[Quotes main page] [Origin of life, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6]
"A general theory of biological evolution should include within its domain a number of problems that have hitherto resisted solution within the broad confines of the Darwinian, or indeed any other, research tradition. These problems include how life evolved from nonlife; how developmental programs evolve; what impact, if any, developmental dynamics have on the evolution of species; the relation between ecological dynamics and species diversification; and what is the best way of conceiving the mix between pattern and contingency in phylogeny. ... Our list of questions is not entirely haphazard. The origins of life, development, ecology, phylogenesis-these are the big questions that people think of when they hear the word *evolution*. It is answers to these questions that people want from evolutionists. That is why they so often feel put off when Darwinians confine themselves to talking about changing gene frequencies in populations and to throwing cold water on ideas about evolutionary direction, meaning, and progress." (Depew, David J. [Professor, Department of Communication Studies, University of Iowa] & Weber, Bruce H. [Professor of Biochemistry, California State University, Fullarton], "Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection," , MIT Press: Cambridge MA, 1997, Second printing, p.393. Emphasis in original).[top]
"The beginning of the evolutionary process raises a question which is as yet unanswerable. What was the origin of life on this planet? Until fairly recent times there was a pretty general belief in the occurrence of 'spontaneous generation.' It was supposed that lowly forms of life developed spontaneously from, for example, putrefying meat. But careful experiments, notably those of Pasteur, showed that this conclusion was due to imperfect observation, and it became an accepted doctrine that life never arises except from life. So far as actual evidence goes this is still the only possible conclusion. But since it is a conclusion that seems to lead back to some supernatural creative act, it is a conclusion that scientific men find very difficult of acceptance. It carries with it what are felt to be, in the present mental climate, undesirable philosophic implications, and it is opposed to the scientific desire for continuity. It introduces an unaccountable break in the chain of causation, and therefore cannot be admitted as part of science unless it is quite impossible to reject it. For that reason most scientific men prefer to believe that life arose, in some way not yet understood, from inorganic matter in accordance with the laws of physics and chemistry." (Sullivan, John W.N. [mathematician, musician and writer], "Limitations of Science," , Pelican: Harmondsworth, Middlesex UK, 1938, pp.122-123).[top]
"If I were a creationist, I would cease attacking the theory of evolution-which is so well supported by the fossil record-and focus instead on the origin of life. This is by far the weakest strut of the chassis of modern biology. The origin of life is a science writer's dream. It abounds with exotic scientists and exotic theories, which are never entirely abandoned or accepted, but merely go in and out of fashion." (Horgan, John [Senior Writer, Scientific American], "The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age," , Little, Brown & Co: London, 1997, p138)[ top of page]
"`It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present, which could ever have been present. But if (and oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, lights, heat, electricity, etc. present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.' (Darwin C.R., letter to J.D. Hooker, [1 February] 1871, in Darwin F., ed., "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," , Basic Books: New York NY, Vol. II, 1959, reprint, pp.202-203). This quote is often reproduced in texts and articles on the origin of life. Many workers would prefer to replace the word "protein" with "nucleic acid," as we have seen. Otherwise, it is remarkably current today, which is a tribute either to his foresight or to our lack of progress." (Shapiro, Robert. [Professor of Chemistry, New York University], "Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Origin of Life," Summit: New York NY, 1986, p.185) .[top of page]
"TAKE SOME matter, heat while stirring and wait...That is the modern version of Genesis. The fundamental forces" of gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces are presumed to have done the rest. They made the elements form and then react to produce the chemical building blocks of life: nucleic acids made of sugars and bases, proteins made of amino acids lipids and carbohydrates. Specific nucleic acids then began to direct the production of specific proteins. Nucleic acids and proteins that acted together to enhance their own multiplication thrived and continued to adapt. They became surrounded by membranes and evolved into complex cells and eventually into us. But how much of this neat tale is firmly established, and how much remains hopeful speculation? In truth, the mechanism of almost every major step, from chemical precursors up to the first recognisable cells, is the subject of either controversy or complete bewilderment." (Scott, Andrew [biochemist and science writer], "Update on Genesis," New Scientist, Vol. 106, No. 1454, 2 May 1985, pp.30-33, p.30).[top]
"Personally, I consider fundamentalist creationism to be a far sillier idea than the craziest of all the crazy notions which scientists have ever proposed; but as scientists gloat over the deficiencies of non-scientific accounts of our origin and evolution, they should not ignore the considerable deficiencies in their own account. At the moment scientists certainly do not know how, of even if, life originated on earth from lifeless atoms. They do have a few plausible ideas on the subject, but many more rather implausible ones. (Scott, Andrew [biochemist and science writer], "The Creation of Life: Past, Future, Alien," Basil Blackwell: Oxford UK, 1986, p.112).[top]
"What makes the origin of life and of the genetic code a disturbing riddle is this: the genetic code is without any biological function unless it is translated; that is, unless it leads to the synthesis of the proteins whose structure is laid down by the code. But, as Monod points out the machinery by which the cell (at least the nonprimitive cell which is the only one we know) translates the code `consists of a least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in DNA' (Monod, 1970; 1971, 143). Thus the code cannot be translated except by using certain products of its translation. This constitutes a really baffling circle: a vicious circle, it seems for any attempt to form a model, or a theory, of the genesis of the genetic code." (Popper, Karl R., [Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of London], "Scientific Reduction and the Essential Incompleteness of All Science," in "Studies in the Philosophy of Biology," Macmillan: London, 1974, pp.259-284, p.270. Emphasis original).[top]
"The development of the metabolic system, which, as the primordial soup thinned, must have "learned" to mobilize chemical potential and to synthesize the cellular components, poses Herculean problems. So also does the emergence of the selectively permeable membrane without which there can be no viable cell. But the major problem is the origin of the genetic code and of its translation mechanism. Indeed, instead of a problem it ought rather to be called a riddle. The code is meaningless unless translated. The modern cell's translating machinery consists of at least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in DNA: the code cannot be translated otherwise than by products of translation. It is the modern expression of omne vivum ex ovo. When and how did this circle become closed? It is exceedingly difficult to imagine." (Monod, Jaques [Biochemist, Director of Pasteur Institute, Paris], "Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology", , Penguin: London, 1997, reprint, p.143. Emphasis in original).[top]
"To me, the greatest problem regarding the origin of life lies at another level. In the first place, it seems necessary to face the difficulty of deciding what was the first organism. The origin of life represents a transition from the nonliving to the living, which I have great difficulty in imagining as a sharp one. I do not see, for example, how proteins could have leapt suddenly into being. Yet both heterotrophic and autotrophic metabolism are, in modern organisms, strictly dependent upon the existence of proteins in the form of catalysts. The riddle seems to be: How, when no life existed, did substances come into being which today are absolutely essential to living systems yet which can only be formed by those systems? It seems begging the question to suggest that the first protein molecules were formed by some more primitive "nonprotein living system," for it still remains to define and account for the origin of that system." (Blum, Harold F., [physicist, Princeton University, USA], "Time's Arrow and Evolution," , Harper Torchbooks: New York NY, 1962, p.170. Emphasis in original).[top]
"Many investigators now consider nucleic acids to be much more plausible candidates for the first self-replicating molecules. The work of Watson and Crick and others has shown that proteins are formed according to the instructions coded in DNA. But there is a hitch. DNA cannot do its work, including forming more DNA, without the help of catalytic proteins, or enzymes. In short, proteins cannot form without DNA, but neither can DNA form without proteins. To those pondering the origin of life, it is a classic chicken-and-egg problem: Which came first, proteins or DNA?" (Horgan, John [science writer], "In The Beginning...," Scientific American, Vol. 264, No. 2, February 1991, pp.100-109, p.103)[top]
"Anyone trying to solve this puzzle immediately encounters a paradox. Nowadays nucleic acids are synthesized only with the help of proteins, and proteins are synthesized only if their corresponding nucleotide sequence is present. It is extremely improbable that proteins and nucleic acids, both of which are structurally complex, arose spontaneously in the same place at the same time. Yet it also seems impossible to have one without the other. And so, at first glance, one might have to conclude that life could never, in fact, have originated by chemical means." (Orgel, Leslie E. [biochemist and Resident Fellow, Salk Institute for Biological Studies], "The Origin of Life on the Earth," Scientific American, Vol. 271, No. 4, October 1994, p.54).[top]
"The firm step toward explaining the appearance of living things had been taken. The elementary organic constituents required for the construction of the big molecules, from which life subsequently developed, may be formed spontaneously and easily. It seemed that once the first steps had been taken, the others would have followed easily. Research scientists threw themselves unhesitatingly into the frenetic race to be the first to synthesize living matter in the laboratory; but so far no one has succeeded. There are, in fact, many thresholds to be crossed. Life is based upon two mutually interactive systems, one of which makes provision for growth and the other for reproduction. The systems are also interdependent, and neither may exist without the other. Which was formed first? The answer that they were formed simultaneously is too simple to be acceptable. The problem of how the first living organism was formed has still to be solved." (Minelli, Giuseppe [Professor of Comparative Anatomy, University of Bologna, Italy], "The Evolution of Life: The History of Life on Earth," , Facts on File: New York NY, 1986, p.5).[top]
"Many molecules, particularly organic molecules (or those containing carbon atoms), may be described as 'left-handed' or 'right-handed'. In the normal laboratory synthesis of compounds with left- and right- handed versions, a process involving many millions of molecules in order to have weighable quantities, the result is an equal production of left- and righthanded molecules. By contrast, nature almost always produces molecules of one unique type. ... The actual properties of the lefthanded and the right-handed version of the same molecule are in most respects identical the same weight, the same chemical reactions. ...Even the small molecules involved in living systems not only show handedness but also exist in just one natural form. Above all, the amino-acids, from which proteins are built, are all left-handed. We actually possess an enzyme in our livers which will destroy any right-handed amino-acids that we happen to synthesize or encounter. Clearly, the nature of life is closely related to the symmetry of the molecules which constitute living systems. What now cries out to be answered is why all life is built from molecules of a definite handedness. This remains an unsolved problem, despite a wealth of speculation. Not only are the small molecular building blocks of one specific handedness; so are the larger structures made from them." (Richards, W. Graham [lecturer in Chemistry, Oxford University, UK], "The Problems of Chemistry," Oxford University Press: Oxford UK, 1986, pp.43-44,46-47).[top of page]
* Authors with an asterisk against their name are believed not to be evolutionists.
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Created: 28 August, 1999. Updated: 5 July, 2008.