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Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off

Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off

3.9 7
by Fazale Rana, Hugh Ross
Imagine primordial Earth, a churning cauldron of liquefied rock. Steaming, seething -- a vast desolate wasteland, inhospitable to life. Yet somehow first life appeared. Maybe chemicals in a primordial soup spontaneously spawned a single-celled creature that continued to evolve. Or perhaps a transcendent Creator formed and nurtured the initial life forms. To determine


Imagine primordial Earth, a churning cauldron of liquefied rock. Steaming, seething -- a vast desolate wasteland, inhospitable to life. Yet somehow first life appeared. Maybe chemicals in a primordial soup spontaneously spawned a single-celled creature that continued to evolve. Or perhaps a transcendent Creator formed and nurtured the initial life forms. To determine what really happened requires a framework to evaluate the evidence. For the first time in print, Dr. Rana and Dr. Ross present a scientific model for the creation of first life on Earth -- a model based on the Bible. They present testable predictions for this life-origins scenario and for the competing naturalistic scenarios. Which model withstands the rigorous scrutiny of science and the tests of time? The one that does gives insight to a deeper question: Why would the first life forms precede human life by billions of years?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Convinced that "creation is a testable idea that can fall within the domain of science," biochemist Rana and astrophysicist Ross do not shrink from scientific findings about the long and tumultuous history of the earth. Conceding that "the beginning of life (relative to cosmic history) under hellacious conditions poses initial problems for creationists and evolutionists alike," the authors argue that the origin and survival of life on earth over the past 3.8 billion years now seen by most researchers as an awesomely improbable set of events parallels biblical models of God "hover[ing] over early earth like a mother eagle brooding over her young." Although Rana and Ross are Christian apologists with the "Reasons to Believe" organization, their forays into theology are generally modest and brief. Their primary focus is compiling results from biology, chemistry and geology that illustrate how deeply puzzling the origin of life has become. Discussions of the "primordial soup" of prebiotic chemistry, the enigmatic origin of cell membranes and homochirality (the unexplained preponderance of left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars essential to life) all take readers further than is typical in the creation/evolution literature. Whether or not Rana and Ross quite prove a creation model proof being in the eye of the beholder they certainly tell a compelling story of the early history of life that inspires curiosity and a sense of wonder at what is still, for all we know, a unique habitable and inhabited world. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Tyndale House Publishers
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Read an Excerpt


Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off
By Fazalle Rana Hugh Ross


Copyright © 2004 Reasons To Believe
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-57683-344-5

Chapter One


Almost every individual recognizes that humanity is a part of the web of life on this planet. People want to know where life came from, in order to have a better sense of place in the universe. The search for life's origin thus becomes no dispassionate journey but a pilgrimage filled with significance. This trek draws each person onward with the nagging need to answer the ultimate question: What is the meaning of existence?

In search of answers for life's origin, there are two general directions from which to choose-evolution and creation. Each of these concepts raises a multitude of questions. The goal of this book is to bring the answers to some of these questions into clearer focus and to let the known scientific facts determine which theory better solves the mystery behind life's beginning. The ultimate purpose is to discover the truth.

Evolution, derived from naturalism (the belief that the physical universe comprises all reality), is the better known and preferred theory in many circles. To some, it seems the only possible pathway to knowledge of life's start. And certainly this concept has a long and distinguished history, counting among its advocates many of modern history's greatest thinkers. But whether this idea makes the most sense, based on what is known about the initial appearance of life, remains to be seen.

Can evolution's theory of abiogenesis (the birth of life from nonlife) be demonstrated as true? If abiogenesis lacks scientific support, then evolutionary theory stands by blind faith alone. For biology to be framed in naturalistic terms, scientists must demonstrate the continuum from a pre-biotic mixture of chemicals through the most complex life forms. However, if something more than nature, namely the supernatural, was involved in life's origin, then the door is open for viewing biological phenomena from a creation perspective.

The history behind the current state of origin-of-life science begins the investigation.

A Brief History

Scientific explanations for the origin of life have a colorful history over the last 150 years. Along the way, this discipline has taken a number of remarkable twists and turns.

Darwinism. Biology moved with full force into the materialistic arena in the late 1850s with the publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. Darwin and those who accepted the essence of his ideas no longer regarded species as the fixed product of divine creative activity. Rather, Darwinists viewed species as evolving from one form into the next strictly through natural mechanisms-inheritable variation operated on by natural selection. They believed that all life throughout Earth's history stemmed from a single form or a few original forms.

Darwin did not address the origin of life directly until more than a decade after publication of his now famous book. His theory dealt only with life's transformation once it existed. In 1871 he advanced the bold idea that life could have emerged on Earth through chemical processes involving ammonia, phosphates, and other inorganic materials.

Darwin's contemporaries, such as T. H. Huxley and Ernst Haeckel, suggested similar pathways to the first life form. Haeckel, one of Darwin's leading German supporters, proposed the existence of ancient creatures that occupied an intermediate position between life and nonlife. Haeckel called these predecessors to life "monera" and thought them to be formless lumps of gel with the capacity for reproduction. Shortly after Haeckel advanced his hypothesis, Huxley provided observational support for the idea. He detected gelatinous lumps in ocean-floor mud and interpreted them as moneran remains.

The protoplasmic theory of the cell-the idea that the cell consists of a wall surrounding a nucleus and homogeneous jellylike protoplasm-made the early naturalistic explanations of abiogenesis seem plausible. As early as the 1830s biologists Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann, working independently, advanced the theory that all life is composed of units called "cells." Observational capacity at that time limited biologists' view of the cell to three features: the cell wall, the nucleus, and the protoplasm.

When biologists and chemists focused attention on the protoplasm in the 1850s, they began to envision chemical routes that could possibly produce what they believed to be the single ingredient of the cell's protoplasm. For example, German chemist Edward Pflüger suggested that simple carbon- and nitrogen-containing compounds on early Earth underwent a series of transformations to produce the single complex molecule comprising cellular protoplasm.

by the end of the nineteenth century, with the rise of the new field of biochemistry, the protoplasmic view of the cell waned. Scientists recognized that the cell's protoplasm is a chemically complex system. This complexity became apparent with the discovery of enzymes in the cell's protoplasm, capable of catalyzing a large number of chemical reactions. With the demise of the protoplasmic model, the earliest ideas about abiogenesis came to an end. At the same time, chemical studies indicated that Huxley's "moneran" remains were simply chemical artifacts-calcium sulfate precipitate caused by alcohol addition to mud samples.

Panspermia. In the late nineteenth century, an entirely different approach to the origin-of-life question became popular. Many scientists began to regard life, like matter, as eternal. This idea left no room for a creator. It embraced materialism and circumvented the question of a beginning by regarding life as always present in the universe. Scientists referred to this concept as panspermia-"everywhere life's seeds."

Proponents of this theory viewed life as qualitatively different from matter, yet considered it an inherent part of the universe. Panspermia gained legitimate support from the prevailing view that the universe is eternal and infinite. Also integral to the concept was the recognition that biological organization is far too complex to emerge by the random processes that comprise abiogenesis.

Many prominent scientists of the time, such as Lord Kelvin, Hermann von Helmholtz, and Nobel laureate Svante Arrhenius, argued vigorously for panspermia. Research efforts involved identifying mechanisms that could transport life throughout the universe. Life's origin on Earth equated to life's first arrival under survivable conditions. Kelvin and von Helmholtz thought that meteorites transported the first life forms to Earth. Arrhenius suggested that naked bacterial spores, or spores associated with dust particles, prevailed throughout the universe. He proposed the idea that radiation pressure from stellar systems propelled the spores through interstellar space.

Panspermia lost its appeal in the early twentieth century as cosmologists began to recognize from Einstein's theory of general relativity and Edwin Hubble's observations of space's expansion that the universe had a beginning. Other experiments showed that ultraviolet radiation kills bacterial spores. Because this deadly ultraviolet radiation permeates interstellar space, bacteria could not have survived interstellar journeys. The evidence seemed to be turning against panspermia.

Neovitalism. Given the vast complexity of life and the complicated problems with abiogenesis and panspermia, most scientists of the early 1900s gave up trying to discover how life originated. Life's beginning was considered a profound mystery.

Other scientists began to argue for a special "life force." A scientific minority emerged that gave attention to this concept, termed neovitalism. One leading proponent, Hans Driesch, argued that the hypothesized life force mysteriously propagated from one generation to the next and that the origin-of-life question stood beyond reach.

The Oparin-Haldane hypothesis. Reacting to this neovitalism, Russian biochemist Alexander I. Oparin and British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane independently provided a detailed hypothesis for abiogenesis in the 1920s. Though initially rejected by much of the scientific community, the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis became the chief organizing principle in origin-of-life research through the 1970s, and in some form it persists today. Oparin and Haldane were the first to propose the mechanism for life's origin as part of a detailed scientific model.

That model presented stepwise pathways from inorganic systems on primordial Earth to the emergence of Earth's first living entities. They postulated an early atmosphere devoid of oxygen and dominated by reducing gases-hydrogen, ammonia, methane, and water vapor. Within this gas mix, energy discharges formed prebiotic molecules that accumulated in Earth's oceans to form a primordial soup. Chemical reactions then led step by step to the first life forms.

Oparin and Haldane differed regarding the intermediates to life. Oparin viewed the transitional molecular system as protein aggregates, whereas Haldane regarded life's intermediate as a large self-replicating molecule.

Not until the 1950s did anyone offer significant experimental verification for the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis. Stanley Miller, a student of Nobel laureate Harold Urey at the University of Chicago, performed the now famous spark-discharge experiments, launching the origin-of-life research program as a formal scientific discipline. His experiments produced amino acids and other organics by passing an electrical discharge through a gas mixture devoid of oxygen, and his success inaugurated a series of similar experiments by other scientists. Results seemed to continually validate Oparin's and Haldane's ideas. Giddy with Miller's accomplishment, many scientists predicted the origin-of-life problem would be solved in the next few decades.

Chemical analysis of a meteorite that fell in Murchison, Australia (in 1969) further fueled the optimism and sense of accomplishment within the origin-of-life research community. Scientists looked to the Murchison meteorite and others like it as a proxy for the chemistry operating on early Earth because they are from the era when the solar system formed. The organic compounds found in the Murchison meteorite resemble in quantity and type those formed in laboratory simulation experiments.

Excitement grew as researcher Sidney Fox achieved the next important milestone in the 1970s. Fox and his lab group coaxed amino acids to condense, forming "proteinoids." Some of these compounds-closely related to proteins in structure-possessed the ability to catalyze, or assist, chemical reactions. Fox and his coworkers observed that under certain conditions proteinoids aggregated to form microspheres. These microspheres superficially resemble cells.


While earlier studies focused on finding chemical routes that produced life's molecular building blocks, scientists in the mid-1980s and 1990s began to assess the operation of these chemical pathways on early Earth. Their research seemed to turn up more dead ends than fruitful avenues to study. They also started probing the geochemical and fossil records of Earth's oldest rocks-data that establish time constraints for beginning-of-life scenarios. In addition, researchers began applying information theory to the origin-of-life dilemma and started to understand life's minimal complexity. Problems grew increasingly insurmountable. The thrills of the early decades of research gave way to growing frustration and pessimism.

Currently, scientists stand no closer to understanding life's beginning than they did when Stanley Miller conducted his first experiments fifty years ago. Though some scientists assert that the research is in its infancy, significant resources have been brought to bear on the origin-of-life question over the past five decades. To date, no real answers have emerged. Rather, a misguided approach has essentially stalled the research program.

Best-selling author Paul Davies makes this point in his book The Fifth Miracle:

When I set out to write this book, I was convinced that science was close to wrapping up the mystery of life's origin. ... Having spent a year or two researching the field, I am now of the opinion that there remains a huge gulf in our understanding.... This gulf in understanding is not merely ignorance about certain technical details; it is a major conceptual lacuna.

Davies' statements likely surprise most people, including scientists. From popular media reports, one would think researchers have all but finalized the explanation for life's beginning. But such is not the case.

Davies explains why this mismatch persists between public perception and stark reality:

Many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled. There seems to be two reasons for their unease. First, they feel it opens the door to religious fundamentalists and their god-of-the-gaps pseudoexplanations. Second, they worry that a frank admission of ignorance will undermine funding.

So scientists are keeping quiet and searching for new directions in which to proceed. Their behind-the-scenes frustration became evident (to these authors) at the combined meetings of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life and the International Conference on the Origin of Life, held both in 1999 at the University of California, San Diego, and in 2002 in Oaxaca, Mexico (hereafter referred to as ISSOL 1999 or ISSOL 2002). This joint scientific meeting, held every three years, attracts leading origin-of-life investigators from around the world and serves as a platform for them to share and discuss their latest findings.

The atmosphere at such gatherings typically crackles with anticipation as participants gather to hear about new discoveries and breakthroughs. However, at both of these last two ISSOL events, a grim mood laced with desperation prevailed. Participants acknowledged that some fifty years of well-funded investigation have led to one barricade after another. The old intractable problems remain as new ones come to light.

Origin-of-life investigators have successfully discovered many plausible chemical routes, from simple compounds to biologically important compounds. Yet for other critical biomolecules no pathways are known-in fact, they may not exist. For those molecules with identified synthetic routes, in many cases their chemical pathways would likely be blocked by early Earth's conditions. Origin-of-life researchers cannot identify any location on primordial Earth suitable for production of prebiotic molecules.


Excerpted from ORIGINS of LIFE by Fazalle Rana Hugh Ross Copyright © 2004 by Reasons To Believe. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book
ria bela More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Finally, a book that uses widely-accepted scientific evidence instead of 'fringe-science' to engage the question of life's origins. The authors take the perspective of Biblical creation, but accept the publicly available peer-reviewed scientific data as accurate. From that perspective, this is a book that can be read by adherents to evolution or creation without fear of sacrificing scientific (or Biblical) integrity. This is definitely NOT a 'young-earth creationist' book: the authors accept a 4.6-billion-year-old earth. They do not use the 'God of the gaps' mode of argumentation, but rather posit a comparison of an evolutionary model vs. an old-earth creation model using data both groups agree is accurate. What is novel about this book is that the authors actually propose a testable creation model, making their creation model scientifically testable. They readily admit that their model is open to revision (as all good scientific models should be) and have courageously placed their model into public discourse for testing. The claim by some naturalists that Biblical creation is 'unscientific' or 'untestable' has in this book been refuted. The 'predictions' the authors pose are not always the strongest (although some are very strong), but overall they have taken a scientific position that now opens the door to scientific discourse on the subject. Since the authors state up front that this is just the starting point in the discourse and positing of their model, an intellecually charitable and honest review of their work will produce finally some meaningful answers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I can't believe that Keith, the retired chemical engineer, read this book. I challenege Keith to show even one scientific mistake in this book. This book is amazingly thorough from a scientific standpoint. This book represents the most complete and up to date look at the origin of life that I have ever come across. The authors describe their scientific creation model and the competing models in thorough detail. Citing hundreds of recent scientific papers and discoveries, the authors effectively show that their testable creation model is the best explanation for the evidence. By carefully explaining each technical area entered, the authors have allowed readers without much scientific background to appreciate the detailed evidence for the origin of life provided by nature. Best of all, the authors make specific predictions about what should be discovered in the future if their model is correct. This emphasis on testability and credibility should satisfy any scientifically minded person.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This books is greater than all science books ever written by any scientist
Guest More than 1 year ago
The only reason to give this book 1 star is that scientists may be interested in finding scientific errors and recent creationists will be challenged by the claim that Genesis is consistent with an old Earth.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The authors use accepted scientific explanations to interpret biblical writings. As far as I can see there is nothing original here. The fallacy I see here is that you still have to take it on faith that there is a Creator who created everything. Also there is a stretch in the reading they give the Scripture--they read into it what is not there. Like nourishing the seed of life for verses Genesis 1:1-3. That the Creator had to recreate the life-seed if it was destroyed. As Charles Darwin said, there are many interpretations to the same facts . When he saw that the same evidence he used to draw his conclusions for evolution, others could use the same evidences to draw a different set of conclusions. Until they can give concrete evidence for the existence of a supernatural Creator, they will still be walking on shaky ground.