The Creation Explanation
|Life -- Miracle, Not Accident|
Spontaneous Generation in a Primeval World?
The Dilemma of Secular Materialist Biologists
The most vexing dilemma for secularist biologists stems from their grand assumption that the living organisms which they study are simply part of a closed materialistic universe. In such a universe everything is a result of materialistic cause and effect. Therefore, life itself must be assumed to have arisen from non-living matter by purely random naturalistic chemical and physical processes. Consequently, secular scientists have especially during the past four decades devoted a vast amount of time, money and labor to discover how life began by chance some billions of years ago according to their time scale.28 During these decades hundreds of origin of life investigators have participated in numerous national and international conferences aimed at helping each other in the great quest for the naturalistic origin of life. Probably thousands of scientific research articles and scores of books on the subject have been published. What has been accomplished after forty years of international cooperation? Surely we are much closer now than formerly to understanding how life originated on the early earth. No, the fundamental difficulty remains, the unbreakable mutual dependency of DNA and protein in living cells, so that one cannot exist or function without the other, so that neither could precede the other. It is a classic "chicken and egg--which came first?" problem.
Even before interest in theories of organic evolution became widespread, astronomers and philosophers were speculating about how the solar system and the earth originated. Those who did not believe in creation presumed that random physical processes were responsible. Various forms of condensing gas-dust-cloud nebular theories have proved the most popular (See Chapter-6.) These theories, combined with spectroscopic observations of the gases that exist in space, have led to speculation about the primeval atmosphere of the earth.
In order to construct a plausible scheme for the spontaneous chemical origin of life (termed "abiogenesis"), it was necessary to show how the small building blocks of life, the biomonomers (the small, relatively simple molecules which are combined in living cells) could have formed spontaneously on the primeval earth. The biomonomers include amino acids, sugars, lipids and the nitrogen bases. The nitrogen bases are the central constituents of the nucleotides, A, T, C, G and U discussed earlier in this chapter. Lipids are simple fat molecules. Some of these biomonomers can be produced from a mixture of such common simple gases as water vapor, methane, ammonia and hydrogen, if radiant or electrical energy is supplied. This was demonstrated by biochemist Stanley Miller in 1953.29 The presence of oxygen gas results in the destruction of the biomonomers. Therefore, it is reasoned, the original earth atmosphere must have been a reducing atmosphere, that is, essentially free of oxygen or oxidizing compounds. For this reason Stanley Miller's gas mixture included only water (oxidized hydrogen) and the reducing gases (which react with oxygen), methane, ammonia and hydrogen.
Russian scientist A. I. Oparin began speculations about abiogenesis in 1924, concurrently with the British biologist, atheist, and Communist, J. B. S. Haldane.30 Oparin continued to develop his theories of spontaneous generation during the thirties and forties while also becoming a principal supporter of the now-disgraced Russian Lamarkian biologist, Lysenko.31 Western scientists still revere Oparin as the father of their faith in abiogenesis. They continued the struggle to make their theory seem plausible, but all is still speculation because they cannot reproduce the past earth history and spontaneous generation which they hypothesize. A reducing primeval atmosphere was postulated, simply because the biomonomers are quickly destroyed by oxygen. However, no scientist can be sure on the basis of scientific evidence what the early earth with its atmosphere was like or whether it was substantially different from the present. On the other hand, the Bible tells us that the early earth was suitable for humankind to live in and flourish.
There is no conclusive evidence for a reducing atmosphere on the earth at any time, and evidence favoring a non-reducing early atmosphere has been accumulating.32 For example, some of the earth's allegedly most ancient sedimentary rocks contain highly oxidized mineral deposits. The most prominent of these are very extensive banded red iron oxide formations found in Australia and other parts of the earth, in sedimentary rock formations said to be up to 3.5 billions years old. The question is how these iron oxide sediments could have formed at a time when the atmosphere supposedly contained very little oxygen. Recent research has established that certain anaerobic purple bacteria found in shallow sea sediments can reduce carbon dioxide to organic carbon while oxidizing ferrous iron to the more highly oxidized (red) ferric iron oxide in the absence of atmospheric oxygen.33 Friedrich Widdel et al. propose that the banded iron formations were produced in the early seas by this process before the appearance of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere. Lee Kump, commenting in Nature on the work of Widdel's group, raises some problems with their proposal, saying, "Although the obervations of Widdel et al. are convincing, they are not conclusive. Many questions must be tackled before anaerobic, iron-coupled photosynthetic organisms will be accepted as the generators of the Precambrian BIFs(banded iron formations)."34
The Mars lander's analyses of the Martian surface soil made it clear that solar untraviolet radiation destroys any organic molecules of biological interest. In addition, the atmosphere of this the most earthlike of the other planets, is oxidizing, not reducing. Ultraviolet light decomposes water molecules to their constituent hydrogen and oxygen. The light hydrogen molecules can escape from the upper atmosphere into space, leaving oxygen behind. This process would rather rapidly have produced substantial amounts of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere.35 It is significant that the landers on Mars and Venus have shown that the surfaces of both of these earth-like planets are highly oxidized. Finally, the ultraviolet light would rapidly have dissociated ammonia molecules to form free hydrogen and nitrogen gas.36 Nevertheless, much research has continued aimed at establishing a possible course for the origin of life, either in a reducing atmosphere or in a slightly oxidizing atmosphere. But, of course, it cannot be proved that the atmosphere was ever appreciably different from the present one. Stanley Miller and Leslie Orgel in their honest and frank book, The Origins of life on Earth, discuss at some length the various kinds of evidence and differing views about the primeval atmosphere. They begin their chapter four on this subject with a delightfully candid paragraph.37
Geological and geophysical evidence is insufficient to allow us to state with any precision what conditions were like on the surface of the primitive earth. Arguments concerning the composition of the primitive atmosphere are particularly controversial. It is important, therefore, to state our own prejudice clearly. We believe that there must have been a period when the earth's atmosphere was reducing, because the synthesis of compounds of biological interest takes place only under reducing conditions [emphases added].
In other words, these leading specialists in abiogenesis research, by their assumption that evolution is a fact, are forced to interpret all data in a manner which allows evolution to be taken for a fact. So what is wrong if a scientist who believes in creation interprets all data in a manner which allows creation to be taken for a fact? Authors Miller and Orgel show that none of the geological evidence proves that the earth's early atmosphere contained less oxygen than at present. Nevertheless, their conclusions are true to their originally stated "prejudice." They keep the faith. Yet scientists who are Christians are derided if they keep their biblical faith in such matters. We need more Christians who are willing to do just that--keep the faith--whatever their employment or walk of life may be. For some additional negative conclusions about abiogenesis in the primitive earth environment refer to the report of work by Walker and Kasting quoted below from page 121 of the survey article by John Horgan on abiogenesis research in Scientific American.
For several decades after Miller's experiment the most widely accepted scenario for abiogenesis had electrical discharges providing energy to produce simple energy-rich compounds and amino acids in an ancient reducing atmosphere. Sugars and nitrogen bases which are constituents of nucleotides were supposedly formed in the oceans. Since the hypothetical oxygen-free atmosphere would be transparent to solar ultraviolet radiation which destroys biomonomers, the initial reactions were assumed by some to have occurred in the lower atmosphere so that the products could diffuse down to the oceans quickly. But even then, ultraviolet light can penetrate at least fifty feet into the water. Therefore, it has been suggested that the radiation caused brown tars to form in the atmosphere, and these substances coated the oceans, preventing the ultraviolet light from penetrating the waters.38 Then, in the oceans or other bodies of water, the biomonomers finally linked up in chains to form biopolymers--such as DNA and protein molecules--which are the basis of life chemistry and biological structures.
This may all sound plausible to one who desires to believe, and it is true that reactions have been demonstrated experimentally which produce many of the necessary biomonomers under assorted hypothetical primeval earth conditions. Nevertheless, plausible syntheses have yet to be discovered for many important biomonomers, as well as biopolymers, and there are numerous theoretical difficulties yet unsolved.
Some of the problems for theories of abiogenesis under the conditions postulated for the primeval earth are the following:39
1. No satisfactory syntheses discovered for:
2. Many of the necessary compounds are rather unstable in aqueous solution, making it difficult to explain how adequate concentrations could accumulate in an ocean or pond.
3. The chemical conditions used to produce the various biomonomers in the laboratory also produce very many other kinds of molecules which are not used by living cells. Many of these molecules tend to react with the desired biomonomers to produce undesirable compounds. For example, many useless amino acid and sugar molecules would be formed, as well as other kinds of very reactive molecules. So while chemical reactions can be demonstrated which might possibly produce an ocean containing many interesting compounds connected with life, according to present scientific knowledge, many essential molecules would be absent. In addition, the biomonomers useful for building a living cell would be completely outnumbered by useless amino acid, sugar, and nitrogen base molecules. As a result, the useful biomonomers would be used up in reactions with the useless molecules. Therefore, no biopolymers such as DNA or proteins would be produced, only mixed up imitations which living cells cannot use.
4. Another difficulty for abiogenesis arises from the fact that every amino acid except glycine exists in two forms, D and L, which are mirror images of each other, like our right hand and left hand. These are called enantiomers. But protein molecules in living organisms are constructed of only the L enantiomers. The products of Miller's experiment included a number of the twenty biologically important amino acids, but in a mixture of equal amounts of both the D and the L forms. Herein lies a major problem for the theorists of abiogenesis. If a mixture of the D and L forms of the twenty amino acids found in functional protein molecules is allowed to react, the resulting chains of amino acids will incorporate roughly equal numbers of both D and L amino acids. No functional protein molecules will be produced.
Since this problem has proved to be so difficult, both experimentally and theoretically, it has been ignored by most researchers. In theory the very subtle dissymmetry of matter discovered by physicists could favor the L enantiomers of amino acid molecules. The effect would be extremely slight, however, and it has not been demonstrated in the synthesis of amino acids in the laboratory. The possiblity of the production by this effect of a primeval "organic soup" containing only L amino acids seems very remote. Nevertheless, as of 1994 this is the only hope for explaining the domination of life on earth by L amino acids, other than pure chance.
28. Alberts, Bruce, et al.(ref. 7), pp. 3-11; Miller, Stanley L. and Leslie E. Orgel, The Origins of Life on the Earth (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1974); Wysong, R.L., The Creation-Evolution Controversy (Inquiry Press, Midland, MI, 1976), pp. 69-135, 219-238; Wilder-Smith, A.E., The Natural Sciences Know Nothing of Evolution (Master Books, San Diego, 1981).
29. Miller, Stanley L., Science, Vol. 117 (1953), p. 528.
30. Oparin, A.I., The Origin of Life (Dover Publishing Co., New York, 1953); Haldane, J.B.S., Rationalist Annual, Vol. 148, p. 3.
31. Medvedev, Zhores A., The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko (Columbia University Press, New York, 1969), pp. 128, 135, 181-182.
32. Miller, Stanley L. and Leslie E. Orgel, (ref. 28), p. 33; Davidson, C.F., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 53 (1956), p. 1203; Summers, David P. and Sherwood Chang, Nature, Vol 365, 14 Oct. 1993, pp. 630-632; Schopf, J.W., Editor, Earth's Earliest Biosphere (Princeton University Press, 1983), pp. 543-92; Walker, J.C.G., Origin of Life Evol. Biosphere, Vol. 16, 1985, pp. 117-127; Mattioll, G.S. and B.J. Wood, Nature, Vol 322, 1986, pp. 626-628; Gregor, C.B., et al. Editors, Chemical Cycles in the Evolution of the Earth (Wiley, New York, 1988), pp. 42-79; Kasting, J.F., Precambrian Research, Vol. 34, 1987, pp. 205-229.
33. Widdel, Friedrich et al., Nature, Vol. 362, 29 April 1993, pp. 834-836.
34. Kump, Lee, Nature, Vol. 362, 29 April 1993, pp. 790-791.
35. Brinkman, R..T., Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 74 (1969), p. 1365.
36. Abelson, P.H., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 55 (1966), p. 1365.
37. Miller, Stanley L. and Leslie E. Orgel, (ref. 28), p. 33.
38. Ibid. (ref. 28), p. 59.
39. Ibid. (ref. 28), pp. 83-128.