Every religion has a story regarding the origin of life. The Hebrew religious text
known today as the Old Testament states that Elohim created the universe in six
days. According to this account, on the third day the Hebrew deity Elohim created
the first lifeforms - grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding
fruit after his kind. But is this account true and accurate? How can it be tested,
verified, and possibly falsified? What is the evidence that the first lifeforms were
grasses, herbs and fruit bearing trees that all emerged at the same time? This
article will discuss some of the evidence for the origins of life and what the first
lifeforms were based on the scientific evidence gathered so far after almost 400
years since the beginning of modern science.

The first point that needs to be clarified is that the origin of life is not the
study of evolution as many religious commentators claim. Evolution is a branch of
biology that studies the evidence for the diversity of lifeforms and how they change
over time once they are already present. Evolution does not address the question of
how life began and what the first lifeforms were. The origin of life is a topic
studied and researched under a branch of chemistry called Abiogenesis. So the
current state of knowledge on how the first lifeforms came to be is called the
Theory of Abiogenesis. It is a branch of chemistry or more specifically a branch of
organic chemistry. Organic chemistry specializes on studying carbon-based compounds
and their derivatives. So when creationists claim that evolution is false because it
cannot present any information on the origin of life one may now point out to them
that, exactly, evolution is not about that topic at all so of course it does not
provide that answer. This is analogous to one saying the Theory of gravity is false
because it does not show us how to design a motor vehicle or aircraft, and we all
know it does not, however without the theory of gravity being established, there
would be no automotive engineering or aeronautics to begin with.

At this juncture this author would like to point out that he is not a credentialed
expert in the field of Abiogenesis and is not attempting to be construed as one.
This article makes no new or original claims, but rather presents the current state
of established knowledge in this field of study. The theory of Abiogenesis is very
complicated especially for those who have little prior education in science, and
also it uses data from many diverse fields such as geology, climatology, etc etc.
This article will provide a summary of some of the cogent points established so far
as well as those currently undergoing further investigation. But unlike religious
claims readers are not to accept any of the material presented on faith but by cross
checking the references and confirming the material.

According to the geological evidence the first lifeforms appear in the fossil record
at around 4.15 billion years ago in what is called the Hadean eon. So we can infer
that life originated on earth before this time. To understand what may have caused
it we will want to know what the prevailing conditions were on earth at the time.
For example during the Hadean eon there were no trees or plants as we know them
today so we can infer that that the atmosphere at the time was much different from
now. We know there were no trees at the time because plants appear in the fossil
record for the first time during the paleoproterozoic era around1.4 billion years
ago, and these plants were algae yet to evolve into complex plants we have today.
For example we know that a lot of the oxygen we have today comes from plants who
release it as a by product of photosynthesis. So if there were no trees back then,
then we know the oxygen content of our atmosphere was different from now. This is
one example of how the conditions back then were different from now. We shall call
the conditions back then as the primordial earth and primordial atmosphere
respectively. The exact prevailing conditions of the primordial earth and detailed
description thereof will not be presented in this article for the sake of brevity
but readers are encouraged to look it up.

It turns out the primordial earth was very wet and very warm, and the atmosphere
contained many different kinds of gases including hydrogen, hydrogen cyanide,
methane and ammonia. DNA is a long chained molecule made from just four kinds of
nucleotides namely adenine, thiamin, cytosine and guanine. So the first question to
be answered is where did the nucleotides come from? The following steps address this
question as well as other relevant details that describe how the first living cells
formed according to the evidence gathered so far.

Step 1: Formation of nucleotides. In 1961 a researcher named Joan Oro left hydrogen
cyanide and ammonia in an aqueous solution in his laboratory under conditions
similar to those that prevailed on the primordial earth. By itself the solution
produced adenine one of the nucleotide bases that makes up DNA. This substance
however was not a complete nucleotide because to make one the molecule would have to
be attached to a sugar called a ribose which itself must be attached to a phosphate
group. Today biochemistry has understood how the phosphate group can be formed under
such conditions, what we dont know yet is how the ribose is attached. But as always
research is ongoing. And if we can get some our very smart high performing Ghanaian
scientific talent to work in this field they may figure it out and win our first
Nobel Prize in the sciences.

Step 2: Nucleotides to polynucleotides. Once the nucleotides are formed they must
now join together to form chains of nucleotides known as polynucleotides. In the
1980s British researchers discovered that a form of clay called Montmorillonite was
the perfect catalyst for this process. It has been confirmed that Montmorillonite
was abundant in the sea floor of the primordial oceans as well as in warm pools of
water on land.

Step 3: Polynucleotides to RNA. Some polynucleotide chains, for example ribonucleic
acid also called RNA, are able to replicate themselves. In other words they can make
exact copies of themselves naturally. These copies are not 100% exact but some
copies may have been more stable and robust to survive in the conditions than others
and would continue to replicate and pass their traits while the weaker or less
adapted ones may have disintegrated or broken apart.

Step 4: RNA to proto-cell. As these RNA molecules continued to replicate themselves
they shared their environment with other chemicals that also thrive in
Montmorillonite clay. One group of such compounds are the lipids. Examples of lipids
include fat, wax, cholesterol, and monoglycerides. Lipids in their natural state
tend clump together to form spherical structures called micelles. RNA molecules that
were surrounded by these structures would therefore easily be enclosed within a
micelle membrane. The micelle membrane would also protect the RNA and improve its
chances of survival and success at replicating itself. Today we know that cell
membranes essentially consist of a lipid bilayer. So at this juncture we have
essentially seen the formation of the first primitive cell. These primordial cells
do not look much like the cells we know today, and this is because over 3.7 billion
years later they have evolved and diversified.

Step 5: RNA to DNA. Over hundreds of millions of years RNA grew more complex. The
single strand became a double strand and the better adapted DNA molecule evolved.
One of the fundamental differences between RNA and DNA is that DNA needs proteins to
replicate itself. Proteins are made of amino acids which are often called the
building blocks of life. So the question arises, where did the first amino acids
come from? No, no gods or goddesses were necessary, natural processes alone can
account for them as follows.

Step 6: Formation of Amino acids. Since the 1950s a number of experiments using
Montmorillonite and simulating the primordial earth conditions have produced amino
acids as well as long chains of amino acids called polypeptides. It turns out that
Montmorillonite is a natural breeding ground for all types of complex organic
chemicals. The most famous of such experiments is the Urey-Miller experiment
conducted by Dr Stanley Miller and Dr Harold Urey in 1952 at the University of
Chicago in the United States. This experiment marked a milestone for the theory of
Abiogenesis. The purpose of the experiment was to test the hypothesis that
conditions on the primitive Earth favored chemical reactions that synthesized
organic compounds from inorganic precursors. This hypothesis had been introduced by
Alexander Oparin and J.B.S Haldane in the 1920s but had never been tested at this
point. The experiment mimicked conditions of the prebiotic earth and used
electrical sparks to simulate lightening. The ingredients used included water,
methane, ammonia, and hydrogen in proportions known to have existed in the
primordial earth. At the end of the week long test 15% of the initial carbon had
formed organic compounds, 2% of the carbon had formed 5 detectable amino acids that
were known to be necessary for DNA to replicate, as well as amino acids known to be
used to make proteins in living cells. In 2008 researchers at the University of
California, San Diego reviewed the archives and repeated this experiment using more
recent sophisticated equipment, more advanced detectors, and computer programs and
found that actually not 5 but 22 amino acids were produced. All these amino acids
found were exactly among those needed for DNA to replicate. Although far from
conclusive, this is very compelling evidence to support the hypothesis that organic
compounds including amino acids formed from inorganic precursors in the primordial
earth, and formed the building blocks of life as we know it today.

It must be noted that that the theory of Abiogenesis is still in its infancy and has
less than 40 years of published literature to its credit, and that many of the
evidence presented in this article are still under intense investigation. We still
have a lot to learn about this process and researchers acknowledge there may be more
intermediate steps that we are yet to discover. However the reality is a far cry
from the ideas sold by world religions that life popped out of nowhere by the
miraculous intervention of a deity who himself popped himself into existence out of
nothing. Yet religious fundamentalist say it is the scientists who believe life and
others stuff popped out of nowhere. This is false, scientists currently have a
working hypothesis of how life may have emerged out of the primordial earth. So
based on the steps enumerated in this article, if a god really did create life, at
which step did he come in, and why? Step 1, Step 4, Step 5? If the chemical
processes can happen on their own why would a god need to intervene at all? If we
can understand how self replicating molecules can produce some of these complex
molecules then we dont need to invent gods, goddess, invisible deities and spirits
to create anything, because after all this is not a guessing game, it is an
investigation following the evidence. At this point let us pause and consider some
of the creationist arguments they use to caricature science and the theory of
Abiogenesis in particular. Most of these arguments are of no merit and one factor
that enables them thrive may be the failure of education systems to deliver the
information of science to the general public.

1. It is impossible for simple chemicals to form more complex ones without any
intervention. Or they say complex things break down to simple things but not the
other way round.
Answer: Really? Just because creationist websites continue to pass this stuff
around and convince themselves that they are special before their god, does not mean
it is true at all. We know these claims are not true because we know that left alone
simple organic compounds can polymerize and form long chained molecules all by
natural processes. High school chemistry students know this within their first term
of organic chemistry class.

2. But this theory goes against the 2nd law of thermodynamics
Answer: The fact is the natural formation of self-replicating molecules does not
conflict with any of the laws of thermodynamics. I would suggest people who make
that argument actually read the material, but knowing religiously inclined people,
they will not because they do not even read their own holy books, they rely on
cherry picked quotations from their pastors and are satisfied with that. It was not
surprising that a recent survey in the US found that people who do not believe in
god actually knew on average 3 times more about the bible than those who regularly
attended church services. But in all fairness I will admit that thermodynamics is
one of the most difficult topics to understand, and I therefore have a deep respect
for mechanical engineers who are required to study this topic extensively and master
it at the undergraduate level.

3. You cant get something from nothing.
Answer: When creationists say this it has one caveat, except for their god. Really?
Only the Hebrew deity Yahweh can create himself from nothing. But actually
evolution, and in this article Abiogenesis do not claim something came from nothing.
In evolution a species must already be present for it then to evolve over time. In
the case of Abiogenesis certain inorganic compounds had to be present in the
primordial earth for the RNA, DNA, and proto cells, to have then later formed. So
no, it is the religious who are claiming something can come from nothing not the
scientists.

4. If you put the parts of vehicle on a table, can they self assemble themselves to
form a car you can actually drive?
Answer: no they will not. Because the parts of a vehicle are not self replicating
and we know that vehicles are assembled by humans so the questions does not even
apply. On the other hand the building blocks of life amino acids are
self-replicating molecules that can make copies of themselves and assemble
themselves naturally on their own, without the intervention of any third party, so
in fact a god was not even necessary to create life in the primordial earth. It
formed from inorganic precursor molecules all by itself, naturally.

5. So how come this process is not taking place now?
Answer: Because the conditions on earth have changed. Over 3 point something billion
years later hydrogen, hydrogen cyanide and methane are no longer common in the
earth?s atmosphere. However there may be other planets in the universe where the
process is taking place right now. We just do not have the technology to visit other
planets beyond our solar system at the moment so we are stuck here with what we
have. One day our descendants may have this opportunity. But that will only happen
if we prioritize our education and develop our science potential. And of course we
would have to retire all those ancient silly god beliefs that hold back our progress
and advancement.

6. Creationists claim the probability of such events occurring in astronomically too
low to be credible.
Answer: Those who have actually taken a class on statistics and probability will
know that the value of a probability of an event occurring is always less than one,
or one if the event actually occurs. Also we know from our high school math that if
we multiply two numbers less than one we get an even smaller number than the two we
multiplied. If we multiply four numbers, we get an even smaller number, and so it
goes. We also know that the probability of say two independent events happening
equals the product of the two probabilities (multiplying). So if a process has say
six steps as in this process the probability of all these events happening will be
less than the six steps individually. In the theory of probability, this is called
the law of independent events. If we were to calculate the probability of a certain
sequence of events happening as we leave our house to go to work we would get a very
very very small number because each time we are multiplying all these small
probabilities based on the law of independent events. A vivid example will be used
to demonstrate. Lets say as I leave my house to go to work there is a probability
that I will be attacked and killed by armed robbers (probability of 1/1000), lets
say my car may explode due to a fuel leak and kill me (probability 1/2000), I may
have an unknown disease in my family which may make me collapse and die in my car
before I even spark it (1/900), as I pull out of my driveway I may be hit and killed
by a crazy driver on drugs who is fleeing the police or may be mentally unstable
after fighting with the wife (1/750), as I get on the highway I may get hit by a
truck (1/650). Now assuming I reach my work place I may be shot at by a disgruntled
employee who has just been laid off (as we know this a happens often in the western
world) (1/680), and there can be several other considerations we could add but lets
just assume only these listed are relevant. So what is the probability that I will
not make it back home to my wife and children today as I leave to go to work?
According to the law of independent events, the answer would be

(1/1000)*(1/2000)*(1/900)*(1/750)*(1/650)*(1/680) = 0.000000000000000001675

This is just over one chance in a billion-billion attempts, an almost insane
insignificantly small number that one would conclude my probability of dying today
is improbable and even almost zero. And yet people die on their way to and from work
every single day. Once the event occurs it then actually has achieved of probability
of 1 because it has happened and now has the same probability that I will eat today
(if I am not totally broke of course). So high improbability does not mean
impossibility. Not at all. It just means that event may have a very low frequency of
occurring but the event can occur live at any time. Same applies to Abiogenesis. The
steps outlined above, all have low probability but they can happen, and if we are
correct with the theory so far it already happened live and that is why you and I
are here, not because some Hebrew speaking deity suddenly decided to start a project
and created the universe. And before the creationists condemn my calculations, let
me tell you that these are the similar calculations that are done by our insurance
companies everyday to tell us how much premium we must pay for our life insurance,
car insurance, home insurance etc etc. So creationists can tell us that their
insurance premiums are based on magic before we can take them seriously if they want
to challenge 250 years of probability theory. The creationist claim is based on
mathematical ignorance. Again I will be the first to admit that mathematics,
statistics and probability are difficult subjects to learn and master, so it is
easier to believe in phantom beings and unsubstantiated claims to fill the gaps of
ignorance. I will also acknowledge scientists lack of effective communication and
explaining these difficult concepts to the general public. Science has failed in
that regard and needs to do a better job.

At this juncture we can now address some of the pertinent questions. Was life
created on the third day as the Hebrew scriptures say? No sir, not at all, life
began at least 4.15 billion years ago and evolved to this day. Were the first
lifeforms grass, herbs and fruit bearing trees as the bible claims? No sir, not at
all, the bile is based on the ignorance of ancient desert nomads. The first
lifeforms were proto-cells that formed by lipids encasing self-replicating
polynucleotides in the primordial earth, as the theory of Abiogenesis currently
posits. Is the rest of the Genesis creation account credible then? Probably not. If
the authors got the first step wrong chances are the rest of it is also wrong, but
again we acknowledge that the bible was written by and for barbaric illiterate
Hebrew tribesmen who became the forefathers of the Israelites.

We now call on the religious members of this medium to come forward and explain to
us why their god or gods were unable to correctly describe a universe and the life
they claim they created. Did the miracles happen too fast so they were unable to
correctly document the details?


kwaku ba, November 2010