Feature Article - August 2005
by Do-While Jones

Looking For Life

Harvard wants to spend a million dollars a year looking for the origin of life, but they aren’t the first ones.

The Boston Globe and Associated Press ran articles this month about the new program Harvard wants to start to find some plausible explanation for the natural origin of life without an intelligent designer.

Harvard Jumps Into Evolution Debate

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) - Harvard University is joining the long-running debate over the theory of evolution by launching a research project to study how life began.

The team of researchers will receive $1 million in funding annually from Harvard over the next few years. The project begins with an admission that some mysteries about life's origins cannot be explained.

“My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention,” said David R. Liu, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard. 1 [emphasis supplied]

Our expectation is that this won’t happen. It isn’t as if scientists just realized that they don’t have a natural explanation for how life began, and have just started looking now. In May, 2003, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Stanley Miller’s failed attempt to do so. In the past half-century, scientists have done many experiments which have shown how life could NOT have originated through any known physical process.

The Secret $1,000,000 Prize

One of the best kept secrets of science is “The Origin of Life Prize” ® sponsored by the Origin of Life Foundation, Inc. When we first ran across their web site (www.lifeorigin.org), we thought that the offer of one million dollars to anyone who could propose a plausible theory for the origin of life was just a slick creationist trick for showing that the emperor had no clothes. We thought that after nobody came forth to claim the prize, the failure could be used to expose the shameful nakedness of the theory of evolution. Closer examination of the website, however, revealed that this has been a genuine effort by evolutionists since 1997 to find the origin of life.

All substantive judging has been turned over to the scientific community as represented by nearly 200 judges in over forty countries listed above. 2

They all seem to be “real” scientists from secular universities.

Why haven’t you heard about this prize before? It is because they are trying to keep it a secret.

Other than announcements in scientific journals, The Prize will not be publicly advertised in lay media. The Origin-of-Life Foundation, Inc. wishes to keep the project as quiet as possible within the scientific community. No media interviews will be granted until after the Prize is won. 3

Why do you suppose they want to keep it quiet? We suppose that they don’t want to advertise the fact that all the “scientific” theories for the origin of life are contrary to known scientific laws. If you dig deep into their web site, you will find a few of the known problems that the winner must successfully address to claim the prize. Here is just one example,

Suppose a self-replicative oligoribonucleo­tide analog sequence occurred spontaneously out of sequence space. How did this self-repli­cative strand simultaneously anticipate folding needs for metabolic utility? Any evolution toward folding fitness would tend to mutate the sequencing away from self-replicative fitness. What was the bridge between both functions? How could random mutations simultaneously contribute to both disparate functions?

How did so many biochemical pathways get integrated into one coherent, unified, and sophisticated metabolic process? 4

This isn’t slick creationist rhetoric. We are eavesdropping on evolutionists frankly discussing real technical difficulties with all current origin of life theories. The most telling single sentence on the web page is this one:

The winning submission will likely provide both a novel and cardinal conceptual contribution to current biological science and information theory. 5

In other words, the winning submission will no doubt have to be based on a break-through discovery because all previous theories on the origin of life violate current biological science and information theory. Recognizing that contestants will likely appeal to an unknown law of science, the rules specifically say,

11. Appeals to unknown laws

Appealing to unknown "laws" as the source of biological instruction constitutes a "category error" of logic theory. "Laws" do not cause anything. They are merely human generalizations, mental constructions, and mathematical descriptions of existing forces and mass-energy relationships. Even "chance" is a probabilistic rational construct. Neither chance nor "laws" cause effects. Unknown laws, therefore, cannot provide a mechanism for prescriptive information (instruction) genesis. Appealing to unknown laws constitutes a "naturalism of the gaps," corresponding to supernaturalists' appealing to a "God of the gaps" for scientific explanation. Neither is acceptable in naturalistic science. 6

The rules specifically state that the winning entry must explain where genetic information comes from.

6. The source of genetic information in nature

No theory of genetic information is complete without a model of mechanism for the source of such prescriptive information within Nature. It is not sufficient for a submission to the Prize to limit discussion of prescriptive information (instruction) theory to its replication, transmission, modification, or matrix of information retention. All submissions must address the source of the prescriptive information through non-supernaturalistic natural processes. Which of the four known forces of physics, or what combination of these forces, produced prescriptive, functional information, and how? What is the empirical evidence for this kind of prescriptive information (instruction) spontaneously arising within Nature? [italics in the original] 7

Although it is publicly claimed that Intelligent Design is totally without merit, The Foundation recognizes that the Intelligent Design arguments are compelling and must be answered. The Foundation says,

In all known phenomenological life, genetic code manifests

  • the conveyance of a functional coded message, using a sign system, to distant sites through an information channel to energy-consuming decoding receivers - ribosomal "machines,"
  • symbolic, indirect representation of that message from one alphabet into another (e.g., codons of nitrogen base "language" being translated into the end-product of physical amino acid sequence "language.")
  • prespecification of extremely unlikely and complex future events (see Dembski in suggested readings below) suggesting "apparent intent," "apparent planning," or "apparent purpose." (as Richard Dawkins describes it, "apparent design"),
  • instructions capable of effecting and affecting many individual manufacturing processes, and of mediating the cooperation of all of those diverse processes toward the one organismal and seemingly "conceptual" end of being and staying alive, and
  • the ability of that information (instruction) not only to give the directions or orders of what should be done, but to bring to pass those orders in the form of actual physical molecules, products, and life processes.
  • the seemingly "irreducible complexity" argued by Michael Behe (see suggested readings below)
  • the initial writing of this prescriptive information by nature, not just the modification of existing genetic instruction through mutation. [italics in original, emphasis supplied] 8

There are a lot of technical words in there, which aren't necessary for you to understand completely. There are three key points, that we want you to note.

First, there is the issue of apparent or actual design. Even the famous evolutionist Dawkins agrees with ID proponent Dembski that biological systems look like they were designed. Dembski says they look like they were designed because they were designed. Dawkins says they merely have the appearance of design.

Second, Behe’s “irreducible complexity” argument, which evolutionists claim is a bogus argument, is actually a compelling argument which must be addressed by the winning submission.

Third, the papers by Dembski and Behe are suggested reading because they clearly present real problems for all origin of life theories proposed so far. Honest evolutionists (and most evolutionists are honest) recognize these problems. Unfortunately, dishonest evolutionists (like those quoted in this month’s Evolution in the News column) have the ears of the mainstream media, and try to pressure school boards to censor the compelling ID arguments against the theory of evolution by claiming they have no merit.

We have noted in previous newsletters that “life” is a very difficult concept to define. Since The Prize goes to whoever can come up with an explanation of the origin of life that is consistent with natural laws, they must define what “life” is. They did an excellent job.

e. By sustained, free-living "life," the Foundation means any system which from its own inherent set of biological instructions can perform all nine of the following functions:

1. Delineate itself from its environment through the production and maintenance of a membrane equivalent, most probably a rudimentary or quasi-active-transport membrane necessary for selective absorption of nutrients, excretion of wastes, and overcoming osmotic and toxic gradients,

2. Write, store, and pass along into progeny prescriptive information (instruction) needed for organization; provide instructions for energy derivation and for needed metabolite production and function; symbolically encode and communicate functional message through a transmission channel to a receiver/decoder/destination/effector mechanism; integrate past, present and future time into its biological prescriptive information (instruction) content,

3. Bring to pass the above recipe instructions into the production or acquisition of actual catalysts, coenzymes, cofactors, etc.; physically orchestrate the biochemical processes/pathways of metabolic reality; manufacture and maintain physical cellular architecture; establish and operate a semiotic system using "signal molecules"

4. Capture, transduce, store, and call up energy for utilization (work),

5. Actively self-replicate and eventually reproduce, not just passively polymerize or crystallize; pass along the apparatus and "know-how" for homeostatic metabolism and reproduction into progeny,

6. Self-monitor and repair its constantly deteriorating physical matrix of bioinstruction retention/transmission, and of architecture,

7. Develop and grow from immaturity to reproductive maturity,

8. Productively react to environmental stimuli. Respond in an efficacious manner that is supportive of survival, development, growth, and reproduction, and

9. Possess relative genetic stability, yet sufficient diversity to allow for adaptation and potential evolution.

All classes of archaea, bacteria, and every other known free-living organism, meet all nine of the above criteria. Eliminate any one of the above nine requirements, and it remains to be demonstrated whether that system could remain "alive." 9

We include this definition merely to show how complex even the simplest life is. It takes a great deal of faith (or superstition) to believe that all nine of the above criteria could have come about by chance. We will talk more about this next month.

The Secret is Out

The full title of our newsletter is Disclosure of things evolutionists don’t want you to know. We regularly report on articles that appear in Science or Nature that discuss problems with the theory of evolution. Real scientists have real questions about the theory of evolution; but they try to keep these problems hidden from the public. The Foundation probably isn’t happy that we have told you about their prize. But we thought you would like to know.

Please see the follow-up article, A Tale of Two Prizes.

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1 Associated Press, August 15, 2005, “Harvard Jumps Into Evolution Debate” (Ev)
2 http://lifeorigin.org/rul_judg.htm (Ev)
3 http://lifeorigin.org/rul_curr.htm
4 http://lifeorigin.org/rul_purp.htm
5 http://lifeorigin.org/rul_clar.htm
6 http://lifeorigin.org/rul_disc.htm
7 http://lifeorigin.org/rul_disc.htm
8 http://lifeorigin.org/rul_disc.htm
9 http://lifeorigin.org/rul_defi.htm