Origin of Earth Life, Belief/Disbelief in Supernaturalism
(Top Posts - Philosophy (FREELOVER) - 031208 to 032108)

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Some comments and responses in a series of
posts from March 12-21, 2008:

Someone wrote ...

> What empirical evidence would you accept?

> To wit: You believe that Hamlet was the intentional
> product of a mind, rather than simply a product of
> time plus chance. Whether or not you like the story,
> you can see the evidence of purpose and creative
> intelligence in the arrangement of the letters into
> a message.


Strictly speaking, the origins of Hamlet
are well-documented, but the murky ori-
gins of most religious texts, not well-
documented, dominated by anonymous
authors, and oft-times claimed to be the
words of a deity (different religions have
different deities claimed to be behind the
competing religious texts).

Also, the origins of Shakespeare, we can
expose relevant information regarding his
biological parents, and the environment
he was raised in and influenced by, but
it's when you get to his grand-parents, and
their parents, and so on and so forth back
through history, the origins begin to get
harder to 'nail down' regarding compre-
hensive details, giving way to generalized
information ...

... back to the origins of all the lineages
which contributed to his ancestry and to
all the events that transpired since homo
sapiens left Africa ...

... and before, back to all the evolution
that occurred after -and- prior to the split
with the chimpanzee line ...

... and before (so on and so forth back to
over 500 million years ago, into the area
of the origin of complex multi-cellular life,
and before, back to all the evolutionary
stages that transpired for billions of years
on earth, and before, -if- one wishes to
explore the theories regarding a signifi-
cant part of the origin of life transpiring
naturalistically in regions of space far
removed from earth).

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Someone wrote:

> But within your own DNA is a message far more
> complex - the product of a greater creative intelli-
> gence, the result of which arguably has a greater
> purpose.


So, your claim is that in my DNA is a far
more complex language which is the pro-
duct of a greater creative intelligence. I
assume your claim is related to all DNA,
not just mine, and includes the DNA of
viruses, bacteria, roaches, mites, mos-
quitoes, flies, fungi, spores, rats, weeds,
and all other life on planet earth.

Any evidence to support your claim?

Any evidence of a greater creative intelli-
gence? Certainly, you must realize that the
theories regarding DNA do not include any
mention of a greater creative intelligence,
and that, in fact, the greater creative intelli-
gence assertions derive directly from an-
cient religious myths, created when the
existence of viruses was unknown, when
the existence of and profound impact of
bacteria was unknown, when the existence
of DNA (discovered in 1952) was unknown.

As for the origins of the supposed greater
creative intelligence, any evidence to pre-
sent in that regard? I didn't think so.

Regarding the origins of DNA, perhaps your
greater creative intelligence claims should
evolve to include the likely precursor of
DNA, RNA, and while you're at it, do try
to include something along the lines of any
evidence whatsoever that a life-(on earth)-
origins' greater creative intelligence was at
play on earth, won't you?

Note, religious almighty beings claims won't
be considered as evidence -for- your suppos-
edly creative intelligence claims, but instead,
will be considered evidence that it's religious
myth that resides at the core of your 'theory'.

Cautionary note -- the following requires the
reader to actually think about the matter, and
as there are no references to magic beings or
greater creative intelligences, you're simply
left with a natural causation residing at the
core of the life origin issues.

Keep in mind, we're talking about billions of
years since the innumerated events occurred
as well as innumerable extinction events oc-
curring prior to now, quite far removed from
the mythical 'creations' of ancient religious
texts (one of which, the biblical one, was once
claimed to have occurred slightly over 6,000
years ago) ...

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March 10, 2008

How Did Life Get Started?

Astrobiology Magazine
  http://tinyurl.com/yopwu7
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Excerpts:

How did life get started? A growing body
of evidence favors an "RNA World" as an
early stage of life, before DNA assumed
its present role as the molecule that stores
genetic information.

The origin of life remains the deepest of
enigmas: How did this supremely complex
phenomenon get started? The explanation
historically has revolved around DNA, the
genetic molecule that serves as a pattern
for building proteins. Proteins, in turn, form
enzymes, which catalyze, or facilitate, bio-
chemical reactions, including the construc-
tion of DNA.

And thus the paradox: Genes require enzymes,
but enzymes require genes. Which came first?

After a long focus on DNA, many life scien-
tists are coalescing around a concept called
the RNA World, which postulates that life
began with RNA, which, like DNA, is built
of chains of molecules called nucleotides.

Our understanding of RNA has come a long
way since the 1960s, when the "central dogma"
of molecular biology held that RNA was a
simple messenger-boy that carried DNA's
information to ribosomes, the cellular factor-
ies where proteins get built.

Around 1980, biologists realized that not only
could RNA transfer information, but, like pro-
teins, it could also process chemicals - it could
catalyze reactions. That ability to do both jobs
suggested that RNA, not DNA, could be the
primary molecule in life.

DNA stores information "like a computer hard
drive," says Niles Lehman, professor of chem-
istry at Portland State University, "but beyond
that, DNA doesn't do anything. RNA, on the
other hand, can fold into a 3-D structure, that
also allows it to catalyze a chemical reaction."
(As Lehman indicates, to perform its catalytic
function, an enzyme requires a specific three-
dimensional shape.)

Still, even if RNA can catalyze reactions, in
modern cells it gets its information from DNA.
So how could RNA have been assembled in
a epoch before DNA existed? In a series of
recent experiments, Lehman may have found
an answer: Individual units, or "nucleotides,"
of the RNA chain can "self-assemble" spon-
taneously.

Lehman and colleagues started their experi-
ments by removing from a bacterium an RNA
molecule that works as a self-replicating en-
zyme, cut it into four chunks, each about 50
nucleotides long, and then watched the chunks
reassemble themselves into a working enzyme.
"We mix the fragments together in salt water
at 48 degrees, have lunch, and come back, and
we have self-replicating RNAs in the test tube,"
Lehman says.

Obviously, reassembling an enzyme you have
stolen from a bacterium and then diced into
pieces does not prove that a working enzyme
could have formed in the prebiotic world, but
there was a method to Lehman's madness.

Fifty bases is something of a "magic number,"
says Lehman, noting that chemist James Ferris
of Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute has been
able to string together 40 to 50 individual
RNA nucleotides using clay as the catalyst.
It's conceivable that this could have happened
in the prebiotic world as well.

Ferris said that Lehman's self-assembly exper-
iment answered a big unknown remaining from
his study, which produced strings of RNA that
were still too short to function as a catalyst.
"One of the big questions is how we would
get these longer RNAs that will be needed to
catalyze reactions, and this sounds like an inter-
esting possibility."

If, as these experiments suggest, the RNA world
begins with three steps (prebiotic synthesis of
the individual RNA nucleotides, assembly of
the intermediate chains, and then final assembly
into longer chains) Ferris and Lehman have
demonstrated steps two and three. However
Ferris notes that nobody has yet demonstrated
a prebiotic synthesis for the individual nucleo-
tide bases from which he constructed the RNA
strands.

Still, Lehman says the new results suggest that
RNA can achieve enough complexity to transi-
tion into the biological realm, especially since
the RNA begins to replicate itself. At first, the
RNA fragments join end to end, but the com-
pleted strands then begin to catalyze further
assembly of RNA. This "autocatalysis" accel-
erates the reaction, but even more important,
Lehman notes, "Forming more of itself is a
critical essence of life."

William Scott, an associate professor of chem-
istry and biochemistry who works on RNA at
the University of California at Santa Cruz,
commented that the self-assembly of fragments
brings the RNA World one step closer to ac-
ceptance. "I think the idea that complex mole-
cules can be assembled from RNA fragments
instead of just RNA nucleotides is a very rea-
sonable one."

As the RNA World hypothesis becomes more
plausible, RNA is gaining more respect. For
one thing, it's known to be ubiquitous, both
as a temporary storehouse for information, and
since 1980, as a catalyst. "The core of the ribo-
'some, which makes proteins, is catalytic RNA,"
says Lehman, "and all cells have ribosomes, so
it's absolutely fair to say that catalytic RNA is
manifest in every single cell that we know."

Lehman's work was funded by a grant from
NASA's Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology
program.

- - - end of article - - -

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Someone wrote:

> What evidence. [...]

God fans (ecumenical ones, the ones that
believe that any God will do, and the ones
dedicated to a particular God or God
group) often sight their belief that belief
for the sake of belief (aka 'faith'), no evi-
dence required, is OK with them, so long
as it supports their religious 'faith'. Also,
rather than citing nature as the causality
regarding aspects of being they like, they'll
cite God and issue claims that "God did
it."

Regarding aspects of being they dislike,
some of the religious cite God, some cite
nature, and many blame human sin as the
religious oft-times tend to be into guilt
trips.

The fact that there's no evidence that any
God exists outside of human imagination?
Doesn't seem to register with them, as
their fallback, "believe and get eternal
life" tends to override skepticism, doubt,
disbelief, and need for evidence.

Speaking of evidence, here's a primer on
the evidence for nature underlying all that
exists:

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Science and Creationism
(A View from the National
Academy of Sciences)
  http://www.nap.edu/html/creationism/index.html

Introduction
  http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=6024&page=1
Excerpt: ... the claims of creation science
lack empirical support and cannot be mean-
ingfully tested. ... the teaching of evolution
should be an integral part of science instruc-
tion, and creation science is in fact not science
and should not be presented as such in science
classes. ...

The Origin of the Universe, Earth, and Life
  http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=6024&page=3
Excerpt: ... For those who are studying the
origin of life, the question is no longer whether
life could have originated by chemical processes
involving nonbiological components. The ques-
tion instead has become which of many pathways
might have been followed to produce the first
cells. ...

Evidence Supporting Biological Evolution
  http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=6024&page=9
Excerpt: ... The following list presents the order in
which increasingly complex forms of life appeared:

Life Form ... Millions of Years Since First Known Appearance (Approximate)

Microbial (procaryotic cells) ... 3,500

Complex (eucaryotic cells) ..... 2,000

First multicellular animals ......... 670

Shell-bearing animals ............... 540

Vertebrates (simple fishes) ....... 490

Amphibians ............................. 350

Reptiles ................................... 310

Mammals ................................ 200

Nonhuman primates ................... 60

Earliest apes ............................. 25

Australopithecine
ancestors of humans .................... 5

Modern humans ........................... 0.15 (150,000 years)


...

Human Evolution
  http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=6024&page=23
Excerpt: ...  Based on molecular and genetic data,
evolutionists favor the hypothesis that modem Homo
sapiens, individuals very much like us, evolved from
more archaic humans about 100,000 to 150,000
years ago. They also believe that this transition oc-
curred in Africa, with modem humans then dispers-
ing to Asia, Europe, and eventually Australasia and
the Americas.

Discoveries of hominid remains during the past three
decades in East and South Africa, the Middle East,
and elsewhere have combined with advances in mol-
ecular biology to initiate a new discipline—molecular
paleoanthropology. This field of inquiry is providing an
ever-growing inventory of evidence for a genetic affinity
between human beings and the African apes.

...

Conclusion
  http://www.nap.edu/html/creationism/conclusion.html
Excerpt: ... Creationism, intelligent design, and
other claims of supernatural intervention in the
origin of life or of species are not science because
they are not testable by the methods of science.

These claims subordinate observed data to state-
ments based on authority, revelation, or religious
belief. Documentation offered in support of these
claims is typically limited to the special publi-
cations of their advocates. These publications do
not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of
new data, new interpretations, or demonstration
of error. This contrasts with science, where any
hypothesis or theory always remains subject to
the possibility of rejection or modification in the
light of new knowledge.

No body of beliefs that has its origin in doctrinal
material rather than scientific observation, inter-
pretation, and experimentation should be admis-
sible as science in any science course.

Incorporating the teaching of such doctrines into
a science curriculum compromises the objectives
of public education. Science has been greatly
successful at explaining natural processes, and
this has led not only to increased understanding
of the universe but also to major improvements
in technology and public health and welfare.

The growing role that science plays in modern
life requires that science, and not religion, be
taught in science classes.
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Someone wrote:

> [Pascal's Wager + attempts at estimating
> happiness levels for persons not himself.]

Pascal's Wager simply errs due to the
fact there is no evidence any afterlife
exists, and there's no evidence that
doing X gets one to such a desirable
afterlife place, and there's no evidence
that not doing X gets one to a fate else-
where.

Mohammed's Wager likewise fails, as
does any Hindu's Wager simply due to
the fact the overwhelming evidence is
that mythical beings and places are 'make
believe', not realities, and that people cry
at funerals not because they're going to
have to spend time away from people
they plan to meet up with later, but in-
stead, because they deeply miss the
dearly departed, and they fear that the
deaths of others, + their own death, end
up in the same exact place for everyone,
that being non-existence.

As for the hope for an alternative, the
efforts of the faithful to prop that notion
up fails when the realities of life prove
there is no evidence of any escape, for
anyone, no matter what kind of life they've
led or how many nice things people say
about them after they've died, and are, in
my estimation, far removed from comfort
for the bereaved when preacher's assert
the deceased are in a better place.

Pretense doesn't yield happiness, it yields
delusion and deceit.

As for my happiness, I appreciate your
concern for my lot in life, but my fate,
bettered by a couple of drugs, is not one
of unhappiness, presently, even though
I haven't taken the drugs for some time.
Happiness? I was happiest when married,
and perhaps, some day, I'll take that risk
again, but in any case, I do expect that
when (if) my type 1 diabetes is cured,
my happiness will improve, but I cannot
know that 'til it happens.

Hopefully, with the efforts of scientists
who are endeavoring to cure type 1 dia-
betes and other diseases, millions will
some day proclaim "Free at last, Free at
last, thanks to science, we're Free at last!"

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Someone wrote:

> You could include everyone and pray that the doctors
> and scientists discover a cure.  :)

Positive thoughts and actions regarding
finding a cure (which do not support
thoughts and actions opposed to finding
a cure), appreciated.

One would be justified to wonder if the
efforts of (some/many of) the religious
which have been opposed to scientific
advances in some areas places their
thoughts and actions in an area of net
opposition.

Bush, for example, his religious views
killed off U.S. government funding of
embryonic stem cell research, drastically
curtailing research in an area many deem
critical towards finding a cure. His effort
did nothing to 'save' all the discarded em-
bryos from fertilization clinics from being
tossed into trash bins -or- from being ter-
minated as a result of the effort to have
a successful fertilization (as a high number
of embryos fail to implant during an artifi-
cial fertilization process).

[by the way, others, like the state of
California, have stepped in where
the U.S. government, via Bush, have
not]

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Someone wrote:

> The irony here is that people like you [...] as "religious" in
> propagating your non-religious views as the people you
> despise.

I aspire to love everyone, although some
are much more of a challenge to love, at
times, and in that, I am not as strong, yet,
as I desire to be. People that harm others,
for example, I struggle to love them, while
at the same time I understand that their
actions simply result from their genetic
make-up + the manner in which their
memes led to their actions.

I oppose anti-humanism wherever it exists,
and in ancient religious texts and in many
modern-day sermons leveraged off of those
ancient texts, anti-humanism is a persisting
problem.

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Someone wrote:

> [...] accuses us of being "religious" in propogating our
> non-religious beliefs

> First of all, a valid definition of religious is:  the rules, forms
> of  worship etc of a religion.  We Atheists do not follow rules,
> forms or worship, we are free thinkers.

The term 'religious' is also defined as "relating
to or manifesting faithful devotion to an ack-
nowledged ultimate reality or deity".

Strictly speaking, of course, we have no devo-
tion to any deity, and we reject the pontifica-
tions of religions which devote extraordinary
energy towards belief in such a creator/insti-
gator/punishing/rewarding ultimate being (or
beings).

As for 'ultimate reality', I suspect most deity
disbelievers perceive that 'ultimate reality'
resides in the realm of the natural, -but- some
(agnostics, most notably) leave room for some
kind of deity maybe existing in some form, be
it close to a traditional religion -or- far removed
from any traditional religion.

Any positive interpretation of the word 'religious',
along the lines of loving, giving, caring, sharing,
noting the revelations of science albeit acknow-
ledging that the door to discovery is never closed,
admiration for search for truth unhindered by dog-
matic close-mindedness, disrespect for and oppo-
sition to anti-humanism, acceptance of the core
principle that naturalism shapes us and binds us
to a fate by which only knowledge, understand-
ing, exploration, discovery, and invention can lead
to a betterment of the human condition ...

... all that and much more (see FREELOVER
Principles and Faith in Pro-Humanism), -if- one
wishes to call that 'religious', I accept that acco-
lade -if- the word is defined in that way. -If-
defined in a traditional religious way, pertaining
to worship, prayer, immortality promises, ancient
threats, obviously I wouldn't fit within that defini-
tion.

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