Solution to Life: Engines and Information
The way that life overcomes the free energy challenge is that it contains highly sophisticated machinery which transforms one form of energy into high energy molecules (e.g. ATP) which provide the needed energy to drive energetically unfavorable reactions. These driven reactions overcome the processes which constantly drive the cell toward higher entropy. In addition, information-rich enzymes couple the breakdown of the high-energy molecules to driving the target reactions to maintain the metabolism.
Positive Case for Design
Beyond the challenges of forming a cell, an equally significant point is that life demonstrates positive evidence for design, particularly in the requirements for a self-replicating system. The question of self-replication was addressed by NASA engineers who analyzed the minimal functional requirements. Parallel to this effort, biologists have analyzed the minimal requirements for a functional cell. Both groups converged on common components:
- Large repositories of information and information processing
- Manufacturing centers that construct all of the essential pieces
- Assembly and installation processes
- Energy production and distribution machinery
- Automated repair and replacement of parts
- Global communication and coordination with feedback control systems
- Sensing of environment and calculation of needed responses
- Self-replication which directs the duplication, distribution, and installation of every part.
All of these functions demonstrate high levels of goal direction, coordination, and foresight which are unmistakable signs of intelligent design. By “high levels” I mean numerous components, complex interconnections, high specificity requirements, and multiple interacting hierarchical levels.
One cannot appeal to selection for assistance since these functions are required before self-replication is possible. Appeals to pre-cellular replication are futile since prebiotic selection always selects against life’s origin. Specifically, any self-replicating entity will be selected only for efficiency of self-replication and against any other function useful for OOL. This driving tendency away from functional outcomes has been demonstrated in experiments on replicating viral RNAs such as “Spiegelman’s monster.”
The key challenge is that the arrangements of molecules in life transcend their chemistry and physics in the same way the parts in a car transcend the chemical and physical properties of metal, glass, and rubber. The reactions in metabolism would never occur naturally at reasonable rates if enzymes did not force them to move in the right direction. Life is only explainable by the information which defines its makeup and operations.
In addition, the simplest possible cell demonstrates top-down design which transcends its physical makeup. The goal of self-replication demands the aforementioned functions must exist. Each of those functions demands that certain sub-functions exist. For instance, self-replication requires that DNA is replicated, all of the cellular components are duplicated, and everything is equally divided between two cells. The replication of DNA demands the existence of multiple components, such as machinery to separate the strands, replicate both strands, and loosen the tightening of the remaining DNA which results from the separation. Note that I have not mentioned any biochemical details which happen to differ in different types of cells. The functions preexist their embodied structures.
Moving down the hierarchy, the loosening of DNA during replication demands the existence of a molecular machine which can cut the DNA, loosen it, and then bind it back together. This entity is known as topoisomerase. Please see this video to appreciate its genius. It performs the functions I mentioned plus the following:
- Opening and closing gates
- Passing one DNA strand through the broken strand
- Accessing energy from ATP to power actions
This enzyme is required for DNA replication before DNA is even long enough to encode the enzyme. It is over 1000 amino acids long, and it must perform every step properly, or it is useless. Can we really consider the possibility that an ancient ocean just happened to be filled with trillions of trillions of 1000-amino-acid-long chains, and one just happened to stumble across the right sequence, and it just happened to drift into a cell membrane which just happened to have all of the other machinery needed for cellular replication?