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Creation 32(3):20, July 2010

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A single-celled irony

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©iStockphoto.com/Henrik5000 Materialists scoff at the idea that the first embryonic cell of Jesus arose miraculously, but they accept that the first living cell arose spontaneously.
Materialists scoff at the idea that the first embryonic cell of Jesus arose miraculously, but they accept that the first living cell arose spontaneously.

Many people have trouble accepting the miracle of Jesus’ virginal conception.1 It’s often dismissed as a biological impossibility—a myth that belongs to a pre-scientific age. Ironically, however, many people who mock the virgin birth have no trouble accepting a similar “miracle” that, just like the virgin birth, begins with a single cell.

Life begins with a single cell

The New Testament implies that Jesus had a normal gestation time (9 months). Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that, just like you and me, Jesus began His embryonic development as a single cell. Normally, the first cell is formed when egg meets sperm. This first cell contains the entire human genome—one set of chromosomes from each parent. But since Jesus didn’t have a human father, miraculous intervention was required to bring about this first cell.

People who reject the virgin birth essentially have a problem with the appearance of this first cell. The rest of the nine month process is generally not regarded as miraculous, because it takes place millions of times all over the world each year.

Evolution begins with a single cell

The origin of the first cell is also critically important in evolutionary biology. I remember one of my university lecturers telling us that cells only come from other cells—but then he quickly corrected himself: “except, of course, for the first cell”. According to evolutionary reckoning, all life can be traced back to a single cell, which itself arose from non-living chemicals.2 But since the simplest cell we know of is horrendously complex,3 this leaves evolutionists with the unenviable task of explaining how such complexity could arise by chance alone.4

While many scoff at the idea that the first embryonic cell of Jesus arose miraculously, they have no trouble accepting that the first living cell (which supposedly gave rise to all living things) arose ‘miraculously’.

Many scientists have acknowledged the magnitude of this problem. For example, New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade confessed: “The chemistry of the first life is a nightmare to explain.”5 But perhaps the most startling assessment of the problem was given by Francis Crick, the man who won the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the structure of DNA. He surmised: “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going” [emphasis added].6 So even the self-proclaimed atheist Francis Crick thinks it’s appropriate to use the word ‘miracle’ (albeit reluctantly) to describe the appearance of the first living cell.

Maybe atheists have more in common with Christians than they like to admit. While many scoff at the idea that the first embryonic cell of Jesus arose miraculously, they have no trouble accepting that the first living cell (which supposedly gave rise to all living things) arose ‘miraculously’. This is indeed a single-celled irony.


References and notes

  1. See a detailed defence at creation.com/virgin. Return to text.
  2. Some origin-of-life researchers have speculated that a genetic system first evolved without a cell membrane, but others have acknowledged “that genetics and membranes had to have evolved together”. Wade, N., New glimpses of life’s puzzling origins, The New York Times, 15 June 2009; nytimes.com/2009/06/16/science/16orig.html. Return to text.
  3. See Sarfati, J., By Design, Creation Book Publishers, 2008, chapter 11. Return to text.
  4. Natural selection cannot be invoked because it only works on self-reproducing entities. Return to text.
  5. Wade, N., Life’s origins get murkier and messier, The New York Times, 13 June 2000; nytimes.com/2000/06/13/science/life-s-origins-get-murkier-messier-genetic-analysis-yields-intimations.html. Return to text.
  6. Crick, F., Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1981, p. 88. Even though Crick uttered these words over 25 years ago, they are still representative of the state of affairs today. For example: “The novelty and complexity of the cell is so far beyond anything inanimate in the world of today that we are left baffled by how it was achieved.” Kirschner, M. and Gerhart, J., The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005, p. 256. Return to text.

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