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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Origin of life research timeline: From "leaving it to God" to "leaving it to our grandchildren"?

Okay, okay, I haven't written much lately. Neither has Shakespeare. Admittedly, he has a better excuse. I am going to blog a bunch of stories today, then go back to the consuming neuroscience book.

A friend shared with me a timeline for origin of life research. It pretty much tells you why IF you see news headlines like "Origin of life SOLVED!", expect that "big solution" to sink out of sight quietly. If your local U bio prof tells you, it's a no-brainer how life originated, well, what he mainly needs to explain is not how life originated but why the experts are not as optimistic as he is.

1988 Klaus Dose, Director of the Institute for Biochemistry at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany candidly admitted in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews :
More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present, all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in a stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.

1992 Dr. Werner Arber, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Basel and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1978, stated:

Although a biologist, I must confess that I do not understand how life came about. . . . I consider that life only starts at the level of a functional cell. The most primitive cell may require at least several hundred different specific biological macro-molecules. How such already quite complex structures may have come together, remains a mystery to me. The possibility of the existence of a Creator, of God, represents to me a satisfactory solution to this problem.

1998 Trends in Ecology and Evolution (March 3) contained a report on a NASA-sponsored workshop called "Evolution: A Molecular Point of View." Many of the big names in origins research were present and a lot of interesting points of view were discussed. The author of the article noted:

"Sherwood Chang opened the program with the cautious reminder that any canonical scenario for the stepwise progression toward the origin of life is still a 'convenient fiction.' That is, we have almost no data to support the historical transitions from chemical evolution to prebiotic monomers, polymers, replicating enzymes, and finally cells."

2004 Andy Knoll, a professor of biology at Harvard and author of Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Life, was interviewed (May 3) as part of a PBS NOVA program. He is described as a person who has "exhaustively investigated" the origin of life. Here are excerpts from an interview:

NOVA: In a nutshell, what is the process? How does life form?

Knoll: The short answer is we don't really know how life originated on this planet. There have been a variety of experiments that tell us some possible roads, but we remain in substantial ignorance.

NOVA: So at this point we're seeing the origins of life through a glass darkly?

Knoll: If we try to summarize by just saying what, at the end of the day, do we know about the deep history of life on Earth, about its origin, about its formative stages that gave rise to the biology we see around us today, I think we have to admit that we're looking through a glass darkly here. . . .

. . . We don't know how life started on this planet. We don't know exactly when it started, we don't know under what circumstances.

It's a mystery that we're going to chip at from several different directions. . . .

NOVA: Will we ever solve the problem?

Knoll: I don't know. I imagine my grandchildren will still be sitting around saying that it's a great mystery, but that they will understand that mystery at a level that would be incomprehensible to us today.

2005 The July 1 issue of Science included in its top 25 questions facing science "How and where did life on earth arise?"

2005 The article "Jump-Starting a Cellular World: Investigating the Origin of Life, from Soup to Networks" in the November 15, 2005 issue of PLOS (Public Library of Science) included:

"But beyond assuming the first cell must have somehow come into existence, how do biologists explain its emergence from the prebiotic world four billion years ago?

"The short answer is that they can't, yet."
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

The Pope using the term "intelligent design" to describe the Catholic view of origins, go here.

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams attacked by Darwinist, hits back. Will he now cartoon on the subject?

"Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

Roseville, California, lawyer Larry Caldwell is suing over the use of tax money by Darwin lobby groups to promote religious views that accept Darwinian evolution (as opposed to ones that don’t). I’m pegging this one as the next big story. See also the ruling on tax funds. Note the line that the “free speech” people take.
How to freak out your bio prof? What happened when a student bypassed the usual route of getting frogs drunk and dropping them down the chancellor’s robes, and tried questioning Darwinism instead.

Christoph, Cardinal Schonbon is not backing down from his contention that Darwinism is incompatible with Catholic faith, and Pope Benedict XVI probably thinks that’s just fine. Major US media have been trying to reach rewrite for months, with no success.

Museum tour guides to be trained to "respond" to those who question Darwinism. Read this item for an example of what at least one museum hopes to have them say.

World class chemist dissed at Catholic university because he sympathizes with intelligent design.

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