Tuesday 10 April 2012

Law of Biogenesis?

A fragment from a website called Truth-is-life:
"If you accept the law of biogenesis as reality, you accept a major pillar of creation science that Pasteur, a major creationist opponent of Darwin, conclusively proved. If biogenesis is scientific then creation has scientific support. "
I am reminded of faith healing charlatans that claim their therapies use quantum theory.  Quantum theory explains the actions of minute particles and does not show much or any effect on the human scale of things.  In the same way, Pasteur did show that a sterile organic solution, in a glass container, did not spontaneously produce macroscopic life.  It probably did not produce any life, but Pasteur would not be able to 'conclusively prove' that as microscopes were limited in resolving power at the time.

"A scientific law or scientific principle is a concise verbal or mathematical statement of a relation that expresses a fundamental principle of science, like Newton's law of universal gravitation. A scientific law must always apply under the same conditions, and implies a causal relationship between its elements.
A law differs from a scientific theory in that it does not posit a mechanism or explanation of phenomena: it is merely a distillation of the results of repeated observation. As such, a law is limited in applicability to circumstances resembling those already observed, and is often found to be false when extrapolated."

This is important as Pasteur studied a limited amount and variety of materials  amount of material for a limited time.  He did not have - and had no reason at the time to include - rock faces that could work as catalysts.  Some catalysts, notably meteor fragments, are known to change the chirality ratios of amino acids formed on their faces.

There is no explanation for how life originated from non-living materials and it seems likely that there never will be.  This is not to say that it could not happen, but that the evidence is transient and there is no reason to imagine it would last.  The recipe for creating life may include "simmer  for a hundred thousand years".

I don't want to argue by metaphor, but imagine someone questioning your (or my) ancestry.  Here is my claim:  If you cannot name all of your 32 great-great-great grandparents (five generations back), then those of your 16 great-great grandparents (four generations back) were created by God.  This claim is almost impossible to disprove.  If you find it disprovable, then let me go back ten generations to your 1024 ancestors.  At some point, the genetics would be inconclusive and you would be utterly unable to prove your ancestry was not created by God.  And yet, even creationists would say that only two people were created by God and that was a lot more than ten generations ago.

More at The Frame Problem and Talk Origins.

Status:  The point is, as far as the possibility of an ancient origin of life from non-life, The Law of Biogenesis does not apply and people using it are either innocently ignorant or deliberately deceptive.
I may need to reread the truth-is-life article.   It contains gems like:
CONCLUSION Many of the giants in medicine--Edward Jenner, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, Selman Waksman--did pioneering work (including in genetics and antimicrobial resistance) while either rejecting Darwinism or ignoring it altogether.

This after pointing out that Pasteur was a contemporary of Darwin's, as was Mendel.  It would be better to say that they were unaware of Darwin's work, rather than that they rejected or ignored it.  This is certainly true of Mendel, whose work only came to light after his death, while Pasteur's famous experiment took place in the same year as Darwin's theory was published.

I am not sure what Darwinism is.  Some proponents of self-directed evolution (more on this below the extended quote) were involved, but Wikipedia suggests it started with Mendel's work.

The origins of the concept of eugenics began with certain interpretations of Mendelian inheritance,

...as the Eugenics movement came to the United States, the churches, especially the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and the Episcopalians, embraced it.Methodist churches around the country promoted the American Eugenics Society “Fitter Family Contests” wherein the fittest families were invariably fair skinned and well off. Methodist bishops endorsed one of the first books circulated to the US churches promoting eugenics. Unlike the battles over evolution and creationism, both conservative and progressive church leaders endorsed eugenics.  The liberal Rev. Harry F. Ward, professor of Christian ethics and a founder of the Methodist Federation for Social Service, writing in Eugenics, the magazine of the American Eugenic Society, said that Christianity and Eugenics were compatible because both pursued the “challenge of removing the causes that produce the weak. Conservative Rev. Clarence True Wilson, the General Secretary of the Methodist Episcopal Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals, and the man chosen to debate Clarence Darrow after William Jennings Bryan’s death, believed that only the white Aryan race was the descendent of the lost tribes of Israel.

The problem with laying all the blame for eugenics on evolutionists (and self-directed evo proponents) is that artificially altering an organism's characteristics was not what Darwin proposed.  He did use 'artificial selection' as a comparison for what evolution could do, but did not invent farming techniques or animal husbandry.  A related problem is that the author of the Truth-is-life article accepts micro-evolution, a subset of which could be said to include the goals of eugenicists. 

Just as our understanding of how atoms are put together does not mean we need to make atomic bombs, knowing how evolution works does not mean we have to change animal characteristics.  The 'Darwin-caused-eugenics' argument has nothing to do with whether Darwin's scientific claims are correct.  It seems a disgusting attempt to confuse the issue.

1 comment:

  1. The author of "Truth-is-life" read this post and added some comments … on Facebook. Again, I feel I should not name him, but also I do want to respond to his comments. He also commented on a few other blog-posts and I am upset that he posted them as one response: one of my goals for using this blog is to keep each subject small and digestible, rather than overwhelmingly large. He did not write an overwhelmingly large comment this time but I feel he has used the Gish Gallop strategy in the past (where you deliver a huge amount of information, on a wide variety of subjects, leaving your opponent unable to respond to them all).

    Again, he did not do use the Gish Gallop this time. And, he is busy with other crises in his life, as are we all, and I cannot expect him to answer in depth right away and in precisely the manner I ask. Some of his responses are below in italics and mine have been added as needed.

    1) You have said that biogenesis is not a law. It most definitely is by any normal understanding of the term scientific law that I've read.
    To start with; No, I did not say biogenesis is not a law in my post anywhere in any way. I did say the law was limited in scope and did not apply possible ancient origins.

    I will take this opportunity to dig again into the original quote. "If you accept the law of biogenesis as reality, you accept a major pillar of creation science that Pasteur, a major creationist opponent of Darwin, conclusively proved."
    My point was that Pasteur did not conclusively prove that an ancient origin of life from non-life was possible or at least not impossible due to Pasteur's work. This is true for the reasons I stated but also because one can not ever prove a negative.

    If you wanted to prove there were no left-handed people in the world, you would need to ask around ten people if they were left-handed. This trait exists in about 10% of the world's population. You might need to ask more than ten, but I lets accept the percentage as the determining number.

    If you want to prove that albinism does not exist, you need to survey 17,000 people (again, or more) before you would likely find someone to disprove your claim.

    There are events that are even rarer. Pasteur's work with boiled vegetable matter, for theoretical reasons as well as evidence, almost definitely did show that life cannot arise from such starting materials. But even here, he cannot, as a matter of logic, be said to have "Conclusively proved" the point. You cannot prove a negative.

    A related point, described in my post, is that scientific laws are limited in scope. One Law in physics states that matter cannot be created nor destroyed, yet this is observed to happen all the time at the minutely scales. Sub-atomic particles create and send other sub-atomic particles as they approach one another, then destroy them. Pasteur did show that -almost conclusively- that boiled vegetable matter could not produce life spontaneously, but he did not test any of the conditions that existed a billion years ago.