By Steve Wolfgang
Francis Crick, Life Itself. Its Origin and Nature (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), p. 25
From time to time, human beings have reflected upon how life began on earth. Many people in the past believed (and some of us in the present still believe) that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Others, styling themselves “modern,” reject such notions in favor of this or that new theory, baptized at the font of “science.”
It ought to be apparent upon some reflection that any or all of these theories, when pushed back to their ultimate bases, can be said to be either theistic or materialistic. Either matter always existed, and somehow produced all living forms from its inanimate self; or some form of intelligence or divinity has always existed, able to design and bring about life. (Another alternative is that nothing always existed, and that something – indeed, everything we see today – came from nothing.) We accept the thesis that it is as easy (and requires as much faith) to believe one as to accept another.
It is surely equally obvious that none of these proposed explanations are “scientific” but rather are philosophical or religious. Whatever position one chooses to believe, the origin of life was not observable, repeatable, or testable. This can prove to be quite frustrating for anyone who chooses to limit “knowledge” to what can be quantified or studied empirically.
In this article, we ask our readers to consider briefly with us some of the possible alternatives for the origin of life, beginning with the proposed “chemical” theory that life could have begun in some primeval soup. We believe that the simple declarative statement, “by the word of the Lord were the heavens made . . . for He spoke, and it was done” (Psa. 33:6,9) will not suffer by comparison.
We begin our consideration of the origin of life with an examination of a popular theory (“proven” in the popular mind by experimental demonstrations by Oparin, Miller & Urey, Fox, and others). These empirical demonstrations whereby life’s basic building blocks may be produced by passing an electrical discharge through certain chemicals in a closed system are certainly impressive, even elegant, in their conception and execution. Of course, one may argue that they simply demonstrate that intelligence can re-arrange existing materials into other forms. They certainly do not address the more basic question of how chemicals and electricity came to be in the first place. And they make large and unprovable assumptions about the nature of the early atmosphere which would have been necessary to have produced such experimental work writ large in nature.
But there are other problems as well. If one dismisses all the above considerations and objections and accepts by faith that it could or might have happened that way, the question remains: How likely is it that life began in this way? Now, I am no chemist (as may already be evident), so like most others, I must rely on the testimony of those who are.
One such individual is Nobel Prize-winner Francis Crick. His 1981 book, Life Itself. Its Origin & Nature is a good short summary of some of the concepts sketched above. Crick makes an attempt to calculate whether it is highly likely or very unlikely that life arose from some chemical broth. His conclusion (which we will consider in our next installment) is that one really cannot tell.
Does that mean that Crick considers creation of life by God a reasonable alternative hypothesis? Certainly not, since he declares “the limitless powers of God” to be “a doubtful proposition at best” (p. 25). Does he then have some other hypothesis to propose? He certainly does – but don’t hold your breath. (Continued).
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 21, p. 653
November 2, 1989