Origin of Life, Pt 3: Problems with Current Hypotheses

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Over 30 years ago, Michael Denton said, “The problem of the origin of life is not unique – it only represents the most dramatic example of the universal principle that complex systems cannot be approached gradually through functional intermediates because of the necessity of perfect co-adaptation of their components as a precondition of function. Transitions to function are of necessity abrupt.”[1]

In other words, Darwin’s supposed countless incremental, minuscule steps simply will not work in reality and cannot be rationally imagined, hence the endless just-so stories concocted for biology textbooks as Stephen Jay Gould characterized them: “Our technical literature contains many facile verbal arguments—little more than plausible ‘just-so’ stories.”[2] Alan Guth’s hypothetical inflationary epoch that was spun to solve the horizon problem would indicate that even physical cosmology contains bedtime tales.

Denton further said, “To grasp the reality of life as it has been revealed by molecular biology, we must magnify a cell a thousand million times until it is twenty kilometers in diameter and resembles a giant airship large enough to cover a great city like London or New York. What we would then see would be an object of unparalleled complexity and adaptive design. On the surface of the cell we would see millions of openings, like the port holes of a vast space ship, opening and closing to allow a continual stream of materials to flow in and out. If we were to enter one of these openings we would find ourselves in a world of supreme technology and bewildering complexity. We would see endless highly organized corridors and conduits branching in every direction away from the perimeter of the cell, some leading to the central memory bank in the nucleus and others to assembly plants and processing units….A huge range of products and raw materials would shuttle along all the manifold conduits in a highly ordered fashion to and from all the various assembly plants in the outer regions of the cell.

Over 30 years ago, Michael Denton said, “The problem of the origin of life is not unique“We would wonder at the level of control implicit in the movement of so many objects down so many seemingly endless conduits, all in perfect unison. We would see all around us, in every direction we looked, all sorts of robot-like machines….

“We would see that nearly every feature of our own advanced machines had its analogue in the cell: artificial languages and their decoding systems, memory banks for information storage and retrieval, elegant control systems regulating the automated assembly of parts and components, error fail-safe and proof-reading devices utilized for quality control, assembly processes involving the principle of prefabrication and modular construction….

“What we would be witnessing would be an object resembling an immense automated factory, a factory larger than a city and carrying out almost as many unique functions as all the manufacturing activities of man on earth. However, it would be a factory which would have one capacity not equaled in any of our own most advanced machines, for it would be capable of replicating its entire structure within a matter of a few hours. To witness such an act at a magnification of one thousand million times would be an awe-inspiring spectacle.” (pp. 328-29).

In the decades since Denton’s book, continuing advances in cell and molecular biology, genetics, and epigenetics have made the naturalistic origin of life increasingly implausible. Long gone are the days when scientists could reasonably use the inappropriate and ignorant phrase “the simple cell.” Even the simplest cell is more complex than anything devised by man. The bewildering array of biochemical pathways, RNA regulatory networks, and integrated functions needed to keep a cell alive go far beyond the uninformed days when Darwin and other scientists perceived the cell as a simple amalgamation of protoplasm and cell membrane. Protoplasm? What a convenient term that was for 19th century biologists.

Evolution as a Science Stopper

Evolution has become a science stopper for nearly every advance in biological knowledge. For instance, the term “Junk DNA” is currently used by doctrinaire evolutionists like Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne Nick Matzke, and Kenneth Miller to describe 98% of our genome nearly prevented science from discovering important functions of our “junk DNA” because the “junk” didn’t code for proteins. These scientists, along with many others, stubbornly refuse to admit that over 80% of our genome is functional. Scientists who worked on the ENCODE project to discover the functions found in our “junk DNA” think that perhaps science will discover that nearly 100% of our genome is functional. An article in Discover magazine reports on the ENCODE findings.

The non-protein coding DNA is transcribed into RNAs that cause gene expression, suppression, or regulation of genes, some of which are related to known cancer genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. It would have been far better for Angelina Jolie to have received RNA therapy that suppressed the expression of these genes than to have had radical mastectomies and hysterectomy. Epigenetic therapy is also able to regulate genes. These therapeutic approaches to cancer were certainly forestalled by evolutionists who insisted that most of our DNA was leftover junk from our evolutionary past. In the case of epigenetics, it was not even considered since the evolutionary model doesn’t consider epigenetics as a possible mode for therapies.

Who Are the Real Science Stoppers?

In Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case, Frank Turek rightly and appropriately criticizes Dawkins et al as the real science stoppers. These scientists, along with Lawrence Krauss, Peter Atkins and others, condemn Intelligent Design as a science stopper when it is actually they who are the science stoppers. How is this true?

Scientists who are open to intelligent causes are not limited to only naturalistic explanations for origins, as are atheists, and overly committed evolutionists such as Kenneth Miller who is a devout Roman Catholic. They don’t stop looking for natural causes, but they are willing to allow the possibility that something like the specified complexity of our genome, consisting of 3-3.5 billion nucleotide base pairs, could be the result of intelligent design since we never see natural causes generating large amounts of specified information. Miller and atheist Richard Dawkins would never admit such a possibility and would persecute anyone in their camp admitting such a possibility. Richard Sternberg made a mistake as editor of The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. He authorized “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” by Dr. Stephen Meyer to be published in the journal after passing peer-review. He was forced out of Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, although he was a research associate there. Jerry Bergman reviews the heinous blackballing of many well-qualified scientists such as astrophysicist Guillermo Gonzales in Slaughter of the Dissidents.

Our experience shows that complex, specified information, such as that contained in this sentence, is caused by intelligent agents and is never produced by unguided, natural processes. Despite this, atheists and a diverse assortment of materialists, e.g., theistic evolutionists, insist that our entire being is the product of natural processes, but in doing this, they put their philosophical outlook on display for what it really is: a science stopper.

Origin of Life Hypotheses Planted in Nothing

Stephen Meyer did an outstanding job presenting and critiquing the current evolutionary explanations for the origin of life after examining the probabilities that amino or nucleic acids could ever form some sort of self-reproducing molecule.

Evolutionists scoff at probabilities, glossing over these statistics with claims that chemical evolution to life was inevitable. However, without mechanisms and actual chemical pathways for the development of life via random chemical interactions, evolutionists are forced to generate endless just-so stories couched in scientific jargon. Although they make bold claims to the contrary, none of their origin-of-life hypotheses, even the RNA World hypothesis, are realistic and demonstrable by scientific experimentation.

Kenneth Miller fired a blistering attack at one of Stephen Meyer’s “DNA and Other Designs”. He accused Meyer of ignoring nearly two decades of research on the “RNA first” hypothesis and failed to tell his “readers of experiments showing that very simple RNA sequences can serve as biological catalysts and even self-replicate.”[3]

Meyer responded to Miller’s attack by citing and summarizing research articles by origin-of-life researchers that were highly critical of the RNA World hypothesis. Miller never responded to Meyer about this. However, many prominent scientists, including molecular biologists still believe the way Miller does.

A big problem with “very simple RNA sequences” is that RNA nucleotides can’t polymerize in water, that is to say they can’t form chains, not even “very simple RNA sequences.” RNA is especially unstable in water. Neither can amino acids form short chains in water. This is something every student who has taken upper division organic chemistry knows. [4] Scientists at the National Academy of Sciences explicitly explain this:

As noted above, the nucleophilicity of water allows it to enter into reactions that cause the degradation of biological macromolecules, including DNA and proteins….

In water, the assembly of nucleosides from component sugars and nucleobases, the assembly of nucleotides from nucleosides and phosphate, and the assembly of oligonucleotides from nucleotides are all thermodynamically uphill in water….

“Two amino acids do not spontaneously join in water. Rather, the opposite reaction is thermodynamically favored at any plausible concentrations: polypeptide chains spontaneously hydrolyze in water, yielding their constituent amino acids. Those obstacles can be avoided if we adopt an alternative explanation: that life began with a mixture of small molecules rather than with a biopolymer.”[5] [my emphases]

What’s the Source of Biologic Information?

Meyer examined recent inspirational experiments of molecular biologists that bolstered their confidence in the RNA world approach to the origin of life and discovered that they had not solved the critical origin-of-information problem. In the RNA world, the problem of which came first, the chicken or the egg, is solved. Proteins need the information contained in DNA, but the information in DNA cannot be processed without some kind of transcription and translation machinery that is made up of proteins and RNA.

Scientists discovered that certain RNA molecules (ribozymes) were capable of enzymatic function usually performed by proteins and could also store information like DNA, but does that really solve the problem? As we have already seen, RNA nucleotides simply do not form even “very simple RNA sequences.” Sorry, Kenneth Miller, you, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, et al, will have to do better.

Richard Dawkins’ Climbing Mount Improbable reveals evolutionism’s irrational nature. Dr Sarfati said, “…many structures in living organisms are so complex that there is a vanishingly small probability of producing them in a single step — this corresponds to leaping the high Mt Improbable in a single step. But, says Dawkins, this mountain has a gently upward-sloping terrain on the other side, where a climber can ascend gradually, constantly progressing to the top.”[6] There is no gently upward-sloping terrain on Mount Improbable—it’s unclimbable on every side for the chemical origin of life. Atheists and most evolutionists ignore the realities of chemistry and probability.

[1] Denton, Michael, Evolution: a Theory in Crisis, p. 270, 1985.

[2] Gould, SJ, Bully for Brontosaurus, pp. 144-145, 1991.

[3] Meyer, S, Signature in the Cell, p. 297, 2009.

[4] Roberts, J. and Caserio, M., Basic Principles of Organic Chemistry, 2nd ed., p. 1236, 1977.

[5] The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems ,p. 60, 2007

[6] Sarfati, J., Review Climbing Mount Improbable, p 29, 1998

About the Author
Jon Covey and is wife Anita have been long-time members of the South Bay Creation Science Association. Jon and Anita write the monthly Creation in the Crossfire newsletter and have been invaluable in adding great research and insight into the creation articles we send out.