Confusing Abiogenesis and Evolution

Coming from a creationist's perspective, religious folk advocating some form of creationism always seems to fail to the grasp the distinction between the field of abiogenesis and the theory of evolution. Deliberately or not, they frequently conflate the two, claiming a "flaw" in abiogenesis therefore constitutes a flaw in the theory of evolution.

Even Wikipedia states different definitions for abiogenesis and evolution:

In natural science, abiogenesis (pronounced /ˌeɪbaɪ.ɵˈdʒɛnɨsɪs/ ay-by-oh-jen-ə-siss) or biopoesis is the study of how biological life arises from inorganic matter through natural processes, and the method by which life on Earth arose.

Evolution (also known as biological or organic evolution) is the change over time in one or more inherited traits found in populations of organisms. Inherited traits are particular distinguishing characteristics, including anatomical, biochemical or behavioural characteristics, that are passed on from one generation to the next. Evolution may occur when there is variation of inherited traits within a population. The major sources of such variation are mutation, genetic recombination and gene flow. Evolution has led to the diversification of all living organisms from a common ancestor, which are described by Charles Darwin as "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful".

Notice the distinction, please. Abiogenesis is the field of study of how life arose. Evolution is the theory which explains how life diversified. Even if I grant that we have no clue whatsoever as to how life arose, we know that once it did, it most surely diversified by the mechanisms proposed by the theory of evolution.

I'll be referring to this post made by a Christian in Singapore.

Right of the bat, the post would be more accurately describing its content if it were titled "The irrationality of Abiogenesis".

Probably the greatest difficulty of all for evolutionary theory is explaining how any life could have begun in the first place.

The theory of evolution is not supposed to explain how life begun. It describes how life diversified. Even if you want to shoehorn god into the picture as the creator of the first cell, that cell would be the ancestor of all life on Earth and evolved by mechanisms described by the theory of evolution. We know life evolved as surely as we know that the Earth orbits the Sun.

The spontaneous generation of even the simplest living organism capable of independent life (the prokaryote bacterial cell) from inorganic materials on the earth could not happen by random mixing of chemicals: it requires intelligent design and craftsmanship so complex that no advanced scientific laboratory in the world has been able to do it

The simplest living organism today is certainly more complex than the simplest living organism when life first started. This argument from complexity fails right there. Scientists studying abiogenesis are not proposing that the first cell is as complex as the simplest modern cell.

Also, this strange ultimatum between spontaneous generation of complex cells and intelligent design is a false dichotomy. Scientists are not proposing that the complexity of life as we know it today arose purely by chance. You get this monstrous error by conflating abiogenesis and evolution.

A living organism emerged by chance from a pre-biotic soup is about as likely as that ‘a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.’ Chance assembly is just a naturalistic way of saying ‘miracle’.

Again, this results from a confusion of abiogenesis and evolution. No scientists is proposing that a cell displaying the modern complexities appeared by chance. That would be just as nonsensical to you as to the scientists.

For example, check out the RNA World Hypothesis for what scientist mean by the first "cell".

In fact, some attempts have been made to calculate the probability of life arising spontaneously in his way. Kofahl and Segraves, authors of “The Creation Explanation”, give a statistical model in which they begin with a very generous assumption: that every square foot of the earth’s surface was somehow covered with 95 pounds of protein every year for one billion years. They then estimate the probability that even one enzyme molecule could develop in each one billion years of the earth’s history. The probability is 1.2 times 10-11 or one chance in 80 billion. They note, however, that even with the generous assumptions and starting with fresh protein every year for a billion years, finding one enzyme molecule—for all practical purposes an impossible task—would not solve the problem at all.

The probability of finding two of the active molecules would be about 1022, and the probability that they would be identical would be 1070. And could life start with just a single enzyme molecule? Furthermore, what is the possibility that an active enzyme molecule, once formed, could find its way through thousands of miles and millions of years to that randomly formed RNA or DNA molecule which contains the code for that particular enzyme molecule’s amino acid sequence, so that new copies of itself could be produced? Zero for all practical purposes.

Kofahl and Segraves report a study by an evolutionary scientist who formulates a model to calculate the probability for the formation, not just of one enzyme molecule but the smallest likely living organism by random processes. He comes up with a probability of one chance in 10340,000,000—that is, one chance in 10 with 340 million zeros after it! Yet these evolutionary scientists still believed it happened!

The rest of the article is basically an attempt to awe audiences with numbers. And it's redundant - I'll explain.

But first, get this straight first. We're going to be talking about Abiogenesis - nothing to do with the theory of evolution. Unlike Abiogenesis where scientists are only proposing hypotheses, the Theory of Evolution is firmly established with mountains of evidence and has the consensus of the scientific community.

Here's the thing: Abiogenesis may have been a rare chance event. So throwing really low probabilities (even if the numbers are accurate) at abiogenesis is really redundant - we already know that.

What is important here is the claim that creationists are making: Too rare therefore God did it. But "God did it" is not an explanation at all - it has no explanatory function.

The field of abiogenesis at the very least demonstrates that it is possible for life to have occurred by natural means. The various hypotheses represent the ways by which life might have arose though we do not know definitively which path it took yet.

Postulating a god is not only unscientific, it is redundant. It is also a huge argument from ignorance. What, you scientists don't know how life arose? Ahha! Obviously God did it!

If your creationist argument take the form of "Too rare/complex, therefore God", it's a fallacious argument to begin with - still just an argument from ignorance.

Not knowing how life arose is not argument for god.

I recommend checking out TalkOrigins: Index to Creationist Claims for creationists (or any lay person) who don't understand what evolution is and is not.