Thursday, March 20, 2008

ORIGIN OF LIFE

In scientific textbooks under this heading, 'Origin of Life", are found a variety of theories as to how life may have started from the random mixing of chemicals and physical forces. The assumption, according to these theories, is that life originated with a DNA type replicating molecule. This is a huge assumption, however, since no one has managed to get a DNA molecule to replicate outside of a cell, even when the DNA molecule is surrounded in a controlled laboratory setting with all the chemical ingredients that would be available to it within a cell.

But even if you believe that life began with a replicating molecule you still have to explain how a system that metabolizes energy, that manufactures proteins and that genetically replicates can form by the random actions of physical forces and chemicals. And this is a process that took place not in a controlled laboratory but on this planet at least 3.8 billion years ago when the planet was being bombarded by asteroids, spewing volcanoes, with a toxic carbon dioxide rich atmosphere and surface temperatures above the boiling point of water. It is a process that originally was thought to have taken hundreds of millions of years but is now thought, because of new discoveries concerning the age of microbial life and the environmental conditions of early earth, to have taken only tens of millions of years. And it is a process involving delicate organic molecules that in life are protected from the external environment by at least a cell wall and by the cell's own commitment to it's survival. Here we have a scenario in which exposed, unprotected organic molecules are coming together and forming proteins in unbelievably harsh environments and staying in tact for millions of years. Mind you that all the scientists who work on creating these scenarios, including Nobel laureates, cannot create with their highly evolved brains and with the most sophisticated technical apparatus available to them in their laboratories, any system starting from scratch that either replicates, metabolizes or manufactures protein. Yet in this scenario the mystery of these systems, which is still not understood by humans, has somehow been 'discovered' by lifeless molecules.


Even if all of this were possible, which it is not, can we really assume that any assemblage of chemicals will, by itself, lead to the beginning of life? Absolutely not, and that is because replication, protein manufacture and metabolism are biological processes and biological processes are categorically different than purely chemical processes. Let me explain. Biological processes have, of course a chemical and/or an electrical component, but that is hardly the whole story. Writing a novel has a physical component but describing the physical movements of the author's hand as she manipulates her pen across a piece of paper would hardly be a complete or satisfying explanation for the origin or creation of her novel.


Scientists limit themselves to what is seen, but biological processes, like human creative activities, are not completely visible. Intention cannot be seen. Purpose cannot be seen. It can be inferred but not directly observed. All biological processes have intention. All non-biological chemical processes do not have intention. The intention of ALL biological processes is to promote the survival and desires of a living being. Whether it's a single celled organism with thousands of simultaneous processes or a one hundred trillion celled organism like ourselves with quadrillions of simultaneous processes, ALL of these processes are synchronized and coordinated in the service of that being. Again, scientists are limited to the observation of the material world. They cannot see intention; they cannot see purpose; and they cannot see the beings that these processes serve. And above all, they cannot see the Being whose intention it was to create these physical bodies in the first place.


Let's look again at a simple chemical process. If I add heat to liquid water it will boil and turn to a gas. The water molecules do not want to become water vapor and they do not resist becoming water vapor. There is nothing in that molecule that could care one way or the other. The same is true with the expansion of gases or the electro-magnetic joining of atoms to become compounds or the separation of compounds to become atoms. There is no entity within the atom or the molecule that has any interest or investment in combining or separating, in contracting or expanding. There is no "it" there that cares one way or the other. These bits of matter are blindly observing chemical and physical laws. Now biological processes are completely different. Every living being is committed to its own survival. Every living being must perform a series of tasks to insure its survival. For instance, every living being functions best within a certain range of temperatures. When it gets too hot or too cold for this being, a series of processes, chemical, electrical and physical, will kick in to allow this being to either change its internal temperature or move to a warmer or cooler environment. Every living being needs nutrients and every living being has a series of processes to discern those needed nutrients in the external environment, to take them into the internal parts of their bodies and to digest, or chemically alter them so that they can be used as energy and for material for growth. All the processes of the nervous system, the reproductive system, the circulatory system, etc., etc., every one of the quadrillions of electrical and chemical biological processes that are occurring in your body at this very moment as you read these words, every single one, is coordinated and synchronized toward the goal of your survival and the satisfaction of your desires. And this is true for every living being from humans on down to single celled creatures that conduct and synchronize not quadrillions but many thousands of simultaneous biological processes.


Now this will, this desire to survive, although not acknowledged or discussed, is implicit in every writing of evolutionary biologists from Darwin to Dawkins and everyone in between. The unexamined force that drives the whole concept of evolution is the will to survive. Biologists do not discuss this force because they cannot see it. Yet what force can be seen? Physicists cannot see gravity or electromagnetism, but they deduce them from their effects on objects, on matter. No one questions the reality of gravity or electromagnetism, so why question the reality of will, which is as easily deducible from its effect on living bodies as gravity and electromagnetism are deducible from their effect on inanimate objects. No statement, no theory, no conjecture about evolution is possible without the underlying assumption that every living being is "trying" to survive.


Noted biologist Stephen Jay Gould, in an attempt to explain the supposed evolution from a simpler prokaryote type cell to a more complex eukaryote cell, writes "Surely, the mitochondrian that first entered another cell was not thinking about the future benefits of cooperation and integration; it was merely trying to make its own living in a tough Darwinian world." Yes, all considerations are eliminated by these hard nosed scientists except, except, EXCEPT the desire, the commitment, the determination, the will, to survive. Whether or not there ever was a separate being that Gould refers to as a mitochondrian is not the point. The point is that if there was one, the only explanation for its incursion into the interior environment of a larger cell, is its desire to survive. If even a mitochondrian, the precursor not to more advanced species, but to an organelle, a microscopic unit within a larger eukaryote cell, has a will to survive, how can we begin to talk about the origin of life in purely chemical and physical terms, how can we ignore this central question of the origin, not of physical bodies, but the origin of will?


What is the origin of this will to survive? When we say that a human, a chimpanzee, a daffodil, an amoeba, has a desire to survive, what do we mean by that? WHO is it that has this desire? Is it the body that is trying to survive? When the human or the amoeba fails in its survival attempt and dies, what happens? Does the body disappear? Of course not. If you could find enough ice your body and the amoeba's body could survive in tact for centuries. In death the body does survive. It is not the survival of the body that we are trying to achieve. It is the continuation of the spirit within the body that we are striving for. Our physical bodies are made mainly of protein molecules. Protein molecules, just like the water molecules that we discussed above, are inert matter. They do not want anything. They have no goals. Desires and goals originate in beings not matter. Beings want things, bodies do not.


Let's interject a word here about that original survivor, you know the one I mean. The one that emerged, according to modern science, from a fortuitous assemblage of chemicals and started suddenly replicating and staying in tact and managing to assemble all the ingredients it needed to replicate again, and avoid too much heat and too much cold, too low a PH balance and too high a PH balance, avoid too much UV exposure and too little, avoid direct contact with a host of chemicals, including oxygen, that would destroy it. You remember that delicate first organic replicating molecule that would not last five minutes in any environment that we know of, even an environment without predators, if it did not have the protection of a cell. So how did that original survivor, Abby Genesis* I believe the name was, how did Abby learn to survive? I know we all have heard amazing stories of very young children and animals who, by some awful turn of fate, were separated from their parents and from any knowledgeable, caring adult and still managed to survive. We can sort of imagine how they did this. Spurred by intense hunger they managed to find food. Spurred by intense cold they managed to find warmth. Spurred by the threat of physical dangers they managed to find shelter. But that is not the problem for Abby. Abby doesn't have to learn HOW to survive. ABBY has to learn to first WANT to survive. Is Abby a he, she or an it? If Abby is just a molecule we don't even have a name for the part of Abby that would want to survive. We also don't have a name for the part of Abby that would experience hunger, thirst, cold or danger, or that would experience anything that would spur Abby to do anything else. In fact we cannot imagine Abby doing anything, since Abby is a molecule and molecules never have and never will do anything 'by themselves', much less do any of the things above, including replication, which we humans can't begin to do 'by ourselves' four billion years later.


The second half of the twentieth century witnessed an explosion in the power, capacity and sophistication of electronic equipment that is referred to as the 'Silicon Revolution.' The discovery of the great conductive power of silicon to transmit enormous numbers of electronic impulses enabled this revolution to take place. But it was not, of course, the silicon itself, but the brilliant applications of silicon and the brilliant applications of electronic code by electrical engineers and computer scientists that created this revolution. In the same way, the explosion of complex life on this planet can be looked at as a protein revolution. It is the enormous conductive power of proteins for both chemical and electrical reactions that enabled the creation of the amazingly complex life forms that inhabit this planet. But to say that nucleic acids and proteins created life, that some of these acids and proteins 'figured out' how to grow bodies, grow brains, develop consciousness, create energy from carbon dioxide (photosynthesis) or figured out anything; to say that proteins see, or think or have any awareness whatsoever, is ridiculous. Proteins, your body, is nothing more and nothing less than the conductor of your biological processes. And your biological processes are what you, consciousness, and God, or the cosmic consciousness, have created to enable you to participate in the physical universe, to maintain your body so that you can satisfy your desires through your body. To say that nucleic acids and proteins created life, rather than that nucleic acids and proteins are the material used to create life, is like saying that the element silicon, by itself, created the microprocessors and transistors and computer chips that caused the Silicon Revolution.


Has this argument gotten too 'mystical' for you? Are you scoffing at these ideas before you really consider them? To my mind it is the belief in the motive power of acids and proteins that is the really weird idea. It is the notion that a molecule could suddenly start replicating by 'itself' that is truly nutty. In this very moment if you are scoffing at these ideas, please ask yourself this question, "Who is it that is scoffing?" Is it the proteins in your tongue that are uttering those sarcastic words, or the proteins in your brain that are having those skeptical thoughts? Try to put aside for a moment the materialist mind set that we all have been indoctrinated in. How does it strike you? What is your experience? Do you feel like you are proteins that happen to talk and think and desire things? Or is the 'you' that has these thoughts, that has this sarcastic point of view, is that 'you' a thing at all? Are you meat that talks and thinks or are you really a spiritual being, a non-physical being that inhabits a physical body and that has countless electrical and chemical processes that enable you to inhabit this body and continue this existence in the physical universe?


Let's get back to that replicating molecule. Scientists attempts to replicate DNA outside of a cell are as doomed to failure as loved one's attempts to get a corpse to respond to their anguished cries, and for exactly the same reasons. Replication, like digestion, like metabolism, like circulation, like seeing and hearing and tasting and touching, is a biological process in the service of a being. Molecules, even protein molecules, are inert matter. Yes, in a living being protein molecules conduct all kinds of incredibly intricate and precise processes whose goal is your survival, but outside of the nexus of consciousness, will and intelligence of a living being, protein molecules don't do anything and they certainly don't 'want' to do anything. Proteins, just like the rest of the inanimate world, just are. The DNA molecule will not replicate outside of a cell because it doesn't want to. There is no being there that is using the DNA molecule to replicate, and the DNA molecule outside of a cell is a molecule that has no interest in replicating or in anything else.


Now a cell is a different story entirely. A single celled life form is a living being. It does want to survive, and it is committed to it's survival. Also, a cell can live for a short period without it's nucleus. So, just as you could transplant a heart from one being to another, you could, theoretically, take the nucleus (the DNA) from one cell and transplant it to another providing that you could do it quickly enough. But expecting a DNA molecule to replicate by itself would be like expecting a disconnected heart to start pumping or a disembodied brain to start conducting electrical impulses before it was inserted into another body.


Living beings, as opposed to inanimate objects, are not passive. They want their bodies to stay in tact and to survive. As opposed to water molecules that have no interest in whether or not they happen to change into water, ice or vapor form, or whether or not they randomly break down into elements or combine to form larger molecules, living beings are committed to the survival of their physical bodies in their present form. And they need certain things from their environment in order to survive. All living things, then, have a point of view. They are striving to achieve something. They need nutrients. Having enough nutrients is good. Having too little or too much is bad. They need a certain amount of warmth. Having warmth within their optimum range is good, having too much or too little is bad. They may need sunlight, water, minerals, animal proteins, etc. Whatever their needs are, they are operating in an environment in order to meet these needs. They are invested. They need to find or create what enhances their survival, which, from their point of view is good, and avoid or destroy what threatens their survival, which from their point of view is bad. Whether or not they succeed may have a certain randomness to it, but there is nothing random about their lives, their bodies, or the way in which they interact with their environment.


Now to imagine that an "assembled" DNA molecule, by whatever tortured, impossible logic you use to imagine such an assemblage taking place, would suddenly start replicating by 'itself' and not only that, but that the new, replicated molecule would have exactly the same will and determination to replicate as its progenitor, and that it would have the same commitment to survive and to stay in tact until it was able to replicate, and that it would have the same determination to accumulate the materials that it needed for that replication, in other words, that it would suddenly be a living being with consciousness, will and intelligence (and by intelligence I mean, of course, not I.Q., but the ability to read its environment and adjust its behavior to get its survival needs met), is such a myopic conclusion that it could only be arrived at by people who have been so obsessed by their observations of the physical world that they have never stopped to notice that their desires, their emotions, their entire experience, that which they call their lives, has never been observed by anyone but themselves, and that these observations have been made by a self that is at once completely unobservable and the central and most obvious fact of their existence.


Physical bodies are not life. They are the material that life uses. Evolution as is commonly understood and studied is not about the evolution of life, but about the evolution of the equipment that life uses. If the first bodies on this planet were replicating molecules or single cells, if they first appeared in warm tide pools, in thermal vents on the ocean floor, embedded in rocks or in caves; they were not the origin of life. They were a result, not a cause. They were the result of the spiritual being that wanted to create an existence of seemingly separate entities. These molecules, or cells, were not the creators of life, but the first creations of the creator of life. They were instruments that fulfilled the intention of their creator.


Life as we know it, as we experience it and relate to it, is not bodies and biological processes; it is the spirit, the consciousness, will and intelligence that inhabits these bodies and is served by these processes. What do we mourn at a death? The body? The body is still there in the coffin. What do we celebrate at birth? A new body? If that were the case we would be as joyful at the birth of a stillborn baby as a live one.


So, 'The Origin of Life,' as is written in scientific text books, is not about the origin of life at all. It is about the first material, the first pieces of equipment that life, that consciousness, will and intelligence used. Will, consciousness and intelligence preceded physical bodies and biological processes. A discussion about how humans use consciousness, will and intelligence to create the entirety of the 'man-made' world, and something about how God, or the cosmic consciousness may have used Divine will and intelligence to create the natural world, is discussed in other posts.


*abiogenesis....living organisms arising spontaneously from non-living matter.



Any comments? Please let me hear from you.

1 comment:

Rudy Davis said...

I find your blog incredibly interesting and you are obviously a very intense thinker who seeks truth through reason and logic. I was not familiar with yin and yang and that article was also very eye opening. Ayn Rand is one of my favorite authors and philosophers, and I find your blogs very consistent with her writings, although you put an eastern flavor on some topics which makes me think about things in a new way. I too have written a web page discussing evolution and intelligent design, it is at http://www.rudyaarondavis.com/Intelligent_Design.html Keep up the great blogs, I enjoy your writings and am currently only about a small fraction into them and from what I have seen, I can tell that they will be testing my mind in new ways.