Most every scientist recognizes that origin of life researchers have not solved the problem of how the first life came to be. An appeal to panspermia is really just kicking the can down the road.
My own interest is from the perspective of philosophy of science. I question whether origin of life research is even on the right track. It appears that the commitment to philosophical naturalism is so dominant among origin or life researchers that it is impossible for them to conduct their research using the normal standards of science. As a result, professional researchers in fields other than origin of life have written about the failures of these researchers.
An earlier conversation on Peaceful Science discussed some of these topics. It is well worth reading and can be found at:
@vjtorley began the discussion referring to criticisms of OOL research by James Tour of Rice University and Brian Miller. Dr. Miller also made a number of contributions to that discussion.
Here I would like to go into more detail of the criticisms leveled by James Tour and also begin discussion of the writings of Perry Marshall regarding information necessary for origin of life.
James Tour is a leading synthetic organic chemist. Perhaps his most interesting work is the nanocars he has synthesized. These little cars a little molecular machines. They have four little wheels (which I think are just one molecule in size) and two axles that turn, plus a chassis, a motor and a propeller. His first attempt to synthesize a motor for his nanocar worked, but not efficiently. It turned (IIRC) just 1.2 times per hour. Not functional. After more research, he thought perhaps it had one too many iron atoms (I believe it was iron). He couldn’t run a reaction that would remove that one atom, he had to begin from scratch. Sure enough, once finished the new motor turned at the rate of 100,000 revolutions per minute. That’s a tremendous improvement for just removing one atom.
This is important because most likely the earliest life had to have many such molecular machines to move things, such as waste products, around inside the cell. Tour criticized OOL researchers because he does not believe they are honest about the level of difficulty in the results they report or the unlikelihood such reactions could happen in nature. Specifically, he complains about the need for very exacting purifications otherwise the products and by-products of each synthesis will mix and create a useless goo. Is it possible that some separations could happen in nature? Yes, but it highly unlikely to get the level of purification necessary for even reaction much less the many, many reactions necessary for the origin of life.
Tour also complains about the assumption of just-in-time arrival of fresh and pure new chemicals for the next reaction. He also complains about the changing conditions for these reactions. Researchers change temperature from freezing cold to boiling hot and back again quickly in the lab. In nature, these kinds of changes take time and time is the enemy of clean reactions. Many of the products are highly reactive and will reactive with most any compound they contact during this change of temperature. Plus researchers also change atmospheric pressure from near zero to several atmospheric pressures. Most of this information is somewhat hidden from readers in footnotes or supplementary materials only a specialist might examine. Tour has also been critical of OOL researchers for their ignorance of CISS and quantum mechanics. Their research simply ignores that entire field.
Tour quotes Dostoevsky asking this very important question of OOL researchers - “Why is everyone here lying?”
Another non-OOL researcher who has entered the fray and deserves to be heard is Perry Marshall. Marshall is software expert and claims that biological information, whether encoded as DNA or RNA, is software code and requires a full communication system. He describes a communication has having an encoder, the code itself (DNA or RNA) and a decoder. If all three of these do not exist, then communication is impossible. All three need to be present inside the cell for the cell to function.
Marshall’s book Evolution 2.0 describes the problem OOL researchers are neglecting.
Marshall has offered a technology prize of up to $5 million for anyone who can explain this. Specifically, if you can produce a self-organizing digital communication system, he will write you a check for $100,000 and if it patentable then you can gain royalties of up to $5 million.
The judges are from Harvard, Oxford and Florida State University.
I think it’s clear that no one will ever be able to claim this prize. I cannot see how three different entities can self-organize an agreed upon code without intelligence. Perhaps you will accuse me of a lack of imagination and perhaps I’m guilty. But for the time being, I will continue to believe that certain things are impossible.
All of this brings me to the point. OOL research is in distress. No real progress has been made for a long time and indeed the more we learn the greater the difficulties of chemical evolution becomes.
More importantly, it is time for OOL researchers to do the right thing and to attempt to falsify the hypothesis that life can arise through natural processes without intelligence to guide the progress.
It seems to me that the desire for Peaceful Science can be a motivation for us to join together to call for OOL researchers to uphold the standards of science.