April 26, 2021 | Jerry Bergman

Origin-of-Life Theories Still “Rubbish Thinking” Like Darwin Said

The Latest Installments on the New Origin of Life:
A Review of the Many Theories Proposed

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The greatest gap for evolutionists is that between non-life and life. One of the simplest known life-forms is a bacterium known as Buchnera.[1] Buchnera aphidicola is a proteobacterium 3 µm in diameter. It is so simple that it lacks the genes required to produce lipopolysaccharides needed for its outer membrane. Six species are known; all have a genome size smaller than the human urogenital pathogen Mycoplasma genitalium, which had the smallest bacterial genome reported until B. aphidicola was discovered. Buchnera aphidicola has close to 480,000 base pairs compared to M. genitalium’s 580,070 base pairs, or 1,160,140 bases and 482 protein-coding genes.[2] Its 1,160,140 DNA bases are equivalent to 100 pages in twelve-point type, a length comparable to a short novel. And these bacteria are the smallest life-forms known. Note: Viruses are not alive but are technically mere “gene machines.”

Both B. aphidicola  and M. genitalium are mutualistic intracellular symbionts, meaning that they are too simple to exist on their own. The first life-forms could not live off of another more complex life by definition, otherwise they could not be the first life-form. The first has to be able survive alone. Even though both B. aphidicola  and M. genitalium are pathogens living off of other more complex organisms, they have the smallest genomes of any known naturally occurring, self-replicating organism. Thus, the first life-form evolutionists postulate that began all life must have been significantly more complex than these, containing much larger genomes than these two minimalist parasitic bacteria. Organisms that do not require other more complex organisms to supply them with some of their requirements are vastly more complex than pathogens.

Charles Darwin recognized the origin-of-life problem:

In 1863, Charles Darwin opined in a letter to a friend that contemplating the origin of life was “mere rubbish thinking” and that “one might as well think of [the] origin of matter.” Many researchers today would agree with Darwin. And yet, whereas cosmologists know how particles, elements, and many molecules formed after the big bang, biologists still struggle to explain how inorganic molecules turned into the stuff of life.[3]

The quote above was Darwin’s answer to the German naturalist Lorenz Oken. Oken had argued that microscopic organisms were spontaneously generated on the beds of seas, lakes and rivers from some speculative polarizing force. Darwin correctly answered Oken, observing that “It will be some time before we see ‘slime, snot or protoplasm &’ …generating a new animal… It is mere rubbish thinking, at present, of the origin of life; one might as well think of [the] origin of matter.”[4]

Darwin also stated in this letter that he “long regretted that I truckled to public opinion [the creationists] & used the Pentateuchal term of “creation” [in his Origin of Species], by which I really meant appeared.” He had implied creation in the last sentence of his book:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

In Darwin’s day, cytologists only had a very naïve glimpse of the cell’s complexity. Darwin must have known that life does not just naturally appear instantaneously. His critics reason that life has to be created by intelligence, just as a 100-page non-fiction book has to be written by an erudite person of high intelligence and learning. Nonetheless, regular attempts are made by evolutionists in an effort to explain how life could somehow spontaneously generate.

The Newest Attempts to Map the Origin of Life

Several new proposals to explain the origin of life were summarized in an article published recently. In PNAS on 20 April 2021, Adam Mann reviewed origin-of-life theories in his “inner workings” essay, “Making headway with the mysteries of life’s origins.” He discussed lakes with relatively high concentrations of phosphorus compounds, and speculated that such lakes “may have been commonplace in the prebiotic Earth, providing the phosphorus-rich environments for biology and life to take hold.”[5]

In reality, phosphorus naturally tends to combine with other atoms, such as calcium, to form minerals like apatite, thereby rendering it unavailable for biomolecules. This problem can be circumvented in some lakes where the concentration of unbound (thus bioavailable) phosphorus is very high. That may solve one problem. This is important because phosphorus is a key part of the backbone of DNA and RNA, as well as central to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which cells require for energy.

But life requires much more than phosphorus. About 25 different elements must be bioavailable to produce life. Additionally, as Mann admits, all of these chemicals required for life “also need to be present in high enough concentrations in a particular environment to become incorporated into biomolecules” necessary to produce life.

Destroyers of Life

Water does not build complex molecules; it tears them apart.

Another problem is water. Although necessary for life, water is very destructive to chemicals trying to assemble. Water is said to be the universal solvent because, given enough time, it will dissolve almost everything. Mann focuses only on water’s carrying capacity:

Water is capable of dissolving a variety of different substances, which is why it is such a good solvent. And, water is called the “universal solvent” because it dissolves more substances than any other liquid. This is important to every living thing on earth. It means that wherever water goes, either through the ground or through our bodies, it takes along valuable chemicals, minerals, and nutrients.[6]

Mann ignores the problem that water also dissolves biomolecules. It would dissolve any incipient building blocks, such as polar molecules, including proteins, simple alcohols, and DNA/RNA. Life is made primarily out of protein and DNA/RNA. Those essential building blocks would not form in the presence of water.

Stanley Miller working on his famous origin-of-life experiment. Its actual accomplishment was to show that his technique could not do more than create some simple amino acids. Notice the complex equipment required to produce small amounts of these simple amino acids. From Wiki Commons.

The precursors of life, as assumed in most origin-of-life experiments (including Stanley Miller’s famous 1953 spark-discharge experiment), include amino acids that make up protein. Miller postulated that over “4 billion years ago, amino acids could have been attached together, forming peptides. These peptides ultimately may have led to the proteins and enzymes necessary for life’s biochemistry, as we know it.”[7]

Today, research costing millions of dollars each year is endeavoring to find a means that would allow life to spontaneously emerge. One team of origin-of-life researchers includes Professor “Sasselov—who, like Öberg, is one of 26 researchers working with an initiative called the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life (SCOL).”[8]

The Chirality Problem

Some of the problems in origin-of-life proposals that they admit must be overcome include the fact that,

Like all molecules, nucleic acids come in different isomers, which are different arrangements of the same atomic components. Isomers can differ in their functionality. Only one isomer of each of the canonical nucleic acids that constitute DNA and RNA—adenine, guanine, cytosine, thymine, and uracil—can be used to make self-replicating genetic material. Yet natural processes produce many different nucleic acid isomers.[9]

One proposed solution to the isomer problem includes

exposing the various isomers to ultraviolet light [which] preferentially destroys the non-useful ones, leaving behind those relevant for life. The results imply that the origin of life might have happened in shallow water exposed to sunlight, rather than near deep-sea hydrothermal vents, as some researchers have previously hypothesized.[10]

This effect may successfully be done in tightly controlled laboratory conditions to separate enantiomers, such as D-alanine and L-alanine. The unavoidable obstacle for evolutionists is the fact that only the L-form amino acids are used to make proteins, but only the D-amino acids are used to make carbohydrates. The simple, but enormous, problem for origin-of-life researchers is the fact that in “every life-form on Earth, sugars are always right-handed, and amino acids are always left-handed.”[11] Most organic compounds that contain a chiral carbon, which produces left- or right-handed molecules, usually have two non-superimposable structures. Thus, if ultraviolet light preferentially destroys one form, such as the D form, life potential is destroyed. But if the L form is destroyed,  life is likewise destroyed. Thus both forms are needed, so destroying one or the other as the UV-light solution proposes, causes the evolution of life to self-destruct.

Chirality showing the right- and left-handed isomers of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Human hands are perhaps the most universally recognized example of chirality. Life uses only the left-handed form of amino acids. From Wikimedia Commons.

Water is not the only destroyer of life’s alleged precursors. UV radiation is lethal to life, especially UVB and UVC. UV radiation is classified into three primary types: ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC). All of the UVC and most of the UVB radiation is absorbed by the Earth’s ozone layer, so nearly all of the ultraviolet radiation received on Earth is UVA. Both UVA and UVB radiation are toxic to life. UV radiation is used in hospitals to kill bacteria and experiments by Soviet scientists concluded the following:

Ultraviolet rays affect, above all, the proteins and the genetic code of living organisms. The ozone layer acts as a filter, reducing the intensity of lethal ultraviolet radiation that reaches the surface of the planet.[12]

For these and other reasons, the UV hypothesis does not solve the problem; it makes things worse for origin-of-life researchers. Water, UV radiation and also oxygen (think of anti-oxidant supplements) are each destructive to biomolecules. Oxygen and UV light are used to kill living organisms.

One of many examples of chirality in nature. From Wikimedia Commons.

Assumption Piled on Assumption

In reading the paper reviewed here, the author admits many major assumptions exist in their origin-of-life theory, such as that shown in italics: “These lakes possibly also contained dissolved hydrogen cyanide, which likely either formed in our planet’s early atmosphere or fell to Earth via comet impacts… researchers now have an idea for how the compounds of prebiotic chemistry might have been stockpiled on our planet Early on, the Earth’s atmosphere might have mainly contained simple molecules.. … ribozymes might have gotten encapsulated in lipids by chance, forming a compartment in which biochemical reactions could take place. Perhaps another RNA strand encountered a ribozyme and set off a reaction that made more copies of the RNA strand.”[13]

Conclusions

In the 160 years after Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859, his statement “It will be some time before we see ‘slime, snot or protoplasm &’ …generating a new animal… It is mere rubbish thinking, at present, of [the] origin of life; one might as well think of [the] origin of matter” is far truer today than in Darwin’s day. Darwin was absolutely correct, in his day and ours as well. Since dthe day Darwin changed the world with his book, the origin-of-life problem has not been solved.

No longer are we looking at slime but the origin of the cell and the body, especially the brain, which in humans “has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.”[14] The brain is constructed of cells, and cells are also among the most complicated objects in the universe. In this case we need to listen to Charles Darwin about “rubbish thinking” regarding the origin of life by chance. Much of what he wrote has been proven wrong, but on the origin-of-life problem he was right and no one has since described the problem better than Darwin.

An example of media propaganda trying to make the origin of life look simple. This newspaper claims life started as bubbles!
From The New York Times, 6 July 1993, Section C, page 1.

References

[1] van der Meer, J.R., W.M. de Vos, S. Harayama, and A. Zehnder,  Molecular mechanisms of genetic adaptation to xenobiotic compounds, Microbiological  Review 56(4):677–694, 1992.

[2] Rosario, G., et al., Extreme genome reduction in Buchnera spp.: Toward the minimal genome needed for symbiotic life, PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) 99 (7):4454-4458, April 2002,  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.062067299

[3] Mann, Adam, Inner Workings: Making headway with the mysteries of life’s origins, 118(16):e2105383118, April 2021, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2105383118.

[4] Letter to Joseph Hooker, dated March 29, 1863, in: The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Volume 11, Cambridge University Press; edited by Fedrick Burkhardt, et al., p. 278.

[5] Mann, 2021.

[6] Water Science School, Water Q&A: Why is water the “universal solvent”? USGS.

[7] Georgia Institute of Technology. Origin of life: Stanley Miller’s forgotten experiments, analyzed. ScienceDaily, June 2014.

[8] Mann, 2021, p. 2.

[9] Mann, 2021, p. 2.

[10] Mann, 2021, p. 2.

[11] Wellford, Sebastian, Biological homochirality: One of life’s greatest mysteries, July 2016, https://medium.com/a-spoonful-of-sugar/biological-homochirality-one-of-lifes-greatest-mysteries-2031f4700c4b.

[12] Khlebnikov, Nikolai, Scouting the ozone eaters, Soviet Life  6(381):15, June 1988.

[13] Mann, 2021, pp. 2-3; all italics added.

[14] Bartucca, Julie (Stagis). The Most Complicated Object in the Universe, UConn Today, April 2021,. https://today.uconn.edu/2018/03/complicated-object-universe/.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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