It is a common misunderstanding that evolution includes an explanation of life’s origins. Conversely, some of the theory’s critics complain that it cannot explain the origin of life. The theory does not try to explain the origin of life. The theory of evolution explains how populations change over time and how life diversifies—the origin of species. It does not shed light on the beginnings of life including the origins of the first cells, which is how life is defined. The mechanisms of the origin of life on Earth are a particularly difficult problem because it occurred a very long time ago, over a very long time, and presumably just occurred once. Importantly, biologists believe that the presence of life on Earth precludes the possibility that the events that led to life on Earth can be repeated because the intermediate stages would immediately become food for existing living things. The early stages of life included the formation of organic molecules such as carbohydrates, amino acids, or nucleotides. If these were formed from inorganic precursors today, they would simply be broken down by living things. The early stages of life also probably included more complex aggregations of molecules into enclosed structures with an internal environment, a boundary layer of some form, and the external environment. Such structures, if they were formed now, would be quickly consumed or broken down by living organisms.
However, once a mechanism of inheritance was in place in the form of a molecule like DNA or RNA, either within a cell or within a pre-cell, these entities would be subject to the principle of natural selection. More effective reproducers would increase in frequency at the expense of inefficient reproducers. So while evolution does not explain the origin of life, it may have something to say about some of the processes operating once pre-living entities acquired certain properties.