Simple Molecules: The Building Blocks of Lie

first_imgAt a physical level, everything in the universe is made of atoms and molecules.  Life, being a subset of everything in the universe, is composed of a subset of all molecules that exist.  It could be said that any atom or molecule present in a living thing is a building block of life, but how informative is that?  Carbon, for instance, is essential to life, but is also a building block of cyanide, tailpipe soot, graphite, diamond and a host of deadly poisons.    It’s not just the presence of the simplest parts that conveys information about the whole – it’s the way that the building blocks are assembled into the complex structure.  A child’s alphabet building blocks, for instance, form gibberish when assembled by an infant who cannot read.  Life has been compared, by contrast, to an encyclopedia of highly specific information.  This information then directs a symphony of coordinated, dynamic processes using molecular machines.    Evolutionists are fond of pointing to carbon, water and other atoms and simple molecules as “building blocks of life.”  Embedded in the phrase is a subtext of progress.  If the building blocks are present, the statement suggests that they will “build” or assemble into life, given the right circumstances.  No one would say, though, that since silicon is a building block of computers, finding silicon on extrasolar planets is a sure bet computers will eventually be found.  In a similar vein, life uses a subset of “organic compounds” (carbon-based chemicals), but sometimes the word organic is used in an equivocal way to suggest the presence of life, even though many organic compounds (cyanide, gasoline, and carbon tetrachloride, for example) are poisonous or useless to biology.    At what point does the use of “prebiotic compounds” or “organic soup” or “building blocks of life” invoke the power of suggestion to support an evolutionary, naturalistic view of life’s origin?  Look at these recent examples to see if the inference to life is warranted by the observations.Oxygen:  The oxygen atom, though necessary for most living things, can also be a deadly poison – that’s why we take antioxidants.  In the cell, it is handled very delicately by complex enzymes that combine it with byproducts of respiration to form water and carbon dioxide, which can be safely removed.  Oxygen’s mere presence, however, suggested to EurekAlert that life was ready to explode in a plethora of wondrous complexity.  The title reads, “2 oxygenation events in ancient oceans sparked spread of complex life.”  Would the same thing be said of silicon sparking the spread of computers?Carbon:  Carbon is essential to most living molecules.  It is basic to fats, sugars, proteins and nucleic acids.  Raw carbon, or simple hydrocarbons, however, are useless to life unless incorporated by enzymes into structural molecules according to coded instructions.    Why, then, are the news media all using the L-word Life in their reports about the discovery of methane around a nearby star?  Methane is the simplest “organic” (carbon-based) molecule: one carbon joined to four hydrogens.  Because of its fourfold valence, carbon easily joins with other atoms – especially the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen.  Methane is abundant on Titan, the gas giants, some comets and probably Mars, though not associated with life there.  Humans use methane for their cooking but not for their biology; it is emitted as a waste product by the bacteria in cow stomachs and by the decay of biomass, but is not a nutrient for life.    Nevertheless, most reports from a paper in Nature1 emphasized the L-word when methane was detected around a star, even though the authors said nothing about life.  “Under certain circumstances, methane can play a key role in prebiotic chemistry – the chemical reactions considered necessary to form life,” said the BBC News.  Ditto for Science Daily.  A NASA scientist called this “a dress rehearsal for future searches for life on more hospitable planets,” according to Space.com.  National Geographic was slightly more tentative, but ended with a focus on methane’s potential as a biomarker for life on other planets.Amino acids:  Proteins are composed of long chains of one-handed amino acids.  These carbon-based molecules have two simple parts, an amino group and a carboxyl group, and a side chain (R-group) that can be as simple as one hydrogen (glycine) or much more complex with cyclic domains and other things.  Of the almost endless varieties of possible amino acids, life as we know it is restricted primarily to 20 kinds.  It is not just the amino acids alone that make them “lively” but their specific combinations into long chains, held together by peptide bonds.    Finding a few amino acids, however, got EurekAlert all excited with two pronouncements on the same day: Meteorites are rich in the building blocks of life and Meteorites a rich source for primordial soup.  Both articles insinuated that a steady rain of amino acids on the primitive earth would have been sufficient to kickstart life in the ocean – even though amino acids avoid joining into polypeptides in the presence of water.  Notice the confidence mixed with suggestion in a statement by a scientist from Imperial College, London: “We know that approximately 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago the Earth underwent heavy bombardment from meteorites which brought molecules to our planet, just before life emerged on Earth.”Water:  It goes without saying that water is another simple molecule often associated with the L-word.  A press release from Jet Propulsion Lab referred to life twice in the story about dust disks around stars (see the other 03/19/2008 entry today).  The article said that the discovery of water vapor molecules in the disk “may help shed light on the origins of our own solar system and the potential for life to develop in others.”  They also quoted Carr using the “building blocks” angle, “Now that we can identify these molecules and inventory them, we will have a better understanding of the origins and evolution of the basic building blocks of life–where they come from and how they evolve.” Countless press releases rush to include the L-word whenever a discovery is made of “building blocks of life” in space.  Presumably, the claim could be made about hydrogen.  Humans have plenty of hydrogen atoms bound to carbon and oxygen.  By extension, then, the whole universe is a building block of life.1.  Swain, Vashist and Tinneti, “The presence of methane in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet,” Nature, 452, 329-331 (20 March 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06823.Your imagination is being taken for a ride when you fall for the “building blocks” line.  Assumptions, unwarranted inferences and misdirection: these are the building blocks of lie.(Visited 35 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img

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