Scientists working in origin of life research are fairly candid that they do not know how life originated, but they are quick to point out that they are making progress and that science will eventually be able to provide an answer to this question. I have always found this sort of faith in science a bit intriguing. It is just assumed that there must be a naturalistic cause/explanation for the origin of life, and that we will eventually be able to discover it. But why should we think this to be true? Given what needs to be explained (the origin of biological information), and given our understanding of the causal powers of naturalistic processes, the origin of life does not appear to be the kind of thing for which natural causes are adequate to explain it even in principle (See 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9).
Imagine a room that is filled with 1000 pizzas and a one year old toddler. Let’s say you leave the room for five minutes, and when you return all 1000 pizza boxes are empty. Your job as a scientist is to explain what happened to the pizzas. Since you know pizzas must be eaten, and that the only person in the room capable of eating them was the toddler, you set about to develop various theories as to how the toddler managed to consume 1000 pizzas in five minutes. After years of research you still have not answered the question, but you press on because you are sure science will be able to resolve the dilemma. It should be obvious that the scientist is pursuing the wrong kind of explanation. We know the capabilities of toddlers and human digestion, so we know it is not possible to explain the disappearance of the pizzas by appealing to the toddler. A different explanation is required. Similarly, we know the capabilities of naturalistic processes, and we know that they are wholly inadequate to explain the origin of the biological information necessary in the first life form. A different kind of explanation is required: one that involves an intelligent agent. Insisting that a naturalistic cause is responsible for the origin of life is like insisting that the toddler must have eaten the pizzas. While not impossible, it is improbable, and there is no good evidence to think it’s true. The evidence points in a different direction.
But scientists will retort, “The discipline of science requires that no appeal be made to intelligent or supernatural agents. Only naturalistic processes are allowed as valid explanations.” While I would dispute the notion that such methodological constraints are necessary to the discipline of science, let’s just assume that for science to be science it must exclude all non-naturalistic explanations. In that case, why can’t scientists just say that the origin of life may/does not have a scientific explanation, or that the scientific explanation for the origin of life is inferior to some non-scientific explanation? That never happens. Many scientists presuppose that the only kind of valid explanation is a scientific one. Of those who will allow for other types of explanation, they still presuppose that scientific explanations are always superior to other kinds of explanation. I contend that this kind of thinking needs to be challenged. Not all problems have a scientific answer, and not all scientific answers are superior to non-scientific answers. Some problems can only be answered by philosophy (what is real, how do we justify knowledge, what are numbers, where do logical laws come from, etc.). Others can only be answered by theology (was Jesus the Son of God). Just as it would be a mistake to think all problems have a philosophical answer, it is a mistake to think all problems have a scientific answer. If the evidence points against a naturalistic explanation and toward an intelligent explanation, then science should be willing to admit that, even if they are not willing to say that such an explanation is a scientific one.