— Yes or No —
What Does the
Think of a newly formed planet.
- Where might primitive chemicals gather first? What chemicals form without life?
- How might life start from some pool of 'building blocks'—the basic chemical components—to form the first living cell?
- Does this just happen by some form of self assembly?
- Why would anything assemble itself from nothing to something that reflects organization, complexity, and furthermore embodies intelligent information?
it even happen?
Certainly the assumption is it all happened, but what is the demonstration that this in fact occurred or could have ever worked! The assumptions all lead to a story that implies:
- Life's origin starts with a primordial soup (i.e., simple chemicals pooled somewhere on the primitive Earth)
- Chemicals appeared by chance and random reactions provided the right starting materials for life
- Conditions on the primitive earth were conducive to chemical evolution (e.g., requires a primitive atmosphere without oxygen; some form of energy was present to initiate chemical reactions)
- The workable explanation given by modern science describes chemical origins in terms akin to Darwinian thinking (e.g., this is an origin based on gradual appearance of the right chemicals over long time and with the working of a natural and selective influence leading to the full compliment of life chemicals and thereafter the spontaneous assembly of life forms known to earth)
- But who first thought of the idea for chemical origins? What scientific evidence gives the explanation for a chemical origin of life on Earth? Where are we if science tells us—right now, even today—that there is no evidence to validate the assumptions stated above? What possibilities remain!
At present, the current evidence shows there is no practical explanation! Most evidence runs contrary to the assumptions stated above. Simple cause and effect scenarios, randomness, and mere chance don’t yield a working model. In fact, there is no explanation as to how the information, and complexity contained within the chemicals of cells originated. Yes, simple crystalline chemicals have order and some properties of simple chemicals indicate a likeness to how cell structures might be maintained (once formed), but unique molecules like enzymes contain a specificity that stands above all this. An enzyme is constructed in such a way to perform a specific task. The design of the molecule embodies an expression of information. How then did that information get captured in so many molecules to in turn enter into every aspect of life function? In brief, we've barely asked the first questions about origins and we've hit road blocks that science has been unable to pass!
While there seem to be no easy answers, we have already hit upon some key concepts—primordial origins seem to embrace design, specificity, and even the suggestion of the presence of an intelligence behind the appearance of life. Later we’ll address complexity and design issues in more detail. For now, we’ll consider how chemistry alone cannot give us an explanation. An additional consideration for the role of thermodynamics is examined separately (see next page). And if all this is truly the case, then all discussion of biological evolution is grounded in nothing!
Further, even if chemistry could explain the spontaneous assembly of life's building blocks, probability analyses examining what it takes to move from one biological species to the next presents us with impossible odds.
So, before talking about evolution as Darwin expressed it, there are significant hurdles that cannot be crossed. A quick summation: Science faces a gap with no explanation, especially with regards to the beginning conditions within the universe, a lack of an explanation for chemical origins, and the impossible odds against life’s descent from a simple ancestral form to more complex life forms. That’s a short answer… now it’s time for some details.
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The topics we will briefly consider include the following:
1. Evidence from the early earth
2. The idea of a primordial soup
3. Approaches suggested for chemical origins
4. Early earth conditions
5. Soup to cell and cell evolution
6. Science, Retrospectives, and Beliefs concerning chemical origins
References provided with quotations can be traced to their paper source by bringing up the free floating References Palette window.
The following details are a snapshot of several key issues concerning life's chemical origins. The discussion is not without some controversy and strong feelings from outside quarters. But, at the very least, we wish to capture the point—that while some new explanations may yet arise—there is as yet no seamless story that follows logical events or presumed causes to explain any means for chemical evolution.
This often leads to the exclusion of this important topic when discussing biological evolution! But why drop a show stopper at the very start!
After Darwin published the Origin of Species in 1859, many scientists began to think about a problem that Darwin had not addressed, namely, how life had arisen in the first place. While Darwin's theory purported to explain how life could have grown gradually more complex starting from "one or a few simple forms," it did not explain nor did attempt to explain where life had originated. Meyer (MC) Page 115
So what support does evolution have to even start the biological discussion? Picture yourself sitting on a three-legged stool. If we remove one leg for missing the evidence from astronomy (preceding page), then there are only two legs left. But if we remove chemical origins, there is only one leg on the stool to support biological evolution. In the following pages of the Science Area of WindowView there will be further evidence that even the third leg on the stool is missing.
For now, we'll look at some of the proposals and associated problems that have surfaced with regard to chemical evolution. The standard story here typically gives us a picture of a pool or larger body of some primordial solution, dubbed 'primordial soup,' that contains water, salts, and chemicals that might generate molecules favoring life. What can science show for this scenario?
1. Evidence from the early earth
The universe reveals evidence for planets and stars forming by gathering of gases and cosmic dust. A primitive planet would at first be hot and active from its core to surface, with the latter finally cooling. A logical series of assumptions is: earth cooled, a primitive atmosphere hovered over the surface, and water collected into bodies ranging from puddles to oceans. Depending on the nature of the atmosphere, temperatures of land and surface waters, chemicals might have started to form and concentrate in certain localities. Such sites are considered opportunities that may have led to early life. Following this logic what then do many scientists presume?
The first stage on the road to life is presumed to have been built up, by purely chemical synthetic processes occurring on the surface of the early Earth, of all these basic organic compounds necessary for the formation of a living cell. These are supposed to have accumulated in the primeval oceans, creating a nutrient broth, the so-called ''pre-biotic soup.'' In certain specialized environments these organic compounds were assembled into large macromolecules, proteins and nucleic acids. Eventually, over millions of years, combinations of these macromolecules occurred which were endowed with the property of self- reproduction. Then driven by natural selection ever more efficient and complex self-reproducing molecular systems evolved until finally the first simple cell system emerged. Denton Page 260
Relatively recent evidence from the oldest known rocks reveals no trace of non-biologically produced organic compounds. Might there be evidence of these compounds if they indeed formed spontaneously on the early earth? The presence of such chemicals is one assumption underlying the idea of chemical origins leading to primitive cells. Some of the rocks examined, such as those from Western Greenland, date back 3.9 billion years. This approaches the time when the earth first cooled to temperatures hospitable to life. In other deposits, dating back some 3.5 billion years, there is evidence for simple algae. From this evidence we soon realize the time frame within which chance chemical events (a.k.a. chemical evolution) can operate becomes incredibly short. Remember, most evolutionists presume immense time spans are required for even ancestral organisms to appear and gain complexity and functionality.
The reference to cells that are self reproducing (see quotation above) requires an incredible leap to achieve. Was it by chance or is there some inherent spontaneous mechanism that makes the step toward reproductive organisms a reality? But first, we have to ask: How much time would it take to arrive at the primitive algae? And how much more time would be needed to gather the right chemicals by chance? As we'll see later—according to Dr. Spetner—hundreds of millions of years is not enough time. Again, in addition to the lack of time, we don't even have evidence for the primordial compounds. Perhaps evidence of such materials was simply lost to time—perhaps, but still ... too many other problems remain unexplained.
2. The idea of a primordial soup
It's fair to mention that assumptions need a watchful eye. We hope you'll hold onto this cautionary note from here forward. Simply put, so many discussions assume that a prebiotic soup existed.
Considering the way the prebiotic soup is referred to in so many discussions of the origin of life as an already established reality, if it comes as something of a shock to realize that there is absolutely no positive evidence for its existence. Denton Page 261
Perhaps the mindset was established early and no one really wanted to fight the uphill battle requiring proof for favorable starting conditions at the chemical level. Darwin was not the first thinker to speak in terms of evolution, but many read his writings and so it may be little surprise to see that even he wondered about origins before species existed:
From Darwin's Origin of Species: "It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present which could ever have been present. But if (and oh! what a big if !) we could conceive in some warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity present that a protein was formed ready to undergo still more complex changes at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed." ... Darwin never claimed his theory could explain the origin of life, but the implication was there. Denton Page 53
Even if a prebiotic soup existed, this doesn't tell us how life began! The steps from random chemical compounds leading to mechanisms that make cells from scratch also need an explanation. What are these steps? Pooling together the building blocks, amino acids, sugars and other simple organic compounds used in the construction of the cell gives no clues as to how living systems became the ordered and complex assemblies that characterize life.
The figure above illustrates science's conception of a typical cell as of the early 1920s. This diagram appears in a text entitled Elementary Biology - An Introduction to The Science of Life , by Benjamin C. Gruenberg, published by Ginn and Company, Boston, 1924. While light microscopy afforded many details at the tissue level, cell details remained elusive. The picture was even more general in Darwin's day. This is the reason for Haeckel's comment on the simplicity of cells, as noted below. How far could Darwin go on the evidence he had? Constrained by the limited view of this day, he made the best of what he had to see.
But cells are not simply a soup of chemicals and odd reactions. As noted further below, highly structured entities, which cells are, afford a chemical workplace that is highly coordinated. Something that cannot be structured within the randomness of a 'primordial soup.'
3. Approaches suggested for chemical origins
There are reasonable-sounding scenarios that scientists have suggested to account for chemical origins. Let's take a moment to reflect on this. First, we need to note that early on scientists held limited information. So, around a century ago Haeckel and others still though of cells as being rather nondescript, simple, entities.
To Haeckel a living cell seemed no more complex than a blob of gelatin. His theory of how life first came into existence reflected this simplistic view. Meyer (MC) Page 115
Early proposals included adding together chemical constituents and allowing for spontaneous reactions to create the substance and essence of life within cells. Even the thought of a spontaneous process suggests special properties or some hidden aspect of nature can account for an orderly start leading to life. Could it be so simple? After all, a century ago, there was no concept of the cell's complexity and ultra-fine structure that we know of today. Take any biology textbook, the cell diagrams and photographs show immense complexity and intricate structures. It's truly a fascinating view of design and function—but something only appreciated by scientific exploration in recent decades.
Electron Micrograph of a Plant Cell
There are a number of Internet sites that host lessons on cell biology. That's for exploring another time. The cell pictured here is not alive, but prepared a special way for viewing in an electron microscope ... magnified many thousands of times larger with details one cannot see as well in a light microscope.
[C = chloroplast; CW = cell wall; ER = Endoplasmic Reticulum; G = Golgi Body M = mitochondrion; N = nucleus; V = vacuole]
Think of the cell features as compartments that work like special factory units that service the overall life functions within the cell. And from there cells service the larger organism within which they reside.
What Science Now Sees in Cells
Electron micrographs like the one above have been used to discern the finest details in living plant and animal cells.
This diagram is of a plant cell chloroplast enlarged even more so than the same cell organelles pictured above. Post World War II era science, especially in the 1960s and 70s, revealed an entirely new conception of the intricate features [design] within cells and thus to life.
Although not originally touted as a product of intelligent design, certainly fine structure is now viewed an integral part of cell function.
Fine structure revealed this way was previously unobtainable before the use of the electron microscope. Again, compare with the turn of the century cell diagram above.
Electron Microscopy and Molecular Detail
One last note here on the power of present technology.
The electron microscope opened our eyes to the details of membranes. The 'sheets' of material that make up the chloroplast above is stacks of folded membranes. The complexity and composition of membrane features furthered our understanding of the highly structured environment in cells. Hardly random, ever complex, specifically arranged for key purposes that allow cells to make life's functions routinely flawless.
The Oparin Scenario
During the 1920s and 1930s the more sophisticated version of this so-called chemical evolutionary theory was proposed by a Russian biochemist named Alexander I. Oparin. Meyer (MC) Page 115
Oparin understood more about the complexity of cellular metabolism, but he lacked a full appreciation for the complexity of molecules such as protein and DNA that make life possible. He still thought life could have first evolved as a result of a series of chemical reactions. Oparin envisioned that this would involve numerous reactions and transformations over millions or billions of years. This scenario takes on the assumption of a gradual progression where chemical precursors eventually lead to complexity and cell structure. In this approach the earliest of conditions on earth had to be just right for these chemicals to form in the first place:
Oparin believed that simple gases such as ammonia (NH3), methane (CH4), water (H20), carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) would have rained down to the early oceans and combined with metallic compounds extruded from the core of the earth (Oparin 1938, 64-103). With the aid of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, the ensuing reactions would have produced energy-rich hydrocarbon compounds (Oparin 1938, 98, 107, 108). These in turn would have combined and recombined with various other compounds to make amino acids, sugars, phosphates and other building blocks of the complex molecules (such as proteins) necessary to living cells (1938, 133-35). These constituents would eventually arrange themselves into simple cell-like and closures that Oparin called coacervates (Oparin 1938, 148-59). Meyer (MC) Page 116
Interestingly, a bit of Darwinian thinking enters here, even in Oparin's thinking, to assume that successful formation and survival of early chemical assemblies leads to complex stages and later to cells. According to this thinking chemicals or complex stages that failed were eliminated or selected against. Furthermore, the idea that the appearance of life comes as a gradual process requiring time is consistent with the thinking associated with the common evolution story. Natural selection is also considered in play—perhaps weeding out the less efficient primitive chemicals or primitive-type cells (sometimes called 'protocells'). But including these concepts even at the chemical level may be more philosophy or presumption than science. For example:
... nowhere in his scenario did mind or intelligent design or a Creator play any explanatory role. For Oparin, a committed Marxist (Graham 1973, 262-63; Araujo 1981, 19), such notions were explicitly precluded from scientific consideration. Matter interacting chemically with other matter, if given enough time and the right conditions, could produce life. Complex cells could be built from simple chemical precursors without any guiding personal or intelligent agency. Meyer (MC) Page 116
So, Oparin gives us a starting point that sounds reasonable. But there needs to be a test to see if these ideas hold any weight.
The Miller-Urey Experiment
What all this really needs is a laboratory experiment! Can we assume something about starting conditions and then imitate the early earth to see what develops. And several decades later one type of laboratory exercise was completed to follow Oparin's thinking one step further. But did this solve the mystery of chemical origins?
The first experimental support for Oparin's hypothesis came in December 1952. While doing graduate work under Harold Urey at the University of Chicago, Stanley Miller conducted the first experimental test of the Oparin chemical evolutionary model. Meyer (MC) Page 116
Miller set up a laboratory apparatus based on assumptions provided by Oparin's model.
Introducing the ammonia, methane and hydrogen into a sealed glass apparatus containing boiling water and simulating lightning with a spark- discharge device, he noted within a few days that both the water and the glass were stained with a reddish goo. With subsequent chemical analysis, Miller found to his delight that the goo contained amino acids—the building blocks of protein, the basic stuff of life. The results, which Miller published as a modest two-page article in Science, seemed to provide stunning evidence that life could arise out of simple chemical reactions in a "primordial soup." Bradley and Thaxton (CH) Page 173
Briefly put, the scientific community responded with great excitement. Here seemed to be proof of a chemical beginning to life on earth—and perhaps a routine generation of life throughout the universe as well.
In fact, it may be said that Miller's experiments spawned a neovitalism, or belief in the power of self-organization inherent in matter. Biochemical predestination even became a subject for textbooks, and evolutionary sequences of the type shown in figure 5.1 were generally taken for granted. Bradley and Thaxton (CH) Page 174
The figure, referred to in the quotation above, gives a scheme from starting materials to protocells to bacteria and thus the origin of cellular life.
If you read more detailed sources you will find accounts that indicate the yield of chemicals produced in the laboratory experiment was very low and not all the required building blocks for life appeared in any single experiment. The initial experiment only produced 3 of the life's required 20 amino acids. Over time other experiments yielded up to 19 of the 20 amino acids, some fatty acids, nucleoside bases needed for DNA or RNA, but not the sugar molecules necessary to build DNA and RNA. Gaps remained even with the experiments. In fact, the laboratory apparatus depends on an element of design to capture the reaction products (i.e., a 'cold trap' helps to collect the chemicals so they won't disintegrate elsewhere in the experimental apparatus). To be sure, these experiments have been followed even to the present with continued scientific investigations—but gaps still remain ...
Thanks largely to Miller's experimental work, chemical evolution is now routinely presented in both high school and college biology textbooks (e.g., Alberts et al. 1983, 4; Lehninger 1975, 23) the accepted scientific explanation for the origin of life. Yet chemical evolutionary theory is now known to be riddled with difficulties, and Miller's work is understood by the origin-of-life research community itself to have little if any relevance to explaining how amino acids, let alone proteins or living cells, could have arisen on the early earth. Meyer (MC) Page 118
So, what are some of the problems that stem from the best attempts to produce evidence in the laboratory?
4. Early earth conditions (are problematic to suggested scenarios)
Examples of problems with the Oparin/Miller hypothesis
To make short order of what can be a more involved presentation, we'll briefly summarize a number of points as follows:
Oparin assumed the early earth atmosphere was nitrogen rich and without oxygen.
Recent indications stemming from geochemistry suggest oxygen was present very early on—possibly generated from early volcanic activity. Reaction products in Miller's apparatus would have been rapidly degraded by oxygen. Even the spark used for energy in the lab apparatus would have set off an oxygen explosion—destroying the experiment.
An oxygen-less atmosphere would mean no atmospheric ozone layer that would have protected primitive chemicals forming on the earth's surface. Ozone blocks ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. And UV degrades life's building block chemicals.
There is another twist to the problem of the ultraviolet flux. Nucleic acid molecules, which form the genetic material of all modern organisms, happen to be strong absorbers of ultraviolet light and are consequently particularly sensitive to ultraviolet induced radiation damage and mutation. As Sagan points out, typical contemporary organisms subjected to the same intense ultraviolet flux which would have reached the Earth's surface in and oxygen-free atmosphere acquire a mean lethal dose of radiation in 0.3 seconds. Denton (ETC) Page 262
Other problems exist with Miller-type experiments. A selective use of energy from a sole source is required to get satisfactory results, but such a condition does not at all mimic the early earth. For example, while short-wavelength ultraviolet light may help convert ammonia, methane and hydrogen into amino acids, the longer wavelengths of light that would have surely also been present in the early atmosphere quickly destroy these amino acids. Similarly, heat can destroy these molecules, as can continued electrical discharge. Only a use of selective energy and quick removal from the energy flux using a trap allows experimenters to produce even small amounts of amino acid reaction products (2 percent or less). Bradley and Thaxton (CH) Page 184
As noted above, geochemists find no evidence for the prebiotic soup in the earliest known rocks. Yet from fossil evidence we find life appeared rapidly once earthly conditions were hospitable—leaving little to no time for chemical evolution.
Current evidence strongly suggests natural gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapor—not methane, ammonia, and hydrogen as Oparin assumed—predominated the early atmosphere. In this type of atmosphere chemical reactions would proceed very slowly—with even lower yields than what Miller observed.
Miller used ammonia, but this would be quickly degraded by ultraviolet light to form hydrogen and nitrogen gases. The hydrogen would escape into outer space leaving the nitrogen behind.
The problems encountered seem to completely compromise the original hypothesis and laboratory findings. Some scientists have stepped forward to acknowledge the problems.
Even scientists known for a staunch commitment to materialistic philosophy concede that materialistic science in no way suffices to explain the origin of life (Dose 1988, 348-56; Shapiro 1986). As origin-of-life biochemist Klaus Dose has said, "More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principle theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance" (Dose 1988 ,348-56, cf. Crick 1981, 88). Meyer (MC) Page 118
We should also recognize that others have contributed alternate ideas on chemical evolution. Still other proposals may come. One idea involves a genesis based on RNA molecules.
Experiments in the early 1980s seemed to complete the picture, revealing that RNA might have the ability to make copies of itself without the assistance of enzymes. This important discovery, for which T. R. Cech, a professor at the University of Colorado, received the Nobel Prize, suggested the possibility of first life that consisted of RNA and an early "RNA world" that might provide a bridge from simple chemical building blocks such as amino acids and sugars to the highly complex DNA-based cells found in modern organisms. Bradley and Thaxton (CH) Page 175
Leslie Orgel of the Salk Institute for biological Studies, who has probably done more research exploring the RNA-world scenario than any other scientist, believes that experiments that try to simulate the early stages of the RNA world are too complicated to represent plausible scenarios for the origin of life. Orgel was recently quoted in a Scientific American as saying, "You have to get an awful lot of things right and nothing wrong." Nobel laureate Sir Francis Crick says in his book Life Itself, "The origin of life appears to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to be satisfied to get it going." Bradley and Thaxton (CH) Page 191
FREE PDF of Mystery of Life's Origin (compliments of the authors) or purchase copy via link at the bottom of this page
A most significant text that is a must read for all readers. Follow the scientific explorations and the conclusions that tell why DNA is more than a molecule, but IS information by design and beyond mere chance product of an abiotic origin.
Without an extensive discussion, further reading would only prove that the alternate ideas continually meet impossible hurdles. For example, RNA molecules are exceedingly difficult to synthesize even under the best of laboratory conditions—let alone consider their appearance by chance and uncontrolled conditions on a primitive earth. But living cells do it in a flash!
Yet, RNA might have provided an early platform for the evolution of replication which is inherent in life. But RNA cannot easily generate copies of itself outside of cells. [For more information on the example above, return here later to read a critique of the RNA World << by following this link.
5. Soup to cell and cell evolution
The kind of thinking that gets us from molecules to cells with membranes and marvelous internal complexity is reflected next ...
It has become almost axiomatic today among evolutionary biologists that the same gradual process which drove the evolution of life, the successive selection of beneficial mutations, was also responsible for its creation. Accordingly, the first cell is supposed to have arisen following a long period of pre-cellular evolution. The process is presumed to have begun with the primitive self replicating molecule which slowly accumulated beneficial mutations that enabled it to reproduce more efficiently. Denton (ETC) Page 251
Problems noted above all complicate a picture in getting to the fat, protein, and nucleic acid molecules—to mention a few basic components of life's chemistry—that are required to make a functioning cell. And molecules like RNA are hard to synthesize even in a high-tech laboratory. That cells manufacture DNA, RNA, and proteins with great efficiency provides an incredible contrast between the abiotic (non-living) environment presumed for the primordial scenario and the intricate inner workings of the cell.
... envisaging how a living cell could have gradually evolved through a sequence of simple protocells seems to pose almost insuperable problems. If the estimates above are anywhere near the truth then this would undoubtedly mean that the alternative scenario—the possibility of life are rising suddenly on earth by chance—is infinitely small. To get a cell by a chance would require at least one hundred functional proteins to appear simultaneously in one place. That is one hundred simultaneous events each of an independent probability which could hardly be more than 10-20 giving a maximum combined probability of 10-2000. Denton (ETC) Page 323
We've now raised the bar. Not only do we need some proteins made of a number of amino acids, but we need a specific set of many proteins to make the cell work. If an early cell (a protocell) has a minimal set of proteins, perhaps some changes by chance add more complexity to the cell by the addition of yet more proteins. But wait! It's not just adding any protein that works. Proteins have jobs and these tasks usually go hand-in-hand with other tasks completed by still other proteins. Think of a production line in a factory. At each work station a specific task is completed. At the end the product is boxed up for shipping and retail. If you asked how the factory worked you'd get a descriptive message telling how it all works. That description requires information! Hey ... each protein requires information to be constructed let alone to predetermine how it will function. More information is woven in to describe the continuum of related activities that all these proteins coordinate! Information is needed in making the proteins—guiding information coordinates manufacturing proteins—but how did information get into a random mix of chemicals let alone the making of the entire cell. And remember there is information inherently part of the design that executes a specific step in cellular chemistry. That information coordinates life functions and not just the structure of a protein!
Maybe you are getting the idea we've really walked into the really interesting part of the biological mystery of origins. Indeed, you're waist deep in it and we've just begun!
Hoyle and Wickramasinghe in Evolution from Space provided a similar estimate of the chance of life originating, assuming functional proteins to have a probability of 10-20:
"By itself, this small probability could be faced, because one must contemplate not just a single shot at obtaining the enzyme, but a very large number of trials such as are supposed to have occurred in an organic soup early in the history of the Earth. The trouble is that there are about two thousand enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only one part in (1020)2000 = 1040,000 an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. Denton (ETC) Page 323
And there's even more to all this because proteins are spatially complex molecules. The three-dimensional structure has to be just right for the protein to function as an enzyme or other functional component of the cell. For example, an active site made of a select number of specific amino acids is vital to the protein. Think of this protein as a tool. It has to have the correct shape and parts to perform a specific task—for example, combining or splitting other molecules. One wrong amino acid substituted in the active site threatens the shape, specificity, and function of the entire molecule. The entire discussion takes on awesome dimensions when faced with proteins composed of hundreds to thousands of amino acids.
Still Another Twist in This Story:
Amino acids are not all alike. If we make a batch of a single amino acid there will be a 50-50 mix of two forms of the molecule—what are called stereo isomers. Both are chemically the same but their three-dimensional structures match up like mirror images—much like your two hands look alike yet you can't exactly fit your right hand into your left. The important point here is that biological life prefers the 'L-amino acid' as opposed to it's companion 'R-amino acid.' If some R's got into a protein they would alter the three-dimensional aspect of the protein and compromise function. Here is one more level of complexity to the story on origins. The design requires just the L-amino acids. Why don't life forms use both types of amino acids? It's a mystery!
Take a look at the two chemical structures pictured here. Call the one on the left 'L' and the one on the right 'R.' The atoms on both molecules are exactly the same, in other words, they are chemically equivalent in composition. Now, notice that the three-dimensional configuration does not allow you to fit one molecule into the exact place of the other. That's because these are mirror images of each other and thus this stereo pair of molecules are same in composition but not in configuration. When it comes to making proteins, amino acids are L or R and not exactly the same. Life 'prefers' the L form over the R form.
There are a number of other suggestions as to how chemicals turned into life. Scenarios include clay-based origins, a role for the hydrothermal vents on the deep sea floor, various means for the self-organization of systems, even extraterrestrial origins, but all fail in one form or another. We could go on. But there is enough here to illustrate that no one has the certain explanation. In fact, uncertainty prevails but only on the basis that good scientific principles exclude all scenarios thus far proposed, tested, or imagined.
Living systems, Polanyi argued, have precisely the same problem. Their operations may be well understood within the confines of chemistry, but their origin seems to defy a simple chemical, physical explanation. The source of the information-intensive initial conditions seems to be outside the realm of chemistry and physics alone. Bradley and Thaxton (CH) Page 197
6. Science, Retrospectives, and Beliefs concerning chemical origins
We've only scratched the surface on the topic of chemical origins. To be sure, there are researchers who continue to think about the prospect of how some natural phenomenon and the right conditions long ago initiated chemicals that make life possible. Others still, think about how early cells formed. But, there is no workable explanation thus far. Maybe science has met a limit beyond which it cannot go. We can say time will tell, but on the following pages you can reflect on a number of other perspectives that help to fully characterize our origin. For now, let's just summarize with the following:
The theoretical and experimental work that attempts to unlock the mystery of chemical origins has met numerous dead ends. Professional meetings and papers, even in recent time, have echoed the discovery of only further problems in approaching a working explanation. Perhaps there is good reason for this result. But a driving force behind continued work is apparently philosophical and less fed by evidence in hand. The gap may come to some spontaneous event ... a miracle directed by intelligence ... in that miracles do not follow natural law, yet initiate something that resides within the natural realm. For example, the idea of saltation smacks of a spontaneous—otherwise unexplainable—event:
The only alternative is to consider the possibility of saltation. However, the probability of a sudden fortuitous event assembling the first cell de novo has generally struck most biologists as outrageously improbable. Yet, if gradualism is impossible, there may be no alternative but to presume that such an extraordinarily lucky accident was responsible for creating the first cell. Monod has also raised the possibility:
Life appeared on earth: what, before the event, were the chances that this would occur? The present structure of the biosphere certainly does not exclude the possibility that ... its a priori probability was virtually zero. Denton (ETC) Page 270
Before we move on, think about how a lack of an explanation here casts a shadow on the entire industry of biological origins. We've noted assumptions are made, but like the legs on the stool, if removed, there is nothing on which to rest a solid case for biological evolution. And science seems to generate papers and symposia on the obvious incredible complexity of life ... yet glosses over or fails outright to marvel at how this all came about in the first place:
The recently revealed world of molecular machinery, of coding systems, of informational molecules, of catalytic devices and feedback control, is in its design and complexity quite unique to living systems and without parallel in non-living nature. Denton (ETC) Page 271
This notion of design in biology, much like machines are designed by humans, will come back later. A quick reference is made here for continuity. Science upon reflection encounters great difficulty in finding an explanation. Frank and honest statements have indicated this is so. But science is a process that keeps researching and leaning into the hard questions. So, the research continues, but interestingly enough much of the recent evidence comes back with the impossible message—no clear evidence for chemical origins—not the evidence as hoped by many of the investigators working in this area. Again, th may be expecting a certain answer. What if they are getting THE answer, even if it's not the one they expect!
There is today no known scientific evidence or experimental approach that explains a chemical origin of life. Later on, after you have considered other issues associated with origins ... you may simply note—science by a process of exclusion—points to possibilities outside the common assumptions ... possibilities that many scientists would personally avoid. This isn't about personal preferences, but what the information tells us. What perspectives do we gain by looking out this window? What other perspectives can be added to fill in the larger picture? From this point onward, there is a gap in the story on life's origin. The gap may be filled by an explanation based on intelligence but apparently not by chance events. We will reinforce this notion on the next page by briefly considering a few points on thermodynamics. Sounds complex, but we'll try to provide a simple summary for all to consider.
The WindowView drops many of the typical presumptions to take another look. What does scientific data tell us if we start without assumptions? And ... how contiguous is science information if examined along with scriptural perspectives provided by the Bible? The Bible is the only religious or holy book we know of that is in fact consistent with science. While not a textbook, the Scriptures are either contradictory or complementary to scientific perspectives. Have you looked at these perspectives? To see 'Science and Scripture in Harmony' is to reveal life, reality, and your future.
Quotations from "The Creation Hypothesis" (CH) edited by J. P. Moreland and "Mere Creation" (MC) edited by William A. Dembski are used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be used without permission from InterVarsity Press.
Quotations from Dr. Michael Denton's "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis" are used by permission of Adler and Adler Publishers Inc., 5530 Wisconsin Ave, Suite 1460, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Quotations from "Mere Creation" (MC) edited by William A. Dembski are used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be used without permission from InterVarsity Press.
Writer / Editor: Dr. T. Peterson, Director, WindowView.org