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The Mystery of Life’s Origin

Reassessing Current TheoriesMultiple Authors, Charles Thaxton and Walter Bradley

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)

Charles Thaxton

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Charles Thaxton received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Iowa State University. He completed two post-doctoral programs, one in history of science at Harvard University and the second in the molecular biology laboratories of Brandeis University. He has specialized in the origin of life and in science’s relationship with Christianity through history.

Walter Bradley

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Walter Bradley received his B.S. degree in Engineering Physics and his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering, both at the University of Texas (Austin). He taught for 8 years as an Assistant and Associate Professor of Metallurgical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, for 24 years as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU, and ten years as a Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Baylor University. He is co-author with Charles Thaxton and Roger Olsen of the seminal book The Mystery of Life’s Origin (1984), which will be republished in an expanded edition in 2020 by Discovery Institute Press.