Skip to comments.What Is Life/Non-life in Nature?
Posted on 06/23/2008 3:05:46 PM PDT by betty boop
What is Life/Non-life in Nature?
by Jean F. Drew
Everywhere we see the behavior of life/non-life (death) in nature; but that doesnt tell us what life/non-life IS.
Darwins theory of evolution doesnt help with this question. It presupposes the existence of life axiomatically, and then proceeds to speak of the origin and evolution of species. Its fundamental assumption is that biological evolution is a wholly naturalistic, material process governed by the laws of physics and chemistry, with random variation and natural selection as the principal drivers of the system. Central to the Darwinist view is that life forms species evolve into completely other, more complex species; and this is so because all living beings are members of a Tree of Life that is rooted in a single common ancestor (the theory is silent on where the common ancestor came from).
But Darwinist theory doesnt tell us what life is, or where it came from, just how it evolves (or speciates) under purely materialistic and naturalistic constraints. It is not a theory of life, and I think Darwin would agree with that.
This does not prevent theorists from speculating that, given the preferred scientific cosmology of a material universe of infinite size and unlimited duration no beginning, no end anything that can happen, will happen in time. Therefore, it is plausible to suppose that life itself may have originated from random chemical reactions that somehow lucked out and stuck, giving us the origin of life and its ubiquity and persistence henceforth.
The important point is that Darwinism rests on a certain cosmology, or world view. That worldview is increasingly being falsified by modern physics. (See below.)
It seems doubtful that an investigation carried out at the level of physical chemistry can demonstrate the emergence of life from non-living matter. This is called abiogenesis, which describes the situation where non-life (inorganic matter) spontaneously bootstraps itself into a living organism.
Miller and Urey attempted to demonstrate abiogenesis under laboratory conditions, using simulated lightning strikes on a suitable pre-biotic soup. They got a bunch of amino acids. But amino acids are the building blocks of living systems, not living systems themselves.
Wimmer got a better result in his attempt to create a polio virus, a living organism. He actually succeeded! But his recipe involved far more than the material cell-free juice he used as his culture: He introduced information into the mix: Wimmer began with the information sequence of RNA which he synthesized to DNA (because RNA cannot be synthesized) and then synthesized the message from DNA to RNA. When he added the message to a cell free juice, it began transmitting and duplicating. And he got himself a polio virus a living being .
But the important thing to bear in mind is that, although Wimmer was successful in creating a living being, he was not the author of the information that led to this result. It was already there and no scientist claims to know its source. Indeed, physics so far has been unable to locate any source for this type of life-generating information within the physical world. In other words, scientists recognize the indispensable requirement of information to living systems, they see that it is indeed there; but they cannot say how it got there, or from whence it came.
Consider also that the universe itself seems to be informed, in the sense of displaying evidence of some remarkable fine-tuning that guides its evolution. Physical chemistry itself rests on, is informed by, deeper principles: the physical laws, which in turn depend on certain ubiquitous universal constants the speed of light; the value of pi; Planks constant; Plank time; the resonance precision required for the existence of carbon (a necessary element for life); the explosive power of the Big Bang precisely matched to the power of gravity (its density precisely matched with the critical density of the universe); the delicate balance in the strong nuclear force; the precise balancing of gravitational force and electromagnetic force; the meticulous balance between the number of electrons and protons; the precision in electromagnetic force and the ratio of proton mass to electron mass and neutron mass to proton mass; the Big Bangs defiance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and gravitys cumulative effect; etc., for examples.
If the universe were at bottom random in its evolution, these instances of evident fine-tuning would be inexplicable. The fact is we cannot say whether a system is random or not without knowing its symmetrical properties.
The fans of random speak and act as if they think the problem of symmetry is irrelevant to their concerns. Yet to the extent that they recognize the universe conforms to physical laws (and usually they do), the symmetry problem cannot be obviated. For laws demonstrate the property of what mathematicians call symmetry. A symmetry of some mathematical object and the physical laws are inherently mathematical structures is any transformation that preserves the objects structure.
A practical application of the principle of symmetry can be found in Einsteins observation (in his 1905 paper on Special Relativity, the same that gave us his magnificent unification of mass and energy, e = mc2) that the laws of nature are the same for all observers, regardless of their particular space-time positions.
It is evident that there are symmetries in nature, and also that mathematics has been amazingly successful in teasing them out. A favorite story is Reimanns geometry of curved spaces. He created this geometry at a time when no one believed that geometry could be other than flat (Euclidean). So Reimann put his geometry on the shelf where it sat for about 50 years, gathering dust. Then a friend of Einstein pointed him to Reimanns geometry (and Riccis tensor) as possible keys to the elucidation of the problems of special relativity. And they exactly did the trick.
Indeed, mathematicians have been so good at doing this sort of thing creating mathematical systems with an eye to symmetry, and finally beauty that Eugene Wigner marveled about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in its ability to model and describe nature.
At this point, it seems useful to widen our purview and revisit cosmology, for now we are speaking of the universe as a whole, and cosmology is the branch of knowledge that deals with the universe as an integrated and (some would say) even living system (in some fashion).
Cosmology is conventionally defined as: (1) a branch of philosophy dealing with the origin, processes, and structure of the universe; and (2), the astrophysical study of the structure and constituent dynamics of the universe, with a particular eye on the construction and modeling of a comprehensive theory that describes such structure and dynamics. The latter is the scientific approach. Note that (2) does not explicitly address the question of origin.
Indeed, questions of origin, both of the universe and of life, seem to be troubling to many scientists. Historically, their preferred cosmology has been the eternal universe model, wherein the universe, thought to be infinite in size, just always was, having no beginning or end; it just goes along in periods of expansions and contractions in a sort of self-conserving boom and bust cycle forever (no second law of thermodynamics to bother it).
Now in an infinite, eternal universe, anything can happen. And so this classical perspective of biology anticipates that the origin of life involves random chemicals reacting for eons and finally lucking out, resulting in a living cell coming together, as Harold Morowitz explains it.
But then satellite observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation starting in the 1960s provided striking evidence that the universe actually had a beginning. That is, it is not eternal, and it is not infinite. The CMBR which is universal in extent is thought to be the echo of the original big bang, which constituted the creation event of the universe in which we live, and which powers the cosmic space-time expansion. Thus the universe truly can be thought to have initial conditions.
The troubling thing about the big bang/inflationary universe theory is the suggestion that the universe was either created out of nothing, or if it was created out of something, then theres no way we can detect or prove that cause. Using a time-reversal symmetry transformation here running evolutionary time backwards like a videotape played in reverse the laws of physics break down at the Planck Era 1043 of the first second following the big bang. Prior to that, there is no space, no time, no physical laws of nature, no matter; its pure nihil: Nothing.
The nothingness before the creation of the universe is the most complete void that we can imagine no space, time or matter existed. It is a world without place, without duration or eternity, without number it is what the mathematicians call the empty set. Yet this unthinkable void converts itself into the plenum of existence a necessary consequence of physical laws. Where are these laws written into that void? What tells the void that it is pregnant with a possible universe? It would seem that even the void is subject to a law, a logic that exists prior to space and time. Heinz Pagels
Which of course is precisely what Genesis says: The Creation is ex nihilo, initiated by and proceeding according to the Word, the Logos of God, Who Is the Law of the Void as well as of the Creation, the logic that exists prior to space and time.
Evidently this is not a scientific statement, though I believe it is a truthful one. Still it is true that some physicists (and biologists) find the idea of a beginning of space and time out of nothing deeply disturbing for whatever reason. Taking into effect the evidence that leads to this conclusion, some have sought a non-theistic explanation for the phenomenon of the Big Bang. This cosmology grudgingly acknowledges that the universe did have a beginning, postulating its origin as a random fluctuation in a universal quantum vacuum field. But of course, this line of reasoning is silent about where the universal vacuum field itself came from in which a random fluctuation can occur, or how time and space got started so that events can occur in it.
This view (non-theistic cosmogenesis) is fallacious, however, because sudden quantum appearances dont really take place out of nothing. A larger quantum field is first required before this can happen, but a quantum field can hardly be described as being nothing. Rather, it is a thing of unsearchable order and complexity, whose origin we cant even begin to explain. Thus, trying to account for the appearance of the universe in a sudden quantum fluctuation doesnt do away with the need for a Creator at all; it simply moves the whole problem backward one step to the unknown origin of the quantum field itself. M. A. Corey
Whether your cosmology is philosophical or scientific, ultimately it rests on an unknown that is directly unknowable, a mystery. Scientists just as much as anybody else ponder the origin question, despite the fact that their formal methods cannot help them much there.
Cosmologically speaking, scientists get much better traction with the problem of constructing and modeling a comprehensive theory that describes, not the origin, but the structure and dynamics of the universe. But even here, they run into mysteries. Such as evidence for the almost eerie fine-tuning of the universe necessary for the inception, evolution, and support of Life. As Freeman Dyson put it, The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.
Take just one example from among many, the just mentioned universal vacuum. Because the vacuum is not nothing, it has energy, specifically vacuum energy the energy content of empty space. Ian Stewart notes:
As it happens, the observed value [of vacuum energy] is very, very small, around 10120, but it is not zero.
According to the conventional fine-tuning story, this particular value is exactly right for life to exist. Anything larger than 10118 makes local space-time explode; anything smaller than 10120 and space-time contracts in a cosmic crunch and disappears. So the window of opportunity for life is very small. By a miracle, our universe sits neatly within it.
But Stewart is a tough-minded mathematical scientist, and so evidently feels constrained to add:
The weak anthropic principle points out that if our universe were not constituted the way it is, we wouldnt be here to notice, but that leaves open the question why there is a here for us to occupy. The strong anthropic principle says that were here because the universe was designed specially for life to exist which is mystical nonsense. No one actually knows what the possibilities would be if the vacuum energy were markedly different from what it is. We know a few things that would go wrong but we have no idea what might go right instead. Most of the fine-tuning arguments are bogus.
What a relief that Professor Stewart thinks that only most of the fine-tuning arguments are bogus, and not all of them! One of the things likely to go wrong under his scenario would be the end of life as we know it on this planet, and with it intelligence. But other than that, his is a respectable argument, even though it would probably be entirely moot under different values for the vacuum energy, since intelligent beings probably would not then be around to entertain it.
There is an abundance of evidence from the precision of the fundamental values of the universe that contradicts the theory that a universe compossible with life can arise (or indeed actually rose) from an accident. Just as nothing comes from nothing, the laws of nature cannot have been established via a random process. There is nothing implicit in the meaning of random that contains any motive spring for it to generate order, organization, higher complexity. It is simply random; i.e., it reflects no law in its behavior. The people who say that the universal evolution is nothing more than the effect of a process of matter in its motions and pure, blind chance as Nobel laureate Jacques Monod claims rely on the same reasoning that says, if life can be spontaneously generated from non-life, then similarly order can come from disorder.
Which is the same sort of problem, it seems to me, involved in all the multiverse and parallel universe and panspermia cosmologies one finds littering the landscape these days. The latter panspermia theory seems to be a particular favorite of atheists such as Francis Crick and Sir Fred Hoyle.
Panspermia theory holds that life on Earth was seeded here by space aliens. I gather anything that avoids the conclusion that the universe, and Life, is a divine creation, and thus has a spiritual dimension (which would include such things as intelligence, law, information, etc., all the non-phenomenal aspects that tell phenomena what to do) is what is being sought in such fanciful imaginings. Such theories seem ultimately designed to forbid anything that is immaterial from having causal impact in the universe. But if you say that, then where does physical law fit in, where mathematics, or logic, or intelligence, or information? Not to mention the evident universal constants? None of these are material entities.
But the fact regarding these exotic cosmologies is, not a one of them can be falsified, or subjected to replicable experiments. All these cosmologies are works of pure philosophical imagination dressed up in the language of scientific jargon.
However, that doesnt mean the adherents of such imaginative speculations are bad scientists. Heres Sir Fred Hoyle, a non-Darwinian evolutionist, contented atheist, and honest thinker:
No matter how large the environment one considers, life cannot have had a random beginning there are about two thousand enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only one part in (1020)2000 = 1040,000, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. the enormous information content of even the simplest living systems cannot in our view be generated by what are often called natural processes, For life to have originated on the Earth it would be necessary that quite explicit instruction should have been provided for its assembly There is no way in which we can expect to avoid the need for information, no way in which we can simply get by with a bigger and better organic soup, as we ourselves hoped might be possible a year or two ago.
Information is the key to life, just as it is the key to the fundamental structure and evolution of the universe, from the beginning. One conjectures the universe has the structure and dynamics it has because these were programmed in at the beginning. And this structure evidently was primed for life.
Again, this is what Genesis tells us: The Universe has an intelligent cause that is outside of space-time. Physics and biology acknowledge the necessity of information for the rise and maintenance of life, but assign no cause for this information within spatiotemporal reality. But if it cannot be found there, then where can it be found?
See Genesis. And consider this observation, from Albert Einstein:
The natural law reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.
Scientists recognize so well that the universe has fundamental structure that they are encouraged to propound grand unified theories, GUTs, or Theories of Everything. The standard model of physics today recognizes four fundamental forces in nature: the nuclear strong, the nuclear weak, electromagnetism, and gravity. So far, all have been conveniently reconciled together, or unified except for gravity, which continues to resist being fitted into any kind of grand unified model thus far.
Regarding the four fundamental forces, here are some more interesting thoughts from Ian Stewart:
Other types of forces could in principle give rise to other types of universe, and our ignorance of such possibilities is almost total. It is often claimed that without the particular forces we have, life would be impossible, proving that our universe is amazingly fine-tuned to make life possible. This argument is bogus, a wild exaggeration based on too limited a view of what constitutes life. Life like ours would be impossible but it is the height of arrogance to assume that our kind of life is the only kind of organized complexity that could exist. The fallacy here is to confuse sufficient conditions for life (those aspects of our universe on which our kind of life depends) with necessary ones.
It is interesting that here Stewart reduces life to the definition, organized complexity. The description appears to be general enough to encompass everything (everything material at least), yet at the same time, is useless to provide insight into the living nature of actual, particular living beings.
Be that as it may, it seems Stewart is working to a doctrine, to a particular world view, in giving his analysis. And he seems to recognize this in what follows:
The view that a Theory of Everything must exist brings to mind monotheist religion in which, over the millennia, disparate collections of gods and goddesses with their own special domains have been replaced by one god whose domain is everything. This process is widely viewed as an advance, but it resembles a standard philosophical error known as the equation of unknowns in which the same cause is assigned to all mysterious phenomena . Explanations like this give a false sense of progress we used to have three mysteries to explain; now we have just one. But the one new mystery conflates three separate ones, which might well have entirely different explanations. By conflating them, we blind ourselves to this possibility.
When you explain the Sun by a sun-god and rain by a rain-god, you can endow each god with its own special features. But if you insist that both Sun and rain are controlled by the same god, then you may end up trying to force two different things into the same straightjacket. So in some ways fundamental physics is more like fundamentalist physics. Equations [brief enough to fit] on a T-shirt replace an immanent deity, and the unfolding of the consequences of those equations replaces divine intervention in daily life.
Despite these reservations, my heart is with the physical fundamentalists. I would like to see a Theory of Everything, and I would be delighted if it were mathematical, beautiful, and true. I think religious people might also approve, because they could interpret it as proof of the exquisite taste and intelligence of their deity.
Exactly so that would be my takeaway!
To sum up, it appears that a model of the universe that stipulates that all that exists life and non-life is simply the product of random transformations of matter in its motions has been falsified by modern physics. To the extent that information which presupposes intelligence plays a role, we have to acknowledge that other, immaterial factors are at work. Which of course we do, to the extent we realize and acknowledge the universal existence of physical laws, of finely-tuned cosmic values, and of the symmetries in nature. To do so, we have to put a check on randomness as a possible explanation for the nature or structure of things.
But we cannot eliminate randomness altogether. In the final analysis, it seems to me the universe lives in the dynamic tension that obtains between that which is changeless (the symmetry), and that which is changeable (a symmetry-breaking event). Or as Leibniz put it, at the level of fundamental universal principles the universe must consist of something that does not ever change, and something that is capable of changing.
For example, consider the first and second laws of thermodynamics. The first is a conservation law matter cannot be either created or destroyed that is, matter is unchangeable; i.e., it is symmetrical under all known conditions. The second law breaks the symmetry of the first; and if it couldnt do that, then probably nothing would ever happen in our universe.
The most amazing thing to me is that evidently, as a consequence of such a fundamental tension, we live in a guided universe, but not a wholly deterministic one.
And the Guide does not seem to reside in the system at least, as far as science can tell.
Thus it seems to me if the Guide could construct a universe finely-tuned and primed for life on the most global scale i.e., that of the whole universe then it should be childs play for this Source to prime and guide any living (or non-living) sub-unit of the universe preeminently biological creatures; and of these, Man above all.
Given that the universe evidently has been left deliberately incompletely determined, or underdetermined (Plancks constant reminds us of this), then not only the free development of nature has been left intact (subject only to the natural symmetries), but so also has human free will been left wholly intact.
Given the splendors of natural reality, and the uncanny facility that man has for exploring and understanding them, really all I can say is: I am on my knees in gratitude, thanks, and praise, and all glory be to God in Whom we live and move and have our Being.
I had heard that some do not regard Unitarians and Quakers as Christians. Well, how do Unitarians and Quakers regard themselves?
Lets see: What was the original proposition again? That Muslims are just as likely to be right as the Jews and Christians. It seems you have no opinion about that (at least none youve expressed). The only opinion youve expressed is that Christians (and Jews?) are wicked, blood-thirsty wholesale murderers. Moslems would agree with you on that proposition. It must be, then, that you side with the Moslems. So, it looks to be the case that you roam the halls of FR looking for a fight with Christians (and Jews?).
And it does, in fact, appear that you must misrepresent what I say in order to promote a fight.
I didn't start the discussion of slavery, and I didn't start the discussion of how wicked the adherents of a religion can be.
I merely point out the the wickedness of religious adherents is proportional to the amount of worldly power they wield. You implied Christianity confers some special worldly moral force, and I point out this is nonsense.
Probably already posted.
Quakers, historically, are Christian. Unitarians, so far as historic trinitarianism is concerned, cannot be Christian.
So...if you've read it, what did you think of it?
I'm just hoping some of the evo's on this thread actually click on the link -- the reviews I have read on the book excited me very much, and I couldn't find any obvious flaws in his definitions.
Someday when I'm rich (and therefore have time?) I'll read the dang thing.
I just watched a video of a man holding a shotgun in his right hand and eight clay pigeon targets in his left. He then proceeded to toss the targets into the air -- and then break them all with eight individual shots (no "doubles") before they reached the ground! We are, indeed, "fearfully and wonderfully made"!!!
Thank you oh so very much for sharing your insights, dear brother in Christ!
My point wasn't that they were morally equivalent, simply that without empirical evidence, people are just guessing which one is the "true" religion. It is irrefutable that a persons fait is highly dependent on where that person was born and what the faith of his/her parents were. Jews and Muslims are just as sure of their faith as Christians are. Christianity is 1/3 of the worlds religious. Flipping a coin would be better than relying on faith that Christianity is true.
They were making an argument against my suggestion. You are right, they say that they know that their religion is superior because it is kinder.
By this reasoning however, Jainism is the one true religion. Their highest belief is: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being."
For instance, many religions have creation beliefs but the greatest number and loudest arguments are made against Christians. The Jews and Muslims are pretty much ignored along with all the others.
And often, despite what a Christian might say about the age of the universe, the anti-Christian raises a canned "belief" like a boxing bag, pounds at the inanimate thing a few times and declares himself victorious. Whoop-de-do, some battle that was.
Likewise in the above Noah Flood sidebar, the presumption has been made not once, not twice, but three times that my beliefs are what the correspondents say they are, not what I say. Again with the boxing bag instead of the live correspondent - and no attempt to argue against Jewish beliefs or flood myths in other cultures.
Nope, all the angst is directed squarely at Christianity per se - or perhaps, the anti-Christian's concept of Christianity.
Bottom line, such debates are rarely about the actual issues but a posturing between spirits pro-Christ and anti-Christ.
Perhaps the boxing bag is because we have the upper hand? After all, the words of God are spirit and life. The words of men are neither spirit nor life.
It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life. - John 6:63
Bombast and the religion of scientism to counter TRUTH EVERLASTING.
Because TRUTH EVERLASTING !REQUIRES! a personal decision to reject HIM . . .
SUBMIT TO HIM IN ADORATION, WORSHIP, COMPLIANCE . . . and thereby BECOME the best us we were designed to be . . . experiencing the most fulfillment, joy, wholeness, adventure, . . .
However, the arrogant WILL NOT have any such and demand to be their own standard of reality, their own god, their own criteria of proof . . . their own construction on all that is.
And . . . in a sense . . . they shall have that . . . and that in abundance . . . in starkly horrific unending deadness and the painful realization of what they willfully rejected.
. . . and Who . . .
they willfully rejected.
More specifically, I think it was argued that the superior moral behavior of Christians is a demonstration of the truth of the religion.
Your distinction between “Adamic” men and “non-Adamic” men is unorthodox and extrabiblical. It is a distinction that the Bible does not make. The word neshamah is used in the Old Testament to refer to any member of the human species (including pagan civilizations such as the Hittites and Canaanites, Deut. 20:16-17) and expanded upon in the Flood account to include any other air-breathing creature. Any other interpretation is simply not in the text. The biblical account does not give any room for such flights of fancy.
The human species has gone through various bottlenecks, but not down to 8 individuals, and not within the last 4000 years. Such a bottleneck would be glaringly unmistakable due to the immense reduction in genetic diversity that would be required. Our species has a much greater range of genetic diversity than the Flood would allow for. An important piece of evidence is the Y chromosome—only one Y chromosome would have survived the Flood, Noah’s. With the variation in Y chromsomes in the human population today, that is simply impossible.
Wild guess, but this could be due to the fact that Christianity has much greater influence politically in the US than Judaism and Islam. Judaism is also less likely to take the anti-scientific positions of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity. How about you convert to Islam and try to argue against the theory of evolution and I'll take you up on that as well.
And I see you have the "obliquely insult others" Religion Forum shtick down pat.
What would be gained from discussing the biblical text??? Shocking! :-D