Tag Archives: Amino Acid

The origin of life, part 1 of 2: the building blocks of life

The origin of life

There are two problems related to the origin of the first living cell, on atheism:

  1. The problem of getting the building blocks needed to create life – i.e. the amino acids
  2. The problem of creating the functional sequences of amino acids and proteins that can support the minimal operations of a simple living cell

Normally, I concede the first problem and grant the atheist all the building blocks he needs. This is because step 2 is impossible. There is no way, on atheism, to form the sequences of amino acids that will fold up into proteins, and then to form the sequences of proteins that can be used to form everything else in the cell, including the DNA itself. But that’s tomorrow’s topic.

Today, let’s take a look at the problems with step 1.

The problem of getting the building blocks of life

Now you may have heard that some scientists managed to spark some gasses to generate most of the 20 amino acids found in living systems. These experiments are called the “Miller-Urey” experiments.

The IDEA center has a nice summary of origin-of-life research that explains a few of the main problems with step 1.

Miler and Urey used the wrong gasses:

Miller’s experiment requires a reducing methane and ammonia atmosphere,11, 12 however geochemical evidence says the atmosphere was hydrogen, water, and carbon dioxide (non-reducing).15, 16 The only amino acid produced in a such an atmosphere is glycine (and only when the hydrogen content is unreasonably high), and could not form the necessary building blocks of life.11

Miller and Urey didn’t account for UV of molecular instability:

Not only would UV radiation destroy any molecules that were made, but their own short lifespans would also greatly limit their numbers. For example, at 100ºC (boiling point of water), the half lives of the nucleic acids Adenine and Guanine are 1 year, uracil is 12 years, and cytozine is 19 days20 (nucleic acids and other important proteins such as chlorophyll and hemoglobin have never been synthesized in origin-of-life type experiments19).

Miller and Urey didn’t account for molecular oxygen:

We all have know ozone in the upper atmosphere protects life from harmful UV radiation. However, ozone is composed of oxygen which is the very gas that Stanley Miller-type experiments avoided, for it prevents the synthesis of organic molecules like the ones obtained from the experiments! Pre-biotic synthesis is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. The chemistry does not work if there is oxygen because the atmosphere would be non-reducing, but if there is no UV-light-blocking oxygen (i.e. ozone – O3) in the atmosphere, the amino acids would be quickly destroyed by extremely high amounts of UV light (which would have been 100 times stronger than today on the early earth).20, 21, 22 This radiation could destroy methane within a few tens of years,23 and atmospheric ammonia within 30,000 years.15

And there were three other problems too:

At best the processes would likely create a dilute “thin soup,”24 destroyed by meteorite impacts every 10 million years.20, 25 This severely limits the time available to create pre-biotic chemicals and allow for the OOL.

Chemically speaking, life uses only “left-handed” (“L”) amino acids and “right-handed” (“R)” genetic molecules. This is called “chirality,” and any account of the origin of life must somehow explain the origin of chirality. Nearly all chemical reactions produce “racemic” mixtures–mixtures with products that are 50% L and 50% R.

Two more problems are not mentioned in the article. A non-peptide bond anywhere in the chain will ruin the chain. You need around 200 amino acids to make a protein. If any of the bonds is not a peptide bond, the chain will not work in a living system. Additionally, the article does not mention the need for the experimenter to intervene in order to prevent interfering cross-reactions that would prevent the amino acids from forming.

The progress of science

As science has progressed, the discoveries have proved out the need for a Creator and Designer in every area – the big bang, cosmic, galactic and stellar fine-tuning, the Cambrian explosion, etc…. and even the origin of life.

“More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance. New lines of thinking and experimentation must be tried.”

(Dose, Klaus, “The Origin of Life: More Questions Than Answers,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1988, p.348.)

Meanwhile, atheists are left to have blind faith that the progress scientists have made during decades of research will be miraculously overturned by new evidence that their beloved unobservable Flying Spaghetti Monster, (peas be upon him), did it. Hey! Don’t blaspheme against the non-supernatural powers of his noodly appendage! (Two Ph.Ds in biology will not save you from the wrath of the Darwoid cultists!)

To see how bad this gets for atheists, watch this video where Dawkins says that unobservable aliens evolved somewhere else and then seeded the Earth with life. He has no evidence that these aliens did evolve (no fossil record), and even worse, he does not know whether they even exist. Nevertheless, that is the state of atheism today – an unobservable Flying Spaghetti Monster evolved somewhere else and seeded the Earth with life.

What else could have happened?

Further study

One of my favorite resources on the origin of life is this interview from the University of California with former atheist and origin of life researcher Dean Kenyon. Kenyon, a professor of Biology at San Francisco State University, wrote the textbook on “chemical evolution”, which is the view that chemicals can arrange themselves in order to create the first living cell, without intervention.

This interview from the University of California with another origin of life researcher, Charles Thaxton, is also one of my favorites.

You’ll need Quicktime to see the videos, or buy the videos from ARN. (Kenyon, Thaxton) I have both of them – they rock!

Scientific American assesses naturalistic explanations for the origin of life

From Scientific American. (H/T Letitia via Mary)


As recently as the middle of the 20th century, many scientists thought that the first organisms were made of self-replicating proteins. After Francis Crick and James Watson showed that DNA is the basis for genetic transmission in the 1950s, many researchers began to favor nucleic acids over proteins as the ur-molecules. But there was a major hitch in this scenario. DNA can make neither proteins nor copies of itself without the help of catalytic proteins called enzymes. This fact turned the origin of life into a classic chicken-or-egg puzzle: Which came first, proteins or DNA?

RNA, DNA’s helpmate, remains the most popular answer to this conundrum, just as it was when I wrote “In the Beginning…” Certain forms of RNA can act as their own enzymes, snipping themselves in two and splicing themselves back together again. If RNA could act as an enzyme, then it might be able to replicate itself without help from proteins. RNA could serve as gene and catalyst, egg and chicken.

But the “RNA-world” hypothesis remains problematic. RNA and its components are difficult to synthesize under the best of circumstances, in a laboratory, let alone under plausible prebiotic conditions. Once RNA is synthesized, it can make new copies of itself only with a great deal of chemical coaxing from the scientist. Overbye notes that “even if RNA did appear naturally, the odds that it would happen in the right sequence to drive Darwinian evolution seem small.”

The RNA world is so dissatisfying that some frustrated scientists are resorting to much more far out—literally—speculation. The most startling revelation in Overbye’s article is that scientists have resuscitated a proposal once floated by Crick. Dissatisfied with conventional theories of life’s beginning, Crick conjectured that aliens came to Earth in a spaceship and planted the seeds of life here billions of years ago. This notion is called directed panspermia. In less dramatic versions of panspermia, microbes arrived on our planet via asteroids, comets or meteorites, or drifted down like confetti.

John Horgan is not a Christian, nor even a theist. This is the state of the art if you are a naturalist.

Basically, you have at most a couple hundred million years from the time the Earth cools to the appearance of first life. You are unlikely to get one measly protein without an intelligence arranging the amino acids. This is assuming we spot you a favorable environment for creating amino acids without intervention. And then there would still be the problem of sequencing the proteins.

Atheists oppose science and evidence

Theists support science and evidence

Doug Axe publishes a new peer-reviewed paper on protein folding

A new podcast from ID the Future is worth listening to.


  • Jay Richards, Director of Research at the CRSC, (Discovery Institute)
  • Doug Axe, Director of the Biologic Institute

The MP3 file is here.


  • the new BIO-Complexity peer-reviewed journal
  • new peer-reviewed paper challenges Darwinian account of protein folding
  • proteins are found in every living system
  • a protein is a chain of parts called amino acids
  • there are 20 amino acids used in living systems
  • it’s like a 20-letter alphabet used to make sentences (proteins)
  • if the sequence is just right, it folds up and has a function
  • the information about the functional sequences is in the genome
  • the “protein fold” is the 3D shape that a functional protein takes on
  • the folding problem is good because you can TEST Darwinian mechanisms
  • the problem is simple enough to be tested rigorously in a lab
  • Question: how easy is it to create a sequence that folds?
  • English is a good analogy to the problem of protein folding
  • you have a long string of characters (e.g. – 200 letters)
  • each “letter” can be one of 20 amino acids
  • if you assign the letters randomly, you almost always get gibberish
  • there are tons of possible sequences of different letters
  • it’s like a 200 digit slot machine with each digit having 20 possibilities!
  • the number of sequences that would actually make sense is tiny
  • protein folding is the same
  • Doug’s paper assesses how many “tries” could have been attempted
  • Doug’s paper calculates the total number of possibilities
  • cells have arrived a large number of functional sequences
  • but only a small number of the total possibilities could have been tried
  • this is called the “sampling problem”
  • there isn’t enough time to test all of the possibilities (see previous paper below)
  • how did living systems arrive at the functional sequences so quickly?
  • there are some possible naturalistic scenarios for solving the problem
  • Doug’s new paper shows that none of the naturalistic explanations work
  • the only explanation left is that an intelligence sequenced the amino acids
  • it is identical to the way that I can sequence letters to make this post

A picture is worth a thousand words

Here’s a video clip from the DVD Darwin’s Dilemma showing the process:

If you would like to know more about Darwin’s Dilemma, you can read Brian Auten’s review of Darwin’s Dilemma.

Who are these guys?

I wrote a post before on Doug Axe’s previous publications in the Journal of Molecular Biology, where he researched how many of the possible sequences of amino acids have biological function. His PhD is from Caltech, and his post-doctoral research on proteins was conducted at Cambridge University.

Jay Richards is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute and a Contributing Editor of The American at the American Enterprise Institute. In recent years he has been a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and a Research Fellow and Director of Acton Media at the Acton Institute. His PhD is from Princeton University.

Related posts

William Dembski discusses irreducible complexity and co-option

William Dembski explains what the debate on origins is really about.

About the speaker:

Dr. Dembski has taught at Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Dallas. He has done postdoctoral work in mathematics at MIT, in physics at the University of Chicago, and in computer science at Princeton University. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago where he earned a B.A. in psychology, an M.S. in statistics, and a Ph.D. in philosophy, he also received a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1988 and a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1996. He has held National Science Foundation graduate and postdoctoral fellowships.

The lecture:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Summary (snark is in italics)

What is evolution:

  • Is it enough for Christian students to just retain their faith in college?
  • Or should Christian students seek to transform their universities?
  • The word “evolution” refers to a unguided, purposeless, undirected process
  • Living organisms are not designed, they just appear to be designed
  • Therefore, it is an atheistic theory – there is NO ROOM for God
  • Random variations and natural selection can do the creating of life without God
  • Nothing about evolution suggest that God had anything to do with it

The appearance of design:

  • The cell is a nano-engineered information processing system.
  • The cell has engineering, e.g. – signal transduction, message passing, etc.
  • There are molecular machines similar to man-made machines, but less efficient
  • E.g. – the bacterial flagellum which has 40 parts
  • These molecular machines have minimal complexity – all the parts are needed
  • can’t build a molecular machine step-by-step – all the parts must be present and integrated

How does evolution try to explain molecular machines:

  • The standard naturalistic response is “co-option”
  • Each intermediate step has pieces that are used for other purposes
  • I.e. – Subsets of the parts can have different functions
  • For example, a subset of the bacterial flagellum can be used as a syringe
  • The subset, called the Type-3 secretory system, has only 13 parts
  • The problem is that evolutionists don’t show all the steps, and all the functions
  • For this to be a good response, you need a smooth path from 1 part up to 40
  • Each step of the path has to have a working system with a different function
  • But the atheists don’t have the path, or the intermediate functions
  • It’s like arguing that you can walk from Seattle to Tokyo via the Hawaiian islands

Is the bacterial flagellum a cherry-picked example?

  • There are no detailed molecular pathways for any biochemical systems in the cell
  • The atheistic response is to speculate that pathways will be found as science progresses
  • The pathways are unobservable entities, just like the multiverse and the Cambrian precursors

Where does the machinery to create proteins come from?

  • The molecular machines are composed of proteins
  • The proteins are manufactured by copying protein-building instructions from the DNA
  • The instructions are carried to the build site by messenger RNA
  • The build site is called a ribosome
  • The DNA requires proteins to build, so there is a chicken-and-egg problem
  • The problem is that protein transcription systems require everything in place
  • There is no materialistic theory about how to build this step-by-step

So what do the molecular machines tell us about how life began?

  • The problem of the origin of life is the problem of the origin of information
  • What needs to be explained are the functional sequences of parts
  • The sequences are identical to sequences of letters that make sense
  • The atheist has to say that material processes can create the information
  • The problem of finding sequences of amino acids or proteins is a search problem
  • A blind search of the space of possible sequences is not efficient
  • even with lots time, parts and trials, you can’t converge on functional proteins
  • information is required and the only known producer of information is a mind

Bill is one of my favorite people. He’s smarter than practically all of the atheists who dominate the universities. But because he is an outspoken Christian, he never gets the recognition he deserves. He just keeps plugging away on his research. He doesn’t make excuses.

What is intelligent design?

Related DVDs

Illustra also made two other great DVDs on intelligent design. The first two DVDs “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” and “The Privileged Planet” are must-buys, but you can watch them on youtube if you want, for free.

Here are the 2 playlists:

I also recommend Coldwater Media’s “Icons of Evolution”. All three of these are on sale from Amazon.com.

Related posts

Doug Axe explains the chances of getting a functional protein by chance

I’ve talked about Doug Axe before when I described how to calculate the odds of getting functional proteins by chance.

Let’s calculate the odds of building a protein composed of a functional chain of 100 amino acids, by chance. (Think of a meaningful English sentence built with 100 scrabble letters, held together with glue)


  • BONDING: You need 99 peptide bonds between the 100 amino acids. The odds of getting a peptide bond is 50%. The probability of building a chain of one hundred amino acids in which all linkages involve peptide bonds is roughly (1/2)^99 or 1 chance in 10^30.
  • CHIRALITY: You need 100 left-handed amino acids. The odds of getting a left-handed amino acid is 50%. The probability of attaining at random only L–amino acids in a hypothetical peptide chain one hundred amino acids long is (1/2)^100 or again roughly 1 chance in 10^30.
  • SEQUENCE: You need to choose the correct amino acid for each of the 100 links. The odds of getting the right one are 1 in 20. Even if you allow for some variation, the odds of getting a functional sequence is (1/20)^100 or 1 in 10^65.

The final probability of getting a functional protein composed of 100 amino acids is 1 in 10^125. Even if you fill the universe with pre-biotic soup, and react amino acids at Planck time (very fast!) for 14 billion years, you are probably not going to get even 1 such protein. And you need at least 100 of them for minimal life functions, plus DNA and RNA.

Research performed by Doug Axe at Cambridge University, and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Molecular Biology, has shown that the number of functional amino acid sequences is tiny:

Doug Axe’s research likewise studies genes that it turns out show great evidence of design. Axe studied the sensitivities of protein function to mutations. In these “mutational sensitivity” tests, Dr. Axe mutated certain amino acids in various proteins, or studied the differences between similar proteins, to see how mutations or changes affected their ability to function properly. He found that protein function was highly sensitive to mutation, and that proteins are not very tolerant to changes in their amino acid sequences. In other words, when you mutate, tweak, or change these proteins slightly, they stopped working. In one of his papers, he thus concludes that “functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences,” and that functional protein folds “may be as low as 1 in 10^77.”

The problem of forming DNA by sequencing nucleotides faces similar difficulties. And remember, mutation and selection cannot explain the origin of the first sequence, because mutation and selection require replication, which does not exist until that first living cell is already in place.

But you can’t show that to your friends, you need to send them a video. And I have a video!

A video of Doug Axe explaining the calculation

Here’s a clip from Illustra Media’s new ID DVD “Darwin’s Dilemma”, which features Doug Axe and Stephen Meyer (both with Ph.Ds from Cambridge University).

I hope you all read Brian Auten’s review of Darwin’s Dilemma! It was awesome.

Related DVDs

Illustra also made two other great DVDs on intelligent design. The first two DVDs “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” and “The Privileged Planet” are must-buys, but you can watch them on youtube if you want, for free.

Here are the 2 playlists:

I also recommend Coldwater Media’s “Icons of Evolution”. All three of these are on sale from Amazon.com.

Related posts