THE ORIGIN OF LIFE

Robert C. Newman

 

The Goal: What is Life?

 

            Minimally, a self‑reproducing material system

            From Christian perspective, may be more complex, but need not be.

 

Alternative Proposals for the Origin of Life

 

            1. Life has always existed.

 

            2. Life arose by supernatural intervention.

 

            3. Life arose by purely natural means.

 

Major Scenarios for Naturalistic Origin

 

            1. Organic Soup Model

 

                        Reducing atmosphere needed (no free oxygen, etc.)

 

                        Energy source to break atm molecules: ultraviolet, lightning, volcanism

 

                        Organic molecules produced when broken molecules recombine

 

                        Organic soup develops

 

                        Macromolecules formed in organic soup

 

                        Reproducing macromolecules formed

 

                        Cells formed

 

            2. Clay as Matrix Model

 

                        Organic molecules

 

                        Clay as template and/or protection

 

                        Macromolecules form on clay

 

                        Reproducing macromolecules

 

                        Clay phased out

 

                        Cells formed

 

Some Problems for These Models

 

            1. Organic Soup

 

                        Oxygen in early atmosphere due to photodissociation of H2O

 

                        Weak soup

 

                        Water opposes polymerization

 

                        Competing reactions

 

                        Handedness of life molecules (amino acids left-handed, sugars right-handed)

 

                        Randomness => organization?

 

            2. Clay

               

                        Far less research here so far

 

                        Competing reactions still a problem

 

                        Handedness of life molecules still a problem

 

                        Disposal of clay (switching horses in midst of stream?)

 

                        Randomness => organization?

 

The Problem of Randomness Producing Order

 

            Is it really true that if you give enough monkeys enough time, they will eventually type the Encyclopaedia Britannica?  How many monkeys?  How much time?

 

            1. Monkeys Typing the text "ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITTANICA"

                        at 3 char/sec on 33-key typewriter

                        3 x 1036 combinations

                        3 x 1028 monkey‑years

                        Can be done by 1.5 billion billion monkeys in 20 billion yrs

            2. Formation of a Particular 100‑Link Amino Acid

                        10130 combinations

                        Under assumptions given, 3 x 104 combs/sec

                        Takes 5 x 1037 years within Hubble radius

                        So 1 chance in 1028 in age of universe

 

            3. Van Neumann's Self‑Reproducing Automaton

 

                        80x400 body cells w/ tail of 150,000 cells

                        At 21 bits/body cell + 1 bit/tail cell

                        750,000 bits => 150,000 letter‑word!

                                    => 10 to the 250,000th combinations

 

            4. Langton's Self‑Reproducing Automaton

                        Much simpler, but nearly trivial

                        Body: 86 non‑zero cells in one of 7 states

                                    7 to the 86th = 4.8 x 1072 combinations

                        Plus transition rules: 190 specifying one of 7 states:

                                    7 to the 190th = 2 x 10160

                        Both together: 10 to the 233rd combinations

 

Conclusions

 

            Naturalistic origin a matter of faith with many.

 

            Life looks too organized to be explained without Designer.

 

Bibliography

 

Denton, Michael.  Evolution: a theory in crisis.  Bethesda, MD: Adler and Adler, 1986.  See esp. chapter 11.

Gange, Robert.  Origins and destiny: a scientist examines God's handiwork.  Waco, TX:  Word Books, 1986.  See esp. chap. 9.

Kemeny.  "Man Viewed as a Machine" in Mathematics in the modern world: readings from Scientific American.  San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Co., 1968.  See chap. 50.

Langton, Christopher G.  "Self‑Reproduction in Cellular Automata,"  Physica 10D (1984), 135‑144.

Pitman, Michael.  Adam and evolution.  London: Rider, 1984.  Distributed in the U.S. by Baker Book House. See esp. chap. 9.

Shapiro, Robert.  Origins: a skeptic's guide to the creation of life on earth.  New York: Summit Books, 1986.

Taylor, Gordon Rattray.  The great evolution mystery.  New York: Harper and Row, 1983.  See esp. chap. 11.

Thaxton, Charles B., Walter L. Bradley and Roger L. Olsen.  The mystery of life's origin:  reassessing current theories. New York: Philosophical Library, 1984.

Von Neumann, John.  Theory of self‑reproducing automata.  Urbana, IL: Univ of Illinois Press, 1966.