The Origin of Life

Nash Popovic profile image

Written by Dr. Nash Popovic

It is estimated that life on Earth appeared as early as 4.28 billion years ago (possibly even earlier). Not surprisingly, this event is still shrouded in mystery, so let’s see how far we have got with unravelling it.

The existing interpretations

Creationism (relatively recently reinvented as ‘intelligent design’) broadly speaking draws upon the Biblical account of the origin of life. It is still seen in some circles as an alternative to the materialist view, so we may as well briefly address this position. Creationists are very good at criticising the opposite standpoint, but less so in providing a coherent support for their own. Genesis is clear that the creation of life is a deliberate act, but the way it is presented raises many issues. Without getting into details, a general problem is the claim that an agency assembled various species as discrete units. This does not seem plausible. The paleontological and micro-biological data indicates that life, in all its diversity, originated from very simple forms and evolved over a long period of time. Contrary to the creationist account, it is evident that more complex organisms have derived from simpler ones, and that there are large time gaps between the appearances of various species (which we will discuss in the part on Evolution). However, this does not necessarily mean that life is a pure accident, as materialists suggest. We will see that their claim is also problematic.

Materialism – from the materialistic perspective, the origin of life is explained as a chance event that occurred through the interplay of physical forces and chemical reactions. The idea that life came about accidentally from inanimate matter cannot be taken for granted, though. Contrary to popular belief, this account is not proven, either empirically or rationally. It has never been demonstrated in a laboratory or anywhere else that a complex structure such as a living cell could arise spontaneously (or through human intervention) from inorganic stuff. Honest scientists are ready to admit this:

This post is for members only. To keep the site free from ads, we ask for a one-off payment which will give you access to all the Synthesis materials.

Already have an account? Sign in