There have been a number of proposals regarding the origin of life on earth. However, the various proposals fall into two schools of thought. One, held by creationists, is that life originated supernaturally. The other school of thought is that non-life became life solely by means of natural processes. This is commonly referred to as abiogenesis.[1] The proposal that first life came about through natural processes has not fared well in recent times.

Current status

Dr. Walter Bradley said: "The optimism of the 1950's is gone. The mood at the 1999 international conference of the origin of life was described as grim - full of frustration, pessimism, and desperation."[2] Prominent origin of life researcher Klaus Dose wrote about the "immensity of the problem" for naturalistic explanations of the origin of life and stated, "At present all discussions on principle theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance."[2]

In 1996, John Horgan wrote in Scientific American: "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." [3] Even Stanley Miller of the famous Miller-Urey experiment, wrote in Scientific American that the "problem of the origin of life has turned out to be much more difficult than I, and most other people, envisioned.[2] Horgan also wrote that Stanley Miller had referred to current proposals of the origin of life as "nonsense" and "paper chemistry". [4]

Stanley Miller, however, wasn't the first to highly disparage the existing proposals that scientists had come up with for the origin of life though natural means. Chemist and science writer Andrew Scott in 1988 said that "[d]ue to this scarcity of financial resources the study of the origins of life has been forced to become a most efficient and cost-effective industry from just a thimble-full of facts the scientists engaged in that study manage to generate a virtually endless supply of theories!"[5]

Some Specific Problems for Naturalistic Explanations of the Origin of Life

The attempt to explain the origin of life faces numerous difficult problems which is why the theory has not fared well in recent times:

  1. Chicken or the Egg problem regarding DNA and proteins: John Horgan wrote: "Many investigators now consider nucleic acids to be much more plausible candidates for the first self-replicating molecules. The work of Watson and Crick and others has shown that proteins are formed according to the instructions coded in DNA. But there is a hitch. DNA cannot do its work, including forming more DNA, without the help of catalytic proteins, or enzymes. In short, proteins cannot form without DNA, but neither can DNA form without proteins. To those pondering the origin of life, it is a classic chicken-and-egg problem: Which came first, proteins or DNA?" - (John Horgan,[science writer], "In The Beginning...," Scientific American, Vol. 264, No. 2, February 1991, pp.100-109, p.103)"[6]
  2. Complexity of the cell: Molecular biologist Michael Denton wrote regarding the complexity of the cell: "To grasp the reality of life as it has been revealed by molecular biology, we must magnify a cell a thousand million times until it is twenty kilometers in diameter and resembles a giant airship large enough to cover a great city like London or New York. What we would then see would be an object of unparalleled complexity and adaptive design. On the surface of the cell we would see millions of openings, like the port holes of a vast space ship, opening and closing to allow a continual stream of materials to flow in and out. If we were to enter one of these openings we would find ourselves in a world of supreme technology and bewildering complexity... Is it really credible that random processes could have constructed a reality, the smallest element of which-a functional protein or gene - is complex beyond our own creative capacities, a reality which is the very antithesis of chance, which excels in every sense anything produced by the intelligence of man?"[7]
  3. Catch 22 problem regarding oxygen and the early earth: Mike Riddle cites the "catch 22" dilemna regarding oxygen on the early earth in regards to a hypothesized naturalistic origin of life: "If we were to grant the evolutionists’ assumption of no oxygen in the original atmosphere, another fatal problem arises. Since the ozone is made of oxygen, it would not exist; and the ultraviolet rays from the sun would destroy any biological molecules. This presents a no-win situation for the evolution model. If there was oxygen, life could not start. If there was no oxygen, life could not start. Michael Denton notes: What we have is sort of a “Catch 22” situation. If we have oxygen we have no organic compounds, but if we don’t have oxygen we have none either."[8]
  4. Implausibility of the RNA World hypothesis.[9][10][11]
  5. Chirality problem[12]
  6. Polymerization problem [13]

Philosophical Presuppositions and Origin of Life Scenarios

Noted physicist and bioinformatician Hubert Yockey, who worked under Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhatten Project wrote the following regarding the crucial role the philosophical presuppositions play in the origin of life issue:

Faith in the infallible and comprehensive doctrines of dialectic materialism plays a crucial role in origin of life scenarios, and especially in exobiology and its ultimate consequence the doctrine of advanced extra-terrestrial civilization. That life must exist somewhere in the solar system on ‘suitable planets elsewhere’ is widely and tenaciously believed in spite of lack of evidence or even abundant evidence to the contrary.[14]

Yockey's statement regarding the philosophical presuppositions playing a crucial role in origin of life scenarios can be seen in regards to Sir Francis Crick the Nobel Prize winning biologist who was the British co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. Crick has described himself as an agnostic with "a strong inclination towards atheism."[15] In 1973, Francis Crick and the chemist Leslie Orgel published an article in the International Journal of Solar System Studies (Icarus) which posited that life may have arrived on earth by a process they called "Directed Panspermia".[16] The abstract for the aforemention Icarus article states that Directed Pamspermia is a "theory that organisms were deliberately transmitted to the earth by intelligent beings on another planet."[17]

In 1992, the popular magazine Scientific American published an interview which explored Crick's belief in the hypothesis Directed Panspermia.[18] American biochemist and intelligent design advocate Michael Behe wrote regarding the interview the following: "The primary reason Crick subscribes to this unorthodox view is that he judges the undirected origin of life to be a virtually insurmountable obstacle, but he wants a naturalistic explanation."[19]

Young earth creationist Gary Bates went further in criticism of Directed Panspermia and wrote that "Crick’s atheistic faith leads to absurd pseudoscience".[20] He also wrote:

Although he tried to solve the problem of the source of intelligence for the creation of DNA without God, Crick only succeeded in pushing the problem into outer space cannot be tested. After all, if such alleged aliens, in turn, were not created by a greater intelligence than themselves, then how did they evolve from non-living chemicals in the first place?[20]

Atheist Philosopher Doug Jesseph and the Origin of Life

In October of 1997, atheist Jeffery Jay Lowder, a founder of Internet Infidels, stated that he believed that in regards to atheism "the most impressive debater to date" was atheist philosopher Doug Jesseph.[21] Yet Doug Jesseph claimed in a debate with William Lane Craig in 1996 that the origin of life had a detailed atheistic explanation(s).[22] As noted earlier, in 1996, John Horgan wrote the following regarding what the highly respected origin of life researcher Stanley Miller believed to the case regarding naturalistic explanations of the origin of life: "Miller seemed unimpressed with any of the current proposals on the origin of life, referring to them as “nonsense” or “paper chemistry.”"[23] In addition, as stated earlier, in 1996, John Horgan wrote the following in Scientific American: "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."[24]

Creation Science and Intelligent Design Theorist Views

Creation scientists hold that God supernaturally created the various animals and plants on earth and naturalistic explanations are implausible. They offer numerous arguments on why naturalistic explanations of the origin of life are inadequate.[25] [26]

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer argues that naturalistic explanations for the origin of life have failed and that inference to the best explanation for the origin of biological information is an intelligent cause.[27]

External Links


  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Quoted in Strobel, Lee, The case for Faith, p.107.
  5. Quoted by Jones, Stephen E., Creation/Evolution Quotes: Origin of Life #2
  7. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Burnett Books, London, 1985, pages 328 and 342
  8. Riddle, Mike, Can natural processes explain the origin of life? 17th May, 2007 (Answers in Genesis).
  10. Sarfati, Jonathan, Self-replicating enzymes?, Journal of Creation 11(1):4–6, April 1997.
  11. Cairns-Smith, Graham, Genetic Takeover: And the Mineral Origins of Life, Cambridge University Press, 1982 (Quoted on Creation Ministries International web-site).
  12. Sarfati, Jonathan, Origin of life: the chirality problem, Journal of Creation 12(3):263–266, December 1998.
  13. Sarfati, Jonathan, Origin of life: the polymerization problem Journal of Creation 12(3):281–284, December 1998.
  14. Reprint of an Creation Research Quarterly September 2001 article The Spontaneous Generation Hypothesis by David P. Woetzel
  15. Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: a Personal View of Scientific Discovery, Basic Books reprint edition, 1990, ISBN 0-465-09138-5, p. 145.
  18. Reprint of an Creation Research Quarterly September 2001 article The Spontaneous Generation Hypothesis by David P. Woetzel
  19. Reprint of an Creation Research Quarterly September 2001 article The Spontaneous Generation Hypothesis by David P. Woetzel
  20. 20.0 20.1 Bates, Gary, Designed by aliens?, Creation 25(4):54–55, September 2003

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