In the Beginning...
Copyright © 1999 by Ken Harding
[last update: October 13, 1999]
he first instance of life would not be anything that most people would recognize as "life"... it would be nothing so complex as a bacteria. It would simply have been a chain molecule that made a copy of itself from surrounding free-floating molecules. In one second, it had not yet copied itself using surrounding molecules, and in the next second, it did. There is a first time for everything.
This page does not explain how life arose. Anyone seriously interested in the subject should read the following links:
Abiogenesis FAQ on Talk.Orgins
This page deals with how you should approach the subject. There are a few things that everyone should bear in mind.
There is no way to prove that a creator did not create the first spark of life. There is no way to prove that aliens didn't seed the earth with extra-terrestrial DNA either. There is also no way to prove that a meteor did not hit the earth, bringing life with it. There is also no way to prove life did not arise naturally from non-living complex organic compounds.
It is not impossible that a creator of some sort could have caused life, but then you make the assumption that it's possible for such a being to exist-- then you have to speculate about his method of creation. Such speculations are the matter of religion, and not science. Scientists devote their attention to the possibilities that make the least assumptions.
The "problem" of solving the origin of life is not all that much of a problem, in my opinion. I'm amazed that molecular biologists have made as much progress as they have. If you consider that the origin of life from non-living matter leaves no physical evidence, and that experiments must be made using material that was in the early atmosphere, the success that they have achieved thus far, limited though it is, is amazing. New resarch into "proteinoid microspheres", pioneered by the late Dr. Sidney Fox, yields what might be the most promising answers yet. The strength of the proteinoid microsphere model lies in what Duane L. Rohlfing calls "evolutionary relevance"; ie, a combination of evolutionary continuity and geological (or environmental) relevance. As he explains it: "A model that does not explain the prebiotic source of reactant materials lacks evolutionary continuity; a model based on the use of unrealistic conditions lacks environmental relevance." At present, experimental research provides evidence of both criteria for proteinoid microspheres; as such, this model is virtually the only one to provide an *experimental* reconstruction of a primitive cellular structure that meets your criteria for a minimal primitive cell from simple chemicals, under geological conditions that are both plausible and possible on the early earth.
In other words, even from a geological standpoint, proteinoid microspheres still appear to currently provide the best answer to the question of the origin of life on earth.
At this point, we cannot say precisely how life arose, because that event left no physical traces. The earliest forms of life did leave physical evidence in the form of carbon-12/carbon-13 ratios in some rocks that bear an unmistakable organic signature. The earliest known micro-fossils are more than 3 billion years old. We can suggest how such things MIGHT HAVE happened (and be confident that we have a high degree of accuracy), based on the physical evidence we do have, and on biological processes that are well known, and by what is suggested from living species. There is nothing wrong with that-- the uncertainty of the process doesn't change the fact that it happened. That's the way historical sciences work. To demand the concrete explanation of something which left few fossilized traces is unrealistic and unreasonable.
Because something is unknown, that does not mean that it is unknowable. Because we haven't figured everything out about the origin of life, that doesn't mean that we never will. All of the discoveries in the history of science have been explainable by natural processes-- there is no reason to think that the origin of life will be any different.
Just because something happened a long time ago, and no one witnessed it, does not mean that we cannot get a clear picture of what happened and how. As a simple analogy, a man can commit a murder, with no one watching him, and he can still be executed for the crime. Forensic science can reconstruct what happened with a high degree of certainty using the evidence that is gathered from the scene. We learn how evolution and Abiogenesis happened in the same way.
Other topics for beginners:
So, What's With this Second Law of Thermodynamics Thing?
Evolution for Beginners
Carbon 14 and other Radiometric Dating Methods- good or bad?
What's Wrong with Creationism Anyway? (coming soon)