Pharyngula

You go, Harry Lonsdale!

Harry Lonsdale is a godless Oregonian who has just offered a $50,000 prize plus $2,000,000 in funding for research into the origins of life.

A millionaire scientist who once ran as a Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate has just launched a $50,000 prize to promote research on the origin of life. Yes, he has an ulterior motive: He hopes that researchers working on the question will eventually prove that life’s origins can be fully explained by physical and chemical processes, without invoking a creator.

Harry Lonsdale is a chemist in Bend, Oregon, who made a fortune when he sold his drug development and research company to Pfizer more than 25 years ago. Since then, he has leveraged his wealth for social, civic, and political causes, including a series of unsuccessful bids to become a U.S. senator. The 79-year-old Lonsdale is an avowed atheist who has advocated for gay rights, campaign finance reform, and environmental protections. Now, he’s on a mission to accelerate the quest to understand how life originated. Over the past 2 weeks, Lonsdale has taken out ads in Science, Nature, and Chemical and Engineering News announcing an Origin of Life Research Award that includes $50,000 for the best proposal to study the origin of life and up to $2 million in potential funding to carry out the work.

This is serious stuff, with serious people (like Jack Szostak) backing it, and another thing that is cool about it is that Lonsdale openly admits that his atheism is a motivation for funding science. The website for the project explains exactly what he’s looking for.

All submissions will be reviewed by a panel of scientific experts. Submissions should contain a statement of work to be performed and a letter of institutional support where appropriate. Submissions that suggest a multidisciplinary approach should describe how the necessary research capabilities will be provided. Submissions that rely on extraterrestrial sources of key materials must describe in detail how those materials would have been generated. Submissions involving the supernatural or that violate physical laws will not be considered.

That last clause is a given for all scientific research — it’s just rare to see it so clearly said.