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Origin of Life, Phase 1:
The Improbability of Abiogenesis
(...Spontaneous Generation Redux)


by R. Totten (c) 2003, 2005, 2012

A basic definition of Abiogenesis is: "the chance origination of life from lifeless chemicals, through exclusively natural, unguided processes" --which is essentially the same thing as "Spontaneous Generation."

When abiogenesis comes up in the course of evolution/creation discussions, darwinists sometimes object that "abiogenesis is a non-issue, and has nothing to do with evolution, because evolution only occurs with already living things."

Not true. --There is a scientific term, "pre-biotic evolution," which concerns the random assembly of non-living chemicals, leading up to the very first life-form.

If abiogenesis is a "non-issue," then why do Dawkins, Sagan, Gould and many other darwinists come up with statements in order to affirm that it happened?
Why does such excitement arise over possible evidence of organic molecules in space, or life on a Mars rock?
Why are such large amounts of effort and money spent by SETI, NASA and many universities on various probes and exploratory rovers in order to find life (and/or conditions for its abiogenesis) in space? (...or just to find water, which --to some-- makes abiogenesis an assumed result).
And why does every newly discovered "earth-like" planet (or moon) that might have liquid water on it cause such a hopeful stir (such as the March 2006 discovery of water geysers on Saturn's moon "Enceladus" ...called "the greatest space discovery in 25 years")?

This abiogenesis quest is admittedly NASA's main reason for much of their efforts. --The expensive quest to find water on Mars and elsewhere is directly related to this.

For sure, abiogenesis is a major issue, because "philosophical materialists" (who believe that matter alone is real, and not any intelligent designer above and outside of nature) need an exclusively naturalistic explanation for the origin of life --which supposedly then evolves to higher forms.

[Note: This idea of the very first life-form then going on to evolve higher forms,
is also addressed in my article: "Origin of Life, Phase 2: Biogenesis: Life's Complexity Increases"]

The late Carl Sagan once said that if only one planet has life on it, that could be a miracle; but if there is life on two, it proves life to be a natural evolutionary process, and "atheists can sleep soundly." Sagan and others advance this philosophical materialist point of view --even though it is not a valid conclusion to say that abiogenesis is clearly demonstrated by the mere presence of life somewhere in space (on earth or elsewhere). --That is bad science, because just the presence of life somewhere does not demonstrate that it got there by abiogenesis, just because someone philosophically or emotionally wants it to have occurred.

--The actual issue is how (and whether) life did or could have originated via abiogenesis (ie, random assembly of non-living chemicals).

Spontaneous Generation Redux

For more than one hundred years biologists have taught that spontaneous generation of life from non-living matter (believed in since the ancient Greeks) was disproved by the work of Redi, Spallanzani, and ultimately Pasteur in 1859. This work was so conclusive, that biology codified the "Law of Biogenesis," which states that life only comes from previously existing life. --And no on has provided one instance to overturn this law.

However, in recent decades, it is amazing to consider that some scientists have actually revived spontaneous generation (in a biochemical form) in many minds. This revived origins "myth" is put forward, despite the lack of a body of evidence to show that abiogenesis happened --and not even with a coherent schema of biochemical mechanisms and pathways to theorize and demonstrate how such spontaneous generation could have a reasonable probability of occurring.

In contrast, however, scientists who are Intelligent Design (ID) theorists think the facts of nature logically analyzed through the probabilities, come out strongly in favor of ID, and against purely naturalistic abiogenesis. --ID upholds the Law of Biogenesis, since the original source of biological life would be a living, thinking and planning designer ...a Chemist.

A number of darwinist web sites address this issue, and my darwinist friends have brought pro-abiogenesis articles to my attention ---including, for example, one by Ian F. Musgrave, which can be found at the following web address:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/default.htm

and also the article, "From Primordial Soup to the Prebiotic Beach," with an interview of evolutionist biologist Dr. Stanley L. Miller (who did the electric-discharge experiment discussed below). The web address is :

http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/miller.html

(This includes other articles in support of abiogenesis.)

Loose Ends Tied Up?

To hear some people tell it, one would think that darwinists have virtually all the answers, with the loose ends tied up concerning the origin of life from chemicals (abiogenesis). They speak casually of how abiogenesis "just happened" here on earth. But this is a natualistic "just so" story. Many of these folks suppose that since abiogenesis "obviously" occurred on earth, it must therefore be happening repeatedly throughout the universe. Some of the media buzz about organic molecules in space and the results of abiogenesis research creates the almost deceptive impression that science has virtually proven it to have easily happened.

And what is this "easy" recipe for abiogenesis?
It's quite simple: "Take one warm "habitable" planet with organic chemicals on it, and just add water!" --and then-- mix in some "time" ...and... Life just spontaneously starts!
(And remember: Abiogenesis occurs even more easily on a TV science program, if the narrator speaks with a British accent.)

--However, if it is this simple, then I urge abiogenesis advocates to write up a clear schema of how it could happen (not necessarily how it did happen), and turn it in to the "Origin of Life Prize" committee and collect the $1 million for doing so? -- (This is not my prize offer).
---(And success in getting this prize will surely also lead to winning a Nobel Prize.)

So, why doesn't somebody simply do this? ---Because abiogenesis in the real world would present huge biochemical problems and probability problems to which no one seems to have reasonable answers.

NOTE: As of October, 2005: Harvard University plans to spend $1 million each year toward research on the origin of life (abiogenesis). Harvard chemistry professor David Liu said, "My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention."

...A message to Professor Liu: Perhaps you may be able to apply for the "Origin of Life Prize" to try to collect the $1 million for spelling out this "very simple series of logical events" resulting in the origin of life apart from Intelligent Design.

--This WorldView Test Site eagerly looks forward to the origin-of-life findings by the Harvard team, in order to further clarify the issues in this fascinating area of life's origins.
-- Good luck Professor Liu!


The Origin of Life, Phase 1

The remainder of this present article will give evidence to point out that: Abiogenesis (or chemical spontaneous generation) seems to be very far outside the realm of reasonably reachable probability, by means of random undirected natural processes alone.
It deals with the foundational beginning and origin of life: the very first and simplest possible living bio-organism.
Thus, this article deals with "Phase 1" on this issue.

--[Following this article, comes "The Origin of Life, Phase 2," as life develops further after the simplest beginning.]


Miller-Urey "Electrifies" Abiogenesis Hopes

Lightning Strike In a nutshell, abiogenesis research
kicked into high gear in the 1950s,
when Stanley Miller (in H. Urey's laboratory)
thought to simulate the hypothetical
prebiotic conditions in which
life may have originated.

Miller-Urey

To do this, Miller combined five essential components:

These spark-discharge experiments (and other similar attempts since then) have produced various organic substances ...namely:

  1. 85% of the product was a brown, insoluble tar or "polymer" made of hydrocarbons and other atoms interconnected in a disorganized mass, with no known biological relevance to the origin of life.

    (Note: A chemist in a laboratory might be able to set up the right conditions to convert the "tarry sludge" into biogenic compounds such as amino acids, nucleotides and lipids, --but such work by a chemist is Intelligent Design in action, and there is as yet no indication that any such "converting-conditions" may have existed anywhere in nature.)

  2. 4% of the product was formic acid, the simplest of the carboxylic acids (made of five atoms) --which gives ants their characteristic pungent odor, but has no known role in the origin of life.

  3. 2.7% was equal parts (0.9% each) of three more caboxylic acids (not amino acids), which are different arrangements of 13 atoms (3 carbons, 7 hydrogens, 1 nitrogen, and 2 oxygens), and have no known or conjectured relevance to the origin of life.

  4. 2.1% was glycine, which is significant, because it is one of the 20 amino acids which are used in biology to construct the proteins of living organisms. ---Glycine is the simplest amino acid used by life.

  5. 0.85% was the Left-handed "L-form" of the amino acid alanine.

    Alanine is also one of biology's 20 amino acids (the second simplest), which is produced in both of it's mirror-image forms (of stereochemistry) ---but only the L-form is used in the proteins of living things;

  6. and 0.85% of the product was the Right-handed "R-form" of alanine, ---however, the R-form of any amino acid is basically destructive to the proper construction and function of life as we know it.

    (Note: Any abiogenesis schema must include an equal amount of Right-handed and Left-handed alanine in the mix --or else give a reasonable rationale for the absence of the Right-handed (destructive) form.)

  7. 0.5% was acetic acid, another carboxylic acid, which gives vinegar its pungency, but which is (so far as anyone knows) irrelevant to any origin-of-life processes,

  8. In more recent analyses, all of life's 20 amino acids have been detected in the products of Miller-Urey's experiments, however, they occur in ever smaller trace amounts as the amino acids get more complex --and, in each amino acid, half of each of the amounts found are the useful L-form, while the other half are the destructive R-form. (Some of the amino acids have also shown up in comets and in carbon-rich meteorites from space, according to NASA, demonstrating that such amino acid synthesis does take place in nature.)

  9. Recently, trace amounts of the five bases (adenine, cytocine, guanine, thymine & uracil) found in DNA and RNA have been detected ...but only about 2 parts per million. (NASA has said that trace amounts of these bases have also been found in meteorites from space.)

    --However, even though trace amounts of the bases were present , no nucleosides have ever formed in any amount ...because virtually no sugars have formed. -- (A nucleoside is the combination of a base plus a sugar).

    --Furthermore, obviously, not one nucleotide has ever formed, because this would involve the addition of a phosphate onto a nucleoside (which --as noted-- has never formed). --And the nucleotide is actually the "basic building block" of DNA and RNA. --So, Miller-Uray-type experiments have left us two biochemical steps away from any basic (nucleotide) building blocks of DNA or RNA.

    --Therefore, (also obviously) after never producing a nucleotide, no amount of DNA or RNA has ever formed in such experiments. -- (And none has been detected in/from space ...to my knowledge).

    (Ref.: ORIGINS: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life, by Robert Shapiro,
    N.Y., Summit, '86, p.104,108)

The "RNA World"

So (considering the above results with the RNA bases), if some researchers want to advance theories about the abiogenesis of life in an "RNA world" (which posits a primordial soup populated with self-replicating RNA-molecules), they must start at this point and set up experiments (with real-world, undirected conditions) to demonstrate where significant sources of RNA would (or could) come from. --In addition, a rationale must be given for how long the RNA (and the component parts to make that RNA) would remain functional in real-world conditions before it degrades (from light, oxygen, heat, etc) into a non-available state of random chemical equilibrium. --And finally, it must be realized that self-replicating RNA does not constitute actual life, which is described below.
--(Please read about the problems of an "RNA-world").

Other notable molecules --the real working "building blocks" of life-- which have never formed in Miller-Urey type experiments, are:

In Outer Space: "Building Blocks" ?

Over the past decade or so, astronomers have found that star-dust in the winds of dying stars in space have produced some of the basic chemical compounds which contain the elements needed to build organic molecules of life. These chemical compounds from space are made of: carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, which are important members of the "CHNOPS" chemicals of bio-chemistry. The compounds detected in space include hydrogen cyanide, acetylene, methane and carbon dioxide. Astronomers have also detected fair amounts of polycyclic aromatic nitrogen-containing hydrocarbons (PANHs), which are similar to portions of DNA, RNA, hemoglobin and chlorophyll. Some of the Amino Acids have been detected.

However, it must be remembered that the major "building blocks" of life are compounds such as DNA, RNA, functional proteins (or even poly-peptide chains), polysaccharides, sugars and lipids ...none of which have been found in space. Methane, acetylene and carbon dioxide are not such building blocks. --The actual building blocks have not been shown to form under natural conditions from the "CHNOPS" precursers (in Miller-Urey-type experiments) nor the compounds detected in space.

Thus, someone must demonstrate how those more fundamental chemicals could have a reasonable probability in real-world, undirected conditions of following demonstrable chemical pathways to combine to produce the actual major "building blocks." ---Again, ...If such a demonstration can be shown to conceivably result in possible chemical pathways to the most basic life, the "Origin of Life Prize" in the amount of $1 million is available for so doing.

--And most importantly, of course, the actual "building blocks" (which have never been shown to form under natural conditions) are only the beginning of actually becoming part of molecular systems which are required to function in living things. -- They are only "building blocks," after all, and they must go together properly to form life.

But, back to Miller-Urey-type experiments:

The appearance of some of the component parts of the "building blocks" of life in Miller-Urey experiments generated great optimism among abiogenesis hopefuls. In addition, abiogenesis researchers have detected several very short peptide-chains (a peptide is made of several amino acids joined in a chain which might conceivably become a portion of a protein) --however, it must be remembered that it is only the two or three simplest amino acids (especially glycine and alanine) of the 20 used by life, which appeared in significant amounts. The short peptide chains would contain mostly glycine, with some of the other two or amino acids (including the R-form). All the other 18 amino acids have occurred in extremely small trace amounts only --and in equal amounts of the "good" (Left-handed) and "destructive" (Right-handed) forms together, which is called a "racemic mixture," which would be destructive to the formation of life. So, the variety and functionality of proteins that could assemble from amino acids in these proportions (produced by Miller-Urey-type experiments) is a huge problem for abiogenesis researchers. --If theorists wish to use only the "Life-compatible" (L-form) amino acids in their models and experiments for abiogenesis, then they must come up with a reasonable explanation for the favoring of the L-forms, and the exclusion of the "destructive" R-forms from the amino acid chains.

Sea Vent Power

It has also been conjectured by some that perhaps hot geothermal vents at the sea-bottom might provide the right conditions and chemicals to develop into prebiotic "soup", since the vents emit hot water along with ammonia, methane and hydrogen sulfide. (Some bacteria today live on the hydrogen sulfide, and other organisms live off those bacteria, etc.)
- - However, it must be remembered that even idealized Miller-Urey conditions in the laboratory (let alone out in nature) do not produce a significant amount of the needed products for the building of life.
- - Not only that, but even Stanley Miller says, "Submarine vents don't make organic compounds, they decompose them" (ref. accessexcellence.org article above, by S. Miller, my emph.) ...the submarine vents are actually destructive to organic compounds in general.
- - And there's a bigger problem concerning the sea-vent idea: Protein synthesis cannot occur in water because that process is a dehydration process. In addition, all the waters of earth's oceans pass through the extreme heat of sea vents every 10,000 years, totally destroying all the organic compounds in them, and sterilizing all theoretical life out of that water.
- - Sea vents do not appear to be feasible places for the building of amino acids, or for the construction of proteins.

Abiogenesis Experiments

It is basically right at this point that proponents of Abiogenesis should start their experiments ...using only the chemicals that have turned up in Miller-Urey-type experiments, along with those which have been found in space. --If amino acids are introduced, then the amounts should be in equal proportions to what results from Miller-Urey experiments. This means that about 50 percent of the amino acids used must be glycine; and then the appropriate trace amounts of any other amino acids. Life-destroying right-handed forms must also be included as well. -- We must not pretend that a chemist (an intelligent designer) is conveniently isolating and arranging things in order to get a desired outcome. Thus, no completed proteins of any sort (such as enzymes), nor RNA replicators may be introduced, since none have ever formed in undirected processes.

An Idealized "Primordial Soup"

In discussions about abiogenesis, it can take a long time to get down to "the bottom line" concerning this issue, and so, it seems expeditious to temporarily grant a few assumptions, in order to advance the discussion about the order in which amino acids could randomly assemble; --some of those assumptions being:

  1. Let us grant and assume that, circulating over the earth, there was adequate atmospheric conditions (as in the Oparin-Haldane abiogenesis model) containing adequate amounts of methane and ammonia (which are the chemicals used in Miller-Urey-type abiogenesis experiments)

  2. Let us grant and assume that "primordial soup" actually existed (whether it supposedly came from deep-sea vents, or from asteroid impacts, or whatever)

  3. Let us assume that all 20 of the amino acids used by life were available in essentially equal proportions in this soup

  4. Let us assume that all of the soup's 20 amino acids are of the "Left-handed" configuration (in stereochemistry), which is the only type that virtually all life-forms on earth use (except a strain of bacteria)

    --(when, in reality, Miller-Urey-type experiments produce a "racemic" mixture of about 50% left-handed and 50% right-handed amino acids.)

  5. Finally, let us assume that all 20 amino acids are free to move about and form bonds with each other, to produce chains and ultimately proteins

    --(even though proteins do not form in water, but form through dehydration; and water is just as likely to break a chain up into pieces.)

So, our hypothetical "idealized primordial soup" is ready. (Even though these granted assumptions may be controversial as to what the actual conditions in nature were --and they might not be granted in a complete model of how abiogenesis could have occurred).

--So, what would probably result from such an amino acid soup?

Random Assembly of Functional Proteins
Is Extremely Improbable

With our idealized "primordial soup" assumptions in effect, any specific new type (or class) of protein must, in essence, develop in a sequentially linear way --one amino acid at a time.

This is true even if the new protein is the result of, say, four shorter sections joining together; each section still assembled one amino acid at a time. -- Thus, it is still correct to calculate the probability of each individual amino acid being part of that entire new protein ---and the probability calculation is exactly the same as if that new protein had randomly assembled one amino acid at a time, from start to finish.

Experiments Show Functional Proteins To Be Extremely Rare
Among The Possible Combinations

If nature were able to randomly select from all 20 of the left-handed amino acids which life uses, and put them together into chains, then how likely is it that a randomly ordered chain would end up being a funcitonal (properly folding) protein? --Experimental work using actual folding proteins from living things, indicates that more than 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 percent of the possible combinations of randomly ordered amino acids would result in non-folding, useless junk chains. These chains would be non-functional for proteins (which build and comprise the structures in living cells), because they don't stay folded into distinct formations.

--The following article explains this:

http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/fte/darwinism/chapter6.html

The above article refers to both the work of Dr. Hubert P. Yockey and the laboratory experiments of Dr. R.T. Sauer (MIT), who extensively analyzed the make-up of actual proteins from living cells. The work of these scientists does take into account that there is a small degree of interchangeability of a certain amino acid or two along the sequence of a protein, and the protein still being able to retain some function. ...However, this experimental evidence still indicates that functional classes of proteins are extremely rare among the possible chains of junk sequences that are most likely to assemble by chance. --Despite some amino acid interchangeability, the result of these experiments is that the odds of assembling (by random processes) one new functional protein (which properly folds), are about one chance in 1065. --- (1065 is the number one, with 65 zeros behind it, and is about the number of atoms in all the matter in an average galaxy.) So, the odds of one new functional protein assembling by the random chance processes, would be the equivalent of randomly finding one specific atom out of the galaxy.

This means that whenever the galaxy-sized ocean of primordial soup might produce one functional protein through the random assembly of amino acids, there would also be (on average) 1065 failed attempts or trials. -- (A single "attempt" or trial would involve the random assembly of about 300 amino acids into a chain ...since 300 is about the average length of a protein). So, it is as if each atom in the galaxy represents "one trial" or attempt at randomly putting together a chain of 300 amino acids. -- The research demonstrates that almost all attempts would be non-functional for life (because they wouldn't fold properly) and useless for the construction and function of living things. If this galaxy-sized mass of trash-sequences of amino acids were to stay assembled for a certain length of time, they would (during that time) randomly bind to that one functional protein and keep it from getting together with any other functional protein elsewhere in the soup. --Thus, any one functional protein that might hypothetically form would be isolated and lost in this galaxy-sized ocean of non-functional, useless amino acid chains.

So --scaling down the size of the picure-- even if the whole earth and every other planet in our galaxy were entirely covered with such warm, amino acid-soup, we would basically expect there to be (on average) almost ZERO chance that even one functional protein would randomly assemble on earth or on another planet in the galaxy.
...We would expect similar odds even if there were several hundred billion earth-like planets in the galaxy covered with such amino acid-soup.
...So, as a reasonable possibility, we might expect one single functional protein to form in all the galaxy, if it had such numbers of planets.

-- (But in the end, since there would actually be right-handed (life-destroying) amino acids involved, the result would be ZERO functional proteins.)

--Then, if we posit that the junk chains break apart at a certain rate (in order to get them "out of the way," and to free up their amino acids for new random attempts at making functional proteins), then any chain which is an almost-completed functional protein must also be breaking up at the very same rate. --Any abiogenesis schema must factor in this break-up rate for both non-functional chains and functional proteins.

NOTE: You can try your own hand at intelligently designing a properly folding protein at the following web site:

http://fold.it/portal/info/science

(And if you're going to test out Miller-Urey results, then you should use glycine 50% of the time.
--And, to really face stark reality, life-destructive Right-handed amino acids should be included as well.)

Probabilities Spelled Out Further

In this "WorldView Site", I have an article entitled "A Mathematical Proof of Intelligent Design in Nature." It addresses the statistical odds of the random protein-building situation just spoken about. --Please read it, if you have not already.

Objections to Vanishingly Small Odds

When the odds get as slim as we have calculated in the article above, the number of concurrent trials does not make a difference, even if the amount of primordial soup were equal to all the matter in the universe and were engaged in many trillions of concurrent "trials" for all the 13 billion years the universe has existed ...the odds are still statistically zero that even 8 or 9 functional proteins (actually usable by life) could have initially formed totally by random chance assembly --let alone the 100 proteins that, as a minimum, would have been required to form in a single place in order to form the first life.

Objection to "Randomness"

Some abiogenesis proponents object that "amino acids do not join to each other by random chance processes, but strictly according to the laws of chemistry and physics."

--Of course. It goes without saying that the laws of chemistry and physics are strictly followed in the bonding forces which perform the joining of amino acids --after all, they are every-day chemicals; they follow every rule of chemistry and physics without fail.

However, the natural bonding forces of the chemicals do not dictate the sequential order in which the amino acids combine, any more than the chemical bonding forces of ink sticking to paper dictates the sequential order in the letters of a written message. The fact that amino acids bind through natural chemical forces, does not mean it is wrong to use probability calculations to determine the chances that any specific sequence may occur in the random assembly of a protein.

Why? Because amino acids in real proteins can --and practically do-- occur in ANY conceivable sequential order, and the chemicals themselves do not prevent these sequences from happening. The amino acids also do not dicate the sequential order in which they join.
- - This is why the amino acids have such utility for making a huge variety of different proteins. The order of the sequence in which the amino acids occur in a functional protein has never been shown to be directed or determined by the forces and laws of chemistry or physics; --there are no known laws of physics or chemistry which could originally dictate the proper "sequential order" of the amino acids, so that they assemble into functionally "folding" proteins advantageous to life. The sequential order is essentially aperiodic, and does not fall into any predictable patterns. --Therefore, in considering abiogenetic origins, there is no way to avoid the probabilities of random chance processes in determining the sequential order of the amino acids joined in a specific protein (if one rejects Intelligent Design).

It is possible, of course, that the chemical attractions or repulsions of amino acids (floating in a primordial soup) might have a general effect on what assembles in a localized region. For example, if large amounts of hydrophobic (water-repelling) amino acids are highly concentrated and clumped together in one region (because of their mutual attraction to each other), then the peptide chains formed in that region would have a high probability of being made almost totally of hydrophobic amino acids. In such a region, there might be a very low probability that a hydrophilic amino acid would be part of such chains. ---So, if there are any functional proteins (which are useful to life) which have an almost totally hydrophobic make-up, they would have a good chance of forming in such a region ---although, it is my understanding that there are no such functional proteins, but it would seem that totally hydrophobic chains would probably be like the brown, insoluble tar that turned up in the Miller-Urey experiments. It would seem that such "clumping" of similar amino acids would actually be a disaster for the assembly of life-functional proteins.

Laboratory experiments could (and should) help determine how other natural, real-world conditions (such as PH) might skew other probabilities. ---But in the end, as stated above, there are no known laws of physics or chemistry which could originally dictate the proper "sequential order" of the amino acids, so that they assemble functionally "folding" proteins advantageous to life.

Therefore (to avoid failures from clumping), let's continue with the assumption (for argument's sake) that the primordial soup contained a fairly even distribution of fairly equal amounts of all 20 amino acid molecules. In this way, the overall probability that one certain amino acid would be the next one to attach onto any specific chain, would be one chance out of 20. (And it does not matter whether there may be other amino acid chains forming at the same time --the odds must be calculated for each chain individually, according to the length of that specified chain).

Therefore, it is actually an advantage to the hypothesis of "chemical evolution" that we are basically left with randomness.

Although the random assembly of one protein is a tough abiogenesis problem, the minimum protein requirement for life is huge:

The Simplest Possible Life

Opinions vary as to what the simplest possible "minimum life-form" must include: anywhere from 100 to 400 proteins of various types. However, to set the bar as low as possible (for the benefit of pro-abiogenesis experimenters), let's outline a model of the lower figure.

Harold Morowitz (an evolutionist biochemist) has speculated what the bare minimum self-replicating living cell would include:

So, in Morowitz's view, the simplest conceivable minimal cell would require 100 different proteins. He says, "This is the smallest hypothetical cell that we can envisage within the context of current biochemical thinking. It is almost certainly a lower limit" (ref. Morowitz, in M. Denton's "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis" ('86), p.263). --Although some "philosophic materialists" might wish to define the first "living things" at a much lower level (even at one molecule!), almost all biochemists would see through such "special pleading", and consider it a convenient weakening of any reasonable definition of actual life for the benefit of researchers with an axe to grind, and a tough goal to reach.

Irreducible Complexity

It is credible (coming from a biochemist of Morowitz's stature) that the minimum of 100 proteins required for the most basic life is close to correct. Therefore (by definition of a "minimum"), a grouping of 80 proteins could not long carry on the functions of life, and could not actually be considered to be "alive." ...Even if Morowitz overestimated this figure slightly, there must be an actual minimum, below which a living system cannot function if you remove even one protein. Other scientists are working on what this minimum really is. This minimum protein situation is, effectively, an example of "irreducible complexity," such as is described by Dr. M.J. Behe, in his book, "Darwin's Black Box" ('96), where he states that "By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning" (p.39). --In the case of life, this would mean that every single minimum protein would be required for the minimal metabolism, a minimal membrane barrier, and minimal genetic language of life to function, as well as a minimum for the replication of the whole system. Take even one protein away, and life ceases to function.

---If Morowitz is close to correct, that minimum number hovers somewhere around 100 proteins (regardless of whether RNA first existed to produce those proteins).

Self-Replicators

Today, much work is also being done with "self-replicators" (which, thus far, are only single molecules), that have not actually assembled in Miller-Urey experiments or in simulated "primordial soup" mockups in the lab, but are taken out of the proteins and DNA of living organisms! These "self-replicators" are dependent on "templates" (such as other peptides or nucleotide-chains) to successfully and more rapidly copy themselves. Sometimes certain ionized clay substrates at the bottom of the "soup" support and facilitate some of these chemical assemblies so that they grow longer and form faster. Sometimes changing the pH or salt concentration has a positive effect, as does rinsing with sodium hydroxide. Enzymes (a type of protein) may be very important in this research, since they "catalyze" reactions, or allow the formation of the self-replicating chains to happen more easily, quickly and at lower temperatures. One of the small chains of nucleotides --making RiboNucleic Acid (RNA)-- also displays the catalytic property of an enzyme, and so it has been dubbed a "ribozyme."

Among the current goals of pro-abiogenesis researchers, is to get these self-replicators to copy themselves faster, so that there is more product to work with --and then, of course, darwinist materialists hope to show that these replicators would undergo "chemical evolution" where they would increase in complexity and begin to perform the tasks that life performs. But, so far, this is just an unfulfilled hope, and the empirical results in the laboratory have been very disappointing.

Also importantly, if these self-replicators and ribozymes are to be taken seriously as part of an abiogenesis schema, there must be lab demonstrations of feasible chemical pathways for them to assemble in real-world conditions.

While considering the pro-abiogenesis articles cited at the beginning of this article, I was also in correspondence with Dr. Michael Behe (Prof of Biochemistry at Lehigh U), and I asked him if he had read the top two articles. ---Dr. Behe replied:
"I looked at the web articles you mention and it's just more wishful thinking on the part of the materialists. ...suffice it to say the scientific community is not abuzz."

A Short Aside:

Doctorates in the Natural Sciences Skeptical of Darwinian Evolution

Many people wrongly suppose that there are no credible scientists, prominent in their fields, who have serious doubts as to the explanatory power and veracity of Neo-Darwinism. On the contrary, there are at present more than 700 scientists who either hold a Ph.D. in their discipline, or are an M.D. serving as a professor of medicine, who have been willing to sign a public statement declaring their scientific skepticism as to whether Neo-Darwinism seems adequate to explain the high amount of complex bio-information found in natural life. To read their summary statement of "Dissent from Darwinism," as well as some of the justification for signing it, go to:

http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/

The Defining Characteristics Of Life

So, why is the scientific community not "abuzz" (as Dr. Behe said) or impressed with the "self-replicators" and "ribozymes" alluded to in such abiogenesis articles? It is mainly because the abiogenesis experiments do not get very far down the road to actual "life."

Life does 5 things :

  1. ...it actively metabolizes --by capturing, transducing, and storing energy in the form of high-energy bonds (in ATP, ADP and AMP in all known life), and by calling up that energy to do work and to use materials to build structures;
  2. ...it constructs, and actively maintains, a barrier (ultimately a semi-permeable membrane) or membrane-equivalent between itself and the outside environment. --Some scientists have suggested different sorts of primordial quasimembrane models, which may resemble membrane-equivalents, but they should not be construed as being actual active transport membranes found in the simplest known free-living life-forms.
  3. ...it "grows," developing from immaturity to a mature organism capable of reproduction.
  4. ...it employs a biochemical "genetic" system using a functioning chemical "language" to store the information which specifies the building of all organism's proteins and structures, and to direct the other processes of that living entity, and passes this bio-information along to progeny; --this genetic language is comprised of DNA in all known life;
  5. ...it actively replicates a whole living system, passing along the chemical mechanics and bio-information of life --which is far more than mere polymerization, crystallization, or replication of one single molecule;
(Note: Of course, anyone is free to consider possible alternative chemistries for life, where (for example) perhaps carbon is not the basic element, and maybe DNA is not the basic "language" of life, and maybe ATP is not the basic "currency" of that sort of life's energy ---HOWEVER, any such hypothetical sort of alternative life-chemistry must still take care of the above 5 issues in order to be considered actual life, regardless... and the entire picture is no less simple.

The "self-replicators" utilized in abiogenesis research today are very far from even a rudimentary proto-life, ...so much so, that many in the scientific community are not yet impressed (or encouraged) with the current results of abiogenesis experiments. In fact, in all the abiogenesis lab experiments, not even a small functional protein (just 100 amino acids in length) --which demonstrably folds into a stable and discrete shape that would have a beneficial (& not deleterious) function in any actual living thing's structures or chemical reactions-- has ever formed from single amino acid units. What's more, all the "self-replicators" being referred to in today's experiments, are actually sections extracted out of DNA, RNA and proteins from living things! ...and E. Wilson remarks: "There's still the issue of whether it's possible to assemble peptides or nucleic acid from single units. So far, only chunks of peptides and nucleic acids, rather than their constituent amino acids and nucleobases, have served as starting materials for self-replicating systems".

The DNA Dilemma

Though we might imagine several proteins coming together, this sort of thing is not highly significant unless there is first a genetic system --probably comprised of DNA-- which can store and use the information required for the correct construction of all the proteins and structures of the life-form. Without the genetic system, there is no way for the life-form as a unified whole to accurately replicate and then to pass on the construction information to offspring. Without the genetic system, there is no way for constructional changes and improvements to be "recorded" and then passed on as well.

But the big question is: Where did (or could) the correct constructional information found in DNA come from? --Proteins would not be the source of that information, because proteins only take and use the information already present in DNA to build other proteins. In living things, DNA is dependent on previously existing DNA which splits in half to make new copies of itself. DNA comes from DNA.

We must not forget, that the result of abiogenesis (by definition) must finally be independent life, which must include the five characteristics of life outlined above ...including the genetic DNA factor. Falling short of that, we do not have the abiogenesis of actual life. Some darwinists would like to "set the bar" much lower, calling some single-molecule replicators "life", but this is just smoke and mirrors; a hopeful distortion of the real issue and goal.

To meet my challenge, I am not saying that abiogenesis must actually occur in the laboratory (that would require at least millions of years, by anyone's estimation), but that each step of possible biochemical mechanisms and pathways needs to be laid out, and demonstrated to biochemically follow the other ---and the results of each step must be shown to last long enough (without decomposing) for the next step to take place.

Of course, one of the most immense problems in all of this abiogenesis research is that we don't actually know what makes a given group of chemicals "alive," --as Wilson quotes M.R. Ghadiri saying, "We just don't understand why the chemistry that is happening in a living system is alive." --If it just boiled down to having the right chemicals present, then the chemicals in a dead bacteria, which are breaking down because the organism has been indisputably dead for a while, should be able to be "jump-started" back to life --because all the "necessary chemicals" are there. --But the problem is: The simplest living cell is a coordinated and inter-dependent system of parts that must all be started up at the same time without leaving any parts out.

The Failed Build-Up ...Leading to a Break-down

Now, in the case of abiogenesis, life must result after a completed build-up, starting from the bottom. Knowing what we know about what life is, this protein-building situation is deadly to philosophic materialist neo-Darwinism (and the DNA situation is even worse). --As Darwin said, "if it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down" ("Origin of the Species", 6th ed, '88, p.154).

It should be apparent here, that we do clearly have at least one major "complex organ" which demonstrates the failure which Darwin describes, and that is: The first minimal living cell with all its DNA and protein parts. It goes far beyond all scientific evidence and credible probability to imagine that even the first 5 or 6 of the minimum 100 required protein types could have formed together at the same place on any given planet, since the random assembly of even three different types of protein (all coming together in the same place at the same time) would be far beyond the reach of chance-assembly in our present universe, with its limited time and matter. --But then, even after the highly fortuitous random assembly of even 8 proteins together, there would still be no functioning life for which natural selection would select --because all the 100 minimal protein-parts must first coexist in the same place, and also be properly assembled and operating together, in order for life to function --even minimally. There wouldn't be --most problematically-- any genetics to pass on any positive developments. In the instance of the first minimal life, we see a clear instance of the break-down and failure of neo-darwinism, and the powerlessness of random assembly and changes to produce anything that's even mildly interesting in the way of the complex specified informational molecules of life.

Not Random

If random "chance" assembly is ruled out as being virtually totally unlikely (which it statistically appears to be), then the only logical remaining option is : "NOT chance."

And what is "not chance"? --It is purposeful intentionality. It is the willfully designed action of a thinking being(s) which designs and assembles --something which chance and natural law alone cannot logically accomplish.

--In the case of basic life's existence, the probabilities leave us with Intelligent Design (ID) as the only reasonable explanation, if we consider the facts of nature with an open mind, and are willing to follow the evidence to its logical and rational conclusion.

It would appear that Sagan and the atheists and philosophic materialists cannot sleep soundly after all.

Developing Too Fast?

Some philosophic materialists make the following objection: "Creationists try to require that abiogenesis must jump from simple chemicals immediately up to a living cell (a proto-bacteria)."

This objection may apply to somebody (I don't know who), but not to the most prominent ID theorists, and certainly not to me. This objection is a "straw man." --In fact, jumping immediately from chemicals to life (without step-by-step intermediates) would actually depict an act of creation or ID --not naturalistic abiogenesis-- and I would find it totally unacceptable in a naturalistic evolutionary schema ...somewhat like a fantastical molecular version of punctuated equilibrium.

In reality, I would expect naturalistic abiogenesis (if it were even possible) to start off with a simple chemical "primordial soup", and require a sizeable number of gradual steps over many billions of years at least.

But lengthy gradualness is actually a problem and not an advantage, because the longer a chemical compound (like an almost-completed replicator or protein) sits or moves around, the more chance there is that it will decompose and break up due to heat, chemical, physical, radiation or photo forces. For instance, the earth's oceans cycle through the extremely hot ocean vents and get brutally sterilized of all life as they do so. --Time is actually an enemy in almost all cases.

A NOTE on "TIME": Correspondence has come to this website advocating the notion that abiogenesis has had "many Trillions of years" (no, seriously) during which the first living things could assemble through random processes --but people with such popular mis-conceptions need to face up to scientific reality. -- Actually, the age of the universe is estimated to be from 12 to 14 billion years, ...and the earth is estimated to be about 3.5 to 4 billion years. --And life is estimated to have been present on earth when it was only about 1.5 or 2 billion years old ...so it only took that long.

Please see more on how this factors into the situation, by reading an article on this "WorldView Site" entitled:
"A Mathematical Proof of Intelligent Design in Nature."

Life on Mars?

Another relevant issue: What if some "Mars Probe" discovers that there is some form of microbial life on Mars?

--Well, first of all, it does not go against the evidence presented here for forms of life to exist on another planet or a moon. --If there is life out there, it's first ancestor was most probably constructed by intelligent design. And if carbon-based extra-terrestrial life is found in our solar-system --having similar DNA/RNA code-system and proteins as here on earth-- then perhaps its origin was from Earth! ...The little critters would be the first "Earthling" colonizers on Mars!

This could be a possibility, because, if meteors or asteroids can "splash" rocks from Mars over to Earth (as some say is possible), then the process could conceivably happen the other way around --so, there may be an Earth-rock on Mars, which was the original source of life. NASA's project chief engineer Gentry Lee says, "Maybe life evolved first on Mars and was knocked off the surface and carried to the Earth."

--So, maybe it happened the other way around: From Earth to elsewhere.

Also, it is known that microbes can survive the freezing, radiation and vacuum of space (especially if they're protected inside a rock), and that microbes are found blowing around in the highest outer-layers of earth's atmosphere --so, perhaps they could somehow be swept out into space, finally to land on Mars or other planets. The presence of earth-style microbes on a planet or moon (such as Jupiter's moon, Europa) somewhere out in space, does not necessarily demonstrate that abiogenesis has occurred there. --We could be proud of our cute little earth-microbes, which were possibly the first "alien settlers" and "space travelers."

Identity of the Designer

Though we have come up with very nearly an air-tight proof that intelligent design (ID) in nature is a factual reality, the specific identity of the designer(s) does not promise to ever be apparent from an investigation of only nature and biological things. ---Thus, it would not be appropriate in the science classroom to engage in "guessing" the personal identity of the designer(s), however, intelligent design itself is a fully appropriate area of scientific study.

Also, it does not appear that we can necessarily conclude that the designer is an omnipotent being, since all of the designed things we might consider are finite things (e.g. the universe), for which a finite designer could be adequate ---however, it would seem that an almost unfathomably powerful and intelligent designer would be necessary, due to the magnitude and forces of the universe, and the complexity of the bio-information of designed things.

--Still, if you will read further in this website, you may agree that there is an excellent body of evidence which indicates that the Bible is a supernaturally produced piece of literature, ...and the Bible claims to identify the living God (and Jesus Christ) as the one who did the intelligent designing of all things. You are warmly invited to investigate these claims.


In a hypothetical evolutionary scenario, next after the Abiogenesis issue, read about:

Origin of Life, Phase 2: Biogenesis: Life's Complexity Increases


Prize Offers:

Even though it is well established that micro-evolution is partly true ---I am offering a $2,000 Reward "to the first person delineating experimentally confirmed biochemical mechanism(s) which demonstrate that it is within reasonable statistical probability for biological information and life to have originated from non-living chemicals (abiogenesis) by purely natural processes (...without the agency of any intelligent designer)." This is to stimulate discussion concerning the notion of whether there is a reasonable probability that abiogenesis could have happened. It would appear that there is no such scientifically reasonable probability. This reward is offered, along with two similar challenges for the origin of other complex specified bio-information, through a link in the directory below.

The winning of my reward is contingent upon, and will be awarded to, the person(s) who first win the $1,000,000 "Origin-of-Life Prize". --The "Origin-of-Life Foundation," which offers this "Origin-of-Life Prize," may be trying to coordinate a major effort to substantiate that abiogenesis (a naturalistic materialist origin to life) is within reasonably reachable probabilities.

Relevant Further Reading (links):

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NOTE: You, my friend, are valuable and loved by God, and that's why Jesus Christ came : "For God so loved the world (including you), that he gave his one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes (trusts) in him, should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Some Answers : * WHO IS JESUS? *


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$1,000,000 Prize for Abiogenesis, & $2K for Evolution
Origin of Life, Phase 2: Biogenesis: Life's Complexity Increases
Evolution is Just Partly True
A Mathematical Proof of Intelligent Design in Nature
Intelligent Design of the Cosmos: A Mathematical Proof
Probability of Finding Extraterrestrial Life ...& SETI Success
Definitions of "Life" and "Bio-Information"
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