Though Darwinian theory dramatically revolutionized biological understanding, its strictly biological focus has resulted in a widening conceptual gulf between the biological and physical sciences. In this paper we strive to extend and reformulate Darwinian theory in physicochemical terms so it can accommodate both animate and inanimate systems, thereby helping to bridge this scientific divide. The extended formulation is based on the recently proposed concept of dynamic kinetic stability and data from the newly emerging area of systems chemistry. The analysis leads us to conclude that abiogenesis and evolution, rather than manifesting two discrete stages in the emergence of complex life, actually constitute one single physicochemical process. Based on that proposed unification, the extended theory offers some additional insights into life's unique characteristics, as well as added means for addressing the three central questions of biology: what is life, how did it emerge, and how would one make it?
So can Pross apply Darwinian theory to inanimate systems? Can he save the life sciences from its physics envy? There’s only one problem: He’s about three centuries too late.
Laplace, Buffon, Kant, Leibniz, Burnett and scores of others Enlightened thinkers were applying Darwinian theory to the inanimate world long before Pross and, for that matter, long before Darwin.
But Pross has a new approach: dynamic kinetic stability. Can it save evolutionary thought from its sheer inanity? Pross thinks it reduces life’s complexity to a simple principle. After all, haven’t complexity studies already demonstrated such a move?
Life is complex—that is undeniable. But that does not necessarily mean that the life principle is complex. In fact we would argue that the life principle is in some sense relatively simple! Indeed, simple rules can lead to complex patterns, as studies in complexity have amply demonstrated. So we would suggest that life, from its simple beginnings as some minimal replicating system, and following a simple rule—the drive toward greater dynamic kinetic stability within replicator space—is yet another example of that fundamental idea.
The drive toward greater dynamic kinetic stability within replicator space, that’s the new idea. Just don’t look behind the curtain.