World riddles and natural wonders Part VI.


(Published in GralsWelt special issue 11/2003)

Scientists only dare to define life in exceptional cases, and it is something special that half a century ago a well-known physicist wrote a book entitled “What is life?” (11), which today is partly outdated, but always is still worth reading.

When we speak of life, we inevitably refer to life on earth, and thus to the forms of organic life known to us. We do not know any other forms of life.
Although there is some evidence that we are not the only (intelligent) beings in the universe, there is no scientific evidence of extraterrestrial life and it is not certain that it will ever be produced.

So we can only try to highlight the peculiarities that distinguish the animate from the inanimate, i.e. from purely physical structures: food intake, growth, stimulus reactions, healing of injuries, reproduction, flexible reaction to environmental influences, etc.

Like from the post "The miraculous balance" It became clear that life takes place far from thermodynamic equilibrium, and animate beings build highly complex structures which, according to the laws of physics, are extremely improbable.

How did life come about?

A few decades ago this question seemed to have been resolved. Already in 1924 Al Oparin (10) suspected that life on earth had arisen in several, partially overlapping steps:
1. Organic-chemical evolution up to the formation of macro-molecules
2. Formation of reaction systems between organic macro-molecules
3. Spatial demarcation of the high-molecular systems that became primordial living beings (protobionts or eobionts)
4. Evolution of these primordial living beings, their genetic code, their reproduction and other vital functions.

The first steps on the way to life can apparently even be recreated in the laboratory. Stanley Miller, who became famous as a result, built an apparatus in 1953 in which he imitated the primordial atmosphere of the earth. In the process, complex organic molecules were formed, including amino acids, the basic building blocks of proteins (protein molecules) that make up the structures of all living things.

Everything else then seemed just a question of time: sooner or later the basic substances required for living beings would come together in the "primordial soup" (the primordial sea) and form proteins, enzymes, genes, simple living beings.

In countless scientific or popular writings, the origin of life has been described in this or a similar way. In the meantime, however, this hypothesis of the “self-organization of life” has been refuted - which does not mean that it is still not upheld.

The creative forces of nature

For centuries, theologians and natural philosophers were convinced that life was something special that could only exist due to a special, higher force, the life force (vis vitalis), entelechy, Od, orgone, cell soul, etc. was called.

Only the physical-mechanistic approaches of biology of the 19th century, such as neo-Darwinism of the 20th century, wanted to see the formations of nature as a consequence of the inevitability in matter itself. This “methodical atheism” excluded transcendent (unmeasurable) influences in all natural processes.

In nature, however, there are two fundamentally different ways of forming shapes:

Properties anchored in matter ensure that, for example
Burn hydrogen and oxygen to make water;
· Water solidifies to ice or precipitates as snow crystal;
· Subatomic conditions and the periodic table of the elements cause these processes.
Such forms are inevitably not to be compared with the process when an artist carves a statue out of a marble block, the forms of which the material has no influence on.

The second way of form formation, which affects all organic structures, has nothing to do with properties that are anchored in matter, but with genetic information. Organic structures do not necessarily arise due to physical necessities (like the structures of "inanimate matter"), but they even develop against physical probability.
Matter contains no urge to form a fish, a beech, or a horse.

The structures of the living are controlled by the genetic code. This code is not - like the periodic table - the result of a physical inevitability, but the result of an "agreement". There is no naturally necessary connection between the proteins that are produced by the cell and the corresponding sections of DNA. This is proven by the fact that there is more than one code form for each amino acid, just as human languages use different words for the same term. The DNS code is therefore an “arbitrarily” determined language or information.

Organic forms are of limitless variety. In nature, they only arise through living organisms and open up unlimited design possibilities for living beings, which inanimate nature does not know.

This raises the question of what hidden influences produce the forms of life; who introduced the genetic code and made it possible for plants and animals to read it and follow its instructions.

The first living being

Even the first, still primitive, but already viable and reproductive cell was by no means simply structured. You needed:

· Proteins (Protein molecules): All proteins of living beings consist of only 20 amino acids, which combine to form long chains without branching. Experiments with the primordial atmosphere, as initiated by Stanley Miller, produce numerous organic substances, including amino acids. In a certain experiment, however, only a part of the necessary amino acids is produced. One therefore had to assume that these amino acids were formed in the primordial atmosphere or primeval soup at different points under different conditions, which were then washed together and combined to form proteins. This chain formation by polycondensation, however, requires a controlled synthesis in which the split off water is removed. On its own or in the primordial soup, it is as good as impossible (cf. 12).

· Carrier of the genetic information: These are nucleic acid strands (DNA or RNA) that are composed of four nitrogenous bases (adenine, guanine, cytosine and uracil). How these four building blocks are formed in the primordial soup is highly questionable.

· DNA / RNS self-duplication: This requires a team of enzymes, of "working molecules". These enzymes do not come into being by themselves either, but they were generated again by other enzymes or entire enzyme chains that work together. And they were produced on the basis of construction plans that are stored on the DNS / RNS and can be read and transmitted from there. Again, this does not happen by itself, but by enzymes that are in turn produced by enzymes.

· Cell membrane: An essential step on the way to the first living being is a demarcation from the outside by cell membranes, whose task also includes the transport of substances through the membrane. The known biologically active membranes have a complex structure and always arise from existing membranes.


These are just a few of the difficulties encountered in the spontaneous formation of the first cell. The fact that everything could have formed by chance in the primordial soup is nowadays also considered by a number of scientists to be excluded or at least extremely improbable.
For example, Bruno Vollmert writes:

"Evolution theorists push the mystery of existence, the question of origin, back into ever greater temporal distances: living beings emerged from individual cells, cells from macromolecules, macromolecules from low-molecular components of the planetary atmosphere, planets, stars and galaxies through the big bang. But what the Big Bang is, where matter came from and the wonderful order of the atoms and the periodic system of the elements, where the strict laws in the world of the smallest and largest come from, you don't say or ask.
The refutation of the DARWIN hypothesis, however, means more: If the information-laden macromolecule DNA could not develop by itself, the same mysterious work that surrounds the Big Bang and the origin of the physical laws accompanies the entire evolution and we still encounter us today in a more immediate spatial manner and temporal proximity. We meet it in every blossom and in every leaf. But we also encounter it in the nucleus of every living cell in the sequence of the nucleotides, in that script that was created in such a puzzling way over the course of millions of years and which means blessing and calamity at the same time: The grace of being allowed to live and the curse of having to live. " (12, p. 47).

We must therefore assume that the much-cited “self-organization of matter” cannot explain the origin of life, even if Nobel Prize winners advocate this hypothesis.

From a scientific point of view, the question of the beginning of life is open again. How it came into being on earth and how it developed remains speculation.

Continuation part VII.

(1) Augros, Robert / Stanciu, George: “Die Neue Biologie”, Scherz, Munich, 1991.
(2) Dawkins, Richard: “The blind watchmaker”, DTV, Munich, 1987.
(3) Eichelbeck, Reinhard: "The Darwin Conspiracy", Bertelsmann, Gütersloh, 1999.
(4) Eigen, Manfred / Winkler, Ruthild: “Das Spiel”, Piper, Munich, 1981.
(5) Hollitscher, Walter: "The Origin and Development of Life", Pahl-Rugenstein, Berlin, 1984.
(6) Jacob, Francois: “The game of possibilities”, Piper, Munich, 1983.
(7) Junker, Reinhard / Scherer, Siegfried: Evolution “, Weyel, Gießen, 1998.
(8) Maddeox, John: “What remains to be discovered”, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 2000.
(9) Monod, Jacques: “Chance and Necessity”, DTV, Munich, 1971.
(10) Oparin, AI: "The Origin of Life on Earth", VEB Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, Berlin, 1957.
(11) Schrödinger, Erwin: “What is life?”, Piper, Munich 1987 (first edition 1944).
(12) Vollmert, Bruno: "The living beings and their macromolecules", E. Vollmert-Verlag, Karlsruhe, 1983.