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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

The Origin of Life—Try, Try Again!
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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Imagine trying to build a house of cards with an unstable foundation—one that continuously moves. Every time you think you are making progress, you realize that cards are tumbling all around you. This is the predicament in which evolutionists continually find themselves as they recount the mechanisms behind their theory of origins—only to find that the puzzle of how life began in the first place remains unsolved. How did living cells emerge from nonliving chemicals? This one question has dogged evolutionists for decades. Try as they might, they never have been able to establish a firm foundation of how living things first appeared—a foundation on which then to build their evolutionary tree of life. Evolutionary biochemist Franklin Harold, professor emeritus at Colorado State University, admitted as much in his 2001 book, The Way of the Cell, when he wrote:

Of all the unsolved mysteries remaining in science, the most consequential may be the origin of life...a stubborn problem with no solution in sight. There is, indeed, a large and growing literature of books and articles devoted to this subject, many with theories to propound.... What makes the origin of life so intractable? The object is to discover what transpired in the exceedingly remote past, under circumstances that one can hardly imagine.... It bears repeating that we know very little for certain, and that it is seldom possible to formulate hypotheses that can be falsified by experiment; the opinions of scholars are, therefore, colored by personal beliefs about what should have happened, and even about what is meant by “life” (2001, pp. 235,236,239, emp. added).

In the past, the modis operandi was to teach spontaneous generation of living material from nonliving material, generate confusion, and hope no one realized that the question of the origin of life never had been answered—and then turn around and teach the theory of evolution. As such, almost every science textbook printed in the last fifty years contains the famous Miller-Urey experiment of 1953. In this experiment, Harold Urey and Stanley Miller tried to simulate what they thought were early atmospheric conditions on the Earth, in order to determine what products they could generate by adding an electrical spark (i.e., simulating lightening). These same textbooks never fail to mention that Miller and Urey were successful at producing amino acids, “the basic building blocks of life.” From there, many books lead into a new chapter on evolution and the origin of life—allowing the student to draw the conclusion that scientists have thus proven life can be generated from just a few nonliving chemicals.

The Emmy-award-winning PBS NOVA film, The Miracle of Life, described the process in the following manner:

Four and a half billion years ago the young planet Earth... was almost completely engulfed by the shallow primordial seas. Powerful winds gathered random molecules from the atmosphere. Some were deposited in the seas. Tides and currents swept the molecules together. And somewhere in this ancient ocean the miracle of life began... The first organized form of primitive life was a tiny protozoan [a one-celled animal]. Millions of protozoa populated the ancient seas. These early organisms were completely self-sufficient in their sea-water world. They moved about their aquatic environment feeding on bacteria and other organisms.... From these one-celled organisms evolved all life on earth (as quoted in Hanegraaff, 1998, p. 70, italics and bracketed items in orig.).

As Harold asserted:

Life arose here on earth from inanimate matter, by some kind of evolutionary process, about four billion years ago. This is not a statement of demonstrable fact, but an assumption almost universally shared by specialists as well as scientists in general (p. 236).

It is a logical progression, and one that works well in the classroom. The only problem is, this notion is totally false! Not once have scientists succeeded in producing living material from nonliving material—not even close. And yet, year after year, the public is led to believe that the very foundation upon which evolution stands has been firmly established. Nobel laureate George Wald admitted:

We tell this story to beginning students of biology as though it represents a triumph of reason over mysticism. In fact it is very nearly the opposite. The reasonable view was to believe in spontaneous generation; the only alternative, to believe in a single, primary act of supernatural creation. There is no third position. For this reason many scientists a century ago chose to regard the belief in spontaneous generation as a “philosophical necessity.” It is a symptom of the philosophical poverty of our time that this necessity is no longer appreciated. Most modern biologists, having reviewed with satisfaction the downfall of the spontaneous generation hypothesis, yet unwilling to accept the alternative belief in special creation, are left with nothing. I think a scientist has no choice but to approach the origin of life through a hypothesis of spontaneous generation (1954, 191:46).

And for almost fifty years, this approach has not changed. John Horgan concluded that if he were a creationist today, he would focus on the origin of life because this by far the weakest strut of the chassis of modern biology. The origin of life is a science writer’s dream. It abounds with exotic scientists and exotic theories, which are never entirely abandoned or accepted, but merely go in and out of fashion (1996, p. 138).

This weakness has not gone unnoticed. In fact, now the modis operandi is having to be rewritten as biologists scramble to find new ways of “enlightening” freshman biology students on the origins of life. It is because of this weakness that Stanley Miller (one of those “exotic scientists”) refuses to let spontaneous generation die. In the September 19, 2002, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Miller and his colleagues described how they obtained bioorganic compounds utilizing carbon monoxide as a component in their model of the atmosphere (see Miyakawa, et al., 2002). As the old adage goes, “try, try again.” And, as evinced by the almost 50 years that have passed from his initial experiment, Dr. Miller appears determined to squeeze life from nonliving chemicals. Was he able to create life? No. Did he manufacture living cells from nonliving material? No again.

Some scientists, having seen “the writing on the wall,” have abandoned the old ways of thinking and now are suggesting a totally new theory to resolve this irksome problem. In the January 2003 issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, William Martin and Michael Russell suggested that living systems originated from inorganic incubators on the oceans’ floor. Martin and Russell’s theory shows just how unworkable the old primordial-soup theories have become. This new controversial theory—which turns traditional scientific thinking upside down—claims that life forms first began in small compartments in iron-sulfide rocks at the bottom of the sea (2003). Hot springs are known to deposit a “honeycomb” of iron-sulfide compartments, each one being just a few hundredths of a millimeter in diameter. By dragging the origin of life to the bottom of the ocean, Martin and Russell are able to deflect the problematic atmospheric conditions that plagued Miller and Urey’s experiments. The old “primordial soup” has been replaced with hydrothermal vents, allowing researchers to speculate that compounds such as hydrogen, cyanide, sulfides, and carbon monoxide emerged from the Earth’s crust, causing chemical reactions in these small compartments.

Martin and Russell contend that life is a chemical consequence of convection currents through the Earth’s crust and, in principle, could happen on any wet, rocky place. Have these two men been successful at recreating this life-breeding environment in their lab? No. Do they explain how cells could have been constructed for the first time in this hostile environment? No again. In what appears to be backward reasoning, Martin and Russell have jettisoned common cellular physiology, and have suggested that, rather than building blocks originating first, and then forming themselves into cells, the cells came first. They contend that these first cells were not living cells, but rather inorganic ones made of iron sulfide. Martin and Russell believe that life escaped these small compartments only after these cells evolved a cellular wall. They also are quick to point out that their theory has strong implications for life on other planets.

Try as they might, scientists are fighting a lost cause. Robert Jastrow pointed out over twenty-five years ago: “According to this story, every tree, every blade of grass, and every creature in the sea and on the land evolved out of one parent strand of molecular matter drifting lazily in a warm pool. What concrete evidence supports that remarkable theory of the origin of life? There is none” (1977, p. 60). And this fact has not changed—whether in some primordial soup, or some hydrothermal vent. As Klaus Dose so aptly pointed out: “More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance” (1988, 13[4]:348). As scientists keep grasping at straws, they are quickly finding that none of their theories fits all of the available evidence. John Raven of the University of Dundee, United Kingdom, says the trick is to pick out which bits to ignore. He admitted: “To create a coherent hypothesis we have to say ‘this bit of data doesn’t fit, but we’re going ahead anyway’ ” (as quoted in Whitfield, 2002).

So now we watch and wait as scientists argue over which pieces of data they want to accept, and which ones they will ignore. Did we crawl out of some warm primordial lagoon? Or did we break free from some iron-sulfide chamber at the bottom of the ocean? No matter what data they cling to, it does not change the fact that life always has come from previously existing life, and nonliving material never has given rise to living material. Scientists themselves have established a biological law, known as the Law of Biogenesis, which states this very fact. And yet, that law leads us back to a Creator. Thus, hundreds of men continue to devote their entire lives trying to undo this firmly established scientific law—all to no avail. Try, try again.


Dose, Klaus (1988), “The Origin of Life: More Questions than Answers,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 13[4]:348.

Hanegraaff, Hank (1998), The Face That Demonstrates the Farce of Evolution (Nashville, TN: Word).

Harold, Franklin M. (2001), The Way of the Cell (New York:Oxford University Press).

Horgan, John (1996), The End of Science (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley).

Jastrow, Robert (1977), Until The Sun Dies (New York: W.W. Norton).

Martin, William and Michael Russell (2003), “On the Origins of Cells: A Hypothesis for the Evolutionary Transitions from Abiotic Geochemistry to Chemoautotrophic Prokaryotes, and From Prokaryotes to Nucleated Cells,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society—B.

Miyakawa, Shin, Hiroto Yamanashi, Kensei Kobayashi, H. James Cleaves, and Stanley L. Miller (2002), “Prebiotic Synthesis from CO Atmospheres: Implications for the Origins of Life,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99:14628-14631, November 12.

Wald, George (1954), “The Origin of Life,” Scientific American, 191:46, August.

Whitfield, John (2002), “New Theory for the Origin of Life,” Nature Science Update, [online], URL:

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