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September 27, 2012 2:00 am

Speculation, Faith, and Unproven Assumptions: The History of Origin of Life Research in Scientists Own Words

avatar by Moshe Averick

Dr. Ernst Chain, Nobel Prize winning chemist

(1945) Dr. Ernst Chain, Nobel Prize Medicine, 1945- The Life of Ernst Chain: Penicillin and Beyond, (R.W. Clark, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London (1985), pg. 148)

I have said for years that speculations about the origin of life lead to no useful purpose as even the simplest living system is far too complex to be understood in terms of the extremely primitive chemistry scientists have used in their attempts to explain the unexplainable that happened billions of years ago.

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(1954) Dr. George Wald- Nobel Laureate-Scientific American August, 1954

There are only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of Gd. There is no third possibility…a supernatural creative act of GD. I will not accept that philosophically because I do not want to believe in GD, therefore I choose to believe that which I know is scientifically impossible; spontaneous generation arising to Evolution.

(1960) Dr. Gerald Kerkut, Profesor  Emeritus of Neuroscience at the University of Southahpton, Professor of Physiology and Biochemistry – 1960

The first assumption was that non-living things gave rise to living material. This is still just an assumption…There is, however, little evidence in favor of abiogenesis and as yet we have no indication that it can be performed…it is therefore a matter of faith on the  part of  the biologist that abiogenesis  did occur and he can choose whatever  method…happens to suit him personally; the evidence for what  did happen is not available.

(1962) Dr. Harold C. Urey, Nobel Prize Chemistry, 1934-Mentor of  Dr. Stanley Miller-Christian  Science  Monitor, 1/4/62

All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel it is too complex to have evolved anywhere. We all believe as an article of faith that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It is just that its complexity is so great, it is hard for us to imagine that it did.

Dr. Harold Urey (left) and his student, Dr. Stanley Miller

(1973) Dr. Ilya Prigine, Nobel  Prize  Chemistry 1977- Impact  of Science on Society-1973

But let us have no illusions…[we are still] unable  to grasp the  extreme complexity of the  simplest of organisms

(1976) Richard Dawkins,  [Zoologist and Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University], “The Selfish Gene,” [1976]

The account of the origin of life that I shall give is necessarily speculative; by definition, nobody was around to see what happened. There are a number of rival theories, but they all have certain features in common.

(1977) Dr. Hubert Yockey, renowned Physicist and Information Theorist -Journal of  Theoretical Biology 1977

One must conclude that…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.

(1978) Richard E. Dickerson [Professor of Molecular Biology, University of California, Los Angeles]., “Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life,” Scientific American, Vol. 239, No. 3, September 1978, p.77).

The evolution of the genetic machinery is the step for which there are no laboratory models; hence one can speculate endlessly, unfettered by inconvenient facts. The complex genetic apparatus in present-day organisms is so universal that one has few clues as to what the apparatus may have looked like in its most primitive form.

(1981) Dr. Francis Crick – Nobel Prize Medicine (1962)- Co-Discoverer of Structure of DNA- “Life Itself”- 1981

Every time I write a paper on the origin of life, I determine I will never write another one, because there is too much speculation  running after too few facts.

Dr. Leslie Orgel (right) with long-time colleague and collaborator, Dr. James Watson

(1982) Leslie E. Orgel [Biochemist and Resident Fellow, Salk Institute for Biological Studies], “Darwinism at the very beginning of life,” New Scientist, Vol. 94, 15 April 1982, p.150).

Prebiotic soup is easy to obtain. We must next explain how a prebiotic soup of organic molecules, including amino acids and the organic, constituents of nucleotides evolved into a self-replicating organism. While some suggestive evidence has been obtained, I must admit that attempts to reconstruct the evolutionary process are extremely tentative.

(1984) Sir Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wichramasingnhe- Evolution from Space (New York, Simon and Shuster, 1984, pg.148)

Indeed, such a theory (intelligent design) is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific.

From my earliest training as a scientist I was very strongly brain-washed to believe that science cannot be consistent with any kind of deliberate creation. That notion has had to be very painfully shed. I am quite uncomfortable in the situation, the state of mind I now find myself in. But there is no logical way out of it; it is just not possible that life could have originated from a chemical accident. (ibid, pg. 53)

(1986) Andrew Scott [biochemist and science writer], “The Creation of Life: Past, Future, Alien,” Basil Blackwell: Oxford UK, 1986, p.111).

Due to this scarcity of financial resources the study of the origins of life has been forced to become a most efficient and cost-effective industry from just a thimble-full of facts the scientists engaged in that study manage to generate a virtually endless supply of theories!

But what if the vast majority of scientists all have faith in the one unverified idea? The modern ‘standard’ scientific version of the origin of life on earth is one such idea, and we would be wise to check its real merit with great care. Has the cold blade of reason been applied with sufficient vigor in this case? Most scientists want to believe that life could have emerged spontaneously from the primeval waters, because it would confirm their belief in the explicability of Nature – the belief that all could be explained in terms of particles and energy and forces if only we had the time and the necessary intellect. They also want to believe because their arch opponents – religious fundamentalists such as creationists – do not believe in life’s spontaneous origin. It is this combative atmosphere which sometimes encourages scientists writing and speaking about the origin of life to become as dogmatic and bigoted as the creationist opponents they so despise.

Sir Fred Hoyle (right) and Chandra Wickramasingnhe

(1988) Dr. Klaus Dose – The Origin of Life: More Questions Than Answers,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1988, p.348

More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.

(1989) Carl Woese, Microbiologist, Gunter Wachtershauser, Chemist – “Origin of Life” in Paleobiology: A Synthesis, Briggs and Crowther – Editors (Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1989)

In one sense the origin of life remains what it was in the time of Darwin – one of the great unsolved riddles of science. Yet we have made progress…many of the early naïve assumptions have fallen or have fallen aside…while we do not have a solution, we now have an inkling of the magnitude of the problem.

(1995) Dr. Christian DeDuve, Nobel Prize, Medicine 1974 – The Beginnings of Life on Earth- American Scientist Sep/October 1995

Even if life came from elsewhere we would still have to account for its first development…How this momentous event happened is still highly conjectural though  no longer purely speculative.

Wordnet Online Dictionary: Conjecture: A.) noun – a hypothesis that has  been formed by speculating…usually with little hard evidence (synonym: speculation)

B.) verb: to believe on uncertain  or  tentative  grounds (synonym:speculate)

It is now generally agreed that if life arose spontaneously by natural processes—a necessary assumption if we wish to remain within the realm of science—it must have arisen fairly quickly, more in a matter of millennia or centuries, perhaps even less, than in millions of years. Even if life came from elsewhere, we would still have to account for its first development. Thus we might as well assume that life started on earth.

Is there a scientific, materialistic answer to the question: How did life begin?

(1997)Billions and Billions of Demons”, Dr. Richard Lewontin, Geneticist – Harvard University, January 9, 1997 NY Times Book Reviews

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

(2001) Dr. Franklin M. Harold, Biochemist, The Way of the Cell: Molecules, Organisms, and the order of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, pg. 251)

It would be agreeable to conclude this book with a cheery fanfare about science closing in, slowly but surely, on the ultimate mystery; but the time for rosy rhetoric is not yet at hand. The origin of life appears to me as incomprehensible as ever, a matter for wonder but not for explication.

(2002) Dr. Paul Davies, Physicist and authority on Origin of Life research, from “In Search of Eden, Conversations with Paul Davies and Phillip Adams”

First, I should like to say that the scientific attempt to explain the origin of life proceeds from the assumption that whatever it was that happened was a natural process: no miracles, no supernatural intervention. It was by ordinary atoms doing extraordinary things that life was brought into existence. Scientists have to start with that assumption.

(2006) Richard Dawkins, The Gd Delusion, 2006, pg. 164

The origin of life is a flourishing, if speculative subject for research.

John Horgan of Scientific American writes that scientists are "stumped as ever by the riddle of life."

(2011) John Horgan, Senior Writer Scientific American -2/28/11

Dennis Overbye just wrote a status report for the New York Times on research into life’s origin, based on a conference on the topic at Arizona State University. Geologists, chemists, astronomers, and biologists are as stumped as ever by the riddle of life.

(2011) Dr. Eugene Koonin, molecular biologist – The Logic of Chance: The Nature and origin of Biological Evolution (Upper Saddle River, NJ, FT Press, 2011, pg. 391)

The origin of life is one of the hardest problems in all of science…Origin of Life research has evolved into a lively, interdisciplinary field, but other scientists often view it with skepticism and even derision. This attitude is understandable and, in a sense, perhaps justified, given the “dirty” rarely mentioned secret: Despite many interesting results to its credit, when judged by the straightforward criterion of reaching (or even approaching) the ultimate goal, the origin of life field is a failure – we still do not have even a plausible coherent model, let alone a validated scenario, for the emergence of life on Earth. Certainly, this is due not to a lack of experimental and theoretical effort, but to the extraordinary intrinsic difficulty and complexity of the problem. A succession of exceedingly unlikely steps is essential for the origin of life…these make the final outcome seem almost like a miracle.

After reading all the above, perhaps it is reasonable to consider that the reason the emergence of life seems “almost like a miracle,” is because it is a miracle.

Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi, a regular columnist for the Algemeiner Journal, and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website. If you wish to be informed when new articles appear, send an email to [email protected] with the email address and the word “Subscribe” in the subject line.

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