Looking at issues raised by Tour

Continuing the discussion from Comments on Tour Apologizes to Sostack:

I think saying we don’t know is comparable to saying at this point in time known natural causes seem to be implausible as explanations for OoL.
What I’m interested in particularly are whether or not his evidence is valid or not. Is there anything in his talk between 14:00 and 40:00 that can be shown to be mistaken? If not I would say it’s pretty evident that based on current knowledge natural causes are pretty implausible.
We could start with the first issue of synthesis if you like and go down the list one by one. Or if that’s not possible for you maybe someone else would like to do it?

The problem is that what happens particular physical and chemical systems depend very much on the kinds of conditions under which they are tested. What minerals, elements, metals, salts are present, in what concentrations are they each? Do they persist or fluctuate? Do they cycle up and down? In what structure are they, tiny powdered grains, large uniform solids, what is the total surface area, the topology? What are the temperatures like, for how long do they persist? Is there convection, thermophoresis, evaporation? Is there UV light, which wavelengths, what intensity? Are conditions neutral, acidic, alkaline? Reductive, oxidative? There is so incredibly much we still don’t know, and the interactions of very complex, multicomponent systems are almost impossible to predict from first principles.

The number of possible options here is difficult to overstate, and so few have been experimentally tested. This is why claims that “experiment X didn’t produce hypothesized result Y - therefore we know it can’t or won’t” are so silly. I repeat my earlier analogy, you can’t conclude that a particular small rock doesn’t exist on the african continent if you’ve only searched a square meter of it.

This is one of many issues with James Tour’s claim that chemistry has shown there’s some problem with the origin of life. He just can’t conclude that from so limited data. Of course it gets even worse when we consider that Tour treats the origin of life as the origin of something like a modern bacterium.

But we don’t know what the simplest or most likely form of life is, so going back to the analogy, we’re now looking for a rock we don’t know what looks like on the african continent, we’re far from sure just how small it is, and we’ve only looked on one square meter of it.


That’s too strong.

We do not currently have a satisfactory account of OOL. But perhaps we will after further research. I don’t find that implausible.

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My concern is, if you take that approach you could be wandering around in a sea of imagination with no end in sight. I would think that looking realistically at what we do know about chemistry would be the best way to guide us to what is plausible, and then from there we could look for explanations that fall within that plausible range. Otherwise, I don’t any other way to reasonably approach the subject.

Well, we could argue about it for a while, but I don’t see much difference between no satisfactory account and no plausible account. :slight_smile:

No, it just means there are lots of experiments yet to be performed.

I would think that looking realistically at what we do know about chemistry would be the best way to guide us to what is plausible, and then from there we could look for explanations that fall within that plausible range. Otherwise, I don’t any other way to reasonably approach the subject.

Imagine only knowing of one chemical reaction under one specific condition, and then concluding from that, that no other chemical reactions are plausible. Obviously that would be absurd, right? So now add one more chemical reaction to your knowledge, are you close to having exhausted all possibilites? Nope. One more so you know three, is it starting to look hopeless for other chemistries? No.

In the space of all possible physical conditions, and all possible chemical reactions, we have probed an infinitesimal fraction. Even considering only plausible ones that don’t invoke temperatures above thousands of degrees, and hard ionizing radiation at close-to-a-blue-hypergiant-start intensities, we have still probed an unimanigably small fraction. You just don’t seem to understand how vast the space of possible conditions is, and how little of it we have probed or really understand.


That would just leave us with no satisfactory or plausible account. You seem to be skipping how you would establish the truth of the conclusion you so intensely seek.


I can see your point. But I think you could say that about quite a few things. But I think there needs to be some form of distinguishing between reality and the imaginary. We can imagine all types of strange things, but we know from experience that for the most part, many of our imaginations are not based on what reality would allow.

So I would argue that sticking to what has been directly verified empirically is the primary way to keep out feet on the ground and not get lost in space so to speak. And then we can reason our way via inductive and abductive reasoning to things which cannot be directly empirically verified while keeping the verified realities in tact.

But if we start stepping out of the reality we do know, into imaginary worlds that our experience of reality tells us are not metaphysically possible, or even plausible, then I think we’re going to end up pushing ourselves into a dream world that doesn’t exist.

So my suggestion is, when there seems to be no known natural means of explanation after a reasonable amount of research has been done, to be open to the fact that there may not be one. And that means being open to the fact that the only possible explanation may be a metaphyscal one.

You’ve given no reason to think OoL research resembles this scenario in any way.

On the other hand, when you’ve only explored an infinitesimally small part of the search space, don’t try to claim that you can draw any conclusions about the outcome of your search. When we don’t know something, we don’t know it – wrapping a bunch of words around it doesn’t change the situation.


Nobody is stopping you, or me for that matter, from making metaphysical explanations. I definitely have a “metaphysical” explanation for OOL that I think is pretty solid.

It seems like you are wanting to go beyond that though and tell scientists that they ought to stop looking for scientific explanations. That is my impression at least, please correct me if that’s wrong. I just don’t get why you would want to do that and why you think scientists would listen.

You also seem (again, correct me if I’m wrong here) to want to use the lack of a current scientific explanation as a means to make your metaphysical explanation more plausible. “The more implausible a scientific explanation, the more plausible a metaphysical one.” I can’t imagine how that could be the case since science doesn’t have a whole lot to say about metaphysical explanations.


How are you going to determine what constitutes a “reasonable amount of research”? Scientists have been investigating OOL for maybe 50 years in a few dozen labs around the world. The original OOL happened across the whole planet over several hundred million years.

Will you give OOL researchers at least that much time?


I’m sure. I think it’s worth pointing out that many, many people believe that their metaphysical assumptions and the idea of evolution going back to a single cell are not in conflict. If scientists can push back things further, why would the situation be any different? It’s not clear to me how metaphysics is involved at all, unless you’re talking about a particular incompatible metaphysical outlook.

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This isn’t about what we don’t know. It’s about what we do know. And from what I understand according to what we do know verified through direct empirical investigation in the field of chemistry is that known natural causes are no where near sufficient to explain OoL. I’m beginning to suspect that this oft repeated argument is what Theists are often accused of, an argument from ignorance. “We don’t know, but give us enough time and we’ll find a way to explain it through natural causes.” If the evidence points to no known natural cause, then follow the evidence where it leads and don’t use lack of knowledge as an excuse. Can you imagine if criminal investigations had sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt if they were to say, “Well, we don’t know everything about the crime yet, so we’ll have to wait until we have investigated all the possible explanations, which may or may not even be plausible and could take forever as far as we know, even though we’ve got what seems to be sufficient evidence to win the case.” The justice system would be in shambles in no time.

But we don’t know that, that’s the whole point. We know what the natural causes are: The laws of physics. But the second factor in the equation are the local conditions, and there are so many possible options we can’t say that the laws of physics are incapable of producing life since they depend so much on the local conditions.

I’m beginning to suspect that this oft repeated argument is what Theists are often accused of, an argument from ignorance. “We don’t know, but give us enough time and we’ll find a way to explain it through natural causes.”

We don’t know if we will, but we know we haven’t explored an all the conditions yet, we have explored only a tiny fraction. And some times we can’t predict how the conditions will affect the outcomes, because how the system behaves when the conditions are suffiently detailed and complicated is too much for simple calculations, or current models to accurately reproduce. So we have to do experiments, or very complicated computer simulations, which depend on computer technology we are only starting to have available.

If the evidence points to no known natural cause

But it doesn’t when we have only explored so few options. It would begin to point to that when we can say that we have explored a very significant fraction of all possible local conditions, which we haven’t. Your claim that the evidence points to this is desperately premature.

then follow the evidence where it leads and don’t use lack of knowledge as an excuse.

But that’s is actually what you are doing, you just haven’t been able to elucidate how that is the underlying fallacy supporting your argument. You keep saying that your argument draws from what we DO know, but once we shine a light on this thing you claim we do know, we find that it’s actually things we don’t know(what happens under all conditions) you’re calling things we do know(that nothing happens under all conditions).



But above you admitted that YOU have no idea how much is known.

What we know is that we don’t know a natural cause, and that we haven’t come close to assessing all the possible routes by which a natural cause could work. In other words, it’s like every other phenomenon for which we don’t have currently have a scientific explanation – and like all the ones in the past for which we have subsequently found explanations.


Never in the history of scientific endeavor has any evidence pointed to no known natural cause. “We don’t know the natural means” is not logically equivalent to “it can’t happen through natural means”.

We’re all still waiting for your explanation of how to do science and allow for supernatural intervention.


This is the fundamental point.

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I guess I’m going to have to repeat this often on the forum since I keep getting asked this question. I’ll see if I can make myself clear. There’s a distinction that I think needs to be addressed about looking extensively for a “reasonable” natural cause and looking extensively for “any imaginable possible” natural cause. When scientists start crossing the boundary between a reasonable explanation into explanations that have no basis in reality, I think someone in the community should be able to reign them in and say, “Hey, this is pretty wild. Maybe you’re going a little overboard.”

However, it seems like with MN the attitude is “We have to look for a natural cause regardless of the cost because we “know” there is one. And no matter how crazy it may seem, we have to explore every imaginable possibility even if it’s way beyond reason.” Does that make sense?

So no, I’m not wanting to make scientists stop exploring natural explanations even if there’s good reason to suspect there isn’t any. I just think they need to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable explanations and at the same time be “open” to the fact that there may be no natural explanation, especially when the more and more science discovers, that is where the evidence is leading. That I think would temper their investigations in a way that makes sense, rather than what I would consider, chasing after fairytale possibilities that will end up going nowhere which seems to be increasingly the case.

Obviously if there is a natural explanation that reasonably and sufficiently explains a phenomenon we wouldn’t go looking for a metaphysical cause. But what I’m saying is that when there doesn’t seem to be any natural explanation, and after years of investigation the evidence keeps suggesting that there isn’t one, that is justification for looking at explanations outside of the natural realm. I don’t see any problem with that reasoning. Do you? If so please explain.

You really don’t get it yet. This is only true within science. Outside of science you can do other things, and many of us here specifically take a different path OUTSIDE science.

Why do you care so much what science says in the language of science?

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