The emergence of life from dead matter, or abiogenesis, is the the generally accepted reality derived from the concept of evolution. There are many questions surrounding the details of this process and many theories have been proposed over the years. Indeed, it is up to science to determine how this process may have occurred, however, it is up to philosophy to determine the why. Was this a chance occurrence, or was it by design?
Evolutionary theory indicates that all life on earth came from a common ancestor, the first living being. Abiogenesis attempts to explain how that being came to life from nonliving materials. There are many possible methods by which this could have happened, although none of the proposed methods have been conclusively proven. What we do know, is that regardless of your worldview, at some point nonliving material started living.
Let’s start by looking briefly at a few of the possible methods by which abiogenesis could occur by chance. There are a few basic theories by which abiogenesis could happen, and each one has some slightly different environmental requirements in order to occur.
Methane, water, hydrogen, and ammonia. These were the prominent elements that made up the early earth, and are thought to be one of the key requirements for abiogenesis. The Miller-Urey experiment reduced a controlled environment to these exclusive ingredients, then shot electric sparks through the mixture. The experiment is hailed for its results as it produced amino acids and other “organic” compounds. This essentially proved that in the right conditions, by chance alone, the building blocks for proteins could come into existence. While this experiment did not create life, it took a very unique set of environmental requirements and proved that components of life could naturally occur.
Hachimoji DNA is one of the latest examples of mankind creating DNA within a lab environment. This synthetic version of DNA is different from humanity’s DNA in that it has eight letters rather than a mere four, which is assumed to be a benefit in that it may allow for more efficient information storage. DNA is created and manipulated using a synthetic biology lifecycle method. This method allows researchers testing against a great number of variables to produce desired results. While these processes aren’t exactly “from scratch” and take certain conditions for granted, it goes without saying that this level of progress certainly indicates that it is possible for life to occur naturally.
Looking at what we have covered regarding the process of creating basic life through chance, it starts to seem very plausible that this could have happened purely by chance. If we can recreate the conditions in a laboratory, could the conditions have occurred naturally? The answer is obviously yes, they could have. The odds of it occurring naturally are insanely low, but it absolutely could have happened.
So what now? Well, now I think it is time to examine how many times abiogenesis could have occurred. If the conditions can naturally occur, it stands to reason that those conditions could have sustained themselves for quite some time over a large geographical area, or occurred in multiple geographical areas, thus allowing life to emerge multiple times. A 2010 study by Douglas Theobald used various genetic attributes from several animals and calculated the odds of those attributes emerging from a single common ancestor as opposed to multiple ancestors. His simulations assessed the odds to be roughly 102,860 to 1 in favor of a single common ancestor.
Evolutionary models have now arisen utilizing LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, as the single common ancestor for all life on earth. Having emerged roughly four billion years ago, LUCA would have required very specific conditions in order to emerge, as well as sustain itself. LUCA gave rise to two primary variations of life, bacteria and archaea, which would gradually produce more complex lifeforms.
While this process was happening, the conditions on earth were changing, making it impossible for abiogenesis to occur any longer. To be clear, scientists do not know for certain that abiogenesis only occurred once, researchers simply agree that it is more likely that there is a common ancestor. It is also likely that abiogenesis occurred many times in this period and the life forms produced were simply wiped out by LUCA.
At this point, many apologists will walk through the numbers with you and attempt to convince you that the odds of everything we have talked about occurring in the natural world purely by chance is astronomically low and virtually impossible. They will add in the cosmological probabilities of a planet being the correct size, correct distance from a sun of sufficient size, with all of the correct elements in place and tell you that those odds are just as improbable. Let me be clear, I disagree with this approach.
Frankly, space is big, very big. There have been over 2,500 planets discovered in our galaxy, which is a low number considering that there are over 200 billion stars in our galaxy. But that is just our galaxy, 1 out of 100 billion galaxies. Current estimations predict that there are roughly 700 quintillion planets in the universe, and those number are based on what we can see. Some theorize that the universe itself is infinite, meaning that there could be an infinite number of planets within it. At some point, you have to look at the universe and say, “I understand that the odds were against an earth of the right size, climate, and atmosphere, but there are so many planets and stars that it was inevitable that the perfect combination would result.” And this is where I stand. I believe that the universe is so incredibly large, that the existence of our planet was an inevitability. Just as God intended.
I will say the same thing for the emergence of life. The Miller-Urey experiment proved that when the right chemicals are put in the correct environment, the components of life are inevitable. As we come to better understand the processes by which life can emerge, and develop a more clear history of earth’s past, I think we will be able to say the same thing about abiogenesis. Given the conditions, it was an inevitability. Just as God intended.
It absolutely could have happened by chance. I will yield that much to the convicted atheist. However, don’t you think it is curious that we have a millennia-old book describing a Creator that caused reality to respond simply by speaking? If you had witnessed these events, and then proceeded to study them as a scientist, wouldn’t it make sense that the location, size, temperature, and atmosphere of earth were inevitable? If God spoke, and the universe responded, we should expect to see that it responded with a process by which fulfilling the will of God was an inevitability. Just as God intended.
The same can be said for life. When God spoke, the earth itself responded in a way that made the emergence of life not only possible, but an absolute probability. Add to this the concept that we have a universe, potentially infinite in size, that does not appear to be infinitely old, just as Genesis describes in the very first sentence and we start to see that these things really may not have been the result of mere chance. Just as God intended.