Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Minimal Cell: A Problem of Evolution 2/2

[continued from part 1/2]

The origin of the components is just the start of the
problem of the minimal cell for evolution. What then needs
to be explained is their self-assembly. As physicist Harold
F. Blum observed, "The living machine is clearly not just a
mixture of chemicals, yet there seems to be widespread
belief that, once the proper molecular compounds were
there, life would appear, whether on the earth, on Mars, or
elsewhere in the universe. This no more follows ... than that
an automobile ... might spring spontaneously from a
mixture of all the chemical species from which it is

A free-living single celled organism, such as a bacterium, is
a Von Neumann machine, named after the mathematician
Johann Von Neumann, who before the cell's self-replication
machinery was known, worked out the minimum level of
complexity for any self-replicating system.[2] Von Neumann
found his minimum self-replicating automaton was
enormously complex, with 200,000 components, totalling 3
kilometres across and requiring 200 pages just to describe
it![3] But even then, unlike a living cell, no provision was made
for the automaton obtaining its energy direct from the
environment.[4] While simpler Von Neumann machines have
since been proposed, they are not fully self-replicating and
yet are still enormously complex.[5] Indeed no machine that
can fully replicate itself from simple basic components[6] has
ever been built.[7] Yet uncountable trillions of living cells
replicate themselves every day, from simple basic components,
according to the principles Von Neumann worked out.[8] Not
surprisingly, Von Neumann himself found the origin of life
to be utterly perplexing.[9]

As Blum pointed out, the problem of the origin of life is not
"to do with the origin of the materials from which living
systems are composed" but rather it is "the perplexing
problem of the origin of the self-replicating, living machine ...
a machine that replicates itself can, with some difficulty be
imagined; but such a machine that could originate itself
offers a baffling problem which no one has as yet solved."[10]

The cell is the basic unit of life.[11] A single-celled organism
such as a bacterium is therefore the lowest level of structure
capable of independently performing all the activities of
life.[12] Therefore, for evolutionists the origin of life
is the origin of the first, minimal cell.[13]

So the problem of a naturalistic origin of life is not only to
explain how 256+ genes, plus all the other chemical
components and structures for survival and reproduction
arose (which is problem enough-see part 1/2), but also how
those components then put themselves together[14] into
"a fully working machine of incredible complexity: a machine
that has to be complex, it seems, not just to work well but to
work at all."[15]

1. Blum, H.F., "Time's Arrow and Evolution," [1951], Harper
Torchbooks: New York NY, Second Edition, Revised,
1962, p.178G
2. Denton, M.J., "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis," Burnett
Books: London, 1985, p.337.
3. Johnson, G., "Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the
Search for Order," [1995], Penguin Books: London,
1997, p.254.
4. Denton, M.J., "Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology
Reveal Purpose in the Universe," Free Press: New York
NY, 1998, p.147.
5. Newman, R.C., "Artificial Life and Cellular Automata,"
Access Research Network, March 15, 2000.
6. Scott A., "The Creation of Life: Past, Future, Alien,"
Basil Blackwell: Oxford UK, 1986, p.197.
7. Cairns-Smith A.G., "Seven Clues to the Origin of Life,"
[1985], Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK,
1993, reprint, p.14.
8. Drexler, K.E., "Engines of Creation," [1990], Oxford
University Press: Oxford UK, 1992, reprint, p.53.
9. Cairns-Smith, 1985, p.15. My emphasis.
10. Blum, 1951, pp.178G-178H.
11. Becker W.M., Kleinsmith L.J. & Hardin J., "The World of
the Cell," [1986], Benjamin/Cummings: San Francisco
CA, Fourth edition, 2000, pp.2,4.
12. Campbell N.A., Reece J.B. & Mitchell L.G., "Biology,"
[1987], Benjamin/Cummings: Menlo Park CA, Fifth
Edition, 1999, p.4. Emphasis in original
13. Campbell, et al., 1999, pp.492-493.
14. Ross, H.N., "Simplest Bacterium Not So Simple," Facts &
Faith, Reasons To Believe: Pasadena CA, Vol. 10, No. 4,
Fourth Quarter 1996, p.5. My emphasis.
15. Cairns-Smith, 1985, p.37. My emphasis.

Stephen E. Jones
"Problems of Evolution"

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