Ever Ask Yourself, How Did Life Begin?

Science has long sought answers to several important questions: What is life? Where did it come from? How did it begin? You won't the answers by peering into a microscope, telescope or test tube.

Millions of species share this planet. But only man has tried to understand the world and universe around him. Only man continues to search for the origin and meaning of life.

Clearly what sets us apart from all other living creatures on earth are the abilities and power of the human mind. It drives us to want to understand.

Some people's desire to understand life is made evident in religion by cathedrals, temples and churches. Others look to science in their search for meaning and gaze through microscopes, build particle accelerators and send space probes to neighboring planets in search of life and its origins.

When all is said and done, history has shown that, whether in religion or science, man's foundational curiosity has to do with the basics of life. What is life? How did life begin? How did it get here? What is the meaning of life?

Science and creation

When we consider the quest for the understanding of the universe and life within it, one of the great minds of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, comes to the fore. Although he studied physics rather than biology, Einstein was intrigued by the question of human origins and the existence of the universe. He recognized the evidence for an intelligence behind the functioning of the cosmos and the existence of life.

After years of study into the structure and origin of the universe, he acknowledged that "the harmony of natural law" he saw in the laws of physics "reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection" (The Quotable Einstein, Alice Calaprice, editor, 1996, p. 151).

Some would say Albert Einstein, in spite of such a profound admission, was not thinking of a biblical or personal God when he spoke of this superior intelligence. But Einstein never had the opportunity to consider many of the aspects of the growing body of evidence for cosmic fine-tuning and design that cosmologists have discovered in recent decades. Discoveries about the beginnings of the universe point to a beginning, a "first cause," that many cosmologists claim is the most likely explanation for the origin of all things.

The "intelligent design" movement

According to the Darwinist model of evolution, undirected natural causes are responsible for the origin and development of life. Because Darwinist evolution is based solely on random genetic mutation, it precludes the possibility of a supernatural Creator or any guiding intelligence playing a role in life's development.

In spite of the incredible level of acceptance of Darwinism and evolution over the decades, however, there have always been some dissenters who rejected Charles Darwin's claim that undirected natural causes could not only produce life but be responsible for the countless species and forms of life we see today.

Until the mid-1980s these other voices were largely isolated and sporadic. More recently these growing voices—categorized as the "intelligent design" movement—have become more focused in their pointed criticisms of Darwinist evolution. Many attempt to overturn the cultural dominance of Darwinism in both social and academic circles. Without employing the Bible as a scientific text, many intelligent-design scientists and scholars, including authors such as Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, Charles Thaxton, Michael Denton and Stephen Meyer, have critiqued Darwinism on scientific and philosophical grounds.

What, then, is intelligent design?

It is a theory of our origins that begins with the observation that intelligent causes can accomplish things that undirected natural causes simply cannot. This is true of the design or development of both inanimate and living things.

Consider the word game of Scrabble as an example. Let's grant that the board and letter pieces exist. Try tossing them into the air and see how they land. You certainly wouldn't expect all the letters to land in place on the board, arranged in correctly spelled words. Yet that, in essence, is what evolutionary theory asks us to believe. To achieve an arrangement of a series of meaningful words requires the assumption of an intelligent cause-in this example the players of the game. An outside cause must sort and place the pieces in a meaningful order.

This concept—that a fundamental distinction exists between undirected natural causes on the one hand and directed or intelligent causes on the other—has served as the premise of proponents of the design concept over the centuries. This fundamental concept has been the basic thesis of the more-recent intelligent-design movement that is being accepted by a small but growing number of scientists, astronomers and cosmologists.

The quest to understand life's origins

Man has long recognized the significant difference between living and nonliving matter. Since the early days of man's realization of the rarity of life, there has never been a shortage of theories to explain the presence of life on earth. Yet, in spite of centuries of research and hundreds of theories, the origin of life remains one of the greatest challenges to science. As Nobel laureate Max Delbruck put it: "... There has been an immense conceptual gap between all present-day life and no life." The mechanics of the transition from no life to life is "perhaps the fundamental question of biology" (Mind from Matter?, 1986, p. 31).

Nevertheless, the immense conceptual gap between life and nonlife is seldom recognized and rarely admitted by many evolutionary theorists. Even Darwin sidestepped the issue, adopting the attitude that "it is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Macropaedia Vol. 10, p. 900, "Life").

Regardless of evolutionists' enthusiasm for their theory, they must propose a credible explanation for the spontaneous generation of life from nonliving matter. After all, for the proposed process of evolution to begin, some starting material is necessary—some substance that the random processes of evolution could use to bring about life.

Scientists' attempt to explain life

This need led to the concept of "chemical evolution" for the scientific explanation of the origin of life. When the present-day theories of chemical evolution (the natural processes on a prebiotic earth that supposedly gave rise to the first living matter) were formulated by Alexander Oparin and J.B.S. Haldane in the 1920s, little was known about the biochemical details and workings of living matter. Thus early theorists took great latitude to propose mechanistic processes by which organisms could come into existence.

Modern theories of chemical evolution in textbooks suggest that our planet was covered with a warm, slightly alkaline ocean. The theories claim that ultraviolet light from the sun, geothermal energy from volcanoes, shock waves from thunder and cosmic radiation acted on gases of the primitive atmosphere to cause the formation of amino acids, sugars, proteins, nucleic acids and cell membranes. In time these compounds somehow came together into the first protocell, then became more complex until the first true living cell came into existence.

In 1953 the work of Stanley Miller and Nobel prize-winner Harold Urey was hailed as providing the missing link in understanding how the chemical origin of life could have happened. They synthesized amino acids and proteins in what they claimed to be a simulated primitive-earth environment.

Miller's work served as the sole pillar on which chemical evolutionists built their theories. Today, however, many scientists have concluded that the early atmosphere was vastly different from that of Miller's experiments and that he was operating under fundamentally wrong assumptions.

Further, in almost five decades little progress has been made to indicate that such simulated primordial oceans or organic-soup experiments yield anything more than a few inanimate proteins or amino acids without any other characteristics of life. Among other things they are missing the all-important informational macromolecules that exist in all forms of life, the molecules that carry the vital information, or software, that defines life, its very nature and its functions.

Some evolutionists have recognized the difficulties of explaining the spontaneous beginning of all of the necessary chemical components to life. They observe the high degree of complexity of present life-forms and admit the seemingly impossible task of offering a plausible explanation. However, since life is present on Earth, and science demands some sort of mechanistic explanation for its existence, they continue to search for theories that will satisfy the scientific method.

The fifth miracle

In 1999 theoretical physicist Paul Davies of Australia's University of Adelaide wrote The Fifth Miracle to address the definition and origins of life. In his book Professor Davies cited new research that he claimed hints that the beginnings of life may have lain deep within the earth's hot crust rather than the "warm pond" suggested by Darwin.

The "fifth miracle" of Davies' title refers to Genesis 1:11: "Let the land produce vegetation" (New International Version), implying the first four biblical miracles are the creation of the universe, light, the firmament and dry land. Even though Davies disavows the notion that life is the result of a miracle from a Creator God, he admits that the actual beginning of life is the most unsolvable mystery of science.

Professor Davies recounts how the work of Louis Pasteur in the 1860s led to the scientific realization that only living organisms could beget other living organisms. Pasteur's research and findings essentially debunked the concept of spontaneous generation, that life could arise spontaneously from nonliving matter.

Davies states: "Important though this demonstration was, Pasteur's conclusion came into direct conflict with Darwin's theory of evolution. Darwin's celebrated tome On the Origin of Species, which had been published just three years before Pasteur's experiments, sought to discredit the need for God to create the species by showing how one species can transmute into another. But Darwin's account left open the problem of how the first living thing came to exist" (1999, p. 83, emphasis in original).

So we are left with the fact that, unless life had always existed, at least one species —the first—could not have come into existence by transmutation from another species, but only by spontaneous generation from nonliving matter, a concept that Pasteur's work disproved.

Darwin himself wrote a few years later: "I have met with no evidence that seems in the least trustworthy, in favor of so-called Spontaneous Generation" (ibid.). Yet, as Davies continues: "... In the absence of a miracle, life could have originated only by some sort of spontaneous generation. Darwin's theory of evolution and Pasteur's theory that only life begets life cannot both have been completely right" (ibid.).

Man cannot explain it

Davies' book, although citing much of the current research in early-life origins (microbes around volcanic vents in the ocean's floor) and striving to offer explanations of how life came to be, is actually a work filled with admissions that science simply does not have the answer as to how life began. "Science rejects true miracles," he writes. "Although biogenesis strikes many as virtually miraculous, the starting point of any scientific investigation must be the assumption that life emerged naturally, via a sequence of normal physical processes. It is very unlikely that we will ever find out exactly what happened ..." (pp. 81-82).

One of the greatest challenges to scientists, and the focus of much of modern research into life's origins, is the key issue of information. For life to exist, information-software, as it were—must have existed in those initial proteins and amino acids.

That is what scientists simply cannot explain and what random selection cannot reproduce. Professor Davies admits: "In a living organism we see the power of software, or information processing, refined to an incredible degree ... The problem of the origin of life reduces to one of understanding how encoded software emerged spontaneously from hardware. How did it happen? How did nature 'go digital'? ... It is like trying to explain how a kite can evolve into a radio-controlled aircraft. Can the laws of nature as we presently comprehend them account for such a transition? I do not believe they can" (p. 115, emphasis added).

Clearly, the argument that Davies and other representative viewers of modern science seem to be making is that we need to discover and understand some fundamentally new variable that is beyond both chance and law.

In spite of the lack of answers for the origin of life that are forthcoming from the known laws of physics, mathematics and biochemistry, humanity seems bent on considering only answers from modern science—answers that do not allow for a Creator. The concept of an intelligent force operating in the history of life is seen by scientific materialists as some sort of magic on a cosmic scale.

The impact of modern science

Modern science, with all its achievements, continues to evolve its very research methods and definitions. A problem is that "science" has two distinct definitions in our culture.

On the one hand, science refers to a method of investigation involving exacting measurements, repeatable experiments and an open-minded attitude that insists that all claims be carefully tested. But science has also become identified with a philosophy known as materialism or scientific naturalism.

This definition of science insists that nature (the natural, physical cosmos) is all there is, or at least the only thing about which we can have any knowledge. The conclusion follows that nature had to do its own creating, that the means of creation must not have included any role for a Creator. Students are not supposed to approach this philosophy with open-minded skepticism—as they are told to do in any other scientific endeavor—but, ironically enough, to take it on faith (although they would never use that religious—sounding term).

The reason that neo-Darwinism and natural selection in evolution are so blindly accepted in the academic world is that they are the main scientific props for scientific naturalism. Students first are taught that evolution is fact, then they gradually learn more about what that fact means.

The same principle is true in the search for the origin of life. When one assumes that all living things are the product of mindless material forces such as chemical laws, natural selection and random variation, God is excluded from the picture. Humans (along with all life) thus are the accidental product of a purposeless universe.

The only alternative

Many people claim to see a huge difference between the revelations of the Bible and the factual findings of science. That view has caused many simply to disregard the Bible when they consider the quest to understand the origins of life and its meaning.

Some 2,000 years ago the apostle Paul addressed the world's alleged wisdom and knowledge about such fundamental questions. He stated the obvious: that God has shown proof of Himself to man: "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them" (Romans 1:19, New Revised Standard Version).

Here Paul acknowledges a truth that mankind has taken thousands of years to discover in secular, scientific research—that realities about God and His part in the creation of life and the universe should be and are indeed evident to those willing to see.

He tells us that, for all of man's efforts to understand how life could have originated, proof of a Creator (an intelligent designer, as many scientists are discovering) has been in front of us all along: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse" (verse 20).

Yet, as was true in first-century Rome, so it is true today: Mankind simply refuses to acknowledge the need for the Creator. Of the educated elite of his time Paul noted that, "even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind ..." (verse 28).

Later Paul prophesied that modern man would depart from acknowledging and accepting the role of the Creator God: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves,... having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:1, 5).

While the most fundamental questions of science—what is life and where did it come from—continue to perplex the best minds of secular science, God reveals that He not only has the answers to the initial question of life's origin but the solution to the profound question of life's purpose.

Whether we understand the purpose for human life or not, the Bible promises that "the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isaiah 40:5, NIV). In due time this will come to pass.

The Bible is silent on the scientific, chemical and biological origins of life. Why? Because it reveals that all life was created by God. This answer to the ultimate question of modern science is rejected by most, but the time will come when all will understand!