1. Insurmountable Problems with the
Chemical Model for Life’s Origins


Section Headings

Cellular vs. Human Factories

Why does the Chemical Model of Life’s Origins ignore Attention?

Scientists produce Monomers; Not Biomolecules


12 Pages
King Edit entire chapter 3-31-23à 5-12-23

Belonging to the rationalist tradition, we challenge old models of reality and present new models, which are in turn challenged. This article challenges the Chemical model of Life held by virtually all bio-scientists. While indisputable in its characterization of the chemical processes of living systems, the model is woefully incomplete. This Matter-based approach ignores the crucial importance of Attention, i.e. our interactive relationship with information, and appears impotent when accounting for the origins of Life. Subsequent articles present models that account for these deficiencies.

To better understand the issues, let us first gain a better understanding of the cell, the building block of all living systems.

Cellular vs. Human Factories

King edit 3-11-23, Don edit 3-10-23; 3.2 pages

Pictured above is the ATP molecule, the energy currency of Life. Our body employs this special molecule to power our muscles, create more bio-energy, and to drive our physiological systems. In general, the cell and virtually all living systems utilize ATP to push chemical reactions uphill – against ‘natural’ entropic forces which lead to chaos. These uphill reactions enable organisms to perform their many functions.

Every cell on the planet constructs countless ATP molecules every minute of every day to power the many operations required to sustain Life. Indeed cells  produce everything they need to operate. Because all operations occur internally, many have likened cells to factories.

For instance, Professor Nowicki states in his lecture series1:

“This (cellular) system as a whole is a collection of biological containers that can move, separate, package, and transport chemicals, similar to a manufacturing chemical plant.”

Let us then employ the factory as a useful metaphor for understanding cellular operations. ATP provides the energy that powers the cellular factory. How does the cell know the directions that produce this source of biological energy? Genes that are embedded in the chromosomes of the cell’s DNA provide these instructions.

Where do the raw materials of the cellular factory come from? Integral Membrane Proteins (IMPs) embedded in the cellular membrane allow the necessary atoms and molecules from the immediate environment to enter the cellular factory on demand.

How does the cellular factory work? Metabolic pathways in the cell’s interior act like an assembly line in that they connect the raw materials from the exterior with the internal instructions. Following the DNA’s genetic instructions, these pathways transform raw micro-materials into the mega-molecules, including ATP, that are necessary for the cell’s survival.

What provides the structure of the cellular factory? The cell’s cytoskeleton provides the rooms and hallways, floors and stairs that hold, connect and concentrate the metabolic pathways. They also provide the cell with form and enable movement. Without this vital infrastructure, nothing can be accomplished. If there are no roads, it is impossible to transport essential proteins and other bio-molecules to locations where they are needed.

In brief, raw materials (atoms +) enter the cell via openings in the membrane (IMPs). Then the cellular assembly line (metabolic pathways) transforms these raw materials into a product that is useful to the organism (e.g. our ATP molecule). The raw and manufactured materials are worthless without assembly instructions (DNA) and an infrastructure (cyto-skeleton) to hold the holistic package in place.

It is evident that the factory’s metaphoric logic is helpful in understanding the cell. Both man-made and cellular factories employ energy to transform raw materials into a useful form. To perform these operations, both require operating instructions, an assembly line and a structure.

However, no metaphor is perfect. Metaphoric logic always breaks down at certain places. We’ve examined where there is a good fit; now let us examine the discrepancies. This instructive exercise helps us to avoid confusing the map for the territory – a common logical trap for all humans, including the most brilliant scientists, as we shall see.

In order to operate, both types of factories require all the elements, i.e. raw materials, energy, assembly line, instructions, and structure. The similarities end here. If our man-made factories are missing something, e.g. raw materials, they simply shut down and wait for parts. Once the missing ingredient arrives, they can begin operations again.

If the cell is missing any of its parts, it dies - never to begin operations again. Not only are the components of the cell necessary for operations, they are also crucial for survival. If all of the cellular parts are essential for survival, could any of the parts have originated/evolved separately?

Unlike our factories that have many elements that are produced externally, e.g. doors, glass, and rubber, the cell produces everything it needs to survive and reproduce. Talk about self-sufficient! Unlike our factories where content is relatively fixed, cellular content is dynamic – ever changing. While our factories are in a fixed location, the cellular factory moves to acquire the raw materials that are necessary for production.

More importantly for our purposes: our factories do not sense or interact with their environment. In contrast, cellular factories are aware of their surroundings. This capacity for Attention enables cells to adjust appropriately to environmental stimuli. To attend and respond effectively to sensory input, the organism requires a sense of space and time. In a general sense, cells and by extension all living systems have an interactive relationship with information that material systems do not have.

These differences and similarities between man-made and cellular factories are hard to ignore. Strangely enough, bio-scientists and ‘origins of life’ researchers do neglect or minimize these important differences when formulating their models. Most of these ‘origins scientists’ attempt to isolate and reproduce the parts of the cellular factory. They believe that this reductionist approach somehow will enable them to understand how the cellular factory came to be. Regrettably, these bio-scientists ignore the mutually interdependent relationships that appear to be at the heart of living systems.

The following articles both address these confusions and provide some solutions. The first exposes ‘insurmountable’ problems with the current Chemical Origins of Life model. The second reveals major omissions in the Chemical model of Life. The third proposes a plausible model for our interactive relationship with information (presently neglected). The fourth and final article in the Notebook puts forward a novel approach to the origins of Life enigma and then examines the implications of this intriguing model.

Why does the Chemical Model of Life’s Origins ignore Attention?

In a previous paper2, we casually dismissed the notion that inanimate matter evolves into animate matter via exclusively chemical processes. Since that time, we have become aware that the scientific community is committed to this approach. In fact, the chemical origins of Life is one of the ‘hottest’ fields of modern 21st century scientific research.

Hazen Defining Life: 4 qualities & 4 problem questions

In a lecture series on the topic, Dr. Robert Hazen, a noted scientist in the field, explores definitions and problem areas regarding the ‘emergence’ of living systems. In order to determine when inanimate matter became alive, it is necessary to define what it means to be alive. Dr. Hazen admits that defining Life with any precision is fraught with difficulty, verging on the impossible. However, he does offer certain distinct features that Life has had since the beginning.

1) The ability to survive as a distinct unit.

2) the ability to replicate

3) the ability to produce its own energy and bio-molecules via internal metabolic systems

4) the ability to evolve

He then identifies four research questions regarding Life’s origins that are tied to his definitions of living systems.

1) How does the cell membrane form and encapsulate all the metabolic systems that Life requires to survive and replicate?

2) How do the metabolic systems evolve from inanimate matter?

3) How does the ability to pass on the genetic information associated with DNA and RNA evolve from matter?

4) How does inanimate matter evolve?

Universal Scientific Understanding: Life & Origins strictly Chemical

Dr. Brazen goes on to identify assumptions, shortcomings, successes and failures in their research. A common assumption of the international biological community is that Life is an exclusively chemical phenomena. By extension, their bio-scientific approach to Life’s origins is also strictly chemical.

Researchers omit Life’s interactive relationship with information

We are disappointed to note that Brazen omits Life’s capacity for Attention, i.e. our interactive relationship with information- in both his definitions and problem areas. Is he alone in this omission? Not at all. Hazen’s analysis is mainstream. He is working with a community of hundreds of international scientists. Their research is primarily funded by NASA. Virtually all origins researchers agree with the basic assumptions delineated by Hazen. 


Why does the scientific community consistently ignore our capacity for Attention as a basic feature of living systems? Is this omission due to the fact that they are locked into an exclusively chemical explanation? Or is it because the notion that Life has an interactive relationship with information violates some scientific dogma? Before addressing these questions, let’s investigate how successful their chemical approach has been.

As a chemical process, Life ‘evolved’ from Matter in distinct stages

Let’s begin with Dr. Hazen’s treatment of the topic of Life’s origins. In their investigation, researchers start with two basic assumptions: 1) Matter evolved over time to form the first bacteria. 2) Single celled bacteria then evolved over time into all living systems, including the relatively recent multicellular human beings. Chemists have discovered that the working parts of both living and inanimate matter are chemical in nature. These ‘chemo-optimists’ believe that an exclusively chemical approach will suffice to explain the behavior of both. 

The second assumption (all multicellular organisms evolved from single celled bacteria) could be called a ‘scientific fact’, in that its acceptance is virtually universal. Although inferred from the second, the first assumption (Matter evolved into Life) is questionable speculation. It is this model that we are challenging.

Indeed the Chemical model for Life’s origin has no supporting evidence, i.e. fossil remains. They speculate that early life forms consumed all the fossils that might indicate material evolution. (My dog ate my homework.)

With no supporting evidence, why do the origins researchers continue to pursue their strictly chemical speculations?

Ignoring any evidence to the contrary, the scientific community is tenaciously clinging to the Materialist model of the Universe. Generally speaking, this model holds that all phenomena can ultimately be explained via the interactions of inanimate molecules. In other words, there is only matter; the immaterial has no role to play. Astro-scientists, chemists and physicists have successfully applied the Materialist model to vast realms of existence – the macro, the micro, and even to our physical bodies.

However there is one piece of incontrovertible data that has eluded their grasp – the Creation of Life3. Biologists claim that they have firmly established that Life is a purely chemical process (nothing immaterial). Yet despite vast amounts of money to fund the brainpower of hundreds of brilliant scientists, they have been unable to account for Creation with their Chemical Model.

Life = Emergent Property of Matter’s Growing Chemical Complexity

According to their model, matter’s ‘evolution’ from inanimate to animate occurred in distinct chemical stages. How?

It is evident that Matter self-organizes into ever more complex structures; witness crystals and glaciers. Emergent properties are associated with growing material complexity. The materials of the early Earth self-organized in this fashion.

Origins researchers surmise that there were many stages in this self-organizing process, each more complex than the last and each with new emergent properties. They reason that this increasing material complexity ultimately resulted in the ‘emergence’ of animate molecules, i.e. the first bacteria. Under this widespread bio-scientific perspective, Life is merely an emergent feature of the growing complexity of non-living Matter.

Life = Emergent Property of Matter’s Growing Complexity

However, there is no supporting evidence (no fossil remains) for this model. Origins scientists suggest that early life forms consumed all the fossil evidence. Setting aside ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuse, the step-wise, developmental reasoning behind the model is sound – definitely plausible. Admirably, Hazen admits that researchers are decades, if not lifetimes away, from a definitive solution to the origins of life conundrum.

Materialist Perspective ignores Living Attention

The model certainly makes a lot of logical sense. Unfortunately as we shall see, this metaphorical misunderstanding ignores some of Life’s basic features. We will focus upon 3 general areas that seem to be neglected:

1) the cell’s mutually interdependent systems,

2) the cell’s dynamic content,

3) the cell’s interactive relationship with information.

Isn’t Current Biological Understanding Nearly Complete?

Before examining their omissions, let’s first see how successful the current scientific approach to the origins of Life has been. Doesn’t it have everything under control? Isn’t it possible, even probable, that the cell’s mutually interdependent systems, dynamic content, and our interaction with information is simply due to the growing chemical complexity of the Earth’s molecules, just as they claim? Is it really necessary to add a unique living dimension to the Universe?

What about Occam’s razor? It certainly would be less complex to exclude another realm of existence. Would we really be missing anything by doing so? Doesn’t the brilliant light of modern Biology illuminate everything regarding Life except for a few minor details? Or are origins researchers still facing insurmountable problems with their model? Could it be time to entertain new possibilities?

Scientists produce Monomers; Not Biomolecules

How big are the gaps in Current Biological Understanding?

Cells consist of 4 types of Biomolecules

Are the gaps in our current biological understanding of Life and her origins really that big? Let’s start with some biological facts and an early triumph. Cells are the building blocks of Life and they consist of only 4 types of biomolecules. Each type serves a unique function:

1) Carbohydrates: Energy

2) Proteins: Movement

3) Fats (lipids): the Cell Membrane

4) DNA (Nucleic Acids): Information transfer, recipes & instruction manuals

Huge Biomolecules consist of Monomers

Biomolecules are huge and complicated. However, each is composed of a limited number of building block molecules, deemed monomers.

1) Carbohydrates: Monosaccharides

2) Proteins: Amino Acids

3) Fats (lipids): Fatty Acids

4) DNA (Nucleic Acids): Nucleotides

Limited Number of Monomers

While there are virtually countless types of each biomolecule, there are only a limited number of monomers. For instance, while the DNA molecules are incredibly complex, only 4 nucleotides generate this unimaginable complexity. Similarly, it only takes 20 amino acids to create the uncountable number of proteins that enable cellular, hence living movement.

1950s: Scientist produce Protein Monomers in Laboratory

Initially most scientists believed that it was impossible to create any organic compounds, including these monomers, in the laboratory. They believed that carbon-based organic compounds, including the building blocks of the biomolecules, could only be produced by living things. Then in 1953, Stanley Miller devised a relatively simple experiment that proved this conjecture wrong. He simulated conditions on the early Earth4. Miller then applied a jolt of electricity.

Since, Laboratory conditions produce most Monomers

Et Voila! Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins – produced spontaneously from inanimate Matter. Inspired by these results, scientific experiments over subsequent decades produced all of the amino acids and most of the monomers of the other biomolecules.

Success à Hopes of Biomolecules à Life

Imagine the biological excitement: “Wow! We have produced monomers, the building blocks of biomolecules. It is just a matter of time before we are able to fabricate biomolecules. Living systems are just around the corner. We are on the verge of creating Life in the laboratory!”

70 years later: No Laboratory Biomolecules

This enthusiasm inspired countless experiments and models. An abundant amount of scientific resources, both time and money, have been invested in this endeavor over the subsequent 70 years. Yet biologists have still not been able to produce a single biomolecule in the laboratory. They have yet to understand how the monomers combine and organize into larger functional units. The inability to produce the biomolecules that every cell regularly produces internally is a huge stumbling block for origins researchers.

Steven Nowicki, Professor of Biology at Duke University, gave a 2004 lecture series on Biology via the prestigious Great Courses organization. Dr. Nowicki identifies three major problem areas that face origins researchers who are investigating this Mystery.

1) More at a time, not random: In the wild (outside artificial laboratory conditions), the production of monomers is fairly random. Generally, these random molecules are not uniform and concentrated enough to actually combine into a complicated biomolecule.

2) Combine and organize into larger functional units: Then, even if they were concentrated and numerous enough, how could 20 types of amino acids ‘naturally’ combine into the virtual infinity of proteins it takes to run the simplest single celled bacteria?

3) Accumulate and store energy; no lightening or vulcanism: Then let us suppose that these monomers were concentrated and numerous enough to somehow form into all the proteins and other biomolecules needed to run a living system. How could this unit come to produce, accumulate and store the energy that would be necessary for survival? Lightening and volcanos aren’t concentrated and of long enough duration to be reliable. For ultimate stability in power sourcing, cell’s produce their own energy.  Ultimate self-sufficiency. How did randomly and sparsely produced monomers combine into the functional proteins that were somehow able to naturally self-organize to produce useable energy?

Dr. Nowicki certainly identifies some daunting tasks for those who have ultimate faith in the emergent powers of the ever-growing chemical complexity of self-organizing Matter. However, an even bigger challenge comes from the cell’s mutually interdependent systems. Check out next article.


1 Stephen Nowicki, Professor of Biology at Duke University in a 2004 lecture series for The Great Courses (an audio file). Nowicki was chosen for this task because of his skill as a lecturer and his contributions to the field of biology.

2 Notebook #49 Info Digestion: 4. Matter to Life: Evolution or Creation?

3 As we shall see, they have also conveniently ignored any evidence related to Life’s interactive relationship with information, e.g. music, history, religion, politics and psychology. Attention’s Realm of Experience is the name we have given to this enormous data set. Of equal importance to the Material Realms, we have dealt with this topic in more depth in Realm of Attention: Notebook #40.

4 Rather than oxygen-rich like we have today, the atmosphere was instead composed primarily of carbon dioxide. Oxygen breaks down organic compounds.


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