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Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter

Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter

Chapter 3 - Life From Chemicals: Theory and Improbability

1. Many scientists seem quite sure that in the atmosphere and oceans of the early earth large quantities of life's building-block molecules, such as amino acids, were formed and accumulated. Is this a reasonable theory?

Answer: This theory is purely a set of guesses which cannot be proved to be true. There are many difficulties with this idea.

a. The oxygen-ultraviolet dilemma

The assumed primeval atmosphere can contain no oxygen, for oxygen eats up amino acids. But without oxygen there could be no ozone layer high in the atmosphere. The ozone layer in our present atmosphere stops the sun's ultraviolet rays which would destroy amino acids and others of life's building block molecules.

So here are the horns of the oxygen-ultraviolet dilemma: (1) oxygen present amino acids destroyed by oxygen, and (2) oxygen absent amino acids destroyed by ultraviolet light. To get around this difficulty more assumptions are made. Perhaps amino acids were protected in bottom waters of shallow lakes, or the ocean surface may have been covered by a layer of tar-like chemicals which stopped ultraviolet light. Or amino acids and other vulnerable chemicals may have found caves or other hiding places in which to lurk while waiting to be evolved into the first living cells. Thus the theory becomes a web of unprovable assumptions.1

b. Oxygen-free atmosphere only an assumption.

The presence on the early earth of a reducing (no oxygen present) atmosphere containing methane, ammonia and other reducing gases is only an assumption required to make the theory work. There is no conclusive evidence to justify the assumption, and there is considerable geological evidence that the atmosphere has always contained a substantial amount of oxygen.2 Some of the other planets, notably Jupiter and Saturn, have reducing atmospheres, but Mars, the most earth-like planet, has a very thin oxidizing atmosphere. Evidence against an early reducing atmosphere on earth has been accumulating.3

c. The destructive effects of sunlight

The sun's ultraviolet light breaks down water molecules to release free oxygen at such a rate that the ancient atmosphere could not be free of oxygen for long.4 Ammonia also is decomposed by ultraviolet light and would soon drop to a concentration too low to participate in a chemical beginning of life.5 Methane gas in the atmosphere would rapidly be converted by the sun's ultraviolet light into heavier hydrocarbons.6

d. The ocean of "organic soup" is highly problematic.

Most of the basic building block molecules of life have been synthesized by chemists under conditions similar to those assumed for the ancient earth. This includes 19 of the 20 amino acids needed for proteins and the five bases and the several sugars used in the genetic code DNA and RNA molecules. However, it appears to be quite certain that they never could have accumulated sufficiently in the oceans to take part in the origin of life. The following are some of the difficulties:7

(1) Some of the molecules that might form in the upper atmosphere would be largely destroyed by sunlight before they settled to the ocean.

(2) Along with the 20 amino acids of interest a much larger number of amino acids would be formed which have no part in living systems. By becoming incorporated into any chains of amino acids formed in the organic soup, these would prevent the assumed production of the amino acid chains called proteins that ate needed for living cells.

(3) Many of the building block molecules are too unstable and would decompose rather rapidly in the ocean.

(4) The amino acids, sugars and other chemicals such as hydrocyanic acid which supposedly collected in the ocean would be used up rapidly in reactions of no value for beginning life.

(5) Phosphate which is essential for life would be precipitated from the ocean by plentiful calcium and magnesium ions.

(6) Lipid (fatty acid) molecules are essential to forming living cells. But any lipids in the oceans would be rapidly precipitated out by calcium and magnesium ions (i.e., by the "hard water reaction").

2. Could amino acids have linked together by chance to form long-chain protein molecules, and
could nucleotides have combined accidentally to form the long-chain DNA and RNA molecules?

Answer: The tendency (because of the entropy effect - See Chapter 4-1) is for the protein and DNA chains not to form, but to be broken up, hydrolyzed by the abundant water in aqueous solutions.8 Nevertheless, chemists have discovered several types of reactions by which small protein-like molecules might be produced spontaneously under certain very special conditions.9 However, that these unlikely conditions ever existed on the earth is only an optimistic assumption. But even if protein-like molecules were actually to form by such random processes, the probability is vanishingly small that the right ones to start life would ever form. For a calculation of this improbability see the next question.

3. Admittedly the chance chemical beginning of life was a very improbable event. But wasn't there enough time for it to happen anyway?

Answer: Even with trillions of years there would not be enough time to make it probable that chance chemical reactions could form even the simplest living organism.

The argument that sufficient time makes anything possible or even probable sounds plausible only if it is not analyzed carefully. It starts with the admission that, since even the simplest living organisms are exceedingly complicated, the beginning of life by accidental chemical reactions is very improbable. The probability is very, very low that just the right molecules would form, come together, and spontaneously fit together to start life. But if a very unlikely thing is tried many times, the probability increases that success will finally be achieved. If there is enough time to make a large enough number of tries, the mathematical probability that it will finally occur becomes almost certainty.

Mathematically, this argument is correct. But to see if the mathematical theory really proves that life could have started accidentally, it is necessary to apply the theory to a reasonable model of the real world. We do this in some detail in our book, The Creation Explanation.10 We begin with very generous assumptions about the beginning of life. Then, we assume that for a billion years the surface of the earth was covered each year with a fresh layer one foot deep of protein molecules. This would be 260 trillion tons each year, a fantastic number of molecules. Yet, at the end of the billion years, the probability that just one protein molecule required to start life had been formed is only one chance in about 100 billion. This means that it is really mathematically impossible for life to start by accident, even if the beginning would require only a single suitable enzyme molecule. Dr. H.P. Yockey made a similar but much more thorough calculation based on the information content of the cytochrome c molecule and obtained a probability 100,000 times smaller than ours.11

Some workers have claimed evidence that certain origin-of-life experiments have produced chains of amino acids which were non-random in order. Supposedly certain sequences of amino acids tend to form, and reportedly these sequences are similar to those found in true proteins.12 On the other hand, Miller and Orgel challenge such claims and say, "There is no evidence to show whether the amino acids within a chain are highly ordered or not."13

In any event it is quite certain that life could not start with a single protein molecule. It has been estimated by Harold Morowitz that the simplest possible living cell would require not just one, but at least 124 different proteins to carry out necessary life functions.14 Writing in his book, Energy Flow in Biology, Prof. Morowitz also estimates the probability for the chance formation of the smallest, simplest form of living organism known today.15 He comes up with the unimaginably small probability of one chance in 10340,000,000. This means one chance in the number one followed by 340 million zeros. This is about the same as the probability of tossing a coin 1,129,000,000 times and getting all heads! Nevertheless, thousands of other capable scientists believe that life happened on earth by accident. But must you and I accept their unreasonable faith in materialism? Is not the biblical faith in the all-powerful, all-knowing, infinite-personal Creator the more reasonable, the better faith?

4. Could the genetic code have originated by chance?

Answer: Scientists who believe it did happen, and there are many of them, have failed to find a plausible explanation of how the genetic code could have arisen spontaneously.

The genetic code is the code by which the long DNA chain molecules carry the instructions for arranging the amino acids in the proper order along the long chains called protein molecules. Four different link-molecules called nucleotides make up the DNA chain. These are referred to by their abbreviations, A, C, G, and T. A group of any three of these "code letter molecules" in a DNA chain is called a "codon." There are 4x4x4 = 64 of these codons. Two of the codons are "stop" signals. The other 62 codons are code words for the 20 amino acids that make up the protein chains in living cells. For example, the DNA codon, CTA, is the code word for the amino acid leucine.

A gene consists of a long chain of the DNA three-letter code words corresponding to a long chain of the twenty different amino acids to be linked together to form a particular protein molecule. How is the meaning of the code message translated into the protein molecule? It is a very complex process. The DNA code message or gene is transcribed into a similar code message on a messenger RNA (m-RNA) molecule. The message on the m-RNA molecule is read and executed by a ribosome. A ribosome is a very complex structure made of some 55 different protein molecules and a roughly equal weight of long RNA molecules. Each kind of amino acid molecule is recognized by special protein molecules that attach it to a transport RNA (t-RNA) molecule. Each type of amino acid is attached to its own special type of t-RNA molecule which carries the anti-codon corresponding to the amino acid. The anti-codon is attracted to its corresponding codon on the m-RNA molecule. The ribosome then moves along the m-RNA molecule and connects the amino acid to the end of a growing protein chain according to the code message in the m-RNA molecule. All of these many steps are made possible by the assistance of various protein molecules that are enzymes that catalyze the necessary chemical reactions. A protein chain grows at the rate of 20 to 40 amino acid residues per second, and with high accuracy in accord with the coded message in the m-RNA molecule to which the information was transcribed from the DNA gene.Miller and Orgel admit in their very honest book, "We clearly do not understand how the code originated. New ideas that can be tested experimentally are needed."16

5. Could not life have started with very simple cells?

Answer: The simplest organism that is theoretically capable of existing and reproducing would actually not be simple at all.

To get the simplest possible living cell operating would require at least the following functioning, coordinated elements and conditions: (1) 126 different complex protein molecules, (2) long-chain DNA RNA and molecules to store and transmit information, (3) six or eight different nucleotide molecules, (4) various lipid (fat) molecules, (5) sugar molecules, (6) at least twenty different amino acid molecules, (7) chemical machinery to assemble the large complex protein, RNA and DNA molecules from the building block molecules, (8) a very accurate, information transmission and translation system like that described above, (9) efficient error correcting systems to correct errors(mutations) that occur when DNA is copied during cell division,(10) chemical machinery to capture energy from outside the cell and use it inside, (11) a cell membrane to hold the parts together and separate the inside from the outside, (12) while allowing the right substances to pass into and out of the cell, (13) suitable supplies of phosphorous, calcium, sodium, potassium and other inorganic elements, (14) and chemical and physical conditions suitable for the accumulation and proper chemical combination and structural arrangements of all of these parts.

Is it not amazing that so many scientists have faith so strong as to believe that all of this complexity and interlinked processes arose without any Designer, plan, or purpose?

6. Have not four decades of intensive research brought scientist close to explaining life's origin?

Answer: No, between any chemical compounds or reactions imagined for the beginning of life, and the fact of living organisms, there still exists a huge barrier or gap of ignorance.

Scientific American for February, 1991, carried a ten-page survey article by staff writer John Horgan. His review of forty years of research and interviews with the current leaders showed that the principal problems we have mentioned in this chapter are still unsolved.17 In the final paragraph Prof. Stanley Miller of the University of California at San Diego is quoted admitting the failure of the enterprise to date. "I think we just haven't learned the right tricks yet. ...When we find the answer, it will probably be so d----d simple that we'll all say, 'Why didn't I think of that before?'"

7. Does the recent "RNA World" theory bring researchers closer to the origin of life?

Answer: The RNA research has led to important discoveries, but RNA has still not been able to replicate itself without the involvement of protein molecules.

The central element of RNA World research is the ability of some RNA molecules to act as enzymes. Some short RNA chains can promote the assembly of their complementary chains. In a complementary chain A is replaced with T and G with A, and vice versa. In Scientific American for October, 1994, Prof. Leslie E. Orgel of the Salk Institute, explains that years of effort have failed to get the next crucial step to take place without the help of protein molecules.18 This is the step in which the initial RNA chain and its complementary chain are separated, and the complementary chain becomes the template on which a copy of the initial chain is constructed. As G.F. Joyce and Leslie Orgel had commented a year earlier, without the previous evolution of specialized protein molecules, "...it appears unlikely that a self-replicating ribozyme(an RNA molecule having some enzyme activity) could arise, but without some form of self-replication there is no way to conduct an evolutionary search for the first, primitive self-replicating ribozyme."19

Thus we can see that forty years of zealous research have not eliminated the ancient "chicken and the egg" question. That is, since nucleic acid molecules(DNA and/or RNA) cannot do their thing without protein molecules, and the codes for protein molecules are carried by the nucleic acid molecules, how could life start without both? A more solemn question is, "How could life start with God the Creator?"

8. Is it true that there is scientific proof that life once existed on Mars?

Answer: No, life on Mars has not been proved. The claim that recently published evidence from a meteorite points to life on Mars has met with both support and skepticism on the part of scientists.

A meteorite found in Antarctica some years ago has been offered in 1996 as evidence that life once existed on Mars.20 It contains chemical elements and isotope ratios that point to its origin on Mars. In addition, electron microscopic examination has revealed some carbonaceous inclusions that could have organic origin. Also, some electron microscope images reveal forms that could possibly be fossilized micro-organisms. However, some specialists in the field of fossilized micro-organisms are skeptical. And no scientist is willing at this point to say that the existence of life on Mars has been proved. Geologist David McKay of NASA's Johnson Space Center stated, "We are not claiming that we have found life on Mars. ...We're just saying we have found a lot of pointers in that direction." On the other hand, Prof. Kenneth Nealson of the University of Wisconsin noted that the carbonate deposits found in the meteorite could have been deposited from warm fluids circulating through the Martian crust, without any connected to living organisms. Another group led by meteorite specialist Jim Papike at the University of New Mexico showed that the altered ratio of sulfur isotopes produced by living organisms is not found in the pyrite particles found in the meteorite. But David McKay's group responds with the fact that the magnetite the iron monosulfide particles found in the rock are similar to those left in earth sediments by bacteria. Joseph Kirschvink of the California Institute of Technology agrees the combination of micro-particles is "definitely peculiar" so that it is "not unreasonable at all" to suggest that they had a biological source.21

The exceedingly small objects found in the meteorite that McKay and some others offer as fossilized micro-organisms are met with considerable skepticism by other scientists. Prof. Schopf, probably the world's leading expert on fossil micro-organisms, points out that these objects are roughly 100 times smaller than the smallest ancient bacterial micro-fossils ever found in earth rocks. He notes, in addition, that there is thus far no evidence that the tiny inclusions have any preserved structures of bacterial cells, such as cell walls. He also observes that thus far none of the reputed Martian micro-fossils have been found in the act of reproducing (i.e., cell division), which is something that is found in terrestrial micro-fossils.21

Some have commented on the possible significance of the timing for this new research on a four-pound meteorite that has been on the shelf for a dozen years. It happens to coincide with an effort by NASA to loosen up the congressional purse strings to fund more planetary exploration. They hope to send a joint U.S.-Russian mission to Mars bring a load of geological specimens back from the Red Planet. Some dozen reputed Martian rocks are to be studied intensively for two years by scientific teams in Great Britain, Japan and the U.S. The object is to bring to Congress as much persuasive evidence as possible in order to sweep up the gullible public and their legislators in a wave of interplanetary enthusiasm for so-called exobiology. Won't it be wonderful to know that we are not alone in the universe? So in the idea of extraterrestrial life there is a kind of secular-religious emotional appeal for "those who dwell on the earth." These are shown in the New Testament book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ experiencing the wrath of God during the Great Tribulation. Some of these worldlings are NASA scientists and administrators whose bread and butter comes from interplanetary escapades. Fortunately, there is resistance to spending billions of public money to collect rocks on Mars. Representative Ralph Hall(D-TX) told team of NASA scientists/sales people, "You're really dealing with circumstantial evidence. And I've had letters ... from some who have said not to spend a dollar on this as long as we have a baby's bottle empty in this country."22

Conclusion

Life's probability without the God of creation is effectively zero, even when the calculations are made by a believer in evolution and by some believers in no God. Nevertheless, Darwin's quest to explain all of life without God is now being extended out into space, out into the heavens. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork"(Psalm 19:1), but the worldling scientists are intruding in the heavens to prove that God the Creator is not needed. They want to prove their faith in dumb atoms, that given enough time, atoms and energy, life without God is inevitable. But their time will come to an end, and "the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up."(2 Peter 3:10) Then what will happen to their theories that the universe originated without God and that atoms created life without God? Revelation 20:11-12 pictures all rebels against God the Creator standing on nothing before the Lord Jesus Christ seated on the great white judgment throne.
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Quotations

Miller, Stanley L., and Leslie E. Orgel, The Origins of Life on the Earth (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974), p.33.

...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.

Yockey, H.P., "A Calculation of the Probability of Spontaneous Biogenesis by Information Theory," J. Theor. Biology (1977) 67, pp.393, 396.

...With regard to the appearance of a single molecule of the cytochrome c family, even the deus ex machina needs 1036 "acceptable planets" with just the right conditions for 109 years... One who finds the chance appearance of cytochrome c a credible event must have the faith of Job....

...The "warm little pond" scenario was invented ad hoc to serve as a materialistic reductionist explanation of the origin of life. It is unsupported by any other evidence and it will remain ad hoc until such evidence is found. Even if it existed, as described in the scenario, it nevertheless falls very far short indeed of achieving the purpose of its authors even with the aid of a deus ex machina. One must conclude that, contrary to the established and current wisdom a scenario describing the genesis of life on earth by chance and natural causes which can be accepted on the basis of fact and not faith has not yet been written.

Horgan, John, "In the Beginning," Scientific American, 264, No. 2, Feb. 1991, pp. 116-125.

Subtitle: "Scientists are having a hard time agreeing on when, where and -- most important -- how life first emerged on the earth."

References

1 Miller, Stanley L. and Leslie E. Orgel, The Origins of Life On the Earth (Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1974), p. 59.

2 Ibid., p. 33; Abelson, P.H., Proceedings, National Academy of Sciences, 55, 1966, pp. 1365-1372.

3 Summer, David P. and Sherwood Chang, Nature, 365, 14 Oct. 1993, pp. 630-632; Schopf, J.W., Editor, Earth's Earliest Biosphere (Princeton University Prewss, 1983), pp. 543-592; Kasting, J.F., Precambrian Research, 34, 1987, pp. 205-229; Gregor, C.B., et al. Editors, Chemical Cycles in the Evolution of the Earth (Wiley, New York, 1988), pp. 42-79.

4 Brinkman, R.T., Journal of Geophysical Research, 74, 1969, p. 5335.

5 Ferris, J.P. and D.E. Nicodem, Nature, 238, 1972, pp. 268-269.

6 Lasaga, Antonio C., Science, 174, 1 Oct. 1974, pp. 53-55.

7 Thaxton, Charles B., et al., The Mystery of Life's Origin (Philosophical Library, New York, 1984), pp. 42-68.

8 Watson, James D., Molecular Biology of the Gene, 2nd Edition (W.A. Benjamin, Inc., New York, 1970), p. 149.

9 Paecht-Horowitz, M., et al., Nature, 228, 14 Nov. 1970, p. 636.

10 Kofahl, Robert E. and Kelly L. Segraves, The Creation Explanation (Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 1975), pp. 98-100, 239.

11 Yockey, H.P., J. of Theoretical Biology, 67, 1977, pp. 337-398.

12 Kenyon, D.H. and C.D. Steinman, Biochemical Predestination (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1969).

13 Miller, Stanley L. and Orgel, Leslie E., The Origins of Life on the Earth, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1974), p. 144.

14 Morowitz, H.J., Progress in Theoretical Biology, 1, 1967, pp. 50-58; Coppedge, James F., Evolution: Possible or Impossible? (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1973), p. 110.

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

16 Miller, Stanley L. and Leslie E. Orgel, ref. 13, p. 164.

17 Horgan, John, "In the Beginning," Scientific American, Vol. 264, No. 2, Feb. 1991, pp. 116-125.

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

19 Joyce, G.F. and L.E. Orgel, "Prospects for Understanding the Origin of the RNA World" in The RNA World, ed. R.F. Gesteland and J.F. Atkins (Cold Spring Harbor Press, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, 1993), p. 19.

20 McKay, David S., et al., "Search for Past Life on Mars: Possible Relic Biogenic Activity in Martian Meteorite ALH84001, Science, Vol. 273, 16 Aug. 1996, pp. 924-930.

21 Kerr, Richard R., "Ancient Life on Mars?", ibid., pp. 864-866.

22 Williams, Nigel, "Mars Meteorite Quest Goes Global," Science, Vol. 273, 20 Sept. 1996, pp. 1653-1654.

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