Friday, July 11, 2008

OOL and evolution part 2

Here’s another blogger who is arguing that our current understanding of the mechanisms behind biological evolution encompass the origin of life. To be fair, like Myers and Natzke, Mike’s main point is not to concede the OOL ground to those expounding a religious explanation.
My view, and one of the reasons that I created this blog, is that there is nothing more to be gained by arguing scientific questions with those whose intent is to bring religious ideas into scientific discussions. The existence of God is simply not a question that can be debated scientifically. To put it bluntly, no rational argument can support the pro God viewpoint. I believe it is better to discuss areas of scientific enquiry without accommodating religious viewpoints. I do not mean that non-rational ideas shouldn’t be publicly debated, and I enjoy and am a regular poster on such admirable websites as Pharyngula and However I think that by involving religious viewpoints on scientific subjects where no strong scientific consensus exists leads to distortion of the dialogue. So, to put it simply, no religion in scientific discussion, no science in church, and anything goes in the public arena.

With regard to the OOL, there are numerous alternative scientific hypotheses in play which so far appear fairly equally plausible given the current evidence, so this is clearly not a situation where science knows the answer. That’s not a bad thing! All my personal favourite areas of scientific research are these questions at the boundary of our scientific understanding. I hasten to add I’m very confident that we will one day have a convincing and widely accepted scientific explanation of OOL.

Mike makes much of the difficulty in defining life, however this is not a good argument for claiming that the OOL is unamenable to a more definite scientific explanation; after all, perhaps a strong explanation of the OOL will lead to a better definition of life.

I think that a better approach may be to see the OOL as the origin of information. Admittedly, information itself is extremely difficult to define. However so is electricity, but we still know a lot about it.
The one single quality which seems to be unarguably a property only applicable to living systems, is information (I exclude the sense in which it is used by physicists).

It is clear that information can arise from randomness, given life – this is the basis of natural selection. The question is how did the process begin? Or, what was the first message, the garbling of which gave NS something to act on? This is the question various research groups are trying to answer, there is an answer, and we will find it.


Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

I am confident that we will find an answer, but using information as a definition is still slippery to me.

Thanks for linking to Clashing Culture, too.

jo5ef said...

Thanks Mike, I agree that it is still slippery. Its a way I've found helpful to frame the question, but whichever way you look at it, I think my point that OOL can not be considered to be explained by current mechanisms of evolution still stands.