What is the origin of life? God says He created life. The scientific community searches for natural causes. What does the physical evidence suggest?
The existence of God has long been under attack by a large portion of the scientific community. Often referred to as scientific materialists, their basic tenet is that everything in the universe is the result of the strict mathematical laws of physics and blind chance.
As shown in previous articles, this belief creates several dilemmas. First, there is no scientific evidence to explain how the universe came into existence out of nothing. Likewise, trying to explain the design of the universe without a Designer makes little sense.
But perhaps most difficult is trying to explain the origin of life without a Creator. What does the evidence support?
Did life just emerge? Intelligent design vs. evolution
In looking at scientific thinking concerning the origin of life, the term emergent is often encountered. The assumption is that life somehow emerged in a step-wise transition from chemistry to biology. While the term sounds scientific, its meaning is not. It implies that through a series of chemical reactions life just happened—somehow matter became life.
In their book Origins (associated with a NOVA special with the same title on the Public Broadcasting System), Neil Tyson and Donald Goldsmith wrote, “The crucial question of how life actually began on Earth, either once or many times over, has no good answer, though speculation on the subject has acquired a long and intriguing history” (p. 241).
In other words, the scientific inquiry into this vital question is primarily speculation! Here is a summary of some of that speculation.
The famous Miller-Urey experiments in the early 1950s excited the scientific world by suggesting that the key to the origin of life had been found. The experiments found that an atmosphere loaded with water, methane, ammonia and hydrogen produced an amino acid when charged with electric sparks. This brew of chemicals was presumed to be similar to the early earth atmosphere in which lightning could have provided the spark.
However, amino acids, while one of the building blocks of life, are not remotely life. So, the speculation is that over millions of years larger and more complex molecules could have formed (by some unknown process) until life emerged.
Another theory, proposed by organic chemist Alexander Cairns-Smith at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, is that the early molecules of life might have formed on clay. The clay surface might have not only expedited the concentration of organic compounds together, but organized them into patterns. Cairns-Smith suggests mineral crystals could have been the driving force in this organization. And after millions of years, life emerged.
Then there is the deep-sea vent theory that life may have begun deep in the ocean at hydrothermal vents spewing hydrogen-rich molecules. And after millions of years, life emerged.
A huge stumbling block for developing theories of the origin of life is DNA. The DNA molecule in a living cell contains the information to sustain life and pass it on to the next generation. DNA needs proteins to form, and proteins require DNA to form. The speculation is that RNA, which has an integral role in the process of forming proteins, preceded DNA and somehow sustained life. The question of how RNA got here has no explanation. Perhaps it just emerged?
Finally, there are the metabolism-first models. The supposition being that life might have begun with smaller molecules interacting with each other. Over time more complex molecules succeeded in becoming more efficient and eventually evolved into life-forms.
All these theories have one thing in common. There is no conclusive evidence to support them.
Is there physical evidence for a Creator?
First, consider the law of biogenesis: Life comes only from life. Louis Pasteur’s famous research showed what has been confirmed ever since. There are no instances of life being spontaneously generated from nonliving chemicals through any natural laws.
Second, there is no such thing as a simple cell. (See our Life, Hope & Truth article “Origin of Life: Are Single Cells Really Simple?”) Even one-cell organisms like the amoeba are incredibly complex.
For example, Naegleria is a common amoeba, but it is not simple. It eats bacteria as an immobile amoeba when conditions are suitable. It grows two flagella that it uses to swim around looking for a better environment during periods of less favorable conditions. In more severely unfavorable environments, it turns into a hard cyst until conditions have improved for feeding. The Naegleria has 15,727 genes coding for proteins. In comparison, humans have around 23,000. That’s not much difference.
Belief in God as the Creator of life is not just based on blind faith. There is also ample evidence all around us.DNA is so complex that scientists are still trying to unravel its mysteries. DNA is common to all organisms, so every organism is complex! DNA expresses the design platform used by the Creator of all life. Such complexity does not just develop by accident.
Related to the obvious complexity of life is the lack of randomness. If the origin of life was just a chance happening, why is there such organization? Among other things, the genome is a set of instructions for procreation. The message found in the DNA of even a simple amoeba is more than all 30 volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica combined.
Such complex messages embedded in all life provide strong circumstantial evidence that a superintelligent being, God, created life (see our article “The Origin of Life”).
Logic, reasoning and God as the creator of life
There seems to be a great divide between the scientific community and the religious. When considering the origin of life, there are two alternatives. Either life originated naturally or life originated by the actions of an intelligent being. At present, there is little or no evidence to suggest the former.
Why the divide? Because scientists make the initial presumption that life emerged from basic raw materials through a sequence of events that was completely consistent with natural laws of chemistry and physics. Many dismiss the idea of God as the creator of life out of hand.
The same supposition is also used when considering the creation of the universe. But can science convincingly explain everything? Beauty? Ethical judgments? Free will? Reasoning?
There is one aspect of religion that scientific materialists do accept—faith. They have faith in natural explanations. Should not the religious be allowed to have faith in God as the Creator based on the evidence?
What would it take to convince a skeptic that God does exist?
In his book Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible (2015), Jerry A. Coyne, a professor specializing in evolutionary genetics at the University of Chicago, had this answer:
“Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the skies clear. If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity” (p. 119).
Really? Is that really all it would take?
Interestingly enough, an event somewhat similar to the proof Professor Coyne requires is prophesied in the Bible. The book of Revelation describes how Jesus will descend from heaven with trumpets blaring. But even that will not be enough. It is prophesied that the world will gather armies to fight Him! (For the real story of what will happen, see our articles “What Is the Day of the Lord?” and “Second Coming.”)
Not only that, but biblical history indicates that God did appear to the ancient Israelites at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18-20). In spite of this, they fell into idol worship and rejected Him.
Again, God sent Jesus to the earth where He healed many and even raised some from the dead. Yet very few believed Him (see our article “Miracles of Jesus”).
Is there a viable alternative to God?
The evidence is before you. How will you respond? Our booklet Is the Bible True? presents five proofs that the Bible is true. Have you proved to yourself that the Bible is the Word of God?
The Bible clearly says that God is the origin of life:
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion.’ … So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26-27; see also John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16).
Belief in God as the Creator of life is not just based on blind faith. There is also ample evidence all around us (Romans 1:20). As the Bible admonishes: “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The articles in the Life, Hope & Truth “Is There a God?” section can help.