Physicists have spent enormous amounts of time and billions of dollars building supercolliders to search for fundamental particles, including the European Large Hadron Collider, which is designed to find the elusive Higgs boson.1,2 A recent article in Nature asked what kinds of discoveries in biology would garner similar attention—”the biological Higgs.”3

The Higgs boson is a hypothetical elementary particle that some scientists believe dwells deep inside atoms. This tiny particle is predicted by the Standard Model of the structure of matter, but hasn’t yet been confirmed. So, many physicists are interested in discovering whether or not it really exists.

In a similar way, the evolutionary model of life’s origin predicts that some combination of nonliving elements could somehow come to life, and numerous theories have been offered regarding how that could have happened. Intense interest has backed both the biological and physics research questions, but the Nature article comparing the two ignored the fact that the questions involve inherently different types of investigation.

For biologists, discovering how life supposedly arose from nonliving chemicals would be worth billions of dollars. Princeton University planetary scientist Christopher Chyba wrote in 2005, “Why should we suddenly become giggly when it is biology at stake, rather than physics?”3   Stated another way, why shouldn’t biologists garner the same level of enthusiasm about finding the answer to their fundamental question as physicists get in searching for theirs?

There is a clear answer: Physicists are asking a science question, but the biologists are asking a history question….

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