If naturalistic molecules-to-human-life evolution were true, multibillions of links are required to bridge modern humans with the chemicals that once existed in the hypothetical “primitive soup”. This putative soup, assumed by many scientists to have given birth to life over 3.5 billion years ago, was located in the ocean or mud puddles. Others argue that the origin of life could not have been in the sea but rather must have occurred in clay on dry land. Still others conclude that abiogenesis was more likely to have occurred in hot vents. It is widely recognized that major scientific problems exist with all naturalistic origin of life scenarios. This is made clear in the conclusions of many leading origin-of-life researchers. A major aspect of the abiogenesis question is “What is the minimum number of parts necessary for an autotrophic free living organism to live, and could these parts assemble by naturalistic means?” Research shows that at the lowest level this number is in the multimillions, producing an irreducible level of complexity that cannot be bridged by any known natural means.
biogenesis is the theory that life can arise spontaneously from non-life molecules under proper conditions. Evidence for a large number of transitional forms to bridge the stages of this process is critical to prove the abiogenesis theory, especially during the early stages of the process. The view of how life originally developed from non-life to an organism capable of independent life and reproduction presented by the mass media is very similar to the following widely publicized account:
Four and a half billion years ago the young planet Earth... was almost
completely engulfed by the shallow primordial seas. Powerful winds gathered
random molecules from the atmosphere. Some were deposited in the seas.
Tides and currents swept the molecules together. And somewhere in this
ancient ocean the miracle of life began... The first organized form of
primitive life was a tiny protozoan [a one-celled animal]. Millions of
protozoa populated the ancient seas. These early organisms were completely
self-sufficient in their sea-water world. They moved about their aquatic
environment feeding on bacteria and other organisms... From these one-celled
organisms evolved all life on earth (from the Emmy award winning PBS NOVA
film The Miracle of Life quoted in Hanegraaff, 1998, p. 70, emphasis in
Science textbook authors Wynn and Wiggins describe the abiogenesis process
currently accepted by Darwinists:
Aristotle believed that decaying material could be transformed by the “spontaneous
action of Nature” into living animals. His hypothesis was ultimately rejected,
but... Aristotle’s hypothesis has been replaced by another spontaneous
generation hypothesis, one that requires billions of years to go from the
molecules of the universe to cells, and then, via random mutation/natural
selection, from cells to the variety of organisms living today. This version,
which postulates chance happenings eventually leading to the phenomenon
of life, is biology’s Theory of Evolution (1997, p. 105).
The question on which this paper focuses is “How much evidence exists for
this view of life’s origin?” When Darwinists discuss “missing links” they
often imply that relatively few links are missing in what is a rather complete
chain which connects the putative chemical precursors of life that is theorized
to have existed an estimated 3.5 billion years ago to all life forms existing
today. Standen noted a half century ago that the term “missing link” is
misleading because it suggests that only one link is missing whereas it
is more accurate to state that so many links are missing that it is not
evident whether there was ever a chain (Standen, 1950, p. 106). This assertion
now has been well documented by many creationists and others (see Bergman,
1998; Gish, 1995; Lubenow, 1994, 1992; Rodabaugh, 1976; and Moore, 1976).
Scientists not only have been unable to find a single undisputed link that
clearly connects two of the hundreds of major family groups, but they have
not even been able to produce a plausible starting point for their hypothetical
evolutionary chain (Shapiro, 1986). The first links actually the first
hundreds of thousands or more links that are required to produce lifestill
are missing (Behe, 1996, pp. 154156)! Horgan concluded that if he were
a creationist today he would focus on the origin of life because this
...is by far the weakest strut of the chassis of modern biology. The origin
of life is a science writer’s dream. It abounds with exotic scientists
and exotic theories, which are never entirely abandoned or accepted, but
merely go in and out of fashion (1996, p. 138).
The major links in the molecules-to-man theory that must be bridged include
(a) evolution of simple molecules into complex molecules, (b) evolution
of complex molecules into simple organic molecules, (c) evolution of simple
organic molecules into complex organic molecules, (d) eventual evolution
of complex organic molecules into DNA or similar information storage molecules,
and (e) eventually evolution into the first cells. This process requires
multimillions of links, all which either are missing or controversial.
Scientists even lack plausible just-so stories for most of evolution. Furthermore
the parts required to provide life clearly have specifications that rule
out most substitutions.
In the entire realm of science no class of molecule is currently known
which can remotely compete with proteins. It seems increasingly unlikely
that the abilities of proteins could be realized to the same degree in
any other material form. Proteins are not only unique, but give every impression
of being ideally adapted for their role as the universal constructor devices
of the cell ... Again, we have an example in which the only feasible candidate
for a particular biological role gives every impression of being supremely
fit for that role (Denton, 1998, p. 188, emphasis in original).
The logical order in which life developed is hypothesized to include the
following basic major stages:
- Certain simple molecules underwent spontaneous, random chemical reactions
until after about half-a-billion years complex organic molecules were produced.
- Molecules that could replicate eventually were formed (the most common
guess is nucleic acid molecules), along with enzymes and nutrient molecules
that were surrounded by membraned cells.
- Cells eventually somehow “learned” how to reproduce by copying a DNA
molecule (which contains a complete set of instructions for building a
next generation of cells). During the reproduction process, the mutations
changed the DNA code and produced cells that differed from the originals.
- The variety of cells generated by this process eventually developed
the machinery required to do all that was necessary to survive, reproduce,
and create the next generation of cells in their likeness. Those cells
that were better able to survive became more numerous in the population
(adapted from Wynn and Wiggins, 1997, p. 172).
The problem of the early evolution of life and the unfounded optimism of
scientists was well put by Dawkins. He concluded that Earth’s chemistry
was different on our early, lifeless, planet, and that at this time there
...no life, no biology, only physics and chemistry, and the details of
the Earth’s chemistry were very different. Most, though not all, of the
informed speculation begins in what has been called the primeval soup,
a weak broth of simple organic chemicals in the sea. Nobody knows how it
happened but, somehow, without violating the laws of physics and chemistry,
a molecule arose that just happened to have the property of self-copyinga
replicator. This may seem like a big stroke of luck... Freakish or not,
this kind of luck does happen... [and] it had to happen only once... What
is more, as far as we know, it may have happened on only one planet out
of a billion billion planets in the universe. Of course many people think
that it actually happened on lots and lots of planets, but we only have
evidence that it happened on one planet, after a lapse of half a billion
to a billion years. So the sort of lucky event we are looking at could
be so wildly improbable that the chances of its happening, somewhere in
the universe, could be as low as one in a billion billion billion in any
one year. If it did happen on only one planet, anywhere in the universe,
that planet has to be our planetbecause here we are talking about it (Dawkins,
1996, pp. 282283, emphasis in original).
The Evidence for the Early Steps of Evolution
The first step in evolution was the development of simple self-copying
molecules consisting of carbon dioxide, water and other inorganic compounds.
No one has proven that a simple self-copying molecule can self-generate
a compound such as DNA. Nor has anyone been able to create one in a laboratory
or even on paper. The hypothetical weak “primeval soup” was not like soups
experienced by humans but was highly diluted, likely close to pure water.
The process is described as life having originated
spontaneously from organic compounds in the oceans of the primitive Earth.
The proposal assumes that primitive oceans contained large quantities of
simple organic compounds that reacted to form structures of greater and
greater complexity, until there arose a structure that we would call living.
In other words, the first living organism developed by means of a series
of nonbiological steps, none of which would be highly improbably on the
basis of what is know today. This theory, [was] first set forth clearly
by A.I. Oparin (1938) ... (Newman, 1967, p. 662).
An astounding number of speculations, models, theories and controversies
still surround every aspect of the origin of life problem (Lahav 1999).
Although some early scientists proposed that “organic life ... is eternal,”
most realized it must have come “into existence at a certain period in
the past” (Haeckel, 1905, p. 339). It now is acknowledged that the first
living organism could not have arisen directly from inorganic matter (water,
carbon dioxide, and other inorganic nutrients) even as a result of some
extraordinary event. Before the explosive growth of our knowledge of the
cell during the last 30 years, it was known that “the simplest bacteria
are extremely complex, and the chances of their arising directly from inorganic
materials, with no steps in between, are too remote to consider seriously.”
(Newman, 1967, p. 662). Most major discoveries about cell biology and molecular
biology have been made since then.
Search for the Evidence of Earliest Life
Theories abound, but no direct evidence for the beginning of the theoretical
evolutionary climb of life up what Richard Dawkins and many evolutionists
call “mount improbable” ever has been discovered (Dawkins, 1996). Nor have
researchers been able to develop a plausible theory to explain how life
could evolve from non-life. Many equally implausible theories now exist,
most of which are based primarily on speculation. The ancients believed
life originated by spontaneous generation from inanimate matter or once
living but now dead matter. Aristotle even believed that under the proper
conditions putatively “simple” animals such as worms, fleas, mice, and
dogs could spring to life spontaneously from moist ”Mother Earth."
The spontaneous generation of life theory eventually was proved false by
hundreds of research studies such as the 1668 experiment by Italian physician
Francesco Redi (16261697). In one of the first controlled biological experiments,
Redi proved that maggots appeared in meat only after flies had deposited
their eggs on it (Jenkens- Jones, 1997). Maggots do not spontaneously generate
on their own as previously believed by less rigorous experimenters.
Despite Redi’s evidence, however, the belief in spontaneous generation
of life was so strong in the 1600s that even Redi continued to believe
that spontaneous generation could occur in certain instances. After the
microscope proved the existence of bacteria in l683, many scientists concluded
that these “simple” microscopic organisms must have “spontaneously generated,”
thereby providing evolution with its beginning. Pasteur and other researchers,
though, soon disproved this idea, and the fields of microbiology and biochemistry
have since documented quite eloquently the enormous complexity of these
compact living creatures (Black, 1998).
Nearly all biologists were convinced by the latter half of the nineteenth
century that spontaneous generation of all types of living organisms was
impossible (Bergman, 1993a). Now that naturalism dominates science, Darwinists
reason that at least one spontaneous generation of life event must have
occurred in the distant past because no other naturalistic origin-of-life
method exists aside from panspermia, which only moves the spontaneous generation
of life event elsewhere (Bergman, 1993b). As theism was filtered out of
science, spontaneous generation gradually was resurrected in spite of its
previous defeat. The solution was to add a large amount of time to the
Aristotle believed that decaying material could be transformed by the “spontaneous
action of Nature” into living animals. His hypothesis was ultimately rejected,
but, in a way, he might not have been completely wrong. Aristotle’s hypothesis
has been replaced by another spontaneous generation hypothesis, one that
requires billions of years to go from the molecules of the universe to
cells, and then, via random mutation/natural selection, from cells to the
variety of organisms living today. This version, which postulates chance
happenings eventually leading to the phenomenon of life, is biology’s Theory
of Evolution (Wynn and Wiggins, 1997, p. 105, emphasis mine).
Although this view now is widely accepted among evolutionists, no one has
been able to locate convincing fossil (or other) evidence to support it.
The plausibility of abiogenesis has changed greatly in recent years due
to research in molecular biology that has revealed exactly how complex
life is, and how much evidence exists against the probability of spontaneous
generation. In the 1870s and 1880s scientists believed that devising a
plausible explanation for the origin of life
would be fairly easy. For one thing, they assumed that life was essentially
a rather simple substance called protoplasm that could be easily constructed
by combining and recombining simple chemicals such as carbon dioxide, oxygen,
and nitrogen (Meyer, 1996, p. 25).
The German evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel (1925) even referred to
monera cells as simple homogeneous globules of plasm. Haeckel believed
that a living cell about as complex as a bowl of Jell-o ® could exist, and
his origin of life theory reflected this completely erroneous view. He
even concluded that cell “autogony” (the term he used to describe living
things’ ability to reproduce) was similar to the process of inorganic crystallization.
In his words:
The most ancient organisms which arose by spontaneous generationthe original
parents of all subsequent organismsmust necessarily be supposed to have
been Monerasimple, soft, albuminous lumps of plasma, without structure,
without any definite form, and entirely without any hard and formed parts.
About the same time T. H. Huxley proposed a simple two-step method of chemical
recombination that he thought could explain the origin of the first living
cell. Both Haeckel and Huxley thought that just as salt could be produced
spontaneously by mixing powered sodium metal and heated chlorine gas, a
living cell could be produced by mixing the few chemicals they believed
were required. Haeckel taught that the basis of life is a substance called
“plasm,” and this plasm constitutes
the material foundations of the phenomena of life ... All the other materials
that we find in the living organism are products or derivatives of the
active plasm: In view of the extraordinary significance which we must assign
to the plasmas the universal vehicle of all the vital phenomena [or as
Huxley said “the physical basis of life”]it is very important to understand
clearly all its properties, especially the chemical ones ... In every case
where we have with great difficulty succeeded in examining the plasm as
far as possible and separating it from the plasma-products, it has the
appearance of a colorless, viscous substance, the chief physical property
of which is its peculiar thickness and consistency ... Active living protoplasm
... is best compared to a cold jelly or solution of glue (1905 pp. 121,123).
Once the brew was mixed, eons of time allowed spontaneous chemical reactions
to produce the simple “protoplasmic substance” that scientists once assumed
to be the essence of life (Meyer, 1996, p. 25). As late as 1928, the germ
cell still was thought to be relatively simple and
...no one now questions that individual development everywhere consists
of progress from a relatively simple to a relatively complex form. Development
is not the unfolding of an infolded organism; it is the formation of new
structures and functions by combinations and transformations of the relatively
simple structures and functions of the germ cells (Conklin, 1928, pp. 6364).
Cytologists now realize that a living cell contains hundreds of thousands
of different complex parts such as various motor proteins that are assembled
to produce the most complex “machine” in the Universea machine far more
complex than the most complex Cray super computer. We now also realize
after a century of research that the eukaryote protozoa thought to be as
simple as a bowl of gelatin in Darwin’s day actually are enormously more
complex than the prokaryote cell. Furthermore, molecular biology has demonstrated
that the basic design of the cell is
essentially the same in all living systems on earth from bacteria to mammals...
In terms of their basic biochemical design... no living system can be thought
of as being primitive or ancestral with respect to any other system, nor
is there the slightest empirical hint of an evolutionary sequence among
all the incredibly diverse cells on earth (Denton, 1986, p. 250).
This is a major problem for Darwinism because life at the cellular level
generally does not reveal a gradual increase in complexity as it ascends
the evolutionary ladder from protozoa to humans. The reason that all cells
are basically alike is because the basic biochemical requirements and constraints
for all life are the same:
A curious similarity underlies the seemingly varied forms of life we see
on the earth today: the most central molecular machinery of modern organisms
has always been found to be essentially the same. This unity of biochemistry
has surely been one of the great discoveries of the past 100 years (Cairns-Smith,
1985, p. 90).
The most critical gap that must be explained is that between life and non-life
Cells and organisms are very complex... [and] there is a surprising uniformity
among living things. We know from DNA sequence analyses that plants and
higher animals are closely related, not only to each other, but to relatively
simple single-celled organisms such as yeasts. Cells are so similar in
their structure and function that many of their proteins can be interchanged
from one organism to another. For example, yeast cells share with human
cells many of the central molecules that regulate their cell cycle, and
several of the human proteins will substitute in the yeast cell for their
yeast equivalents! (Alberts, 1992, p. xii).
The belief that spontaneous regeneration, while admittedly very rare, is
still attractive as illustrated by Sagan and Leonard’s conclusion, “Most
scientists agree that life will appear spontaneously in any place where
conditions remain sufficiently favorable for a very long time” (1972, p.
9). This claim then is followed by an admission from Sagan and Leonard
that raises doubts not only about abiogenesis, but about Darwinism generally,
namely, “this conviction [about the origin of life] is based on inferences
and extrapolations.” The many problems, inferences, and extrapolations
needed to create abiogenesis just-so stories once were candidly admitted
An origin of life, anywhere, consists of the chance arising of a self-replicating
entity. Nowadays, the replicator that matters on Earth is the DNA molecule,
but the original replicator probably was not DNA. We don’t know what it
was. Unlike DNA, the original replicating molecules cannot have relied
upon complicated machinery to duplicate them. Although, in some sense,
they must have been equivalent to “Duplicate me” instructions, the “language”
in which the instructions were written was not a highly formalized language
such that only a complicated machine could obey them. The original replicator
cannot have needed elaborate decoding, as DNA instructions... do today.
Self-duplication was an inherent property of the entity’s structure just
as, say, hardness is an inherent property of a diamond... the original
replicators, unlike their later successors the DNA molecules, did not have
complicated decoding and instruction-obeying machinery, because complicated
machinery is the kind of thing that arises in the world only after many
generations of evolution. And evolution does not get started until there
are replicators. In the teeth of the so-called “Catch-22 of the origin
of life”... the original self-duplicating entities must have been simple
enough to arise by the spontaneous accidents of chemistry (1996, p. 285).
The method used in constructing these hypothetical replicators is not stated,
nor has it ever been demonstrated to exist either in the laboratory or
on paper. The difficulties of terrestrial abiogenesis are so great that
some evolutionists have hypothesized that life could not have originated
on earth but must have been transported here from another planet via star
dust, meteors, comets, or spaceships (Bergman, 1993b)! As noted above,
panspermia does not solve the origin of life problem though, but instead
moves the abiogenesis problem elsewhere. Furthermore, since so far as we
know no living organism can survive very long in space because of cosmic
rays and other radiation, “this theory is ... highly dubious, although
it has not been disproved; also, it does not answer the question of where
or how life did originate” (Newman, 1967, p. 662).
Darwin evidentially recognized how serious the abiogenesis problem was
for his theory, and once even conceded that all existing terrestrial life
must have descended from some primitive life form that was called into
life “by the Creator” (1900, p. 316). But to admit, as Darwin did, the
possibility of one or a few creations is to open the door to the possibility
of many or even thousands! If God made one animal type, He also could have
made two or many thousands of different types. No contemporary hypothesis
today has provided a viable explanation as to how the abiogenesis origin
of life could occur by naturalistic means. The problems are so serious
that the majority of evolutionists today tend to shun the whole subject
History of Modern Abiogenesis Research
The “warm soup” theory, still the most widely held theory of abiogenesis
among evolutionists, was developed most extensively by Russian scientist
A.I. Oparin in the 1920s. The theory held that life evolved when organic
molecules rained into the primitive oceans from an atmospheric soup of
chemicals interacting with solar energy. Later Haldane (1928), Bernal (1947)
and Urey (1952) published their research to try to support this model,
all with little success. Then came what some felt was a breakthrough by
Harold Urey and his graduate student Stanley Miller in the early 1950s.
The most famous origin of life experiment was completed in 1953 by Stanley
Miller at the University of Chicago. At the time Miller was a 23-year-old
graduate student working under Urey who was trying to recreate in his laboratory
the conditions then thought to have preceded the origin of life. The Miller/Urey
experiments involved filling a sealed glass apparatus with methane, ammonia,
hydrogen gases (representing what they thought composed the early atmosphere)
and water vapor (to simulate the ocean). Next, they used a spark-discharge
device to strike the gases in the flask with simulated lightning while
a heating coil kept the water boiling. Within a few days, the water and
gas mix produced a reddish stain on the sides of the flask. After analyzing
the substances that had been formed, they found several types of amino
acids. Eventually Miller and other scientists were able to produce 10 of
the 20 amino acids required for life by techniques similar to the original
Miller/ Urey experiments.
Urey and Miller assumed that the results were significant because some
of the organic compounds produced were the building blocks of proteins,
the basic structure of all life (Horgan, 1996, p. 130). Although widely
heralded by the press as “proving” the origin of life could have occurred
on the early earth under natural conditions without intelligence, the experiment
actually provided compelling evidence for exactly the opposite conclusion.
For example, equal quantities of both right- and left-handed organic molecules
always were produced by the Urey/Miller procedure. In real life, nearly
all amino acids found in proteins are left handed, almost all polymers
of carbohydrates are right handed, and the opposite type can be toxic to
the cell. In a summary the famous Urey/Miller origin-of-life experiment,
Miller’s results seem to provide stunning evidence that life could arise
from what the British chemist J.B.S. Haldane had called the “primordial
soup.” Pundits speculated that scientists, like Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein,
would shortly conjure up living organisms in their laboratories and thereby
demonstrate in detail how genesis unfolded. It hasn’t worked out that way.
In fact, almost 40 years after his original experiment, Miller told me
that solving the riddle of the origin of life had turned out to be more
difficult than he or anyone else had envisioned (1996, p. 138).
The reasons why creating life in a test tube turned out to be far more
difficult than Miller or anyone else expected are numerous and include
the fact that scientists now know that the complexity of life is far greater
than Miller or anyone else in pre-DNA revolution 1953 ever imagined. Actually
life is far more complex and contains far more information than anyone
in the 1980s believed possible. In an interview with Miller, now considered
one of “the most diligent and respected origin-of-life researchers,” Horgan
reported that after Miller completed his 1953 experiment, he
...dedicated himself to the search for the secret of life. He developed
a reputation as both a rigorous experimentalist and a bit of a curmudgeon,
someone who is quick to criticize what he feels is shoddy work....he fretted
that his field still had a reputation as a fringe discipline, not worthy
of serious pursuit.... Miller seemed unimpressed with any of the current
proposals on the origin of life, referring to them as “nonsense” or “paper
chemistry.” He was so contemptuous of some hypotheses that, when I asked
his opinion of them, he merely shook his head, sighed deeply, and snickeredas
if overcome by the folly of humanity. Stuart Kauffman’s theory of autocatalysis
fell into this category. “Running equations through a computer does not
constitute an experiment,” Miller sniffed. Miller acknowledged that scientists
may never know precisely where and when life emerged. “We’re trying to
discuss a historical event, which is very different from the usual kind
of science, and so criteria and methods are very different,” he remarked...
(Horgan, 1996, p. 139).
The major problem of Millers experiment is well put by Davies,
Making the building blocks of life is easyamino acids have been found
in meteorites and even in outer space. But just as bricks alone don’t make
a house, so it takes more than a random collection of amino acids to make
life. Like house bricks, the building blocks of life have to be assembled
in a very specific and exceedingly elaborate way before they have the desired
function (Davies, 1999, p. 28).
We now realize that the Urey/Miller experiments did not produce evidence
for abiogenesis because, although amino acids are the building blocks of
life, the key to life is information (Pigliucci, 1999; Dembski, 1998).
Natural objects in forms resembling the English alphabet (circles, straight
lines and similar) abound in nature, but this does not help us to understand
the origin of information (such as that in Shakespear’s plays) because
this task requires intelligence both to create the information (the play)
and then to translate that information into symbols. What must be explained
is the source of the information in the text (the words and ideas), not
the existence of circles and straight lines. Likewise, the information
contained in the genome must be explained (Dembski, 1998). Complicating
the situation is the fact that
research has since drawn Miller’s hypothetical atmosphere into question,
causing many scientists to doubt the relevance of his findings. Recently,
scientists have focused on an even more exotic amino acid source: meteorites.
Chyba is one of several researchers who have evidence that extraterrestrial
amino acids may have hitched a ride to Earth on far flung space rocks (Simpson,
1999, p. 26).
Yet another difficulty is, even if the source of the amino acids and the
many other compounds needed for life could be explained, it still must
be explained as to how these many diverse elements became aggregated in
the same area and then properly assembled themselves. This problem is a
major stumbling block to any theory of abiogenesis:
...no one has ever satisfactorily explained how the widely distributed
ingredients linked up into proteins. Presumed conditions of primordial
Earth would have driven the amino acids toward lonely isolation. That’s
one of the strongest reasons that Wächtershäuser, Morowitz, and other hydrothermal
vent theorists want to move the kitchen [that cooked life] to the ocean
floor. If the process starts down deep at discrete vents, they say, it
can build amino acidsand link them upright there (Simpson, 1999, p. 26).
Several recent discoveries have led some scientists to conclude that life
may have arisen in submarine vents whose temperatures approach 350° C.
Unfortunately for both warm pond and hydrothermal vent theorists, heat
may be the downfall of their theory.
Heat and Biochemical Degradation Problems
Charles Darwin’s hypothesis that life first originated on earth in a warm
little pond somewhere on a primitive earth has been used widely by most
nontheists for over a century in attempts to explain the origin of life.
Several reasons exist for favoring a warm environment for the start of
life on earth. A major reason is that the putative oldest known organisms
on earth are alleged to be hyperthermophiles that require temperatures
between 80° and 110° C in order to thrive (Levy and Miller, 1998). In addition
some atmospheric models have concluded that the surface temperature of
the early earth was much higher than it is today.
A major drawback of the “warm little pond” origin- of-life theory is its
apparent ability to produce sufficient concentrations of the many complex
compounds required to construct the first living organisms. These compounds
must be sufficiently stable to insure that the balance between synthesis
and degradation favors synthesis (Levy and Miller, 1998). The warm pond
and hot vent theories also have been seriously disputed by experimental
research that has found the half-lives of many critically important compounds
needed for life to be far “too short to allow for the adequate accumulation
of these compounds” (Levy and Miller, 1998, p. 7933). Furthermore, research
has documented that “unless the origin of life took place extremely rapidly
(in less than 100 years), we conclude that a high temperature origin of
life... cannot involve adenine, uracil, guanine or cytosine” because these
compounds break down far too fast in a warm environment. In a hydrothermal
environment, most of these compounds could neither form in the first place,
nor exist for a significant amount of time (Levy and Miller, p. 7933).
As Levy and Miller explain, “the rapid rates of hydrolysis of the nucleotide
bases A,U,G and T at temperatures much above 0° Celsius would present a
major problem in the accumulation of these presumed essential components
on the early earth” (p. 7933). For this reason, Levy and Miller postulated
that either a two-letter code or an alternative base pair was used instead.
This requires the development of an entirely different kind of life, a
conclusion that is not only highly speculative, but likely impossible because
no other known compounds have the required properties for life that adenine,
uracil, guanine and cytosine possess. Furthermore, this would require life
to evolve based on a hypothetical two-letter code or alternative base pair
system. Then life would have to re-evolve into a radically new form based
on the present code, a change that appears to be impossible according to
our current understanding of molecular biology.
Furthermore, the authors found that, given the minimal time perceived to
be necessary for evolution to occur, cytosine is unstable even at temperatures
as cold as 0º C. Without cytosine neither DNA or RNA can exist. One of
the main problems with Miller’s theory is that his experimental methodology
has not been able to produce much more than a few amino acids which actually
lend little or no insight into possible mechanisms of abiogenesis.
Even the simpler molecules are produced only in small amounts in realistic
experiments simulating possible primitive earth conditions. What is worse,
these molecules are generally minor constituents of tars: It remains problematical
how they could have been separated and purified through geochemical processes
whose normal effects are to make organic mixtures more and more of a jumble.
With somewhat more complex molecules these difficulties rapidly increase.
In particular a purely geochemical origin of nucleotides (the subunits
of DNA and RNA) presents great difficulties. In any case, nucleotides have
not yet been produced in realistic experiments of the kind Miller did.
(Cairns-Smith, 1985, p. 90).
Postulating alternative codes for an origin-of-life event at temperatures
close to the freezing point of water is a rationalization designed to overcome
what appears to be a set of insurmountable problems for the abiogenesis
theory. Given these problems, why do so many biologists believe that life
on earth originated by spontaneous generation under favorable conditions?
Yockey concludes that although Miller’s paradigm was at one time
worth consideration, now the entire effort in the primeval soup paradigm
is self-deception based on the ideology of its champions... The history
of science shows that a paradigm, once it has achieved the status of acceptance
(and is incorporated in textbooks) and regardless of its failures, is declared
invalid only when a new paradigm is available to replace it ... It is a
characteristic of the true believer in religion, philosophy and ideology
that he must have a set of beliefs, come what may... There is no reason
that this should be different in the research on the origin of life ...Belief
in a primeval soup on the grounds that no other paradigm is available is
an example of the logical fallacy of the false alternative... (Yockey,
1992, p. 336 emphasis in original).
The many problems with the warm soup model have motivated the development
of many other abiogenesis models. One is the cold temperature model that
is gaining in acceptance as the flaws of the hot model become more obvious.
As Vogel notes, many researchers still
argue that the first cells arose in the scalding waters of hot springs
or geothermal vents, while a small but prominent band of holdouts insists
on cool pools or even cold oceans. With no fossils to go by, the argument
has circled a variety of indirect clues ... But now ... comes good news
from the cold camp: Evidence from the genes of living organisms suggests
that the cell that gave rise to all of today’s life-forms was ill-suited
for extremely hot conditions (Vogel, 1999, p. 155).
Based on a geochemical assessment, Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen (1984 p.
66) concluded that in the atmosphere the “many destructive interactions
would have so vastly diminished, if not altogether consumed, essential
precursor chemicals, that chemical evolution rates would have been negligible”
in the various water basins on the primitive earth. They concluded that
the “soup” would have been far too diluted for direct polymerization to
occur. Even local ponds where some concentrating of soup ingredients may
have occurred would have met with the same problem.
Furthermore, no geological evidence indicates an organic soup, even a small
organic pond, ever existed on this planet. It is becoming clear that however
life began on earth, the usually conceived notion that life emerged from
an oceanic soup of organic chemicals is a most implausible hypothesis.
We may therefore with fairness call this scenario “the myth of the prebiotic
soup” (Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen, 1984, p. 66).
It also is theorized that life must have begun in clay because the “clay-life”
explanation explains several problems not explained by the “primordial
soup” theory. Graham Cairns-Smith of the University of Scotland first proposed
the clay-life theory about 40 years ago, and many scientists have since
come to believe that life on earth must have began from clay rather than
in the the warm little pond as proposed by Darwin. The clay-life theory
holds that an accumulation of chemicals produced in clay by the sun eventually
led to the hypothetical self-replicating molecules that evolved into cells
and then eventually into all life forms on earth today.
The theory argues that only clay has the two essential properties necessary
for life: the capacity to both store and transfer energy. Furthermore,
because some clay components have the ability to act as catalysts, clay
is capable of some of the same lifelike attributes as those exhibited by
enzymes. Additionally the mineral structure of certain clays are almost
as intricate as some organic molecules. However, the clay theory suffered
from its own set of problems, and as a result has been discarded by most
theorists. At the very least, the Stanley Miller experiments proved that
amino acids can be formed under certain conditions. The clay theory has
yet to achieve even this much. As a result, Miller’s experiments continue
to be cited because no other viable source exists for the production of
amino acids. Now, the hot thermal vent theory is being discussed once again
by many as an alternative although, as noted above, it too suffers from
potentially lethal problems.
What is Needed to Produce Life
Naturalism requires enormously long periods of time to allow non-living
matter to evolve into the hypothetical speck of viable protoplasm needed
to start the process that results in life. Even more time is needed to
evolve the protoplasm into the enormous variety of highly organized complex
life forms that have been found in Cambrian rocks. Neo-Darwinism suggests
that life originated over 3.5 billion years ago, yet a rich fossil record
for less than roughly 600 million years commonly is claimed. Consequently,
almost all the record is missing, and evidence for the most critical two
billion years of evolution is sparse at best with what little actually
exists being highly equivocal.
A major issue then, in abiogenesis is “what is the minimum number of possible
parts that allows something to live?” The number of parts needed is large,
but how large is difficult to determine. In order to be considered “alive,”
an organism must possess the ability to metabolize and assimilate food,
to respirate, to grow, to reproduce and to respond to stimuli (a trait
known as irritability). These criteria were developed by biologists who
were trying to understand the process we call life. Although these criteria
are not perfect, they are useful in spite of cases that seem to contradict
our definition. A mule, for instance, cannot usually reproduce but clearly
is alive, and a crystal can “reproduce” but clearly is not alive. One attempt
by an evolutionist to determine what is needed in order to self-replicate
produced the following conclusions:
If we ditch the selfish-replicator illusion, and accept that the only known
biological entity capable of autonomous replication is the cell (full of
cooperating genes and proteins, etc.)... DNA replication is so error-prone
that it needs the prior existence of protein enzymes to improve the copying
fidelity of a gene-size piece of DNA. “Catch-22,” say Maynard Smith and
Szathmary. So, wheel on RNA with its now recognized properties of carrying
both informational and enzymatic activity, leading the authors to state:
“In essence, the first RNA molecules did not need a protein polymerase
to replicate them; they replicated themselves.” Is this a fact or a hope?
I would have thought it relevant to point out for ‘biologists in general’
that not one self-replicating RNA has emerged to date from quadrillions
(1024) of artificially synthesized, random RNA sequences (Dover, 1999,
The cell, then appears to be the only biological entity that self-reproduces
and simultaneously possesses the other traits required for life. The question
then becomes “What is the simplest cell that can exist?”
Many bacteria and all viruses possess less complexity than required for
an organism normally defined as “living,” and for this reason must live
as parasites which require the existence of complex cells in order to reproduce.
For this reason Trefil noted that the question of where viruses come from
is an “enduring mystery” in evolution. Viruses usually are much smaller
than parasitic bacteria and are not considered alive because they must
rely on their host even more than bacteria do. Viruses consist primarily
of a coat of proteins surrounding DNA or RNA that contains a handful of
genes, and since they do not
... reproduce in the normal way, it’s hard to see how they could have gotten
started. One theory: they are parasites who, over a long period of time,
have lost the ability to reproduce independently... Viruses are among the
smallest of “living” things. A typical virus, like the one that causes
ordinary influenza, may be no more than a thousand atoms across. This is
in comparison with cells which may be hundreds or even thousands of times
that size. Its small size is one reason that it is so easy for a virus
to spread from one host to anotherit’s hard to filter out anything that
small (Trefil, 1992, p. 91).
In order to reproduce, a virus’s genes must invade a living cell and take
control of its much larger DNA. A bacterium is 400 times greater in size
than the smallest known virus, while a typical human cell averages 200
times larger than the smallest known bacterium. The QB virus is only 24
nanometers long, contains only 3 genes and is almost 20 times smaller than
Escherichia coli, billions of which inhabit the human intestines. E. coli
is 1,000 nanometers long compared to a typical human cell that is about
10,000 nanometers long (1 nanometer equals 1 billionth of a meter, or about
1/25-millionths of an inch) and contains an estimated 100,000 genes. Researchers
have detected microbes in human and bovine blood that are only 2-millionths
of an inch in diameter, but these organisms cannot live on their own because
they need more than simple inorganic, or common inorganic molecules to
Since parasites lack many of the genes (and other biological machinery)
required to survive on their own, in order to grow and reproduce they must
obtain the nutrients and other services they require from the organisms
that serve as their hosts. Independent free-living creatures such as people,
mice and roses are far more complex than organisms like parasites and viruses
that are dependent on these complex free-living organisms. Abiogenesis
theory requires that the first life forms consisted of free-living autotrophs
(i.e. organisms that are able to manufacture their own food) since the
complex life forms needed to sustain heterotrophs (organisms that cannot
manufacture their own food) did not exist until later.
Most extremely small organisms existing today are dependent on other, more
complex organisms. Some organisms can overcome their lack of size and genes
by borrowing genes from their hosts or by gorging on a rich broth of organic
chemicals like blood. Some microbes live in colonies in which different
members provide different services. Unless one postulates the unlikely
scenario of the simultaneous spontaneous generation of many different organisms,
one has to demonstrate the evolution of an organism that can survive on
its own, or with others like itself, as a symbiont or cannibal. Consequently,
the putative first life forms must have been much more complex than most
examples of “simple” life known to exist today.
The simplest microorganisms, Chlamydia and Rickettsea, are the smallest
living things known, but also are both parasites and thus too simple to
be the first life. Only a few hundred atoms across, they are smaller than
the largest virus and have about half as much DNA as do other species of
bacteria. Although they are about as small as possible and still be living,
these two forms of life still possess the millions of atomic parts necessary
to carry out the biochemical functions required for life, yet they still
are too simple to live on their own and thus must use the cellular machinery
of a host in order to live (Trefil, 1992, p. 28). Many of the smaller bacteria
are not free living, but are parasite like viruses that can live only with
the help of more complex organisms (Galtier et al., 1999).
The gap between non-life and the simplest cell is illustrated by what is
believed to be the organism with the smallest known genome of any free
living organism Mycoplasma genitalium (Fraser et al., 1995). M. genitalium
is 200 nanometers long and contains only 482 genes or over 0.5 million
base pairs which compares to 4,253 genes for E. coli (about 4,720,000 nucleotide
base pairs), with each gene producing an enormously complex protein machine
(Fraser et al., 1995). M. genitalium also must live off other life because
they are too simple to live on their own. They invade reproductive tract
cells and live as parasites on organelles that are far larger and more
complicated but which must first exist for the survival of parasitic organisms
to be possible. The first life therefore must be much more complex than
M. genitalium even though it is estimated to manufacture about 600 different
proteins. A typical eukaryote cell consists of an estimated 40,000 different
protein molecules and is so complex that to acknowledge that the “cells
exist at all is a marvel... even the simplest of the living cells is far
more fascinating than any human- made object" (Alberts, 1992, pp. xii,
M. genitalium is one-fifth the size of E. coli but four times larger than
the putative nanobacteria. Blood nanobacteria are only 50 nanometers long
(which is smaller than some viruses), and possess a currently unknown number
of genes. When Finnish biologist Olavi Kajander discovered nanobacteria
in 1998, he called them a “bizarre new form of life.” Nanobacteria now
are speculated to resemble primitive life forms which presumably arose
in the postulated chemical soup that existed when earth was young. Kajander
concluded that nanobacteria may serve as a model for primordial life, and
that their modern-day primordial soup is blood. Actually, nanobacteria
cannot be the smallest form of life because they evidently are parasites
and primordial life must be able to live independently. Like viruses they
are not considered alive but are of intense medical interest because they
may be one cause of kidney stones (Kajander and Ciftcioglu, 1998). Other
researchers think these bacteria are only a degenerate form of larger bacteria.
For these reasons, when researching the minimum requirements needed to
live the example of E. coli is more realistic. Most bacteria require several
thousand genes to carry out the minimum functions necessary for life. Denton
notes that even though the tiniest bacterial cells are incredibly small,
weighing under 1012 grams, each bacterium is a
veritable micro-miniaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely
designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of
one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machine
built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world (Denton,
1986, p. 250).
The simplest form of life requires millions of parts at the atomic level,
and the higher life forms require trillions. Furthermore, the many macromolecules
necessary for life are constructed of even smaller parts called elements.
That life requires a certain minimum number of parts is well documented;
the only debate now is how many millions of functionally integrated parts
are necessary. The minimum number may not produce an organism that can
survive long enough to effectively reproduce. Schopf notes that simple
life without complex repair systems to fix damaged genes and their protein
products stand little chance of surviving. When a mutation occurs
cells like those of humans with two copies of each gene can often get by
with one healthy version. But a mutation can be deadly if it occurs in
an organism with only a single copy of its genes, like many primitive forms
of life.... (Schopf, 1999, p. 102)
Therefore, the answer to our original question, “What is the smallest form
of nonparasitic life?” probably is an organism close to size and complexity
of E. Coli, possibly even larger. No answer is currently possible because
we have much to learn about what is required for life. As researchers discover
new exotic “life” forms thriving in rocks, ice, acid, boiling water and
other extreme environments, they are finding the biological world to be
much more complex than assumed merely a decade ago. The oceans now are
known to be teeming with microscopic cells which form the base of the food
chain on which fish and other larger animals depend. It now is estimated
that small, free-living aquatic bacteria make up about one-half of the
entire biomass of the oceans (MacAyeal, 1995).
Many highly complex animals appear very early in the fossil record and
many “simple” animals thrive today. The earliest fossils known, which are
believed to be those of cyanobacteria, are quite similar structurally and
biochemically to bacteria living today. Yet it is claimed they thrived
almost as soon as earth formed (Schopf, 1993; Galtier et al., 1999). Estimated
at 3.5 billion years old, these earliest known forms of life are incredibly
complex. Furthermore, remarkably diverse types of animals existed very
early in earth history and no less than eleven different species have been
found so far. A concern Corliss raises is “why after such rapid diversification
did these microorganisms remain essentially unchanged for the next 3.465
billion years? Such stasis, common in biology, is puzzling” (1993, p. 2).
E. coli, as far as we can tell, is the same today as in the fossil record.
As Coppedge (1973) notes, even 1) postulating a primordial sea with every
single component necessary for life, 2) speeding up the bonding rate so
as to form different chemical combinations a trillion times more rapidly
than hypothesized to have occurred, 3) allowing for a 4.6 billion- year-old
earth and 4) using all atoms on the earth still leaves the probability
of a single protein molecule being arranged by chance is 1 in 10,261. Using
the lowest estimate made before the discoveries of the past two decades
raised the number several fold. Coppedge estimates the probability of 1
in 10119,879 is necessary to obtain the minimum set of the required estimate
of 239 protein molecules for the smallest theoretical life form.
At this rate he estimates it would require 10119,831 years on the average
to obtain a set of these proteins by naturalistic evolution (1973, pp.
110, 114). The number he obtained is 10119,831 greater than the current
estimate for the age of the earth (4.6 billion years). In other words,
this event is outside the range of probability. Natural selection cannot
occur until an organism exists and is able to reproduce which requires
that the first complex life form first exist as a functioning unit.
In spite of the overwhelming empirical and probabilistic evidence that
life could not originate by natural processes, evolutionists possess an
unwavering belief that some day they will have an answer to how life could
spontaneously generate. Nobel laureate Christian de Duve (1995) argues
that life is the product of law-driven chemical steps, each one of which
must have been highly probable in the right circumstances. This reliance
upon an unknown “law” favoring life has been postulated to replace the
view that life’s origin was a freakish accident unlikely to occur anywhere,
is now popular. Chance is now out of favor in part because it has become
clear that even the simplest conceivable life form (still much simpler
than any actual organism) would have to be so complex that accidental self-assembly
would be nothing short of miraculous even in two billion years (Spetner,
1997). Furthermore, natural selection cannot operate until biological reproducing
units exist. This hoped for “law,” though, has no basis in fact nor does
it even have a theoretical basis. It is a nebulous concept which results
from a determination to continue the quest for a naturalistic explanation
of life. In the words of Horgan:
One day, he [Stanley Miller] vowed, scientists would discover the self-replicating
molecule that had triggered the great saga of evolution....[and] the discovery
of the first genetic material [will] legitimize Millers’s field. “It would
take off like a rocket,” Miller muttered through clenched teeth. Would
such a discovery be immediately self-apparent? Miller nodded. “It will
be in the nature of something that will make you say, ‘Jesus, there it
is. How could you have overlooked this for so long?’ And everybody will
be totally convinced” (Horgan, 1996, p. 139).
The atheistic world view requires abiogenesis; therefore scientists must
try to deal with the probability arguments. The most common approach is
similar to the attempt by Stenger, who does not refute the argument but
tries to explain it by way analogy:
For example, every human being on Earth is the product of a highly elaborate
combination of genes that would be a very unlikely outcome of a random
toss. Think of what an unlikely being you arethe result of so many chance
encounters between your male and female ancestors. What if your great great
great grandmother had not survived that childhood illness? What if your
grandfather had been killed by a stray bullet in a war, before he met your
grandmother? Despite all those contingencies, you still exist. And if you
ask, after the fact, what is the probability for your particular set of
genes existing, the answer is one hundred percent. Certainty! (1998, p.
The major problem with this argument, as shown by Dembski, is that it is
a gross misuse of statistics, one of the most important tools science has
ever developed. Although change is involved, intelligence is critically
important even in the events Stenger describes. The fallacy of his reasoning
can be illustrated by comparing it to a court case using DNA. Stenger’s
analogy cannot negate the finding that the likelihood is 1 in 100 million
that a blood sample found on the victim at the crime is the suspect’s.
For this reason, it is highly probable that the accused was at the crime
scene; the fact that his blood was mixed with the victim’s, will no doubt
be accepted by the court and an attempt to destroy this conclusion by use
of an analogy such as Stenger’s will likely be rejected.
It appears that the field of molecular biology will falsify Darwinism.
An estimated 100,000 different proteins are used to construct humans alone.
Furthermore, one million species are known, and as many as 10 million may
exist. Although many proteins are used in most life forms, as many as 100
million or more protein variations may exist in all plant and animal life.
According to Asimov:
Now, almost each of all the thousands of reactions in the body is catalyzed
by a specific enzyme ... a different one in each case ... and every enzyme
is a protein, a different protein. The human body is not alone in having
thousands of different enzymesso does every other species of creature.
Many of the reactions that take place in human cells also happen in the
cells of other creatures. Some of the reactions, indeed, are universal,
in that they take place in all cells of every type. This means that an
enzyme capable of catalyzing a particular reaction may be present in the
cells of wolves, octopi, moss, and bacteria, as well as in our own cells.
And yet each of these enzymes, capable though it is of catalyzing one particular
reaction, is characteristic of its own species. They may all be distinguished
from one another. It follows that every species of creature has thousands
of enzymes and that all those enzymes may be different. Since there are
over a million different species on earth, it may be possiblejudging from
the enzymes alonethat different proteins exist by the millions! (Asimov,
1962, pp. 2728).
Even using an unrealistically low estimate of 1,000 steps required to “evolve”
the average protein (if this were possible) implies that many trillions
of links were needed to evolve the proteins that once existed or that exist
today. And not one clear transitional protein that is morphologically and
chemically in between the ancient and modern form of the protein has been
convincingly demonstrated. The same problem exists with fats, nucleic acids,
carbohydrates and the other compounds that are produced by, and necessary
Scientists have yet to discover a single molecule that has “learned to
make copies of itself” (Simpson, 1999, p. 26). Many scientists seem to
be oblivious of this fact because
Articles appearing regularly in scientific journals claim to have generated
self-replicating peptides or RNA strands, but they fail to provide a natural
source for their compounds or an explanation for what fuels them... this
top-down approach... [is like] a caveman coming across a modern car and
trying to figure out how to make it. “It would be like taking the engine
out of the car, starting it up, and trying to see how that engine works”
(Simpson, 1999, p.26).
Some bacteria, specifically phototrophs and lithotrophs, contain all the
metabolic machinery necessary to construct most of their growth factors
(amino acids, vitamins, purines and pyrimidines) from raw materials (usually
O2, light, a carbon source, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and a dozen or
so trace minerals). They can live in an environment with few needs but
first must possess the complex functional metabolic machinery necessary
to produce the compounds needed to live from a few types of raw materials.
This requires more metabolic machinery in order to manufacture the many
needed organic compounds necessary for life. Evolution was much more plausible
when life was believed to be a relatively simple material similar to, in
Haeckel’s words, the “transparent viscous albumin that surrounds the yolk
in the hen’s egg” which evolved into all life today. Haeckel taught the
process occurred as follows:
By far the greater part of the plasm that comes under investigation as
active living matter in organisms is metaplasm, or secondary plasm, the
originally homogeneous substance of which has acquired definite structures
by phyletic differentiations in the course of millions of years (1905,
Abiogenesis is only one area of research which illustrates that the naturalistic
origin of life hypothesis has become less and less probable as molecular
biology has progressed, and is now at the point that its plausibility appears
outside the realm of probability. Numerous origin-of-life researchers,
have lamented the fact that molecular biology during the past half-a-century
has not been very kind to any naturalistic origin-of-life theory. Perhaps
this explains why researchers now are speculating that other events such
as panspermia or an undiscovered “life law” are more probable than all
existing terrestrial abiogenesis theories, and can better deal with the
many seemingly insurmountable problems of abiogenesis.
Acknowledgements: I want to thank Bert Thompson, Ph.D., Wayne Frair, Ph.D.,
and John Woodmorappe, M.A., for their comments on an earlier draft of this
Jerry Bergman has seven degrees, including
in biology, psychology, and evaluation and research, from Wayne State
University, in Detroit, Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and Medical
College of Ohio in Toledo. He has taught at Bowling Green State University,
the University of Toledo, Medical College of Ohio and at other colleges and
universities. He currently teaches biology, microbiology, biochemistry, and
human anatomy at the college level and is a research associate involved in
research in the area of cancer genetics. He has published widely in both
popular and scientific journals. [RETURN TO TOP]
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