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On Origin of Life, Chemist James Tour Has Successfully Called These Researchers’ Bluff

Image source: James Tour via YouTube.

David Klinghoffer and Tova Forman previously wrote about Rice University chemist James Tour’s 60-day challenge to leading origin-of-life researchers to demonstrate that the field had substantively advanced in the past seventy years (here, here). Tour offered to remove all his videos on the topic if three leading experts agreed that any of five fundamental problems had been solved:

  • Linking of amino acids into chains (aka polypeptides)
  • Linking of nucleotides into RNA molecules
  • Linking of simple sugars (aka monosaccharides) into chains known as polysaccharides 
  • Origin of biological information
  • Assembly of components into a cell

Tour issued this challenge in response to the many false claims made by YouTubers, such as Dave Farina, about how these hurdles to life’s origin had been fully addressed. The deadline has expired, and no one has presented solutions to any of the problems. 

The Rules

For the first three problems, Tour allowed origin-of-life researchers to assume a chemical mixture started with amino acids, nucleotides, or sugars with the same handedness (aka enantiomerically pure). For instance, all the amino acids were left-handed as required in modern proteins. For the first problem, participants needed to detail how chains of just two amino acids — aspartic acid and lysine — could have formed with the correct bonds. For the second problem, proposed solutions needed to describe how nucleotides could have linked into chains with less than 2 percent of the wrong linkages. And for the third, proposals needed to explain how molecules of the simple sugar glucose could have properly joined in high yields. 

For the fourth problem, researchers could assume that the first three challenges had been solved. They only needed to explain how amino acids, nucleotides, or simple sugars could have linked together in the correct order to contain the required functional information to perform some biologically relevant task. For the fifth problem, researchers could assume that all cellular components were available in abundance. They only needed to explain how the biological building blocks could have assembled into a functional cell. Proposed solutions for all the problems had to rely only on chemistry that could have occurred on the early Earth. 

The Implications of Failure

The failure of any origin-of-life expert to propose a solution to even one of the five problems has dire implications for the field. Tour allowed origins researchers to assume unrealistically favorable starting conditions. The hurdles are collosal for life’s constituent molecules to form in sufficiently high concentrations and purities to allow for even the slightest possibility of their linking into proteins, RNA, or complex polysaccharides (herehere). In addition, any cellular component that formed on the early Earth would have decomposed long before finding its way to the staging ground for an aspiring cell. Consequently, even if every problem were fully solved, life’s genesis would still face the insurmountable hurdle of transporting the components of life to the same microscopic environment. 

YouTubers and other defenders of the secular faith of scientific materialism have confidently asserted that scientists are steadily unraveling the mystery of life’s origin. Yet Tour called on leading experts to demonstrate whether they had achieved any real progress in answering any of the most fundamental questions. None could rise to the challenge. 

At some point, both the scientific community and the public will need to recognize that the lack of progress cannot be explained by a lack of serious effort by highly competent scientists but by the philosophical assumptions blinding them from seeing the truth staring them in the face. The answer to life’s origin does not reside in the fields of physics and chemistry but in the mind behind our universe.