MadSci Network: Biochemistry

Re: Does chirality suggest intelligent design?

Area: Biochemistry
Posted By: Chris Larson, Post-doc/Fellow Laboratory of Genetics
Date: Fri Oct 17 10:26:13 1997
Area of science: Biochemistry
ID: 875813166.Bc
	L-sugars and D-amino acids certainly exist in nature as free
molecules and as the products of racemization of their respective
enantiomeric partners in proteins and carbohydrates, and D-amino acids have
even been found to have a role in normal brain function, but in general it
is true that D-sugars and L-amino acids are the norm.  

	The fact that usually only D-sugars and L-amino acids are found in natural 
biological macromolecules certainly could be used as an argument for intelligent
design because currently there is no scientific understanding as to why
that should be the case.  However, I would not call it a "compelling"
argument simply because one could always argue that just because there is
not a scientific understanding now of why only the given enantiomers exist
does not mean that there won't be one in the future.  An evolutionary
argument can be made for their predominance as follows: if one imagines
that life arose from a prebiotic primordial soup in the form of a
self-replicating molecule of some sort, and that this process was catalytic
in the sense that molecule A makes more molecule A and molecule B makes
more molecule B, one can imagine that if randomly there got to be more A
than B, this would quickly have a "snowball" effect in which the amount of
A relative to B gets greater and greater, and if this means that A uses up
all of a critical resource for the reaction, i.e., a catalytic surface,
then B would be eliminated.  If from A all subsequent life arose, then if A
was D-sugars or L-amino acids (or something that energetically would be
expected to lead to only them and not the opposite) all subsequent life
would contain them. One could also argue that A had some inherent advantage
in replication, but you don't need to, and as you say there is no known
advantage to the predominant molecules.

	Ultimately, this is really a philosophical question.  Those of a
more scientific persuasion can always argue that we just don't know the
data yet to construct a "scientific" theory explaining the phenomenon (any
phenomenon around which this kind of debate happens), while those of a more
theological persuasion can always argue that there is a sentient, guiding
force behind what behavior they seek to explain.  Or to put it another way,
one side will say we just don't know enough yet, and the other side will
say it is God.  Since it is logically impossible to prove (i) that what one
doesn't know either exists and hasn't been found yet or doesn't exist, or
(ii) that God either exists or doesn't, then there is no way of resolving
this conflict.  All that can really happen is for physical data to arise
that leads to a plausible scientific explanation for whatever you are
talking about and for this explanation to be accepted by the vast majority
of people.  But for cases in which that hasn't happened, logically one
can't argue that it will happen or that it won't; you either believe that
it will or you believe that it won't.

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