I was working on my `Evolution Quotes Book' yesterday and I came across some great quotes on the origin of life by Franklin M. Harold, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Colorado State University.
[Graphic: "Misconception: `Evolution is a theory about the origin of life'", Berkeley University]
He is also author of "The Way of the Cell" (2001), which I have but have only dipped into (it is future holiday reading along with Simon Conway Morris' "Life's Solution" and Sean Carroll's "Endless Forms Most Beautiful").
The quotes are from an article of Harold's, "The Mother of All Problems" in the December 2001 issue of a journal ASM News (now called Microbe), published by the American Society of Microbiology. The article does not appear to be webbed anywhere, so I have webbed a text version of it under my creation/evolution articles. Here are the quotes, prefaced by my comments.
The origin of life is "a black hole at the very foundation of biological science ":
"Slowly, and at times painfully, we are muddling towards an appreciation of how the molecular parts relate to the cell as a whole. We are also making progress in understanding cell evolution, and the genesis of that great tree of all life. By contrast, what remains altogether mysterious is just how living systems relate to the nonliving world of chemistry and physics from which they presumably sprang. The black hole at the very foundation of biological science is the origin of cells, and of life." (Harold, F.M., "The Mother of All Problems," ASM News, American Society of Microbiology, December, 2001).
The "conventional framework," which is the entire naturalistic prebiological evolution paradigm, has "no pertinent evidence whatever from the geological record supporting" it and therefore the entire "voluminous literature" including those which "claim support from laboratory experiments" are just "imaginative tales" which makes it "practically impossible" to , gauge "how seriously one should take" them:
"Here again we have a conventional framework, parts of which go back to the 1930s, that structures our thinking. It calls for a broth of organic substances formed by chemical processes on the lifeless earth. Somehow, in a favorable locale, a selection of the `correct' precursors coalesced into a primordial cell; alternatively, a molecule capable of self-replication arose by chance, and somehow `learned' to make proteins and then cells. The notion that life began with free, self-replicating RNA molecules, which begat primordial cells based on ribozymes, holds particular fascination for molecular biologists. A voluminous literature records all sorts of variations on these themes, some of which claim support from laboratory experiments. Unfortunately, there is no pertinent evidence whatever from the geological record supporting this framework and, in its absence, gauging how seriously one should take all these imaginative tales proves practically impossible." (Harold, 2001).
Interestingly Harold adds that "even the more persuasive tales come up woefully short on the central issue, which is the origin of cells" that is, "organized molecular assemblages that draw matter and energy into themselves" and then "reproduce their own structure":
"To my mind, even the more persuasive tales come up woefully short on the central issue, which is the origin of cells. Whence came organized molecular assemblages that draw matter and energy into themselves, reproduce their own structure, and evolve over time?" (Harold, 2001).
This accords with my understanding that the problem of the origin of life is not the problem of the origin of the chemicals (although that would be enough), but the problem of the origin of the minimal, self-replicating cell (see my two-part post, The Minimal Cell: A Problem of Evolution 1/2 and 2/2).
The origin of life is "the hardest nut of all" to crack and yet is also "the most consequential question in all of biology." But there is not "even a plausible hypothesis," let alone "evidence as to how this came about," and in their absence, that "cells arose by some sort of evolutionary process" is "merely a belief-a leap of faith:
"I do not mean to disparage serious scholars who are doing their level best to crack the hardest nut of all. Quite the contrary: I would argue that, if our purpose is to understand life, the origin of life is the most consequential question in all of biology. It holds the key to understanding the relationship between the living and the inanimate, the quick and the dead. Each new bit of evidence strengthens our belief that organisms obey the laws of chemistry and physics; and scientific investigations have turned up no traces of a vital force to nurture the wellspring of life. We assume, then, that cells are material systems that arose by some sort of evolutionary process four billion years ago here on earth (or conceivably, someplace else). I share this premise, but feel obliged to note that, in the absence of evidence as to how this came about (or even of a plausible hypothesis), this explanation is merely a belief-a leap of faith." (Harold, 2001).
But then here is the kicker, until naturalistic science actually "bridges" this "widest" of "all the gaps in" its "understanding of life," it "cannot lay to rest lingering doubts as to whether" it "has read nature's book of biology correctly":
"Of all the gaps in our understanding of life, this one is the widest. Until we bridge it, we cannot lay to rest lingering doubts as to whether science has read nature's book of biology correctly." (Harold, 2001).
That is, the naturalistic understanding of biology (and therefore of reality) could be wrong, after all! As Phil Johnson pointed out in Darwin on Trial, "If Darwinists are to keep the Creator out of the picture, they have to provide a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life":
"WHEN THE SUPREME COURT struck down the Louisiana law requiring balanced treatment for creation-science, Justice Antonin Scalia dissented from the decision because he thought that `The people of Louisiana, including those who are Christian fundamentalists, are quite entitled ... to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools.' Stephen Jay Gould was baffled that a jurist of Scalia's erudition (he had held professorships at several major universities) would entertain the absurd notion that fundamentalists could have scientific evidence against evolution. Gould went looking in Scalia's opinion for an explanation, and found it in various sentences implying that evolution is a theory about the origin of life. In an article correcting `Justice Scalia's Misunderstanding,' Gould tried to set the matter straight. Evolution, he wrote, `is not the study of life's ultimate origin, as a path toward discerning its deepest meaning.' Even the purely scientific aspects of life's first appearance on earth belong to other divisions of science, because 'evolution' is merely the study of how life changes once it is already in existence. In fact, Justice Scalia used the general term `evolution' exactly as scientists use it-to include not only biological evolution but also prebiological or chemical evolution, which seeks to explain how life first evolved from nonliving chemicals. Biological evolution is just one major part of a grand naturalistic project, which seeks to explain the origin of everything from the Big Bang to the present without allowing any role to a Creator. If Darwinists are to keep the Creator out of the picture, they have to provide a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life.' (Johnson, P.E., "Darwin on Trial," , InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, Second Edition, 1993, pp.102-103. Emphasis original)
Which is why that cartoon above with its claim:
"Misconception: `Evolution is a theory about the origin of life.' Response: Evolutionary theory deals mainly with how life changed after its origin. Science does try to investigate how life started (e.g., whether or not it happened near a deep-sea vent, which organic molecules came first, etc.), but these considerations are not the central focus of evolutionary theory. Regardless of how life started, afterwards it branched and diversified, and most studies of evolution are focused on those processes"
is obviously wrong (if not dishonest). You can bet your bottom dollar that if the Darwinists had a "even a plausible hypothesis" for the origin of life, they would change their tune in an instant and claim that it as the crowning proof of evolution!
I cannot resist adding this quote from science journalist Fred Heeren's book "Show Me God," in which an astrophysicist, Edward Argyle, concluded that it seemed "impossible for the prebiotic Earth to have generated more than about 200 bits of information" which is not even close to "the amount of information in a simple virus" (let alone a free-living cell):
"Theorists are at a loss to explain how, even in a rich prebiotic soup filled with organic compounds, a sequence that creates the information necessary for life can be produced by any means where intelligence is not already involved. Using information theory, astrophysicist Edward Argyle calculated the probability that a simple organism arose on the early Earth by chance. Information theory measures information in `bits.' A combination lock, for example, may contain 20 bits of information, representing about a million possible combinations. Argyle concluded: `It would seem impossible for the prebiotic Earth to have generated more than about 200 bits of information, an amount that falls short of the 6 million bits in E. coli [a species of bacteria] by a factor of 30,000.' [Argyle, E. "Chance and the Origin of Life," in Zuckerman, B. & Hart, M.H., eds, "Extraterrestrials-Where Are They?," Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK, 1995, p. 131] He also found that when he expanded the probability to include our entire galaxy (and assumed a billion Earth-like planets), this combination of assumed pre-biotic soups still could not produce anything close to the amount of information in a simple virus. ... When Argyle says that E. coli has an information content of 6 million bits, this means that it would require 101,800,000 different possible cases or states for this to occur. We can get some sense of this number when we realize that scientists believe there to be 1080 subatomic particles in the entire visible universe. (Heeren, F., "Show Me God: What the Message from Space is Telling Us About God," , Day Star Publications: Wheeling IL, Revised edition, 2000, pp.61-62)
If this is so, then the materialist/naturalists are never going to get there with "even a plausible hypothesis" for the origin of life, and of the three possibilities outline by Davies:
"At the present state of our knowledge, the origin of life remains a deep mystery. That is not to say, of course, that it will always be so. Undoubtedly the physical and chemical processes that led to the emergence of life from non-life were immensely complicated, and it is no surprise that we find such processes hard to model mathematically or to duplicate in the laboratory. In the face of this basic obstacle, one can distinguish between three philosophical positions concerning the origin of life: (i) it was a miracle; (ii) it was a stupendously improbable accident; and (iii) it was an inevitable consequence of the outworking of the laws of physics and chemistry, given the right conditions. I wish to state at the outset that I shall argue strongly for (iii), which seems to be the position adopted by most of the SETI scientists." (Davies, P.C.W., "Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life," Penguin: London, 1995, p.14)
"(i) it was a miracle" (i.e. not necessarily creatio ex nihilo but at least supernatural guidance) is the only one left. As Sherlock Holmes said, "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" (Doyle, A.C., "The Sign of Four," George Newnes, 1893, p.93)!