Friday, April 27, 2007

THE IMMACULATE REPLICATION

Christianity starts with a seminal event that skeptics scoff at. How could a woman conceive a child, even the son of God, without a human father? Modern evolutionary theory begins with another seminal event, the replication of the first DNA molecule. In his preface to 'River Out of Eden' Richard Dawkins writes, "..when the ricochets of atomic billiards chance to put together an object that has a certain, seemingly innocent property, something momentous happens in the universe. That property is an ability to self-replicate; that is, the object is able to use the surrounding materials to make exact copies of itself....What will follow from this singular occurrence, anywhere in the universe, is Darwinian selection and hence the baroque extravaganza that, on this planet, we call life".

I am not a religionist. I am a mystic. I offer no opinion regarding the virgin birth. What I propose in this post is two things. The first is that the chance of all the microscopic components necessary to congeal, by themselves, into a molecular structure that is complex enough to replicate is so gargantuanly improbable, that it makes a virgin birth seem a commonplace occurrence by comparison. And second, even granting that all the materials could be in place, a molecule cannot possibly replicate, at least not the way it is described by Dawkins.


The DNA molecule, or any hypothetical replicating molecule, is made of nucleotides, proteins and sugars. The ricocheting atoms that Dawkins refers to must first ricochet into these organic compounds. This is a problem. Organic compounds are manufactured in living cells. They are not found on this planet outside of living things. A famous experiment done by Miller and Urey in the 1950's, whereby a reducing environment of methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water vapor, devoid of oxygen, was subjected to a continual electric current, produced some of the carbon compounds necessary for that first replicating molecule. The continual (for three weeks) electric current was supposed to be a simulation of the lightning that these elements might have been exposed to on the early earth. But is a constant current for that duration a reasonable simulation of lightning? Is a controlled atmosphere without oxygen or carbon dioxide, both of which would breakdown these compounds, a realistic recreation of the atmosphere on earth at that time, when volcanoes spewing carbon dioxide and water vapor were frequent occurrences, and when we know that water vapor photodissociates in the upper atmosphere into oxygen, and oxidized sediments from the pre-Cambrian era exist in large quantities? What we are talking about is a so-called chemical evolution of organic materials that supposedly took place over millions of years, from carbon compounds combining to make amino acids, amino acids combining to make proteins and proteins combining to make a replicating molecule. Keep in mind that these are organic materials that are not within the protective membranes of a cell, or part of a cell's commitment to survive. These are fragile compounds that breakdown if there is too much heat, too much cold, too much movement, exposure to oxygen or carbon dioxide, exposure to sunlight and exposure to many of the other products of organic combining like ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Other variations of the Miller-Urey experiment revealed many more previously unconsidered problems, to the point that many evolutionists have rethought 'pre-biotic' evolution. Many scientists now believe that this process took place not in an ocean of organic soup, but in shallow tide pools. Others look to thermal vents on the ocean floor, while others argue for an anaerobic beginning to life deep below the earth's surface and others have come to believe that life, in an extremophile form, may have arrived here embedded in a meteor from another planet.


Where this supposed abiogenisis (the creation of life, by itself, from non-living matter) took place, does not concern us here. Let's grant that somehow there were ample quantities of all the organic ingredients necessary. The assemblage of all of these, by chance, to a form and level of complexity that would be able to replicate is so fantastically remote a possibility that it is likened to the complete works of Shakespeare forming from a random mixing of letters, or molecules of metals with the help of heat from volcanoes and pressure from landslides forming themselves into a fully working refrigerator on an uninhabited planet. These are the 'chance ricochets' that Dawkins refers to.


Next comes the "innocent property" that this molecule just happens to have, which is the property of self-replication. To say that self-replication is a property of a molecule is like saying, "that rock is small, that rock is large, that rock is white, and that rock does calculus." Understand that a molecule is not a living thing. It's like a wall, a brick or a plate. Self-replication is a miraculous biological event. Since the unraveling of the structure of the DNA molecule by Dawson and Crick, our greatest scientists continue to study the act of replication. It is still not understood. They know, chemically, how the two strands of DNA separate, and they know, chemically, what material is used to "synthesize" the copy of the isolated strand, but how does it happen? Can we call it a "synthesis"? No, because it doesn't result in anything synthetic. The copied strand is exactly as real and authentic, as willful and determined to replicate, as the original strand. As baffling and awesome as this still is, does it make any sense to say that the DNA is 'self'-replicating', that it is making copies of 'itself'?


What is a self? When we say the dog came down the hill by himself, or the young calf stood by itself, it implies the ability to execute an action without help from others. Of course, it makes no sense to say a rock came down the hill by itself, or the crowbar stood up by itself. Non-living things are passive. They do not initiate action. Of course they move, they expand and they contract, but it is always some force that is causing them to do that. Really they are being moved, being expanded and being contracted. Physicists say that all the movement of non-living matter can be broken down into four forces, gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong force (which holds the nucleus of atoms together) and the weak force (which holds together smaller particles in the atom). Conventional wisdom has it that prior to this first molecular replication there was no life in the universe. That means there were no sounds, no sights, no thoughts, no intentions, nothing. There were only atoms and molecules moving in mindless obedience to gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong force and the weak force.


The first life form, whatever that was, was also the first machine. Yes, life forms are machines, although I hate to use that word, because people start thinking that life forms are just machines, which is not only wrong but helps lead to the moral and ethical slide that we now find ourselves in, but more of that later. All the processes of a life form, the thousands of processes within each cell, between cells, the processes of digestion, elimination, growth, the sensing of the environment, movement, replication, all involve energy. This energy is expended consciously and unconsciously to one end, the moment to moment survival of that life form. In the human body there are literally quadrillions of processes going on simultaneously and all synchronized to that one end, moment to moment survival. An organism does what it does to enhance its survival and to avoid or overcome threats to its survival. The energy and the focus to do all these activities I call will. Will is the fifth force.


You might say that is too anthropomorphic of me, that surely the will of a human being to pass her bar exams is different than the will of an ant to climb a hill to get to a discarded candy bar. But why is it different? Will has no thoughts. We may have thoughts about will, about will power, concentration, discipline, etc., but in the meantime our hearts keep beating, our lungs keep breathing and all the quadrillion processes of our life keep motoring on. Does the ant consciously desire the candy? I think so. The ant has receptors that let it know that the candy is there, and the scent of that candy arouses something in the ant that drives it toward it. And every one knows that the strongest desires are felt in the body and the fulfillment of those desires are usually diluted and complicated, not enhanced, by thought.


We had to call a plumber to our house recently because the sinks and toilets were backing up. The plumber wound up snaking out the mainline drain pipe leading from our house to the city sewer line. What had happenned was a very common occurrence in our area. A tree, sensing water in the pipe, had grown a root around it and squeezed. After several years of squeezing the tree managed to create a hairline fracture in that cast iron pipe and shot a tiny rootlet through that opening. Once that root started feasting on the water inside the pipe it grew to the point where the passage was blocked. I told my friend about it as a testament to the will of that tree. She thought that was rather silly, because it couldn't be like human will, and shouldn't be called the same thing. Why? What is different about it? What does human will look like? Human will is not part of the physical universe. Like all the really important things in our life like love, attraction, knowledge and one's self, will cannot be seen. It can only be surmised by the result of one's actions. The entire theory of evolution is predicated on this will without ever acknowledging it. What is driving all these countless beings in their struggle for survival if it's not will. The outcome of the contest of the survival of the fittest may be arbitrary, but the contestants certainly are not. Each one, from the plankton to the whale, from the amoeba to the redwood, is a complexly organized, synchronous whole driven by one over arching thing, it's survival. The survival of the fittest contest continues only so long as all the individual contestants continue to strive at every moment to survive. If you object to the word will, then call it something else, but if you over analyze and start to make distinctions you drive a semantic wedge between the great bond that bonds human beings to all of life, the will and desire to live.


Back to the replicating molecule. As the enormous complexity of the DNA molecule has become more clearly understood, many scientists have theorized that the first replicating molecule was not DNA, but something simpler, because the random assemblage of DNA with its millions or billions of nucleotides seems inconceivable. Beyond assuming that it was simpler, no one has any idea what this replicating molecule might have been composed of, and the theory goes that it no longer exists because it was devoured by more efficient, or more evolved, DNA centered organisms. To get some sense of what replication might be like let's look at DNA because it is at the center of every cellular replication on this planet and is the only example we have. The replication of DNA is part of the process of the whole cell's replication. To accomplish this DNA uses energy metabolized by the surrounding cell. The complex movements of the DNA molecule during replication and the energy required to split the strands of nucleotides and for the actual replication is borrowed from the cell. It is not part of the four forces of gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong force or the weak force. It is a function of will. This leaves us with only two options.


The first is that at the time of the first replication, that molecule was not a living thing, in which case it was a passive piece of matter subject to the four laws of physics. In other words it did not replicate, but it was replicated. And if it was replicated, who replicated it?

The second possibility is that at that moment it was a living thing and it did replicate itself. The question then becomes from where did that first will and that first self on this planet arrive?


Any feedback? Your comments are sincerely welcome.

3 comments:

Deconstructing Demagogues said...

Very thought provoking thoughts. A much needed "third way" between religus doctrine and scientific dogma. Or is that religous dogma and scientific doctrine? In any event, I look forward to revisiting again to learn more

drbedell said...

Yes!! This is a great viewpoint to contradict the ludicrous reasoning of Dawkins. Another aspect to consider, in reference to genetic expression, is that it's a physiological fact that a gene can only be expressed or "copied" by RNA when an OUTSIDE signal initiates the exposure of the particular gene to be copied. It's like a sleeve on a shirt; to see your arm you have to pull back the sleeve...just like with genetic code, there is a covering over the gene that needs to be "told" to expose the gene. So therefore the genetic expression is under direct command by an outside signal source, the gene cannot express itself! The outside signal source comes from the environment, so therefore the environment contains intelligence that has an influence over our genetic expression.

Andre du Plessis said...

Ahh great stuff. These are the things I have been pondering about as well. Happy to have found your blog. I have great admiration for Dawkins but evolution just doesn't make sense to me as well (neither does creationism). I don't know what the answer is but I do know that current theories are incorrect. I will read the rest of your entries as I get time.