email - December 2007
by Do-While Jones

Grandfatherly Advice

Ken is going to get a life; but what kind of life will he get?

We still get some emails like this one from Ken; but not nearly as often as we once did.

From: Ken
Date: 11/28/2007 5:23 PM
Subject: Please get a life

All I wish to contribute is a comment. What in the hell do a bunch of engineers know about evolution anyway?

Please get a life (one that evolved from bacteria).

PhD Candidate
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

We routinely delete emails like these without giving them a second thought, much less a response. There was something about the email from this kid, perhaps it was his signature, that brought out the protective grandfather in me. So, this is what I wrote back to him.

“Dear Ken,

“Thank you, but I’ve already had my life. It was successful professionally and personally, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have lived it. Now I am near the end of my life, and I can look back without regret.

“You are at the beginning of your life. How will you spend it? Will you spend your entire career trying to figure out how bacteria evolved into blue-green algae? Or will you accomplish something?

“Stanley Miller was a brilliant man. He was a great man. From the time he was a graduate student, until his death more than fifty years later, he spent his entire career trying to figure out how chemicals formed the first living cell through purely natural processes. He never figured out how it happened because it never happened. All his experiments were doomed to failure.

“But even though all his experiments failed, he himself was not a failure. He, more than anyone else, proved that life could not have originated by purely natural processes. He left no stone unturned in his single-minded pursuit of the origin of life. But failing to find anything under any stone, he conclusively proved that there was nothing under every stone.

“Some day, I hope, the world will recognize and appreciate the contribution that Stanley Miller made to science. More than anyone else, he deserves the credit for proving that there is no way life could have arisen spontaneously through natural processes. He does not yet have the honor he truly deserves.

“I never met Dr. Miller. I wish I could have spoken to him in the last days of his life. I would have liked to have told him how much I appreciate all his research. I sometimes wonder what he thought on his deathbed. Did he look back over his entire career and realize that not one of his experiments turned out as he hoped? Did he get discouraged by a 0% success rate? Or did he realize that he, in fact, discovered the truth? The truth is that his hypothesis was wrong; and he conclusively proved it was wrong.

“Since I never communicated with him, I don’t know what he thought about how he spent his life. I wish I knew. I simply hope that he found joy and satisfaction in the knowledge that he achieved great success through all his failed experiments.

“How I spent my life, and how Dr. Miller spent his life, can’t be changed. But your life is just beginning. You are about to get a life. What kind of life will you get? Will you be successful in discovering how biological systems work? Or will you fail to discover how bacteria evolved into algae? This is a critical point in your life. Will you find success through success, or success through failure? The choice is up to you. Choose carefully. Your happiness depends upon it.

“If you choose to devote your life to a futile attempt to prove evolution, we hope you won’t get discouraged. Leave no stone unturned. Exhaust every possibility. Then publish your research. Leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that bacteria could not have evolved into algae. That will be a great contribution to science. Don’t let failure discourage you.


Do-While Jones

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