The Author of Life
The Author of Life
by David McGrew
Where did life come from? What accounts for its origin? At its deepest root, only one answer can be perfectly correct. A naturalism that has never and can never receive input from beyond itself is wildly at odds with the position that intelligence alone accounts for more intelligence. Christians, being open to super-nature, believe the scriptures that speak of God
“. . . his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made . . .” (Romans 1:20 ESV)
But Christians ought to be able to recognize that skeptics find the idea of an all-powerful, invisible being who accounts for the ultimate origin of life and a host of other phenomenal things, as much of an affront to their notions of common sense as anti-supernaturalism is repugnant to ours. So what then? Are we at an impasse? The question remains: Where did life come from? What accounts for its origin? Between diametrically opposed views, is there no way to evaluate different answers and weigh their merits?
I will argue that there is a way to address the issue, beginning with a philosophical and theological caution: the idea of certainty must not come unhinged from the idea of probability — a concept that reaches through our everyday life, and on out into a field of significant complexity. Christian Apologist Joseph Butler wisely observed,
“Probable evidence, in its very nature, affords but an imperfect kind of information, and is to be considered as relative only to beings of limited capacities. For nothing which is the possible object of knowledge, whether past, present or future, can be probable to an infinite Intelligence; since it cannot but be discerned absolutely, as it is in itself, certainly true, or certainly false. But, to us, probability is the very guide of life.”
I propose that what has “been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world” about the Author of Life is available to our skeptical friends “in the things that have been made.” Science and Scripture are not mutually exclusive. God, in His providence, has not left Himself without witnesses, both in Scripture and in nature. There is an improbability in naturalistic attempts to account for the origin of life, while there is a probability that attends intelligent design.
First, fundamental problems exist for Neo-Darwinism. There is not only no worked-out pathway to life from non-living material (abiogenesis), but all proposals have been shot down by those most hopeful of finding a solution. Not one proposal has gained significant, lasting assent. There may be little clicks with followers, but no consensus. Even relatively recent attempts (e.g. XNA research) do not solve this problem until researchers, by intervening, poke and prod.
The often-touted Miller-Urey experiment, conducted in a gaseous part of a test tube, was a reducing atmosphere (an oxygen-free atmosphere) which leading geologists now agree was completely unlike the actual atmosphere at the time of the purported origin of life. The experiment itself yielded tar — suitable for building roads — not the building blocks for life.
As abiogenesis theories repeatedly fail to produce a reliable explanation for the origin of life, it is both rational and scientific to look somewhere else for answers. The less likely one explanation becomes, the more reasonable it is to look for others. As John Lennox has wisely observed, “Science closes some gaps, and it opens others.”
Now, design can be argued for from cosmic fine-tuning and biology. Considering biology, molecular systems are either the result of (1) chance, (2) necessity, or (3) design.
DNA is a language — an example of specified complexity. How so? Each molecule of DNA contains one of four bases (adenine, thymine, cytosine, or guanine). These bases form a code or language involved in building proteins. Proteins are essential for life. They form molecular machines in the cell which carry out all the necessary functions within the cell. DNA is specifically arranged that every sequence of three bases is a code for a specific amino acid. Guided by this code, the proper amino acids line up in the order specified by the DNA. This highly specific order allows the now formed chain of amino acids to function as a protein. An incorrect sequence of amino acids would not fold properly and would not form a functioning protein.
So, how can we best explain this specified complexity that takes on the form of a language?
Proteins are too complex to form by (1) chance from free-floating amino acids. The probability for one protein molecule forming by chance (about 100 amino acids) would be about the same as a blindfolded man finding one marked grain of sand in the Sahara Desert three times in a row, according to biologist Michael Behe. And one protein molecule is not life. You would need about 200 protein molecules together to get life.
What about (2) necessity? There is no known chemical law or force of attraction that causes the amino acids to line up very specifically — like how magnetic filings line up around a magnet. Scientist Dean Kenyon held to this theory but later abandoned it in favor of intelligent design. His reasoning was that law-like processes are not capable of generating specified information in the way that intelligent minds are.
Chance and necessity do not sufficiently explain the objective evidence of specified information that we find in living cells. But intelligent (3) design is a known cause that produces specified and complex information. Therefore, it is highly probable that the best explanation of the origin of specified and complex information in living cells is intelligent design.
When considering the question, “What accounts for the origin of life?” we ought to be open to moving, seriously, across the table from abiogenesis to intelligent design without altogether aborting the Author of Life from the conversation in the first place.
David B. McGrew
Dave McGrew, his wife Vicki, and their sons Benjamin and Samuel moved to Cumberland, Maryland from Illinois in June 2016 to join the staff at Cornerstone Baptist Church. Dave serves there as Assistant Pastor for Worship & Discipleship. For eleven years before that, Dave was an Assistant Professor of Music & Fine Arts at Baptist Bible College & Seminary in Clarks Summit, PA. Dave received his undergraduate education from Cedarville University and master’s from Ithaca College. Dave has also taught college courses in historical apologetics. Dave and Vicki are avid readers and could single-handedly sustain the business of several local coffee houses. On his days off, Dave and the family can also be found outside hiking, fishing, and playing soccer.