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Tour, Meyer: The Mystery of Life Itself

David Klinghoffer
Photo: Stephen Meyer, a screenshot from "The Science & Faith Podcast - James Tour and Stephen Meyer: Life's Origin: Lab + Information = Mind."

In the context of the COVID pandemic, saving lives is the order of the day. But I was struck this week by a formulation by the UK’s Lord Sumption. He discussed the priority of saving lives while at the same time not neglecting the importance of preserving “life itself,” all the things that make human lives worth living. I suggest that you read his remarks. They are a little bit off-topic here, but not entirely.

That’s because Rice University chemist James Tour has just released a fascinating, scientifically substantive, but also quite personal podcast conversation with our Discovery Institute colleague Stephen Meyer. They speak about many things including their shared Christian faith, and about the mystery of life’s origin. They both contributed to the recently updated edition of The Mystery of Life’s Origin, and Meyer deals with that same problem, among others, in his upcoming book, The Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries Revealing the Mind Behind the Universe. But you know, for all that that the mystery of abiogenesis is fundamental, there may be an enigma that’s even deeper, which Tour and Meyer also discuss.

What Is Life?

It’s the mystery of “life itself.” What is life? As Dr. Meyer acknowledges, no one really knows:

How is life sustained against the forces of entropy? Why can’t scientists simply “turn back on” even a simple bacterium when it has come to the end of its life? Why can’t they, even given all the ingredients of life, create the most elementary life from non-life? What accounts for life’s ultra “fine-tuning”? And then, what happens when life ceases? Meyer reflects on the experience of being in the room when a human being dies. As he puts it here, “When life leaves, we don’t exactly know what’s left, but we know something left and it’s not just the physical.”

It is refreshing to see men of science reflect candidly and unabashedly not only on technical scientific issues but on the ultimate questions, which are also, as we’re reminded here, very personal ones. You will enjoy their interaction.