God says He created all life. The scientific community looks only for natural causes. But is there any evidence for natural causes as the origin of life?
The origin of life has been debated for decades. On one side is religious belief—all life had a supernatural origin from God. On the other side is scientific materialism—life developed through the laws of science and blind chance.
Spectacular advances in science seem to have given scientific materialism the upper hand. But what do the scientific discoveries of the last century reveal about this age-old question? Can the origin of life now be proven?
Perhaps a better question is not about “proof,” but rather, based on current scientific evidence, which is the more credible alternative? Have recent scientific discoveries undercut the claims of religion? Or has the credibility of materialism been damaged?
Scientific materialism and the origin of life
Scientific materialism has no room for the possibility that anything might exist that is not completely described by science. Proponents argue that natural science is the study of matter, so anything outside the realm of matter is outside the scientific purview.
Yet there are clearly aspects of nature that do go beyond matter and, consequently, give materialists difficulty. Three facets in this category are human consciousness, free will and morality. Circular reasoning is used to dismiss these mysteries. Since materialism is assumed to be true, it is assumed these things also must be physical. In the question of the origin of life, this same circular reasoning eliminates any supernatural possibility from the outset.
The scientific approach to the study of the origin of life begins with the assumption that life originated by a natural process, a sequence of events consistent with natural laws. God is ruled out as a possibility.
A second assumption some make is that life is a cosmic imperative, and it is only a matter of time until we will be able to understand how it happened. This belief is necessary since the odds of a dead world becoming a planet teeming with the vast variety of life we have on earth looks like an infinitely improbable accident.
Such assumptions suggest a significant bias against God as the creator of life.
The building block of life
The scientific search for the origin of life focuses on the fundamental building block of life—the cell. Scientists theorize that life “emerged” as a single-cell organism. The problem with this speculation is that there is no physical evidence.
The “simplest” of single-cell organisms, such as bacteria, are intricate and complex. All cells have the same ingredients: sugars, amino acids, nucleic acids and hydrocarbons. Every living organism shares the exact same chemical process (the genetic code) for turning the information stored in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) into proteins. All have three different kinds of RNA (ribonucleic acid), which uses the information stored in DNA to build proteins. (See the article “Origin of Life: Are Single Cells Really Simple?” for further discussion on DNA.)
From single-cell organisms to human cells, there is no simple to complex order, only complex and more complex.
The scientific evidence for the origin of life
In essence, science has shed no light on the origin of life. Certain terms occur repetitively in discussions of the subject such as “many believe,” “might have been triggered,” “life might have begun,” “might have arisen,” “how life began has no good answer” and “many speculate.”
In their book Origins (associated with a NOVA special with the same title on the Public Broadcasting System), Neil Tyson and Donald Goldsmith wrote, “The origin of life on Earth remains locked in murky uncertainty.” And again, “the crucial question of how life actually began on Earth, either once or many times over, has no good answer, though speculation on the subject has acquired a long and intriguing history.”
There is much speculation but little if any scientific evidence as to the origin of life, even though theories abound. However, there are a number of problems with such theories.
Do speculative theories have a factual basis?
Here are some key components of origin of life theory and their problems.
“A series of chemical reactions occurred (probably over millions of years) that eventually resulted in the first life-form.”
While scientific materialists try to demonstrate that spontaneous generation could have occurred, there is no evidence to support this speculation. The theory of spontaneous generation of life and the entire process of evolution from simple to complex contradicts a fundamental law of physics—the second law of thermodynamics. (See our article “God and Science” for an explanation of this law.)
Some speculate that there must be a “missing” natural law that could explain the process leading to the origin of life. No explanation is given as to why such a missing law has been overlooked by science.
“The first life-forms were something much simpler than a single cell because cells today are too complex.”
The fossil organisms thought to be the earliest are estimated to be around 3 billion years old, and even they are too advanced to suggest possible simpler life-forms. Even the simplest single-cell organisms have the complex DNA structure that encodes instructions for building and replicating all living things. When it comes to the cells of all life-forms, there is no simple to complex.
“The Miller-Urey experiments show how life began.”
These experiments transformed hydrogen, methane and ammonia into organic molecules by mixing with water vapor and applying heat and an electric spark. The process (which was supposed to mimic conditions on earth 4 billion years ago) produced some amino acids and sugars.
There is one law of nature that has never had an exception or been disproven. This law is a scientific fact, and not just a theory. It is ignored by scientific materialists in their search for the origin of life. The law is biogenesis—life comes only from life.However, development of amino acids is not uncommon in biochemistry. There are 20 standard amino acids used by living cells to produce proteins. Showing that a cleverly designed experiment can produce amino acids does not begin to explain the complexity of living cells and their origin.
Adding tremendously to the complexity, there are two versions of many organic molecules like amino acids, one “right-handed” and one “left-handed,” that are equally likely to form by chance. Yet all organisms use and build only “left-handed” amino acids. How is this possible entirely by chance? (See the scientific details in “The Problem With Chirality.”)
In spite of all this, these experiments seem to be the high point of scientific materialism’s search for the origin of life.
The one natural law science ignores
There is one law of nature that has never had an exception or been disproven. This law is a scientific fact, and not just a theory. It is ignored by scientific materialists in their search for the origin of life. The law is biogenesis—life comes only from life. Through his experiments in the 19th century, Louis Pasteur provided some of the most well-known evidence of this law.
This law is consistent with God’s revelation in the Bible. As described in the first few chapters of Genesis, the living God is the origin of life. The psalmist also describes God in this manner: “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light” (Psalm 36:9).
True religious thought takes into account both the evidence and the necessity of rational grounds for beliefs. The Bible strongly emphasizes taking a reasoned and rational approach. For example, God granted Solomon great wisdom to reason (2 Chronicles 1:11-12). And Solomon used that power of reasoning: “I applied my heart to know, to search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things” (Ecclesiastes 7:25).
God challenges us to use our reasoning power. “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 1:18). Likewise, Paul used this approach: “But he said, ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason’” (Acts 26:25; see also Acts 17:2).
God is not antiscience (see “God and Science”). He wants us to use our reasoning and intelligence to determine if His claim of being the Creator of life makes sense. He has given us a natural law on which to base our reasoning—life comes only from life! He encourages us to examine the evidence. “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The creation of life is a proof that God exists. (For other proofs, see “Creation Demands a Creator” and “Proof of God.”)
Scientific materialists, with no evidence on which to base the idea that life originated from inanimate matter, are left with only what the religious are often accused of: blind faith.