What theories are there about the origin of life on Earth?

There are five main theories of the origin of life on Earth:
• special creationism
• spontaneous generation
• eternity of life
• cosmozoan theory
• biochemical origin

How does special creationism account for the origin of life?

Special creation is nearly always linked to religion, whereas an acceptance of evolution is linked to scientific thinking. There are fundamental differences between the two that mean it is unlikely that the difference between the scientific theory of evolution and special creation will ever be resolved. Science describes the natural world around us using a means of observation and empirical testing using instruments. These observations then result in the development of scientific theories. There is no attempt on the part of science to give opinions about morality or purpose.

Religion mainly focuses on spiritual matters that, by their very nature, cannot be seen, touched or measured effectively. Religion deals with philosophical matter that relates to morality and concerns between humans and their God. Religion is less concerned with empirical observable facts and testable hypotheses but rather with faith, the belief in things that cannot be proven.

Science relies on provable events; religion relies on believing in that which cannot be proven. Th two views are very, very different from each other even though each is a valid worldview in its own context.

Special creation states that at some stage, some supreme being created life on Earth. There are many different versions of special creation, linked with different religions. Often, there is considerable variation as to how rigidly the special creation theory is interpreted within a religion.

Young Earth creationism

This form of creationism today suggests that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Young Earth creationists often believe the Earth was created in six 24-hour days. While they agree that the Earth is round and moves around the Sun, they interpret all geology in the light of Noah’s flood.

Old Earth creationism

There are several types of creationism that are considered Old Earth. Thy vary in different aspects of how they explain the age of the Earth while still holding to the story found in Genesis. These who believe in Old Earth creationism accept the evidence that the Earth is very old but still maintain that all life was created by God.

Day-age and gap creationism

These are similar in that each interprets the beginnings of the creation story as actually having taken much longer than six Earth days.

• Gap creation discusses a large gap between the formation of the Earth and the creation of all the animals and humans. Th gap could be millions or billions of years. This gets around the scientific evidence that the Earth is several billion years old without having to believe in the process of evolution itself.

• Day-age creationism is similar in the length of time but talks about each of the six ‘days’ as really meaning a billion years or so of geologic time; the ‘days’ are just symbolic.

Progressive creationism

This type of creationism accepts the Big Bang as the origin of the Universe. It accepts the fossil record of a series of creations for all of the organisms catalogued. However, it does not accept these as part of a continuing process; each is seen as a unique creation. Modern species are not seen as being genetically related to ancient ones.

Theistic evolution/Evolutionary creationism

This view of evolution maintains that God ‘invented’ evolution and takes some form of an active part in the ongoing process of evolution. It also invokes the role of God in areas not discussed by science, like the creation of the human soul. Theistic evolution is promoted by the Pope for the Catholic Church and is also espoused by most mainline Protestants.

Intelligent design

This is the newest version of creationism and maintains that God’s handiwork can be seen in all of creation if one knows where to look. Advocates of intelligent design offer sophisticated arguments, often based on cell biology and mathematics, to give the impression of complex scientific arguments and to create equal stature with mainstream scientific thought. These arguments attack different parts of evolutionary theory, with the idea that if one part of evolutionary theory can be found to be incorrect then it follows that all of evolution must be incorrect. Th term intelligent design is used to mask the fact that it’s a form of creationism cloaked in scientific-sounding ideas.

How does spontaneous generation seek to explain life on Earth?

Spontaneous generation suggests that life can evolve ‘spontaneously’ from non-living objects. It was only a few hundred years ago that people still believed this to be true. For example, people believed that rotting meat turned into flies and that wine produced bacteria as it went sour. It took the work of Francisco Redi to disprove the idea of rotting meat producing flies and the work of Louis Pasteur to finally show that not even micro-organisms could be produced by spontaneous generation.
In Redi’s experiment flies only appeared in the jars where flies had access in the fist place. Exclude the flies, as he did with some jars, and the meat does not produce either maggots or flies.

These two scientists showed that both macro-organisms (Redi) and micro-organisms (Pasteur) can only arise from pre-existing organisms, disproving the theory of spontaneous generation. But what about the fist ever cell? Unless we believe that life is eternal, with no beginning and no end, there had to be a fist cell. And it could not have come from a pre-existing cell because it was the fist. As we shall see later, scientists have proposed a method whereby the necessary components of life could be formed and believe that, somehow, they managed to assemble themselves into a primitive cell. This is a kind of spontaneous generation.

How does the eternity of life theory seek to explain life on Earth?

In this theory of life, there is no beginning and no end to life on Earth and so it neither needs special creation nor does it need to be generated from non-living matter. Supporters of this theory believe that life is an inherent property of the Universe and has always existed – as has the Universe. At the time when such theories were being propounded, many eminent scientists – including Albert Einstein – believed that the Universe was unchanging. Thy reasoned that ‘if life is found today in an unchanging Universe, then it must always have been there’.

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