We are told that Brian Miller holds a PhD in physics from Duke University and that Jeremy England is a Principle Research Scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology. England proposes a naturalist
origin of life and Miller, research co-ordinator for the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, says it’s not that simple:
[From Miller:] A minimally complex free-living cell requires hundreds of tightly regulated enzyme-enabled reactions.62 If even one enzyme were missing, all metabolic processes would cease, and the system would head irreversibly back toward equilibrium. England’s research does not explain how such a complex, specified system could originate.63 Both the proteins that constitute an engine’s building blocks and enzymes represent sequences of amino acids that contain large quantities of functional information.64 The amino acids must be arranged in the right order in the same way the letters in a sentence must be arranged properly to convey its intended meaning. This arrangement is crucial for the chains to fold into the correct three-dimensional structures to properly perform their assigned functions.65 This information is essential for constructing and maintaining the cell’s structures and processes.66 Until origins researchers address the central role of information, the origin of life will remain shrouded in mystery.67Brian Miller & Jeremy England, “Hot Wired” at Inference Review
[Jeremy England:] In the end, the most important thing to emphasize is that the time has come to start being empirical in this research. Back-of-the-envelope calculations of prohibitively great improbabilities like the one quoted from Morowitz in this piece’s partner have been around for a while. They invariably rely on straw-man assumptions. Let it be granted, once and for all: waiting for a thermal fluctuation at thermal equilibrium to slap together a living organism is not going to work.
So what? The first equation mentioned in my response implies that if scientists actually intend to compute the probability of forming a live cell, they should have to specify how long it takes while making reference to kinetic factors controlling the rates of reactions and to the amount energy absorbed and dissipated per unit of time by the system. If this sounds horribly complicated, it is. It should bring a humble understanding that such probabilities are unlikely to ever be computed accurately. Instead, our window onto thermodynamics should spur new empirical investigation.
The theoretical relationship between probability and dissipated work is a thread that if pulled harder may yet unravel the whole tapestry. Coming into view is a gray spectrum of increasingly complex fine-tuning distinguishing the dust of the earth from life. Already, examples exist of structures that can form rapidly at high energy and low entropy and last for a long time, so long as they are fed with more energy of the type that generated them. That may not be life, but it surely is reason to hold back grand declarations about what is likely or impossible until we have better explored a new frontier.Brian Miller & Jeremy England, “Hot Wired” at Inference Review
If we create a great deal of fuzz around the questions, we can certainly smother any growing realization that intelligence underlies life.
Note: Miller offers a less technical perspective here.