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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

15 Answers to John Rennie and Scientific American’s Nonsense—Argument #7
by Bert Thompson, Ph.D. and Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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7. [Creationists suggest that] evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on the earth.

Mr. Rennie tried to quietly whitewash this as an arbitrary matter. He did admit that “the origin of life remains very much a mystery” (talk about understatement!), yet in the same breath suggested:

…[B]iochemists have learned about how primitive nucleic acids, amino acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating, self-sustaining units, laying the foundation for cellular biochemistry. Astrochemical analyses hint that quantities of these compounds might have originated in space and fallen to earth in comets, a scenario that may solve the problem of how those constituents arose under the conditions that prevailed when our planet was young (2002, 287[1]:81).

What should be our response to all this? Evolution postulates that life arose from nonliving matter as a result of a purely naturalistic, completely mechanistic, and equally mysterious process on a prebiotic Earth. This process—which parades under such names as abiogenesis, chemical evolution, biopoiesis, or spontaneous generation—is one of the foundational concepts of organic evolution. When British evolutionist G.A. Kerkut published his classic book, The Implications of Evolution, he listed the seven nonprovable assumptions upon which evolution is based. At the very top of that list was: “The first assumption is that non-living things gave rise to living material, i.e., spontaneous generation occurred” (1960, p. 6).

A naturalistic origin of life is absolutely essential to the beginning, and thus the continuation, of evolution. Some evolutionists, realizing all too well the fact brought to light by Mr. Rennie—viz., “the origin of life remains very much a mystery”—have therefore struggled to distance themselves and their beloved theory from its earliest moorings. One such evolutionist was Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote:

Evolution is not the study of life’s ultimate origin as a path toward discerning its deepest meaning. Evolution, in fact, is not the study of origins at all. Even the more restricted (and scientifically permissible) question of life’s origin on our earth lies outside its domain. (This interesting problem, I suspect, falls primarily within the purview of chemistry and the physics of self-organizing systems.) Evolution studies the pathways and mechanisms of organic change following the origin of life (1987b, 96[10]:18, parenthetical comments in orig., emp. added).

This, admittedly, was a valiant (though doomed) attempt by Gould to distance himself from the problem presented by the obvious fact that if something cannot live, it obviously cannot evolve. What were the naturalistic origins of life on Earth? How did something nonliving give rise to something living? It is, says Mr. Rennie, “very much a mystery.”

Geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky recognized the inherent fallacy in the type of illogical argument Gould was trying so desperately to defend. He wrote:

Evolution comprises all the states of development of the universe; the cosmic, biological, and human or cultural developments. Attempts to restrict the concept of evolution to biology are gratuitous. Life is a product of the evolution of inorganic matter, and man is a product of the evolution of life (1967, 155:409, emp. added).

Life is indeed a “product of the evolution of inorganic matter.” And no amount of wishful thinking on the part of Dr. Gould or Mr. Rennie will alter that fact. And we suspect Mr. Rennie knows that quite well.

Rennie also stated that “astrochemical analyses hint that quantities of these compounds [necessary for spontaneous generation—BT/BH] might have originated in space and fallen to earth in comets.” This is becoming an all-too-familiar argument in the evolutionary camp these days. Evolutionists realize the immense difficulty of getting life started on Earth via naturalistic processes, as we documented under point number one in this review. Therefore, many of those same evolutionists have turned to outer space for the salvation of their troubled theory.

In an article with the intriguing title, “Cosmic Chemistry Gets Creative,” in the May 19, 2001 issue of Science News, Jessica Gorman noted that some scientists “…speculate that precursors to life might have arrived on an asteroid, meteorite, comet, or even interplanetary dust” (159:317). Yet such a scenario is not without its own set of built-in problems, as Gorman went on to note:

The next question is: Could those chemicals have traveled from their out-of-this-world venues to Earth’s surface? No one knows if the delicate chemicals could have survived the intense heat and pressure of an arrival via comet or meteorite. Nor does anyone know how an asteroid, meteorite, or comet impact might have altered Earth’s atmosphere locally, perhaps making it more friendly to life…. It may be that the best clues to life’s first molecules remain out in space. Researchers can theorize with computers about impacts, simulate them in the laboratory, and test meteorites that have fallen to Earth. But they’ve yet to get their hands on untained, extraterrestrial samples of space stuff (159:317).

Stanley Miller, who with Harold Urey performed the famous origin-of-life experiments in the early 1950s, has advocated the exact opposite view—that life must have evolved here on Earth, rather than in space, because space solves none of the problem associated with origin-of-life theories and, instead, adds the destructive rays associated with the long trip from outer space (1996). Additional problems with such a scenario have to do with the extreme cold, the great distances involved in outer space travel, and the heat and shock of entry. Russell Grigg has pointed out two additional obstacles, which are significant in their own right.

1. The need to achieve escape velocity. For a rock (or a spacecraft) to break free from the pull of gravity of its mother planet, it must achieve a speed called the escape velocity. For earth this is 11.2 km per second…(25,000 mph). As volcanoes do not eject materials at these speeds, scientists postulate that rocks are blasted from planets into space through giant asteroid collisions.

2. The tyranny of distance. The nearest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri. It is 4.3 light years away…. If a planet was orbiting Proxima Centauri and a rock was blasted from it at the speed of earth’s escape velocity, the object would take 115,000 years to get here. Any rock coming from an Earth-sized planet at the comparatively close distance of 40 light years away (or 1/2500th of the diameter of the Milky Way) would take over a million years to get here (2000, 22[4]:42, emp. in orig.).

All other stars, and any planets possibly associated with them, are even farther away. The temperature during such hypothetical trips would be near absolute zero, and constant bombardment by cosmic rays would worsen the situation. Are the problems somehow lessened by the suggestion that “just” the “raw materials” such as amino acids might have made the trip successfully? No, they are not. In his 2002 book, How Life Began, Thomas F. Heinze addressed this very point.

At this time, any appeal to life having started somewhere else is another way of saying, “Once upon a time, far far away!” Some who now recognize this fact claim that rather than life coming from outer space, only the raw materials, from which life could be made, came. Some even cite a slightly higher ratio of left-handed amino acids on a few meteorites. When you read their statements, remember that living things do not just require that more than half of their amino acids be left-handed. They must all be left-handed. In addition, the correct raw materials have been purchased in chemical supply stores, and put together in laboratories. They don’t form life. If all left-handed amino acids could be found in space, they would be stuck with the same problems that caused people to look to space in the first place: Amino acids would return to half left- and half-right handed. Other materials necessary for life would break down, and for reasons we have already examined, no DNA, RNA, lipids, or proteins would form (p. 131, emp. added).

So, when all is said and done, the evolutionist finds himself right back where he started. The naturalistic beginnings of life on Earth are impossible, and the naturalistic beginnings of life in outer space are impossible. What’s left?

Furthermore, perhaps this would be a good time to remind Mr. Rennie of the fundamental law of biology—the law of biogenesis. This law was set forth many years ago to dictate what both theory and experimental evidence showed to be true among living organisms—that life comes only from preceding life, and perpetuates itself by reproducing only its own kind or type. As David Kirk correctly remarked:

By the end of the nineteenth century there was general agreement that life cannot arise from the nonliving under conditions that now exist upon our planet. The dictum “All life from preexisting life” became the dogma of modern biology, from which no reasonable man could be expected to dissent (1975, p. 7).

The experiments that formed the ultimate basis of this law were first carried out by such men as Francesco Redi (1688) and Lazarro Spallanzani (1799) in Italy, Louis Pasteur (1860) in France, and Rudolph Virchow (1858) in Germany. It was Virchow who documented that cells do not arise from amorphous matter, but instead come only from preexisting cells. The Encyclopaedia Britannica stated concerning Virchow that “His aphorism ‘omnis cellula e cellula’ (every cell arises from a preexisting cell) ranks with Pasteur’s ‘omne vivum e vivo’ (every living thing arises from a preexisting living thing) among the most revolutionary generalizations of biology” (see Ackerknect, 1973, p. 35).

Down through the centuries, countless thousands of scientists in various disciplines have established the law of biogenesis as just that—a scientific law stating that life comes only from preexisting life and that of its kind. Interestingly, the law of biogenesis was firmly established in science long before the contrivance of modern evolutionary theories. Also of considerable interest is the fact that students are consistently taught in high school and college biology classes the tremendous impact of, for example, Pasteur’s work on the false concept of spontaneous generation. Students are given, in great detail, the historical scenario of how Pasteur triumphed over “mythology” and provided science “its finest hour” as he discredited the then-popular concept of spontaneous generation. Then, with almost the next breath, those same students are informed by their professor that evolution is supposed to have started via spontaneous generation.

This point may have escaped some students, but it has not been lost on evolutionary scholars, who confess to having some difficulty with the problem posed by the law of biogenesis. Simpson and Beck, in their biology textbook, Life: An Introduction to Biology, stated that “...there is no serious doubt that biogenesis is the rule, that life comes only from other life, that a cell, the unit of life, is always and exclusively the product or offspring of another cell” (1965, p 144, emp. added). Martin A. Moe, writing in the December 1981 issue of Science Digest, put it in these difficult-to-misunderstand words:

A century of sensational discoveries in the biological sciences has taught us that life arises only from life, that the nucleus governs the cell through the molecular mechanisms of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and that the amount of DNA and its structure determine not only the nature of the species but also the characteristics of individuals (p. 36, emp. added).

Creationists certainly agree. R.L. Wysong, in his book, The Creation-Evolution Controversy, commented:

The creationist is quick to remind evolutionists that biopoiesis and evolution describe events that stand in stark naked contradiction to an established law. The law of biogenesis says life arises only from preexisting life, biopoiesis says life sprang from dead chemicals; evolution states that life forms give rise to new, improved and different life forms, the law of biogenesis says that kinds only reproduce their own kinds. Evolutionists are not oblivious to this law. They simply question it. They say that spontaneous generation was disproved under the conditions of the experimental models of Pasteur, Redi, and Spallanzani. This, they contend, does not preclude the spontaneous formation of life under different conditions. To this, the creationist replies that even given the artificial conditions and intelligent maneuverings of biopoiesis experiments, life has still not “spontaneously generated.” ...Until such a time as life is observed to spontaneously generate, the creationist insists the law of biogenesis stands! (1976, pp. 182,185).

Moore and Slusher, in their text, Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity, observed: “Historically the point of view that life comes only from life has been so well established through the facts revealed by experiment that it is called the Law of Biogenesis.” In a footnote, the authors stated further: “Some scientists call this a superlaw, or a law about laws. Regardless of terminology, biogenesis has the highest rank in these levels of generalization” (1974, p. 74, emp. in orig.).

Has the law of biogenesis somehow been disproved? On the contrary, every piece of available scientific evidence still supports the basic concept that life arises only from preexisting life. Is biogenesis no longer an “actual regularity in nature”? On the contrary, every piece of available scientific information we possess shows that it is, in fact, just that—an actual regularity in nature. Has biogenesis somehow ceased being experimentally reproducible? No. Why, then, do evolutionists seemingly ignore this important law? The answer, it would seem, is obvious. If evolutionists accept biogenesis as a law—an actual regularity in nature—how could evolution ever get started? Biogenesis (the law of biogenesis) represents the complete undoing of evolutionary theory from the ground floor up. Little wonder, then, that some modern-day evolutionists have ignored the implications of the law of biogenesis.

Regardless of their efforts, and the success or failure with which those efforts eventually meet, one thing is for certain. The “dogma of modern biology, from which no reasonable man could be expected to dissent,” is still biogenesis. J.W.N. Sullivan, brilliant scientist of a generation ago, penned these words, which are as applicable today as the day he wrote them.

The beginning of the evolutionary process raises a question which is yet unanswerable. What was the origin of life on this planet? Until fairly recent times there was a pretty general belief in the occurrence of “spontaneous generation.”...But careful experiments, notably those of Pasteur, showed that this conclusion was due to imperfect observation, and it became an accepted doctrine that life never arises except from life. So far as the actual evidence goes, this is still the only possible conclusion. But since it is a conclusion that seems to lead back to some supernatural creative act, it is a conclusion that scientific men find very difficult of acceptance (1933, p. 94, emp. added).

We wonder, Mr. Rennie—are you unwilling to accept that “life never arises except from life” because it “leads back to some supernatural creative act,” and because the implication enforces the concept that behind such a “creative act” stands a Creator?

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