Reasons to Believe

The Oxygen–Antioxidant Paradox

The oxygen-antioxidant paradox seriously challenges all naturalistic models attempting to explain the history of life on Earth. Consequently, confirming its validity would do much to establish a biblical creation model. The results of a recent test have provided that validity.

Advanced life requires the efficient processing of energy to perform work. Only the oxidation of carbohydrates, starches, and fats can deliver the necessary efficiency. However, the presence of oxygen within cells forms free radicals (atoms or groups of atoms with odd numbers of electrons). Once formed, these free radicals can launch chain reactions that quickly damage DNA, membranes, and proteins, resulting in either severely damaging or killing the cells.

In order to prevent free radical damage, the cells of advanced life must possess a system of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that safely interact with free radicals inside the cell to stop the chain reactions before any significant damage can occur.

This results in the oxygen-antioxidant paradox. Unless the capacity to oxidize carbs, starches, and fats and a comprehensive system of antioxidant defenses develop at the same time and place in a symbiotically integrated manner advanced life is impossible. In other words, a fully functional antioxidant defense system must be in place before the launch of any oxidative metabolic life.

The challenge for naturalists is to explain, without the agency of a supernatural, super-intelligent Creator, why a complex, comprehensive antioxidant defense system would spontaneously evolve before any need for such a system existed. Naturalists must also explain why oxidative metabolic life would spontaneously evolve before an intact and fully operational antioxidant defense system exists, or more challenging yet, why both would simultaneously and instantly evolve at the same location.

Underscoring the dilemma for naturalists is an experiment performed by a team of ten scientists at Lyon College.1 The team compared the growth rate of a wild strain of the cyanobacterium, Synechococcus, against two different mutant strains in two different environments: the first in a zero-oxygen environment and the second in an oxygen-rich environment. Each mutant strain manifested a different crippling of the antioxidant defense systems. The mutant strains had lower growth rates than the wild strain under both oxygen-rich and zero-oxygen conditions. Such a result confirmed that the antioxidant defense systems must have been fully present and operational before the appearance of oxygenic photosynthesis. Thus, the experimental outcome confirms the severe challenge that the origin of oxygenic photosynthesis presents to any naturalistic model for life.

Subjects: Life on Other Planets, Prebiotic Chemistry, Primordial Soup

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. Read more about Dr. Hugh Ross.


  1. David Thomas et al., “A Test of the Oxygen Paradox Using Antioxidant-Deficient Cyanobacteria,” Astrobiology 8 (April 2008): 471.