Philosophy

The Step Back Shuffle Problem In The Origin Of Life

Science does not know what life is. Which is to say, the definition of life is not scientific. Science begins with the definition—supplied by outside sources and methods—and then does its best to measure the causes of it.

Don’t sweat much over this. As regular readers know, science uses math and math isn’t scientific either. Science begins with the definitions of math, like everybody else, and then puts math to use. Math isn’t scientific because no math is ever observed, and the causes of it are unplumbable. If you think not, go out and find sqrt(-1) in your yard. So math isn’t scientific.

Naturally, science freely mixes in heaps of philosophy with the math; physics must needs metaphysics. It is impossible—not unlikely: impossible—to do science without a philosophy. I mean, it’s not science but scientists who do this mixing. What makes the whole thing difficult is that it’s scientists who do science, so it can be perplexing to separate the philosophy from the science especially when scientists deny they have a philosophy.

Which brings us to the observation that not only does science not know what life is, scientists do not know how life was first created. Genesis: they are ignorant on this important matter.

Fred Reed is terrific on this. He exposes every bluff and bluster scientists use when reminded they have no idea about Genesis. Here’s a brief quotation from a large list:

I was probably in college when I found myself asking what seemed to me straightforward questions about the chemical origin of life. In particular:

1. Life was said to have begun by chemical inadvertence in the early seas. Did we, I wondered, really know of what those early seas consisted? Know, not suspect, hope, theorize, divine, speculate, or really, really wish.

The answer was, and is, no. We have no dried residue, no remaining pools, and the science of planetogenesis isn’t nearly good enough to provide a quantitative analysis.

2. Had the creation of a living cell been replicated in the laboratory? No, it hadn’t, and hasn’t. (Note 1)

3. Did we know what conditions were necessary for a cell to come about? No, we didn’t, and don’t.

4. Could it be shown to be mathematically probable that a cell would form, given any soup whatever? No, it couldn’t, and can’t. (At least not without cooking the assumptions.) (Note 2)

Read the rest. It’s good. Also read Reed here. And the best may be this. He takes a sharp knife to the pretenses of “evolutionary biology”, too.

Still, many scientists still believe they have solved Genesis. One way scientists think they solve the problem of Genesis is the Step Back Shuffle. It goes like this:

Okay, scientists say, we don’t know with any certainty how life could have arose on Earth. So maybe it came from the skies, in the form of a meteor having just the right chemio-biological constituents. Anyway, the universe is surely teeming with life, and some of it came here. Problem solved.

Some of that mysterious, unobserved, wholly posited life might have come here, sure. Which is to say, it’s not logically impossible. But this just puts the problem one step back. It does not solve it. Scientists still have to explain Genesis on at least one of these hypothetical planets. Maybe they can. On the other hand, maybe they can’t. Ever.

The device of the Step Back Shuffle was used in the movie Contact. In it, aliens transmit instructions for a device which allows Jodie Foster to travel through wormholes to visit them. When Foster gets to the alien planet, an alien in the form of her dead dad admits his race didn’t build the tunnels, that they were built by others who came before them.

But, the simulacra of a dad said to Foster, we’re still happy to have found you, because it’s nice to know others exist.

Which it would be. But why?

Sharper readers can already see that there was more than one use of the Step Back Shuffle. The first is the shoulder shrugging over the tunnel-building aliens. The second is in why its nice to discover there are others, and why Foster’s dad appeared.

It’s obvious enough that Carl Sagan (who wrote the book) longed for the same things we all long for, and tried to reinvent Heaven via advanced machines and angelic-like life. None of which explains the origin of the longing. It only moves it one step back, by pretending to have found a solution for it.

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Categories: Philosophy

25 replies »

  1. My wife claims to have found sqrt(-1) in our yard, but I think she’s just imagining it.

  2. After brooding on this for a couple of decades, I eventually realized that What is Life? is an ill-formed question. https://thewinnower.com/papers/3497-reconceptualizing-the-metaphysical-basis-of-biology-a-new-definition-based-on-deistic-teleology-and-an-hierarchy-of-organizing-entities

    ST Coleridge got there a couple of centuries earlier:

    “What is Life? Were such a question proposed, we should be tempted to answer, what is not Life that really is?”

    https://www.gutenberg.org/files/24346/24346-h/24346-h.html

    In other words, since we cannot say what life is, nor define a boundary between living and not; we are confronted by the choice that either everything in God’s creation is alive (and conscious) in some manner and degree; or else nothing is alive – which is the view of mainstream modern science.

    For a Christian, this means that every-‘thing’ is alive – and therefore there was no origin. This is also what we we believed as young children – presumably because this is natural knowledge, put in us by God.

    Overturning this assumption was surely one of the greatest errors in human history – leading by steps to our current officially-dead, purposeless, meaningless universe – with the same implications for human life and morality.

  3. No science can discover its own postulates. Not even mathematics. Physics can discover how one motion is transformed into another, but ‘motion’ is a given. Ditto for ‘energy,’ and as the OP noted, ‘life.’ Interestingly, for Aristotle, ‘motion’ was akin to ‘life.’ To be is to do. But remember, for Aristotle, motion included an apple moving from green to red and a kitten moving to cat.

    A body is ‘alive’ if it is the principle and term of its own acts. A kitten may cross the room to a saucer of milk, not because it is pushed there by vast impersonal forces, but because she is thirsty. The motion orinates in the kitten [principle] and ends in the kitten taking a drink [term].

  4. “Saying that life on earth came from another planet is like saying that a ghost in a graveyard must have come from some other graveyard. It doesn’t explain anything.” G.K. Chesterton (https://www.chesterton.org/life-from-other-planets/).

    Another recognition of the Step-back shuffle, also know as kicking the can further down the road.

  5. bruce g charleton: “ST Coleridge got there a couple of centuries earlier:

    “What is Life? Were such a question proposed, we should be tempted to answer, what is not Life that really is?”

    “In other words, since we cannot say what life is, nor define a boundary between living and not; we are confronted by the choice that either everything in God’s creation is alive (and conscious) in some manner and degree; or else nothing is alive – which is the view of mainstream modern science.”

    Brings to mind Thomas Berger’s novel Little Big Man, where Old Lodge Skins, a Cheyenne Indian, is speaking to the novel’s protagonist, Jack Crabb:

    “The Human Beings [Cheyenne Indians] believe that everything is alive: not only men and animals but also water and earth and stones and also the dead and things from them like this hair. The person from whom this hair came is bald on the Other Side, because I now own this scalp. This is the way things are.

    “But white men believe that everything is dead: stones, earth, animals, and people, even their own people. And if, in spite of that, things persist in trying to live, white men will rub them out.”

    “That,” he concludes, “is the difference between white men and Human Beings.”

  6. NLR: “Another recognition of the Step-back shuffle, also know as kicking the can further down the road.”

    It’s turtles, all the way down.

  7. The reference, to any who might not have heard, is to the following scene:

    A teacher is explaining to the class that the world is fixed under the heavens by standing on the back of a turtle. A boy at the back of the class raises a hand to ask, “What is the turtle standing on?” “On the back of another turtle”, replies the teacher. The boy frowns and raises his hand to ask, “But what is…” — “uh-uh”, interrupts the teacher, “it’s turtles all the way down”.

  8. „“Look,” said Rumfoord, “life for a punctual person is like a roller coaster.” He turned to shiver his hands in her face. “All kinds of things are going to happen to you! Sure,” he said, “I can see the whole roller coaster you’re on. And sure—I could give you a piece of paper that would tell you about every dip and turn, warn you about every bogeyman that was going to pop out at you in the tunnels. But that wouldn’t help you any.” “I don’t see why not,” said Beatrice. “Because you’d still have to take the roller-coaster ride,” said Rumfoord. “I didn’t design the roller coaster, I don’t own it, and I don’t say who rides and who doesn’t. I just know what it’s shaped like.“ — Kurt Vonnegut, book The Sirens of Titan

    Source: https://quotepark.com/works/the-sirens-of-titan-299/?page=2

  9. To get the right answers, you have to ask the right questions.
    The fundamental questions of physics are “What is motion?”, “What is time?”, “What is space?”, and the connected question, “What is spacetime?”
    The answers to these questions turn out to be ridiculously simple.
    1. Standing wave in spacetime.
    2. Steadily increasing linear eccentricity (c) of a hyperbola. A^2 – B^2 = C^2
    3. Steadily increasing radius of a sphere with center at the focus of the time hyperbola. (Distance c from the origin.) A^2 + B^2 = C^2
    4. Potential energy field with a fixed maximum. (There being no such thing as negative energy, there is also a fixed minimum.)

  10. Speaking of Back Step Shuffle…

    A biochemist dies and goes to heaven. While there, he brags to God that “Back on Earth we’ve discovered how to create life just like You did!” God says, “Interesting. Show me how you do it.” The scientist says, “OK, I’ll need a flask of water, some oxygen, a bit of carbon and nitrogen –” God quickly interrupts him and says, “No. You have to start with NOTHING.”

  11. They’ll never admit it, but panspermia is just creationism once removed.

  12. The Reed essay is you quote from is particularly interesting – particularly for someone who got kicked out of pre-school for asking who God’s father was.

    He says that he’ll accept what can be proven but also offers this statement:

    “Evolution breaks down into at least three logically separable components: First, that life arose by chemical accident; second, that it then evolved into the life we see today; and third, that the mechanism was the accretion of chance mutations. Evolutionists, not particularly logical, refuse to see this separability.”

    I think two thirds of the foundations for that statement are wrong:
    1 – there is no evidence for chemical accident – there is evidence for chemical inevitablity.
    2 – the chance mutations argument arose to “fix” limitations in Darwin as grossly understood but the evidence against it is much stronger than the evidence for it.

    I have supporting argument for this on my website (https://winface.com/node/12 ) under “Raging Speculations” – essentially my answer to David Gelernter on ID. Bio is not my field (except for trying -and failing- to understand DNA as cryptology) but you may find it interesting as an underinformed attempt at a life-from-nothing theory from which darwinian evolution is easily derived.

  13. The fundamental questions of physics are “What is motion?”, “What is time?”, “What is space?”, and the connected question, “What is spacetime?” Actually, no. Natural sciene asks for the abstracted properties of physical bodies. Not “what is motion,” but “hoe fast? or “which direction?”As for space and time, these are not physical bodies but akin to invisible sky fairies. The physicist can ask :”How long?”or “How wide?” But you are asking him to do metaphysics. Einstein called space and time “metaphysical intrusions” into what ought to be empirical science.

    The problem is that unlike Schroedinger, Einstein, Mach, Poincare and the rest, the modern scientist is usually poorly educated in how to do metaphysics, and so oftem does not know when he is doing it.

    The book is Origin of Species not Origin of Life. It describes how an already extant species of living creatures might be transformed into another sufficiently different that human would call it a new species. But the proposed mechanism, natural selection, presumes there is already something natural to select. Transformations are the proper object of scientific inquiry. And are measured in meters, grams, seconds, amperes, candles, degrees of temperature, or moles of substance

  14. All Christians who belong to Jesus Christ know that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that all things were made by Him and for Him. If scientists started with this truth, so very much more could be accomplished with the gifts of intelligence that God has given to them.

    God bless, C-Marie

  15. Hagfish, you got it wrong. The turtle is swimming through space, and the world is supported on the backs of elephants who are standing on the turtle’s back. Everyone knows this and I can’t understand how you didn’t. 🙂

  16. @ Ye Olde Statistician: “The problem is that unlike Schroedinger, Einstein, Mach, Poincare and the rest, the modern scientist is usually poorly educated in how to do metaphysics, and so oftem does not know when he is doing it.”

    Marvelous insight. Thank you!

  17. All living organisms have the following characteristics: reproduction, metabolism (respiration, excretion, nutrition, growth), motility, and sensitivity.

    Even the simplest life form consists of specifically ordered chains of umpteen thousands of nucleic acids that “code” myriad incredibly complex enzymes that catalyze myriad complex chemical reactions all necessary for life to exist. These physical truths do not include the metaphysical life force itself.

    There is infinite improbability that accidental arrangements in a chemical bath could ever attain in finite time such ordered complexity.

    Yet here we are. Makes you wonder.

  18. Thank you, Uncle Mike! And makes me full of gratitude to our Father Who revealed to us how it all came about!!! Thank you dear God!!!
    God bless, C-Marie

  19. The Book? Of Genesis is a fictional account based on Assyrian gods/beliefs. The Assyrian religion had gods of “earth, water, light” etc, you get the picture. They happen to correspond to the Genesis myth as concerns Creation. Just because we don’t have all the answers we can’t just make up stories!

  20. Barry,
    The Assyrians came too late to provide feedstock for Genesis. You’d be better off suggesting Sumerian or Old Babylonian roots. The two creation accounts in Genesis are very different kinds of accounts. Journalism had not then been invented, so neither can be taken as historic or journalistic. The first account, strictly speaking, is less an account of creation than it is a poem in honor of the Sabbath, complete with verses and a refrain and a logical structure.. It is thought to have been written by Ezra the Scribe as a prologue to the entire anthology that the Jews had compiled during their captivity. Deprived of their Temple, they had devised a life centered around Sabbath-keeping. The second account is the myth, complete with archetypal stories, culture heroes, genealogical accounts of neighboring peoples, and so on. A myth serves to “reinforce the values and attitudes of the community, offer satisfying explanations of the major features of the world as experienced by the community, and legitimate the current social structure” Since it’s purpose is satisfaction, not journalism, it doesn’t matter if there are multiple, differing accounts. Examples of myth include Plymouth Rock, Galileo, Newton’s ‘Annus Mirabilis, and so on, which together comprise the “Genesis” mythos of the Modern Ages.

    Whrn you write “he Assyrian religion had gods of “earth, water, light” etc, ,” you write a tautology. These were among the features of the world for everybody, not just the Ashshuru. So, everybody had satisfying myths to account for them. Borrowing or copying is not the most economical explanation. A common environment/experience is.

  21. Far better to believe that God’s Word is God’s Word, as handed down to us, whether we can prove their timing and authors, or not, for we know the writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit. God’s promises are real, He is Love, He also has wrath when needed. Do read the writings of the Prophet Isaiah.

    Remember that God told to us that His ways and thoughts are far above ours, which among other things, means, that He reveals Himself to us as He wills. We are bound, locked, within our discoveries (other peoples’ writings, stories, and more), but He is not bound at all.

    God bless, C-Marie

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