The origin of life in the universe
DIFFERENT THEORIES: This is with reference to the article âThe Origin
of Life in the Universe - A Buddhist Perspectiveâ by Dr. Ruwan M.
Jayatunge of June 29. This article is not meant to be a critique of any
Buddhist doctrine, for which I have the highest regard. The writer
however mentions certain facts such as the Big Bang, the âPrimordial
Soupâ and Evolution. It is on these that I would like to comment on.
The Big Bang - This is the currently accepted theory for the origin
of the universe. As Professor Stephen Hawking has said, âAlmost everyone
now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the
Big Bang.â (Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and
Time - 1996). In 1985, a conference, attended by high-ranking
scientists, was held at Dallas, US, the topic of discussion being âThe
Origin of the Universeâ.
Speaking at that conference was Allan Rex Sandage, regarded as the
greatest observational cosmologist in the world at that time. He had
been a virtual atheist from his childhood. Talking of the Big Bang and
its philosophical implications, he disclosed publicly that he had
decided to become a Christian at the age of fifty.
Sandage told his audience that the Big Bang was a supernatural event
that cannot be explained within the realms of physics as we know it.
Science has taken us to the First Event, but it cannot take us further
into the First Cause.
The sudden emergence of matter, space, time and energy, pointed to
the need for some kind of transcendence. He said âIt was my science that
drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than
can be explained by science. It is only through the supernatural that I
can understand the mystery of existence.â
A hundred years ago Christians had to maintain that despite all
appearances to the contrary, the universe was not eternal but created.
The situation now is the exact opposite.
It is the atheists (like Bertrand Russell), who have to maintain that
the universe did not have a beginning. The assumption, ever since the
ancient Greeks, was that the natural world was eternal. The 20th century
discovery that the universe was not an eternal unchanging entity was
In arguing for the existence of God, the 13th century Christian
philosopher, Thomas Aquinas always pre-supposed the Aristotelian view
that the universe was eternal. It was on the basis of that difficult
assumption that he sought to prove that God exists.
Aquinas said that if he were to start with the premise that the
universe had a beginning, his task would be too easy. If there was a
beginning, something had to bring the universe into existence. The
premise here is, not that everything has a cause, but that whatever
begins to exist has a cause.
The origin of life
Dr. Jayatunge mentions the classic 1953 experiment of Dr. Stanley
Miller and Dr. Harold Urey. They produced some amino-acids in the
laboratory. It was thought that it was only a matter of time before
scientists could create living organisms. But, even some fifty years
later, this has not happened.
Scientists today donât believe that Miller used the correct mixture
of gases, though consistent with opinion back then. (Philip H. Abelson
âChemical Events on the Primitive Earthâ - Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences USA 55 - 1966).
Science magazine said in 1995 that experts now dismiss Millerâs
experiment because âthe early atmosphere looked nothing like the Miller-Urey
simulationâ (John Cohen, âNovel Centre Seeks to Add Spark to Origin of
Lifeâ - Science 270 - 1995).
The best hypothesis now is that the early atmosphere consisted of
carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapour. The experiment then doesnât
work; but biology textbooks donât mention this. The âlife in a
test-tubeâ experiment of Miller and Urey remains the corner-stone of the
theories of the origin of life.
To form a protein, several amino-acids, perhaps one hundred, have to
be joined in a particular sequence, not haphazardly, but by the correct
chemical bonds. Again, creating one protein does not mean you have
You have to bring together about two hundred protein molecules and
assemble them, with the right functions (process energy, store
information and replicate).
All this is certainly mind-boggling The idea that undirected
processes could somehow be responsible for turning dead chemicals into
all the complexity of living things is, as microbiologist Michael
Denton, Australian molecular biologist and physician observes, âno more
nor less than the great cosmogonic mythâ of our time. (Michael Denton,
Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, 1986)
DNA and life
In living systems the guidance needed to assemble everything comes
from DNA. Found in every living cell, whether plant or animal, it is
like a microprocessor. Hand in glove with RNA it directs the correct
sequencing of the amino-acids.
It does this through the biochemical instructions - that is
information - encoded in the DNA. Now, where did the DNA come from? As
Klaus Dose, of the Institute for Biochemistry in Mainz, Germany
admitted, the difficulties of synthesizing DNA and RNA âare at present
beyond our imaginationâ (Klaus Dose - âThe Origin of Life: More
Questions than Answersâ - Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 13 - 1988).
In February 2001, world newspaper headlines announced, âHuman Genome
mappedâ. (Genome is the DNA sequence of an organism). The February 19,
2001 edition of The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article by Tom Abate,
a science journalist.
He had met Professor Gene Myers, the computer scientist who actually
put together the genome map. In the course of the interview, when asked
about the possible âoriginâ of the genetic code, Myers confessed, âWe
donât understand yet..........thereâs still a metaphysical, magical
element..........What really astounds me is the architecture of life.
The system is extremely complex. Itâs like it was designed.â
In December 2004, at a symposium sponsored by the Institute of
Metaphysical Research, Professor Anthony Flew, a prominent British
philosopher, author of the book Darwinian Evolution, one of the worldâs
best known atheists stated he has come to believe in God. The reason was
the apparent impossibility of providing a naturalistic theory for the
origin of the DNA of the first reproducing species.
He said, âWhat I think the DNA material has done is to show that
intelligence must have been involved in getting these extremely diverse
elements together. The enormous complexity by which these results were
achieved looks like the work of intelligence.â
It was once thought that life started in âwarm little pondsâ of the
early earth. Given, as Carl Sagan says âbillions and billions of yearsâ,
life would emerge, as Jacques Monad says âby chance and chance aloneâ.
At that time it was thought that the universe was infinitely old.
With the Big Bang theory, it is now thought that the universe is less
than 5 billion (5000 million) years old. Now, the earth spent a long
time cooling down before it could support life.
How long did it take for this to happen? The cooling of the earth and
the establishment of the oceans is said to have occurred 3.8 billion
(3,800 million) years ago. (John Thackray - The Age of the Earth -
Institute of Geological Sciences, London. 1980).
The first sign of life is represented by organisms like
Archaeospheroides barbetonensis, a fossil of one of the first living
organisms, dated 3.2 billion years ago. In 1980 Cyril Ponnamperuma and
others, after examining the organism Isosphera, a fossil cell structure,
for evidence of photosynthetic activity, announced âwe have now, what we
believe, strong evidence for life 3,800 million years ago.â
The meaning of these discoveries is clear. If the forming of the
first surface water and the first micro-organisms coming into existence
occurred almost simultaneously, there was no eons of time available for
the spontaneous appearance of life.
In fact Cyril Ponnamperuma and Carl Woese have suggested that life
may be as old as the earth. (How Did Life Begin? - Newsweek, August 6,
1979). Life, it seems, did not wait for blind chance to roll the dice,
but erupted at the first available instant, leaving Darwinists with no
time at all for their probabilistic processes.
Not only is the time too short, but the mathematical odds of
assembling a living organism are so astronomical that it is difficult
for anyone to believe that random chance can account for the origin of
life. Sir Frederick Hoyle, guru of Professor Chandra Wickremesinghe, put
it nicely when he said that this scenario is like a tornado whirling
through a junkyard and accidentally assembling a Boeing 747 airplane
Theory of Panspermia
This implies seeding from space. Frustrated by the seemingly
insurmountable obstacles to chemical evolution on earth, some scientists
have fallen back on this theory. Among these are Francis Crick,
co-discoverer of DNA, Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickremesinghe.
Sounds bizarre, and there is no real proof for it. The biggest flaw
of course in the theory is that it doesnât solve the origin-of-life
problem; it just moves the problem to another location The same
obstacles exist! Even if meteorites could deliver amino-acids to earth,
how are they assembled to form living organisms
The report of an international conference of origin-of-life
scientists reads, âBefore the end of the conferenceâs second day,
researchers had to agree that extra-terrestrial delivery could not have
supplied all the needed pre-biotic molecules.â
Evolution and intelligent design
Evolution (neo-Darwinism) is not a theory that has been proved. It is
not like physics and chemistry. However, it is presented in the news
media as an accomplished fact of science and all intelligent people are
supposed to accept it. It is really a highly speculative hypothesis.
In 2001, the US Public Broadcasting System ran a seven part TV series
on evolution, and the spokespersons for this presentation asserted that
âall known scientific evidence supports Darwinian Evolution, as does
virtually every reputable scientist in the world.â
In response to this, the Discovery Institute, a âthink tankâ in the
US, sought the opinion of reputed scientists. Over one hundred
scientists from various specialities, most with doctorates from
prestigious universities, responded immediately.
They said they were sceptical of what was shown on the TV series,
especially its impartiality. These scientists ran a two page
advertisement in The Weekly Standard of October 1, 2001.
âWe are sceptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation
and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful
examination of the evidence for the Darwinian Theory should be
Since then, over 700 others have signed in, agreeing with the above.
Today, a growing number of scientists advocate the Intelligent Design
theory which holds that many features of organisms are too complex to
have resulted from the Darwinian mechanism of random variation and
natural selection. The best rational explanation from the data is some
kind of design or purpose in biology.
âThe conclusion of Intelligent Design flows naturally from the data
itself, not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs. The reluctance of
scientists to embrace the conclusion of Intelligent Design has no
justifiable foundation. Many people, including many important and well
respected scientists, just do not want there to be anything beyond
nature.â (Michael Behe - Darwinâs Black Box - 1996)
Intelligent Design allows the possibility of God, but does not
specify God. Time magazine had it that Darwin murdered God. He did not.
In fact Darwin himself was never a complete atheist as he himself has
confessed. âI have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the
existence of God.â (Life and Letters - Vol.1 p.274)
The origin of life is the Achillesâ heel of evolution. If the
Darwinists want to keep Intelligent Design out of the picture, they
should provide a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life.