Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Is Abiogenesis Falsifiable?


(With acknowledgements to Commenter William Bradford)


The theory of Abiogenesis is closely related to the Theory of Evolution. In many text book treatments of evolution abiogenesis is included within the category of evolution in its broadest meaning.

Abiogenesis is the natural extension of the principle of common descent allowing a chance/time bridge to be built between inanimate and animate matter.

Abiogenesis is the hypothesis that it is possible to account for the origin of life either on the earth or somewhere else in the universe by chance without the intervention of pre-existing intelligence… in other words without design.

Materialists have two options (it seems to me.)

1. Abiogenesis is probable enough to have occurred in this universe… and in fact it has.
2. Abiogenesis is not probable enough to have occurred in this universe and so there must be multiple universes and we simply happen to be in one of the universes that spawned life.

Option 2 (it seems to me) should be excluded from science because by definition we cannot have any evidence of the existence of another universe. Which leaves only option 1.

What does a materialist do if 1 is actually falsified?

Can science in principle allow 1 to be falsified? If so how? If not is Abiogenesis really science?

35 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of your silliest posts yet, Andrew!

There is no Theory of Abiogenesis!

Abiogenesis is a field of science, not a theory. It contains a large number of competing hypotheses, each of which could, individually be falsified. But Abiogenesis as a field can only be 'falsified' if every conceivable hypothesis within its field has been falsified.

8:05 pm  
Anonymous Mike said...

Hi Andrew,
abiogenesis is theory of life from a non living source,it can also be a field of study.
The probability of abiogenesis is best demonstrated,in our advanced technological state by crying out in a desperate and loud voice "Panspermia,Panspermia!"

9:38 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous,
You said:
"There is no Theory of Abiogenesis!"

The word theory is a word which can be used with a large number of different senses.

If I used it incorrectly here then I am at least nor alone:
Evowiki
Wikipedia
Talk Origins

And lots more... I trust you are seeking to have these sources corrected too.

Do you believe therefore that the hypothesis that life arose as a highly improbable series of chance events from non- life is not falsifiable? It is a given fact.. a sort of basic axiom of scientific thinking?

10:20 pm  
Blogger William Bradford said...

Abiogenesis is a field of science, not a theory. It contains a large number of competing hypotheses, each of which could, individually be falsified. But Abiogenesis as a field can only be 'falsified' if every conceivable hypothesis within its field has been falsified.

Bradford: In other words one can never falsify the idea that life arises from non-life (in the absence of intelligent input). Every proposed hypothesis associated with testing indicates that chemical reactions outside cellular envirnoments lead to at most a biochemical found in cells. There are no biological systems produced, no encoded nucleic acids or even functional proteins in evidence.

Far from being silly the post points out how seriously deficient standard theories are at explaining life's origins. The reigning theory is protected from a means of falsification. Abiogenesis is more faith than science.

3:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The word theory is a word which can be used with a large number of different senses."

This comment is irrelevant for two reasons:
1) The "sense" that "theory" was being used in was crystal clear: that of a scientific theory! Abiogenesis does not meet the definition of a scientific theory, therefore it is not one.
2) But even by a looser definition of "theory," Abiogenesis still does not qualify, as it contains a number of competing hypotheses. How can this set of competing hypotheses be consided to be a (single) theory?

"If I used it incorrectly here then I am at least nor alone:
Evowiki
Wikipedia
Talk Origins"


You are alone. None of these sources talk of the (current) existence of "the Theory of Abiogenesis." In fact one of them goes so far as to state: "...the fact that we don't yet have a solid theory of abiogenesis..." - clearly disclaiming the (current) existence of such a theory.

"Do you believe therefore that the hypothesis that life arose as a highly improbable series of chance events from non- life is not falsifiable?"

Abiogenesis is a fact. There wasn't life, then there was. The scientific field of Abiogenesis is therefore concerned with trying to find the least unlikely scientific explanation for this fact.

Highly improbable events happen all the time. Your question exhibits a complete lack of understanding of the field of Statistics.

And as I have stated before, THIS IS NOT A SINGLE HYPOTHESIS! Therefore it cannot be falsified in any conventional meaning of the word - any more than the whole field of Chemistry can be falsified (but individual Chemical hypotheses can).

8:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Bradford: In other words one can never falsify the idea that life arises from non-life..."

It is a fact not an "idea," a hypothesis or a theory, that life, at some point, arose from non-life.

Therefore yes, it cannot be falsified - any more than the facts of evolution can be falsified.

But, in both Abiogenesis and Evolution, the hypotheses (and eventually scientific theories) that explain these facts can most certainly be falsified (and some of them have been, most notably Lamarkian Evolution).

Regardless of which individual hypotheses are falsified, Intelligent Design will never win by default! If it is to be accepted, it must propose a specific and testable 'Intelligent Design hypothesis of Abiogenesis' and submit it to scientific testing in the same manner as any other hypothesis.

And Bradford, to be perfectly blunt, I am sick to death of your defeatist bleatings from the sidelines! If you think you can, with your vast knowledge of Biochemistry, come up with a better hypothesis of how Abiogenesis occured - then formulate it, test it and publish it! If not, then stop knocking those who are prepared to bet their careers on the attempt.

You are typical of most ID advocates (Phillip E. Johnson especially) - always happy to criticise science and scientists, but never doing ANY scientific research themselves.

8:31 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous,

Sorry one of those three links should have been:

Wikipedia

This uses the phrase "the theory of abiogenesis" in a very similar way to the way I used it.

The usage in this article is very similar to my usage:
Lies, Damned Lies

9:02 am  
Blogger Ed Darrell said...

Life arises from non-life every day, everywhere. For example, right now my lawn grows, grass made up of carbon from the air, water, and minerals from the soil. Tomorrow there will be much more grass which was, today, "dead" carbon, minerals and water.

The question we seek to answer is, how did life arise on this planet, first?

Some scientists wonder if life can arise whenever certain conditions prevail, and what those conditions would be. It is certain that life arises. The search for conditions cannot be accurately described as a "theory" in science. The hypotheses, even the valid ones, do not yet give way to theory.

So why fuzz up the discussion? What is your real agenda, Andrew?

10:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The usage in this article is very similar to my usage:
Lies, Damned Lies"


Yes, and this article uses "theory" very loosely: e.g. "Even the ideas circulating in the 1850's were not "spontaneous" theories." The "theory of abiogenesis" they are talking about is merely a stringing together of some of the more widely supported hypotheses that cover the stages between "simple chemicals" and bacteria. As such I would consider it to be "a theory of abiogenesis" (in its colloquial sense) not "the Theory of Abiogenesis" (in a formal scientific sense). If we are talking falsification we are surely talking in formal scientific terms?

I would agree that this article blurs the lines more than a little. I would not have written it that way, and suspect that the author was principally concerned with distinguishing science's conception of Abiogenesis from Creationism's caricature of it, so missed the need to distinguish between scientific hypothesis and scientific theory.

11:20 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

What do you mean by falsifying abiogenesis? The claim that "life on this planet originated due to abiogenesis" is perfectly falsifiable. All you'd need is for the aliens who were actually responsible to drop in and explain how and why they did it. Or for us to find comets moving into our solar system from elsewhere that nonetheless had Earthlike bacteria on them. Or whatever.

As you alluded to, however, this hypothesis of abiogenesis is only falsifiable by comparison with better hypotheses of life's creation. I.e. ones that are more predictive (or, at a pinch, merely more parsimonious).

I've been referring to these as "metahypotheses" - the actual falsifiable hypothesis here is that "the best available hypothesis for the origin of life will involve abiogenesis". This can be falsified by the aforementioned aliens or comets.

Or it could be falsified by using ID theory to produce another, better, hypothesis - if you can. But this is a race where you're going to have to win by having the fastest horse, not by shooting the other competitors. Victory by default ain't gonna happen.

11:47 am  
Blogger William Bradford said...

"The word theory is a word which can be used with a large number of different senses."

This comment is irrelevant for two reasons:
1) The "sense" that "theory" was being used in was crystal clear: that of a scientific theory! Abiogenesis does not meet the definition of a scientific theory, therefore it is not one.
2) But even by a looser definition of "theory," Abiogenesis still does not qualify, as it contains a number of competing hypotheses. How can this set of competing hypotheses be consided to be a (single) theory?

Bradford: Anon is admitting two things. First, the intellevtual framework encompassing abiogenesis is so weak that the varying ideas as to how it took place are all "competitive." Actually the varying hypotheses have nothing to do with demonstrating the idea that life comes from non-life. Each focuses on a much smaller goal such as demonstrating the feasibility that biochemical x can be found under these specific environmental conditions. Years of reading OOL studies has revealed a pattern. The conditions under which amino acids are said to be generated differ from those where adenine is found which in turn... Second, if abiogenesis is not a scientific theory then there is no way to integrate the available data into a coherent theoretical structure; quite a telling criticism of an allegedly empirical discipline.

"Do you believe therefore that the hypothesis that life arose as a highly improbable series of chance events from non- life is not falsifiable?"

Abiogenesis is a fact. There wasn't life, then there was. The scientific field of Abiogenesis is therefore concerned with trying to find the least unlikely scientific explanation for this fact.

Bradford: Abiogenesis is not a fact. It is an idea in search of evidence. What anon fails to mention is that abiogenesis artificially excludes consideration of intelligence as a causal factor. They'll spin their wheels forever while talking about "competing hypotheses."

Highly improbable events happen all the time. Your question exhibits a complete lack of understanding of the field of Statistics.

Bradford: Dembski's specificity deals with this canard.

And as I have stated before, THIS IS NOT A SINGLE HYPOTHESIS! Therefore it cannot be falsified in any conventional meaning of the word - any more than the whole field of Chemistry can be falsified (but individual Chemical hypotheses can).

Bradford: There are many hypotheses within the study we refer to as chemistry that are verified and have acquired the status of scientific theories. Their accuracy can be repeatedly demonstrated. Boyle's Law, Chrales' Law, Avogadro's Principle and Gay-Lussac's Law are all shining examples of what good science accomplishes. There is nothing comparable in abiogenesis. The hypothesis that amino acids are generated in spark discharge experiments can result in the demonstration that amino acids are generated in specified conditions. That's all. Generous use of extrapolation is required to connect this to the generation of a cell.

2:15 pm  
Blogger William Bradford said...

"Bradford: In other words one can never falsify the idea that life arises from non-life..."

It is a fact not an "idea," a hypothesis or a theory, that life, at some point, arose from non-life.

Bradford: Correction. It is a fact that life came into existence; not that this occured as a result of an unspecified series of chemical reactions devoid of intelligent influence.

Therefore yes, it cannot be falsified - any more than the facts of evolution can be falsified.

Bradford: Some scientists take issue with you and claim that there are means of falsifying evolution. I once read a TalkOrigins article to that effect. I believe it is still available online.

But, in both Abiogenesis and Evolution, the hypotheses (and eventually scientific theories) that explain these facts can most certainly be falsified (and some of them have been, most notably Lamarkian Evolution).

Regardless of which individual hypotheses are falsified, Intelligent Design will never win by default!

Bradford: It will win but it will take a generation or two before those who with ingrained philosophical impediments pass from the scene.

If it is to be accepted, it must propose a specific and testable 'Intelligent Design hypothesis of Abiogenesis' and submit it to scientific testing in the same manner as any other hypothesis.

Bradford: There is a currently active study testing the minimal number of genes required to sustain a replicating cell. It is an empirical study involving a number of scientists and involves a key ID hypotheses related to the plausibility of forces of nature to generate genomes. No the scientists are not IDers, at least none have claimed to be, but that is irrelevant to the nature of the experiment.

And Bradford, to be perfectly blunt, I am sick to death of your defeatist bleatings from the sidelines!

Bradford: This is a revealing comment. Pursuit of the truth is not defeatist. What should be discouraging to you is the paucity of evidence in support of OOL.

If you think you can, with your vast knowledge of Biochemistry, come up with a better hypothesis of how Abiogenesis occured - then formulate it, test it and publish it! If not, then stop knocking those who are prepared to bet their careers on the attempt.

Bradford: Noone's career is at stake as a result of any project they are involved in related to abiogenesis.

You are typical of most ID advocates (Phillip E. Johnson especially) - always happy to criticise science and scientists, but never doing ANY scientific research themselves.

Bradford: I love science and have spent many, many enjoyable hours studying it. I do not like to criticize individuals but rather ideas that are detrimental to good science.

2:36 pm  
Blogger Coalescent said...

I'll stay out of Anonymous's hair here, but there's something here I wanted to pick up on:

Bradford: Dembski's specificity deals with this canard.

I could never get a clear answer out of Salvador et al when trying to figure out exactly what they meant by specification. Could you clarify please, preferably with examples?

3:44 pm  
Blogger William Bradford said...

Coalescent said...
I'll stay out of Anonymous's hair here, but there's something here I wanted to pick up on:

Bradford: Dembski's specificity deals with this canard.

I could never get a clear answer out of Salvador et al when trying to figure out exactly what they meant by specification. Could you clarify please, preferably with examples?

Bradford: aetnm yb cfipesitniao luodC uoy lifcya elpaes, bafreerpyl hitw lxeseap?

It's been awhile since I read one of Dembski's books but as best I can remember this illustrates the point. The above sequence of letters (after Bradford:) is an example of complexity.

This sequence of letters shows specificity: owl.

Owl is specified but not complex. My cat could conceivably type it when she walks over my keyboard as she is prone to do on occasion.

aetnm yb cfipesitniao luodC uoy lifcya elpaes, bafreerpyl hitw lxeseap? is complex but not specified.

meant by specification. Could you clarify please, preferably with examples?- is specified and complex.

One point of note: Specification entails a specification criteria. The specification criteria in this case is the English language.


This is a readout of the amino acid sequence of a protein belonging to the species E coli and known as known as AAC73539.1:


translation="MQVSVETTQGLGRRVTITIAADSIETAVKSELVNVAKKVRIDGF

RKGKVPMNIVAQRYGASVRQDVLGDLMSRNFIDAIIKEKINPAGAPTYVPGEYKLGED


FTYSVEFEVYPEVELQGLEAIEVEKPIVEVTDADVDGMLDTLRKQQATWKEKDGAVEA


EDRVTIDFTGSVDGEEFEGGKASDFVLAMGQGRMIPGFEDGIKGHKAGEEFTIDVTFP


EEYHAENLKGKAAKFAINLKKVEERELPELTAEFIKRFGVEDGSVEGLRAEVRKNMER


ELKSAIRNRVKSQAIEGLVKANDIDVPAALIDSEIDVLRRQAAQRFGGNEKQALELPR


ELFEEQAKRRVVVGLLLGEVIRTNELKADEERVKGLIEEMASAYEDPKEVIEFYSKNK

ELMDNMRNVALEEQAVEAVLAKAKVTEKETTFNELMNQQA


Each capital letter represents a single amino acid. If you scramble the aa order as I did with your words you disable the protein function. The specific function unique to this protein is the specification criteria. The amino acid protein sequence is both complex and specified. The amino acids serve a functional purpose both individually and collectively.

The value of the argument that improbable things happen all the time is illustrated by the specification criteria. Any long sequence could be argued as improbable as is the improbability that my scramblization of your words would come out exactly as it did. Had they been scrambled differently they would still be unintelligible but equally unlikely. What makes a sequence so unlikely as to be scientifically untenable is the specification. I have not counted the number of letters in this message but it must be what?- hundreds?

Hundreds of unintelligible letters can be attributed to a force or an animal; nothing highly intelligent. The sequences of our messages are complex and specified and originate from an intelligent source; not a cat or bouncing ball.

Dembski's argument is hopefully apparent at this point. A prebiotic stochastic process does not produce the complexity and specificity observed in protein AAC73539.1.

11:29 pm  
Anonymous Farshad said...


Anonymous said...

There is no Theory of Abiogenesis!
Abiogenesis is a field of science, not a theory


It seems you are obsessed with accuracy! Good!
But unfortunately you are gravely mistaken. There is a "Theory of Abiogenesis" and "Abiogenesis is a Theory".

It doesn't matter if there are thousands of hypothesis when it comes to actual research in the field. The Abiogenesis is a theory that claims life can arise from non-living matter with an unguided process, chemical reactions and bla..bla.. in a prebiotic environment. As long as there is no pluasible pathway and empirical proof that can successfuly demonstrates us this possibility, it will remain as a theory. Go and learn what a scientific theory really means.

Abiogenesis is a fact. There wasn't life, then there was.

I love it when someone talks with this much authority and certainty while s/he is totally unaware of his/her own silly assertions.

Abiogenesis is not a fact.
"There wasn't life and then there was." So what? How do you know life wasn't transported from other planets to the earth? Do you have a proof against alien intervention? Do you have any proof to disprove panspermia? What if God or gods were responsible for the creation?

We actually don't know what happened bilions of years ago. The Abiogenesis could be the origin of life but it is currently a theory that is actively researched for years.

Highly improbable events happen all the time. Your question exhibits a complete lack of understanding of the field of Statistics.

Really? Like what? What do you mean by saying highly improbable? 1/10^10 or 1/10^200? Or for you both are the same?
Your assertion demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the field of probability.

And as I have stated before, THIS IS NOT A SINGLE HYPOTHESIS! Therefore it cannot be falsified in any conventional meaning of the word - any more than the whole field of Chemistry can be falsified (but individual Chemical hypotheses can).

So in your reality chemistry can be equal to the Abiogenesis? You're funny!

The whole field of chemistry contains thousands of rules, formulas and empirical researchs that successfuly and repeatedly demonstrated in thousands of the labs here and there.

The whole theory of abiogenesis is based on few hypothesis and that is all we have. Hypothesis that never came close to be proved or empirically demonstrate anything. If you can't understand the difference then it's better for you to continue commenting under anonymous identity.

12:13 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

So what constitutes a valid specification? I assume that, if I toss a coin a few times and come up with HTTTHHHHTHHHT, a specification of "HTTTHHHHTHHHT" would be unacceptable. What other specifications would be unacceptable and why? On what basis is the amino acid sequence you list considered to be specified? Are there any overarching criteria here?

The second question is: why does the concept of CSI create an impassable barrier to evolution?

Farshad:
As long as there is no pluasible pathway and empirical proof that can successfuly demonstrates us this possibility, it will remain as a theory. Go and learn what a scientific theory really means.

I believe that the concept you're referring to can be more accurately referred to as a conjecture. As has been pointed out by many participants, the bald statement that life can arise from non-life is unfalsifiable, and hence can't be considered to be an hypothesis let alone a theory.

Really? Like what? What do you mean by saying highly improbable? 1/10^10 or 1/10^200? Or for you both are the same?
Your assertion demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the field of probability.


Strongly disagree (and I speak as a maths grad, so I've at least studied probability). This evening I was playing cards, and got dealt a 7-card hand. The probability of any such hand is 7/52*6/51*5/50*4/49*3/48*2/47*1/46 = 7.47*10^-9. I played 10 games, which puts the probability of receiving the 10 hands I received at 5.44*10^-82. More games would have made the probability even more astronomical.

This is why the concept of "specification" is so vital to Dembski's assertions.

So in your reality chemistry can be equal to the Abiogenesis? You're funny!

No, if you read his post it should be obvious that in his reality they're both fields (and hence aren't required to be falsifiable, merely to generate falsifiable hypotheses). Interestingly, I apparently live in the same reality.

The whole field of chemistry contains thousands of rules, formulas and empirical researchs that successfuly and repeatedly demonstrated in thousands of the labs here and there.

The whole theory of abiogenesis is based on few hypothesis and that is all we have.


Dude, what do you think those rules and formulas you mention are if not repeatedly-unfalsified hypotheses?

12:32 am  
Blogger William Bradford said...

The whole field of chemistry contains thousands of rules, formulas and empirical researchs that successfuly and repeatedly demonstrated in thousands of the labs here and there.

The whole theory of abiogenesis is based on few hypothesis and that is all we have.

Dude, what do you think those rules and formulas you mention are if not repeatedly-unfalsified hypotheses?

Bradford: That's the point. There is no counterpart in abiogenesis to chemistry's laws whose reliability we are able to empirically demonstrate over and over again.

2:54 am  
Anonymous Farshad said...

lifewish:
Strongly disagree (and I speak as a maths grad, so I've at least studied probability). This evening I was playing cards, and got dealt a 7-card hand. The probability of any such hand is 7/52*6/51*5/50*4/49*3/48*2/47*1/46 = 7.47*10^-9. I played 10 games, which puts the probability of receiving the 10 hands I received at 5.44*10^-82. More games would have made the probability even more astronomical.

I think as a maths grad you shouldn't make statements like this because it is basically flawed.
Your card game can be summrized in the following problem:

"What is the probability of picking any combination of 7-card hands in a card game played for 10 sets?"

Obviosuly the answer is 1/10^0 = 1.0
You are not dealing with improbability here as you tried to imply. The probability is always 1 (one) no matter if you play 10 or 1000 games. More games wouldn't make the probability astronomical. It is always ONE.

It's like saying what is the probabilty of going in a crowded street and see any woman.

If the bloggers here gave you a specific set of cards and asked you to reproduce it during the game do you think you would be able to do it even if you played for your whole life?
Even if you started a new game at each nano-second, the time required for you to produce a specific set of hands would go beyond the age of the universe.

9:15 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Obviosuly the answer is 1/10^0 = 1.0
You are not dealing with improbability here as you tried to imply. The probability is always 1 (one) no matter if you play 10 or 1000 games. More games wouldn't make the probability astronomical. It is always ONE.


Once the hand has been dealt, the probability of having received that hand is indeed 1. Until then, the probability of having received that hand is very small.

That's all that the original poster was trying to say. All I was trying to say was that I had no idea why you were bawling him out for it.

There is a point worth discussing in here, though. The reason why it's still possible to pick a hand of cards, despite each one being highly improbable, is that there are many to choose from. Likewise, we can't calculate the ability of life to arise spontaneously without having some idea as to how many different ways life can arise. The specific way that life on Earth arose may be implausible, but there might be 10^100 other ways it could have gone.

Most of them wouldn't produce anything recognisably human, of course, but who said humans were something that abiogenesis and evolution had to achieve?

1:17 pm  
Anonymous Farshad said...

Once the hand has been dealt, the probability of having received that hand is indeed 1. Until then, the probability of having received that hand is very small.

So does it exhibit that an improbable event has happened?
If your are saying that hand is an specific set of cards then you must define in what way it is specific. Otherwise it is any hand. You can not say any hand is also a specific hand, we have no such thing in mathematics.

In reality what you defined as "that hand" is actually "any hand" which always has the probability of one.

That's all that the original poster was trying to say. All I was trying to say was that I had no idea why you were bawling him out for it.

Andrew said that Abiogenesis is a highly improbable event(which is correct) and the Anonymous poster responded "Highly improbable events happen all the time" providing no clue or example of what he means by an "improbable event" and in what way we can associate it with Abiogenesis. In your example cards are dealed randomly and they don't form an improbable set of cards because they are random. You know that probability calculations always should start by defining a criteria for example we have a bag full of red & white balls what is the probability to take out 2 red and 4 white balls in 6 successive tries. If you don't provide any criteria then the probility is always one as you confirmed. I wonder in what way your card dealing example has anything to do with probability calculations of Abiogenesis? Any random set of cards can lead to a different game and that opens an infinite possibilities to play virtually infinite number of games.

Does infinite combinations in Abiogenesis chemicals lead us to infinite ways of producing life? No! That's why your playing card example is irrelevant to our issue.

Recent researchs show that even the minimal form of life having the capability to reproduce and self-maintanance requires at least 400 genes. Scientists are still stuck at very first steps of the abiogenesis theory let alone explaining how 400 genes might have been formed and assembled naturally.

4:00 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

So does it exhibit that an improbable event has happened?

You seem to have moved the goalposts to discussion of a specified improbable event.

Fortunately it's fairly easy for those to arise as a result of natural forces. Say I toss a coin. It lands flat on the ground. Considering all the possible orientations and locations it could end up in, what are the chances it'd end up in one conforming to that specification? Well, if we take a conservative estimate of a 2m high room, a 2mm thick coin and 5 degrees of tolerance on the orientation measurement, the chance is about 1 in 36000. Toss 10 coins and the probability goes down to 1 in 36000^10 = 3.7*10^46

To specify this orientation, just toss another coin and define the specification as being any coin at that coin's height above the ground and within 5 degrees of that coin's orientation.

Does infinite combinations in Abiogenesis chemicals lead us to infinite ways of producing life? No! That's why your playing card example is irrelevant to our issue.

Actually, if we're considering factors like addition order and concentration, having one way to produce life from prebiotic chemicals would indeed imply there were an infinite number of ways to achieve it. Simply add varying concentrations of a completely irrelevant chemical.

The question, therefore, is: what proportion of chemical states of prebiotic Earth would lead to life? That's a far less tractable question than the more simplistic probability calculations we've been looking at, not least because we have to figure out what the possible chemical states actually were. We probably won't be able to answer it with any great accuracy without actually visiting other Earth-like planets and seeing how many have natives.

12:34 pm  
Anonymous Farshad said...

You seem to have moved the goalposts to discussion of a specified improbable event.

What do you mean by saying "specific improbable" event? We don't have such a term in matemathics. Improbable events are always "specific" for some reasons. That's what makes them improbable at first place, isn't it?

Fortunately it's fairly easy for those to arise as a result of natural forces. Say I toss a coin. It lands flat on the ground. Considering all the possible orientations and locations it could end up in, what are the chances it'd end up in one conforming to that specification? Well, if we take a conservative estimate of a 2m high room, a 2mm thick coin and 5 degrees of tolerance on the orientation measurement, the chance is about 1 in 36000. Toss 10 coins and the probability goes down to 1 in 36000^10 = 3.7*10^46

It seems you totally confused the terms of probable and improbable. You are again confusing a quite probable random event with an improbable non-random event. If you've said what it is the chance of tossing 10 coins and expect them to fall on 10 exact locations that was previously marked on the floor? then your assertion makes sense, but what you are doing here is tossing 10 coins "randomly" and then assuming the hit locations as though they were specific locations.

There is no such backwards way of calculating probability in mathematics as you do here. gods of mathematics will punish you for doing this! :P

The correct probability is not 3.7*10^46. The correct result is again 1.0 = ONE = UNO = EINE = UN.

Moreover, your card game and toss coining tries will always produce results with random distribution. You can go back to your card game or continue coin tossing. Don't forget to note all of the results on a paper. Then feed this results into your favorite statistical analysis software. If you get anything other than random distribution feel free to report us.

The probability has a close relationship with entropy level. The lowest level of probability occurs where the entropy level is the highest. Take the simplest life form and you'll see the arrangement of building blocks of life is in no way random.

Science must be able to show a pathway to describe in what way this tremendous decrease in level of entropy could have happened naturally.

However no such pathway has ever been found. All we see in nature is spontaneous increase in entropy not a decrease in its level.

Ofcourse it is possible to create small changes in level of entropy naturally by applying raw energy but these changes are not significant, also not stable and in no way cumulative.

Frankly, science is totally stuck in field of Abiogenesis.

12:40 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

What do you mean by saying "specific improbable" event? We don't have such a term in matemathics. Improbable events are always "specific" for some reasons. That's what makes them improbable at first place, isn't it?

I interpreted your post as saying that the probability of getting any one hand in poker couldn't validly be claimed to be miniscule because it was effectively indistinguishable from the rest of the set of possible hands, which itself was an event with probability 1. To the best of my knowledge, this sort of reasoning is not associated with any area of undergrad-level probability theory.

It is, however, very similar to Dembski's specificity arguments. I therefore assumed that you'd picked up at least some of your understanding of probability from reading his stuff, and rephrased my comments accordingly. Was I wrong?

I'd have thought it was fairly uncontroversial that the probability of getting any particular hand is very small. That includes whichever hand it turns out to be that I'm about to deal myself (please excuse the mangled tenses).

It seems you totally confused the terms of probable and improbable. You are again confusing a quite probable random event with an improbable non-random event. If you've said what it is the chance of tossing 10 coins and expect them to fall on 10 exact locations that was previously marked on the floor? then your assertion makes sense, but what you are doing here is tossing 10 coins "randomly" and then assuming the hit locations as though they were specific locations.

OK, sorry, there were some points of logic I forgot to list. Note that this entire thread of argument originated in response to Andrew's throwaway characterisation of abiogenesis as "a highly improbable series of chance events", which anonymous interpreted as a rhetorical attack in and of itself.

1) Without knowledge of gravity, we could legitimately assume that each possible position and orientation of a coin has approximately equal chance of occurring at any given point in time (assuming a sufficiently random toss). Just ask an astronaut.

2) Absent knowledge of gravity, therefore, the probability of all the coins ending up flat on the floor appears to be extremely low.

3) Our knowledge of gravity, however, requires that we instead assign this event a fairly high probability.

Analogously:

1&2) Absent knowledge of a plausible abiogenetic pathway, the chance of life emerging would appear to be extremely slim

3) As we gain more knowledge of possible abiogenetic pathways, however, it may become necessary to revise this probability substantially upwards

The apparent low probability of some abiogenetic hypotheses is therefore not, in and of itself, an obstacle to accepting abiogenesis as an essentially valid approach.

What would be an obstacle is a more plausible hypothesis of or approach to how life on Earth could have arisen than abiogenesis. For example, creation by an alien or deity.

In the absence of an interview with the alien/deity who created us, however, this hypothesis would also have to explain the origins of the alien/deity itself to have a decent claim to plausibility. Otherwise it just looks like an attempt to put the whole question at arm's length without actually answering anything.

There is no such backwards way of calculating probability in mathematics as you do here. gods of mathematics will punish you for doing this! :P

I was a pure maths student. Merely by discussing probability without reference to measure theory, I've condemned myself to the outer darkness ;)

The probability has a close relationship with entropy level.

Uh... if by that you mean that Shannon information is a function of event probability then yes, that's obvious. I have no idea how you'd calculate the Shannon entropy associated with OOL.

Take the simplest life form and you'll see the arrangement of building blocks of life is in no way random.

Methinks you are confusing Shannon and Kolmogorov information. Entropy is related to the former; randomness in the sense you describe is related to the latter.

Science must be able to show a pathway to describe in what way this tremendous decrease in level of entropy could have happened naturally. However no such pathway has ever been found.

It's a work-in-progress. Either live with it or provide a better hypothesis.

However, new ideas like the concept of an RNA world or the spontaneous creation of Fox protocells, that both solve significant chicken/egg issues and appear to have left remnants, do suggest that we're broadly on the right lines.

Ofcourse it is possible to create small changes in level of entropy naturally by applying raw energy but these changes are not significant, also not stable and in no way cumulative.

Uh... not sure what you mean by significant, stable or cumulative here. Does the indirect use of the Sun's energy to supply every river in the world with water count as any of those three?

Frankly, science is totally stuck in field of Abiogenesis.

Hey, if you think you've got a better hypothesis, please enlighten us. Tell us what concrete, testable predictions it makes that other hypotheses don't. If we go out and find that those predictions are correct, your Nobel prize will be in the post by the end of the week.

In the absence of such an hypothesis, however, please accept that there's a good reason why abiogenesis researchers are completely ignoring claims that their subject is a waste of time.

12:17 pm  
Anonymous Farshad said...

I interpreted your post as saying that the probability of getting any one hand in poker couldn't validly be claimed to be miniscule because it was effectively indistinguishable from the rest of the set of possible hands, which itself was an event with probability 1. To the best of my knowledge, this sort of reasoning is not associated with any area of undergrad-level probability theory.

It is, however, very similar to Dembski's specificity arguments.


No! The way you represent probability calculation is plain incorrect and since you are a math grad it makes me wonder why can't you recognize your mistake. It is pure mathematics and has nothing to do with Dembski's CSI (Complex Specified Information). Your probality calculations could only be valid according to some imaginary source called "Statistic & Probability in Subjective Mood".

A pile of sand consists of trillions of molecules which are arranged in a unique form that seperates them from any other pile of sand. According to your logic the probability associated with a pile of sand must be infinitesimal because there are trillions of molecules placed in unqiue locations and arrangements, but no scientist is arguing that a pile of sand is an improbable formation. As I described in my previous post where the distribution of data is totally random there is no reason to calculate the probability and actually if you do, the result is always very close to 1.0 .

Back to your playing cards, the cases where a probability calculation is associated with a hand is either

1)When you walk in a street and find a set of cards with a non-random distribution (say sorted)
(sounds a bit like Paley's Divine Watchmaker! :P )

or

2) You play a game and you predict a specific set of cards (can be any random set of cards) for a hand and expect them to happen in a limited number of tries. For example if you predict a set of five cards = {1,5,7,4,7} and expect to receive them just in first deal then the probability can be calculated because you have a criterion here that bounds the probability.

I don't have time to go through rest of your post right now as I have to pay attention to work and other issues.

11:51 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

According to your logic the probability associated with a pile of sand must be infinitesimal because there are trillions of molecules placed in unqiue locations and arrangements

Correct

but no scientist is arguing that a pile of sand is an improbable formation.

That's because there are trillions of possible arrangements that all fall under the heading of "a pile of sand". The large numbers cancel out.

This is why saying "abiogenesis is very improbable" without considering the size of the numerator as well as the denominator is silly.

As I described in my previous post where the distribution of data is totally random there is no reason to calculate the probability and actually if you do, the result is always very close to 1.0 .

Could you provide an example of such a calculation? I'm having trouble figuring out how such a calculation could produce an answer close to 1.0.

When you walk in a street and find a set of cards with a non-random distribution (say sorted)

And this is the core of the issue. In what sense is a distribution of "A,2,3,4,5,6,7" less random than a distribution of "4,3,8,6,K,3,10"? How are you defining randomness here? I'm not aware of any area of probability theory that can distinguish between the two (except for the fact that the second hand had two 3s in).

Note: I'm not saying that there's no way of distinguishing between the two, just that there's no way that relies solely or primarily on probability theory. With algorithmic information theory, for example, it's easy to distinguish the two - but the only person I know of who regularly mixes the two is Dembski. This is why I guessed that you'd been reading a lot of his work.

1:55 pm  
Anonymous Farshad said...

Correct

No, it's not correct. It seems there is no way to show you the logical fallacy in your statements.
Probability calculation is related with events. You can't assign probability to a static set of data say a pile of sands unless you bind it to an event and a bring a specification to the outcome of that specific event. So in your reality any card game played overnight can overcome improbable events as low as 10^-50 (which is practically zero) and you can do this in just first try isn't it? Ponder a bit on this and I hope you'll finally notice your logical fault here. Your assertions that nature can easily overcome minuscule probabilities is plain incorrect.

This is why saying "abiogenesis is very improbable" without considering the size of the numerator as well as the denominator is silly.

Really? Actually, that is what you were doing while showing us nature is capable of performing miracles in a daily basis and supporting your claim with playing cards example. Don't you think, without specifying an exact set of cards that you expect to receive prior to dealing the hands, claiming any set of playing cards that you've received forms an improbable set is also silly?

I'm done with this probability issue and won't say a bit on this anymore. We're urguing about the most basic principles of the maths and it's a shame!

No one calculates abiogenesis probabiliy without considering the amount of time and material as inputs to the problem. Abiogensis is improbable considering our earthbound conditions. You can fill the whole planet with Primordial Soup and give it a few billion years. Unless naturalists can provide a natural step-by-step pathway that can overcome this improbability, the whole scenario is dead in water.

1:10 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

No, it's not correct. It seems there is no way to show you the logical fallacy in your statements.

I just meant that your assessment of the outcomes of my logic was correct.

So in your reality any card game played overnight can overcome improbable events as low as 10^-50 (which is practically zero) and you can do this in just first try isn't it?

Yes. It's easy if you've got about 10^50 possible events of that sort to choose from.

Ponder a bit on this and I hope you'll finally notice your logical fault here.

Please explain what's wrong with setting up the probability calculation so that the events are the individual possible hands.

Don't you think, without specifying an exact set of cards that you expect to receive prior to dealing the hands, claiming any set of playing cards that you've received forms an improbable set is also silly?

No. Regardless of whether I name the hand in advance, the probability of getting that particular hand is still miniscule.

My feeling is that you're unconsciously factoring an extra assumption into your argument. I'm having trouble pinning it down, though - will keep thinking about it.

I'm done with this probability issue and won't say a bit on this anymore. We're arguing about the most basic principles of the maths and it's a shame!

You're telling me... I would, however, appreciate a critique that doesn't boil down to "that can't be right because I think it's silly".

Unless naturalists can provide a natural step-by-step pathway that can overcome this improbability, the whole scenario is dead in water.

So abiogenesis is implausible... until we figure out a way it could have happened? Isn't this a God-of-the-gaps style argument? Will your conclusion change if we do figure out how life could have arisen?

Why aren't you asking Andrew et al to provide a detailed, step-by-step pathway by which a God complex enough to design life could have arisen?

8:10 pm  
Anonymous Farshad said...

No. Regardless of whether I name the hand in advance, the probability of getting that particular hand is still miniscule.

It's miniscule, if and only if you've planned to get that specific hand in advance because that's the way we define probability in first place.

This simlple definition is from Richard Profit:

"Probability is measured on a scale between zero and unity. Unity represents absolute certainty that something will happen. Zero represents impossibility."

Dealing a random set of cards is absolute certainty, because that is certain that you will receive a hand regardless of its arrangement.

anyway...

So abiogenesis is implausible... until we figure out a way it could have happened? Isn't this a God-of-the-gaps style argument? Will your conclusion change if we do figure out how life could have arisen?

if scientists happen to discover a fully naturalistic method for OOL, I'll be the first one to appluad them.

Why aren't you asking Andrew et al to provide a detailed, step-by-step pathway by which a God complex enough to design life could have arisen?

I'm not sure if Andrew can provide such a pathway for us.
By the way, if you look for some bizarre theories, you may want to take a look at naturalists work who desprately try to reduce consiousness and awareness to simple chemical reactions. We still don't know a bit about what consiousness really is, but our ultra-reductionist darwinist friends are fairly sure that evolution can produce consiousness as easy as it can produce a banana tree.

As I told you I'm personally open to all possibilities. Aliens, deity or the abiogenesis are all fine. Among them Abiogenesis seems to be the less plausible or actually the impossible one.

However, can you tell me howmany naturalist scientists can accept the fact if someday they figure out that OOL couldn't have happened without intervention of the intelligence? (or is it possible for them to figure it out even when there is an overwhelming evidence in front of their eyes?)

I personally see no difference between a close-minded naturalist and a close-minded fanatic religious person.

11:39 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

I'm not sure if Andrew can provide such a pathway for us.

That was rather my point. At least the abiogenesis researchers have some idea of how incredibly complex structures might have emerged. How would you feel if they took it as axiomatic that this "just happened", and didn't bother to try to explain it?

By the way, if you look for some bizarre theories, you may want to take a look at naturalists work who desprately try to reduce consiousness and awareness to simple chemical reactions.

Actually, I'll be looking into that fairly shortly - computational neuroscience is near the top of my reading list atm.

We still don't know a bit about what consiousness really is, but our ultra-reductionist darwinist friends are fairly sure that evolution can produce consiousness as easy as it can produce a banana tree.

What we do know is that comparatively small quantities of neurons can produce very complicated effects such as pattern recognition, vehicle control, chess playing, etc. And if small quantities can produce cool stuff, large quantities can reasonably be expected to produce really cool stuff. Like, say, consciousness.

It suddenly occurs to me that this is a rather similar debate to the whole "does microevolution imply macroevolution" malarkey (another similarity is the complete failure of the skeptics to provide a workable alternative hypothesis)...

However, can you tell me howmany naturalist scientists can accept the fact if someday they figure out that OOL couldn't have happened without intervention of the intelligence?

At a rough estimate: the vast majority. Same as even the most atheistic scientists eventually accepted the Big Bang (which, at the time, was felt to be way too reminiscent of a Creator God).

Most "naturalist scientists" don't self-define as naturalists; they self-define as what I've been calling the reality-based community. That denotes a willingness to accept demonstrably correct ideas even if they really don't like them.

I personally see no difference between a close-minded naturalist and a close-minded fanatic religious person.

Fair enough, but remember that their not agreeing with you doesn't necessarily imply closed-mindedness. It's only closed-mindedness if you can produce strong, preferably peer-reviewed, data to support your conclusions and they still don't accept them. Bonus points if they refuse to actually try to point out your mistake, instead merely saying "well, something's gotta be wrong with it because your conclusions don't match my conclusions".

You can probably deduce from the last sentence why "rarefied design inferences" really annoy me.

9:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rewind. "In many text book treatments of evolution abiogenesis is included within the category of evolution in its broadest meaning."
Really? "Many"? I am a sixth-form / undergraduate tutor covering natural selection. I have never seen abiogenesis "included" in evolution in any textbook. Yet you state as a fact that it is in "many", clearly aiming at dragging "evolution" down to the low level of confirmation you perceive abiogenesis to be at. I'd be interested for you to name these "many" textbooks you referred to.

1:14 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

anonymous,

My purpose was not to "drag evolution down to the same level" evidentially as abiogenesis. Simply to note that from the begining there has been a close relationship between the two.

My textbooks are rather elderly:
Biology:Principles and Processes. (Roberts, Reiss, Monger)-ISBN-0174481764. This was one of the major A-level texts when I was teaching A-level Biology. It has a chapter entitled "Major steps in evolution" the first of which is "The origin of life."

Biology (2nd edition)Vilee, Solomon, Martin, Berg, Davis.
ISBN003023417-4 Has a chapter on "The Evolutionary history of Life" The first major section of this is "Origin of Life."

My second edition of Alberts et al "The Molecular Biology of the Cell" Begins with a chapter entitled "The Evolution of the Cell" with the first section being "From Molecules to the First Cell"

My fourth edition of "The Molecular Biology of the Gene" ISBN 0805396128 Watson etc. Has a long chapter in Vol2 on "The Origin of Life" The last third of which is about Evolution.

Whether the same is true or not with current UK texts I do not know but it clearly demonstrates the close association of the two subjects.

8:43 am  
Blogger aamir said...

b i a

6:13 pm  
Blogger aamir said...

aamir

6:14 pm  
Blogger Dublin said...

Please see John A. Davison's PEH for alternative theory.

9:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the plug Dublin.

I am persona non grata with both the Creationists and the atheist Darwinians, so I don't expect to be taken seriously here or at any other weblog. That suits me just fine.

jadavison.wordpress.com

11:05 pm  

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