Materialist Origin of Life Scenarios and Creationism

Creation Evolution Journal
Materialist Origin of Life Scenarios and Creationism
Hubert P. Yockey

Karl K. Darrow, for many years secretary for the American Physical Society, likened the dynamic phase of a field in science to the building of a cathedral. The construction site is one of great confusion. Stones are being supplied. Workers are chipping away at them leaving debris lying about. Creaking winches are hoisting the finished stones into place. Some workers are going about their tasks in silence, except for the noise of their hammers. Others are arguing, shouting, and cursing. (Yes, cursing in a cathedral!) The foundation has been laid. The walls are partly up. Many questions remain to be answered. Will stresses in the roof cause the walls to collapse? How should the walls be buttressed without making the building ugly? Can the building be completed with materials on hand? Is it necessary to do research and development on new materials?

When the last of the workers has descended from the roof and the last of the debris has been carted away, the cathedral can be dedicated and will start to perform its function. The priests and acolytes come in orderly and solemn procession. Their chants fill the cathedral with music. The cathedral now serves the purpose for which it was built, and the workers move on to other jobs.

The workers are still engaging in the job of understanding the origin of life and evolution. The fact that they are arguing, shouting, and even cursing each other does not mean that their job is hopeless. Rather it testifies to the creativity and dynamism of the work itself. Like building a cathedral, problems previously unforeseen arise during construction. Old ideas are found to be faulty. Modifications must be made. New ideas come forth and are incorporated. But the work goes on in spite of what, to outsiders, appears to be confusion.

Even a cathedral will not be raised by divine intervention but, rather, by the labor of the workers.

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Aristophanes in The Clouds has Socrates say that Zeus sometimes strikes his own temples with his thunderbolts. Christian churches are also sometimes destroyed by fire, lightning, or earthquakes. Clearly, if temples and cathedrals are to be built, people must build them. Let us therefore render unto the engineers what is due them and unto God that which is God's.

How does this apply to the creation-evolution controversy? In the first place, the task of the working scientist is:

  1. Find the facts which relate to the origin of life (what is life?) and the evolution of life forms we find today and in the fossil record.
  2. Find relationships between these facts so that they can be understood in terms of a small number of general principles. These relationships must be consistent with other pertinent facts, such as those provided by physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and so forth. Among such facts are the age of the universe, the galaxy, the solar system, the earth, and the fossiliferous rocks.

The results of two of my articles in The Journal of Theoretical Biology have been used to support "equal time" for a religious, creationist point of view. These articles were published as part of the arguing of a worker engaged in the study of the origin of life. These arguments were directed toward another kind of creationist: the materialist creationist. These people are of two kinds:

  1. Those who believe that the universe and the earth are very old—old enough for almost anything not strictly forbidden to have happened by chance somewhere at some time. They believe that random formation of biological building stones created the protobiont and that this must have happened in sufficiently earthlike planets elsewhere in the galaxy. Accordingly, the galaxy is pullulating with civilizations. It is worth a great deal of other people's money to establish contact with these civilizations.
  2. Those who concede that it is too improbable for a protobiont to have emerged by chance but that this happened because the appropriate molecules self-organized in protenoids (or whatever). Since this happened on earth, it must have happened on earthlike planets elsewhere, and the same conclusion as above is arrived at.

What I believe I showed was that every scenario offered by the materialist creationists of any school is invalid since they conflict with biological or mathematical facts. My dispute with other workers should not be used to support the position of the religious creationists. It is my view that the work cannot go on if the architect entertains false views of the stresses in the cathedral, the strength of his material, or if he plans to build in a marsh.

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Reference to divine intervention lies outside the domain of science. Just as the cathedral builders used the materials at hand (that is, no structural steel or steel-reinforced concrete), the scientist must also use the facts he has at hand. If these are insufficient, then he must get more facts. Anyone who reads my papers will find that just this was my conclusion. We cannot explain the origin of life and evolution without more facts. So let us get on with the work and not appeal to divine intervention.

No public school child should be told that fossils are a trick of the devil to test his or her faith (see the Book of Job). Neither should he or she be told that God plays dice with the world and that he or she is only a chance configuration of atoms. If all life is only material, then the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tsetung are of no consequence. If humans are only matter, it is no worse to burn a t, on of humans than to burn a ton of coal.


Yockey, Hubert P. 1981. "Self Organization Origin of Life Scenarios and Information Theory." Journal of Theoretical Biology, 91:13.
—protobiont. 1977. "A Calculation of the Probability of Spontaneous Biogenesis by Information Theory." Journal of Theoretical Biology, 67:377-398.

About the Author(s): 
Professor Hubert Yockey teaches at the University of California at Berkeley and is editor of the journal, Symposium on Information Theory and Biology.
© 1986 by Hubert P. Yockey
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