How the “self-made” approach plays out in the real world
I have never seen a biology textbook that did not examine a few of the old-time scientific myths and superstitions that have since been debunked. If you check a text, you may read how Mendeleev’s periodic table with its eventual hundred-plus elements put to rest Aristotle’s faulty view that all matter was made up of just four elements—fire, water, air, and earth. You might also find how Copernicus finally proved the Earth revolved around the sun, and not vice versa, or how Pasteur’s vaccinations replaced bloodletting and leech treatments as a cure for infections.
Furthermore, you are almost certain to find such a textbook critical of the notion of spontaneous generation. This medieval concept was that cellular life could just arise out of nonliving material. To explain the erroneous concept, my high-school biology book included a crude drawing of critters crawling out from under a rotting log. Other depictions might show swamp life climbing out of the oozing mud, maggots emerging from a piece of raw meat, or a sack of grain generating the rodents that invariably show up for the food. The author’s comments on such drawings usually point to the folly of people thinking life just “happened.”
These blind alleys dismissed, the book usually gives the correct view for the origin of cellular life, using Pasteur’s famous “soup in a flask” experiment. Pictures show how boiled broth left in an open container developed the contamination of bacterial life, while boiled broth in a flask sealed from microbes in the air did not—thereby proving that only life gives rise to life. And to be sure that the impressionable young reader understands that superstitious theories cannot account for life, the author is likely to close with the cell theory. This theory has three tenets:
1. The cell is the basic unit of life.
2. All organisms are made of cells.
3. All cells come from other cells.
The heart of the cell theory is the third statement, which says a new cell can only come from a preexisting cell.
Life from Nonlife?
This poses a dilemma for the theory of natural evolution: to first say spontaneously generated cells are a medieval myth, but then to say inorganic (nonliving material) went to organic (living material) at least once in Earth’s history. To escape the dilemma, Darwinists need a powerful explanation for unintended life, and a really good one, or they are back on “maggots just appear on dead meat” footing.
Of course they have one to offer. It bears careful examination because if it is believable, Design must take a giant step backward, so to speak. If it is unbelievable, then Design wins, even if only by default.
The following will give you a taste of the complex processes said to be necessary if life is to evolve from nonlife. (To fully comprehend the various theories would take a lifetime of study.) In brief you are about to read of a string of random events that begin with our Earth as a raging and inhospitable planet full of intense heat, toxic gases, and violent storms.
Following the big bang, the first cell evolved on Earth when—after about 1.1 billion years—conditions on our violent and inhospitable planet finally settled sufficiently for chemical complexity to move forward.
By about 3.5 billion years ago, a powerful reconfiguring force, probably the sun’s ultraviolet rays, had eventually fractured enough simple inorganic molecules like carbon dioxide and methane to release their atomic carbon contents. These then reassembled into the carbon-chain configurations that are the backbones of organic molecules in our carbon-based life-forms.
As water, hydrogen gas, ammonia, and nitrogen gas were also fractured by UV rays, all four atoms that make up 99 percent of organic tissue—hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and additional carbon—were able to begin attachment to the existing carbon chains. Though this may have taken many millions of years, the simplest organic carbohydrates finally appeared in the primordial soup.
Now the oceans—or perhaps freshwater ponds which were not subject to harsh salinity—contained organic molecules like simple alcohols (ethanol), weak organic acids (acetic acid), and monosaccharides (glucose, and later deoxyribose and ribose). At this point, perhaps it was lightning, another powerful reconfiguring force, that fractured sulfuric and phosphoric acids to free necessary sulfate and phosphate radicals. These ionized groups, perhaps further catalyzed by superheated iron and nickel sulfides, then interacted with the present carbohydrates to produce at least some of the “alphabet” of 20 amino acids. And now that these amino-acid building blocks were appearing, they polymerized into the all-essential proteins necessary for any type of future cell structure.
Besides UV rays and lightning, there were other reconfiguring forces present on ancient Earth to aid in molecular advancement. X-rays, volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and meteor strikes may have also played a role in the assembly of larger organic molecules such as additional amino acids, vitamins, ATPs, and simple enzymes. The appearance of enzymes would be particularly important in that they would accelerate molecular development.
At this juncture, critical components made their appearance. Certain amino acids were somewhat altered to produce the nitrogenous bases of cytosine, adenine, guanine, and uracil, which combined with sugars and phosphates to produce nucleotides that served as the building blocks for the first nucleic acid, RNA. (The template for assembling such macromolecule could have been the intricate lattice arrangement of inorganic crystals.)
With RNA now present, acting as both a coder of additional nitrogenous base sequences and a ligase-type catalyst, it began to self-replicate. Portions of the RNA molecule were now able to construct longer proteins, such as those needed for protective cell membranes, and were also able to code for a unique molecule called chlorophyll. The chlorophyll in developing chloroplasts would then take over carbon-chain construction through the extremely reliable process of photosynthesis.
With RNA and photosynthesis both producing further organic molecular complexity and abundance, these large particles began adhering to each other, eventually forming well-known prebiotic coacervates—subcellular particles bringing us to the verge of a living cell.
Other portions of mutating RNA molecules could now begin to code for proteins necessary for the eventual appearance of organelles such as mitochondria, ribosomes, and plastids. Meanwhile, another nitrogenous base, thymine, had already been added to the soup. It was now only a short step to transform RNA into the double-helix marvel of DNA, the ultimate holder of all future genetic codes. This freed RNA to adopt its present role of messenger in the production of subsequent proteins and allowed DNA to assume full “blueprint duties” for all other cell structures. Then in short order, the first asexual prokaryotic cell appeared in the form of a single bacterium, and life was born.
As proliferating prokaryotic cells continued nucleic acid production, individual strands of DNA eventually traveled in twos, leading to the homologous chromosome pairs that are basic to all of today’s organisms.
Then, as these evolving cells engulfed other less complex bacteria through endosymbiosis, they were transformed into organelles for added capabilities rather than being digested. This produced the first true eukaryotic cell, and the world now had an organism capable of going beyond simple asexual reproduction to utilize a sexual mating process allowing for great variations among offspring. It did not take long for these advanced cells to clump together in multicellularity for protection and division of labor, producing perhaps worms and primitive fish. Though this entire process may have taken 3.5 billion years to complete, the forces of natural selection were now coming into play through survival of the fittest, which would drive organisms to improve or die. For this reason, one might say that in the next billion years or so, the appearance of the complex plant and animal species of the twenty-first century was a foregone conclusion.
Obviously, research for more specifics on the actual mechanisms above continues. On other fronts, the search on Earth for structurally related but unusable molecules has been inconclusive, as have attempts to generate molecular complexity in substantive quantities under laboratory conditions. But nature continues to divulge her secrets, albeit reluctantly, and the work goes on.
This highly detailed explanation stops at the appearance of the ancient chordates—fish—which Darwinists believe went on to eventually become species like the North American wood duck (which I use as an example in the next chapter). And if that could happen, then I guess mammals could appear and become monkeys, and so on.
Get Out the Magic Wand
On the surface, the entire package appears to constitute a powerful argument. Darwinists I know fully believe in this and think nothing more needs to be said. At first glance, how could anyone argue with this explanation? How could you challenge the details unless you were as highly trained as the researchers? The rapid bombardment of high-powered vocabulary, and the dizzying mosaic the terms paint, surely cannot be the product of a vivid imagination, can it?
And what about the explanation’s obvious lack of need for an Unseen Hand? How can “In the beginning, God…” compete with this? Is natural evolution the truth and Design the fraud? Does Darwinism still have every right to monopolize science, rendering the title of this book meaningless?
We can see why, to Darwinists, theological explanations for the origin of life must seem like magic-wand waving and smoke and mirrors. I’m sure this is the reason evolutionists have told me to my face that I’ve forsaken cognitive facts and the left-brained reasoning of science, and instead am now drawing on the emotionalism of the right-brained superstitions of religion—not too far from voodoo and witchcraft. (Flattering, isn’t it?)
Another Accidental Marvel
However, before we pursue the issue further, I would like to present an explanation that parallels the one above: an explanation of the unintended processes that produced another first—the first television.
The television came into use when conditions in the civilized world finally made electronic communications a possibility. It began long ago on a deserted tropical island. Violent volcanic activity due to tectonic plate movement crystallized sand into glass in the shape of a cathode-ray tube. This tube fell into a phosphorescent “soup” composed of the remains of millions of ancient fireflies, and the oozing liquid coated the glass. Though natural erosion eventually wore away the outside phosphor coating, the inside coating dried and remained.
Later, a random lightning strike placed two lumps of iron at each end of the tube. These lumps became magnetized, one positively and one negatively, by the heat dissipation of the ancient cooling Earth, and simultaneously began to function as an anode and a cathode, collecting and repelling electrons. Random oxidation-reduction reactions driven by intense heat from a thermal vent separated and refined sufficient copper from available ore to shape several strands of wire, which were belched ashore by an underwater earthquake and subsequent tidal wave. Hurricane-force winds attached these wires to the magnets in the glass tube in the exact required position. Suction from these same winds produced a vacuum in the tube, which was sealed in by cork insulators blown into place from destroyed trees.
Finally, a burst of ultraviolet radiation from an uncommonly intense solar flare energized the two electrodes, and they began to fire electrons at the phosphor coating at the precise angle that would cause it to glow. The very first operational cathode-ray tube was now a reality.
As all this was taking place, over the same lengthy time period the same reconfiguring forces had shaped the less complex components of tubes, circuit boards, dials, and wood cabinetry. These lay scattered all over the island where the cathode ray tube lay glowing. The light and the other strange-looking objects attracted the curious monkeys on the island, and they began to randomly manipulate the pieces.
As luck would have it, the primates somehow managed to assemble the components, and before they could disassemble them, a man walking the deserted island found the device and named it the “tele-vision.” This man was an entrepreneurial sort who realized its potential to display specified electronic signals, perhaps for profit. He brought the “TV” back to civilization, where he applied for and was granted a patent.
Now it has been many years since that first simple glowing cathode-ray tube was discovered, and through serendipitous results of the random actions of bungling repairmen, it has evolved into such sophisticated devices as plasma screens and HDTV. However, much of the original accidental technology is still being duplicated, and even the name “television” is still used today.
Electronic engineers around the world still marvel at the luck of the original patent owner. This is because no similar “pre-television” components have ever been found anywhere else on Earth, either nonfunctional or near-functional, which could corroborate the bizarre tale told by the man who once walked that tropical island. Also, attempts to piece together the natural processes thought to have taken place, and then recreate them under tightly controlled simulated conditions, have met with unsatisfactory results. And yet faith in the truth of the process causes the work to on.
Well—there you have it. The product has changed from cell to television, but the reliance on potentially lucky processes is basically the same. Perhaps the only other difference is that the vocabulary in the TV scenario isn’t as intimidating and doesn’t produce the hoodwinking element of mystery due to the unfamiliar.
Choose Your Smoke and Mirrors
Is it perhaps possible that evolutionary science also employs its fair share of magic-wand waving and smoke and mirrors? When you understand what natural evolution is really trying to sell, do you get the feeling someone should tell the king sporting his new clothes that he is really naked?
The story is told of a consortium of scientists who bet God they too could make a living cell from scratch. The challenge was accepted, and the group proceeded to gather the most renowned molecular biologists, cytologists, and geneticists from around the world. As word spread, funds began pouring in from all over. The team built an impressive research facility and equipped it with powerful supercomputers, high-tech microscopes, state-of-the-art electronic machinery, and all the best tools and glassware. When all was in place, the team prepared to go out and collect the necessary chemical compounds to begin their experiments. At this point, God stepped in and said, “Hey, not so fast—get your own raw materials.”
Even if organic components—in this case, prelife molecules already assembled by living cells—were available, I wonder if lab experiments have shown that we are anywhere near making a living cell.
Consider the following:
Cutting-edge laboratory work can barely identify and safely alter organic molecules from those already present in nature.
Even constructing a vital organelle within a cell, such as a mitochondrion, is unthinkable due to complexity of an unimaginable magnitude.
Therefore, the correct answer as to whether we can make a living cell in a test tube is not “inevitable,” “likely,” “probably,” or “maybe”—or even “remote”—but most definitely “impossible.” However, the incongruity is, many of those same reputable scientists believe that without our story’s state-of-the-art research facility with supercomputers, microscopes, electronic machinery, tools, and glassware, a living cell could still accidentally happen in nature.
Now here’s where the cheese binds. Why will Darwinists say the random processes making the first cell are within the realm of believability…and then slam the door, as we all must, on my goofy scenario about the first TV? Why the double standard? In both processes we have all the necessary raw materials. In both we also have identical reconfiguring forces with the tremendous yet unguided power to bring about change. Both even have a selection mechanism to drive development forward after the central unit is in operation. All we need in both is a “little” luck.
Can it be intellectually honest to reject the second set of processes while accepting the first? Think about it as we move on to the “either… or” challenge in the next chapter.