This article was first published in the December 2003 ABR Electronic Newsletter.
Evolutionists theorize that life sprang from non-life early in Earth's history. This supposedly happened when a bolt of lightning struck the "prebiotic soup," the term for the oceans that evolutionists believe were teeming with chemical compounds that would eventually form the building blocks of life. However, this speculative scenario is constantly being refuted and then replaced by new ones, which in turn get shot down. According to Antonio Lazcano, professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and president of the International Society for the Study of the Origins of Life, "those trying to discover the origins of life and study the earliest stages of biological evolution have an uphill quest: Over and over it happens that a theory or explanation believed to be well established has to be abandoned or rethought in the light of new findings" (Lazcano 2003: 452).
The most famous of these scenarios is the experiment by Stanley Miller of the University of Chicago. In the 1950's, he made a concoction of the chemicals that were believed to have comprised the "prebiotic soup" out of which life theoretically sprang. He passed an electric charge through this mixture in imitation of lightning, and discovered that amino acids did indeed form in the chemicals. The find was-and sometimes still is-trumpeted as proof of the evolutionists' scenario of the formation of life. "But nowadays," Lazcano points out, "geoscientists tend to doubt that the conditions of the prebiotic environment were as reducing as Miller and others had assumed" (ibid.). In chemistry, "to reduce" means to remove the oxygen from. In other words, the conditions Miller created in his laboratory did not match the actual conditions of the early Earth.
Other hypothesized scenarios have replaced Miller's experiment. One of them is based on the fact that RNA has catalytic properties (that is, properties which speed up reactions that would otherwise take place very slowly). Evolutionists believe that RNA formed by chance from various compounds floating in the prebiotic soup; once formed, RNA then bridged the gap between the first proteins and the first DNA strands. "However," Lazcano points out, "it is now generally accepted that RNA is a frail polymer unlikely to have undergone prebiotic synthesis and accumulation" (ibid.). In other words, RNA is too fragile to have been formed by itself from various compounds floating in the prebiotic soup.
Some evolutionists have claimed that there is fossil evidence for the first one-celled life-forms in extremely ancient times. If these discoveries were indeed fossilized life-forms, Darwinism would receive a huge boost. "But," Lazcano notes, "several authors have contested the biological origin of the structures and chemical signatures described" by the proponents of this theory (ibid.).
Another theory holds that the first life-forms were highly similar to modern "extremophiles," the recently discovered one-celled organisms that dwell in extremely cold or scalding hot conditions. Proponents of this theory claim that the ability of scientists to sequence the genomes of living organisms allows them to reach such a conclusion. "But," cautions Lazcano, "as more and more completely sequenced cellular genomes have become available, their analysis has shown that an extensive amount of horizontal transfer of genes occurred, leading many to wonder whether we will ever untangle the weblike phylogenies of early cell evolution" (ibid.).
Lazcano is referring to the discovery that strands of DNA can pass between different species of primitive life-forms, thus refuting the Darwinian picture of an evolutionary tree sprouting outward and upward from an original, one-celled organism. Instead, the species of life on Earth form an extremely complex web, with new species originating not through Darwinian evolution but through the horizontal (and sometimes lateral, or sideways) transfer of genes from one species to another. It is thus impossible to use the sequenced genomes of various species to trace the alleged evolutionary history of life back to a single, common ancestor.
Recommended Resources for Further Study
Lazcano, A. 2003. The Never-Ending Story. American Scientist 91, no. 5.
Stephen Caesar holds his master's degree in anthropology/archaeology from Harvard. He is a staff member at Associates for Biblical Research.