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Harvard & the Origin of Life

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Harvard University has launched an ambitious project designed to ascertain how life began on Earth. Known as the “Origins of Life in the Universe Initiative,” the university has promised the researchers several years of seed money, and has asked the team to plan for a new faculty and a collection of multimillion-dollar facilities. David R. Liu, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard, explained: “[M]y expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention” (Cook, 2005, emp. added).

Unbelievable! What a change has come over this “Ivy League” institution of higher learning. The Founders of Harvard would be outraged and heartsick. The original constitution of Massachusetts articulated plainly their view regarding the origin of life: they believed in the God of the Bible and the truth of the Christian religion. The constitution read:

Article I. Whereas our wise and pious ancestors, so early as the year one thousand six hundred and thirty-six, laid the foundation of Harvard College, in which university many persons of great eminence have, by the blessing of God, been initiated in those arts and sciences, which qualified them for public employments, both in church and state: and whereas the encouragement of arts and sciences, and all good literature, tends to the honor of God, the advantage of the Christian religion, and the great benefit of this and the other United States of America—it is declared, that the President and Fellows of Harvard College...shall have, hold, use, exercise and enjoy, all the powers...which they now have or are entitled to have (Constitution..., emp. added).

The 1636 rules of Harvard included the following declaration:

Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17.3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of Him (Prov. 2,3). Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein (as quoted in Pierce, 1833, p. 5, emp. added).

The Founders of Harvard believed that the central purpose of life is to follow the Word of God and Christ. They believed that all knowledge and learning depend upon this central pursuit. They believed that the Bible was the ultimate source of wisdom and knowledge. They therefore believed that life—rather than emerging by evolutionary processes over millions of years—was created by God, the Creator. They never would have dreamed that at the school they created a multi-million dollar project would one day be launched for the expressed purpose of ascertaining the origin of life. They surely never could have predicted the extent to which the university they created has strayed from its original purpose and principles. If they were alive today, they no doubt would insist that the faculty be dismissed or the university’s doors be closed.


Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, [On-line], URL:

Cook, Gareth (2005), “Project on the Origins of Life Launched,” Boston Globe, August 14, [On-line], URL: project_on_the_origins_of_life_launched/.

Pierce, Benjamin (1833), A History of Harvard University (Cambridge, MA: Brown, Shattuck, & Co.).

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