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Posts Tagged ‘origin of life’

PART I — THE ORIGIN OF LIFE

Is it sensible that natural processes, unaided, can make something entirely unique, something that never existed before, something never possessed by matter? First life — here, or anywhere — how did it come to be? Science insists that given just the right physical and chemical conditions, life will spontaneously emerge. The Bible, and most of the world’s religions, states that life can only be bestowed by the sole keeper of life: The Creator God. These are more than technical positions, they are fundamental worldviews.

The worldview a person holds does a lot for them, but it also carries baggage that can be not so good. The Wikipedia encyclopedia says that a worldview “is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society” and is the perception one holds of reality. “Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual interprets the world and interacts with it.”[1] This last phrase is especially important to today’s topic.

Science, by definition, can only deal with the physical. The scientific method has no way of mixing metaphysical causes with physical causes and effects. Indeed, good science strenuously rejects data that cannot be verified by direct observation. Consciously or unconsciously, scientists tend to adopt this scientific approach as their personal philosophy of living or worldview. Many disdain the existence of God.

Theist proponents of a biblical Creator are no less closed minded and biased. While devoted protection of the inerrancy of the Bible’s account of creation is understandable, even laudable, the resulting position is no less intractable as that of science. A cornerstone of Scripture is that God created both the universe and the Bible. Isn’t it sensible, therefore, that the study of both Scripture and nature (science) must be in harmony? Why isn’t it? I have come to conclude worldviews get in the way.

Concept of early Earth

The concept that life began as a simple one-celled organism originated with Charles Darwin. “Darwin’s theory presupposes that non-living chemicals, if given the right amount of time and circumstances, could develop by themselves into living matter.”[2] Guillermo Gonzalez, Ph.D., assistant research professor in astronomy and physics, and Jay Richards, Ph.D. philosophy and theology, write, “In the nineteenth century, many thought life at the microscopic level was simple. The nineteenth-century Darwinist Ernst Haeckel, for instance, characterized cells as simple “homogeneous globules of protoplasm.” Despite what we now know about the mesmerizing complexity of cells, and the fundamental difference between chemistry and the biological information encoded in chemicals,[3] many still assume that where there’s liquid water, there may very well be life.”[4] (regarding note 3 , see the discussion later in this article on DNA encoding).

So how could life have begun? The National Academy of Sciences in their 2008 publication, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, tells us that “For life to begin, three conditions had to be met. First, groups of molecules [intricately formed from amino acids] that could reproduce themselves had to come together. Second, copies of these molecular assemblages had to exhibit variation, so that some were better able to take advantage of resources and withstand challenges in the environment. Third, the variations had to be heritable, so that some variants would increase in number under favorable environmental conditions. … No one yet knows which combination of molecules first met these conditions, …”[5]

Far be it for me to question the esteemed National Academy of Sciences, but as I read this explanation, it seems that these conditions might be necessary for the kind of first life that could proceed to develop according to the process of biological evolution (which is the topic for the next article in this series). However, conditions two and three don’t appear to be requisite to life if there are other explanations for the subsequent development of higher life forms (granted I have left out context in my quotation, but the full text does not help me with my question). Could their worldview be biasing the scientists?

After the Late Heavy Bombardment

What are we certain of about how long life has existed on Planet Earth? Although slim it is possible the first life on Earth may have occurred after the Earth cooled following formation of the Sun and the Solar System’s planets — including Earth — some 4.6 billion years ago. If life and its prerequisite water existed then all signs of it were obliterated during the subsequent period of intense meteor, asteroid, and comet strikes termed the Late Heavy Bombardment. Earth’s surface once again became molten. When the planet cooled after these collisions subsided about 3.8 billion years ago … Dr. Schroeder narrates: “In the 1970s, Elso Barghoorn, a paleontologist, discovered micro-fossils of bacteria and algae in rocks close to 3.5 billion years old. Deposits representative of organic carbon appear in formations 3.8 billion years old. That is also when the first liquid water appeared on Earth, and hence the first time life could survive. All life on Earth is water based. No water, no life, but with water life is possible. It had only to develop, and develop it did, immediately in the presence of water. There were no “billions of years” for amino acids to combine randomly into life.”[6] Dr. Peter D. Ward, Professor of Geological Sciences and Curator of Paleontology, and Dr. Donald Brownlee, of the National Academy of Sciences and Professor of Astronomy, both of the University of Washington, in their landmark book, Rare Earth, echo Dr. Schroeder’s conclusion, “Life seems to have appeared simultaneously with the cessation of the heavy bombardment. As soon as the rain of asteroids ceased and the surface temperatures on Earth permanently fell below the boiling point of water, life seems to have appeared.”[7] (emphasis added)

As indicated above, a single living cell – once thought to be so simple and, therefore, so easy to emerge by natural processes – is extraordinarily complex. In 1953, science was able to produce, in an early-Earth simulation, amino acids – the most basic building blocks of a living cell (that experiment has since proven to be invalid because of errors in the laboratory simulation.[8])

Complexity of a living cell

Jonathan Wells, Ph.D., geology, physics, and biology, gives us the best description I could find of the complex structure of a single cell. In answer to the hypothetical question that if amino acids were present, “… how far would that be from creating a living cell,” Dr. Wells responded, “Very far. Incredibly far. That would be the first step in an extremely complicated process. You would have to get the right number of the right kinds of amino acids to link up to create a protein molecule — and that would still be a long way from a living cell. Then you’d need dozens of protein molecules, again in the right sequence, to create a living cell. The odds against this are astonishing.”

To illustrate the impossibility of a living cell occurring by natural processes, Dr. Wells continued, “Put a sterile, balanced salt solution in a test tube. Then put in a single living cell and poke a hole in it so that its contents leak into the solution. Now the test tube has all the molecules you would need to create a living cell … [but] you can’t put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. So even if you could accomplish the thousands of steps between amino acids … and [just] the components you need for a living cell — all the enzymes, the DNA, and so forth — you’re still immeasurably far from life.”[9] (emphasis added) Even under optimized conditions, the odds of producing, naturally, just one of the dozens of functional protein molecules needed for life is estimated to be one chance in 10 with 60 zeros behind it.[10]

Science – not theists – seems to making a sensible case that a Creator God must have initiated life. However for me, the strongest evidence for creation of life lies in understanding a little bit about the DNA molecules in every living cell. Without DNA no cell can replicate itself — an essential in the very definition of life. For a technical description of the DNA molecule and what has to occur for one to come into existence, see Ward and Brownlee’s Rare Earth, pages 60 through 66.[11] Also note 3 cites several excellent sources on the subject. For our purposes here I’ll quote Perry Marshall, a computer science expert,[12] author, and consultant in communications theory.

“DNA is not merely a molecule.  Nor is it simply a “pattern.” Yes, it contains chemicals and proteins, but those chemicals are arranged to form an intricate language, in the exact same way that English and Chinese and HTML are languages. …But non-living things cannot create language. They cannot create codes. … DNA has a four-letter alphabet, and structures very similar to words, sentences and paragraphs.”

Intricate coding in DNA

Marshall continues: With very precise instructions and systems that check for errors and correct them, it is formally and scientifically a code. Whether I use the simplest possible explanation, such as the one I’m giving you here, or if we analyze language with advanced mathematics and engineering communication theory, we can say this with total confidence: Messages, languages and coded information never, ever come from anything else besides a mind.”[13]

Astronomer Hugh Ross, Ph.D., agrees. “Genomics [DNA] research reveals that no organism, not even a simple parasite (dependent on other species for some of its life-critical functions), can survive without at least 250 functioning gene products.[14] It came as a shock, then, when geochemists found uranium oxide precipitates in rocks older than 3.7 billion years [remember the above discussion on how long life has existed]. This discovery revealed that oxygen-exploiting photosynthetic bacteria were already prolific at that early date.[15] Such bacteria require more than 2,000 gene products—500 more than the simplest independent (nonparasitic) organisms alive today.[16] … The sudden simultaneous appearance of highly diverse and not-so-simple life-forms as early as 3.8 billion years ago would be consistent with the work of a supernatural super-intelligent Being …”[17]

Have all these scientific findings and astronomical odds against naturally occurring life moderated the worldview of science to a more sensible position? “Some scientists have argued that, given enough time, even apparently miraculous events become possible—such as the spontaneous emergence of a single cell organism from random couplings of chemicals. Sir Fred Hoyle, the British astronomer, has said such an occurrence is about as likely as the assemblage of a [Boeing] 747 by a tornado whirling through a junkyard.[18] Reflect on the timing: as I quoted Dr. Schroeder above, “There were no “billions of years” for amino acids to combine randomly into life.”[19] Life, in surprising variety, originated virtually at the same time as the first water appeared on Earth following the cessation of the late Heavy Bombardment.

Does it seem to you that faith in the Creator God is sensible?

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Next: article #3g “GOD, ARE YOU THERE?” — Part II — EVOLUTION AND DARWINISM


[1] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, re: worldview.

[2] Lee Strobel, (2000), The Case for Faith, (92), Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervon Publishing.

[3] On the importance of information in biology, see Hubert Hockey, Information Theory and Molecular Biology (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press); Bernd-Olaf Kuppers, Information and the Origin of Life (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990); Bernd-Olaf Kuppers, Molecular Theory of Evolution (Heidelberg: Springer, 1983); W. Loewenstein, The Touchstone of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). On the difference between biological information and chemical structures that carry no information, see Michael Polanyi, “Life’s Irreducible Structure,” Science 160 (1968):1308, and Michael Polanyi, “Life Transcending Physics and Chemistry,” Chemical and Engineering News (Aug. 21, 1967), 54-66.

[4] Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, (2004), The Privileged Planet, (285), Washington, D. C. , Regency Publishing.

[5] National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine, (2008), Science, Evolution, and Creationism, (21-22), Washington, D. C., The National Academies Press

[6] Gerald L. Schroeder, (1998), The Science of God, (86), New York, NY, Double Dell

[7] Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, (2000), Rare Earth, (61), New York, NY, Copernicus Books

[8] The gases chosen to represent ancient Earth’s atmosphere in which the experiment was conducted were significantly in error, invalidating the results. Walter L. Bradley, Ph.D., quoted by Lee Strobel. (2000), The Case for Faith, (92), Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervon Publishing.

[9] Lee Strobel, (2004), The Case for a Creator, (38-39), Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan

[10] ibid, Strobel, The Case for Faith, (101)

[11] ibid, Ward and Brownlee, (60-66)

[12] Perry Marshall, (2010), Cosmic Fingerprints, http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/blog/prove-god-exists/

[13] ibid, Marshall

[14] Arcady R. Mushegian and Eugene V. Loonin, “A Minimum Gene Set for Cellular Life Derived by Comparison of Complete Bacterial Genomes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 93 (1996): 10268-10273; and others.

[15] Minik T. Rosing and Robert Frei, “U-Rich Archaen Sea-Floor Sediments from Greenland — Indications of >3700 Ma Oxygenic Photosynthesis,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 6907 (2003); 1-8.

[16] Don Cowan, “Use Your Neighbour’s Genes,” Nature 407 (2000); 466-467

[17] Hugh Ross, (2006), Creation as Science, (127-128), Colorado Springs, CO, NavPress

[18] ibid, Schroeder, (85)

[19] ibid, Schroeder (86)

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The following are 26 of the estimated 50 constants and quantities, which, had there been any variation in their primordial values, our universe – at least as we know it – would not exist (ref 1: The Creator and the Cosmos, Hugh Ross, PhD, astronomy, p 118-119)

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1. Strong nuclear force constant
if larger: no hydrogen; nuclei essential for life would be unstable
if smaller: no elements other than hydrogen

2. Weak nuclear force constant
if larger: too much hydrogen converted to helium in big bang, hence too much heavy element material made by star burning; no expulsion of heavy elements from stars
if smaller: too little helium produced from big bang, hence too little heavy material made by star burning; no expulsion of heavy elements from stars

3. Gravitational force constant
if larger: stars would be too hot and would burn up too quickly and too unevenly
if smaller: stars would remain so cool that nuclear fusion would never ignite, hence no heavy element production

4. Electromagnetic force constant
if larger: insufficient chemical bonding; elements more massive than boron would be too unstable for fission
if smaller: insufficient chemical bonding

5. Ratio of electromagnetic force constant to gravitational force constant
if larger: no stars less than 1.4 solar masses, hence short stellar life spans and uneven stellar luminosities
if smaller: no stars more than 0.8 solar masses, hence no heavy element production

6. Ratio of electron to proton mass
if larger: insufficient chemical bonding
if smaller: insufficient chemical bonding

7. Ratio of number of protons to electrons
if larger: electromagnetism would dominate gravity, preventing galaxy, star and planet formation
if smaller: electromagnetism would dominate gravity, preventing galaxy, star and planet formation

8. Expansion rate of the universe
if larger: no galaxy formation
if smaller: universe would collapse prior to star formation

9. Entropy level of the universe
if larger: no proto-galaxy formation
if smaller: no star condensation within the proto-galaxies

10. Mass density of the universe
if larger: too much deuterium from big bang, hence stars burn too rapidly
if smaller: insufficient helium from big bang, hence too few heavy elements forming

11. Velocity of light
if faster: stars would be too luminous
if slower: stars would not be luminous enough

12. Age of the universe
if older: no solar-type stars in a stable burning phase in the right part of galaxies
if younger: solar-type stars in a stable burning phase would not yet have formed

13. Initial uniformity of radiation
if smoother: stars, star clusters, and galaxies would not have formed
if coarser: universe by now would be mostly black holes and empty space

14. Fine structure constant (a number used to describe the fine structural splitting of spectral lines)
if larger: DNA would be unable to function; no stars more than 0.7 solar masses
if smaller: DNA would be unable to function; no stars more than 1.8 solar masses

15. Average distance between galaxies
if larger: insufficient gas would be infused into our galaxy to sustain star formation over an adequate time span
if smaller: the sun’s orbit would be too radically disturbed

16. Average distance between stars
if larger; heavy element density too thin for rocky planets to form
if smaller: planetary orbits would become destabilized

17. Decay rate of the proton
if larger: life would be exterminated by the release of radiation
if smaller: insufficient matter in the universe for life

18. 12Carbon (12C) to 16Oxygen (16O) energy level ratio
if larger: insufficient oxygen
if smaller: insufficient  carbon

19. Ground state energy level for 4Helium (4He)
if larger: insufficient carbon and oxygen
if smaller: insufficient carbon and oxygen

20. Decay rate of 8Beryllium (8Be)
if slower: heavy element fusion would generate catastrophic in all the stars
if faster: no element production beyond beryllium and, hence, no life chemistry possible

21. Mass excess of the neutron over the proton
if greater: neutron decay would leave too few neutrons to form the heavy elements essential for life
if smaller: proton decay would cause all stars to collapse rapidly into neutron stars or black holes

22. Initial excess of nucleons over anti-nucleons
if greater: too much radiation for planets to form
if smaller: not enough matter for galaxies or stars to form

23. Polarity of the water molecule
if greater: heat of fusion and vaporization would be too great for life to exist
if smaller: heat of fusion and vaporization would be too small for life’s existence; liquid water would become too inferior a solvent for life chemistry to proceed; ice would not float, leading to a runaway freeze-up

24. Supernovae eruptions
if too close: radiation would eliminate life on the planet
if too far: not enough heavy element ashes for the formation of rocky planets

if too frequent: life on the planet would be exterminated
if too infrequent: not enough heavy element ashes for the formation of rocky planets

if too late: life on the planet would be exterminated by radiation
if too soon: not enough heavy element ashes for the formation of rocky planets

25. White dwarf binaries
if too few: insufficient fluorine produced for life chemistry to proceed
if too many: disruption of planetary orbits from stellar density; life on the planet would be exterminated

if too soon: not enough heavy elements made for efficient fluorine production
if too late: fluorine made too late for incorporation in proto-planet

26. Ratio of exotic to ordinary matter
if smaller: galaxies would not form
if larger: universe would collapse before solar type stars could form

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