On the Origin of Life

Lucy: Thanks for the coffee, Carl. Is this your way of thanking me for showing you the scientific evidence that points to the existence of God?

Carl: You're welcome, but no thanks, Lucy. I understand how the Big Bang and our expanding universe points back to a moment of creation, but remember that this theory is relatively new and hasn't yet stood the test of time.

Lucy: If you're saying that we shouldn't treat scientific theories as dogma, I certainly agree with you. That said, what do you think about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics? If the universe has always existed it would have already have died a heat death. The formulation of the 2nd Law may be relatively recent, but even a caveman would have known about it. What do you think Thor would have thought as the fire in his cave slowly died.

Carl: I don't know and I hate to ask. ... OK, What?

Lucy: He would probably have reasoned this way: "Little fire in cave go out. Big fire in sky will go out too!"

Carl: I knew I shouldn't have asked.

Lucy: The thing I find surprising is that scientists knew about the 2nd Law long before Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding and yet many of them held onto a belief in an eternal universe. It's almost that they wanted God not to exist despite the evidence.

Carl: Keep in mind, Lucy, that scientists are paid to develop naturalistic and materialistic theories of nature. They are not paid to infer Intelligent Design. They are not paid to classify things into two boxes: one for unintelligently designed and the other for intelligently designed things. They do not reward each other with grants and awards to give your God any credit for what may seem patently obvious to you.

Lucy: But isn't it obvious that nature could not have had a natural cause if nature didn't exist to cause anything? Who do you think put the material in Materialism?

Carl: Would you be happier if I confessed to be an agnostic rather than an atheist?

Lucy: It is a step toward having an open mind, Carl, and a long way from being what Richard Dawkins called an "intellectually fulfilled atheist." He might as well have called himself an "intellectually closed-minded atheist." You don't want to be known as that, do you?

Carl: Fine. I'll grant you that the evidence logically infers a creator of the Cosmos, but Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory and certainly not scientific proof.

Lucy: I shouldn't have to remind you that while proofs exist in mathematics, they don't exist in science. The closet you'll come to a proof in science might be the Law of Biogenesis.

Did you know that from the time of the ancient Romans until the late nineteenth century, it was generally accepted that some life forms arose spontaneously from non-living matter? Such "spontaneous generation" appeared to occur primarily in decaying matter. And get this: a seventeenth century recipe for the spontaneous production of mice required placing sweaty underwear and husks of wheat in an open-mouthed jar, then waiting for about 3 weeks, during which time it was believed that the sweat from the underwear would penetrate the husks of wheat, changing them into mice.

Carl: That's hard to believe.

Lucy: But it's true. People believed that until Pasteur, who was a Christian I might add, performed an experiment showing that neither mice, nor lice nor any microorganism would ever crawl out of his flask spontaneously. As Nobel Laureate, George Wald, put it,

"When it comes to the origin of life, we have only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of God. There is no third possibility...Spontaneous generation was scientifically disproved one hundred years ago by Louis Pasteur, Spellanzani, Reddy and others. That leads us scientifically to only one possible conclusion -- that life arose as a supernatural creative act of God...I will not accept that philosophically because I do not want to believe in God. Therefore, I choose to believe in that which I know is scientifically impossible, spontaneous generation arising to evolution." - George Wald, Scientific American, August, 1954.

The gap between non-life and life has only grown larger since 1954 so I have to ask you if you choose to believe in that which you should know is "scientifically impossible".

Carl: If I have to believe in only one impossible thing before breakfast this would be it. Scientists studying the origin of life have explored numerous plausible scenarios for the origin of life since 1954 so to say it's impossible is to put an end to scientific investigation. (He begins humming "to dream the impossible dream" and orders another cup of espresso.)

Lucy: Carl, scientists have always observed that new life only comes from pre-existing life. If they ever create life in the lab, it will only show that information and intelligence were necessary to properly arrange carefully selected chemical components into the first life form.

Carl: You're trying to bring your God-of-the-gaps into the equation aren't you?

Lucy: No, I'm trying to convince you that your god-of-the-gaps is effectively dead despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy. In fact, your god of random chemical reactions ultimately leads away from life not toward it. Even if scientists were 99% of the way to creating the simplest possible life form, if they took a coffee break, their creation would immediately begin to decompose. Natural processes alone lead to decomposition of nonliving things and eventually death to all living things. It isn't the job of scientists to create materialistic origins myths (a job more fitting for atheists doing atheology), but rather to explain how nature actually functions. This would include explaining the chemical cross-reactions that prevent spontaneous generation from occurring.

Carl: Fine. But in the meantime I'm keeping my underwear dry and away from any wheat.

Lucy: Just be sure to keep the origin and evolution of life in the context of the origin of the universe. Remember that either God has always existed or the universe has always existed and it's not the universe. (She hums a few bars of "nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever will." before offering to buy Carl his next cup of coffee.)

Carl: Thanks, Lucy, as long as you don't offer those origin of life scientists a coffee break as well. I really have faith that they will eventually create life.

Lucy: Thereby proving that no intelligence whatsoever was required?

Carl: OK, OK, I get your point. But I just don't buy into your God of the Bible. Scientists have clearly shown that the universe and life weren't created in six days.

Lucy: Let's talk about that next time, Carl. I enjoyed our conversation today and thanks again for the coffee. In the meantime, you might be thankful for your Sabbatical. You know who to thank, don't you?

… to be continued.


What scientists are saying about the origin of life.

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Origin of Life on YouTube