If naturalistic molecules-to-human-life evolution
were true, multibillions of links are required to bridge modern humans
with the chemicals that once existed in the hypothetical primitive
soup. This putative soup, assumed by many scientists to
have given birth to life over 3.5 billion years ago, was located in
the ocean or mud puddles. Others argue that the origin of life
could not have been in the sea but rather must have occurred in clay
on dry land. Still others conclude that abiogenesis was more likely
to have occurred in hot vents. It is widely recognized that major
scientific problems exist with all naturalistic origin of life scenarios.
This is made clear in the conclusions of many leading origin-of-life
researchers. A major aspect of the abiogenesis question is What
is the minimum number of parts necessary for an autotrophic free living
organism to live, and could these parts assemble by naturalistic means?
Research shows that at the lowest level this number is in the multimillions,
producing an irreducible level of complexity that cannot be bridged
by any known natural means.
Abiogenesis is the theory that life can arise spontaneously from non-life
molecules under proper conditions. Evidence for a large number
of transitional forms to bridge the stages of this process is critical
to prove the abiogenesis theory, especially during the early stages
of the process. The view of how life originally developed from
non-life to an organism capable of independent life and reproduction
presented by the mass media is very similar to the following widely
Four and a half billion years ago the young planet Earth... was
almost completely engulfed by the shallow primordial seas. Powerful
winds gathered random molecules from the atmosphere.
Some were deposited in the seas. Tides and currents swept the molecules
together. And somewhere in this ancient ocean the miracle of
life began... The first organized form of primitive life was a
tiny protozoan [a one-celled animal]. Millions of protozoa
populated the ancient seas. These early organisms were completely
self-sufficient in their sea-water world. They moved about
their aquatic environment feeding on bacteria and other organisms...
From these one-celled organisms evolved all life on earth (from the
Emmy award winning PBS NOVA film The Miracle of Life quoted
in Hanegraaff, 1998, p. 70, emphasis in original).
Science textbook authors Wynn and Wiggins describe the abiogenesis
process currently accepted by Darwinists:
Aristotle believed that decaying material could be transformed by
the spontaneous action of Nature into living animals.
His hypothesis was ultimately rejected, but... Aristotles hypothesis
has been replaced by another spontaneous generation hypothesis,
one that requires billions of years to go from the molecules of the
universe to cells, and then, via random mutation/natural selection,
from cells to the variety of organisms living today. This version,
which postulates chance happenings eventually leading to the phenomenon
of life, is biologys Theory of Evolution (1997, p. 105).
The question on which this paper focuses is How much evidence
exists for this view of lifes origin? When Darwinists discuss
missing links they often imply that relatively few links
are missing in what is a rather complete chain which connects the putative
chemical precursors of life that is theorized to have existed an estimated
3.5 billion years ago to all life forms existing today. Standen
noted a half century ago that the term missing link is misleading
because it suggests that only one link is missing whereas it
is more accurate to state that so many links are missing that
it is not evident whether there was ever a chain (Standen, 1950, p.
106). This assertion now has been well documented by many creationists
and others (see Bergman, 1998; Gish, 1995; Lubenow, 1994, 1992; Rodabaugh,
1976; and Moore, 1976).
Scientists not only have been unable to find a single undisputed
link that clearly connects two of the hundreds of major family
groups, but they have not even been able to produce a plausible
starting point for their hypothetical evolutionary chain (Shapiro, 1986).
The first links actually the first hundreds of thousands or more
links that are required to produce lifestill are missing (Behe,
1996, pp. 154156)! Horgan concluded that if he were a creationist
today he would focus on the origin of life because this
...is by far the weakest strut of the chassis of modern biology.
The origin of life is a science writers dream. It abounds
with exotic scientists and exotic theories, which are never entirely
abandoned or accepted, but merely go in and out of fashion (1996,
The major links in the molecules-to-man theory that must be bridged
include (a) evolution of simple molecules into complex molecules, (b)
evolution of complex molecules into simple organic molecules, (c) evolution
of simple organic molecules into complex organic molecules, (d) eventual
evolution of complex organic molecules into DNA or similar information
storage molecules, and (e) eventually evolution into the first cells.
This process requires multimillions of links, all which either are missing
or controversial. Scientists even lack plausible just-so stories
for most of evolution. Furthermore the parts required to provide
life clearly have specifications that rule out most substitutions.
In the entire realm of science no class of molecule is currently
known which can remotely compete with proteins. It seems
increasingly unlikely that the abilities of proteins could be realized
to the same degree in any other material form. Proteins
are not only unique, but give every impression of being ideally adapted
for their role as the universal constructor devices of the cell ...
Again, we have an example in which the only feasible candidate for
a particular biological role gives every impression of being supremely
fit for that role (Denton, 1998, p. 188, emphasis in original).
The logical order in which life developed is hypothesized to include
the following basic major stages:
- Certain simple molecules underwent spontaneous, random chemical
reactions until after about half-a-billion years complex organic molecules
- Molecules that could replicate eventually were formed (the most
common guess is nucleic acid molecules), along with enzymes and nutrient
molecules that were surrounded by membraned cells.
- Cells eventually somehow learned how to reproduce by
copying a DNA molecule (which contains a complete set of instructions
for building a next generation of cells). During the reproduction
process, the mutations changed the DNA code and produced cells that
differed from the originals.
- The variety of cells generated by this process eventually developed
the machinery required to do all that was necessary to survive, reproduce,
and create the next generation of cells in their likeness. Those
cells that were better able to survive became more numerous in the
population (adapted from Wynn and Wiggins, 1997, p. 172).
The problem of the early evolution of life and the unfounded optimism
of scientists was well put by Dawkins. He concluded that Earths
chemistry was different on our early, lifeless, planet, and that at
this time there existed
...no life, no biology, only physics and chemistry, and the details
of the Earths chemistry were very different. Most, though
not all, of the informed speculation begins in what has been called
the primeval soup, a weak broth of simple organic chemicals in the
sea. Nobody knows how it happened but, somehow, without violating
the laws of physics and chemistry, a molecule arose that just happened
to have the property of self-copyinga replicator. This
may seem like a big stroke of luck... Freakish or not, this kind of
luck does happen... [and] it had to happen only once... What is more,
as far as we know, it may have happened on only one planet out of
a billion billion planets in the universe. Of course many people
think that it actually happened on lots and lots of planets, but we
only have evidence that it happened on one planet, after a
lapse of half a billion to a billion years. So the sort of lucky
event we are looking at could be so wildly improbable that
the chances of its happening, somewhere in the universe, could be
as low as one in a billion billion billion in any one year.
If it did happen on only one planet, anywhere in the universe,
that planet has to be our planetbecause here we are talking
about it (Dawkins, 1996, pp. 282283, emphasis in original).
The Evidence for the Early Steps of Evolution
The first step in evolution was the development of simple self-copying
molecules consisting of carbon dioxide, water and other inorganic compounds.
No one has proven that a simple self-copying molecule can self-generate
a compound such as DNA. Nor has anyone been able to create one
in a laboratory or even on paper. The hypothetical weak primeval
soup was not like soups experienced by humans but was highly diluted,
likely close to pure water. The process is described as life having
spontaneously from organic compounds in the oceans of the primitive
Earth. The proposal assumes that primitive oceans contained
large quantities of simple organic compounds that reacted to form
structures of greater and greater complexity, until there arose a
structure that we would call living. In other words, the first
living organism developed by means of a series of nonbiological steps,
none of which would be highly improbably on the basis of what is know
today. This theory, [was] first set forth clearly by A.I. Oparin
(1938) ... (Newman, 1967, p. 662).
An astounding number of speculations, models, theories and controversies
still surround every aspect of the origin of life problem (Lahav 1999).
Although some early scientists proposed that organic life ...
is eternal, most realized it must have come into existence
at a certain period in the past (Haeckel, 1905, p. 339).
It now is acknowledged that the first living organism could not have
arisen directly from inorganic matter (water, carbon dioxide, and other
inorganic nutrients) even as a result of some extraordinary event.
Before the explosive growth of our knowledge of the cell during the
last 30 years, it was known that the simplest bacteria are extremely
complex, and the chances of their arising directly from inorganic materials,
with no steps in between, are too remote to consider seriously.
(Newman, 1967, p. 662). Most major discoveries about cell biology
and molecular biology have been made since then.
Search for the Evidence of Earliest Life
Theories abound, but no direct evidence for the beginning of the theoretical
evolutionary climb of life up what Richard Dawkins and many evolutionists
call mount improbable ever has been discovered (Dawkins,
1996). Nor have researchers been able to develop a plausible theory
to explain how life could evolve from non-life. Many equally
implausible theories now exist, most of which are based primarily on
speculation. The ancients believed life originated by spontaneous
generation from inanimate matter or once living but now dead matter.
Aristotle even believed that under the proper conditions putatively
simple animals such as worms, fleas, mice, and dogs could
spring to life spontaneously from moist Mother Earth."
The spontaneous generation of life theory eventually was proved false
by hundreds of research studies such as the 1668 experiment by Italian
physician Francesco Redi (16261697). In one of the first
controlled biological experiments, Redi proved that maggots appeared
in meat only after flies had deposited their eggs on it (Jenkens-
Jones, 1997). Maggots do not spontaneously generate on their own
as previously believed by less rigorous experimenters.
Despite Redis evidence, however, the belief in spontaneous generation
of life was so strong in the 1600s that even Redi continued to believe
that spontaneous generation could occur in certain instances.
After the microscope proved the existence of bacteria in l683, many
scientists concluded that these simple microscopic organisms
must have spontaneously generated, thereby providing evolution
with its beginning. Pasteur and other researchers, though, soon
disproved this idea, and the fields of microbiology and biochemistry
have since documented quite eloquently the enormous complexity of these
compact living creatures (Black, 1998).
Nearly all biologists were convinced by the latter half of the nineteenth
century that spontaneous generation of all types of living organisms
was impossible (Bergman, 1993a). Now that naturalism dominates
science, Darwinists reason that at least one spontaneous generation
of life event must have occurred in the distant past because
no other naturalistic origin-of-life method exists aside from panspermia,
which only moves the spontaneous generation of life event elsewhere
(Bergman, 1993b). As theism was filtered out of science, spontaneous
generation gradually was resurrected in spite of its previous defeat.
The solution was to add a large amount of time to the broth:
Aristotle believed that decaying material could be transformed by
the spontaneous action of Nature into living animals.
His hypothesis was ultimately rejected, but, in a way, he might not
have been completely wrong. Aristotles hypothesis has
been replaced by another spontaneous generation hypothesis,
one that requires billions of years to go from the molecules of the
universe to cells, and then, via random mutation/natural selection,
from cells to the variety of organisms living today. This version,
which postulates chance happenings eventually leading to the phenomenon
of life, is biologys Theory of Evolution (Wynn and Wiggins,
1997, p. 105, emphasis mine).
Although this view now is widely accepted among evolutionists, no
one has been able to locate convincing fossil (or other) evidence to
support it. The plausibility of abiogenesis has changed greatly
in recent years due to research in molecular biology that has revealed
exactly how complex life is, and how much evidence exists against the
probability of spontaneous generation. In the 1870s and 1880s
scientists believed that devising a plausible explanation for the origin
would be fairly easy. For one thing, they assumed that life
was essentially a rather simple substance called protoplasm that could
be easily constructed by combining and recombining simple chemicals
such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen (Meyer, 1996, p. 25).
The German evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel (1925) even referred
to monera cells as simple homogeneous globules of plasm. Haeckel
believed that a living cell about as complex as a bowl of Jell-o ® could
exist, and his origin of life theory reflected this completely erroneous
view. He even concluded that cell autogony (the term
he used to describe living things ability to reproduce) was similar
to the process of inorganic crystallization. In his words:
The most ancient organisms which arose by spontaneous generationthe
original parents of all subsequent organismsmust necessarily
be supposed to have been Monerasimple, soft, albuminous lumps
of plasma, without structure, without any definite form, and entirely
without any hard and formed parts.
About the same time T. H. Huxley proposed a simple two-step method
of chemical recombination that he thought could explain the origin of
the first living cell. Both Haeckel and Huxley thought that just
as salt could be produced spontaneously by mixing powered sodium metal
and heated chlorine gas, a living cell could be produced by mixing the
few chemicals they believed were required. Haeckel taught that
the basis of life is a substance called plasm, and this
the material foundations of the phenomena of life ... All the other
materials that we find in the living organism are products or derivatives
of the active plasm: In view of the extraordinary significance
which we must assign to the plasmas the universal vehicle of
all the vital phenomena [or as Huxley said the physical basis
of life]it is very important to understand clearly all
its properties, especially the chemical ones ... In every case where
we have with great difficulty succeeded in examining the plasm as
far as possible and separating it from the plasma-products, it has
the appearance of a colorless, viscous substance, the chief physical
property of which is its peculiar thickness and consistency ... Active
living protoplasm ... is best compared to a cold jelly or solution
of glue (1905 pp. 121,123).
Once the brew was mixed, eons of time allowed spontaneous chemical
reactions to produce the simple protoplasmic substance that
scientists once assumed to be the essence of life (Meyer, 1996, p. 25).
As late as 1928, the germ cell still was thought to be relatively simple
...no one now questions that individual development everywhere consists
of progress from a relatively simple to a relatively complex form.
Development is not the unfolding of an infolded organism; it is the
formation of new structures and functions by combinations and transformations
of the relatively simple structures and functions of the germ cells
(Conklin, 1928, pp. 6364).
Cytologists now realize that a living cell contains hundreds of thousands
of different complex parts such as various motor proteins that are assembled
to produce the most complex machine in the Universea
machine far more complex than the most complex Cray super computer.
We now also realize after a century of research that the eukaryote protozoa
thought to be as simple as a bowl of gelatin in Darwins day actually
are enormously more complex than the prokaryote cell. Furthermore,
molecular biology has demonstrated that the basic design of the cell
essentially the same in all living systems on earth from bacteria
to mammals... In terms of their basic biochemical design... no living
system can be thought of as being primitive or ancestral with respect
to any other system, nor is there the slightest empirical hint of
an evolutionary sequence among all the incredibly diverse cells on
earth (Denton, 1986, p. 250).
This is a major problem for Darwinism because life at the cellular
level generally does not reveal a gradual increase in complexity as
it ascends the evolutionary ladder from protozoa to humans. The
reason that all cells are basically alike is because the basic biochemical
requirements and constraints for all life are the same:
A curious similarity underlies the seemingly varied forms of life
we see on the earth today: the most central molecular machinery
of modern organisms has always been found to be essentially the same.
This unity of biochemistry has surely been one of the great discoveries
of the past 100 years (Cairns-Smith, 1985, p. 90).
The most critical gap that must be explained is that between life
and non-life because
Cells and organisms are very complex... [and] there is a surprising
uniformity among living things. We know from DNA sequence analyses
that plants and higher animals are closely related, not only to each
other, but to relatively simple single-celled organisms such as yeasts.
Cells are so similar in their structure and function that many of
their proteins can be interchanged from one organism to another.
For example, yeast cells share with human cells many of the central
molecules that regulate their cell cycle, and several of the human
proteins will substitute in the yeast cell for their yeast equivalents!
(Alberts, 1992, p. xii).
The belief that spontaneous regeneration, while admittedly
very rare, is still attractive as illustrated by Sagan and Leonards
conclusion, Most scientists agree that life will appear spontaneously
in any place where conditions remain sufficiently favorable for a very
long time (1972, p. 9). This claim then is followed by an
admission from Sagan and Leonard that raises doubts not only about abiogenesis,
but about Darwinism generally, namely, this conviction [about
the origin of life] is based on inferences and extrapolations.
The many problems, inferences, and extrapolations needed to create abiogenesis
just-so stories once were candidly admitted by Dawkins:
An origin of life, anywhere, consists of the chance arising of a
self-replicating entity. Nowadays, the replicator that matters
on Earth is the DNA molecule, but the original replicator probably
was not DNA. We dont know what it was. Unlike DNA,
the original replicating molecules cannot have relied upon complicated
machinery to duplicate them. Although, in some sense, they must
have been equivalent to Duplicate me instructions, the
language in which the instructions were written was not
a highly formalized language such that only a complicated machine
could obey them. The original replicator cannot have needed
elaborate decoding, as DNA instructions... do today. Self-duplication
was an inherent property of the entitys structure just as, say,
hardness is an inherent property of a diamond... the original replicators,
unlike their later successors the DNA molecules, did not have complicated
decoding and instruction-obeying machinery, because complicated machinery
is the kind of thing that arises in the world only after many generations
of evolution. And evolution does not get started until there
are replicators. In the teeth of the so-called Catch-22
of the origin of life... the original self-duplicating entities
must have been simple enough to arise by the spontaneous accidents
of chemistry (1996, p. 285).
The method used in constructing these hypothetical replicators is
not stated, nor has it ever been demonstrated to exist either in the
laboratory or on paper. The difficulties of terrestrial abiogenesis
are so great that some evolutionists have hypothesized that life could
not have originated on earth but must have been transported here from
another planet via star dust, meteors, comets, or spaceships (Bergman,
1993b)! As noted above, panspermia does not solve the origin of
life problem though, but instead moves the abiogenesis problem elsewhere.
Furthermore, since so far as we know no living organism can survive
very long in space because of cosmic rays and other radiation, this
theory is ... highly dubious, although it has not been disproved; also,
it does not answer the question of where or how life did originate
(Newman, 1967, p. 662).
Darwin evidentially recognized how serious the abiogenesis problem
was for his theory, and once even conceded that all existing terrestrial
life must have descended from some primitive life form that was called
into life by the Creator (1900, p. 316). But to admit,
as Darwin did, the possibility of one or a few creations is
to open the door to the possibility of many or even thousands!
If God made one animal type, He also could have made two or many thousands
of different types. No contemporary hypothesis today has provided
a viable explanation as to how the abiogenesis origin of life could
occur by naturalistic means. The problems are so serious that
the majority of evolutionists today tend to shun the whole subject of
History of Modern Abiogenesis Research
The warm soup theory, still the most widely held theory
of abiogenesis among evolutionists, was developed most extensively by
Russian scientist A.I. Oparin in the 1920s. The theory held that
life evolved when organic molecules rained into the primitive oceans
from an atmospheric soup of chemicals interacting with solar energy.
Later Haldane (1928), Bernal (1947) and Urey (1952) published their
research to try to support this model, all with little success.
Then came what some felt was a breakthrough by Harold Urey and his graduate
student Stanley Miller in the early 1950s.
The most famous origin of life experiment was completed in 1953 by
Stanley Miller at the University of Chicago. At the time Miller
was a 23-year-old graduate student working under Urey who was trying
to recreate in his laboratory the conditions then thought to have preceded
the origin of life. The Miller/Urey experiments involved filling
a sealed glass apparatus with methane, ammonia, hydrogen gases (representing
what they thought composed the early atmosphere) and water vapor (to
simulate the ocean). Next, they used a spark-discharge device
to strike the gases in the flask with simulated lightning while a heating
coil kept the water boiling. Within a few days, the water and
gas mix produced a reddish stain on the sides of the flask. After
analyzing the substances that had been formed, they found several types
of amino acids. Eventually Miller and other scientists were able
to produce 10 of the 20 amino acids required for life by techniques
similar to the original Miller/ Urey experiments.
Urey and Miller assumed that the results were significant because
some of the organic compounds produced were the building blocks of proteins,
the basic structure of all life (Horgan, 1996, p. 130). Although
widely heralded by the press as proving the origin of life
could have occurred on the early earth under natural conditions without
intelligence, the experiment actually provided compelling evidence for
exactly the opposite conclusion. For example, equal quantities
of both right- and left-handed organic molecules always were produced
by the Urey/Miller procedure. In real life, nearly all amino acids
found in proteins are left handed, almost all polymers of carbohydrates
are right handed, and the opposite type can be toxic to the cell.
In a summary the famous Urey/Miller origin-of-life experiment, Horgan
Millers results seem to provide stunning evidence that life
could arise from what the British chemist J.B.S. Haldane had called
the primordial soup. Pundits speculated that scientists,
like Mary Shelleys Dr. Frankenstein, would shortly conjure up
living organisms in their laboratories and thereby demonstrate in
detail how genesis unfolded. It hasnt worked out that
way. In fact, almost 40 years after his original experiment,
Miller told me that solving the riddle of the origin of life had turned
out to be more difficult than he or anyone else had envisioned (1996,
The reasons why creating life in a test tube turned out to be far
more difficult than Miller or anyone else expected are numerous and
include the fact that scientists now know that the complexity of life
is far greater than Miller or anyone else in pre-DNA revolution 1953
ever imagined. Actually life is far more complex and contains
far more information than anyone in the 1980s believed possible.
In an interview with Miller, now considered one of the most diligent
and respected origin-of-life researchers, Horgan reported that
after Miller completed his 1953 experiment, he
...dedicated himself to the search for the secret of life.
He developed a reputation as both a rigorous experimentalist and a
bit of a curmudgeon, someone who is quick to criticize what he feels
is shoddy work....he fretted that his field still had a reputation
as a fringe discipline, not worthy of serious pursuit.... Miller seemed
unimpressed with any of the current proposals on the origin of life,
referring to them as nonsense or paper chemistry.
He was so contemptuous of some hypotheses that, when I asked his opinion
of them, he merely shook his head, sighed deeply, and snickeredas
if overcome by the folly of humanity. Stuart Kauffmans
theory of autocatalysis fell into this category. Running
equations through a computer does not constitute an experiment,
Miller sniffed. Miller acknowledged that scientists may never
know precisely where and when life emerged. Were
trying to discuss a historical event, which is very different from
the usual kind of science, and so criteria and methods are very different,
he remarked... (Horgan, 1996, p. 139).
The major problem of Millers experiment is well put by Davies,
Making the building blocks of life is easyamino acids have
been found in meteorites and even in outer space. But just as
bricks alone dont make a house, so it takes more than a random
collection of amino acids to make life. Like house bricks, the
building blocks of life have to be assembled in a very specific and
exceedingly elaborate way before they have the desired function (Davies,
1999, p. 28).
We now realize that the Urey/Miller experiments did not produce evidence
for abiogenesis because, although amino acids are the building blocks
of life, the key to life is information (Pigliucci, 1999; Dembski, 1998).
Natural objects in forms resembling the English alphabet (circles, straight
lines and similar) abound in nature, but this does not help us to understand
the origin of information (such as that in Shakespears plays)
because this task requires intelligence both to create the information
(the play) and then to translate that information into symbols.
What must be explained is the source of the information
in the text (the words and ideas), not the existence of circles and
straight lines. Likewise, the information contained in the genome
must be explained (Dembski, 1998). Complicating the situation
is the fact that
research has since drawn Millers hypothetical atmosphere into
question, causing many scientists to doubt the relevance of his findings.
Recently, scientists have focused on an even more exotic amino acid
source: meteorites. Chyba is one of several researchers
who have evidence that extraterrestrial amino acids may have hitched
a ride to Earth on far flung space rocks (Simpson, 1999, p. 26).
Yet another difficulty is, even if the source of the amino acids and
the many other compounds needed for life could be explained, it still
must be explained as to how these many diverse elements became aggregated
in the same area and then properly assembled themselves. This
problem is a major stumbling block to any theory of abiogenesis:
...no one has ever satisfactorily explained how the widely distributed
ingredients linked up into proteins. Presumed conditions of
primordial Earth would have driven the amino acids toward lonely isolation.
Thats one of the strongest reasons that Wächtershäuser, Morowitz,
and other hydrothermal vent theorists want to move the kitchen [that
cooked life] to the ocean floor. If the process starts down
deep at discrete vents, they say, it can build amino acidsand
link them upright there (Simpson, 1999, p. 26).
Several recent discoveries have led some scientists to conclude that
life may have arisen in submarine vents whose temperatures approach
350° C. Unfortunately for both warm pond and hydrothermal vent
theorists, heat may be the downfall of their theory.
Heat and Biochemical Degradation Problems
Charles Darwins hypothesis that life first originated on earth
in a warm little pond somewhere on a primitive earth has been used widely
by most nontheists for over a century in attempts to explain the origin
of life. Several reasons exist for favoring a warm environment
for the start of life on earth. A major reason is that the putative
oldest known organisms on earth are alleged to be hyperthermophiles
that require temperatures between 80° and 110° C in order to thrive
(Levy and Miller, 1998). In addition some atmospheric models have
concluded that the surface temperature of the early earth was much higher
than it is today.
A major drawback of the warm little pond origin- of-life
theory is its apparent inability to produce sufficient concentrations
of the many complex compounds required to construct the first living
organisms. These compounds must be sufficiently stable to insure
that the balance between synthesis and degradation favors synthesis
(Levy and Miller, 1998). The warm pond and hot vent theories also
have been seriously disputed by experimental research that has found
the half-lives of many critically important compounds needed for life
to be far too short to allow for the adequate accumulation of
these compounds (Levy and Miller, 1998, p. 7933). Furthermore,
research has documented that unless the origin of life took place
extremely rapidly (in less than 100 years), we conclude that a high
temperature origin of life... cannot involve adenine, uracil, guanine
or cytosine because these compounds break down far too fast in
a warm environment. In a hydrothermal environment, most of these
compounds could neither form in the first place, nor exist for a significant
amount of time (Levy and Miller, p. 7933).
As Levy and Miller explain, the rapid rates of hydrolysis of
the nucleotide bases A,U,G and T at temperatures much above 0° Celsius
would present a major problem in the accumulation of these presumed
essential components on the early earth (p. 7933). For this
reason, Levy and Miller postulated that either a two-letter code or
an alternative base pair was used instead. This requires the development
of an entirely different kind of life, a conclusion that
is not only highly speculative, but likely impossible because no other
known compounds have the required properties for life that adenine,
uracil, guanine and cytosine possess. Furthermore, this would
require life to evolve based on a hypothetical two-letter code or alternative
base pair system. Then life would have to re-evolve into
a radically new form based on the present code, a change that appears
to be impossible according to our current understanding of molecular
Furthermore, the authors found that, given the minimal time perceived
to be necessary for evolution to occur, cytosine is unstable even
at temperatures as cold as 0º C. Without cytosine neither
DNA or RNA can exist. One of the main problems with Millers
theory is that his experimental methodology has not been able to produce
much more than a few amino acids which actually lend little or no insight
into possible mechanisms of abiogenesis.
Even the simpler molecules are produced only in small amounts in
realistic experiments simulating possible primitive earth conditions.
What is worse, these molecules are generally minor constituents of
tars: It remains problematical how they could have been separated
and purified through geochemical processes whose normal effects are
to make organic mixtures more and more of a jumble. With somewhat
more complex molecules these difficulties rapidly increase.
In particular a purely geochemical origin of nucleotides (the subunits
of DNA and RNA) presents great difficulties. In any case, nucleotides
have not yet been produced in realistic experiments of the kind Miller
did. (Cairns-Smith, 1985, p. 90).
Postulating alternative codes for an origin-of-life event at temperatures
close to the freezing point of water is a rationalization designed to
overcome what appears to be a set of insurmountable problems for the
abiogenesis theory. Given these problems, why do so many biologists
believe that life on earth originated by spontaneous generation under
favorable conditions? Yockey concludes that although Millers
paradigm was at one time
worth consideration, now the entire effort in the primeval soup
paradigm is self-deception based on the ideology of its champions...
The history of science shows that a paradigm, once it has achieved
the status of acceptance (and is incorporated in textbooks) and regardless
of its failures, is declared invalid only when a new paradigm is available
to replace it ... It is a characteristic of the true believer in religion,
philosophy and ideology that he must have a set of beliefs, come what
may... There is no reason that this should be different in the research
on the origin of life ...Belief in a primeval soup on the grounds
that no other paradigm is available is an example of the logical fallacy
of the false alternative... (Yockey, 1992, p. 336 emphasis in
The many problems with the warm soup model have motivated the development
of many other abiogenesis models. One is the cold temperature
model that is gaining in acceptance as the flaws of the hot model become
more obvious. As Vogel notes, many researchers still
argue that the first cells arose in the scalding waters of hot springs
or geothermal vents, while a small but prominent band of holdouts
insists on cool pools or even cold oceans. With no fossils to
go by, the argument has circled a variety of indirect clues ... But
now ... comes good news from the cold camp: Evidence from the
genes of living organisms suggests that the cell that gave rise to
all of todays life-forms was ill-suited for extremely hot conditions
(Vogel, 1999, p. 155).
Based on a geochemical assessment, Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen (1984
p. 66) concluded that in the atmosphere the many destructive interactions
would have so vastly diminished, if not altogether consumed, essential
precursor chemicals, that chemical evolution rates would have been negligible
in the various water basins on the primitive earth. They concluded
that the soup would have been far too diluted for direct
polymerization to occur. Even local ponds where some concentrating
of soup ingredients may have occurred would have met with the same problem.
Furthermore, no geological evidence indicates an organic soup, even
a small organic pond, ever existed on this planet. It is becoming
clear that however life began on earth, the usually conceived notion
that life emerged from an oceanic soup of organic chemicals is a most
implausible hypothesis. We may therefore with fairness call
this scenario the myth of the prebiotic soup (Thaxton,
Bradley, and Olsen, 1984, p. 66).
It also is theorized that life must have begun in clay because the
clay-life explanation explains several problems not explained
by the primordial soup theory. Graham Cairns-Smith
of the University of Scotland first proposed the clay-life theory about
40 years ago, and many scientists have since come to believe that life
on earth must have began from clay rather than in the the warm little
pond as proposed by Darwin. The clay-life theory holds that an
accumulation of chemicals produced in clay by the sun eventually led
to the hypothetical self-replicating molecules that evolved into cells
and then eventually into all life forms on earth today.
The theory argues that only clay has the two essential properties
necessary for life: the capacity to both store and transfer energy.
Furthermore, because some clay components have the ability to act as
catalysts, clay is capable of some of the same lifelike attributes as
those exhibited by enzymes. Additionally the mineral structure
of certain clays are almost as intricate as some organic molecules.
However, the clay theory suffered from its own set of problems, and
as a result has been discarded by most theorists. At the very
least, the Stanley Miller experiments proved that amino acids can be
formed under certain conditions. The clay theory has yet to achieve
even this much. As a result, Millers experiments continue
to be cited because no other viable source exists for the production
of amino acids. Now, the hot thermal vent theory is being discussed
once again by many as an alternative although, as noted above, it too
suffers from potentially lethal problems.
What is Needed to Produce Life
Naturalism requires enormously long periods of time to allow non-living
matter to evolve into the hypothetical speck of viable protoplasm needed
to start the process that results in life. Even more time
is needed to evolve the protoplasm into the enormous variety of highly
organized complex life forms that have been found in Cambrian rocks.
Neo-Darwinism suggests that life originated over 3.5 billion years ago,
yet a rich fossil record for less than roughly 600 million years commonly
is claimed. Consequently, almost all the record is missing, and
evidence for the most critical two billion years of evolution is sparse
at best with what little actually exists being highly equivocal.
A major issue then, in abiogenesis is what is the minimum
number of possible parts that allows something to live? The number
of parts needed is large, but how large is difficult to determine.
In order to be considered alive, an organism must possess
the ability to metabolize and assimilate food, to respirate, to grow,
to reproduce and to respond to stimuli (a trait known as irritability).
These criteria were developed by biologists who were trying to understand
the process we call life. Although these criteria are not perfect,
they are useful in spite of cases that seem to contradict our definition.
A mule, for instance, cannot usually reproduce but clearly is alive,
and a crystal can reproduce but clearly is not alive.
One attempt by an evolutionist to determine what is needed in order
to self-replicate produced the following conclusions:
If we ditch the selfish-replicator illusion, and accept that the
only known biological entity capable of autonomous replication is
the cell (full of cooperating genes and proteins, etc.)... DNA replication
is so error-prone that it needs the prior existence of protein enzymes
to improve the copying fidelity of a gene-size piece of DNA.
Catch-22, say Maynard Smith and Szathmary. So, wheel
on RNA with its now recognized properties of carrying both informational
and enzymatic activity, leading the authors to state: In essence,
the first RNA molecules did not need a protein polymerase to replicate
them; they replicated themselves. Is this a fact or a hope?
I would have thought it relevant to point out for biologists
in general that not one self-replicating RNA has emerged to
date from quadrillions (1024) of artificially synthesized,
random RNA sequences (Dover, 1999, p. 218).
The cell, then appears to be the only biological entity that self-reproduces
and simultaneously possesses the other traits required for life.
The question then becomes What is the simplest cell that
Many bacteria and all viruses possess less complexity than required
for an organism normally defined as living, and for this
reason must live as parasites which require the existence of complex
cells in order to reproduce. For this reason Trefil noted that
the question of where viruses come from is an enduring mystery
in evolution. Viruses usually are much smaller than parasitic
bacteria and are not considered alive because they must rely on their
host even more than bacteria do. Viruses consist primarily of
a coat of proteins surrounding DNA or RNA that contains a handful of
genes, and since they do not
... reproduce in the normal way, its hard to see how they
could have gotten started. One theory: they are parasites
who, over a long period of time, have lost the ability to reproduce
independently... Viruses are among the smallest of living
things. A typical virus, like the one that causes ordinary influenza,
may be no more than a thousand atoms across. This is in comparison
with cells which may be hundreds or even thousands of times that size.
Its small size is one reason that it is so easy for a virus to spread
from one host to anotherits hard to filter out anything
that small (Trefil, 1992, p. 91).
In order to reproduce, a viruss genes must invade a living cell
and take control of its much larger DNA. A bacterium is 400 times
greater in size than the smallest known virus, while a typical human
cell averages 200 times larger than the smallest known bacterium.
The QB virus is only 24 nanometers long, contains only 3 genes and is
almost 20 times smaller than Escherichia coli, billions of which
inhabit the human intestines. E. coli is 1,000 nanometers
long compared to a typical human cell that is about 10,000 nanometers
long (1 nanometer equals 1 billionth of a meter, or about 1/25-millionths
of an inch) and contains an estimated 100,000 genes. Researchers
have detected microbes in human and bovine blood that are only 2-millionths
of an inch in diameter, but these organisms cannot live on their own
because they need more than simple inorganic, or common inorganic molecules
Since parasites lack many of the genes (and other biological machinery)
required to survive on their own, in order to grow and reproduce they
must obtain the nutrients and other services they require from the organisms
that serve as their hosts. Independent free-living creatures such
as people, mice and roses are far more complex than organisms like parasites
and viruses that are dependent on these complex free-living organisms.
Abiogenesis theory requires that the first life forms consisted of free-living
autotrophs (i.e. organisms that are able to manufacture their own food)
since the complex life forms needed to sustain heterotrophs (organisms
that cannot manufacture their own food) did not exist until later.
Most extremely small organisms existing today are dependent on other,
more complex organisms. Some organisms can overcome their lack
of size and genes by borrowing genes from their hosts or by gorging
on a rich broth of organic chemicals like blood. Some microbes
live in colonies in which different members provide different services.
Unless one postulates the unlikely scenario of the simultaneous spontaneous
generation of many different organisms, one has to demonstrate
the evolution of an organism that can survive on its own, or with others
like itself, as a symbiont or cannibal. Consequently, the putative
first life forms must have been much more complex than most examples
of simple life known to exist today.
The simplest microorganisms, Chlamydia and Rickettsea, are the smallest
living things known, but also are both parasites and thus too simple
to be the first life. Only a few hundred atoms across, they are
smaller than the largest virus and have about half as much DNA as do
other species of bacteria. Although they are about as small as
possible and still be living, these two forms of life still possess
the millions of atomic parts necessary to carry out the biochemical
functions required for life, yet they still are too simple to live on
their own and thus must use the cellular machinery of a host in order
to live (Trefil, 1992, p. 28). Many of the smaller bacteria are
not free living, but are parasite like viruses that can live only with
the help of more complex organisms (Galtier et al., 1999).
The gap between non-life and the simplest cell is illustrated by what
is believed to be the organism with the smallest known genome of any
free living organism Mycoplasma genitalium (Fraser et
al., 1995). M. genitalium is 200 nanometers long
and contains only 482 genes or over 0.5 million base pairs which compares
to 4,253 genes for E. coli (about 4,720,000 nucleotide base pairs),
with each gene producing an enormously complex protein machine (Fraser
et al., 1995). M. genitalium also must live off other life
because they are too simple to live on their own. They invade
reproductive tract cells and live as parasites on organelles that are
far larger and more complicated but which must first exist for
the survival of parasitic organisms to be possible. The first
life therefore must be much more complex than M. genitalium
even though it is estimated to manufacture about 600 different proteins.
A typical eukaryote cell consists of an estimated 40,000 different protein
molecules and is so complex that to acknowledge that the cells
exist at all is a marvel... even the simplest of the living cells is
far more fascinating than any human- made object" (Alberts, 1992,
pp. xii, xiv).
M. genitalium is one-fifth the size of E. coli but four
times larger than the putative nanobacteria. Blood nanobacteria
are only 50 nanometers long (which is smaller than some viruses), and
possess a currently unknown number of genes. When Finnish biologist
Olavi Kajander discovered nanobacteria in 1998, he called them a bizarre
new form of life. Nanobacteria now are speculated to resemble
primitive life forms which presumably arose in the postulated chemical
soup that existed when earth was young. Kajander concluded that
nanobacteria may serve as a model for primordial life, and that their
modern-day primordial soup is blood. Actually, nanobacteria cannot
be the smallest form of life because they evidently are parasites and
primordial life must be able to live independently. Like viruses
they are not considered alive but are of intense medical interest because
they may be one cause of kidney stones (Kajander and Ciftcioglu, 1998).
Other researchers think these bacteria are only a degenerate form of
For these reasons, when researching the minimum requirements needed
to live the example of E. coli is more realistic. Most
bacteria require several thousand genes to carry out the minimum functions
necessary for life. Denton notes that even though the tiniest
bacterial cells are incredibly small, weighing under 1012
grams, each bacterium is a
veritable micro-miniaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely
designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether
of one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any
machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living
world (Denton, 1986, p. 250).
The simplest form of life requires millions of parts at the atomic
level, and the higher life forms require trillions. Furthermore,
the many macromolecules necessary for life are constructed of even smaller
parts called elements. That life requires a certain minimum number
of parts is well documented; the only debate now is how many
millions of functionally integrated parts are necessary. The minimum
number may not produce an organism that can survive long enough to effectively
reproduce. Schopf notes that simple life without complex repair
systems to fix damaged genes and their protein products stand little
chance of surviving. When a mutation occurs
cells like those of humans with two copies of each gene can often
get by with one healthy version. But a mutation can be deadly
if it occurs in an organism with only a single copy of its genes,
like many primitive forms of life.... (Schopf, 1999, p. 102)
Therefore, the answer to our original question, What is the
smallest form of nonparasitic life? probably is an organism close
to size and complexity of E. Coli, possibly even larger.
No answer is currently possible because we have much to learn about
what is required for life. As researchers discover new exotic
life forms thriving in rocks, ice, acid, boiling water and
other extreme environments, they are finding the biological world to
be much more complex than assumed merely a decade ago. The oceans
now are known to be teeming with microscopic cells which form the base
of the food chain on which fish and other larger animals depend.
It now is estimated that small, free-living aquatic bacteria make up
about one-half of the entire biomass of the oceans (MacAyeal,
Many highly complex animals appear very early in the fossil record
and many simple animals thrive today. The earliest
fossils known, which are believed to be those of cyanobacteria, are
quite similar structurally and biochemically to bacteria living today.
Yet it is claimed they thrived almost as soon as earth formed (Schopf,
1993; Galtier et al., 1999). Estimated at 3.5 billion years old,
these earliest known forms of life are incredibly complex. Furthermore,
remarkably diverse types of animals existed very early in earth history
and no less than eleven different species have been found so far.
A concern Corliss raises is why after such rapid diversification
did these microorganisms remain essentially unchanged for the next 3.465
billion years? Such stasis, common in biology, is puzzling
(1993, p. 2). E. coli, as far as we can tell, is the same
today as in the fossil record.
As Coppedge (1973) notes, even 1) postulating a primordial sea with
every single component necessary for life, 2) speeding up the bonding
rate so as to form different chemical combinations a trillion times
more rapidly than hypothesized to have occurred, 3) allowing for a 4.6
billion- year-old earth and 4) using all atoms on the earth still leaves
the probability of a single protein molecule being arranged by chance
is 1 in 10,261. Using the lowest estimate made before the discoveries
of the past two decades raised the number several fold. Coppedge
estimates the probability of 1 in 10119,879 is necessary
to obtain the minimum set of the required estimate of 239 protein molecules
for the smallest theoretical life form.
At this rate he estimates it would require 10119,831 years
on the average to obtain a set of these proteins by naturalistic evolution
(1973, pp. 110, 114). The number he obtained is 10119,831
greater than the current estimate for the age of the earth (4.6 billion
years). In other words, this event is outside the range of probability.
Natural selection cannot occur until an organism exists and is able
to reproduce which requires that the first complex life form first exist
as a functioning unit.
In spite of the overwhelming empirical and probabilistic evidence
that life could not originate by natural processes, evolutionists possess
an unwavering belief that some day they will have an answer to how life
could spontaneously generate. Nobel laureate Christian de Duve
(1995) argues that life is the product of law-driven chemical steps,
each one of which must have been highly probable in the right circumstances.
This reliance upon an unknown law favoring life has been
postulated to replace the view that lifes origin was a freakish
accident unlikely to occur anywhere, is now popular. Chance is
now out of favor in part because it has become clear that even the simplest
conceivable life form (still much simpler than any actual organism)
would have to be so complex that accidental self-assembly would be nothing
short of miraculous even in two billion years (Spetner, 1997).
Furthermore, natural selection cannot operate until biological reproducing
units exist. This hoped for law, though, has no basis
in fact nor does it even have a theoretical basis. It is a nebulous
concept which results from a determination to continue the quest for
a naturalistic explanation of life. In the words of Horgan:
One day, he [Stanley Miller] vowed, scientists would discover the
self-replicating molecule that had triggered the great saga of evolution....[and]
the discovery of the first genetic material [will] legitimize Millerss
field. It would take off like a rocket, Miller muttered
through clenched teeth. Would such a discovery be immediately
self-apparent? Miller nodded. It will be in the
nature of something that will make you say, Jesus, there it
is. How could you have overlooked this for so long? And
everybody will be totally convinced (Horgan, 1996, p. 139).
The atheistic world view requires abiogenesis; therefore scientists
must try to deal with the probability arguments. The most common
approach is similar to the attempt by Stenger, who does not refute the
argument but tries to explain it by way analogy:
For example, every human being on Earth is the product of a highly
elaborate combination of genes that would be a very unlikely outcome
of a random toss. Think of what an unlikely being you arethe
result of so many chance encounters between your male and female ancestors.
What if your great great great grandmother had not survived that childhood
illness? What if your grandfather had been killed by a stray
bullet in a war, before he met your grandmother? Despite all
those contingencies, you still exist. And if you ask, after
the fact, what is the probability for your particular set of genes
existing, the answer is one hundred percent. Certainty!
(1998, p. 9).
The major problem with this argument, as shown by Dembski, is that
it is a gross misuse of statistics, one of the most important tools
science has ever developed. Although change is involved, intelligence
is critically important even in the events Stenger describes.
The fallacy of his reasoning can be illustrated by comparing it to a
court case using DNA. Stengers analogy cannot negate the
finding that the likelihood is 1 in 100 million that a blood sample
found on the victim at the crime is the suspects. For this
reason, it is highly probable that the accused was at the crime scene;
the fact that his blood was mixed with the victims, will no doubt
be accepted by the court and an attempt to destroy this conclusion by
use of an analogy such as Stengers will likely be rejected.
It appears that the field of molecular biology will falsify Darwinism.
An estimated 100,000 different proteins are used to construct humans
alone. Furthermore, one million species are known, and as many
as 10 million may exist. Although many proteins are used in most
life forms, as many as 100 million or more protein variations
may exist in all plant and animal life. According to Asimov:
Now, almost each of all the thousands of reactions in the body is
catalyzed by a specific enzyme ... a different one in each case ...
and every enzyme is a protein, a different protein. The
human body is not alone in having thousands of different enzymesso
does every other species of creature. Many of the reactions
that take place in human cells also happen in the cells of other creatures.
Some of the reactions, indeed, are universal, in that they take place
in all cells of every type. This means that an enzyme capable
of catalyzing a particular reaction may be present in the cells of
wolves, octopi, moss, and bacteria, as well as in our own cells.
And yet each of these enzymes, capable though it is of catalyzing
one particular reaction, is characteristic of its own species.
They may all be distinguished from one another. It follows that
every species of creature has thousands of enzymes and that all those
enzymes may be different. Since there are over a million different
species on earth, it may be possiblejudging from the enzymes
alonethat different proteins exist by the millions! (Asimov,
1962, pp. 2728).
Even using an unrealistically low estimate of 1,000 steps required
to evolve the average protein (if this were possible) implies
that many trillions of links were needed to evolve the proteins
that once existed or that exist today. And not one
clear transitional protein that is morphologically and chemically in
between the ancient and modern form of the protein has been convincingly
demonstrated. The same problem exists with fats, nucleic acids,
carbohydrates and the other compounds that are produced by, and necessary
Scientists have yet to discover a single molecule that has learned
to make copies of itself (Simpson, 1999, p. 26). Many scientists
seem to be oblivious of this fact because
Articles appearing regularly in scientific journals claim to have
generated self-replicating peptides or RNA strands, but they fail
to provide a natural source for their compounds or an explanation
for what fuels them... this top-down approach... [is like] a caveman
coming across a modern car and trying to figure out how to make it.
It would be like taking the engine out of the car, starting
it up, and trying to see how that engine works (Simpson, 1999,
Some bacteria, specifically phototrophs and lithotrophs, contain all
the metabolic machinery necessary to construct most of their growth
factors (amino acids, vitamins, purines and pyrimidines) from raw materials
(usually O2, light, a carbon source, nitrogen, phosphorus,
sulfur and a dozen or so trace minerals). They can live in an
environment with few needs but first must possess the complex functional
metabolic machinery necessary to produce the compounds needed to live
from a few types of raw materials. This requires more metabolic
machinery in order to manufacture the many needed organic compounds
necessary for life. Evolution was much more plausible when life
was believed to be a relatively simple material similar to, in Haeckels
words, the transparent viscous albumin that surrounds the yolk
in the hens egg which evolved into all life today.
Haeckel taught the process occurred as follows:
By far the greater part of the plasm that comes under investigation
as active living matter in organisms is metaplasm, or secondary plasm,
the originally homogeneous substance of which has acquired definite
structures by phyletic differentiations in the course of millions
of years (1905, p.126).
Abiogenesis is only one area of research which illustrates that the
naturalistic origin of life hypothesis has become less and less probable
as molecular biology has progressed, and is now at the point that its
plausibility appears outside the realm of probability. Numerous
origin-of-life researchers, have lamented the fact that molecular biology
during the past half-a-century has not been very kind to any
naturalistic origin-of-life theory. Perhaps this explains why
researchers now are speculating that other events such as panspermia
or an undiscovered life law are more probable than all existing
terrestrial abiogenesis theories, and can better deal with the many
seemingly insurmountable problems of abiogenesis.
Acknowledgements: I want to thank Bert Thompson, Ph.D., Wayne
Frair, Ph.D., and John Woodmorappe, M.A., for their comments on an earlier
draft of this article.
Jerry Bergman, Ph.D., Northwest State College, Archbold,
Received 24 August 1999; Revised 19 October 1999.
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