Could Life Originate by Chance?
1. (a) What did Charles Darwin concede about the origin of life? (b) What idea has present-day evolutionary theory revived?
WHEN Charles Darwin advanced his theory of evolution he conceded that life may have been “originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one.”1 But present-day evolutionary theory generally eliminates any mention of a Creator. Instead, the theory of the spontaneous generation of life, once repudiated, has been revived in a somewhat altered form.
2. (a) What previous belief involving spontaneous generation was proved false? (b) Though admitting that life does not happen spontaneously now, what do evolutionists assume?
2 Belief in a form of spontaneous generation can be traced back for centuries. In the 17th century C.E., even respected men of science, including Francis Bacon and William Harvey, accepted the theory. However, by the 19th century Louis Pasteur and other scientists had seemingly dealt it a deathblow, having proved by experiments that life comes only from previous life. Nevertheless, out of necessity, evolutionary theory assumes that long ago microscopic life must somehow have arisen spontaneously from nonliving matter.
A New Form of Spontaneous Generation
3, 4. (a) What outline has been given of the steps leading to the origin of life? (b) In spite of the improbability of life originating by chance, what do evolutionists maintain?
3 A current evolutionary position on life’s starting point is summarized in his book, The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins. He speculates that in the beginning, Earth had an atmosphere composed of carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and water. Through energy supplied by sunlight, and perhaps by lightning and exploding volcanoes, these simple compounds were broken apart and then they re-formed into amino acids. A variety of these gradually accumulated in the sea and combined into proteinlike compounds. Ultimately, he says, the ocean became an “organic soup,” but still lifeless.
4 Then, according to Dawkins’ description, “a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident”—a molecule that had the ability to reproduce itself. Though admitting that such an accident was exceedingly improbable, he maintains that it must nevertheless have happened. Similar molecules clustered together, and then, again by an exceedingly improbable accident, they wrapped a protective barrier of other protein molecules around themselves as a membrane. Thus, it is claimed, the first living cell generated itself.2
5. How is the origin of life usually dealt with in published material, yet what does a scientist say?
5 At this point a reader may begin to understand Dawkins’ comment in the preface to his book: “This book should be read almost as though it were science fiction.”3 But readers on the subject will find that his approach is not unique. Most other books on evolution also skim over the staggering problem of explaining the emergence of life from nonliving matter. Thus Professor William Thorpe of the zoology department of Cambridge University told fellow scientists: “All the facile speculations and discussions published during the last ten to fifteen years explaining the mode of origin of life have been shown to be far too simple-minded and to bear very little weight. The problem in fact seems as far from solution as it ever was.”4
6. What does increasing knowledge show?
6 The recent explosive increase of knowledge has only served to magnify the gulf between nonliving and living things. Even the oldest known single-celled organisms have been found to be incomprehensibly complex. “The problem for biology is to reach a simple beginning,” say astronomers Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe. “Fossil residues of ancient life-forms discovered in the rocks do not reveal a simple beginning. . . . so the evolutionary theory lacks a proper foundation.”5 And as information increases, the harder it becomes to explain how microscopic forms of life that are so incredibly complex could have arisen by chance.
7. What are the claimed principal steps en route to the origin of life?
7 The principal steps en route to the origin of life, as envisioned by evolutionary theory, are (1) the existence of the right primitive atmosphere and (2) a concentration in the oceans of an organic soup of “simple” molecules necessary for life. (3) From these come proteins and nucleotides (complex chemical compounds) that (4) combine and acquire a membrane, and thereafter (5) they develop a genetic code and start making copies of themselves. Are these steps in accord with the available facts?
The Primitive Atmosphere
8. How did a famous experiment by Stanley Miller, and later ones, fall short?
8 In 1953 Stanley Miller passed an electric spark through an “atmosphere” of hydrogen, methane, ammonia and water vapor. This produced some of the many amino acids that exist and that are the building blocks of proteins. However, he got just 4 of the 20 amino acids needed for life to exist. More than 30 years later, scientists were still unable experimentally to produce all the 20 necessary amino acids under conditions that could be considered plausible.
9, 10. (a) What is believed regarding the possible composition of earth’s primitive atmosphere? (b) What dilemma does evolution face, and what is known about earth’s primitive atmosphere?
9 Miller assumed that earth’s primitive atmosphere was similar to the one in his experimental flask. Why? Because, as he and a co-worker later said: “The synthesis of compounds of biological interest takes place only under reducing [no free oxygen in the atmosphere] conditions.”6 Yet other evolutionists theorize that oxygen was present. The dilemma this creates for evolution is expressed by Hitching: “With oxygen in the air, the first amino acid would never have got started; without oxygen, it would have been wiped out by cosmic rays.”7
10 The fact is, any attempt to establish the nature of earth’s primitive atmosphere can only be based on guesswork or assumption. No one knows for sure what it was like.
Would an “Organic Soup” Form?
11. (a) Why is it unlikely that an “organic soup” would accumulate in the ocean? (b) How was Miller able to save the few amino acids he did get?
11 How likely is it that the amino acids thought to have formed in the atmosphere would drift down and form an “organic soup” in the oceans? Not likely at all. The same energy that would split the simple compounds in the atmosphere would even more quickly decompose any complex amino acids that formed. Interestingly, in his experiment of passing an electric spark through an “atmosphere,” Miller saved the four amino acids he got only because he removed them from the area of the spark. Had he left them there, the spark would have decomposed them.
12. What would happen to amino acids even if some reached the oceans?
12 However, if it is assumed that amino acids somehow reached the oceans and were protected from the destructive ultraviolet radiation in the atmosphere, what then? Hitching explained: “Beneath the surface of the water there would not be enough energy to activate further chemical reactions; water in any case inhibits the growth of more complex molecules.”8
13. What must amino acids in water do if they are to form proteins, but then what other danger do they face?
13 So once amino acids are in the water, they must get out of it if they are to form larger molecules and evolve toward becoming proteins useful for the formation of life. But once they get out of the water, they are in the destructive ultraviolet light again! “In other words,” Hitching says, “the theoretical chances of getting through even this first and relatively easy stage [getting amino acids] in the evolution of life are forbidding.”9
14. So, what is one of the most stubborn problems facing evolutionists?
14 Although it commonly is asserted that life spontaneously arose in the oceans, bodies of water simply are not conducive to the necessary chemistry. Chemist Richard Dickerson explains: “It is therefore hard to see how polymerization [linking together smaller molecules to form bigger ones] could have proceeded in the aqueous environment of the primitive ocean, since the presence of water favors depolymerization [breaking up big molecules into simpler ones] rather than polymerization.”10 Biochemist George Wald agrees with this view, stating: “Spontaneous dissolution is much more probable, and hence proceeds much more rapidly, than spontaneous synthesis.” This means there would be no accumulation of organic soup! Wald believes this to be “the most stubborn problem that confronts us [evolutionists].”11
15, 16. What major problem is there in getting life’s proteins from the amino acids in a supposed organic soup?
15 There is, however, another stubborn problem that confronts evolutionary theory. Remember, there are over 100 amino acids, but only 20 are needed for life’s proteins. Moreover, they come in two shapes: Some of the molecules are “right-handed” and others are “left-handed.” Should they be formed at random, as in a theoretical organic soup, it is most likely that half would be right-handed and half left-handed. And there is no known reason why either shape should be preferred in living things. Yet, of the 20 amino acids used in producing life’s proteins, all are left-handed!
16 How is it that, at random, only the specifically required kinds would be united in the soup? Physicist J. D. Bernal acknowledges: “It must be admitted that the explanation . . . still remains one of the most difficult parts of the structural aspects of life to explain.” He concluded: “We may never be able to explain it.”12
Probability and Spontaneous Proteins
17. What illustration shows the extent of the problem?
17 What chance is there that the correct amino acids would come together to form a protein molecule? It could be likened to having a big, thoroughly mixed pile containing equal numbers of red beans and white beans. There are also over 100 different varieties of beans. Now, if you plunged a scoop into this pile, what do you think you would get? To get the beans that represent the basic components of a protein, you would have to scoop up only red ones—no white ones at all! Also, your scoop must contain only 20 varieties of the red beans, and each one must be in a specific, preassigned place in the scoop. In the world of protein, a single mistake in any one of these requirements would cause the protein that is produced to fail to function properly. Would any amount of stirring and scooping in our hypothetical bean pile have given the right combination? No. Then how would it have been possible in the hypothetical organic soup?
18. How realistic are the odds of even a simple protein molecule forming by chance?
18 The proteins needed for life have very complex molecules. What is the chance of even a simple protein molecule forming at random in an organic soup? Evolutionists acknowledge it to be only one in 10113 (1 followed by 113 zeros). But any event that has one chance in just 1050 is dismissed by mathematicians as never happening. An idea of the odds, or probability, involved is seen in the fact that the number 10113 is larger than the estimated total number of all the atoms in the universe!
19. What chance is there of getting the needed enzymes for a living cell?
19 Some proteins serve as structural materials and others as enzymes. The latter speed up needed chemical reactions in the cell. Without such help, the cell would die. Not just a few, but 2,000 proteins serving as enzymes are needed for the cell’s activity. What are the chances of obtaining all of these at random? One chance in 1040,000! “An outrageously small probability,” Hoyle asserts, “that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup.” He adds: “If one is not prejudiced either by social beliefs or by a scientific training into the conviction that life originated [spontaneously] on the Earth, this simple calculation wipes the idea entirely out of court.”13
20. Why does the membrane needed by the cell add to the problem?
20 However, the chances actually are far fewer than this “outrageously small” figure indicates. There must be a membrane enclosing the cell. But this membrane is extremely complex, made up of protein, sugar and fat molecules. As evolutionist Leslie Orgel writes: “Modern cell membranes include channels and pumps which specifically control the influx and efflux of nutrients, waste products, metal ions and so on. These specialised channels involve highly specific proteins, molecules that could not have been present at the very beginning of the evolution of life.”14
The Remarkable Genetic Code
21. How difficult would it be to get the histones the DNA requires?
21 More difficult to obtain than these are nucleotides, the structural units of DNA, which bears the genetic code. Five histones are involved in DNA (histones are thought to be involved in governing the activity of genes). The chance of forming even the simplest of these histones is said to be one in 20100—another huge number “larger than the total of all the atoms in all the stars and galaxies visible in the largest astronomical telescopes.”15
22. (a) How is the old puzzle of ‘the chicken or the egg’ related to proteins and DNA? (b) What solution is offered by one evolutionist, and is this reasonable?
22 Yet greater difficulties for evolutionary theory involve the origin of the complete genetic code—a requirement for cell reproduction. The old puzzle of ‘the chicken or the egg’ rears its head relative to proteins and DNA. Hitching says: “Proteins depend on DNA for their formation. But DNA cannot form without pre-existing protein.”16 This leaves the paradox Dickerson raises: “Which came first,” the protein or the DNA? He asserts: “The answer must be, ‘They developed in parallel.’”17 In effect, he is saying that ‘the chicken’ and ‘the egg’ must have evolved simultaneously, neither one coming from the other. Does this strike you as reasonable? A science writer sums it up: “The origin of the genetic code poses a massive chicken-and-egg problem that remains, at present, completely scrambled.”18
23. What do other scientists say about the genetic machinery?
23 Chemist Dickerson also made this interesting comment: “The evolution of the genetic machinery is the step for which there are no laboratory models; hence one can speculate endlessly, unfettered by inconvenient facts.”19 But is it good scientific procedure to brush aside the avalanches of “inconvenient facts” so easily? Leslie Orgel calls the existence of the genetic code “the most baffling aspect of the problem of the origins of life.”20 And Francis Crick concluded: “In spite of the genetic code being almost universal, the mechanism necessary to embody it is far too complex to have arisen in one blow.”21
24. What can be said about natural selection and the first reproducing cell?
24 Evolutionary theory attempts to eliminate the need for the impossible to be accomplished “in one blow” by espousing a step-by-step process by which natural selection could do its work gradually. However, without the genetic code to begin reproduction, there can be no material for natural selection to select.
25. Evolution attributes to a simple cell the amazing ability to originate what process?
25 An additional hurdle for evolutionary theory now arises. Somewhere along the line the primitive cell had to devise something that revolutionized life on earth—photosynthesis. This process, by which plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, is not yet completely understood by scientists. It is, as biologist F. W. Went states, “a process that no one has yet been able to reproduce in a test tube.”22 Yet, by chance, a tiny simple cell is thought to have originated it.
26. What revolutionary change did this process cause?
26 This process of photosynthesis turned an atmosphere that contained no free oxygen into one in which one molecule out of every five is oxygen. As a result, animals could breathe oxygen and live, and an ozone layer could form to protect all life from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. Could this remarkable array of circumstances be accounted for simply by random chance?
Is Intelligence Involved?
27. Where has the evidence left some evolutionists?
27 When confronted with the astronomical odds against a living cell forming by chance, some evolutionists feel forced to back away. For example, the authors of Evolution From Space (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe) give up, saying: “These issues are too complex to set numbers to.” They add: “There is no way . . . in which we can simply get by with a bigger and better organic soup, as we ourselves hoped might be possible a year or two ago. The numbers we calculated above are essentially just as unfaceable for a universal soup as for a terrestrial one.”23
28. (a) What probably lies behind the refusal to acknowledge the need for intelligence? (b) What do evolutionists who believe in the need for higher intelligence say is not the source of that intelligence?
28 Hence, after acknowledging that intelligence must somehow have been involved in bringing life into existence, the authors continue: “Indeed, such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific.”24 Thus an observer might conclude that a “psychological” barrier is the only plausible explanation as to why most evolutionists cling to a chance origin for life and reject any “design or purpose or directedness,”25 as Dawkins expressed it. Indeed, even Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, after acknowledging the need for intelligence, say that they do not believe a personal Creator is responsible for the origin of life.26 In their thinking, intelligence is mandatory, but a Creator is unacceptable. Do you find that contradictory?
Is It Scientific?
29. What is the scientific method?
29 If a spontaneous beginning for life is to be accepted as scientific fact, it should be established by the scientific method. This has been described as follows: Observe what happens; based on those observations, form a theory as to what may be true; test the theory by further observations and by experiments; and watch to see if the predictions based on the theory are fulfilled.
30. In what ways does spontaneous generation fall short in reference to applying the scientific method?
30 In an attempt to apply the scientific method, it has not been possible to observe the spontaneous generation of life. There is no evidence that it is happening now, and of course no human observer was around when evolutionists say it was happening. No theory concerning it has been verified by observation. Laboratory experiments have failed to repeat it. Predictions based on the theory have not been fulfilled. With such an inability to apply the scientific method, is it honest science to elevate such a theory to the level of fact?
31. What contradictory views about spontaneous generation does a scientist have?
31 On the other hand, there is ample evidence to support the conclusion that the spontaneous generation of life from nonliving matter is not possible. “One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task,” Professor Wald of Harvard University acknowledges, “to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible.” But what does this proponent of evolution actually believe? He answers: “Yet here we are—as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation.”27 Does that sound like objective science?
32. How do even evolutionists admit that such reasoning is unscientific?
32 British biologist Joseph Henry Woodger characterized such reasoning as “simple dogmatism—asserting that what you want to believe did in fact happen.”28 How have scientists come to accept in their own minds this apparent violation of the scientific method? The well-known evolutionist Loren Eiseley conceded: “After having chided the theologian for his reliance on myth and miracle, science found itself in the unenviable position of having to create a mythology of its own: namely, the assumption that what, after long effort, could not be proved to take place today had, in truth, taken place in the primeval past.”29
33. Based on all the preceding evidence, what conclusion must be reached concerning spontaneous generation and the application of the scientific method?
33 Based on the evidence, the spontaneous generation of life theory appears better to fit the realm of science fiction than scientific fact. Many supporters apparently have forsaken the scientific method in such matters in order to believe what they want to believe. In spite of the overwhelming odds against life originating by chance, unyielding dogmatism prevails rather than the caution normally signaled by the scientific method.
Not All Scientists Accept It
34. (a) How does a physicist demonstrate scientific openness? (b) How does he describe evolution, and what commentary does he make about many scientists?
34 Not all scientists, however, have closed the door on the alternative. For example, physicist H. S. Lipson, realizing the odds against a spontaneous origin for life, said: “The only acceptable explanation is creation. I know that this is anathema to physicists, as indeed it is to me, but we must not reject a theory that we do not like if the experimental evidence supports it.” He further observed that after Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, “evolution became in a sense a scientific religion; almost all scientists have accepted it and many are prepared to ‘bend’ their observations to fit in with it.”30 A sad but true commentary.
35. (a) What notion has a university professor found it painful to shed? (b) How does he illustrate the possibility of life evolving by chance?
35 Chandra Wickramasinghe, professor at University College, Cardiff, said: “From my earliest training as a scientist I was very strongly brainwashed to believe that science cannot be consistent with any kind of deliberate creation. That notion has had to be very painfully shed. I am quite uncomfortable in the situation, the state of mind I now find myself in. But there is no logical way out of it. . . . For life to have been a chemical accident on earth is like looking for a particular grain of sand on all the beaches in all the planets in the universe—and finding it.” In other words, it is just not possible that life could have originated from a chemical accident. So Wickramasinghe concludes: “There is no other way in which we can understand the precise ordering of the chemicals of life except to invoke the creations on a cosmic scale.”31
36. What comment does Robert Jastrow make?
36 As astronomer Robert Jastrow said: “Scientists have no proof that life was not the result of an act of creation.”32
37. What question is raised concerning evolution, and where can the answer be found?
37 Yet, even assuming that a first living cell did somehow spontaneously arise, is there evidence that it evolved into all the creatures that have ever lived on the earth? Fossils supply the answer, and the next chapter considers what the fossil record really says.
[Blurb on page 44]
“Proteins depend on DNA for their formation. But DNA cannot form without pre-existing protein”
[Blurb on page 45]
“The origin of the genetic code poses a massive chicken-and-egg problem that remains, at present, completely scrambled”
[Blurb on page 46]
The genetic code: “the most baffling aspect of the problem of the origins of life”
[Blurb on page 47]
In photosynthesis plants use sunlight, carbon dioxide, water and minerals to produce oxygen and food products. Could a simple cell have invented all of this?
[Blurb on page 50]
Some scientists say, in effect: ‘Intelligence is mandatory, but a Creator is unacceptable’
[Blurb on page 53]
A scientist admitted: “The only acceptable explanation is creation”
[Blurb on page 53]
Jastrow: “Scientists have no proof that life was not the result of an act of creation”
[Box/Picture on page 48, 49]
The Incredible Cell
A living cell is enormously complex. Biologist Francis Crick endeavors to describe its workings simply, but he finally realizes that he can go only so far, “because it is so complicated the reader should not attempt to struggle with all the details.”a
The instructions within the DNA of the cell, “if written out, would fill a thousand 600-page books,” explains National Geographic. “Each cell is a world brimming with as many as two hundred trillion tiny groups of atoms called molecules. . . . Our 46 chromosome ‘threads’ linked together would measure more than six feet. Yet the nucleus that contains them is less than four ten-thousandths of an inch in diameter.”b
Newsweek magazine uses an illustration to give an idea of the cell’s activities: “Each of those 100 trillion cells functions like a walled city. Power plants generate the cell’s energy. Factories produce proteins, vital units of chemical commerce. Complex transportation systems guide specific chemicals from point to point within the cell and beyond. Sentries at the barricades control the export and import markets, and monitor the outside world for signs of danger. Disciplined biological armies stand ready to grapple with invaders. A centralized genetic government maintains order.”c
When the modern theory of evolution was first proposed, scientists had little inkling of the fantastic complexity of a living cell. On the facing page are a few of the parts of a typical cell—all packed into a container only 1/1000 inch across.
The covering that controls what enters and leaves the cell
Structures on which amino acids are assembled into proteins
Enclosed in a double-membrane envelope, it is the control center that directs the cell’s activities
They contain the cell’s DNA, its genetic master plan
The site where ribosomes are assembled
Sheets of membranes that store or transport the proteins made by the ribosomes attached to them (some ribosomes float free in the cell)
Production centers for ATP, the molecules that supply energy for the cell
A group of flattened membrane sacs that package and distribute proteins made by the cell
They lie near the nucleus and are important in cell reproduction
Did Your 100,000,000,000,000 Cells Just Happen?
[Box on page 52]
Evolutionists past and present comment on the origin of life
“The hypothesis that life has developed from inorganic matter is, at present, still an article of faith.”—Mathematician J. W. N. Sullivand
“The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of the unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing shop.”—Biologist Edwin Conkline
“One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible.”—Biochemist George Waldf
“An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.”—Biologist Francis Crickg
“If one is not prejudiced either by social beliefs or by a scientific training into the conviction that life originated [spontaneously] on the Earth, this simple calculation [the mathematical odds against it] wipes the idea entirely out of court.”—Astronomers Fred Hoyle and N. C. Wickramasingheh
[Diagram/Pictures on page 47]
Humans and animals breathe in oxygen, give off carbon dioxide. Plants take in carbon dioxide, give off oxygen
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[Picture on page 40]
No large building could stand without a foundation. “The evolutionary theory lacks a proper foundation,” say two scientists
[Picture on page 42]
All red, all the right variety, each one in its preassigned place—by chance?
[Picture on page 43]
Life’s use of only “left-handed” amino acids: “We may never be able to explain it”
[Pictures on page 45]
Which came first?