Hydrothermal Vents and the Origin of Life

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Excerpt In the 1970’s, geologists discovered hydrothermal vents, holes in the ocean floor that spew out scalding hot water. They subsequently learned that these seemingly inhospitable environments actually permitted the existence of primitive life forms. Some scientists believe that such conditions, and not the “warm little pond” theorized by Darwin, might have been the setting for the formation of the first life on Earth. Continue reading

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According to the October 2010 issue of the journal Smithsonian, mineralogist Bob Hazen and his colleagues at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, are using “pressure bombs,” small metal cylinders that compress and heat minerals to temperatures and pressures equivalent to those at the Earth’s core, “to decipher nothing less than the origins of life” (Lucidon 2010: 49).


In his first “bomb,” Hazen encased a tiny amount of water, a chemical called pyruvate, and a powder that produces carbon dioxide, in 3 non-reactive gold capsules. He heated the capsules to 480 degrees and pressed down on them at 2,000 atmospheres. Smithsonian reported the results:


When he took the capsules out two hours later, the contents had turned into tens of thousands of different compounds. In later experiments, he combined nitrogen, ammonia and other molecules plausibly present on the early earth. In these experiments, Hazen and his colleagues created all sorts of organic molecules, including amino acids and sugars — the stuff of life (ibid. 50).


Further research by Hazen showed that “the basic molecules of life…are able to form in all sorts of places: near hydrothermal vents, volcanoes, even on meteorites” (ibid.). Because of this, Hazen doubts the reigning theory of origins, which maintains that the first life began, as Darwin wrote in 1871, “in some warm little pond” (ibid.). More specifically, scientists believe that the first chemicals that combined to form life were not in a little pond, but floating freely in the ocean, and that by pure chance, over a vast amount of time, they came together and eventually formed the first life.


The Smithsonian article pointed out the difficulty with this scenario: “How did the right building blocks [of life] get incorporated? Amino acids come in multiple forms, but only some are used by living things to form proteins. How did they find each other?” (ibid.). Hazen voiced similar doubts:


We’ve got a prebiotic ocean and down in the ocean floor, you’ve got rocks. And basically there’s molecules here that are floating around in solution, but it’s a very dilute soup. So the chances of a molecule over here bumping into this one, and then actually a chemical reaction going on to form some kind of larger structure, [are] just infinitesimally small (ibid. 50-51).


Given the unlikelihood of such a scenario, combined with the results of his experiments with the pressure bombs, Hazen believes that the mineral deposits that are known to pile up around hydrothermal vents may have provided the setting for amino acids to meet, join, and eventually form the first life (ibid. 51).


Even if Hazen is right, there is still the problem of how this haphazard meeting of amino acids near a hydrothermal vent could eventually lead to the creation of life. As the Smithsonian article noted:


How long will it take to go from studying how molecules interact with minerals to understanding how life began? No one knows. For one thing, SCIENTISTS HAVE NEVER SETTLED ON A DEFINITION OF LIFE. Everyone has a general idea of what it is and that self-replication and passing information from generation to generation are key” (ibid. 52 [emphasis added]).


The main problem with Hazen’s origins scenario, as always, is the supposition that what he created with deliberate guidance in the laboratory had come into existence by itself in the distant past. This is the central dilemma plaguing scientists who are trying to re-create the first occurrence of life on Earth: creating something on purpose, and then concluding that that something could have come about by accident.



Lucidon, A. 2010. “Before There Was Life.” Smithsonian 41, no. 6.





Editorial Note: This regular feature, "Investigating Origins", is not intended to be a full-fledged defense of biblical creationism. It is a brief commentary on recent evolutionary speculations, typically found in secular publications. ABR's position is that all life began exactly as described in the early chapters of Genesis, by the power of God, ex nihilo, in six 24-hour days.

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2/23/2011 7:04 PM #

I came across this website when looking for information on the census detailed at the beginning of Luke, and was most impressed with Stephen Caesar's article on it - comfortably better than anything I'd found on the net before.

I have to say, from then clicking around on the rest of biblearchaeology.org, I'm a little disappointed. I don't want to debate it here, but finding out that the same website which gave a solid answer to the Luke-census problem also believes in a literal flood and does not believe in evolution makes one doubt the response to the census question.

Might I suggest that insisting on a literal flood is a stumbling block. I have a friend at university who studies biochemistry, and initially refused to look into Christianity because she thought that being Christian meant that you couldn't believe in evolution; when I explained that many Christians *do* believe in evolution, she was most surprised. I am pleased to say that she has subsequently come to faith in Christ. But insisting on creationism was a stumbling block for her; and Paul tells us to not push any stumbling blocks in seekers' paths.

Something to consider, I hope.

Tom - 2/23/2011 7:04:57 PM

2/24/2011 10:12 AM #

Dear Tom,

We are glad to hear your friend converted to the faith. In time, we hope that exposure to the Bible will bring the realization to her mind that macro-evolution is entirely incompatible with the Bible, the Gospel, and reality. A person can certainly have many faulty views about the world and still receive the forgiveness of sins.

Upon conversion, however, it is incumbent upon all who considered themselves disciples of Jesus to submit to the teachings of Scripture, and wholly accept them. And this means allowing the plain meaning of Scripture to change our thinking to be in line with truth, not atheistic dogma mixed with Christian theism.

On the incompatibility of Christianity and evolution, please see:


For a series of articles debunking the mixture of Biblical Christianity and macro-evolution, see:


For Jesus' view on the Flood, see:


For Jesus' attitude toward Scripture, see:


Tom, your argument that our stand on creation and the flood, which is what the Bible clearly teaches, somehow affects the credibility of arguments pertaining to the Luke 2 census, is an erroneous non-sequitar. The census issue has its own particularity, and can be discussed on a micro level without reference to one's views on origins or early earth history. If a theistic evolutionist or even atheist made sound arguments in defense of the census, we would certainly not impugn the arguments because they were made by a person who holds a faulty view of origins. This argument does not make any sense.


Henry Smith

ABR - 2/24/2011 10:12:19 AM

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