Awesome essay. I’ve always wondered how you get the first self-replicating molecules – it just seemed so damn hard. But now I see!

    You just need a hetero-hexameter (an ABABAB ring,) with strong affinity at each end (so you get the ABAB thing, and the possibility of self-attachment to make the ring.) Then, even slight preference for AB lateral attachment means you make tubes! Water motion, or whatever, splits the tubes in two, and both parts replicate happly.

    Wow, simple replication with just two basic molecules. I’m a buyer now.

  61. #61 Gary Hurd
    July 6, 2008

    A few days ago I posted a short outline of OOL research as a comment to Nick’s PT thread

    http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2008/07/what-critics-of.html#comment-160942

    Darwin saw that the origin of life was independent of his theory, and I see it as such today. However, Darwin also observed in a letter to the botanist Joseph Hooker (1871) wrote, “It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed. ”

    Later in the same letter, he observed,

    “It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.”

    Today we do indeed “think of the origin of matter” and we also have considerable information on the origin of life.

  62. #62 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 6, 2008

    @ LisaJ:

    Hence my note that semantics can easily confuse interpretation of the theory.

    Agreed, as long as it is clear that using theory isn’t the same as arguing semantics.

  63. #63 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 6, 2008

    the first replicators may have been preceded by sort-of-replicators or sometimes-replicators that could nevertheless have evolved by natural selection.

    I (as layman) prefer to abide by the natural definition – life is biological systems that participate in evolution:

    “An organism is the unit element of a continuous lineage with an individual evolutionary history.”

    So viruses can apply.

    When LGT and other contingencies starts to wipe out general lineages, one can trace back further through organelle and molecular lineages, such as ribosomes. But OTOH you start to loose control over what is “hereditary” in the definition of evolution as common descent. Possibly that is reacquired when you reach back to the first replicators.

    Btw, a perfect first replicator would be an odd beast, wouldn’t it? Selection, no variation. (Unless something externally produces new variants for the competition.)

  64. #64 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 6, 2008

    Uups, I meant biological populations, not systems.

  65. #65 Stuart Weinstein
    July 6, 2008

    “It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed. ”

    Later in the same letter, he observed,

    “It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.”

    Indeed how many turtles down do we wanna go?

    We routinely give creationists crap when they start babbling about Big Bang in an evolution thread. Allowing them to babble about abiogenesis in a evolution thread without pointing out they have little do with each other as scientific disciplines and address fundamentally different issues is a mistake. As far as I am concerned, that is muddying the issues.

    I haven’t seen PZ’s musings on *framing*. I do read this blog frequently, but not religiously (I’m sure PZ appreciates the little dig here ). It seems to me we are dealing with issues that involve differing levels of abstraction and/or are logically separated. At the risk of repeating myself, knowledge of abiogenesis will help us understand a number of things. Understanding the change in life on Earth during the Phanerozoic, for example, is not one of them.

  66. #66 jo5ef
    July 7, 2008

    I too disagree that OOL is explained within the framework of the modern synthesis.
    It can’t be denied that we have a number of competing theories as to how life originated, but only one theory of evolution.
    I agree however this is no reason to concede the ground to religious explanations, for me OOL the most exciting area of research in biology today.

  67. #67 Fatboy
    July 7, 2008

    Well, I only check this blog on my lunch breaks at work, so I missed the chance to comment on this when it first appeared. And it looks like several people have already beaten me to the points I was going to make. I like aleph1=c’s comment from all the way up near the beginning of the thread:

    It seems that we make unnecessary partitions of most of our fields of study. It’s just a historical convention that makes things convenient, things like how to divide up a university into separate departments in some coherent way.

    And I also like Stuart Weinstein’s latest comment, especially this part:

    Indeed how many turtles down do we wanna go?

    Every event is contingent on events before it, and all the distinctions we make in fields of study are arbitrary to some degree. For all the reasons others have already posted, the distinction between OOL and biological evolution seems like a reasonable place to make one of those splits. It’s still an arbitrary distinction, and they’re still related fields, but what’s so wrong with that?

    For the sake of arguing with creationists, I have had personal luck by separating the two fields. It breaks it down into manageable chunks to teach them. Most of the creationists I talk to are intelligent – they’re just ignorant when it comes to evolution, victims of indoctrination and a poor education system (intelligence may not be representative of Internet trolls, but most people you talk to in day to day life aren’t Internet trolls). Once you show them the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution, it really is hard to (intelligently) argue against it. Once you’ve crossed that bridge, then you can start approaching how life on this planet got started in the first place.

  68. #68 Brian Macker
    July 7, 2008

    “or that you can get out of trying to answer the question of where life came from by simply saying that that isn’t evolution. It is!”

    Evolution? I guess you are just being sloppy here and mean “The Theory of Natural Selection”. So where in the theory of natural selection is abiogenosis covered? Seems like it isn’t.

    If you think in terms of math theory TToNS covers n and n+1 for n >= 1. Abiogenisis is for n from 0 to 1. Non-replicator to replicator.

    If there are “chemicals” that obey the rules that allow natural selection then they are “life” and there is nothing a-biological about them. Hell we are chemicals. What makes us special is we are collections of chemicals that can replicate.

    “It is! I’ve said it myself”

    Well that settles things. Not. I think Gould, Dawkins and many others have spent too much time clarifying and worrying about this for us to trust you to undo it. Especially since you are just plain wrong.

    Your linked post is titled “Life is chemistry” and yet you seem not to have fully absorbed that fact when you write there “I’m going to be somewhat heretical, and suggest that abiogenesis as the study of chemical evolution is a natural subset of evolutionary theory, and that we should own up to it.” Hint: It’s NOT a subset. The study of chemical evolution1 is the study of life, period.

    Your “heresy” was taught in my high school biology class back in the 70’s. Well the part about evolutionary theory being about chemical evolution. Not the part about abiogenisis being about descent with modification.

    Abiogenosis is indeed a separate issue or set of issues. 1) What was the most probable “first replicator” on earth and how did it arise? 2) Can we replicate conditions that result in abiogenosis? 3) Can we find evidence of conditions where abiogenisis first occured? 4) Is the step from non-replicating chemical processes to replicating ones easy or hard? 5) Was the first replicator DNA based or something else?

    Abiogenisis is the theory that the first replicators were created spontaneously from NON-evolutionary natural processes. A hypothesis that is true to the best of our knowledge as we have no other viable candidates.

    The theory of natural selection includes 1)Replication 2)Variation 3) Mutation and 4) Fecudity above carrying capacity. Natural selection happens without abiogenisis. Even if “gods” or humans created creatures from scratch with these attributes they would evolve without any intervention.

    Abiogenisis is not a subset of the theory of natural selection and isn’t about chemical evolution1 in the sense of descent with modification. It might be about chemical evolution2 in the sense of chemical change. But then again most chemistry is about that. Study fire and you are studying a chemical evolution2 in that sense.

    I see nothing good coming of including abiogenisis in evolution, and plenty of bad. Besides it’s ultimately wrong.

  69. #69 Brian Macker
    July 7, 2008

    “It always disappoints me when truly informative and interesting articles such as this are punctuated with ham-fisted paragraphs about how anyone who doesn’t know this information hasn’t done enough thinking and doesn’t know what they’re yammering about. It’s unnecessary, and it brings the whole article down a notch in my mind.”

    Yeah, and is quite embarrassing when you’re wrong.

    Then again I’m a weasel because I still believe there is some uncertainty to the issue of the degree of anthropological global warming, or should I say a holocaust denier. Not to mention that I don’t buy the idea that it is problem that should even be a priority, let alone a political one.

  70. #70 Brian Macker
    July 7, 2008

    BTW, I can and have written a computer simulation of natural selection. I can’t yet do so convincingly with abiogenisis.

    That’s because they are different problems. In the case of abiogenisis I have to make a simulated world with a simple set of rules that does not have built in replication in which replicators spontaneously happen.

    Completely different problems.

  71. #71 Ichthyic
    July 7, 2008

    Then again I’m a weasel because I still believe there is some uncertainty to the issue of the degree of anthropological global warming, or should I say a holocaust denier. Not to mention that I don’t buy the idea that it is problem that should even be a priority, let alone a political one.

    not weasel, just a moron, and a troll.

    as usual, contributing nothing of relevance.

    like you thinking:

    BTW, I can and have written a computer simulation of natural selection. I can’t yet do so convincingly with abiogenisis.

    has relevance to anything.

  72. #72 Brian Macker
    July 7, 2008

    Ichthyic, LOL to your entire comment.

    They are based on entirely different algorithms therefore they are different things. Which contradicts the claim they are the same thing. The relevance of that fact should be obvious to every intellgent person here. It’s obvious to this “moron”.

    Time for a google fight, “evolution computer simulation” vs. “abiogenesis computer simulation”.

    That was fun, not sure it proved anything.

    BTW, people who whine about trolls should be more circumspect about name calling, flaming, and trolling. That applies to many of the very frequent commenters here. Well at least the frequent dogmatic ones.

  73. #73 Brian Macker
    July 7, 2008

    Icky, “as usual, contributing nothing of relevance.”

    I don’t usually read all the comments but now that I go back several people here had made the same points as me. Are all these people morons? I saw a couple of your posts treated some of them as such.

    “Abiogenesis is best seen as a subset of the evolutionary story writ large; what the creos get wrong is that even if life qua life was dumped on Earth from space, evolution still happened here.” - Sven DiMilo

    “quite correct to say that our confidence in the truth of evolution does not depend on an understanding of abiogenesis. They are not different diciplines but the evidence and inferences for each are independent. ” – John Pieret

    “it is perfectly legitimate to point out that the theory was proposed as an explanation of how life expanded and diversified over time after it had appeared.” Ian H Spedding FCD

    “I agree with many of the commenters here. The point people are trying to make is whether evolution happened is quite independent of how abiogenesis happened,”Ace of Sevens

    “To make evolution dependent on OOL is at the very least premature. … However you look at science areas, definitions and theories (and the status of abiogenesis), in practice evolution stands on its own. This is why we have a valid theory of evolution already.”Torbjörn Larsson

    I say abiogenesis and evolution are really quite different disciplines that do address quite different issues. - Stuart Weinstein

    “I too disagree that OOL is explained within the framework of the modern synthesis. “ jo5ef

    “I’d prefer to say any that replicates has a chance to be explained in Darwinian terms. Everything being evolutionary science may be confusing and be just what somebody like Ben Stein thinks we think.”AndrewC

    “I thought evolution presupposes the existence of life.

    It is about how selection changes a population over time or something like that. I’m not qualified to debate this with PZ but I just listened to a Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate where he seems to make this point.” Jason (and Dr. Piguliucci)

    “All evolution is chemical..”Therefore, all evolution is abiogenisis… ;)” shash

    “The best definition of evolution I know of is: “the change in inherited characteristics of a population of living organisms over time.” The key word in this context is “living”: by *definition* evolution only occurs to populations of living things. It may well turn out that the same *processes* (imperfect replication, differential success) are involved, but that is a research issue. “ Matt Silb

    “I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with Prof. Myers and most of the commentors here. If the origin of life is defined as the appearance of the first replicators, then the theory of the origin of life and the theory of the evolution of life are separate and distinct theories in that it doesn’t make any difference how the first replicators appeared.” SLC

    “1) Historically, Darwin’s theory was not proposed in order to explain the origin of life, but rather the diversity of species, and the validity of his arguments did not and does not rest in any way on how one thinks life first began. This is because:
    2) Logically, an intelligent origin of life would not invalidate fully naturalistic evolution, so linking the two things, as creationists try to do, is simply unjustified.
    3) There are most certainly different levels of knowledge about the origin of life vs. evolution. The origin of life is a historical event “
    Bad

  74. #74 Ichthyic
    July 8, 2008

    Time for a google fight, “evolution computer simulation” vs. “abiogenesis computer simulation”.

    I understand you don’t get why it isn’t relevant, and will continue to spin irrelevancies in order to make a non-existent and moronic point. However, I feel absolutely no obligation to explain to you why.

    …and bringing up the entirely unrelated issue of global warming is the very definition of trolling.

    so, yes, you are a moron, and a troll.

    as to the general issue, people saying that “disciplines are separate” are stating the obvious to make a nonsensical point. You, in quotemining the various posts, do little to support your position, and instead make THEM look bad by trying to say they are saying the same thing you are, which they are not.

    for those who aren’t totally brain-dead, or haven’t forgotten everything they learned in college: chemistry has an impact on the discipline of biology, physics has an impact on the discipline of chemistry, etc., etc.

    anyone who needs their hand held to demonstrate how that works needs to relive their undergraduate coursework.

    to try and create ridiculous artificial distinctions between disciplines to somehow try to avoid morons like creationists incorrectly conflating issues?

    ludicrous.

  75. #75 Brian Macker
    July 8, 2008

    “But that’s an arbitrary definition. Most people don’t consider self-replicating RNA molecules to be “life.” It may well have been a long way from the first replicators to the first metabolizing, membrane-enclosed cells (“life” by any definition), and the first replicators may have been preceded by sort-of-replicators or sometimes-replicators that could nevertheless have evolved by natural selection.”

    It’s not an arbitrary definition in terms of the environment. In an environment where RNA can replicate it is “life” since any such environment meets the other criteria for the occurance of natural selection. I guess you could have an environment where something replicates and yet doesn’t meet the other criteria, like crystals, and it wouldn’t be life.

    Once they are “evolving by natural selection” they are already covered by the theory of natural selection. Abiogenesis is about how those first replicators arose.

    If you don’t agree to this then what “magic” ingredient are you going to require for something to be a “life form”. If you pick cell membrane then some day we may come across life that doesn’t use cell membranes and then what do you do?

    Having a metabolism sounds nice till you realize it is just as arbitrary. It doesn’t bring true replicative independence from the environment, or other life forms.

    Animals have metabolisms but are dependent on plants to exist. If you allow animals in you might as well allow in viruses as lifeforms. Animals require an environment with plants. Viruses require an environment with a host.

    Stick us on another planet (or the moon) and we are not viable lifeforms either. So, I say, so what if we took those original non-metabolic lifeforms would die out of their prehistoric environment.

    Brian Macker’s Definition Of Life: A lifeform is anything that evolves by decent with modification within it’s natural environment, or any other suitable environment.

    That’s my definition of life and so what if the average Joe on the street (or Icky) isn’t sharp enough to understand once it’s explained to them.

    Talking about “sort-of-replicators” doesn’t make sense in this context. This definition subsumes partial replicators that can only work with the aid of other replicators, as might have happened in a membraneless prehistoric environment.

    Mutualists, viruses, saprophytes, parasites, and producers are all living things.

  76. #76 Brian Macker
    July 8, 2008

    “However, I feel absolutely no obligation to explain to you why.”

    Yeah, because it’s probably some ridiculous misreading of what I wrote. I betcha, nobody else here knows what the hell you are on about either.

    Which points out another of your many flaws. Besides being nasty you are uncharitable in your readings (or incompetent) and don’t have the social skills to carry on a conversation, or a debate. Like several other regulars here.

    A person with any sort of intellectual integrity would state their reading and would ask for a clarification of their opponents position. Someone with a little maturity would understand that communication is an iffy thing and that mindreading is not an option.

    Gloat secretly like a child if you wish.

    “…and bringing up the entirely unrelated issue of global warming is the very definition of trolling.

    so, yes, you are a moron, and a troll.”

    I’m a moron because you think you have a direct line to my beliefs and thoughts? That’s silly.

    That comment was in response to another poster who noticed the tone practiced by Myers. I brought up that as another subject on which he had such a tone. Just like you.

    I like how you’re all sensitive for him though. I’ve also noticed how he’s jumped in to protect women from commenters like you on this site. It’s almost like he thinks they are inferior or something.

    Don’t worry, he’s a big boy. He’s intelligent enough to understand that when you’re nasty it’s hipocritical to whine about trolls.

    “for those who aren’t totally brain-dead, or haven’t forgotten everything they learned in college: chemistry has an impact on the discipline of biology, physics has an impact on the discipline of chemistry, etc., etc.

    anyone who needs their hand held to demonstrate how that works needs to relive their undergraduate coursework.
    to try and create ridiculous artificial distinctions between disciplines to somehow try to avoid morons like creationists incorrectly conflating issues?”

    LOL, that’s what you read into what I wrote. You like the commenters David M., and Nick Gotts, need to learn how to read other peoples writings charitably.

    To me there are no boundaries between disciplines what-so-ever. I’m a Popperian. I agree with Dennett. I’ve read the lesson of the unity of science from everyone from Asimov to E.O.Wilson. It’s all quantum mechanics as far as I’m concerned. I’m a reductionist in that sense.

    I don’t however expect to derive biology, economics, etc. directly from physics. There are many reasons why. Emergent behavior for one. Lack of precise measurement for another. Historicism for another. Human Falibility.

    Nor do I think that theories about hydrolics explain the diversity of species, or vice versa. Why should I think that the theory of natural selection would explain the development of the first replicator?

    Not sure why you even bring up the issue of “disicplines” in the first place. Because I wasn’t even discussing that. Categorize the study of abiogenosis as biology, bio-chemistry, or chemistry. I don’t care. That is truly irrelevant to my comment.

    In fact that was clear from my prior comments. What part of my stating that all of evolution is about chemistry didn’t you understand?

    See what happens when you get clarification. Now how about you showing me what I wrote that lead you to such a far fetched reading. This article is NOT about whether we should call the study of evolution by the name chemistry, or not. It’s about whether abiogenisis is covered by Darwin’s theory. It isn’t. Hell it isn’t even covered by the new synthesis.

    No wonder you think others are morons all the time. You don’t have a clue what they are saying before you open your mouth.

    So now what a gentleman would do, if I were actually miscommunicating and you were actually a gentleman, would be to post the part that was confusing to you so that I could work on my writing style, and thus communicate better in the future.

    The Theory of Natural Selection, otherwise known by the average guy as “evolution” is a separate subject from abiogenisis, not a separate discipline. It’s still biology and I never said it wasn’t. Jeesh.

    Likewise the proper use of the term evolution, to mean the fact that life forms have changed, is a different thing than their abiotic origin, or the process by which it occurred. That doesn’t mean I think we should separate biology into separate disciplines that study evolution, the theory of natural selection, and abiogenesis.

    Most every evolutionist I’ve read has made a point of pointing out that “Evolution is a fact and natural selection is the theory that explains that fact”. I can’t help it if Myers writes more sloppily than this and uses evolution to refer to everything.

    Look, I’ve taken many university courses in the area of biology at Stony Brook, and my professors were always impressed with me. Especially with my debating skills in class. I never got ANY question wrong on any of my biology tests either. High school biology regents, 100% correct. Every university course botany, zoology, population genetics, etc. 100%.

    My IQ tests north of 140. I’m a math wiz. I’ve had teachers break down in tears because I completed a problem effortlessly when they were struggling at the board … and I keep owning you in these debates.

    The fact that you are calling me a moron just shows that you are, according to David M., a “denialist”, out of touch with reality … and rude.

  77. #77 Nick Gotts
    July 8, 2008

    Brian Macker,

    Despite the ridiculous boasting towards the end of your last comment, it’s clear from the rest of it and the preceding argument that you are an intelligent person. Which makes it a shame that you often conceal this by spouting right-wing dittohead rubbish in areas where you are clearly abysmally ignorant, like global warming and Islam in Europe.

  78. #78 Brian Macker
    July 8, 2008

    Nick,

    It’s not boasting for boastings sake. When a guys rests his case on “you’re a moron” then that’s what the debate becomes about. I can certainly handle that debate.

    It’s a shame that you guys spout left wing abysmally ignorant rubbish in areas where you are clearly ignorant like economics, politics, global warming and Islam.

    See that really helps.

    Where did you get the ridiculous idea that every intelligent person has the same opinion on every subject? There is no consensis on Islam in the “right wing”. You really have to stop it with this group think stuff.

    You also have to stop assuming that belief in one thing is indicative of belief in another. What exactly is the problem you had with what I had to say about Islam in Europe. I merely pointed out that Pat Condell’s concerns about Sharia and Islam aren’t fantasies. There have been numerous attempts at imposing Sharia law if you are paying attention, and that he didn’t state what the other fellow claimed he did. What he stated was, in fact quite reasonable.

    Pat: “”… Islam is here to stay. Any population projection will confirm that.”

    Do you have some population statistics stating that muslim populations are dwindling to the point where the religion is in danger of going extinct in Europe? That’s a charitable interpretation of your position, that he was talking about Europe and not the world. I made it easier on you. Clearly Islam is here to stay if we look solely at world population projections.

    If you are hoping that the population of Muslims is going to go up or be stable and yet belief in Islam is going to evaporate then that’s quite hopeful thinking on your part. You can’t even persuade me of the alarmist version of global warming, and you think that somehow reason is going to prevail over the millions of Muslims in Europe.

    Pat: “”In a couple of generations some parts of Europe will have no choice but to democratically allow Sharia law which as we know discriminates against and victimizes women, Jews, homosexuals and well pretty much anybody who isn’t a heterosexual Muslim male, preferably with a beard.”

    A couple of generations is a time period. He doesn’t say that he expects their political power to grow merely by breeding. Immigration is also a factor.

    He doesn’t say it’s happening by pure popular vote either. “Democratically allow” isn’t some technical term. European democratic political institutions DO NOT result in laws consistent with popular opinion on every issue. I pointed out some of the reasons why.

    I also clarified that Pat was not assuming that Muslim populations were going to rise uniformly across Europe and was not assuming a uniform distribution the way the guy criticising him was. His saying “some parts of Europe” clearly indicates he’s thinking in that direction.

    The other guy on the Pat Condell thread had clearly misheard what Pat was saying. I also did not understand the very low hurdles that will need to be jumped in order to have Sharia law in western countries. There are many other issues and developments he’s obviously not taken into account.

    “So Islam needs to be neutralized in Europe now before it’s too late. Not by engaging it in respectful dialog and throwing money at it as usual. But by doing what we should have done years ago and by legislating religion out of public life.”

    Which mirrors my claim that unlike the US, some countries in Europe (including Britain) don’t have a separation of church and state.

    So what’s so damn “Right Wing dittohead rubbish” about that? They are just facts.

    If you’d point out what exactly lead you to believe I was swallowing “right wing dittohead rubbish” then I’ll be glad to disabuse you of your notions.

    I hate to tell you this but there are plenty of right wing dittoheads like Dinesh DeSousa who are creaming in their pants at the notion of a religious revival due to the migration of Islam into Europe. They think quite wrongly that Christianity is a bulwark against Islam and that these developments are a strong argument for bringing Christianity into political power. He’s quite mistaken. Historically Christianity is not a good internal defense against Islam.

    Be sure to absorb every word I use because I generally try to be quite careful. The word “internal” was a very important word in that sentence just like my use of the word “balance” is important in my discussions of global warming. When you got people like Al Gore scaring children into believing that polar bears are drowning in the artic due to global warming and misuse of photos then it’s important to have guys on the other side criticising these scare tactics even when they make some mistakes.

    I’m all for any help from Christians in controlling Islam, and if I point to an argument by one when debating a Muslim I hope you don’t think that I swallow every single item they believe. In debating Muslims I refer them to places like FaithFreedom.org even though I don’t swallow every argument by Ali Sina. In fact, I’ve debated him on the issue of the golden rule in Islam.

    So stop this nonsense of thinking that if you can find one person who holds one silly argument on one side of a debate that you are right. PZ Myers was doing this with his ridiculous condemnation of all libertarians, people like Milton Friedman, based on a couple of nuts who want to seastead. I always hope people will recognize their mistakes and rise above them. You guys continue to make them.

    You also fail to understand, and I don’t know why, that different people come at issues with different concerns and knowledge. That effects where they start in an argument.

  79. #79 Nick Gotts
    July 8, 2008

    Brian,
    I’ll come back to Islam in Europe when I’ve more time, but the following:
    “When you got people like Al Gore scaring children into believing that polar bears are drowning in the artic due to global warming”
    just shows you’re full of crap on AGW. Address the science, not the denialist’s favourite bogeyman.

  80. #80 Sven DIMilo
    July 8, 2008

    Macker: Besides noting that you quoted me once as agreeing with you and then again so you could disagree with me, I just want to point out that yours is not and should not be the last word on these subjects, no matter how far north your advertised IQ. A lot of biologists–I would venture to say most–would disagree with your assertion that any replicating molecule is “life.” Viruses, for example, are not alive by most peopl’s definitions (that’s a clue that most people aren’t buying your definition). Dependence on an environment is a silly criterion because all living things depend on the environment, even those that can photo- or chemosynthesize and fix nitrogen. And I certainly would be alive on the Moon, for a few minutes.
    “Life” without membranes and metabolism? Show me the data.

  81. #81 Nick Gotts
    July 8, 2008

    Brian,
    There have been numerous attempts at imposing Sharia law if you are paying attention
    [citations needed]
    More specifically, a lot depends on what you mean by “imposing Sharia”. At the extremes, are you talking about stoning adulterers and killing apostates, or settling civil disputes by arbitration, as is current done using Jewish religious courts? (To be clear, I oppose the courts giving decisions by any religious court any legal standing, as they currently do for Jewish courts.)

    On Muslim population and immigration, if you are interested in hard data rather than scare-stories, try
    http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/europe.php.
    I can’t possibly summarise, indeed I’ve only looked at a few pages myself, but it certainly doesn’t suggest any imminent danger of “Islamisation”. Bear in mind that a lot of the people in the US claiming there is a serious threat hate Europe for its secularist and (as they absurdly see it) socialist societies, and are eager to be proved right in predicting its downfall. A lot of Europeans claiming it are outright racists.

    I also suggest reading
    http://www.divinity.cam.ac.uk/cip/documents/IslamandMuslimInEuropeToday.pdf which is from a Christian source, but seems to me sane without being complacent. Believe me, I live here, so do my family, I have absolutely no wish to live under Sharia, but neither do I see a need to worry about it. And when I hear Condell say “You weren’t invited here and you’re not wanted” – I hear a racist. It’s not even true: the largest Muslim immigrant populations here were invited, at a time of labour shortage in the 1950s and 60s.

  82. #82 Scott Hatfield, OM
    July 8, 2008

    This thread was actually interesting before the scalping began. Hope to hear your reply to my last post, Ichthyic.

    Scott

  83. #83 truth machine, OM
    July 8, 2008

    My IQ tests north of 140.

    I got all the way down to 148 on the Weschler and 155 on the Stanford Binet once after getting 3 hours of sleep the night before.

    You said plenty of sensible things about evolution and abiogenesis, but then you had to throw in that stupid troll about AGW that makes you look like a fool and an ignoramus. Al Gore was on point about polar bears, and Judge Burton showed no understanding of the science behind it. From http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article767459.ece

    SCIENTISTS have for the first time found evidence that polar bears are drowning because climate change is melting the Arctic ice shelf.

    The researchers were startled to find bears having to swim up to 60 miles across open sea to find food. They are being forced into the long voyages because the ice floes from which they feed are melting, becoming smaller and drifting farther apart.

    Although polar bears are strong swimmers, they are adapted for swimming close to the shore. Their sea journeys leave them them vulnerable to exhaustion, hypothermia or being swamped by waves.

    According to the new research, four bear carcases were found floating in one month in a single patch of sea off the north coast of Alaska, where average summer temperatures have increased by 2-3C degrees since 1950s.

    The scientists believe such drownings are becoming widespread across the Arctic, an inevitable consequence of the doubling in the past 20 years of the proportion of polar bears having to swim in open seas.

    However, last September, when the ice cap had retreated a record 160 miles north of Alaska, 51 bears were spotted, of which 20% were seen in the open sea, swimming as far as 60 miles off shore.

    The researchers returned to the vicinity a few days later after a fierce storm and found four dead bears floating in the water. “We estimate that of the order of 40 bears may have been swimming and that many of those probably drowned as a result of rough seas caused by high winds,” said the report.

    In their search for food, polar bears are also having to roam further south, rummaging in the dustbins of Canadian homes. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the explorer who has been to the North Pole seven times, said he had noticed a deterioration in the bears’ ice habitat since his first expedition in 1975.

    “Each year there was more water than the time before,” he said. “We used amphibious sledges for the first time in 1986.”

  84. #84 Nick Gotts
    July 9, 2008

    Well my IQ is 407 on a special scale I had to invent myself because no-one else is clever enough – so ner-ner-ne-ner-nerrr ;-)

  85. #85 clinteas
    July 9, 2008

    Nick and Truth,

    my cock is thick and long and I can go all nite.

  86. #86 Brian Macker
    July 12, 2008

    “Dependence on an environment is a silly criterion because all living things depend on the environment, even those that can photo- or chemosynthesize and fix nitrogen.”

    It’s not a silly criteria because it’s required. If you don’t have it as a criteria then I can simply take whatever you are proposing as being alive, move it to an environment where it cannot survive, and then claim it doesn’t have the properties being claimed for it. This is precisely what is being done in the case of claiming that viruses are not “alive”.

    Of course it works for things that photo or chemosynthesize and fix nitrogen. That’s the whole point since they are alive. Now you might have an argument if the criteria worked against this.

  87. #87 Brian Macker
    July 12, 2008

    Clinteas,

    Has your girlfriend been complaining around town so you feel the need to dispute her charges?

    There are lots of posters here that don’t feel the need to back up their claims with arguments. They just call people morons. Not only do they do that but they lump things together.

    Now if some guy came here and said all white people had small dicks and then also claimed you had one then you’d be perfectly reasonable to defend yourself against the charges, even if you were black, and to also point out that the people in question were bigots. Which they are.

    Some guy on another article here claimed that one can’t be bigoted about other people based on their ideas. This is false. One can act as a bigot by assuming that they hold a host of other ideas based on one they have expressed. Myers did so with his post about seasteading. Most libertarians don’t give a damn about seasteading. To further claim in a bigoted why that all libertarians are essentially selfish evil bastards is about as bigoted as you can give.

    Take for instance the way I criticize Islam. I’m attacking the belief system. I have no clue whether every Muslim believes this garbage because it’s likely they’d be persecuted if they spoke up in the first place. So I never say “All Muslims are evil” that just plain stupid, and I have no idea why anyone would come to such a conclusion. There are too many mitigating factors.

  88. #88 Brian Macker
    July 12, 2008

    Nick,

    Look I had your personality pegged on your first post to me. You were rude, and childish. You have way too much confidence in what are actually things you should have a lot of uncertainty about. You are also intolerant of those who don’t agree with you.

    Truth Machine,
    “Al Gore was on point about polar bears, and Judge Burton showed no understanding of the science behind it.”

    Did I mention “Judge Burton”. I’m talking about the pictures of polar bears “drowning” and such. Al Gore is an easy target specifically because he mixes bullshit in with the rest of it.

    If this wasn’t being done the whole global warming hype would not get the traction that is desired. People would say “What you want our standard of living to drop way out of proportion to any benefit?”. Thus the need to invent all this scary stuff.

    Polar bears are in much more danger from hunting and human expansion into their habitat than they ever were from global warming. I just don’t live in the fantasy world you guys do.

  89. #89 Nick Gotts
    July 14, 2008

    Brian,
    I see you are unable to address the science of AGW; and you have no response to the evidence I pointed to concerning Islam in Europe. Your pretensions to rationality are thus falsified, and I see I had your personality pegged when I first saw a post from you: you are a right-wing bigot, ready to believe any bilge that fits into your distorted worldview.

  90. #90 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawk8iZkc6PtW2blW-Cn1CF91qygCA2qFWXA
    January 10, 2010

    Unbelievable! Origin Of Life Pre-Metabolism?
    The Wheel has Just Been Reinvented!
    Read All About It!

    What Came First in the Origin of Life? New Study Contradicts the ‘Metabolism First’ Hypothesis
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100108101433.htm

    Dov Henis
    (Comments From The 22nd Century)
    Updated Life’s Manifest May 2009
    http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/140/122.page#2321
    28Dec09 Implications Of E=Total[m(1 + D)]
    http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/184.page#4587
    Cosmic Evolution Simplified
    http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/240/122.page#4427

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