The Origin of Life: An Inside Story – 2016 Lectures (with James Tour)

James Tour is the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, as well as Professor of Computer Science and Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering at Rice University. He has over 590 research publications and over 100 patents. He states the following (beginning at 3:05 in the video linked below) in his March 3, 2016 lecture titled “The Origin of Life: An Inside Story”:

James M TourWe have no idea how the molecules that compose living systems could have been devised such that they would work in concert to fulfill biology’s functions. We have no idea how the basic set of molecules, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins, were made and how they could have coupled into the proper sequences, and then transformed into the ordered assemblies until there was the construction of a complex biological system, and eventually to that first cell. Nobody has any idea how this was done when using our commonly understood mechanisms of chemical science. Those that say they understand are generally wholly uninformed regarding chemical synthesis. Those that say “Oh, this is well worked out,” they know nothing, nothing about chemical synthesis – Nothing!

Further cluelessness – From a synthetic chemical perspective, neither I nor any of my colleagues can fathom a prebiotic molecular route to construction of a complex system. We cannot figure out the prebiotic routes to the basic building blocks of life: carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins. Chemists are collectively bewildered. Hence I say that no chemist understands prebiotic synthesis of the requisite building blocks let alone their assembly into a complex system.

That’s how clueless we are. I’ve asked all of my colleagues – National Academy members, Nobel Prize winners – I sit with them in offices; nobody understands this. So if your professors say it’s all worked out, your teachers say it’s all worked out, they don’t know what they’re talking about. It is not worked out. You cannot just refer this to somebody else; they don’t know what they’re talking about…

[from 1:08:35 in the video below]

Why do so few chemists speak up regarding difficulties with the origin of life?

  1. Few think about it intently – they are just too busy with other things
  2. They think that someone else understands
  3. It’s viewed as the only ballgame in town
  4. Fear of being ostracized and fear of reprisals

If you dare question the scientific establishment as I am doing today, you will be held out of certain scientific societies. How do I know? Because I was told that I wouldn’t get into certain societies – because of my views on these things.  I was told this to my face behind closed doors. And I said, then I will speak up. Then I will speak up…

And, by the way, the same problems that professor Tour highlights for abiogenesis are the very same problems that exist for “macroevolution” beyond the very lowest levels of functional complexity (Link Link Link).

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