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Was The Origin Of Life On Earth Dumb Luck?

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.  (Gen 1:11)

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”  (Gen 1:20)

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds:the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. (Gen 1:24)

The views of theism versus naturalism with regards to the origin of life couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.  On one hand, you have creation of life by a divine intelligence. On the other hand you have a random combination of inanimate materials, in an unguided process, evolving into complex animate organisms also know as “dumb luckDavid Berlinski.”

For the moment, no one knows precisely how short strands of polynucleotides—the stuff that makes up our DNA and RNA molecules—would stick together to form longer chains eventually allowing an RNA molecule to form that could self-replicate so life would begin. No one has conducted an experiment leading to a self-replicating ribozyme. But the minimum length or “sequence” that is needed for a contemporary ribozyme to undertake what the distinguished geochemist Gustaf Arrhenius calls “demonstrated ligase activity” is known. It is roughly 100 nucleotides.

Whereupon, just as one might expect, things blow up very quickly. As Arrhenius notes, there are 4100, or roughly 1060 nucleotide sequences that are 100 nucleotides in length. This is an unfathomably large number. It exceeds the number of atoms in the universe, as well as the age of the universe in seconds. If the odds in favor of self-replication are 1 in 1060, no betting man would take them, no matter how attractive the payoff, and neither presumably would nature.1

Following that description, American philosopher and author David Berlinski notes that Arrhenius seeks to escape his own dilemma by proposing that such long self-replicating sequences may not have been as rare in the primeval earth as they are today. He then answers:

Why should self-replicating RNA molecules have been common 3.6 billion years ago when they are impossible to discern under laboratory conditions today? No one, for that matter, has ever seen a ribozyme capable of any form of catalytic action that is not very specific in its sequence and thus unlike even closely related sequences. No one has ever seen a ribozyme able to undertake chemical action without a suite of enzymes in attendance. No one has ever seen anything like it.

The odds, then, are daunting; and when considered realistically, they are even worse than this already alarming account might suggest. The discovery of a single molecule with the power to initiate replication would hardly be sufficient to establish replication. What template would it replicate against? We need, in other words, at least two, causing the odds of their joint discovery to increase from 1 in 1060 to 1 in 10120. Those two sequences would have been needed in roughly the same place. And at the same time. And organized in such a way as to favor base pairing. And somehow held in place. And buffered against competing reactions. And productive enough so that their duplicates would not at once vanish in the soundless sea.

In contemplating the discovery by chance of two RNA sequences a mere forty nucleotides in length, Joyce and Orgel concluded that the requisite “library” would require 1048 possible sequences. Given the weight of RNA, they observed gloomily, the relevant sample space would exceed the mass of the Earth. And this is the same Leslie Orgel, it will be remembered, who observed that “it was almost certain that there once was an RNA world.” 2

This section of Berlinski’s article deals with just one step of a multi-step process that would fashion the first life. Other pieces include the advancement from self-replicating RNA to a fully working cell producing the appropriate amino acids and nucleic acids to function as well as assembling the right nucleic acids to construct the polynucleotides to begin with. And we haven’t even factored in the problem of chirality.  However, looking at Berlinski’s numbers alone, it seems clear that a reasonable person would not assume life came about by dumb luck.

References

1. Berlinski, David. “On the Origin of Life.” The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. By Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski. Wilmington: ISI, 2011. 286. Print.
2. Berlinski, 2011. 286-287.
Image courtesy Toni Lozano [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

DNA Points To An Intelligence

“DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” – Bill Gates [1]

DNA
DNA double helix

Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA was first identified in the late 1860s by Swiss chemist Friedrich Miescher. Decades later, Phoebus Levene and Erwin Chargaff revealed additional details about the DNA molecule, including its primary chemical components and the ways in which they joined with one another. In 1953. James Watson and Francis Crick reached their groundbreaking conclusion that the DNA molecule exists in the form of a three-dimensional double helix. In 1958, Crick had an insight which he called “The Sequence Hypothesis,”[2] and it was the idea that along the spine of the DNA molecule there were four chemicals that functioned just like alphabetic characters in a written language or digital characters in a machine code. The DNA molecule is literally encoding information into alphabetic or digital form.

Whether I’m reading a text message on my phone, reading a book, or trying to decipher the scribbles of my three year old daughter’s white board, we know that information only comes from an intelligence. So, the significance in the discovery that DNA codes information in a digital form points decisively back to a prior intelligence.

Stephen Meyer argues in his book Signature in the Cell, “Intelligence is the only known cause of complex functionally integrated information-processing systems” (italics original). [3] If the specific information contained in DNA is the program that guides the proceess of cellular formation and biological structures, “intelligent design stands as the best — most causually adequate — explanation for this feature of the cell, just as it stands as the best explanation for the origin of the information present in DNA itself.” [4]

Not a blind and unguided process as evolutionists ask us to believe, but a mind, omnipotent, and personal; the Creator and Sustainer.

[1] Bill Gates, The Road Ahead, Viking Penguin, 1995
[2] Crick, F. H. (1958). “On protein synthesis”. Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology 12: 138–163
[3] Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (New York; HarperOne, 2009), 346.
[4] S. Meyer, Signature in the Cell, 346

Questioning The Origin Of Life

Author Lee Strobel notes, “In Charles Darwin’s book “The Origin of Species,” there is only one illustration; it’s called the Tree of Life. It explains how every species of animal and plant that ever existed on earth had evolved from the same common ancestor, through small gradual steps, over enormous periods of time. The problem, is that there is no conclusive evidence of the common origin of all life.”
Perhaps the most damaging blow to Darwin’s theory is the fossil record. If all living organisms have descended from the same common ancestor then the rock strata of the earth should be filled with the fossilized remains of animals that were once part of a great evolutionary chain; Yet, after two centuries of research, the multitude of missing links that should exist are absent.
The most graphic example of this void in the fossil record is a geological era known as the Cambrian Explosion.

Fossil
Molecular biologist and author Jonathan Wells says, “The branching tree pattern of Darwin’s theory is actually not seen anywhere in the fossil record. So the Cambrian Explosion is the most dramatic refutation of the Tree of Life. If we imagine the whole history of life on earth taking place in one 24 hour period, the current standard estimates for the origin of life put it at about 3.8 billion years ago. So, if we start the clock then, at six hours, nothing but these simple single celled organisms appear. Twelve hours; the same thing. Eighteen hours; the same thing. Three quarters of the day has passed and all we have are these simple single celled organisms. Then, at about the 21st hour, in the space of about two minutes, BOOM! Most of the major animal forms appear in the form that they currently have in the present and many of them persist to the present and we have them with us today. Less than two minutes in a 24 hour period. That’s how sudden the Cambrian Explosion was.”
The question is, does it take more faith to believe in a theory that science is leading away from, or as the Bible says, “So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” Gen 1:21

Q&A: Does The Bible Misrepresent The Domestication Of Camels?

A Facebook friend named Oliver recently asked for help addressing an unusual challenge to biblical inerrancy. A skeptical friend of Oliver’s claimed that the Bible misrepresents the timing of camel domestication. He wrote, “If the Bible can’t even get that right, how can I believe the rest of what it says?”

I admit I had not heard of this particular objection until Oliver brought it to my attention.
It turns out to be a relatively recent challenge. In late 2013, two researchers from Tel Aviv University reported that domesticated camels first appeared in Israel around 930 BC.1 Yet Genesis mentions domesticated camels several times. For example, inGenesis 12, Pharaoh gifts Abraham (then Abram) with camels and later, in Genesis 24, Rebekah offers to draw water for a camel caravan. The camel use described in Genesis would have taken place around 2000 to 1500 BC.

Skeptics have been quick to note that the mention of camels in Genesis is a significant discrepancy. It indicates, they say, that this portion of Scripture was written at a much later date than previously thought and not by Moses, as tradition has it. According to Israeli biblical scholar Noam Mizrahi, the camel stories in Genesis “should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”2 Mizrahi continued, “These traditions were indeed reformulated in relatively late periods after camels had been integrated into the Near Eastern economic system.”3

The Israeli archeologists didn’t undertake their work on camel domestication in order to test the Bible’s reliability. They simply wanted to determine when dromedary camels (the one-humped variety) were first domesticated in the Levant. The domestication of camels permitted long distance trade across the desert for the first time, connecting Arabia with India. This connectivity had huge social and economic impacts.

To determine when camels were first domesticated in Israel, the researchers focused their excavations on copper production sites in the Arabah Valley of Israel. They reasoned that the timing of camel domestication should be marked by evidence for major changes in the production practices in the region because the people would have had beasts of burden available to carry supplies and mined copper. They discovered the sudden appearance of camels at that site in layers that date to around 930 BC. The anatomical features of the camels’ leg bones show evidence that they were used to carry heavy loads. The researchers noted similar evidence from other archeological sites and concluded that this was the time camels became domesticated in the Levant. Camel remains have been recovered in layers earlier than 930 BC, but the researchers argued that these camels were most likely wild animals hunted as a food source.

From my vantage point, the researchers make a compelling case that camels were first domesticated in Israel several hundred years after the camel use recorded in Genesis. But does this mean that the Bible is unreliable? Hardly.

Archeological evidence indicates that dromedary camels were first domesticated in the southeastern Arabian Peninsula around 3000 BC. Genetic evidence indicates thatBactrian camels (the two-humped species) were domesticated in China and Mongoliaaround 4000 to 3000 BC.4 These dates mean that it is possible that the patriarchs counted camels amongst their livestock, even if these animals were not widely used throughout the Levant between 2000 and 1500 BC. This explanation becomes even more plausible when one considers that Abram acquired his camels from the Egyptians (Genesis 12:16). According to scholar Andrew Steinmann, all additional mentions of camels in Genesis refer to people related to Abraham or people who were associated with the Arabian Desert (the location of dromedary camel domestication).

The Bible never “claims” that domesticated camel use was widespread in the Levant at the time of the patriarchs, just that Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph possessed domesticated camels—again, most likely through their association with the Egyptians—completely consistent with the archeological and genetic data.

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