What Is Life
Has Darwinian evolution explained how life came into existence? Were scientists able to create a synthetic form of life from non-living things, like simple bacteria for example? Were scientists able to create DNA or RNA? Were scientists able to create required organic molecules in replicating the prebiotic earth conditions? Was science able to explain the origin of life? Was it formed in primordial soup, in mud, in hydrothermal vents or was it formed somewhere else in outer space and landed on earth?
One may think that science has already answered all these questions, or almost about to answer them all. The truth is that despite all scientific efforts on studying the origin of life for more than 70 years, nothing remarkable was achieved. All findings are still just hypotheses, and due to new scientific discoveries over these years, the knowledge gap increased, making it more difficult to come closer to answers.
In this series of articles we will discuss the above questions, and describe the relevant scientific achievements and arguments about the origin of life.
Before talking about the origin of life, it might be interesting to define first: what’s life?
Wikipedia describes life as:
“… a characteristic that distinguishes physical entities that have biological processes, from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased (they have died) or because they never had such functions and are classified as non-living.
Various forms of life exist, such as plants, animals, fungi, protists, archaea, and bacteria.
There is currently no agreement regarding the definition of life. One popular definition is that organisms are open systems that maintain homeostasis (stable state), are composed of cells, have a life cycle, undergo metabolism, can grow, adapt to their environment, respond to stimuli, reproduce and evolve. Other definitions sometimes include non-cellular life forms such as viruses.
NASA adopted an abstracted definition to identify extraterrestrial life as “a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution”.
However, these definitions mainly focus on the characteristics of a living organism, not what life really is.
Atheist scientists have also struggled to settle on a definition of life. In one of the debates about the definition of life, famous atheist scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter avoided defining what life is, assuming they can search for other forms of life, or study the origin of life without defining it.
Notably, they clearly stated many times during the debate that they simply “don’t know” the definition of life, and that science is so far away from explaining the origin of life. That debate also shows great disagreement within the scientific community on the origin of life, as some of them were optimistic that they would solve the mystery within 20 – 30 years, while others were sure that we will never be able to solve such a mystery.
So how can we discuss the origin of something if we don’t know what that thing is in the first place?
Materialistic point of view:
Materialists always try to define everything through physics and chemistry, defining living things as molecules, abstracting life as chemicals that perform biological processes. So their main assumption is that if we were able to recreate or fabricate the chemistry required for life, the molecular building blocks, then life can evolve accordingly, having life from non-life.
This assumption is facing a lot of difficulties:
- Ignoring a lot of non-materialistic aspects about life that need explanation, like: emotions, morals, consciousness, imagination, arts, intelligence, language, etc. While chemicals and molecules are required for life as the hardware, life is surely something on-top. Nothing convincing was presented so far to explain how these aspects evolved from chemical reactions.
- Producing organic life from non-organic chemistry has been extremely difficult and since the Miller–Urey experiment in1952, and after 70 years, results are still extremely far from achieving any remarkable success.
- Identifying the real prebiotic (early earth) conditions to try to replicate the chemistry of life, as evidence for the origin of life hypothesis.
- Identifying the basic form of life, i.e. what’s the minimum required abstraction of the living cell to declare that we have a living organism?
- If we successfully created all the organic life chemistry, how to put them together in a physical setup? And how was all that done by its own, in a purely unguided unconscious process, just by chance and time?
- Assuming we have an already formed fully functional cell, that just died, so all the chemistry and physics are in place, how to revive that dead cell and make it “live” again?
Details about these points will be covered in the following arguments
The car argument:
Imagine a new car, coming in small pieces spread apart, unordered, thousands of different pieces, with you having no tools at all, no experience, no previous info of what these parts will produce at the end, and now you should start producing a meaningful thing that will turn out to be a car.
What if even these parts were not all in your garage, but some parts are in volcanoes, others in oceans, others buried in the earth, others are so rare to find, and you don’t even know that you will need them?
What if also that car should be self-maintaining, like driving on its own, or getting its own fuel with no software installed?
What about corrosion that might impact these parts before you successfully finish the task?
Do you think you will be able to produce that car ever? Although this task seems to be so difficult, it’s still much easier than what materialists are assuming to just happen coincidentally to form the living cell.
Other Scientific point of view:
A lot of scientists are not convinced with the materialistic point of view about the definition of life and the origin of life.
One example is Paul Davies – an agnostic scientist – who explained in one of his lectures (reference 3), his vision about biology as: Information! that it is all about coding, signals, and instructions, while physics/chemistry is about matter, force, and energy, stating that life is surely more than just chemistry and physics. He also stated that to be able to answer “How” life originated, we need to answer these questions first about:
- How software emerges from hardware
- How non-trivial programmable constructions emerge from “dumb molecules”
- How digital information storage and processing emerge from analog information
- How instructional or contextual information emerge from “mere bits” (Shannon information)
- How top-down information flow emerges from bottom-up information flow
Other scientists such as John Lennox, and Stephen Meyer used that analogy of software and hardware many times, and how cells are full of information, and since information can’t be generated on its own unless invoked by an external intelligent agent, then there must be an intelligent designer who encoded the living cells.
Christian point of view:
According to Christian belief, we believe that God created all living organisms, and that God is the source of life, and is Life itself. Therefore, life has no meaning without God.
In him was life (John1:4)
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14: 6)
Also the book of Acts spoke about Jesus as “the author of life” (Acts 3: 15)
We don’t know how God created all living organisms, but the general blueprint in Genesis 1 clearly stated that God blessed the living creatures to be fruitful and to increase in number.
- Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.
- And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” … God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
- And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.
- So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
What if scientists succeed in producing living organisms from nonliving matter?
The idea behind the materialistic point of view, is that if we are able to have life emerging from non-life, then there’s no need to have a God, and the argument used by religious people that God is the source of life will be rebutted accordingly. However, that would still be a logical fallacy because such an experiment, even if claimed that it mimics natural causes in prebiotic earth, is itself a “designed” experiment by intelligent humans.
In the following articles we shall cover:
- The cell, the building block for life as we know it
- Building blocks molecule
- DNA, the life code
- Synthetic Biology
- Darwinian evolution and Origin of Life
- Origin of Life different hypotheses
- Prebiotic soup
- hydrothermal vents
- RNA world hypothesis
- Chemical evolution
- Synthetic Chemistry for life building blocks
- Thermodynamics and energy conservation within cell formation
Life as per scientists consists of: Material (Chemistry + Physics) + Information (instructions + coding + interactions+ ..)
Scientists are still clueless about non-materialistic life aspects
Scientists are still clueless about Origin of Life
Source Life as per Christian faith is: God
1 Definition of life: Life – Wikipedia
2 The Great Debate – What is Life? – YouTube
Richard Dawkins, J. Craig Venter, Nobel laureates Sidney Altman and Leland Hartwell, Chris McKay, Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss, and The Science Network’s Roger Bingham discuss the origins of life, the possibility of finding life elsewhere, and the latest development in synthetic biology.
3 Paul Davies – “The Origin of Life” (C4 Public Lecture) – YouTube
4 Signature in the Cell: Stephen Meyer Faces his Critics, pt. 1: The Presentation – YouTube
5 Stephen Meyer Debunks the “God of the Gaps” Objection – YouTube