The Odds Are Always in Favor of the House: Scientific Problems with Origin-of-Life Explanations that Rely on Chemical Evolution

Introduction

One of my favorite movies is Ocean’s 13 ¬– despite the fact that I’m not into gambling – because it shows the incredible amount of effort it would take to beat the casino’s odds of winning – the odds are always in favor of the house. The movie lays out a plan hatched by Danny Ocean’s (George Clooney) band of thieves to rig every game and slot machine in Willy Bank’s (Al Pacino’s) casino in order to bankrupt him. This is Hollywood at its best because there is no way that a scheme like this could realistically take place, but it does make for good entertainment. From creating an artificial earthquake to manufacturing dice that can be flipped by a remote device placed in a cigarette lighter, it’s all a preposterous proposal, but it does make for a good movie. If this is the only way to beat the house then perhaps it’s best not to pick up the habit of gambling – you are much more likely to lose your money then gain it. According to Investopedia. . .

George Clooney returns as Danny Ocean who rounds up the boys for a third heist, after Al Pacino’s casino owner double-crosses one of the original eleven. Please excuse the little bit of bad language.


“In roulette, the highest payout for a single number bet is 36 to 1. However, roulette wheels, besides having the numbers 1 to 36, also have a 0 and sometimes a 00 as well. The true odds of winning are 37 to 1 or 38 to 1, not the 36 to 1 that is the most the player can get paid on a winning bet.

The house edge, the odds advantage in its favor, represents the average gross profit the casino can reliably expect to make from each game. On the games with the lowest house edge, the smallest advantage, a casino might only be generating about a 1% to 2% profit. On other games, it may make profits of up to 15 %to 25% or more.

The house edge on a 00 roulette wheel is 5.26%. For every $1 million that’s bet at the roulette tables in a casino, the management expects to pocket a profit of slightly more than $50,000.”[1]

This statistical advantage is also played out in the origins of life research laboratory – the odds are always in favor of the scientist (the house). Despite the fact that the conditions of the primordial earth were anything but pristine –– something we will discuss in the section entitled Benign or Hostile Conditions of Early Earth? –– scientists still presume that they will be able to reconstruct the origins of life in the pristine environment of the lab. The problem with this is that the requirements for the emergence of life from simple chemical compounds via natural processes include a set of strict, logical principles that ensure that the Earth’s conditions meet the exact right chemical criteria to maintain a stable prebiotic environment. Biologists direct lab experiments using carefully controlled, pure conditions intended to increase the likelihood of the experiment’s success rather than truly evaluating the likelihood of whether such chemical process could operate on early Earth.[2] Just like the casino owner, the scientist has a business model in place to maximize profits – i.e. grant worthy scientific discoveries.


As a creationist the only way I would be able to beat the odds of the scientist would be to build a time machine and go back to when the earth was first formed – clearly a pointless idea. Therefore, can we really say that the evolutionist researcher has won the game when he is playing with a stacked deck? Certainly not! So how should creationists argue this point and what can we do to counter the evolutionist’s (the dealer’s) statistical advantage? Let’s examine four noteworthy examples of unrealistic outcomes—laboratory production of cytosine, ribose, and high-energy phosphate; and the origin of homochirality — that demonstrate how the hypothetical prebiotic reactions on early Earth do not meet the necessary chemical requirements of early Earth.

Background

One of the predictions made within the Reasons to Believe (RTB) creation model states “if God created the first life on Earth through direct intervention, one can reasonably assume that life appeared suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere.”[3] Is this what science has revealed or does the naturalistic approach account for life’s origin? Some success has been made in solving the mystery of life’s beginning with the discovery of chemical reactions that could have yielded a portion of the required components of a prebiotic soup. In addition, scientists have identified probable chemical pathways that could have produced the cell’s metabolic systems and information-rich self-replicators. Even though this may fulfill naturalistic predictions – i.e. chemical pathways producing life’s building blocks and chemical pathways yielding complex biomolecules – this is still not enough. It is necessary that these pathways also be able to function efficiently under the conditions of early Earth. This article will discuss the problems with the proposed chemical pathways to cytosine, ribose, and polyphosphates production; as well as the origins of homochirality; and how chemical routes to key life molecules have in fact, not been found.[4]

Benign or Hostile Conditions of Early Earth?

The naturalistic model predicts that life originated late in earth history and that a single lifeform evolved in a prebiotic soup that existed within a benign environment. However, the creation model developed by Reasons to Believe suggests the exact opposite. A Biblical creation model suggests that an abundant amount of complex lifeforms appeared suddenly and under hostile conditions. According to Jeff Zweerink of Reasons to Believe there is significant evidence supporting the Biblical perspective on the origins of life.

After a Mars-sized object collided with Earth and formed the Moon (4.5 billion years ago) a predictable rain of asteroids and comets bombarded Earth’s surface. Though the “rain” generally decreased, it dramatically intensified between 4.1 and 3.9 billion years ago. Scientists refer to this period of increased collisions as the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB). And new research suggests that, despite the onslaught, an existing life may have survived.

With numerous impactors greater than 30 miles in diameter (and the number of impactors grows as the size decreases), events during the LHB affected Earth’s surface significantly. Most astronomers and earth scientists had originally thought that each of these large events completely sterilized the Earth and turned its surface into a sea of magma. Nevertheless, shortly (geologically speaking) after the end of the LHB, an abundance of single-celled life appears to have populated the Earth. The evidence for abundant life so early after this catastrophic period in Earth’s history supports key predictions of RTB’s creation model. Based on biblical data, the model predicts that life arose (1) suddenly, (2) early in the planet’s history, and (3) in hostile conditions.

Jeff Zweerink, Late Heavy Bombardment: Not So Sterile

Finding Chemical Pathways to the Origins of Life


The requirements for the emergence of life from simple chemical compounds via natural processes include a set of strict, logical principles that ensure that the Earth’s conditions meet the exact right chemical criteria to maintain a stable prebiotic environment.[5] In addition to distinguishing reactions that can manufacture crucial prebiotic components, the following standards must be met:

• Preliminary materials for chemical reactions must exist on early Earth.
• Preliminary materials must arise at precise concentrations.
• Energy sources and/or catalysts must exist to initiate prebiotic reactions.
• Chemical compounds shaped by these reactions must maintain their stability and concentration long enough for successive chemical steps to be effected.
• Chemical noise introduced by other prebiotic compounds must not take place.[6]

Unfortunately, the bottom-up approach [7] to the origin-of-life problem essentially ignores these chemical requirements and creates unrealistic conditions for primordial Earth. Biologists direct lab experiments using carefully controlled, pure conditions intended to increase the likelihood of the experiment’s success rather than truly evaluating the likelihood of whether such chemical process could operate on early Earth. The temperature, pH, and the concentrations and ratio of reactants are highly controlled. In addition, energy sources and conditions are carefully selected to promote prebiotic reactions that will also prevent damaging chemical products after they form.[8]


Three noteworthy examples of unrealistic outcomes—laboratory production of cytosine, ribose, and high-energy phosphate—demonstrate how the hypothetical prebiotic reactions on early Earth do not meet the important chemical requirements discussed above.[9]

Cytosine

Two possible pathways for the production cytosine have been uncovered by origin of life researchers. “One route involves a reaction between cyanoacetylene and cyanate, and the other reaction begins with cyanoacetaldehyde and urea.”[10] These four chemical compounds exemplify vital components of early Earth’s theoretical prebiotic soup.[11]

What is Cytosine?


Chemist Robert Shapiro illustrated, however, that the two chemical routes come up short on any significance. His work has shown the implausibility that cyanoacetylene, cyanate, cyanoacetaldehyde, and urea existed at adequate levels on early Earth to impact the creation of cytosine. Regardless of whether occurred at the required levels, intrusive chemical reactions would have swiftly devoured these compounds before cytosine could form.[12] According to Ross and Rana. . .

Cyanoacetylene rapidly reacts with ammonia, amines, thiols, and hydrogen cyanide. Cyanate undergoes rapid reaction with water. In the presence of water, cyanoacetaldehyde decomposes into acetonitrile and formate. When cytosine does form, it rapidly decomposes. At room temperature and with a neutral pH, cytosine breaks down, losing half its molecules in 340 years. At 32 °F (0 °C), its half-life is 17,000 years—still too short a time for cytosine to be part of the supposed first self-replicator.[13]

Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana, Origins of Life, pg 114

To date, chemists have been unable to produce cytosine in spark-discharge tests, and cytosine has not been found in meteorites or extraterrestrial sources. Considering that meteorites function as a proxy for early Earth’s chemistry, the nonexisitence of cytosine in these sources would apparently verify Shapiro’s conclusion.[14]

Creating Life in the Lab

Ribose

The only known route to ribose is the Butlerov reaction (formose chemistry), which starts with one-carbon compound formaldehyde, which promptly forms in spark-discharge experiments. When exposed to an inorganic catalyst (calcium hydroxide, calcium oxide, alumina clays, etc.), formaldehyde reacts with itself and ensuing products to create sugars containing two or more carbon atoms.[15]

Most researchers, however, question this route to ribose and whether its germane to the origin-of-life picture. Various side reactions dictate formose chemistry; therefore, this reaction produces over forty different sugar species with ribose as an inconsequential component. Even if this reaction did occur on early Earth, it could not have generated enough ribose to support an RNA world.[16] Furthermore, laboratory based formose reactions are free of impurities that would exist on early Earth. For example, ammonia, amines, and amino acids react with formaldehyde and the products of the formose reaction, thus frustrating the formation of ribose and other sugars.[17]

What is Ribose?

The formation of both cytosine and ribose is adversely affected by decomposition. Sugars decay in alkaline and acidic environments and are vulnerable to oxidation. “Even within a neutral pH range, sugars decompose. At 212 °F (100 °C), under neutral conditions, ribose’s half-life is 73 minutes. At 32 °F (0 °C), ribose has a half-life of 44 years.”[18] Deoxyribose, the sugar component of DNA, can also only maintain limited stability even under neutral settings. In fact, this instability of sugars is exhibited by their virtual nonexistence in meteorites. The only sugar to be discovered in meteorites is dihydroxyacetone, and it has only been found in very small amounts.[19]

High-Energy Phosphate Compounds

Many scientists hypothesize that primordial prebiotic polyphosphate compounds functioned similar to that of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) during the origin-of-life development and subsequently evolved into ATP. A phosphate source must have been present on early Earth because high-energy compounds that were capable of assigning phosphate groups to the RNA and DNA backbones were vital to the RNA- and DNA-protein-world.[20]

Origin of life researchers propose various possible prebiotic chemical routes to polyphosphates, including (1) the heating of apatite; (2) the high-temperature heating dihydrogen phosphates; and (3) the phosphates’ reaction with high-energy organic compounds.[21]

Origins of Life: Chemical Origins – Why Phosphates?

Although various possible routes to polyphosphates exist, scientists speculate on whether these chemical pathways have any relevance to early Earth. For example, the production of polyphosphates from apatite and dihydrogen phosphate require water to be completely removed from the system—a nonstarter for phosphate minerals trapped in rocks. In addition, the high temperatures necessary for polyphosphate formation would obliterate any organic material.[22]

The hypothesized production of polyphosphates from high-energy chemicals involves unrealistic levels of preliminary materials and generates low yields. Laboratory based spark-discharge tests failed to produce polyphosphates when phosphates were incorporated into the reaction vessel.[23]

Even if it is possible that polyphosphates formed on early Earth, it is unlikely they would have been readily available because calcium ions direct polyphosphates to precipitate out of solutions. Considering the virtual nonexistence of polyphosphate minerals on Earth today, it is not unreasonable to infer that prebiotic polyphosphate synthesis could not have taken place on early Earth.[24]

What about the Origin of Homochirality?

Homochirality is necessary for life. Chirality determines the three-dimensional arrangement of a molecule’s chemical groups. In addition, the spatial location of the chemical moieties regulates the relations that stabilize the three-dimensional structure of proteins. For some proteins, the introduction of even one amino acid of the opposite chirality will mess up the protein’s structure and thus its function. The two strands of DNA will not bind with each other to form the double helix unless all the nucleotides are of the same handedness.[25]

Here is a clip of Dr. Fuz Rana on the John Ankerberg Show where he explains homochirality.

In order to sufficiently explain the spontaneous appearance of life, scientists must somehow account for the origin of homochirality. Without preexisting reservoirs of exclusively left-handed amino acids and exclusively right-handed sugars, the assembly of proteins, DNA, and RNA via naturalistic means could not occur. However, the chemical reactions that generate chiral compounds from achiral starting materials typically produce a 50:50 (racemic) mixture. So how do we account for homochirality?[26]

What About Ultraviolet Radiation?

The inconvenient truth of racemic mixtures has led many origin-of-life scientists to explore astronomical means to explain the creation of homochirality. For instance, in the Circularly Polarized Light (CPL) model ultraviolet CPL generated by the dispersion of light from an very hot star to polarize it cascades onto a collection of amino acids and preferentially destroys right-handed amino acids more effectively than it destroys left-handed amino acids.[27]

However, Werner Kuhn observed in 1930 and Edward Condon proved in 1937 from quantum mechanical principles that while one wavelength of ultraviolet CPL preferentially destroys left-handed chiral molecules, a different wavelength of ultraviolet CPL preferentially destroys right-handed chiral molecules. Any broad band ultraviolet CPL, therefore, would destroy equal amounts of left-handed and right-handed molecules.[28]

The Kuhn-Condon rule and the absence of astrophysical causes of monochromatic ultraviolet CPL seem to rule out ultraviolet CPL as a potential explanation to the slight preference for left-handed amino acids observed in some meteorites. In fact, researchers have demonstrated that circularly polarized ultraviolet radiation can generate a modest chiral excess from a racemic mixture only when the radiation source is removed at the right time. Talk about stacking the deck![29]

There have been several other attempts at explaining the origin of homochirality, but all the laboratory experiments have deduced that before a 100 percent homochirality can be achieved all of the original sample would be destroyed.[30]

Conclusion

Has the evolutionist researcher won the game by playing with a stacked deck? Certainly not! In fact, attempts by researchers to create life in the lab demonstrates the exact opposite. Although the discovery of chemical pathways has fulfilled certain naturalistic predictions, these chemical pathways have failed in being able to function efficiently under the conditions of early Earth. Analysis of potential prebiotic production of cytosine, ribose, and polyphosphates has shown that although scientists have discovered chemical pathways to them, the absence of available preliminary materials, plus chemical intrusion by other environmental components and precipitous decay, would have prevented formation.[31] In short, “viable chemical routes to these key life molecules have not been found.”[32] In addition, there have been several attempts at explaining the origin of homochirality, but all the laboratory experiments have deduced that before a 100 percent homochirality can be achieved all of the original sample would be destroyed.[33]

Despite the intractable problem of accounting for life’s emergence through natural processes, and the amount of evidence showing that the Biblical Creation Model can be validated by science, origin of life researchers are still unwilling to advocate for the possibility of an intelligent designer. Is this refusal to accept an intelligent designer based upon scientific evidence or upon the philosophy of science held by the evolutionist researcher? Some skeptics might accuse Christians of following their preconceived philosophy causing their interpretation of science data to be tainted, but we can all fall subject to this phenomenon by human nature. This article shows that naturalism has some serious hurdles which call into question its proposed mechanisms, such as given the carefully selected conditions, the brilliant researcher intervention demonstrating the hand of God and the lack of relevance to early earth conditions. These and other issues brought up in this paper should cause any “reasonable” person to seriously question whether naturalism is the only “reasonable” position or if design is also just as, if not a more “reasonable” position

The third prediction within the Reasons to Believe (RTB) creation model states “if God created the first life on Earth through direct intervention, one can reasonably assume that life appeared suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere.”[34] Perhaps science has been unable to prove this premise as false because a divine chemist, who lives outside the box of Creation, is responsible for the origins of life.

Sources

1.) J.B. Maverick, “Why Does the House Always Win? A Look at Casino Profitability,” (October 29, 2019), accessed July 21, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/110415/why-does-house-always-win-look-casino-profitability.asp.

2.) Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Collide (Covina: RTB Press, 2004), Kindle edition, 113.

3.) Ibid., 43.

4.) Ibid., 113.

5.) Ibid.

6.) Ibid.

7.) Ibid.,16

8.) Ibid., 113.

9.) Ibid., 114.

10.) Ibid.

11.) Ibid.

12.) Ibid.

13.) Ibid.

14.) Ibid.

15.) Ibid., 115.

16.) Ibid., 55-56.

17.) Ibid., 115.

18.) Ibid.

19.) Ibid., 115-116.

20.) Ibid., 116.

21.) Ibid.

22.) Ibid.

23.) Ibid., 116-117.

24.) Ibid., 117.

25.) Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab (Baker Press, 2011), Kindle edition, 139

26.) Ibid., 140

27.) Ibid.

28.) Hugh Ross, “Natural Source of Life’s Homochiral Molecules?,” (April 30, 2018), accessed August 5, 2020, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2018/04/30/natural-source-of-life-s-homochiral-molecules

29.) Ibid.

30.) Ibid.

31.) Rana and Ross, Origins of Life, 117.

32.) Ibid., 43.

33.) Ross, “Natural Source”

34.) Rana and Ross, Origins of Life, 43.

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