From Soup To Fish

Question from Wilson:
I am not an expert in biology just warning you, so feel free to enlighten me!

Correct me if I am wrong but evolutionists believe that life originated from a soup filled with amino acids or something along those lines. But there are a whole range of complex and simple microorganisms each with precise roles and functions almost like a program? And correct me again if I am wrong, now the cells function in a certain way due to a specific set of instructions in their DNA…how do you explain the exact precise instruction that each one of these different microorganisms have without there being an intelligent creator…finally I am also wondering how a bunch of amino acids decided to come together to make a microorganism and how that tiny cell decided itself that it needs to reproduce and how the heck microorganisms turn into a fish without a creator and if you’re gonna use time as an answer then what is the probability of such an event occurring for even a simple cell?

(Just as a lot of atheists find the idea of God absurd I find Evolution completely absurd)

Answer by SmartLX:
I’m not an expert in biology either, but a little research in response to things like this can teach you a lot, and I’ve been at it for a few years now. I’m still learning of course; while I write these answers I’ve usually got multiple other tabs open for reference material.

Before I go into details, the same logical problem applies here as to the last question I answered: the argument from ignorance. That’s not an insult, it’s the proper name for a specific fallacy where because you personally don’t know how something could happen, you assume it didn’t. Even if I had no answers for any of these, we would not be justified in jumping to the conclusion of a god until any other possibilities were not just dismissed but actually ruled out (or at the very least, actual probabilities were assigned to them).

I’ll try to address each of your points, but each of my points may not correspond to just one of yours or to the order of yours.

– There are multiple hypotheses about the origin of life from non-life (abiogenesis), and the “primordial soup” idea is one of the classic front-runners. Here’s a list of the current ones.

– Amino acids could occur naturally, as was demonstrated in the 50s, but a lot of different amino acids and other materials had to come together in just the right way to make the first simple proteins and genes. That’s a big factor reducing the probability that it would happen. However, there are three factors of a comparable scale which raised the probability: the sheer amount of material being constantly shoved against itself by natural forces, the huge number of different combinations that could have had the same effect, and finally the vast amount of time you mention – by current estimates, about one billion years from the formation of the Earth to the emergence of the first life form.

– The first life had DNA, or an equivalent like RNA, with one simple instruction: “Use the material around you to make another of yourself.” This was not an intelligent command, it was just something its physical makeup drove it to do, like a pinwheel spinning in the wind because of its shape. If it was in an environment full of the same material of which it was made, then this was straightforward: break evenly in two, then have each half absorb its own weight in raw material, then repeat. This is how microorganisms still do it today.

– Once life existed and was able to reproduce, it began to diversify. Slight imperfections in the self-copying process produced different offspring, and some of those differences were carried forward to the next generation. Whichever differences made it easier to survive and procreate, the creatures with those features tended to grow in number relative to the others. At some point a set of single-celled organisms joined together and shared their genetic material; the experiment was successful, and the first multicellular life came about. (Perhaps it had occurred before, but in the wrong conditions, and everything that tried it died.) At a certain point, small amounts of calcium became part of the essential material in the “body”, forming rigid structures; this helped with self-defense, and the viability of bones was established. Every tiny change that came about had to compete with other changes and come out on top, so every change that persisted had to have some benefit (or at least not be a hindrance), and thus a number of useful features began to accumulate. It’s been so long now that living things and their genes seem to be made of nothing but useful features, though some superseded components (like the appendix) have yet to be eliminated entirely.

I recommend reading at least a couple of books on evolution, just so you can know what the theory actually says before deciding whether it’s so unlikely. Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin is about to be accompanied by a TV show. Richard Dawkins’ early book The Blind Watchmaker is a great primer, and has little or none of his recent anti-religious material that puts believers off him. Just don’t restrict yourself only to books on evolution by creationists and/or Intelligent Design proponents, because all they do is claim that various things are impossible when at worst we just don’t know how they happen – and sometimes when we actually do know.

D to the N to the A

Question from Al Jih:
How in the world is DNA created from your theories guys?
Tell me how it’s created and got its beginning.

Answer by SmartLX:
Today’s DNA is created when older DNA makes copies of itself – but the copying process isn’t perfect, so the genome changes over time. By examining the similarities between the DNA of various lifeforms (I won’t go into details just now) it is reasonable to conclude that all known DNA is related, which is to say that it originates from a common strand that existed millions of years ago.

Where the original DNA came from is unknown, but we do have some clues. Experiments in the 1950s showed that an atmosphere rich in chemicals like hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide, like that which existed on Earth billions of years ago, can produce amino acids when electricity like that in lightning is applied. RNA, an accompanying chemical, is simpler but can do much the same job, which suggests the possibility that a DNA-based genome developed from an RNA-based one.

With all this uncertainty, why shouldn’t we just accept the ready-made explanation that a god designed DNA in order to create us? There are a fair few reasons, so here are some.

– Investigating DNA and its development leads to a greater understanding of DNA and life in general, so even if we never find the answers we seek we get all kinds of advances in biological and medical science.
– The alternative progenitors, like swamp gases, lightning and RNA, are at least known to exist.
– Even if there is some kind of god, there’s no guarantee that it’s responsible for DNA, or has had anything to do with Earth and its inhabitants.
– If you use a god to explain the unexplained, you end up with an even bigger unexplained phenomenon, namely the god itself. Hardly advisable, especially if you’re not sure it’s real.

DNA and Information

Question from Koalanu:
If the DNA structure is simply an illusion, is it possible for the monkey theorem to be true?

Could this also mean that the structure of reason, creativity, and emotion – could these all be illusions within our head?

Can we compare the complexity of DNA and Microsoft together?

Thank you guys soo much, I’ve been tryna look for an answer, but these questions have been bugging me a lot.

Answer by SmartLX:
The structure of DNA is not an illusion, unless you get all philosophical and suppose that the whole world could be an illusion. DNA is as real as anything else, and it’s really arranged in spiralling combinations of the four basic components: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine or A, C, G and T.

For DNA to allow for the monkey theorem, by which I reckon you mean the theory of evolution, it only has to do one thing: produce copies of itself, either directly or by the roundabout route of building a life form which then produces more DNA. It also has to do this imperfectly, so that the copies are not exactly the same as the original. (If it worked perfectly, there would be little or no change between generations.) Fortunately, this is exactly what DNA does, so the process of natural selection has all the raw material it needs.

Reasoning, creativity and emotion are products of the bio-electrical activity in our brains. We can be pretty sure of this because they can all be crippled if your brain is physically damaged. This doesn’t mean they’re illusions; it just means that we have abstract representations of the information we all process, because it’s easier to think that way.

DNA contains information of a very specific kind, namely strings of chemicals represented as, for example, ATCGGCGGTACTATCA. Microsoft products run on computers which store information as a series of bits, for example 0100100101010111. Both of these simple forms of information can, with a long enough series, represent just about anything. The difference is that the information in DNA has arisen naturally over a very long time, while most of the information at Microsoft was directly programmed in, or else generated by deliberately designed programs, very recently. (The rest is the result of data corruption.)

Hope that helps.

DNA and Intelligent Design

Question from John:
Can you believe in ID and Evolution? If not how can we prove that a undirected process created information and design within DNA? And if it was created by a misguided process does that mean that everything around us is simply a delusion?

Answer by SmartLX:
Many people, including some scientists and even biologists, believe that evolution happened but God or some other “designer” guided important parts of it, the main instance being the development of human beings. This position is known as theistic evolutionism. It’s not normally called “intelligent design” because self-proclaimed ID proponents like those in the Discovery Institute oppose undirected evolution explicitly; their goal is to establish their designer as necessary to the process, not just a possible part of it.

Undirected processes create additional information within DNA all the time through mutation, often under observation. The easiest-to-understand mechanism by which this happens is gene duplication: a small part of a genome is duplicated, changing the instructions it gives the same way an extra “o” changes “hot” to “hoot”. Here’s a video by Don Exodus which goes into more depth; I’m sure you can find many more.

By definition, an undirected process cannot create true design, which implies the existence of a designer. An undirected process can however create the appearance of design if a selection process exists which favours more elegant solutions to physical challenges, and that’s exactly what natural selection does. Even Richard Dawkins often says that living things look designed; this has no bearing on whether they really are.

Everything we sense around us might well be a badly distorted image of what’s really there, or even a complete hallucination, but we are able to test our surroundings and find consistency. When we let go of a ball, it always falls down (unless we’re underwater). When we feel something hot, it hurts us to touch it. We know from smell alone whether someone’s farted in our elevator. The world we see gives every impression of being a real, tangible world, even if we might not be seeing it as it truly is. Nobody said evolution produced perfect results, but it’s given us good enough senses to make some internal sense of the world and survive in it. That’s technically all we need.

The Atheist’s Riddle

“Perry Marshall presents himself as an invincible defender of his supposed proof of an Intelligent Designer, standing atop a mountain of vanquished counter-arguments from hordes of atheists.”

Argument taken directly from Cosmic Fingerprints:
1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.
2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.
3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.

Perry Marshall presents himself as an invincible defender of his supposed proof of an Intelligent Designer, standing atop a mountain of vanquished counter-arguments from hordes of atheists.

The plain logical error in the argument is in the second premise, and it’s the one logical fallacy I come across more than any other: an argument from ignorance. “There is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.” That’s not the same as saying there really is no such natural process (which would be a simple unsupported statement rather than a fallacy), but it expects us to assume as much. Is Mr Marshall, or any human alive, familiar with “all codes” in the universe? What qualifies anyone to make such a sweeping statement? This attempted proof by elimination of the origin of DNA must leave room for unknown alternatives to maintain any honesty, and is therefore not a real proof.

I realise that the fact of the logical error is not such a brilliant counter-argument when you’re actually trying to convince people. There are plenty more objections, and Marshall has posted and replied to many on his site. He hasn’t always done so convincingly, though you can judge that for yourself. I’ll just take one approach as an exercise.

As support for the argument that all codes are designed by a mind, Marshall argues that random processes do not produce information. (I’ve been through this at length, years ago.) His primary demonstration is his own text-based random mutation generator which takes a sentence and, through single-letter changes, turns it to nonsense.

Marshall admits that the mutation utility does not simulate natural selection, the non-random element of evolution. Furthermore, he’s not interested in adding that functionality to test his own argument. (He says instead that the reader is free to do it for him. Several people have, beginning thirty years ago with Richard Dawkins’ “Methinks it is like a weasel” program and continuing with browser-friendly programs like Mutate.)

He argues that natural selection would only create sensible sentences if words only mutated into other meaningful words, but that’s not applying natural selection at the letter level. An ideal extension of his program would present several choices of mutation at each step, and allow those letter mutations which destroy the legibility of a word to be manually or automatically ruled out. (The real world equivalent is a serious birth defect, which would keep a creature from breeding or even living long enough to breed.) In Marshall’s program, detrimental mutations are allowed to compound until all sense is lost. Of course we won’t likely get anything useful out of it.

Forgetting even the mechanism of natural selection, I submit a basic argument for the possibility of chance creating information which I’ve used before: think of a large grid of squares which can be either black or white, but all start as white. If you randomly pick the colour of every square at once, there is a chance, however small, that the newly black squares will form a simple but clear picture of a rectangle, or the letter G, or Elvis. Without adding any extra material, chance can increase the amount of information the grid provides. The prebiotic chemicals only had to manage a feat like this once, given potentially unlimited opportunities, to come up with DNA or its precursors.