Tom Siegfried holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University, where he majored in chemistry, history, and journalism. He earned a master of arts from the University of Texas at Austin with a major in journalism and a minor in physics. I know of him because he is currently the Editor in Chief of Science News. I read that journal regularly, and since he often writes an editorial that appears on the second page of each issue, I have read a lot of his work. He is a talented writer, and he has a good grasp of a broad range of scientific issues. He also seems to have a lot more faith than I could ever muster.
In a recent editorial on origin-of-life research1, Mr. Siegfried made some statements that illustrate what a paragon of faith he really is. After remarking that humans have been trying to puzzle out how to create a simple form of life, he says:
It doesn’t sound like it should be that hard. After all, sometime not quite 4 billion years ago, lifeless molecules gathered somewhere on Earth and self-assembled into an entity that spawned the planet’s full repertoire of ancestral life-forms–without help from any fancy laboratory equipment.
Mr. Siegfried is quite confident that once upon a time, lifeless chemicals randomly interacted to produce something that eventually evolved into all the amazing living organisms we see today. He believes this despite the fact that every origin-of-life experiment has been a miserable failure, which makes him a true paragon of faith.
Now you might think I am being too harsh when it comes to origin-of-life research. Surely it has not been a complete failure, has it? Well, consider what evolutionist Simon Conway Morris says about it. He discusses origin-of-life research in Chapter 4 of his book Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, and he starts that chapter with these words:2
This chapter is a story of abject scientific failure.
If you read the chapter, you will see why he sums up origin-of-life research in such stark terms. Indeed, even the most “successful” origin-of-life experiments have produced only pitifully small yields of some of the simplest chemical building blocks of life, along with huge amounts of ‘goo’ that would hinder the formation of life.
Of course, you don’t have to take my word or Dr. Morris’s word for it. All you have to do is look at the current literature in origin-of-life research to see how much of a scientific failure it is. There are multiple hypotheses on how life might have originated, and they each have their champions and detractors. Generally, when scientists progress toward an explanation of a particular phenomenon, the number of viable hypotheses continues to decrease. This is because some experiments successfully demonstrate the implausibility of some hypotheses, while other experiments successfully provide evidence for the most plausible hypothesis. As time goes on, the bad hypotheses are “winnowed away,” and the only thing that remains is a viable theory that has the support of several experiments.
In the field of origin-of-life research, however, quite the opposite is true. Indeed, the number of hypotheses of how life might have originated by naturalistic means seems to only increase. As Dembski and Wells point out in their book, The Design of Life:3
An embarrassment of riches [so many origin-of-life scenarios] points not to the solution of a problem but to vain gestures at a solution. Indeed, the very claim that ‘there are many plausible solutions’ suggests that none is plausible. If any one of them were really plausible, we could expect to see a consensus among scientists that it really is plausible.
Of course, Mr. Siegfried is not at all bothered by any of this. His faith remains strong. He is certain (despite the evidence) that one day, scientists will succeed in reproducing what his faith assures him happened once upon a time in earth’s distant path. Indeed, he ends his editorial this way:4
So when scientists succeed in creating primitive life, it might be appropriate to remember that primitive life succeeded first in creating scientists.
I do admire Mr. Siegfried for his ability to cling to his faith regardless of what the evidence says. Perhaps if I had that kind of faith, I would still be an atheist today.
1. Tom Siegfried, Creating life in lab depends on power of primitive cells,” Science News 178:2, 2010
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2. Simon Conway Morris, Life’s solution: inevitable humans in a lonely universe, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 44
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3. William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells, The Design of Life, Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 2007, p. 241
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4. Tom Siegfried, Ibid
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