Abiogenesis, also known as the Origin of Life (bios) from No-Life (abios), is the specific field of scientific study concerned with how life on Earth began from inanimate, or lifeless, matter. If I were to summarize the theoretical science quickly, I would say that there are many different theories as to how this has taken place. While I believe this assessment to be true, there are certain of them that spring up more than others in the literature. As our study concerns the Origin of Man, we will need to at least mention some of these theories, especially as to the impact they have on the larger (Origin of Man) theory with which we are concerned.
We must bear in mind too that the very hypothesis that there was such a time, when there was no life on Earth, is widely accepted, but need not be true.
A proper treatment of this subject from the scientific standpoint alone would take, and has taken, volumes. The information I will provide will be incomplete and brief. My intent is to offer, in what follows, a brief summary of the predominate theories as to the Origin of Life on the planet Earth from a scientific perspective. No better way to begin is to try to comprehend this primordial soup, or primordial slime, first.
The Primordial Slime
The science tells us that about 4 billion years ago (assuming an age of approximately 4.5 billion years for the Earth), single-cell creatures called prokaryotes “first appeared.” These creatures have no nucleus and may be distinguished from those similar to them but with a nucleus, called eukaryotes.
What we are trying to find is when and how Life, if it were not here from the beginning of the World, came to be out of inanimate elements. This creature, you see modeled above, is very complex, and organized. It seems as if it has already undergone an assembly process, with distinctive organs and functions, if not a nucleus just yet. At first glance, it looks like a higher step from something. It even has a chromosome, and DNA chains.
Nevertheless, prokaryotes and eukaryotes gather together in some medium, like water, and form a film, this primordial combination of bacteria and medium called alternatively a “soup” or a “slime.” The proks and euks hang out together, and socialize. But this is putting the cart before the horse. The question is, how do we get the Life, however small it may be, from those minerals?
Being usually considered a type of bacteria, if we want to trace the genealogy of the prokaryotes and eukaryotes we must defer to the elusive protobiont, pictures of which one heads this section and one found below. The characteristics of this protobiont are some rudimentary variation of a cell wall (remember it is not a cell yet) or membrane and some type of cohesive unity. It is considered abiotic because it is supposedly created out of non-living matter. There is talk about microspheres well illustrated by this diagram:
As with the point that begot the Big Bang of the Universe, each of these abiots has only an imagined beginning. Regardless, from a union of “organic and inorganic matter” is whence they are said to have come (op.cit.).
Organic matter? By nature, organic matter is living, or once living matter. To say that these primary building blocks of life came from other life would be begging the question. It is the origin or organic life that we pursue, saying the living come from a combination of the living and non-living is evidenced simply by the fact that human beings turn carbon into energy, or that every human, every creature in fact, is such a combination of biotic and abiotic elements; there is no new science there. Along with the organic particles we consume, we take in also inorganic elements, which combine to form our nutrition. It is cheating to say these proto-living things are the first real life, and then attribute their heritage to things alive, or once living.
We can approach this still another way, using history. Aristotle, following philosophers before him, asserted what we now know as the theory of Spontaneous Generation, which held that certain inanimate objects, or non-living things, produced certain animate, living things. That this theory later became believed, to the extent that, as we have already mentioned, people once did indeed think flies came from garbage, needs to be said, if but to demonstrate science’s tenuous hold on the truth.
Aristotle was no fool, a testament buttressed by the fact that to a great extent the contemporary science we are now studying sounds very Aristotelian. While it is usually assumed from the work of Louis Pasteur and others who worked with germs and microbes that Aristotle’s rendition of spontaneous generation is an impossibility, this estimation is nowhere to be found in abiogenesis, which asserts the same genera of claims. If Aristotle’s genius is incorrect, what is new about this theory of abiogenesis, that it should not suffer the same criticisms? Even Pasteur refused to believe that life could have come from nothing, and there is even some speculation that tricks were used to discredit his own blows to Evolution and the Darwinists.
The nerve of these people, who even have gone so far as to distinguish “Aristotlian Biogenesis” from their real biogenesis! They wonder why “confusion exists on the topic” and why shouldn’t it? Fathom this quote, if you will:
“Abiogenesis…Today, the term is primarily used in the context of biolog(ical) origin of life. Some confusion exists on this topic, because early concepts of abiogenesis were later proven to be incorrect. These early concepts of spontaneous generation (referred to here as “Aristotelian abiogenesis” for clarity) held that living organisms could be “born” out of decaying organic substances, et cetera, which we now know does not occur.”
That should properly read “which we THINK we know.” And what is the difference in the new abiogenesis? Let’s see:
“Abiogenesis refers to life that originated from matter that was not previously living. It is the preferred term for the origins of life from previously non-living matter” (source here, and elsewhere at Talk. Origins Archive).
So it is better, more understandable, to say that life makes more sense coming from that which was never living, than to say it comes that which was once living (Aristotle)? I fear, if you eliminate spontaneous generation, you must eliminate from the discussion as well the new kind of abiogenesis. That, or admit that some of the “heat” required for generation, as also taught by Aristotle, as in the form of peat and decayed once-living matter, must be present for abiogenesis; admit that you need some life to get life. Anyone who has planted a garden knows the value of good dead matter like horse and cow manure. In fact try to plant a seed in just sterile sand, without any organic matter in it, and let me know how your crop goes.
We can at best, it appears, only agree with Thomas Huxley, another eminent scientist, who wrote in his article “Biogenesis and Abiogenesis” that:
“But though I cannot express this conviction of mine too strongly, I must carefully guard myself against the supposition that I intend to suggest that no such thing as Abiogenesis ever has taken  place in the past, or ever will take place in the future. With organic chemistry, molecular physics, and physiology yet in their infancy, and every day making prodigious strides, I think it would be the height of presumption for any man to say that the conditions under which matter assumes the properties we call “vital” may not, some day, be artificially brought together. All I feel justified in affirming is, that I see no reason for believing that the feat has been performed yet” (Collected Essays VII, Critiques and Addresses, 1870) .
Almost 140 years later, I think it would be fair to say that the feat still has not been accomplished. Realizing the problems with the theory, in usual style, the scientists actually seem to be grasping at straws, as evidenced by this actual prize being offered:
“The Origin-of-Life Prize” ® (hereafter called “the Prize”) will be awarded for proposing a highly plausible natural-process mechanism for the spontaneous rise of genetic instructions in nature sufficient to give rise to life. To win, the explanation must be consistent with empirical biochemical, kinetic, and thermodynamic concepts as further delineated herein, and be published in a well-respected, peer-reviewed science journal(s)” (source here, go apply!).
In other words, if you can demonstrate a way that Life (DNA code, the instructions for life, etc.) can come out of inanimate matter, you will win a prize! But don’t worry, you might have a chance, after all, it needs only be “highly probable,” “well-respected,” and “peer-reviewed.” It can make as much sense as a singing hill of beans.
So, apparently such a proposal as explaining how life can come out of what is not alive is so unattainable, unsustainable, and as of yet undecided, that we must tempt the research of desperation with accolades.
We could, were it necessary, even defend Aristotle here to some extent, not only with arguments from Catastrophic theory, but also from common sense. The ancient Greek philosophers did not have the benefit of our monstrous telescopes, nor their eyes the magnification power of our microscopes. Consider the mushroom, which we now know to come from spores, which Aristotle would have said comes from decaying organic matter. Anyone who has spent time studying them cannot help but marvel at how these mushrooms come and go from the surface of the earth unlike any other. Of millions of spores, a few just so happen to pop up. We know the spore theory, it makes sense. But to this day, we do not know, exactly what happens when even one seed of any kind sprouts. This tiniest of actions, let’s be truthful, cannot be explained by the science we have thus far seen. If Aristotle would have said mushrooms require rotting once-living hence organic matter to come about, he would be in a sense correct; for his most atrocious claim, namely that rats can be produced by haystacks, this obviously was arrived at by his repeatedly witnessing, and hearing tales about, people tipping over matted haystacks and seeing rats huddled in the center beneath. You can witness this same thing today. He was wrong, ultimately, but we must remember that Aristotle also set out the kinds of causes there may be. I’ll try to do this from memory, it’s been a while.
If an efficient cause or intermediate cause, for instance, is the cause which directly makes something happen, and the final cause is that which spawned the efficient cause, and the formal cause is what started it all, what we are looking for is the formal cause, here of the Origin of Life. Let’s use an analogy. If you are idling at a stop light, and you are rear-ended by someone, and then hit the car in front of you, you would be the efficient cause. However since you did not intend to hit the car, and did so by compulsion, namely because the car behind you crashed into you, then something else is the real cause. So then we go to the car behind you, and further back down the line like a good claims adjuster, or Highway Patrolman (it was a big accident…), and finally come to Granny 12 cars back who got distracted by a red-breasted woodpecker. Granny, you see, is the final cause. Think you got it? Well only if you figured out that the woodpecker was the formal cause.
What this means is, that while efficient, or intermediate causes (of which there may be many) and final causes (which determine the ends of any chronological or ontological regression) can be discussed and manipulated by practical science, the formal cause of any event must be beyond the realm of practical science. It is a subject for metaphysics, not science, and this elevation of metaphysics to science is something Kant railed against in his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, one of the most important treatises in the history of the Philosophy of Science. For was it the woodpecker? Was it the red? Was it the chirping or the motion of its head? We enter the realm of speculation, whether or not Granny uses the ‘pecker as a defense or not.
Now Immanuel Kant’s claim was basically a re-affirmation of Aristotle’s separation of science and metaphysics (the latter, literally “what comes after the physics”). In Kant’s day, though, the problem-people who were trying to elevate conjecture to mere science were the religionists. The reason for Kant’s explosion is not difficult to figure out. He noticed that the theorists of his day were putting forth all sorts of “scientific proofs” not merely about the existence of a deity, but further about what the deity looks like, what it wears, what it has for breakfast. Tomes meant to be serious science were talking about things like the intermingling of spirits, and the angelic order, and relying on nothing more than their own previous “theory” as evidence.
Kant was no hard atheist, I would say, but he recognized that in his time what was being peddled as science, the far bulk of it was not scientific at all [See for the BEST example the work of Heinrich Schleiermacher, which itself brought the label of “schleiermachers” to people who “believe in spirits as science.” Incidentally, there is a lot of good, if not scientific stuff in Schleiermacher’s work…]. Kant had no problem with religion or religious beliefs, and in fact I would argue his behavior defined him as a religious man. His problem was with the discussing of metaphysics and/or religion – purely theoretical things, let’s call it theoretical science – with true, verifiable, let’s call it also as we have been – “practical” science.
Now Kant’s work has often been cited by theoreticians as a reason to forget about religion when it comes to science; that he killed all such coexistence. In other words the theoretical scientists embrace Kant. And insofar as they are doing practical science they are making a supportive allegiance. But what they fail to see is that, especially vivid in the Prolegomena, Kant never said we cannot do metaphysics, religion, or theorizing of any kind. What he said was the premises of any such metaphysical investigation must be grounded in verifiable, practical science.
While current scientists utilize Kant strategically to reject anything remotely resembling even a Prime Mover, let alone a personal God , they somehow ignore him when they cite as hard science the theoretical hodgepodge such as we have been so far discussing. The scientists of today use classic genius to recognize and smell a rat when they see it. Unfortunately, apparently, few of these pseudo-scientists are in possession of a mirror, whereby they might find the sprites and vermin in their own speculation.
Let us not forget that metaphysics, to most great philosophers of history, was, and to me still remains a very important topic. All I would suggest, as I think Kant would too, along with Plato, and Aristotle, and Descartes, and Spinoza, and Hume, and even Nietzsche and the rest of the existentialists, is that you cannot mix science with metaphysics. Yes you can base your science on any hunch at all, justified or not, if it works and is of some use. But the standards are different.
While science relies on proofs in the form of measurements and data based on observation and the proof of hypotheses, metaphysics or philosophy proper relies on proofs in the form of wide observation, history, and logical provability. One type of reasoning is inductive, the other, deductive.
I dare say, too many scientists thus far think or have thought that they have found formal causes when in reality they are merely finding intermediate ones. Aristotle went as far as he could go, but at least knew at what point the search for causes and origins is no longer a matter of practical scientific concern. Today, are we any better, saying we have found flavorful quarks under piles of protons, or abiogenetic matter in the genealogy of the bacterium? Do we even understand the miraculous cell? Are we sure that there might not be a different, more final cause, for the generation of these things, than the ones we assume? We ideally should test the theory with practical scientific methods. But in this case, little proof has been provided.
Let’s then see what else is out there, what further advances science has made as to the Origin of Life, so that we might better soothe the bitter taste any thinking person must have by now, in their caw, accumulated. We need a breath mint to at least cover up the crap we have been fed thus far. Heaven knows whether we can, without extracting our entire digestive tract, ever hope to get rid of it completely.