In light of the fact that the New York Times has run another article on the fascinating world of Origin of Life research and the creation of synthetic life, (“It’s Alive! It’s Alive!” 7/27/2011, Dennis Overbye), it is instructive to point out the sins of omission of which Mr. Overbye - a veteran science writer with more than two decades of experience – is guilty. The two salient points that get lost (read: that go purposely unmentioned) among the informative interviews with researchers and the descriptions of their ingenious attempts to create life in the laboratory are: (A) Although all of the scientists mentioned believe that life came from non-life through an undirected, naturalistic process, none of them have the slightest clue as to how it actually happened, and (B) The obvious and most significant conclusion that can be drawn from all their splendid work in the lab is that the only reasonable explanation for the emergence of life is Intelligent Design! Allow me to elaborate.
Mr. Overbye gives us a brief description of the current state of Origin of Life research:
“According to modern science, life on Earth originated about 3.8 billion years ago, perhaps in a warm pond, as Darwin speculated, or perhaps in a boiling, bubbling mud bath or a scorching volcanic vent way under the sea. The first inhabitant of this Eden, chemists suspect, was RNA…Scientists cannot prove that this is how life arose on Earth, but they can do the next best thing. They can make their own RNA, and see if they can then breathe life into it.”
Since the general public does not have a clear understanding of what is actually going on in the Origin of Life field, let me translate the aforementioned citation into clear, plain language that can be understood by all.
- “According to modern science, life originated about 3.8 billion years ago…” – The earliest known life form, before which nothing has ever been found, is a type of bacterium. These have been dated by scientists as being alive on the Earth approximately 3.8 billion years ago. Despite their size being measured in the millionths of a meter, a bacterium is of a level of functional complexity on the order of an F-15 fighter bomber (actually that is understated). Dr. Robert Hazen: “The simplest living cell is intricate beyond imagining…human brains seem ill-suited to grasp such multi-dimensional complexity.” Dr. Michael Denton: “each is a veritable micro-miniaturized factory containing thousands of elegantly designed pieces of molecular machinery…far more complicated than any machinery built by man and without parallel in the non-living world.” Dr. Paul Davies: “[bacteria] have a fine tuning and complexity as yet unmatched by human engineering.” Perhaps it is best summed up by Ilya Prigogine, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1977: “But let us have no illusions… [we are still] unable to grasp the extreme complexity of the simplest of organisms.”
- “perhaps in a warm pond, as Darwin speculated, or perhaps in a boiling bubbling mud bath or a scorching volcanic vent way under the sea.” – There is no scientist in the world today that would have the chutzpah to claim that he or she knows how life began. Dr. Stuart Kauffman: “Anyone who tells you that he or she knows how life started on the Earth 3.5 billion years ago, is a fool or a knave.” The enormous, gaping chasm that separates non-living chemicals from the simplest living bacterium is described by renowned biologist Dr. Lynn Margulis: “To go from bacterium to people is less of a step than to go from a mixture of amino acids to a bacterium.” Every theory mentioned above has nothing to do with Science. All current Origin of Life theories are pure speculation. Speculation, even when it is the product of a brilliant scientific mind, does not magically become Science. None of these theories are supported by anything even remotely resembling any type of conclusive evidence. In fact they are hotly disputed among researchers themselves. Physicist and information theorist H.P. Yockey: “A scenario describing the genesis of life on earth by chance and natural causes which can be accepted on the basis of fact and not faith has not yet been written. The entire effort in the primeval soup paradigm is self-deception.” Nobel Laureate, Dr. Werner Arber: “Although a biologist, I must confess that I do not know how life came about…how such already quite complex structures came about is a mystery to me.” Dr. Christopher McKay: “We do not know how life originated on the Earth.” Dr. Harold P. Klein: “The simplest bacterium is so damn complicated…that it is almost impossible to imagine how it happened.” Dr. Ken Nealson (National Academy of Sciences): “Nobody understands the Origin of Life, if they say they do, they are probably trying to fool you.” Dr. George Whitesides: “Most chemists believe as I do that life emerged spontaneously from mixtures of molecules on the prebiotic Earth. How? I have no idea…on the basis of all the chemistry I know, it seems astonishingly improbable.”
- “The first inhabitant of this Eden, chemists suspect, was RNA…” - Overbye is referring to the highly popular “RNA World” theory, which hypothesizes that RNA preceded DNA and eventually transformed into DNA based life forms. Despite its popularity it is also a purely speculative theory supported by no plausible evidence. Dr. Gerald Joyce, who is mentioned many times in the N.Y. Times article and is a world renowned proponent of the “RNA World” theory, candidly wrote the following in April 2010: “The challenge must now be faced with constructing a realistic picture of the RNA World…it must be said that the details remain obscure and are not likely to be known in the near future…the concept of an RNA World has been a milestone in the scientific study of life’s origins. While this concept does not explain how life originated it has helped to guide scientific thinking and has served to focus experimental efforts.” Nobel Laureate, Dr. Francois Jacob: “It goes without saying that the emergence of this RNA and the transition to a DNA World implies an impressive number of stages, each more improbable than the previous one.” Dr. Graham Cairns-Smith, after describing the hurdles that must be overcome for the RNA World scenario to take place in a natural setting concludes that, “it is absurd to imagine,” that such a process could have occurred the prebiotic Earth. Dr. Robert Shapiro: “I’m always running out of metaphors to try and explain what the difficulty is. But suppose you took Scrabble sets, or any word game sets, blocks with letters, containing every language on Earth, and you heap them together, and then you took a scoop and you scooped into that heap, and you flung it out on the lawn there and the letters fell into a line which contained the words, “to be or not to be that is the question,” that is roughly the odds of an RNA molecule appearing on the earth.” Dr. Shapiro, at an Origin of Life Initiatives lecture at Harvard University in 2008, declared that, “any abiotically prepared replicator before the start of life is a fantasy.”
- “Scientists cannot prove that this is how life arose on Earth, but they can do the next best thing. They can make their own RNA, and see if they can then breathe life into it.”- These two sentences are the key to a true understanding of the real conclusions that should be drawn from current Origin of Life research. All the amazing breakthroughs that these outstanding scientists have accomplished in their quest to create life in the laboratory have one thing in common: They are only possible under the strictest and most rigorous of laboratory procedures, processes, and protocols, and only under the guidance and direction of the most brilliant scientific minds working with the most advanced equipment available. These procedures and processes did not pop out of thin air; they are themselves built on the collective acquired knowledge and experience of thousands of different researchers and represent, literally, millions of man-hours of intensive labor, contemplation, and analysis. None of them could have conceivably taken place in a prebiotic swamp through undirected processes.
No one has summarized it more incisively and succinctly than Dr. Robert Shapiro, a self-proclaimed agnostic who is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at NYU, and a world recognized authority on Origin of Life research. Dr. Shapiro wrote the following in 1999, in anticipation of the creation in the laboratory of “self-sustained RNA evolving systems,” (which are discussed at length in Overbye’s article): “The media probably will announce it as the demonstration of a crucial step in the origin of life…The concept that the scientists are [actually] illustrating is one of Intelligent Design. No better term can be applied to a quest in which chemists…prepare a living system in the laboratory, using all the ingenuity and technical resources at their disposal.”
In other words, these scientists have made it incontrovertibly clear that all the steps that are necessary for the emergence of life require the conscious and direct involvement of an active, guiding, and highly intelligent force. The very language that Overbye must inescapably use in describing the efforts of these scientists, strikingly illustrates this notion:
- “researchers are trying to construct life…in a thimbleful of liquid.”
- “If you had a second example of life, even if it were synthetic, you might know better. I’m betting we’re just going to make it.”
- “The ability to synthesize life will be an event of profound importance, like the invention of agriculture or the invention of metallurgy.”
- “George Church and Farren Isaacs of the Harvard Medical School recently reported that they had reprogrammed the genome of an E. coli bacterium.”
- “Jack Szostak…embarked on an ambitious project to build an artificial cell”
- “At the center of the Joyce lab experiments is a T-shaped piece of RNA…In 2002 Joyce and Natasha Paul, configured it to recognize and glue together a pair of smaller molecules.”
“Many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit they are baffled” (from The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life, Dr. Paul Davies)
At the conclusion of his article, Dennis Overbye describes Dr. Gerald Joyce talking about the self-replicating molecules that he has constructed in the lab: “Dr. Joyce’s molecules will never catch up to the biosphere. But someday their genome may surprise their creator…with a trick or a new move in the game of “almost life” that he has not anticipated. “If it would happen, it would do it for me, I would be happy,” Dr. Joyce said, adding, “I won’t say it out loud, but it’s alive.” Perhaps it would be worthwhile for Dr. Joyce and some of his distinguished colleagues like Nobel Prize winners Jack Szostak and Sidney Altman, to take note of the fact that we are already alive and can do some pretty neat tricks…and to realize that just like Gerald Joyce’s primitive, man-made molecular toys, we too have a Creator.
Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on Amazon.com and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website at http://rabbimaverick.com/