free debate

February 8, 2010

Creationists Misuse New Research on the Origins of Life

Last week we reported on a new hypothesis on how life originally arose on the Earth. The next day the creationists took the story, and twisted it. The new research argued that instead of life arising in a "soup" of organic powered by the sun and lighting, it happened in deep sea vents. The research is very interesting and I highly recommend reading it.

Creationists are notorious for twisting scientific results for their own purposes. In this case they have made two main arguments.
Anyway, the lame retreat from a stance previously thumped with tremendous vigor sounds Pythonesque but no, a quick Internet search reveals it’s actually from Get Smart. Along with “Missed it by that much” and “Sorry about that, Chief,” “Would you believe…” was a repeated line from the classic 1960s TV show. It always introduced Agent Maxwell Smart’s attempt to climb down from an earlier, bolder claim in favor of increasingly pitiable ones: “I happen to be an expert in karate, Judo and tempura. Would you believe that I can break eight boards with one karate chop? No? Would you believe three boards? Would you believe a loaf of bread?”
This is a gross misinterpretation of the story. Scientist are not backtracking to a simpler story, quite the opposite. I don't even necessarily agree that this hypothesis is less complex. Science works by overturning bad ideas with better ones. We were not backtracking when we added relativity to Newtonian gravity. This new idea actually shares many commonalities with the old "soup" model. They both agree that life arose in a organically rich body of water, with some sort of energy source to power the chemical reactions. The only real difference is where in the water, and what the energy source was.

The other argument they make is one based on information.
The soup-spilling team writing in BioEssays concentrates on the source of energy needed to power life into existence. Was it from UV radiation, as J.B.S. Haldane theorized in 1929? Or from a hydrothermal vent? This overlooks a much trickier problem: the source not of the relevant energy but the relevant biological information.
This is a old argument that has been thoroughly debunked. To begin with, this a glaring argument from ignorance. They are making the claim, 'we don't know what caused it now, it is therefore a creator.' In addition to that, it is based on a false premise. Dr. Zachary Moore has covered this in great detail on his podcast Evolution 101. There is also a short article on

It should also be pointed out that this is a new idea and not yet part of any scientific consensus. I'm sure that it will take many more years of research before we will have anything like a solid answer. That is why science is exciting: there are always new ideas and none of those ideas are beyond scrutiny.