Book Cover Origin of Life: The 5th OPTION


Bryant M. Shiller

542 pages; Perfect bound quality trade paperback; ISBN 0-9739936-0-X;
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Introduces the “Rational Design Hypothesis”

It's all here in The 5th OPTION: What Life is; What it is doing here; and How it got here! The answers will change forever your perception of reality!


"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." - Albert Einstein

       The following pages reflect the author's rational due dilligence effort at uncovering the true significance of existential being through the exploration of the mysteries of the bio-life phenomenon. The fact that the living experience is a phenomenon shared by every living thing implies that the significance of that phenomenon is shared as well. To answer the questions: "What is life?", "How did it originate?", and "Why does it exist at all?" - is to shed significant light on the questions: "What am I?" and "Why do I exist?" The interesting fact that these questions can simultaneously address and embrace religious, and philosophical concepts in addition to those of rational science - without being paradoxical in the least - yields some measure of the fundamental nature of the subject matter we shall be covering. It is my sincere wish that the reader walk away at the end of this exercise with both an improved understanding of the fundamental mechanics behind the biological life phenomenon together with some genuine recognition of the present challenges that have already begun to threaten the existence of future generations of our species. For, it is only through such understanding and recognition that one can finally come to grips with and accept their true role within the grand scheme of life.

       The origin of life (OoL) on the planet earth represents a very special event in its history. Before it happened, there was probably not that much to distinguish the earth from any of the other planets in the solar system. After life began, however, its history represents an astonishing takeover. Hardly a square meter of the earth's surface has escaped life's ubiquitous influence. Therefore, it is not surprising that how life came to be represents one of the great mysteries of all time. There are presently four less-than-satisfactory solutions to the OoL mystery on the table. Our 5th Option makes the case for the Rational Design solution to the origin of life mystery.


The 5th OPTION: The Rational Design Hypothesis (RDH).



"Biological life is a designed system whose form and function was genetically engineered in order to fulfill a specific design intent here on the planet earth. In this respect, life is a system strategically put in operation in a specific location (our planet), not unlike the way human engineers create and put into operation all kinds of complex systems when and where they are needed in order to accomplish specific goals."

       There is no reason why one could not formulate a scientific hypothesis that states that life on earth was a designed system - the product of intelligence and placed here on planet Earth, quite possibly in order to achieve some specific purpose. Such an approach could reflect the new directions of scientific inquiry into the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and would assume that intelligence, in one form or another, exists elsewhere in our galaxy (in order to qualify as the designer of the life system). I believe such an approach could be of tremendous value, if only to fill an existent intellectual void, that would help complete the picture of all possible OoL hypotheses. The implication of a design hypothesis for the OoL on Earth is that the planet may be a splendid habitat to support biological life, but does not necessarily qualify as a likely venue for its self-origin. A Rational Design Hypothesis might consider the design intent or purpose of the system we call bio-life to be knowable. In other words, if the life system (LS) were indeed a product of rational design, then the design intent or purpose may become evident as a consequence of a thorough and successful systems engineering analysis. If we can determine what the system does, we should also be able to understand its purpose. In the process, and with some good luck, this line of inquiry could quite possibly lead us to some strong evidence in support of a design-based OoL. As it turns out, the Rational Design Hypothesis (RDH) will prove to be - not only justifiable as an approach - but as convincing an option as any of the others currently being seriously considered. But, as we shall see, there is an important difference that favors the RDH over all of the other OoL options. That difference resides within the fact that the RDH is scientifically testable. This alone truly raises it to a distinct level of scientific relevancy. No other origin-of-life option can make that claim.

       There is little disagreement that once life and the planet came together, the ability of the system of life to adapt to external changes in the planetary biosphere through processes we define under the umbrella term "evolution" were essential for its success. While the meaning of success in this case may indeed be subject to interpretation, we will narrowly define it as the ability of the system of biological life to survive and thrive over the period of billions of years since its inception on the planet. From modest beginnings, life diversified into the myriad examples of life forms we are witness to today. And, the mechanisms responsible for this state of affairs is, indeed, evolution. How did life begin? When did evolution begin? Did they begin at the same time? No sooner do you ask these simple questions, than do other questions come to mind. What was the primordial earth like at the time life was introduced? Obviously the physical conditions of the planet back then had to have been conducive to both the introduction of the phenomenon as well as its future success. Were the conditions then such that a self-replicating organism could assemble itself from the raw chemicals on the lifeless planet? If it happened here, could it happen elsewhere? Is biochemistry and biology simply a seamless and transparent extrapolation of natural chemical and physical processes? And, if that were the case, was the second law of thermodynamics (dealing with entropy) violated in the process? Has it continuously been violated ever since life began? How did life get its "jump start"? What is the ultimate significance of the existence of biological life on our planet? These are just some of the puzzling subplots that surround the mystery of the origin and continued existence of the life phenomenon.

       Are we ever going to have definitive answers to these provocative questions? Before we are through with this exercise we will encounter many more. Extensive investigation and research has taught us a great deal about some of the questions we ask. Still, much more work remains to be done before we can draw any conclusions. The 5th OPTION represents a new way of addressing the age old mystery of the "Origin of Life". Before we are through, it is safe to say you will never quite think of life in the same way again.

       The first step is to define precisely the framework and the parameters within which we will work. This will help us to delineate where the different OoL paradigms agree and where they diverge. Let's begin by stating outright that once life did begin and take hold - however that came about - the mechanisms of biological evolution began to operate. That is not to say that there is universal agreement on exactly what those mechanisms are, but there is in place a concensus that the system of life on our planet has the ability to evolve, or change over time. The term evolution has broadened to refer to both the results of such changes as well as whatever operative mechanisms are involved. These permitted the system of life to both thrive and diversify over a period in excess of 3.8 billion years, in response to changes in the planet's physical habitat - that which we call the biosphere. Thus, the only issue separating the different scientific theories trying to explain the existence of life on our planet has to do with the nature of the occurrence of that distinctly singular event - the OoL itself - and the circumstances leading up to it.


The Fragility of Life

       Biological life is a rather delicate phenomenon. It can only exist under extremely moderate temperature conditions and only within a protective environment furnished with the necessary materials and energy sources. At the top of the list of requirements are the presence of water in liquid form and readily available carbon from which organic compounds can be formed. It should be noted that the word "organic" carries no implication of biological origin, but rather refers to molecules based on carbon (carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide being exceptions). Dissolved in water, these organics can be made to react with one another in countless ways within the protective environment of the biological cell to produce the complex biological materials essential for life. Traditionally, this description of the environment-sensitive conditions necessary for life processes to occur is meant to convey the simple fact that biological processes are fragile. And, indeed they are.

       The extent of the fragility of life becomes truly compelling when we consider that even the conditions for basic chemistry to occur in the universe are comparatively fragile and considerably rare. Just finding enough molecules that could react together becomes somewhat of a challenge when you consider that the density of interstellar space approximates as little as 500,000 atoms per cubic meter (the best earth-bound vacuum chambers can only pump down to as few as ten billion atoms per cubic meter). Sure enough, some atoms stranded in space may chemically combine to form simple molecules, however, most of the dynamic activity taking place in the universe involves stellar activity. In fact, it is only within stars that the majority of chemical elements beyond hydrogen in the Periodic Table of Elements are created. So, without stars, there is no chemistry because there are no chemicals (besides hydrogen, helium and traces of lithium). And, the reactions taking place within stars are basic thermonuclear reactions involving fusion at temperatures in the millions of degrees - much too severe for the incidence of chemical reactions.

       Star activity involves the creation of the materials that, given the opportunity and a relatively moderate environment, will react chemically. The fusion reactions in stars account for their abilities in transforming simpler elements (hydrogen-1) into more complex ones (helium-4) throwing off vast amounts of energy, a la E=MC2 of Einstein fame. In the case of our sun, this energy is obtained at the expense of its mass, at the rate of 4.2 million tons each and every second, converting in the process, 530 million tons of hydrogen into helium. Its core temperature is close to 15,000,000 degrees K (cooling down to about 6,000 degrees K at the surface). This is hot stuff, hotter than anything chemistry can withstand. The very fact that chemistry can and does occur here in the planetary environment of our solar system is in and of itself an important indication that this is a special environment - the relatively benign world of planets (and other space junk) composed of the stuff originally manufactured in stellar ovens. So, when we talk about the fragility of life and its survival and thriving on the planet, we are referring to a different order of magnitude again as it refers to special places. We take for granted (and understadably so) that under the appropriate physical circumstances, chemistry will spontaneously and randomly occur under the natural rules that dictate the delicate bonding interactions between atoms to form compounds. Can the same be claimed for the phenomenon of biological life? Can the assumption be made that given the sufficient and necessary conditions that could support life processes, that a self-replicating entity would develop spontaneously, function, and thrive of necessity, under the influence of the same laws of nature that permit random chemistry to occur? These are the kinds of questions that require investigation when we consider the OoL.

       If biological life, as we know it, can survive only under extremely limited circumstances, it is important to understand what the sufficient and necessary conditions for life are and the circumstances that gave rise to them on our planet. Absent those conditions, regardless of how life eventually originated on the planet, it simply could not continue to exist. That is to say that if it is too hot or too cold, for example, biological reactions will not take place. We shall examine the geological history of the planet and set the stage for the arrival and thriving of Life. It goes without saying then, that regardless of how you believe life originated, the initial conditions of the biosphere that would permit the biological phenomenon to survive (and submit to the processes of evolution) would have had to be identical.


Options For Consideration

       There are at present only four logical possibilities that purport to account for the presence of Life on our planet. And, these four are, by and large, representative of the diverse intellectual camps studying the issue, as well as the state of the art, in the search for the Origin Of Life (OoL). They are herein presented in the chronological order in which they appeared historically.

The First Option: Biblical Creationism
As described in the Old Testament, life on earth was part of a grand Creation (which includes that of the whole universe) which came about as an act of God. Any purpose the creator may have had is essentially considered unknowable.

The Second Option: Spontaneous Abiogenesis (SAb)
This theory states that life is a product of the planet and spontaneously self-generated (within a "chemical soup") when biology (and biochemistry) evolved naturally from physical and chemical processes. Usually referred to simply as "abiogenesis" (a-bio=outside of biology; genesis=origin) the prefix "spontaneous" specifically defines the circumstances under which abiogenesis is thought to have occurred. A host of varied and conflicting scenarios have emerged over the years to account for abiogenesis - the spontaneous self-generation origin of life. On the other hand a significant number of respected scientists assert that SAb is highly improbable.

The Third Option: Panspermia (PS)
The term literally means "seeds everywhere". The theory states that either the complex chemical base that would eventually give rise to life, or ready-made spores or seeds of life, originated somewhere else in space and somehow arrived on our planet to seed the planetary environment.

The Fourth Option: Directed Panspermia (DP)
The seeds of life were self-generated elsewhere and were deliberately sent into space and somehow arrived on our planet. This offers a novel twist over Panspermia by adding the concept of intervention by some technological entity that undertook the difficult problem of transporting existing primitive life forms into outer space. These eventually landed on our planet and served as the seed stock for biological life on earth. No particular purpose is considered.


Is That All There Is?

       Spontaneous Abiogenesis, Panspermia and Directed Panspermia are the products of scientific inquiry and essentially date from the twentieth century. But, the scientific community must face up to the consequences of their present approach to the mystery of OoL in as much as:

1] After decades of intensive investigation, the SAb theories have still to yield a plausible workable solution to the OoL problem. In fact, the deeper SAb scientists dig into the complexities of building an organism from the bottom up, nuts-and-bolts approach, the deeper they find themselves in difficulties that has led many (the author included) to seek alternate rational solutions.

2] Panspermia and Directed Panspermia are lesser players in the Origin of Life mystery game and relegated to the status of logical alternatives that "cannot be entirely discounted", as some scientists have put it.

3] So preoccupied is the scientific community with the SAb bottom-up approach, they have failed to properly consider all the alternatives implicit in a design hypothesis, lumping all such ideas together under the umbrella of Creationism, and therefore, deemed to be non-scientific. The closest science has come to offering any alternative to SAb are the Panspermia and Directed Panspermia initiatives which seem to resolve some difficulties posed by SAb but raise others just as serious. These logical alternatives inspired, no doubt, by the seemingly insurmountable difficulties posed by any SAb hypothesis also suggest that any and all scientific OoL options deserve examination - if only to cover all possible bases. The fact is that the obstacles that confront the interfacing of inanimate chemistry and living biology appear to many scientists to be formidable. But, aside from the above four options, they are indeed running out of possible OoL lines of inquiry. At present, the only base left open and untried is a serious look at the design option from the strictly rational point of view. That's where this exercise - The 5th Option comes into play.

       Biblical Creationism - the first option - predates the scientific way of thinking by thousands of years in one form or another. One of the dilemmas that creationism faces today is the non-empirical (i.e., non-scientific) legacy of its methodology. Before the advent of the scientific method, unquestioned religious dogma dictated the answers to nearly all-important questions. The answers they provided emanated from an ancient tradition that maintained its own esoteric logic. Today, however, religious dogma has been largely superceded where the experimental methods of empirical science can be brought to bear. Each one of us is witness to the ongoing changes in our collective understanding of the universe in which our lives are played out, resulting directly from the escalating research in all of the scientific disciplines. In contrast, religious views persist in those areas that science has as yet failed to provide adequate answers for - including the mystery of the OoL on our planet. Human nature being what it is, it can be expected that until science can provide definitive answers to the OoL question, Creationism will endure as a viable option for many - one more unproven hypothesis among a host of other likewise unproven hypotheses.


Bridging The Gap:

       As things stand at present, the scientific and religious approaches to the question of OoL are not really in competition because their respective investigations in search of answers involve totally different methodologies. What competition does exist between the two is continually cast in an atmosphere of suspicion as well as disbelief (literally). The result has been an interesting effect each has had on the other resulting in both adopting and maintaining myopic intellectual postures concerning key elements each holds important with respect to life and its origin. As such, science has not as yet seen fit to consider the possibility of a scientific version of the design option Creationists hold dear. The reasons for this may lie in part with the fact, as stated, that generally speaking, scientists automatically equates design with religious Creationism; design is seen to be merely an extension of religious belief, and therefore outside of the scientific domain. The fact is that while the design concept may, of necessity, include creationism, the design concept need not be confined to religious doctrine alone, but could logically be subjected to rational scientific inquiry. In a related way, religious adherents have yet to re-consider biological evolution such that it might logically be compatible with the creationist doctrine. It is our considered belief that the time has come for each side to re-evaluate its respective positions, in the light of some recent advances in a variety of scientific disciplines that bear on these issues. A 5th option, the subject of this inquiry, goes a long way towards bridging the gap that separates the two.

       No serious investigation of a rational design hypothesis can be found in the scientific OoL literature. Clearly, the design option can only be taken seriously by the scientific community if every attempt is made to separate it from its traditional religious Creationist legacy, and if it is looked at from the perspective of a purely rational approach. Then again, design is not really the province of scientists, is it? If we are going to talk design, we are, in fact, entering the realm of the engineer, because, design is what engineers do! And, the approach that engineers bring to the study and synthesis of all kinds of systems is the rigorous discipline referred to as: Systems Engineering (SE). It shall prove to be the ideal investigative tool to exploit in the systematic exploration of the form and function of the system of biological life on our planet. We will use the versatility of SE to effectively gain a unique understanding of what life is, and what it is doing here on the planet earth. The results and conclusions will effectively establish the Rational Design Hypothesis (RDH) as an important missing link in the efforts - not only to clarify the nature of the OoL question - but also in the resolution of a number of relevant and related issues that have so far only confused the debate. Indeed, the time is ripe for a 5th option - the RDH - to take its place among the other players seeking answers to the mystery of the OoL.


Origin of Life: The 5th OPTION

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