Intelligent Design

Harvard Origin of Life Project: An ID Prediction

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See here for more about the Harvard Origin of Life project.

In a nutshell they are setting out to demonstrate how DNA-based life could have originated from undirected interplay of chemicals.

If ID is true then it predicts the Harvard project will fail. This is based on the ID hypothesis that the complex patterns found in the basic machinery of life are too complex to come about without intelligent guidance.

Now if I may be so bold as to ask that ID theorists be allowed to make predictions based upon their own theory, and detractors are gracious enough to let us make our own predictions, then I don’t want to hear any more nonsense about ID making no predictions. This is a prediction. It will play out soon enough. Let the chips fall where they may.

37 Replies to “Harvard Origin of Life Project: An ID Prediction

  1. 1
    DaveScot says:

    Personally, I’d like to see the OOL project funded with a billion dollars per year for ten years and if progress is slow then double it. I don’t want any lame excuses for their failure.

    If we can afford to spend a billion dollars a day in Iraq I think we can afford to spend a billion dollars a year to settle a question of such import to so very many that has been hotly debated since time immemorial.

  2. 2
    GilDodgen says:

    I’ll stick my neck out and make a prediction: The Harvard origin of life project has the same chance of success in demonstrating how DNA-based life originated from the undirected interplay of chemicals as it would in producing the world’s first perpetual-motion machine.

    In the latter case the law of conservation of energy won’t permit success. In the former case the laws of chemistry, physics and probability won’t permit success, absent intelligent intervention and engineering.

  3. 3
    DaveScot says:

    Gil, I get your point. They’d have a better chance of randomly evolving mice that eat garbage and pee high octane gasoline.

  4. 4
    Collin says:

    I think they will succeed… at producing a complex tautology. A billion dollars should be enough to confuse a lot of people into THINKING they came up with something. That is what I am worried about.

  5. 5
    DaveScot says:


    I understand your worry. I suggested in the past that, in order to keep them honest, qualified people from the ID side be given advisory positions in formulating metrics by which success or failure would be judged.

  6. 6
    shaner74 says:

    “I think they will succeed… at producing a complex tautology. A billion dollars should be enough to confuse a lot of people into THINKING they came up with something. That is what I am worried about.”

    Me too Collin. I see what all the money that’s been poured into Darwin’s pocket has done: still no hard science to back-up the theory, but instead we have a boatload of scientific sounding propaganda and a state-sponsored “religion” in materialism. I’m bracing myself for the “big day” when Harvard announces to the world that the mystery of OOL has been solved so score one for Darwin and the blind watchmaker. When read, the announcement will be peppered with phrases such as “must have”, “we suppose”, and “could have happened” I’m guessing this announcement will be made shortly after some type of big discovery that favors ID becomes public.

  7. 7
  8. 8
    bFast says:

    Cool! Abiogenesis is solved — again. Maybe one of these time they will find a genuine solution to the challenge of first life. Or maybe a hundred years from now, we will still be “almost there”.

  9. 9
    shaner74 says:

    “Particles of clay containing silica in the ‘primeval soup’ may have attracted unstructured peptides”

    Doh! I forgot to include “may have” in my first post! That’s the most common one too. Talk about a bad memory.

  10. 10 says:


    They have proven ID.

    “The team designed a peptide (a short protein) with a specific distribution of positive charges

  11. 11
    tinabrewer says:

    Although I think that the project is almost certainly doomed to failure, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a prediction of ID. What if the origin/development of life takes place as a result of some cooperative effort between matter itself and an unknown creative intelligence and this cooperative relationship is set in motion by the coming about of the precisely correct material conditions? Sort of like crystals of ice forming when the precisely correct temperature is reached. It just happens automatically at the lawful time. This would still involve agency/intelligence, but an intelligence which is bound by the inherent properties of the matter it presumably or potentially created.

  12. 12
    bFast says:

    TinaBrewer, I think you are describing the “law” position as presented by Denton in “Nature’s Destiny”. Denton suggests that a universe, an earth, fine tuned “just so” might have the necessary majical conditions to spontaneously produce life. If his “law” hypothesis is correct, the Harvard boys may discover the precise conditions that permit spontaneous life to occur. I, however, have tried on the “law” view, and have concluded to disbelieve it. I really doubt if there was any life-form ever that existed without DNA, atp synthase, and all of the other amazingness that we see in the simplest lifeforms.

  13. 13
    edj says:

    I’m almost certain that HOOLP won’t be allowed to fail, because success will be determined by a lot of people talking–not by evidence. I would bet that HOOLP has been designed to be nothing more than a rhetoric-intense, media-driven coverup for an area of criticism (OOL) that is devastating to Darwinism.

  14. 14
    bdelloid says:


    While a prediction of ID is that this project will fail, it does not logically follow that if this project fails, then ID is correct.

  15. 15
    bdelloid says:


    In other words, ID needs to make positive predictions about discoveries to prove itself, not predictions about lack of discovery.

  16. 16
    Patrick says:

    ID is primarily about design detection. We can’t exactly read the mind of a designer since we can’t even establish a logical chain from the designed object to the designer(s). Thing is, we know that designers in general can approach problems with multiple solutions that end in pretty much the same result. For example, I personally predict as we sequence the genomes of more animals when we take a look at instances of convergent evolution we’ll find the reuse of information. But the designer(s) are not exactly “required” to have gone that route; the wheel could have been reinvented, which leaves evidence compatible with Darwinism. So we have two mutually exclusive “predictions”. Or a third combined option: perhaps information reuse only took place in certain cases but not all. Who knows. But if it turns out my personal prediction is correct plain ol’ Neo-Darwinism of yore would conflict with it.

    EDIT: Although standard Neo-Darwinism would conflict with my prediction I should note that a Darwinist position like Lynn Margulis’ might not.

  17. 17
    avocationist says:

    If OOL doesn’t do them in, evo-devo will. Eventually, the blind watchmaker will fall under the weight of new discoveries, made largely by mainstream scientists.

  18. 18
    late_model says:

    DS – I would challenge you to be more specific in describing how the HOOL project could be counted as a succcess to deem ID a failure. What if they did bring about life but with a lot of intervention? Would that disprove ID? BTW – my money is on Ventner over Harvard on this one.

  19. 19
    late_model says:

    Off Topic – Could we get a thread going on Michael Crichton’s new book NEXT?

  20. 20
    Radix2 says:


    I just wanted to point out the flaw in this prediction. If the Harvard project fails, all that will have proved is the we do not yet know enough to make it work, even if it is possible.

    Liken this to human flight – for 1000’s (?) of years, man tried to fly. For 1000’s of years he failed. That did not show that human flight is impossible.

  21. 21
  22. 22
    DaveScot says:


    I anticipated the excuse “it’s just too hard, that’s why we failed” in the first comment. I proposed a 10 year program funded at a billion/year and if progress is slow then double it. I don’t want any lame excuses for failure. If it’s that difficult that 10 years and 20 billion can’t come up with a solution then it’s probably time to admit there might not be a solution and ID is true. The prediction by ID that Harvard will fail is a valid one. There’s no flaw in it. A valid scientific hypothesis is in principle falsifiable. In fact it might not be falsifiable because it isn’t false. Harvard’s project is a valid attempt to falsify it. The more valiant their attempt the better it supports ID being true. Thus I want to see a heroic, herculean effort of extraordinary proportion put into falsification of ID because I’m confident that no effort will succeed due to the simple fact that you can’t falsify something that isn’t false.

    Every honest NDE pundit should be 100% behind me on this. If they aren’t it can only be because they suspect that no amount of effort at finding an undirected means of chemical evolution will succeed. They are in fact afraid of the implications of possible failure.

  23. 23
    Joseph says:

    I am still wondering why all the predictions made by Gonzalez and Richards in “The Privileged Planet” cannot be considered ID predictions. IMHO they are valid ID predictions and as such should be promoted by IDists.

    Also it should be noted that the Harvard OoL program is years behind other universities OoL programs.

  24. 24
    rb says:

    you are being silly, while I would love to see a couple a billion a year spent on interesting sceince, throwing money isn’t the answer, methodical (boring) well design (oops) studies are the key. Besides that premature throwing of money is only a waste. If Pres. Lincoln had decided to help get the US out of it post civil war rut by proposing the spending of every available dollar to send someone to the moon (as Kennedy did in 1960s), I douebt we would have gotten to the moon much earlier than the 1960s). The same is true now for some fundemental questions in physics regarding QM, chaos, string etc. For some questions, it is a matter of money now (super colliders can be fun and useful), and for others it is about being patient. Besides that, not every NDE pundit (and likely most) would feel that all “NDE” research is worth cost. with limited money, there is often better ways to spend money than on vanity research. We (the US) have created mess in the Middle East-cutting and running ain’t gonna solve the problem–money will help. there are starving folks in the world, there natural disasters in the world etc….

  25. 25
    jmcd says:

    The Harvard project could fail for any number of reasons. For one thing they are dealing with one of the most complex problems out there that may well be far too sophisticated a problem for our current level of understanding. It may be a question without an answer, but today’s failure to answer that question does not lead to the conclusion that there is no answer.

  26. 26
    DaveScot says:


    ID has already staked out its position that certain patterns in nature are too complex for unintelligent processes to generate. Mathematical treatises aimed at proving it have been put on the table by Dembski but remain under contention due to a valid claim that there may be unintelligent processes at work that we don’t know about. These fall under the auspice of “probablistic resources”. Since it’s impossible to prove a negative I don’t see how this can be satisfactorily addressed and it will remain contended by that.

    Among those patterns are the molecular machinery in the simplest DNA-based cell. ID predicts failure to find any unintelligent processes capable of assembling a living cell. That’s a valid prediction and offers a way, in principle, of falsifying the prediction. There are many hypotheticals in science that cannot be positively verified yet they remain valid hypothesis if they can, in principle, be falsified instead of verified. This is due to the logical inability to prove a negative. For instance, the contention that random mutation is the source of variation that turned bacteria into babboons over billions of years is not verifiable in principle. The best that can be done is demonstration that it is possible. While such a demonstration doesn’t falsify ID it makes ID unnecessary which is almost as good as falsification. ID actually requires no further verification because science has already demonstrated that intelligence (us in this case) is both extant in nature in one instance and the the observed instance of intelligence is capable of telic transformation of genomes. What then remains is falsification, or absent that because it’s impossible to prove a negative, a demonstration that makes ID unneccessary. The question in my mind is how can the random mutation theory be falsified? In principle it can be demonstrated that it’s possible for unintelligent processes to turn a bacteria into a babboon but how can we ever know that’s how it did indeed happen that way. The RM theory is subject to the same logical inability to prove a negative (some other unprovable means was responsible).

  27. 27
    Patrick says:

    So now it’s the promissory note combined with “maybe we shouldn’t spend the time and money if given the chance”. Kind of like that “Bush of Life” article that hopes and promises that “sometime”, perhaps by 2050, they’ll have resolved a Tree Of Life out of the discordant data. Maybe.

  28. 28
    Joseph says:

    We (the US) have created mess in the Middle East…

    As someone who has been to the Mid-East, including Iraq in March of 2004, I can say in all honesty that RB is full of it. History supports that as history demonstrates the Mid-East has been a mess for centuries.

  29. 29
    jmcd says:

    Predicting the failure of another theory to answer a question is not at all the same thing as making predictions about phenomena in nature.

    For the front loaded fans a prediction would be that we can find blueprints for past and future organisms in DNA and we can find the mechanisms that cause those blueprints to unfold.

    I could just as easily say that failure to do that in the next ten years is a prediction of ToE and that in so failing the case for ToE would be bolstered. That of course is nonsense. Front loaded evolution may be proven 30 or180 years from now falsifying ToE. Anyone eho had submitted that the past failure for the front loaded idea as proof of ToE would look rather silly.

  30. 30
    tinabrewer says:

    I didn’t intend my conjecture to be a ‘creation-by-law-alone’ argument. I meant that there exists at least the possibility that a designing intelligence is kicked into activity by the natural signals which would emerge from a very precise set of material conditions. This intelligence would have as his/her/its role the conscious cooperation in the development of life, and this role would be filled whenever the material conditions demanded it. By this rationale, if the scientists could put together the precisely perfect material conditions, said intelligence would receive this signal and cooperate by beginning anew the first steps in the buildup of complex life. Also, it is only a possible scenario, not one I personally necessarily believe to be correct. Since it is a logical possibility, and actually not very far-fetched, we should be cautious about claiming that OOL successes would falsify ID.

  31. 31
    rb says:

    Joseph, did I say we created the ONLY mess in the middle east? NO!!! Did we create a mess, yes. Poor planning (like spending a billion dollars under DS’s plan) traded one mess for another (I think) messier mess.

  32. 32
    Chris Hyland says:

    “ID actually requires no further verification because science has already demonstrated that intelligence (us in this case) is both extant in nature in one instance and the the observed instance of intelligence is capable of telic transformation of genomes.”

    There are a lot of other things ID could do though, instead of waiting for evolutionary research to take place. There are a lot of of ideas about ID, such as you phylogenetc stem cell idea, and it seems worthwhile to try and fesh out these hypothesis such that it is easy to show how they explain current data and make better predicitons than the current theory (predictions about what we will observe in new genomic data not what will evolve in the future). That is how ID will win the day if it is indeed proveable.

    “Since it is a logical possibility, and actually not very far-fetched, we should be cautious about claiming that OOL successes would falsify ID.”

    The problem with this is that we would discount the ID explanation based on parsimony, which while may give us the wrong answer is a feature of modern science, and the theory would be revised if more evidence is produced.

  33. 33
    Joseph says:

    Chris Hyland:
    There are a lot of other things ID could do though, instead of waiting for evolutionary research to take place.

    ID doesn’t do anything other than offer the best explanation of our existence, ie the existence of the physical world.

    And again methinks you miss the point- the point being is that scientists conducting scientific research, should, if the data affords, be allowed to come to a design inference. THEN, if someone so chooses, they can pursue that inference to whatever end they choose- ie the process/ A process, possible agents/ entities involved and/ or the purpose.

    There aren’t many options as to the reality behind the existence of what we observe. And the materialistic alternative(s) to ID are best suited for those who will not question them.

  34. 34
    Joseph says:

    Did we create a mess, yes.

    No, we created a democracy.

    In no way should the USA be held responsible for the animal that is our enemy.

    Do you want to know why the Arabs hate the Israelis?

    It’s a family thing. Ya see Abraham is the father of both Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael being born first to a maid. Isaac went on to found Israel. Ishmael being the line to the Arabs.

    But anyway Israel was the “chosen” people. They had all the prophets and they messed it up anyway. The Arabs got their one prophet and did a much better job honoring the word of Allah through him than the Israelis have with all the chances they were given.

    The modern Israelis still insist they are the chosen people and the Arabs are telling them, sometimes forcefully, that they are FoS, they had their chances, they blew each and every one of them, so get the (beep) out of the way because the batter’s box belongs to us now.

    The friction is because the Israelis refuse to get out of the way. They think they are still waiting.

    Now amongst the Arabs there are those that lay claim to the “chosen” title and that is where we get that unrest.

    My source- Saudi clerics during and after a “goat grab” somewhere in the Saudi desert between Riyadh and Mecca.

    The point being is the mess has been there since the time when togas were in fashion and we just happened to step in the middle of it.

    And yes we stepped in without quite thinking it through properly.

    Look at it this way- if a dog messes on your lawn and you step in it because you didn’t see it, sure you have the responsibilty of cleaning it off of your foot/ footwear, but you can hardly be held responsible doggie doo.

  35. 35

    […] Harvard Origin of Life Project: An ID Prediction. If ID is true then it predicts the Harvard project will fail. This is based on the ID hypothesis that the complex patterns found in the basic machinery of life are too complex to come about without intelligent guidance. […]

  36. 36
    Ellis says:

    Your “prediction” can never really be fulfilled. Even if the scientists who perform the experiments come up with multiple plausible ways in which life could have formed, you can always claim that it all points to ID because they had to intelligently design the experimental conditions and we can never really know if those conditions existed billions of years ago. Catch-22, anyone?

  37. 37
    DaveScot says:


    So if we say something can falsify ID and it happens you just know we’ll somehow renege on what we said.

    You’re out of here. Buh bye.

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