From: callen roy
Subject: Life is Unique
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (callen roy)
Date: 19 Oct 91 08:10:01 GMT
Life is Unique
Chapter 31 in 'Origin by Design' by Harold Coffin
[note: In the previous post of chapter 25, Coffin made a 'bold assertion'
with out the benefit of references. In posting chapter 25 I had omited
the reference to this chapter (31). So, here is the material that Coffin
was refering to.]
The more scientists study living protoplasm, the more its complexity becomes
apparent. The electron microscope and biochemical analysis have opened
windows in the livng cell that reveal detail almost beyond description.
But science has not determined the full complexity of living matter. We
cannot yet define what life is, nor have we duplicated it artificially.
In ancient times many believed in spontaneous generation, the development
of living organisms from nonliving matter. They used frogs rising from
river mud, flies coming from rotting meat, and similar phenomena as proof.
Redi (1626-1697) and Spallanzani (1729-1799) of Italy and Pasteur (1822-
1895) of France helped to dispel the notion, but the old belief was slow
to die. In fact, it has not vanished. Rephrasing it in scientific language,
many scientists have incorporated it into mechanistic evolution as the
probable method for the origin of life. (Significantly, mechanistic
evolution requires, for its survival as a theory, exceptions to two of the
best substantiated lwasy of life--life begets life, and like begets like.)
A Russian scientist, A.I. Oparin, in his book 'The Origin of Life' was one
of the first in modern times to reintroduce spontaneous generation as an
explanation for the origin of life.(1) Oparin gave a detailed argument for
spontaneous origin of life in the ancient seas, which he thought harbored
large quantities of organic substances usable in amino acid formation.
According to Oparin, an organic molecule would increase in complexity without
the necessity of synthetic ability (the capacity to form or synthesize
organic molecules), by the chance combining of substances abailable in its
The possibilities of a random combination of molecules to become amino acids
and the subsequent joining of amino acids to become proteins with the
properties of life are unrealistic. Coppedge calculates that the odds are
10EE161 to one that not one usable protein would result from chance even
if all the atoms on thte earth's surface, including water, air, and the
crust of the earth were made into conveniently available amino acids and
4 to 5 billions of years were involved.(2) If events did produce such a
protein, it would be of no value unless it possessed some accurate precess
of duplication to manufacture more proteins. Furthermore, the simplest cell
or living object consists of many kinds of proteins.
Morowitz has determined the probability for the origin of the organic
precursors for the smallest likely living entity by random processes.(3)
He based his calculations on reaction probabilities, a somewhat different
and more accurate approach than most other such computations. The chances
for producing the necessary molecules, amino acids, protines, et cetera,
for a cell on tenth the size of the smalles known to man (Mycoplasm hominis
H. 39) is less than one in 10EE340,000,000 or 10 with 340 million zeros
after it. His calculations employs a generous estimate of the number of
atoms in the universe, the total number of atomic interactions of a
10-billion-year age for the universe. Practically speaking. such odds for
the chance formation of a cell, even the smallest and simplest one,
George Wald, Nobel Prize winner, while recognizing the improbability of
spontaneous generation, states his personal position as follows: 'One has
only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the
spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are--
--as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation.'(4) It is an
excellent statement of faith!
John Keosian is much more realistic. 'The concept that all the parts of the
first living thing preexisted, and that its formation was simply a matter
of spontaneous generation therefrom is mathematical absurdity, not
probability. All present approaches to a solution of the problem of
the origin of life are either irrelevant or lead to a blind alley.'(5)
Even if the proper conditions were present and the correct constituents fell
toghether in the right proportions, no certainty demands that life would
result. Is life merely the fortuitous arrangement of elements and
compounds in a unique arrangement? If scientists could put together the
constituents of a cell in exactly the right proportions and arrangements,
would it become a living cell? The question remains unresolved. Should
life be more than the sum of its parts, spontaneous generation would never
be possible under any circumstances.
Occasionally the news media announce that scientists have created life in
the laboratory. Such claims bring up the question 'If man can create life
now, is there not a possibility that life might have arisen by chance in
the past remote history of the earth?'
Apparently the desire to announce the creation of life is a temptation hard
to resist for both news reporters and scientists. The real truth is that
scientists have not manufactured life, although they have made real
breakthroughts in its study.
Has Man Created Life?
What must the biologist bring about before he can truly say that he has
artificially produced life? According to Lederberg, life requires at least
1. Deoxyribionucleic acid (DNA)
2. Four nitrogenous bases in abundance
3. DNA polymerase
4. Ribotide phosphates
5. RNA polymerase
6. A supply of twenty aminoacyl nucleotidates
7. Aminoacyl--RNA polymerase
We shoud add the following three requirements to the list: (7)
8. A membrane
9. Regulatory mechanisms
10. A constant supply of energy.
So far, scientists have synthesized in the laboratory only the DNA, the
first one listed above, but not from scratch. They created neither the DNA
molecule they used for the pattern nor the building blocks with which they
constructed the new DNA molecule, but obtained them from viruses and
bacteria. If a baby can construct a castle from blocks similar to the one
you just made, you feel pleased, but if he could design the structure,
saw down the trees, cut out the blocks, paint them, and then build the
castle, he would be more than a genius.
Scientists have been able to copy the existing castle with building blocks
already provided. But even that is an incorrect statement. Man has not
copied the castle--he has only set up the right conditions, and nature
itself has done it. DNA polymerase (item 3) did all the work of lining up
the building blocks in the right order and joining them together. In other
words, the DNA did nothing but provide the pattern.
But that is still not the whole story. Som have assumed that the synthesized
DNA is a living entity. In order to be alive:
1. a substance must have a definite structure--it cannot be in disorder
or chaos. Synthesized DNA meets this requirement.
2. It must have the ability to take in food, give off wastes, repair,
replace, grow, and those other features lumped together under the
term metabolism. However, synthesized DNA is completely passive.
3. Living things must have regulatory mechanisms that control the metabolic
processes that keep them in balance and guide the living organism into
becoming and remaining the kind of organism that it is destined to be.
Again, synthesized DNA fails the criteria.
4. A living cntity must be more than merely a passing spark that flashes
and then dies away; life must have the ability to reproduce another
Synthesized DNA does not meet three of the four basic requirements of life.
Its synthesis is a great accomplishment, but it is not a living substance.(7)
No, man has not produced life. He has only provided the proper conditions
for nature to manufacture just one of a considerable list of required
substances found in living things. But what if man could eventually
produce a simple spark of life? What if thousands of brilliant researchers
spending thousands of hours in multimillion-dollar laboratories with
euqipment of utmost sophistication finally would achieve the dream of
man--to produce life? Would it not merely emphasize that it would have
been impossible for life to have arisen by itself? Life is truly a unique
entity, a constant miracle in our midst. It demands intelligence and design
God is the underived source of life, the life-giver, a fact that Scripture
greatly emphasized. David says, 'For with thee is the fountain of life.'
Jesus said to Martha before He raised Lazarus from the dead, 'I am the
resurrection, and the life.' Paul testified to the Athenians his belief:
'He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.' I personally doubth
that humans will be able to create life. It is possible that someday
scientists and the mass media will proclaim the accomplishment, but such a
claim will certainly require close scrutiny. The assertion will undoubtedly
be either questionable or a case in which the synthesis process has
incorporated some previously living matter. Living organisms have the
ability to change food (nonliving matter) inot living protoplasm. When we
deal with microorganisms or viruses, we may have difficulty distinguishing
the parts humans play and the role of the organism.