ABIOGENESIS (Gr. ‘α — not, βιος [biós] — life; γενεσις [génesis] — origin) — the process of life coming from inanimate matter, or the theory that explains this process. This term is used in the natural sciences and philosophy.

According to theories of abiogenesis in the natural sciences, the appearance of life on earth occurred by a group of natural processes whereby inorganic and organic substances were spontaneously transformed into living matter. Theories of abiogenesis aim at finding a model for the sequence of the stages that lead to the emergence of life, where each stage is possible from the point of view of physics and chemistry. The following premises underlie this theory: 1) the Darwinian theory of evolution and natural selection is extrapolated to the abiotic period of Earth's history (about 3.8 – 4.6 billion years ago), in which matter developed at the molecular level (molecular evolution); 2) the hypothesis that the primordial environment was fundamentally different from today's; 3) the hypothesis that primordial organisms were heterotrophic; 4) biochemical, cosmochemical and palaeochemical data concerning the chemical composition of modern organisms, the environment and traces of the existence of so-called primitive life forms.

Molecular evolution includes: 1) the abiotic emergence of simple compounds of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus etc.; 2) the abiotic creation of compounds with many parts: polypeptides, polynucleotides, polysaccharides etc.; 3) the abiotic concentration of macromolecular compounds into complex systems of substances structurally similar to nucleic acids and proteins; 4) the abiotic emergence of primitive living things capable of performing basic living functions.

A common element in all theories is that the idea of auto-generation and speculative thinking are rejected in favor of experimental investigations in which the idea of matter's auto-organization plays the leading role. The theories of abiogenesis can be classified according to how they explain the so-called transition from inorganic to organic matter (i.e. with respect to what kind of motive power is thought to drive molecular evolution). The most important groups would be as follows: 1) theories based on the premise that the first living particles arose by chance (H. Kuhn, R.W. Kaplan, L.S. Dillon, E. Macovschi, B.C. Clark, et al.); 2) theories that autocatalytic RNA existed at the beginning (W.F. Doolittle, G. Joyce, L.E. Orgel, N.R. Pace, A. Lazcano); 3) theories that a physical or physiochemical influence was the driving force behind prebiotic evolution (M. Conrad, M. Calvin, J. Scott, O. Rössler, M. Shimizu et al.); 4) theories that resort to some universal principle of integration, i.e. a universal law that governs the course of all processes in the universe (W. Schwemmler, G. Wald); 5) theories that biological information has always existed (J.D. Bernal, D.H. Kenyon, S.W. Fox, P. Fong, C. Portelli); 6) theories that prebiological matter organized itself (A.I. Oparin, F. Egami, C.E. Folsome, W. Ebeling, A.P. Rudenko, H. Kuhn, M. Eigen, P. Schuster, B.O. Küppers); 7) theories that life began in minerals (A.G. Cairns-Smith, W. Sedlak et al.); 8) so-called non-orthodox theories of abiogenesis that suggest that our form of life had an extraterrestrial origin, e.g. the theory of directed panspermia (F.H.C. Crick, L.E. Orgel), and the theory that comets provided the origin of life (F. Hoyle, C. Wickramasinghe).

Many theories of abiogenesis appeared significantly more likely as concepts became increasingly empirical and efforts to confirm these theories met with success (e.g. syntheses in laboratories and the results of paleobiochenical and geophysical research). The variety of research strategies and theoretical propositions seems to result from the philosophical views of the researchers: a researcher many accept any one of several opposed philosophical theses, each of which points in a completely different direct of research in natural science. One thesis is that new systems that never existed before can take shape in the course of matter's development; another is that matter is not governed by any internal laws. These theses open or close definite philosophical perspectives, in particular whether or not they recognize certain phenomenon as significant and astonishing.

PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEMS OF ABIOGENESIS — are considered by the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of living nature and the philosophy of being. In the philosophy of biology there are epistemological and logical-methodological analyses of the language used in theories of abiogenesis, and of their statements, concepts and the methods they use to explain and verify their hypotheses, etc.. The philosophy of living nature goes beyond the quantitative and phenomenal approaches to abiogenesis that are typical of the natural sciences and tries to define the ontological implications in the approach of natural science to abiogenesis. These implications allow them to show the efficient causes behind the emergence of life and to explain the beginning of living beings. In the philosophy of being (metaphysics), the beginning of life as a qualitatively new being is explained in ultimate and adequate terms. Metaphysics indicates the role of the First Cause. The First Cause is the necessary and sufficient reason for the existence and activity of contingent beings and by the existence it possesses by its essence it can cause a living being to come into existence. According to the principle of causality, which states that an effect must be in proportion to its cause, inanimate matter cannot produce life as something essentially higher and more perfect than itself (the thesis that abiogenesis is absolute impossible in metaphysical terms). The best known philosophies today that address the question of the genesis of life are dialectical materialism and Thomism.

T. Kucia, Filozofia biogenezy [Philosophy of biogenesis], Lo 1981; S.W. Ślaga, Bioelektroniczny model abiogenezy [Bioelectric model of abiogenesis], in: Perspektywy bioelektroniki [Perspectives of bioelectronics], Lb 1984, 13-26; W. Sedlak, Kierunek — początek życia. Narodziny paleobiochemii krzemu, [Direction — beginning of life. The origin of the paleobiochemistry of silicon], Lb 1985; K. Kłoskowski, S.W. Ślaga, Neopanspermia alternatywą abiogenezy? [Is neopanspermia an alternative to abiogenesis?] in: Z zagadnień filozofii przyrodoznawstwa i filozofii przyrody [Some problems of the philosophy of natural history and the philosophy of nature], 13, Wwa 1991, 109-156; W. Ługowski, Filozoficzne podstawy protobiologii [Philosophical foundations of protobiology], Wwa 1995; W. Dyk, Termodynamiczne aspekty genezy żucia [Thermodynamic aspect of the genesis of life], in: Z zagadnień filozofii przyrodoznawstwa i filozofii przyrody, 15, Wwa 1996, 13-179; M. Ruse, The Origin of Life: Philosophical Perspectives, Journal of Theoretical Biology 187 (1997) n. 4, 473-482; M. Heller, M. Lubański, S.W. Ślaga, Zagadnienia filozoficzne współczesnej nauki [Philosophical issues of modern science], Wwa 19974, 352-384; F. Raulin-Cerceau, M.C. Maurel, J. Schnieder, From Panspermia to Bioastronomy, the Evolution of the Hypothesis of Universal Life, Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere 28 (1998) n. 4-6, 597-612.

Marian Wnuk

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