Religion thrives on mysteries, those things that seem so inexplicable that we do not know how to even begin investigating them, what questions to ask, and what tools to use to study them. We are tempted to just throw up our hands. Puzzles, on the other hand, are those things for which we do not as yet have answers but do know what questions to ask, have hypotheses about what might be going on, and can investigate systematically.
Science has been steadily transforming mysteries into puzzles and, if history is any indication, once something becomes a puzzle, it eventually gets solved. This is the reason why science and religion are on an inevitable collision course. Religion needs mysteries to survive while the scientific imperative is to convert mysteries into puzzles and then to solve the puzzles.
There are currently just four areas that religion is trying to preserve as mysteries: the origin of the universe, the origin of life (i.e., the occurrence of the first self-replicating molecule), the source of morality, and consciousness. I would argue that all four of these are well on their way to becoming puzzles in that we already have a handle on how to address them scientifically.
Now comes further research that adds to our knowledge about the second of the four, the origin of life.
The team from Imperial College London, the University of Kent and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have discovered that when icy comets collide into a planet, amino acids can be produced. These essential building blocks are also produced if a rocky meteorite crashes into a planet with an icy surface.
Dr Mark Price, co-author from the University of Kent, adds: “This process demonstrates a very simple mechanism whereby we can go from a mix of simple molecules, such as water and carbon-dioxide ice, to a more complicated molecule, such as an amino acid. This is the first step towards life. The next step is to work out how to go from an amino acid to even more complex molecules such as proteins.”
The paper can be viewed here. In the abstract they describe the experiment that they did.
Here we present laboratory experiments in which we shocked ice mixtures analogous to those found in a comet with a steel projectile fired at high velocities in a light gas gun to test whether amino acids could be produced. We found that the hypervelocity impact shock of a typical comet ice mixture produced several amino acids after hydrolysis. These include equal amounts of D-and L-alanine, and the non-protein amino acids _-aminoisobutyric acid and isovaline as well as their precursors. Our findings suggest a pathway for the synthetic production of the components of proteins within our Solar System, and thus a potential pathway towards lifethrough icy impacts.
In the paper’s conclusions they summarize the implications.
These results present a significant step forward in our understanding of the origin of the building blocks of life. The fact that impacts occur is without question; it is also known that comets contain significant quantities of the compounds used in this study, and that these compounds are found on the impacted surfaces of many of the icy bodies in the outer Solar System.
Our results demonstrate that we have synthesized several amino acids by shock impacting an ice mixture. This provides an additional, realistic, synthetic pathway for the building blocks of prebiotic compounds, increasing the chances of life originating and being widespread throughout our Solar System.
This new work adds to the many hypotheses that are currently being investigated and have been described by Robert M. Hazen in his 2005 book Genesis: The scientific quest for life’s origins.
It provides further evidence that the origin of life has stopped being a mystery and become a puzzle.