Life from life … or not?
Once Darwin, in 1859, advanced the idea (not really new, even then) that God was not needed to explain the diversity of life on Earth, the next question was ‘Where did life come from, if not from God?’ Darwin was too cautious to overtly promote the spontaneous origin of life in his Origin of Species. But this implication of his evolutionary theory was clearly understood by his followers, particularly Thomas Huxley. In 1870, Huxley, known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ for his aggressive and successful efforts to promote Darwinism, boldly proclaimed the ability of life to come from non-life.
Again, this was not a new idea. Until very near that time, it was generally believed that life not only could come from non-living matter, but that this was occurring under our noses all the time. Ancient Greek philosophers had preached this error of ‘spontaneous generation’ and it had set in men’s minds like concrete. One could see fish and frogs coming from pond slime, and flies from rotting meat. True, the fine cellular structure of living things was beginning to be widely observed through the microscope, but without the intricacies of modern biochemistry and molecular biology, cells just looked like tiny gooey blobs. So it was easy to believe that microscopic cellular life could spring up from non-living sludge.
However, Louis Pasteur was in the very process of proving that spontaneous generation of cellular life was even more illusory than the flat earth. So Huxley had to change the name of the process, and push it into the remote past, in order to keep it credible. He changed the name to ‘abiogenesis’ (see aside below), cleverly evading the fact that it was no longer observable:
‘… if it were given to me to look beyond the abyss of geologically recorded time to the still more remote period when the Earth was passing through physical and chemical conditions which it can no more see again than a man can recall his infancey [sic], I should expect to be a witness of the evolution of living protoplasm from non-living matter.’1
Huxley’s overt intention was to oppose the teaching of the Bible on the origin of life. Genesis says clearly that God created space, matter and energy in the beginning, and that He made all living things in the first six days, to reproduce after their own kinds thereafter. The creation was finished after those six days, so we should not expect to see any more life starting from non-life.
However, current scientific literature continues on the path Huxley laid down, building on the Greek thought before him—that life arose in the past from a ‘primordial soup’, and evolved to its present state of complexity over billions of years.
There is much speculation about life arising in many places in the universe in an on-going fashion. But what does scientific observation and experiment tell us? We never see evidence for anything like a ‘primordial soup’, nor any life arising spontaneously. We only see living things reproducing ‘after their own kinds’ (with variation, even ‘speciation’ possible within each kind).
Nowadays most scientists and teachers take a somewhat ‘schizophrenic’ approach. They deny spontaneous generation, recognizing Pasteur’s proofs against it. At the same time they say life arose spontaneously in the past, when we weren’t around to observe or measure the process.
Christians are the ones usually accused of ‘blind faith’, and of refusing to face facts. How ironic that many sceptical scientists demand that God show Himself to their measuring instruments before they will believe, yet they accept the unproven, unscientific idea of ‘abiogenesis’ without a qualm!
To appreciate the immensity of this, consider the times around 1860. The microscopic world of the cell was just beginning to be understood. Single-celled organisms had been recognized for some time, but the fact that all living things are made of reproducing cells was just vaguely being recognized. The role of microorganisms in causing disease was not yet understood. Their role in fermentation was just being elucidated, and was the subject of Pasteur’s now-famous experiments.
Fermentation had been studied before Pasteur, by such eminent scientists as Lavoisier, Gay-Lussac, and Schwann. The prevailing view then was that fermentation was a peculiar type of chemical reaction inherent to non-living organic residues. However, Pasteur performed many experiments with fermentable materials in specially sealed flasks. When the flasks were sufficiently heated, they would no longer ferment. But if the seal was broken, they would.
Thus, the agent of fermentation was living, and could be killed by heat. Moreover, this agent was unable to regenerate itself from its constituents. Pasteur used a microscope to see the microorganisms responsible for fermentation, and showed that they can be air-borne. He concluded correctly that spontaneous generation, even of microbes, is a fallacious concept, without experimental justification. He showed that the failure of earlier scientists—even great names—to reach this conclusion was due to their failure to control outside contamination of their flasks.
Establishment fights back
The proponents of spontaneous generation thought they had a large body of experimental data (now known to be faulty and misinterpreted) to support them. This ‘old school’, led by eminent French botanist/zoologist Félix Pouchet, opposed Pasteur vigorously for years. An interesting summary of these disputes is given in Nordenskiöld’s 1926 book:
‘In a series of investigations he [Pouchet] tried to prove that the micro-organisms arising upon fermentation and putrefaction are spontaneously generated … . In the view of such a theory Pasteur’s fermentation experiments were, of course, pure irrational nonsense, and thus began a lengthy controversy between these two experimental scientists… . The two antagonists were allowed to carry out their experiments before the French Academy of Science, and Pasteur succeeded at once in convincing some of its foremost members … . Pouchet likewise had his supporters, and especially among the scientifically educated and the half-educated public he gained many adherents who regarded spontaneous generation as a ‘philosophic necessity’, indispensible for a natural-scientific explanation of the origin of life, which Pasteur, faithful Catholic that he was, naturally felt himself compelled to explain dogmatically. Thus argument opposed argument, and party faced party. In these circumstances the solution of the problem would never have become possible had not Pasteur been able to put his ideas into practice on a large scale. … Pasteur’s views on the origin of the micro-organisms received splendid practical confirmation as a result of the development of modern medicine; antiseptics and asepsis during surgery, disinfection, and the treatment of infectious disease. Owing to these facts, which found fresh confirmation daily, spontaneous generation has entirely ceased to exist as a possibility to be reckoned with in modern biology, nor does it come into serious question when we have to explain actual phenomena.2 (Emphases added).’
Pasteur’s scientific legacy is immense. He is rightly honoured as one of the greatest biologists of all time. The spontaneous origin of life would have long ago become a disproved myth of the past, if not for supposedly objective scientists clinging tenaciously to the dogma of naturalistic evolutionism.
In the late 1850s, spontaneous generation of cellular life was also being discredited on another front of biological research, even while Darwin was about to bring it back in a different form. Rudolf Virchow is one of the greatest names in the history of medicine. He has been called the ‘father of pathology’, and even the ‘father of modern medicine’. His work helped transform medical thinking, taking it from two millennia of stagnation in ancient Greek dogma and putting it on a sound scientific basis. However, his insistence on sound reasoning from observable facts made him no friend to the evolutionary ideas which sprang up in his time.
Virchow’s main contribution to medicine was to deal the deathblow to the ancient Greek system of ‘humoral’ medicine, started by Hippocrates and greatly embellished in the succeeding two thousand years. This system held that disease was caused by imbalance of the basic ‘humours’ (fluids) of the body—blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. In the early 1800s, new discoveries using the microscope were incorporated into this old theory. Carl von Rokitansky, the great Viennese pathologist, who probably did more autopsies that any other man in history, noted the microscopic cellular nature of tumours discovered at autopsy. He held that these cellular masses were products of humoral imbalance, and that cells could form from unbalanced humours just as crystals could grow in a supersaturated chemical solution. Note the obvious similarity of this idea to general spontaneous generation. However, Virchow, with his strict insistence on observational verification, soon realized that tumour cells arise from pre-existing body cells.
The Monera fallacy
Huxley’s eagerness to prove his ‘new’ idea of abiogenesis provides a somewhat comic episode in the history of biology, conveniently forgotten because of its embarrassment to evolutionists. In the 1860s, hard on the heels of the release of Darwin’s book, there was much speculation centred on the ‘primordial slime’ from which life ‘first arose’. Ernst Haeckel, a very influential German zoology professor, had even invented a whole family of creatures to fill the gap between non-living slime and one-celled organisms. Drawings and descriptions of these so-called ‘Monera’, ill-defined blobs of ‘protoplasm’ without a nucleus, seemed convincing.3 After no such creatures were found on land, the sea bottom was considered as their possible hiding place. Accordingly, British ships began sampling sea floor sediment. In 1868, one such set of samples contained slimy blobs that generated much excitement among evolutionists. Huxley declared that these were samples of the ‘real thing’, and even gave them a taxonomic name—Bathybius haeckeli. However, a few years later, Bathybius was quietly withdrawn from the spotlight. The reason? In the words of the Duke of Argyll, a member of the Royal Society and a contemporary opponent of Darwin and Huxley:
‘One day on board the "Challenger", an accident revealed the mystery. One of Mr. Murray’s assistants poured a large quantity of spirits of wine into a bottle containing some pure seawater, when lo! the wonderful protoplasm "Bathybius" appeared. It was the chemical precipitate of the sulphate of lime produced by the mixture of alcohol and seawater. … On this announcement "Bathybius" disappeared from science … a ridiculous error and a ridiculous credulity were the direct results of theoretical preconceptions. Bathybius was accepted because it was in harmony with Darwin’s speculations.’4 (Emphases added.)
This episode highlights the double standards of those who portray creationism as a fanatical anti-scientific religion, and evolution as dispassionate, objective science. Evolutionists have, on the whole, always had a strong bias and religious dimension in their quest to explain the universe without a Creator to make it.5 Despite the spectacular failure of all experiments to demonstrate abiogenesis, they have spread this unproven doctrine far and wide.
Thousands of experiments, and all of the recently gained knowledge of molecular biology and genetics, have only served to strengthen the most fundamental law of biology, laid down by Virchow over a century ago: ‘omni cellules e cellules’ (all cells come from other cells), also known as the Law of Biogenesis. Life only comes from life. This was the law established by the Author of Life, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—Jesus Christ.
References and notes
- Biogenesis and Abiogenesis, in Huxley, Thomas, Critiques and addresses, Macmillan, London, UK, 1873 (1890 printing).
- Nordenskiöld, E., (1928) History of Biology: a Survey, republished by Tudor Publishing Co., MI, USA, pp. 433-435, 1976.
- Grigg, R., Ernst Haeckel: evangelist for evolution and apostle of deceit, Creation18(2):33-36, 1996.
- Ayres, C., Huxley, W.W. Norton and Co., NY, USA, p. 185, 1932.
- Wieland, C., Darwin’s real message: have you missed it? Creation14(4):16-19, 1992.
Some flaws of major evolutionary origin-of-life theories1
|1924||Oparin, A.I.||Life evolved in a primordial soup via ‘coacervates’||A purely physical attraction, nothing like the complexity of a real cell. Require special conditions to form, and are very unstable.|
|1928||Haldane, J.B.S.||‘Hot dilute soup’||Heat helps break down large molecules.|
|1953||Miller, S.L. and Urey, H.C.||Sparking gases to produce amino acids||The gases were the wrong type to have existed on Earth, the energy sources would have destroyed most of the product, and what was left would have been very dilute and contaminated.|
|1965||Fox, S.W.||Proteinoid microspheres that supposedly reproduce like cells||Pure amino acids and geologically unrealistic conditions required. The ‘reproduction’ is just like a soap bubble dividing, and nothing like the complex mechanism of cell division.|
|1967||Woese, C.||Self-reproducing RNA||RNA and its components are very unstable, and some components are extremely improbable components of any primordial soup.|
|1974||Cairns-Smith, A.G.||Self-reproducing clays||Invented out of despair over established views and a need to preserve materialism. Total lack of evidence that clay defect patterns can reproduce or act so specifically.|
|1988||Wächtershäuser, G.||Surface catalysis on pyrites||No proof that amino acids can form, or that more than a handful could join together.|
- See also Q&A page on Origin of Life.
The ‘handedness’ of life — a huge barrier.
The building blocks of proteins come in left-handed or right-handed forms, as the illustration shows. Living things can only use left-handed ones. If a protein being assembled by the cell were to use even one right-handed building block, it would destroy the function of the end product.
DNA and RNA also use pure ‘right-handed’ sugars—a single ‘left-handed’ one would destroy the ‘double helix’ and make it impossible to transmit or reproduce information. But any such substances produced by ‘nature’ always form in a 50-50 mixture; it takes special, intelligent effort to separate the two forms into ‘pure’ aggregates of each. This is a source of great vexation for evolutionists, who have tried all manner of ingenious ways of circumventing the issue—without success.1
- Sarfati, J., The origin of life: the chirality problem, CEN Technical Journal12(3):281-284, 1998.
Creation of life in a test-tube: would it violate Pasteur’s law that life only comes from life?
Hardly. As a Bible-believing creationist, Pasteur1 believed that life comes only from life—or from pre-existing intelligence. His well-established law concerns the observation that, left to themselves, matter plus chance plus the laws of physics and chemistry cannot produce living things. Creative manipulation by intelligent beings would obviously not count. So far, there has not been a single observed exception to the Law of Biogenesis, so it truly stands as a scientific law. Nevertheless, billions of schoolchildren who are taught this law are also taught that ‘once upon a time, perhaps in a galaxy far, far away’, there was an exception, and possibly many more.
- Lamont, A., 21 Great Scientists Who Believed the Bible, Answers in Genesis, Brisbane, Australia, 1995.
Definitions from The World Book Dictionary, Doubleday and Co., 1985.)
- The theory that living things can be produced only by other living things.
- The genesis or production of living things from other living things.
- The history of the evolution of living organisms. [(coined in 1870 by Thomas Huxley) < bio (life) + genesis]
The supposed transformation of inanimate matter into living matter; spontaneous generation [(coined in 1870 by Thomas Huxley) < a (without) + bio (life) + genesis]. (Often also called ‘chemical evolution’ — Ed.)
Obviously, both propositions can’t be right (back to main).