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Experiments conducted under conditions intended to resemble those present on primitive Earth have resulted in the production of some of the chemical components of proteins, DNA, and RNA. Some of these molecules also have been detected in meteorites from outer space and in interstellar space by astronomers using radio-telescopes. Scientists have concluded that the "building blocks of life" could have been available early in Earth's history. An important new research avenue has opened with the discovery that certain molecules made of RNA, called ribozymes, can act as catalysts in modem cells.

It previously had been thought that only proteins could serve as the catalysts required to carry out specific biochemical functions. Thus, in the early prebiotic world, RNA molecules could have been "autocatalytic"—that is, they could have replicated themselves well before there were any protein catalysts called enzymes. Laboratory experiments demonstrate that replicating autocatalytic RNA molecules undergo spontaneous changes and that the variants of RNA molecules with the greatest autocatalytic activity come to prevail in their environments.

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Some scientists favor the hypothesis that there was an early "RNA world," and they are testing models that lead from RNA to the synthesis of simple DNA and protein molecules. These assemblages of molecules eventually could have become packaged within membranes, thus making up "protocells"—early versions of very simple cells. For those who are studying the origin of life, the question is no longer whether life could have originated by chemical processes involving nonbiological components.

The question instead has become which of many pathways might have been followed to produce the first cells.

Will we ever be able to identify the path of chemical evolution that succeeded in initiating life on Earth? Scientists are designing experiments and speculating about how early Earth could have provided a hospitable site for the segregation of molecules in units that might have been the first living systems.

What it all means

The recent speculation includes the possibility that the first living cells might have arisen on Mars, seeding Earth via the many meteorites that are known to travel from Mars to our planet. Of course, even if a living cell were to be made in the laboratory, it would not prove that nature followed the same pathway billions of years ago. But it is the job of science to provide plausible natural explanations for natural phenomena. The study of the origin of life is a very active research area in which important progress is being made, although the consensus among scientists is that none of the current hypotheses has thus far been confirmed.

The history of science shows that seemingly intractable problems like this one may become amenable to solution later, as a result of advances in theory, instrumentation, or the discovery of new facts. Many religious persons, including many scientists, hold that God created the universe and the various processes driving physical and biological evolution and that these processes then resulted in the creation of galaxies, our solar system, and life on Earth.

An explosive update

This belief, which sometimes is termed "theistic evolution," is not in disagreement with scientific explanations of evolution. Indeed, it reflects the remarkable and inspiring character of the physical universe revealed by cosmology, paleontology, molecular biology, and many other scientific disciplines.


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The advocates of "creation science" hold a variety of viewpoints. Some claim that Earth and the universe are relatively young, perhaps only 6, to 10, years old. These individuals often believe that the present physical form of Earth can be explained by "catastrophism," including a worldwide flood, and that all living things including humans were created miraculously, essentially in the forms we now find them. Other advocates of creation science are willing to accept that Earth, the planets, and the stars may have existed for millions of years.

But they argue that the various types of organisms, and especially humans, could only have come about with supernatural intervention, because they show "intelligent design. In this booklet, both these "Young Earth" and "Old Earth" views are referred to as "creationism" or "special creation.


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  6. There are no valid scientific data or calculations to substantiate the belief that Earth was created just a few thousand years ago. This document has summarized the vast amount of evidence for the great age of the universe, our galaxy, the solar system, and Earth from astronomy, astrophysics, nuclear physics, geology, geochemistry, and geophysics.

    Independent scientific methods consistently give an age for Earth and the solar system of about 5 billion years, and an age for our galaxy and the universe that is two to three times greater. These conclusions make the origin of the universe as a whole intelligible, lend coherence to many different branches of science, and form the core conclusions of a remarkable body of knowledge about the origins and behavior of the physical world.

    Nor is there any evidence that the entire geological record, with its orderly succession of fossils, is the product of a single universal flood that occurred a few thousand years ago, lasted a little longer than a year, and covered the highest mountains to a depth of several meters. On the contrary, intertidal and terrestrial deposits demonstrate that at no recorded time in the past has the entire planet been under water. Moreover, a universal flood of sufficient magnitude to form the sedimentary rocks seen today, which together are many kilometers thick, would require a volume of water far greater than has ever existed on and in Earth, at least since the formation of the first known solid crust about 4 billion years ago.

    The belief that Earth's sediments, with their fossils, were deposited in an orderly sequence in a year's time defies all geological observations and physical principles concerning sedimentation rates and possible quantities of suspended solid matter. Geologists have constructed a detailed history of sediment deposition that links particular bodies of rock in the crust of Earth to particular environments and processes.

    If petroleum geologists could find more oil and gas by interpreting the record of sedimentary rocks as having resulted from a single flood, they would certainly favor the idea of such a flood, but they do not. Instead, these practical workers agree with academic geologists about the nature of depositional environments and geological time.

    Petroleum geologists have been pioneers in the recognition of fossil deposits that were formed over millions of years in such environments as meandering rivers, deltas, sandy barrier beaches, and coral reefs.

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    The example of petroleum geology demonstrates one of the great strengths of science. By using knowledge of the natural world to predict the consequences of our actions, science makes it possible to solve problems and create opportunities using technology. The detailed knowledge required to sustain our civilization could only have been derived through scientific investigation. The arguments of creationists are not driven by evidence that can be observed in the natural world.


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    Special creation or supernatural intervention is not subjectable to meaningful tests, which require predicting plausible results and then checking these results through observation and experimentation. Indeed, claims of "special creation" reverse the scientific process. The explanation is seen as unalterable, and evidence is sought only to support a particular conclusion by whatever means possible. Turn recording back on. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Search term. The Origin of the Universe, Earth, and Life. Figure A disk of dust and gas, appearing as a dark band in this Hubble Space Telescope photograph, bisects a glowing nebula around a very young star in the constellation Taurus.

    Creationist Views of the Origin of the Universe, Earth, and Life Many religious persons, including many scientists, hold that God created the universe and the various processes driving physical and biological evolution and that these processes then resulted in the creation of galaxies, our solar system, and life on Earth.

    Copyright by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Recent Activity. Clear Turn Off Turn On. This earned them the Nobel prize in physics in Physicists had assumed that matter in the universe would slow its rate of expansion; gravity would eventually cause the universe to fall back on its centre. Though the Big Bang theory cannot describe what the conditions were at the very beginning of the universe, it can help physicists describe the earliest moments after the start of the expansion.

    In the first moments after the Big Bang, the universe was extremely hot and dense. As the universe cooled, conditions became just right to give rise to the building blocks of matter — the quarks and electrons of which we are all made. A few millionths of a second later, quarks aggregated to produce protons and neutrons. Within minutes, these protons and neutrons combined into nuclei. As the universe continued to expand and cool, things began to happen more slowly. It took , years for electrons to be trapped in orbits around nuclei, forming the first atoms. These were mainly helium and hydrogen, which are still by far the most abundant elements in the universe.

    Heavier atoms such as carbon, oxygen and iron, have since been continuously produced in the hearts of stars and catapulted throughout the universe in spectacular stellar explosions called supernovae.