Where Do We Come From?

I recently ran across an article in the Skeptical Inquirer entitled, "Where Do We Come From? A Humbling Look at the Biology of Life's Origin", by Dr. Massimo Pigliucci of the University of Tennessee. This article caught my attention because I have been asked a number of times why I still believe in God even though biology has made Him obsolete. Many people are still convinced that life can arise from non-life if the conditions are right.

I found Dr. Pigliucci's article to be a very interesting read. It was refreshing to read an honest article on the subject. He starts off by saying, "The origin of life on Earth is a fundamental scientific question, but we do not know as much as many bio logy textbooks would like you to believe." He then goes on to explain the development of scientific theories on the origin of life.

In the 1950's, a scientist named Stanley Miller attempted an experiment to reproduce the "primordial soup." This experiment gave hope to many that creation of life in a test tube would be accomplished in a matter of time. However, Pigliucci notes wryly that "such experiments have not progressed much further than their original prototype, leaving us with a sour aftertaste from the primordial soup" (p. 24).

After the 1950's, it was decided that nucleic acids preceded proteins, and the origin of life was to be explained by DNA and RNA. But Pigliucci points out that this is a "chicken-and-egg problem." He asks,

If the proteins appeared first, so that they could eventually catalyze the formation of nucleic acids, how was the information necessary to produce the proteins themselves coded? On the other hand, if nucleic acids came first, thereby embodying the information necessary to obtain proteins, how were the acids replicated and translated into proteins? (p. 24)

Despite these problems, Pigliucci and others are satisfied to conclude that the answer "must lie in the proverbial middle" (p. 24, emphasis mine). This is because most scientists today are biased against a supernatural explanation. No matter how i llogical the conclusion may be, it "must" be so, if the only other conclusion involves the supernatural. Pigliucci claims that

The general path leading to the origination of life seems to have been something like this:
1. Primordial soup (simple organic compounds formed from atmospheric gases with the aid of various sources of energy)
2. Nucleo-proteins (similar to modern tRNAs)
3. Hypercycles (primitive and inefficient pathways, emergent properties)
4. Cellular hypercycles (more complex cycles, eventually enclosed in a primitive cell made of lipids)
5. Progenote (first self-replicating, metabolizing cell, possibly made of RNA and proteins, with DNA entering the picture later on) (p. 26)

But this theory has its flaws. According to Pigliucci, the problem is that "each step is difficult to describe in detail from a theoretical standpoint, and so far...has proven remarkably elusive from an empirical perspective" (p. 26). He goes on to say, "It looks like we have several clues, but the overall puzzle is proving to be one of the most difficult for scientific analysis to solve" (p. 26).

The reason that the puzzle is so difficult to solve is that Dr. Pigliucci's definition of science is flawed. He says that "the basic assumption of science is that the world can be explained entirely in physical terms, without recourse to divine entities" (p. 22) Yet this is not the definition of science, but of naturalism. Science is properly defined as, "knowledge," and it would benefit the scientific community to accept this fact. Then, we would be able to understand that the truly scientific explanation for the origin of life is that "God created...every living creature that moveth..." (Genesis 1:21), and it will no longer be necessary for our ears to be "turned unto fables" (II Timothy 4:4).

Pigliucci, Massimo. "Where Do We Come From? A Humbling Look at the Biology of Life's Origin."Skeptical Inquirer Sept/Oct 1999:21-27.