Feedback Archive → Feedback 2004 and 2009

Origin of life questions, and what biblical creationists really believe

6 December 2004; republished and updated 7 February 2009

The letter writer was positive, but he had questions from an atheist friend which are answered below, which is why it is classified under “negative feedback”. The friend had a number of misunderstandings about the chemistry involved in chemical evolution, which Ph.D. chemist Dr Jonathan Sarfati clears up, and about the biblical Creation/Fall/Flood/Dispersion model.

Firstly, I would like to really thank your organization for your fantastic work in spreading the uncompromising word of God. I have always had problems with Genesis, but my pastors could not give me a solution and told me to pray about it.

Sad to say, this anti-intellectual approach is all too common—see The “Indoctrinator”. Yet Jesus told us that the greatest command included loving God with all our minds. This includes both the positive and the negative—both defending our own faith and undermining non-Christian belief systems. For the positive, the Apostle Peter commanded Christians to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). For the negative, the Apostle Paul said, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The overall field of apologetics, not apologizing for being a Christian but defending the faith, is in Jude’s command “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). See also Q&A: Apologetics.

I prayed for around 2 months, and [CMI] came to my church for a seminar. This was one of the biggest life changing experience I’ve had, and everything I have been indoctrinated with crumbled within 60 mins, and everything made sense. It was like blowing away a think cloud of smoke! Accordingly, a few days later, I accepted Christ. Anyway, I have my HSC exam this Monday, so I’ll keep this short. […]

Thank you! We are glad this has been so helpful.

I have an atheist friend who is very hard ball in regards to Christian issues, and if his heart softens, it has very positive implications for those who know him. I don’t do any sciences, but I try my best to answer his questions from the sources from [your website] and from my knowledge from Creation, but with the more technical questions, it would be very nice if he could get a direct response.

No problem. There is hope for anyone. And as will be shown, the allegedly “scientific” arguments are just a smokescreen to justify his willful unbelief, as Romans 1:18–32 says.

Once again, thanks and keep up the good work.

Sai-Chung Chiang

Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.
Brisbane, Australia

My friend’s question:

Rebuttal [to Could Monkeys Type the 23rd Psalm?]
Now I don’t know everything about biochemistry. One of the things I have learnt about is reversible reactions and the establishment of an equilibrium constant. Now the paper says that “All of which means that Huxley’s eternal apes would have typed as much or as little after one second as after a billion years.” Now first things first, they ignored the most fundamental rule of equilibrium systems, to have an equilibrium the environment must be closed, i.e. no products added or removed, no change in temperature or pressure. Now you can draw in economics in here, you can have an equilibrium only if things stay the same, it is really just a snap shot in time because in the economy or ocean for that matter things change.

This is pure bluff. The point was to parallel the typewriter example as much as possible with a pool of amino acids. In such a case, the reactions go both ways. In fact, they would go more towards the monomers than the polymers, so the article was actually generous to the evolutionists. See Origin of life: the polymerization problem.

When things change that will affect the equilibrium, bringing it to a new equilibrium, unless the forces are met with the will anti-force as you might say (eg new demand of 100 is met with someone else reducing demand of 100). So therefore the equilibrium will change, as the ocean changes which debunks that the amount will be constant.

This does not make any sense at all. The equilibrium doesn’t change; rather, the new materials shift the system away from equilibrium, so the system reacts to restore this equilibrium (Le Châtelier’s Principle). And this equilibrium is in the direction of the monomers.

Secondly, the equation:
NH2-CHR-COOH + NH2-CHR’-COOH ? NH2-CHR-CO-NH-CHR'-COOH + H2O Ignores another big factor, the water in the ocean is not pure water, or fresh water; it has many chemicals in it, most of all salt. Now when salt (NaCl) dissolves in H2O, the Na and Cl atoms break apart to form Na+ and Cl ions.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The salt already has Na+ and Cl ions. They simply come apart when the crystal is dissolved.

These ions will attract H2O molecules as the positive Na+ will attract the negative end of many H2Os, while the negative Cl will attract the positive end of many H2Os. Hence a lot of the water molecules in the ocean are attached to many ions, mostly Na+ and Cl. Therefore this brings back to the equilibrium constant, the paper argues that will so much water in the ocean there can only be a small amount, however if salt or other ions keep on entering the ocean (they did), these water molecules produced by the condensation reaction above will “attach” to these ions, therefore you cannot say that there is an equilibrium constant, in fact if water is effectively used i.e. removed from the equation the system will actually try to produce more water in response to the water loss to create more balance, therefore the NH2-CHR-CO-NH-CHR'-COOH molecule will also be produced along with water being produced (look at equation). This is simplistic but it should be understandable.

True, this is simplistic. So why not produce some values for the changed equilibrium constants instead of hand waving? How about also considering the interactions of the –COO group with the Na+ and the –NH3+ with the Cl? (NB: the amino acids would be mostly in the zwitterionic form (H3N+-CHR-COO) rather than the α-aminocarboxylic acid form (H2N-CHR-COOH) which is written for convenience, even more so in solutions with high ionic strength—I wonder if your correspondent understands these concepts). The bottom line is, this claim is nonsense—no one would try to make proteins from amino acids simply by adding salt!

Thirdly, H2-CHR-COOH, NH2-CHR’-COOH and similar amino acids were being produced at the time; experiments which have emulated similar conditions have produced these molecules. The conditions are of course different in our atmosphere today so don’t ask why it isn’t still being produced in the atmosphere.

How do you know they were different? Rather, the ammonia/methane/reducing atmosphere of the Miller experiments has largely been discounted today. In fact, there was likely free oxygen right from the beginning, which would be fatal to the Miller scenario. For example, amino acids would undergo oxidative de-amination, where the α-amino acid is oxidized to an α-imino acid, which is hydrolyzed to ammonia and an α-keto acid, which decarboxylates to release CO2 and leave an aldehyde:


A 2004 paper (Rosing, M.T. and Frei, R., U-rich Archaean sea-floor sediments from Greenland—indications of >3700 Ma oxygenic photosynthesis, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 217:237–244, 2004) argues from uranium geochemistry that there were oxidizing conditions, thus photosynthesis, at 3.7 Ga (giga-annum = billion years ago). But according to uniformitarian dating, the earth was being bombarded by meteorites up to 3.8 Ga. So even granting evolutionary presuppositions, this latest research shows that life existed almost as soon the earth was able to support it, not “billions and billions of years” later. But oxygen would be produced by photodissociation of water vapour anyway (the breakup of molecules through exposure to light), which would be devastating for Miller-type proposals.

[Update: the article Deep-sea rocks point to early oxygen on Earth, 24 March 2009, reports:

Red jasper cored from layers 3.46 billion years old suggests that not only did the oceans contain abundant oxygen then, but that the atmosphere was as oxygen rich as it is today, according to geologists. This jasper or hematite-rich chert formed in ways similar to the way this rock forms around hydrothermal vents in the deep oceans today. …

“We found that the hematite from this core was made of a single crystal and therefore was not hematite made by ultra violet radiation,” said [Hiroshi] Ohmoto [professor of geochemistry, Penn State].

This could only happen if the deep ocean contained oxygen and the iron rich fluids came into contact at high temperatures. Ohmoto and his team believe that this specific layer of hematite formed when a plume of heated water, like those found today at hydrothermal vents, converted the iron compounds into hematite using oxygen dissolved in the deep ocean water. …

In fact, the researchers suggest that to have sufficient oxygen at depth, there had to be as much oxygen in the atmosphere 3.46 billion years ago as there is in today’s atmosphere. To have this amount of oxygen, the Earth must have had oxygen producing organisms like cyanobacteria actively producing it, placing these organisms much earlier in Earth’s history than previously thought.]

Now since more of these amino acids were coming in, this will also push the equilibrium towards the right hand side i.e. producing more NH2-CHR-CO-NH-CHR'-COOH + H2O.

But the energy destroying them was far more efficient, so the reaction would be pushed towards the left (again, the equilibrium is not pushed anywhere—the system always moves towards equilibrium). Hulett analysed both constructive and destructive effects of UV (H.R. Hulett, Limitations on Prebiological Synthesis, Journal of Theoretical Biology 24:56–72, 1969). He found that the intensity of the destructive long wavelengths exceeds that of the constructive short ones, and the quantum efficiency of destruction is much higher than that for construction as well. So that’s two strikes, meaning that destruction of amino acids is four to five orders of magnitude higher than construction. So unless there was a plausible prebiotic mechanism for rescuing the amino acids from the UV by quickly removing them from the atmosphere and even exposed water (UV penetrates clouds as well as 10s of meters of liquid water), Miller’s experiment with the traps is not realistic.

So to say that the products would be constant would be true if it was a closed environment, however temperature, pressure and molecules in the ocean are changing constantly thus the products must also change, since more reactants are going in, and water is being used elsewhere the reaction will keep on producing more NH2-CHR-CO-NH-CHR'-COOH + H2O, than reversing and producing the reactants NH2-CHR-COOH + NH2-CHR’-COOH. Hence the reasoning for at least the last section (Reversibility—the Achilles’ Heel of biogenesis by chance) of this paper is scientifically flawed.

Not at all, just simplified, because it was written for Creation magazine. As shown in the paper Origin of life: the polymerization problem, written for Journal of Creation, the technical journal of creation, the only thing “wrong” is that it understates the difficulty of polymerization, but this wasn’t the intention.

Now onto another section:
“What about natural selection?

Lest it be thought that the Darwinian concept of natural selection could increase the chance of forming life (i.e. that with time, mutations may contribute superior survival value to some members of a species), it should be realised that natural selection, if it worked at all, could only work on a living organism that could produce offspring. By its very definition it could not work on non-living chemicals.”

We note that the critic must therefore have a problem with leading evolutionist Dobzhansky who made this exact point (see quote)!

Now firstly DNA can “reproduce”, it can be copied, eg a single fertilised egg can become a human being and since each cell must have a full set of DNA it must be able to replicate.

Not at all. DNA only replicates with a lot of machinery—enzymes to make the activated nucleotides and others to link them together (see DNA: marvelous messages or mostly mess?). Apart from artificial situations in a lab, this happens only in the cell. I.e., there must be life before there is replication. The correspondent also has no understanding of epigenetic factors in the development of an embryo.

Now to get the variation for natural selection, the DNA go through mutations, now A,T,G or C could be inserted along the chain, or removed, or moved to another place, or swapped. This then produces the variation of which natural selection can act on. That’s the fundamental issue here if you want to discuss new information. DNA can and does change, it can change through radiation (i.e. UV rays, which back then without the ozone layer would have been strong, even today you can get skin cancer), error, and other environmental factors etc.

Who doubts that DNA can change? The question is the direction of change—see The evolution train’s a-comin’ (Sorry, a-goin’—in the wrong direction). I guarantee that if you exposed yourself to intense radiation, your DNA would not produce new information! As you said yourself, the changes would be damaging.

Therefore the change in DNA can result in a different gene.

And who doubts that? But again, this change would not increase the information content. But this again presupposes a living system, so cannot be invoked to explain the origin of first life.

This gene could be better or worse than it is before, if it is worse natural selection will kill it off, if its better than it will live, competing with the ones that are not as good, therefore over time it will become more dominant than the others as natural selection will eventually kill the other ones off, unless the other ones move out of the environment, but lets leave that for another day. Therefore evolution is can work.

Again, only if there is a self-reproducing system in operation. So this cannot be used to explain the origin of such a system.

Also, this hand waving about selection of small advantages over eons fails to account for the real problems, e.g., shown by bioinformatics expert Dr. Lee Spetner—see Are mutations and natural selection sufficient?

It is working in reality, now first things first, species from under the biology meaning is: “A fundamental category of taxonomic classification, ranking below a genus or subgenus and consisting of related organisms capable of interbreeding.”

Creationists have no problem with speciation. Indeed, the biblical Creation/Fall/Flood/Dispersion model even predicts rapid speciation, and this has been observed, much to the surprise of evolutionists—see Speedy species surprise.

Now as I said the snails are were the same species living in the same area. However there are now 2 groups moving further and further away from each other, into different environment and there isn’t interbreeding among them to make a bridge or intermediate link. Their genome is now very different comparatively to when they were together in one group. Now they predict soon, in a couple of months or years they will become two different species instead of one. This will happen when they can no longer breed fertile children. To you this may not seem much, they are still ‘snails’ in common terms, however in biology it means a lot because it means that their genome have changed so much that its passed the critical point where they can no longer interbreed. Now this is the start of evolution, things differentiate further and further, their genome will change further and further, now one of the groups may then separate into two, thus over time and if they repeat the process another species will be made. If they continue in different environment, and genomes keep on changing, their may become different genera (singular genus, look at chart) and so on.

But what has this to do with whether creation or evolution is true? Your correspondent has set up a straw man about what informed biblical creationists actually believe. See also Ligers and wholphins? What next?

Another thing I want to point out is that Evolution and Creation are not the only possible explanations for how we are here.

They are in the broad sense: either we were made or we weren’t! It’s a shame that evolutionists want to abolish the Law of Excluded Middle when it suits them.

Science is always trying to find out new information, they may not always be right, however we must be pragmatic,

Does this mean being open to the possibility of creation, contrary to the materialistic dogmatism of Lewontin and Todd?

creationism and other religious theories are not taught in Biology, however they are mentioned. I’m sure you can pursue studies on creationism in Studies of Religion, the majority of religious community may believe in creationism thus it’s in Studies of Religion.

What about the religious nature of evolution, as admitted by antitheistic evolutionary propagandist Michael Ruse? It is completely useless to try to portray the debate as “science vs. religion”, when it is the science invoked to support one religion vs. the science of another.

The majority of the scientific community believes in evolution, therefore evolution is taught in science. It is also their opinion, and mine, that evolution is logical and supported with evidence at this present time.

So when was it determined that the truth of scientific propositions was decided by majority opinion? Scientific majority opinion once denied that hand washing would stop the spread of disease or that heavier-than-air flying machines were possible—see “But if creation is true, why don’t all scientists believe it?”.

The fact that evolution is an integral part of biology and its related areas such as biochemistry, biotechnology etc. demands that the theory of evolution be taught or progress in fields of biology will be seriously stunted,

Really? That’s a lot of elephant hurling, but fact-free. Of course, the mainstream of the scientific community is concerned with operational science not origins, so has no use for evolution (“goo-to-you”) anyway. It’s ironic to see evolutionists on the one hand claiming that evolution is essential for biology, but on the other hand lamenting the move away from evolution to “to a more utilitarian science” which demands “more practical benefits from science” (Evolution and practical science). And anti-creationist Larry Witham, in his book Where Darwin Meets the Bible (Oxford University Press, 2002) cites a BioEssays special issue on evolution in 2000, which shows how limited evolution really is as a practical scientific theory.

“While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky’s dictum that ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,’ most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas”, the editor wrote. “Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one.” The annual programs of science conventions also tell the story. When the zoologists met in 1995 (and changed their name to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology), just a few dozen of the 400 academic papers read were on evolution. The North American Paleontological Convention of 1996 featured 430 papers, but only a few included the word “evolution” in their titles. The 1998 AAS meeting organized 150 scientific sessions, but just 5 focused on evolution—as it relates to biotechnology, the classification of species, language, race and primate families.

now you may not agree with some parts of biology, such as evolution or stem cell research,

I don’t disagree with any genuine biological facts, just with unproven conjectures about the past to explain their origin without God. And I have no objection to stem cell research—why would I object to the proven benefits of somatic (“adult”) stem cells, as opposed to embryonic stem cell research that has helped no patients and kills embryonic human beings? See Stem cells and Genesis for plenty of documentation.

however improvements such as gene therapy for children with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency have improved the living standards of these children and were theorised on the basis of many biological theories, including the theory of evolution.

No they weren’t, as amply shown by Is evolution really necessary for medical advances?, and Does science need evolution?. Many advances in medicine were made well before Darwin, and the later ones proceded independently of goo-to-you evolution.

In reality, evolution has done nothing to help real science, and has actually hindered it in many ways. E.g., the claims about vestigial organs including “junk” DNA hindered research into their functions. And to recap this reply, evolution has no answer to the origin of life or new information, and must resort to bait ‘n’ switching about the word “evolution”.

Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.
Brisbane, Australia

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