The Origin of Life and Avoiding the God-of-the-Gaps.


The study of life’s origins is undoubtedly a lively (is that a pun?) as well as an exciting area of scientific research. However, no-one actually knows how the first life emerged. For instance, some have speculated how nucleotides, amino acids, and sugars were first formed and subsequently assembled into the form of DNA and RNA. These are life’s basic building blocks but how they acquired the necessary enzymes to fuel this process is still in the realms of speculation. This is not to deny that some interesting hypotheses have been proposed of the likes of the the deep sea vent theory, crystal or clay theory, and radioactive beach theory. Others have engaged in the more speculation by hypothesizing that life on Earth came from another planet. Of course that would only put the question of how life originated back a step. The overarching point being is that a persuasive a explanation of life originated on Earth has not yet emerged.

However, it isn’t uncommon for theist to assert, or imply, that God must have intervened to bring the first life into being. This is what critics have commonly referred to as a god-of-the-gaps explanation.

To put this into perspective would be to consider that scientific consensus believes that life first appeared on Earth some 3.8 billion years ago. However, any serious scientific study of life’s origins began no less than merely 60 years ago. This shows that our scientific knowledge is anything but exhaustive and it is therefore possible that a persuasive scientific explanation may come to fruition in the next few decades. This is not however to deny that God could have brought into being life via his direct intervention. Yet it would remain very presumptuous, and arguably unwarranted, to conclude that the origin of life is beyond scientific discovery just because we don’t have a current scientific explanation.

The Christian theist needn’t be threatened by this since he could argue that everything that exists within the physical universe owes its existence to God. Whatever begins to exist (i.e. the universe and all within it) is contingent upon a creator. One could probably point to the Apostle Paul (Col. 1:17) and the Gospel of John (1:3) for theological support of this position. However, one day having a naturalistic explanation of life’s origins doesn’t exclude God’s involvement in any way. To exclude God’s involvement would thus be a faith based assumption that the philosophical naturalist makes, and one he’d need to argue for rather than merely assume. I am also not suggesting that we should agree with the constraints that methodological naturalism puts on science, instead I suggest that we be open to the possibility that a natural explanation will come to fruition. An explanation, the Christian could say, deepens her awe of God.


6 responses to “The Origin of Life and Avoiding the God-of-the-Gaps.

  1. As long as “science” remains purely naturalistic and refuses to acknowledge the existence of the supernatural it will never find all the answers it is looking for.

    • I could make the opposite argument. That belief in a god limits humanity’s will to explore the “why” and “how”. If we automatically jump to the conclusion of “because god” then any exploration of cause becomes moot and we debase our own humanity in doing so.

      Let’s make something clear. Science is not a faith. Science requires the rigorous hypothesizing, testing, and retesting. It does not rely on feelings or beliefs. A scientist may believe or feel some hypothesis. However, only continuous testing, hypothesis reformulation, and re-testing can make those amorphous feelings and beliefs into something that can be proven to be true.

      Religion doesn’t rely on such things. Religions have been born on someone simply believing something to be true with no evidence. If you need proof of this look at the example of cargo cults in the South Pacific. They now have thriving faiths based on the beliefs of a few.

      Why should we rely on faith and belief when proving an assumption or hypothesis through rigorous testing can give us the true answers to the way our universe works? As to why we are here.. Why does there have to be a why? Why can’t we just be. Why does the universe need a conscious cause to exist?

      • Of course science is based on faith – and that faith is the firm belief that anything outside of nature does not exist. Because science has no “material” proof most scientists reject any possibility of the existence of the immaterial. Their absolute faith in “scientism” is worthy of any great religion, and with closed minds like that is it obvious such “scientists of faith” will never find all the answers!

        As for your “why” questions, I wonder “why” you even bother to state them if you are not at all interested in the answers. If there is no point or purpose for our existence could you please explain “why” it matters that science even attempts to look for answers to anything anyway? If we are all just the result of mindless chemical reactions in a pointless universe why does it even matter if science exists at all – is it just a way of passing the time until we all return to the oblivion from which we came?

        • You assume there are answers to be had out of “revelation”. But “revelation” is just someone coming up with an idea and propagating that idea. The same thing happens with internet memes but are not necessarily as long lived. It’s a psychological virus.

          Because that type of nihilistic thinking does nothing to improve humanity.

          Here’s a related point. Suppose we encounter another intelligent species that is vastly different from our own. Are they also created in the image of God? Or is humanity the only divinely ordained intelligent species to receive that special accommodation? There are some that also believe that animals also go to heaven. If so, then heaven must be filled with untold numbers of insects. Or does God only take the cute furry animals to heaven?

          • Of course there are answers – if you choose not to look for them that’s entirely up to you!

            Regarding your statement “…does nothing to improve humanity” I would ask you “who says humanity should be improved”? As you are obviously an atheist I would ask why you think humans are so special that they deserve to be “improved”? And if all humanity is ultimately destined for oblivion anyway why bother “improving” it?

            As for your other speculative comments regarding aliens. animals going to heaven, etc., you clearly study such concepts and possibilities – why on earth would you do that when you have no “proof” of any of it?

  2. Dr. Stephen C. Meyer in his book “Signature in the Cell” made the positive assertion that the occurrence of the sequential information necessary in the DNA of every living cell requires the existence of an intelligent designer. He bases this on the fact that an intelligently written specific sequence in its own language is always associated with intelligence. The possibility that such a sequence could come about by chance interactions of organic molecules in our universe, even if our universe were filled with organic molecules, is so miniscule that it should be fully discounted. The usual argument of chemical evolution is also discounted because evolution by definition can only happen after the first reproducing form comes into existence. This is based on biological knowledge that was not available to Darwin.
    Consider this: life depends on not only the existence of the DNA, but also several kinds of ribosomes, translational RNA, and several protein structures, all of which can only be produced from the DNA itself. The DNA functions in turn depend on the existence of these other components. So which came first? This represents irreducible complexity that cannot evolve one small increment at a time, especially since the genes that are coded for these structures are thousands of nucleotides long in the correct sequence. This represents a massive amount of sequenced information that does not exist in any inorganic chemical system.

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