Has MIT physicist Jeremy England solved the origin of life problem?

Casey Luskin assesses a sensational article that was originally published in the radically leftist Salon.

He writes:

In the law there’s a saying, “When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the facts aren’t on your side, pound the table.” Some popular science writers have apparently embraced that maxim while declaring that Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Jeremy England may have solved the origin of life.

At Salon, Paul Rosenberg recently asserted that England’s work shows “God is on the ropes” and threatens “to undo everything the wacky right holds dear.” Claiming England “has creationists and the Christian right terrified,” Rosenberg must be borrowing rhetorical excesses from Chris Mooney, who likewise wrongly alleged last year in Mother Jones that science “has creationists terrified.”

So what exactly are England’s momentous ideas? Business Insider reviewed his theories last month, explaining they are based upon thermodynamic principles that cause matter to “gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy.”

The problem of the origin of life is essentially the problem of sequencing amino acids into proteins. Can you sequence amino acids into proteins by shining sunlight on them?


The fundamental problem with England’s theories, and Rosenberg’s polemics, is that sunlight and other forms of energy do not generate new genetic information, nor do they produce new types of biological machines.

It’s one thing to observe that energy keeps a machine running; it’s quite another to claim energy produced the machine in the first place. You could shine light on random Scrabble tiles or disassembled computer components for billions of years, and you’ll never produce a Shakespearean Sonnet or a functional computer. No wonder Harvard biophysicist Eugene Shakhnovich called England’s proposals “extremely speculative, especially as applied to life phenomena.”

[…]Dr. England’s work, interesting though it may be, does not provide that insight. Sunlight—or any known form of energy—does not produce the genetic information life needs to build its complex machinery. In our experience, only one cause generates new language-based information or machine-like structures: intelligence.

Dr. England shouldn’t be faulted if materialists are co-opting his work into an overstated crusade against God and conservative politics. But naturalistic accounts of life’s origins remain as elusive as they have ever been.

Somebody posted this Salon article on my Facebook page and I deleted it because I thought it must be a hoax or something. After all, it was Salon. I mean, not even atheists are stupid enough to think that you can sequence amino acids into protein by shining light on them, are they? Do they think that you can shine sunlight on a keyboard and get a computer program? I didn’t even think this article needed an answer, it’s so ridiculous.

Seriously – when you are talking about creating the first living cell, you are talking about getting a whole bunch of sequences of amino acids right in one shot. It’s an information problem, not a thermodynamics problem. Why would anyone believe that changes in energy levels could explain the creation of information in the first living cell?

5 thoughts on “Has MIT physicist Jeremy England solved the origin of life problem?”

  1. WK, you should be honored they posted an article from Salon: it could have been from a Star Trek episode. :-) It is a step up for a-theism!


  2. Whenever you read wackademic material like that, thinking people pause and go, “Wait a minute, where do the structures to convert the energy come from?” There are so many assumptions made in the desperate attempt to get away from a Creator they can’t even see the logical issues that crop up.


  3. Rosenberg’s assertions that England “has creationists and the Christian right terrified,” just go to show how insanely, irrationally tribalistic this whole origins debate has become in many places. Regardless of what you think about the various origin scenarios, this mentality is not the way to conduct science or truth-finding generally.


  4. This is intellectually insulting and born out of a desperate attempt to overcome the chaotic mess of failed naturalistic theories on the origin of life.


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