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Chance and Necessity Do Not Explain the Origin of Life

Editor’s Note: Trevors & Abel are not fellows of the Discovery Institute but their conclusions, aptly noted in the name of their article “Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life” echo and reinforce the negative arguments against the sufficiency of chance and necessity of Center for Science & Culture Director Stephen C. Meyer in his article titled “DNA and the Origin of Life: Information, Specification and Explanation,” from Darwinism, Design and Public Education (Michigan State University Press, 2003).

Editor’s Annotation:
How did the complex genetic instructions encoded into DNA come into existence? According to Trevors & Abel all origin of life models that seek to answer the problem either through extraterrestrial means (lithopanspermia) or seek some other form of life (silicon based life) or medium of information conveyance (RNA) suffer from a fundamental flaw. Namely they fail to recognize the “difference between the generation of instructions which is a separate and distinct problem from devising a language system with which to record those instructions.(730)” As they observe, “each specific genetic message from DNA to RNA to protein can only be decoded if the coding/decoding apparatus and operating system pre-exist the message.(734)” They also say appeals to necessity fall flat on the mathematical truism that “no natural mechanism of nature reducible to law can explain the high information content of genomes (734)” which they show through information theory. Chance also seems to be an equally unviable candidate as “random sequences are themselves the antithesis of prescribed genetic information” and such new information could not be inserted into DNA “without sophisticated restriction and ligase enzymes. (735)” Furthermore, natural selection seems like an equally implausible candidate as evolution works through the differential survival and reproduction of the superior members of each species. Yet it is the origin of the nucleic acid algorithms at the covalently-bound primary structure level (730)that later makes these species that itself needs to be explained. “Nature,” they observe “has no ability to optimize a conceptual cybernetic system at the decision node (covalently-bound sequence) level (730)”. Thus new approaches to investigating the origin of the genetic code are required.

Original Article


Where and how did the complex genetic instruction set programmed into DNA come into existence? The genetic set may have arisen elsewhere and was transported to the Earth. If not, it arose on the Earth, and became the genetic code in a previous lifeless, physical-chemical world. Even if RNA or DNA were inserted into a lifeless world, they would not contain any genetic instructions unless each nucleotide selection in the sequence was programmed for function. Even then, a predetermined communication system would have had to be in place for any message to be understood at the destination. Transcription and translation would not necessarily have been needed in an RNA world. Ribozymes could have accomplished some of the simpler functions of current protein enzymes. Templating of single RNA strands followed by retemplating back to a sense strand could have occurred. But this process does not explain the derivation of ‘sense” in any strand. ‘sense” means algorithmic function achieved through sequences of certain decision-node switch-settings. These particular primary structures determine secondary and tertiary structures. Each sequence determines minimum-free-energy folding propensities, binding site specificity, and function. Minimal metabolism would be needed for cells to be capable of growth and division. All known metabolism is cybernetic – that is, it is programmatically and algorithmically organized and controlled.