When a discussion about evolution comes across abiogenesis - the typical reaction is that they are unrelated (see the headline at http://www.factsnotfantasy.com/abiogenesis.php).

It seems to be that both are stochastic processes in which less ordered structures become ordered. It seems that, in general, abiogenesis is the process of forming of life (whatever that is) whereas evolution is the process in which life would develop into more complex forms. In other words, it seems that it's really just two phases of the same type of process and I'm wondering why they are considered as such isolated fields.


I wouldn't go so far as to say that they are entirely unrelated -- our understanding of selective processes can certainly inform our study of the origin of life -- but I would say that they are quite different projects.

One important reason is that evolutionary biologists can use phylogenetic information to reconstruct much of the history of life. For example, genetic sequencing techniques allowed us to definitively work out the evolutionary relationships among humans, chimps, and gorillas. But this approach can only allow us to back as far as the last universal common ancestor (LUCA). LUCA was presumably a DNA-based (uni-)cellular lifeform, given that these characteristcs are shared across the entire tree of life. So we have no phylogenetic information that we can leverage to reconstruct what happened to get us from a soup of organic molecules to LUCA.

Another reason is that evolutionary biology focuses on what happens to a population in which we have variation, heritability, and selection. Early in the origin of life, a structured system of heredity would not yet have arisen and so we would not see natural selection occurring in the form that we usually study it -- though there could be interesting selective dynamics in such a system.

  • $\begingroup$ So is the answer is that they use different tools to study the development so the sciences are different? Eg. Maybe astrophysics vs pool-table-physics. Ultimately its the same physics but the types of problems they are solving are different and require different tools and specialized knowledge? Is that the idea/direction? $\endgroup$ – Yehosef May 24 '15 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that's right. And not only do we use different tools, the people doing the work are often in different departments. In addition to biologists, chemists, geologists, and atmospheric scientists play an important role in the study of life's origins. $\endgroup$ – Corvus May 24 '15 at 23:48

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