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The Creation Explanation

Creation Explanation Life -- Miracle, Not Accident

Some Comments About Faith in Dumb Atoms

One comment which comes to mind after reading the above is, what marvelous faith is needed to conjure up such persistence and devotion to a cause. How stalwart is the secular faith in dumb atoms, which, after forty years of consistent failure, hopes still for success. Does not this secular faith appear to possess major characteristics of a religion? These religious characteristics include conviction about undemonstrated first causes, faith in the unseen, devotion to the quest to demonstrate the reality of the unseen, persistence in the face of difficulty and failure, and unfaltering hope for the future success of the quest. We could add to these a strong tendency toward scorn for unbelievers, a zeal to convert them, and failing conversion, a willingness to read them out of the kingdom, even to persecute the rebels--in other words a bent toward bigotry.

The "RNA World" Is Now the Favored Hope for Origin of Life Researchers.

In the previous pages, reference is made to the "RNA world" concept. Ground-breaking research aimed at showing how life could have originated based on RNA rather than DNA molecules has been conducted by Manfred Eigen and his associates in Germany.43 Starting with chemically activated RNA molecules and a single enzyme from a bacterial cell, Eigen's group demonstrated the production of populations of RNA chains which catalyze their own self-reproduction. A few years later it was discovered that certain RNA chains serve as catalysts for stitching together RNA chains in living cells. These finds have brought the "RNA world" idea to popularity in origin of life circles.

Eigen's proposal for the origin of life had self-reproducing RNA molecules becoming associated with protein-like molecules likewise formed by chance. The proto-protein molecules by chance were able to take over the catalyzing job from the RNA molecules. Then somehow the RNA molecules developed an original genetic code by which they were able to code for the production of the protein molecules. Such a little colony of self-catalyzing molecules working together in a chemical cycle was called a "hypercycle." These hypercycles supposedly became enclosed in randomly formed membranes to form proto-cells, which then evolved into true living cells. However, that such a process did in the beginning spontaneously produce the first living organisms requires a long list of assumptions:

1. The nucleotide building block molecules of RNA (A, G, U and C) are available in unlimited supply. Furthermore, they will be the pure R enantiomers with none of the L enantiomers present. However, spontaneous chemical formation of the nucleotides always produces equal amounts of the R and L enantiomers.

2. Chemical energy stored in adenosine triphosphate molecules is continually available to activate the nucleotide molecules. In fact, however, phosphorus is a rather rare element in the earth's crust, and adenosine triphosphate is quite reactive and not likely to hang around for long without reacting with something.

3. Ribose sugar molecules are available to form the nucleotides. Furthermore, they will be the pure R enantiomer, with none of the L enantiomer present. But spontaneous chemical production of sugar molecules always results in a mixture of equal amounts of the two enantiomers.

4 An initial RNA chain is spontaneously produced to serve as a template, and it also by chance has the ability to catalyze its own reproduction.

5. Self-replication of this chain occurs.

6. At first all enzyme capability is supplied by RNA molecules which have that ability.

7. Protein molecules which are weak primitive enzymes somehow originate and wander into the neighborhood of the RNA chains.

8. The RNA chains and the chancy enzyme molecules cooperate to form hypercycles. But the little groups of molecules making up a hypercycle, having no containing walls, continually diffuse away from each other and get lost in the soup.

8. Membranes formed by chance assembly of lipid(fat) molecules, themselves formed by chance reactions in the soup, wander into the neighborhood.

9. The hypercycles by chance get wrapped up in the membranes to keep them together and thus form proto-cells.

10. The RNA chains in the hypercycles undergo mutations and natural selection to become better adapted as internal machinery for the proto-cells.

11. The membranes very quickly evolve ability to transport needed building materials from the outside, to keep the desirable molecules inside, and to keep undesirable molecules outside.

12. Somewhere along the way the RNA of the hypercycles develop a primitive genetic code and start coding for the construction of the enzymes in the cell and for the constituents of the membranes.

13. The initial RNA genetic code somehow is transferred to DNA molecules.

14. The genetic code becomes more complex.

15. Many other complex details essential to the life of a cell come into being by chance.

16. Voila! Life without a Creator.

When Manfred Eigen described his proposal for abiogenesis in Scientific American in 1981, he closed his report to the world with the announcement that in his laboratory was a "Genesis pot" where RNA molecules were busily evolving. In the mid-1980s the RNA world concept became quite popular in the abiogenesis establishment. Ten years later, in 1991, Scientific American published the critique of all abiogenesis research from which the extensive quotations above were taken. The quest for the holy grail of abiogenesis is still essentially at ground zero. Nevertheless, Eigen and his followers have continued the quest, developing to its limit the idea of an original RNA-world. The members of this small group of scientists scattered around the world still believe they are looking in the right place for the beginning of life. But as John Horgan's 1991 article in Scientific American indicates, the difficulties facing the RNA-world concept are unlikely to be overcome by anything other than faith.

Many scientists around the world have joined Eigen in the effort to develop the RNA world concept. The latest findings are reported in a massive volume, The RNA World, published in 1994.44 In a review of this book Sydney Brenner concludes:45

Although, in principle, these discoveries with RNA molecules, both natural and artificial, narrow the gap betwen primitive genetic systems in which function and information were carried and copied within the same molecule [i.e., RNA] and the modern bilingual systems[i.e., DNA and RNA working together], they do not help much with the origin of life itself. In a sobering first chapter, G. Joyce and L. Orgel point out that there are still enormous difficulties in going from a mixture of purine and pyrimidine bases to any kind of self-replicating system. We seem to have crossed the gap between molecular biology and genetics, but that between chemistry and molecular biology remains wide and deep. In fact, some people have worried that there may not have been enough time to have done it all in our solar system. Crick refers in his foreword to his hypothesis of directed pansperiam which gains time by having the early steps going on somewhere else in the universe followed by the transportation to Earth of a population of microorganisms a few billion years ago to continue the good work here. Thus when we come to the pre-RNA world, we will have to decide not only what to look for but also where to look for it.

This search is continuing, carried on by true believers. The June, 1994, issue of Natural History is devoted to a broad range of evidence for the grand evolutionary scenario. In the first article author Anthony Mellersh first explains major difficulties with previous theories of abiogenesis.46 He then offers the latest speculation to explain how RNA-world molecules became coupled with the proteins for which they code. It goes this way: Somehow RNA chains were formed which somehow became attached to some solid surface. They folded up in a manner which formed slots into which the side chains of amino acid molecules could fit. The amino acids which just happened to be floating around in the vicinity and were captured in the slots in the RNA chains immobilized on the surface. Next, high energy polyphosphate molecules become available in the aqueous solution to remove water molecules to connect the amino acids head-to-tail to form polypeptide chains. Mellersh concludes, "For years, scientists debated whether proteins or RNA came first. Was it the chicken or the egg? With RNA attached to a solid, a compromise emerges: RNA and proteins lit the spark that resulted in all the wonderful things that we call life." This confident assertion does not, however, describe anything actually accomplished in the laboratory. Sometimes true believers must grasp at straws for survival.

Prof. Leslie E. Orgel of the Salk Institute for biological Studies in San Diego is a leading researcher of the RNA World concept. In Scientific American for October, 1994, he reviews recent findings.47 Progress toward the secularist goal has been made, but crucial gaps remain. As Orgel explains, RNA molecules have been discovered which can act as enzymes to catalyze the production of their complementary strand. That would be a strand of RNA in which each nucleotide is replaced by its complementary nucleotide. That is, A is replaced by T and vice versa, and G is replaced by U and vice versa. This is the first step of the replication of an RNA strand. The crucial second step must follow. The two complementary RNA strands must separate and an original strand must be formed using the complementary strand as the template. Orgel reports, "After years of trying, however, we have been unable to achieve the second step of replication--copying of a complementary strand to yield a duplicate of the first template--without help from protein enzymes." He goes on to point out that the first step can take place only if pure D nucleotides are present, for the presence of L nucleotides prevents copying. He says that "[a]ll these problems are worrisome..." He concludes his survey with these words of encouragement: "The full details of how the RNA world, and life, emerged may not be revealed in the near future. Nevertheless, as chemists, biochemists and molecular biologists cooperate on ever more ingenious experiments, they are sure to fill in many missing parts of the puzzle."

The history of origin of life research has repeatedly cycled between pinnacles of optimism, sober recognition of unsolved mysteries, and crashes into disappointment. Professor Melvin Calvin of the University of California at Berkeley stated in his book, Chemical Evolution (1969), that a long-term university experimental program had been initiated to solve the origin of life problem.48 But five years later Professor Stanley Miller at the La Jolla campus and Leslie Orgel of Salk Institute lamented in their very honest and informative book, The Origins of Life on the Earth (1974), that this is still the most fundamental unanswered question: "We clearly do not understand how the [genetic] code originated. New ideas that can be tested experimentally are needed."49 As the earlier quotations from the review article in Scientific American and the summary of Manfred Eigen's research indicate, the failure of the secular agenda continues into the 1990s.

In the absence of experimental demonstration that nucleotides can recognize amino acids without the complex mechanisms and structures available in living cells, any claim that such recognition is possible or that it did, indeed, occur in the distant past is a declaration of faith, not a scientifically testable conclusion. As we have shown, the chance chemical origin of the most fundamental process of the living cell is fantastically improbable. What of the origin of a complete living organism? Biologist Harold Morowitz, in his 1968 book Energy Flow in Biology, estimated the probability for the spontaneous origin of the smallest likely living cell.50 He arrived at the value 10-340,000,000, i.e., the fraction 1/1000000.....(a total of 340 million zeros in the denominator). He nevertheless believed that it happened, proposing some years later that the solution demanded the discovery of "a new law of physics." More recently he was quoted in the press publicly asserting that the origin of life had to involve supernatural intervention. Thus it appears that the creation explanation is not contrary to the cold, hard facts of science after all. Perhaps these facts will help at least a few honest scientists such as Dr. Morowitz to come to faith in the God who created all things in the beginning.

A rather different approach to the chemical origin of life was developed by a school of Russian investigators many years back into the power of the Communist regime. Karl Trincher in his 1965 book, Biology and Information, examined the thermodynamic properties of living cells and of man-made cybernetic devices.51 A cybernetic device is a machine which performs complex useful functions in accordance with programmed information. He observed the following essential differences between living systems and such non-living machines:

1. The living cell exists and functions at temperatures such that its structure is thermally labile. This means that the heat motions of its atoms and molecules at those temperatures are capable of destroying the structure of the cell. Therefore, the living cell must simultaneously carry on two different sets of functions, a set of useful life functions, and a set of repair activities which continually rebuild the cell structures being broken down by heat motions of the molecules.

2. If the cell's repair operations cease to operate, its structure is soon destroyed by heat motions.

3. No non-living cybernetic machine can operate at temperatures which cause its parts to break down or liquefy.

4. Non-living machines do not immediately disintegrate if they are turned off and stop working.

From these and other differences between living and non-living systems Trincher concluded that we cannot artificially produce living cells by physical and chemical processes now known to science. He further concluded that when the non-living world came into existence--billions of years ago, in his opinion--at the same time living matter came into existence, perhaps even a complete biosphere of primordial organisms, and this occurred by processes unobservable in the present world. It would appear that even some scientists in Marxist Russia were being pushed to the brink of admitting divine creation. As the decade of the 1990s began and the post-Soviet era dawned, Russian scientists and the entire Russian educational system started becoming more open to objective consideration of the creation explanation than their American colleagues.



43. Eigen, Manfred, et al., Scientific American, Vol. 244, April 1981, pp. 88-118.

44. Gesteland, Raymond F. and John F. Atkins, Editors, The RNA World (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1993)

45. Brenner, Sydney, Nature, Vol. 367, 20 Jan. 1994, p. 230.

46. Mellersh, Anthony, Natural History, Vol. 103, June 1944, pp. 10-13.

47. Orgel, Leslie E., "The Origin of Life on the Earth," Scientific American, Vol. 271, October 1994, pp. 76-83.

48. Calvin, Melvin, Chemical Evolution (Oxford University Press, New York, 1969), p. 178.

49. Miller, Stanley L. and Lelie E. Orgel, (ref. 28), p. 164.

50. Morowitz, Harold J., Energy Flow in Biology (Academic Press, New York, 1968), p. 99.

51. Trincher, Karl S., Biology and Information (Plenum Publishing Corp., New York, 1965), pp. 71-76.

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