Report on virtual workshop on origin of life

My colleague Gary Hurd has spent much of the last 3 days virtually attending a virtual workshop on the origin of life. The workshop will conclude at 5 p.m. eastern standard time today. Here is Mr. Hurd’s report, which he filed at about noon eastern time:

We have reached day 3 of the NAI Workshop “Molecular Paleontology and Resurrection: Rewinding the Tape of Life.”

The on-line format of the talks has been a standard PowerPoint conference show, with the added attraction on my part that I can talk on the phone or get a favorite beverage as needed. The content has been excellent. I have yet to hear a weak or underprepared talk. Click here for the agenda and abstracts. The workshop was sponsored by NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, but the actual presentations are essentially origin-of-life research, or the evolution of specific metabolic or chemical pathways in microbes.

The talks were occasionally over the head of someone (like me) who reads OOL literature as it relates to the creationist assault on science. But there were several that directly applied to the sort of claims we hear so often from creationists. A few years ago, creationist Mike Behe wrote, “Professor Bottaro, perhaps sensing that the paper he cites won’t be persuasive to people who are skeptical of Darwinian claims, laments that ‘Behe and other ID advocates will retreat further and further into impossible demands, such as asking for mutation-by-mutation accounts of specific evolutionary pathways…’ Well, yes, of course that’s exactly what I ask of Darwinian claims–a mutation-by-mutation account of critical steps (which will likely be very, very many), at the amino acid level.” And Behe then demanded, “…not only a list of mutations, but also a detailed account of the selective pressures that would be operating, the difficulties such changes would cause for the organism, the expected time scale over which the changes would be expected to occur, the likely population sizes available in the relevant ancestral species at each step, other potential ways to solve the problem which might interfere, and much more.”

Well, several papers came very close to meeting Behe’s demands; even the “much more” was available.

I had just one complaint about the overall experience, and that was the chance to discuss the talks with presenters or other audience members. I think it is the hallway discussions that make a real conference work. The purpose of this thread is to discuss the conference and more generally the current status of origin-of-life research, and to show us how abiogenesis is used by creationists to attack science and science education.