Daily Archives: July 30, 2011

“We can know nothing about the origin of life”


Sometimes people say this because it seems reasonable to them … what, with life originating so long ago and so much geological mushing-around happening since then. But sometimes people say this, and sound quite innocent saying it, because they want to throw the average person off track and make them think that Evolutionary Biology has this big gap — at the beginning — in which any-old kind of story can fit, including a supernatural or religious story, or even just a spiritual Jungian story, or anything but a story about molecules interacting.

So, the purpose of this blog post is to be handy, to point to, to produce a link to, in answer to that question. Every time somebody says “We can know nothing about the origin of life bla bla bla” you respond with a link to this post. In the meantime, if you think there is something missing in this post that should be conveyed to anyone making that argument, please add it to the comments.

Here’s the code to copy and past to link to this post:

<a href=”http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/07/we_can_know_nothing_about_the.php”>”We can know nothing about the origin of life”</a>

Below are two lists. The first list is a set of blog posts by a variety of science bloggers about the origin of life. The second list is the bibliography my installation of Mendeley (reference management software) spit out at me when I asked it to find all the references to “Origin of Life” on my hard drive or nearby localities. This includes only a subset (about 5%) of my PDF files and none of my paper files (of which there are about 5,000) of which, in turn, probably only 1 or 2% address this issue, as it is not my field.

So, the reference list is provisional and just to get your stared, but also serves the purpose of demonstrating how there is quite a bit of work on the topic.

At present, we know something about the origin of life. I think we could know a lot more, and I think we will eventually. The assertion that we can’t because it isn’t happening now and happened a long time ago is wrong for several reasons: 1) Are you sure it is not happening now?; 2) It could be replicated in the lab; 3) It might be happening somewhere else, or evidence of it could be found on another celestial object; and 4) Yes, indeed, it turns out that we actually can reconstruct things through inference from ancient data, modeling, and experiment that happened in the past, and do so scientifically. If you hear someone telling you that you can’t, that this is not science, that it violates the scientific method, then you are hearing the words of a person who either knows nothing about science or is telling you a lie, because science can and does address the past.

So, without further ado, the lists:

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