Skip

The origin of life?!
November 6, 2005 3:53 AM   Subscribe

The origin of life?! I heard from an authority in molecular biology today that a group of researchers funded by the Carnegie Institution and NASA believe they've discovered the origin of RNA, and with that, the origin of life. This new discovery grew out of NASA's Deep Impact mission to study the composition of comets. Specifically, they started investigating a kind of carbon that forms in layers, with each layer slighly offset from the previous one in a helix shape. Significantly, the thickness of these carbon layers corresponds with the thickness of each twist in a strand of RNA. It turns out that the individual building blocks of RNA are capable of bonding to this layered carbon when exposed to UV radiation. Once this has happened, apparently formaldehyde can then bond to the building blocks of RNA on the carbon "pattern", allowing the bonded RNA to slough off into the primordial soup. Over time, some of these RNA strands could fold and bond to themselves, forming DNA. Formaldehyde, the initial bonding material, would eventually be replaced by a more chemically sophisticated substance, creating the chemical bond that we observe today in DNA. Expect a paper on it to be released in approximately three months with all the details.
posted by insomnia_lj (66 comments total)

 
Wow! Great post - interesting stuff!
posted by newfers at 4:05 AM on November 6, 2005


Please note... I am not a molecular biologist. I heard the science of this explained once with no notes, and I can't remember all the details, such as the exact carbon compound in question -- some three letter abbreviation -- or the thickness in angstroms of the carbon layers. (I believe it was about 3.)

I also remember something about a readily-available volcanic substance that would be necessary for the RNA to eventually become DNA, but I can't remember which one. If anyone with more knowledge of these things than me wants to theorize or try to trigger my memory on these subjects, go ahead.
posted by insomnia_lj at 4:08 AM on November 6, 2005


The ID folks had better redouble their efforts. If their plan to dumb down future biologists isn't instituted quickly, scientists will be making life in labs before we know it!
posted by moonbiter at 4:18 AM on November 6, 2005


Science - peer review = rumor. Lots of papers die before the get submitted, or after peer review, or after publication. Maybe this will turn out to be true, but this kind of pre-peer-review rumor is how cold fusion started on its course to infamy.
posted by about_time at 4:23 AM on November 6, 2005


This sounds like a very interesting idea, but isn't this an FPP of a wikipedia article? (In other words, however interesting the idea, it isn't ready for an FPP if this is all you've got.)
posted by OmieWise at 6:08 AM on November 6, 2005


ok, y'all have a flag mechanism -- use it if you don't like this bit or you don't think it's a WORTH FPP. I come here for the ideas, and this bit gives me a great idea fix for the day. So I know how I'm inclined to flag this...
posted by lodurr at 6:13 AM on November 6, 2005


So... the process starts in a soup of carbon and formaldehyde. This produces RNA which will combine into DNA which is the basis for life.

But formaldehyde and its oxide, formic acid, are both strong anti-bacterials. How is the unpleasant option of formaldehyde preventing any substantial life evolving to be avoided?

Genuine question.
posted by NinjaPirate at 6:30 AM on November 6, 2005


They're just now discovering this?

How else do they think I built my own real, live girl? With an MSX micro and a huge stack of Playboy and Omni magazines?

Why are we wearing bras on our heads?
posted by loquacious at 6:46 AM on November 6, 2005


I still have a copy of my friend's Honor's thesis in Molecular Biology from 10 years ago in which he reviewed all the conditions necessary from which life might spring from a primordial soup. It was one of the most fascinating and erudite things I've ever read. Needless to say he got the University Medal, went on to do his Doctorate in self-splicing RNA molecules and now works at one of the most prestigious centres in the country.

That said, I agree with OmieWise. lodurr, what would you like to discuss? Self assembly? Formaldehyde? We kind of need something beyond hearsay, and I'm not trying to harangue insomnia_lj really, without which it's just a 'wow, this might be cool' kind of moment.
posted by peacay at 6:46 AM on November 6, 2005


So in summary, this guy told you that some other guys at a university found out something about RNA, but you neither have the expertise nor the appropriate links to sources to continue this game of science telephone. Good to know.
posted by drpynchon at 7:08 AM on November 6, 2005


Personally, I found the reading time justified by the "wow, this might be cool" kind of moment.

It's also a chance to see why the Republicans will be underfunding NASA even further for the next few years.

/pessimism
posted by pete newell at 7:54 AM on November 6, 2005


Heck I'm a molecular biologist and that's intersesting, or crazy. We'll see once it's published. "Cold Fusion" got published.

RNA is widely assumed to be the precursor of DNA because of it's enzymatic properties (self-splicing).

Central Dogma=DNA makes RNA makes Protein. Well, what made DNA? Something with enzymatic properties.

ninjapirate, maybe time did it. The atmosphere used to be methane and ammonia, if I remember correctly. If the molecules were hardy enough to survive while the atmosphere became oxygenated, who knows?

Damn, I gotta go to bed.
posted by toma at 7:54 AM on November 6, 2005


Still... its an interesting concept originating unexpectedly from a research project recently carried out - thanks for the heads up.

I'll be watching for how this pans out, even if it just turns out to be just an entertaining idea.
posted by rawfishy at 8:05 AM on November 6, 2005


Toma, "cold fusion" as an idea wasn't crazy. I was hanging at the time with a lot of nuclear engineers (many of which were fusion guys), and they all took it seriously based on the published description. What turned out to be bogus was the data.

So, yeah, the proof will be in the pudding. But it was a good "wow" moment, and I wouldn't have encountered it unless insomnia had posted it here. I value my 'wow' moments more than I value 'the integrity of the FPP'.
posted by lodurr at 8:08 AM on November 6, 2005


Very intresting.

Sure, it's all speculation at the moment, but that dosn't mean it's not fun to speculate :P

Basicaly what this means is that this substance 'could' have been a sort of catalyst that would form random strings bits of RNA. That is insanely intresting. People have shown that the smallest self-replicating RNA strand is pretty short.

A few self-replicating strands, and evolution through natural selection takes over.
posted by delmoi at 8:14 AM on November 6, 2005


Well, just the idea that popped into my head.

A common argument among the creationist/ID folks is that theories about the origins of life are untestable because no one was there. However, this kind of research shows that we can make and test hypotheses about primordeal biochemestry.

Central Dogma=DNA makes RNA makes Protein. Well, what made DNA? Something with enzymatic properties.

I don't know that I'd call this a dogma. Since retroviruses were discovered, it's been known that RNA->DNA can be done just as well as DNA->RNA.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:33 AM on November 6, 2005


Interesting post.
posted by caddis at 8:34 AM on November 6, 2005


This does not please the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
posted by sourwookie at 8:43 AM on November 6, 2005


"So in summary, this guy told you that some other guys at a university found out something about RNA..."

Actually, no. The person I talked to was very directly involved.

"How is the unpleasant option of formaldehyde preventing any substantial life evolving to be avoided?"

I think that's one of the fundamental hurdles that people have generally found in the first place... how do you create life when the soup du jour should've killed life dead? Well, if it were based on formaldehyde itself, then that might be a big part of the answer. The first strands of RMA weren't life as we know it today.

Keep in mind that all this took place over a very long period of time, so when conditions changed, life as we know it today might've gotten the chance to emurge.

Just wanted to say something before someone else did...
You're all pond scum. ;-)
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:54 AM on November 6, 2005


I don't know that I'd call this a dogma.

It's not a dogma these days, but it is called the "Central Dogma."
posted by rxrfrx at 9:03 AM on November 6, 2005


Well, searching around a bit provides numerous references to the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on the comet, including this interview with Dr. Carey Lisse of the Deep Impact team, which discusses among other things, "PAHs and The Origin of Life." So perhaps these PAHs are the suspected culprits here? But then again, I really have no clue about such things.
posted by washburn at 9:23 AM on November 6, 2005


In Richard Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker he discusses Graham Cairns-Smith's theory that the Earth's first replicators could have arisen from crystal formation in clays.
posted by D.C. at 9:30 AM on November 6, 2005


I just found it! The big piece of the puzzle I've been trying to figure out in my head about exactly what this molecular biologist told me.

Specifically, someone just referred me to this article over at Salon. This is exactly what the person in question was talking about. Also, read this article, and search through these links.

As it says in the Salon articke:
"somebody's got to come up with a mechanism that bridges the gap between a planet covered with a random stew of interesting molecules and the incredible complexity of RNA. . . Has Platts solved this problem? Hazen would like to think so, but he's far too cautious to say anything definitive. . . It's well known that much of the organic material from outer space to reach the prebiotic Earth came in the form of flat, sturdy molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. Platts began to see how PAHs could have been energized by solar radiation and self-assembled into stacks in the ancient ocean. Small, flat amino-acid molecules would begin to stick to the outside of this "stack of plates," and the whole array would begin to look "for all the world like the information-rich genetic sequence of DNA or RNA." This would have been nothing more than an intriguing, left-field notion if not for the fact that the space between these PAH layers is 0.34 billionths of a meter, which just happens to be precisely the distance between the ladder-like rungs of a DNA or RNA molecule. Somehow -- and Platts doesn't propose exactly how -- this interesting but haphazard assemblage of molecules became a coherent vector of biochemical information, broke free of its PAH host and folded over on itself to become a "true pre-RNA genetic molecule."

Apparently, they've come up with some good ideas since the article on how this primitive RNA broke free from the PAH host. Specifically, the formaldehyde solution.

posted by insomnia_lj at 9:30 AM on November 6, 2005


To make a long story short, I met Nick Platts, the Australian-English researcher in question. I didn't know his last name, as we spoke socially, while soaking in a hot tub.

Nice guy... interesting ideas!
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:50 AM on November 6, 2005


NinjaPirate: This process would have occurred a long time before the appearance of the first cells, so we don't need to worry about poor bacteria swimming in a sea of formaldehyde. The question that is being asked is this: self-replicating molecules are the fundamental basis of life. The first ones were probably RNA-like; RNA molecules could act as a template for copies of themselves to be made. The question is how was the first of these templates assembled?
The process described in the FPP is a way that vast numbers of RNA-like chains may have been generated, some of which may have been able to direct their own reproduction and become the ancestors of life. I've no idea how long it was until the first protein-containing cells appeared, but presumably that was in an environment with low concentrations of formaldehyde.
posted by nowonmai at 10:18 AM on November 6, 2005


Well that's something of an answer.
Thanks lj, nowonmai.
posted by NinjaPirate at 10:27 AM on November 6, 2005


I would like to see a controlled experiment to prove the hypothesis. If the paper has a good "lollipop" or "mineral surface" type experiment then that would be very convincing, otherwise, it's just an hypothesis with some post-hoc observations.

This is a very slipshod post, but it's very nice to see some enthusiasm for the RNA World Hypothesis. That's good.
posted by gsb at 10:45 AM on November 6, 2005


Fair enough.

But in a sense, this a kind of backward way of looking at the subject. The findings of this research actually conform to what has long been known about intermolecular interactions between aromatic compounds -- that these species like to arrange themselves in a handful of typical orientations, a common one being cofacial (and often offset) stacking, as is found in DNA helices.

Aromatic (or so-called "pi-pi") interactions aren't unique to DNA. To borrow from my thesis work, they have been known to influence the stereochemistry of organic reactions, the packing of aromatic molecules in crystals, porphyrin aggregation, the binding properties of polyaromatic macrocycles, the biological reduction of NADH, the intercalation of chemotherapeutic drugs into DNA, the recognition of mRNA by cap binding proteins, and countless other biomolecular processes. In a survey of the Cambridge Crystallographic Database, it was found that 60% of aromatic side chains in proteins are involved in aromatic pairs, 80% of which form networks of multiple interacting side chains. These interactions contribute largely to stabilizing the tertiary structure of proteins.

The point being that we've known that in general, not just with RNA/DNA, aromatics like to stack with an interplanar distance of about 4 angstroms as this is an energetically favorable conformation. So the fact that PAH molecules in space have also been found to stack, speaks to an even more vast subject than the origins of life -- it speaks to the fundamental forces that determine how electron clouds around atoms and molecules interact.

In the case of aromatic interactions, a complex interaction between weak non-covalent hydrogen bonds, van der Waals dispersion forces, Coulombic interactions, and solvent effects have all been found to contribute to the energetically favorable alignment of aromatic molecules. Since the late 80s, computational chemists have been modelling these interactions successfully on a more theoretical level using what we know about the laws of classical electrostatics and quantum mechanics.

I guess from my perspective, having spent a few years staring at stacked aromatics, the suggested mechanism certainly seems plausible, but not revelatory. The real questions are the ones that they have not answered as suggested by the salon piece: how did the molecules become vectors of biochemical information? But as usual, with only 3rd-hand pop-sci write-ups, we can only guess what their research actually entails.
posted by drpynchon at 11:09 AM on November 6, 2005


Let me nitpick: the topic should is more appropriately referred to as "biochemistry" or just "chemistry," rather than molecular biology. The molecular biology part would come later.
posted by shoos at 12:58 PM on November 6, 2005


drpynchon wins, BTW
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:18 PM on November 6, 2005


shoos writes "the topic should is more appropriately referred to as 'biochemistry' or just 'chemistry,' rather than molecular biology. The molecular biology part would come later."

Yeah, I agree - you can't quite have "biology" before the "bios" exists.
posted by nkyad at 1:45 PM on November 6, 2005


so.... Bird Flu might actually be Asteroid Flu?
posted by b1tr0t at 1:51 PM on November 6, 2005


But formaldehyde and its oxide, formic acid, are both strong anti-bacterials. How is the unpleasant option of formaldehyde preventing any substantial life evolving to be avoided?

Not that I'm necessarily in agreement with the theory in the FPP, but this setence is like saying "Cold hard space is strongly anti-life. How can you expect me to believe life evolved on earth in the presence of such an immense vaccum?"

That is, since we're talking about the precursors to life as we know it - which could simply be molecules that behave in a particular way, according to the laws of physics, that made them just that tiny bit more suitable for forming life thousands of years later, our knowledge of the anethmas of today's life isn't really useful.
posted by odinsdream at 2:37 PM on November 6, 2005


The real questions are the ones that they have not answered as suggested by the salon piece: how did the molecules become vectors of biochemical information?

That is a mystery to me. Ribosomes, complex balls of protein and ribosomal RNA, are what read messenger RNAs (the 'vectors of biochemical information') and produce protein. How RNA developed an informational purpose, the mechanics of the message being read, and the development of protein production are all whopping evolutionary mysteries to me.

When I was working on Ribosomes I never heard a good theory for these evolutionary triumphs. We all just agreed that Ribosomes were ridiculously complex. That, and almost all the steps were probably done by, or involved with, RNAs.

But it's been a while since I worked in this area, if anybody's got a current theory....
posted by toma at 3:48 PM on November 6, 2005


"...was hanging at the time with a lot of nuclear engineers"

A nuclear engineer is not a nuclear physicist.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:52 PM on November 6, 2005


Remember folks, you don't need protein for life, just RNA RNA can do everything that protein can do, but not as quickly. So you could have a cell with just RNA, RNA for information storage, and RNA for enzymes. A cell that started using proteins, with a proto-ribosome (made entirely out of RNA) would have an evolutionary advantage.

If this turned out to be true, it would entirely explain RNA-world abiogenesis. That doesn’t mean it's the only way it could have happened, but we would have a workable explanation of rocks ⇒ life.
posted by delmoi at 5:03 PM on November 6, 2005


So you could have a cell with just RNA, RNA for information storage, and RNA for enzymes.

Do you have an example of such a "cell," or are you just using the term in the absolutely loosest way possible?
posted by shoos at 5:31 PM on November 6, 2005


It's interesting, thinking back on my discussion with Nick Platts last night. As you might imagine, he talked about science, whereas I talked more about how the U.S. under current conditions can be socially very hostile to science. We talked about issues such as free, open access to information (which he greatly approves), the teaching of "creationist theory", and numerous other topics.

I literally had no idea until the very end of our conversation of the details and potential significance of what he was working on. We were soaking in the large outdoor hottub at Kiva, and I said something to the effect of...

"It's sad what's happening in this country. Back in the 1950s, there was a more widespread feeling in our country that scientific progress could bring about a better world, but so much of that optimism has died. Instead, it feels like we're slipping back culturally into the the dark ages. I suspect that could change, but it would take some kind of massive scientific breakthrough to do it, such as an inexpensive, non-polluting energy source or some thing major in genetics."

He responded, saying words to the effect of...
"But don't you think it could be some kind of breakthrough that showed how life was formed?"

I said...
"I don't think so. Someone could come up with an explanation for evolution that made it a thousand times more likely to have happened, but it wouldn't make that kind of difference. It would just make the denials of science that much louder."

It seems harsh, in retrospect, to have said that to him, now knowing who he is and some of the details of his work. I still think I'm right about how the deniers of science will treat this new theory, but I'd still like to hope that he's right. Maybe it could make a big difference.
posted by insomnia_lj at 6:15 PM on November 6, 2005


Metafilter: This is a very slipshod post, but it's nice to see some emthusiasm...
posted by pete newell at 6:53 PM on November 6, 2005


"Back in the 1950s, there was a more widespread feeling in our country that scientific progress could bring about a better world, but so much of that optimism has died. Instead, it feels like we're slipping back culturally into the the dark ages. I suspect that could change, but it would take some kind of massive scientific breakthrough to do it"

We're not slipping anywhere, really.

Your perceptions are accurate, sure, but the mechanism is not random - the theological and ideological driving forces are openly hostile to the Enlightenment. This is not idle speculation on my part.

Please, don't look for that sort of white knight here though - if you are waiting for a capitulation, by the foes of science, in the face of superior evidence you may be in for a nasty surprise.

Do you know your foe ? Or how to oppose them ?
posted by troutfishing at 7:08 PM on November 6, 2005


i'd personally love to be optimistic about the effect of science on society, following on from insomnia_lj's post. but i do believe that for most of the population science is just something that 'scientists' do, it has no bearing on their lives in any deep and meaningful sense. whether 'scientists' came up with a cure for cancer or new way to cook your lamb roast if it has no effect on the utilitarian balance of society then no one cares.

the cutting edge of science is inconceivable at times because unless one has been keeping up with recent events it can often be imperceivable from magic. i don't think understanding exactly how life was formed would better society, in fact i think it would further rally together the troops of religous fundamentalists for whom these very discoveries threaten their beliefs about the world.

someone cures cancer people care, but most people won't want to find out exactly how the science behind such a cure works, science is a tool and people wield it as such. if the tool is deemed useless or unsightly it is usually cast aside.

[pessimism is my speciality]
posted by 0bvious at 7:08 PM on November 6, 2005


To make things even more obvious :

Who here on this forum has the chops to demonstrate, in rigorous terms, the validity of the Copernican model of the Solar System ?

Very few.

We take that on faith.....or we once did.

In contemporary America that's changing. Literally - as an outgrowth of Bibiical literalism, known also as Presuppositionalism. And via advertising technology.

People can be made - with sufficient financing and high enough cloister walls - to believe anything at all.

Some who talk with the current US president hold, for example, that entire geographic regions can be possesed by demons.

[ Ted Haggard ]
posted by troutfishing at 7:24 PM on November 6, 2005


Score: justification for continued space exploration! Score: inarguable reality of evolution! Score: probability that life is ubiquitous throughout the universe! Awesome.
posted by slatternus at 7:32 PM on November 6, 2005


And another thing: As long as progress is happening somewhere in the world, I'm perfectly fine with people sucking on their thumbs and wrapping themselves in the blanket of Christian fairy tales. What people believe or don't believe in the USA does not shape the world - not anymore. The upside of Americans reverting into superstition and fundamentalism is that they're driving off the intellectual class necessary for the maintenance of superpower status. That slack (and the displaced brains and talent) will be picked up by other nations, and the quest for knowledge will go on.
posted by slatternus at 7:44 PM on November 6, 2005


troutfishing: "Who here on this forum has the chops to demonstrate, in rigorous terms, the validity of the Copernican model of the Solar System ?"

Even more to the point, tf, what percentage of the general, day-to-day public has the conceptual chops to grok the demonstration? I personally could do a pretty good job of translating it to lay terms by assisting myself with drawings, but I know a lot of people that wouldn't be able to wrap their heads around it just from the inability to visualize objects in 3-dimensional space interacting via gravitational acceleration forces.

(which kind of explains all the horrible drivers out there, since car performance is all about the physics)

The general public kind of has to accept science the same way they accept religion, it seems. Unless the Powers that Be, aka the Big Father Authority Figures they see on TV, push the validity of science over religious dogma, they're probably not going to buy into it.

Kind of a drag, really. The universe is so incredibly interesting, so much more so than 2000-year-old books about crazy tribes killing each other because some imaginary deity said they should.
posted by zoogleplex at 8:34 PM on November 6, 2005


Evolutionism is the tinfoil hat atheists wear to keep God out of their brainwaves.
posted by bevets at 9:37 PM on November 6, 2005


Ah, thank you for your imput, bevets.

OK, everyone! Discussion over! You don't have to go home but you can't stay here!
posted by brundlefly at 10:00 PM on November 6, 2005


imput = input.

The one dang time I don't spell check...
posted by brundlefly at 10:01 PM on November 6, 2005


Bevets, you no doubt appreciate domesticated and bred animals, and enjoy eating fruit that doesn't rot before it gets to market, and hearty loaves of bread. You enjoy the benefits of modern medicine... and yet, you think evolution is a bad thing.

Any reasonable Christian would have to conclude that mankind didn't create evolution. God did. And it was good, too.

Bevets, why do you hate and deny the works of God? Who are you to tell him how he should go about creating life?
posted by insomnia_lj at 11:09 PM on November 6, 2005


Tsk tsk, now he might not value your opinion, brundlefly...
posted by mek at 11:16 PM on November 6, 2005


Very interesting idea! Can't wait to see this play out. Keep in contact with your friend, or someone keep tabs on this and let us all know how it turns out.


Hey, bevets.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:21 PM on November 6, 2005


Who here on this forum has the chops to demonstrate, in rigorous terms, the validity of the Copernican model of the Solar System ?

Well, seeing as how the Copernican model incorporates fixed stars as well as assumes perfect circular orbits for the planets, no one can. However, I'm sure given enough effort and a good calculator, any schmoe could run some equations and see if the heliocentric world view holds up. Can we assume gravity is in effect, or does that have to be proved that too?
posted by TheSpook at 11:36 PM on November 6, 2005


I don't think it is provable. I haven't seen effective Science work that way.

It attempts to discover cause and effect, and then that work is added to the accepted observable universe. And then theories compete.

Held to rigors, I don't think scientific method can prove a theory, it can only disprove the others. Probably a remnant of "Only believe what you see." I can't see gravity or evolution. That doesn't mean the lazy IDers are right in the least.

And Descartes trumped all this and trusted only his existence because of his thoughts. The stick in the glass of water, all that.

I say that we've only got a few decades to live, we don't have the time to prove gravity beyond all doubts. Science creates a rigorous theoretical system that mimics what exists. When new observation obviates the current thing, better theories show. The obvious and fast-developing benefits to the world show that Science has been damn close to the truth. Anybody who protests is welcome to prove Science's folly by living in defiance of it; just tell us where to bury you next month.

As to that Godless Copernicus: If I could get the Voyager probes to turn around and send a sweeping panorama of the movements of the solar system, would that be enough?
posted by toma at 3:10 AM on November 7, 2005


Evolutionism is the tinfoil hat atheists wear to keep God out of their brainwaves.

insomnia_lj

Bevets, you no doubt appreciate domesticated and bred animals, and enjoy eating fruit that doesn't rot before it gets to market, and hearty loaves of bread. You enjoy the benefits of modern medicine... and yet, you think evolution is a bad thing.

I brought up 'evolutionism' and you are trying to change the topic to science.
posted by bevets at 6:12 AM on November 7, 2005


Comets 1, God 0
posted by CynicalKnight at 6:45 AM on November 7, 2005


Maybe it's just me, but it looks like bevets' sense of humour has evolved, somewhat.
posted by gsb at 8:54 AM on November 7, 2005


Interesting. Just one of the many many things I know very little about.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:30 AM on November 7, 2005


I was thinking the same thing, gsb. It actually took me a sec to catch it.
posted by brundlefly at 12:22 PM on November 7, 2005


Bevets,

While evolutionism is defined as advocacy of or belief in biological evolution, the practice of evolutionism existed before the formal theory of evolution itself and extends to today, with domestication of animals, creation of better crops, etc.

Humanity has been advocating, believing in, and applying the rudimentary principles and lessons of biological evolution for its own benefit for thousands of years, passed on from generation to generation, even though no formal scientific theory -- or even formal scientific method -- existed back then.

Do you honestly believe that the Theory of Evolution was somehow created whole cloth out of a void? No. It was created to explain the fundamental nature of life based on what could be observed and the lessons learned through the ages.

To deny the science behind evolution is to deny one of the most rigorously tested, most essential discoveries of humanity. You do not deny gravity, nor consider it outside the realm of what God intended, do you? Then why question the fundamentals of biology and of evolution?

No self-deceived self-link is going to save you from the fact that you're being intentionally myopic on this issue, no matter how many times you repeat it.

Belief in evolution does not deny God, nor does God deny evolution. You shouldn't either.
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:54 PM on November 7, 2005


No, bevets isn't kidding.

But linking to a site using scientists' conveniently assembled quotes, many of whom, like Mayr, Eldridge, and Gould, comment upon Evolution because they're Giants in Evolutionary Theory and have used the fossil record to make the theory better is ironic.

And Colin Patterson was talking about the same thing I already posted on, and Paul Feyerabend is a well-known philosopher and critic of Science, and his favorite movie was "King Kong" when I took his courses in the 80s, poor tortured ape.
posted by toma at 3:54 PM on November 7, 2005


Is there a "repel bevets-responders" card, too?
posted by mediareport at 9:08 PM on November 7, 2005


Belief in evolution does not deny God, nor does God deny evolution. You shouldn't either.
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:54 PM PST on November 7 [!]


One of the best statements I've seen on this topic.

I've never had a problem with God. He's always been ok by me so I don't give him any shit. His fan club however....
posted by Smedleyman at 2:01 AM on November 8, 2005


I've never had a problem with God. He's always been ok by me so I don't give him any shit. His fan club however....
I love that Smedleyman.
posted by caddis at 6:59 PM on November 8, 2005


The upside of Americans reverting into superstition and fundamentalism is that they're driving off the intellectual class necessary for the maintenance of superpower status.

The downside is that ignorant and superstitious folk armed with thousands of nuclear weapons and living in a culture glorifying violence and those who practice it can be downright dangerous.
posted by moonbiter at 4:56 AM on November 9, 2005


Bingo.

Now EVERYBODY back to work. No complaining. No fidgeting.
posted by toma at 4:45 PM on November 9, 2005


"Who here on this forum has the chops to demonstrate, in rigorous terms, the validity of the Copernican model of the Solar System ?"

At the very least, myself and any of the other few mefite alums of St. John's College who actually worked through Copernicus's work.

But I don't think this is a very good test of anything. From personal experience, I know astronomers for whom pre-modern Western astronomy, on its own terms, is baffling. It's not necessarily the case that difficulty increases in scientific concepts as time goes by. But more to the point, it's not the case that a strong comprehension of any given scientific description of reality is meaningless, or even diminished, if it's not accompanied by a comprehension of related or foundational descriptions. It's simply not, at the very least, practically possible to understand things to the degree to which we aspire.

Zoogleplex wrote:

"...what percentage of the general, day-to-day public has the conceptual chops to grok the demonstration? I personally could do a pretty good job of translating it to lay terms by assisting myself with drawings, but I know a lot of people that wouldn't be able to wrap their heads around it just from the inability to visualize objects in 3-dimensional space interacting via gravitational acceleration forces."

I think that's not the best way to describe Copernican astronomy. But I mostly want to contest your implicit claim that a strong mental spatial facility is necessary to comprehend these ideas. I assure you that there's quite a few working astronomers today whose spatial abilities, in this sense, are very poor. It is true that Ptolemaic up to Copernican astronomy relies a great deal on spatial visualization because the Greek mathematical tradition is deeply geometrical and not symbolic. I have very, very strong spatial conceptualization abilities and because of this, Western pre-Copernican astronomy was almost trivially easy for me where it was quite difficult for others. But, also being the product of modern mathematical education, with its basis in symbolic abstraction, I am quite aware that my strength is also a weakness. That is, my strong facility with spatial comprehension is a weakness where spatial intuition is misleading. Which is the case with much of modern physics.

When I was younger, I thought it was possible to really and truly understand something. I think I was aware that complete comprehension was an unreachable ideal, but even so I expected that it was an approachable ideal. Now, I don't see things that way. For a given purpose, there is a comprehension of a thing or process that is most appropriate and useful—but it's not necessarily the case that that comprehension is useful for another purpose with regard to the same process or thing. Determining how well someone "understands" something is a tricky endeavor because we don't have, and perhaps can't have, strong, rigorous definitions of the words "understand" and "thing".
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:48 PM on November 12, 2005


« Older Lies and the Lying Liars.... you know the rest.   |   What's harder than rock? Diamond! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post