Whistling in the Dark

When it comes to the origin of life, scientists don't have any good theories . . . and they seem determined to make up for it with a multitude of bad ones. Time magazine recently gave a breathless account of all the theories on the market today. Life may have formed near undersea thermal vents, Time said. Then again, maybe it began in sea foam. Or perhaps in clay, or pyrite. Or wherever. The article maintained a relentlessly upbeat tone, as though with so many theories to choose from, scientists couldn't go wrong. But according to Walter Bradley, co-author of The Mystery of Life's Origin, not a single theory solves the crucial puzzle, what scientists call the sequence problem: If life evolved from a soup of chemicals, how did the components line up in the right sequence? For example, many origin-of-life theories start with protein. A protein consists of a chain of amino acids. Scientists have discovered that you can mix amino acids in a flask, zap them with an electric spark, and they will link up into short chains. Voila! scientists say. Rudimentary proteins. But the dirty little secret of these experiments is that the amino acid chains don't resemble living proteins in the slightest. The sequence is all wrong. Imagine that amino acids are Scrabble letters and that you want to spell the word protein. Amino acids come in two types, known as left-handed and right-handed. But living things use only one type. We can illustrate this by turning half the Scrabble letters over, the blank side representing the wrong type of amino acid. The word protein, P-R-O-T-E-I-N, now reads P-[blank]-O-T-[blank]-[blank]-N. Problem number two is that amino acids are like Tinker Toys: They can hook together on different sides, with different chemical bonds. We can illustrate that by twisting the Scrabble letters around so we have, say, a sideways P and T and an upside-down N. Of course, in a chemical soup we cannot even ensure that the letters are in the correct order. So let's scramble the letters until we end up with something like O-[blank]-upside-down N-[blank]-sideways P-[blank]-[blank]-sideways T. The final product bears almost no relation to the word protein. This is about how close scientists come to creating a real protein in a test tube. So when you read upbeat accounts about scientists creating life, remember the mixed-up, turned-around Scrabble letters. There are no natural forces capable of organizing amino acids in the right sequence to produce a functional protein. Of course, you or I could arrange Scrabble letters in the right sequence easily. But we do it by using something beyond natural forces. We use the force of intelligence. The missing ingredient in standard theories of life's origin is an intelligent agent. A Creator. Christianity is often denounced as unscientific. But when it comes to the origin of life, science has reached a dead end. The idea of a Creator suddenly looks a lot more reasonable than any other theory on the market today.


Chuck Colson


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