Fantastic claims highlight the scientific absurdity of this recycled philosophy of ‘spontaneous generation’
Published: 20 December 2014 (GMT+10)
Preamble: The New Zealand Geographic magazine, to which I have long subscribed, is a really excellent production technically. But not surprisingly for this type of magazine (much like the better-known National Geographic), they also publish articles that drop in the standard evolutionary lines.
Over the past 25 years they have graciously published occasional letters from me pointing out the lack of evidence for their evolutionary claims. In the past few years, the evolutionary storytelling has intensified. In the March/April 2014 edition they published an article by regular contributor and evolutionary fanatic Dave Hansford, entitled ‘Cooking with gas’, under a heading ‘LIFE: Abiogenesis’. This article, which featured prominently the 1953 Miller/Urey experiment, was particularly thin in content and substantiation, lacked any real critical thought, and made the outrageous claim, in both the text and highlighted in a ‘pullout quote’:
“Life is coming into Earth from space all the time. Immediately you walk outside the house,” study leader Dr Milton Wainwright told BBC Radio, “you’re going to be covered in microrganisms [sic] or biological entities coming from space. We believe they’ve been coming in since year dot.”
After some amiable exchanges with the editor, I sent the article below to New Zealand Geographic for publication. During subsequent exchanges, the editor rejected the article saying that “while there are useful elements in your criticism of abiogenesis, your thesis replaces abiogenesis with an imaginary engineer in the sky; which is hardly a conclusive or well-constructed alternative.”
I replied that my article’s conclusion was, rather, “a logical requirement deriving from the evidence which I outlined briefly, logic and evidence which apparently you do not want to face.”
Upon further, later, reflection, I wrote asking for a retraction of the patently false ‘microorganisms from space’ claim. In his response, the editor said in part: “As your objections are largely ideological, I’m sorry but I can’t engage on this matter further.”
Our discussion was clearly coming to an end, but I thought I would have one last shot, saying in part:
“It seems to me that it would logically follow that either you don’t think the claim is false and therefore it doesn’t need to be corrected, or you know the claim is false and were comfortable with allowing a known false claim to be published, or for it to stand now that the falsity of it has been pointed out to you. Either way, your credibility can‘t help but be called into question, and not just by those such as myself. I really doubt that many of your fellow Evos would agree with you—at least the knowledgeable ones, if you think the claim is true. It is just so patently false that I suspect most of them would agree with me, and think its publication is an embarrassment to the cause.
“The simple way out of the bind is to publish a correction/disclaimer. That way you would show you don’t accept this bizarre claim is true, as well as showing you’re big enough to admit a mistake.”
To the date of writing, no such disclaimer/retraction has appeared, and frankly I’m not holding my breath. Following is the article submitted to the New Zealand Geographic for publication in October 2014.1
‘Spontaneous generation’ was a mainstream scientific doctrine for a very long time, until proven wrong by Francesco Redi and Louis Pasteur. Even then it died a slow and painful death. Spontaneous generation basically proposed that given the right conditions and precursors, life would arise all by itself ‘spontaneously’. There were various recipes for this well-established ‘fact’ of science. For example, 17th Century Flemish chemist Jan Baptiste van Helmont wrote, ‘If a soiled shirt is placed in the opening of a vessel containing grains of wheat, the reaction of the leaven in the shirt with fumes from the wheat will, after approximately 21 days, transform the wheat into mice.’ It was also thought that meat left to rot would spontaneously give rise to maggots and flies. The self-evident fact that rotting meat would before long swarm with maggots and flies established the belief in spontaneous generation of maggots and flies from rotting meat. Redi proposed an eminently simple experiment to test the hypothesis: let’s cover the meat with some fine material and see what happens! Well of course no maggots or flies swarmed on the meat as it rotted because no flies could get to the meat to lay their eggs and thus produce the maggots and flies that were so well known. And so Redi overthrew long-established scientific doctrine and replaced it with a new doctrine, ‘Life comes from life’—what became known as the ‘law of biogenesis’.
Pasteur banged the final nail in the coffin of spontaneous generation when he carried out his famous swan-necked beaker experiment. He placed sterilized meat broth in his beaker, then heated the thin neck of the beaker and bent it downward like the neck of a swan. While the bent neck allowed air to get to the broth, it stopped anything dropping into the broth from the air. His broth stayed clear for a year, establishing that sterilised broth open to the air, without any protection as per the swan neck, was contaminated by pre-existing life forms falling into it from the air, even though these were invisible to the naked eye. Again it was established that ‘Life comes from life’, and spontaneous generation fell into disrepute.
But it’s amazing what a name change can do to revive a cadaver dead and buried. Political parties reinvent themselves by name changes. And old worn-out failed policies, and politicians decked out in new drag, are dished up to a gullible public as the very latest in progressive politics. The same happened with spontaneous generation. T. H. Huxley gave it a new ‘scientific’ name, made some cosmetic changes (limiting it to the origin of the first life), and as a result it’s been resurrected and made respectable again … now known as ‘abiogenesis’.
Abiogenesis means ‘no biologic origin’, in simple parlance, life from non-life … and thus we’re back to spontaneous generation, but in new guise … given the right conditions and precursors, life will arise spontaneously. And this despite attempts by advocates to differentiate between the terms. And so ‘abiogenesis’ gets a pass and is promoted in august scientific journals, and popular magazines such as New Zealand Geographic (Issue 126, March–April 2014, p. 28); even though ‘spontaneous generation’ has been thoroughly debunked, and the disproving of it taught as a triumph of careful science over superstition.
Further, billion-dollar expeditions and experiments are conducted to seek to establish that life occurred abiogenically. The main impetus for the US space program is to search for life in the solar system and beyond. Thus the Mars missions are not just to develop amazing technologies, designed by the best brains in the industry, to send incredible machines millions of miles through space to soft land on another planet. Rather, all the effort and the incredible machines are primarily for one purpose, to see if life has spontaneously arisen and evolved on Mars. When such machines detect evidence of liquid water or ‘organic compounds’, on Mars or anywhere else in the solar system, breathless news stories circulate the globe. They tell of the find as though life itself had been found, or that given the presence of liquid water or ‘organic compounds’, life itself must be very close at hand, even inevitable.
It’s as though water, organic compounds, and life are almost equivalent. Of course they are nothing of the sort, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know this. Such media hoopla is reminiscent of the hype and over-inflated claims which were made and still are, for the famous but totally irrelevant origin-of-life experiments conducted by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey in 1953. As they slaved over their apparatus, I can just imagine Urey breathing to Miller as the beakers began to morph green to yellow, “If we can just make life in this test tube, we’ll have proved that no intelligence was required at the beginning.”2
The reasoning behind this search for extraterrestrial life is that given life has spontaneously arisen on earth, why should it not have spontaneously arisen somewhere else also—in fact, anywhere the right conditions and precursors exist? And so the multi-billion dollar taxpayer-funded search goes on, assuming that which has been soundly disproved.
And it is not just a search for rudimentary life, but life up to intelligent life. After all, if intelligent life has evolved here on earth, why should it not have evolved elsewhere? Further, given that it has evolved elsewhere, perhaps these intelligent aliens have a space program … and … perhaps they are trying to contact us. Wouldn’t it be a crying shame if we weren’t listening?! And so radio telescopes scan the skies hoping and praying (well, not praying) that a coded message will be picked up indicative of ETI (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence).
But is it possible for biologic life, intelligent or rudimentary, to spontaneously arise over time from material precursors as the advocates of abiogenesis maintain? Well, no, it’s not, for a host of reasons. Life runs on coded messages, some of the most complicated messages known to humans. And we haven’t gotten anywhere near the bottom of the complexity of it all. Multiple codes, messages running in different directions with the information multi-layered on the genetic material, self-correction, vast storage mechanisms, postal systems to deliver the messages thither and yon … The list of wonders goes on and on, with more being discovered on a regular basis.
In all human experience, messages and minds are tied irrevocably together, so that where we find a message we know it is the product of a mind, of an intelligent source. We know that ‘Bobby loves Bindy’ written in sand on a beach, is not and can never be the result of water or wind rearranging grains of sand. This absolute message/mind connection is at the very heart of the SETI program, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
What it’s hoped the radio telescopes utilised in this program will find are coded messages of some sort. If such were found the joy of the SETI crowd would be unbounded. Proof positive of alien intelligence would have been found. But these people have an enormous blind spot. Switch from radio telescopes to electron microscopes and redirect your gaze from the skies to the innermost recesses of any living cell, and what do you find? Messages, piled on top of messages, of the most astounding sort known. And not just an isolated one here or there, (though one would be enough) but messages by the trillions. Thus, proof positive is there for all the world to see, that biological life comes from an intelligent source. It did not spontaneously arise but is originally the product of thought, planning, and design.
If abiogenesis occurred as is claimed, then raw, undirected chemistry must have given rise to the highly complex interrelated machines and processes that make biologic life possible.3 Everyone has heard of the chicken/egg conundrum; which came first? There are many chicken/egg relationships required for life to exist. Take ATP4 for example. ATP is the energy currency of life. Every biologic function is powered by ATP. Stop ATP production and you’re dead, instantly. That’s why cyanide is so lethal, it stops ATP production. ATP is produced by the molecular rotary motor ATP Synthase, which spins at around 7000 revs a minute with every turn spitting out three ATP molecules.5 Around 50kg of ATP is produced in our bodies daily by the over 10 quadrillion ATP Synthase rotary motors in our bodies converting ADP6 to ATP; less when resting, more when working hard.
But … ATP Synthase is coded for on the DNA. So to get ATP Synthase you have to have the DNA coding for it. But to get the DNA code for ATP Synthase transcribed so as to get ATP Synthase, you need ATP to drive the transcription process. However, to get ATP to drive transcription, you need ATP Synthase to produce it. No ATP Synthase = no ATP = no transcription of DNA coding for ATP Synthase = no ATP Synthase = no ATP…
To make the issue explicit: The whole interrelated, irreducibly complex DNA/ATP Synthase system has to be fully intact and functional for it to work. Without it life is not possible, thus it had to come into existence as a going concern from the very first moment of life’s existence.
It’s a stranglehold on the obvious that such a system can’t have arisen spontaneously, as required by abiogenesis, neither instantaneously from material sources nor even step by step through random chemical reactions in a little warm pond hit by bolts of lightning. The impossibility of acquiring this system as the result of chemistry and physics doing their thing is just one of many insurmountable road blocks in the way of abiogenesis/spontaneous generation. An engineer of unimaginable genius and creative skill is required. Abiogenesis/spontaneous generation fantasy, however presented, or whatever term used for it, should be discarded once and for all by rational people.
Dr Dean Kenyon: making the switch
Dean Kenyon, Professor Emeritus of Biology at San Francisco State University, was a committed evolutionist and one of the earlier researchers into the idea of a chemical origin for life. He co-authored the book Biochemical Predestination in 1969 with fellow evolutionist, Gary Steinmanm, and it became a standard text on this subject. For many years he taught courses on evolution and the origin of life. Then he was exposed to some creationist writings and found them persuasive. He writes:
My own initiation into creationist scientific writing came in 1976 with the geological sections of Whitcomb and Morris’ The Genesis Flood, and somewhat later, A. E. Wilder-Smith’s The Creation of Life: A Cybernetic Approach to Evolution. It soon became apparent to me that the creationist challenge to evolutionism was indeed a formidable one, and I no longer believe that the arguments in Biochemical Predestination (Kenyon and Steinman, McGraw-Hill, 1969) and in similar books by other authors, add up to an adequate defence of the view that life arose spontaneously on this planet from nonliving matter.’7
He is now a fellow of the Discovery Institute, the leading Intelligent Design organization.
References and notes
- Apart from light editing, the only addition is the separate box about Dean Kenyon. Return to text.
- Ironically, just-dead bodies have all the necessary components of life but they are dead … and the food preservation/canning industry is founded on the assumption that even though all the ingredients for life are contained in the sealed cans/containers, abiogenesis/spontaneous generation will not occur. Return to text.
- Mutation/selection are no help in explaining the first self-reproducing organism in the evolutionary scenario, because both require reproduction, obviously. Return to text.
- Adenosine TriPhosphate. Return to text.
- To view animations of ATP Synthase in action, see any number on the web. Samples below:
http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/life-science/metabolomics/learning-center/metabolic-pathways/atp-synthase/atp-animation.html. Return to text.
- Adenosine DiPhosphate. Return to text.
- Kenyon, D., Foreword to What is Creation Science? by Henry Morris, San Diego, Creation-Life Publishers, pp. i-iii, 1982. Return to text.
Don't know if you mention this, because I only skimmed the article. But the idea that an all-creating explosion could have occurred without preexisting energy (or that it created energy) is simply impossible. I'm in high school, taking a simple AP algebra-based physics class. It is enormously evident that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it only DEPARTS or ENTERS a CLOSED system. It does not "vanish," nor does it "appear." Nothing in this universe has the capability to make that happen. Energy IS. To deny this fundamental concept is to defy fundamental science. It is a wonder that professional physicists try to work their way around scientific laws such as this in desperation to root out the idea of a Creator from scientist, and usurp it with contradictory naturalism. Quite dishonest of them, don't you think? Sorry, I can't be a naturalist- I respect science too much to usurp its evident truth for wishful lies, all for my own philosophical interests. These fellows are simply hijackers.
Thanks for this article. It was informative. It's unfortunate they disregarded valid and commonly known science because it didn't support what they believed. It may be a weird thing to say, but science only strengthens my faith and that is thanks to people like you and the work you do.
When I think of the origin of life I think of the dust of the earth becoming gnats or lice (depending on the translation) and the fact that such a thing could not be done by the magicians of Egypt. Further, they recognised that changing dust into living things was the finger of God (Exodus 8:16-19). Finger of God and Spirit of God are used interchangeably in the New Testament - compare Luke 11:20 and Matthew 12:28.
Excellent article explaining with clarity stuff I don't fully understand but I can follow the reasoning and I love the negative circular argument "No ATP Synthase = no ATP = no transcription of DNA coding for ATP Synthase = no ATP Synthase = no ATP…"! Very persuasive indeed. I thank God for such people who have been gifted to demonstrate basic truth so clearly.
Just wanted you to know, that was a VERY helpful article!
Very well written article Renton, I guess this is a good example of the editors finger being mightier than common sense, as pointed out by you. As you mentioned it does their credibility no good at all, and I thought this particular publication (NZ Geographic) understood the importance of integrity.