Beginnings Reporting on science and intelligent design

‘Warm little ponds’ theory doesn’t hold water

Science | Flawed hypothesis attempts to explain how life began on Earth
by Julie Borg
Posted 10/19/17, 12:59 pm

Evolutionary scientists at McMaster University and the Max Planck Institute in Germany recently developed a theoretical model to explain how life began on Earth, according to them, some 3.7 billion to 4.5 billion years ago.

But Stephen Meyer, a geophysicist and director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, pointed out numerous holes in the so-called “warm little ponds theory.”

The theory, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, claims that in Earth’s early days meteorites bombarded the planet and impregnated what Charles Darwin called warm little ponds with essential elements. The ponds supposedly formed when continents rose out of the global sea. Then the wet and dry cycles of the ponds caused the molecular building blocks in them to bond into RNA chains that folded over and spontaneously replicated themselves. According to the researchers, these imperfect chains improved through Darwinian evolution and eventually gave rise to the development of DNA, the genetic blueprint of higher life forms.

Meyer notes, as the researchers themselves admit, the warm little ponds likely harbored an environment hostile to nucleotides, the building blocks necessary to form RNA. Temperatures too high in the ponds would degrade the nucleotides, but colder temperatures would inhibit their generation. Seepage during wet periods, evaporation during dry periods, and chemical cross-reactions would have destroyed the nucleotides if they didn’t synthesize and bond within just a few wet-dry cycles. Also, the frequent impact of meteorites would have sterilized the surface of the Earth and vaporized the ponds.

The warm little ponds model does nothing, Meyer said, to explain how the RNA molecules developed the precise sequencing of genetic information necessary for life or how they developed the capability to self-duplicate. Scientists have successfully produced RNA molecules capable of copying small portions of themselves in the lab but only “after an intelligent chemist arranges the RNA bases in a very specific sequence,” Meyer said. “RNA self-replication depends upon pre-existing, unexplained sources of information.”

To get life going, RNA would have had to function like a modern protein, something it cannot do. Meyer likened it to asserting that a carpenter can build a house with only a hammer. Although the hammer can perform some carpentry functions, building a house requires many specialized tools. Likewise, RNA cannot perform all the necessary functions of a protein.

According to Meyer, the research study provides no explanation for the chemical pathway for forming RNA, “because no such pathway is known to exist.”

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Temple Mount excavation yields new finds

Israeli archaeologists recently uncovered eight previously unearthed sections of the Temple Mount’s retaining wall in Jerusalem and part of a Roman-era theater in an area abutting the wall. Researchers estimate the theater is around 1,800 years old and believe the Roman Emperor Hadrian likely built it when he rebuilt the city of Jerusalem as a Roman colony.

It remains unclear why work on the theater appeared to stop abruptly. Joe Uziel, the archaeologist heading the dig, suggested the second Jewish revolt against Rome, A.D. 132–135, could have halted the construction.

The excavation will continue for another six months. The archaeologists hope they will uncover artifacts from the First Temple, built by King Solomon of the Old Testament and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem and built the Second Temple, which was dedicated around 515 B.C. Roman soldiers burned the temple and razed Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Jews still consider the Temple Mount the holiest site on earth. Today the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Dome of the Rock sit on the site.

“We have a great deal of archaeological work ahead, and I am certain that the deeper we dig, the earlier the periods we will reach, further anchoring the profound connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem,” Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel told the Times of Israel.

Uziel said he hoped further excavations would shed light on daily life in Jerusalem after the Roman attack. —J.B.

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Associated Press/Photo by Anjan Sundaram, file Associated Press/Photo by Anjan Sundaram, file A hospital patient in Kinshasa, Congo, in 2005

The opioid gap piles pain on suffering countries

Every day more than 90 Americans die from opioid overdose. The national opioid crisis poses a $78.5 billion a year economic burden for the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Yet, in some low- and middle-income countries, nearly 26 million people, including 2.5 million children, face death without adequate pain relief, and another 35.5 million who aren’t dying suffer insufficient pain treatment, according to a report commissioned by The Lancet medical journal.

Healthcare systems need to provide pain management without making the same mistakes that led to the U.S. addiction crisis, the Lancet commission said. The report recommended using off-patent morphine that costs pennies a dose rather than pricier, more powerful opioids that drug companies push in wealthier countries. It also recommended officials prohibit drug companies from marketing to patients, physicians, or other healthcare providers; closely monitor the morphine supply; and require proper training in pain treatment for healthcare workers. —J.B.

Viking burial clothes show Islamic influence

Swedish researchers recently discovered that silk burial garments unearthed a hundred years ago from Viking-age graves dating to the ninth and 10th centuries contained embroidered bands with the words “Allah” and “Ali.” The word Allah appears in mirror image and generally along with the word Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam who was also Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law.

DNA analysis from other Viking tomb excavations shows that some of the people buried in the tombs originated from places like Persia, where Islam dominated, Annika Larsson, an Uppsala University researcher in textile archaeology, told the BBC. Larson said the new discovery shows Islamic ideas of life after death influenced Viking burial customs. “In the Quran, it is written that the inhabitants of Paradise will wear garments of silk, which along with the text band’s inscriptions may explain the widespread occurrence of silk in Viking-age graves,” she said in a statement. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a clinical psychologist and writer who lives in Dayton, Ohio. She reports on science and intelligent design for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital.

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