Other possible mechanisms for abiogenesis and evolution?

123rf.com/Yevgen Lyashko

Today’s feedback looks at the possibility of different mechanisms for evolution, and Dr Jonathan Sarfati shows why how what we know from chemistry and physics works against abiogenesis, and what we know about biology works against evolution. Mitchell R. from the United States writes:

Hey guys, I am pretty convinced now that evolution could not happen by natural selection and mutations but I was wondering if it could be possible that there is a different mechanism that is undiscovered yet? Or will evolution always be tied down to natural selection and mutations? Thanks, Mitch

Dr Jonathan Sarfati responds:

Dear Mr R.

Thanks for writing to CMI. Of course, anything is possible, at least in terms of logical possibility, if we want to go down that track. Maybe aliens seeded life on earth. But when it comes down to it, there are only the following possibilities:

  1. Natural law, whether we know it or don’t.
  2. Chance.
  3. Natural selection.
  4. Design.

Taking them in order:

  1. The problem for the evolutionists is precisely what we do know about chemical laws, so it is not an appeal to ignorance or “God of the Gaps“, as opposed to the far more common “Evolution of the gaps” that atheists resort to. We know the laws by which amino acids and nucleotides behave, and the laws go in the opposite direction (see for example Some thermodynamics criticisms and answers (#2)) for the purely chemical aspect as well as the fact that the building blocks do not combine to form information-rich peptides. (From a philosophical point of view, here is how I think Natural Law should be understood).
  2. Probabilities are just too low (see Answering another uninformed atheist: Galileo, Miller—Urey, probability). See also the rebuttal to a common evolutionary counter-argument Cheating with chance.
  3. This is why Dawkins says that understanding natural selection is so important, so we are not dealing with huge amounts improbability all at once, but “Climbing Mount Improbable” in small steps (see my review of Dawkins book of that name). But there are limitations on what mutations and selection can achieve, as shown by the genuine Weasel program and Behe’s book The Edge of Evolution (see my defence of Behe against Dawkins and our review of Behe’s book). And of course, natural selection presupposes a self-reproducing entity, so can’t be invoked to explain it (see Natural selection cannot explain the origin of life), so we are back to law and chance.
  4. Design: makes the best sense. See also The old ‘Who created God?’ canard revisited as well as my book By Design: Evidence for nature’s Intelligent Designer the God of the Bible.

Hope this helps.

Jonathan Sarfati

[Update: see Dr Sarfati’s later response to more questions from Mitch: Answering 10 big questions in detail.]

123rf.com/Yevgen Lyashko

E.K. from Canada writes:

Hello CMI

Prigogine’s work on self-organizing systems seems (at my limited level of understanding) to refute Dr. Sarfati’s polymerization objection to abiogenesis, and I can’t find CMI’s response. The information argument holds the creationist case, but has the evolutionary camp solved the polymerization problem?

Also, I’m debating with a (MA) philosopher friend who tries to extend the definition of natural selection into the non-living, even the inorganic realm. He uses the example of a rock tumbling down a soft-soiled hill as an example of replication, then argues that natural selection favours fecundity and fidelity. He seems to want to argue the case apart from mechanisms. Is there a refutation or at least a compelling rebuttal? (Apart from the obvious “selection for fidelity and perhaps even fecundity is not very observable” criticism)


CMI’s Dr Jonathan Sarfati responds:

Dear Mr K.

Prigogine’s ideas of dissipative structures is ancient news. That’s why I haven’t needed to address them. A 1984 classic refutation of chemical evolution, The Mystery of Life’s Origin, deals with Prigogine’s claims in one chapter, available online at http://www.ldolphin.org/mystery/chapt9.html. There is no relation to the specific chemical problems of polymerization at all as explained in Origin of life: the polymerization problem. If anyone disagrees, let them demonstrate that amino acids can polymerize in anything remotely resembling hypothesized primordial earth conditions. Any chemist knows that the last place one would try any condensation polymerization is in a place full of the condensation by-product (water). As you seem to realize, the Prigogine scenario demonstrates only spontaneous order, not spontaneous complexity.

This philosopher friend should stick to what he knows. A rock tumbling down a hill just accumulates mass; living things must replicate information content. If this is not happening, then any selected information can’t be passed to the next generation. See for example Natural selection cannot explain the origin of life.


Jonathan Sarfati

Published: 8 September 2012

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