Quotes: Origin of Life


The Origin of Life. This problem is one of the big ones in science. It begins to place life, and us, in the universe. Most chemists believe, as do I, that life emerged spontaneously from mixtures of molecules in the prebiotic Earth. How? I have no idea.

George M. Whitesides, "Revolutions In Chemistry: Priestley Medalist George M. Whitesides' Address," Chemical and Engineering News, 85: 12-17 (March 26, 2007).





Have modern theorists explained how this crucial bridge from inert nonliving chemicals to self-replicating molecular systems took place? The most prominent hypothesis for the origin of the first life is called the "RNA world." In living cells, genetic information is carried by DNA, and most cellular functions are carried out by proteins. However, RNA is capable of both carrying genetic information and catalyzing some biochemical reactions. As a result, some theorists postulate the first life might have used RNA alone to fulfill all these functions.

But there are many problems with this hypothesis:

For one, the first RNA molecules would have to arise by unguided, non-biological chemical processes. But RNA is not known to assemble without the help of a skilled laboratory chemist intelligently guiding the process. New York University chemist Robert Shapiro critiqued the efforts of those who tried to make RNA in the lab, stating: "The flaw is in the logic -- that this experimental control by researchers in a modern laboratory could have been available on the early Earth."

Richard Van Noorden, "RNA world easier to make," Nature news (May 13, 2009), http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090513/full/news.2009.471.html


Second, while RNA has been shown to perform many roles in the cell, there is no evidence that it could perform all the necessary cellular functions currently carried out by proteins.

See Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, p. 304 (New York: HarperOne, 2009).


Third, The RNA world hypothesis does not explain the origin of genetic information.RNA world advocates suggest that if the first self-replicating life was based upon RNA, it would have required a molecule between 200 and 300 nucleotides in length.

Jack W. Szostak, David P. Bartel, and P. Luigi Luisi, "Synthesizing Life," Nature, 409: 387-390 (January 18, 2001).


When it comes to the origin of life there are only two possibilities: creation or spontaneous generation. There is no third way. Spontaneous generation was disproved one hundred years ago, but that leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance!

[George Wald, "The Origin of Life," Scientific American, 191:48, May 1954.]


In the last 30 years a number of prominent scientists have attempted to calculate the odds that a free-living, single-celled organism, such as a bacterium, might result by the chance combining of pre-existent building blocks. Harold Morowitz calculated the odds as one chance in 10^100,000,000,000. Sir Fred Hoyle calculated the odds of only the proteins of an amoebae arising by chance as one chance in 10^40,000.

[Mark Eastman, MD, Creation by Design, T.W.F.T. Publishers, 1996]


And then this fun gem:

Sir Fred Hoyle compared the probability of life arising by chance to lining up 1050 (ten with fifty zeros after it) blind people, giving each one a scrambled Rubik's Cube, and finding that they all solve the cube at the same moment.


To explain the ordering of nucleotides in the first self-replicating RNA molecule, materialists must rely on sheer chance. But the odds of specifying, say, 250 nucleotides in an RNA molecule by chance is about 1 in 10150 -- below the universal probability boundary, or events which are remotely possible to occur within the history of the universe.

William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge University Press, 1998).


Shapiro puts the problem this way:

The sudden appearance of a large self-copying molecule such as RNA was exceedingly improbable. … [The probability] is so vanishingly small that its happening even once anywhere in the visible universe would count as a piece of exceptional good luck.

Robert Shapiro, "A Simpler Origin for Life," Scientific American, pp. 46-53 (June, 2007).


Fourth -- and most fundamentally -- the RNA world hypothesis does not explain the origin of the genetic code itself. In order to evolve into the DNA / protein-based life that exists today, the RNA world would need to evolve the ability to convert genetic information into proteins. However, this process of transcription and translation requires a large suite of proteins and molecular machines -- which themselves are encoded by genetic information. This poses a chicken-and-egg problem, where essential enzymes and molecular machines are needed to perform the very task that constructs them.



While it is true that we can now create a brand new RNA molecule that is simpler then the current RNA and can do two important things that are necessary for life we still find serious problems. While this brand new RNA or should we say synthesized RNA can do certain things it can not do anywhere near the level of functions that would be required. This is like saying you figured out how to make aluminum and now you think you can make a passenger airliner. There are other materials and processes and functions that will be necessary. But lets just stop for a second and consider what I told you in the first sentence of this paragraph. We created a brand new RNA molecule we have no way of ever knowing that thing existed ever without the intelligence that created it in the first place. But even then it is not nearly enough to do what is required for life.


Consider if I told you that we had I had a factory that has successfully manufactured a tire for a Triumph Motorcycle and a seat. Well this is a good first step but that does not prove that my factory can do the rest. But what if I told you that my factory could do far more it could manufacture lets say 20% of the basic parts of a motorcycle. Would you have faith that my factory could actually deliver the rest? Consider this that there was no motorcycle before this event. No blueprints nothing. The truth is I say 20% I believe its more like in complexity about 20% of .0001% of what would be needed at best. If you consider what is actually needed to say that RNA could do this is ridiculous.


Why then is it that RNA does not continue to do what it was supposed to do originally? Well the theory goes it found a better way. There is a reason why that is the theory. The reason is in the structure of RNA it is not a very stable molecule and would easily outside of a lab be unable to do anything that we could hope for to replace the idea of designer. As much as many would want myself included (before I left the plantation) the RNA molecule is not able to do what would be needed.


The problem when we look at real life is that is beyond simple explanations and can be better understood in the information we see inside of the Cell or the DNA or the GRN’s etc.


Advances in organic synthetic chemistry have increasingly demonstrated the implausibility of any undirected process on the early earth producing life’s complex building blocks. And, nearly every step in the development of the first cell appears increasingly intractable as the underlying physics and chemistry are better understood. For instance, the forming of a functional cell membrane had long been assumed to be one of the easiest steps, but it now represents yet another insurmountable hurdle. At an even more foundational level, the thermodynamic challenges have grown increasingly problematic with advances in our understanding of non-equilibrium systems. The obstacles now appear so severe that arguing for a purely materialist account for life’s origin represents a modern day version of the quest for a perpetual motion machine.