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Origin of Life: A New Paradigm

by Reason McLucus

Copyright 2004

     I'm tired of the traditional debate between creationists and evolutionists. They sound too much like politicians. Instead of trying to prove their beliefs, they say "you should believe us
because the other side is wrong." The following essay will look at how life might have developed from a systems perspective.

     From a systems view, the cell, the basic unit of biological life, resembles a computer. This resemblance provides a possible explanation for how life could have developed.

     Both traditional explanations have serious logical flaws. Creationists fail to explain why God would go to the trouble of designing life so that a microscopic cell could develop into a human being or an elephant and then initially make everything full sized like Dr. Frankenstein building his monster. Isn't it more likely He would have designed the cells for each species and then placed them in the appropriate aquatic environment to develop?

     Evolutionists ignore the virtual impossibility of life developing through various stages without the direct continuous intervention of an intelligent being. Development of one species from another through random mutations would require extremely large populations. Changing simple species into more complex species would be the procedure an intelligent being might use. This approach is often used for machines and computer programs.

     Ironically, the idea that life developed without the intervention of an intelligent being would make more sense if the basic species developed at the same time. A process capable of producing one type of animal or plant should have been capable of producing a wide variety of different species. Charles Darwin's suggestion that once upon a time a cell developed and then through millions of miraculous mutations changed into all the species sounds too much like a fairy tale.

     These essays will ignore the issue of whether God or some other being created life and concentrate on how life might have developed with or without intelligent intervention. I say might have developed because there is a possibility that extraterrestrials could have brought various life forms to earth.

     Any scientific theory to explain the origin of biological life should begin by examining what biological life is from a systems standpoint. The basic unit of biological life is the cell. Scientists are currently working on procedures that would allow them to develop any life form, including humans, from a single cell.

     Individual life forms consist of one or more cells. In complex life forms a variety of different cells operate in a coordinated fashion to maintain the functions of the life form.

     The cell itself is a system that receives inputs and produces outputs. Individual cells may pass through certain cycles such as changing shape, but during normal operation each cell remains the same much like a mechanical device.

     In its internal operation, the cell receives an input, accesses its memory for the appropriate instruction, acts on that instruction to produce an output and then looks for the next input. Memory consists of chains of DNA molecules, or chromosomes, organized in a series of links composed of two molecules each. The number of links required for each instruction, or gene, varies.

     The molecules that comprise each link consist of one of two different sets of two bases each. Thus each link consists of one set of bases(0) or the other(1) with one member of the set(0) or the other(1) attached to a specified side. Biologists refer to the bases by four letters, but from a logical viewpoint the arrangement of the bases can be portrayed with zeros and ones.

     Thus, the cell can be described as a biochemical computer with molecular memory. Most people think of computers as electromechanical devices. However, a computer is actually a logical device rather than a physical one. Physically a computer may use vacuum tubes or integrated circuits.

     It is the logical operation rather than the physical makeup that makes a machine a computer. The idea of the computer and the first programs were developed long before the technology was feasible.

     The zeros and ones a computer uses may indicate a switch being opened or closed or the presence or absence of a hole on a punched card. The terms "zero" and "one" merely refer to a dichotomous physical condition. The arrangement of molecules in the DNA molecule can be portrayed as dichotomous conditions.

     If the cell is a computer, then it is possible to suggest a way in which the cell and biological life could develop. Modern computers are so easy to use that most people don't bother to think about what happens to make computers work. They just turn the computer on and start using it.

     Early computers didn't know what to do when they were turned on except to read a punched card or maybe a piece of paper tape provided by the operator. This card contained something called a bootstrap loader with the necessary instructions to read the contents of the card into memory and begin loading a more sophisticated loader. Personal computers still need a loader, but the process doesn't require any special action by the user.

     Creationists and evolutionists generally agree that plants developed before animals. Plants differ from animals in that plants use basic elements or simple molecules like water and carbon dioxide, but animals need more complex compounds. Plants use basic energy such as light, but animals use chemical energy in the form of complex carbon molecules. To simply the discussion I will treat life forms as either plants or animals having the above differences and ignore such species as carnivorous plants.

     RNA and viruses both have the capacity to function as bootstrap loaders. RNA can duplicate itself and produce other chemicals. Viruses often can load themselves into an existing cell. With the proper sequences, a virus might have the capacity to initiate the development of a simple cell, or cell like entity.

     Simple plant RNA could potentially have the capacity to construct other molecules, including reproducing itself, from the basic elements. Whether or not RNA could develop naturally is unknown. An intelligent being might create only one form of RNA, but it's more likely a variety of different RNA sequences would be provided. An environment capable of producing one RNA sequence would be capable of producing a variety of sequences.

     The initial stage of development might have involved creation of simple cell like entities that combined to form more sophisticated cell structures.

     Space might provide a better environment for development of RNA because of a more controlled chemical environment without corrosive chemicals. RNA, or DNA, in the form of viruses could have arrived on earth via meteorites over a period of time.

     We usually think of viruses as disease organisms because current viruses tend to create dysfunctional conditions in those infected with viruses. However, modern medicine is experimenting with using man made viruses to correct genetic problems. Viruses could have provided the initial RNA or supplemental DNA for more complex life forms.

     Simple RNA sequences could have created additional sequences in a random fashion either by varying the order in which the bases were added or by creating variable length strands that could combine in a random fashion. Much of the resultant DNA might remain dormant until some event activated it. Cells with functional DNA would develop into more complex life forms.

     Plants could have developed on both land and water. Water plants could have created a favorable chemical environment for development of cells capable of consuming plants.

     The initial cells for animals might have developed using a comparable procedure to that of plants with the exception that the RNA would likely have used plant produced chemicals rather than producing them from scratch. Viruses might have taken over plant cells and then modified them.

     The arrival of new viruses on a meteorite could explain development of groups of new species in the past. Mutations cannot provide an adequate explanation for many new species because a mutation would add a new feature by changing an old one. The old feature would cease to exist without the addition of new DNA. The suggestion that DNA was duplicated and then changed to provide the necessary instructions for new features is too improbable to be believed.

     Experiments involving artificial life demonstrate the possibility that random acquisition of instructions could establish life forms in a computer environment. Some experiments involving simple organisms have used random assignment of instructions to various computer programs with some surviving and some not.

     Those computer "organisms" that receive a set of workable instructions survive. Early cells would have had to have a set of functional instructions to survive. Viruses could have provided such instructions to a cell computer.

     DNA research indicates that humans and other species have more DNA than they actually use. This so-called "junk DNA" could simply code for outputs that are not called for by currently existing inputs.

     Animals develop through a series of stages that are triggered by some event. Fertilization causes the initial development of the cell into more cells. At various points events happen to trigger differentiation of cells into different components of the body.

     In most species the most significant changes, or gestational stages, occur in the womb or the egg. However, in some species such as toads, one developed form of the animal(i.e., a tadpole) ay change into another form(i.e., a fully developed toad) by discarding features like the tail and growing legs.

    The initial development of species could have occurred in a similar fashion. The early species might have continued to function as single cell life forms even after acquiring DNA that would code for multi-celled life forms. The single daughter cells could have continued to accept new DNA either through acquisition of viruses or incorporation of DNA from other cells consumed as food.

     These cells would have continued to divide to produce independent copies of themselves until some event, such as a change in the chemical environment or acquisition of an essential gene, caused the divided cells to remain attached. This event might have required the cell to become better organized with much of the DNA collected in the cell nucleus.

     Early animal species might have passed through various stages of development changing from fish like forms to forms able to walk around on dry land. Subsequent events might have caused offspring to gradually access different DNA for skeletal development. The transitions from one form to another might have occurred over an extended period.

     Evolutionists treat skeletal differences as indicating different species. This practice ignores the fact that changes in the skeletal structure might depend on a few minor genetic changes rather than the type of changes that would be needed to produce a genetically different species. The demise of the dinosaurs could have involved the addition of a gene limiting growth such is commonly found in mammals.


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