As a chemist, the most fascinating issue for me revolves around the origin of life. Before life began, there was no biology, only chemistry — and chemistry is the same for all time. What works (or not) today, worked (or not) back in the beginning. So, our ideas about what happened on Earth prior to the emergence of life are eminently testable in the lab. And what we have seen thus far when the reactions are left unguided as they would be in the natural world is not much. Indeed, the decomposition reactions and competing reactions out distance the synthetic reactions by far. It is only when an intelligent agent (such as a scientist or graduate student) intervenes and “tweaks” the reactions conditions “just right” do we see any progress at all, and even then it is still quite limited and very far from where we need to get. Thus, it is the very chemistry that speaks of a need for something more than just time and chance. And whether that be simply a highly specified set of initial conditions (fine-tuning) or some form of continual guidance until life ultimately emerges is still unknown. But what we do know is the random chemical reactions are both woefully insufficient and are often working against the pathways needed to succeed. For these reasons I have serious doubts about whether the current Darwinian paradigm will ever make additional progress in this area.
Ph.D. Oceanography, University of California, San Diego (Scripps Institute)
Associate Editor, Marine Chemistry