Origin of Life Faces Four Paradoxes
One show-stopper is enough, but a veteran origin-of-life researcher acknowledges four paradoxes in origin-of-life research that have never been solved.
Susan Mazur, a reporter welcome to new ideas about evolution, interviewed Steve Benner (U of Florida) for the Huffington Post about a Gordon Research Conference he is chairing in January called “Origins of Life.” She and Benner agree that “the time is calling for more transparency” in the field. Benner was quite transparent about four hurdles he called “paradoxes” that still challenge theories for getting from chemicals to a Darwinian replicator. He transparently admitted failure in all four of them:
We have failed in any continuous way to provide a recipe that gets from the simple molecules that we know were present on early Earth to RNA. There is a discontinuous model which has many pieces, many of which have experimental support, but we’re up against these three or four paradoxes, which you and I have talked about in the past. The first paradox is the tendency of organic matter to devolve and to give tar. If you can avoid that, you can start to try to assemble things that are not tarry, but then you encounter the water problem, which is related to the fact that every interesting bond that you want to make is unstable, thermodynamically, with respect to water. If you can solve that problem, you have the problem of entropy, that any of the building blocks are going to be present in a low concentration; therefore, to assemble a large number of those building blocks, you get a gene-like RNA — 100 nucleotides long — that fights entropy. And the fourth problem is that even if you can solve the entropy problem, you have a paradox that RNA enzymes, which are maybe catalytically active, are more likely to be active in the sense that destroys RNA rather than creates RNA.
Benner went on to say that “We are finding all sorts of problems in getting behavior that we find useful, let alone Darwinian out of this.” All he can do is hope that the Gordon Conference will turn up something. From there, the interview devolved into matters of funding. “Our group actually sells origins-of-life jewelry,” he quipped. “The minerals that create the borate and the alkali and the phosphate are minerals like tourmaline and apatite and peridot.” Hopefully the jewelry was intelligently designed.
Benner, we’re calling you out. We ask you to leave the dark side and come to the light. Transparency doesn’t work in the darkness. You know all the problems you listed are old problems your peers have complained about for decades. You stated almost ten years ago that the problems are so daunting, they almost make one want to become a creationist (11/04/2004). Now you are still concerned with four “paradoxes” (better, show-stoppers) that are no closer to being solved after a lifetime of work (5/01/08). But even if you overcame those four (hoping against all hope), the Darwinian “stuff happens” mechanism cannot take a simple replicator farther up from RNA, as you yourself hinted above. Stop distracting the public with funny stories to the press about boron from Mars (8/28/13) and hydrogen fish swimming in Titan’s methane seas (1/31/05) and get real.
Become a creationist. Why not? What’s stopping you? Fear of ridicule from your peers? That will undoubtedly happen, but what’s more important, the truth or your feelings? One more conference of your old buddies pooling their ignorance (5/01/08) is not going to accomplish anything. Take courage, my friend. Do the right thing. There’s nothing in science or philosophy that requires a scientist to bang one’s head endlessly against the brick wall of naturalism. You’re a smart guy in philosophy as well as organic chemistry, so you know better. You probably have enough life savings by now. Besides, creationists have a lot more fun (and less head pain). Do you want to come to the end of your life on a note of complete failure? Come on. You’ll make a lot of new and better friends in the light, and it just might save your sanity.