An Open Letter to NASA concerning the “Ideas Lab on the Origin of Life.”

By Timothy R. Stout     Updated September 10, 2016

NASA is offering up to $8,000,000 in Grants For Research To Solve Known Problems Facing a Natural Origin of Life. These funds are to be administered through a project known as the Ideas Lab on the Origin of Life. Scientists had until August 5, 2016 to submit proposals for experiments and issues to be studied. The Ideas Lab will meet for one week starting on September 18, 2016 to discuss and refine the proposals. The goal is to release funds for experiments sometime in 2017. An “Ideas Lab” is defined as a special process to solve “a grand challenge problem.” It is interesting that behind the scenes, NASA considers the origin of life a grand challenge problem. This is not how they talk about it to the public. To the public, if a planet or moon has water on it, there is supposedly a good possibility it might show life or remnants of life on it. The discrepancy is revealing.

I wrote a letter to the contact people of NASA encouraging them to consider certain issues as part of the evaluation procedure. I have not heard back from them and decided to make the letter open, because I believe the issues are significant enough to warrant doing this.

Background for the letter: Thousands of experiments have been performed over the past sixty years studying the possibility of a natural, unguided origin of life. Every experiment has failed to produce the kinds of chemicals needed to represent any proposed step of progress, where a successful experiment is defined as one which would continue naturally into a subsequent step. This is despite scientists having at their disposal laboratory equipment capable of producing any kind of hypothesized environment and using the exact input chemicals in the exact ratios they desire.

We actually understand why the experiments have failed. The failures are due to well-known, well-understood principles of physics and chemistry. From a scientific perspective, there is no basis to expect a work-around. Scientists persist in maintaining its reality, not because of scientific evidence, but because of their personal philosophical beliefs.

These concepts are worked through in detail in the booklet featured on our home page. A number of failed experiments are analyzed to show how the failures are a result of the disconnect between the kinds of chemicals naturally produced and those required for abiogenesis. Click for a free copy of the booklet.  

Information on the proposals is posted at the following two sites:

Since we know the reasons existing experiments have failed, I wrote a letter to the contact people for the project suggesting that as part of their criteria for a proposed project to receive any funds, it must first show how it proposes to deal with the known cause of the failed experiments to date.  This seems reasonable enough. The known cause of previous failures should become part of the standard for funding new experiments: how do they propose to overcome this issue? If a known cause leading to thousands of failures is not dealt with, then why should we expect the new experiments not to fail likewise?

The NASA and NSF documents indicate that the results of these experiments will be made public. Since I have not received a response to my letter, I have decided to make the letter open to the public.

The letter to the NASA/NSF Project Coordinators:

I wrote the following letter to the committee contact persons as defined in the documents above:

To:   Xxxxxxxxxxx (contact addressees)                                                                 August 8, 2016


This is concerning the Ideas Lab on the Origin of Life project on the NASA Website.

I just presented a paper at a convention held by the Creation Research Society. The essence of the paper was that of the thousands of experiments performed in abiogenesis since Miller did his in 1952, not a single experiment has been successful. Furthermore, every one of them fails for a common reason. It is the hypothesized common cause of failure that I believe should interest your project.

I submit that the Ideas Lab should not consider any proposed experiment to be viable unless and until it provides a plausible hypothesis to overcome the problems that have resulted in the universal historical failure of previous experiments.

If any experiments are funded by your project, hopefully they will have resolved how to deal with this issue up front and hence avoid the failures that have characterized all experiments to this date. Indeed, it appears that these failures are driving the very existence of this project.

The first issue is to define what entails a successful experiment. The definition I have used is that a successful experiment is one that can start with plausibly prebiotic chemicals, work on them with a plausibly prebiotic process, and produce a product which naturally flows into the subsequent step of abiogenesis. In other words, the chemicals produced by a step must be

a) of the proper species,

b) of the proper purity,

c) with the proper Chirality,

d) in the proper relative concentrations, and

e) in the proper absolute concentrations

to be usable in the subsequent step directly as produced. It also must not naturally turn to tar.

The entire process of abiogenesis would require an uninterrupted flow of steps to take place without external, intelligent influence or intervention of any kind. Successful abiogenesis will require each step to meet the above conditions. Hence, any step that does not do this would have the effect of thwarting abiogenesis and must be counted a failure. Yet, not a single experiment in the last 60 years has produced products which can be used directly as formed in the subsequent step of abiogenesis. Rather, the kinds of products produced to date universally thwart a natural flow between steps; they present roadblocks to prevent it.

There is a consistent reason for this. Beilstein’s Register shows that carbon is capable of forming over a million different compounds. Unguided, prebiotic processes will try to make as many of the possible products as appropriate for the given instantaneous conditions at any given molecular location and at any given point in time. Experiment confirms this is what happens. The observed results are exactly what we should expect on the basis of the established laws of physics and chemistry.

By contrast, progress towards life requires very, very specific and extremely difficult to make chemicals to be formed at every step. The issue: there is no connection between the broad kinds of products natural processes produce and the specific products abiogenesis requires. Entropy wins—the wrong products are formed at every step and each proposed step is thereby a potentially fatal step.

Since the failure syndrome is the natural result of entropy working on the reactant chemicals in accordance with the laws of physics and chemistry, there is little scientific basis for expecting anything other than the kinds of results we observe.  

So, a successful experiment becomes defined as one that can convert starting chemicals into new chemicals that represent an advance towards abiogenesis, where the product chemicals are useful exactly as produced for the next stage. If the entire process is to take place in the wild under uncontrolled conditions without interruption from beginning to end, it certainly should not be unrealistic to expect a controlled experiment under idealistic laboratory conditions to be able to do this for at least one step.

I am a creationist. I believe that a living God has specifically designed the chemicals of life so that natural processes cannot produce them from scratch. I also believe that God has also designed the creation so that the tools of science show us why natural processes cannot do this. It is my position that the observations of science justify this belief and it is these observations that are the root of the historical failures that are now the motivation for the formation of this Ideas Lab.

Regardless of what a person thinks about my personal beliefs, the arguments I presented have value. Can the Ideas Lab come up with an experiment that would have plausible basis to succeed, instead of being another predictable failure? If they can do this, it would be a powerful argument against my thesis. On the other hand, it should be interesting to analyze the published results of any experiments funded by this project. Hopefully, they will have dealt head on with the concerns presented here and actually have had a realistic possibility of success. On the other hand, it will make for interesting discussion if they, too, fail and for these now known reasons.


Timothy R. Stout, President

Creation Truth Outreach, Inc.

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