How life arose is a question that is fundamental to both philosophy and science. Responses to it enable one, in turn, to answer such questions as, “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?”, and “How do I make sense of this world?” This secondary set of questions can be answered in a myriad of ways for a variety of reasons, but the answer to the first question has only two responses. As Douglas Futuyuma says, “Creation and evolution, between them, exhaust the possible explanations for the origin of living things” (197). Either we are the product of the chemical and physical laws of nature operating over time, or we have been formed, at least in part, by some supernatural Force or Deity. The acceptance of one of these options as a foundation will determine how one will establish a belief system to determine his place in the world. This is a matter of crucial importance, yet in most biology classes offered at U.C. Davis, we learn that life came from nonlife by strictly natural (as opposed to supernatural) processes. The possibility that perhaps the origin of life cannot be explained by a natural mechanism is ignored, and this is disturbing. For if we limit what explanations we are willing to accept for the origin of life, we could be closing our eyes to reality.
Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, has said that “the origin of life appears to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have to be satisfied to get it going” (Horgan 27).2 Noted evolutionary astronomer Frederick Hoyle has described the chances of life having evolved from nonlife to be about as likely as the chances that “a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein” (Johnson 106). Why do respected scientists doubt what textbooks teach as fact? It would appear that these scientists know something that current theories describing the origin of life fail to explain. While current theories describe scenarios in which genetic material such as RNA becomes entrapped in a protective cell membrane as a likely recipe for the formation of life, they generally do not focus on the difficulties of forming and concentrating all of these components in the first place.3 To clarify, current theories suffer from what I call the “cookbook mentality.” They say something like, “Combine brownie mix, eggs, and oil in a bowl. Stir.” But in general, the theories fail to describe both how those ingredients were actually made and what agent moved those ingredients from their respective locations in the kitchen to the mixing bowl. Though experiments that simulate pre-biotic (before life) conditions have demonstrated the possibility of forming the building blocks for life, they fail to accurately represent all that would have happened in the early atmosphere, especially in regard to the effect of ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. In addition, there is reason to doubt whether the various components produced could have been close enough together, sufficiently concentrated, to have reacted in meaningful ways.4 These difficulties are serious enough to lend credence to the idea that life could not have originated without some form of supernatural intervention.
To discuss the origin of life, one must first understand the atmosphere of early Earth. Some four-and-a-half billion years ago, the Earth was formed. After a period of cooling, the Earth theoretically formed an atmosphere consisting mainly of hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and nitrogen. It is important to note that this atmosphere lacked oxygen gas, which would have destroyed the components necessary for life. While this oxygen-less atmosphere, called a “reducing atmosphere,” would have been toxic to humans, it would have been hospitable to the formation of organic intermediates, the precursors to the building blocks of life. Energy sources such as lightning, heat, shock waves, and UV light from the sun could have caused the