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Don Stewart :: Can Life Come from Non-Life?

Don Stewart
A few centuries ago, most people believed that life developed spontaneously. This is known as the theory of spontaneous generation. It was believed, for example, that flies could develop from rotting meat. It took two centuries for the scientific opponents of this idea to convince everyone that life can only come from life. Numerous experiments showed that if the proper sanitary precautions were taken, such as preventing flies from laying eggs in the meat, no new life developed.

Louis Pasteur

It was the experiments of Louis Pasteur that settled the matter. Pasteur took broth, thoroughly boiled it, and then sealed it off to prevent contamination of new microbes. The broth stayed completely clear and sterile. There was no new life.

Those who still believed in spontaneous generation claimed that the proper nourishment from the air could not reach the broth, and that was why life did not develop in Pasteurs mixture. Pasteur then constructed a glass container that allowed air to circulate over the broth, but prevented microbes from reaching it. Again, the broth remained clear and sterile. He had proven his hypothesis. The universally accepted scientific law became that life cannot develop from nonliving matter.

It is a curious fact that the same scientists who believe that life cannot now come from non-life also believe that life did develop from non-life several billion years ago. What is impossible to happen today was possible in the past. These scientists realize the inconsistency of their position, but they believe that past conditions then were radically different than they are today. The problem with holding this view is that no evidence exists that conditions in the early earth were radically different from todays conditions. It is merely an assumption that is not supported by any evidence. Yet most scientists and most introductory science texts present the existence of such a primeval soup and primeval atmosphere as an established fact.

Illogical Thinking

This type of reasoning is not logical. The fact that life now exists does not prove things had to have been radically different at the beginning and that life came from nonlife. This entire theory contains only one fact: life exists today. Nothing has been demonstrated to show either:

(1) that life came from nonlife, or
(2) that things were "radically different" enough for life to have been able to come from nonlife.

Harvard scientist George Wald wrote:

Many scientists a century ago chose to regard the belief in spontaneous generation as a philosophical necessity. It is a symptom of the philosophical poverty of our time that this necessity is no longer appreciated. Most modern biologists, having reviewed with satisfaction the downfall of the spontaneous generation hypothesis, yet unwilling to accept the alternative belief in special creation, are left with nothing (George Wald, "The Origin of Life," Scientific American, August 1954, p. 46).

Life In A Test Tube?

All attempts to simulate the conditions of the early earth and create life in a test tube have failed. Most modern textbooks on biology point to the experiments of Stanley Miller in the 1950s as to how life originally formed in the primeval soup. Miller attempted to create life from non-life in a laboratory setting by duplicating the supposed atmosphere of the early earth. Out of his experiments certain molecules were produced that are important building blocks of life. Miller accomplished this by subjecting the atmosphere to electrical charges and then immediately trapping the molecules that were formed as a result of the reaction. He had to trap the molecules since those same electrical charges that formed them would disintegrate them with their next charges. Yet nature contains no such "trap." If these molecules were randomly produced by nature they would have been immediately destroyed.

Unstable Molecules

In addition, Millers experiments also produced biologically unusable molecules. In actuality Millers experiments complicated the problem for evolutionists. Did the so-called primeval atmosphere have both kinds of molecules? If this is true, then how did the life-building molecules disassociate themselves from other molecules long enough to combine and form the first living cell? If the atmosphere of the early earth were not the same as in Millers experiments, then what was it and why did it only produce life giving molecules? Millers experiments, far from proving how life originally arose on earth, raises more questions than answers. It must be emphasized that Miller never produced one living cell in his experiments. Phillip E. Johnson writes:

Geochemists now report that the atmosphere of the early earth was not of the strongly reducing nature required for the Miller-Urey apparatus to give the desired results. Even under ideal and probably unrealistic conditions, the experiments failed to produce some of the necessary chemical components of life. Perhaps the most discouraging criticism came from chemists, who have spoiled the prebiotic soup by showing that organic compounds produced on the early earth would be subject to chemical reactions making them unsuitable for constructing life. In all probability, the prebiotic soup could never have existed, and without it there is no reason to believe that the production of small amounts of some amino acids by electrical charge in a reducing atmosphere had anything to do with the origin of life (Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1991, p. 103).

Produced By Intelligence

If someday we do create life in a test tube it will not have been done by chance, but by a designer, an intelligent being. However, it will not tell us how life actually did originate. Any type of simulated experiment would only be one explanation among several on how life actually developed. Phillip E. Johnson notes:

Although these objections to the Miller-Urey results are important, for present purposes I prefer to disregard them as a distraction from the main point. Let us grant that, one way or another, all required chemical components were present on the early earth. That still leaves us at a dead end, because there is no reason to believe that life has a tendency to emerge when the right chemicals are sloshing about in a soup. Although some components of living systems can be duplicated with very advanced technology, scientists employing the full power of their intelligence cannot manufacture living organisms from amino acids, sugars, and the like. How then was the trick done before scientific intelligence was in existence? (Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, p. 103).

Theologian Bernard Ramm writes:

At our present state of knowledge two things may be stated. (i) Man has not produced life chemically. That he may produce protoplasmic specks . . . is a possibility, but the production of even the smallest organism is as yet a long time away. In view of our inability to produce life with our vast chemical knowledge and our ability to reproduce almost any condition we wish . . . we must still view a chance origin of life as a faith and not as a verified hypothesis. (ii) Unless a person is very anti-Christian it cannot be denied that the most satisfactory explanation to date is that life is the creation of the Living God. There is certainly nothing scientifically disrespectable in this connection, even though a person is not a believer. Those who do believe it, may do so without fear of contravening scientific fact and without prejudicing the character of their judgment . . . . Science is still unable to put forward any satisfactory explanation as to how life arose in the first place. We must either accept the Bible doctrine that God created life, or go on making improbable speculations (Bernard Ramm, The Christian View Of Science And Scripture, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954, p. 183).

Can It Be Done?

Award-winning scientist, E.H. Andrews, explains the chain of events that must have happened if life originally developed by chance:

The early atmosphere had to contain some small molecules and not others.
Lightning or ultra-violet light had to be present to make them link together, but not to break them down again.

The new, larger molecules had to be washed down by rain. The molecules had to be below the clouds for this to happen, but the small ammonia molecules which dissolve very easily in water, were somehow not washed out of the sky. (This is hard to believe is it not?)

The larger molecules, though not very soluble in water, had to stay in the water as it filtered through the soil and ran over the rocks.

These molecules, though lighter than water, had to remain under the water. If they floated to the surface, they would have been destroyed by ultra-violet light.

The molecules had to collect and become concentrated in the organic soup so that they could be made to link together.

There had to be some very special catalyst molecules to make the inorganic molecules link up with water.

The right organic molecules had to be present in the right amounts to link up into proteins and DNA. Somehow, the special coded order of proteins and DNA had to happen. No convincing or even possible explanation for this has yet been given.

Organic droplets had to form and stay around long enough for something to happen inside them which would turn them into living cells. No one knows how something like this could happen.

Finally, of course, the first living cell had to find out how to divide before it died (single cell animals do not live very long lives, especially in strong solutions of ammonia which we use to kill germs today).

Here we have eleven steps, each of which had to be just right for life to survive. None of these steps separately is completely impossible, though we have no idea how one or two of them could have happened. But strung together to give an explanation of the origin of life they add up to a very unlikely story! (E. H. Andrews, From Nothing to Nature, Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1978, pp. 41, 42).

It seems that some non-Christian scientists are beginning to admit the impossibility of life coming from non-life. Time magazine reports.

Presumably if you let simple molecules reshuffle themselves randomly for long enough, some complex ones would get formed, and further reshuffling would make them more complex, until you had something like DNA - a stable molecule that just happened to make copies of itself.

But more recent, more careful analysis suggests that even a mildly impressive living molecule is quite unlikely to form randomly. Then where did it come from? (Robert Wright, "Science, God, and Man," Time, December 28, 1992, p. 40).


Life does not come from non-life. This is a scientific fact. There is a big difference between a dead cell and a living one, or a dead body and a living person. If life ever were created in a test tube it would show intelligence is need to bring it about. Gary Parker writes:

Chemistry, then is not our ancestor, its our problem . . . Time and chance are no help to the evolutionist either, since time and chance can only act on inherent chemical properties. Trying to throw life on a roll of molecular dice is like trying to throw a 13 on a pair of gambling dice. It just wont work. The possibility is not there, so the probability is just plain zero (Gary Parker and Henry Morris, What is Creation Science?, Revised edition, El Cajon, Calif.: Master Books, p. 40).

The Bible says the earth did not start with a reducing atmosphere of hydrogen, methane, and ammonia which eventually developed into our present-day oxygen-rich atmosphere. Rather, it was created with sufficient oxygen to support plant and animal life. Furthermore, life did not evolve in water; it started on land when God created vegetation on the third day (Genesis 1:11,12). Life did not come from "non-life" but rather from the Giver of Life.

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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