Is the Origin of Life a Scientific Question?

The origin of life has been debated for a long time. Basically, there are four possible explanations for the existence of life on earth:

  • Life on earth arose spontaneously.
  • Life on earth has always existed.
  • Life on earth came about through a supernatural act of creation by an intelligent Being.
  • Life was seeded from space.

The Application of Science to the Question

Science is supposed to be about things that are observable. That is, science can probe only things that we can detect with our five senses. Science also must be repeatable. This means that when an experiment or observation is repeated, we get the same results. These restrictions on science have led to what we call the scientific method, the general rules that we follow in doing science. The scientific investigation of the origin of life presents us with at least two problems. First, since life began before people were around, we hardly can observe the process. Second, since the origin of life appears to have been a unique event, we hardly can repeat it.

How do these four possibilities stack up? The fourth possibility doesn’t really explain how life came about, but instead passes the question off to some other location. Many would object that the third option is unscientific and hence ought not to be considered. If we restrict the definition of “scientific” to questions that can be answered through the application of the scientific method to natural processes, then option three may be considered unscientific. However, what is the status of the other two options? Option one is the assertion of abiogenesis, the belief that life must have arisen from non-living things through a natural process. However, abiogenesis has never been observed. To the contrary, it has been shown numerous times that biogenesis is true, that only living things give rise to living things. That is, abiogenesis has been scientifically disproved. To persist in belief in abiogenesis, one must believe in something that clearly is unscientific.

What about option two? Life can be eternally existent only if the earth and the universe are eternal. However, the overwhelming scientific consensus today is that the universe is not eternal but instead had its origin a finite time ago. This conclusion most often is reached by appeal to a big bang origin for the universe. In fact, the vast majority of scientists today would opine that the big bang is a scientific fact However, not all scientists agree with the big bang model, but one may scientifically conclude a finite age of the universe by other means. For example, the second law of thermodynamics requires that the universe will eventually suffer a “heat death,” where no usable energy remains. This clearly is not the case presently, so the universe cannot be eternal.

Hence, to accept either option one or option two requires violating basic conclusions of science. Since neither option one nor option two is scientific and option four does not answer the question of the ultimate origin of life, only extreme bias against any possibility of the supernatural origin of life would lead one to reject the third possibility. The fact that none of the four options are scientific underscores the fact that the origin of life is not a scientific question.

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