Could Life Have Started Without God?

The origin of life is one of the huge questions that scientists must wrestle with.  If the course of nature is an unguided, random process, then life must have arisen spontaneously from non-life without the agency of an intelligence.

So what explanation does science give for the origin of life?  Our discussion must begin with the Miller-Urey Experiments.

In 1953, scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey filled a flask with methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water.  Miller ran an electric current through a closed system containing these gases.  The electric current represented lightning, which may have been quite common on earth’s surface long ago.

The results?  Several different amino acids were found in the products.  This is significant because a variety of amino acids are absolutely essential for life.  They are necessary for the formation of proteins, which along with DNA and RNA, are present in all life forms.

So, we could present the findings this way: “scientists have proven that the essential building blocks of life can be created through natural means.”

Not so fast.  As it turns out, Miller filled his flask with a very unrealistic mixture of gases.  Analysis of ancient rocks indicates that earth’s atmosphere never had anywhere near Miller’s levels of hydrogen or hydrogen-rich gases such as methane.  What if we used a realistic mixture of mostly carbon dioxide and nitrogen gases similar to earth’s actual early atmosphere?  This article in Discover Magazine puts it lightly: “you’d have a hard time finding amino acids in the resulting brew.”

Also, there may have initially been a lot of lightning on earth’s surface, but nothing like the constant supply of electricity that Miller subjected his concoction to.

So it is conceivable that some amino acids resulted from the composition and state of earth’s early atmosphere.  But how close are amino acids to life?  Actually, amino acids are rather unexciting and simple compared to life.  We have already discovered about 90 of them in existence, of which 19 are found on earth.  The rest are out there in space.  So… apparently the presence of amino acids alone doesn’t do much to get a life cycle started.

Here is an illustration that depicts some of these acids.

amino acids

The article linked above cites scientists admitting that “amino acids are old hat and are a million miles from life.”

That’s because amino acids are like tiny little building blocks that must be put together in complex and elegant ways to make the essential elements of life known as proteins.  They also can’t give us DNA or RNA, which are also absolutely essential for life.  We would need nucleic acids for that which are even harder to come by.

But let’s humor the supporters of abiogenesis (spontaneous life from non-life) for a minute.  Let’s say that despite incredible odds and by means mysterious to us, we could get all of the amino acids and nucleic acids that we needed.

Then we would have a pile of acids sitting around doing nothing.

That’s because amino acids don’t spontaneously bond to each other and build themselves into proteins.  This is what a protein looks life, conceptualized in three different ways for your convenience.

Protein

In order to build proteins out of amino acids, you need the environment present inside a cell, complete with some very specific information encoded in RNA, and ribosomes.  A ribosome is a “large and complex molecular machine” made of two subunits that look like this:

ribosome large subunit

Bur ribosomes themselves are built from proteins and RNA.  This creates a “chicken or the egg” scenario in which ribosomes are needed to create proteins but proteins are needed to build ribosomes.

Furthermore, the instructions necessary for the creation of proteins by ribosomes are in RNA.  But nucleic acids don’t spontaneously build into DNA and RNA.  And if they did, they would be doing so randomly, not in a way that encoded them with the complex and beautiful information necessary to direct the life processes of a cell.

So lets review.  It is conceivable that amino acids could have resulted from the conditions in our early atmosphere.  One way to present that statement is this: “we can get the essential building blocks of life from nature without God.”

But what about explaining the creation of enough amino acids and nucleic acids of various kinds, and then explaining their formation into proteins, and the formation of those proteins into ribosomes, and the very presence of the specific information present in DNA and RNA?  And how did all of these pieces build themselves into a cell with a cell wall, a cytoplasm, and at least one chromosome, among other things?  After all, the instructions in DNA teach a cell how to grow and reproduce as a closed-system, not how to build itself from a bunch of pieces that are laying around like a man picking himself up by his own bootstraps.

simple cell

Even when scientists take a simple, self-contained cell with all of these pieces already in it, and pop it, they cannot coax it to come alive again.  Though all of the pieces are there in forms full of the complexity and information that they cannot explain, they still cannot convince the pieces to spontaneously begin cooperating with each other in the form of a cell.  And remember that all life is built from cells.

When science claims to understand how the “essential building blocks of life” could have arisen without God, don’t be ignorant about the very limited scope and implications of that claim.

Additional sources:

http://people.chem.duke.edu/~jds/cruise_chem/Exobiology/miller.html

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Speaking With Authority About Origins

demolition

In an ingenious slam poetry performance, Taylor Mali addresses the trend in intellectualism for the past several decades of doing the easy work of tearing down ideas without doing the hard work of building cohesive new ones.  The last line of his humorous performance suddenly takes a turn for the serious as he pronounces:

“Contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker, it is not enough these days just to question authority, you gotta speak with it, too.”

Atheism claims that there is no reason to believe in God anymore because we do not need Him to explain the existence of the world around us.  In science, we are told, we do not assume that something exists unless its existence is necessitated by the evidence.  The burden of proof is placed on the believer.

It really is so much easier to tear down an idea than to build one up.  To place the burden of proof on your opponent.  To point out all of the things that we can’t know.  This is really the essence of the argument against God.

In light of this principle I would like to address the use of the studies of physics and macroevolution by the atheistic movement.

In my limited understanding and exposure to the world of contemporary physics, I find it to be a substantial, respectable field.  Much of it is speculative, but much of it is also well documented and speaks with authority in describing the world around us.

I’ve got my own problems with the theory of evolution.  I don’t think it holds water.  But I will say in its favor that the theory of evolution speaks with authority about something.  It isn’t about shifting the burden of proof onto someone else.  It isn’t about pointing out all of the things that we can’t know or can’t prove.  

I don’t believe in the theory of macroevolution, but I can respect the fact that it seeks to explain, rather than to tear down.  What I can’t respect is the arrogance with which atheism takes these theories and others and uses them to tear down the idea of God.  Let me explain why.

Concerning macroevolution:

To claim that because we have a plausible theory (which I would claim is actually very weak) about how life could have evolved from a single cell into man, has little to do with the incredible questions of the universe’s existence or order.  It even leaves the question of the origin of life unanswered.

Concerning contemporary physics:

I said earlier that science claims not to need God to explain the existence and order in the cosmos.  But science has not explained why the universe exists or why it is the way it is.

The general vague idea is that the laws and constants that govern our universe are eternal and that they called the universe into existence.  For starters, this does’t explain where the laws themselves came from.  Secondly, it doesn’t explain why they happen to be so beautifully and incredibly fine-tuned.  And thirdly, this is a very primitive and unsubstantiated view of natural laws.

As philosopher and author Jim Holt points out, “physical laws are actually generalized descriptions of patterns and regularities in the world.  They don’t exist outside the world… they can’t call a world into existence out of nothingness.”  He points out that even Stephen Hawking asks what breathes fire into the equations and gives them a universe to describe.

Why does something exist instead of nothing?  Physics, which merely explains the behavior of our universe, has no answer.

Why is there so much fine tuning in the universe?  The best atheistic answer is that there are an infinite number of universes and that we happen to live in an amazingly orderly one.  So let’s see, the chances of that are about… 1 in infinity.

Where did the first life come from?  Investigate the atheistic theories for yourself.  Panspermia simply dodges the question, and all other proposals are embarrassing and contrived.

Where does consciousness come from?  The best atheistic answer is that it is a fundamental constant of reality.  Which borders on and honestly encroaches on the existence of the supernatural in its implications.

In conclusion:

Macroevolution makes pronouncements and theories about the way things are.  Physics describes our universe with elegance and precision.  But atheism wrongly uses these studies to tear down ideas which it has no ability to replace.  It questions authority without the ability to speak with it.

If you want authoritative, substantial answers, consider a Biblical worldview.