Implications of God and the Energy Creation for All Cellular Life

Most scientists agree that the origins of life required the ability to produce energy and to store heritable information. The large protein molecules necessary for life’s many functions are constructed by transcription from DNA into mRNA and then transcribed into proteins. But these very DNA functions require many large protein molecules for their activities. Thus it is reasonable for a committed atheist who studies this to begin to believe that perhaps there is a God who began it all and then turned it loose for us to evolve ad lib. And to remain honest to himself, he might restrict his beliefs to that exact point in time and nothing afterward.

So if a God was necessary to create the system necessary for all life, no matter how early or small, whether bacteria, plant or animal, what are the implications? Was He necessary to be involved after that? Could evolution have simply taken the course that we now understand and see? After all, without the Permian extinction, dinosaurs would not have evolved, and without the K-T extinction mammals would not have flourished. Natural events give structure to Earth today, but did it need a nudge at the origin of life? I am only posing these questions as possibilities for an atheist to begin his conversion with the “small step” of a belief in God.

One of these mysteries and possibilities surrounds the common denominator of all energy production in every living cell. This sine-qua-non of energy is the system in mitochondria called the Electron Transport Chain (ETC). Using laser induced liquid bead ion desorption (LILBID) mass spectrometry, we now know the actual structure of the Complexes I-IV that strip and transport electrons and protons (H+). And the final complex, complex V is the one known as ATP synthase. So here is what that scientist/convert to God might conclude:

  1. Then it may not be necessary to view Christ’s birth as from a virgin.

After all, the Christian idea of a virgin birth is derived from the verse in Isaiah 7:14 describing an “alma” as giving birth. The word “alma” has always meant a young woman, but Christian theologians came centuries later and translated it as “virgin.”

  1. The resurrection of Christ is not necessary. Accepting resurrection of the dead is almost impossible to any biologist anyway.

  2. All of the miracles are no longer necessarily factual. That life’s events do not follow the natural laws of physics and biology has always been a barrier.

  3. The concept of the power of prayer is rendered moot. Of course, a divine God with the power to structure DNA for “origins” could do most anything, but this converted scientist might be comforted that accepting this is no longer necessary.

  4. The concept of heaven and hell is discarded. After all, it was difficult to imagine in the first place.

So what name is given to a belief system that accepts a divine origin, by a God, but then does not interfere whatsoever after that point? It is likely some combination of Deism, Unitarianism and Determinism. I’m sure that Christians would relegate his belief system to the “bottom of the pile” but should he? After all, if there is a God it is likely that there is only one and we would all worship that same God.

So what is this powerful energy generating system?

The Krebs Cycle is now understood much differently than when in Medical School. We learned it as a simple chemical pathway/circle of reactions between compounds that generated energy. It begins with oxaloacetate taking on an acetyl-CoA to form Citrate to begin the cycle. It looked like this:

BUT…now, rather than viewing it as producing ATP, we know it actually produces the energy precursors, which then enter the ETC (electron transport chain) heading out of the inside matrix into and through the intracellular membrane the created protons (H+) and electrons. Then a separate molecule performs “oxidative phosphorylation” as it heads in the opposite direction back into the matrix using the magical enzyme, ATP Synthase, to fix Pi onto ADP to form our ATP:

So, before these complexes can be used, we need the Krebs Cycle no produce high energy molecules.

Glycolysis occurs in the cytosol making pyruvate from glucose (a good Khan Academy video is here). Pyruvate is oxidized into acetyl CoA as it moves into the mitochondrial matrix (deep to the membranes) where it begins in the Krebs cycle, the product of which are substrates NADH and FADH2. Recall that the Krebs cycle (tricarboxylic acid cycle) is a circle that begins with acetyl-CoA combining with oxaloacetate and converted to citrate. There are 8 reactions before getting back to oxaloacetate with enzymes used for each step. All except succinate dehydrogenase (integral to the membrane, the 6th step converting succinate to fumarate) are in the mitochondrial matrix. Krebs itself does not require O2. O2 is the receptor for the electrons coming in through the OxPhos reactions next. It only generates 2 ATPs as opposed to the OxPhos reactions next that generate 36 per molecule of glucose.

Next comes the oxidation and removal of electrons from these precursors.

There are 2 types of protein complexes embedded in the inner-membrane called the ETC (I-IV) and ATP synthase (V).

These precursors then enter the Electron Transport Chain, which are 4 complexes, I - IV. The Krebs cycle produces 3 NADH and 1 FADH2. Complex I grabs the NADH high energy molecule and Complex II the FADH2 which causes a loss of electrons from each (oxidation is the loss of electrons). This process forces (pumps) the proton (H+) from the matrix to the intramembrane space. The electrons in Complex I are given to another ‘membrane-bound’ carrier called ubiquinone (Q). It is ubiquitous thus the name.

The electrons tat arrived at protein complex 3 are picked up by cytochrome C, the last electron carrier, causing protons to be pumped into the intramembrane space. This transferring of electrons drives the pumping of protons “against gradient” since H+ ions accumulate in the intramembrane space. Thus, energy is stored temporarily. Note that FADH2 behaves differently, transferring its electrons directly to Q with the H2 so no H+ ions are pumped. Also, it uses the succinyl dehydrogenase which is the only enzyme embedded in the membrane.

Cytochrome C carries the electrons to the final protein complex, Complex IV. These electrons are then drawn to O2, the final electron acceptor. O2 must be present for OxPhos to occur. Water is formed as O2 receives the electrons from IV and combines with protons on the inside of the cell.

In summary we are now +3 NADH, +1 FADH2, +3 H+, -2 H+, -1/2 O2 AND +1 H2O.

When the H+ concentration is high in the intramembrane space, the ATP synthase comes into action. It is a complex of 2 functional domains, F₁ and F⚬. F₁ is the “rotor” with 5 subunits, 3 each of the alpha and beta (the stator) and one of the gamma, delta and epsilon (the stalk/rotor). The Fo has subunits c, a, b, d, F6, OSCP plus accessory subunits ee, f, g, and A6L. I only mention these units to emphasize the complexity of this system. As the protons pass through Fo, the energy is transferred to F1 where ADP is phosphorylated to ATP. The H+ concentration creates a proton-motive force of a) pH differential and a b) electrical membrane potential.

When there is high concentration of protons on the outside of the mitochondrial membrane, protons are pushed through the ATP synthase. This causes ATP synthase to spin, and bind ADP and inorganic phosphorus (Pi) producing ATP…FINALLY! The process of passing H+ through the Complex V is called chemiosmosis. But when it happens in a spinning molecule, it is called substrate phosphorylation. So imagine that this magnificent, elegant and complex machinery was “invented” as life began! It did not “evolve” from a slim-pond struck by lightning or from deep sea thermal vents. There has been no success in demonstrating any way to arrive at this system naturally.

No takers yet. :slightly_smiling_face: That’s a pretty heavy introduction at the top and the biochem following is plenty heavy too, at least for me. ; - ) While technically addressed to atheists, I wonder if some others might want to weigh in – @glipsnort, @Mervin_Bitikofer, @Randy, any other docs? It looks like an irreducible complexity argument, but pre-evolution so to speak, so the fact that evolution can and does produce complexity is irrelevant.

Thanks. Interesting, but out of my range and over my pay grade!

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Thanks Dale…the concept occurred to me while studying recent molecular 3-D animations of these molecules. They are so overpowering that I thought it just might be a reason for a non-believing scientist to actually begin to admit that…“just maybe, there is a God”. And if he did so, I began to imagine the additional caveats he might be able to interject, such that he remains consistent with his “other” objections to Christianity. Just a thought! I put in the biology just so the rest of it would make more sense.

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I didn’t read every word of your article. But introductory biology courses in college and probably high school cover the Electron Transport Chain, the Krebs Cycle, etc. Folks who want a short, easy-to-follow, and entertaining introduction to how our cells make energy should watch this: ATP & Respiration: Crash Course Biology #7

Your last paragraph states:

This is a god-of-the-gaps argument. “Wow, this is so complicated and I don’t understand it, therefore God did it!” So God becomes a placeholder for scientific ignorance.

I will have further comments later.


It is absolutely NOT that. In fact, it is the opposite. Either you have horribly misread, or I have horribly characterized the point. To simplify it, I’m suggesting that God was necessary at the beginning. God had to have played the fundamental role of designing the intricacies of ATP synthase. It occurred at the origins of life without benefit of evolution. My point was that an atheist who finally sees that might not have to accept the subsequent assumptions of Christianity. I do accept them. They might not. But at least, they might begin to make their way toward the obvious presence of a divine God. And the innovative ideas are very recent in the context of the ability only now to create 3-D videos at the molecular level.

Ah, so an irreducibly complex argument/argument from personal incredulity. So God just plopped it in, in its present form, without starting much simpler? How do you know that? And do people actually come to faith from learning about ATP synthase, as opposed to searching for meaning in life, feeling God’s presence, etc.?

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It’s not your typical irreducible complexity argument – I already mentioned that. And considering big bang cosmology, that space and time had a beginning, has brought people to faith, speaking of God of the gaps arguments.

There is no theological necessity but no objection from science either. To be sure, it is miraculous without modern technology by which virgin births happen quite a few times recently.

The resurrection is necessary because Paul says so in 1 Cor 15, but he also says that it is a physical/bodily resurrection to a spiritual body not a physical/natural body. There can be no objection from science which says absolutely nothing about spiritual bodies.

There is no reason for science to object to the miracles in the Bible because not enough details are given to establish that any laws of nature were broken. On the contrary scientific explanations are numerous. It is demonstrable that life certainly does follow the laws of nature because that is where the laws of nature come from – written procedures anyone can follow to get the same results.

Anyone can demonstrate that prayers do not always give people whatever they ask for. But nobody can demonstrate that prayers never give people what they ask for.

On the contrary this scientist has discarded no such thing. Science does not and cannot say anything about the matter.

So what name is given to a belief system that declares everything happens according God prearranged plan and thus just has to watch it all happen accordingly? That would be Deism. And what do you call a belief system that declares that everything is just a dream of God thus requiring no logical coherence, where results are independent of the means, and God can do whatever you say by whatever means you choose to dictate. That would be pantheism. Christianity and theism on the contrary has God creating something real according to how God knows it must be done and creates the universe for a relationship with both creator and created writing the story together.

In both the Deist and pantheist cases a belief in such a God serves no purpose because it is God who makes all the choices of any significance. Only in the case of theism and Christianity is the belief in God of any importance because then a relationship with God is possible.

In the designer god Watchmaker Deist view, He is not necessary. In the pantheist dreamer God view, He is necessary for absolutely everything. In the theist Christian view God is involved not by the necessity of an inept carpenter who cannot make a table that stands by itself, but by choice as a shepherd, teacher, and parent contributing to our lives out of love.

Not from the science of 50 years ago or more! But more recently there has been considerable developments in understanding abiogenesis in terms of metabolism first theories and pre-biotic evolution.

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How so? It has a lot in common with other so-called irreducibly complex structures.

Not very many, I’d say. Even Georges Lemaître didn’t want his theory used to argue for religion. And he was a scientist/priest.

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Yes, and teachers like to make you memorize it!

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Thanks Mitchell,
I guess my main point was that a) an atheist who begins to understand the intricacies and timing of the ATP synthase system might question his non-belief and also b) could do so without having to concede all of the other barriers he has seen, such as dead tissue miraculously coming to life. I’m not saying that it did not happen, but only that it may create a simpler and easier pathway for the non-believer to accept a divine designer.

Someone else also questioned me…“So God just plopped it in, in its present form, without starting much simpler? How do you know that?”
I assume that anyone reading my narrative would understand that, of course, I do not know that. I am only a simple person who studies origin science as an avocation and who becomes more amazed every day! For such a complicated system to have been in place, necessarily in place, for every living cell whether plant, animal or bacteria at the very beginnings is most incredible indeed. Instead of nit-picking what is obviously an optimistic thought about our beginnings, you would think we would all embrace the possibility that God facilitated a system that then allows us to evolve without further intervention. If He did, and does, intervene, then so much the better.

Surely it is NOT necessary for this “new believer” to believe everything that is written in the Bible. All I am saying is that the acceptance of God’s hand in our origins does not, and should not require that that person must suddenly also believe The Great flood occurred as written…(It is metaphorical of course). Or that the creation happened in 6 days. You seem to be saying that one must either accept it all, exactly as you see it, or else he remains atheist. Is Samson’s hair really the source of his strength? Can a snake really talk? Must Mary’s egg with 23 chromosomes not require another 23 from a male? Are we to believe that Lot’s wife actually turned into salt?

I appreciate your thoughts and comments much. We should all feel strength in seeing the hand of God in our beginnings without subjecting each other to a “scale of Christianity” that judges others who do not share the same list of beliefs…

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Agreed, but that isn’t precisely what I meant. Paul doesn’t just make the declaration this is so, but explains why this is so important. I was referring to Paul’s whole explanation of why this was so important for Christianity. BUT at the same time Paul explains WHAT kind of resurrection is so important for Christianity and it is NOT something in conflict with science.

Agreed. But the text is the stated source of authority for Christian belief and so every Christian must come to a conclusion about what the text is trying to communicate. Dismissing things as metaphorical in an arbitrary vague way without good reason doesn’t look very helpful to me. Conflict with the objective evidence is a good reason to doubt a childishly literal treatment of the text. For example, the evidence does not agree with a global flood and so one might notice that the text says nothing about it being global, but describes the earth in a completely different way.

Likewise a creation of all things in 6 days doesn’t agree with the objective evidence so one might remember Peter’s explanation that God doesn’t measure time the same way we do.

I am not saying anything of the sort. This is wrong for a number of reasons. Christianity and atheism are hardly the only alternatives. But Christianity does require coming to some understanding of the Bible.

People find strength in all sorts of different things. Nothing of our experience of life agrees with a belief that any animals can talk, but we might see someone having a conversation with an animal for a variety of different reasons. Nothing in the text suggests Jesus came from a egg without 23 chromosomes from a male, quite the contrary. Descriptions of what people see does not equal details or measurements sufficient for a precise conclusion about exactly what happened… in Lot’s wife’s case or in many other stories of the Bible.

You did not read, or at least did not comprehend.

Evolution can produce complexity, defeating irreducible complexity arguments with respect to evolution. This argument may be analogous to big bang cosmology.

One is enough. ETA: One person’s eternity is worth it, no sharpshooters need be involved.

Another fine use of the sharpshooter fallacy.

Of that, there is no doubt. The impossibly complex formulation of proteins to transport e-'s, reduce compounds, and then phosphorylate ADP seem to be both evidence for the hand of God as well as drawing a circle around where the arrow hit.

Hardly pre-evolution, whatever that might mean. There was evolution going on before mitochondria became part of the cell. Mitochondria are thought to have originated from an endosymbiotic event, whereby an eukaryote ancestor engulfed an aerobic prokaryote. Eventually the mitochondria became an organelle of the cell. . Mitochondria contain their own DNA, which is circular as is true with bacteria, along with their own transcriptional and translational machinery. Mitochondrial ribosomes and transfer RNA molecules are similar to those of bacteria, as are components of their membrane.

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They certainly do. But my point of the entire narrative was for a scientist, previously non-believer, to find that the “discovery” of such design present during the origins would be so compelling that he might re-think his atheism. The Biblical myths typically have not served this motive well, especially to the scientific community about which I am now more optimistic.

Abiogenesis is ‘pre-evolution’, and if the Krebs cycle is necessary for life in the first place, so is it.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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