Chemical Evolution As Proposed by Darwinists

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

DARWINISTS WANT US TO believe that all species of organisms arose and developed through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increased the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Notwithstanding the fact that Charles Darwin had no formal training or knowledge of genetics, he felt compelled to present an unproven theory of the origin of species. He believed new species are able to originate from prior organisms that have adapted to fit environmental stressors, thus surviving over weaker organisms. Scientists and teachers today have parlayed this into the dogmatic contention that life itself began from inorganic molecules that spontaneously appeared on our planet some time after space, time, and matter created itself out of nothing. In effect, they are attempting to reverse-engineer man by tracing his origin back to molecules present in a so-called organic soup at the dawn of time.

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Granted, Darwin never claimed to explain the origin of life; just the origin of species. The word species means “a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.” Species is one of the major categories used in the classification of organisms. A hierarchical system is used for classifying organisms to the species level, which, by definition, is the most specific class of organisms. The categories established by this classification are Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Family, Genus, and Species. Species is sometimes confused with kind or sort, as expressed by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis.

From a biblical perspective, land animals like wolves, zebras, sheep, lions, and so on have at least two ancestors that lived on Noah’s ark, about 4,300 years ago. These animals have undergone many changes since that time. But dogs are still part of the dog kind, cats are still part of the cat kind, and so on. God placed variety within the original kinds, and other variations have occurred due to genetic alterations. This is a scientifically sound theory. Genetic variations have occurred over time, resulting in mutations. Never has such a variation changed a dog into a cat or a butterfly into a bat.

THE BASICS

According to evolutionary biology, once life got started, Darwinian evolution took over and eventually produced the degree of diversity we see on the planet today. Under the standard view, a process of random mutation and natural selection built life’s vast complexity one small mutational step at a time. Of course, all of life’s complex features are encoded in the DNA of living organisms. Building new features thus requires generating new information in the genetic code of DNA. Can the necessary information be generated in a non-directed, step-by-step manner as espoused by Darwin? Darwinian evolution can explain each small step along an evolutionary pathway that might produce some survival advantage. However, when multiple mutations must be present simultaneously to gain a functional advantage, Darwin gets stuck. In fact, Darwin (1859) wrote, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

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Michael Behe is professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He coined the term irreducible complexity to describe systems which require many parts—and thus many mutations—to be present all at once before providing any survival advantage to the organism. According to Behe, such systems cannot evolve in the step-by-step fashion required by Darwinian evolution. As a result, he maintains that random mutation and unguided natural selection cannot generate the genetic information required to produce irreducibly complex structures. Too many simultaneous mutations would be required—an event which is highly unlikely to occur. In other words, if a feature cannot be built by numerous, successive, slight modifications, and if intermediate steps do not confer a net benefit on the organism, then Darwinian evolution will absolutely break down.

THE THEORY OF CHEMICAL EVOLUTION

Darwinian evolution requires a mechanism for generation of diversity in a population, and selective differences between individuals that influence reproduction. In biology, diversity is generated by mutations. Selective differences arise because of the encoded functions of the sequences (e.g., ribozymes or proteins). Today, evolutionists lay claim to a process they call chemical evolution, in which diversity is generated by random chemical synthesis instead of (or in addition to) mutation. They state that selection acts on physio-chemical properties. The story of the unguided (un-designed) chemical evolution of first life has some variations depending on who’s version you read, but its main points can be summarized as follows:

  • At the time when the chemical constituents of the first life were developing, the Earth had virtually no free oxygen, important since the presence of free oxygen would prevent the formation of compounds essential for the origin of life.
  • Nature “invented” a way to produce the chemical letters of the DNA/RNA alphabet: cytosine, adenine, thymine, and guanine (C, A, T, and G).
  • Nature “invented” a way to make the sugars ribose and deoxyribose.
  • Nature “invented” a way to combine these sugars, phosphoric acid, and the DNA/RNA alphabet letters (the four nucleobases) into long chains.
  • Nature “invented” a method to make twenty distinct amino acids into sophisticated protein machines.
  • After inventing all this, nature changed the self-replicating molecule into a system in which DNA coded for amino acids and thus for proteins.
  • Finally, nature “invented” a membrane system that isolated the invented molecules from the environment and metabolism began.

Stanley Miller’s “Chemical Evolution” Experiment

Geologists estimate that the Earth formed around billion years ago. They claim that for many millions of years, early Earth was pummeled by asteroids and other celestial objects. Temperatures would have been very high (with water taking the form of a gas, not a liquid). The first life might have emerged during a break in the asteroid bombardment when it was cool enough for water to condense into oceans. They then point to a second supposed bombardment happened about 3.9 billion years ago. They believe this is the point when Earth became capable of supporting sustained life.

In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey did an experiment to determine if organic molecules could be spontaneously produced. under reducing conditions thought to resemble those of early Earth. The result was a tarry slime with 85% tar, 13% carboxylic acids, and 2% amino acids, which they thought resembled those of early Earth.

Similar experiments have produced the same kinds of results:

  • Living organisms have twenty different kinds of amino acids, a twenty-letter alphabet used to “write” protein and protein machines essential to life. But Miller-type experiments produce many amino acids that are not present in proteins. These amino acids aren’t part of the relevant alphabet for coding life.
  • The side chains of amino acids determine their chemical nature. They may be hydrophobic, neutral, acidic, or basic. None of the amino acids with basic side chains (lysine, arginine, and histidine) have been formed in Miller-type experiments, and yet these are crucial for life.
  • In any given experiment, only a few, and at most thirteen, of the twenty amino acids present on proteins have been formed. All twenty are needed for life.
  • The composition of compounds formed in Miller-type experiments differs from that found in living cells. Monofunctional compounds that inhibit polymer formation are oversupplied in Miller-type experiments. To form a chain from molecules, the molecules must have two “sticky ends; if they have only one, there is nothing for the next compound to attach to. Miller-type experiments produce far too few molecules with two “sticky ends.”

The random mixture of chemicals produced by these types of experiments is simply not close enough to that which is required for life. Anindya Das, Assistant Professor at the Department of Microbiology of KPC Medical College and Hospital, West Bengal University of Health Science, Kolkata, India, stated in a paper Published January 7, 2019, “…it can be assumed that the basic constituents of life like Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and other inorganic substances combined in a proportion to create first life on earth. Probably the origin of life started from the production of purine, pyrimidine rings, amino acids, sugar alcohols, nucleic acid chains and the first life on earth is prokaryotic microbes which probably evolved from the virus like particles” [Italics mine]. That’s a lot of speculation.

Das divided the origin of life into three steps: Step I—Formation of basic structural elements or building blocks of life like purine and pyrimidine rings, amino acids, glucose, phosphate energy bonds; Step II—Formation of more complex structural forms by chain elongation of basic structural molecules; Step III—Systematic assembling of all these structural elements leading to a structural unit with functional autonomy where all the biochemical reactions can occur automatically, repeated in an organized way, making it an autonomic functional unit capable of recognition, sensing, sigaling, bio-chemical synthesis, degradation (metabolism), energy production, self-duplication (reproduction), homeostasis and information dissipation. Das said the most difficult part of this theory is how formation of more complex structural forms by chain elongation and the systematic assembly of these parts occurred to achieve functional autonomy, forming the first living form.

Given all the talk about nucleic acids, proteins and such, it’s important to note that a living cell is much more than just nucleic acids and proteins. It has the sophistication of a factory or city. This is true of the very basic microorganism. A complex cell membrane is necessary to separate the content of the cell from the environment. It is always formed from the pre-existing membrane, and separates the intracellular reactions from the environment. A cover that separates the complex reaction pathways would provide isolation from the outside world. This is critical to cellular integrity and, consequently, cellular health. Without a proper membrane, the complex reaction pathways would stand no more chance of surviving and succeeding in the so-called primordial soup than a house of cards in a storm. The membrane, therefore, is likely an essential part of the formation of specific transport systems. Any failure in the cellular wall would cause infiltration of damaging molecules from viruses, toxins or other deadly chemical compounds.

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Researchers who have studied Ebola Zaire initially thought that the virus’s glycoprotein is the primary determinant of vascular-cell injury and that Ebola virus infection of endothelial cells induces structural damage, which could contribute to hemorrhagic diathesis—an unusual susceptibility to bleeding—but not enough evidence has been compiled as yet to make this determination. The hemorrhagic tendencies of Ebola Zaire,  however, are related to decreased synthesis of coagulation and other plasma proteins because of severe hepatocellular necrosis. This is a clear indication of the importance of a strong cellular membrane.

Life is Built Upon Genetic Information

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An essential property of all life is information. This includes the information written using DNA’s four-letter alphabet—the information in proteins that are built by using instructions from DNA. The chemical structure of DNA does not explain its code—that is, the rules that the cells follow in translating the information in DNA into all functional proteins. Nor does it explain the “software” written by it. (See my post Signature in the Cell: The Definition of Life). The chemical structure doesn’t explain it any better than the chemical composition of ink and paper explain the information contained in a printed book, or the language, syntax, and grammatical rules used to create the message.

Here’s the big question: Where did the genetic code come from? Forget for a moment that molecules are made of matter (which cannot create itself). How could genetic coding change itself and remain viable and functional at each evolutionary stage? Biological information (essentially data) remains a sticky point for those who cling to purely materialistic origins for life. There is no scientific evidence supporting the notion of a mindless origin for this essential feature of life. And there is good reason to believe that biological information, and the language it is written in, instead have their origin in the work of a creative intelligence.

Parting Remarks

Unfortunately, the “official” view in public education remains that life appeared “spontaneously,” not long after the conditions were right, with no need for intelligent design. But there is no credible evidence in support of this dogmatic view. Fred Hoyle wrote, “If there were some deep principle which drove organic systems towards living systems, the operation of the principle should be demonstrable in a test tube in half a morning. Needless to say, no such demonstration has ever been given. Nothing happens when organic materials are subject to the usual prescription of showers of electrical sparks or drenched in ultraviolet light, except the eventual production of a tarry sludge.” He later stated, “The notion that not only the biopolymer but the operating program of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial organic soup here on the Earth is evidently nonsense of a high order.”

I read in Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, that molecules are tiny machines that require multiple parts in order to function. His most famous example is the bacterial flagellum—a micro-molecular rotary-engine, functioning like an outboard motor on bacteria to propel it through liquid a medium to find food. In this regard, flagella have a basic design that is highly similar to some motors made by humans containing many parts that are familiar to engineers, including a rotor, a stator, a u-joint, a propeller, a brake, and a clutch. As one molecular biologist writes in the journal Cell, “[m]ore so than other motors, the flagellum resembles a machine designed by a human.” However the energetic efficiency of these machines outperforms anything produced by humans: the same paper found that the efficiency of the bacterial flagellum “could be ~100%.”

Pierre-Paul Grasse, past president of the French Academy of Sciences, contended that “[m]utations have a very limited ‘constructive capacity” because “[n]o matter how numerous they may be, mutations do not produce any kind of evolution.” Many other scientists feel this way. More than 800 PhD scientists have signed a statement agreeing they “are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life” (See “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” at http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/). Indeed, Thornton and DeSalle (2000) wrote in Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics: “[I]t remains a mystery how the undirected process of mutation, combined with natural selection, has resulted in the creation of thousands of new proteins with extraordinarily diverse and well optimized functions.”

Resources

Behe, Michael. Darwin’s Black Box. New York: Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. (Chapter 6). UK: John Murray Publications, 1859.

DeRosier, David. “The turn of the screw: The bacterial flagellar motor.” Cell, 93: 17-20, 1998.

Thornton, Joseph and DeSalle, Rob. “Gene Family Evolution and Homology: Genomics Meets Phylogenetics,” Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, 1:41-73, 2000.

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