Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


George F. Howe   

From: JASA 15 (December 1963): 124.

Since the question of "chemical evolution" in a prebiologic earth is of importance to Christians in science, I would like to submit the following observation for evaluation and comment by other ASA members. I believe there has been one oversight, one hidden flaw, in the geochernical "story" which possibly invalidates uniformitarian schemes of origin.

Before stating the critical problem, the general plan must be reviewed. Most geochernists agree that the primeval atmosphere contained little or no oxygen or ozone. It is theorized that while the earth was cooling, the atmosphere was composed of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, methane, and ammonia. Theoretically the oceans contained in solution such substances as carbon dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other substances in lesser amounts.

Accordingly, amino acids formed-as in Urey and Miller's experimental work (i)-from methane, ammonia, and water under the influence of lightning, ultraviolet radiation, or other forces. Next, it is assumed that, by the drying of amino acid pools and with the sun as an energy source, amino acids united, yielding the first protein molecules (2).

It is posited that other complex carbon-nitrogen compounds arose-e.g., DNA-by similar chance reactions. Later a primitive, protein-containing, cellular structure arose, and from this early cell and its descendants came the cells in which there later developed a mechanism of photosynthesis. Oxygen that was finally produced in photosynthesis changed the ancient atmosphere to the modern one. It is thought that oxygen, under the influence of radiation from space, subsequently yielded the ozone which now blankets our atmosphere.

The frequency distribution of solar radiation outside the ozone layer of the atmosphere must be considered in such schemes, however. In a recent work by David M. Gates (3, p. 332) it is seen that the extraterrestrial atmosphere receives much ultraviolet radiation in the region of 2700 to 3000 aongstroms (radiation which breaks C-0, C-H, or 0-H bonds and others)! If oxygen came as a "biological product" after the evolution of life and photosynthesis, why weren't the early stages of amino acid, protein, and DNA production disrupted by the dissociation waves of ultra violet? These destructive rays had been hitting and penetrating the entire atmosphere and the early ocean all the time and would have hindered all the steps toward production of complex organic molecules necessary in the origin of life.

There is therefore a logical and physical flaw in the very foundation of recent geochemical ideas. Could this be an "Achilles heel" of chemical evolution? Whether or not this is actually the result, it can at least be said that any geochernical experiment is completely invalid (as an indicator of pre-biologic changes) unless the raw materials and end products have been subjected to solar doses of dissociation radiation throughout the entire "brew" experiment or protein synthesis.


1. Miller, S. L., and H. C. Urey, "Organic Compound Synthesis on The Primitive Earth," Science, 130: 245-251, 1959. 2. Fox, S. W., and M. Middlebrook, "Anhydrocopolymerization of Amino Acids under the Influence of Hypothetically Primitive Terrestrial Conditions," Federation Proc. 13: 211, 1954.

3. Gates, David M., "The Energy Environment in which We Live," Amer. Sci., 51 (3): 327-348, 1963.

Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California