Competing Origin of Life Hypotheses – Fantastic Summary by the BBC

This article by Michael Marshall on the The Secret of How Life on Earth Began is probably the best summary on the topic I have read to date. I compiled a quick glossary below.

It’s not just about the “smoker” vs “souper” debate (sometimes referred to as the Metabolism First vs RNA World Brouhaha).  This article also examines other disparate competing hypotheses regarding the origin of life and even suggests that a unifying grand hypothesis may be possible.

A great read!

oparin haldane charles darwin atp tree of life chemiosmosis rna world franklin hershey chase peter mitchell cyanide nick lane alkaline vents hydrothermal vents clay meteorites geothermal pond volcanic pond ultraviolet compartmentalisation first lipid world genetics first montmorillonite citrate magnesium copper lipid precursors hodge podge world metal ion core deborah kelley lost city william martin luca last universal common ancestor origin of life reactor pier luigi luisi glycol nucleic acid günter wächtershäuser jack corliss michael russell pyrite david bartel philipp holliger gerald joyce peter nielsen polyamide nucleic acid pna albert eschenmoser threose nucleic acid tna eric meggers miller urey watson crick orgel john sutherland thomas cech walter gilbert thomas steitz jack szostak ribozyme rna enzymes ring of life vitalism trofim lysenko alexander oparin j. b. s. haldane armen mulkidjanian jillian f. banfield friedrich wöhler benjamin moore biotic energy warm little pond

276 thoughts on “Competing Origin of Life Hypotheses – Fantastic Summary by the BBC

  1. William J. Murray: I was under the impression you were asking me about my views on the subject. What does Dembski have to do with my views?

    I asked about “design detection”. Dembski is the arch-IDist when it comes to design detection. According to Dembski, design detection metric already exists. According to you, the metric is itself in the process of being detected, i.e. the whole ID project has not become scientific yet.

    William J. Murray: Just as everything in my own mind is not necessarily purposeful or designed, I don’t hold that everything in god’s mind is purposeful or designed. It may be, but that is not necessarily the case.

    I see. Thanks for the answer.

  2. This is what you asked, Erik:

    If I may ask, in what way does “design detection” fit into this world view? If it doesn’t, then which aspects of ID theory do you hold to? What do you take ID to consist in, as a scientific theory?

    You are clearly asking me about my views on ID from my world-view perspective. Perhaps you were assuming that my views had something to do with Dembski’s views. I make my own cases for my own views; they do not depend on what other ID advocates think. Whether or not any particular ID advocates are still looking for/developing an ID metric or believe they have already found one is entirely compatible with my statement about ID is about in my view.

  3. Rumraket: A non-sequitur fallacy is a classical fallacy in which the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. The key words are “doesn’t follow”.

    You wrote “Looks like we have another common point here: Logic precedes facts. In other words, intelligence precedes matter.”
    Taking the first sentence to be the premise and the second to be a conclusion, it would look like this:
    P1) Logic precedes facts. (A before N)
    C1) Therefore intelligence precedes matter. (Therefore B before G).

    To make your analysis work, you have to rephrase me without misrepresenting me. You are unable to do that because you thoroughly miss an important element that I use all the time, namely analogy.

    Let’s see again what I said: “Logic precedes facts. In other words, intelligence precedes matter.” How do you get “therefore” from “in other words”? If you understand that I am presenting an analogy, then you cannot put “therefore” in there by any stretch of the imagination.

    Examples:

    1. “An atom is like the solar system – the nucleus is the sun and the electrons are planets.”

    2. “Just as a sword is the weapon of a warrior, a pen is the weapon of a writer.”

    3. “Dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. In other words, time won’t stop, no matter what you try to do about it.”

    “In other words” in the last example is not a “therefore”. It indicates a rephrasing plus generalization based on analogy.

    Perhaps you would dispute that analogy can be considered a standard logical device, but in scholasticism there’s a whole doctrine about it. And it’s commonly used in scientific texts (example #1) for illustration, and that’s not a small thing as you might think. It demonstrates how the scientist builds models. Analogy is akin to modelling.

    The more correct way for you to dispute what I said is to question the analogy I employ. Try again. Fundamental fail for now.

  4. William J. Murray: You are clearly asking me about my views on ID from my world-view perspective. Perhaps you were assuming that my views had something to do with Dembski’s views.

    I am clearly asking if “design detection” (which is a Dembskian concept) fits into your world view or not. It seems to fit in a minimal way. Like Dembski, you take the distinction of designed versus undesigned things to be categorical and you take the categories be empirically detectable in principle. Unlike Dembski, you don’t think the exact metric for such detection has been formulated yet.

    This is the sort of answer I got, or what I was looking for at any rate. Hopefully you are not too unhappy about the way I put it.

  5. Erik said:

    I am clearly asking if “design detection” (which is a Dembskian concept) fits into your world view or not.

    I didn’t realize Dembski owned the concept of “design detection”. If you are going to refer to some other person’s concept of a thing, it would be wise to include that reference in your question. I haven’t read anything by Dembski, so I cannot comment on his views or how his views might comport with mine.

    Hopefully you are not too unhappy about the way I put it.

    I am neither happy or unhappy with your failure to correctly paraphrase anything I’ve said. I don’t know if such a metric has been developed yet. Try reading my post again, Eric. I said there are two categories of phenomena which ID proposes to discern between (as “best explanation”), at least in the case of some phenomena. I didn’t claim one of of them was “undesigned”. As far as I know, ID does not attempt to claim that any phenomena is “undesigned”.

  6. Erik: To make your analysis work, you have to rephrase me without misrepresenting me. You are unable to do that because you thoroughly miss an important element that I use all the time, namely analogy.

    Let’s see again what I said: “Logic precedes facts. In other words, intelligence precedes matter.” How do you get “therefore” from “in other words”? If you understand that I am presenting an analogy, then you cannot put “therefore” in there by any stretch of the imagination.

    In my response I already anticipated this deflection that you weren’t trying to make an argument. In fact I was being courteous and stating my criticism that IF it was supposed to constitute an argument, rather than just an incoherent statement, then it would suffer the issues raised.
    But in case it wasn’t, I offered a criticism of that too, but you have entirely skipped formulating a response to that part of my post. Once again repeating your bad habit of halting your reading at the first instance you find something disagreeable.

    As an analogy it fails for the same reasons it fails as an argument. The terms and concepts (logic vs intelligence, fact vs matter) are not interchangeable. Facts are not analogous to matter, logic is not analogous to intelligence.

    If you think they are, you need to make that connection clear. You have all the work still ahead of you.

  7. William J. Murray,

    Yes, I should think arguing about the mathematical probability of proteins ending up in certain necessary patterns is a far cry from determining that detecting design is a mathematical problem.

  8. Erik: Like Dembski, you take the distinction of designed versus undesigned things to be categorical and you take the categories be empirically detectable in principle.

    Sadly, I believe this misrepresents Dembski. For example, his ‘Explanatory Filter’ does not tell us that some thing or event is NOT DESIGNED.

  9. Mung: Sadly, I believe this misrepresents Dembski. For example, his ‘Explanatory Filter’ does not tell us that some thing or event is NOT DESIGNED.

    It’s built into the logic of the concept of “design detection”. The concept implies that at some point the design becomes detectable and below that point it is undetectable. From the classical scholastic point of view, there can be no such point, except in an arbitrary sense.

    It’s a matter of simple logic. If everything is designed, then it makes no sense to try to detect design. It makes sense to try to detect something only to test if it’s there or not, but we already know design is all-pervasive in entire creation. Scholastics take this seriously and that’s why, for example, Feser objects to ID.

  10. Rumraket: The terms and concepts (logic vs intelligence, fact vs matter) are not interchangeable. Facts are not analogous to matter, logic is not analogous to intelligence.

    If you think they are, you need to make that connection clear. You have all the work still ahead of you.

    They don’t have to be interchangeable. They have to be analogical. If you think the concepts of logic and intelligence are not analogical, then we are obviously not thinking in the same categories. Which is to be expected when dealing with physicalists. I suggest you get used to it too, then things will perhaps become clear some day.

  11. Erik: They don’t have to be interchangeable. They have to be analogical. If you think the concepts of logic and intelligence are not analogical, then we are obviously not thinking in the same categories. Which is to be expected when dealing with physicalists. I suggest you get used to it too, then things will perhaps become clear some day.

    Ahh, the appeal to “things will become clear one day”. That way you don’t even have to argue the truth of your views. What are you even on a discussion forum for then?

  12. Rumraket: That way you don’t even have to argue the truth of your views.

    But I did. You didn’t. It didn’t even occur to you that it was an analogy. It’s a hard job tracing your baby steps. I have to rest occasionally.

    The dialogue would have a chance if you made some effort to think along. Does not look that way.

  13. Erik,

    Which is why when you asked me about my views, I remained neutral on whether or not everything is designed. We simply don’t know if everything is designed and, as far as I can see, we cannot know if everything is designed. This is why ID doesn’t make claims about what is not designed.

    We have a set of phenomena that behaves according to systems we call “natural”. We don’t know if they are natural in and of themselves, or in what frame of reference those natural laws and processes exist. It could certainly be that they were intelligently/artificially constructed, but that is entirely irrelevant to my views. ID, IMO, holds that what we have labeled as “natural law & chance” processes have limitations as to what they can be expected to produce.

    We could as easily call that set of phenomena “Design A” if we believe everything is ultimately designed. We can call phenomena that lie well outside of Design A’s reasonable capacity to produce “Design B” phenomena. The distinction between the parameters of “Design A” and “Design B” need not be arbitrary at all. That’s like saying that the distinction between one set of cubes and another is necessarily arbitrary, when that is most certainly not the case. One set of cubes could be red, the other yellow. That is not an “arbitrary” distinction, but one which can be scientifically measured. There could be any number of non-arbitrary distinctions between sets of cubes.

    The same can be true of designed phenomena. There could be rigorous distinctions which allow for non-arbitrary categorizations. Whether you call it “natural vs design” or “design A vs design B” is an irrelevant distinction, logically speaking, because the only claim ID makes about the two classes is that they have characteristics which make them scientifically distinguishable from each other, which is certainly possible even if both are designed phenomena.

  14. Rumraket: Ahh, the appeal to “things will become clear one day”. That way you don’t even have to argue the truth of your views. What are you even on a discussion forum for then?

    Clearly it’s your fault that you didn’t realize that Erik was using “in other words” to mean “roughly similar in some respects but not in others”!

    By the way: when we’re arguing about what “in other words” means, we have definitely reached Peak Internet.

  15. William J. Murray:
    Erik,

    Which is why when you asked me about my views, I remained neutral on whether or not everything is designed. We simply don’t know if everything is designed and, as far as I can see, we cannot know if everything is designed. This is why ID doesn’t make claims about what is not designed.

    In classical scholastic terms, design derives from the nature of God and is reflected in creation. If Creator created everything, then design is everywhere. “We simply don’t know” is not an option for a theist. Such neutrality is an option for an atheist, not for a theist.

    William J. Murray: We could as easily call that set of phenomena “Design A” if we believe everything is ultimately designed.We can call phenomena that lie well outside of Design A’s reasonable capacity to produce “Design B” phenomena.The distinction between the parameters of “Design A” and “Design B” need not be arbitrary at all.That’s like saying that the distinction between one set of cubes and another is necessarily arbitrary, when that is most certainly not the case.

    That remains to be seen until you state the specific characteristic based on which you make the distinction.

    William J. Murray: One set of cubes could be red, the other yellow. That is not an “arbitrary” distinction, but one which can be scientifically measured. There could be any number of non-arbitrary distinctions between sets of cubes.

    Good. A nice simple empirical distinguishing characteristic. This is quite different from (your version of) ID, concerning which you said that you didn’t know what the metric was, i.e. you have no clue how to distinguish the one thing from the other. An argument from ignorance does not get you an intelligent design theory. It may get you anything.

    William J. Murray: The same can be true of designed phenomena.There could be rigorous distinctions which allow for non-arbitrary categorizations.

    Could be? Meaning that there could not be too? Given such “neutrality”, what’s stopping you from considering that everything could have evolved a la Darwin?

    William J. Murray:
    Whether you call it “natural vs design” or “design A vs design B” is an irrelevant distinction, logically speaking, because the only claim ID makes about the two classes is that they have characteristics which make them scientifically distinguishable from each other, which is certainly possible even if both are designed phenomena.

    This claim is too little and too much at the same time. It’s too little because it doesn’t tell you the distinguishing characteristics, i.e. the scientific theory is missing from the self-proclaimed scientific theory. And it’s also too much because it doesn’t reveal on what basis the claim is being made.

    The claim is that there are distinguishing characteristics, but what justifies the claim? What are we supposed to be observing? Why should we expect distinguishing characteristics there? What two things or categories are supposed to be distinguished this way and why should we expect such things or categories be relevant to anything? And again, what are those distinguishing characteristics?

  16. Erik: Rumraket: That way you don’t even have to argue the truth of your views.

    But I did.

    Not even remotely, you merely asserted. Nothing has been done on your part to elaborate or argue for the truth of the statement that “logic precedes facts, in other words intelligence precedes matter”. You’ve done no work to get at why you think this is true.

  17. Not one of these solves the OoL problem for materialists. The things you try to pass for science proves you are a cargo-cult scientist

  18. Mung: Sadly, I believe this misrepresents Dembski. For example, his ‘Explanatory Filter’ does not tell us that some thing or event is NOT DESIGNED.

    If something is kicked out before the final node then it is not designed. If something is attributed to necessity it is not designed. If something is attributed to chance and necessity it is not designed.

  19. Erik said:

    In classical scholastic terms, design derives from the nature of God and is reflected in creation. If Creator created everything, then design is everywhere. “We simply don’t know” is not an option for a theist. Such neutrality is an option for an atheist, not for a theist.

    Well, you’re just wrong. I’m a theist, and I don’t know, you insistence otherwise notwithstanding.

    That remains to be seen until you state the specific characteristic based on which you make the distinction.

    I’ll take this to mean that in principle you agree with me, that just because you have a collection of the same kind of thing doesn’t mean there are not non-arbitrary set distinctions within that group.

    This is quite different from (your version of) ID, concerning which you said that you didn’t know what the metric was, i.e. you have no clue how to distinguish the one thing from the other. An argument from ignorance does not get you an intelligent design theory. It may get you anything.

    I have several ideas on how to distinguish one set from another. Indeed, our day to day life included hundreds of cases each day of each of us making such distinctions in an entirely informal manner. Saying that one has “no clue” how to distinguish set A (what we label natural phenomena) from set B (what we label artificial or intelligently designed phenomena) even if set A and set B are both forms of Intelligent Design is a patently absurd claim. Are you telling me you cannot discern between at all between what we call “natural” and what we call “artificial”?

    Could be? Meaning that there could not be too? Given such “neutrality”, what’s stopping you from considering that everything could have evolved a la Darwin?

    No, that means that I lack the expertise or training to judge any such metric, and as far as I know there is no reason why such a metric would be impossible. It would be like claiming there is no way to determine if some rocks were definitely designed, while others cannot be determined to be designed (ID doesn’t claim anything is “not designed”); all the rocks may indeed be designed, but there are some we can say with confidence were not the product of what we call natural and chance forces and processes; they required intelligent design.

    The claim is that there are distinguishing characteristics, but what justifies the claim?

    The fact that we all can discern the difference in countless situations in the course of our lives justifies the claim that there is some characteristic which, in many cases, clearly indicates a thing as having been intelligently designed against a backdrop of things which appear to be generated by what we call natural processes.

    ID, IMO, has so far largely been about the process of identifying and refining the characteristic (or characteristics) which corresponds to the human recognition of the difference between those categories (or sub-categories) of phenomena and recognizing phenomena which are clearly best explained as the result of intelligent design. This may be because of the presence of a semantic code, irreducible complexity, distinctive shapes or isolated frequencies, or functionally specified, organized information, or some other defined quality that speaks to such distinctive characteristics which humans readily acknowledge in so many cases when those cases do not challenge their ideology.

  20. William J. Murray: Are you telling me you cannot discern between at all between what we call “natural” and what we call “artificial”?

    We can. We can also discern between set A and set B, but the question is what makes set A set A, as distinguished from set B. More importantly, what has any of this to do with design?

    William J. Murray: No, that means that I lack the expertise or training to judge any such metric,…

    Which is why it was perfectly appropriate of me to mention Dembski. He thinks he has the expertise, training, and even an actual metric, so one might look to him to get some clue what ID is and what it entails and where it stands. Self-professed non-knowers do not have much relevant to say, except perhaps by accident or miracle.

  21. Erik: We can. We can also discern between set A and set B, but the question is what makes set A set A, as distinguished from set B. More importantly, what has any of this to do with design?

    What it has to do with intelligent design is that ID advocates attempt to make the case that such such discernment is based on characteristics which can be refined into a rigorous, scientific metric.

    Which is why it was perfectly appropriate of me to mention Dembski.

    It’s never appropriate to simply assume that anyone else has the same position or argument as Dembski, or to assume they are familiar with what he has written. That’s something you want to establish by asking.

    He thinks he has the expertise, training, and even an actual metric, so one might look to him to get some clue what ID is and what it entails and where it stands.

    One might, but then again, one might not, and this doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to simply assume that someone you are having a discussion with agrees with Dembski or is even familiar with his work.

    Self-professed non-knowers do not have much relevant to say, except perhaps by accident or miracle.

    I guess that depends on what the discussion is about. Apparently, you think it is about whether or not such a metric actually exists and can be demonstrated to work. That argument is, IMO, trivial. As you admit, we already have the capacity to distinguish between the two categories (or sub-categories) of phenomena. We pretty much know it when we see it, outside of a few mistakes and outside of ideological denialism.

    For me, the discussion here between you and I is not about the metric, but rather about your statement:

    Since all creation is within God’s mind, there’s nothing within creation categorically devoid of purpose or design. Therefore the categorical metric to detect design is an impossibility.

    My argument is not whether or not such a metric already exists and is scientifically viable (because I don’t have the expertise necessary to make such an argument), but rather about the apparent bad logic of your statement above. It is trivially obvious that just because two things are categorically the same (rocks) doesn’t mean that there are no scientific, non-arbitrary ways of distinguishing one set of those things from another, even if that distinction is between “determined to be X” and “not determined to be X” (which, note, doesn’t make the claim “determined to be Y”).

    Your response seems to be that unless I make the case that such a metric actually exists, your statement stands as valid and my analogies do not undermine it. That’s not true; you made the claim that if both set A and set B are subcategories of “design”, it is therefore impossible to establish a metric that discerns the difference. Your statement is based entirely upon categorical similarity you have simply assumed would eliminate valid subcategorical distinctions. You have not made any case that in a category of designed objects there can be no subcategorical metric of discernment between one subset and another.

    While it may be true that humans have not and will not create such a metric, that doesn’t make the case that it is categorically “impossible”. For it to be impossible, you have to make a logical case that it would be impossible. You have not done so. It’s not my job to provide you with a metric that demonstrates your claim wrong; it’s your job to support your claim logically – that it is impossible for such a metric to exist. Even if everything in existence is ultimately designed, that by itself doesn’t logically make it impossible for a metric to exist that can discern the distinction between two different kinds of designed phenomena.

    That’s the discussion I’m having. If you care to make a case that supports your blanket claim that such a metric is “impossible” just because all phenomena is fundamentally a product of design, please do so.

  22. William J. Murray: I guess that depends on what the discussion is about. Apparently, you think it is about whether or not such a metric actually exists and can be demonstrated to work. That argument is, IMO, trivial. As you admit, we already have the capacity to distinguish between the two categories (or sub-categories) of phenomena. We pretty much know it when we see it, outside of a few mistakes and outside of ideological denialism.

    Yes, we can distinguish between different things. The categories you mentioned, specifically, were “artificial” and “natural”. But, first, these are not trivial categories. Second, they do not inform us about design whatsoever. This is especially so if, as you say, BOTH are designed.

    They do not serve as an analogy or illustration. They do not serve as a basis of a scientific hypothesis or model about design. So in what way are those particular terms relevant?

  23. Erik,

    I conclude, then, that you are either not interested in or are not capable of supporting your assertion that it is “impossible” to distinguish between the two sets of phenomena that you have already agreed we can non-scientifically distinguish between.

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