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The origin of life in the universe

DIFFERENT THEORIES: This is with reference to the article ‘The Origin of Life in the Universe - A Buddhist Perspective’ 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 ‘Primordial Soup’ 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, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.” (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 ‘The Origin of the Universe’.

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 “It 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.”

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 unanticipated.

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 don’t believe that Miller used the correct mixture of gases, though consistent with opinion back then. (Philip H. Abelson ‘Chemical Events on the Primitive Earth’ - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 55 - 1966).

Science magazine said in 1995 that experts now dismiss Miller’s experiment because ‘the early atmosphere looked nothing like the Miller-Urey simulation’ (John Cohen, ‘Novel Centre Seeks to Add Spark to Origin of Life’ - Science 270 - 1995).

The best hypothesis now is that the early atmosphere consisted of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapour. The experiment then doesn’t work; but biology textbooks don’t mention this. The ‘life in a test-tube’ 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 created life.

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, “no more nor less than the great cosmogonic myth” 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 ‘are at present beyond our imagination’ (Klaus Dose - ‘The Origin of Life: More Questions than Answers’ - Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 13 - 1988).

In February 2001, world newspaper headlines announced, ‘Human Genome mapped’. (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 ‘origin’ of the genetic code, Myers confessed, “We don’t understand yet..........there’s still a metaphysical, magical element..........What really astounds me is the architecture of life. The system is extremely complex. It’s like it was designed.”

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 world’s 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, “What 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.”

It was once thought that life started in “warm little ponds” of the early earth. Given, as Carl Sagan says “billions and billions of years”, life would emerge, as Jacques Monad says “by chance and chance alone”.

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 “we have now, what we believe, strong evidence for life 3,800 million years ago.”

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 doesn’t 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, “Before the end of the conference’s second day, researchers had to agree that extra-terrestrial delivery could not have supplied all the needed pre-biotic molecules.”

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 “all known scientific evidence supports Darwinian Evolution, as does virtually every reputable scientist in the world.”

In response to this, the Discovery Institute, a ‘think tank’ 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.

“We 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 encouraged.”

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.

“The 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.” (Michael Behe - Darwin’s 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. “I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God.” (Life and Letters - Vol.1 p.274)

The origin of life is the Achilles’ 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.

 

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