I thought I would give a comment by a poster with the handle “ericB” a little more publicity as it was buried deep in an old thread where it was unlikely to be seen by passing “materialists / evolutionists”.
Calling all evolutionists / materialists! Your help is needed! Alan Fox has not been able to answer a particular challenge, but perhaps you know an answer.
The issue is simple and the bar is purposely set low. The question is whether there exists one or more coherent scenarios for the creation of a translation system by unguided chemicals.
The translation system in cells indicates intelligent design. I would submit that, regardless of how many billions of years one waited, it is not reasonable to expect that unguided chemicals would ever construct a system for translating symbolic information into functional proteins based on stored recipes and a coding convention.
[I realize people have thoughts about what happened earlier (e.g. that might not need proteins, for example) and what happened later (e.g. when a functioning cell provides the full benefits of true Darwinian evolution). For the purposes here, attention is focused specifically on the transition from a universe without symbolic translation to construct proteins to the origin of such a system. Whatever happened earlier or later, sooner or later this bridge would have to be crossed on any path proposed to lead to the cells we see now.]
One of the key considerations leading to this conclusion is that a translation system depends upon multiple components, all of which are needed in order to function.
At the end, one needs the machinery to implement and apply the code to decode encoded symbolic information into its functional form. (In the cell, this is now the ribosome and supporting machinery and processes, but the first instance need not be identical to the current version.) Without this component, there is no expression of the functional form of what the symbolic information represents. The system as a whole would be useless as a translation system without this. Natural selection could not select for the advantages of beneficial expressed proteins, if the system cannot yet produce any. A DVD without any player might make a spiffy shiny disk, but it would be useless as a carrier of information.
+ Translatable Information Bearing Medium
There must be a medium that is both suitable for holding encoded information and that is compatible with the mechanism for decoding. Every decoding device imposes limitations and requirements. It would be useless to a DVD player if your video was on a USB thumb drive the DVD player could not accept instead of a suitable disk. In the cells we see, this is covered by DNA and ultimately mRNA.
+ Meaningful Information Encoded According to the Same Coding Convention
One obviously needs to have encoded information to decode. Without that, a decoding mechanism is useless for its translation system purpose. If you had blank DVDs or DVDs with randomly encoded gibberish or even DVDs with great high definition movies in the wrong format, the DVD player would not be able to produce meaningful results, and so would have no evolutionary benefit tied to its hypothetical but non-functioning translation abilities. In the cell, this information holds the recipes for functional proteins following the same encoding convention implemented by the ribosome and associated machinery.
+ Encoding Mechanisms
This is perhaps the least obvious component, since the cell does not contain any ability to create a new store of encoded protein recipes from scratch. Indeed, this absence is part of the motivating reasons for the central dogma of molecular biology. Nevertheless, even if this capability has disappeared from view, there would have to be an origin and a source for the meaningful information encoded according to the same coding convention as is used by the decoding component.
(For the moment, I will just note in passing that the idea of starting out with random gibberish and running the system until meaningful recipes are stumbled upon by accident is not a viable proposal.)
So there has to be some source capable of encoding, and this source must use the same coding convention as the decoding component. To have a working, beneficial DVD player, there must also be a way to make a usable DVD.
+ Meaningful Functional Source Material to Represent
It would do absolutely no good to have the entire system in place, if there did not also exist in some form or other a beneficial “something” to represent with all this symbolic capability. If you want to see a movie as output, there needs to be a movie that can be encoded as input. If you want functional proteins as output, there needs to be access to information about proper amino acid sequences for functional proteins that can serve as input. Otherwise, GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out. If there is no knowledge of what constitutes a sequence for a functional protein, then the result produced at the end of the line would not be a functional protein.
+ Some Other Way To Make What You Want The System To Produce
If we supposed that the first movie to be encoded onto a DVD came from being played on a DVD player, we would clearly be lost in circular thinking, which does not work as an explanation for origins. Likewise, if the only way to produce functional proteins is to get them by translating encoded protein recipes, that reveals an obvious problem for explaining the origin of that encoded information about functional proteins. How can blind Nature make a system for producing proteins, if there has never yet been any functional proteins in the universe? On the other hand, how does blind Nature discover and use functional proteins without having such a system to make them?
The core problem is that no single part of this system is useful as a translation system component if you don’t have the other parts of the system. There is nowhere for a blind process to start by accident that would be selectable toward building a translation system.
The final killer blow is that chemicals don’t care about this “problem” at all. Chemicals can fully fulfill all the laws of chemistry and physics using lifeless arrangements of matter and energy. Chemicals are not dissatisfied and have no unmet goals. A rock is “content” to be a rock. Likewise for lifeless tars.
The biology of cells needs chemistry, encoded information, and translation, but chemicals do not need encoded information or biology. They aren’t trying to become alive and literally could not care less about building an encoded information translation system.
I’m hoping ericB will find time to respond to any comments his challenge might elicit.