Giltil Asks about the Origin of Life and Evolution

What are the facts supporting the ideas that life originated naturalistically from inert matter and that life subsequently developed through a blind and unguided process? Obviously, there are none for these ideas are axioms.

Life is made of inert matter right now, and it obeys the blind and unguided laws of physics as best we can tell, including the fact that life evolves. Carbon atoms don’t stop behaving like carbon atoms just because they’re found in a protein in your brain or muscles. These are evidentially derived conclusions, not axioms.

Now what evidence is there that it is possible even in principle for something to be wished into existence?


Can’t help you with the first one, but there’s plenty of evidence for the second one. The history of life looks really random. Just consider the path from single-celled eukaryote to human for a fine example. Now consider the path from that eukaryote to a mushroom, a petunia, a paramecium, and a priapid.


The other responses to you cover it, I think. But your question certainly has nothing to do with anything I said, so I’m not clear as to why you’ve directed it at me. I was simply saying that science provides tools for the evaluation of hypotheses which may be generated through intuition. I am unaware that that statement in any way depends upon my being able to deal with your aggressive incredulity about the basic facts of life.

By the way, life wouldn’t originate “naturalistically.” It surely must have originated naturally, in one sense or another of the word, but living things did not evolve the capacity to take a naturalistic viewpoint until they’d been around for quite a while. And matter’s not particularly inert. Nor are processes which favor particular sorts of outcomes “blind” in any but a metaphorical sense, or “unguided” except in the sense of not requiring a conscious being to drive them. I’d suggest you work on using better terms to describe whatever it is you are actually asking about, because that’s quite a mess you have there.


Fair enough.

When trying to understand what life is, it is common practice to refer to the dichotomy between inert and living matter.

I’m quite certain that paper is absolute crackpottery. Are you taking the assertion seriously that the mass of an isolated system increased because it contained a fungus?

On a related note, the experiment described is not actually an isolated system, but a closed system, as a sealed test tube still allows heat exchange with the environment. I don’t know why you’re citing that article, but I hope it’s not because you think it contains any good science.


Please correct me if I misunderstand. There seem to be two parts to this question.

The facts that life arose from non-life are very compelling and almost uncontested (I can number the scientists who disagree with this on a single hand, even if that hand was missing a couple fingers).

At some point in time in the history of the universe, carbon did not exist. Carbon formed mostly from dying low-mass stars.

Before carbon, there could be no carbon-based life. So at some point, in the interstellar medium, in some protoplanetary disk, on a comet or asteroid, or on the surface or sub-surface of a rocky planet (Mars or Earth), life as we know it originated from non-life. If life did not originate on Earth, it very probably was safely delivered to its surface some time after the moon forming impact, and probably after the delivery of the late veneer. So the window for life’s origin on or delivery to Earth is somewhere between 4.5 billion years ago and 3.5 billion years ago (feel free to ask for reasons for these dates).

For these reasons I’m very confident that life came from non-life at some point. I’m reasonably confident that this happened either on Earth or Mars.

Was it naturalistic? I’m not sure what that means.

I’m a Christian. I believe that the birth of my son was a miracle. It’s the creation of a brand new life, a new and unique person. The biological processes of conception, prenatal development and birth are well understood. I think it’s a miracle with a decent scientific explanation (since this is outside my field, I don’t know how decent). I wouldn’t call the birth of my son naturalistic.

I believe the origin of life was a miracle. It’s the creation of new life where before there was none. To me, it seems to be a less astounding miracle than the birth of my son. I think it has a chemical explanation that someday will be discovered. At present we are a long way from that explanation. Finding out how life originated will not make its origins any less of a miracle.

The source you provide is dubious. The journal does not appear to be mainstream and the abstract of the paper seem to be either pretty wild (violation of conservation of mass) or pretty obvious (organisms that grow increase in mass)*.

Some other sources that draw this distinction are:

Non-life to life as a discontinuous transition: Smith, E. and Morowitz, H.J., 2016. The origin and nature of life on earth: the emergence of the fourth geosphere . Cambridge University Press. (It’s a good book to read if you’re interested in this topic and not crazy expensive for an academic book. Gives a ‘metabolism first’ perspective. It is densely packed with info and is math-heavy in parts.)

Non-life to life as a continuous transition: Pascal, R., Pross, A. and Sutherland, J.D., 2013. Towards an evolutionary theory of the origin of life based on kinetics and thermodynamics. Open biology , 3 (11), p.130156.

*I skimmed the paper and am pretty sure the author is advocating a violation of mass conservation using mass-energy equivalency. The author also concludes that life violates the second law of thermodynamics. I’m highly skeptical. If the author’s right, I will await the awarding of his Nobel Prize.

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I think it would be incorrect to say that my iPhone came from silicone, aluminum, iron, carbon etc…
It is made of these elements, but didn’t come from them.

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That’s an interesting and important semantic distinction. I would colloquially say the iPhone does come from these things, by a group of engineers.

To be more precise, I’d distinguish causes. I’m an Aristotelian in this regard and would frame this in terms of material, formal, efficient and final causes.

The material cause of iPhones are silicon, carbon, iron, etc. The formal cause incorporates the shape and function of the iPhone. The efficient cause would be (on one level) the engineer and (on another level) the specific processes the engineer uses to bring about the iPhone. The final cause might still include ‘to make phone calls.’

I think a similar philosophical analysis could be made about the origins of life, once people know more about how it happened.

Would you agree with this way of framing things?

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Yes, the aristotelician framework seems quite relevant in this context, although I have to admit that I have some difficulties with the notion of formal causes.

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Me too.

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I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean by the term miracle. What distinguishes the miraculous from the non-miraculous?

By ‘miracle’ I mean something creative that is done outside of the order of the whole created nature (similar to ST 110, Art 4).

There’s a certain sense in which I believe everything is a miracle insofar as it is good, because God acts to sustain all of the created order. Some things are miracles of a second kind, like the birth of a child, the formation of a snowflake, the birth of a star. These involve the bringing into existence of something new. I believe that God is directly involved in these things, acting through the nature and powers of other things that God has created. Then there is a third kind of miracle, for example, the resurrection of Jesus. These are miracles that God does directly and that cannot be accounted for in terms of the nature or powers of created things.

I think that, in principle, science can describe the first two kinds of miracles insofar as they involve the nature and powers of material things. I do not think that science can touch the third kind.


Saying that system S is made of elements a, b, c, d etc… is not the same as saying that S originated from a, b, c, d… See the above exchanges with @Paul.B.Rimmer.
Whatever, my claim is that the proposition that life emerged from non life through a purely natural process wherein no mind was involved at all at any stage is an axiom. And the same is true for the subsequent development of life.

It definitely seems untestable from a traditional Christian standpoint. If God created everything, then a mind is involved at some stage with all things, including life’s origin and subsequent development.

In this sense, a bit odd I admit, I see SETI as a way of distinguishing infinite from finite intelligent involvement in events.

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Even if that were common, it would be inaccurate. Matter isn’t inert. It is reactive. And there’s no “dichotomy” there – an atom is an atom, whether it’s in a living thing or not, and its physical and chemical properties operate by the same principles either way.

You see, when you try this word-game stuff it really doesn’t help. You’re just framing a question to make the answer sound improbable. So you assert that processes that bring about certain results in preference to others are “blind” and “unguided” because those adjectives sound like they somehow undermine your conception of how this is supposed to work, and you refer to matter as “inert” because it’s harder to imagine inert things doing something than it is to imagine highly reactive things doing something.

Now, I’ve seen you horse around with language before. The Doug Axe quote I gave recently once prompted you into a LONG, contentious bit of insisting that mainstream biologists really DO contend that evolution has stopped. As your evidence for this, you pointed not to any modern biologist (which would, as you know, have yielded you nothing at all) but to the rather idiosyncratic views of the now-long-dead Pierre-Paul Grasse, but of course it turned out that Grasse hadn’t thought that either. This doesn’t stop you word-dancing. What will? Are you capable of asking an honest question and understanding an honest answer?


Okay, but I don’t get why you think it is “done outside of the order of the whole created nature”. Is it not in the nature of human beings to reproduce? It’s summer where I live, basically everywhere around me the whole of the “order of nature” involves reproduction.

Suffice it to say I think you have a very non-conventional understanding of the word miracle, if you think the formation of a snowflake is miraculous. It sorta makes the word have no meaningful dinstinction from the non-miraculous. The wind blows and “creates” a pile of dead leaves somewhere, it’s a miracle? I don’t think so.

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Curious. To me these are evidentially derived, though tentatively held conclusions to investigation, which are logically possible to overturn should good evidence to the contrary be found. Where do I go to find people who have this as an axiom?

Oh and, I want to make sure I understand, what do you undestand by the term axiom, and what do you think it entails with respect to discovering how the world works? Suppose I take it as axiomatic, without actually knowing, that the local supermarket will remain open until 22:00 pm. Will I have made it impossible for me to discover that this axiom is wrong?

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It seems like you didn’t read @Paul.B.Rimmer’s post. He explicitly divides his understanding into three kinds of miracles, the first two of which can be described by science (and of which snowflakes are a part of). The third type of miracle is the one which is closer to the common understanding today and it seems your understanding as well.