The saga of renowned organic chemist James Tour and atheist YouTube personality Dave Farina continues in the second season of Tour’s video series on the origin of life. As a recap of Season 1, Farina responded to Tour’s critique of origin-of-life research with a critique of Tour’s claims. Tour then created a 14-part video series detailing the multitude of errors in Farina’s response. It also serves as an advanced tutorial on the dismal state of origin-of-life research.
Farina in turn responded to Tour’s video series with two new videos (here, here) that included interviews with three scientists: Lee Cronin, Bruce Lipshutz, and Steve Benner. Cronin and Benner are considered leading origin-of-life researchers, and Lipshutz is a highly respected synthetic chemist. Their testimony was intended both to discredit Tour’s assessment of the field and to assure viewers that researchers are making steady progress in unraveling the mystery of life’s origin. Tour’s new series exposes that the truth is the exact opposite. See Episode 1 here:
Cronin and Benner
Tour demonstrates that neither Farina nor his experts addressed any of the arguments or data presented in his first series detailing why the field of abiogenesis has made no significant progress over the past seventy years. I summarized Tour’s arguments in three articles that address the central obstacles:
- Origin of building blocks: amino acids, simple sugars, nucleotides, and fatty acids.
- Linking of building blocks into complex molecules and cellular structures: proteins, RNA/DNA, and cell membrane.
- Assembly of complex molecules and structures into an autonomous cell.
Cronin and Benner in their interviews argued that their research addresses each of these challenges. Tour retorts that their experiments have no relevance to life’s origin. That’s for several reasons:
- The experiments that generated ribose (here, here), a precursor to nucleotides, also generated a multitude of other molecules that would have prevented the ribose from participating in subsequent reactions required to synthesize nucleotides (here, here). Tour describes the experimental products as “junk.”
- Combining amino acids into chains requires carefully controlled experimental conditions. In addition, the artificially generated chains have so many incorrect bonds linking amino acids together that they could play no role in any origin scenario. They are also too short to perform any useful biological function (here, here).
- Generating “oily protocells” requires chemical protocols that include so many highly orchestrated steps that nothing even remotely similar could have occurred on the early earth. Moreover, the structures do not have the physical properties that would have allowed them to serve as primitive membranes supporting life’s genesis (here, here, here, here).
The most problematic interview was with Bruce Lipshutz, describing his design of surfactant molecules that enable amide/peptide bonds. Farina claimed that Lipshutz was challenging Tour’s statement that amino acids do not spontaneously link together in water. The problem is that Lipshutz sent Farina the video clip about his research for a completely different purpose. He was unaware Farina used the clip to challenge Tour’s claim, and he never even saw Tour’s video. Most importantly, Lipshutz was not linking together amino acids, and he was not performing the chemistry in water but in a hydrophobic pocket (here, here).
What Farina did not know was that Tour has been friends with Lipshutz for nearly forty years, so he emailed Lipshutz asking him about his comments. Lipshutz not only stated that he was unaware he was in Farina’s video, but he acknowledged that his research is irrelevant to the question of amino acids linking into chains in water.
High Priests of the Secular Faith
Farina is a committed atheist who has demonstrated that he is not encumbered by the same ethical standards that James Tour is. He is also not trained in the chemistry that Tour addressed in his videos, so his misrepresentation of the science is not surprising. What was far more disturbing to Tour was the extent to which Cronin and Benner exaggerated the relevance of their experiments to the question of life’s origin.
I was not as surprised by their pollyannish portrayal of their research since I have seen a common pattern when scientists desire to defend secular origins narratives. They often cease playing the role of objective scientists whose primary concern is learning and communicating the truth, and they step into their role as high priests of the secular faith. In that role, they are not concerned by scientific accuracy so much as inspiring in the public the belief in the ability of natural processes to explain all we see in the world. They also feel commissioned to demonizing anyone who dares to challenge their materialist dogma and speaks honestly about how the science points to life originating from a creator.