Abiogenesis

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The word Abiogenesis refers to the origin of life from non-living matter; it was composed from three Greek words meaning "not", "life", and "origin".

Questioning Mainstream Science
Abiogenesis

Abiogenesis is not Evolution! Common usage that confuses the two is not helpful — though it plays into the hands of atheists and anti-evolutionists. Atheists like to see abiogenesis as just another aspect of evolution, because they argue against any creator; and anti-evolutionists like to talk about abiogenesis because there is no widely accepted naturalistic explanation for it, and they would like the same to be true of Evolution. Further confusion comes because "evolution" is an older and more general term than "Evolution"!

Evolution is not Abiogenesis! The title of Charles Darwin's first book about Evolution was not On the Origin of Life but On the Origin of Species. More completely, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. See this quotation from it, in which he wrote of the beginning of life as "having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one" in the first edition, and as "having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one" in the second and subsequent editions.

Thus when (for example) a believer writes the following, he might be surprised to learn that Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species agrees that God "breathed" life into the first living thing(s):

. . . there are only two available explanations for life on earth: either God created it or He did not . . . 

Whittaker, J,Theistic evolution and the meaning of creation, Testimony Magazine October 2019[1]

Unreasonable criticism

It is entirely unreasonable to confuse abiogenesis with evolution and then criticise evolution as inadequate to explain the origin of life. This line of argument is No. 7 in the Scientific American target list of embarrassing "creationist nonsense": "Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on Earth."

Dictionary definitions

The formerly online Oxford English Dictionary gave this as a definition of abiogenesis:

The original evolution of life or living organisms from inorganic or inanimate substances

and the following examples of the word's usage. Note our comment on the examples marked with the asterisk.

‘to construct any convincing theory of abiogenesis, we must take into account the condition of the Earth about 4 billion years ago’

‘"This evolutionary timescale limits our ability to make strong inferences about how probable abiogenesis is."’

‘Evolutionary theory does not deal with how life originally came into existence, a process called abiogenesis.’ 

‘Life's alleged origin from lifeless chemicals is commonly called chemical or prebiotic evolution, or abiogenesis.’ 

‘Many of the constraints on the mode, environment and timing of abiogenesis are derived from laboratory simulations or from theoretical extrapolations to early terrestrial conditions.’

‘Evolution doesn't encompass cosmology, or geology, or even abiogenesis; those are different areas.’ 

Comment: note that evolution is biological, and does not include abiogenesis; people who want to use the word when referring to the origin of life need to qualify it with "chemical" or "prebiotic".

As of 17 June 2023 dictionary.com gives these for "abiogenesis":

  1. the theory that the earliest life forms on earth developed from nonliving matter: Compare biogenesis.
  2. Also called spontaneous generation . . .  the now discredited theory that living organisms can arise spontaneously from inanimate matter.

Abiogenesis and the Intelligent Design Movement

In this essay written for the Counterbalance Foundation, Dr William Dembski, a former* leader of the Intelligent Design Movement, dates the beginning of the movement to a book published in 1984 "focused purely on the scientific case for and against abiogenesis" — The Mystery of Life's Origin by Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen. "Thus," writes Dembski, "it consciously avoided casting its critique as part of a Bible-science controversy." He describes it as "... highly critical of non-telic naturalistic origin-of-life scenarios and thus a ready target for anti-creationists...".

Bruce (talk)

See also Beliefs re the Origin of Life and Origin of Life (these need editing!)


The following is copied from the old ManyCounsellors.org wiki.
Abiogenesis refers to any process by which life is generated from non-living material. No such process has been observed, though many people believe that it is possible. An older term with a similar meaning was spontaneous generation of life - this is less satisfactory because to some people it suggests a rapid process, and a long slow process is one way that abiogenesis might occur.

The word abiogenesis was coined by T. H. Huxley.

On the basis of observation it seems that abiogenesis is improbable and some people have attempted to formalise the statistics of this. A strongly argued case against such arguments can be found on a page called "Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations" at TalkOrigins

Abiogenesis is not always the opposite of biogenesis, which can be used to mean "origin of life".


To some minds the lack of a demonstration that abiogenesis is possible suggests that a God must exist who has created life the universe.

To this, a common atheist response is that it is an argument from silence and proves nothing.
On the other hand a common theistic response is to say that abiogenesis doesn't matter, even the inanimate matter in the universe suggests that a God must exist.

The connection between abiogenesis and biological evolution

Abiogenesis is not strictly part of the theory of evolution, because it deals with the transition from non-living to living. But life is extremely hard to define, especially in such cases, and the only people that would study such an event would be evolutionary biologists / biochemists, so abiogenesis does fall within their domain. However, the absence of a plausible theory of abiogenesis is no problem for the theory of evolution.


  1. Unfortunately the context shows that Whittaker, J misunderstands the distinction between evolution and abiogenesis: "It is worth pointing out that there are only two available explanations for life on earth: either God created it or He did not—in which case it came about on its own, or evolved. This simple point is important to grasp."BP