Monthly Archives: July 2017

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 But the textbooks are outdated.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.

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Does Science Prove God?

I’ve been having a friendly debate with a distinguished scientist. She believes there is a God, but argues science cannot prove the existence of God. I argue science has proved God.

What does it mean to “prove” something. I look to math. Math has theorems, logical arguments, that prove or disprove statements. But all mathematics rests on certain unprovable assumptions – sometimes called “axioms” or “postulates”. You start by assuming some things are true, and then you prove other things are true. What you can prove rests on, depends on, your starting truths. Your starting truths are the foundation you build on.

Geometry is an example (please skip this paragraph if high school geometry was not your favorite). Euclid began with five starting truths – five postulates. His fifth postulate was that parallel lines never meet. With these starting truths he created the elegant field of Euclidean geometry, where the sum of the angles of a triangle is 180 degrees. There are other systems of geometry with different starting truths. If you take the first four of Euclid’s postulates, and add the assumption that parallel lines always meet, you get the geometry of the surface of a ball, where the sum of the angles of a triangle is always greater than 180 degrees.

OK, technical discourse over. The point is, before you can “prove” anything, you have to start with certain unprovable truths. Here’s my starting truths:

Truth One: There is an objective reality.

There are real things apart from us and our minds. We are not beings in some sort of computer simulation.

Truth Two: We can generally trust what our senses are clearing telling us.

We can be confused, or deceived. But I think we all pretty much assume as true clear messages from our senses. If we run into a stone wall, we say that “proves” both that the wall exists, and that it is hard. If scientists around the world find that all living creatures contain coded groups of atoms we call DNA, we say that “proves” the existence of DNA code.

Truth Three: If something exists that, in all human history and all of science, has only on. . explanation, one cause, then that explanation is true and that cause exists.

We have found fantastic technology in every living creature. Plants have sensors that detect detailed variations in light and temperature. Some birds, fish, turtles, and even butterflies have sensors that detect both the direction and intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field, coupled with navigation systems that allow them to travel thousands of miles and return to the same field, stream, beach, or tree. This technology is complex almost beyond imagination – it is far more advanced than anything humans have ever created. We are only beginning to understand how DNA code works, with overlapping layers of information.

In all of human history and experience, only an intelligent being can create new technology. In all of science, there is no other known explanation. Chance is pathetically inadequate. No one has ever seen new technology created by accident, and the odds against it ever happening by chance are fantastic, even in a trillion trillion universes.

With these starting truths, my proof of God is this. Scientists have found fantastically complex technology in thousands of different kinds of living creatures. In all of human history, technology has only been created by a mind. There is no scientific explanation for the existence of technology without a designer. Therefore the technology of life was designed, and that designer is God.

The difference between this scientist and I is that she won’t make that third assumption. As a scientist, she has been trained to always question, to always need new explanations. I admire that spirit, but we must seek the truth in what we know. I think that, deep down, everyone agrees with my three starting truths. If you climb a mountain and come to the edge of a cliff thousands of feet high, you would (1) conclude there is such a thing as a cliff, (2) trust your eyes that the cliff is high, and (3) believe that gravity will pull you down if you step off.

Yet our society is in denial over God. We have climbed the mountain of science, and see fantastic technology in living creatures. This technology is confirmed in multiple scientific articles every week. Yet people close their eyes and step off the cliff, into the spiritual and moral abyss of Atheism.

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