Intelligent Design

Why ID part 3

Why ID 3

The first part:

Second part:

All right, here is the next section.  I hope you have read the footnotes on the previous articles, because we will end-up doing some discussions of them in this and future articles in the series. Defiantly read the footnotes in this article- (toda la información). These are the individuals who (because we are evolutionarily more advanced than they were) did not know as much as we do now.  Of course, they are the ones who created ideals, concepts and theories that eventual lead to physical laws that our wonderfully, overly intelligent scientists today still have been unable to completely understand. So what they try to do is discredit what everyone else accepts.  Understandable, you have to push the edges, but you should have a valid reason, design and purpose for pushing- other than to make your name famous.

So off we go again seeking the mystery of the mystery:


The origin of the first life continues to remain a small hole in the elaborate tapestry of naturalistic explanations. Laplace’s[1] nebular hypothesis provided additional support for a materialistic conception of the cosmos, however, it also complicated the attempts to explain life on earth in purely material terms- which so many wanted and still hope for.  Laplace’s theory strongly suggested that earth had once been too hot to sustain life, inferring the environmental conditions needed to support life could have existed only after the planet had cooled below the boiling point of water.  Because of this, the nebular hypothesis implied that life had not existed eternally, but instead appeared at a definite time in earth’s history.  Ernst Haeckel, for instance, in The History of Creation, stated, “We can, therefore, from these general outlines of the inorganic history of the earth’s crust, deduce the important fact that at a certain definite time life had its beginning on earth and that terrestrial organisms did not exist from eternity” (401).

To scientific materialists, life is usually regarded as an eternal given, a self-existent reality, like matter itself. (Pop goes the weasel.  Wanted to put an image here, but……).  But this no longer is a credible explanation for life on earth. There apparently was a time when there was no life on earth-and then BANG- life appeared. To many scientists of a materialistic turn of mind, this implied that life must have evolved from some non-living materials present on a cooling prebiotic earth. However, no one has, had and still haven’t a detailed explanation for how this might have happened. As Darwin himself noted in 1866, “Though I expect that at some future time the [origin] of life will be rendered intelligible, at present it seems to me beyond the confines of science[2].”


The problem with the current concept of the origin of life at this time was rendered more acute by the failure of  the growing concept of “spontaneous generation.” This was the idea that life originates continually from the remains of once living matter. Some kind of living matter dies off and another kind develops from the remaining materials it was composed of.  This theory suffered a series of setbacks during the 1860s because of the work of Louis Pasteur[3]. In 1860 and 1861, Pasteur demonstrated that micro-organisms or germs exist in our normal air and can multiply under favorable conditions[4].  He showed that if normal air enters sterile vessels, contamination of the vessels with microorganisms occurs. Pasteur argued that the observed “spontaneous generation” of mold or bacterial colonies on rotting food or dead meat could be explained by the failure of experimenters to prevent contamination with preexisting organisms from the atmosphere[5].  Pasteur’s work seemed to refute or deny the probability of the only naturalistic theory of life’s origin then under experimental scrutiny.

The doctrine of spontaneous generation did not die easily (as we will find that pattern for many useless theories). Even after Pasteur’s work, Henry Bastian[6] continued to find microbial organisms in various substances that had been sealed and “sterilized” at 100 degrees C or higher.  Not until the 1870s, when microbiologists like Cohn, Koch, and Tyndall perfected methods of killing heat-resistant spores, were Bastian’s observations discredited. Despite an increasingly critical scientific response to his experimental methods and conclusions, Bastian continued to offer observational evidence for spontaneous generation from inorganic matter for another thirty years.  Experiments supposedly establishing the spontaneous occurrence of microorganisms remained tenable only as long as sterilization methods were inadequate to kill the existing microorganisms or prevent bacterial contamination of experimental vessels from the surrounding environment.  When sources of microorganisms were identified and various methods of destroying them perfected, observational evidence for spontaneous generation was withdrawn or discredited.


In the minds of some scientists, after the turn of the century, continued experimentation  seemed to confirm that living matter is too complex to organize itself spontaneously, whether beginning from organic or inorganic predecessors.  Although Huxley and Haeckel accepted Pasteur’s results, both insisted that his work was not relevant to abiogenesis (life arising from nonliving matter), as his experiments discredited only theories of what Haeckel called “plasmogeny” or what Huxley called “heterogenesis,” i.e., spontaneous generation from once living matter[7].

Late-Victorian-era biologists expressed little, if any, concern about the absence of detailed explanations for how life had first arisen.  Life is there, but we do not know why nor do not want to research that particular line of inquiry.  As a contrarian, the obvious question for me was, Why not?

Further study found that these scientists actually had several reasons for holding  onto this point of view. Even though many scientists knew that Darwin had not solved the origin-of-life problem, they were confident that the problem could be solved because they were deeply impressed by the results of Friedrich Wöhler[8]’s experiment.  Before the nineteenth century, many biologists had taken it as almost axiomatic or self-evident that the matter out of which life was made was qualitatively different than the matter in nonliving chemicals.  These biologists thought living things possessed an immaterial essence or force, an élan vital (a creative life force present in all living things and responsible for evolution), that conferred a distinct and qualitatively different kind of existence upon organisms as opposed to say rocks[9].

Scientists who held this view were called “vitalists[10],” a group that included many pioneering biologists. Since this mysterious élan vital[11] was responsible for the distinctive properties of organic matter, vitalists also thought that it was impossible to change ordinary inorganic matter into organic matter. After all, the inorganic matter simply lacked the special ingredient— the immaterial right “stuff.” And we are not talking the “late 60’-70’s ‘right stuff’ of the astronauts.

That is why Wöhler’s experiment was so incredibly important and to some ‘simply marvelous.’  He showed that two different types of inorganic matter could be combined to produce organic matter, although a somewhat inglorious type. Wöhler’s experiment had a direct influence on the current thinking about the origin of life.  If organic matter could be formed in the laboratory by combining two inorganic chemical compounds, then perhaps organic matter could have formed the same way in nature in the distant past- even if completely by accident. If organic chemicals could arise from inorganic chemicals, then of course life (LIFE) itself could arise in the same way? (Right, of course it would have to be right).   If vitalism was as totally wrong as it now appeared to be, then what is life but a combination of chemical compounds that somehow developed intelligently following the 1st law of thermodynamics?

Developments in other scientific disciplines reinforced this trend in thought. In the 1850s, a German physicist named Hermann von Helmholtz[12], a pioneer in the study of heat and energy (thermodynamics), showed that the principle of conservation of energy applied equally to both living and nonliving systems. The conservation of energy (First law of Thermodynamics) is the idea that energy is neither created nor destroyed during physical processes such as burning or combustion or photosynthesis or metabolism, but merely converted to other forms (forms we may not be aware of but just give us time)

Take gasoline – not to far though.  After the energy used to refine it, the energy contained within it, is not destroyed; it is converted into heat (or thermal) energy (by blowing up, burning or used in an engine).  If in an engine then, after the spark is applied in the cylinders  the energy is turned into mechanical or kinetic energy to move the car.  Helmholtz demonstrated that this same principle of energy conservation applied to living systems.  How did he do that?  First he needed a subject to attach various electrodes to and then he measured the amount of heat that muscle tissues generated during exercise[13].  This experiment showed that although muscles consume chemical energy, they also expend energy in the work they perform and the heat that they generate.  These processes were in balance and supported what would become the “first law of thermodynamics”— energy is neither created nor destroyed.


Even before this first law of thermodynamics had been refined, Helmholtz used a version of it to effectively argue against vitalism.  If living organisms are not subject to energy conservation, if an immaterial and immeasurable vital force can provide energy to organisms “for free,” then perpetual motion[14] would be possible.  However, Helmholtz argued, we know from observation that it is impossible.


Other developments supported this critique of vitalism.  During the 1860s and 1870s scientists identified the cell as the energy converter of living organisms (we will explore the ATP synthesis later)   Experiments on animal respiration established the utility of chemical analysis for understanding respiration and other energetic processes in the cell (this has helped asthmatics, sports figures and astronauts)[15]. Since these new chemical analyses ended up accounting for all the energy that the cell used in metabolism, biologists increasingly thought it unnecessary to refer to ‘vital forces’.  As new scientific discoveries undermined long-standing vitalist doctrines, they unfortunately bolstered the confidence of scientific materialists.

German materialists, such as the biologist Ernst Haeckel[16], denied any qualitative distinction between life and nonliving matter: “We can no longer draw a fundamental distinction between organisms and anorgana [i.e., the nonliving].”  In 1858, in an essay entitled “The Mechanistic Interpretation of Life,” another German biologist, Rudolf Virchow[17], challenged vitalists to “point out the difference between chemical and organic activity.”  With vitalism in decline, Virchow boldly asserted his version of the materialist credo: “Everywhere there is mechanistic process only, with unbreakable necessity of cause and effect.[18]

Life processes could now be partially explained by various physical or chemical mechanisms. Since mechanisms involve material parts in motion and nothing more, this seems to mean that the current function of organisms could be explained by reference to matter and energy alone.  This encouraged scientific materialists to assume they could easily devise explanations for the origin of life as well (You’ve heard the old adage ‘A little knowledge is dangerous’ Well, this was surely the case). Haeckel himself (you read the foot note right- the racist and the one who cheated on his embryo drawings)  would be one of the first scientists to try. If life was composed solely of matter and energy, then what else besides matter in motion— material processes— could possibly be necessary to explain life’s origin?  For materialists such as Haeckel, it was inevitable that scientists would succeed in explaining how life had arisen from simpler chemical precursors and that they would do so only by reference to materialistic processes.

“Haeckel’s attitude, and that of other contemporary Darwinians, to the question of the origin of life was first and foremost an expression of their worldview. Abiogenesis was a necessary logical postulate within a consistent evolutionary conception that regarded matter and life as stages of a single historical continuum[19]” For Haeckel, finding a materialistic explanation for the origin of life was not just a scientific possibility; it was a philosophical imperative.

This basically started the concept of evolution on its steamroller act to dominate thought for the next 100 years. The essential concept for many scientists during this time was matter first, and the central image was increasingly that of evolution, of nature unfolding in an undirected way, with the main point being  Darwinian hypotheses suggesting the possibility of an unbroken evolutionary chain up to the present. (Details, we’ll fill them in later)  The origin of life was a gigantic missing link in that chain, but surely, it was thought, the gap would soon be bridged. Darwin’s theory, in particular, inspired many evolutionary biologists to begin formulating theories to solve the origin-of-life problem.  It started a movement to attempt to “extend evolution backward” in order to explain the origin of the first life.

Darwin’s theory for some unknown reason inspired confidence in other efforts of scientific endeavors for several reasons.  First, Darwin had established an important precedent.  He had shown that there was a plausible means by which organisms could gradually produce new structures and greater complexity by a purely undirected material process.  Why could not a similar process explain the origin of life from preexisting chemicals?


Darwin’s theory also implied that living species did not possess an essential and immutable nature.  Since Aristotle, most biologists had believed that each species or type of organism possessed an unchanging nature or form; many believed that these forms reflected a prior idea in the mind of a designer.  These life forms had a purpose and a reason for existence on earth.  However, Darwin argued that species can change— or “morph”— over time.  His theory challenged this ancient view of life.  Classification distinctions among species, genera, and classes did not reflect unchanging natures.  They now were rearranged in various ways and reflected perceived differences in features that organisms might possess only for a time.  This was temporary and not set in stone so it provided evolutionists and biologists a great deal of leeway in trying to categorize an species.

As Hull, a philosopher of biology, explains, Darwin posited “that species are not eternal but temporary, not immutable but quite changeable, not discrete but graduating imperceptibly through time one into another.[20]”  As Darwin himself said in On the Origin of Species, “I was much struck how entirely vague and arbitrary is the distinction between species and varieties…. Certainly no clear line of demarcation has yet been drawn between species and subspecies… or, again, between subspecies and well-marked varieties” (104, 107).

If Darwin was right, then it was futile to maintain rigid distinctions in biology based on ideas about unchanging forms or natures.  This reinforced the conviction that there was no impassable or unbridgeable divide between inanimate and animate matter. Chemicals could “morph” into cells, just as one species could “morph” into another.  John Tyndall[21] argued, “There does not exist a barrier possessing the strength of a cobweb to oppose the hypothesis which ascribes the appearance of life to that ‘potency of matter’ which finds expression in natural evolution”

Darwin’s theory also speculated on the importance of environmental conditions on the development of new forms of life.  If certain conditions arose that seemed favor one organism and its particular mutation or one form of life over another, those conditions would affect the development of a population through the mechanism of natural selection a theme that evolutionists such as Lamarck and Matthew had articulated in various ways since early in the nineteenth century.

This aspect of Darwin’s theory suggested that environmental conditions may have played a crucial role in making it possible for life to arise from inanimate chemistry.  It was in this context that Darwin himself first speculated about the origin of life.  In the 1871 letter to botanist Joseph Hooker[22], which is available in the Cambridge library archive, Darwin sketched out a purely naturalistic scenario for the origin of life.  He emphasized the role of special environmental conditions and just the right mixture of chemical ingredients as crucial factors in making the origin of life possible: “It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present…. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed[23].”  Although Darwin conceded that his speculations ran well ahead of available evidence, the basic approach he outlined would seem increasingly plausible as a new theory about the nature of life came to prominence in the 1860s and 1870s.

In researching bio-evolution, you will eventually come across a statement by Russian scientist Aleksandr Oparin[24]. Oparin was the twentieth century’s undisputed pioneer of origin-of-life studies.  When you examine his comments, you can identify another key reason for the Victorian lack of concern about the origin-of-life problem.  “The problem of the nature of life and the problem of its origin have become inseparable,” he said[25].

To explain how life originated, scientists first have to understand what life is.  In and of itself, that was a major undertaking back then- still is today even with all of your high-tech instruments.  With the understanding of what life is, that in turn, defines what the theories of the origin of life must explain.

The Victorians were not especially concerned with the origin-of-life problem because they thought simple life was, by definition, simple.  They really did not think there was much to explain.  Biologists during this period assumed that the origin of life would eventually be explained as the by-product of a few simple chemical reactions kind of like photosynthesis (which at that time they still had no real idea how that worked).  During this time many do now, scientists appreciated that many intricate structures in plants and animals appeared designed, an appearance that Darwin flippantly explained as the result of natural selection and random variation.  However, for Victorian scientists, single-celled life did not look particularly designed, most obviously, because scientists at the time could not see individual cells in any detail. The big powerful electron and x-ray microscopes where still a number of years away.  Cells were viewed as “homogeneous and structure-less globules of protoplasm,[26]” amorphous sacs of chemical jelly, not intricate structures manifesting the appearance of design.  In the 1860s, a new theory of life encouraged this view.  It was called the “protoplasmic theory,” and it equated vital function with a single, identifiable chemical substance called protoplasm.  This strengthened the conviction among many scientists that vital function was ultimately reducible to a “physical basis.”[27]

According to this theory, the attributes of living things derived from a single substance located inside the walls of cells.  This idea was proposed as a result of several scientific developments in the 1840s and 1850s.  In 1846, a German botanist named Hugo von Mohl[28] demonstrated that plant cells contained a nitrogen-rich material, which he called protoplasm. [29]He also showed that plant cells need this material for viability. Mohl and Swiss botanist Karl Nägeli[30] later suggested that protoplasm was responsible for the vital function and attributes of plant cells and that the cell wall merely constituted an “investment lying upon the surface of the [cell] contents, secreted by the contents themselves.”[31]  This turned out to be fantastically inaccurate.  The cell wall is a separate and fascinatingly intricate structure containing a system of gates and portals that control traffic in and out of the cell.  Nevertheless, Mohl and Nägeli’s emphasis on the importance of the cell contents received support in 1850 when a biologist named Ferdinand Cohn[32] showed that descriptions of protoplasm in plants matched earlier descriptions of the “sarcode” found in the cavities of unicellular animals.[33] By identifying sarcode as animal-cell protoplasm, Cohn connected his ideas to Mohl’s. Since both plants and animals need this substance to stay alive, Cohn established that protoplasm was essential to all living organisms. When, beginning in 1857, a series of papers by scientists Franz Leybig, Heinrich Anton de Bary, and Max Shultze suggested that cells could exist without cellular membranes (though, in fact, we now know they cannot), scientists felt increasingly justified in identifying protoplasm as life’s essential ingredient[34].  Thus, in 1868 when the famous British scientist Thomas Henry Huxley declared in a much publicized address in Edinburgh that protoplasm constituted “the physical basis or matter of life” (emphasis in original), his assertion expressed a gathering consensus.[35] With the protoplasmic theory defining the chemical basis of life, it seemed plausible that the right chemicals, in the right environment, might combine to make the simple protoplasmic substance. If so, then perhaps the origin of life could be explained by analogy to simple processes of chemical combination, such as when hydrogen and oxygen join to form water. If water could emerge from the combination of two ingredients as different from water as hydrogen and oxygen, then perhaps life could emerge from the combination of simple chemical ingredients that by themselves bore no obvious similarity to living protoplasm.

The Chemical basis for the mystery of the mystery next.

Quite a few references in this article, is there not.  It is just to assist you in knowing what research I have done to write this series of articles.  The references to the various experimenters in various fields are to provide background knowledge of those contributing to the information.  (I do not know if you have noticed that a large number of them are German scientists.  If you were to continue studying in the History and Philosophy of Biology and Evolution you would be able to see how that led to the eugenics movement, Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood and the Nazi Reich’s interest in its application by law in the U.S.)  Not to worry, we will confine our studies to the History and Philosophy of Micro-Biology and its ability to define how life came from non-life, and germs to Germans.

[1] Remember him from Why Id part 2.  If not go back and look him up.

[2] Darwin, More Letters of Charles Darwin, 273.

[3] a French chemist and microbiologist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. He created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. His medical discoveries provided direct support for the germ theory of disease and its application in clinical medicine. He is best known to the general public for his invention of the technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination, a process now called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of bacteriology.

[4] Farley, The Spontaneous Generation Controversy, 103ff.; Lechevalier and Solotorovsky, Three Centuries of Microbiology, 35– 37.

[5] Farley, Spontaneous Generation Controversy, 103– 7, 114, 172; Lanham, Origins of Modern Biology, 268.

[6] an English physiologist and neurologist. Fellow of Royal Society in 1868. He was an advocate of the doctrine of abiogenesis. He believed he witnessed the spontaneous generation of living organisms out of non living matter under his microscope.

[7] Haeckel, The Wonders of Life, 115; Kamminga, “Studies in the History of Ideas,” 55, 60.

[8] a German chemist, best known for his synthesis of urea, but also the first to isolate several chemical elements.

[9] Glas, Chemistry and Physiology, 118..

[10] a discredited scientific hypothesis that “living organisms are fundamentally different from non-living entities because they contain some non-physical element or are governed by different principles than are inanimate things”.  Where vitalism explicitly invokes a vital principle, that element is often referred to as the “vital spark”, “energy” or “élan vital”, which some equate with the soul.

[11] a term coined by French philosopher Henri Bergson in his 1907 book Creative Evolution, in which he addresses the question of self-organisation and spontaneous morphogenesis of things in an increasingly complex manner. Elan vital was translated in the English edition as “vital impetus.  It is a hypothetical explanation for evolution and development of organisms, which Bergson linked closely with consciousness – with the intuitive perception of experience and the flow of inner time

[12] a German physician and physicist. In physiology and psychology, he is known for his mathematics of the eye, theories of vision, ideas on the visual perception of space, color vision research, and on the sensation of tone, perception of sound. In physics, he is known for his theories on the conservation of energy, work in electrodynamics, chemical thermodynamics, and on a mechanical foundation of the


[13] Coleman, Biology in the Nineteenth Century, 129.

[14] Perpetual motion is motion of bodies that continues indefinitely. This is impossible because of friction and other energy-dissipating processes. A perpetual motion machine is a hypothetical machine that can do work indefinitely without an energy source. This kind of machine is impossible, as it would violate the first or second law of thermodynamics.

[15] Steffens, James Prescott Joule and the Concept of Energy, 129– 30; Glas, Chemistry and Physiology, 86.

[16] a German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor, marine biologist, and artist who discovered, described and named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many terms in biology, including anthropogeny, ecology, phylum, phylogeny, stem cell, and Protista. Haeckel divided human beings into ten races, of which the Caucasian was the highest and the primitives were doomed to extinction. Haeckel claimed that Negros have stronger and more freely movable toes than any other race which is evidence that Negros are related to apes because when apes stop climbing in trees they hold on to the trees with their toes,  Haeckel became embroiled in charges of fraud from his drawings of embryology of vertebrates.  He was accused of misrepresenting the ages of the different embryos and the sizes of the parts of the embryos.

[17] a German physician, anthropologist, pathologist, prehistorian, biologist, writer, editor, and politician, known for his advancement of public health. He is known as “the father of modern pathology.”. He is also known as the founder of social medicine and veterinary pathology,

[18] Virchow, “On the Mechanistic Interpretation of Life,” 115.

[19] Fry, The Emergence of Life on Earth, 58.

[20] Hull, “Darwin and the Nature of Science,” 63– 80.

[21] a prominent Irish physicist. His initial scientific fame arose in the 1850s from his study of diamagnetism. Later he made discoveries in the realms of infrared radiation and the physical properties of air. Fragments of Science, 434

[22] was one of the greatest British botanists and explorers of the 19th century. He was a founder of geographical botany and Charles Darwin’s closest friend

[23] Darwin, “Letter to Hooker”; see also Darwin, Life and Letters, 18.

[24] a Soviet biochemist notable for his theories about the origin of life, and for his book The Origin of Life. He also studied the biochemistry of material processing by plants and enzyme reactions in plant cells. He showed that many food-production processes were based on biocatalysis and developed the foundations for industrial biochemistry.

[25] Oparin, Genesis and Evolutionary Development of Life, 7.

[26] Haeckel, The Wonders of Life, 135.

[27] Thomas H. Huxley phrased it in 1868 (“ On the Physical Basis of Life”). See also Geison, “The Protoplasmic Theory of Life”; and Hughes, A History of Cytology, 50.

[28] A German botanist and geologist.

[29] Geison, “The Protoplasmic Theory of Life,” 274.

[30] a Swiss botanist. He studied cell division and pollination but became known as the man who discouraged Gregor Mendel from further work on genetics.

[31] As cited in Geison, “The Protoplasmic Theory of Life,” 274.

[32] a German biologist. He is one of the founders of modern bacteriology and microbiology

[33] The descriptions matched those by Felix Dujardin in 1835 and Gabriel Gustav Valentin in 1836. See Geison, “The Protoplasmic Theory of Life”; Hughes, A History of Cytology, 40, 112– 13.

[34] Geison, “The Protoplasmic Theory of Life,” 276. Shultze, in particular, emphasized the importance of protoplasm based on his realization that lower marine animals sometimes exist in a “primitive membraneless condition” and on his identification of protoplasm as the source of vital characteristics like contractility and irritability.

[35] Geison comments that during this period, “The conviction grew that the basic unit of life was essentially a protoplasmic unit” (278). It was during this period that the term “protoplasm” gained wide usage.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.