If God Hates Abortion Why Do So Many Occur Spontaneously in Humans?

By Fazale Rana – November 25, 2020

A common fundamentalist argument against abortion is that each human being is granted a soul at the moment of conception, and that destroying that “soul” is equivalent to murder. . . However, there’s some serious problems with the logic of ensoulation at the point of conception. The CDC as well as the March of Dimes and several fertility experts have conducted studies to see exactly how hard it is to carry a pregnancy to term. In general, less than 70% of all fertilized eggs will even implant into the mother’s womb causing pregnancy to continue. From there, there is a 25-50% chance of aborting before you even know you are pregnant. So if you look at it from the fundamentalist point of view, all those little souls are being given a home, only to be miscarried before they even know they are alive. Scientific research has compiled the following information about the rates of naturally aborted pregnancies in human beings (or, if you believe everything happens for a reason, pregnancies aborted by God himself).

RationalWiki, “Spontaneous Abortion in Humans”

Miscarriage and Troubling Questions
Perhaps nothing is more painful and confusing for a woman than when she experiences a miscarriage. My wife and I know this firsthand. Amy’s first pregnancy ended with a miscarriage early in the first trimester. Our joy and excitement were replaced by sadness and an indescribable disappointment. I don’t know if I could ever truly understand how my wife felt then or how she feels now about our loss. We wonder, all these years later, if our first child was a boy or girl. Still, we are so grateful for the wonderful children God did give to us.

Questions surrounding spontaneous abortions and miscarriages are painful, indeed. But they also expose profound philosophical and theological problems with far-reaching implications for the Christian faith. The high rate of spontaneous abortions during human pregnancies raises questions about God’s goodness and also impacts the creation/evolution controversy and the abortion debate.

  • If human beings are made in God’s image—as the crown of creation—wouldn’t a Creator have designed a less-flawed and error-prone process for human reproduction?
  • If a Creator made human beings with a soul at the point of conception, why would some of these embryos live, ever so briefly before the pregnancy—and their life—comes to an end?
  • If a Creator hates abortion, why is the rate of spontaneous abortions so great?
  • In light of the high rate of spontaneous abortions, why is it so wrong for human beings to voluntarily end a pregnancy?

Without a doubt, these questions represent a serious challenge to the Christian faith. Fortunately, new scientific insights into embryo mortality and the cause of early miscarriages help address some of these challenging and heart-wrenching concerns, even if other questions remain a troubling mystery.

Before we take a look at these new insights, it is necessary to address a broader concern about the consequences of the constancy of nature’s laws and how this feature impacts the incidences of spontaneous abortions.

Consequences of the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Given the complexity of biological systems such as human reproduction, it is unreasonable to think that these processes, no matter how well designed, will perform flawlessly every time. All the more so given the influence the second law of thermodynamics wields.

As a consequence of this law, errors will inevitably occur—at least, on occasion—during all biological processes. Because of the invariance of the laws of nature, the second law is always in operation. Hence, errors will occur during: (1) fertilization, (2) implantation of the embryo in the uterine wall, and (3) placenta formation and embryo growth and development. These errors lead to spontaneous abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths.

While it is tempting to view entropy (the second law of thermodynamics) in a negative light, it is important to recognize that, if not for entropy, life’s existence would be impossible. Entropy enables metabolism and plays the central role in the formation and stability of cell membranes, protein higher-order structures, and the DNA double helix.

Of course, the unrelenting operation of the laws of nature leads to profound theological and philosophical issues that I have addressed elsewhere. Even if errors are inevitable in biological processes, couldn’t God have somehow designed human reproduction to be less error-prone?

Fortunately, recent scientific insights help address this issue, beginning with a detailed assessment of early embryo mortality.

What Is the Actual Rate of Spontaneous Abortions?

A survey of the scientific literature finds that the reported rates for spontaneous abortions are highly varied. Still, these rates seem to indicate human reproduction is a highly inefficient process with embryo mortality rates:

  • before and during implantation—as high as 75%
  • before the first six weeks of pregnancy—as high as 80%
  • during the first trimester—as high as 70%
  • before the first 20 weeks—as high as 50%
  • from fertilization to birth—as high as 90%

But as physiologist Gavin Jarvis from Cambridge University points out, these rates of spontaneous abortions are most certainly exaggerated and find little evidential support. These statistics are based on speculation and imprecise estimates of embryo mortality.1 In an attempt to remedy this problem, Jarvis carried out a careful reassessment of the published data on embryo mortality.

As part of this assessment, Jarvis concludes that it is impossible to know how many embryos die—or survive—during the first week of pregnancy, from the point of fertilization to the beginning stages of implantation. The earliest point that embryo survival can be realistically studied in a clinical setting is after the first week of pregnancy when the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (CG) can be detected. Prior to that point, the rate of embryo loss is merely a guess.

Some biomedical researchers have attempted to estimate embryo mortality during the first week of pregnancy from in vitro fertilization studies. Jarvis argues that these estimates are meaningless. He says it is hard to believe that embryo survival under laboratory conditions would reflect embryo survival rates under natural conditions. In fact, given that in vitro fertilization and subsequent embryo growth occur under nonoptimal, nonnatural conditions suggests that embryo mortality is likely much higher when carried out in the laboratory than when fertilization and early stage embryo development take place in vivo. Jarvis notes, “It’s impossible to give a precise figure for how many embryos survive in the first week but in normal healthy women, it probably lies somewhere between 60–90%.”2

Insight into embryo mortality becomes quantifiable after the first week. As it turns out, about 1 in 5 embryos die during implantation. In fact, in many of these instances the woman would not be aware she was pregnant, because she would not miss her period. Once a woman misses her period, only about 10 to 15% of the embryos die before birth. In total, about 70% of embryos make it to live birth, once implantation commences and the pregnancy is clinically confirmed from CG levels.

As Jarvis notes, “Although we can’t be precise, we can avoid exaggeration, and from reviewing the studies that do exist, it is clear that many more [embryos] survive than is often claimed.”3

Even though the rate of spontaneous abortion isn’t as high as often reported, skeptics still have grounds to question the design of human reproduction, viewing it as an error-prone, flawed process. Yet, new insight into the causes of spontaneous abortions and miscarriages suggests that a rationale undergirds pregnancy loss, especially during the early stages of pregnancy. In light of this insight it appears that spontaneous abortions may be rightly understood as a necessary part of the design of human reproduction.

Why Do Spontaneous Abortions Occur?

Most miscarriages appear to be the result of chromosomal abnormalities. Embryos with damaged chromosomes or an abnormal number of chromosomes often die. Biomedical researchers have discovered that somewhere between 50 to 80% of human embryos produced by in vitro fertilization have at least one cell that displays chromosomal abnormalities. (As mentioned, the statistics for in vitro fertilization are not likely to be reliable measures of naturally occurring fertilization, so we need to be cautious about how we interpret this finding.)4 Researchers have also learned that the leading cause of embryo mortality during in vitro fertilization appears to be associated with chromosomal abnormalities.

As I noted, these abnormalities inevitably arise as a consequence of the complexity of human reproduction and the second law of thermodynamics. In light of this inevitability, biomedical investigators now think that spontaneous abortions serve as the means to prevent embryos with chromosomal abnormalities from developing once they begin the process of implantation. By studying the interactions between embryos created via in vitro fertilization with cells cultured from the endometrium (the cell layers that line the uterine wall), investigators have discovered that when healthy embryos are introduced to endometrial cells in a Petri dish, they cluster around the embryo, releasing chemicals that promote implantation. On the other hand, endometrial cells eschew embryos with chromosomal abnormalities, halting the release of chemicals that prompt implantation.5 These investigators also discovered that endometrial cells exposed to embryos with chromosomal abnormalities underwent a stress response, whereas healthy embryos activated gene networks in the endometrial cells that led to the production of metabolic enzymes and the secretion of implantation factors. Researchers confirmed this result by exposing the uteri of mice to cell culture media that was used to grow abnormal human embryos and they observed the same response in the mouse cells in vivo as the human cells in vitro.

In other words, it appears as if the endometrium serves as a gatekeeper rejecting embryos with chromosomal abnormalities and embracing developmentally viable embryos. Because the rejection of abnormal embryos happens so early in the pregnancy, most women are unaware that they were pregnant.

Ironically, some researchers believe the widespread occurrence of miscarriages actually led to the success of our species. Compared to other mammals, humans have an unusually high rate of spontaneous abortions (even when we consider Jarvis’s revised estimates). For the most part, humans give birth to a single child that requires nine months of gestation. Other mammals have shorter pregnancies, some birthing litters. For these mammals, a process that allows a few abnormal embryos to grow and develop has relatively little consequences because a significant number of the litter will be healthy. But for humans, allowing a single ill-fated pregnancy to go to full-term is a flawed strategy. As biologist Shawn Chavez notes, “In the case of animals that have litters, maybe they make 10 embryos a month and only eight make it to live birth, but that’s still eight. Whereas we typically can only make one embryo per month, so if it isn’t a good one, maybe it’s better to try again next month.”6 Biologist Tim Bruckner makes a similar point. He states, “According to the theory of natural selection, we want to have children that survive infancy and grow up and have children of their own so they can pass on our genes. There’s this idea that human reproduction is inefficient because so many pregnancies are lost, but overall it may have led to the preservation of our species.”7

These insights into the cause of miscarriage also contribute to our understanding of infertility. Women with a hypervigilant endometrium may struggle to get pregnant because the endometrium rejects both abnormal and healthy embryos. By the same token, these insights explain why some women are prone to miscarriages. In this case, their endometrium isn’t selective enough, allowing embryos to develop which otherwise “biologically” shouldn’t.

Spontaneous Abortions: A Necessary Design Feature of Human Reproductions

On the surface, the high rate of spontaneous abortions appears to be a flawed design. In reality, this feature of human reproduction reflects an exquisite biological rationale. Though emotionally brutal, miscarriages are a necessary feature of the human reproduction process that arises from the complexity of human reproduction and the second law of thermodynamics. If not for the high rate of spontaneous abortions we would have a reduced likelihood of having healthy children.

Though this scientific insight doesn’t answer all the difficult questions associated with spontaneous abortions, it can offer some source of comfort knowing that a rationale exists for pregnancy loss. As science journalist Alice Klein writes:

As traumatic as my own miscarriage was, it is comforting to learn that it probably wasn’t because of anything I did or anything that was wrong with me. On the contrary, it was most likely due to a random genetic error that I had no control over. Instead of my body failing me, it may have protected me from investing further in a pregnancy that probably wasn’t going to produce a healthy baby.8

All these years later, I find comfort, too, in knowing that there is a reason why my wife suffered a miscarriage. Still, Amy and I are left with many questions—questions for which we may never receive answers. Though it may sound odd to nonreligious people, in the midst of this uncertainty, we choose to rely on the fact that God is just and merciful and sovereign over all things.

Resources

The Fixed Laws of Nature

The Elegant Design of Human Reproduction

Disabilities and the Image of God

Pro-Life Argument

Endnotes
  1. Gavin E. Jarvis, “Early Embryo Mortality in Natural Human Reproduction: What the Data Say,” F1000Research 5 (June 12, 2017): 2765, doi:10.12688/f1000research.8937.2.
  2. University of Cambridge, “Human Reproduction Likely to Be More Efficient Than Previously Thought,” ScienceDaily (June 13, 2017), sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170613101932.htm.
  3. University of Cambridge, “Human Reproduction.”
  4. Lucia Carbone and Shawn L. Chavez, “Mammalian Pre-Implantation Chromosomal Instability: Species Comparison, Evolutionary Considerations, and Pathological Correlations,” Systems Biology in Reproductive Medicine 61, no. 6 (2015): 321–35, doi:10.3109/1939638.2015.1073406.
  5. Gijs Teklenburg et al., “Natural Selection of Human Embryos: Decidualizing Endometrial Stromal Cells Serve as Sensors of Embryo Quality upon Implantation,” PLoS One 5 (April 21, 2010): e10258, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010258; Jan J. Brosens et al., “Uterine Selection of Human Embryos at Implantation,” Scientific Reports 4 (February 6, 2014): 3894, doi:10.1038/srep03894.
  6. Alice Klein, “The Real Reasons Miscarriage Exists—And Why It’s So Misunderstood,” New Scientist (August 5, 2020), https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24732940-900-the-real-reasons-miscarriage-exists-and-why-its-so-misunderstood/.
  7. Klein, “The Real Reasons Miscarriage Exists.”
  8. Klein, “The Real Reasons Miscarriage Exists.”

Reprinted with permission by the author

Original article at:
https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design

Thinking Beyond the Moment

(or seeing the full panorama)

revelation

But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”

Daniel 12:4

I’m sure not an intellectual. I know some, and I aint like that at all. No sir… Not even close. I just have sixty-eight years of info-marbles rolling around in my head that are still active. With all that acquisition in there, I’m quieted that I can trust my thought processes for now. At least until senility seeps into my gray matter, or memories become long forgotten in layers of trivia-dust.

I’m also aware of the deeper meaning behind the great chain of human events throughout history. I’m reasonably confident that I see and understand more than ninety percent of liberal, worldly journalists who believe they have all the data we’ll ever need but has to be updated hourly. Their function is to focus on each brief period that any one event unfolds in, then quickly move on to the next one. Or update that last one. They have neither time nor the desire for circumspection or to step back and observe the grand mosaic being pieced together right in front of them. They’re too nearsighted to see it, and frankly, they don’t have the perception to do so if they tried.

It can be difficult, but I try my best not to padlock initial observations or foregone conclusions of history-making events that make their way into tomorrow’s encyclopedias without consulting my loyal comrades, ‘The Guiding Triad’ who are always close by thank goodness. And their names in order of rank are,

  1. ‘Biblical Knowledge’ inspired by God and written by His prophets and disciples,
  2. ‘Lessons of History’ and
  3. ‘Verifiable Science.’

Leaning on these three heroes of civilization rather than my understanding unveils an enlightening panorama before me that says man’s darker machinations on this Earth have an unfortunately high probability of happening despite teaching and warnings—and then repeating over and over with bits of quieter time bridging the events. By our nature, we seem to be unable to avert them successfully. Postponed sometimes, but inevitable because most aberrant social behaviors are burned into us like the bios chip on your computer’s motherboard. And it traces all the way back to the Garden of Eden. And if someone tells you that’s not true, they’re probably one of those journalists I spoke of earlier. Or a relative.

The dark and horrific human events we continue witnessing during our brief time on this planet seldom catch me entirely unsuspecting. Nor do they induce my mind to a state of irrecoverable pandemonium when they occur. My confidence is wholly due to ‘The Guiding Triad.’ They have taught me over decades to take on a more reflective mindset and view world events not as singular instances but as the waters of a flowing river, winding its way toward the end of a long journey.

Assuredly, I lower my head in sorrow and prayer when evils like 911 happen, but I’m able to rally and tell myself not fall to pieces over them because the greatest of ‘The Guiding Triad’ says, “Trust me and stay the course to the end. Then I will call you my child.” While the lesser two say, “Remember, we’ve seen this before and there’s more on the way before it’s over. So dig in and keep your chin up.” Thus, I’m able to make it through man’s continuous despicable doings by trusting these wise counselors.

Jesus explained there would eventually be an end to mans’ destructiveness, but He reminded His disciples that only the Father in Heaven knows when that will be. If Jesus didn’t know, then anyone claiming to know specific events because they did some convoluted math with the calendar and a few misinterpreted verses is either:

  1. Trying to sell a book.
  2. Are two bricks short of a load.
  3. They’re deviously forming a cult and will be seeking emotional believers just anytime now.

Doubtless, they’ll be in a bit of a hurry since their span of opportunity to leave a twisted legacy is so brief. And even more so if they’re planning on drinking the Kool-Aid at the height of their following. The point of this paragraph is, though we can not know specifics, we can still open those eyes and arrive at a rough approximation of our position on the timeline by:

  1. A logistic comparison of past to present.
  2. How much we’ve advanced scientifically and technologically.
  3. The exponentially growing lethal capacity we’ve acquired as compared to rock-throwing eons past, and
  4. The continuing loss of knowledge while mans’ hatred increases.

And because we only need to push some buttons for a few minutes to burn and kill all life on the planet, I’d say we’re pretty far along the timeline. Well, maybe in the future, we could get that annihilation time down to just one minute after the buttons are depressed. Gotta love progress.

Each generation is a tiny blip on humanity’s timeline, but we can simultaneously see the past and present. Obtaining the ability to do so allows one to see the River of Life’s rapids ahead, and we know how severe the drop will be by the loudness of its roar. I’ve rafted down actual rapids in my youth, and that’s precisely how it is. The louder the roar, the more treacherous the rapids. The more destructive humanity becomes, the greater the calamity, and the more dangerously close we are to our demise.

The key to understanding the thousands of years of human events still in progress is knowing it’s the Creator’s perfect multi-purpose mechanism to, among several other things:

  1. Allow us to learn from past mistakes.
  2. Discover how it feels to endure loss.
  3. Experience the bad with the good.
  4. Pass on God’s word to future generations
  5. And essential to God… because unfortunately, great lengths of time are required to populate heaven when there’s only a mere 6-8 percent of people from each generation who actively search for and find Him.

That’s not many of us for every eighty years. And I have a feeling the dimension of heaven is a real expansive area to have to populate. The point is we are the family God was looking for when He created the universe, and to us all this history feels like a slow moving train.

God is outside the universe that came into being with His words, “Let there be light.” Omnipresence enables Him to see the distant end of our ‘do-it-myself’ story, which Jesus hints to as not rosy. And God sees that finale as quick as the lapse between flipping the switch and seeing the light come on. It’s instantaneous because He views it from a timeless standpoint, not as a physical entity imprisoned inside His own cosmos of moving photons of light, to be measured by the ticking clock.

A side-note on the subject of time:

He created it by having the universe continually expand and giving those little white photons crisscrossing through it a traveling speed of 186,000 miles per second. We call that time over here in cow country. It took thousands of years for us to figure that one out. In the meantime, everyone stood around outside, watching boring shadows move across metal discs while waiting for Einstein to finally show up.

God intentionally had the corridors of time prerecorded in an understandable form, written by Christ’s disciples and the prophets hundreds of years before Him, so we can read them today, being prudent not to distort their teachings by taking them out of text. And when we gain the knowledge contained in its pages, we often come to an understanding of what is happening around us as pertains to the long haul of life on this temporal spinning blue satellite. That’s not being a prophet. It’s being wiser and more understanding of our purpose and destiny. We still don’t know the times and dates of anything, and it doesn’t matter anyway. It’s enough to know it will happen.

There is nothing mystical about seeing the unfolding of human events as the assembling of a divine, lengthy, and super-sophisticated plan while you’re here in a physical body. Don’t bother with reading books by people claiming to be today’s prophets. It’s doubtful that there are any prophets around as their work is finished, and these authors are usually eccentric literates twisting individual events into ominous interpretations. There are no precise interpretations for any one occasion, and you can see the lunacy of these writers just by reading the summary on the back jacket cover. I’ve read a few back flaps, and they’re always far fetched and never come close to being accurate in their predictions. If you want the genuine article, which is recommended but not required reading, I suggest you get it from all three of the authoritative Guiding Triad guys.

I don’t give credence to the forecasts of the future from televangelism either. Some of them are the very ones writing those books I just mentioned, and I can tell you they’re completely unnecessary for your salvation. And in the end, most give Christianity a black eye. They primarily attract the elderly, which is fine in itself until they clean out their bank accounts, but they also gather in the ‘sheeple’ who blindly follow their shepherd in huge flocks, backing these men or women no matter the facts, even when they’re blatantly wrong. So if you think you are a sheeple, then by all means, turn the TV on and lose the remote between the couch cushions.

You can discern how the events of yesterday, today, and tomorrow are falling into place for yourself, and be confident and calm while you’re doing it. The most important part of the effort to reach an understanding and insight into the grand path we are on is Bible lessons. Read the books of Daniel’, Ezekiel, and ‘St John’s Revelation,’ and if you actually end up doing that, why don’t you go ahead and read the rest of the book instead of raiding the refrigerator all night. Tell yourself you’re doing it just to be sure you got all the facts straight. It’ll be good for you and put hair on your chest. And a lot of women these days would kill to have some of that. Seriously.

The other two categories of lessons are the history and science ones. According to one’s mental acuity, these are more scholarly and can be challenging to grasp and understand. Mine aren’t so great, but I get the basics. History and science jump all through time and space, so persevere through it for the rewards they deliver. There’s no rush. After all, you have the rest of your life to figure it out. Or at least until they ship you off to the nursing home. You might try skimming over some of the volumes of “World History” by Howard Spodek or the easier ‘Guns Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond. If you don’t take a shine to either of these, find an old world history school book from way back in the 60s before history got canceled by the left. Finally, you can at least find some authoritative history lessons from the Old Testaments of the Bible. The New King James version is a bit easier as it replaces all the ‘thees and thous’ with ‘you,’ but doesn’t alter much else.

The ‘science lessons I’ve learned are all free to borrow as ‘young adult’ science books available at your local library. There’s also layman science publications like Discover, Smithsonian Magazine, and Popular Science. If you’re more of a couch potato, try watching science-based shows like the PBS Nova series. Finally, there are organizations like ‘Reasons to Believe’ whose impressive materials bring science and faith together.

A word of caution:

Once you’ve studied hard and mastered the teachings of The Guiding Triad, including Bible, history, and basic science knowledge, your thoughts, eyes, and ears will become blindingly enlightened, and you’ll see the complete mosaic of the collective doings of man as a continuum with a beginning and end. And it’s not that great of a painting. I’ve seen better, scotch-taped to the grade school walls and refrigerators. Don’t panic, though, when you view it. Just lean back and have a cigar, or maybe you’d prefer some Rocky Road ice cream because there’s not a bloody thing you can do to stop the wheel from turning. You can pray for the situations passing by, but that’s it. Some folks like to label those dark instances as, “Well, it’s in God’s hands now!” That’s fair enough. Whatever floats your boat, I always say.

Here’s some humor to end with:

“As for nit-picking laws dictated to this generation, that are siphoning away freedom by telling us what to put on our bodies, or what not to put in our mouths, or how we have to show our ID, sign three forms and give a urine sample to buy a can of air at Walmart…

Well, I have a habit of disobeying those nit-pickers for the sole reason that it lets me take a swing (and a miss) at Big Brother and his system we’re being oppressed by with the least chance of suffering the fine of the infraction. And that makes me a happy camper for the rest of the day. On the rare occasion when I get caught, it further allows me to be a vocal dissident for a few hours. What? Did you think I always go by the book because you gathered as much from this message about seeing the big picture? Brother, are you ever naive. It looks to me like you need to get started with those Guiding Triad classes real soon.

dougsign

Have Researchers Developed a Computer Algorithm that Explains the Origin of Life?

By Fazale Rana – November 4, 2020

As a chemistry major at West Virginia State College during the early 1980s, I was required to take a library course on the chemical literature before I could graduate. During the class, we learned how to use the many library reference materials devoted to cataloging and retrieving the vast amount of chemistry research published in the scientific literature. Included in this list was the multivolume Beilstein’s Handbook of Organic Chemistry.

Beilstein’s Handbook of Organic Chemistry

Beilstein’s Handbook consists of hundreds of volumes with entries for well over 10 million compounds. The books that originally made up Beilstein’s Handbook took up rows of shelves in the library with new volumes added to the collection every few years. Today, the Beilstein’s volumes are no longer published as printed editions. Instead the entries are now housed online in the Beilstein’s Handbook database, with the old print volumes serving as little more than artifacts of a bygone era in the annals of chemistry.

Learning to master Beilstein’s Handbook is no easy task. In fact, there are textbooks devoted to teaching chemists how to use this massive database effectively. It is well worth the effort. If you know what you are doing, Beilstein’s Handbook holds the key to finding quickly anything you need to know about any organic compound, provided it has been published somewhere.

Beilstein Synthesis and the Origin-of-Life Problem

The utility of Beilstein’s Handbook is endless and its applications far-reaching. In fact, Beilstein’s has even served as the inspiration for origin-of-life chemists seeking to make sense of prebiotic chemistry and chemical evolution. These investigators think that if they can master an approach to prebiotic chemistry called a Beilstein synthesis, then they may well gain key insight into how chemical evolution generated the first life on Earth. In short, a Beilstein synthesis involves a chemical reaction taking place in a single flask with a large number of chemical compounds serving as the reactants. This process is so named as a nod to the 10 million entries in the Beilstein’s database.

Origin-of-life scientists are interested in Beilstein synthesis because they think that these types of reactions more closely reflect the chemical and physical complexity of early Earth’s environment. Yet, very few origin-of-life researchers have even attempted this type of reaction. Understanding what transpired during a Beilstein synthesis has long been an intractable problem. Until very recently, the analytical capabilities didn’t exist to efficiently and effectively characterize the myriad products that would form during a Beilstein reaction, let alone identify and characterize the different chemical routes in play. For this reason, origin-of-life researchers have focused on singular prebiotic processes involving a limited number of compounds, reacting under highly controlled laboratory conditions. In these types of reactions, it is far easier to make sense of experimental outcomes—but the ease of interpretation comes with a cost.

Over the last 70 years, the focus on singular sets of reactions and highly controlled conditions has produced some successes for origin-of-life researchers—albeit qualified ones. Focusing on isolated reactions and specific sets of conditions has made it possible for researchers to identify a number of physicochemical processes that could have contributed to the early stages of chemical evolution—at least, in principle. Unfortunately, serious concerns remain about the geochemical relevance of these types of experiments. These reactions perform well in the laboratory, under the auspices of chemists, but significant questions abound about the productivity of the same laboratory processes in the milieu of early Earth. (For a detailed discussion of this problem, I recommend my blog article “Prebiotic Chemistry and the Hand of God.”)

Additionally, these highly controlled reactions—carried out under pristine conditions—fail to take into account the chemical and physical complexity of early Earth. Undoubtedly, this complexity will impact the physicochemical processes on early Earth, shaping the outcome of plausible prebiotic reaction routes. No one really knows if this complexity will facilitate chemical evolution or frustrate it, but now we have some idea, thanks to the work of a research team from the Polish Academy of Sciences. These investigators moved the origin-of-life research community closer to achieving a prebiotic Beilstein synthesis by developing and deploying a computer algorithm (called Alchemy) to perform computer-assisted organic chemistry designed to mimic the earliest stages of chemical evolution. In effect, they performed an in silico Beilstein reaction with some rather intriguing results.1

Alchemy and the Prebiotic Chemistry

The researchers used Alchemy to identify the reaction pathways and products that could have formed under plausible early Earth conditions. They initiated the computer-assisted reactions by starting with hydrogen sulfide, water, ammonia, nitrogen, methane, and hydrogen cyanide as the original set of reactants, under the assumption that these small molecules would have been present on early Earth. After the reactions reached completion, the researchers removed any products that possessed an “invalid” chemical structure, then incorporated the remaining reaction products into the original set of starting compounds, and ran the computer-assisted reactions again. They repeated this process 7 times.

For each generation of reactions, they “computed” reaction pathways and products using a set of 614 rules. These rules were developed by encoding into the algorithm all of the known prebiotic reactions published in the scientific literature. They also encoded plausible conditions of early Earth. As they developed the list of rules, the researchers also paid close attention to chemical functional groups that would be incompatible with one another. As it turns out, it was possible to group these 614 rules into 72 chemical reaction classes. The algorithm began each generation of reactions by identifying suitable reactants for each class of reactions and then “reacting” them to discover the types of products that would form.

Alchemy Results

Through the course of 7 generations of reactions, Alchemy produced almost 37,000 chemical compounds from the initial set of 6 gaseous molecules. Of these compounds, only 82 were biotic. And, of this collection, 41 were peptides (formed when amino acids react together to form an adduct).

As it turns out the biotic compounds had some unusual properties that distinguished them from the vast collection of abiotic molecules. These compounds:

  • Are more thermodynamically stable
  • Display less hydrophobicity (water-insolubility)
  • Harbor fewer distinct functional groups
  • Possess fewer reactive functional groups
  • Have a balanced number of functional groups that were hydrogen-bond donors and acceptors

The researchers also discovered that there were a number of distinct pathways that could produce biotic compounds. That is to say, they observed synthetic redundancy for the biotic compounds. They discovered that they could eliminate nearly half of the 72 reaction classes from the algorithm and still generate all 82 biotic compounds. In contrast, the abiotic compounds failed to display synthetic redundancy. Only 8 of the reaction classes could be eliminated and still generate the same suite of abiotic molecules.

Additionally, the team discovered that some of the compounds generated by the in silico reactions—such as formic acid, cyanoacetylene, and isocyanic acid—served as synthetic hubs, giving rise to a large number of additional products. It is quite possible that the existence of these reaction hubs contributes to the synthetic redundancy of the biotic compounds.

Through the course of 7 generations of chemical synthesis, the researchers found that the Alchemy algorithm produced all of the prebiotic reactions reported in the scientific literature, to date. This finding isn’t surprising because the research team used these reactions to help design the rules used to guide Alchemy.

The algorithm also yielded prebiotic reactions that, heretofore had not been discovered by origin-of-life researchers. The research team demonstrated the validity of these pathways, discovered in silico, by successfully executing these same reactions in the laboratory.

Emergent Properties of Prebiotic Reactions

One of the most exciting discoveries made by the team from the Polish National Academy of Sciences was the emergent properties that arose after 7 generations of in silico prebiotic reactions:

  • Unexpectedly, some of the reaction products catalyzed additional chemical reactions, which expanded the range of available prebiotic reactions.
  • Reaction cycles and reaction cascades emerged, with the reaction cycles displaying the property of self-regeneration. In fact, after 7 generations, the chemical space of the prebiotic reactions became densely populated with reaction cycles.
  • Surfactants, such as fatty acids, emerged. They also discovered peptides with surfactant properties. These types of compounds can, in principle, form vesicles that can encapsulate materials yielding proto-cellular structures.

In many respects, this work reflects science at its best. It ushers in a new era in prebiotic chemistry, demonstrating the power of computer-assisted organic chemistry to shed light on chemical evolution. Coupled with the increased capacity to analyze complex chemical mixtures (thanks to advances in analytical chemistry), Alchemy and other similar software may make it possible to provide meaningful interpretations of real-life Beilstein reactions.

This work also shows that, in principle, complex chemical mixtures can give rise to some interesting emergent features that have bearing on chemical evolution and the rise of the chemical complexity and organization required for the origin of life. Nevertheless, we are still a far distance from arriving at any real understanding as to how life could have emerged through evolutionary processes.

Are the Alchemy Results Geochemically Relevant?

It is critical to keep in mind that this work involves computer modeling of chemical processes that could have taken place under the putative conditions of early Earth. And, though the algorithm developed by the investigators from the Polish National Academy of Sciences is quite sophisticated, it still represents a simplified set of scenarios that, at times, fails to fully and realistically account for our planet’s early conditions.

For example, some of the starting materials selected for the in silico reactions, such as ammonia and methane, likely weren’t present on the early Earth at appreciable levels. In fact, most planetary scientists believe that Earth’s early atmosphere was composed of water, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. When this type of gas mixture is used in spark-discharge experiments—such as the ones carried out by legendary origin-of-life researcher Stanley Miller—no organic compounds form. In other words, this gas mixture is unreactive.

The researchers also ignored the concentration of the reactants. Laboratory studies indicate that many prebiotic reactions require relatively high concentrations of the reactants. Given the expansiveness of early Earth’s environment (particularly, its oceans), it is hard to imagine that the concentrations needed for many prebiotic reactions could ever have been achieved. In other words, it is quite likely that the concentration of prebiotic reactants on Earth was too dilute to be meaningful for chemical evolution.

The research group also ignored kinetic effects. Not all chemical reactions proceed at the same rate. So, while a chemical reaction may be possible, in principle, in reality it may transpire too slowly to be meaningful. By not taking into account rates of chemical reactions, the researchers undermined the geochemical relevance of their computer-assisted reactions.

The availability and types of energy sources on early Earth were ignored as well. Many prebiotic reactions require energy sources to trigger them. In many instances these energy sources have to be highly specific to initiate chemical reactions. Energy sources need to be powerful enough to kick-start the reactions, but not so powerful as to cause the breakdown of the reactants and ensuing products.

The researchers also failed to take into account the stereochemistry of the reactants and products. For this reason, they have failed to shed any insight into the homochirality problem, which beleaguers origin-of-life research.

So, the results of Alchemy have questionable geochemical relevance, and thus, questionable bearing on the origin-of-life issue. Still, the work demonstrates the value of Beilstein reactions—even, if performed in silico—and does indicate that emergent properties can originate out of chemical complexity, in principle.

It is also worth noting that this work sheds potential light on the earliest stages of chemical evolution. Even if building block materials are in place, there still needs to be an explanation for the emergence of information-rich biopolymers and stable membrane-bound vesicles that would form protocells. The work of the Polish National Academy of Sciences investigators provides clues as to how this might happen, but significant hurdles remain.

The Homopolymer Problem

One of the interesting findings of the in silico experiments was the recognition that prebiotic reactions generated around 40 peptides. The peptides became larger and more numerous for each generation. These compounds are formed from amino acids, which combine into “chain-like” molecules and could be viewed as the stepping stones to proteins. Some of the peptides produced in the prebiotic pathways display “nonbiological” bonding. This type of bond formation arises from reactions between the hydroxyl and carboxylic acid side groups of serine and aspartic acid (produced in the prebiotic reactions), respectively, and the carboxylic acid moiety and amino groups bound to the alpha carbon. These nonstandard linkages would render these peptides irrelevant for the production of larger proteins because of the homopolymer problem.

The late Robert Shapiro first identified this problem a number of years ago. For biopolymers to be able to adopt higher-order three-dimensional structures or to carry out critical functions, such as self-replication, the backbone must consist of identical repeating units. For intermolecular interactions to stabilize the higher-order structure of biopolymers or for these biopolymers to serve as templates for self-replication, the backbone’s structure must repeat without any interruption. This means that the subunit molecules that form the self-replicator must consist of the same chemical class.

Chemists call chain-like molecules with structurally repetitive backbones homopolymers. (Homo = “same”; poly = “many”; mer = “units”). DNA, RNA, proteins, and the proposed pre-RNA world self-replicators, such as peptide-nucleic acids, are all homopolymers and satisfy the chemical requirements necessary to function as self-replicators.

Undirected chemical processes can produce homopolymers under carefully controlled, pristine laboratory conditions. However, as Shapiro pointed out, these processes cannot generate these types of molecules under early Earth’s conditions. The chemical compounds found in the complex chemical mixture that origin-of-life researchers think existed on early Earth would interfere with homopolymer formation. Instead, polymers with highly heterogeneous backbone structures would be produced. The likely chemical components of any prebiotic soup would not only interrupt the structural regularity of the biopolymer’s backbone, but they would also prematurely terminate its formation or introduce branch sites.

The homopolymer problem is an intractable problem for chemical evolution—at least for replicator-first scenarios. Even though the in silico experiments demonstrated that amino acids can form and even combine into useful peptides, they also demonstrated that undesirable switching, branching, and termination reactions take place. Ironically, the in silico experiments have also provided added validation for the homopolymer problem.

The Membrane Problem

Another interesting feature of this work is the generation of surfactant molecules, such as fatty acids and amphiphilic peptides. Presumably, these materials could form vesicles with the capacity to encapsulate materials, leading to the first protocells. Yet, this process seems unlikely under the conditions of early Earth. Laboratory studies demonstrate that vesicles assembled from fatty acids are metastable and highly sensitive to fluctuation of environmental conditions. In fact, fatty acid vesicles assemble only under exacting solution conditions and require precise lipid compositions.2

Again, these insights raise questions about the geochemical relevance of this result. So, even though surfactants can form under prebiotic conditions, their assembly into bilayer-forming vesicles is not a given, by any means.

Prebiotic Chemistry and the Anthropic Principle

Even though the sophisticated work from the Polish National Academy of Sciences was designed to validate the notion of chemical evolution, the study’s results produced some interesting theistic implications. There are good reasons to think that origin-of-life researchers will never determine how evolutionary pathways generated the first life-forms because of seemingly intractable problems facing chemical evolution. In the face of these dismal prospects, it becomes hard to argue that mechanism alone can explain the origin of life and the design of core biochemical systems. The conviction that a Creator isn’t necessary stands on shaky ground.

Still, even if one grants the possibility that life had an evolutionary origin, it is impossible to escape the necessary role a Mind must have played in the appearance of first life on Earth—at least based on some intriguing results that emerge from the computer-assisted Beilstein reaction. As a case in point, it is provocative that the 82 biotic compounds which formed—a small fraction of the nearly 37,000 compounds generated by the in silico reactions—all share a suite of physicochemical properties that make these compounds unusually stable and relatively unreactive. These qualities cause these materials to persist in the prebiotic setting. It is also intriguing that these 82 compounds display synthetic redundancy, with the capability of being generated by several distinct chemical routes. It is also fortuitous that these compounds possess the just-right set of properties—many of which overlap with the set of properties that distinguish them from the vast number of abiotic compounds—that make them ideally suited to survive on early Earth and useful as building block materials for life.

In other words, there appear to be constraints on prebiotic chemistry that inevitably lead to the production of key biotic molecules with the just-right properties that make them unusually stable and ideally suited for life. This remarkable coincidence is a bit “suspicious” and highly fortuitous, suggesting a fitness for purpose to the nature of prebiotic chemistry. To put it another way: There is an apparent teleology to prebiotic chemistry. It appears that the laws of physics and chemistry may well have been rigged at the outset to ensure that life’s building blocks naturally emerged under the conditions of early Earth. Could it be that this coincidence reflects the fact that a Mind is behind it all?

It is remarkable to me as a biochemist and a Christian that the more insight we gain into the origin of life, the more the evidence points to the necessary role of a Creator, whether the Creator chose to directly intervene to create the first life-forms or whether he rigged the universe in such a way that life would inevitable emerge because of the design and constraints imposed by the laws of nature.

It really is a new era in origin-of-life research.

Endnotes

  1. Agnieszka Wołos et al., “Synthetic Connectivity, Emergence, and Self-Regeneration in the Network of Prebiotic Chemistry,” Science 369 (September 25, 2020): eaaw1955, doi: 10.1126/science.aaw1955.
  2. Jacquelyn A. Thomas and F. R. Rana, “Influence of Environmental Conditions, Lipid Composition, and Phase Behavior on the Origin of Cell Membranes,” Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 37 (2007): 267-85, doi:10.1007/s11084-007-9065-6.

Resources

Reprinted with permission by the author

Original article at:
https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design

Where Greed Comes From

I’ve been sharing this planet with humans for three-quarters of a century, and my multitude of first-hand observations of individuals and groups of them, dating all the way back to the early 1950s, take precedence over any books on the subject of greed. And that includes the one titled, “How to Be Greedy Without Even Trying”, by Ima Takinedal.

Greed is a nasty affliction of humanity, and it begins manifesting itself from the very moment the brain develops the capacity to decide and choose. A typical scenario of early childhood greed may go something like, “I finished my ice cream cone already, and now I want yours.” The little tyke didn’t need one bit of prodding from an adult on how to want more than their share. It is, unfortunately, the result of man’s fallen status with the Creator of the cosmos.

Here’s another example of the early onset of greed. Peek around the corner at little Billy and Johnny in a room full of toys. Billy suddenly decides to pick up a particular toy and begins to have fun with it, becoming fully engaged, complete with uttering cute sound effects. While all is calm and peaceful, Johnny glances over at the now enthralled Billy and observes that he’s experiencing a fulfilling moment, and he immediately desires to be in that same blissful state for himself. The shortest, most straightforward route to achieving parity with Billy is to take possession of the thing which seems to have the power to provide instant gratification, so Johnny reaches over and tears the toy from Billy’s hands. Thus the fighting, shouting, and crying ensue, and the situation has gone from content to war-like.

Johnny required zero coaching to instantly become consumed with possessing his toys, plus little Billy’s now special one. This selfish behavior is inherent. Unless medical science eventually discovers a viable way to excise or neutralize this conflicting aspect of the human mind at birth, it will never wane from our existence.

Career Politicians are an excellent example of adult greed on steroids. Aside from always giving themselves salary increases while accomplishing less by not showing up, the hypocrites among them will expound on how they need to reduce the deficit by raising taxes. But the increase must not affect their particular non-profit institutions, which often have no contributing benefit for the working class whose taxes just got raised.

It’s a real shame that Adam and Eve chose to disobey God in the Garden of Eden. The consequences were losing the benefit of never being in need or want of anything, and their penalty wound up altering their son Cain and his siblings’ behavior, along with everyone coming after them, right down to the present.

Gotta go. My wife is eating all the M&Ms… again.

One Take on the After Life

The data goes, while the shell turns to dust

A truly eternal paradise would not be a state of solid matter, comprised of atoms and elements such as those listed on the Periodic Table here in our current physical realm, as all these things are subject to decay at the molecular level over linear time, and humans are comprised of these same elements as well, primarily C ‘carbon: group 14’ and H²O¹.

An eternal realm would necessitate a particular type of super-perceived, timeless state of being where everything still appears entirely tangible and yet wholly foreign and imperishable compared to the cosmos in which we currently exist. It would be a place where the laws of physics cannot coexist, and by its very nature, would exclude expansion or movement as our universe experiences. Such a state would also mean the absence of time, which is the measurement of light’s speed, represented to us as a clock’s ticking.

So how do we get there, aside from the fact that we first depend on Jesus covering our fare? The logical answer is that the soul would have to move toward or be guided through some form of interdimensional portal, which cannot begin until one first stops breathing, and the soul is loosed from the expired body it inhabited in this world of decaying particles. I would venture that it’s apt to be the same portal used by angels and Lucifer, as in Job’s story wherein he pays God a personal visit.

A super-perceived realm opens up limitless possibilities that could never occur here on earth, not excluding such things as streets of gold or traveling at the speed of thought. If any of the so-called near death experiences are remotely accurate, it would also explain why the authors of those events record such observations, as running through a field of flowers and then looking back to find that not a single flower has been crushed. It would be because they had perceived the field of flowers they’re seeing. The flowers weren’t biological in makeup.

A realm of super-perception would genuinely be a paradisiacal place. Do you say you miss all the dogs you ever had? Well, that’s not a problem. Simply think them back, and there they’ll be, standing at your feet wagging their tails. The saying would be correct. “All dogs go to Heaven!” I know I certainly won’t have any problem living forever in a place where I can have my heart’s desires. I’ll definitely be visiting my mom to listen to the golden harp she said she wanted when she got there. If she plays it anything like she did the piano, there’s a constant crowd around her.

Time To Sleep

All God’s creatures, great and small,
Are in their roosts and in their stalls.
They do not bark, nor chirp nor peep,
Their heads are bowed, they’re fast asleep.
Secured within their nests they be,
And like these creatures, so should we.
For soon the morning sun will shine,
Then tails will wag, and legs unwind.
Now off they’ll go, each to their place,
And all day long, they’ll share God’s Grace!

Clive Staples Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven high fantasy novels by C. S. Lewis. It is considered a classic of children’s literature and is the author’s best-known work, having sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages. Written by Lewis between 1949 and 1954, illustrated by Pauline Baynes and originally published in London between October 1950 and March 1956, The Chronicles of Narnia has been adapted several times, complete or in part, for radio, television, the stage, and film.

Set in the fictional realm of Narnia, a fantasy world of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals, the series narrates the adventures of various children who play central roles in the unfolding history of that world. Except in The Horse and His Boy, the protagonists are all children from the real world magically transported to Narnia, where they are called upon by the lion Aslan to protect Narnia from evil and restore the throne to its rightful line. The books span the entire history of Narnia, from its creation in The Magician’s Nephew, to its eventual destruction in The Last Battle.

Inspiration for the series is taken from multiple sources; in addition to numerous traditional Christian themes, characters and ideas are freely borrowed from Greek, Turkish and Roman mythology, as well as from traditional British and Irish fairy tales. The books have profoundly influenced adult and children’s fantasy literature written since World War II. Lewis’ exploration of themes not usually present in children’s literature, such as religion as well as the book’s perceived treatment of issues including race and gender, has caused some controversy.

YOU Are Important

dennishomepage

Whether you believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit are who they claim to be does not change the fact that they are, indeed, who they claim to be. One part of this precept supports the notion that the Bible is literally the inspired word of God. Additional support for this hypothesis is provided in II Timothy 3:16 and provides concrete evidence of this hypothesis. Timothy states that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” This point is foundational to the Christian belief system and to our healthy development as human beings.

Let me explain.

The Biblical character, King David, notes in Psalms 139 that our God, the everlasting presence, knows everything there is to know about us. There is no place where we can hide from God, and no thought that we can prevent Him from knowing. Actually, King David suggests that God already knows our thoughts, needs and desires. How does this relate to YOU and your importance?

Knowing that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and King David is right in his Psalms 139:14 narrative when he states that “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”, then, before the beginning of time, God has known you. I suggest, no: I know, that YOU are so important that Christ designed your specific DNA before the Father actually spoke the creation narration. The artist Lindsey-Anderson depicts this concept in the painting on this page.

Please do not believe the doubts you sometimes have about your self, or what others may say or think about you. YOU are important! God said it, I believe it, that settles it! I love you.

jesushands

Comments Welcomed on:

  1. Who is the artist in the picture, and how do you know?
  2. What are your observations of the pencil?
  3. What is the artist drawing?

Ref:

The Holy Bible. The Open Bible. King James Version. (1975). Thomas Nelson Publishers.

A School Librarian Is Using Drones To Deliver Books To Kids All Summer

June 18, 2020

A middle-school librarian in Virginia has found a way to ensure kids can still rent books during a time when libraries are closed to the public.

She’s delivering them by drone.

school librarian delivers books by drone

Kelly Passek / Credit: Wing

Kelly Passek was one of the first customers of a drone delivery service launched in Christiansburg, Va., last year by Wing. After seeing how quickly her household items were delivered, she petitioned the company to take on library books, too.

She asked the school’s superintendent, Mark Miear, who was “immediately on board.”

“Montgomery County Public Schools will be the first public school system in the world to use Wing to deliver library books to our students,” Passek said. “We are thrilled for this opportunity to have a really unique way to deliver resources to our students and do it practically on demand.”

Passek coordinates the delivery process with Wing. Students can request to take out library books using an online form. Passek then packs the books up in special delivery boxes, then drops them off at Wing, which handles the deliveries.

“Our libraries are essential and unique parts of our community and it is extremely important for our students to continue to have access to the resources that are here in our libraries in order to guarantee their success,” Passek said.

Now, students in Montgomery County can choose from the library’s more than 150,000 titles, and have their books delivered right to their front yard.

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A Carpenter Is Building Insulated, Mobile Shelters For Homeless People To Stay Warm This Winter

October 28, 2020

A carpenter in Toronto is building insulated, mobile shelters for homeless people who will be outdoors this winter.

carpenter Khaleel Seivwright

Khaleel Seivwright / CBC

Khaleel Seivwright, 28, started building mobile shelters for the homeless last month. Each unit costs about $1,000 in materials and takes Seivwright eight hours to construct. But he’s been happily giving them away for free.

“It just seemed like something I could do that would be useful because there’s so many people staying in tents,” Seivwright told the CBC. “I’ve never seen so many people staying outside in parks, and this is something I could do to make sure people staying outside in the winter could survive.”

Seivwright says the shelters will be able to keep people comfortably warm with their own body heat in temperatures as low as -20 C.

To help fund his mission, Seivwright launched an online fundraiser which has raised more than $50,000.

Khaleel Seivwright

“I’m excited to do this because I know it can work, I love designing and building different interesting ideas and I know it might help at least a few people get through this winter who might not and others in the future as well. As shelters are usually at capacity at some point in the winter in Toronto and also because of this coronavirus, making space to allow for social distancing will put even more strain on Toronto’s capacity,” he wrote on GoFundMe.