Richard Dawkins: The cost of “Expelled”

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In Open Letter to a victim of Ben Stein’s lying propaganda Richard Dawkin’s responds to a letter by someone who, after seeing “Expelled” sent the following email

Now I truly understand who you atheists and darwinists really are! You people believe that it was okay for my great-grandparents to die in the Holocaust! How disgusting. Your past article about the Holocaust was just window dressing. We Jews will fight to keep people like you out of the United States!

Dawkins responds

Richard Dawkins Wrote:

Mr J, you have been cruelly duped by Ben Stein and his unscrupulous colleagues. It is a wicked, evil thing they have done to you, and potentially to many others. I do not know whether they knowingly and wantonly perpetrated the falsehood that fooled you. Perhaps they genuinely and sincerely believed it, although other actions by them, which you can read about all over the Internet, persuade me that they are fully capable of deliberate and calculated deception. You are perhaps not to be blamed for swallowing the film’s falsehoods, because you probably assumed that nobody would have the gall to make a whole film like that without checking their facts first. Perhaps even you will need a little more convincing that they were wrong, in which case I urge you to read it up and study the matter in detail – something that Ben Stein and his crew manifestly and lamentably failed to do.

79 Comments

The letter to which Dawkins responded was purportedly sent by a Jew whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust. To my mind that letter more likely was from somebody pretending to be a Jew but in fact intending to whip up anti-Semitic emotions. Indeed, anybody familiar with how Jews behave, will realize that a Jew would not ever evince such a threat to expel Shermer from the country. Jews have no such power as to expel anybody, and have anyway no desire to do so even if they were able to do it. I think that by responding to the letter Dawkins fell for a bait of a provocateur.

There is quite a bit of evolutionary biology done in Israel, at Haifa, Ben Gurion, Hebrew, and Tel Aviv among others. They even have their own Journal, the Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution.

The Jews themselves don’t buy the Darwindidit lie. It’s been 63 years and that ground has been covered many times. The ADL blasted the From Darwin to Hitler film, and at least one Jewish reviewer had some scathing things to say about Expelled at MSNBC.

As the poster above pointed out, the “Jewish” accuser of Dawkins et al.. could well be a fundie hoax. We all know they lie continually and even put out badly made propaganda films like Expelled.

The Israel Journal of Ecology & Evolution is dedicated to publishing high quality original research and review papers that advance our knowledge and understanding of the function, diversity, abundance, distribution, and evolution of organisms at all levels of biological organization as they interact with their biotic and abiotic environments. (Click to read our mission statement.)

Editors-in-Chief Blaustein, Leon University of Haifa, Israel Kotler, Burt P. Ben-Gurion University, Israel

I agree with “ag”. The letter could be authentic, but the impression I could not dispel in reading it was the same - that someone was faking it either as a poor joke, or as an attempt to stir things up or maybe to try to make Shermer look like a fool.

The style is “troll”, much simply does not ring true.

However unlike when Dawkins was duped into appearing in expelled, this time his efforts have produced an excellent resource for those being taken in by the claim that atheism -> Nazism.

I see several possibilities here. (1) Anyone who falls for Stein’s propaganda is a drooling idiot; (2) Ignorant people unequipped with the minimal knowledge necessary to recognize Stein’s propaganda for what is is is turned into a drooling idiot by watching the movie; (3) Someone is pretending to be one of the above drooling idiots to give Dawkins and/or Shermer an opportunity to shine a bright light on Stein’s target audience and look sane by contrast.

Sadly, I think it’s clear that Stein made the conscious decision not just to fill a movie with falsehoods and misrepresentations, but to carefully select those most calculated to make the sort of emotional appeals that override the intellect and lay it waste effortlessly. This letter articulates exactly the gut reaction Stein’s imagery was aiming for.

Dawkins is entirely correct, this movie is evil whether or not the letter is sincere.

Some of these poor souls are going to come into our forums foaming and ranting and get clobbered with reality, and a few of them are going to get really angry when they realize they’ve been played for fools. I’m glad that Dawkins extended such a kind welcome to them.

Dana Hunter: I’m glad that Dawkins extended such a kind welcome to them.

As we all should. Part of our task now is damage control, trying to repair the evil vandalism of Expelled. We will do better and help more with reasonable responses than returning flame for flame (with the possible exception of known trolls, who want to continue their vandalism).

Firstly, please do not assume that “the Jews” are any more a bloc of like thinking people than are “the Catholics”. I’ve learned with guys who think dinosaurs are figments of the imagination, and there is the Michael Korn/Ben Stein/David Berlinski faction as well of griefers and cranks.

Sure, this person could be Jewish. If his great-grandparents were killed 65 years ago, he might be a relatively young adult. Be that as it may, the opinions expressed are well within the range of fringe groups such as the old JDL of Meir Kahane.

The vast majority of Jews who know their history, know that we are eventually on the wrong end of the verb “expel”, and fight to keep it out of public discourse. This is a sad exception.

This email, and Dawkin’s response, does remind me that we need to make every effort to maintain our cool and attempt to be calm, reasoned, patient, and understanding in our dealings with people influenced by Expelled. For if, in our frustration, we lash out with sarcasm and/or insults and put downs of our own (no matter how deserved,) they will feel justified in their misconceptions and merely say “See, Expelled was right.”

The trouble is that one cannot tell the difference between a story made up to parody creationists and the real thing. A year or two ago I made one up and posted it to the ASA listserve and several fell for it.

Anyway Dawkins should be banned from discussion groups for having the bad taste to say the Expelled crowd are guilty of falsehoods:):):):):):)

Michael

The name Michael Roberts sounded familiar. I got it confused with Robert Michael, an historian at Dartmouth. LOL. Still relevant, he blames the Holocaust on Xian antisemitism in part, like most Xian and Jewish historians. Expelled is simply using an atrocity for their own purposes. Which just might end up being an even bigger atrocity.

www.menorahreview.org:

Anti-Semitism, The Holocaust and Christianity Robert Michael

The Holocaust seems inexplicable. Scholars, especially, understand the inadequacy of historical explanation. And yet, just as historians try to explain the decline and fall of Rome and the causes of the First World War, they struggle to understand why the Holocaust happened. Christianity’s precise influence on the Holocaust is impossible to determine and the Christian churches did not themselves perpetrate the Final Solution. But as a historian, I believe that Christian anti-Semitism is not only the source but also the major ideological basis of Nazi anti-Semitism.

This conclusion appears impossible. The churches’ moral principles, so antithetical to the genocidal morality of Nazi Germany, should preclude any connection between Christian precepts and the Final Solution. Some Nazis explicitly ridiculed Christian ideals, though many more attacked the Christian churches but not Christianity itself.

Moreover, a small minority of Christians helped the Jews during the Holocaust and a few thousand of them risked their lives to help Jews just as, for two millennia, some Christians had always treated Jews decently. This latter group consisted mostly of authentic Christians acting on Jesus’ moral teachings, although some may have had more pragmatic, and less ethical, reasons. continues

DNFTT

Yes, let’s be calm and rational for appearance sake, while we continue to enforce orthodoxy (if I can use the term safely). After all, we have all the power, why break a big sweat about some B flick?

Larry:

Dawkins said it was “… a wicked and evil thing…”

What makes it wicked and evil? Does he subscribe to some moral code? I thought we were just highly evolved animals.

And so what? You think animals are wicked and evil? Anyone around here who doesn’t know in his heart what ‘wicked’ and ‘evil’ are? Anyone around here who is wicked and evil? If not, why? Personally, I am neither, can’t help it… That’s my ‘why’.

Larry said:

Dawkins said it was “… a wicked and evil thing…”

What makes it wicked and evil? Does he subscribe to some moral code? I thought we were just highly evolved animals.

Yes, he obviously does have a moral code. I’m sorry, but does this clash with somebody’s magical thinking that being an animal precludes socialized and conformed behavior?

AL:

Larry said:

Dawkins said it was “… a wicked and evil thing…”

What makes it wicked and evil? Does he subscribe to some moral code? I thought we were just highly evolved animals.

Yes, he obviously does have a moral code. I’m sorry, but does this clash with somebody’s magical thinking that being an animal precludes socialized and conformed behavior?

I think you misread Larry. Larry is not saying that animals cannot be socialized, but that it is an odd to call an animal wicked. What is a wicked dog? Have you ever met one? I haven’t and have difficulty imagining one.

I personally believe that animals are capable of being wicked, but I think Larry’s objection is an intelligent one.

Larry: Without God we can appeal to the golden rule and ethics (That is: we should all behave in a way to promote social good.) to define a moral code. Alternatively, one can assert that our animal nature innately gives us a moral code which has evolved over time and we ‘should’ implement it because it also promotes social behavior and individual happiness.

If any one else has a better defence of atheist ethics please feel free to do so, I don’t find it a particularly interesting question myself.

Troll alert.… Larry is at it again. Now Larry please vanish from sight.

Bob Bobberton: If any one else has a better defence of atheist ethics please feel free…

For one such “defence of atheist ethics,” see “Ethics Without Gods” ( http://www.atheists.org/Atheism/ethics.html ).

BB says “Without God we can appeal to the golden rule and ethics (That is: we should all behave in a way to promote social good.) to define a moral code. Alternatively, one can assert that our animal nature innately gives us a moral code which has evolved over time and we ‘should’ implement it because it also promotes social behavior and individual happiness.”

So, according to the atheist, adopting and following a moral code is either a choice or it is programmed into the human psyche, or a combination of both. Either way, it is not really “true” in the sense that there is no transcendent being that cares about the moral code, adherence to it, or subjects accountability or awards/penalties for compliance.

Now, don’t atheists criticize spiritual people on these same grounds? According to them, spiritual people either choose or are programmed to believe something that isn’t really true, and conduct themselves accordingly.

Following this logic, atheists cannot objectively prefer atheism with a moral code over spiritual beliefs, which invariably also impose a moral code. Of course, the atheist will now say that he or she is free to choose their moral code, while the drones in religion are not, so their code is preferable. There is one big problem with this logic, however. I would ask any of the atheists reading this to state whether they feel their moral code is superior to that of Jesus Christ, or Siddhartha Gautama, or Lao Tsu?

I’ll say this: mine is far superior to that outlined and exemplified in the Old Testament. And so is yours.

And that’s all I got to say about that (apologies to Forrest).

Either way, it is not really “true” in the sense that there is no transcendent being that cares about the moral code, adherence to it, or subjects accountability or awards/penalties for compliance.

Now, don’t atheists criticize spiritual people on these same grounds? According to them, spiritual people either choose or are programmed to believe something that isn’t really true, and conduct themselves accordingly.

Step 1: Redefine a word (in this case, the word “true”).
Step 2: Use your definition in place of the original to “show” that someone else’s position is absurd.

I mean, really, how can you expect an atheist to define something in terms of a “transcendent being” that, in their view, does not exist?

A few people don’t have much of a visible moral code or don’t follow one anyway.

Look at what Ben Stein, Mathis, Ruloff, Miller, and crew did with Expelled for an example

Paraphrasing Gandhi, “It would be great if Xians followed the 10 commandments. When are they going to start?”

Actually, what most atheists complain about theists and fundamentalists is that the religious tend to use God to repeal ethics and the Golden Rule, in that “Because (I said that) God said so,” has been used to excuse all sorts of horrid or otherwise inexcusable actions, such as depriving other people of life and or liberty.

Then there is the idea of the fear of being punished with eternal torment, in that atheists decry the idea of teaching people to behave in a positive way in order to lessen their chances of being sent to Hell for all eternity, in that, appealing to fear, instead of say, appealing to mutual beneficial consequences, ultimately results in more problems cropping up.

Ekstasis:

BB says “Without God we can appeal to the golden rule and ethics (That is: we should all behave in a way to promote social good.) to define a moral code. Alternatively, one can assert that our animal nature innately gives us a moral code which has evolved over time and we ‘should’ implement it because it also promotes social behavior and individual happiness.”

So, according to the atheist, adopting and following a moral code is either a choice or it is programmed into the human psyche, or a combination of both. Either way, it is not really “true” in the sense that there is no transcendent being that cares about the moral code, adherence to it, or subjects accountability or awards/penalties for compliance.

Now, don’t atheists criticize spiritual people on these same grounds? According to them, spiritual people either choose or are programmed to believe something that isn’t really true, and conduct themselves accordingly.

Following this logic, atheists cannot objectively prefer atheism with a moral code over spiritual beliefs, which invariably also impose a moral code. Of course, the atheist will now say that he or she is free to choose their moral code, while the drones in religion are not, so their code is preferable. There is one big problem with this logic, however. I would ask any of the atheists reading this to state whether they feel their moral code is superior to that of Jesus Christ, or Siddhartha Gautama, or Lao Tsu?

The question I would like to ask those who base their ethics on what their God tells them is how they know that the God is good. If their God isn’t good, then what he tells them to do will also be not good. But how would they know? They can’t bootstrap God’s goodness into existence. In the end, they are relying on a moral sense which does not come from God, in order to judge whether what God says, and whether God himself is good. Seems to me like they’ve got bigger problems than atheists.

But what would I know, I’m a polytheist.

Speaking of cost, the lying liars of ‘Expelled’ might just lose even more:

Yoko sues “Expelled” filmmakers over ‘Imagine.’

http://www.reuters.com/article/ente[…]158220080423

Ekstasis, I happen to be an atheist and a Buddhist. The Buddha never argued for a god and morality is not a big issue in Buddhism because reality is presumed to have many ways to warn you about the consequences of bad behavior. Open your eyes. Everyone chooses. Some people just don’t want to take personal responsibility for their choices. Too bad, you have to anyway.

Ekstasus said:

So, according to the atheist, adopting and following a moral code is either a choice or it is programmed into the human psyche, or a combination of both.

No, according to reality it is. Even if you think morality is dictated by the gods, you still choose to follow or not follow.

Either way, it is not really “true” in the sense that there is no transcendent being that cares about the moral code, adherence to it, or subjects accountability or awards/penalties for compliance.

Correct. So? We get along just fine without it.

Now, don’t atheists criticize spiritual people on these same grounds?

No, we don’t. We understand that morals aren’t “true” in the way you use the term.

Following this logic, atheists cannot objectively prefer atheism with a moral code over spiritual beliefs, which invariably also impose a moral code.

We prefer atheism because it appears to us to be far more likely true (in the regular dictionary sense rather than your idiosyncratic one) than spritualism. The moral codes don’t have much to do with it, since by and large we all follow the same moral codes with only minor (though sometimes important) variations.

I would ask any of the atheists reading this to state whether they feel their moral code is superior to that of Jesus Christ, or Siddhartha Gautama, or Lao Tsu?

Obviously, since when choosing my moral code, I had Jesus and company, as well as many others, from which to pick and choose those moral attributes I thought best. Give Jesus and the gang a break: they had a lot less to work from.

The big question I have for everyone who pursues these questions is: So? What is the point of all this? Cut to the chase.

Darn it, why can’t I ignore this thread?!? *shrug*

First, I think people need to stop worrying about where morality comes from.

Morality is real:

Analogy loosely borrowed from Descartes. Where does out awareness come from, and how can we trust it? To which I respond, it is futile to doubt your awareness, so don’t bother. I see a dinosaur coffee mug here, and no one is going to convince me I am deluded. Now you can convince me that what I am seeing is a reflection, but I still see something that looks like a dinosaur coffee mug.

Similarly, I have morals. I am willing to modify them, since my personal morality demands it, but it is useless to try to convince me that my morals are epistemologically unsound, because they are not based on epistemology. So the existence of God is not required for me to possess morals, though, in theory, the denial of the existence of God may be immoral, or the perceptions of my morality my rationally point to a God, but this is entirely irrelevant to the question at hand.

Fin.

Now I’m going to get preachy, and everyone who cares about logic should stop reading here. (Furthermore, this is a total tangent)

A rational atheists must acknowledge that without people (or living beings if we want to be more precise) there are no morals, since to an atheist people are ultimately the source of morality. This does seem to mean that if every one thought it was alright to murder babies and eat them, then that would be OK. This might seem odd, but I think it is rationally inescapable, and in fact just as the universe ought to be. This gives each and every person the power to create an ethical code, and you have that power. Think of “A Clockwork Orange.” Demanding that God gives your ethics ultimately defaults on your duties as a human being. Being moral without developing that morality is meaningless, and you don’t understand morality if you need God to give it to you. If God doesn’t exist, there there will be no test at the end, but we should still do everything exactly the same anyway, because we still have the same morals, and those morals are our own. It is like the difference between answering a question correctly, and understanding your own answer. I don’t really know how to drive this home, just read “The Flys” by Sartre. *shrug*

A rational atheists must acknowledge that without people (or living beings if we want to be more precise) there are no morals, since to an atheist people are ultimately the source of morality. This does seem to mean that if every one thought it was alright to murder babies and eat them, then that would be OK. This might seem odd, but I think it is rationally inescapable, and in fact just as the universe ought to be. This gives each and every person the power to create an ethical code, and you have that power.

Well, according to the morality of the Bible, killing babies is certainly not always frowned upon. However, it is important to realize that morality is at least partially resulting from evolutionary history and as such ‘killing babies’ does not seem to be a useful approach, unless you approach it from the lion’s perspective who kills the offspring of his rival once he takes over his rival’s mate.

Evolutionary speaking, killing off-spring is not necessarily amoral. Indeed, we all have the power to create our own ethical code, however, again we face our evolutionary history as well as the history of our society which has put in place social and legal norms.

Hitler did attempt eugenic breeding of humans

Thanks for the confession, Mr. Dawkins. Just another link in the chain that clearly links evolution to the eugenics game.

One can figure out the nature of the tree by noticing what fruit it bears. Hence, one can evaluate the question of whether or not evolution is compatible with Christianity, by looking at the results caused by the evolution-inspired eugenics circus in America and Germany.

Hitler’s little hobby? Just one more piece of fruit, fresh from the evolution tree!!

FL :)

Forgive the snark Kevin. What I see you telling me is if Bob kills all his white lambs because he wishes to have a heard of black sheep, that’s artificial selection, but if John kills all his white lambs because his ex-wife loved white lambs and he hates them, that’s not? Yet we still get a heard of black sheep in remarkable time relative to natural forces.

I say that’s silly. What makes artificial selection worthy of its own term is the focused, frequent selecting that produces results rare, at best, in the natural (non-artificial) world. What possible ultimate significance is there in the motives of the actors?

Science Avenger:

Forgive the snark Kevin. What I see you telling me is if Bob kills all his white lambs because he wishes to have a heard of black sheep, that’s artificial selection, but if John kills all his white lambs because his ex-wife loved white lambs and he hates them, that’s not? Yet we still get a heard of black sheep in remarkable time relative to natural forces.

I say that’s silly. What makes artificial selection worthy of its own term is the focused, frequent selecting that produces results rare, at best, in the natural (non-artificial) world. What possible ultimate significance is there in the motives of the actors?

Killing white lambs to make room for black lambs on account of aesthetic or emotional reasons are examples of artificial selection. White lambs dying because they are more visible to visually oriented predators, or due to a lethal mutant gene linked to white fur genes that causes the lambs to die 10 days after birth would be examples of natural selection.

Killing white lambs to make room for black lambs on account of aesthetic or emotional reasons are examples of artificial selection. White lambs dying because they are more visible to visually oriented predators, or due to a lethal mutant gene linked to white fur genes that causes the lambs to die 10 days after birth would be examples of natural selection.

If white lambs die because of “aesthetic of emotional reasons” it isn’t natural selection?

It isn’t a “word game”. Insistence that “artificial” selection is magically different from natural selection is logically and scientifically wrong.

It’s a wrong distinction made by creationists, and repeating wrong things without acknowledging correction is a creationist-like tactic. Sincere apologies for that, but it is.

So is straw-man-building, and you’re very close hear to implying that others don’t understand what is meant by artificial selection, which is a straw man version of our point. Our point is that artificial selection is a subset of natural selection. If you want to dispute that, you have exactly one logical way to do it. Give an example of “artificial selection” that is not an example of a change in allele frequency in a population, due to selective pressure on some phenotypes by something in the natural environment. All of your examples are clearly natural selection. It’s most obvious if you look at it from the perspective of the lambs. But it’s also obvious that human emotional and aesthetic drives are natural as well.

I guess Dawkins wanted to deny that genocide or eugenics programs are potentially examples of natural selection. Well, they are - potentially. Just because genocide and eugenics are repulsive, despicable, inhumane outrages does not change that fact. Natural selection is a neutral term describing scientific fact. When plants that have adaptations to conserve water are selected for in a desert environment, there is nothing evil going on. However, evil or reprehensible human acts may result in natural selection for or against some phenotypes, in either human or non-human species. Of course they can. So can human acts that we find good or noble, or just neutral. This happens to other species all the time. The Passenger Pigeon experienced dramatic natural selection, and ultimately extinction, due to human hunting. It’s still natural selection, and if there had been a subset of Passenger Pigeons whose phenotypes protected, the alleles underlying those phenotypes would have increased in the population.

(Note - I predict that a moron creationist will, against all logic, take some snippet from this comment are try to claim that since bad human actions can result in natural selection, we should deny the theory of evolution. I call you a moron in advance, but you’ll do it anyway, won’t you?)

Hey fellas, can anyone answer me this? How many original life forms are there? Most think just one. Why, with literally every cubic centimeter within our reach filled with organic matter, would there only be one? If more than one, when did the last one originate? This morning? Yesterday? Last year? Surely if it happened once against all odds, it must happen much more with far greater odds.

Good question, and some people have proposed rather than a single ‘ancestor’ that there existed a pool of ‘organisms’ freely sharing genetic information through horizontal transfer (think ‘sex’). Even Darwin, in a later version, accepted that there may be one or several common ancestors at the foundation of the origin of life.

What do you mean by original life form?

Dave said:

Hey fellas, can anyone answer me this? How many original life forms are there? Most think just one. Why, with literally every cubic centimeter within our reach filled with organic matter, would there only be one? If more than one, when did the last one originate? This morning? Yesterday? Last year? Surely if it happened once against all odds, it must happen much more with far greater odds.

By “original life form” I mean a first generation of life; a life form that has no organic ancestor.

What’s the purpose of your question?

Dave said:

By “original life form” I mean a first generation of life; a life form that has no organic ancestor.

PvM said:

What’s the purpose of your question?

Dave said:

By “original life form” I mean a first generation of life; a life form that has no organic ancestor.

I’ve never heard anyone claim more than one original life form, but I’ve often wondered why that is. It seems that Dawkins’ paradigm would have that it be likely there be multiple origins of life; it seems the scientific record doesn’t support this. Why would a sinlge most unlikely event happen, but not an encore of something seemingly much more likely.

Our point is that artificial selection is a subset of natural selection.

Hmm. IANAB, but personally I would prefer to say that it is a subset of (biological) selection, as much as it is a mechanism of (biological) evolution, albeit not a subset encountered in nature.

A definition of evolution as change over generations or similar admits the artifice Bob discussed. But I would insist on distinguishing between natural evolution as fully non teleological and artificial evolution (selective breeding [or GA software if we leave the biological environment]) as partly teleological. The former is the parsimonious theory that happens to apply to nature, the latter needs an addition of a description of some form of agents and their actions to be complete.

That doesn’t bar the different subsets to overlap substantially as I understand it.

Dave said:

By “original life form” I mean a first generation of life; a life form that has no organic ancestor.

How would you distinguish a ‘life form’ from an ‘almost life form’? This is not prevarication, it is that there is no hard and fast boundary between the two. It is unlikely that viruses are similar to the first ‘life form’ but would you consider them to be alive? How about prions? In biogenesis people talk about the ‘first replicator’ but even here I’m sure most do not see it as a sharp division.

I’ve never heard anyone claim more than one original life form, but I’ve often wondered why that is. It seems that Dawkins’ paradigm would have that it be likely there be multiple origins of life; it seems the scientific record doesn’t support this.

AFAIU (IANAB) this gets fairly complicated when you start to trace evolution of populations back in history. Main evolution theory applies to hereditary organisms, which is fine for DNA life as ourselves, or RNA life now and before us.

But going back it is likely the genetic mechanism starts to be even more distributed into the environment. (Remember, genomes are just cookbook recipes for making new organisms, recipes that interacts with development and the environment. They don’t contain the full information to specify every atom of the adult organism (or rather, all organisms) such as creationists seem to believe.) It also becomes less faithful in replication for natural reasons.

Then you have to redefine what an organism is, say as a protobiont, and AFAIU modify any theoretical description of how it evolved. You pass below the Darwinian threshold when the genealogical trace becomes uncertain. Here is where diverse protobiont communities could have coalesced, perhaps without us having any means of discerning it.

As long as you keep track of the descent of the organism of the subset of the organisms biochemistry you discuss, it seems: DNA as genome may have appeared once, and took over and defined the LUCA population that evolutionary biologists usually discuss. RNA life may have had one LUCA population too, I would think tRNA points to that. But before that, who knows? And isn’t one or even two consecutive LUCA’s enough of a unique common descent ancestor population for anyone?

The initial questions of odds is much easier to answer. First, it seems life is very likely to appear on Earth analog planets. This is due to observations that shows it happened very quickly on Earth as soon as the environment was viable. (Perhaps on the order of 10^8 years, according to sources I’ve seen.) In fact, it could have happen many times in short succession with extinctions in between and/or on different places, which would boost the likelihood even more.

Second, advanced life as we know it today will prevent new replicators to form, as existing life is ubiquitous and such biochemicals are food. It isn’t even a competition.

[The competition question is why I think the question of LUCA’s is a bit odd. Any evolutionary propagating population beats the socks off their competitors. Else where are they, the single, eternal, unchanging individuals, or the alternative hereditary mechanism populations? Even recent “nanobacteria” seems to have been debunked as biological or nonbiological calcium carbonate aggregates now.

Wouldn’t it been highly unlikely not to see a LUCA population under such circumstances?]

How about prions?

IIRC a biologist over at ERV characterized prions as very non-faithful, i.e. “dirty” assemblages of proteins and other matter where even the hereditary “genome” of the alternative fold was topologically unfaithful. So while he thought viruses where acceptable as organisms under evolution, prions where not.

But yes, generally it must be some difficulty to discern the artificial line between non-organic and organic systems under “organication”, just as there is some difficulty to discern the artificial line between species under speciation.

Absolutely fascinating. I am going to have to read some of the more recent abiogenesis work. Thank you, Mr. Larsson.

Surely if it [abiogenesis] happened once against all odds, it must happen much more with far greater odds.

1. The early earth was much different 3.6 billion years ago than today. For one thing, there was no oxygen and reducing rather than oxidizing.

2. More important, the earth was devoid of life. No competition for space and energy whatsoever. The first replicating organism could claim it all.

Today any primordial organisms face serious competition from the current residents, a tough group of survivors of 3.6 billion years of evolution.

3. No matter how many original life forms there were, all organisms today have the same genetic code. It was winner take all.

4. To really look at abiogenesis in situ, we need to wander around more. Mars, Europa, the other moons of the outer planets, and the extrasolar planets we keep finding. It will take a while.

TL -

IANAB, but personally I would prefer to say that it is a subset of (biological) selection, as much as it is a mechanism of (biological) evolution, albeit not a subset encountered in nature.

Actually, you anticipated my next phase of development on this issue.

It occurred to me that the words “natural” and “artificial” are themselves redundant and anachronistic. It’s biological selection, or just selection, no matter where it occurs.

Anyway, my fundamental point is just to argue vehemently against creationist claims that selection becomes magic if the species Homo sapiens is an environmental agent of selection. It doesn’t.

Note that Darwin originally coined the term “natural” selection to emphasize that it was fundamentally the same process as selection in the context of agriculture, but not human driven.

However, if someone uses the terms “natural” and “artificial” selection, I must be insistent that they should concede that the latter is essentially a type of the former. Again, debates about souls notwithstanding, observable human behavior is 100% as natural as anything else.

Hey fellas, can anyone answer me this? Why, with literally every cubic centimeter within our reach filled with organic matter, would there only be one? If more than one, when did the last one originate? This morning? Yesterday? Last year? Surely if it happened once against all odds, it must happen much more with far greater odds.

Eh. To some extent, it probably happens all the time. With a biosphere dripping with complex organic chemicals the possible opportunities for a handful of promiscuous amino acids to hook up is so high that it’s a virtual certainty that primitive abiogenesis is happening somewhere on earth as we speak.

There are reasonable estimates that say if you threw a semi trailer full of each base pair into a small, warm, lake and stirred vigorously, odds are 50-50 you’d get a chain 55-pairs long within a year.

Don’t forget, all you need is one string that self-catalyzes, and you’re off to the races. It might be happening inside your garbage disposal at this very moment.

But then again, you shouldn’t expect tentacles to sprout from your sink any time soon. Even if you had a spontaneous strand in there, it wouldn’t get you much. The first such self-replicators didn’t accomplish much more than self replicating, just xeroxing that one tiny DNA strand over and over.

In this regard, they were much simpler than even viruses are today. Viruses aren’t even ‘alive”, they’re just little chains of molecules that, in the right organic soup, can self-catalyze more copies of themselves. At least virus have structures to keep their insides in, the first self replicators would have been much simpler than that, just free-floating proteins.

But don’t forget, unlike the first days of Earth, you don’t even have to build those first simple molecules. The organic slime on any beach is polluted with bits of all sorts of cellular trash, including fragments of already existing self replicating DNA, I’m sure some of that links up in useful ways once in a while since that’s what DNA does. On a molecular scale a drop with some free-floating DNA is like a tumble dryer full of velcro strips .

Of course, once you have a strand, those first few mutations are very delicate things. I would hazard a guess that over and over again, the vast majority of the promising proto-molecules just “broke” and the game was over for a thousand more years. It probably took half a billion years to get to even the simplest cell.

But the big reason we don’t see myriad life forms rising up de novo from amino acids is simple. Life is already here and it has an insurmountable competitive lead over anything small, helpless, and resembling food.

Life permeates every cubic centimeter of the biosphere, and most of that life is single-celled and actively scavenging for every possible bit of yummy organic material.

The only reason those proto-molecules got a foothold in the first place all those eons ago is that they were left alone - there was nothing around yet to eat them.

Dave -

Your question sounds innocuous enough, but I suspect that you’re trying to spring some kind of “gotcha game”. Anyway, here is a shorter answer.

1) All life today shares the same genetic code and fundamental biochemistry. Life evolves; this is inherent in the way that genetics work. If different types of life had been magically created out of nothing, we might expect differences in fundamental genetics and biochemistry.

2) We have no strong idea how life was originally created, and anyone who tells you that the theory of evolution has anything to do with that issue is lying. We do know that it had to happen several billions of years ago.

3) Some scientists study models of how life might have originated; this field is known as the study of “abiogenesis”. It has nothing to do with religion, unless you personally follow a religion which will be proven false if science finds a model for how life may have arisen on earth. If you do, that’s your own problem, not science’s problem. Most religious people have no trouble with science.

4) Whether life originated once, or originated multiple times but only took hold once, is simply not known. It may never be known. This is all very fascinating, but for now, we can only build models of what may have happened in the distant past.

harold said:

However, if someone uses the terms “natural” and “artificial” selection, I must be insistent that they should concede that the latter is essentially a type of the former.

Oh, I agree. Science has priority on the use of the terms, however anachronistic it may seem now.

Tell you what, it’s refreshing to have somebody post an honest intelligent question on abiogenesis. Good on ya Dave.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on April 23, 2008 12:56 AM.

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