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Abiogenesis: The Origin of Life

Charles Darwin "It is mere rubbish to talk about the origin of life; one might as well talk about the origin of matter."
The origin of life is a key point of distinction between and between the Creationist and Darwinist schools of thought. Creationists believe that God created all forms of life on earth (including humans), endowing non-living matter with life through a deliberate, supernatural act. In constast, naturalists typically believe that life descended from a single self-replicating protocell which in turn came into existence through spontaneous chemical reactions. This atheistic theory for the origin of life is commonly known as abiogenesis (Greek a "without", bios "life", and genesis "beginning, origin").Both views require an extraordinary or miraculous event. To date, scientists have not observed abiogenesis happening in nature, nor have they been able to create a lifeform through controlled experiments. In fact, reaction conditions resembling the Earth's early conditions have even failed to produce the most basic polymers that all lifeforms possess (protein, DNA, RNA, etc.). It is now understood that the probability of even a single protein forming through purely natural processes exceeds what is acceptable based on the law of probability. It is also important to understand that and the origin of life in reliant upon chance alone, since natural selection could play no part until a self-replicating cell had been formed. Jonathan Sarfati states:
Also, when it comes to the origin of first life, natural selection cannot be invoked, because natural selection is differential reproduction. That is, if it worked at all, it could only work on a living organism that could produce offspring. By its very definition, it could not work on non-living chemicals. Therefore, chance alone must produce the precise sequences needed, so these simulations do not apply. .[1]
The probabilities of life forming through purely random processes is so remote that Darwinists are at a complete loss for an explanation. To avoid the issue they often insist that the origin of life and biological evolution are separate issues. However, theory of evolution must (and does) include a theory of the origin of life, much as stellar evolution also postulates a mechanism for the birth of stars. It therefore appears that intelligent design is more reasonable explanation for the existence of life than the evolutionary model. At present, each model still requires faith and currently falls outside of the realms of science since neither has been observed nor have they been proven by experimentation.


Critiques of naturalistic abiogenesis fall into several categories:
  • Arguments from impossibility: purporting to show that the nature of life itself precludes naturalistic abiogenesis
  • Arguments from improbability: purporting to show that the coincidences necessary to provide for spontaneous abiogenesis are so improbable as to be unreasonable and unscientific;
  • Arguments from inexplicability: purporting to show that there is currently no explanation or demonstration of naturalistic abiogenesis, and that belief in it is a matter of faith and speculation, rather than science.
Despite repeated attempts under every reproducible circumstance, atheistic scientists have been unable to reproduce a reasonable method for the origin of life without a creator, nor do they have a clear understanding of the chemistry involved. Many evolutionists have now chosen to remain agnostic on the actual origin of life, and will frequently try to dodge the issue by claiming that abiogenesis is not part of the theory of evolution.Lee Strobel in his book, A Case for Faith quotes William Bradley:
The optimism of the 1950's is gone. The mood at the 1999 International Conference on Origin of Life was described as grim-full of frustration, pessimism and desperation.
In contrast, creationists have issued several probabilistic studies indicating the difficulty of any such phenomenon. Although some contend that these studies do not accurately portray the modelling involved, it is clear that no credible explanation for abiogenesis has been demonstrated by evolutionary biologists.The Nobel laureate Dr. Francis H. Crick, in his 1981 book, Life Itself insists that the probability of life's chance at origin simply defies calculation. Crick, an atheist, had this to say:
What is so frustrating for our present purpose is that it seems almost impossible to give any numerical value to the probability of what seems a rather unlikely sequence of events... 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.

On this point creationists would find themselves in complete agreement.

Chemical evolution

Theories concerning molecular evolution generally assume molecules naturally coalesce in to macromolecules during times when both their concentration, and their atmospheric conditions favor such contact. In 1924, Alexander I. Oparin determined which chemicals must be in the earth's atmosphere for amino acids to form (e.g. methane, hydrogen, ammonia) and which chemicals would prohibit the formation of amino acids (e.g. Oxygen). In the 1950s, Stanley L. Miller performed the first experiment attempting to reproduce these conditions. Methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water were placed in a flask that was subject to an electrical discharge. After several days, the experiment yielded several organic compounds including amino acids. Other researchers repeated these experiments using different energy sources such as UV, and other presumed primitive atmospheres. When hydrogen cyanide was used, even nitrogenous bases were obtained, which are a component of the building blocks for DNA.
Diagram that depicts the experimental set-up of Urey-Miller. By passing electrical sparks through mixtures of hydrogen, methane, ammonia, and water vapor, scientists produced several amino acids, the building blocks of organic life.
Replication of the Urey-Miller experiment.
However, in all of these experiments that attempted to produce life's building blocks, molecular oxygen was absent. The earth possesses an oxygen rich atmosphere, and even the oldest rocks contain oxides, which is evidence that they were formed in the presence of oxygen. In fact, oxides have been found in rocks supposedly 300 million years older than the first living cells. Oxygen is produced by all photosynthetic organisms, and is required for metabolism by all life forms except a few microorganisms. A hydrogen-rich reducing atmosphere was used in these experiments only because amino acids and nitrogenous bases simply will not form spontaneously in an oxidizing environment.Interestingly, in his experiment of passing an electric spark through his simulated atmosphere, Miller saved the amino acids he produced only because he removed them from the area of the spark. Had he left them there, the spark would have decomposed them. Moreover, assuming the amino acids survived the destructive ultraviolet atmosphere of primitive earth and reached the ocean to form a theoretical "organic soup," further chemical reactions would not have been possible as bodies of water are not conducive to the necessary chemistry.Another problem arises in relation to the amino acids that were theorized to have generated by chance. Even the correct sequence of the right amino acids is still not enough for the formation of a functional protein molecule. Each of the 20 different types of amino acids present in the composition of proteins must be "left-handed." Yet, while some amino acids are "left-handed," others are "right-handed." Should they be formed at random in a "organic soup," it is most likely that they would occur in roughly equal proportions. The question of how a specifically required combination of "left-handed" amino acids could unite by chance, while excluding "right-handed" amino acids, constitutes an impasse for abiogenesis.Nevertheless, many evolutionists still believe that experiments like Miller's have shown that life could have begun by fortunate interactions in the early Earth.


Spontaneous generation

Spontaneous generation was the original theory that proposed life could originate from nonliving matter. It is now well known that the spontaneous generation of life in our present ecosystem is impossible. Louis Pasteur abolished the theory of spontaneous generation in 1859 because he believed that life was far too complex to have originated instantaneously from nonliving matter. He simultaneously established the theory of biogenesis (the origin of life from preexisting life). Within ten years of Pasteur's experiments Thomas Huxley had coined the term abiogenesis.
I shall call the... doctrine that living matter may be produced by not living matter, the hypothesis of abiogenesis. (Huxley, 1870)

Observations and experiments have proven conclusively that all recognized life forms are produced by preexisting organisms or life forms, called the
law of biogenesis. Despite the absence of substantiation for the theory, abiogenesis has become accepted by nearly all practicing scientists. The hypothesis of abiogenesis remains virtually unchanged since its inception in the 1920s, and assumes that life originated at some point in earth's past under conditions no longer present. This particular tenet of evolution can be summed-up by the phrase "abiogenesis at first, biogenesis ever since". It is taught today as a certainty, although the exact mechanisms remain theoretical. Discussions in evolutionary biology textbooks go to great lengths to demonstrate how abiogenesis could have occurred under multiple primordial scenarios.

Law of Biogenesis

The Law of biogenesis states that life can only come from life. This principle was demonstrated by Louis Pasteur. Note that this is in direct conflict with the hypothesis of abiogenesis, not only that life can be formed from non-living material, but that this can happen by random chance. The arguments usually given by some evolutionists fall under two types: 1.) The Law of biogenesis does not apply to early earth, 2.) The Law of biogenesis does not apply to less complex lifeforms, such has those supposedly formed in the primordial soup. 1)

The Law does not apply to early Earth

Law of biogenesisis a scientific law because it meets the criteria of being simple, true, universal and absolute. In order to meet these criteria, there has not been any known exception to the Law of biogenesis. A scientific law is defined as a principle taken to be universally applicable.[2] The only known exception to a law in terms of time is at the starting or ending of the universe, clearly evolutionists are not arguing that life formed at the same time the universe formed. There is no reason to think that time would affect the law of biogenesis, just as there is no reason to believe that the Law of Motion did not apply on early Earth.2)

The Law does not apply to less complex lifeforms

While it is true that some laws have had to be modified in order to account for known exceptions (this is true of Einstein’s correction to Newton’s Law of Motion at speeds approaching the speed of light), these exceptions must be demonstrated. Currently, the
Law of biogenesis states that life can only come from life, it makes no distinction between single-celled and multi-cellular organisms. While the evolutionists state that the law was only tested on maggots and rats, this is entirely untrue. There have been many experiments in which scientists have tried to create life from non-living material. All of these experiments have been unsuccessful in creating life. Scientifically, it would then be assumed that the Law of Biogenesis is as applicable to single-celled organisms as to multi-celled organisms. This law should only be refuted if a scientist were able to create a life from non-living material. An argument made by Talk.Origins states that Louis and Redi solely disproved one form of creationism.[3] This is entirely incorrect (see: CreationWiki response). First, it is impossible to disprove the supernatural with science, the study of nature. Second, Louis and Redi demonstrated that there is no type of naturalistic explanation that will lead to life that does not contradict with the Law of Biogenesis. Only a supernatural (an intelligent designer greater than the laws of the universe) explanation would be able to account for life forming from nonliving material. The Law of biogenesis (life can only come from life) differs from the Biogenetic Law (embryology recapitulates ontology). The biogenetic law which states that during the stages of birth, the embryo goes through all of the stages of evolution. This “Law” was supported by many evolutionists. It was found to be untrue and that Haeckel (the champion of this Law) had doctored and forged work to support this Law. This is the only scientific law which has been proven entirely false. It is interesting that the only law to be proven false was used to support evolution. It also seems ironic that evolutionists would so readily ignore a true scientific law when it does not suit their purpose, yet propose a false scientific law that does.Problems Ozone
Main article: Abiogenesis and ozone
Ozone poses a major problem for naturalistic models of abiogenesis. Ozone (O3) forms when molecular oxygen (O2) is struck by cosmic radiation. Thus, without oxygen in the atmosphere, there can be no ozone. Without ozone, ultraviolet radiation would destroy any life exposed to the sun. All known life that produces oxygen requires exposure to the sun. Without life able to survive in the sun, no oxygen can be produced. Without oxygen produced, there can be no ozone, and therefore no life.In order to solve this problem, naturalistic evolutionists must provide one of the following:
  • A way that ozone can form without atmospheric oxygen;
  • A way that oxygen can be produced without life that requires sunlight;
  • A way that oxygen-producing lifeforms can survive without ozone.
Thus far, the first two have been utter failures. There is no known way for ozone to form without atmospheric oxygen, or for oxygen to form without life that requires sunlight. Several attempts have been made to show that oxygen-producing life can survive without the protection of the ozone layer, but none have succeeded.
SummaryThe following summary of problems is from Refuting Evolution 2 by Jonathan Sarfati:
  • The amounts of these chemicals are tiny—far too low to contribute to biological processes.
  • The wide variety of compounds in itself counts as evidence against chemical evolution. Even with pure compounds used in experiments, the results are meager, so how much worse would they be with the contaminated gunk produced in the real world?
  • Sugars are very unstable, and easily decompose or react with other chemicals. This counts against any proposed mechanism to concentrate them to useable proportions.
  • Living things require homochiral sugars, i.e., with the same handedness, but the ones from space would not have been.
  • Even under highly artificial conditions, there is no plausible method of making the sugar ribose join to some of the essential building blocks needed to make DNA or RNA. Instead, the tendency is for long molecules to break down.
  • Even DNA or RNA by themselves would not constitute life, since it’s not enough just to join the bases (‘letters’) together, but the sequence must be meaningful—and this sequence is not a function of the chemistry of the letters.
  • Even the correct letter sequence would be meaningless without elaborate decoding machinery to translate it. Unless the decoding machinery already existed, those instructions could never be read. Similarly, this book would be useless to a non-English-speaker, who may know the Roman alphabet but lacks knowledge of the code of the English language to convert letters into meaningful concepts.[1]
Main Article: Panspermia
If indeed a self-replicating lifeform is, at some future date, created in the lab, its plausibility and actual manifestation of a mechanism for the origin of life was made possible through deliberate design of intelligent minds. There will still be no known process acting in nature to produce life from non-life, therefore, abiogenesis seems out of the realm of empirical science. Furthermore, the extreme complexity of all lifeforms seems to point in the direction of an established Intelligence outside of nature. The Intelligence designed life to be governed by what are observed natural mechanisms or processes that enable diversity. This is perhaps why Francis Crick (one of the Discoverers of DNA) and Leslie Orgel (a microbiologist) proposed the theory of directed panspermia: the belief that life came to earth from outer space.The origin of life conundrum has scientists theorizing that life might have begun on some other planet (See: Panspermia). The theory is currently experiencing a revival and much of the research currently underway by NASA is an attempt to discover signs of life on other planets, such as Mars. If found, however, this would not explain the origin of life, but merely push the question to a more distant location.

  1. 1.0 1.1 Sarfati, Jonathan. Refuting Evolution 2 Chapter 9 - Argument: Probability of evolution. Greenforest AR: Master Books, 2002. (p157)
  2. Scientific Law MSN Encarta
  3. Index to Creationist Claims: Claim CB000 by by Mark Isaak, Talk.Origins. 2004.