Today’s ID the Future features audio of the first in a series of YouTube videos by Dr. James Tour on the origin-of-life problem. Here Tour, a renowned synthetic organic chemist and professor at Rice University, explains why he is addressing the origin-of-life issue, also known as abiogenesis, and touches on some common misconceptions about the field. He says the organizing impetus for the series is a YouTube video by Dave Farina, “Elucidating the Agenda of James Tour: A Defense of Abiogenesis.” As Farina’s title suggests, he begins his video with an ad hominem attack, seeking to discredit Tour by showing that Tour is a Christian. Tour briefly responds to this line of attack and then moves into matters scientific. There he touches on, among other issues, thermodynamics and the origin-of-life puzzle of low entropy and high energy.
On this episode of ID the Future, host Eric Anderson talks with scientist and fellow engineer Rob Stadler about a recent origin-of-life paper and how the authors paint themselves into a corner. The context for the paper is this: Decades of research have undermined the three great hopes for a purely naturalistic origin of life — scenarios starting with some sort of metabolism, scenarios starting with some kind of membrane, and scenarios starting with RNA. All three are necessary for cellular life; none seems able to have come ahead of the others. So now some recent work described in an article in New Scientist suggests it all happened at once in a sort of “chemical big bang.” It’s the return of an old idea long ago dismissed as too improbable. Is this “hopeful monster” plausible after all? As Anderson and Stadler show, there are numerous hidden assumptions and imaginary entities lurking in the proposal, which when surfaced, call its soundness into question.