â€œ... before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.â€ (Isaiah 43:10)
There are two, and only two, explanations for the means whereby life now exists on this planet.
First, there is the explanation that life on earth was divinely created. Regardless of the great variety of legends depicting such an occurrence, all such legends have in common two things: Life was originated by some supernatural means, and some divine being or beings employed this means.
Since, obviously, there is no way that the above explanation of the origin of life can be subjected to any scientific analysis, it would be profitless to discuss its merits (at this point). Therefore, let us examine the other explanation for the origin of life and see what conclusions may be derived from such an analysis.
The other means I am referring to is, of course, the theory of evolution. By evolution, I mean the process or processes whereby life as we now know it has come about from an originally inorganic universe through purely mechanistic actions in conformity with the laws of the physical universe. Keeping these parameters in mind, let us now see what relevant conclusions may be derived:
Moreover, while Haldane and Oparin (both atheists) could cheerfully divorce life and God, others were offended by this and strove to show that there was no way in which the origin of life could be removed from the miraculous and made the result of the chance collisions of atoms.
A French biophysicist, Piere Lecomte du NoÅ±y dealt with this very matter in his book, Human Destiny, which was published in 1947. By then the full complexity of the protein molecule was established, and Lecomte du NoÅ±y attempted to show that if the various atom of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur arranged themselves in purely random order, the chance of their arriving in this way at even a single protein molecule of the type associated with life was so exceedingly small that the entire lifetime of the universe would be insufficient to offer it more than an insignificant chance of happening. Chance, he maintained, could not account for life....
Lecomte du Nouy's argument seemed exceedingly strong, and many people eagerly let themselves be persuaded by it and still do even today.
â€‘Yet it is wrong.
The fallacy in Lecomte du NoÅ«yâ€™s argument rests in the assumption that pure chance was alone the guiding factor and that atoms can fit together in any fashion at all. Actually, atoms are guided in their combinations by wellâ€‘known laws of physics and chemistry, so that the formation Âof complex compounds from simple ones are constrained by severely restrictive rules that sharply limit the number of different ways in which they combine. What's more, as we approach complex molecules, such as those of proteins and nucleic acids, there is no one particular molecule that is associated with life, but innumerable different molecules, all of which are in association.4
What we learn it from the above is that the formation of organic molecules from inorganic atoms is entirely permissible, mathematically speaking, according to the laws of physics and chemistry governing such interactions.
Most of the stony meteorites contain small glassy inclusions, and about two percent of these are called carbonaceous chondrites because they contain significant quantities of organic matter. The proportions, in fact, are extraordinarily high. About 0.1 percent of all material, which has ever fallen on Earth, is organic. By comparison, if we measure the total weight of all organic matter on earth against the mass of the planet itself, only 0.0000001 percent is of living origin. This means that meteors are coming from somewhere that is a million times more organic than earth itselfâ€‘which is something one has to stop and think about for a while.5
Not only are organic molecules mechanistically permissible, but also direct evidence of their existence, in astounding proportions, elsewhere than on Earth is a fact.
These are the stuff of organic chemistry, the study of compounds producing, or produced by living organisms; and these are the kinds of reaction, which it now seems certain, are taking place between the stars.
Awareness of this possibility seems to have reached a peak at a gathering of astronomers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1973. Several papers presented to what is now known as the Dusty Universe symposium pointed out that there seemed to be a lot of atoms missing from interstellar space. Spectroscopic analyses kept coming up with results that showed less carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen than everyone expected to find there.
New models were put forward, and the most promising of these suggested that the missing atoms had gone undetected because they were bound up on the surface of interstellar dust grains in a sort of molecular mush which Mayo Greenburg called "dirty ice." At that time there was little experimental evidence for the existence of such accretions on cosmic grains, but since then, radio astronomy â€‘ which receives and interprets microwaves rather than light waves, and can look right through interstellar clouds â€‘ has given us what we need. The very short radio waves provide a sort of electronic spectrum that includes fingerprints as distinctive as those that appear in the lines of an optical spectrum. And in the last few years radio astronomers have detected an everâ€‘increasing list of simple organic molecules in interstellar space.
The first substances detected in this way were nothing more than simple connections of the most common atoms: cyanogens (CN), carbon monoxide (CO), and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) But then formaldehyde (H2CO) was found, and before long formic acid (HCOOH), methanol (CH2OH) acetaldehyde (HCOCH3) and methyl firmate (HCOOCH3) turned up. One doesn't have to be a chemist to see that the progression is toward ever more complex organic compounds.6
The existence of organic molecules has not only been verified in meteors reaching the Earth's surface, but has also been verified as being true for interstellar space as well. How can this be so? Weren't we taught that chemical reactions required heat and were inhibited by cold, cold such as we find in interstellar space?
It used to be assumed that chemical reactions need heat and slow down as temperatures were reduced. This is true, but only up to a point. We now know that as the temperature nears absolute zero, a strange thermodynamic inversion takes place and many processes actually accelerate, so that the complex early evolution of carbon compounds is more likely to take place inside interstellar clouds than almost anywhere else.7
At any rate, Leslie Orgel did a number of elegant experiments of which I will describe the simplest. He took some of the basic constituents, which are sure to have been present in the atmosphere of the earth at any early time: hydrogen cyanide is one, ammonia is another. He made a dilute solution of them in water, and then froze the solution over a period of several days. As a result, the concentrated material is pushed into a sort of tiny iceberg to the top, and there the presence of a small amount of color reveals that organic molecules have been formed. Some amino acids, no doubt; but, most important, Orgel found that he had formed one of the four fundamental constituents in the genetic alphabet which directs all life. He had made adenine, one of the four bases in DNA.8
The chemical reactions permissible under cold conditions have been shown to be capable of producing a very high level of complexity of organic molecules, even up to the level of the basic constituent of all known life, DNA.
The compounds in the carbonaceous chondrites are not life; they have formed in the direction of our kind of lifeâ€‘and human experimenters have had nothing to do with their formation. On the whole, then, meteoritic studies tend to support laboratory, experiments and make it appear all the more likely that life is a natural, a normal, and even an inevitable phenomenon. Atoms apparently tend to come together to form compounds in the direction of our kind of life whenever they have the least chance to do so.9
It is always possible that the laboratory conditions producing organic molecules have exceeded the limits that existed under the natural conditions that they are simulating. However, meteorites have been shown to contain organic molecules with the same indications; and these were not produced by human experimentation.
It is a big jump from prebiotic molecules in interstellar clouds to primitive organisms on a comet, but it is not an unreasonable one. When a comet gets anywhere near the sun, its water melts and could mingle with the trapped dust to produce a solution of organic molecules which, we know from spectroscopic analysis of Khoutek's comet in 1973, includes amino acids and heterocyclic compounds.10
Scientific analysis has confirmed that organic molecules basic to life definitely do exist in space.
At least one further source of information about the strange things in meteorites remains to be explored. If the organic compounds are protocells in a state of suspended animation, perhaps they can be roused. Soviet and American scientists have been trying to do just that.
Fred Sisler of the United States Geological Survey has begun collecting samples from the interior of carbonaceous chondrites, and he finds that even after a long period under sterile conditions, some of his nutrient broths nevertheless cloud over, indicating the presence of living microorganisms. And at least one of these sleeping beauties, roused from an unimaginable slumber, is totally unfamiliar to terrestrial microbiologists. No one has ever seen anything like it here before, so it is going to be hard to dismiss that one as a contaminant.11
Not only have meteorites proven the existence of extraterrestrial organic molecules but, in one case, they have also given us proof of the existence of extraterrestrial life:
Several rigorous analyses of carbonaceous chondrites have now been made, and all show quite clearly that they contain compounds such as paraffins, longâ€‘chain aromatic hydrocarbons like tar, fatty acids, amino acids (the basic precursors of protein), and even porphyrins (the building blocks of chlorophyll). And in early 1977, an international group of seven scientists â€‘ astronomers, chemists, and applied mathematicians â€‘collaborated in an intensive study on a recently collected chondrites from a site in Africa. They found that it contained an organic compound, an aromatic polymer, whose spectral properties are identical those long to known from interstellar extinction curves. The fingerprints are unique and unmistakable. For the first time we have proof that some meteorites have their origin in presolar interstellar clouds and must be among the most primitive solid bodies in the universe. And, more than that, we have evidence of a cosmic trade in which complex organic compounds, precisely those necessary for the initiation of life, are manufactured in space and imported here to Earth. 12
Evidence proves that meteorites are of interstellar origin. This means that organic material not only is distributed throughout interstellar space but also is readily available to any planetary system in the galaxy. Let us now examine what is known about processes involving organic molecules under terrestrial conditions.
In other words, we don't depend on chance alone, but on chance guided by the laws of nature, and that should be enough.
Could the matter be checked in the laboratory? The American chemist Harold Clayton Grey encouraged a young student, Stanley Lloyd Miller (1930), to run the necessary experiment in 1952.
Miller tried to duplicate primordial conditions on Earth, assuming Oparin's Atmosphere 1. He began with a closed and sterile mixture of water. Ammonia methane, and hydrogen, which represented a small and simple version of Earth's primordial atmosphere and ocean. He then used an electric discharge as an energy source, and that represented a tiny version of the Sun.
He circulated the mixture past the discharge for a week and then analyzed it. The originally colorless mixture had turned pink on the first day, and by the end of the week oneâ€‘sixth of the methane with which Miller had started had been converted into more complex molecules. Among those molecules were glycine and alanine, the two simplest of the amino acids that occur in proteins.
In the years after that key experiment, other similar experiments were conducted with variations in starting materials and in energy sources. Invariably, more complicated molecules, sometimes identical with those in living tissues, sometimes merely related to them, were formed. An amazing variety of key molecules of living tissue were formed "spontaneously" in this manner, although calculations of the simplistic Lecomte du Nouy type would have given their formation virtually no chance.
If this could be done in small volumes over very short â€‘ periods of time, what could have been done in an entire ocean, over a period of many millions of years?
It was also impressive that all the changes produced in the laboratory by the chance collisions of molecules and the chance absorption of energy (guided always by the known laws of nature) seemed to move always in the direction of life as we know it now. There seemed no important changes that pointed definitely in some different chemical direction.
That made it seem as though life were an inevitable product of high probability varieties of chemical reactions, and that the formation of life on the primordial Earth could not have been avoided. 13
All indications are that, given the constituency of the primordialâ€‘biosphere, the formation of life as we know it appears inevitable.
The implications were overwhelming. The ingredients themselves had the automatically linked together into these compounds fundamental to life.14
But the selfâ€‘assembling tendency of matter, its inherent capacity to form living material, had been clearly demonstrated. 15
All of this evidenceâ€‘ in the laboratory, in meteorites, in interstellar cloudsâ€‘ makes it look as though the Haldaneâ€‘Oparin suggestions are correct. Life did start spontaneously on the primordial Earth, and all indications would seem to be that it must have started readily, that the reactions in that direction were inevitable.
It follows that life would therefore start, sooner or later, on any habitable planet. 16
Scientific evidence indicates that, wherever favorable planetary conditions exist, life will inevitably evolve.
Obviously, the next question to be answered is: do we know whether or not our planetary system is unique?
A few photographic demonstrations of such massive planets have, in recent years, been achieved. Planets massive enough to be detected in this way are unlikely, however, to have conditions on them conducive to life, at least life, as we know it. Nevertheless, their existence does offer yet further indication of the universality of planetary systems. 17
Thus, the conditions are everywhere to be found throughout the universe much as we find them here in the solar system. The ingredients are everywhere the same, too, and the laws of physics. It would therefore seem almost impossible to escape the natural conclusion that life must consequently have arisen elsewhere in the universeâ€‘ independently, many times, and in many places.18
As we survey evolution on Earth, there does seem a trend in the direction of increasing size and complexity (occasionally overdoneâ€‘, to be sure, to the point of diminishing returns). What's more, increasing complexity seems almost to involve increasing intelligence in widespread groups of living things....
The weight of evidence, as presently known, therefore forces us to consider that intelligence, and sufficient intelligence to produce a civilization, is more or less an inevitable development on a habitable planet given sufficient time.... 19
The next step is to estimate the number of habitable planets both in the universe and in our particular galaxy.
Up to a billion galaxies can be detected by modern telescopes, stretching out to distances of a billion lightâ€‘years.20
That would mean that in the observable universe, there are as many as 1,000,000,000,000,000.000,000 (a billion trillion) stars.21
1 - The number of stars in our galaxy â€‘ 300 '000,000,000.22
8 â€‘ The number of habitable planets in our galaxy â€‘ 650,000,000.23
It is rather breathtaking to decide on the basis of (we hope) strict logic and the beat evidence we can find that there are 650 million habitable planets in our galaxy alone, and therefore over 2 billion billion in the Universe as a whole.24
How hard it is for the human mind to comprehend the enormity of this conclusion! How hard it is to realize the astronomical magnitude of our universe!
The number of planets in our galaxy on which a technological civilization has developed â€‘ 390,000,000:...
That means that of the 390 million civilizations in our galaxy, only 260 are as primitive as we areâ€‘an inconsiderable number. All the rest (meaning just about all of them) are more advanced than we are.25
According to what are perhaps the most logical estimates that we can at present supply, there are 390 million civilizations in our galaxy alone, all but 260 of which are more advanced than ours. There are approximately 3 billion times that many civilizations in the universe.
What conclusions can be deduced if we add to these figures the implications inherent to the process of evolution itself?
The ultimate result is that each creature tends to become more and more improved in relation to its condition. This improvement leads to the gradual advancement of the organization of the greater number of living beings throughout the world. â€¦ 26
Evolution is the climbing of a ladder from simple to complex by steps, each of which is stable in itself. â€¦That is what has brought life by slow steps but constantly up a ladder of increasing complexity- which is the central progress and problem in evolution. 27
It might even be that a dying civilization might provide for its own succession, either by the genetic engineering of some near-intelligent species or by the creation of artificial intelligence. 28
Given the vastness of the universe and the consequent profusion of life, what must the ultimate consummation of the process of evolution be?
It is my contention that the inevitable and ultimate result of evolution is this: that somewhere, sooner or later, an entity would be evolved through either natural or artificial means which would no longer be subject to time.
What are the implications of such a conclusion?
Such an entity would in all practicality be:
1. Omnipotent and
2. Omniscient and
Such an entity would, by definition, be God.
By no means am I intending to speculate about the origin of God.
Such speculation is vain at best and blasphemous at worst. My intention is to show that no matter what method that you employ to explain the existence of life; the inevitable implication is the existence and reality of God.
Summary of Chapter Two:
â€œThe fool has said in his heart; there is no God.â€ (Psalm 12:1)