The Most Reasonable Inference

Time after time, origin-of-life scientists have come up empty when they've tried to theorize how chemicals could evolve into living matter. Recently, some have used computer models to try to show how chemical reactions might have occurred on the primitive earth, but these scenarios only work if the computer is programmed to eliminate some of the insurmountable obstacles that chemicals would have actually faced in the real world.

When a scientist at the Santa Fe Institute, where some computer simulations have been conducted, commented, "If Darwin had a computer on his desk, who knows what he could have discovered," origin-of-life expert John Horgan wryly remarked, "What indeed: Charles Darwin might have discovered a great deal about computers and very little about nature."5i

With so many theories evaporating under scrutiny, I asked Bradley for his personal assessment of the state of research into how life emerged.

"There isn't any doubt that science, for the moment at least, is at a dead end," he replied. "The optimism of the 1950s is gone. The mood at the 1999 international conference on origin of life was described as grim-full of frustration, pessimism, and desperation.- Nobody pretends that any alternative provides a reasonable path of how life went unguided from simple chemicals to proteins to basic life forms."

Bradley reached over to a book and quickly located the quote he was after. "Klaus Dose, the biochemist who's considered one of the foremost experts in this area, summed up the situation pretty well," Bradley said, reading his words:

More than thirty years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principle theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.53

Continued Bradley: "Shapiro argues strongly that all current theories are bankrupt.' Crick said out of frustration, 'Every time I write a paper on the origin of life, I swear

I will never write another one, because there is too much speculation running after too few facts.'' Even Miller, some forty years after his famous experiment, said in a great understatement to Scientific American. 'The problem of the origin of life has turned out to be much more difficult than 1, and most other people, envisioned."'56

By coincidence, at about the same time as my interview with Bradley, Harvard University's outspoken evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould was asked to write an essay for Time magazine on whether scientists will ever figure out how life began. The result was a vague and equivocating piece that hemmed and hawed but never even came close to suggesting a single hypothesis for how life managed to emerge from nonlife.57

"What does one do with this scientific stalemate?" I asked Bradley.

"That depends a lot on one's metaphysics," he said. "Shapiro, whom I highly respect, says there must be some physical laws we haven't discovered yet which will eventually show us how life arose naturally. But there's nothing in science that guarantees a natural explanation for how life began. Science is neutral in regard to the outcome. It's hard to imagine new natural laws, because they're going to have characteristics that are consistent with the existing ones."

"Then what," I said, "is your own best hypothesis?" Bradley didn't answer immediately. He glanced over at the stack of research papers, lingering for a moment before he looked back at me. When our eyes met, he continued.

"If there isn't a natural explanation and there doesn't seem to be the potential of finding one, then I believe it's appropriate to look at a supernatural explanation. I think that's the most reasonable inference based on the evidence."

That seemed to be a big concession for someone trained in science. "You don't see a problem in saying that the best explanation seems to be an Intelligent Designer?"

"Absolutely not. I think people who believe that life emerged naturalistically need to have a great deal more faith than people who reasonably infer that there's an Intelligent Designer."

"What prevents more scientists from drawing that conclusion?"

"Many have reached that conclusion. But for some, their philosophy gets in the way. If they're persuaded ahead of time that there isn't a God, then no matter how compelling the evidence, they'll always say, 'Wait and we'll find something better in the future.' But that's a metaphysical argument. Scientists aren't more objective than anybody else. They all come to questions like this with their preconceived ideas."

I quickly interjected, "Yes, but you came in with a preconceived idea that there is a God."

Bradley nodded. "Sure," he conceded. "And I've been pleasantly surprised, because a lower level of evidence probably would have satisfied me. But what I've found is absolutely overwhelming evidence that points toward an Intelligent Designer."

"So you think the facts point convincingly toward a Creator?"

"Convincingly is too mild a term," he replied. "The evidence is compelling. 'Convincing' suggests it's a little more likely than not; 'compelling' says you have to really work hard not to get to that conclusion."

"But it sounds so I said, stumbling a bit while searching for the right word, "unscientific," I

finally said.

"On the contrary" Bradley replied, "it's very scientific. For the past one hundred and fifty years, scientists have used arguments based on analogies to things we do understand to formulate new hypotheses in emerging areas of scientific work. And that's what this is about."

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