The Simple Life

In considering the question of how “mere” matter can exhibit intentionality, I argued in a previous post that living things have purposefulness and “aboutness” by virtue of their being designed, just as our artifacts have. The designer, however, in the case of living things, is not a purposeful Mind, but the blind processes of evolution and natural selection. If we are willing to acknowledge that our complex intentional apparatus might, as we look backward through our ancestral history, take simpler and simpler forms, all the way back to the earliest replicators, we go a long way toward establishing the “gradualist bridge” that many dualist philosophers insist cannot be built.

We still have a major problem to solve, however, which is the origin of life itself. There have been many promising suggestions as to how life might have got started, but one stumbling block for many models has been a sort of Catch-22 problem in which the machinery for RNA replication needed to be in place in order for the ball to get rolling. NYU researcher Robert Shapiro, however, has a new and promising model that bypasses the need for preexisting RNA, and relies only on simpler organic reactions.

The paper is to be published in the June issue of the Quarterly Review of Biology, but you can read a bit more here (hat tip to Jon Mandell ).

Needless to say, a convincing demonstration of a mechanism whereby self-replicating organisms could have arisen in the early terrestrial environment would be an important result (to put it mildly), and would deal Intelligent Design proponents quite a blow.

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