Tag Archives: origin of life

Origin of Life

How did life get started? Could life have arisen by purely “natural” means, without a designer? The universe is a big place, with trillions times trillions of stars. Newspapers report “earth-like” planets; some must have liquid water. Is life inevitable, given enough time and sunshine?

Well, maybe not. The origin of life is an unsolved riddle, and one of the greatest challenges to materialism.

The problem is that all life, even what we might think of as “simple” life, is enormously complex, and has technology far beyond anything built by human beings. All life makes copies of itself atom-by-atom. No machine built by man can do that. All life contains digital code (DNA), and 3-D printers that read the code and “print” out needed parts, by snapping together chains of basic atomic building blocks, called “amino acids.”

A 1953 experiment found that a few of these amino acids could be produced from electricity and inorganic chemical compounds. This experiment, called the Miller-Urey experiment, has led some people to believe that life did arise by chance. Many high school textbooks note the experiment. But the textbooks are outdated. Both Stanley Miller and Harold Urey admitted the mere existence of amino acids does not yield life. It’s not just that the experiment got the starting conditions wrong (which it did), or that it also produced reactive chemicals that would have destroyed life (like hydrogen cyanide and formaldehyde). It’s not just that it takes energy to “snap” together amino acids. The necessary components for life are not favored thermodynamically or kinetically.

It’s the information problem. Even if somehow you had all the right parts, all of these fantastically complex components, how on Earth (pun intended) could they ever get in the right order? How did all the pieces get put together right in three dimensional space?

All life has DNA code millions of units, millions of “letters,” long. (Those chemical units, those nucleotides, are impossibly unlikely to form by chance.) All life has copying machines and 3-D printers of astonishing accuracy and reliability. All life has machines to transfer energy. To have life, you not only have to start with all of this (and more), but the code has to be in exactly the right order so the machines can make copies of themselves. It’s a nightmare chicken-and-the-egg problem. To have life, you’ve got to start with all the machines and all the units of code, and the code has to be in the right order to specify the instructions for building the machines.

In 1964, a Yale professor calculated the odds of life arising by chance as one in a number with one hundred billion zeros. That’s at any time in any place in the history of the universe. The number of planets in the universe may be a number with 24 zeros. To go from a length so small it cannot be measured, to the distance across the known universe, you need about 60 zeros (multiply by ten about 60 times). Overcoming odds of one in a number with one hundred billion zeros is staggeringly impossible. You are more likely to win a Powerball lottery ten billion times in a row.

Life forming accidentally is like a tornado ripping through a massive junkyard and leaving behind a 747 jet, with all systems functional and ready to take off. Except it’s worse. The tornado would also have to leave behind a complete set of blueprints for building the jet and an operating manual.

Charles Darwin knew his theory couldn’t explain the origin of life. Before you can have natural selection, you must first have a means of preserving traits across generations. Inorganic matter has only chemical and physical properties; it has no way of preserving traits across generations.

You might think further effort will solve the riddle. Harvard University attempted that in 2006, when it launched an “Origins of Life Initiative,” and handed out research money. But at a conference they sponsored in 2009, the recurring theme was “we just don’t know.” Harvard has essentially abandoned the initiative.

How did life get started? Here’s a 2011 status report from Eugene Koonin, a senior investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and a recognized expert in the field of evolutionary and computational biology:

Despite many interesting results to its credit, when judged by the straightforward criterion of reaching (or even approaching) the ultimate goal, the origin of life field is a failure—we still do not have even a plausible coherent model, let alone a validated scenario, for the emergence of life on Earth. Certainly, this is due not to a lack of experimental and theoretical effort, but to the extraordinary intrinsic difficulty and complexity of the problem. A succession of exceedingly unlikely steps is essential for the origin of life, from the synthesis and accumulation of nucleotides to the origin of translation; through the multiplication of probabilities, these make the final outcome seem almost like a miracle.

The origin of life seems like a miracle.

There is no materialist explanation for the origin of life. Our most brilliant scientists can’t come up with a mildly plausible scenario. When decades of intense scientific effort leave us with the statement that the origin of life seems like a miracle, we are forced to consider the possibility that it really was a miracle, a supernatural event, and that life was designed.

Thanks for reading. Please share the good news of science.

An Inconvenient Truth

You may remember a 2006 documentary with Al Gore talking about global warming. It was titled “An Inconvenient Truth.” The film described global warming as “an inconvenient truth,” because, although the scientific evidence was overwhelming, many people were in denial.

Could the existence of God be an inconvenient truth for our society? The scientific evidence is overwhelming. My book “counts” through seven areas of science where, in the last few decades, new mainstream scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the existence of God. To name just two, there is no atheist explanation for the origin of life, and Darwin’s theory of unguided evolution has been emphatically disproven. The “emperor” of Darwinian Theory has no mathematical clothes.

So why is our society so hostile to God? I think the answer is complex, and varies from individual to individual. Perhaps part of it is we don’t want to be bothered. We don’t want to take time on the weekends to go to church or synagogue or mosque; we don’t want to part with any of our income, which of course we attribute solely to our own talents and not to God.

Perhaps another part is that we like to think we are in control. We like to think we are the masters of the universe. We don’t want to acknowledge a higher power.

Perhaps a third reason is that advertising dominates our culture. You can talk all you want about the glories of your favorite professional sports team, but know this – that team exists because its sponsors want you to buy their products. Advertising is everywhere, and it bombards us with the message that life is about money and spending it to buy the right products. Advertising and God don’t mix well.

I’m not sure about these reasons. I majored in math and physics, not sociology. So in this week before Christmas I’ll just leave you with a question. Do you think that, for some people, and perhaps even for yourself at certain moments at least, the existence of God is an inconvenient truth?

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!

Origin of Life – Atheist Pseudo-Science #3

“That’s life,” sings Sinatra. Well, exactly what is life? We now know that all life, even the most “primitive” life, is amazingly complex. This week let’s look at perhaps the most stunning evidence of design in the universe, the origin of life. We will also look at the pseudo-science claims of some atheists that life could have arisen by chance.

Impressed by your digital toys – smartphones, computers, TVs, and more? Life began with digital technology – DNA coding — 3.5 billion years ago. Life’s digital technology is far superior; you could store the coding for every species that has ever existed in a spoonful of DNA, with perhaps enough room left over for every book that has ever been written.

Heard of work to build “3-D printers” – machines that take in pure information and build parts and items on command? Life began with 3-D printing 3.5 billion years ago. Life’s 3-D printers – ribosomes – use the information in DNA to snap together fantastically long chains of amino acids, and then to fold that chain into the shape required for the precise functional protein a cell has ordered to be created. Ribosomes are 3-D printers that manufacture parts for cells, and all life uses essentially the same technology to do that.

Do you think your computer or cell phone could have arisen by accident? All life, even primitive life, is more sophisticated. Your cell phone can’t reproduce itself.

Last week I gave a talk in Florida. A person in the audience suggested that, since we now know that some of the amino acids used by life can arise by chance, we can now explain the origin of life as having arisen by chance. That’s like saying that, if we can find a way the letters of the English alphabet could have been created by chance, then the works of Shakespeare could have arisen by chance. The amino acid experiment he was referring to – the Miller-Urey experiment of 1953 – was tremendously flawed, and both Miller and Urey later admitted that it did not explain the origin of life. Yet this sad experiment is still given in most high school textbooks as an explanation for the origin of life. I read of it in high school and, not knowing of the flaws, began my personal sad conversion to atheism, a conversion that took decades to reverse.

There is so much more to say on this subject. I’ve got a whole chapter in Counting To God on it. If someone thinks there’s a way to explain life without God, they should read Chapter 10.

In 1964 Yale Physicist Harold Morowitz estimated the odds of life arising by chance, at any time in the history of the universe, as one in a number with a hundred billion zeros. I have never seen that estimate challenged. In other words, it is more likely that you will win a Powerball lottery 10 billion times in a row than that life arose by mere chance.

To me the origin of life is a “chicken-and-the-egg” problem. To have life, you need to begin with both the chicken and the egg. You need to begin with ribosomes and other fantastic machinery to read and copy DNA and do all the other work of life, and the exact DNA code that those machines will use to build copies of themselves.

I’m often asked what is the one question you should ask an atheist who is trying to bully you with false science. That’s easy:

How did life begin?

Thanks for reading.

Ell’s Law

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately as to how I’m going to earn my Nobel Prize. I’m not getting any younger. I’ve decided I need my own “law.” That seems to be how you make it really big science-wise – to have a law or principle either named after you or always associated with you. There’s Hubble’s Law, Newton’s Law of Gravitation, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and so on. And of course Murphy’s Law. So, to get me started on the road to Nobel, I propose Ell’s Law:

Whenever there are competing explanations for natural phenomena and one suggests, however slightly, the existence of God, the other will become the accepted “scientific” explanation, regardless of whether there is any evidence to support it.

Let’s look at Ell’s Law in operation, starting with Cosmology. The night sky is dark. Did the universe have a beginning, or do we infer there’s a lot of totally undetected dust in the heavens blocking the light from those infinite and eternal stars way out there? You guessed it! – the answer must be dust! Hubble discovers the universe is expanding, and the speed of receding galaxies is proportional to their distance from us. Do we now conclude the universe had a beginning? Nope, applying Ell’s Law, scientists invent the “Steady State” theory, where the universe is still constant and eternal and somehow matter is created in the voids to build new galaxies. This violates a basic rule of science – the First Law of Thermodynamics, the conservation of matter/energy – but, under Ell’s Law, we don’t worry about that. In 1965 we discover radiation from the Big Bang, and other evidence, absolutely confirming that our universe had a beginning. Do we now infer the existence of God? Of course not! Applying Ell’s Law, scientists conclude our universe was created by another universe, which was somehow created by a third universe, and so on, to infinity and beyond, to avoid having to come up with a “First Cause” for a first universe. We discover the constants and laws of physics are exquisitely fine-tuned for the existence of life. Do we infer a designer? Nope! Applying Ell’s Law, we just tweak our model of an infinite number of universes (together called a “multiverse”) to imagine that somehow the laws and constants of physics (and even the number of dimensions actually) can change from one to another. We have absolutely no idea how this occurs, and of course absolutely no idea how we can ever detect evidence of other universes, but, under Ell’s Law, you don’t need evidence!

Now let’s apply Ell’s Law to biology. We discover an incredible molecule called DNA that contains the information for all life. Apply Ell’s Law, and we conclude it arose by accident. We discover an amazing genetic code that all life uses to build proteins from the DNA code, and amazing machines to process DNA. Obviously, created by accident! We don’t have a mildly plausible explanation for the origin of life (and believe me, Harvard and others threw a lot of money at the problem), but, no problem, we ignore that and keep printing high school textbooks suggesting the “scientific” explanation that life was created by accident. We find all species contain massive amounts of unique DNA coding (orphan genes). Evidence of design? Not a chance! Just apply Ell’s Law, and you will conclude it all arose because of accidental mutations and natural selection, even if that’s mathematically absurd.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. Ell’s Law is one of the most powerful laws in science. It also applies in quantum physics and planetary formation. I’m going to start work on my acceptance speech.

Thanks for reading.