Origin of Life, Pt 4: Problems with Current Origin-of-Life Hypotheses

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Richard Dawkins believes the backside of Mount Improbable is a gently rising slope with many steps, reflecting Darwin’s idea that evolution proceeds by “by insensibly fine gradations.”[1] Dawkins has, however, moved beyond the simplistic view of the cell that Darwin had and admits that features of living organisms appear designed, but the design is only apparent and merely represents the long ages of mutations and natural selection that shaped each species.

Evolutionists may recognize that randomly forming chains of specified sequences is astronomically improbable, but they are wholly committed to natural causes only. We’ve seen that the random development of a single protein 150 amino acids long or its RNA/DNA analog exceeds the universal probability bound calculated by William Dembski. Obviously, evolutionists reject probability when it comes to the naturalistic origin of life. This is especially true of atheistic evolutionists.

Some evolutionists claim that life-producing chemical evolution was not random, and that the development of all species from that first living organism was not random. This is how Lawrence Krauss explained it to Ray Comfort in an interview. Krauss used the snowflake as an example of how complex structures can form as a result of physics. This is how evolutionists get around the problem of essentially infinite improbability, but this is irrational speculation. The physical laws do not create irregular and variable specified information such as that found in DNA or a Dean Koontz novel. Instead, natural laws create regular, repetitive sequences, such as the ice crystals in a snowflake. Stephen Meyer has pointed this out many times. The development of the new body plans produced in the Cambrian Explosion required an infusion of new information in DNA from an intelligent source (God) because mutations and natural selection cannot generate specified information. Meyer says,

“…our uniform experience of cause and effect shows that intelligent design is the only known cause of the origin of large amounts of functionally specified digital information. It follows that the great infusion of such information in the Cambrian explosion points decisively to an intelligent cause.” [2]

Additionally, embryological studies show that any mutations in early-acting developmental genes always produced dead or severely debilitated organisms.[3]

Paleobiologist Charles Marshall, one of the very few evolutionists who has actually read Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt, suggested that rewiring of preexisting gene regulatory networks (GRN) is how different body plans evolved.[4] Meyer finds several problems with this idea. To summarize what he explains in more detail:[5]

  1. “rewiring” genetic circuitry would require reconfiguring the temporal and spatial expression of genetic information.
  2. Recent genomic studies of many animals representing phyla that first arose in the Cambrian show that these animals depend upon many genes not present in any other animal groups (taxa).
  3. Building the Metazoa (multi-cellular animals) would not have required just new Hox genes, ORFan genes, or genes for building new regulatory (DNA-binding) proteins. Instead, the evolutionary process would need to produce the whole range of different proteins necessary for building and servicing the varied forms of animal life that arose in the Cambrian period.
  4. Marshall presupposes a universal gene toolkit exant at least 100 million years before the Cambrian explosion. This is question begging and doesn’t solve the central problem of the origin of genetic and epigenetic information necessary to produce the Cambrian animals.
  5. Marshall ignores the inability of the mutation/selection mechanism to generate new epigenetic information—a problem that has caused some biologists to express skepticism about the neo-Darwinian mechanism.
  6. Marshall fails to explain how the neo-Darwinian mechanism could overcome the extremely low probability of finding the necessary genetic information to build the new proteins needed by the Cambrian animals.

Meyer explains other problems with Marshall’s “rewiring” idea in Debating Darwin’s Doubt. He says that positing the pre-existing genes at least 100 million years prior to the Cambrian explosion merely pushes the problem back and raises other problems, such as what selective advantage would there be for a single-celled organism to accrue a complete set of genes that would have no survival value and would have “a huge energetic and fitness cost”? Presumably this hypothetical organism was the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA).

Self-Organization – Biochemical Predestination (Protein First hypothesis)

Stephen Meyer evaluates naturalistic hypotheses other than RNA World and exposes their shortcomings in Signature in the Cell and more comprehensively in Darwin’s Doubt. We’ve already looked at the problem of forming RNA nucleotide chains in a water environment, which undermines the RNA world hypothesis.

Origin-of-Life researchers Dean Kenyon and Gary Steinman were convinced by leading origin-of-life scientists such as Melvin Calvin and Jacques Monod that highly improbable events, such as the spontaneous formation of a molecule of DNA and a molecule of DNA polymerase in the same region of space at the same time become virtually inevitable over the vast stretches of geological time (Recall George Wald’s claim that the impossible becomes a virtual certainty given enough time).

Such thinking is irrational based on what we have known about chemistry since the discovery of Watson and Crick. Large biomolecules such as proteins, RNA, and DNA do not form spontaneously, but this is what materialistic naturalists must believe, because they believe that only material entities, such as atoms and energy, and that only natural forces and laws must be considered in the origin of everything, but before the origin of the universe natural forces and laws didn’t exist and couldn’t cause themselves.

Jacques Monod made a distinction between chance and necessity. He called necessity the law-like forces of physics and chemistry. Kenyon and Steinman concluded that if chance events couldn’t explain the origin of biological information then necessity could. They called “necessity” predestination. They believed “self-organization” was the mode by which life originated.

Kenyon and Steinman wrote a book on this idea, Biochemical Predestination. However, it is clear that their thinking was perverted by materialistic naturalism—i.e. everything that exists must be the result of natural causes acting upon matter and energy. They examine the idea that certain amino acids have an affinity for each other and would bond more readily than two amino acids possessing R groups (Reactive or functional) that would interfere with each other (steric hindrance), repel each other because of similar electronegativity, or because of other physiochemical factors. In their experiments with amino acids they discovered that glycine bonds twice as frequently with alanine as it does with valine. Amino acids with longer R groups bond less frequently with another amino acid than do amino acids having shorter R groups.

These differences in affinity mean certain sequences would be more likely. They said, “It would appear that the unique nature of each type of amino acid as determined by its side chain could introduce nonrandom constraints into the sequencing process.”[6] For them, these bonding affinities could account for amino acid sequences in proteins. However, they did not try to relate this sequencing to DNA sequences because they believed in the Protein-first hypothesis. Furthermore, the sequences generated by bonding affinities did not correlate with actual protein sequences.

As a top-rate chemist, Kenyon began having second thoughts about this position and wrote Of Pandas and People with Percival Davis. This book was welcomed by creationists and intelligent design advocates.

Since no natural laws are capable of generating non-repetitive specified information such as that found in proteins, DNA, and RNA, and since these large biomolecules do not form spontaneously, as scientists of the National Academy of Sciences explain,[7] self-organization can’t be accomplished by strictly natural means. We know that only intelligent agents can produce large amounts of variable and irregular specified information, [8] such as the 3.2-3.5 billion base pairs in the human genome.[9] Such information does not arise spontaneously in nature. Dr. Meyer notes,

“Self-organizational theories of the origin of life try to attribute the organization in living things to physical or chemical forces or processes— ones that can be described mathematically as laws of nature.”[10]

Dr. Meyer rejects Monod’s idea of necessity. The laws of physics and chemistry do the same things over and over. They are incapable of innovation and generating information that will give rise to new functions, and a host of new functions are needed for the origin of life.

The Minimal Genome for the Origin of Life

All evolutionary, creationary, and intelligent design scientists have attempted to determine the minimal genome necessary for the origin of life. Some say it would take about 250 essential genes plus quasi-essential genes (approximately 223) to produce an organism capable of self-sustaining activities and reproduction (an autonomously replicating cell).[11] Clyde Hutchinson and his colleagues designed, built and tested a chemically synthesized genome (JCV-syn1.0) based on the genome of Mycoplasma mycoides and transplanted it into cytoplasm to support growth. They managed to reduce the size of the genome to 473 genes, which included genes critical for transcription and translation, plus 149 genes of unknown function.

Hutchinson and his colleagues state that they can synthesize whole genomes from chemically synthesized oligonucleotides and bring them to life by installing them in a receptive cellular environment. This will probably win them the Nobel prize because it’s such a terrific achievement. However, this underscores the need for intelligent design along with preexisting organelles and epigenetic factors in the cytoplasm and does not yet represent creating life.

Dan Leitha – Answers in Genesis

Dan Leitha – Answers in Genesis


[1] Darwin, C. On the Origin of Species, p. 171, 1859.

[2] Meyer, Stephen, Darwin’s Doubt, p. 361

[3] Meyer, Stephen, Darwin’s Doubt, pp. 259-264.

[4] 1. Charles R. Marshall, “When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship,” Science 341, no. 6152, (September 20, 2013): 1344.

[5] Debating Darwin’s Doubt: A Scientific Controversy That Can No Longer Be Denied (Kindle Locations 2430-2480). Discovery Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

[6] Kenyon, D., Steinman, G., Biochemical Predestination, p. 207

[7] See “The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems,” p. 60 published by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academies Press, www.nap.edu

[8] Meyer, Stephen C., Signature in the Cell, p. 66.

[9] Mathematician John Lennox of Cambridge University has on at least two occasions said the human genome consists of 3.5 billion base pairs. Although Lennox affirms the truth of the Bible, he is opposed to young earth creationism.

[10] Meyer, Stephen C., Signature in the Cell, p. 230.

[11] Hutchison, C. A., et al, “Design and synthesis of a minimal bacterial genome.” Science, 351(6280), Mar 25, 2016.

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.