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Review of The Mystery of Life’s Origin

Reassessing Current Theories Buy book at

A seminal work for the theory of intelligent design, this book provides a scientific critique of the prevailing paradigmatic theories of chemical evolution. The authors include Discovery fellows Charles Thaxton and Walter Bradley, and they conclude that the prebiotic soup from which the first cell supposedly arose is a myth. The Miller-Urey experiments employed an unrealistic gas mixture, and there is no geological evidence for its existence in Earth’s distant past. The “soup” faces a myriad of other problems, such as inevitable rapid destruction at the hands of radiation.

The authors also take aim at the dominant paradigm for chemical evolution using technical arguments from thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics has been misused by creationists who failed to treat the fact that Earth is an open system. But Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen takes this point into account as they argue that thermodynamics is eminently applicable to assessing whether unguided chemical reactions can organize matter into life. Their conclusion is that natural laws cannot account for the encoded “specified complexity” inherent in biomolecules.

The epilogue looks forward to other possible explanations for the origin of life. The book was published in 1984 when the United States was immersed in debate over Genesis-based creationism. Yet these authors take a different approach that is ahead of its time. They recognize that science requires an observation-based understanding of cause-and-effect relationships. Thus they set aside biblical arguments and focus instead on observations about the natural world and intelligence. After demonstrating that various undirected causes lack the power to produce complex information, they note, “We have observational evidence in the present that intelligent investigators can (and do) build contrivances to channel energy down nonrandom chemical pathways to bring about some complex chemical synthesis, even gene building” (pg. 211). The authors then pose a simple question: “May not the principle of uniformity suggest that DNA had an intelligent cause at the beginning?” (pg. 211)

The Center for Science and Culture

Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture advances the understanding that human beings and nature are the result of intelligent design rather than a blind and undirected process. We seek long-term scientific and cultural change through cutting-edge scientific research and scholarship; education and training of young leaders; communication to the general public; and advocacy of academic freedom and free speech for scientists, teachers, and students.