Biogenesis and abiogenesis

Discussion in 'Creation vs. Evolution' started by Administrator2, Jan 17, 2002.

  1. Administrator2

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    GARPIER
    From what I recall of my high school science courses, one of the things we were taught was the concept of scientific laws. Now my understanding of a scientific law is that if there is an exception, then it can not be called a law. Is this true or not?


    DRAGOON
    A law is a mathematical relationship needing no other explanation other then it's then what is presented.
    F=MA is an example.


    NEILUNREAL
    Yes, but the causality sort of goes the other way -- that is, consistently observed principles, especially those perceived to have a strong logical foundation, come to be known as laws. A good operational definition of a scientific law is: "some cause-effect relationship which we cannot imagine not being true, given the totally of our observations of, and reasoning about, it."

    But the choice of what facets of reality we choose to call laws is a little bit arbitrary, given that the selection process often speaks to the importance of certain causes and effects from our standpoint, rather than underlying physical relationships. In other words, scientific laws are models.

    I agree with Dragoon -- in the sense that a "model" can be a symbolic description pared of non-essentials.


    HRG/ALTER EGO
    Now my understanding of a scientific law is that if there is an exception, then it can not be called a law. Is this true or not?

    By this requirement, very few of the "laws of science" (e.g. Ohm's, Boyle-Mariotte etc.) could be called laws. They are simple linear relationships and in reality only approximations (to more complicated, non-linear relationships) which are valid within a restricted range.

    It is for good reasons that physics has entirely stopped using the law terminology (the last one was Planck's Radiation Law of 1900) and speaks of theories, (in-)equations, principles, models etc.

    IMHO what we should say instead of "scientific laws" is "our current description/model of the universe, its patterns, mechanisms etc.". The law terminology invites all kinds of confusions with prescriptive laws like Hammurabi's etc. Specifically, the "laws of science" definitely do not need a lawgiver: they are descriptive.


    GARPIER
    Thanks for the input. A further question based on NeilUnreal"s statement:

    A good operational definition of a scientific law is: "some cause-effect relationship which we cannot imagine not being true, given the totally of our observations of, and reasoning about, it.

    Does biogenesis fit this description in your opinion?


    NEIL UNREAL
    Hmmm. That's a very, very interesting question*. In a sense, it's a neutral question with regard to the Creation/Evolution debate: on the evolution side it's conceivable that the probability of biogenesis (did you mean the converse, a-biogenesis?) approaches zero, and that life in the universe is just a "freak" event. On the creation side, a belief in the creation of the current biological world doesn't preclude the possibility of naturally occurring abiogenesis in addition to the created order (the "pre-Pasteur" view for want of a better term).
    So the question of biogenesis is truly a scientific question. Empirically, the best answer is that abiogenesis doesn't seem to occur very readily, at least it's been observed to have occurred only once according to material science, zero times according to creationists. The laboratory work by biochemists and theoretical work by scientists like Stuart Kauffman is still at too early a stage to be of much help in deciding whether either abiogenesis (or lack thereof) is a scientific "law."

    In my humble opinion, the status of whether something becomes a scientific law should hinge on whether a given cause always entails a certain effect, not on the frequency of the cause. ("Always" can be defined probabilistically as in QM and the cause/effect relationship should be something more interesting than a tautology -- e.g. DNA sequence X causes DNA sequence X.)

    The degree to which the observed probability of abiogenesis influences a choice between C vs. E is a separate, but also interesting question.

    * Reminds me of the kind of things professors like to ask during oral exams to keep them from becoming regurgitations of fact.

    * * *

    Immediately after my last post, this occurred to me. I think some of the difficulty in the use of the term "scientific law" is because it is applied to scientific principles of different types. For example, the law of gravity is a model ofs is a statement about probability and differentiable states (!). The QM laws of nuclear decay express things that have no direct analog in macro world experience. A grand unified theory encompassing both physics and mathematics would be required to turn these into laws of the same type!


    DANEEL
    Does biogenesis fit this description in your opinion?

    IMO abiogenesis is simply a term that says that life or self replicating molecules formed spontaneously under conditions that existed on the earth shortly after it was first formed. As to how this happened we don't know. We only have hypotheses.

    However, since one of the basic premises that makes science viable is that the universe behaves according to basic laws of physics and chemistry it more or less rules out any supernatural events which would (if you think about it) make science difficult to do. Imagine that you do an experiment and determine a physical constant. In order to use that constant in determining other things you have to be fairly confident that some supernatural force or thing is not going to change it. So far this idea has worked well for science and we have found out and done lots of neat things. For a scientists God must not play a role in determining the results of his experiments.


    ARROWMAN
    NeilUnreal and Daneel, I think you have misunderstood garpier on the "biogenesis" thing. My $0.02:

    "Biogenesis" is an alleged "law of science" oftent cited by creationists to support their case. This "law" supposedly says that "life only comes from life" ie that abiogenesis is impossible. IMO there is a "law" (acknowledging the comments above with which I largely agree) that says we have never observed a fully formed living thing arise from anything other than another living thing but this is not the same as saying "abiogenesis cannot happen".

    "Abiogenesis" on the other hand is not a law; it is a hypothesised process, based on knowledge of other processes, some of which are governed by "laws" (particularly chemistry) by which simple life could arise (eventually) from non-living matter. This process does not break any known "laws" of chemistry, physics etc and is therefore deemed plausible and parts of the process have been replicated under laboratory conditions or observed in nature.

    In summary:
    - "biogenesis" is not a law; it's an assertion by creationists.
    - "abiogenesis" is not a law; it's a process.


    MILAN
    Does biogenesis fit this description in your opinion?

    I have to admit that I could not figure out where you were coming from with this question about biogenesis being a law until I find this page belonging to The center for Scientific Creation. http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/LifeSciencesa4.html

    There I found this pearl of wisdom:

    The Law of Biogenesis
    Spontaneous generation (the emergence of life from nonliving matter) has never been observed. All observations have shown that life comes only from life. This has been observed so consistently it iscalled the law of biogenesis. The theory of evolution conflicts with this scientific law by claiming that life came from nonliving matter through natural processes.



    GARPIER
    Milan,
    Just thought you'd like to know that I have never been to the website you listed. My purpose in asking my question was to understand how evolutionists explain biogenesis and abiogenesis. I think I understand. Correct me if I'm wrong.

    Although, we have only observed biogenesis in the lab and in nature, we cannot rule out abiogenesis because that is the only way to explain the origin of life using the physical laws of nature.

    If we impose a supernatural deity in the mix then that would not allow the physical laws to work completely unaided.

    My only problem with that is that God is the author of all scientific laws and as the Creator, He has the right to interfere with those laws anytime He wants. Although I know it sounds like a fairy tale to you, it does explain how life came into existence without having to worry about abiogenesis.

    Where did God come from? Well the Bible indicates that He has always been, and if you want more information about Him you can either read the Bible or ask Him.


    JAYCWRU
    How does one go about asking God a question? Are you referring to prayer? Is that your source of scientific knowledge?
    I'm not trying to ridicule you, but it is completely beyond me how people converse with God. As far as I know, God does not explicitly tell me things, nor does he leave messages on my answering machine. Are you a claiming that you are a prophet, or am I misunderstanding what you are saying?


    HRG/ALTER EGO
    Although, we have only observed biogenesis in the lab and in nature, we cannot rule out abiogenesis because that is the only way to explain the origin of life using the physical laws of nature.

    Not true. We have observed abiogenesis, albeit indirectly. 4.5 GYears ago life did not exist on Earth; 3.5 GYears ago it existed (observation). Thus abiogenesis has happened.


    If we impose a supernatural deity in the mix then that would not allow the physical laws to work completely unaided.
    My only problem with that is that God is the author of all scientific laws and as the Creator, He has the right to interfere with those laws anytime He wants. Although I know it sounds like a fairy tale to you, it does explain how life came into existence without having to worry about abiogenesis.


    As long as you don't add a detailed description of the mechanism your God used, it doesn't explain life any more than the simple claim "it happened according to the mechanisms of physics and chemistry" does.


    DAVID COX
    We have observed abiogenesis, albeit indirectly. 4.5 GYears ago life did not exist on Earth; 3.5 GYears ago it existed (observation). Thus abiogenesis has happened.

    I fail to follow your logic.
    The mere fact that there is no evidence of life at point "A" and there is evidence of life at point "B" says nothing of the origin of that life.

    In the absence of further evidence, any assertions about the origin of life are purely speculative.

    In our current state of knowledge, we have some pretty good ideas how it could have happened, shown that the proposed process is feasible, but there will probably never be enough evidence to make the conclusion that abiogenesis did happen.


    MESK
    Well, this all depends on your definition of "abiogenesis". Strictly speaking, the word simply refers to the production of life from non-life, with no mechanism specified. If this definition is used (and it is, IMO, the most technically correct one) then HRG's statement is perfectly valid: 4.5 billion years ago, life did not exist; 3.8 billion years ago it did; some time in between, life must have been produced somehow from non-living precursors. That, by definition, was abiogenesis.

    Of course, if you define abiogenesis as most people in these forums do - as a strictly naturalistic process by which life was generated from non-life - then you're quite correct, and there is (and probably always will be) insufficient evidence to conclusively confirm that it occurred.

    Perhaps HRG is using the first definition, while you are using the second?


    HRG/ALTER EGO
    Of course I've used the first definition. Yet I submit that in the absence of substantial evidence that a process X cannot have happened by natural means, it is the default assumption that it did happen by natural means. This assumption is strengthened when some naturalistic scenarios have been presented.


    NEIL UNREAL
    As a Christian and a trained scientist (working as an engineer) I believe in God. But I can't let this belief short-circuit my search for scientific answers to problems. Science is not mysterious, it's just the body of stuff we can say we know with some degree of objectivity. We've been given brains that not only have the ability to seek this objective knowledge, but a desire to do so. There may be natural boundaries to this search for knowledge, but I think I would be failing if I quit the search just because it becomes difficult or I feel uncomfortable with the answers it's showing me.

    From the standpoint of faith, I really don't fear reductionism. For me, being a scientist is like being an amateur magician watching a master -- a knowledge of the mechanism makes the magic show all the more interesting.
     

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