Today’s New York Times features an article by science writer Nicholas Wade highlighting what Wade calls “surprising advances [that] have renewed confidence that a terrestrial explanation for life’s origins will eventually emerge.”
Yet the scientists quoted in the article fail to address the fundamental issue that has generated the longstanding impasse in the field: the problem of the origin of biological information.
Wade describes the various developments in pre-biotic chemistry that are making some scientists more optimistic about solving the problem of the origin of life. Yet, the central problem facing them is not the synthesis of pre-biotic building blocks or even discovering an environment in which life might have plausibly arisen–difficult as these problems have proven to be. Instead, the fundamental problem is getting the chemical building blocks to arrange themselves into the large information-bearing molecules (such as DNA and RNA) that direct the show in living cells.
Even the experiments of Gerald Joyce that Wade describes do not address this problem. The “self-replicating” RNA molecules that Joyce constructs are not capable of copying a template of information from free standing chemical subunits as the polymerase machinery does in actual cells. Instead, in Joyce’s experiment, a pre-synthesized specifically-sequenced RNA molecule merely catalyzes a single chemical bond, thus fusing two other pre-synthesized partial RNA chains. More significantly, Joyce intelligently arranged the matching base sequences in these RNA chains. Thus, as my forthcoming book Signature in the Cell shows, Joyce’s experiments not only demonstrate that self-replication itself depends upon information-rich molecules, but they also confirm that intelligent design is the only known means by which information arises.