Abiogenesis

Abiogenesis January 16, 2020

Abiogenesis: A natural process by which living organisms can arise from nonliving organic molecules.

Creationists claim that evolution is impossible because complex organs like eyes are too complex to have arisen without the helping hand of an “intelligent designer.” The key words they intone are “irreducible complexity.” As transitional forms have been found, the gaps in the fossil record have been gradually filled in, and evolutionary biologists have resoundingly refuted that assertion, both in peer-reviewed science journals and in the courts. (e.g., Dover vs Kitzmiller, 2005) [i]

A similar argument is used to claim that the origin of life could not have happened through natural processes. This is a tougher nut to crack. The first step happened in 1953 with the Miller-Urey experiments. They showed that a soup of organic compounds that was likely to have existed three or four billion years ago, when repeatedly exposed to electric discharge, formed amino acids, one of the building blocks of proteins.

Not much progress happened in ensuing years, but a recent article in Skeptical Inquirer magazine[ii] describes some interesting and promising experiments that have whittled away at the irreducible complexity argument for the origination of that first living cell.

The new research focuses on RNA (ribonucleic acid), an important constituent along with DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in living organisms. Nucleic acids are long biological macromolecules that consist of smaller molecules called nucleotides. DNA is a double strand, while RNA is a single strand. DNA contains the genetic information that defines a living organism. RNA is an essential component in the process of making proteins, using that genetic information.

Synthesis of the individual components of RNA and DNA have been accomplished for some time, but generation of two bases, purine and pyrimidine, simultaneously under the same conditions had never been done…until recently.

In October of 2019, a group of ten scientists from Germany, Japan and the UK published a study in Science magazine[iii] that demonstrates a plausible synthesis of both purine and pyrimidine from likely primordial materials.

The research doesn’t prove how life arose, but it establishes a plausible process for the natural synthesis of RNA, using materials that were known to be abundant on the earth billions of years ago. If instead, the researchers had concluded that it was impossible to make the molecules of life from those materials and under those conditions, the creationist claim that God did it would have a little more weight.

But, as the author notes, “creationists are better known for their contributions to specious rhetoric than they are for peer-reviewed scientific research.”

[i] https://www.au.org/our-work/legal/lawsuits/kitzmiller-v-dover-area-school-district

[ii] “New RNA Research Demonstrates Prebiotic Possibility,” Skeptical Inquirer, January/February 2020 issue, p12. (The web site has a paywall so you can’t read it online unless you subscribe.)

[iii] Becker et al, Science, volume 336, 76-82


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