Wednesday 6 April 2011

Eating the abiogenesis cake

It seems Joe W. Francis can't make up his mind. In "Oxygen, Water, and Light, Oh My! — The Toxicity of Life's Basic Necessities", which forms chapter 10 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God, he appears to be claiming that the world is fine-tuned for life. And that it's a wonder life got started at all, given the world is so hostile to it. Well, which is it Joe?

This chapter appears to be an example of what might be called the argument from abiogenesis — the complexity of present-day biology is expounded in some detail (detail that I'm not competent to assess, not being a biologist), but it appears to miss one significant factor that's typically (or deliberately) missed in all such arguments. Sure, modern multicellular life is extremely complex, but abiogenesis isn't the wholesale springing-into-existence of complex multicellular life. It's not even the emergence of complex unicellular life. Abiogenesis is the first event — the appearance of the first self-replicating molecule. This molecule and its descendants might not even merit the description organic, even though they would lead to organic life. Whatever they were — and we can only speculate here as we don't really know — they would likely be relatively simple. Certainly relative to the intricate biological machinery evident within cells we examine today, they would probably appear absurdly simple. We have no archeological evidence — such early organisms, being soft-bodied, would not have fossilized.

To give Joe Francis his due, he doesn't explicitly present anything in this chapter as evidence for God (though I wonder, therefore, why the editors included it). But the implication is clear: cellular organisms contain highly complex mechanisms to protect them from the hostile toxicity of their environment — an environment that is fine-tuned for the existence of such cellular organisms. (No, I don't get it either.)