Who Moved My Primordial Soup?

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverb 18:17 (ESV)

The mere suggestion of a primordial soup made the idea of a naturalistic origin of life (OOL) easily imagined and readily accepted by both scientists and the public. The Miller-Urey experiment seemed to provide proof-of-principle for a mechanistic event that was both plausible and fairly simple; however, the assumed chemicals and conditions were simply irrelevant to those present on the early Earth.1 Although a more neutral (rather than strongly reducing) nacent atmosphere has since been accepted by the scientific establishment, laypeople still retain the textbook image of Miller’s experimental contraption in their memory. They confuse the production of a few amino acids with the creation of a living organism. They believe first-life was simple and therefore simple to make.  Meanwhile, scientists have come to realize that life’s origin is actually quite elusive, its location mysterious and mechanisms uncertain. The soup is not just murky – it’s missing.2,3

New OOL solutions have been sought in the neutral atmosphere of the early Earth to no avail. Either the necessary hydrogen tends to slip away due to an inadequate gravitational grasp4 or the chemically promising, but sparse, products yielded by carbon monoxide do not endure.5 The Earth’s crust and volcanic emissions have been found to be as oxidizing today as 3.6 billion years ago,6,7 and the oxygen-ultraviolet paradox continues to plague OOL conjecture.8 Perhaps most significantly, high-energy impactors are thought to have blasted away Earth’s initial atmosphere and vaporized its waters until the end of the late heavy bombardment around 3.8 billion years ago. Isotopic signatures of complex photosynthetic life appear in the oldest of remaining rocks around this time.9 Life shows up early and rapidly, with no warning and no soup.10

The possibility of OOL at hydrothermal vents is also severely constrained by time limitations since the early ocean is thought to have cycled through such vents at least once every 10 million years.11 As in many proposed OOL scenarios, the potential organic products of such hypothetical reactions are destroyed faster than they can be produced.12  Ever-promising and multi-functional RNA molecules are quite delicate under any extracellular conditions, and they would need to be incorporated into a living system quickly before degradation could occur.13 In addition, if nucleic acids become long enough to code for anything meaningful, it is also likely that they will be too long to be replicated accurately without a complete array of enzymes already in place.14

The extraterrestrial delivery of organic compounds via comets, meteorites, and interplanetary dust has been shown to have been insufficient to seed Earth’s abundant early life, even if the desired molecules were not incinerated upon entry into the atmosphere. 15 Perhaps only a combination of molecular sources can offer an adequate concentration of prebiotic compounds.16,17 Yet, all the varied chemical mechanisms make their own peculiar demands, many of which are antagonistic to others.18  How might they all come together at the same place and time?19

I have not even mentioned the origin of biological information or the homochirality of biomolecules yet.20 Simply put, for those seeking naturalistic OOL solutions, life is hard.

”So far, no geochemical evidence for the existence of a prebiotic soup has been published. Indeed, a number of scientists have challenged the prebiotic soup concept, noting that even if it existed, the concentration of organic building blocks in it would have been too small to be meaningful for prebiotic evolution.“ — Noam Lahav, Biogenesis: Theories of Life’s Origin

1 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 9.*
2 Ibid.
3 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 91.
4 Ibid, 90.
5 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 9.*
6 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 104.
7 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 9.*
8 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 103.
9 Ibid, 106.
10 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 9.*
11 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 105.
12 William J. Schopf, ed., Life’s Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 101-2.
13 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 90-91.
14 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 62.
15 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 103-4.
16 William J. Schopf, ed., Life’s Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 107-8.
17 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 95-6.
18 Fazale Rana, Lecture #12: “The Fossil Evidence,” Reasons Institute “Origin of Life” online course, 2017.
19 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 91.
20 Ibid, 49-121.
*Page numbers not available in Kindle version.

Variations on a Quandary

Is life’s song a transcendent composition or a collection of notes arranged in perceptible patterns? Characteristics common to contemporary life have accumulated, yet “life” is still not sufficiently characterized.1 Notwithstanding the lack of an adequate definition, life is universally acknowledged as being complex. Evolutionists assert a continuum of complexity bridging chemicals to creatures, but the minimum requirements for the simplest possible synthetic life-form are yet to be ascertained.2 What has been assumed to be “simple”3 may not have been so simple. Does Earth’s life reflect levels of increasing complexity or layers of irreducible complexity? Is life so complex that it must indeed be rare, or is it necessarily abundant throughout the universe?4,5 Is physical life (i.e., bacteria and plants) merely a “continual throughput of matter and energy,”6 distinguished from the inanimate only in death? If, according to Paul Davies, “[t]he living cell is crammed with miniature machines,”7 does death simply flip the switches to “off”? The question becomes even more complicated when considering soulish nephesh creatures or spiritual humans.

Apart from the philosophical or religious implications, origin-of-life researchers have their own set of concerns regarding the definition of life. Since science deals only with physical matter and processes, it is inherently reductionistic. Dr. Fazale Rana observes that “[u]nderstanding the operation of a system is not the same as explaining where it came from.”8 Unless life is reliably defined, how will researchers know when they have successfully found it or its origin?9 As they contemplate the possibility of chemical evolution on the early Earth, how fuzzy or distinct is the line that divides macromolecules and chemical reactions from independently functioning and replicating microbes? Is there anything actually primeval and vestigial lying within contemporary cells,10 or do such assertions by evolutionists simply beg the question?  When they look beyond Earth, how might scientists identify life’s precursors or extraterrestrial life-forms fundamentally novel in structure and function? Are hopes to indefinitely extend human life grounded in solid science or is the dream of transhumanism merely a cruel distraction from a Creator who can truly bestow Life?

Even so, definitions still matter in the here and now. Validation of artificial, synthetic, or novel life in the laboratory will depend on the precision of life’s definition.”11 Scientists sometimes describe life’s complexity as being instructed, specified, contextualized, and organized, but will a positive case for intentional complexity be made? Intentionality implies a Mind and Volition. Has a such a Being likewise endowed us with some level of free will? Davies observes that animals (even bacteria) seem to contain “some inner spark that gives them autonomy, so that they can (within limits) do as they please.”12 Making use of our free will, to Whom will we credit our existence?

1 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 2.*
2 Ibid.
3 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2014), 60.
4 Ibid, 51.
5 Iris Fry, The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), Chapter 5, “Panspermia — Eternal Life in the Universe.”*
6 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 37.
7 Ibid, 35.
8 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 2.*
9 Ibid.
10 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 34, 49-50.
11 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), Chapter 2.*
12 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search of the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 36.
*Kindle version did not include page numbers.

Original Quandary

Abiogenesis is the assertion that all life naturalistically and mechanistically developed from inorganic, inanimate matter. Outdated textbooks characterize this seamless molecules-to-men progression as indubitably supported by the scientific evidence. Those who discern a break in the continuum may prefer panspermia in order to relocate the discontinuity to an unknown extraterrestrial site and/or intelligence. In reality, scientists struggle to sufficiently define “life.” As biochemist Juan Oró observed, “It is easier to recognize life…than it is to define it.”1

Mainstream researchers working in origins-of-life (OOL) disciplines acknowledge that there is currently no viable OOL scenario based on today’s knowledge of early Earth conditions. The environment was too hostile and the time constraints too short. Many molecular transitions proposed by various OOL models may be scientifically plausible under highly specified conditions, but their undirected progression without confounding interruption is not scientifically probable.2

In Chapter 1 of Schopf’s “Life’s Origin,” Oró interacts with the worldview implications of a secular and cosmic OOL. He offers a utopian prescription for “children on the Universe” to coexist peacefully on Earth: treat[ing] others as we would like them to treat us.”3 However, his naturalistic worldview provides no solution or redress when its pivotal Golden Rule (borrowed from Christianity) is not observed. Why peace rather than war when nature is “red in tooth and claw” and “survival of the fittest” has brought you thus far? Unfortunately, the material universe is a vast and uncaring parent, and to be its child is to be bereft of ultimate meaning and significance. Children of a Creator, however, possess an eternal identity and purpose. To be created intentionally and loved sacrificially confers a knowledge of one’s value.

But what humans expend great cost and energy to create a mechanistic form of life – a self-replicating machine, programmed by scientists and composed of organic compounds fashioned from existing matter? It might happen in the not-so-distant future.4 Yet are we so boundless in our character and capabilities that we might endow any future version of it with “inalienable rights”? Might we grant access to other dimensions to which we have no passage or enact transcendent moral law over which we have no governance?

Human endeavors to create life should not be unanticipated; we are creative because we are made in the image of our Creator. Nevertheless, even the successful development of synthetic life certainly would not be evidence of an unplanned advancement of molecular transitions on the early Earth. Rather, it would be a brilliantly contrived and highly controlled endeavor indicative of intelligent agency.

Hebrews 2:3-4 tells us that “…the builder of the house has more honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” Perhaps we will find that what is true of “houses” will be also be true of man-made organisms. As elegant as a synthetic cell might be, the sophistication of its human designer will far exceed it. Then, in turn, the grandeur of God is still greater. He is the Builder of all things, providing both the minds and materials for every innovative endeavor.

1 William J. Schopf, ed., Life’s Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 3.
2 Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe Press, 2014), 26-7.
3 William J. Schopf, ed., Life’s Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 40-1.
4 Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 20.

Science & Scripture: God Speaks Through the World and to the World

Visit Science: God Speaks Through the World to find regularly updated resources that integrate science and theology. Select Scripture: God Speaks to the World for articles and videos about the historicity and reliability of Holy Scripture.

God the Geometer

Title: God as Architect/Builder/Geometer/Craftsman
From: The Frontispiece of Bible Moralisee
Style: Gothic
Date: mid-13th C.
Location: France
Codex Vindobonensis 2554 (French, ca. 1250), in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.

Going Supernova

SN1994D_type_1a_supernova

SN 1994D (bright spot on the lower left), shines nearly as brightly as the adjacent NGC 4526 galaxy. Image credit: NASA/ESA“A supernova is an astronomical event that occurs during the last stellar evolutionary stages of a massive star’s life, whose dramatic and catastrophic destruction is marked by one final titanic explosion…Supernovae play a significant role in enriching the interstellar medium with the heavier atomic mass chemical elements. Furthermore, the expanding shock waves from supernova explosions can trigger the formation of new stars.” (Wikipedia)

Supernova explosions are among the most dramatic events witnessed in the night skies. In the throes of death, a massive and expanding star suddenly collapses. Gravity forcefully slams the star’s celestial substance into its stellar core to produce a high-energy shock wave and grand, explosive finale. A brilliant light suddenly appears in the sky, rendering our usual assortment of evening stars dim in contrast. A once giant star goes out, quite literally, with a bang. Its starlight will only linger a few months but its stardust will be distributed over great distances in the vastness of space, interacting with worlds far away for unknowable eons of time.

When visible from Earth, a supernova arrests the attention of those who realize its significance. Even those supernovae that go unrecognized, however, distribute various heavy metals to other planets. Most of Earth’s inhabitants do not realize that nearly the full complement of naturally occurring elements found in our periodic table were deposited here by multiple supernovae, each occurring at a particular time and place in relationship to our developing planet. The ashes of once giant stars provide the atomic building blocks for the life we experience and the advanced technologies we employ.

•••

In Scripture, we find a similar phenomenon. Sometimes a person transitions from being merely massive in their impact on the world around them to shining as a ultra-bright light with eternal influence. Samson is an example. He was renowned for the great military feats of his youth, but he also suffered greatly as he bore the consequences of sin. Yet he did not bear these consequences forever. He still had time to “go supernova.” He will ever be remembered for his final strategic attack on the Philistines (Judges 16: 28-30), and he is recorded among those who are known for their lives of faith (Hebrews 11:32).

In the New Testament we find other characters with different stories but similar stellar testimonies of faith in their final days and moments. Paul, for example, was the quintessential Pharisee, keeping every letter of the Law, minding every jot and tittle — yet struggling against the One he claimed to serve (Acts 9:1-19). He was a big star in his little world but yet to actually ignite. Eventually Paul was to be consumed by a ministry that would explosively shine the light of the Gospel beyond the world he knew and divinely distribute the inspired letters he penned throughout the Earth for millennia to follow.

Stephen, on the other hand, seemed to have lived a respectable and admirable life all along. The early church made him a deacon, but God made him a supernova light in the darkness around him. His face glowed with a transcendent radiance as he testified (before an unconverted Paul, still known as Saul) in his final, mortal moments (Acts 6:8-7:60). A larger-than-life character collapsed, reduced to ink on paper, but even now his story bursts forth from the pages of Scripture into the awareness of its readers for all time.

Throughout the Bible, many other “stars” have shone brightly for a brief time then quietly distributed their life-essential messages to far away places. They permeate not only space but also time for their words disseminate spiritual elements that edify the faith of those who come after them.

Even a guilty and dying thief made his way into the Holy Scriptures as he confessed the deity of Christ from a cross (Luke 23:32-43). Regardless of what our lives have yielded to this point and irrespective of the wrongs we have committed, let us pray to go supernova in the end — demonstrating God’s brilliant glory to a watching world even with our final breath.

trackMake your own tracks…
Learn more about your world and others in “Why the Universe Is the Way It Is” by Hugh Ross. “Starkindler” by Michael Card provides the perfect soundtrack as you start your exploration.

Copyright © 2016. The Literate Lyoness. All rights reserved.

Sons of Dust

Comet McNaught setting with the Sun over the Pacific Ocean

Comet McNaught over the Pacific Ocean at sunset. The Moon is shown to the right. Image credit: ESO/H.H.Heyer

Composed of icy cold dust and gas, comets are sometimes called the “dirty snowballs” of space. More recently, they have been characterized as “icy dirtballs.” Irrespective of monikers, one will occasionally streak into our solar system within view of Earth’s observers, and the show begins. As the comet bears in, the Sun heats its surface and a plume of jettisoned matter spews forth, glowing in the light that has unbound it and leaving a long trail of debris behind. A comet’s head may shine brighter in the sky than planets and stars, and its tail may stretch out for millions of miles behind.

•••

Creation

In Genesis 2:7 we read that “God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  Inorganic matter was enlivened to make a man; dust of the earth was infused with an essence from beyond it. Was this man, Adam, a “dusty spirit” or “spiritual dust”? Divinity had interfaced with dirt, and an image of the Trinity had transferred to a creature bearing body, soul, and spirit.

Rebellion

But to be the only creature taking on such grand characteristics of the transcendent Creator must have been too heady a proposition. Mankind found it difficult to believe that the full capacities of God were beyond his reach. Indeed, in a very mortal act of rebellion, something immortal died within. Now, rather than words of creation, words of judgment echoed in Adam’s ears: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19). Sent beyond the boundaries of the bounty, dust was ever in sight before him as he trod from Eden with his head hung low.

Remorse

How Adam wanted once again to sense that sweet breath that had filled, not just his lungs, but his very being from the beginning! For though he still drew breath, a different kind of Life within him was no longer sustained. Surely without it, he was not fully alive. The dust particles that had coalesced now seemed disparate, lacking integration, insufficiently cohering. The gravitas of his identity now seemed to wane as if something ethereal had effused from him. Eternity was in his heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and it was that Life-giving breath that had given weight and substance to everything he had been or ever could have become.

Repentance

Thousands of years later, David spoke words of comfort befitting all those like Adam:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)

David knew well his substance and pleaded for mercy. But he pleaded as a son. A son of dust.

Redemption

Redemption would ultimately come through one called the Son of Man. Among many miracles, he gave sight to a man born blind. The same One who had breathed into dry dust now spat to moisten it, and mud applied to staring, blank eyes reconfigured creation gone awry. Light once again penetrated darkness. The imagery evoked by this act was not lost as the man proclaimed to those still spiritually blind that “never since the world began” had such an act been heard of. (John 9:32)

O worship the King, all glorious above,
O gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.*

Renewal

Several times in Revelation we read of men who, in the wake of judgment, respond with increasing rebellion. They are subsequently characterized as those who “dwell on the earth.” They embrace their earthiness, and it consumes their identity as they outgas the breath of God within them. But “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14) They increasingly jettison their dustiness to become more and more breathy. And they find their citizenship elsewhere (Hebrews 11:16), a place where they must be changed to enter. (Isaiah 35:8, Revelation 21:27)

•••

As the Son makes his face shine upon our substance, may we reflect brightly his glory and leave a heritage of words, works, and worship trailing behind for all to see. For “those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)

*”O Worship the King.” Original lyrics by Ro­bert Grant, in Christ­ian Psalm­o­dy, by Ed­ward H. Bick­er­steth, 1833, alt. This ver­sion is a re­work­ing of lyr­ics by Wil­liam Kethe in the Ge­ne­van Psalt­er of 1561.

trackMake your own tracks…“Light Up the Sky” by The Afters, as well as 2nd Chapter of Acts’ version of “Worship the King” in their Hymns Collection.

Copyright © 2016. The Literate Lyoness. All rights reserved.