This is really cool. Two scientists at Scripps Institute (right here in San Diego) created self-replicating, evolving, but non-living molecules.
Their experiment created ribozymes (ribonucleic acid enzymes) that can make copies of themselves without any help, and using just a chaotic bunch of basic molecules that might have been found in Earth's early history. As long as the raw materials were there, they went to work and made more and more ribozymes.
But it gets better...
These scientists were able to make the ribozymes evolve, because they don't make perfect copies. Generation after generation, the imperfect copies resulted more and more complex and successful molecules ... but still with no cell walls, proteins, DNA, or anything.
And to cap it off, these ribozymes occur naturally. This isn't some contrived scenario that would never happen in nature. They are really out there.
This is enormously significant. We've known for a long time how existing life can evolve and get more complex, but explanations of how life started in the first place fell short. Nobody could explain how even the simplest living cell could spontaneously assemble itself and start evolving. And creationists love to say, "Aha! See, there's a gap in your explanation! It's incomplete, so the whole thing must be wrong!"
Today, this particular gap got a lot smaller. Our understanding of the origins of life now extends back to before life itself. The Scripps scientists have actually demonstrated what most scientists suspected: That evolution started long before anything we might call "life" had developed.