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Pssst! Don’t tell the creationists, but scientists don’t have a clue how life began

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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16th-century painting "Creation of the Animals" by Jacopo TintorettoExactly 20 years ago, I wrote an article for Scientific American that, in draft form, had the headline above. My editor nixed it, so we went with something less dramatic: "In the Beginning…: Scientists are having a hard time agreeing on when, where and—most important—how life first emerged on the earth." That editor is gone now, so I get to use my old headline, which is even more apt today.

Dennis Overbye just wrote a status report for The New York Times on research into life’s origin, based on a conference on the topic at Arizona State University. Geologists, chemists, astronomers and biologists are as stumped as ever by the riddle of life.

After its formation 4.5 billion years ago, Earth was bombarded for millions of years by huge meteorites, which would have wiped out any fledgling organisms. Researchers have found evidence of microbial life dating back 3.5 billion years ago, suggesting that life emerged fairly quickly—"like Athena springing from the head of Zeus," as one scientist quoted by Overbye put it. But how exactly did chemistry first make the transition to biology?

As recently as the middle of the 20th century, many scientists thought that the first organisms were made of self-replicating proteins. After Francis Crick and James Watson showed that DNA is the basis for genetic transmission in the 1950s, many researchers began to favor nucleic acids over proteins as the ur-molecules. But there was a major hitch in this scenario. DNA can make neither proteins nor copies of itself without the help of catalytic proteins called enzymes. This fact turned the origin of life into a classic chicken-or-egg puzzle: Which came first, proteins or DNA?

RNA, DNA’s helpmate, remains the most popular answer to this conundrum, just as it was when I wrote "In the Beginning…" Certain forms of RNA can act as their own enzymes, snipping themselves in two and splicing themselves back together again. If RNA could act as an enzyme, then it might be able to replicate itself without help from proteins. RNA could serve as gene and catalyst, egg and chicken.

But the "RNA-world" hypothesis remains problematic. RNA and its components are difficult to synthesize under the best of circumstances, in a laboratory, let alone under plausible prebiotic conditions. Once RNA is synthesized, it can make new copies of itself only with a great deal of chemical coaxing from the scientist. Overbye notes that "even if RNA did appear naturally, the odds that it would happen in the right sequence to drive Darwinian evolution seem small."

The RNA world is so dissatisfying that some frustrated scientists are resorting to much more far out—literally—speculation. The most startling revelation in Overbye’s article is that scientists have resuscitated a proposal once floated by Crick. Dissatisfied with conventional theories of life’s beginning, Crick conjectured that aliens came to Earth in a spaceship and planted the seeds of life here billions of years ago. This notion is called directed panspermia. In less dramatic versions of panspermia, microbes arrived on our planet via asteroids, comets or meteorites, or drifted down like confetti.

One enormous change in the past two decades in the quest to understand our origins—which Overbye also reported on recently—is that astronomers have identified more than 1,000 possible planets orbiting other stars. Some seem to be in the "Goldilocks" zone, neither too far nor too close to their respective stars for life as we know it to prosper. Perhaps we are descended from life that emerged on one of those planets.

Of course, panspermia theories merely push the problem of life’s origin into outer space. If life didn’t begin here, how did it begin out there? Creationists are no doubt thrilled that origin-of-life research has reached such an impasse (see for example the screed "Darwinism Refuted," which cites my 1991 article), but they shouldn’t be. Their explanations suffer from the same flaw: What created the divine Creator? And at least scientists are making an honest effort to solve life’s mystery instead of blaming it all on God.

Image of 16th-century painting "Creation of the Animals" by Jacopo Tintoretto courtesy Wiki Commons





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  1. 1. madhypnotist 2:00 am 03/1/2011

    lol.. wow.. sure are a lot of angry responses… saying how odd an article it is…
    I am waiting for the proof that this article is wrong. Or.. do ya suppose.. that the author is telling the truth.. and that science has no clue…

    well… it began… if you ask me.. with a simple fish <><

    Link to this
  2. 2. oldvic 7:24 am 03/1/2011

    There’s no deadline to achieve a total understanding about the origin of life. Science is working on it.

    People who want to know everything "right now" will get the end product of bovine digestion, not actual knowledge.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Centaurus-A 7:49 am 03/1/2011

    This is a good article. Thankyou. And now we see all the "scientists" or should I say pseudo-scientists getting all emotionally charged because there is no scientific evidence that life started out by "chance and necessity" as the Darwinist claims. For fakes like robert schmidt why don’t you do a little studying of the evidence instead of spouting off your ideological nonsense? You cannot substitute looking at the evidence with ranting and raving. You are guilty of the very thing you accuse people who are believers of doing. If you so much as look at the citations and the current research the evidence of the emergence of protein molecules and RNA is exceedingly difficult to use as proof. My contention all along has been that it takes greater faith to be an atheist than to be a believer in God, and this article for once gives me hope that others may see the light as well.

    So the only reason why psuedo-scientists cling to the notion that there is no God is not for scientific reasons at all, but as one of the comments from Silverchair showed the opposition is emotionally based.

    Link to this
  4. 4. robert schmidt 12:17 pm 03/1/2011

    @hoamingin, there is no such thing as devolution. The very word is a clear indication that the user does not understand evolution. Evolution is about adapting to the environment. It is not about becoming "better" or more complex. If a trait is no longer need, such as the ability to taste sweet foods in the feline family then that trait is lost. It happens because as mutations occur in the genome, and they turn off a trait that is no longer needed there will be no selection to retain it. Traits have a cost. What advantage is there to producing proteins or enzymes to do a job that is no longer required? The loss of traits is just as much part of evolution as gaining traits. 

    I am not aware of any science that says that the human brain has reduced in size but even if it did it wouldn’t be de-evolving. Brain tissue is the most expensive in the human body. If we could be competitive without as much that would be advantageous.  

    "Biologists are unaware that their explanation relies on magic" that comment makes no sense.

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  5. 5. ormondotvos 12:36 pm 03/1/2011

    So it’s "difficult", as you say, for RNA to form and replicate. You’re now unable to comprehend evolutionary time? Maybe you should stop writing about science.

    Link to this
  6. 6. landonthegr8 12:59 pm 03/1/2011

    Well since you are so liberal with your opinions, I will offer my own. Sir, I think you are an idiot with a sad tiny little view of life in general. I still haven’t seen science prove or disprove anything in ther arena of faith. In fact, there has been much that has been made more mysterious due to science. And my belief that God and science coexist works very nicely thank you. I know that your kind is likely angry at any notion of something greater than your flimsy perception of reality allows. This is your choice. However, you should know that you are in a minority. And from your stance, it seems apparent that you are used to isolation in general. Too bad. Science is a wonderful tool that God has given us. It is foolish to attempt to disprove something that is beyond your current understanding simply because you are angry that things didn’t turn out the way you wanted. And even if that was the case, you have no evidence to prove your theory. Yet you claim superiority based on delusion. And that in itself seems to be a discredit to the faith you claim to embrace.. Science.

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  7. 7. asharpfamily 1:09 pm 03/1/2011

    @"Creationists are no doubt thrilled that origin-of-life research has reached such an impasse…, but they shouldn’t be. Their explanations suffer from the same flaw: What created the divine Creator? And at least scientists are making an honest effort to solve life’s mystery instead of blaming it all on God"

    I’m surprised this elementary teaching of Christianity (or Judaism and Islam) was used as a jab….basic Christianity teaches that God ("I Am") has always been and will always be. He is timeless. The best explanation for a first cause is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Philosopher and Theologian, William Lane Craig states it this way:

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

    Common objectors to this argument are: J. L. Mackie, Graham Oppy, and Quentin Smith, and physicists Paul Davies and Victor Stenger. William Lane Craig has publicly debated or critiqued most (if not all) of the above. His debates can be found on YouTube.

    Roger Sharp
    Confident Christianity Apologetics Ministry

    Link to this
  8. 8. Bill Crofut 3:53 pm 03/1/2011

    “Pssst!” The information in the title is not new; it wasn’t new 20 years ago.

    Graduate student Stanley L. Miller raised false hopes with his famous experiment:
    [1953. A Production of Amino Acids Under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions. SCIENCE, Vol. 117, p. 528]

    Post doctoral fellow Stanley L. Miller was more cautious:
    These ideas are of course speculation, for we do not know that the Earth had a reducing atmosphere when it was formed. Most of the geological record has been altered in the four to five billion years since then, so that no direct evidence has yet been found. However, the experimental results reported here lend support to the argument that the Earth had a reducing atmosphere; for if it can be shown that the organic compounds that make up living systems cannot be synthesized in an oxidizing atmosphere, and if it can be shown that these organic compounds can be synthesized in a reducing atmosphere, then one conclusion is that the Earth had a reducing atmosphere in its early stages, and that life arose from the sea of organic compounds formed while the Earth had this atmosphere.
    [1955. Production of Some Organic Compounds under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions. JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY, May 12, p. 2361]

    Dr. Horgan will appreciate this one:

    Prof. Stanley L. Miller let the proverbial cat out of the bag:
    The problem of the origin of life has turned out to be much more difficult than I, and most other people envisioned.
    [1991. In the Beginning... An interview by staff writer John Horgan. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, January, p. 117]

    Link to this
  9. 9. darkmoonman 6:27 pm 03/1/2011

    There are many things that science doesn’t know or can’t explain, but none of them make the scientific method inferior to myth and superstition. Additionally, science is neither frightened nor diminished by admitting that there are things it doesn’t know. No religion can truthfully say the same about itself.

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  10. 10. michaeltdeans 6:57 pm 03/1/2011

    The origin of life is not a mystery. Order arose from chaos when proton-ordered ice crystallized in liquid nitrogen, yielding a natural source of infra-red laser light. Driven by random fluctuations of temperature, this radiation selectively energized the components of DNA. They polymerized, creating a ‘noodle soup’ of DNA. Amongst the tangles were analogues of modern transfer RNA, transport DNAs, which functioned as pumps driven by ice-light, enabling ‘coacervates’ to concentrate selected substrates. Amongst these would be nucleotides, enabling replication of the pump. Copying ‘errors’ gave rise to protocells with a varied diet.

    For a full account, go to http://www.scienceuncoiled.co.uk or review my FQXi essay ‘The chip in the brain’, which addresses the ‘big bang’, relativity and quantum mechanics. Scientists have a duty to foster the future survival and evolution of life in all its forms. Life is a 3-way balance in motion – let’s keep it going!

    Peace, love and progress!

    Michael T Deans

    Link to this
  11. 11. gnagy 7:12 pm 03/1/2011

    Forget about Creationism vs. Evolution. The systemic fraud by most paleontologists is shocking.

    On December 9, 2010 in The New York Times science writer Nicolas Wade wrote: "Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan." Let’s see why they may be doing that.

    Chris McGowan, a zoologist and paleontologist who is the author of five books on the topic of dinosaurs, proved in his book Make Your Own Dinosaur Out Of Chicken Bones: Foolproof Instructions for Budding Paleontologists that animal bones can be reconstructed to become almost anything.

    On her July 2010 radio show (WOR 710AM in New York) national talk-host Joan Hamburg spoke about her early career as a paleontologist and confessed “When we dig up something we don’t really know anything. We just make it up.”

    Pro-evolutionist, Bill Bryson in his best-seller “A Short History of Nearly Everything” wrote “If you correlate [fossil] tool discovery with the species of creature most found nearby, you would have to conclude that early hand tools were mostly made by antelopes…” Especially read the entry on the ultimate arrogance of The American Museum of Natural History life-sized African diorama with two hairy homonids based on a set of footprints!

    On almost every other page he writes about the chicanery, dishonesty, fraud–even murder in paleontology and archaeology. READ HIS BOOK AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF.
    The reviewer is not skeptical enough about this entire field of "science."

    Link to this
  12. 12. gnagy 7:15 pm 03/1/2011

    Forget about Creationism vs. Evolution. The systemic fraud by most paleontologists is shocking.

    On December 9, 2010 in The New York Times science writer Nicolas Wade wrote: "Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan." Let’s see why they may be doing that.

    Chris McGowan, a zoologist and paleontologist who is the author of five books on the topic of dinosaurs, proved in his book Make Your Own Dinosaur Out Of Chicken Bones: Foolproof Instructions for Budding Paleontologists that animal bones can be reconstructed to become almost anything.

    On her July 2010 radio show (WOR 710AM in New York) national talk-host Joan Hamburg spoke about her early career as a paleontologist and confessed “When we dig up something we don’t really know anything. We just make it up.”

    Pro-evolutionist, Bill Bryson in his best-seller “A Short History of Nearly Everything” wrote “If you correlate [fossil] tool discovery with the species of creature most found nearby, you would have to conclude that early hand tools were mostly made by antelopes…” Especially read the entry on the ultimate arrogance of The American Museum of Natural History life-sized African diorama with two hairy homonids based on a set of footprints!

    On almost every other page he writes about the chicanery, dishonesty, fraud–even murder in paleontology and archaeology. READ HIS BOOK AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF.
    The reviewer is not skeptical enough about this entire field of "science."

    Link to this
  13. 13. jimmywat 10:49 pm 03/1/2011

    Again, SA is unscientific and letting hacks generate web and print traffic with Murdock style headlines.

    First, general symantics teaches us that all knowledge is is a structural model of reality – not reality. "The word is not the thing" – Korzybski

    The universe is infinite in scope and detail – "if the universe has a limit, what’s on the other side?" Matter and the non-existant abstraction that helps us compare motions, time. The universe has always been here and always will be here. The cause of life has always been here and always been here.

    If you are a scientist, you know that cause and effect rule the universe, not gods. The ultimate source of life comes out of that infinite stream, it is unknowable. We know many of the interim causes. We have much more knowledge of how life formed on this planet in many really scientific magazines and journals, unlike this one.

    There is an old philosophical/economic principal called "bad money drives out good". To make a not that close parallel, bad media drives out good. Scientific American is propaganda, not science

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  14. 14. Gary 7 11:45 pm 03/1/2011

    Until we have other examples of life, especially from it’s earliest stages, we’ll likely have little idea how it happened. I expect, if we do find life on Europa or some other body, it will be DNA based and its essential protein synthesis will share the same coding we(earth life) possess.

    Life arising on any object within a single solar system will likely contaminate every other tolerable body within half a light year radius of the central star thru panspermia. As to other solar systems, I guess we’ll just have to go and see,,,

    Link to this
  15. 15. GoodScienceForYou 1:31 am 03/2/2011

    1 in 3 Americans will die from cancer. The human genome is full of gene loss, atavisms, and just plain defective genes that cannot reproduce good cells, called genetic diseases.

    There in NO evidence of any species evolving and to believe that is mythological religious bull. I have no religion and I really hate all religious crap in science.

    Where is your absolutely irrefutable PHYSICAL evidence of this taking place in biology, (any sample will do)?

    Your ignorance of the evidence is not excuse. If you don’t have this evidence and all the evidence ONLY shows degradation and less fitness to survive in ALL creatures, then why do you believe this nonsense?

    Evolution: "that theory which sees in the history of all things organic and inorganic a development from simplicity to complexity, a gradual advance from a simple or rudimentary condition to one that is more complex and of a higher character." Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language

    Keep your Evodelusion VS Creation arguments away from me. Just show me your absolute evidence.

    Link to this
  16. 16. GoodScienceForYou 1:38 am 03/2/2011

    From empirical peer reviewed evidence 70% of all "mutations" are bad.

    The idea of random mutations is not scientific. There is only cause and effect or cause and result in science. If you believe in "random mutations" working for more complexity then why don’t we scramble 100 or so of your base pairs and see how long you live.

    This crap is not science.

    You cannot deny that. There is no evolution. In ALL evidence the oldest of the genetic lineage was more complex better fit for survival. GO LOOK! Unless you are afraid to know this. There are millions of peer reviewed pieces of evidence that only show this.

    On each speciation; genes are lost, genetic diseases show up, and the fitness and complexity is reduced.

    Evolution is nonsense.

    Evolution: "that theory which sees in the history of all things organic and inorganic a development from simplicity to complexity, a gradual advance from a simple or rudimentary condition to one that is more complex and of a higher character." Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language

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  17. 17. Qedlin 1:47 am 03/2/2011

    The tongue-in-cheek title would be more palatable if there was presently not so much extreme animus between opposing views of the origins of life and evolution. The misguided and scientifically unsupportable positions of young earth creationists notwithstanding, the insistence of naturalists that they alone own the domain of science is petty and very unscientific. The last sentence of the article is just such an "in your face" infantile comment.

    The unwillingness of naturalists to publicly admit the failings of Darwinian theory, teach "all of it," and hide their inablility to explain the origins of life is irrational and also very unscience-like.

    The contention that explaining the creation of God is the same as explaining panspermia is sophist; An extra-dimensional transcendent creator is not equivalent to an improbable three dimensional organic-based alien.

    There is something deeper at work; faith. Scientific-creationsists interpret the data decidedly differently than scientific-naturalists, the former believe nature reflects the glory and creation of God, the latter believe they will eventually find to the contrary. True science is big enough to embrace both without the vitriolic ideological bias.

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  18. 18. sofistek 3:23 am 03/2/2011

    Actually, some scientists have a clue:

    http://www.gla.ac.uk/projects/originoflife/index.htm

    Link to this
  19. 19. Bill Crofut 3:37 pm 03/2/2011

    sofistek,

    Re: The Origin of Life research project ‘Layman’s abstract’

    http://www.gla.ac.uk/projects/originoflife/html/2001/laymans_abstract.htm

    "We consider that the first living cells formed on the floor of an ocean…"

    How? What observable, testable experiment(S) have confirmed the claim?

    Here’s an example of an observable, testable experiment that failed:

    http://www.cbse.ucsc.edu/news-article?ID=1783

    Link to this
  20. 20. sbijapure 11:48 am 03/3/2011

    Creationists too can think clearly and logically as any scientist. Creationists can think scientifically while some scientists behave unreasonably when dealing with things beyond their field of specialization.

    Link to this
  21. 21. Dr. Strangelove 8:42 pm 03/3/2011

    "basic Christianity teaches that God ("I Am") has always been and will always be. He is timeless."

    It will make more sense if you replace ‘God’ with ‘Universe.’ The Universe has always been and will always be. It is timeless.

    Unlike god, the universe is self-evident and does not need proof of existence. Save for beliefs, tautologies and metaphysical arguments, a question only little children ask, how do you know there is god if you haven’t seen one?

    Btw, the big bang was not a moment of creation. It was a singularity of infinite density. It had infinite density bec. all the matter and energy in the universe had always been contained in it. Creation means from nothing to something. The big bang was from something to something. A transformation not a creation.

    Link to this
  22. 22. Truthseeker 9:05 pm 03/3/2011

    Panspermia is not an answer to the answer of how life came into being. Oh, yes it answers how life arose HERE. But all it really does is to push the question off to some OTHER world.

    The question is "How did life come to be?". When and where it arose are irrelevant. HOW did it arise?

    WWWWAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYY back in the stone age, in the 50′s around the time Watson and Crick were figuring out the structure of DNA, we were taught in science classes that life does not come from non-life. EVER! The theory of "spontaneous generation of life" has been thoroughly disproven – at least that was what I was taught. Unfortunately, if there is no Creator then the only way for life to arise is by spontaneous generation. Now the evolutionary biologists won’t say that a pile of rags will produce mice or whatever. No, they will say that water and rocks and some trace chemicals stimulated by . . . SOMETHING can produce a functioning single-celled organism. And that organism can somehow learn to live in colonies and parts of the colonies can somehow learn to specialize and ultimately you arrive at the breathtaking scope of single and multi cellular life that exists on the planet today.

    I mean it MUST be possible for life to spontaneously arise from non-life. Mustn’t it?

    And some make fun of Bible Believers for believing "six impossible things before breakfast". Let me get this straight. You find it impossible to believe in the existence of a Creator, but you have no problem accepting that non-living "stuff" gave rise under utterly random conditions to life.

    Which strains credulity more? An all-powerful, all-knowing Creator bring life into the universe; or a random collection of chemicals in a tidal pool bombarded by who knows what giving rise to a fully functioning cell.

    Really?

    Link to this
  23. 23. Truthseeker 9:10 pm 03/3/2011

    "Btw, the big bang was not a moment of creation. It was a singularity of infinite density. It had infinite density bec. all the matter and energy in the universe had always been contained in it. Creation means from nothing to something. The big bang was from something to something. A transformation not a creation."

    OK, but from where did THAT come? Or did the primordial monoblock arise out of nothing?

    Link to this
  24. 24. MTpackrat 10:07 pm 03/3/2011

    A creationist believes that a divine God, not of this universe created this universe. A scientist believes that this universe operates on the basis of laws but can’t tell you why there should be such laws in the first place. Which is easier to believe? and Why?

    http://MTpackrat.wordpress.com

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  25. 25. dgjohnsonstein 2:53 am 03/4/2011

    I certainly am not a creationist, but you are full of Kr_p. It is quite clear how the first organic molecules came about, how they began to change and then to self replicate. If that isn’t clear, then I don’t know what will help you to understand.

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  26. 26. dgjohnsonstein 3:01 am 03/4/2011

    You are full of Kr_p. It is very clear how life started. First organic molecules were made by the processes of earth, tide, sun. This has been demonstrated in laboratory. Then the organics began to replicate. It’s quite clear and I will not go into it in detail.

    I think some of the other comments say appropriately that you simply must be fishing. (Or out to lunch.)

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  27. 27. dgjohnsonstein 3:03 am 03/4/2011

    I myself don’t particularly like creationists, but that doesn’t mean I’m putting the majority of religionists in with the rats. I didn’t feel the article was cutting on the religious. I am religious and I don’t feel insulted.

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  28. 28. Dr. Strangelove 3:28 am 03/4/2011

    "OK, but from where did THAT come? Or did the primordial monoblock arise out of nothing?"

    The ancient Greeks already answered that. Nothing can come from nothing. Everything that exists has always existed. I always thought the ancient Greeks were more sensible than subsequent theologians and metaphysicists.

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  29. 29. Dr. Strangelove 3:41 am 03/4/2011

    "Which strains credulity more? An all-powerful, all-knowing Creator bring life into the universe; or a random collection of chemicals in a tidal pool bombarded by who knows what giving rise to a fully functioning cell."

    Animo acids, the building blocks of life, had been created in the lab by a collection of chemicals found on earth and bombarded by electrical discharge. Synthetic DNA, synthetic virus and synthetic bacterium had also been created in the lab. Nobody has ever seen an all-powerful and all-knowing Creator, well maybe in some imaginative minds but not in the lab. Which require a greater suspension of disbelief?

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  30. 30. Dr. Strangelove 3:52 am 03/4/2011

    "A creationist believes that a divine God, not of this universe created this universe. A scientist believes that this universe operates on the basis of laws but can’t tell you why there should be such laws in the first place. Which is easier to believe? and Why?"

    You can see the universe and observe its laws in action even if you don’t know why it’s there. You cannot see the divine god and you also don’t know why he’s there (who created him?). What is easier to believe the seen or the unseen? That which you can touch or that which you can only imagine? Should I believe Zeus just because I don’t know where the moon came from?

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  31. 31. Cyborgbill 7:02 am 03/4/2011

    A one-time shepherd boy tending sheep in the Judaen hills once wrote "The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands." Since the verb "glorify" means to lift up, make apparent, the order in the universe is evidence of the existence of a creator.

    I cannot see wind but I know it is there because its effects make it apparent. Scientists believe in the existence of a great number of particles for which there is only indirect evidence and cryptic trails in a cloud chamber. So much for tangibility.

    A man whom I greatly respect once wrote "It is not ‘science versus the Bible’ but ‘scientist versus preachers’". So far nothing science has discovered is in conflict with the Bible. It is only the conclusions drawn by anti-religious scientists that would conflict with holy writ.

    How can order arise spontaneously from disorder? I was under the impression that the arrow of entropy pointed in the other direction.

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  32. 32. MTpackrat 11:01 am 03/4/2011

    "You can see the universe and observe its laws in action even if you don’t know why it’s there. You cannot see the divine god and you also don’t know why he’s there (who created him?). What is easier to believe the seen or the unseen? That which you can touch or that which you can only imagine? Should I believe Zeus just because I don’t know where the moon came from?"

    ‘Universe’ is an interesting concept. I know what I see, that is my universe; I have lived with my wife for many years, yet I do not know her universe, but I do know that it is different from mine. I do not know you at all; our universes may have absolutely nothing in common. Scientists and people who believe in science assume (this word carries absolutely no grain of fact) that there is something that is common to each and every individual, unique universe that can be extrapolated which they choose to call the ‘real’ world and they also assume that this extrapolated ‘real’ world has an independent existence separate from those individual and unique universes from which their ‘real’ world was extrapolated. They pay no attention to the obvious observation that their ‘real’ world can have no existence if there were no people.

    This view of ‘universe’ makes the phrase which follows your use of ‘universe’, "observe its laws" completely nonsensical because they are the laws of a fictionally created universe.

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  33. 33. Quinn the Eskimo 8:37 pm 03/4/2011

    "Excuse me, may I buy you a drink?"

    or

    "Are you with anyone tonight?"

    Link to this
  34. 34. Dr. Strangelove 2:45 am 03/5/2011

    If you believe you live in a fictional universe, then you have no hope of understanding it through science. You can only rely on your fictional god and fictional explanations. But somehow I doubt the rest of humanity share the same view.

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  35. 35. Dr. Strangelove 3:10 am 03/5/2011

    The wind and subatomic particles have mass and energy which had been accurately measured in countless experiments. I do not know of any experiment that successfully measured gods.

    Didn’t the bible say the universe was created in 7 days? Didn’t it also say or implied that the sun revolves around earth? These are in conflict with science. Anyway, there shouldn’t be any conflict if we admit that the bible is part history and part mythology and should not be taken literally.

    The formation of stars and planets can be explained by celestial mechanics, conservation of momentum, kinetic and potential energy. They do not violate entropy. What particular natural phenomenon are you referring to from disorder to order?

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  36. 36. timbo555 6:15 pm 03/6/2011

    Science does exactly what it’s supposed to do: describe the universe and how it works, and it does so marvelously. But science has yet to answer the why of reality; Why for instance, evolution is. Science can explain the nature of gravity and describe the beautifully choreographed elipses of the planets that prove it. But It cannot explain the reason for the celestial dance.

    God is not the answer. God simply is that ultimate question writ large across the vastness of the universe. God is man’s attempt to answer the why of things. God is the highest expression of existence in Man’s imagination. Does God exist? Yes, absolutely! No! absolutely not!

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  37. 37. Dr. Strangelove 8:19 pm 03/6/2011

    What is God anyway? To most religions, god is an omnipotent and omniscient supernatural being. You said God is the ultimate question, the answer to why of things, and expression of existence. So what is it? A question, an answer or an expression? And why call it God instead of ‘ultimate question’ if the latter is what you really mean? This is to avoid confusion bec. it is perfectly legitimate for man to ask ultimate questions but science cannot prove supernatural or imaginary beings.

    The meaning of existence is the domain of existential philosophy. A naturalistic existential philosophy holds that the search for meaning is futile bec. there is no universal meaning but man must find a meaning in order to live well or else he will despair and lose hope. For the sake of his well-being, it is imperative that man invents his own meaning. This what religions are good at – giving meanings to existence.

    "If God did not exist, man would obliged to invent Him." – Voltaire

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  38. 38. achilles22 11:47 pm 03/6/2011

    It is no secret that scientists don’t know how life was created. That is the worst kept secret in science. That admission doesn’t surprise a soul. Not only do scientist not know how the first cell was created, they don’t know how life in all of its various forms appeared either. Whether we are talking about the appearance of bacteria, elephants, or peoples, these were unique historical events that are simply not subject to the repeatable results of observation demanded by the scientific method. It is ridiculous to label various theories of origin as "science" when they are little more than hopeful speculation and wishful thinking.

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  39. 39. OneEye 3:31 pm 03/7/2011

    Sorry for the late comment, but…

    The problem of infinite regress cited by Mr. Horgan ("What Created God?") is not, in fact, a valid question at all. Coming-into-existence is only meaningful for temporal phenomena like universes and people. God, by definition, is eternal – not just long-living, but supertemporal, and hence having neither beginning nor ending, but rather only endless self-existence.

    This concept is nothing new to the scientific community, which recognizes that time, itself, is limited in duration – that there is an "outside of time" whence time itself originates. Science, then, leads us to theology.

    Sorry if this seems unfair to atheists, but that’s the way it is!

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  40. 40. Dr. Strangelove 10:02 pm 03/7/2011

    Why do theists desperate to link science to their religion? Can’t religion stand on its own merit? The God hypothesis is metaphysics. It has nothing to do with science. What branch of science is theology? Do scientists study gods? The link is only in your imagination.

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  41. 41. achilles22 12:00 am 03/8/2011

    Exactly. Something that is eternal by definition has no beginning. Science recognizes the concept of eternity. The Creator has no creator. Who created the Creator is like asking, "Where is the bachelor’s wife?" Bachelors don’t have wives. The Eternal was not created and has no beginning. Duh.

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  42. 42. Dr. Strangelove 12:34 am 03/8/2011

    The Big Bang theory says space-time started at the big bang. Time had a beginning. It isn’t eternal. So where did the concept of eternity come from? Cosmologists study the universe not gods. They cannot study gods bec. they are unobservable and imaginary. Cosmologists have a big bang theory not a god hypothesis. Where did the Creator concept come from?

    Eternity and Creator concepts came from theology not science. Theists are desperately trying to link theology with science. Why? Is theology so incredulous even to theists that they need science to back it up? Is your faith not enough to overcome your disbelief?

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  43. 43. Insectman 3:06 pm 03/9/2011

    It is not complicated. There has to be a first un-caused cause. Creationists call that God.

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  44. 44. Dr. Strangelove 8:14 pm 03/9/2011

    It is not complicated. There has to be a first un-caused cause. Evolutionists call that Nature.

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  45. 45. Alexanian 7:47 am 03/12/2011

    A more apropos headline would have been, “Can science make the `breath’ of God part of its subject matter?”
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7049/is_3_60/ai_n28562903/

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  46. 46. Alexanian 7:48 am 03/12/2011

    A more apropos headline would have been, “Can science make the `breath’ of God part of its subject matter?”
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7049/is_3_60/ai_n28562903/

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  47. 47. Grasshopper1 9:23 pm 03/21/2011

    Once upon a time, someone asked the leader of their tribe a question such as, "Why is there that bright thing that shines in the sky all day?" The leader had no clue, so he invented a story. Then people started to believe that story. That’s religion.
    The trouble is when someone discovers an actual logical scientific reason for something, such as, "Hey! That bright thing is a mass of gas/plasma that burns hydrogen/helium!". Then the people who believed the thing that had been passed down for generations don’t want to believe anything else, and they stubbornly stick to their incorrect "fact".

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  48. 48. BrenchStevens 10:08 am 03/24/2011

    "Creationists are no doubt thrilled that origin-of-life research has reached such an impasse (see for example the screed "Darwinism Refuted," which cites my 1991 article), but they shouldn’t be. Their explanations suffer from the same flaw: What created the divine Creator?"

    You’re right about one thing for certain. Creationists are thrilled that origin-of-life researche has reached an impasse. Having visited "Darwinism Refuted" before, I consider it a well-put-together site. It would be good to visit either to see if there is any merit to the Creationist’s claims or to understand his arguments to better refute them.

    However, your question "What created the divine Creator?" is lacking. If the Universe were created by a higher power, then that Creator must be transcendant to the Universe, not bound by it or of necessity having to follow the same restrictions as the Universe. That the Universe displays that every event has a cause is obvious. However, if it were started by an outside factor, "God," then that factor would not be obligated or required to exist within the confines of the creation. In essence, if there exists a "God," then it is not an argument against him that he must have a creator for his existence would transcend that which is physically true in our Universe.

    The Creationist, regardless of how he believes beyond this point, believes essentially that a being transcendant to the Universe created the Universe. That a transcendant being began life or the conditions for life to arise. Because science has lacked any relevant explanation for the origin of life, the Creationist is just as justified in choosing a transcendant being as the cause of existence itself as an atheist is in believing the Universe is eternal and that all matter has just always been. The Creationist is also equally justified as the atheist when he decides that life began by the action of a transcendant Creator rather than forming by chance chemically in prebiotic sludge.

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  49. 49. xristy 11:35 pm 03/27/2011

    For some reason I was late to seeing the article so this may be a really stale comment, but as some others have observed the article headline was really inappropriate for SA. Also I notice that the author, Horgan, and Overbye in his NYTimes article didn’t cite any sources – Overbye merely mentions of some names of researchers. None of the commenters on the blog except for one, referred to any works that might illuminate the discussion. I would like to add a reference to Nick Lane’s "Life Ascending" which actually has an up-to-date discussion with citations of the ideas and results on the subject of bio-chemical origins. There is a good discussion of the evolution of the triplet code and so on. It would be good for these kinds of discussions if there is actual citation of materials. The Glasgow site is a nice one.

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  50. 50. ibookworm 3:03 pm 07/17/2011

    "Their explanations suffer from the same flaw: What created the divine Creator?"

    This is a common question, but it is actually the wrong way to frame it. The very definition of God in the Judeo-Christian tradition is "That thing which is not dependent upon anything else for its existence." In other words, an uncreated being. So asking "What caused God" is actually asking "What created the uncreated being," which has a built-in contradiction, like saying "Who ate the uneaten cake?" The real question to ask is, "Is it possible for an uncreated being to exist?" Better yet, "Is it NECESSARY for an uncreated being to exist?" Otherwise, Occam’s Razor, you know. There is a long and rigorous intellectual tradition around this question, and those who make claims in this area should probably at least familiarize themselves with it.

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  51. 51. thekenyanpaul 3:57 am 01/13/2012

    Let me explain the God argument with a homicide scene of crime analogy: First of all the detective has to establish that murder took place and how it happened. Was the victim strangled or hit with a blunt object, was there a struggle, was he killed there or was he killed somewhere else and dumped there? Then based on the deducible evidence the detective can reconstruct the crime and start looking for the killer from a generated profile. However, the chances of the detective finding and pinning the murder on the criminal depends on how much smarter the detective is than the criminal. If the criminal was much smarter than the detective and was neat in his execution the investigation will reach a dead end and the case would collapse or remain unsolved. He may even conclude that the death is not a homicide. The only sure fact available will be a dead victim… This is exactly what scientists are trying to do. They may never be able to find out if God did it but they will sure be able to describe the Universe and how it came about but the evidence of the Cause or Creator will, am afraid, never be forthcoming. The only sure fact we have is a Universe which we are a part of! So let’s enjoy it and have fun reconstructing the models of theories of how it formed. We will not find the Creator if he is indeed smarter than us and doesn’t want to be found. Another analogy: Steve Jobs built iMac, MacBook, iPhone and iPad but if any concious and intelligent iPad was ever to start tracing its origins it may as well trace back to the retail shop, to the wholesale van to the distributor warehouse and eventually even figure out that it came from some Apple factory in Cupertino, but it will never find the fingerprints or footprints of Steve Jobs in the factory and even if it did it will not prove he was the one who built it since we all know that the great man never sat down on the bench assembling parts!
    I can give many examples but the fish bowl by Stephen Hawking of how we view our universe also alludes to this same point.

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  52. 52. jshubin57 10:23 pm 02/23/2012

    “What created the divine Creator?”. Creationists do not suffer from the same flaw, if they are true to the belief that “God is, was, and always will be”. God is an infinite being. As his creation, we are finite beings, and as such, tend to look for explanations that fit into a finite reality. Most evolutionists, do not accept creation, merely because it does not fit into a “Man Centered” reality. The question should be, who really has a narrower point of view? The creationist, or the evolutionist?

    Jim J Shubin

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  53. 53. talithacumi 3:01 pm 04/17/2013

    Psst. Have you ever read and studied the whole Bible? Are you aware that numerous PhD scientists have pointed out the flaws of carbon dating and your comment about billions of years can therefore be true or untrue? Have you ever had the curiosity to search “scientists who are creationists” or go to the website http://www.answersingenesis.org? Have you considered that the possibility exists that if a Big Bang occurred, something had to have caused it? Explosions don’t just happen without there being an igniter and something that will explode. They don’t just happen spontaneously in a vacuum. Are you a scientist or just a blogger who writes blogs and supports anything that is espoused by nonbelievers because it just seems so intellectual?

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  54. 54. RILAM 4:05 pm 01/16/2014

    Interesting article, but the last triumphant question about who created the divine Creator misses the important of points:

    Neither the God of the Bible nor Christians claim that God is created or has a beginning.

    Instead the claim is the only locially consistent, namely that God is eternal, that is, he always was. He never “started to be”.

    Therefore there’s also no such problem as “Who created God”. In short: The Bible is logically consistent.

    The naturalistic worldview on the other hand never found support for its own claims and axioms.

    // Rolf Lampa
    Chairman of the Swedish Creation Association Genesis.nu

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  55. 55. RILAM 4:08 pm 01/16/2014

    Corr:
    … most important of points.
    … logically consistent.

    Link to this

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