email - December 2006

In The Primeval Soup

What Do Evolutionists Really Believe?

Fred wrote to comment on something we wrote about the origin of life in the very first newsletter we published, more than ten years ago. In that newsletter we said, “There was just a primeval soup of simple chemicals that joined together by chance to form twenty different kinds of amino acids. These amino acids randomly joined to form four different kinds of bases, which just happened to turn themselves into complicated DNA and RNA molecules, which spontaneously became a nucleus surrounded by cytoplasm and a membrane that made up a dead cell, which somehow sprang to life and decided to reproduce itself.”

Fred said,

1. Strictly speaking, the theory of evolution does not say anything about what happened prior to the first cell. Darwin, however, did speculate on a warm little pond prior to the first living thing.

2. I think it would be more accurate to say, "Some scientists hypothesized there was a primeval atmosphere and ocean and that electrical discharges in the atmosphere joined simple chemicals together to form (at least) twenty different kinds of amino acids which then collected in water. They also hypothesized the same process would form four different nucleotides from simple chemicals and that these nucleotides joined to form RNA molecules." [Amino acids are not the building blocks of nucleotides (bases).]

The last part of a later paragraph says, “Scientists are continuing his research, trying to make proteins, RNA, and DNA molecules happen spontaneously out of all twenty amino acids.”

Scientists are continuing his research. They have shown at least 19 of the amino acids will form in certain pre-biotic conditions. I don’t know that they have shown the 20th will form. I believe you mentioned that they have shown the 4 nucleotides can also be formed. But it is a big mistake to say they are trying to show RNA or DNA can form from amino acids. They would have to form from nucleotides.

First, regarding the question of whether or not the theory of evolution includes the origin of life, we must repeat what we have said many times before. It is true that Darwin did not include the origin of life in his theory, but we aren’t talking about HIS theory of evolution. Most of the fundamental points in Darwin’s theory of evolution (including the ideas that diet, exercise, and climate cause inheritable changes) have been rejected by modern evolutionists. That’s why the current form of Darwinian evolution is referred to as “neo-Darwinian evolution” or “the modern synthesis.” There is also a major dispute among evolutionists as to whether Darwin’s idea of gradual evolution or Gould’s idea of rapid evolution (“punctuated equilibrium”) is correct. So, it is difficult to talk about “the theory of evolution” because there are so many different theories of evolution.

It is commonly taught in American public schools that life evolved naturally and spontaneously from non-living chemicals present in the environment. The theory of evolution depends upon this because the theory is presented as an explanation for how the various forms of life appeared on Earth. The theory presumes that there must have been some first life form that diversified, and that first life form had to come about naturally somehow. So, the natural origin of life is included in the theory of evolution as it is taught in public schools.

We have also said many times in previous newsletters that evolutionists desperately want to separate the origin of life from the diversity of life because they know that the natural origin of life is a non-starter. The origin of life is dead on arrival, and there is no scientific explanation that can bring it to life.

Since there is no accepted, or even plausible, explanation for how life began, it is impossible for us to quote that explanation accurately. It simply doesn’t exist. Only fragmentary explanations exist.

Fred has accurately quoted some of them. Scientists have proposed various ways that various organic molecules may have formed in a warm pond, or on damp clay, or in hot hydrothermal vents, or in ice, or in outer space, or perhaps other environments. For every evolutionary scientist who defends any one of these theories you can find several other evolutionary scientists who can present solid technical arguments for why that theory is wrong.

Ironically, despite the fact that evolutionary scientists disagree on the particular details of which chemicals combined, where they combined, and how it happened, they all agree that it must have happened!

The only common thread in all the origin of life scenarios is that simple organic molecules combined to form more and more complex organic molecules. Which came first, and how they combined, is vigorously disputed, but the idea that simple molecules came before complex molecules is the option that is even remotely possible.

We feel that our statement that evolutionists generally believe that amino acids formed first, bases, proteins, RNA, DNA, and membranes formed later, is as true as the situation allows. Since evolutionists don’t all agree, we can’t make any statement that all evolutionists accept. We do feel, however, that we have accurately and honestly tried to capture the spirit of their rather vague belief.

But, in the interest in fairness, we will quote the foremost authority on Biology (and English literature, too) most widely read by high school and college students in America. No matter what textbook is used in class, you can be sure that what the students really read is Cliff’s Notes! Here’s what Cliff’s Notes says (with a few of our notes added to Cliff’s).

Origin of Organic Molecules

About 3.8 billion years ago, earth’s atmosphere consisted of such elements as nitrogen, hydrogen, sodium, sulfur, and carbon. [Oxygen is notably absent in this list. The reducing atmosphere described here by Cliff’s Notes has been largely rejected by most scientists, but apparently nobody told Cliff.] Some of these elements combined to form hydrogen sulfide, methane, water, and ammonia. [We aren’t sure how Cliff thinks one can form H2O without O.] Water vapor in this mist probably caused millions of years of torrential rains, during which the oceans formed. Gas and water from the earth’s core came to the surface through volcanoes. Ultraviolet radiation bathed the earth, and the elements and compounds interacted with one another to form complex molecules. [Now some people are worried about the ozone hole allowing ultraviolet radiation through the atmosphere to break up these complex molecules instead of forming them, so things must have been different back then. ]

In 1953, Stanley Miller and Howard Urey performed a classic experiment in which they circulated methane, ammonia, water vapor, and hydrogen gas in a closed environment and passed electric sparks through it. After several days, they discovered that complex compounds of carbon had formed in the mixture. Their experiments indicated that in the primitive earth atmosphere, complex organic molecules could form, including amino acids, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids. The theory they expressed is the primordial soup theory [which has been almost universally rejected by modern evolutionists 1].

Recent theories about the origin of organic molecules suggest that these molecules may have formed in hydrothermal vents deep in the oceans, where hot gases and elements emerge from cracks in the earth’s crust. Living organisms have been found near these vents, lending credence to the theory. [Living organisms have been found everywhere on Earth. Does that make it credible to believe life began everywhere?]

Origin of Cells

The appearance of the first cells marked the origin of life on earth. However, before cells could form, the organic molecules must have united with one another to form complex molecules called polymers. Examples of polymers are polysaccharides and proteins.

In the 1950s, Sidney Fox placed amino acids in primitive earth conditions and showed that amino acids would unite to form polymers called proteinoids. The proteinoids were apparently able to act as enzymes and catalyze organic reactions. [But the “primitive earth conditions” that scientists believed in the 1950s have been rejected by modern scientists, so Fox’s experiment is irrelevant. Miller’s and Fox’s experiments are still taught to students because evolutionists haven’t come up with anything better in the last 50 years.]

More recent evidence indicates that the RNA molecules have the ability to direct the synthesis of new RNA molecules as well as DNA molecules. Because DNA provides the genetic code for protein synthesis, it is conceivable that DNA may have formed in the primitive earth environment as a consequence of RNA activity. Then DNA activity could have led to protein synthesis (see Chapter 10). [This is the controversial “RNA World” hypothesis. There are significant scientific problems with this hypothesis. Most notably, if RNA is synthesized by RNA, where did the first RNA come from?]

For a cell to come into being, some sort of enclosing membrane is required to hold together the organic materials of the cytoplasm. A generation ago, scientists believed that membranous droplets formed spontaneously. These membranous droplets called protocells were presumed to be the first cell. Modern scientists believe, however, that protocells do not carry any genetic information and lack the internal organization of cells. Thus the protocell theory is not widely accepted. Several groups of scientists are currently investigating the synthesis of polypeptides and short nucleic acids on the surface of clay. The first cells remain a mystery.

Ancient Life

Earth came into existence about 4.6 billion years ago, and about 3.8 billion years ago, the evolution of chemicals began. Scientists estimate that at about 3.5 billion years ago, the first cells were in existence. 2

Even though “the first cells remain a mystery,” and scientists have more than 50 years of failed experiments attempting to find any plausible method for the evolution of chemicals, this origin of life is still taught as undeniable fact.

The First Food

Plants make their own food through a complex process called photosynthesis. Animals get their food (carbohydrates—that is, fats and sugars) by eating plants or other animals. Where did the first living things get their food before photosynthesis evolved?

Almost all organisms on Earth use the Krebs cycle to produce energy by breaking down carbohydrates, liberating carbon dioxide in the process; it is one of the most ancient and fundamental of all biochemical reactions. Previous experiments have managed to get parts of the Krebs cycle to work in reverse, but only at temperatures above 100 °C 3

Scientists have tried to find any method simpler than photosynthesis to get carbon dioxide to combine with other molecules to make fats and sugars. The most promising is to try to get the Krebs cycle to run in reverse. Until now, they have only been able to be partially successful at temperatures above the boiling point of water. New Scientist reports (in an article with the misleading title, “Why life on Earth was a sure thing”) some progress in this area.

The new method, created by Xiang Zhang and Scot Martin of Harvard University, works at 15 °C [59 °F], without enzymes, and is the first to use ultraviolet light as the energy source.

… [We have deleted the description of the new method, which uses oxaloacetate.]

In the 1950s the American chemist Stanley Miller famously produced amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, by zapping a mixture of simple chemicals with electricity. His work showed how biomolecules could arise spontaneously as a result of physical processes. Oxaloacetate could be one of these primordial biomolecules.

The new work can be viewed as a stepping stone between Miller's process and the basic metabolism that goes on in all living things. "It's fair to say that this can be seen as an important step between the inorganic and the living world," Martin claims. 4

Few, if any, modern (evolutionary) scientists believe that Miller’s experiment used conditions similar to those that ever existed on Earth, so Miller’s experiment is an irrelevant starting point. But the title and the article make it sound as if they have solved the problem. That’s why you have to read the whole article, which ends with this sentence.

But problems remain, Lazcano says, most importantly the fact that not all of the cycle has yet been made to run in reverse and the yield of some of the reactions is low. 5

Then you learn the truth. There is no known way carbohydrates (food) could form before photosynthesis evolved. Even if something living did evolve, it would have starved to death.

If evolutionists really believe that life evolved in the primeval soup, their theory is in the soup because there aren’t any carbohydrates in the soup!

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Footnotes:

1 See Disclosure, May 2003, “Two Silver Anniversaries” and Disclosure, February 1998, “How Life Began
2 Alcamo and Schweitzer, CliffsQuickReview Biology, 2001, pages 94-96
3 New Scientist, 16 December 2006, “Why life on Earth was a sure thing”, page 16
4 ibid.
5 ibid.