On the Origin of Life

Intelligent Design wingnuts never come up with things like this:

Chemists at Oregon State University have pioneered a controversial theory about how supposedly-stable DNA bases can be pushed into a “dark state” in which they are highly vulnerable to damage from ultraviolet radiation – an idea that has challenged some of the most basic concepts of modern biochemistry.

The theory, not long ago dismissed as impossible by much of the science community, has just in recent months begun to garner increasing interest, and is being confirmed by other studies.

And though it began as scientific heresy, the findings could help explain how the presence of water was the key to the evolution of life on Earth, making it possible for life to emerge from what was once a hostile and unforgiving primordial soup of chemicals and radiation.

Here, we have people looking at the physical world, and trying to make sense of it using the intelligence that they have. To me, it seems that religionists who turn their backs on that intelligence (however poorly it is developed in themselves) and embrace the simplistic now-popular form of Creationism that is labeled “Intelligent Design” — where a “Who?” is posited and suddenly all the massive loads of of evidence we have about “How?” and “When?” and “Where?” are supposed to be thrown out the window — is an offense. It is a kind of spitting in the face of the being that these people believe gave them that intelligence in the first place. But worse, it’s just too stupid a theory to buy; there’s nothing truly compelling about it, no details that get stumbled upon, no “Aha!” moments, no empty spots that will need to be filled in later when we know more. Intelligent Design cannot brook an unknown, and this is why it can never, ever be real science.

Rather, Intelligent Design as the Creationists construe it is, and only ever will be, essentially, a manifestation of hubris. There’s no reverence in that kind of religion, no humility. There’s no room even for, “I don’t know.”

Enough on ID. This scientific finding is cool. Follow the link above and go read about it.

2 thoughts on “On the Origin of Life

  1. The phenomena of life and its origin

    There are now several books and theories about the phenomenon of life, its origin and diversification. All of them tell us the same story that life is indefinable. There is also a branch of science Biology exclusively concerned with the study of life. But biology does not define life. Darwin wrote about the origin of species without knowing what life is and what species is. Genetics is all about the gene; but geneticists do not know what the gene is. We are now trying to search for life of the kind we know of or of a different kind, on other planets without understanding the life we are familiar with. All these are facts. There is just one reason for all these problems. Whether one agrees or not, life (and death) can be scientifically defined in conjunction with the Quran. The details are given in my recently published two books: 1) The Computer Universe – A Scientific Rendering of the Holy Quran, (423 pages) and 2) The Great Gene Fiasco – The Quran Defines Life (pages 113). Both books were published by Adam Publishers, New Delhi, India.

    An organism is a natural computer biosystem. A cell is a biochip with both hardware (all chemical structures including genome) and software (genetic program). Genetic program (biological information) is stored in the chromosome which is the storage device (memory) of the cell. The biological software is invisible like the software stored in our computers. Based on this reasoning it can be said that the particulate gene concept is wrong. Molecular geneticists are following erroneously a chemical trail for understanding the basis of life. More correctly, biologists are trying to find a hardware solution for a software problem. Genetics, molecular biology etc. are generating junk by treating the protein synthesis apparatus (genome) of the cell as genetic program. It is in fact the particulate gene concept that hinders the progress of life sciences.

    The Quran defines death as the removal (deletion) of nafs (the software or the genetic program) from the body. Hence the dead body is like a computer without software (although the genome is in tact). Life is thus the manifestation of the execution of the genetic program (nafs, the software). From this, it can also be deduced that our computers, robots are forms of “artificial life? (man-made software).

    P.A. Wahid

  2. Mr. (?) Wahid,

    I am not sure I quite follow, but what I did follow looks quite problematic.

    1. If science has imperfect or incomplete definitions of what life is, science will certainly not be bettered by recourse to the Q’ran or any other religious text. Science cannot be done with religious texts.

    One of the beauties of science is that it includes uncertainties. Your certainty makes me nervous about the prospect of your doing good science. Uncertainty is a hallmark of science: there is always a point that is reached where one has to say, “We can speculate, but we can’t know from the data we have.” If you cannot and do not reach that point sometime, you’re not really doing science.

    2. If science has imperfect or incomplete definitions of what life is, science will certainly not be bettered by recourse to tightly defined metaphors about what life is. Life isn’t software, it’s life. Life may be like software. DNA may act as a memory storage device in some ways. But for example, you call “nafs” the “software or the genetic program) from the body”. Cloning clearly contravenes this: if you clone a person, do you generate a new “nafs”? Or perhaps do you split it from the original? You might metaphorize it as “copying the software” but here your metaphor probably breaks down, if you’re comparing genetic program with “soul”… people with the same genetic program can turn out rather differently (even if in some ways similar or identical).

    3. I don’t think the particulate gene concept is necessarily holding back progress in the life sciences, though I could be wrong. It seems to me rather that there are aspects of genetics we don’t yet understand, such as what’s going on in so-called “junk DNA” — it looks more like graveyards of old genes now that we examine it more closely — and so on. But I don’t think we ought to throw genes out the window in favour of some kind of mystical Q’ranic biotech, fun and science-fictional as that sounds.

    4. Though I would agree that a sufficiently complex synthesis of consciousness is consciousness, I don’t get how you can call a robot “artificial life” since your definition is so haphazard.

    Here’s an example: consider digital physics, or consider the notion that the fundamental forces of the universe, as basic properties of this universe, run as a kind of “code” in the “program” of reality. Is it software or hardware? Well, it’s a fundamental property of the physical universe, therefore it’s hardware.

    No, wait, it affects all unfolding of all events within the universe, therefore it must be a software element.

    See the error here? You’re splitting up software and hardware: committing the oldest mistake in the study of mind and consciousness, which is to split mind from brain. To whatever degree software and hardware can be split, it’s a split of convenience. Most of the code we have now would sputter and die on a Quantum computer. Software and hardware bind together, and the more completely and dynamically they do so, the more efficient and powerful the computation you’ll get for a specific purpose.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to totally dismiss you, or insult you, but I find myself simultaneously intrigued by, and in absolute opposition to, what you’ve posted above. If you care to, go on and respond to my comments, and bear in mind that (a) I’m not a scientist and (b) I don’t know much about Islamic theology or metaphysics. But I am curious to hear more of this kind of paradigm, just the same, for novelty if nothing else.

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