Defender's Guide to Science and Creationism

Mark Vuletic

Assertion

A natural origin of life would be like a whirlwind in a junkyard assembling the loose parts into a pickup truck.

Background

This claim originally was made by the astronomer Fred Hoyle, and is often repeated by creationists.

Analysis

The reactions governing chemicals at the molecular level bear absolutely no analogy to the behavior of scrap metal in the presence of wind. Obviously, many atoms and molecules spontaneously join together to form larger molecules, and many others join together in the presence of added energy, which is abundant in the universe. Many important biochemicals, including amino acids and nucleotides, have been found on meteorites or produced in experiments simulating possible prebiotic conditions. Spectroscopic data even reveals the existence of organic molecules in interstellar gas clouds; concerning these molecules, Martin Olomucki writes that

in many of the organic interstellar molecules we find compounds which are precursors of biological molecules: hydrogen cyanide, which can generate amino acids and nucleic bases; formaldehyde, the precursor of sugars; cyanoacetylene, an important condensation agent, etc. These molecules are able to form even under extreme conditions of temperature and high concentration of interstellar media. Apparently ubiquitous in the Universe, they must certainly have existed on the surface of the primitive Earth, as well as on other planets: traces of amino acids, which are already more complex chemicals, have been identified in lunar dust and meteorites. (Olomucki 1993:46; see also Miller 1992:17-20)

Researchers have even discovered autocatalytic molecules which self-replicate imperfectly and undergo recombination (Rebek 1994). Whether such molecules are the key to the origin of life is a matter of argument, but it should be clear from their existence that molecules relevant to the origin of life do not behave like scrap metal being blown about in a junkyard. The analogy is useless for all purposes except bluster and deception.

References

Miller SL. 1992. The prebiotic synthesis of organic compounds as a step toward the origin of life. pp. 1-28 in Schopf 1992.

Olomucki M. 1993. The Chemistry of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rebek Jr J. 1994. Synthetic self-replicating molecules. Scientific American 271(1):48-55.

Schopf JW (ed). 1992. Major Events in the History of Life. Boston: Jones and Bartlett.

Last update: 15 Jan 2015

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