Observations on life; particularly spiritual

An evolutionary miracle

The theory of biological evolution is the current scientific explanation of life on earth. This assumes that life has developed from simple to complex over time. So if we extrapolate backwards in time, we eventually reach the first living cell. As this theory relies on natural selection, it only operates on populations of species, and not on the original members of the species (like the first living cell). So where did the original living cell (which is assumed to be the ancestor of all life on earth) come from? It’s assumed that life originated from non-living chemicals via chemical evolution.  Did you know that this theory includes a miracle that can’t be explained by modern science? According to the Macquarie dictionary, a miracle is “an effect in the physical world which surpasses all known human or natural powers and is therefore ascribed to supernatural agency”.

Complexity of life

In the 19th century many people believed the theory of spontaneous generation; that life arose from non-living matter. This is understandable because they knew little about the cell’s structure.

But today we know that even the simplest living single-cell organism is extremely complex, including numerous, complex machines and instructions to build them, all stored in a way that can be both decoded for use by the organism and passed on to offspring. In fact, a single cell is vastly more complicated than anything human minds have ever engineered.

Scientists agree that the first living cell possessed DNA, RNA and proteins, a universal genetic code, ribosomes (the protein-building factories), ATP and a proton-powered enzyme for making ATP. The detailed mechanisms for reading off DNA and converting genes into proteins were also in place. So it must have been like a modern cell. This is called “irreducible complexity” – all these components are required for a cell to function and reproduce. Because this complexity could never arise by chance, it was either designed or it was a miracle. Life can’t evolve from chemicals by chance.

Information

Living cells are comprised of hardware and software. The software is information stored in the DNA molecule. Enormous amounts of coded information are stored in DNA. Each of the thousands of genes on a DNA molecule contains instructions necessary to make a specific protein that, in turn, is needed for a specific biological function. All the detailed chemical and structural complexity associated with the metabolism, repair, specialized function, and reproduction of each living cell is a realization of the coded messages stored in its DNA. This information is read by a RNA molecule and used to make proteins. But the RNA is also encoded in the DNA, which is a “chicken and egg” problem! And the energy to do this is produced by the nano-motor ATP synthase which is also encoded on the DNA and is decoded by machines needing ATP! So there are multiple “chicken and egg” problems.

ATP synthase is one of many enzymes which are biological catalysts that speed up vital chemical reactions. Without them many reactions essential for life would be far too slow for life to exist. These enzymes, as well as other processes, must exist in the first replicating cell in order for that cell to survive and pass on the DNA, and the DNA must code for the proteins required for those processes!

The naturalistic explanation of the origin of life from non-living matter has a problem because there is no known natural process which can cause information to originate by itself in matter. Information cannot arise by naturalistic processes. The DNA code within all plant and animal cells is vastly more compact than any computer chip ever made. Therefore, the originator of the information must be supremely intelligent.

The theory of the chemical evolution of life assumes that this information is produced by physical processes. But the chemical workings of the cell are controlled by information which does not reside in the atoms and molecules of that cell. For example, the order of the DNA base pairs (like letters in a message) cannot be predicted from the chemical characteristics of the individual base pairs (letters). And as there is no law of physics about creating information from nothing, this assumption is equivalent to a miracle.

Extra-terrestrial life

Because of the impossibility of chemical evolution on earth, some have suggested that life began in outer space. In order to be able to start the evolution of life on earth, it has been proposed that life was seeded on earth by meteorites, comets or extra-terrestrials. Of course, there is no evidence of this and it doesn’t answer the question of the origin of life. It just transfers it to another place in the universe.

Discussion

Besides the above, the theory of chemical evolution goes against the law of biogenesis (Appendix A).

And the Milller-Urey experiment, which is often quoted to support the theory of chemical evolution didn’t produce the amino acids necessary for life (Appendix B).

Conclusion

The theory of chemical evolution of life on earth involves a miracle that can’t be explained by operational science. This is a fatal flaw for a model that doesn’t accept miracles! But the theory of biological evolution can’t start without this miracle.

I’m skeptical of a model that claims to be based on naturalism, yet requires miracles! It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat! This kind of historical science isn’t consistent.

But the Bible is consistent when it attributes the creation of plant, animal and human life to the all-powerful spiritual God (Gen. 1:11-12; 20-27).

Appendix A: The law of Biogenesis

The law of biogenesis says that all life comes from life. Lois Pasteur disproved the idea of spontaneous generation (that life could come from non-living material). He demonstrated that life does not arise from matter that has not been contaminated by existing life. This means that life has never come from non-life.

Appendix B: The Miller-Urey experiment

This was a chemical experiment that simulated the conditions thought at the time to be present on the early Earth. In this experiment a mixture of water, methane, ammonia and hydrogen was exposed to an electrical current. It resulted in the production of amino acids that were claimed to be the precursors of life. But this experiment relied on the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere, whereas more recent studies indicate that oxygen was present in the earth’s atmosphere earlier than had been believed. And if there was no oxygen, there would be no ozone and the amino acids would be destroyed by ultraviolet solar radiation. Also, they had to isolate the amino acids from the mixture to stop them being destroyed (by hydrolysis, for example). And the amino acids produced were a mixture of left-handed and right-handed, which would be detrimental to life because all the proteins in animals and plants are only made up of left-handed amino acids. So this experiment didn’t produce the amino acids necessary for life.

Reference

Sarfati J. (2014), “The origin of life”, Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels, Creation Book Publishers, p.79-111.

Written, May 2019

Also see: Two Big-bang miracles

2 responses

  1. Bob Springett

    Hi George,

    You know I love you, mate, but you make a few logical errors in this piece.

    1. The error of extrapolation. Data is only useful if it is within the field covered by the data. The further you go from the data pints, the more tenuous the argument. ‘Scientism’ (i.e., the naive faith that ‘science has all the answers’) makes this error frequently when discussing ultimate questions, but that does not justify the other side making that same error. Best to just say “The data is not available to make a reliable judgement.” There is certainly NOT enough data to prove evolution DIDN’T happen; to prove a negative is not to be achieved by disproving any specific positive.
    2. Scientific Consistency. You quote “The Law of Biogenesis”. I’ve always been impressed by how Creationists hold so fast to ‘scientific laws’ that they can use but reject any that are not so amenable to their agenda. You can’t have it both ways, mate! Do you accept the Scientific Method as a basic principle, or not? If you don’t then how can you employ any ‘laws’ of science at all? But if you reject Scientific Methodology, then how can you pick and choose which ‘laws’ you accept while dismissing others that have just as much empirical evidence? Your decision must be justifiable on the basis of data and there is NO data for Divine Creation of Life. In fact, you wouldn’t even know how to look for it! Reference to the Scriptures is NOT acceptable as evidence under Scientific Methodology; it might be true, it might not be, but it is not SCIENTIFICALLY ACCEPTABLE, and if you want to argue against the Scientific Method then you have no right to invoke Pasteur.
    3. Argument from Ignorance. ‘Ignorance’ here is not an insult, but used to describe a lack of data. I agree that we have no data which demonstrates conclusively that an abiotic source for life is feasible. Nor do we have conclusive evidence than an abiotic source is NOT POSSIBLE, only that it is not an everyday occurrence. Both sides are using the ignorance (lack of conclusive data) on the other side as ‘proof’ of their own position, which is just as vulnerable to the charge of ignorance. Let’s take the high moral ground here, and say that NEITHER side has proven their case, and the question remains (scientifically) open.
    4. The error of reductionism. Again, an error committed by both sides. Scientism claims that there is not proof that God exists, relying on their own definition of what constitutes ‘proof’. Since this definition demands at the outset that only causes known under Naturalism are admissible as ’causes’, this becomes a tautology. Meanwhile, Creationists like to ignore what are known as ’emergent’ properties. These are properties that arise in a way that cannot be predicted from the properties of the individual components. Yet ’emergent’ behaviours have been observed throughout nature. Thus Creationists are ignoring evidence which is open and available to them because it doesn’t suit their agenda.

    BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, Creationists are making a huge theological error in even debating these questions on these terms. To even enter the debate, they are tacitly accepting Scientism’s rules.

    1. They are agreeing that the only evidence that may be used is that permitted by Naturalism.

    2. They are agreeing that (for example) the Book of Genesis is meant to be read as if a scientific textbook.

    3. They are agreeing that ‘God’ is an object to be studied, and His actions to be assessed, just as a Naturalist would examine an insect and study its behaviour.

    I say all these concessions made by Creationists to Naturalism are wrong.

    1. What can be seen, heard, measured applies to the physical universe. It does not apply to the moral universe, the relational universe or the universe of faith, mercy, forgiveness. These aspects of the universe will be forever invisible to the Scientific Method, but nobody doubts that these things exist.

    2. I don’t go to a cookbook to find out anything about Astronomy. It might be the best cookbook in the world, the one my mother told me “Everything you will ever want to know is in there!” But when she said that, she meant “everything I ever wanted to know about cooking.” She still sent me to school to study other subjects, and bought the textbooks for those subjects. She didn’t try to teach me maths or history out of a cookbook. In the same way, Genesis tells us what God is like, what we were created to be like, what sort of relationships should hold in our lives (with God, each other and our world) why we are not as created, and how God intends to set things right because we can’t. Don’t expect the Book to answer questions that it didn’t intend to answer. Otherwise you are reading answers into it, not out of it.

    3. God is NOT an object to be studied. God is the Ultimate and Transcendent Other. We can’t possible comprehend Him. As the Athanasian Creed says, “the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Spirit incomprehensible; yet there are not three incomprehensibles, but One.” The best we can hope for is to make some limited sense of what we have been shown. That is what good Theology is about; understanding what has been given to us that provides us with enough to follow as well as we can. Theology is NOT about giving definite answers, but about understanding the questions.

    So you can perhaps start to see why I consider Creationists to be NOT Scientism’s strongest opponents, but rather Scientism’s greatest victory. They have made Creationists take their eyes off the ball, to play the game by Scientism’s rules, and even (this is the most depressing part of all!) Creationists ignore the plain and obvious PURPOSE of Scripture and instead focus on questions of no importance to the Scriptures themselves.

    I urge all Creationists to just hang loose to questions outside the intention of the Holy Writ. Eventually the Scientific Method will arrive at an understanding of the universe which will serve its purpose. That purpose is to allow us to exercise dominion over the created universe, as we were intended to do in Genesis chapter 1. That is a purely pragmatic purpose. The models used might not be couched in theological language, but if the models used in the various sciences provide a basis for reliably controlling the physical universe, then all is good. The engineering I studied never mentioned God either, but by using their models and formulae I managed to design a few structures that served their intended purposes without falling down. Mission Accomplished!

    But perhaps you see this issue as a make-or-break point. You might think that if the Bible is proved ‘wrong’ here, then its entire credibility is open to question.

    That is simply not true! For a start, the point you are arguing is NOT about the Truth of the Bible. It’s about the Truth of your interpretation of the Bible. You might be wrong. If you have no doubt whatsoever that you are totally and completely right, then you are most certainly wrong!

    Only a hundred years ago, Creationists were absolutely certain that Uniformitarianism was the Achilles Heel of geology and evolutionary biology. If only they could demonstrate that Catastrophism was supported in the geologic evidence, they would see atheist scientists around the world falling to their knees in repentance.

    The proof of Catastrophism did come, eventually. Not from any Creationists writing polemics or nit-picking trivialities in the work of real geologists, but by genuine mainline geologists doing genuine good Science according to Scientific Methodology. They went out and studied rocks. That was what dropped the first hint that a Catastrophe had wiped out the Dinosaurs. Not Noah’s Flood, but a meteor impact. This was thought to be a ridiculously improbable event, a ‘miracle’, at the time. But evidence soon appeared of such impacts all around the world and such impacts have even been observed actually happening on other planets in our Solar System. Catastrophism was vindicated! But by real geologists, not by armchair critics. Did it prove the Bible was right? Not at all; it only proved that if a popular scientific paradigm is to be overturned, it must be on the basis of evidence. As soon as the evidenced is found, scientists will pay attention. After all, nobody ever won fame and fortune by ‘proving’ what everyone already believed! Scientific reputations are made y advances, not static defences.

    So stop fighting battles you can’t win, and even if you manage to hold on for a while are irrelevant anyway. Admit that you DON’t have all the answers, but the insights that you DO have give a glimpse at a Truth far beyond what can be proven. Only insights, not answers; but if those insights inspire a deeper search, a never-ending search, then you have done more for your hearer than any number of flat-earthers arguing over uncertainties.

    June 30, 2019 at 10:17 pm

    • Thanks for the comment Bob.

      1. Extrapolation – I think this is manly a scientific error. Scientists who make statements about ancient history rarely mention their assumptions. That’s why I call their dating calculations “apparent dates” (because they largely rely on their assumptions).

      2. The article is a critique of a scientific theory. And the critique uses science because that is what the theory is based on. The point was that it’s inconsistent with what scientists believe/observe. Both Christians and evolutionists invoke miracles in their origin stories, but evolutionists have no miracle-worker.

      3. Ignorance – Science usually makes conclusive statements. Yet science can’t experiment with the past (historical science) like it can with the present (operational science). For example, you mentioned the uncertainty of extrapolation.

      4. Emergent properties – This seems similar to what I called the complexity of life.

      Are you saying I can’t use science to evaluate a scientific theory?

      I think you have more faith in historical scientists and their interpretations than I do.

      Of course the Bible isn’t a science book, it’s a history book – a record of historical events, many of which have been verified independently. Science books get out of date! But history trumps science when dealing with ancient history.

      I think your list of the purposes of Genesis is limiting and subjective. I would also look at how the prophets, apostles and Jesus quoted the book of Genesis.

      July 4, 2019 at 8:53 pm

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