“If you still want to chat, and can stick to a scientific agenda, check back in a couple of weeks when I have a bit more time. . . .I think everything regarding the JTF project(s) is above board. Please tell me if I’m wrong.”—Niles Lehman, March 2018 email to me
It’s like a madcap scene from the Marx Brothers’ A Night in Casablanca, where to the dismay of the Nazis the trunk that’s packed for the getaway is empty because the clothes keep walking away. Templeton continues to pour millions of dollars into origin and evolution of life projects that result in fiasco: (1) the 2013 origins conference at CERN; (2) funding of religious scholars by NASA & Templeton to investigate how the religious community would respond to the discovery of life in outer space; (3) the dig through 18 levels of civilization for religious evidence at 10,000-year-old Çatalhöyük—to cite just a few. But science is not being compromised for big laughs, it’s being compromised by greedy academics and their university money managers who, with a wink, look the other way while Templeton’s Big Creep mission blurs the lines between science and religion.
One of the stickiest origins projects Templeton has recently funded is “Cooperation and Interpretation in the Emergence of Life,” which looks to find purposeful RNA fragments that agree to cooperate. Six hundred thirty thousand dollars ($630,000) has been awarded for said project to the team of Christopher Southgate-–a British theologian/biochemist, and Portland State University chemistry professor Niles Lehman.
Lehman was recently elected president of the nonprofit origin of life society “ISSOL” replacing Sandra Pizzarello. As ISSOL president, Lehman will now also be majorly soliciting funds, including more from Templeton.
I decided it was time to request an interview with Niles Lehman. So I emailed him a week or so ago. But Lehman was defensive about a conversation and dictated terms. He would not agree to questions about the politics of science, for example, only about science—despite the fact that he is a publicly funded scientist and is now looking for public investment in ISSOL.
I never did interview Niles Lehman for my first book on origin of life. Lehman’s embrace of autocatalytic sets, and Nobel laureate Jack Szostak’s dismissal of the concept, which follows, gave me pause:
“Autocatalytic sets is one of those concepts where the people who came up with the original idea, like Stuart Kauffman, rather than admit being wrong kept changing their story until it was basically the same concept everybody was already working on.
The original idea was that there would be large numbers of compounds where one would help another to replicate, and that one could help some other one to replicate, and that somehow out of this huge population of interacting molecules autocatalytic replication would emerge.
In my opinion that was never chemically realistic. Now you see people talking about non-enzymatic RNA replication and calling that autocatalytic sets. If that’s what you want to call it, that’s fine. But it seems like the concept has lost all meaning.”
However, I did interview Lehman’s former graduate student, Nilesh Vaidya, who told me in January 2013 at the Princeton origins conference that the secret to making RNA fragments come together in his 2012 experiment with Lehman was simply adding magnesium. Similarly, Georgia Tech chemist Nick Hud commented in a 2013 videotaped review of Lehman’s research funded by Harry Lonsdale that the aggregation of RNA shown on Lehman’s slide was likely due to manganese in the mix.
“I didn’t think that I could sneak that past you.,” Lehman responded to Hud’s observation. “I wasn’t trying to do that.”
The bottom line is that the stitching together of RNA in Lehman’s experiment was not due to smart RNA.
But Lehman, now partnering with Christopher Southgate (Certificate in Theology—University of Exeter, and General Ministry Certificate—Church of England), in this his second grant from the John Templeton Foundation, is pursuing just that angle—purpose “all the way down” to single RNA molecules.
Meanwhile, Southgate, per his online CV, has been engaged by Templeton numerous times over the last two decades, (1) to develop a course on science and religion; (2) to develop a textbook on science and religion; (3) as a contributor to a “high-level Templeton Colloquium on Deep Incarnation”; and (4) as grant assessor for both the John Templeton Foundation and Templeton World Charities Foundation. It is unclear how much money has changed hands.
Southgate’s forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press is Glory and Longing, in which he proposes “a new way of understanding the glory of God in Christian theology, based on glory as a sign.”
Southgate has done six interviews on science and theology for the PBS television program Closer To Truth, which is funded by Templeton. He’s currently teaching such university courses as: “God, Humanity and the Cosmos” and “Evolution, God and Gaia.”
Furthermore, Lehman and Southgate cling to discredited Darwinian theory in their Templeton-funded project. . . .