Wednesday, January 10, 2007

`origin of life ... the fatal fault of depending on the accidental formation of a highly complex molecule through ... random collision' (Keosian)

As mentioned in a previous post, I had finally located and ordered the original source of a great,

[Left: Noda, H., ed., "The Origin of Life" (1978)].

but poorly referenced quote by YEC Duane Gish of a John Keosian, former Professor of Biology at Rutgers University and origin of life specialist, who wrote an important book, "The Origin of Life" in 1964, with second edition in 1968.

I now have received the book the quote is in, Noda, H., ed., "The Origin of Life" (1978), and have read Keosian's paper in it, "The Crisis in the Problem of the Origin of Life." Keosian had evidently retired (he is footnoted as "Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University"), so this is his final, end-of-career, nothing-to-lose, pull-no-punches critique of all naturalistic origin of life theories by an insider who `knows where the body is buried'!

I agree with Gish that, "Keosian was now much less optimistic, almost to the point of despair":

"In 1964, John Keosian published a book on the origin of life in which he optimistically looked forward to a solution of the many problems which seemed intractable at that time for the origin-of-life chemist [Keosian, J., "The Origin of Life," Reinhold: New York, 1964] Fourteen years later, drawing on much more knowledge and experience from his own research and that of many others in the field, Keosian was now much less optimistic, almost to the point of despair [Keosian, J., "Origin of Life," 1978, pp. 569-574]." (Gish, D.T., "Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics," Institute for Creation Research: El Cajon CA, 1993, p.262).

I am surprised I have not heard more in the creationist/ID literature about Keosian's paper in Noda's book, because it is devastating critique of all fully naturalistic origin of life theories! It is significant that there appears to be nothing on Keosian that I can link to. It seems he has been expunged from the record because of his paper!

I won't post immediately the actual quote of Keosian mentioned by Gish but will work my way through Keosian's critique of each origin of life theory, with my comments.

But first, a quote from Keosian's own book on the origin of life, on one of the earliest origin of life theories, the`enzyme... bare of all body' (i.e. naked enzyme) theory of biochemist Leonard T. Troland (1889-1932), which was "the basis of the `naked gene' theory of the origin of life":

"DID LIFE START AS A GENE? A different approach to the origin of life is given by the gene concept. This theory was proposed by Muller in 1926 in an address before the International Congress of Plant Sciences, but was first published in 1929. He has restated it on many occasions, the latest in 1966. The essence of the theory is that life originated as a gene by the accidental combination of its constituent atoms in the proper order and that the gene is the basis of all life past and present. This theory has its origin in the `living molecule' or `moleculobiont' theory of the origin of life proposed by Troland [Troland, L.T., "The Chemical Origin and Regulation of Life," The Monist, Vol. 24, 1914, p.92] in 1914. Troland wrote: `Let us suppose that at a certain moment in earth-history, when the ocean waters are yet warm, there suddenly appears at a definite point within the oceanic body a small amount of a certain catalyzer or enzyme.' And further, `The original enzyme was the outcome of a chemical reaction, that is to say, it must have depended upon the collision and combination of separate atoms or molecules, and it is a fact well known among physicists and chemists that the occurrence and specific nature of such collisions can be predicted only by use of the so-called laws of chance.' ... `Consequently we are forced to say that the production of the original life enzyme was a chance event.' And again, `The striking fact that the enzymic theory of life's origin, as we have outlined it, necessitates the spontaneous production of only a single molecule of the original catalyst, renders the objection of improbability almost absurd ... and when one of these enzymes first appeared, bare of all body, in the aboriginal seas it followed as a consequence of its characteristic regulative nature that the phenomenon of life came too. ...It is the purpose of the present paper to combat the thesis of the new vitalism by showing how a single physicochemical conception may be employed in the rational explanation of the very life-phenomena which the neo-vitalists regard as inexplicable on any but mystical grounds.' Troland's ideas are the basis of the `naked gene' theory of the origin of life." (Keosian, J., "The Origin of Life," [1964], Reinhold: New York NY, Second Edition, 1968, pp.85-86. Emphasis original).

Note in the above quote that Troland proposed that "the production of the original life enzyme was a chance event" and just assumed in 1914 (it was not until the 1950s when the structure of proteins was proved by Sanger, Perutz and Kendrew to be comprised highly specific sequences of amino acids) that "the spontaneous production of only a single molecule of the original catalyst, renders the objection of improbability almost absurd" (my emphasis).

However, as origin of life theorist Robert Shapiro pointed out, "For a typical enzyme of 200 amino acids, the odds would be obtained by multiplying the probability for each amino acid, 1 in 20, together 200 times," which is "1 in 10120" (actually it is 1 in 20-200 = 1 in 10260)! But since "What matters is the function of the enzyme, rather than the exact order of amino acids within it" and "A large number of amino acid sequences might provide enzymes with the proper function" therefore "the chances of obtaining an enzyme of the appropriate type at random were `only' 1 in 1020"! "In fact, things are much worse" because "A tidy set of twenty amino acids, all in the L-form, was not likely to be available on the early earth" (my emphasis):

"We are now ready to handle the chances for the spontaneous generation of a bacterium. ... Many scientists have attempted such calculations; we need cite only two of them to make the point. The first was provided by Sir Fred Hoyle, whose ideas we shall discuss in detail later in the book. He and his colleague, N. C. Wickramasinghe, first endorsed spontaneous generation, then abruptly reversed their position. Why did they do this? Quite obviously, they calculated the odds. Rather than estimate the chances for an entire bacterium, they considered only the set of functioning enzymes present in one. Their starting point was not a complex mixture, but rather the set of twenty L-form amino acids that are used to construct biological enzymes. If amino acids were selected at random from this set one at a time and arranged in order, what would be the chances that this process would produce an actual bacterial product? For a typical enzyme of 200 amino acids, the odds would be obtained by multiplying the probability for each amino acid, 1 in 20, together 200 times. The result, 1 in 10120 [sic] , places us on floor 120 of the Tower of Numbers, immensely higher than the level where we find the number of trials. Things need not be that bad, however. What matters is the function of the enzyme, rather than the exact order of amino acids within it. A large number of amino acid sequences might provide enzymes with the proper function. With this in mind, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe estimated that the chances of obtaining an enzyme of the appropriate type at random were `only' 1 in 1020 . To duplicate a bacterium, however, one would have to assemble 2,000 different functioning enzymes. The odds against this event would be 1 in 1020 multiplied together 2,000 times, or 1 in 1040,000 . This particular item would then be available on floor 40,000 of the Tower of Numbers. If we consider that the number of trials brought us only to the fifty-first floor, we can understand why Hoyle changed his mind. His estimate of the likelihood of the event was that it was comparable to the chance that `a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.' ["Hoyle on evolution," Nature, Vol. 294, 12 November 1981, p.105] In fact, things are much worse. A tidy set of twenty amino acids, all in the L-form, was not likely to be available on the early earth. This situation has not even been approached by the very best Miller-Urey experiments. Nor does a set of enzymes constitute a living bacterium." (Shapiro, R., "Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth," Summit Books: New York NY, 1986, pp.125,127-128)

Now, after that long preamble, here is the first quote by Keosian from his paper, "The Crisis in the Problem of the Origin of Life," at the 1978 Second ISSOL (International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life) conference, in which he stated, "Both the enzymic and `naked gene' theories of the origin of life have the fatal fault of depending on the accidental formation of a highly complex molecule through the random collisions of atoms and inorganic molecules" but "Such an event, as the basis for the origin of life, is an event of zero probability" (my emphasis):

"Life's Origin-Molecular Theories In answer to the vitalists, TROLAND (1914, 1916, 1917) proposed a mechanistic explanation of the origin of life. He attempted to simplify the problem of the origin of life by making the assumption that the simplest possible form of life was a single molecule-an autocatalytic (self-replicating) enzyme which also had the properties in common with enzymes in general, of metabolic regulation (heterocatalysis) and mutation. He reasoned that, given enough time, the random interactions among atoms and molecules in the warm primordial seas would eventually bring forth such a molecule (TROLAND, 1914). Troland dismissed the objection of improbability of such an occurrence since the theory required the spontaneous formation of only a single molecule. MULLER (1929) adopted Troland's ideas, substituting the `naked gene' for Troland's `enzyme bare of all body.' ... Both the enzymic and `naked gene' theories of the origin of life have the fatal fault of depending on the accidental formation of a highly complex molecule through the random collisions of atoms and inorganic molecules. Such an event, as the basis for the origin of life, is an event of zero probability. An autocatalytic enzyme or a naked gene is alive only by the author's proclamation, and in the absence of organic compounds, has not even a theoretical future." (Keosian, J., "The Crisis in the Problem of the Origin of Life," in Noda, H., ed., "Origin of Life: Proceedings of the Second ISSOL Meeting, the Fifth ICOL Meeting," Center for Academic Publications: Japan, 1978, pp.569-574, p.569. Emphasis original).

Although Keosian also critiques above the "naked gene" theory of Nobel laureate geneticist Hermann J. Muller (1890-1967), I will comment on that in my next post in this series (part #2), because Keosian has more on it specifically.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biol).


Genesis 45:4-9. 4Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." When they had done so, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. 7But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8"So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9Now hurry back to my father and say to him, 'This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don't delay.

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